Friday, January 30, 2015

The Audience

I have unfortunate memories from my childhood in which my sister, our neighborhood friend, and I plugged in our tape player with my dad's orange extension cord and choreographed dances to hit songs in the front yard. We worked with songs from the likes of NKOTB and Milli Vanilli, and we dubbed ourselves "The Glitter Girls." We even had a small green beaded treasure chest of money that was basically a collection of our allowances, which we intended to use for costumes until the neighborhood friend's mom stole it to "buy makeup." But that's another story. We spent hours in the front yard amusing ourselves on summer mornings and creating superfly dances that we then forced upon hapless audiences such as Martha, our sweet elderly next-door neighbor. We even charged her a quarter for the privilege of watching our productions. (That money was probably stolen by the neighbor's mom, too.)

Ah, youth. And, ah, how it comes full circle to bite us in the asses.

I am now hapless Martha, and my two older boys are the Glitter Girls--except the productions that I am subject to viewing are choreographed ninja moves, wrestling positions, pratfalls, "spider jumps," and nude dances. Yes, nude dances, because my children think it's hilarious to disrobe for a laugh, and then run out to where I am so that they can dance, giggle uproariously, and shout out the names of body parts that usually aren't subject to public viewing. Apparently my exasperation is enough to keep them coming back for more.

Over the course of the last six months, my role as a mother to Silas and George has shifted from 'primary playmate' to 'negotiator/peacekeeper.' Now they mostly are entertained by playing with each other, which is both a blessing and a curse. Now I do get a few extra minutes to prep dinner, text a friend, and start laundry, but I'm also frequently needed to break up arguments and draw figurative lines in the sand when someone took the wrong Lego or stuck a foot into the other's fort space. Silas and George dream big dreams when they're together, and their conversations are wonderful to hear. They talk mostly about "skeleton work," what they want to be when they grow up, and what superheros they are. Also, their conversations can be hilarious, such as the following:
Silas: Can I do something to your finger?
George: What?
Silas: I can't tell you. I just have to do it.
G: Okay.
(Pause) Silas: Does that hurt?
G: No.
Silas: Is it going to hurt at some point?
G: Ummmm. No.

Yesterday the boys were in the garage unraveling strings from bundled wooden stakes, and then using those strings to set up "booby traps" for bad guys around our front yard. All at once, Silas remembered a doctor's kit that George was given for his birthday and asked if they could play with that. George was immediately on board, as the doctor's kit has been a huge hit. Silas said to George,
"George, our days of fighting bad guys are in the past. Now, our doctor days are just beginning."

Then, of course, there is The Vanners. Both boys love Van greatly, but George is definitely the better playmate. George fits the bill of the middle child pretty perfectly: he is the go-between for our youngest and oldest, belonging in good relationships with both. He also seems to struggle with a bit of that identity crisis that seems to plague middle children--namely, the swift transformation from mature thinker to tantruming infant. Each morning when Van wakes up, George is always allowed to be the first one in to get him. George always stops me in my tracks with a dramatic crossing-guard-type gesture and tells me to wait. "I tell you when you can come, Mommy. I need alone time with Ban." Sometimes those two go for 20 minutes playing in the crib together before I intervene and get Van for breakfast!

Not to be outdone, The Vanners would like to remind us that he is the ultimate cake-smasher.

Motherhood is definitely a changing journey. I find myself at times longing for a newborn again, and the next minute I find myself breathing a sigh of relief about finally having my body (mostly) back to myself after five consecutive years of either being constantly pregnant or nursing. Each January my very favorite tennis tournament, the Australian Open, causes me to reminisce about the greatness of sweet-smelling newborns as I recall that two of the last three years were spent watching live tennis in the middle of the night with babes who needed feedings. As I consider that next month we're enrolling Silas for kindergarten in August though, I'm reminded to not hurry these days along. They will go fast enough on their own. That thought keeps me smiling and sitting for yet another performance by my two little vaudevillians---as long as they don't charge me 25 cents for the pleasure.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Skeleton Work

About a month ago, BJ's car needed a repair. The boys and I took BJ to his workplace, which is a federal site that is pretty heavily guarded. The boys had never seen BJ's office before, but we got a pass to drop BJ off and so we took the boys inside so BJ could show us around. It was only then that we realized that George really had some misconceptions about what it is that BJ spends his time at work doing.

Even though we talk about our individual days each night at the dinner table, I guess the boys never really conceptualized that BJ's job really is working on a computer nearly all of the time. The boys have been told that my job is to talk with sad people and "help them feel better," which is about as simplified a version of a psychologist as I can give. We thought they understood that Daddy the electrical engineer helps airplanes fly by looking at numbers on the computer. Silas may have thought that, but George sure didn't.

