Wednesday, April 30, 2014

midnight reading and sagas of the boob

Reading while up in the middle of the night with a feeding baby is not as straightforward as I assumed it would be. Many breastfeeding positions (and bottle-feeding too: more on that below) require two hands, so you can't turn a page. I am starting to seriously consider holding a pencil in my mouth so that I can use the eraser to turn the Kindle pages. Also there is the whole "it is the sixth time I've been up tonight and I am so sleep-deprived as to be virtually hallucinating" aspect to it, which makes concentrating on a book a little tough. Sometimes it seems the better choice to just go downstairs and watch TV.

What I have managed to read:

The Devil's Workshop, by Alex Grecian. My Early Reviewers book. I previously read Grecian's first book, and wasn't too impressed, but a lot of the flaws were first-book flaws, so I put my name on the list for this one, the third in a series. It focuses on Scotland Yard's Murder Squad in the late nineteenth century. In this one, multiple prisoners have escaped and are loose in London. Grecian is indeed getting better with pacing and suspense, which was both good and bad given that he made all the escaped prisoners totally crazed serial killers and went into WAY too much detail about their grisly crimes. Also Jack the Ripper is around and there is a heavily-pregnant woman in peril (if I'd known that I would have delayed reading this book, I can tell you what). I found this book upsetting because the gore was so graphic and constant, and honestly that's what will stick with me about it. 

Magistrates of Hell, by Barbara Hambly. I love her Benjamin January series, so I thought I'd check out her nineteenth-century vampire hunter series (seriously). This book, while it did show some of the evidence of massive historical research that she clearly does, was ultimately pretty fluffy and forgettable. It also features a heroine who is supposedly brilliant and passionately curious about everything, but due to vanity won't wear her spectacles, so everywhere she goes her passionate curiosity can only be whetted upon colorful blurs, and in situations where being able to read another person's facial expressions would be really, really valuable, she can't. I was disproportionally irritated by this characterization, and not interested in continuing with this series. 

The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl. I keep reading Pearl's books, even though it's sort of hate-reading at this point. They all start out well and respectful of their nineteenth-century literary inspirations, and then they go totally stupid and crazy. This one, about a hunt for the missing second half of Dickens' last novel, took longer to go crazy than his previous books, but in the end was just as convoluted and unsatisfying as they all end up being. 

Midsummer Night, by Deanna Raybourn. Chaste romance novella. Pretty much the right level of what my brain can handle at four a.m.

The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, by Claire Tomalin. Tomalin is so, so good at biography, even when she has very little to work with, as she does with Ternan. I really enjoyed this.

And now for other stuff. 

First up is the case of the baby's blog name. It was an easy choice: we went into the hospital on a gray chilly day, and left on a gray chilly day (ah, New England springs), but in the three days we were trapped inside trees and flowers had begun to bloom, and the air was lighter and fresher, and we felt as if we'd entered during winter and were leaving in spring. Things new-born, appearing right after a bear exits: of course she had to be Perdita.

So, breastfeeding. Let's get into that. It's not like people have strong feelings about it or anything.

I have been breastfeeding. It's a challenge because one breast (the non-irradiated one) is much more into this whole lactation thing than the other, and latching has been a hell of a thing, and little Perdita is a comfort nurser, meaning that she'll nurse for two minutes and then fall asleep on the nipple, and then scream from hunger when she is removed. So for a week what would happen was an hour and a half of her getting in a few sucks, falling asleep, being taken off the nipple (per the lactation consultant's instructions), waking and screaming, and then re-starting the agonizing ten-minute process of getting a latch back. At the end of this hour and a half (and bear in mind we're supposed to be feeding her every two hours), she'd be asleep from exhaustion and frustration, having consumed maybe half an ounce of milk, and my nipples would feel like they'd been used as Shere Khan's tug-toys. And Berowne would, again on the lactation consultant's instructions, start setting up the pumping equipment for me to strap myself into for the half-hour before we needed to try her on the breast again. I would usually start crying at this point.

The crucial thing about all this is the "having consumed maybe half an ounce". Her doctor's visits showed her continuing to lose weight, and she was getting lethargic and her temperature going down. So, on an urgent Sunday visit, the pediatrician we saw said, "Her weight loss is not okay. Now -" wincing - "I know you probably want to breastfeed exclusively, but..."

Us: "No, not at all! We'll do whatever we need to for her!"

Doctor: "Oh, thank God. I thought this was going to be a heartbreaking conversation. Thank you so much for making my life easier."

