Archives for category: motherhood

So, I am in a movie. It’s called _American Teacher_.

Four years ago, before my second year of teaching, I went to SF for an 826 conference. There I met (briefly and inconsequentially, I thought) Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari, the founders of 826. The conference was good and obviously affected me, since I helped create MDPL after that. But I thought my connection to those two was the fleeting kind.

Later that summer, Ninive connected me with Vanessa Roth, who contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to do a video diary of my first weeks of school. Vanessa was going to direct a film to help with the book Ninive and Eggers co-authored, _Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and the Small Salaries of America’s Teachers_. They wanted to do a documentary using footage of real teachers, prepping and working and spending their own money on teaching. I thought that it was a cool idea, so for three weeks I borrowed my parents’ video camera and kept a video diary of what was probably my most difficult weeks of teaching, ever. I sent the footage to them that year, and never really heard back from them about it. I was on the email list for their project (The Teacher Salary Project) but thought they’d decided against using my footage, which was fine with me.

Fast-forward, literally, three years. I’ve just come home from the hospital with Elinor. She is asleep and I finally decide to check my email. Holy shit! There is an email from Dave Eggers. Not only did they decide to use my footage, but they are finishing the editing of their film and want to provide follow-up information about my life and my footage. I respond. I am emailing Dave Eggers!

I had really just let the whole thing drop in my mind; it felt surreal to have it be a reality again. But then, as Elinor slept those first weeks, I was able to view the rough cuts of the film and see myself in it. It was so long ago and was painful to watch my younger self go through that. I play a minor role in the final film; a film crew followed four different teachers around to make the bulk of the film. But I am there, and I am mentioned in a review. If you watch the trailer, I am in it, grading papers at the foot of my old meoda-setla (and yes, that’s me talking about how it’s “never enough” — it’s at 1:28, in case you get bored). I still haven’t seen the final version. I hope they give me a copy.

Then, last week Ninive emailed me and the other teachers featured in the film. NBC is sponsoring an Education Town Hall and a premiere of the film September 25, and are willing to fly us out there and foot our hotel bills. How amazing! What an opportunity!

But what to do about Elinor? What to do about the little girl who still refuses to take a bottle? What to do about the mom who wants to be with her all the time, but simultaneously does not want to let go of her own dreams, as well?

First option: take Elinor. But I will need a helper. NBC cannot pay for that helper’s ticket, though the hotel room won’t cost any more. Chad has just started his new job and could come if we kept the schedule tight, but tickets this late in the game are pretty high. And the cost will only go up when we get there — finding transportation with car seats, getting her stuff out there, coming back to the hotel to nurse her. And how will she react to such a short flight and weird experience? I can’t take her to the events, so Chad would just be hanging out with the crying baby for a day in NYC. Which might be OK.

Final thought about this option: expensive and stressful for all involved.

Second option: Go without her. She still doesn’t take a bottle, I’ve never been apart for her more than six hours, and it’s hard to imagine doing this trip without her. It’s hard to imagine how Chad or anyone brave enough to help him will survive this bottle-refusing child, too. It’s hard to imagine me, running back to the hotel to pump. The pain!

Final thought about this option: pragmatic for me, guilt-ridden for me, difficult for Elinor’s caretakers, difficult for Elinor.

Third option: Don’t go. I am a mom now and that entails some sacrifices. I’m sure I will be my socially awkward self there, and even if Chad could go, I don’t have plus-one rights at these events, so he’s be on his own in NYC and I’d be on my own all over the place.

Final thought about this option: missing an opportunity, full of self-sacrifice, easier for Elinor and caretakers.

Here’s the deal, though. If I don’t go, I think I will probably regret it. And kids all over the world spend hours and hours apart from their parents, every day, and I’ve just been a lucky one. So if I fly out there Saturday and return late Sunday night or Monday morning, I will only be gone a total of 36-48 hours. My baby will be fine, right? My husband will be alive, right? *I* will be OK, right?

