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!

16 February 2012

Birth story part II

I'm enjoying writing these posts, and since I love reading birth stories, I hope they're fun for others too. After Gabriel was born I had two conflicting impulses: on one hand, I wanted to tell everybody all the details of his birth (it seemed strange just to announce it without explaining what had gone down!), but on the other hand, I was so ecstatic about it all that I just wanted to savor it for myself. Since "telling everybody all the details" isn't exactly considered societally acceptable, the latter impulse won out.

But now it's fun to revisit the experience, especially since in a few short months we'll be facing another round of labor and birth, and I hope to bring everything I learned then to bear on what we do now (even more so since I will barely know my doctor, and since labor and delivery staff here tend to be very oriented towards a medicalized birth--in other words, M. and I will need to advocate strongly for a natural birth, a task that I think will be easier having gone through it once before).

So where were we? The middle of the night, February 15, 2010. Labor was quiet and calm, but painful and intense. I thought we had hours of labor ahead of us, and so did our midwife and nurse. I had repeatedly asked to labor in the tub, but they kept putting it off, saying that it would be much more effective and a greater relief later in the course of labor. At this point I asked again, and in order to determine whether it was a good moment for the bath, my midwife gave me a cervical check (the first since the beginning of the evening, when I was less than a centimeter dilated). I was eight centimeters dilated! This surprised everyone, especially me, because I had been prepared to discover that I was only at a 5 or a 6.

At this point, my midwife and nurse left the room, and so did my mom, who was getting tired and needed a cup of tea. Precisely then, while lying on the bed after the cervical check, I experienced two long and strong contractions, along with a very strong urge to push. I whimpered to the Mister that he needed to get the midwife. Our nurse came in, discovered that I was at a ten, and asked me to give just a tiny push. The baby was ready to come out! She told me to hang on, not to push, and I held my breath.

Suddenly, the room filled with people. I hadn't expected such a transformation when it came time to actually deliver the baby! Surgical gowns, trays of instruments, a bright light centered between my legs, extra nurses. And my mom walked in with her tea, shocked at the new state of affairs in a room she had left, dark and quiet, only a few minutes earlier.

Pushing with each contraction actually felt great, and not too painful at all. It was more an exertion of energy and strength than anything, although I felt like I wasn't quite getting the hang of it, because they would give me differing instructions about how to push or how to curl around the baby. They dropped the bottom half of the bed and I was then able to grip a squat bar, which gave me a lot more traction, but still, no baby appeared. I was losing energy, even half-dozing between contractions, utterly out of it and waiting for the next contraction to swing me forward. This process by now had taken over an hour, with the baby still caught under my pelvis. He would descend and recede, descend and recede, which is what is supposed to happen, but it felt discouraging. Finally, after nearly two hours, the Mister and my mom could see the baby's head. Their excitement and exclamations gave me some badly needed oomph, although it felt abstract until the midwife told me to reach down and feel his hair. So soft, so present: our baby was arriving!

Even with his head nearly out, the baby just refused to exit his cozy harbor. My heart rate and the baby's were flagging, and they put an oxygen mask on me, which felt supremely annoying and sweaty, and  kept slipping off my face anyway. Worried about the baby's heart rate, my midwife gently asked about an episiotomy. I hadn't wanted one, but at this point, after two hours of pushing, I was ready to agree to anything. I didn't feel a thing when she made the small incision, and then with a rush, at 4:15 in the morning, Gabriel was born.

He cried right away, with soft tremulous cries, and was covered in white vernix (he didn't look like a 41-weeker, said my midwife). He lay on my chest, and although my mom and I had been sure that I would cry when I saw him for the first time, I didn't: I just felt so happy to see him and relieved that he was out. Plus, I felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity: it's YOU! You're here!

I was also somewhat distracted, because there were some distinctly unpleasant sensations still going on below, including the delivery of a very stubborn placenta and the stitching of the episiotomy. We watched, meanwhile, as Gabriel latched on and began to breastfeed, vigorously and contentedly, and pooped meconium all over my dressing gown. Thanks, dude! After about an hour the nurses weighed and measured Gabriel--8 pounds, 13 ounces, and 21 inches--and gave him the eye drops. The Mister got to hold his son for the first time, and my dad arrived in time to take some beautiful photos. We called M.'s parents in Spain on skype, while nurses kept telling us we would be leaving the delivery room but never actually showing up to move us (turns out four other women were delivering their babies at about that time, so the staff was a bit harried and had more important matters to attend to)! At long last, we gathered up our belongings onto a little cart, I got a new gown and was moved to a wheelchair, and Gabriel got his little wheely bassinet so we were on the move. As dawn arrived to reveal a snowdrifted scene outside the window, we settled into a cozy recovery room as a brand new family of three.

