Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Decade Without Decaf

I realized it earlier today, as I was driving my son home from his dermatologist's appointment.  It was ten years ago this summer that I was hired at Starbucks.

Ten years ago that I became part of the opening crew at the Collier Town Square Store.

Ten years ago that I began my journey towards understanding adulthood, maturity, and responsibility.  

Ten years ago that I sipped my first cup of freshly brewed, sunny Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, and compared it to the lemony brightness of Kenya.

Ten years ago that I made friends I still think about almost daily, with whom I faltered along as we grew into real-life "grown-ups".
Ten years ago: day one on the job.

Ten years ago that I realized I actually liked coffee.  Like, really, really liked it.

Ten years ago, when I was twenty-two and still expected to make a living in the arts.  (Don't laugh.)

Ten years ago, when I was still starry-eyed about the opposite sex, and continually hoped that HE would walk through the door and somehow be impressed with my knowledge of Arabica coffee beans.

Ten years ago, when my whole life seemed to lie ahead of me and I couldn't wait to run out and grab it.

A few months of working in a coffee shop turned into a "real" job, one where I was working my way up the corporate ladder.  My closest friends were managers who poured into me, who taught me to take responsibility for my choices.  Two of them taught me things I would never forget.  The first thing was that perception was everything.  To most people, truth doesn't matter, but what they think is true does.  The second thing was that you have the right to make your own decisions if you can defend them.  The worst choice you can make is the arbitrary one.

No apron here, though I WAS barefoot
and pregnant, ten years later...
Four and a half years later and a rather ugly falling out led to me working at the bank and, again, working my way into management.  After my first miscarriage, I left the bank (though those two events were unrelated).  I took a job at a small billing office with regular hours, which I had never enjoyed, and virtually no responsibility.  That was a nice change after nearly seven years in management.  But it wouldn't last.  Downsizing forced me "on the streets", so to speak, and after just over a year, I was unemployed.  Six months later, as my unemployment checks were ending, I landed a job at a pediatricians' office, which combined skills from all three of my previous jobs.  I enjoyed it.  A lot.  In fact, I think I was happier there than I was anywhere else, except in the earliest days and at the very end of my stint at Starbucks.

Why is this all important?

Today, THIS little peanut is my boss.
I don't really know.  It's just that I owe a lot to my experiences at The Buck, as we liked to call it.  On the practical side, I learned about time management, critical thinking, customer service, accepting and offering constructive criticism, leadership, and accountability.  These skills served me later as a small group leader, then a youth leader at my church.  I also learned mad coffee-tasting skills and my sense of smell is as sharp as ever.  I can still identify a coffee's country of origin from a single sniff.  Not as thrilling or valuable a skill, I admit, but it's a neat party trick.  I mean, it could be.  If I went to parties.  Or had friends who threw them.

But, in ten years, I have yet to amass those kinds of friends.

Mine are more homebodies.  Not much for clubbing, never were.  More likely to invite me over for fondue than for a night on the town.  Which suits me just fine.

I'll bring dessert.

And decaf.

Monday, August 18, 2014


As I continue to adjust to my role as a mom, I have to admit, there were a few surprises that no one prepared me for - even the wisest and most experienced mamas I know.  Some turned out to be pleasant and others,'ll see.

1. My skin grew up.  In a good way.  I suffered for a very long time with acne.  I mean - we're talking over twenty years of my life, trying Noxema and Clearasil and Pro-Activ and three different medications from the dermatologist and countless other treatments, and virtually nothing worked long-term.  The closest I came was with the oil-cleansing method, but even that wasn't fool-proof.  My skin was pretty clear during my pregnancy, which I knew isn't usually the case.  So I buckled down and prepared for the worst when the hormones shifted after the baby came.  Nothing changed.  I am insanely grateful, and now leave the house without make-up more frequently.  Of course, people still seem to think I'm "sick" or "tired" without it, but that's life.