Later, Berowne: "I wonder why she thought we'd be so resistant to supplementing. Do we look that much like hippies?" [pause] "Well, I do have a giant mountain-man beard right now."

Me: "And when was the last time either of us put on deodorant?" [As of this writing, I have literally no idea when I last washed my hair. To a point, a pixie cut looks better the dirtier it is, but that point strikes hard and fast.]

In any case, we are now supplementing with formula. With the pressure to be her sole source of calories off my shoulders, both nursing and pumping are much easier due to my lowered stress. And she's gaining weight like a champ! I still spend an awful lot of my day with either a baby or a pump attached to me, but now that it's about quality rather than quantity, about giving her the benefits of breastmilk while knowing that between the milk and the formula her body has the calories she needs, it has stopped making me cry.

Things are pretty amazing. There's the nagging part of my mind worrying about work; and my body is healing slower than I'd like (because I am an insane person who wanted to be able to start working out again three days after giving birth); and at least once a day I am taken by the throat and wrung out by how much I miss the big white dog. Our family should be five; we counted on it being five for most of the pregnancy. But even with just the four of us, this little house is full of love. And exhausted delirium. But mostly love.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

blogging from the sitz bath

Actually home, with an actual baby, and not actually pregnant any more, as I type this. Also a sleep-deprived zombie, which is why I think the previous sentence is a perfectly reasonable one to write.

[Birth story ahead. I try not to get too graphic, but, you know, words like "cervix" might be unavoidable.]

The hospital was finally able to take us in for my induction Sunday night. We arrived, got settled, and I took my first dose of misoprostol, and tried to get some sleep. Second dose came around midnight, and at two-thirty my water broke. This happening naturally is a good sign, so they delayed the third dose to see if I could dilate on my own. 

Contractions started soon after three, and kept me up the rest of the night, though they weren't unbearable. Sometime around eight in the morning, I think (things get blurry from this point), the doctor decided that I should have a third dose of misoprostol to get the dilation further along. I was concerned, because the contractions were already ramping up, but I agreed. 

What followed was pain for which there aren't words (not to be melodramatic or anything). The comparisons of induced labor to being eaten alive by bears are still not something I can address from personal experience, but since being eaten by bears is almost certainly over much more quickly, I would lean towards that being the lesser of the experiences. 

In any case, it was not long before I decided that I had proved everything I needed to prove. I've been through enough in thirty-seven years. So I called in the doctor and the nurse and said that I would like to discuss pain options. 

The nurse said, "But I'm going to get you in the bath! And you haven't walked around yet! And I had three kids without any interventions!" 


The doctor (not my usual OB; just the doc on the floor that day - and bear in mind that she'd been the one to push the third dose of drugs past my concerns) shook her head at me. "Beatrice," she said. "Beatrice, Beatrice."

I knew then I was in trouble.

"Beatrice, childbirth is a woman's Mt. Everest." (I had not the mental wherewithal to ask if that was the case even for women who have climbed the literal, non-uterine-metaphor, Mt. Everest. I was in the fetal position on a hospital bed crying.) "And what country is Mt. Everest in?"

"Nepal?" I hazarded, totally confused.  

"Yes. And you haven't even gotten to Nepal. You haven't even left Boston. You're sitting on the tarmac at Logan. What you're going through now is NOTHING." 

She proceeded to talk at great length about how the pain I was currently experiencing, which was the definition of unbearable as far I was concerned, in that I was requesting desperately of the medical establishment that I not have to bear it any longer, was probably the least amount of pain I would experience for the next twenty-four hours, which was why (and I'm sure it was my own failing that I couldn't quite follow her logic here) I had to just suck it up and be strong and get through that pain and forthcoming pain twenty times times worse without drugs, because billions of women do so every day, and also Mt. Everest. As pep talks go, it was the most balls-out insane, and worst, one ever.  

Yes, there was some stuff about how if I had pain medications at that point it would mean I would have to have them in place throughout the rest of my labor (to which I said, SOUNDS AWESOME). But the vast majority of what the doctor and nurse said was total shaming and peer pressure, and eventually I meekly submitted to the idea of walking around and taking a bath instead. 

Several unspeakable hours later (the doctor's metaphorical plane to Nepal may have been a beautiful voyage of feminine empowerment, but mine failed to clear the Alps and the survivors turned to cannibalism), with Berowne's help I managed to convince these two ladies that I was both a grown woman capable of making an informed decision about my medical care and also on the verge of a complete panic attack for which they would be responsible. The doctor relented. The nurse was so disgusted by me and my weakness that she actually left our team at that point and sent us someone else. (Win-win!) 