15 February 2012

Two years (and birth story, part I)

Our dear Gabriel turned two today, and we had a quiet family celebration for him this evening. He loved blowing out the candles, turned up his nose at the cake (not sure why, since cake is his favorite), and oohed and ahhed over every present, in both wrapped and unwrapped states, playing intently with his new blocks, exclaiming over his new books, and delightedly slicing his wooden fruits and vegetables. "More open?" he asked politely after he had finished opening them all.

Two years ago today, in the midst of a snowstorm, we were cozily gazing at the face of a tiny person who seemed wholly familiar and yet startlingly new. We were suddenly parents, in charge of a squawking, snuffling, demanding creature who knew no such notions as day and night, but whose tiny body fit so perfectly in the crooks of our arms.

But let me back up.

I've meant to write down Gabriel's birth story here for a while now, and what better day to do so than his birthday? I did write it down, every last detail, shortly after he was born, but that came out to nine single-spaced pages so I will have to abbreviate somewhat. It still may require more than one post...we shall see. In any case, I won't be too circumspect about the more unpleasant or more...bodily aspects of labor and birth, so if you'd rather not hear about those, you can stop reading now.

Valentine's Day, 2010. A week past my due date, a week during which I, along with my mom and the Mister, had been constantly wondering when the time would come. The big moment came not exactly as we imagined--rather, it came that morning in a gush of amniotic fluid as I was brushing my hair, and M. was on the phone with my cousin, who was in town to play a concert. When my eyes widened in shock, he thought he had misspoken to her, but it was simply my realization that my waters had broken. Today was the day.

Despite the unpleasantness of fluid leaking out every time I moved around, no contractions were forthcoming and I felt fine. My midwife told me we should wait for labor to start, but that we needed the baby "on the outside" within 24 hours. I still felt very relaxed, as well as excited, so we had my cousin come over for breakfast instead of going out, made a bunch of phone calls (particularly to my dad, who immediately got a new flight to Indianapolis for that day), and ran around collecting hospital bag items that we still needed.

By the afternoon, labor still hadn't started, so the Mister and I tried massage to get things going. I had a few very mild contractions, but nothing that felt like real labor. Still, that brief time was especially important for me, as one of the things I had envisioned was laboring at home in a peaceful and intimate collaboration with the Mister. Destined not to be, but at least I got a small taste of it then! I even fell asleep, and dozed for about an hour, which I credit with sustaining me over the night to come. When I woke up, I woke to Valentine's flowers from M., and a phone message from my midwife, who was getting nervous--not only about my labor, but also about the building snowstorm.

We agreed to meet at the hospital at 7:30 pm, much sooner than I had been thinking, because she was convinced that if labor hadn't started by then, it wasn't going to start on its own, and because she thought the snow might cause her to have difficulties getting to the hospital later in the night. I wasn't worried about the snow, since we lived a block away from the hospital, but felt comfortable with the plan. Plus, my dad was on the way, his flight already landed, and would be driving into town right around 7:30--we'd meet him at the hospital! I took a shower, ate a banana, and we headed over in the fast falling snow.

Walking into the hospital, I thought of how I had imagined this moment--doubled over with contractions, or timing them carefully, deep into labor. Instead, I felt perfectly normal except for a few scattered contractions and that constant amniotic gush. I felt almost giddy, in fact, just eager to move forward in the adventure this night would hold. Our room was spacious and our nurse extremely sweet; it was her first night back on duty after her own maternity leave. She would make a few mistakes throughout my labor and commented on how things had changed since she was gone, but I didn't mind because she was incredibly supportive and encouraging. I got into a gown, she confirmed that the constant gush was indeed amniotic fluid, and asked us a lot of questions and made us sign papers. I was glad not to be in labor during that process.

At this point I also got "hooked up"--the fetal monitors strapped to my belly with itchy velcro, and the IVs that would drip fluids and pitocin. Neither was very pleasant: the straps kept slipping and needing adjustment, and the IV required several painful jabs, and of course, the spindly stalk on wheels with fluid bags dangling from it had to be with me at all times. These were definitely not on our labor and birth wish list, but once it had to be, I decided to ignore them to the best of my ability and I think I succeeded pretty well. They didn't interfere with the overall experience of labor and birth, and in my memory the only part of the evening they came into play was during early labor.

