The stories I remember

When tragedy strikes somewhere in the world, news of it always starts the same way: a vague report with no real details. There’s been a plane crash, a tsunami, an earthquake. Sometimes it turns out to be nothing – just a few minor injuries, but miraculously everyone walks away alive. Those are the stories that no one remembers.

As the news comes in and it turns out to be something, we watch in open-mouthed horror as it unfolds in front of our eyes on TV or the internet. Most of the time it’s so far away that we can’t really comprehend the scope, but we try anyway, and often end up turning away when it gets to be too much.

The reporters are somber, and they shake their heads and tell us that what they’re seeing can’t really be described. One way they try to make it real is by telling us the individual stories. In between the reports of structural damage and relief efforts, we hear about people who are lost or found, and we see the faces of tragedy and triumph.

Those are the stories that I remember.

In Haiti, a man wandered the streets looking for help for a 2 week old baby with a head injury. It just so happened that he stumbled across Sanjay Gupta, who in addition to being chief medical correspondent for CNN, is also a brain surgeon.

Dr. Gupta was able to examine the baby and determine that it was a minor injury, so he patched him up and sent him away. Amid all of the reports of people who were missing or severely wounded or killed, this was one of hope, and he ended the story on a positive note, saying the baby would be fine.

Except maybe he won’t.

See, the man who wandered the streets to look for help was not the baby’s father, but his uncle. The father was too distraught to do anything because his wife, the baby’s mother, was killed in the earthquake. This baby did not just lose his mother; he lost the only source of food and nutrition he has.

Where are they going to get formula or bottles or clean water? How are they going to sterilize the bottles and make sure the baby gets enough to eat? While all the doctors are treating the victims with life threatening injuries, who is going to check that this baby isn’t slowly slipping away from malnutrition?

Caring for a newborn is exhausting under the best of circumstances. Who is going to help this man when he is too overwhelmed with grief? Who is going to take over the 3am feeding so this man can get some much needed rest after all he has endured? Who is going to help when everyone around him is traumatized from watching the world fall down around them?

I remember times when Eloise was a newborn where I was exhausted from sleep deprivation and a baby who would not be soothed. It was hard with a husband, and a network of friends and family, and a constant supply of clean clothes and diapers, and access to the internet and excellent medical care. I cannot imagine what it must be like with none of that. I don’t even know if I can try.

The baby will probably not make the news again. Maybe he will be fine, whatever that word will mean going forward to the victims of the earthquake, but maybe he won’t.

He’s one baby. Just one story among countless others, but he is the one I will remember.

Doctors Without Borders


American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)

International Red Cross

The Sound of Silence

I hesitate to even mention this because I am terrified of jinxing myself, but it just might be possible that we have achieved sleep victory at our house. For the past several nights, my daughter has gone to bed without a fuss both at night and at nap.

I cannot even describe the feeling I get when, after a bath and a story and a song, I plop her down in her crib and WALK AWAY. No complicated pattern of rocking, patting and shushing, no anguished cries, no nothing. Up until now, I truly dreaded bedtime and hated myself for it, but it was so stressful. But now – well, now it is very good.

My baby is the best of all the babies.

Mother of the Year

In case it’s not abundantly clear from my prior posts, my daughter is not the best sleeper in the world. Everyone keeps telling me we have to let her cry it out, and I know that is probably the only solution at this point, but it is just so hard.

I finally reached my breaking point the other day when she would just not go to sleep no matter what I did, and I figured she was already screaming her head off with me right there, so there was no reason for me to stay. I went downstairs, turned the monitor volume so that I could hear her but not so that it pierced my brain, and set the timer for 10 minutes.

After 7 minutes, the crying stopped. I was shocked that it actually worked, but it was short lived. About 10 minutes after that, she started wailing, and then I wasn’t sure what to do. Did the 10 minutes of crying start over? Or did I have to factor in the fact that she already cried for 7 minutes earlier?

It was soon clear that she was absolutely hysterical, so I went up with the intention of soothing her back down but not picking her up. She was sitting up in bed, and I noticed that something about her face looked strange, and when I got closer, I discovered that HER FACE WAS COVERED IN BLOOD.

I freaked out, snatched her out of her crib, and frantically tried to ascertain if she was okay. Once I mopped up her face, I couldn’t even find the source of the bleeding, so I suspect that she nicked herself with a sharp fingernail, and then a small amount of blood mixed with the tears and snot that covered her face, making it appear a lot worse than it actually was.

Despite the fact that she is just fine, I haven’t been able to let go of the total panic I felt when I saw the blood everywhere. I’ve rocked her to sleep every night since.

