Thursday, January 31, 2008

Update

It is frigid here in the Midwest. The beginning of the week was unseasonably warm--melting snow and rain. And then Tuesday night it dropped 40 degrees. Yes, gaping West Coasters, that's true. Here's the quote from our local paper: "Temperatures fell from 47 degrees to 7 degrees in nine hours." The roads were encased in ice, then dusted with snow. I drove white-knuckled to pick the Bean-girl up from daycare yesterday. Drove white-knuckled back. Traffic was crawling along main roads at 15-20 miles per hour.

(You may ask why was Bean-girl's daycare/school open on a day like that, and why did we send her there? They were open because the place is frigging awesome, and I needed a break from my toddler the way my coffee-addicted sister needs her caffeine hit. Or insert comparison of choice. ).

Paradoxically, my mood seems lightened, just as the earth plunged into coldness. Yesterday I made chicken stock from scratch (a first for me. And it's totally worth it!) And we just now got back from a lovely playdate with Bean-girls' new Best Friend Forever from preschool. The girls had an terrific time. And I like the mom, too, and am hoping she will also be my BFF =)

The past weekend was exhausting, and we're only just now recovering. Last Friday the Bean clan boarded a plane in the Midwest and flew seven hours (icluding a layover) to relatively balmy L.A. We zipped in and out of that city in less than 48 hours. The occasion? A birthday party turned memorial service.

For months, my husband's family had been planning a large get-together in Los Angeles. His paternal grandmother was to turn 100 years old last weekend. For the grand event, relatives were flying in from all over--the East Coast, the Midwest, Denver, northern California, Hong Kong. This woman had six children, twelve grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren--all of whom would be in attendance.

But only two days before the big birthday bash, she passed away. It was not unexpected. For the past year she'd been drifting, since a stroke that left her unable to talk. And in the last month of her life she was in and out of the hospital, caught up in an accelerating cascade of medical complications. Even if she had made it, her presence was not actually expected at her own birthday banquet.

We got the news of her death last Wednesday. Everyone had their plane tickets; everyone had arranged their schedules for this trip. So everyone flew off and met in L.A. as planned. Amah's (Chinese word for grandmother) 100th birthday party would instead be her memorial dinner.

It was an oddly convivial gathering. It was only the second funeral I have ever attended, and I found myself struck by the resemblance of funerals to weddings. Far-flung relatives (some of them distant in relations as well as in geography) are all gathered together. Some of the relatives don't know each other well; some don't know the central person of honor very well. But they are all family, and so they are all there. There is much gossipping and catching-up. People dress up. Food plays a central role.

One of the women who married into this clan remarked to me: "From what I understand, things with this family just involve one set of Chinese meals after another, don't they?"

My husband snorted when I mentioned that remark to him. "She hasn't figured that out yet?"

Yes, with my husband's family (and with Chinese families in general, I think?) a family get-together/visit means one Chinese restaurant meal after another. Wth photographs of the attendees taken at each restaurant.

There was the convivial, jovial air of a large family reunion. Which, after all, it was.

After the obligatory Chinese restaurant lunch, we went to the viewing and memorial service at the funeral home. Amah's children had chosen a beautiful home; as of this writing she is buried next to her husband on a high hilltop with great feng sui. None of the younger generation understood the Buddhist chanting by the monk and nuns, but it was mesmerizing.

At the Chinese banquet that night, toddler great-grandchildren took a few bites of rice and soup, then begged off to run about and play with one another. The older cousins kept track of and entertained the younger ones, while the parents traded war stories of family travel and child-rearing.

The juxtaposition of life and death was practically cinematic. That afternoon the small children had been excluded from the memorial service--"bad luck!" the Chinese elders said. So the children were all deposited in the funeral home lobby, left to play under the somewhat haphazard care of the older cousins. I and the other parents would duck out of the service periodically to make sure that all was well.

I remember that one of Bean-girl's 9-year old cousins was pushing her around the lobby in a stroller. Monica was running the Bean-girl and stroller full-speed at a large bank of windows, then jerking to a halt just before disaster. The Bean-girl was laughing and laughing in delight. (I put an end to this game, of course). But I remember the sunlight streaming in through that bank of windows, shining in Bean-girl's hair. And the heedless laughter of the young children, just steps away from death.

I saw few tears that weekend, few overt signs of grief. My husband did not know his grandmother well, but even her own children seemed serene. Was it because Amah was so old, because she had lingered in confusion and pain for so long that her passing was an expected relief?

