Susanna was having a fussy day. She is mostly a very sweet-natured baby, which I attribute to cod liver oil. Several years ago, my sister told me that to get sweet-natured babies, take cod liver oil when pregnant. Her evidence was her second child, who was all sweetness, as compared to her first, who was more difficult. She's since had four more children, so maybe her advice has changed. As far as scientific experimentation goes, her sample size is far too small. But I really wanted a sweet-natured baby, and the doctors recommend fish oil for brain development anyway. So I took cod liver oil.

I have a sweet-natured baby. We are up to a sample size of three. When I say I attribute it to the oil, it's because I don't want to attribute it to luck. Luck can run out; fish pills can be purchased.

But even babies all loaded up with fish oil in the womb have bad days. She'd had a really rotten day, the kind where I come home from work and have the baby shoved into my arms as my husband is on the way out the door to go buy beer. She'd also started chewing on her hands and was requiring outfit changes due to the drooling. My knowledge of babies is limited, but even I recognized these as teething symptoms. I consulted the new parent's best friend, Dr. Google, to tell me what other symptoms I could check for, and just how long my sweet-natured baby would be replaced by this cranky one.

I didn't learn anything particularly definitive, but one of the symptoms of teething was the baby being "fractious." Most parenting information I'd seen had described periods of baby grumpiness as being fussy or cranky. But whoever was writing the baby articles that day must've been feeling that their English degree was underutilized and decided to educate the masses.

As a result, "fractious" became my new favorite word. It's a good word, one I knew from reading but maybe had never heard in use. Something about that hard 'c' sound in the middle really emphasizes the kind of irritability we're talking about here. It's a step up from plain old "fussy," describing an extended period of unpleasableness.

As for that day when she was fractious, it did not appear to be teeth, though I got a lot of mixed information on how long it takes to actually sprout a tooth. Her first little chomper did appear a few weeks ago. She was fractious one day, and woke up in the night twice in a row. Finally, we a tiny white and pointy thing appeared in her lower gums over the weekend. Its neighbor was not far behind.

Immediately, our nursing relationship was changed. She bit me. It was like when you get to the end and you start playing with your food. Like absentmindedly pushing your food around, except instead of pushing, it's biting, and instead of your food, it's my nipple. I yelped and pulled away. If you look up what to do when your baby gets teeth and bites you, this is exactly what you're supposed to do - take away the snuggling so she knows that biting = no snuggling. I'm not sure why anyone needs to be told to pull away from something that bites you, but it's entirely likely that many parents are masochists. I was on edge for the next couple of days, always scared that I was just about to be bitten. But it hasn't happened since, so I guess she figured it out. Must be the cod liver oil.


happy birthday.

Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 81.

I was thinking about whether it was still his birthday, whether I should say "Today was" or "Today used to be" but none of that made any sense. Besides, we still refer to February 22 as George Washington's birthday. So, today is my dad's birthday.

It's verbs that have been giving me the most trouble. Today is still his birthday, but he no longer is. He was.

I didn't talk to my dad every day, so it's easy to forget that I won't speak to him again, ever. It's like I'm just in between emails, and in a few days he'll forward me some random thing. He would forward all kinds of stuff, things he found funny or interesting. He used to forward me political emails, but he stopped when I emailed back about one that was particularly inflammatory. Sometimes, he would include me in the middle of a conversation he was having with someone else, which was disorienting. There was a year when I got football scores from my old high school every Saturday morning. Once, I got a summary of the minutes of the latest meeting at the Unitarian church in my hometown, a church I've never associated with in any way. There was no real reason for his forwards, other than he thought I might be interested. Sometimes he would include his own message along with the forward; many times part or all of it would be in all caps.

My dad used to forward me weird emails. This is what people mean when they talk about the finality of death. They mean no more weird email forwards.

It's hard is putting everything in the past tense and realizing that all the things I associate with him are over. I never thought about a person being over before. There were periods in his life that have been over. He taught school for decades and then he was retired for decades. So saying that he was a science teacher is not difficult, because he did not stop being when he stopped teaching. But now everything is stopped. Last month, I might have said "My dad loves seafood." Now: "My dad loved seafood." Not that he stopped loving seafood, he just stopped.

My dad worked and played hard. He was contrary and stubborn, honest and generous. My dad was a scholar. He cooked watery scrambled eggs. He liked to keep animals. My dad never admitted to being wrong. He gave out Klondike bars to visitors. My dad had big ideas. He loved to sing and he did it badly. He drank Miller Lite. He forwarded weird emails. He loved seafood.

I don't like to use euphemisms, like saying that my father "passed." I felt that way before, and I still do, but I understand a bit more why people shrink from the finality of the real word.

My dad died. He did not pass; he is past. Today is his birthday. He would have been 81.


the price of free bbq.

Being the first Friday of the month, today should have been Company Lunch day. We were scheduled to have pizza, and I had my eating pants on. Breastfeeding has turned me into a bottomless pit. They say that you're eating for two when you're pregnant, which is true, but the extra person is like the size of a shrimp. I am still eating for two, but I'm supporting twenty pounds of baby meat now. I am always hungry.

But then Company Lunch was postponed until next week because half of my coworkers were out somewhere or other. However, the office park was sponsoring some kind of tenant appreciation day. They had one of these last year, where they had a few food trucks come in and set up in a parking lot. Last year it had been hot, and I stood in a long line with my coworkers and wished that I had brought my sunglasses. I'd gotten pizza last year, because although there was a BBQ truck, my body and its shrimp passenger were rejecting BBQ at the time.

This year, the setup would be the same - food trucks in a parking lot. They even had the BBQ truck back.

Here's the thing: there's kind of a hurricane going on. Not that it's here. Right now it's off in the Caribbean, whipping palm trees around. It may come whip pine trees around, but they're predicting that it will likely go to the north of us. However, it's been raining for about a week. We've had all the kinds of rain - little bitty stinging rain, big ole fat rain, and rain that seems to come right up from the ground.

One guy went to get himself some BBQ and came back drenched. Now, I love pulled pork BBQ, and the only thing better than pulled pork BBQ is free pulled pork BBQ. But I did not have an umbrella. I used to be the kind of sensible person who kept an umbrella in the car, but it seems like the car umbrella always became sorta mangled and busted after time in the car. I did not have a raincoat or even a hoodie. Do I love free pulled pork BBQ enough to stand in the wind and rain for it?

Somebody said something about ponchos. Inspiration: trash bags.

I went digging in the cabinet under the sink in the break room. Way in the back was a box of 55-gallon industrial strength trash bags. I pulled one out and held it up to my shoulders. Yes, this would do nicely. I cut a hole in the top for my head, and an amused coworker helped cut holes for my arms. The bag was huge; I was protected down to my shins. I grabbed a smaller bag for my hair, and I was ready to go. A couple of people snapped pictures.

So, at this point, I felt very silly. Just in case you know someone who does things like this and you think, Huh, I guess they don't realize that they are ridiculous - this is not the case! But I was committed. I wanted my free pulled pork BBQ, and all I had to do was stand in a hurricane and be ridiculous in front of strangers. It's funny, I had no problem appearing this way in front of my coworkers, who I would actually see in the future. It was the strangers, who I would likely never see again, or if I did, who wouldn't recognize me not wearing garbagewear. And that's dumb, so I was going to do this.

Another coworker looked at me, sighed, and went to get another trash bag. I gleefully helped him with the arm holes. It is always better to be ridiculous with a friend, which is pretty much the basis of my marriage.

We ordered BBQ, then stood in the cold and the rain to wait. The lines were quite short this year. It was not raining too hard, maybe little bitty stinging rain. I remarked that I wished it would rain a little harder to justify my 55-gallon industrial strength wardrobe. The wind picked up and some big ole fat rain came down. That's better. People mostly avoided looking at us, perhaps whispering things like, "trash bag people, 3 'o'clock" to their neighbors. There were some people there who must work at some fancy place, because they were out there in business suits. I guess they don't have Trash Bag Fridays at their office.

We got our free pulled pork BBQ (and ice cream!) and headed back to the office. I hung up my trash bag poncho to dry. I might need it again sometime.


trash collectors.

A lady at church asked for pill bottles. She said they were for The Malawi Project. In Malawi, medicines are shipped in bulk, leaving the local doctors to distribute pills as necessary. But the clinics and the patients don't have anything to put the pills into, and they're often just wrapped up in a torn-off bit of paper. I have a vague idea of how lucky I am, but I never knew I was lucky to even have a small personal container for my medicine.

Collecting what might otherwise be trash is right up my alley. I often find myself saving things without knowing why. I used to save corks for crafts. Not that I was working on any cork crafts, or had any ideas of possible cork crafts I wanted to do, but I was going to be ready if one ever came up. I somehow got a reputation for collecting corks, and other people began giving them to me. I ended up giving them to my nieces, as they are more active crafters than I am. They hot glue them together to make elaborate villages and dolls. This kept happening, where people would give me corks and I would pass them along to my nieces. I finally told the donors to stop it already and grumpily handed over huge bags of corks to my nieces, saying that this was the last shipment, because I am not some kind of cork conduit. Then I found a whole box of the dang things in a closet, which I also sent along to crafty nieces. No really, this is it.

Yet somehow, when I finish a bottle of wine, I find myself tossing the cork into a bowl on the shelf rather than into the trash. I'm not collecting them, I'm just not throwing them away. The fact that other people collected corks to give to me indicates that I am not alone in this impulse.

