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It certainly is a different world than the one I grew up in.  Or maybe it’s just a different community.

In a class I observed today, the kids discussed the meaning of their newest vocabulary word, poverty.  As vocabulary is not a subject taught lightly here, it was not merely taught as a synonym for “poor”; the teacher wanted to make sure his 6th graders understood relative poverty and standard of living, how a person owning in a house in Haiti might not have a TV, but would be considered wealthy, while a person in a similar situation in the United States could very well be in poverty.  He left their heads swimming with thoughts of kids so poor they can’t afford shore houses or annual trips to Vail.  I’m sure it will be a stretch for some of them to connect to a Mexican immigrant girl living the life of a migrant worker in the 1930s.

Ignorance, like poverty, is relative.  And just as these student struggle to relate to characters from stories of far off places, times, and socio-economic statuses, I, too, find myself amazed at the level of ignorance of Judaism in this community.  Note I did not specify the degree of ignorance; what astounds me is the dynamic of power the Jewish community seems to wield over a private school.

I don’t know if the changes between my childhood and the ones I’m currently observing are a result of shift in attitude and tolerance over the last 20 years, or merely in the presence of a more sizeable Jewish population in this part of the world than in the one I grew up.  I do remember the complete ignorance in my community in the late 1980s and early 1990s – not so long ago – and how it shaped my views of what is happening around me now.

My school district had not heard of the separation of church and state.  They put on Christmas concerts, tossing in a “Dreidle, Dreidle” to pacify the six Jewish students in the school.  They orchestrated crafts of countdowns to Christmas.  They let out all the Catholic students 30 minutes early every Monday for catechism, while the remaining 4 or so of us non-Catholics clapped out erasers and helped the teachers put up bulletin boards.  It was no wonder that the district continually had to be reminded each year about “our” holidays in the fall.  My rabbi had to, for each school a student in her congregation attended, call or write a letter explaining what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were, why we were to be excused from school, and how the Holidays were of great importance.  Still, they balked.  Still, we got confused looks at our excuse notes.  Still, we did our homework sitting in the religious school classrooms during breaks between services.

Last December, my jaw nearly dropped as I witnessed the suddenly very observant Jewish students present verbal excuses about not doing their homework for a period of 8 days.  The miracle in my mind was not that the oil of Hanukkah lasted all 8 days, but that the teachers simply accepted it.  Hanukkah is, for a child, a 15-minute observance involving lighting candles, saying 2-3 blessings (and not Catholic-style benedictions, either), and opening a gift.  Sure, there may be a night or two with family over, or a party, but do other family/party occasions warrant a week-long homework pass?

Kids take off “mental health” days leading up to and after their Bar Mitzvahs.  I think they’re at suit fittings and hair appointments.  Kids show up 2 hours late (or call out Jewish) the day after the first and second Passover seders.  Granted, the seders of my father’s youth (now we’re turning back the clock) used to involve a cover-to-cover reading of the Haggadah, and not the Maxwell House version, either.  I believe he’d be falling asleep in the matzah ball soup at 11:30pm.  Today, only the very observant still have marathon seders.  And their kids miss school as if they were the ones grating horseradish for the seder plate and making matzah balls out of their textbooks.  Do the adults call out from work, too?  Do they use the holidays as an excuse not to be meet deadlines or not to finish work projects?

What lesson are they teaching their kids about budgeting time to complete work in a busy week, about reading ahead in their textbooks so they can enjoy an evening with extended family, about being accountable for responsibilities that go on outside the protective bubble of their home/school life?

In spite of the Jewish families seemingly taking advantage of a) the school’s widespread acquiescence to Jewish holidays and customs, and b) the Jewish parents’ power (and tuition), there is still ignorance.  Though Thursday will be a school holiday (one I will not have to use a personal day for, nor acquire a note from my rabbi), the head of school decided to schedule a back-to-school barbecue for all staff…Wednesday night.

They don’t even know that all Jewish holidays start the night before.  Forget sundown, forget waiting for three stars to come out, forget even the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, Friday, when several suddenly religious students will be out, you can’t schedule a barbecue for the beginning of the High Holidays when you have Jewish employees you would like to include.

