Tuesday, October 31, 2006


First, there was NaNoWriMo. No way in hell I'd do that - writing an entire novel in a month?

Then, there was NaBloWriMo. This seems more doable, and I may try: blog every day during November. Of course, it probably won't happen, with birthdays galore, Thanksgiving travel and, you know, November weather.

There is an obvious need for a different Na**WriMo, and friends, I'm stepping up to the plate. I'm going to have my own personal WriMo, NaProWriMo: National Proposal Writing Month. As I write that, it seems obvious that I should change the "Na" part, since there's no sodium involved. Oops, I mean, there's not a national component, as far as I know. On the other hand, I'm sure there are actually dedicated grad students all over the US who will, in fact, write their entire dissertation proposals in the space of one month, without even needing the motivation (which I apparently crave) of a fancy name for the process.

Here is my goal, then: to actually work on my proposal every day in November, except for the days we're visiting DT's family over Thanksgiving, since they wouldn't understand and really, why does a woman need a job when she has kids? I'm not going to commit to finishing in November, but I want a good draft. I'll be blogging my updates. Wish me luck.

Monday, October 30, 2006

In which I hope not to jinx my son's health

I think Rocco is over it, whatever "it" was. This weekend, our little guy was basically back to normal -- his cackle happily / screech unhappily balance was tilted back to the cackle happily side. He is walking just as well as you'd expect from any 14-month-old with an oddly-protruding belly, which is to say that he often falls down for no apparent reason. I think that's normal for him, though, because I'm pretty sure he's genetically related to me. He has been fever-free for several days, and he doesn't react with shock and disappointment at our betrayal whenever we try to feed him. He spent the weekend playing happily with WonderGirl, apparently thrilled to be allowed to act the part of her pet dog, as she led him around in circles, using a laundry bag as a leash. (Not around his neck, of course, he held his leash willingly. Gotta be some interesting gender politics stuff in that, but I'm too tired. Damn Daylight Savings Time.)

Friday was his first truly good day. He didn't seem either under the weather or recovering, his throat wasn't sore, he didn't erupt with random whimpers. It was the first day in probably six or seven weeks where he was fully healthy. As relieved as I was to see that he could actually be happy again, I was just as relieved that I was able to believe he was healthy. There was a nagging part of me that wondered if I was so used to worrying about him that I was overstating his illnesses. It was liberating to relax again. I could hug him without subtly feeling his belly for excess heat.

It's been hard for me to accept that we really don't know what was wrong with him. Kids don't usually stop walking for a week; it's odd to tell other parents about the experience and have no one say, "Oh, yeah, that happened to us... [insert reassuring story]." I kept waiting, but all I got was, "Wow. That's scary." In case you've happened upon this blog because your child has stopped walking, I have no idea what to tell you. DT thinks (and I'm inclined to believe him) that Rocco had a longstanding strep infection that led to an inflammatory process of some sort that made walking impossible. We don't know if it was a hip, both hips, his back, or what. The diagnosis of toxic synovitis was thrown around some, and it seems appropriate, if not quite as snappy as "refusal to ambulate." This was all complicated by a bout with roseola that started just as he kicked the strep infection. There's nothing like spiking a high fever just after finishing antibiotics to make you wonder what in hell is going on with your child.

All I know is that I'm thrilled not to be going back to the doctor for yet another copay, I mean, follow-up today, and I'm vaguely optimistic that when I take Rocco and WonderGirl for their well-child checks in a couple of weeks they may, actually, be well children.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The sound of one neuron firing

I haven't been doing much dissertating lately. With Rocco's mystery illness and doctor visits, WonderGirl's fall break and our recent (much-needed) trip away for a long weekend, I've been away from school quite a bit. Both Rocco and WonderGirl have class parties later this week (different afternoons, dodged a bullet there), and DT has needed to cover lots of extra clinic shifts lately, so I'm picking up WonderGirl from school most days, which means leaving my office by 2:45pm.

