13 September 2012

The lively air

It's been a while since I've posted any poetry. An old favorite of mine by Theodore Roethke has been ringing in my ears lately, especially as I feed Eloi. Its rhythm, its meanings easily adapt to feeding a tiny baby:

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

~Theodore Roethke

The poem captures those blurred lines between thought and emotion, between knowledge and physical motion, between fear and joy--all of it grasped better in the twilight deliciousness between sleeping and waking. I think babies must experience all of this in an instinctual mesh of sensory input, and that Roethke's rhythms reach toward a lullaby to that end. So what I hear as I think of these lines from my baby's perspective goes something like this:

The Feeding

I wake to nurse, and take my waking slow.
I feel my way to feeding and I have no fear.
I grow by nuzzling in these arms I know.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I grin a milky grin from ear to ear.
I wake to nurse, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
My mama! I see her and smile softly there,
and grow by nuzzling in these arms I know...

12 September 2012


Somehow we have managed to go two and a half years without a night like last night: one in which our poor little preschooler vomited every hour or so, the Mister and I wielding the mop and clean sheets and clean pajamas and a rinsed-out bucket, knowing that once we got him changed and back to sleep we would do it all over again in a short while. And in between, nursing the baby.

I remember when pulling all-nighters was exhilarating and fueled by coffee and writing and reading and a heady feeling of being grown up.

Now, oh, now. We are grown up all right. The all-nighter brought to us by very different kinds of liquids, very different kinds of demands. And a different kind of satisfaction: that of stroking a child's soft cheek and hair until he falls asleep. Of singing softly when a small voice asks, "ting a tong, mama."

Back then, I could sleep off the all-nighter fog after a couple of days. Make up for it on the weekend, or the next day, after the paper was handed in or the exam completed. These days, one or the other of the kids will wake us up at 7 or 8, no exceptions. A nap snatched for a few minutes, if I'm lucky. A couple of extra minutes of sleep while M feeds Gabriel breakfast. What seems impossible in the zombie haze of 3 am soothing, in the light of day is doable because it must be done.

Yet as I write right now both children are snoring softly, one on the couch and one in a bouncy seat, a rare treasure of a simultaneous nap (although I'm sure the baby will wake now that the other one is asleep). There's something to be said for sickness-induced lethargy: at least parenting the toddler doesn't take as much running around or the constant, nonstop, williteverend need for coming up with activities and negotiating about activities and food and on and on.

So I have a moment to write in this blog. Which has been badly neglected, as I feel caught in the swirl of life. Not a bad swirl, but constant motion nonetheless.

Gabriel started preschool, and is adorable in his tiny backpack proudly walking across the park with me to his new school. We LOVE having it just four minutes away. Just four kids are in his class at the moment--the Belgian system staggers the first preschool class so children enter after the school break nearest to them turning 2.5. He already knows one of his classmates, and as more kids enter the class he will know a few more. He is delighted that his is the turtle class, that he gets to feed the turtles. This is about the only fact I can glean from asking him about his day, that and that he got to "throw a ball." I'm still getting in the swing of things at the school, making lunches, understanding the Dutch information we receive, and so forth.

We are sleep deprived, obviously, even discounting last night's craziness, due to a baby who wakes a lot. We're dealing with some severe eczema with Eloi, which keeps him up at night itching, poor baby, and keeps me up as a consequence. We've got a regime of baths and lotions and creams going on that take up a surprising amount of my day. But he's started smiling and laughing, and he's still a calm easy-to-sleep dude, already chunking out of his 6-month clothes.

The house has been an organizational chaos ever since we got back from Spain. We've been making progress on that front bit by bit, although I'm worried leaving again for the US next week will start the cycle again. I am going on the job market this fall, and I need to get back to my academic projects. Not sure how that will work out with Eloi at home.

My mom has been undergoing a long stretch of radiation therapy and already a couple of rounds of chemo. She is responding really well to treatment, the cancer already shrinking, and the medicines are keeping the worst of the side effects at bay, thankfully. She lost her hair, though, and Gabriel's dumbfounded stare and thumping heartbeat when he saw her on skype without a hat were echoes of how we all felt about it. I can't wait to be there--Eloi and I leave a week from today. We spend a month there, and the Mister and Gabriel join us for the last two weeks. The Mister's parents will come here to help with Gabriel for the two weeks I'm gone, for which we are so grateful. This means both M. and I have international flights with one kid each, and I think he has a harder job!

September so far has been mostly beautiful in Leuven, and I have felt really supported by great friends both here in town and far away. Throughout the swirl: the no-sleep, nonstop, rain and sun, teaching and learning and laughing and crying with our treasured little boys.

04 August 2012

Growing, traveling, crying

Eloi is two months old tomorrow. I continue to be amazed by how much he sleeps and how calm he is. Which is not to say he doesn’t have his moments, or that handling two kids has magically become easy (I'm sure I will write soon more about how it is NOT easy). But it certainly helps. He is now smiling intentionally from time to time, and it’s such a delight. He has big eyes and cowlicks that meet in the middle and make his downy blonde hair stand up in a mohawk. I can lay him down in the crib and he’ll hang out for a while then…just fall asleep. This morning he woke up long before I was ready to get up, so I kept sleeping and he just laid there and gurgled for an hour. This kid!

The boys and I have been in Barcelona (well, there and between my in-laws’ house) for a little over two weeks now. The Mister flew down with us, stayed for the weekend, and then flew back to Belgium. The purpose of this temporary separation is for him to get a lot of work done on his dissertation, while I hang out here and have more of a summer. Couldn’t do it without my parents-in-law, who have been taking care of Gabriel pretty exclusively, leaving me free to handle the baby. Gabriel, of course, is delighted, and is running around king of the castle, his Catalan developing by leaps and bounds.

But—and I don’t know how to transition to this easily—the main thing that has been occupying my thoughts and energies these days is sad, scary news.

My mom has lung cancer.

Even typing that sentence makes me tremble a bit, because I really don’t want it to be true, and because it sounds so horrible. Something that happens to other people.

She had been sick with chest colds/pneumonia too many times over the last months (including while she was in Belgium with us), with a lingering cough, and the doctors suggested a scan. And the scan showed a mass in/on her lung, and a series of biopsies and further scans confirmed that it is small cell lung cancer, which is very bad, and a kind of cancer usually found in smokers. Only 2% of the people who have it are nonsmokers like her.

This means that treatment possibilities are good, however, and she’s in overall good health, and there is no metastasis. But my overwhelming sadness when we got the definitive news had to do with treatment: I don’t want her to have to go through the pain, the exhaustion, the utter wretchedness of cancer treatments in their various forms. I couldn’t, can’t, even let myself think the worst thought, an outcome that doesn’t end in a cure, the one that to think of even for a second makes my stomach lurch in horror and my eyes well with tears.

We will be traveling to the US to help in September, when I’m more needed (mom has actually been feeling really good since she got over the bout of pneumonia), but it’s hard not to be there right now. My siblings immediately all came together to help and just to be together, and I wanted to be with them. It’s hard to rely on the normally sufficient means of communication like email and skype and phone calls for the information that we need and the reassurance and togetherness we all crave.

I’m not sure how much I’ll write about it here, because it feels selfish to write about how I’m feeling sad or down or dealing with it when SHE’s the one who has to deal with the Big Thing. I also have been avoiding writing about this because saying makes it feel more true. But then again, writing is how I process, so maybe it’s a good idea to write about it.

10 July 2012

Happy belated fourth

Eloi's American passport and "consular report of birth abroad" (his American birth certificate) came in the mail today. This is remarkable because we only applied for it one week ago. Two days after we filed the application I got an email saying it was ready. And we didn't have to pay any expediting fees.

This is why I love America. And this: 

The morning of our big excursion to Brussels to the embassy, I realized that the paperwork for birth certificate, passport, and social security number involved a little bit more than I had thought. I needed, among other things, a non-standard-size passport photo, proof that I had lived in the US for more than five years (transcripts, tax statements, etc.), a translation of the Belgian birth certificate, a list of everywhere I had ever lived in my whole life, an affadavit about Eloi's last name not matching the Belgian birth certificate (the Belgians had to follow the Spanish naming standard using both parents' last names but we want him to just have M's), and an envelope with a registered mail stamp. 

The proof of US residency was required because only one of the parents is a US citizen, so they need you to show that you haven't been living abroad your whole life. My mom had brought a bunch of documents with her but when I looked through them that morning it turned out only my college transcript would work as part of the proof, covering three years (not including junior year abroad). So at the last minute I emailed M. at work and had him print my (unofficial) grad school transcript. 

I google-translated the Belgian birth certificate and sent it to M. to print along with a list of (slightly fudged) residency dates (they wanted day and month I moved to every city I've ever lived in!) and the name affadavit, ran to the post office and bought exorbitantly priced envelopes and stamps and then promptly put the stamps on the wrong corner of the envelope, caught the train to Brussels, and rushed through the city to the one photo processing place listed on the embassy website that would make US-standard passport photos and that was in the neighborhood of the embassy. Our appointment was in a half hour.

The photo place was closed. As in, out of business, an empty storefront.

I already had made passport photos of Eloi, propping him up in a photo booth, at two weeks old (even caught his eyes open!) and now hoped they would work even though the instructions emphasized how Belgian photos would not be accepted. 

