Tip Toes

Krumps has shed so much on her bed that she blends right in.


Birthing Story Pt II

November 4th, 2015

Turns out I'm dilated to 3.5cm, when it was only 1.5cm yesterday afternoon.  I'm glad to hear it- but I'm also having contractions so strong that I've ripped off all my clothes and am clawing my way up the side of the hospital bed they're examining me on.

"Are you planning on a natural birth?" one of the nurses asks me, and when I'm capable of speaking again I say, "Well, that was the idea, but right now I'm feeling pretty good about drugs.  I'm feeling even better about them in the middle of the contractions."  No one laughs.  Tough crowd.

They strap monitors to me, and never in my life have I hated anything as much as I hate these damn monitors.  I don't like to be touched when I'm in pain- and the stupids things do nothing but touch me.  I ask plaintively if we can take them off- but no, not until they've gotten 20 minutes of baby-monitoring out of them.

It does not seem likely that I can hold still for 20 minutes.

There is no way in hell I can walk by this point, so they begin the laborious process of wheeling the bed out the door and down the hallway to my private birthing room.  By the time we get there I've progressed to 6.5cm, and I'm pretty adamant about getting into the bath I was promised I could labor in.

"Okay honey, but if you feel the baby drop, or like you have to poop, you have to get out: you can't give birth in the tub."

I snarl something unintelligible- anything to shut them up and get me into the water.

And then they begin the first attempt at inserting an I.V. port.  I say "first" because it is not successful.  Nor is the second.  Nor the third.  I have three holes in my arms, and finally they call for someone else to come and try.

But then I feel the baby drop.

I shoot up out of the tub like a rocket, shrieking, "I can't give birth in the tub!" because the pain has driven out any other coherent thoughts.  The nurses catch me and Nathan says something along the lines of, "Okay but maybe let's not break your neck on wet tiles," and then they're helping me back over to the bed.

A new nurse comes and gets the port placed, so they can give me fentanyl to "take the edge of".  It does not.  Or if it does, I've got such a wide swath of pain that the edge makes no difference.  Nathan will later tell me I clung to the bed crying out, "Why? Why? Why?", in addition to making low animal noises he'd never heard before.

They check my progress again as the epidural guy wheels his equipment in, and I'm at 8cm.  He is telling me to hunch my back, but when I do he snaps, "No, not like that, like this!" and attempts to demonstrate.  But he is in loose scrubs, and I am in labor, and who the hell knows what his spine is doing over there.  At last a nurse touches me lightly on my mid-back.  "We need you to make this part flat," she says gently.  That I can do.

For approximately ten seconds.

But that's not long enough, so Nathan is gripping my hands and I'm drawing on willpower I didn't even know I had to hold perfectly still through not one but two contractions as they put a needle next to my spine, and it is literally the worst part of this entire experience, not being able to thrash and scream obscenities like I have been.

Oh but then it starts to take effect!

Except... only halfway.  My right side is pain-free and relaxed, but my left side is still actively laboring.  It's one of the oddest sensations of my life.  But having the pain cut in half lets me speak coherently again, and I let them know what's going on.

They roll me on my side and up the dosage a bit, until at last I'm properly numbed- and just in time, as now it's time to push.  The doctor moves to get the stirrups out, but I explain that I actually would like human touch, and is it okay if we don't use stirrups?

"Of course!" she says, and directs Nathan and a nurse to help hold my legs.

The epidural, by the way, is amazeballs.  I am relaxed and cracking jokes.  I think to myself, Oh good, now they'll know that I'm a fun person, and not just a screaming bitch, and to tell the truth I'm actually enjoying myself now, as insane as that sounds.  Don't get me wrong- pushing is work- even with no sensation below the waist I can tell that, and I think, I'm so grateful for my strong body!- but it's satisfying that it's going so quickly.  The doctor asks if I'd like to feel his head, and I pause.  If you'd asked me a week ago if I'd thought I'd like to feel my son's head emerging from my vaginal canal, the answer would have been an adamant, "No thank you."  But now?  Hell, this is literally my one and only chance to feel him from the inside and the outside at the same time.

"Okay!"  I reach down and she guides my fingers to his head- it's softer than velvet, and covered in downy fine hair.  Looks like the old wive's tale about heartburn is right this time!

The final push isn't actually a push; I'm laughing at something, and the force of my laughter pops him out.  I feel him slide free of my abdominal cavity, and my lungs fully inflate for the first time in months.  It's miraculous on more than one level.

It's 6:15pm.  Less than four hours after walking through the door, they are placing my son on my chest.  He is the violet color of the sky at dawn, and I think he is beautiful.  I stare at him as he screams his strong lungs into life, and I'm filled with joy, such pride, such-

"Did he... pee on me?" I ask.  "No, wait, I think it's poop..." Nathan lifts the blanket they laid over us and sure enough- my son has used his first few moments in life to defecate on my stomach.  I will be cleaning meconium from my navel for days.

I burst into laughter, into tears, and kiss him over and over.  We'll do just fine.


My Milk Ducts (Lyrically Speaking)

(with apologies to Kelis)

My milk ducts brings all the boys to the yard,
'Cos they're like
All super engorged,
Damn right they're super engorged.
I can feed him,
And it's free of charge.
I know he wants it,
The thing that makes me,
What babies go crazy for-
They lose their minds,
When I unbind.
I think its time...
La la la la la,
Warm it up,
La la la la la,
The boy is waiting
My milk ducts brings all the boys to the yard,
'Cos they're like
All super engorged,
Damn right they're super engorged,
I can feed him,
And it's free of charge.
I can see he's hungry.
You want me to teach thee
Techniques that feed this boy.
It can't be fought;
Just know, milk will spot.
(Pump if you're smart)
La la la la la,
Warm it up,
La la la la la,
The boy is waiting
My milk ducts brings all the boys to the yard,
'Cos they're like
All super engorged,
Damn right they're super engorged,
I can feed him,
And it's free of charge.
Oh, once you get involved,
Everyone will look your way, so,
You must maintain your child,
Same time maintain your sweet flow,
Just get the perfect blend,
That's what you have within,
When next his face is squint,
Then he's picked up your scent,
La la la la la,
Warm it up,
La la la la la,
The boy is waiting
My milk ducts brings all the boys to the yard,
'Cos they're like
All super engorged,
Damn right they're super engorged,
I can feed him,
And it's free of charge
Damn right, it's better than yours.


