Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 can go die in a fire

I hate to be overdramatic about a year.  But 2016 really has sucked in so many ways.  I think a lot of the cultural fuss about 2016 being awful is mostly a way of superstitiously convincing ourselves that it will magically stop on January 1st -- that no more celebrities will die, no more gorillas will get shot, and Trump will crawl back wherever he came from.

But really, the reason 2016 has been so awful isn't actually because it was immediately bad.  Rather, it's a year we came into with a lot of optimism, only to have our hopes dashed and the prospect of a grim future laid out ahead of us.  So looking to 2017 to save us isn't going to help.

I know that, personally, that's been the way 2016 has been for me.  2015 was a really hard year, but I had a great deal of confidence 2016 would be better -- that it would be the year I finally pulled out of the rut it was in and saw some improvement in my life.  I mean, look what I wrote one year ago!

However, it is slowly getting better.  I realized today that 2015 is the first calendar year since 2008 that I haven't been pregnant for any part of it.  If I can just keep plugging away, there will (hopefully) be a day when I can sleep through the night again.  When I can put a cartoon on for the kids and take a nap because all of them are old enough to be briefly unsupervised.  When I can count on some time to work on my own projects every day, and the energy to do it.  I'm dreaming of a day when thinking about my garden or my next novel doesn't make me overwhelmed and exhausted, but excited and ready to start.  It'll happen.

Just reading these words makes me feel kind of bitter.  I had such high hopes.  And for awhile it looked like things really were starting to get better.  Miriam got a little older; that helped.  And around April or May I started feeling alive again ... instead of struggling to stay awake all day and accomplish a few tiny things, I actually started feeling like doing stuff!  Probably it was my hormones returning to normal at last, which would be why I got pregnant that same month.

If it hadn't been for that momentary improvement, maybe I wouldn't have minded so much.  But to have things get better, to remember how it felt to feel good, to be able to go places and do things again, to be doing well financially, to feel for a short time that I was actually doing well as a mother, and have that yanked out from under me?  That was what made it so horrible.

Objectively, this year has been less horrible than I might have feared.  Our move did set us back financially, but we were able to manage it better than we would have been able to a year or two before -- our frugality for the past five years paid off in our ability to make this happen.  This pregnancy has been unpleasant, but I don't think I've had any prenatal depression this time around.  The kids have struggled -- Marko quit making those amazing gains in schoolwork that he was doing last spring; Michael has returned to his baseline level of "could power a small city with his whining," Miriam has slept way worse -- but they're still doing better than they were when I was pregnant with Miriam, probably because I am taking better care of them than I was then.  And while the wonderfulness of John and I getting to spend time alone together from time to time, and having our room to ourselves, is ending soon, so far at least this pregnancy hasn't put a noticeable strain on our relationship.  We're a lot better at getting along than we were in the past, for one thing, and neither of us is horribly depressed.

Basically what has gotten me through this year has been asking myself the question, "What am I objectively suffering right now?"  And often, it isn't a whole lot.  Maybe I'm tired, or I'm achy, or my stomach's bothering me, but that isn't the source of most of my unhappiness.  My unhappiness is caused by worries about the future, and I can choose to set those aside as much as I can and focus on how, right now, things are okay.

I still get sad if I think of it too much.  Like how I was not able to write a single word of the book I wanted to write this year, or how we've basically given up on our dream of ever living on a farm because we don't want to have to move again.  When any of the kids gets needy and whiny, I feel like I am failing them because I'm not as emotionally available as I want to be ... and because I know that's only going to get worse when they have to share me with a needy baby.  That's especially the case with Marko right now; it seems he's going to need a lot extra from me this coming year, and it's a year when I won't be as able to give much.  I would like to imagine a reality in which it was no big thing for me to be able to care of a newborn while also taking him to assessment appointments and speech therapy, but that has never been my experience of what having a newborn is like.  Instead I have always barely been able to keep everyone fed and not biting each other.  I don't know who's going to fall through the cracks the most, but it seems inevitable that somebody will, and that kills me.  I thought mother guilt was bad when I had only two kids!

I wish I had something optimistic to say at the end of this post, but I really don't have much.  I'll certainly be cheering 2016's demise, but I have few hopes for 2017 being better.  I fear the post-Miriam lethargy will return, and that I will never find a cure for it (I've had several things tested; no luck).  I fear that Marko will fall behind in school because I won't be able to work with him; that he'll miss out on help he needs because it takes us so long to get him diagnosed; that I'll fail to bond at all with the new baby because I will resent it so much for its neediness when the other kids need me too; that I will resent Michael and Miriam for still expecting me to pay attention to them too; that John and I will drift apart because we are so busy putting out brush fires with the kids that we never spend time together anymore.  Maybe it won't be as bad as that. But I remember, before Miriam was born, saying "maybe it won't be so bad" and it totally was that bad.  Optimism is a hard thing to keep renewing when it keeps getting blown up in your face!

I hold onto small things.  We will soon have paid off the extra costs from moving and the midwife, so that starting in February we will be making financial progress again and I can buy myself some new socks.  John has been working long enough at the library that he is going to earn some time off next year, and we'll actually be able to take a family vacation.  I have found a good babysitter who may be able to help ease some of the burden.  And lately I have felt very encouraged and supported by friends and family -- the more crappy stuff life flings at me, the more people have made a point of standing by me.  It means a lot.

Still stuck on what my word should be for the next year.  I have an image in my mind -- of me rising to the occasion, of being a different kind of mother than I thought I'd be.  A more active mother, one who manages crap like appointments and therapy plans, even though I'm scared of making phone calls and terrible about writing stuff on my calendar.  I meant to be a laid-back mother, one who trusted my kids to blossom into adults with help from me, but without any pushing.  But it's looking like I may have to take the lead more, seek out professional help, and make more concrete plans.  Already I've started being more of the leader in terms of Marko's schoolwork -- setting a time for it every day and choosing the work he'll do.  It doesn't suit me, but it suits him, and isn't that what it really means to follow the child?

Basically, I have to be way more type-A in the coming year than I want to be ... and I have to be that way despite any postpartum exhaustion I may have.  I have no idea how I'm going to make that happen, but I have to, because my kids need it.  I need to take charge of my life more.  I need to quit putting off going to the dentist and I need to schedule a physical and I need to buy new clothes.  The year when I feel totally prostrated by the increased demands on me is not a good time to do all that -- I was supposed to get a year when things steadied out so I could take care of things.  But that year did not come and I can't keep putting stuff off forever.  I have to find a way to be the person I need to be, regardless of how little that is like the person I am.  Comfort or accomplishing some of my own dreams will just have to be a project for another year.

Can you think of a one-word way to explain all that?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Problems with the infancy narratives

Heresy warning: This post does not question the existence of God or Jesus.  It does challenge Biblical inerrancy.  If that will ruin your Christmas season, please skip this post.

If you've heard the different versions of the Christmas story enough times, you generally aren't listening very critically when you hear them again. For instance, many people believe that somewhere in the Bible it says there were animals present, or that the birth of Jesus was in the winter, or there were three wise men, when in reality that's just the way we've traditionally imagined it.

However, if you look at Matthew and Luke side by side, some contradictions start to appear right off.  Other problems show up when you study the historical background.  I'd like to list a few of these problems briefly; if you're interested, you can research further on your own to see what responses apologists have made as well as the responses to those responses.

1.  The genealogies.

This is well-known but not really a huge problem.  Matthew and Luke list different names in their genealogies of Jesus, even while parts are the same.  There are two very simple explanations for this: first, you can be descended from the same person by two different lineages; and second, genealogies of the time didn't distinguish between fathers and grandfathers, so it's not a huge deal that whole generations are skipped.

Of course, you can also believe that the genealogies were never intended to be factual in the first place.  It's quite possible that neither Jesus nor Mary knew his exact genealogy (heck, I only know like three generations of mine) and so the evangelists made up something they thought was fitting, for symbolic and typological reasons.  It doesn't really bother me that they would do this; I don't think it necessitates that the more obviously intended-as-factual parts of the Gospels are equally untrustworthy.

2.  The reason for traveling to Bethlehem

Both Matthew and Luke are intending to deal with a problem in Jesus' credentials -- the Messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem, but everyone knew he came from Nazareth.  The Gospels report that Jesus' hearers thought no one good could ever come from there.  So both evangelists had to explain how, despite being well-known as a Nazarene, Jesus really was born in Bethlehem.

Matthew seems to assume that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem all along; at any rate, they are living in a house when the Magi arrive.  The reason they have to leave is that Herod is seeking to kill Jesus.  They go to Egypt first (to fulfill another prophecy) and later avoid Judea for fear of Herod's son, so they choose to settle in Nazareth.  In Luke's account, they live in Nazareth at the beginning, going to Bethlehem only because of the census and then returning home after visiting the temple in Jerusalem, when Jesus was forty days old, to offer him to the Lord.

