18 December 2011
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 19:20
06 December 2011
Well, friends, we made it across the wide ocean, me, my toddler, and the stowaway in my stomach. We flew Aer Lingus for the first time, and I had a great experience going through mellow Dublin airport, where we waited in exactly zero lines, chatted with friendly officials, and found abundant places for Gabriel to expend some energy. When you fly to the US from Dublin, you go through customs before you even get on the plane, a genius concept, so that upon arrival you simply grab your bag and walk out the door. At the tail end of an epic flight with a jet-lagged child, I appreciated not standing in a neverending customs line more than I can say.
Facing a 7.5 hour flight, after having woken up at 6am and already endured a flight and two airports and a child who does not want to be in a stroller, I quailed. That's...a whole DAY, I thought. HOW on earth will we make it? So I only considered the half hour in front of us. Half hour at a time, we conquered that flight. A few things worked in our favor: the plane was far from full, which gave us room to breathe and ultimately a whole middle row of four to ourselves (the smart guy who was initially seated at the other end of the row took one look at us and moved). The one advantage of a very long flight is that there are long stretches where the aisles are free of service carts or people, and we could run loops around the airplane or sneak into other, empty seats for the exciting new perspective of another identical seat back. Another little girl the same age as Gabriel shared her toys, and I could even prevail upon her nice German parents to keep an eye on him while I ran to the bathroom, etc. Dirty diapers did not appear at inopportune times (usually he times them for turbulence or takeoff/landing), and we did not recapitulate the morning scene in the Brussels airport during which he so resisted laying still on the changing table that we ripped the entire diaper in half (I learned my lesson and brought a new toy for each diaper change).
The kid did not sleep a wink the entire day, despite one tantalizing moment in which his eyes drifted shut and I made the excruciating mistake of trying to shift him off my belly and he woke up never to return to dreamland. But the lack of sleep did not translate into utter breakdown. I had enough of a supply of novel dollar-store doodads and gift-wrapped toys and sticker books to pull him out of his few tearful episodes, and didn't even need to resort to the iPad until four hours into the flight. I was most dreading landing, when you have to pull a tired toddler who does not understand why one must be in a seatbelt onto your lap, and the iPad is off limits just when you most need it, but some songs, a 68-cent lion puzzle, and the promise of finding grandpa and grandma at the airport saved the day. Then, oh blessed relief, we were landed, both overjoyed to see my parents, and minutes later he was asleep in the guest room and I was relaxing on the couch.
In some ways, the long aftermath of overseas flights is more exhausting than just getting through the hours of the flight itself. Jetlag has never hit us so hard: I'm adjusted but the child keeps waking up at 4am, which makes me want to cry. This morning I fell asleep on the couch at 8am while he puttered around with tinker toys, a tiny portion of my tired brain dedicated to noticing whether he was safe and the rest in an utter crush of exhaustion. I slept until 11, my mom taking over once she woke up. I had hoped to get him adjusted to East Coast time before leaving myself, but it looks like she'll have some early mornings.
Because tomorrow comes the next step: I fly to Indiana for my dissertation defense. This will be the first time since Gabriel was born that we spend the night apart, the first time that I travel solo, so I will simultaneously be sad to say goodbye (I don't think he'll be sad, though, because he gets to stay with GRANDMA and hang with his beloved cousins and aunties and uncles) and kind of giddy at the prospect of reading on the plane like a grown-up person, traveling without a diaper bag, and sleeping in a bed by myself without being woken up during the night or at the crack of dawn.
I am anxious about the defense only insofar as getting everyone in the room together to make sure it really is happening! Then, they can say what they will but I'm pretty sure my supportive committee wants to give me my degree as much as I want to get it. After that, and the submission of the document and sundry paperwork, you can just call me Doctor Cantdocell.
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 17:22
24 November 2011
I am so thankful for a thousand things, but one deserves special mention today:
The little blobby, squirmy BABY bobbing around in my belly!
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 22:52
16 November 2011
While the big, major thing is out of the way (i.e., writing a dissertation), there is still the small matter of the defense. I am nervous about it, but only in the sense of getting everyone actually in the room (there are health issues for one of my committee members, and distance to travel for another). Once we are actually assembled, I will breathe a sigh of relief. Then...to defend! My only real visual for a defense is one I went to of a friend in Barcelona (there they call them "tribunals"), which was extremely formal and attended by quite an audience of family, friends, and faculty who seemed to get rather critical of the defendee. Mine is likely to be very different, with just me and the committee (fortunately!).
In order to defend in person, I will be flying to Boston by myself with Gabriel (gulp) on December 2. I will then leave Gabriel with my parents for a week while I fly to Indiana (it will be our first time apart!), defend and finish up paperwork and submissions, then fly back to Boston. We'll stay through Christmas, the Mister joining us on the 14th, and then we fly to Barcelona on the 28th, staying through Kings until the 7th. I'm a little dizzy about it already.
Today we fly to Barcelona for a long weekend, but the little one is sick with bothersome cold, so I'm a little nervous about this one too! We just have gotten his sleep and nap schedules consistent and now we're going to go and mess them up again...oh dear. The life of the peripatetic family.
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 11:03
09 November 2011
So I realize I just wrote a post but I've got to write more! It's a banner week not only in that I sent off my dissertation, but in that Gabriel is...drumroll please...finally sleeping through the night.
After nearly 21 months of waking up multiple times every night, and more recently, of sleeping with a restless, hair-pulling, kicking child, we have managed to get him to sleep, and stay asleep, in his own bed. Last night he slept for 12 hours. I cannot get over it. I might be more...gobsmacked by this fact than I am about the dissertation.
It's all entirely thanks to my mom, who was here for a three-week visit (and my dad, who was here for part of that time as well). I don't think we could have stuck with it if it weren't for her actually putting Gabriel to sleep on the first, hardest nights, and encouraging us to keep going.
Wait, let me back up and describe what we had been doing before that. Every night, we laid down with him in or beside his bed (uncomfortably, on the floor) for usually an hour or so while he got still enough to fall asleep. We were exhausted, and invariably one of us would fall asleep during the process, wrecking the evening in terms of general alertness. He then usually woke up an hour or two after falling asleep, requiring another long process of soothing, and woke up again as we went to bed or shortly thereafter, at which point we would bring him to our bed. If we were lucky, he stayed relatively sound asleep all night and we only got an occasional kick to the kidneys or pulled covers. But most nights, he woke up several times, and getting back to sleep required pulling my hair as a soothing technique or grabbing and fiercely squeezing my head as if it were a stuffed animal. I would pull away, which would make him more awake and more mad...rinse, lather, repeat.
