Monday, January 28, 2013

The good stuff

Responding to Whitman's Song of Myself.

I love teaching kids to read. Watching the cracking of the elusive code of written language is nothing short of awe-inspiring, whether the process takes two weeks or two years. I delight in seeing those lights come on in a child's mind and truthfully, I can't imagine handing that blessing over to anyone else, no matter how qualified the teacher's union insists they are.

For years, I thought that this would be the highlight of homeschooling-- that nothing would touch the excitement of those first baby steps into the academic world.

I was wrong.

For all of its pressures, for all of its outside expectations, homeschooling high school is where it's at.

Like most of us, I felt a lump in my throat as I contemplated tackling upper level subjects with my kids. I really wasn't sure how to reconcile the high school education I had had with the one I dreamed of for my children. I was daunted by the prospect of "missing something." Could I really teach physics after all? And the idea of somehow inadvertently costing my child his or her future career through my own mistake or miscalculation, well ... let's just say I lost sleep over the idea more than once.

What we've found, however, has been that those fears have faded into the background and been replaced by a rhythm of learning, growing, and relating that I never expected. Halfway through her tenth grade year, Jo has matured into a young lady who largely owns her education, who sets goals, and who seeks out the knowledge she needs when she needs it. No, not everything catches her fancy (the required state history component of her credits is boring her to tears), but she shrugs it off and counts it as a necessary evil as she budgets her time for the things that do matter to her: music theory, reading another book from the selections relating to our current history study, French, poring over the prerequisite materials for the doula class she'll be taking this fall. 

Her enthusiasm for learning is contagious, and the depth at which material is studied at this level is, to be honest, so much more fulfilling for the homeschool mom presenting it or even just walking alongside. For example, this year Jo has been tackling a course in American Literature that I wrote for her. Finally! I am introducing my daughter to Scout and Boo, to Huck, to Hester. We are laughing about James Fenimore Cooper's schoolboy antics, mourning Poe's sad family connections, and wishing Hemingway had never picked up the shotgun. Together. 

This, I've decided, is the second phase of amazing in homeschooling. Just as poignant as reading lessons, just as satisfying as sweet Bible stories with felt camels and stones, just as beautiful as the tearful goodbye we bade Charlotte as Wilbur left the fair. I am forever grateful that we have this time together to dig deep and talk. I didn't see the blessing of this season coming, but here it is, and I, for one, am happy to embrace it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


One of the things I noticed when I met Mr. Blandings for the first time was the slightly pink, jagged scar that ran from inside his left nostril all the way down to the his lip, where it ended in a silvery flourish. It would take several weeks before I got up the courage to ask how it had come to be one of the defining features of his face; one doesn't generally go about asking strangers such personal things, and the crossing the line from stranger to casual acquaintance to actual friend takes a little bit of time, even in the close quarters of a college newspaper office.

Mr. Blandings was slightly flustered when I asked about the scar. His hand fluttered up to trace it, and he shrugged slightly before answering. I knew right away I had hit on a sensitive subject. Although he had been living with that line of tissue for each of his twenty years, it was still a source of some angst. It was a birth defect, he told me. A cleft lip and palate. Repaired through multiple surgeries over the course of several years. Lots of painful dental work. Speech therapy. And oh, yes: the teasing.

I can't say for certain that it was in this moment that I fell in love with Mr. Blandings, but I know that when I look back on our earliest days together, this is one of those exchanges that I recall in soft focus, lit with what now seems like a lifetime of love and understanding and awe. Something about that scar had softened the heart of this man, molding him into someone somehow more sensitive and empathetic than the others I knew. Something about that tiny evidence of imperfection made him more approachable, more perfect to the hurt and broken girl that I was. 

It still seems to baffle Mr. Blandings that I adore his cleft palate scar. He finds it amusing that I wish our children could somehow inherit the slightly off-center tilt of his nose, as if the results of a plastic surgeon's craft could trump the genetic code passed down through biology. And while my husband has now, at 41, come to a place where he's not only comfortable with, but proud of, the scar that he carries, the memories of the childhood jeers and medical dramas surrounding it are something he would choose to forget, if he could.

