Sunday, March 23, 2014

catching up

It's been a long time since I actually posted about books. Things have been, as you've noticed, a little overwhelming. We're down to less than four weeks to my due date. The car seat's installed; Berowne's painted the changing table and is installing the new kitchen sink fixtures to facilitate bathing; I'm laundering baby stuff and packing the hospital bag.

The birds are building their nests, and arrived this morning on the porch seeking the long white fluffy hair they have used for the past five springs. Fortunately we still have a stockpile up in the bedroom, since we haven't had the heart to put away his crate yet. I shall gather some and bring it outside later today.

We all miss him terribly. Reading in bed at night, I listen for his big clumsy paws on the stairs. I look for his face when I get home. Bingley is a wonderful dog whom I love with all my heart, but it's not the same without the big Bear.

However, I have been reading. Mostly because I'm getting to the point at which sitting around with my feet up is close to all I can handle. Ten minutes at Home Depot with my husband and I start whining like a toddler about my feet and my back and my bladder and the fact that I am around other human beings. It's extremely attractive.

The books:

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths, by Nancy Marie Brown. This was my Early Reviewers book for the month, and I couldn't quite get into it, which seems a shame. It documents the life and writings of Snorri, the 13th-century Icelandic poet who wrote down the sagas from which almost all our Norse mythology derives. Brown is comprehensive and passionate, but the political machinations and the multitudes of people involved had me lost some of the time. I did like parts of it, especially when she talked about the writings, but the political history wasn't written in a way that grabbed me, so I think I missed some of the writings' context.

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey, by Peter Carlson. This is actually non-fiction, though the title implied otherwise to me. It tells the story of two Northern journalists who were imprisoned in a Southern POW camp and escaped. It's very fun and very well written.

Gallows Thief, by Bernard Cornwall. Novel about a Regency-era investigator for the Crown. Didn't thrill me enough to check out the others in the series.

Hurting Distance, by Sophie Hannah. Very creepy, good novel that had the potential I suspected in Hannah after reading her first book. You can still guess the culprit before the other characters do, but I couldn't put it down nonetheless.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean. Far more science-y than I expected. Of course I don't want authors to talk down to me, but I felt like one high school chemistry class over twenty years ago was not sufficient preparation for this book.

The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, A Search for Family, by Joe Mozingo. Mozingo, whose family has been white as far back as anyone remembers, finds evidence that one of his ancestors was a freed slave, and sets out to investigate. The book jumps around geographically and chronologically, and isn't always compelling, but its lack of clear answers is handled well.

A Bloodsmoor Romance, by Joyce Carol Oates. WHAT. Oates is never less than interesting, but man, is she wacky.

Blind Justice, by Anne Perry. She's phoning stuff in these days. And yet I'll probably always keep reading.

The Marriage Spell, by Mary Jo Putney. A cute little romance novel set in a nineteenth century where magic is real. Which, come to think of it, is also the case in the Oates novel. Otherwise they are not, shall we say, similar reading experiences.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, by Alexander McCall Smith. Light and cute, as always. Good comfort reading when life is challenging.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"would you instruct me now?"

Darcy wasn't his actual name. It was what I would have renamed him if he hadn't known his original name: Bear. By the time he came to live with us that name didn't suit him at all - he was the tallest, lankiest, most absurdly wolfy-looking dog you've ever seen - but apparently he'd looked like a polar bear cub as a puppy, and his original owners went with it. I was never fond of the name "Bear", and because he was tall and handsome and I didn't like him at first (multiple behavioral issues which had to be worked out), Darcy was the obvious choice for a new name. But he knew what his name was, and so he was only ever Darcy on this blog, except when he was very bad and then he was Bear Fitzwilliam Darcy YOU BRING THAT PORK LOIN BACK RIGHT NOW.

He'd been slowing down a lot over the last year. Shorter and shorter walks tired him; his lower lids drooped. But the idea of a walk, or an adventure in the car, never stopped causing delight. The morning of his surgical biopsy, when he realized I'd be taking him with me, he bounced like a puppy on the three legs he could use, and dragged me to the car in his eagerness.

He was too old and too big to function on three legs; possibly even recovering from an amputation would have been beyond him. And the tumor grew like gangbusters, swelling huge and horrible out of his poor paw. Starting him on steroids helped a lot, but one morning he rubbed the cone of shame against his paw and the skin broke. We kept the wound clean and bandaged, but it was never going to heal, and we'd been warned that when such a wound formed it was just a matter of time.