Beyond Babysitting Pt III

I had a lot of fun doing my little "Beyond Babysitting" exercises (parts I and II), but more than one person joked with me about how I'd written them all as ending up wildly successful.  Which, of course I did- they're the BSC!  They always come out on top, no matter how ridiculous the scenario (or inconsistent the internal logic).  But it did get me thinking- sure, it's easy to write them living happily ever after, but how would I do it if I wrote them as failures?  Specifically, how would those same personality traits that I used to dream up endings also be used to create nightmares?

Turns out it wasn't that hard.


Kristy Thomas:  Kristy went to school on a softball scholarship, and majored in business.  She worked at the campus gym for spending money, but when that didn't quite cover her expenses she started placing small bets on sporting events.  She won regularly enough to make it worth her while, and she kept up the habit even after graduation, when started doing personal training while she tried to figure out what she really wanted to do with her life.  She got in early on the whole Crossfit craze, and eventually moved back to Stonybrook to open up a box of her own.  Unfortunately for Kristy, it failed miserably and left her completely bankrupt.  In an attempt to get back in the black, Kristy began betting (and losing) more and more money, until she found herself so deeply indebted to various shady characters that she went on the run.  She currently lives out of her car, picking up odd jobs where she can, and gambling most of the money away.

Claudia Kishi: Claudia passed up a chance to go to Japan after high school, choosing instead to move to New York with Stacey and focus on her art. Specifically she began experimenting with psychedelic drugs as a way to "expand her consciousness" and bring her work to another level.  Unfortunately she wasn't content with what she found, and continued to pursue more and more varied highs, always looking for the ultimate altered state of being.  She found it when she died of a heroin overdose at age 23.

Mary Anne Spier: Because her father refused to talk about sex beyond "don't do it", Mary Anne found herself pregnant at 16.  She married the emotionally abusive boy, and they had a second child before he ran out on them at age 18.  After that she bounced from one manipulative man to the next, and has had four more children from as many fathers.  She is currently married once more, this time to a highly controlling man almost twice her age that beats her when he's drunk- but she's afraid to leave the security his paycheck provides her and the children.

Stacey McGill: Stacey returned to New York City to double-major in communications and finance, with the intention of working in fashion journalism (the finance was just an easy backup plan).  Those plans were swiftly put on hold when she was scouted as a model her freshman year.  Her new friends got her into the New York City party scene, with all the drugs and sex that involves- and Stacey liked sex a lot.  She ended up infected with HIV by the time she was 20, lost her modeling contract as a result, and died from pneumonia (as a complication of AIDS) at 24.

Dawn Schafer: Like Claudia, Dawn didn't bother with college after high school.  Instead she transitioned from part-time to full-time as a waitress in a vegetarian restaurant on the beach, where she met a man who got her involved in an "environmental activist group" that actually turned out to be a cult dedicated to Mother Gaia.  Dawn was slowly but surely brainwashed and isolated from her former friends and family, until she was finally "allowed" to become a sister-wife at age 21.  When she was 29 she sacrificed herself as a suicide-bomber to destroy a logging camp.

Mallory Pike:  Mallory got her degree in English Literature from a university in New York, but her writing career never took off.  Because she refused to accept any career that was "beneath her genius", she currently lives in her parents' basement and is used as a free baby sitter by her many siblings.  She spends her spare time writing embittered one star reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

Jessi Ramsey: Jessi moved to New York her freshman year of high school, to study ballet full-time.  When she was offered a permanent position in the prestigious dance company she'd been apprenticing at, she took Stacey up on her offer of a celebratory drink- and then made the mistake of driving home.  She wrecked her car, killing her dance career before it could truly take off, and leaving herself crippled and in chronic pain.  As the years went by she took to drinking and drugs to manage both her physical and emotional pain, until she lost her job and eventually ended up living on the streets.  She is currently in rehab for the third time, on her little brother's dime.


You guys, that was depressing as hell.  I think I'll go back and read the unrealistically happy endings... and maybe next time I'll try to write something somewhere in between.


Birthing Story Pt I

November 4th, 2015

It's 0100 and I am awake.

I'm awake because I'm being gripped by another damn Braxton Hicks contraction.  Awesome.  I am super excited to be having another round of False Labor at o'dark-thirty.

(I'm not.  I'm annoyed as hell, actually.  False labor is, as I wrote in my journal the other day, "an enormous waste of time, energy, and back pain.")

I drift back off to sleep, only to be awoken ten minutes later by another one.  This repeats for hours: semi-sleep, wake long enough to groan with discomfort for thirty seconds, repeat.  It is not restful.

Fortunately the contractions peter out around 0600, just in time for me to wake up for real, and get ready for work.  Oh the joy of a workday on extremely-interrupted sleep.

The contractions reappear once I'm at work, causing me to waddle up and down the hallway, grunting, and my boss to eye me skeptically as he packs his briefcase for his out-of-office appointments.

"It's just more false labor," I say, waving him away.  "Like Monday afternoon.  I'll just be stopping to swear every once in a while, but it's fine."

"Okay," he says doubtfully, then adds, "Text if you need anything," before taking off.  So now I'm alone in the office, a fact I take full advantage of by leaning over my desk and breathing heavy (and yes, swearing) as needed.  In between the contractions I'm fine, but come noon they've increased enough in both intensity and frequency that I've decided I don't want to suffer at the office any longer.  I want to strip naked and get into my own tub and feel sorry for myself until they go away.

...but I don't want to leave before the stock market closes at one, just in case a client needs something.  I'm trying to be responsible with my playing-hooky.