Thus sweaty, stressed, and leaking milk, with Eloi nestled in his wrap against my chest, I met M. at the embassy and we went through the security check. We had to leave all our bags behind. I was sure we would have to do this all again after they told us the photos and/or proof of residency and/or something else wasn't in order.

Yet, once our number was called, the lady behind the desk couldn't have been nicer. "Oh, I just love Mondays!" she gushed. Monday is the day they schedule the babies. She took our paperwork and barely glanced at it. Didn't bat an eyelash when I gave her the Belgian-sized photos. Told us that passports are usually ready in two weeks, probably less (we're traveling in mid-July so needed it asap!). 

We then waited for the formal interview, where the proof of residency would be examined. Once we entered the little room, the official started joking around and asking us all about our studies. He had my transcripts in front of him, and made comments about a bunch of the courses I had taken, and about M's training, and talked with us about European history and made a joke about Belgians. Completely jocund. Of course, this was an interview (probably a more effective one than a "formal" approach) but it didn't seem like one. He took our incorrectly-stamped envelope and said, "Oh, we'll figure something out!" (When it came today I saw that they had coaxed off the stamps and taped them to the right corner.) He held the passport photo, trimmed to specification, in his hand, and gave us the rest of them back. That was it! Everything was completely fine! No problem!

And that's why America is awesome. Even if the bureaucracy is complicated on paper, in person nine times out of ten people are friendly and can-do and help you out and want to make it happen. In some other countries that shall remain nameless, the instructions would look simple and then the official behind the desk would study the papers, looking for problems and finding them, never looking at you or starting a conversation, then deny your application and tell you to come back with additional, more complicated forms or papers. 

So. Happy belated fourth of July! There are many reasons I'm happy to be an American, and this is one of them. And now, so is little Eloi! I didn't get a passport until I was 19, so he's way ahead of me in cosmopolitanism. 

06 July 2012

Baby brother

It appears that I went and had a baby, and suddenly, a month later, I have a one-month-old baby! Isn't it funny how that works. I meant to post about it oh, probably every day since he was born, but I was either A) in the hospital, B) fiercely protecting the one-on-one time with baby while husband/mom/dad handled the toddler (and meals and cleaning and so forth), or C) handling the toddler and the baby and meals and cleaning and so forth. You know how it goes.

Plus, thrown into the mix I have been trying to work (revisions on an article), my mom got sick, M. went to Barcelona twice (the first time was right when my mom got sick and could barely get out of bed, and the second time, the baby got sick in the middle of the night, OF COURSE), M. turned 40 and we had to celebrate as a fortieth birthday calls for, and various paperwork-y kinds of things like getting birth certificates and passports at embassies involving three different countries.

I will try to catch-up post and write about labor and birth (kind of crazy long labor but went well in the end--couldn't have been more different than Gabriel except that both were no-epidural and perfectly healthy), the overall experience with Belgian hospital birth, and the aftermath: this newborn vs. that newborn, what it's like to be a mother of two (still getting a handle on that, actually, since my mom left only this week, and Gabriel has completely melted down since she has been gone).

In the meantime, presenting Eloi Daniel, our lovely baby. He was born on June 5, one day before the due date (thank goodness!). I went into labor literally as my mom was arriving from the airport. (But then spent that day, the next day, and two nights in labor...) He weighed 3.7 kilos, or about 8 pounds 5 ounces. He's very different from what his big brother was like as a baby, sleeping easily for the most part and generally calm and mellow.

Glamour shot.
Wide awake, with cowlick. 
Walking home from the hospital!
A yawn. 
Gabriel sees his brother for the first time.

30 May 2012


Still no baby. I'm ridiculously large, extremely uncomfortable, and there's a week to go until the due date.

As I write, I can feel the baby breathing (or "breathing," since it's amniotic fluid), which is a rather wild sensation, one that I don't remember from before. At least, I assume that's what it is: a quick, regular but gentle feeling of expansion and contraction coming from the baby in the lower left quadrant of my belly, which is where the back of his chest is curled against me.

I can wrap my arms around the bottom of my belly and jounce the baby almost as if he were on the outside. He complains, of course, when I do this, kicking mightily and turning his head from side to side, the latter of which movements is not very pleasant for me, since he's head-down and well engaged. So I leave him alone.

Now that I'm almost finished with this pregnancy, I can safely say that compared to Baby 1, I had an easier first trimester, a similar second trimester, and a much, much worse third trimester. I was much larger much sooner, and in a lot more pain. This pelvic issue has been tough, and is still getting worse, although fortunately there's an end in sight. I am physically limited in ways that I never was carrying Gabriel, and it's very frustrating to have to leave so much to the Mister, from cleaning to child care to...really anything involving bending over.

My last Dutch exam (in a series of four) is tomorrow, so I'll be relieved to have made it through that milestone (it always was a gamble to take a course with exams so close to the due date). Then, the next step is to make it until Sunday when my mom arrives and we have someone to take care of Gabriel when the baby makes his appearance. After that, it will be all about encouraging him to arrive! So far, I don't feel any signs of imminent labor. I've had a few scattered contractions, but that was last week. I get the sense that he'll take his time and be at least a few days "late" (but really, right on time, since only he and the inner workings of my body will dictate that right moment).

I'm looking forward to that right moment: both because I'll find out what *this* labor/delivery will be like, and because, of course, we get to meet the next member of our family, the next little resident of our nest. Meanwhile, he breathes, I breathe....waiting.

24 May 2012

All delight unclouded

Suddenly, Belgium has decided that spring-into-summer is here, and we've had a few days of sunny, even muggy weather in the upper 70s, without any rain (even though rain was predicted). This is, of course, a welcome change and one that makes me more energetic and ready to have this baby! I've discovered that I have exactly four short-sleeve or sleeveless maternity shirts, which should be enough to get me by--although this will be annoying in the short term (especially since even these shirts barely cover my belly any more), it makes me glad that I didn't go out and buy more spring maternity wear, since it's really not worth it for just a couple of weeks.

Gabriel comes home from daycare sweaty and simply coated in sand from head to toe, since they spend the days outside and there's a large sand pit to play in. But he's cheerful and giggling and growing and every day saying new words and sentences--especially adding more verbs into the mix. "Is" is actually pretty new, and I adore how he pauses before and after saying it, giving the "s" a nice long hiss. "Dat...issss...broken, mama!" He came inside from the yard the other day proudly bearing a scraggly bouquet of dandelions minus their seeds, and gave them to us. Candles! he said, because we blow on them. He's also potty training basically on his own, since I had kind of assumed it wouldn't happen before the baby and we were just following his pace. Even a few weeks have made a big difference, and now we have the dilemma of whether to put him in underwear or continue with diapers to get us through the newborn stage.

This week and next I'm studying for my Dutch exams, and there is an awful lot of material to cover. I thought, going into this and knowing that the term would end just before my due date, that Dutch would help distract me from pregnancy/baby thoughts, but the reverse is true. I'm not exactly a dedicated student right now and I kind of figure that I'll do as well as I'll do on the exams (if I even make it to the last one!).

Meanwhile, I'm still having poetry discussion group and book club meetings and doing other fun things. We happen to be discussing Rukeyser again this week, and since I'm waiting for our baby, I especially enjoyed "Nine Poems for the Unborn Child." Here are a couple of sections that I liked...

Nine Poems for the Unborn Child
by Muriel Rukeyser

There is a place.    There is a miracle.
I know the nightmare, the black and bone piano,
The statues in the kitchen, a house dissolving in air.
I know the lilac-turreted cathedral
Taking its roots from willows that changed before my eyes
When all became real, real as the sound of bells.
We earthly are aware of transformation;
Miraculously, life, from the old despair.

The wave of smooth water approaches on the sea-
Surface, a live wave individual
Linking, massing its color.     Moving, is struck by wind,
Ribbed, steepened, until the slope and ridge begin;
Comes nearer, brightens.      Now curls, its vanishing
Hollows darken and disappear;     now high above
Me, the scroll, froth, foam of the overfall.

Child who within me gives me dreams and sleep,
Your sleep, your dreams;     you hold me in your flesh
Including me where nothing has included
Until I said    :     I will include, will wish
And in my belly be a birth, will keep
All delicacy, all delight unclouded.
Dreams of an unborn child move through my dreams,
The sun is not alone in making fire and wave
Find meeting-place, for flesh and future meet,
The seal in the green wave like you in me,
Child.     My blood at night full of your dreams,
Sleep coming by day as strong as sun on me,
Coming with sun-dreams where leaves and rivers meet,
And I at last alive sunlight and wave.

17 May 2012

Late pregnancy ramblings

Today we're at the start of a four-day weekend here in Belgium, but we don't have any plans because, well, you don't really make plans for a long weekend when you'll be 37 weeks pregnant. We are now officially full term, which is exciting because the baby is allowed to come when he's ready without any worries about being "too early." I don't *think* he's likely to come until the due date, but this being a second baby, all bets are off.

I'm in a state of total contradiction: feeling all sorts of urgency about crib setup and hospital bags (to name only the fun things on the list), but treading water in exhaustion and the feeling that there's still plenty of time. Excited about this birth and meeting our son, but utterly unable to imagine what life will be like in a few weeks. Staying still and resting because I should and because I really need to, chasing after Gabriel and getting on with life.