Vampire Love

When I looked back over 2008, I realized I didn’t read a lot of books. Somehow with the stress of a new baby, I just didn’t seem to have the time, and when I did relax, it was usually on the couch for about .003 seconds before falling fast asleep. Most of the books I did read last year all had titles like The Happiest Baby on the Block, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and In the Name of All That is Holy Please Make My Baby Sleep.*

As someone who has been an avid reader since I was a child, I was very bothered by the fact that I finished so few books last year. So what did I do to remedy this situation? I went out and bought the very finest literature that I could get my hands on – the Twilight saga**. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Twilight (and the other 3 books in the series) is a story about a 17 year old girl named Bella who falls in love with a vampire. The books (and now the movie) are insanely popular with teenaged girls, in large part because of Edward Cullen, the object of Bella’s affection. Edward is charming, incredibly good looking with a perfect body, insanely strong, heroic, jealous, overprotective, and for no apparent reason other than she smells good, freakishly devoted to the very ordinary Bella.

WARNING: There are several key plot points in the remainder of this post, so just in case you have a burning desire to read the series, you should probably stop here.

The books are really not that good. The pacing is terrible, the dialogue is ridiculous, the characters are unlikeable, and the writing is mediocre. That being said, I found them strangely addictive. Hey, even the crack that leaves you strung out and sick as a dog still makes you crawl back for more, right?***

The funniest line of the entire series is from the third book, Eclipse. Edward has just made some kind of ridiculous comment about how his life without Bella is not worth living, and here is Bella’s reaction:

I rolled my eyes at the hyperbole.

Oh Bella. Oh Bella, Bella, Bella. I actually snorted out loud because you see, the series is basically 2,000+ pages of hyperbole. I will say that if I was 13, I would probably have dropped everything and launched a quest to find my very own personal Edward. I can absolutely see the appeal for young girls who have no idea that in real life you do not spend every waking moment with your boyfriend snuggling and petting and declaring that you cannot bear to be apart even for a moment. And then of course there are the many make out scenes where Bella tries to get in Edward’s pants and he tries not to bite her, and it is all probably enough to send overly hormonal teenagers into a near frenzy.

Despite the fact that I rolled my eyes more than Edward (and he rolls his eyes a lot for four books straight) and despite the fact that the second book was nearly unreadable since Edward is gone for most of it and Bella and her werewolf BFF are just not very interesting to read about without him, I found myself sort of enjoying the third in the series. But then came the final book. The whole series is building to a climax with several burning questions that must be answered: Will there be a big battle with the evil Italian vampires? Will Bella become a vampire? But most importantly of all, will Edward and Bella finally do it?

We get the answers, but we also get a horrible plot involving Edward and Bella’s half-vampire, half-human lovechild (so the answer to the final question posed above is yes the do, but no they don’t use protection), a middle section written from the incredibly boring werewolf BFF’s point of view, and a climax that isn’t so much a climax but a huge letdown because rather than the epic battle that seems to be the inevitable conclusion, they just talk it out with the evil vampires. And then Bella and Edward live happily ever after and neglect their baby so they can make lots of hot, vampire love.

Short version: the books were awful, and yet here I am, posting all about them. Truly, they are the very worst kind of crack.

* It is entirely possible that I made that one up, but if there were such a book, I would totally buy it.
** I certainly hope that I do not have to spell out the sarcasm.
*** I am clearly speaking metaphorically here, never having actually tried crack myself.

The Couplets of 2008

It’s customary to do a year in review post, and as I thought back over 2008, I realized that I could divide it up into rough 2-month segments.

January and February

The beginning of the year was one big countdown. I felt none of the usual post-holiday letdown since my Really Big Thing was still to come. My baby was born at the end of February, and the first two months of the year alternately flew by as I thought about all I still had to get done, and dragged on as I wanted for the baby to just come out already. The anticipation was exquisite, and for once in my life, the payoff was worth the buildup.

March and April

I fondly refer to this period of the year as The Blur. My daughter was a newborn, and I was completely enamored and more exhausted than I ever knew was possible. I was on maternity leave, and I tried to soak up as much of her as I could. I also skipped as many showers and ate as many girl scout cookies as I could. Those days were some of the hardest and best that I’ve known, and the memories I have of the two of us together are forever etched on my mind.

May and June

I went back to work in mid May, and it was possibly the most difficult thing I’ve done. Before I got pregnant, my husband and I discussed all of our plans, and we were both comfortable with the idea of daycare. I discovered that the “idea of daycare” and the reality of leaving my most precious belonging with someone who is essentially a stranger were two very different things. I spent much of my early days at work furiously scribbling out budgets without my income where we survived on Ramen noodles and peanut butter.

