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Last night on Facebook, I read something that rubbed me the wrong way.  A peer, a woman I worked with for two months, posted a conversation she and her mother had had after seeing a yoga mat tucked into a Toys for Tots donation box.  “That’s not a Toy for Tots!” she cleverly quipped, “It’s a Present for the Privileged.”  I wasn’t sure how to articulate it at the time, but it bothered me, so I passive-aggressively posted a link to a blog that had gone viral about a woman finding quinoa in the food donation box at a school where well-heeled children attended.  The blog, of course, was about not judging “those people” who receive food donations or welfare, in the face of blatantly prejudiced concerns about welfare moms toting iphone 6s while gaming the system for free WIC benefits and food stamps.  The author had unexpectedly found herself in a position of using a food pantry previously, she writes, and far be it for us to assume who is at the other end of our donations.  I didn’t expect my former colleague to see herself in that story, but it set my brain on fire.

 

During the two months we worked side by side at a state-funded program for full-day pre-kindergarten for needy families, and children with developmental delays, she had lamented, while justifying why a professional woman holding a master’s degree was still living with her parents, that in this economy, one could have a car, or an apartment, but not both.  It’s insulting not only because I was doing both at the time, but more so because the families we worked with, most of whom were single-parent and/or immigrant families, were struggling without the benefit of native English proficiency, white privilege, or higher education that she and I both enjoy.

 

Then there’s her assumption itself, that a yoga mat is a privileged item, that yoga is a bourgeois pursuit, that a $10 yoga mat is an inappropriate gift item for a child in need.  What, pray tell, would one rather choose for a 10- or 12-year-old girl?  A piece of mass-produced commercialized plastic drek that will last no longer than Christmas morning?  Whereas a yoga mat needs no batteries, no assembly, has no directions, and no limitations.  Boys, girls, young and old.  And, contrary to the assertion of another Facebook commenter, it can provide more than just a “clean surface to play on” over the presumed squalor of the recipient family’s overcrowded tenement.  My own kids, not even three, but already in the throes of pretended play, have commandeered my dormant yoga mats, and set them up as roadways for their cars, towels for their “beach” excursions, and blankets to hide in.  A pair of pointe shoes or a riding helmet might be a White Elephant for an impoverished child, but a quick trip to the library would yield a DVD or a book of yoga poses to imitate.

 

Many years ago, around Christmas time, my mom read a “letter to Santa” in the local paper, written by a little girl whose family was in need.  My siblings and I spent our first night of Hanukkah wrapping matchbox cars, Barbies, stuffed animals, winter coats, and an artificial Christmas tree.  My mom played elf and delivered it all to the little girl’s school.  When we were talking about our first nights of Hanukkah at confirmation class the next day, I shared the warm, fuzzy feeling I had gotten from our act of charity.  Cynically, one of my classmates posited that it had been a hoax designed to garner sympathy and free stuff.

 

Is my classmate the same kind of person who thinks a yoga mat is a trapping of the well-to-do, that charity should be practiced with a distinct separation between the stuff we use, and the stuff they’re allowed to receive as gifts?

 

The social justice club at my school is collecting canned/boxed foods and free turkey certificates so that local aid organizations can give traditional thanksgiving meals to the hungry.  What started as an effort by a small group of kids resulted in a school-wide donation of 30 boxes of canned food and 10 free turkey certificates.  Due to the need for the stuff to be shelf-stable, most of the donations are the usual food pantry staples: mushy canned yams, canned corn, limp green beans, jellied cranberry sauce (with the ripples from the can), and boxes of instant mashed potatoes.  I don’t know of another way to collect and distribute food donations, but the result is that those have become poor people food.  Those are the go-to donations.  Alongside my jar of cranberries from Trader Joe’s in the donation box was the 30-cent can of corn niblets I found at Giant.

 

The canned-corn-and-instant-potato-flakes stereotype speaks to the larger issue of access to fresh fruits and vegetables that is often lacking in “food deserts”.  Fresh food costs more, has to be stored differently, expires faster, and requires more time to prepare.  But does that mean hungry people don’t deserve quinoa or yoga mats? If we really want our charity to be meaningful, we should choose things we ourselves would use.  There’s a significant difference between donating canned caviar, and buying an extra jar of the same spaghetti sauce your family uses when it’s 2/$5.

