On Shortness.

We just had Baby O’s 6 month check-up – lots of good info, lots of relief that he’s growing well, lots of vaccines that made him cry but gave me a little more relief.  But really, the only thing that mattered at this visit was one number – 95.  95th percentile for height, that is.

My.  Child.  At the top of the height chart – for now, anyway.

Me – who started at around 15% on the chart but quickly fell off it altogether.  Me – who cleared 5 feet, but only just.   Me – who couldn’t sleep for a week at the end of pregnancy because my small torso could no longer hold the 8.5 pound baby inside without sacrificing basic functions like laying down without pain.

It’s caused me to reflect on height and procreation in general.  There’s a lot about shortness that makes mamahood more complicated – and they don’t warn you about this in the books.

Pregnancy, for instance.  Pretty much all of it.  Consider the difference between 5’0” me and someone a foot taller than me each carrying a baby 20 inches long.  Yeah, exactly.

I’d heard people say they really felt the pregnancy in their rib cage or in their hips.  I thought – or?  I felt it everywhere – this creature was jabbing body parts everywhere he could fit them and in the tug of war between him and my vital organs, he was winning by a landslide.

And then there was childbirth.  Each anesthesiologist I encountered commented on how short I was within minutes of meeting me.  I even needed a special pose – requiring an extra wide leg stretch – to get the epidural because the spaces in my spine are shorter, too.  (I was at least glad to get shout outs for my extra-good flexibility in that wide-stretch I had to do – a girl can count her chops where she gets them).

With the arrival of O, I quickly learned those hands free pumping bras were selling a level of multitasking not available to the shorter set.  Who can squeeze anything between the bottom of the milk bottles and the top of my lap when sitting down?  Not me!

And now I have a baby in the 95th percentile for height.  My baby is too tall for me to hold with one arm while grasping a drink in the other.  When he stands on my lap he practically sees over my head.  My 6 month old is nearly half my height.

Turns out there are a lot of good reasons to have a baby – and being able to reach the top shelves of your cabinets (or in my case, the middle and top shelves) is one of them.

A Note On Equality.

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Chalkboard sign at our wedding – September 2011

When the ruling came down Friday morning I felt this deep sense of breathing easier – and breathless at the same time.  This week – these last couple weeks – have changed our landscape and our lives in ways I likely can’t understand for years to come.  I hope I’ll be able to explain it to my son when he asks, looking back on all this.  Here are just a few words on where I am today.

Exactly two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the clause within Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which barred the Federal Government from recognizing individual State’s same sex marriages – was unconstitutional.  This ruling tangibly change my life.  The Wife and I had been married for almost two years at that point (something that I had not thought I even wanted, seeing marriage as too much the domain of a straight culture that was not for me — until I met her and wanted it bad).  We got married in MA, and were living in DC where our marriage was not only recognized, it was the law of this capital city.

We had largely expected the DOMA decision to go that way so, the morning of the ruling, when the Wife asked if I wanted to stay home from work to watch the decision together I poo-pooed her, stubbornly mumbling about upcoming deadlines at work as I hustled to the office.  When 9:45am came around, we both got on SCOTUSblog and my heart rate accelerated.  Then the ruling came down so definitively – and I was speechless.  I cried.  I sat on the phone with the Wife as we each poured through news clips, tweets, excerpts of the decision, quick snippets of analysis, spotted with exchanges of “wow” because there was nothing else we could say.

About an hour into this activity – neither of us having said anything for at least a couple minutes – the Wife delicately suggested that maybe we didn’t need to be on the phone anymore if we were just going to be reading independently.  “No,” I quickly cut her off, telling her I needed to hear her even if it was just her breathing.  “Ok,” she assured me.  And so we sat for another hour, occasionally talking, but mostly taking it all in (and certainly not working).  Me, who had been so dry and clinical about it all, had been instantly stripped of any intellect on the matter, operating in the purely visceral.

That weekend we had a free Saturday morning and realized we could bang out a long-overdue trip to Ikea before the crowds got too crazy.  As we parked our car in the massive lot and walked into the big box store I laughed at us – here we were, just like any other married couple now, living our boring life and going to Ikea on a Saturday.  Never mind that that had never been either of our idea of happiness – ours much better situated in one of the progressive urban enclaves we had each lived in across the country.

But something was starting to seep out of my brain that I didn’t know I had – an asterisk.  I realized that I was so accustomed to discussing our wedding and marriage with a ‘but’ at the end of the sentence.  First it was equal access to health insurance that we couldn’t get.  The Wife’s employer decided to take care of that, joining a handful of progressive companies and organizations by “plus-ing up” to pay the tax consequences we would incur by my receiving the wife’s health coverage (the Federal law recognized us as strangers and treated insurance as a very expensive, taxable gift).  Then there were the myriad of other federal benefits we couldn’t access for one another from social security to immigration rights (were we to need them) to joint tax returns.  And all the states that would not care that the Nation’s Capital recognized our union.

That Saturday morning trekking across the Ikea parking lot, I caught the reflex to note the exceptions to why our marriage entitlements were incomplete.  This time, I realized, there were no asterisks left.  It was complete – for us, if not for most other Americans.