So. First we worked on the bedtime. After stories, prayer, songs, a goodnight kiss and then we leave. He screamed, of course. Called our names. But each night less and less. We would hear him flop down on his mattress and just...go to sleep. Wow. Pretty quickly he was crying for less than ten minutes. But he was still coming to our bed in the middle of the night.
After one particularly awake-all-night night, I said he can't come to our bed any more. That's it. So we let him cry when he woke up during the night. And he cried, but more quickly than I ever imagined possible (over the course of just two or three nights) his crying went from 10 or 15 minutes two or three times during the night to one brief, barely one-minute cry, to...nothing. Sleeping all night. Like I said, I can't get over it. He wakes up happy, alert, and noticeably more well-rested. Twelve hours! Unbelievable.
Also! He started his new, permanent daycare last week. It seems kind of bad timing to have started that as well as sleep training, but I think somehow they have reinforced each other. He really likes his new school, looks forward to going, waves "bye-bye" cheerfully in the morning, and gets all good and tired out during the day. Plus, his first full day there was yesterday, and he even NAPPED there. I was sure he would cry and they would call me, but no. He just...fell asleep. Crazy. (Naps are yet another story...I should not even admit this on a blog but I have been putting him to sleep for his nap by walking him around in the stroller every day since we weaned two months ago. So yeah, I didn't think he'd lay down and nap at school.)
I must make a few disclaimers. I know all of the sleep stuff is different for every kid, and I know cry-it-out is controversial, as is the family bed, which I've loved for many reasons (I even told M. last night that I kind of miss Gabriel sleeping in our bed...but I don't miss the hair pulling, kicking, no sleep thing). I myself was pretty against cry-it-out, and the few desperate attempts we made when he was younger--as an infant, at 12 months, at 15--were all disasters across the board. I am not even sure why this worked, and why it worked now. But it did. Part of is that he is older and able to process and understand more...along with all of the actual nighttime stuff, we've been doing a LOT of talking to him about it, telling him throughout the day and as we go to bed in simple terms what would happen at night, how he's such a big boy and will sleep in his bed all night long, that mom and dad are right here and he's safe and can go to sleep. He listens with wide eyes, very still. He gets it. He likes this "big boy" idea, says "buh (smushed barely there word) BOIeee." He says it when he points to himself in pictures.
I say: yes. A big boy. A very big boy indeed.
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 13:28
It's done. It is done. DONE!
I handed in the final draft of my dissertation yesterday. No more edits will be made, no committee member will send me suggestions for revisions, no more research can be undertaken, no more doubts will be had about maybe moving that section in front of that other section or deleting that sentence or choosing a better synonym for that word. It's done. It looks newly fancy, with a title page and an abstract and acknowledgements (just like a real book!) and a table of contents and figures and footnotes (well, those guys have been lying around for a while, all piled up lazybones on the bottom of the page).
This has been a long time coming. That last sentence is an understatement. Let's see, shall I detail how much of an understatement? In 2002, I started graduate school (yes, that would be NINE years ago). In 2004, I got my MA degree. In 2006, I got my MFA degree. Also in 2006, I passed my doctoral exams. Also in 2006, I got married and moved to Brussels. (It was kind of a big year.) Between 2006 and 2007 I wrote a proposal for the dissertation that at first didn't resemble the document I would go on to write but eventually turned into a legitimate plan. I flew to Bloomington to get my committee's approval of the plan. Then I spent a couple of years living in Brussels and Barcelona, translating and editing and always TRYING to write a dissertation but really just eking out dribs and drabs in fits and starts and mostly researching, reading, and reading some more. (That was the fun part, the reading and researching. Actually making something of it? That was the hard part.) I had one chapter done (Chapter 3, a perfectly logical place to start, right?), and little floaty pieces of others, and that was all, depressingly.
In a major turning point, both M. and I realized that if I was ever going to get this degree, I would have to be back in Indiana at school. So we made plans for me to live in Bloomington by myself for a semester. But then! We got pregnant! So M. came with me, and a semester turned into a year and a year turned into two years. He got hired as a visiting professor. We had a baby. I wrote and wrote--Chapter 1 and the Introduction--and taught, then I didn't write or teach while I nursed a newborn, then I wrote and wrote--Chapter 2--in Barcelona over the summer, and then I wrote and taught and graded and wrote, and wrote some more. The last semester in Bloomington I didn't teach, just finished writing Chapter 4. So then it was kind of done! A complete draft! But everything was also kind of a shambles, written in the most haphazard way and missing details that I was supposed to fill in later but never did. Then we moved back to Belgium, to Leuven this time, and I edited and edited and edited. And edited. Which meant writing and rewriting and adding new, better ideas, now that I had the whole thing before me. And all along my directors sent me their input and we embraced track changes and comment flagging in Word. Then it was the fall and my committee gave me the green light to defend in December, which gave me a deadline for submitting the final complete set-in-stone dissertation: November 9.
Today is November 9.
I hope the above saga communicates the fact that I NEVER would have finished this dissertation if it weren't for the Mister. He worked and worked while I wrote and wrote (or, ahem, didn't write). He unhesitatingly supported the idea of me spending time back in Bloomington, and then when--oh, we're having a baby!--he unhesitatingly picked up and came with me. He took over baby duty a million and infinity times so I could work, he cleaned the house also a million times so I could work, he sacrificed weekend or evening fun so I could work. He taught extra classes in Bloomington so I could take time off from teaching, the semester Gabriel was born and the final semester we were there. He pushed me when I needed it, listened when I needed it, didn't say anything when I needed him not to say anything, reminded me why we were doing what we were doing, and rubbed my shoulders when they ached.
I wrote this in my acknowledgements, of course, but I want to write it here, too, so everyone knows, not just the
eight six people who might read my dissertation: thank you, my love. This dissertation is dedicated to you.
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 11:56
29 September 2011
Gabriel ate his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich today. He loved it. It's my fault for withholding this principal childhood pleasure from him, because I'm not really a fan of peanut butter and jelly, and I tend to give him food that I'm eating or would at least care to eat if he doesn't finish.