I text Nathan and let him know to come get me, which he does.  By this point the contractions are coming about every 6-7 minutes apart, and I'm starting to think maybe this isn't false labor, after all.  I text my boss to let him know that I'm leaving, and that I'll keep him updated on whether it's real or not.

By the time I'm home and stripped the contractions are 5 minutes apart.

"Um, should we maybe go to the birthing center?" Nathan asks as I lower myself into blessedly hot and scented water.

"Nah," I wave him off as I did my boss earlier.  "The doctor said not until they've been five minutes apart for an hour."  I text my mother (who is flying cross-country to be with me for the birth next week) from the bath to let her know what's going on, and she instructs me to cross my legs until she gets there.  I laugh and text her back: "Mom, even if this is real labor I have at least eight hours before anything happens!"

Except that when I get out of the tub, fifteen minutes later, the contractions are coming 3 minutes apart.

"Maybe we'd better go to the birthing center, after all," I say through gritted teeth as I clutch the counter top.  Nathan agrees before I can finish my statement.

It's during the four-mile drive to the hospital that the pain starts to get... intense.  I bite the leather of my seat's headrest in protest.  Nathan jokingly attempts to coach my breathing; "Hee hee haaaah..." to which I growl "I... will... fucking... kill you."  He wisely stops.

But in between contractions everything is fine!  I feel great, actually, and cheerful that this might actually Be It.  We get to the birthing center and Nathan pulls into the patient drop-off, then helps me inside.  I hobble up to the reception desk and announce cheerfully, "We're here to see if I need to be here yet!" and then a contraction hits (they're 1 minute apart now).  The nurses eye me doubling over and say, "Yep, pretty sure you need to be here now," and escort Nathan and I to the intake room.  It's 2:20pm.


Man of the Cloth

Today was our first full day of cloth diapering, and after a lot of experimenting with various folding and rolling methods...

...we survived!

Actually we did more than just "survive"- we were "totally fine".   And if you'd asked me last night if that would be my feelings at the end of the day (or even if you'd asked me this morning, while I was wallowing in my irrational "I'm not a good mother" funk) that's probably not the answer you'd have gotten.  I had some Capital A Anxiety over the whole thing, which is so weird because it's not like we haven't sprung leaks/had blowouts with disposable diapers- why did it seem So Horrible that it might happen with a cloth diaper?  Irrational Brain is Irrational.  And anyway we didn't actually have any leaks (or blowouts!), so there's still that to look forward to.  Yay?

So far the main thing that's getting to me is just how wet the cloth gets.  Like, totally soaked, edge to edge.  Apparently my son pees, like, a lot, because I'm changing him at least every two hours, and each time there's not a bit of dry material left.  Mind boggling.  And I can't imagine it's comfortable, but he doesn't seem to mind.  At any rate, his half-gallon bladder makes me glad I decided to stick with disposables for overnight.

But on to the solids!  I spent all day On Edge, waiting for his first Cloth Diaper Bowel Movement.  I was expecting it to come in the morning (which it normally does) but of course it didn't, and the anticipation just continued to build, leading to probably way too many instances of me holding Neeps above my head so I could sniff his butt.  When it finally happened in the late afternoon it... wasn't that bad.  In fact I liked being able to use any and every part of the diaper to wipe him with.  And it was so soft, too- I felt like it was probably much nicer on the skin than his normal wipes.

(Look at me.  I'm reduced to blogging about the little pleasures to be found in wiping poop off another human's derriere.  ::sigh::  Oh well!  Experience!  Adventure!)

Anyway, I signed a three-month contract with the diaper service people, so here's hoping that most of the awkwardness wears off well before then- and that I can figure out a way to make the whole process as easy as possible for whatever daycare provider we go with!


Prelude to a Neeps

I'm going to share with you what I wrote in my journal less than 24 hours before giving birth to my son.  The context is that I was still just over a week from my official due date, had experienced false labor the day before, and was feeling... well, pretty crotchety.  So that's what I was processing as I sat in bed that night.


According to the doctor I'm now 1.5 centimeters dilated, which just seems like bullshit after yesterday's adventures.

Oh well.  The truth is, I need to work on letting go of my impatience and frustration, and finding my way to a state of calm acceptance/readiness.  I made some progress during acupuncture today, but for real I need to bring meditation back into my life on a regular basis.

See, the thing is, Neeps will come, and moreover he will come when it's time.  When waiting has filled, as Valentine Michael Smith would say.  Right now he's getting bigger and fatter, and his brain is getting more wrinkly and his lungs able to function easier.  All very good things.  So I just need to chill out and let him take the time he needs.  I can consider it my first exercise in treating him as his own person rather than just an extension of my Self.

It's still so hard to accept that he's really real.  Even as he jabs his little heels into my rib cage.


I'm sharing this today because I plan on writing up The Birthing Story very soon (perhaps even tomorrow) and I thought this would be a lovely little lead-in to it.  I know it makes me laugh when I look back at how hard I was struggling to Be Serene, Damn It!  But I do like to believe that Neeps feeling me make that attempt to let him be his own separate being kick-started his desire to fulfill that destiny.



So basically it's insane how quickly my son is growing.  I know it's cliched to be all, "Oh it goes by so fast!" but holy shit, talk about a cliche with some serious grounding in reality.  It's like the movie of my life hit the fast-forward button the second he slid from my body, and hasn't slowed down since.  I have the sneaking suspicion it's not going to slow down, either.  This may very well be my new normal time-sense.  Crazy pants.

In some ways, it's good- we've already moved past some of the less-pleasant aspects of his infancy (waking every two hours; pooping after every feeding; having to burp him, like, all the damn time) but on the other... it makes me feel quite panicky about going back to work and just... missing everything.

But I'll think about that "tomorrow", as it were.  No need to dwell now, since not-now is coming down the pipe so damn swiftly.

In less traumatic musings, here's a list of the consonants my genius child has now mastered:

muh (the first one, which I cannot help but take personally)
duh (showed up while Nathan was traveling, actually)
geh (switching up the vowel sounds like a boss)
nuh (brand new this week- does not bode well for the future)

Behold them and tremble at my budding word-smith's prowess.

