Sunday, January 04, 2009

Annual Christmas Novella 2008

It amazes me how tangible the coming of Christmas feels. Whether it’s collective consciousness moving towards a time of giving, cherished traditions, and family, or something else, there is some undeniable magic to it all. A few weeks ago, I was leaving a store carrying my 17-month-old Alec in my arms when the cold night sky suddenly turned to motion as the season’s first snowflakes appeared from the inky blackness. I watched Alec as he looked with amazement at the snow. He began to chuckle with delight as they kissed his nose and softly blanketed the ground. His little hand reached out to the sky as if in greeting, and his eyes twinkled, bewitched. Watching his joy, I paused mid-thought about what on Earth I was thinking by giving him a Nutragrain bar in the store when I didn’t have any wet wipes. I forgot my ill-advised corner-cutting hours earlier when I decided carrying 36lb baby to a couple stores was easier than getting his stroller out of the trunk. I even forgot that in my frenzy to grab bags of returns, purses etc., I didn’t take note of where I parked and if pressed, such as now standing in the snowy parking lot, could only narrow it down to within a square mile. All that drifted away as I watched Christmas-time arrive on the wings of Alec laugh.

Speaking of cherished traditions, I apparently still wait to the last second to do my Christmas cards. When the first card arrived in November this year, I was inspired, and wondered how the sender managed this; are they stuffing the turkey with one hand, and the Christmas card envelopes with the other? Outliers! Over-achievers! But as the days pass, and cards pile up, the thump-thump of my holiday version of Poe’s tell tale heart, beats louder, and I’m ultimately forced to admit that Christmas is next week.

So 2008…what a year, right?! Last year, thanks to my editor at Disney requiring that I write constantly about my life, I was able to provide an orderly review. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s if I don’t write it down I will never remember it. I recently went back and read some of Jack’s baby book updates and it was all a complete surprise. I can’t wait to read more and find out how year 2 turned out. This year, I’m back to winging it and so you might find the update a little biased towards what happened in the last week or so. My sleep-deprived mind (20 -months now of interrupted sleep) can only recall so much. That said, I wouldn’t get your hopes up that this is going to be a short letter. That doesn’t correlate as much as you might think J

Let’s start with the good stuff. Our kids! Jack and Alec are the light of our lives. Jack is our so-smart 4 (almost 5) year old. Everyone quickly points out that he is way smarter than Brian and I…put together. We are both flattered and offended. Jack is in his second year of preschool, and has ruined every class surprise this year because his teacher keeps forgetting he can read. He is still fascinated with all things mechanical. Most everything in our house that is longer-than-it-is-wide in has been scotched-taped into a gate and we are lucky we all have our eyesight with the number of gates he carries around whacking us in the head. Naturally it prompts us to yell at him, which we later wish we didn’t because Jack’s has a near-photographic memory and we will hear our comments played back verbatim at inopportune times months later. Garage doors, automatic doors, traffic signs, all still center stage in Jack-land. Jack loves to open ALL doors and strangers often remark that he is the most adorable little gentlemen or they are almost knocked over by a blur racing to trigger the automatic door eye before they do. If you live in the area, you’ve been warned!

Jack is at actually a really fun age because he is such a mix of maturity. On one hand, Jack tried to ban me from singing Christmas carols in the car because he only likes Classic Rock. The same sensitive child that covers his ears and cries when his preschool class sings ‘London Bridge’ because its “too much noise”, plays The Beatles so loud at home that the windows vibrate. I’ve tried to explain to him that when he hits the natural state of teenage rebellion, he will have left himself no choice but to develop an affinity for preschool nursery songs. But he is still annexing Brian and my CD collection. On the other hand, Jack asks approximately 100 million questions a day, some of which reveal his actual age like, “Mommy, have you ever been to the center of the Earth on a rocket ship?” or “When I get my dog when I am 10, can I also have a reindeer?”. You can also tell that he watches TV occasionally, as Jack has become Madison Avenue’s dream-child. Typical exchanges: Me: “Here’s your band-aid, Jack.”. Him (suspicious): “Wait. Is that Band-Aid Brand?” Or Me: “Jack, is that a spot on your shirt?”. Him: “Yes! Do we need Oxy Clean Laundry Stain Fighter?”

Alec meanwhile is such a sweetheart, that at times of great insanity; I want to have 20 more. Alec is our social butterfly and navigates the world with his dimples, curls, and smile. I almost never go anywhere with him without strangers remarking on him. In addition to his affectionate, mild nature, Alec is one tough cookie; he endures all sorts of rough and tumbling, and never protests as long as he is still near Jack, his idol. He is also pretty sporty. A late walker (at 14 mos.), his first week walking he saw Jack play soccer and when we got home, Alec started kicking and trapping the ball like a professional …or at least like someone who wasn’t crawling last week. In some ways he is just like Jack (love of garage doors appears genetic) and other ways, he is really different. Regardless of this, I have this strange obsession with dressing them as if they were identical twins. I don’t know what compels me to do this, if I dress one in a shirt that they both have, when I get to the other one’s closet, my mind pleads- “Don’t do it! Don’t pick the blue checked one!” But I do. Every time.

In other news, In April we went to the Dominican Republic. We went with our friend from college who fatefully introduced Brian and me. Or, at least he and his family appear in pictures of that trip- to be honest, it was mostly a blur. Alec, a poor sleeper at home, on the road falls into more the non-sleeper category. Since the slightest noise would awaken him, I would threaten the entire family before bed (at 9pm- how fun!), warning them against talking, coughing, anything. But sooner or later, someone would get careless and rustle their blanket or breathe a little too loudly, and I’d be back up with a crying Alec wondering if the airport was open for flights back to DC. Up for the day at 5am, the highlight of this vacation was the stolen moments alone at the buffet at mealtime. Naturally this trip should have put me off travel forever, but it did not and we went with friends to a beach-house in August where we repeated the whole thing.

Once we got home, we tried the Ferber method with Alec. This form of "cry it out" was torture for me, but within 3 days had the predicted success of an almost-night’s sleep! This is supposed to solve your sleep problems. Unfortunately, on day 5, Alec started crying again. We conferred with the book. Was there some sort of epilogue? There was not. Over and over, same result- Alec is a serial rebound-Feberizer. Every time Brian says he wants another baby, I remind him that we already have one! He can relive the newborn experience any night he wants to! No 9 months wait required! Though it’s nice to know that after 16 years Brian still has the ability to surprise me, since I seriously believe he is going to get up every night as he sincerely promises, when usually he sleeps right though the screaming (both Alec’s and mine). I figure worse case, I can marry Alec off in 20 years and this can be his wife’s problem. T-20, baby!

Of course many people were affected by the financial crisis this year as we were no exception. Mostly, we are majorly disappointed we didn’t spend more frivolously over the years considering how our saving-based plan worked out. At least we would have had some expensive shoes or ill-conceived tattoos to show for our efforts! Instead, Brian and I will be able to tell our future grandkids the fascinating story about how at one time, long ago, we thought we would retire someday. Ah well, C'est la vie. I also for the first time in my life paid attention to gas prices since I drive a Tahoe and had to take out an equity line at every fill up. Fortunately at least the fuel crisis is over so I can stop being the boring person opening up all conversations with some variation of “hey, what are you paying for gas around there?” and go back to gobbling up natural resources with impunity. Ha! Kidding! (sort of).

As for my wonderful husband Brian, he is working at XYZ where his days are spent in a mix of finance and triathlon training. I’m not saying which, where. His races are going well, he competes in the Clydesdale class, which always reminds me that I should buy some Klondike bars. Is that just me? I called Brian at the office the other day, and it seemed like he was whispering whereas he is usually bellowing at me via speakerphone. I asked him what was going on and he said that this neighbor had asked if he could speak a little more softly. This was late vindication as I had long wondered why no one stole his speakerphone under the cover of night. I was amazed to read in his first grade report card that his teacher was very concerned about Brian being shy and not being able to hear him when he talked. All I can say is “most effective intervention, ever.” . So of course it’s ironic to hear Brian admonish Jack, “geez Jack, talk softer!”. That’s for those of you who wonder about that whether the universe really balances out!

