Scattered thoughts and the search for new year’s clarity

I told Kristin today that I’m feeling just a tiny bit panicky about my lack of clarity for 2020. I generally give myself until my birthday (which buys me an extra two weeks) to think about any intentions I’d like to set for my year. Last year a friend suggested choosing just a few distinct words to focus on rather than traditional resolutions, and I settled on just one: open. It turned out to be a surprisingly lovely approach. While I didn’t begin each day reminding myself to be more open there were many instances and decision points in which I leaned on that intention to guide my actions. When I think about some of the things I’m proud of from 2019 many of them were driven (or somehow connected to) that intention: presenting at Pecha Kucha, adopting our first-ever pet (Ivy), and starting Karate (which might be the most humbling thing I’ve ever done).

I started 2019 with perhaps more intentionality than I have in any year past, and I think some of that had to do with it being the year I turned 40. This year though, I’m struggling to gain clarity on what my focus or intention ought to be. Kristin wisely pointed out that trying to force clarity is probably the opposite of what’s needed. So instead of insisting that inspiration strike, I thought that I might have more success writing out some things that have been floating around lately. Continue reading

PechaKucha – The power of doing things that scare you

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For 2019 my new year’s resolution was simply the word “open.” I was turning 40, and I wanted to be open to more things, more possibilities, more perspectives. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I wanted to say yes to everything (I’m too picky for that, though I know that exercise has been magical for some), I simply hoped to pause when judgment or old habits crept in and consider a new way of thinking.

Over a year ago I learned about PechaKucha when my friend Kara presented. According to the global website…

PechaKucha (Japanese for “chit chat”) is the world’s fastest-growing storytelling platform, used by millions around the globe.

PechaKucha is what “Show and Tell” always dreamed of becoming.

20 slides. 20 seconds of commentary per slide. That’s it. Simple. Engaging. Spurring authentic connections.

Continue reading

Life lately

I should warn you now that this is going to be a meandering post about many unconnected things with no neat wrap up to bind them all together. I apologize in advance. But it’s the first nice day we’ve had in ages (it’s been like All Summer in a Day around here lately), and I’m at home alone with a glass of wine and the sound of lawnmowers is buzzing through the open windows and I bought plants today and tomorrow I’m going to plant them, and I’m happy about that. Continue reading

On ghost ships and the foreclosure of possibilities or Who do you want to be when you grow up?

Last weekend we attended the 40th birthday celebration of my college roommate, a woman I’m incredibly thankful to have had in my life during some very formative times. It was a pretty good sized event (maybe seventy people or so) which was a significant contrast to the intimate dinner with friends I’d chosen to celebrate my own milestone birthday. The next morning we had breakfast with some friends who had been at the same party, and the conversation quickly led to their ages (39 this year) and what they each hoped to do for their own milestone celebration. Continue reading

This is 40

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I turned 40 last week, and I feel really good about it. I still vividly remember when my mom threw my dad an epic 40th birthday party, and someone brought my sister and I to the club she’d rented out for the surprise party so that we could be there to surprise him too. It feels odd to have that vivid memory and to have arrived here personally, because I still feel young in so many ways, but by now I’ve learned that you never feel nearly as much like an adult as younger people might perceive you to be. Continue reading

On baptism, rituals, and coming together

This past Sunday evening we attended the baptism of our six-month-old twin nieces. The parents had the ceremony (is ceremony even the right word? Suddenly I have no idea) at their home, outside on the deck in the early evening summer light. They live in a beautiful wooded place so the backdrop really was quite lovely, and while the hour and the day and the drive made it a bit inconvenient for us, I could see why they may have chosen evening over the alternatives.

It was a couple of hours in the car each way for us, and since the kids are all strapped into their car seats on road trips we have a bit more freedom than usual to listen to music or podcasts or just to talk to one another with limited interruption. Especially on the way home, we spent a lot of time talking about baptism: what it means, why people do it, upon what criteria godparents are chosen, and also about rituals and traditions in general but particularly in relation to raising children.

I don’t come from a terribly religious family. My sister and I weren’t baptized, although we did attend church semi-regularly in spurts growing up (or at least that’s the way I remember it). I actually think well of that church, enough that when K wanted to attend this past Christmas Eve, we went there. Kristin grew up in an Evangelical Lutheran family, so she’s much more familiar with the nature and reasons behind all of the rituals and traditions than I am. We don’t attend church now, and I think that I can speak for both of us when I say that we’re spiritual but not religious. Personally, my sense of spirituality is much more tied to nature and beauty and gratitude than it is to anything related to the Bible or any other text. We didn’t choose to baptize our children (and in fact, I don’t remember it ever coming up in conversation) and I have no doubts whatsoever about that choice, although I respect the choices of those who do.

