So It Begins

God help me, I really thought I was pregnant this month. As much as I tried to be all cool about the whole thing, I was symptom-watching with the best of them, even thinking about due dates and names, what a relief it would be not to have a $15,000+ expense looming, when and how to announce, “How cool would it be…”

Yeah, I need to slow my roll in a big way.

I’ve been deep-sea tired the past week (though to be fair I haven’t been sleeping well), I felt a little bit of nausea the past two nights (psychosomatic?), my nipples were very tender last week (could just be cycle hormones), and my cycle is currently a day late (yeah, I know cycles can be all over the place for a while after a hiatus due to breastfeeding). I was foolishly giving myself 50% odds last night.

I tested this morning, and absolutely nothing.

I can’t exactly say I was crushed. Truthfully, I would have been shocked by a positive test. It’s even a relief in a way. 18 months is a bit too close of a gap for my taste, and I can play soccer this spring and use my yoga pass. I can continue to heal and strengthen and build nutrient stores. And my husband and I can “keep trying” for longer than one month, haha.

I would have been happy if I was pregnant — any pregnancy at this point would be a huge cause for celebration — but I would have been scrambling.

Meanwhile I think Mr. Man has finally started teething for real. He has never been inconsolable in my arms for as long as he was last night. Even laying down with him on the mattress on the floor in his room didn’t calm him down. Every time he’d calm down, he’d stick his fingers in his mouth (the way he soothes himself) and it would hurt his little gums, and he’d start all over again.

We brought him into our bed for a special sleepover, but he just cried for a long time then turned over and got up on all fours and started terrorizing us with his claws and little pinchy fingers and rock-hard head, haha. (That thing is dangerous when it’s whipped around!) At least he seemed happy to be up. I read that play distracts from the pain. But it was not play time. We all needed sleep.

Since, for once, this wasn’t a feeding thing, Ahmed took the night shift, and he said Ali finally fell asleep around 2:15am.

Such a sweet, strong boy, it’s hard to see him in pain. But it’ll be a relief to finally seem some pearly whites in there, and so cute!

UPDATE (Feb 10): I’ve continued to feel randomly nauseated at night even after the negative test, and I’ve started having bizarre progesterone-style dreams and feeling hot at night. If I’m not pregnant, my body is sure messing with me. But hey, it’s happened before… I’m the one who likes to say “Symptoms are big fat liars.”

Also, weirdly, Ali was fine Friday night but then a complete disaster crying in pain for hours Saturday night. We’re all zombies today. Finally got some children’s Motrin. Hopefully tonight we can all recover a bit.

UPDATE (Feb12): Finally, five days late, my cycle returns, just as I was about to waste another 88 cents on a test. Oh well.

Ali took Motrin again on Sunday night, then on Monday night didn’t need it and slept beautifully. Hoping to see those teeth soon!

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These are the Good Old Days

The coming years have everything in place to be among the sweetest in my life. My husband and I are relatively young and healthy and we have the most awesome little sunshine boy after some tough, dark years. If all goes well, he’ll have a sibling before too much longer and we’ll get a chance to see them interact, Ali as the fearless leader no doubt. Once they’re a little older we can take trips with them and introduce them to the wider world and watch their wonder.

This spring we have so much going on. Ahmed is taking swim lessons now, after a lifetime of fear of the water, and making so much progress. In a couple of weeks Ali will start baby swim lessons with me as his sidekick. Next Wednesday I’m traveling to a small college town to give talks about Palestine and writing.

Ahmed’s birthday is at the end of the month, and I FINALLY have a hand mixer (I tried last year to cream sugar with my arms, and it just didn’t work — finally someone took pity on my cheap ass and bought me one), so Ahmed’s annual chocolate cake (round, double layer, with homemade buttercream frosting, strawberries, and sprinkles) should be extra fluffy. He was gaga over his homemade cake last year (after several years of store-bought mixes), and I thought it was crumbly and flat and slightly bitter from the only espresso powder I could find, namely crumbled up freeze-dried instant coffee. (What was I thinking?)

So excited about this one. He’s not gonna know what hit him.