This verbal versatility totally inspired me to recite the alphabet to him phonetically this morning, which he apparently found amusing as hell.  (I threw in some Spanish sounds for good measure, because of course I did.)


Jack Be...

Remember those ornaments I was making?  Well, they were in preparation for a baby shower I was hosting, which went down today.  The theme was "Jack of Hearts" (hence the cards), a theme I highly recommend if you happen to be throwing a baby shower less than a month before Valentine's Day.  Talk about convenient!

Anyway, one of the bits of the shower that I was especially proud of was the Guest Book I cobbled together:
(Three guesses what the baby's name is, and the first two don't count)
On the first page I wrote this rather lengthy introduction- 

Everyone knows the old rhyme:

Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jump over
The candlestick

But a boy should be more than just nimble and quick!  Perhaps the rest of the rhyme goes something like this:

Jack be joyful
Jack be brave
Jack sail every
Ocean wave

Or this:

Jack be clever
Jack be kind
Jack know when
To just unwind

Or even this:

Jack be honest
Jack be sly
Jack just balance
Truth with lie

Please add to the book your name and what YOU wish for Jack (and don't worry, it doesn't have to be in rhyme!) 

Once people started jotting down their advice, it turned out even better than I could have imagined!  So many thoughtful, clever, funny, touching sentiments.  It made me wish I'd thought to do something like that for Neeps (although there's no nursery-rhyme precedent for his name).  I suppose it's not too late to go around making sad eyes at my friends whilst clutching an empty notebook...


Beyond Babysitting Pt II

Yep, we're revisiting this...

Dawn Schafer:  Like Claudia, Dawn didn't bother with college after high school.  Instead she transitioned from part-time to full-time as a waitress in a vegetarian restaurant on the beach, where she met her first really serious boyfriend.  He got her involved with his group of friends' environmental activism, which included a lot of protesting, drum circles, and weed.  When she was about 22 or so, Dawn got into an argument with a young man at a rally who pointed out that there was never any actual lasting change created through their protests.  Although she scorned him at the time, the confrontation made her re-evaluate her life, and as a result she decided to go to college after all, and pursue a degree in environmental law.  The boyfriend was not supportive of this, and it resulted in an extremely traumatic breakup.  Within the first year of undergrad, she discovered that environmental lawyers tend to work for the "bad guys", and that probably the best way to make a real difference was to study engineering.  Thus began a long, hard road for Dawn, who did not take to science and math naturally.  She was determined, however, and by the time she was thirty she had her master's degree and a job working on developing a wave farm off the coast of California.  In a case of Small World Syndrome, she re-encountered the boy from the rally during her third year at school, and after a tumultuous courtship they married and now have a three-year-old.

Mallory Pike: Mallory got her degree in English Literature from a university in New York, and used the contacts she made there to land an internship at a major children's publishing house.  She soon moved up to assistant, and eventually landed herself a position as a young-adult editor.  She had a nose for what would sell, and was the one who discovered (and contracted) a single-mother author who penned a first novel that would go on to become a huge franchise.  Mallory made enough money from this particular author to set her and her family up for life, and to finally buy herself the horse (and the land to put it on) she'd always dreamed of.  She still writes in her spare time (more for her many nieces and nephews than out of any real desire to publish) and recently made the decision to pursue single-motherhood via artificial insemination.

Jessi Ramsey: Jessi moved to New York her freshman year of high school, to study ballet full-time.  When she was sixteen she was invited to become an apprentice for the company, and at the end of her year was invited to join the company proper.  She accepted, on the condition that she would be allowed to continue her education via private tutor.  After two years in the corps de ballet she rose to soloist, and three years after that became a principal dancer.  She danced until age 28, when an injury forced her retirement.  Never one to wallow, she immediately secured a loan and opened a ballet school in Stonybrook, where she does very well for herself.  She lives there with her partner of six years, and they have a newborn son.


Good Things in the Morning IV

Krumps feeling companionable during First Breakfast.


Valuable Parenting Advice

You get a lot of advice when you have a kid, much of it the sort that you just sort of grit your teeth through, but some of which is truly valuable.  And lot of the more valuable advice you actually hear from more than one source, to the point where you probably already knew it before you end up spawning, anyway.

But there is one tidbit that I'd never, ever heard, but has proven to be so damn valuable that I'm going to share it here with you, in the hopes that it will become every bit a part of Modern Culture as swaddling (which, by the way, Neeps is Not Down With):

"You're going to want to grow a coke nail."

That is (more or less) the exact phrase my mother said to me sometime in that delirious first week, when I came face-to-nostril with the reality of stubbornly-sticky baby boogers.

Now, I'm not 100% positive she wasn't just messing with me (it means love in our family), but holy shit, you guys- that is some legit advice.  Ever since then I've tried to keep my pinkie nails a bit longer, and it's useful as hell.  The one time I got a little over-enthusiastic in trimming them back (I generally keep my nails pretty damn short for climbing) I immediately regretted it.

So there you go, impending mothers, my hidden gem advice to you:

Grow yourself a coke nail.


A Scattering of Blossoms

my son in haiku-
pretty easy to sum up
look, i'll do it now:

he's so freaking cute
i cannot resist those cheeks
i have to chub them

but now more effort
to fall in line with the art
of old school haiku:

the moon sees herself
reflected in the still pool:
your cheek to my breast

cherry blossom sweet
your breath warm against my skin:
the days find balance


Bedtime Battles

First of all, I want to share with you what it looks like in my work-space more often than not these days:
The Writer/Artist Mom at Work
(Actually to be completely honest he's more often in his swing, watching me with interest.  But sometimes this happens, and it's pretty damn sweet.)


I promised a follow-up on the whole sleeping-in-separate-rooms thing, and I'm pleased to report that I owe myself five bucks.  By which I mean, I did not end up sleeping in the chair in his room.  Go me!