These accounts are usually mixed together and conflated, so that we can come up with a single narrative.  Yet it doesn't seem they can really be reconciled.  If the family was only in Bethlehem for the census -- for something under forty days -- why would they have a house where the Magi could visit them?  If, as in Matthew's narrative, Herod is seeking for Jesus so that they have to sneak out of Judea, why would it make any sense for the family to go to Jerusalem of all places -- where Herod is -- and allow Simeon and Anna to speak publicly about Jesus to everyone there?  The shepherds, as well, are said in Luke's gospel to have spread the news everywhere.  It seems it would be difficult for Herod to miss finding him if Bethlehem is overrun with shepherds telling the whole story.

The usual answer is that the Magi show up well after Jesus' birth, and after his dedication at the Temple as well.  After all, Herod later tries to kill all infants under two, so Jesus could be any age two or younger when the Magi finally arrive.  However, if he were under two and over 40 days, Luke says he'd be back in Nazareth already, and Matthew seems to imply pretty clearly that the choice to go to Nazareth at all was only made later.

3. Dating problems

This one's simple but extremely problematic: Herod died in 4 BC, while Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until 6 AD.  These dates are considered pretty solid by historians from multiple sources.  So Matthew's account comes ten years earlier than Luke's, rather than at the same time or two years later.  Any reconciling of them requires at least small inaccuracies to be admitted in the text -- that the Herod referred to is Herod's son Archelaus, or that Quirinius wasn't really governor yet but still referred to as a governor because the author knew he eventually became governor.  The first can't be right, because Matthew specifically mentions Herod dying and being succeeded by Archelaus, and the second is directly contradictory to what Luke actually says ("this is the first census that took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria").

4.  Historical context

Unlike much of the gospels, the infancy narratives include information that one might expect to see attested elsewhere.  For instance, if a census had been conducted of the whole Roman Empire, we would expect to have heard about it.  Yet there is no evidence that any such thing happened.  There is a record that there was a regional census in 6 AD, under Quirnius, and it makes perfect sense of course that this is what Luke would have been thinking of.  But there is no reason why people would go to the places of their birth for a census; this wasn't the custom for a Roman census so far as we know.

The other big issue is the slaughter of the innocents.  If all the babies in an entire town actually got slaughtered, that seems like the sort of thing that would be remembered and recorded.  Herod's biographers were big on recording the awful things he did -- would they really have ignored a mass infanticide?  In fact, it seems likely that the slaughter of the innocents would have sparked a rebellion.  Wouldn't you protest at least a little if soldiers came to your door and demanded to kill your youngest child?  But not a word appears about this event anywhere else.  Personally I find this comforting, because it's one of the most horrible stories in the Bible, but it does of course cast some doubt on the rest of the infancy narrative if it didn't really happen.

Of course another thing that seems odd is that even within the Gospels, none of the infancy events are remembered by anyone later.  When Jesus' neighbors ask, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" no one says, "Ah, but remember, he wasn't born here, we don't know where he comes from."  No one ever brings up that the entire region of Bethlehem heard the story of the shepherds, or that everyone who visited the temple in Jerusalem heard Simeon and Anna talking about him.  This isn't impossible or anything, but it sure is unexpected.


Most of the narrative of the Gospels is more or less unrefutable.  No one else wrote about Jesus in any detail, and few historical facts are mentioned, so you can't easily fact-check anything in there.  And when the gospels contradict one another, that isn't really a problem most of the time because you can always assume the same event happened twice with slight differences -- that Jesus fed five thousand one time, and four thousand another time -- if you're interested in preserving exact numerical accuracy.

The infancy narratives are one of the two places (the other being the Passion narratives) where we can clearly say we're dealing with the same time period and so some things must happen only once.  And the differences between the only two accounts we have are so drastic as to cast doubt on the whole story.  Is it possible that the evangelists invented their infancy narratives for symbolic and typological reasons?  Matthew, of course, as is his habit, is mostly interested in demonstrating that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies; while Luke wants to talk about the virgin birth and include beautiful canticles.  Maybe they never intended to be accurate; or maybe each was recording a completely different tradition already going around in his congregation.

Still, this is worrisome for the accuracy of the Gospels as a whole.  If a story is unverifiable for most of it, but all the verifiable parts are verifiably false, what reason would you have to believe any of it?  At the very least it downgrades how confident we ought to be in a source, because if some facts in it are false, others may be as well.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

7 quick grievances

I hear today is Festivus, the day for the Airing of Grievances! I don't have many grievances from this year, because most of the things that have gone wrong aren't personal, but let's see if I can come up with seven, in honor of the day.


My uterus. Seriously, I hate that dang thing. Not only does it get pregnant when I don't want to, it's giving me Braxton-Hicks contractions all the dang time and I hate those.

My pelvis is also as out-of-joint as it's ever been, so grievances for that too.  I take good care of it, and it just does not return the favor.  The big thing that kills it is lying down with Miriam at night, which I have to do half of every night because it takes her a lot longer to fall asleep than it takes me ... so long before she's still enough for me to creep away, I've drifted off on the floor mattress beside her.

At this point I have some really painful separated abs -- every time I bend over to pick something on the floor (an activity I can't easily avoid) it feels like the baby is going to clamber right out the front.  Hurts like the dickens.  And my stomach is too squashed to eat much of anything, and yet somehow I can't quit snacking all the time.  Especially if it's dry Cheerios, which I've oddly become addicted to.

Anyway, I won't be dealing with this much longer, because I'm 36 weeks today. And yet, I'm not to the point yet where I want it to be over, because I know what comes next.  Hint: it involves screaming.


Miriam.  Don't get me wrong, she's still sweet and cute and hilarious, but she is in the thick of a difficult stage.  She wants to nurse every half hour or so, which I won't let her do, so there is wailing.  (She is on my lap wailing right now.)  She can't bear to be more than about twelve inches from me, and even when she's right on top of me, that's not good enough unless I am nursing her, feeding her, reading to her, singing her a song, or otherwise giving her my undivided attention.  If she's not getting that, she'll go deliberately break something in front of me in the hopes of getting it back.

This is either the effect or the cause of her terrible nighttime sleep, which ranges from one wakeup a night to five or six wakeups.  Or sometimes an hour in the middle of the night where she can't go back to sleep and just kicks the wall and whines.  I wanted to nightwean her but I honestly don't know what else I'd do -- she always wakes up a little panicky and if she doesn't get to nurse she screams.  No reasoning with a half-asleep child ... but of course if you get her fully awake then she might stay that way for some time.

John is going to be taking over her night waking soon and I am not sure what he's going to do.  I don't think he knows either.  He can get her down for her initial sleep better than I can, but in the middle of the night she only wants me.  It's something I worry about a lot.


Michael.  I'm pretty aggrieved at Michael just now, which mainly isn't really his fault. He just whines a LOT.  See, he likes to play with Marko, but he is about done with Marko dictating all the rules of every game and yelling at him for any detail he attempts to improvise on.  And he likes to play with Miriam, but she's gotten very grabby and pushy lately.  So there's a lot of him either lashing out at one of them or running to me screaming and wailing that they're being mean. And they are.  It's just, I used to be able to count on him to be the mellow kid who'd adapt to his demanding siblings, and he just isn't right now.  Instead he flips out long before they've actually done anything to him, because he's so sure they will.

What he really wants, more than anything, is to run around wild, screaming and roughhousing.  In the summer there are ways he can do that that don't make me lose my mind ... in the winter, not so much.  So I find myself telling him to SETTLE DOWN and BE QUIET 47 times a day, and I feel bad because he needs to get that energy out somehow.  Sometimes I allow some craziness downstairs while I'm upstairs, or upstairs while I'm downstairs (yay big house!) but he really can't moderate his wildness so often he or someone else gets hurt.

Also: did he really need to spend half an hour sobbing this morning because I poured the milk into a measuring cup (to sniff it and make sure it was still good) before I poured it into his oatmeal?  I think not.


Wouldn't want to leave Marko out! I'm aggrieved at his extreme rigidity.  Hard to say if I'm noticing it more now that we are working on his assessment, or if he's stepping it up to match with his siblings' demandingness, but it feels like anytime he's crossed at all, there's yelling.  He throws a fit if I ever serve chicken.  He throws a fit if anyone says something inaccurate.  He throws a fit if someone pretends differently from how he's pretending.  Last Saturday he screamed and cried and tried to hit people for half an hour because, I kid you not, Michael said his lizard, Swampy, was made of scales, and Marko says no one is allowed to pretend that because lizards in real life aren't entirely made of scales.  I feel like I'm walking on eggshells, and it's not fair to his siblings either to have to always be telling them "just don't talk to Marko, you're upsetting him."  (Though that's something I have to tell every kid, because every last one of them seems addicted to repeating over and over whatever phrase they have found makes their sibling scream the most.  It's the worst.)

