Monday, December 30, 2013

Five Months

In honor of her five monthversary, we offer this video of our sweet baby talking to her favorite Christmas present, Seahorse:

Friday, December 6, 2013

More Gifts

The day before yesterday in my Group a therapist read us the story of a woman who bought herself a bag of cookies at the airport and sat down next to a gentleman to wait for her flight.  The sack of cookies was between them, and her neighbor kept reaching in to help himself to her cookies.  She grew silently outraged at his audacity. When there was only one cookie remaining, he took it and offered her half, and she accepted it with obvious resentment.  Seething, she boarded her flight. Then she looked in her carryon and found her own bag of uneaten cookies.  The man had, in fact, been sharing his cookies with her.

I'd heard this story before and it reminded me of the "what if" game a parent at school once shared she plays when she feels resentment building toward her fellow humans.  What if, she imagines, the poky driver in front of her has the family goldfish in a bowl on the front passenger seat, to be delivered to her daughter, sick in the hospital?  What if the angry person in line didn't sleep last night, worrying about how to pay the bills since he lost his job?

Now, more than ever, I am appreciating that everyone has a story, whether it's worn on the sleeve or not.  So little do we know, right, lady in the airport?  My certainties have been toppled, and I am in a process of looking more closely and carefully gathering anew what I know to be true.  And leaving so much unfathomed.

Among the gifts of this journey I'm on are increased empathy, decreased judgment.   My sensitivity is heightened.  The smallest gestures of human kindness, patience, and generosity are very meaningful to me.

Thank you for that hug.

I'm slower, simpler, smaller-lived for now.  Less music on the radio, less screen, fewer correspondences, less noise, fewer choices.  I purge and long for less stuff, as if to simultaneously unclutter my busy brain.

I am in more stillness.  More baby and her easily identifiable needs.  More family.

My goal is to reconcile this pace, this safe place I'm in, with the life I need to lead to be mother, wife, worker, friend, healthy me.  There must be an acceptable, livable, enriching middle ground.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

4 Months


Here she, is, Tootsie, all 13 pounds-plus of her, sporting an outfit designed by her sister, Karate  Kid style.  She's got rolls on her arms, legs, and neck, testament to the enthusiastic eater she is.  She's talking back more, and trying to roll over, grinning broadly and giggling too.

She's a snuggly one, loving nothing more than to nestle into a shoulder for a nap.  Hard to believe it's already been a quarter-year.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gratitude 2013

It's hard to overstate how grateful I feel for the love, encouragement, support, assistance, meals, time, and understanding we've been offered and had delivered across our doorstep, even over my protests, by dear friends near and far.  Love, it just flows, inexplicably and unabated.  I'm in awe (and avoiding saying "indebted," believing that the tide of generosity will flow outward from us soon, in the natural ebb and flow of human need in our village).

This year has been about choices, surprises, inevitabilities, loss, strength, vulnerability, risk, and pulling together.  It's been mostly about family.

I'm in one of the toughest struggles I've taken on, and it's humbling to admit that amidst tragedies and disasters, it's an internal postpartum crisis of confidence that's brought me to my knees.  I'm trying to be patient and have faith that I'll emerge a recognizable version of myself.

In this time of Thanksgiving I have tremendous gratitude for all the blessings of this year, and for the hope I'm assured is peeking just over the horizon.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One Day at a Time

I didn't anticipate how it would feel to absorb so much change.

I'm reminding myself to be patient and kind and believe in myself.  There's a lot of myself going on right now, and my kids, too.  The world will open up wider soon, but for right now, I'm keeping the focus centered on the essentials and one foot in front of the other.

Baby Tootsie and her sisters are rocking it (besides, you know, falling prey to the stomach flu).  Husband is my hero.

More soon.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Stone in the River

Today was my first day back to work, but the "back" part is what I took for granted.  I'm not the vice principal anymore; I have a new job I have barely tried out.  I was back in the same place, but in a new office and new role.  Today was my first day as principal of the high school, almost three months into the school year.

I described it as feeling as if I were a stone thrown into the middle of a river.  The water is flowing around me, and I'm wagging my head around in wonder.  I'm used to going with the flow from the origin, the mountaintop, but today I started midstream.  What's my school--even by virtue of being the very school I graduated from--feels oddly unfamiliar right now.

I'm anxious to get to the part where I know.  It's a strange dichotomy to feel like I both know so much and so little.  And I don't think I've ever felt so humble.  I'm humbled by this experience of motherhood the third time around, by watching my family adjust and embrace our newborn and new life, by a new job I'm honored and still a bit incredulous to have, by the unflagging love and support and faith of our friends and families which come in so many forms.

Tomorrow I will be armed with a tiny bit more knowledge and experience and maybe? a little more sleep?

Perchance to dream...


Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Playable Lie

I received the most wonderful email from the mother of a dear college friend this morning.  She lives across the country but has remained interested in all of our lives over the years, and kept in close touch during Toosie's and my adventure in Boston.

Her words are worthy of publishing--mother wisdom from a wise one:

"It seems from your blog that tomorrow is your official going back day.  I wish you smooth transitions, proud moments and good satisfaction for all that you have done and how much you are doing and confidence in everything finding its 'playable lie'. I don't play golf, but that term is one that I love because it is what we mom/professionals do.  We take what we have and go with it as best we can.  It's never perfect, but often very close, and it is ours and that is good."

Thank you, CC.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Three Months



Dear Tootsie,

Three months is kind of a key milestone in not only a baby's development, but the development of parents, too.  Things just seem to get a little easier at twelve weeks.  I think it's partly because I just know you now.  You're not a fragile, unpredictable, all-life-consuming mystery (well, as much as you were).  And sleep typically gets better (longer), you hold your head up more steadily, and you like to be put down to play more often.

And dang it, you're just cuter.  Three-month-old babies smile, start cooing, and interact deliberately.  You offer these huge gummy grins to your sisters--particularly in the morning.

You have different relationships with each of your sisters.  Big Sis has a quieter energy, and you gaze at her reverently, smiling long and sweetly.  My guess is you will talk a lot with Big Sis.  Little Sis's exuberance and bouncy energy elicits wide-eyed happy faces from you, you're always game for her antics, and I suspect first laughs will be for her.

When you yawn your big long yawns, you make a cute noise right at the end.  When you want our attention, you yelp.  You take a while before you cry; I will give you that.  You're starting to coo and almost laugh.  When we stick out our tongues, you mimic us or grin.

You have a dangly toy on your playmat--an owl--whom you love to talk with and flirt.  It's so fun to watch.

You've pudged up--the only parts of you that aren't chubby are your fingers.  You're wearing 3-month clothes now, right on schedule.  It's because you love to eat.

You're not sleeping through the night as your sisters did by now.  I'll give you a little leeway, preemie.  Maybe by Thanksgiving?  Please?

You still have blue eyes.  Let's hold onto those! So many of your dearest fans have that in common with you.

I'm starting work next week, and it's going to be hard for me to leave you.  In so many ways we've been inseparable for three months (plus the seven you were inside), but then, during your first month, you spent a good bit of it in your isolette.  Still, I feel we are helplessly bonded, and your little eyes appear in my mind's eye whenever I'm away from you (which hasn't been for long!).

I have a feeling you'll reassure me it's all going to be okay, and your little life will be enriched, too, with exposure to different places and people.

Happy quarter-year, Toots!




Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seconds Guessing

There's a little thought that creeps into my mind occasionally and that thought is WHAT THE HECK WAS I THINKING.

