Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New word

Nuggy baby! the Bean-girl says as she reaches for her sister’s cheek. Nuggy nuggy nuggy. The baby is so nuggy!

What does “nuggy” mean? I ask.

She replies: Nuggy means when you want to touch a baby’s cheeks because they are so fat.

Indeed. She comes up with some good words, my Bean-girl.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring is a state of mind

Snow is falling again, a scene from midwinter, not mid-March. We went out to dinner, and the deliberately quaint town center looked like a Christmas postcard, twinkling lights shining through the heavy snowfall. A slow drive home along country roads, an image from a Robert Frost poem. Spring is a state of mind, I told myself early this afternoon, as the first flakes began to fall. But by this evening Spring had vanished, and it is as though the calendar has flipped back several months, back to the heart of winter. And I must admit it . . . it is beautiful. The heavy drifts, the sense of silence, the sky lit with the purple luminescence of reflected snowlight—still beautiful, even though the winter months have dragged and sapped at the souls of nearly everyone I know.

Still, the spring butterfly exhibit has returned to our local botanical gardens (housed in the tropical conservatory, of course!), and I will by dyeing Easter eggs with Bean-girl tomorrow. We may be agnostic atheists, but that doesn’t mean we can’t participate in all the secular fun associated with religious holidays.

Yesterday I went to a chapter meeting of my local mothers’ group; the topic was “Working It Out: Sharing experiences as mothers working out of the home, working from the home, full time, part-time, or working as stay-at-home moms.” Five women had agreed to serve as panelists willing to speak about their experiences in depth. All the women in attendance were asked to say something about themselves and their work experiences; we are all a very diverse lot! If I had permitted myself to hope for some magic bullets of knowledge and insight that would resolve all my anxieties and show me the way to eventually transition back to a meaningful career, well… I would have been sorely disappointed, of course. Can I say that I actually did kinda hope for those magical insights? Instead, I heard some interesting stories, a lot of very interesting perspectives, and the angst and sharing that always comes out when you closet a bunch of mothers together in one room. What struck me is that even the women who seemed happiest as stay-at-home moms expressed anxiety at becoming “unemployable” and unable to re-enter the workforce. Even those who didn’t particularly like their previous careers hoped to eventually go back to work—and to find new, more fulfilling careers the second time around. Work is so ingrained in our society—it really seems unthinkable (for most of us) to never again have a work identity. I know that I am very susceptible to this. I derived so much of my identity from my work that it was and has been very difficult to give up. I have really felt “at sea” for this past year and a half. I am making some decisions now, resolutions that may or may not be kept. But resolutions that will hopefully help point me toward what I want, and what I need.

The growing light of this season breeds new energy and life. Even as snow falls this weekend, the hours of sunlight will continue to increase. The ancient symbolic significance of Easter is not lost even on a crotchety skeptical rationalist like me. I do have that poetic side.

Welcome, Spring. Even during a snowstorm.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hard questions

A little over a week ago, Bean-girl stood on the bottom step of our staircase, sippy cup of milk in hand, and declaimed:

I think my Daddy will not come tonight because of a thunderstorm, and so he will stay in his hotel room and I miss him very much. And I know that you [here she gestured to me] miss your husband.

It was a snowstorm, not thunderstorm, which shut down Midwestern airports and threatened to keep her father from returning that weekend. Return he did—through a circuitous route involving a re-routed flight to Chicago, a rental car and 90-mile per hour midnight driving. I’m paraphrasing what she said, but that was the gist of it.

In the single week that he was gone, my husband claims that both children noticeably grew and changed. It’s easy to see the changes in Baby Legume—in that short week she learned to clap her hands, pull herself up to standing, and easily sit up by herself from a prone position. The changes are harder to see in Bean-girl. Husband claims that Bean-girl grew more articulate in his absence, and he cites her above speech (which I repeated to him) as evidence of this. She is learning about the relationships between people: that her daddy is not just Daddy, but also my husband. That Mommy is his wife. That mommy and daddy both have parents of their own, and siblings too.

She is starting to ask the hard questions. About marriage and babies. The future. Death.

Where is your daddy? she asked my husband the other day. She had realized that while her father had a mother, she had never met her father's father.

My daddy died, Husband replied, never one to mince words.

Husband showed her a picture of her grandfather, and told her a little about him. He would have been very happy to see you if he could, Husband said.

Bean-girl nodded. But he can’t because he’s dead, she said.

I wish that we could tell her otherwise. I wish we could tell her that he’s up in Heaven, watching her right now. That he loves her dearly (as I know that he would have, had he lived to see her) But my husband and I do not believe in that, and we can’t tell her things we don’t believe—not the Big Things, at least. It would be easier. When she asks Who made the clouds? it would be easier to say God. But we can’t say those things, because that’s not who we are. Sometimes I do indeed envy the religious.

(But sorry, Sister R—I doubt I’ll be converting in this lifetime).