This morning we came home from the grocery store to find that, even wearing the cone, he'd gotten the bandage off, and the ulcerated wound had fully opened. I will spare you the details, but it looked like the French Revolution had taken place in our living room. We cleaned him off and wrapped him up as best we could, and put him in the car for one last drive to the vet's. I once promised him, rashly, that I would be there at the end. The only good thing about this is that I was able to keep that promise. 

He was only with me for five years, but they were five of the most challenging and tumultuous of my life: marital disintegration, cancer, divorce, finding myself, and facing the thrill and terror of falling in love again and reshaping my life to make room for another person. Two dogs walked with me every step of the way, shedding and pooping in inconvenient places, and loving and being loved every moment. Always keeping me aware that being around for licks and snuggles and walks was worth all the slings and arrows the rest of the world could throw at me.

I believe that they were five happy years for Bear as well. His first three were pretty rough, and he came to us in bad shape. For the next five years he had a couch, and a playmate, and trips to the ocean, and lots of tummy rubs, and even occasional bacon. Not to mention a house full of books, some of which were apparently quite delicious. And he fell for Berowne perhaps even harder than I did (the occasional bacon may have been a factor in this). I'm so, so thankful that Bear was present and healthy at our wedding, because I sometimes think I married Berowne because of the way my dog looked at him.

He didn't get to run in the snow this winter: by the time the blizzards started, the tumor had already taken up residence. We promised him summer beach swimming that will not come to pass. But I will always have the memories of him leaping through drifts like he was about to bring down an elk, and of him splashing delightedly after us through the ocean (or just in the kiddie pool). I will always remember his beautiful kind face, his whooshing fluffy tail, his huge proud smile when he'd just let out a particularly loud fart. And I'm pretty sure that owners of our home three or four removed from us will still be finding the dog hair tumbleweeds.

A few months back I was walking through town, without the dogs, and encountered two gentlemen with their dogs. I stopped for some scritches, and one of the men asked me, "You own the wolf, don't you?"

I laughed and said, "He's not, but yes." 

There will never be a bigger, wolfier, more magical dog. But down the road there will be another dog, to keep Bingley company and to be loved and given a second chance as the Bear was. I don't know how or when that dog will come into our lives; right now I can't look past the hollow absence in our house where there should be 120 pounds of white fur, pricked-up wolf ears, golden eyes, and a big toothy grin. But I know and I trust that the right dogs will keep coming into my life. 

Mary Oliver's "I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life":

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
Along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

fifty shades of I AM JUST HERE TO BUY A CAR

People tell you weird things when you're pregnant.

I'm not just talking about the "Wow, you still have a month to go??" comments (I got that this week, but I was wearing the sweater which made people think I was eight months along back in December, so I wasn't too surprised to hear that a lot) or the guy who asked in the coffeeshop, "Is this your first?" and when I said yes, replied, "Really?!" like that was the most shocking thing I could have said. Yes, I'm in the stage where one doesn't sleep, so I look like hell, but... did he think that I look like someone who was exhausted from chasing other kids, or that I look a million years old? Either way, charming.

A co-worker came to my office Friday morning saying, "I wanted to check up on you, because you really shouldn't still be here. You have, what, a week to go?" and then refused to be convinced that despite my enormity I really do have a due date of April 17th. "Maybe they got the due date wrong," I hear a lot. As if I could not possibly have any idea when this child was conceived. (Which I do not point out, because it's NOT their business and there is also the terrible possibility that if I did say so, one of them would ask how I know that. Uh, well.... seriously?) 

Conception is, in fact, the point I'm making: that none of the "you're huge!" comments are as weird as the random stuff people tell you about how / where / why their kids were conceived. I guess once you're walking around visibly pregnant, the whole "she's had sex!" thing causes some people to lose all boundaries when making the judgment call about whether a stranger needs to hear about their sex lives. 

Thursday night I traded in the silly muscle car for a sensible, cute sedan. It's the first time I've owned a car with four doors; I guess I'm an adult now. (Let's ask the guy in the coffeeshop how long he thinks I've been an adult.) The finance manager started in talking about his kids as soon as we sat down, because that's what you do with a pregnant woman, and that's fine. But then he told me, out of nowhere, that his second child is a "greyby". Having never heard that term, I looked perplexed. He clarified that that means "a Fifty Shades of Grey baby".

