Sunday, August 21, 2011

just the facts, ma'am

I wanted to write a post updating you on my life.  It was going to be great – inspiring, even.  Trouble is, I don’t have time and at the moment, I’m not feeling terribly inspired.  Grad school starts this week, and I’m beginning to doubt I’ll ever have time again in the foreseeable future.  When I can, I plan to cobble together bits and scraps of posts I’ve began and not finished, but in lieu of that, and in the minute or so I have to myself, I will give you an outline of the post I would have written this evening:

I. Jenn’s Weight Loss Goals

A. Jenn joins Weight Watchers, and likes it okay.  Whether all the tracking and point keeping is really making the difference or not, she’s losing weight, and it gives her an idea of what she’s eating and how much.

B.  Jenn does Couch to 5K.  She’s on week 5 (of 9) of the program, and it’s been pretty easy.  She thinks she could run a 5K right now if she really had to, but she’s glad she’s taking it slow, so she’ll avoid injury and not lose the weight too fast.

C. Jenn loses 10 lbs and fits into one pair of her pre (second) pregnancy jeans.  This should make her super happy, except for A) they’re the horrible jeans that she took to the tailor to get hemmed and were then hemmed too high, so now they have kind of a high-water flared look which is NOT flattering. B) She still looks fat in pictures (thank you, FB), which is demoralizing and makes her feel like giving up/hiding under the bed/never eating again.

II. Jenn’s Academic Pursuits

A. Jenn visits Mills.  When she stepped on to the campus, she had that angels singing feeling she had when she first stepped on the BMC campus almost twenty years ago.

B. Jenn hires a nanny.  No, the nanny doesn’t speak Spanish, but she’s a regular Mary Poppins, an Ethopian Mary Poppins who doesn’t believe in strollers or plastic bottles or diaper wipes. 

C.  Jenn freaks out a little at the prospect of a huge reading load, and decides to try to read Cutting For Stone and Jane Eyre simultaneously, while nursing and/or trying to tune out Dora the Explorer, you know, for practice.

III.  Jenn’s Parenting Ups and Downs

A.  Jenn fields an endless barrage of three year old’s questions on topics ranging from gender differences to death and dying.

B. Jenn holds sleeping boy and thinks the baby months are going by way too fast.

C.  Jenn thinks she’ll be a better mother (not to mention a better wife) now that she’s not going to be a full-time mom, but panics just a little at the thought of not being with her children every minute of the day.

That’s about all I can do for now, but I’ll try to post updates (however brief) as I can for interested parties.  Until then, think good thoughts!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


So I'm wondering if I'm actually ever, in the foreseeable future, going to be able to finish a blog post.  We're in the middle of bedtime again, and the combing the hair wars have begun.  Karissa's giving herself a timeout, and I'm feeling like a jerk trying to blog when there's a little girl to be put to bed.  So I'm giving up.  Again.  Instead of trying to write a post catching everyone up on my life in long essay form, I'm going to offer a potpourri of the posts I've started, but not come anywhere close to finishing in the last month or so.  Enjoy.


The weekend was a fun one.  We threw a little backyard get together for K's 39th on Sunday, and had a nice crowd of people.  They day before was a little stressful, as the gazebo we absolutely needed in our direct-sun only backyard didn't go up as smoothly as expected.  And of course, it was Saturday morning, with the thing half-built, that we realized that some key pieces were missing.  Karissa had to go to another Target (they didn't have any more at the Target near us) to get another gazebo, get the missing pieces out of it, and finish putting it up.  So this took most of the day.  Then I had the bright idea to take my three year old daughter to a very crowded Trader Joe's for party food.

I don't know if all stores in this chain are the same (although I've had the same experience at both the El Cerrito and SF locations), but Trader Joe's seems to bring out the worst in people.  They are beyond impatient, and they seem to think the space they take up is more important than anyone else's.  Add to this a child who has no concept of personal space (talks to everyone, touches everyone and everything, grabs onto every cart she sees), and you can imagine my stress level by the time we got into the car to go home.  I dropped her and the groceries off, and got the rest of the supplies on my own.

For the last year or so, Julia's been trying to figure out gender in the way that most children do, by asking (usually very loudly) if someone (usually a stranger) is a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.  In general, she's gotten much better.  Interestingly enough, the first cues she ever used to discern gender were voice cues.  Our male friends were particularly delighted when, around the time she turned two, she would shout "That's a man!" as soon as they said hello, and at regular intervals for the duration of their visit.  She continues to have trouble with older women and androgynous/gender non-conforming people she does not know/hasn't heard speak.  Now she's beginning to take hair lengths and styles of dress into account, which is making things a little more confusing for her at the moment.

 I know it's pretty typical for the age, and I assume everyone else does, which is why I'm often surprised at people's reactions.  For some people, having their gender questioned can cause confusion, embarrassment, or anxiety, while other people laugh it off or take it in stride.  You just never know what someone's reaction will be.

I felt like crawling under a rock when J asked me about the older woman in line at TJ's, well within her earshot.  She chuckled, taking a liking to Julia immediately, and took the opportunity to ask her about the food in our cart and which of it she was going to eat.  Passing a young woman (ironing board figure, longish blond hair stuffed into a snap cap) on yesterday's walk, however, Julia pointed and said something about his bike.  She looked up from her cell phone to bark, "Her bike!"  "Sorry, it's the age," I replied, although I must admit my tone was more like, "Back off, *sshole."


As I write this, my gorgeous 10-week old baby is laying in his bouncer, smiling in his sleep.  My partner and my daughter are running around the backyard and splashing in the kiddie pool.  I am officially sick with some kind of nasty virus that's given me a low grade fever and a very sore throat, something I probably (ironically) picked up at the gym.

If you've read the last few posts (and if you haven't, here's a summary), you know I'm working on a whole body/mind/spirit overhaul, which started once I'd recovered from the birth of my son a few weeks ago, an event I go into in "the other side."  I hesitate to call what I went through a "near death" experience.  I was in a room full of doctors and nurses, prepared and equipped to handle the hemorrhage that followed my c-section.  Death was not a likely outcome.  But even so, the experience, and several experiences leading up to it late in my pregnancy, led me to what I can only describe as a revelation.

In life, you can hide or you can show yourself.  I've done a bit of both throughout my life, and I know what feels better.  Rather than call what I'm doing a make over, I'm trying to take a look at myself and my choices and figure out where I've put up a front.  I have to deconstruct the public faces I've created in the past, and give a hard look to what lies underneath.

It may seem that I've made a superficial start of things.  Getting my haircut, shopping, hitting the gym.  But I've been working on some other things too, things not as conducive to humorous recounting, but things that are probably more at the heart of this whole process.

