Friday, April 25, 2014

What to Buy a New Mom for a Baby Shower

They might not have registered for it, but they'll be happy you gave it to them.

1) Gift certificate to Motherhood Maternity or Destination Maternity
2) Gift card for grocery delivery available at Safeway
3) Gift certificate for Dream Dinners
4) Pharmaceutical needs (Infant tylenol, Sudafed, and Motrin)
5) Gift certificate to receive a back massage or go to the chiropractor (Nathan Cowell for the locals)
6) The book What to Expect The First Year
7) Earplugs, fan, or white noise machine
8) Baby sitting coupons
9) If the baby has older siblings, put together an age appropriate busy box for the sibling/s. In it put new toys, activities, and games that can be used when mom is nursing. I put together one of these for my two year old boy. I put in it: trucks, cars, beaded necklaces, kazoo, whistle, tambourine, nesting bowls, measuring tape, flashlight, magnetic doodle pad, slinky, puzzles, balloons, and a bag full of plastic animals and insects.
10) A certificate for a cleaning lady
11) Baby items not found at target. Something unique. Try Local Fixture
12) Pay to have someone clean the windows of mommy's house or apartment
13) Over the Hills and Far Away: a Book of Nursery Rhymes by Alan Marks. This is a beautifully illustrated book that parents will appreciate. It includes both common and uncommon nursery rhymes.
13) A note on baby clothes: babies drool and spit up quite a bit. Thus light-colored tops without a pattern are quickly stained. Mothers don't particularly want to spend a lot of time on laundry. Thus patterned or dark colored onsies are the best. This also applies to pants. Most babies are crawling between 6 and 16 months. White or light-colored pants are a bad idea. If Mama is using cloth diapers, select pants that stretch. Slim pants, although the style, are hard to fit over puffy cloth diapers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Abby at 10

     I pulled a box out of our garage today and found a folder with many of my first stories, classic works of literature like The Little Girl, and its sequel The Little Girl and Boy. I also found this title-less short story. The characters therein are purely fictitious.

     "Was upon a time there was a haqqy girl. the haqqy girl had a mean mom. the end."

     I also uncovered a dozen journals, both old and new. One, with a lock and key, dates back to 1994. I was 10. Jacob was 12. Joni was 15. Jessica was 6. Those were the days when the little things were big.

February 25, 1994
     I had no idea what was going to happen and this turn of events was going to change my life. After school I was playing hide and go seek with my dogs and brother. Then my mom called us in to eat. 
     After we ate, it was almost black outside. Jacob and me decided to roll in the ivy. We pretended that the cars had bad guys in them and the bad guys shot us and then we rolled down the hill. Jacob said to crawl up the hill. One time as I crawled up, a car passed and I pretended to die. I tumbled back and I hit my knee on glass or something very sharp. And anyway it was a very clean cut.
     It felt like a sword going through my leg. I lay there for a couple seconds as my brother stared at me. I held my knee and said to Jacob, "Ouch, ouch, ouch, I broke my knee!" And as I said this, I looked at my knee and there was a big red spot on it. 
     My brother asked if I wanted to get Mommy and Dad, I said no. I quickly went inside and said, "Don't let me look at my knee." 
     I ended up having 3 stitches. I really didn't hurt, and I had to miss a lot of PE days.

December 26, 1994
     I got tons of neat stuff for Christmas. Jessica is still being a brat. Tomorrow I am going to Knott's Berry Farm without Jessica. I got tons of candy too. Jacob got lots of computer games which he is playing right now. Awhile after that I was sent to my room because I was trying to be mean to Jessica by taking her chair and her jumprope and using it as a microphone to interview a grumpy person, which was Jessica.

March 12, 1995
     I am in the car on the road to Mammoth. We have already passed the park and are almost to where the beef jerky place is. I see lots of snow on the mountains. Brent came with us up to Mammoth. Jacob thinks I like him. I like ZOSH E BOSH RASH A NOSH O SOSH E GOSH A TOSH E GOSH A TOSH E ROSH O O DOSH WASH A SOSH HOSH. When we got there the snow was as high as the 2nd story window and fresh. That night we went out to eat and got rentals for our skis. At the park Jacob did a back flip off the swings and got hurt.