"Oh," I said, looking longingly at the paperwork. Please don't elaborate. 

"Yeah," he elaborated. "We thought we weren't going to have another one, and then my wife read those books!"

Now, I have not read those books. But I have read the recaps by hilarious and courageous bloggers who have read them so that the rest of us don't have to. And so I know that what this guy thought he was telling me was that his wife was turned on by a book about two consenting adults who enter into a mutually-gratifying relationship with some BDSM elements. (Which is still a creepy-ass thing to tell a complete stranger, not leastly because I tend to think his wife's turn-ons are hers to disclose or not.) And I know that what this guy was actually telling me was that his wife was turned on by a book about a man who beats, rapes, and emotionally abuses the woman he has isolated, manipulated, and purchased into being his "girlfriend". Seriously, those books are FUCKED UP. I know they were Twilight fan fiction originally, but frankly the excerpts I've seen read like American Psycho fan fiction, if there is such a thing (there almost certainly is such a thing and I SO don't want to know). Christian Grey is a vicious and calculating stalker-turned-abuser, but it's supposed to be romantic because he's unbelievably rich and handsome. I have opinions about this (they all boil down to: NO NO NO).

Note: I am NOT saying that BDSM is fucked up. These books do NOT depict a relationship between two consenting adults who are both getting physical and emotional gratification from certain sexual practices usually defined as BDSM. These books depict a man forcing and pressuring a vulnerable and inexperienced woman into sexual practices that she does not enjoy, until the power of True Love (and accidental pregnancy, of course) makes him okay with the kind of sex she prefers. Which is why you should stick with your abuser, because he might eventually, grudgingly, let you dictate how the two of you manage your obviously incompatible sexual desires, and that's proof that he loves you!

Also: you should stick with him because he has money. Money money money. He will buy you computers and cars and houses. The modern-romance-novel trope that that is a) true love and b) what women want in terms of wish fulfillment disgusts me. I've talked about it before, but the older I get the angrier it makes me that writers and marketers are still pushing this on women. Like my life would be infinitely more romantic and sexy if I was married to a guy who periodically just presents me with a new car, fully paid-for, that he picked out without consulting me, instead of me having to go buy one myself with the money I earn. Oh, if only Berowne were a controlling millionaire who knows my dress size / what car I should drive / what's best for me! 

...Of course, if he were, then he would have had to hear about the finance manager's sex life, and I would have been spared the knowledge that the term "greyby" is a thing. So clearly there are pros and cons. 

I have been reading, I swear. More about that later. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

pregnancy FAQ, part 2

Q: Why are you admitting to all this cluelessness and insecurity? Aren't you afraid of embarrassing yourself and worrying everybody?

A: It is extraordinarily freeing and therapeutic for me to stop pretending that I have all the answers. I regret almost daily that I maintained that pretense all through college, and was far too ashamed to ask questions when I didn't know something, and consequently missed out on learning so much.

There are pregnant women who find one source of information and are completely secure in trusting that. There are pregnant women who are completely secure in trusting their instincts. There are pregnant women who don't compare themselves to anyone else. And good for them! They are probably a lot less stressed out than I am, but then, such women are probably less stressed out than I whether or not any of us are pregnant at the time. I'm an anxious person. That's not a huge character flaw that I need to overcome or of which I should be ashamed. I've been this way my whole life, and by now I manage it well and have a good sense of humor about it. And part of that management, and maintaining that sense of humor, is refusing to pretend that I'm not an anxious person.

This is conscious. This is deliberate. I am choosing to admit, publicly, that I'm anxious and confused and feeling pressure about pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood, because I refuse to accept that these are not things we should admit. I refuse to buy into the "all women and their bodies instinctively know how to do all this" or "if you don't believe that everything your OB / midwife says is gospel to the extent that you don't need to gather information anywhere else, then you're getting terrible care" or "you just need to stop reading [everything except this one book]". (Please. When people tell me not to read something, I HAVE to read it. I have read books that were handed to me by someone saying,"This is the worst book ever written." [And it was frequently true!])

I don't have all the answers. I won't have all the answers after grilling my OB for forty minutes. I won't have all the answers after attending childbirth class. I will never have all the answers, and I'm not going to pretend I do. No one should be worried by me admitting to confusion and insecurity! Frankly, if I start claiming that I'm totally confident in my set-in-stone birth plan and my ability to handle labor, then you should worry, because that means I'm either lying or convincing myself that I should be ashamed to ask for help.