2. Never change a diaper immediately after a poop.  This one probably is SUCH a no-brainer to most moms that they don't even think of it as useful advice.  I figured it out on my own, and we won't get into any details, but I have a 60-second rule now with changing a diaper full of number two.

3. Formula is freeing.  This one doesn't apply to everyone, but it did for me.  After several weeks of attempted nursing, and lots of emotional trauma, we finally elected to exclusively formula-feed our little guy.  In spite of the heated mommy wars surrounding this topic, we've found that it works best for our family.  In my case, nursing was such a painful and frustrating experience that I grew to dread it.  Heaven forbid I should be in public when the baby got hungry.  I felt forced to make a hasty retreat home, red-faced and shameful.  I didn't want to feed in public because it made me uncomfortable - not to mention, after seven weeks, baby still couldn't get the swing of things.  For us, formula has allowed the rest of the family to participate more in caring for the baby, as well as given us more mobility.  

4. It's okay NOT to worry.  Wanting a (cheap) date night, my husband and I planned to see Guardians of the Galaxy at a local cinema's $5 night right up the road from my parents' house.  We left the baby and a bag full of supplies with them and I am not joking when I say that not an ounce of worry entered my mind.  I knew my parents were going to shower him with love, and my step-mom's extensive experience with children and babies certainly was a comfort, too.  I felt guilty only because I thought I was supposed to wail and cry and mourn about my first time away from my newborn.  Nope.  See #3 above.

5.  Babies are noisy.  I'm not talking about the crying.  I mean, I had no idea that this dude was going to grunt like a billy goat and sigh and sniffle and growl and shriek and hiss.  The first few times these sounds erupted forth from my tiny infant, I just stood there with my head cocked to the side, assuming that one of the cats had snuck into the room and was making terrifying bleating noises.  But no - cats don't typically do that, either.  On the plus side: he's cooing now and it is the best sound in the whole world since the beginning of time.

6. Nothing can prepare you for the NICU experience.  Especially if you've gotten this far after dealing with infertility or pregnancy loss, you might think you're invincible.  The worst has already happened and no matter what, things will be okay once the baby is delivered.  Not true.  Even though our little boy was only in for nine days, and received wonderful care, those days were some of the hardest and most miserable we've ever experienced.  Not only was I in emotional and physical pain from an emergency c-section, but every time we visited the baby, the updates changed - not always for the better.  My heart will always go out to parents whose babies are in the NICU, no matter what the circumstance.

7. The first time someone questions a decision you've made, your heart will break.  And your world will dim for a moment, and you'll panic and you'll stumble and you'll wonder if you're a terrible parent and you'll re-evaluate every single plan of action you'd considered.  But then, chances are, you'll realize that you're doing the best you can in your situation, for your family.  And you'll learn to handle people sneering because you're not breastfeeding...or sneering because you are breastfeeding.  And, when your baby smiles at you, the haughty look you got from that random old lady at Sheetz after a misguided and awkward conversation about homeschooling...well, that doesn't matter at all.  Not.  At.  All.

Any other first-time moms get some unexpected surprises - pleasant or otherwise? - when baby was born?

Monday, August 4, 2014

It's a Kind of Magic

Still, it's kinda only suitable for geeks and readers.

Now that baby and I are beginning to develop a routine, I find that I do have some free time during my day.  If I'm not slavishly clicking "next episode" on Netflix, that is.  Or if I'm not meeting up with another chick for a mommies' coffee date.

So, that means one of two things.  Housework...or writing.

I'd be lying if I said that writing always wins, to be honest.  In fact, lately, a less cluttered house has really helped my mental state, so even if I'm only accomplishing a single load of laundry or washing just the pots and pans in the sink between feedings, cuddlings, and pumpings, it's worth it.

But I miss writing, and it's time to return to it.  I have two beloved casts of characters in two completely different novels just itching for me to tell their stories (I know they are itching because they live in my head, after all, and believe me - they itch).