George was under the impression that Daddy fights skeletons all day at work.

There was momentary dismay that morning when George discovered that Daddy's office looks, well, pretty much like a normal office. "Where are the skeletons?" he wondered. When we picked BJ up that evening, he asked again, "Did you fight skeletons at your skeleton work?" I was half-flabbergasted, half-amused to learn that George honest-to-God thought that every day Daddy suited up, grabbed his computer bag, and bravely drove off to shoot and spear nefarious skeletons for the good of all man- and womankind, four to five days a week, ten hours a day.

Since the unearthing of George's misconception, the idea of "skeleton work" is now freely talked about and explored by both boys. Silas has also grabbed the reins with this concept and is riding wild. Often we hear from one or the other of them, "I think tomorrow when I wake up in the morning, I'm going to spend some time at my skeleton work." Silas and George both have given us several glimpses as to what skeleton work looks like, and they will both re-enact deeds of bravery that skeleton work required of them that day. If I question where the scrape on their hand or leg came from, they'll both tell me matter-of-factly, "Skeleton work." Last week George waltzed around the corner with pink marker stripes on his forehead. When I asked with mild exasperation, "What is that on your forehead?" I was promptly told, "A skeleton bit me on the head at skeleton work. But I shot him." They build small models of "skeleton work" out of Legos, and they both agree that the entrance to skeleton work lies in the water meter in our front yard. Skeleton work will even feed them dinner (pizza, cheeseburgers, and fries) if they just can't make it home in time for supper!

A skeleton work battle wound
A model of skeleton work

The agreed-upon entrance to skeleton work
Busy making components of skeleton work, notably a jail and a screwdriver

Completed jail that is only one of many at skeleton work
So there you have it. Our family is now professionally employed in the underground battle against depraved bony structures that have taken on a life force of their own. If you're ever in need of skeleton removal services, I know a guy. Or two.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Guest Mama: Gabi's Birth

In the beginning of our marriage, BJ and I spent four sometimes-glorious/sometimes-frigid years living in Minneapolis. We made many friends there, including a sweet friend named Katie who volunteered with a group that we also did. I found Katie to be intriguing--always positive, always interesting, and always hard-working. When she volunteered to share her birth story of her daughter Gabi, I was pleased. I'm sure you will be too. Without further ado, meet Katie, in her own words.

Meeting Gabi
Born March 2, 2013  3:58AM
Before Noah, our first, was born, my thoughts and focus were spent on enjoying being pregnant and the bigger picture, becoming a mom and a family of three. My fears, emotions, anxieties, excitement and anticipation were all pointed in that direction. Although I had, by happy accident, come into a relationship with a small group of midwives for my prenatal and birth care, and had a birth plan written out, I thought very little about the actual process of giving birth. When I was 41 weeks along with him, I was finally ready to meet him face-to-face, but he showed no signs of budging. We made an appointment to be induced for week 42, assuming we’d be cancelling it upon his arrival. Week 42, Day 0 came anyway! We went into the hospital on a Monday morning to be induced, which I mistakenly thought would be a pretty quick process – until the midwife told me otherwise. As the Pitocin drip started, I was a little nervous, but that soon gave way to boredom (and hunger!) as nothing happened for hours and hours. About seven hours later the REAL fun started, and six hours after that I demanded an epidural. Once the epidural got there, 45 minutes later, the needle prick, a strong contraction and my water breaking all happened at the same time. After about an hour or two of my body and Noah recovering from the hormonal rush and change in meds, I was able to sleep for a few hours, then woke up knowing it was time to meet our son – almost. Two hours of pushing later, I met my Noah for the first time! 22 hours after the Pitocin drip started. Needless to say, most of the process didn’t follow my ‘birth plan’ in any way. I had originally requested a med-free water birth. I was able to labor in the tub for stints during contractions, but since I was monitored and on Pitocin, they had to check my cervix regularly which meant getting in and out of the tub, which was unpleasant, to say the least. After a few times of that, I resorted myself to the hospital bed for the duration of labor.
When we were expecting our second, I thought more about the birth process – partially forgetting the pain but also knowing more what I was getting into. In light of how Noah’s birth went down, I didn’t even write up a birth plan. I told the midwives I was open to what happened, and that I hoped to avoid induction but was more concerned with a safe birth for our little girl. I was also open to a water birth, or whatever transpired. I also was working full-time, in school and taking care of our 20-month old, so there was not much time for quiet reflection and preparing myself emotionally for a new child and her birth. As with Noah, 41 weeks came and went. I was not looking forward to an induction, but started to come to terms with the probability. I had my membranes stripped around week 40, which brought on about an hour of strong Braxton-Hicks contractions, which soon faded back to no progress.
The last few appointments with the midwife had led to some additional testing, as baby girl seemed to not grow much between appointments, and had limited activity while I was getting checked. It turned out later that the reason for that was that the appointments were all scheduled at the same time each week, during her nap time At 41 weeks and a day, a Friday, I got a call from the midwife – she was in the office that day doing paperwork and going over charts. Although it wasn’t a typical patient day for her, she told me she didn’t want to head into the weekend without checking on the baby again. I appreciated her attention, went in, and she sent me down to the hospital to do an hour of observation to make sure that blood flow, fluids, response, and everything else was fine. It all checked out, and she called and set up an appointment for Monday, with the comment that “I don’t think we’ll be needing this appointment.”
That evening, I started noticing slight contractions while putting Noah to bed. I had experienced Braxton-Hicks since the mid-twenties weeks with both children, and that was about the intensity of these, though they seemed to be more regular than usual. They strengthened, and about 9:30pm I camped out on the couch with my husband and my phone, and started timing them. Around 11:30pm, they were affecting my ability to talk/do anything else but breathe through them, so I called the midwife and she said she’d call me back in an hour to check in. She ended up falling asleep, so didn’t call on the hour mark. In the meantime, I walked around, got down on all fours, tried laying down (not a great option), and drew myself a bath. At 1:15am, I called her from the bathtub. She asked if I thought it was time to come in, and I said yes. She said she’d meet me at the front door of the hospital. I called my mother-in-law, who I had ‘put on alert’ earlier in the evening so she would have her phone next to her in bed. She came over right away, and my husband was driving me to the hospital by 1:30am. (We live conveniently close to both sets of parents.) Lucky for me, my husband works at the hospital where we were to deliver, so he could autopilot his way there (with a bit of speeding) and knew which back roads were a little less bumpy. I rode the whole way backwards, hugging the passenger seatback for support. The midwife wheeled me up for check in, and I was already dilated to 6cm.