I was given all the narcotics and, after they'd worn off, an epidural. Throughout the whole span of the drugged part of labor, I still felt the contractions, just to a lesser (or, in the case of the narcotics, not even lesser: simply different) degree. Berowne read to me from Moby-Dick while we waited through this portion, and after five hours of the epidural, I was found to be fully dilated and with the baby's head in position. This did not surprise me at all, because I knew that what I needed was to be relaxed, and that I wouldn't be able to relax unmedicated. Props to the women who can, though I refuse to feel like I wimped out because some other woman would have been able to be all Spartan Boy about the same things I was feeling. Comparisons are odorous. 

By the time we got to pushing, I had almost nothing left (and would have had nothing at all if I'd been in agonizing, blinding pain those five hours). After two and a half hours, I was given an episiotomy, and out she came, perfect as could be. Then my body fell to pieces and I shook uncontrollably (it felt like my bones were rattling) and hyperventilated for half an hour. Apparently this is actually quite common post-birth, given what your body's been through, but I had never heard of it before, though I'd encountered every labor horror story known to modern man during my pregnancy. So I had no expectation of it, and honestly thought that some sort of postpartum psychosis was kicking in thirty seconds after giving birth and that they were going to have to sedate me and I'd wake up in the psych ward. In the end ginger ale largely solved the problem, but yikes. 

Our daughter is beautiful and amazing. Everyone is doing well. The combination of childbirth + an episiotomy means that I feel like I sat on an angry badger, but that will heal. No, I won't have a beautiful empowering childbirth story to tell my daughter, unless you count as empowering the moment when I decided I was going to insist on what I needed in the face of enormous disapproval (which I kind of do). But that is the least of what matters about my new astonishing role as a parent. 

And now, someone is reminding me that it has been an outrageous length of time since she was fed, so you will have to excuse me. Best to all. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

pregnancy FAQ, part 4

Q: ... still pregnant? Are you kidding us?

A: How I wish I was. I'm at the point of believing that my hitherto-unknown superpower is actually the ability to hypnotize medical professionals and ultrasound machines into supporting my pseudocyesis. THANKS, RADIATION. THIS HAS LIMITED USES. 

Q: Is your doctor concerned?

A: Well, my now-twice-rescheduled induction is, technically, not for medical reasons yet (it's what's usually called a "social induction", and that's the first procedure to get bumped if there are computer / staffing problems, which is what's been going on at our hospital the last few days). But the fact that she was totally on board with an induction the day after my due date indicates to me that she could tell I'm losing my damn mind. 

Q: So twice now you've packed everything up, cleaned the house, contacted the dogsitter, thought you were going in to start having a baby - and then they told you nope, not today, call back tomorrow? Twice? 

A: YES.  I don't at all resent being a low priority compared to women who are actually in labor, but if you thought I was losing my shit BEFORE...

Q: Wait, a "social induction"? Isn't that, like, so unnatural as to belong in Dr. Frankenstein's lab?

A: And I will probably be as stellar a parent, too. Instead of asking for an induction when the second visit in ten days showed that I hadn't progressed at all towards labor since the last check, I should have said cheerfully, "Oh, no interventions, let's wait! I can be patient! I can just do hours of meditation and yoga a day for, like, two more weeks of wasted leave time, and think beautiful thoughts, and the baby will come when she's ready! No matter that she'll weigh fourteen pounds and I'll have to go back to work before she's two months old!"

Q: Seriously. You're as bad as the apocryphal women who schedule their elective c-sections around their ski trips to Aspen.  

A: It's so true! An induction for, at the moment, work and mental health-related reasons (insomnia, anxiety attacks, uncontrollable crying, and self-loathing have been the delicious plats du jour for a week now, and I really didn't feel like going through [and exposing the baby to] two more weeks of such) is exactly like that. Never mind that should this go another four days my doctor wants an induction for medical reasons, given my age and genetic risk of blood clots, and the scheduling of it earlier for my sanity and convenience was the only part of it that's "social". Despite that, I'm a bad person who has failed. 

Q: Well, you will be justly punished for it; everyone agrees that induced labor is the most pain that a human being who is not actually being eaten alive by a bear can experience.

A: So they say. I will try to report back with a comparison.