My midwife came in, noting that I looked "way too happy," and did a cervical exam: well effaced but barely 1 cm dilated. My dad arrived then, too, in time to take some pictures before labor started in earnest. Around 9:30 he and the Mister went off in search of food (the cafeteria long since closed) and the pitocin started to kick in so my mom and I walked around the halls as the first contractions hit. I could still easily talk through them, the pain very low in my belly, and every few laps around the delivery ward my nurse turned up the pitocin. Contractions came steadily, every two minutes or less, which remained true throughout labor.

Finally dad and M. were back after what seemed like a long absence (not much open in our town on a Sunday night in a snowstorm, it turns out), and M. and I took a few laps around the hallway together. But by then, the contractions were hurting a lot, so we headed back to the room and, after a quick prayer, said goodbye to dad until the baby was born or the morning, whichever came first! I felt incredibly peaceful at this point, even though I was in pain. The nurse asked me to place the pain on a scale of one to ten, and I said 4-5, sure that things were still going to get much, much worse. (Plus, I find that pain scale really hard to judge. Compared to what?)

By then I was moaning with contractions, and needed the TV off, the lights low, and the room quiet. My midwife had reappeared, and was reminding me to keep my vocalizations low and loose, to feel heavy and relaxed. Basically I moo'ed through labor, but it really did help. She would tell me when contractions had peaked and were lessening, and even though I knew she was looking at the computer readout it still felt like a miracle of divination--how does she know? I thought. I tried lots of laboring positions over these hours, some of them suggested by my midwife and some of them just what I thought would feel better, what I remembered from birthing and yoga classes. I leaned over the bed with the yoga ball on it, I squatted on the bed in child's pose, I draped myself onto M., a chair, and so forth. All the time, swaying, swaying--that's what felt the best, that small movement back and forth, back and forth. The best position by far was sitting on the yoga ball and leaning into a pile of pillows on the bed. I stayed that way for a long time, because it felt the most open on my bottom and the least painful. I remember this period as very inward, keeping my eyes closed and focusing on a small dark place, even between contractions. I held the Mister's hand tightly, and the nurse and my mom kept putting cool cloths on my neck and forehead.

At several points during the night, I threw up. Unpleasant, to say the least, and I hadn't really known that it would be part of labor. Early in the evening I had requested a Zantac, worried that heartburn would bother me (hah!). I promptly threw it up, just as the nurse gently warned me I might. At one point, deep in labor, I said into a quiet room, "I'm going to throw up," and all four people jumped up and offered me various receptacles in which to vomit. It would have been comical if I had been in the mood to laugh...

Around 2 am, I thought the pain scale number was at about a 7: I was still sure it would get worse, much worse. Only a few contractions had really gotten the best of me, in that I would tense up and try to curl away from the pain instead of loosening and leaning into it. I also still expected the pain to rise up and consume my whole belly, because the contractions continued to be low and underneath. Still thinking that I had a long, long way to go.

(To be continued...)

14 February 2012

Sweet hearts

Happy Valentine's Day to all my beloveds!

Gabriel and I dressed in our red sweaters this morning, and he was especially cuddly as if he knew that today is a day for celebrating those we love. He even said "baby brother" for the first time (instead of just "baby"), patting my belly solemnly. He also asked for "cho-tate" for breakfast, but that in itself is not unusual because he often asks for chocolate lately, even though he hardly ever gets it, and certainly not for breakfast!

I'm happy that Gabriel wasn't born exactly ON Valentine's day (he only missed it by a few hours), but it is kind of nice that he came into our family at this time of year, when the cold doldrums of February are relieved by the bright red hearts of the holiday, when we have a particular opportunity to tell the ones we love just how much we love them.

Last year, the Mister and I celebrated Valentine's Day as much as we celebrated a year of being parents, a year of making it through the sleepless, exhausting, exhilarating experience of a baby's first year on earth. My parents were in town, and they shooed us out the door, even though we were hardly sure we could stay awake for a long meal. This year, since we don't have a babysitter, we'll all three go out for an early, quick, decidedly not romantic dinner, but that sounds pretty nice to me: hanging out with the two (now three!) boys I love most in the world.

13 February 2012

Or, why we love the Ergo

We are back in cold, but not quite as cold as it was when we left, Belgium. A brief thawing out in sunny Catalonia did me good, and having grandmother/auntie/cousins to entertain Gabriel did my sore neck and sore...whatever muscles are at the base of my belly...good. It's actually kind of amusing to hear our family and friends there complain about the cold, and solemnly admonish us to put on winter hats and scarves when we go out, because it's so cold "your fingers tingle."

