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Pillow Talk

Each morning this week Liberty has been crawling into bed with us and delivering the most killer lines.

Monday: “Mommy go coffee shop all day ‘gain?” This after I spent most of the weekend out of the house working on my comprehensive exam essay. I asked if she preferred going to the Cub Hub (which she loves) after school or coming home and reading library books with me. She unequivocally preferred coming home after school. For the first time ever! So we did.

Tuesday: “Isaiah have soccer prastis?” This was her response when I told her Brooklyn and Isaiah would be coming over after school. She remembered that Isaiah used to have soccer practice on Tuesdays and then hang out here afterward while his Mom was in class.

Wednesday: “Blythe say lay on cot, ‘Iberty. Mi-mi say lay on cot, ‘Iberty. Grace say lay on cot, ‘Iberty.” This random proto-narrative suggests naptime at school is challenging for everyone. Apparently no one pats backs in the toddler room either.

Of course what these squiggles can’t capture are the halting gaps as she tries to form the words, almost as though she’s short on breath. Or the way the pitch of her voice careens upward at the end of a question. I’ve been around lots of two-year-olds in my life time, but I didn’t remember the sheer effort it requires to make mouth muscles cooperate enough to express these newly complicated thoughts.

Recently Liberty has decided that she’s not all that interested in being a big girl. When we snuggle, we’ll often have a dialogue that goes something like this:
Liberty: I baby.
Me: No, you’re a big girl.
L: No, I not bi’ girl. I baby. Change m’ diaper?

Incidentally, this has coincided with regression in the toilet training department as well, although that’s been improving the last few days.

I think the obsession with all things baby has to do with too many onerous tasks (like dressing herself, holding still at the dinner table, etc.) associated with being a big girl. So I usually remind her that babies can’t eat chocolate chips or “nups.” They can’t color or paint. They can’t run in the grass or go down the slide.

I think I need to focus more on the pleasures of growing up rather than just the responsibilities.

This week I was reading about the importance of rest, and it occurred to me that this calendar year was so full, there wouldn’t be a moment of rest for me until next January.

Suddenly I had to question the wisdom of my plans. My current schedule had me ABD by the end of 2011, but it would also mean that I would start the fall semester totally exhausted. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Spring semester: finish coursework and start reading for comps (plus deal with snow days when daycare was closed and Liberty’s FOUR bouts with high fevers in the first two months of 2011) DONE

By end of the May intersession: crank out 27 pages of my draft comps essay DONE

June: take German translation course, teach composition, read for comps

July: teach composition, finish comps draft essay (20 more pages minimum), pack up to move

August: move, paint new place, go to Oklahoma for a week for brother’s wedding, start the fall semester

Fall semester: teach two sections of professional writing, RA for 5 hours/week, revise comps essay, read for comps, and take oral exam by semester’s end

Four days into the summer semester I finally had to face up to just how unrealistic this schedule was. Suddenly I couldn’t remember why it was so darn important to be ABD this year. Technically I have until next May. I also thought of how little time I have for relationships–both with family and friends. I thought of social and organizational obligations I’ve been ignoring. I thought of how much of Liberty’s childhood I am not recording.

Once I made the decision to e-mail my advisor about pushing everything back a couple of months (knowing she would probably be on board with that), I suddenly felt as though a life sentence had been commuted. No more heart-stopping moments when I wonder how the heck I’m going to get it all done. I was suddenly feeling that end-of-the-semester whoosh of relief that I never felt in May.

And now my fingers are itching to do something creative–sew a purse, alter a shirt, make a jewelry organizer. It’s funny how just the prospect of rest can make energy levels skyrocket.

So partly in celebration of this moment, and partly because there’s simply no time like the present, I have a new goal this summer: take just two minutes a day to post something I want to remember.

And that’s where the title of this post comes from. As of a few weeks ago, when Liberty has to wait on us for something, she holds up two fingers and says sweetly but firmly, “Two minutes! Two minutes!” When I’m working in the kitchen, she crawls up onto the back of the couch so she can see through the pass-through, and mischievously shoves those fingers in my face, saying, “Two minutes! Two minutes!” And then promptly reaches down to turn on the faucet or grab whatever is within reach. She constantly repeats the ritual no matter how many times I interrupt her explorations and demand that she crawl back down.

This morning I’m at Lakota. I left the house around 7 to bike over here for several hours of homework–hopefully making more time for fun later this weekend. My two minutes are long gone for today, so back to translating German I go!

