Third in Line

This morning, I was on the phone with my mom at 8:33am when we heard my dad return from taking my grandmother to the hairdresser. Return from taking her to the hairdresser. And Nanny was not the first customer. Nanny is third in line.

Each week, for decades, she’s gone to have her bouffant washed and sprayed. She has a standing 8am appointment, for which she arrives promptly at 7:45am. Even if she gets there first, she doesn’t go first. She’s very Calvinistic this way–she’s always been third and there she shall stay. But either way, she’s home by 8:30, evidently.

Where I grew up, people get up early in the morning. Many people work as farmers or shift-workers in factories, so their work days begin at 7…or 5am if they’re doing overtime. As a result, businesses open early.

I’ve always been a morning person, too, and I’m not sure if that’s my temperament or because I could never sleep much past 6 since my dad’s work truck beeped a lot as he took off each morning. As a teenager working at K-mart, I never really minded getting there for the 8am store opening. There were always people waiting in line outside the doors by the time I arrived.

Moving to Pittsburgh represented a drastic shift in my shopping habits and the way I had to think about my mornings. Even before I had kids, I felt startled to arrive at grocery stores and see they were closed until 9am. And malls don’t open until 10 or sometimes 11. Eleven! The Apple store doesn’t even open until 10.

Just yesterday, I tried to go to the farm stand for peaches and corn. Not even the farm stand in Pittsburgh opens until 9. I had to buy grocery store corn. Set in my own routines, I tend to just feel irritated about this because I want to get errands out of the way so I can do things like exercise or clean or plan excursions. Pre kids, it took me out of my comfort zone to switch around the order of these chores to wait for stores to open.

Now, of course, I have children and they don’t sleep ever at all. On my best days, I lovingly refer to them as dairy farmers, because we are all up and very active well before 7am. Local people know this about us, that there’s a standing invitation to just come over at an ungodly hour and we can hang out in the back yard with our dairy-farmer kids. It kills us to “wait” until kids’ places open…the Children’s Museum doesn’t open its doors until 10am and the zoo doesn’t open until 9:30 in the summer.

It really shouldn’t seem as hilarious to me that my grandmother is the third person washed and coiffed at the hairdresser by 8:30am, because usually I’ve done many loads of laundry and dishes by that time and maybe even have muffins in the oven. It would actually be nice to instead sneak away and get my scalp massaged in those bleary hours. Then I could come home and still have an hour and a half to kill before we can take the kids someplace entertaining.

Apparently Nanny has been frustrated that the banks in my hometown are starting to open later. She can’t go from the hairdresser to the bank anymore because the bank doesn’t open until 9! Here she is, having to leave her comfort zone and adjust her morning routine.

It’s nice for me to glimpse these snippets of my personality traits in the generations that came before me. I’m never really as different from my family as my teenage self hoped I’d be, am I? I make a lot of jokes about my sons having to build me a napping cottage in Southern France as retribution for all the sleepless nights and pre-dawn wakings, but if I’m honest, heredity tells me I was already going to be getting up for my wash and set.

I’d like to think I’ll at least insist on going first if I’m first to arrive.

Posted by on July 31st, 2014 No Comments

A Walk in the Park

The other day, I decided to take the kids to the park “after nap.” We usually don’t do afternoon excursions, because my dairy farmers are up so early and we seize the morning. Once we’ve relaxed/slept for a few hours, we generally just go in the back yard to swim or ride scooters out front.

But this particular park has a full fence, a sprinkler, great sight lines. I figured it’ll be awhile before I can take my kids out on adventures with the familiarity (note I never say ease!) I have now. So we loaded into the car and headed into the humidity.

What a mistake!

Within minutes of arriving I knew it was going to be a bad trip. I just sort of accepted it, which is great because then I wasn’t frazzled as shit went down. I was able to take all the disasters in stride.

Miles wanted to go in the sprinkler in his clothes, which is fine. I was shocked that he agreed to go barefoot. He feels that his feet are a private part and never, ever reveals them. But there he ran, through the water in his denim shorts and undies. It was lovely, until he decided he *needed* his brother to go in the water with him.

