I Know You Are Trying

Just me, popping in, to let you know that I know you’re trying.

Trying what? I know that some of you are trying so hard, trying beyond measure, to add another person to your life – a partner, a baby, a renewed relationship. I know some of you are trying to find a new job, a new path, a new place to live. I know some of you are trying to find peace, calm, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to laugh with. I know some of you are trying to find your way in a new place, a new city, a new time of your life that you didn’t expect to be in front of you.

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Photo from January 26, 2013 Post Secret

I know that you are trying, and you are brave.

Phantom Pain

“Do you have any children,” a woman asked me yesterday.

“Yes, a daughter. She’s four and a half.”

“Do you want any more?”

“Yes, but I’m not able to.”

“Oh. How long did you try for?”

Thus went a tiny conversation I had yesterday. A small snippet. But a big question, which I answered truthfully.

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I will not have another baby and I’m coming to terms with that. I’m doing my best to move on and usually I’m OK. But lately I’ve tried to remember what it felt like to be pregnant and I can’t quite conjure it. I know that I wanted to do it again, but what would it have been like? I can bring up faint memories of the baby under my skin, those first few flutters I felt at week 17, when my husband could barely feel no matter how hard I pressed his hand to my stomach. My memories of being pregnant are becoming similar to that – no matter how hard I press my memory, I have only flutters. Phantoms. 

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I realized this afternoon that I have a phantom pain for my memories of that time when I was pregnant. I didn’t know it would only be one time, so I cling to what I think I can remember.

I’ve lost weight and one week when I stepped on the scale, I thought, “Oh, this is the weight I was when I went to my first doctor’s appointment at nine weeks.” I wore plaid pants and a carnelian shirt. At that appointment I saw something on the monitor that had to be pointed out many times – the smallest speck on a screen that produced whooshing noises when amplified via air waves.

I can’t even find pictures of myself pregnant. I emailed one or two to two friends but the archive folder shows them as stripped. I know a few exist, from baby showers and what-not, but I don’t have ready access to those images. I know it happened. I have proof in my house and on my skin. I have all of the proof anyone would ever need, but I can’t quite remember how I got there.

Nocturnal Admissions

I’m making assumptions, but most parents I know *love* bedtime. Some enjoy reading stories and cuddling, others not-so-much. But everyone I’ve ever spoken to loves their children more when they’re asleep. It’s time for grown-ups to do everything associated with the remains of the day: empty and re-load the dishwasher, sort and fold laundry (and in our case, never put it away and live out of baskets for another week), open mail, toot around on the internet. It’s hallowed, sacred time, time when as a parent of a younger child you wondered what exactly you *did* all night before you had kids.

I write these words wistfully, because my daughter does not go to bed easily. In fact, each night my husband and I trade who puts her to bed because, frankly, there is nothing more tiring at the end of the day than dealing with the not-wanting-to-go-to-bed dance. I’ve read every article possible on bedtime routines. I pepper my friends with thoughts on how to get Miss Red to go to bed, but it is a mighty battle. Every. Single. Night.

How mighty? We are lucky – actually happy – if she falls asleep by 9:30 p.m. A few times she’s made it to 11:30, and once until midnight. During those later adventures I myself was already asleep, my husband patiently dealing with her tears and frustration. I might add that while I don’t think there should be medals in parenting, he deserves one for never raising his voice during those nighttime battles.

“Some people don’t need as much sleep,” our family physician shared with us when we bemoaned the small hours of sleep Miss Red clocked each night. And it’s true. My mother-in-law is from a long line of people who get by – and do quite well – on a small amount of sleep. Really, it’s a skill that could help her out in adulthood.

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When I was a child, and until recently, I had troubles falling asleep. I think my natural clock would have me going to bed around midnight and waking up around nine. Yes, I would love nine hours of sleep. Alas, the Midwestern clock has different standards of when work starts. What kept me awake as a child? Lots of anxious thoughts. Too boring to go into, but so many “what ifs” and memories of small injustices or silly things said, done or not done. Typical stuff. It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga regularly and learned some simple breathing techniques that sleep hasn’t been a constant struggle.

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So my daughter, this huge bag of recessive genes – red, curly hair, flat feet, dimples – also got my not-wanting-to-fall-asleep gene. Or maybe it’s the doesn’t-need-as-much-sleep gene she got from her dimpled grandmother.

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I do my best to see the positives in the bedtime battles – I get to see her for many hours at night, versus many of my friends who see their kids for a sliver of time before bedtime. With four hours or so together each night, there’s plenty of time to eat dinner as a family, play games, read, hang out and watch a show. No rush. No feeling that we aren’t seeing enough of one another.

I only find myself rushing to have that sacred alone time. That unknown quiet, where magical things such as crafts, hobbies and general house keeping can happen. It’s at times like these, which means every night, that my husband and I often remark that we have no idea how we would in fact have had another child given the demands of this one. But I know we would have been just fine.