There’s a pick-up soccer group that plays Saturdays and Sundays, and Ahmed and I have been each taking a day on weekends. It works out nicely. Once our soccer leagues start (I’m doing co-ed, he’s doing men’s over 30), I’ll play Friday evenings and he’ll play Sundays.

In May I’m taking an oil painting class that meets 2 hours on Thursday nights for 3 weeks. I got a yoga barre ten-class pass as a birthday present to myself, so I just have to figure out when to start doing that — when I can fit it in.

I’m also doing Sarah Duvall’s Pelvic Floor Perfect program and TRYING to find the time and mental space to FINALLY start working on my novel again.

If Ali drops a nap, I’m doomed.

When he is awake, I need to start taking advantage of different ways to get out of the house with him so he doesn’t get completely bored with his little kingdom that he shares with our cat. (I try to rearrange the toys and play structures and what’s in the drawers and cabinets to keep things at least a little fresh.) The cold weather has put a damper on my will to leave the house, plus we don’t yet have a title for the car my little sister’s husband gave us (a 2008 Rav4) — they did some paperwork and will get the title to us in about a month — so we can’t register it yet, and I’m leery of driving around on expired California plates.

And of course Ali’s first birthday is coming up on April 9! I can’t believe it’s coming so soon. He’s such a little toddler already, but it’s still a crazy milestone. He’s changed so much since his days as a chilled out little cuddle blob. At one year he’s really, truly not a baby anymore. He’ll have fully aged into toddlerhood.

We probably won’t throw a party, unless we maybe travel to my brother’s place 2 hours away and just have a fun day with his kids. We basically don’t have any friends with kids the same age as Ali, and I know you can just invite people and enjoy it as adults and kids of all ages, but our apartment is not built for entertaining. We don’t even throw parties for our own birthdays. We’re solid introverts and would be very happy never to have to throw another event, ever again! But probably when Ali gets older and has friends his age, we’ll have to reconsider. For now I’m glad he won’t know the difference 😉

There will be some kind of smash cake, though. Oh yes there will. Maybe berries and whipped cream? Or maybe a proper cake. Haven’t decided yet.

He’s started yelling lately. So manly, like he’s commanding troops or trying to get a rowdy orchestra to shut up and listen to the maestro. It’s not super often, but he can get really loud, his little chin tucked, his eyes up, his mouth wide, his voice deeper than you’d expect from a munchkin. Ahmed says he’s just trying out his voice. It’s pretty awesome.

Meanwhile the planet is probably in the best shape it’s going to be in in our lifetime. Some animals have rebounded in the past few decades but many more seem to be declining, more pristine places lost or degraded, more beauty turned into disposable chopsticks and cheap soap. Even as I do my small part to try to make things better, I really should enjoy and cherish what’s still here.

Things are so good, but like I’ve said before, that can put me on edge. Happiness to me is what a plane flight is like for someone who has a fear of flying. They feel like, if they relax for one second, the engines will explode and the plane will plummet to the ground. For me, if I dare to relax and enjoy life, I’m terrified something awful will happen.

And it can happen. My cousin Michael had a wife and two girls, ages 8 and 11, but he was diagnosed with a brain tumor a couple of years ago, and complications from the treatment killed him last month. He was 41. Who can wrap their head around something like that? I sent them a guardian angel tree (a potted cypress with a golden angel ornament), and I’ll send them a care package this week: made-from-scratch caramel M&M cookies, journals and pens for all 3, a meaningful book for the kids, a meaningful book for the widow — The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, a stuffed animal for each kid, Oreo hot cocoa, herbal tea, and ethically sourced scented soaps.

But it’s nothing in the face of a loss like that. So senseless and unfair.

I wasn’t super close to Michael. I’ve barely seen him in the years since we were kids playing at their lake house in Texas for a week most summers. He was a dentist, a Republican, and I only made it down to visit them for Christmas once a decade or so. We all just kind of grew apart. But my Aunt Barbara was the first one to buy me a gift from Ali’s registry, and she and my cousin Katie and Michael’s wife Stacey all made it to my wedding. (My Uncle David did, too, but there was a misunderstanding and he left, angry, thinking I had brushed him off. I had, in fact, emailed Barbara about a venue change, but she never got the email. I also told my dad to tell them, and he never did. I should also have called them directly to make sure they got the message, but it was my wedding day, and I figured two modes of communication were enough. Oops.)

