Friday, March 30, 2007

Five, Six, Seven O'clock, Eight O'clock Rock

I realize that my posts of late have been very mom-centric and not so secret agent-y, so I thought I should pop in and mention some of the stuff coming up around Skinny River HQ. Otherlands has really been putting together some great shows, and considering that they're early (doors at 7pm), smoke-free and always $5 or less, it's a pretty parent-friendly option for a night out. I'm hoping to take advantage of that friendliness this Sunday, April 1 when Jimmy and his buddies Eric Lewis and Tommy Burroughs hit the stage for a pickin' party that, I feel completely safe in saying, will blow the ever-loving acoustic roof off. Those boys can play.

About this time next week - that being Friday, April 6 - Cory will be doing a full evening at Otherlands. I haven't had a chance to see him in his Marlboro-infused natural habitat since I got knocked up, so I'm really looking forward to hearing the new stuff in a pregnancy-safe zone. And eating giant chocolate chip cookies at the same time.

I hope to see some of your lovely faces there. I know it seems disingenuous to say so, but with a schedule as harried as mine, I've had to be very selective about the artists I work with, so it just naturally happens that they're all really quite good. There isn't a soul on that list over there to the right that I wouldn't wholeheartedly exhort you to check out. I know I'm supposed to be the jaded, calculating agent, but really, I'm just terribly thrilled that they let me be a part of what they do.

Oh, and in a sidenote not relating in any way to my income, some of us monkey-wranglers will be heading out to Shangri-La to catch Vending Machine play a quick, free show starting at 5:00 this evening (or as soon as Miss M finishes her ice cream cup at Huey's).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I traveled. As a telecommuter, I made regular trips between Memphis and Chicago. I had work assignments in locales like Boston, Orlando, New Orleans and Las Vegas. I frequently visited friends in Los Angeles, and family in San Diego and Minneapolis. I usually made these trips alone, and if it were possible to get into the wayback machine and drop in on my pre-maternal self, the first thing I would say to myself would be, "Hey! Get the hell out of the hotel!"

I squandered most of these trips, I realize that now. My most distinct memory of my time in Boston is staring longingly at a row of one-of-a-kind boutiques as my co-workers and I hurried toward T.G.I. Friday's. My takeaway from Las Vegas is the food court at the Venetian (where, despite what might be expected, the Sbarro is really no better than anywhere else). And even three weeks in Orlando didn't bring me any closer to seeing an inch of DisneyWorld or Universal Studios (although I had a really spectacular anxiety attack at a work-sponsored outing to Sea World). I was too young and too timid to really get out and appreciate these cities. I clung to the familiar, hovered around the few people I knew, and ate a lot of really unnecessarily awful food.

There were some bright spots in my solo world travels, like the film-making road trip to Massachusetts that garnered me a scar that I swear is from a cougar attack and not from a very awkward attempt at leaping over a barbed wire fence. Or the trek to L.A. for my bowling alley baby shower, where in one of the most bizarre coincidences of my life, my college boyfriend was kicking off his bachelor party. But in general, I wasted most of my freewheeling, jet-setting days.

As I near both the end of the "safe air travel" period of pregnancy and my current non-lactating era, I'm feeling a very strong urge to make up for all these under-appreciated journeys. I've been thinking about taking a trip out to San Diego to see my sister, lie on the beach, and read my way through the backlog of novels and New Yorkers on my nightstand. Only downside - and this wouldn't normally be one, but for me wanting to enjoy just a few child-free days - is that my 10-month-old niece would be in the same digs. And as much as I really want to see her, the idea of a vacation involving mashed food of any sort just isn't exactly what I'm looking for. So then I thought about taking a weekend at The Admiral's ancestral condo, eating at Captain Charlie's, reading, lying on the beach (and I don't even like the beach). But the condo is, technically, an over-55 community, and ... well, like I said about the mashed food. I need to figure something out quick, though, because my window of relative freedom is about to slam shut, and at this point, three days of maid service, room service and free HBO doesn't sound like such a waste of time.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Little Sister, Don't You

We were gathered together in our usual weekend potpourri of parents and children when I overheard two small people discussing Miss M's speech. "Do you know how Miss M says fishy? She says sishy!" "Yeah! Sishy! That's dumb!" I could feel my spine go rigid as I looked at my daughter, who clearly heard the conversation. She was just sitting there quietly, taking it in, not objecting or defending. Before the mama bear in me had a chance to emerge, another parent gracefully stepped in and explained why such comments were inappropriate. I'm sure it's happened before, but it was the first time I really heard other kids picking on mine. Not just the usual "you're a stupidhead poopoo-face" kind of stuff, but actually singling out a mockable trait and digging in. And of course, it had to be the one thing that I'm most sensitive about.

