Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Psalm 116

Over a year and a half ago, I decided to splurge and buy a subscription to Magnificat magazine. I had been interested in the Liturgy of the Hours for years, but felt intimidated by breviaries. It felt like such a commitment and I was a bit of a language snob. I know that the translation is still the clunky old one. I saw many recommendations for Magnificat and decided to take the plunge. When I received the first issue, I thought it was beautiful. I really enjoy the artwork and I love that my children also enjoy looking at the art. At first I thought that it was the Liturgy of the Hours with a better, unofficial translation, but then discovered it wasn't. That was a little disappointing. I wish they would make that tidbit a little more clear, but discovered it worked well for my needs anyway. It is nice to have a compact little book that can be shoved into anything. When I was pumping, I used that time to pray the appropriate section. Now that I am not pumping, I have fallen out of the habit a bit. I get to turn the pages of shame.  :)  But I still try to open the book every day, if I can help it.

My point in bringing this up is that over these months, I have been really surprised at how much I enjoy praying the psalms. When I was growing up, I would see these pocket New Testament Bibles that street evangelizers would hand out and they always had the Psalms in them as well. I didn't really understand what that was about. Why was this other random book always included? After spending some time with them, I understand why they are so loved and so powerful. I might skip the hymn, I might skip the canticle (I love the morning canticle but find the evening canticle imminently skippable--probably because I'm a bad person.), but I never skip the psalm. I know it's cliche but they really do encompass the whole of human existence: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

After months of having psalm after psalm put before my eyes everyday, I came to look forward to one in particular, Psalm 116. I feel like it gives voice to a lot of my struggles. It doesn't sugarcoat. The hard reality of life is acknowledged, but confirms that faith can exist even when you are upset. It offers hope and trust that the Lord is really listening to you even when sometimes it doesn't feel like it. And best of all, it doesn't stop with these undefineable feelings, but goes on to list concrete steps to show what faith looks like in real life and not just in my head. There's a checklist! How can I live out faith in the middle of struggles and show the Lord thanksgiving for *everything* in my life? I can raise the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. How reassuring! These are things I can do, or try to do, instead of floundering in the dark.

I would love to memorize it. Here is my own personal version where I have cherry-picked different translations so it says it exactly how I want it said. One translation would be almost right, but then drop a phrase or use a different word. Maybe I shouldn't cherry-pick because I'm sure there is some degradation of the structural integrity of the translation by picking and choosing, but I am not concerned. Is there any particular Psalm that you like the best?  

 Psalm 116

1 I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the anguish of the grave laid hold on me;
    I suffered sorrow and distress.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, save me!”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
    our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling.
I walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.
10 I kept my faith, even when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
11 I said in my alarm,
    “All men are liars.”
12 What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call upon the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O Lord, I am thy servant;
    I am thy servant, the child of thy handmaid.
    Thou hast loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to thee a sacrifice of thanksgiving
    and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,
    in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Make That Child Behave"

My nephew is hitting the threes pretty hard. He is prone to long and loud temper tantrums which are sometimes triggered by nothing in particular. And did I mention he is L-O-U-D? Quite loud.

Yesterday at church while Marian and I found ourselves again in the narthex because she was feeling especially chatty, my sister joined us because her son, the three year old, was having a similar problem. By the end of Mass he had descended into a loud, screaming ball of toddler that had to first be removed out of the sanctuary, then out of the narthex into a nearby classroom, and finally out of the building. He was extra, extra loud where the communion meditation and final blessing were punctuated by the sound of his muffled screaming. My sister pretty much kept her cool through the whole episode, but she made a remark afterwards that I thought was worth passing along.

She and I have had a few discussions around this notion of French parenting. She said that if they had been at home, she would have treated the run up to the giant temper-tantrum a lot differently. She would have spent more time ignoring the leading behavior instead of rewarding it by attempting to redirect it and then physically removing him. All of the actions taken played into his bid for attention, which she knew as she took them, but she wasn't sure what else to do. Her remark was that it is hard to consistently apply a discipline technique which relies heavily on praising good behavior and ignoring bad behavior when the prevailing parenting culture expects you to make that child behave right now! when you are out in public. She couldn't ignore certain behaviors in public because the people around her would not be ignoring the behaviors. She said it would be much easier to implement the technique if the general culture accepted it as a reasonable approach and ignored the behavior as well. But that's not what happens here so she has to make adjustments out in public for the comfort of the people around her even though, through the eyes of a three year old, it screams inconsistency and opportunity for mischief.

So any thoughts about this dichotomy between private disciple and public expectations?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Well That Was Interesting...

So more people read the post about maternity leave in one day than has read any other post over the entire existence of the blog. (A whole two and half months, ya know.) I got to have a lot of interesting discussions on FB and had wild assumptions made about me. I certainly don't intend to poke the hornets' nest frequently but that was kind of fun.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Case for Maternity Leave

In the past few weeks, I have found myself drawn into online arguments about paid maternity leave. Argument is a strong word because I will not argue with strangers on the Internet. More like discussions where the principals disagree. I decided to lay out my thoughts on the issue.

Years ago I was firmly encamped on the "why should anyone have to pay for my choices?" side of the equation. It seemed pretty straight forward to me. An employer pays you to work and while on maternity leave you are *not* working so why should a paycheck come along with your leave. It wasn't fair to the other employees and gave mothers a benefit that other workers didn't get. I was all about the equality. A funny thing happened along the way. I started working full time and got pregnant.

During my first pregnancy while working full time, I was very stressed out. We had not intended to be pregnant so soon after I started work. I looked at the calendar and realized two things: 1) I could not afford to take any time off during the pregnancy if I wanted to get a paycheck during maternity leave and 2) if I had gotten pregnant a month earlier, I would not be eligible for any maternity leave at all. We barely dodged a bullet on that one. For the remainder of that pregnancy, I doggedly dragged myself to work no matter how bad I felt because I wanted to be able to take as much time as possible after the baby was born, but we could not afford to go unpaid. It was a hard pregnancy, not from a medical standpoint, but from a physical endurance standpoint. Oh the places I threw up... Even still, I only managed to save about six weeks of leave. Luckily that leave happened to fall over Christmas time so the built-in work holidays extended my time to about seven weeks. It is very hard to leave a seven week old baby to go to work, but this was the choice we had made and it was just the way it was.

