Monday, January 7, 2013

Jo's Sixth Toe

I want to be a crafty mom.

In an age of Pinterest projects and DIY-mania, you might think that I mean making lovely holiday decor from recycled boxes or making all my own soaps or sewing all of my daughter's clothes from old concert t-shirts so she will be a super-cool indie-rock kid. And while I certainly admire those moms (and simultaneously curse them for making the rest of us look bad), I am realistic enough to know that I will not attain that level of craftiness in this lifetime.

I come by the crafty mom desire honestly. My mom is crafty as hell. Let me give you a few examples of her craftiness:

  • She made cute holiday outfits for my sister and I when we were growing up. A more memorable sweatshirt included a light-up Christmas tree, complete with D-battery hook-up on the inside. Incredible.
  • She made me a bow out of a 2-liter Pepsi bottle label. Adorable.
  • She sewed all of our Halloween costumes--from a cheerleader to a witch--and they actually fit.
  • She made homemade, personalized fortune cookies for my class at school one Valentine's Day.
  • And perhaps most disturbingly, she made a pair of earrings out of my two front teeth when they fell out. (Of course, I had to wear them to my next dentist's appointment. Of course, the dentist wanted pictures of them. Of course, this is kind of creepy in retrospect.)
So, you see, I've got a lot to live up to. But more than that, my mom's craftiness made some beautiful (and sometimes odd) memories for me growing up.

But here's the deal: I can't sew; I don't knit; I don't crochet or needlepoint or any of that awesome stuff. And I'm not artistically talented. I can't draw, paint (without numbers), or carve. Even worse, I have the dreadful combination of a "let's wing it" attitude and a perfectionist streak. This means that my crafts don't often turn out very well...or they wind up stomped to death in frustration. So, when I began thinking about what craftiness my daughter and I could enjoy together, I felt like a genius when I came up with the idea of making Christmas ornaments together every year. A different one each year! That she could make! And then when she is grown up and has her own Christmas tree, she will have ornaments and special memories of making those ornaments! How hard could it be? CRAFTY!

So, what to do when Jo is still an infant? I remembered that my friend VA makes adorable hand print ornaments with her girls each year, and I thought, "What a great idea! Wouldn't it be great to get Jo's infant hand print on an ornament!" So, I bought all the supplies and planned our first craft for the first week of Jo's life. CRAFTY MOM!

And, one day when my friend Jenny came over, I said, "Let's do a craft!" Now, Jenny is absolutely the type of person you want in your life. She's an amazing person to go antiquing with, to talk about life with, even to save you from a deadly elk. She is not--and she is the first to admit this--the type of person to do a craft. Which is how I knew she was a true friend when she agreed to help that day. I arrayed all of the materials--paint, brush, glass ornament--and sat down before my sleeping daughter. Now, I don't know how much time you've spent with an infant, but let me tell you something about them: they do not open their hands very often. Fortunately, Jo was in that infant zombie sleep, where you can move them any which way and they limply and adorably sleep through it. So, with Jenny holding her wrist, I carefully painted Jo's hand. And she promptly balled it into a little fist. I do not know why I did not anticipate this turn of events. Blame it on the MommyBrain. In any case, I became completely flustered. My craftiness! It was not succeeding!

But never fear...this baby still had feet, didn't she? Feet that could not as easily be curled up into craft-thwarting little balls! Yes! And so, Jenny held her ankles as I painted her foot. And as I attempted to stamp the foot onto the ornament, I realized, This baby has enormous feet. Simply stamping the foot would not work. We would have to rotate the ornament over the painted foot, rolling it on. Let me just say this: it is lucky that the paint could be washed off the ornaments, because we had to try this at least a dozen times to get it right. And through Jenny's laughter and my teeth-gritting, we came out with three good ornaments (two for grandparents, one for us). We washed the baby off as best we could (there may or may not still be a tiny fleck of paint on her fingernail that I am too weirdly sentimental to wash off), and I set the ornaments out to dry.

Only then did we realize that one of the ornaments was special. Quite special, indeed. Somehow, we had managed to squeeze six toes onto the print of Jo's right foot, when in truth, she only has five. Again, Jenny laughs. Again, I grit my teeth. "We could wash the extra toe off," Jenny offers. No. No, it is better this way, actually. 

