Monday, November 6, 2017


My grandmother knew how to bear hardship, how to bend with the unfairness of fate and yet never break. She knew how to suffer loss and not become bitter. She knew how to sacrifice her comfort for the well-being of another and not resent it. She knew how to love generously and unflinchingly not once, but a hundred times over. Hers was a heart that expanded to fit all of us, immediately and without reservation.

My grandmother was a ballerina. A pianist. A war-time truck driver. A social butterfly who could make even the most awkward among us feel interesting, listened to, included. Perhaps that’s why my grandfather, a very smart but not very talkative man, fell head over heels for that charming girl and danced all night with her on their first date. She laughed when she told me, decades later, that the truth is, he actually didn’t like to dance at all. But he wouldn’t let anyone else cut in. My grandmother was the kind of girl you wanted to dance with, whether you liked dancing or not.

My grandmother was a stickler for polite self-expression. She taught us all to refrain from that gross, uncouth phrase: I don’t like it. No, no. We who were lucky enough to be trained by her know to say, when it must be said at all, that we do not care for it. She was opinionated, she knew her own mind and was unafraid to express dissent. She just did it politely, with the grace of a woman who had lived her life equally well among flower shops and lead mines, wide open forests and printing presses.

My grandmother lived a very long life. More than nine decades of it, in fact. She came into the world at a time when wireless radios were still a novelty, before the stock market fell, when there had only been one world war. Nearly 94 years later she leaves in her wake a world made better by her capacity to love, her ability to find light even in tragedy, and her willingness to embrace us just the way we are. And even though she had lived such a long life. And even though she was ready, at the end, to reunite with the boy she danced all night with all those years ago. We ache at the loss of a woman who loved us even more, if such is possible, than we loved her. And we do not care for it, Grandma. We do not care for it at all.

Friday, November 6, 2015


I wish there were a way to adequately record the exact sound of my alarm every morning. The surprisingly loud thumping of tiny feet as a small whirlwind hurls herself down the hallway and bursts through my bedroom door at six am, her wild and curly hair poking out in all directions, her tiny hands shoving beloved animals and books at me, before demanding to be hauled into my bed herself to be snuggled and kissed and told that she is even more wonderful today than yesterday.

I would not wish to record the high pitches squeals of rage she makes when the laws of physics have once again disobeyed her. Or the look of complete malice in her eyes just before she flings half eaten food onto the floor in direct defiance of my stern look and uselessly pointed finger. Or her sobs of humiliation and betrayal as I once again pour water over her head in the exquisite torture of hair-washing.

I do not know if the good moments outnumber the bad, she and I do not keep score. I do know that when I wake up every morning, more exhausted now that ever, only half of me wants to hit the snooze button. Which is lucky, as she does not have one.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Working It

"I work from home."

I feel like this is the punchline to the joke that is my daily routine. It sounds so clean and easy. I get up, I put on some pants, I boot up the laptop, and I get all productive up in here. Right? Tee-hee. No.

I get up, I feed a squalling baby. I go back to bed. I get up, I feed her again, I go back to bed. My husband gets up, gets ready and goes to work. I get up, fetch the now unnaturally happy baby, and together we go downstairs to start our day.

She'll only be awake for about two hours, and it's better if she gets at least one nap at home before daycare (where she is never able to sleep for any appreciable length of time). During those two hours (7am to 9am) I pretend I'm working. What I'm really doing is begging her to stop chewing on the electical chords, trying to climb the stairs, or sucking on the heating vents while I just send this one email! Just one email, baby! One!

But she'll have none of it. If I'm super lucky, she'll play happily for about an hour while I intermitently pull her off the stairs and away from electical outlets. After that hour, though, she's done. She knows what she wants and what she wants is me. Now. Right now. It doesn't matter that I'm RIGHT HERE on the other side of the play gate. It doesn't matter that I'm happily singing her songs while I desperately try to finish a work project. It doesn't matter that every thirty seconds I turn around and play peekaboo with her. No. This is not what she wants. She wants me. Not just the leftovers. Not just what I can spare while I get my work done. She wants the best of me, my full attention, all of me. And as long as I'm sitting right there next to her she'll happily play for another hour until naptime. Just so long as I'm there with her. No necessarily holding her, but available for a good snuggle whenever the mood strikes her.

I guess I'll take it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Into the woods

As much as I do miss the proximity to almost any ethnic food which we had in our little apartments, there are some upsides to living out here. One of those upsides is the fact that winding around our neighborhood are these gorgeous wooded paths that twist and turn and can easily get you lost even when they aren't covered in beautiful fall leaves.

(Believe it or not there is an asphalt path in this picture)

Not only are these miles and miles of paths ideal for an evening walk, they also lead to little hidden swings and playgrounds, right here in the woods. You never see them coming. You're just walking along, pushing a stroller with a cranky 8 month old down a leafy trail and BOOM, swing-set.