Earlier this week I submitted an academic essay that I've been working on for a while, and because of which I was putting off all sorts of other things. So finishing it was a good and satisfying milestone, freeing me up to focus on other to-dos. And what did I do with my new-found freedom yesterday? I took a three-hour nap and had a prenatal massage, a birthday gift from my parents. See what I mean? Stuff to do! Oof, I need a nap!

(Gabriel made up for it last night...he was awake constantly with his itchy eczema bothering him, poor guy, and ended up in our bed from 4am on, pulling my hair, kicking, attempting to lay on top of me, and asking for breakfast. He finally slept from 6-7am, after which M. took him downstairs while I slept from 7-9, then M. slept from 9-11 while I watched the kiddo. At least it's a holiday today! And fortunately this is not typical for him.)

I've been having weekly physiotherapy appointments because of the pelvic pain, and that has definitely helped realign things as much as possible. While it is mostly manageable pain that happens with certain movements, I had a bout the other day of severe, sharp pain that didn't go away and that left me pretty immobile. It went away after a few hours of rest and stretches, but I'm worried about it happening again. As my physiotherapist said, a little too cheerfully, it probably will! Another reason for baby to come sooner rather than later, but also another reason I'm worried about labor (or specifically, about delivery).

Our final ultrasound is tomorrow morning, and I will get to meet our OB for only the second time before we have the baby. I hope to have a good conversation about our birth plan and aforementioned pelvic girdle concerns, and I'm looking forward to making sure everything looks good with our Junebug (or Maybug?).

From the outside, he looks like an acrobat, making increasingly insane-looking lurches outside of the normal ovaloid outline of my belly. He's almost constantly on the move, especially when I'm seated, and everyone from friends to my physiotherapist have been very amused by his antics. Last week I attended a doctoral defense of a friend here (very cool to see--extremely formal, involving men wearing funny academic hats and gowns filing into towering wood podiums from which they grilled the candidate) and the friends sitting next to me couldn't help practically squealing when they were distracted by baby's contortions from the serious philosophical intonations up front.

It continues to rain and barely get into the 60s, so I will be packing warm clothes for baby to wear at the hospital. When I found out we were having a June baby I was kind of thinking warm-weather baby, that his wardrobe would be the opposite of Gabriel, a February baby. But fortunately I didn't go out and buy summer rompers or anything, and he'll be able to wear all of Gabriel's early clothes. As I wash and fold them they look so tiny! I'm pretty sure this one will be a big baby, but even big newborns are tiny, and holding itty bitty onesies has me excited to hold an actual baby of that size. Brand-new size.

12 May 2012

Say my name

Before Gabriel was born, we talked about what we would like to be called as parents. Most parents probably have an obvious answer to this question, or don't even think about it, but since we were working with two languages, and we both had some opinions about parental nicknames, there were a few things to discuss.

In Catalan, most parents we know use mama/papa, but M. grew up using mare/pare (pronounced mar-uh and par-uh), which literally mean mother and father but sound, in terms of formality, closer to mom and dad. As per his experience, he preferred, then, using mare and pare--or at least preferred the latter to the "papa" option.

Meanwhile, I didn't particularly like mommy/daddy, although I'm not sure why, since that's what I called my parents when I was a child. Maybe it didn't seem to suit us or seemed too American for our little international family. I liked mama and papa, but if M. didn't like papa, I thought we should just go with mom and dad from the beginning. So, our plan was that we would be--and refer to each other when speaking to our baby as--mom (or maybe mama) and dad in English, or mare and pare in Catalan.

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the best laid plans regarding unborn children are always likely to alter radically in the face of actual children and their actual quick little minds.

When Gabriel started speaking, he called us "mama" and "dada" and honestly, I have no idea how that came about. I suppose we started out by referring to one another as mom and dad and he baby-fied the terms until we ourselves were soon using those names. I don't know why we didn't even think about "dada" ahead of time, but I rather love it, as it's not as grown-up sounding as "dad" and not as twangy as "daddy."

I loved hearing Gabriel say our names, even if he was crying--and in the very beginning, that's when he'd say them. A wail that could be identified as a name, the long vowels letting us know he needed us. It seems he made the choice, in the end, about what to call us.

But it doesn't end there, because as he's grown he's adapted to saying various versions our names, as well. "Mommy" seemed to appear somewhat spontaneously, and he still calls me mommy from time to time, especially when yelling for me. Of course, I don't mind as much as I thought I would. I think in part this came about because for many months his pronunciation of "grandma," his name for my mother, sounded nearly identical to "mama." So "mommy" was a way to distinguish the two.

Meanwhile, our families kept referring to us as "mommy and daddy" or "mama and papa"--both sides are still getting used to "mama and dada." So Gabriel would hear others refer to me as "mommy" and it didn't take much for that to sink in. Even recently, when M.'s family was here, Gabriel referred to him as "papa" because he heard others use it. Children are such mimics. (Every once in a while, and this I find hilarious, Gabriel will also call us by our first names because he hears us yelling for each other.)

As for mare and pare, since I refer to M. as "dada" even if I'm speaking Catalan, "pare" hasn't caught on. But M refers to me as "mare," and of late Gabriel has taken to that, especially now that M. is doing the daycare pickup in the evening and talks to him about coming home to me. Every day I can hear Gabriel's little voice from down the street and as they come in the front door, excitedly clamoring, "mare! mare! mare!" He runs to me, giggling and happy, flings his arms around my neck, and I am so proud to be his "mare" as well as his mama, or mommy, for that matter.

I'm sure that some day we'll phase into the more grown-up titles of mom and dad, and mare and pare, depending on the language we're speaking, some day when he knows we're just fallible human beings. In the meantime I love and savor every utterance of his childhood names for us. Because when he calls me mama, or some variation thereof, I am everything that word encompasses: powerful and wise, beautiful and calm, able to soothe every worry, every fever, every tear. Even if I know I'm not those things, he believes that I am.

Mama: a beautiful name. I love it for being universal, uniting me to a world of amazing women who have shared the crazy and wonderful experience of motherhood. But I mostly love it for the person I am when my particular child says it to mean his particular mother. To be sure, it's not my only name, nor my only identity, but it's my newest name, the one that I treasure for my child's faith in who I am and always will be.

09 May 2012

34 years, 36 weeks, 34 pills

I turned 34 yesterday, a birthday which was hardly on my radar at all, due to all of my energy and focus being geared toward getting a complaining, tired body through the end of this pregnancy. Probably because of my lowered or nonexistent expectations, I had the most wonderful day. The Mister surprised me with thoughtful and awesome presents throughout the day, including a bouquet that little Gabriel handed to me exclaiming, Fowers! Fowers!, when they got home.

I took myself to a bookstore and browsed quietly, picked out frilly pastries at the bakery to share with a friend, had a satisfying nap, skyped with our families, and ate dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant with my guys. The temperature almost got up to 70 degrees (even if it was gray and rainy, as per usual). Plus, Dutch class, a physiotherapy appointment, and a movie rental watched while eating chocolate ice cream. All in all, pretty perfect and low-key and cheered me up immensely.

Also cheering me up: today, we reached the 36-week mark, which means a month to go (and only one week until the baby is full term!). I counted out my Zantac today, and there were 34 pills, just enough to stave off heartburn for a couple of days past the due date. I really hope I won't need to ask the doctor for a prescription for whatever the equivalent is here (she was very surprised that I could get Zantac over the counter in the US). Thanks to the physiotherapist I saw yesterday, I now have some new tools at my disposal when experiencing pelvic pain (it's ramped up lately, even though I'm resting more, walking less, and hardly carrying anything) (besides a gigantic baby). I also have a better idea of what positions and movements are better and worse for the problem, some of which were a bit counterintuitive. Plus, I think I'm finally starting to get over this cold and congestion that's been plaguing me for weeks.

All the big changes are so so close, and I know these last weeks will go by in the blink of an eye, even if it seems like time is dragging now. Just looking at those 34 pills made the days more tangible: I could hold them all in the palm of my hand.

04 May 2012

Home stretch

It is finally May, which means I'm having a baby next month (or this month!), which makes me both relieved and nervous. We're only five weeks away from the due date, and while I would love to have the baby sooner rather than later in order to relieve all of this discomfort (and meet our new son), I really don't want to have a baby without my mom here. She arrives June 2. So I guess we'll wait, then (as if it were up to me)! There are also a crib still to put together, baby laundry to wash, and hospital bags to pack.

The Mister has juggled his work schedule in order to be able to do the daycare pickup and dropoff, and we finally found a store that will deliver groceries. So the main obstacles that we were facing last week have been solved, although it's quite a schlep every day for M. to get from home to daycare to the train station to Brussels to work, and vice versa. We're getting ready quickly in the morning so that he can hustle Gabriel out the door. Fortunately, Gabriel has been a complete doll this week, sleeping well every night until 7am, and behaving so beautifully in the mornings and evenings.

