Monday, August 30, 2010

interesting article on barriers to women’s advancement at work

Article in the Harvard Business Review. Some of the key points include:

•“There is a special kind of relationship—called sponsorship—in which the mentor goes beyond giving feedback and advice and uses his or her influence with senior executives to advocate for the mentee. Our interviews and surveys alike suggest that high-potential women are overmentored and undersponsored relative to their male peers—and that they are not advancing in their organizations. Furthermore, without sponsorship, women not only are less likely than men to be appointed to top roles but may also be more reluctant to go for them.

•Women’s mentors have less organizational clout, a detriment since the more senior the mentor, the faster the mentee’s career advancement

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thinking ahead

While attending the conference earlier this month, I met quite a few women whose children were already grown and who were focused on other pursuits in their lives. One impressive woman didn’t even seem old enough to have grown children – yet her four kids were already out of the house. She is now a writer, a painter and starting teaching fifth grade last year.

These women reminded me of the many years of post-intensive parenting that lie ahead, even for women like me who start families on the later side. They reminded me that those are years ripe for possibilities and that the decisions I take now will determine the type of life I have then.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I am so very sick. Within seven hours today, I vomited at least seven times and had an equivalent number of episodes of diarrhea. I ate nothing but a few slices of banana bread in the morning. That all came up with episode number one. So all the rest were wrenching, convulsing upheavals of whatever could be found in my innards. At times, I thought I’d puke up the baby. It felt like childbirth in the sense of not having any control – of being in pain and at the mercy of what my body was doing. But there was no reward at the end.

I have a stomach of steel and for me, puking is a once every several year event. The last time it happened was when I got major food poisoning while in first trimester with River – over three years ago. The only thing worse than having my insides come out both ends is having something beat me from within the stomach in between episodes.

Right now, I’m feeling grateful because I haven’t puked in three hours and I’ve got a cup of herbal tea and a glass of diet ginger ale that I’ve been able to keep inside me. But I’m still delicate. Even typing at the computer feels challenging. Mostly, I’ve done nothing but lie around and stare at the wall, hoping to forestall another episode.

As I was going through this, I thought of all the people who have it worse. How in the world do people go through something like this if they have a couple of little kids in the house? There were only about 15 minutes where I had to care for River, and in that time, he joined me next to the toilet. Not exactly quality care. He knew something was wrong and I thought of all the kids whose parents are not just going through a rough spell, but are deteriorating due to serious diseases. How frightening for the children. How heart-rendering for the parent, to only be able to look on from the sidelines and not be able to give what their heart wants to. I thought about the immigrants who came over on ships, dealing with horrible illnesses that had similar effects – but they were in cramped, unhygienic conditions and had the additional nausea-inspiring effect of ocean waves to deal with.

I feel like there isn’t a lot of information out there about coping with serious illness and/or death, from the perspective of the person going through it. I always had the idea that when that time comes for me, I would try to share what I learn. But I forgot how completely one can be incapacitated. Of course there are incredible exceptions, like the Diving Bell and the Butterfly. But when even sitting up without spewing, or successfully taking in a glass of water becomes an accomplishment, writing is not very feasible.

River was a doll. It’s the first time he’s seen me this sick and he knew something was wrong. When he tried to move my head, I thought he was going to take my pillow, as he often does, to bury himself under. Instead, he placed the last remaining pillow under my head to give me extra support. He pinched my cheeks and gave me kisses. When I told him I was sick, he inquired if my head hurt. That was far more concern and consideration than I expected from a two year old.

At the ultrasound, they said the fetus weighs 15 ounces. I think of that in terms of a box of four sticks of butter. That’s a fairly solid and sizeable weight. Mark is amazed by how tiny and fragile babies are and how tenuous is their grip on the world. I tend to see them as remarkably strong, successfully fighting to stay alive through many difficult circumstances. River made it through food poisoning and exposure to tear gas as a fetus. When the ultrasound technician prodded against my belly yesterday, trying to get the fetus to move, it kicked and punched back, as if to say, “F—off. Leave me alone in here.”

I’m guessing everything will be OK. But today’s experience reminded me that at 15 ounces, she would most likely not be able to survive outside the womb. At least several more weeks are still needed – and even that would be so early as to present challenges. She has pretty much had zero sustenance today and has had to live off of what is already there, or what she may have in reserves.