It's more of a statement than a question.  I'm looking down at a Thanksgiving plate heaped with second helpings, and I'm darned lucky to have the bounty, but I'm wondering if I might have overdone it this round.

It remains to be seen if I need to slink off and hide and take a nap somewhere, if I feel like throwing up, or if my worrying is for naught, and after a brief bout of nausea, I rub my tummy and thank myself for going back for more.

What can I say?  I'm a big eater with a tendency to doubt myself.

Wide eyed but grateful.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ode to Woman Pushing Triple Jogging Stroller

With a dog on leash.  Running uphill.

You,
Warrior Mama,
Undaunted by weight of stroller, babies, 
all you've left undone,
Stretch your arms of Sisyphean strength skyward
uphill
As if to say,
"I will have my time
And my health--
kids strapped in and dog leashed; I am
in charge--but
After this (sweating, grunting, thinking),
I am all yours
Again."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sweet Roles

We all need something we do that helps us feel good about ourselves, don't we?

Well, duh.

I'm thinking about this a lot lately.  Working with students, who spend a good portion of their awake lives at school or involved in school, I've always been aware of the importance of there being something there--at school--that makes students feel proud, good, invested.  It sounds simple, but it can be a tall order, when we consider how many diverse types of students our schools aim to serve, and how relatively rigid our structures are.  Hence the importance of athletics, clubs, electives, the arts, career pathway courses, and advanced classes for students excited to delve deeper.  At a tender time when we can be introducing students to lifelong loves and pastimes--the activities that extend life and bring joy (gardening, yoga, chess, volunteerism)--we offer our youth so very little free time to pursue such passions.  Yet building foundations of understanding of what is fulfilling in one's life has the potential to dramatically change one's outlook on life, throughout life.  

So I see my forty-something pals understanding this and seeking out or finding and investing in new activities.  CrossFit.  Biking.  Writing.  Running.  Knitting and sewing.  Surfing.  Improv.  Cooking.  We're looking for that sweet spot--not recognition or accomplishment from anyone really but ourselves.   

I'm recognizing aspects of myself as I cope with some anxiety about heading back to work.  As much as I am worried about how I'll handle all my responsibilities, deep inside I know there's a part of me waiting to be re-fulfilled.  My work is something that makes me feel good about myself.  It's not the only thing that does--mothering and running and interacting and being creative also feed my soul and self esteem. And I've learned that I rely on a balance of roles and outlets to be a whole person.  So with one piece not in place, I'm a little off kilter.

I'm looking forward to reigniting the parts of me that teach, guide, care, and support--colleagues and other people's children. I know I'll be busier, I'll still be conflicted, but I think I will feel more balanced inside.  

What things are you doing that make you feel good about yourself and your place in this world?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Put She Down

I assumed that having another baby seven and a half years after my last would be easier--my two elder daughters would not only be largely independent, but helpful.  Both are true--Big and Little Sis have been making their own breakfasts, getting themselves organized in new and exciting ways, and holding and entertaining the baby, changing her diaper, and feeding her bottles.  One of them pushes the stroller while I push the grocery cart. It's awesome.

What I didn't anticipate was the jealousy.

When I was pregnant with Little Sis, my mom (mother of five, remember), warned me not to buy too much into fears of sibling rivalry.  If you anticipate it and talk about it, she suggested, you almost encourage it.  Just assume it will all be okay.  And it was--Big Sis loved her baby sister, and at two-and-a-half-years old, was mature enough to understand her little sister's needs most of the time.  There was one poignant moment when Big Sis needed something, and Baby Little Sis was crying, and in frustration and with recognition that she just wanted her Mama right then, she cried and implored me, "Put she down, Mommy!"  I remember my own tears as I lay Little Sis on the bed and hugged my firstborn.

My daughters are accustomed to having an active, energetic mother available on weekends for outings, projects, and attention.  In our former life, weekends were a blank canvas waiting for Fairy Festivals, hikes, swimming, family sailing, and cooking.  Tootsie's fragility, and the inappropriateness of her going on a boat or to the beach at this stage, has certainly affected our mojo.  During the first few weeks Tootsie and I were back, I cringed each time we had to say, "Sorry; we can't...because of the baby."  And yet, it was true, and I reminded them that this tender time would pass.

The girls are old enough to express quite articulately how they're feeling.  Big Sis will state hesitantly,  "I love her so much, Mom; I am so happy she's here.  But...I miss..."  And then there are moments of duress:  "I feel like you don't care about me anymore.  All you do is take care of the baby."  Little Sis grappled at first with being unthroned as the baby.  Lately though, because of her bold confidence in holding and carrying her baby sister, she has been subject to quite a bit of monitoring.  Our admonishments to "Be careful!" and "Watch out!" give an impression we're more concerned about the baby than about her, or that we don't trust her.  Meanwhile, Tootsie, still "primitive" with continual basic needs, is an apparent and immediate concern nearly all the time.  Even I am weary of saying, "Hold on; I need to feed the baby."

When Husband has been home on weekends, and he's taken the girls off for some skurfing or swimming, it's been my turn to feel a little left out.  I'm trying to think of our new life in terms of evolution versus sacrifice.  

This morning I hungered for a long snuggle with each of my gangly girls.

So we've made attempts for me to have one-on-one time with each of the girls, even for just 10 or 20 minutes.  We're having lots of conversations about our feelings (exhausting, I tell you!), and at the end of the day, I often feel I have four people (and a dog and fish) all needing me, with not enough Fer to go around.  When I return to work, I'll add the needs of school to the mix, but I will hopefully learn to compartmentalize.  School needs at school; home needs at home.

As Big Sis bonds and forms her own unique relationship with Tootsie, I feel the emotions shifting.  Little Sis continues to be an exuberant big sister and great help.  Husband is solid as a rock.  Tootsie's cheeks are growing chubbier.  We're doing all right.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Finding Life in the Death Division

One of the awesome things about Boston (and I could make quite a list, including, of course, Mass General Hospital, the hotel which used to be a jail next door, J.P.Licks, the Commons and Public Garden, the colleges, the Greenway, the islands...I'll just stop there for now) is that everything is so darned easy to get to (unless you're stuck in traffic in a car).  There are buses, subways, trains, bikes and cars you can borrow, and the city is walkable.

A field trip I needed to complete before I left my temporary east coast home was to visit City Hall to pick up Tootsie's birth certificate.  City Hall was not far from the hospital, nestled among historic buildings I'd already strolled past.  I invited my sister for the momentous occasion, which we scheduled between feedings the week before Tootsie's discharge.

Boston City Hall, particularly in comparison with the lovely buildings with which it shares its setting, is not cute.  It's blocky and grotesque, built in the 60s and with controversial reception to this day, I've learned.

The inside is no more welcoming, unfortunately, and when you're a government building, you don't really have that going for you anyway.  Add a lot of concrete, dark spaces, and little color, and now we are even more depressed to be conducting Official and Bureaucratic business.

I have a tendency at the DMV or passport office or court buildings to really try and take in all the details, check out the decor, observe the people.  There's something both foreign and universal about government buildings.  I mean, each country has its peculiarities, as Kenya had photos of the president in every room (and lots of posters of kittens), but I could swear that we are all using the same pens and file cabinets, circa 1967.  I wind up both saddened and heartened by the bleak surroundings--so many stations, plain desks, piles of paper, rubber stamps, staplers, file baskets and cabinets.  Everything is in muted colors, including the paint, the worn carpeting or linoleum, and the employees' clothes.  Except the omnipresent fluorescent lights.  At least, I think, we are not wasting taxpayer money on new or fancy stuff!

