Sunday, May 9, 2010

Zeta :: Our Bundle of Joy

Some people receive bundles of joy when they leave the hospital with a brand new, bouncy baby. We received a bundle of gas.

I discovered in the first few weeks of Zoe’s life that we had been ruined completely by our experience with our first child. Lexi was an insanely “easy” baby. Sadly, Dane and I thought she was hard. We had no idea of what parenting could really look like.

The first week of Zoe’s life we checked with the pediatrician about the massive amounts of spit up she could produce. Several weeks after that I mentioned to the doctor that she didn’t seem to be able to have the bowel movements I expected. Both times the pediatrician said she was gaining weight so he wasn’t worried in the least.

And she was! Both Lexi and Zoe were clicking along developmentally at a lovely pace! The pats on the back I gave myself did a little bit to mitigate the discomfort I felt at inhabiting an 800 square foot apartment in a 1950s era building and almost no interaction with the outside world except my husband. I discovered that the checker at Wal-Mart was more interested in totaling my groceries than carrying on a conversation.

Life was not easy with Zoe, regardless of how she seemed to be doing well developmentally. She cried almost non-stop. Every day I woke up to the knowledge that I would be in the apartment all day with a wailing child and a toddler whose verbal skills were so limited that she also spent most of her day crying in frustration because I couldn’t understand what she was trying to communicate to me.

Every day by the time Dane came home I felt used up, worthless, and exhausted; like a complete failure at parenting and life.

What I wrote home?

“Lexi has been developing great aspects of her personality! She is constantly looking at Zoe and shouting, “Baby!” as though she’s surprised all over again that there’s a live being right there! Dane has joked that she has the memory of a goldfish – every single time she’s just SO excited! She has also decided that she needs a “shower baby” – she takes the washcloth and carefully wraps it around the bottle of Cetaphil facial soap, rocking it, burping it, shushing it … and I’m pretty sure I caught her changing its diaper! She likes to kiss Zoe a lot, and I’ve had to cut her off when she begins to try to suck on Zoe’s toes. Zoe, for her part, tends to be a little bit put off by the huge face and insistent hands of her sister…

Zoe is also developing her personality, which right now looks to be fairly laid back and sweet. She makes lots more noises than we remember Lexi making – she actually sounds like a doggie squeaky toy a lot of the time! She grumbles to herself and stretches and has an awful lot of action with her tongue… She started out her life with some amazing vomit experiences, but lately has seemed to be ready to keep it in her tummy more. As I type, she’s curled up on her daddy’s chest and Lexi is asleep right next to him. They both have their mouths open and look extraordinarily similar with their sleepy faces. It’s a good picture.”

Four months into Zoe’s life we went in to the pediatrician’s office and I reported that she was still miserably unhappy from gas a good deal of the time. Her pediatrician suggested that I switch formulas. I reminded him that she’s breastfed.

“Am I poisoning her with my breast milk?” I asked our doctor. Why else would she have so much trouble with digestion and cry so very much?! Surely it had to be my fault!

My neurotic questioning of poisoning was pooh-poohed as our doctor told me that if she didn’t have a bowel movement for several days I could try a suppository (just what I’d always dreamed of administering to my offspring) or MiraLAX ® Laxative Powder. I left the office and purchased the MiraLAX® and a bag of peppermint sticks for Zoe to suck – the gas drops and gripe water I had read about on the internet were completely ineffective.

After that conversation with the doctor we went a mind-boggling 21 days with no output from our dear little Zoe. While it did provide some daily comic relief to hear loud toots coming out of her in great explosions, I felt horrible as I watched her howl and scrunch up her face because her tummy was in agony … and relatively disgusted every time she emptied her stomach down the front of my shirt. Having already tried the all other options and feeling desperate, it was time to proceed with the suppository plan of attack.

Parenting had already taught Dane and I that there are very few taboo topics after you have children. Though you might not share everything in polite company, once you have a child your inner-circle family conversations regularly dwell on the types of poop that exist, lactating surprises, or the consistency of spit-up milk.