July 7, 1995
     Last night my hamster kept getting out of its cage. I woke up at 12 and 1:30 listening to my hamster. Finally I just went into Jacob's room to sleep. This morning Mommy sent Jacob, me, and Jess out of the kitchen. She wanted us to stop fighting and be cheerful, but I didn't do anything. When we came back in the kitchen I hugged Jessica and shook her hand very hard and said, "Jessica, how are you today?" Jessica started crying and I got in trouble.

June 17, 1996
   I can't let it go. It hurts too much. As I came home from swim team, I saw Mama Grace give away out last 2 kittens. The third kitten was also given away before then. I named them Brandon, L.P., and Jessica. But now they're gone. I wanted so much to keep just one and I thought we were. Now I sit here heart broken. It feels like someone took a piece out of me. I wanted not to eat dinner to show my pain even though I am very hungry. I loved them soooooooo much. I even slept outside with them last night. Now they're lost out in someone's backyard with no mother. They work us very hard on the swim team. I hope to join a sign language class and get a mini pool.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Caught in the Headlights

       “I feel like my boobs are really big. Are they really big?” asked a voice over my shoulder.
I shouldn’t have looked, but I did, and yes, her boobs were rather large. Naked. Watermelons. She bore them like exposing herself publicly to a room full of ladies was common place, a daily ritual, and it sort of was.
All of us women in that room had committed to exposing ourself to at least one other set of eyes other than our own. Sure, it’s just a baby, but just because nearly half of the world’s population does it, didn’t make me feel any less uncomfortable. 
We are a civilized society. I have a degree in English writing. I’ve read Plato and Aristotle and Socrates. And here I am with the rest of the animal kingdom at its lowliest or maybe, its at its simplest. It’s certainly not at its finest. Maybe its at its most intimate and affectionate, though if it is, I still don’t get it.
PIH lactation support group meets Wednesdays 10:00-11:30 am in Room B of the hospital’s lower level. And even though the security guard at the front desk told me this in a most matter-of-fact way, I found nothing matter-of-fact about that first meeting.
Before Lee was born, Phil and I attended a few classes at PIH, an introduction to pregnancy, a CPR class, and a tour of the maternity facility but never a breast feeding class. We once accidentally walked into a breastfeeding class before Lee was born. The pregnant ladies were using dolls for practice. Phil and I walked in late. All heads turned our direction, and I turned very red realizing we were in the wrong place.
Walking into the lactation support group for the first time felt similar, except that I wasn’t in the wrong place, and the mothers there hadn’t brought dolls to use for practice. This was the real thing. Practice time was over. I went into that room looking for help and answers—a place where others were struggling with the same nursing problems as me—but instead I felt rather like a deer in the headlights, except they weren’t headlight.
Oh gosh, where do I look? I thought. Just look people in the eye. Look them in the eye. If I hadn’t been so distressed about my current situation, I might have succeeded in doing just that, but instead I dropped my eyes to the ground and slipped into the nearest chair. 
The other mothers had lay blankets on the conference table to make a soft bed for their babies. They had water bottles and diaper bags and juice and snacks and wipes and Boppy pillows and strollers and car seats and quilts. Most of them wore make-up, and their babies were dressed to impress. I’d come in my sweats and nursing camisole. Rose was in a white onsie, and all her worldly needs were stuffed into my purse. 
They all seemed so happy, so capable, so comfortable with popping themselves out of their shirts and getting their babies to latch on. They gabbed while nursing. None of them were flinched or screaming or biting their lips. I wondered if I was truly in the right place. 
