The Blob

I don’t care how natural it is: I will never get used to breastfeeding in public. I even get the willies when I see other women nurse in public. I was once on the subway and a mother with huge boobs yanked up (on both sides) her already skimpy tank top for the baby to slurp away. I’m not saying women shouldn’t breastfeed in public, or even that they should be discreet about it- some babies are picky, and I know from experience there are times you have little choice. The baby’s screaming, he won’t or can’t take a bottle, and the only source of nourishment is straight from the tap. I used to hide in bathrooms, but it’s disgusting staring at a toilet bowl for 20 minutes while the baby nurses, and bathrooms aren’t always an option depending on the circumstance. But no matter how trendy breastfeeding might be, I’ll never be comfortable flashing my tatas to complete strangers, and if that means I’m repressed so be it.

Yesterday I was at another doctor’s appointment, this time to see a surgeon about the ever-growing lipoma on my back. In the waiting room it was just me, the baby, and a burly guy in workboots. And sure enough the baby started squirming and complaining. I glared at the baby. Seriously? I nursed you right before we left! 

I stared at the burly guy, stared at his workboots, stared forlornly at the Monet prints above his head, and reluctantly unbuckled my offspring. As discreetly as possible (let’s face it, there is nothing “discreet” about lifting your shirt up in public) I latched the baby onto my boob. I stared miserably at those workboots, trying to avoid eye contact with this poor guy who woke up that morning not knowing he’d have to watch a tiny human lap milk off another person’s chest. There’s a reason I didn’t become a stripper, I fumed inwardly. And this is it!

Finally the nurse called me in; I rebuckled the baby and made my way to the exam room where a very pleasant surgeon examined my back. “Oh wow,” he said upon sight of the lump (edge to edge it’s at least 5 inches). He explained it could be removed but the incision would be large and leave a scar.

“I don’t care about scarring,” I told him. “This thing is driving me crazy!”

Once home I looked up lipoma excisions on youtube. Youtube is remarkable in this respect: if you can comb through the stupidity and pornography there is a treasure trove of knowledge to be had. I found a video showing a lipoma the size of mine being removed and it was like watching a c-section birth of The Blob. I think I’ll be five pounds lighter when this thing is out.

My husband keeps joking it’s a sentient being, like those Star Trek episodes where one of the crew discovers his arm has been impregnated via alien contact. So it looks like my son will have an irish twin in the coming weeks. At least I won’t have to breastfeed it!

The Flat Tire

Yesterday started out as an unusual day. My two high schoolers had off, as did my younger children. My husband worked from home due to snow, despite little accumulation. After watching my 6th grader scrounge through a bag of hand-me-downs for a gym t-shirt, I decided today would be a good day to hit the uniform store for the much procrastinated new gym shirts, gym pants, and cardigans. I nursed the baby, bundled him into his car seat (he prefers his car seat to the crib for some reason), left him under the not-so-watchful eye of his 7 older siblings and headed off to the uniform store in my husband’s car. I’d only be gone 30 minutes. What could go wrong?

I was in the zone driving. I admit I enjoy the occasional break from the swarm of children I gave birth to. No whining, no germy hands yanking my clothes, no one begging for their tenth slice of cheddar cheese, no teen drama (“I ate five cookies, I’m sooo fat!!!)” nor my oldest son’s condescension. Just me, the road, and the radio. Until WHAM. I hit something turning into the parking lot.

Immediately the “tire alert” lit up on the dashboard. I’d hit the curb which was obscured by recently fallen snow.

I jumped out of the vehicle. Hissssssss…. air gushed from the front tire. I fumbled for my phone and dialed home. “I’ve got a huge problem,” I sputtered to my husband, who’d just replaced these tires at great expense. “I hit… hit… the curb and the tire’s dying before my eyes.” By the time I hung up it was completely flat, deflated hard against the pavement. My husband assured me he’d call AAA but the gravity of the situation quickly hit home: I had a breastfeeding infant miles away who was used to nursing every 45 minutes, and 30 minutes had already elapsed since his last meal.

See, this is the problem with breastfeeding. Unless you’re copious at the breast pump (I’m not) and unless your baby likes to drink from bottles (he doesn’t), a hiccup like this quickly turns into an emergency for both of us. For him, because he can’t eat; for me, because here I am producing milk in abundance with no baby to drain it. I tried to stay zen, bought the cardigan, gym pants and shirt, and asked the girl at the counter if I could wait in the store until AAA appeared. The AAA phone lady assured my husband a tow tuck would be at my service “momentarily,” but momentarily turned into half an hour, an hour, two hours…

A fellow customer took pity on my plight. “If you tell them you feel threatened, AAA shows up faster,” he advised. “Say you’re in a neighborhood full of white people- and you’re terrified for your life!” The store broke out in a chorus of guffaws.

But the minutes kept ticking by, and this is where the mommy brain kicked in and I began to panic. Each time I called my husband, the baby wailed piteously in the background. I talked my 12 year old through the steps of preparing a bottle of formula- our largely ineffective stop gap measure when I had leg surgery- but he doesn’t like it and always spits it right back up. At the three hour mark I begged my husband to say or do anything to get that tow truck to appear (he has the gift for the gab, I don’t). I’m not sure what he said but a tow truck did indeed materialize 10 minutes later.

It may as well have been a white steed in lieu of a beat up truck, and the pot bellied, disheveled driver was suddenly the handsomest man I’d ever seen: he would take me back to my baby! I watched with joy as the car was loaded up…

flat tire

… and, advising him I’d never ridden in a tow truck before, hopped in the cab. There were empty McDonald’s wrappers and soda bottles everywhere, and what looked like a bottle of some kind of homeopathic remedy in the ashtray. I noticed he had a Batman tattoo so I had to ask- Are you a comic book fan? Turns out he was, so we chatted about comic books as we rumbled through the familiar Staten Island streets.

I inquired: was he originally from Staten Island, and did he like it here? Yes and no respectively; Staten Island is no place to raise kids, he said grimly, not with all the heroin. He had plans to escape to Virginia. I macabre shiver ran down my spine as he described rampant heroin use on the South Shore, though I tactfully pointed out I grew up in New England and the kids there did plenty of drugs too.

“I watch a show filmed in England!” he said excitedly. “It’s called Skins.”

This isn’t the first time a native Staten Islander seemingly doesn’t know what “New England” means, and instead thinks I’m British. So I just went with it and said I’d check it out.

I practically ran home from the auto body shop where my new friend and I deposited the car, tore up the stairs despite my sore leg, and there was my 12 year old dutifully cramming a bottle into my chubby baby’s mouth. I gathered him up as though it had been weeks, not hours since last we met, and popped him on my breast while I relayed the tow truck adventure to my husband.

“I’ve never been so glad to be home,” I sighed, a la Dorothy. As though in reply the baby melted against me and guzzled down milk.

Parent Teacher Conferences 2

Last Thursday my son’s school held parent teacher conferences. I’d missed the ones in fall because I was hours from unexpectedly going into labor and could barely walk between my swollen leg and general physical misery. This made me feel guilty and like a bad parent, so I made a point to hit the conferences this quarter.

Like last year his teachers spoke of  him glowingly. He’s incredibly polite! Incredibly helpful! Always participates in class discussion! This struck me as odd because he hardly ever talks here at home and when he does, it’s cantankerous and chilly. My three year old is afraid of him, not that he’s ever been mean to her, but he’s very tall and speaks harshly when we dare approach him. I sometimes ask her to bring something to his room, and, silently, since she doesn’t talk, she shakes her head solemnly “no” and gives a deep scowl.

I was only able to speak with a few teachers before having to pick up the younger kids from school; conferences would resume that night and my husband agreed he would take care of any remaining teachers once home from work.

I was all nerves as evening approached because the next day (Friday) I was set to have an ablation procedure on my bad leg. After putting it off for years, I would finally have surgery to try to correct the severe varicoses that worsened with each pregnancy. It isn’t a big surgery as far as surgeries go, but I would be put under with the drugs Michael Jackson grew fond of (I admit, I kind of looked forward to that part) and my leg would be sliced and diced. So I broke out the wine to calm my nerves.

After a year of occasional alcohol indulgence I would probably still be considered a drinking virgin. A small amount hits me hard though I’ve learned to pace myself, drinking slowly. Being nervous, though, I probably drank more quickly than normal and by the time my husband arrived life seemed very merry and joyous indeed. I then got the brilliant idea of attending the remaining conferences with him, hey, it would be like date night! But why not have another glass of wine first?

One thing I’ve learned over my short drinking career is that I am prone to alcohol induced amnesia- colloquially known as brownouts and blackouts- from even a modest amount of alcohol. And it is at this point things get hazy. I remember pouring that extra glass of wine. I might have thrown in an impromptu glop of tequila (I bought tequila some time ago with the idea of making sangria, hated the taste, left it untouched in the cabinet) drank it in a couple gulps and happily told my husband I just needed to find my uggs.