At the Birth Division at Boston City Hall we first stood in line at  one window to make the birth certificate request, filling out names on a quartered piece of paper (more economy if not technology!) with a golf pencil.  We were then directed around the corner to wait in line to pay at another window, where we received directions to take our receipt to a third window for the actual certificates.  While I was in line I had time to examine the interior of the Birth Division.  I spotted shelves and shelves of binders organized by birth year, holding, I presumed, all the names of people born in Boston since they started keeping track.  And not much else, though I bet there was a microfiche machine or two lurking nearby.

Behind the woman at the third window I spotted a single plant on a filing cabinet--a dying philodendron--in a 90s-style plastic insulated coffee mug with a worn logo.  I nudged my sister and raised my eyebrows and tilted my head in the direction of the sad horticulture.  "Isn't that just a perfect symbol for this soulless place?" I asked.

We grinned wryly and turned toward the Birth Division's next-door neighbor, the Death Division. We both took in the long rows of filing cabinets and shelves, but atop them for as wide as the banks of furniture stretched was a veritable jungle of plants of all kinds, growing curiously well under the artificial lights.  We turned to each other in unison, the same surprised and gleeful look on our faces.  So much life in the Death Division!  Who knew.  And what a contrast.

What's the lesson is in this little account?  I'm not sure exactly.  Maybe it's that we ought to do our best to beautify our surroundings, for everyone's sakes. Maybe it's that death and sadness deserve beauty--and not the artificial-foliage kind.  The kind of beauty that comes from real effort and an acknowledgment that some loveliness in a workplace (or anywhere, really) can bring some joy into the weekday grind, and offer solace to someone on a grim errand.  Perhaps the Birth Division shouldn't take the joy for granted, either.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Control

I think it's safe to say that I've been feeling out of control. Since, say, January 11 or so, perhaps.  As a strategy to exert control over the things that seem to be spinning, I will make a tidy little controlled list of all the factors contributing to my feeling of general entropy:

1.  New baby.

2.  New baby, born far away and early, necessitating a six-week stay away from home in Boston.

3.  A new home I moved back into a month ago, where un-unpacked boxes remained piled in many rooms upon my return.

4.  A new job, which I haven't even tried out yet.

5.  A new lifestyle and new roles and challenges at home.

6.  New childcare arrangements to be made, new routines and logistics to figure out.

7.  New bills:  diapers, medical, daycare.

My brain wakes up at 5AM and starts cycling through things I feel I need to get ahead of...and I am awake, though my baby is sleeping and I don't need to practice getting up for work, making bottles and lunches, pumping, taking a shower, breastfeeding...yet.

So I should relax.

I started seeing a therapist/counselor/wise woman.  For the first time.  It's pretty great, though I do a lot of crying.  I cry because I know I am going to talk about stuff.  I cry out of relief.

I mean, if you know me at all, you know I cry.  But the last couple of months have really exercised my tear ducts.  I'm looking forward to a dry spell sometime soon, as long as it doesn't mean I'm not feeling anything.

This week my counselor suggested I take my list of things stressing me out and take care of the things I can control.  Childcare arrangements, for example.  It's such a simple strategy:  list the stressors, start managing them.  But I was busy wallowing in the stressors, letting them quicksand me into overwhelm.

Most of my anxiety is about going back to work.  And most of my anxiety about going back to work has to do with the logistics of getting everyone where they need to be, on time, and doing it right (not driving a starving, sobbing baby and two sisters to piano practice in rush-hour traffic, for example).  I worry about having enough time for everyone, and for my job and the people I serve in my job.

I worry a little about this job, of principal, which I haven't done yet.  And it's not exactly waiting for me...wheels are turning, stories are unfolding, other people are capably leading, and decisions are being made.  My first day of school as new principal will be a midstream day for others.  I'll be behind.  By the nature of my late start, I'll be a meddler; I'll fumble; I'll step on toes.  I'll duplicate and omit and not know what others already know.  I'll wonder if I'm being helpful.  I'll hope I'm still worthy.

It's going to be interesting.

What is also going to be interesting is the journey of the next month, as I try to drown out the white noise of what I've convinced myself needs to be done, and focus on the essentials:  my people.  Myself.    Things are already less fuzzy.  My stomach hurts less.  The nervous energy is dissipating.  My appetite is returning.

Tootsie is helping by sleeping well at night, getting up only once in the middle of the last two nights.  So I'm less tired too.

Deep breaths.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

2 Months!

You're two months old today, Tootsie!


I told a friend that even though you're only two months old, it feels as if you've been around much longer. Your "adjusted" preemie age is a week and a half, and you weighed eight pounds at your last appointment on the 25th.  You're getting big, but you're perfect size for a newborn.

As we predicted, you began crying a little more when you reached your due date, and you're starting to be awake more often.  And you're smiling!  So gratifying to see that happy little face.

In terms of imperfections--or enhancements--you have a herniated umbilicus, which means you have the outiest belly button ever (it's even visible in the photo above--see that bump in the midsection to the left of your buttons?)!  You also have a stork bite--or angel kiss--between your eyes, a sweet little red mark. We'll see how long those distinctions last.

You're still the gruntiest, growliest, squeaky-squawkiest baby in the west (who was born in Boston).  You make an awesome one-note squall when you're trying to get our attention.  You look like you're going to roll over soon, and when you do tummy time, you kick like a mule and then protest.

Your eyes are still blue!

You've lost a little hair at your forehead but have a healthy crop in the back.

People ask me if you're on a schedule.  Nope, not really.  You don't torture us at night, but we never know what's coming.

Heck, we didn't know when you were coming!  You've stirred up a whole lot of emotions, Caboose, but how we love you.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Breakthrough

Last night was Wednesday, which means no soccer practice, no piano lessons, no regular appointments for anyone.  We even ditched weekly Wednesday Family Beercan Sailing Night because we recognized our limits, and as Big Sis put it, "Mom, we need at least one night off."  Amen, Sister.  And she's not even a teenager.

So Wednesdays are rather fun right now, especially while I am not working.  We have time for stuff other than homework and a hurried dinner.  We talk.  We read books.  We make one another laugh (last night it was over watching Husband try to discreetly choke down his spinach).

We had enough free time last night for some reflection, too, and Big Sis led the charge.  Since her birthday in late August, which she anticipated with excitement, she has mourned being ten.  She would rather be five and carefree, it turns out, with more time for more creative endeavors and cuddling and dress ups, etc.  She looks on at my snuggle time with Tootsie with envy and sadness.  Her nostalgia and sense of loss are very familiar to me. Sorry, kid; that inclination to fondly, and often poignantly, recall sweeter, simpler times appears to be genetic.

And then she admitted she misses our old house, expressing longing for the cozy smallness of our bungalow.  We knew this already.  Her "own" bedroom is downstairs, which feels far away and alone, as our rooms are upstairs.  She's been sleeping with Little Sis, which is more than fine by (nostalgic) me. We are still adjusting, and we're nesting in a smaller portion of our home as a result, all five of us sharing two bedrooms for now.  We will have this house for a while, I say.  We can take all the time we need to grow into it.

But the house has given us all pause.  It's the easy target for my anxiety, a material example of the chaos I imagine around me in my new life:  boxes unpacked, pictures unhung, more square footage  unclean and unorganized.  I can relax, I imagine, if I just have the stuff put away, the house put together.

The canyon backyard, which I'd viewed as romantically magic and fairy-filled, has the specter of cat-killing coyotes haunting it.

But this afternoon Big Sister had a friend over who toured our house and declared, "this place is cool."  Soon all three girls were out exploring the canyon, breathless with excitement about the new frontier and paths they'd discovered. Her friend offered just the perspective Big Sis needed.

