On Our Way

The cat is at grandma's. Gifts have been purchased, wrapped, mailed. A's family has been fed entertained, cleaned up after, and fed again. Unwanted hairs below my waistline have been removed, appropriate sized warm-weather clothes for all of us retrieved from boxes and shelves, plants watered, adjustable rate home mortgage refinanced out of, baby vaccinated, day care arrangements for January almost set, bags almost packed. All of our bed- and waking-times have been graaaadually moved forward an hour and a half. We're leaving this afternoon for the awaited and (somewhat) feared tropical family Christmas gathering.

I'm planning, while we're gone, to avoid not just you personally but the whole entire Internet. I'm thinking of it as a media fast* a la Julia Cameron.

I've been feeling funny lately about what I write here. I know that the act of writing does something good for my mind and soul, and writing a blog is not all that different from the journal writing I'd already been doing for ages, but ... being on this end of the fast, I can't articulate the "but" yet. I want it to be different somehow. What better opportunity than a couple of weeks at the beach to avoid thinking about it for a while until some clarity emerges.

I'll miss you, though, Internet. I hope your end-of-December festivities are lovely and rejuvenating. And can you tell me something? This is a well-worn question, i'm sure, but why are you here? I mean, why do you write your blog (if you do), and why do you read blogs? I'm interested to know and will try really really hard not to cheat on my fast to come back and hear what you have to say.

*This fast is made more challenging by the fact that bloggy friends both real and imagined are expecting babies momentarily, and every non-Luddite bone in my body cringes at the thought of not recieving the news in real time. Will just uniformly send out vibes of easy labor and healthy babies until I know all is well.


Just as I was beginning to get all cranky about my artistic barrenness...

I found out this afternoon that another poem of mine has been accepted for publication. Publication, like, on paper. Once again: in the grand scheme of things, not a huge deal. But in my little poem-writing life, very exciting. Yeee haw. What a great way to mark the Solstice.

For You

I've been thinking lately about how grateful I am for you all who read and comment here. I drone, I complain, I shoot for and almost constantly miss the middle ground between maudlin and ungrateful, I write about the same six topics* that every other maternal blog writer covers every day, and yet here you are, reading and sometimes even being generous enough to let me know what you're thinking.

Then Eva posted this nifty thing a few days ago. And not only was my greed for homemade gifts great enough to overcome my fear of all things chain letter, but I thought it was also a neat way to thank you all. So I'm passing it along:

The first three people who comment saying they would like to participate will get something** handmade by me. You’ll receive it within 365 days.

1. Post a comment here and make sure I have (or can find) your email address so that I can contact you for your mailing address.

2. Put this on your own blog, and send something you make to the first three people that respond, if you are so inclined.

And if you don't want to play along, no worries. I will just assume you are leery of giving your mailing address to an internet stranger of such dubious character.

*Sleep, poop, nursing, tantrums, unnecessary self-deprecation, misty-eyed love for my children

**It might be a stingray shaped dishrag, but likely it will be something even better.


How Weaning Happens?

I"m pretty sure this one's not in the book:

Last Thursday
I'm nursing Iris on the floor and Ingrid asks if she can nurse from the other side. This hasn't happened in a while—mostly we're down to just nursing before naps and bed—but I let her do it.

She nurses for about five seconds. Then she throws up.

Then she cries and says, I didn't like the milk. I explain to her that the milk wasn't what made her throw up, she is probably just sick right now and the milk will taste good again later when she's well. When A arrives home, she runs to the door to greet him (in a brief between-pukes episode of feeling fine): I frew up on the carpet! I didn't like the milk!

She's exhausted from being up all night puking, and doesn't eat or drink much of anything, and all of her napping takes place out of the blue on the couch, so we don't even get close to our usual bedtime nursing ritual. No nursing.

At naptime, we finish reading stories and she says, I don't want to nurse. I don't want to frow up. I explain again that it was just because she was sick, that if she wants to nurse now the milk will probably taste good again, and it won't make her throw up. She nurses for about three seconds, then stops, cries, and says I don't want to frow up. As I'm in the middle of reassuring her again, she coughs and I flinch, thinking she's about to puke all over me. When I get her calmed down, she wants to go on to the "hugs and snuggles" part of the bedtime routine.

At bedtime that evening, she's hesitant about nursing but still wants to do it. When A comes up to kiss her goodnight, she tells him I liked the milk!

At naptime she nurses a little, but seems all urpy afterwards, and keeps saying I don't want to frow up! through all my reassurances that if she still wants to nurse, she still can.

At bedtime she blows right over that part of the bedtime routine, going straight from books to hugs and snuggles.

And that's what's happened for all of the past six going-to-bed routines. No more nursing. I might be premature in saying this, but she seems pretty darn weaned.

I feel what I expect is the usual mix of emotions about the end of nursing her: lots of glad-that's-finally-over, with strong sentimental twinges. She was ready: the nursing we were doing had started to seem sort of silly and cursory and extra. But it was a long and mostly sweet thing, that nursing connection, and I can't help but be a little sad (and still in disbelief) that it's gone.

And also: I nursed my daughter for almost 31 months, and she stops because she threw up my milk? It's anticlimactic and sort of absurd. If this holds, I'll be able to say that Ingrid doesn't nurse for the same reason that A doesn't eat turkey stuffing and I don't drink tomato juice. I can't wait to add this to the book of lovely "weaning stories" at the next La Leche League meeting.



A just left for a three-day conference someplace sunny.

He travels a fair amount for work-related things, and I'd become sort of an expert on handling it with one kid. And I've been feeling uncharacteristically calm and sane recently. So I hadn't anticipated his leaving would really rattle me this time. But the last few days have whapped me in the head, and my parting words to him this afternoon were something like this:

We'll be (sniff) fine. I (sob) h-h-hope you (sniff) have a r-really good (sniff) trip, and (sob) get lots of (sniff) sleep (sob, sob sob).

We will be fine. This is always the worst part of him being gone: the very beginning, when I still have the whole thing in front of me to dread.


More on the Day Care, Plus Other Stuff

About four blocks from our house is a dingy, stucco box of a house with a single, filthy, two-square-foot window. Hanging on the side of that house is a vinyl banner that reads, Child Care Openings. I believe that in small print under that it says We abuse and neglect your children, almost for free! When Emmie asked me the other day whether that was the Chaotic Bilingual Day Care, it occurred to me that I had not been representing the place totally fairly.

Chaotic Bilingual Day Care is clean. It is well lighted. It is run by an impeccable, articulate woman whom I still totally trust. I've met several families whose kids go there, and to a person they are likable, normal-seeming, smart-seeming adults whose kids are not jerks. It is categorically a bad fit for Ingrid, and I saw some stuff there that I didn't like, period, but I would still recommend it. At least, I'd recommend that people looking for day care in the area spend some time there and check it out. Despite the worst things I listed about it, my pulling Ingrid out of there is still mostly a gut thing. There is not anything glaringly, objectively wrong about the place. Even the worst things I witnessed there were sort of ambiguous.

Anyway, I don't know if you were reading along thinking What on earth made caro even think of sending her child into that hell hole? but in case you were, I hope that clears it up.

I called the director of Crunchier Than Thou last week to chat about our visit, and she listened to my concerns about Ingrid being ready for such a setting at all. Then she suggested that, if we decide this is the right place, one of their part-time teachers come to spend some time with Ingrid here at home a few times, in order to make the transition to her starting there more gradual. Stunning, isn't it? The out of the box thinking? The sense of partnership? The genuine sensitivity to the individual child's needs?

I was still looking into a couple of other leads at that point, so I told her I'd call her in a few days. But what else could I possibly want or hope for? I'm going to get in touch with her today and tell her we want to give it a try.

Also this week, we visited a fabulous pre-school co-op that made me all weepy about the fact we probably won't logistically be able to do traditional pre-school. Then I thought about how far away next September is and decided to sign her up and really work on arranging our lives so that it can work by then. If not, we just eat the $50 registration fee.

Ingrid has a stomach bug that made her puke all night Thursday. I got some version of it for several hours Friday. So far Iris and A are safe. I am on a "break" at the coffee shop, the kind that feels more like a time-out because rather than planning a take-care-of-me outing I let myself get cranky enough that A basically sent me away for a couple of hours. I guess I'll take what I can get.

I am so relieved to have moved forward with the day care decision. It must be a primal thing: not knowing who will take care of my kids = not sleeping. Each time Iris woke up to nurse, I'd find my mind scrolling through various day care possibilities and impossibilities, before I'd even realized I was thinking about the subject. I still think about it a lot, but I feel much calmer knowing this good option is taking shape.


The Plot Thickens—and Thins

At Crunchier Than Thou Home Day Care, I recognized a kid that Ingrid and I were in an Early Childhood class with a year ago, so naturally that afternoon I called her mom to ask how they liked the place.

The news was not entirely positive. They feel the kids are safe and happy. But there apparently has been a lot of staff turnover. The recently-hired teacher is the third person who’s held that position since June. (One person apparently left for “personal” reasons, but still.) The reasons for the turnover (as this mom views them, anyway) are boring and don’t seem to have direct bearing on the quality of care. But the turnover itself is a concern to me. Transitions, you know. New people. People Ingrid doesn’t want to say hi to. Etc.

And today we went for a visit with the proprietors of the soon to be started Expensive Day Care, and I’m going to just use my newly tuned mama bear instincts, skip my customary waffling, and say it’s a no. The caregivers’ little boys (same age as Ingrid) spent the visit running back and forth across the room screeching. As the mom of a low-energy, sit for long periods doing fine motor tasks kind of kid, I am just barely able to recognize this as normal, allowable behavior for two and a half year olds. I’m sure it is normal, but I am equally sure that Ingrid isn’t going to thrive on being in a 20 x 30 room with it two days a week.

And also, never mind what I said about perhaps being able to afford a nanny. We can’t, unless someone comes along who would like to be paid way too little.

So, it’s Crunchier Than Thou or something else. I have a couple of other leads to look into. I am somewhat confident that something or other will work out.

The good news—the really, really good news— is that Ingrid seems to be pulling out of the funk she’s been in for so long. I don’t know if it’s the end of the nasty sinus infection, the 11-day distance from Chaotic Bilingual Day Care, turning some kind of corner in adjusting to Iris, or some combination of those, but she is silly and laughing and reading and interested in things and content in a way she hasn’t been in longer than I can remember. It makes me so happy. It’s like seeing the leaves grow back on the trees in the spring.


