Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A pause in the winds

... I am speaking metaphorically, of course, referring to the high winds of the holiday season, the frenzied storm around Christmas and the secondary frenzy of New Year's. I am also speaking literally. Two days before Christmas Eve, a Midwestern windstorm whipped through our region, high-pitched and groaning. It woke our children in the night, making the baby cry and sending Bean-girl scrambling multiple times into our bed; until finally my husband and I gave up and brought both girls into bed with us. When we all woke up, it was into darkness. The storm had ripped down powerlines, taking out electricity for most of the city. My parents and sister had been visiting for the weekend; now we all decamped to Grandma and Grandpa's place for the holidays, two days earlier than planned. My husband made a big show of calling Santa Claus on the phone to let him know that we were moving Christmas, so could he please redirect the presents to Grandma's house?

After the presents and food, the storm of giftwrap and scattered boxes, we are now back home, catching our second wind and waiting for the next trip. Tommorrow we board a plane headed Out West, to spend New Year's with my husband's family. I haven't seen them in a year. It will be Baby Legume's first flight.

So this, today, is our pause in the winds, our chance to catch a breath. It is probably my last chance to write here before the end of 2007.

It's been a good year. A busy year. One of great changes for us all in my little nuclear family. In this past year we up and moved across the state to a new city and into our first "real" (that is, one with a backyard) house. My husband started his new job. I adjusted to caring for the Bean-girl full-time. And only one month after our move, I gave birth to our second and probably last child, the Baby Legume.

Over the Christmas holidays my sister R commented that I seem to be obsessed with blog-reading and motherhood issues. Maybe. She recently found religion, and she is proudly wrapped up in her new faith--"hard-core" as she puts it. Is it too extreme to compare the transformative effects of motherhood to that of religion? I've never been religious, so I can't say. I can say that nothing I've ever experienced wrenches me, exhausts me, wrings me out and then simultaneously pierces and expands my heart the way motherhood does. I was a mother to the Bean-girl for ~2.5 years before the Baby Legume, of course; it's just now that I've had more time (or made more time) to read and reflect on it all. And I have my new habit of blog-reading to thank for that: I've discovered voices in the blogosphere writing about motherhood in honest, thoughtful, and beautiful ways that I have never seen in commercial print.

I read a lot of women-in-science blogs, too, of course, as a glance at my blogroll will tell. I have now been out of research science for over a year, and yet I continue to read these voices. Leaving the world of academic science has been very very difficult for me, and I am still trying to reconcile myself with this loss. The other night my husband and I were watching a news show on stem cell research, and as I watched the scientist on-screen pippeting fresh pink media into tissue culture dishes I swear that I felt the most aching nostalgia. That used to be me! I thought. Everything playing out onscreen--the lab equipment, the lab benches, the mundane procedures, little vials being removed from the liquid nitrogen tanks--oh, I knew all that, that was my own "home" not so long ago. Of course, I'd often felt tissue culture to be a royal pain in the ass, so how ironic to be feeling nostalgic for it now.

Leaving my job, being forced into the realization that scientific research is mostly likely NOT a viable long-term career for me--that, too, has been a huge adjustment this year. I'm trying to find a way to reshape my career, to rescue (in my eyes) a decade worth of training. I've been taking on freelance medical writing/editing projects. But I still don't know if that's what I really want to do. Or what I really want to do.

So... career transitions, a move to a new city, and the birth of a second child. A heaping plate. And on top of that all--the cherry on top, the chocolate sprinkles if you please--let me add the discovery of the blogosphere. My funny new addiction. My late entrance to the party. Because I learn so much, reading these other voices in the ether. Because you make me think. Because writing in this blog forces me to sit and think, to work with words again in a way that I haven't since I graduated from college. I love that. And I love the community I've found here, a tribe of smart, thoughtful, supportive women, writing and commenting and coming together in a mental (if not physical) space.

So in the waning days of 2007, I find myself offering up an out-of-season valentine--a valentine to you, the blogosphere, my fellow bloggers and blog-readers, my friends and any who might one day stumble on these words and become a new friend. Thank you for offering me this space. Thank you for writing. Thank you for reading.