Felix did NOT want to go in the water. He never agrees to enter water with Miles, which is a smart move because Miles is rough as heck and is certain to waterboard anyone in arm’s reach. Instead, Felix wanted to play with some other kid’s plasma car. He eventually swindled a ride on the car, but had to be pried off when I had to take Miles into the bathroom.

Obviously Miles had to poop at the park, in wet denim shorts.

There I stood in the bathroom with one pooping kid and one sobbing kid, devastated to be removed from the plasma car. Hot, hungry, tired, Felix flopped on the disgusting public bathroom floor and I was too pregnant to do anything but let him.

After Miles got cleaned up, I slung still-crying-Felix over one shoulder and tried marching us to the car as Miles followed behind, weeping at having to leave, inexplicably naked. Just trotting through the streets of Aspinwall, nude and crying.

I lashed everyone into the car, turned it on, blasted the AC, and then stood outside the car for a few moments to catch my breath. It was awful. It’s awful to be nearly 38 weeks pregnant and have to haul a sack of kid-gear plus a toddler, plus keep a naked 5-year-old from being run over. And it was hot and humid.

I’m starting to rethink my response-at-the-ready when people tell me I’ve got my hands full. “Oh,” I’ve been saying, “This is the easy part! It’ll be much harder when this new one is external.” Surely once I’m able to bend and move and breathe more easily, things will be a bit better? Even if the baby is also crying, at least I’ll be able to walk to the car faster when I’m not waddling.

Who really knows if this is the hardest time for me. What I can tell you is that we are done with afternoon adventures for the duration of my pregnancy. Consider us shut-ins from lunchtime onward!

 

Posted by on July 25th, 2014 No Comments

Phoenix Rising

Four generations

Last week, my kids and I zipped to my hometown for my sister’s bridal shower. We started at the midwives’ office in the morning, where Miles got to hold the Doppler and locate the baby’s heartbeat, which he did on the first try. We all marveled at the wonder of a fully formed human baby, just beneath the surface. We watched him roll about as his brothers talked to him. I got the greenlight to make the 4-hour journey, 36 weeks pregnant. 

I arrived at my childhood home to learn my grandmother was at death’s door. This wasn’t shocking news–she’d been in hospice care for 7 months. I went to her bedside and said farewell, wishing I’d thought or cared to ask her more about her own 5 births before dementia took hold of her so deeply. All I know about her births is this: the first time around, an L&D nurse scolded her for vocalizing during a contraction and that shamed her into birthing silently the other 4 times.

Gommy never liked to let go of Miles once she managed to catch him.

By the time my first son was born, she was far enough gone that she mainly could comment repeatedly about the wonder of his red hair. My son Miles pleased her enormously, because his flaming red afro reminded her of her father, of her own strawberry hair. Probably of her youth and all the wonderful, pastoral things that seem amazing once one reaches 80+ years of life.

I’m glad he was able to trigger some pleasant memories for her each time she saw him, even when he played peek-a-boo with her a few months ago and every time his head popped up was like greeting him anew. “You’re gonna be a red-head!” “Oh! You’re gonna be a red-head!”

My family sat around her, holding her hand and singing to her as her pulse got weaker and her breathing more labored. Eventually, everyone left for a hot minute and she took that opportunity to slip out of this world.

Her five babies, in accordance with her wishes, had her remains cremated and the sleek box of ash sat before us at her memorial, much heavier than I’d anticipated it would be as I tried to open it to show my persistent red-head what lay within. It was locked–we couldn’t see.

The night before her service was meant to be my blessingway. My friends were gathered to offer affirmations and blessings for my upcoming birth, to wish me well as I try yet again to birth my baby. But I was 250 miles away, surrounded by the many, many women of my family. So they blessed my baby’s upcoming journey Earthside.

My cousin Christie, who wears the ashes of her own mother (fused into a glass bead) around her wrist and in her hair, painted a henna phoenix on my belly. I told her the bird had to swoop downward, toward my birth canal.

“But phoenixes rise,” she told me. “It can’t be a phoenix.”

“What if, for me, to fly toward the birth canal IS to rise?”

The past two times, my births ended with me lashed to the operating table, my body severed to extract my wailing boys. My scars are every bit as weighty as the box of ash that sat before us. I want this baby to rise. I want him to soar from my body and into my arms. I want this so badly.