After that pregnancy we decided that amassing enough maternity leave for the next potential pregnancy would be a top priority. I scrimped and saved days, only taking time when it was absolutely required or over Christmas time. Family vacations were pretty much out. We did manage to take three days to go to Chattanooga for a long weekend once, but that was it. Every possible day went into the bank and by the time I was pregnant again, I had built up enough time to be able to take a handful of days off during the pregnancy and then take nine full weeks off after the baby was born. That pregnancy was a little bit easier because I didn't get quite as sick--is that a boy thing?--and on the very worst days, I had enough time to call in sick. It wasn't very many days, less than a week over the whole pregnancy, but enough so I felt like I could stay home if I was feeling especially horrible every now and again. It is very hard leaving a nine week old baby to go back to work, but this was the choice we made and it was just the way it was. I was generally pleased with my second maternity leave. We made a plan and executed it. I got to stay home for nine weeks this time. I imposed no undue burden on my employer and I was only paid for days that everyone else got paid. Why should my decision to bear children obligate my employer?

Again after that pregnancy we decided that amassing enough maternity leave for the next potential pregnancy was a top priority. Again I scrimped and saved days. Again family vacations were out. With each maternity leave, my leave time was emptied out to zero and I had to start all over again every time. Every day put in the time bank was security for the potential of next time.

It was during this interim between pregnancies that my thoughts about maternity leave began to change. I admit my changing opinions were prompted by my own flagging energy. I was tired. I needed a vacation. I worried about children getting sick, me getting sick, something happening which required time from me. I had exhausted my paid time and almost all of my FMLA time. If something unexpected happened that required more than a day or two off, I would quickly go unpaid which would be catastrophic for our family. With FMLA I only had three weeks of time off left of guaranteed employment which had to last an entire year. If anything major went wrong, we would be totally screwed. It was very stressful.

As I had to deal with this cloud of unease over my head, I watched my non-childbearing coworkers go on leisurely vacations to the Bahamas, take regular extended weekend gambling trips, go on impromptu vacations all over the country, and take whole weeks to visit family far away. None of this was possible for me. I wasn't exactly jealous--well, perhaps--but the inequity of my equality began to clarify itself in my mind. While our employer treated us exactly the same, I was using my time to create and foster the next generation which is exhausting and my coworkers were using their time to relax and recharge their batteries. I was excluded from this renewal because I "chose" to have a baby and then another one and, maybe soon, another one. It was wasn't that I regretted my decision to have babies, but that I realized that having babies is a fundamentally different activity than going on vacation. And given the length of my childbearing years, I could potentially go another decade without a vacation.

I came to the conclusion that there is no fair way to treat maternity in the workplace. You can either make allowance for women to have babies which means that non-childbearing employees will not get as much paid time off as the one who bears a child or you treat pregnant women exactly the same which effectively means they forfeit any potential time off in favor of maternity leave. No wonder most women abandon childbearing after once or twice. It is an exhausting way to live. The question for society to decide is who will bear the brunt of the unfairness: grown adults who would be restricted from a benefit that did not apply or newly delivered mothers and their newborns?

Soon enough I was pregnant again. This pregnancy proceeded in a similar manner to the second working pregnancy. I had enough time to be able to take a handful of days off during the pregnancy, could even take time at the end of the pregnancy to start my leave before I actually delivered, and stayed home until the baby was nine weeks old. I suppose I could have been stricter with myself during the pregnancy and squeezed out another postpartum week, but coming to work day after day after day while pregnant after not having had a vacation for multiple years is a drag. I returned to work and had to start my time bank from scratch again, but a change in leave policies means that finally, after all these years, I can regularly go on vacation again.

Thus far I have whined a lot about my inability to use my vacation time as vacation time because that is the general extent of my problem, assuming all goes well. I am a professional, white-collar employee with paid sick and vacation time who was previously allowed to bank almost as much as I could. Since my income is our family's only income, we could not afford for me to take unpaid time during maternity leave so the consequence is that I go to work everyday, we don't go on vacation, and my leave is never as long as I am technically, legally entitled. This is tiring, but also the best case scenario for the majority of working mothers in the United States. Once my eyes were opened, through my own self-pity, to plight of pregnant women trying to live the ideal that "no one should have any obligation to pay for my choices," I didn't have to look far to find horror stories. I am supremely pampered and privileged compared to other women dependent on their own incomes to survive.

One woman I know had to have an unexpected, surprise emergency C-section ending her first pregnancy when she was rushed directly from a regular prenatal visit into the operating room at the hospital because the extreme discomfort she was experiencing, which she had dismissed as the normal pains of late pregnancy because she didn't know any better, was actually her son's foot hanging out of her cervix at 37 weeks. Her employer at the time was a small company which did not have to comply with FMLA. She did not have paid time off. Two weeks after delivering a baby through major abdominal surgery, she returned to work. Two weeks was as long as she could afford to go unpaid. What choice did she have?

Another woman I know was a coach at a small college for a few minor sports. She had been pregnant when she got the job so FMLA, which guarantees time off after a full year of employment, did not apply to her. Her employer would not make any allowances for her to miss any time during the seasons. It just so happened she was due in the middle of one of the seasons. She looked at her game calendar and her due date. She found a stretch of time around her due date where there were five days between games. She coached a game on one day, scheduled an induction for the next day, delivered the baby, and then returned to her full coaching duties on the fifth day. What choice did she have? Missing a game opened the door for her to be fired and the law did not protect her.

