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Thursday, November 26, 2015

the giving of thanks

When the news of the world - both afar and close to home - has seemed sadder lately, it's all the more poignant to stop and give thanks for all the good things.

It was our first Thanksgiving as just the four of us -- no traveling, no hosting, and not even a turkey!

As it turned out, I totally loved it.

I didn't do any prep yesterday, I didn't stay up late last night making pies, and I didn't set an alarm for this morning.  I got up when the kids woke up, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and coffee and conversation with the girls while Nathan got to sleep in.

Sarah: I'm thankful for coffee
Nell: I'm thankful for milk

Sarah: I'm thankful for my daughters, Nell and Marie
Nell: I'm thankful for my baby dolls

Sarah: I'm thankful for our home.
Nell: I'm thankful for my room and my bed!

Sarah {looking over at Ree}: I'm thankful for babies in jammies
Nell: I'm thankful for dammies too

{and really, what's not to be thankful for here? alpine pajamas with elbow patches!  pigtails!  and perhaps she's planning on auditioning for a new installment of Home Alone?}

After breakfast, we got down to the serious business of making the feast.  Nell helped with the rolls, the pie crusts, and the whipped cream.

Everything came out deliciously, and Nathan set the table oh-so-nicely while I cooked everything.  The china is our wedding china, and the silver belonged to Nathan's great-grandmother, Nell's great-great-grandmother, Nellie.

Candles were lit, prayers were said, tears of gratitude were shed. {ok, that was just me. but I challenge you to sit across from the sweetest three-year-old in the world folding her hands in prayer and not get teary-eyed over all the goodness there is to be had in life.}

Nathan gave Nell a tiny crystal glass of very watered-down wine this year, and she was so thrilled about the whole thing it was a delight to behold.  She promptly declared, "I'm thankful for wine!"

Two pies seemed just about right for the four of us.  I added a dash of freshly ground pepper to my pumpkin pie this year, and it was a good call.  And the chocolate pie is and always will be my Grandma's recipe.  I miss Grandma and Grandpa every time I make it, and my heart is full.

As it turned out, Ree was a big fan of whipped cream.

In the late morning today, when the pie crust dough was chilling and the dinner roll dough was rising,  I went out for a short run by myself.  Usually, if I'm able to sneak in a run at all, it's with the double stroller and both kids in tow, but this morning, Nathan was home and so the girls stayed in.  I donned my running tights and shoes and enjoyed the cold fresh air and a bit of time all to myself.

My first mile was a bit under a 10-minute pace.  Although I wasn't really pushing myself or thinking about it, when my iPhone informed my of my pace, I found myself musing a bit about my pace in running, and my pace in life.

Five years ago, I would have pushed myself and tried for a sub-seven minute mile.  I could go for a run every single morning, and I usually did.  In retrospect, I hardly know what I did with all the free time I didn't even know I had back then.

But my heart was smaller then, and I didn't even know it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Day in the Life of Ree {embracing the everyday when you feel helpless}

I haven't written here in a long time.  Two months or so, I think.

Life has felt busier than ever, and I'm unable to put my finger on whether it's the two kids, or that I'm working more than perhaps I have previously, or why exactly I feel as though I have hardly a minute to reclaim for anything other than the basic necessities of each day.

I feel helpless lately, as I suppose most of us do.  In the face of a refugee crisis, of terrorism in Beirut and Paris and so many other places, I feel helpless.  And perhaps it seems like a curious time to claim a rare evening at home to write here in my small corner of the internet.  I was looking over a few very everyday photos with Nathan, the two of us laughing quietly together, as I captioned the antics to him: "A Day in the Life of Ree."  And there was something about those photos that made me want to record them here, to remember.

The photos we looked at together were anything but spectacular.  There was nothing good about these, objectively, as pictures.  And yet, there was everything good about them.

Our bed-headed 18-month old girl, sitting on the living room floor in a diaper, a scarf of Mama's draped around her middle.  A meat tenderizer in her hand, naturally.  A favorite book on the floor behind her.

That tummy was full of breakfast, that diaper was clean and fresh, and that girl had been wandering happily through the house, sorting through my kitchen drawers while my back was turned and settling - out of all the many things we have - on the meat tenderizer as her desired object of play.

* * *

She has learned to put her own pants on with some degree of success now, except that she can't pull them up over her fluffy cloth diapered bum - and yet, she balks at the idea of help, and prefers that they remain like that.  She crows victoriously at each day's partial-donning of her pants.

She has clothes to wear.  And look at those toys cluttering our home in the background.  We have toys for our children to play with and a home for them to live in.