So they moved it to Friday night.  I won’t even pretend to be insulted that Friday nights are always a holiday.  I won’t pretend there are any Jews on staff (or in the student body) who even feign that level of observance.  I am grateful they made the right choice to move the barbecue.  I am grateful they are trying to respect my religion and my customs. I am grateful no one has asked me in a long time why the Jews killed Jesus.

In spite of the families who take advantage of gentile ignorance, and use their checkbooks and their righteous indignation to cow the administration into special treatment for their kids (and people wonder why there is still anti-Semitism), it is still a more pleasant and more tolerant world to live in than it was in the community of my youth.

L’shanah tovah, y’all.  May your New Year be sweet.

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“Because your son married a hippie,” is what I wanted to say.

What I actually did was backtrack and talk about how rational and realistic I am, how we’d never go “full-cloth”, how we’d definitely use disposables for travel, day care, or overnight.  How we’re aware of the potential drawbacks of having a week’s worth of urine-soaked diapers waiting for a laundry service, or having to wash them all ourselves.

What I did was mumble something about long-term cost savings and try to share my excitement that these are no longer the previous generation’s cloth diapers.  About how easy the new cloth diapering systems can be, and about the environmental impact of disposables.

I had committed the serious error of answering the initial question, which had been, “So have you guys decided what you’re doing about diapers?”  Mr. Apron swears I should have stuck with my original answer (“We’re still considering the options.”) and left it at that.  But I had also elaborated, mistaking their question for interest, the way one does in a conversation.

When I tried to talk about the two-in-one systems I’ve become interested in, or the laundry services that are springing up, all I heard in return were horror stories about my nephew’s diaper blow-outs, and wrinkled noses at the concept of a week’s worth of soiled diapers sitting in our home.  There was much talk of their concerns of poop containment – or of failure to do so – ironically all examples of how disposables fail.  Though I would think this would be evidence that diapering is messy business no matter what type of diaper the kid wears, it all seemed to just be ammunition for them to, if not exactly attack me, then at least dampen my excitement.

Later, as Mr. Apron and I discussed the ill-fated conversation, he explained my mistake.  I had assumed a question meant they were interested and wanted to know more, and would listen to me tell them things they did not know.  This is a pattern one would assume happens often enough, as I have had different life experiences, and my mother- and sister-in law are a bit sheltered at least.  On the contrary, it was a vehicle for them to prod.  Apparently, the way to answer their questions is politely and curtly, to get the interrogation over as soon as possible with as little angst as possible.

“So, have you researched the safety of the car seats/strollers/cribs/mittens you’re considering?”

“Of course we have.” (a blatant lie)

“And none of these cribs are drop-side, right?”

“Of course not.  We would never buy a used one, and they don’t even sell drop-side anymore.”

“How did your new car [already purchased] do on crash tests?”

“Great!” (better than a Pinto)

“Will your sister be stopping by as she drives from Pittsburgh to St. Louis?”

“No.” (as St. Louis is west of Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia is east, and decidedly not on the way)

“Did you walk over to the house tonight?” (a half-mile)

“No, we unicycled.”  (my new strategy for partially answering this inane question, which crops up at every single visit, as if our trekking in whatever condition – pregnant or not, impending rain or not – is a major adventure.)

The bigger picture, of course, is that I do not need their approval.  I’m going to make many choices with my own children that are different than the choices they made with theirs, and with their other grandchild.  Together, Mr. Apron and I will decide whether to feed them breast milk or formula, whether or not to boil the bottles, whether or not to use pacifiers, which types of child gates to install, what weather/clothing is suitable for outings, and what type of diaper to use.  When it comes down to it, aside from their providing occasional respite care babysitting, we’ll be the ones changing diapers (blow-outs or not), we’ll be the ones paying for formula/breast milk storage bags, we’ll be the ones dealing with the runny noses (which may or may not have been prevented by boiling the bottles), and we’ll be the ones raising the kids.

Unlike their other daughter (the mother of my nephew), whose only child-rearing decision has been to have a medically unnecessary elective C-section, we are walking into parenthood with a clue.  We’re not turning to Mr. Apron’s parents to provide 2.5 days/week of child care, free.  We’re not asking them to take our infant seats to the state police to be properly installed.  We’re not assuming they’re just going to make our child-rearing decisions because we don’t know anything about babies, and never wanted them in the first place.