Another woman I know is an immigrant to the US. She had been planning a trip back to her home country for years with her high school class reunion being the occasion. She had saved money and days for years to make it happen. Less than a year before this event was scheduled, she discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant. She had previously had some problems with infertility so this pregnancy was a joyous surprise, but also presented a conundrum. If she took a maternity leave, her time bank would be depleted and she would have to cancel her long-planned trip home. This was a severe disappointment to her. As her pregnancy progressed and she was generally healthy, she decided to shortchange her maternity leave, return to work early, and take her long anticipated trip home. Three weeks after delivering her baby, she returned to work. This is not necessarily the choice I would have made, but her opportunities for going home and seeing family and friends were extremely limited and I understand why she made it.

These stories are not uncommon and they range from mildly vexing to unbelievably cruel. It isn't that I know a whole bunch of unlucky pregnant women. It is that the average working pregnant woman faces these situations. As I take them in, what surprises me the most is the general unawareness that others have about the choices pregnant women have to make. I have been asked at work by coworkers how much extra paid leave I get for maternity. They are shocked when I say there is nothing extra. They have access to the same policies and documents that I do. Why do they think there is extra maternity leave? Consultants coming through the building and ask pregnant women when they are going to start their maternity leave. They are aghast when the standard answer is "when the baby is born." It is explained repeatedly that every day taken before birth is a day missed with the baby later, but they do not seem to comprehend. There seems to be this blind adherence to the widely held image of maternity leave beginning weeks before birth and extending three full months afterwards. This image has no basis in the reality of the lives of most working pregnant women. The reality is that the vast majority of every pregnant woman you see in any type of employment have had to make difficult, calculated, and usually exhausting choices to balance their health, their babies' health, the demands of their employer, and their need for income. Most of the time, the woman's health is deemed the most expendable by the woman herself.

If we, as a society, have decided we want women well represented in the workplace, and we have, we need to come to grips with the fact that women have babies. The act of bearing children is not aberrational but fundamental to human society. There needs to be allowances made for this one unique task that only a minority of the population can complete. An allowance that does not function on the assumption that one employee's periodic gambling habit has the same value as another employee producing a baby. Mothers and babies deserve paid maternity leave.

Every time I make this declaration, someone always clutches his pearls and fears for the Republic. I don't really understand this reaction. We make demands on employers and general society all the time. The standard benefit package required by law includes unemployment insurance, worker's comp insurance, retirement insurance, old age medical insurance, and now, rightly or wrongly, medical insurance. Why couldn't maternity coverage be added to these basic requirements? We have to stop viewing maternity alternatively with suspicion or idealization and begin seeing it as a normal part of a woman's life.

What could this look like in the United States? It could take a variety of forms and I am open to many of them. We could impose a requirement on employers to provide the income or we could impose a tax that would be paid out as a benefit by the government or, most interesting to me, we could require the widespread availability of maternity insurance subsidized by employers. This maternity insurance would look a lot like currently existing short-term disability except it would specially designed for pregnancy and the postpartum period. I don't have a problem with employees having to pay into such insurance as long as the employers are also required to pay into the system. Currently this type of insurance is generally limited to companies who provide access to it instead of it being available to all workers, regardless of company.

I support a limited but guaranteed income for employed women on maternity leave. I do not support or approve of European style maternity leave. In my mind, their overly generous policies go far beyond the basic support necessary for the health and welfare of mothers and babies and have become lifestyle support. Onerous taxes are imposed which force some mothers into employment who never would have chosen it on their own. They also set up a situation where one woman who happened to be employed at the right time can keep a paycheck coming for years while staying home with children and another women living a very similar life, but unemployed at the wrong moment, gets nothing. Long, open-ended paid leaves are not my goal, only that the health and well-being of pregnant mothers and babies are protected around the natal period.

To me the ideal balance of the wants and needs of mothers and babies with the desire to not create extended lifestyle support would be a maternity leave policy that would begin at 38 weeks of pregnancy to allow the mother a little time to prepare for birth and continue until the baby is 12 weeks old. This period of time would allow the mother to completely heal, establish a good supply of milk, and bond with her baby for a short period of time beyond the intense and exhausting newborn phase. Again, this is an ideal. In my mind, anything has to be better than what currently exists which is nothing.

It is time for this country to understand that there is no equality or fairness when dealing with issues around childbirth. The burden will be borne. The question we have to answer is do we choose compassion or do we choose cruelty towards those bearing the burden. Thus far, we have chosen cruelty. I can only hope that someday we change our minds.

Friday, November 14, 2014

French Parenting

I've read several blog reviews of the book "Bringing Up Bebe". It sounds like an interesting book, but what really catches my attention is this notion of having firm expectations for your children to meet without flipping your lid to get them met. I tend to be a bit of a yeller with my kids. Most of this tendency to escalate comes from being naturally excitable when flustered and an attempt to tweak their understanding of the urgency of a situation when the schedule does not allow me to take a more gentle approach. Or that's what I tell myself anyway.

My parenting Waterloo, thus far, has been four year olds. I have now had three four year olds and each has driven me mad. Infant needs and crying has never bothered me. They get a little older and start walking and climbing which need more attention, but it doesn't make me angry with them. I've heard all about the terrible twos, but the tantrums don't bother me. They really can't help it. They aren't trying to be naughty. Three year olds can get into more trouble, but really they just want to be big. Then they turn four and all of a sudden they start disobeying because they can. Because they want to. And I flip my lid.

I would love to find a way to get the point across and get my current four year old to make good choices without the screaming and yelling and crying. After a few conversations in various Internet locations, my understanding about this French approach to parenting is that you set the standard, you don't get mad, and you make the right choice more socially appealing than the current choice. I decided to give it a try.