If you've ever heard the song, "Lady Is a Tramp," you may remember the line (as Ella sings it) "I never bother with people I hate."  The song lists a number of things that make the lady a tramp because they're the opposite of what is fashionable or expected.  Now, hate's a strong word.  There are many people I dislike, it's true, but I try to reserve hating for a very chosen few.  But the idea that I have bothered with these people (which I know everyone has to from time to time), even gone to lengths to get them to like or accept me, is telling.  Whatever it is I'm trying to get, it's rarely worth having.  Recently, when I'm tempted to bother with someone I'm only indifferent to, I think about why and wonder, is there something more valuable I could be doing with my time?

I made a playdate, maybe a month ago, with an acquaintance.  During the course of the morning, we started talking about friendship, or rather, where parenting and friendship overlap.  I said, straight up, that I wasn't really in the market for any new friends, given the past year and what I've been through since I moved to Berkeley (unconditional friendship).  I was thinking about it because a few moments before, my "unfriending" friend, the one who suckerpunched me with a break-up email this past February, had appeared next to me at the park.  She'd made a special effort to come up to me, say nice things about my appearance and my new baby, remark on how Julia had grown, and say in a really stilted way how nice it was to see me.  I responded in kind ("You look great, too!  My, how big your boys are! Great to see you, too!) in what will go down in history as the fakest conversation ever.  I spent the rest of the park time swinging Julia on swings, changing the baby's diaper, etc., when my "unfriending" friend comes up to me again.  I just wanted to say I'm sorry, she says.  I never meant to hurt you.  I only wish the best for you and your family.  I know we'll see each other again, and I hope we can be friendly.  I wanted to say, If you didn't mean to hurt me, why did you?  How could you just let me go?  Am I worth that little to you?  But, instead of being defensive or angry, I was honest.  

"It was impossible for me to stop caring about you, but I did what you wanted.  I've basically avoided every situation in which we could run into each other.  I had a rough pregnancy and some serious challenges with Julia.  Under that stress, I must have done something pretty awful to you for you to respond the way you did, so I'm sorry. I wish you the best, too."  We made some other small talk, I think, before we went our separate ways, but that was the gist of it.  I'm glad she broke the ice, and gave me a general apology, but I still don't know what I did to her.  Maybe it's better that way.  Maybe it doesn't matter at all.


I'm so tired.  I'm bone tired, hit the sack tired.  But of course, it's not bedtime yet, because the kids aren't settled.  Karissa's in the bedroom with Julia.  She'll be in there for fifteen minutes before she comes stomping out and Julia burst into a full on tantrum.  Last night, J was dictating the lines Karissa was to say in a scene she wanted to play out, and when K finally says, Shhh, no more talking, the wailing began.  And it's mommy's turn.  I lay down with Julia, tell the requisite stories, rub her back, and she's asleep.  I walk back to the living room and K's rocking the very awake baby boy.  "He's hungry again."  The minute I have him on my lap, and before any actual nursing can occur, he's asleep too.  On the plus side, I feel like I'm really needed and loved by my children.  On the other, this mommy-only bedtime routine is wearing me out.  Tonight, K's back in the room with Julia and it's quiet enough.  The baby keeps faking me out, though.  I peek to the pack 'n play and behold, sleeping baby.  Then I sit on the couch and type for a solid minute before he starts squeaking and grunting.  Back to the pack 'n play, and there he is again, angelic sleeping boy.  Take two steps away, snort grunt squeak.  So I'm going to try to feed him again and come back to this.


One-handed blogging from the iPhone. It seems like the only way I can actually make it happen these days. My "free time" these days amounts to the time --

Yeah, I didn't even get to finish two sentences on that one.  I promise something more cohesive soon, once we're over this crazy transition.  Until then, think good thoughts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

back to school

Life, as usual, moves faster than I can blog.  I have to accept sometimes that life needs to be lived before it can be reflected upon, that often things don’t make sense until some distance is achieved. So what can I give in terms of updates? 

Let’s see, I didn’t make it back to the gym for three days due some strep-like virus thing (that after a frustrating morning at Kaiser, I found was not, in fact, strep).  I got to experience just how difficult it is caring for two children with a sore throat and a 101 degree fever.  But I was able to reap the benefits of the “can’t eat that because I can hardly swallow” diet, and lost more weight than I was expecting to.  Since the first weigh-in three week ago (yes, I’m calling them weigh-ins), I’ve lost about four pounds, which is in line with what I’m supposed to be losing.  There’s no reward yet in the pre-pregnancy pants department, but I’m getting there, and I feel better, which is actually the point of all of this.

In the line of trying new things, finding my niche, etc., I’ve decided I’d like to take up sewing, at least give it shot, so I’m trying to find a way to do that inexpensively and set myself up for success.  I could fill several blogs with the DIY disasters of my life (exploding ceramics! misshapen knitwear!), but I’d really like to do something with this one, as it could solve some of my fashion dilemmas and get me excited about clothes again.  I’ve found a dress that I swear I’ve wanted to own/make since childhood.  It’s a “very easy” Vogue pattern: halter with a full skirt that hits below the knee.  So we’ll see.  If I borrow a sewing machine, go to a discount fabric place for materials, I’ll probably only be out $30 whatever happens, so it’s a small investment.

Probably the biggest thing looming right now is grad school.  I start an MFA program at Mills College in the fall for creative writing.  I’m excited, so excited I almost can’t write about it.  It means I’m doing something real with my writing, but also still supporting my career as a teacher, which is much more than a fallback, it’s a job I want to do, in some capacity, for the rest of my life.  I was afraid I’d never get to go to school full time again, for a few reasons.  First, I went to a good school for undergrad, but I majored in something I didn’t love, so my grades, especially in the last two years, were average at best.  I came out at about that time, too, so let’s just say, I was, ahem, distracted (read more of Jenn’s coming out story here!). 

Also, once I was working full time, I didn’t imagine ever being able to afford to stop working, and had a lot of difficulty imagining holding down a full time job and going to school at the same time.  So I took baby steps.  I did a summer fellowship through Teachers College worth a few graduate credits.  I went to a few conferences at universities offering credits.  I spent a year getting my teaching credential through a program for working (private school) teachers when I was pregnant with Julia.  And now I’m not working full time, not ready to go back to teaching full or even part time, and I found a program in the area that will help me not only further my teaching career, but begin a legit writing career.

Writing has always been a sacred thing for me, and up until very recently, a private thing.  I’ve kept a journal (or several) since I was about nine, but I’d only shared scraps of writing from them with a few people (usually my significant other at the time).  I balked at the idea of blogging at first, as it seemed like such a public display of, well, everything, and I didn’t think I could take the exposure.  I have this tendency to freak out and rip apart any public performance I give about a minute after I give it.  But then, I was assigned to start a blog by my Curriculum and Instruction professor, and teacheteria was born (which morphed into mamateria once the class ended and I gave birth to Julia).  I got some good feedback from people I trusted, so I kept going.  