Q: You have been eaten alive by bears?

A: No, but I saw "Grizzly Man". 

Q: Which begs the question: would having Werner Herzog narrate your induced labor make it better or worse?

A: This is probably an available childbirth option in the Netherlands. 

Q: You will, alas, have to settle for at least knowing that your pain is deserved. 

A: See my forthcoming book, Calvinist Childbirth Techniques. 

Q: Amen! Because women have not physically suffered enough after nine months of pregnancy.

A: Or emotionally or mentally, I would add. This experience is no fucking joke. Even if you don't plan and host your wedding during it. Even if you don't spend two months of it caring for a beloved terminally-ill dog, and one month of it grieving him, and all three of those months working six-day weeks in an increasingly frantic environment. Even if it doesn't mean that the daily strenuous exercise which has kept you sane for eight years is now off the table (yeah, yeah, women run marathons while pregnant - it wasn't a good idea for me). With profuse and multiple apologies to those who wish to be pregnant and are as jealous of me as I am of women who love being pregnant, don't have to worry about work, and/or are going into labor naturally and beautifully, the last nine months have been kind of horrible and I am every shade of done. 

Q: To the books?

A: To the books!

A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West, by James Donovan. A LOT of backstory before we get to the actual battle, but interesting for all that. The section about the aftermath, and blame-assigning, post-battle, was perhaps what I liked best.

Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking, by Jessica Mitford. Essays about her experiences in investigatory journalism; really, really funny. Also, I had no idea that the expression "frenemy" has been around as long as it has (she claims her family invented it). 

Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth. Huge ambitious historical novel about the slave trade that succeeds on almost every level. The female characters are given majorly short shrift, in my opinion, but other than that I loved it. 

The Mapping of Love and Death, by Jacqueline Winspear. The latest (that I've read) in her Maisie Dobbs, impossibly-perfect post-WWI investigator, series. I like them without at all liking our heroine, and I forget the details of each one almost immediately. 

Q: Good luck producing a baby at some point! At least you have an awesome husband and dog.

A: Thanks! The dog got a very good walk this morning, and the husband ate some cheese balls, and the result is that they are both in a coma state on the couch, snoring with the delicate harmony of a kazoo and an electric guitar. Magical Saturday afternoons. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

pregnancy FAQ, part 3

[Deliberately absurd hyperbole ahead. I kind of feel like I shouldn't have to give this disclaimer, but people always get worried when I go all exaggerated in these posts. There is, alas, some truth in all of it; the competitive pressures of pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood are not things I have in any way made up.]

Q: Are you still pregnant?

A: Yes. And yes, they will probably have to induce; and yes, everyone knows that medically-induced childbirth is nightmarishly, infamously painful, so I'll probably need an epidural; and yes, everyone knows that one intervention always leads to another, so I'll probably end up getting a c-section; and yes, I will have completely failed at childbirth; and yes, it's my own fault because I first failed at pregnancy by not having a doula or not quitting my job or not dropping $100 a week on prenatal spa treatments or not somehow managing it so my dog didn't get cancer or not going to the famous hospital or not having a homebirth or not running marathons or not doing WHATEVER IT IS YOU THINK I SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING INSTEAD OF LIVING MY LIFE WHILE HAPPENING TO BE PREGNANT., when did you decide that gestating the full 40 weeks (which you won't even have done until Thursday) would be a failure?

A: Maybe when people started shrieking in horror and pity upon hearing the projected birth weight, which made me convince myself that my only chance at doing this naturally would have been if I went into labor two and a half weeks ago. Never mind that a) birth weights estimated from ultrasounds are notoriously inaccurate and b) said projected birth weight was, tops, eight pounds. Not exactly unheard-of.

Or maybe when I realized that everyone knows that real women get to just decide when they want to go into labor, because they are so magnificently connected to their bodies and they love being pregnant and they feel their most strong and beautiful at 39 weeks along. I felt strong back when I was strong, not when I haven't been able to do anything more energetic than prenatal yoga for nine months and am toting around 40 extra pounds. So clearly I have the wrong attitude about this whole experience and about my body in general, by preferring it when it is active and limber and muscular.

Q: Well, you've got the wrong attitude about something, yeah.


Q: And you do know that you would have decided it was a failure if you gave birth early, too, right?

A: Yes, I do have enough self-awareness for that.

Q: Forty pounds? Really?

A: Yup. I'm okay with the thirty pounds on my belly and butt and thighs. The ten pounds which have taken up residence on my neck and jawline are another story, and that story is written completely in obscenities.