I’m not under any (Teen Mom’s) Farrah-like delusions that we’re going to be the best parents ever, never make mistakes, and always know exactly what to do.  I don’t for a minute believe we’ll make it through the first six weeks of infant twins without massive amounts of support from both our families.  But I do believe we can make our own decisions about them when it comes to what’s important to us.  We’re not leading them into traffic, bathing them in lead paint dust, or sticking beer in their bottles.

I just wish I could assert myself better and more often, especially when my beliefs/decisions are questioned.  Or else learn to recognize all interrogative statements as such, and not as merely questions meant to show interest or start a pleasant conversation.

Apparently, having coffee at my in-laws’ is more like Guantanamo Bay than I first realized.

No, I didn’t cop out and try to skip a few weeks, hoping you wouldn’t notice.  It turns out that The Bump is the one responsible for misleading and misrepresenting the fruit/veg of the week.  They show only the papaya for weeks 22-24, inclusive.  Apparently, at this point in the pregnancy, gestational real estate is getting tight.  It’s a seller’s market, really, and the fetuses are locking in a bidding war not only with each other, but also with my bladder, my lungs, the rest of my internal organs, and the outer limitations of my flesh.  So, there not being much womb to grow, they’re just growing at a slower pace than before.  Average size is also a range, probably corresponding to a median size.

When I finally went to the market and picked up 2 papayas and held them next to my bulging abdomen, it didn’t make any sense.  They were just too big.  I began to think I had picked up freakishly large papayas.  So I measured one when I brought it home:

Seriously, there are two of these inside me?

And then I double-checked The Bump:  10.5-11.8 inches.  As Marisa Tomei says in “My Cousin Vinny”: Dead on Balls Accurate.  My only way of rationalizing the number of inches is to consider that babies are now (post week 21) measured head -to-toe, not crown-to-rump, and they’re all curled up in fetal position.   They’re not all stretched out, like my papayas.  Except when they start kicking my ribs and punching bladder.  Then, I’m not so sure.

If you've never had the pleasure of cracking open a papaya, this is what it looks like. Orange flesh filled with caviar.

Mr. Apron set at once trying to taste the caviar-like seeds.  I convinced him his talents were more useful in trying to extract the seeds.  He did this by sticking his fingers down its throat and making it vomit into the sink.  Now we have a bulimic papaya.

Nasty, dude.


All kidding aside, we did actually set out to make papaya pie. 

 

All the beautiful ingredients laid out.    Here’s what we used to make

Papaya Pie:

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 cups (about 1 medium papaya) fresh papaya cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 9-inch graham cracker pie crust

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk together brown sugar and white sugar. Add papayas and toss to coat. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Place papayas with its juices in a heavy saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Continue to cook about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fruit is softened, but not falling apart.

Remove papaya mixture from the heat and let cool until lukewarm. Stir in beaten egg with a large fork until well-combined, taking care to leave the fruit in chunks.

Pour papaya filling into graham cracker pie crust. Bake for about 45 minutes. Let papaya pie cool before serving.

Maybe our papaya was not so juicy.  Maybe we weren’t super vigilant about those 10 minutes of simmering.  Whatever the case, the mixture started like this:
Then cooked into this:
 
And somehow, it solidified a bit much in the process, thus resulting in this concoction, which had to be scraped in blobs from the saucepan:

mmmmm, tasty.

Mr. Apron does not approve.

Somehow we managed to literally scrape together enough of the vlonk (c) and dump it into the pie crust.  On the whole, not really edible looking, we thought, but you be the judge:

Since we suffer for our art (and our blog), the Papaya Pie had to be eaten, preferably buried under a blanket of ice cream.  In truth, it was not so bad, but not our most successful venture to date.

Mmmm, ice cream blanket.

Now what to do with the other half a papaya in the fridge???

Oh, the humanity.  Thanks to our Amazon.coms baby registry, I received an unsolicited e-mail from David Lerner Maternity.  Cute kid clothes and sick curiosity led me to click (before unceremoniously unsubscribing ).  And I found this:

Zippered Maternity Leggings, with pregnancy panel.  Oh, the humanity. 