Chad says it is an adventure, and though mothering is an adventure in and of itself, he thinks I need to nurture me, as well. And when else am I going to get a free ticket and hotel room in NYC, plus going to cool events about a subject which makes me passionate? Did I mention that Mirah, that crazy folksy chick on all my mixes, did some music for the film? Did I mention that???

I am having a hard time making this decision, and time is running out due to the airline ticket situation …. I think I’ve decided to go, but need reassurance that it is OK to go. Aieee. Is it OK to go? Will 48 hours of misery for Elinor and her caretakers make 48 hours of guilt but amazing opportunities for me final even out into a good decision? I need to reassure myself. Thoughts?

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Since Elinor’s birth, I’ve been reading like a maniac, which I love. I read while I nurse, mostly, which is often. When Elinor is finicky and doesn’t want to nurse, I sometimes miss my reading time. But that’s OK.

BUT I just finished a book and it has me all riled up: _Born to Love_ by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. My Goodreads.com review:

“I have a bias toward things that deal with empathy — it’s a very Christian (and generally religious) concept, and I stand by it. This book was great b/c it approaches empathy from a scientific perspective, using biological, sociological, economic, medical, and psychological studies to state that 1) empathy is biologically rooted in our bodies through our stress response (or the mediation of that response) and 2) that empathy must be triggered by our social relationships, most often in early childhood. There is much more to this book, but it is a quick, easy read and it kept making me harangue Chad about all of the interesting, great, and terrifying facts and theories that it brought up. Especially useful for a young parent like myself, but also for anyone who gives a damn. I would compare this to _Outliers_ by Malcolm Gladwell, though it was much more research- and experience-based (Perry is a renowned child psychologist). Highly recommended and it makes me want to work to change the world for better. Huzzah!”

Anyway, I was indeed haranguing Chad about the book, and three things really got to me. I will go in order from least important to me at this time, to most important.

1) Part of the reason I love our neighborhood is because it really is in a zone where a bunch of different classes could interact. We are solidly middle class, but down the block are some skeezy apartments and down the other way are some bona fide mansions. [NB – skeezy is a made-up word for my lower-income neighbors, while bona fide is a fancy foreign word — ohhh, language!] _Born for Love_ advocates more social interaction in our lives, period, as that triggers and allows for empathy. But the authors also stress more social interactions with people not “like” us, be that due to race, economics, political leanings, etc. They advocate this because, though we do biologically benefit from our tendency towards being empathic, we also rely upon our dear old “us versus them” tendency, as well. The more we interact with others who seem to be “them,” the less they will seem like “them” and the more they will seem like “us.” I’ve seen the need for this in the kids I teach, and I see it in my own life. I wish that there were more options for the folks in our neighborhood to interact more.

1b) The polarization of our political scene stems from this, as well. I hang out with more Republicans than most of my fellow Liberal friends, just because of my family ties, but the more we did associate with people from the other party, the less we might be at each other’s throats, which seems to be very important for this country right now …..

Which leads me to:

2) I went to grad school for teaching because of the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) schools, which are charter schools (run by small groups for a purpose, run with public funds, accountable to their own charter, but not to much else). All through grad school I advocated for Choice in schools, which would mean that students have the ability to choose from more schools based upon specific ideas, like ELOB, or Math & Science, or the Arts, instead of just attending their neighborhood school. I thought this was a good idea since people seem to benefit from choice in their lives and control.

But then I taught in a public school, which also happened to be one of the worst public schools in our state. And now Choice to me is scary. Not only does it allow us to self-select into our own safe little groups, but it takes away chances for us to interact with those unlike us. This could easily lead to less empathy, according to Bruce and Szalavitz. And I agree with them. My school’s neighborhood was being gentrified and is probably at least 40% white, but our school, the local neighborhood school, is 95% minority. All of the white families have “choiced” their kids out of the local neighborhood school, which is the modern-day, politically correct equivalent of white flight, in my mind. Have it both ways — live in the city, but benefit from upper-middle-class education since you have the time, resources, and know-how to work the system and get your kid out of there, while the parents who lack the know-how, the transportation to get their kids to other schools, or the ability to even care about their kids’ education, send them to our school, which becomes, quite thoroughly, segregated by class, which so often correlates to race. Choice is segregating our schools by necessity and correlation. No wonder kids are lacking empathy.