I think this is a virus that went around the family event River and Mark attended, causing several people there to experience puking spells. I think of how I eat foods that aren’t recommended for pregnant women because the odds of falling ill are so incredibly low. But I was reminded today that if you are the one in a million or so, the effects can be serious.

For anyone who cares for multiple children, how in the world do you do it when you get really sick?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Making the announcement

My first ever Facebook pregnancy announcement makes me feel strangely a part of the modern age. I joined Facebook shortly before River was born. I believe I posted a few pics after his birth, but didn’t announce my pregnancy there.

A facebook announcement is the official statement of open news – of this is so official, so obvious, that it’s now OK for anyone to know. It gives permission for the gossip mills to flow.

It kind of makes me wish that more colleagues were on facebook. I don’t want to share the details of my life with many of them, but I would kind of like to make a mass announcement. I think one of the reasons I have been so hesitant to wear revealing clothes is that I’m dreading what I imagine will be an onslaught of banal observations/conversation – oh you are pregnant? Congratulations! When are you due? How are you feeling? Do you know the gender?

It’s hard to criticize this as I know people are just being polite/kind. And I ask the exact same questions when I find out a colleague, even one I don’t know well, is expecting. I just dread repeating this conversation over and over again. I know people mean the best, but it kind of feels like an overstepping of boundaries, of letting people in on something that is intensely personal, when I may not even be on terms to discuss hobbies with them.

Then again, I have to remember that births and the regeneration of life is something that ties people together, that reminds us of the cycle of life, and how we are all in this together. They are there as the community that will take in my child, regardless of how vigorously they partake in the responsibilities. I, in turn, have to allow them the access to participate.

Feeling guilty

I thought my 11 days away from River went pretty seamlessly. He had a great time, he was happy when I was gone, and our reunion went well. But signs are emerging that perhaps he’s worried I’ll leave again for a long stretch, or perhaps he feels he hasn’t had enough time with me and needs some extra attention.

Yesterday Mark spent the morning with him while I went to work early. River asked me for me as soon as he got up and continued to ask for me throughout the morning.

This afternoon, we had a sitter take him to the library while we went to the ultrasound appointment. I had been home when they left and was gone when they returned. When River returned and didn’t see me at home, he began to cry – something he never does.

When we found out the baby is a girl, Mark said, “I’m feeling sorry for River. I can already see that he is going to take second place.”

I don’t think that is dependent on gender. I think for the first few months, he’ll necessarily have to take second place while I focus on sleep and breastfeeding. I see it as a good opportunity to spend more quality time with dad and for them to improve their bond. But he will never be replaced or even shoved aside. He is the light of my life and I believe he knows that. Perhaps with my absence, he needs some more reminders.

Luckily, I have River duty this afternoon and evening, so hopefully we can get in a good chunk of quality time together. I think he needs it.

It's a girl

“There are the labia,” said the radiologist. ‘It’s a girl.”

Convinced it was a boy, I was not prepared to hear that. I’m happy, but stunned. It’s going to take me a little time to reorient to the reality.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Last day as a genderless fetus

Tomorrow is my appointment for the anatomy scan –the day we are supposed to find out the gender. That is, if the fetus is showing its privates. I believe this is the last ultrasound I have scheduled, so if it decides not to show itself, we could be surprised at birth.

I have mixed feelings. Part of me is excited. I question why, since during the first pregnancy I would have preferred to not know the gender (Mark wanted to know, so we found out, but didn’t tell anyone). I didn’t want to subject River to gender stereotypes before even emerging from the womb. I want to give him the chance to make his own mark.

This time I want to find out for reasons of very basic practicality – to simplify the discussion of names (River didn’t get named until just before leaving the hospital, despite knowing the gender ahead of time) and to plan the wardrobe. If it’s a boy, I’ll be moving clothing down from the attic. If it’s a girl, I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for cheap baby girl clothes.

As much as I don’t like gender to define a person, I am becoming more comfortable with the idea that some differences are innate due to gender. River’s attraction to trains and cars was just too immediate and too strong to be credited to socialization.

This time around, I view the gender as just one more indication of who it is. It is human, I know its race and ethnicity, I have a sense that it’s fairly healthy and normally developed, but I don’t know what type of genitals or hormone makeup it has.