July and August

For the first time all year, my life developed a sense of normalcy and rhythm. I still wanted to be home with my baby, but I was finally past the sharp anguish of leaving her, and we fell into a pleasant pattern as a family. The long hours of daylight into the warm summer nights made it seem like I had more time at home in the evenings, and there were family vacations and intoxicating baby giggles and really good peaches.

September and October

The even keeled days came to a screeching halt when my husband lost his job in the end of August, and suddenly the Ramen noodle and peanut butter plan was not so far fetched. A few weeks after that, I had a total hip replacement, and so my life vacillated between surgery/recovery/therapy and the panic of knowing that for an indeterminable time, I was the breadwinner.

November and December

The end of the year was the usual hectic jumble of holidays and family gatherings, with nothing too out of the ordinary to report. I got to enjoy my baby’s first Thanksgiving and Christmas, I successfully threw a party for 30 people at my house, and I ate way too much of my family’s famous ridiculously addicting, uber-sinful holiday dessert – Chocolate Velvet. I’d say it was a good holiday season indeed.

All in all, it was a mixed bag of a year. Of course the awfulness of my husband’s job situation is outweighed by the fact that we have a whole new person in the family now, so it’s hard to really compare the ups and the downs.

No layoffs or hospitalizations in 2009!

The Land of Sweets

Yesterday I went to see the Nutcracker with my stepdaughter, my sister and my niece, and that officially ended the Christmas season for me.

I took my stepdaughter for the first time when she was 4 years old, and she was captivated, so we’ve been going every year since. The very first year, I asked my husband if I should buy 2 or 3 tickets, and he declared it a special girls only day, but the reality is that he has no interest in sitting through two hours of ballet.

This year, after the show was over and we were walking back to the car in the chilly evening, I asked my stepdaughter to tell me her favorite parts, and she responded the same way she does every year – the magically growing Christmas tree, and the “table lady” (she is referring to Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles, which is a silly dance where the little kids come out from under the giant skirt and dance, while Mother Ginger sways in the background making faces.)

I have lots of favorites – the Waltz of the Snowflakes, with the boys’ choir and glittery falling snow, the Dance of the Candy Canes, with the cheerful music that always makes me think of Christmas, the Waltz of the Flowers, with all of the graceful ballerinas flitting across the stage.

But my absolute favorite part is the Pas de Deux with the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. The dance is romantic and dramatic, and I always find myself holding my breath as she leaps into his arms. It’s fitting that he doesn’t actually have a name and is instead referred to as hers, since he really is just there as a prop to showcase her dancing. He spins her, lifts her high above his head, and pulls her across the stage on her toes all while she effortlessly flings herself backward or stretches her leg high above her head. It is, as the name says, a dance of two, but it is really the Sugarplum Fairy’s moment to shine.

We usually go to the early matinee at 1:00, but this year we went to the 4:00 show so it was dark when we left. The buildings on Broad Street were still all lit up with red and green lights, we were warm and cozy in the car, and it was a lovely way to end the Christmas season.

And to All a Good Night

When I was a little girl, we used to go to the family service at our church on Christmas Eve. It was the service that had the Christmas Pageant, and one year, I was selected to play Mary. I’ll give you all a moment to recover from your hysterical laughter. There are two very specific memories I have of my time as a holy virgin. The first was that I was picking nose during rehearsal, and my grandmother admonished that Mary wouldn’t do such a filthy thing. I followed this with, “well, what did Mary do when she had dried mucous in her nose?” (My mom never taught me slang words, so I never heard of boogers until I was older.)

The second memory I have is that during the part of the pageant when I was supposed to be serenely contemplating my miraculous baby, I stood up, leaned over, and checked on the little plastic doll in the cradle. I have no idea why I did it, but when I patted the swaddled fake baby, the entire congregation let out a collective “awww.” I was very convincing.

As I got older, my mom started to take us to the midnight service on Christmas Eve. I remember that I felt very grown up the first year we went. The midnight service was so much different than the earlier family service. It was quieter of course, but also something else – reverent, is I think how I would describe it.

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped going to church – I’d guess I was probably about 12 or 13 . I will save my reasons for another post, but the bottom line is that I am not religious.

I hardly ever think about that church anymore, but every Christmas I remember the midnight service when I hear certain songs – O Come All Ye Faithful is probably the one that brings it back the most. While the content of the service was not my style, I had a deep appreciation for the aesthetic appeal. I loved the singing, the quiet peacefulness, the reverence, and the difference in the quality of the light. Christmas Eve was the only time I was ever in church besides Sunday mornings, and the light was so different at night in the dark, with no daylight coming through the stained glass. I remember sitting in the pew feeling a combination of excitement for the next morning and a calm, quiet happiness from the music and the lights. It was just absolute warm and fuzzy contentment.