I could (and should) say much more about this. Someday. It is complicated greatly in my own life by our own neighborhood, because Choice is an option here and our local elementary school is, truly, the worst elementary school in our district b/c parents like me choice their kids out of it. And Chad’s former boss was eloquent: “I don’t vote with my kids.” I do want to ensure Elinor has a great education. But I also want her to be empathic and exposed to different lives, and I worry about losing that if I choice her outta here. I am torn. And she is only five months old!

Which leads me to:

3) Chad began work at the high-falutin’ law firm this past week, and I was torn apart about it. He’s already working his ass off for me and Elinor, which allows me to stay home with her. I have been incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and staying home with Elinor is not all creamcakes and lollipops — it IS work. But it is work that I am privileged to enjoy. But, needless to say, I was feeling guilty about being able to stay home with her. Most of my friends cannot afford to do so, and I worry whether it make me less committed to my career and the rest of the world to do so. Since I worry so rarely about anything …..

This book actually made me more comfortable with the choice to stay home with Elinor, especially this first year. Empathy is triggered, according to the authors and their impressively noted studies, by consistent attachment to a primary caregiver, be that person a mom, dad, grandparent, or daycare provider, especially during the first year of life. But all babies benefit from as much individual attention as they can get, as their stress responses will be appropriately managed and empathy developed with that consistency and reassurance. I really, really wish I lived in Iceland, where all parents receive NINE MONTHS of parental leave, at 80% of their salaries, to be split however they wish between parents. (Chad: “You really are becoming a little socialist, aren’t you?” And YES — care for new mothers and babies in our capitalist society SUCKS. My school would not be in its current straits if we provided for those kids from the start.) But I live here, where the reality is that either Chad works so I can stay home with her, or we search for day care and spend most of my salary on it. I am really, really glad that I get to stay home with her, and hopefully I don’t stress her out too much.

Whew. I highly recommend this book. I love it when books get me all riled up, staying up late into the night typing up rants on my blog.

Ah, the birth story. It is time.

This is going to come in little, weird chunks, as I should have been writing all last year. Oh well. I regret that. I’ll throw it on the pile of regrets that lives behind my conscious mind, in the woodshed back there with something nasty from _Cold Comfort Farm_.

To start: the pregnancy. I had been terrified that it would be very difficult for us to have a baby, since I was 30 (aieee!) and since my own mother was a little nervous for me. Chad and I agonized about the decision as to when we should even start trying to have a baby. Well, I agonized and Chad looked at me askance and offered his opinions. We put off trying to have a baby for awhile longer than we had first anticipated, partially because of Chad’s job and partially because of mine. But then, just before our second anniversary, the time seemed right. We had gone on a big backpacking trip in the San Juans (my last desire before becoming a mom was to backpack with my husband again)– which became a Tour de Catorce and a timeshare in Pagosa — and we let the birth control lapse. In the meantime, life continued as usual. I ran a summer camp. I climbed Mount Evans with Mark. I attended a training for school. The only different thing was that I didn’t drink a thing, which wasn’t as difficult as I expected.

Within weeks I missed my period, and I knew something was different. I took a test. Yep. I took another test, since they seemed tricky. Yep. That night, I told Chad quietly, with a big smile. We both smiled, and things were calm — except I wasn’t. What if it was wrong? Per my doubting self, the next day I went to my mom’s house and took one last test.

Well, that said it all.