I showed him the inside of the sandwich to get him interested in eating it, and he went "Ooooh!" then snarfed the thing down. He managed to get gobs of jelly inside the bib of his overalls (how?), and his face and hands were covered with schmutz, but boy it was worth it to watch him enjoy that sandwich.
We thought he had an allergic reaction to a kiwi the other night. We've been relieved that no allergies seemed to appear so far, and had sort of relaxed about it. When he started crying and wiping his tongue, and then we imagined we saw a red rash around his mouth. I thought, hadn't he eaten kiwi before? Is kiwi a known allergen? We got concerned and kept him awake a little extra to observe and we got on doctor google. But then we saw that his lip was a little swollen in just one place, and it turns out he had bit the inside of his lip pretty hard, and he was fine, and the red was just because we wipe his mouth so much. [Update: seems that he really did have a reaction to kiwi. It, um, came through the pipeline (we could tell because of the kiwi seeds), and he had a terrible red diaper area, and was waddling around in pain. So what we thought was a bite...wasn't? Or he must have bitten his mouth because of the pain? Or broken skin from the rash? Or the mouth was swollen so he couldn't help but bite it? An hour or so later, the red had died down so we were convinced it was just regular chapped skin.]
The pediatrician we saw in Spain were shocked about American laxity in terms of infant food introduction. "In America, they allow children under two to have red fruits!," she declared, shocked. I told them I heard that the new research seemed to indicate that unless allergies run in the family, exposure sooner or later won't affect the severity of the allergy and there's no greater risk introducing the food after a year. The doctor looked at me grimly: "I know." And apart from allergies, it's interesting to see what "baby" foods are different: in Barcelona, soft fish is one of the first and most basic foods for babies and toddlers. In America, it's like, "your kid eats fish!?" I'm not even sure what differences there are here in Belgium, but I'm sure we'll find out.
Most of the time Gabriel eats what we eat for dinner, but when I second guess him, he always triple guesses me. To wit: last night I made soba noodles and green beans in a dashi/soy sauce broth for us. I didn't think Gabriel would like it (plus thought it might be too salty for him) so I made him regular letter-shaped pasta with green beans. Once he saw what we were eating, he unceremoniously dumped his bowl out and begged for the soba. Which he slurped with such abandon that in Japan he would have been the picture of politeness. He ate the soba green beans but not the letter pasta green beans, although he did abandon (after trying, at least) the cabbage and scallions we used to top off our bowls.
To be sure, if I served him the same thing tonight he just as well might turn up his nose at it. One day he is a passionate fan of, say, clementines, and the next day, he will throw every piece on the floor. The moment I'm convinced he loves something is the same moment he decides that it's repugnant and that he would rather not eat it, thank you very much. (This expressed with a swift toss to the floor or by thrusting the offending, usually smushed food into my hand.)
He ate a plum for dessert last night and did so with such relish that we laughed. "Mmmmm!!" he said, after every bite. Today I gave him a plum for a snack and he took one bite then, you guessed it, threw it on the floor.
Currently one of Gabriel's most consistent favorites is hummus. When I bring it out he beams and wiggles with glee. He dips a pretzel in it and licks that pretzel off, then dips again, until the pretzel is soggy and he asks me for a new one. The other day, while I was making him some eggs and my back was turned, he decided to dip his whole hand in the hummus. But he doesn't like the feeling of goopy hands, so he whipped the hand back and forth, coating every surface in the room with tiny splatters of hummus. The same thing happened the next day with his oatmeal. Aaargh. There is oatmeal and hummus in the cracks of the floorboards, and I'm not sure how to get it out, short of letting it dry and hoping that it will vacuum up someday. If you come to my house pretend you don't know that.
I think I've cleaned up more food messes lately than in his first year and half together: he's now much better at making much bigger messes. Part of the problem is that our kitchen storage is entirely located under the cabinet, in big drawers that he can easily open (the stupid little Ikea tab handles prevent us from putting in child safety locks, but there must be some system out there? I hope?). He likes to peruse the contents of the drawer, and beg for a snack but then reject it because he sees OTHER even better snacks right before his eyes. He also likes to get into the non-snack pantry drawer, the one that holds all the dry goods and bottles and pastas etc.
Most of the time he brings me these items, or I'm with him and can put them back immediately, but occasionally I think he's doing something else or my back is turned and... boy, he's fast. So, messes I've cleaned up recently include: a kilo of sesame seeds (a kilo of sesame seeds covers the entire surface of the kitchen floor in a blanket of tiny white skittery bits, if you're wondering), a shattered bottle of sesame oil that spread glass and oil everywhere (that one happened while he was trying to carry three glass bottles at once by their necks and I was saying "NOooo!" as he dropped it, which necessitated a quick evacuation to his high chair), entire boxes of spaghetti, shaken-out oatmeal, crushed packets of crackers, and I'm probably blocking out more. Yes. Must get drawer locks ASAP.
Gabriel's food words are fascinating to me, because he tends to use words for one item to mean a category of similar items. Apple ("app-uh") covers all fruit, cracker ("ca-kuh," sort of hard to distinguish from "caca," or poop, which as you imagine might lead to some misunderstandings) covers all cookies and crackers and other snacks, "wa-wa" (water, or aigua--we can't decide whether it sounds more like the English or the Catalan word, but it's kind of nice that it's right in between) covers all drinks. But then there's "ee-ya" (tortilla), and "chz" (cheese), "bl-luh-luh" (banana, which also means "I want breakfast" because it's usually the first thing we eat when we get downstairs, but oddly he still sometimes calls a banana an "app-uh" and his pronunciation of zebra sounds exactly like his pronunciation of banana), "ehs" (eggs) and a few more. Pointing, reaching, and "ah-ah-ah!" whining cover the rest. I can't wait for him to learn more words, to cut down on the whining, but also because it's awesome: new foods and new words, two of the best things in the world, and all brand spanking new. I bet you don't remember your first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I bet it was great.
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 15:09
23 September 2011
Although no one in our household is going to school this fall, properly speaking, we’re going through a number of beginnings and changes. I’ve met with a professor at the university here and am invited to take part, informally at first, in a major project/grant they are starting that just happens to fit with my field of research. I’m madly finishing up revisions on my dissertation chapters, but I also hope to be able to do some writing for the folks here, and I have a few other projects on the horizon, which feels great.