Brian’s dream of adding more dirt to the backyard also finally came true this year in a project rivaling the size of The New Deal. An in-ground sprinkling system also mysteriously made its way into our yard but I didn’t fight it because I am sick of looking at dead flowers from June on. When we moved into our house it was owned by the president of the garden club. We let natural selection take its course but it seems that all plants like water at some point. And that has been a real inconvenience.

As for me, I am still the Senior Director at XYG. I am still working a reduced work-week/flex schedule and I love it. I also have piles of books I’m reading and ideas I’m dreaming up, but the kids take up all of my time so mostly I’m lucky if I can get through a tivoed episode of Oprah in less than a week . Clearly sensing this, a friend recently invited us over for dinner and asked if we wouldn’t mind being on her team to help raise $100,000 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this Spring during a 10-week fundraiser. My mind raced for excuses I hadn’t already tried when she earlier emailed me about needing “a favor”, but as she spoke, I couldn’t help but picture the children and families who were praying for miracles this season; and knew we had to help. If any of you are feeling blessed this Christmas and support this very deserving cause (or would like to), we’d really appreciate any (tax-deductable) donations to our drive, of any amount. Brian is the team Treasurer and checks (made out to L&LS and post-dated to April 15th!) can be sent to our home address. As for my friend’s taste in teammates…well, I think that she was already really impressed by my (sole) suggestion to sell candy bars from our desks.

Another big event for us this year was the loss of our wonderful nanny, Maria, who had been with us since Jack was born. I was devastated when she told me at age 70, the time had come for her to retire. Talk about stress! But I will pause and reference an ancient Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. “ One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck? Who knows?” The older and wiser I get, the more I see this to be a universal truth. Life is full of “bad breaks” which in retrospect, created the space in life for new growth and richer experiences. Like the daffodils that are hacked apart and subdivided, returning the next year, bigger, more beautiful, more vibrant than ever. Such is life. In this case, our new nanny Lilly, a grandmother of 2 boys, has been an absolute delight. We couldn’t have imagined to dream for a someone so perfect for us. We are very grateful.

Anyway, even the smallest font eventually gets you to the end, and so here we are. We wish all of our friends and family a wonderful Christmas and hope that any breaks in your plans spring forth with multitudes of flowers. May each of you be graced with peace, love and light in the New Year. With love, Amy, Brian, Jack and Alec.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On Faith.

Hello again, dear blog. You are like a neglected houseplant to me, and every time I catch sight of your yellowing curling leaves I think of the lush tropical flowers that might have been. Just what I needed, another source of guilt to feed my relentless do-it-all machine! Awesome!

Anyway, I’ve been busy with life, kids, work- practicing living in the “now”, which is so popular but sometimes I feel like- “Ok, I’m here (in the now)…hmph, this is a little dull. where’s the party?” Maybe I need to finish my Tolle books. But I have been distracted on a memoir craze that started out with Kelly Corrigan’s The Middle Place. Super book, loved it. Then I went on to others including Schyler’s Monster (enjoyable read but not earth shattering), Swimming in a Sea of Death (wow- that’s an atheist? I am definitely not one of them no matter how undecided I feel sometimes! Despite that rant, the book was well written), and, yes, ok, Storitelling, which I actually enjoyed, then on to Waiting for Birdy by Catherine Newman, which I loved, loved, loved even if it did constantly freak me out with déjà vu and wondering if Catherine really had kids of her own or just watched mine from afar with a telephoto lens, jotting notes furiously.

Anyway, all this led to my looking at Kelly Corrigan’s website where she was researching a new book on faith and asked readers for their perspective. And this is what I am up with. So Kelly- this is for you. (for you blog-here are a year’s worth of words for you to munch on during the lean times).

(Unedited/Uncondensed/Probably Unreadable) Essay on Faith:

As for faith, I think I can rule out atheism. While reading a memoir recently from someone who was an atheist, it felt very wrong on spiritual, religious and heck, even cellular level to me. Which is interesting because every now and then I take a highly scientific view of life and its origins and think that maybe there is “nothing more”. When I am in such a “we die, are gone, it’s the end” mood I recognize my emotional state to be similar to that wild petulant teenager yelling at my parents who won’t let me go to a party or some other grave offense- “I hate you! You are ruining my life!” In this case, angry at the lack of answers to my millions of questions. While I have definitely considered the idea that life is a science and random evolution, I have always struggled with the intricacies- that perhaps it all sprung from one cell eons ago but from whence came that cell? An iota a matter must have come from somewhere? And what would be the purpose of humans to know of their own certain death if not to give them an opportunity to live with great purpose because this life meant something. Otherwise, it’s quite cruel is it not? To allow a species to evolve to a point where they see the certainly of their own extinction for no other purpose than the species got a little too smart, evolved a little too far. I wish I could say that isn’t possible, and it doesn’t feel like the truth to me but who am I to rule anything out?

So I mull. The truth is, if I’m not actively engaged in spreadsheets or fixing boo-boos or laughing at my baby’s giggle, I usually come back to the same place. Contemplating what this all means, where it is going, and will this be enough when I die. Very much in the present- is this IT? Is this what I am supposed to be doing? I spend so much time wondering, reflecting, surmising, I have to conclude it’s actually become a deep weave in my fabric of life, one that is silent, and invisible to those around me. Unless I bring up an Oprah show or they see yet another meaning-of-life book on my nightstand, they would never think to guess how much a part of me it really is.

And so I wonder, am I the only one worrying about this stuff? Because it creeps into my thoughts and builds into hours worth each day Are other people really thinking about whether their team will win the playoffs this weekend or if the black shoes at Barneys will be going on sale soon, or other less philosophical things? If I were in a culture that had worry stones for existential fretting I imagine I’d have a perfectly smooth stone that gleamed in the sun. As it is, as an American, I instead make due with a roll of tums and an evening cocktail.

About the time I turned 30, or maybe when I became a mother…at age 30, I felt myself cleave from conventional life. My life to that point had been building-focused. Build the friends, build my independence, build my life with my boyfriend-then-husband, build the career, succeed at work, excel, get there, go faster, achieve more, get more, win. Then slowly, something began to change, and I couldn’t even tell you when or how but it began to dawn on me, that it seemed so much of this was transient. That none of this was going with me, that it really more of a diversion. The truth was, time was short, and it was all too easy to make it meaningless. To easy to get wrapped up in the daily minutiae- jobs, cars, vacuuming, shopping, planning and completely miss the point. In my early 30’s it became real to me for the first time that I may not have the life that I envisioned for myself as a mega tycoon with a life of luxury. I blame my parents but they always made me feel special. Ordinary was out of the question- of course I would achieve all of this! But somehow it hit me, like a dart right between my eyes- I could die tomorrow, nothing is guaranteed, and all this stuff you have envisioned? Not worth a damn really. Not worth much at all.

So, as an avid reader, I turned to books, seeking an answer. When you think of it, people spend a lifetime learning things then writing a book on it. Sure seems like a solid way to save time- to learn from what others have spent years working to condense to a few pages. One I started with was Man’s Search for Meaning. A great title, but of little substance, at least for what I was searching for. Miracles in the Andes. I went on to read some Krishnamurti, some Ian Stevenson, Michael Brown (all I liked). I read a lot, but it didn’t solve my problem.

And so this search for meaning quickly ran into the question of faith. It was unavoidable. I struggled with the thought of if we all know we are soon to die, how is it we have not all dedicated our lives to answering the question that looms so large? We are going to die- will we cease to be? Is there another life or world beyond this? Do we choose which one we go to? Will we ever see our family again? I viewed with both longing and exasperation the faith of the strongly religious. Logically, I felt, if you are going to believe completely in an organized religion, you must admit in any event, that you can’t possibly know- we can’t possibly know- if your religions take on the ever-after is accurate. As someone once said about faith- all we can ever really know is that we aren’t sure. By definition, faith implies you cannot prove it to be so. But how comforting it looks from afar. The sureness, the simplicity. At the same time, it makes me crazy. I believe that most people’s faith is about as random as nationality. Organized religion is (mostly) inherited. You are an American (or substitute a religion here) and think America is best because you were born an American. That’s natural, but shouldn’t it be acknowledged that people want what they are and are born into to be the best and so we logically organize events and opinions to support that? It doesn’t really mean that Denmark (other religion) isn’t really a better home-country. Maybe Denmark rocks, I have no idea. I like being able to call myself a Catholic, because like everyone, it's nice to be part of a team, even though I'm pretty far from a "good" Catholic. Regardless, I guess what I am saying is- It’s ok to love your faith/religion. Admit you cannot be sure you are right. Leave room for others. Why doesn’t it seem to work out that way?