The flight today presented different challenges than the flight going to Barcelona. It wasn't full, hallelujah, so Gabriel got his own seat. I'm actually really relieved this is his last trip as a "lap infant"--such a misnomer, and has been a misnomer for close to a year now. But since it was a mid-day trip, it fell right during Gabriel's nap, and of course he didn't fall asleep, despite our greatest encouragements, until the final descent into Brussels. Which left us with too many carry-ons (as always, we're transferring a large assortment of objects, such as stored baby clothes, G's birthday presents, inherited items, and books we need here, from one city to the other), a dead-weight sleeping two-year-old, bulky coats, and oh, a pregnant belly to haul through the long hallways of Brussels airport.

For here's something that makes me fume just about every trip we make: in European airports, they no longer bring up the stroller to the airplane after deplaning, leaving bedraggled families everywhere wondering how on earth to corral toddlers or lug heavy babies or sleeping children through large airports to get to the baggage claim. Even with modest amounts of carry on luggage, this presents a serious challenge, and it is beyond me how airport planners can allow the most urgent items--the strollers--to appear LAST of all, long after the last suitcase has rolled through and the rest of the passengers are merrily on their way. This is the moment when travel-weary children are at the end of their tether, when parents are exhausted and just want to get home, when the last thing you want to do is stand and wait without a way to contain or carry a child. Over and over again, I've watched parents having to make sure kids don't crawl on the baggage carousel, or escape in the crowds, or get in the way of large rolling objects and their human carriers. And of course, I've been that parent.

Thank goodness for the Ergo baby carrier: we always wonder--especially now that we don't use it much anymore--if we really need to bring it and we are always SO glad we brought it. I carried sleeping Gabriel on my back in the Ergo, plus assorted winter coats and Gabriel's mini-backpack, and the Mister carried two (pretty loaded) backpacks plus our two rolling suitcases plus a heavy bag with four landscape paintings in it (originals painted by his grandmother, which have always hung in her apartment and which will now hang in our house here). Needless to say, we went very slowly, taking breaks every once in a while.

This time, the one other family on our flight with kids (three! a tiny baby and two tots) were waiting, too, when we finally got to the baggage claim, and the father had gone off to find out where the strollers were. Of course they appeared while he was gone, and the mother asked the Mister to pull her strollers (plural!) and car seats off the baggage claim. But he couldn't open them (why does every stroller have a unique, non-obvious trick for opening?) and she couldn't explain how to open them due to a language barrier, and her arms were full with the sleeping infant, while the two older kids ran around in circles. So I offered to hold the baby (I was sitting down, with Gabriel still on my back) while they figured out the strollers and even though my back and belly ached I cooed at the baby and was glad I was not in her shoes, while simultaneously worrying that someday I could be.

Anyway, a short train ride (free first class for pregnant ladies!) and a fifteen-minute walk in the misty cold of Leuven later, we were home. With the stroller, everything was so much easier, although Gabriel whimpered the whole way, having woken up from his nap into the unpleasantly cold air, and the Mister still carried most of the luggage weight, with our ridiculously torn-up, still under construction, muddy, rubbly street being sort of the last straw.

The week ahead will be busy, but busy in happy ways: tomorrow is Valentine's day, of course, and M. and I had planned to meet for lunch in Brussels until I realized that I wouldn't make it back for my first (second, really, since I missed today's) Dutch class. So we'll probably go out for a not-terribly-romantic dinner with Gabriel in tow tomorrow night. Then Wednesday is Gabriel's actual birthday, and he already caught a glimpse of the presents that I wrapped for him before we left ("Open! Open!" he said until I distracted him with a short-lived valentine-making project involving doilies and felt shapes). I still have to figure out a snack for him to bring to school and something special for dessert that night.

Friday--or actually Saturday, but for the schools Friday--is Carnival, which in Europe means dressing up in costumes. Gabriel's got a cute hand-me-down ladybug costume made by M's mom and worn by his cousins. Then, Saturday, we're throwing a bash for Gabriel's birthday, to which we invited basically all the families we know who have kids. It's not necessarily a ton of people, but it's the most we've ever had over, and there will be soup and sandwiches and I plan to make an owl cake and some simple goody bags for the kid attendees, so there's (fun) work to be done. So! A week of celebrations, of all sizes and shapes. But mostly all about a charming two-year-old who we are so, so proud of, even when he's a heavy, sleeping lug needing to be carried through a very long airport.

12 February 2012

Boy times two

The big news, the holding-my-breath news, is here: it's a boy! Another boy, a baby brother, a boy cousin to add to the passel, another scrumptious munchkin.

I was terribly worried before the ultrasound (which happened on Wednesday) that I would be disappointed if it were a boy, that I would be upset that we don't have the girl we wanted to add to our family. But on seeing him, all those worries went out the window, and in fact I felt sure that I had secretly known all along. Buying girl baby clothes, the dream of a pigtailed daughter--the last few weeks of not-knowing gave me time to indulge in those impulses and then set them aside. 