Maybe because my own scars are less prominent and more personal, I find it hard to relate to the place where he was as a boy--hating his own face, creating fictions to cover the boring truth (his favorite explanation was that he had been a bystander in a knife fight and was slashed, if you can believe it). My scars are all sentimental. There's the thin line on my thumb that I got the day my Mamaw was teaching me to peel potatoes. The puckered, dimpled skin on the back of my left hand I won trying to learn to jump my bike over a curb. The set of teeth marks (yes, teeth marks) on my upper arm that perfectly match the set my four year-old brother was sporting the day we got into a physical fight over the Nintendo Duck Hunt controller.

Nothing big or life-altering. Nothing beyond the norm of what life dishes out and leaves behind, written on the canvas of our skin.

And I guess this attitude--this "I have journeyed and lived and been changed"-- is what makes me so, so sad each time I speak with a well-meaning friend or relative who asks me how I "feel" about the long c-section incision still healing across my abdomen.

In truth? I don't "feel" much about it. It is what it is. Like the silvery, snaking stretch marks that each previous child has left behind on my body, this new mark is just another in a parade of changes wrought by the gift of motherhood. I don't look at my body in disgust, or with a feeling of failure. I have been blessed to experience, not once, but five times, the absolutely stunning majesty of seeing my body do what God designed it to do. After years of infertility, of feeling like my body was broken and out of sorts, I can honestly say that I do not take a single stretch mark for granted. Those scars are the remembrances of having been blessed to carry life. How do you look at the proof of that and turn away? How do you regret the places you have been that have brought you joy?

Birthing Reuven has left a measurable, physical mark on my body. Raising Reuven will leave an immeasurable, imperceptible mark on my soul. Already, the signs of pregnancy have faded into memory. The sciatic nerve pain disappeared. The swelling is gone from my feet. My maternity clothes are too baggy, even as my regular clothes are still too tight. In no time at all, the arduous, slow stepping up, up, up of pregnancy will have wound down. It still shocks me how quickly the physical side recedes. But the emotional, the spiritual ... it has only just begun. By the time this scar has healed fully, Reuven will be stealing my heart with wide, gummy smiles and maybe even catching handfuls of my hair as I nurse him. 

And someday, when this line has faded to a lumpy, white sheen and I only realize its presence from time to time in the shower, I will still have the joy of being Reuven's mother, and walking around each day with a bit of him in my heart. This is the stuff that matters. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

The new view from here

Reuven, 3 weeks

Easing back into life.

Finding new rhythms.

Enjoying buttery soft newborn cheeks.

Remembering how sexy my husband is with a baby in his arms.

Feeding my family.

Folding diapers.

Schooling the older people.

Reading to the younger ones.

Making room in our hearts and lives for this newest family member.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Born, again

The irony of being me is that after expending so much energy in the direction of not giving birth prematurely, it always comes to this: Come on, baby. Time to be born, already.

And this is exactly where we found ourselves after 20 weeks of progesterone injections, 6 weeks of bed rest, and 4 weeks of Nifedipine. Come on, baby. Come out and meet the world!

Since I have a history of birthing larger than average babies, there's always some anxiety about getting them baked just right. No one wants them to come so early that their lungs aren't up the challenge of breathing on their own, but no one wants them to be so large as to need too much assistance crossing the divide from in utero to fully born, either. It's a fine balance, and one that we've always managed to straddle fairly well. 

This time, there was the additional concern of gestation diabetes. As you probably know, one of the biggest concerns with this issue is the potential for the baby to put on weight --specifically in their chest and shoulders-- and be more difficult to deliver vaginally. Knowing this, knowing my already stretched history in this area ... I spent more than a few hours in prayer, as I'm sure you can imagine.

And when it came down to it, God showed up. My mantra of "God's got this," was in full effect the day that our little man finally came on the scene. (Two weeks later than we had hoped, might I add.) 

For those that revel in such, the birth story follows.

Having been stymied by hospital higher-ups in an attempt to induce labor by breaking my water earlier than "recommended," my OB agreed to strip my membranes on December 26. I was not very confident of any outcome other than a day full of uncomfortable cramping, but agreed-- simply because the only other alternative was to wait until December 31 for another go at breaking the water. This method (rupturing membranes) has always worked beautifully for me in the past. Since I dilate slowly over the course of several weeks or months leading up to my due date, all it takes is a simple pop! and I have a baby. No pitocin, no drama, just me--finally--having a baby.

The morning of the 26th, I was 5 cm dilated, 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant, and dubious. My OB did the "vigorous cervical exam" deed, and I went home. Driving back, I had one contraction. Just one. I shrugged, told Mr. Blandings (who was home for the day) that I was certain this was a useless enterprise, and headed upstairs to nap.

