Out of Office

I was in Kruger National Park sneaking up on a cheetah when my radio beeped loudly and I lost the moment. It wasn’t the first time I’d ignored my boss on that trip, though in retrospect, talking to her would have been preferable to listening to my ex complain about the early hour for elephant watching. Mind, she ranked right up there with my number one worst boss who, on my first day at work in my very first real job, asked me to crutch seven blocks and then berated me not only for being too slow but for having broken my ankle in the first place.


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At the time of the cheetah sighting I was on vacation and remained connected to civilization and the Embassy (we’re talking post-9/11, mid-Anthrax) by radio as required by the friendly neighborhood security officer. I was on vacation. I wasn’t working. I was vacationing.

I learned quickly that in the Foreign Service you need to be in between somewheres to not be working. Otherwise, the emails are piling up, the deadlines are shorter, the bosses shriller. Regardless, I placed a priority on work-life balance and took the shrillness and heat that came with it. There was heat, my friends. Some people don’t understand the meaning of the word vacation.

I am also very firmly in the don’t-check-your-email camp. It’s hard to avoid working when it’s so so easy to hit the mail icon on your phone. I don’t take calls or check my voicemail ever, much to my mother’s (and telemarketers) dismay. It’s vacation. Right? Turn it off and mentally rejuvenate.

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But it turns out that the work that piles up when you’re away starts to be more stressful than actually doing it. And when your mother calls and says, “By the way, we’re going out of town the week you needed us to watch RR AND we need you to dog sit Duncan*. Pity it’s when you planned your vacation.” and your wife says, “Oh but look! We can move it to the following week (profanity about your mother redacted).” then you’ll say, “Fair enough.”, completely forgetting that you are tied to the academic year and everyone else took their vacations LAST week and everything, everything, is happening the week you’ll be gone.

And you are trying very hard to get a promotion by being very awesome and it’s hard to be awesome when you aren’t actually there.

And so here I am. Feeling relieved that I’ll be working, at least a little, while I’m on vacation. I won’t be awesome, but I won’t be feeling overwhelmed when I get back. I think I’ve picked the lesser of the two evils. I hope so.

 

*Upon looking for a link to give you so that you could reacquaint yourselves with Duncan, I realized that I had not told you nearly enough about how overwhelming he is. Fortunately, my wife captured it here, here, and here. Since we’re dog sitting this week, I was up at the obscene hour of 6am to keep him from barking himself crazy. I sat in the recliner and watched Face Off. Don’t judge.

Turns Out It’s Bad Guys

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You guys, the inevitable slide into peer influence has begun. I always thought it would be words we don’t use* or some sort of violent swordplay, which we could handle. There have been hints that this was coming. For example she said, “hey hey hey lemme see lemme see” when she noticed I was reading something unfamiliar. She also tried out some version of nany nany boo boo and, when asked who said that, blamed it quickly on another little girl. I know we can’t keep the outside world at bay (and we don’t want to) but then bad guys showed up and with it my personal line in the sand.

I didn’t even know it was a line, you guys. But then there it was, it turns out the line is bad guys. Frankly, I might prefer fuck.**

I even know where the exposure came from. Not school, but my dad. Not local hoods leaning up against trashcans and flicking ash in the street, but friends.

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It’s not like she doesn’t get exposure to what we’d all agree are bad guys. For example, I have a video game she loves to watch and while a part of it is gathering lovely purple flowers another part is sticking an arrow in folks who are out to get my flower-gathering guy. For awhile we had her sold that I was simply putting them to sleep (as they silently crumpled to the ground). Now she clearly gets that some characters have malicious intent and we’ve got to manage the situation. Debra and I have spent some time explaining why flower-gathering-guy has to do this without relying on good/bad. Flower-gathering-guy has issues, obviously, since he’s storming into other people’s castles and breaking open their safes. He is not all good. And those other guys have a short fuse, which is why old flower-gathering-guy sometimes ends up falling down and starting over. After all, they are protecting their shit, it’s reasonable that they’d be upset. Talking about motivation with regard to characters in a video game seems bizarre but it works for us.

I know, some of you are aghast that I’d let my child watch something on a screen, let alone a video game. I’m pretty sure if I were a good parent I wouldn’t have a blog at all and RR would be potty-trained. So that’s settled.