The first novel I began for NaNoWriMo two years ago and, to my credit, got further than I've ever gotten with any writing project (other than a collection of mediocre poetry).  It's a fantasy story that centers on a group of bards-in-training and other servants belonging to a wealthy lord, and that lord's relationship with the King and his family.  It is a basic good-versus-evil story geared towards young adults and borders on being a Christian allegory, but nothing so majestic or sweeping as "The Chronicles of Narnia", for example.

I have much of the plot strung together, but here is where I'm looking for the advice of YOU, the geeky, intelligent reader.  

Magic.  Yes or no?

There is a double-edged sword to creating your own realm.  You make up all the rules!  Is magic practiced there?  Is it effective, or just a "sham religion"?  How does it work?  Who wields it?  Does a person need to work on spells, or possess a talisman, or be born with a special gift?  
Marvel's Infamous Loki.
As of now, the story has been plotted and written without mention of magic.  It would not be difficult to add it in as a factor, but I'm not sure if I want to.  

I'd like you to weigh in!  Does magic or other supernatural phenomena in literature entertain you or frustrate you?  Is it too much of a deus ex machina for your clever, solution-seeking mind, or do you enjoy the escapism?  What works for you and what does not?  Try to think about the different ways magic is used in film; examples are as dramatically different as Highlander and Disney's Aladdin, Lord of the Rings and Supernatural.  Consider your favorite fantasy, supernatural, or sci-fi flick, book, or series.  What works for you?  What has always grated on your nerves or rang "untrue"?  That's the kind of info I am looking for.

You can comment here or on my Facebook page.  Thanks in advance for your input!

( the way...there are no vampires or werewolves - glittery or otherwise - in this novel, thankyouverymuch.)

Mommy Wars - I Surrender!

My baby will be two months old this week.  I feel like I've lived a whole lifetime in just these past eight weeks.  Late nights have been rough, of course, even with my husband helping to support me.  Diaper blowouts, crying jags, traumatic bathtimes - many of the challenges of parenthood have already reared their ugly heads.  I've got a good support team, though, so we're all getting by.

They say, however, that no two mommies are the same; nor are two babies.  Which means that everything - from how baby wants to be held to which brand of diaper works best, is up for debate.  The problem is, this mommy is also a perfectionist, which means that things must be done one of two ways: flawlessly or not at all.

That's not a good thing.  Especially when pretty much the next 18+ years of my life will be almost entirely trial and error.  *Cue panic attack.*

Although I'm not sharing every tiny little scrap of information about my baby with the world, I think it's important to at least chronicle some of my struggles.  After all, my readers have journeyed through miscarriage with me; now that my husband and I have our long-awaited child, we have a new set of challenges, and it's only fair that we're honest about those, too.  

Ronen spent nine days in the NICU, and although he received excellent care during that time, it severely limited my ability to bond with him, particularly in the area of breastfeeding.  That has been very difficult for me, and I've been quite hard on myself each time Ross or I mixed up a bottle of formula to supplement our little guy.  I wanted so badly to be able to breastfeed exclusively, but that just hasn't happened.  Poor latch,  ongoing pain, exhaustion on my part, or just plain discouragement has led us to turn to the (baby) bottle on occasion.  I've already run the gamut of ideas to make things more successful or easier, but most have failed for us, leaving me again condemning myself as a mother when I mumbled "yes, please", to my husband's offer of bottle-feeding the baby as I rolled back over for twenty more minutes of precious sleep when I should have been pumping, or feeding him myself.  

I've hated myself for losing patience with the baby when I couldn't understand his needs.  He was fed, changed, clean, warm, and swaddled.  Why was he still crying and WHEN WOULD HE STOP?!

Ross was concerned that I had post-partum depression.  I think the hormonal swings scared him, and rightly so - they scared me, too.  However, when I was honest with myself and did a little research, I found that the majority of the symptoms didn't match up with what I was feeling.  In fact, the greatest amount of my frustration was coming from one source alone: breastfeeding.