It's the same with bottle caps. I have a little dish where the caps go, conveniently located next to the bottle opener. Eventually, the little bowl is full, so I pour the caps into a huge punch bowl on top of the cabinet. Now, the punch bowl is almost full, and I don't know what to do with any of it. My nieces using the corks justified saving them, and I'm just waiting for something to come up where I can shower someone in bottle caps, and say, See I knew they would come in handy someday.

I don't take any prescriptions, but I know people who do. My dad took a lot of them. After hearing about The Malawi Project a couple of weeks before he died, I emailed to ask if I could have his old bottles. When I was visiting last weekend for his funeral, my mom handed over a huge box of little bottles, many many more than would have accumulated in the time since I asked.

"Was he already saving these?"


"For what?"


Guess I come by it honestly. How pleased he must have been when I asked for them one day, out of the blue. He knew they would come in handy someday.


meals on wheels.

Last Wednesday, I was making a casserole, a chicken spaghetti recipe I'd been wanting to try for a while, but never gotten around to. It made a lot, and after combining all the ingredients, I was splitting the results into two smaller baking pans. After covering both pans in foil, I put one in the freezer and the other in the fridge. The next day, Josh would bake the latter to be delivered hot to a lady at church who had just had a knee replacement.

When we had the baby, we got on the meal delivery list. Every other day, a smiling Episcopalian would arrive on our doorstep to deliver our dinner. Some of the cooks really went all out and brought us things like salmon or pork tenderloin. There were casseroles, and pasta, and someone brought the fixins for a taco night. Each offering was a glimpse into the kinds of dinners the preparer made for their own families. Some of these people I met for the very first time. Nice to meet you, welcome to my home, here is my new baby, I usually shower daily, thank you for the home-cooked meal.

I felt a bit guilty about receiving so much. We had a freezer full of soups that my in-laws had made us, and we were not so done-in by new parenthood that we couldn't have scrounged up something. I tried to repay each gift with the only thing I had to offer: a baby. Each visitor admired our new arrival, and those who came when she was awake were able to hold her. I felt indebted, so I signed up to be on the mailing list to be notified when other people needed food. I've taken a lasagna to a couple with a new baby and some stuffed peppers to someone going through an illness. There are deliveries for happy occasions and for sad ones.

Friday morning, I had pie for breakfast at my mother's house. The pie had been baked with farm-fresh apples by my mother-in-law, who sent the pie along with a loaf of bakery bread. As we finished our breakfast, someone delivered eight two-liters, a cooler, and a supply of cups. I did not recognize the man, and my mom wasn't entirely sure who he was either, though she thought it was so-and-so's son. The drinks were for that afternoon, when a swarm of relatives would arrive for my father's funeral. My mom would also bring home bags and bags of food leftover from the reception: little sandwiches and cracker trays and chicken fingers and pound cake. Even after the relatives had gone back home, she wouldn't need to cook for days.

Sometimes you are the giver, and sometimes you are the receiver. May I deliver more meals than I receive, Amen.


on the night you were born.

My dad was not one to be free and easy with praise when I was growing up. My mom would tell me that he would sometimes comment positively about an accomplishment of mine to her, and she would ask why not tell me? He said he did not want me to get "the big head." Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain, as I had a terrible case of the big head well into my twenties. It is all my mother's fault. I'm not sure how this dynamic worked - if Daddy could see that my mom was inflating my ego and so withheld praise, or if my mom felt that she needed to make up for Daddy's reticence. I am not complaining, as high self-esteem worked as a fantastic insulator through my adolescence. Yes, I was kind of a jerk, but it seemed to have saved me from making a lot of bad decisions. Also, boys liked it.

While I say that too big of a head was better than too small, I would like to hit more of a happy medium with my own daughter. I seem to be running into some difficulties, as I've already caught my husband telling her that he was so proud of her. I think maybe she had looked at him or perhaps burped. It must've been impressive. I've heard that you're supposed to praise the effort, not the child. So rather than saying "Look how strong you are!", you say "I can tell you are working very hard to be able to lift your head up so high!" Or something like that. Truth be told, I haven't quite got it down either.

Outside sources also seem to be conspiring to inflate her ego. For instance, books. We received a lot of books as gifts, which we've been reading to her from very early. She doesn't understand it, but she likes to hear our voices and look at the pictures. Some of these books are new to us, and so sometimes I come across one that I decide not to keep for whatever reason. A couple of them have been inane, a couple more have some questionable messages, and one used the word "faggot" to refer to building material.

But there was this one book, holy cow, which was going to give my child the big head. It was about how her birth was such a momentous occasion, the wind whispered her name and the polar bears danced and something about the geese honking or flying. It was ridiculous. Jesus himself only got a few shepherds, a star, and a multitude of the heavenly host.

So, my little baby, on the night you were born, most people slept through it, but like a hundred people were really happy when they checked their email the next morning. Your first picture got more than two hundred Likes on Facebook. The wind and the polar bears continued doing their wind and polar bear things. You are so loved, little baby, but the geese don't care about you at all.


oh! susanna.

In picking out names for our child, we discovered that we had an easier time finding names for boys than for girls. We had two boys names that we really liked, plus there were half a dozen others that I thought of at some point and then made myself forget because we already had a boy's name. But for girls, the only thing we ever liked at all was Susanna.

This was not for lack of trying. My favored method of finding names was to go through lists on Wikipedia, like names of queens or minor Biblical characters or saints. Once I found a name that was okay, I'd run it past Josh. If he did not reject it outright, we would research it together, finding out about people past and present who bore that name. Sometimes this eliminated a name from the running, and sometimes it would sell the name for us. But we never found anything better than Susanna. I like that it's a name that people are familiar with, but it's not particularly common.

Susanna is from the Hebrew Shoshannah, which means "lily." There are two Susannas in the Bible, one of which was a disciple of Jesus mentioned in the book of Luke. There's also a saint, who was martyred in the third century and has a lovely church named after her in Rome. Finally, Susannah Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism.

There is an apocryphal chapter in the Book of Daniel called "Susanna and the Elders", which tells the story of the beautiful and virtuous Susanna. She was bathing in her garden when a couple of elders peeked in. Later, they threatened to tell everyone she was meeting a lover unless she has sex with them. Susanna refuses, and when they follow through on their threat, she's about to be put to death for promiscuity. Our hero, Daniel, comes along and proves that the elders are lying by interviewing them separately.

There are many paintings of this story, probably because it was a way to paint a naked lady and say you were just painting a Bible story. You can find a huge gallery of paintings of Susanna here. Warning: you will get tired of pictures of old dudes leering at naked ladies.

Then of course, there is the minstrel song by Stephen Foster, "Oh! Susanna." Previously, no American song had sold more than 5,000 copies, but this one sold over 100,000, allowing Foster to become the first songwriter to live off his songs in the nation. I didn't realize how appropriate the song was until one day I was pacing the floor with my daughter, singing "don't you cry for me" over and over.

Josh asked at one point if we could call her "Zuzu." I scoffed at this idea. While Zuzu is admittedly the most adorable name for a little girl ever, it is clearly not a real name and just something that Frank Capra made up. But I looked it up anyway, and it turns out that it is a nickname for Zuzana, which is the Slovak version. Yes, yes, we can call her Zuzu. People respond differently to her nickname, but it's always pretty fun to hear an older person say such a silly little word. Relatively few people say anything about It's a Wonderful Life, which makes me think that people are not watching enough feel good movies at Christmastime.

It's a little weird giving a new person their name. While pregnant, I had no doubts about the name, but when she was born, it didn't seem to fit. I think that was a problem of her being kind of a blob. I caught myself referring to her as the name of a friend's kid a couple of times, and Josh and I both called her "Puppypants" at least once. As time has gone on, though, she becomes more and more Susanna. Maybe she didn't seem like a Zuzu because we didn't actually know what a Zuzu was. We know now.


not bonding with baby.

We were driving back from introducing the baby to Josh's grandmother. At the halfway mark in the hour and a half drive, the baby became unhappy. You can tell that we are new at this, because we stopped. I changed her diaper and snuggled her while Josh went into McDonald's to use the bathroom and get a snack. She got quiet. Then we buckled her back up and got back on the road. By the time we were on the interstate, she was crying again.

I sighed. It was annoying, and there was nothing we could do. The baby was not in any danger. She was just upset because she had been out of the womb for all of five weeks, and the outside world is a terrifying place filled with highways and french fry smell. So I tried to just tune it out. I was reasonably successful.

Josh was noticeably anxious. He was at the wheel, and he kept reaching an arm to the back seat to touch the baby, to let her know that she was not alone. It did not seem to help, and it was affecting his driving. I told him to put his hands on the wheel, and I put an arm back to hold her little hand. My touch was no more comforting than his had been, but at least Josh calmed down. He stopped looking back and fidgeting. Her cries seemed to cause him physical pain. After twenty minutes, she fell asleep.

Later that night, there was more inconsolable crying. It was me.

