Clearance purchase?

I’m in the grip of a miserable headache, so I will leave you with this:

My nephew Owen is two and a half and learning about life. Specifically, he’s learning about what makes his mother a mommy and what makes his dad a dude.  Thus, he likes to ask who has a penis and who doesn’t.  Because he’s a little boy, he feels very sorry for anyone who doesn’t have one and asks about their well-being frequently.  My sister has decided just to answer honestly with a straight face, demystifying the anatomical changes.

That is, until, Owen told his father that he knew Mommy didn’t have a penis, but couldn’t Daddy buy her one at the store? And since he was buying Mommy one, couldn’t Daddy buy her a BIG one?

So much for the straight face.

The Zone

Tonight is our last night on the road; this dispatch comes from my friend’s fiance’s computer on lovely and damp Bainbridge Island in Washington State.  BI is just a short ferry ride from Seattle and guys, I think I’m about to commit bigamy with a location. I want to marry Bainbridge Island, have little yuppie babies raised on local food and sent to any one of the schools in the buyer’s market of Montessori and Waldorf options, name them ironic names like Watson or Asher and then have a very understanding and gentle divorce when our island love turns out not to be.

In short: Ah <3 Bainbridge 4Eva.

Typically when we travel I get a touch of “Why don’t we live here?!” if I’m in one place for any amount of time.  This seems particularly prevalent on the West Coast where the abundance of creative artsy types seem to outnumber the government types that (by necessity) populate our usual living space.  Tomorrow, though…tomorrow I get to go back to a place most people dream of living in and then dismiss as impractical, which is a little fun for me.

Mostly though, after five months of up and down and all around, we’re going to go back to Hawaii and rebuild our home. Rebuild our life; create a nest of our own where our child can have a little routine and calm while we plan the Next Big Adventure.  We’re going to recreate the happy little family zone where we can explore our own backyard and daydream and remember what we’ve done while we think about what we’re doing in the future.

I can’t wait to write about where we’ve been in the last few months.  But I also can’t wait to write about what’s next.

Countdown

In four days, we will be in Seattle.  A week from today, Vancouver.  And a week from Monday, back in Hawaii after a grueling-but-awesome five and a half month runaround.

I swear to you, Internet, I am going to sleep through the rest of August. We’re not even going to go to the other side of the island. And if I find a grocery delivery on-island, we’re not going to even leave the house. My brain is so deep-fried tired that I can’t bring myself to sit down and get into the routine, and as such my writing has gone stagnant for the moment. To not have a regular creative outlet is horrible for me and for Maggie too; I have a billion product ideas for Examiner, god knows I have a LOT I could be pitching to family travel websites, and in the background percolating in my head are a bunch of ideas for trying to figure out a way for us to homeschool Maggie and the as-yet-unconceived 2.0. But the words aren’t quite gelling together right now.

[Side note on having another child. Me: "I think I'm ready for another, Maggie's old enough, we have a name we agree on, it's time." Tom: "Well, see if you can wait until we're in the same state." ...Twit.]

I’ve been reading so much on the Montessori and Waldorf and unschooling educational models and equal amounts on the general failure of a lot of public schools and now I am obsessed with creating a curriculum for our kids at home. This is INSANE, people. I’m already going a little crazy at home, but so far my experience is that I’m better at being a mom than I have ever been at anything else. Which…yeah. I’m not even saying I’m such a great parent, but I feel best about myself when I think I’m doing right by my kid. So why not see if we can find a way to run with it?

This is also a good way to distract myself from not thinking about how busy our fall is going to be. We’re signing up for Stroller Strides again once I get my house back together, toddler Spanish on Saturdays and possibly family music lessons on Sundays, baby yoga on Mondays and then babywearing and LLL once a month. I am determined to bust out of my antisocial grumpy shell and give Maggie some socialization (and me too).  I will also secretly be trolling for trustworthy types to babysit my kid so Tom and I can go see a movie and eat food that we don’t have to cut into teeny pieces to share. For my own sanity, I’m looking at starting Bikram once a week to get out of the house sans Maggie.  I’m going to a wedding in Vermont this fall (by MYSELF, holy shit) and we are taking a big trip in late October/early November.  Oh, and sometime between December and March…we’re moving and leaving Hawaii forever. And we don’t know when we’ll move, to where or for how long.

