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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Four Months

There's this thing that happens every year during Dickens. There's just more to do than there's time to get done. Things get put off. Near the end of the run, the cupboards are bare, the house is a mess, the car needs an oil change, things that were meant to be mailed weeks ago are still in a pile on the table, and so on. After a month back at work, we're now in that state. The car needs an oil change and the back seat is full of empty water bottles. The fridge needs to be cleaned out. There's an eggplant in there that was meant to go into soup 2 weeks ago. My hair has long grey roots. The Netflix discs have languished unwatched for weeks. The email I need to put together for Gaskell has been started and put off multiple times. And so on. Work is crazy busy and hasn't let me have a moment of mid-day downtime, up to and including several lunchtime meetings.

Let's be clear - the Dickens Fair lifestyle is not a sustainable model, so something has to give here. Trouble is, this is way more important than Dickens. This is juggling work and baby and keeping things prioritized, and the cost of messing it up at either is just too high. I'm just not sure how to fix it yet.

The cost of all this recently was in the passage of my birthday. I turned 38 with little fanfare save for a couple of cute presents from my husband, some cards in the mail, and a maniacal insistence on Brussels sprouts from the Naglee Park Garage for dinner on my birthday proper (with many thanks to Jeremy and Laurie for joining me so I didn't feel like a complete nutter). I didn't organize a mass outing to a silly summer blockbuster. There was no group outing to Forbidden Island or other similar establishment. I didn't have pie or cake or some special sweet treat with a candle flickering gently on top. I just sort of took care of the baby and got older. This isn't a good precedent.

Athena is doing well. She's four months old now. A couple of weeks ago she started grabbing for her toys. She loves her Skwish and will cheerfully play with that in the car for quite some time. It's fun hearing her swing it around in the backseat while I'm driving. Her other favorite thing is a puffy book that Karen brought from Cape Cod. She loves flipping the pages. She likes the Shell and Bucket pages best. She flips, and I read her what is on the page. I know it's not connecting yet, but it will. And really, she loves flipping through a book at four months old!!! She's so totally our kid.

She's also figured out her Fisher Price bouncy seat. If she kicks the seahorse or the fish, it makes different sounds. Last week, she started leaning forward to grab the seahorse. She clearly gets that her actions are impacting the sound effects, and this makes her so happy that she just kicks for joy.

She's also taken to holding on to things with her left hand. She holds on to the changing table while getting her diaper swapped. She holds on to the edge of the car seat. It's always the left hand. The right hand is clearly for doing stuff and playing with a toy and for reaching. The left hand is for holding on. She's even been using it to reach up and hold on to her bottle lately. That caught my attention two weeks ago at ceili as I was teaching Wives and Mistresses. I was a bit distracted by the dancers, but when I looked back to her again, she had the bottle in both hands and was holding it up for herself (since clearly mom was not doing a good enough job). This led to a couple of long blinks while I internalized this, and then thought, "Well, looks like she's got that. Moving on." (Also - teaching W&M to a bunch of folks again was a hoot. Snaps me right back to 1995 every time, with Christyn and Forest and I all taking hands, then giggling, then Terry saying, "No wait... let's work with that.")

Speaking of Christyn, Athena went to her first wedding a couple of weeks ago. She wasn't too keen on the ceremony, but loved the reception.  In general, she seems to really like parties and dances where there are lots of people to watch and music and dancing. This is a huge relief, because it could have been very different, but we managed to get a baby who is well-suited to our lifestyle. We are so very grateful for our good fortune. Again, she's so totally our kid!!!
Athena at Christyn and Brian's Wedding   
On the other hand, Athena is starting to have strong opinions about her food. At the end of April, she started being less than cool about breast feeding. When she first wakes up (either from a nap or overnight), she's happy to breast feed. When she's tired and about to go to sleep, the reaction is screaming. It's as if she's yelling, "Get that thing out of my face you damned hippie! Give me milk in the speedy noms device!" This has led to some awkward moments where Erik gets to feed her pumped breast milk while I go pump. This is dumb. But, since I can't exactly make an issue of it with her as I'm at work all day and she does have to eat from a bottle routinely, I get to be the reed in the stream. So now I've pumped breast milk in all kinds of places. I do have to wonder what the folks think as I sit in the back seat of the car, cones attached to boobs, with baby in the car seat next to me, hurtling along at 65 mph down the freeway. And yet, it has become routine.