See, I knew that I was not going to bond immediately with this baby. When we took a birthing class, the teacher had us write down what we were looking forward to and what we were scared of on the whiteboard, then we went down the list and talked about each thing. On the "Looking Forward To" side, someone wrote "bonding with baby." On the "Scared About" side, I wrote "not bonding with baby." When we go to that item, the midwife talked about how brave and honest it was that someone wrote that down. Then she said that if you know that you're not quick to bond with people in general, that you will be fine. I guess the idea was that it happens, and the people who are not prepared for it are the ones who really have a hard time. I can understand that, but that does not mean that it's easy, even if you expect it.

I knew better than to expect angel choirs or whatever people say happens to them when they meet the person that has been growing inside their bodies. I don't doubt that experience happens for some, but nothing in my life has been like that, ever. I guess I expected to feel something at five weeks in.

To me, the baby was like one of those robot babies they give to the eighth graders to scare the condoms onto them. She was basically an input/output device. She cries, I go down a list of things that could be wrong until I find the right one, and she stops. In the car, there was nothing I could do, so I shrugged and didn't worry about it. It did not occur to me to offer her comfort, as I didn't really see her as a person. Her wails meant that it was time to feed her or change her diaper, not that she was upset about being hungry or wet. I interpreted her saying something like "insert milk," not "I'm hungry." She had no "I." Josh felt her pain, I felt annoyed at the noise.

Through some mix of genetics and upbringing, I developed empathy kinda late in life. I've worked really hard on it, but apparently, it did not extend to babies, not even my own. I couldn't see her as a person; she had no personality. At that age, she couldn't even focus her eyes. So we were going to all this trouble for someone that would not even look us in the face. It seemed I was incapable of loving someone who couldn't love me back. I was disappointed that I needed this from her, like my maternal love came with stipulations. I felt so broken.

Josh tried really hard to comfort his sobbing mess of a wife, but he did not understand. I think he got the angel choirs back at the hospital. He told me I would be a great mother, but I wasn't worried about that. Having a child was supposed to be an investment of time, money, and energy with a huge emotional payoff, and I wasn't feeling anything. I could not see what was any different about my relationship to this baby as opposed to any other baby that I was responsible for. Logically, I was pretty sure it would get better, but it sure sucked at the moment.

It did get better. At two months, she started looking at us and smiling a lot. By three months, I was actually enjoying her, rather than mostly not minding her. And now at five months out, I love the little baby. I am still not sure what is different about the parent/child relationship. I am skeptical that anyone really likes babies that little, that really it's just rose-colored hindsight after seeing who they become. But then again, some people get angel choirs.


first overnight trip.

Last weekend, Josh went to choir camp at the beach. Rather than twiddle the baby's thumbs at home, I took her to see my parents. It was her first overnight trip, and also the farthest west she's ever traveled. There were many firsts - her first time at a Methodist church, her first Mexican restaurant, her first potluck, seeing her first donkey. Do you remember your first donkey?

I was pretty nervous about flying solo with the baby. Because Josh is a stay-at-home-dad, he's become kind of the default caregiver. We trade off, but he just spends more time with her. He's also quicker to respond to her cries, flying to her aid almost immediately. Meanwhile, I give it a second or two to see if she'll get over it...and maybe to see if Josh will get there first.

But it was fine, because she is an easy baby. She let everyone hold her, and gracefully handled the mass of relatives all up her in face. She got a bit overwhelmed a couple of times, but would calm down if I took her outside for a minute. It was a nice confidence boost for me. This is my baby, I can keep her alive and happy all by myself for four whole days.

When we got home, Josh was already back. He must've missed us, because he came out to the car to meet us. I was getting the baby out of the car seat when I noticed something yellowish dripping down her leg. Josh was coming toward us, love in his eyes, and I thrust her into his open arms, saying "She's leaking poop."

It's so nice to have a partner in these things.


hand lady.

I haven't been to many yard sales since the baby was born, just because doing anything with an infant is an added level of hassle. I've taken her to a couple of larger church sales, bouncing up and down the aisles while being occasionally stopped so people can tell me how cute she is.

There was an estate sale going on a couple weeks ago, in the form of an online auction. No one cares if your baby cries at an online auction. I looked through the listings and found some lots that were interesting. There were several listings that said things like "everything in kitchen cabinets" or "contents of dresser" with blurry pictures of the items. The auction had been going on a couple of weeks and had a few days left to go, but there were many lots that were at $.25. I like grab bag type purchases. It's fun to look through and see what you've won. So I bid a dollar on the contents of some cabinets and a dresser that looked like it could contain stationery. It seemed like every cabinet, closet, and shelf had a box or two of ZipLock bags on it. These people were really into storage, I guess. There was also a really nice clock that was up to some ridiculous price, and a couple of interesting furniture pieces.

And then there was a porcelain hand.

There was no information, just three pictures and a title: "Porcelain Hand." Maybe some kind of old prosthetic? At the time, the hand was going for a quarter. And again, I thought, hey, I'd pay a quarter for that. I'd pay three whole dollars for that, whatever it is. I tried googling variations of "porcelain hand," but didn't find anything helpful.

The days wore on, and as the end date got closer, there was more activity on the auction. Someone outbid me on a couple of the lots, and I rebid on a couple of them. I let the dresser that may or may not have stationery in it go. I went up to $3 on a cabinet that had various kitchen things, figuring that I'd make it back on the three boxes of ZipLock bags alone.

At first, I thought having the sale as an auction was a stupid idea, as it seemed like a lot of things were going for way less than you could get if you just had a traditional sale. I guess you save the time and trouble of setting everything up or doing research to price things. Instead, you can just walk around the house, open a cabinet, and take a crappy picture of it.

But as the end got closer, I began to see the genius of the auction. When you go to a sale, it's easy to look at an item, for example, a porcelain hand, and decide whether you want to pay what they are asking. So you can admire the porcelain hand, think how it's kinda neat, wonder what on earth it's for. Then you look at the price tag, put it down carefully, and walk away. With an auction, you go, I'll pay $3 for that, because the price is at a quarter. And then someone else says they'll pay $5 dollars for it, and you have to decide if you'll pay as much as $8 for it.

And then you get to the end, and all of a sudden you've paid $15 for a porcelain hand. When really, I should've just put in my top price at the beginning and then not looked at it again. I should've had the hard conversation with myself of how much I was willing to pay for a porcelain hand, rather than progressive conversations that sounded like, "Well, $8 isn't that much for...whatever this thing is," or "You know, I've paid $15 for a case of beer, which lasted a couple of days, while this porcelain hand can be passed down to my heirs."

After the auction, the winners were to show up at a house in Chapel Hill to pick up their prizes. Had it been a regular estate sale, they probably would've staged this house to showcase all the items, but it looked half ransacked. I felt embarrassed to walk in and say, "Hi, I'm the hand lady." But I'm sure these people get all kinds of weirdos buying all kinds of weirdo gear, so they didn't blink when I told them that I was here for my hand.

So, I have this thing now.
I do know what it is. There are patent numbers on the side, which revealed that it is a glove mold. It was hooked to a machine, probably with a whole row of hands, and dipped into rubber. Once I figured out the right search terms, I was able to find all kind of crazy internet people who collect these things. You can get one off eBay in your choice of size and style.

I was visiting a friend a few days after picking up my hand, and I happened to see a hand on her dresser, holding her necklaces. I'm sure I had seen it before, but recent events had made me very interested in hands. I picked it up and noticed the word "MEDIUM" on the bottom. "This is a glove mold!" I nearly shouted. I felt redeemed, since my friend is a cool person with cool stuff. Apparently, her mother had come across some kind of glove factory liquidation sale and bought a half dozen to give to everyone she knew. SEE? HEIRLOOMS!
I think I'll stay away from the online auctions for a while.


wanna take it?

When Remix, aka Puppypants, aka The Dog, wants to play, she'll bring you a toy. She's considerate like that, as you probably didn't bring your own. The toy is usually a stuffed animal that has been chewed and ripped and gnawed into a limp and smelly state. If she were an outdoor dog, she might be bringing you a rodent carcass, but she's a spoiled suburban dog, so it's a slobber-laden, half-destuffed yellow whatsit. You're meant to interpret this as affection.

You might assume that since she's brought you the toy, she wants you to take it. But really, she wants you to try to take it. But she knows, and you'll soon find out, that successfully taking it is harder than it looks. The minute you hold your nose and put hand to the toy, she will begin to pull back. You thought you were accepting a gift. Instead, you have accepted a challenge.

Perhaps you have fallen for this ruse before, so you do not try and take the toy. Remix is not phased. She begins to taunt you, to tempt you by chewing on the toy in what is surely a tantalizing fashion. She acts like she is having just the best fun with this toy, wouldn't you like to enjoy such a toy. Wanna take it?, she asks. If you continue to be coy, she will eventually just start pushing the toy against your hand. Go ahead, try and take it.

We were concerned that the dog would not understand the difference between her toys and the baby's toys. As yet, it hasn't been a problem, mostly because the baby is too little to play much with toys. She is just beginning to bat at hanging objects, and when she manages to wrap fingers around something, her way of playing with it is to put it in her mouth. Maybe she and the dog have more in common than I thought.

Susanna does have one toy, a stuffed rattling bee with about six extra wings that have some sort of crinkly substance within the fabric. The parenting books and websites encourage you to dangle a toy just within arm's length, to encourage her to reach for it. Apparently, babies don't start reaching for things until this age because their depth perception is just now kicking in. I've been doing this with the crinkle bee. When I shake it at her, her eyes get big, her legs stick straight out, and her arms shake, and her whole body just says, WOW, a crinkle bee, I must have it. And then she'll attempt to get it, sometimes reaching a bit wide, but eventually making contact.