I like rituals and traditions. I like the weight of them, the significance of marking something meaningful to you and your family. I like the history associated with generations before us having gone through the same motions and recited similar sentiments in a shared belief in something. But I’ve never been able to make much sense of the idea of signing your children up for something that they haven’t chosen and aren’t old enough to consent to. That said, I’m sure you could point out dozens of hypocritical things that I am OK with that are somehow similar (piercing a toddler’s ears, for example). But I suppose what’s confusing to me about baptism is that, in my mind, real faith is about what you deeply believe in, often despite challenges to those beliefs. If you’ve been in the world and really lived, and heard all of the different perspectives and opinions and you still believe, that’s faith to me. But signing a baby up for something, it doesn’t feel like it means very much in the grand scheme of faith.

That said, I do understand what it means to be a parent and to want the very best future for your children, and to have hopes and dreams for them and to try to do what you hope will set them on the path for a happy, fulfilling life. I’m sure that for many people who baptize their babies, that’s what they have in mind. I also know plenty of people who have done it because, “that’s just what you do” and/or because it was important to grandparents, and I can see that too. It would water the whole thing down for me, but OK. It doesn’t do any harm.

On the way to the baptism, we listened to an episode of a parenting podcast about multicultural families and how they pass traditions and elements of identity down to their children. We also listened to an episode of On Being with poet Marie Howe, that addressed “the ways family and religion shape our lives.” Perhaps surprisingly, both of these were chosen somewhat at random. We weren’t looking for things that tied into our plans for the day. But both of these pieces, along with an article I found when Googling Howe as we drove, led our conversation about baptism in interesting directions. That article in particular made Kristin and I miss our NY tribe desperately.

So many rituals for babies have to do with who they are and who their parents hope that they will become. It makes sense; we know so little about them when they’re born, so it’s not as if anyone could stand up and give the sort of storytelling speeches we give at weddings or memorial services. At that stage of life everything is about hope and potential. We’ve been to one Jewish naming ceremony, not a bris, but just a naming ceremony months after the child was born, and it was lovely. I recall K and I talking about how much we enjoyed it, this coming together of people to celebrate the life of a little boy. It wasn’t an especially religious ceremony, but it felt like community and celebration of both his place in the world and the significance of his existence in his parents’ lives. In the podcast, one of the mothers talks about this ceremony and how it’s kind of the only option for Jewish girls, since a bris is only for boys, but that a bris is meaningful because (if done by the book) everyone comes together within seven days of a birth to welcome the baby and celebrate. We didn’t circumcise our boys, so that’s also not a thing that we believe in especially, but the idea of your tribe coming together from all over to celebrate the enormity of having a child, showing up to meet that baby and say “welcome,” it makes me wish that there was a tradition like that for everyone, regardless of faith. Not that you can’t make something up, and a friend of ours has recommended this book (which I borrowed at one time, but haven’t read), but I’m not sure that making up your own ceremony and inviting friends from around the world would work in quite the same way. If there wasn’t a tradition already in place that we show up to these things, no matter what, would people show up?

When Kristin and I reflect on our wedding, we often talk about one of the most powerful elements being this idea that everyone in attendance is there in support of this life-altering choice you’ve made. And one way or another, their presence is their way of saying “I commit to supporting you in this life together.” There’s often some acknowledgement in the ceremony that the couple will need that support, because marriage is hard sometimes. Having a child is such a transformative experience, so fraught with challenge and uncertainty and fear and sometimes loneliness. It seems like a gigantic miss to me that we don’t have a ritual in place, all faith identities aside, that does something similar when a child is born or adopted. When I imagine what it might have been like to have people we love from around the world show up to meet our babies and welcome them and to commit to supporting us through the challenges of raising children, it’s such a wonderful vision. That’s a ritual that I would carry out without question (well, except for the part about essentially planning a wedding immediately after having a baby, on very little sleep, not having showered for days…that doesn’t sound quite as idyllic).

I feel like we need it though; we as a culture, I mean. A ritual that acknowledges the challenge and transformation that parenthood brings, where we all show up for our people and say, “I’m here and I’ll be here when you need me (for you and your child), and you can do this because you have all of us in your corner.” Becoming parents feels every bit as powerful as getting married, doesn’t it?

Did you baptize your children (or will you), or carry out another ritual for them? Why did you choose what you did?

