Author Archive

What I Found Behind the Sectional Sofa as I Searched for the Roku Remote

  • not a puzzle piece as suspected, but a moldy pretzel crisp entombed in a rubber band
  • a toy backhoe loader
  • a Camelbak cup containing a solidified, gelatinous substance
  • the back cover from an issue of National Geographic Kids featuring a lion cub
  • wooden beads shaped like hearts
  • many crumbs
  • a smooshed penny featuring a flamingo, from the aviary
  • a paper plate, apparently unused
  • several green Duplo blocks
  • a reading light utterly covered in masking tape
  • the Roku remote

Posted by on December 17th, 2014 No Comments

Working my Mother Brain

Part of this post title is a play on words to announce an exciting publication for me. I had an essay published on the Brain, Mother blog for the literary journal Brain, Mother. I’ve been reading that one since Miles was born, so I felt particularly excited to be published there. Plus, how cathartic for me to write about another angle of my birth with Oren that I’ve still been processing.

I’m also working my mother brain more as I transition into a bit more work-work. The younger boys are in daycare now. Yes, even Oren. Yes, even though he’s only 4 months old. I thought it would be harder to leave him behind, even part time, but I really only texted the daycare owner because I felt like I should be texting to ask about my wee baby on his first day there. Truly, I know he’s fine.

I’m going to acknowledge that this is a very privileged statement before I make it, but recently, my (childless) housekeeper scoffed at me for sending my young baby to daycare so I could go back to work. I didn’t tell her that I need to work, albeit part time, in order for our family to afford to keep her in work, but I wish I had!

I signed up for an assignment with a new client, an assignment I thought would be an easy service piece for an online publication. I should have known better! As my deadline creeps up, I find myself playing angry phone tag with corporate media relations folks and having to say things like, “You do realize this is on the record, right?”

I’m not an investigative journalist–really, most of my income comes from writing marketing copy–but I sure do feel like one as I pursue this story. If I were writing a behind-the-scenes blog post about this article, it would include me having to wait while lawyers debate my use of the terms “can be” and “remain.” Seriously!

The good news is that the project has tipped me off to a potential long-form article about a topic I find fascinating. I can’t wait to do more research, use that part of my brain, and get to writing. Hopefully, that article won’t involve lawyers.

Posted by on December 15th, 2014 No Comments

Becoming a Milk Donor

A bit ago, I blogged for work about my journey toward becoming a milk donor. In a nut shell, I went from not having quite enough milk with my first kiddo to having more than enough to spare with this third kiddo and so I’m donating the extra to a milk bank in Ohio. Why Ohio? Because we don’t have one in PA. We don’t have one on the East Coast any closer than Boston.

Milk banks provide human milk as critical food to premies in danger of NEC. Milk banks would love to provide milk to all babies whose parents would like for them to have human milk, but the demand for just these micropremies far exceeds the milk coming in to the banks. So. Sickest babies get first dibs from milk banks.

I so love the idea of my spare milk helping a tiny baby. I’m putting together my donation a dribble at a time–I need to gather 200 ounces for a shipment to the bank in Columbus.

It sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

I mean, sure, pumping once a day and bottling/labeling the milk is kind of a pain. I’m working it out, though, and it is what it is. Right from the start, this project was a community effort, since I’m storing my milk in my neighbors’ deep freeze while I gather up my 50 4-ounce jars.

It’s all the OTHER stuff involved in being a milk donor that’s making me grit my teeth a little bit.

Like, the paperwork. There is SO MUCH paperwork. I had to fill out a gargantuan survey after I answered the identical questions in a pre-screening phone interview. I had to get my pediatrician to sign off on a paper that indicates Oren is indeed a humongous baby who can spare this milk for the bank. I had to get my midwives to fill out a paper that indicates I’m a healthy lady.

Oh, and I had to have blood work.

You might assume, as I did, that this nonprofit organization would simply reimburse me for going to Quest for the required bloodwork. That I could just bip into a lab at my convenience, get the blood drawn, send the bill to the milk bank, and not think about it again.

Oh, no. Nope.

This is what they do. Preview: It’s insane, with so much room for error I can’t even imagine how this is a better idea.

They mail me, along with my shipping container for my 200 ounces, a blood drawing kit. It had vials, a tourniquet, freezer packs, labels…it had phlebotomy tools. All I needed to do was get someone to “donate” a needle and draw the blood. Then I was supposed to pack it up and send it away with the enclosed prepaid FedEx label and HUMAN SPECIMEN stickers.

Let’s revisit that paragraph: I needed to find a nurse to steal a needle from her employer.