You see, I'm realizing that being a mother is not at all lovely and picture-perfect. The moments that already stand out for me are not the expected, anticipated, nearly staged moments. They are the imperfect, surprising moments that find me unwittingly falling head over heels for this tiny little demanding person. They are the moments when I could cry from frustration, only to be redeemed by the realization of what an incredible adventure I am on. They are the moments when I catch a glimpse of the future I have of getting to know her.

These moments are the sixth toe: unexpected, unintended, and absolutely ridiculous. But, they are what give this parenting thing its depth and meaning. They are what add dimension to what could be simply cookie-cutter moments--ultimately bland and forgettable.

But the sixth toe? That's a story not so easily forgotten. And I realize that while I might not be able to produce the perfect memory quilt or birth statistic needlepoint or baby book, what I can craft for her is a life rich in stories; stories that are honest about life's imperfections and their necessity in making life interesting. 

So what if her first craft was botched? At least the story of her mysterious sixth toe won't be. You know...the one about how she was born with a sixth toe... CRAFTY MOM!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Accidental Natural Childbirth

***THIS POST IS SQUEAMISH-TYPE FRIENDLY! As my beloved JT is a squeamish-type himself, I respectfully kept this post squeam-free. Besides, I don't even want to know all the details of my recent childbirth, so I would never share them with you, Internet Friend. I do use the words "catheter" and "stitches," but see, you've already read them, so you might as well read the rest, right? Right.***

So, when you are a super pregnant lady, you become a lightning rod for birth stories. From September to December of this year, I cannot tell you how many birth stories I heard: from friends, strangers, people in parking lots, my mechanic, a guy stocking eggs at a grocery store at 6 a.m. (I wish I were kidding), church ladies, and on and on. And if they are not telling you a birth story, they are asking you questions about birth--where are you delivering? Are you getting the epidural? How does a water birth work (again...I wish I were kidding)? And if you are like me, you are completely unsure how to extract yourself from these conversations without feeling rude. Nor are you able to just put your hands up to your ears and sing "LA LA LA LA LA!" at the top of your lungs as you waddle away. This is mostly what I wanted to do.

But what I heard most commonly was, "Once the baby is here, you completely forget about the labor." "You won't remember the pain at all," they'd say. And I would smile and think, "Suuuuuuuuure. You go on believing that, friend." But I have to admit, they were right.

Now, I can see where you might think,"Oh, she's just choosing not to talk about how horrible childbirth was because she doesn't want to freak anybody out." But there are two reasons why you are wrong: 1) I am a terrible liar, and if I'm going to write about something, I'm going to write the truth...there is no point in doing otherwise. 2) My birthing experience was rather...exciting, we'll the pain management department. Let me elaborate (don't worry...I am not going to get all gross and nasty birthing story on you).

At 1am, JT and I went to the hospital. I'd been having contractions for a good 7 hours, and they were finally close enough together and strong enough that I figured we should check this thing out. I'm not ashamed to say that on the way, I used some choice words to express how I would feel if this were not the main event. To summarize, I would have been displeased. But, we got there, and the nurses assured me that yep...this was it. By 3:30am, I was hooked up to monitors, and hanging out in the birthing room. At which point, I thought it would be a good idea to let my professors know that I would not be turning in my final coursework on time, to e-mail some friends, etc. I was managing the contractions just fine, in other words.

By about 7 a.m., the doctor suggested we move things along. This was the cue I was looking for to get the epidural. So, the wonderful anesthesiology team ( were 3 people) came in, gave me the epidural, cracked some jokes, made my squeamish-type husband feel comfortable, ensured my legs were numbed by the initial dose of medication, and left. For about an hour or so, I felt fantastic. So fantastic that I was able to take about a 30 minute nap. During labor. This is why the epidural was an incredible idea. Nap. During. Labor. (PS If you are thinking about leaving a comment or a message with your anti-epidural opinion, please know that I respect your thoughts, but am not interested in after-the-fact judgement about my epidural decision. Thankyou.)

