Saturday, November 18, 2017

Life A.B. (After Baby)

Any given evening will find me on the couch these days.  I will probably be rubbing my newborn's tummy while expertly (or not) making sure his pacifier doesn't fall out at the same time.  This seems to be the best way to reduce his colic and cries.  My husband, hard worker that he is, may have fallen asleep in the Ikea pong chair after a long day of physical labor.  Juliette, my vivacious and bouncy nine-year old, may be in fact bouncing on the couch next to me and insisting I hear her story about something that is on tv or happened at school.  And there could even be a young cat in the mix, Miranda, who has brought her pet mouse next to me to play fetch. 

Yes, this is the New Normal in Life A.B.  After the aches and pains and me-centered world of pregnancy, here I am happily but sometimes reluctantly in the center of a household maelstrom.  It is an adjustment I knew was coming but that sometimes I still can't believe I am really living.  This little creature who resided in my tummy for nine months, whom I fondly referred to as my bowling ball, is here and demanding our, and especially my, attention.  World, meet Alexandre. 

For those of you who don't know, he came into the world not long after my last blog post, making his entrance with a little fanfare (emergency c-section, woo-hoo!).  And he is staking his place in our family, rubbing shoulders with his effervescent big sis and making his cries heard over our daily routine.  And if I had any doubt, there are those signs, some subtle, some blatant, that I am clearly in the post-birth world.  New moms (of today and yesterday) may recognize the signs...

1. Getting moisturizer on is an accomplishment.  If I leave the house with make-up, it's a real rarity.  Contact lenses is even rarer.  It's not just laziness (see blog name) but also the morning rush of nursing baby multiple times, squeezing in time for a shower and breakfast for me, and attending to those little cries. 

2. Leaving home is like preparing for an expedition.  Car seat, check.  Baby in car seat, check.  Car seat buckled in, check.  Passenger side airbag disabled, check.  Diaper bag, check.  Stroller, check.  I have to get used to building in all those extra minutes in my leaving routine.

3.  A meal in peace is gold.  I have to say I am lucky that my little one does nap a good bit.  But there are times, towards the end of breakfast and especially dinner, where I must resort to holding him in one arm and my fork in the other hand.  Or Remi holds him while I try to eat while not gulping too much air. When my mom was here, she was on rocking duty during meals.  Thank you, colicky evenings. 

4. The washing machine is doing over-time.  In addition to the rest of the household's laundry, baby generates a surprising amount of stuff to watch.  He may have small clothes but it just takes a leaky diaper to create literally five things to wash, the changing table towel, his onesie, his pj's, his sleeping sack, bedsheets!  Sometimes, if I'm lucky, this routine happens more than once a day!

5. Sibling rivalry (already).  Though overall Juliette has welcomed her brother with eager and open arms since she saw his little face, there are times her blue eyes turn a jealous shade of green.  She says I am kissing him more than her.  Or that I spend more time with him in general.  I am afraid at this point in time it is true, but I try to explain to her that is just the way babies are.  And that I did the same with her.  We haven't quite found our balancing point yet, but I try to make sure I tend to her as best I can when I can. 

Don't get me wrong.  I am happy to be a mother of two, with all the hectic-ness that entails.  I love hugging both my little ones and seeing them bonding.  I know Life A.B. will hold more adventures as well as some times I will feel like I need a Calgon bubble bath to "take me away:"  In the meantime, you can find me on the couch if you need me. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On belly buttons and second babies

My belly button will never be the same.

It was already officially an outie after my first pregnancy with Juliette.  A reluctant outie but definitely not an innie any more.

With baby number two, it poked out even sooner, perhaps at three or four months.  When Juliette caught a glimpse of it she would say things like, "ewww!" or "gross!"  I reminded her it was she who had poked it out in the first place.

At first I tried to hide it with two layers of maternity shirts or a sweater tied around my waist. But I gave up trying after a while.

At any rate, I know my body has changed.  I also know that's not the only major change that will take place.

Come delivery day, our family will never be the same.  We will be four instead of three.  There will be strollers and diaper bags to trolley around, for sure. But the dynamics will shift.  From the focus on one child to two, from reserving international flights back home for not three but four people!

I knew all this before.  I had thought it over before my husband and I agreed to try for a second.  Just like I knew that we would be in for sleepless nights, explosive diapers, dawn wakenings well into toddler-hood, terrible twos and all that.

It is the advantage of having been through it all before.  It also makes it less rose-colored glasses and more, get the sunglasses ready to hide the perpetual shadows under your eyes.