Around the same time, I was teaching seventh grade at a small private school in San Francisco.  I was a humanities teacher, meaning I taught a combined course of language arts and social studies.  I required my students to keep a journal and gave them some dedicated time every day to write.  On Friday afternoons, students would share from their journals.  As you might expect, some kids wanted to share all the time, every day; they couldn’t wait for Friday to come.  And then there were the kids for whom sharing was like having a tooth extracted.  I understood those kids.  So I decided to set an example and begin to share some of my writing with them. 

Reluctant to share any of my own real journal entries, I decided to write a story for my students, one I would read aloud from each week.  A lot of them were into fantasy writing, and being twelve or thirteen, were chock full of new teen angst, so I decided to write them a young adult fantasy of the kind that’s become so popular (insert snarky comment about Twilight here), and see if I couldn’t put my own spin on it.  I based the main character loosely on a thirteen year old me, which also kept them interested, knowing it was at least in part autobiographical, though I was a little cryptic about which parts.  I think most of them knew I couldn’t really fly.  Well, they began to get into the story, and I got really into writing for them and getting their reactions and their feedback.  The thing took on a life of it’s own, and I continued writing it on and off for three years for and with my students.  At about the fifth or sixth chapter, I realized two things.  One, I realized I was on my way to really writing a book.  Two, I had no idea how to write a book or what to do with it once I was finished.  And I wanted to share this one once it was done.  I didn’t want it to sit on a shelf, which it did anyway for about two years while I got my mommy career underway. 

This past fall I was tutoring a young man who was putting together a portfolio to audition for the School of the Arts in San Francisco.  And at home, I was back at my story, fine tuning, expanding, preparing it to present with an application to an MFA program.  Something had clicked inside me, and I realized that while motherhood would always be my most important work, it could not be my only work.  And if I was going to take any time away from my kids, it was going to be for something really worth my while, something stimulating, something nourishing.  But as bored and as frustrated as I knew I was with stay-at-home motherhood, I couldn’t do something that would take me away from them for 40+ hours a week.  I did that with Julia, and I lasted exactly six months before I had to quit to be with her.  I said it then, and I’ll say it now, I loved that job.  I just loved my daughter more.  So what if I could have both?  

When I got into the program, I was ecstatic.  Since I got the news, I've gone through orientation, registered for my classes and gotten more and more pumped.  I get to go back to school; get to be the student again after so much time.  My life has a new direction, the right direction, it feels like finally.  As the semester approaches, though, I have these (sometimes absurd) questions running through my head: Will it be everything I’ve imagined? Will it be too stressful, juggling school with two kids? Will everyone be younger than me?  Will everyone be weird?  Will everyone be super competitive?  Will anyone else have kids?  Most likely everyone won’t be any one thing and I’ll have to force myself to suspend judgement, be patient, and let the next chapter unfold.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

i am woman

Imagine if you will, a woman.  We'll call her woman A.  She's tallish, fit, muscular.  Where she isn't mud spattered, her brown skin glistens with sweat, and shimmers with sun filtered through the trees.  She's hurtling down a hillside on a mountain bike, and the only sounds you hear are the crackling of leaves and twigs as her wheels carve the ground.

Now, imagine a second woman, woman B.  Same height, same skin color.   You can see in her legs and arms some hints of strength, but her general figure is an exaggerated hourglass.  Her belly is still significantly distended from her recent pregnancy.  She walks slowly up a steep incline, in place, on a treadmill, in a flourescent lighted room filled with workout machine and free weights.  You hear the quiet sound of people talking and the fan whirring overhead.

Woman B is a fairly exhausted, but determined stay-at-home mom of two/future graduate student.  Woman A is the same person, obviously, but she's also an athlete, and by New Year's 2012, I'm hoping I will be her.

Now I've never downhill mountain biked.  But I did run a marathon in what now seems a lifetime ago.  Before that, I was hardly athletic.  A good metabolism, a dance class here, a dance club there, and a fair number of cigarettes kept me trim enough through my most of my twenties.  But then in 2002, I had some real trouble.  I was in a long term relationship that was falling apart, and I decided to try to get my mind right by starting to run.  A cross country coach position at my school had opened up, so, with one whole month of running (mostly around the block) under my belt, I asked my friend Dave, the other coach, if I could have the job.  Nice guy that he was, he said yes.  A few months later, he told me that he was training a few other teachers for the Marine Corps marathon and asked me if would I like to sign up and train with them.  Well, it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I did it.  Six months later I was twenty pounds lighter, in the best physical shape of my life, and I'd developed a passion that would sustain me through a very challenging time.  With Dave's support and friendship and a fair amount of perseverance on my part, I trained for and finished a marathon.  I could safely call myself, at that point in time and for several years afterward, an athlete.

Flash forward, and here I am.  A very different person at a very different crossroads.  Sure, losing twenty pounds will be awesome.  Sure, fitting into my pre-preggo jeans will be cause for major celebration, but this is part of a larger change, the one I keep talking about, the makeover that takes me back to myself.  Part of it is being able to call myself an athlete again.  And what does that mean to me?  Well, aside from the Missy Giove (champion downhill mountain biker and idol of my youth) picture I've painted, an athlete is someone who exercises pretty much every day.  An athlete doesn't think twice before lifting a child (and can do so without making a grunting noise), chasing a toddler (and isn't out of breath after doing so), or joining a friend for a hike, a run, a bike ride, or the occasional triathlon.  I have to start small, I know this.  I can't run, I can't do anything high impact, and I can't do anything that would cause me to lose more than 1 to 2 pounds per week, since I'm nursing, and doing any drastic weight loss thing would impact my milk supply.  But I figure I'll go to the gym, at least 4 times per week, and work out for at least half an hour.

I hear voices in my head constantly (don't worry, not the schizophrenic kind) saying what you may be thinking/may have already said to me.  Sometimes it's along the lines of, Give yourself a break, after all you've been through; other times it's something to the tune of, Just be thankful you're alive to mother your children, don't ask for more than your due.  To the first voice, I say, I don't want a break.  I've had my break.  Working out isn't work to me, it's part of my healing process, it's something I need like sunshine or sleep.  I can survive without it (like I can survive without sunshine or sleep), but there are consequences not just to my physical health, but to my mental health as well.  To the second voice I say, How better to honor the life I've been given than by taking care of my body?  I also honor my children, who deserve to have a mother who is healthy and happy.  Fine, the voices say, but do you have to be so dramatic?