Mark is worried I will be disappointed if it’s a boy. I asked how he’s going to feel if it’s a boy/girl. He said he’ll be looking for my reaction. As long as it is healthy, and I hope happy, I will love it fully. In fact, I’d probably love it even if it’s unhappy and unhealthy.

If it is a boy, then I will still want a girl. But that won’t diminish my ability to love the boy. And if it’s a girl, I’ll be surprised and it will probably take me some time to adjust, because I’ve already pretty well convinced myself that it’s going to be a boy.

Mark will be there with me, so we’ll find out the news together. I’ve already announced the pregnancy news to family, close friends and supervisors (and blog readers!). If everything looks normal, after tomorrow, I’ll make the general announcement.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Remember, you don't own him

This morning I had a discussion with some older friends. One claims her twenty-something daughter calls her four times a day to tell her every detail of her life. The other says her own mother is her best friend.

I asked how their mothers and how they as mothers weathered the teenage years. How did they manage to keep their children safe and within certain limits while also keeping a good relationship?

“It’s a matter of choosing your battles,” they both said. “I was a nervous mother,” one woman said. “I’d get very upset if they came home late and didn’t call. We fought a lot about this and I wish it could have been done with less fighting. But I think they eventually came to understand that I wasn’t against them having a good time, but I was truly worried about their welfare.”

The second woman said it was a combination of picking battles and keeping in mind that you don’t own the child. “Just after my son was born, my mother told me, ‘Remember, you don’t own him,’” she said. “You can care for them and nurture them, but they are not your property.”

I think those are good messages to keep in mind.

Heading back

I haven’t seen River for 11 whole days and tomorrow morning we’ll be reunited. I’m very excited to see him, but overall, I haven’t been pining. I’ve been keeping busy, thinking about him, and talking about him (probably too much on occasion) but I’ve also had lots of new experiences to focus on.

I missed a milestone today – his first ever puke. Admittedly, I don’t really feel bad about missing this one, certainly not in the way I feel about missing his first steps. But I feel bad that it happened. Mark said it occurred while eating, that no one even noticed until well after the fact, and that River didn’t seem to be phased by it. Apparently there is a stomach bug floating around the house, which makes me glad I’m staying in a motel tonight and didn’t try to gun it all the way there.

Last night – the final night of the event gathering – I had a glass of wine. Two. I’d been craving wine for a days in a way I never do. I became slightly tipsy. I thought to myself, all things in moderation. Two glasses as a one time event doesn’t seem so serious. Yet when I woke up this morning and didn’t feel movement, I began to imagine that I killed it, or that I caused it brain damage. I knew I was being ridiculous, but I also thought how horrible I’d feel if I caused lasting harm because of my short-term desire.

So I googled “pregnancy two glasses of wine.” Not only did I find plenty of people who had done the same, but I found the reassuring news that the UK Department of Health says up to two glasses per week is a safe limit. This article goes further and even claims that an occasional glass or two can benefit the baby. Even before that research came out, the New York Times ran this thoughtful piece.

Thank you, UK, for not ruling in absolutes. I don’t have plans for a lot of drinking. But perhaps I might like to enjoy a glass or two during a week in the upcoming months. It’s nice to know that it may well be a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Friday, August 20, 2010

When being a parent doesn't matter

When I first arrived at this gathering of writers, I was impressed by all of the women who were mothers, but who didn’t make that their central point of life. They were fully engaged in the craft of writing, and some also had day jobs and/or another artistic talent they pursued.

Some of these women had grown children, and they helped remind me that there is a life beyond kids and I should keep that in mind, in order to prepare myself now for where I want to be then. Others had younger children, who they clearly cared for and missed, but it didn’t stop them from being away for 1.5 weeks and dedicating themselves to what interested them. And then there were quite a few pregnant woman – four, including myself, due between roughly Thanksgiving and New Years.

At the same time, in my area of interest, I felt a sense of – it’s OK to be a woman, as long as you don’t let womanly concerns, like the home and children, interfere with your craft. I felt a certain pressure to keep that part of me separate, I felt that taking pride and pleasure in my role as a parent was somehow shameful. I struggled to do that, because it is an essential part of who I am today.