* * *

When evening falls, I help her into her jammies, the Christmassy hand-me-downs that Nell wore before her and someone else wore before that, and, after leaving the room for a moment, I return to find her cradling her stuffed bunny and singing the Brahms lullaby to the best of her baby vocal ability.  {The moment was so sweet I had to get her started on it again to recreate it on video.}

Red goes to bed in our guest bedroom, one of five bedrooms in our house.  FIVE BEDROOMS.

* * *

These children, the displaced children of Syria and other parts of the world, they don't get to have everyday days like Ree.  And that sad reality makes me cling more tightly to the mundane, blurry photos hastily captured on my iPhone.

Like most mothers, I suppose, I've been known to occasionally complain of the everyday difficulties inherent in parenting two small children.  But lately, I stop and thank God that I haven't had to cross oceans with them seeking safety, haven't walked miles carrying them in my tired arms, haven't wondered where our next meal would come from, or even if we would see another sunrise in safety together.

Oh, how I wish we could offer our spare bedrooms to those little ones and their families seeking shelter and safety.  How I wish that we were not separated by vast ocean and by borders that prevent the type of everyday, tangible help that we could so readily offer - the rooms we could so easily spare and the groceries we could so afford to share.

* * *

I know that terrorism and the refugee crisis bring with it some polarized political opinions.  And I get it - the real economic problems inherent in the issue, the growing need to defeat the terrorists for good, the fear of unwittingly opening our borders to terrorism.  There are real concerns, and we must not act unwisely.  And I don't know the right answers.

All I know is that terrorism, even here in my own country, is not what I fear the most.

I am more afraid to someday hear the words,

'I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me ... Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

Monday, September 07, 2015

Nellisms, vol. 5

Nathan said last night, "If Nell's personality were to freeze at age three, it wouldn't be the worst thing," and I can't help agreeing -- for the most part.   Some of the whininess of Age Three I could do without, to be sure, but there is so much about this age that is tremendously fun that the whining pales in comparison.

She thinks that "How do you know that?" is a general-purpose exclamation of surprise, since I suppose she hears me say it in response to her in that fashion.  So if you tell Nell anything that makes her surprised and happy, you're likely to hear in response, "OH!  How do YOU know that?!"

For a long time she would put the emphasis on the word "Lullaby" at the end, because when you sing the Brahms Lullaby (which she loves), the emphasis sort of comes out that way in the music, so every night she would ask to listen to the LullaBY.  This one is slipping away now, sort of like how she's suddenly pronouncing "violin" correctly instead of "vileein."

But thank goodness she still says "ephelant" and asks if we can exercise and do "dumping dacks" together.

Sarah: "Do you need to go potty?"
Nell: "Not right now I think I'm just all set for right now thank you."


Nell: "Do we have any peanut butter?"
Sarah: "Yes!"
Nell: "Do we have any almond butter?"
Sarah: "Yes!"
Nell: "Do we have any Ree-Ree butter?"
Sarah: ".... ??"


Sarah: "Do you want to listen to music?"
Nell: "Sure! Maybe Brahms and then Bach."

She hates bugs in all forms, whether real or even just in picture books, and the worst is when we come to the page in her Little Golden Book about God that has -- "OH NO!  Two bugs!  Two!!  OH NO!"


Shortly before turning three, she began to notice and enjoy rhymes, but without knowing what they were called at first, she would proclaim, "Oh Mama!  Please matches cheese!" or, "Play matches today!"


Her imaginative play is often with her play kitchen and/or her baby dolls.  And recently she sighed, sat down in her small armchair, and announced, "I'm just gonna open my bweast and nurse my baby now, okay?"

When she was singing in a particularly, shall we say, piercing voice one day:
Sarah: "Nell, do you think you could find your most beautiful singing voice to use?"
Nell: "Well I can't use that voice because I'm already usin' this voice.  And this is really hard music.  Okay?"


Singing improvisatorily one afternoon:
"Mama has big knives!  Mama has big knives!  But I caaaan't tooooouuuuch theeeemmm!"


Whenever she's trying to remember a song, she'll usually say, "Mama, where's The Happy Farmer?" or "Where's Jesus Loves Me?" or whatever other current favorite she's fishing around in her memory for.  Or occasionally, "Mama, help my mouth to sing it!"  I love that.

Upon hearing her Aunt Hannah telling me about how she stepped on a sliver of glass:
Nell: *dramatic sigh*  "I know, I know, everything is horrible."


Strapping her tiny violin case onto her back:
Nell: "I'm just really tired but I have to go play a concert."


Playing peekaboo with Ree:
Nell: *sigh*  "You do it now Mama; I need a break."


Nell: "That was me! Whoa!  I blessed!"

Sarah: "How old will you be next year?"
Nell: "Four.  And I'll be big to the sky and fly with my happy wings!"


"Maybe when I'm four I can drink wine."

Sarah: "I love you, Nell."
Nell: "I love Daddy."
Sarah: "Well then.  Thanks."


