The Gift

As I have written before, Maggie is a special little snowflake. She is not like other children in a lot of wonderful ways…and some not-so-thrilling ways. We have been coping with a bugger of a case of sibling jealousy here. Maggie seems to not take Moira herself personally; she’s very gentle to the baby. No, no, she haaaaates us to the point of hunger strikes and tantrums so violent she breaks out in hives. It’s just boundary-testing to see how much nonsense she can pull before we push her away in favor of the new baby and of course, we would not do that. We just need to wait for Maggie to internalize what we’ve been telling her all along: that we will always love her and that she is a very important member of this family. It doesn’t make it any less trying, though.

Enrolling her in preschool has been great in terms of giving her a space of her own during this transition; she is opening up to other adults, if not other children, and is settling in rather well. This year the preschool did a reenactment of the nativity for the parents with a few holiday refreshments afterward (and big, big thumbs-up to a school that will serve alcohol to the parents at noon). Because I am essentially naive, I decided Maggie would be joining everyone in the nativity play. Lots of stimuli, organized activity, responding on cue? What could go wrong?!

Obviously, this did not work out. Specifics need not be mentioned but as we walked in you could practically see the words “Bull. Shit.” pop into Maggie’s eyes. There were about 20 kids in various costumes, including an angelic little choir, and Maggie in her striped fleece hat and puffy coat, resigned to the “musician” section. Her job was to ring bells.

She did not.

Maggie did, however, come sit with Moira and me to watch the nativity play and enthusiastically clap for her classmates for a few minutes before she wandered off to rummage through a bin of stuffed animals. No doubt she wanted to cherry-pick a few good ones while her classmates were all occupied. She pulled out two I recognized from earlier in the term (“No, Maggie, those don’t go home with us! Sorry!”) and brought them over; she cuddled them as the obvious favorites that they were. I had Moira in the wrap and had juuuust enough room left on my knee for Maggie to perch.

I briefly was jealous of the other parents with their enthusiastic participants and wondered if we would ever get to the point where we could take photos of our firstborn participating in…hell, in ANYTHING. It was brief, though; she is still so young and I have vivid memories of being backstage at my first dance recital with my mother unsuccessfully trying to convince me to join my classmates in performance. Who can blame her for not wanting to don angel wings for a group of strangers?

Then I realized something else was going on. Maggie was making her animals dance and chat to each other, as per her usual. Then she stopped to stare at Moira. She thought for a few moments.

“Moira needs a toy.”

Then she tucked one of the animals–her beloved favorite–into the wrap next to Moira’s face, patted her sister gently, and resumed playing with her lone animal.

Onstage the tiny wise men were offering their gifts to the son of God, the miracle of Bethlehem. But in the audience we had our own tiny miracle too.

Happy winter holidays to you all.

Alive

What has our new family of four been doing? A lot. We’re also dealing with colds, random fevers, and a WHOPPING case of new sibling jealousy that has taken years off my life and added grays to my head.

But like my friend Laurel says, I’m keepin’ ‘em alive. Some days only just, but alive we are.

Four Days, Three Generations, Two Pairs of Wellies, and One Really Long Wall

A Tom Travels post! Enjoy! – Deanna

Never one to miss the opportunity to travel, my father’s September arrival in England provided a unique opportunity to visit some of the less-renowned sites of England. Although there are plenty of churches, castles and other ruins in Yorkshire, I jumped at the chance of visiting Hadrian’s Wall with my father. Of course, I had just returned from back-to-back business trips, one of which included being immersed into week-long German wine festival, so a little sacrifice would be required on my part. As Deanna was essentially on her own with a two-year old during my business trips I felt the need to relieve her of the burden of watching our daughter. Our trip to Hadrian’s Wall would become an intergenerational vacation full of father-daughter and grandpa-granddaughter bonding time.

