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

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