But really, it's the guilt in me, accusing, defending, the guilt they give free with membership to the motherhood club.  We feel we have to justify everything we do, connecting it somehow to our most important job.  There's a passage in first chapter of Peter Pan, when Barrie describes the children's mother.  She has a kiss in the corner of her mouth that Wendy can never have.  It's not for her husband or her other children, and the reader is never told what it is or who it's for.  I always thought that kiss represented the part of her that was just for herself, independent of the people she mothered.  Maybe all mothers need that, maybe that's what I'm seeking approval for, but from whom?

All these feelings aside, say I've decided that I, woman B, am determined to become woman A, athlete extraordinaire, in spite of the guilt and the voices (I have).  Say I have the support of my friends and family (I do).  There's another gigantic obstacle.  Logistics.  Karissa was home Friday, so I could go to our neighborhood Y without too much fuss.  I was able to pump (breastmilk), take my time getting dressed, walk to the gym even, do my little elliptical thing, and walk back.  Same for Saturday.  Sunday was K's birthday, and we were having people over, so I skipped a day.  Monday was the 4th, so K was off again.  Easy peesy.  And then Tuesday came.  I spent the entire day laying the groundwork for my 45 minutes away that evening.  I pumped in the morning while Julia watched Dora and Gregory slept.  I went to Target (with two children!) and got a few necessities for the week.  After lunch I went to the grocery store (with two children!) and got food for dinner for the next few nights, stuff that would be healthy yet easy for K to prepare in my absence.  I did some dishes.  I did some laundry.  I waited for K to get home.

Well, she gets home a little later than normal, and I haven't started dinner and I haven't gotten dressed.  So I attempt to do that, only to find that my regular workout clothes have accidentally been put in the dryer.  If I thought they were a little snug before, they are obscene and ridiculous now.  So I rip them off my body and hunt for a pair of my now famous maternity yoga pants.  But, whoops, the baby's hungry again, so let me top him off before I leave.  And uh oh, Julia's lack of sleep the night before has caught up to her all at once, and she's throwing a very loud tantrum because she's not being allowed to have bunny fruit snacks before dinner.  Amidst the chaos, Karissa's shouting, Go, just go!  So, lump in my throat, I go.  I get back and it's an hour before I can even shower the stink off, and I never do have dinner myself.

Today was not as bad.  I started the tater tots before I left.  Julia was drawing on the floor, Gregory was asleep in the pack 'n play.  I pulled on my too tight work out shirt, remembered that it was too tight and swapped it for a maternity t-shirt, albeit a small one.  And my workout pants today were of the non-maternity variety, so that made me feel a little better.  As I write this, I still have not showered, but both kids are asleep, and I've had a ham sandwich.

Will I go tomorrow?  I don't know.  Should I?  As I've told Karissa, I'm not sure I have a choice at this point.  I don't want to feel out of shape, overweight, helpless, hopeless, anymore, ever again.  I'm done.  So when a fellow mom asked me at the park today how I'll do it, how I plan make time to go to the gym every day, I self-assuredly laid it all out for her, and she was sufficiently impressed.  And then I took a deep breath and said, You know, the plan hasn't worked, and might not ever.  I may very well need a new plan before the week is out.  But you just get to a certain point, and you have to.  And so you do.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

she's got the look

At this point in my life, given its recent chapters and the new ones that are unfolding, I have some clear ideas about who I want to be from here on out.  I want to integrate who I am with who I'm becoming, rework and reset my goals.  A huge part of this transformation, this reclamation of self, has to involve the way I walk through the world and who I see in the mirror.  I have to ask myself, What does this new, authentic and actualized Jenn look like?  Short answer, not the way I look now.  What's my first step?  A good, old-fashioned DIY makeover! 

For a long time now, my fashion choices have stemmed from a desire to blend in.  In the workplace, at the park, I haven't wanted to stand out or make waves, I've wanted to make an impact with my personality, my words, my actions.  I've wanted to slip into the mainstream unnoticed and decide where and when to challenge people's assumptions.  It's not the worst strategy in the world, but it's backfired on me one too many times. When your look is generic and non-descript, you run the risk of escaping notice altogether, or at least having to fight for attention.  So I decided, I want make an immediate impression.  At least if someone judges me, prejudges or misjudges me, they will have noticed me.  So again, I asked myself, What does that look like?

Unsure of where to begin, I decided to start with a haircut.  My last haircut had been at eight months pregnant, and my stylist spent the entire time she was cutting my hair asking me endless quesitons about my daughter's birth at home and my forthcoming hospital birth plan, as she'd apparently spent her break watching The Business of Being Born on her iphone.  I couldn't go back to her, even if I'd liked the cut, because I knew the first question out of her would be something like, So how'd it go?

I typed "curly hair, Berkeley" into Google and found a salon on Fourth Street that got rave reviews.  First I thought, hey, I'll just call and get the first appointment with whomever, but then I stopped, visited their website, and skimmed the stylists bios.  F. said she liked when her clients were open and willing to try something new.  Bingo, I thought.  It helped that she was pierced, tattooed and had a slick, bleached out crop.  Clearly this was a woman who didn't have a problem standing out.

I pretty much gave her carte blanche to do whatever it would take to get me out of the lampshade-shaped wedge my ringlets had grown into.  Take it as short as you want to, I said.  And she said she thought I should grow it out.  Really? I said, skeptical.  But something about her inspired confidence, so I was determined to trust her vision.  During the forty-five minute appointment, in addition to an in-depth hair consultation and cut, I got a review of the local undergound/alternative scene from indie rock to burlesque to queer cinema.  Once upon a time, I was reasonably well versed in these areas, but my soon-to-be-coifed head was spinning as I struggled to keep up, often having to pretend to know bands and groups and personalities to keep the conversation flowing.  She did the entire cut with a straight razor and the result exceeded all expectations.  I was grateful, not just for the new 'do, but the overall experience, grateful that she leapt to the (wrong) conclusion, namely that I would get her and her references, grateful that she didn't know anything about kids or babies or childbirth, and didn't want to know anything about them.  Don't get me wrong, I love to talk about my children, but I want people to take for granted that I can talk about other things, too.

It was a promising start, but the most challenging phase was yet to come.  When you get a haircut, someone else is making the key decisions, and you have to live with the results, at least for a little while.  Not so with buying new clothes, at least not for someone in my tax bracket (i.e. no stylist, no personal shopper). Now, I don't follow fashion trends, unless you count following six seasons of Project Runway, but I know what I (used to) look good in, and I know what I like.  I thought if I could see my favored elements of style all together in a list, that it might suggest a complete "look."  So I started brainstorming.  My completed list included oxford shirts, watch/wallet chains, leather boots, long skirts, suit jackets, vintage prints, and well, you get the idea.  Turns out that the sum of "what I like" becomes what I imagine one would wear to a steampunk convention or as an extra on the set of Moulin Rouge -- a rock and roll Anne of Green Gables, as it were.  Not at all sure how that could translate to my day to day life, I went back to the drawing board.