The next pickiness emerged a bit over a week ago. At bedtime, Athena is starting to refuse formula. So she wants food, but won't take a breast, and won't take formula. Only the finest fresh-squeezed will do. Sigh. And yet, no one I mention this to is surprised that MY daughter is opinionated.

Last night we hired a babysitter for the first time. Luckily, it was Sarah Kramer, who we've known since she needed a babysitter, so it's really like leaving her with a good friend who could use a few extra bucks. We went to PF Chang's for dinner with Laurie, Jeremy and Fred before heading to see The Understudy at SJ Rep. We have season tickets with Fred and Malaya, but Malaya was feeling ill, so Fred joined us for dinner on his way home, and Jeremy and Laurie took over their tickets. It was a really entertaining show, written by the creator/exec producer of Smash, so the dialog was definitely snappy.  Heading home, we fully expected to have a fussy bedtime baby, but our baby is weird. She was totally happy, and in a miracle moment, opted to nurse direct from the taps until she passed out for the night around 10:15 p.m., then slept til 9:30 this morning.

They say babies like routine. I'm going to say that most babies like routine. Our baby likes novelty. She is most likely to be especially upset at the end of the day if we haven't left the house all day. On Tuesday she was happy as a clam as long as we were at ceili and dancing. I had to turn on Irish music in the car to get her to stop crying on the way home. The next night she was totally happy to spend the evening with a near stranger. Last Friday, she was totally happy at Friday Night Waltz til 11 p.m. The times she gets fussy in the evening seems to correlate to the times that she's spent too much time being burped while facing a wall or the blue sofa cushions. So, we're throwing conventional advice to the wind and taking her wherever she wants to go. She loves people and loves watching the world, so we'll make that happen.

Athena had her 4 month well-baby doctor's visit today. She's 13 1/2 pounds (in the 46th percentile and 24 1/2 inches (in the 48th percentile). That means she's one seriously average baby. Previously she'd been in the 40th percentile for length and head circumference, but only 23rd percentile for weight. Now that she's off the normal formula and on Nutramigen for her supplement, everything is evening out, so that's a big win. She got her next round of shots today and seems none the worse for it (so far). I'm home for the evening with her and she's cheerfully playing in her bouncy chair, grabbing the seahorse and seeing how far it will flip up.

I started writing this most of a week ago now. Since then I've managed to get my hair dyed, Erik made Eggplant Soup, and I walked to the post office at lunch and mailed some things. Sure, the car still needs an oil change and the fridge still needs to be cleaned out, but we're getting by. And when I get overwhelmed by the clutter in the house, I can just turn to the happy smiling baby and remember what's really important. And after 3 weeks in a row of pretty busy weekends, all we've got planned this weekend is a trip to PEERS for a couple of hours. It's the Some Like it Hot Ball, and as Osgood says, "Nobody's Perfect," but we're bumping along doing pretty darned well.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

So the past two weeks have been an adventure.

The Gaskell Ball was not a stunning success, but not a total abject failure either.
At the ball with Scott and Jess
It was a feat not to be repeated anytime soon. It turns out, I am not superhuman. I cannot take care of an infant, teach a dance class, host out of town family and make sure they get introduced to others for dancing, pump breast milk privately (due to nursing strike), eat, get myself and Athena dressed for the ball, take money at the door, and dance with friends. It is too much. I managed to accomplish taking care of an infant, pumping, eating bad drive-thru food, taking money at the door, and had one waltz that made it two-thirds of the way around the room. By 11, Athena and I were exhausted. Erik got a ride to our hotel room for the night where two hours later I was still handling the unload car, feed baby, change baby, pump, shower things when he got in. Athena went to sleep around midnight and I followed her an hour later. She slept in til 10, which was a godsend. The only thing that could repair me at that point was a decent night's rest, and save for getting up at 5 to pump again, that's just what I got.

