Category Archives: Life and Family

Mom

I have her hands.


It’s why it was so easy for her to teach me to cook. No measuring, just cupped palms holding dried herbs.


I never got her meatballs quite right. I have the hands but never mastered the pressure, the rolling, the bringing together of all the pieces into perfect spheres.


It’s too late now. I watched her do it fifteen times, but I think I needed sixteen. I’d give anything for sixteen.


I stopped at the spice cabinet last night, after the call. I filled my cupped palms with oregano, thyme, sweet dried basil. I stepped outside, held my hands up, and let the breeze carry the tiny leaves out into the garden, onto the spiked spring leaves of the day-lilies.


Goodbye, Mom. I’ll try to do good with my hands. Your hands. I love you.

Decade

March 11th, 2007. Ten years. An entire decade since I packed up all my things in my boyfriend’s parents’ minivan and crossed the border with my work visa and no idea whether or not this whole “Jen’s international move” idea might be insane. It was insane, really, if you think about it.

I’m an anxious person: risk-averse and disinclined to attempt anything where my success isn’t guaranteed. I’d never lived on my own. And yet somehow I found it in me to take certification exams and fill out visa paperwork and interview for a job in a foreign country, 500 miles away. Not a decision that anyone who knew me expected me to make. But ten years ago today, I surprised myself by actually going through with an international move.

I signed a lease on my first apartment. I opened a bank account. I bought furniture and groceries and I waited for the cable guy to hook me up with TV. I learned new roads and got used to using money that’s all the same color. I adopted a cat. I missed home. A lot. But I was doing this crazy thing and not actually failing at it.

Ten years later there’s a mortgage and a toddler and a marriage and a green card, and I’m still not actually failing at any of it. I’m actually doing a damn good job, thank you very much. Take that, risk-aversion.

My reality is here now, and after a decade I guess I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with it. I’m proud of myself for taking the steps and for working to build and maintain this life here, and I’m grateful for all the help I’ve had along the way. I’ve grown and changed and I hope that some of what I’m doing every day matters.

I still miss home. But not quite the kind of missing that makes me want to go back there, at least not most of the time. The kind where I wish that here was closer to there and going back and forth could be easier. If I could keep my job and my house and my family but also be able to see Mom for dinner, or pick up Timbits on the way home, or be able to leave the Habs game on as background noise as I fold laundry.

The current situation in this country is discouraging and frightening, and I’ve been asked over and over by well-meaning friends whether I plan to stay here. Barring disaster, yes, I think I will. This is my community now, and it’s my responsibility to lift up everything I’ve discovered that’s wonderful about America, while working to change what’s not. I may not apply for citizenship, even though that would give me a vote. I’m not sure yet whether I’m comfortable with the words I would need to recite in front of a flag which is so often held up in hateful ways. But I’m not leaving. I’ll try to teach my American kid some French in between his lessons about respect and civic responsibility. After all, immigrants make this country great.

 



Toddler conversation

A conversation with my toddler, now two-and-a-half:

“What dat, Mommy?”

“That sound? That’s the car engine. We’re leaving the parking lot to go home.”

“No. What DAT?” I hear the swish of his jacket fabric as he raises his arm to point at things I can’t see.

“Honey, I can’t see what you’re looking at. Can you tell me what color it is?”

“WHAT. DAT.”

“Is it blue? Green? Can you tell me what shape it is?”

“Mommyyyyyy…. what IS dat?”

“Liam, you’re going to have to give me more information. Where is it? In the sky? On the ground?”

“It right DERE, Mommy. What is it?”

I pull the car out of the space and look around for clues. The rear-facing child seat makes this game exponentially more difficult.

“Do you mean that big van?”

“Nope.”

“Is it something in the sky? an airplane? A rainbow?”

“Nope.”

“Honey, I’m out of ideas here.”

“MOMMY WHAT DAT?” Swish. Point.

“The flags? Do you mean those flags?”

“Yes.”

“Those are flags, Liam.”

“Oh. Okay.”