Christmas is over. The new year is about to begin. Safe journey through the last days of the old, and welcome to the new.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Haiku Friday

4 days left

Next time I join those
I've mocked in the past: Christmas
shopping in July.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The sisters

Of late, this scene is played at least once a day in our household:

Baby, baby, the Bean-girl croons, touching her little sister's face, playing with her hair. Baby Legume laughs and laughs, all pink gums and crinkled eyes, her little body shaking with the force of her laughter. Her laughs provoke answering peals of laughter in her big sister. They both laugh harder, squealing and laughing, a feed-forward cycle, positive feed-back loop of delight. For as long as 10 minutes (an eternity in baby time) they play this game, this mysterious game that their parents look upon; their father and I are amused and wondering, but, ultimately, outside their shared circle of mirth.

A friend of mine once told me that her oldest child had the ability to make her youngest laugh harder than anyone else could. I don't know how she does it, my friend had said. She makes faces, but I don't think that they're at all funny. But her little sister just laughs and laughs.

Now I see it for myself. I can make the Legume laugh with tickle-kisses and peek-a-boo. But frankly, I don't have the patience to keep it up like her older sister does.

I think of the times my sisters and I laughed our heads off at some silly private joke, some silly thing that provoked only exasperation in our parents. My two younger sisters are closer in age to one another, and they shared more of these moments when we were all young--laughter that bordered on hysteria, laughter that caused my mother to warn, "Stop that!" because, she said, laughter like that would always turn into tears in a matter of minutes. (She was often right. Little girls are volatile that way).

We still often laugh at things that leave our parents completely cold. (No wonder, perhaps, when we're often laughing at them). We laugh at things no other person would "get." For all the squabbles and tensions and sometimes distances, sisterhood is a special circle that has no replacement.

I know that the Bean-girl and Baby Legume won't always have it so good together. Right now is a honeymoon phase--little Baby Legume idolizes her sister, Bean-girl adores her "baby." There will be plenty of squabbles and tears in the future. But I hope they will always have this laughter. When childhood tensions and squabbles are over, I hope they will remain the best of friends.


Tonight as I put the Bean-girl to bed, I told her that tommorrow is a "mommy day." That's a day when she doesn't go to preschool/daycare, and gets to spend the whole day at home with me.

Will Daddy be at work? she inquired.

Yes, I said sadly. Daddy will be at work. He won't be home with us. Do you miss him when he's at work?

Yes, she said. And then, after a moment. But sometimes I like it with just one person. A beat. And sometimes I like it with four persons. Even with the Baby Legume

Friday, December 14, 2007

Haiku II

Composed in a stupor last night.

I appreciate
that you love me, my dearest.
But no need to wake

every few hours
to tell me. I scoop you from
tears. Nestled, you seek

with closed eyes, blind mole,
for warmth, milk, and me. I know.
Oh, baby. I know.

For Sciencemama--Haiku Friday

For Sciencemama

I'll take your notebook.
You take my house: toddler-wreaked
devastation, all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Baby Legume eats jook

Baby Legume had her first taste of table food today. A few sips of warm jook at the dining table, as her big sister and I had it for our lunch.

Jook, also known as congee, is comfort food in my family. White rice simmered in broth until the grains break down and melt into a creamy porridge. Chicken broth or pork broth, or (as my mom makes it) a homemade broth of whatever bits of meat and bones are on hand--chicken, pork, and even shrimp shells. Flavor with salt, white pepper, ginger--again, whatever is on hand and strikes your fancy. You can serve the jook plain or with an array of condiments and sides--Chinese fried crullers, pickled vegetables, preserved eggs or an egg omelete. Jook is adaptable. Everyone makes their own kind. My parents are from Thailand, and in Thai we refer to the dish as jok, with a long "o." (Jook is the Chinese term--Cantonese, I believe. I think variations of the dish are ubiquitous in Asia). My mom flavors the rice porridge with fish sauce (because what Thai dish doesn't use fish sauce?) and serves it with little dishes of slivered ginger and cilantro for topping.

I don't make jook often. I can't make it like my mother, of course. She uses homemade chicken stock, always. I don't have the patience for that, and I often don't even have the patience for all the little dishes of toppings she makes. But when it is cold and gray I yearn for the stuff. It's restorative and soothing, the Asian version of the chicken-and-noodle soup cure (but better tasting, in my humble opinion).