Gabriel is going through some big changes, too. Last week I weaned him even from that last bedtime feeding, and it’s been hard, for me and for him. I’m surprised at how tough it is both physically and emotionally. We knew, for a number of reasons, that it was time, really time, but knowing this doesn’t make it any easier.
19 months of nursing was such a great experience with Gabriel. It was like a superpower I never knew I had, a multipurpose cure. Is my child hungry? Nursing fills his belly. Is my child tired? Nursing will soothe him to sleep. Is my child stressed or in pain? Nursing will comfort and calm him. Especially when he was little, sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between these needs, so it was wonderful to know that one action could fill them all. Of course I have other tools that can serve the same functions (um, except maybe for soothing him to sleep…still working on that one), but breastfeeding was a perfect and always-available response.
I knew he was better protected against sickness, and I knew he was getting the perfect balance of nutrients, a tailor-made recipe. Of course it wasn’t always easy: there were many (many!) times it was painful, times it was boring or frustrating or exhausting. Times I didn’t WANT to wake up at 3 am, times I didn’t WANT to stop the car or find a bench or possibly be a bother to fellow passengers or diners or friends. But it was always worth it. Always.
And did I mention the milk was always available, never left behind? We nursed in malls, in church, at rest stops and in parks and on city benches, in changing rooms and restaurants and conferences and airplanes. I nursed him in a moving vehicle (both of us strapped in, of course!), on the beach, in the midst of parties. And of course, we nursed nestled in our bed, rocking in that yard sale rocking chair (the hardest thing for me to leave when we left Bloomington), perched on a stool or the floor or the sofa, and sunk into the gigantic recliner my parents rented for me when we first brought Gabriel home. (Boy was it ugly, but boy was it comfortable. My parents were relieved I burst into laughter instead of bursting into tears when, just back from the hospital, I saw it smack dab in the middle of the living room.) We nursed in the pitch dark and utter silence of midnight, in the noise and chaos of a Barcelona morning, in the quiet of midwestern sunshine, in the everydayness of a living room scattered with baby socks or toddler books.
I feel super lucky, so blessed that breastfeeding went as well as it did for us. Gabriel never took a bottle (or a pacifier for that matter), even though we tried very hard, so I imagine that a different work situation could have meant the end of breastfeeding. As a grad student I was able to be at home with him a lot of the time, and the Mister and I could work our schedules around feeding the baby. When Gabriel started daycare, at 11 months, it was only a few hours a day, and I could tell how much he looked forward to nursing and a nap when he got home. I never had to leave him overnight—even when I gave papers at conferences the Mister hovered in the hallways so that I could feed Gabriel during the breaks. It was a true team effort—the Mister supported me 100%, even in the midst of pain and crying and despair. I could never have fed Gabriel the way I did without him.
I’m in awe of my friends who pumped exclusively from day one to feed their babies breast milk, or who pumped when they went back to work, or who struggled mightily to continue nursing despite some major challenges. Breastfeeding does not go easily for everyone, and it makes me even more grateful for the experience we had.
There! Now I’ve gone and written a treatise on breastfeeding. I didn’t mean to. I was going to tell you about Gabriel’s other big change: starting Flemish daycare! He said his first word in Dutch today! I’ll have to write about that later. I guess I needed to reminisce in a wash of hormones about what the nursing relationship was like, and just how much it meant to me.
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 19:49
13 August 2011
We are on the eve of our last hurrah of summer, a few days at the beach on the Costa Brava. Gabriel simply adored everything about the beach in Cape Cod. When we had to head home after our first day's beach sojourn, during those perfect late-afternoon soft-sky beach hours, he flopped himself into the sand as the boardwalk ended in the parking lot, sand-angels-style. Although he couldn't say as much in words, his message was clear: I like it here.
A Costa Brava beach is an entirely different experience than a Cape Cod beach, but I'm pretty sure he'll like it, too (assuming he doesn't remember last year). And although posting this after not having written since we were in Massachusetts makes it sound like we just spend our summer jaunting internationally from beach to beach, we actually spent a couple of weeks in Belgium in between these two trips. And those weeks were...challenging. First, because they were rainy and cold and requiring of sweaters, and second, because they were dominated by a jet-lagged, molar-teething, suddenly-more-savvy toddler.
We didn't sleep much. Gabriel seems to have learned how to hit us deliberately. In the face. He had his first time out. Bedtimes were battlegrounds. Our street is still a mud pit.
But! The hitting (which thankfully has already died down) is part and parcel of a bigger growth spurt: he seems taller to us, is saying more and more recognizable words, chattering away in his toddler tongue, running faster, throwing and catching and singing ("Uppa Buh" is his favorite, which is what he calls "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," from the beginning of its second line; followed closely by "Cargol treu banya" which is about a snail and prompted by the many snails crawling the walls in our back yard).
He dances by spinning in circles and tries to snap his fingers, or does a up-and-down move with his arms that makes him look like a 1950s teenybopper. He makes surprising and funny connections between his books and what he sees in the world and vice versa, and by gum if he didn't recognize the front door of our building the night we arrived in Barcelona. His curls continue to slay me and he is liberal with kisses, but only when circumstances call for it (goodbyes, hellos, night time, wake up). He slept in this morning, then woke up without a peep and surprised us by walking into the dining rom and just giggling, so happy to see us. Lately he has started to smack his lips together when he bumps his head, which means, "Mom, please kiss it to make it better." I happily oblige.
18 months of this kid, and it's only getting better. The summer sun we'll have to soak up while we can, but his sunny golden head is ours for keeps. Making our lives warmer always.
24 July 2011
Two days ago we made the trip back over the Atlantic to join my family at that lovely curving hook of land jutting out of New England, Cape Cod. We did the trip without a stroller for the first time ever, so my back is a tad sore from lugging baby G. around, but it was also fun to see him proudly stomping around in his little red sneakers and holding both of our hands tightly as he navigated the airport. It was one of our smoothest trips ever, since we were traveling so lightly, and had oodles of time.