Snuggles

I struggle to hold him still on the changing table as he twists his little naked body around to reach the light switch. “ight ahfffff!” he declares proudly, dragging out the ffff as though he were blowing out birthday candles. Not for another couple weeks, kiddo. I reach out to flick the light back on and spin him back around to secure the velcro on his diaper while he wiggles his feet in my face. “eet?” he asks. I grab one little foot and kiss its sole. MWAH. He grins. “Udda eet?” the other foot comes up beside the first, and I continue delivering kisses, MWAH MWAH MWAH, back and forth, one foot, two foot, while I get him into his shark pajamas.

I hoist him up and turn to set him on the floor, and he stops me, asking eagerly “Nunnel fuhst mommy? Nunnel?”

Of course.

Of course we can snuggle first.

Still holding him, all twenty-six wiggling pounds of him, I switch on the nightlight and pull the cord on the ceiling fan to dim the room with a click. I back carefully into the soft brown recliner and shift him into my lap, but he squirms free with a grin. “Cose! Cose dees!” he toddles to the bedroom door and pushes it closed with a click. He crosses the carpet to his crib and sticks his hand through the slats, all the way to his shoulder, to the very edge of his reach. He yanks his hand back out, triumphantly waving his frog Wubbanub. Half pacifier, half stuffed animal, “Bubba” is a snuggle time necessity. He pulls a blanket from the crib rail, pops Bubba in his mouth and walks towards me, stuffed frog dangling from his little face. He drops the blanket on my feet before lifting both hands up and out, and bouncing a little at his knees. The international toddler sign for “up, mommy.”

He’s heavy. The angle is awkward. I huff and I oof and I drag him up to my lap and he shifts around until his arms are in just the right places before he drops his head to my chest with a soft thud. He’s quiet except for snuffly breathing and the little sucking squeaks that escape around the pacifier. I wrap him up in the blanket and he wiggles an arm free, lifts his head, readjusts his shoulders, drops back down. He’s settled. He’s comfy.

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My mouth is right against the top of his head, and I kiss him. He doesn’t smell like a baby anymore. He smells like sunscreen and sweat, like an active little boy. But it’s the same weight on my chest, only heavier. The same little heartbeat, only stronger.

I don’t get to contemplate my toddler for long, because after thirty seconds of ‘nunnels’ he pops the pacifier out and looks up at me. “Suh-shyyy?” I sing for him, rocking, telling him he’s my little squirm-shine and he makes me happy. After three rounds of suh-shyyy, two baby belugas, and a twinkle twinkle, he pulls himself up and points to the space between the chair and the bedroom wall. There’s a pillow stuffed in there, is that what he wants? He nods, and the frog in his mouth hops twice. I shimmy the pillow loose and move it to the arm of the chair, and he immediately throws himself into it with a grin. I can’t see the grin behind the Wubbanub, but his eyes are bright and happy, and there’s one sweet dimple peeking out beside the pacifier’s edge. I grin back at him and his eyes sparkle brighter and the dimple gets deeper, and just the smallest “heh” escapes behind the frog.

I hug him tight, so tight.

I’ll snuggle you as long as you’ll let me.




Liam at 21 months

Twenty-one months.*

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It’s weird to keep counting age in months, and I know moms are made fun of for doing it, but it’s such a weird place to be, in between one-and-a-half and two. Neither one of those fits, because he was someone else at 18 months and he’ll be completely different all over again by 2.

So much has changed since my last update. He took his first independent steps at Grandma and Pop’s house, carefully carrying my travel mug full of coffee from one side table to another. He didn’t realize he’d done it, but my mother-in-law and I looked at each other with huge incredulous eyes and then spent the next ten minutes handing him other things to carry around. He toddled happily from one adult to another, carrying balls and books, for an hour. Lots of cheering, a little crying, and a page turned.

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Only a couple weeks later, he figured out how to stand up in the center of the room without pulling up on anything, and he was suddenly excited about walking. We walk into school together from the parking lot in the morning, and back out to the car in the afternoon. I hold his little hand and we move in literal baby steps. If I’m in a hurry and try to scoop him up, he protests, pointing to the floor and thrashing in my arms. He must walk, and stop to point out everything on the way. He bends to point out red squares in the tile floor. He points to the radio on the counter and signs for music. He yells DUCK and SHEESHEE at the seagull and fishies on the school mural, then shows me his fish face, says “mama?” and waits for me to do it back. Once we get outside, it’s CAR! Ight? Udda ight? As he points to a car’s two headlights. And if he turns and catches sight of the school’s name on the wall, he’ll waggle his music finger and say “ee-eh-geeee” to tell me there are letters there and I better start singing about it immediately.