So you can see why I am spending my free time scanning Etsy for pretty Waldorf toys and, you know, not writing or thinking about a damn thing.

2010 has been a total kick in the junk for tons of our friends and comparatively, I can’t complain. We’ve only been mildly inconvenienced at best. But it has been an endurance marathon and I nearly burst into tears last Sunday flying from Manchester, NH back to Tampa when I realized I’d have to get Maggie to Seattle by myself, with a stopover in Denver and at a lousy time of the day for her schedule. It’s just.one.more.time. I can do it. But I’ve been counting down the days until I don’t have to do this alone anymore. Real single parents: a hug, a tip of my hat, and a standing offer of free babysitting to you. This is the hardest grind I’ve ever gone through and I only have one child and a vast network of family support.

Most importantly: four more days until Maggie can see her Daddy and I can see my favorite person in the world. It’s going to be awesome.

Stitch in time

Even though I was 18 when she died, I don’t know a lot about my maternal great-grandmother.

I know she went by Elsie; that she was from Portugal but had blue eyes and blonde hair. I know she was married twice in a time when good Catholic women didn’t do that, and while I know nothing whatsoever about her first husband, my biological great-grandfather, I know Arthur, her second husband of 50+ years, was a good man, the type of man to show up at my wedding dressed to kill and threatened my husband with extinction if he didn’t treat me correctly. That’s the kind of man you want sticking around.

I know she had five children, three boys bookended by my Nana at the top and my great-aunt at the end. I know she was funny; at least, she always made me laugh. From our visits I like to think I got my tendency not to suffer fools from her. She made the hand-snipped and intricately woven handkerchief that my mother held when she got married–the same one I held on my wedding day. I know that in that way she took part in my ceremony.

And I know she loved to crochet.

One of the best things about visiting my great-grandparents was the doll room, a guest bedroom filled with plastic dolls from the craft store. My Great-Nana would take these penny playthings and turn them into works of art, clothing them in fantastically elaborate frocks of yarn. It was a fun hobby for her, one that I can see today–three of those dolls are in the bookcase behind me. These are the crafts I can most easily reach for in my memory, though I am sure there are more. Dusty memory fragments float through my brain and almost catch the light–afghans, blankets, doilies that I can’t quite remember but that I know must be there somewhere still.

My mother says she learned to crochet from her grandmother, and though I never asked for clarification I always assumed she was speaking of Great-Nana. My mother inherited all of her grandmother’s hooks and keeps them in a bag on her craft shelf, as well as a few packets of needles and other things. It was this bag that I rummaged through when I selected a hook to make my first blanket for Maggie and for my second project, a gift for my cousin’s soon-to-be-born baby.

In the somewhat laborious process of learning to crochet, my mother has been pleased with my progress. She’s only taught me two stitches so far; I’ve made or am making something significant with each before I move on to more intricate things. Because I am impatient and not easily satisfied I have also made untold amounts of dishrags, an item that can be made in an evening and offers the instant satisfaction of a completed work. More satisfying was mending a pair of pants that had ripped because they are worn twice a week and have been for the last six years (they fit PERFECTLY, okay?) with a needle from that bag. They’re all sewn up (reinforced with iron-on patches) and ready for more action.

Travel and upheaval notwithstanding, it’s a pleasant and calm life that Tom and I live, routine and happy. Our child is quiet in her own way, preferring the neatness of sorting blocks and turning pages in her book to the flash and dazzle of her toy chest. We drive a Honda, for Pete’s sake. We have a quiet, orderly life and we like it that way.

With five children born through the 1930s to 1950s and making her way in a rough-and-tumble kind of world, I think my Great-Nana’s life was not so calm or orderly. Full of love? Absolutely. But probably not quiet. But I think about her reaching for the needle to mend something that needed mending or to make something beautiful just because she could; I think of her selecting a crochet hook to make a lovely doll dress for a grandchild to enjoy or a blanket to keep someone she loved warm. And then I think about her tools, passed along to my mother, used to enjoy, to create, to build something useful, or maybe just pretty, stitching along in the quieter background of her days.