My husband, an artist, steals time for himself until late each night, staying up until midnight or later making art. I often head to bed with an awake four-year-old, her talking or playing heard over the baby monitor as I read for a few minutes before I tackle my own sleep demons.

Now with less 90% less sugar

I might be at the end of new things I’ve done lately. I talked about cutting out coffee, going to the gym, and changing my entire name. Add to that my (mostly) cutting out sugar, bread and pasta. For me this was, and is, a really big deal. Well, everything else is/was, too, but this doesn’t “feel” as good as, say, exercising does.

Years ago I quit sugar for an entire year. Quit as in I didn’t even have birthday cake for my own birthday. Did I feel better? I don’t even remember, but I quit the craving of having “dessert” after each meal. At the time I was working at a non-profit next door to a diner and I found myself getting a scone as a mid-morning snack. A cookie after lunch. Soy ice cream after dinner.

Miss Red shares her menu at her restaurant, Sylvia Eyes.

But man alive, do I love sugar. I have more than a sweet tooth. I have a sweet grill. At some point after the year of being sugar-free I started eating sugar again and have ever since. Until lately.

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A few months ago I was on a trip to IKEA with a friend and she played an Alec Baldwin podcast of Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, where he talked about how endemic sugar is in our diets. Having gone through the crazy withdrawal seven years earlier, I knew I had to take another stand. So after that car ride, I quit. And after hearing Alec Baldwin talk about how he used to eat “aquarium-sized portions” of pasta, I knew that had to go, too. So for a few months, I’ve been (mostly) sugar, bread and pasta free.

I don’t write this as a screed to eliminating or restricting certain types of food, but this is (mostly) working for me. As last summer ended and work became/becomes even more emotionally draining, I’m taking the step to do right by myself. To invest in doing what I can to make by body run cleaner, more alive, more in line with the reality of someone who is 5’3″.

So if you see me out and about and I have an apple fritter  dangling from my craw, please don’t chide or gloat. That’s just 10% of me. For now.

Happy, Hopeful

I’m not winning any NaBloPoMo writing awards, but I’ll keep at it.

Last week was a long one for me, both professionally and personally, but in a good way. I’m happy with the election outcomes and also aware that more work needs to be done. I had a few nights of working very late, but all for good reasons. I co-presented at a conference and had a great experience meeting people in my field and really, really diving deep into issues. It was powerful and I’m still replaying conversations in my head.

I’m also hopeful that there will be changes to my professional life. I took this picture on Wednesday morning, and I really was happy and hopeful.

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I topped the conference off by driving to far northern Wisconsin, where I spent the weekend at a friend’s cabin. Twelve women away from their daily lives, laughing, staying up too late and getting up too early.

Happy. Hopeful. What about you?

Now with less caffeine

I alluded in my first post for NaBloPoMo that there is lots of new with me since I last posted. I’ve covered the name change, the gym going, and here’s another big change: I am coffee-free. Some might not consider this a big deal, but for me, it was a process that took months, yes months, to get down to zero coffee.

How bad was my coffee habit before? I don’t know – it’s all relative. I had at least two cups in the morning, and usually a cup in the afternoon. I drink plenty of water, but I would mostly drink green tea throughout the day, so I was always on caffeine. It was easy to justify – I have a stressful job, a kid who isn’t the best sleeper, but most importantly, I love coffee. Love everything about it – the smell, the warmth, the way it can be hot or iced, the way our culture supports the habit with drive-throughs and coffee dates. I was always ready for coffee.

“I Like Coffee,” by artist Summer Pierre, summerpierre.com

Despite my constant stream of caffeine, I was always tired. Tired in the afternoon, tired in the evening, tired when I woke up. I wanted that to change.

What made it even more difficult to consider quitting is that my husband has a major coffee addiction. He would prepare a French press each night to, as he said, “make it from 7 to 9 p.m.,” or as many parents know, the witching hour of the final part of a day with a kid – they playing, bathing, negotiating, putting to sleep, etc. Come 9 p.m., Miss Red is always still awake, and he’d want to make art, read, or relax.

So starting last March – yes, that long ago – I started weaning myself. I’d allow myself one cup of coffee in the morning, then drink green tea. Then, half a cup. Then, a quarter cup. Until I was down to one cup of chai tea in the morning. It took me months. I don’t even know how long.

Want to know the dirty truth? Once I quit, I started waking up before my alarm. I was able to stay awake a little longer each night. I wasn’t as tired in the morning or afternoon, or if I was, I reminded myself that I would have been tired if I was drinking coffee. I’m not as irritable.

Other changes? My husband chose to cut down, too. And he started to feel better, too. Keep in mind that I am not caffeine-free. I still have one cup of chai tea in the morning and one cup of green tea in the afternoon, but I do my best to limit it to that amount. If driving for work, which I often do, I’ll have an iced tea, but that’s it. I’ve had decaf a few times to get the taste of coffee, but I’m doing my best to limit that, too.