Jonah and the dentist; or when it rains, it pours

 

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They’re not as good at dental hygiene as this photo makes them appear

We’ve known for roughly a month or so that Jonah needed dental surgery, and it’s been a source of anxiety for me every since it was scheduled. Way back in July last year, I took an afternoon off and brought Jonah into the city with me to visit my office and do a few fun things down in lower Manhattan, just the two of us. My co-workers are amazing and lots of them love when kids visit; he was goofing around with a beloved colleague of mine (they were rolling hula hoops and running after them – that’s the kind of office I have) and ended up falling and banging his teeth on the tile floor. He screamed and cried like I’ve never heard him scream, but there was no blood and no visible damage so I did my best to calm him down and, when I couldn’t, we ultimately left. We were two weeks from moving to Michigan, and he’d literally just been to the dentist, so we didn’t take him back for x-rays. I should also mention that he’s what pediatric dentists seem to refer to as “noncompliant.” He usually won’t open his mouth, he bites dentists, and up until yesterday had never had a cleaning as a result (not for lack of trying). About two weeks after the fall, literally the day we set out to drive from NY to MI, we noticed that one of his front teeth was turning grey.

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Once we were back in Michigan, Kristin drove two hours to try to get him x-rays from a dentist who knew her father (we didn’t have local insurance at the time and he’d offered to do it for free). Predictably, Jonah was noncompliant and the x-rays didn’t happen. A couple of months later, Kristin took him to a local pediatric dentist recommended by my parents. Once again, the x-rays didn’t happen. When the gums above that tooth suddenly started to look like there might be a more serious problem, I took him back to the same local pediatric dentist and by some miracle of bravery on Jonah’s part, we got the x-rays. As it turned out, the root above the grey tooth was completely gone and it needed to be removed, but the tooth next to it was also broken above the gum line and also needed to come out. We don’t even know when that injury happened, but it may have been the previous day when he bashed it on a classmate’s head while in a bouncy house.

The dentist said that they both needed to come out, for fear of infection and damage to the adult teeth behind them. We discussed a couple of options and ultimately decided that, given his proclivity for noncompliance at the dentist, he needed to be under anesthesia. We also really didn’t want to put him through the experience of having teeth extracted while awake since he’s already terrified of the dentist. We’ve had a lot of anxiety about the whole thing because, despite the low risk, anesthesia can be dangerous. They also gave us a ton of warning about how he had to be in perfect health or it wouldn’t be safe, and he had to have a pre-surgery physical to prove that he was healthy enough to endure the procedures. We all really wanted to get this over with, and getting on the hospital schedule takes some notice so the thought of having to cancel due to illness was awful.

We’ve been doing our best to keep Jonah healthy, and then naturally on Monday of surgery week the twins came down with pink eye. Then on Tuesday he returned home from school complaining of a terrible earache (so severe he couldn’t sleep that night) but thankfully my cousin and his wife are amazing chiropractors who live blocks away and they let us come over and get Jonah adjusted (in the morning the pain was gone!), and then on Thursday night, the night before surgery at 9:15 a.m., Vivienne came down with the worst stomach bug she’s ever had. She threw up all night long, roughly a dozen times. Neither Kristin nor I slept much at all, I slept in Jonah’s bed just to keep an eye on him so that we would know if he seemed unwell, and Kristin slept with Vivi and caught puke in a bowl all night long. In the morning, there was no way that Kristin and I could both accompany Jonah to the outpatient surgery center because someone had to stay with Vivi, so I dropped Jude at school and took Jonah on my own.

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The windowless waiting room gave me the creeps and felt more like a methadone clinic than an outpatient surgery center, but ultimately I have to hand it to the staff; they were lovely and compassionate and took good care of Jonah. When we went back for the pre-surgery prep, they already had Paw Patrol playing on a portable DVD player. Somewhat surprisingly he seemed to have no fear whatsoever leading up to this. We’d told him very clearly that they needed to remove his two front teeth, and every time we brought it up he’d say “OK” or “Yeah I know” and seemed totally comfortable with the idea. I think a big part of it has to do with a lack of knowledge about surgery or tooth extraction. We’d told him that he would be asleep when they did it, and that I’d be there when he woke up. We went through all of the pre-surgery stuff and the only upsetting moment for him was when he had to take an oral medication to make him sleepy and calm so that he would be OK going back and being put under. He fought us on it, but once it started to kick in he asked me sleepily if we could go camping sometime. It was kind of sweet and totally unrelated to anything on the show that was playing, so who knows where that came from. I told him that we could.