In certain communities, such as I’d imagine the BlogHer gathering to be (I haven’t been) being a parent is a badge and a matter of pride, perhaps too much of an emphasis for my taste. But here, I felt like that aspect of my reality had to be separated more than I was comfortable with. I didn’t see why there couldn’t be a middle ground. Why it’s not OK for me to be concerned about issues of early childhood education, potty training and vaccinations, as well as issues of larger global interest.

Part of me was thrilled to be away from daily parenting to focus here. Part of me, at times, wanted me to run back to my child and spend time cuddling with him. Most often, I wanted to believe that I can do it all – I can be a quality parent, I can find time for my pursuits, and I can be taken seriously. The best I can do is to try.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Transition from little potty to toilet

I’m really glad we tried the early potty training. I think both Mark and I appreciate not having much contact with feces after the first year to 18 months.

However, one challenge we’ve faced recently is that River is so attached to the little potty he’s used since six months of age that he rejected toilet seats outright. It didn’t matter if it was a mini toilet at the gym childcare, a toilet with an insert on it, or just a normal toilet – they were all big, abnormal, and scary.

A few months ago, I started to tell River that he needed to use a big potty like the big kids do when he goes to “school.” He desperately wants to go to school and looks with wonder and envy at the passing school buses and the children in the school playgrounds.

At first, he was resistant to the idea that he had to be like them in his pottying habits, insisting that he was “pequeno.” But then, the desire to join them seemed to win out and he’d say, yes, he would use the potty like they do when he goes to school.

Yet, getting him to actually do it wasn’t easy. My mom bribed him, telling him she’d give him ice cream for trying. So he sat there, didn’t do anything, and enjoyed his ice cream. The result was that he saved it for the diaper while he was sleeping.

We gave it up for a while, but with “school” starting in just a few weeks, we felt the need to make it happen. The program doesn’t require him to be potty trained. But we aren’t going to put him back in diapers nine months after removing them. And it seemed 4-5 hours could be too long to hold it.

We debated hiding the little potty, or “forgetting” to bring it along when River and Mark visited family for over a week. We considered an incentive system – with a treat for trying and a Hot Wheels for success. But Mark wasn’t up for the cold turkey and neither of us got around to buying the Hot Wheels.

I convinced River to sit there a few times, promising either a cookie or stories. But nothing came out. I put the little potty out of sight when I left town, but Mark called almost immediately looking for it. He said the result of not using it was poopy pants at night, which we haven’t dealt with in so long that we are ill prepared to handle it well. It didn’t help that Mark forgot the cloth diapers at home and had to buy disposable, which we find really encourage elimination in a way the cloth ones don’t.

I thought it was a lost cause and we’d have to figure something out when we got home and back to our routine.

So I was pleasantly surprised to talk to Mark today and to hear that River did his first poo in the big toilet. He said River puts on the seat himself. I asked how Mark managed it. He said he bribed him with goldfish several times to get him to stay on the toilet. And that he made him try the toilet during the day, but let him use the little potty at night, to try to avoid the messy nighttime diapers. After a while, River no longer needed the goldfish incentive.

I asked if he got a prize for his accomplishment today and Mark said no, but he called in grandma and they jointly praised him.

It sounds like River may already be used to the toilet during the daytime, with the little potty at night. That compromise is perfectly sufficient for our “school” purposes. I don’t have a problem with him continuing to use the little pot in the evenings and enjoying his pre-bed program, as he usually does.

I’m proud of River, for making the first step in a scary-to-him transition. Hopefully the first time is the hardest and from this point on, it will be easier. And I’m impressed with Mark for sticking with it and managing this difficult change.

I think my little guy may be ready for school.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This afternoon someone asked me if it was hard being away from River.

“No,” I said. “Of course I miss him and would like to see him, but I also really appreciate having the time to focus.”

That was until I attended a fiddle concert in the evening. It was held in a converted barn, with wood paneling and soft miniature bulbs wrapped around the poles, emitting a light that glowed against the wood paneling. In that warm, musical atmosphere, I watched a three-year-old dance. She moved unselfconsciously, scrunching up her shoulders at the high notes and moving her arms gently at her sides in the lighter, more melodious moments.

Although it was later than River’s bedtime, I still wished he could be there. I wanted to see him enjoy the music, I wanted to smile in encouragement at his reactions, as the mother of the three-year-old was doing. When a couple in front of me kissed, I wanted the calm comfort of being with Mark.