I think the trouble is, beyond a good pair of jeans, I don't know how to get excited about casual clothes.  I used to love any excuse to dress up, but as I've gotten older, my opportunities to do so have become few and far between.  Admittedly, my true tastes are a bit formal for the Bay Area in 2011, at least given my student/SAHM status.  I adore dress shopping more than is probably healthy.  I've been known to get a bit crazy in vintage stores around Halloween putting together a proper period ensemble.  Give me a gala to dress for, and I don't need any guidance, but I break into hives deciding what to wear to a playdate or a backyard barbecue, and that's pretty much what my social life amounts to these days.  Bottom line, I don't know how to marry style and my lifestyle into a look that is authentic (there's that word again) and effortless.  And I'm not sure what's worse, trying too hard or my current strategy, not trying at all.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the issue of my body at eight weeks postpartum.   My body now is not my body as I know it or want it to be.  Granted, I've made tremendous progress since giving birth, but this doesn't serve to make the dressing room mirror any kinder.

I thought it prudent, under the circumstances, to start with that casual staple, a good pair of jeans, forgetting for the moment that, next to bathing suit shopping, jeans shopping has the potential to be the most traumatic.  I started online, as it seemed relatively painless.  Painless maybe, but so very confusing.  My needs are simple.  Dark wash, boot cut, low rise.  Some stretch wouldn't hurt.  Money's an issue, so I stay away from designer brands I know cater to toothpick tweens anyway.  So I headed virtually to the GAP.  I know I don't want anything with the descriptors skinny or straight, but how does one distinguish between Curvy, Sexy Boot, Modern Boot, Boyfriend, and all the other permutations without trying them on?  I went to Levi's website, hoping that it would be more straightforward, given the longevity of the brand and its reputation for utilitarian simplicity.  Oh, no.  At the Levi's website you need to determine something called your Curve ID.  To do this, you need to take a quiz about how pants fit you.  That's right, a quiz.  I rated something called "Supreme Curve," the highest of the curvy scores.  Well, I always was an overachiever.  But sorry, people with supreme curves don't also get to have a low rise pair of jeans, and frankly, you get too high in the rise and you know where you are: mom jean territory.  There were surprisingly few dark wash options, and online, exactly none in the size I think I am now.  So I'd have to go shopping, and not in the city, because San Francisco, though not that far away, is still too far from my nursing baby.  So it was on to the brick and mortar shopping center in Emeryville ten minutes away.

I started again at that ubiquitous chain, the GAP.  GAP started with jeans, so it stands to reason that they'd know what they're doing in that department, and since they try to cater to everyone, you'd think they'd fit most bodies/tastes.  Even so, I found ONE pair in the entire store that fit the bill.  I put them on hold and went to hit the other stores before committing, but ended up skipping most of them for one reason or another.  I couldn't go into Guess or Express or Abercrombie and Fitch, as I know I don't want to look like an ultra femme overly accessorized teenager.  I couldn't go into Ann Taylor Loft or Banana Republic or J Crew, either.  While they cater more to my age group, their clothes seem to communicate a sort of conservative pastel respectability I'd also like to stay away from.  So my last shots before the shops and my time ran out were Old Navy and H & M.  Though their clothes tend not to hold up so well, these stores tend to at least carry a variety of styles, basic pieces like jeans and t shirts, and you can get a lot for not so much money.

I stepped into Old Navy, only narrowly missing the greeter, who was encouraging people to scream for extra savings.  I guess at that point I should have run screaming from the store, but no, I was determined to give it a shot.  I made two separate trips to the dressing room, hauling huge piles of clothing each time, and with each piece I pulled on (or tried to) was progressively more horrified.  I was also becoming increasingly hungry, and the lower my blood sugar got, the more I was convinced that maternity yoga pants were and would forever be my only fashion option.

I gave up for the day, knowing I didn't have the mental or physical energy to slog through H & M, and headed to a familiar refuge, the bookstore.  The rest of my external makeover would have to wait, but I could soothe myself by starting the internal one.  At the checkout, the cashier looked over my magazine selections (namely Bust, Bitch, and Curve) and gave me a knowing smile.  You have some intelligent reads here, she quipped.  I sighed and said, Yeah, well.  I have some catching up to do.  At least I'll have something to talk about at my next hair appointment.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the other side

I've been putting off writing this entry, because it was obvious to me what the topic would have to be.  And for a long time I haven't wanted to write about it.  My second childbirth story has a happy ending: a beautiful nine pound baby boy, healthy and perfect.  As if in sympathy for me, he has been a lovely, easy baby for the last seven and a half weeks.  I've made a complete recovery, and have been cleared to exercise, meaning I'm finally on the road to reclaiming my body, and with it, parts of my identity I'd almost lost completely.  I'm actually grateful to be able to fret about the twenty pounds of baby weight I need to shed now.  I'm grateful to cart around my children on errands and to the park all day.  Because it means I'm OK, the people I love are OK, and whatever daily stresses I encounter, I actually have no real problems right now.

My water broke on a Saturday afternoon.  We had time to call a friend to come over to watch Julia, time to make sure we had everything I needed for the hospital.  We drove to the hospital at a leisurely pace, checked in, chatted with the doctors and nurses, and waited for me to go into labor, which I did within a couple hours.  The contractions started.  My partner and doula were with me.  I had a heplock IV in my hand, a blood pressure cuff on my arm, and a wireless monitor around my belly, and the nurses on duty kept tabs on my progress.  These were the more annoying, but expected aspects of a hospital birth I had been dreading, but I took them in stride.  Even when the contractions got painful, I was able to power through them and make jokes between them.  Until about six centimeters, that is, when everything seemed suddenly not funny anymore.  The pain went from just bearable to excruciating, and just as suddenly, all of the monitoring I had been tolerating, the machines, the cold room, the people coming in and out began to make me feel horribly self-conscious, vulnerable, angry.  My brave face fell to the floor, and the only thought that I could reliably form was, Make it stop.  Just make it stop.  So when the doctor recommended Fentanol (just a narcotic through the heplock, just to take the edge off), I said yes.  They administered it, and it did take the edge off.  For about ten minutes.  When the contractions came back I was officially out of my mind, screaming like a wild animal.  So they offered the epidural.  And I said yes.