We don’t go to church, but we do have Christmas Eve traditions. We drive around and look at the craziest lights we can find. My dad always called them the “wowie zowie Christmas lights” and so that’s what my stepdaughter calls them now. Sometimes we catch Santa as he drives around the neighborhood, but he can be hard to find.

We also go out to dinner. My sister-in-law has a get together, but we decided a few years ago that it is too much to go to a big party and then have the whole Christmas thing the day after, so we spend the evening together with just us. This year was the first year we were four, and we did what we’ve done for the past several years – went out to an Indian restaurant.

Tonight we went to our favorite local place, and it was quiet, just like it always is on Christmas Eve. We were the only customers for most of the meal, and then a couple came in when we were almost done. The food was fabulous, and after papadums and naan and my favorite Malai Kofta, we came home, put the girls to bed, and did what parents everywhere did – finished wrapping the last of the gifts, put together the last of the toys, stuffed stockings and stacked gifts.

Everything is done, and my husband went down to the basement to relax on his computer for a bit before bed. It’s quiet now, and the lights are low. I have the candles burning, the carols on, and my girls are tucked safely in their beds. In the morning, my stepdaughter will be dazzled by the magic when she comes down, and my daughter will be clueless but thrilled by the wrapping paper and boxes. I am warm and fuzzy and perfectly content.

The Missing Day of Christmas

My mistake was sitting down. Yesterday was a very long day, and I knew I was going to have issues before it even started. On Sunday night, the baby would just not go to sleep. It wasn’t that she was crying, she just didn’t even look remotely sleepy. She had two really great 2 hour naps, and I’m starting to think she’s at the beginning of switching from two naps to one. She is miserable if she doesn’t get both naps, but when she sleeps well for both of them, she is up way too late.

On Sunday it wasn’t until after 11 that she finally went down, and I had a ton of stuff to do to get ready for Christmas, so I had to wait until she was asleep to start and then I was up way past my own bedtime. She woke up around 4, nursed, and went back to sleep easily, but I was wide awake. I finally gave up and just went downstairs to get some more stuff done.

As a result, I had about 3 hours of sleep total, and then I had a crazy day at work – my last before a week of vacation. After that it was dinner, decorating the tree, baby bedtime, and housecleaning. I sat down on the couch last night just for a minute, and I had every intention of posting on the 11th day of Christmas. I’m guessing I lasted about 2 seconds before falling asleep, and I didn’t stir until I heard the baby crying to be fed.

It’s good that I got a decent night sleep, since I predict a long night tonight. My stepdaughter is here with us, and she’ll spend the night tonight. Last year she was at her mom’s on Christmas Eve, but two years ago she was 6, and she just could not fall asleep because of the excitement. I kept going to check on her, since I needed to pull all of the presents out of the guest room and set them up, then do the whole cookies for Santa thing, and every time I checked, she was wide awake, listening for sleigh bells and hoof beats. She’s still a believer, so I predict more of the same tonight. We’ve already been tracking Santa this morning.

Christmas Crudité

We’re having a Christmas party at our house on Saturday. It started as a small gathering with just my family, but then my husband mentioned it to his family, and it turns out all 25 of them can make it, and now it’s looking to be about 40 people in all.

My husband keeps telling me to keep it simple, but I don’t think he really understands that I can’t just invite that many people and then have a couple of open bags of chips on the table and call that the food. People have been offering to make something, and I’m more than happy to take them up on it. Don’t get me wrong, I like having people over, and I will be making a lot of things to serve, but when people offer to bring a dish, I won’t turn them away.

Tonight I heard my husband on the phone with his sister telling her not to bring anything because we’re all set. After he was finished, I told him that we could use some food contributions since there are some things I’m just not going to get to, such as a vegetable tray. He suggested that one of his sisters bring the baby carrots, one bring the celery, another bring the cherry tomatoes and so on, and then we could collect a vegetable from each guest and assemble the platter here.

This is why he is not in charge of the party food.

No Ladies Dancing

Every year I say I’m going to start my Christmas shopping super early, and every year I don’t even think about it until at least November. This year I had a late start by my standards, but today I can proudly say that I’m done. Of course nothing is wrapped, and I need to clean the house and finish planning the meal for our post-Christmas family gathering (which started as a small get together and is growing by the day), but at least there is no more shopping to be done.

I meant to have something profound to say today, on the ninth day of my Christmas Posting Countdown, but it’s after 11, the baby just went down and there is much wrapping to be done, so I’m afraid that’s all I got.

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