Over the holiday weekend we had nine people in the house, all of M's family--his parents, sister, brother-in-law, and our nieces. They took over the shopping, cooking, and Gabriel-watching duties, and I stayed at home while they went on trips to museums and parks. This was fantastic in so many ways, since I really needed the rest and am still getting over this horrible cold-congestion-cough thing. But hard for me in other ways, since it's not easy to sit back and just let it all happen when it's your own house. Just letting go. Plus, everything was topsy turvy and busy and noisy and extra muddy (due to our street construction, which seems to consist of digging holes and more holes, continuing in the rain). We did have a couple of kind of springy days where we could even go without jackets, and I sat and read in the garden for the first time this year. (Of course, after that it was back to pouring cats and dogs.)

I'm going to Dutch class and making short little errands but otherwise sticking close to home and taking long naps. I am sleeping poorly at night, since everything throbs or itches or aches or or cramps or burns or is congested, so naps suck me into their deep vortex reliably every day. There is work to do but my brain is too foggy to do it well. Hardly any of my maternity clothes fit any more, since my belly has taken on proportions that it only reached just days before Gabriel was born, and my hips seem to be widening so that even formerly comfortable yoga pants cut into my waist.

I take great comfort in knowing this will all change drastically very soon, and five weeks--a month!--seems much closer than six or seven weeks did. I have no idea how everything will go when we become a family of four, but I'm looking forward to challenges that are different than this slow achy wait.

25 April 2012


This morning I went to see my doctor to get all the pain I'm experiencing looked at, and to get a prescription for iron pills, because I was pretty sure that lack of iron is one of the reasons (aside from just, you know, being pregnant) why I'm getting dizzy and feel so exhausted.

It turns out that along with the cold and cough and backaches and dizziness (and I was right about the iron), I have something called SPD, symphysis pubis dysfunction, which is why my lower abdomen, lower back, and pelvic bone hurt so much, why standing up from the couch or bed is painful, and why I simply can't lift my legs separately at all.

The ligaments holding the two sides of the pelvic bone are stretched out more than normal due to the hormone relaxin and due to carrying excess weight: the baby, but also groceries, the stroller, Gabriel, and so on! I don't seem to have a super extreme case, but I'm still supposed to go see a physical therapist and learn how to manage it, to prevent it from getting worse.

More importantly, I'm not supposed to walk as far or as much as I've been walking, and certainly not carrying weight. Which presents a problem in terms of the two hours I spend each day bringing and picking Gabriel up from daycare (and, most days, loading up the stroller with groceries). My doctor said a car or even a bike would be better than walking to daycare, but unfortunately we don't have a bike (I should have gotten one early in this pregnancy, like I wanted to!) or a car. She didn't exactly prohibit me from going, but said I should reduce the distance I walk by as much as possible. So we're going to have to figure something out. And here I thought the one good thing I was doing, exercise wise, was walking to and from daycare!

The grocery thing has been a problem, even before I was pregnant, because I'm always loading up my trusty cloth bags with as much as I can carry (or more than I should carry), and I still end up going every day or every other day! Just the basics--bananas (which we go through like water), milk, cereal, yogurt, canned beans, rice and pasta, fruit and vegetables--end up being super heavy, no matter how choosy I try to be. And none of the shops are exactly around the corner. We've looked into delivery, but all of the supermarket chains here only offer "online shopping" that involves you choosing the items, them boxing them up for you, and you picking them up. Which clearly does not resolve the issue of carrying them home when one doesn't have a car. Argh.

Anyway, it feels good just to have a "reason" for this pain instead of feeling like I'm just out of shape or weaker or older with this pregnancy. But there are still six-plus weeks to go, and things were already hard enough without the added complication of additional rest and restrictions on walking too much. Argh again. Still puzzling this out in my head and trying to think what we'll do. The good news is, the Mister's family arrives tomorrow, so at least for a long weekend we'll have help.

23 April 2012

Carrying on

This is going to be a complaining-type post, but I realized that I was holding off on posting at all because I didn't want to complain, which is not necessarily a good reason not to post. I had such a good bloggy momentum going last month but this month it's hard to find the time and energy to write!

We still have six or more weeks to go before this baby's due date, but we're struggling to keep our heads above water. I'm feeling increasingly wiped out and limited by the aches of pregnancy, all compounded by the past three days or so of a cold (fortunately this is the first time I've gotten sick since October). The cold has brought a sore throat that joined forces with burning heartburn to set my entire esophagus on fire, achy joints to join lower back pain and upper back pain and abdominal pain, and a throbbing head to add to the fun. Between Saturday and Sunday I developed a knot in my back so painful that I could only cry or lay down by the end of the day.

Yet, life must still happen: daycare pickups and dropoffs in the rain, lugging groceries home, dragging the stroller through our muddy, rocky street and hoisting it up to the front door, feeding the family, making beds, carrying laundry up and down narrow stairs, keeping up with Gabriel and the messes he leaves in his wake. Plus, I have an academic essay due in a few weeks for which I need to do some serious work. I had my book club here on Friday night, something I had been looking forward to, but that meant cleaning the entire house, which meant that the Mister cleaned the entire house, because I am simply unable to sweep and mop right now. Or load the dishwasher. Or pick up legos from the floor. Or...

M. left work early to pick up Gabriel and go to the grocery store the day I got sick, while I lay down in a guilty funk. The same day that he mopped and swept everything. Meanwhile, he's trying to write his thesis in any extra time he has. He had to go to Paris for a meeting related to his dissertation, and we didn't realize it coincided with my book club day. So he changed his entire schedule, stayed in Paris for barely two hours, and made it home in time to take care of Gabriel for the evening (bearing Parisian macarons, no less!). We had guests over for lunch yesterday, and I made the food but once again he did everything else, and found time to work on his dissertation in addition to massaging my aching back and putting Gabriel to bed and...and...

I guess what I'm saying is: I might be carrying this baby, but he is carrying me. I really don't know how I could do this without the Mister. Which is not to overlook the fact that this is hard on him, too. As you can imagine, things are very stressful right now: he's exhausted, and it's not exactly fun to rush home from work (an hour-long commute from Brussels) just so he can juggle everything at home as well. I at least have my days open, go to Dutch class, take naps (whether I want to or not...they happen). We don't go to bed early enough, so we don't get enough sleep at night (and the quality of my sleep is pretty abysmal lately) and Gabriel has been waking at 6:30...guess who gets up with him to let the other parent sleep an extra hour?

We have managed to fit in some fun things, still. Since today is Sant Jordi, the day of the rose and the book in Catalonia, we spent good chunks of Saturday in the library and bookstores, picking out books for one another. There's time with friends (the reason I didn't cancel book club or our lunch guests even though I didn't feel very well). Gabriel is a real treat these days. And we have our family from Barcelona coming for a visit over the holiday weekend starting on Thursday. That of course presents its own logistical challenges--four extra adults and two children staying here for four days requires some air-mattress purchases, plus bedroom rearrangements, and more cleaning, shopping, etc.--but it will be lovely to have some help and spend time with them. Plus! I had another ultrasound last week and the baby is looking fantastic, and rather *huge*--no wonder he's putting me through my paces. Aside from the aches and pains, I'm healthy too, all tests perfectly normal.

So. Six weeks to go when I already am feeling so miserable sounds impossible but somehow we'll make it. Then there will be an entirely different kind of not-sleeping, messy, hormonal chaos, but at least we'll have a break from regular life for a little while...five days in the hospital, paternity leave, help from family, and so forth. And finally, a few weeks after that, I should be able to stand up without some part of my body protesting loudly. Something I'm really looking forward to!

I told you this would be a complainy post, but it feels good to write it all out, anyway.

12 April 2012

Easter break

We're back from our two-week trip to Catalonia, and I'm so thankful to be home, and thankful that I don't have to get on an airplane again before we have this baby. Even apart from the baby belly and baby aches, I really love coming home again after a trip, getting to sleep in our own bed and getting back to our cozy life. I'm a homebody with a travel bug, so as much as I love going places, I love coming home again just as much.

Gabriel did very well, by and large, on all of the flights. Our most difficult moment came when we boarded the 6:45 am flight back to Brussels and realized that the check-in person had given us separate seats. With the Mister across the aisle and stuck in the middle seat, no one wanted to change with him, because the aisle seat guys had, as they legitimately pointed out, *paid* for an aisle seat. So we grinned and bore it, until the dude next to me finally relented after Gabriel realized he wasn't M. and started screaming "Dada, dada!!!" and lunging over our laps. (Good job, Gabriel!)

We had a perfectly lovely stay on the Costa Brava, in the tiny apartment that the Mister's parents own. It rained almost every day of our week-long visit, but actually that was just fine with us, since the Mister had to work on his dissertation for a few hours every morning and a few hours every afternoon. We settled into a nice rhythm of breakfasting together, then M. working while Gabriel indulged in cartoons and I indulged in reading (as well as, once he had watched a couple of shows, epic sessions of reading books, coloring, stickers, etc.), then a short walk if it was clear, then lunch and naps (I had a nap every single day, lucky me!).

The afternoons were much the same, working/tv/reading/coloring and another walk before dinner unless it was raining. Gabriel went to bed without protest nearly every night, sleeping through the night in his own little room, which made our evenings that much more relaxing--we mostly spent them watching documentaries or doing more reading. (I know, we like to live on the edge.) No internet meant we truly were able to disconnect from everything. We went out for a meal just once, to a pizza place as soon as it opened at 7pm (all the other restaurants open at 8 or 8:30, well past Gabriel's bedtime), with no one else in the place but us. (One thing about the Iberian lifestyle that I can't get over now that I have a kid is how late children go to bed, in part due to late mealtimes!)