The normal pregnancy things began to occur. Smells were so different, so much more potent. As much as I had hated coffee before, the smell never bothered me so much. It actually reminded me of growing up and the mornings. But now it left me nauseated. I was tired and actually went to bed at a reasonable hour.

I was still worried about miscarriage, so Chad and I decided not to tell anyone¬† — beside our immediate families — until the first trimester was over. Our families were ecstatic, especially since my sister had announced her pregnancy just a few weeks before. Cousins! Just weeks apart! We were a little worried that Chad’s parents might spill the beans, since they were so excited and this was their first grandchild (my side was used to this by now, since it was the third), but they were good as gold.

In the meantime, I was amazed that a little being was growing inside of me, so very very tiny and so very, very full of potential. Just thinking back to that time makes me smell and feel the almost-constant nausea, but it was all overshadowed by the easily-missed reality of producing a new life. Wow. Wow. Wow. Women always talk about how life-changing it is, but it truly is something that is hard to share unless you’ve experienced it.

Still so cool to me: I was pregnant while I climbed Mount Evans with Mark, though I didn’t know it. My baby had been up a 14er already! We can debate the nuances of this fact as much as we want, but I still think it’s awesome.

I think that Elinor may be weaning herself from her Woombie. We’ve swaddled her since she was born, and she is the Houdini of swaddled kids; sometimes I have to laugh when I think I’ve achieved an excellent, tight, perfect burrito-style swaddle, only to see her little hand pop straight up out of it. She usually gives me a little grin as she does that, and I untuck her and try to tuck her in again as I smile indulgently at her.

Anyway, Liz Kellermeyer mentioned the Woombie to us, which is essentially a stretchy straitjacket that makes the kid look like a peanut. It zips up but has no legs or arms, so imitates the womb’s atmosphere, which is supposed to be the excellent thing about swaddling to begin with. The Woombie was magic. Suddenly she was sleeping five or seven hour stretches, whereas she had always woken herself up around three or four hours before with her madly flailing hands. We love the Woombie. She looks like a glowworm, or a weird vegetable, or a Confucian official as she crosses her arms over her heart. See her when we first got it, around two months of age:

But the last three nights her usually calm bedtime routine (drifting off while nursing, wrapped up tight in her Woombie) has NOT worked. I was up until one with her Monday night, moving around the house to find cooler spots (it was HOT) and to let Chad sleep as she grunted and cried and grumbled, instead of drifting off placidly like she has for the last two months. I finally got her to sleep just by swaddling her in a swaddle blanket, which she squirmed out of around 3:30 in the morning. Tuesday night she was just AWAKE, wide-eyed and smiley, then wide-eyed and rubbing those wide red eyes. I finally dressed her in pajamas and she fell asleep in the dark without her Woombie — and slept thirteen hours, straight. Tonight I didn’t even try the Woombie — I just pajamed her and we nursed, and she fell asleep with the lights on, her busy little hands gently twitching.

When I placed her in her cradle, she thrashed a bit but didn’t open her eyes. I placed my hand on her chest and shushed her, as mommas do, and I could feel her tiny heart beating as she calmed down.

Suddenly I could see that tiny little heart inside her, and I could hear it the way I heard it at the doctor’s office, just eight weeks into the pregnancy. They make you wait eight weeks to see the doctor, and I was desperate for more proof of the little thing inside me than a urine test. Chad couldn’t come, but my mom did, and as the midwife covered my belly with the cold jelly, I was terrified. She moved the doppler around for a minute or so, telling me that sometimes it’s difficult to find the heart and that this was completely normal, all while I sweated in anxiety.

Then suddenly, there was the beat, steady and strong. I started to cry, full of relief and joy and the sheer wonder of the whole thing, of another little being growing inside me, circulating blood through tiny arteries and tiny capillaries, opening and closing valves already.

All of this, just as I laid my hands on the heart of my daughter to calm her to sleep without her Woombie. Motherhood can be overwhelming in wondrous ways like that.