Christie painted the phoenix and I thought about what my grandmother would say. Probably that it was strange to paint a bird on a stomach.

We left town straight after the memorial service. I needed to get back after our stay was so unexpectedly lengthened. I had another checkup today and learned my baby is optimally aligned, knocking at the door to come out. Neither of my other boys has ever been in a position that’s optimal for birthing.

This makes me feel so hopeful, that perhaps my phoenix will indeed rise. Or maybe, given the circumstances, the phoenix isn’t my baby at all, but my grandmother herself, rising to be with me, peeking inside and impatient to see if this little man will have red hair, too.

Posted by on July 17th, 2014 3 Comments

What to Do with my Wedding Dress?

We’re getting ready to pack up some of our extraneous stuff to move to a storage space, both in anticipation of staging our house to sell and making room for the baby, who will now surely be born before we have secured new premises for Team Lev Headquarters. I’m pregnant enough that I can’t participate too much in the process, but I can make lists and purge like it’s my job. 

As I angrily insist my husband needs to get rid of his Bar Mitzvah kaleidoscope and loafers from high school, it seems unfair of me to not give some thought to the huge-ass box containing my preserved wedding dress. Is it fair for us to move with it to a new house? To have it occupy some of the paid space in our storage unit? Why have I been letting it hog space in our tiny house for 7 years, anyway?

Corey rented his wedding clothes. Men do this all the time. It doesn’t make him less married to me. I’m not even overly sentimental about physical things. But each time I drag down the box, I can’t make myself donate it or otherwise move it out of our house. It was the first dress I tried on, the first one I wanted to wear as a bride. But so what? Why am I attached to it? I had no issues getting rid of prom and homecoming gowns…

In some ways, I see this hesitation as related to my not having a daughter. My kids will never play dress-up in my wedding gown. My daughter will never wear it for her own wedding. It seems unlikely that any future partner of my boys’ would want to wear my ratty, aging wedding dress. Most of the time, I feel so fine about mothering 3 boys. But sometimes I pull down my wedding dress and know my sons will never, ever give a shit hearing me talk about it. So I slide it back up onto the shelf and wait another few years to think about it again.

Right now, we need the shelf space to set out clothes for this baby, who will make his appearance so soon. I took to the Internet to see what my options were in giving the wedding dress a new life.

Most charities that resell wedding dresses for various causes only take dresses from 2009 on up. I’ve dilly-dallied two years too long to have my dress resold to grant a wish to a woman with stage IV breast cancer. There are some places who will still take the dress, but I’m not yet sure how I feel about the mission of their organization.

Someone recently suggested I could have part of the dress made into pocket squares for my boys to wear in jacket pockets for special occasions. Which gave me the idea that I could have some kippah made for them to wear again and again. Maybe even in time for the new baby’s bris shalom if I get off my horse.

And still, I can’t bring myself to slide the box down, to open the (I imagine) air-tight seal and lift out the silky, beaded, tiered dress my 26-year-old self wore one fine spring day to promise a life lived together with Corey.

I’ve given him a deadline of Friday to get our storage unit situated. As I gather boxes this week to pack up our books and the kids’ toys, I’ll need to give the dress more careful thought.

What did you do with your wedding dress?

Posted by on June 25th, 2014 3 Comments

My Body: Open for Commentary?

My family and I were out for a walk last weekend. We were trolling some houses we want to buy to accommodate our expanding numbers. We saw a group of women sitting on a porch across the street. Strangers. Just yakking on the porch on a lovely spring evening.

One of them yelled, “Excuse me! What are you doing?”

Realizing she was talking to me, I furrowed my brow. How should I answer this person? Had she seen my younger son eating boogers? The older one touching poison ivy?

She clarified: “You trying to walk that baby out???”

I felt taken aback. What? I’m only 30 weeks pregnant. Assuming these women have been pregnant before, I couldn’t understand how they couldn’t tell the difference between a woman in or near labor and, well, a woman just great with child.

“We’re just taking a walk,” I said.

“Nah, you walking that baby out!”

I should have kept on walking, but then something *wrong* would just be left dangling in the ether and I felt compelled to explain. “I have 2 months to go.”