Even with our comfort levels stretched so much by parenting, thinking about administering a suppository was something that made both of us feel fairly awkward. It was with great trepidation that Dane and I headed to the drugstore and selected a suppository.

We learned from the clerk that there was a liquid glycerin option that could be administered with an applicator that was effective – though it could be too effective and you might end up with a massive mess – and a glycerin suppository, the pellet we both had in our heads when we started the adventure.

We went with the most comfortable of an uncomfortable array of choices: the pellet.

Back to the house, we trimmed our fingernails and washed our hands … and … viola! insertion complete. Time: 7 p.m.

Fast-forward… Zoe woke up at 11:30 p.m. with cheeks flushed scarlet, groaning, moaning, and crying with a raspy little voice that made my stomach churn like the grinder of an old-fashioned ice cream maker. I checked the suppository package and read that it was supposed to be effective within 15 – 60 minutes! Panic!

Dane started pumping Zoe’s legs while I called the after-hours pediatrician, wondering if I’d actually poisoned my child from the bottom up this time. I paced, waiting as the phone rang.

Finally the phone connected! As I tried to calm my heart to talk to the nurse, a clap of thunder rocked the entire house. From the living room I heard my husband holler, “Way to go, baby!”

Relieved, I realized that my baby was possibly – just possibly – not going to die from a suppository.

As I talked to the nurse I discovered that she couldn’t have died anyway. Apparently a suppository, for all its nastiness in function, is a pretty harmless medicine. That’s a little nugget of information that I would never have known had Zoe been as quiet and… regular… as Lexi.

Off the phone, I looked at my husband and realized that he was holding Zoe in a strange way – for when the thunderclap came, her poop evacuated her body not only into her diaper but also all over his lap.

I ran for the changing supplies while he shucked his jeans. When we opened that glorious diaper we discovered the suppository, in the exact same shape that it had gone in, and realized that it had actually acted as a plug for the poor child!

Dane needed a little bit of time before he felt comfortable talking about the experience – it had offended his sensibilities to the core to be covered in excrement. But eventually we were both able to laugh about the experience.

Unfortunately, I laughed about it only with him. I hadn’t talked to Tirzah, Lauren, or any friend for several months.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Epsilon :: Like a Roving Band of Turtles...

“Like a roving band of turtles… and with about the same amount of speed, we have made it to Oklahoma and have actually even settled in a little bit!

Our original plan to make it to Amarillo on Thursday didn’t work out so well – instead we made it to Albuquerque at about midnight. Friday we made it to Oklahoma City, but only after running into a wildly tattooed and pierced man at the Love’s gas station who asked the Subway workers if they had feta cheese or basil for his sandwich, then exited the building with a girl who got into the back seat of his Lexus with a dead deer or bighorn sheep (we couldn’t quite make out the details) and drove away. Stranger things have happened, but we were impressed with that one!

On into town, which, contrary to many weather reports, was not under water. There is hardly any standing water around, there are a few mosquitoes, but yes, it’s very humid! I’ve been staying indoors quite a bit getting unpacked, but to go outside is a little bit like being in a sauna.

Lexi loves it! She’s been asking us to put on her shoes and take her on walks about every 2.3 seconds. There’s a lake with a fountain visible from our apartment and every time she sees the lake she squats down and screams, “OH!!!!” It’s pretty cute.

The campus is really green and pretty and there aren’t that many students around for the summer. So, it’s been a quiet move-in. After the frantic energy leading up to the move I’ve been relishing the quiet. The most excitement in our apartment came one morning when I did the, nudge, nudge – “honey, I heard something moving!” – thing to Dane. Turns out we had a very small SHREW scurrying through our bedroom! It is no longer in this world.”

My first update email to friends and family back home centered on the trivia of our move. It did little to highlight the challenges of a 20-hour car ride with just Lexi for comfort.

It said nothing about the state trooper who pulled me over in New Mexico at midnight to ask if I had been drinking. After I looked pointedly at my pregnant belly – which was so large I had been forced to move the seat back from the steering wheel in order to navigate – I said that I had not been drinking. He told me that I had touched the outside line of the road and thus was under suspicion for driving under the influence.

