28!

I find it annoying that my preferred pregnancy app counts baby gestation milestones in weeks, but has belly diagrams in months. I don’t know if 28 weeks is “Month 6” or “Month 7”! Are they counting a month as being four weeks?

Regardless of which belly diagram I should be looking at, today I am 28 weeks pregnant: twelve-ish weeks to go! And I am very tired… it has been a loooong day, the sort of day that just never seems to end. Ornery students, meetings during prep period, more ornery students, meetings after school — you name it.

And if I feel tired, it’s nothing on how I look. All one can hope is that it doesn’t really show up too much in this terrible cell phone picture taken under florescent lights.

28weeks

Hmm. Seems that may have been a bit much to ask. Particularly love the dumb look on my face, but I guess that’s what comes of timer photography. Also, my blue sweater is actually green, or more green than blue. And I actually do have some color in my hands… man, I hate those lights.

Maybe should have adjusted my skirt, too. Oh well.

I am too tired right now to say anything witty or exciting. Back later.

Whimsical Winter Wonderland, Part 1

At long last, a post about Meredith and Aaron’s beautiful wedding!

Meredith and Aaron are high school sweethearts who met in band (she a horn player, he a saxophone), who then went to college together, and got engaged on Christmas Day 2011. A year and four days later, they got married in a winter wonderland at Still Water Hollow, on the first night of the cold snap that seized up the Treasure Valley for the past several weeks, surrounded by about a hundred of their family members and closest friends.

I mostly just want to share some of the gorgeous photographs taken by Kristen Fields of Bon Vivant Studios. Seriously — if you’re in the market for some beautiful, straight-from-a-bridal-magazine photography, talk to Kristen! (She works outside the Boise area as well.) And if you’d like additional services, like wedding planning or invitation design, check out Posh & Pristine Productions for the whole package! Meredith and Aaron were incredibly fortunate to have won a photography and coordination package via a Facebook contest — thank you if you were one of the people who voted for them! — and the day-of assistance we received was extraordinary, on top of the lovely photography.

The pictures really are worth a thousand (or more) words here, so I’m going to let them speak for themselves. Enjoy. All images are copyright Kristen R. Fields 2012, reproduced here with permission.

Venue: Still Water Hollow

Live music: Stillwater Brass (no association)

Hair/makeup: Amber at Madril Hair Design

Cake: Brenda’s Creative Cakery (cake plate and topper by the bride)

Catering: Life’s Kitchen

Officiant: Pastor Ric Shewell of First United Methodist Church (Cathedral of the Rockies) in Boise

Invitations and programs: Meredith Messinger

“Shabby chic” vintage decor: Bonnie Hoffman

Flowers: Bonnie Hoffman

Photography and Wedding Day Coordination: Bon Vivant Studios/Posh & Pristine Productions

Uhm… not sure what/who I may be forgetting to credit… let me know if you notice that I missed something and I’ll add them!

NEXT TIME: Beautiful details from a beautiful night. 🙂

Nursery and Layette

We finally found our chair for the nursery! Hooray for Craigslist and nice people who move and want to unload their unneeded baby things. 🙂 These guys cost about $350 new, and we got it for $100. It’s in pretty much new condition and is wonderful.

Did I ever get a clear picture of the bassinet up here?

bassinet

I also wanted to post (for my reference, not because I necessarily think you all want to see all of this) pics of the clothes we’ve acquired thus far. Because I love them and they make me happy. 🙂 A lot of them have been early gifts, and some have been things we’ve found at sales and consignment shops…

Separated out by size so that I know what we’ve got:

Newborn to 3 Months

Three to Six Months

Six to Nine Months

Nine Months

Accessories

Baby Things and Helpful Pets

Today, we didn’t find The Perfect Chair on Craigslist (we found the perfect chair a few days ago, but someone bought it from under us) so instead we wandered around town in the fog and sleet looking for inspiration. Honestly, it was rather nice just driving around town listening to the rain on the windshield and the music on the radio.

I had half-promised myself that we wouldn’t do anything baby-related today, but then I remembered that Other Mothers (one of the local consignment shops) was having their monthly Quarter Sale. We drove down but got there too late for the sale, but since it was so gross out and we’d driven down, we went in anyway. We’d been in a couple of times before (that’s where our dinosaur and bassinet came from) but until now had refrained from buying any clothes… but I’d been eying a fleecey ducky sleep sack for a while, and it was there for $3, and, well, one thing led to another.