When I was still hemming and hawing about whether expanding our family was a good idea (and this phase took many years), I would do what all modern folks do and google it.  "Should I have a second child?" yielded some insightful articles.  Including one* by a man who said when you have a first child it is like being pushed out of a helicopter with no parachute and having to fend for yourself.  With a second you know you'll be pushed again, but somehow you are still game for it.

Another search I did to reassure my over 40 self was "celebrity moms over 40."  Yes, I will admit it. Somehow seeing that Julianne Moore and Gwen Stefani were biologically capable of giving birth at their ages made it seem less daunting of a challenge.  Even though I know full well they have staff to help if needed, if their bodies could produce healthy babies, it gave me hope I could, too.

In the end I knew no blog or article or bevy of Hollywood 40-somethings could really decide this for me.  It was what I (and my husband) wanted for our future family.  The words of friends echoed in my mind: the friendly "tick tock" of Caroline imitating my biological clock when I expressed doubt. Or sayings like, you regret more what you don't do than you what you do.  It may have well been a Facebook meme to that effect.  I felt I would regret not trying at least.  If it didn't work, it didn't work. But I would know I had tried.

Nobody knows the future.  I know that a newborn can bring stress and anxiety but also joy and fulfillment.  I cannot know how the family will evolve but I am sure there will be moments of sweetness between big sister and baby brother, fun games on papa's lap, more silly bath songs from me.  There will also be tensions and tantrums and hair-pulling moments.  But that goes with family life and growing pains.

Only one thing is certain.  I will definitely be sporting an outie for next swimsuit season.

* I unfortunately cannot find the link to this man's article but if I do I will update the post. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Learning to breathe and all that

I am surrounded by bellies.  All the women seated next to me, with the exception of a mother and an accompanying partner, are in various stages of their pregnancies.  No one speaks for now. Some women check their phones, others stare into space.  I look around discreetly and try to judge what month they are in, their ages.

I am here for my first birthing class, this one on contractions.  I think about starting up a conversation with the couple next to me which appears to be a same-sex one.  But I am almost afraid to break the silence.

The midwife enters, a sweet-faced lady in her early thirties at most, wearing stylish boots and her white lab coat over black pants and a white blouse.  She welcomes us and starts by asking us if we have experienced contractions.  Some of us have, including me, and we describe what we have felt. The ice seems to have broken.  Just ask a pregnant woman to complain and she will never shut up.

The midwife uses a baby doll to explain how the baby can press on us and how the uterus contracts around the baby.  When the baby has its back facing our back, it can lead to back/kidney contractions like I had with Juliette.  That would explain things!

Over the course of the next hour and a half we learn about the contractions that are supposed to happen before real labor and which help thin the cervix.  We learn to distinguish between those and the contractions that signal real labor.  You probably can't talk or stand through the real ones, she tells us.  Comforting information indeed.

The midwife tells us that if your water breaks you should get to the hospital within two hours. And she adds, they will never chide us for coming in too early or for a false alarm.  Also good to know!

There are butter cookies on the table in the middle and a few moms take a snack during the class.  I start chatting with the mom on my left.  She has a compact belly on her petite frame, putting her in the "cute pregnant" category.  She seems like a funny lady judging by her crinkly eyes.  She is worried about the long trip to the hospital from her home in the country about 40 minutes out.  She will have to factor that into the two hours max after the water breaking rule.  We learn that we both work in the training field, although she is more on the admin side.  For a moment we are back in our professional lives and not just our mom ones.

Then there is the mom who apparently has all the pregnancy woes imaginable: heartburn, leg cramps, constant need to go to the bathroom.  She doesn't have the numb fingers from swelling like me though, we learn, as we wrap up the class by talking (complaining) about all those aches and pains.

In the next class two days later, this time about breathing and positions during labor, we are accompanied by Charlotte.  She wears camouflaged pants and short faux military boots and has her blonde hair pulled up in a high pony tail.

At the beginning she asks us our "term" and if we intend to have an epidural or not.  The first lady is the picture of natural birth and optimism.  It is also her first baby, I must add.  She is there with her husband with his neat yet scruffy beard, the token male today.  She is sweet but fairly adamant about wanting natural child birth to better feel the sensations and push baby out.  And saving her perineum. She really doesn't want it to tear!

Charlotte goes around the room, each time addressing us as "Madame à côté" (the lady next to the one before) and I learn that some moms are pro and others anti-epidural.  Or at least for now.  When it comes my turn I say I know I am not so good with dealing with pain and am certainly open to the epidural.  The lady from the last time with all the aches and pains seems totally in agreement on this one.