Speaking of singing, every drive turns mama (or daddy) into a music player set on shuffle, as we try to figure out what his song of the day is. Wheels on the bus? No. ABCs? No. Sometimes he helps and gives us a hint – wiggling his fingers for the “shishy bishy” spider, or mumbling “uppabudda (world so high)” for Twinkle Twinkle. But mostly it’s trial and error with a music critic in the back seat yodeling nooOOOoooOOO after the first three notes of every wrong song, and giggling and clapping when we get it right. Then it’s “ah-hehn” because we need to do it again. And again. And again.

We have a similar issue with books, and it’s frustrating to have so many wonderful and beautiful books around that he just yells at and slams shut after the first page. He still loves reading. He races to the book bin to grab a favorite before backing into us to sit in our laps and read. But we’re down to about a dozen that he’ll actually tolerate all the way through. I thought I had the solution when I went to a consignment sale and bought other books in the same series as ones he’s really into, but he’s no idiot. It’s not that easy to trick a toddler, you guys. The first time he opened up a Pigeon book that didn’t start with the driver saying “Hey, Pigeon, why don’t you show me your happy face,” he gave me a withering glare, put his hands on his hips and said “anny” to show me he was just as angry as the pigeon who refuses to take orders from a bus driver.IMG_20160305_093627

His language has absolutely exploded lately. He understands so much that we’ve had to start being careful with important words. If we say “bath,” he’s at the stairs within seconds, yelling FAFF FAFF FAFF and trying to pull his shirt off. He likes repeating the names of family members, and he’s just figured out his own name: L’mm. It’s the cutest. About a week or two ago he started stringing two words together. First “uh-oh duck” to tell us the garden duck had fallen over, but soon after that he was doing “hi Daddy” when Dave walked into a room and “byebye Ah-mull” waving at the cat (Animal) on his way out the door to daycare. He uses “other” to make two-word phrases a whole lot now, too. While putting shoes on: udda feet? Taking his coat off: udda ahmm? Poking mama in the eyes: udda eye?

Taking turns is a huge right now. If I kiss him, he’ll immediately lean over towards Dave and say “Daddy? Daddy? Until Dave kisses him too. Then he’ll grab my shirt and yank me towards Dave saying “Mamadaddy. Mamadaddy,” insisting we kiss too. Same goes for high fives (yeah!) and fist bumps (boom!) – it’s not over until every permutation of the fists or palms present in the room has been tried. This includes self-fives. Toddler self-fives are super cute, folks.

Eating is still a struggle, with a very limited set of acceptable foods that seems to change without any good reason. This week’s huge hit has been pineapple, which he’s hated for months and will probably hate again by next week. I’m trying to be cool about it and not force foods on him, just have things available close by for him to try if he wants to. It’s working fairly well – he’s tasted garlic french fries, a cheeseburger, an italian sub, honey mustard dressing, an egg sandwich with pepperjack cheese, BBQ chicken pizza, and tortilla chips in the past week. And he voluntarily licked a spoon that had been dipped into a Chipotle carnitas burrito bowl. He spit all of it out, and the display of dislike involved weird hissing sounds and dramatic wiping of his tongue with his hand, but he’s at least tasting things.

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This post wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t write about the tantrums. Because those have started. It’s not horrible yet, but he’s definitely developing opinions and he’s sharing them. There’s a lot of general low-level whining when we can’t figure out what he wants when he’s pointing and babbling, but every few days something bigger takes over and he gets mad. He’s started to throw his toys in frustration and anger, and the silliest things set him off. I guess that’s just toddler life, but it’s weird to see our mellow little guy crying in frustration when we won’t let him ride his trike when it’s time to get in the car for daycare. Or when it’s time to go inside after a wagon ride. Or when he can’t play with a knife. Or can’t have a third serving of pound cake. He’s just learned to stomp his feet, too, so it’s about to get even more interesting.