Do I miss coffee? You bet. Coffee was like that guy in college I kept talking to for some reason, even though he never quite met all my needs. I still dream about coffee. When I head into a coffee shop, as I did with my family this morning, I drink in the smell. But I stick to tea. I really do feel better. It’s like I’m me, New and Improved, albeit with less caffeine.

Let’s get physical

One month ago I joined a gym. This is of some surprise since I don’t care for gyms. But one of my co-workers is very active and we found one close to our work. We’ve become efficient with our lunch hour and can be desk to desk within a hour, giving us time to change, drive to the gym, work out for 30 minutes and reverse the process.

The amazing thing? I love it. I’ve realized that I don’t like gyms but I like going with a friend. By nature I’m an indoor kid. Give me a book, mug of tea and a blanket any day, and I’m happy as can be. But I like doing things with friends, which is why I was able to do the Couch to 5K program for two summers. Last summer without any friends to do it with, I ran once. Count that: 1 time.

The gym led me to sign up for one of their personal trainers. It was something I have thought about for years. And I did it. I chose a trainer who said “hi” to me every day. Someone who did my initial fitness assessment and was compassionate, considerate, and understood that I need to place tiny goals in front of myself. “Dreams have no deadline,” he said to me.

I’ve had two sessions with Josh, this tall, fit person the opposite of what I am, and I can honestly say that it is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It is a privilege, but I no longer think of it as an extravagance. This is the body I have, the body I battled with for more than two years, and it didn’t work in the way I wanted it to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome and it did its job keeping me alive and disease-free, but I felt as if I was locked in a war with my insides, and frankly, ignored my outsides. I have 10 more sessions with Josh and I’m doing the best I can. That includes making labor-like noises and any sound in between. But it’s an hour of pushing myself physically more than I have in years. I mean, years. My legs wobble at the end of a session and for days afterwards. Muscles that I never thought I had ache. I get through some of the exercises with sheer will. My face raining, I chant to myself, “I’ve had a child. I can do anything.”

That time I changed my name

One month and one day ago my name change became legal. After 34 years of the same name and nine years of marriage, I made the change. Many people ask me why, and I actually have five reasons:

  1. I wanted to honor the family I have. Unless we do foster care or adoption, this is our family. I love it. After years of pining for more, I feel as if I’m in a new stage of my life.
  2. I no longer feel as connected to my former last name. For years I was my dad’s only child, and I felt a sort of pride in carrying on the family name. When he and my step-mom had Baby Uncle I didn’t feel the same pull to the name, since there would be another one to carry it on.
  3. My former last name was really difficult to spell and pronounce. Even friends would misspell it from time to time. I would have to repeat it many times over the phone.
  4. My former last name wasn’t a pretty sounding name. My new last name is.
  5. I felt some connection ethnicity-wise to my former last name. On the east coast, where my dad is from, everyone knows it’s Jewish. In the Midwest everyone assumed I was German.

When I sat in front of the judge on October 1 and he asked me if I had anything to say. I couldn’t help myself.

“I’m so excited.”

Ahoy, NaBloPoMo!

Here we are, in November, and another chance to take a crack at National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo.

A lot of New is new for me. Here’s a sample:

1. I changed my name. After nine years of marriage, I now have the same last name as my husband and Miss Red. I will go into the details of that this month.

2. I joined a gym. And for the first time in like, ever, I like it. Again, more for later.

3. I got a personal trainer. See above, and above.

4. We are taking an awesome trip next spring. Like, the three of us on a plane, going far, far away. Not as far as Japan, but an awesome adventure, nonetheless.

Want to play along?

Working Stiff

I am not a business expert. I do not have an MBA. I’ve read a handful of business books and took a business class about five years ago, but I have worked at five different organizations in the past decade.

I’ve seen a lot of interesting work situations unfold in my own career. If I may, I’d like to share three ideas that I think make for a happy worker and workplace:

1. It’s OK to make mistakes
If a work environment and a supervisor make it OK to make mistakes – unintentional, of course – I promise that bold, creative ideas will come forth. If not, a culture of CYA (cover your ass) exists, where everyone lives in a state of heightened fear for their position or the favor of his or her supervisor. What can be learned from mistakes? How can people move on? Make it OK. And truly move on. I understand that this speaks to only certain workers – physicians and engineers don’t quite get a pass, but maybe they can think of how they would build a building or cure a person if they had any tools possible at their fingertips.

2. Provide clear, meaningful work, roles and responsibilities
No one wants to sit in an office clock watching. We are human, put on this earth to create. Give people assignments that are clear and have a level of responsibility in line with their position. While we’re not all creating art, figure out how can work at all levels be made meaningful, and you’ve got a happy worker.

3. Provide advancement and training
Most workers want to advance in *something.* Maybe it’s not Excel or graphic design, but maybe it’s learning how to deal with conflict or time management. Get at the root of how you can help the individual, and the worker will be helped.

I wrote these ideas on a napkin and finally put them to digital paper. What are your ideas?

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