One Decision Down

We visitied the Crunchier-Than-Thou option this morning and I was favorably impressed. The children were seven or eight notches calmer than at CBDC. No one zoomed in on Iris right away or tried to puncture her eyeballs with their little preschool fingers. There were whole moments (like, four seconds or so) during the morning in which each of the six kids was engaged in some pretty quiet activity and there was actual silence in the room. The kids seemed palpably happier and more at ease than at CBDC. Ingrid was uncharacteristically comfortable, leaving my side unusually early in the visit to try out an assortment of rhythm instruments and dance around with a scarf. The teachers were on the floor with the kids a lot and actively intervening when brattiness broke out.

Then we went for a long walk outside, and Ingrid cried and whined for a good four blocks. Four blocks of two-year-old walking. It was my fault; I hadn't brought boots or snowpants and she was cold. But it was a tantrum of mounting proportions and reasons and was fairly horrible, and I was calm and upbeat and empathetic for 3.95 blocks of it, and then I had a really really awful moment where I growled into her ear You need to stop crying right now. The thought crossed my mind that my picky search for child care is moot because anyone anyone on earth could do a better job at taking care of this child than I can, and that perhaps the nice people at this green little day care would not even want to take care of my snotty, snivelling wreck of a child.

Having recovered, mostly, from that, I think Crunchier-Than-Thou might end up being a good place for Ingrid. The contrast with CBDC, at least, makes me certain we won't go back there.

My reservations have to do with her readiness to be in that sort of situation at all, rather than anything in particular about this place. The walking tantrum pushed my buttons especially hard because it got at the crux of it: she can be so needy. I mean, unlike the other six kids there today, she doesn't seem to be able to just keep her mittens on, enjoy the scenery, accept a pine cone that another kid offers without being weirdly afraid of it, and walk. She has gotten used to a lot of one-on-one, a lot of hand-holding, a lot of narrating every damn thing we do and being prepared beyond reason for every single transition or change in plans, and she is very seldom able to just roll with what comes. Sometimes I think I am babying her too much by considering these things and what she needs most is to get away from me a little, into a place where she can safely learn some of this stuff. Other times I think this is just how she is; she just needs more closeness right now than any day care can offer, and it's kind of rude and violent to think of leaving her someplace where she's one of a herd.

Since so many (both! Both of my readers! Thank you!) vouched for the nanny option, I should touch on that: A nanny—a good nanny—is probably my best-case, most favorite option for this moment. But there are complications. First, finding the perfect person. Not easy, not guaranteed. Second, looking aheadl. I want Ingrid to be in some sort of preschool-esque setting next fall. We cannot afford nanny plus preschool, period. So if we hired a nanny now, it would mean not only another transition for Ingrid (and transitions, as you can tell, are rough) in the fall, but also finding something new for Iris at that point. And the preschool-esque thing would likely not be actual preschool anyway because we need the day care, not just the education/socialization aspect of it, so what would happen in summer? Temporary nannies? Too many transitions. So it would likely need to be a day care with a preschool curriculum of some sort, so why not just start that now and skip the extra transition time.

The other nanny issue is embarrassing: Ingrid is so frustrating right now, I am a little bit afraid to leave her with an unsupervised individual who does not already know and love her. I am seriously afraid that they would beat her. I am humiliated that I can think and say that about my daughter, but there you go. I mentioned it to A the other day and he nodded and said, I think that's reasonable. And you should meet A; he is the most patient person I have ever known.

That is my thinking at the moment, and if you are still reading I thank you heartily and apologize for the bad mothering, long sentences, and scrambled logic.



Since starting at Chaotic Bilingual Day Care, Inc., Ingrid has learned:

  • to hit
  • to throw things
  • to sing two songs in Spanish
  • to correctly use the phrase Oh. My. God., complete with dramatic pauses between words
  • to hoard a pile of toys and say No! You can't play with these. They are mine!
  • to herd a pile of stuffed animals on and off the potty chair one by one, commanding, Vamanos! Vamanos!

Scenes I have witnessed in the course of a dozen drop-offs and pick-ups at Chaotic Bilingual Day Care, Inc.

  • Two kids taking turns hitting a boy who was cowering against the wall while the teacher was out of the room and the two teachers in the adjoining room who were supposed to be keeping an eye on things were not looking
  • A little girl crying and clutching her teddy bear for several minutes before anyone noticed or tried to comfort her
  • (Upon arriving to pick up Ingrid one day), Ingrid standing in the middle of the room looking bereft and fighting off tears while all adults were busy wiping fingers and cleaning up lunch messes

Reasons I think this isn't the best place for Ingrid

  • See above.
  • Very faint, if any, sense of rapport with the teacher.
  • 24 kids, three teachers.
  • Disturbed sleep and intense separation anxiety in all situations has lasted the whole six weeks she's been going there.

Reasons I question my gut feeling that we should find another place:

  • Maybe this is just what day care centers are like.
  • Maybe the separation anxiety and stressed-out demeanor are just what day care is going to be like for Ingrid anywhere.
  • Maybe my lack of rapport with the teacher is mostly a cultural/language thing that would get better as I got to know her.
  • Yesterday when I told Ingrid we were going to visit a new school, she asked, Will there be C (teacher at CBDC) there?.
  • Many other characteristics of this place that, in paper and on my head, make staying seem like a no-brainer: healthy food, fun programs, neat environment, and most of all the bilingual, super-multicultural nature of the place.

Alternative option 1: Crunchier-Than-Thou Home Day Care

  • Waldorf-y, with lots of open-ended craft stuff, cooking, gardening, and outdoor play.
  • Six to ten kids; two to three teachers.
  • 20% more expensive than (already stretching our budget) CBDC.
  • We are visiting there tomorrow morning.
  • They probably have a spot available on the days I need.

Alternative option 2: Expensive Start-Up Home Day Care

  • Being started in January by two women who each have a son Ingrid's age.
  • Caregivers have lots of child development education and experience with kids.
  • Six to ten kids; two caregivers.
  • Great rapport with caregiver on phone.
  • Not started yet, so impossible to see beforehand what the environment will be like.
  • 30% more expensive than CBDC.
  • Space is probably available.
  • We are meeting with the two caregivers on Friday.

Alternative option 3: Nanny

  • Would cost about the same as having both kids at CBDC, even if we use a referral service and pay the nanny on the books.
  • Super convenient.
  • Ingrid would miss out on the time with other kids, the time away from Iris, and the benefits of a (however minimal) curriculum.

Iris's care is a whole other issue. Neither of the home day care options take infants. Part time infant care is nearly impossible to find around here. Our current plan is to have her at CBDC in the infant room. She is on the waiting list at Bland Hospital-Attached Day Care with Awesome Ratios and at Fancy No Vacancy, Ever University Day Care.



One Year Ago

On the Monday before last Thanksgiving, we were a family of three. I steamed some broccoli for dinner, and I’d been looking forward to eating it, but as I chewed the first bite I realized I was hardly going to be able to swallow it. This yummy veggie was inexplicably making me gag.

Inexplicable only because I was a little dense. The previous week I’d had what seemed like my period, but it had never amounted to more than a trickle. (Damn PCOS, I thought.) I’d been thinking I needed new bras, because boy did my boobs hurt (Ingrid must be nursing more, I thought.) And the previous weekend I’d commandeered a trip to a burger place where I wolfed down a record quantity of the best fries I'd ever tasted. (I guess I’m just hungry.)

Trying to sleep that night after the broccoli, I started to see it: Gag reflex. Sore boobs. Intense food needs. Weird bleeding. Ahaaa!

I rolled out of bed at 2:30 a.m. to rummage through the bathroom cabinet for a leftover HPT. I found it, but I waited until morning to pee on it.

I kind of knew what I’d see. And I did, clear as day: that line.

The morning was rushed. It was a work day for me, and the babysitter got here and I didn’t say anything to A yet. It’s the biggest secret I’ve ever had. I was so rocked by it I couldn’t bear to give it to anyone else yet, not even him.

The car was in the shop and the bus was late, so I walked home from work that evening. It’s a long walk: 45 minutes if you’re fast. I remember the cold of the day, how my thighs and hands were burning when I arrived home, how strange everything looked. I remember standing on our front steps before I pulled the door open. Looking in at the glowing little world of our home, watching A feeding Ingrid dinner, knowing I was about to crack it all wide open into something new by bringing my body and my big, big news inside.

A and I had always hoped to be able to have a second child. To have that child flicker into our lives without any effort at all on our part—even if it happened a year or so sooner than we would have ideally planned—was a gift as magnificent as it was unexpected.

Happy birthday-of-sorts, little lovely one. I’m so glad you’re here.


In the Zone

Where have I been? Hitting my stride. In it. Being, really being, a mom of two. Taking care of meal after diaper after ear infection after spill after day care crisis after load after load of laundry (oh, and a few hours a week of “work”, as well), and being to far into it to say, let alone write, anything about it. In a good way. Consumed. Busy. Focused.


My days are numbered.

In the car yesterday, as I sneaked several bites of a Hershey bar with almonds while driving:

Ingrid: (blah blah, long story about something or other)...and someone was eating chocolate in the house ... (etc. etc., story goes on).

Me: (continue sneaking bites of chocolate)

Ingrid: What you eating, Mama?

Me: Mmm, nothing, just a grown up snack...

Isn't anyone working on developing odorless chocolate for addicts who don't want to pass bad habits on to their kids?


Sanity May Strike Without Warning

What I didn't mention is that in the face of all this rapid-fire sick emotionally distraught sensitive two-year-old madness, I myself am feeling unexpectedly, maybe unprecedentedly calm. Where two weeks ago I was close to responding to Ingrid's precise naptime water bottle positioning requirements by yelling I don't know what you mean, the past several days I've been weirdly patient. Waiting out her naptime shenanigans. Offering choices and meting out consequences without so much as a clenched jaw or curled toe.

It is unnatural. I would not be surprised if I learned that A has been lacing my morning Tazo with barbiturates.