These same tools I’m using now, again being used to create pretty and useful things. Things that will be kept for a long time, things that are keeping her great-great-grandchild warm even as I type, softly snoring under a tight weave of rainbow cotton, things that will keep her future great-great-grandchildren snuggled warm against the chill. Her skill is flowing through to her family, immortal, touching the born, the unborn, and the as yet unimagined. I think she would like that.

And I think of these things and know then that I know her, that we might have known each other, better than I thought.

Odds ‘n Ends

Things on my mind at the moment:

1. I hate folding diapers, but I love cute diaper covers. I just picked up these in Alice Brights and Warm Stripes and mostly I’m just thrilled that I can put more prefolds into the rotation because those are much easier to fold than the pocket diapers. When we get back to Hawaii in August, I’m not folding another load of clean diapers for four or five months. I may just push up toilet learning in the meantime.

2. In order to get my hands on some fresh poke (poh-kay, Hawaiian sushi) I would commit highly illegal acts.

3. Maggie crawled into the kitchen while I was making her applesauce today. I said “Hi sweetie!” She responded “Hi Mama!” This is far cuter than the other night, where I fell asleep nursing her in bed and she grabbed my arm in the dead of night and said “Hi Mama!” then. Same sentiment, exponentially different level of startle. She also says “Oh boy!” and claps her hands now. It is thoroughly adorable. Makes up for all the biting. (Dear God, teeth, when are you coming in?!)

4. I’m supposed to be booking tickets for our New Zealand trip soon, but I am having a hard time motivating myself to get info on our frequent flyer miles. I did book for Seattle and Vancouver in August and plan to go straight on back to Hawaii from there, so right now I have a one-way ticket for August 3. Depending on the difficulty of the flight with the baby, I may just set up a home in a van by the water rather than do one more flight by ourselves. Theoretically we’ll be meeting Tom back in Hawaii, so that will be awesome.

5. The fabulous mind behind www.everywhereist.com has agreed to post an entry of mine in her guest blogger series. It will run June 7. Thanks, Everywhereist!!

6. My nephew is visiting next week! I hope he sings “Bad Romance” to me again.

ETA: Almost forgot to mention: The World’s Laziest Baby stood on her own, unsupported, for the first time yesterday. Unfortunately it was in the pool and she was shoulder-deep in water, so she felt like she was being suspended and had better balance. She absolutely refuses to try to stand without help out of the water, so I think walking is still several weeks if not months off. Our official line to well-meaning playground parents is “If she isn’t walking by her 18 month well-baby visit, we’ll worry, but not until then.” I do wish I had bet money with everyone who said at Easter that she’d be walking within weeks; I told them there was no way and I could have cleaned up.

Cash Money

One of the things I really miss about Tom, other than his ability to crack me up with “Arrested Development” quotes, is that he generally makes sure that I am well-fed. As much as I adore food–and oh, I do–I’m also bone lazy. When I can eat a fruit salad that my mom made up and a quick microwaveable quesadilla, I’m not going to take the time to prepare a full meal. Maggie eats extraordinarily well, but she also doesn’t eat anything that takes a lot of effort to prepare or she eats a smaller version of what I’m having. If I boil up some tortellini and make some meatballs for me, she just has a meatball, some tortellini, and whatever fruit is handy. Doesn’t take long. When Tom cooks, I can count on a well-seasoned sauce over a delicious pasta or some exotic sausage with a salad of spinach, mozzarella and tomatoes at least three or four times a week. It’s not super-varied, but it sure is tasty.

Willing myself to cook is one more badge I have to earn. In Maryland this past spring some friends and I were discussing our “adult badges,” or the things we’ve done that demostrate stepping toward adulthood. For example, I’ve locked down marriage, parenthood and regular exercise. Another friend is a property owner, training to begin her own business, and always looks fabulously put together. A third friend is professionally successful, travels extensively, and is totally independent. All just badges toward the sash.