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But it’s mostly still good times, overall. He still loves music and is very gentle when Dave hands him the ukulele to let him try it. He loves the real piano at Grandma and Pop’s, and also loves to take a tour of the wind-up music boxes in their living room so he can dance. He’s getting exposed to lots of different styles of music thanks mostly to Dave’s eclectic tastes, but for now Elmo singing the alphabet is still tops on his list.

As he’s growing up, he’s getting better at understanding instructions and interacting with us in more meaningful ways. He participates in getting dressed and undressed now, putting his arms in sleeves, pulling off socks, and naming body parts as he goes. He climbs the stairs on his own, and he loves throwing trash out (we’re still trying to teach him that not everything is trash). Our conversations actually communicate information in two directions now, and that blows my mind.

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I think the next few months are going to be wild. I’m looking forward to them.

*Originally posted as 22 months because I apparently can’t count. I keep this blog real, folks.

Cupid’s Undie Run – Freezing for a Cause

I don’t run. My attitude towards running is summed up by this Garfield cartoon:

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I also don’t love the cold, as anyone who’s ever been within whining distance of me in the winter will know all too well.

Despite these things, on Saturday, in sub-freezing temperatures, I will be running for charity at the Cupid’s Undie Run in Washington DC. Yes, “Undie Run” means that they encourage runners to brave the cold and run in Valentine’s-themed undies. It’s like a polar bear plunge, but without the frozen lake. Just the same questionable judgment and the same shivering bodies.

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Why run in the cold and risk frostbite patches on my cellulite? Because it’s a challenge. Because I want to stretch myself. And because I’m selfish.

You see, the one-mile run is in support of the Children’s Tumor Foundation, which raises money to fund research into and awareness of Neurofibromatosis, a potentially serious and sometimes fatal genetic disorder that affects up to 1 in every 3000 births.

Liam, my wonderful and adorable toddler, is that one in three thousand.

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He was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (formerly called Von Recklinghausen’s disease) last summer, near his first birthday. He’s already had to go through sedation for three MRIs, and he’s on track for at least two more of those scans before his second birthday. He has tumors in his brain that need to be watched, because if they grow they could affect his eyesight… or worse. So far they’re stable and not causing any trouble, and we’re very, very grateful for that, but we’re doing scans every two months to be able to catch them right away if they change. Liam also gets regular physical therapy to help him catch up with the big physical milestones, because the low tone associated with NF1 means that his muscles have to put in more effort than the average kid to do the same work. He’s working very hard and he’s doing very well and we’re incredibly proud of him. He took his first independent steps just over a week ago, and we all cried a little.

He’s healthy and happy and just as nutty and exhausting as a normal toddler, and if you didn’t know about all this you likely wouldn’t even know there was anything going on under the surface. But this is a condition that will need monitoring for the rest of his life. And because the severity of NF1 varies so much from person to person, we don’t know what his future might hold. Raising money for this research is all I can do to try and improve the chances that even if the worst case scenarios come up, science will have a way to get him through them.

So I’m pulling on some bright underpants and running a mile in DC with a handful of wonderful friends, on a day the temperature won’t even break freezing. 

I’m not raising money for his big medical bills quite yet; so far it’s been expensive but manageable. But there are lots of kids out there who are living with NF1. Neurofibromatosis can cause nerve tumors in the brain or in the body, which can cause blindness or pain or other disability, and require surgery or chemotherapy. Those tumors often include small lumps called neurofibromas that can be seen on the skin, and those bumps can be off-putting to some, leaving people living with NF1 feeling isolated. Kids with NF1 are at greater risk than average for learning and processing disorders like ADHD and dyslexia.  The money I’m raising this week, by running in the cold in a goofy outfit, will help to fund research into these complications, maybe leading to better ways to prevent or manage them.

Please consider a donation to the Children’s Tumor foundation through the CTF website.

Learn more about NF, directly from the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

Wish me luck on Saturday. It’s going to be hell, but this little guy is worth it.