Stream of Both And

It’s hard to sum up these days. Iris wore a lamb costume for Halloween, curly and soft and white, and Ingrid chose a chicken costume a month ago and talked about it to everyone she met, but she refused to wear the pants (even when Emmie offered to sing a song into them) or to put the hood up for more than a few seconds. She'd been all excited to wear it to music class and sing about being a chicken, but then would not put it on that morning, electing instead to carry two plastic eggs. We sang about her being a chicken, anyway. The day was a gauntlet of costume conflict and general unhappiness. She was so grumpy, trick-or-treating seemed out of the question. Then we lit five jack-o-lanterns from our bumper crop of pumpkins and we all stood quietly watching them flicker on the porch. Then we knocked on my brother-in-law's door and Ingrid chirped trick or treat like a pro, even though he was wearing a scary witch's hat, and the look on her face as she ate her first-ever Twix bar made me think, that's my girl.

We are using time outs now (“breaks”) because we don’t throw things no longer has any effect. She wants to wear underpants, wants, all of a sudden, to put them on herself, but she can’t quite pull them over her butt and she can’t quite make it to the potty in time and it makes her furious. Then she pees in the potty twice in one day and her whole body is proud. She gets frustrated to the point of fist-shaking trying to practice doing buttons and snaps and runs into the other room in a rage. Then, four hours later, she can fasten a button perfectly on the first try.

Iris is busting out of 9-month size clothes. Her cheeks have gone all Campbells Kid: plump and pink. Everone uses the word “pretty” for her, and she is. She rolled from her tummy to her back yesterday. She grabs things—toys, my hair, Ingrid’s.

Over the weekend we drove for five hours to stay at a lodge for three nights and attend our good friends’ wedding. Iris developed a scary, croupy cough that landed us in a tiny northwoods ER, where she spontaneously recovered and lay on the gurney cooing and grinning at the nurse and doctor.

A was the best man and I read a poem in the ceremony. Iris nursed until the second I handed her to my friend to head to the front. Ingrid was undone by the idea of sitting in a chair in the audience for two minutes, so she came with me and clung to my skirt, peeking out at the congregation while I read. I did not gaze thoughtfully at the happy faces of my dear friends as they promised beautiful things to each other; I was too occupied with making sure that neither child screamed too loudly and that my breasts were covered up by the time I appeared in front of the congregation.

Iris dandled happily in the Baby Bjorn for a good part of the weekend, grinning at people and becoming ever more proficient at sucking her hands. Ingrid was two children: overwhelmed by all the people and noise at the reception, cowering in fear and worry each time a kind grown-up approached to say hello and how cute are you. Losing all her bones and muscles over and over, overloaded. And then, in the quiet foyer, peaceful, imagining long dialogues with a stuffed moose and saying shy but composed hellos to the handful of wedding guests who wandered through. Overjoyed at a gift from the bride: a small plastic slinky. Beaming: I can take this to my home?

There was square dancing, and we all danced, Ingrid in A’s arms and Iris in mine, silly and carefree and all smiling at each other. For a couple of songs. And then I think the motion and commotion got to Ingrid; she started clinging to A, getting all weepy, and asking to leave.

On the way home in the car, while both girls slept, A and I talked about the shyness, the separation anxiety. We wondered if we’re asking too much of Ingrid right now: new baby sister, new school. We wondered if this school is a bad match for her: too many kids, too loud, too chaotic.

On one hand, I don’t like to be in a room full of people, friends or strangers. I do attend large parties when I have to, usually without lying on the floor crying, but it’s still not my favorite thing. Why should I expect Ingrid to like it? On the other hand, she’s got to learn, sometime, to be among a group of kids, even if it never becomes her favorite place to be. On still another hand, does she have to learn it just now? And then again, what are our other choices for child care? Not many. But maybe this is ok. Maybe it's just the transition and the potty and the buttons and the new life as a big sister and it will all shake itself out.

Then Ingrid woke up from her car nap all calm and started singing songs in Spanish, songs she must have learned from her four days at school, the last of them almost a week before.

She's at school now. She cried the whole time I was there with her. I was irked with the teacher for not giving Ingrid a warm greeting, but just talking to me, saying This is normal. It's ok. But then after I left the teacher went to her, wiped her nose, offered some ideas for play. I'm glad Tuesday is the Friday of her school week; we need a break and some time to think.



Who knew the first day of pre-school could make me sit on the edge of bawling for five days? Sheesh. I know she'll be fine... I've said to various people, choking back tear deluges of various magnitudes.

After my weepy four-hour insomnia thing Thursday night and after an unfortunate frog puppet incident which I won't get into, and after confirming that even A feels like throwing up when thinking of leaving her there all day long, we decided to make it a half-days for a while. Two days a week, half days. Financially this is sort of foolhardy. We are paying for two full days whether we use them or not. But we don't need the full days until I go back to work in January; we're just starting now because now's when the opening is available. And it just feels better to ease into it.

Ingrid woke up this morning excited about the much-hyped first day of school. She wore her striped pants. She'll be fine, the teacher said as I grappled with the doorknob and tried to make my hair hide from Ingrid the fact I was trying not to cry.

I came home and put away laundry and cooked sweet potatoes and nursed the baby and cleaned up the living room and read e-mail and nursed the baby and ate a cheese sandwich, all the while sort of feeling like time had been sucked into a weird little eddy. Then at 12:15 when it was time to get her everything started wheeling forward again.

She was fine, the teacher said. She didn't cry. She participated, and she made a project by herself. She played with the other kids outside. The project was the outline of a flower, colored in with water color paint. She's very mature, the director said. She did great.

I didn't sit in the circle, Ingrid said in the car. I was a little bit worried about you. That girl wanted to hold my hand. I ate rice. And milk. And fruit. Watermelon. I played on the slides. I didn't play with the beds. Will I sleep at school?

She does seem to be fine. She's napping. I do too, I guess. I think it is going to take me a while to get used to her days being such a mystery, though. I mean, watermelon and rice? Probably not absolutely accurate. Slides? Ok, but what about the other three and a half hours? And not crying but worried? She'll be fine, right?


Cold Feet

After writing about D leaving, I was all set to do an upbeat post (imagine!) about the day care center we chose and how exciting it is that Ingrid will start going there next week. Then we spent an hour there together yesterday and an hour this morning, and after thinking about it carefully pretty much every minute for the past couple of days, especially between the hours of 3 and 7 a.m. today, I really just have two things to say about it:

1. It is a wonderful day care center. It's a well-run, well-organized, bilingual, multicultural, exciting place where kids do fun projects, eat healthy food, learn, play outdoors, meet their neighbors, and get taken care of by grown ups who love kids.

2. Every time I think of leaving my little girl there all by herself I feel like bawling.

People keep telling me this will be much harder for me than for her. I sure hope they are right.



I went back to work part time when Ingrid was six months old, and I spent a good part of my maternity leave racking my soul about the question of child care. Who could I trust with her? How could I turn the divine work of caring for her into a commodity, something I could pay someone—a stranger—to do?

I thought an in-home day care would be the best option. Less commercial. More like a family. I must have made a hundred phone calls that summer. Part-time openings for infants, it turns out, are in very short supply here. The handful of providers I found with available spots seemed to have fatal flaws. Large screen TVs blaring in the living room, for example. Or a home saturated with not only the smell but also the gritty, dry feel of cigarette smoke. Or a voice that just seemed too loud.

And then we got lucky.

Through a connection with one of A's coworkers, we met D. She had a part-time nanny job and could come to our house two days each week. This coworker recommended her highly. And she wanted to charge us embarrassingly little. So little that we could actually afford to hire her.

We did, and she fell in love with Ingrid, and vice versa. I am smitten, she said to me after a couple of days of taking care of our little girl. Each time D came to the door, Ingrid made her joyful, half-choked squeal. It was like having a celebrity come to visit twice a week.

It's sort of been a dream come true. A relationship that I feared—paying someone to do what I felt only I could or should do—has turned out to be a big, beautiful bonus for all of us. A and I have been able to know our baby is getting some of the best love around, and Ingrid has another stable, energetic, adoring grown-up in her life. She's learned so much from D. I've learned from her.

I've been on maternity leave since Iris was born, and we've still been having D come two or three mornings per week to play with Ingrid. And in the midst of this time of two and a half year old new big sister turmoil, when she's whining and clinging and crying every hour she's with me, with D, she is her normal, relaxed, chatty, undramatic self. I have many reasons to be grateful for the extra pair of hands in the house; one is that it's a relief to know that the non-tantruming Ingrid still exists. While our family is stretched and changing and in disarray, D and Ingrid have a constant, special friendship.

But now D is moving on to other things. Understandable—she's got an artistic career to get moving on and a lot to offer the world beyond ring around the rosy and the itsy bitsy spider. But it drags us out of paradise a little bit. For all the family-like affection we all have for each other, we're now having to do something that family members don't, except in the worst of cases, do: say goodbye. We'll see her again. But she's been a regular, rhythmic part of Ingrid's life since she was six months old, and that won't ever be the same.

Today is D's last day—last regular, ordinary day—with our family. The past few times I've seen her we've briefly brought up the upcoming ending and then shrunk away from really talking about it. I know she is as sad as I am. I don't know how I can ever really tell her how grateful I am, or how much we'll all miss her.



The Words of the Prophets

Scrawled in black permanent marker on the side of the slide at our neighborhood park, I discovered yesterday: You are strong!!! And on the flat surface of the slide: You can climb!!! And, at the top of the slide, at the entrance to a small tunnel, next to a round, noseless smiling face: You are good!

I can just picture some high, overencouraging mamas deciding one raucous night to use the playground equipment as a canvas. Either that or my personal guardian angel wields a Sharpie.


Dear Disequilibrium,
I trust you. Now go away.
Love, caro

Sleep is one thing. One very good thing. But then there is what happens when we are awake: There is whining and crying and screaming, or there is clinging and whimpering and cowering. Ingrid is a wreck so much of the time. It's hard to describe, hard to sort out what it all comes from. I feel like I used to get what was going on with her, even when she was being irrational and loud, and now I just don't. A lot of the time it makes no sense. This lack of resilience. This extreme shyness: grabbing my hand and pressing it against the side of her face as we walk together anywhere public. I don't want to say hi to anyone. These strange demands: Some different clothes. Another snack. And, for God's sake, even if it's cold out, No coat. No coat. NO COAT!