At this, everyone on the porch began to scream and yell in shock and disbelief. They yelled comments about my stomach, about the size of me, about my gait. It kept on and on until we were out of earshot.

Strangers! Presumably not midwives or obstetricians, but lay women just feeling somehow like it was ok to express these things about my body.

On one hand, there’s this reality: this is my third pregnancy. My core muscles have been surgically severed twice. There’s really nothing left to help me maintain lift and so my womb expands and sags.

I’m also just over 5 feet tall. My babies have nowhere to go but straight out the front.

But mostly, who the hell do they think they are? Why is it suddenly acceptable for them to make comments about me from their porch on a Monday evening?

I’ll never get over being angry at the way we’ve decided it’s open season to grope or discuss a woman’s body once there is a human baby inside of it. When you see a pregnant woman, know that every one of her relatives has already made a remark about the size and shape of her body, has suggested something about the size of her baby and made a judgment about her level of swelling/zittiness/belly button. This pregnant woman has been subjected to uninvited, forceful advice about birthing, parenting, infant feeding, and sleep.

The result of these porch-sitting-wanna-be-obstetricians was to ruin my walk, and send me into tears of frustration. I made Corey get the car to hurry us home. I felt too vulnerable and exposed walking out in the world where, evidently, even people sitting on their porches were watching my every step. It’s going to be a long summer until Baby Lev emerges.

Posted by on May 31st, 2014 No Comments

An Act of God

I read a few DIY house blogs and in some small part of my brain, I pretend I’m into that sort of thing. For instance I’ve got stakes in the ground…they’ve been there for 2 years in some sort of teepee formation and I was going to plant climbing beans along the bottom so they would form a living teepee for my boys. There’s even some gnarled yarn dangling from the stakes pretending there might some day be a plant climbing up in there.

Add to this lack of motivation to tend my abode the fact that I’m 28 weeks pregnant and home a lot of the time with 2 active boys. You might understand why my front “garden” is a den of knotweed and the back “garden” is basically a giant pit for rabbits and groundhogs to poop in. Which they do!

Because we’re starting to look for a bigger house to accommodate our growing numbers, we realize we should prolly tidy up the property a bit. Not a ton, but some weed pulling would be nice. I even went out front last evening and trimmed away the daffodil leaves, pulled the dandelions out of the flower bed, and with great sadness hauled away the carcass of the lavender bush that died in the polar vortex.

Today, I was going to climb into the back garden and clean that sucker out. I was going to dig up all the wild onions and, like, hoe the soil or something. Maybe even use the loppers to trim back some of the forest. In a small part of my mind I considered buying some creeping thyme to plant back there, but then I remembered it wouldn’t spread before we’re selling the house anyway. Better to focus on the tree growing under the porch!

So anyway, I was about to get myself out there. I was about to stand up and get the hoe, when I heard a crackling sound in the back woods. A tree was falling down! Right where I was planning to go weed.

The majority of the detritus landed on our neighbors’ shed. There’s really only some twigs and things in our garden area. But there were aftershocks of crackling sounds and it seemed unwise to haul my pregnant self and my two-year-old up there to potentially get crushed by timber.

So Felix and I sat around and played iPad instead and our yard carries on in its unkempt state!

Posted by on May 24th, 2014 No Comments

What Interviews Are Like for Me

When I interview people for writing assignments, I get totally engrossed. Recently, I’ve been interviewing a bunch of doctors about their research in women’s health. And it is FASCINATING.

They’ll be casually talking about their findings, and I can’t help but interrupt them–”You discovered WHAT? Are you sure? That’s incredible.”

If I’m talking to, say, an artist about her work, this line of questioning is usually met with shared enthusiasm. We both get to gush for a few minutes. But the sciency folks always seem taken aback. They stutter a minute, then concur. Yes. It is in fact interesting to learn that there is something different in the actual skin of pregnant ladies that causes adhesive patches not to stick.

Or, that we’ve been giving methadone to pregnant women without understanding what the appropriate dose should be for a pregnant person because nobody has ever tested the pharmacology of medications for pregnant patients.