I was doing this the other day, standing in front of the baby in the bouncer, shaking the crinkle bee in what I was sure was a very tantalizing fashion, when the dog comes up to me to shake her toy. Wanna take it?, I asked the baby. Wanna take it?, the dog asked me. The baby reached for the crinkle bee, and I reached for the whatsit. Soon we were all together in a chain of tug of war. I lost both battles. Maybe someday, I can be cut out of the game altogether, but I don't think the other players are quite ready for that matchup.


treasure this.

People keep telling me to treasure this time. I know what they mean, but it is seriously infuriating. They are always older types, people whose babies grew up and left home. We were at a cookout, and the baby was being a bit fussy. She let out a cry, and a woman asked serenely, "Isn't that the most beautiful noise in the world?"

No. Not at all. You are a crazy person.

I hate to destroy the illusion for any non-parents, but taking care of a baby isn't always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it's poop and screaming. And if I'm having a particularly crappy, screamy day, someone telling me to treasure it really pisses me off. Are you telling me that when my child is old enough to use the toilet and communicate their problems in a reasonable manner, or heaven forfend, deal with their own problems, I'm going to look back at this moment and wish she was itty bitty again? No. I refuse to believe that. That sounds awful.

I even saw it on mom message boards, during those weeks when she was cluster feeding. I was googling, trying to figure out why my baby was constantly hungry, wondering if it would ever end. Half of the comments were saying, I'm sorry, honey, you just have to power through here. The other half were telling me to treasure it, they grow so fast.

No, really, I get what you mean. You mean that when my kid wants to hang out with their friends and not be seen in public with me, I will wish she was little and snuggly again. But right now, I want to cry because I hate this and now you're making me feel like that means I must hate my baby, too.

Can we just not say this anymore? Feel free to get together with all your empty nest friends and talk about how you wish your kids were babies again, where does the time go. Do not say this to new parents. New parents are tired and overwhelmed, and you're telling them to enjoy it because they will look back on these days with nostalgia. That may very well be true, but if I'm having a hard time, that makes the future sound terrible.

What I saw now in response is "the days are long, but the years are short." I am agreeing with these people, but they are forced to think back and remember why it is so hard to treasure some things. It seems to work really well. They snap out of their rose-tinted reverie of happily cooing infants and recall the more poop-tinted moments. I don't blame them for the selective remembering, but it's a little harder for me, as it was yesterday.


the big neck.

To announce my pregnancy, I sent out a family-wide email with the subject "Doctors found a mass." I attached the ultrasound, and while at that point the baby was vaguely crustacean in appearance, it was clearly a fetus. Most everyone responded with congratulations, but one of my brothers apparently did not look at the attached picture. So he just thought I had cancer that for whatever reason, the doctors weren't going to bother to remove for another seven months or so.

Jokes on me, because the doctors found a mass. At my postpartum followup visit with my midwife, she noticed that my thyroid was enlarged. I had a goiter, which is one of those things that sounds like something they got in Little House on the Prairie but that should be extinct by now. Actually, goiters are pretty common after pregnancy, when your body gets all confused. Or maybe it's not confused at all, it's just part of the recovery, but now we have doctors that can diagnose you with big neck and send you round for testing. The midwife took some blood to check my hormone levels. When the nurse entered this information into the medical records program, there was no option for a goiter. So on my chart, it says that I am suffering from an enlarged neck.

Lord have mercy, I got the big neck!

The hormone levels came back within the normal ranges, so the midwife recommended that I go in for an ultrasound to see what was going on in my big ole neck. They sent me to a nondescript office building which housed a diagnostic imaging center. A taciturn technician named Debbie put some goo on a wand and rubbed it on my neck, taking pictures.

"How's it look?" I asked, trying to make some conversation while not moving my neck too much. I wondered about her job, whether she only took pictures of thyroids or whether it was other stuff, too. Was it hard to learn to read the images? Did she have a favorite body part to look at?

"I'm not allowed to say," grunted Debbie. I didn't make any other attempts to engage.

I didn't hear back about the ultrasound for a couple of weeks. I took that to mean it wasn't too serious, i.e., not cancer. I'd done some research and found that something like 98% of goiters are benign. I was not particularly worried about any of it; in fact, I was mostly annoyed at the hassle of more appointments in drab buildings. However, I have met my healthcare deductible for the year, what with getting that baby out of my body, so I was willing to be safe rather than sorry at no expense to me.

When the midwife finally did give me a call, it was to let me know that I had a multi-nodular goiter with calcified areas. Therefore, they wanted me to see a surgeon for a biopsy. I did a little googling and found out that multi-nodular goiters with calcification were more likely to be cancer than other kinds, but still only 15% likely. I also found out that they can do a biopsy without cutting into you at all. It's called a fine needle aspiration, and they just take a needle and stick it in your goiter to remove some cells. Since I was being sent to a surgeon, it sounded like they wanted to cut into my neck. I was all prepared to go into the surgical consult and demand my fine needle aspiration. Because I am an American, and I have a right to have needles stuck into my big neck! I went in there and the surgeon told me she was sending me to someone else to get a fine needle aspiration.

That's right you are. Hrmph.

The surgeon reassured me that it was most likely benign, but also that thyroid cancer was hands down the best kind to get. Usually, just cutting out the goiter takes care of it. You might have to take replacement hormones if your thyroid is damaged. If your neck is particularly big, they will give you a pill of, wait for it, RADIOACTIVE IODINE. You will become RADIOACTIVE, such that for a week, you can't sleep in the same bed with anyone else or handle their food, lest they get contaminated by your RADIOACTIVE bodily fluids. You're not supposed to be near pregnant ladies or babies for a month, and you can't breastfeed your baby anymore because your milk will be RADIOACTIVE (though you could breastfeed future babies). And if you get bitten by a spider, you just might develop super powers. Or maybe it's the spider that gets super powers? Hrm.

And that's it. A little surgery and a super villain pill, cancer over. I think probably the being RADIOACTIVE part in practice is less cool than it sounds, but still: best cancer ever, right?

If it's not cancer, then they just keep an eye on the situation, and you don't get to be RADIOACTIVE. If at any point, the bigness of your neck interferes with things like breathing and swallowing, they will go in and cut the goiter out anyway. I had not even noticed that I was walking around with an apparently huge neck, but after finding out about it, I sometimes felt a catch in my throat. I would try to decide if that was because my esophagus was partially constricted, but when you start thinking too hard about something that is usually automatic, like swallowing, you really can't tell anymore.

The worst part of getting a needle stuck into your throat is the anesthetic, which is applied by a needle stuck into your throat. It burns and stings on the skin first and then it burns and stings under the skin. And then when they poke you with a different needle to get those goiter cells, you feel a little pressure, but no pain. Since they go in three times to get the cells, I have to assume that feeling a needle once is better than feeling it three times. The doctor did this on each side of my big neck, using an ultrasound machine to find one of the juicier nodules. When she was doing my right side, my head was facing the ultrasound screen, and I remarked how I expected to be able to see the needle (once I was given permission to talk again because there were nothing sticking into me). The doctor was kind enough to bounce the needle around a bit the next time so I would be sure to see it. That was the word she used: "bounce." I couldn't feel her doing this, but I could see her hand wiggling around in my peripheral vision and it was just sorta freaky to think about a needle bouncing around in my throat. But I was able to see it, and I figured that if I was going to maybe have cancer, I might as well be able to say that I saw them bounce a needle in my throat.

The doctor finished up and said I did very well. The nurse covered the punctures with what must be the biggest bandaids they make, just in case I was hoping to be able to go back to work and not have people ask what had happened. Since telling people you had a biopsy is all kinds of neon-sign scary, I decided I'd just say I cut myself shaving. That'll teach 'em to ask questions.

I go back in a week to discuss the results of the biopsy with the surgeon. Hopefully, I just have the big neck and not a cancerously big neck.


sleep sheep.

Having a baby is a racket. For some reason, all kinds of people were really excited about us reproducing, and they gave us stuff. Sometimes people would include a gift receipt, which is possibly the best invention in the history of retail. It's like a blessing to return a gift. Otherwise, I feel a little bad about preferring the $15 in Target money over one more blanket that is too small to swaddle my chunk muffin baby. A gift receipt is the indication that the giver understands that I might have already received enough blankets or maybe this just isn't my style of blanket and I'd rather have those nice muslin ones with the robots. But even without the implied permission of a gift receipt, I've returned a lot of things. You can usually just google the product and find where it's sold. I do feel a little guilty this way, often because it seems the gift giver got ripped off. Baby stuff is big business, y'all.

We were given this thing called a Sleep Sheep, and I was pretty skeptical about it. It's a stuffed sheep that has a noise box that plays nature sounds to soothe the baby to sleep. I guess it's a sheep because of the whole counting sheep association, and because if you try to sell a noise box that just looks like a box, then you can't charge $25 for it.

Like I said, I was not impressed with the Sleep Sheep, and I would've happily returned it, except the packaging was kinda damaged, and I doubted they'd take it back. We meant to get a CD player for the baby to play brain-building Mozart or something, but it turns out that it is hard to find a CD player these days. I looked at Wal-Mart, just to see how expensive it would be, and whether it was expensive enough that I'd rather wait and find one used. But they didn't even have any. They had plenty of speakers that you could hook up wirelessly to a variety of multimedia devices, but if you just wanted to stick a disc in a machine and push play, you were out of luck. Go back to the 90s, you Luddite.