Because he's HIM! He's been a boy this whole time, of course, so it seems silly to wish for the girl he isn't. We got to see his feet, all tucked up by his head, his little hand hanging on to the umbilical cord, and his face--a shadowy glimpse of his perfect innocent face. He's a robust baby, measuring bigger than we thought, with plenty of room in the amniotic sac for growing even bigger. 

Indeed, what struck me this time was just how cool it is to get this glimpse inside not only my body, but inside my boy's body. This (and our 30-week ultrasound) will be our only glimpse of his cerebellum, his ventricled pumping heart, his femur and aorta, his liver and bladder (happily full of fluid). The last time we saw Gabriel's insides was when he was in utero, and (barring sickness or injury, Lord willing) we won't have occasion to see them again. So this is a very special view into the miracle of a whole body growing out of nothing, but also the simple miracle of everyone's body--the intricate dance of organs and neurons, bones and skin. 

The more I think about it, the more I'm excited about Gabriel having a brother, partners in crime. It's comforting to know that we've at least got two years of experience raising a boy under our belts, and the thrifty part of me is happy that Gabriel's adorable stripey clothes will be put to good use again. 

Mostly, now that we know, it will be fun to start dreaming of who he will be (and debating over his name--boy names are tough). Will he be a dark curly-haired copy of his father? Or will he be blonde and blue-eyed like his big brother? Will he be a daredevil and a spitfire or will he be a cautious fellow like his brother (and his parents)? Will he be a good sleeper, quite unlike his brother? (Oh Lord, please let him be a sleeper...)

11 February 2012

Baby (and not such a baby) on board

We flew from Brussels to Barcelona on Thursday evening, and the flight was simultaneously wonderful and horrible. Horrible, because the heat was cranked up and I was sweltering the entire time, even more because of my built-in incubator, I'm sure. M. put his hand on my belly at one point to feel the baby move and I couldn't even stand that iota of extra warmth. Gabriel was sitting mostly on his lap, but also stretched out onto mine, and my feet swelled up to the point where I laboriously took off my boots and wasn't sure whether I would ever get them back on. The seats seemed impossibly close together, my kneecaps smashed against the row in front of us, and I couldn't manage to reach anything on the floor (and of course Gabriel regularly dropped his crayons). I got a violently painful knot in my shoulder that I couldn't shake out, and I had to pee but couldn't fathom getting out of my seat, unbuckling the kid (who would refuse to be buckled again), and crawling back over the seemingly insurmountable distance of three airplane seats with no leg room.

The flight was only two hours but it felt like ten.

However! There is the wonderful part I mentioned. The schedule was changed from an afternoon flight to an 8:30pm flight, which meant checking in at around Gabriel's bedtime, landing at 10:30, and arriving at my in-laws' house at nearly midnight. But Gabriel surpassed all expectations, sitting quietly during the whole flight and coloring or reading. For the first time ever, we didn't bring a diaper bag, just a little backpack for him to carry himself, and he wore it onto the plane and off like a little champ. (In fact, the only time he did cry was when we made him take the backpack off after boarding.) When we got off the plane, we had to climb down the stairs to a waiting bus, and since the Mister had the suitcases, I was in charge of Gabriel. Instead of trying to carry him, I had him walk down himself, holding my hand, and even with the loud roar of the plane engines, the cold and semi-dark and rushing wind, he bravely marched down those stairs. I could tell he was a little scared, but he didn't stop or beg to be carried, and I was SO proud of him. We hopped onto the bus and he sat there, pleased as punch, and walked all the way through the airport with his little backpack, giddily running into the arms of his grandfather like something out of a movie. He didn't even fall asleep during the car ride home, and stayed awake to greet his grandmother with equal joy, then playing delightedly with the toys that are here.

In sum, Gabriel made the trip twenty times more tolerable. (Not sure where that puts the math...)

(It makes me wonder, as does much of his great behavior lately--solidly sleeping through the night without bedtime protest, eating well, understanding our explanations and responding to them, and so forth--how crazy we are to introduce infant chaos back into our lives just when things are getting so good!)

09 February 2012

Me, in an alphabet

Here's a mid-February meme just to keep me writing blog posts...I'm on a roll, lately, and I really do want to keep up! I've also managed to write in my 5-year journal every day of the year so far, which I'm pretty proud of. However, we're flying to Barcelona this evening, and we're flying light: first time with no diaper bag, only a couple of changes of clothes, one computer (the Air), and so forth. Which means I'm not bringing the journal, which is a kind of heavy book full of mostly empty pages. Should I try to write the weekend down after the fact, or should I write on a different piece of paper and then transfer to the journal? Not sure. Anyway, here's an alphabet meme:

Age: 33. I will be 34 by the time the baby is born, which isn't a bad time to have a baby. Although sometimes I wish I were 24 and that much more energetic.