Yesterday, I was interviewing a team of midwives in the birth center here in Pittsburgh. There was some confusion upon seeing me in the lobby, because I’m largely pregnant and they thought maybe I made a mistake and showed up for some prenatal care. But then we started talking about how they hold drop-in well-woman visits on Fridays for women who can’t make scheduled appointments for one reason or another…and once a month they offer these appointments entirely in Spanish. I just can’t help myself when I learn about such awesome programming.

I spend so much of my day thinking that the world is not designed to support a woman who is home alone with young children. And here are a group of women thinking about these barriers to women getting medical care, talking about how if they can capture women and help improve their health, it improves the health of their entire extended families. These aren’t just PAP smears, these are comprehensive explorations of the women’s health, while their kids climb around right there and nobody judges them.

I’ll tell you. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain objectivity as a writer.

Posted by on May 23rd, 2014 No Comments

Some More People with Their Act Together!

Last night, 20 more people got their act together at Shining Light Prenatal Education!

As I sat checking people in, I heard the same refrain again and again: We’ve been trying to do this for years but never had the money for the lawyer and couldn’t work out the logistics to do it ourselves.

All these families thought they were so alone in this struggle to organize such important parts of their lives. Really, most of the young families I know are in this same boat. Many of the people who came last night were friends with a family who recently lost their young father. They didn’t have their paperwork in order, unfortunately. His widow has been struggling through probate court and the state of PA has suggested she might need to separate out their assets that were intended for their children. It’s a hot mess.

I can’t imagine having to deal with that on top of unfathomable grief. I think of these families when I organize these events!

We’re just a few months out from welcoming our third child, so we’ll need to re-examine our own legal paperwork soon enough. I’m also thinking of all the young people in the sandwich generation, the ones taking care of their aging parents in addition to their young children. Many of these aging, ailing parents don’t have their act together, either.

There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m excited to help my friends and neighbors to do it!

Posted by on May 20th, 2014 No Comments

Let It Go: End of the Road For the Favorite Shirt

Remember how I talked so much game about fixing my favorite shirt? My long companion? The garment that’s accompanied me my entire marital life so far? Just as I was getting myself set up to work on it, the other damn zipper broke off.

I realized the metal on all the remaining zippers (pockets only, now that both front zippers are gone) has become brittle and almost disintegrated.

It’s time to retire the shirt.

I’ve made no moves to do so–it’s still sitting on a work bench in the basement, next to the pliers. I think I keep hoping that my letter to Pearl Izumi will have convinced them to re-release the double zipper on their outerwear. Mostly, I’m too sad to take it to the bike shop to exchange for something new.

I’m currently 27 weeks pregnant with our third son. I might have forgotten to mention that online, because being pregnant while working and parenting two other kids takes up so, so, so much of my time and mental energy that sometimes I forget it’s happening. This matters because on cool spring days, I keep trying to figure out why this pregnancy is so much more frustrating to dress for than the previous ones.

Then I realize I don’t have Old Faithful to use as an arm and upper-chest layer, with the trusty double zipper opened at the bottom to accommodate my baby belly.

I’ve got one maternity cardigan and 2 maternity sweaters, which are all too heavy for spring. They are not water-resistant and broken in and soft like my favorite shirt. I’m Goldilocks and I’ve lost my “just right” shirt.

I might stop whining and just go swap it out for a jacket that converts to a vest. It should start to fit me in about 13 weeks!

Posted by on May 12th, 2014 No Comments

Getting Acts Together!

This week was the April Get Your Act Together notary event at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library. What a great turnout! I’ve been so excited that several local blog and news outlets picked up the story about the events, and word spread fast–April sold out within minutes of one story’s publication and the May event just sold out this morning.

It’s such a joy for me to see these families breathe deeply as they sign the last document, the weight of the world lifted from their shoulders (at least for a few minutes). One of the notaries shared that it’s so important for young people to think about these documents–she told a story of being called into pre-op at Presby hospital as the anesthesiologist waited at the foot of a patient’s bed. The patient hadn’t finalized documents and was about to enter a very complicated surgery. Everyone had to wait until he could sign and notarize his wishes.

None of the folks attending these mobile notary signing events have to worry about this.

So I’m looking forward to the May event at Shining Light Prenatal Education, where 20 more people will sign their way to peace of mind. What an honor to help facilitate!

Posted by on April 30th, 2014 No Comments