Trouble was, the contractions were so strong and so painful, they couldn't get the catheter in my spinal column.  So they tried again.  And again.  When it seemed the epidural would be impossible the anesthesiologist offered the next weapon in her arsenal: a good old fashioned saddle block, which I took, and spent the rest of my labor disturbingly numb from the waist down.  When I was fully dilated and it was time to push, I could feel nothing.  Luckily, about an hour into the pushing, the feeling came back, and even though the contractions were as bad as ever, the pushing helped the pain.  The baby descended, but at +2 station, he would go no further.  I spent the last two hours of my twelve hour labor thinking that with one more push, my baby would be born.  But he wouldn't come, and his heart rate was dipping with each contraction.  They gave me more Fentanol, so I would sit still enough to get the epidural, with the plan that they would take me to the OR to continue pushing with the help of a vacuum extractor, and if that didn't work, I would have an emergency c-section.  As soon as they got me into the OR the baby's heart dipped alarmingly low, and I heard the doctor say, "That's it, let's open."  I agreed, of course, resigned to this outcome by this point.  The curtain went up, and I was prepared for the surgery.

The next thing I knew, I heard the cries of my newborn son, but moments after he was pulled from me, the machines started going off and the doctors noticed the blood, my blood, leaving my body rapidly and covering the floor.  I felt my breath leaving me, as a bulky oxygen mask was slammed over my face, which ironically, made breathing harder.  Panicked, I pushed it away only to have the doctor push it back over my nose and mouth over my weak pleas and protests.  At the same time, Karissa was thrown out of the OR.  For 45 minutes after she left, she had no idea what had happened to me.  My baby was crying on the other side of the room, and I hadn't even seen him.  When I asked if he was OK, the docs replied that he was, but their priority was me right now.  As I was stabilized, my breath returned and I felt a calm coursing through me.  Later, I discovered this was the morphine they'd put through my IV, and I understood why people become heroin addicts.  Finally, as they were finishing sewing me up, a nurse brought the wrapped bundle to me, announcing he had the biggest ears she'd ever seen on a baby.  Karissa was finally brought back in, and she got to feed him first.

So what happened?  My baby was so far down the birth canal and wedged at such an angle that as they pulled him back through, major blood vessels in my uterus ruptured causing the blood loss.  I'd lost half my blood volume in about five minutes and required a major blood transfusion before we could be transferred to the recovery floor. To further complicate things, he was so big that the incision they'd made in my uterus wasn't large enough, and it was torn, requiring many more stitches than with a routine c-section.  When they finally got him out, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his entire body, which they thought in retrospect caused the dip in his heart rate.

The strangest thing about this experience for me was that just as I felt completely undone, completely shattered, I had this new life in my arms, loving me, needing me utterly.  I couldn't fall apart, because he held me together.  He took to nursing right away, and in an effort to make up for the first few hours in his life in which we'd been separated, I held him for practically the next 72 hours.  In the hospital, I had nothing else to do but be with him, feed him, look at him and talk to him, and he showed no signs of the trauma we'd suffered together.

I had a lot of emotional baggage to unpack in the next few days and weeks.  When my doctors debriefed the surgery with me and asked if I had any questions, the first was, was this all my fault?  In my desperation to make the pain stop, I'd broken the rules I'd set for myself.  In taking the saddle block, had I caused the conditions that made the c-section necessary?  Of course they said no; what else would they say?  It didn't stall my labor, they said, and I'd pushed long and hard.  The bottom line is, he was stuck, and may have sustained injuries to his head or shoulders had I managed to push him out.  And then the question came to me later, did THEY cause my c-section, or at the very least, make mistakes that led to the hemorrhage?  Not that I can see, not that they'd admit to, but frankly, I don't think it's possible for me to ever know.  I can only trust that the doctors tried to help me and were honest with me about what happened.

The biggest hurdle was coming to grips with what had happened, as it was so far from what I wanted, and what I'd been told might happen.  I hadn't bothered to prepare for the possibility of anything like this coming to pass; he was my second baby, the first labor had been so fast.  The feeling I was most hoping to avoid this time around, that I'd felt so distinctly with my daughter's birth, was this sense of my own mortality, this feeling of peering into the abyss.  I think I was so desperate to avoid it, that when the signal came, i.e. when the real pain came, when I knew I was heading down the same road, the one that ended over a cliff, I relented to the drugs and hoped against hope to insulate myself against it.  I'd wanted to spare myself the intensity of feeling that is perhaps unavoidable under these circumstances, because only hours later, I was on the edge again, terrified for my life.  Whatever way our children come into the world, they remind us of what life is, the journey we're on, and how fragile it is, how unstable, how fleeting.  And I was afraid to be reminded.  

After the first weeks, I'd weaned myself off of the drugs.  The narcotic-induced nightmares stopped and I began to feel like myself again.  And when I felt that shattered feeling, that fear of falling, I made myself look into the mirror and say, "Whatever comes, just be here.  Be present.  For you, for them."  My new son reminds me every day that some things are worth suffering for, and some things are made all the more precious for the suffering.  Childbirth is relatively easy for some women.  I had to face that easy would not be a part of my story.  And yet, there are much worse stories.  My story had the best of all possible endings.  So there's no room for regret and recrimination.  My children, my partner, my family and friends need me.  And here I am.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

the limbo rock

My weekly Kaiser Permanente prenatal newsletter reported in it's week 39 issue that most women give birth between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy.  There's a brilliant example of the precision of medical science for you.  It lists the dangers to the baby of going past 42 weeks, low amniotic fluid, the risk of meconium (baby's first poop) getting into the fluid and affect the baby's lungs, etc., etc.  Why is this important to me?  Right now I'm at 39 weeks and a few days.  My due date's officially on Monday.  Which is funny, because I don't actually hit 40 weeks until Wednesday; they moved my date up a few days based on how I was measuring at about 8 weeks.  Everyone's been assuring me I'll go into labor early or at the very least, on time.  But I have a sinking feeling that won't happen, even though this is my second pregnancy.  Julia was born almost a week late, and this was after a number of "natural" interventions meant to encourage labor: "sweeping the membranes," which sounds so gentle and is really quite horrible, as it involves the doctor putting her finger into my cervix and separating the uterine wall from the amniotic sac.  It was very painful for me, and the last time, they tried this twice.  Then there's castor oil.  I'm not sure what the medical uses ever were for this nasty stuff, as what it does for the expecting woman is give her violent diarrhea, which again, is supposed to stimulate labor.  In my case, it started light contractions that stopped after about eight hours in.  I thought my labor had stalled at that point, but my midwife told me I wasn't actually in labor at all.  My acupuncturist came to the apartment at that point to hit all the labor points.  Not sure if any of this did any good at all, except to make me (more) uncomfortable and frustrated. Ultimately, my water broke at 11:30 the following evening, which sent me rocketing through a four hour labor that was as close to hell as I hope I ever get.   All this, so I wouldn't have to go into the hospital for an induction, which my OB threatened would have to happen if I hit 41 weeks.  I think her exact words were, "We're not going to let you hit 41 weeks."  This echoes another passage from my newsletter.  Regardless of how the baby's faring (they make you go in for these tests beginning at 40 weeks to check on him), doctors will recommend an induction between weeks 41 and 42.  Regardless.  