I know that it's completely normal for a three-year-old to have speech quirks. I'm not stressed about it, and I'm actually reluctant for her to leave her personal lingo behind as she grows older. I smile when she asks to borrow my "sundasses" and pout when she refuses to give me a "tiss." But because I spent the entirety of my formative years as a spectator to my sister's speech therapy sessions, I immediately bristle when I feel that anyone else is poking fun at the way Miss M talks. Due to her cleft lip and palate, my sister spent over ten years being coached on her pronunciation. She was pulled out of her classes to see her school's speech therapist on a regular basis, inciting a weird sort of curiosity and derision from her classmates. And then there were the intensive annual evaluations at the local university hospital where, among other high-pressure activities, she'd have to recite words back with a mirror under her nose to make sure she was exhaling correctly.

As much as I diligently fulfilled my little sister role as her constant tormentor, I instinctively knew what was off-limits: scars and sibilance. I lived in my sister's hand-me-downs but not her shoes, so I don't know for sure how much she was teased for the way she looked or talked. But I know that she was, and I know that it hurt. Fortunately, she took those way-too-early challenges and pushed her way through every one, eventually growing into the kickass woman she is today. But if I'd had any power to suppress even a single unkind remark, I would have. There are lots of ways to build character. Making a little kid feel even smaller isn't an essential one.

I know that if it weren't her refusal to pronounce Fs, there would be something else that other kids would tease Miss M about. Like the obnoxiously perfect bow of her mouth, or her devastating gift for joke-telling, or how aggravatingly smart she is. But of course, thanks to the ever-ironic Universe's sense of humor, it's something that hearkens back my own trove of childhood issues, albeit second-hand ones. All I can do is hope she handles it with the same strength and resilience as her annoyingly brilliant and beautiful aunt.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Out Here In The Fields

Back when we were but poor students/fledgling faculty in Chicago, The Admiral and I appreciated the many cultural opportunities of the area but rarely actually got to partake in them. One of the few live performances we attended was at a small theater on the fringes of Boys' Town, where this little underground troupe was putting on a combination concert/art installation/multimedia spectacle. They called themselves Blue Man Group.

Fast forward about ten years, three Pentium ads and a Vegas show later, and most of the country is familiar with the Blue Men. But I was still surprised to see that the country was familiar with them. As we headed into Southaven, Mississippi for the Blue Man Group's "How To Be A Megastar" arena show last night, the traffic was backed up for three exits. We were worried we were going to miss half the show until we realized that the entire traffic jam was caused by people trying to get to the DeSoto Civic Center, just like us. We got into the packed parking lot at 8:20, twenty minutes after the scheduled start time, and there was still a line of people behind us. After a quick rest stop (required by both pregnant woman and Guinness fan), we slid into our seats just as the show began.

I was definitely entertained by what was going on on-stage, but I have to admit, I was equally intrigued by the audience. I couldn't figure out where all of these surrealism-loving Southerners had come from. It seemed like a fairly even mix between yuppie couples (I guess that was us), young-tending-toward-hippieish families, high schoolers and late-middle-age art teachers. And yet, even Caucasianer than a Memphis hockey game.

I bought the tickets to the show as a birthday gift for The Admiral, who enjoyed himself immensely. Anytime you can combine Pink Floyd and physics, he's a happy man. I had fun as well, although I could have stood for more Blue Mannishness and fewer interludes involving the flesh-toned members of the band. I have to say, though, when I heard the opening bars of "Teenage Wasteland," I cringed thinking about the Tommy Tutone-ish male singer trying to tackle the job, but the vocal duties were instead given to the non-Blue woman of the group. And damn, she wailed. I firmly believe that only throaty alto chicks should tackle The Who covers from now on.

