My Decade

The New York Times posted a collection of reader's photograph's from the past ten years and I spent some time scrolling through them this morning. It occurred to me that this has been my decade, my coming of age period, the one whose events created my adult personality.

At the start of this decade, I didn't have a cell phone. AIM Instant Messenger was just taking off. I didn't know what "high speed" internet, or blogs or wikis were. Even after I got a cell phone, it was for talking to people, not texting them.

Pittsburgh has gotten a lot shinier since then...I remember when the Waterfront shopping center was being built. M lived on Beechwood Boulevard, overlooking that lot, which was just an ugly Brownfield for a long time. One day, blindingly bright lights appeared as the movie theater and Giant Eagle opened. The Nabisco factory still filled the East End with the warm and inviting smell of cookies baking several times a week. All the old high rise projects are gone from that neighborhood and the factory is being renovated into luxury condos and high end retail. As the gentrification creeps through East Liberty and Garfield, I wonder where all the people are going who can't afford to stay in luxury condos, but I also hope that it creeps down Penn Avenue towards my little piece of the city.

In the year 2000, I, along with most Americans, could never have imagined the 9/11 attacks, but war has been the background buzz for nearly the entire decade. In the year 2000, you could still go and hang out past the security gates at the airport. Al Qaeda had been around for a while, probably at least 10 years, but none of us knew who they were.

M and I traveled around the country twice, driving well over 10,000 miles each time. We spent six months living in the woods as we thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. We downed malaria pills and went to Africa. Thousands of pictures and postcards and blog entries document these adventures. We were forever changed by each person we met along the way.

2009 was largely spent preparing for Laurel. Pregnancy overshadowed practically everything else from my 30th birthday party to the Rachel Carson Challenge. She will be 8 weeks old tomorrow, the first day of the new year. I imagine that Laurel herself will be a prominent fixture in the coming decade. It will be her milestones that mark the passage of time.

Happy New Year, readers.


There's an ap for that...

There's a neat article on CNN.com today about new methods for letting your local officials know about problems like potholes and late buses.

We've had 311 for a while in the 'Burgh, and I have used it several times. Although I can't say that my phone calls directly resulted in a problem being fixed, at least I did speak to an actual person every time. 311, in case you haven't heard of it, is the number you call to report non-criminal problems. Pittsburgh was also recently featured for the iBurgh app which allows users to take photos of problems and send them to the mayor's office, notable because it was the first city to develop something like this. (The CNN article neglected to mention Pittsburgh as a forerunner on this issue, shame on them.)

But does making complaining easier really help with anything?

According to the CNN article: "Instead of people saying, 'Well, it's the government's job to fix that' ... people are taking ownership and saying, 'Hey, wait a minute. Government is us. We are government. So let's take a responsibility and start changing things ourselves.' "

I disagree...I think this basically just causes a bunch of people running around thinking that they HAVE done something about a problem. Reporting it is truly only the first step.



I wore yoga pants to the grocery store. And slip on shoes. And even if I didn't have a small child strapped to my chest, you would have been able to tell from my casual, milk stained attire and messy ponytail that I was somebody's mom. It's hard to remember to dress up when a) nothing you own fits you yet and b) the person you spend the most time with is usually wearing pajamas. Now that I have been cleared to exercise, I plan to make an attempt to get back into my regular clothes.

I like being a mom. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I wake up from a sound sleep to hear Laurel fussing, and I think, "How did this baby get into my house?" But she is really cuddly and smiles a lot now. She has even added some coo-ing to her grunts. (She's a very loud baby...she grunts and breaths loudly and makes a racket, even when she's sound asleep.)

She has sort of figured out how to get her fingers into her mouth to suck on them, but seems confused about whose fingers they are. She will be 7 weeks old on Christmas Day. In a couple of weeks, we'll go for her two month check up and we can find out how much she's grown. I am really curious about this because she seems like a really long baby. The 0-3 month sleepers are getting kind of short for her already, and when she nurses her legs hang way off to the side.


So, I'm Cured....

Better. Healed. Or whatever you call it when you have recovered from a cesarean childbirth. I had my 6 week post-partum check up, and everything checks out. I am clear to resume normal activities, like lifting laundry baskets (darn) and exercising (very much needed).