So one day, when the baby was not happy about being put down for a nap, I dug out the Sleep Sheep. Since I wasn't going to return it, I might as well see how it went. It had four sounds: a trickling stream, the ocean, light rain, and whale calls. One of these things is not like the other, and of course, that is the button I pressed. Susanna immediately went quiet. I hung the sleep sheep on the rail of the crib with the convenient velcro handle and walked away quickly. For the next twenty minutes, I heard the plaintive lowing of humpback whales, but I did not hear a fussing baby. As a bonus, the dog was super confused.

I'm sorry I doubted you, Sleep Sheep.

I'm sure this is going to cause all kinds of problems later in life. Perhaps Susanna will be embarrassed one day at school when the teacher asks what sound a sheep makes, and she goes, "OOOOOHOHOOOOOOOO." Or maybe on a visit to Sea World, at the sound of the whales, she'll just pass out in the middle of the aquarium due to conditioning. Even without these disastrous consequences, it's pretty much guaranteed her favorite Star Trek movie will be the one with the whales.

Except she'll call it "the one with the sheep."



I had no idea how little babies could do. We used to talk about what we would do in case of apocalypse. We would advise the dog to go next door to join up with the neighbor dogs. I have found that the apocalypse game is not as fun when you consider your prospects with a baby.

Not that I expected her to do cartwheels or file my taxes at a month old. I knew that she would basically sleep, eat, and poop. I knew that she wouldn't be able to sit up or even hold up her head. For the overachieving parent, they give you exercises to do with your kid to further their development from useless baby to only mostly useless. For neck strength, they encourage tummy time. As you can imagine, it means putting your baby on her tummy for a few minutes a day to let her do baby push-ups. The push-ups are really pathetic at first, consisting of shakily raising her head a centimeter or so. But they get better. At the one-month check-up, Susanna performed an epic tummy time, and I swear I may have clapped with pride. Because my child lifted her head a whole three inches. Parenthood turns people into morons.

But there were so many things that I did not know babies couldn't do. I did not know that she wouldn't be able to see. It's not like we need her to be our designated driver, so it's not an issue. However, she couldn't focus or eyes or look at us for weeks. Josh was all ready to diagnose her with autism, because she was avoiding eye contact. No, dear, she just can't see your eyes. Even knowing it was normal, it was still disheartening. I'm doing everything for this kid, and she won't even look at me.

The thing that really got me was that she didn't know how to poop. Despite it being one of the three things that babies do, she only managed it by accident. Periodically, she would suddenly start screaming and crying, with her little legs stuck straight out. Then after a minute, we'd hear a pbbbbbt from her bottom, and everything would be fine. Apparently, when a baby gets that need-to-go feeling, it's painful and confusing, which makes her clench up. As people old enough to read, you know that this is not the right solution for the problem. We read that pumping her legs like she was riding a bicycle would help, but more often I would just nurse her, which would make her relax and let things work themselves out. I was pondering this once, that all people everywhere, once were little babies that did not know how to poop. You, me, Cher, Stalin, we all had to learn to poop.

After a few weeks, she figured it out. There was no more sudden screaming, but instead sudden brow-furrowing. And then, pbbbbbt. At which point we praise her for being such a smart baby, because parenthood turns people into morons.


cluster fed.

Before the baby was born, we received a free sample of baby formula in the mail. I put them in the pantry in case we ended up needing them. I intended to breastfeed, but you never know. I knew that some women struggled with breastfeeding and that most women had trouble, particularly at the start. I knew there would be sore breasts and chapped nipples.

I did not know there would be cluster feeding.

Cluster feeding is when the baby wants to nurse pretty much constantly. Breast milk works on supply and demand. If the baby drinks all your milk, your body produces more next time. When the baby cluster feeds, she is driving up your supply by repeatedly emptying you out.

However, if you don't know this, you will think your baby is starving to death. Babies cannot talk, but they have signals they give. The newborn hungry sign is called rooting, where the baby wiggles and bounces her head around with an open mouth, looking for a nipple. So the baby would root, I would put her on the breast, where she would eat and then sorta pass out. I would pick her up oh-so-gently and tip-toe over to the bouncer to set her down. Sometimes she would awaken during the transfer. Other times she would wake up within the hour. Whenever she woke up, she would cry. I'd pick her up and hold her to my chest, only for her to stop crying and root furiously. This went on every evening from about 6 to 10. And it was all on me. Josh might pick her up when she started crying, but soon he'd come tell me, "She's rooting." Ain't nothin' sadder than a baby looking for a nipple on her father's chest.

Milk production is highest in the morning, so by the time you get to the end of the day, things are getting kinda dry. I sat there with a crying baby rubbing her mouth all over my shoulder, and one time on my chin, knowing that she had already emptied me out half an hour ago. I thought about the cans of formula in the pantry. I thought that my baby was starving, because my body had failed to provide with her.

I'm not sure I can explain the emotional entanglement that comes with breastfeeding. Any kind of failure or difficulty feels like a failure at womanhood itself. It makes you wonder what you would have done in the days before Similac sent samples to your door. Would you have to find another woman to take your baby to her breast? Would your baby just have died? Why did my body go through the trouble of making a baby that it couldn't even keep alive?

New parenthood is never feeling quite on solid footing. Add to that this nightly routine of nursing a tiny, screaming, insatiable mouth, demanding that you do what you swore you just did. Give, give, give, root, root, root, over and over. Also, there are hormones involved. What I'm saying is, I went a little crazy. I could feel my sanity leaking out until that well had also run dry. Oh look, the baby is rooting.

Those hours on the couch with the baby on my lap meant I had a lot of time to google all kinds of ridiculous new parenting queries, such as "baby nurses constantly" or "baby always hungry" or "why did I have a baby." In my googling, I read about cluster feeding. The internet reassured me that as long as the baby was filling diapers, then she was getting enough to eat, which made sense in an input/output kind of way. I could confirm diaper fillage, and so the ever-shrinking remnant of my logical brain was able to hold on. Barely.

I did not break out the formula. A lot of women will reach for the can, and it will be the beginning of the end of breastfeeding. The cluster feeding is necessary to get supply up. The baby is actually hungry, though not in danger. If you give her formula, she will fall asleep, happy and satisfied, and your breasts will not know to make more milk. However, you will avoid this nightly horror show and might therefore fall asleep happy and satisfied yourself. Whichever you choose, I won't judge.

They say breastfeeding creates bonding with your baby, and it's true, but I don't picture soft-lit moments looking at her lovingly while she peacefully sucks. I think that happened once, and then she threw up on me. It's more like the bond you have after a battle. We got through this, it sure was tough, but we did it together.


march 2015 books.

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells
In the past month or so, I've had trouble focusing. When I picked up the next book, I wanted something short and simple. This was it.

This was my first Wells book. He is credited with popularizing the concept of a time machine, where a traveller can control the when of his travels, rather than just randomly hopping about forward and backward. As common as this notion now is, it seems weird that it's only 120 years old.

In the story, a scientist known only as the Time Traveller builds a time machine and goes to the year 802,701. He finds himself in a temperate climate, where there are huge, impressive statues and buildings which are sinking into decay. He encounters small human-like beings who are simple and childlike. They spend their days eating fruit and playing, having no ambition and little curiosity. He speculates that man has evolved into these creatures after having conquered the dangers of nature. With survival being a matter of just sitting around and eating fruit, there is no need for intellect.

Later, he encounters another species, who are nocturnal and live underground. He first speculates that humanity evolved by class, and so the ruling elite were the happy and stupid fruit-eaters above, while the lower classes did the work below. Regardless of how the situation came about, he soon discovers that the current relationship is like the rancher to the cattle. The underground beings eat the helpless vegetarians above.

He finally hops back on his time machine and continues forward into the future to watch the earth die. The sun starts to burn out and signs of life decrease. He returns to England where none of his friends believe his story.

I think that we like to assume that man will only continue to become smarter and more advanced. The Time Traveller makes this assumption, not bothering to bring any supplies with him at all, as he assumes that whatever they have in the future will be way better. Wells seems to think that we may very well become so accomplished that our comfortable lives eliminate the need for education or culture. I don't necessarily ascribe to this vision, as it seems like our solutions to current problems create different problems. Fear not! We will probably not degenerate into helpless fruit-eaters. We may just drive ourselves to extinction instead.

The Heart of the Matter
Graham Greene
My second Graham Greene book, which I probably bought because I liked the first one. That was a good move on my part, because this was also really good. The thing I like about Greene is that he's incredibly perceptive. He's moving along, describing the action and the character's thoughts, and then BAM! Something really poignant and true about human nature.

The story itself is about an English policeman working in West Africa during World War II. He's a straight-laced, upstanding guy, devout Catholic, but he gets himself embroiled in an affair and some diamond smuggling. How? One little step at a time, which is just the way it goes, innit? The book goes on to describe his increasingly terrible crimes and his building guilt and shame. He ascribes all his failures to pity - everything he does is out of responsibility to others, whereas he would like to just be left alone. I did not buy that. Sorry, dude, you cheated on your wife because you wanted to, not because you felt sorry for the poor young thing you cheated with.