After "Rock Star Movement #383: The Fake Ending," "Rock Star Movement #278: A Quiet Moment Of Reflection," and "Rock Star Movement #37: Introducing The Band," the show wrapped up with a big, bright, strobey finale that had the entire audience on their feet (per "Rock Star Movement #18: Jumping Up And Down"). We left the show still feeling a little dazed, both by the performance and the idea that thousands of midsoutherners came to see it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

And The Night Goes By So Very Slow

Now that The Admiral has safely returned from the wilds of Amsterdam and the well-mannered alcoves of London, I can report on Single Mom Week '07. For eight days, Miss M and I survived on our own, sustained only by popcorn, gracious friends, and the wonders of Netflix.

Of course, the morning after The Admiral left, Miss M woke up with her first fever in ... well, ever. She used to run a little hot for 12 hours or so when she was teething, but this was her first real whiz-bang of a fever. And it hit her pretty hard. She was groggy and restless and had a non-existent appetite, which just made her groggier and restlesser. It seemed to be the exact same virus that had hit pretty much every other child at her school, so I didn't panic and I let the temperature run its course as much as I could, but her nights were such misery that I finally bowed to the Great Goddess Motrin. She spent all weekend wadded up on the couch (either ours or Castilo Sassy-Urf!'s, where I spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday practicing my role as Lazy Extra Wife), and I ended up sacrificing my one day off and kept her home from school on Monday. She was bouncing on the bed by Monday evening, so I decided she could survive at school the next day.

Which is when my fever hit. I was in denial all day Tuesday, but when Miss M threw up her free hot dog all over the table at McAlister's, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn't feeling so hot, either. Or rather, that I was. My eyelids were burning and my hair hurt, always the first two signs that I have a fever. I checked my temp when we got home and it was up over 101. I sighed the sigh of the pitiful and put both Miss M and me to bed.

What followed was quite possibly the worst night of Miss M's life. Worse than the newborn days, worse than her 6-hour ear infection, worse than the post-traumatic stress disorder induced by her first 4th of July. She crawled into my bed around midnight and for every half hour after that, she woke up whimpering, screeching, flailing and punching me square in the face. She demanded water. She yelled that I was in her spot. She kicked the blankets off of my shivering body. It was, in a word, wretched.

I haven't taken a sick day since I took over at the store, but as I sat huddled behind the counter the next day, quivering in a shirt, sweater and Army jacket while customers breezed in wearing t-shirts, I knew I needed to go home. I crawled into bed and didn't emerge until 4 hours later when it was time to get Miss M from school. And then, in a move rivaling the sum of charitable acts completed by Oprah and Mother Teresa combined, the Sassy-Urfs invited us over for dinner. Theoretical dinner, anyway. I mostly just moaned and rubbed my baby-achey ribs while Miss M was entertained by the Castilo crew for a couple hours, which was more sustenance than any food could have been.

I was significantly recovered the next day, but still nowhere near 100%. But thanks to the timely arrival of The Rescuers, the rest of our week was pretty much taken care of. We infringed on the Castilo one more time on Friday night, as our ever-generous hosts invited us to feast on Domino's and heal my psyche with the magical powers of The Commitments (apparently Netflix was out of the first season of Big Love).

Miss M seemed to slide back down into the depths of disease a bit, though, and as we tried to enjoy the springy weather at Lichterman Nature Center on Saturday afternoon, she was in full cling-on mode. I tried breathing deep and counting the hours until The Admiral's return. That worked until I checked his flight status and saw that he was delayed almost 3 hours. Two viewings of The Rescuers later, Miss M was nearly comatose, so her daddy's triumphant return was marked mostly by her refusal to look him in the eye. Although after spending a week in Europe while his family withered away in Memphis, I think The Admiral may have had a rough time making eye contact, too.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Get Up Everybody And Sing

Miss M cozied up to me the minute I emerged from the shower. Since I was mentally refreshed from a 3-hour nap, I skipped the shooing and forewent the rest of my routine to sit next to her while she sang me her newest composition:
Daddy Mommy Daddy Mommmy Daddy Mommy
Daddy Daddy Mommy Daddy Mommy Mommy
And me
Family family family
Family family family