My parents, having spent many years in Catholic religious orders/work, sort of left things up in the air once they ditched religious life and started raising me. They no longer really bought into organized religion. They felt they saw “behind the curtain” so to speak and felt that the answer was not there. So no surprise, neither did I. I was raised in a mix of Catholicism, new age philosophy, and eastern religions. No wonder I am confused! Ultimately I found I could try to live by the rules of a faith via organized religion that make me feel like I am wearing someone else’s pants, or I could cobble together elements of faith, spirituality and religion that resonate with the inner me- my intuition if you will, which feels most like “me”. After several years of thought, I had cobbled together a framework of belief, it had a lot of holes like my grandmothers crocheted blankets, ripping out lines of stitches as I figured new things out, and inwardly cursing that the blanket was never done when everyone else seemed to be buying pre-made blankets at Walmart. Unfinished as it was, it was something to cling to when the cold set in. And it is, in short:

I think we slide into the world on a strand of light as eternal beings, build the light, grow learn enjoy, and then slide back out on our strand of light. I think the strands of lights of those you love intertwine with your own so you are forever linked. I think there might be something magical in the depths of meditation-glimpses to levels of consciousness unattainable in normal states. I have started to feel myself pulled down the rabbit hole in my early attempts, with last minute thoughts bringing me back before I knew where it was going. I have started to believe in laws of attraction. That you don’t have to make things happen. Things come to you once you are aware of this. Or maybe I have just been lucky, but I’m come to learn the less I struggle/fight/force it, the smoother the ride. In retrospect, I have always gotten what I wanted and needed, just not always immediately or without setbacks or challenges- but eventually things I really valued, appeared/happened. It seems from my view that the universe is inherently good. I’ve learned to look at the world and nature as if I have never seen it before in everyday life- driving to work, taking a walk, and in doing do, have found unspeakable beauty that makes me wonder what more a heaven could offer. In those moments, I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz- "heaven" was here all along. That sounds new-agey and crazy, but literally I was walking one day recently and suddenly looked up from semi-meditation and was astounded by the world. What seconds before had been a typical street in typical suburbia, suddenly the colors were impossibly deep and rich, the sky was the most gorgeous piece of art. What seconds before had been bad edging and crabgrass was a creative beautiful organic nature wonderland. Houses became cozy nests created by the creatures of the world. I didnt want for anything, I expected nothing and needed nothing. I was like a child who had never seen the world before. I was totally at peace, suspended in goodness. Which only makes me realize how much background noise and angst are usually present in everyday life. Anyway, at times like that, I realize we dont see the miracles that surround us all the time. We dont see what is right in front of us. Like sleepwalking-we think we are awake and aware, but we are not.

On faith in general, I dont think a human mind could ever understand it all, and we shouldnt spend all our time trying, but I still try quite a bit (I'm a total hyprocrit). But other things I can’t explain- like suffering and pain, other than perhaps it’s a way to teach those not suffering about compassion and those in pain about transcendence. But I worry that seems trite. And despite my beliefs and glimpses of that surreal peace, there are moments that I still feel seized with panic. That life is moving along quickly and I will soon lose my parents and elders, that dangers lurk in every shadow for those I love, that I will one day wake up and find myself at the end of life wondering how it all went by so quickly. And I want to grab hold of time and stop it- the peace and surety of assurance of eternal life and a benevolent universe eluding me. Sort of that feeling when all the sudden you find yourself going way to fast and your heart leaps into your throat and says, oh my god, this isnt fun anymore. Someone stop this thing.

Anyway, I felt ok about my Chinese menu of faith, until reading the Oprah magazine where Kelly made a comment about how American it is to think that you can pick and choose the tenants of your faith like reading from, well, a Chinese menu. That made me feel very predictable and silly-American- you mean this developing my own spirituality is grouped into the same sort of behavior that causes us to buy gas guzzling cars and build McMansions on every block? Me me me-ism? Maybe that’s true, but right now, it’s all I have. My final thoughts on organized religion? A hundred versions of the truth. Mostly inspired by greatly spiritual beings, whose words and insights have been to varying degrees contorted or twisted over the centuries based on the whims of man, or the known dangers of the game of “operator”. “He said what? It’s all about the duck?? Ohhh, it’s all about LUCK (strike 3000 years of duck-worship)”.

And because faith and meaning for me are intertwined, I will touch on my search for meaning. I think the idea of leaving a “legacy” as giving life meaning is a little overrated. For most of us, the Earth will not miss us when we are gone. The idea that we keep people alive by talking about the person or in our memories, is great until you go down one generation and that is the end of that. How often do you reflect on the life and values of your great grandparents or beyond? I reflect on them to pay them silent homage though I have no idea who they were or what they stood for. Still, I carry their DNA in my cell somewhere, so in case it matters, I think of them in tribute every so often in case it matter. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to cover your bases. So my focus is on happiness in this world which is a tall order. Happiness to me is comprised of several components:

1. It means having a faith- otherwise, you’re unlikely to be dripping in happiness if you really think this life is a random one time thing that you cease to exist after it- not much holiday cheer in that worldview. So you have to have faith to understand where this all fits, where it’s going, and the comfort that the connections to both yourself and others will not be lost and are not in vain.

2. Then there are let’s say “pleasures of the flesh”, this is where we spend much of our time, probably too much- pursuing – because some of these can be bought with cold hard cash. Things like the intrigue of travel, buying expensive good shoes instead of ones on sale that dig into my feet and leave little red welts, having massages, not having to cook with an oven that burns brownies on the left while the right side remains a gooey mess, a steam shower shaped like a snail, and let’s face it, just living a life of extreme beauty and comfort. I cant lie, I havent transcended these goals. Even as relatively short-term as I recognize them to be, god help me, I want it all.

3. Then there are the elements of happiness built on love- the beauty of your child’s laugh, the refuge and companionship of your spouse, the comfort that only your parents could give, the gift of friends you enjoy passing the days with.

4. Finally, I’d say the last major element of happiness is vocation- because humans thrive on achievement and creation. We can call it growing or learning or whatever, but the thrill of facing a challenge and meeting it- it’s this that causes people to keep going even when they reach their goals. They set new ones, continue on, otherwise, it’s like the idea of reaching the end of the internet- what do you do then? So what is it we do with our lives. Do we hone our organizational skills helping the homeless or find personal engineering genius building atom bombs? Does it matter? I wish I knew.

So if I’ve thought through it enough to be able to organize it into a nice neat essay on faith- do I feel as safe and secure as those who wrap themselves in the blanket of organized religion, saying "I believe what he said" while pointing to a ancient text? While we probably don’t know as much about others as we think we do- the answer is “I doubt it”. Absent the blind faith that says; "live your life, pay your taxes, help old ladies across the street, be good and in the end you will be rewarded in ways you can only dream of", I still sit outside with my faced pressed against the windowpane, my hot breath fogging the glass. In the end, I hope that God, whatever it is, recognizes that I really tried. Maybe I missed some rituals, maybe I wasn’t always sure…but I always hoped and I always struggled to explore heart and mind and spirit and make it one. If nothing else, I sought you out God, and frankly, your response wasn’t unequivitable. Given that, I did the best I could, so I hope that you are there, and, if I did it wrong, I hope that you forgive.