Last night before supper, Sam had a few of his train tracks out in the living room. The food was almost ready so he was told to put the tracks back in their bag. It was not an overwhelming request and it was a chore he has done before so it wasn't an unrealistic expectation. He refused. I told him he had to pick up before he came to supper. He refused. Supper was ready and on the table. He made a move towards the table. I reminded him he had to pick up his trains before he came to supper. He refused. We sat down, said the blessing, ate, and talked. Sam floated around the living room. Several times he tried to get some attention, but he was dutifully ignored. He tried to come to the table to eat and I reminded him he needed to pick up his trains first. We finished supper. We had some dessert and still Sam refused to comply. We finished everything and began to clean up. He was mildly upset when his plate was cleared away, but trains were still in the floor. Sam just didn't bother to eat. After the kitchen was picked up, I went to the living room and began picking up the trains because it had to be done and he reluctantly helped me. We went upstairs and that was the evening. Sam had no supper because he chose not to eat. There was no yelling, but there was no obedience either.

I have no greater lessons to draw here. I just did this thing and it didn't work the way I thought it might. I'll try again, but I have to wonder about this parenting magic trick where a little kid obeys without yelling.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stick Update

About a month ago, I wrote about our chore experiment using sticks as a payment device so I thought it was time for an update. To recap the girls have to complete a list of jobs every day in order to keep their daily stick. It's an all or nothing deal and each stick is worth 25 cents to be paid at the end of the month.

In October the big change was that the girls' room was finally clean and in shape for it to be reasonable for them to maintain it on their own. I have wanted to get that room in this kind of condition for years. Yes, years. I remember thoroughly cleaning it before I was pregnant with Marian so it really went about two years between total organizings. Too much. So much junk. I'll let you in on a secret. The big rubbermaid that I used to sort out stuff that needed to be put away while I cleaned has still not been sorted. I'll do it sometime, I'm sure, but in the meantime, the children are under strict orders not to touch that box.

Box full of junk

So how did they do?

Really well. I am surprised at how well they have kept the room. I thought for sure that items would crawl under the bed and clothes would be dumped in the closet, but it hasn't really happened. I am very pleased. The room is still clean. There are some areas that aren't quite as neat as I would like, but I need to keep my expectations within reason. Earlier this week they began an extended game of doll playing with doll strewn all over the room, each with her own "bed." I told them I would tolerate the dolls as long as they were actively playing the game. As soon as they tire of it, I expect the dolls to all go back to their bin. We shall see what happens.

We do have a couple of general problems with our current version of the system. First I still haven't gotten pictures printed out to help Olivia with visual cues to remember her jobs. This is totally my fault. I've even taken the pictures, but haven't submitted them to a printer. This lack of list means that she asks almost every night, "What are my jobs again?" and I have to answer her. She will probably learn to read before I get this thing printed and then it will be a moot point. Or I could get my act in gear. Maybe.

The second issue is that we still have to remind them to do their jobs every night. This isn't such a big deal, but it would be nice if they would automatically do these things instead of us declaring it time to do their jobs. But for now we remind them to get started and then walk down the list with them every night.

The third issue is related to the second. Since they are waiting for us (read me) to tell them to do their jobs, it usually doesn't happen until after supper and approaching bedtime. How this plays out is that they run around frantically doing jobs until right before bedtime instead winding down which means I am supervising chores instead of doing more leisurely activities like reading to them or something like that. The other problem with this schedule is that my ability to inspect all the jobs and pull sticks if necessary bumps up against bedtime. Several times I have put them to bed and then found socks in the living room. My choice is either to let it go or go back in their room and pull the stick. Neither is very satisfying.

One thing that has surprised me is how much they value those sticks. Losing a stick is horrible to them. Crying, screaming, and begging are the standard response. I wish it wasn't such a tragedy for them, but I am glad they are responding to the incentive.

This month I added two small jobs. The first job is cat related. Each girl has to either feed the cat or scoop the cat box. They alternate weeks so they both have one cat job a week, but not the same cat job every week. They were doing this before, but I thought it would be a good idea to formally include it in the stick jobs. The other new job is making sure their bathroom is in good shape. Basically all this job requires is to hang their towels and washcloths on the appropriate hook after use and make sure there are no globs of toothpaste left in the sink. Nothing that should take more that 30 seconds a day, but I was tired of finding wadded, wet washcloths left in the shower and gross toothpaste in the sink. My thought is that it is better slowly and incrementally increase their responsibilities so over time, they will really be pulling weight but perhaps won't notice as much as if it happened all at once.

For November the jobs are:
Lunch boxes put away
Shoes and socks where they belong
Room responsibility
Cat food/water or Scoop cat box
Get ready for bed when told without nagging

Overall I am very pleased with how they have done and how certain household issues have basically been eliminated. I do wonder how much I can squeeze out of a quarter a day before they start to balk. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Things That Annoy Me #2

I hate to shave. Since my genetic heritage is solid Italian stock, shaving is not optional. It takes so long. It is so fleeting. When I first started shaving as an 11 year old girl--yes, it was necessary--I would fantasize about being able to cover only the places I wanted to keep hair and then submerging myself in a vat of hair destroying magic potion and I'd never have to shave again. So I hate shaving.

Here is what annoys me: Razors! Why are they so expensive? Why do they not work?

When I get a fresh razor out, I can get one good shave out of it and then it's dull. Given the price of these things, I use it more than once, but the rest of the week is different stages of increasing dullness until it hurts. That's the clue to get a new blade.

For years, I have used the plain Venus razors bought in bulk from Costco, and they used to work okay, but the price keeps going up and up while the blade declines even more quickly. Sometime in the spring, the plain razors were gone and in their place were these fantastic fru-fru razors with built-in shaving cream. Being the skeptic I am, I did not want to buy 20 of these puppies until I had tried them first. I trekked to Target and spent an obscene amount of money for four measly blades. These things were nearly worthless! See those big gel bar things? They almost completely prevent the actual blade from making contact with your skin. You go through the motions of shaving without accomplishing anything. How wonderful!

I returned to Costco after my little experiment ruled out that particular razor to assess what else is available. I saw a giant pack of the disposable version and decide to give them a try. They were a little cheaper than the fru-frus which was good. I figured I have used the regular Venus replaceable blade for years and the disposable version should be pretty equivalent. Right? How wrong I was! Oh what fresh hell is this? The odds are 50/50 whether or not the blade is even sharp the first time it is used. Getting through a complete shave without the blade going dull halfway through is apparently too much to ask of this version.