Bed size: European bed sizes, frustratingly, do not exactly match American bed sizes. We have a 160-cm-wide bed, which is just slightly too big for most of our American queen-sized sheets. Terribly annoying. I've taken to putting flat sheets on the bottom instead of fitted sheets, since we use a duvet and duvet cover instead of top sheets anyway. (Fortunately, those seem to be the same size.) Pillow sizes are yet another mismatch, so our pillows are often wedged into American pillowcases that don't quite fit them.

Chore you hate: Mopping. But I don't mind vacuuming or sweeping. So I sweep and M. mops: it's a good system. I also dislike washing dishes, but mostly because it hurts the eczema on my hands. So I usually cook, M. usually washes up, and one or the other of us puts dishes away out of the dishwasher. Similarly, I rather like doing laundry, but I never ever iron, so M. is the "iron man" of the family if he wants wrinkle-free shirts.

Dogs: We aren't exactly pet people. M's allergic, and neither of us can quite see how they're worth the expense and effort. The only time I wish I had a dog is when I am in a park watching dogs frolic with their owners.

Essential to start your day: Food, and plenty of it. Usually a banana, a big bowl of cereal, one or two slices of toast with butter and honey or jam, and sometimes orange juice or tea. The other day I only ate a banana and toast and I about passed out by lunchtime.

Favorite color: Recently, my bank in Indiana decided to redo their security system, so I had to establish new passwords (the annoying kind, with sixteen requirements) and new security questions. But the security questions were all impossible! Like, What is your favorite restaurant? What is your favorite food? Who is your favorite person? What are we, five years old? On any given day, the answers to the food questions might change, and even the favorite person might not be obvious. M? Gabriel? Anyway, favorite color was also on there, and although my favorite has historically been blue, any shade, my wardrobe consists of an awful lot of purple, a good share of gray, and lots of green. So I didn't choose that question, either.

Gold or silver: M. is definitely a silver kind of guy, so all the jewelry he's bought me over the years is silver or white gold, and my wedding and engagement rings are white gold. But I hold a soft spot in my heart for gold, too, so I have a few special items here and there. The necklace that I received from M's family that had belonged to iaia is gold, and I've been wearing it a lot recently. I particularly like the combination of gold with pearls.

Height: 5'11'' (and a half). I always wanted to be six feet tall, like my aunts, but never quite got there. Still, I love being tall, even though I'm taller than the Mister, and even though I was always taller than ALL the boys until about the 7th grade.

Instruments you play: The piano, badly: I took lessons for years, even in college, but was never serious enough about it. I wish I could sit down and play anything, but I'd say I never really got beyond "advanced intermediate." I do love playing the piano, though, and am pretty good at sight-reading pieces within my reach, or hymns and simple songs. I really long to have a piano again (for the original Brussels piano saga, see here), and we will want one for sure in the future so Gabriel can learn. Oh, I also play the organ a little bit after taking lessons for a few semesters in college, and of course, I sing.

Job title: Scholar, writer, translator, editor, poet, and hoping for a more official title someday. And always: mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend.

Kids: I'm a fan, generally speaking. We have two, our Gabriel and our yet-unnamed baby, a.k.a. Junebug.

Live: In Belgium, in a beautiful university town, in a little row house with a sweet little walled-in backyard.

Mother's name: Rhonda. I think it's a really nice name, but it's definitely a bit old-fashioned now, right? No one really names their kids Rhonda any more... I've always liked having the same initials as my mom. She also goes by Grandma a lot these days.

Nicknames: Rob. Really just family and a few close friends use that one. Some of the guys in high school used to call me Roe-bine, but it's a good thing that one died an early death.

Overnight hospital stays: Just the one, when Gabriel was born. I kind of liked it, and kind of didn't (mostly the part about people coming into the room all the time).

Pet peeves: Rattly wrappers, even my own, in an otherwise quiet environment. Price or information stickers on a brand-new item that won't come off and leave a gunky, sticky smear.

Quote from a movie: I'm not very much of a movie-quote person, but I can still throw quite a few Princess Bride lines at you. I recently watched it again (25 year anniversary!) and was surprised at how vividly I remembered it all. It was the first movie I saw in the theater, and my brother and I would run around the house yelling stuff about Inigo Montoya and inconceivable and dropping your sword and so forth.

Right or left handed: Righty.