I signed in. One of the lactation specialist, Lori Russell, a nurse practitioner with strawberry blonde hair, asked how nursing was going, and I fell apart. A little sympathy will do that. 
I was in the pits of despair. Nothing was working right. Rose was crying. I was crying. Blood was on my nursing pads and on Rose’s sleeves and on me. I dreaded each nursing session. I dreaded it so much that I postponed them as long as possible, and Rose was hungry. 
It’s a terrible thing to become a mother. There’s no easing into it. One day everything is contained. The next, everything is out of control. You’re bleeding from all ends. Contractions continue during nursing. Indigestion, dry contacts, aching tail bone, deprivation of sleep, deprivation of emotional stability. Tortured by constant baby cries and put into a house that you’re no longer able to manage or organize. It’s the sure fire way to find what’s lurking in the dark corners of your soul. Are you gracious? Are you at peace? Are you ready for this? And that’s not even including the difficulties of breast feeding and managing multiple children.
It can’t be done alone. 
That first week at the lactation support group was the beginning of a life line. Each week I came with Rose and my tears. She wasn’t latching on correctly. She was a lazy eater. I had to pump to heal up. I couldn’t take the pain. I was engorged. I had a plugged duct. I got a sore throat, then several weeks later, the flu. I was nursing all the time.
After four weeks, Lori Russell took me and Rose up to the lactation office to weigh her. Rose hadn’t gained an ounce. 
“You need to start supplementing,” she told me as I cried. “That’s why your baby is so unhappy. She’s not getting enough.” She supplied me with my first case of Gerber’s Good Starts and a bottle. Twenty minutes on the breast, supplement afterwards. “You’re not a failure,” Lori told me. “Your number one job is to feed your baby. It doesn’t matter how. Just feed her.”
The clouds lifted after that day. Rose was satiated and started smiling. 
I learned the names of the other lactation consultants. I had a connection to each one. Lori Russell had a son at Heights Christian Junior High where I taught Algebra for 6 years. Sandra Lee had a daughter who went to Whittier Christian Junior High with Philip and me. Rose, who shared a name with my daughter, had a son in the Torrey Academy at Biola. I suppose their connections to Christ shouldn’t have shocked me. These ladies were so comfortable with their occupation, so kind to each of the mothers who came for help.
When I was able to attend the class without tears, I looked around at the room of mothers and found that they weren’t all smiles and make-up. They too had come with their questions. Some were wrestling with a shortage of milk, premature baby, or having to return to work. 
“I overheard them talking to you,” one hispanic lady said to me across the table. “I’ve been listening in. My son is two weeks younger than your daughter. And I’m afraid I’m going to have to start supplementing too because he’s fussy all the time. But I don’t want to because that’s what I had to do with my firstborn. This is my second. His name is Jericho.”
Simple commonalities—children the same age and similar breast feeding struggles—made a friendship. Her name was Dina. She had a two year old as well. And supplementation gave her a happy baby too. 
     Time and perseverance has put me at eleven weeks. No, breastfeeding hasn’t gone like I expected. And no, all the troubles are not resolved. One week I showed Lori my journal where I was tracking the times and durations of Rose’s feedings. I think she must have seen several to-do lists as well. She raised her eyebrows. “You need to stop trying to do so much each day. You’re only job right now is to feed your kids and look at them smile.” And write a blog about breastfeeding, of course.

Friday, April 11, 2014


     How the smells encompass! The smell of sour milk and soggy diapers. Witch hazel and mustard-yellow pooh. Body odor and my two-year-old’s breath. Then the weekends come with a whiff of night-blooming jasmine and orange blossoms. I’m baking fresh bread, and Philip has just wiped down the counters with our lemongrass spray. 

