Rocker baby chick

The cool mist humidifiers are working overtime, and still Molly wakes up with pinkish-rubber-snot-plugged nostrils. Poor baby. Tom asked me why she’s still sick when she gets all the breastfeeding, and I’ve gotten good at making her think she wants the bubble-gum flavored antibiotics. The trick is to let her play with the dropper, do the airplane thing to offer it, pretend to withhold it, and go slow, giving her all the time in the world to make “are you kidding me?” faces and roll the funny pink stuff on her tongue from cheek to cheek.

She’s got walking (rolling?) pneumonia, and her voice is hoarse with it even as she kicks her legs in perfect swimmer’s frog kick form and smiles her exaggerated clown smile, ducking her head down and to the side when the weight of reciprocating my manic “hey baby”s is too much.

Today she is six months old, and right in the middle of cheering on her latest trick I remembered that growing up is the last thing I want to encourage. It was when I watched this movie back closely last week that I realized her breathing sounded too deliberate, and her smiles too hard won. I’m so grateful for her usual healthiness. Let it come back soon.

I will figure this out before I die, or . . . not

This should probably be a food photograph, but Molly is more delicious.

I have tried several different things to solve the problem of “What’s for dinner?” I’ve tried making elaborate menus and I’ve tried buying what’s in season and experimenting. I wish I had what it takes (the flexibility, the commitment, the close-by foodie friends, and the desire to interact that much with said hypothetical friends) to start up a dinner co-op like Rixa’s.

I’ve put scrumptious things in the crockpot right after breakfast and I have stared at the stove while Tom walks in the door from work (ok, not really — I usually try to look more on top of things right at that very moment, even if it only lasts a second). I love trying new things, especially Asian dishes right now, and I’d definitely like to move towards an even more plant- and whole grain-filled diet.

So this is my latest brainstorm. It is both totally set in stone and completely flexible. It gives me the control of knowing what’s for dinner every day of the week for the rest of my life (or until I get tired of it) and the freedom of making any variation on these dishes based on ingredient availability, fluctuating desire for gourmet versus easy, and whim. I can throw each of these dishes together from scratch and a memorized-from-long-use recipe, or I can google up a new variation, or I can tell Tom that since Saturday is Asian perhaps we better head down to Thai Drift. All in the name of following through, of course.

This is all the foods we eat all the time anyway. You can use it if you want — or tell me if I’m missing a kid-friendly type of dinner altogether. It is lacking outdoor grilling- type food, but I’ll fix that come summer.

Apologies to Steph for not observing Thursketti. Something about Thursday screams out for leftovers to me. In fact, most days do, but the beauty of this menu is that most of the dishes can absorb a lot of different leftover ingredients. And none of them are elaborate or preparation intensive, beyond the chopping, which is kind of inevitable if you want to eat healthily.

Monday: Pasta (spaghetti/alfredo/tortellini)

Tuesday: Salad (chef/cobb/spinach)

Wednesday: Mexican (taco/fajitas/burritos)

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Pizza (tomato&basil/ham&pineapple/bbq chicken)

Saturday: Asian (curry/stir fry)

Sunday: Soup (cream of veggie/stew/white chili)

Now that I’m writing this down, I think I was heavily influenced by Meagan Francis, though I didn’t realize just how appealing her Six-Meal Shuffle was when I read her post months ago.

I keep staring at this wondering on the one hand if Wednesday really is the best day of the week for refried beans, and on the other, why didn’t I do this years ago?

The baby mean reds

My sister is terrified of having another baby. She has three kids, her new husband has three kids. Their youngest is four now. Being a stepmom is hard; being a wife is easy. None of that’s the problem, anyway, the problem is newborns. That’s not the problem. Newborns are delicious. Even better, they grow into babies in a couple months, and then they are the sweetest thing ever on earth. Ever.

But the experience of having a newborn — or a baby who sleeps in two-hour chunks (or less) is not sweet. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not as hard as some terrible things I can’t even mention because then it would sound like I’m trivializing them, but let’s just say: living with and caring for a new baby is hard, hard, hard.