We had dim sum with Scott and Jess the next morning at my favorite dim sum place on Webster. After that, we thought to go for a walk on the beach, then hit the Pinball Museum, but Athena wanted nothing to do with that, so she and I detoured to Julie's and I fed her and relaxed with an iced decaf espresso. This is where she discovered the wonder that is a ceiling fan. She's an easy baby to get along with, but when mom is a tad frayed around the edges, a gloriously fascinating ceiling fan totally made my day.
It is the most amazing thing I've ever seen!
Next we headed to Forbidden Island for my first tasty FI rum drink in a year. We did a swap with Alex and Sherman where Sherman and Erik went for an hour while we watched the girls, then Alex and I followed when they came back. And the Jet Pilot was every bit as delicious as I remember. We wrapped up our day by walking over to Spaghetti Sunday where Scott and Jess got to see what our friends are really like, all gathered together in a small space, noshing, talking, and chasing kids.
On our way to Spaghetti Sunday
Monday and Tuesday were spent in a whirlwind of preparation to return to work and extreme anxiety. I was not in any way ready to go back, but time was up and there was nothing else to be done about it. I had commitments starting Wednesday morning and my partner was heading to Puerto Rico before I got back. It was just time to suck it up and go do it. Tuesday night, I crawled into bed in the guest room before Athena went to sleep and put in my earplugs to try to get some rest before heading to work. Erik was on duty til I got home the next evening.

Wednesday I hauled myself out of bed at an unacceptable hour, quietly fussed around the house to get ready, and loaded up with breast pump bag, computer bag, bottle storage freezer bag, and purse, headed out. I poked my head into our room to see if Erik or Athena were awake. Athena was asleep in her bassinet, but Erik was up, and had been up for hours with a cup of tea and a pile of Kleenex. My jaw dropped. Really? Yeah. He'd been trying to hide that he was getting sick because he figured it would have just freaked me out more, which is not inaccurate. I said, "Well, I guess it is what it is" and skipped kissing him goodbye as I headed off to Stanford. Turns out there was an accident on 280, so it took me over an hour and a half to get to campus. As I loaded up my bags to trek to the Alumni Center for the annual IT Open House (where I would magically transform from new mom to Zimbra and Mobile Device Management expert), I started crying. I was late. Erik was sick. Athena really needed me. This was stupid. And what the hell am I doing? I grabbed my info packet and headed in, then after a few quick hellos, stashed some stuff at my table and shut myself in the bathroom off the kitchen and pumped while handling morning email. At least it was a single-user restroom with a heavy door an a lock and room to drag in a chair, so I sat with the laptop balanced on the sink and machine suctioned onto my boobs. So this was how it was going to be.

Thirty minutes later, I emerged and stashed pump and milk under the table and became the expert. I answered questions about migration to Google and quota and MDM installation and how was the baby and who is she staying with. It was a good mix, and I was certainly in my usual element. But the IT Open House is a marathon. It opens at 10 and closes at 2 and prior years have taught me that I shouldn't expect to have time to even go to the bathroom. This year was no different. I started anxiously watching the clock at about 10 after 1. It had been 3 hours, and Athena usually wants to eat every couple of hours, so this was getting longish. By 2, I was packing up my laptop and running out the door, blowing off colleagues who wanted to chat. Sure, I had to pee, but really, it's bigger than that. In the interim, I'd gotten an email back from the Alumni HR manager and went to find her to get access to the lactation room. I spent the next half hour in a telephone room that is also the gym clothes changing room and the lactation room. At least it had a lock and a desk table, even if it did smell like sweaty gym socks. I ate my lunch, caught up on email again, and tried to regroup a bit. I had a big meeting at 4 and I had to be super professional girl again for a few more hours. I guess there are some folks who come by that naturally - they are their career and it doesn't feel like putting on a costume, but for me, it's a big change of language, carriage, and expression. Step one: keep all insightful analysis (otherwise known as snarky comments) to myself. It's been a few months and I was out of practice, but it was coming back.