And when I listen carefully I hear the perspectives I need, too.  The novel I finished today reminds its readers that one can't care too deeply about others, and that we owe one another generosity and forgiveness.  My sister-in-law snuggles her baby next to me as I snuggle mine, mirroring the deep satisfaction of wholly enveloping another little life.  A fellow principal, also out on maternity leave for the beginning of her school year, replies to my email reaching out, "We can do this!" about being both mothers and principals.

We hurdled Hump Day, and maybe a few more bumps in the road this week, too.



Saturday, September 21, 2013

Seasons of Love


My husband's sister, my sister-in-law, died yesterday, just over a year after being diagnosed with glioblastoma.  Glioblastoma is a mean, insidious, and voracious cancer of the brain, robbing its victims of their personalities in its final stages.  Our niece moved her mother into her apartment to care for her, and then after several rounds of hospitalizations, back home with her to die.  My sweet, strong, too young, indomitable niece whose mother was too young too, at 53.  

The day before yesterday, Big Sis insisted on going to say goodbye to her auntie and to lend her support to her cousin whom she adores and views as a role model.  She wasn't to be deterred despite our misgivings.  Big Sis has been her own tornado of emotions all summer, missing her mom while I was away, missing her mom since I've been back, feeling at every sad turn the weight of the world. For her cousin to have to live on without her mom felt inconceivable to her, and Big Sis needed to tell her that she had faith in her.  So Husband took her to our niece's apartment for an important moment of fellowship.  

And last night Husband was with our niece and his sister when she died.  

My baby Tootsie will be Big Sis's age, a tender ten years old, when I'm 53.  

I know of another cancer-stricken mom who will soon be gone, with her too-young children and husband preparing for that eventuality.  How does she prepare?  I do not know.

I remember walking with my mom and Tootsie at Harvard in August as the freshman class was arriving and moving into dorms.  "Welcome Class of 2017," read a banner.  I calculated Tootsie's potential college graduation year:  2035.  I said it aloud.  My mom might not be here then, I thought, wondering if she was thinking the same, as we both walked silently two decades in the future for a moment.  

I could feel selfish, or foolish, for having this baby at 42.  Or I could quit counting the days or time over which I have so little control, as my sister-in-law teaches me. I've been making Time too much of an enemy of late.  I have too little time left before my maternity leave, my Tootsie Time, is over.  I had too little time with my daughters this summer.  I'll have too little time for everything when I return to work.  I have lists and projects and dreams...and I haven't been to Montana nor the Grand Canyon with my daughters yet...but there may not be enough time.  

But there's time enough for Now, my niece teaches me.  I'm learning there's no way to be content in this life while regretting what might not be, what cannot be, grasping at sand slipping through fingers, a fumbling which requires so much frantic energy it doesn't allow for the feel of grit and warmth and the sound of laughter and expressions of those loved ones with whom I sift sand every day.  

Tonight at a wedding shower I listened and laughed as two twenty/thirty-something granddaughters chided their grandpa for fibbing to another (young, female) guest.  So much love.  Such a here-and-now celebration. 

Here and now.  I'm going to work on appreciating the gift of the present, along with the gifts of the loved ones we've lost too soon.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

List: Baby Musings

1.  In terms of miles (of sleep) per gallon (of milk), our baby is more Hummer than Prius.

2.  We need a device that helps our baby sleep in her bed, something that simulates being held and/or rocked.  They don't manufacture faux warm arms, though, and I'm afraid to google the words that will help me find what I'm looking for..."soothing," "vibrate"...

3.  We have a wee baby who makes gigantic growling and grunting sounds.

4.  There's nothing graceful about pumping breastmilk.

5.  When our baby cries or gets ready to, her eyes look just like the emoticon of scrunchy eyes and waily mouth.  Kind of cracks me up.

6.  Tootsie still has "preemie head":  long from nose to back of head and narrow from the front, because of sleeping on her side.  They told me in the NICU to round it out by placing her on her back to sleep (of course), but she turns her head to the side.  She is going to need to spend a lot more time in her carseat to round things out.

7.  She's growing out of newborn clothes!  But not newborn behaviors.

8.  I predicted when she reached her due date she would start crying more...I was right.  She's debuting as a regular baby.

9.  So much about parenting has to do with surrender.

10.  "It's my last baby" is my hidden, guilty excuse...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Born Day

I have the cutest profile shadow!
Dear Tootsie,

Today is the day I hoped you would be born, Friday the 13th, 9/13/13.  I would be 39 weeks, one week shy of my due date, and we'd have a planned c-section.  We talked our way around the idea of having your birth on such an in auspicious day by deciding we would make every Friday the 13th a celebration of a most lucky day.  But July 30th turned out to be luckier! Who knew our little September girl would be a July baby?  You're already over six weeks old and over six-and-a-half pounds (big enough that it's hard to imagine fitting you back inside me!). You're on the verge of smiling.  You make lots of noises:  grunting, squeaking, sleepy coos and ooh and ahhs, rarely crying but making determined squawks to get our attention.

Your eyes look blue.  Of course, that could change.  But we're hoping you have the eyes of your Dad, your Grandma Shirley, and your aunts and uncles.

Your dad is so charmed by you he wrote me a text midday yesterday that read, "Isn't our baby rad?"  Indeed.  And so are your big sisters.



We're so glad you're here (already).

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Too Blessed to Be Stressed

I can conjure up a healthy dose of anxiety when change is on the horizon, and I tend to stress out a little in anticipation of transitions.  I forget, for example, at the end of each summer, how I handle the logistics of work and family life during the school year, and imagine that it will be harder than ever this time.  And then the year starts, and what do you know?  I'm coping.  We're okay.  I'm busy, we're bustling, but we make time for family dinners and there are moments of hilarity amidst the homework and driving to and from lessons and practices.  Over the years I've learned I do this, cyclically:  stress out and then figure it out.

But an undertow is tugging at me again.  Call it what you will: the Baby Blues or mild Post-Partum Depression.   I just know it knocks me on my knees most unhelpfully.  I felt it with Big Sis--the joy and in-love-ness, coupled with an inexplicable weepiness and recognition of my own vulnerability.  Why did I feel this way?  Many kind friends would ask me, "Isn't this the most joyous time of your life?" Yes, absolutely!  And...no?  My father, no stranger to the hormonal flux of postpartum emotions, explained that my feelings were helping create the bond that would have me throw myself in front of a train in defense of my newborn.  I found that oddly comforting.   And I eventually emerged unscathed and determined to interact with mothers of newborns differently from then on:  "No, how are you, really?"  Just in case someone else felt similarly.

Ten years later here I am with the baby I yearned for.

In the hospital, in the NICU, in Boston, my emotions had objects:  stressful circumstances, sick baby, unfamiliar and unexpected setting.  Separation from my girls and husband and dog.

But now I'm home, reunited and back in my nest.  And still I find myself wide-eyed wondering why I'm not deeply at peace.

Beyond the clarity of purpose in holding, feeding, staring, talking and smiling at my baby and hugging my girls and husband, my mind zig zags, loops the loop:  making to-do lists, questioning itself, worrying.

There's a new job waiting for me, a Big Job, which I haven't even done yet, but know I can do.  It's the Life + Job that I wonder about, that uncharted territory that I think about each morning when I wake, planning how I'll drop off and pick up and breastfeed and pump and raise my baby and help with homework and cook and do laundry and attend evening meetings and athletic events and dances...and sleep.