Susan was equal parts excited and terrified about this. I feel her, though. Swings are weird like that.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Space for a Tiny Nerd

Listen, eventually I'll tell you the rest of the birth story. Maybe. I mean, it's not outside the realm of possibilities. All you really need to know is that she was born, she's fine, I'm fine, we're all fine and dandy.

We spend three months after her birth in our adorable but small one bedroom condo in the oh-so-dreamy historic neighborhood we loved so very much. It was pretty great, honestly. The house was small enough that I could keep it clean pretty easily. The neighborhood was ideal for taking the stroller out for a walk. The bedroom was plenty big enough for her bassinet and a bookshelf full of her stuff. We made it work, and for those three months it worked perfectly.
You can see her little bassinet in the lower right corner here. At night we put it next to my side of the bed.
But we knew it couldn't last. Eventually she would outgrow that bassinet. Someday we would want an actual changing table, rather than just putting the changing pad on the bed as needed. One day we might even want her in a different room so we scrabble. So, we bought a house.

Hah. Hah, hah, hah. Oh that makes it sound so much easier than it really was. Picture me sitting at the computer laying out a new publication for my office, with a two-month old trying to nurse in my lap and the telephone to my ear as I talk to the lending agent on one line and my realtor on the other. This is not an exaggeration. I started working from home, handled all the financial mumbo-jumbo, did all the legal paperwork and closed on a house with an infant alternately crying at me, pooping on me, and sucking me dry. I am woman, hear me roar.

And now we live in the woods. The house is much newer, much bigger than our little rental, and it has an actual backyard (and front yard, for that matter). We even have a garage. The first big project we tackled once we got ourselves moved in was the nursery.

You know all those campaigns to get girls more excited about science careers? You know, the ones that insist there aren't enough girls interested in STEM, and that we need to tackle that problem early on in a girl's life? Well, consider this our contribution to the cause. I present to you, a very nerdy nursery for a very girly nerd:
The mobile spells out her name in periodic elements. Ten points if you know where Adamantium comes from without googling it.

The solar system mural is made of fabric, which I ironed to the wall using double-sided Pellon. It's to scale, including the sun, but I went back and doubled the size of the planets inside the asteroid belt because they seemed too dinky otherwise. And yes, Pluto is there. You just can't see him because in a compromise with my husband (who agrees with NDT on the "not a planet" thing) I hid it behind the door.
The curtain is made of fabric I designed myself and had printed at Picking out the equations to include was the fun part. Painstakingly getting them right, character by character in Illustrator was the hard part. But I'm pretty pleased with the result.

Would you like to know where I got everything? A detailed list of stores where you can get that lamp, the dresser and nightstand, that adorable crib? Okay.


The rug and little laundry basket are from Homegoods, but everything else is of quality some-assembly-requried Swedish design. Tack, Ikea!

So far, the little bug loves it. The letters on the mobile have glitter in them, and the contrast between the black letters and bright colors is fascinating to her. When we first hung it up, she stared at it for like fifteen minutes straight, waving her little hands at it and smiling. It was pretty great. The mural is an even bigger hit, though. She loves to be held up close to it while we recite the names of each of the planets in turn. We've worked it into our nightly pre-bedtime routine with her, and it's safe to say that's her favorite part of the whole routine now.

I adore this space. The walls are pained a nice neutral grey (it's actually called "quietude") and the trim is all "polar bear" white. That calming pallet with the little pops of bright colors and plenty of baby pink makes the whole place so peaceful and whimsical. I could hang out in there all day. Instead I should probably get cracking on the master suite, so I can enjoy spending time in my own room as much as my daughter's.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Birth Story Part II, In Which I Appologize for Giving Birth

My nurse's name was Sally, and she was unflappably optimistic. When we first arrived at the hospital for our prearranged induction appointment, she had been waiting for me. She somehow made me feel like this was the most exciting thing she'd ever done. Like she had gone through her entire nurse's training and all her years of experience for the sheer purpose of helping me with this baby and, boy, was it gonna be good! She even thought the tacky hospital gown they gave me was special, "Oh look, it's a cute one!" (It wasn't, but I appreciated the thought.)

Sally was the one who explained that because I wasn't progressing at all, they would need about four doses, instead of the usual single dose, of the medication to get me into labor. And, two hours after the first dose, Sally was the one who suggested I switch to a rocking chair when I started to feel really, really sick.  And Sally was the one who showed me how to rock back and forth on my heels when the pain got so bad I couldn't remember my name. 