Induction means pitocin.  Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin is pumped into you.  The contractions are much worse on pitocin (not sure how that could be possible) making my goal of having a drug-free birth even more difficult to achieve.  But an epidural, its other risks notwithstanding, can also have the effect of slowing down labor.  And they'll only let you labor for so long.  You see where my mind goes. 

My friends who've had C-sections didn't choose to; they consented, of course, but the doctor made the call.  But I think it goes without saying that I don't always trust doctors to act in my best interest.  Even when they think they are, they're trained to think in terms of pathology, what's wrong with someone.  Often it seems that rather than let a natural process unfold, they'd rather go the shortest route to the end result to avoid possible complications.  So what does that mean for me, at 39 weeks and 2 days?  That if I don't go into labor on my own in the next four days, I start down a path that I don't want to go down.  I'll go in for my last prenatal appointment and they'll sweep my membranes.  I'll make subsequent appointments for non-stress tests and the like.  If I go a few more days, I'll have to make a choice about the other natural interventions.  I'll get more uncomfortable; I'll get more stressed.  At 41 weeks they'll schedule my induction.  So I'll get ready to fight, either my doctor for more time or my own body as it's taken over by pitocin-induced contractions.  Again, you see where my mind goes.

It's not my intention, however soap-boxy this may all sound, to judge anyone else's childbirth experience.  Healthy babies are born to happy mothers in many ways, and while I have a sense of what's right for me, I don't assume that it's right for everyone.  There are plenty of people, and in the Bay Area of all places, that think that my having a home birth with Julia was crazy.  I've met a good handful of people that think having a child without an epidural is crazy, especially when you've already had a natural childbirth that was as traumatic pain-wise as mine was.  But there's no other experience in life that's more personal than this, I think, no other experience where I've felt more compelled to listen to my inner voices rather than outside opinions, no other time when I've felt more confident that I know what's right for me, more than other women, more than even (gasp) a doctor.  

I'm steeling myself against the possibilities which are all quite daunting from where I sit.  And I'm steeling myself against them while trying to enjoy these last few uninterrupted days with my first born, trying to get another mouthful of breakfast in her before we go to the park, reading books to her about new baby brothers and sisters.  As always, I think worrying and overthinking is going to give me something I don't have under these circumstances.  Control.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the other me

I had a dream a few months ago.  At first, it was your typical anxiety dream, but then it took an interesting and unprecedented turn:

I'm standing in front of a large group of teenagers in an auditorium.  I have the sense that I'm the new kid in school, that people don't know or don't like me.  I'm making some kind of an announcement, and while at first I can't hear myself speak for all the jeers and boos, at some point, I win the crowd over, and they begin to applaud and cheer.  Next scene, I'm being approached after school by a pretty girl I've already picked out in the crowd; she's inviting me to some kind of an event, like an art opening.  The scene changes and we're there.  The room has a reddish glow and people are lounging in velvet armchairs and couches.  Smoke fills the air and at first, everything's blurry in the haze.  I have a growing awareness of myself and the people around me.  I have a sense I belong there even though it's an unfamiliar place.  It dawns on me slowly as we're walking through the space that I'm not in my everyday body.  I'm young, maybe late teens, and I'm thin and spare, taller, stronger.  My clothes are form-fitting, but not tight, the cut androgynous.  I run my hand up my neck and notice my hair, which is straight and cut very short, with a fall of hair over one eye.  Cut to the next scene, and I'm in the cab of an old pick up, my pick up, apparently, the same girl next to me.  We're parked, slouched in our seats, smoking cigarettes.  As I exhale and see the smoke rise and disperse before my eyes, I feel something that in life I never feel, a sense of relaxation, ease, that I'm in complete and utter control.  I am perfectly confident that whatever I want to happen next, will happen.  That by virtue of who I am, what I am, everything will come easy for me.  It was the most beautiful feeling I've had for a long time, and lasted long after the details of the dream began to fade away.

When I first became a parent, other parts of me were sidelined, subverted.  I think it happens to everyone.  Just like, when you settle down with a partner, the single individual is swallowed to a certain extent by the "relationship" individual, the parent self overtakes to a certain extent the childless self.  And in mostly good ways, I think.  Parenthood taught me to be more selfless, taught me to put things in perspective, taught me to find happiness in meeting someone else's needs, taught me the depth and force of love.  I was forced to drop bad habits, lose a lot of vanity, rearrange my priorities.  But an essential part of myself was also starved for a time, and it's been a struggle trying to balance that part with the part that's been forever changed, that's gearing up to change again.  

It's worth noting that I had this dream at a moment when, between the demands of my pregnancy and toddler, I felt riddled with anxiety, compromised both physically and mentally. Gratifying, really, that I could give myself a subconscious vacation from all of it, be young, fierce, stylish, fit, rebellious, open.

I rarely have lucid dreams, those dreams in which you can be who you want and control the action.  So that, in and of itself, is noteworthy, too.  But the dream was revelatory to me for reasons beyond this.  The person I was in this dream, I know her very well, but I've never been her, in dreams or real life.  I've been attracted to her, looked for and recognized parts of her in other people, in characters in books and movies, and I've written about her in countless stories throughout my life.  She's a reoccurring theme, you might say.  What this dream brought to light for me was that she's not what I always thought she was: something outside of me, some fantasy, some ideal, but rather, she's a part of me, some potential I can reach.  And if that's the case, then at this moment, she's the most repressed she's ever been.    Right now, she's my opposite in almost every way.  Finding some way to reach her, integrate her with my mom self, my partner self, may just be the key to everything.

But how?  The physical changes are obviously beyond me now, if they weren't always, and kind of beside the point: I'm never going to be 19 again.  I'm probably not going to ever cut my hair that short or start smoking again.  My piercings will stay closed.  When I get my body back, if I ever do, I'll never have that body type, and I'll probably revert back to the nondescript jeans and a v-neck t-shirt look I've sported for a good ten plus years now.  But her look and her attitude symbolize a kind of freedom for me that I don't have now, that maybe I've fallen short of ever really having, despite my attempts every ten years or so.  The kind of freedom I mean is freedom from self-doubt, freedom from pressures to conform, to please.  Freedom from fear of loss, of failure.  But that kind of freedom requires power.  The power to be your authentic self, and be that self even in the face of disapproval, discrimination, rejection. 