It’s only after spending a week of what feels like constant speed-meeting, starting up conversations with strangers or mere acquaintances at every meal, every lecture, every event, that one really appreciates the value of being with people who already know and accept you. I’m looking forward to not having to describe, categorize or define myself for a while.

However, I will most definitely miss the daily pancakes/waffles/French toast with sausage/ham, fried potatoes, fresh fruit and scones for breakfast. I’ll miss having something distinct for each meal and enjoying a varied diet without spending any time cooking. Though this has been a luxury, the bathroom scale will be relieved at my return to my instant oatmeal, raisin, and tea breakfasts.

Even with the additional responsibilities of work and home, I expect to feel a tranquility at being with the people I love, in the place I now call home. I feel like an adult at summer camp, thankful for the experience and the new relationships, but ready to return to the embrace of my family.

Monday, August 16, 2010


My stomach is now distinctly round, like an overturned calabash, smooth and taut. I’m starting to lose some of the view of what lies below. And in the past couple of days, I’ve felt my movement impaired for the first time. It’s suddenly hard to slither into the corner to plug the cord into the outlet by the floor. It feels a little uncomfortable when getting into the car. There is now something in the way – and it’s noticeable.

This morning I woke up to the noise of animals running frantically through the walls of my bedroom. I didn’t see them, but they are most undoubtedly there. At the same time, the fetus jumped about after hours of inactivity – lacking the rocking motion to fall back asleep. It felt like I was part of a Russian nesting doll – the baby inside of me, the room around me, the animals around the room and the house surrounding us all.

Despite all this, people still appear surprised to hear I am pregnant. Perhaps they just think me heavyset, shapely, Rubenesque? I have little choice of clothing – stuck with what I packed last week. But when I get home, I think it will be time to ditch the shyness and start wearing clothing that fits – and that announces a reason for my inability to move quite right.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Four days alone

It’s been four days since I left River and I called him for the first time today. He was hesitant to get out of the wading pool to take the call, though he seemed happy enough to hear my voice.

He struggled a bit to transition to Spanish after four days of non-stop English.

“He’s speaking Spanish to mom,” I could hear Mark explain to distant relatives, as they heard the toddler they’d only heard speaking English suddenly change to Spanish.

I asked what he was going to eat for lunch, knowing his grandparents were planning a big clambake.

“Sushi!” he said. He really loves sushi.

There are fourteen kids at this family event and I think five of them are younger than River. Even he was sounding tired from the commotion. But there was a lot to draw his attention. After a little bit of chit-chat, he said bye and returned to his activities.

I do miss him. I think about him, especially when I see small children. I’d like to show him some of the things here. I’d love to hear his happy, high-pitched voice, to feel his arms around my shoulders, to see the calm gently spread across his face as I lay him down to bed. But I’m still so grateful for this time away.

Today I reached the point where I tired myself out. I skipped dinner and returned to my cabin in the woods early. I sit on the porch as the sky darkens, looking out at the forest, hearing nothing but the insects, the breeze, and small objects occasionally falling from the trees. I plan to read a bit and go to sleep early. It’s been an invigorating, stimulating, rewarding time, but I see it’s not only children that can wear one out. It doesn’t matter if you are busy doing things for others for yourself. Everyone still needs a bit of downtime.

Close encounter with bears

Today I decided to try a more difficult hike – a 5-mile roundtrip up a mountain to a pond. Upon starting out, I had the usual reservations about whether or not it was safe for me to venture into the woods alone. I was the only car in the parking lot initially and I was glad the park had a hiker registration system.

The trailhead is located several miles down a dirt road, so one is already pretty well into the mountains upon beginning. Within a little while, you really feel one with the wilderness. The trail is narrow and heads steadily uphill. The forest is dense, green and extends as far as one can see. The plant and animal life is rich. I felt I was a visitor to another habitat.

A couple from Quebec passed me. But besides them, I didn’t see anyone. I felt more comfortable knowing that there were two normal-looking people ahead of me. I began to listen to a book on tape and continued to make my way uphill.

At one point, I noticed a curious pile of poop on the side of the trail – of a quantity that had to be a large animal. I took a picture to see if I could later identify it, but thought it might be from a moose or a bear. It awed me to think that both me and this animal were traveling the same path within a short time interval.