Also, I love the fact that every time I do post about my insecurity and confusion, I get great responses from mothers I know saying, "Oh man, me too!" Perfection, I imagine, is probably lonelier.

Q: Have you even written up a birth plan?

A: Lord, no. Almost certainly won't, either. Already the incubatee has shown herself to be cheerfully perverse enough that I am quite sure a birth plan would just be something for her to thwart. (Her specialty for a while was sleeping through ultrasounds.) And let's keep in mind that I have a dog undergoing palliative care, so the toughest decision I will be making in the next six or seven weeks will not be about what goes in my birth plan.

Coincidentally, the prenatal blog that I love to death talks about birth plans this week, and says very wise things.

Q: How go the questions about the nursery?

A: Hilariously, every time I have been asked, "Is the nursery ready?" by a mother, and I dare to admit, "Well, no, because she'll be in with us for at least the first few months," the mother responds, "Oh, we did that too!" and then laughs at herself for asking about the nursery just because she felt like that's one of those questions you're supposed to ask. 

Q: How are you enjoying the occasional return of extreme nausea?

A: It's an unpredictable delight! Most days things are fine. Then some days I'll eat a banana and it strikes like Thunderball. No way to know. Of course, I'm in the bathroom every ten minutes anyway, so...

Q: Isn't the "having to pee every ten minutes" thing supposed to happen later?

A: There isn't much of that "later" left available to us - due date's in six weeks.



Q: Were you, in fact, the oldest pregnant woman at your childbirth class?

A: Looked like it. Although I was also the only one who raised her hand when the instructor asked who was doing prenatal exercise. We old ladies have to work harder to stay in shape.

Q: How was the class?

A: Not bad. The instructor got off on a bad foot as far as I'm concerned, when she said that "husbands" (she tried to remember to say "partners" but kept slipping up) always worry about how much everything costs and how they're going to pay for the baby. Her implications were a) that impending mothers don't worry about such earth-bound things as money and b) that the men are either the sole providers or at least definitely have the larger income. My eyebrows reached my hairline at that, but otherwise it was fine. The other couples seem nice and Berowne and I only started cracking each other up in the last half-hour.

Q: How's work?

A: Blogging about work is pretty much the most efficient way to get yourself fired, but let's just say that I work in a medical environment, and I have noticed that when a doctor goes out on maternity leave, no one asks her to have 800 patient visits instead of 200 in the month leading up to her leave; but I'm being asked to do four months' worth of work in one. While heavily pregnant. And unable to work longer-than-eight-hour days because I have to rush home to my terminally ill dog. I've been coming in on Saturdays and will continue to do so, which is pretty miserable given how limited my remaining time with Darcy is and how much work there is to do around the house pre-baby. By its very nature this situation is temporary, but good lord, it's not healthy.

Q: So you're sort of (in a very first-world, middle-class, kind of way) forging your baby in the fires of Mount Doom?

A: That would explain the heartburn. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

rambling, as is usual these days

And so we stumble onward, with a sick dog and in the eighth month of pregnancy. Tomorrow we start our childbirth classes, about which Berowne is excited and I am rather less so. They are SO late at night! You must understand that even before getting pregnant I was an incredibly early retirer, so that I could rise at an ungodly hour as well. When another pregnant woman said something to me along the lines of sometimes being so tired now that she goes to bed at (gasp!) ten-thirty, I laughed and laughed. Until meeting a guy in a band, I hadn't seen ten-thirty at night in years; but on nights when we have these classes, we might not be getting home until around then. This will be a challenge for me, to remain engaged and good-natured when nine o'clock finds me in a hospital conference room and still wearing real pants. And I will probably be the oldest woman there by far (I definitely was when we attended the "Meet the Doctors" event last week, and had a whole "you are babies YOURSELVES, what are you DOING," internal commentary going [answer: having babies while they still have the energy for real pants]).

Actually, I'm sure it will be fun. I'll feel boatloads of guilt about leaving Darcy alone in the evenings, but it's only once a week. (Something I have not been able to do since Darcy got sick: look at cute animals on the internet. Darcy is prettier than ALL of them and IT'S NOT FAIR.) 

Read lately:

Dust Tracks on a Road, by Zora Neale Hurston. Her autobiography, and very good reading. Dreamy and magical, and a little bit arrogant with her own skill, but in a justified way.