When the dentist came in to talk to me, he went over the plans for the day. We’d already discussed that he would get a full set of x-rays (they only got his front teeth the last time), a cleaning, and that they would fix any cavities that were present, in addition to the extractions. What I didn’t know until that moment was that the plan to fix cavities in molars was to put crowns on. Crowns for baby teeth are stainless steel and pre-made, so presumably less expensive than the gold and porcelain variety, but still. I was shocked, but didn’t really have enough time to debate the issue or do any research or even consult K on the matter. I just hoped that his teeth would be in good shape and it would be a non-issue. I should have known better; I have terrible teeth, and a lot of dental health is based on predisposition and bacteria passed from the mother.

A nurse carried him back and he didn’t object at all, and I didn’t cry until he was out of sight. I’d been determined to be a rock for him so as not to pass along my own fear, and I feel like I succeeded. I got to the waiting room and called K and we both cried, and I promised to keep her posted. At some point they sent a nurse out to tell me that he went under the anesthesia just fine, really well actually, and that he did have cavities that they would be fixing. She didn’t know how many off hand, she’d just been sent to give me that message, so I didn’t have any idea what we were looking at. At some point during his procedure, a different dentist came out to talk to parents sitting behind me. They were engrossed in The Price Is Right, and when their dentist told them that their son had received six crowns and two fillings they seemed completely unfazed. I, on the other hand, was horrified, and immediately texted K. She replied with “Eek! Hopefully it’s not so bad for J. Praying.” I was honestly more shocked at their comfort with the news than with the results of their kid’s treatment.

When the dentist came out to tell me that Jonah was finished, by some miracle he decided to take me into a room to talk to me. I don’t know if that’s because he expected a poor reaction or if that’s just his approach, but I’m incredibly thankful. He told me that Jonah ended up with crowns on all of his molars: eight crowns. His cavities weren’t severe, but they were between the molars (his entire chewing surface was in great shape) and they prefer to crown them to prevent future decay (and to avoid having to put Jonah through this again). I immediately burst into tears. I felt like a horrible parent for not flossing his teeth regularly (I’m learning that few parents do, but whatever), and I was incredibly concerned about how Jonah might feel about his very obviously stainless steel teeth. What if his peers made fun of him? Would everyone think that he had terrible hygiene and was a total freak? I let the dentist know that I was really disappointed that he hadn’t given us more than ten minutes notice that this might be the plan for cavities. I cried and cried and did my best to focus on the post-surgery instructions, but it was clear that my reaction had totally thrown the dentist for a loop and he felt terrible. He told me that he felt like he’d failed me. I confessed that my feelings weren’t really about him exactly; I felt like a terrible parent for letting this happen to Jonah (and for passing along my predisposition for bad teeth), and I worried about how it would affect him socially. Honestly if we’d had time to research it we might have consented to it anyway, but not being given that choice was really upsetting.

I knew that I needed to pull myself together before seeing him, so I did my best (but I went to call K and began crying again), and then in a moment a nurse came out to tell me that he was awake. This is the other part that I was entirely unprepared for. I could hear him yelling before I saw him. He was thrashing and yelling but couldn’t really hold his head up, and there was blood running from the corner of his mouth. I went to him and picked him up and held him on my lap, but he fought me and kept yelling “I want to go home!” They offered him a popsicle and he refused, demanding to go home. He then tried to rip out his IV and continued to fight me, but I knew that I couldn’t set him down or he would hurt himself. When we finally got out of there I carried him to the car and I drove home telling him how brave he’d been. He seemed angry and disoriented, and I was completely overwhelmed by how much he seemed to be suffering. We offered him soft foods, water, and TV but he refused it all and just wanted to lie down. I lay down with him and reminded myself to just meet his needs and to try not to overthink it all.

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He slept for a long time, and when he woke up he seemed to have transformed back into himself a bit. He was still clearly unwell, but he was now interested in eating and watching his favorite show.

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Vivienne was still in a terrible state (and still is a day later) and was limp and whimpering all day long, needing to be worn or carried, so she needed someone’s attention at all times. Kristin was exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before, but wanted to do everything she could to care for Jonah since she felt awful for not having been with us that morning. I was actually glad to see her get in a short nap when they both collapsed from exhaustion.

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Poor Jude definitely got the short end of the attention stick. With all of our attention on Vivienne and Jonah for two straight days, he’s pretty much been fending for himself. At least he did get some screen time out of the deal.

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I was actually amazed by how “himself” Jonah was by the end of the first day, and even more so the second day. He may be on soft foods for a little bit longer (he wouldn’t object if that never ended – he would live on chocolate pudding), but he seems to be bouncing right back. I have yet to get a picture of his new smile, but I think that I can love it as much as his previous one. He’s still my lovebug.