The midwife asked me how many more children I was planning on having. Umm. Are you kidding me? I changed 20 diapers today alone. I think I'll wait a minute or two before adding to the chaos.

It was very strange to be back at Magee. I spent a lot of time there in the last few months, between weekly prenatal appointments at the end of the third trimester and the five days I stayed there as a patient. I realize in retrospect that the pain medication I took religiously in the first two weeks really did cast a foggy shadow over me. I mistook it for sleep deprivation, but Laurel actually slept more then, and I feel much more clear now.

I've been doing a lot of "processing" of my birth experience, lately, trying to figure out what went wrong, and wondering if I ever want to do it again. The biggest problem I had at the end was feeling rushed...there was such a strong pressure to start labor before 42 weeks. I wonder what would have happened if I had not had my membrane "swept" and waited another few days until the scheduled induction. Maybe she would have moved into a better position. Maybe I could have avoided back labor. Maybe I could have just gotten a few more good nights sleep. Prenatal yoga was both a blessing and a curse. I definitely had the stamina and physical preparation to do the movements needed to handle pain during labor. I could do all of the squatting and kneeling and swaying I needed to. But it also set me up to expect to feel empowered by the whole experience. Instead I felt like my body had failed me. And like I'd been run over by a truck.

Once I failed at accomplishing an empowering, vaginal birth, I temporarily lost all of my mothering instincts. I felt pulled in a million directions by the nurses and doctors and lactation consultants, who all had differing opinions about breastfeeding and pacifiers and bottles and pumping and sleep schedules. I read too many books and websites in the first couple of weeks, desperate to find the right way to do this.

Luckily, our very laid-back pediatrician and a couple of good friends helped to remind me to follow my instincts. Feed her when she's hungry. Don't let her sit in a dirty diaper. Cuddle. Smile. Enjoy it. When I am chill, Laurel is chill, and we all have a good time.

Instead of saying "cured", I should probably say "forever altered". I'm somebody's mother. And however I got to be this way, is the way it is. It just is. No point in dwelling on it.


Babies Everywhere!

One of the things I was most worried about during my pregnancy was that I didn't really know anybody with young children. We were not baby-making people, we were going-out people. Last minute weekend getaway to New Orleans people. There was going to be a major shift in my social calendar, and I knew play dates would replace happy hour. But play dates with who???

But then I met Sarah at my prenatal yoga. We ended up registering for a private childbirth class together, and then, because we both live near Frick Park, we decided to meet up for some walks to get to know each other a little bit. I knew that we would be friends when, on the day of our first walk, it was pouring down rain, and we both still showed up and happily walked in the rain for over an hour. There were many more walks in Frick Park, and Sarah gave birth just one day before me in the same hospital.

Sarah knew Prachi and Prachi knew Lindsay, and now there are four mommas and four babies that meet up every week. We don't do much out of the ordinary...the babies are too little to even really be aware of each other (though we line them up on the couch every week to see if they'll interact). So we just feed them and change diapers and bounce them and rock them...everything we do all the time on our own. But there's something very relaxing about doing all of these ordinary things while chatting and drinking tea.


First Date

M and I went out on a date last night. My parents came over to watch Laurel.

We went to see Fantastic Mr. Fox. I guess all the cool kids are turning children's books into feature films these days. I like this trend. This was a very typical Wes Anderson movie, with the usual cast and scoring. It says it's a "family film" but I've always thought Roald Dahl books were better suited to mature audiences. Anyway, go see it.

It was pretty short, so we even had time to get a Boca burger at Red Robin after. I distinctly remember the last time I was at Red Robin because I was extremely pregnant and drank about four glasses of that freckled strawberry lemonade and had to go to the bathroom every five minutes. Being out without her reminded me of what it was like to not have a baby. We tried to do some shopping with her yesterday, and were marginally successful, but of course it was much more time consuming and we did some acrobatic diaper changing and nursing in the car, in between dashing into stores.

There's a certain mental fogginess that I don't notice when I am at home with the baby, but becomes evident as soon as I go out into the world and have to interact with people who are not doing the eat-poop-sleep routine over and over again all day.