Well, Jack, sleepy eyes blinking against the light of the afternoon, hair tousled and damp, just came into the room and announced “My Nap was Great!”. With trademark 4-year old gusto, certain this news is both critical and likely to make me proud. He is so darn cute. Its one of those rare moments when I don't question anything, I just bask in the joy, soaking it in.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Full Body Smile

This morning, you cried at a quarter to seven. I shuffled into your room before my brain had even registered that I was no longer in bed, as I do several times a night. I lifted your squirming body from the crib, settling into the rocking chair as you rooted in the semi-dark, blackout shades drawn against the early morning light, to latch on, searching for more warm milk. Even at almost a year old, we repeat this most nights, many times- too many times.

As you drank, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes- one of my tricks to convey to you that “we are still sleeping around here! It’s not morning!”. At some point I carefully opened my eyes to look down at you and see if you were drifting back to sleep. You weren’t. Curled up around me, your mouth suckling like a starfish, your eyes were wide open. You catch me looking at you and paused in your nursing to give me a smile and then quickly latched back on.

I love when you are curled up like this, your warm soft baby body melting into me. Your arm draped possessively across me, or, less satisfyingly, your sticky fingers exploring my face, scratching me with your nails I am forever cutting at bad angles or trying to fish hook my mouth. When Jack was a baby he would often fall asleep on my chest. I felt like I always had a sleeping baby on top of me and I would say to your father “could you take him?” pointing to the slumbering baby and gesturing towards the swing. Or sometimes if he awoke early, I would steal him back to my bed and he would fall back asleep on top of me, while I went into a semi-sleep, worried he might fall, but too tired to actually get up.

But not you. You twist and turn, always on the move. You’re all smiles, but only a real good cuddler when you are nursing. After you finish, you start squirming around and I fashion my arms like a soft cage to prevent you from falling off my lap. I used to think you wanted to get down, and that if I put you on the floor you would scamper away on some urgent mission. But the two times I tried, you looked up at me with a shocked and hurt expression and started to cry. So I hold you like a bundle of energy performing acrobatics on my lap. Often times, I will tire of this and stick you back in your crib to go back to sleep. And often times, you will cry. But today I thought, “oh well” and I opened my eyes and let you sit up on my lap.

And your entire face formed into a smile as you realized that I was going to interact. “Good morning!!!!” your grin said “I can’t believe you are letting me sit up and look at you! This is so exciting!”. I soaked in your smile, as you happily bounce in place for a few minutes, and rose to open the shades. At this point, you went into your full body smile. Trembling with excitement, you, with amazing strength, bound up and down in my arms, and wiggle every arm and leg with excitement at seeing the morning sun. I have to tighten my grip so you don’t fall to the floor. Because you know. This is it. I won’t put you back in your crib now. You make little noises of happiness, soft shrieks or hiccupy-laughter that are hard to describe. How does a smile sound? That is the noise.

And a new day is born.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stupid Newfangled Internet

I have often considered with a sort of detached sadness-tinged-with-annoyance the fumblings of the older generation when it came to computers. My father, for example, who is exceedingly bright, can become so obtuse when it has to do with his laptop that I want to reach across the phone lines and shake him. Hard.

"Dad, I cannot tell you why that pop up thing that according to your recollection says 'cancel now, but you were successful' is doing that nor can I assess if that is why you can no longer view your Seinfeld DVDs on your computer if that is all you remember." According to my Dad, software randomly disappears and appears on his laptop, possibly by divine intervention.

Not that I am one of those snazzy new kids who grew up with the internet. The internet didnt even crop up until I was in college. COLLEGE for heavens sake. For our high school homework we used the card catalog at the library and the set of Britanica's that I won in a first grade art contest. Back then, they didnt even give grammar school children homework. We went home and roamed the neighborhood with our friends like wild children after school until our parents bellowed out the back door for us to come in for "supper".

As I type this I am hearing my grandparents voice echo in my head "coal delivery...woolen bathing box". Oh god, it happening.

For a while there, I was sort of hanging with the technology crowd. When I randomly started this blog I was ranked like 3,000 on technorati with a 540 authority. Why not, it was my emerging generation that launched the internet! We were the pioneers!

My new technorati rating? 3.2M. What the..???

I saw it coming. First, I saw all these new icons pop up everywhere- DIGG, RSS, Track Back-add it to this or that or whatever and I sort of knew what it all was, sort of. Honestly I felt it was getting a little cluttered and annoying.

Just like I find Facebook and My Space annoying and hideously designed. I am suprised more people dont fall over with spontaneous seizures from all the insanely flashing text and ADHD-inspired layouts. I have accounts on some of these sites becuase I had to find out what the fuss was about. I kept them up as a social experiment in "no one over the age of 16 is seriously going to use this are they?" Then I get the occasional email notifying me that "friends" have been on my site, and I go out there and find that previously sane people I know, often with advanced degrees, have given me a piece of "flair" or a mock buttons for my page. Seriously guys. Flair?

Its all just further testament to my emerging cluelessness as the technology outstrips my attention span or available time. My dinosaur scales are showing and my kids, one of which learned to read "Google" before "Run Dick Run", are going to give me a run for my money as I lamely try to put filters on their computers in a few years. They will probably have them fully disabled before I complete the reboot to complete the installation.

But I have to tell you, it's no fun being behind the curve. My legendary fall from technorati grace, and in less than 18 months, smarts. Harsh technorati! Harsh.

Alec's Hair

I recently entered Alec in a Disney contest for Crazy Baby Hair. How cute is he?

I went through elaborate steps to conceal my identity as a former blogger so they would not feel guilty awarding Alec the grand prize. That, and I couldnt remember my password to my original account and didnt want to wait for my old one to be reset via email. How insanely impatient am I? I entered the contest on the last day and took a picture of Alec 10 minutes before posting it. So yes, this is really his regular hairstyle.

As it happens, inexplictably we did not win (unless I have overlooked 3 emails and a certified letter arriving by June 16th).

Still, I think the picture is so cute so despite our defeat, I'm posting the link.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Excerpts from 2007 Annual Christmas Letter:

Once again, the wonderful holiday season is upon us. A time for gifts, giving, and of course, Christmas newsletters. Ours is a special milestone this year as it represents the 10th annual Christmas letter! When you are done celebrating, you can read on to our year in review.

January marked the beginning of my second trimester of pregnancy. Unlike with Jack, I had very little morning sickness and briefly (wrongly) considered that we might be having a girl. What I did not consider is that not feeling sick would eventually lead to triple the weight gain of my first pregnancy, but more on that later.

Speaking of Jack, he began the year as a freshly minted three-years-old, but still much a toddler, until one day he and Brian left to run errands. Jack breezed back in several hours later, excitedly telling me about his adventures with his father, using far more sophisticated language, attention to detail, and imagery than I ever realized he possessed. I stared at him unable to process the change as he chattered away. Just like that, he was a little boy.

Jack still loves garage doors and elevators but has really mixed things up this year by adding gates, signs and automatic doors to his obsessions. Getting around the house can be a little tricky since everything from a shoelace to a broken measuring stick becomes a “gate” and Jack prefers we punch in our access code to open the gate before letting us by.

In February, I was promoted to xxx, at xxx, where I remain on my flexible 4-days a week schedule. In addition to my regular job, xxx also had me xxx for an international industry consortium. And you know how various world cultures love to merge into one perceived-American-driven standard! Like butter on hot toast! Also, because I appeared to be some sort of job-magnet, Disney contacted me and asked me to be a writer on their new website, I really am not sure how it happened, but one of their producers came across my writing and made me an offer, which I almost turned down because writing artistes like me really don’t like deadlines. Ultimately I accepted, writing an hour or two every weekend, because having an actual editor was too cool to forego. So this just goes to show, Christmas letters will usually lead to great fame.

As for Brian, he continued his work as an xxx at xxx, which he really enjoys, or finds really stressful, depending on the hour. His colleagues have great senses of humor and Brian has become well-known at the company as his quiet conversational tone really compliments his speakerphone habit. At home, Brian is still perfecting his dishwasher loading methodology, and we aren’t committing, but think that by the end of next year he may have found a way to engineer an extra fork into the configuration. Brian insists he still loves me but has banned me from executing the loading sequence.