And it’s not made easier by the fact that they are the sweetest thing on earth ever. I mean, it is, of course it is, because you can sit and stare at their chins and smell their milk-sweet breath (which always strikes me as borderline-narcissistic how much I love the smell of my babies’ breastmilk-breath), and when they start to smile it’s a hit of the strongest narcotic each time they do it.

So then you feel guilty, or cheated, or ungrateful. How can you not be full of happiness and sunshine every second when you have this most wonderful being ever created here in your arms to love? This baby you wanted, you prayed for, you chose to conjure into your life.

At my six-week visit after Molly, I took a screening questionnaire for postpartum depression. I’d never been offered or sought one out before. With Avery, I went back to work part-time when she was a month old, leaving her with Tom, no guilt, no regret. With Callie, it was hard. We had just moved back to the States from Egypt, we didn’t know many people, we lived in a small two-bedroom apartment. But none of that was the problem. In fact all of that was fine, great. The problem was that she didn’t like to sleep on her back. At all. She would sleep on my chest, which might have been okay, except I could not sleep that way. By the time Lucy came two years later, we were settled, she slept fine, my mom came out when she was three weeks old and helped us make it through the end of the broken-sleep phase into the getting-enough-sleep-to-survive phase.

I often wondered, especially after Callie, and after the baby shower my new friends held for me after her birth because she was a few weeks early — where I couldn’t feel the normal baby shower happy-anticipation but instead felt bitter and cautionary-tale-like instead — I wondered if what I felt was normal, or if I needed some help, or if I should just be patient, and always just when I was about to ask for help, the baby started sleeping better and things slowly turned around. This entire last pregnancy, birth and fourth-trimester I have been more aware of my options and determined to figure things out, and I was glad that the midwives who were such good birth attendants were eager to address this part of it too.

Here’s the questionnaire in case you want to take it before I talk about it:

Mark each as 1 (Strongly Disagree), 2 (Disagree), 3 (Neither Agree nor Disagree), 4 (Agree), or 5 (Strongly Agree) during the past two weeks.

1. I had trouble sleeping even when my baby was sleeping.

2. I got anxious over even the littlest things that concerned my baby.

3. I felt my emotions were on a roller coaster.

4. I felt like I was losing my mind.

5. I was afraid I would never be my normal self again.

6. I felt like I was not the mother I wanted to be.

7. I have thought that death seemed like the only way out of this living nightmare.

I answered it honestly, except for the last question. Really, death is the only way out — ask Penelope Trunk, but that’s not even depression, that’s logic. (unless you’re Elizabeth Gilbert.)

My midwife came in and said, the nurse wants you to take the longer postpartum depression questionnaire, you’re borderline, but I wanted to ask you how you feel about it. I said I thought I was just doing normally, as well as could be expected, that I had better days and worse days, and that, most important, I knew it would get better, it always does. The baby grows up, sleeps longer, seasons change, la la la. She said, that’s what I thought, I thought you were okay, but if you want to take it, you can. I said, not for now.

Here’s what I answered (I always want to know the specifics):

1 -4, 2-2, 3-4, 4-4, 5-4, 6-5, 7-2

That was a score of 25 (where 7 would be the “healthiest” and 35 would be the most troubled). If I’d answered number seven as I wanted to, it would’ve been a 27-28. But even in that six week postpartum fog, I wasn’t totally sure that life was a “living nightmare.”

So I went home and did things I knew would help. I walked regularly with my friend, I tried to sleep when the baby slept (and was usually in bed by 10 for the night), I let myself drink Mountain Dew again because even though caffeine is not a long-term solution it cheers me up, I wrote about keeping a can of formula in the cupboard as a backup plan (it didn’t surprise me that we never used it after I wrote about it — having it was enough to make me feel not squeezed by the responsibility of being the sole provider). I let myself breakdown in front of my husband and kids, scaring the kids and making Tom think I was crazy, which served the purpose of convincing him I needed help around the house at least.

I got library books and a new iPod Touch so I could read and be online easily while holding and nursing the baby, I had my comfortable nursing chair positioned just so in front of my sunny window. I ate well, drank a lot of water, took my vitamins.

And still I felt something off. I don’t get the nothing or really sad; I get the deep seething rage. My mom told me she remembers the deep seething rage, which is hard to imagine, because she is very calm and affectionate. I do remember her yelling rarely, but I also remember that I deserved it when she did. I get anxiety and anger, and then guilt and self-loathing.