I already blanch at the cost of the Venus. It's around $3 a blade. Is that not insane? But since the plain razor is no longer at Costco, I would have to buy them at Target which means $4 a blade. Crazy. I am an adherent to Instapundit's conspiracy theory that the razor companies start to use inferior steel on older razors to encourage you to buy the newer model because I don't know how else to explain a product that used to work well which is now garbage.

I am finally getting to the end of this pack of disposables and will soon have to decide what to try next. All I want is a razor that doesn't go immediately dull which doesn't cost a small fortune and does not cause ingrown hairs. Is this so much to ask? Maybe it is.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Marian's Birth Story or The Homebirth

Right around the midpoint of the pregnancy I participated in this thread at bearing's that meandered to the subject of homebirth. I had developed an interest in homebirth over the years, but didn't think it would be possible for me due to the nature of my labors and never pursued it. After bearing suggested that someone with my labor history needed to be prepared for a homebirth just in case, she hosted this post about all the secrets of homebirth and my interest was especially piqued. Soon after this discussion, a lady in my town delivered twins on the side of the interstate as she was trying to make it to the hospital. We live about an hour from the hospital where I normally deliver so this story caught my ear. I was officially nervous.

I decided to investigate what options were available in my area and discovered my sister knew a midwife who lived FIVE MINUTES from my house. Five minutes?! Beat that, precipitous labor! We scheduled a meeting with her, asked a million questions, talked a lot to see what our comfort levels were, and decided to go for it.

Since we were going to allow the pregnancy to continue until spontaneous labor, I stopped working at 39.5 weeks. This decision, of course, caused a bevy of new problems since apparently the powers-that-be expect pregnant women to continue working until the baby falls out in the office hallway. In the past I have worked until the day of or the day before being induced so I had no idea the problems it would cause. It ultimately took seven months to get it all straightened out. I guess an institution with over 20000 employees is not accustomed to handling maternity leave.

My first day of maternity leave and I feel as big as the cows at the diary.

Anyway, I fully expected labor to begin within a day or two of stopping work. But it didn't. I hit my due date, still no labor. May turned into June. I wasn't supposed to still be pregnant in June! Our anniversary came on June 3rd with no real signs of labor. The unnerving part was that I really didn't know what to expect with a spontaneous labor. When Grace was born, the first sign of labor was my water breaking and real, no-doubt-about-it, active labor started within the hour. "They" say your water breaking first is not normally what happens so every pain and twinge caused me to wonder and yet nothing was happening. I reached the point where I began to believe I might be pregnant forever.
On the morning of June 4, 2013, at about 5am, I woke up to use the bathroom as usual and then climbed back in bed and went to sleep. All of a sudden between 7:30 and 7:45, I woke up to a gush of fluid. My first thought was, "I either wet my pants or my water just broke." I knew that I had emptied my bladder at 5 so water was the likely culprit. I got out of bed, went to the bathroom, and called for Dave to bring me the nitrazine paper to make sure. The paper was positive so finally at 41.0 weeks, the day had arrived. I put on the trusty Depends and began to prepare. I guess I'm one of those people whose water breaks first.
Conveniently enough, I had a midwife appointment scheduled for 8:30am. Dave called her to tell her my water had broken. She asked if I had any contractions (No) and said she would be there at the appointment time. Dave immediately called his mother to come pick up Olivia and Sam. Grace had previously decided she wanted to stay and maybe cut the umbilical cord. My mother-in-law must have been ready to walk out the door when we called because she was at our house within minutes. When faced with the prospect of her sister staying, Olivia objected. She wanted to stay too. Tears ensued. In a show of goodwill, Grace decided to forgo her cord cutting opportunity and go with her sister to keep her company. Hugs and kisses and then they all were gone before 8:30.
By this point I was having very mild contractions about ten minutes apart. I decided to sweep the kitchen and we finalize the name, Marian Josephine. When the kitchen was half swept, it was 8:30 and my midwife pulled into my driveway. She comes into the house and takes the preliminary vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. Since there were no children in the house to clamor for their own, Dave made me cinnamon toast for breakfast. The midwife also wanted to time the contractions. She noted the time of the next contraction (8:45) and then started taking supplies out of her bag.
It was now that she discovered she only had one pair of sterile gloves. That's when the frantic phone calls began. She called her partner who lives an hour away. She called her husband to double check there were no more gloves at home. She called other midwives in the area to borrow from their supply. She finally found someone with gloves to spare and called her assistant to go and get them. The assistant was supposed to be en route to my house after she brought her children to a babysitter, but now she was running the glove errand. While all these phone calls were being made the contractions had been getting stronger if not closer together so sitting on the couch was uncomfortable. I moved my seat to an exercise ball.
After the gloves had been located and the assistant dispatched, my midwife turned her attention back to me, but I needed to use the bathroom. I don't think we ever got a good timing on the contractions. While I was in the bathroom, she continued unloading her supplies. When I was out of the bathroom, my midwife wanted to get a good, long reading on the baby's heartbeat. I sat on the exercise ball while she had the heartbeat on doppler for over ten minutes. The battery in the doppler started to die. It almost didn't make it the whole ten minutes. It stopped and started and blinked several times. She decided she had a good enough reading and stopped to change the battery. The heartbeat sounded really good! Just one brief and slight decel before bouncing right back to normal.
During the heartbeat monitoring, the contractions got a lot stronger and a lot closer together. I had to use the bathroom again. In a major departure from a hospital delivery, my midwife says, "If you feel like you want to deliver on the toilet, just let me know and we will work it out." I had a flashback. When I was in labor with Olivia, I was sitting on the toilet, taking my time and trying to prolong the time I was off all the monitors that required me to lie in uncomfortable positions. The nurse thought I was taking too long and came into the bathroom to scold me. I had better not deliver on that toilet! I needed to hurry up and get back in the bed. I laughed to myself thinking about the difference.
Now the contractions were real! I got off the toilet and moved into my bedroom. I knelt by the side of my bed while wave after wave of contractions came one after another. Transition and back labor were here. I must be destined to have horrible back labor with every delivery. My midwife tried rubbing my back. It felt great between contractions and felt like a special kind of torture during contractions. I pushed her hand away and couldn't find the words to tell her I wanted her to stop during contractions but keep going between them. She got up and continued her prep work. Hot water, some kind of herb bath, oxygen, and chux pads. I'm not exactly sure. The assistant still had not arrived so she was trying to do it all herself. I think she had Dave doing prep as well because I don't really know where he was during most of this time. He asked me once if there was anything he could do and I just looked at him. The midwife said there's nothing that is really going to help now. I started to feel a little pushy.
Realizing I was feeling pushy, the midwife encouraged me to do what felt good. Try pushing if I wanted or wait a little while. I tried to push a little but it didn't really feel right. The assistant finally arrived at about 10am with the steriles. I was still kneeling beside the bed. I don't know how long I spent beside the bed. I really missed the big hospital clock on the wall because it was too hard to turn my head and find the bedroom clock. At some point a kneeling pad like you'd use in the garden appeared. I felt like I was suspended between contractions and pushing and neither one was helping. They wanted to get another heartbeat reading on the doppler but it was still acting strange so no follow up. The assistant started giving counter pressure on my hips during contractions to take the pressure off my back, but nothing was helping. The only way out was getting the baby out of me. At last I started to feel like really pushing instead of that interminable pushy feeling that was only prolonging the agony.
I climbed into the bed on my hands and knees and pushed. I felt her head engage but it felt terrible. Usually when pushing, it hurts but it isn't unbearable. This feeling was different. I felt completely unsupported on my knees and needed something under me to help hold me, but I couldn't find the words to tell anybody. All I could do was groan. My legs collapsed so I was in a squatting heap on the bed. Dave all of a sudden appeared beside me and gave me his hand to squeeze. I pushed hard and groaned some more. I had never been this loud during delivery, but it felt awkward and painful. After three or four hard pushes, she began to crown.
One of my goals for this delivery was not to tear if it were at all possible. When Grace was born, my doctor cut an entirely unnecessary episiotomy in me against my will that took forever to heal. I have torn along that scar line for every delivery and have stitches on top of stitches. While Marian was crowning, they made every attempt to keep my skin from getting overtaxed. Whatever they were doing felt awful, but they were keeping me intact.
I waited for the next contraction to come to give one last push and her head was out. The source of the painful awkwardness was discovered. She had one of her arms over her face and her elbow was sticking out at an angle. She was already fussing. My midwife said she was in a strange position and I needed to keep pushing and not wait for the next contraction. I pushed as hard as I could with no momentum behind me, just brute force. After a minute or so, the rest of her body was out. Time of birth 10:40am; Weight: 8lb 2oz. Total time of labor from rupture until birth: 3 hours. I am always amazed at how you can be in such pain one moment and then almost normal the next.
The placenta detached and the cord stopped pulsing almost immediately. Rather than waiting on me to turn over, they slid baby back between my legs and laid her on the bed. Dave had to reach in to cut the cord while I hovered over baby. She stopped crying and looked around while I talked to her. It was a good thing Grace wasn't the one trying because I don't think she would have been able to reach. Now that we were officially disconnected, I flipped over and got to hold my perfect baby while we waited on the placenta. I started to shiver and they wrapped me in a blanket fresh from the dryer.