Not too long afterwards, the Quebecois came back down the hill. I asked if they reached the pond.

“No, we decided to turn back,” the woman said. Both of them grasped walking sticks and they moved at a steady pace. They appeared to be serious hikers. “We saw a fresh bear print and something didn’t smell right.”

Once they left, I knew there would be no one ahead of me. As far as I knew, no one was behind me either and I was miles from the car. I had no idea what to do if I encountered a bear.

The man said to stop moving, not make eye contact with the bear, and try to slowly back away. OK, I could try that, though I’d surely be terrified. But what if I was returning from the pond when meeting the bear and backing away only brought me back up the mountain? How would I ever get down?

“It was just a baby print, but it was fresh,” the woman said. “Whenever there is a baby, the mother is nearby.” I told them about the poop I’d seen and they said that was from a moose, that bear poop had a more solid texture.

I decided to continue on, the reward of another pristine body of water enticing me upward. However, I became much more cautious. Just that morning, the conference newsletter mentioned the possibility of running into a baby cub or moose and cautioned people not to approach, as the mothers were always close. I stopped listening to the audiobook and I kept my eyes open. Several overturned tree stumps appeared to be bears. I saw the baby bear paw print and then a few more. I started to imagine how I’d face a bear alone, what a horrible death being mauled would be, and how no one would find me for a long time. As I headed up along the narrow path into a darkened path of forest, I swear I also heard a rumble, like a low growl.

I thought about a friend’s mantra, how he always tries to avoid a “stupid death.” Would it be considered stupid to be mauled to death by a bear after I continued on when people who clearly knew more about bears than I did had turned back? I think so. I didn’t want to leave my son motherless out of stupidity. At that point I turned around. It wasn’t worth the risk.

On the way down, I passed a trio of woman chatting loudly as they ascended. I warned them to keep an eye out for bears, but the older woman – middle-aged and evidently experienced – didn’t worry.

“I have a pistol in my pocket,” she said. At first I thought she was joking. “When I shoot that, it normally scares them away.” She was serious. I wished I was hiking with her. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about either psychos in the woods or bears.

I asked if there were a lot of bears in the area. “Yes,” she said. “They are out now because it’s raspberry season.” She mentioned how she’d seen several bear trackers this morning. “That’s probably why they are up so high,” she said. “They are on the move, trying to get away from the trackers’ dogs.”

She suggested making a lot of noise to keep the bears away and if alone, like I was, to talk to yourself.

Upon descending, I looked up the local bear situation. I read there are 3000-4000 bears in the state of Vermont and that they are encountered in this area. But they are black bears, which are apparently less dangerous than grizzlies. The last time someone was killed by a black bear in Vermont was in 1940. So I guess I wouldn’t be frightened off the trails, but if I’m going to go deep and remote, I’d at least like to be with a companion. I didn’t make it to my destination, but I avoided a stupid death for one more day.

Friday, August 13, 2010


A pristine oasis, a reward at the end of a two-mile hike. My favorite spot in Vermont so far as well as the site of my happiest, most peaceful moment.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Normally, my day consists of balancing work, childcare, writing, household and life management responsibilities and perhaps some exercise. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a little spare time to read or watch TV. Last night before I went to bed I planned my schedule for the day. Right now, my challenge is to fit in exercise, local exploration, writing, reading and a little bit of day job work with lectures, education and socializing. Hopefully I’ll make it all fit today.

The plan is to start with breakfast, take a one-mile hike and do some reading in the woods, more reading, lunch with colleagues, education, writing, socializing and dinner, day job work and perhaps another lecture (if I can stay up until 9:30).

I woke up at 6:30 to what looks like oncoming rain. The forest is dark and cool, my cabin in the woods quiet. The wind rustles the leaves outside my window.

I’m energetic to get started on what is a long list of goals for me. No need to plan for interruptions or for duties. Meals and sleep can take as long as I want them to. My heartrate seems to be decreasing already. I am happy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alone, but not really

Just as I thought I was alone, on my long road trip yesterday, I realized I wasn’t. The fetus, which we have been calling Cletus the Fetus, made its presence known. And I experienced my first Braxton-Hicks contractions. Not enough to be painful, or even bothersome. But enough to remind me that another life is preparing itself to enter this world – one I will probably love passionately. But right now, it is nothing more than an unknown companion tagging along on my solo road trip.