So I survived day one. Upon getting home, Erik and Athena were happy to see me. Athena was more than happy to slurp down the boob juice straight from the tap, and I had plenty to share. Erik was exhausted and miserable. We slogged through dinner and off to bed so that we could do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. Oh boy. And the next two days were indeed adventures. Thursday morning I forgot to pick out clothes the night before, so I had to sneak in past the bassinet and pick out an outfit very quietly in the dark. I left for work well before 7 so that I could pick up Athena at 4. Thursday night, Erik's class ends at 10:30. This means I'm on my own from when I pick up Athena from him at Foothill until after my bedtime, but not necessarily after Athena's bedtime. Luckily, she obliged me by going to sleep around 10, and then I scrambled around the house and climbed in myself and got at least mostly asleep before Erik got home at 11. On Friday, I slept a little later and felt fairly confident leaving the house. I pulled in around 8:15 and opened the hatch to find that I had my pump, freezer bag, purse, and no computer bag. Sigh. I managed to wing it for the day with the Windows 7 computer we use for VoIP training. Life went on, and I got some things done, even if it wasn't all I'd planned on.

Normally this would be the end of the week and we'd sigh and say better luck next week and all would be well, but Erik had a meeting on campus at 9 a.m., so he handed me the freshly wakened baby and ran off to Foothill for four hours. When he got home, I sent him off to take a nap and continue recovering from his cold. When my mom called asking about Mother's Day plans and driving to Sac, I just had to say, "Maybe. We can't commit." At the time, I couldn't imagine driving to Sac and back a week later.

The very good news was the Erik's mom was flying in on Monday. She's a godsend.
Athena and Karen with Athena's new hat. Thanks Karen!

She arrived and we all headed to dinner at Aqui. With good food under our belts, we made a big change that has been a long time coming: Athena moved from her bassinet to her crib. We figured with Karen there, we'd see how it went. Athena slept happily through the night, waking just in time for me to nurse her before running off to work. Meanwhile, Karen was up and happy to take Athena, so Erik got some much needed additional rest, which was a welcome birthday treat. At the end of the day, I came home and found the living room neatly tidied up and our laundry folded and Athena happy as a clam even with Erik off to class. Karen made a birthday dinner for Erik of pork ragout and strawberry shortcake.  On Wednesday, everyone shuffled out to have lunch with me at Stanford. We had a little more excitement than planned because Athena's diaper wallet was accidentally left at home. After a little strategizing over lunch, I emailed the Parent-Net list on campus asking if anyone had a spare size 1 or 2 diaper. Luckily, a woman in Gilbert Hall had two spare in her desk, and her son was wearing size 4s now, so she was very happy to let me have them. A quick change and Athena went from lightly fussy to naptime. We took Karen out to see the main quad and then I went back to work. In the evening, Karen babysat Athena and Erik and I got to go see The Avengers (which I'm sure everyone knows is completely awesome). We had Pizza My Heart in the Camera 7 theater in the comfy front row with Kev and Rachel and all was right in the world. Meanwhile, Athena fell asleep hard before we got home and couldn't be roused to have final eats, so we fully expected a middle of the night wake up. I pumped before heading off to bed instead. She'd also fallen asleep without being in her swaddler, so this was her first night without that as well. She slept soundly until 4:30, and I got up and nursed her, then handed her off to Erik to burp and rock back to sleep. She took the slot I normally use to pump overnight, so that was pretty awesome all in all. She slept in til 9 after that.