And then Guilt, the hair shirt that accompanies bad feelings, bristles my sensitive skin.  I'm "too blessed to be stressed," after all; let me count the ways:  my baby is healthy.  I am raising a thriving, happy family and am married to an incredibly supportive partner.  I have a wonderful new house and job.  I have tons of love and assistance--TONS.  And let me tell you, I know some people who should be crying!  I know some folks going through tough life-and-death stuff, so what is my problem? I ask myself.  There's Syria, and poverty, and depravity, and it's even the anniversary of 9/11, and I'm at home on maternity leave holding a sweet, milky-smelling baby.  Maybe my body needs to plow a field; my mind needs something really serious to focus on.  Could Post-Partum Blues be a first-world problem?

"You're not in charge," the nurse practitioner tells me at my six-week postpartum appointment.  "You can't control this, just as if you had a broken leg or sore throat."  She offers an elixir, with its side effects and promises of relief.  And I hear her, but I want to be the body surfer to this wave, plunging through the whitewash, wave and I both winning and losing, but I, emerging and whipping hair from my face with a triumphant grin.

I'm certain I can get there, and I know the lifeguards are watching.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Behind the Photo Shoot

It was a long shot (ha!) from the start:  scheduling a family photo shoot the day after first soccer games and a sleepover at our house, during a heat wave and amidst our Adjustment Time.  Husband was all in, though:  he wanted a family photo to use for cards for the countless thank yous we will write to our dear friends who have been feeding us, gifting us, cheering us.  Meanwhile the girls scowled at the long-sleeved black shirts and jeans I set aside for them.  They scowled in general.  It had been a rough morning of sibling rivalry and poor attitudes.

Except not really that rough, unless you acknowledge that sleepovers turn children into ugly, whiny, irrational shells of their former selves.  Big Sis was in full throes of Sleepover Detox:  Crying,  bemoaning her pitiful self.  I had little sympathy, having endorsed her sleepover and next-morning pedicures and endured little sleep, myself.

We adopted the Get With the Program approach:  You will go, and you will smile and you will Do This because we are asking you to and it's about Family and Knock It Off, for the love of all things holy.  She and her red-rimmed eyes trudged into the car, and we apologetically showed up on our photographer/friend's doorstep.  She was glad to see we were not perfect, after all, as our marketing director suggests.  The girls commenced having trouble sharing the same space right away, what with one of them touching the other accidentally.  I could tell by Husband's frozen jawline it would be a long afternoon.

Tootsie took stage first, though, and was marginally cooperative herself, squirming and hiding her eyes behind her little hands, versus curling up in sweet sleep like the babies in the pictures adorning the walls of the studio.  She paused for one bottle and a breastfeeding top-off as well as some gnawings on her binky before our photographer could cajole her into some relaxed positions.

Thank you to Melissa of Just Hatched Photography!

Next came the photos with the girls.  There were some dorky grins and fake smiles, but the magic came when Tootsie was in the arms of a sister and they were directed to look at her.  No more fighting and dirty looks, just pure love and adoration.  Thankfully caught on film.  Husband and I joined them and we pulled off some Wholesome Family Togetherness too.

It's the whole Facebook thing, right?  The images we project can be deceiving.  Our photos are lovely and capture our love for one another and our closeness.  But in any family, and certainly in ours lately, there's exhaustion, frustrations, emotions across the spectrum burbling underneath.  So I'm capturing the outtakes.

We survived intact, and Big Sis was even inching toward her cheerier self by the time we left.  Until she bonked her head on the car door...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Day of School

Yesterday was the last first day of elementary school our eldest two will share, their first day of 5th and 2nd grades.  We had our traditional walk to school, this time from our new house and with Tootsie in tow.


It was a little bittersweet; the girls and I only had a few days of summer together before school started, and they weren't completely ready to leave their baby sister and me behind. On the other hand, Fun Summer Mom On the Go was not the mom who came home from Boston.  She was replaced by Breastfeeding Mom of a Preemie, less likely to be beach- and pool-bound.  So maybe heading back to school now wasn't terrible timing. 

Except Tootsie and I found it awfully quiet at home.

As usual, my own school's Back-to-School Night fell on the same day as the girls' first day of school. And I decided to make an appearance and address the parents in the theatre at the beginning (not without a little anxiety, mind you), so I was gone when they got home from school.  It was both strange and good to be back at my other home, school.  We all came home from piano and soccer for a late dinner (provided by a generous friend) and shared stories from the first day.  

At her first California checkup last Friday, our baby girl tipped the scales at 5lbs15oz, weight gain of six ounces since she was last weighed in Boston on Monday!  She appears to be thriving in our custody.

I'm adjusting to a house of people to take care of (versus just a baby in the NICU), busy schedules, and a big house we are still moving into.  I'm trying not to wonder how I'll manage it all when I return to work.  But I can't help it, a little.  Hopefully the transition will feel a little easier every day.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Faeries and Family

Last night was some enchanted evening.

My parents invited us and my brother and his wife and baby to join them for their standing Friday night sushi date on the bay.  It was a hot day which gave way to a balmy evening, golden orange pre-sunset light absorbed by passing sails and then a spectacular sunset against distant thunderheads.

My father brought a special bottle of brut rose to share.  Big and Little Sis dressed up for the occasion.  The sushi chef, accustomed to my parents' tastes, sent a variety of rolls and salads.  We talked about parenting, about family, about turning 10, about how lucky we all are.

Right before we left, Little Sis focused her gaze on the lamp above our table on the walkway outside. "Loooook!" she exclaimed in reverence.  "Fairies!"  We all watched as tiny fluttering winged nymphs dived and circled near the light.  Little Sis couldn't stop staring.  I promised her we'd draw the fairies later to always remember the scene.

We drove home to the Indigo Girls, sisters signing "Come on Home" and "Song of Devotion" and we vowed to go to their concert next summer.  Big Sis told me how when I was in the hospital the sisters sang to each other at bedtime.

At home we rendezvoused on our bed as I fed Tootsie.  Little Sis snuggled in, a little teary all of a sudden, admitting she doesn't feel like my baby anymore: "I don't feel like I'm one...and I liked being little."  I pulled in her long legs and summer-bigger body as Big Sis confessed that her waves of tears the day before were because she wasn't sure she was ready to be 10.

I told them about Sandra Cisneros' essay "Eleven."  I explained that the girl in the story is eleven but feels all the ages underneath sometimes, too:

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay.

I shared that I can see and remember every age they've ever been and understand wanting to be littler, younger, less grown up, too.

We all had a few tears. Our lives have changed--tiny baby is a wonderful disruption but an interruption nonetheless, one that made it easier for Dad and Big Sis to go paddleboarding this morning without me--a reality I had accepted earlier.

As sleepiness settled in and Tootsie finished feeding, we snuggled up with Tootsie on Big Sis's chest. A few big tears of joy sneaked out of the corners of Big Sis's eyes. "This is the best feeling," she whispered. "Thank you, Mom."



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Decade



Dear Big Sis,

You're a decade old today.  I've spent a quarter of my life with you center stage, though it feels like a greater proportion and your influence on me is immeasurable.

Today is your birthday, and we all woke up weary from your baby sister's and my late arrival last night and all the reacquainting and excited sharing we did.  Earlier in the week when I called and asked how you wanted to spend your birthday you magnanimously deferred to Tootsie.  Whatever works for us to do with her, Mom, you said, and my heart swelled.

And so today has been mellow, with each of us taking turns expelling some emotions and feeling a little overwhelmed.

We ate breakfast at one of your favorite spots; you fed your baby sister; we talked with some old friends/visitors; you wrote in your new diary.