In April, Jack entered the “asking why” phase. And although I always vowed I would not brush off my children when they asked why, and would instead give complete and scientifically correct answers, I was not fully aware of the incessant and circular nature of said questions and within 24 hours I was responding to everything with “Because I said so.”

By May, I was into the final months of pregnancy and was large enough that we feared I might throw the Earth off it’s rotational axis. The early “glow” dissipated into general irritability and Brian decided this was an excellent time to begin exercising several hours a day, suddenly inspired to start competing in triathlons. He finished his first triathlon three days before I had the baby, finishing in just over three hours.

In June I was able to hand off my international job and also wrap up writing for Disney. The timing worked out perfectly because a few days later I got another new job at home- a mother of two!

On June 27th we welcomed our second beautiful son, Alec Orion, to the world. Alec is the personification of joy. With dark curly hair and a soulful, twinkling gaze, he spends his days laughing, cooing and smiling at whoever happens to look in his direction. My Dad insists that he can feel Alec watching him even when he is in his bouncy seat facing the other direction (Alec, not my Dad), just waiting to catch his eye and smile. The name Orion means “light of Heaven” and he certainly has been.

To show his humility by not being perfect, Alec is not such a great sleeper and rarely naps. Like his brother, Alec is a big boy. He weighed in at 18+lbs at eight weeks and was wearing 24-month sized clothing by the time he was four months old. While we are charmed by the boys’ resemblance to Brian in this respect, carrying our infant is not entirely dissimilar to toting around a cement block, albeit one with a good personality. This can be a challenge when chasing after Jack, or really, doing anything.

Jack, who was not particularly interested in obtaining a sibling, has done pretty well with the competition. We suspect he is occasionally envious of the attention the baby gets because we are very astute parents and also because he says, “I’m jealous. Put the baby down and hug my belly.” While Jack declines to hold the baby, he has not been totally immune to his charms and is relishing his power to make Alec, who adores Jack, laugh. In fact, Jack recently announced that he would like “100 baby brothers” (though I suspect it has more than a little to do with him getting additional access to the automatic revolving doors at the hospital). I told Jack unfortunately his chances for that many siblings are pretty low.

I’ve found that going from one to two children is similar to going from zero to one. It occurs to me that we had a lot more time before, but with the added work are added rewards. We are also extremely lucky to have the help of our wonderful live-in nanny, who we couldn’t survive without. I’ve noted that with the second child we are pretty much over the practice of sterilizing dropped toys, or cutting cheerios in half to prevent choking. I smile when I think that I still had the baby monitor in Jack’s room before Alec arrived. These days, I’m a lot more likely to install soundproofing in their bedrooms and issue stern warnings about what’s going to happen to the next kid that wakes mommy up.

The rest of the Summer was spent with me trying to recover from the delivery by caesarean. A virulent infection led to other complications that I am still dealing with- all around not my best time physically. However, Alec was born safely and without complications so I am grateful.

On to a busy September! Brian competed in his second triathlon, finishing in less than three hours. He is currently training for 2008 races and is a constant reminder of how I am not a triathlete despite walking over 200 miles in loops around our neighborhood to drop the baby weight (as any of you with a phone know since I pass the time by making calls). Brian and I also celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary (15 years together!) in September. Brian surprised me with a romantic evening out in a limo and a 10-year marriage blessing at xxx. It’s been a wonderful life together and we are very thankful.

Jack also started preschool in September. I was worried about the transition, and although he had a slight adjustment to make when he realized he wouldn’t be actually running the school, he has since thrived and loves it. His preschool is in a charming old fashioned schoolhouse on a historic working farm, so they visit the animals often and have lots of fun. I love picking him up and hearing about his day, especially discovering what his three-year-old mind perceives as a highlight. Jack is very bright and is able to do simple reading, spelling and math. He is very strong in spatial temporal reasoning, which he obviously didn’t inherit from me. He also loves Spanish, so we are now all bilingual, as long as the word is related to something that might appear in a Dora episode.

Of course fun isn’t the only thing that Jack gets at school- he has also become our personal link to the greater community of preschool maladies and, as I write this with a sore throat after getting a goodnight kiss from Jack, it occurs to me I should really start teaching him to wave (“Wave night, night to mommy, baby!”) Just until preschoolers decide to be more fastidious. As for size, Jack hasn’t gained much weight this year, attributed to the fact that he subsisted largely on highly diluted apple juice until we figured out so much water was affecting his appetite. In spite of his parents being a bit clueless, Jack has still managed to grow upwards. I’m not sure of his exact height but you look at the closest 4-year-old and tack on an extra head, that’s about how tall he is.

In October and November we settled into our routine as a family of four, with my returning to work and all of us sleeping a little less than we’d like to, for now. And while this year has brought us great gifts, we have also lost family and friends, some of whom are not a lot older than us. This poignant reminder of how precious and short life is has reinforced our deep sense of gratitude for all that makes life beautiful, including our many wonderful family and friends. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we’ve come to see we have everything we ever truly desired, and it’s been ours all along.

All of which brings us to today. Jack is on the cusp of turning four, at which point he swears he will begin eating vegetables and Alec a happy and round five month old with a single little tooth he isn’t afraid to use. Christmas is a time for miracles and we hope you all have yours. As always, we wish you great peace, love & light in the New Year.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

My semi annual post

I'm so bad at this blogging stuff. I have two really good excuses though. Arent they cute?

Yes, I know some of you have 4 or more kids and blog all the time. I can't explain how you do it. Unreal.
Alec is 5 months and Jack is 3.
This years Christmas letter, the only writing I have done lately, will be posted soon.
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Eat Pray Love...then what?

Well, it was bound to happen. Oprah had Elizabeth Gilbert on her show and now the book is big-time famous. My review of Eat Pray Love is by far, the most accessed blog entry. It dramatically surpasses all the blog entries I meant to write but never got around to. We will just have to all imagine how entertaining and poignant those would have been.

I wrote the original review in April 2006 in the midst of a spiritual pilgrimage- or maybe just an early mid life crises- and it's amazing how has and has not changed in that time. For one, at that time I was beginning to fear that I would never be able have a second child. The barren months stretching endlessly. And today, I type one-handed, a nursing baby curled against me. A living, breathing blessing, if you believe in such things. Sometimes its hard not to.

And then other times....

Since reading Eat Pray Love, I've had my share of fortune and trials. I've continued my search for the eternal "meaning of life" and slowly added to my knowledge, carefully adding each fact or plausible theory to the overall equation like a little mad scientist. Then I ran into some health issues and completely lost my faith for a period of time. I believed that there was no one "looking out" for us. It was a stupid idea anyhow. Like some God in the sky was micromanaging our lives, giving me this condition and letting children starve in Sudan. It was maddening, because clearly it seemed, we were alone. Very alone. I felt like a small child. A cosmic orphan.

And yet, I looked at my earlier experiments with attraction theory- being explicit about what you wanted and waiting for the universe to make it so. It wasn't entirely a failure, that experiment. In fact, it was a little eerie. Strange enough for me to quietly send out copies of the little book (It Works) on the subject to friends in distress like a closet evangelist.

And then I started looking at healing through hypnosis, and concerned about falling into the hands of a crackpot, tried self-hypnosis and found it also sort of works. The hypnosis also helped with the onset of anxiety brought about by this condition I developed. I wasn't depressed per say, and was quite happy with life, but would be seized by bouts of anxiety where I got dizzy and wanted to jump out of my skin. Maddening. My husband was great, and in a way, it renewed my love for him- him being such a rock and safe harbor. That was a type of gift- to have such a renewed gratitude for my amazing family. In the past, having heard people say similar things "the tragedy brought us together" I thought- geez, some consolation, but now I think I understand that more.

Then I read the book "Miracle in the Andes". Which is part of the whole Alive story about the plane crash in the Andes. I don't know why I read it, I knew the story. But I'm glad I did, because I really identified with the author, one of the survivors, having gone through a transformation as a result of his experience. A transformation that I really understood in light of my own challenges, which thankfully did not include me having to watch my friends die and eat their bodies (cheap shot but you know you're all thinking it). To understand my current state, I will quote from that book, which I really related to. It's long and it's not my words, but for now, there are a lot of parallels to where I am.