A big snow storm has enveloped the entire East Coast, so our trip to visit the great-grandparents in Saint Marys is probably going to be delayed. Ordinarily M and I would have looked at the snow and merrily set out anyway, even knowing the roads were not clear. It may have taken us 6 hours to do the 2 hour trip, and we would have been fine with that. It would have been an adventure. How things change....


Parenting 101

Laurel was freed from my womb six weeks ago. Happy 6 Week Birthday, Puddin'! So, it's also my six week anniversary of being a parent. A parent. I'm somebody's mother! I can say this phrase, "My daughter..."

Mark is back to work, so Laurel and I spend a fair amount of time alone, staring at each other and thinking, "are we doing this right?" - Laurel being an inexperienced human, and me being an inexperienced mom. Here are my top ten lessons learned so far.

1. Receiving blankets make the best burp rags. They are big enough to stay put over your shoulder, and we have a lot of them. And there's a lot of spit up.
2. Cloth diapers are no more trouble than disposable ones. Really. And you never run out.
3. It is far better to make an honest effort at getting the poop off your kid's butt at 2am, than to turn on the lights and confirm that you have done that. Dimming the lights from 8pm to 6am is my new strategy for retraining my little night owl.
4. Swaddling and white noise have saved my sanity.
5. I have given up reading parenting books as they only lead to confusion and feelings of inadequacy.
6. I learned to type one-handed.
7. Laurel will let me know what she wants, when she wants it. I only need to listen (and toss out the window any aspirations for productivity in other areas of my life).
8. I know they say you should take time for yourself when you have a spare minute, but sometimes it really is better to just suck it up and do the dishes instead. Because the next time you need the breast pump parts at 4 am and they are buried under every dirty dish in the house, you will regret taking that 10 minute nap.
9. Go out somewhere, even if it's just to the grocery store or Walgreen's. It forces me to get dressed, and the fresh air is good for us.
10. Laurel's smiles make me forget everything hard about this. Every. Single. Time.


Laurel Can Sleep in so Many Different Ways

And yet, she finds the hours between 1 am and 4 am to be so unsuitable for sleeping.

Here she is lounging in her crib (during the day of course). Can I get you a drink, Laurel? How about an extra beach towel?

Here she is swaddled up in the "Miracle Blanket". This was not all that effective last night, since all she wanted to do was cuddle up next to me and nurse. All. Night. Long. I think she may be hitting another growth spurt, so I am the 24 hour Snack Bar. Maybe she'll finally get some baby fat on her little legs as a result of all this eating.


Laurel Watching Her Monkey Mobile


Laurel at 5 Weeks

I say to Laurel, "Remember when you were little and you slept all day curled up in a little ball? Remember when the only time you were awake was when you were eating, and even then you would fall asleep and I would have to tickle your cheek to make you finish." We read our board books together, and she stares at her mobile and smiles and sleeps stretched out, with her arms up above her bed, as if she were lounging on a warm, Caribbean beach. Days and nights are sorting themselves out. She loves taking a bath. All in all, I would say she gets better every day.


Park Place Holiday Party

One of the many great things about my neighborhood is the annual Holiday potluck. The residents of Park Place are amazing cooks, and there was no shortage of vegetarian and vegan food. Laurel came with us to meet the neighbors, and she was pretty well-behaved the whole time. Mostly, she just slept in the wrap with Mark! This picture shows them in front of the food donation table - yes, Park Place is very civic minded, and we were all instructed to bring donations for the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.


I Really Need to Start Carrying a Camera

So many precious moments to capture...

But seriously, I wish I had taken some photos of our "playdate" today at Sarah's house. By now, Laurel and Kai are old friends, although they refuse to make eye contact, or really interact in any way other than crying at the same time. Today another baby and mom came over so there were three babies and three moms. We just did the usual "feed, burp, rock, sleep, diaper routine", but somehow it was more fun at Sarah's house, with snacks set out, and it was really cute to see the three babies stretched out on the couch, in various stages of slumber. Prachi's baby is the biggest at 10 pounds, Laurel is weighing in around 8, but she's super long, so she looks bigger, and Kai is now over 7 pounds. Laurel had some alert moments during the afternoon and impressed the other ladies with her charming ability to smile. We walked over there through the park, and Laurel tried out her new hat (thanks, Leah!) and I discovered that she stops crying immediately upon going out in the cold air.