Flax or Pharma

Sometimes when I don’t feel like taking the time to mill flaxseed or pre-soak my steel-cut oats, I think to myself, “Look at all the people who do perfectly fine on conventional diets–does this granola stuff really matter?”

But then last night I was at Walgreens and saw the long line of people waiting at the pharmacy.  This in a small town with a handful of other busy pharmacies as well.  Most of the people looked relatively healthy, but I can only conclude that their apparent health is dependent on a chemical concoction offered by corporations with tenuous public health track records.

Maybe conventional diets aren’t working that well for us after all.

Fun with Receipts

Yes, the kind they give you at the checkout that you crumple into your purse and forget about until you have your semi-annual purse-cleaning and find that chapstick you thought was lost forever.

This year we are getting back to more intentional personal financial planning. Nothing fancy–just tracking our income and outgo more closely. We’re trying make the process as easy and pain-free as possible so we’ll actually stick with it.

Our primary inspiration this time is Simple Mom who recommends PearBudget as a very streamlined but effective online tool. Basically, you decide how you want to spend your money at the beginning of the month. During the month you enter your receipts, and at the end you have a record of your monthly spending.

So today we were out shopping, and I scooped up a couple of shu-weet deals. When we got home, my nerdy inner-bean-counter got busy entering receipts.

It was when I looked more closely at the Goodwill receipt I noticed a charge for $24.93. I couldn’t think what that was, so I started digging in the bag only to find that the cashier had incorrectly rung up those two (new!) tool kits which should have been 2 @ $4.93, not $24.93.

I’d never have taken another look if it hadn’t been for entering it into PearBudget.

First thing Monday morning I’m heading back to pick up my $15.07.  How many other simple mistakes have been slipping right under our noses?

I usually don’t take a lot of time for reflection at the end of one year and the beginning of the next, but this time my memory is begging for a brain dump.  I don’t think it’s because of the fabled mommy-brain forgetfulness, but because as a new mother, I have so many things to remember. So the following post is as much for myself as for any lingering readers; maybe one day my wild, irrepressible daughter will cease conquering the world long enough to read it.

First things first:  Liberty’s milestones.

Picking up from last summer, at five months Liberty “woke up” socially.  She had always been a friendly, smiley baby, but she suddenly began taking more interest in other people.  One day when she was about six months old we were at a drugstore on Court Street in F-town when we saw a three-month-old baby with brilliant blue eyes.  Liberty was transfixed, cooing and reaching for the younger baby who promptly burst into tears.  The plight of a big personality, my dear. On Liberty’s seven-month birthday, we were snuggling on the couch when I noticed that her first tooth had arrived!  It was a long time coming–she’d been drooling and chewing any available fingers since she was two months old.

Shortly after this milestone, Derrick, Liberty, and I packed up the car and went to a conference in East Lansing, MI, where I presented a paper.  We spent much, much more time on the road than planned, but we enjoyed the fall leaves and the brisk walks at night, Liberty riding along in the Moby wrap.

Liberty was scootching on her stomach for several months when Derrick noticed that she COULD crawl if it meant keeping her tummy off the cool hardwood floor.  I’m not sure when–around eight months or so was finally crawling properly.

At Thanksgiving, we flew to Oklahoma to see family and pick up our (new-to-us) minivan we bought from Uncle Mark.  Liberty’s Nannie had been coaxing Liberty to pat-a-cake the last few times she came to visit, but with little success.  I decided she’d better have this skill down before we saw Nannie again, so the weekend before Thanksgiving we had lots of pat-a-cake practice sessions.  I was a little shocked at how quickly Liberty picked up on it, and decided it was high time to start working on other motor skills too.

Liberty loved the airport; she rode in the Moby, basking in the attention of other travelers.  On the plane, she nearly jumped into the lap of the young first-year med student next to me.  She had a few difficult moments on the plane, but it was nothing a bottle didn’t fix. The time with family was good, but short.  We realized that a child needs more than a day to warm up to extended family–maybe our future trips will be a bit longer.  We arrived home faster than we anticipated–with a baby, our trips to Oklahoma were averaging 10-12 hours; this time it was closer to 9.  Woohoo!

In mid-December Liberty saw the pediatric cardiologist for a six-month check-up.  As he had predicted, the hole in her heart has completely healed!  Even though we were never terribly worried about it, we’re so glad to know it’s definitely not a problem for her.