Day One:

From Harrogate we set out for the Cumbrian market town of Penrith. The red-brick town oozes with history, including English Heritage castles of Penrith and Brougham. The hills around Penrith are also stocked with neolithic monuments like Mayburg Henge and King Arthur’s Round Table (not actually King Arthur’s Round Table). Six miles to the northeast is Long Meg and her Daughters, a neolithic circle consisting of 69 stones. Long Meg, the tallest of the stones, stands at height of 12 feet with three carved symbols. Getting to Long Meg can be a bit of a haul, so make sure you have your directions worked out. On the way back through Little Salkeld from Long Meg, make sure to stop at the Little Salkeld Watermill for lunch. The working mill offers fantastic organic vegetarian courses like the Watermill Rarebit or the Miller’s Lunch.A short bit from Penrith is Carlisle, which is a Roman fort town and the capital of Cumbria. Carlisle is by far the most urbanized city in Cumbria with food and shopping to match. The jewels of the city though are its Castle and Cathedral. The Castle, which boasts a Norman Keep over 900 years old, was built on the site of a Roman fort. Over the centuries the Castle has been renovated to accommodate the defensive necessities required to protect the town. Although at time a little drab, the Castle’s ramparts provide an unparalleled view of the city and the Cumbrian Military museum provides an overview of the County’s contributions to the defense of Great Britain.A £2 donation will allow you to gain access to Carlisle’s amazing red sandstone Cathedral. Although lacking the stature of the larger Minsters in York and Durham, the interior of Carlisle Cathedral is a sight to behold. Notable features of the Cathedral include the Brougham Triptych, St. Wilfred’s Chapel, and the resplendent royal blue barrel-vaulted ceiling of the choir. A reasonable lunch can be had next door at the Prior’s Kitchen.
Day Two:Although we technically straddled Hadrian’s Wall in downtown Carlisle, day two would be our official first day on the Wall. After a short detour out to Bowness-on-Soloway, the western termination point for the Wall, we headed east to Brampton. Between Brampton and Greenhead lie some of the best examples of Roman mile-castles and signal tours. Also in the region is Birdoswald Roman Fort, an English Heritage site, which includes a museum outlining how the Wall was constructed. Don’t miss the interactive map, which allows you to view the scope of Roman involvement in the region.Following a quick lunch, we made our way to Walltown Crags, one of the best locations to view Hadrian’s Wall as it sneaks along the whin sill. Also nearby is the Roman Army Museum, which includes a 3D movie. The crag can be reached from a Northumberland National Park car park or from a layabout roughly ⅔ of a mile from the museum. Simply follow the brown English Heritage signs and park in the lay about.After a morning of rain and blustery wind, the weather soon turned against us when we reached Vindolanda, a Roman town site roughly three miles from the wall. Vindolanda, a privately owned attraction, is highly recommended as an interpretive center for Roman history of the wall region. A well-designed museum at the site provides a fantastic overview of daily life among the Roman citizenry.

Unfortunately, the museum was a good half-mile from the parking lot. I bundled Maggie up as best I could and charged off into the rain. Once inside, Maggie was intrigued by the exhibit of leather Roman shoes. I’m guessing the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in this regard. (The “tree” is my sister. Tragically, I haven’t bought non-utilitarian shoes in over a year. – Deanna) After examining the Vindolanda tablets the sun emerged, prompting us to examine Vindolanda as quickly as possible. Despite wearing a pair of Wellies, Maggie deftly maneuvered around puddle after puddle. A thorough explanation that her Wellies were in fact waterproof and could be used to walk in puddles produced the following result:

For those looking for accommodation in the region, I would recommend the Burnhead Bed and Breakfast, located outside of Haltwhistle. Aware that we were traveling with a child, the owners went out of their way to check out books from the local library for our daughter. The B&B also has the added benefit of actually having Hadrian’s Wall run through their property. Cawfields’s Roman Fort and the Milecastle Inn are both within easy walking distance.