Just then our neighbor knocked on the front door in the next room next to my open bedroom window. He was looking to borrow a shovel! Dave had to tell him it wasn't a good time and I watched him beat a hasty retreat up the driveway.

Notice the open window.
Even though the placenta had detached, it wasn't coming with any speed. I tried pushing it out while in the bed, but nothing was happening. After nearly thirty minutes with my midwife getting antsy, she set up the toilet with a chux pad and we moved to the bathroom to deliver the placenta. I guess I needed a gravity boost because it came within a few minutes. Now that all the business had been attended, it was time to access the damage. The good news is that I did not tear along that old scar line. The bad news is that I did tear where that little elbow was sticking out. She said it was a good thing this was my fourth baby and not my first! After looking at it a few minutes, my midwife decided that it did not merit stitching. Baby was none the worse for wear given her odd birth position. They immediately started cleaning up, putting up, and starting laundry while I laid in the bed with baby. The house was empty again before 1pm and then we had lunch.

The part I loved the best about birthing at home was having the other children around shortly after the birth. I always have a strong desire to have all my children near me after giving birth, but it doesn't really work out in the hospital. There are the logistics of getting them there and once they are there, they have nothing to do in that small room, start getting rowdy, and then have to leave. At home, they were back at the house before 2pm. They could come visit me and baby at will and then run off and play. A downside to having the children around was by the evening, I was exhausted and ready for their wound-up selves to be somewhere else. Maybe we should have planned a sleepover for that first night, but we didn't think about it until it was too late.

I loved the postpartum period. The easy, relaxed atmosphere made the recovery so much simpler. Usually when I am released from the hospital, I am a bit of a hormonal mess. I have several days of moodiness and weepiness while the hormones crash. The stress of packing and moving and paperwork and unpacking must exacerbate the effects of the hormones. I still had the crash this time too, but it was not nearly as severe.
The actual birth itself wasn't the be-all and end-all I hear people talking about. I know some people revel in giving birth in their own bed. I thought it was nice, but not spectacular. I think some of my feelings come from managing precipitous birth. No matter where you are, home or hospital, there is some degree of hurry-up all around you. Everyone is so focused on getting everything ready for the birth that you, the actual laboring mother, get slightly ignored for awhile and generally that time is when you are feeling the most terrible. I thought a homebirth might mitigate some of that but not really. Another reason for my mixed reaction is the difficulty of the birth itself. I really had to physically exert myself (more than a usual delivery) so it was harder to enjoy. 