Except.  Except if we traveled across the river into Virginia.  And then eventually Virginia turned too, with the swath of Federal decisions equalizing entire chunks of the country at a time.

This last decision – bringing marriage everywhere – felt different.  It felt less about me.  I already felt secure – secure in my marriage, my rights, and secure in the fact that marriage equality would indeed come to all of America – eventually.

When I was about 8 months pregnant I started drawing lines about when I would stop traveling.  I wouldn’t fly from about 6 weeks out.  The train to New York?  That had to stop 3-4 weeks out from the due date.  “I would never forgive myself if this baby was born in New Jersey,” I’d joke.  But I was kinda serious too – if I went into labor on the train, it was possible I’d have the baby in a state where the Wife could not be on the birth certificate (as was guaranteed by law in DC and NY).  And that was unacceptable.

When the decision came down on Friday – it did as I was dialing into a conference call, and I stumbled to hang up and take in the news for a few precious minutes – I was speechless.   Slowly the realization dawned that my son would never know a time when gay marriage was a thing (surely by the time he knows this, it will just be marriage?)  He won’t comprehend, let alone know, a time his moms’ marriage wasn’t legal everywhere.

That’s when the breathlessness started.

Muscle Memory.

I read somewhere once that skill, will power and passion are less important in motivating you to do something (or not do something) than is habit.  And in my experience, that’s not untrue (though I’m unwilling to concede the role of passion or skill!  Will power I could do without).  The things we are used to – and expect – to do at a given moment are the things we are most easily willing and able to do.

This is hitting home lately because I’ve just had minor surgery on my wrist.  I say minor because it was an outpatient procedure, but recovery has still been pretty intense – mostly because those pain meds are no joke.  But the worst part of recovery hands down is that I’m not allowed to lift anything over 5 pounds for at least a week – and that includes my baby!  I have to stop myself from instinctually – or better put, habitually – reaching for him at every turn.  The afternoon of the surgery I did pick him up without thinking about it and got a quick and no-words-minced scolding from the wife – appropriately so.

hand

There is a lot else I have to remember to stop myself from doing, like leaning on my hand, lifting things with my right hand (oh did I mention it was on my dominant hand?), chopping certain things with a knife, opening tough jars and bottles, etc.

The habits lie not so much in my head as in my muscles.  And muscle memories are hard habits to break.

And hard habits sometimes to re-establish.

Writing too is best done when we’re in the habit of doing so.  I’ve mused before about how training myself to write is not unlike training a baby to sleep – getting into the routine, or habit, of doing certain things at certain times trains the body to be tired by 7pm or generate words into a blog post at 8pm.

After all, the brain is a lot like a muscle, scientists have determined.

And as I’ve geared up for this surgery and am now recovering from it, I’ve had to forgo many habits, including often writing.  And my brain has slowed down in front of the blank page when it used to pour out.   Just as my milk production slows down the second my stress level spikes and pumping regularity slows.  My milk production is habit, too, but one that forgets its muscle memory the second it senses a slow down in demand.

So here I am now – writing and pumping at the same time, in fact – recovering slowly/quickly (quickly in the grand scheme of things but it feels sooo slow) and struggling to defeat muscle memory on many things (anything involving my right hand) while mourning the lapse in the habits that I hope to soon regain, like this blog.   And really hoping my son doesn’t lose the habit of the cuddling with me that I can’t give him right now.

About To Do Lists.

The thing about to do lists is that while they are great at making you be organized, they don’t actually do the things that need to be done.  That’s the rub.

I wrote a while back about my quest for the perfect list system.  I was anxious about going back to work and channeled that in looking for a new system to keep everything straight.  It was a useful deployment of my nervous energy because I did, in fact, need a new system.

And I actually found it.

As a recap, I wanted a system that could do a few things –

  • A simple, online interface that’s easy to add to do items to it and is accessible by both iPhone and computer
  • Offers a birds eye view of all the projects and tasks at once
  • Ability to sort by projects and due date
  • Reminder/alert functions; and
  • Ideally have some sort of task share option.

I tried several tools – Trello, Asana. Evernote, Wunderlist, and more.  And in the end, I went with ToDoist.  Here’s why:

First, there’s a certain visceral importance to the whole enterprise.  The tool has not just be organized well, it has to make you feel organized.  For me – the simple clean interface of ToDoist is satisfying and effective.  By contrast, the interface of Wunderlist (which had probably the closest set of features to ToDoist) just felt a little too complicated, remote and overdone for my visceral experience (I have colleagues who feel just the opposite though).  Trello, on the other hand, had a visually interesting interface I loved – seeing across all my projects like a set of sticky notes on a desk – but did not have the functionality of sorting by date and project, resorting tasks by priority, etc that I found really need.  At the end of the day, as alluring as some online to do systems are, I really wanted something pretty straightforward.

With ToDoist, I ultimately had to pay for an upgrade to get everything I wanted.  Recurring tasks with reminders, notes and a cool labeling system (that I didnt know I needed but I totally do) all came for the not-so-steep price tag of $29/year.  The Wife even opted to pay for the upgrade too as soon as she got on board with Todoist and converted to using it to manage every floating task in her brain.