Managing a smile at 2:56AM--one hour before delivery
 We were admitted at 2:20am and went to the delivery room. The room with the tub was available, and I wanted to labor that way for as long as possible. Kristen (midwife) asked if I wanted an epidural and after a few indecisive minutes, I said yes. If this labor lasted anywhere as long as Noah’s did, I didn’t think I would make it through. She put in the order while Neil and the nurse helped me into the tub. I had about two more contractions in the tub, which I got through by squeezing/biting a pillow and not a few choice words, and then my water broke. The next contraction felt different – like I had to push. I mentioned that to Kristen and she looked surprised. She checked, and sure enough, my little girl was on the move. I had a moment of panic when she told me that we weren’t going to be able to have the epidural – which at the time I very much felt I needed. Neil calmly reminded me “she’s saying Gabi is coming now – it won’t be more hours of this – she’s coming now.” At the next contraction, it was very clear I was pushing, although I didn’t feel like I was pushing – my body was doing it for me. While pushing with Noah, I really did need to bear down and push – like they do in the movies, except much harder . With this one, it was like she and my body were working together – I could feel her twisting and moving down. The midwife and Neil helped me reposition to where it would be a safe arrival/easier catch. I had heard of ‘the ring of fire,’ but now I know. The last 2-3 contractions/pushes I am sure I screamed, swore, whatever. It was not a quiet, peaceful beginning for my little girl, but hopefully she didn’t hear too much of that as she was busy being born and came out into the water for her first second or two of life out of the womb. She was born at 3:58am, one and a half hours after we signed in to the hospital. As soon as she was born, she was placed on my chest and her warm, slippery, sweet body felt right at home in my arms. My sweet, spunky, independent Gabi was here. Her name means “the Lord is my strength,” and that is what we want for her – that she is strong and relies on God to sustain that trait he’s given her. She happened to be born on my amazing sister-in-law’s birthday, so we changed her planned middle name on the spot. Gabrielle Ann. (Conveniently, three of our four grandmothers have this as their middle name as well, so they are thrilled.)