I remember walking down the cold, snowy street to the Catholic boys’ high school. I remember seeing the big painting of Saint Peter in the foyer. Apparently we encountered the dean of discipline (my husband related this later) whom we greeted, and the first conference was in the main office with his physics teacher whose room is decorated with military paraphernalia.

I’m not sure what happened next but I have memories of the Trigonometry teacher saying something about regents; there may have been a teacher after that but I have no memory of it. At one point I was standing in the hallway while my husband attended a conference solo (I’d already seen that teacher) and the walls swam around me. I stared up at the ceiling and it was like watching a fast motion celestial progression. This is cool! I thought; Why don’t all parents drink before these stupid conferences?

There was a long conversation with his theology teacher who had a thick and charming British accent. For some reason my husband was talking to her about Game of Thrones- I stood there smiling and nodding my head- but I don’t remember much after that, though obviously I made it home, because around 2am I woke up in my bed and realized with sheer horror and mortification I’d shown up drunk to my son’s school. I was so horrified I couldn’t fall back to sleep and watched the minutes tick by on my hand-me-down smart phone until 5am when I had to get ready for the surgery.

As my husband drove me to the vascular surgeon I asked with caution and dread how he thought the conferences went the night before. “It was great!” he said brightly. I breathed a sigh of relief but was afraid to probe further.

The surgery went fine though my leg currently looks far worse than before, swollen, bruised, and I’m once again limping. I have a “mandatory” parent teacher conference with my wild 6 year old’s first grade teacher next week, and will be sure to show up clean and sober.

Russian Ark

I was delighted to see Russian Ark is currently on netflix streaming. This is the most remarkable film I’ve ever seen, not only for the fact that it was filmed in a single 96 minute sequence shot (perhaps the only film ever made is such a manner?) but also for its understated pathos and beautiful acting.

This is a tough film to describe. I’m not even sure if this deserves a spoiler warning, because there really is no plot per se. The “narrator,” whom we never see, abruptly finds himself in Russia’s Hermitage after some kind of accident. Time “bends” in the Hermitage allowing him to observe salient points of Russian history, including Catherine the Great and Tsars Nicholas I and II. Along the way he encounters a 19th century European diplomat (based on the Marquis de Custine) who becomes the “narrator’s” critical tour guide through the palaces and their treasures.

While this may all sound very highbrow the film is in fact charming, visually stunning, and easy to watch. It is also imbued with the mysterious aura of a ghost story; the insertion of modern day Navy sailors browsing the collection is almost certainly a sad nod to the Kursk submarine disaster which occurred two years before the film was made.

This is a scene where the grandson of the Iranian Shah ceremonially apologizes to Tsar Nicholas I for the murder of Russian diplomats at the hands of an enraged mob. There are no subtitles in this clip, but it’s pretty self-explanatory.

The film never comes out and states that these events are taking place in some sort of afterlife, but it sprinkles breadcrumbs through the narrative suggesting that the Hermitage has been transformed into a purgatory or way station of sorts for souls of the departed. For instance, in one scene the marquis complains a man “smells of formaldehyde.”

Sergei Dreiden is brilliant as the temperamental and opinionated marquis who glides through the palace, effectively embodying the splendor and ceremony of a bygone era.

The Interview

~spoiler free~

I’m ashamed to admit I enjoyed The Interview, currently on netflix streaming. Despite the incredibly, massively, shockingly gratuitous amount of scatological humor (I don’t think five seconds of the film transpire without mention of bodily functions or genitals) I found myself cackling with laughter throughout.

The general plot is probably well known thanks to the Sony hack, which, incidentally, I still don’t believe was instigated by North Korea. Perverse tabloid TV host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his brofriend/ producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) snag an interview with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), the CIA gets involved, and international mayhem ensues.

ciainterview
Franco and Rogen conspire with the CIA

The acting was surprisingly good- Franco plays Skylark as a likable Satan incarnate; Rogen’s Rapaport is satisfyingly three dimensional with inner clashes of arrogance and self-doubt, and Randall is especially compelling as a blustering Kim Jong-un. The great performances are all the more remarkable given how stupid and trite the script is.

The pacing is well done and the film’s overall moral or message- well I’m not sure what the moral is- but it’s generally positive and patriotic, which almost makes me believe Rogen’s mea culpa concerning his tweet about American Sniper. If they’d wanted to trash America, there was ample opportunity to do so in The Interview but it maintains a pro-American stance, even giving a nod to the Navy SEALs.

I do wonder how offensive Kim Jong-un himself might find the film. So much of the film rests on wordplay, and lowbrow American cultural capital, that he might simply find it utterly incomprehensible and bizarre.

 

“Frozen” as Anti-Male Manifesto

[spoiler heavy]

As I’ve mentioned previously, I didn’t really like the film Frozen. The plot doesn’t make sense. The animation is weird, especially the big eyeballs on the female leads.

bigeyedelsa
Demon Elsa

The music is cute but so-so. And the underlying anti-male stance of the narrative is disturbing, though in my immediate circle no one other than me seems to notice or care. My husband thought the film was fantastic, even my uptight son gives it two thumbs up. Nevertheless Frozen has seized the heart of pretty much every girl on the planet, including my own daughters. The non-verbal three year old- whose fourth birthday is fast approaching- is obsessed with the film. She actually does have about ten words on a good day, among them: Anna (“Ahh… nahh”), Olaf (“Oh-woff”), Sven (“Fen”) and the occasional Let it Go (“Edit Oh”). Thanks to her I’ve had the dubious honor of watching the film at least a hundred times, so I now consider myself a Frozen expert, and my opinion of the film remains unchanged.

There are no positive male roles in the movie; men in Frozen are evil, useless, or chumps. Grandpappy is nice, but he’s, well, a troll. Olaf is funny, but other than his name he’s not exactly a man, sounds androgynous, and his body is always falling apart (granting the audience lots of “my butt” jokes). Prince Hans is evil to the core, and we have a Duke from the repeatedly mispronounced “Weasel-town.” Kristoff is sweet but he’s what the manosphere calls a beta- he lets Anna order him around and even goes so far as to deliver her to another man (Prince Hans). In the song “Fixer Upper” sung by his adoptive troll family, we learn that Kristoff is: clumsy, grumpy, has weirdly shaped feet, smelly, mentally touched, and leave it to Disney to make an overt reference to bestiality.

His thing with the reindeer…
That’s a little outside of nature’s laws!

The song goes on to call him socially impaired, cowardly, unmanly, and makes fun of how he pees in the woods (where else is an outdoorsman supposed to pee?). In other words, even though the song sounds cute and upbeat, it does nothing but bash Kristoff, the only decent guy in the film, as a perverted loser.

The movie has strong underpinnings of lesbianism (not that there’s anything wrong with that), further sidelining men. At first I thought I was imagining it but the more I watched it the more obvious it became. Elsa is born with a “shameful secret” that her parents urge her to suppress (Don’t let them see/ Be the good girl you were always meant to be/ Conceal/ Don’t feel/ Don’t let them know…/Well now they know!) even going so far as to cover up her hands so she can’t touch anything- especially her sister. When she learns of her sister’s nascent relationship with Prince Hans she freaks out and goes on an ice frenzy, even recoiling from a baby (i.e. the quintessential emblem of heterosexuality) encountered outside the palace. When Anna is about to marry Kristoff in the impromptu troll wedding, she faints just before the words “I do” because of the “ice” her sister placed in her heart. At this point it isn’t much of a stretch to reread the title of the film as “Frigid.”

Then we have the “act of true love” which is the only remedy for Anna’s ice affliction. She interprets this as a potential kiss from Hans- “true love’s kiss.”  Even though Kristoff has selflessly put himself at risk any number of times for her benefit, the kiss doesn’t come from either him or Hans, but instead is the act of Anna sacrificing herself to save Elsa (remember Elsa has been nothing but cruel to Anna throughout the whole film!) And then, when they embrace in a near-kiss, Anna is saved too.

elsaanna
Not quite a kiss, but close enough.

So instead of a guy-girl climax we have a girl-girl one. Once they embrace and cling to each other for a while, the kingdom is set right, with Hans getting punched in the face by Anna and Kristoff getting a lousy peck on the cheek.

Since the film is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” I was curious if all this gender stuff might be found in the original tale or if it was grafted on by Disney. The original story has been revised beyond recognition for Frozen, but the “search” in the original is a girl searching for a boy kidnapped by the Snow Queen. The girl then embarks on an epic journey to rescue him, so in that respect Disney maintains the brave female protagonist (Anna) but gets rid of the boy as the girl’s objective.