We also went by Ross, in a moment of weakness, and found a couple of things there too. Kermie got a little bit spoiled today!

baby things

Pardon the bad photo quality; I took it in poor light on my iPhone, and I’m pretty sure I need to clean the lens. At the top is a painting that we just love for the nursery (I’ll post a better picture of it below). Then, from left to right, top row first: green gingham summer suit with giraffe, orange polo-shirt onesie, green “Snuggle Saurus” onesie, froggy onesie with pants and hat, tie-wearing teddy bear onesie with pants, two fleecey ducky sleep sacks, orange-and-blue stegosaur shirt, monster onesie, “smile” sleep-and-play for ironic squalling baby photos, a two-pack of baby mittens, tiny maroon corduroy overalls that stole Ryan’s heart, and a diaper bag that matches the stroller we registered for. The frog suit, bear suit, striped shirt, and mittens all still had new tags. They’re a variety of sizes from 0-9 months.

Here’s a better shot of the picture:

ABC painting

Again, not great photo quality — doesn’t really show the colors to their best advantage. It looks really cute with the other things we have, and we love that it isn’t all dinosaurs; we didn’t want a mono-themed nursery, necessarily.

I suspect that in some ways it’s pretty silly to be buying baby clothes three months before Kermie is scheduled to make his appearance, especially given that babies tend to get a lot of wardrobe gifts and hand-me-downs, but it’s just very difficult to resist adorable little onesies and whatnot on a dreary January afternoon! (I’m seriously contemplating braving the Nampa store’s Quarter Sale, which is supposed to start next Friday afternoon, even though I’ve heard it can be a bit cutthroat. I’m a big fan of garage sale/thrift store/etc. “treasure hunting” and I’d love to see what one of these sales looks like, and a month is a long time to wait for the Boise one.) (Back-to-back parenthetical comments! I’m also looking forward to the Moppet Togs sale in March — looks a little crazy, with the lines and all, but I’m promised that it’s amazing!)

The critters were, as usual, very helpful when it came to things related to their little brother. Paisley added her own contribution to the clothing lineup, and d’Artagnan pointed out that C was really for Cat, not Crocodile:

paisley's present c is for cat

(Every time I turned around, that spider was in the middle of my shot again… Paisley is very helpful.)

Maybe the neatest thing about our unintended baby expedition was that we ran into someone we knew from Blue Thunder, who was at Other Mothers with her week-old baby boy. We talked for some time and I just soaked in that little guy — got to watch him have a diaper change and have a bottle. So little! I really wanted to hold him, but wasn’t bold enough to ask. I’ve been wishing that I could spend some time around little new babies — just to feel a little bit more prepared, you know? And this was amazing. I wonder if Kermie will be that size when he arrives!

(And man, if anyone was wondering if maternal instincts are hardwired — they are. It took an enormous effort of will not to swoop in when he started crying… like, it almost caused a physical feeling of pain to stand back! And Ryan felt it too… Goodness gracious, but we’re programmed creatures, aren’t we.)

The other VERY fun thing that happened today was that we got Meredith’s wedding pictures, and they’re extraordinary. I can’t wait to share some of them with you, but I think that will have to wait until tomorrow because it is going to be torturous to narrow down the photographs to a blog-sized sampling! Until then… good night!

ANOTHER Snow Day?!

Yesterday, they were calling for a “big” snow storm in our area. Instead of snow, we got freezing rain, which differs from sleet in that it falls as a liquid and freezes on contact with anything — and everything — it touches. End result? A quarter-inch sheet of pure ice on the roads, sidewalks, and any cars unfortunate enough to have been left outside overnight.

I hadn’t dared think we’d have a snow day, but turned on the news anyway. It was nonstop traffic coverage, with the ACHD saying that the roads were just about the worst they’d ever seen. In fact, both directions of Interstate 84 was shut down all the way from east Boise to Mountain Home when I turned on the news, and the closure extended beyond that within a couple of hours — 87 miles of undriveable highway, with semi trucks stranded and unable to move on the ice rink.

picture by The Idaho Statesman

picture by The Idaho Statesman

While we watched, pretty much every school district and charter/private school east or west of Boise announced that the roads were too bad to hold classes. My district was one of the earliest to cancel. We waited. The Boise School District called in to the television station to tell them that they were not going to cancel classes. The clock kept ticking; no word from Ryan’s district. Finally, the news came in that they were holding classes as well.

Parents were not amused. Lots of angry comments online and on call-in segments on the news. Later, the BSD released a statement regretting their decision. Regardless, Ryan had to go to work, and I didn’t….