Here's what I did do:  I did put him to bed in his room, and I did go downstairs to journal and read my book (The Warded Man; Nathan recommended it to me and I'm enjoying the hell out of it.), and I did creep back upstairs to listen in on him (and also psycho-analyze the noises he was making: were they different than normal?  Were there more of them?  Fewer ? What could it all mean??).  After an undisclosed amount of time doing that, I got it together, got ready for bed, got into bed, and then... I did not sleep.  I lay there, staring into the darkness and strongly considering getting one of my stuffed animals out to snuggle with (Nathan doesn't come to bed until the wee hours of the morning, and I needed some comforting).  I tried counting my breaths (usually an extremely effective sleep-aid for me) but then for some reason my brain decided it would be a way better idea to suddenly flash to all the potential monsters that could be inside my son's closet, waiting to loom out over him.

Yes, literally.

So that didn't help with the whole going-to-sleep thing, but I did eventually drop off sometime before midnight, which I know because it was not long after midnight that he woke me for the first time.  I got up and went to him then, and again around 0400, and it all went quite smoothly and well, and while the chair was, in fact, comfortable as hell, I didn't actually let myself drift off while clutching him.  (and for the record, no monsters appeared during either feeding session)

I'm sure tonight will be easier on my heart, and hopefully tomorrow will be easier still, until at last I can drop off to sleep like a normal adult once more.

(...but I might just set up moster-wards, just in case...)


Room for Improvement

I moved Neeps's bed into "his room" today.  (Hmm, maybe I shouldn't be putting quotations around that?)  It made my heart hurt a little to do it, but damn it, it's time.  Most nights he only wakes twice, and that second time is less because he's actually hungry and more because he wants to make noise and see what it gets him.  And right now what it gets him is slapped on the boob for the two minutes it takes him to fall back asleep, because I'm awake anyway and damn it I don't want to be (if I don't give him the boob he keeps being raucous for a good 15-20 minutes.  So far I haven't lasted longer than that in my desperation to reclaim sweet slumber for myself).

So. Here's hoping that having him all the way across the hallway will make it a little bit easier to ignore that second "Hey!  Who's up?" waking.

Or maybe I'll just lay awake all night because I can't hear him shifting and grunting in his sleep.  We'll see!  Parenting (my version of it, anyway) is all about making plans and then being okay with reality in no way whatsoever resembling them.  For instance!  Here is the Theoretical Schedule for today:

0700 wake/feed
0900 nap
1000 wake/feed
1230 nap
1400 wake/feed
1630 nap
1800 wake/feed
2030 start bedtime routine
2100 bed

Look at how nice and neat that is!  Just lovely.  And it's based on his previously demonstrated habits, too!  What a clever parent I am.

Except, here's how today's schedule has actually looked:

0715 wake/feed (awesome!  Doing great!)
0900 nap (like friggin' clockwork, baby!)
0930 wake (wait, what?  No!)
0957 feed (because I was trying to get him to wait until 1000, because I still had delusions of Schedule at this point)
1134 feed (okay, I guess?  I mean, we're not scheduled to nap for another hour, so may as well...)
1145 nap (damn it.  Okay, fine.  I'll work on rearranging furniture.)
1220 wake (double damn it.  Hold on, furniture.)
1310 nap (but only because I've strapped him on and taken him for a walk.)
1330 wake (yep, you guessed it: done with the walk)
1345 feed (it's been two hours, and that seems to be the theme for today)
1505 nap (woo, Nathan's home!  He can help me rearrange-)
1535 wake (damn it all to hell!)
1550 fed (oh yeah, two hours.  Stupid growth spurts.)
1630 nap (...are we... back on schedule?  Holy shit.  Holy shit, you guys.  Holy shit.)

It's 1730 now, and I glanced over at him just in time to see him do the sweetest little sleep-smile, which of course I reflexively returned.  Adorable little bastard.  We'll try again tomorrow.

(stay tuned for the sure-to-be-thrilling account of how our first separate night goes.  Five bucks says I end up sleeping in the chair next to him...) (see, it's a good bet because if I lose, I win!)


Beyond Babysitting

You guys remember The Babysitter's Club books, right?  Sure you do.  Well for some reason or another, they came back on my radar earlier this week, and I may or may not have been spending an unhealthy amount of time reminiscing on them.  Up to an including considering the question, "Where would they be now?"*  It was a fun mental exercise, and I figured I'd share the results here.  Weigh in with your own opinions, because I'm sure I'm not the first to think about it...

*(Look, these girls were 13 for over a decade, so when I'm picturing them "now", I'm specifically picturing them at my age, which is mid-thirties.  And I'm only doing the four original members, because it's late and I need to get to bed!)

Kristy Thomas: Kristy went to school on a softball scholarship, and majored in business.  She worked at the campus gym for spending money, and after graduation started doing personal training while she tried to figure out what she really wanted to do with her life.  She got in early on the whole Crossfit craze, and eventually moved back to Stonybrook to open up a highly successful box.  In doing so she had one of her Great Ideas, and runs an amazing "Active After-School!" program for kids out of it.  She's super involved in her community, part of just about every committee you can imagine, and has been volunteering in local government for the past five years or so- she's willing tackle anything that doesn't require her to change out of her ever-present athletic wear.  She recently married a man every bit as athletic as she is (but a little more laid back), and they've been talking about adopting.

Claudia Kishi: after high school Claudia moved to Japan for a few years, to teach English and reconnect with her heritage. While there she got very involved in Harijuku street fashion, and learned how to sew. Once she returned to the states, she lived with Stacey in New York for a while, making ends meet working as a wardrobe stylist for an edgy teen drama.  She started blogging about her own outfits and street fashion in general (thank goodness for spell-check), and before long the blog became so ludicrously popular that she was able to quit her day job and focus full-time on blogging and her art.  She moved back to Japan a few years ago, where she lives with her long-time boyfriend and girlfriend, and acts as a mentor to several up-and-coming artists.