I love how they list the model’s waist size as 25″.  (without an asterisk telling you it was her pre-pregnancy size) I’m sorry, what was she before she was pregnant?  I don’t even have a waist anymore, and my band-size has grown an entire 4″, thank you very much.  I can’t imagine what pregnant woman thinks a) she’ll look like that if she puts these on, b) she’ll match those measurements any time in her post-partum life, or c) she’ll actually be able to pull on the leggings, let alone bend down to her ankles to close the calf zippers. 

I can barely get my legs in the openings in my underwear, and my shoes are slip-on only, thank you.  It would take a tow winch, some grease, and several immodest assistants for me to be able to get into an Olivia Newton John (with child)-style pair of leggings like those.

Maternity pants, why do you suck so bad?  I hate you, and long for the days of the muu-muu.  When I first was pregnant, I made do with plenty of my looser fitting clothing.  As the weeks progressed, I compensated for my barely enlarged belly by leaving the top button of my pants open, or by zipping my skirts most of the way up.  All my shirts still fit.  I had to be creative, and certain garments were off-limits, but I was pretty comfortable.  Sometimes I’d notice that a skirt that I could zip in the morning was feeling a might pinchy by bedtime, but gravity plays cruel tricks on all of us.

I was able to get away with a few pairs of larger sized thrift-store shorts for the entirety of July.  The slightly larger waistband fit pretty well as long as I didn’t do something stupid, like hang my keys off a belt-loop while walking the dogs.  I made some dresses this summer, too, which freed me up from the boredom of rotating the 3 pairs of shorts that fit.  I started digging in the bag of maternity clothing my mother had dumped on me, searching for dresses to stave off the heat wave. 

As we prepared for our trip toIreland, and I had to start evaluating the function of my wardrobe as well.  It was going to be in the 60s, not the 90s, and I had to start thinking about pant-type garments.  As we packed, I finally broke into the hoard of proper maternity clothing from my mother, as I wasn’t sure I had 10 days worth of Ireland-appropriate clothing from my pre-pregnancy days. 

I also hit the thrift stores again, and found some maternity pants that would work for the fall, once I got back to work and had to dress more appropriately.  I still wasn’t big enough to fill out all the elastic in the waistbands.  To humor myself, I tried on one of every type of maternity pants.  I’m not talking jeans vs. khakis.  I’m talking about one of every type of compensatory waist-band-like support system.  And though while trying them on, I tried to imagine a larger belly filling them in, I still had to wonder at their incredible awfulness.  Behold.

1) The drawstring.  This type works best when tied below the bulge, and they rest on the womanly hips.  I have a pair of non-maternity pants with a drawstring waist in my rotation.  I hemmed them before we went to Ireland, and have spent every day that I choose to wear them constantly pulling them back up on my hips, and retying the drawstring.  They scoop below my belly, which puts pressure (again, gravity) pulling them down off my hips, which are the last vestige of decency. 

2) The wide, stretchy waistband.  This type is vaguely reminiscent of the fold-top gaucho or yoga pants.  The extra-wide waistband is designed so you can allegedly unfold it and pull it up your belly, or fold it over a la hipster.  They work pretty well when they are actually exercise clothing, i.e., when the waistband fabric is the same as the pant fabric.  And when the waistband has stretch, but also resiliency.  One pair I put on this weekend did not have enough oomph in the waistband, so it kept rolling over below my belly, cutting of circulation to whatever’s going on down there, and trying to pull itself off of my hips.  I have a pair with a combo elastic waistband and drawstring.  While comfortable at least, they don’t stay up, and I am constantly retying the waistband all day long. 

3) The plain elastic waistband.  These are your grandma’s pants.  If you’re lucky, the rise is so high you can’t sling them below the belly, and are forced to pull the massive amounts of crotch fabric up to the belly button (wherever that went; mine is kind of closing up and looks very sad), thus creating the tell-tale elastic mark around the widest part of the belly, just like a red, itchy equator.  I picked up a pair at a garage sale for $1, and while they seemed tolerable in the morning, I was exasperated by the pinching equator mark by 6pm. 