We watch a video where the ideal husband is massaging his wife and helping her get into the right positions to ease the pain and deliver baby.  It is very sanitized as the mom is basically wearing yoga pants and a tank top.  The couple in the video is all smiles and relaxation and when the film finishes, Charlotte says, of course, this is not quite reality!

We then put the poses into practice ourselves, balancing on big balloons and nursing pillows. Charlotte demonstrates one position where the husband is behind on the balloon and helps suspend his wife by her arms to take pressure off the mom's pelvis.  Of course it helps if your husband is taller than you, Charlotte says here.

It's not my case, says the aches and pain mom.  It's not too late to change husbands, I joke with her.

We practice breathing in from the nose and out through the mouth.  This is a classic exercise to help with pain during contractions.  Natural birth lady asks if she should be tightening her perineum during this.  Forget about your perineum, Charlotte says in a friendly way, you don't need to worry about it now.  I restrain from telling natural birth mom that even with a c-section the perineum can be strained.  Don't want to wreck all her hopes right now.

I say goodbye to crinkly smile lady and wish her luck on the rest of her pregnancy.  She is due one day before me and doesn't know the sex of the baby.   When I tell her I am expecting a boy, she says, ah, well maybe that means I am too.  I don't have the heart to tell her that the conception date doesn't influence the sex of the baby, but maybe she is just using pregnant lady logic, which can be faulty.

Just don't tell my husband that we preggers can be illogical.  I still need him to think I am right (all the time!) and be there to help me breathe in, breathe out.  To be continued...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Travelog

I am officially half-way through my vacation. I have also gone more than half-way across the US this time around.  Just so happens we had planned a great American tour and we have clocked some miles and enjoyed every minute of it.

Here are a few of the highlights and quirky moments so far!

Zika is makin' me freak-a
Before we landed in Miami there was an announcement aboard the plane reminding us we were entering a potentially Zika-infected area.  As in the mosquito-borne virus that can be dangerous to fetuses.  Yikes! I had forgotten about Zika.  My aunt had bought me natural-based bug spray, but reading online they said the stronger stuff containing Deet was ok for pregnant women (and also recommended for their spouses).  Luckily it appears there are no new active cases this year, but we are still trying to be careful with the bites.

Touchdown in Miami
Sorry to disappoint but we didn't spend more than about 30 minutes in the hotspot that is Miami.  Our true destination while in Florida was my aunt's city of West Palm Beach.  This, as its name indicates, is the city west of Palm Beach Island, where, incidentally, POTUS has his mansion.  There were certainly enough palm trees to turn my plant-loving husband's head.  We dipped our toes in the Atlantic and ate outside in a restaurant that had ceiling fans galore and a fountain with real turtles.
Thanks, Will Smith, for making this stick in my head.


When sandals lose their soles
My well-worn sandals decided to breathe their last breath after that famous trip to the Atlantic. Seems fitting they wanted to see Florida one more time before giving out on me.  As my friend Caro said, good excuse to go shopping.

Florida melting pot
We met so many interesting people in our brief time in Florida.  From a Southern lady who wanted to pray with us on the beach, to a Jamaican-born grandma taking the train back to Miami and the folks hanging out in the pool speaking Spanish and English with each other depending on their mood.  I enjoy hearing and seeing the mix of cultures down there.

From below sea level to the mile-high city and beyond
We left the hot and humid streets of Florida for the cooler mountain air of Colorado where my dad lives.  From the first view of the Rockies in Denver, it was a total change of scenery.  We climbed even higher to 8,000 feet or so in my dad's town.  Luckily we didn't get too out of sorts with the change in altitude except for some occasional dizziness for Remi.
At over 12,000 feet at the Continental Divide


Animals everywhere
To keep Juliette's attention it takes more than mountains (though she likes nature, too).  She got to feed chipmunks from her hand in a ghost town, saw cotton-tail bunnies and deer.  Not to mention the occasional dog to pet.  Have animals, will travel.

Family chill time
Got to hang out with my dad, aunt and sister in Colorado.  Yes, we were sometimes all plugged into our devices in the evening, but we also had homemade biscuits from my aunt, impromptu dance-outs from Jess and Juliette, and charades and guessing games with my sister's fun Heads Up app.  I feel like we made some great memories!

Southern comfort
Now we are back in Alabama in the home I lived in from my early teens.  Is it my imagination or did my southern accent magically come back as I strolled the streets of Auburn?  Why did I find the need to buy big cheap pearl earring studs like sorority girls wear with their themed t-shirts?  Why must I fight down the urge to buy Auburn onesies?
Auburn colors anyone?


I am sure we will fill the rest of our time with fun outings and meals and just hanging out.  That is what vacations are for, after all!  And even sweeter when you are back home.