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All this is to say that my dad – totally naturally, I might add – referred to flower-gathering-guy’s opponents as bad guys. And then we hung out with some kids who were quick to show RR who the bad guy toys were and demonstrate how they should interact with the good guy toys. At that point I realized I wasn’t ok with a no-shades-of-grey view of morality. It was also when I realized that I overthink things (I’m just saying it so you all don’t have to. I have flaws.). Debra and I just aren’t down with the idea of categorizing every toy in black as a bad guy. We don’t dig the fact that good guys are invincible, infallible champions of right. We don’t like TV shows geared to kids that feature villains with no redeeming qualities.

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I want her to think about people and things as a whole without relying on a flat characterization given to her by someone else. That’s asking a lot of my almost four-year-old but, since she isn’t wasting time on the potty, she’s got time to work on this concept. This hamstrings us a bit. For example, we can’t tell her that people who pull up next to her and offer her candy are bad guys. We have to tell her that she cannot approach strangers in cars at all (unless they are in uniform and in public – and dude, even that isn’t safe).

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We’ve got our own shades of grey here, of course. So she plays with kids who are/have bad guys. That’s not different from coming home having played princesses. It’s just kids. It’s why we’re parents so that we can live with these small people and bring them up in line with our family’s values. But we’re biting the bullet and asking our most frequent houseguests and promoters of bad guys that when they stay over they join us in steering the kids toward other kinds of play. I’m pretty sure that makes us total assholes. We’re not scolding the kids, or asking anyone to make grand proclamations, we’re just hoping for an alliance that turns bad guy play into sandcastles, tag, and that weird game where they slam doors and shriek.

Chalk this up to another parenting surprise. Who knew?

 

*Except that recent weekend where a car pulled into a parking space we were headed for and I emphatically said ASSHOLE and RR repeated it, turning it over and over like a shiny rock and saying it loud and clear. We convinced her that I said A SOL – and that I was really calling noting that the man driving looked like our cat, Sol***.

 

**Yeah, not really.

 

***ASOL

Peaceful Parenting

Last week, RR smacked me right in the face. Sometimes she gets a wild hair and it sparks in her eyes, flies down her arm, and her hand flies out and whap! Usually you can see it coming. There’s a certain sort of stop in time and, if you’re fast, you can catch her wrist before she catches you. It’s almost as if being three is too much for her little soul and sometimes it spills right out.

My reactions vary in response but they usually fall into the “don’t do that, please” arena and we both go our own ways. I imagine she feels about as chastised as I feel authoritative but since she’s not hitting anyone else, I figure it’s a draw. This is fine with my wife and I but it’s not just my wife and I anymore and so I’m walking the line between what I would do and what my parents think I should do*.

And so there we were, sitting in the frozen moment. RR’s hand is still in the air, her eyes are gleaming, my cheek pink and hot, my parents staring, waiting. RR is waiting, too. Can she do it again? Should she? What will happen? I saw her bicep tense, just a little, and I seized her out of her chair, slung her under my arm and outside we went.

What my parents think happened: Stern language. Getting right. Tears due to being talked to.

What actually happened: We sat on the front steps, her eyes welling with tears, chest starting to heave, and I asked her what she heard. Cars she said. Maybe, mama, a truck. We listened. I asked her what she could see. I pointed out the new stars, the pink in the sky. She showed me a bird on a wire. I asked her what she smelled: sky, trees, cold. I asked her what she felt and ran her fingers over the smooth iron railing. She smiled, trailing little fingertips over the black paint, stopping at the rough spots. I smiled back at her.

I said, please don’t hit me. She thought about it said, okay, stroked my face. She was sincere. We came back in to approving glances from my parents. Discipline, my parents thought – quiet but strict. Agreement, I thought. Peace. A better relationship with my daughter. Success.

 

Note: I recognize that I could ignore my parents completely but I’ll be honest, in every way that involves my mother, the best path is the one that makes me cry the least. I choose not to ignore them.