Make of it what you will, but if you have daughters you’re probably stuck with Frozenmania. Just this morning I had to break up a fight between the three and six year olds over an Elsa doll, which they carry around, in turns, like a totem.

Time Restriction for Weight Loss

The NYtimes recently reported on a study where time restricted eating (TRE) produced interesting results when applied to mice.

Mice fed a high fat, high sugar diet were divided into two groups: one that could eat whenever it wanted over a 24 hour period, and another that could eat as much as it wanted over just 12 hours.

While both mouse groups gained weight on the high fat/ sugar diet, the mice allowed unrestricted eating gained twice as much despite eating the same number of calories. These fatter mice also developed symptoms of diabetes while the time restricted mice did not. Even more remarkable, the obese mice lost weight when a TRE was applied to them, even if they continued to consume the same number of calories! This certainly flies in the face of the calories in/ calories expended model, which I’ve always thought was the most legitimate explanation for weight gain or loss.

There has been much speculation over rising obesity statistics, with couch potatoes and high fructose corn syrup typically targeted as usual suspects. Could it be, though, that the loss of traditional family mealtimes has been the primary cause? Once upon a time families ate together at set times, with meals prepared by the women of the house. With mom “guarding the gates” people were restricted to what they could eat and when. Fast forward to today, with less food being made from scratch and more women applying their efforts outside the household, and snacking and convenience foods have increased exponentially. Convenience foods like chips, crackers and packaged cookies are easy to snack on, whereas a homemade dessert served by mom after dinner doesn’t lend itself as well to around the clock snacking. And once mom closed up the kitchen after dinner, it was lock stock and barrel. Not so much anymore, and definitely not in my house. People grab what they want, when they want it, and we have no set mealtimes. However as I’ve mentioned before, my children are strangely effective at regulating their own food intake and none are overweight.

When I was a young child my mother was very strict about food. Diving into the fridge or cabinet for a snack was unheard of, and if I didn’t want what was put on the table I didn’t eat (and indeed I didn’t eat much of the time). As I got older, though, they lightened up and let me eat between meals and allowed different foods beyond the main course. For me this was a good thing as I’d grown quite underweight, but I can see how a kitchen gatekeeper might be beneficial for people prone to obesity.

So how should this translate for adults who want to lose weight? I don’t think it needs to be too complicated- just make sure you go 12 hours out of any given 24 hour period without food intake of any kind (except water, obviously). What I’d like to know is if the 12 hours can be staggered, or if the body needs a straight 12 hours without calories to replicate the mouse study effect (I’m going to assume the body is forced into brief ketosis during this period without food; this is why we can go to bed hungry but wake up feeling full).

I’ve always had a rule with myself that I don’t eat between 12 noon and 5pm. Sometimes I go 11am to 5pm without so much as a lettuce leaf. In addition I try not to eat after 7pm, so I’m technically restricting more than 12 hours- probably 17 to 18 hours a day. But I sleep a lot- and eat heartily when I do have a meal, so I’m not eating low calorie by any means.

The Great Monkey Chase

Nomads of the Rainforest is a 1984 documentary about the Huaorani people, an indigenous society dwelling in the rainforest of Ecuador. When this documentary was filmed 30 years ago, the Huaorani had only recently abandoned a life of constant infighting; up to that point fully 70% of Huaorani men died prematurely in spear attacks from rival groups. The Huaorani are the tribe famous for killing five evangelical missionaries who visited in 1955. Today, Huaorani men spend their days hunting while the women weave hammocks and tend small garden patches, and the children care for household pets such as monkeys and harpy eagles.

Like most indigenous cultures, the Huaorani devote a massive amount of time to the procurement and preparation of food (compare this to Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals). The best part of the documentary begins at 42:00 when the camera follows the 60 year old tribal patriarch as he embarks on a wild monkey hunt. Armed with a blow gun and poison darts, he tracks the monkey for three hours, expends 30 darts at targets ten stories above him, more than once climbing trees just as high- all this for 20 pounds of monkey meat. Watching him hunt, it occurred to me that he was probably expending more calories catching the monkey than he would obtain from eating it, as the monkey would be divided between his extended family back at the hut. With the women growing casava, peanuts, corn, plantains, sweet potato, and turnips you almost had to wonder why the men bother chasing wildlife in the first place. I guess it keeps them out of the women’s hair, and with spear attacks a thing of the past they have to pass the time somehow.

The more I learn about indigenous Amazonians, the more I am struck by how remarkable it is that my paternal great uncle emerged alive- much less unscathed- from his stay with the Yanomamo so many years ago. The Amazon has historically been referred to by explorers as “Green Hell;” not only do visitors face violent and unpredictable tribes, but the vast assortment of poisonous and carnivorous wildlife stands poised to maim and/or eat you at any moment.

Nomads of the Jungle is available in full on youtube, but be forewarned that as with most documentaries about indigenous people, the film contains nonstop nudity. At least Huaorani moms are spared the toil of three loads of laundry a day.

Lost in Conspiracyland

A couple weeks ago a friend suggested the film Snowpiercer to me. I watched a few minutes but was quickly turned off. Too much violence and gore. But it stuck in my head and I eventually revisited it.

I’ve discussed so-called Illuminati symbolism before, and as I said then I don’t particularly believe in it. Yes, there are weird symbols and hints in popular culture, and yes, some are so bizarre and “coincidental” I can’t explain it, but as I said before: if I were an evil genius bent on world domination, the last people I’d entrust with my mission would be a bunch of stupid actors and singers. And I’m hard pressed to believe the government is so organized that it can dictate the minutiae of Family Guy. They can’t even de-bug the healthcare exchange for cripes sake!

Yet as I watched Snowpiercer it became clear the film is filled with precisely this kind of symbolism, so much so it is less story (most of the “plot” makes no sense) and more “conspiracy allegory…” for lack of a better term.

This led me to the fertile fields of youtube to look for videos on the occult symbolism in the film, and down the rabbit hole I fell. I’ve spent the last week watching endless of hours of conspiracy theories, youtube style.

One of the stranger conspiracy theories I came across is that Michelle Obama is, in fact, a man. At face value this seems plausible: she sure looks like a dude in women’s clothing

michelleaman
c’est un homme!

… (she is 5’11,” and hefty as of late, after all) plus my highly accurate gaydar has gone off for President Obama since he was a wee state senator. But the conspiracist’s “proof” for her maleness is that Michelle’s ring fingers are longer than her pointer fingers. Uggggh. That’s very lame evidence indeed, as my own ring fingers are longer than my pointer fingers, especially on my left hand

hand

… yet I’m very much female & have the breastfeeding newborn to prove it.

breastfeeding2

Jennifer Aniston’s ring finger’s are likewise longer than her pointer fingers (same for Serena Williams) so this too, according to the conspiracy video, means they were born male. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Not to get too conspiratorial but there is the theory that there are operatives within the conspiracy community who intentionally plant stupid theories to make the rest of the theorists look stoopid. So I’m going to have to chalk the “Michelle Obama is a guy” theory up to a double agent. I mean, we all know some women look mannish, and if Obama is gay it would make sense he selected a masculine woman as his face-value life partner.

However Joan Rivers- not long before she died- blithely told a reporter that Obama is gay and the first lady a “tranny.” Two months later she was dead. Coincidence? Go to youtube to learn more… at your own peril.

Kate Gosselin Lands a Rich Guy

Kate Gosselin of Kate Plus 8 fame has snagged herself a CEO. Not only that but she’s looking damn good in recent interviews, so I have to recant my catty statements concerning her appearance. Maybe she quit smoking, or found a better botox salon, but with preternaturally glossy hair and larger-than-last-time boobs she cuts an impressive figure for a woman almost as ancient as I am. I’d call this look a mix of porn star + beauty queen. How does she get her hair so glossy?

thenewkate

Not only that but she has 8 kiddos!

When I saw this article I excitedly called my husband to the room. “Kate Gosselin has a boyfriend!”

He looked confused. “Who dates a woman with 8 kids?”

“Maybe he pays for nannies so he never sees them,” I suggested.

“Someone that rich could find someone without the need for nannies.”

“Maybe he likes her personality- some guys like controlling women.”

He remained baffled.

I have no idea if the new beau really is rich or not; some people look good on paper but aren’t in fact worth anything. Now if only someone could come along to rescue Octomom- I daresay she needs the help more than Kate.

My husband then speculated about Jon’s feelings. I doubt he cares much. Over the last season of Jon and Kate Plus 8 he looked perpetually stoned and disinterested.

White Flag

I surrender: life with a newborn 8th has abruptly turned rough. When I brought him home- at a teeny 5 lb 13 oz- he was very, very sleepy. This picture was taken during a rare moment of wakefulness.