He let me go with a verbal warning.

My update email did not mention the new housing, a first-story apartment in the men’s residence hall at the college. I did not spend time dwelling on the water-stained ceiling tiles, toilet that wobbled when you perched upon it, or fact that I literally froze the air conditioning unit in the apartment into a block of ice twice in the first week we lived there.

Instead I focused on the bizarre (the man with a dead animal in the back of his Lexus) and the cute (my daughter’s enchantment with the scenery).

I didn’t realize it then, but it was the first steps I took to actively prepare for life as a member of the Mommy Sorority. I began to ignore the distasteful aspects of the reality of my situation and instead cover them up with glowing reports of a cheerful nature. Not completely insincere, but certainly not completely authentic.

There were only a few weeks left before I delivered our second daughter. With the changes of a new baby, moving into a new home, and watching my husband adjust to a new job, I really lost sight of the need for self-examination.

When I called Tirzah I talked about how Lexi was learning new words, that I had discovered my new favorite grocery store, and asked her to catch me up on all the happenings in her life.

When I spoke with Lauren, I mentioned that my ambitions were being played out through Dane for the time being, that he was now employed in a college administration position that I knew intimately – it was the same position I had occupied for several years before we were married.

When I spoke to my husband, I told him how proud I was of him, offered subtle professional guidance, tried not to complain too much of my aches, bumps, and disappointment that my ankles had turned into a swollen mush worthy of the description, “Cankles.”

When I spoke to Lexi I tried my best to use patience, positive vocabulary, and an upbeat tone of voice.

And when I spoke to myself… when I did pause to speak to myself, I looked around in bewilderment, wondering how on Earth I had arrived as a nondescript, non-working, non-friendship holding woman I saw in the mirror. I did not recognize myself.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Delta :: Here Comes #2

After Lexi was born I quit my job for awhile and reveled in being a mommy. I enjoyed almost every aspect of parenting and drank in every detail of my daughter’s emerging personality.

I stayed in touch with my co-workers; each of us had our babies six weeks apart from one another.

Tirzah, my more conservative friend who never planned to go back to work and wanted to homeschool her son exclusively, was perfect for listening to my more psychotic moments.

“Tirzah – I had a dream that I was driving and the car actually slid off the road and rolled. I was dead in the front seat but Lexi was hanging upside-down, trapped in the carseat straps, crying and not understanding why I wouldn’t help her!” I confessed one day.

She soothed me, we discussed how common it was for hormones to dwell on our fears and then we moved into safer, less emotionally-charged conversations.

Another day Tirzah confessed: “I just destroyed the pictures I took of Elijah in his crib because I realized that there was a blanket in there with him. I don’t want Child Protective Services to take him away from me because I had a strangulation hazard in with him and was stupid enough to document it with photos!”

I soothed her and took the crib blanket out of Lexi’s crib immediately.

Lauren was my more logical friend, a high-achiever who believed in the “cry it out” method of parenting her son. She was my friend with whom I could dream about career ambitions and how it might work to fulfill a career and a role as mother at the same time.

“I don’t want to go back to work but I feel sometimes like I’ve lost track of who I am,” I would tell Lauren. “I wonder sometimes if there’s more to my life than being a living burp rag.”

Lauren would agree and tell me that I wasn’t crazy to wonder where my identity had headed.

“I want to cherish every moment of Ryan’s life,” Lauren said. “But sometimes I just can’t stand how much he cries. It makes me feel like I’m going insane. I would do almost anything to be able to organize my desk right now!”

I understood. I felt guilty saying it out loud, but I absolutely understood what Lauren was saying.

Only ten months into trying to flesh out my identity as a mother of one, well before I could actually utter the words, “This is my daughter, Lexi,” I discovered that I was pregnant again.

I was thrilled. I loved Lexi so much I couldn’t imagine not loving our newest little addition.