4) The pouch.  The pouch pants look innocently enough like a pair of jeans or khakis from the back, but have a huge round cut-out from the regular fabric, filled in with stretchy fabric.  They are meant to envelop part or all of the bump.  I have not yet been able to bring myself to purchase a pair of these yet.  They look too awful.  I did try on a pair at the thrift store, to humor myself and make sure I wasn’t missing anything (along with other hideous trends that are strangely comfortable, like sports bras, Uggs, and Snuggies).  It may be a generational thing, spawned by the Britney Spears influence of hip-huggers, but I cannot cannot cannot tolerate a waistband – pregnant or not – on my waist.  I’m sure they actually stay up; if you pull the waistband of your pants up to your armpits or right below your breasts, they’d damn well better stay up.  They have the entire bump to hold onto. 

5) Hybrids.  These may take the form of elastic waist with a pouch, or yoga pants with a few extra pleats.  They may have an elastic front and regular back, or a drawstring with elastic.  Like many hybrid creations, they compromise on integrity, and come up short in function. I have not found ones that are both comfortable and stay up. 

I have special disdain for the pair of jeans I have on today.  Yet I wore them anyway, because it’s a dark, dreary morning and it’s a dress-down day at work.  They have a super-wide elastic waist (which may flip up over the belly, causing some mild sensory discomfort, but at least no Equator effect).  When I wore them inIreland, my worst issue was that my hips couldn’t hold onto the denim part, and I kept hiking them up all day.  Now that my belly bulge is, um, huge, my hips have an even bigger task fighting against gravity.  Worse than the constant drooping, though, is the combination of denim and spandex knit, an unnatural union no fashion authority should rightly ever condone (see: jeggings).  Many of us women are familiar with the weird bulge regular jeans make when we sit down; it looks like a penis has materialized within the inflexible fabric of the fly.  These pants have a teeny fly, cut-off by the swaths of spandex waistband.  This teeny fly, instead of popping out when I sit down, inverts.  The stretch fabric allows it to sink into my skin, and the weight of my belly holds it firmly in place as it digs into my soft flesh.  By the end of the day, I have a stunning red mark from the fabric of the fly imprinted below my belly.  Every time I stand up, I yank on the top of the waistband, futilely trying to pull it out of my skin. 

I had told myself I would live in lovely dresses during my entire pregnancy.  In fact, dresses are the most comfortable thing to wear.  I can’t wait for the weather to cool ever so slightly, so the sweater dresses I’ve made out of plus-size sweaters will be appropriate.  Unfortunately, I don’t have enough dresses in any season to leave the annoying pants behind.  I have a few cute sundresses, and a few warm sweater dresses, but not enough of either.  Then there’s the issue of tights/leggings.  If I thought maternity pants fought a daily struggle against gravity, it’s nothing compared to what tights and leggings go through with a belly bulge.  The high-waisted “support” hose style do stay up, if I can maneuver enough to yank them all the way up.  And then they have the Equator effect.  Other leggings are more modest in their coverage, and they tend to roll below the belly, resulting in constant tugging and immodest readjustment.  While I could get away with bare legs with my summer dresses, I can’t see my poor naked legs being exposed all winter long.

Maternity pants, why do you fail in every way conceivable?  Why are you so inadequate and ill-suited to your only task in life?  Why do I hate you yet keep pulling you on anyway?  You’re like an abuser, and I’m drawn to your attractive promises, yet you keep letting me down and beating me up. 

I hate you.  I need you.  Validate me.

First, we had mouse-induced PTSD.  Every time we would come home, we scoped out all the traps, cautiously checking, checking, to see if they were empty, if they were full.  At night, the nocturnal rodents would creep seemingly out of the floorboards and mouldings to skitter along the baseboards.  We wanted to catch them, but more than that, we wanted them just to go away.  At least we couldn’t really hear them upstairs as we slept. 