I was shaking from hormones, adrenaline, or who knows what else, while Neil held Gabi and the nurse and midwife helped me back to the bed to deliver the placenta and to survey ‘the damage.’ I was able to nurse for the first time almost right away, which was a great distraction from whatever the midwife was taking care of ‘down there.’ I have to say, that recovery after her birth was much easier than after Noah’s – though I am not sure what to attribute that to. He was my first, was 1lb 5oz larger with a bigger head, labor was longer, or perhaps Pitocin or the epidural had some impact, I am not sure. Being able to deliver into the warm tub when my body was ready naturally was a much better post-birth experience. I did tear with her, but I healed better and more quickly.
Now that Gabi is almost 20 months old, I think of giving birth almost romantically. I am NOT discounting the pain in any way, because I did not have a pain-free birth either time. It was exhausting and consuming. One regret I have is that during most of the in-hospital labor, including the final pushes, I had my eyes closed and was very much ‘in my head,’ not much aware of what else was going on. I wish I had a clear memory of watching Gabi being born. If I have the chance to go through that experience again, I will still be open to any possibility – because it’s more important to me that my child arrives safely than that my expectations are met. I am fortunate to have more ‘progressive’ hospitals at my convenience that support alternative birth methods and allow/provide midwives, support breastfeeding, have baby-to-chest as a policy unless there is an emergency situation and in general, are flexible for parents during this intense and special time. Since I didn’t go in with a specific plan, I didn’t have expectations either. I ended up being ‘surprise proud’ of myself that I could actually birth a child in that way. I am glad that I had my first experience with Noah to be able to appreciate two ends of the spectrum; and I have my two precious ‘rewards’ to show for those labors. 
***For other birth stories, you can click on the "Birth Stories" label. You can also click here to read about the births of Van, Zella, Callen, Ada, Gwendolyn, Jane, and Adelaide.***

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Crossing Paths: An Unexpected Friendship

Picture it:
In March 2013 I was a single traveling parent boarding a plane with a 14-month-old and a two-year-old. I had a cast on my left hand because I had broken it two months previously while trying to flip an age-old mattress. I decided to travel despite the broken hand, believing the best in people as I do, knowing that virtual strangers would help me as the three of us made our way from Oklahoma to Orlando to Massachusetts. They did.

I entered the plane with George in my left arm, our bag on my right shoulder, and Silas walking in front of us. Every parent that has flown with a small child knows the feeling of stepping on to a plane and making that right turn to face all of the people who could be your potential seatmates. Many of them are looking at you. Some of them are smiling at your children, while some look at you and then quickly break eye contact, hoping you won't sit next to them (if you're flying Southwest and choose your own seat, as I always do). It's always an uneasy feeling for me, choosing the part of the plane that works best for us and hoping that nearby passengers are pleasant. On the day in March 2013 when I made that right turn to face the plane, I began the uncertain walk, scanning my eyes to see my options. That day on a plane, more than the countless other days I had taken my children on planes, was different because there was a good chance that I was going to have to ask for brief help at some point.

These people are not Su.

Enter Su. A friendly-looking passenger sitting on the left side of the plane, Su made eye contact with me and smiled broadly. "Yoohoo!" She called to me, motioning with her hands. "Come sit here!" pointing to the empty seats beside her.

Ummm.... what?

My first thought was, "Wow, jackpot! This lady is super friendly!" My second thought was, "She's so nice that I should walk on by and not subject her to our burden. She of all people on this plane doesn't deserve it!" Fortunately, common sense won out and I nabbed the two seats beside her, Silas by the window and me in the middle holding George. Su quickly reassured me that she loves children, thought my children seemed lovely, and had a young grandson of her own. An educator who is now retired and works part-time as a self-employed baker, Su was the picture of everything that is good in this world. She immediately asked me how she could help me. She spoke to my children, entertained George with baby games, knew exactly how to speak to Silas to spark his interests, and did so with the thickest and most charming of New England accents. Su is a frequent flyer between New Hampshire and Florida, but despite so was nervous about flying, if I remember correctly.

Throughout the next three hours, I had the most delightful conversation with a fellow airplane passenger that can possibly be had. We talked of our families, our lives, our jobs, our fears, and our losses. She spoke lovingly toward my children and laughed with delight about stories of them, two traits in a person that any mother finds wonderful. Su was, simply put, the be-all end-all of seatmates. Just before we departed the plane, Su helped me gather my things and handed me her bakery business card, which I still have in my wallet.
See? I really do!
Not long after that flight, Su and I became Facebook friends, and we remain involved in each other's lives. This kind, kind woman claims my children as her "Oklahoma grandsons," and she has sent boxes of gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. She has offered virtual hugs and support through personal, heartbreaking losses since that time. She has been a true friend. And to think--we met on an airplane! The most unlikely of stories, a friendship seed that was sprung from the kind of place that you might only see in Hollywood--and yet, it's as real as any friendship I have. This April when we make our sojourn out to New England to visit Sommer and Co., we will also be making a detour to western New Hampshire to see Su and her stomping grounds.