What I love most about the system is that I don’t have to work to remember anything – every task I need to do is in on there (and I’m on there enough that it’s easy to add whatever new arises) – and when they are not on Todoist, the tasks don’t happen!  It’s cleared my mind a great deal of the things that used to wake me up in the middle of the night because I lost track of them.  I know mostly everything I have and have not done that I need to do.

But – and it’s a real but – that awareness of what I have not done that I need to do can be a hard pill to swallow.  Each afternoon as I check off tasks completed and reschedule those that are not going happen that day, it’s a moment of humility and reality.  I’ve written about the editing down of life to the essentials – but what happens when there’s not enough time for the essentials?  Or what you thought were essentials?  The hard task of editing down further.

I’m more proud of accomplishments I eked out that I might have before been quick to downplay – because now I know better how precious the time was that got them done.  And I’m slowly becoming a little less hard on myself about what I haven’t gotten done because I am seeing before my eyes that time spent on one thing takes away from time on something else – a simple, self-evident fact that I nonetheless used to believe I could will myself to overcome.  In that way, reality of my limits can be a hard pill to swallow – but a liberating one too.

A Pause.

Life’s just been a little too hectic as of late and the balance has been off – and so, blogging has fallen by the wayside.  Between work crunches, family visits, a cold, a hand surgery in the making, and starting solid food (!!), there’s been a lot going on and more than anything else, my brain has not been settled enough to finish a thought.  As I’ve written about before, writing is kind of like a canary for balance and sanity – when the short post can’t quite find its way onto the page, it means things have gotten out of whack and it’s time for a reset.

O on grass

Sometimes resets don’t come soon enough – but this weekend, we did a short venture into the country for a friend’s celebration.  Going into the weekend I didn’t envision it being the respite I knew I sorely needed.  It was a short trip that was not going to leave much room for normal weekend stuff nor real relaxation.  But it turns out even a little bit of country goes a long way and the change in scenery and break from routine, however hectic it was, let a lot in my brain settle and I woke up this Monday morning a little amped for a busy week ahead but a little more peaceful, too.

Here’s to resuming to some normalcy, finding moments of balance in unexpected places and a good week to come for all!

Capote on Writing, Capote on Life

Aankomst schrijver Truman Capote (links) en regisseur Richard Brooks op Schiphol voor de première van de film "In Koelen Bloede" ("In Cold Blood") *14 maart 1968

Aankomst schrijver Truman Capote (links) en regisseur Richard Brooks op Schiphol voor de première van de film “In Koelen Bloede” (“In Cold Blood”)
*14 maart 1968   By Eric Koch / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
-Truman Capote

I stumbled upon this Truman Capote quote and boy did it resonate hard with me.  First, taken on its face, it is a mantra for writing.  My usual process for writing anything – including and especially a blog post – is to do a throw-up draft and then to do a clean-it-up draft.  I pour out everything I want to say and then I cut it back until what I have is the rightest, most succinct statement of that original idea – at least in the span of time I have for the activity.  When it comes to blogging, there is a certain rapid-fire nature to the endeavor that lends itself to quick spurts of ideas, making tangential meanderings between different ideas, and refuses a heavy editing process.  Still, I try to get to the point.

But in life, too, editing is so important.  Put another way, prioritizing.

Since becoming a mom and thereafter a working parent, I’ve started to see my life as a precious collection of hours which i can choose to spend in any number of ways – and how much time I spend on any given activity is a reflection of my choices and priorities.  There’s a lot of life reality guiding those choices, of course, but that reality – the time it takes to get from my office to O’s childcare for pick-up and drop-offs, the time it takes to pump milk at the office, the time it takes to cook food on a Sunday versus order take-out on a week night, the time it takes to walk to work versus drive or take the bus – are largely products still of my own choices.

And my priorities are pretty clear.  O and the wife come first, period.  As does my health and sanity.  My job is a priority, as is my family, my close friends, and this blog.  Some weeks the formula is more weighted in one direction or another but this is the roster of contenders.

And I’ve come to see most else in terms of scissors:

  • Going to the grocery store versus ordering on Instacart – cut it.
  • Having an expansive wardrobe that demands complicated outfit developments every morning versus having a few staples I rotate – cut it.
  • Events, panels, receptions that I once thought were a “value add” to go to but are not essential to getting my job done?  Cut it.
  • Emails that I could spend 20 minutes thinking on versus 30 second with my first response that 90% of the time is where I land after extra thinking – cut it.
  • That tv series everyone tells me to watch but I just can’t get that excited about – for now anyway, cut it.
  • That party I’d love to go to but would only afford me quick hellos with my closest friends versus a different visit when we could really catch up – cut it.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered this – or that all the inessentials have magically made room for all my priorities.  It hasn’t — and in fact, some weeks I have to cut the essentials – just a bit and just temporarily.

Over the past week, I had to cut my commitment to blogging most days.  Work just needed to be a priority.  And today – I’m cutting my commitment to doing 2 drafts of a post.  This is the raw thoughts as they come out and the editing will have to wait for another day, another idea.