"I have lived a happy life since the disaster. I have no guilt or resentments. I look forward to tomorrow and I always expect the future to be good.

“But how is that possible?” they often ask. “How can you be at peace with life after what you suffered?” I tell them I am not at peace in spite of what I suffered, but because of it. The Andes took so much from me, I explain, but they able gave me the simple insight that has liberated me and illuminated my life: Death is real, and death is very near.

In the mountains, there was never a minute that I did not feel death at my side, but the moment I stood on the summit of the mountain and saw nothing but towering peaks as far as the eye could see, was the moment all my doubts were swept away and the certainty of my own death became viscerally real. The realness of death stole my breath away, but at the same time I burned more brightly with life than I ever had before, and in the face of total hopelessness I felt a burst of joy The realness of death was so clear and so potent that for a moment it burned away everything temporary and false. Death had shown its face, dark, predatory, invincible and for a split second it seemed that beneath the fragile illusions of life, death was all there is. But then I saw that there was something in the world that not death, something just as awesome and enduring and profound. There was love, the love in my heart, and for incredible moment, as I felt this love swell- love for my father, my future, for the simple wonder of being alive- death lost its power. In that moment, I stopped running from death. Instead, I made every step a step toward love, and that saved me. I have never stopped moving toward love. Life has blessed me with material success. I like fast cars, good wine, fine food. I love to travel. I have a beautiful house in Monetvideo, and other one at the beach. I believe life should be enjoyed, but my experiences have taught me that without the love of my family and my friends, all the trappings of worldly success would ring hollow. I also know that I would be a happy man if all those trappings were taken from me, as long as I am close to the people I love.

I expect most people would like to think of themselves in this way, but I know that if I had not suffered as I did, and not been forced to stare death in the face, I would not treasure the simple precious pleasures of my life as richly as I do. There are so many perfect moments in a day and I don’t want to miss a single one- the smiles of my daughters, my wife’s embrace, a slobbering welcome from my puppy, the company of an old friend, the feel of beach sand beneath my feet, and the warm Uruguayan sun on my face. These moments bring time to a stop for me. I savor them and let each one become a miniature eternity and by living these small moments of my life so fully, I defy the shadow of death that hovers over all of us, I reaffirm my love and gratitude for all the fits I’ve been given, and I fill myself and more and more deeply with life.

In the years since the disaster, I often think of my friend Arturo Nogueira, and the conversation we had in the mountains about God. Many of my fellow survivors say they felt the personal presence of God in the Mountains. He mercifully allowed us to survive, they believe, in answer to our prayers, and they are certain it was His hand that led us home. I deeply respect the faith of my friends, but to be honest, as hard as I prayed for a miracle in the Andes, I never felt the personal presence of God. At least, I did not feel God as most people see Him. I did feel something larger than myself, something in the mountains and the glaciers and the glowing sky that, in rare moments, reassured me, and made me feel that the world was orderly and loving and good. If this was god, it was not God as a being or a spirit or some omnipotent, superhuman mind. It was not a God who would choose to save us or abandon us, or change in any way. It was simply a silence, a wholeness, an awe-inspiring simplicity. It seemed to reach me through my own feels of love, and I have often thought that when we feel what we call love, we are really feeling our connection to this awesome presence. I feel this presence when my mind quiets and I really pay attention. I don’t pretend to understand what it is or what it wants from me. I don’t want to understand these things. I have no interest in any God who can be understood, who speaks to us in one holy book or another, and who tinkers with our lives according to some divine plan, as if we were characters in a play. How can I make sense of a God who sets on religion above the rest, who answers one prayer and ignores another, who sends sixteen young men home and leaves twenty nine others dead on a mountain?

There was a time when I wanted to know that God, but I realize now that what I really wanted was the comfort of certainty, the knowledge that my God was the true God and that in the end He would reward me for my faithfulness. Now I understand that to be certain-about God, about anything- is impossible. I have lost my need to know. In those unforgettable conversations I have Artuuro as he lay dying, he told me the best way to find faith was by having the courage to doubt. I remember those words every day and I doubt, and I hope, and in this crude way I try to grope my way toward truth. I still pray the prayers I learned as a child- Hail Mary’s, Our Fathers- but I don’t imagine a wise, heavenly father listening patiently on the other end of the line. Instead, I imagine love, an ocean of love, the very source of love, and I imagine myself merging with it. I open myself to it. I try to direct that tide of love towards the people who are close to me, hoping to protect them and bind them to me forever and connect us all to whatever there is in the world that is eternal. This is a very private thing for me and I don’t try to analyze what it means. I simply like the way it makes me feel. When I pray this way, I fell as if I am connected to something good and whole and powerful. In the mountains, it was love that kept me connected to the world of the living. Courage or cleverness wouldn’t have saved me. I had no expertise to draw on so I relied upon the trust I felt in my love for my father and my future, and that trust led me home. Now I am convinced that if there is something divine in the universe, the only way I will find it is through the love I feel for my family and my friends and through the simple wonder of being alive. I don’t need any other wisdom or philosophy than this: My duty is to fill my time on Earth with as much life as possible, to become a little more human every day, and to understand that we only become human when we love. I have tired to love my friends with a loyal and generous heart. I have loved my children with all my strength. And I have loved one woman with a love that has filled my life with meaning and joy. I have suffered great losses and been blessed with great consolations, but whatever life may give me or take away, this is the simple wisdom that will always light my life: I have loved, passionately, fearlessly, with all my heart and all my soul, and I have been loved in return. For me, this is enough."

I still love the book Eat Pray Love and I'm delighted it's such a success. Though I sometimes feel like it's an old friend who went to Hollywood and became a movie star; I want to yell- hey I knew you when...!

Or at least I think that is how I would feel, given that Hollywood is not filled with people from my hometown. Or even with people who may have accidentally driven though my hometown, as far as I know.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Up for Air

Well thank heavens I stopped writing for Disney's a week before the birth of my second son. Otherwise they'd be suing me about now for default. Why do I perpetually overestimate maternity leave? I never have the action packed, trip filled, super productive leave of my dreams.

I was mussing over this recently and I said to a friend, "next time, I'm truly going to have a good leave". They said, "You keep telling yourself that Amy. I can see you with 3, 4, 5 kids- I bet you'll eventually get that perfect maternity leave." Sigh.

The C-section infection didn't help. Nothing like an open abdominal wound for 7 weeks to take the spring out of your step and damper your summer fun! Now that its finally (thank you God) closed, I'm back on my feet. Which is useless, because even with up to 2 hours a day of walking, I haven't lost any weight since week two. Breastfeeding appetite, that scourge! Hey preggos out there, don't go gaining 42 pounds thinking you'll drop it during maternity leave. I still have 20 stubborn pounds that refuse to vacate. Which means I have to take them back to work with me in 3 weeks. Which means I need ALL NEW CLOTHES because I threw my "fat" clothes out in a fit of fitness two years ago. Egads.

So that is the bad stuff, the good stuff is I have another sweetheart. I'm smitten and in love with baby Alec, which is super since we are BFF. He eats every two hours around the clock, unless he gets hungry and steps it up to hourly. He is 9 weeks today and is almost 17lbs. Bigger than Jack was, who is projected to be around 6'10", maybe 7" as an adult. Wow. Makes me look smaller in pictures with them anyway!

I find that I love Alec and Jack differently. Jack is a little boy at age 3 who is famously for asking me 30 times a day "do you know how much I love you?" and telling me I am his best friend, and Alec, who just learned to smile (which I am crazy for and do anything to elicit from him), so you know, it's different.

In any event, I've been keeping a running mental list of things that I need to teach my kids. Things I wish I had been taught (or taught earlier), so keep your eyes open for that series forthcoming. In these last few weeks of my highly unproductive, and mostly bedridden, maternity leave.