Mary Anne Spier: Despite her father's objections, Mary Anne followed her dream of moving to New York City after graduation, where she roomed with Stacey at University freshman year, intending to study Early Childhood Education.  Mary Anne blossomed in the college environment, finding her confidence and coming into her own as a young woman.  She got involved with theater, primarily backstage, but one of her most cherished memories is the time she actually did perform a small- but speaking!- role in a friend's senior production.  During her sophomore year she switched into the pre-med program, with an eye to becoming a pediatrician.  She met her future husband while in med school in Seattle; they married after graduation and he followed her to her residency, and eventually back to New York when she accepted a position in the city.  He is the stay-at-home parent to their two children, aged two and five.  She's pregnant with a third, which they plan on being their last.

Stacey McGill: Stacey returned to New York to double-major in communications and finance, with the intention of working in fashion journalism (the finance was just an easy backup plan).  As it turned out, she found herself far more interested in the finance classes, and began to turn her thoughts to a career on Wall Street.  That once again became the backup plan, however, when she was scouted her sophomore year, and dropped out to work as a model for about five years.  She returned to school, finished her degree, and went to work for a major investment firm.  Over the past ten years she has risen through the ranks and now makes more money than she knows what to do with.  She married in her late twenties, but they divorced quickly, since Stacey turned out to be just as much a work-a-holic as her dad.  She hasn't been able to bring herself to attempt to settle down since, but never lacks for companionship.  She takes frequent trips to Japan to visit Claudia, and acts as an aunt to Mary Anne's children.


Four for a Boy

I'm working on a couple of longer blog entries (both of which also have to do with Very Strong Feelings) but I thought I'd take a break from all that intensity to share some more of what I've been doing on the visual-arts front:
Really it's amazing how much art and writing can be squeezed in when you're not at an office 40 hours a week.
These little guys are part of a series I'm doing (hah!  Series!  Pretentious Art Major alert!) for Neeps's monthly portraits.  I may scan and post them properly once they're all done, which hopefully will be before I go back to work in March.  I'm trying not to have any illusions about "free time" once that happens, and I really would like to manage a coherent twelve-portrait-collection.

I've also been noodling around with a children's book idea, and I've been using these as a way to sort of play with a style that appeals to kids.  Big eyes and pretty colors- really you can't go wrong if you include those things, right?  I haven't gotten to the illustrative part of that project yet, but once I do (if I do?  ::sigh::) I'm sure I'll be sharing more process on here.


Where is My Spoonful of Sugar?

I had a horrific nightmare last night.  I wish I could say it was the worst I've had in years, but it's more like it was the worst I've had in weeks.  And as you might expect, they've all featured my newest, greatest fear: that of Neeps dying- specifically through some fault of my own.

So I wake up from this most recent nightmare (in which I was screaming because you can't be in that much emotional pain and not let some of it out) to the darkness of my bedroom, with my husband sleeping on one side of me and my son grunting away fitfully on the other: both safe, both breathing, both fine.  And yet I can't escape the emotional impact of that dream; it's crushing my chest like a physical weight, squeezing tears from the corners of my eyes.  And the thought falls over me like a heavy blanket that I can't fight my way free of;

What's the point of loving anything, when it makes you so vulnerable to suffering?

Now, this is not exactly a new thought in the life of O, but it's the first time it's descended so forcefully in well over a decade.  It's something I'd thought I'd put to rest- but now the stakes are so much higher.  I do eventually manage to go back to sleep, but when I wake up for the day, the gray blanket is still there.

It's no surprise, really.  I could feel Depression creeping up this past week, in fact it officially Arrived yesterday, but I was so exhausted that I didn't take any of my Preventative Measures.  I didn't want to.  I didn't care.  The tiny voice in the back of my head had been saying for a few days, "If you don't take your medicine (ie, physical activity and outdoor time) you're going to get sick," but I had been ignoring it.  And so now, today, as I wandered around alternating between devastated and deadened, that voice got a little sterner and said, "If you don't take your medicine, you're not going to get better."  And also Nathan noticed my mood and stepped in.

Thus, full of numbness (expect for the part that was full of resentment) I did my fucking yoga.  I ate my fucking breakfast.  I took a fucking shower.  I took a gods damned walk.  I didn't allow myself to dwell on the fact that I've trapped myself well and proper by bringing a helpless infant into the world.  An infant who will cut my heart out by dying young, or whose heart I will cut out by doing the same.  An infant I will fail over and over again, especially if I can't even be trusted to do the things I need to do to stay healthy.

No, I was obviously very successful in not allowing myself to dwell on anything like that.

The thing is, I really do feel better.  Not good, but better.  And I know it's because my "medicine" is working.  And I know that, in a day or two, it will pass, and I won't really even remember it being bad at all.  I'll think that I can surely take a couple days off from healthy habits.

But I can't.


Eurissa of Barsin

In one of her costumes of state.  Because fiddly little bits are fun, and so is ceremonial makeup.
Imagine just a ridiculous amount of gold leaf and emeralds.


Cutting the Cards

Sometimes the baby sleeps, and while the baby sleeps, I Get Stuff Done.

Sometimes that Stuff is crafty:
I want to say something clever about a bushel, but honestly I'm exhausted.
These little ornaments are a lot of fun to make, once you have the hang of it (it took me about three tries before I stopped consistently derping them up.)  Here, have some process photos!
Cut into 1/2" strips and ready to go!
When I first started doing them, I didn't really pay attention to the pattern my cards were making: I was too busy focusing on the actual craft part to worry about design.  Which means that for the first few I only needed three cards per ornament, to get my fifteen strips.  By the time I did this one, however, I'd gotten fancy, which means I sliced up like five or six cards to cherry-pick the strips, and also used sixteen rather than fifteen, to get an even repeat on the pattern.
Pierced, strung, knotted, and fanned! (looking at it from the "back")
 This has been a fantastic way for me to use up my scraps of embroidery thread!
Now comes the tricky part... thread from the top of the stack to the bottom... and curve!
 This was something I screwed up multiple times in the beginning.
This is, obviously, not the same ornament.  Tra la la...
This is the hardest part: keeping the strips curved as you thread the next one.  I had to step away from this ornament in the middle of the process (someone woke up and needed attention) and it held its shape well enough for me to snap a photo of it.