Christmas was a quiet one, but made so much more special with a child in the house.  This year the tree wasn’t for us, it was for Liberty.  Derrick and I barely thought about gifts for each other–Liberty’s gifts were so much more fun!  Also, we discovered a family self-portrait was near impossible, so a week before Christmas we were able to wrangle a kindly photographer into a photo shoot in our living room.  The cards were late this year.

Nannie Clark came for a few days, bringing Liberty a sleigh’s worth of toys from generous aunts and uncles.  She loved all of them, but was especially ecstatic about the plush toys.   On Christmas Day, Liberty stood unassisted for a few seconds; she’s been getting better and better every day since, but quickly drops to a crawl when she wants to get somewhere.  About this time she also started her own version of kissing–she sticks her tongue out and smacks it against her upper lip, very wet and very cute.  She also started mimicking the sign for “more” that I had been trying to teach her. Liberty is ignoring all the generations of a cappella music in her genes and grooving to every note of music she hears.  She loves banging around on her child’s piano and reaching up to the keys on the big piano as well.  She is the only person in the world who likes her mom’s dancing–unless she’s actually laughing at me behind those smiles!

Meals are getting messier all the time.  I usually feed Liberty some baby food or ground grown-up food, but sooner or later she knocks the spoon away, splashing squash all over the place; she much prefers feeding herself food she can actually pick up.  Liberty loves attacking orange slices, apple wedges, and banana chunks with her seven little teeth.  But little of it actually gets down her gullet–most of it gets spit back out, smushed on the tray, dropped on her seat, or tossed to the floor.  I’m trying to cut back on the crackers and Goldfish, but she’s crazy about them too.  I keep a stash of crackers in the van, so when the commute to school and back gets long, I hand a piece of cracker back to her.   Most of them end up wedged between Liberty and car seat, but they give her a lot of enjoyment along the way.

Recently I read Real Food for Mother and Baby, and was inspired to think outside the typical  wheat-based infant diet.  This week we found a source for raw whole milk and farm-fresh, brown eggs.  I haven’t given Liberty more than a taste of the milk yet, but she loves having an easy-over egg in the morning.  (Have I mentioned how she loves to steal food off her mother’s plate?  She’s simply got to have a taste!)

Liberty’s babbling sounds more like talking every day.  Her latest sound is “behh,” which may stand for ball, baby, bottle, or block–or something else.  Who knows?  Derrick swears he heard her say “Mama” this morning, but I missed it.  When she picks her plush dog (Thank you, Jana and Mark!), she says, “Eh, eh, eh” which I am sure is baby-talk for “Oof, oof, oof.”

Liberty has a knack for getting into everything except her toys.  She sticks her hand into the VCR, tugs at electrical cords, bangs on the glass doors of the cabinet, and is desperately curious about Mama’s laptop, Daddy’s guitar and the kitchen trash can.  The other day I couldn’t find a battery charger I had foolishly plugged in at baby-level.  I finally found it stuck between the rollers and the frame of Liberty’s walker.  Yesterday Derrick and I were in the living room when Derrick heard water splashing, and found Liberty exploring the guest room toilet.  Will we ever learn to close bathroom doors behind us?

I’ve been focusing on Liberty’s sleep schedule during Christmas break.  Up until now, our nights have been a mish-mash of bottles, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping.  Usually we start out well enough with Liberty in her crib, but by 2 am or so, things start falling apart.  Night before last I played hard-ball by refusing to bring her to bed with us.  I soothed her in her room, patted her back, lay down near her crib, and finally just closed the door and went back to bed.  Liberty cried for a while, but finally fell asleep.  Last night she woke around 3 and 5; I gave her a bottle each time and she went right back to sleep and slept until 6:40!  I wanted to sleep in–it’s New Years Day, after all–but I was too grateful for these developments so I gritted my teeth, got up, and we took a shower.

Every day I wonder how we were so lucky to have a daughter like Liberty.  Not only is she healthy and strong (30 inches long and 20 lbs. at her nine-month check-up), but she is gregarious, enthusiastic, warm, determined, and–did I mention?–utterly brilliant!  Picking her up after a day of research, writing, teaching, and classes, hugging her close, kissing her soft, squishy cheek, and feeling her arms around my neck is the best moment of the day.