Mom came and rescued me from my iced-in house (I sent Ryan with the good car and was not about to ice skate across the street and try those insane roads in a Tiburon). We got Panda for lunch. Then, lacking anything terribly constructive to do, we went over to BRU and I showed her the stroller we registered for. After my complete incompetence operating the thing last time (hey, those things are complicated if you’re not used to them!) it felt good to be able to demonstrate all the bells and whistles as if I actually knew what I was talking about.

I was looking for some specific used books for a unit I’m about to teach, so we went to Deseret Industries (a thrift store associated with the LDS church — has a good selection of books, although not the best prices in town, and the absolute best selection of used maternity clothes). I found some of the books I’d wanted, and then found several maternity t-shirts and XL fleece jackets, all in the $3-5 range, and all things I’d been wishing I had but hadn’t wanted to spend the inflated prices for maternity clothing at regular stores. As I was trying on the tops, I kept thinking how much I liked each of them, even though several were pretty uninspired… and then I realized that what I was really liking was the way I looked in them. I really like my bump! I have (have always had) a weird sort of mild body dysmorphia, in that I usually think I look smaller/thinner than I really do. (An unpleasant surprise when a photograph pops up!) I’ve spent a lot of time in front of the mirror lately, worrying that my bump wasn’t as big as it ought to be. Well, something about this particular mirror or these particular shirts dispelled that notion! I looked every bit as pregnant as I thought I ought to look, and I loved it. 🙂

I waited pretty much all day to hear back from some people who were selling a glider and ottoman on Craigslist. It was the perfect chair for a very good price, and from my perspective they’d indicated that we could pretty much have it — but then late in the afternoon, they texted me and told me that they’d sold it to someone else. Boo, disappointment. Oh well. I’m convinced we dodged a bullet. Clearly it reeked of cat pee and was covered in dog hair and vomit stains. Clearly. But I am anxious to get a chair into the nursery. I like to be in there, but there’s nowhere comfortable to sit….

My snow day has ended with the first episode of Project Runway season 11 — hooray! — and a science experiment, a.k.a. trying out a Pinterest recipe. I substituted mixed berry pie filling because Ryan isn’t a big fan of peach desserts (I know, right? Pass the divorce papers) and may have been a little generous with the brown sugar. It has just come out of the oven and I’m letting it cool a bit, which is an enormous exercise in self restraint because this cold weather and squirmy baby have really triggered my sweet tooth.

cake

I can already see one problem; the cake mix didn’t get fully incorporated into the fruity buttery yumminess, and there are a couple of spots with just plain dry cake mix sitting there. Yuck. Either there wasn’t enough liquid in the pie filling, or the recipe fibs and I ought to mix it up a little bit. (By the way, the recipe calls this a crunch cake or a dump cake, but it really seems like a very simple cobbler to me so I’m calling it a cobbler cake.)

Heck, it’s great big and there are only two of us. We can eat around the dry bits. And it’s got brown sugar and berries and walnuts, and I’ve got a can of whipped cream wonderfulness. How bad could it be? 🙂

Review: Eon and Eona

eon and eona Eon: Dragoneye Reborn and Eona by Alison Goodman

My rating: 4 out of 5

My copy of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn had been sitting on my classroom library shelf (and on my to-read list) for a while before I finally felt the urge to tackle it. I had some doubts; I had heard a lot about it, particularly when I’d been doing research on YA books with LGBTQ characters, but was worried that it would be all hype and no bite. After all, there are an awful lot of mediocre YA books out there with dragons in them; as a teen, I would have consumed them all haphazardly regardless of quality, but as an adult reader I have less time and broader interests. When it came time to close up my classroom for Christmas break, though, I grabbed Eon and took it with me — and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t really what I was expecting, but it was a darned good ride.

The novel and its sequel, Eona, take place in a fictional country that bore an initial overwhelming resemblance to feudal China (although as the story goes on, strong Japanese and other Asian elements are woven in). This country is protected by twelve energy-dragons, each corresponding to cardinal directions, elements, and the signs of the Chinese zodiac. The general population can’t see or sense the dragons, but every generation produces a handful of boys who possess not only the ability to see the dragons but to work with them as Dragoneyes. These boys are identified, trained, and then presented for that year’s ascending dragon to choose between. If chosen, the boy will partner with the dragon, gaining supernatural powers and great social prestige in exchange for allowing the dragon to sap his vitality or hua. Over the course of the twelve years of partnership, these boys become old men.

Eon is one of the boys who wants to become a Dragoneye, but he has two major hurdles to overcome. First, he is physically handicapped in a culture that shuns any signs of physical imperfection — and because part of the selection process involves martial arts, he is at a disadvantage from the very beginning.