Perspective

It’s far too soon, I think, for much perspective on our decision to stay with only one child. When I say it like that, I’m reminded of my monthly poker game wherein we all have code names and I never stay soon enough causing my to lose all my nickels and dimes. Accepting the cards dealt and making the most of them isn’t my usual strategy (in life or in poker). In this case, however, going all in wasn’t a financially or emotionally (and possibly even physically) feasible.

That said, the evidence is mounting in favor of having only one child. I’m sure, if I were pregnant, I’d be finding similar optimism. I’m reminded frequently how wonderful RR is and how much I value life as it is. I value my sleep and my emotional reservoir that means I can be patient even when the situation is spiraling away from me. But I see little cracks here and there that make me grateful we stopped when we did. This morning I snapped at the dog for panting too near me. I can only imagine how I’d handle a second human hollering for breakfast.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had moments of awkward instability. Every day for six months I’ve thought about what my body is doing and how it is feeling in relation to being pregnant. I noticed when I must have ovulated and how odd it was not to have tracked it. I sat there, considering my underwear and contemplating trees falling in the forest. It turns out everything happened as usual, even though I’m not watching it happen.

It’s amazing how much time assisted conception takes. I’m envious (always have been) of couples who can take a quick roll in the hay and turn up pregnant. Whose medical intervention only begins once the stick turns positive. Instead there are phone calls and blood draws, ovary checks and IUIs, medicine check-ins and follow-ups. This month, without the punctuation of the fertility clinic, feels both endless and fast-paced. A combination that wreaks havoc with my mental state (another plus one for the only child route).

Every morning I wake up and remind myself to stay in the moment. My wife’s strategy, a good one I think, in theory, is to plan ahead, identify moments of happiness and interesting events. Meanwhile, I’m torn between reminding myself to take one thing at a time so as not to be overwhelmed (this has nothing to do with children or lack thereof but has to do with my own internal balance, which I suppose you could argue is directly tied to the former) and acknowledging that looking toward the future is a good thing to do. Debra is right, the dark days of winter are coming and it’s unwise to plunge into them without a list of things to be excited about.

That said, here’s a bit of now and it’s absolutely beautiful.

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(Complicated)

I’ve always been the sort of person things work out for. Even when those things are long shots. It’s little things like needing to leave my bike and having forgotten my lock just as a friend ambles by and has time to stand watch for five minutes. It’s big things like deciding I’d like to join the Foreign Service and then vaulting right through the (lengthy, competitive) process and into employment. At the time, the odds were 200 hires for every 30,000 applicants. Long shot indeed. Especially for someone who knew no languages (officially) and had read zero foreign policy/international affairs news (ever).

I don’t win contests (usually) but I do win in general (prepare, plan, cover all the bases) and I can’t believe I’m just not going to have a baby (probably). To be clear, I don’t think I deserve or am entitled to the good things that happen. But I do accept that they happen and I’m happy for it. Lots of supremely terrible stuff (brain surgery, that was fun) happens to me, too, and I don’t deserve that either. I’ll tell you though, even when things do derail me, something always happen to save the situation. Evidence:

In college, I routinely broke down in the desert miles from any help. Every single time someone happened by to assist. Once, two threatening men in a tinted window sedan (saved by an elderly couple pulling up right behind them). Another time on my way to a flight to a job interview (saved by I kid you not a menacing looking circus clown in a panel van). On Halloween, a man in a pick-up with guns piled on the seats (given a cookie by his wife in a perfectly normal looking subdivision 10 heart-swallowing miles away).

Also in college, at 2am on the way back from that really disastrous interview (made the flight but blew two tires in a rental car in the snow), I stopped the car from exhaustion. There was too much fog, I hadn’t eaten or slept in more than 12 hours. I didn’t even bother to pull on to the shoulder. But, when the fog cleared for a moment, I saw that I was already on the shoulder, pointed off the road, and had stopped not twenty feet from the edge of a steep canyon.

Things work out for me.

I’m surprised that having a baby is not working out (I was equally surprised that my tubes were clear and that my equipment was well prepared to have a baby). I think I was coasting along assuming there would be a hail mary delivering us a child. Admittedly, my timeline was (is) short and we could keep trying but we talked about it and tried to make the decision in a sane place. Finding a week to do that without hormones was not easy.