Or rather, my apparent failure at it.  

I realized that the times I struggled with the most anger, depression and anxiety were feeding times.  This might be linked with the baby's time in the NICU, where feedings were closely monitored and any time in which the baby consumed less than expected or took longer than expected was considered a failure.  Or, it could be a side effect of the self-imposed burden of perfectionism, since nursing has not been a happy, beautiful and successful experience from day one.  Probably a bit of both.

Still, once I isolated that part of motherhood, things got a little clearer.  I pinpointed the specifics of why breastfeeding was making me anxious, and realized that, while some are fixable, some really are not.  My son's high palate is something he has to grow into, and is causing latching problems which leave me in pain.  So I began to dislike nursing my son.

Dreading breastfeeding made me feel like a terrible mother, so the cycle continued.  I'd get upset about breastfeeding and it would frequently result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The baby would finally latch, but I'd be stuck in an awkward or painful position for forty-five minutes.  Or he would thrash about so violently that I'd have to literally pin his arms down to try to get him to eat.  And, yes, the little dude picked up on my emotions, and reacted accordingly.

So guess what?  He gets formula and pumped milk.  

I've read lots of comments in nursing forums online, and frankly, it's enough to make any mother feel that she is valueless if she cannot or will not provide a baby nourishment at her breast.  My girl Jaime, whom I frequently mention, was unable to nurse her twins and didn't learn until her fourth daughter was born that she actually had a glandular problem that prevented her from providing for her girls!  For four years she dealt with intermittent disappointment and shame because she wasn't a proud breast-feeding mama...and even now, after receiving the knowledge that there was nothing in her power she could have done, she sometimes has twinges of guilt.  Yes, breast milk has the upper hand on formula; mommies make it for each specific baby.  But, in my case, it was being provided with a heavy dose of stress, anxiety, anger, resentment, and dread.  That's not a cocktail I'd want to give any baby.

I frequently see it quoted that any woman can breastfeed if she tries hard enough, because it is "natural".  But that makes no sense at all!  It's "natural" to conceive children, yet thousands of couples each year find themselves truly unable to have babies, no matter how hard they try.  Some can be helped with medical intervention, some cannot. I believe breastfeeding is the same way.  I'm sure that the majority of women who have challenges can overcome them, but some cannot.  I'm not saying I cannot overcome my own challenges, but I'm slowly accepting that my son has had lots of my own milk these past several weeks - which is a great thing!  He gets lots of love and snuggles from anyone who feeds him.  The bottle has allowed my family to feed the baby, which has been spiritually fulfilling - after all, these people have prayed for us through each miscarriage and have been waiting to welcome this tiny one into our lives as anxiously as we have.  Why shouldn't I share him?  Plus, is immeasurably beneficial for my husband and I to share night-feeding duties.  Although I still take the lion's share (he works full time and I do not, so I try to let him sleep more at night and he lets me sleep in and nap on weekends and when he comes home), I definitely tag-team him sometimes.  "Your turn," I mumble as I roll over and steal another half-hour of sweet sleep.

I've had a few crisis moments over the past few days.  Moments when I am questioning my own decision to feed my baby both breast milk and formula.  Wondering if I'm denying him for my own comfort.  If Mommy being happy really does impact baby's happiness.  

But then I look at my sweet-faced sleeping son, happily snoozing with a belly full of milk, and I realize: even as a preemie, he is easily meeting his developmental milestones as though he were full-term.  He rolled over twice at 4 weeks (and lest that be a fluke, he did it again last week).  He is starting to smile and express pleasure.  He grabs at the bottle on his own.  He hold his head up for several seconds at a time.  He recognizes voices.  He has gained almost 3 pounds since birth.  He is beginning to sleep longer and longer stretches at night.  

He.  Is.  Happy.

And you know what else?

Mommy and Daddy are, too. 

If he scores two or three points lower on an IQ test because he consumed formula along with breast milk during his infancy, that's ok.  I will love him anyway, because he is my son.