Eon’s second obstacle is that he is actually a girl in disguise. In this fiercely patriarchal land, women aren’t allowed to become Dragoneyes — in fact, they’re really not allowed to be anything. Females have no value beyond servitude and breeding stock; they have no education, no rights, and no voice. Eon, who has been pretending to be a boy for so long that he thinks of himself as male, is hoping to maintain his secret and be chosen by that year’s dragon so that he can ascend from poverty, bring honor to his sponsor, and have a chance at a real life.

Balancing out these two problems, Eon is powerfully gifted at being able to see the energy-dragons. Most potential Dragoneyes will only see their own dragon; Eon can see all of them, at will, and seems to be able to communicate with them to some degree.

It obviously wouldn’t be much of a book if Eon wasn’t chosen by a dragon, so I was prepared for the anticlimax of the selection ceremony. That’s when Goodman delivered her first “gotcha” of the story, which I won’t divulge in the hopes that you’ll read it for yourself, but which lays the foundation for the entire saga.

From that point on, Eon and Eona comprise a riveting tale of secrets, betrayal, revolution, war, survival, and redemption. Despite the invisible drove of dragons on the margins, the books never really feel like fantasy novels. Instead, the emphasis is on the human characters and their struggles to come to terms with themselves, each other, and their circumstances. Eon must decide who he or she truly is, and what sort of person s/he wants to be, as power threatens to corrupt. Her friends and compatriots, many of them also with unique gender-identity issues (this is a land where eunuchs are still commonly used as servants, and where male-to-female transgendered people can possess a certain amount of spiritual capital, similar to the “two-spirits” of the Cherokee nation) must establish their roles in the maelstrom that comes to surround Eon and the young emperor. The emperor must decide how to save his country and what relationship he wants with a Dragoneye that he may or may not be able to fully trust… And as Eona begins, Eon’s chief antagonist must also determine whether  he is villain or antihero.

Goodman treats all of her characters with even-handed respect, by which I mean she doesn’t use these novels to make some sort of political or social statement about sexuality and gender identity. Eon, Lady Dela (M-F transgender) and Ryko (eunuch) are merely people with the same sort of troubles and triumphs and day-to-day lives as everyone else around them. It’s refreshing to see LGBTQ characters in a fantasy or science fiction novel period, but doubly great for it to be a “no big deal” sort of depiction. (Okay, so Eon’s issues are a big deal, but that’s more in terms of her society’s attitude toward women than anything else.)

Ultimately, Eon and Eona reminded me a bit of Mulan, a bit of stories in the vein of The Last Airbender, and a bit of samurai-type epics like Shogun. It reads at times like a historical fiction and at times like a light fantasy, and has elements that will appeal to male or female readers — a nice thing to find in a YA novel. Mostly, though, it was a lot of fun to read and definitely well worth the time (and the wait).

Gestational Math: 27 Weeks!

Today, I am 27 weeks pregnant!

Obviously, any given date in a pregnancy is essentially arbitrary. We don’t know the exact day of conception, we can’t know the exact day of unscheduled birth, and each embryo and fetus develops at its own rate. We identify the due date — more accurately but less popularly called the “guess date” by some — based on a 200-year-old formula called Naegele’s Rule; it actually calculates an estimated date with a standard deviation of 1-2 weeks, based on a 28-day cycle, and notwithstanding Leap Years. Consequently, one’s guess date is really just the center of the approximately month-wide window in which natural, on-time birth might occur. If I’m in line with most first-time American mothers, Kermie could make his appearance as early as April 16 or as late as May 4.

I bring this up because the majority of my pregnancy resources say that my third trimester begins a week from today — but my favorite iPhone app, as well as the pregnancy calculator provided by the Discovery Channel’s website, say that it begins today. I wanted to know the truth of the matter, so I’ve been investigating — and honestly, I’m still not 100% sure I know which one to believe.

“Trimester” has two different meanings, according to Dictionary.com:

definition of trimester

When I do the math, it seems to me that either definition leads to the same solution: the third trimester begins at week 27 (and the second trimester begins at about week 13.5). The confusion may come from the notion that a month is four weeks long — at which point, a normal human pregnancy would last 36 weeks, rather than 40. Realistically, though, most months are closer to 4.5 weeks long.

The Baby 2 See trimester calculator explains that trimesters can be divided up in three different ways, based on 1. actual fetal development (which seems the least arbitrary), 2. the idea that gestation will last 40 weeks (which imposes a man-made system on something natural), or on 3. the idea that it takes 38 weeks post-conception for the baby to fully develop (which has the flaws of the second system, plus the added uncertainty of knowing the precise date of conception).