So, epidural = good, right? Which is why I was so disappointed when, by 9 a.m., I'm starting to feel not as great. My discomfort was increasing as the contractions strengthened. I chalked this up to being just how labor goes, pushed the button to get an extra little does of the epidural drip, and took some deep breaths. However, by 10 a.m., I'm not feeling that lovely numbling in my legs anymore, and my catheter is starting to feel like a lead pipe. My nurse came in to check on me at 10:30 a.m., and I finally mentioned my discomfort. We talked through a couple of possibilities, and then she walked over to my epidural drip, widened her eyes, and said the words I will never forget: "They forgot to turn the drip on." That's right. They forgot to turn the drip on.

By this point, the contractions are strong enough that I am clinging to the side of my bed through each one. I'm not in agony, but I'm definitely not in a real position to be a super-pleasant conversationalist. Which is when the poor anesthesiology resident comes in, wide-eyed and half-sick. "So, the nurse tells me the drip isn't on?" he asks, terrified. "Ughhhh. No, I don't think UGH so," I respond, trying to be as polite as possible in between grunts. After all, he is the keeper of the drugs. "Um. So, your contractions are pretty strong, then?" I am white-knuckling the railing and breathing while trying to maintain focus on him. "Yep," I manage to spit out. "Are you having one now?" At this point, I allow myself a pause before I answer so as not to yell. "Yep." From there, he proceeds to turn the drip on, but also informs me that I will not be able to get a full dose, as the drip is on a timer. I'll need to wait another 10 minutes to push the button for another boost, and another 10 minutes for another, and another 10 minutes for another. When he leaves, I say to JT, "I hope he didn't think I was being mean, but this is intense."

By the time he left, it was 10:45 a.m. This gave me enough time to push the button once before I got swept away in the contractions and gave birth to Jo at 11:20 a.m. I didn't think at all about the medication during the final stage of labor, but when I noticed I was wincing and jumping as I got a few stitches, I also realized that what I had just done was largely medication-free. Not by choice, but hey, that's how it goes.

I guess I could have been mad. The same resident came in to check up on me the following day in recovery, and I think he thought he'd be getting an earful from me about the mix-up. Instead, I told him thanks for turning the drip on and left it at that.

Because what they said was absolutely true: I completely forget about any discomfort, any pain, any worry or anxiety that was lingering once I was handed my daughter. The doctor could have been breaking my toes one by one, and I wouldn't have cared one bit. She was here. My accidental natural childbirth baby.

THE LESSON: Make sure they turn on the drip.
BACKUP LESSON: Things will be OK no matter what.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My First Born

As you may or may not know, I gave birth to my first child about two weeks ago--a little girl named Jo. And she is precious and perfect and I love everything about her. But this post is not about her. Don't worry. I've got plenty of material already, and I'll get some stories up here soon. But for now, I wanted to talk about my first "daughter" guessed it: my dog Gert.

In 2006, I had landed my first job (with a salary!) out of college, and I thought, "It's time for me to take the next step into adulthood. I will get a dog." Here is a little glimpse into the weird workings of my mind, though: in preparation to get a dog, I didn't research breeds or bone up (heh) on house training  I didn't research rescues or trainers. Instead, I made a spreadsheet. I made a spreadsheet to estimate the cost of having a dog to see if I would actually be able to pay for its food, vet bills, potential boarding costs, etc. A spreadsheet. You can see my nurturing instinct kicking in already. Anyway, I looked for dogs for a month or two, visiting a few at the vet school, a couple of rescues, none of which were a good fit for me. And then, I heard that my aunt had bred a litter of Bichon Frises and that there was one female puppy. When I called, my aunt was so enthusiastic about me taking her that JT and I drove down the next weekend to pick her up. She was my 23rd birthday present to myself.
Gert on the night I brought her home.
She looks like a baby seal.

I named her Gert because my aunt and I called each other Gert, and the name wound up being a perfect fit. She was six weeks old when I brought her home, and she was cute! and snuggly! and cute! SO CUTE!

And then.