A better person would probably make this work. Someone else could sit down and get six solid hours of work out of a six-hour workday. It wouldn't be an immense amount of progress, but it would be obvious progress. Me? I end up spending more time than I'd like catching up on email, blogs, the most interesting forum on the internet, and frankly, my own sanity. My only alone time comes during the day, so that's when I take it. Lately, though, with all of the other things going on, I haven't had the alone time at school, and when I do have downtime at home, I spend it decompressing from parenting instead of spending it getting little incremental pieces of schoolwork done.

Again, a better person would snap out of this more easily than I have. My habit is to let a lack of progress wash over me like molasses. I get overwhelmed and depressed that I'm not getting anything productive done, so I sit around and mope until it's time to pick up the kids. Then, of course, I'm disappointed in myself that I still didn't get anything done. A month ago, I was feeling flush with optimism -- my paper was accepted and in press, my new project was moving steadily (if not quickly), and my work ethic was impeccable. Now, um, yeah.

Not much to report, except that it will be a freaking miracle if I do my proposal this semester.

In an effort to break out of this, I present my goals for today: grade the quizzes for the class I'm TAing, begin the report on my research rotation, email my advisor about the problem that has my research stuck. If there's extra time: stop beating myself up.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The workers unite

How the mighty have fallen. I just got a spam email from Billy Bragg.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Confessions of a reality TV virgin

We don't watch much TV in our house -- we do record The Daily Show and Colbert every day, but don't have any other regular habits. (When basketball season rolls around, we more than make up for our below-average screen time, but sadly, we're not quite there yet.) Last night, in a strange coincidence I can only describe as Unusual, the kids were in bed, DT was occupied, the dishes were washed (helps when you don't cook), lunches were made (helps when you forget to take your already-made lunch from the previous day), and I had time to work on knitting a hat I've promised to WonderGirl.

I turned on the TV for a bit of distraction, but not so much that I would mysteriously and consistently drop stitches, leading to a hat full of holes instead of yarn, which I would unsuccessfully attempt to repair, and which might, even now, be sitting at the bottom of a tote bag, cleverly disguised as a knotted ball of yarn with no hat-like qualities. For instance. In any case, the first channel I checked was showing Dancing With the Stars. I'd heard of it, and I am an upapologetic fan of Jerry Springer's radio show, so I left it on.

It was great. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I enjoyed watching. The dances were fun, Emmitt Smith was amusing; I actually Tivo'ed it for WonderGirl to watch later. Here is my question: have I completely lost my standards? Have I not kept myself in TV watching shape, and has my crap-ometer gone on the fritz? My only previous reality-TV experience was the first season of Survivor, so perhaps I'm just reacting to the genre. I don't think I'll make a point of watching another show, but I did leave it on until nearly the end.

I'm either pathetic or a pioneer, not sure which.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The girl hair conundrum

Proving that the Scheduling Gods have a sense of humor, DT is the parent who picks WonderGirl up from school on Tuesdays, aka Ballet Days. It's the only day he can reliably leave work early enough to get her, and (I think) they both enjoy the Dad/daughter time. She has a snack, then he takes her to ballet, gets her dressed in her regulation-pink leotard and regulation-pink tights, and makes sure she doesn't walk in the parking lot in her regulation-expensive ballet shoes.

When she started ballet at this studio, I knew it was a bit more traditional than the 8-week ballet sessions she'd been doing at the local Y. There were prescribed colors to be worn by each level of dancer, frou-frou Disney princess ballet skirts were scrupulously not allowed, costume fees were equal to the GDP of small neighborhoods (let's assume that metric actually exists), and the "real" recital by the older classes requires a ticket for admission.

Along with all of this came the entreaty that we pull our daughters' hair back into a bun for class. I never expected this to actually happen on WonderGirl's head; my sole bow to the request has been that I make sure she starts the day with a ponytail. Past that? Not much I can do. Then, two weeks ago, she left class with a typed, 11-point set of directions for making a bun. Two of the steps include hairspray; four include bobbie pins. The word "wispies" is used.