System #3 figures that the third trimester begins halfway through the 27th week of pregnancy — assuming you know when that even is, since again it’s not generally possible to know exactly when conception took place.

System #2 figures that the third trimester begins on the sixth day of the 26th week of pregnancy.

And System #1 figures that, on average, the third trimester begins at Week 27.

So even though quite a few people and things out there will say otherwise, I think I feel comfortable in my claim that I have met the next big ole milestone in this journey.

happy third trimester with balloons

At 27 weeks gestation, Kermie weighs just about two pounds and is about 14.5 inches long. My app tells me that “Your baby is beginning a very active stage in its cramped quarters,” and it’s not kidding — I can feel Kermie moving around in there every day, at any time of day, but especially of an evening and as I’m lying in bed preparing to sleep. Many of the movements I feel seem smaller than before; this is partially an effect of his reduced space, and partially because there’s less amniotic fluid in there than there used to be, so I can feel things more.

He is learning to recognize his parents’ voices (and presumably, the sound of Paisley yelping at the television) but isn’t frightened of cymbal crashes a foot away from his little ears (or at least, I didn’t feel him react when my bass drumming and Kermie’s uncle’s cymballing got a little too close to one another). He can see, more or less, although he won’t be passing any vision tests any time soon. And he is strong enough, and occasionally energetic enough, to use the inside of my belly as a punching bag and make the entire thing rock up and down like a bounce-house.

The 26-week diagram prompted much hilarity; why, one wonders, did the artist feel the need to label the mother’s back? I mean, pregnancy has done a number on my intellect, but I’m still pretty confident that I can identify my back without any real difficulty. I am also uncertain that the average viewer-of-diagrams needed a reminder as to where the genitals of both child and mother were located. I rather prefer this week’s picture, which humanizes both parties and leaves the unnecessary labeling to other diagrams:

27 weeks pregnant

At this point in the game, things are getting pretty cramped in my innards. The uterus is almost all the way up to my ribcage, which means my lungs can’t expand to full capacity. From here on out, I may experience swelling, varicose veins, and what my app calls “sudden pressure on your bladder” — given that I felt like I had to go to the bathroom every ten minutes yesterday evening, I can just imagine.

Kermie was particularly annoying last night, although I’m not 100% sure he deserves all of the blame. My last class of the day gave me a headache, which didn’t improve much as the evening went on. By the time I went home, I just felt faintly cruddy in the way that sometimes indicates the onset of a cold. I had a hard time falling asleep, but probably nodded off a little after midnight. When I woke up at 2, thanks to my bladder and my annoying dog who forgets how to jump on the bed when it’s dark in the room, I had heartburn, ached all over, had crampy/twitchy feet and calves, itched, and had a complete set of very tight throat muscles that almost felt like a sore throat. On top of that, I was having one of those fits where you just can’t stand being touched, which resulted in me wriggling away from a very nice hug AND throwing my poor kitty off the bed/sofa multiple times. That kept me up for another hour or two, and I finally fell asleep on the couch in time to grab another hour of sleep before my alarm went off. By 5:15 AM, I no longer felt sick — but I felt (and feel) exhausted. Even Kermie was thrown off by my wacky night’s sleep; I can pretty much rely on the fact that he’ll be dormant first thing in the morning, but this morning he was wiggling around in there.

This has turned into a rather lengthy post, so I think I’ll wrap it up with a quick mention (for the record) of the weather. I suppose I shouldn’t complain; it’s got to be awfully rough to be “hugely gravid” in extreme heat. But our area is trapped in a cold wave that looks like it will never end, to the point where I’ve concluded that the Maya were correct and we’ve simply entered the next Ice Age. I am so thankful that I got a new coat last weekend — I knew I wasn’t warm enough, but I had no idea how cold I was until I wasn’t anymore! It’s hard to keep warm enough when your wardrobe is limited, and I’m afraid my warmest maternity pants and jackets aren’t liable to survive to a second pregnancy because I’m completely wearing them out. Lucky Kermie gets to wait out the Ice Age in his own personal hot tub….

Week 26

As of this week, I am 26 weeks pregnant.