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scrawniculus infantus

For the other 23 hours he slept while I lived the good life- cleaning the house, taking the odd nap myself. I was the one waking him up to get him to nurse. Being the oblivious person I am, I didn’t realize constant sleepiness is normal for somewhat premature infants and life would soon change.

Fast forward to today and he’s a hulking 11 lbs 3 oz,

11 lbs
chris christie cheeks

…and is awake during the day more often than not, and grumpy. Because we had no heat he grew accustomed to sleeping next to me, and now he absolutely won’t sleep unless some part of him is squished against some part of me. Being a light sleeper I constantly toss and turn while he wakes with every toss or turn, wants to nurse, passes out asleep the second he latches on, over and over and over again. I know this is how indigenous women in the jungle wile away their nights, but I’m not an indigenous woman and I desperately need a little uninterrupted sleep.

Last night I decided to kick him out of bed. I put him in the crib, which I’ve tried before but this time I meant business. I grabbed my hand-me-down smartphone and used the timer app to count down 15 minutes. No matter how much he screamed I would steadfastly ignore him and surely he’d fall asleep. And boy did he scream! I cracked at 9 minutes, tucked him up against me in bed, and we spent the rest of the night waking each other up.

His favorite trick is using me as a human mattress which wasn’t so bad at 5 lbs, but at 11 lbs I can barely breathe with him crushing my rib cage. Maybe I need a tougher rib cage.

human mattresscan’t…. breathe

 

Hearthstone Review

My son is now a published writer twice over. This is his review of Blizzard’s Hearthstone published in the school paper.

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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a free-to-play online turn-based collectible card game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The game is available on Windows, Mac, iPad, and eventually will be released on Android tablets and iOS/Android Phones at some point in 2015. Set in the Warcraft universe, the game revolves around two players with a deck of 30 cards each attempting to reduce the other player’s life to 0, winning the game. What makes the game interesting is the nine classes each player can pick to base a deck on. Each class has its own unique abilities and cards to use, so each class has its own particular tactics in the game. The game has hundreds of cards to pick from (and by the time you read this article, at least a hundred more will be added in the game’s first major expansion), allowing players to create a wide variety of different compositions to utilize.

Compared to more traditional collectible card games, the rules of Hearthstone are relatively easy to get into and understand. The closest thing they can be compared to is Magic: The Gathering where you use mana you gain every turn to summon increasingly powerful cards with various abilities. Despite its seemingly simple design, there are a lot of intricacies to the game. In fact, it has a sizable professional community, with the 2014 Hearthstone Tournament boasting a $250,000 prize pool for its participants.

Compared to other free-to-play titles, the game has a fairly decent model, but it is important to remember that this is still a card game, and these always tend to favor those with money to buy tons of cards. You have a set of 60-80 cards for free when you first create an account, gaining several more as you level up each hero through playing games. If you want to get cards beyond just that, you need to either buy Booster Packs or play Adventures which earn you a set of themed cards. You can either buy these with gold, an in-game currency earned through completing daily quests (usually something simple like “Cast 40 Spells” or “Win 2 Games as a Paladin”) or real life cash. Yes, it is a lot faster to pay with cash instead of grinding out gold, and yes, the best decks involve cards you don’t immediately get for free. However, there are plenty of perfectly competitive decks that can be acquired quickly through either method.

In the end, Hearthstone is one of the highest quality CCGs out there, with a reasonable transaction system and a set of mechanics that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. If you’re looking for a game like this, Hearthstone should be the first one to consider.

Breast is Best, or Not

When I first started getting pregnant 17+ long years ago, I took it as a given that I would breastfeed. Of course I would nurse my kids! Breast was best, the formula companies were evil cabals poisoning our planet, and breastmilk is free. I had friends who breezily nursed their children, in public even, lifting a shirt and popping the baby on her boob like it was the easiest and coolest thing in the world.

Then I gave birth, tried to nurse my son, and was met with the most blinding, horrific pain I’d ever experienced (that pain has since been trumped by my horrific homebirth). But I kept at it, and at it, until day 4 when I cracked. “I can’t do this,” I told my mother that night. “If this is what it’s supposed to feel like to breastfeed, the human race would have died out long ago.”

My mother, still working as a principal then, was horrified. “Oh you don’t want to bottlefeed,” she said in her stern teacher voice. “It’s such a pain to prepare bottles, so much effort!”

“Effort I can withstand,” I told her. “Torture I can’t.”

So we prepared a bottle for my son who guzzled that thing like there was no tomorrow. My milk had not yet come in; as a first time mom I didn’t know this was abnormal, and I realize now the poor thing was likely dehydrated and extraordinarily hungry in the name of “breast is best.”

I continued to give him bottles through the next day. This irked my husband who kept harrumphing: “But what about BRAIN DEVELOPMENT?” (Back then they still thought breastmilk increased child IQ, until they figured out smarter women choose to breastfeed, thus their kids are genetically inclined to be smart like mom.) But I kept with my line: If that was what breastfeeding is supposed to feel like, the human race would have died out long ago.

That night (this is day five by now) my milk finally came in. Something in my head clicked. “Let’s try this again,” I told myself. I took off my shirt and sat with my son in the quiet dark, gritting my teeth, and put him on my breast. He nursed, and it hurt like hell, but not quite the hell of the previous days. And this time, unlike every other time, I could hear him swallowing milk.

I quit the formula and continued to nurse him for more than a year. I then nursed my second child for 18 months. And so on. With my fourth daughter I developed recurring mastitis, but I kept nursing because breast is best and every time I tried to wean her I got mastitis from the build up of milk. One time, my fever got so high I hallucinated (which I wrote about in my Wake Up post). This went on for 14 long months while I was bedridden every few weeks with raging fevers. It was so debilitating I had to ration how many times I walked up or down the stairs of our small home. I was only 30 years old but fully expected all this misery and constant infirmity to eventually kill me. I remember lying in the bathtub one time, feverish and in agony with yet another bout of mastitis, asking god to finally take me.

But I kept nursing the babies as they came. I really didn’t know how else to feed a squalling newborn (formula feeding seemed so complicated: what kind of formula? how much? what kind of bottle?) and I still believed there had to be some health benefit to nursing, even though by that point all my kids had eczema and two have severe asthma. Breastfeeding supposedly reduces the risk for both.

In her article The Case Against Breastfeeding Hanna Rosin describes her “aha” moment when she realizes she’s been had by the “breast is best” brigade. Sitting in the pediatrician’s office she reads an article that breastfeeding may not, in fact, reduce the risk of obesity in children. She’s stunned, and realizes her years of breast-based efforts to keep her kids lean and mean may have been for naught.

My own “aha”moment came when I researched drinking during pregnancy. I was flabbergasted to find a study showing children of women who drank moderately during pregnancy actually had higher IQs than the children of mothers who abstained completely. I realized then that just like breastfeeding mothers are smarter (in our culture anyway), drinking mothers probably have higher IQs- being willing to think for themselves, researching the subject- and their children are genetically prone to inherit their intelligence. It was all a lie; breast was not necessarily best, yet I had spent 17 years and immeasurable physical anguish pouring human milk into the guts of my offspring.

But this is where the mommy brain kicks in. For whatever reason, I don’t mind. I’m ok with it, and I’m still nursing my newborn son. To quote Rosin:

My best guess is something I can’t quite articulate. Breast-feeding does not belong in the realm of facts and hard numbers; it is much too intimate and elemental. It contains all of my awe about motherhood, and also my ambivalence. Right now, even part-time, it’s a strain. But I also know that this is probably my last chance to feel warm baby skin up against mine, and one day I will miss it.

Yeah, that sums it up nicely. It’s something that can’t be articulated. When it’s not agonizingly painful or making you sick as a dog, breastfeeding is beautiful, ancient, and visceral. I remember one night those many 17 years ago where I sat up in bed with my son to my breast, and I had the haunting realization that untold women for untold centuries had been sitting up at night doing this very same act and feeling the very same emotions welling up and through them. It gave me goosebumps I was staggered by the weight of it as my son glugged down milk. It didn’t matter who he would become, it didn’t matter even who we were; we were mother and child in the most basic act of sustenance known to man.

Prostidudes

Over my lifelong fascination with prostitution, it never quite sunk in that there are male prostitutes who service female clientele. I mean I had a vague idea such a thing existed- ages ago I saw a news broadcast about it, and I watched the film Star Maps where an attractive woman hires a younger male prostitute to service her, and of course Midnight Cowboy- but it never registered in my mind as being an actual phenomena. And it never dawned on me to google about it; the internet is a treasure trove for this sort of topic.

As it turns out there’s a whole world of heterosexual (or willing to simulate heterosexuality) male prostitutes, and some of the stories are not just fascinating but hilarious. Take NY Post writer Mandy Stadmiller who took up the journalistic cause of visiting the first legal male “prosti-dude” in Las Vegas. She describes him as needy, dorky, beset by mommy issues, none too bright. She departs from the Shady Lady Ranch unimpressed and $500 poorer. She’s even turned off by his over-eagerness (I thought that was the whole point of the transaction?)