This week winter is blasting us with snow and sleet. My whole family has come down with a cold; Bean-girl's nose is a wondrous fountain of snot, and the Legume has just started sniffling. My throat hurts, and the Husband is next (not that he's ever gotten over his hacking cough from our last family cold). Yesterday I dragged out Thanksgiving's turkey carcass from the garage freezer, and set it in a big pot with cold water to make some turkey jook. I tossed in some Chinese sausages and several hunks of ginger for flavor. After several hours of simmering, I took out the turkey, added the rice, and added the shredded turkey meat back in just before serving.

When the Bean-girl saw it at dinner time, her eyes lit up. For once, she did not shake her head and declare her desire for "something different" for dinner. Instead, it was "Can I try that?" She has grown up on her grandmother's jook, and loves the stuff.

She even loves my version (but hold the turkey/chicken/meat please. Bean-girl prefers the plain rice version).

So this afternoon I was very happy to introduce my youngest to jook. Jarred sweet potatoes and bananas are fine, but who eats that stuff after the teeth come in? This is real food, Baby Legume. Bean-girl and I sat with our bowls in the cold winter light, sipping spoonfuls of warm comfort. Baby Legume sat on my lap and grabbed at things on the table.

I gave her the smallest sip of broth, with just a few creamy grains of melt-in-your mouth rice. I know the baby books say to avoid sodium for infants her age. But just a sip won't hurt, right? And in Asia, babies are weaned on this stuff.

Baby Legume liked it, of course. If it's on a spoon, she likes it.

But I'm glad that she liked this, my jook, and her very first table food.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Baby Legume is 6 months old

Baby Legume, you're more than half a year old. 6 months now, and 5 days. I meant to write this post on your half-birthday, of course, but so many of my intentions get waylaid these days.

It seems that just yesterday you could not even hold up your head. Now you are sitting up, very briefly, on your own. You are eating solid food. Squash and sweet potato at the moment. You sit ensconced in your purple Bumbo chair as we feed you, like a tyrannical emperor of myth, yelling for more more more! lunging wildly at the spoon and screaming if we take too long to refill it. You also make a huge mess.

In fact, you are lunging forward at everything these days, grabbing at everything in sight. Even the cat. Especially the cat. It is your ambition to grab that cat and stuff her right into your mouth. You have, in fact, nearly succeeded a number of times. That stupid animal insists on sitting right next to you on your blanket, flirting with disaster. You have swiped at her face, grabbed her by both cheeks and tried to bring her down to your greedy mouth, pulled at her ears and pulled out clumps of her fur. I suppose I'm remiss for not supervising the two of you better, but she would insist on coming back for more. I think she must actually like it.

You grab at your sister, too, and this delights her. You pull my hair, grab your father's face. Your little arms wrap so tightly around my neck. This world is so big and exciting for you. Are you just (literally) trying to swallow it all in? But sometimes it's too much for you, as well. You've developed a touch of stranger anxiety in the last few weeks, and you cried the last time Grandma and Grandpa came to visit. Some selfish part of me secretly relishes the way you sometimes cling to me, how it is I that you trust above all others, and sometimes only I that can comfort you.

Your whole body wriggles with delight when I walk in the room. I love this. I love that broad baby smile that nearly splits your face. Your hands clench in excitement, and you make a soft chuckle-gasp.

You learned to scoot backward on your belly this morning! I set you down on your blanket, and turned away for just a moment. When I looked back, you were not where I'd left you! You were busily scooting yourself backward, and were just backing into the space under your big sister's bookshelf. I retrieved you, set you a few feet forward, and you promptly began scooting back under the bookshelf again. However, you have not yet shown your daddy this trick.

So much more to say... the way you bounce like a maniac in your exersaucer. The way you perpetually have two fingers jammed in your mouth, sucking. Your ultrasonic squeals. We can't record it all, baby Legume. But we love you. And we love watching you grow, becoming the person you were born to be.

Happy half-birthday!

Haiku Friday--Dec 7, 2007

Sciencemama is a poet who can turn even a poopy diaper blow-out into a thing of beauty (John Keats, eat your heart out). Lately she's been turning out these gorgeous, poignant lines (here and here).