During our trip I read four and a half books, only one of which I really loved: Jennifer Eagan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. I also read two short story collections, and I was reminded why I love short stories but not short story collections: each story should be read on its own and savored, instead of jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with others. Plus, especially for vacation reading, I really miss the momentum of a novel's plot, the kind that drives you forward and makes you lose track of time as you devour masses of pages. One of the collections was a Don Barthelme set, and his books of stories have been on my wish list for ages, which made me anticipate them greatly and then be disappointed greatly (plus, it was prefaced by maybe the most glowing introduction I have ever read, by Dave Eggars, and set me up for even more disappointment when I wasn't a fan). Finally, I read John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River, which was all right plot- and character-wise, but which I found repetitive and relied overmuch on that temporal overlay writerly crutch: "Later, so-and-so would remember how the..."; or "When he thought back on that night as an old man, he saw..."; etc.

We actually did have a few sunny mornings, including Palm Sunday and Good Friday, during which there were delightful events. Palm Sunday, all the children carry elaborately woven palm branches to the church and wear their best new spring clothes (see my description from a couple of years ago here)--since this was a family town, the area in front of the church was jam-packed with kids, strollers, and families taking pictures. On Good Friday, the same plaza held a wonderful market of artisanal cheeses, breads, and pastries, including Eastertide confections, bunyols, which are sweet anise-flavored fritters, fried dough formed into small donuts or triangular shapes and rolled in sugar. We bought samples of all of the above. Plus, there were espectacles or shows for children, and Gabriel got to watch clowns and dance very charmingly with other little tots.

We were back to my in-laws' for Easter, and Easter morning we attended church in the city, but I was badly disappointed by the service, with its lugubrious synthesized organ renditions of what should be joyful Easter hymns, and a complete lack of flowers/trumpets/choir or other signs of Easter festivity. It's the day of the year, I realized as I spent half the service in quiet tears, that I am most homesick for the US and the traditions of our family and churches past. Plus, there was no nursery as advertised, and Gabriel fell right away while clambering over the pews, so M. had to take him out of the sanctuary while he screamed his head off for half the service. (He was literally the only child in the room, which is often the case at the churches we attend in Catalonia.)

Things got a little more Easter-like (in a secular fashion) once we returned home and staged an Easter-egg hunt for Gabriel, his cousins, and friends of theirs visiting from France (where egg-hunts are also a tradition, although they are not in Spain). The five kids loved scouring the courtyard for chocolate and hard-boiled eggs, and each carrying his or her own little homemade paper basket. On Easter Monday we did the Spanish Easter tradition, which is the mona, a cake for each child topped with large chocolate eggs or other shapes, candies, and colored feathers or other decor. Traditionally, each child receives his or her cake from the godmother, but in our family we just make them for the kids. As we discovered, five cakes is an awful lot of cake!

As usual, we came back to a very rainy and quite chilly Belgium, but the flowers are bursting and it still feels like spring. (Ironically, I often feel colder in the spring because the temperatures are still low but I've abandoned the idea of mittens and parkas and wool hats.) Our street is a vast mud pit, which I have great difficulty getting the stroller through, since the wheels get stuck in the mud, and I can't or shouldn't lift it out. I've had to ask for help from strangers, or abandon the stroller, take Gabriel to our door, and go back for the stroller. None too fun. Our shoes are permanently coated with clayey orange mud. But again: it's spring. We walk past adorable parades of ducklings every morning on our way to daycare, and the sun does peek out every once in a while, promising nicer things to come. It's good to be home.

27 March 2012


The weather has been beautiful here in Leuven, and it's making our walks around town a thousand percent better. However, although I know I should be floating in the delirium of spring, I am plodding around in a fog of fatigue and weightiness. I wake up exhausted after sleeping poorly, I take naps prior to 10 am, and only guilt about the Mister doing so much of the housework and child-wrangling on top of his busy job and dissertation-writing provokes me to get the laundry done, make and clean up dinner, and pick up toys (squatting or on all fours, because--oof--the bending over thing is just not good).

My belly is, I am convinced, as big as it was with Gabriel shortly before he was born. And we have ten weeks to go. It's sticking out like a giant torpedo, probably because all of my muscles have given way entirely. Wherever I go--church, book club, daycare, Dutch class--people assume that I am on the verge of giving birth. Yet: ten weeks to go. At thirty weeks with Gabriel, I was still only just starting to feel *really* pregnant. Hah!

In comparison with my first pregnancy, I am doing very little by way of body-strengthening and stretching, and I imagine this is in part to blame for the aches and pains. I took yoga and birth movement classes with Gabriel, but here I haven't been able to find a prenatal yoga class that's accessible to me. I know I should just do some yoga at home and figure it out on my own or via podcasts/youtube videos, but somehow a nap always sounds better. At least I am walking at least four miles a day, no matter what, so there's that. But I do want to start working on stretching and yoga practice, so I hope registering that desire here will spur me to do so.

The best part about this pregnancy with Junebug is how much he is in motion. He is continuously stretching and rolling, more than I remember with Gabriel. It's not a pummeling or a kicking feeling as much as a sensation of smooth but seriously pushy-outy gestures. I'm constantly grinning in wonder as I watch a little fist or foot make a visible path across my skin, sometimes strong enough that I feel like I need to press back with my hand lest he bust out of there! (Even if I'm not stretching enough, *he* certainly is!) It's very easy to feel his little head or rump, probably due to the aforementioned stretched-out and separated abdominal muscles, and I love poking at him (although he probably doesn't appreciate it as much). I'm convinced he moves in response to Gabriel's voice or cry, and he always wakes up and starts moving in the morning when Gabriel comes to our bed asking for a banana.

Gabriel still doesn't have much of a clue what is in store, even though we've gotten a few books about a new baby and try to read them regularly, in addition to talking about (and praying for) his new brother. He knows that my belly is "baby," but I don't think he realizes that the baby will come out and be one of the babies in his books, or the babies we see of our friends and family. I'm very curious to see how he reacts to a new sibling, and find it hard to predict what response he'll have. A friend suggested that we let him pick out a gift *from* him to his brother, an idea I like a lot--helping him feel big brotherly. We shall see!

I have a lot more to say about Mr. Gabriel, who is such a delight and a handful these days. We got him a new bed at Ikea, and he transitioned perfectly well from sleeping on a mattress on the floor to sleeping in his bed, which we are very relieved about. "New bed!" he says. He's busting out with new words and phrases all the time, in all three of his languages, and it's pretty adorable. Our favorite is "Extra yum!", which comes from an adorable book called Little Pea, about a pea who hates the candy his parents give him for dinner but loves spinach for dessert: "yum, yum, extra yum!" Gabriel gobbles up most of the food we give him, in portion sizes about equivalent to ours, so the phrase is apropos. Anyway, now I'm rambling on about Gabriel and I will try to write a separate post soon.

We leave for Barcelona again shortly...there is a general transportation strike on Thursday, the day we are scheduled to leave, and our flight is cancelled, so we are currently trying to reschedule and don't know yet when that will be. Could be as soon as tomorrow night. We'll be gone for 10 days, much of that time without internet when we head up the coast. I'm looking forward to a longer, quieter break from our regular routine, and the weather forecast is looking good. So I don't know how much I'll post during that time. By the time we get back it will be well into April, which...wow! Ten weeks is going to fly by.

21 March 2012

Red-carpet day

I did something completely out of the ordinary and completely fun today. I took the train to Brussels and headed out to the Expo in order to attend the Bocuse d'Or European championships and browse a massive food and hospitality trade show. The Mister met me for his lunch break, and we sampled our way through an astonishing array of booths offering every manner of foods and drinks, from the finest cheeses to the most humble of fast foods (Belgian frites!) and supermarket brands.

With hundreds and hundreds of vendors handing out samples, I practically rolled out of the place after eating until my already round belly was about to burst. There were trays of sushi, bowls of soup, fresh preparations of fish, avalanches of pistachios, mountains of cookies and pastries and chocolates, and a truly surprising number of ice cream and coffee stands (maybe these were the easiest "sample" that companies not directly producing either could still wheel out). There were bars where free drinks flowed (I stuck to water, obviously, but could have ordered anything) and huge sections dedicated to wine and beer and liquor tastings.

Fortunately, I could intersperse the food-sampling and expo-wandering (to give my full belly and sore feet a break) with stretches of viewing the Bocuse d'Or, a live cooking championship in which the best chefs from each country present elegant, elaborate fish and meat trays to a panel of judges after hours of preparation in front of the audience and the media. It was a bit chaotic and hard to follow at first (just a jumble of white chef hats seen from a distance), but got exciting when the teams started sending out their food, arrayed on heavy mirrored trays, slowly paraded before the judges and then nervously portioned out by teams of white-gloved students. The audience members looked and sounded like they belonged at sporting events, waving flags and wearing wigs and face paints, screaming for their teams. Noisemakers, air horns, and vuvuzelas added to the general excitement, as did dramatic musical fanfare used to announce the presentation of a given team's dishes, and trilingual descriptions of the food, the kitchen preparations, and so forth. Think Iron Chef meets Eurovision meets the Olympics.