Watching DT read the steps was one of the funnier moments I've had in a while. The man can get blood from a 26-week preemie; he can execute the necessary joint locks to stabilize a 350-pound twelve-year-old; he can (somewhat) navigate the new Medicaid HMO system. He cannot, apparently, make a bun out of girl hair. I'm curious to see how far the studio will take things, because rarely have I seen him so riled with the injustice of a request as when he realized they would expect him to create order out of the chaos that is WonderGirl's head.


Rocco is perceptibly better. (Again, let's just assume "perceptibly" is a word.) He is standing a bit more on his own power and has taken a few steps here and there. He's not normal, though. We went to the doctor yesterday and had some reassuring bloodwork results. Our usual pediatrician expects it may take a few more days, but that the issue will resolve on its own. The current diagnosis is toxic synovitis resulting from a previous viral infection, of which there have been many. (The official ER diagnosis? "Refusal to ambulate." Uh, yeah. After making fun of the ER diagnosis, what did our pediatrician write on the billing sheet? Two guesses. Oh, look, you only needed one guess!)

Last night, he had the strength and energy to walk around in circles, cackling in shared hilarity with WonderGirl. (Circles on purpose, or left hip lagging behind, I don't know...) Watching them was good for my heart, and I'm feeling a bit more confident that he's going to be okay. Truth is, I'm exhausted from worrying, though. I want a boring, healthy week, and I want it now.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More things I've learned

1. Unlike chest X-rays, sandbags aren't necessary for hip X-rays.
2. A child that stops standing or walking over the course of a couple of days is a scary thing.
3. I should trust myself when I think that the lab switched rapid strep tests and ask persistently for a re-test.
4. Pharmacists who work at 2:45am and fill your prescription in under 3 minutes are wonderful people.
5. Getting an X-ray at midnight is much quicker than getting one at noon.
6. Nurses who take 20 minutes to draw 5 cc's of blood from a one-year-old, then get irritated at the child's crying, making helpful comments such as, "It's not really that bad," probably should reconsider that career move from school counseling to nursing.
7. Although having a pediatrician in the family is wonderful when you're not sure if someone has an ear infection or not, having a pediatrician in the family when someone has more unusual symptoms isn't easy for anyone. The discussion over whether to head to the ER goes from, "What did the on-call pediatrician say? Okay, then I'm going," to "Well, it could just be viral aches, or it could be muscular dystrophy, or it could be arthritis, or it could be a really freaking huge worm that is eating our son FROM THE INSIDE OUT!"

Rocco is sleeping now, and we're hopeful that he will start walking again in the next couple of days. The current thought is that his strep infection is giving him hip pain and leading to his reluctance to use the lower half of his body for anything other than scratching me with his toenails. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Depression and mothering

I'll admit it. I read Dooce. I like her comic timing; I'm intrigued by her obsession with her husband's clogs; I like being able to read most of her posts in under a minute. Part of me, like about 200,000 other people, feels like I know her in at least a slightly personal way. That's why her most recent post, her 32-month letter to her daughter, took me slightly aback.

I was reading merrily along - funny plane trip story, check, story turns poignant and revealing, check, cute pictures, check, discussion of Leta's diet, check, analysis that the whole family will be glad they can go back and read later after Leta's grown up, check, sudden and cutting description of Heather's depression - wha? With just a few sentences, she nailed it. The end:

I had hoped that I would never find myself this low again — I would not wish this crushing emptiness on my worst enemy — but now that I am here I’m not quite sure what to do this time, except trust that you and your father will stick by me, will be here when I do feel better.

And so I apologize that my depression is a part of your life, but I also promise that I will do everything I can to fight it so that your memories of me are not painful. So that my memories of you will be in color.