The early childhood class that we take has turned on a few lightbulbs. A list of behaviors common to two-year-olds: Have trouble choosing between two options. Are dictatorial and want to be in control. Live in the moment and have trouble imagining other times and places.

And, on a list of principles for parents to live by: Learn to trust struggle and disequilibrium.

I know a lot of problems come with this age, but some days it is really hard to believe I'm not causing this. Am I giving in to her tantrums? Am I making her insecure by not meeting some emotional need? Is it horrible that I'm not using time outs? There are certain things I expect of her, and consequences when they're not met, but often enough? Consistently enough? Or am I expecting too much? I don't know. I don't know. Some days things seem a little better: I feel more creative, better able to get through the thousand sticky wickets of each hour and really look her in the eye. Other days are like today.


Questions, Questions

The smart and prolific Eva sent me these super interview questions. If by some chance you have dodged this interview meme thing so far and you want me to interview you, I'd be honored. Send me an e-mail or comment and I'll ask you some things. Here we go:

If you could "unknow" one thing you know, what would it be?

This question deserves a more profound answer, but what I'd like to stop knowing is how to fix the copier in my office. What bliss to be able to honestly plead ignorance when the fourth person that day wanders in to ask for help clearing a paper jam.

What characteristics about yourself do you want to pass on to your daughters, if you can?

I want them to love to learn. I hope they end up being better talkers than I am, but I want them to be able to let there be some silence. I want them to know how to listen. I want them to think deeply about the big questions—why we are here, what we should do—and find answers that can power their lives.

More selfishly, I hope they grow up to love doing some of the same things I do: reading, running, spending time in the mountains and near the ocean. That'd be icing on the cake.

What's the most recent surprising thing your husband did or said, and why?

Yesterday he told me that for our anniversary he'd like to give me some new clothes, and that he would gladly come with me and take care of both kids suitably far away from me while I shopped to my heart's content, and would bring Iris to me when she needed to nurse.

Our anniversary was Thursday, but is to be officially observed on some yet unscheduled future date. And I need new clothes. Badly. Am still wearing gross, awful maternity clothes and, occasionally, the largest of my "regular" clothes, which show some (newly weirdly textured) tummy if I lift my arms. Yeah. I need clothes two sizes bigger than "regular."

Anyway, this was surprising to me. Both in the sense of, "Why darling, what a thoughtful anniversary gift!" (really) and also, at the same time, "Huh. You just offered to get me fat clothes for our anniversary. I'm not sure how I feel about that."

So we spent the afternoon at the giant semi-suburban thrift store of my choice, and I found some good stuff. It was nice to have the peaceful shopping time, and I'm glad to expand the wardrobe a bit. But I can't quite shake the (both pleasant and unpleasant) oddness of A's involvement in it.

What do you love about where you live? What do you dislike?

Are you asking this just to find out where I live? That's ok. I live about a half mile from the Mississippi River, in the largest city in the state in which that river originates. Got that?

I love that this city is so green: there are tons of parks and patches of nature, right in the middle of the jumble and stress that is urban life.

The things I don't like about this place have to do with it not being my home. I grew up in the Pacific northwest (and points north), and I miss the ocean and the mountains. The thing that bothers me the most is cultural rather than geographical: lack of frankness. There is, among natives of this place, a hesitation to express opinions, and this is a problem for me: I am a little socially dense, and I like to have things spelled out (if I offer you coffee and you decline, I don't want to wonder if I should ask again on the assumption you're just being polite). And I like to know where people stand on issues larger than a cup of coffee, as well. Keeping quiet about what you think makes for lousy conversation, at best.

How does raising a second child differ from raising a firstborn for you?

So far, it differs in that while Ingrid never slept for more than two hours at a stretch for at least a year, Iris, at the ripe old age of two months, is ALREADY SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT! WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!


Really. About half the time, the sleeps for a stretch of six or more hours at the beginning of the night. Each time this happens, I wake up with her at 4:30 (or whatever) so thrilled and blissed out by having slept that long that I can't get back to sleep. I cannot, absolutely cannot overstate the impact that having solid, uninterrupted sleep has on my mind, body, soul, spirit, general health, happiness, etc. etc. I even find myself, during those early morning feedings, thinking how sad it is that these quiet, sweet nighttime moments of just me and my baby will not go on forever. The very sentiment that, a year ago, caused me to throw The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding across the room.

So, yeah. Sleep is important. And of course there are a lot of other differences, some rooted in being better rested this time, and some not. I am much, much calmer this time. Less obsessive. Better able to see what she needs. More stretched, trying to meet both of their needs. But more confident.


Ingrid's pronunciation is usually eerily clear, but there is the occasional terrific stumble. For posterity:

cuspension cord: suspension bridge

fablious: fabulous

flift store: thrift store

sonic vinegar (also, Masonic vinegar): balsamic vinegar

She also calls her heels and ankle bones her goofballs. I have no idea why.

What've you got?



We drove four hours each way for a five-day stay at the coast and both girls were totally peaceful for pretty much the entire car trip.

We spent three big chunks of mornings on the beach with Iris strapped to me like a good little hunter-gatherer baby and Ingrid running wild in the sand. This was the best part: seeing her take off across the open, open space, just her and the sand and the sky, like I remember it feeling as a kid, so free. We stood at the edge of the water together and ran from the waves. We collected rocks and razor clam shells and gull feathers. We threw rocks in the creek.

We went for two long walks (at least a couple of miles), and Ingrid wowed us by walking the whole way (and then some, as she did a lot of shuttling, at a run, from the front to the back of our big family) with her own strong little legs. Up and down big hills and across the sand, begging for huckleberries and blackberries from whoever could reach them.

There were rough spots, and by spots I mean days, and by rough I mean full of reasonless screaminess and one disconnected interaction after another between Ingrid and me. But I learned a lot by spending time with my mom and A, seeing how they handle things with her, ways it can be better. I'm starting to see that I've been pretty clueless about what it's like to be two, and I'm starting to understand some things that can make it better.

And it was just exhausting to be away for so long.

We walked in the door yesterday to find a truly filthy house: crumbs on the counters, an empty yogurt container on the coffee table, cobwebs everywhere, laundry—clean but not folded— in three baskets on the living room floor. Had a slovenly criminal taken up residence in our absence? No! We had left the house this way, counting ourselves lucky just to get out the door with clothing and diapers and snacks for everyone.

And still, I'm so happy to be back here. So much depends, these days, on routine, or what passes for it: knowing there will (probably) be some quiet alone time at nap time, having dinner early so everyone can get to bed on time, going places we all are familiar with so it is already clear what can and can't be touched and messed with. It's good to be back to the place where all that unfolds: the unkempt, disorganized, overgrown, unweeded place where are lives are really happening.



Some good friends are getting married this November and are planning a beach honeymoon in the Virgin Islands. Talking about this with them recently, I got a little misty-eyed ragingly jealous.

Our honeymoon, while lovely, was emphatically un-tropical: we went to Banff in early October and did a lot of hiking and gazing at the golden aspens. We just aren't (I thought, then) beach honeymoon sort of people. But, while most days I wouldn't trade either of our daughters for one, seven, or a thousand tropical vacations, did that conversation ever make me feel a pang of Now why in the hell didn't we do that while we could? I made a wistful comment or two and then spent the rest of the conversation drooling openly over my friends' travel guidebook.

Last week we mentioned to our soon-to-be-wed friends our Christmas plans: the four of us are going to Hawaii with my folks and my brother. This is a luxury, to be sure (bankrolled by my very generous parents), and something to look forward to—and then remember—for months and months. But I did feel just a slight a massive disconnect when our friends' reply to the news of our vacation plans was See! You can still go on tropical vacations with kids!

It's true: you can go just about anywhere you want with kids of any number and age. And in December we will have a great time splashing in the waves with Ingrid and watching Iris's chunky little suncreen-slathered body accumulate sand like a cinnamon-sugar doughnut. What our friend clearly, deeply did not get, though (and what I surely didn't get, myself, before our first vacation as parents) was that vacation with little ones, while refreshing and interesting in its own way, is just not restful. It is a change of scene, a chance to see and learn and teach new things, an opportunity to know each other differently. It isn't, however, a break.

We are on vacation this week and next. Not in the tropics, but visiting my parents in the misty-moisty pacific northwest. We all flew here together, then A left the next day for a five-day conference for work. There's been no break this week: jetlagged Ingrid up at 5:15 every day; Iris sleeping ok but nursing like a fiend; my saintly parents lending as many hands as they can but unable as I am to predict or calm the many tantrums each day. We've rushed through a zoo in the pouring rain with the nap clock ticking, attended a kickass library story hour, and thrown a truckload of rocks into Puget Sound, but for the most part, the past several days have felt suspiciously like everyday life, except with less sleep and better coffee.

A will be back tomorrow, and then we all (A, me, the kids, my brother, my folks, their cat) will drive to the coast, to a place I spent many a summer week as a kid. A great place, a place that I'm extra excited to go with Ingrid so grown up and aware and into exploring, because I can't wait to show it to her. We'll still be nursing and changing diapers and peeling apples and deciphering tantrums and orchestrating bedtimes and naptimes and meals, but I hope there'll be a little of the sublime in there too, as well as perhaps, maybe, a tiny bit more sleep.

Oh, and I don't think I'll have any internet access there at all. So leave me some uplifiting vacation comments to read when I get back.



On Sunday, in the process of organizing backup files, A inadvertently deleted all of the movie files from our computer.

We don't go through life with video cameras glued to our eyeballs, but since Ingrid was born we had taken several hundred snippets of video with our digital camera. Spacy newborn Ingrid waving her arms and legs in the hospital bassinet. Sweaty infant Ingrid lifting her head higher and higher during the “tummy times” of her first summer. The first riveting cooing conversations between baby Ingrid and A. Barely walking toddler Ingrid stomping her feet, bossing the dog around. Spacy newborn Iris in the hospital bassinet, big sister Ingrid poking her hand lightly and exclaiming, I touched the baby!All gone.