I'm respecting your privacy--your need to be you and keep parts of your self sacred.  But I love that you are so open and honest and expressive with us.

You are an avid reader, and are so excited about what you read, you want us to plunge into your favorites too.  Most recently it was Dahl's Mathilda and Palacios' Wonder.  I was hesitant to let you delve into The Hunger Games series, but as you explained yesterday, "I'm not worried about a reaping,  Mom; I'm more worried about Syria."

Like many tweens, you're negotiating friendships and who you are and want to be.  Some of your closest confidantes are moving on to middle school, so 5th grade will mean nurturing new friends and evolving old friendships.

We love your creative spirit:  in your bedroom is a drawer you've fashioned into a miniature house with rooms and furniture; you draw fairies and mermaids; you love to cook and try new foods (including frog's legs on Bastille Day this year!).

We adore you, our bird-boned, thoughtful, analytical, sporty, artistic, kind, and careful first-born daughter.  You've been trying especially hard to be an understanding and patient Big Sis.  There's not much you don't put effort into.

Love,

Mom and Dad and your adoring fans.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

1 Month

Hello friends!

I'm one month old today!  And my "corrected" age is 36 weeks 4 days.


I'm hanging out at my aunt and uncle's in Cambridge with their five-month-old puppy.  Life is good.

It's going to be even better soon, when I'm home with my sisters and Daddy!




Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fond Farewell

Dear Friends,

Today was my first day in sunlight!  Because I woke up this morning, and check out my Goal for the Day:


Guess what, I met my goal (sorta--I'm going to hang out in Boston for a while until I head to my Main Crib). But first, I had to accomplish a few things.


Like meet my Mammom, who flew out here from San Diego to get acquainted with me and help bring me home.  I am her tenth grandchild!  She's a complete pro at being a grandmother, and pretty much a celebrity in my family.  


And I had to pass a Car Seat Test.  It turns out that the angle of car seats can make it hard for some small people like me to breathe, so we have to show that we are safe sitting in our seats for an extended period of time before we leave the NICU.  I took a nice long nap in my seat yesterday.  No big deal.  Oh, and check out my glow foot--is that awesome or what?  Definitely the coolest of my monitor probes.  

 

My nurse gave me a warm bath this morning.  After wondering initially what the heck was going on, and then thinking, hey, this kind of reminds me of a warm dark time inside...I relaxed and enjoyed the rubdown.  Of course, right after that I made a blowout diaper and my mom had to change my outfit, haha.  

Meanwhile Mom had to pack up all our stuff, watch a video on infant CPR, learn how to make my fortified bottles, and sign some paperwork.


The hardest part was I had so many loving people to say goodbye to.  I enjoyed some final snuggles with my nurses.  So many nurses came by yesterday and had long conversations with my mom.  She is going to miss all the friends she made here.  


After Mom fed me one more time, nurse Ellen came in to take off my leads to the monitor.  No more lines, no more beeping.  I was tucked into my carseat and snapped into the stroller, and we rolled out of room 1080.  We had a final goodbye at our neighbor's room--she's a preemie too, and her mom and mine made friends upstairs while they were waiting.  I'm sending all my strength and growth her way, because she's just begun her journey in the NICU, but she's going to do great.  My mom and hers cried and hugged and made the nurses cry too.  They gave each other a ton of support.  Who doesn't need that in this life?

And then we were leaving Blake 10 and the hospital and moving on.  My mom looked a little wide eyed, but I mostly just slept through the journey out and the car ride to my aunt and uncle's apartment at Harvard.  I'm ready for the next thing.  The Big Wide World and I have lots to do, and I've been working all month long to get started. 

Friends, thank you for sticking with us on this adventure, and cheering us on with your notes and gifts and kindnesses.  We'll need your love and understanding when we get home too.  I can't wait to meet all of you, but I have to hang out in Boston for a bit and then bond with my dad and sisters first.  Mom might be a little distracted from the blog because first, she's going to watch me breathe All The Time, and this week we have to check in with doctors to make sure I'm doing okay without my friends at Mass General Hospital, and then ride on the airplane, and get used to being home...  She's happy and relieved but a little tired, too.  She says six weeks feels a little like it was only a few days, but then, it's almost September and the last time you saw her it was July.  

Needless to say, we will see you SOON, buddies!  

XOXO, 

Tootsie




Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wonder



Today may be one of the most lovely of days.  The air is warm but not humid; there's a breeze and a slant of light that suggests the threshold of summer and fall.  The taste of the air and the energy of Bostonians out enjoying the amazing weather reminded me that East Coasters have fervor for beautiful days, seizing the opportunity to be outside and doing it up right, spreading blankets in the grass, crowding outdoor eateries, boating, swimming, running, playing.  Smiling.

I left the air-conditioned hospital after feeding Tootsie to run some errands (how normal!), and found my face greeted by warm sun and friendly people.  I had an irresistible urge to jog or skip, and instead, celebrated my serendipitously glorious day with a soy chocolate fudge ice cream cone from J.P. Licks (the most awesome texture and flavor!  I heard a passerby tell her friend as she watched me lick my cone, "Quiero uno!").

I headed down Charles Street to the Public Gardens, where a friend of my former student who attends Berklee College of Music does a poetry exchange on the bridge--he'll write you a poem and you write one back (amid the other "buskers," including balloon men, musicians, jugglers, etc.).  Alas, he wasn't there, though I was writing poetry in my head as I walked and swooned over my soy ice cream.  I admired the swan boats, the geese, the families, the flowers, the few trees adopting fall colors, and the joy of my current life--healthy children and husband at home, beautiful growing baby here, almost ready to reunite with her family.

I picked up some photos I ordered from the drugstore near the hospital, and traveled the familiar route back to the main entrance, pausing to admire some fluffy-plump birds splashing and frolicking in a filthy puddle in the street.  They seemed to feel as I did about the day and I caught the eye of a woman headed in the other direction and we grinned at each other.

Back in the lounge kitchen adjacent to the NICU I ran into the gentleman who restocks the drinks and delivers our meals--my friend the "Reader with a Capital R."  I told him how wonderful it was outside and asked him about his day.  Did he have any time to read?  Too busy, he replied.  I have a book recommendation for you, I shared.  It's a book I bought for Big Sis, among a stack of young adult titles recommended by someone, somewhere (need to figure that out again!), which she read while she was here and insisted that my sister and her husband read as well. They in turn told me I must read it, too.  And now I want the world to pick it up and discuss.  It was a perfect read for me with a baby in the NICU.

It's called Wonder, I told my hospital friend.  "I love the title already," he responded, "Wonder is something we have as children.  Something I grew up with in Haiti.  But we lose it as adults.  Machines get between us and nature."  (I'm thinking now of one of my favorite poems, Wordsworth's "The World is Too Much with Us":  Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers/Little in nature we see that is ours).

It's a beautiful book, I told him.  It will make you happy.

Thank you, Big Sis, for the strong endorsement.  Thank you, Boston, for this afternoon.  Thank you, my body, for healing so that I want to skip and run and jump today.

My mother will be here in only a few hours.  I CANNOT WAIT for her and Tootsie to gaze at each other.  With wonder.

Friday, August 23, 2013

List: Tootsie's Gifts

After my sister traveled from the Pacific Northwest to visit me and our baby, I wrote her to say how much I loved all our conversations while she was here.  She wrote back, "Me too.  Grateful for the one-on-one time.  It's rare...a sweet gift from Tootsie."