Anyway. I knew Michael had health problems, but I was absolutely shocked to get the message that he had passed away. He was family. One of only two Olson cousins I have. He’s the only male Olson of his generation, and he had only daughters, so the name is coming to an end. (I kept my name, but Ali has my husband’s name.) I just didn’t expect his story to come to an end so abruptly. It’s unnerving to say the least.

It has spurred me to cherish my life that much more, even in the face of fear. If it does come to an end tomorrow, today can still be as good as we can let it be. All of it, from my healthy ankles to Ali’s little cackling laugh, is so precious and fleeting. So golden.

It’s not my 20s, exploring the world with wide and shining eyes. My 30s went by in a blur of new love, book tours, fertility issues, trips to Turkey, an epic West Coast road trip, and finishing most of a novel.

As my 40s approach, I’m learning to be less hard on myself, enjoy the simple things more, and breathe and allow happiness. I’m working hard to be a better person for my son, to end generational cycles of harshness and neglect, and that alone is such a worthy and difficult and humbling undertaking.

I find that I can genuinely enjoy cooking and baking and cleaning and tending to Tornado Ali (though of course sometimes I do get tired of it or just grumpy in general). I can find peace and satisfaction with it. It is possible, I mean. If not for some ineffable sense of duty to do “more” with my life, I have a feeling I’d be perfectly content, like an old Buddhist monk, with simple, direct service and companionship for a long time to come.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s me “dropping out of” life or “dropping into” life.

Sometimes I wonder if the feeling of duty is a call to serve in a wider capacity or just internalized misogyny / denigration of typically feminine pursuits.

I used to think I’d muscle my way into a place in history. Now — other than whatever good it may do for people and the planet — I honestly couldn’t care less.

It’s funny how I feel guilty for working on my novel because it’s “self-indulgent” and I feel guilty for not working on it because I’m neglecting a calling and maybe a duty.

Sigh. There’s still so much to unpack, but I’m here for it. I’m meditating and journaling more regularly than I have in decades. I’m feeling changes happening and excited for more growth.

I don’t know what the future holds, but the next decade can truly be amazing, as scary as it is to allow myself even a little bit of optimism. And as much sadness and guilt as I carry that not everyone is nearly as lucky as I am and I’ve done nothing to deserve such fortune. And knowing very well that it could all disappear in a blink.

I can’t control everything, but I can make a given day as good as it can be for myself and my little family. And God help me, I’m working on that. I’m trying.

And I’m feeling pretty good.

P.S. I had insomnia the night I wrote this. I was buzzing with too much happiness, and that is very unsettling for me. But a good thing to feel unsettled by! Another sign of change, I think. Growth is never easy.

High Five

So I think my son’s first attempt at a real word may be “high five.” We like to put our hands up at dinner sometimes and say “High five!” in a certain fast, breathy way, and he’s started saying back “Ha taah!” in the same cadence and putting his hand up.

He also waved for the first time today as Baba was leaving. Completely on his own, after Ahmed waved and said Bye-bye.

And, our little toddler man has started having small tantrums at dinner and refusing to eat, slapping the spoon away, etc. Ahmed finally figured out he wanted to feed himself. We often let him pick up foods and eat them, but when it comes to things like soup, we still spoon-feed him. And he just wasn’t having it last night. So Ahmed started giving him loaded spoons, and of course it was messy, but all in all he did pretty well. And it’s so cute that he’s really starting to express that little mind of his own.

2ww

Well, it was a nice 18-month break! But we’re back at it. Thankfully it’s a low-pressure situation for now. We don’t expect anything, and we’re not trying particularly hard. No ovulation strips (gawd those things drove me nuts). More like, “It’s right around day 14 and I feel slippery, let’s go!”

Honestly, having kids 18 months apart would be a little quick for us, but we don’t feel like we can waste any opportunity. So for now we feel like two crazy kids throwing caution to the wind. For at least 3 months, I really have no expectations at all.