This is a not-great picture that I took with my iPad, but at least it shows the distant kitchens (in real life I could sort of kind of just make out what they were doing), the huge array of chefs cooking, coaching, and judging, and some of the cheering fans on the big screen. This image shows only half of the ten competing country's kitchens.

I have no idea why I was sent an invitation to these events--I must be on some mailing list somewhere. I thought it might be because of the Mister's work, but he didn't get an invitation (mine got us both in), so that's not it unless it was "spouses of...". But I'm definitely thankful for the super fun day and all the yummy food I got to taste! I had to tear myself away from the competition at 4 in order to get back to Leuven in time to pick Gabriel up from daycare, so I didn't find out who won. But it was a fantastic excursion on a sunny day--and here's the red-carpet view that greeted me on my way out of the hall.

20 March 2012


We flew back from a sunny Barcelona to a sunny Leuven (with a nip in the air, but still sunny)! Gabriel did great on the flights, and him having his own seat made them so much nicer for us. The house is very clean and the walls didn't cave in, although the diggers seem to be mysteriously redigging holes that they had already dug.

The crazy thing is that we fly back to Barcelona again next Thursday already--we deliberately squeezed another trip in before I could no longer fly, and since it will be a long holiday during Easter week M. had days off. But this time we'll go up the coast and spend much of our time having an actual vacation, just us, no internet, and hopefully plenty of sun and walks on the beach.

Before that happens, though, we need to make some progress on the babifying of our house, which means a trip to Ikea. I know Ikea is a cliché of frustrated couples compromising over cheap, mass-produced shelving units (and we have certainly lived the cliché), but I still really love going there. I have childhood memories of going to one of the early Ikeas to arrive in the US, and I always loved (still do!) strolling through the cleverly composed floor model apartments, locating items in the giant warehouse, eating in the cafeteria, and so forth. The whole Ikea package.

I'm also trying to decide about the best sleeping arrangement for when the baby comes, which impacts what we buy at Ikea. Ideally, I'd like to sleep in our bedroom and put the baby in a co-sleeper or bassinet next to our bed. But there's barely room for that, and even if we found room, there's no room for a chair to nurse in (I found that the first weeks were better nursing sitting up, until baby got big enough for side-lying), or a place to change his diaper. The normal changing/diapering area (on a dresser) will be in Gabriel's room, as will the full-size crib. Since Gabriel's room adjoins ours, we also risk waking him up during the nighttime wakings.

The alternative, probably more practical option is to relocate, temporarily, to the guest room/office, which is twice as big as our cozy bedroom. We can stick a chair for nursing in there, and even the crib if we want to, and we could use the desk for nighttime diaper changes. But I'm not entirely happy about that prospect, for several reasons: the bed is smaller (roughly a double compared to our queen, which when you add a little baby--and potentially a toddler--in the middle makes a big difference), the windows face the street (noise issues), our massive wardrobe and thus clothes would have to remain in our room which is where my mom would be staying if we took over the guest room, and, well, it's just not *our* room. I imagine nuzzling our new baby in the family space we've already created, not in the somewhat disjointed all-purpose guest room (a corner of which serves as suitcase/baby gear/Christmas decoration storage, since as I'm sure I've mentioned before, Europeans don't believe in closets, grrr).

All of this leaves me going in circles. If we do need to create a new setup, I want to start doing it in advance so Gabriel gets used to us sleeping elsewhere. This is why I'm feeling pressure to get things settled and decide already! I realize that the difficulty is in large part my inability to imagine just how life is going to be: M's the visionary and I'm always stuck dithering about things until I actually start seeing them unfold in real life and then I feel much better. So I probably just need to take the plunge and start setting up the guest room as a new-baby headquarters, reminding myself that it's only temporary, and then I'll settle right in. Although--again with the althoughs--I'll have to wait until after our last round of visitors (M's entire family!) at the beginning of May, so they can use the current guest room.

Baby is kicking me right now--he's getting very baroque with the kicking and stomach-rippling effects lately--as if to remind me that the main thing he'll need he already has: a spot in my arms and my heart. So I guess we'll be OK, wherever we end up spending our (probably sleepless) nights.

15 March 2012

Rumbles and travels

I'm still here, although I've somehow let more than a few days go by without further commentary. March is being very...March-y, with a few scattered days of sunny promise tucked into the usual damp gray cold of Belgium. We're flying to Barcelona today for a long weekend and another grab at Catalonian spring, and the forecast promises some lovely weather. Gabriel is finally old enough to require his own seat, which I'm relieved about because it means we have much more space and take up a whole row of our own. Plus, the flight is not rescheduled for some late hour, instead falling in the middle of the afternoon, which *should* make things smoother (although my first rule of travel with children is that any time I anticipate a smooth flight the whole thing is a disaster and vice versa).

Other than that, we've had more visitors, which is always a treat, I've been plugging away at Dutch and a few academic projects, and Gabriel has been a delight and a crazy two-year-old (more blogging on that later, I promise). Oh, and this has been happening ten inches from our front door:

Most mornings I have to wave somebody down to make sure the digger operator sees me and doesn't swing the...digger part towards me and Gabriel, then precariously maneuver the stroller along the soft dirt edge of the massive pit that is our street. Someday, this will pass. Someday.

I've entered the third trimester of this pregnancy, which means there are three months to go. ONLY three months to go! I'm mostly taking it easy and alternate between feeling like we still have lots of time and worrying that it will be here in a flash.

For now, a weekend in sunny Barcelona with extra grandma-aunty-cousin hands to help wrangle the toddler sounds pretty nice. We're bringing no computer, just the iPad, so I plan to read and play Words with Friends and check Facebook and blogs but not much else. We'll come down loaded to the gills on the return flight, of course, because there are still piles of baby blankets and baby clothes that we migrated from America to Barcelona but not yet to Belgium.

One of the construction men with a rather smelly cigar, in fact one of the guys from the picture above, just knocked on the door and asked to see our basement. I hope this doesn't mean the walls will cave in, which we actually do worry about given how much the house shakes at 7am and throughout the day as trucks rumble past and diggers smash into the ground. Here's hoping that the house is intact when we get back from the weekend away!

05 March 2012


Two very Good Things happened today, things which I want to focus on in order to distract myself from my sore throat and aching back and the day's blustery, sleeting, muddy turn back to winter.

In order to achieve the first Good Thing, the Mister had to wake up at 4am and stand in line in that cold, windy weather, joining people who had spent the entire night in line in tents and sleeping bags. No, this was not a queue for some concert tickets or fancy electronics: it was the line to get Gabriel enrolled in school for next fall. The system works like this: on the same March morning all around the city (and all of Flanders, I think), enrollment opens for the following school year. You choose the school you hope to get your child a place (or a place on the waiting list) and go stand in line--you must be there in person, on that morning. It's a very fair setup in many ways. We barely got our spot, though, seeing as there were only a few available after M's number came up! And that with him getting in line at least an hour before the director told us he thought would be necessary for kids in Gabriel's class.

This school is right on the other side of the park (we can see its windows from our dining room), and so will only be a five-minute walk away next year! It's highly recommended by friends who send their kids there, is very international, and we were very impressed by our visits. It's a Catholic school, semi-private, but still entirely free.

Pretty much every child goes to school at age 2.5 here--it's expected of children in daycare that they will transition to school, with preparation and a big party at the end of daycare. Of course if you strongly feel that your child isn't ready, you can hold them back, but this is mitigated in large part by staggered entry dates throughout the year. The children who are already 2.5 start in September, and then there are four or five other "start dates" after holiday breaks to welcome children who have turned 2.5 in the meantime. It makes a lot of sense, and I think it reduces some of the stress American parents have in deciding whether their child will be young for one school year or old for the next. Anyway, Good Thing! We got a spot at our first-choice school for our little guy!

Second Good Thing: I just might have gotten my Belgian drivers' license today, after trying in vain to do so since we arrived last summer. It's supposed to be an even swap: you trade in an American license for a Belgian. But every time I went (maybe five or six times?), the officials found some problem with my application, always problems that could be surmounted by a small dose of straightforward logic--but in this country paper documentation and official seals trump logic. I won't bore you with the many hassles, but just give a for instance, the most recent difficulty.

You must have proof that you have been driving for more than five years. My Indiana driver's license was renewed in 2011, and shows only that date. According to the last dour official I talked to, I needed an older license. So my mom dug up my very first (!) license from Vermont, and I brought that in. But the "category 1" listed on that old license did not match the "class" system used now (and which appears on the computer here, telling them my VT license must say A, B, C, etc.). Here, the application of a small dose of logic would work; my Vermont license clearly states that "category 1" allows the user to drive a car (not a truck or bus or motorcycle or whatever). But no: the dour official insisted I have the US government issue a sealed and signed affidavit declaring that Category 1 was equal to today's Class D or whatever. I wrote to the embassy and as expected they declined to do so, licenses being state responsibility. I wrote to the state of Vermont over Christmas (and sent money!) asking for a signed document stating this information, but they also refused and returned my money.

My recent stroke of genius: I abandoned the Vermont license approach altogether, and instead decided to order my driving record from the state of Indiana, which would show that I have been driving there with an IN license since 2003. I paid for this luxury but was able to receive a pdf within minutes and it has an official letter and stamp and everything: I thought the Belgians would be pleased. And so it was. Plus, I got a somewhat nicer young woman instead of the dour official I've dealt with before, and even though there were still some questions that required she call over several senior ladies, none of them were the dour official I was dreading. They shrugged their shoulders and told her to just input the information that was obvious to all (i.e., apply logic, what a novelty)!