Siblings: Four awesome younger siblings. They all lived in the Boston area, conveniently enough for us, until one moved away to Texas of all places! The three oldest have married equally awesome people, and the two oldest have produced even more awesome kids. And my in-laws on the Spanish side are fantastic too. Lucky, lucky me.

Underwear: Um, in favor of? I'll usually go for a hipster style. No, not that kind of hipster. Recently all of my underwear is getting too small, leaving red welts in my hips, and I'm going to have to switch over to my pregnancy and postpartum stash. Ugh.

Vegetable you hate: I can't think of one. Even veggies that aren't my personal favorites can be delicious when well prepared.

What makes you run late: Oh, everything. I always think I'll just sneak in one more task or wait just a few more minutes, because I dislike the idea of being early, but then I'm perpetually five to fifteen minutes late. Now that I have a child I have a built-in excuse for the lateness, but it's really not his fault (or at least it hasn't been since he was a little infant, when it really does seem a mountainous ordeal just to get out the door).

X-rays you've had: I suppose they would equal the number of broken or sprained bones I've had. There was the broken collar bone when I was about 2 (my mom says I charmed everyone by explaining that "I broke my clavicle"), the cracked wrist when I fell from a jungle gym in elementary school, and then mercifully nothing until the x-ray I got last winter when I slipped on the ice and sprained my wrist. Oh, I guess there are the usual dentist x-rays, too.

Yummy food that you make: Lots! I have a pretty decent repertoire of things I can make without a recipe and with whatever vegetables or grains I happen to have on hand: curries, stir-fries, burritos, pasta, and so forth. I am very proud of my vegetarian BLT (butternut, lettuce, and tomato): Slice butternut rounds and sprinkle them with some cumin, chili powder and salt. Fry them up until soft. Pile on toast with lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayonnaise (made my mixing mayo with some chopped up chipotle and adobe sauce). YUM. Even the Mister doesn't miss the bacon.

Zoo animal: Zoos always leave me feeling mixed emotions, happy to have seen such amazing animals and sad that they're cooped up in a zoo. The last time we went was to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, and we were pretty taken with the pandas and that big chimpanzee who was sitting up against the glass.

06 February 2012

Cultural etiquette

We attended a kids' birthday party on Saturday, and we brought a gift, but nothing else. Turns out that other guests brought food as well. Which leaves me wondering if I was expected to bring food. In general here, I've been surprised at the lavish bearing of gifts and food when invited to someone's home: when we had two families, colleagues of the Mister, over for a casual lunch, they each brought a (substantial) gift for Gabriel (when it was nowhere near his birthday or Christmas), plus chocolates, wine, a gorgeous bouquet, and homemade cake between the two families. It was lovely, of course, but to me that seems a little...excessive? When we went to their respective homes, we brought gifts for their children and something homemade, plus chocolates, but it was mostly because I felt we needed to reciprocate their generosity. And it leaves me wondering what the "usual" or expected thing is. In the US, we usually ask what food we can contribute to the meal, or just bring a bottle of wine, and in Spain, we almost always bring a bottle of wine or a dessert or something (totally acceptable if it's purchased, because bakeries are so good) and that's what our friends usually bring to our house, too.  It feels a little more casual, and can be adjusted in complexity to the formality of the event. But the multiple, deluxe offerings for a simple gathering of friends? Also, the gift for the child(ren) of the family is also new to me, and I don't know if it's always expected? Or just the first time you visit? I'm glad, at least, that we had these folks over before they had us over, so that we could follow suit. These sorts of expectations are usually unspoken (and of course everyone is totally nice, so I'm sure they wouldn't be shocked or upset if, say, we hadn't brought a gift for the kids) but still, they exist, and one wants to do the correct thing. I'm on unsure footing, I guess is what I'm getting at, and I don't like it, because I want to "quedar bé" as they say in Catalan, "turn out well," or make a good impression.

Another little etiquette thing that I find varies from the US to Europe is the culture of thank-you cards and Christmas cards. In the US, both are pretty de rigueur, and even if they don't get written, there is usually the aspiration to write them. (I'm very bad about thank-you notes, but have been trying to send out Christmas cards the last few years.) In Europe, I don't think we've ever once received a handwritten thank-you note, and can count on one hand the Christmas cards we've received from non-political or non-business entities. Certainly, none of our peers in our friends group send them out, short of an email greeting with a picture of their children. So I haven't sent Christmas cards to friends/family in Spain, and nor did I write official thank-you notes for, say, baby gifts that were given in Spain when Gabriel was born (although, of course, we thanked the giver informally, and we always thank friends for meals via email and so forth). But I still wonder if I should have, because that's the ingrained American response! And I sometimes wonder if I'm wrong and am committing a huge faux pas without knowing it? And now, living in Belgium, I am once again in the dark. Does one write thank-you notes here? We received a thank-you note for a birthday gift after a party we attended a few weeks ago, but that was from an American, so not necessarily an indication of the culture here. I guess I would need to give a gift to someone from here before receiving one in order to find out, but seeing that Gabriel's birthday party is in a few weeks, it's likely that he'll receive some presents first. The best bet, I suppose, is to err on the side of politeness and send good, old-fashioned handwritten thank-you notes!