With a four-hour layover in London, we enjoyed a nice meal of fish and chips, then hung out in our little secret Heathrow Terminal 3 corner, the wheelchair waiting room, which provides an enclosed, relatively quiet space with comfortable chairs that gets us away from the shopping center chaos that is the terminal at large. As is Murphy's law, the trip on which we had extra time and little luggage was the one where we encountered short lines and few problems. Still, even a smooth and easy 6-hour flight with a toddler on your lap is neither exactly smooth nor exactly easy--it's six hours with an active toddler on your lap.
But oh, it was so worth it. Summertime heat, for real. Beautiful beaches, sand. Cape Cod hydrangeas and weathered shingles. Cousins romping around the house in their matching t-shirts. Little tow heads and dimples. Time for reading, iPad and iPhone games, photo sessions. Walks. Board games and card games with siblings and parents. Seafood. Bundling a happy, sea-salty shivering kid in a towel and holding him in my arms as the evening sun warmed us. And we've only been at the rental for a day!
I brought the book Cod by Mark Kurlansky, and I'm already in the middle of Moby Dick on my iPad. Perfect reading for Cape Cod (isn't it good geeky fun to match books and location?!). I also have David Mitchell's new novel, which I was half way through when I had to leave it in Boston two months ago (and um, really doesn’t match our location since it’s set in a Dutch trading outpost in Japan), plus a pile of other books on the iPad. I can't wait to devour them all.
14 July 2011
In order to go to the grocery store today, I layered up in jeans, warm socks and shoes, a fuzzy sweater, a striped jersey scarf, and a bright coral trench coat. I bundled Gabriel in his fleece and zipped him into his stroller's raincover (he doesn't like it very much). I pushed the stroller with one hand, and with the other held my blue polka-dotted umbrella.
What I'm saying is: it's cold. And rainy. I do the best I can with the cheery colors but it sure doesn't feel much like summer around here.
So when I get home, I open the big bag of ripe peaches that I had carried home (technically earmarked for the banana-peach-yogurt popsicles I plan to make for the kids who will be over for lunch tomorrow, along with their parents--M's coworkers--in yet another attempt to pretend it's summer). I eat two of them, one right after the other, standing over the sink, juice dripping down my wrist.
What I see, looking out the window, does not look like July.
But what I taste...ah, that's July.
05 July 2011
I've decided to write about two things making my life great this week, in order to combat the frustrations induced by wading through dissertation revisions; a toddler who now thinks that the appropriate response to any of life's indignities, large and small, is to throw himself on the floor in a sobbing heap; and the discovery that this city has many more children than it does daycare spaces, but no one who can clearly explain how one goes about getting one of those spaces.
If you had asked me how I liked our lightweight Combi Cosmo Ex stroller, until the day we moved to Belgium I would have said it was great! Particularly good for hauling up stairs and easy to maneuver due to its narrow width and small footprint, Gabriel had been comfortable in it since around three months old and had taken countless naps, eaten countless snacks there, happy as a clam.
But then we got to our new home town, and the cobblestones and work zones and uneven pavement and curbs chewed up our Combi and spat it right out. The wheels got stuck in every crevasse, it balked at every curb, and half the time we ended up hauling it around with sheer force.
Fortunately, we had another stroller waiting in the wings. The bumblebee yellow, super deluxe Quinny Buzz that I randomly won on the internet. We had brought it with us to Barcelona in March, aware of our future move Europeward, and left it there. Honestly, I'd thought it would stay there until another baby comes along, because it's heavy and wide and takes up the entire trunk of my father-in-law's midsize (=compact in American terms) car.
But oh my lands. We did the switcheroo this trip, so the lightweight stroller good for carrying up many flights of stairs to our elevator-less apartment stays there, and the heavy-duty, air-filled tires of the Buzz can help us push Gabriel around here (not to mention giving him a more comfortable ride). There are no stairs here, just one step up to our front door, so the weight isn't as much of an issue. I was worried about the width, and in some places we'll have to take detours or abandon ship briefly, but so far it's not too much of a problem.
The difference is, no exaggeration, life-changing! I schlep so much stuff around with the stroller (no car=frequent heavy loads of groceries), and I can now steer the thing with one hand, even while it's fully loaded. In fact I did steer it with one hand, pulling a suitcase with the other, when we came back from the airport this weekend, and never felt so much as a twinge of stress on the steering arm. It easily rides over curbs with no extra lifting on my part, and it even fits through the narrow alley on our street that skirts the large, deep pit we have dubbed "the Hatch," due to its imposing metal substructure and our Lost geekery. The thing practically drives itself.
The second miraculous item is a knife. I should backtrack a minute and explain that when we got married we registered for a perfectly lovely set of Henckels knives, but I made the mistake of selecting them without trying them, and I've never been completely satisfied with how they sit in my hands, the length (too long), the weight (too heavy), the blades (too thin), etc. Then we moved to the US, and my mom loaned us a knife. This particular knife was a gift to her from my brother, brought home from a trip to Taiwan, I believe, and (am I remembering correctly?) made from recycled bomb metal. It has a santoku blade, is shorter than the chef's knives I was used to but still plenty long, and I fell in love with how it felt in my hands, how sharp it remained despite daily use (and even some unauthorized trips through the dishwasher). I was loathe to give it up, but mom wanted it back, naturally, when we moved out of Bloomington.
So I was on the hunt for a new knife to furnish my empty Belgian kitchen. While we were in Barcelona, we made a quick trip to the store where we registered when we married, and where we still have store credit, even though we've been steadily chipping away at it. Come to think of it, I guess it was kind of appropriate that we used up some of our registry money the week of our five-year anniversary! Anyway, I was determined to buy a knife that would equal or surpass that beloved old Taiwanese friend. I tried out a bunch as best I could, and settled on a 16-cm chef's knife by Global, hoping that the feel would translate well once I actually started chopping.
I opened it eagerly once we unpacked our suitcases and got to making Gabriel his latest favorite food, lentils in the Catalan-grandmother style (seriously, I've never seen him open his mouth so wide). I pulled out a few onions and carrots and garlic and tomatoes, and sliced away. Since I already gave away the punch line, let me just say "wow." Even carrots feel like butter under this blade. It handles so well, and I love the size, the weight, the feel of the handle in my palm. My only wish is that it had those santoku-like divots so food would fall away from the blade (the store didn't have any santokus), but it's a small quibble for something that will be practically the only knife (I've got a small paring knife and a slightly bigger prep knife) I'll need now and forever amen.
Like I said, it practically drives itself!