(I wrote most of this within a couple of weeks of the birth and one thing that surprised me over time is how often I would hold Marian in my bedroom and think about her birth. There is a real continuity there that my other labors don't have.)

Overall, the homebirth was a good experience and I would do it again if I was still medically suited for it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Detachment and Disappointment

One of my coworkers has been having a rough go of it lately. His position is technically split between two work groups and each of his bosses assumes they have 100% of his time. A week does not pass without him coming into my office to declare he is just going to quit. This situation causes him a lot of stress. He was especially down on Friday morning and then he talked to his mother on the phone. She makes a habit of buying lottery tickets in the state where she lives and mailing them to her son as a gift. This seems an odd habit to me. Anyway she called to tell him that she had sent him a ticket and that drawing had a 4 million dollar winner from the store where she bought it which hadn't been claimed yet. He had not received the ticket yet and so hope was alive that he could be the proud new owner of four million dollars. He spent the rest of the morning talking about what he would do with the money, how he would arrange his life, whether he would continue to work somewhere "for the benefits" or attempt to make four million dollars last the rest of his life. He planned and planned the rest of his life. He seemed to actually believe he had won the lottery, that the odds were in his favor, and his life was about to get very good. After talking up the possibilities all morning, he convinced his wife to swing by their house during her lunch break since she works relatively close and check the mail to see if the lottery ticket had arrived. It had. To the surprise of no one except my coworker, it was not the winning ticket. He was crushed and spent the rest of the afternoon sulking about it.

It is sometimes fun to play the lottery. You buy a ticket, but you also buy permission to dream. You think about what you would buy and how you would live and you might even get excited about it, but you are also pretty detached about these flights of fancy. When the numbers are announced and you inevitably didn't win, you tend to think with momentary disappointment, "Oh, too bad" and then you move on with your life.

This past week it seemed likely that Dave was going to be offered a job. In retrospect it was much less likely than it seemed. He ran into the middle management wall again where he gets enthusiasm from those he would actually be working with and then gets dismissed out of hand by the higher-ups for some unchecked box on his resume. Those boxes are never going to be checked. We made the choices we made and cannot go back and unmake them no matter how difficult it is now or how incomplete our information was then. We get to live with the consequences good and hard. He has hit that middle management wall repeatedly and it is discouraging. The only real hope is to find someone willing to look past an unchecked box. It is kind of like winning the lottery. It's possible in theory, but not terribly likely. There is always another applicant who has that box checked.

When these job opportunities arise, I struggle to remain detached. I deliberately suppress any thought or fantasy of how life might be. I do not indulge, but the thoughts bubble up anyway. I push them away, but they are there, waiting. I made the mistake this time of looking forward on the calendar to see what my last day at work might be. I shouldn't do that. In spite of my best efforts to remain detached, when the bad news unfailingly comes, I drown in a tidal wave of despair. I don't know how not to get excited beforehand and the disappointment is overwhelming.

I am not sure I will ever get to the point where I can dismiss the disappointment of another job rejection with a momentary "Too bad" and move on unaffectedly with life. I am not sure I am supposed to. I surely don't know what the purpose of all this is. Sometimes it feels like we are being toyed with for amusement. I don't really believe that, but despair is sometimes just a thought away, a feeling I have to actively suppress just as diligently as I suppress fantasies of raising my children. It is hard not to think the reason this job situation is so intractable is because it is for our eternal good that I not be the mother I want to be. That it must be better for them for me to be at work away from them. A life time of penance from me in reparation for my many failings in order to merit heaven. How about I just take some time in purgatory and get to raise my kids instead? I am aware this is irrational.

A much more likely explanation is that our situation is difficult to overcome and that's that. There is no cosmic injustice here. We made stupid choices and get to live with the natural consequences of them. However, we aren't giving up. We trudge ahead. We cry in our beers for a night and then figure out the next move, making plans based in reality, not fantasy. I only wish I could remain as detached from the process as I can when buying a lottery ticket.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

GFLN Week 10 Nov 8th

Thanks to Melanie for hosting Learning Notes again.


A week or two ago, I bought a pomegranate at the grocery store, but had not processed it. After church, I decided to break it open and have it with breakfast. I don't buy pomegranates very often because they are such a pain to eat so it may have been a couple of years since I last had one, but I do like them. No one could remember if any of the children had eaten pomegranate before and they were very interested. My preferred technique is to get a big bowl filled with water, score the ribs with a sharp knife, pull it apart underwater to keep from making a mess, and then pour the whole thing through a strainer which leaves the arils to eat. They were interested in what I was doing until they figured out it would take awhile and then they just wanted to eat. After I finished, I passed out samples and all approved. As we ate the fruit, we speculated that pomegranates may be been *the* fruit in the Garden of Eden. Then I told them the Greek myth of Hades, Persephone, Demeter, the pomegranate seeds, and the reason we have seasons. Greek mythology with Sunday brunch.


At supper Grace said they were studying erosion and weathering in science class. We asked her if she knew of a famous landmark in the US that was created entirely by erosion. After a bit of prompting (and outright loud hints), she came up with the Grand Canyon. I asked her which mountain range was older, the Rockies or the Smokies, and how do we know. She explained that the Smokies were part of the Appalachian chain and that the Appalachians were older than the Rockies. How do we know?  She doesn't know. Because her teacher said so. So we explaineds the reason we know the Smokies are older is because they are much smoother and greener than the Rockies. The weather and water have had more time to work on them. She was satisfied with this answer.

Out of the blue she asks what the phrase a month of Sundays means. We had some discussion about whether it means about a month, about 30 weeks which would have a quantity of Sundays equal to a month, or a long time to relax because Sunday is a day of rest. Grace asked if Sunday was the Sabbath. I told her that Saturday was the Sabbath and Sunday was the Lord's Day and did she know why we rested on the Lord's Day instead of the Sabbath. She said it was to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. So then I launched into an explanation that Sunday is the first day and the eighth day of the week at the same time and why that is important and I promptly lost all the children.