This is also a very Catholic book - a lot of the language is religious, and the man's fall is seen as a sort of battle with God. Since he sees his sins as motivated by concern for fellow humans, he views it as a conflict between loving God vs loving His creatures. Again, this seems to be sort of a convenient glaze to put on his actual motivations and a way of avoiding doing the hard thing and 'fessing up. The Catholicism is sort of snobbish, in that he (and his devout wife) seem to feel that the only people who can feel guilt or understand the concept of good and evil at all are Catholics. The rest of us are just sort of pagan beasts. I don't know enough Catholics to know if this is a common attitude.

What struck me about this book is how alone everyone in it is. People have intimate relationships without really knowing each other at all. People do things, thinking they will be understood, but of course others interpret situations based on their own contexts. People hide other things, assuming they know how others will react, when in fact, everyone already knows about what was being hidden. I find this aloneness profoundly sad, but probably true. We can never know each other. Maybe if we did, nothing would ever get done because we'd be frozen by indecision or just plain bummed out all the time.

A note: The copy of the book that I had was heavily marked up by a previous reader. Seriously, half the lines on every page were underlined, with stars and double underlines to mark the really important stuff. Every once in a while, I would find the word "Pinkie" written in the margins, which I found mystifying. Turns out, that is a character in another Greene novel, Brighton Rock. Maybe I'll pick that up sometime.


I have not read a book since March. I had gobs of time to read while sitting on my fanny with a baby on my lap, but nothing I picked up held my attention. I think now I'm just out of the habit. Here's hoping that I get back to it.


pink and pinker pink.

A question that everyone asks when you are pregnant is whether it's a boy or a girl. The smart-aleck answer is "yes." We decided not to find out. Most people were really supportive of this idea, particularly older folks who had kids before finding out the sex was an option. A few people said they couldn't do it that way, and one cashier looked at me like I was nuts. Only one person asked why.

"So we don't get a bunch of pink crap if it's a girl," I answered without thinking. It was like one of those word association tests where the truth comes out. Previously, I had thought of this as just a bonus to not knowing, but honestly, it was my main reason. Instead of an avalanche of pink, people gave us a lot of neutral stuff. It was heavy on the yellows and green, most of it pastel. It seems like things fall in three categories - girl (pink, purple, frilly and delicate), neutral (yellow, green, or gray, generally animal themed and cutesie), and boy (everything else). So if you want bold colors with fun themes, look in the boy section. Maybe grumble about outdated gender norms while you're there, just for me.

A friend of mine took her step-daughter shopping for my baby shower and picked out some onesies that were gray and green and featured triceratops and apatosauruses (apatosauri?). Her step-daughter protested that those were for boys. Excuse me? This is why we need feminism - because eight-year-old girls think that liking dinosaurs is only for boys. Dinosaurs are for everybody.

Most of our clothes came from a friend of a friend, who passed along two giant bags of clothes used by her sons, so "boy" clothes. They had bold, bright colors and fun themes like sports or dump trucks or monsters. There was one item that had a treehouse that said "no girls allowed," and I threw that out on principle. The rest I happily put on my little girl.

Some people waited until after the baby was born to give us gifts, and that was when the pink started flowing. At that point, I discovered that I enjoyed dressing my daughter in the little girly things, too. I liked the flowers and the frills and the tiny bows. And the dresses! With the TINY BLOOMERS! I didn't even mind the things that said "princess" on them, because that makes me the queen. In fact, I liked the little girly things so much that I began to wonder if it wouldn't have been so bad to know ahead of time that we were having a daughter. It wasn't all pink stuff.

And then we went to a shower being thrown for Josh's cousin, who knows she is having a girl. She gave me a bag of stuff that people had given her; she said she wanted to spread the pink around and lamented that she had not yet received any camo babywear. There were some hats with giant bows and a set of footed pajamas with ladybugs. Finally, there was a hot pink onesie with a big gold crown on it and "Princess" in gold script. Attached was a tutu in zebra print of pink and pinker pink. It was awful. It went straight into the Goodwill pile with the no girls allowed onesie.

Now I think we did the right thing by not finding out. We avoided an onslaught of pink animal-print, and a little girl learned that dinosaurs are for everyone. I call that a win.


or i'll know.

It was 10 AM, and I was taking my discreet black shoulder bag into the conference room when I realized that there were certain key pump parts sitting on the drying rack at home. Ugh. I knew this was going to happen at some point. I hopped in the car and drove home to get the parts, vowing to start keeping my spare set at the office.

As I came into the house, Josh was folding laundry. "I forgot my pump parts," I explained.

"Oh. I thought you were mad."

"Mad? You thought I came home from work to yell at you about something? That you had done something and I would know?" See, this is a joke at our house. Whenever we leave, we tell the dog "Be good. Or we'll know," with ominous emphasis on that last word. We imagine that from her perspective, we are magicians because we always know when she has not been good. But really, when the dog is bad, it's pretty obvious. Like, shreds of trash all around the trash can obvious.

We laughed at the thought of me knowing about what he did, ha ha, but then-

"Wait. What did you do?"

He looked sheepish. "I gave the baby a drop of grapefruit juice," he confessed.

"Did you take a picture?" I mean, the damage was done here, but hopefully he made it worth it by immortalizing her expression.

"Yes!" He got out his camera and showed me a Facebook post of our baby making the kind of face you might make if your world had just opened up to the existence of sour citrus. I giggled.

"Okay, that's cute, but don't do that anymore."

"She liked it!"

"Her face says otherwise."

"So that's mean?"

"No, it's not mean. I look forward to giving her sour things and laughing at her expression. She's just too little right now." I have fond memories of being at K&S Cafeteria, watching my brother squeeze lemon slices over a spoon and then giving it to his son. My nephew would make a face each time and then ask "More soup?". My brother had done it the first time as a joke to see the baby make a face, but now he was obliged to continue until all the lemon slices at the table had been exhausted. Kids can turn things around on you like that.

"Alright, fine."

"I have to go back to work. Be good. Or I'll know."



The first day of my daughter's life, I waited for someone to tell me to feed her. I'd read a dizzying amount of advice, much of it conflicting, but one thing that had stuck was that it was best to feed the baby within an hour of birth. So as the nurses were doing this and that around me with their friendly yet ruthless efficiency, I asked, "Should I feed her?" What I was really asking was "Can someone show me how to feed her?"

I'd signed up for a breastfeeding class a few weeks before my due date. Then I didn't go, because a blizzard came in. My non-attendance was out of character for me. I spent the afternoon trying to figure out if the class was cancelled in the face of winter weather warnings. I checked websites and called what turned out to be a doctor's office that was completely unrelated to the classes, where a friendly receptionist went above and beyond trying to find someone else to call. The class started at 6:30 and ran until 8:00, which is when the weather advisory started. And then I got a dinner invitation, so I decided to just assume the class was cancelled.

Sitting in the maternity ward with a baby who was probably hungry from her long journey out the birth canal, I wished I had gone to the class. Finally, a nurse took a few minutes to show me how to hold my baby and put her on the breast. I found this to be comical and a little bit barbaric. You rub the baby's lip with your nipple, which makes her reflexively open her mouth wide. You immediately stuff as much boob as will fit into her mouth. Imagine someone shoving a water balloon in your mouth every time you yawned. The nurse warned me that the baby would not eat very much, as her tummy was about the size of a marble. I was delighted to feel what must have been the baby latching on to my nipple. The feeling almost immediately ended, but I figured that was how it was supposed to go.

Had I attended the class, I might have known that the baby needs to stay latched on to get any milk, even enough for a marble-sized tummy. The result was that the baby did not get really anything to eat that first day. On the morning of the second day, I woke up feeling refreshed and rested, though a bit sore in some areas. I was hopeful that we would be released that day, and the midwife seemed to think I was good to go. They even started the checkout process by having me fill out the postpartum depression screening. I checked the boxes that said I was able to feel cheerful as much as I had before, that I was not crying for no reason or blaming myself for bad things that might happen.

The nurse came in and asked me how the baby had eaten the night before. Pardon? That was when I found out that I was supposed to be feeding the baby through the night. In fact, I was apparently supposed to wake her up to do so. Having not attended the class, I can't say whether those particular topics were covered. I just thought I had one of those good babies that sleeps through the night right away. All these parents complaining about the baby not sleeping, when they're the ones waking them up to stuff boobs in their boob-holes. Susanna continued to be very sleepy, to the point where she didn't wake up much even for me to ineffectively feed her.

It didn't seem like a problem to me, but the pediatrician was concerned about my very sleepy baby. She was so concerned that she had someone come and poke my baby's foot to draw blood (baby woke up for that). The blood test came back positive for jaundice, and so my dreams of being released were dashed. I was more annoyed than worried, as I knew jaundice was pretty common in babies. Josh had had it and look at him now, a big strapping man, a father even.

Jaundice in babies happens when their bodies are unable to break down bilirubin. When a red blood cell gets old, it breaks open and all kinds of stuff spills out, which is broken down by the body into other stuff, including bilirubin. The liver then breaks down the bilirubin and then its passed on out in either solid or liquid waste. Babies, with their brand new livers, take a little time getting started. Plus, the blood that a fetus has has different characteristics than the blood of a tiny person living out in the world, so the body is breaking down more red blood cells than usual. Because the bilirubin is flushed out the digestive tract, it is important that the baby get enough to eat for the digestive system to be flushing.