We're back in the Midwest now, preparing for another onset of winter storms, and dealing with the aftermath of a burst water pipe in our home. As I write this, though, I am thinking of the brilliant sunshine on that memorial day.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Trouble

The baby is perilously close to crawling. She is already scooting across the floor way too fast.
Now I'm really in trouble.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Holding on (to the Bean-girl)

I still rock her to sleep for her naps.

She's three years old, and I know she should be able to fall asleep on her own. At her preschool she readily joins the other children in nap time; she finds her own nap cot, lies down, and is out within a few minutes (so her teachers say). She's been able to do that for over a year, since she first made the transition to toddler naps in her old daycare center. But at home . . . she wants to be rocked. And her father and I have not been able to say No.

We don't want the fuss of a battle, or of making her cry. And she's so easy to rock to sleep: just five minutes or so in the rocking chair will do it. And although I can't speak for my husband . . .
I know that I like rocking her to sleep. I like holding her. I like feeling her against me.

She's getting so big. She's all dangly limbs spread out over me, not the compact weight of her infant sister. The dangly limbs go limp against me, her head rests comfortably on my shoulder, and her breathing deepens and slows. The hint of a snore. Her flying, tangled hair is in my nose, smelling of Johnson-and-Johnson's baby shampoo.

I won't have many years of this left. Soon she'll be closing her bedroom door on me, asking for privacy, pulling away from my touch with embarassment as she runs off to meet her friends at the mall. Already I can see her flying away from me; she's spending more and more time playing alone, independently, without the need for me by her side. Soon enough she'll be rolling her eyes at square old mom as she text messages her friends (or whatever it is kids will be doing at that time). She certainly won't be coming up to me with her arms raised, calling "I want to go up on you, Mommy!"

So yes, I still rock her to sleep. I still hold on, enjoying the feel of my first baby in my arms, the sweetness and the softness and the hardness of those growing limbs. The warmth and weight of her. I hold on, knowing that one day I'll no longer be able to.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

She says what she thinks

This morning Bean-girl and I attempted to make homemade playdoh. The "non-sticky" recipe was a wet, sticky, gloppy disaster that in no way resembled what comes out of those colorful Playdoh cans. I tried fruitlessly to knead the stuff, getting most of it stuck between my fingers.

Bean-girl, I said. Can you use the wooden spoon to get this off my hands?

She regarded me solemnly. Mommy, she said. I think sometimes you get in trouble.

You're right, I said. Sometimes I do. Do you ever get in trouble?

No, she said. I think I'm better than you are.

Portrait of the Legume, aged 7 1/2 months

At 7 months, she is already starting to lose the baby fat. Her face is thinning out. Chubby yubby! the Bean-girl calls her little sister, but in truth her cheeks are no longer so chubby. Only when she compresses her lips in a line, then do the cheeks bulge out on each side. I love that.

Thank God she still has that crease of fat at her wrists, that delicious crease betwixt arm and hand. I could stare for minutes at that crease.

And her hands are still fat and dimpled, even as those dimples grow shallower with time.

Her eyes are black and lively. She swings between sunshine and tears, or both at the same time, mercurial in the ways of infants. She is determined and aggressive in what she wants. What she wants most is to eat the newspaper, or any type of paper at all. Place a magazine on the floor some steps away from her, and watch the little baby army-crawl across the room to get at it. (And then shriek when you retrieve it from her slobber).

She is the Bean-girl's playmate and best friend. Just as Bean-girl can amuse, entertain, and comfort the baby, so the Baby Legume endlessly amuses and entertains her older sister.

She has a dazzling toothless smile.

She likes miso soup.

She can feed herself (!) Cheerios and Gerber baby puffs.

She still screams at night before bed.

She is our amazing, growing, thinning-out, lengthening baby . . . and already I can see that she'll so soon be my infant no more.



Friday, January 18, 2008

Winter haiku #2

The air so solid
with cold. It seems I could skate
across the blue sky.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Maternal profiling

Maternal profiling. noun.
Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children.

I am on the e-mail list for updates from MomsRising, a non-partisan grassroots advocacy group which works for legislative and social changes in support of motherhood and family issues.

"Maternal profiling" was listed in the New York Times as a buzzword of 2007. The term was popularized by MomsRising. It's more than a buzzword, of course. For most working mothers (and those even suspected of becoming mothers by employers), it's a reality.