Obviously, as the months go on (and on), things may get ever so slightly more pressured, but at least (a) for now we feel like we could live happily with one child if it came to it and (b) we know something that can work for us if we decide for sure we want a second child. We’re in a MUCH better place than we were when we were trying to conceive our first. We’re just in a good place in general.

Meanwhile, Evel Knievel is really keeping us on our toes around here 😀

9 Month Schedule (and 39th birthday)

I’m enjoying my son’s schedule now that he’s solidly on two naps. (“Solidly” when it comes to kids is a very relative term, but still…)

Here’s the rough schedule (including goals for the new year):

  • 8am: Drink a small room temp glass of water with lemon, Nurse
  • 8:15: Have my morning tea, ideally while I read and baby plays, then prepare breakfast
  • 9am: Breakfast while watching Daily Show, then play
  • 10:15: Nurse to sleep
  • 10:30: Meditate, write in journal (at least one page)
  • Noon: Baby wakes, go for a 15 min walk or out on the veranda for some Vitamin D
  • 1pm: Lunch, play
  • 2:45: Nurse to sleep
  • 3pm: Work on my novel
  • 4:30: Baby wakes, I do exercises while he plays / watches
  • 5pm: Prepare dinner (this is the hardest part; he’s either underfoot or in his play area, cranky, until Baba gets home)
  • 6:pm: Dinner
  • 6:30: Bath, moisturize baby, naked time (for the baby), play
  • 7:45: Nurse to sleep

It has clicked recently, and things are on a pretty happy, even keel. He’s not nursing nearly as much lately. It’s all I can do to get him to nurse four times a day, and of course only in a darkened room with zero distractions. Maybe it’s just a phase or maybe he’s trying to wean himself.

Blueberries and steak and eggs and sausage and bread and butter are all more interesting than milk milk milk, I get it. I just hope he doesn’t wean himself before age one. The pediatrician said I should give him formula in that case, and I hear that stuff is expensive. It might also be tough to get him to drink it if he won’t even drink breastmilk.

He doesn’t fall asleep as reliably on the breast, either, even when he does drink. I often have to put him down awake, and usually he falls asleep fairly quickly, but sometimes he fusses for quite a while. Not sure what that’s about.

Might be because he’s so excited to be a walking man! That’s a big leap.

Check out this video of him walking like a champ.

Tomorrow I turn 39. All in all, I’m feeling good as I head into my 40th year. Not a bad touch that I’ll be ringing it in with a Super Blood Wolf Moon 🙂

It’s amazing how much younger I feel as a mom of a young child than I did as a woman in her late 30s trying to conceive.

Here’s a scene from my birthday dinner (ribs, loaded baked potato, Moscow mule, and chocolate lava cake for dessert) and a gorgeous photo of Ali by my husband.

9 Month Check-up

A check-up with no shots, hooray! Ali was definitely not happy to be at the doctor’s again (he also slept poorly last night — got over-tired due to some crappy naps), but I think he was relieved to leave without any jabs.

He’s still falling a bit off his growth curve, though. Length 29.4″ (81%ile), Weight 17 lb 15.5 oz (10%ile), Head circumference 43.4cm (6%ile). He’s meeting physical milestones very quickly, and the doc didn’t seem concerned. She said kids often fall off their growth curves as they become more active, and he is a dynamo of energy. And his head is a bit tall (maybe still molded a bit from birth?), and I think if she measured its widest part instead of just straight around, he’d be closer to average.

Anyway, she said not to worry, so I won’t. Babies have all different shapes and sizes of heads. Someone also made the point on a web forum that a big head on a tall, skinny baby would look like a lollipop, so in that sense it’s actually proportional. I think his head looks perfect.

Not looking forward to the 12 month jabs. I know vaccine reactions are incredibly rare — and generally better than polio — and anti-vaxxers are, generally speaking, out of their goddamn minds. But even when you know the laws of physics — that a huge pendulum let go won’t come back and smack your nose — it’s still hard not to flinch when a huge pendulum comes at your face.