Since I’ve done pretty well at setting goals for myself and gaining some level of achievement, I’m revamping my goal list. The first is cooking. The second is becoming good with money. I guess by some standards I’m pretty good with a buck; we have no credit card debt and I stay on the budget that Tom sets for the family. We cloth diaper and bank the savings; we buy used when we can and invest in high-quality items when we can’t. We’re about to be totally out of car payment hell, Tom’s almost paid off his college loans, and I’m on track to pay mine off before Maggie begins school. That’s a lot of savings for a small family and we could do well with it if we plan correctly. There are probably lots of people we can ask for advice in our lives, but we think it’s best not to invite friend ‘n family opinions into our financial forecast so for now we’re going to get a third-party financial planner to help out.

One thing I’m glad that I did was open a small passbook savings account for Maggie. (Note: passbooks don’t actually exist anymore.) She got a few checks, a tenner here and there in a card, that kind of thing, for her first birthday. Since we’re talking the sum of a baby’s birthday money and not the Onassis shipping fortune, a basic savings account made the most sense. Tom and I matched her birthday gains, opened the account, and set up a “monthly allowance” for her–the minimum $25 monthly transfer required to avoid fees. Until she’s cognizant of the power of money, we’ll bank all her birthday and Christmas money for her. When she’s older, she’ll be required by us to save at least fifty percent, and we’ll match what she saves until such time that she gets her first paying job (she’ll be required to save 50% of those wages, too, and she’ll also have to pay for her own entertainment and gasoline). She’ll also be required to give some away to the cause of her choice; hopefully she’ll do so cheerfully. But by the time she’s four or five, there should be enough in that account for a CD and the real fun of making her money start to work for her will begin right as she’s old enough to participate. By the time she goes to high school…who knows? It’s a good start, at any rate.

So we’re working on our own “fiscal responsibility” badge, and we think we have Maggie on the way to that one by the time she leaves our care. An understanding of money and how to manage it responsibly as well as using it to help the community is one of the best gifts we can think to give her.

But someone else is going to have to teach her to coordinate an outfit, because I sure as hell can’t do that. There’s a reason I love Hawaii: clean and no holes is practically formalwear.

Souvenir

Once upon a time when Tom was in Djibouti, he brought back several short, carved wooden clubs with bulbous tips. Unsurprisingly, these were called “Djiboutian war clubs” and made fantastic gifts for the Y-chromosome owners in Tom’s life. (I got a carved jewelry box. For all the jewelry I don’t wear.) Now, my cousin Mark is as close to me as a brother, and since they had not yet met when Tom was in Africa it was very important to me that Tom make a good impression. Mark is what you might call, if you were vulgar, a dick-swinging man’s man whose opinions on boobs, trucks, guns, and beers are all the same: the bigger, the better.

Naturally, I asked Tom to bring back a Djiboutian war club to present to Mark as a token of Tom’s manly worth. Mark accepted it that October with raised eyebrows and without comment and I sadly thought that was the end of it until that Christmas. Mark excitedly gave Tom what he called an “American war club”: a Louisville Slugger. It was the highest gift he could bestow, except for that time he worked in a school supply distribution warehouse and gave me a case of ultra-thick toilet paper for Christmas.
“I think there’s still some blood on it from some dude’s head!” Mark informed us.
It’s so beautiful when cultures can share, don’t you think?
At any rate, a few months later Tom awoke to the sound of what he thought was a sexual assault in progress in the parking lot of our apartment building. (Fear not, it was noisy but once he translated her Spanish moanings, quite consensual.) He reached under the bed for a blunt object and was offered multicultural home protection’s finest: the Slugger, the Djiboutian war club, and an Irish shellalegh.
I bring this up because many dedicated travelers seem to have a thing with souvenirs. Some people have niche objects, others photographs, others still memories of that one meal that left them orgasmically happy or paralyzed over a Third World toilet. I myself collect zippered coin pouches, which are cheap and often come in handy for stashing various small items. But my husband seems to have ended up with a collection of International Clue’s murder weapons.
For Maggie, I decided to start collecting keyrings. The more colorful and tacky, the better, and bonus points for finding one with “Margaret” on it. So far she has ones from Oahu, the Big Island, Maryland, DC, Baltimore, Maine, New Hampshire, and St. Pete Beach. Not bad for someone who has no keys and actually can’t say “key.” It seemed like a nice way to show her where she’s been and at less than $5 a pop, relatively cheap.
Alas, there’s no blood on any of them. We’ll have to get Uncle Mark on that.