Friday, June 16, 2017

How to tell the world you are expecting- in ten easy steps

As you may have guessed by the title, I have some big news.  In the form of a big (and growing bigger by the day) belly.  And, no, it is not due to all those French pastries.  At the ripe young age of forty-ish (indistinct grumbling) ahem years old, I am five months along with baby number two.

Frankly, it took me a while to get used to the news as I peered at my drugstore pregnancy test.
And then I started telling other people.  Seems easy enough but there is something of a fine art and maybe a bit of protocol to telling your entourage such news.  If you find yourself in this situation, I have now created this guide...just...for... YOU!

1. Tell your significant other.  Seems logical enough to start with the father.  Remi was pleasantly surprised though we had both hoped a second child would come along.  Just took a bit longer than expected.

2. Tell your doctor.  In France at least, the next step is seeing your GP to get a blood test to confirm. My doc started yawning half-way through my rehearsed speech (yes, I do rehearse these kinds of things) and asked my matter-of-factly if I wanted to keep it.  I guess he sees all kinds of situations and never knows what state of mind the mother-to-be may be in.  "Of course!" I said.

3. Tell your work bestie who will find out shortly anyway (see step #4).  My great friend Caro was kind of the litmus test.  Her reaction warmed me immensely as she started shrieking with happiness on the phone.  If she was happy for me, I knew most of my friends and family would be, too!

4. Tell your boss.  Although there is apparently no legal obligation to tell your boss before the first three months, it is recommended in France.  Pregnant women are protected from firing in most cases as well.  My stressed-out boss started giggling uncontrollably after congratulating me.  Could have something to do with the fact that my co-worker had just told him the same news a month earlier about herself.

5.Tell your family members.  Now when you live overseas this gets tricky.  I needed to find a time to call them and find a way to naturally slip this sort of news in the conversation.  When I asked my sis if we could FaceTime during her lunch break, she got suspicious.  She knew something was up. For my mom, I told her to make sure she was sitting down.  With my dad, I told him they might need to slow the pace during our upcoming summer trip as I would be a bit "weighed down".

6.  Tell your GYN.  I had tried to call her first.  But she had retired since I last visited her.  So I went ahead and made the appointment with the OB/GYN department at the hospital.  I was frankly a bit worried about being judged for being an over-forty mom.  And though they said it is not highly common, they do see other moms in my age group.  No judging here!

7. Tell your first-born.  Was stressing this one.  As an only child for eight years, Juliette didn't quite know what to make of the news.  At first she said she wanted to stay an only child (too late for that). Thus ensued about a month of unconcealed animosity towards her unborn sibling. Once she saw the size of some baby clothes a friend lent me, she realized this little creature would be like a doll at first. Now she is eager to meet her new baby sibling. But I know it will be a bumpy ride for a while there.

8. Tell your in-laws.  They, too, were taken aback.  My MIL said something to the extent that I wouldn't be going back to work (as some French moms take up to two years off with the second child, though not paid at their full salary, mind you).  My FIL said there would be a big age difference between the two (nine years when baby arrives in October).  I reminded him there are 17 years between him and his youngest brother.  They have both said positive things since then, but they are, how to say, old school French!

9. Tell the rest of your friends.  Do not be offended if I didn't personally tell you by phone or text or FB messenger of my news.  Time differences and time constraints have made it difficult to do so. Plus, it is tough to just announce this kind of thing in a messenger conversation when we don't always communicate through this medium but more by comments on FB or the occasional email.  So, friends, consider yourself now fully informed!

10.  Tell Facebook.  Debated when and how to divulge this information.  No, I didn't have to but as it is starting to show, and I will no doubt post pictures of bébé on social media one day, might as well tell all.  'Tis the modern world.  At least I didn't tweet it.  (@world: baby on way. If u don't congratulate me, ur a loser! #preggers).  Nah, I chose the blog route, true to form.

Did I leave anyone out?  Like I said, no hard feelings if you are just now discovering this news. Better late than never. I'll leave you with a pic of the proud sister-to-be and me.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Push and pull

If I haven't blogged in a while it's because I've been awfully busy.  Which is exactly what I wanted to talk to you all about today.  The majority of you out there work yourselves, and even if you don't work now, no doubt you know that rush of work days that melt into evenings of dinner prep and bath time for kids and falling into bed exhausted.  Only to wake up and do it all again the next day.  There is never enough to time for everything.  Until you retire.  And then you've got too much time.

This very thing struck me the other day as I was driving home and saw the neighbhorhood retired guys who sit on the low brick wall and chew the cud.  Or whatever the French equivalent to that expression would be. I think their wives must kick them out.  I was rushing home from a long day to get Juliette from school.  They were shooting the breeze and watching cars of younger working folks go by.  I don't have enough time.  They have too much.  Push and pull, yin and yang, feast or famine.