About Marko's assessment: the bad news is, our stupid fake insurance will not cover him seeing the specialist he is supposed to see.  The good news is, the school district will "unofficially" assess him on their own.  By law it doesn't matter if a child is homeschooled; if a child has or may have a disability that is affecting their ability to get an education, the school must provide him with whatever it provides the other children in the district -- whether assessments or specific educational help.

The further bad news to that is, they're taking their own sweet time setting it up, and that's not great for us because now is a great time for me to be taking Marko to appointments and a month from now is not.  Legally they have to move on this by February, which, hello, is no comfort to me at all.

John recently introduced the boys to Minecraft, having heard it's really educational and so on, and Marko latched onto it with the full force of his obsessive personality.  He talks about it so incessantly I fear my brain will leak out my ears.  He's only allowed to play on weekends, and only if he's done schoolwork every weekday (which means we are being a lot more consistent about that, and no real power struggles about it), but the rest of the week is all taken up with talking about it, asking questions about it, flipping through the Minecraft books he got from the library, playing "real life Minecraft," refusing to wear any clothes but dark pants and a blue shirt like the character in it wears, etc.  He's suddenly amazingly cooperative, but only if you remind him that only good listeners get to play Minecraft.  So much for my self-motivated, no-rewards-or-punishments approach to education.  And every time I try to do something else fun with Marko -- convince him to go outside, read a book to him, get us all playing a game that another kid wants to play -- he tells us he just isn't excited or interested by anything else anymore but Minecraft.  He even spent a few days hating Christmas  because he was afraid he'd miss the chance to play Minecraft because we were opening presents and eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  I kinda hate Minecraft by this point.

Yet, when an obsessive kid has an obsession, you have no choice but to read up on it and try to take an interest, so I have.  And Marko is getting a Minecraft action figure for Christmas.  I have hopes that it will make him appreciate Christmas at least a little -- and that he'll use it for some creative play instead of just following me around reciting different rules of Minecraft.


Might be cheating, but my sixth grievance is all of my kids together.  They just are all going through difficult stages at the moment, and these stages work together synergetically to result in a massive cluster of awful.  They spend their time antagonizing each other, winding each other up in wild games, or fighting over who gets to be closest to me.

That last is probably the most annoying.  You know how you can go outside and it seems pleasant and not buggy at all, but within five minutes gnats are swarming around your head?  That's what the kids do whenever I attempt to sit down.  They all want to sit next to me, and of course three kids can't all sit next to the same person.  So they either start pushing and pinching one another, or they try climbing on top of me to stake out my lap.  But of course once one kid has done that, the others get jealous because someone else is closer to me than them, so there is screeching and pulling at each other.  A couple of weeks ago we all had the stomach flu and every time I tried to lie down on the couch, they would actually pile on top of me like a rugby scrum, kicking each other (and me, accidentally) and wailing.  Mothers should never have to be sick; it is simply not feasible when you have children.

The funny thing is, I was looking at old posts the other day and saw that at this stage of Miriam's pregnancy, the exact same thing was going on.  Lots of fighting, and lots of clinginess and jealousy.  What is it about being massively pregnant that makes children misbehave?  A few months ago I felt a lot worse than I do now, was crankier and more prone to neglect them, and they just played downstairs half the day and left me out of it.  I know that pregnancy makes sensory stimuli more annoying to me, but I'm pretty sure that objectively, they really are being more overstimulating now than they were then.

One possibility is that we just aren't leaving the house enough.  It's too cold and wet for them to want to play outside, and there are very few places around here to go in winter.  And, of course, every time we do go anywhere they come home with the plague, so I'm not eager to try.  Once I hit 37 weeks I'm planning to cloister myself because they pick up germs so easily and you all may remember what a disaster it was giving birth with sickness in the house last time.  But that always does leave the kids bored and bouncing off the walls.

Another is that I'm feeling a lot less willing to treat Miriam as the baby lately.  I do hold other children on my lap now, even when she throws a fit and tries to pull them off yelling "MY Mama!"  So instead of the peaceful coexistence of "Mama belongs to Miriam so everyone else had better go find something else to do" there's jockeying for more lap time.  And Miriam gets super needy because she's not getting the attention she's used to.  I could just go back to open season on nursing and hold her 100% of the time she wants, but ... that just would be pushing back the inevitable, and I'd rather get it out of the way now so it's not a new-baby thing.  Though experience with Michael was that it took him over a year to get over the not-the-baby-anymore wailing and clinginess.  I certainly HOPE Miriam doesn't react the same way.  She certainly is excited enough about everything baby-related.

And maybe it's just a matter of them all just happening to be having a hard time at the same moment, or one kid's hard time spreading to the others, and therefore not really my fault.  I may be able to help -- I think adding a bit more structure to our days has been good, when I've done that -- but in the end the kids might just have to struggle through it and hopefully be done with it by the time the baby gets here.


You know what?  Six is enough grievances and I honestly don't feel that negative about life.  So I'll cheat and talk about good stuff that's going on.

First, I still have a pretty decent energy level.  While it's true that I can't do much of anything without putting my hip joints in excruciating pain, I still would pick that over the horrible dragging feeling that I dealt with a few months ago.  When you have energy but lack mobility, you can still knit, spin, read challenging books, write emails to friends, and come up with activities for the kids.  And I am getting more housework done than I was then, albeit at the price of some pain.  And the thing about pain is, you can kind of get used to it, especially if it's not one of the really bad kinds like headaches or labor.

Second, I've been getting a lot of good crafting done.  No time like the third trimester to knit hats.  I even dug out my loom for one special gift.

Third, everyone has been extremely nice to me lately.  Friends keep showing up at my house to listen to my problems and sweep my floor.  I was in a panic about childcare for labor and a post to the local parish's Facebook page got me a ton of responses.  The person we've found is so perfect I want to adopt her.  I remember having all these doubts about being the "heretic" among the tight Catholic community here, but the reality is that these are great people with an actual functional community and that's not the sort of thing one should give up.  Maybe I don't fit in perfectly, but I am being welcomed and treated with kindness even by the people who know my Awful Secret.  Whereas the other friends I've made in the past year or two?  I still like them, but I wouldn't call them up in a pinch because I just don't feel like our relationship is up to favor-exchanging yet.

Fourth, with the leaves off the trees I get gorgeous sunrises and sunsets every day.  I really like living here.  Still puzzled by the radiator -- why does the thermostat downstairs read that it's set to 66, the actual temperature is 76, and the radiator is on, while the thermostat upstairs reads it's set to 70, it's actually 68, and the radiator is not on?  Or why, in the middle of the night, is it boiling in our room and freezing in Miriam's room, even though the thermostat in the hall supposedly controls both radiators?  But propping doors open is mostly taking care of all the weirdness.  Our fridge also started to fail recently, but it turned out it was covered in our home warranty and we got a whole new fridge for a $100 deductible!  Not too bad at all, even though it took them forevvvveeeerrrrr to get to it.  Home warranties are pretty cool, and I'd recommend them to anybody who doesn't have a lot of savings.  If you've got the savings to buy new appliances as needed, you'll save money just doing that, but if not .... the amount of panic that you are spared when you realize that you pay this month exactly what you pay every month, even though a major appliance broke, is definitely worth the money.  It means that one terrible month can't wipe you out.

I would have liked to visit family for Christmas, but of course that isn't feasible at 36 weeks pregnant, and it looks like we are going to have a very nice Christmas at home.  And it's nice not having to stress about travel.  Our plans are very simple and relaxing; no 12-hour drives or plane flights or anything.  I've baked cookies a lot lately. Tomorrow we're having bacon and orange juice and some kind of sweet bread for breakfast, and then for dinner a beef roast which hopefully everyone will enjoy.  (ONE DAY where no one complains about the dinner would be delightful.)  Our tree is set up in the living room, where it does not dwarf our entire living space, and I have a wreath outside.  It's all very low-key, but that's kind of how we roll.  John even has the next week off, so he and I can knock out some new-baby chores and maybe go for one last date.

I hope you and yours have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

TV babies

Sorry for the recent gap in posting ... that is, if anyone has actually been here to check.  It's partly that I haven't had anything interesting to say, partly that I've been tired and busy, and partly that the spacebar on my tablet is sticky so typing anything requires an annoying amount of effort.  Suffice it to say I'm still alive, and I still haven't had that baby.

I've been watching Scrubs lately, which I mostly like, but lately it's getting very baby-heavy.  Don't get me wrong, I like babies, but I'm often dissatisfied with TV babies. They are a very popular plot device .... and handled totally unrealistically.  I understand why -- I mean, there's only so much you can do with baby actors, for one thing; and for another, not everyone who writes TV scripts has any kids.  But I wonder if people actually get their impressions about what having kids is like from TV.  So I thought I'd clear a few things up with some facts about real babies.