You can make them more flat...
...or less flat...
...or even LESS flat to the point that it looks like...

...a lovely seashell!
So that's what I've been up to, lately.


The King is Dead, Long Live the King

So I, like probably every other blogger with two eyes and a heart, have put aside what I was planning on writing about today, and instead will take a moment to appreciate the hell out of the late, great David Bowie, who (along with sword-wielding Val Kilmer in a pink dress) had some serious influence over my budding sexuality:
You totally have power over me.


Background Noise

So after I wrote that little snippet the other day, I realized that the Empire is not, in fact, ruled by an Emperor: it's ruled by an Empress.  And today I sketched out a few background details that play into why there are constant wars going on, and why Certain Potential-Heir-Like People are Extra Interested in Ketsia.

This is very rough, but I like where it's going:


The Barsinian Empire dates back about 350 years, and is comprised of the core kingdoms of Barsin, Eria, and Kihronia- but the Holy Barsinian Empire is only about sixty years old, and emerged when the current Empress, Eurissa, began to rapidly expand the Empire’s borders after coming to power in her early twenties.  There are currently about twenty kingdoms on two continents that are part of the Empire, and there are at least three wars on various fronts to add more.

Eurissa was born from the previous Emperor’s fourth wife, and claims she is the Goddess Incarnate (the second person in history to make that claim, the first being the progenitor of her bloodline on both sides), and as such is pledged to remain a virgin, with the whole world as her children.  More pragmatically, she killed all her father’s offspring from any woman not her own mother.  These siblings were allowed to live with the expectation that one of them would breed an heir for her.

The state religion of the Holy Barsinian Empire is monotheistic, following a mother goddess called Mahle, whose symbol is a green bear, and who speaks only to children.  As such, all the oracles are pre-menstrual girls, and boys whose voices have not changed.  The priests and priestesses are men and women who have spent years studying how to interpret the oracles’ visions, and generally come from the noble families of Barsin.  After Eurissa assumed leadership of the church, she decreed that males could be kept holy via pre-pubescent castration, which has created a new class of priest.  She herself does not and never has menstruated, which is part of her claim to divinity.

Although Eurissa remains both mentally and physically sound, her advancing age (she’s now in her mid 80s) is increasing the court’s desperation for her to choose an heir.  She prefers to keep her various nieces and nephews at one another’s throats, demanding greater and greater feats of martial prowess to impress her.  Her goal is to bring literally the entire world under her emerald bear pennant, preferably in her lifetime, so that all can enjoy the protection of Mahle.  Conversion is required to become a full citizen of the Empire, but a ruler may convert on behalf of their people.  Eurissa herself isn’t overly concerned about the common people following Barsinian protocol to worship Mahle- She is the Goddess whether they truly believe or not- but some of her governor-priests can be a little more zealous.  What Eurissa does concern herself with are taxes and warm bodies to fuel her armies, and great minds to develop more and better war machines.


AB Scene Take One

I don't follow many podcasts.  In fact, I don't really even "follow" the one that I do listen to; I just put it on during those rare occasions that I'm doing something that doesn't require any sort of verbal concentration on my part- that is to say, generally when I'm doing something crafty, like embroidery.

Of course, the irony is that the one and only podcast that I listen to (and only while crafting) is all about writing, and it includes writing assignments, and sometimes they are so damned intriguing that I have to stop crafting, and go write.  Like I said, ironic- but not unwelcome.  After all, it's far more likely that I'll someday make money from my word-smithing than my laborious-ornament-assembling.

The assignment that got me derailed today was something called an "AB Scene", and the jist of it is that you're provided dialogue, and you write a scene around it.  And then you write an entirely different scene around the exact same dialogue.  Here's the dialogue they provided, and here's the first scene I wrote:


People have all sorts of theories about the magic of twins: some of it correct, but much of it wrong.  One of the most prevalent myths is that twins always know what the other is thinking.  That one, in Jack Branch’s experience, had no founding in reality whatsoever.

His sister Jill was staring with such ferocity at the map of their father’s estate that sweat was beginning to bead on her forehead.  There was a time, before they’d been sent to foster in separate estates, that Jack might have guessed if she was angry, or merely concentrating.  But that was eight years ago, and his sister had gone from a girl to a woman, and while Jack had learned many secrets of the natural world during his time with the Graylins, the ways of women were not among them.

“Jill,” he hesitated in her doorway, reluctant to invade her private domain.  It made his stomach twist to think on it- as little children they’d shared everything, even a bed.  But now?  Now she spent her evenings in a room stripped bare of any decoration but the Godstar on the wall, and a shelf containing a few meticulously clean magical tools.  Her work-table was large, but eerily spotless.  Jack’s own room was scorched, scratched, and stained: very evidently the site of many a failed experiment.  But Jill’s space might have been a corner of the royal hospital.  An unused corner.

“Are you alright?”

Jill blinked, shook her head, and refocused her eyes on him.  Her expression had gone carefully blank.  “I'm fine,” she said, smoothing the crisp linen parchment with both hands.  Her fingers shook as they passed over the snaking river in the southernmost part of the estate.  Jack realized, then, what she’d been trying to do:

“Let me help,” he tried to keep his voice casual, as though she’d be doing him a favor rather than the reverse.  Jill scowled.

“No. I have to learn to do this.”

Now it was Jack’s turn to blink.  He hadn’t expected her to admit so freely that she was having difficulties with a simple dowsing spell.  She’d been so prim and reserved ever since they’d returned home a month ago; he had gone immediately to embrace her, but she’d been stiff, and given no indication that she wished to resume their former closeness.

“Alright,” Jack said, trying to keep his voice casual.  He sauntered in, careful not to get too close.  Jill’s body turned subtly, keeping her shoulders squared to his.  When had she become so wary?  Everything about her vibrated like a too-tight bowstring.