I don’t think I can rule out another try completely and I am sitting on an egg at the moment. If you’re at all superstitious, we were in a different room for this IUI. The doctor was wearing a bow tie instead of scrubs. I ovulated earlier than expected. In fact, we nearly missed it since I started checking for ovulation later than usual expecting a kit change on the 19th. We now know which of the staff have kids and how they are doing. We’ve started recognizing and making friends with other patients in the waiting room. It’s time to be done. It’s okay to be done. It’s hard to be done. But I’m done.

Surely You Mean Congratualtions

I always thought eloping was romantic. Or, at least, perfectly practical (and romantic) especially when saddled with feuding in-laws, controlling parents, or judgmental friends. Depending on the location, it is a practical money-saver, too, with weddings typically being enormous, drooling, cash-consuming, beasts. And, if you’re an introvert, eloping ensures you won’t have to spend an evening with people you love but wish would just go home. I don’t know whether it’s adulthood, or marriage, or parenthood or a combination of the three, but I’m not so sure I dig elopements (how is that even a word?) anymore.

I’ll be honest with you because, let’s face it, I am always honest with you (much to everyone’s discomfort I expect) and tell you that suddenly eloping seems somewhat shameful. I saw some of you bristle just then right through my screen. I know. The outrage. I could never expect to understand your situation! And I don’t. I don’t understand it. But I’m not questioning it. I’m not even thinking about it as I wish you congratulations because that’s the only acceptable thing to say when someone marries (or otherwise has a happy event). My approval is certainly not necessary or sought and is, of course, irrelevant to the wonderful happiness you are experiencing. You, dear readers, would never do such a thing, but I have seen people’s curiosity get the better of them to the point where it seemed questioning or expressing shock was the appropriate answer. Congratulations. THAT is the appropriate answer.

All things considered, Debra and I eloped. In our case, we couldn’t imagine how to bring our families together to celebrate what, to them, wasn’t something real. I mean, it’s real. And they are supportive, and have always been except for that one spot of time but now it’s over and done with thank goodness, but to them marriage comes with a certificate and a person of god. As gay individuals in the state of Virginia, we were short on the certificate side which, frankly, rendered the rest of it irrelevant.

Here’s what we did do: we spent months talking about the where, when and how. We ordered 100 creamy roses, we bought rings and clothing, we wrote vows, we dreamed of and ordered a wedding cake, we rented a house on the beach and then, in front of seagulls, exchanged vows barefoot in the sand. There was no certificate, but even our families would have conceded god was present. We called our parents when we cut the cake. We sent announcements from the local post office the next day. It was right for us, just as everyone else’s ceremony (or lack thereof) is right for them.

Since the only appropriate word inward is congratulations, I turn outward to wonder, why elope? Why suddenly show up married having not even told close friends? Why skip the trappings of celebration? Are you afraid someone will talk you out of it? Are you ashamed of your decision? Are you worried there will be judgement? In the social media age, why does your status update elicit so much of this ?!@#!? Does none of that make you question the decision itself? There aren’t hard and fast answers to any of it and, obviously, it’s none of my business. Congratulations!

I’m thinking a lot about marriage these days, anyway. I’m a little jealous of my gay friends* who head off to be married (in droves, now that there are benefits involved) and I wonder at our decision to stand fast, unmarried, until we can marry in our own state and be recognized equally. Does that protest have power? I waffle somewhat and then am stymied by the details and questions. How is this different than it was in 2005? We can still go to Massachusetts (or a number of closer states) to be married, just as we could then. And it will have no meaning in our own state, just as it did then. Our families still live far away and we would still have to explain that our shiny new certificate means little but confusion in our own state. We’re not so bull-headed as to stay on the other side of the fence if there are real financial benefits to be had from filing together. That remains to be seen and is a decision best suited to our financial manager. Funny, isn’t it, that a man named Rex in Chesapeake, Virginia could tell us to get married and we would.

I’m only going to marry Debra once (more) and I want to be able to do so without a single shadow in my mind. But if Rex says the word and it seems that yes, the benefit is significant, we’ll do another version of eloping. We’ll head to some courthouse, in a state not our own, with our families and friends far away and exchange solitary vows. I’m not digging elopements these days. But congratulations, by god, congratulations.