Then there is my neighbor, a 74-year old widow and retiree who is lonely and bored.  So much so that she sometimes knocks on our door three times a day to bring us some taboulé she prepared or ask Remi to cut a big celery root for her.  She certainly helps us out a lot by picking up Juliette from time to time when I finish late.  We appreciate her help immensely though sometimes the notion of privacy seems to go beyond her.  She needs to kill her time, while we value any free time we have.

No where do I see the push and pull of time more than with Juliette.  My little big girl is just that lately.  Still sliding tweendom with sarcasm and sweetness.  I see her growing longer and thicker.  I see that little girlness sometimes taking a backseat to funky dances in front of the mirror and acting like she is a singer.  I blame Katy Perry but I know it is kids these days.  If I had a dime for every time I reminded her she is 8 and a half, I would be independently wealthy for sure.


Sometimes I push her myself.  I wish she already could do some things all by herself, like wash her hair and add the conditioner.  Or I wish she understood and reasoned like an adult.  At the same time I secretly don't want her to grow up and value giving watching over her bath time.  I will never get used to the push and pull from this girl, but it certainly isn't over yet.

Even Catki has been pushing and pulling me this week.  Sometimes he is a first class nuisance, getting in my legs every time I go in the kitchen as he reminds me he is hungry.  Banging on the downstairs doors at six to remind us he is...surprise- hungry.  Then this week he didn't bang and didn't meow.  He basically didn't eat for five days which is just not like him.  It took two trips to the vet, two shots of antibiotic and one laced with cortisone to see improvement.  Two days later we heard those sweet meows in the morning.  He was better, though not quite his normal self.  And maybe out of habit he meowed because it was morning.  Sometimes he pushes me to the edge, sometimes he pulls on those proverbial heartstrings.

So whether you are in the push or the pull, remember there is something to value and appreciate in each state of mind.  Don't let the rush prevent you from slowing down a bit and enjoying moments, people, pets before it's too late (or they grow up or pass away).  It's a balancing act worth perfecting if you can. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Peace, love and bla bla


red paint heart palm hands art "He who is not a liberal at 20 has no heart. He who is not a conservative at 40 has no head." 


Apparently it wasn't Churchill who said this.  But rather some French statesmen.

At any rate, it's something my mom quoted to my sister and I quite a lot in our youth.

I am now approaching 43 and find myself still closer to the liberals (#!+@ing liberals, for some of you out there) on most issues, at least in the US.  I am slightly more conservative in France where people already have quite a good social and health care system.

The thing is, there is a difference between saying you care about other people and really caring.

I say I care about the poor, the homeless, those discriminated against, the war refugees.  But what do I do on a daily basis besides occasionally give money to charities or someone on the street?

I often find myself skeptical, wary, of the alcoholic beggar, reasoning more with my head that he'll just spend my euro on alcohol.  So occasionally I have given food instead.

Or the woman who seems to be a gypsy at the intersection who has a ten-year old boy begging with her.  In cold or rain.  My skeptical head says she and her boy are being manipulated by some kind of mafia and my euros will go to the head of that mafia and not her and her child.

But when another gypsy approached me as I loaded groceries in my car and asked for money I gave her a banana and a pack of ultra-sterilized milk.  She immediately pointed to my old boom box in the trunk that I use for work and asked for it, too. I told her I "no" as I needed it for work.

I said to myself I would do something for the refugee camps set up in my region of France.  Instead of going on site (which frankly seemed a bit scary to me) I gave food and toiletry items to the Red Cross.

And when I think about it, I pray for those suffering and in need.

I'm not saying these things to get congratulations.  Frankly they are small gestures compared to those who drop everything and travel across the world to help refugees in Greece or humanitarian aid workers and doctors in Africa or the Middle East.  I have never quite been that involved.  I have never been so brave.

I am just wondering out loud and to you, how does one put their money where their mouth is when it comes to caring?

In our current world climate of holier-than-thou on both sides of the political spectrum, where is the path to, for lack of a better word, righteousness?  No, earnestness.  No, kindness.

Until I figure it out, I will try to be the kindness I seek.

With a smile to the old man who takes a long time crossing the street.  By letting the lady with just two items go in front of me at the supermarket.  By looking kindly at women wearing hijabs or striking up conversations with people from all backgrounds.  By teaching my daughter not to call other children "fat" or that she should play with all the kids in her class.

Kindness and caring are not weaknesses.  They should come naturally.  We all just need a little practice.