 

When we used to collect coats, hats, and mittens for a preschool service project, we would tell the kids it was for “friends we haven’t met yet” to make charity accessible to a 3-year-old brain.  That’s all “those people” are — they’re just friends we haven’t met yet.  I’d buy my friend a yoga mat, wouldn’t you?

 

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I’ve made peace with the fact that my kids will attend public school.  At least, I tell myself this, because it will happen.  We bought a house in a top-rated school district  to ensure it will happen.  But having lived in this area for 11 years now, my eyes have been opened to the variety of private schools that exist.  I’ve worked for two of them, and perhaps drunk the Kool-Aid.  Kids learn differently.  Public school doesn’t work for everyone.  There are choices, and private school isn’t all about blazers, galas, and lacrosse.  Maybe I have edu-crushes on the Friends schools because I want my kids to have the types of hand-on education I didn’t in my cookie-cutter public schooling?  A vicarious Quaker education?

Anyhow, preschool is a paid experience (at least until Pennsylvania finally enacts universal Pre-K), so I get to dip my toes into the worlds of admissions, applications, open houses, and choosing the “best” school.  My kids attend the two-year-old program at the JCC.  Is it enough?  Is this the mommy wars/competitive parenting poisoning what is overblown in importance for kids of educated middle-class parents anyway?  (There is research out there that if a kid comes from a home where he is read to and stimulated, no one preschool is “better” than another.  I wish I could find the link to that article…)  Or maybe my standards are impossibly high from having been immersed in preschool for 5 years, years which shaped my parenting and educational philosophies.  Much as I want my kids to do Quaker and Waldorf and nature preschool stuff (but not Montessori; don’t get me started), I also want to choose a place that, frankly, has the hours and tuition and location that makes our lives easier.  I have no interest in choosing a school that will require impossible logistics.  That’s the childcare portion of it again.  Beyond financial limitations, we can’t choose a place simply because they have a classroom I fall in love with, or an ideal curriculum, a gorgeous playground, or teachers who are kindred spirits.

Bottom line: I think it doesn’t matter in the long run where they go to school when they’re 2, 3, or 4, as long as it’s not those dumps in North Philly where I did early intervention.  But the other half of the equation is that I want them to be at a place I love.  A place I feel really good about.  And it’s kind of eating me up inside that all my “expert insider” preschool knowledge came down to the fact that the school day at the JCC goes until 3:30pm and Mr. Apron can pick them up then.  Frankly, that’s what made our final decision.  That, and we thought we’d use the JCC’s fitness center.  That’s happened…exactly zero times since September.

So what do we do? Switch them next year to the other program?  Uproot them from something that works, and from a place they do in fact enjoy going to school to play the lottery on a different program? Sacrifice our logistical sanity trying to work out the transportation, tuition, and childcare challenges for a school I feel good about?  Find an anonymous benefactor to subsidize private school education and a nanny/chauffeur to handle the logistics?  We’re lucky we have choices in preschools for our kids.  Once it all gets whittled down to our limitations, though, it feels a lot less like actual choice, and more a matter of playing Tetris with our kids’ education.

When my husband was growing up, he would often express his desire to be a police officer, to which his mother would respond that that was not for him.  It was “for some other mother’s son”.  My mother-in-law was not being a snob; she was simply stating that it was fine for other mother’s children to risk their lives protecting the peace and enforcing laws.  Hers would have to find employment in some other, safer discipline.  Fine for others; not for hers.

Last night, I was staring up at the bulletin board above my crafting area, a sort of proto-Pinterest where I pin magazine clippings, googly eyes, bias tape, a target from our trip to the shooting range, a Gilbert & Sullivan parody Mr. Apron wrote me for my birthday last year, the wedding announcement I placed in my alumni journal, the prototype of the card we used to announce our impending twin-parenthood:

and vestiges of our Valentine’s Day cards. I spied our first photo card:

The felt reindeer from 2011’s highly successful Christmas letter parody:

And this year’s card:

We didn’t get a chance to photograph our babies a la Anne Geddes when they were in their slug stage, when we could pose them just so, and they would sleep through the entire experience.  I hadn’t done any research into the cost or the logistics or the props for such arrangements, but I wanted these images for posterity, for baby books, for Facebook.  I wanted to be able to smile at the cherubs years later, and forget all the insanity of the first few weeks.