With absolute naivety, I charged whole-heartedly into being a hands-on, attachment-style parenting mother.

At the same time, my husband’s job situation went from uncomfortable to precarious to torturous. It was no longer feasible to continue working in his current capacity.

So, eight months pregnant with a one-year-old toddler, we moved our nuclear family 1,000 miles away from our support groups and Dane started a new job working for a small Christian college in a tiny town in Oklahoma.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gamma :: Circus Acts

The unfortunate reality of my situation was that no matter how fierce I was in the desire to protect my child, I had no idea what I was protecting.

I was the youngest child born to my parents, the youngest child of my family generation. Every time we had family get-togethers, reunions, or holiday gatherings, I was the snot-nosed baby trying to tag along or the littlest one being coddled by the bigger ones who wanted to play mommy.

My parents moved to a retirement community before I was born to be near my grandmother. As self-employed business people even after my grandmother had passed away, it was unwise for them to uproot their established business to try their luck in a different community with a younger demographic.

I grew up without ever once babysitting. I never fed a child a bottle. I never experienced playing with a little sibling. I never worked in the church nursery.

In fact, until my daughter Lexi was born I had never, ever changed a dirty diaper. And I had no desire to do so!

Instead I frolicked through life in the post-60s feminist world, setting my eyes on whatever leadership position seemed most prestigious and trying to achieve it. And, for the most part, succeeding.

Job interviews and public speaking events held no fear for me. Time management presentations and the seven habits of highly effective leaders were a part of my regularly used vocabulary.

Gaa-gaa and goo-goo were not.

Even so, discovering that we were pregnant with our first child was one of the most exciting, albeit terrifying, experiences of my entire life. I felt like I was on a whirlwind roller coaster of fun and couldn’t wait to experience it all!

I signed up for the baby information bulletins and happily told Dane about each stage of development.

“Honey! She’s the size of a summer squash right now and there’s fine hair covering her whole body!”

“Dane! There’s almost 25% more blood in my body right now than before I got pregnant. She’s swallowing amniotic fluid and hiccupping to practice her lungs! I need to eat raisins for iron.”

“Babe – did you know that 1% of pregnant women spontaneously abort their child after getting a weird virus from deli meats? I can’t eat at Subway anymore. And maybe not any hotdogs, either.”

Every aspect of pregnancy was explored as I tried to learn about this new job I would be taking on. I’m still grateful that I had two other first-time moms working in my office with me. Though I was the oldest of them all, they were farther along in their pregnancies.

During breaks we would gather around the water cooler and compare notes and ask questions.

“I know that these pains are from the round ligaments stretching but do you think that I can put a heating pad on my abdomen or will that bake the baby?”

“Oh! Don’t reheat your lunch on that Styrofoam plate! Who knows what kind of chemicals will be released into the food – it might hurt the baby!”

Deep into my ninth month of pregnancy we found out that our little girl, whom we named Lexi, was breech. Based upon her size, which was estimated to be just about nine pounds, and my small body frame, our doctor felt that it was highly unlikely that she would turn head-down the birth canal on her own. We scheduled a caesarian section for the next week and welcomed our little girl into the world.

Immediately I was consumed with reading everything about babies. What could make them grow best, what had to be avoided at all costs? What developmental milestones I should expect or be worried if she didn’t meet on time?

When I read that every newborn would mostly likely smile by the time they were three-months old and I realized that Lexi hadn’t smiled yet I took it as a personal attack on my parenting. I turned into a one-woman circus act, smiling all the time and talking to her in a happy, giggly voice.

“Why are you talking that way?” Dane finally asked me.

“I want her to smile,” I said. My lip started quivering and my eyes filled with tears. “I just am so worried that she won’t smile!”

“She’s a baby!” Dane said. “She’s going to smile. Relax!”

Sure enough, literally one day before Lexi turned three-months-old, a friend of ours leaned over her and tickled her cheek with a strand of curly hair. Lexi smiled, an enormous, giant smile with a coo in accompaniment.
It hadn’t taken a three-ring circus after all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Beta :: Driving for Clarity

From the time I got my driver’s license at 16-years-old, sitting behind that wheel was a special time. It made me feel free, it made me feel composed. It was just me and the road ahead, off to find adventure.