Now, we have Finley-induced PTSD.  For the first 2 nights we left him downstairs, he seemed either relieved not to have to face The Stairs, or else in too much misery to protest.  However, for the past 3 nights (I’m amazed I can still count that high) he’s decided his evening of contentment has finished by 3:30am.  Without fail, he will now commence irregular intervals of yelping, panting, and crying.  If there were some comfort measure we could offer him, like a pillow, a drink, a pee, or a snack, that would calm the crying, I know we would do it.  But it seems to be an extension of the whining he would do a few weeks and months ago, back when he could climb stairs.  We would be up in the office, and he would periodically yelp from downstairs, as if only to say, “You assholes.  I’m lonely.  Not lonely enough to haul my ass up, but pissed off that you left me.”  Because he’s not in our room at night now, he’s lost his sense of time, in that when we were in bed, it was night-time, and when we woke up, it was daytime.  Now, for him, it’s an endless span of time being left alone downstairs.  So he cries. 

Calling on my high-school study of operant conditioning and grad school study of learned behaviors, I struggle with what to do.  If every time he cries, we come running (again, not that we can offer much, even reassurance), he learns that we will reinforce his crying, and he will cry more.  If we ignore it, it should eventually extinguish the behavior, assuming there’s no underlying reason for it. 

Apparently 3 days is not enough time for a 13-year-old dog to learn a new behavior.  It is enough time to feel sleep-deprived, groggy, and hopelessly irritable.  And I’m talking about myself.  It’s enough we’re now lifting him up from the rear and showing endless patience as he feels out each step, each curb, each change in ground surface.  These are the things we do out of love.  They’re complicated by the small blonde dog who gets in Finley’s face when we’re doing a lift-assist, and pisses him off till he growls.  It’s enough we’re shoving up to 9 pills down his throat and shelling out $50 for a bag of “Health Mobility” dog food, but when he coughs up the pills and tries to bite us – yet won’t touch his foul fishy-smelling food – it’s starting to feel like he’s ungrateful or something. 

In spite of all these measures, and one hopeful day when he seemed to have at least his spirit back, Finley is getting worse.  I fear we’re in the home-stretch now.  I wish it didn’t come with sleepless nights. 

His intermittent yelps, barks, and cries make me dread going to sleep, make me toss fitfully as I fight pregnancy-induced restless legs and anxious bladder.  Once he begins crying, I cannot sleep.  I lie awake, flipping positions, listening into the night, waiting for the next call from downstairs, knowing I can’t or won’t do anything about it.  I do not fall asleep again, instead counting the hours till I can get out of bed.  I cover my ears, I pull up the sweltering blankets, I listen in disbelief that the alarm clock has not gone off yet.  Each half-hour is endless.

It’s different with babies, right?  Sleep deprivation comes with a reason, comes with an end, comes with purpose.  Babies sleep in 2-3 hour stretches, and wake to eat or be changed.  If I knew Finley would be content and fall back asleep for a few hours with a simple routine of a snack and a walk, I might do it, even at 3:30am.  But because his yelping seems to come without underlying cause, I can’t cope with it.   Because I have to work all day instead of devoting myself to baby care, I’m not myself.  I don’t have infinite patience.  I yell at him for barking.  I yell at him for his near-obsessive drinking.  I yell at Molly for interfering with my attempts to lift Finley.  I shove her aside as I try to get him out the door.  I speak to him sternly as I shove my fingers down his throat.  I roughly shove the pills back down after he gags them up, lips foamy with rapidly dissolving pain-killers.  In spite of the fact that he’s just a dog, I speak to him in ultimatums:

Finley, if this continues, it’s going to be the end of you.  I know you can’t understand that all we’re doing is to help you.  But if you keep crying at night, and won’t eat your special food, we’re going to have to put you down. 

For our own sanity. 

And it kills me, too.

Well, now I’ve done it.  On the same day the dog had his melt-down about descending the stairs, I totally caused chaos at work.  Rather my intended impending maternity leave caused massive miscommunication and now I’m certain that the stigma of the pregnant woman being nothing but trouble in the workplace is far from vanishing any time soon.