Nurses have been fired for a lot less, and this was the response many of my nurse-friends gave me. I went the respectable route first. I asked my midwives, but they send all blood draws to the big corporate lab. I asked my PCP, but they send all blood draws to the big corporate lab. I asked my pediatrician, but they don’t do blood draws in the office, nor keep the needles around.

Finally, I found someone willing to gank a needle for me, but she didn’t feel comfortable doing the draw.

So my other nurse friend did some kitchen phlebotomy. Here’s how it went down:

I stuck Miles on the school bus and loaded the other 2 kids in the minivan. We drove to C’s house, where my children and her children wept and swirled around us. C’s son was actually tugging on C’s trousers, trying to pull them down as C stuck a needle into my arm at the kitchen counter.

I sat with my eyes squeezed shut telling Felix to just play with a ball and stop crying.

After 700 years, C filled the third vial and I felt her breathe the biggest sigh of relief known to humankind. “I’ve never drawn blood under these conditions,” she said. We packed it all up and I drove it to the closest FedEx, dragged my 2 youngest children in to wait in the longest holiday FedEx line possible, and learned I couldn’t send it from that location because they don’t do human specimen there.

I had to put everyone back in the van and drive to the main FedEx place, where I overshared the story of what was inside my package to the girl with the scan gun. She was pretty unphased, which allowed me to daydream a bit, wondering what sorts of things people send via FedEx at the main Pittsburgh location.

At any rate, I don’t have any major communicable diseases, as my labs came back in top shape. I’m up to 86 ounces of spare milk on ice and now that the boys go to daycare twice a week, I’ll probably start collecting milk more rapidly. I get about 4 spare ounces per day I remember to pump for the milk bank.

So many people have become involved now. I have to make it! 114 to go!

Posted by on December 3rd, 2014 1 Comment

Tumultuous

Fall is tumultuous for my family. My oldest son, Miles, has a hard time in fall and I can’t blame him. The weather swings in 40-degree arcs from sunup to sundown. One day it snows and the next we’re at the playground in shorts. With this drastic weather change comes transitions for our family in terms of work (Corey has events in fall that take him away from us in the evenings; I’m starting back to work) and school for Miles. It’s a mess and it leaves us all sort of scrambling.

This fall I submitted Oren’s birth story to Birth Diverse.

I realized the feature I researched my entire pregnancy went live the day Oren was born. I love re-reading it and thinking about this project again, because it’s an awesome one I continue to write about with the Sprout Fund.

I signed up to become a milk donor with the Columbus Mothers Milk Bank. More on that later, but it’s a tumultuous process for sure.

Then I packed up my family and we hauled out to central Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. If you’ve never traveled on a holiday with 3 young kids, you really must try it. Your meditation skills will be tested!

While we were in my hometown, my family arranged for us to visit Through the Fire Studios, a glass studio about an hour away from my parents. Eleven of us drove there with a jar of my grandmother’s ashes to incorporate bits of Gommy into glass keepsakes we’d each take to our own homes. It was a tumultuous, amazing experience.

I felt initially overwhelmed by the kilns. All I could think about as we knocked my grandmother’s ashes around was is a crematory this hot and loud? Were we disrespecting her bones as we sprinkled them on the table? What would she have thought of such a thing?

But you know what she would have thought? She would have been overjoyed that all 5 of her children and ALL of her granddaughters (well…not my cousin Greer, who has Down Syndrome and wouldn’t have done well in the glass studio) came together in one sitting. She would have sat on a bench and clutched her hands together and gushed about how nice it was.

We all got a lesson in how to handle the glass. Some of us chose to blow balls while others (including me) chose to make a “paperweight.” I use the quotations because I certainly won’t be using mine to hold down paper. I’ll be placing it on the mantle where I can look at it every day.

I made my choice because it seemed sturdiest, like something my feral sons wouldn’t destroy. Even if they hurl it across the room, I don’t think it will chip. They might maim one another with it, but Gommy will be safe.

I found the glass working to be intense. The instructor I had was very hands-off, words-on and allowed me to make and correct my own mistakes. Only when I was about to drip molten glass on my toe would he stick his hands on the bar to help me make an adjustment. I was very proud of how I was able to spin the rod with one hand and shape the glass with the other. I think Gommy would have been proud of us all for stepping pretty far outside our comfort zone to try something like this. I even used a blow torch!

Like so many things, the glass tools are set up for right-handed work only, so I was using unfamiliar muscles in unfamiliar ways to swirl the glass. I feel like the piece is complex and a bit wistful and I love it. It has a storm inside of it, and also serenity. I rather hope my sons choose to do something similar to memorialize me after I’m done with this body.

