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

Jury Duty Update

I called the office of Jury Management this morning and explained my problem. “Your due date was when?” the woman on the phone asked, as my newborn squeaked in the background. “Oh, honey, you mean you have a 1 week old baby there and you have to deal with this??”

My thoughts exactly! Kind phone lady determined that someone improperly filed the medical affidavit, which led to my being summoned so soon. She told me she’d write me in for a caregiver deferment instead of a medical, so now I’ll be called next August instead of this November.

She seemed a bit taken aback that I asked her to send me something in writing confirming this…between this incident and a bunch of problems at Miles’ school, I no longer take what people say at face value. I’m that woman writing down people’s name and badge number and precise time/date of phone calls.

So anyway, come next August, Felix will be starting preschool and Oren will be a year old. I won’t care a lick about sending him off to daycare with the sweet ladies from the Jewish services who provide childcare for the courts. I’ll probably look forward to a day reading a book, waiting to be called or dismissed.

Posted by on August 18th, 2014 No Comments

Jury Duty. Again!

I just got a juror summons in the mail. Again. My previous summons was for August 8, which was basically my due date with Oren. I filled out the form for a medical exemption and had my backup OB sign an affidavit, as required. He wrote that I am not eligible to serve until November, 2014.

Well, I suppose they ignored that form and his recommendation because I’ve been summoned to appear September 24. Oren will be just 6 weeks old. Technically, I will still be prescribed narcotic medication. I’m only provisionally allowed to drive a vehicle. Surely I am not a good candidate to judge someone’s innocence.

I know that most likely, when I call the juror services number, I will be excused or deferred or whatever. But I’m really angry that I have to deal with this step while newly postpartum. I’m summoned for jury service so frequently, it’s beginning to seem suspicious to me!

So, tomorrow, instead of napping while the baby sleeps in the morning, I’ll have to play phone tag with the courthouse. Way to go, judicial system!

Posted by on August 17th, 2014 No Comments

This Village of Ours!

I am overwhelmed by the community we’ve found and built here in Pittsburgh. Oren’s arrival has brought out so much love and support from our friends. My mom has been here since I’ve been in labor and she’s taking care of my house while I’ve been napping and nursing Oren.

Our big boys have enjoyed so many hours at friends’ houses playing Legos while I was in the hospital.

And food has been pouring in from all around. One of my neighbors’ Argentinian mother is visiting, and this woman loves babies so much she decided to bake us a lasagna just for a chance to smell his ginger head. Other friends have made a chart so we’re getting dinner delivered every-other day for a month!

I worried so much about how hard it would be to adjust to life with three sons living so far from my family. But our community here has embraced us so much I feel more confident that it won’t be impossible. (Though I’m sure it will still be tough, especially getting Miles to the bus stop on time)

I’m so glad we landed here, on this street in this city and with these friends. It’s a nice life here.

Posted by on August 15th, 2014 1 Comment

And Then There Were Five

Our baby Oren arrived last Thursday, August 7. I sure was done being pregnant–the fact that he weighed 9 pounds 5 ounces helped me understand why! More to come. (I can’t get the pictures to line up. Oh well.)


Posted by on August 13th, 2014 1 Comment

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