Dreamy lunch

I’m in a dream. I’m sitting on the porch of a lovely Victorian house, with blue shuttered windows. I’m here alone, looking out at a quiet, residential street in southern Vermont, with cute, well-kept houses. I hear only the chirp of birds and insects, the rustle of the wind and the hum of a few passing cars.

I just enjoyed a salad with roast turkey, apples and amazing Vermont cheese. Now I drink my hot vanilla tea together with a warm, flaky blackcurrant scone, piled high with clotted cream and jam.

While I thought that the stop at family was on the way, it turns out it significantly extended the trip. I am spending almost the whole day driving. But it doesn’t matter. Because I’m calm and relaxed, despite the work I know I still need to do. I’ve enjoyed the first couple CDs of Snow. I’m in Vermont, which is already striking me as a creative, beautiful and lovely place. And I’m enjoying a perfect lunch in the perfect setting. This is a great start.


I’m off. Off for close to two weeks. Off on a road trip to attend a writer’s conference in an enticing place I’ve never been to before. Completely free of obligations and responsibilities to another person.

Right now I’m on a ferry. It’s nothing but a transit ferry, but it feels to me like a luxury liner. I’m sitting on deck on a nice, sunny morning as the ship cruises across the water. There aren’t many passengers, so the atmosphere is calm and quiet. The wind blows my hair and through my shirt, making my laptop screen sway and forming goosebumps on my arms and legs. Other people sit and stare into the distance. I’m so excited to have time to pull out my travel guidebooks, open a book, and write – uninterrupted. Unfortunately, some work assignments still hang over my head. But for the next 10 days or so, there is no household work to be done, and no new work assignments to take on. It’s time for me to learn, observe, interact and develop.

Part of it has come from the inevitable stress that accompanies leaving town for a period of time. But for the past few weeks, I’ve felt under constant obligation – running to try to finish work, household and social obligations, while compensating for that by reducing time spent on the things I enjoy – sleep, exercise, reading and writing. Now it’s time for me to slow down a bit. Or even if I keep up the speed, spend the time doing things I’m passionate about.

Even the upcoming hours alone on the highway seem appealing. I have Orhun Pamuk’s Snow on CD and the freedom to listen and think without interruptions, without having to attend to anyone else’s needs.

Not to say that I won’t miss my family. Dropping off Mark and River with relatives yesterday, I saw how River lit up under the attentions of his three older, female cousins. He was the center of the family, the center of the universe as far as he’s concerned, and it made him laugh and giggle, spread kisses all around, and become the entertainer. I will miss him and I regret not being there for the family time. But still, this is pretty great.

Mark reminds me that this isn’t a vacation. It cost a lot and is for my professional development. He’s right. But still, at the moment it feels very freeing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Noticing the signs

The signs of an incoming baby are pretty obvious to anyone who spends time in our house.

While we’ve talked about my pregnancy with other adults in River’s presence, we haven’t directly told him yet and we assume he doesn’t really know what’s coming. I read a book that suggested waiting until the third trimester to tell a toddler. That way, they can already see mom’s stomach is bigger (and perhaps imagine a baby inside), and the sense of a few months or weeks is easier to handle than something many months away.

River doesn’t seem to have noticed any changes in my stomach and his recent interest in walking on top of us as we lay down presents a bit of a risk. But he is starting to notice the accessories.

First it was the diapers coming in. He’d help me open the package received in the mail, see that it was diapers, then he would want to open the box of diapers.

“No,” I’d say. “Let’s leave it closed. And that way if a baby comes to visit us and needs a clean diaper, we’ll have one to give it.”

“Okay!” he’d say, as though that made perfect sense. We have had babies come to visit, so I suppose it was feasible.

But the other day a friend dropped off a bouncy chair, which sat in our living room for several days. That seemed to attract River’s attention in a new way.

“Mira!” he’d exclaim, every time he came down the stairs. “That’s for babies! For small babies!”

Yes, I would tell him. He knew he couldn’t sit in it and he didn’t try. But when I explained that a baby could be rocked in it, he practiced. Something in his voice – urgent, high-pitched, repeating the same observation day after day – made me think that he knew this meant something. He seems to like babies and is gentle with the ones he’s met. I think he’ll be OK with the idea of a baby in the house. Perhaps it’s just the uncertainly of him feeling like something is changing, but he doesn’t know what.