Update, February 2017: Thanks to everyone’s generous support, my team met its 2016 fundraising goal of $1500. I won’t be running this year, but I encourage everyone to toss a few dollars towards NF research, if they can spare it. 

Note: The link to the awesome heart-print boxers is an Amazon affiliate link. You can learn more about that here. 




Liam at 18 months

Liam is 18 months old today.

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There are so many new things to talk about, because the past six months have been full of changes for Liam. He’s at a new daycare with a bigger group of kids his own age, and he keeps coming home with new words he’s learned from his friends. The new environment is helping him grow, and his teachers genuinely care about him, nicknaming him “Lima Bean” and arguing over who gets to hold him at the morning drop-off.

He’s wearing 18-month clothes now and it’s so strange to see how grownup he looks when he’s wearing collared shirts and jeans and little sneakers. He just got a haircut and I swear I see a teenager under there. Especially when he’s ignoring me. I’m going to keep him in footie pajamas FOREVER so he’ll at least be my tiny sweet baby at night.

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We have a pretty good eater, who’s eager to master spoons and forks and feed himself without our help. Unfortunately, his picky phase has continued and there’s a lot he won’t touch. Sometimes it’s about taste, sometimes it’s texture, and sometimes it’s that he forgets he loves cheese. Acceptable and unacceptable foods change week to week, so I’ve learned it’s better to go back to the store for more grapes on a grapes-are-good week, rather than buying a huge bag of them and realizing grapes-are-gross week arrived somewhere around Tuesday afternoon. He’s not a fan of veggies at all, and he hates chicken, but I’m hoping it’s just the lack of molars that are making those foods harder to handle. Yet Goldfish crackers somehow go down just fine. Hmmmm.

Also acceptable: Ah-PUUUHs.

I still get some green (and orange) stuff in him by putting it into pancakes or omelets, or taking a hint from the multimillion-dollar snack-pouch industry and mixing veggie purees with a good dose of applesauce. He loves peanut butter (ba-buh!), meatballs (ba-baw!), and waffles (faffle!). Loves to ask for them, anyway, frantically signing “more” only to yell “ah-dah” and shove the highchair tray once I hand them over. Of course, if we take away the tray, he reaches out to stuff one more chunk of waffle in his grinning face. I suspect this is the start of the crazy toddler era. But he’s right in the middle of the chart for height and weight so far: 26 pounds at his last weigh-in. So at least he’s eating enough!

Liam’s favorite toys right now aren’t toys. Sorry, everyone who keeps buying him wonderful toys! I’m sure he’ll come around! For now, though, he’s obsessed with random household objects, going so far as to throw his first tantrum ever over the living room clock, which we refused to take off the wall for him to play with. He calls clocks ney-neys, he spots them everywhere, and he wants them ALL. It would be cute if it wasn’t vaguely unsettling. He can’t have clocks, but we do let him have his next-best love, the kitchen broom, because he yells BWOOO and reaches for it every time we walk past it, and that’s hard to say no to.

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BWOOO being used ow-kai (outside)

His housekeeping training will begin as soon as he’s steady on his feet, because I could use the help sweeping up all the faffle bits on the kitchen floor. He’s also into pots, hats, spoons, and putting things into containers and taking them back out again, over and over and over. He also likes balls (mostly for throwing or for container transfer), and any toy that makes music. Because he was better with signs than words for a while, we taught him a little finger-waggle as a sign for “music.” He uses it to ask for music, but now he also waves both his index fingers around, conducting an invisible orchestra, whenever music is playing.

He plays a lot of music, too, as long as you’re generous in your definition of music. He has a few rattles, some jingle bells, a “piano”, two tambourines, and a xylophone of his own, and he loves making a racket with them. I bought him a plastic recorder to add to his collection after seeing his delighted response to Dave playing the penny whistle and ocarina.