My not feeding the baby had caused her to have jaundice. I mean, I didn't know, no one told me how to feed the dang baby. I guess I could've informed myself, by like, taking a class or some...oh. Skipping out on that breastfeeding class a month ago gave my baby jaundice. Fantastic.

Jaundice is treated with light. This treatment was discovered accidentally, when sick babies taken out in the sunlight did better than babies that stayed inside. Now, they use a light board. This was a small surfboard type thing hooked up to a car vacuum cleaner type thing that created blue light. You put a mask on the baby to protect her eyes, then put her on the board and swaddle baby and board all up together. It looked like she was in a tanning bed. I was still not worried. Sure, my baby was sick with my incompetence, but she had a super-common condition that they treat with the power of the sun.

But then I was lying in the hospital bed, holding a baby strapped to a glowing surfboard. Josh had gone home to feed the dog. I couldn't snuggle my baby, I could only hold the board she was strapped to. I couldn't see her face, as it was covered by the mask. I sat and looked at my baby in her terrible Hannibal mask, sleeping on her eerie glowboard. All because I blew off a breastfeeding class to go have dinner with my friends.
Could I have that postpartum depression form back? I need to change some answers.

Then Josh came back, and Susanna devoured some milk I pumped for her, and her bilirubin went down, and it was all fine. We were cleared to take her off the light therapy so we could snuggle properly while they worked on our discharge papers. At last, they let us take our little glowbaby home.


a bargain and an adventure.

Last week I happened to drive by my regular haircut place, Famous Hair. Just so you know, I am fully aware that Famous Hair is a ridiculous name. I guess hair can be famous, for instance, Donald Trump has famous hair. But that's hardly a selling point. In case you can't tell by the nonsensical name, Famous Hair is the kind of place where you just walk in and get a cheap haircut. I've been going to such places since I left my hometown, as I am unable to devote whatever time and resources is required to find an actual stylist. I like being able to decide that I need a haircut today, and I really like paying $14 for the service. My results have been mixed. I've gotten several bad haircuts, many serviceable haircuts, and a couple of really great haircuts. The last time I got a really great one was at Famous Hair, which is why I kept going back, even though I rarely got the stylist that gave me the great haircut, because he was often booked. Why couldn't I be bothered to book him myself? It's almost like I don't care that much about my hair, and that is why it will never be famous.

But Famous Hair is no more, because that location has been turned into a Great Clips. Or a Smart Cuts. Was it Super Snips? I don't know, but I really didn't want to go there. I look down on those places. I am too good for Super Snips; I demand Famous Hair. If only I had taken the time to book the great stylist who used to work at Famous Hair, I would probably have his new location and I could keep getting great haircuts somewhere else.

I am not sure when I had my last haircut - as you can tell, I'm pretty lax about all things hair. I stopped curling my hair every morning over a decade ago, and then I stopped blow-drying it, and now I can't even be bothered to wash it every day. But whatever haircut I'd gotten before (which had been deemed serviceable) had grown out, and it was looking neglected. And honestly, I'd been feeling a weird urge to do something crazy, like dye it hot pink. I've never dyed my hair a normal color, and so I blame the desire to go nuts on having a baby. Like a mid-life crisis. I'm too young to be a mom; I have young hair. I thought maybe a new haircut would whet my appetite for change before I did anything that would scare my infant.

So I took to the internet to find a new haircut place. Searching for "raleigh haircuts" only gets you barbers, because men want their hair cut, while women want their hair styled. I found lots of results for "raleigh salons," but they charge a lot more than $14. I cannot imagine that kind of haircut that $50 gets you. That haircut better do my dishes. Will this haircut soothe my baby and guarantee that I am victorious in all arguments with my husband? Then I'll pass, thanks. Some of the salons are also bars, which seems very convenient and hip, until you consider that maybe your hair only looks good until you sober up.

Then I happened upon the website for the Paul Mitchell School. I could have a cosmetology student cut my hair for $12. It sounded like a bargain and an adventure.

The Paul Mitchell School certainly looks like a real salon, with blaring hits of the 90s and a warehouse feel. The students were dressed in all black, and many of them had funky hair styles, so everyone looked a bit goth. I was introduced to Kelli, who would be taking care of me today. The first thing she did was have me sign a waiver, saying that I understood that she was a student and was therefore released from any damages. I wasn't sure if that included anything worse than a crappy haircut. I cut my husband's hair, and I did get his ear one time, so maybe there was that. Then we talked about what I wanted that day, and I had come prepared. Usually, I act dumb and surprised, as if I didn't know they were going to ask me that question, because the truth is, I don't ever know what I want. Sometimes I really do go in there and say something like "I want something that I can wash and do nothing else that will look good." Some stylists run with that, glad that finally someone recognizes that they are the expert here. But mostly they look scared that whatever they do, I'm not going to like it. While it would be an excellent learning experience for a student to encounter a customer such as me, I had previously googled "haircuts that look good air-dried." The internet said a layered bob was what I wanted, and so that's what I told Kelli.

She filled out a little sheet, then went off to fetch Barry, who is a teacher at the Paul Mitchell School. They discussed the plan (layered bob), felt my hair and talked about what products and the kind of layers to cut to help my hair look its best. I enjoyed the attention and felt like I was going to receive personalized service. We had a plan for my hair! Barry signed off on my hair plan, and Kelli outfitted me in a smock and took me back to the sinks.

The best part of a haircut is when they wash my hair. When I was growing up, my mom took me to a lady named Marilyn who cut hair in her basement salon. Marilyn had long fingernails, and when she washed your hair, she used them to give the most exquisite scalp massage. I've never encountered anyone else who used their nails, and I can only assume it's discouraged at places like the Paul Mitchell School for some hygienic or liability reason. But even without Marilyn's magic fingernails, having someone else wash my hair under warm water rates highly on the list of life's simple pleasures. They charge extra for it at the walk-in places, and I always pay for it, even as I skipped the dry and style option.

Kelli was just rinsing out the conditioner when a weird noise started ringing through the building. I thought it was part of the music, like maybe this was when everyone stopped what they were doing and did a dance featuring combing and clipping hand motions, but when I opened my eyes, Kelli was looking around, confused. Someone came by and told her it was a fire alarm, and that we needed to exit the building. Kelli wrapped up my hair in a towel and we walked outside to the far end of the parking lot. Of all the things I expected from getting my hair cut at a cosmetic arts school, a fire alarm was pretty low on the list, somewhere below synchronized dance breaks.

We stood outside for five minutes or so. It was a beautiful day. I looked like someone who, well, had been in the middle of a haircut. Kelli kept apologizing, but I kept grinning like a galoot, because it was just so funny. Whether I was going to receive a good haircut was still yet to be seen, but I was certainly having an adventure.

Finally we all filed back inside like schoolchildren, and I took my seat at Kelli's station. She proceeded to cut my hair. The only warning I would give someone who was considering having their hair cut at the Paul Mitchell School (besides the obvious one) is that it takes a long time. Some of that is inexperience, I'm sure, but I think the students are also going slow to make sure they do their best work. At every station, the stylist was hunched over and squinting, as if they were cutting hairs one by one. So carve out a couple hours rather than a half hour and you'll receive the most meticulous haircut of your life. But hey, they're up to code on their fire safety!

Generally, I prefer when the stylist does their job silently and I don't have to talk to them, as the conversation inevitably ends up being about my job, which is boring to talk about with people who aren't particularly interested in computers. However, I discovered that having a child means I have so much more that I can share with the average person. We talked about babies and birth and husbands and drastic postpartum dye jobs, and somehow I really bonded with my randomly-assigned cosmetology student.

After she was done with the scissors, Kelli swept my hair off the floor and gathered it in a ziplock bag, which is pretty creepy. I mean, we bonded, but it's a little soon to be collecting each other's hair. She said it was for dye tests. Otherwise, she would have to do tests on hair that came from a big box in the back, where it was all mixed and matted together. I agreed that sounded kinda gross and gave my blessing for her to practice dying on my discarded hair. I trust that she won't use it for voodoo dolls, but I did sign a waiver.

One of the other teachers came by to survey the job. She took the scissors and did some kind of trimming thing where they seem to cut a millimeter off every third hair. I don't know what this does, it's hair science. The teacher signed off on my new cut, and Kelli was beaming with pride over it. I don't know anything about hair, so the effect was that I felt good about it. It was shorter than I had planned on and is a total mom haircut. I fear I may end up back at the Paul Mitchell School to get pink streaks put in, as soon as I'm feeling ready for another adventure.


all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

One week past my due date, I was still pregnant. I had an appointment with the midwife, where we confirmed that I was still pregnant and that the baby was fine, just on its own schedule. She offered to do a membrane sweep, which is where she takes her finger and sweeps it around the cervix to separate the membranes around the baby from the cervix. This releases prostaglandins, which tell your body to get that other little body out. I wanted that little body out. To everything there is a season and all that, but Mama says it's time to be born now.

This is a birth story.