I had the epiphany then that my sister recognized something important about this six-week experience I've had with my new daughter:  it has strengthened relationships, given me time with people who are very very important to me, given my daughters time with people who are important to us, and facilitated some chance encounters with local friends with whom I wouldn't have otherwise caught up.

A dear friend and colleague wrote me an email suggesting that our journey (as chronicled here) may have influenced others as well.  "Pound for pound," he wrote, "Tootsie is having quite an impact."

We haven't endured a tragedy; I would not characterize our baby as a "miracle" unless we all are miracles in some form; the magic is in the reaching out and creating community, which she has encouraged me to do.

Tootsie has offered other gifts as well:

1.  Boston:  I thought, before we arrived in July, that I was more familiar with Boston.  It turns out that attending the Harvard-Yale game in 1990 (I mostly remember a discotheque called "Spaghetti," the tailgate area at the stadium, and the rocket MIT pranksters launched from a field goal post during the third quarter) and running the marathon in 1996 did not afford me many memories of the city itself.  My recent time here has, though, and I've joked that the little girl who brought us to Boston is still the only family member who hasn't gotten out and about in the city yet.  Massachusetts General Hospital is conveniently located within walking distance of just about everything.  While visitors were here, we used time between every-three-hour feedings to make field trips to the Inner Harbor, North End, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the Esplanade, downtown, Long Wharf, Beacon Hill, and Back Bay.  The other day I even gave directions to a tourist on the street.  I loved the city from the start, with its parks, family-friendliness, safety, incredible infrastructure, history, and warm people.  We will return here someday as a family to visit Tootsie's birthplace and all it has to offer.

2.  Empathy:  When Big Sis had surgery for kidney reflux six years ago, I wrote on this blog that one generally comes away from hospital visits feeling grateful and fortunate. This experience is no different.  Though we endured a scary time early on when Tootsie's meningitis was raging, she began showing remarkable signs of recovery and strength very soon, and continued her upward trajectory fairly consistently.  We are surrounded in the NICU by more sober stories--babies born earlier and with more complications.  I met two mothers during dinner in the lounge last night, both of whom gave birth to babies under one-and-a-half pounds at birth.  Both babies have serious lung complications and tracheotomies.  Both parents have already endured months in the NICU.  Both expressed empathy for me when I explained that we were from California.  There's no competition among difficult experiences, only empathy and understanding.  There's struggle, hardship, endurance, and hope.  We all feel it, and living with Tootsie here on the NICU has deepened my sense of empathy for all of us on our journeys, wherever we are.

3.  Patience:  While I've felt anxiety and stress and the desire to get home, I've practiced patience in new ways during the past six weeks.  My initial hospital bedrest foisted patience upon me:  there was nothing to do but wait and accept my circumstances.  And because I was no longer in control, I was able to do so.  No amount of yearning to be home with my children and husband made me want to accelerate our baby's exit from the NICU against better judgment.  She's been the captain of our ship, and I've been the patient first mate.  I feel a remarkable inner calm and lack of urgency now.  We will get home.  The next chapters of our life will unfold.  I am not pushing.

4.  My Littlest Sister:  After living on the east coast for seven years after college and teaching abroad in Kenya for a year, I made the decision to return to California and my family.  My youngest brother and sister were still in middle and high school--I'd left home when they were eight and five.  I have always been glad I made the choice to come home; I credit that decision for my close relationships with those two siblings (now my brother's wife is even my colleague!).  The plan for this trip was that the girls and I would spend time with my sister and her husband before and after a week in Maine.  Instead, my sister spent nights with me in the hospital and was by my side at Tootsie's birth, and I've shared weeks of meals and conversations with her and her husband.  I'm able to more closely admire the life they've built together, their marriage, and their generosity.  And this week I'm here for my sister as she copes with unexpected bad news.  I wouldn't have been otherwise.

5.  Letting Go of Control:  I'm a planner and organizer (though my home and desk don't suggest so) and like to have a firm sense of what's coming.  2013 has been a year of unexpected events:  pregnancy (though wished for, not counted upon), a new house, and a new job.  I must be honest and admit that I've wondered if I could manage it all.  I planned to open the school year with enthusiasm and a little trepidation.  I hoped I'd resume parenting an infant with relative ease.  But I wasn't sure.  To cope with some anxiety and insecurity, I began carefully planning, mapping out the six weeks I'd be back to work in August and September pre-baby with to-do lists and calendars.  And then Tootsie disrupted my scheme--and my worries about "the other stuff."  I wasn't at work in July and August to hire new staff, to set things up and train folks.  I'm not there now to set tone, model, and represent our high school as its leader.  Because I'm not in control, I can only worry so much.  Instead, I focus on the tasks I can actually accomplish from afar, the ways I can help, the reassurances I can give, the questions I can ask on behalf of others, and the decisions I can make.  I feel trust in the team.  I feel confidence in our community.  I know that if I were there--if this hadn't happened--I'd be running on a few more cylinders, spinning out a little, perhaps.  And maybe that spinning is why our top landed here, idle for the moment.  I suspect returning to my job later this fall will be easier with my new perspective and acceptance of the unexpected.  We will see.  But I am grateful to Tootsie for helping me let go and be right where I am.

6.  Time:  Between the waiting upstairs and the pockets of time between infant care and long snuggles now, I've had time to read books, write, and think.  No house to clean, meals to prepare, others to care for except sweet baby girl.  Time, even alone with one's thoughts, but particularly with an infant, is a luxury indeed.

7.  Bonding:  I fell in love with our baby the moment she raised her arm high in birth and made the reassuring squawks announcing her debut.  I felt I could pick her out of a lineup after a few hours.  I believe I know her and her little personality--as tenderly developed as it is thus far--intimately well.  She takes long to awaken, grunting, stretching, wagging her head back and forth, sometimes for half an hour.  She rarely cries, but when she does, it's a sweet "ewww WAH" followed by a longer "WAAAAAH."  When she starts to breastfeed, she often stops to take in the view and contemplate her surroundings and task.  She stops everything when I sing to her, save for furious chomping on her pacifier.  She is "stingy with her burps," according to the nurses, but noisy when one is on its way.  She's alert and watchful and remarkably calm.  She can raise her torso by planting her feet on her bed and pushing upward.  She's learning to put her fingers to her mouth.  She makes the "ooh" face for which her older sister was known.  We've had precious bonding time--almost as if we were relegated to a cave together.  And because I don't live in the Boston area, I've had nowhere else to be and a laser focus on nurturing Tootsie's growth here in our NICU "home."  I suspect we'll long reap the benefits of this unique time together.

8.  Gratitude:  I've always preferred giving to getting, more comfortable offering others assistance than receiving it.  But circumstances sometimes dictate being open to the love and warmth of others without guilt, obligation, or anything but deep gratitude.  The doctors, nurses, therapists, and support staff have offered us such personalized, tender care.  I have been overwhelmed by the unwavering love and generosity of my family members, willing to fly far to be with me and our daughters.  Anything I've needed has appeared, or been offered or procured without question.  Friends and colleagues have sent messages of love and encouragement and thoughtful gifts, and cared for our daughters.  I've been particularly moved by those who've shared their stories of childbearing and parenting with me, memories and anecdotes unearthed through our own storytelling.  We feel so incredibly blessed, nestled in a nurturing cradle of community.

9.  Tootsie, Herself:  She's a caboose of a kiddo, with siblings seven and ten years older than she, but I can feel already the joy she's bringing into our lives.  I look forward to discovering all the other ways she will influence and enrich us.

Thank you for the gift of your presence, sweet baby girl.



Thursday, August 22, 2013

(almost) Untethered!