At the time, I thought I was just being a pansy. My doctor had explained that in situations like mine where induction starts without any signs of readiness from my own body, labor can take days. I had somehow taken this information to mean that if induction started on Sunday night, I would be delivering this baby sometime on Tuesday afternoon. In retrospect, I have no logical explanation for this expectation, but that timeline seemed firm and unchangeable to me then. So when the pain and sickness started to overwhelm me within hours of the first dosage, I just sort of thought I was a loser, unable to cope with even the most minimal part of labor. We all hear stories of women who go into labor and decide to scrub the bathroom floor before they pack up for the hospital. My own mother was one of those. But I could no more have scrubbed a bathroom floor than I could have flown to the moon at that point, and I considered this a personal failure. Also, I figured I had days of this pain yet to come and it was only going to get worse. So I looked at my mom and my husband, both doing their level best to help me feel more comfortable, and said, with every expectation that they would agree with me, "I can't do this."

And my mom leaned down to me, put her hand on my shoulder and said "If I could do it for you, Sweetie, I would. But you can do this, Jenni. You can do this." And I thought, well, she's never been wrong before. So I bravely turned to Sally and asked "Isn't it time for a second dose now?"

And Sally, wonderful Sally, was surprised that I would ask. "Oh no," she said. "You're having too many contractions too hard and too fast. We can't give you any more medicine. We might need to slow you down." Wait, what? This is it? I mean, it's happening? I think I actually said "Wait, so this is real labor, then? It's not the fake stuff?" And she told me that it most definitely was real labor. Hard labor. Not the fake stuff. And that was such a relief because 30 seconds later I was once again bending over the bed shaking so hard my husband had to hold me up and shouting "EFFFF WOOOOORRDD!" (Yes really.  In the worst pain of my life I went for "Eff Word." Apparently I didn't want to offend Sally.)

It was Sally who held my hand and looked at me over the blur of the oxygen mask and assured me that my baby would be fine if I just kept breathing deeply. Hard contractions did this sometimes, but it would be okay. My baby would be okay. And it was Sally who squeezed my fingers one last time as the monitor resumed its cheery bleeping measure of my baby's steady heartbeat.

It was Sally who suggested I get some pain medication through the IV when I still felt it was too early for the epidural. I had always intended to get the epidural, but I somehow felt it was important that I wait. I was still stuck on my arbitrary Tuesday Afternoon Delivery timeline, despite the fact that my body had gone from zero dilation to four inches in about two hours. I still felt it was important that I keep it together and be strong. So instead of getting the epidural, I began a near constant stream of apologies to everyone in the room. I was sorry for crying. I was sorry for gritting my teeth.  I was sorry another contraction was coming. I was sorry I needed my mom to help hold me up. I was sorry I was shaking so hard. I was sorry it was so late. I was sorry the nurse needed to take my blood pressure. I was sorry for needing to breath so loudly. Everytime anyone said anything to me, my automatic response was "I'm sorry!" My darling husband was flabbergasted by this behavior. Here I was, shaking so hard my teeth chattered, tears spilling down my face, obviously terrified, apologizing for having a baby. It just seemed so important that I do everything I could to make this less difficult for everyone else, and I felt like I was failing. I remember saying "I'm sorry! I'm not keeping it together very well," even as the pain medication finally kicked in.

At that point, when the pain became manageable again, everyone sort of calmed down and I insisted my mom and husband try to rest. It was after midnight, after all. So they each made themselves as comfortable as possible and dozed off. And I sat there watching them for a while. Again, feeling like I needed to make this easier for them. Like I needed to watch over them while they rested, just to be sure they were okay. I was super delirious and sleepy by this time, but I knew somehow as the medication and lack of sleep finally took me under, that this was still my sinking ship and I must captain it to the last.

It was Sally who giggled one last time on her way out the door for shift change as I slipped into unconsciousness whispering "I'm sorry..."

Next Up: My Husband Witnesses a Birth or "Everything's going to be okay. You're going to be okay. The baby's going to be okay. Your mom's going to be okay. I'm going to be okay. The nurses are going to be okay. The doctor is going to be okay. That guy in the hall is going to be okay."

Sunday, March 2, 2014


I had never been more terrified in my life than I was on the way to the hospital on Sunday night. I was not in labor. No contractions, water fully intact. But we were on our way there to see about changing all of that, and I was terrified.

Despite the fact that at four days past my due date I was not at all dialated and having no real contractions, the procedure went much more quickly than anyone anticipated. One good dose of the medication and my body was like, "Oh really? Fine. Let's do this thing." And we did.

I mentioned before that I had never been more terrified that I was on the way to the hospital. But the moment I heard the monitor measuring my baby's heartbeat start to slow, and saw the doctor come rushing in with a surgical mask on her face shouting for the nurse to give me oxygen, my heart nearly burst with fear. All I could think was that I would lose her. Lose this little one, like the others, so close this time. So close. As the nurse sat next to me, telling me this was normal, that the baby was fine, that it happened sometimes and all I needed to do was keep breathing deeply, I just laid there and let the tears run down my cheeks. So helpless. I would do anything for this child, and all I could do was breath deeply. Just breath. And listen as her monitor went back to it's cheerful little bleeping. She was fine. She was going to be fine.

And she was.

To be continued...