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He’ll sit there and tootle away on it (just the one note) and then hand it off to each of us in turn. He loves the music boxes and the piano at his grandparents’ house, and he’s mesmerized when Dave pulls out the guitar or ukulele. Some of my favorite moments of the past couple of months have been watching my husband and my son play music together.12305755_10156247484120521_2099042422_n

SO MANY BOOKS are being read in this house. We have at least a hundred, and I think we’ve been through them all a dozen times each. “Book” was one of his first words, and he’s constantly yanking books out of the bin in the play room and handing them to us for story time. His current favorites are books with baby pictures in them, and ones with textured illustrations to poke at (or lick, in the case of “smooth shiny water”). He’s starting to copy the hand movements I use when I read stories, like “up” or “pop” or “no-no.” That comes out when I read him his solar system book: he swoops his arms around to show me the rings around Saturn and lifts up his hands to demonstrate how BIIIIG Jupiter is. It’s just the best thing.

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He’s got maybe 25 recognizable words, a half dozen animal sounds, and a few signs, and it’s wonderful to be able to communicate with him. He’s just started to show interest in letters, or at least the ABC’s song, which he demands by tapping any page with an alphabet on it, and saying “aiy-cee! aiy-cee!” He understands a ton, and is starting to make connections on his own, which means we’ve had to start being careful with what we say around him. If we slip up and use the real words instead of “round freezer breads” or “ground meat spheres,” there will be hell to pay if we don’t deliver his beloved foods immediately. He knows what NO means and he delights in wagging his finger at himself and saying nooooo, nooooo, as he’s about to eat cat food, crawl down the stairs, or stuff magnets into the gaps of the baseboard heaters.

He’s a great kid. Learning fast, starting to make his own decisions and put ideas together, and testing his limits. The next few months are going to be exciting and challenging as he gets a handle on walking and learns to communicate, and we find out more about what sort of little person we’re helping through the world. We’re very grateful for the village we have around us: friends and family, near and far, in person and on the phone and on the computer. So many people care about our family and want to see Liam succeed, but also to see us succeed as parents. It means so much to us to have so much support. Thank you.

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Re-Engineering

It’s never a good day when you’re called into a conference room and find a Human Resources representative sitting at the head of the conference table with a slim folder in her hands and an emotionless expression on her face.

The organization I work for is making cuts. Lots of them. We’re being re-engineered, re-shuffled, made leaner and meaner and more competitive. And unfortunately, the executive vision of the organization’s bright future only includes 3/5ths of my job. I guess I’m grateful that they didn’t do away with my position entirely, like they’ve done to so many others, but that’s a whole lot less money I’m bringing home to my family.

I refused the severance package and stayed on part-time, for now, despite the obscene increase in my health premiums now that I’m only working 24 hours a week. So obscene that you should probably stop reading this if you’re at work. My cost tripled. That is multiplied by three. Double it, and then add a bunch more. Yay, US health insurance system. So I’m working for benefits, essentially. But I have a job, we have health care, and it could be worse.

I’m using my not-at-work days* to write and get housework done so maybe I’ll be freer in the evenings and on the weekends to just hang out with my family. Theoretically, part-time work is great. The mom thing is a ton of work and it would be lovely to have a regular day or two during the week that I could dedicate to the job of parenting.  Our daycare doesn’t have a part-time option, so kiddo is still there all week – no savings there. But that does mean that I’m able to handle errands and appointments and cleaning without a baby underfoot. And I could easily pull him out of class early on days I’d like to do special activities with him. I was able to enjoy the Halloween parade there this morning, and stay for a couple of hours to get him into his costume, walk him around to see the decorations, and take a million photos.

Financially, though, part-time work sucks. A lot. Lots of people are infinitely worse off, and I’m not going to complain too loud, but this means fewer nice things, fewer house projects, fewer vacations. And more importantly than all that, I get a sense of worth from my work, and being cut really hurt. I need to work, and it would be wonderful if I could work somewhere I felt I was making a difference somehow, and growing as a person.

I’m not sure I want to go back to the hospital labs, working weekends and holidays and being stuck there if the next shift is late, because the blood bank never closes. Besides that, the hospitals are far, and I’m so tired of long commutes. There are research labs around, too, and I’m looking into those, but I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t time to re-engineer myself a little. Who am I, who do I want to be, and how do I get from here to there? Do I need to cut any of my efforts by 2/5ths in order to move forward?