04 February 2012

Getting around

After two solid weeks of miserable rain, I commented to a friend that I much prefer those very cold sunny days, or cold and snow, to the slog of winter rain. We had a day of relative warmth and sun as a lovely respite, and then the temperatures plummeted and I've gotten my wish and then some: at least a week so far of temperatures in the teens with crystal clear skies, and now a true snowfall! (Gabriel is very excited, as this is his first real experience of fluffy snow--seeing as we didn't have a white Christmas in Boston this year.) But the experience of extremely cold temperature is actually a little more than I bargained for. In Vermont or Indiana, when it got this cold, we would hop from a warm house to a soon-heated car to get to our destination, whereas here getting to and from places requires a bit of a walk that has me (and poor Gabriel!) out in the frigid air for upwards of a half hour at a time--bringing him to daycare puts me outside for about 50 minutes. We bundle up as best we can but he still cries when the sharp wind buffets his little rosy cheeks. I've taken to putting the rain cover on the stroller, which he hates but actually keeps him quite a lot more comfortable, since it blocks the wind and creates a little cocoon of warm(er) air.

Anyway. I've been considering and coveting alternative modes of transportation now that it's this cold. Most of my friends here (and most of the population) ride bikes, and I'm longing for one of those sturdy European cruisers with a little kiddy seat on the back. We'd zip to daycare in ten minutes! But the Mister and our families are a bit skeptical of that plan, especially since I'm 22 weeks pregnant, and only getting bigger. Plus, a bike means a colder, even if shorter, commute, and the snow days would probably require walking anyway. When it rains, bike riders just grin and bear it, and wear waterproof coats, but it still doesn't sound very nice, especially for the little passenger. Although: I get soaked anyway, when it rains, because it's pretty impossible to steer a heavy stroller around bumpy cobblestone streets, narrow sidewalks, and parked-bike hazards while carrying an umbrella. Plus, everything is really designed for bikes. Pedestrians definitely don't have right-of-way, given that there are many places where zebra crossings dead end into bike lanes, and you simply have to be very aware of whizzing bikes at all times. There are bike lanes literally everywhere, as well-organized as the roads themselves. I feel like we might even be safer on a bike (especially wearing helmets, which we would, even though most people here, even kids! don't).

I have great memories of the times in my life when I've been a bike commuter. When I lived in Salzburg, I rode one of the free Seminar bikes to get downtown, and I loved the freedom it gave me to zip around easily. In Oxford, I sometimes rode a bike to get from our student house to the center, although probably more often took the bus. In Barcelona, I was for a brief time a frequent user of Bicing, the bike transport system, which worked well even though Barcelona's roads aren't quite as well prepared for bicycles. In Bloomington, my first year there, I bought a bike at police auction that turned out to be a complete dud, but I did drive it to campus for a while. I'm not the most confident biker ever, but I have enough experience to be comfortable, and here I'd just be one of the crowds, and riding mostly on dedicated paths rather than the street.

And then there's the car option. We don't have a car, and we love it: we love walking everywhere, taking buses and trains, and we love that Europe makes it possible to live car-free. We love not having car payments, or the expense of gas and maintenance. But, we've always sort of imagined that we'd eventually buy one, especially once our critical mass of children makes it more complicated to get around. I'm not sure when that tipping point will happen, but I have to admit that on cold days like these the idea of getting into a quickly-heated car is awfully appealing. The schlepping is already sometimes uncomfortable with one child, and I can't quite imagine what it will be like with two. I have much more to say on this subject (the car seat dilemma, especially: not lugging one on trips means traveling more lightly but it means we can't take taxis, which means dragging suitcases around on our own, and while I handle the stroller that leaves the Mister with the bags...). Then again, I don't relish the thought of driving around narrow-laned Europe, and there's the whole driver's license issue, which merits its own blog post. (Short version: I was supposed to be able to trade in my American license for a Belgian one, but annoying and unnecessary red tape has put that notion to the test.) So. I go in circles, I think about the various kinds of wheels we may have someday, and meanwhile, I walk.