Back to the plow and the sounds of motherhood. Her fake cough seconds before she latches on. His three-toned imitation of a sentence. His pushcart rolling over the hardwood floor. Then his cars crashing. The songs from the CD “If You Give a Moose a Muffin.” Again and again and again. 
“Uh oh!”
“Oh no!”
“Iek. Iek.” (Milk)
“Ail. Ail.” (Mail)
“Ash. Ash.” (Crash or grass or trash) 
“Bebe.” (Baby or naked) 
“Oh. Oh.” (Blow or throw or mow)

Despite the noise, she’s cooing. Talking contentedly. She bursts into a happy shout. Then she won’t stop crying because of the gas that tightens her stomach, so I put her down and vacuum her to sleep. The machine’s roar neutralizes all noises. It’s peaceful for five minutes, for ten. Lee watches the roaring machine from his perch on the couch. I’ve run out of things to vacuum. I enter the ruckus again.
This is a life that touches. She kicks against my stomach, jumping to demand a change of position. She bats me in the face with her fists. And thud, while I burp her, her wobbly head knocks against my ear. I’ve got scratches like paper cuts from her nails. And her warm spit-up runs down my arm. She is not capable of a gentle touch yet but Lee is.
He drapes his fuzzy blanket over me and puckers his snot-encrusted lips to kiss me. He lays across my legs while I nurse so that he can be close to me too. He holds up his hands in preference to being carried as opposed to walking himself to his crib for a nap.

At 12:45 I’ve reached the eye of the tornado and the wind stops. They are both asleep. I can hear the mockingbirds outside and a neighbor banging a hammer. The refrigerator buzzes, and my Oolong tea has the perfect bitter to sweet ratio. I regroup and count the casualties. 

There’s potty on this rug somewhere. I know it. But where? My water bottles need refilling. What are we eating for dinner again? I could take a shower, but no, I’d rather write. I’d rather paint the sounds and smells and sights, so that one day when I’m old, and I long for these days again, I can remember what they were like.

Relief comes at 6 pm. I hear Philip’s car alarm honk twice and soon the kitchen door rattles open. Lee frantically crawls between the sofa and the footrest. He hides beneath my legs while he whispers, “Ide. Ide.” Then Phil stomps in. “Where’s the Lee boy?” Lee’s laughter makes me forget the strain for a few short seconds.

Dinner is delicious. I’ve roasted beets and served them alongside a salad of fresh greens foraged from the side yard: radish tops, spinach, kale, nasturtium blossoms, and dandelion greens. Lee helped me gather them. He loves eating his greens when he has picked them himself. I washed the leaves one by one this morning. I’ve sliced up some leftover pork too and served it cold over the salad. The entire dish is drenched in a vinaigrette dressing and shoveled down the throat in less than five minutes. Chug the orange juice. Drop the dishes in the sink. And feed the Waa-Waa!

Such moments of chaos and distress juxtaposed beside such moments of beauty and awe and laughter. 

Phil spreads a blanket out on the front lawn, and we have a picnic lunch after church. Lee sits quietly and eats his bread and lettuce while Rose kicks and gnaws on her fist. The spring breeze, the cool shade, the warm sun.

Rose has bouts of eating properly. She’ll take no more than twenty minutes, actively sucking the entire time. And Lee will find some new way to play with his toys. He’ll put his beaded necklaces on and off, on and off, on and off. He’ll drive his cars and trucks over the couch cushions and make little tunnels for them.

After dinner Phil suggests we walk down to Mimos for cannolis. We make it an adult-paced walk by carrying the children. Phil carries Lee. I carry Rose. The sun is setting pink. The temperature is just right. The air smells like jasmine. We talk about SketchUp and landscaping our backyard and disciplining Lee and owning a dog. Rose falls asleep.

Then there are the surprise visits from my mother mid-week. They’re like rain in the desert. She asks to take Lee to the park or the library or her house, and for those few hours I feel like a queen. I haven’t more time, but I have silence and my thoughts.

Phil has sent me out thrice now. He’s taken charge of both kids and sent me out with Lois Thorpe. We have girl talk, church talk, philosophical talk, practical talk, adult talk, talk that jumps from subject to subject in a natural flow, talk that gives and takes, your turn, my turn. How sweet and precious such talk is! Uninterrupted. Curious. Skeptical. Thoughtful. I take a full two hours to eat the meal that I didn’t prepare and that I won’t clean up. How delicious it tastes!

Such moments of respite are made so much sweeter when they’re put between those hours of work.