I'm not saying Gert was a bad puppy. But Gert was a stubborn puppy and was only six weeks old. You can only do so much in the realm of crate-training at six weeks old. So, suddenly, I had a little poo and pee machine running around my apartment, chewing on everything, keeping me up at night. I bought a puppy book and pored over it, trying to implement everything as best I could. Only none of it seemed to be working. She pooped, she peed, she didn't go to sleep at the right time, she cried all night, she wouldn't eat when I put out food for her, she destroyed everything. And what did I do? I cried. I cried every. single. day. for the first month that I had her. My poor mother fielded  weepy phone calls from me, lamenting my whole life and my whole decision to get a dog. When she would try to console me, I would just wail, "But the book says!" Eventually, and sagely, she told me to throw out the book.

Gert with her valedictorian prize.
And a horrible haircut.
At twelve weeks old, Gert and I enrolled in a training class. The first night, I stayed after with the trainer to talk over some points and involuntarily began to well up. Here I was, sitting on the rubber floor in a converted garage, trying to bribe the cutest puppy in the world with treats and failing miserably. Clearly, the world was going to end. The trainer was so sweet, and gave me some tips to work on at home through the next week. And if there's anything I'm excellent at, you guys, it is homework. And by the end of the 8-week training session, Gert could complete the training exercises faster than any of the other dogs, winning a prize at the end of the class. You have no idea what a proud moment that was for me.

But, not to make things too easy, Gert began to display some warning signs of food allergies. I would come home over lunch hour to walk her and find her bloody from scratching herself. She would develop hives around her eyes and mouth, and I would have to shove liquid Benadryl down her throat. It was frustrating, heart-breaking, and completely exhausting for me. And, of course, within a month, we had her on a food that didn't make her want to die.

When Gert turned a year old, I cannot tell you the sense of pride I had in the fact that I had succeeded in keeping her alive. It sounds silly, I know, but that year was full of all the worry, fear, and love that comes along with caring for another living being. For the first time, I knew I was solely in charge of this little creature, and I wanted to do everything in my power to make her life a good one. And in the process, she became my best friend.

I know it sounds dramatic, but after that first year, I have often told people that because of Gert, I knew I could be a mother someday. In case you weren't aware, I have a bit of a perfectionist streak. What Gert did was to teach me that there is no perfection when you are caring for another creature. There is just getting it done with as much love, patience, and care as you can muster. And what I learned with Gert is that I can muster a lot more of these things than I thought I was capable of.

In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I tried to spend lots of snuggle time with Gert, knowing that my snuggles would mostly be for my new daughter for a while. And I just kept thinking about how glad I am that my daughter will grow up with a friend like Gert. Already, Gert won't leave her alone: she has to follow me into every room I go with Jo. She stands guard while Jo is being fed, laying at my feet until she's done. She immediately looks for Jo first thing in the morning. Jo is Gert's favorite thing.

Gert is not a perfect dog. She still likes to chew shoes, and she barks more than she should. But I'm so grateful that she is my dog. Without her in my life, I honestly think I would be a different person. Without her in my life, I wouldn't have known how to just roll with the insane combination of love and worry that comes with being a parent. And without her in my life, she wouldn't be a part of Jo's life. And that adventure is something I wouldn't trade for the world.

...and now I'd better go give Gert a treat.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I was walking my two dogs in the park one day when a man with his own pack of four bichon frises merged onto our path. I was so excited, I couldn't even exclaim "Oh! Bichons!" before all four trotted over to a planting of ornamental grass and simultaneously lifted their legs. I had just witnessed a quadbichon elimination.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Elk Attack

It was a late summer day in 2011. My friend Jenny and I wanted to take advantage of some of the last days of mid-day hiking we'd be able to do before school started--for Jenny, her first year of teaching, and for me, my first year of seminary. Imagine the scene of two cheerful young women hopping energetically out of the car and skipping to the trail with arms interlocked and giggles pouring forth from our smiling mouths. Now tone it down about 10 points and you've got the scene. Optimistically ominous, no?