In my efforts to find connection to other moms in a new town, I've found myself trying to send the message, Hey, accept me, I'm just like you.  Which just isn't true.  I mean, I'm not the counter-culture queen, not by a long shot, but there are aspects of me that set me apart from a lot of folks I've met here.  And I've pretended, and in a few cases, even tried to care about things I have no interest in (particular TV shows, cooking projects, warehouse shopping, to name a few).  So what to do?  With a few new friends I've tried the "coming out" routine, not the obvious coming out, as that happens as soon as I mention Karissa, but coming out as a lover of obscure things, outsider art, underground music, challenging reads, foreign films, complex questions.  But, as I observed in an earlier post, the extent to which I can really convey things about myself is sorely limited when my attention is divided as is the extent to which many of my acquaintances care, when what they'd prefer to do is dissect the latest episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County.

I've already begun reassembling myself by reconnecting more intentionally with my pre-parenthood friends.  With them I share a common language, taste and experience, enough that I don't have to fight to be seen.  In just the few weeks that I've sought out kindred spirits and cut ties with ill-fitting "frienemies," I've been so much happier.  And as I've noted before, being back on a college campus this fall will give me ample opportunity to connect with more like-minded individuals, so it's something I continue to look forward to.  But it's far from enough, and in fact, may not be the answer at all.  Surrounding myself with trusted friends is not unlike building a barricade between myself and a world I find strange and unwelcoming at times.  I have to take some kind of action, set things in motion.  To put it in the simplest terms, I have to be myself, my whole self, which means I have to feed and nurture all the parts of me.  At this point, I don't know how to do this.  But at least, I realize something has to be done.

We all carry around "otherness."  Our children see it eventually and watch us very closely to see what we do with it.  Do we hide it, and simply show others what we think they want to see?  I want my daughter and my son to learn early on that you can't please everyone, and moreover, you shouldn't want to.  I want them to be whole people, integrated, expressed.  I can't stop their pendulums from swinging wildly at different points in their lives, but I can hope they return to the center.

Since I dreamed this dream, I can see her very clearly, the other me, I can see everything she represents, see her staring at me, from the shadows, James Dean pose, cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth, and I get the message finally.  She's daring me to be her, in some small way, everyday.  She's daring me to be fully free.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the balance

For one reason or another, many of the playgroups that we've been a part of in the past year are dissolving, and I've been scrambling to cobble together a new program for Julia for the summer. Some of the reasons for the transition are connected to her age and the ages of her playmates. Some of it's the ebb and flow of my own friendships.  Mostly, she's growing out of certain groups and activities, so much faster than I thought possible.  And now she's "ready," or at least, almost old enough for new kinds of experiences: ballet classes, tot soccer, swim lessons, gymnastics. My head is spinning.  There are so many options, and it's difficult to know where to begin.

No longer is it enough to just give her a room filled with bright plastic toys, some books and some playdough.  At the same time, there's a tendency in this community to overprogram your kids, to obsess about how to best manufacture their experiences so that they'll be as well-rounded as they can be, before they've even entered kindergarten.  I don't want her to burn out by age five, but I also want her to have all of the advantages I can give her.

So, how to find the balance?

When I was three, I was in a home-based day care all day long, the same day care I'd been in since I was nine months old.  I don't remember much about being three, but I do remember my caregiver's house, a few of my friends, and some of the things we did there.  She had a huge yard and plenty of toys, and at least six other kids for me to play with.  While I didn't ever go to preschool or do any kind of enrichment activities until I was in grade school, I had a good imagination, a few consistent playmates, and the freedom to roam, which more than prepared me for school, academically, at any rate.

That said, I didn't learn a lot of basic "kid" skills until I was well into childhood and approaching adolescence, that is to say, too late.  I didn't learn how to swim, skate, or ride a bike until I was eight or nine.  I could never do a proper cartwheel.  I never learned to dive properly, and embarrassed myself by having to jump feet first into the water at competitive swim meets at eleven years of age.  I amassed quite a collection of brown and orange fifth and sixth place ribbons that summer.  I still can't stand up and pedal on a bike; I can hardly move one hand off the handlebars to shift gears on a ten speed.  I continue to be allergic to most organized sports and games.  While I taught myself to stay upright on ice skates, I could never go backward or spin in a circle.  Though I had an ear for music from very early on, I never learned to play an instrument, and picked up the guitar for the first time well into my twenties.  I never went to summer camp or did camping of any kind with my family, so nature and I were estranged for most of my life.

This is not to say I had a lousy childhood; I was loved, I was fed and clothed, educated, entertained and kept safe.  One thing I had was plenty of downtime after school and on weekends; time to wander around my neighborhood, play in my backyard, read, write, watch TV.    Without camp, lazy summer days lasted forever, and my free time was my own to fill.  I can safely say stress was foreign to me until I hit puberty.  Trouble is, I think I missed something crucial having so little structure to my childhood.  I had no instruments to practice, no badges to earn, no big games, no rehearsals.  If I'd asked to do any of these things, I'm sure my parents would have let me, but how can you decide whether or not you'll be good at something if no one shows you the extent of your options?  I became increasingly afraid to try new things, convinced myself I wasn't good at so much.  By middle school, I'd gotten into performing arts and academics and away from athletics.  I found friends who shared my interests, but my direction had as much to do with my natural talents as my childhood gaps.

It's always a danger to base parenting decisions on what you perceive as the gaps in your own childhood, because it's easy to create new gaps based on your own biases.  It's also dangerous to pay too much attention to what other people are doing, because what's doable for one family/child isn't always doable for another.  I have to wonder, too, how much of the attention I'm giving to this has to do with the fact that in a few weeks, I won't be able to give her as much of myself.  I want to carve out as much time for her in advance as I possibly can.  And I've always found it helpful to put too much worry and planning into something than risk not doing enough.

I think, at the end of the day, I have to fall back on my progressive ed training and ask myself, what is she interested in?  She won't stop doing somersaults all over the house, so I've signed her up for a gymnastics class.  She's a natural water kid and always has been; so swim lessons are a no-brainer.  Beyond that, I have to trust that fresh air and sunshine and a new baby brother will keep her happy and stimulated.  In a few months, she'll start preschool, and more doors will open for her.

The bottom line is, I don't want Julia to have to shy away from experiences as she gets older because she lacked exposure to certain things at a young age.  I want her to have the chance to master some basic skills so that she's confident and brave enough to tackle related challenges as she grows.  I don't want to go crazy and overwhelm her or take away her ability to fill her own time.   I don't want windows to close on her.  I know she won't be good at everything, but I just want to give her the chance.