Unfortunately, with twins, the insanity of the first few weeks overtook us, and we never made it to the portrait studio, and the photographer never made it to us.  We couldn’t remember to eat, let alone coordinate baby photo shoots.  We were at the doctor for weight checks, the hospital for blood draws, and working so hard on establishing successful breastfeeding – round the clock – that it just never happened.

The only professional photo of my family sits of my mantle.  It was part of a fundraiser for my family’s synagogue, and it probably dates from 1989.  My hair has not been brushed in weeks, my father looks ever slightly stunned, my brother’s eyes dilate as if  stoned, and my baby sister, primped like a real-life doll, has her lips pursed, sucking on an M&M.  It was the only way to shut her up.  My mother looks pretty good, actually.  I think she’s the only one who wanted the photo taken.  My family of origin was not meant for photo studio shots, that much is clear.

But my children?  How awkward could some newborn photos be?  All I wanted was to scour Etsy for some coordinating hats and to capture something like this:

Is that so wrong?

Okay, so maybe posing them like they’re humping each other is less than ideal:

And this is a little creepy:

But still, is it so wrong to want this?

But we missed that opportunity.  A kind friend listened to me lamenting as I bemoaned missing the window for “slug-phase” photos, and she suggested we do it now.  They took their son for many photo shoots in his first year, and have a veritable catalogue of beautiful memories.  It’s not like my six-month-olds aren’t cute.  They’re still years from their awkward phase.

But as I sat staring up at this year’s Valentine, I was reminded of the tremendous feat it took to pull off the photo shoot on our couch.  We took forever to birth a concept, then had to scour and create props, “design” make-up, and call in a dear friend (who fortunately understands we’re not quite right in the heads) to take the pictures.  Doing some quick figuring, I reasoned that if Valentine’s Day is mid-February, we had managed to take the pictures perhaps mid-January, when our slugs were about a month old.

Staring up at the bulletin board last night — that was when I realized that our White Trash Valentine (or Married…with Children, or North Country, or Trailer Trash) was our newborn photo shoot.  Our little slugs — clothed only in their diapers, cuddled up against a mother wearing too much mascara, a father puffing on a fake cigarette, and surrounded by cheez doodles, a TV dinner, and fake cans of Budweiser — had had their moment.  We made a decision to shoot that Valentine against all odds.  In spite of not knowing which day it was, which feeding we were on, and which end of the baby was more volatile at any given moment, we managed to coordinate our annual Valentine, and mail it out to 100 of our closest friends.  That we didn’t do the same for an Anne Geddes-style session speaks to our true nature.

Those photos are for some other mother’s twins.

She is conspicuous in her absence.  I expect to see her sitting high on the end of the couch, deforming the cushion, as I walk up the front walkway.  I expect to trip over her when I traipse through the kitchen at night, to find her curled up on a dining room chair in the morning.  I am shocked when she does not bark to welcome the nanny in the morning, or to guard against anyone who walks in the door.  She doesn’t jump on me when I sit on the floor to play with the babies, nor try to eat the beignet I set on the end table as we settled into an evening of “Homicide” after the babies had gone to sleep.

 

Her “stuff” is gone, too – her bowl, her collar, her leash and harness.  There’s a space in the living room that has obviously been swept after her crate was removed to the garage.  But the biggest difference is not in her trappings nor even seeing her in her usual haunts; it’s in my behavior.  I don’t have to seal up the kitchen at night, lest she sneak in there and pee on the chair cushions.  I don’t have to obsessively close the bedroom doors, lest she do the same to our bedding.  No longer do I worry that a stray baby sock or hat on the floor will become a chew toy.  Pacifiers that E. drops will stay put until we clean them, not become squirreled away in the dog’s mouth.  I don’t have to bribe her into her crate before I leave the house, nor distract her with a treat when the nanny comes.  I don’t have constantly hush her barks as she threatens to wake the sleeping babies yet again.  And while she’s torn up a third sofa with her energy and her nails, it won’t get any worse than it is now.  I don’t have to protect our home any longer.  Molly is gone.

 

Mr.Apron took her to the shelter yesterday, took her “back” to the shelter we adopted her from 2 years ago.  Was she defective?  Were we incompetent?  Probably neither extreme is fair, and I have to believe that she’ll be adopted again soon, to a family with the fenced-in  yard she needs, and the attention she craves.  I have to believe she can be rehabilitated, or we wouldn’t have worked so hard, spent so much money on her in the time she wrecked our home, and brought chaos into our lives.