Seeing a picture of Nathan:
Nell: "Oh, that's Daddy!  My cute Daddy!"

Talking to herself in her car seat:
"I'm sooooo fun to play with.  And I have a good heart."


"Mama, did you know what?  Dogs don't wear underwear."


Sitting in the kiddie pool: 
"I'm swimming in the water on my bum!"


Nell: "Mama, could I please have an orange that is... an orange... an orange that is that one kind..."  *hums "O My Darlin' Clementine"*
Sarah: "Oh! A clementine!"
Nell: "Yes yes could I please have a darlin' Clementine!"
{I thought that was very resourceful of her to communicate the word she had forgotten through humming.}


Nell: "I'm hungry."
Sarah: "Would you like me to cut up an apple for you?"
Nell: "Well, what about some tocklate instead." (chocolate)


Sarah: "Nell, could you please pick up your socks and put them in the dirty laundry?"
Nell: "Weeeellll... maybe you could just do it."

"Nell, make a silly sad face!"
"Nell, make a silly grumpy face!"

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

the hyperemesis gravidarum saga, part 1

You've probably heard that Kate Middleton, during both of her pregnancies, suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum.  Poor lady.  About a year ago, I had come up with a plan I was pretty certain would go viral: people could dump buckets of vomit on their head to raise awareness from this condition I had for both of my pregnancies.  {Remember the ice bucket challenge that was going viral at the time?}  But now it looks like the public awareness has been somewhat raised thanks to the Duchess, and no vomit buckets needed after all.  Thank you, Kate!  {Now if only the commoners like myself had people to wait on us hand and foot during our illnesses!}

I've mentioned on my blog before that I had HG, and I've long meant to write about it.  The thing is, it's kind of hard to write about, because it's all a bit of a blur, and not a very pleasant one.

It bears writing, though, because it is a part of my story.  A part of my kids' stories.  A part of our family's story.  And more importantly, it is a part of the stories of an estimated 1%-3% of women, and those women need understanding, empathy, and help when we have opportunity to give it.

* * *

In my first pregnancy, with Nell, I remember the early signs of nausea before the vomiting began.  I tried ginger, peppermints, saltines, sour candies, protein, exercise, lemon drops, sea bands on my wrists -- everything I could think to try, I tried.  Nothing touched that awful pit in my stomach that grew worse with each passing day.  That unrelenting queasiness.  We hadn't told friends about the pregnancy yet, so I would grit my teeth through grad school classes in musty lecture halls and quartet rehearsals in smelly basement practice rooms all while feeling like I might vomit at any moment.

That was the early nausea part, when I wasn't yet vomiting much.   Then when the vomiting hit, it hit hard.  I remember a Sunday morning when Nathan was at church and I was vomiting in the bathroom.  The next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor, my glasses bent, my face pressed against the tile.  I had passed out.  It was the first of many times to come, but I learned to anticipate it, to feel that sudden change of blood pressure coming on alongside the need to vomit, and to make sure I was someplace soft.  Safer to stay in bed and keep a bowl beside me than to try to run for the bathroom.

I remember keeping a pad of paper beside the bed one day and jotting down a tick mark each time I threw up that day.  By evening, there were seventeen tick marks.

* * *

I was in grad school at the time, and freelancing and teaching violin lessons, and somehow I managed to continue with all of these things.  I got an appointment at a birth center, told the midwife how sick I was, and got a prescription for Zofran.  I was anxious about taking the medication -- although it is approved for use during pregnancy, you can always find some terrifying things online -- and if I had a day where I could stay home, I wouldn't take it.  I'd just stay in bed and be sick all day.  When I had school or work, I'd take the Zofran and push through the nausea.  The Zofran mostly stopped the vomiting, although it barely touched the nausea.

Looking back on my day planner from that fall, it looks like there were eight days when I was flat out unable to go to school or work and had to cancel everything.  Only eight!  The rest of those days, days filled with lessons I taught and classes I attended and rehearsals and concerts and presentations... somehow I did most of those things.  Thank God for Zofran.

a photo Nathan took at the end of October when I was 12 weeks along.
I had just come back from playing a concert!

I could manage to eat cheddar goldfish crackers and drink cranberry juice mixed with seltzer during that first pregnancy.  Onion rings and coke icees from Burger King took the edge off, too.  I'm sure there were other things as well, but those are the main things I remember being able to eat.  For someone usually committed to healthy eating, it was pretty ridiculous!

I remember my brother-in-law brought me some spaghetti one day, carried it into the bedroom where I lay in bed, and it actually sounded quite good to me and I was able to eat some.  Shortly thereafter, it came back up again -- some of it somehow, horrifyingly, coming out my nose.  Did you know that, Nell?  I barfed noodles out my nose for you, kid!