Seeding people’s minds with overblown fear when it comes to their kids — and thereby actually endangering kids — is right up there among the world’s great dick moves.

Anyway. The counseling work I did last year has really helped me make some big internal shifts, and I bought a beautiful calendar to hang on the wall and hold myself accountable as far as self-care things like meditating, reading, journaling, and exercising — things that have huge effects on my well being, my patience, my ability to be a good wife and mother. It’s important for me to put limits on computer time, especially social media, in order to do these things. Next month I’ll add in time to work on my novel.

It’s hard to feel “worthy” of self-care sometimes — and it’s been virtually impossible anyway in the throes of early motherhood — but things are evening out now, and in the end I know it’s not just best for me, it’s best for my little family. *Deep breath.* It is OK to do this. It is OK to be happy. It is OK to enjoy life, not just optimize it and get through it (or avoid chunks of it by scrolling social media, even if I do feel like I have a lot of advice and support to offer other mothers going through similar things I did, and I have plenty of questions myself, haha; there are definitely diminishing returns after a point).

Little Man is rapidly getting better and more confident with walking, but he’d still generally prefer to crawl — or better yet, ride Baba (daddy)!

These two are such an awesome pair. I’m jealous sometimes that Dad has more energy than I do to be “the fun one,” but mostly I’m just glad these two have each other. They make each other smile and they make me smile!

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9 Months In, 9 Months Out

There’s something wistful about the 9 month mark. He’s been breathing oxygen now for as long as he was in my belly. (Well, almost — he was transferred 7/7 and born 4/9, so he was in for 9 months, 2 days.)

It’s like he’s really joining the human race now, his foot more in the world than in the womb. He’s hardly even a baby anymore. He’s a little dude. Babbling more, his little hands more and more dextrous, figuring out how doors and cabinets work, just starting to bang things with other things to make noise, on the cusp of bipedalism.

This was the best photo I could get, taken on 1/9. I’m holding both his legs down with my feet, and he was still trying to do sit-ups and eat the sign. (I could not put the sign down next to him like usual. He rolled over toward it every time.)

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The day after he turned 9 months, my cycle came back. Might explain why he’s been fussy at the breast lately. Apparently breastmilk tastes saltier just before your period starts. I feel strangely happy to see my “old friend” again after so much time — more than 18 months. A part of me wondered if I would head straight into early menopause after this. But the ol’ system still seems to have some life left in it. (I did have signs of ovulation a while back, too.)

Which leads to the next question, about when, whether, and how to have a second child. Obviously we’ll take the “free” version if possible. (If someone offered us a free donor embryo child, we’d take that in a heartbeat, too!) I don’t think I’ll attempt any birth control because our odds of conceiving are so low anyway. If I get pregnant, I’ll take it. It would be a little early for my taste — and a little early for safety, honestly, since having kids too close together can increase the odds of certain complications. But waiting longer also means my eggs are getting older, so… It maybe seems to balance out?

It seems there’s no ideal child spacing. Too close together may mean closer playmates, but also some super hectic years and a really beat-up body. Medium close (like my sister and I at two and a half years) might mean more competitiveness, and it also draws out the hectic years a little longer. Further away, like 4+ years, means you have two kids in two very different developmental stages, but you also have (hopefully) more help than hindrance from the second child. My brother was six years older than me, and he was my hero.

All very theoretical anyway. We have so little control. I may be here in a year or two thinking about our next donor-conception moves, and it took nearly 18 months to have our son after we signed up with CC.

Meanwhile, I gotta say, I’m getting tired of the “mommy wars” silos. I’ve been kicked out of several mom groups for not *precisely* toeing their ideological lines, whether it’s the Baby Led Weaning nazis (If you feed your kid purees at any time, it’s not BLW and you should basically give up and kill yourself), the Woo-Free groups (where you can’t even mention a birth center birth or bed sharing), or the Attachment Parenting groups (where sleep training is equivalent to the chronic neglect suffered in Romanian orphanages, and if you’re not a martyr, you’re a monster, and oh yeah, vaccines are poison). Even the sleep training group doesn’t let you gently suggest six weeks might be too early for it.