 

I’ll always be sad when I think about having to surrender Molly.  I’ll always look back on her photos nostalgically and wonder if we had tried everything in our power.  Or if we should have returned her long before we did.  But things are so much easier now; I can’t believe how much we rearranged our lives to accommodate that 32-lb dog, how careful we had to be to manage her behaviors and her less-than-desirable attributes.  It’s like we can breathe again, and relax a little in our own home.

 

As I dressed for work this morning, though, I realized it’ll take far longer than 24-hours for the dog to truly leave our lives.  While the dog and her chaos may have left, we’ll still be lint-rollering pieces of her fur off of our clothing for years to come.

On March 27th, my nephew lost his father, and my sister-in-law became a widow.  It’s ironic really, to think of her adding yet another unwanted title to her identity.  The day she married her husband, her in laws hosted an informal reception on their back deck.  We ate sandwiches and the newlyweds opened gifts from their families.  I distinctly recall my sister-in-law yelling at her mother, “Don’t call him my husband.”  It’s no family secret that it was a shotgun wedding, held in a judge’s chambers, a week or two before my nephew was born.  It doesn’t take a lot of guessing to learn that my nephew was conceived when his parents “weren’t even trying” to get pregnant, and that it was my mother-in-law who was a driving force behind the rushed nuptials.

 

My sister-in-law wasn’t shy about her plans to divorce her husband as soon as their son hit school-age and she would no longer “need” him for child care.

 

For me, it was all a source of ridiculousness, of incredulity at the antics I was now a part of, by marriage.  There is bile between my husband’s sister and me.  Ever since she received her invitation to our wedding a day later than her sister did, and concluded that we didn’t therefore want her at our wedding, I have made only requisite socially appropriate overtures toward her.  I hear only stories about her teenage screaming matches with my mother-in-law, her alleged theft of family jewelry, about how she broke my husband’s arm, and the time she literally locked him in a suitcase.  Beyond the family tales, I had firsthand experience of her selfishness — how she cancels plans with others on a whim and orders her father and sister to do her bidding – sell her car, fax her resume, find her a house, fix her toilet, walk her dog, etc.  The list is as long as the stories.  Each time my husband would come home from a well intentioned visit with her, he’d spew his own venom, seething about her self-centeredness, and unloading whatever ludicrous thing she’d said that time.  She would regularly tear him down, deriding his choices and values.  In defense of my best friend, I cannot stand my sister-in-law.

 

When her husband was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer, and given a year to live, I focused mainly on how long it was taking to get a diagnosis or prognosis.  No one seemed to know anything, and as much as we were technically kept in the loop via text messages, I just kept feeling like no real information was being transmitted.  It took 2 weeks to get the diagnosis of the primary cancer type.  The staging I never really found out.  It frustrated me, personally, because I wanted to understand in the way I cope with medical tragedies – by reading and researching.  Without the tumor staging, I knew very little.  I was critical of the doctors and my in-laws for their ignorance.  They wrote things like “legions” for “lesions” and described his tumors as “the big one” and “the little ones”, rather than telling where in the brain they were, that I might understand what kind of deficits he might have.  It took several meetings with the oncologists for my sister- and brother-in-law to realize the gravity of the situation.  When the doctor told him it wouldn’t be a quick or easy treatment, he replied, “Oh, so you mean I’m going to have this when I’m 80?” The doc told him he wouldn’t live to be 80.

 

And then my nephew went to live with his grandparents.  Even though his father was tolerating the treatments very well at first, and he was getting around well and staying at home, my nephew was torn from his home, his routine, and his parents.  My parents-in-law’s lives were upended, and I was angry at my sister-in-law, again, for dumping her kid off.  My mother-in-law reduced her work hours drastically; my father-in-law started working entire weekends (instead of just Saturday mornings) so he could watch my nephew more during the week.  And with both of them orbiting around my nephew, no one had time for us.

 

My brother-in-law went into the hospital for the first time when my children were two weeks old.  His cancer has sadly eclipsed the familial joy of new babies, and deprived us of some much-needed support during the first weeks of their lives.  Selfish, yes, but factual.  I felt frazzled; they felt guilty and stretched thin.