Q: How badly does the "women's bodies are designed to do this [give birth]" trope make you want to vomit?

A: Let's put it this way: my body was "designed" to be dying of cancer right about now, and it's thanks to major medical intervention three years ago that I'm alive and kicking and enormously pregnant. I do want to have faith that my body can handle this, because it's tough and stubborn, but seriously, do not get up in my six extra chins with the concept that childbirth is so beautiful and natural and the sole thing my body's wanted to do all these years, and only women who are hopelessly brainwashed and/or can't stand up to their evil doctors get interventions! No exceptions for placenta previa or pre-eclampsia or breech babies or anything! (We will not even speak of what this trope is implying about women who choose not to or cannot get pregnant.)

Q: Speaking of Things Real Women Do At Which You Fail, how's your nesting coming along? The house is clean to the corners and beautifully arranged for baby's arrival, right?

A: I made my husband give the dog a bath, which, of course, made the bathtub even more filthy. Then I consolidated three piles of unexamined paper on the kitchen table into one unexamined pile. Then I had to sit down for a while.

Q: Have you been reading?

A: I have been reading!

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, by Allie Brosh. I had read about half of this already, since I've followed Brosh's website for a while now, but the new pieces were really fantastic. She writes about depression and dogs, mostly, and is hilarious.

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin. Slow-moving and pretentious and really, really beautiful.

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore. This book is just amazing. Lepore manages to write a biography of Benjamin Franklin's younger sister from very little documentation, and it's touching and fascinating and infuriating (infuriating because of Jane's obvious intelligence and potential, and how that potential was virtually impossible for a woman of that time to realize, even if she didn't have twelve children). I recommend this book very highly.

Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants, by Alison Maloney. Meh, pretty boring. 

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride. A novel about a black adolescent who ends up traveling with John Brown throughout his last couple years. It took me forever to finish and I don't quite know why, because I liked it a lot. I will definitely be reading more by McBride. 

The Cure of Souls, by Phil Rickman. A sort-of mystery where the twist is that our heroine is a priest and exorcist. Interesting potential but nothing about this book ever quite clicked for me. It's part of a series, and I don't think I'll be reading any more of them.

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, by Edmund de Waal. De Waal documents the history of his family's wealth, art collection, and persecution at the hands of the Nazis. He is primarily tracking a series of netsuke through the centuries, mostly because they were the only artworks which the family managed to retain after WWII. (I won't spoil how they were saved, because it's pretty awesome.) I couldn't decide what I thought of de Waal's writing style or his blasé acceptance of his family's (pre-war) astronomical wealth, and it took me a while to settle into the book. But I did like it once I'd settled in.

Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality, by Jonathan Weiner. Solid and captivating science reporting, even if it ends up being mostly about one extremely eccentric guy in the field. I liked this book a lot. 

I'd like to say that my next dispatch will be post-baby, but there is no guarantee of that. They aren't going to let me go to 41 weeks, so there will presumably be a child one way or another before the 24th. Wait a minute... I could be like this for EIGHT MORE DAYS? I could sit around at home (today having been my last day at work) for EIGHT DAYS brooding on my inability to go into labor naturally? Aw, geez. In that case, my next dispatch may be about the amazingly bad things you can find on Netflix when you're trying to distract yourself. We shall see. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

a seriously disorganized post

Still pregnant. Very tired of being so. It grows harder and harder to have the energy for anything, even to grieve.

Of course I'll be grieving the big white dog for years, if not forever. He was an absolute beloved and I'll never stop missing him. I cried a little one morning because there was so much dog food left in the bag, now that just Bingley is being fed. But it turns out that properly grieving - bawling and stomping and shouting that it's NOT FAIR - takes energy, and I don't have the faintest bit left.

What has produced the most tears, so far:

The day when I came home to find three cards from the local animal shelter (where we got Bingley), showing that three different people (none of whom talk to each other) had donated in Bear's name. So many sniffles.

The Paddington Bear onesie, from a work baby shower (thank heavens I didn't open it until I got home!), that says on the front, "Please look after this bear." Not so much sniffles, in that case, as the tears just exploding out of my face. (In both cases, of course, the tears were out of gratitude at others' thoughtfulness as much as they were of loss.)