For years, I had labored under misapprehensions about FMLA time.  I knew it could be used after a year of employment, in jobs that employed more than a certain number of employees, as long as you’re not a top-tier, critical employee (e.g., The Boss) for up to 12 weeks each calendar year, and that its basic function is to hold a job while you attend to things like childbirth.  It guarantees the job will still be there while the new mother is coping with sleep deprivation, lactation, and how to set up the Pack and Play.  What I didn’t know is that, for women at least, those maximum 12 weeks are governed by a doctor’s orders.  They are not really “ours” to take as we please.  Some moms may want/need to return to work after 6 weeks; others may want to use the full 12.  I had only understood that maximum = 12.  I didn’t know that they were linked to a doctor’s appraisal of a woman’s readiness/ability to go back to work.  And I didn’t know they can only be taken in whole weeks.  My intention was to take 6-8 full weeks off, then to gradually reintroduce myself to the workplace, while my children were gradually being introduced to their childcare provider (as yet, undetermined, but Mary Poppins will show up one day soon, with references, we hope), while using up the rest of my FMLA time piecemeal.  It would look like I was back at work part-time, but I’d still be a full-time employee, just one using leave. 

Sick leave works this way, as does paid time off.  Short-term disability can sometimes look like this, for example if you have some chronic condition that has “flare ups” (which sounds disgusting no matter if it’s herpes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia) which require occasional time off or treatment.  It might look like our HR employee, who will be taking Fridays off to get her chemo as she recently learned about a recurrence of lymphoma.  But apparently, childbirth and maternity leave does not work that way.  Once a doctor certifies you’re well enough to return to work on a Monday, you can’t magically be “disabled” on Tuesday. 

This doesn’t quite jive with my understanding of the purpose of FMLA, especially as it applies to, um, fathers.  I’m completely grateful and impressed that it does apply to fathers (as well as adoptive parents), recognizing their equal role as parents as well as their need to support the mother/partner in ways other than earning a paycheck.  However, are they ever “disabled” when they take their maximum 12 weeks a year to care for a newborn child?  Do the dads get to use their own discretion as to when they choose to return to work?  Can they use short-term disability to get paid for their paternity leave the same way mothers can?  It can’t be linked directly to the mother’s health, meaning that if mom’s doc says she can go back to work at 8 weeks, he doesn’t have to, right?  It can’t be.  The HR woman told me many spouses try to get the mom to take the first 12 weeks off, then let the dad take the next 12 weeks off, so the babies can have as much time at home as possible to bond with parents. 

So is FMLA for the physical disability of pregnancy/childbirth/recovery, or for the adaptation of the family to its new members?

Understandably, it’s confusing, and I still haven’t worked out all the philosophical kinks.  I still have to talk to my doctor and find out if she’ll automatically sign off for 12 weeks, or if she truly sends women back when she deems their bodies ready.  Mr. Apron still has to find out if he’ll be able to tap into short-term disability the way I will. 

And with all these nuances of the law, a misunderstanding is, well, understandable.  Truly, I can tell myself it wasn’t entirely my fault that HR didn’t know what I was planning on doing.  Truly, if I’m following The Law, I don’t have to tell my employer my intentions until 30 days before I intend to actualize them.  In reality, however, I told my supervisor my original plan back at the end of June, and she used the information to interview and hire my replacement. 

 

Not my long-term substitute, my replacement.  Some people in HR thought I was leaving in mid-October, when the new SLP will be starting.  So I had to explain that no, I’ll be training her while still working, so she can assume my caseload, my duties, and my rollie chair.  I had to clarify that I intend on working until the day my water breaks.  Whether that will remain a reality is anyone’s guess, but it’s my best case scenario.  My guess is that this misunderstanding was the result of word-of-mouth transmissions, and assumptions made by HR by looking at the new SLP’s start date.  No one officially asked me my last day or asked me to put it in writing yet. 

Then there’s the part that’s my fault.  In my original plan, to come back piecemeal, this was for several reasons.  I have already stated above that I wanted to make a gradual transition for my babies and myself.  This summer, my employer did not offer short-term disability insurance, so coming back to work part-time by using up my FMLA was a way of having some income.  This fall, through incredible coincidence, my employer will not only offer short-term disability, but, because it’s an initial offering, I can actually apply for and be accepted.  At 5 months pregnant.  And having some income while on maternity leave will enable me to stay home longer, if I want to or am approved by my doctor to do.  So even if I hadn’t misunderstood FMLA, my plans changed once the short-term disability insurance was on the table. 