*You and I (some of us anyway), we have mutual friends (or readerships, if you don’t want to go that far) that went recently to get married. And we are so proud and happy for them. It says more about me than I’ve written here that I think their marriage is a beautiful, perfect, wonderful, totally, deserved, special thing and the only word in my mind is congratulations, inward OR outward.

Also, if you made it this far you probably have plenty to add to the conversation. Whether you plan to share it or not, suffice to say that as always, I’m just having an opinion however uninformed or outrageous it is. Vive la différence.

 

And THAT’S Why I Haven’t Called

My mother emailed this week. I was just wondering, she said, if potty training was going badly. That must be why you haven’t called, she helpfully added.

She’s right though. I’m conspicuously absent even in my own head. As if drawing attention to myself will out me as a terrible parent and unreasonable partner, equally unsuccessful at both. One who can’t figure out how to work a toddler. One who can’t figure out how to work her own body. One who leaves her wife in the lurch to keep the house running. I’m getting the better of myself here. I’m not having much fun being me. And so no, mom, I haven’t called. Be thankful.

The last two weeks have been ridiculously difficult. RR screams and cries a lot. I tried to come up with a better word than a lot but constantly seemed harsh; she is (sort of) sleeping. You’re stuck with a lot. The last two nights she has woken up crying three or four times. Wrassling her out the door and into the car could be considered a strength training exercise. Yes, we use the word wrassling around here.

We got an email from her teachers today, suggesting that she return to diapers. Torn between cheering and crying, Debra and I split forces and she called the school director (to make sure we wouldn’t get kicked out for this eventually) and I called our doctor (to make sure we weren’t damaging RR somehow). It seems we all agree. Back to diapers, shelve the panties and pull-ups, and wait.

I think it will happen quickly, though I haven’t been right about much lately. I think she just isn’t ready right now. I also think that, when she is ready, she’ll switch with fewer problems. This? This has been killing me. Do you know what it’s like not to talk to yourself at all? No internal thoughts? Nothing other than: Time to do this. Now this. Now stop doing that and do this. It’s like I somehow unintentionally got on auto-pilot. New school, new semester, new students, potty training, tantrums, wake-ups, whining, weeping. There’s no ROOM for any thoughts.

Back to diapers we go. Tell you what, it’s going to be a MUCH nicer weekend.

 

 

Tick

Did you know, that ten years ago I wanted a baby like nobody’s business? I hied myself to the doctor in order to get right with my various challenges and said to my partner. I’m going to have a baby. And then we’re moving to Israel for work. Just as soon as I lose weight.

There’s a lot to unpack there. Including the fact that the partner in question was not a partner at all but a nuisance,  a menace, and all around bad idea. Turns out, my chosen profession was an all around bad idea too, not least because it was a contributor to some of my more serious health barriers. I started ditching those issues one at a time and I’ve got nearly all of them sorted…ten years later. And that biological clock? Silent, the whole time.

Before you ask, I don’t have a good reason. Three weeks ago, I didn’t want another child (let alone to carry one) and now I do. So D and I put our heads together and weighed the pros and cons. You know us by now. You know we’ve got color samples on the walls from two years ago. But you know what? Every single important (and successful) decision we’ve made has been made in under 24-hours. That’s how I became a librarian, how we adopted a dog, ended up in a new city, bought a house, and had RR.

There’s not much more to explain. Let me tell you, I’m well aware that folks might ask. It’s not as though I’m an ideal baby mama. I have, politely, issues. I’ve told my doctors (see: issues) that D was the better candidate. That yes I was sure. That no I didn’t want to carry. That no I didn’t want another one. There’s no answer but to say I’ve changed my mind.

You’ll notice the S on doctors. D and I popped into see our beloved family doctor last week. She gave her blessing and soothed my each and every fear – which, I’ll have you know, took a full 30 minutes WITHOUT repeating anything. Today, I’m on my way to cross the next hurdle, medication that, if discontinued, will require attention and care. Next week, it’s the fertility clinic armed, hopefully, with answers to most of the inevitable health questions. Assuming a go ahead, we’ll get to trying.