So, I actually really like the new What to Expect When You're Expecting. They put all the terrifying stuff in a separate section at the end, and the restrictive diet rules in a separate section at the beginning, and I've been amazingly good at ignoring those two sections. I've gotten huge use out of this book through the pregnancy. But the other night it completely failed me, as I started reading up on post-natal exercise:

On one page: "Don't even think about exercising until six weeks after birth. Plus exercising releases toxins into your system which will poison your baby if you're breastfeeding."

Literally, no joke, five pages later: "You can start exercising twenty-four hours after birth! And, regardless of what you've heard, it doesn't make your breast milk sour!"


I think that what happened here was that the authors, on the first page in question, conflated "exercise" with "diet restrictively and work out really hard with the sole goal of losing weight", and the latter was what they were saying you shouldn't do until six weeks after birth. And five pages later they were referring to a gradual building back up to your pre-pregnancy exercise routine. But you'd think an editor would have caught the whiplash there.


Things I am really enjoying hearing and not tired of at all:

"You've been pregnant FOREVER!" (I have stopped going to my town's Dunkin' Donuts because of this. I do like the friendly ladies who have my order ready for me when I reach the counter, but they started saying, "Ooo, any day now!" back in January, which was not only awkward but made me too self-conscious to request a donut with my coffee, and that is no way to live. The surly staff at the DD near my work couldn't give less of a crap that I'm pregnant, so I go there now. [New Englanders now know exactly how tiny my town is: it only has one Dunkin' Donuts.])

"A girl? Oh, no, you're definitely having a boy. I can tell by the way you're carrying." (This, daily, from complete strangers who have no idea what I looked like before I got pregnant and whose word I should apparently take over that of genetic counselors and ultrasound technicians.)

"Why are you still here??" (Also daily, from co-workers who a) have just demanded that I do five thousand things for them before I leave and b) apparently have no idea that our company isn't going to pay me for however much leave I feel like taking. I get paid for the vacation / sick time I have accrued. Period. If you can afford to be at home without a paycheck [while paying for your own insurance premiums] for an extra two to four weeks of leave, good for you. Don't assume everyone else can.)

"Your body will never be the same!" (Duh. But my body - being a human's body - has never exactly been in stasis, you know? My body pre-pregnancy wasn't the same body I had in my twenties, or the same body I had pre-cancer, or the same body I had when I was thirty-five as opposed to thirty-six. I wasn't walking around in some vampiric non-aging form for ten years before getting knocked up, and it doesn't come as a complete surprise to me that my body will retain signs of having gestated a human being. I'm not concerned with it being "the same". I'm concerned with getting back in shape, because with my health history and genetic risks, I am putting myself in danger if I'm carrying too much weight and/or not getting enough exercise. And because I have missed working out SO MUCH.) 

ANYTHING that ANYONE has to say about daycare. We're just not having that conversation: not here, not anywhere. I know that I'm a monster; you don't need to tell me. I knew that when I decided to have a child despite being neither able to expose her to five languages* and six musical instruments** personally, nor to send her to insanely competitive, insanely expensive, private schools from kindergarten on, where she will be exposed to these things. My God, the poor thing will have to read Dante in translation! She probably won't even get into Vassar! 


Oh, right, books!

Johnny Cash: The Life, by Robert Hilburn. A decently engrossing biography, though the writing's nothing to get excited about. 

The Blackhouse, by Peter May. Ostensibly a murder mystery, but, as most such books are these days, actually much more about the characters and setting. I liked it a lot, though it was grim. 

The Grave Tattoo, by Val McDermid. I think you have to care more about William Wordsworth than I do to find the literary-scholar-hunt aspect of this interesting, but it was still a fun distraction. 

Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest, by Gregg Olsen. A "doctor" in early-twentieth-century Washington state set up a sanatorium purporting to cure people of every ailment known to exist by, basically, starving them. Unsurprisingly, there were many deaths. I found this book fascinating and horrifying. 

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder. Otherwise known as: Bloodlands: Oh My God, It Sucks to Be Poland. The sheer numbers of the dead became so numbing as to be soporific. I would recommend Judt's Postwar instead, if you want to read about poor Poland. 

*Unless you count standard English, iambic pentameter, Dickensian hyperbole, creative swearing, and fluent dog. (Her father does speak Spanish, but my language skills are limited to preschool-level French in the worst accent you've ever heard.) 

**Well, her father can play the guitar, the trumpet, the washboard, the harmonica, the spoons?... and sing, so there's that. But she may well take after me and my brief tragic oboe career. (Tragic for anyone who had to listen, especially our poor beagle.)