I wanted to induce labor for two reasons. One, if I did not have this baby within the next week, they were going to check me into the hospital to induce me with drugs. All I knew about being induced with drugs was that the contractions came hard and fast, and it would be unlikely that I'd be able to have a med-free birth. I have always known, nay, assumed that I would give birth without chemical pain relief. It was the way my sisters did it, the way my mother did it, the way her mother did it. People respond to this in two ways - by nodding and saying of course, that's the way to go, or by looking at me like I've lost my mind. Finally, someone asked me why. And the answer was pride: ours is a competitive family. Then I looked up some other reasons so I would have something to say (bottom line: use of drugs increases uses of interventions such as forceps or c-section, so you get a snowball effect of increased risk to mother and baby).

I took a childbirth class that spent a lot of time discussing natural pain management - not say pain relief, but management. The midwife teaching the class talked about pain versus suffering. Most of the time, when you go to the hospital in pain, it is because something is wrong. But when you're having a baby, it's supposed to hurt. It is productive pain, as it is your body preparing to do something momentous. Labor requires pain. It does not require suffering. Pain is a physical phenomenon, suffering is mental. I felt prepared to handle pain. Being induced meant letting go of my med-free childbirth plan. While that wouldn't be that terrible, it wasn't what I wanted.

The second reason I wanted to get that baby out was because of my grandmother. Ninety-four years old, her short-term memory was not great. The past couple of visits, she looked at me and apologized for not quite being able to place who I was. But she knew that her granddaughter, Sandra, was going to have a baby soon. She asked my mother every day if I'd had that baby yet. She always forgot that we didn't know the sex, and she had it in her head that it was a girl.

I read somewhere that there are three ways to enjoy something - in anticipation of it, experiencing it, and remembering it. When we are born, everything is anticipation. As we live, things move from anticipation to experience and finally to memory. For my grandmother, most of her enjoyment was in memory, and this was apparent as she fondly told us stories from decades past. But my baby was something she could enjoy in anticipation. I was never hurt when she momentarily forgot my face, but I was deeply moved that she remembered there was a baby coming.

Aside from her memory, my grandmother's esophagus was no longer working. She had been having problems with phlegm for a while, and it finally got to the point where she could no longer swallow any food. Her esophagus finally wore out. Of all the parts in the body that serve us tirelessly, I never thought about the esophagus giving out. The doctor said that they could put in a feeding tube to buy her some more time, or they could make her comfortable. My mom had to make a hard decision. She thought about pain and suffering and made a call to hospice.

This is a death story.

The morning hospice was setting up a bed at my parents' house was the same one where I was having my cervix swept. My siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles were coming from all over the world to my hometown. I was sitting at my house, four hours away, maybe going to have a baby. I knew that I would never see my grandmother again, and she would never get to meet the new baby. But I promised my mom to send a picture of the baby as soon as it arrived so that she could print it out for Grandmother. It was important to me that Grandmother get to experience what she'd been anticipating. I wanted the baby out.

The cervix sweep doesn't automatically start labor. To be honest, I'd had my cervix swept the week before on my due date. I'd felt some cramps for a few hours, but that was the end of it. This time, the cramps came sooner, and they never really went away. They went from a constant dull ache to having peaks and valleys. The midwife had told me to come to the hospital when I was having contractions lasting a minute, five minutes apart. I downloaded a contraction timer app to my phone and lay down on the couch to watch X-Files while Josh showered. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Josh put on a button-up shirt and a bow tie to look nice for the baby.

We left for the hospital at around 7. According to my timer app, the contractions were five minutes apart and one minute long. I called my mom to let her know it was go time. I texted my brother-in-law to ask him to look in on the dog. I was in pain for one minute out of five. I was not suffering.

Josh dropped me off at the emergency room entrance and parked the car. I went inside, declined the wheelchair, and walked over to admitting. Josh came in while they were asking me questions and checking my insurance. A nurse came down to escort us to the maternity ward. They showed us to Room 2, where I was told to undress and put on a gown to wait for the midwife. When she arrived, she checked my cervix.

I was dilated 3 cm, which was exactly what I had been that morning. They told me I was probably not in labor, that this was just cramping caused by the membrane sweep. I could wait a couple hours and they'd check again, but really, I ought to just go home, take a Tylenol, and go to bed. Dejected and embarrassed, I did. I felt like a moron, and I was still in pain. But I had been told that it was not productive pain, just pain.

Thus began my suffering.

I went home, changed into pajamas. Josh moved the TV from the living room into the bedroom so we could watch March Madness. I lay in bed but did not sleep. I threw up the PBJ and Tylenol. The pain sharpened. I paced, I rocked, I sat, I stood, but nothing helped. As the contractions worsened, I concluded that if this was not labor, then I was not going to be able to stand actual labor.

My wounded pride told me many lies. It told me that I was stupid for thinking I had been in labor before. It told me that I was still not in labor, and I should be able to handle this. It told me that if I went to the hospital now, they'd just give me a Tylenol and send me back here. Labor was causing me pain, and my ego was making me suffer. I cried out, shaking my head, "I can't do this I can't do this."

Finally, five hours after we'd left, I told Josh to take me back to the hospital. If this wasn't labor, well, I still needed medical attention, because something was happening to me.

The second trip to the hospital was remarkably different. Josh had changed out of his bow tie. I only changed out of pajamas into essentially different pajamas because there was vomit on the first set. I didn't call or text anyone on the way, but instead moaned. When he dropped me off at the door, I sat down immediately in a wheelchair that was parked outside and shivered in the cold until he got back. Being admitted was quicker this time because they still had my information, but I was much less helpful. When the nurse came to get us this time, I'm sure she thought, now that lady is about to have a baby.

When the midwife checked me this time, I was at 9 cm. I would have pumped my fist in the air and shouted "TOLD YOU SO" but I was busy shaking and moaning. She told me to moan in a lower register, to direct the sound down. I don't know if that is real science, but it helped. Or maybe finding out that my pain was productive helped. I was no longer suffering. Josh told them that I had said something about an epidural back at the house. The midwife said we could do that, or we could just go ahead and start pushing this baby out. The epidural would make things take longer. I said let's do this.

Somehow, in ten hours of birthing class, I never picked up that pushing a baby out takes hours. Birth videos and sitcoms alike edit that part down. In the movies, it takes three pushes tops. I'm here to tell you that it takes many, many pushes. It took me two hours of pushes. A contraction would come, I would PUUUUUUSH for a count of ten, let out my breath in a scream and then do it again, and again before finally collapsing as the contraction ebbed. In between, I lay there as if dead, out of my head with exhaustion and pain. I was there and yet not.

Two hours of pushing sounds like a lot, and it is, but pushing was a million times better than not. This was something I could do to fight back. In those seconds where I would get my breath back to start a new push, the pain was crushing. So I pushed back.

In the movies, they say, "I can see the head!" and then whoosh! the baby is out. No. That baby's head was just chilling out in my vagina for a half hour, easy. The midwife said I could put my hand down and touch it, which I did, and it was too weird. They wheeled a mirror over so I could see. I thanked them and asked them to take it away again.

Time goes strange in the delivery room. There was a clock on the wall, so I could do the subtraction and tell you how long it had been. But it felt like minutes, and it felt like years. I counted time by the signs that the midwife was preparing for the delivery. The nurse wheeled in a table of instruments. Part of the bed at my feet was removed. A ceiling panel was removed and a giant spotlight pulled down. A group of pediatricians arrived and began setting up in the anteroom in case of emergency. I could tell we were nearly there, but I had no concept of when it would be over.

So when at last, at last, there was a baby, it seemed oddly sudden. There was a little cry, and the pediatricians smiled, packed their things, and left. The midwife handed the tiny, wiggly, goo-covered person to me. The umbilical cord was blocking my view, so Josh had to tell me that I had a daughter. I had a Susanna.

I held my little girl while cleanup and damage control went on below my waist (so. much. blood). Josh took some pictures of the squinting new person, then emailed them to family. When the midwife and the nurses were done, they dimmed the lights and our new little family was left alone. Josh collapsed on the couch in the corner, but Susanna and I were wide awake. I held her to my chest, skin to skin. She made gentle snuffly noises and blinked in the light of her first day. I could've watched the expressions flicker across her tiny face all day. So it was you, I thought. It's been you in there all along.

I can imagine the scene at my parents' house when the email arrived. One of my mom's favorite things to do is tell people good news. I can hear her talking in excited not-really-whispers about her daughter's new daughter while my dad sings "Oh! Susanna." She told Grandmother and showed her the picture. Maybe she got to tell her a few times.

Someone sat with Grandmother all the time. She wasn't allowed to eat because of the danger of her aspirating it into her lungs, which would be traumatic. She couldn't even have water. My mom used q-tips to keep her mouth wet. Grandmother, forgetting, would say she was thirsty, and my mother, her daughter, would have to tell her she couldn't have a glass of water. Grandmother would ask if that was what the doctor had said to do, and then accept it calmly.

She was awake and lucid for a couple of days, as the parade of visitors came through. She'd tell the same stories over and over and then laugh at herself when she realized it. She got weaker. The hospice people gave her some morphine, so there was no pain, no suffering. She died early in the morning, three days after her 78th descendant was born.

I missed the funeral. I heard it was well-attended.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. For Susanna, a time to be born. For my grandmother, a time to die. For mother and I, a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. It's jarring to process it at once: my grief while I hold my new daughter, my mother's joy as she makes funeral arrangements. Birth and death are not opposites so much as complements; we all have to do both to experience any of the things in between, hopefully with as little suffering as possible.