03 July 2011
OK. So, what are the chances, if you take a random girl born in Iowa, and a random boy born in Catalonia, that they have a friend in common?
Let's just say, for the sake of argument...one in a million.
And then? Boy and girl meet. In another random place. Say, Austria. And they don't know they have a friend in common.
So, what are the chances, that when she goes to visit him for the first time, that THIS friend, the one-in-a-million friend who connects them without them knowing it (already a phenomenal coincidence), is AT the airport at the exact moment that the girl arrives at the airport to see the boy, nervous as all get-out? She hasn't seen the friend for a couple of years since he dated her pal while they were at Taizé in France, and he hasn't seen the friend for over a year since they studied together in Italy, but when the boy is about to go find the girl at airport arrivals, he runs into the friend and tells him to hold on, and then brings her over a few minutes later to introduce her, and she says, "hey I KNOW you!"
Let's just say the chances are...one in a billion.
You've probably figured out by now that the girl is me, and the boy is the Mister. This story happened just over ten years ago, and we got married five years ago today on a perfectly sunny happy day in Vermont. I still get goosebumps when I think about that day I flew to Barcelona for the first time, to meet a boy I liked, and how we ran into this guy we both knew, like we had lived around the corner from each other all our lives.
I guess we sort of had, just in a more...global sense.
This morning I took a peek at my wedding dress, hanging in a closet at my in-laws' house. It's still as perfect and as glowy as I remember, much like our wedding itself. Every memory of that day is suffused in a peaceful light, because--as all weddings should be--it was a day of true promises, simple beauty, the love of family and friends, and the joy of shared hope for the future.
I admit to being one of those insufferable people, who, when she reads about weddings in glossy magazines or blogs, however adorable or fancy or beautiful or clever, smugly thinks that OUR wedding was the best. Well, of course it was, because it was ours.
This post is probably really disjointed, because we've just come home from (a real! live!) date at a restaurant designed by none other than Antoni Gaudí himself, where we ate delicious fancy food and drank a whole bottle of wine. I haven't had half a bottle of wine in I don't know how long, so it's making me both sleepier and more verbose than usual. The Mister's parents are here as kangaroos (which is what they call babysitters in Spanish/Catalan), and it turns out that after we put our little munchkin to sleep and tiptoed away to our date, he woke up and watched TV with the grandparents, king of the castle and adamant refuser of sleep. Ah well, it was totally worth it.
Here's to five (and five before that) beautiful years, my one in a billion. I love you.
25 June 2011
A propos of yesterday's post on toddler words, I just came across a George Oppen poem written to a newborn, part of which reads:
....Sara, little seed,
Little violent, diligent seed. Come let us look at the world
Glittering: this seed will speak,
Max, words! There will be no other words in the world
But those our children speak. What will she make of a world
Do you suppose, Max, of which she is made.
From "Sara in Her Father's Arms" by George Oppen
24 June 2011
After the exhausting solo overseas trip with little G., a two-hour trip to Barcelona (light on the luggage and an extra helping of hands in the form of grandparents) was a breeze. We flew here Wednesday morning and are luxuriating in the actual summer weather, after a solid week of drizzly gray days requiring layers and umbrellas. Having M's parents around, though, was a treat: not only did they watch and entertain the tyke, they also cooked and shopped and tidied our garden and assembled huge furniture (those super-tall Ikea PAX wardrobes are no joke) and hung curtains and accompanied us on yet another epic Ikea trip and generally were very, very helpful.
With their help, too, we have managed to begin the weaning process in earnest; Gabriel hasn't nursed during the day in almost two weeks, with the exception of the airplane. Night weaning will be another stage, but we'll wait to establish the daytime thing first. I'm a little bit sad about it but also eager to experience the possibilities accompanying the fact of a child no longer requiring my body as sustenance: I can be away from him for longer than a few hours! I can wear a dress! Someday, maybe, we'll be able to hire a babysitter and go out on an actual nighttime grown-up date! We're already seeing the effects on mealtimes: over the past few days he's shown unprecedented hearty interest in his food....lentils and fish and eggs and yogurt and peaches oh my!
As always, arriving in Barcelona makes me deeply joyful. There's something about this place that makes me breathe easier--the light, the warm air, the simple delicious food, the plazas full of people, the smell of sea, the familiar, the new. I love getting back to our little nest, too, the welcoming spines of books, neighbors happy to see us, the breeze on the balcony, our big bed, Catalan TV, the round dining room table worn smooth with age. Work has begun on the elevator, at long last, so the days of hauling child+stroller+bags+shopping are numbered (even if that number be large, given the sluggishness with which all building projects take place in Spain--the building residents approved the elevator ONLY, what, three or four years ago?). Over time I'll remember the faults of this place too, but I take it, warts and all.
I'm heartily enjoying watching toddler Gabriel interact with his two cousins and aunt and uncle here, and seeing how his Catalan language acquisition develops more quickly when he is immersed here. His language exploded right at 15 months--at his May checkup in the US I could list maybe a dozen words (mama, dada, no, all done, panda [his stuffed lovey], woof, dog, nigh-nigh, bye-bye, knee, moo, and I'm probably forgetting a couple) and then over the next days he proved me wrong by easily doubling that number. It's been cool to see him modulate his vowels: "knee," for instance, began as "knay" and when I repeated it I could hear him try "knay-ee" until it morphed into "knee," although he still says "knay" sometimes. "Moo" also is often "mohhhh," which I find adorable. I repeat it correctly, though, and he says "mohhh-ooo." With gusto. His early words were also, funnily, spoken in a softer, higher-pitched voice...he'd be babbling along in a lower register and very carefully, precisely say "nigh-nigh" in his sweet upper register. Too cute.
So far, his English vocabulary dominates, but he's always said "Hola" along with "Hi" (I walked downstairs this morning at our in-laws' house and said a general "Hola" and Gabriel was the only one who piped up with his tiny, bright "HOLA!") and "bye-bye" along with "adeu." To that he's added, in recent days, "gràcies" and "ja está" (all done), "sí!" and "iaia" (grandma), "va" (come on, or go) and "té" (here you go, used when handing off an object). In general these days, he repeats words at surprising moments, so you are caught off guard and charmed to death when he suddenly decides to echo, quite adorably, "tomato" or "cake" or "uh-oh!" He's pleased as punch, too, of course, so there is all around beaming and repeating of words. I've also witnessed him easily sliding between languages--the aforementioned "va" appeared when he was saying his favorite "Go, go, go!" (always used to refer to cars, sounds a bit like "doh, doh, doh!") and I translated it for his relatives here, at which moment he immediately picked that up and said "Va, va!"