Of course, those familiar with Miss M's speech idiosyncrasies know that this last line sounded like SAMily, SAMily, SAMily ...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Seen And Not Seen

Is it too late to do an Oscar recap post? It is, huh? Well, alright. I'll skip my commentary on the varyingly successful degrees to which Ellen's folksy daytime schtick translates to a big fancy glamourfest, or how they really should have saved the Ferrell/Black/Reilly number until later in the show when they really needed it, or how creepy it is that Reese Witherspoon keeps showing up at events looking exactly like me. What was really significant to me about this year's awards, anyway, was the fact that I'd actually seen the winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Before it came out on DVD, even. As a new parent, that's a major milestone. We've spent the last three years trying to Netflix our way through every nominee from 2003 on (The Constant Gardener is currently languishing away in its envelope atop the TV).

Of course, with a summer baby on the way, we're about to dive back into the pool of pop cultural ignorance. I have hope that the little one will still be meatloafy enough to slip unnoticed into theaters for a few months, but that will only get us through the big blockbuster season. And unless Spiderman 3 has a secret subplot involving a parapalegic FBI informant, I don't think we'll be as lucky next year.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Peace Of Mind Dearer Than All

It took two months to get an appointment, but when we finally saw her, I was almost disappointed by how natural-birth supportive my new OB was because I was afraid she would give The Admiral a good reason to say, "Hey, she's going to help you do what you want. Why do it at home?" (To his credit, he didn't say that.) She even supported homebirth "for the right patients," and when she read my chart and heard about my first birth, she said, "Well, it sounds like you practically had one already!" But even with her approval, we've still been pulled into a more medicalized process than I'd like. Unlike most back-up physicians, she wants to see patients on the regular pre-natal schedule, so between her and the midwives, I'm doubling up my appointments. I'm a fan of information, but I know that it's going to get pretty old once we hit the weekly visits. Especially since an OB visit means an hour of waiting and 15 minutes of consulting (as opposed to the midwives, who are 100% punctual barring a conflicting birth and are happy to have the appointment itself take the full hour for which it's scheduled).

As I was going through the paperwork for all these caregivers, I ran across a section of the midwives' info sheet that made me pause. It wasn't the legal release or the lengthy list of reasons for transfer. It was just one line asking if anyone under the age of 10-years-old would be present for the birth, and if so, who (other than the parents) would be responsible for her? The only answer I could give was "To Be Determined," because although I know I have plenty of friends who would be more than happy to watch Miss M while I'm in labor, I couldn't think of anyone I'd want to watch me in labor. I'd like to leave it up to our intuition to decide whether or not Miss M will be around the moment her brother breathes air, but this simple question reminded me that we'd need to have someone designated to tend to her regardless of how and where she was present during the birth. I was completely stuck trying to think of someone to ask when The Admiral suggested my mom.

It was the best possible suggestion, since there really was no one else I could think of around whom I'd feel comfortable during the most challenging and modesty-losing portions of childbirth. But it still seemed a little weird. I hadn't had a particularly strong desire to have my mom, or anyone other than my husband and doula, present during the first labor, and frankly, she didn't have a very strong desire to be there, either. The idea of seeing me in pain didn't really appeal to her, and since she lives 1000 miles away, the mere logistics of trying to be here on the right date were, well, illogical. And I'd already figured out, from her subtle, subject-grazing comments, that she wasn't all that comfortable with the homebirth idea. Her worries were numerous and varied, but she'd avoid her deepest concerns by tossing out the more superficial issues, like, "Won't that be messy?"

So when I decided to ask her to (possibly) attend the birth as Miss M's liaison, I wasn't surprised by the less-than-100%-enthusiastic response. And that was fine. I knew that, if she wasn't comfortable, I wouldn't be either, and it wouldn't help anyone to have her there. But in the weeks since then, a strange thing has happened. I get the sense she's been doing research on her own, and she's also asked me for recommendations on books that would help her better understand the whole homebirth concept. And she delighted in recounting to me how she shocked her friends by telling them that she was going to be there when her daughter gave birth at her own house! So I guess that means she's in. And I'm delighted. Whether she's at my side or down the street at the park with Miss M, I'm happy to know she'll be close by, able to meet her grandson during his first hours on the planet. Plus it'll make a fabulous story at her next bridge club.