We put the bouncy seat in the attic for the next several months. In a couple months, when I get bigger, and the due date gets closer, we’ll start to read him books about siblings and the arrival of new babies. Can anyone offer suggestions of good ones?

Dark chocolate is good too

The other day, as River was digging around on our junk shelf, he found a couple of squares of Lindt dark 85% chocolate. I love chocolate, but I’m no longer very excited about super dark chocolate – unless it’s dipped in very sweet peanut butter. Even so, I’d prefer milk.

“Puedo comer?” River asked, Can I have it?


I warned him that it wouldn’t be very sweet, and broke off half the square, expecting him to not like the bitter taste. He liked it just fine, and accepted the second half of the square, then asked if we could open the second square (no).

So while his tastes have gone a bit more than I’d like toward the typical toddler route, it’s interesting to see that he can enjoy dark chocolate.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blueberry picking

Yesterday we took a drive to the closest organic blueberry farm to our house. It was a small operation, that grows only blueberries and blackberries and is run by an elderly couple.

Our first blueberry picking experience was at a farm that is close to home, but that clearly uses chemicals. While on the hay ride, we passed sheds labeled with danger signs and the fruit bore a white residue that made me nervous when River was picking it off the bushes and popping it into his mouth.

Since the organic farm is further away, I wanted to pick as large of a supply as possible. Mark came along this time, which nearly doubled the load. In an hour we managed about 6 pounds, plus a small container of blackberries, for a total of $23.

River, as before, mainly occupied himself by stuffing his face with blueberries. Whereas last time he didn’t contribute a single blueberry to the bucket, this time he contributed a good 5-10. As I started to understand how time consuming the process is, I understood the settler’s need for children as laborers. A bunch of kids would certainly yield a larger supply of blueberries. But if you have that many more mouths to feed, does the cost cancel out the benefit?

I recently saw a program on one of the major news shows, where they were profiling migrant families who use children under 12 as laborers. I think they were trying to make people shocked at the practice, but they failed to look at the options. If the whole family is out picking blueberries and the 10-year-old can’t come along, what is that 10-year-old or 8-year-old or 6-year-old going to do? Sit home alone? Watch TV? Be in danger of getting in trouble? Migrant families are unlikely to be able to afford a sitter. Why not be outside with the family and make a contribution, however small, to the yield, so that the family has resources it needs to feed, clothe, shelter and educate that child? If society cares enough about preventing the practice to offer childcare, or to offer material support such that the whole family doesn’t need to go out picking, that’s fine. But you can’t just prohibit something without considering that the other choices available to the family may well be worse for the child’s welfare.

I’m grateful that River doesn’t feel the stress of knowing the quantity he picks might determine how much the family gets to eat. That is a great burden for any child. But I get great pleasure out of seeing him occupied in this way. I think he knows more at the age of two about where his food comes from than I knew at the age of 20.

“No green ones,” he said, immediately upon arriving at the bushes. “Only blue.” He then proceeded to search them out with gusto and pop them into his mouth.

I don’t think there are many experiences more beautiful that one can offer a child than the chance to pick berries. The excitement of the hunt, the understanding of where food comes from, the sweetness of the reward crushed against the tongue, the time outdoors and the sense of accomplishment at having sought out the treasure make for a wonderful experience.

As a child, we had a cabin where wild red and black raspberries grew alongside the road. I vividly recall carrying a bowl and searching them out. I remember the mosquitoes and flies that bothered us, the red stain on my fingertips, the temptation to pick those that weren’t yet fully ripe, and the reward of a lush, juicy, fully-formed red or black berry. We got poison ivy several times by crawling back into the bushes, but that didn’t stop us.

I’m in the process of researching the farms and resources in our area, trying to figure out which offer the best quality at the best price within a reasonable distance. I hope that memories of picking fruit, flowers, vegetables and visiting farms for milk, butter, cheese and meat will help my children (yes, I’m starting to think in plural) make choices that are sustainable and healthy. I hope they will have an appreciation of where things come from. And I hope we’ll form memories of good times spent together in nature.

Have you taken your child/ren to a farm for their food? Do you do so regularly, or on occasion? Do they continue to enjoy it as they grow older?