A short google stop away is the “companionship service” Cowboys for Angels. What a cute name! It almost makes you feel you’re not looking at a prostitution website. The guys certainly are attractive but my highly accurate gaydar goes off for most of them:

gaycowboy
gaydar: ding ding!

… and the remaining “cowboys” sport the fresh out of prison look:

 prisonlook
handsome from hard time

which leads me to the reason I would never, ever sleep with a prostitute even if I weren’t married and wholesome- disease! Imagine all the bodily fluids that have gone into and out of these guys.

One or two of the cowboys look like perfect gentlemen:

niceguy
exudes trustworthiness

What’s a nice guy like this doing on a sleazy website like that?

This cowboy looks like the hooker version of Obama, with some Vulcan thrown in:

obamaversion
obey my executive order

But if you put a gun to my head, and MADE me pick one, I’d pick… hmmm…

greekgod
sculpted by Michelangelo

I don’t normally find long hair attractive on men, in fact I might pay him an extra thousand to shave it off, but I guess I’m a sucker for the Greek God look. I can almost imagine him gripping a trident, or hurling thunderbolts at his enemies. I could do without that tattoo, but it’s all good.

Empty Beer Cans = 2 Points

My mother is visiting for week. The idea was, she would be here right after the baby was born to lend a helping hand, or at least an adult presence with a driver’s license. But the baby is five weeks now and I’ve managed to keep everyone fed, clothed and alive over that duration. So far she’s left a space heater on (when no one would be in the house) and left a stove burner running for hours; she didn’t turn it off after heating up soup. As someone with a high paranoia of fire, this has me on high alert for imminent disaster. She’s not senile, or ditzy, but being around so many whiny kids all day will make even the best minds falter.

This morning she regaled us with an interesting tale from her days as a principal. In the 1980s she ran a kindergarten center that offered free half-day programs to the five year olds of the town. Remember, this was before the days of universal pre-k and lots of kids didn’t even go to kindergarten, and most kindergarten programs were half-day. Her school received a Title 1 grant to offer full day programs to disadvantaged students; these students would be selected with the government’s criteria of maternal education (or rather, lack thereof) and eligibility for free lunch. So if your mom never finished high school, and you received free lunch, you were eligible for full day kindergarten.

The only problem was these two criteria produced a pool of 60 students while there were only 40 seats available. So my mom had to derive further criteria to winnow the pool. She finally hatched a plan with the teachers, that at pick up time they (the teachers) would examine the interior of the vehicle the child entered to be ferried home. Certain features would be assigned points, and the kids with the most points would be placed in Title 1.

  • interior of the car is clean – 0 points
  • interior of the car is messy but primarily with kid stuff – 0 points
  • interior of car is messy, and school projects litter the floor (as opposed to being lovingly magnetized to the fridge) – 1 point
  • interior of car is messy with empty beverage containers – 1 point
  • interior of car contains empty beer cans – 2 points
  • the parent needs to be reminded to buckle child before taking off – 2 points

With this method she got the group down to 40, and she claims the intervention of full day kindergarten helped these children so much that even by 4th & 5th grades they were achieving on par with their peers. This runs counter to studies that show early interventions have little effect by the time children reach older grades (but I kept my mouth shut). She and her teachers were even asked to give presentations on their interventive program at conventions, which they did, but when asked how exactly they selected children for the group she could never bring herself to describe the exact methodology and instead stated it was based on maternal education and free lunch status.

The subject of maternal education is an interesting one. While I haven’t read up on it, according to my mom the influence of paternal education is negligible while a child’s mother’s education is heavily weighted in that child’s future. So a guy could have a PhD, but if his child’s mother is uneducated his own pedigree won’t matter, statistically speaking. And the inverse is true. A man can have little education but if his wife is well educated the child will be at a significant advantage. Why the maternal influence is more potent than the paternal one is unclear; perhaps women are more aggressive when it comes to their child’s education, or, for whatever reason, their interest in the child’s education matters more, or is more efficacious, than the father’s.

In terms of my own kids this might put them at a slight advantage since I dropped out of graduate schools slightly later than did my husband, though he eventually went back and finished his degrees. Too bad the internet and documentaries don’t count as education, because that’s all I’ve had since.

Lilyhammer Season 3

(spoiler free)

I spent more time than I care to admit Thanksgiving weekend glued to the sofa in my husband’s office (one of the few places in the house that can be kid free; there are doors that lock). I watched a lot of netflix, including season 3 of Lilyhammer. What else am I going to do while nursing this tiny baby for hours on end (apropos: season 3 features Sigrid’s new boyfriend, the one with the breastfeeding fetish)? I watched the season over two days and came away both amazed and bitterly disappointed. Disappointed because the plot was woefully disjointed- more so than the slightly disappointing but still enjoyable season 2-and the spectacular Trond Fausa:

trondfausa

…is given little to work with. The primary plot involving Torgeir not only doesn’t make sense, but requires a double so he’s not even the sole actor, for himself. Ugh. I was really hoping to see him shine through the screen as on season 2 but it didn’t happen. Like season 2 there’s also an uber-lame and implausible love interest for Johnny. I guess this show will be like the James Bond franchise where each season features a disposable hot babe.

As for why I was amazed, season 3 offers a plotline for Jan (exiled to Iraq at the end of season 2) that is simply stunning and the pinnacle of what tragicomedy ought to be. I didn’t know whether to laugh or weep as his tale unfolds, and it’s probably the best plotline the show has seen thus far. Given that Jan is one of the show’s least likable characters, it was thoroughly unexpected to witness such a sharp and poignant tale featuring him.

jan
Fridtjov Såheim as erstwhile NAV employee Jan

There’s also some surprisingly good acting from a new goomba in town; Rhys Coiro plays the icily cutthroat Tommy Mangano who has his eyes set on Johnny’s nightclub throne. Chaos and goodfella action ensue.

Season 3 also tries to impart a spiritual message, though what exactly that message is I’m not sure. It has something to do with redemption, guardian angels and enlightenment, but the nice thing about Lilyhammer is you don’t have to think too much while watching it.

The Dark Side of Breastfeeding

Having had kids over a span of 17 years, I’ve been privy to changing attitudes toward breastfeeding over that period. When I gave birth to my almost 18 year old way back when, the hospital was barely tolerant of breastfeeding and you had to put up a fight to make sure your baby wasn’t given bottles. Lactation support was nonexistent and you generally felt like a weirdo every time you bared your chest. 15 or so years before that it was almost impossible to breastfeed in a hospital- I had one woman describe to me how nurses threatened her with social services if she didn’t give her newborn a bottle. So I began having children right on the cusp of the Breastfeeding Enlightenment, where mothers were encouraged to breastfeed, hospitals are now plastered with pro-breastfeeding posters, and lactation consultants give out their cell number with an invitation to call anytime.

I nursed all of my children anywhere from 12 months to nearly 2 years. That’s a lot of breastfeeding. I once sat down and calculated how many calories of breastmilk I’ve produced just based on infant weight gain, and it was in the 400,000 range. While I don’t regret breastfeeding, and I’m currently exclusively nursing my 8th, I wish I’d been better informed on the difficulties of “the womanly art.”

1) It hurts at first, and for some women (like me) the pain can be excruciating the first few days or even weeks. The pain fades over the first month and usually disappears by the 4th or 5th week.

2) You may be prone to plugged ducts and mastitis. In some women any kind of upper body exertion (like carrying groceries, or slinging your baby) can trigger plugged milk ducts which can quickly turn into mastitis. And speaking of excruciating pain, mastitis is horrific.

3) Once you get mastitis, you’re at greater risk of getting it again. Some women will get it recurrently with it returning every few weeks.

4) The health and social boons attributed to breastfeeding may not in fact be a result of all that breastmilk. Correlation does not imply causation. For instance, it was widely reported at one point that breastfeeding increases child IQ. Researchers eventually realized smarter mothers were choosing to breastfeed, and thus their children were genetically prone to have higher IQs. Other benefits attributed to breastfeeding probably follow suit, like the lessened chance of obesity and higher socioeconomic status.

5) Once a baby acclimates to the breast they may well refuse a bottle, even a bottle of expressed breastmilk. This leads to a very scary situation where your physical presence is a fragile infant’s sole source of sustenance. Where you go, he must go, which makes things like going to the dentist, running out to the store, or having needed surgery increasingly complicated. Same goes for if the baby needs extended medical attention. While it’s nice to be joined at the hip to your cute newborn, it’s also frightening to contemplate what exactly would happen if he lost access to your boobs.