 

As for my own reactions to the entire debacle, I’ve mostly been callous.  I’m angry at others for taking attention away from my family, yes, but it’s been hard to summon sympathy for a woman I have a “toxic relationship” with.  She never wanted to marry the guy, or to have his child.  He had nothing going for him, a real loser.  Still worked at the same sandwich shop he did in high school, still lived with his parents (until the impregnation).  He had poor credit, and let the mother of his other child dictate unreasonable amounts of child support because he just had no clue.  I couldn’t decide whom to feel more sorry for – my sister-in-law, or her husband.  Mostly, I felt bad for my nephew, with his distant and/or clueless parents.

 

The viewing.  The funeral.  I had to miss half of my first day back at work to go the funeral.  I was planning on working, but my father-in-law pressured me into going.  First we went to the wrong cemetery.  Next we were early, and sat with my in-laws in a growing car line, waiting for the limo with the family and the ashes.  I sat there fuming at the wasted morning.  Then, we stood at the gravesite in the whipping wind while my husband’s uncle made tacky remarks about what a nice site they had chosen.  And finally, I saw my sister-in-law dissolving into tears, her shoulders hunched, her eyes pressed shut, as she said good bye to her husband.  I saw her as human for the first time.  The wall of defenses I had built up – my distaste for her, my indifference towards her husband, the entire family’s naïveté of the cancer – crumbled, and I, too, wept.  I wept for my nephew, I wept for my brother-in-law’s parents.  I wept for my sister-in-law, for she was human.  It didn’t matter if she felt guilty for being so mean to him, for threatening to divorce him, for saying what a loser he was, for driving him to drink.  He was gone, all of him.  I wept, too, for my own children.  If a 35-year-old can live 3 months after  his initial diagnosis, cancer can deprive anyone of their parents, their children, their partners, their family.  I wept for my husband, standing beside me.  I wept for our humanity.

 

It was much easier to cloak my mourning in callous scientific facts, and impatience with others’ ignorance.  At the end of the day, he’s still dead.  In wrapping ourselves up in our own lives, with our newborn children, we had allowed ourselves a respite from not only seeing him grow sicker and sicker, but in having to face seeing my sister-in-law grow human.  It’s easier to vilify her, to criticize her choices and her lifestyle.  In attending the funeral – a 15-minute graveside operation with no clergy, and only a brief eulogy by his father about some football game 20 years ago – I had to face reality, and let my sister-in-law, and myself in turn, hurt.

Which means, of course, that I have been through the childbirth experience and emerged on the other side.

The babies are definitely the coolest things to have come out of my vagina.

Which means yes, I delivered twins vaginally, which earned me quite the kudos in the hospital and quite the looks from people who think it is their business to ask such things.

I was induced Wednesday night, and given Cervadil, which was supposed to “soften” my cervix (finish effacing and thinning it) in preparation for the actual induction the next day.  The nurse said everyone reacts to the Cervadil differently, which is a nice thing to say when I lasted about an hour before intense contractions started piling up ever 45 seconds.  There was no time to use our well-rehearsed breathing exercises as contractions became more intense.  They started at a 10, and just kept going.  I was not supposed to walk around, as the babies were on a monitor, but only walking around gave me any measure of relief.  Due to hospital policy, I was stuck in bed, however.

An hour later, anesthesiology was giving me the epidural I had been undecided and open-minded about.  The effects were amazing and almost instantaneous.  I turned from a shaking, screaming banshee who was breaking into cold sweats, into a rational human being who played Skip-Bo with her husband.

My daughter decided she wanted to come out before I was fully dilated, so she started descending and sitting, basically, (well, head-standing) on my coccyx, for several hours.  So even though I had good “coverage” with the epidural, and was numb, she exerted incredible pressure on my ass every time I had a contraction.

Those contractions?  Never got more than 5 minutes apart and were usually 2-3 minutes.

For 22 hours.

Anesthesia, who was MIA by this point, wouldn’t be able to relieve “pressure”, only pain, so my only option once I hit a contraction was a nurse’s suggestion to apply my own counter-pressure.  This meant that my birth partner (see: husband) pushed and held a frozen diaper (standard hospital equipment on the L&D floor) against my coccyx for every contraction.  Things became glamorous.

My doctor, who was in the hospital on Thursday, had to leave by “5 or 6”, but I was dilating so slowly (several hours from 2-3cm, several more from 3-4cm), that we were on the clock, praying she’d be able to be there to deliver the babies.