This reality is well known within the academic sciences. If you work in that setting, you've heard plenty of horror stories or been the subject of one yourself. The stories run from the flagrant--the professor at my old universitywho tried to deny his pregnant postdoctoral employee any maternity leave whatsoever--to the more subtle (like the quiet assumption that you are no longer a serious scientist once you become pregnant).

What I did not realize was the extent of the problem across fields. If you really feel like getting pissed off today, read this link I received from MomsRising. There's a summary of statistics and studies--according to one study, mothers are 79% less likely to be hired than non-mothers with equal resumes and job experiences. And there are some heartbreaking and infurating personal stories told. The story of the pregnant social worker who could not get hired for a job in her field. Stories of mothers in the fields of child care and childhood education who were discriminated against. The woman who worked for an organization supporting women's rights whose maternity leave was taken away. A professor of humanities in a department known for its women's studies program who was denied tenure--at least in part, she believes, because she was a mother.

I don't know simple solutions, and I don't mean to get into a full-blown discussion about policy here. I just wanted to provide the news link to those interested, and raise awareness.

And here's my own (very) slight story:

I'm not going to blame my layoff on maternal profiling. My supervisor really did lose his major source of funding that year. A number of people were asked/pushed to leave. But before I left that postdoctoral position, I made an appointment with my supervisor for a frank discussion about my career prospects. When I walked into his office, the first thing he asked me was "Do you plan on having any more children?" At this point, Bean-girl was almost two years old, and my husband and I already knew that we would like another. When I replied in the affirmative, my supervisor literally threw up his hands and exclaimed "Then what's the point?!" He then proceeded to lecture me for the next 15 minutes on how it is simply impossible to combine motherhood with an academic science career.

He would never have given that lecture to one of the fathers in the lab.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Haiku Friday-forlorn

Forlorn Morning

Anticipation.
An outing with our playgroup
to a music class!

But wait. Doors shuttered.
No cars in the lot. Cancelled
but no one told us.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Singing

The Bean-girl is dancing to a Laurie Berkner DVD and belting out "Oh Susannah" for all she's worth. Except she doesn't really know the words, of course, and her voice is tumbling out in all its piping off-key glory. It's the cutest frigging thing you could ever hear.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bean-girl speaks of love

Being three years old is heavy going. So many mysteries in the world, existential puzzles. Who painted the walls of our house and made the Bean-girl's shirt blue? Why is it blue and not another color? Why does Mommy buy only the red-capped jug of milk at the store, and not the blue and green and purple and all the other colored milks? And the hermit crab at school that just died. His name was Nemo. Death means that the hermit crab can't move and can't go in or out of its shell.

And love. Love is a mystery, too. Romantic love saturates our popular culture; Disney and fairytale kings and queens--they're teaching my daughter things I've never brought up. It's in the air, it's part of our milieu.

The other night I was taking a bath with the Bean-girl. I'm lazy: if I join her in the bath, I don't have to take mine later that night. Saves time--two baths for the price of one, as I see it. I zoned out in the hot water as she happily played. She was playing with two little hand towels, swishing them about in the water. "Snakes," she called them. I came to, and noticed that she was pressing the corners of the hand towels together, saying Kiss, kiss. The "snakes" were kissing. I jolted awake then. What was the relationship between these towels? Were they brother and sister? Mommy and daddy? Just friends? She was coyly evasive. They're just snakes! she said.

Several days before we had watched Ratatouille with her 9-year old cousins. There is a scene where two characters share their first long, swoony kiss. Why are they kissing? the Bean-girl had asked. Because they're in loooooooove, one of her cousins replied.

And a day or so before that: Bean-girl had gotten out of her bath and pranced about naked. I'm the queen! she said. She pointed at me: And you're the king!

That's nice, I said, trying to catch her in a towel to rub her dry.

She resisted. Kings don't wrap queens in towels! she said.

Oh, no? said I. What do they do, then?

Kings just fall in love with them!

************************

Tonight I was bathing with her again. She was again playing with her two little hand towels, swishing them about in the water. This time they were sting rays (yeah, the kid does have an imagination). She pressed the sting rays together; they were kissing. Why are they kissing? I asked, more laidback than before.

She answered, Because they're in loooooooove!

Friday, January 4, 2008

End-of-the-year meme

Sciencegirl tagged me for this meme! The end of 2007 has passed, but I'll do it anyway!

1. Will you be looking for a new job?
I have no idea. I am not planning on looking for anything now, and did not plan to go back to any kind of outside full-time job until Baby Legume is at least one (which will be in June 2007). After that, if something interesting comes up I might consider it... if I find anything interesting in this depressed Midwestern town.