Signed two agendas, read a book with O, sight words with O, checked Grace's math homework


After school, Grandma picked up the girls to make some cornbread for a 4-H competition in Grace's class. It was good, but too sweet I thought. It is definitely Yankee cornbread, but Grace is convinced she is going to win. I am less convinced. We are in Tennessee after all. She is always convinced she is going to win, no matter what she is doing. A line we are always going to have to walk with her is to make sure her motivation is not purely winning. There is a book that she bought in Kindergarten at the school book fair. I knew it was junk as soon as I saw it, but I let her keep it. If I could go back in time, I would chuck that book the same day it came home. What is this notorious book? "Purple Princess Wins the Prize." The entire book is about winning and getting prizes and how you should try to beat everybody and having a trophy is the most important thing in life. This stupid little book imprinted in Grace's little mind more than I could have ever thought possible. She is competitive by nature and this book reinforced everything negative about that particular trait. So anyway, she wants to win the cornbread competition.

Oh the travails of having kids in public school! Grace announced at supper that someone had written on the wall in the boys' bathroom, "Mrs. Parks is HOT!" To avoid scandalizing the other children, she spelled out hot, H-O-T. Olivia, having the ability to spell immediately exclaimed, "Mrs. Parks is hot?" She was confused because how did they know if the teacher was cold or hot. Grace told her that 'hot' has two meanings, temperature and a bad meaning and they meant it in the bad way. Olivia was not convinced. Grace said that the boys would not be allowed to go to the bathroom again until the culprit confessed. I am doubtful.

Since Grace was telling tales, Olivia decided to add her own. Apparently there is a little girl in the class who has trouble behaving. One day she got mad and ran out of the classroom, down the hallway, out of the building, and onto the playground. The principal had to come and coax her back into the building. I wonder what the other children were learning during this little escapade.


Not much happened on Wednesday except that Grace did win first place in the cornbread competition. I was genuinely surprised because, while it was good, it was sweet. She was pleased as punch. She also wanted to know the origins of the word 'pumpkin.' I discovered that it was from a Greek word meaning "large melon." She wanted to know more, but I couldn't remember anything else and didn't have time to go back and look. The rest of supper was spent excitedly discussing other topics.


At supper, Grace very nonchalantly announced that someone had written the word sex on the gym floor. SEX in capital letters. This caused much consternation among the fourth grade. She was desperate to convince her classmates that it only meant male or female and it wasn't "the bad word." I told her that sex wasn't a bad word, but it wasn't an appropriate word for children to be using and we changed the subject. After supper, I went almost directly into the shower because I wasn't feeling well. I called Grace into the bathroom with me for some girl talk. Yay! I asked her if she knew what the word sex meant. She said she did, but when I asked her what she thought it meant she wouldn't answer. I asked her if she wanted to know what it meant. She said she did. I told her that it was what married people did that made babies. She laughed and said she thought it meant "naked people." I told her it kind of involved naked people and she laughed again. I asked her if she wanted to know more and she said no. Again I reinforced that sex isn't a bad word, but it isn't appropriate for children to discuss. I then told her that if she ever had any questions, she could ask me and I definitely would tell her what she needed to know. I know that we have to be proactive about this topic, but ugh! already? I remember when I was in fourth grade and sex was Topic A. I was hoping things had changed, but alas.

Right after this little discussion, she started telling about this silly little rhyme that is going around the school that uses some Clueless valley girl accent. I immediately launched into a valley girl recital and Grace was super impressed with her cool mother. I hope that my credibility with the second topic encourages her to trust me with the first.


The girls both had library on Friday. Olivia got a penguin book and Grace picked out a historical fiction novel on Cleopatra. Our supper conversation was almost nonexistent since our excitement from Wednesday had come crashing around our feet and we spent most of our time staring into the middle distance. Grace persisted, however, in asking a million and one questions about Cleopatra, most of which I did not know the answers to. She seemed to think that if I didn't know the answer before I started eating, I would definitely know in the middle of supper. How is it that kids can ask the same questions over and over and over? I supposed we should go back and research, but Friday wasn't the night. We did have a little discussion about the concept of B.C and how time is counted backwards, but the people who actually lived during the time of B.C. did not call it that. They had a completely different way of accounting for years. She also wanted to know more about that, but again Friday wasn't the night.

At bedtime, it was a Grace night where she gets to spend some one-on-one time with me. Reading back over the week, it seems like Grace gets a lot my attention. That's probably true but she is the oldest and she talks a lot and the others are not quite old enough to hold extended coherent conversations. Anyway, somehow or another we started talking about our form of government and how power is distributed through checks and balances. No one part of the government holds all the power and that's good. We had discussed how other countries had dictatorships where one person holds all the power and how that is not so good. And now I remember why we were talking about it. She was back on the topic of Cleopatra (I still didn't know the answers) and she wanted to know if Egypt still had a pharaoh. No, they pretty much have a dictatorship, but that's not how the US works. And we were off.


At breakfast, before an action packed day of shopping doom, we talked about the plot of Frozen. I wanted to know why everyone likes Elsa when Ana is so much nicer. They were adamant that Elsa was not mean and everyone liked her because she had ice powers. I said that maybe it wasn't Elsa's fault, but she was definitely messed up and she had bad parents. They were aghast that the honor of her parents had been called into question. They said they were just listening to the trolls. I said maybe listening to trolls was evidence of bad judgement. They would not be swayed. After much back and forth, Grace declared that the point of the movie was two sisters who learned that even though their relationship could be dangerous, they could still be together. Now isn't that just the idea we want imprinted into a child's mind, "Just because this relationship is dangerous doesn't mean we can't stay together" Thanks, Disney!

And as I have typed all this up, everyone else in the house has been playing paper airplanes behind me. Very educational: aerodynamics!