Several Fridays ago I was ready to quit by the time Tom got home from work, just quit it all. Tom suggested (without believing I’d really take him up on it, I think) that I take the baby and spend the weekend at my parents. They live an hour away. My dad said it was a great idea and of course they’d love to have me, when I called Saturday morning. Which was good, because I was already on my way.

I stopped at the mall on the way, saw a movie, nursed Molly on the comfortable mall couches, people-watched, and by dinner time I was ready to go home and face the four other people who like me to cook for them at regular intervals.

The next weekend I took Molly to the movies again. Anyone who thinks it’s sad to go to the movies by yourself has never been a mom.

When Molly was four months old I was back at the midwives for something else and I asked to take the depression questionnaire again. I think I’m doing better, I told them, I just want to make sure, and see for myself.

This time I scored 20, and I was surprised by the wording on some of the questions. I hadn’t looked at it since the six-week checkup, and in my mind, even though I knew I felt better overall, I expected to answer more similarly, because it was still me taking the quiz. I expected my honest answers to specific questions to be more “true” and less variable.

Had I ever really thought I was losing my mind or would never be my self again? And when I said I wasn’t the mother I wanted to be — I meant towards all my kids, not towards the baby, who I’ve been a terrific mother to (so far). I don’t swear at her, after all.

So I know several things. One, having a newborn in the house is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Two, it changes how I see myself and reality, it puts me in a place where I can’t think objectively or rationally, even when I think I’m stepping back and being philosophical and agreeing that things are getting better and are normal “enough,” I am actually not capable of seeing things clearly through that fog. Three, I’m going to back-down on the guilt and self-loathing over the yelling and swearing. Yes, I should stop, and yes, I will keep working on it, but it’s not all me doing that talking — some of it is the baby mean reds talking. And four, I don’t, at this time, need medication or therapy (of course I would benefit from therapy, everyone could, and if I do need medication in future, believe me I will get it).

Because I am getting better, the baby is growing up, she’s sleeping more, and in approximately three weeks the seasons are going to have to pay attention because I am planting my sugar snap peas on St. Patrick’s Day and I expect the weather to cooperate.

If only the gaps in my knowledge were so easily filled

Everyone came over for dinner last night. Usually every third week it’s my parents and their kids and grandkids at our house for Sunday dinner. Tonight both sets of my grandparents wanted to see my dad’s recovery for themselves. (He has cancer, he’s getting aggressive treatment, and he’s looking good since shaving his off-work-for-surgery beard–and if you’re at risk get a screening, okay?)

One of my grandmas wrote an 8-page single-spaced response to that Salon article, but since today is President’s Day, I’m going to save that and show you instead my Grandma Ora Mae who served as a registered nurse in World War II. Tonight I got her all to myself for a few minutes and she asked me what a wiki is. I introduced her to the joy of getting lost in wikipedia, where you keep clicking on hyperlinks halfway through each entry and suddenly you’re trying to figure out how you got from Joseph Smith to alfalfa.

She coed over Molly and since I am turning into that stop-the-clocks mother I asked if she was sad when she realized that her tenth child in 14 years would be her last. She said she had two miscarriages after him and the doctor said she better take care of the kids she had.

I could tell you how well she did that, how much we all love her, how even my husband gets a softer tone in his voice when we speak of her, but it would probably sound unbelievably rosy, more like a fairytale than real life, and then we’re back to the question of whether my grandma’s life as an army nurse in Okinawa and then as a Mormon wife and mother could possibly have produced someone who glows from within so steadfastly brightly that it’s a pleasure to be anywhere near her, doesn’t she know how hard life and faith are?

I think she knows it all.

Because Molly wanted to practice her ventriloquism

Q: “Why should I be Utah’s Next Top Sassy?”

A: “World Peace.”

Also too, I like the concept of supporting local businesses; it’s probably a good idea to promote and patronize them so that when the apocalypse is nigh, you’ll have a reliable source for fuel and Mountain Dew. (Maverik gas station is local to the Western U.S., so . . . every fountain drink is like a vote for freedom, right?)