 

My supervisor and HR team had planned on my coming back as a part-time employee, and budgeted accordingly. Even though they legally have to hold my job, as it is, or with similar responsibilities, with the same income, they thought I was choosing to cut back my hours.  And budgeted for my replacement to come on full-time.  And gave her a contract accordingly.  So my department is kind of one full-time SLP over budget.  And it’s kind of my fault. 

Now my subsequent responsibility is in part to market our department aggressively (truly something I never went to school for) in order to, essentially, make up for the discrepancy by bringing in money in the form of new clients, new initiatives, new programs. 

To say I’m beating myself up about it is an understatement.  While I know many others played a part in this HR/budget SNAFU, it’s all about me and my inconvenient procreation.

 

Dear Finley,

     It would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic to coax you down the stairs.  Bribing, cajoling, and shoving seem to do nothing to assuage your new fear of the stairs.  You pant, you drool, you pace, and you circle; I’m fairly certain you’re having panic attacks.  I don’t know if treating what I assume is your arthritis pain would less your psychological terror, or if treating your anxiety would let you press on through any physical pain.  Your decline in the last 2 years has been what I’ve been fearing for half your 13+ years.  I don’t want to have to make a decision to put you down now, simply because of a flight of stairs.  Though I’ve been mourning your anticipated decline and passing for some time, I’m not prepared to face it right now.  Finley, I’m pregnant and don’t have the emotional resources for your death now.  I want you to meet the babies, much as I’m sure you will fear their unpredictable movements.  I bet  you will love their myriad baby smells and then you’ll become as attached — and aloof — as you are to us. 

     It’s true you’ve become more needy as you’ve become Old.  You’ve started whining more, being more difficult.  Walking you is annoying because you walk so slowly, and have to smell everything along the way.  You guzzle water obsessively like you’re preparing for a trek across the Sahara.  You make new old-dog noises.  Still, I can catch glimmers of your younger self as you inexplicably start tearing down the back alley on the futile hunt for cats.  I can remember plodding slowly with you down the road only to see you get so excited as you realize we were getting near Daddy’s old office.  And your daddy. 

     I’ve felt neglectful since we moved to our house, because your walks are so much shorter, and the dog park outings are no more.  Since we brought Molly home, you get even less attnetion, and she is clearly the squeaky wheel, and, honestly, she’s now the more fun and engaging dog.  I tell myself we can’t let you off-leash anymore anyway, since your hearing is fading and you don’t respond to “come” the way you used to.  With Molly, you don’t go on car rides, trips, or hikes in the woods anymore either.  She’s made you less portable, and she herself is somehow less portable at half your weight.  Two dogs don’t go places one did. 

     I remember running in the backyard of our rented houses with you, rolling in the overgrown grass with you, wrestling rags and chew dogs away from you.  I remember your favorite toy, the Ty Beanie bull I refused to let Molly have, even though you lost interest in it when she arrived.  You burst the seam, tore the squeaker out, and thrust the toy in my lap, as if pleading, “Mommy, fix it, please.”  And I did.  I fixed your toys.  I made you dog beds and dog bed slipcovers.  I let you pull me around the room like a husky tugging an office-chair sled on wheels.  I sewed bandanas for you, and you never tried to pull them — or eat them — off, like Molly does.  Remember when you were so strong and impulsive we walked you on a choke collar?  Remember how many times your father and I thrust our fingers in your mouth to pull out yet another discarded KFC chicken bone you’d picked up off the sidewalk? 

     Finley, I’m writing your eulogy as you lay on the dining room floor, breathing peacefully, very much alive.  Yet I’m mourning you more intensely now than I ever have before.  I hope we can take you to the vet and they can give you some medication to take away the pain or the fear.  We don’t euthanize old, arthritic people when they can’t go up and down stairs any more.  We install stair lifts, and put Craftmatic beds in the dining room.  We give them walkers with tennis balls on the legs. 

     I wish a tennis ball would make it all better, Finley.  I love you, and I’m sorry you’re scared.  I’m scared, too.

Love,

Mommy