It seems this sort of loss is endemic to the computer using world. Of course, if you were Edmund Leach, you still lost—twice—your giant trunk full of notes from your years of anthropological field work in Burma. But that was exceptional. And who, today, hasn’t experienced something like this? Digital loss: It is instantaneous. It is often irreversible. And, more often than not, it is your own damn stupid fault.

Of course, they are gone anyway, all those progressively more grown up versions of our daughters, along with the millions of Ingrids and Irises we lose every day in the ordinary mill of non-digital loss known as time and change. That’s really what made us both cry on Sunday: losing the movies is just a smaller version of what’s happening all the time anyway.

Our friend Chris, a professional photographer who once lost two years of work in a hard drive meltdown, is philosophical about this: When you take a photo, you’re not capturing something, you’re making something new. You think you have something when you have a photo, but you don’t.

He’s right. And also, let’s look at the big picture: we still have our kids.

But damn. It was a sad couple of days.

Is it mean that I waited until the end to tell you that we bought some fancy data recovery software and were able to retrieve almost all of the files? Some are in fragments, and none have dates or titles, but most are still viewable.

Philosophy and magical software aside, though, do this now: if there’s anything on your computer that would make you cry if you lost it, make a backup. And if you ever get it into your head to mess with the backup, make a backup of the backup just in case.


Bermuda Triangle

The deadly three corners defining my week's boundaries so far: (1) Two year old with extremely drippy, snotty cold, (2) Husband with extra-schmoozeriffic work obligations, such that he has to be there early this week rather than stay home long enough for me to get a shower in peace in the a.m. (3) Computer out of commission due to massive and very sad loss of data and efforts to recover it (more on that later).

But! Today Iris put up with the Baby Bjorn for the first time ever—a relief for me as well as for Ingrid, who appreciates my ability to meet her many needs two-armed. Also, Iris slept for 3.5 hours in a row last night. This left me so well rested that I was able to spend the hour between 2 and 3 a.m. pondering all the bisphenol-A I must have ingested during each of my pregnancies. I think some of that chunk of sleep helped my patience level today, though.

So, could be worse. Must relinquish laptop for recovery efforts. More later.


Comparative Anatomy

Last night after a visit with Ingrid's pal Amelie:

Ingrid: Amelie has hair!
Me: Yep, she's got hair just like you do.
Ingrid: Does she have teef?
Me Sure, she has teeth. Just like you.
Ingrid: Does she have a tongue?
Me: Uh huh. She has a tongue. She has pretty much all the same parts you have.
Ingrid: Does she have a piano?



Better and Better

Yesterday Ingrid napped for almost three hours, and then she woke up and went the entire afternoon and evening without a single tantrum. I can’t remember the last time that happened. In celebration, I drank half a glass of wine with dinner.*

Right as it was getting light this morning, Iris finished nursing, opened her eyes, looked right up at me, and gave me a real, full-face smile for the first time. We dozed off again and when I woke up it seemed like a great, hazy dream, that smile.

A and Ingrid were up early, and when I came downstairs carrying the baby, Ingrid right away said Want to touch Iris, so I knelt down, and Ingrid stroked her head and cooed, Just look at her blue, blue hair. It keeps getting better and better.

I have no idea what she meant, but it was a perfect thing to say today.

A did a lot of baby holding, and Ingrid helped me scoop oats and sesame seeds and sunflower seeds and mix them up to make granola, and then we baked it and the house smelled sweet and nutty all day. It’s so cool out, I’m wearing socks and long pants for the first time in months. We were at home all morning, which is rare—we get so stir crazy that we try to get out, if only to the playground, almost always. But today it just felt nice to be at home for hours, the four of us, puttering around.

During Ingrid’s nap, I lay on the couch with Iris lying on my chest in a deep sleep. I wanted to sleep, but instead I thought about how sometimes I say to myself, in an off-hand way, We have two daughters, and then I do a big mental double take and say it again: two daughters, and how that feels—heavy, but in a good way, like a tree with more fruit on it than it was quite ready for, bending just a little, holding all that sweetness.

In the afternoon we drove to a barbecue—a thing for A’s work—which was fine, but the best part happened on the way there: We saw a horse, and Ingrid said I wish I have a horse like that at home. Wif red socks. (Here is my equine ignorance: The horse was wearing what looked like ankle braces or maybe leg warmers. Red ones.) I turned to A and said, You realize she just asked us for a horse for the first time, right?

And when we got home? Ingrid’s first why. Why you get that new Baby Bjorn, Mama? And then she asked it, like six times, unsatisfied with each of my carefully constructed answers.

Also, I’ve hesitated to mention this because I know that many of you also have children, and I don’t want anyone to be jealous, but Iris is the prettiest baby in the world. She is so pretty. And don’t even get me started on the cuteness of her belly button.

Going with the theory that Ingrid needs more sleep to keep from turning back into Sullen Whiny Tantrum Girl—and going on faith that this won’t cause her to wake up at 5 a.m.—we put her to bed at 7 tonight, a full hour earlier than usual. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but, boy, was today quietly, sleepily sweet.

*This is in contrast to the entire bottle of wine that I’ve needed after some of the worse days.**

**Just kidding.***

***Sort of.


The Third Thing

Ingrid's babysitter, D, has been coming over two mornings per week since Iris was born, even though I'm on leave from work and will be for a few more months. If I'm home while D's here, I end up overhearing how the two of them interact, which is an unexpected treat. D is one of Ingrid's favorite people in the world (possibly even more favorite than Grammy Sue, but don't tell), and she has an easy, natural way with little people.

Listening to them the other day, I realized D does some things that I used to do, but had somehow forgotten about. I told A about them the other night: I thought of three different things, I said: Try to phrase things positively instead of just saying no every single time. And keep things light and playful—there's no need to get all cross and drag everyone into conflict. And...

And then my mind went blank. One second I was talking away, sure I had three little points to make, and the next second I could barely remember what word I had said last, let alone recall that there was some sort of narrative thread to what I'd been saying. This was a terribly familiar sensation, yet one I'd forgotten about during the months of adequate sleep I've had in the past year.

34 days, it turns out, is how long it takes to start to lose it if you're sleeping no more than two and a half hours at a time.

The third thing was to avoid asking her any questions that you don't want to hear answered with NO. It only took me a couple of minutes to remember it again.



This afternoon I made it through our big, chaotic grocery store with both kids and a pretty long list of necessities.

I think we may survive after all.

(About an hour after we got home, I looked in the fridge for the gallon of skim milk I bought. It wasn't there. Or in the car. I think I must have left it in the shopping cart in the parking lot. But still. If a gallon of milk is the only casualty, I think we're doing pretty well.)


Pollyanna Throws Down The Gauntlet

At the moment:

I’m glad one of the pumpkins we’ve been growing looks like it will make it ‘til Halloween.

I’m glad the needs of a newborn and a 2-year-old are so different from one another (nurse-a-thon and upper body workout vs. intense mental-emotional strategy); each feels like a break from the other.

I’m glad my brown corduroy skirt—the largest of my non-maternity clothes—fits again.

I’m glad my maternity clothes don’t all have “maternity clothes” stamped across the front, because I’m still pretty much wearing them all the time.

I’m glad that our parent/toddler classes are starting up again.

I’m glad that I followed my gut and scolded the boy who intentionally stepped on Ingrid’s hand at the playground the other day, even though the kid’s dad was standing right there and did nothing but weakly chide, Say you’re sorry...

I’m glad that I’ve met so many other moms in the past year, I’m starting to run into people I know almost every time we go to the park.

I’m glad Ingrid is sleeping. I’m glad I was able to stay so calm as she whined and whined and whined her way through the morning.

I’m glad I seem to have lost my Dr. Sears Baby Book.

I’m glad fall is coming.

How about you?



No nap yesterday. Today, she is napping. But in between times: dropping her toothbrush down the heat vent, then having a cow about her favorite toothbrush being gone. Throwing sand at the park, then throwing more sand after I said we’d leave if she threw more sand, then throwing tons and tons of sand while I strapped Iris into the baby carrier to leave. Putting rocks in her mouth and refusing to spit them out. Putting xylophone mallets in her mouth and refusing to take them out. Throwing sand in the sandbox at home, then having a fit as I made her leave the sandbox. Dawdling, to the point where I wonder if she can even hear me sometimes. Inventing a reason to have a tantrum every time Iris cries. After I say “I love you,” looking right into my face and saying “NO.”

Yesterday afternoon, with Ingrid upstairs in her crib during the much less charming third round of the no nap fiasco, I called A at work and said, with a level of irrationality I hadn’t mustered since I was 13 and quarrelling with my mom, She is doing these things just to make me mad. She is being a bitch on purpose.

For so much of her life, she has been so ... pleasant. I know this list of toddler shenanigans probably looks typical, even funny. I bet it will look hilarious to me eventually—maybe even in a few hours. But when I’m in it I am one humorless bitch. I am so mad and frustrated, and I yell (A insists it doesn’t qualify as yelling, but it is a louder and meaner voice than I’ve ever used with her before, and I hate it) and then I feel terrible for chipping away at her trust at a time when she needs me to be calm and stable, and she seems so far away, I feel like I’ve lost her.

Whenever I sniffle, It will never be the same, A reminds me that there are good moments. There are still times when I connect with her, hours (well, maybe half-hours) when she’s not crying or whining. Sweet times for all four of us. It’s true. But damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. The other times. The damn other times. Are killing me. Killing us.

Have I mentioned there is a baby in the house? Named Iris? She is a redhead, and she pees almost every time I take her diaper off, and last night she had her first ever really fussy evening of wanting to nurse for, like three hours straight, and she is juuuust starting to look a little bit like she knows what’s going on—this morning she gave me what might have been a tiny, tiny smile. (There: Who says the first child gets all the attention?)


Hoping it ain't so.

I put Ingrid down for her nap a little later than usual, and she's been talking and singing to herself in her crib for over 45 minutes. A few minutes ago she called for me to come up there. I did, thinking she might need a diaper change, and the girl is completely, perkily wide awake. She made all the usual requests one might expect of a 27 month old, like, you know, could she nurse a little bit and could I please count to five in Nepali? I'm insisting that she stay in the crib, but she shows no sign of getting sleepy.

I don't know what's up, but I'm sure hoping this is not the end of the napping era. No one ever goes cold turkey from two-hour nap to no nap, right?