Friends, if you're on the verge of giving up on people, don't. Keep yourselves open to possibilities, because you sometimes never know who you're sitting next to. We've all taken turns into doors we thought nothing of, only to bump into someone who would go on to change our lives. Don't forget that this can happen anytime, and be ready to capitalize on it when it does, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Goodness is everywhere, especially when you look for it in earnest and are willing to take risks. I have to admit that every time I step on to an airplane, I immediately scan for Su and am always disappointed to not see her, even though I know she won't be there. But, the fact that she was ever there in the first place is testament to the possibility of it happening again somewhere, someday.

**Su is a private person and I'm kind of amazed that she even agreed to this post in the first place. I didn't want to press it by asking for permission to post a picture. You'll have to just use your creative imaginations.**

Friday, January 2, 2015


About a week before Thanksgiving, I was browsing the interwebs and came across the #RWRunStreak.  Having never heard of a running streak (other than the other obvious kind) before, I was intrigued. Apparently there is a group of people each year, loosely organized and encouraged by Runner's World, that commits to run one mile each and every day from Thanksgiving Day until New Year's Day. That's 36 days, 36 miles, all during the cold and the holidays, with no excuses. Like I said, I was intrigued.

I immediately wanted to run the streak, but I decided to hold off and think about it for a couple of days. I don't take commitments lightly, and I didn't want to pledge something that I might end up nonchalantly blowing off. For a few days I threw it around in my mind, asking myself if I thought I could do it, if I wanted to do it, and if perhaps I was crazy. The answer to all of those questions being an obvious 'yes,' especially the last one, I made my commitment public. Three friends decided to join me, two of whom live in other states. I exchanged numbers with each of them and we encouraged one another with texts throughout the streak. In the end, two of us were able to hold pretty strong to the commitment. The other two had great excuses for not being able to maintain daily running commitments though--a significant and unplanned family illness for one, and a young baby needing more night-time attention than was previously anticipated for the other.

As it turned out, I ran 2.5 miles the day before Thanksgiving, extending the running streak by one day. However, I skipped two days during the streak. One of the days that I skipped was intentionally planned, a rest day that I decided to take the day before a 5K race that I ran on December 5th. I wanted to be as rested as possible so that I could set a personal record, which I did (31:24). The other day I skipped was in mid-December, a day when Van was sick with a cold and was feverish all day. Caring for a sick guy was a little draining and left me behind on other things, and the time and energy that I needed for a jog that day were depleted by day's end. All in all then, I ran at least a mile on 35 of 37 consecutive days. Most days I only ran a mile or close to, though on several days I ran between two and three miles. Some days I took George, or sometimes both of the two older boys, and jogged slowly with the double stroller (think 10:50 pace). Other days it was so cold that I beat my cheeks to get back inside (think 8:39 pace, also a PR).

After finishing on the last day!

I hate to be boastful, but I'm awfully proud of Tabitha and me. "Sisters are doin' it for themselves!" Let me brag about her for a minute: this gal lives in northern Colorado and was often doing her runs in snow. Her menu of days included sub-zero temps, bitter north winds, and trail runs. She is a working mom, so some of her runs were done by headlamp at night. On others she took her boys with her on their bikes. And get this: Tabitha didn't skip a day. Hear her roar! And what's more? She plans to continue her streak for another 31 days to raise money for a trip she is taking to Uganda to help teachers.

Tabitha on a sub-zero day
 As for me, I sort of think 35 out of 37 ain't bad. I ran through a throat infection and through a mild cold and cough. I also ran through snow a couple of times, and I ran into some bitter north winds. I often didn't get a chance to run until after my kids were in bed, and twice I ran so late that I actually pushed it to the midnight hour, tacked on another mile, and called it good for the next day as well since my run technically covered both days. I ran in hotel fitness centers, through my neighborhood Christmas lights, at my local Y, and around and around my cul-de-sac on a couple of days while Van napped and the kids watched Home Alone (pun totally intended, except that my front door never left my sight!).

At the Turkey Trot
 So what's next? Well, Tabitha found an article on Runner's World that promises to help set PR's (personal records) for 5K's. After browsing through the tips, I feel certain that if I could accomplish survive these workouts, I would indeed become a much more adept runner. Working a schedule with these kinds of workouts is probably manageable but will require some thought and dedication. I think I'm game though. I already do speed interval trainings, so adding a tempo run and and an endurance run each week will be the keys. Part of the dread for me is building endurance, which really requires doing a long run every week, in my case probably five or six miles. I need to start building up this distance regularly anyway though, since I'm committed to the 12K-leg of the Memorial Marathon Relay at the end of April. In the meantime, I'm signed up for another 5K on January 17th and hope to PR once again. First things first though: I'm taking January 2nd off. =)