The license still has to be "checked for authenticity" by the police, and thus I will still be waiting for a few weeks for the actual document approval, but I am cheered that I am this much closer to being a legal driver in Europe. (Spain puts up even more--and expensive--roadblocks to getting a Spanish license, so I am happy this license will work in all the EU.) Now we should be able to sign up for a car sharing system and at least test the waters in terms of car ownership, especially now that we'll be carting two kids around. It feels like a major victory to have found the right combination of documents that would satisfy the officials at the town hall into giving me a Belgian license. Good Things!

02 March 2012

Sacred heart

Hello March! I'm so glad you're here. I thought February would never end, even though it was a good month, what with birthday celebrations and "it's a boy!" excitement and a trip to Barcelona. But March brings us one step closer to spring, one step closer to a baby, one step closer to an actual street instead of a mud pit and the construction equipment hulking over our front windows.

Right now we have friends in town, and Gabriel as usual is beside himself with glee, forcing them to color and read and hide'n'seek to his heart's content and crying bitter tears when he has to go to bed. He is really going to dig having a little brother to play with, in about a year when they can actually, you know, play.

They graciously watched Gabriel while we took our tour at Heilig Hartziekenhuis (Sacred Heart Hospital) last night. ("Hi! Welcome to Belgium! Can you babysit?") We came home laden with piles of coupons and free samples, but without much of a sense of what will actually go down in the hospital at all.

First of all, everything was in rapid-fire Dutch. I asked for translations, but only my specific questions in English were met with replies in English, and I didn't know what to ask most of the time because I had no idea what had been said (and my questions weren't necessarily related to the specific labor or recovery room or monitor that was being presented at the moment). We gleaned a few details only thanks to some other couples translating for us. At the end of the tour we gathered in a conference room and had a powerpoint presentation in a question/answer format, but the nurse would put the question up, then discuss and talk through the answer, only flashing it momentarily before clicking through to the next question. This was...NOT helpful for those of us who might glean more from written Dutch than spoken.

Secondly, there was a large crowd, so it wasn't easy to pull the nurse aside for questions. Third, so much of what was presented was practical info: here are the different kinds of rooms (only the "luxury" room allows M. to spend the night, which seems to be the only way in which it is "luxurious," save a few more inches of space than the tiny regular rooms), here's the number you call to get the maternity ward, these are visiting hours, this is a baby bassinet, this is what you should pack (everything, really! they don't even supply hospital gowns!)...and what I really wanted to know had more to do with labor scenarios and birth plans. Argh.

Still, we got to see the place and get the lay of the land and find out where to go when I'm in labor. I was most surprised to discover that while some rooms have dual functionality, in most cases you labor in one room and then move to another for pushing/delivery (and then, of course, yet another for recovery). I don't much like the sound of waddling across the hall (or maybe getting pushed in a wheelchair?) when it comes time to get the baby out. I remember barely being able to climb onto the bed last time when we were at that point. Ah well! These are minor things if all goes well. I was glad to see, at least, tubs and showers and birthing balls for labor, and a quiet, gentle atmosphere.

Best of all, I saw a tiny itty bitty newborn being wheeled down the hall in her wee bassinet, and that moment made everything beautiful and real in a way that a herd of shuffling pregnant ladies and their husbands nosing around empty rooms couldn't. We'll have a brand new baby boy when all is said and done, and that... that is what matters. That's the sacred heart.

27 February 2012


I had my glucose-test prenatal appointment this morning, where you drink a very sugary drink and then the doctor takes a blood sample to see whether you have gestational diabetes. In the US, they flavor the drink to resemble a non-carbonated soda, which just makes it worse, but here my doctor stepped out of the room briefly and came back with a beer glass (we are in Belgium, after all!) in which she had mixed up a serving of sugar water. Fancy that! It tasted like...very sugary water. An hour and an ouchie blood draw later, I was set to go. Plus, I got to hear the steady whoosh of the baby's heartbeat, discover that--surprise!--I have gained a few kilos since the last appointment, and see that my blood pressure is perfectly normal.

This appointment, as most of them have been, was with our GP, our family doctor. Her office is right around the corner. She's fantastic, and always listens very carefully to my questions and concerns. She knows Gabriel, she knows the Mister, because she's their doctor too, and I even know a few details about her family as we've discussed toddlerhood and children. The kicker is, though, that she's not the one who will be delivering the baby. I've asked her, only half joking, if she could.

Instead, the doc who will be delivering the baby is someone I will have met only twice before the birth, and that's only if I go into labor during the week. (If it's on the weekend, we get whoever's on call.) We met her briefly for the ultrasound appointment at the beginning of the month, which took place at the hospital. She was very nice, but very hurried, and I wasn't even sure if she was the doctor or the ultrasound tech until close to the end of the appointment. (Previous ultrasounds, both in the US and Spain, involved meeting with the doctor separately from the ultrasound itself, which was handled by a tech.) Because of that confusion, I didn't have the in-depth discussion I hoped to have about our birth plan, instead stumbling over a few questions about the previous labor and birth experience which she somewhat impatiently jotted down. So! I have one more shot at having that discussion, if all goes well, and then will come the day itself.

All of this comes as such a contrast to my great experience in Indiana with our nurse-midwife, who I saw at nearly every appointment and who delivered the baby in the hospital. Here, midwives are not allowed to deliver babies in hospitals, so it's either a home birth with midwife or a hospital birth with OB (who you only meet with three times, twice in my case because she's so overbooked that I have to meet with another doctor for one of those appointments). I wish there was more overlap, that the alternatives weren't so stark. Even if I hired a midwife to meet with for prenatal appointments, she's just replacing the person I really like and feel comfortable with (our GP) and who can't deliver the baby either.

I went to the local birth advocacy center to inquire about a couple of things (one being a post-natal service in which the state sends someone to cook/clean/wash dishes/help with the baby for a few hours every week...sign me up!), and asked a midwife there about how to best communicate to the hospital and our doctor what we want for the labor and birth experience. In other words, how do we tell them our birth plan?

She confirmed what I suspected, which is that the tendency here will be to treat our wishes for a natural birth with a grain of salt and to rush the labor and birth through the normal medicalized protocol. So her best advice was that we should be prepared to repeat OVER and OVER again what we want, and to have the Mister really advocate for those wishes (I, presumably, will be focused on labor and probably a little out of it). We can bring a written birth plan, but we'll have to tell both the doctor and staff midwives again and again what's on that plan, and continue to ask for alternatives. Gulp. I'm a little nervous about all of this. Especially given that as much as I'd like to have a similar experience to Gabriel's birth, who KNOWS how this one will go, each labor/birth being so very unique. And sometimes in the face of medical authority it's hard to know what's an option and what's a necessity. I have no doubt, however, that we will be safe and in good hands, and that's the most important thing. We have a hospital tour this week, and I'm hoping I can ask some good questions then and get a better sense of the midwives and the place. Plus, friends of mine have delivered at this hospital and had very good things to say about their experiences. Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more to say about all of this as we get closer to the due date, and--of course--as we go through the thing itself.

To clear my head of the swirl of these thoughts (and the high from the sugar drink in a beer glass, sadly the only thing I've sipped out of a beer glass for the last five months), I went shopping. I decided to brave the fancy expensive maternity clothes store, and in the end I took the plunge and bought a new pair of maternity jeans. I paid more than I like to pay for clothes (and they were the cheapest choice in the store!), but I think they will be worth it, seeing as I will likely wear them close to every other day for the next months. The shirts, dresses, and skirts, all very chic, were lovely but not too tempting, because of the steep price tag for items that ultimately wouldn't get worn that much. Instead, I went to a store down the street and bought a cheaper spring dress that will work as a maternity tunic. So now I have a new little outfit and that makes me happier about my wardrobe options as my belly expands.

In Dutch class today we did a good little conversational exercise where we had to speak to several other people in the class one-on-one, and then the teacher asked the whole class questions about each person. Where is he from? Where does he live? Does she have a brother or sister? Etc. (Because of the mini conversations, and because of previous days' conversations, we all know a lot of those answers about one another). The focus for questions about me was on kids (I'm one of the few people in the class with children) and pregnancy, and the teacher was very surprised that I told everyone that the baby is a boy. Evidently, in Belgium, that information is often a secret until the baby is born. Turns out I'm not the only pregnant lady in the class, though: a Chinese student is also pregnant (definitely not showing yet). So, as our teacher put it, we have two extra students in the room. Perhaps this little one is absorbing some of the sounds of Dutch already, and I hope so: he'll be that much more ready to face this crazy Belgian world!

22 February 2012

Poppy and memory

I'm immersed in Paul Celan these days, and as ever I find his poetry incredibly moving, uncanny, shadowed, suggestive, and brilliant. I am scheduled to discuss his work with a doctoral student here who studies theology and philosophy, so those elements of the poems, which of course are tangled and challenging, are engaging my brain cells most prominently.