They involve three symptoms, usually: feeling queasy, getting huge, and going completely bonkers.  All pregnant women experience all of these, and generally no others.  They bounce around like normal people and gain no weight except in the belly.  They eat a lot, even when they're nine months pregnant and their stomach is the size of an egg.  But MAN do they go bonkers.  They go from laughing to crying and back again in seconds, because it's so hilarious to watch a woman go crazy.

Pregnancies vary a lot. Some people puke incessantly and some never feel queasy.  Some people gain weight just in the belly, and some gain a little everywhere.  And the stages of pregnancy progress slowly -- you don't actually go from flat-bellied one week to pillow-strapped-on the next week.  Almost everyone eventually gets the pregnancy waddle; somehow actresses aren't always informed of this, because they spring out of chairs and dash down hallways like spring chickens.  And the emotional roller coaster?  Yeah, okay, emotions can be harder to manage during pregnancy.  But it doesn't usually stop us from being competent adults.  Also, your average pregnant woman is not going to bite your head off one moment and the next tolerantly watch you laugh at her with your friends saying "Pregnant women be crazy, amirite?"  No, you're going down for that one. IT'S NOT FUNNY TO FEEL LIKE YOU'RE LOSING YOUR MIND.

You know the routine: the woman's water breaks somewhere embarrassing.  Everyone rushes around trying to get her to the hospital RIGHT NOW because if they don't go RIGHT NOW the baby will be born in the car!  Once at the hospital, the woman shrieks and curses and begs for drugs, while still looking pretty.  For mysterious reasons the mother never gets any drugs (unlike 80% of women), probably because watching someone scream and cry is so fun.  There's time for a few conversations and then bam, out pops a baby!  (Generally a two- or three-month-old because actual newborns don't act in movies.)  Unless, of course, there's some kind of problem, in which case everyone acts like the mother is absolutely going to die.  I remember a clip from a soap opera in which the dad is told in whispers that the baby is breech, and then there's a long montage where he pictures life without his wife.  Breech birth is not a serious complication!  After the birth, the mother always looks exactly as she did before getting pregnant and is capable of all her normal activities.

Labors tend to be long, especially first labors.  They usually start with contractions, not water breaking, and nobody knows at first if it's the real thing.  The smart thing is to stay at home for awhile because there is no point in going in while it's still getting started.  There is usually no rush.  Once you get to the hospital, there might be some time for screaming and begging for drugs, but when labor gets serious, the mother probably isn't going to be able to talk at all during contractions.  She'll probably look a fright -- no more TV makeup.  Pushing usually involves more grunting than screaming.  And while complications are common, doctors are pretty good about reassuring the parents that a c-section is not normally life-threatening.  Newborns look totally gruesome.  They are covered in blood and vernix; they do not have belly buttons; their skinny little arms and legs flail around in a jerky way.  Call the Midwife is the only show I've watched which actually has newborns in it; any other "newborn" you've seen on TV is an older baby or a doll.  Oh, and mothers who have just given birth still look pregnant for several days or weeks after.  For the first week or so they can often barely walk.  They cannot chase down bad guys.  They can barely make it to the bathroom.

This one drives me bananas.  In television, you see, children only need to be cared for when the plot requires it.  Single mom spontaneously decides to stay at her boyfriend's overnight?  She can just do it, no need to call the babysitter and ask her to stay over.  The baby just vanishes as required.  Oh, and if the spouses are having a fight, both of them can meet up at random in a non-home location, without the baby, and that's totally fine.  Dad does not see Mom and ask, "Where's the baby?" because of course the baby is perfectly fine unattended late at night.  It's probably doing the dishes so they're sparkly when Mom and Dad get home.

Conversely, it's no biggie for parents to bring their babies anywhere, at any hour.  A toddler can come to a 10 pm concert, no sweat, and rather than getting overtired and throwing a fit, will make cute comments or entertain himself in someone's lap.  A crawling infant is a real asset at work and nobody ever says anything mean about it; they are all happy to abandon their own work and watch the baby.

Babies have to be watched 24/7.  That's the reality.  It does in fact put a massive kink in your life, and unless you're independently wealthy and/or have a live-in grandma, there are going to be dramatic moments you'll just have to miss.  I'm sure, of course, that in all these TV shows there's some reasonable explanation; they just don't *include* the frantic 10 pm call to the babysitter explaining that Mom just *has* to chase down her husband to yell at him for playing too many video games, she'll pay time-and-a-half!  But it leaves anyone who actually is a parent asking themselves, "Where is the baby? Who is watching the baby?"

And in real life, when you take a baby somewhere, they can be very intrusive.  Doubly so for a toddler. You have to consider their usual schedule, they will definitely melt down if they can't have a nap when they are used to one, and even a toddler on his best behavior is a great deal of trouble.  But even if you've got an infant and they are peacefully slumbering in a carrier, people always think they're intrusive, even when they're not.  They do not (with rare exceptions) say, "Oh, cute, you brought a baby with you!"  They say, "Are you serious about this job?"  Or, "This is a nice restaurant, not a Chuck E. Cheese."  People vary, but in any group of ten people or so there's likely to be someone who dislikes babies.

Now, of course, TV shows and real babies aren't all the same.  Some real babies act like movie babies (quiet and totally accepting of whatever you do) and some pregnancies and labors actually go like on TV, which is why the scriptwriters thought that was realistic.  And we can ignore the little details (like newborns not being newborns, or babies very obviously leaning away from the person who is supposed to be their parent) because of course there is only so much you can expect a baby "actor" to be able to do.

The only TV shows I've seen that consistently portray babies and parenthood realistically are Jane the Virgin and Call the Midwife.  The former is so good that I want to make every first-time mother watch it.  It covers the real stuff -- the emotional journey of motherhood, the anxiety, mother's groups, juggling childcare, the conflict between career and parenting, postpartum depression, breastfeeding problems.  My only tiny quibble is that there is no way a girl of Jane's economic class and frugal habits would have such gorgeous maternity clothes.  She never wears the same thing twice and it's all super cute.  Your average real pregnant woman, by 40 weeks, is wearing the same pair of maternity sweatpants every day and her belly is hanging out of an XL tshirt.  Nice maternity clothes are hard to find and extremely pricey.

And as for Call the Midwife, it absolutely is what labor and birth are like.  True, it was the 60's, so some obstetrical practices have changed, but the stages of birth are accurately depicted, along with the emotional challenges of each.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants to have kids someday, as well as everyone who thinks the past was so much better than now.  But I don't recommend it if you're actually pregnant -- it will make you ugly-cry about 50% of the time.

Scrubs is hit-or-miss -- you can tell some of the scriptwriters have kids and some don't.  There's a PPD episode that is totally raw and real ... and then there are whole episodes where apparently no one actually remembers they even have kids.  And even the shows that manage babies terribly have their moments.  House MD has a scene where a mother wonders if being a parent was the right choice, and it hit me where I live.  And on Friends when Phoebe has the babies .... well, there was one very real moment in there.  (Also, her maternity overalls?  Hideous but tempting ... no waistband!)

I'm sure I didn't include all the terrible inaccuracies of TV parenthood -- feel free to chime in!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Distrusting "the media"

Most people I know, on either side of the aisle, "distrust the media."  However, they don't distrust all media.  Everyone's selective about what they dismiss as "the lamestream media" or "the right-wing noise machine."  And unfortunately sometimes media which confirms a person's preexisting worldview gets accepted uncritically.  But, I mean, you have to trust something, at least a little bit, or how would you know anything?  I have yet to hear someone say, "I'm not sure who won the presidential election; it's true that the media says it was Trump, but we all know the media can't be trusted."  So we make a choice to trust some sources, and sometimes we choose the wrong ones.

We've all been seeing it a lot recently, as Facebook erupts with stories that are disproved by a two-minute factcheck, or false "facts" get quoted at us by people we thought of as intelligent and skeptical.  For instance, in the past few days I have read that Trump really did win the popular vote after all (he didn't), that three million illegal immigrants voted in California (there is no evidence for this), and that Steve Bannon is an open white supremacist (the most that can be verified is that he does not appear to mind profiting off of white supremacy).  But rather than just seeing sketchy links that proclaimed these "facts," I heard them cited as common knowledge by people who I don't think of as dumb.  So clearly the purveyors of misinformation are getting really good at what they do.

My first idea to combat this was to compile a list of reputable news sites and junk news sites, so that people would stop sharing stuff from Infowars and thinking that made them look knowledgeable.  But the trouble with that is, any list I could possibly compile would appear biased to someone.  If I criticized a site you trust, rather than take my word for it, you'd mistrust me.

So instead, I'm going to offer some tips for assessing a story that you see shared online.