I am, shall we say, distinguished. Grey. Grizzled. Practically ancient. I might be the proud owner of an inhospitable environment. On the other hand, I might be awesome and that makes it worth a try. I hope the fertility clinic sees it that way. In the meantime, stay tuned for antics regarding tea, fertility masks and, maybe, moon water. Oh, it’s about to get weird.

Starfish Hands

The talented Andrea Badgley used the expression “starfish hands” in a post today about Euchre and I immediately tumbled into a pit of “I can never appreciate my baby enough! Starfish hands! So perfect, so dimpled, so true! Argh! The humanity!” Yeah, my wife thinks living with me is the tops.

If my wife could birth a thousand pairs of tiny, fat, baby starfish hands that struggle to grasp perfectly, that smear snot, that get sticky from god knows what, that touch my face so, so softly when I’m telling stories, that wipe tears from big, gorgeous eyes, that topple blocks, that lay curl quietly around a stuffed bunny in sleep AND I wouldn’t have to mother those hands, I’d tell her to get on it and fast. Baby making ahoy! But the fact is, I’m good at parenting one child. I’d be a poor mother to two children. Let alone 1000.

I like to think I’d be a good mother. That my stores of patience would grow with every diaper changed. But I think I’d be so stressed about money and about doing it better the second time that Id forget to notice things like tiny fat hands. I do check now and then to see if I’m appreciating every detail of every moment (no pressure there) and I feel like I’m doing pretty well. I’m falling down on the job photographing her, but it’s hard to capture something that moves at the speed of light.

She’ll be able to play cards herself someday. Tie shoes. Make her own breakfast. Go out with friends. Those starfish hands will be long gone and since I’m tearing up right now, I’m not going to finish that thought. Or this paragraph.

You know what I’ll be doing tonight? Kissing little fingers. Assuming I can get them clean first…

 

Traded

We’ve entered a whole new phase wherein RR assigns value to everything and that value is calculated by an arcane and complex formula which is perfectly logical, mama.  For example, peanut butter is not as good as television but television has equal value to crackers covered in peanut butter.  All snacks are inferior to grapes unless those snacks are being cut and prepared on the counter with a big, sharp knife.  Knives outrank the toy bus which outranks the other toy bus.  But only on some days.  Holding the highest value of all are the stuffed bear, pacifier, and bunny that she sleeps with.  Come between them and she. will. cut. you.  Knives, remember?

Somewhere she picked up the concept of trading and now we have a day trader on our hands who thinks nothing of mortgaging our house for 20 swings at the park.  She has to be cut off, you guys, or we’d be living in a cardboard box underneath the swingset pushing her until our arms fell off*.  Rest assured, we quickly learned to work this in our favor and have traded her into her pajamas practically every night this week.  You’d be amazed at what a hairbrush will buy.

On Sunday morning, I attempted to give D a rare morning off (coffee>sleep – the kid isn’t the only one who knows what things are worth) and fetched RR when she started hollering.  In a new form of playing favorites, I scooped her up and she thrust her bear/bunny/pacifier at me and said, “trade for mama.”  It was like a dragon offering up her hoard.  The gleam in her eye indicated she knew exactly what she was doing:

Hmmmm…what is mama’s most treasured thing?  Mama.  And since she knows that this is my most treasured thing, when I give her this, she can’t help but give me mama.  I can’t wait to ask for the car.

I am obviously far less skilled at this shell game.  I handed over mama like the patsy I am.  Admittedly, since she’ll try any angle to get to her mother, I wasn’t at all surprised.  I was surprised this morning when, half covered in a towel and dripping wet, *I* got traded for.  I have to admit, my heart soared a little.  I’m in the big leagues, baby!

 

Updates:
–We gave her a pillow, top sheet, and blanket and we’re getting a full 12 hours of silence every night.  Bless her heart.  “I was cold, mama.”
–Also, we visited one Montessori school on Tuesday.  I might or might not have teared up when the director told me they were allowed to run outside and play with bugs.  We applied.  Frankly, anyone who is pro dirt and uses the term “back forty” in all sincerity while discussing the pros of using goats to mow poison ivy is someone with whom I want my daughter to be associated.

*We’re one step ahead of you! We’ve taught her to pump her legs and she’ll be a pro in no time.