My own mother suffered from depression, and there's really not much I feel like I can say about it. It was hard for her, and it was hard for the rest of the family. She resisted taking "happy pills," which to be fair, weren't quite as well-accepted then as they are now, and there is a part of me that has never understood that. She didn't want to artificially change who she was, and it was her decision. End of story. There wasn't the common lay acceptance then that depression has physical roots.

Now that I'm a mother, too, and I've had my own bout with milder depression after Celeste died, I can more vividly appreciate what my own mom went through and what Dooce describes. There is a spiralling pull of wanting to be a good mom but just not being able to do the things you imagine. Mix in an intense fear that your low points will be all your kids will remember. It's unforgiving. My heart goes out to depressed moms and dads, those in our family and those I've never met. I hope, as Dooce wrote, that they can also trust that they will feel better, and that their partners and kids will still be there. Years later, I'm still working on completely forgiving my own mom for not doing everything she could to mitigate her depression. Sometimes seeing things from both sides doesn't actually make it easier.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Finally, a secret handshake

Like so many other women who have dealt with infertility and/or pregnancy loss, I've wished in the past for a secret handshake, some way to affirm that, even though I have two kids, I have been there. Some way to affirm that I know.

Now, the good women over at Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters have come up with a plan. Paz writes:

For anyone who has ever had a miscarriage, struggled with pregnancy, and all things infertile...there is a movement upon us that you might want to join. It's rather simple actually: a discreet ribbon on your right wrist to signal to others that they are not alone in their struggles.

As someone who has had 5 m/c but am currently 5 months pregnant (YEAH), I wonder who looks at my big belly with sadness because they are in the month-to-month struggle. I mentioned to a friend that I wished there was some secret nod or international sign as if to say, this belly was hardwon. Well, she posted this quandary on her blog and the response has been quite overwhelming...and a movement has been born!

The pomegranate-colored thread holds a two-fold purpose: to identify and create community between those experiencing infertility as well as create a starting point for a conversation. Women pregnant through any means, natural or A.R.T., families created through adoption or surrogacy, or couples trying to conceive during infertility or secondary infertility can wear the thread, identifying themselves to others in this silent community. At the same time, the string serves as a gateway to conversations about infertility when people inquire about its purpose. These conversations are imperative if we are ever to remove the social stigma attached to infertility.Tie on the thread because you’re not alone. Wear to make aware. Join us in starting this conversation about infertility by purchasing this pomegranate-coloured thread (#814 by DMC) at any craft, knitting, or variety store such as Walmart or Target. Tie it on your right wrist. Notice it on others.
Why pomegranate thread?
Pomegranates, a longstanding symbol of fertility, serve as a strong analogy to those suffering through infertility. Though each pomegranate skin is unique in colour and texture, the seeds inside are remarkably similar from fruit to fruit. Though our diagnosis is unique—endometriosis, low sperm count, luteal phase defect, or causes unknown—the emotions, those seeds on the inside, are the same from person to person. Infertility creates frustration, anger, depression, guilt, and loneliness. Compounding these emotions is the shame that drives people suffering from infertility to retreat into silence.
I think this is a wonderful idea, and I'll be buying my thread tomorrow. If this symbol becomes even 2% as pervasive as livestrong bracelets or pink ribbons, it is bound to help someone.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What I have learned during my extended blogging absence:

  1. Sandbags are useful not only during hurricanes, but also during chest x-rays for toddlers.
  2. We are always told "If the fever persists for more than x days, call your doctor." Why? So that your doctor can say, "If it gets worse, come back." When your child is spending the majority of his time crying and refuses to eat, it is fairly difficult to decide what "worse" means.
  3. "Worse" means "not breathing well." Luckily, we never saw "worse."
  4. A thermometer which stops moving quickly once it gets to the 97-degree range is a beautiful thing.
  5. A thermometer which then betrays you by shooting way past 97 degrees the very next day is... not a beautiful thing.
  6. A side effect of ibuprofen can be... wait for it... fever.
  7. A side efffect of fever can be heavy wine consumption for the surrounding area.