The next day, Karen was heading home. It was too short a trip, but she left us with two turkey meatloafs and mashed potatoes for dinner on the stove, freshly folded laundry, and a happy, well-napped baby. Athena and I took Karen to the airport and went home to spend our second Thursday evening with Daddy out late and mommy having to go to work in the morning. She once again nodded off for me at a few minutes after 10, not quite making it through her last 2 ounces of milk before all systems shut down. When it's bedtime for this girl, she's out and there is no stopping it. Again, she slept without swaddler in her crib in her room and she woke right at 7 after a full night's sleep. We really do have an amazingly awesome baby.

So let's see, the past few weeks included:
 - a visit from Erik's brother and sister-in-law
 - Athena's first Gaskell Ball
 - me going back to work
 - Erik becoming full-time daily caregiver
 - a visit from grandma (or Gigi Karen as she prefers to be called)
 - Athena learning to grab for toys
 - Athena moving to her crib
 - Athena sleeping through the night without a swaddler

In my fantasy world, we will have a nice relaxing weekend at home with no major changes or adventures. But then I remember that's never going to happen. The only constant is change.




New Mother Hair

Perhaps like me, you've noticed that a lot of new moms get a short "mom" haircut. Many have speculated that it's just that the moms don't have time to fuss with their hairdo the way they did before having a kid or that they baby is busy grabbing the hair or something like that. I'm here to say that I only wish it were so simple.

What lots of folks don't know is that pregnancy and childbirth has a huge impact on your head of hair. First, during pregnancy, the hormone bath you're generating basically tells the hair on your head to stay put. So that daily set of strands you usually find in the hairbrush or the shower drain just isn't there. This leads to an utterly fabulous mane of thick, luxurious hair while you're pregnant. I for one was feeling unsexy and whale-like, and folks would say, "But your hair looks FABULOUS!" Yeah, great. Somehow it won't go with the little pinup girl outfit I wish I could wear right now, but thanks anyway. Also, at the time, all I could think was how I'd pay for these luscious locks later.

Payback is a bitch. About 3 months after giving birth, that long interrupted signal is turned back on and all those hairs that stayed extra long are now way overdue to commit suicide by leaping from your head, so they start doing it en masse like buffalo running off a cliff. Suddenly, there's hair EVERYWHERE. The bathroom floor is covered soon after it's swept. Erik has made adding Drano to the tub part of the weekly routine. Cleaning out the brush is now a near daily activity rather than a once in a while need. Those little hairs falling down your back and tickling under your shirt? Yeah, now it's several times a day, every day. My sweaters are constantly covered in strands of hair. I combat that by putting my hair up frequently, but it gets tiresome to have it strapped down all the time. The jab and pull of clips and pins haunts my scalp.

But the worst part is the fear of the hair tourniquet. One of the things new parents are warned about is that if you've checked everything else and your baby is still screaming and seems to be in pain, then check their fingers and toes for a piece of hair wrapped tightly round and cutting off the circulation. It hurts, and it's awfully hard to spot. So there you are nursing for say 20 minutes, and during that time, you've dropped maybe a dozen hairs. Athena routinely directs nursing with her hands like a conductor to the orchestra, waving her hand across my chest, over her head, and swooping around for big crescendos and slapping it down to her side before bringing it back up to gently press the breast and out again for the big finale. So those dozen hairs may well be wrapped around her hand. Or skittered down my back. Or in a pile on the floor. Or tucked amongst the folds of her clothes. No matter what, she has to be checked and checked to make sure it doesn't get around her hands or feet, or sucked down her throat for that matter. But sure enough, an hour later when it's time for a diaper change and I carry her off from her playmat or swing or whatnot, as often as not, I'll find one more hair lurking on her clothes or next to her or something. It's relentless. There's always an insidious hair waiting to ruin your day. And the longer the hair, the greater the risk.

I, like many new moms, have started contemplating whether it would just be better to shave my head. Or at least trim back to a little pixie cut. Or give up and go pony tail every day, all day for the next year or so.

I don't know what the answer is. Right now I just wish I could hurry up the whole process. After 3 weeks or so of extreme hair loss, my hair is getting pretty thin and my patience is even thinner. If I could just get back to the normal level of hair loss, it would be fine, but I'm just so very tired of living in a sea of my own shedding.