Tonight was my night to put Bean-girl to sleep, while Husband put Baby Legume to sleep. On these nights Legume cries piteously for me; she wants me, just me, to hold her at night. It tears at me to hear her cry so. But I admit I also treasure the night-time ritual with Bean-girl: brushing her hair after her bath until it untangles and turns to silk, then curling in her bed with her, her fragrant hair pressed against my nose.

Tommorrow it will be my turn to put Baby Legume to sleep, and then I’ll treasure my moments with her.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Brilliance, deferred

I have been working on some brilliant posts this week. Trenchant political-social commentary. Penetrating insights into issues faced by women in science. A response to Linda Hirshman's latest absurd, completely nonsensical, maddening piece in Slate. All heady stuff. Damn, Slate magazine (or the New York Times) should be asking me to write them opinion pieces.

Of course, all these brilliant essays have been composed only in my head, as I run about the house fetching sippy cups of juice and holding one very cranky baby. The merry-go-round of colds and fevers in this house never seems to stop. Bean-girl came down with the cold first, and my but she is a bear when she has a stuffed-up nose. I thought I was bad when I have a cold, but I have nothing on the melodrama of a 3-yr old.

Now Bean-girl is doing better, but the Baby Legume is sick. With a fever. All day the poor thing has been fussing in my arms, snoozing but then crying every time I tried to lay her down. Only now, an hour or so before midnight, have I been able to sit here at this computer without a baby in my arms.

And, uh, my brain is fried.

Brilliance is going to have to wait. Like so much else in life, it seems.

(pathetic inner sigh)

Friday, March 7, 2008


After numerous teasers, I think Spring has finally come to our corner of the Midwest. Melting snow trickles in rivulets down the sides of our neighborhood roads, and the morning chorus of birdcalls appears to have increased outside my window. Perhaps most telling, birds seem to be roosting above our chimney again; we hear their clear calls echoing down the shaft as though they live right inside. The hours of daylight have noticeably increased. Although the air is still brisk, the sky blue and cold, yet those distant skies seem to hint at new warmth in their depths.

It’s been a long, hard winter. By no means are snow showers necessarily a thing of the past; in this part of the world, the occasional April snow storm is not unheard of. But I finally feel that something has turned, some balance has been tipped. The earth is tilting into Spring, leaning its face into the Sun.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Solo parenting this week

This week has been an experiment in single parenting for me. Husband is away on a "work-vacation," as I explained it to the Bean-girl. Sure sounds like a vacation to me--5 nights, 6 days away in a ski mountain lodge, free from parental responsibilities, skiing and listening to medical seminars in his field. I will reveal my incredible geekiness here now, by saying that I would *love* the chance to attend a meeting in my field, and listen to the latest cutting-edge research, skiing or no. (It would actually be a No, because I don't ski. I drink hot chocolate, instead).

So far it has gone better than I expected. Husband left us at 5 am Sunday morning. Sunday with the kids passed reasonably well. Evening posed a dilemma—how do I put these two children to sleep by myself? Both kids go to sleep unconscionably late—we are talking 10:30 pm on a good night, sometimes later. This is not what we, the parents, want; but it is what happens. And the bed time routines are terribly protracted, labor-intensive affairs for both children, involving ( 1) one parent lying next to Bean-girl in her bed until she falls fast asleep and (2) the other parent holding the Baby Legume as she cries and/or thrashes until she falls asleep. I am aware that according to sleep gurus Ferber and Weisbluth and all their ilk, my husband and I are Doing Everything Wrong, and the children need to Fall Asleep on Their Own, but there you have it.

So my solution? I put my girls to sleep in my bed. They’d both end up there eventually anyway. Bean-girl was very excited by this novel turn of events, and ran to get her bedtime books to read in my bed. She was so excited that it was a bit hard for her to settle down. Baby Legume lay between us, thrashing and fussing. Eventually we all . . . passed out.

When I opened my eyes again, it was 3 am, which is the longest stretch of sleep I’ve had in a while.

Monday night the Bean-Grandma ( my mother) arrived to help out. Bean-girl is beyond thrilled to have her grandmother here. The Baby Legume? That first night, she was not so sure. Now, however, she seems to be getting along swimmingly with Grandma, except at night when she reverts to Tired, Screaming Baby. This transformation has led my mother to call her a “Vampire Baby.” Holding Vampire Baby traumatizes my dear mother, and Bean-girl refuses to allow Grandma to put her to sleep, so . . . I am still putting both girls to sleep simultaneously by allowing them to lie with me in my bed at night.

4 days down and 2 more to go. I am so looking forward to Husband’s return (and not only for help with the girls), and I know the girls are as well. But having Bean-Grandma in the house for the whole week has been wonderful for them both. Grandma even got to witness two new milestones for the Baby Legume this week. On Tuesday night the baby pulled herself up to standing for the first time! That evening Grandma demonstrated clapping to the Baby Legume, and the next morning she woke up and began spontaneously clapping her little hands! It’s more a closed-fist bringing-of-the-hands-together than an open-palmed clapping, but it delights the Legume nevertheless (and everyone else as well).