Five and six pm both passed, and all that was left were contractions through my ass.  They tell you you might poop during childbirth, but they don’t tell you you feel like you have to poop for 22 hours.

I was able to wedge a frozen diaper in such a position that we could watch Jeopardy!, when nurse Laura said she thought she saw signs of “earlies” on the fetal monitor, which signifies something significant.  At any rate, the OB who had just come on checked me, and by 8pm, I was being wheeled into the OR.

Since I was having twins, and each baby gets a “team”, a regulary L&D room is just too small for the delivery.  All twin deliveries happen in the OR.  I was excited to finally be doing something, excited to relieve the gotta-poop feeling, excited to get to be an active participant in the birth.  I was transfered to the OR table, and immediately cowed by the 3  enormous lights above me.  Fourteen people at least shouting at me, different directions, different instructions.  I screamed while I was pushing, ’cause it fucking hurt.  That elicited many refrains of, “Don’t scream” as I was kind of wasting energy and breath that could be used for pushing.  So I started crying, “I’m sorry,” which only made them admonish me not to be sorry.

Once again, the breathing exercises were out the window as I couldn’t focus with everyone screaming at me and the lights glaring.  I couldn’t hear the 10-second counts, and I felt like the heads I was trying to pass were bowling balls.

After what felt like forever but was more like 43 minutes, my daughter was born.  I was delirious with sleep-deprivation from the night before (and past several weeks), as well as the pain meds they were pushing.  I heard her cry, and I said, “Baby!” as if it had just now occurred to me that pregnancy usually yields live, screaming babies.  They said push if I felt I had to push.  I still felt like I had to poop, not push, but had already delivered one child that way, so I started pushing again.  Fourteen minutes later, little brother was born.  In all the hysteria, I didn’t realize he wasn’t doing so well at birth.  In some part because I pushed him out so quickly, he didn’t get all the squeezing benefits of being compressed in the birth canal, which can help to initiate breathing.  I caught a glimpse of him, and he was completely white.  I thought he was covered in vernix, the white, waxy substance that protects fetuses from amniotic fluid, but he was white because he wasn’t breathing.  I only found this out later, as my husband finally revealed, thanks to my insecurities about their health.

“Are they really fine?” I begged.  “Are they really perfect?” I was in disbelief, I was frantically worried someone was keeping something from me.  E. had only received a 1 on his initial APGAR.  He wasn’t breathing on his own.  His color was terrible.  As they say to assuage mothers, “Many babies need some help.”  Truthfully, he did only need a little help — they suctioned him, gave him a few breaths with a BVM, and soon he was screaming, too.  Now, at 18 days old, he often won’t stop.

My biggest triumph at this point is having carried twins to 38.5 weeks, and having had such a thoroughly uncomplicated pregnancy that I was able to deliver two healthy babies vaginally.

My biggest disappointment was in losing control, losing track of my birth plan, being unable to follow through with my first parenting decisions.

Because L. was jaundiced, it was essential she clear out the bilirubin from her system, and she ended up taking formula from a bottle.

Because E. lost too much of his birth weight (when you’re 5lb5oz, it’s more of a concern than if you’re 8lbs), we were supplementing him with formula.

Because of the madness in the OR, and E.’s low one-minute APGAR, I didn’t get to hold either child until we were all in recovery.  And Mr. Apron didn’t cut either cord.

Because I ran out of time, I didn’t get to bank/donate their cord blood.

Because breastfeeding was so hard, both babies lost weight and the pediatrician told us it was medically necessary to supplement with formula.

Because my parents don’t listen, they bought us diapers in the wrong size, sizes which will fit them when they are big enough to be in cloth diapers, which is our intention once they are out of the newborn-shit-every-twenty-minutes phase.

Because the babies screamed their heads off the first two nights and wouldn’t sleep, we began using pacifiers almost immediately.

Because I was too tired and emotionally distraught to be patient enough to breastfeed at the 12am, 3am, and 6am feedings, and we felt the pediatrician’s mandate breathing down our necks, we began bottle-feeding overnight, while I pump.