The worst for me is when well-meaning moms at the absolute end of their rope join an Attachment Parenting group and ask for advice about having their life be less of a relentless hellscape of misery. All they get is basically, “Keep at it, you got this! And if you don’t, you’re a terrible person and your child will be ruined!”

Unless you have full-time help and/or a unicorn baby, the whole Attachment Parenting craze is basically setting women up to fail, or at least feel horrible. It’s not remotely realistic for most mothers. Yet it’s held up as the only way not to emotionally damage your child. Meanwhile there’s NO EVIDENCE that “intensive mothering” in this way is superior to just doing your best, using common sense, and being reasonably kind and sensitive most of the time.

It really sets my teeth on edge. I get that it’s a backlash from some of the “hands-off” parenting some of us experienced, but it’s extreme, and in many cases not healthy. I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that a study showed mothers who believe in “intensive parenting” are about four times more likely to suffer from depression.

And God knows depression is a very real risk factor for kids.

Sleep training saved my freaking life. Maybe literally — driving while severely sleep deprived is dangerous. Trading a few bad days for a lot of good months (for everyone) and my baby getting a healthy amount of sleep was a no brainer for me, and it might well be for others.

But whenever I tried to bring it up, I was censured. Then when a mom was upset her son had to be tested for a bunch of diseases at the hospital because he wasn’t vaccinated, I empathized but said she also had to consider all the sick, very old, and very young patients who might literally die if exposed to these infectious diseases. That’s when I was finally kicked out of the Attachment group.

Even cloth diapering groups make me feel exasperated, with their veneration of “fluff butts” and visceral disdain of “sposies” (disposable diapers). Some people end up with these huge stashes that cost hundreds of dollars, with “must have” prints in rotation. For some, it’s just another form of conspicuous consumption.

I have about 20 cloth diaper changes composed of China cheapie pockets and a few Flips shells and inserts. Enough for about 3 days (using an Andy Pandy disposable overnight). If I travel, I use a disposable diaper. If I’m exhausted, I may use a disposable. If I’m late with the laundry, I use a disposable.

I guess I just don’t get why everything becomes a tribe or a cult. I’m not looking to form an identity. I just want to keep my kid’s butt clean and dry and save money and the environment as well as I can without driving myself craz(ier).

There’s no place to be a “moderate mom” and still get targeted advice about certain subjects. It’s ridiculous.

So maybe Facebook isn’t the best place to solicit advice, haha. Some of it has been really good, though, and I have appreciated what advice and solidarity I have found, before I break a rule and get shunned. (It doesn’t hurt my feelings or anything. I just roll my eyes.) And I am glad Facebook is there. The Respectful Sleep Training group alone was worth the price of admission.

And I don’t know whom else to turn to. All my friends my age either don’t have kids yet or already had ’em a while ago. I do at least know others with littles, and we all seem to be flying about as blind as everyone else.

All in all, I think I’m doing OK.

By the way — as always, not complaining, just remarking — Ali is a very slow eater. At night, on average, it takes him 40 minutes to feed himself to sleep. If there are any distractions whatsoever, he wakes up and pops off. So I have to do it in a darkened room (and make sure the damn cat isn’t hiding in there somewhere, only to pop out and wake him up) and do absolutely nothing else but sit or lie there and feed him. When I get to lie down, it’s not so bad. I do a few kegels, enjoy his warmth, maybe even meditate a little. But sometimes he can’t settle that way, so I have to sit up and hold him, and my back is kind of aching the whole time. (Next time I’m getting a rocking chair for the nursery for sure.)

Either way, it’s a lot of time to think, and I think of all kinds of things — things to do, things to look up, ideas for my novel, books or movies I want to add to my list to watch, questions I have that I want to google — and there’s no way to write any of it down. I may try to create a mnemonic and keep drilling myself to remember it (which is exhausting), but with my sleep-deprived mom brain, the thoughts are almost always gone by the time Ali is asleep. I guess I shouldn’t feel so defeated by that, but it makes it feel even more like an exhausting black hole time suck.

Of course, it’s not really a time suck. It’s feeding and comforting my child. That’s important.

Yeah. I should chill out.