I'm going to make it a point to put the camera in the diaper bag, so I can snap a few pictures next time we're doing something interesting. Or even not interesting, because let's face it, newborns are super cute even when doing hardly anything at all.


Am I Screwing Up Because I Don't Have a Baby Book Started, and Other Musings on Parental Life

Although, I guess this blog is sort of an electronic baby book...I don't have a changing table either, and that is proving to be a bit inconvenient. I had no clue I would be changing 20 diapers a day and that my child would take great delight in peeing and pooing as soon as her diaper was removed.

Laurel has the Colic. Or at least something that caused her to cry fitfully for many hours last night. Up to this point, running through the checklist (diaper, gas, milk, tired, just-want-to-be-held) has been pretty effective in keeping her cries to a minimum. Last night, she could not be consoled, which is why I found myself standing in the hallway, running the hair dryer at 1:30 AM while M held a swaddled Laurel, bouncing and swinging her.

It worked, and two desperately tired new parents crawled into bed a short while later. We were following the hints from The Happiest Baby on the Block. According to Harvey Karp, babies are born too soon. The first few months is the "fourth trimester" in which they pine for the warm ambiance of the womb. The womb is a warm, cozy place where baby is rocked back and forth gently all day and hears a constant, very loud swishing sound of circulating blood. To have a non-crying newborn, you replicate these sensory experiences.

Tonight, we rigged up the sound machine and she's currently sleeping very peacefully listening to the "wind" setting. It reminds me of a night we spent on the A.T. in New Hampshire after a very hard day of hiking. Rocky trail and wet conditions made it slow going that day and we barely did 8 miles. We spent the night in a shelter next to a rushing creek with two Canadians. We played cribbage and I rested my knee, which I had smashed while crawling over a boulder that day. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and the wind was blowing very hard. I thought, "New Hampshire is the wildest place I have ever been." But I felt warm and snug inside the shelter, and only a little bit afraid.

What is Laurel thinking tonight, as she drifts in and out of baby sleep? Does she miss the uterus? Does she remember it? How does my voice sound compared to what it did when she was inside? What is it like to think without words? Ah, the mysteries of a newborn...


A Little Laurel Love For You


Laurel at Four Weeks

Rosie the Cat looks on as Laurel enjoys some time in her bouncy chair. We have yet to take advantage of the "calming vibrations" setting of this chair, although I think Laurel would enjoy it. The chair, like many pieces of baby equipment, requires a D battery, and who keeps those around?

At four weeks, Laurel is starting to stay awake a little more. Up to this point, she had only two settings: Deeply Content and I need something RIGHT NOW! Now, she has an interim setting, which I call, I don't mind chilling here while my mom goes to the bathroom.

She has started smiling. She loves to look at her monkey mobile. She continues to need a lot of snuggling. She'll sleep a good 4 hours at a stretch at night. She does this thing where she pees after you take off her diaper, and then looks real happy about it. For a girl, she has amazing range for her pee.

I think because I am with her literally every moment of every day, I haven't noticed how much she's changing. When I think about her being here for four weeks, it doesn't seem real. (Maybe because I haven't slept in four weeks.) But, she's no longer curled up in a fetal position all the time. Her face looks fuller. I think she has more hair. And as she sits there, quietly smiling at me from her little chair while I type this, I think she's about to get a lot more fun.


How To Give a Baby a Manicure

First, make sure Baby is asleep. Otherwise, she will be too wiggly. This can be most easily accomplished by feeding Baby, in other words, get her "milk drunk". Next, spend some time giggling over Baby's ridiculously satisfied expression. Ease her into position so that you can grab her fingers one at a time. File her nails carefully...they are very, very tiny and you don't want to take the skin off with the nail! Admire your handiwork the next time you nurse her and she does not scratch you with razor sharp talons! Repeat frequently...baby parts grow fast.