Celan is most known for his poetry of witnessing and loss, poetry that (ironically) attests to the devastating effects of the Holocaust on language and culture. But despite all of that, right now I find myself most drawn to Celan's love lyrics, even tinged as they are with this darkness. I suppose it's because the Mister and I are very in tune right now, two stones shaped and smoothed by one another and by the waters surrounding us. With this pregnancy, mysterious forces bring us together...we see one another in the same ways as ever, and in new ways: "More similar. Stranger."

In "Corona," the moon imagery, the sea imagery, the declaration of "It is time" (and, especially in combination with the other poem, the blooming stone)--they all speak to me both about waiting for this birth and being ever more in love, which probably has absolutely nothing to do with what Celan was thinking! But that's the beauty of poetry.

The Slope
~by Paul Celan

You live beside me, like me:
as a stone
in the sunken cheek of night.

Oh this slope, my love,
where we tumble incessantly,
from rivulet to rivulet.
Rounder, as time goes by.
More similar. Stranger.

And oh this drunken eye
that wanders around here the way we do
and sometimes, astonished,
sees us as one.

("Die Halde," tr. David Young)

~by Paul Celan

Autumn nibbles its leaf right from my hand: we're friends.
We shell time from the nuts and teach it to walk:
time turns back into its shell.

In the mirror is Sunday,
in dream goes sleeping,
the mouth speaks true.

My eyes goes down to my lover's loins:
we gaze at each other,
we say dark things,
we love one another like poppy and memory,
we slumber like wine in the seashells,
like the sea in the moon's blood-beam.

We stand at the window embracing, they watch from the street:
It's time people knew!
It's time the stone consented to bloom,
a heart beat for unrest.
It's time it came time.

It is time.

("Corona," tr. John Felstiner. Felstiner sees this as a response to Rilke's "Autumn Day" and "Autumn," both poems that I also love, and the latter of which I posted a few years back.)

21 February 2012

Dutch blitz

I'm now into my second week of Dutch classes, and already feeling that much more attuned to the language flowing around me on a day-to-day basis. The challenge, I can see already, will be to push myself to use Dutch when dealing with people in public, because it's all too easy to use English here when everybody understands (and speaks) it perfectly well.

Everybody, that is, with the exception of the (older generation of) supermarket checkout ladies, who treat me with annoyance or incomprehension when I speak in English. As is their right. I would probably learn Dutch faster if everybody acted that way--in other words, if everyone acted like the French do!

As I expected, since I'm taking the class through the University here, most of the students are undergraduates from a wide variety of countries. But even all of *them* speak English, too, so it's tempting to slip into English when we're helping one another understand what's going on or elaborating on a painfully simple sentence that limits our identities to "I am a student" or "I am from America." But technically, we're only supposed to speak in Dutch during class hours, so I do my best.

Still, knowing only a very tiny sliver of a language is extremely frustrating. One can't go beyond the present tense, or stretch vocabulary beyond a painfully narrow set of commonly understood words. I've resigned myself to saying that "Ik ben studente," "I am a student" when asked what my occupation is, although I really want to explain that I just finished my doctorate and am looking for a job. The alternative is worse--the only other accurate thing I know how to say is "Ik ben huisvrouw," and especially given the obviously fecund state of my belly I don't want to be labeled as "just" a housewife!

I'm also learning just how pitiful my cognate-based reading comprehension has been over the last months. I had been somewhat puzzled at how often the notices at Gabriel's school insisted that we register our children for summer daycare, but now I know that "jullie" doesn't mean "July" at all; it means "you" (plural). So I had no idea what any of those notices were saying, after all. And I probably missed something important. Hopefully I will soon miss out on fewer announcements, and will soon progress beyond the hyper-present tense of a new language learner.

20 February 2012

Monday thoughts

A collection of thoughts today...my attention is scattered but I feel happy, as the morning has brought that rare combination of sunny and above freezing!


For the last five months or so, I have had Gabriel sit at the bottom of the stall while I shower in the mornings. He happily plays with his bath toys, I wash his hair, he gets clean, and I can more or less take my shower in peace. But afterwards is no fun, because he HATES getting out of the warm shower and getting dried, lotioned, diapered, and dressed (a justified reaction, especially of late, because with the cold snap our bathroom is awfully chilly). So, recently I've tried sitting him down on his little stool in the bathroom, giving him a pile of books and toys, and taking a shower by myself. And it's working! By and large, he is able to entertain himself, and has only thrown toilet paper in the toilet, and has only dumped out or gotten into things that I can easily clean up. When we first moved here I tried the same strategy, but he cried and wailed when I disappeared into the shower stall. Now he knows that I'm not going anywhere and can sit for a short time independently while I listen to him babbling his books to himself. This feels like a big step. Plus, now he gets real baths, which he LOVES, instead of a semi-shower, and less often, which is better for his skin.


Gabriel's birthday party on Saturday was a success, fun had by all. I made an owl cake like this one, which turned out adorably, even though I had a complete icing crisis just when people were supposed to be arriving. The buttercream frosting I had made the night before was hard as a rock from the fridge, so I stuck it in the microwave for a few seconds, which melted it to a liquid. Frantic, I stuck it in the freezer, and after a few minutes smeared the goopy stuff all over the cake, which picked up crumbs like crazy and ended up not even being enough to frost the sides. But once the big cookie eyes and the almond feathers were on, it was so cute that the icing debacle wasn't too apparent. And it tasted great, which is really what matters!


One of the good side effects of the party is that we finally hung some paintings and mirrors on the walls! We also got a coffee table, some new chairs, a lamp, and so forth...all the little decoration-y things that make the house feel more...proper. And we hung a beautiful mobile that we've had since the summer but never gotten around to hanging. It's this one (although the picture here does not do it justice at all), we hung it in the dining room, and it's so stunning in person. I just adore mobiles (a huge fan of Calder), and have always looked for the perfect one to hang in the house...not too color-blocky or modern, not too twee or kid-like, just graceful, full of movement, and delicate. This is it.


I shrunk my most favorite sweater. It was a simple but high-quality gray wool cardigan that I bought maybe ten years ago at the Brooks Brothers outlet store, but it always looked like new, and was super warm without being bulky. The perfect length, went with everything, and I've been wearing it nonstop lately since most of my sweaters don't fit over my belly but I needed serious warmth with the cold we've been having. And I shrunk it!!! It's one of those things that I want to cry over but know that crying won't help whatsoever. M. was so sweet--he told me that he had been out hunting for a replacement for me, but of course didn't have any luck, especially since all the stores now have spring clothing on display. But so thoughtful nonetheless.


Gabriel got a couple of "my first game" kinds of games for his birthday, one from us and one from some friends, and it's been really interesting to teach him how to play and learn the fundamental ideas of game-playing...setting up the board, throwing dice, taking turns, moving pieces. I'm simultaneously surprised at how well he has taken to these concepts, and frustrated because after a few turns the game usually devolves into him scooping up the cute wooden pieces (fruit in one case, and animals in another) and either throwing them or carting them off for some other activity. Which is totally fine! But it's so fun to see him throw that chubby dice and move the pieces and of course I, orderly mama, want to finish the game! Oh well, he's learning, which is what counts.


Maternity clothes. Sigh. Last time, I really didn't run out of clothes until very near to the end, and at that point I could often stay at home all day and live in yoga pants. In fact, that post seems to be about me enjoying the pared-down state of wardrobe affairs. But this time, I have a much bigger belly much sooner, the cold limits my choices (NOT wearing a skirt, and MUST wear sweaters and/or layers because I'm walking outside a LOT), and some of the maternity pants from last time have now stretched out so they slide down my hips. The bella band helps with that problem, but I'm still left with a rotation of three everyday pants, one (and maybe two) of which will no longer fit soon. I thought I got enough of a supply of maternity clothes when I was in the US, and I am more or less set with shirts, but not so much with pants and sweaters (see also above re: the loss of my beloved cardigan). A friend loaned me a big bag of maternity pants to try on but they were all smalls and I'm really not a small, and many were too short because I'm really quite tall, and the couple that DID fit, of course, are lightweight pants that will not work until the spring. The maternity clothes here are EX-PEN-SIVE--no Target-like options or secondhand stores to get me through. And unlike in the US, wearing yoga pants out of the house is just NOT going to fly. I already feel slobbish enough compared to the chic European mamas, so I insist on wearing real clothes and putting on jewelry. So. I may have to shell out for expensive clothes, or I may be grumpy about my wardrobe until it gets warmer (which won't happen until April, at the earliest).


But this is where I say it's totally worth it. (Obviously.) Our Junebug is so active, I feel him moving all the time, and I feel it so...vividly, compared to Gabriel in the womb. I just adore this heightened sense of the baby's activity. I was stretched out in bed this morning and chasing his feet and hands across my stomach, and I swear I could feel exactly what was what, and even laughed at him trying to scootch out from under my hands. It practically feels like I could hold him, still so tiny tiny, but growing so big.

And! The Mister and I are both pretty convinced about his name, and have tried it out with Gabriel, who pronounces it very well and very adorably. Don't ask us to commit and/or tell you the name, because we will hedge our bets until the very end, but I'm quite excited about it and think of him by his name already. We've moved on to trying to find a middle name, which presents its own particular pickle, in part because this name is one that will be slightly tricky/unusual for English speakers so we want the middle name to be more straightforward (but still work in both languages). But still, it's so fun to know who he is!