Q: What do parenting a newborn and reading Rumi have in common?
A: They both go better if you don’t think about them too much.

People say, Enjoy your baby, and This is such a special time—you and your baby are getting to know each other. And, when I have time to think about these things* I get all worried. I love to stare at Iris’s little face, and think of ways to describe the color of her eyes, and smell her hair, and snuggle with her and look at her tiny, tiny toes, but do I do it enough? Am I really looking at her? Am I actually getting to know her or am I just carting her around all day? I nurse her and rock her and take care of her but am I doing this too mechanically? Where is my soul? Does this feel as great as it sounds like it’s supposed to? Is this it, or am I doing something wrong?

Yesterday I found myself looping through those thoughts and starting to feel sort of inadequate and lost, and I realized this was a familiar feeling.

In college I took a course called “Poetics of Enlightenment,” where we read mystical poetry from a bunch of different religious traditions. Most of the students in the class were goatee-ed young men, many of whom, for no reason I’ve been able to tell, often wore long, black knit scarves, even inside the overheated classroom. It was a seminar style class, and these guys would wind their scarves around their necks and stroke their beards and talk and talk and talk about the poems we’d read.

To this day I don’t really know what they were saying, but they always seemed to convey that the poems under discussion were So Deeply Important, that there was Something To Them. And I’d sit there thinking What am I missing? I liked reading this. It even seemed mysterious and beautiful. But I didn’t detect anything as deep and important as these guys seem to be talking about. What am I doing wrong? As the course went on, I became less and less able to enjoy reading any of it, and I dreaded sitting in that classroom looking at the Looks of Importance and hearing those guys talk.

In the years since then, I’ve happened across a lot of those poems again, and away from the silly-yet-intimidating goatee men, they are different creatures entirely. Some have become personally important, helped me see things I needed to see at just the right time. I’m convinced that the biggest difference between reading them in college and later on was that the second time I wasn’t worrying whether I was doing it right. I was just reading.

The awful seminar feeling was so similar to the enjoy your baby worries that I’m pretty sure the solution is the same. Don’t worry about matching up my insides to anyone elses mystical mothering memories. If anything mystical is going to happen, it’s not going to happen while I’m squinching up my face trying to see it. Just change the diapers. Just give the milk. Just hold the baby.

* i.e. when I’m not at the playground, simultaneously neglecting Iris, disappointing Ingrid, failing to hold up a conversation with a play group acquaintance, and leaking milk all over my shirt.


Tantrums I Witnessed This Morning

Sumpeen’s Wrong Wif Your* Diaper
Want Some Fishy Crackers**
Want Some Fishy Crackers (library remix)
Want Some Fishy Crackers (library parking lot remix)
Want Some Fishy Crackers (back seat remix)
Mama Hold You*
Don’t Want to Take a Nap
Want To Sleep in the Bathroom Sink
Want to Wear PJs
Not That Book

* The pronouns, they are not always right.

** I don’t even really consider fishy crackers a food. (I mean, why are they so orange?) We had a bag of them in the house for about a week when the grandmas were around, and something reminded Ingrid of it this morning. Jeez.


When it Rains

A and I are members of a CSA. Once a week we pick up a box of veggies from the nearest drop point—the garage of a family in our neighborhood, a place Ingrid has come to know as “the vegetable garage.”

The food from this farm has been a highlight of our summer. Unloading the box and checking out the sight and smell of all that ripe, perfect stuff straight from the earth never fails to make me feel wealthy as can be. Last week’s box held, among other things, an armload of sweet corn, a pile of perfect purple eggplants, a big fistful of basil, four fat heirloom tomatoes, and a bunch of something called red Aztec spinach.

We divide our produce share with our friends Chris and Jo, and they come over every week on “veggie day” to split up the bounty and cook and eat together. This year we’ve barbecued zucchini and peppers, rolled nori with fresh radishes and cucumbers, gorged on sweet, ripe melons, and even figured out how to eat burdock and black radishes.

Our weekly dinners at the picnic table out back do more than keep us well fed; the basic ritual of sharing dinner builds a really wonderful sense of community—not just with our friends (who, incidentally, have started to feel more and more like family lately), but with the people who plant, cultivate, and harvest the food we eat. We haven't met them, but we read the notes they send with the produce each week, and, almost every time, our dinner conversation turns, at some point, to exuberant praise of this farm: the great, quality stuff they grow, the terrific ideas they send along on how to cook and eat it.

Part of the point of CSAs is that members share in hardships the farm faces as well as successful harvests. And, sadly, this week we're learning what that means, too.

This past weekend, the farm was hit with 12 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, for a total of over 17 inches (and counting) in the past week. Even to someone as isolated from the real effects of weather as I am, this sounds like bad news, and it is. The farm straddles the Bad Axe River, which is currently so full and swift it's unsafe to cross, so they haven’t been able to assess all the damage yet, but already it appears that over a third of the crops are a complete loss, and the flood has washed away topsoil, taken down trees, and destroyed the erosion control measures they’d put in place over the past year.

The flooding has been headline news all over the place, and the affected area is not far from us at all, but for me it took this connection to turn background radio noise—flooding blah blah blah farms blah state of emergency—into a sock in the gut: not our farm!

It's distressing. The loss of our source of beets and brassicas (whatever those are) for the fall is the least of it. The people who grow our food, right now, are trying to figure out how to out how to access and harvest what's still salvageable. They're scraping to pay a large work crew that suddenly doesn't have much to do. And they're eyeing an upstream dam that's in danger of bursting and causing even more damage. Some of the work crew will likely lose their jobs. The crew and owners alike will feel the financial impact of this for a long, long time.

As often happens when things go very wrong, I feel helpless. I doubt that the pennies I could contribute would bring measurable relief to the financial strain this business is facing. I'm glad we're members; in theory, the subscription payment we've committed for the year will help ease the burden; we'll share the loss by receiving lighter boxes in the months to come. But it won't begin to cover it all; much of it, I think, is associated with the farm's sizeable commercial business (they sell to food co-ops and local restaurants).

A small consolation, one that's easy to crow about from inside our dry, intact home, is that at least we are close enough to our food source to feel this. At least we've got the opportunity to know where our produce comes from, who grows it, and what they're up against this week. And maybe, as we hear more from them in the days to come, it will become clear how we can be more than sorrier-than-average bystanders to this mess.


Unforeseen benefits of nursing a toddler through and beyond pregnancy:

Instant milk. My milk came in within 18 hours after Iris was born. And I bet this contributed to keeping jaundice at bay. I'm not positive that the extended nursing caused this, but it sure came in more quickly than it did with Ingrid.

No sore nipples. Maybe I should have guessed that compared with a fully-toothed two year old, even a vigorous newborn's suckle would feel dainty and painless.

Convenient breast pump. Ok, that's crass. But in those first days when I was so engorged Iris could barely latch on? Ingrid could have a little "snack" and take care of the problem, even in a power outage.

See friends' jaws drop. My friend Kelly came for a visit about a week ago. A had told her something on the phone about Ingrid being jealous about the nursing. Kelly said something like, You haven't been nursing her all the way through pregnancy, have you? Like she must have heard wrong. Hee hee.

Connection. Ingrid's and my relationship feels interrupted in a major way. I've been away from her, distracted from her, more than ever. It's great to have this point of connection in our day. Naptime and bedtime, she knows, always include "special nursing time." I know that if she were already weaned, we'd have found some other way to connect, but it's really, really nice to have this concrete, physical part of our routine still in place.

Sense of kinship with our barnyard friends. Where you live, is there a fair in the fall? Is there usually a big mama pig there, with, like ten piglets piling on each other and rooting and sucking and tugging all at once? Yeah. It can be kind of entertaining.

Wait. Nursing both at once? Remember when I said I was going to be all tough about restricting Ingrid's nursing to before bed? Well. I've mostly done that. But I decided that denying her a little taste of milk when she asks for it would just add to her sense of displacement and upheaval. Once or twice a day, she asks to nurse while Iris is nursing. I always say yes, and about half the time she loses interest before I've even got my bra open. The rest of the time we have a festive little piglet pile style nursing fest for about half a minute before Ingrid loses interest and moves on to something more fun, like unrolling all the toilet paper in the bathroom.


Things I said to my daughter yesterday in a grumpy and somewhat loud voice:

I am making you a sandwich. This is a sandwich. I AM MAKING YOU A SANDWICH RIGHT NOW.

Don't open that drawer—you'll knock over the water glass. Don't. No. No. NO. NO!

It is not time to run around "with naked on." It is time. To. Eat. Dinner.

Listen to me, Ingrid. LISTEN.

These are not the worst things I could have said. I know, because the worst things I could have said were right there in my head, next in line. But really, my usual discipline style is somewhat more conversational.

I think it's fair to say we are all a little strung out. She is having a hard time, what with the rearrangement of her entire world and all. And I, despite a 9:00 bedtime and almost daily hour-long nap, am just a tad tired. And we are just not connecting with each other in the way we used to. Which is to say, the stuff I used to say to her often has no effect. Gah. Am going to have to learn to take even more deep breaths.


Back to Life

A just got back from driving my parents to the airport. My mom had been here three weeks, my dad four days.

We are going to miss the 2:1 adult/child ratio. A lot. While they were here, we ate real dinners and real breakfasts and real lunches every single day. Things stayed clean. Plants stayed watered. Increasingly needy two-year-olds and seemingly mellow newborns alike had their needs and more met without interruption. I even got to take a couple of baths per day.

Many times over the past few days, I've thought Now, how would this be going if it were only A and I here? Or if it were only me? and not had a really good answer. I guess we're about to find out. It's been a couple of hours, and so far the house hasn't exploded. (One or both kids have been sleeping the whole time, though.)

Fortunately, we've got a lot of stuff planned for the next several days: Dinner with a friend, a two-day trip to A's mom's place, and (heh) a wedding on Sunday afternoon. So at least we won't have a ton of time to sit around and think about what a mess we've gotten ourselves into. I even think it's a bit of a relief to have the house a little emptier and Ingrid (I hope) a little less hyped up than she was with all the grandparents in attendance.


First Impressions

Iris was born wriggling. I could feel her swim out of me like some marine creature, and, as if to participate intentionally in that metaphor, as soon as A had cut the cord the doctor lobbed her up my way—she must have lost her grip—and she landed in the curve of my body, landed like a slippery fish on deck.