We'll see what happens when we throw a Flemish daycare into the mix! (Enrolling in said daycare is priority number one when we get back to Belgium.)
Anyway, being fascinated as I am by developmental psychology/neuroscience AND languages, I am bound to get geeked out by this and prattle on about it on my blog (which also serves as something of a record for posterity given that Gabriel's baby book remains sadly, woefully blank). Apologies if I'm one of THOSE moms.
16 June 2011
Hallo from our new Flemish digs! Gabriel and I have been here in for just over two weeks now, and there's so much to write about...packing up our lives into a single carload, driving to Boston, the overseas plane trip alone with an energetic toddler and a staggering amount of luggage, long days alone with said energetic AND jet-lagged toddler in an almost entirely empty house while M. finished his dissertation proposal and worked full time (let's just say that we've taken a whole lot of walks), an epic (EPIC! or should I say EPICLÖRP) trip to IKEA, the pleasures of being back in Europe, the frustrations of being back in Europe, the joys of exploring our new town.
So far we're really super happy with our choice to live in Leuven instead of Brussels this go-round...it's a city of the size that we love (see: Oxford, Salzburg), a college town with a nice student vibe, just really beautiful with some amazing architecture and the exquisite beguinage right around the corner from us. We're also really happy with the location of the house--I love that we're within short walking distance of pretty much anything in the center, and that I can easily grab the stroller and go get what we need (well, if it weren't for the obstacle-course construction zone that is our street). Plus, our little backyard backs onto a park, so things are quiet and pleasant and perfect for a toddler running around. And hopefully the fact that we HAVE a backyard (with roses! strawberries! a magnolia tree!) will combat gray-skies fatigue. I'm excited to learn Dutch and really settle into a life that feels connected to the place we've landed--Brussels always felt so anonymous and international, everybody there temporarily. So far M. has made some good contacts with the University and I'm planning to do the same.
Today my parents-in-law arrived to help us out, which is why I am even able to write this... These days little G. is always begging (=whining, crying, clawing) to be in my lap if I'm typing and if he's in my lap he's either pulling on my arms or hitting keys which is about as productive as it sounds. So computer time requires sneaking behind his back during the short-attention-span play periods. Ah, the magic of grandparents to engage the attentions of a child. For the week they're here (and the following week, while we're back at home in Barcelona) I am planning to actually get some work done on thesis revisions and get that thing done!
Goody! The sofa guy just came and not only was the delivery truck able to pull up to the front door (you never know where the gigantic holes or massive construction vehicles will be on our street on any given day), the sofa fit just fine through the doorway (my two worries concerning sofa delivery). It looks great and now our living room actually has a piece of furniture in it!
Oh I know--In parting I'll show you the little polyvore scheme I had fun putting together this weekend while M. took Gabriel to the park to let me hang out in bed until embarrassingly late. We had just done our Ikea trip the day before so I was trying to see how the living room would all fit together. I think if you click it you can see my comments? Maybe?
25 April 2011
Happy Easter! It's been raining for what seems like forever, but spring is in the air. I'm hoping that these April showers really do bring May flowers. We had a lovely Easter yesterday. Gabriel joined in the egg hunt like he's being doing it all his life, spotting all of the colorful eggs, toddling over to them, cracking them open, and holding up his treasures with a big "ooooh!!!!" for us all to marvel at.
I handed in my beast of a dissertation draft a week ago Friday, and have now had two work-free weekends, which felt glorious. The first time in ages I read the Sunday paper from start to finish, got some baking done, and took afternoon naps. There's still a long haul of editing and chopping and reworking to be done (I'm creating an additional chapter out of a way-too-long chapter, and all of them are already too long), but the defense is that much closer. And now comes the move: sorting and packing and selling and migrating from Bloomington to Belgium!
The Sunday paper printed a lovely selection of spring poems, of which I really adored Li-Young Lee's "The Word from His Song." Sometimes I find his poems a little too zen-ohm-goggly, but I liked the sing-shoutingness of this, and "It's all song, all singing, the body's seat / and number, the mind's pleats, time's hem."
The Word from His Song
by Li-Young Lee
The sparrow on my rooftop shouts,
"All roads be blessed." His voice a ring
for the finger of the beloved.
And he wouldn't work harder at his song
if all the world prized it,
nor temper what sounds like ardor
if a public thought him wrong.
He says singing redeems the body's loneliness.
All praise is homage to an older praising,
a drastic sum and ruling mean,
earth's urging the grapes to a clearer fate,
sun's pressing them to a more potent praise.
Flying fixes the heart to the sky's wheel, he says.
Salt cures the script.
Light is a fractal script.
Imagination is branched, flowering,
and each fans the buds himself.
He says every atom burns.
Hunger rends the kingdom by mending,
marrying voices and wings.
Singing builds a throne
for hearing, sets up a swing
between our one night and our day.
It's all song, all singing, the body's seat
and number, the mind's pleats, time's hem.
The voice is a sighted brink.
Its mission is to sort the world.
The tongue is a mortal flower.
The dew at last. The guests arrive.
The child learns his name,
a virgin bell. And even that
iron note is God awake in two worlds.
God seeks a destiny in all things fired
in the kiln of the sun or the mind.
That's the word from his song.
06 April 2011
(***I know I'm not supposed to be blogging right now, as I am in the throes of crazy dissertation-writing, but I've been mulling over this one and had to write it out and so I'll post it anyway.)
Pregnancy is a big grab-bag. There are a million and one pregnancy "symptoms" (i.e., things that make your life uncomfortable and/or awkward and/or a miserable pit of misery), and before you are pregnant, they all sound incredibly awful or especially annoying or downright scary. And then you get pregnant, and the symptoms you were sure you'd have fail to appear, and the symptoms you never heard of show up and make you think you're a weirdo, and the symptoms you never thought to worry about end up being the worst. And you deal with them, and life goes on.
Nausea--I was super worried about morning sickness, but only had fleeting upset stomach, which usually went away with a bit of a lay-down and some crackers, and even that only lasted a few weeks. But the gas and intestinal distress had me doubled in pain for weeks.