6) You may not be able to pump. Some women, despite having good supply, cannot pump. Even with a hospital grade rental I get almost nothing. So if you ever are faced with separation from the baby (such as a medical emergency, a career outside the home, or a shared custody situation) and people tell you “just pump,” it may not be so easy.

7) If your milk takes more than 48 hours to come in, your baby may become dehydrated and calorie deprived, which can lead to jaundice, which can lead to your being separated from him while he’s under lights.

8) You may not lose weight while breastfeeding. For every woman who claims to reach a size zero while nursing her baby, there will be another woman who gained. In theory body fat should metabolize into breastmilk, but anecdotally I have encountered countless women who describe having to eat like a horse to maintain an adequate supply, or whose body simply won’t shed weight until she weans.

9) You may not be comfortable nursing in public, and/or, your baby may refuse to nurse in public, or may otherwise be picky about nursing conditions. A couple of my babies simply wouldn’t nurse in public, too distracted by the noise and activity around them. Another wouldn’t nurse unless I was completely topless (not happening in public). This will further constrain your movements since you’ll have to time outings between when the baby is hungry.

That’s about all the negatives I can think of. In fairness I should point out the light side of breastfeeding (yes, I watched the new Star Wars trailer yesterday-can you tell?).

1) It’s free.

2) Baby poop produced by breastfed infants doesn’t smell.

3) Breastfeeding protects the mother from breast cancer to some degree, but whether this is due to suppressed menstruation, exposure of breast tissue to breastmilk, or some other factor, is unclear.

History of the Eagles

By chance I began watching History of the Eagles on netflix the other night; I don’t have a particular interest in the Eagles, but was intrigued by the fact this documentary is 3+ hours long. I soon found myself inexorably drawn into the film’s plethora of early footage and modern day interviews with members and ex-members. They describe early musical influences (The Beatles are mentioned more than once), their incremental rise to fame, and the eventual break up and present day reunification of the group. They also share details of what life was like at the zenith of 1970s fame- with its endless stream of sex, drugs, alcohol, and adoration. In one scene an “after-party” camera interviews the various young women brought in for the musicians’ social needs.

In watching this film I realized a number of songs I recognize, like Take it Easy and Seven Bridges Road are in fact by the Eagles. My sister had a boyfriend in high school who was into the then already classic Eagles, so I was familiar with seminal hits like Hotel California and Life in the Fast Lane; she even wrote a high school English paper on the meaning of Hotel California’s lyrics. But I realize now there are any number of songs I recognize from the radio that are, in fact, by this group. Don Henley expounds on the timelessness of the band’s music by pointing out they kept being played ad infinitum on the radio long after the band’s breakup, causing generations to “live their life” to the soundtrack of their albums.

Several times through the film, both in 1970s interviews and modern day, the band speculates on why their music has proven so popular. Henley suggests it’s because they dress like regular guys on stage (this is true- worn t-shirts and beat up jeans are de rigueur for their performances, with the exception of Joe Walsh who occasionally dresses eccentrically) and thus the audience can relate to them as “regular guys.” Another possibility put forth is that, given the political and social strife of the 70s, the relaxing sound of the Eagles appealed to audiences. Interestingly they never suggest the music was simply really good, and that this attracted their vast fan base. While I’m not much of a rock aficionado, even I can recognize these guys were- and are- tremendously talented, gifted with extraordinary musicality.

Part two details The Eagles’ present day reunification. I have to admit I cringed during the initial footage of the aging rockers picking up their guitars, but amazingly they sound just as good now as they did in the 70s (well maybe not 100%, but a solid 90%). Most rock stars destroy their voices over time from overuse and substance abuse, but somehow the Eagles progressed into middle age unscathed, still gifted with preternatural singing ability.

In summation, History of the Eagles gets a thumbs up from yours truly. It’s a beautifully executed documentary and the subject is interesting as well, even if you aren’t an Eagles fan. Here is the trailer for your consideration.

 

 

 

Life With Eight Kids

Life with 8 kids isn’t too different from life with 7 kids. So if anyone out there is considering the leap from 7 to 8, know it isn’t difficult. In fact, living without heat the past 11 days during a nasty cold snap has been infinitely more stressful than dealing with a sweet, sleepy newborn. (For the record, only 3 of the 8 have been sweet and sleepy. The rest screamed like pterodactyls through their infancy. I know no one knows how- or if- pterodactyls screeched, but they screeched on Land of the Lost.) Going down to 50F was tolerable, but once we got to the 40s, 30s– eek– 20s, it was painful to get up in the middle of the night to pee, only to have your bee-you-tee-tee hit an icy toilet seat. I kept the baby either bundled or directly against me the entire duration. I wonder how eskimos manage their newborns?

Perhaps because I was spared the last 24 days of the pregnancy, I don’t feel that bad. Usually after I give birth I feel like my midriff and private parts have been through a wood chipper. As of this moment, besides somewhat sore boobs, the only pain is from the six inch bruise the IV hookup left down my inner forearm. Because I’ve been pregnant so many times, and because I was bleeding so much, they left that horrible thing taped into my arm for 48 hours. But otherwise (ahem) I seem back to normal, albeit I haven’t tested the waters.

I put off bringing the baby in for a checkup for fear they’d stick him back under the lights. Head to toe his skin is a mottled reddish-orange. I forced myself to go in today, and was relieved when the pleasant pediatrician assured me he was jaundiced only on his face, and that any other discoloration was due to his slight prematurity.

with aleric

My mother often tells me I was jaundiced as a baby and was kept under lights for weeks, and this inhibited her bonding with me. My mother was never an emotive type but she always sounded terribly sad when she related this story, similar to when she talked about mother cats mewling for kittens once they are given away to new homes.

The non-verbal three year old has taken surprisingly well to her new baby brother. This evening she carefully placed her finger by his fist to allow him to grab onto it while she gazed at him thoughtfully. Who knows what she was thinking, but it seemed like good thoughts. I probably shouldn’t call her non-verbal, strictly speaking, because after watching me nurse the new baby a few dozen times she started saying “boobs.” (Or, “boo;” she has difficulty with final consonants.)

Chillin’, Literally, Again

Being the responsible people we are, we decided to make the cost efficient switch to gas heat from oil. Gas is currently half the cost of oil and doesn’t require deliveries, thus eliminating the problem of running out of fuel, having to call the oil company begging the bitchy receptionist for a delivery and a technician to restart the furnace. The only problem is that earlier this year the oil company claimed we were contractually bound to accept one more delivery of oil, so the tank was filled up late spring.

My husband was determined to burn through every damn shekel of that oil before we converted, which obliged us to project how far into autumn the oil would last. I estimated mid-November and encouraged him to schedule the conversion for that point, which would give us a narrow but reasonable 2-3 week window before the baby was due.

We ran out of oil while I was in the hospital, so my projection was off by a week and I got to bring a 5 lb 13 oz newborn home to a house without heat. The plumbers told us they could convert that very week but it dragged into next week, so we’ll have been 10 days without heat by the time the new furnace is installed (tomorrow, if the furnace gods are kind). Which wouldn’t be that being a deal if I didn’t have this tiny baby who can’t regulate his body temperature; his fingernails were perpetually blue while in the hospital.

Times have changed over the 17 years I’ve had children. Back in the dark ages when my oldest son was born, the nurses were barely tolerant of breastfeeding and hollered if they caught you in a supine position with baby in arms. They had a “sitting only” rule for fear you might do something so perilous as fall asleep holding a baby. But this time around, a haitian nursing assistant kept chastising me for not holding the baby against me constantly to keep him warm, and breastfeeding was heavily pushed by the nursing staff.

I don’t know if it was because he arrived early, but I could tell over the first 24 hours of nursing he was not getting anything out of me. I didn’t even have colostrum (early milk). I finally broke down and asked that same nursing assistant for some formula. “Oh good!” she sighed with relief. “We’re not allowed to say anything- but he needs it.” I’d never bottle fed before, and felt like a child playing with a doll as my son guzzled down the bottle. His stomach was so empty I could hear the liquid sloshing into his tummy. Then one of the nurses came in, and I explained I was temporarily giving formula but still intended to breastfeed. She snatched the bottle out of the baby’s mouth. “Don’t give him too much!” she scolded. “The more formula you give, the less milk you’ll produce!” Good grief. Like I don’t know this? I’ve cumulatively breastfed 10 years and produced approximately 400,000 calories in breastmilk over the duration- and that only accounts for weight the babies gained, not energy expended. It ended up being a moot point, because once he was under lights I couldn’t breastfeed him anyway. But despite all that formula he’s nursing beautifully, and I’m pretty sure he’s back in the 6 lb range.