Breath Held

I wrote this earlier today: “Eerie: the sound of 900,000 people holding their breath.”

The tsunami warning ended up amounting to nothing at all, thankfully, but that was a hell of a way to wake up. I had roughly 20 voicemails/texts awaiting me when I awoke at 6am; I thought the baby was up because she was hungry but now I think she woke up with the town’s emergency sirens. Those rang out every hour until the late morning. The live-cam on Waikiki showed that the water had retreated out past the sand bar and reef and we got really worried.

A lot of our friends on the coast were evacuated and given doomsday information; one wrote that their house was dead in the path of the inundation area and would have been completely wrecked had there been flooding. Everyone we know who was evacuated was evacuated sometime between 4am and 6am; they got back home mid-afternoon.

It was creepy, how still the town was. Everything was so quiet and all the reports from the road were dead. Everything had been cleared and evacuated. There were people tailgating in our town’s center waiting to go home and picnicking on the side of parking lots, waiting to know if we were going to be Southeast Asia or an overreaction. Counting the other islands, it was a million people holding their breath, the sound of a silence as heavy as a lead apron.

My main concern was the airport. Would Tom get back from New Zealand? (He emailed moments ago, when he discovered the free internet at Sydney but I had no way whatsoever to contact him.) If he was delayed in Sydney, would I still be able to fly out to DC on Monday? Making a decision that should surprise no one who knows me, I decided come hell or literal high water, I was going to get Maggie and me back to the mainland and I didn’t care how or what I had to do, but I was going to get us on a plane to DC. And furthermore, I was going to finish my pre-packing to-do list and I would create a washboard out of my wooden IKEA wine rack and hand-wash my underthings in the tub if I had to. Mother-fuck the tsunami; a tidal wave wasn’t going to keep me from fresh socks.

You totally want to be in a natural disaster with me. Anticipating major power outages (which didn’t occur), I busted out as much laundry as I could, filled all our water bottles and a few jugs of water and filled the tub in case we needed extra cooking/flushing/wash water. I also prepared several days worth of ready-to-go meals for Maggie and popped them in the fridge. This took all of an hour, then I put on coffee for any houseguests coming up to the central plateau for a tsunami evac party. The only problem was that I fell asleep before the first warnings were issued last night, then the baby was napping and I had so much laundry to do that I had no time to get beer for guests. But it all worked out okay.

Thankfully it was just a fantastic fire drill and aside from Maui losing their water for a while, there was no damage or injuries. But man, it was scary for a while. Knowing I had no way to contact my husband, that I would need to pull this together on my own. Knowing my friends’ homes might be in very real danger. Hawaii’s my home, the only place I could love more is Maine, and I was scared it would be hurt.

But it’s okay, no waves and no harm, and I learned a lot about figuring things out on my own. One of the big overarching fears in my life as a (temporary, contingent upon economy) stay-at-home mom is “What happens if something happens to Tom?” Can my skills support my daughter? Will I be able to manage our finances well enough to give our daughter everything she deserves? Will I be able to see clearly enough in an emergency to see what needs to be done and do it in an efficient manner?

Today I realized I can do it. In a short-term crisis and over the long haul, I can find the will and the way to take care of this family on my own. And once I realized that, I finally could let out my breath.

Two

The night before we sat and waited for the nurse to check vitals. It was a stone gray day in January, with trace flurries. We turned all the unnecessary lights off and played Radiohead music in the light. Your father slept; your mother waited. We turned on CNN and watched the news on Heath Ledger. A finished life coming before a new one.

Catherin and I went to Denny’s in the early hours. We didn’t sleep. We bought your mom a rocket sippy cup for her ice chips. We went back to the house and promised to return at seven. We showered and tried to sleep. At 5am I walked the streets of suburban Portland alone while Catherin slept, breathing frost and ice and with each foggy exhale sent positive energy to you and your parents.

I wore roaming gnome pajamas to the hospital to make her laugh. She didn’t notice.

At the hospital I took a picture of the sunrise over the street. It was pink and gray, an austere sunrise giving off brittle warmth. We saw them briefly before your mom sent us to the waiting room where we drank flat Diet Sprite from the guest comfort station. Your grandmother came with your uncles; we waited in the hallway.