1.  Scrutinize the website.  A site crowded with intrusive pop-up ads is a bad sign, while a paywall or free-article limit is a good sign -- their content is good enough that they fully expect people will pay up for it.  Poor site design is a bad sign -- if they can't afford a web designer, it's unlikely they employ a fact-checker either.  Look at the other headlines featured on the site -- are all of them stories that seem reasonable or credible?  Boring stuff like "Trump meets with foreign ambassador" or "Paul Ryan considers tactics for next year" are good signs.  Outrageous headlines like "Trump in the pay of the Russians" or "Chemtrails increase in 2016" are terrible signs.  If there is even one headline on the site that you know for sure is false, the site itself clearly is untrustworthy.

In general, sources that are not only online are more professional and therefore more trustworthy.  If it's the online version of a TV network, radio network, or (best of all) print newspaper, then it has a reputation to lose which it will very carefully protect by hiring factcheckers and going over the information carefully.  Otherwise, it risks a lawsuit or a loss of subscribers.  An internet-only source is more likely to be short-lived and operated on a shoestring, perhaps without any factcheckers at all.  Local papers are often very professional, but you want to be careful to make sure that's a local paper you're reading and not something deceptively named to trick you into thinking it's the hometown paper of Omaha when it's really a junk website.

2.  Read the article.  Keep in mind that the body of the article is where the facts are -- the headline is written by an editor afterward and may be misleading.  Ask yourself: what sources does the article cite?

Best: "Joe Schmoe, assistance secretary to the chairman of the board, said..."
Acceptable: "A source close to the official said ..."
Worst: "Dan Whackadoo, president of [organization you've never heard of that clearly lobbies for a certain point of view] said ...."

There should be multiple sources quoted in the article, and they should not all be anonymous.  When I was interviewed by the AP for their article on my boarding school, the journalist urged me to go on the record by name if at all possible.  She might throw in a quote by an anonymous source (provided, of course, that she knew who it was), but she couldn't base the crucial facts of her article on those.  Good news readers give the most credibility to named sources who can be proven to be close to the story.  Even within a single story, when a fact is tied to a named source, it is more likely to be true than facts supported only by anonymous sources.  And quotes from the spokespeople of lobby groups are there only for flavor and opinion -- they aren't close to the story so they are in no position to know.

3.  Consider bias.  Here, it helps if you know the slant of the media outlet you're reading.  Most of the most popular professional outlets in America are slightly left-of-center.  They try to be balanced, but no one really is.  So if you can guess at the direction the bias is coming from, it'll help you interpret the story.  Ask yourself: what facts are not included?  What facts might completely change my interpretation of this story if they were included?  A reputable paper will be very careful not to include any facts it can't verify, but they are a lot sneakier about leaving out details that make their side look bad.  Or they'll slip in bits of interpretation or opinion here and there -- can you identify them and mentally set them apart from the actual facts described?  Ask yourself: what actual verifiable facts are in this article?  So if the article is about Steve Bannon being a white supremacist, throw out anything that smacks of hinting or generalizing and dig for the actual facts used to support the opinion that he is a white supremacist.  What can we verify that he said, wrote, or did?

4.  Check multiple sources.  The simplest way to do this is to simply copy the headline, paste it into Google, and see what you get.  Google ranks its search results based on the credibility of each site -- more linkbacks from other sources mean higher pagerank -- so the links on the first page are probably as good as it's going to get.  Are there any sources on the first page that are reputable papers you've heard of?  If so, go there first -- preferably picking one each from the left and the right.  If both accept the story is true and offer sources, then I think you can safely say, it probably happened.  If not, pick a couple and look at all of them.  If the story seems outrageous or incredible and it isn't being covered by the "mainstream media," there is probably a reason.  Major news outlets love their clicks as much as anyone and if there were a story that exciting, they would either post the story or post an answer or rebuttal of the story.  Unless, of course, they looked into it and couldn't find any evidence it actually happened.

If you're in that boat, try adding the word "factcheck," "hoax," or "snopes" to your search.  If it's really a scam, these usually appear within 24 hours of the original story.  But don't jump to conclusions!  Just because a factchecking site covered it doesn't mean it's a hoax.  The factchecking site should go through the evidence for the story and assess whether it is credible.  Usually they will include outside links for you to go look for yourself.  So that should help put to bed the idea that "Snopes is biased so I can't trust it when it debunked this story."  Maybe it is biased, but if it provides sources or good reasons to disbelieve the story, you should take that into consideration.  Sadly what most people mean when they say "Snopes [or whoever] is biased" is, "It debunked one of my pet conspiracies, and I'm just so sure it's real."  If you're so tied into continuing to believe what you already believe, you will never succeed at wading through the media to find the truth.

5.  Finally, if you don't have time to do all this, or you've tried and you still can't find any strong evidence to be sure about the story ... don't share it!  Or, if you want to mention the story in a discussion, make clear that you are uncertain about it.  Say, "I heard that x, but I don't know whether to believe it," or "Have you heard the rumor that y?  I can't find a good source for it, but maybe you should do some research if you're interested."

Nothing drives me crazy like people trotting out rumor as fact, who, when called on it, say, "Well, sorry, I hadn't looked into it yet!"  Yeah, okay, then don't tell people it's true!  You all know I have issues with people standing as witness for things they haven't honestly looked into.  What happens then is that other people repeat the story, convinced it's true because Bob, who is such a smart honest guy, said it was.  You trust that people checked their sources, when often they did not.  Which is why I would advise doing this same diligence on a story even if your best friend who is in Mensa told you it's true.  They might be a bit lazy and didn't check.  Don't be another link in the rumor chain.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Calmer thoughts about the election

I am happy to report that my initial distress following the election didn't result in a downward depressive spiral, as I had feared. Instead, two friends came over Wednesday afternoon and cheered me up. John brought chocolate after work.  I woke up Thursday with a lot more optimism.  Sure, this election is bad news and bad things will probably happen as a result of it.  However, I can create enough distance for myself to live my life, and I don't need to feel guilty about doing this because it's not like my distress was helping anyone.

Facebook has been nastier than expected; I thought this would happen if Clinton won (because Trump supporters would be livid) but I did not think that I would see so much anger and mockery from Republicans if they won.  Clinton supporters, too, have been very upset and not all of them have been trying as hard to keep civil as I have.

So I've been turning from the immediate fears I have to reflecting on deeper trends.  What does it mean, that nationalist movements are gaining steam around the world?  How exactly would one even define these movements?

Fitting this into my usual frames of reference, I would say that Trump-ism is, first and foremost, zero-sum.  All his rhetoric and his policies support this: he feels America is losing and other countries are winning, and he wants other countries to lose so America can win.  A good deal, to him, follows not the ideal of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, that everyone walks away feeling like a winner, but that you win and the other guy loses.  His trade policy is, "Other people are doing better than us out of our trade deals, so we should stop trading."  His foreign policy is, "Other countries are getting more out of alliances than we are, so we should stop honoring those alliances."  In short, America first.  The same attitude is common in nationalist movements in other countries, such as Brexit.

Now I have admitted in the past that some conflicts really do have zero-sum solutions.  Land ownership for agriculture is a big one, which is why I've grudgingly abandoned agrarianism.  But trade and world peace are, in my opinion, perfect places for non-zero-sum thinking -- and it's exactly that sort of thinking that has made the world as prosperous and peaceful (comparatively) as it currently is.

The second thing I would point to comes more from Trump's followers than himself -- it's placing the unit of mattering on a culture rather than an individual.  That is, they don't simply value the human rights and happiness of the people they live alongside, but also the preservation of their community in its current state.  If, for instance, they come from a dying factory town, they don't just want to be retrained for new jobs, or move to a different state where there are factory jobs available. They want to bring back their town the way it was, factory jobs and all.  And this is often the same sentiment that is interpreted as racism -- a desire to keep their culture intact, rather than changed by immigration.  I don't have a lot of sympathy for this, personally, because I am primarily an individualist.  But I don't think those who feel this way are necessarily just "racist" or "xenophobic."  Perhaps a better word would be "nostalgic"!  Because of course change happens, regardless of how hard you fight it, but it's happening particularly fast at the moment and I understand if it feels very unsettling.

The Better Angels of Our Nature discusses this divergence between individual rights versus cultural and communal values.  The author comes down very hard on the side of individual rights, pointing out that liberal democracies which consider themselves to be defending the rights of whichever individuals happen to live there (America, Canada, modern European nations) do a lot better than countries which see themselves as preserving a certain kind of culture (Nazi Germany, Islamic democracies, ethnocentric Balkan states).  But then, that sort of depends on your measure, doesn't it?  It's true that individual rights are preserved more in the individualist societies, but it's also undeniable that social change has tended to be rapid, including the decline of religion.

And the third major issue is a mistrust of global elites.  In our increasingly globalized world, it is very hard to draw the line between "there's a global conspiracy pulling all the strings behind the scenes in order to rip off the little guy!" and the actual truth, which is .... that in fact there are a lot of wealthy people, both in politics and business, who wield an undue influence, buddy up to each other, and don't care very much about you.  It's not so much a conspiracy as a situation in which the incentives don't always line up for decent behavior.