For two days afterward, my muscles ached from the heavy work. It was another tumultuous reminder of what we’d done, and I liked carrying around that physical reminder through our first holiday without my Gommy.

We’re home now, and the younger boys have started going to daycare so I can work longer hours. We’re hunkering down for winter, finding our new normal. It’s good to slow down a bit.

Posted by on December 2nd, 2014 No Comments

Angry Sing-Off

So we all know my kids get up at 5am. I really wouldn’t mind this so much if they were ready to get up, but they’re still tired and when they’re up at this time, they’re miserable, awful people. I wake up each day to the sounds of sobbing or screaming. Today was a screaming day.

We don’t know what else to do with Felix to make him stop screaming, so we dash into the back yard with him in hopes that we can get the sound epicenter far enough away that maybe one of the other children will be able to remain asleep. It never works.

We slump back inside and make eggs in the microwave and turn on a movie, because that’s all the parenting we can muster after we’ve been up all night with a newborn. Today’s feature film was the Lego movie.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I watch the Lego movie, I can’t stop singing that horrid “Everything is Awesome” song. If you haven’t heard it you need to go and Google it.

Miles hates it when I sing that song, so I sing it at him over and over as everyone cries and whines. It’s sort of like a private joke I have with myself–Everything is awesome even though there are 3 kids crying and the eggs are exploding in the microwave and I spilled coffee on the floor!

This morning, Miles couldn’t bear it anymore. He ran into the kitchen and started angry-singing back at me. “Everything is awful! Everything is dumb when you’re part of a team! Everything is AWFUL, mom!!!!!”

And there we stood, sing-fighting each other while the other kids cried. I’m pretty sure that we are both correct.

Posted by on October 21st, 2014 1 Comment

You Have a Baby…In a Bar…

Tonight, I met some mom friend neighbors at our neighborhood pub. Of course, I brought Oren with me since he usually nurses straight through from 7-10pm. I walked into the bar with my baby in the sling, wide awake, and instead of getting the stink eye like I feared, the owner walked up and told me how cute my baby was. He then made sure the music wasn’t too loud and asked if it was disturbing Oren. Should he turn it down?

I love that I was meeting such awesome women, all of whom live within walking distance of my house, at a bar we could walk to that welcomes babies in slings. You can’t buy this sort of community. You just can’t.

Sure, my family is cramped right now. Most of our possessions are in a storage facility down by the river and we’re still cramped. We can’t lend certain books to friends because we don’t want to rummage through the book boxes in the storage unit and we can’t host potlucks past September because, well, we don’t have enough space. But boy do we have a community here in this neighborhood.

Sometimes I think we could just chuck it all and build the same sort of thing in whatever new neighborhood we find with a big enough house in our price range, but why would I do that? Why would I give up the fish fries and ability to walk into a bar with my babies and meeting friendly faces to pick up litter on Earth Day? I have neighbors whose parents fly in from Argentina and just love babies, so they made us pans of lasagne when Oren was born in exchange for sniffing his bald head.

I personally would be very happy to cull most of my possessions so we would better fit in this house. Of course, my spouse is less enamored with the idea of minimalism and my kids want to own both a Brio and a Lego collection, so the search continues. But I’m very happy to wait and see and take our nightly walks around the block, pointing out all the houses that would be big enough for our family.

As our house search drags on into fruitlessness, I worry often about what we should do. How long should we hold out and wait for the right house to open in our neighborhood before we give up and buy a house in another neighborhood? And then something happens like tonight, where I walk into the neighborhood joint and see friendly faces and feel enveloped by the 15206, and I know the answer is as long as it takes.

Posted by on October 18th, 2014 No Comments

What’s In a Name?

People have recently started asking me what my kids’ names mean, where we thought of them, why we chose them, etc. So! Here’s the lowdown.

Our firstborn son is Miles William. Miles because we loved it. William for Corey’s paternal grandfather.

Our secondborn son is Felix Rank. Felix because I loved it, and though we hadn’t decided by the time he was born, I looked at him and he was a Felix–lucky and light and laughing. Rank is my maiden name. I was pushing for Arlo, but we had good friends name their son Arno and soon after Felix was born, other friends named their baby Arlo. So luckily we went with Felix.

Our thirdborn son is Oren Pressman. Oren came to us one evening while we were sorting through names. We had some other names as frontrunners, but we took our time when he was born and looked him over, practiced yelling at him using the various names, and Oren was the winner. Pressman was Corey’s mother’s maiden name. I wanted that as a first name choice, but that got shot down.

Now, of course, I can’t imagine them as any other name than what they have.