Twenty-six weeks pregnant feels pretty good, for the most part. I mean, sure, my pelvis is trying to live up to childhood fantasies of becoming a Transformer, which can be startling (and uncomfortable) at times when I try to stand up or swing one leg over the other in bed. Stairs are no fun at all, I occasionally get slammed with the need for a nap, and I have the sort of indigestion that makes you understand how people mistake it for heart attacks. But for the most part… this is pretty okay. 🙂

Of course, when you go around saying things like “26 weeks pregnant,” you immediately begin subtracting. Fourteen weeks. Fourteen weeks. Or, as one of my occasionally useful apps tells me, 96 days left as of today.

I’ve been doing a lot of looking at calendars, because as a secondary teacher I have specific units that I have to teach in a specific time frame, and because I’ll be giving birth before the end of the school year, I need to figure out what’ll be going on at the point when my maternity sub takes over. That means calendaring, which may not be an actual verb but gets bandied around a lot in education. Not only do I have to consider my absence, but I also have to deal with spring break… so I’ve been rearranging units, trying to get them fit in semi-neatly. Flipping through the print-outs of the calendar, with “14 weeks” and “96 days” floating around in my head, really cemented into my head that we are within three short months of the big day.

26 weeks pregnantThe baby can hear pretty clearly now, and apparently this is about the point at which his eyes will begin to open! I read one thing that said that he might react if I shone a bright light at my belly, not only because he can see but because his brain and thought processes are becoming more sophisticated. Our little guy isn’t quite so little anymore, although he’s quite a featherweight at about two pounds. From head to heel, if we could straighten him out, he’d be about ten to fourteen inches long — probably closer to fourteen, projected from his earlier measurements.

He’s certainly big and strong enough to make his presence very known. He definitely kicks and shoves, and gets hiccups (for only a few seconds, but I’m pretty sure they’re too fast to be anything else), and squirms, flips, and rearranges himself. I’ve started finding foreign lumps and bumps in my belly; last night, I rubbed one that I found about an inch above my belly button, and it pushed back against my fingers. I had Ryan try; the kiddo pushed back at him a few times, then “swam” down where we couldn’t reach him! (And lemme tell you, when I’m lying on my back and he decides to move like that, it is an intensely peculiar sensation!) He gets more mobile in the afternoons and evenings when I’m sitting still, although I’ll feel him at other times as well. Food seems to set him off, and when I sit cross-legged (my preferred position) I guess it cramps his space, because I feel him poking at the corner of my belly closest to the top hip.

At this stage in gestation, premature birth is survivable. You can read a lot of stories about this online if you’re interested in that sort of thing; here’s a photograph of a baby born at 26 weeks that shows how they’ve wrapped her in a sort of bag, I’m guessing to emulate the humidity of the womb or something. I’m linking to it so you can see how big 26 weeks is….

Some days I feel closer to a name for little Kermie Lazerbeak Batman (other than, y’know, that), and other days I feel just as lost as ever. In fairness to myself, I think we have it narrowed down to half a dozen choices. The problem is that none of them are sticking out to me with any blinding clarity, and if Ryan’s had a naming epiphany he hasn’t shared it. I did play around with simply putting potential names into writing last night, and… maybe… it… helped. A little. Maybe. Unfortunately, when I shared my doodles with Ryan, one of the names popped out favorably to him — and the moment he said it out loud, I hated it. Hormones? Insanity? A moment of clarity? I have no idea. But it’s frustrating. I feel like if I knew for sure what his name was, I’d feel more content.

Throughout this pregnancy, I have been able to say with absolute truthfulness that I’m not in any way scared of what is happening or what is to come. I’ve felt very at peace with the entire process — and why not? I’m old enough, more or less financially secure, well-educated on pregnancy and childbirth at this point, and, significantly, I want this so much.

And then, the last week hit. Out of nowhere: doubt, anxiety, regret. The What have we gotten ourselves into?!? and the I’m not sure I’m ready for this. Oh, and let’s not forget — rather, let’s not deny — the What if I never have a daughter? 

It’s peculiar for me to be beset by irrational freakings-out like these. I haven’t really talked to anyone about it because, honestly, what’s to say? I know what it is, and I know everything will be fine, and I know that whatever hormonal or psychological speedbump this is will fade into the distance pretty quickly without any negative effects. After all, when I can turn down the volume on all that stuff enough to hear my real self talking, I know that I don’t doubt this at all, that there’s not even the tiniest scrap of regret. I know I’m as ready as I’ll ever be and probably have been for years. And I’m deeply in love with this squirmy little ninja who has already drawn tiger stripes up past my belly button.