Thus, if you've read at all into the details of any political question -- as I have, on the topic of food and farming -- you reach the part of the story where elected representatives get together with the owners of massive corporations in a back room and work everything out between them.  And guaranteed, it's not what you or any ordinary person would have wanted.  I don't actually believe that all elites, or all multinational corporations, or all politicians, are as corrupt as all that.  Sometimes they deal with each other to actually make the world a better place; sometimes they aren't really working with each other at all because they're a diverse gang that wants different things.  But it's not unreasonable to be untrusting of these people.  The only unfortunate part is when people start to demonize anything that goes along with being "elite," such as expertise, and only trust people who are complete outsiders and thus totally clueless about the complexity of the system.

The really miraculous thing is that Trump managed to pass himself off as not a part of this untrustworthy crowd.  But once he had done so, and so many elites (for good reasons) expressed their dislike of him, that seemed like proof that he was a good guy -- on our team, not the elites' team, because if he were one of them, they would like him.  Which would work better if the global elite really were a massive conspiracy with a single set of goals rather than the messy tangle it really is.

The second question is, why now?  What has caused such a sudden backlash, when a short time ago it looked like the world was on one long march in a progressive direction?

1.  Economics.  I am not convinced by the narrative that Trump was elected by poor factory workers who lost their jobs -- because all the evidence is that Trump supporters were mostly middle-class.  However, I think there's a good argument for a broader kind of causality.  The whole developed world was doing very well in the early oughts, and suddenly we had our recession in the US, along with similar issues around the world.  That led a lot of people to feel that they're doing less well than they once were, or than they expected to be, and to blame global elites (some of whom absolutely were responsible).  And I think it also caused people to lose faith in the capitalist/democratic system that's been working so well up to now.  If it can't prevent recessions or austerity measures, what good is it?

2.  Islamic terrorism.  While xenophobia always finds something, real or imagined, to latch onto -- inventing global Jewish conspiracies or Catholic immigrant mafias -- in this case, the feared outsider group actually does contain some people who will literally kill you.  So it spurs a panicky backlash as a single terrorist attack reverberates around the world, leaving people thinking, "What if that happens here? We must block these scary outsiders from entering or it will happen here for sure."  Repeated attacks increase the fear, and also drive further reduction of faith in democratic pluralism.  Democracies get along really well with one another, we know this, but are they equipped to handle radical Islamic states and terrorist groups?

3.  Enlightenment values have been a victim of their own success.  Just as vaccination rates for a disease drop when people have never seen the disease -- imagining that polio could never come back or that diphtheria can't have been so bad, because no one has ever seen either -- faith in democracy drops as people lose familiarity with the alternatives.  Europe has been at peace so long we imagine it will always be at peace and can never be otherwise.  Human rights have been defended so long that many people have been telling me that we really don't need to worry about racism any longer, no matter what racist things some leaders say, because it's just dead and won't come back.  And I think that's a dangerous assumption.  There are reasons for the level of peace in the world right now -- stuff like free trade and alliances -- and if you axe those things, there is no reason to assume the standard level of peace and prosperity the developed world enjoys would continue.

4. Putin????   Okay, this one is more of a conspiracy theory than a reflection.  But I have been quite shocked lately to hear of how many  of these nationalist parties have been sponsored or supported by the Russians.  There have been cases of the Russians hacking into news networks before elections to display fake ISIS propaganda, or leaking juicy details about establishment candidates to help nationalist ones.  I can't be sure of this; my only source was in TIME magazine and they put all their best stuff behind a paywall.  (I read it in the doctor's office.)  But it's something worth thinking of.  If Putin himself is a nationalist, and he feels threatened by the united strength of Europe and the US, might he not wish to fracture that unity by encouraging go-it-alone attitudes in each country?

* * *

So that's what I think is going on.  I don't think it really matters that Trump is a playboy millionaire with a history of general skeeviness; I don't think that's why anyone voted for him.  Honestly, it may have helped, by getting Trump a lot of free coverage in a primary field where it was hard to get noticed.  Rather, his win is a triumph of anti-Enlightenment forces: zero-sum over cooperation; nationalism over globalism; culture over individual.

But that doesn't mean, of course, that we will now see a world or even a nation run by only these forces.  Half the country -- well, more than half -- never agreed with Trump in the first place, and many of those who did support him did so simply for partisan reasons, as our two-party system encourages.  It may be that he screws things up so bad in his first two years that he loses the Senate again, and the next two years accomplishes little or nothing.  Then again, it may be that his reluctance to uphold our alliances results in a nuclear Iran or Russia encroaching on the Baltic states.  I don't know, and this uncertainty is scary.

I do feel some confidence, however, that the Enlightenment values Trump's movement opposes are the exact reasons why the world is going as well as it is: why developed nations no longer fight one another; why individual rights are being championed so well.  Yes, the capitalist/democratic/progressive/globalist system has flaws -- its ability to be manipulated by the few people able to understand its complexity being one of those flaws.  Yet I think these flaws can be battled from within that system rather than trashing the whole thing.  That's the main reason I've opposed Trump all along -- though don't get me wrong, I detest him as an individual too.  He opposes everything which has been making the world a better place for the past sixty years: free trade, international alliances, pluralism.  (I could write a whole post on the ways immigration makes the world a better place -- maybe I should.)

Yet I am going to try not to read Trump's win as the definitive victory of the forces of darkness.  It's a setback, hopefully a temporary one.  Most of the world still wants to move forward, not backward, and there are ways to do it even if the most powerful man in the free world isn't on your side.

Recommended reading:
Don't Mourn, Organize - Thing of Things
White Riot - Vox [Note: facts very interesting. Tone very inflammatory.  If you are a typical conservative who absolutely cannot handle anyone thinking that anyone you like is racist, it will make you mad.]

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


The morning after an election is always rough.  Particularly because I seem to have a spidey-sense for picking the candidates who won't win.  Still, in past years, I was never all that shaken up.  Obama won -- oh well.  He won again -- eh, four years of the same, I can deal with that.  On Facebook, I can see that I spent my time reminding people that God was in charge no matter who won or lost, and that real change happens on the personal level anyway.

I'm not keeping it together so well today.  I've become pretty cynical about the thought that God is in charge of anything; if he was in charge of the Holocaust, for instance, he did not do the kind of job that ought to comfort anybody.  And as for change happening on the personal level -- that can only happen when people are safe and secure enough to work for it.  If they're being rounded up and deported, you know, it's kind of tough.

Last night was horrifying.  I went in with a little nervousness, but not too much because I felt pretty confident in the polls.  I guess there are plenty of people out there ashamed to tell a pollster they were voting for Trump, but not ashamed to do it.  And I think Clinton's people just didn't turn out as much as expected.  Comey's new emails might be to blame; I don't know.  I just know that, watching the results came in, I felt so sick I couldn't watch anymore.

John tried to console me by saying the two aren't really that different.  But they are.  I know it's always a challenge after an election not to mix up your fears with your actual expectations -- you know, to argue for your candidate you might say, "X might happen!" but that doesn't mean X will necessarily happen.  You were just being cautious and things might really be fine either way.  I said Trump might start a nuclear war, but I don't think that will happen.  Probably.  But still, there are plenty of things Trump does have a high likelihood of actually doing, and with both houses of congress on his side, no one will be able to stop him.

At 12:30 we turned off the computer and meant to go to bed.  But instead I spent half an hour storming around angry and then half an hour crying.  I meant to be at peace with everyone after the election, not to hold grudges for how people had voted, but I am surprised by how furious I am.  And I just feel so out of control right now ... this whole dang year, stuff just keeps happening to me.  I have a recurring dream lately of being swept away by waves.  I have never been afraid of the ocean in my life, but I feel it symbolizes how I feel about my powerlessness at the stuff that swamps me.

I mean, this has been the year from hell.  Getting pregnant so thoroughly against my will and expectation, moving, my health being inexplicably awful, worries about Marko, and now this.  And even saying this I feel ashamed, because my life is so much better than many people's.  I'm not honestly worried about myself, but I am so, so worried about people more vulnerable than I am.

I didn't sleep well last night.  Miriam woke me every hour and I dreamed of Trump and dead babies (thanks, Fr. Pavone, that stunt of yours really helped).  And this morning all my problems are still here.  The boys are fighting over a sleeping bag they both want to play with.  Miriam is clambering all over me, demanding books, songs, nursing, food -- anything to get my attention back onto her, because she's a bottomless pit of need lately, for no obvious reason.

I'm scared because my one battle for the past six months has been not to get depressed, and I was winning.  I have been the ray of sunshine my kids needed.  Despite every sucky thing about my life, I have been patient with Marko's meltdowns, Michael's whining, and Miriam's demandingness.  And it's paid off because they've been doing very well.  But today .... I am not winning, so much.  Maybe I'm just having a bad day, but I'm so scared of getting shoved right back to where I was when Miriam was born.  I can never be sure that won't happen, so every bad day terrifies me.