Throughout graduate school, a time when I moved regions of the country in order to attend a #1-ranked master’s program in college administration, I had explored the countryside in my trusty Toyota truck. Whenever I felt lonely, which was often, or like I was an outsider, as I was, I took to the road. I discovered the beauty of leaves changing colors in the fall through the windshield of that truck; I drove it to the out-of-town stables where I took horseback riding lessons.

After graduate school that truck moved me across the country once again to my first job. All of my belongings were loaded up and tucked underneath a bright blue tarp and elastic net, secured more firmly than I in the events of the present.

It was there, at that first job that I met and married my husband, Dane. He was the greatest blessing of my life, my first 100% certain answer to prayer. We were married within six months of our first date.

Professionally things continued to improve. The reality was that I started my career riding on the coattails of training from two exceptional institutions. Simply because I had their names attached to my resume as the colleges where I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees doors opened for me. After starting any jobs I was quickly recognized as someone who could problem solve, make difficult decisions, and meet deadlines on time.

Life was pretty well laid out for me and I felt like I was on top of the world.

I might have been a little arrogant, too.

All this to say, my bolt out of the office and to my truck was not an unusual choice when I needed comfort; drives were always helpful for me. What was surprising was how disturbed I was by the conversation I had just completed.

It was not the first time I had fired someone for failing to perform in his or her position. I had discovered that in life there are very few people who are willing to say what needs to be said without backing down or moderating the comment to the point of uselessness.

Because I was ingrained with boldness my previous supervisors had oftentimes used me to have the “difficult” conversations. I had never been a part of a conversation where there was not ample cause for releasing the person from their position; in fact, it most generally involved that person placing another in physical harm, as this most current negative job review had identified.

It was, however, one of the first times that someone had attacked me on a personal level, playing into my fears of becoming a parent.

I took the time on the drive to calm myself, my thoughts eventually stopped racing as I traveled the blacktop road and wound my way through the countryside. By the time I got home that night I was in control of my emotions, though still fairly wound up from the encounter.

My reserve was tested the next morning when I checked my facebook® messages and found one from Rick’s brother:

“Your lack of encouragement, ungodly approach and unprofessionalism towards my brother are inexcusable. You give the college a bad name and your lack of caring for relationships with people give Christ a bad name. I do not deny that my brother is far better with relationships than maybe paper work and he certainly has more compassion than condemnation for people; I believe that Christ himself told the world that he "did not come to this world to condemn it, but to save it." As an alumni of the college I know that it was far more influential for me to have an employee or teacher to have a relationship with me than to care more for rules than for the individual.”

I snorted loudly. My husband perked up and asked what was going on. I gestured to the computer screen and watching his body language change from relaxed to battle-ready as he processed the message.

“That’s ridiculous!” Dane said. “I’m going to write him back – that’s my wife he’s attacking!”

“Dane – I appreciate your feelings, but you can’t write him back or call him or even mention that this happened,” I said, taking his arms and moving him a few paces away from the computer.

“It’s completely inappropriate that Rick got a family member involved in this – and it would be completely inappropriate for you to get involved!” I looked up at him and pleaded.

“I don’t need you to protect me against him. It’s ok that he’s upset. He should be, he just lost his job,” I leaned against him and placed his arms around my back. “I need you to just love me and support me here, right now, just like you are. Can you do that?”

“Yes,” Dane said as his arms started to return the pressure of a hug around my body. “I can do that. But I’m still really, really angry!”

“I am too,” I said. “But the reality is that my life is going to go on in much the same way it has before – his life is going to be turned upside-down. I’ve got to give him grace for that.”

We stood together, hugging, and I let the warmth of my husband’s arms support me and act as a salve to my wounded heart.

You’re going to end up alone and miserable.

The words were back. They were wrong! I was fierce with myself. I would not allow anything to destroy this little family of mine.