I’d love to review a clothing consignment store (like Kid-to-Kid or My Sister’s Closet, which turns out to be local to Mesa, Arizona, but they just opened in Spanish Fork, so maybe that counts?). What about CSAs and Farmer’s Markets? And Winder Farms? Oh, oh, and we should review some books and then have a reading with great Utah authors like Shannon Hale and Brandon Mull. And someone should ask my opinion about Thai Drift in Lindon. (Spoiler: It’s awesome. Get the massaman curry.)

(There’s also a big fat selfish reason: I would love to see these guys (Steph and Emily and Vanessa and Kristina and Jenny and Camille and Jennifer) more often.)

Here’s my audition video, starring Molly:

There’s a small maternal-infant Freudian slip in there when she says she doesn’t need me around “every single day.” I think she meant “every single hour” or “every single minute.”

If you would like to help me in my quest for local-blogger-reviewerness, please visit the Sassy Scoops on Facebook and “like” my video. You’ll need to “like” Sassy Scoops and click on “SassyScoopsUtah + Others” to see it. Thanks!

Ode to the end of romantic love

Tom with his littlest girl

Sometimes my husband is the annoying partner on the group presentation. I always preferred working alone because the partner never gets all the crumbs when he sweeps the floor and why for the love of everything holy is he even sweeping when the vacuum is right there and then he might have some chance of getting that piece of bagel petrifying under the breakfast bar? Does he work at doing everything the wrong way or is obliviousness an Olympic sport now?

Once he did do something worse than just not reading my mind, an actual wrong thing, except not really a thing-thing but a principle-thing, but still a thing worse than leaving me with the kids to go play basketball — s0 I do know the difference, but still it’s the everyday things, like slurping your soup, that slowly smother romantic love. Or as Irving Becker said, “If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over in your lap and you won’t mind.”

I think what he really meant is that when you love someone and they slurp every single time you sit down at the table, even when they know it hurts you deep inside where you simply can’t overcome the buggingness of it on a cellular level, it’s grating enough that you’d rather they dumped it in your lap.

It’s like Fiddler on the Roof, and one day you’re the Motel and Tzeitel couple, giving each other a pledge and knowing the world would end if you had to marry the stinky rich butcher. And then two (or thirteen) years later you’re Tevye and Golde, even if it wasn’t technically an arranged marriage, even if it was wild and crazy and Motel and Tzeitel to begin with. Even if this isn’t tsarist Russia and we have the leisure to sit around debating the relative merits of romantic versus companion love.

Tom has always been The One, ever since I read his literary biography (it was college, we were English majors, being pretentious was a requirement) and then met him in person on Valentine’s Day, which is funny because we are not romantic-type people, until you realize that having someone to laugh with about how absurd the mechanics of sex really are is actually the most romantic thing ever. Someone you can tell anything to, who won’t be shocked (or worried) when you admit your doubts, someone who lets you change your mind and is patient when really you’re the same old person no matter how much you want to change, or don’t want to change because change is hard.

Last week I tried church lady zumba. I thought my uterus was going to shake right out, I don’t think hips were really designed to do that, except in active labor, maybe. I meant to take some ibuprofen, but then I started watching hulu and the medicine cabinet seemed far away from my comfy bed. Tom snuggled up in that way he has, that way that means he wants to love me, head on my shoulder, and since he let me finish NCIS first, I was willing.

I was so relaxed and happy afterward I forgot all about the ibuprofen (until the morning, when I surely did remember).

If I had known thirteen years ago what I know now about Tom, about our kids, about our marriage and our life and the sex and his patience and hard-workingness and even if I had known that he wipes his nose on the sheet on his side of the bed (probably when he’s mostly asleep but still) and thinks I won’t notice (I do) . . .

I would’ve proposed on our first date, instead of waiting for the second.

Love in the afternoon

This could be 5 kb and her eyes would still be shiny.

She finds me, I find her. I find myself, the self I am because of her. At home, tucked in the corner of my room, upstairs, rocking in my nursing chair. The other kids come and go, to and fro, spilling strawberry milk powder on the floor, not finishing their long division. I can’t see them down below, but I know.