During the day we have space heaters running and I find excuses to cook things at 400F. This raises the second floor temp to a tolerable level (the main kitchen is on the 2nd floor, which until hurricane sandy afforded me a beautiful year-round view of the upper part of a plum tree). I wouldn’t necessarily recommend space heaters to anyone in a similar predicament because they’re a massive fire hazard, particularly if left on at night. By day I keep the baby swaddled and at night I keep him close against me under the covers. Between both our body heat it’s quite toasty- I guess out ancient ancestors knew what they were doing, before the invention of cribs.

Call of the Cockroach

While in the hospital last week, I noticed a cockroach scurry over the feet of Jesus. The Jesus statue stands guard over the lobby of the formerly Catholic hospital, and being an irrational pregnant woman I wondered if this was a good sign or a bad sign? It was a cockroach (bad sign) but cockroaches are fertility symbols, albeit a negative one, but it was a healthy and energetic cockroach (good sign) and he was scampering over the feet of Jesus (good sign?). Of course, I was sent home packing, so the prescience status remained inconclusive.

Exactly 48 hours after I started leaking fluid- I still believe it was amniotic fluid; I caught a sample and it was clear with white flecks, probably vernix- and at exactly 36 weeks 3 days gestation, I began having painful contractions as I lay in bed late Thursday night. Since I’d already been sent home twice I decided to give it some time to determine how bad they would get. They got pretty bad, and I continued to have small gushes of fluid whenever I moved. I ventured to the bathroom to clean myself up and abruptly delivered a huge blood clot onto the floor. It looked like a hunk of raw meat. Bright red blood chased the clot down my legs.

I stared at this gore in disbelief. What the hell was going on? I then realized with horror I hadn’t felt the baby move through any of this (about two hours). I poked my stomach, quickly ate some ice, lay flat on my back. Absolutely nothing. This is when me, who never cries, became hysterical. I woke my husband and got on the phone with the AWOL dr’s answering service and wailed I’d just passed a blood clot and the baby wasn’t moving. My husband got me to the ER where, in panic, I told the guard I needed to go to L&D.

“Who’s the patient?” he asked. I guess I really didn’t look that pregnant.

“ME!”

I was even more hysterical in L&D and didn’t want to be put on the monitor for fear of confirming the baby was gone. The nurse coaxed me to the stretcher and hooked me onto the monitor- and a perfect, rhythmic heartbeat rang through the room like a chorus of angels.

I started sobbing, but as soon as I could adjust to the seemingly miraculous turn of events I was hit with brutal contraction after brutal contraction. I’ve given birth four times without an epidural, and these contractions were as bad as they get around 8 cm, but I was 5 cm when they checked me. The pain was paralyzing and blinding. I begged for an epidural. I was shaking, keening, and two very sweet nurses worked as fast as they could to whisk me out of triage.

The anesthesiologist arrived like a beacon of light: a sunburned (had he been on vacation?) curly haired angel. In retrospect I only had to endure those brutal contractions for about an hour before settling into the blissful numbness of the epidural. I began having flashes of Born at Home in my head, where rural Indian women labor on dirt floors without pain relief of any kind, in primitive huts without water or electric. Wow- I was lucky.

When they next checked me I was fully dilated as the baby fast made descent to the world. It happened so quickly the AWOL dr nearly remained AWOL. I was, in fact, disappointed when he did appear, because I’d grown attached to the clever, young, female resident who’d attended me up to that point. She made cracks about her “big bootie” which somehow lifted my otherwise terrified spirits. The AWOL dr entered stage left 10 seconds before I pushed; by this point they moved me to the larger surgical room because the baby was, technically, premature. The obstetrician acted like a rock star, barking orders to the nurses and asking, do I like Bruce Springsteen? Because apparently, this was the soundtrack he wanted while he performed his magic.

There was no time to reply because before I knew it my legs were in the air and my son emerged with half a push, Bruce Springsteen crooning in the background. The baby was scrawny, pale, bawling; the pediatric team grabbed him and doused him with oxygen while the OB grinded away at my abdomen. I was bleeding too much, he explained, but he would save me.

I kept peeking over at the baby trying to see what he looked like. He was tiny, skinny legs and a fat face, red feet and hands flailing.

And then it was over. They showed me the baby- he was small but looked perfectly healthy. He didn’t need NICU and could go straight to the regular nursery. The OB had shot me up with a bunch of stuff but I was still bleeding like crazy. When they brought me to the recovery floor, my gown was drenched in blood and I left trails of blood everywhere I walked despite a triple layered fortress of sanitary pads between my crotch and the floor. But we were both alive, and ok.

I am home, but he is not, because of high bilirubin levels. Which means I get to torture myself with a hospital grade breast pump that would have come in handy during the Spanish Inquisition.

Mom That’s Gross

This post contains so much female stuff I don’t even want to write it.

Tuesday night I was going about my business, tossing side to side in bed, waking up every two hours despite a unisom-induced haze, when I felt a gush of fluid spurt out of me. It wasn’t pee. I’d already peed. I lumbered into the bathroom again, turned on the light, and blinkingly looked at undies soaking wet from some kind of clear fluid.

Amniotic fluid? No, it couldn’t be. That had never happened before. Historically, my water has broken only during active labor. So I went back to bed. But it happened again, and again, and again. By that last “again” I was in tears (remember, I don’t cry easily. I cry about as much as your average man). With tremendous reluctance I called the OB’s answering service. When I got the nurse on call, I told her through those tears I had been leaking gushes of fluid since midnight. She told me to go to the hospital.

I got what I could in order; my husband was staying home that day anyway to take my son to a neurology appointment. I set up the non-verbal three year old with TV, cornflakes, water, and journeyed to the hospital, feeling nothing but dread. It wasn’t supposed to be happening this way.

In the L&D unit I was surprised to find a normal married couple waiting for attention. Over the course of this pregnancy I have encountered an inordinate number of teen moms in the company of unenthusiastic babydaddies. But there were wedding rings between these two! And a schedule! They were waiting for a c-section. The mom was astonishingly ginormous. Three of me could have fit into her.

The receptionist summoned me to the desk and the first question asked was: have you recently traveled to West Africa? I was sorely tempted to say “yes!” just to freak her out. But I didn’t. She took all my information and eventually I was called to triage. Behind the curtain to my right was an enormous mexican lady in preterm later. She needed an interpreter, and I was on the cusp on volunteering before deciding to shut up and stay put. To my left was another ginormous mom-to-be (seriously, these women were barely shy of 300 pounds). The women were so rotund I felt self-consciously slight by comparison. Had I been starving my baby by not packing on pounds like a Venus of Willendorf?

“I’ve been leaking fluid since midnight,” I told the nurse, feeling utterly helpless. Later a male midwife (a male midwife! Just like Lilyhammer!) appeared and said he would do a sono and a fern test.

The sono showed low fluid and I started crying- again. The male midwife was comforting and said 98% of the time, babies born at this gestation were fine. Then he did the fern test- which came back negative.  So according to science I wasn’t leaking amniotic fluid but something else. I can tell you now, it definitely was not pee. I know the difference. The male midwife said he would send me for a more sophisticated sono, which showed adequate fluid and a robust baby squirming around. By this point I was a confused wreck from not knowing what was going on. If it wasn’t amniotic fluid, what was gushing out of my netherparts at regular intervals? I never got an answer, and they sent me home.

I kept leaking fluid. When I went to bed, every time I tossed from my right side to left a gush of warm liquid poured out. By the next morning I was in near panic feeling I’d been misdiagnosed and that my amniotic fluid was leaking like a sinking ship. I called the answering service again and got the overworked nurse who manages the prenatals for the AWOL obstetrician. She told me to come into the office and she would check me out.

I went to the office, and in the waiting room started to feel contractions. Again I was in disbelief. This shouldn’t be happening, not like this. After her exam she decided I wasn’t leaking amniotic fluid, and that it was either a very watery mucous plug or I was just crazy. Of course, as soon as I got home I felt more gushes of this mystery fluid. It was so bad I had to ask my oldest daughter- the only menstruating female in the household- for some sanitary napkins.

“I think I’m leaking amniotic fluid,” I explained to her apologetically.

“Mom, that’s gross!” she said,

“But it’s saline water.”

“It’s gross!” and she brought me a few sanitary pads which I carefully stashed in my bathroom.

Later that evening the contractions started up again; I wondered what the Indian dais would have to say about my condition. They’d probably give stern instructions to eat lentils, drink milk, and stop whining.

By this point I’d prefer a dai to my AWOL obstetrician and the fern test. The contractions picked up while I prepared dinner for the kids, but died back down an hour later. I guess time will only tell. What is 20ish days, in the course of human history?

Curiouser and Curiouser

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been watching a lot of birth videos on youtube in an effort to get myself in the mindset of pushing this critter out of me. I usually watch homemade videos or a reality TV series like BBC’s The Midwives, which is actually pretty good (not to be confused with Call the Midwife which I’m not crazy about).