I'm sorry to shower you all with so much doom and gloom.  I just feel like I should record these feelings.  Maybe, a couple years from now, I will look back on how I felt today and say, "See?  You shouldn't trust your fears, because you were so scared then and things turned out okay after all."  Or maybe not.

Hope you are all feeling better today than I am.  Though if you're throwing a party right now, please don't tell me; I don't want to know.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

7 third-trimester takes


It's funny, one of my biggest dreads has not been having a baby at all, but being in the third trimester.  Historically, it's been a really horrid time for me, and considering the second trimester was mostly eaten up with feeling lethargic and awful, I had a lot of fear that the third trimester would only be worse.

But it really hasn't been!  I mean, I know it will only get worse as the due date gets closer, but so far, I feel fine.  Better than I did for most of second trimester, that's for sure.  I feel energetic and optimistic.  I feel like starting fun projects.  I feel like taking the kids to the park even if they aren't whining at me to go.  I feel like socializing with friends.  It's been a long time since I really felt like doing any of those things.

I wish I knew what has made things so much better.  The midwife was quizzing me at our last appointment -- have you been taking vitamins?  Getting more sleep?  Did you wean the toddler?  No, none of those things.  (Though perhaps Miriam is scaling down and perhaps that helps.)  I have been getting outside more, for sure.  This weather lately has been gorgeous.  But it's hard to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg -- have I been feeling better because I've been taking walks a lot, or taking more walks because I finally feel like I have the energy to take them?  I do know that walks that seemed like a million miles a month ago, seem like no big deal now.  I often walk a mile with all three kids and the dog, which means our pace is very slow, but instead of feeling like I am trudging along while herding cats, I feel like we're having a leisurely, pleasant time.


And feeling good makes me feel optimistic.  If I have time and energy now to spend on my own projects, that means I will have time and energy in three months to take care of a baby.  Part of why I felt so panicky while pregnant with Miriam is because I was extremely overwhelmed and not handling life well with two, so I knew I would struggle with three.  (And I was right.)  But I am not extremely overwhelmed at the moment.  Miriam is over two.  She's not a whole lot of trouble -- well, not compared to the trouble she was at 18 months, anyway.  And the boys are BIG.  They are really good at managing themselves.  Today I had a taco and a soda to share with them, so I handed Michael the taco and Marko the soda and they shared with each other.  Without fighting!  When I look back on how they used to bite each other several times a day .... well, there's no comparison.  These days I might go for some time without seeing a sign of either of them, and I don't worry because they know the rules and generally follow them.  If they had an issue, they wouldn't be attacking each other -- most likely they'd run to me tattling.  Tattling is underrated. What's bad about seeking adult help when you're over your head dealing with an interpersonal problem?  That's what I want them to do!

Here's how easy my life is: I get to take a shower every day if I want to.  And no one kills each other while I'm in there.

Now, I'm still sticking with my resolution to focus on the present.  It will surely be harder to have four kids than to have three, so I'm trying to soak up my time with three.  (And to get some things done while I still can, like getting Marko reading more independently.)  I'm enjoying taking them places, taking pictures of them, getting one-on-one time with each of them.  The other week, we went to the playground and they were having a fine time, but I talked them into trying out the trails.  And then the trail forked and they wanted to take the longer trail ... so I went with it and we had a fun adventure!  It's been so long that I've been approaching parenting with the attitude of "put as little effort into it as possible and never do anything extra, because I'm barely managing the bare minimum and can't afford to make extra work for myself."  Now it's more like, hey, you know, if I want to, I can bake something today!  Or we could do a craft!  Maybe work on something educational!  Why not?

Lots of adventures, lots of pictures.

And all this stuff both makes me feel a lot happier about life in general, and less terrified of the new baby.  Because if I'm happy and managing fine now -- well, that's a good sign.  And it stops the clock I have running in my head of "time I've spent being miserable/not accomplishing anything I wanted due to having children."  One shouldn't count the cost, but one does, and I've spent a lot of years on baby-having.  Yet most of those years have not actually been miserable or unproductive, so why assume the remainder will be?


Well, that's the good news.  The bad news is that my back is in rather horrible shape.  I thought, after it was doing so well when I was pregnant with Miriam, that I had cracked the code on pelvic girdle pain and just wouldn't get it anymore.  No, apparently it's more complicated than that, and while the tricks I learned last time do help, I'm constantly discovering new things that screw it up.  Once my pelvis is out of joint, it's in pain all the time, whenever I move.  I'm getting better at putting it back into place, but after this has happened, it's fragile for some time thereafter, so I screw it back up rolling over in bed or lifting a heavy pot.  If I can go a week or two without injuring it, I'm sure it will be less delicate, but that never happens.

The good news is that exercise seems to help, not hurt, so it's not holding me back from walks.  It does hurt to walk sometimes, but it seems to keep the joints mobile enough to keep away the extreme pain and stiffness I get when I sit for too long.  Ditto for the way the kids have a million demands that make me run up and down the stairs all day -- it doesn't seem to be making anything worse.


Ooh, but I have exciting good news!  A friend of mine handed down a spinning wheel to me which she inherited from her grandmother.  Along with it came an entire trunkload of wool, some of which I probably won't use, but some of which is very nice.

Now wheel spinning is not quite like spindle spinning -- you have less control, plus you can't take it with you and do it for five minutes at a time between stuff -- but I am addicted to it anyway.  It's just so mesmerizing watching the wheel go around and the yarn just pile onto the bobbin.  And it's much, much faster.  There are definitely projects that I'm going to be using that wheel for, even while others require the spindle.


In less cheerful news, we're starting to get really worried about Marko.  On the one hand, he's really a delight to be around, a good listener, whip-smart, and tries very hard to be kind.  On the other .... many of the worrisome behaviors that have troubled us for years, which we've assumed he'll grow out of, he hasn't.  He still chews on his collars pretty much all the time.  He throws major gale-force tantrums if you say something that isn't literally accurate, or if you try to switch up a routine he's dependent on.  His stammer is still severe enough it keeps him from communicating with most people outside the family, even though he's finally reached the point of wanting to talk to other people.

Adding these things up, plus many other minor concerns, has settled us on taking him for a developmental evaluation.  After all, we figured, knowledge can only help us help him. But I'm surprised how much anxiety it's given both of us.  I mean, what if he winds up with some kind of diagnosis?  Isn't there something wrong with putting a label on a child?  Does this mean we've failed him by not getting him assessed before now?

I have to keep repeating that nothing is going to change my beautiful child; a label of any kind won't transform him from his wonderful self to some other, more damaged, kid.  And it wouldn't mean all his quirks are now bad.  They're a part of who he is.  At the same time he seems to be held back in some ways from things he would like to do by those same quirks, and it would be nice to be able to teach him how to manage the world we actually live in a little bit better.

*bites nails*   Well, the appointment is Tuesday, so I'll just be here worrying till then.


The kids are very excited about Halloween.  Marko and Michael are going as skeletons.  Because I loathe commercialism, I am spending just as much money on black clothes and white paint as I would have on premade costumes.  Oh well.  They can have skeleton pajamas to sleep in hereafter. I won't repeat past mistakes -- these costumes are going to be comfortable and they will be able to move in them!

I thought I would have to decide for Miriam, but nope -- she made up her mind immediately when I asked her, and has been quite steadfast about it.  She wants to be a kitty.  And when she knocks on the doors, she's going to say "meow meow meow."  The cuteness. It's unbearable.  For her, I bought a costume, because they had them at Aldi for nine dollars and there is no way I could make something that looked equally cat-like for any cheaper.  I mean, it's basically just jammies with ears and a tail.  But I'll assuage my crafty conscience by painting whiskers on her.  She'll like that.

I am disappointed, though, that the kids didn't stick with their original ambition (dreamed up November 1st of last year) to be Luke, Han, and Leia.  It would have been super adorable.


The election is super close now.  Like I need more anxiety in my life.  Right now I have a whole calendar of Stuff to Worry About: first, getting Halloween costumes done in time; next, Marko's appointment; third, election; fourth, Christmas presents; fifth, having a baby.  By my calculations that doesn't allow me a lot of nights to not lie awake stressing out in.

Oh, and I forgot the World Series!  I am very worried about this.  I want the Cubs to win -- John's family has been waiting for them to win the world series for three generations! -- but if they don't win, imagine the disappointment, since they've gotten this far.  And though the odds-makers say they're favored -- well, I just can't believe the Cubs will ever win.  Last night I spent three hours watching them fail to score.  It was not an enjoyable use of my time.

Anyway, I'll be happy when the election is over.  However, I fear the anger that's been stirred up by it won't dissipate overnight.  The people who said all Hillary supporters will go to hell are still going to be there.  So will the people who said grabbing women was no big deal.  Once you've said this stuff, it's out there, and enemies made in an online debate aren't necessarily going to kiss and make up.  I do a bit of debating, from time to time, but I've had to bail on more than one discussion that got ugly.