I read Wil Wheaton’s post about “rebooting” his life this week, and it’s still bouncing around in my head. Reboot. Re-engineer. What better time for personal change than a time when everything’s changing around me anyway? What can I fix? What can I focus?

Well, I know I want to write more. So I’ll write more. And read more, too, because Wil’s right that input is necessary for good output. I have a very long reading list to get to, and maybe being part-time for a while will give me time to make a dent in it. I’ve also got more time for writing now, which is great because I’ve got a couple of paid gigs these days, on top of my volunteer projects, guest posts, and this blog. Maybe it’s time to look into doing this more seriously. Am I good enough? Can I get good enough?

*Don’t you dare call them my days off. This isn’t a vacation, it’s 2/5ths unemployment.

This working Mom thing? I think it’s working.

The calendar says it’s been a year. I’ve been a working mom for a whole year.

I took as much parental leave as my job would let me. Twelve weeks; some of it paid, some not. I spent almost three months with my son after he was born, and it wasn’t enough. I wanted so much more, but it’s awkward to say so when I know that many others don’t get that much. I feel equal parts grateful and cheated for what little time I was allowed.

My first month back was emotional, though I cried fewer tears than I was told I would. I was more out-of-sorts than sad. My brain was so slow, like I was having Benadryl for breakfast and lunch every day, and coffee hardly made a difference. I asked so many questions, over and over, about things I should have known well. It was embarrassing. My coworkers were kind and understanding, but my self-doubt imagined dozens of eyes rolling behind my back. I felt so hopelessly and terminally stupid.

I hid in an empty office three times a day to express breast milk, acutely aware that everyone passing in the hallway could hear the pump going. On my third day of pumping, the door creaked open just as I’d gotten everything hooked up and started – the facilities guy heard a “weird noise” and used his key to get through the locked door to investigate. I changed my “occupied” post-it note to an “OCCUPIED PLEASE KNOCK” legal-sized sheet and pretended his apology made everything totally fine and not embarrassing at all. Because I had to do it again the next day, and the next. Wash my pump parts in the break room sink, put my milk in a cooler in the fridge, and get over it.

Those weeks seem so far away now. A whole year ago. I measure that year by my son and not myself – inches and pounds and milestones and giggles. I rarely assess my own progress. I don’t stop often enough to take stock of how I’m doing and how I’m changing. But while I’m still figuring out the balance, things are improving. I still miss him every day while I’m at work, but I’m sleeping more and that’s definitely helping my brain function closer to its pre-baby capacity. I’ve taken on several projects that I’m very passionate about and very proud of, and I’m seeing glimmers of “me” under the “mom” now and then.

I’ve survived a whole year as a working mom. I’m still good at my job, and my son still loves me. I’m going to go make myself a cake to celebrate.

Morning Drive

Little bare feet. Five tiny toes on either side, flexing and wiggling to hold him upright as he bounces on the seat of the Fisher-Price ride-on toy. His diaper crinkles under his dinosaur jammies. Bounce bounce, crinkle. Glancing behind him, checking his blind spots like a teenager training for his license, he pushes off and moves backwards half an inch. And again. And again. Shove, shove, shove, one foot stronger than the other, bringing him in a wide circle. He looks up for approval as he inches away from me, and I smile. Good work! Keep going! He looks down at his feet and shoves again, and grins, and yells. He leans over the handlebar and pulls at the lid to the trunk, and I see he’s packed for his trip. Two plastic spoons and a wooden sheep.

The back bumper hits the baby gate and he can’t go further. He turns to grunt at the obstacle and he shoves again, feet skidding off the floor from the effort. He whines. His arms frantically flap “all done.”

I stand behind him and lean down. All the way down, almost to the floor. One arm on either side of him, my hands beside his on the handlebar, hugging him safely in place. Ready? Are you ready? His feet kick. He crinkles and bounces. One… two… threeeee! I draw the count into a wheeee as I scoot him forward across the hardwood, and he pulls up his feet, and both his eyes and his little mouth open wide in silent joy. I know this because he turns halfway back so he can see me while we zoom away. It doesn’t matter where we’re going. He’s with Mommy.

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