Oh, and the heartburn at the end? I never once worried about it beforehand but it was the WORST. To the point where I asked for a Zantac when I was in labor because I was worried about the heartburn pain. Hah! I was about to give birth without pain meds but I wanted a ZANTAC! In retrospect, this is very funny but at the time I was really serious about it (they gave it to me but I immediately threw it up...yeah, labor makes you throw up, which is something I also did not know beforehand but am glad I did not know).
I was sure I'd get swollen ankles. Nope. I got swollen armpits (hormones, glands, yadda yadda). I got carpal tunnel syndrome and achy fingers.
I was worried about stretch marks and post-partum hair loss, but instead I got skin tags (which went away) and weird blotchy face spots (which didn't).
I was scared about episiotimies/tearing. It happened, but I barely had any pain and healed super quick. But the hemorrhoids? Worse than childbirth, and I'm not exaggerating.
SO. All of this is to say that maybe? It's not worth worrying. You'll get what you get, and you'll deal with it when you do.
Which I am saying to MYSELF (this is all an exercise in self-therapy), because having a kid is JUST like that.
You'll get what you get, and you'll deal with it when you do.
I was worried about the not-sleeping, and thought I'd never survive. The newborn stage tricked me into thinking the baby was a good sleeper (little babies sleep all the time anyway), but time has proved me wrong. My kid doesn't know how to fall asleep on his own, and still wakes up several times during the night, and man I am SO tired. But we are surviving.
I was worried about having a clingy, crying baby, and guess what? He's barely exhibited separation anxiety once in his thirteen months. He loves hanging with other people, and from day one has practically skipped to the door of his daycare.
I was convinced we'd have a voracious eater, because we are nothing if not good eaters, and besides his cousins all were champs at eating. But for heaven's sake we have a picky eater. I suspect this is because he is still nursing, and I'm trying to roll with it, offering him lots of various foods. He does eat, just doesn't eat a lot, and is very choosy about the things he'll actually chow down on.
I was worried about that whole "nipple confusion" thing so we made sure not to offer him pacifiers or bottles for the first couple months. But when we did offer them he refused and to this day has never used a pacifier or a bottle for self-soothing. Which might be related to the no sleeping thing. It didn't occur to me to worry that he WOULDN'T take the pacifier but now I so wish he did.
I was so nervous about traveling with a baby/toddler, knowing that we'd have to do it so often. You hear horror stories, and sure--there've been blowouts and crying and neverending flights--but you know what? The kid is a champion traveler, so much so that I'm actually going to be flying alone on a transatlantic flight with him. (I must admit, I am a little nervous about that one...)
I could go on. There are a million examples.
The things you think are going to be impossible and/or horrible turn out to be fine, or at least bearable--you just deal. The things you spent so much energy worrying about turn out to be non-issues. And the things that never even crossed your mind turn out to be the things that try your soul when they happen.
I suspect this will be true for the next pregnancy--all the things I worry about now, based on the last one, will turn out to be moot and there will be new and improved and weirder symptoms! I suspect this will continue to be true for the boy as he grows and we face new challenges I never imagined and skip over issues I worried about needlessly. And even when the things I worry about do come true, the ways of facing them are not what I imagined they'd be when I worried.
So. It's NOT WORTH worrying. (I tell this to myself, and to the other beloved worryworts in my life.) You'll get what you get and you'll deal with it when you do.
22 March 2011
So, I promised I would check in on ye olde blog if there was news, and there is:
We're moving back to Brussels!
The Mister got a job at his old stomping grounds, the European Parliament, but doing something that's even more suited to him and his multi-hatted credentials. It was a long time in coming (the recruitment process took over a year) and at several points it didn't look like it would happen, but it did.
We are excited about this, because it's a great job, and we'll be happy to be back in Europe. We're not 100% super enthusiastic about returning to the land of gray skies, nor did we jump for joy at the thought of living in smeary dreary Brussels city again either, especially with a
baby toddler. So we're not going to. We've rented a home in Leuven, which is just a 20-minute train ride away, a place we've loved visiting, and is home to one of Europe's most important universities.
The idea is that I'll try to get a job/visiting position/make connections at the university there. As my foray on the job market resulted in zero interviews or job offers, we are relieved of the burden of making hard decisions between his job or my job, and I can focus my energies on finding work when we land.
I'm in the full steam end-stages of dissertation writing, and plan to have the thing written and done before we leave. Revisions and the defense itself may have to wait until late summer or fall, but at least it will look and act like a book with regular chapters and everything before we pack up and move out.
The Mister will fly to Brussels a couple of weeks before we do in May, and my mom will come to help me out with the packing up and moving out and driving to Boston to return their generously loaned car to its home. May is not too long from now, I am realizing, with a panicky feeling in my stomach...
I am writing this from a hotel room near JFK, because we got stuck here after a long delay out of Barcelona (13 hours on the plane yesterday, which was as unfun as it sounds) and missed our connection to Indiana. We spent the last couple of weeks in Barcelona for spring break, dragging with us every bit of luggage we could, knowing that we need to get as much of our clothes and books and baby gear to Europe as possible. Also, if spring break in Barcelona sounds like a lot of fun, I should tell you that it POURED most of the days we were there, plus, all I did was hole up in my in-laws' bedroom and write write write that aforementioned dissertation, while other people watched the kiddo. Well, I did eat a lot of yummy fish and we did sneak out for a date night sans aforementioned kiddo.
Speaking of whom...I just re-read that last old post and was shocked to think of him as a little eight-month old, because he started walking a couple of days after turning one last month, and he hasn't looked back. He is quite the little person with OPINIONS and likes shouting "HOLA" and "OOH" at everyone and has very particular food preferences (help) and an adorable cloud of curls at the back of his head and has just progressed, when he hears music, from bobbing his head to wagging his behind to shuffling his feet. He's obsessed with phones and now holds them up to his neck/ear quite charmingly, even though I don't think he ever sees us talk on the phone, since all we ever do is skype. What I'm saying is: he's growin' up, and it's a bit too fast but it's really really awesome.
I plan to resume this blog when the dissertation is done and we are back in Europe, and I also plan to join facebook and in general rejoin the internet from my self-imposed hibernation. Looking forward to it!
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 16:23