Having written all this, I’m pretty sure I intended to include something else… but it eludes me, and my neck and shoulders are stiffening up, and Junior is kicking me, and I think I’d like to get home and into something more comfortable and then go to a dollar movie. If I remember what I meant to add, I’ll come back. 🙂

Putting out the Trash

trashFor the past couple of days, my freshmen have been doing a collaging activity, which is a teaching euphemism for “chopping up donated magazines and pasting them on printer paper.”

With few exceptions, the English teachers at my school have all new students this semester due to our new pilot program. I don’t know my new freshmen (three classes worth, all above capacity) very well yet, but it was immediately clear that I was going to have some classroom management “challenges” (which is a teaching euphemism for “stuff that really sucks”). One of my classes is under the thrall of a nasty ringleader; another class is a perfect storm of smart-alecky ne’er-do-wells who all feed off of each others’ poor behavior. The third class might be pretty okay except for the fact that they’ve crammed almost 40 kids into the room, and once that stampede starts there’s little I’ll be able to do to head it off.

For the duration of the collage lesson, I’ve been riding herd on these three clowders in an attempt to keep them working and, wherever possible, actually following the instructions. On top of that, I’ve had to ask, beg, direct, and threaten them to clean up their work areas. I’ve never had such a hard time getting students to clean up after themselves. I can walk up to a trio of kids and point directly at the garbage by their feet, ask them to pick it up, and they’ll pretend they don’t hear me. Piles of magazines left in chairs. Markers and rulers thrown under desks. Finally, I’ve succumbed to treating them like junior high kids and have made myself into a barricade across the door, refusing to let any/ of them leave when the bell rings until I’m satisfied with the condition of the room.

(“It’s not my mess.” Well, do you want to leave on time? Then you might ought to chip in.)

I am not entirely certain that freshmen are my thing.

Today, though, I was pleased to see that my nagging had paid off. The room wasn’t pristine or anything, but there was nothing horrifying left over after Hurricane Adolescence passed through. Then I looked at my magazine bin and saw that it had split down the side, spilling old copies of US News & World Report onto the carpet, so I decided to take a few minutes to switch out to a plastic bin and toss out the magazines that were no longer salvageable.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the box was half filled with garbage. Wadded up papers, tiny scraps, even broken pencils and candy wrappers. A crushed empty water bottle.

Blood pressure mounting, I spent about half an hour filling my garbage cans with freshman detritus. As I moved around the room, I found garbage in my bookcases, hidden under the textbooks under the desks, in the plastic shoebox with the colored pencils and — in a moment that will surely go down in history — stuffed into the shavings drawer of the electronic pencil sharpener.

I’m really not sure that freshmen are my thing.

I dragged my small garbage cans into the hall (they were too heavy for me to pick up) and sat down for a few minutes to work on the poetry packet for Contemporary Literature (a junior/senior class). Flipping through anthologies, my eyes fell on “Overworked” by Lucy Partlow:

After we
ovulate
menstruate
gestate
lactate
procreate
and prostrate ourselves to creation . . .

After we
raise children
raise grandchildren
raise men
raise hell
and raise the dead in tribal dance . . .

After we
clean house
clean clothes
clean collard greens
clean people’s stores
and clean up the aftermath of wars . . .

After we save souls
save schools
save trees
save whales
and save the world from eternal damnation . . .

After we do
the impossible
the improbable
the unthinkable . . .

Must we also put out the trash?

On first glance, I read it as a reflection on womanhood. Upon my second pass, I realized it could also be about teaching. Being a teacher is a sisyphean task, not only in terms of teaching and re-teaching content an endlessly rotating cast of students, but also of trying to help young people survive their world and themselves long enough to grow up.

The process of developing curriculum, units, and lessons is not unlike that of gestation and birth, accompanied by exhaustion, discomfort, fear, doubt, and impatience to see how it all turns out. We prostrate ourselves to the creation of lessons that meet ever-changing bureaucratic requirements and the needs of dizzyingly diverse students. We give of our lifeblood to nurture and nourish our students’ minds and even bodies.

We raise children when their parents can’t or won’t. We hope they take something of us with them when they leave our classes, that our influence will carry on into their future lives — that, perhaps, they will teach their descendents (biological or not) something we’ve taught them. We try to raise sloppy boys into men and snotty girls into women. We, protective lion(esse)s that we are, raise hell when our cubs are threatened. We, the storytellers and memory-keepers, dance the past into life.

Many of the best teachers I’ve known address teaching — knowingly or not — as a ministry. We know that, for some of these kids, we are the only thing they’ve got. We know that souls, if not being saved (fortunately, I can’t think of any teachers I know who have messiah complexes) are at least being shielded and fed. Good teachers are activists, some quiet and some not; they’re shepherds and counselors and paladins. Good teachers fight for the future, on a small scale — each student’s next year — and, when they aren’t too exhausted to think about it, on a global scale.