But I sensed right away something was weird about most of the birth videos on youtube. The descriptions would emphasize the youth of the mother, or the pain she is in, or how graphic the video was. In short it was obvious these were being put up by and for people with some kind of sexual motivation. Now I know there is pregnancy porn out there, and that some men are aroused by pregnant woman, but it never occurred to me there are people with actual childbirth fetishes- you know, of the actual event, with all the slime, poop, screaming, and squalling alien-looking newborns. Oh how wrong I was!

It took me weeks to gather the courage, but I finally googled: do some men have a fetish for birth videos. I kind of wish I hadn’t, because the answer is much stranger than I imagined. Not only are there men aroused by women in labor- but there are women, too, with this interest, or at least there are plenty of women willing to talk about it on the internet. Almost unanimously they identify themselves as straight, have no interest in ever really being pregnant or having an actual child of their own, but for whatever reason they get tremendously turned on by the sight of women pushing out babies while screaming in agony.

I didn’t think at my ancient age of 41 I could find something that surprised me, but here you go. I guess I could say this is really weird, but in theory all sexual behavior is weird. I once watched a documentary about gay orthodox jews, and a gay jewish man recounted a discussion he had with a rabbi about gay sex. The rabbi asked him, “Why one earth would a man want to put another man’s penis in his mouth?!” to which the gay man replied, “Why on earth would any man want to put his penis in a woman’s vagina?!” The rabbi thought for a second and conceded he had a point: all sexual behavior is, on some level, irrational.

In my youtube adventures I did discover a gem of a documentary: the Indian-produced Born at Home. Despite what the title conveys this is not a homebirth advocacy film, but rather a docu about uneducated, low caste midwives (dais or dhais) who attend up to 90% of births in rural India and 50% in urban areas. Despite delivering so many of its citizens, the dais have no formal recognition from the Indian government or medical establishment. Dais treat their “patients” with a variety of folk medicine and superstition surrounding the placenta. Folklorically, it is considered a sin to cut the umbilical cord- even long after baby is breathing and the placenta has been delivered. This is why only women of low caste can practice midwifery. More than one midwife describes how an unresponsive newborn can be resuscitated by heating the placenta still attached by umbilical cord. The “life” travels to the baby and revives him. In theory I suppose this might work, since a still attached umbilical cord could function as a conduit delivering heat and a sort of rudimentary blood transfusion.

Without quick access to doctors the midwives are laid back about things like breech births, which most obstetricians would not attempt to deliver vaginally. “The chin gets stuck,” these midwives say shruggingly, “And you stick you finger in the mouth to tilt down the chin.” The only births that cause them trouble, they claim, are transverse births (when the baby is positioned side to side).

Here is the documentary in full; there aren’t any graphic birth scenes, and in fact only one full labor/ childbirth is shown where a dai presses her grimy bare feet against the delivering mother’s inner thighs while the baby is coaxed out.

 

Gotham

After much nagging, my son finally joined two school extracurriculars: chess and newspaper. Up until now he felt such activities were beneath him.

His first published article is a review of Gotham. I think he writes quite well, especially when you consider he had no formal schooling until last year. He’s a bit too colloquial, and ends sentences in prepositions, but is otherwise (in this maternal opinion) proficient at the keyboard. I guess all those years of posting on message boards taught him a thing or two about sentence construction. Here is his article, for your enjoyment:

***

When Gotham was first announced so many months ago, no one could be blamed for being disinterested or hesitant. The Batman mythos has seventy years backing it, and in those seventy years countless variations on the Caped Crusader have been made. From the camp to the gritty, countless writers, actors, artists, directors, game designers, and other creative minds have left their imprint on the public’s perception of the character and the cast surrounding him. So the idea for a prequel to the whole thing is going to have some very high and varied expectations to meet.

Starring Ben Mackenzie as a young James Gordon, the show features his first few years as a detective in the city of Gotham, an obvious fictional stand-in for New York City (some parts of the show, such as the Arkham Asylum, were even filmed on Staten Island). The show sets a vague date which appears to be a hodgepodge of modern-day technology with the crime rate of the ’70s, with some of the ’30s mixed in. Along with his partner Harvey Bullock, he will try his best to struggle against a broken system that has led to a city government controlled by organized crime. Along the way, he will meet various characters from the Batman franchise.

On a technical level, with the exception of one really awkward scene, most of the show is pretty well done: scenes are wonderfully detailed with many extras, and the atmosphere of a crime-ridden metropolis is maintained throughout. Fights are as well done as you can expect from TV. As of the first three episodes there has been relatively little need for special effects, so, except for some incredible silly sequences from the third episode, it manages to avoid having any blatantly bad effects.

On a writing level it’s a mixed bag. On the characterization side, the show is a bit over-indulgent in constantly testing the future destiny of characters to a far too obvious degree. However, most characters, both new creations for the show, like the gangster, Fish Mooney, and the old ones from the franchise, are well characterized, with proper motivations for their actions. Only some side characters fall into the role of two-dimensional caricatures. The cop characters are particularly bad in this regard, one gleefully chatting in the open about beating confessions out of people with his trophies.

In terms of tone, the show sets an odd balance. On the one hand it is gritty and tries to place a realistic spin on most of the franchise’s weirdness. Jim Gordon leads a desperate one-man crusade against a completely broken system- with almost everyone if not directly against him, certainly not supporting him. On the other hand you have villains who murder people by strapping weather balloons to them. It is still a comic book show. In regards to actual plots of episodes, it’s pretty messy. A good chunk of the show’s plot relies on contrived events with little explanation, like the character not knowing how balloons work, or the rich family forbidding any psychiatric care for their son.

While I wish I could go into detail about the pros and cons of the show, such an article would be ridiculously long and this article is already stretching it, so I’ll have to summarize with this: Gotham is an interesting idea that is holding a lot of promise thus far. It could do a lot of things right, but it could also do a lot of things wrong.

***

Nerdiest Costume Ever

My 12 year old has a knack for simple but clever costumes. Last year she wore a bathrobe and a shower cap trick-or-treating, and it delighted everyone. This year she went to the nerd side and is…

nerdy costume

… math homework! She was uncertain about the costume before the halloween party last night, so at her behest I took her to Party City where she hated everything. Too girly, too dumb, no humor. It does seem that commercial costumes are lame, and strangely sexualized even for young children. Among other offerings, I noticed black sequin boy shorts, and lots of feather boas. My daughter was glum on the way home, but I pointed out no one will remember the princesses, vampires, or storm troopers, but they will remember the girl who was math homework.

My husband was a good sport and brought four girls to the school Halloween party. He confirmed my experience so far with this school: everyone knows everyone and-or is related to everyone, and while they’re very nice to you (the outsider) you definitely feel like the foreign explorer visiting a distant land. Many of the parents at this school attended the school themselves during their elementary years; the cliques are deeply entrenched and are more clan than social circle.

Then, this afternoon, I brought my second and third youngest girls to the open house at my oldest daughter’s high school. This was no easy task being 8+ months pregnant and ancient. My right leg was throbbing, my back hurt, and I felt like the baby was about to fall out at any moment. When I sat out a flight of stairs during one part of the tour, one mother actually asked with great concern if I was ok. I explained my leg hurt, but I wasn’t in labor- yet. “Well you look GREAT!” she said. I’ve been getting this a lot. “You look great!”

What does this mean? Are they being polite? I sure don’t look great: pale, languid, weak, literally limping. I think “you look great” is code for “you’re not fat.” I once watched a documentary about the right to die, and one of the featured assisted suicide patients mentioned that people kept telling her she looked great (despite the fact that she was dying horribly, and slowly, of liver cancer). She eventually realized it was because the cancer had made her lose so much weight that she was now lithe. And looked “great.”

I endured, and came home alive with baby still intact.

Having had a daughter at this school for two years I could now see through the BS of the tour. For instance, they end the tour with a long presentation from the computer science teachers who push the idea of IT being the career field of the future (without mentioning competition from H-1B visas) and how their school is the only school on the island that offers AP computer science. But I know, from my daughter, that their “computer science” courses are glorified typing classes. I don’t know if this is typical of high school, or if it’s because it’s an all girls school. But they do have a nice art program, and my 11 year old is quite the budding artist. The overachiever listened to the presentations with intense interest but reiterated her concern that it wouldn’t be challenging enough nor would it fast track her to ivy league. Who cares about ivy league? Not me, but apparently she does. Truth be told I don’t know what kind of high school would help her get into a “big three.” It might actually be better for her to attend the lousy local public high school and try to pass herself off as an underprivileged overachiever, than to attend a private school. There has to be some way to game the system. At least she’s not asian, in which case she’d be subjected to harsh quotas from the top schools.