The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, by Peter Godwin. Aiiieee. Horror reporting. Very well done and very engaging, but so hard to read.

Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, by Nathaniel Philbrick. Philbrick's first book, and not nearly as good as his later stuff, but still enjoyable.  

The Kids Will Be Fine: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Women, by Daisy Waugh. This was my Early Reviewers book for the month. It arrived in the mail yesterday, and I took it into the bath with me and finished it within the hour. It's that kind of short, delightful book. Waugh is British, and has a very British sensibility when it comes to not tolerating bullshit (think Caitlin Moran, though not quite as brilliant or amusing). The book does skim over pregnancy policing and spend too much time (I think) on pressure to participate in the child's school career, but that's where Waugh is right now in her life, so it makes sense. I wanted more about what applies to me now, not what I'll be dealing with in eight years. But I will definitely hang onto this book and return to it as applicable. It made me laugh a lot, and did succeed in making me feel less guilty about a lot of stuff: Waugh is especially funny about the pressure to have a drug-free childbirth, which I have definitely felt increase throughout my pregnancy.

My attitude on that topic had previously been an open-minded, "Let's see how it goes," because I have no idea how painful the experience will actually be and so I can't predict what I will or won't need. But then I started doing my childbirth reading, and finding that almost all the literature a) says that more and more women are going drug-free and b) phrases the alternative option in some really unfortunate way like, "remember there will be pain medication available if you turn out to be one of those women who just can't handle it." Of course this resulted in my Competitive Nonsense kicking in, and I can picture myself asking the nurse offering the epidural, "But does the average woman need one at this point? Or do they usually go longer? Or go without entirely? Because I have to measure up to, or ideally surpass, a total stranger in terms of my stoicism; that is what is important right now," and Berowne will say, "Actually, honey, right now you appear to be in agony," and I'll say, "ARE YOU IMPLYING THAT I AM WEAK," and it will all be ridiculous.

There really is a huge amount of pressure to avoid interventions of any kind, which is fine as far as it goes, but the actual discussions of this tend to conflate much more serious medical interventions like a forceps birth or emergency c-section with the taking of any pain medication whatsoever. This is not helpful: the situations are not comparable, and the scolding mantra of "this is a natural process and women got through it naturally for centuries," is pretty awful, given that there's always the implied, "SO WHY CAN'T YOU," tacked on the end. I don't know if I can or not! I won't know until it's actually happening! (Also, women didn't always get through it, not by a long shot.) And whence the shame about pain meds in this particular situation? For twenty-five years I've had, every month, the most mind-bogglingly painful menstrual cramps imaginable, and I have never felt shame, or had to receive grief, about taking pain meds for them. But you get into the realm of childbirth, and suddenly requesting pain meds would be "unnatural", as if a mother who doesn't sufficiently suffer for her child is cheating in some way. As if they'll put an asterisk on your medical chart to indicate that the record is controversial: "Did technically produce a child from her body, but was kind of a wuss about it."

And I shouldn't even be putting "unnatural" in quotes, because that's exactly what a medicated childbirth is considered. When a woman says she had a natural childbirth, she means an unmedicated vaginal birth, and it's implicit in that phrase that anything else is unnatural. We have got to come up with a different word for unmedicated vaginal birth, so that we can stop telling women who had epidurals or c-sections or inductions that the production of their children into the world literally went against nature.  

The fact that I want to be stronger than anyone else is my own problem. Spartan Boy and so forth. I'm sure I'll get over it once I'm in the actual situation. 

My temper is like string too short to be saved these days. I cannot WAIT to be able to work out again, and by this point it's not at all about vanity. It's about the fact that, though I can and do practice prenatal yoga, it has been eight months (during the first trimester I was first far too nervous about being newly pregnant to work out strenuously in midsummer, and then far too nauseated) since I did the kind of workout that leaves you pouring sweat and with endorphins basically shooting out the top of your head, and for my emotional health I have long needed that kind of workout about three times a week. That is how I have successfully processed and eliminated negativity for years, and now when work is toxic I go home without any form of release available to me. I tried taking a long walk with Bingley the other day, but a) only one of us is socially permitted to pee every ten feet, and both of us needed to, and b) Berowne reported that Darcy was made very, very unhappy by being left behind. So that didn't achieve much.

This too shall pass. At the moment I feel like I have my country's anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it; and I'm up a half-dozen times a night; but soon enough I won't believe that I considered this period to lack free time or rest. It's all relative.