Time passed. Hours. We were loopy from the sodas and we listened to the moans, amplified by the oxygen mask. Nick and I stood by the door of the room and nurses scolded us. We worried. We heard nurses talking about dipping heart rates and c-sections. We worried more.

Then we heard it–a soft, small cry. I looked to Nick for confirmation and he gave a thumbs up. It changed the mood, it changed everything.

You changed everything.


Happy birthday, Owen. Auntie loves you.

Dairy Air

I was perusing my blogs this morning, a favorite pastime while Maggie dutifully empties the toy box, inspects the contents, turns it over, and scoots into it backward. I can usually make it through about half my Google Reader list before Maggie bleats to be removed from her tiny toy prison. Today I read one of my favorites, The Everywhereist, who writes the sort of travel blog I once aspired to before I ran out of time, money, and sanity. You only need two of the three to write a travel blog, but not having any is a difficult obstacle.

Today’s post, The Inherent Sexism of Airport Security, really struck home for me, especially this line:

“While I can’t really figure out TSAs motivations, I will say this: if dudes lactated, there is no way that the TSA would dare try to throw away breast milk. Seriously, imagine walking up to some 300-pound bruiser of a man and telling him that you were going to toss out his child’s food, food that he himself had made with his own body. You’d spend the next three days pulling your own teeth out of your ass.”

The first five months of Maggie’s life was spent training her for a huge trip for my sister’s wedding in September. We got her to both love and look forward to sleeping against our bodies in a sling. We nursed in all manner of positions so it would be easier on the plane to Boston. We went to the Big Island for a long weekend to serve as a practice airport run. We practiced packing our bags to make security clearance a breeze. And in preparation for commitments that would prohibit nursing–the all-day bachelorette party, an actual movie date with my husband, holy shit, the ceremony and reception that I would be both in and photographing–I pumped like a madwoman. No babysitters for those first five months; I had to stockpile my bottles. I never quite got the knack of pumping so it was hard for me, even though my supply has always hovered between “abundant” and “Can we just send you to Africa for a month to feed this village?” By the time we were to fly from Honolulu to Boston, I had amassed about 30oz in small bottles in a wee cooler to take with us.

Then I panicked. The word from the official website was that the TSA rules allowed frozen breastmilk, though I may have to get ice from the food court and flight attendants after clearing security. From other moms and anecdotal stories…it was a crapshoot. It seemed it would be left totally to the discretion of the agent, agents who do not have a reputation for compassion or understanding. It seemed highly possible that I could lose my precious supply. Maggie had never had formula after that one bottle in the hospital; I stayed home with her, she had reflux, so why spend the money on trying formula that her belly wouldn’t accept? The idea of giving her sensitive, refluxy belly a new liquid in a new environment during the happiest day of her aunt’s life seemed like a disaster in the making.

Thus I went to the airport prepared. I printed the TSA guidelines to bring along, I went to our pediatrician and had her write a note on letterhead declaring the medical necessity of our milk. It turned out to be nothing–I had my sheaf of paper ready to go, all our other baby-related liquids neatly packaged and labeled in my Ziploc, and the woman smiled at me, scanned the liquid, and passed us through. She even said “Hi” to the baby. No fuss, no stress. I don’t want to make the statement that because she was a female agent she understood more than a male agent would; I know many men who value the nutritional benefits of breastmilk, and have encountered many women TSA agents who have a chip on their shoulder trying to seem as tough as their male colleagues in a viciously stressful and complicated job. But it could easily have gone the other way.

Pumping is hard work. It is uncomfortable. It is clinical. It inspires some of us to moo mournfully at the machine while we wait to fill up a bottle. I hate it. I can’t imagine the despair I would have felt if the agent had taken my stockpile away or the depth of my humiliation if my baby’s food that I worked so hard to produce, my baby’s food that was an extension of my own body, was thrown away like so much garbage.

So to my moo-cow sisters out there, good luck to you. Print the guidelines, get a note from the pediatrician just in case. I hope you don’t have to use it; you probably won’t. But do it just in case. And to the TSA–I’m a model flyer. My husband is too, and we’re going to do everything we can to make your jobs easier. But in the process of doing your job, don’t make my job harder.