Every day, I see my colleagues do little bitty things that are impossible, improbable, unthinkable. Most days, we’re talking grains of sand… but over the course of a career, individual grains of sand build dunes.

And of course, we put out the trash.

Literally, with cuts to custodial staff due to budget problems, we take out our own garbage and are given economy-sized bottles of Spic-n-Span so that we can disinfect our own classrooms.

Figuratively, we deal with the day-to-day garbage of an overextended system, the environmental garbage of a society that doesn’t (or can’t) value education, and the rising tide of political garbage that threatens to flush stressed and disgusted educators out of the system.

Nightly, we drag our carcasses home after a long day of raising other peoples’ children and trying to save the world, and if we’re able, we leave the garbage of the day at the curb before we walk in to our homes.

Don’t paint pictures of teachers in capes, turning thugs into academics through the power of hip-hop and street toughs. Sketch them, instead, with a garbage can full of magazine clippings, closing the door to an almost-tidy classroom behind them until the next morning.

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The-Guernsey-Literary-and-Potato-Peel-Pie-Society The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

One of my favorite things about a historical fiction or narrative nonfiction book is when it sheds a beam of light into a previously unknown corner of something that you thought you already knew all about.

For example, I thought I pretty much had World War II down. Between personal reading, film, and the fact that WWII was pretty much the only thing we seemed to learn about in history class, I thought I had a pretty good overview of the time period. And then along comes The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, telling a story that I’d never heard before: the story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands, specifically Guernsey, and what it was like to try to survive under conditions that I’d never associated with that part of Europe.

The protagonist is Juliet, a British woman in her 30s whose life and writing career are at a turning point. WWII is recently over; she’s just become a bestselling author but is anxious to try a different style of writing; her apartment and all her possessions have been bombed; as a single woman in the 1940s, she’s beginning to wonder if she ought to consider finding herself a husband. Intelligent, sassy, warm, and independent, she is soon swept up in two different worlds: the dazzling cocktails-and-dancing world of a wealthy American suitor, and the quieter charms of an eclectic group of readers and survivors on the island of Guernsey.

Through correspondences between Juliet and members of the delightful supporting cast, the reader falls in love with Juliet’s London friends, the people of Guernsey and their resilience, and even the dashing but possibly dastardly American. Shockingly, a degree of affection for some of the German occupying forces begins to develop as the authors reveal their humanity, reminding the reader that many soldiers end up fighting wars in which they don’t believe. That’s something that I hadn’t really experienced in other WWII literature; the temptation to draw one’s enemy as a caricature is generally overwhelming. On the other hand, this book also exposed me to Nazi atrocities that I’d never heard of before, through the story of one of the founding members of the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Ultimately, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a book about people who love books, and about their power to bring people together and keep them going when the going seems not only tough but even impossible. It’s about the power of individual stories to illuminate the truth about communities. Sure, it’s also about WWII, and it’s also a romantic tale (Will Juliet give in to Mark’s protestations of love? Is Sidney truly not Mark’s romantic rival? Is there someone entirely different waiting for Juliet in the wings?) but at its heart, this book is about literature and how art can shape and save your life.

I’ll admit that it took me a little while to succumb to this book’s charms. The January pick for my book club, it had received rave reviews from a startling number of my bookish friends on Goodreads… and I just didn’t get it. At first. The biggest stumbling block for me — the fact that this is an epistolary novel (written in letter form) — was actually a selling point for many readers. Having to wait for character traits, relationships, and background information to unfurl through a series of notes, telegrams, and letters threw the brakes on for me, but once I had the major players fleshed out in my imagination, the novel really took off and I began to find the format more enchanting than distracting.

It’s a perfect choice for a book club, and a great recommendation for any aficionado of history or literature. I’ve already passed my copy to my mom, who loves great historical fiction, and would like to get it into the hands of my fellow English teachers. I’m hoping they might be as amused as I was by the multitudinous (but not annoyingly so) literary references, and by the names of the protagonist and her eventual love.

(Endnote: It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I took some time to research Guernsey. I’d been under the impression that it was a British island and that its citizens were British, but it’s actually a British Crown dependency — the responsiblity, in terms of defense, of the UK, but not actually a part of it. Geographically, Guernsey is much closer to France than it is to England, and both languages are common there as well as some small regional dialects. It consists of six islands with a total size of 24 square miles, and today about 63,000 people call Guernsey home.)