And gosh, I really hope we don't end up with a reality-show star as President. Even if it means we basically have to have Frank Underwood from House of Cards.  I remember some months ago hearing the Philippines' new president being characterized as being like Trump, and now he's apparently killing people by the scores.  So, you know ... I would like that not to happen here.  (Though maybe news gets distorted from countries away -- is it really that bad, Enbrethiliel?)

While I'd like to hopefully remark that perhaps we'll get Rand Paul or someone like him in 2020 -- let's get real.  The Republican Party has been shattered, and the largest shard is the Trump shard.  The establishment, social conservatives, and libertarians can't be counted on to stand together -- in fact, this election has shown that they'll mostly just move Trump-wards to get in on that sweet, sweet popularity.  So I foresee some long, dark years in the GOP, where they abandon everything I liked about them, while at the same time not winning elections because most of America still doesn't like Trumpism.

Anyway, I guess I can pride myself on not having unfriended anyone this election season, and if anyone has unfriended me, I don't know about it.  And it seems that's the best anybody can hope for.

How have you all been?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Going from one to many

So, frequent commenter Sojourner is going to have her second child any time now, and it seems a good moment to write a bit about what it's like to go from having one kid to having more than one.  Some people say it's incredibly hard, others that it's actually easier to have several kids than just one.  In a way, it's both.  It's easier in some ways and harder in others.  But one thing is for sure -- it changes the whole dynamic, a lot more than adding more kids later does.

1.  It makes you less invested.
As an empathetic person, when I had just Marko, I found myself completely emotionally entangled with everything he felt.  He was having a bad day -- I was having a bad day.  He was happy -- I was a success as a parent.  We were super close, and it was kind of sad to lose that closeness when Michael was born.  But on the other hand, sooner or later I would have had to become less entangled, because it certainly isn't healthy for a mother to be that emotionally reliant on her child long-term.

When I had Michael, the emotional flood coming from Marko was diluted and I didn't automatically get carried away with it.  I was able to distinguish between one or the other of them having a hard time and everything being terrible.  And when one child had a tough day or a tough stage, I was a lot less tempted to think I was a failure as a parent because I would have another kid still doing fine.

2.  You get way more overstimulated.
Again, it's partly a me-specific thing -- I'm very sensitive to noise and touching as it is.  But when I had only Marko, I wasn't often "touched out."  He wasn't very high-needs and there was lots of time in the day when nobody was touching me or making any noise.  Multiply the kids and you increase the stimulation by a lot.  I started having to plan for it, which sometimes meant putting myself and Michael in a different room from Marko so I could nurse without Marko also trying to touch me or talk to me.  It was hard -- I felt like a bad mother for not being able to snuggle every child at the moment they wanted to.  But it does get better, because kids slowly reduce their need for touching.  Michael is happy with one big squeeze every once in awhile, and Marko is finally learning that he can ask for a hug instead of just coming over and leaning on me till I tip over.  Miriam's the only one who's very physically needy -- well, her and her baby brother or sister, because babies in utero somehow sap my tolerance for overstimulation just as much as they do on the outside.

3.  Eventually, they play together.
I thought I would have to wait at least a year before my kids would play together, but nope -- Marko came up with games Michael could play from when he was a few weeks old.  He would pull a chair over behind Michael's bouncer and "play bus," or he'd show his toys to Michael.  It was super adorable and it's only gotten better.  I basically don't play with them anymore because they entertain each other -- I'm for providing food and snuggles, not games, and that suits me fine because playing kid games isn't my bag.  They do fight, but on the other hand, I do feel they've developed a ton of social skills by playing with each other so much every day.  They know about bargaining with each other to find a game they both like, about negotiating for a desired toy, and how people play with you more if you're nice.  And their verbal skills surely have been helped by having hours a day of talking with each other -- and that means they don't have to be exclusively talking to me all day.  (Though don't get me wrong, they do talk to me a lot.  Sometimes at the same time.)

4.  Logistics can be hard.
Dealing with two awake kids in the middle of the night is a nightmare unless you have help.  I'm not going to gloss that one over.  And bedtime can involve a lot of juggling.  At this point I manage bedtime pretty easily with all three, even if John is out, but you may remember that for a long time this was my nemesis.  Details like getting shoes on everyone before leaving the house, or figuring out when to go home from the park when Miriam is bored and the other two want to stay forever, can be challenging.  With multiple kids, you are forced to plan more instead of drifting through the day like the free spirit I prefer to be.

5.  They eat SO MUCH.
It isn't just that I have to buy three times as much food.  It's that their appetites influence one another so somehow they are eating ALL THE TIME.  I mean, it goes something like this.

7 am - Miriam is starving, demands cereal.
7:15 - boys see her eating cereal, demand toast. Miriam sees their toast, rejects her cereal, and demands toast too.
7:30 - Marko finishes his toast and wanders off.  Michael has a sandwich.
7:45 - Miriam throws her toast on the floor and wants a sandwich.
8:00 - Marko wanders back into the kitchen and realizes Michael had a sandwich.  He now wants a sandwich.
8:15 - Marko is finished and leaves the kitchen.  I make tea for myself.
8:30 - Miriam sees I'm having tea and wants some.
8:45 - Michael sees Miriam drinking tea and wants milk.

This goes on ALL DAY.  I am not kidding.  I do better when I get a little ahead of them and make something nice that we can all eat and then all be finished, but invariably if there is only a little of something, they all want it, and if there is lots, two out of three kids don't like it and want something else.  When I'm cooking, I have no problem with slipping one kid a little bite, but I have to resist because it attracts the others .... and, like locusts, they leave nothing left.  In the past I've been a strong believer in letting kids' appetites direct what and when they eat, but you just can't do that with multiple kids if you want to ever not be making food.  More and more often I've been trotting out my mom's phrase -- "The kitchen is closed, no more food till noon/three/six."  And I'm sure it's not bad for them to have some structure to their food schedule.

6.  You get to enjoy just watching them.
It's really fun to watch kids interact.  They talk to each other, hug each other, play.  Marko is the bossy one, by virtue of being the oldest: he comes up with complicated games and tries to enlist the others, with mixed success.  Michael is the happy-go-lucky one -- happy to go along with Marko's plans at the outset, but rapidly getting bored and introducing non-canon wackiness.  And Miriam is the empathetic one -- cheerily handing toys to anyone who seems to really want them, hugging and kissing anyone who is sad.  One of the most hilarious parts is listening to them talk about the way they think the world is.  Without the interference of an adult to say, "Well, ACTUALLY the ocean is too large to build a bridge across," they come up with crazy versions of reality.  They'll learn the way things really are later -- in the meantime, they're hilarious to listen to.

7.  Babywearing no longer solves everything.
Well, unless you're a lot more buff than I am.  I drew the line once their combined weight hit 40 lbs.

8.  You don't get breaks.
Even if you're lucky enough to have only kids who nap (ah, how blissful that must be!  I wouldn't know) what are the odds they will all nap at the same time?  You certainly are not getting a nap, not without the aid of the television at least.  (If you are anti-TV, the sooner you get over that, the better.  I'm not kidding.  It helps a whole lot when you have a toddler and a newborn, and you can always phase it out later.)  So you are on from wakeup to bedtime.  I have always managed, eventually, to coordinate their bedtimes within an hour or so.  I don't know if all kids are amenable to this, but I sure hope so because that off-duty time is necessary to my sanity.

9.  You will feel horribly guilty.
All mothers feel guilty, and more so if you have multiple kids.  Because there will be times when they both need you at the same time, and you'll have to choose one to take care of.  The other will cry and you will feel like a terrible person.  You will worry that you are picking favorites (and you are, but only till the next one needs to be your "favorite") and that one or both of your children are being neglected.  The fact that you care about this will probably help you not actually neglect them.  But it's hard, I'm not going to gloss that over.

10.  But sometimes, you'll feel like a star.
Those moments when everything comes together and you successfully schlep all the kids to the store and back without disaster -- you'll realize you are really, really good at what you do.  The meltdowns your youngest throws at you will not phase you, because you'll have seen these stages before and you know what to do -- and that they pass.  People will question you, like they did when you had one, and you can just say "oh, I have x many, I know what I'm doing."  It just doesn't get under your skin the way it did when you have one.  You work out ways to make your life easier and ways to manage things that, at first, you thought you couldn't possibly handle.

I am very glad I have more than one child.  Sometimes I wish I'd spaced them out more, but I have no regrets at all about going past one.  It really has enriched my life and theirs, despite the struggle of adjustment each time we've added one.  (And don't get me wrong, just because more than one is good, doesn't mean I want to have an unlimited number.  I haven't changed my mind about that.)

Good luck, Sojourner!  Hope your next child is as mellow as can be.
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