Day Three:

At Steel Rig

After a hearty English breakfast, we set off for Steel Rig and Sycamore Gap along the whin sill. Equally as stunning as Walltown Crags, the Steel Rig and Sycamore Gap trail head is located north of the Once Brewed Youth Hostel. From the car park to Sycamore Gap, the wall trail is roughly a mile one way and will take you past Roman signal and mile castles. At Sycamore Gap, you can take in stunning views of Crag Lough and a sycamore tree used as a location in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. A trail running behind the whin sill, and marking the route of the old Roman road, makes for an easier route back to the car park.

Sycamore Gap

The remainder of the day was spent covering the Roman fort/town sites at Housteads, Chesters and Corbridge. All three Roman sites provide unique insights into Roman life on the wall. Housteads Fort offers dramatic views of the Northumberland countryside, while also preserving a set of Roman toilets. A museum offering an overview of the Fort has recently been closed for renovations and is expected to reopen in the Spring of 2012. Chester’s Fort best exemplifies a Roman Cavalry Fort, with views of the River Tyne and one of the best preserved Roman bathhouses in England. Although not actually on the wall, Corbridge Roman town developed from a Roman garrison fort to an actual town site. The remains of Roman temples, granaries and barrack houses provide insight into Roman cultural, political and economic roles in England.

Day Four:

Day four of our journey brought us the town of Durham. A picturesque town, Durham charm is similar to that of York but without the endless number of tourists. Be sure to walk through Durham’s medieval streets before taking in the town’s Norman Cathedral and Castle. Durham’s Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not to be missed. If you have the time be sure to walk to the top of the tower to take in the panoramic views of this ancient city. Beer lovers should be sure to take in the Durham Brewery, roughly six miles south in the town of Bowburn. In addition to offering tours, the Brewery sells a host of beers, which may fall traditionally outside of traditional English ales. Be sure to try Durham Brewery’s Temptation (Russian Stout), Bede’s Chalice (Belgian Tripel) and Evensong (Bitter).

Tips for Visiting the Wall:

English Heritage Pass: Most of the English Heritage sites along the wall cost roughly £5. Between Carlisle and Corbridge, the main historical portion of the wall, there are four English Heritage sites that require an entry fee. Stops at Carlisle Castle, and Lanercost Priory will set you back an additional £5 and £3.30 respectively. At £46, an English Heritage pass is a good investment if you plan to visit other parts of England. If you intend to stick only to the Hadrian’s Wall region you might want to refrain from purchasing one.

Parking: Be sure to take advantage of the numerous parking lots operated by Northumberland National Park. Car parks are generally placed within walking distance of trail heads. Fees are generally only a pound or two with day tickets that can be used at other locations along the wall. Car parks also provide the added benefit of personal and bike storage lockers for travelers.

Visiting Other Locations: Although Hadrian’s Wall is amazing, especially when you mix in the stark landscapes of Northumberland, it can get a little tedious. After visiting two forts even a novice historian will be able to identify a Roman barrack or gain storage building. To mix things up, make sure to incorporate side trips to other locations of historical or natural significance. The towns of Corbridge and Hexam are both very charming and deserve at least a few hours to explore.

Moira, Part 2

One question I’ve gotten a lot (aside from “Did you have a c-section?”) is “Did you know Moira was going to be ten pounds?”

No. We had absolutely no clue whatsoever. I measured small; I gained about 20lbs. That’s all. And I drank a lot of coffee trying to keep up with Maggie. My guess was just under eight pounds. So when I looked down at Moira for the first time I wasn’t really thinking about her weight, although she did look exceptionally plump.

Moira had a short cord, so once she was resting on me she couldn’t get much higher than my belly button. It was pretty incredible: I had read that babies placed on their mothers would instinctively gravitate toward the breast and latch on, which was exactly what my hungry little lassie was trying to do. For my part, I just shivered uncontrollably. All that adrenaline was flooding out of my body and I realized the window I had insisted on having open to cool me was making my shakes a hell of a lot worse.