I've done a little reading. Read Miles Levin's blog and felt shallow but grateful. Read The Power of Now and felt confused, reading the accompanying Meditations book and felt deep. Read The Emperors Children and thought, when does this get good? Read Final Exam, virtually by accident, and through a single long night of breastfeeding. Felt maybe my lack of medical career (doctor!) wasn't a total mistake, dont think I could have survived anatomy lab!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Review: The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

As the mother of 3 YEAR old and 3 WEEK old sons, you know a book has to be pretty good to get me blogging on it rather than using my downtime to research tube-tying surgery.

It's been some time since I have been truly inspired by an author (perhaps since Elizabeth Gilbert) and I am delighted to have discovered J.R. Moehringer. I know I said I was going to review some other books first but I got sleepy. So here are the other mini-reviews:

A Life in Smoke: A Memoir by Julia Hansen (4 stars, as a former smoker, really enjoyed it.)

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen (2.5 stars. It was OK, but only because I have nothing else to read, otherwise a bit boring)

Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra (3 stars. A little disappointing, slightly boring)

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron (3.5 stars, A little shallow, mildly humorous)

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (4 stars, love those WWII genre books, true life all the better, still, not the best book Ive read from that era, but interesting)

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (4.5 stars, great memoir, really unique story)

Ok, so back to The Tender Bar...

First, I wasn't so sure about this book because the name was a little off-putting. I didn't know what it meant. I have this idea that women do most of the leisure reading, is that wrong and sexist? Maybe, but I doubt it. So, given that, the title of "bar" and the write up that it was about some guy growing up near a bar, though I love to knock some back when the opportunity arises, didn't inspire me. It sounded like a book for guys. Still, I was in a book lull, so I gave it a shot.

Well I will pull out the oldest cliche for JR- you know some people can play the notes, while others make beautiful music. JR is a writer in the truest and most elegant sense. Words must follow him around like the pied piper in endless admiration. He has "the Gift". It makes me never want to write anything again, which is how I typically react to other peoples good fortune and talents.

And yes, it is about him growing up near a bar, sort of, but it's really more about relationships and an incredibly funny/witty/wry guy and his perspective on life. He has amazing self clarity and it was a joy to read his prose. I'm sounding like a lunatic I sense, but while his story wasn't inspiring the way Eat Pray and Love was, his writing is so captivating, I'd gladly read about him taking out garbage.

Like most of my lazy reviews, I didn't summarize his book or plot, but suffice it to say, this guy deserves to be at the top of the Best Sellers list and he needs to write more- if he can. Sometimes, I think, telling ones own story has a charm that cannot be replicated in other stories, but still, JR should give it a shot because he is so funny and well, yes, I demand it.

I also wonder how people can write memoirs that include other people where the writers assessment of them lays them so bare. Are they friendless outcasts after publication? I get yelled at for even relaying a story under a fake name in my never-read blog, I cant imagine how some people feel about showing up in a best seller.

That random diatribe aside, this is a 5 star book because his writing is so charming and funny- he is truly in the class of great writers.

Buy the book!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Now Mom to Two

True, it's been a while since I last blogged. I plead "newborn". That said, Alec is really a good baby, but even the best babies have a pesky habit of keeping mommys up at night. Especially when they are coupled with every husband's most prized invention- breastfeeding.

Ugh, it's killing me this time around. Despite nursing my first son for 13 months and mostly enjoying it, I already feel a little worn out with this one. Plus I'm tired of lugging around the "equipment" which I had forgotten will keep me out of all my normal clothes until I wean. Speaking of normal clothes, I am in no man's land here with about two pairs of running shorts that fit and a few big t-shirts. I forgot how depressing postpartum body deflation is. Scary really. You look so much worse not pregnant that pregnant in these early days- just all doughy and eew, I can't go on. I'm feeling hideous if you can't tell.

What I do have though, is a live in nanny. Honestly I don't know how you gals who have your second or more child and are alone all day with a toddler or preschooler, do it. I would be in a crumbled heap on the floor if I couldn't hand off my darling children for 3 hours every morning to the nanny while I go collapse in bed, slowly chomping on a percoset as I drift off to dreamland.

Oh yes, I appear to have a budding narcotic problem. Compliments of my lovely c-section, which has kept me leveled for weeks. Now it was necessary for the health of the baby, which I cherish and place above all else, but still, I'm irritable over this long long recovery. I am still not driving (3 weeks later) and just feel weak. Not liking it! So I have to keep calling for more pain meds for my nerve pain at the incision site and I think there is a BIG post it note on my file now with the words "DRUG SEEKER!" or close to it. I can't help it, when I get 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night, the last thing I feel like doing is "toughing out" the pain.

On the other hand, my firstborn 3 year old kingpin son Jack is doing FANTASTIC with the new baby. Even though it's true you don't love your first child any less with the arrival of a second, let's face it, it's not the same. Jack used to be our total focus and now he isn't. I even let him run around in mismatched clothes. I just can't keep the same level of dedication to him with another child. Still, he is doing so well, helping with diapers and coming to get me when the baby cries, its really sweet. Considering I was worried he would try to arrange for Fed Ex to pick the baby up and take him away. He wont hold him, but he will "pet" him as he says, stroking his hair. So that is a major success in these parts.

So that's where we are these days. Some minutes I marvel at how much I love my two beautiful boys and other minutes I swear if one of them wakes me up again I'm moving into a hotel, but we're getting by. I know these early days go by in a flash, so I'm trying to really treasure the best parts.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Welcome Baby Alec

I forgot how much I love babies...I could stay in these moments forever.

Alec arrived 6/27/07 via scheduled c-section (my first) at 38 weeks. He was 7lbs, 11ozs. Can't say the c-section is the easiest way to go, but he was born healthy and problem-free, so it's all worth it.

He has thick, almost-black, hair and is perfect in every way. His skin is as soft as the most supple suede and his coo's are the sweetest baby sounds. He almost never cries and is just my sweet cuddle baby. It's good we are getting along so famously since he nurses 50 times a day (so it seems).

Big Brother Jack stepped up and potty trained himself the same week (I think I am safe calling this a success, we are almost at 2 weeks now without day time pull ups). He doesnt seem to mind the baby, telling him he loves him, helping me change his diapers, just so long as he "doesnt have to hug him".

I'm definately having more of these.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Some Funny, Some Not

Funny story...

One of my best friends from high school visited with her family overnight on her way to a beach vacation. Another one of our "group" also lives in town so we spent the precious few hours together catching up and mostly, laughing.

This friend was the first of us to have kids and now has three boys. She said, you know when Michael was small, I thought he was the most beautiful baby in the world. I thought to myself "I honestly should get him into commericals, think of the money I could make for his college! Now. Looking back at those pictures, I think 'oh, um, hmmm...."

Us girls dissolved into laughter. Who among us had not been convinced that their child is gorgeous at every age only to look upon the same pictures years later and think, "hmm, sort of awkward here isnt he?"

Not so funny story...

Same friend called 12 hours after leaving.

"I'm really sorry. I don't know what this means for you. Michael has the chicken pox."

So, after some frantic searching and hotline calls, I think I had them and think the baby and I will be fine. We'll find out about young Jack on Wednesday when the incubation period ends. Which is also the day his baby brother is coming. Wednesday is shaping up to be a busy day!

So, by the way, the chicken pox vaccine isn't 100% effective.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

To C or Not to C, That is the Question

Luckily, just as I was growing bored with the debate between “working” and stay-at-home moms, I was able to find that the caesarean section (c-section) debate is red hot. And I’m center stage.

In six days I will be going under the knife to deliver my second son at 38 weeks gestation.

Or not.

Technically I have the surgery scheduled, but I am mentally still debating it. My first son was born the old fashioned way at 37.5 weeks. Before he was born, I was virtually certain I would die from labor pain and sort of hoped my doctor would insist on a c-section so I wouldn’t have to face it (she didn’t).