Iris was born crying and cried until she was good and ready to stop—a good 20 minutes, first curled up next to me and then in A’s arms. A mad cry, but not out of control. A cry that seemed to say Give me a few minutes to get used to this.

She was born sucking. Between cries, big, slurping sucks on the back of her hand, on whichever fingers got caught up in it. On her own lips. I remembered the ultrasound at 20 weeks where we saw her making sucking and swallowing motions inside me. She’d been practicing, and she was good at it.

She seems, in some ways, so self-sufficient, my little wiggling crying Iris. Surprisingly often, she calms herself down from crying. She chokes when the milk comes too fast, but recovers without spitting up, without much fuss. She startles when there are loud noises, but it doesn’t usually send her into a fit; she just fusses herself back down. She seems to have a calm center. She has those big, dark eyes. She wakes up and looks at things and looks and looks before she grunts and squawks and, maybe, eventually, cries.

I’ve made myself write this without comparisons, without saying, She’s so different from Ingrid. Ingrid stopped crying as soon as I held her. From day one she was a fountain of spitup and would accept no substitute for the breast. She seemed fragile, gentle, disorganized, in need of a shell.

It seems more natural to put it that way, but I’m leery of comparisons. Who wants to always be compared to her sister? I bet that, especially with same-gender kids, especially with sisters, this is going to be an important part of my job for a long time, to keep from seeing one in terms of the other.

On the other hand, without the contrast, I might not even see these things about Iris. When Ingrid was tiny, I remember being surprised at how easily other moms seemed to be able to describe their infants’ personalities. He’s very persistent, someone would say. What’s Ingrid like? And I’d be like, She, um? Likes milk?

So it’s a gift of being child number two, I bet. To be seen just a little more clearly, through somewhat less bewildered eyes.


The View from Day 5

I keep hoping I’ll have time to write something more than stream-of-consciousness blather, but that’s not looking likely, so here’s the best I’ve got.

Iris is lovely. She has a round face, fine little features. Eyes that I think will turn brown like her daddy’s, and hair that hopeful relatives and unbiased strangers alike have called “red.” I love that her coloring, at least, seems so different from Ingrid’s light, light hair and blue eyes. Baby pictures of Ingrid look strikingly like her (to the point where they’re hard to tell apart), but to me, in person, Iris looks utterly different from Ingrid then or now, and really not like anyone else I can name either.

So far she is rarely fussy, and even when hungry, just lets us know with a squawk or two. She doesn’t seem at all to be the zero-to-wailing-in-one-second type. For which I am so grateful. Also grateful that she is sometimes totally happy to suck on her hand. And that so far she hasn’t spit up more than a half teaspoon at a time.

And plus, it is such a privilege to have a newborn. I’d forgotten. It’s so amazing to be able (when there’s time) to sit and hold her and know we’re together for the long haul and not have to hand her back to anyone.

Ingrid is having a rough time. She’s got the world’s shortest fuse right now and the tiniest spill or frustrating incident sends her into complete teary whininess. It is one part exhausting, two parts heartbreaking. She has a new really sad crying face that I haven’t seen before, and it kills me. KILLS ME. I saw it first the first afternoon we were home with Iris. Iris started fussing a little, and Ingrid came undone to see and hear it, hiding her face behind her hands and cowering toward A, away from me and the baby. Worried and sad and miserable looking.

At the same time, she is still very sweet with Iris. Gentle. Kisses her. Wants to hold her, and grins hugely when she’s got her on her lap. And she doesn’t exactly seem jealous. She’s objected to my nursing Iris a few times, but more often asks me to pick the baby up than to put her down.

She may, more than anything, be reacting to the unprecedented 48 hours she spent away from A and me while we were at the hospital. We talked a lot beforehand about what would happen, and she was with her beloved grandmas and had a great time, but she is sort of acting like she’s afraid we’ll leave again. And, on top of that, everything is suddenly different in a confusing, unclear way. Mama can’t lift her into the crib (I’d forgotten to get us read for that). Daddy’s home all the time. Everyone’s attention is divided in a new way. She must have a lot of scary theories as to what will happen next, and I wish I knew enough about what those are to be able to reassure her.

Really, I’m right there with her. Undone by sound of crying baby? Check. Not sure what’s going to happen next? Check. Crazy about the baby, but kinda miss the way things used to be? Check and check. I just wish there were three of me: One to sit and snuggle all day with gorgeous, soft Iris. One to chase my giant, brilliant, grown up Ingrid around the park. And one to curl up in bed and look out at the leaves and cry just a little and then drift off into uninterrupted sleep.




Born yesterday, August 4, the first cool, rainy day here in weeks, after 10 hours of labor and 10 minutes of pushing. She is healthy and strong and doing great. She weighs 9 pounds, 2 ounces, exactly the same as Ingrid weighed. She has a spectacular face and longish gold-brown hair. She seems to be an awesome nurser and (even better) loves to suck on her hand.

We'll likely go home from the hospital tomorrow, barring any jaundice issues. The grandmas brought Ingrid here for a visit this morning and she was utterly interested and sweet: She touched her hand and said Iris has a pinky finger just like Ingrid's. She kissed her on the tummy and said I love Iris.

And time will tell, but for now I'm shocked at the extent to which I feel like I sort of know what I'm doing. I mean, I can nurse and eat pizza at the same time! And in general both my butt and my nerves are feeling far less raw than in the hours after Ingrid was born. We just passed Iris's 24-hour birthday, and it made me a little weepy. To be expected, I'm sure.

Thanks for all your good wishes for this baby's arrival. Things are sweet for now.


Iris's Birth

It started when I woke up that morning, about 7:15: contractions. I felt one, then another, then another, then turned over so I could see the clock and tell that they were pretty regularly around four minutes apart, though pretty short and not very painful. I’d been fooled the day before by an hour of that same thing, so didn’t let myself get too excited, but lay there for about a half hour before getting up and going downstairs.

It was a Saturday. Mom and A and Ingrid were up already, playing on the floor in the living room and talking about going out for breakfast. I chatted with them for a while before mentioning, well, I’ve been having a few contractions. There was some excited twittering about whether we should still go for breakfast, and the two of them got all jumpy when they saw me rock back and forth through a few contractions. Mom said, “Let’s make breakfast here,” and she whipped around the kitchen making waffles and sausages while I played with Ingrid a little and kept paying attention. I wasn’t at all sure they were regular enough to be the real thing, but we were all kind of jittery anyway. I started the kettle to make myself a cup of tea. A asked, “Are you making raspberry leaf tea?” I said, “No way—this is black tea. I don’t want to have a caffeine withdrawal headache in labor!” I think that gave him confirmation that I thought this was probably the real thing.

But at times there seemed to be long gaps between contractions, and I was worried that things would fizzle out. I spent a lot of time trying to remember what it had been like last time: How far apart were the contractions? Were there gaps like this? After breakfast, when things seemed to be keeping up, I called our doula, R, to let her know something might be going on, and A called his mom to ask her to come down to take care of Ingrid (she lives about an hour away). He brought the phone out on the front porch to call her, and I remember calling to him, “Tell her that it might be a false alarm, but to come anyway!”

I went about my usual morning: Playing with Ingrid. Organizing a few things, packing a few things in my hospital bag. Sending a few e-mails, none of them acknowledging that something big might be going on. I called my friend E, whom I’d been wanting to talk to for days, and left her a message saying to call back to chat, that in the afternoon I’d either be at the hospital giving birth or at home discouraged by the lack of progress.

It was a special day, weather-wise. For weeks—almost all of July—it had been hot and humid, so hot we could barely go outside and I certainly couldn’t do much of the brisk walking I'd wanted to do to get labor going. But that day—eight days past my due date— it was cool, cool, cool, and by mid-morning it would be raining. It felt like a huge relief.

After A's mom arrived, A and I went out for a walk. I carried an umbrella. It was so pleasant out. Just a light rain, and flowers blooming and the sound of the rain and breeze in the leaves. I remember trying to breathe that all in, knowing the last half of the birth would be in the hospital, far away from those sensations. A timed the contractions, and we talked about easy, ordinary things, about Ingrid, about how glad we were it was cool and rainy. The contractions were strong enough to make me shift my walking rhythm just a little but not really slow me down. Moving seemed to make them shorter and closer together, by about half. I really wanted to keep aware of what was going on with my body rather than trying to block it all out, and I kept thinking of my uterus as a giant muscle, trying to think about how the feeling of a contraction was similar to, say, a bicep or tricep doing its work.

We stopped at the neighborhood coffee shop. We sat outside. In my shorts and tank top, I was, for the first time in weeks, almost too cold. Sitting still in the chair, the contractions got longer, but farther apart and a little weaker.

Before we headed home we wandered through a new gift shop next door to the coffee shop. It felt so strange to be in labor in that public space—like I should tell people about it. I contemplated buying a souvenir (!) but decided things were starting to move along enough that we should head home.

Walking home, the contractions were definitely stronger than they had been on the way out ... they slowed down my walking quite a bit and even made me catch my breath.

At home I settled into sitting on the living room floor next to the birth ball, sometimes just rocking through contractions and sometimes leaning my forehead against the ball to relax through them. It was coming up on Ingrid’s nap time, and I really wanted to be able to put her down for her nap “one last time” (despite disbelieving looks from everyone else in the house). When it was time I took her upstairs and we went through our whole usual routine: tooth brushing, reading stories, nursing, hugs and kisses. I felt incredibly sentimental about it: our last time doing this, just us. At the same time, the contractions were getting harder and harder. They did slow down while I was upstairs with her (mind over matter?), but as we were looking at a book together I had a pretty hard one and it took some work to stay quiet and relaxed through it. It was a deep, hard pain at that point. An ache.

I ate some noodles for lunch and then went back to having contractions on the floor with the birth ball. We called R a number of times through this, trying to figure out, first, was this really labor, and then, when should I go to the hospital. I’d tested positive for Strep B, so the doctor wanted me there four hours before the baby was born to get IV antibiotics. I didn’t want to end up being there too long and getting messed with. And I’d found out the doctor on call was not the one I trusted the most (I’d heard she could be a little jumpy with the medical interventions). Every time I talked to R, we decided to check in again in another 20 minutes or so. Then about an hour would go by before we remembered to call her again. The contractions were pretty hard—I couldn’t talk through them, and, even between contractions, wasn’t doing much other than relax and wait for the next one—but they weren’t yet a full minute long and weren’t a consistent distance apart, so I was kind of worried I wasn’t very far along.