While we waited for the cord to stop pulsing and for me to stop chattering we called our parents. My parents had some advance notice but we surprised my father-in-law during his Rotary meeting. The nice thing about Moira’s time of birth–12:13pm–is that it was just past 7am on the East Coast of the US. Perfect time to make calls. Much was made on Skype about her head strength and the roundness of said noggin–no conehead for my Moira. But come to think of it, it was a sizeable melon indeed. The cord stopped pulsing and Tom gave it a snip. The midwives took a glance at my ladyparts: no damage. Not a single, solitary tear. No stitches necessary. Both of them cocked their heads and said “Well, would you look at that?”

I like to imagine they were seeing a Georgia O’Keefe painting.

And then the moment of truth arrived: the scale came out. Because this is England, we got the weight in kilograms first–just shy of 4.6. I tried to do the conversion in my head and paused–I’m notoriously terrible at math. So the answer I was getting just couldn’t be right. Tom was the one who pulled up the conversion website and confirmed it:

Ten pounds, two ounces.

To say I was blown away was the understatement of 2011. It took the full part of three days to mentally reconcile what I had borne. In the meantime we just quoted this scene from Grosse Pointe Blank to each other except substituting “pounds” for “years.”

The rest we found out later: twenty-one inches long! A FIFTEEN-INCH CIRCUMFERENCE HEAD. Y’all, I have eaten pizzas that were meant to be shared with other adults that were smaller than my child’s head. But yeah. Ten! Pounds! I said to Tom “You know…I am going to crow about this a little, because this is the most impressive physical act I have ever performed.”

TEN. And don’t forget the two ounces.

I didn’t know it then, but that’s when I crossed a line. You can’t have a baby at home or have a ten-pound child without being something of a novelty; give birth to a ten-pound baby in your bedroom without so much as a belt to bite on and not need a single stitch? You, your kid, and your ladyparts have just punched your ticket as the main attraction at the birth freak show. That was a hell of a conversation stopper at Thanksgiving–you could almost hear the needle scratching off the record when I truthfully answered “Ten pounds. No, no c-section; born at home.”

Everyone I called fell into two categories when they asked about Moira’s size: they jokingly guessed ten pounds and then reeled in shock or they thought I said “seven” and had to be corrected. It was a good time. My Nana accused the midwives of having a broken scale; Tom’s aunt taught our British midwives the American idiom “You’ve got to be shitting me.”

I harp on her size for two reasons: a lot of people congratulated me for bravery and said they couldn’t do what I did. I will be the first to admit that if I had known, had any inkling at all, of her size, I might have thrown in the towel. But I don’t consider myself especially brave. Homebirth isn’t for everyone; neither is drug-free labor. I know how awesome that epidural feels; if that’s what you chose you will find no judgment here. But don’t underestimate the power of what your body can do. The second reason is to say that the lack of…er, “collateral damage” was entirely due to my midwives convincing me to assume positions that utilized gravity and engaged strong muscle groups. Left to my own devices I may very well have needed sutures because I would have stayed on my side and then semi-reclined to push. So make of that what you will.

At any rate, Moira’s birth was a transformative experience. The midwives drew me a bath and we washed her hair, dressed her, and I got to soak for a bit. My bed was made and ready for me. Maggie came upstairs and immediately dismissed her new sister for her brand new baby doll, a gift “from Moira.” The plush purple number Maggie named “Violet Snowbaby” was far more interesting to her than the new baby. We made a few Skype calls throughout the afternoon but mostly we just watched Pixar movies in our bed–a new family of four. Moira slipped into our lives like she had always been there; a calm, round, perfect peach of an infant who only asks to be loved on and snuggled and fed copious amounts of milk. After the daze of Maggie’s birth combined with our first-time parent nervousness, I didn’t know it could be that way.

I had no idea that having a newborn could be this good. But oh, it is.