I’d had a few girl names on tap each pregnancy, just in case. All would have the middle name Adair, because that’s my middle name and many women on my mother’s side of the family have had that middle name back and back and back. I wanted an Iris, or a Violet, or a Feigle (pronounced FAY-gel), which is yiddish for “bird.” Corey has a Feigle back on his family tree. Isn’t that a nice name? Perhaps I’ll get a female pet someday, although I really want to get a bunny rabbit and name her Amelia Earhart…

Posted by on September 29th, 2014 4 Comments

The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

We’ve been watching the Ken Burns Roosevelt documentary and, as I nursed and marched Oren through fussy time tonight, I was struck by Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: you must do the thing you think you cannot do.

She said it in reference to visiting soldiers suffering from ptsd in a mental institution. But it resonated with me as I paused between travel trips with a newborn and two other young children. Coming home from St. Louis was the hardest thing I’ve done for a long time. There were many times throughout that journey where I thought I could not continue.

It’s important that I mention that Corey was in charge of Felix during the flight, where he learned the hard way that out middle boy gets motion sick. Corey spent an hour crammed in a plane covered in his kiddo’s vomit and then spent a long time on the jetway waiting for out gate checked bag so he could put on a non-vomit shirt.

Amdist all that I was in charge of Miles and Oren both, as well as the stroller thing, a car seat, a back pack, and a rolly bag. When Oren began to sob, I thought I could not pause to feed him, not right there so close to the car with four other starving family members. I also thought I couldn’t continue struggling through the airport listening to him cry.

And so I did a thing I thought I could not do. I held all 12.5 wiggling pounds of him with one arm and nursed while I walked, pulling the rolly bag with a car seat lashed to it with the other hand, pushing the strolder along with my hips, and verbally directing Miles along the way. We made it the long, long walk to the minivan and we all finally loaded up and drove within .8 miles of our house.

We could not make it any further, but we could stop in a parking lot while Corey nabbed a pizza and I put Frozen on the DVD player and nursed a baby again, catching his poop in my bare hands as I then changed his diaper too slowly and the other children cried for water.

I did all of those hard things. Then we made it home and I put the kids to bed and the hardness of it all faded quickly to the background. I did laundry and ate chocolate and drank wine and actually had a nice night with Corey watching Boardwalk Empire.

I can feel it happening to me, this thing I thought I could not do. I can feel myself slowly becoming capable of parenting three children all at the same time.

Posted by on September 22nd, 2014 3 Comments

Navigating the Unexpected

For the past month, nothing has gone how I’d expected. Other than things being hard. I expected that. I just thought things would be hard differently from how they are actually hard.

The first unexpected thing: my feature about pelvic floor physical therapy went live on Dame magazine. Wasn’t expecting that to publish so soon (or wind up with that specific headline, but what can you do?).

But everything else has been shockingly surreal. Just now, I took my happy, naked baby down to the basement to, theoretically, start the washing machine. I expected he might pee on me, but I was *not* expecting him to dramatically projectile poop throughout the entire unfinished half of our basement. He was like a machine gun. With yellow shit particles for ammunition. It just kept coming.

At one point, I tried to nestle him in Miles’ padded ducky potty seat atop the Pittsburgh potty, hoping some of the remaining shit would go into the toilet, but it wasn’t a stable enough arrangement to allow me to grab cleaning supplies. I stood frozen with indecision for a long time, not knowing if it was smart to walk my shit-covered bare feet through the house to find someplace to put down the baby so I could clean the shit from him and the rest of the basement.

I eventually put him in a dirty laundry basket atop Corey’s chamois stash (sorry about the shit stains on your chamois, Corey!) so I could scrub my feet, his skin, and the floor/walls/dryer. By this point, I was also naked, since all my clothes got sprayed. So they got to go in the washer right away with the fated load I’d gone down to start.

My days are filled with such unexpected turns toward desperation. The older children seem to sense when I’ve run out of diapers for Oren on outings and tactfully choose those moments to begin epic meltdowns. Or else dig their feet into the sand and refuse to leave the playground (or museum or whatever the hell), knowing I can’t leave them unattended to take the baby to the car and free up some arms for hauling their stubborn butts to the minivan.

I wasn’t expecting to call their bluff and ask total strangers for help! Anyone who chortles, “Got your arms full, don’t ya?” is now treated to the best Team Lev has to offer, because it’s like as soon as I stopped being pregnant and emotional, I decided to use those asshole remarks to my advantage and put these strangers to work.

“My hands are totally full,” I say, draping a snack tote over one of their arms. “I can’t get them to the car by myself and I need you to carry this one,” as I hand them whichever child is kicking the hardest.