But I never got to take my nap. Within ten minutes of settling in, I was having contractions. Not hard ones, but regular ones. The kind that you peek at the clock and think, "Huh. I just had one 10 minutes ago. Let's see if that happens again."

And it did. For over an hour. Frustrated that I was most likely getting useless contractions rather than useless cramping thanks to the stripping, I got up, announced that I was taking a bath, and grabbed one of my favorite books to read while I soaked. Did I mention that I was super tired, having stayed up a bit too late on Christmas night and having woken up a bit too early that very morning? :-) I admit it-- I was grumpy.

In the bath, I expected things to slow down. Instead, they seemed to pick up. Confused, I called down for Jo to fetch me the iPad so that I could use the contraction monitor app I had downloaded. Sure enough, after half an hour in the tub, a pattern had emerged: I was having fairly strong contractions every 4 minutes. And this is where you will no doubt laugh out loud at this woman who had already delivered 4 babies--

I had no idea whether or not I was actually in labor.

I sent a message down to Mr. Blandings asking him to come up and confer with me on the odds that I might actually have a baby trying to make an appearance. The fact is, I had never just contracted, dilated, and had a baby without the certainty of my water being broken. Without that clear "YES," I was in uncharted territory.

So I stayed in the tub for another half hour, until the contractions seemed to warrant, if nothing else, a check to see if any progress was being made.

I have always said that I felt bad for women driving to the hospital in labor. And while I'm sure it's no picnic for those enduring hard-core contractions, for me, it was not what I expected. Several contractions finally rated on my "I can't talk through this" scale, and I asked Mr. Blandings for my labor song. This is something of a tradition for us. When things get physically intense in the birth process, I hum or sing. Mr. Blandings always picks a song and sings along with me; the same song, every contraction, as long as it takes. This time, he selected U2's "40." 

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He lift me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long...
How sing this song

At the hospital, I convinced the triage nurse to dispense with the routine and just check me, darn it. She did-- and at 7 centimeters, I was fast-tracked to a room.

And at this point, God stepped in and answered every prayer I've uttered regarding the birth of this baby. After Seven's less than peaceful birth, my confidence in my ability to do this whole thing without drugs was shaken to the point of anxiety. I feared the pain, feared the process, and feared falling apart. None of this, as it turns out, was an issue. I dilated quickly, quietly, and with minimal discomfort right up to completion, hitting the necessary 10 centimeter mark singing "40" with my husband and laughing with nurses. And then?

Then I had a c-section.

All along, my secondary prayer had been that, should any intervention be necessary, the right people would be in the right place at the right time, and that I would feel an absolute peace in listening to their advice. When the on-call doctor arrived on the scene, God spoke clearly through her and her actions. The doctor felt all over my stomach, had me change positions multiple times, did an internal exam during several contractions to confirm her suspicions, and then let us decide.

There's a decent chance this baby might not fit easily. I could be wrong. I could be right. You already know how this works. What do you want to do?

So, in the end, we chose the surgical delivery. Many things went into that decision (including my vivid recollections of my mother recovering from a fractured pubic bone and pelvis after my brother's shoulder dystocia and birth), but mostly it was this: Mr. Blandings and I felt peace.

So I sang "40" as I rode to the operating room, experienced my first ever anesthesia, and was prepped. Mr. Blandings and I sang and waited and in just moments, over the blue drape, the doctor held up our vernix-coated, nearly bald, chunky fifth son.

My biggest baby at 10 pounds, 3 ounces. And, if I might add, sporting a set of shoulders that make me think God most certainly had this.

It's been 16 days now, and I can honestly say that after the first week or so, I could barely tell the difference between the recovery from my unmedicated, vaginal deliveries (always accompanied by either a tear or an episiotomy) and this one. Maybe it's the baby bliss. Maybe it's relief that the somewhat arduous journey to bringing this little one safely home is over. Maybe it's just the realization that I had nothing to prove to anyone and don't give a hoot who thinks I copped out and who thinks I made the right call.

Reuven is here. He's healthy and whole. I'm healthy and whole. And together, we're enjoying getting to know one another in the new norm of family life.

Monday, January 7, 2013


It's a BOY!

Born Boxing Day (December 26), 10 lbs., 3 oz., 22 inches. Details soon ...