Growing up in family of seven, I didn’t have any illusions about the romance of having children.  Children are inconvenient; they are work; they dominate virtually every aspect of your life.  I was very concerned about what having a child would mean for us–could we still pursue our own aspirations without short-changing our child’s quality of life?  But abandoning our own goals wouldn’t produce the kind of quality of life we want for them either.  Liberty has turned out to be an extroverted, curious child uniquely suited for our situation in life–even if that means we have to fish her out of the toilet once in a while.  She adores her teachers and the other kids at school; she’s as thrilled to see them in the morning as she is to see me when I come to pick her up in the afternoon.  She’s been amazingly flexible, easily adjusting to changes in the schedule or her diet.  We are enthralled.

And that is my very lengthy–but brief–recap of the last half-year.  As for New Year Resolutions–last year I decided to make a choice to floss my teeth every day.  Not a resolution exactly, more like a day-at-a-time decision.  Except for about 10 days give or take, I’ve continued until it’s an ingrained part of my routine.  For this upcoming year, I want to do something similar in my professional life–write/research at least one hour per day.  That might sound like a very low bar for someone whose job it is to write and research, but it’s too easy to push projects aside and then have entire mountain ranges of work to do come semester’s end.  I’d like to reduce that stress in my life and get more done at the same time.

A happy, healthy 2010 to you!

Declaring Independence

As of this week our house is on the market; so far we have had three showings.  This all came about much more quickly than we expected, so to get our place in shape, we rented a storage unit and have been filling it with all our non-essentials.

Keeping the house market ready is forcing me to change my perspective about stuff.  Everything that does not have a specific use is out.  When I think about buying something, I consider how many times I want to drag it around in the coming months.  Will it make housekeeping easier or harder?

As a result, I suddenly have all kinds of resistance to yard sales and thrift stores.  Why waste time looking at things that would only make life more difficult?

For example, we are only using one bottle for Liberty.  Yes, we have to wash it oftener, but having only one bottle makes the kitchen so much neater than a counter full of paraphenelia.  Yesterday Derrick suggested we see how far we can go without a sippy cup since Liberty has already latched on to regular drinking glasses.  I’m game!

Little decisions, for sure.  But decisions that prove less can be more.

It feels great to pass SALE signs knowing that we have everything we need. It’s a revolutionary concept in a consumer-driven society.  As if we don’t already have far more than most people in this world.

At the end of Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, Judith Levine reflects that in spite of her moments of desire, she ultimately experienced a sense of freedom.  She was no longer dependent on the accumulation of things for her happiness and satisfaction.

Breaking free from the mass marketing machine that is as American as baseball and apple pie is an independence worth celebrating.  If we don’t consciously decide how to spend our money, companies are using billions of dollars to plan our spending for us.

Mother Love

Today we learned that a young friend was in a motorcycle accident and is suffering from severe head injuries.  She is in ICU in Texas where the accident took place; her parents are traveling from Oklahoma to her bedside.  Stephanie is a beautiful young woman, full of life and spice.  When I saw her in May, she told me about the different high school electives she was considering–her options were wide open.

I never expected just how differently this kind of news would affect me now that I have a child.  My stomach twisted and an impulse to hold on tight and never let go rose up spontaneously within me. Tonight I looked at Liberty on my lap, slobbering on my hand as I refreshed my Facebook page again and again and imagined what it would be like to love and nurture her to young adulthood and then have the unimaginable happen.

As much as I hate blanket rules, as of today, Liberty knows motorcycles are off limits.

Years ago when my older sister Margaret was out with the youth group for the first time, the phone rang around 9:30 pm.  It was a service station/garage in town–who knows why they were calling at that hour, but that was all my mom needed to hear.  She jumped out of bed and was pulling on her socks and shoes as she headed for the stairs, certain that Margaret was on her way to the ER.

Of course, my sister was perfectly fine; the phone call had nothing to do with her.  Poor Mom has never heard the end of it from us–how she over-reacted, imagining the worst.

But tonight I understand Mom’s panic a bit better.  The urge to protect your child isn’t rational or measured.  It’s just there.  And the very suspicion that your child is in danger will make you crazy.

Which is why I can’t imagine what Stephanie’s mother is feeling tonight.  Nearly seven years ago she lost her sister, brother-in-law, and their three kids in a car accident.  Now her oldest and only daughter’s life is hanging by a thread.

I wish the family grace and peace tonight and in the days ahead.

And now I’m going to rock my daughter to sleep and hang on greedily to each moment.

EDIT:  Stephanie passed on a few minutes after I posted this entry.  We send her family our love in this darkest of hours.

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