Turns out labor was painless (thanks to God’s real miracle, the epidural). The day of his birth was like a low key party where you are in a jovial mood but anxious for the person of honor to arrive. Inheriting my flair for the dramatics, my son got stuck just before his grand entrance; went into distress and things went from calm to crazy in a hurry. Operating rooms were prepped, vacuums and forceps were used, pitocin drips administered, cuts made, I even had someone practically jumping on my abdomen to try to force him out that way. They got him out, barely, and with a huge audience of people gearing up in scrubs for emergency surgery. We both had fevers and dehydration; he had a double cord around his neck and was sent to the NICU and then, days later, readmitted for jaundice from the bruising. It wasn’t *exactly* how I had pictured the moment. Being wheeled into a NICU and seeing your son for the first time, hours after his birth, is surreal, I wasn’t sure which one he was. All this, and he was less than seven pounds.

This isn’t the type of delivery where you jump up the next day and go out jogging, but strangely enough, I don’t really remember the pain or long recovery. I remember it intellectually, but it doesn’t really register. My primary emotional memory of that day and the days following was of complete joy and wonder at the birth of my son. Funny how that works.

So this time around, they said: “Let’s have another small baby, don’t gain a lot of weight”. I promptly put on 40lbs.

In the ultrasounds, this baby is showing to be above the 90th percentile for gestational age, or about 8lbs already. I don’t believe these ultrasounds since they thought my first son was also over 8lbs, but let’s say an official Big Baby diagnosis has made my OB “skittish”. To the point that she “highly recommended” a c-section, advising me that she would allow a trial labor, but that she believes we will end up in surgery either way. She reminded me that my last delivery was extremely precarious and we were lucky he had no long term effects. My high-risk OB also says, all things considered, do the surgery. My husband, who was more conscious than I of the urgent concern in the room during the last delivery, wants the surgery.

I, however, do not want the surgery. But I do want a healthy and safe baby. I scheduled surgery, thinking I could always cancel.

Or, as turns out, I could entertain a plethora of comments from friends and acquaintances about the proliferation of “elective or scheduled c-sections”. I have been advised to challenge my doctors with specific risk percentages of various birth injuries if I elected a natural labor, been told stories of women who couldn’t deliver a 6lb first baby but delivered their second 9lb baby in 23 minutes flat with no tearing, and been told to expect a long and painful recovery in exchange for “not even trying”. I even had a man today explain to me in great detail the pain of abdominal surgery and how you are never the same.

The worst part, of course, is they may be right. Certainly there are stories out there about difficult first labors being followed by quick and easy second deliveries. There are stories out there about horrible c-sections. And the reality is, I have no idea how easy or hard a second labor would be. The problem is, by the time I know whether it’s going to be a problem, I will have a problem.

I would love to have an uncomplicated (heavily medicated) birth and have the baby in my arms minutes later, but chances are just as good that I’d be peering into a NICU isolette hours later. There is no way to know. So I think I have to choose the middle route. The delivery that I don’t prefer but one with a more predictable outcome. It’s what the doctors recommend. So why can’t I just accept it?

I will probably still be in denial in post op.

Happy Birthday to Me

Today’s my birthday. I keep forgetting since I am gearing up for the next baby and trying to tie things up at work, but I thought, at least I will prep my son for my big day.

I’ve been telling him for days, “Thursday is Mommy’s Birthday or tomorrow is Mommy’s Birthday!”. He responds each time with a hopeful, “And we will have cake?”

“Sure, sure”, I say, because if this helps him remember, so be it. So this morning, the first thing I said to him was “Jack! What is today?!”

Jack: “Playgroup?”

Lesson: don’t count on your three year old for birthday affirmation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Disney Makes The Most Difficult Decision Ever

Unfortunately I must announce that the Mouse & I broke up. It was amicable, we're still friends, I didn't come home and crush my Cinderella DVD in a rage or anything. However, apparently things are not going as well as hoped over at Disney's and they can no longer afford high-priced talent such as myself.

It was a difficult decision I was assured. I think it came down to me, or animating their next feature film. Word is, they seriously considered filming a manual flip-book of sketchs in order to divert funds to the soon to be defunct blog, Just Amy, but at the last minute decided to go the other way, something about not disappointing the children, or maybe they said stockholders.

I do think Disney should consider making friends with my buddy, Google, so that someone other than the bloggers might actually happen upon the site at some point.

As for me, I am coping as well as can be expected. Though I sort of liked being incentivized to write regularly, I also eyed that new-found hour or so per week with a sort of giddiness. What sort of leisure should I now undertake to fill this time?!

Then I remembered I was 37 weeks pregnant, so I guess that will take care of itself soon enough.

I do wish Disney well though; being a "professional writer" was a brief illustrious moment of glory in my writing career, which to this point had consisted mostly of Christmas Letters. They have a nice start to a site, hopefully they will be able to add some things and zing and pull it off in the end.

But worry not, rest assured you can find me here at ~One Day At A Time~ writing as erratically as ever, so in that sense, it's reassuring that some things will never ever change.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Working Mom's Heartbreak

In general, I think I have a pretty good balance as a working mother. I have an growing career, but I only go into the office three days a week. It's been a great balance from my perspective, but every so often, Jack reminds me that he has a slightly different view.

Yesterday, before work, I went into Jack’s room. He was just waking up and hadn’t yet sat up in bed, so I climbed next to him for a quick cuddle. Then we had the following exchange:

Me: “Are you ready to get up?”
Jack: “I have to go to work.”
Me: “You do!?”
Jack: “Yes, I have a meeting.”
Me: “Oh, I see! Who is this meeting with?” (slight pause)
Jack: “Mommy & Daddy.”
Me: “Oh good, so Mommy can go with you.”
Jack: “No. You cannot. You must stay home and cry for me.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Book Review: The Scent of God

My poor forlorn blog has been so neglected as I continue to write for my Disney's blog Just Amy.

Still, I'm way behind in my book reviews, so I figured I've give a quick update. First, I can't remember most of the books I have read recently. I'm almost 9 months pregnant and the brain is working overtime with critical complex issues such as remembering that the salt is white and the pepper is black. I also found my car keys in the refrigerator recently. Can't explain that.

However, a couple of books that do stand out include:

The Scent of God: A Memoir by Beryl Singleton Bissell

Wow, this was a great book. As many of you know, I have an ongoing existential crises and this fit that MO perfectly. This book is about a cloistered nun, which I had always regarded with a horrid fascination. Cloistered nuns are locked away from society to live a solitary contemplative life, even their families may never see their faces again. Talk about shock value. Anyway, I had always assumed these women were out of their minds, insane perhaps, but after reading this book, I actually remarked to my mother, "you know, I think if my life had gone differently, I could have become a contemplative nun."

My mother howled at this one- both of my parents were involved in Catholic religious orders for many years and obviously knows me quite well, and so could appreciate the ridiculousness of the statement from a special perspective. However, while maybe that was a stretch, there IS a part of me that finds most of life and society so superficial, I do often wonder why we dont all dedicate our lives to the search for eternal truth, I can't believe I actually spend most of my time doing things like overseeing the development of software products or picking out shingle colors for my house.

I spoke to my father about this also. My Dad spent 17 years in as a Catholic brother, which is similar to the priesthood. He experience reminded me a lot of the cloistered nun in the book, which is that even in dedicating your life to religion and seeking God, you often become no closer than anyone else. My father told me that someone once said "you find God not by looking in the clouds (as many religions would have you focus), but in the people and world around you." And this seemed very real to me as well- sometimes I look at my son and see such divine beauty in his innocence or the light in his eyes or the richness of his laugh that I am certain God could not challenge in it's purity and truth. Or in the embrace of my husband, or the comfort of my parents, or the shared joys of friendship or the filtering of sunlight through the clouds on a beautiful day. If you look, you can find this "divinity" in many places. Not all the time, but snippets here and there, enough to sustain faith. But it too, is easy enough to miss if you forget to look.

Anyway, enough of that, I have to get back to my busy day filled with things that ultimately will have no meaning (haha) but I do highly recommend this book, it was well written and quite captivating.

I hope to return soon, where I will also provide my thoughts on books such as:

  • A Life in Smoke: A Memoir by Julia Hansen
  • Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen
  • Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
  • The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

Again, a sadly incomplete list of recent reading, but the library protects my privacy even from myself so I can't tell what else I might have checked out recently.