I remember driving to Boston for school with waves of nausea, then stopping at a cafe near school for a poppyseed bagel.  Thanks to Zofran, I could eat and almost enjoy that poppyseed bagel.

I remember telling an orchestra conductor about my pregnancy and my condition because I was so terrified I was going to vomit during rehearsal.

I remember being grateful my academic courses weren't too intense that semester.

I remember one administrator at school being a real asshat to me about the pregnancy because I had missed two orchestra rehearsals, even though I had medical excused absence notes from my midwives.

I remember walking through a grocery store, feeling like I could be sick at any moment, searching the shelves desperately for anything that I felt like I could eat and keep down.

I remember pulling over to the side of the road while driving home from that grocery shopping trip to vomit out my car door.

I remember Nathan driving from his school in Boston over to mine to take me to lunch once on a day when I was feeling well enough to eat but was so exhausted and miserable that I was nearing tears.  I just needed to see him, and I was so relieved and glad to see his car swing by to pick me up.  We got eggs Benedict at a diner and it was a wonderful hour together.  A calm amidst the busy flurry of our lives that autumn.

* * *

I watched a lot of Grey's Anatomy during that time, and it's the strangest thing: the brain surgeries and heart surgeries and blood and guts didn't make me the least bit queasy, but if a character was eating a sandwich, well, I'd be reaching for my bowl, puking, and maybe passing out briefly.  Coming to, and passing another hour or so watching Grey's until the next time I was sick.

I don't remember a lot about the hours and the days, except that when I hadn't taken Zofran I couldn't even roll over in bed without the motion making me sick.  I couldn't see or smell food or think about food.  I could barely talk, quite literally, and so Nathan and I had a little code system that went like so: a small, miserable moan meant, "hold my hand;" a medium, miserable moan meant, "bring me some juice;" and a big, miserable moan meant, "take me out to the back pasture and shoot me dead."

Of course, not seriously, but that's what I told him it meant, and he knew it meant that I felt the absolute worst and needed some serious sympathy.  Somehow my sense of humor remained intact through it all, and we'd laugh together about that joke, that I should be taken to the back pasture.

I also remember those months as being a very lonely time, the hours and days sick in bed, Nathan busy with his own graduate school and work, friends unaware of what I was going through.  I'd check my computer, hoping someone had made a move in a Words With Friends game so I could make my next move.  One can only watch so much Grey's Anatomy.  Pinterest would have been an option for passing the time, but I didn't dare log on to see the inevitable pictures of food.  Despite how busy many of my days were, I have vivid memories of longing for more human connection, for someone to know and understand what I was experiencing, maybe for someone to come take care of me.

a selfie ("bumpie?") from late November.
lying in bed in my pajamas; a very common scenario

Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that, through it all, I managed to feel mostly overwhelmingly happy.  This is not a fact I take for granted, because I'm well aware that many women with HG are so miserable they consider terminating their {very much wanted} pregnancies, the sickness is that bad.  I'm grateful that mine wasn't as bad as some, and that somehow, I would puke and puke and then manage to smile at Nathan, still happy about our secret growing family.   We were so excited.  I have such happy memories of that excitement.

* * *

It was really hard, for almost three months.  Things got bad in early September, when I was five weeks along, and then it started to get better in early November.  I was weaning off of Zofran by around 14 weeks pregnant, and then definitely feeling almost 100% better by Thanksgiving.  I remember just feeling so very grateful to be able to eat all that good food!  We visited my in-laws that Thanksgiving, and I have sweet memories of the much-needed rest at their house after such a difficult couple of months for me.

Over the course of the ten or so weeks that I was sick, I lost ten or twelve pounds.  Now, a lot of women would like to lose ten or twelve pounds, and truth be told, I could probably have been counted among that number.  But not like that.  No one wants to lose weight like that.  It will always boggle my mind a bit that some people, upon learning of my pregnancy and the near-debilitating sickness I had, would say, "Well, you look terrific!" or something similar.  I half wanted to say, "My health care providers are concerned about my falling weight, but I'll be sure to let them know you think it's an improvement, thanks."

Or, on the flip side, other pregnant women would bemoan their own rising weight and wish aloud to have had first trimester weight loss like I had.  No, you don't wish for that.  I promise, you don't.

Possibly the strangest thing about that time period was that, aside from telling our immediate families, we actually kept that pregnancy a secret up until the first trimester had passed.  I have no idea how we did this, and truthfully, I imagine that most of my close friends had guessed that I was pregnant but just chose to respectfully wait until I was ready to tell them.  I have pretty great friends.

a photo from early December.
so happy to be feeling 100% better!
In retrospect, keeping up with my graduate school studies and my work during that first pregnancy was quite possibly easier than keeping up with my toddler and my work during my subsequent pregnancy, but I suppose that's a story for another time.

{the hyperemesis gravidarum saga, part 2 coming next}