My friend E ended up calling back as things were heating up. I wanted so much to be able to talk to her, and we chatted between contractions and I had to just be silent through them and finally hung up sort of abruptly. She said that I should send some of the contractions her way later, so she could take one or two for me if I needed a break.

Ingrid took a really short nap—only an hour. She seemed so cool with what was going on at the time, but looking back I can see she must have sensed the excitement and tension and couldn’t sleep that well. (And also, come on, Grandma and her dog were there, so who would want to nap?)

I think that after she woke up I spent about another hour in the living room. A's mom did an awesome job of keeping Ingrid busy and occupied. And clearly Ingrid noticed something was going on with Mama, but she didn’t seem worried. She’d come and talk to me between contractions, and then when another one came I’d say, “Mama needs to rest a little bit right now,” as I closed my eyes and leaned onto the birth ball, and Ingrid would go off with Grandma again. I’d been worried that having her in the house would be stressful or irritating, but it was completely the opposite. Hearing her voice in the other room as I was breathing through a contraction was really, really soothing, like its usual sweetness was magnified.

I called R again, and she seemed to think (probably because I was quite lucid and normal between contractions) that I still wasn’t very far along. She suggested I go for another walk to try to get things going. I said to her, “I don’t think I can go for a walk,” and Mom and A, listening to the conversation from the couch across the room, both shook their heads vigorously. “Everyone is saying no,” I relayed. Mom and A were starting to get antsy about getting me to the hospital, but I wanted to wait another 20 minutes and re-evaluate then.

Very soon after that phone call, the contractions got quite a bit harder. I felt uncomfortable, felt I needed to make more noise (I’d been keeping pretty much silent, for Ingrid’s sake), needed to pee, felt sort of nauseated. “Come upstairs with me,” I said to A just as a contraction ended, then I bolted up the stairs. I peed, then had a contraction that knocked my socks off, announced, “I’m going to throw up,” and threw up. A lot.

We called the doctor’s office to tell them we were on our way. I kept vomiting and trying to recover from the vomiting, and finally felt good enough to get myself down the stairs, giving instructions about what to put in the car, etc. all the way.

I still get all teary thinking of saying goodbye to Ingrid—who seemed preoccupied with Grandma and, looking back, was probably so nervous about what was going on that she was sort of ignoring it—I gave her a big hug, my big, grown up girl, and said in her ear, “Next time I see you you’ll be a big sister.”

In the car I reclined in the front seat, lying almost on my side. It felt good to lie down, like I could relax in a way I hadn’t been able to at home—and I was tired and damn uncomfortable. I’d described the contractions, a bit earlier, as “rude,” and they began to be more so.

I had a bunch of contractions as we walked through the hospital, mostly falling to my hands and knees to get through them. Someone I couldn’t see stopped and said, “Do you guys need some help?” Without looking up, I said, “No, we’re fine.” And we were. I was pretty lucid, thinking my way through contractions, and in between feeling pretty normal.

In the triage area they checked all manner of things and finally my cervix. With her hand inside me, the nurse said, “How do you like the number....six?” Six centimeters! I was thrilled. I hadn’t thought there was any way I’d be that far along yet, since things hadn’t gotten truly horrible. I remembered Ingrid’s birth, when I was admitted at six centimeters and was terrified that that was all the farther I was; I already felt like a wild animal at that point. But not this time. I put on a gown over my tank top and wrapped a drape around my bottom half to walk to the room where Iris would be born.

In the room I lay on the bed, on my side. I needed to have an IV, to get the antibiotics, and they put that in. It made me cold all over and made my arm ache. A remembered what it had felt like to have an IV as a kid and he brought me a warm washcloth to put on it. Which felt great, but the contractions were pretty harsh by then, and A had started pressing on my lower back (and R on my hip) through every single contraction, and soon I needed that much more than any relief for my arm. At one point A needed a break from doing the back pressure, and Mom did it instead. I remember saying “Push hard,” before realizing she was probably already pushing as hard as she could. I really needed super strong pressure, and apparently A was doing it in some pretty wacky positions because of the way the room was arranged—it ended up giving him a stiff neck for several days afterwards.

I had some nasty heartburn during that time, too, and I remember almost asking for some Tums before realizing it may look a little silly, me making a big deal about completely unmedicated childbirth and then asking for Tums to deal with a little heartburn. It’s funny how much it bugged me, though ... just that tiny bit of additional discomfort seemed like too much.

I lay on my side for a long time, and began to really concentrate on my breath. I remember that if I could get through eight deep breaths, then I could get to the point where the contraction was starting to ease off. I’d breathe and count and in between I was imagining floating up on a wave in the ocean, or picturing the muscle of my uterus working to open me up, picturing the baby I’d soon be holding.

The nurse was in and out of the room; the doctor came in to check on me, I think. This went on for a while and then R suggested I get up on my hands and knees and lean on the birth ball for a while. I did, and then needed to get up to pee. She suggested I hang out on the toilet for a while. I thought I’d try, but when I was standing up I realized there was no way I could get through a contraction without someone pressing on my back. So after I peed I scooted back to the bed to do another one on my hands and knees, and halfway through that contraction I knew I was about to puke. Which I announced to everyone, and a basin appeared in front of me, which I threw up into copiously.

In the middle of that the nurse came in to put the monitors back on me. After I mostly recovered from the vomiting, I lay back down again. I was still so aware in between contractions, I didn’t think I could be going through transition yet. The nurse started getting the supplies ready for the actual delivery—things for the baby, sutures, things to cut the cord with—and I joked, “Do you actually think I am going to have a baby?” It seemed very far off, but in reality it would only be a little longer before Iris was with us.

They ran the monitors for a while. R looked at the printout and said, “It looks like the baby is doing better.” It was news to me that she had been looking not so good (less reactive—not something to worry about, necessarily, but glad I didn’t know it while it was going on). The doctor came in and asked if I wanted her to check my cervix again, and I said no, I’d rather keep on going for a while longer.

She left the room, and almost immediately after that—maybe the next contraction—I started to feel like pushing—just kind of grunty at the top of the contraction. The next contraction after that I really felt like pushing, and said to R afterwards, “I really felt like pushing that time.” R was like, “Yeah, I could tell.” It seemed like it was immediately after that the nurse appeared again and checked me. As soon as she put her hand in, my water broke. It wasn’t during a contraction, so it felt very gentle—just a muffled pop, and then fluid running out of me. I said, “Oh! There’s something...” She pronounced me to be completely dilated, but the baby was still so high she needed to keep her hand inside me through a contraction to make sure the cord didn’t prolapse. She asked if it was feeling too awful for her to be doing that, and, weirdly, it wasn’t at all. It didn’t hurt, and it was actually kind of a fascinating sensation—to have my body open to the world that way. I pushed through a contraction with her hand inside me until the baby moved down far enough, and then the doctor reappeared.

Pushing was harder than I remembered. At first it was a relief: After the first contraction I pushed through, I said, “I LOVE pushing!” and everyone laughed. But as the baby moved down, it got excruciating. It felt like hell and I couldn’t wait to be done. Excruciating. The sensation of pressure, of not knowing exactly what to do with it, of needing to work, of being stretched out so fast. My body felt completely open—my cervix, but also my throat, enabling me to make sounds I have never made before.

R got right next to my face and kept talking me through it in my ear: "Just push right through whatever you’re feeling. Just keep pushing, and you can be done." I whispered to myself, finally pretty much incoherent: “You can do it. You can do it.” “Strong. Strong. Strong.”

They said I pushed for only 11 minutes. It felt like at least an hour. 11 minutes: that would be, like seven pushes or something, maybe fewer. Three while the nurse’s hand was still inside me. A handful more to move the baby down. Then one that brought her to crowning and me to total all out bellowing pain. I yelled "DO SOMETHING!" When the contraction ended I couldn’t believe I needed to wait for the next one to get that baby’s head out. To wait with her lodged there. R helped me reach down to feel the head, and I was glad to do it but was also so panicked at the level of pain that I couldn't really feel anything with my hand—I just swiped around down there, unable to tell what was me and what was baby.

The next contraction I knew I had to get her out and pushed with all my might. I think I pushed beyond the end of the contraction, not wanting to have to wait for another with her inside me. I did it. Her head was out.

A and Mom scurried to the end of the bed to see the baby’s face. The next contraction I pushed her body out and could feel her arms and legs wriggling as she emerged, like she was swimming out of me. I could sort of see or sense the baby lying perpendicular to how she’d come out as A cut the cord. He said, “Caro, we have another daughter!” and the doctor lifted her up and lay her next to me, only somehow she ended up almost throwing her, and she landed next to me in the curve of my body like a big fish splashing up onto deck, still all wet, sort of bloody, and crying. I lay on my side next to her for a long time, saying, baby, baby, hello sweetie, and she was full of healthy strong cry.

Her face looked so very unique; I think we’d been expecting an Ingrid replica, and here she was, her own perfect self: pointy chin, cheekbones, full lower lip. Yelling her head off. Sucking on her hand and making enormous slurping sounds.

A and I took turns holding her for a long time. She wanted to cry for about fifteen minutes after she was born, and our holding her didn't seem to matter; it was like she just needed to cry to get over all that smooshing and squeezing. But then she calmed down in my arms, looked around, blinking. And then I tried nursing her and she latched on as though she'd done it a million times before.

When I think of our time in the hospital with her, I think of Iris's soft, soft head. How it felt to kiss her scalp.

She was born at 5:11 p.m., about 10 hours after labor started (just a couple of hours shorter than my first labor, if you're keeping track), and two hours after our arrival at the hospital. Some parts of her birth were amazingly similar to Ingrid's: the puking at key moments, the quick dilation from six centimeters to ten. It felt very different, though. The earlier contractions were harsher, hurt more than I remembered, and pushing, as I mentioned, was far more terrible than the first time around, probably because Iris descended so quickly. But transition was somehow a breeze; I never reached a point where I felt crazed between contractions.