The trail we chose wound through a wildlife management preserve. On this specific trail, the wildlife being managed and preserved were elk. We weren't sure how many we'd actually see as we tromped about, but as we rounded a bend, we saw a young elk scamper across the trail in front of us. Whoa. Then we saw another. And later a clump of about three with giant, fuzzy elk horns. We began to feel uneasy under their gaze: we were not entirely welcome in these parts. But, when you're on a loop trail, and you're about halfway around it, there's not much you can do but keep hiking. And so we did, with a cloud of anxiety descending further upon us with every step and with every elk glare we endured. After a particularly intense staring down, we came into a more open timber with no elk in sight. Whew. Finally, we could just walk and talk and laugh and look at trees.

But suddenly, an elk came dashing up from our right. Thinking it simply wanted to hustle across the trail in front of us, I stopped, yielding the right-of-way to this rather large female. But she stopped, too. We stood like this for a moment, but then Elkie took first one step forward, then another, then another, and before we had time to think, Jenny and I had dashed to put a tight grouping of three young trees between ourselves and Elkie. Elkie was clearly not pleased. She stomped. She rolled her eyes. She began to drool and grunt.

Guys, if you have never stood three feet from a stomping, eye-rolling, drooling, grunting elk, let me not recommend it. But, if you really want an idea of how intensely disarming this situation is, then let's imagine... You're a kid, and you've been playing all day, having a great time. Only, oh great, here comes your mom. And she's not just sauntering up to call you in for supper. No. She has clearly caught you doing something terrible and forbidden, something you only vaguely recollect. But you can see that her memory has not been addled by the fun of the day. She knows exactly what you've done, and her certain stride tells you that she knows exactly what she's going to do to you. And all you can do is stand there and watch her come at you and you shrink down to being one foot tall and you hope you are invisible but oh no here she is and she sees you and  you are screwed. This is how we felt as we stood, with nothing but three young trees between us and a clearly pissed off lady elk.

Jenny, foreshadowing her incredible bravery, decided to begin to back up the hill. Once she had about 25 feet between her and Elkie, she encouraged me to do the same. Only, Elkie hadn't taken her eyes off of me while Jenny was moving. I took a step back, and Elkie was clearly not pleased. I took another step back, and she hoisted her two front hooves off the ground a couple of inches to tell me just how not pleased she was. I instinctively crouched. And now here I was, crouched in the leaves in front of an angry lady elk who would not let me move. And here I was two minutes later, still crouched. And five minutes later, still crouched. I crouched for a long time, people, trying to figure out how to get away. Could I crawl? No, she would stomp me. Could I run? No, she would stomp me. Could I skip away giggling? No, clearly I would never skip and giggle again.

So after about 10 minutes of crouching, my knees hurt. Slowly, I rose, calling back to Jenny that I was going to back up to her. I asked her to tell me if there was anything to hide behind. Just a fallen log about 10 feet behind me. I could dive behind that. Great. So, I began my slow movements away from Elkie, one awful step at a time. For a few paces, she just looked at me. At the time, I thought it was her way of saying, "OK. I can see how ridiculous this is getting. Let's just call it even." But in retrospect, it was more of her way of saying, "Is this girl serious? Does she really think this is going to work." Because just as the log came into view, Elkie stepped forward authoritatively. And then she began what would clearly be a running start at me.

But before I could dive to my left behind the log and hope to shield my head from her horrible hooves, something incredible happened. Jenny, armed with a long stick in one hand and a large rock in the other, charged around me. "AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR," she screamed, and waved the stick in front of both of us, the rock cocked in her right hand to throw if Elkie didn't get the message right away. But she did. Elkie was clearly shocked and outmatched, and as Jenny screamed, "GOOOOOO!" I scrambled up the hill, gratefully putting distance between myself and Elkie. Jenny ferociously followed behind, still clutching her weapons, and Elkie stood confused in the background. I will never forget this picture of my best friend, having just saved my life with a stick and rock, fleeing her defeated enemy, because it made me laugh so hard I couldn't keep running. And when Jenny, adrenaline pumping, yelled at me, "Come on!" I laughed harder. I laughed all the way up to the road where Jenny dropped her weapons and finally laughed too.

Jenny and I still marvel at our narrow escape, shaking our heads at the situation. And yet, when we tell the story to others, nobody seems to understand the true danger we were in.

THE LESSON: Do not hike with elk.