Our embrace lasted for several more moment, Dane and my bodies providing a protective shield around the little life that continued to grow, protected in the love of a mother and a father who were committed to each other and to the baby’s future.

We were not alone.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alpha:: The Start of It All

“Rick, I hate to say this, but your explanation for this situation is just not good enough,” I found myself saying to the wide-eyed young man I had been supervising for just under a year.

“You willfully disregarded the policies that have been put into place and instead followed your own ideas. That ultimately placed three students in a physically dangerous situation where we could not longer vouch for their safety on this campus.”

“Additionally, you chose not to involve your direct supervisor in the situation after you have been given three separate warnings on this exact issue.” I stopped and cleared my throat, praying that my nerve would continue through the rest of the conversation.

“Because of these problems you will not be allowed to continue in your current position. The choice you have to make now is whether you would like the public opinion to be that you resigned or have been fired. I will respect your wishes in that matter.”

“So…” Rick’s voice dwindled off for a moments as he processed my words. “You’re actually firing me?!”

Keep it simple, short and courteous, I told myself.


“This is ridiculous! You’d rather hold yourself to a policy standard than take people’s individual development into account!” Rick said hotly.

“Rick, I’m not asking you to agree with me, in fact, I really don’t expect you to agree with me at all,” I responded as calmly as I could. “It doesn’t change the decision.”

“You are going to wind up all alone and miserable because you’re incapable of maintaining relationships! Or caring about anything except the rules!” Rick’s face was flushed and little drips of spit shot out of his mouth as he talked.

“I feel sorry for you and for any children you might possibly raise in the future!” he said with finality.

I knew the conversation needed to end as I listened to the blood roar in my ears.

“I respect your right to opinion, Rick. I don’t need your sympathy. I’ll be sending you a written document that outlines the logistics of the end of your position.” I stood up and walked to Rick’s office door. “I’m sorry it has come to this.”

I gently closed the door so that it wouldn’t slam behind me and continued through the building to the exit. Once outside I pulled out my Blackberry ® and shot off a text message to my supervisor:

“I just fired Rick. Thought you should know.”

I walked only 15 paces before the buzzing of the phone in my hand alerted me to a newly received text message.

“What took you so long? You have my support. He needed to go.” Reassuring words from my own boss.

I finished walking across the college campus to my own office. After unlocking the door I made the decision not to open any of the blinds to the office – my subtle hint to any students walking by that this was not a good time to drop by for a conversation.

Rick’s words began to replay in my head.

You’re going to wind up alone and miserable.

Always a possibility. Anyone was capable of wind up alone and miserable, I told myself. But the reality was that I was married to a man who adored me and I adored him. If I wound up alone and miserable it would be because something had gone terribly wrong in my marriage that I couldn’t foresee happening at this point.

I feel sorry for any children that you might have.

My hands went protectively to my abdomen, where the beginnings of a new life, only about six weeks along, were housed. Rick had no idea that I was pregnant, I hadn’t told anyone except my husband yet. However, his words struck me as deeply as anything I knew as they preyed on my own insecurities about becoming a mother.

You’re incapable of maintaining any relationships.

I stared at the plaque on the wall of my office. It was made of mahogany wood, with embossed gold lettering proudly stating, “Staff Member of the Year.” Surely I wouldn’t have won the award from the college’s student government association only three days earlier if I was truly incapable of maintaining relationships, right?

No matter how many times I tried to block his words in my head, they just kept hammering at me. I replayed every aspect of the situation, my words, my reactions, my response to the disciplinary situation. Try as I might I could not believe that I was making the wrong decision.

But his words still hurt. I began to cry. This was the part of the job that made it so difficult to be a leader.

I shifted my gaze from the Staff Member of the Year plaque to another sign, this one photocopied and tattered along the edges. I had displayed it in in every office I worked.

“What is right is not always popular. What is popular is not always right.”

My tears dried up. My heart still hurt. I stood up, turned off the lights to the office and locked the door.

It was time for a drive.
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