Today:

NG tube, out!

PICC line, out!

Peripheral IV, out!

MRI, normal!

Tootsie has one foot out the door.

Now to wean ourselves off the monitor!

This afternoon our baby had some snuggle time with the auntie who was there when she took her first breath, and who has supported me through broken waters and on.  We love you.


Look, Ma! No Tube!


Last night we overfed Tootsie and sent her off to her MRI in a proper food coma, and she lay completely still like a champ.  We should get results tonight, and removal of the PICC line should follow.

She came back to our room and continued her breast-and-bottle-only regimen, not sleeping through any feeds, such that her nurse last night pulled the NG tube.  No more passive feeds; we are working for meals from now on (both of us!).  She's gaining weight so steadily that the docs have recommended stepping back the calories we are supplementing in her bottle.  This is good news for plans to ultimately rely on breastmilk only.  

Yesterday I heard from the friend I made upstairs in antepartum, who was nearing 30 weeks after checking in at 26 with ruptured membranes.  I had visited her the night before and all was well, but as can happen (as we know), the picture changed in less than 12 hours as she experienced bleeding and they suspected placental abruption.  She had her c-section in the afternoon and gave birth to a promisingly strong 3lb.-and-change baby girl who squeaked at birth and is now a neighbor in the NICU.  I'm hoping to hug and congratulate my friend today.  

I was able to join our high school staff meeting yesterday via Skype, and the energy, humor, and excitement in the room full of my friends/colleagues gave me a huge boost.  I am so fortunate to work with incredible people and professionals.

This morning students have their first day at our high school, one of my favorite days of the year--the shy excitement, the new outfits, students clutching schedules, wide eyes trying to identify buildings, new seniors claiming territories, awkward silences in classrooms.  As is customary, seniors will file into the opening pep rally to AC/DC's "Back in Black," appropriately attired.  Just as my friends and I did, 25 years ago.  

I will miss my first day as principal and the opportunity to address the school; I've called in sick.  But my heart can be in more than one place at a time, I've learned.  Happy First Day, wonderful school!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Day 21

Yesterday we took the isolette out of the room and moved Tootsie to the same kind of crib babies stay in on the regular post-partum ward:


Our room seems suddenly bigger, and so does she.

The MRI didn't happen yesterday; more emergent cases were the priority.  But we will look forward to crossing that threshold today, and also administering her last round of antibiotics tonight.  When her PICC line is removed, hopefully in the next day or two, she's eligible for a real bath.  And then we start practicing to bring her home.

Over the next week or so I will need to grapple with bringing home my still-wee baby without the comfort of monitors and support of nurses around the clock.  I will have to trust our instincts in caring for her, and rely on our local pediatrician for reassurance that she is on the right track.

It's another form of training wheels coming off, and us, running along beside.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Three Weeks

Thank you for my gifts, sweet friends--I'm still a Cali Girl!
Today is a big day for our girl.  She is three weeks old--and believe it or not, time has sort of flown in that respect here in our little manse in the NICU!  Funny to think she is still not "due" yet, though, for another month.

Nurses will insert another peripheral IV for her today in preparation for her MRI.  She needs it for the contrast aspect of the procedure.  

Last night our proactive nurse began implementing a bottle/breastfeed plan which went well.  Tootsie took three bottles, breastfed once (soon I will be limited to only a few times a day so she gets all her calories), and slept through only one feed.  She sucks her bottles down in no time whatsoever, despite the slow-flow nipple; there's no doubt she has a healthy appetite.  We will keep moving her forward and hopefully away from her NG tube.  Things look promising.  

Tomorrow is Day 21 of her antibiotics, which means her PICC line will come out as soon as we're confident she won't need it (pending lab results).  And then she will have fewer lines--fewer ties binding her, shall we say, to the NICU.  

I've had some sweet visits in the past few days.  A couple whose children were my students, and who share time between Boston and the west coast, came to say hello, and it was wonderful to see familiar faces and catch up.  Yesterday a former student who attends Berklee School of Music came to the hospital to meet our baby and then we went for a long walk through the Public Gardens and down Newbury and Commonwealth Streets (what a gorgeous city this is).  I was buoyed by the excitement of my college-age friend, her exuberance for the life she's living and generosity of time with me.  

And also, we had ice cream at J.P. Licks.  White coffee chocolate chunk...yum.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Strength

Here I am in Boston, a city with which we all felt some affinity after the marathon bombings, as its citizens bonded together under the declaration "Boston Strong" and we all felt buoyed by their optimism, fortitude, and generosity to one another.  Boston Strong tee shirts are ubiquitous here among residents--I see several on my daily meanderings.

And in the situation and setting I am in, there are many references to and I think a lot about strength.

I mentioned to my sister yesterday that I feel this dichotomy inside.  On the one hand, I am someone others consider strong enough to lead a high school.  On the other hand, this experience with a sick baby and living far away from family has exposed my greatest vulnerability.  I've been weepy, unsure, insecure, worried, anxious, and fearful, even when all signs point in positive directions.  Am I these two  personae--both capable and fragile?

My sister lives with a son who is in a consistently delicate medical state with his central line.  She and her husband count on semi-monthly emergency room visits when my nephew is ill or there are problems with the line or tube sites.  We are all in awe of her pragmatism and positivity.  On our walk to the harbor yesterday, though, she described having some of the very same irrational thoughts (overwhelming fear of mortality and worries about her children swimming, riding in cars, getting hurt in general) I have found invade my mind and threaten to affect my general outlook.

I go through the mental exercise of counting my blessings and imagining and appreciating those who are experiencing different, more life-threatening hardships.  I wonder what it means to be "strong."  I wonder about that oft-heard saying that God gives you what you can handle--a suggestion that some of us are built for--and then somehow deserving--of tougher times?  I don't subscribe to that philosophy.  Instead, I search for the learning in the journey (and as my sister eloquently articulated it as she described a particularly difficult time in their family, "we looked for the message").  What do I know about myself now?  What do I better understand about the people around me, about what others are experiencing and what others give and say and use to cope?  What do I know about life that I didn't see or imagine before?

Tootsie is tough, I've felt, since her birth when she emerged squawking and alert, to her relatively quick recovery from her serious infection.  But the babies here who succumb, are they less strong, less determined?  Big Sis is still struggling to understand why our cat couldn't recover from her injuries to live, and in turn I struggle to explain why she would leave us.  Why it might appear our kitty couldn't fight anymore.  I want my daughter to see the strength in knowing that it's time.  There's no rubric for strength applicable to all scenarios which doesn't suggest a kind of comparison, a hierarchy of fortitude.

At home our niece, my daughters' cousin, is caring for her mother, Husband's sister, as she suffers from brain cancer.  Our niece has lost her father already, and in her tender twenties and as an only child, she prepares to say goodbye to her mother, too.  This beloved and admirable niece is the same one who managed Husband's mother's hospice care two Christmases ago.  She is a hero in our family.  And not only for what she's endured--for who she is.

I think of her as having indomitable strength, but with that characterization comes the subtle pressure that suggests she shouldn't waver from her resolute and realistic care and decision-making on behalf of her mother.  That she can't break down and feel helpless and wonder why why why.  I'm thinking differently about strength, now.  I'm thinking it's the staying of the course, the resigned travel down the path which includes breakdowns and meltdowns and steps backward and forward.  The genuine acknowledgement that there are surges of hope and depths of despair.  We are all strong for facing our challenges, then.

I want to share part of our niece's story with you, in her own words.

What do you know about strength, from yourself and others?  When have you faced your most vulnerable self?