We weren’t going to bottle-feed for several weeks.  We weren’t going to use pacifiers.  We weren’t going to use formula at all.  He was going to cut the cords.  Baby A was supposed to be on me until I started pushing with Baby B.  My OB was supposed to deliver my babies.  We were going to donate the cord blood.  And none of it happened.  Every feeding where the babies wouldn’t latch on, and I held out a hungry child to my husband, who would give a bottle of the hated formula to an eagerly awaiting little mouth, I felt rejected.  I felt I couldn’t provide what I knew was the best food for my babies.  I felt the pediatrician was using the words “medically necessary” as a way to derail my first parents decisions.

Mr. Apron keeps telling me that that stuff is all minor, that I need to sort through my priorities, and look at the bigger picture.  The bigger picture always is the healthy babies, always is their welfare and well-being.  But as the items in my birth plan kept getting ignored, steam-rollered, or altered as a result of “medically necessary”, I felt helpless.  I felt ignored.  I felt like my intentions were worthless.  The induction went poorly and my contractions put me in agony?  Big deal.  The babies were healthy.  The nurses pushed meds and interventions on me so I’d be a happier patient?  Big deal.  The babies were healthy.  I had to supplement with formula and risk nipple confusion and interference with breast-feeding?  Big deal.  L.’s bilirubin numbers were dropping, and E. was putting on weight.  The pediatrician recommended Vitamin D drops because breastmilk is “incomplete”?  Big deal.  Vitamins are insurance against deficiencies.

I didn’t feel supported in my decisions as a mother.  I watched all my intentions slip away until I was left with sore nipples, a sink full of Enfamil bottles, a calendar full of doctor’s appointments, and mandates from a pediatrician who I hadn’t even met, as he was on vacation.

And those post-partum hormones coursing through my body didn’t help.

However, we’re all on the mend.  The loopiness from the Oxycodone has worn off.  The babies are back above birth weight, so we were given “permission” to drop the formula supplements.  I’m pumping during night feedings to spare myself some sanity, and I can usually make enough for Mr. Apron to feed them breast milk.  The babies are healthy, for real.  And while I do not fare so well when they soil three diapers in a row, while I’m changing them, or they pee out the back of their really cute outfits, or they break out of their swaddle for the sixteenth time, or one wakes up screaming just as we’ve put the other one down, we are, on the whole, doing okay.

I made it from pregnancy to motherhood, and our little family of two (plus the two dogs) has made room for two more very important members.

Who are probably ready for their 6pm feeding.  As I am little more than a milk factory at present, I must conclude this post.  I hope for many more naps as peaceful as this one, that I may blog some more.

Here are my munchkins:

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???

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.

 

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

Evidently, when babies get to be nineteen weeks of gestation, they turn into mangos.

One fetal representation.

Who knew, right?

Well, we know, because we compulsively research what size fruit our parasites/twinners/aliens are each week, because, clearly we have nothing better to do, even though we have cable.

In honor of the mango-esque nature of the babies, we decided, this week, to create a delicious, nutritious, apoplectic, intransigent, thoroughly fibrous smoothie.

Mangos are notoriously challenging to dissect, but, with the aid of a set of Ginsu knives, a complete mortician’s tool kit, the Jaws of Life, and an 18th Century Samurai sword belonging to one of the 47 Ronin, we were able to accomplish the task with minimal difficulty.

Skinned alive. NOT a fetal representation.

Following a recipe I stole modified from Ben & Jerry’s when I worked there one summer, I began with 8oz juice (some cran-blend).

I am juice.

I then added the mango chunks and some frozen raspberries (eliminates the need for ice).

Oooh, pwetty!

And blended it together.  Then I remembered there was a partially decaying perfectly ripe banana on the counter, and I tossed it in.

Whirrrr...

"Don't forget me or you'll get fruit flies on the counter!"

Finally, I added a few scoops of sorbet. This was how we could justify $3.50 or $4.00 at B&J’s — we used their sorbet.  It makes it super cold and smooth.

The secret ingredient.

When it was all mixed up, we poured it into the appropriate serving vessel: mixed drink classes from the 1950s.

The smoothies accompanied a delectable and eclectic breakfast.

With homemade (not our home) bagels and zucchini bread.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, the smoothies, though delicious with delicate fruity overtones, were somewhat fiber-heavy, due to the inclusion of an entire mango.  After his first yeoman’s gulp, Mr. Apron declared, with customary tact, that it was “like drinking a sweater.”

I wasn’t able to take a sip without a remark about its “cable-knit” quality.