I might not be able to compete in the poignancy department, but here are my entries for today:

For Baby Legume:

Her round cheeks like ripe fruit. Warm
and pressed against mine.

And here is an entry from my guest poet, the Bean-girl. She composed this on the couch while I blew her nose.

Where does snot come from?
From in my head, deep inside?
I would like some grapes.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Naked Bean

Well, the Bean-girl's anti-clothing streak is running well into a second week now.

Of course, a streaking toddler is nothing new. Once they learn how to walk, it's not soon before they are off and running naked away from you, bare bottom and giggles vanishing down the hall. But it is not funny this time. My 3-year old is a stubborn, cunning adversary. And despite her diminutive size, she's suprisingly strong.

She doesn't misbehave much. And her misbehavior isn't a matter of actively doing something bad--like drawing on the walls or hitting her sister. Her misbehaviors are more a matter of refusing to do something asked of her--like putting away a toy, or allowing her father to put her to sleep. In these cases, a single good tantrum and its consequences has usually been enough to stop the behavior--we ignore her and walk away, or, in really severe cases, confine her to her room. After much "crying and wailing" (and those are her own words) she acquiesces, and the battle is not fought again.

Except now. We are fighting the same battle, day after day after day. What is that saying about insanity again? And who is it in this family that is insane?

This morning we all got up late, which is both blessing and curse. Bean-girl heads into preschool with her father in the mornings. She did not want to get dressed. After cajolings and attempts at reason and finally threats, her father made the decision to forcibly dress her. This is an approach I normally avoid because (1) the Bean-girl feels humiliated and degraded by it, and I greatly empathize with her on that, and (2) I do not have eight arms with which to wrestle her.

My husband and I combined have four arms. However, it is still nearly an impossibly task to forcibly dress a 3-year old child who does not want to be dressed. He held on while I tried to fit flailing limbs through pieces of clothing, and he snapped at me helpful remarks like Come on, Mommy! Hurry up! Just do it! Finally the deed was done. Husband went off to his morning shower while the fully dressed Bean-girl sobbed and sobbed at the unfairness of it all.

I want to get dressed by myself! she hiccupped.

You want to get dressed by yourself? I repeated.

Furious nodding of her head.

I thought quickly. Husband was still in the shower. I knew this girl. She did want to get dressed by herself. We could take off her clothes and she could put them back on herself in two minutes. She just needed to have some control over this, and we had taken all control away. She was behaving like this all the time now--refusing to do something, and then when I did it for her, insisting that she be the one to do it after all, all by herself.

I want to put on my own socks, she said. I want to put on everything myself.

I helped her take off her socks. She took off her pants and underwear. I pulled her shirt up over her head.

You can all see where this is going.

Okay! I beamed at my naked girl. Time to put it all back on again, all by yourself!

She ran away.

3-year old tot versus 30-something Ph.D.-educated mom. A tot who can't even grasp numerical quantites over four. Is it any contest?

We did eventually get her dressed, before my husband was late for work. If you don't get dressed right now I told her, we will take you to school naked!

She was sniffling in the corner of her bedroom. Her father was bustling around downstairs, getting ready to leave.

Then we heard the roar of the garage door opening, directly below her room. I think she thought that we really were going to toss her naked into the car at that point, for she came running out of her corner toward me. I handed her the clothes, and she obediently put them on herself, all within the space of a minute or so.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it? I said, as I always say after one of our battles.

She had a perfectly good day at school today, so the teachers said and so it seems. And of course she was a sweetheart when I picked her up, and has been the most charming little sprite all evening. But I really really hope she grows out of these clothing battles soon.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dictionary definitions

Balrog --noun.
1. A character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; a demon of shadow and flame that fights with Gandalf the Wizard in the Mines of Moria.
2. The term my husband uses to refer to our children when they act up and get crazy.

Brain-dead --adjective
1. Characterized by brain death, the final cessation of activity in the central nervous system, especially as indicated by a flat electroencephalogram for a predetermined length of time.
2. The state of being that my husband and I exist in after spending an entire evening wrestling with two tiny yet ferocious balrogs.