“So.”  Her voice was anything but casual: it held challenge, humiliation, and a plea all wrapped up in a single, brittle syllable.  Jack longed to grab her hand as he’d once done, but he settled for tapping the middle of the map.  Tiny pinpricks of cerulean began to blossom on the ivory surface, spreading like blood in snow until they represented the size and shape of every hidden well within a five-mile radius.  Jill’s face flamed, but she said nothing further.

Jack rubbed his tingling fingers together and avoided his twin’s eyes.  “So. What if you didn't have to learn to do... that.”

Jill’s head snapped up, her nostrils flaring.  “What?”

Jack shrugged.  This was a problem he could solve.  “What would you give to have it flow through you as easily as it does me?  Without meditation, without purification rituals, without perfect silence?”

“Anything.”  Jill’s laugh was bitter, hopeless.  Without strong magic of her own, she’d be forever dependent upon Jack, tied to the estate.  The people would not respect her as they should, and she’d never find a good husband.

“Is that hyperbole, or would you really give... anything?”

Jill glared at him.  “If the Silent One sat down with us and offered to trade effortless spellcraft for my soul, I'd do it. I'd throw yours in with the bargain.”

“Good,” Jack laughed and tapped the map again.  The blue marks raced towards his fingertips, and he gathered them up into a shimmering gem the size of a robin’s egg.  Jill’s breath caught as he proffered it.    “Except he's already got mine.”

Jill almost dropped the bauble.  “How…” she breathed, holding it up to the late afternoon sun beams that streamed in through the diamond-paned window beside them.  The light danced in the gems’ depths, as though it was being filtered through leagues of water.  This was not land-magic; this was something far less common, and far more dangerous.  This was conjuring.


I found it quite frustrating to try and work with dialogue that wasn't written as I would write it- in fact I tweaked it in a few places to make it better suit the sort of world I'd decided to set things in.  And of course the whole endeavor sent my brain spinning off in new world-building directions.  Which, I suppose, is part of the point.


Starring Dog

Life is difficult, and does not have nearly enough couches.


The Patience Well

I did not realize that I was a patient person until I stopped being one.

Well, that's not strictly accurate.  I haven't stopped being patient, it's just that the majority of my patience is now reserved for my helpless infant, with very little left for the others in my life, no matter how much I might love them.  People, animals... they come to me expecting to be able to drink deep, as they always have, from a well that has been almost completely drained.

It dawned on me recently what was happening, and it upset me.  I don't want to be short and snappish, impatient and exasperated.  I don't like that version of myself, and I certainly don't want to model it to my offspring as acceptable behavior.

So it's time to start digging, soul-digging: to make my well wider, and deeper, so I can hold enough patience for all of us- including myself.


Grandmother Ona Begins a Tale

I've been noodling away at my Heartbeasts story seed today- I got a lot more done in my head than I got on the page, because of course when you are making faces at an infant in a bath you can still be working in your head.  But it's something!

(This little tale-telling occurs not long after Ketsia has discovered LittleWing, so she's about six.)


“The Empire came to this country when I was still a girl- older than Eolyn, but still a few years from marrying age.  We knew they were coming: refugees ran before them like rats from a ship, and from their tales our king knew we could not stand against the Empire’s endless, gleaming armies.  And so he made a treaty, and we were absorbed peacefully into the Empire, trading heavy taxation for our lives and the right to keep much of our own culture.  Because we did not fight, our people were given the opportunity to become citizens, and quickly introduced to the pleasures and entertainments citizenship could provide.

“One such entertainment came in the form of gladiator fights, which showcased warriors from the many lands the Emperor had conquered.  I was never allowed to attend- my mother thought them barbaric, and she was right- but those who were allowed reported back to me on the amazing spectacle, their eyes shining with admiration for the raw power and beauty of the gladiators.  Now that I am older I understand the fights for what they were: entertainments, yes, but also a reminder, a warning: “We have conquered and subjugated these fierce peoples, and we will do the same if any of you decide to rise up in defiance of your king’s treaty.”  They were also, in their way, a means of recruiting young men for the Empire’s army: “Join us, and you too will be able to fight like this.”  In those early days enlisting was still voluntary, and one of the most direct paths to citizenship.

“The most impressive of the foreign gladiators belonged to a race of people known as the Dobhen, from lands far to the east of our own.  Unlike us, the Dobhen had fought- fought to the point of near eradication.  Those who remained lived in secret, and those who were discovered, were killed: or else brought to the pits to fight, which was often the same.

“Those who did survive did so because they had that rare gift unique to the Dobhen: they had a heartbeast.”

Ketsia, unable to contain herself, interrupted gleefully, “Like me and Eolyn?”

“Yes,” said Grandmother Ona slowly, “But think, child- even young as she is, LittleWing has teeth and talons: she can defend herself and you.  But CurlyTips…”

“Sometimes sheep have horns!”

“Well, she might someday have horns, but not yet, .  And even if she does eventually grow them, sheep are not generally known for their fighting prowess.  Especially not the ewes.  And so it was for those Dobhen flung into the pits; only those few who had a heartbeast, and only those fewer still whose heartbeast could be turned to fighting, only those precious few survived.

"Your grandfather was one of them.”


Immortal Mind

Nathan came up with a clever little story seed the other night; I'm letting it percolate itself an actual plot, but in the meantime, I started playing...


All in all, it is better not to attract the attention of gods.

Gods like to be entertained- they can have very different standards of entertainment than we do- and when they feel they have been entertained enough, they like to reward the mortal who provided it.

Of course, they also can have very different standards of “reward”.  Standards that are tied up in their desire for more entertainment.

Acacius had not meant to attract the attention of the gods, but when he did, and when the god in question refused to accept his demuring of reward, insisting that immortality would be an excellent reward, Acacius had the presence of mind to interject that he did rather hope eternal youth would be part of said reward.  The god chuckled knowingly, said, “Too clever by half!”, and disappeared in the same shrieking gust of wind he’d arrived in.

Acacius did not age beyond that moment, suspended forever at the somewhat advanced age of thirty-seven.  Of course, as the centuries passed, his relative agedness became less and less, until at last he was considered “young”- not even in the prime of life yet!

This might have amused Acacius, could he remember those early days.