Be It Ever So Humble

Because I was way too well behaved as a teenager - i.e. converting to Mormonism at 16 and thereby eschewing everything from sex to drugs to frappucinos - I'm still looking for ways to retroactively irritate my mother. And so far, I think the best one I've come up with is planning a homebirth.

I really liked and supported the idea of homebirth during my first pregnancy, but after the cavalcade of medical interventions we'd endured just to get pregnant, on top of the regular newbie fear of the unknown, I didn't pursue it as a realistic option. Besides, we had a natural birth-supportive OB, a small, cooperative hospital and a well trained doula on our side. Thankfully, the labor and delivery all went as well as I could have hoped, nearly duplicating the birth center experience I craved but couldn't get in Memphis. Since we didn't have family in town, we actually liked spending those first few days in the bubble of the hospital, where the sheets were always clean and the meals (so to speak) were regular. The nursing staff was small, friendly, and very knowledgeable on breastfeeding. They admired my labor and delivery, considering that the epidural rate in Memphis is 99% and the c-section rate is above the national average. One nurse even said, "It's so nice to see that women can still have babies!" My doctor supported my effort as well, telling me after my long, strenuous last stage of labor that having an epidural would have guaranteed an instrument (forceps or vacuum) delivery, if not a c-section.

But three years later, things have changed. Our insurance moved to a new company that no longer covers my former physician. The hospital where I delivered has closed its maternity center because it couldn't compete with the gigantic new women's hospital. And because of my job, I spend every single day hearing about women's birth experiences all over this city. I do hear some positive stories, tales from moms who have found that perfect match of doctor, hospital and nursing staff that is so crucial to having a natural birth in an unnatural setting. But for the most part, what I hear are sad and sometimes horrible stories of caregivers and facilities that simply refuse to support a laboring mother in her most basic needs. Sometimes I even know the story before they start telling it; there's one particular hospital that has yet to send me a customer without a c-section scar.

On the flip side of these stories, however, were the mothers who had delivered their babies at home. With these moms, their experiences were so overwhelmingly positive and satisfying that it was hard to ignore the contrast. Even with the limited midwife options available in this town, these women had found skilled, conscientious caregivers who guided them through their births rather than dictating what their bodies should do. The idea of homebirth, which once seemed so exotic and unapproachable, began to grow more and more appealing.

So when I did get pregnant again, and all the options were in front of me, I found myself leaning very strongly toward delivering at home. Although I did have a generally good experience with Miss M's birth, there were still several significant parts that I did not at all enjoy. The aggressive coaching, the confinement to bed while I was pushing (for all three hours), the seeming OB impatience leading to a pretty impressive level of tearing. All things I'd like to avoid the next time. Knowing that I'd have an even smaller chance of having the birth I wanted in a new hospital and with a new doctor was discouraging as well. Not that I made the decision by default - the more research I did, the more I felt that homebirth was the best option for me, even if I could have had my almost-perfect first birth all over again. The only thing on the negative side of the scales was not knowing how supported I'd be by the two people whose feelings had the most bearing on the decision: The Admiral and Mom.

When we first started seeing the midwives, it was on more of a consultation basis. I tried very hard to keep my mind open and not make The Admiral feel that I was just trying to push him toward agreeing with me (which, I fully admit, is my general tactic on all matters maternity). I understood his fears and concerns, and appreciated that they were focused on my health and the baby's, but I also knew he hadn't looked at the numbers as intensely as I had. Or rather, that he was looking at different numbers. He was focused on the tiny percentage of really, really bad things that happen during labor, whereas I was thinking more of the dozens of common, aggravating interventions that occur during even an ideal hospital birth. He didn't want me to bleed out in our bedroom. I didn't want to have someone tell me I had to eat ice chips when I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich. His scenario was much more serious, but mine was a lot more likely.

[To Be Continued ...]