2. Will you be looking for a new relationship?
Not a new romantic one! Very happy with my current relationship with the Husband, thank you. But I do hope to find new friends, and deepen relationships with some of the mom-friends/acquaintances I've met here.

3. New house?
Heck, no. Hope not to move again for a long long time.

4. What will you do differently in 08?
I will try to be less defensive, less self-absorbed (ha!) and try to make more time for my husband.

5. New Years resolution?
Very simple. I like concrete and simple. To set aside a little time each day for writing or pleasure reading.

6.What will you not be doing in 08?
Moving or having more children.

7. Any trips planned?
Yup. Going to LA at the end of this month to celebrate Husband's grandmother's 100th birthday. Going to be a HUGE family reunion on his side--relatives flying in from all over the U.S. Also, we've booked a Carribean vacation for our little family this spring--one of those all-inclusive, family-themed resorts.

8. Wedding plans?
Nope. Already had mine, and don't know anyone who's planning one this year (that we'd be invited to).

9. Major thing on your calendar?
The aforementioned trips.

10. What can’t you wait for?
That Carribean trip. And for the Bean-girl to finally be fully toilet-trained, so I can throw all her training diapers away.

11. What would you like to see happen differently?
I'd like to see my house miraculously clean itself.

12. What about yourself will you be changing?
Changing oneself is hard. Can I take a pass?

13. What happened in 07 that you didn’t think would ever happen?
The Bean-girl turned out to be a more wonderful big sister than I ever thought possible.

14. Will you be nicer to the people you care about?
I want to try to be more appreciative of my husband. Unfortunately, when I'm exhausted and sleep-deprived, he is the first person that I take it out on. And he doesn't deserve that.

15. Will you dress differently this year than you did in 07?
Maybe I can lose weight and wear sexier/trendier clothes? Oh, let's just start with the lose weight part...

16. Will you start or quit drinking?
Becoming a wine connousieur sounds like fun. Becoming a connousier of trendy and exotic cocktails sounds like ever more fun. But I probably won't.

17. Will you better your relationship with your family?
I would like to have more time with the husband. It's so hard with two young children. But I'm hoping it will easier over the course of this year, as the kids get older...

18. Will you do charity work?
Hopefully.

19. Will you go to bars?
Probably not.

20. Will you be nice to people you don’t know?
I'm nice to strangers, unless they give me reason not to be.

21. Do you expect 08 to be a good year for you?
Yes.

22. How much did you change from this time last year till now?
So much. But in ways that I cannot now articulate late this evening.

23. Do you plan on having a child?
Not another one.

24. Will you still be friends with the same people you are friends with now?
I hope so.

25. Major lifestyle changes?
Every new phase/developmental milestone of a Bean or Legume = major lifestyle change for us all.

26. Will you be moving?
Heck, no. Hope not.

27. What will you make sure doesn’t happen in 08 that happened in 07?
Getting pregnant.

28. What are your New Years Eve plans?
Already past! We were all at my sister-in-law's, and all went to be early after dinner. Our 13-year old nephew was the only one to stay up till midnight.

29. Will you have someone to kiss at midnight?
D'oh! Forgot to kiss the husband! Oh, that's right--we were asleep.

30. One wish for 08?
For our girls to keep growing and flourishing as they have done so far.

That was fun. Now I tag (but only if they want to):

Sciencemama, Arduous, Ophelia Rising, Musingmommy

Haiku Friday--Winter scene

Winter scene

After the snowfall
trees stretch out their branches like
feathery white fans.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year holiday

The costs of flying our family out to Denver to spend time with my husband's family:

--4 extra hours stuck in the airport terminal, waiting out a winter storm

--An additional hour stuck on the tarmac, imprisoned in the plane's belly, waiting for the runways to clear

--An incessantly crying Baby Legume

--Sitting in front of an incessantly complaining woman. This woman complained visciously about her boyfriend's family to her boyfriend (until he asked her to please stop because "you're making me feel like shit." She did stop--but only momentarily). She then complained about having to visit her boyfriend's family in our dreadful Midwestern City. She complained about the Midwestern City. She complained about the airport, airplane, and the "demon children" crying on the airplane. Lady, I will take a whole planeload of shrieking demon children over your nasal bitching any day of the week.

--Once in Denver... dealing with the time change, a packed schedule, overstimulated and tired children, sleepless nights with a sleepless Baby Legume.

Watching the Bean-girl cavort happily with her cousins . . . priceless.