Actually this has only happened one time, but it felt good enough that I plan to repeat this tactic. Wasn’t expecting that!

And some days, when unexpected antics pile upon each other until I feel the earth might open and swallow me into a burning pit of magma, I’m met with acts of grace I never imagined.

Earlier today, just as both my young kids began to sob and I saw their naps disintegrating, envisioned the domino effect this would have on my afternoon–just as all this came to a head, a friend showed up with supper and cookies and chocolate and salad and, best of all, two free hands to bounce Oren while her son and Felix watched the street sweeper spray past. I ate a bowl of lunch. I stopped caring that I had lost my last shirt to spit-up and was sitting before my friend in just a nursing tank. The energy had shifted, and it was all ok.

Many times, the unexpected things overwhelm me right now. But there are these bright moments of amazing humanity that fill me up so much I can just hang on to the back of this wild ride and enjoy the wind in my face.

Posted by on September 10th, 2014 5 Comments

Labor Day Adventure

Since I ran through a limestone mine this past winter, I figured I might not die of fear if our family toured a coal mine today in honor of Labor Day. The mine is about 20 minutes north of our house, and as it turns out, the entry way turns off the road where, when I completed the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, I’d asked Corey to meet me for morale boost. The mine tour turns off the part of the challenge I knew would be most difficult for me, 27 miles in with a huge, huge hill to mount after the check point.

I seemed destined to conquer my fear that the seam would give way and the thing would collapse upon my young family. Or else that creepy crawlies would emerge from the dark, like Gollum or worse. Then, when I saw the tour guide smoking heavily outside, I feared he would die of a heart attack down there and we’d have no way of knowing the proper way out. So many fears!

Hurtling into the deep on the cart. Terrifying!

The name of the location itself is confusing to me. We are taking a tour of the mine, which is also called the Tour-Ed mine. I’m assuming these are the last names of the people who owned the rights to the coal.

We began our journey in a hangar filled with memorabilia from the company store and then made our way into an underground classroom for “Coal Class,” to learn mine safety rules and a conservative, republican discussion of alternative fuels was included free of charge!

(I mean, of course a retired coal miner would have this world view. Nothing surprised me about the insistence that we’d experience power shortages given the growth of wind energy!)

I was sort of hoping at this point that I’d be excused from the underground tour because there were no hard hats for Oren. No dice. They insisted it was probably fine, so Team Lev in its entirety crammed into the 4-foot-high little cart to begin our half-mile, pitch black journey into the earth.

John explains the way bolts hold up the mine ceiling

I chuckled to see Corey crammed into the little cart, totally hunched, but then kept imaging what life would be like for tall men who worked down there 14 hours a day. Challenging!

John, our guide, told us he worked in the mine for decades and didn’t see daylight, except on Sundays, from November through March. 6am until 5pm, he worked down in the hole. 6 days a week.

The mine tour took visitors through the history of coal mining beginning in the 1800s and ending with present-day methods. I felt a bit sick to my stomach looking at the working conditions for the early coal miners. The “rooms” where they were assigned to work were barely 3 feet tall. The workers would first have to lie on their backs with a pick and dig out the lower coal.

Imagine swinging a pick from that position!

Then their job was to manually drill holes into the “roof” of the seam and insert explosives, back out a corner with the fuse, and yell “Fire in the hole!” After waiting a few hours for the dust to settle, they spent the next while hunched over, duck walking shovels filled with coal into labeled rail carts. They stayed down there until they hauled out 4 tons, for which they were paid in “scripts” to the company store.

We tried to explain to Miles that these families had no options. They weren’t being paid in real money, the bosses at the store could set whatever prices they wanted and there was nothing the families could do about it. They had to pay rent for their tiny cabins and buy everything they needed for life at this store! John told us these “scripts” were being used in some places in the US as recently as the 1970s.

As we moved through the mine, we saw how machinery helped to make the process both more efficient and less physical (slightly!) for the workers. We were all startled by how LOUD the machines were when John switched them on to show us how they work.

He described the “dance” the different machine operators had to perform throughout a shift, marching forward and backward through this impossibly dark, small, musky tunnel.

Other interesting things I learned: rats in the coal mine serve a similar purpose to canaries. While rats don’t enjoy being in the tunnels because there’s no food source, the miners like them there because their bare feet can sense the vibrations of impending collapse. John said miners often feed rats as a thank you for looking out for them.

All in all, it was a great activity for our family for Labor Day. A nice reminder of the important work unions have done for the working people in our country, a nice look at the way bituminous coal is extracted so our kids could get a better sense of what goes in to powering our home!


Posted by on September 1st, 2014 No Comments