Last year it was them: same smell, same luscious soft skin and ducky, downy hair waving under my hushed breath. Same funny mouth crinkled and mum-mumming in sleep. I should get up, I should let her sleep in her crib, where she’ll sleep longer and dinner is waiting to get made and icy mud is crusting on the kitchen floor from tromping boots.

It will wait.

Out there I am Shannon, mommy to girlies, beijie or honey in that exasperated voice if I swore six times in the last ten minutes to Tom, concerned daughter, critical thinker, shopper of all sundries under the sun, cleaner, driver, bank depositor, mail place mail-er, errand runner, blogger, newspaper reader, online lurker.

Tomorrow I might wish to be more, want to be different, the blanket that warms us suffocating and stifling. Today that’s impossible — impossibly stupid and short-sighted and silly — other and outer-shell and not at all to do with who I am right here in this chair, this counting each inhale, this holding her in both arms.

At home, tucked in my corner, nested, snuggled in, I am what I am because of her and it is more than everything.

It is a damn good thing I don’t know any drug dealers

Hello, hand. I can see you there in my mind, I just can't move you.

I had to have a tooth extracted by the oral surgeon this morning. Tom would like to blame my fractured dental health on my Mountain Dew consumption, but I’m equally sure that pregnancy is the culprit, along with some subpar genetics. I don’t know if anything will make you feel more like a redneck who failed flossing than having to have a tooth extracted, but it was almost worth it for the laughing gas. At one point they asked if I wanted it turned down, if I was feeling too loopy? and I managed to hold back a giggle long enough to say I was fine. I may suck at brushing my teeth, but I’m not stupid.

Insha’Allah, Egypt

I hope I have learned to make better hair choices for both Avery and myself since then.

The other mothers at dance class probably think I’m crazy, and maybe I am in a strange hormonal flux right now, but I couldn’t stop leaking tears as I read the updates on the eighth day of protests in Egypt. A mass of protests that look to be successful now, with Mubarak scheduled to announce he won’t run in elections held this fall. Probably even Mubarak cannot garner his usual 95%+ of the popular vote if he is not actually on the ballot.

Of course I am not Egyptian and I have no ties to the country besides fond memories of the two years we lived in Ma’adi several years ago. I took Arabic classes and Tom taught at the American University in Cairo, which was located on Tahrir (Liberation) Square then. I also taught conversational English classes one night a week at a little Christian church in Mar Girgis. We lived the privileged existence of American ex-pats anywhere; it was expected but still I felt guilty over the Egyptian maid we employed, burdened by my bourgeouis awareness of the circumstantial inequality of our resources, opportunities, and life expectations.

Once I dragged her, Nadia, out to the guard station in front of our apartment building for a translation. I was impatient when she tried to hide the skin of her forearm from their gaze. Forgive me, Nadia.

One of the hardest things to get used to in Egypt was the laid-back attitude towards deadlines and commitments. When will the repairman be out to look at the washer? Perhaps Thursday, insha’Allah. When will our bus leave for the field trip? After a tea break, insha’Allah.

The worst was while waiting on the tarmac in an airplane bound for Luxor. The pilot gave his pre-flight spiel over the intercom system, assuring us of a smooth and safe flight, insha’Allah. I wanted some confidence in my incredible-flying-machine-operator, not a shrug and a nod to “God willing.”

So I have devoured everything in print on the protests in Egypt, excited and surprised and hopeful that the momentum of dissatisfaction with dictatorship would swell to critical mass. No one I talked to in Egypt eight years ago liked Mubarak, but he was the status quo, the only president my twenty-something classmates and students remembered. He was the president, insha’Allah.

But I’ve learned something about patience, and submission, and being dependent on God willing since then. The pilot who flew our plane was a trained aviator. He and the crew followed the pre-flight equipment check protocol.

Saying insha’Allah was not a renouncing of responsibility but an acknowledgment that we are, after all that we can do, in God’s hands.

The protestors have risen from their Friday and noon-time prayers to protest, calling “Come down Egyptians.” The world is helping them by developing speak-to-tweet technologies that circumvent Mubarak’s appalling internet and cell phone blackouts.

And some are scrawling protests on their prayer mats. Insha’Allah, Egypt. I hope God wills your freedom. And succors those who have lost loved ones.