Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First day

Today was the first day of classes here on campus, and I have to say that I am very impressed by both the faculty and students. There is just such a different energy and excitement here compared to where I'm coming from. Maybe it's just because today was the first day, but there was no one texting, facebooking, or sleeping during lecture. Isn't it sad that I find that so amazing? After one of the classes for which I am responsible, several students actually came up to introduce themselves to me and shake my hand. Seriously. For no other purpose. Wow. I guess when you're paying close to $40,000 a year in tuition, you actually take your education seriously.

I think I'm going to like it here.

Monday, August 30, 2010


We're back in St. Louis for week 2 of this thing, after a brief hiatus to Peoria/Lacon for my grandma's funeral. My mother and aunt had asked me to read the piece I wrote about Grandma at the funeral, so I did. People said so many nice things to me about it and about my grandma, and I really appreciate it. But still. If I'd been making a list of Things I Thought I Would Never Do, giving the eulogy at my Grandma's funeral would have been right up there at the top. The good thing about reading a eulogy (especially one you've written yourself) is that because it is at a funeral, no one thinks twice about it if you pass out or burst into tears during the reading. Luckily, I managed to do only one of those things.

Last night after we got back to St. Louis, it was quite a struggle to put Will to bed. He was very tired and fussy, but he would not stop crying. Our previous method (the one that had been working for the last several days) of putting him into his pack and play with Blue Seahorse until he fell asleep on his own was just not cutting it. About the umpteenth time I set him in the pack and play, he grabbed onto the sides of it and stood up. Now, I know your kid has been standing since he/she was 7 months old, but this was the very first time Will has ever stood up on his own. Unfortunately, he wasn't very happy about it. Oh with the screaming. My frustration with his screaming/crying was momentarily overshadowed by the fact that because he was standing, there was hope that he might someday walk.

Last night Will was a wild man

He never did sleep in his pack and play last night. He slept in the big bed between Rob and me, which meant that I didn't get much sleep at all (I can never really sleep when Will is in bed with us). Tonight it went a little bit better. There was a fair amount of crying and standing as I put him down, but he eventually started to play with Seahorse, and after a while of that, he did fall asleep. Keeping my fingers crossed that he stays asleep.

He went over 12 hours without nursing today. For the first time ever. I can't believe it. He nursed this morning when he woke up and not again until tonight right before bed. We've come a long way. It was only a month ago that he was still nursing pretty much all day every day. I guess I am supposed to be happy about this weaning thing, but it makes me uneasy. Like, it won't be long before he is grown up and living on his own and married to some girl I probably won't like and doesn't call me often enough. I just want to hold him and love him forever.

He's been eating a little bit better this past week or so, for the most part. He ate rice and beans for dinner at least 2 nights last week, which thrilled me to no end. He ate some organic blueberry waffles at my mom and dad's house over the weekend. I also gave him his first ever non-vegan food: a sugar cookie. I decided to just go for it. After Grandma's funeral, the ladies of the church served cookies and lemonade, and I knew that Grandma would want Will to have a sugar cookie. So I gave it to him, and he loved it. I had a bite of it too, so I guess I'm not 100% vegan either. Once we get into our new house, I'll make vegan sugar cookies for us, and I will add lemon to them.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

First week (almost)

First of all, I want to say thank you for everybody's kind words about my Grandma Florence. It is sad to have lost her, but it is so nice to know how much she meant to people near and far. Thanks again, it means so much.

Well, by now I've got almost a week of the new job under my belt. The job itself is good, the campus is beautiful, and my co-workers are unbelievably fantastic. When I showed up on my first day, everybody hugged me and they apologized that they didn't have the "Welcome Melissa" banner hung up in time. They're great people. It's just that everything else about this whole situation is incredibly stressful. St. Louis is stressful. I have never ever in my whole life lived in a big city (don't count Paris... I never drove there), nor have I ever wanted to. There are so many cars, and so many lanes of traffic, all the time. I miss Urbana.

We can't move into our new house until Labor Day weekend, and for the time being, we're staying in an extended stay hotel that is about a 30-40 minute trip to campus. Did you know that an extended stay hotel room is pretty much the same size as any regular hotel room, they just jam a kitchenette in there? Said kitchenette was supposed to be fully stocked with kitchen items; there are a few bowls and plates, but as far as cooking items, our only assets are a skillet and colander.

Will's sleep has been difficult to say the least, but it is getting better. The first night we were here, I think he cried all night long. The second night, only part of the night. And so on. What is difficult is that we are all in the same room, and Will is a very light sleeper. So after he goes to bed by around 7:30 or 8, Rob and I just kind of sit here in total silence and darkness. The first two nights, we had a lot of trouble getting him to sleep. Rob finally abandoned the attempts to get Will to sleep and just put him in the pack and play sitting up. We gave him Blue Seahorse and his favorite monkey book and he just sat and played quietly (in the dark) for maybe a half an hour. At some point, Rob looked at him and he was still sitting up, but had his eyes closed and was completely motionless. So Rob gently laid him down on his back, and Will stayed asleep. He was clutching his monkey book in his hands though, and he brought the book up over his face. It was kind of hilarious. Eventually, I carefully removed the book from his grasp and put it over to the side. Miraculously, he stayed asleep... well, until about 1 in the morning when he woke up screaming. But that is beside the point. I still consider the falling asleep on his own thing to be a major breakthrough. The past two nights, we've done sort of the same thing. He nurses but does not fall asleep, I put him in the pack and play (sitting up) and he plays with Blue Seahorse and monkey book until he gets tired enough to lay himself down and go to sleep. It's kind of amazing. I wish he would do that for naps too, but not a chance.

Will's daycare doesn't open until the Tuesday after Labor Day, which is stressful. Rob and I are both trying to work and take care of Will, and did I mention that it was stressful? But in a way, it might actually be less stressful than if he were in daycare. It sort of lets me ease into this not-being-with-Will all day long thing. I am terrified to take him to daycare. What if they forget and feed him something not vegan?! And how on earth will he take a nap there? In the "toddler" room, they have the kids sleep on cots. Cots?! Are you kidding me? When we visited the place, we put Will down on one of the cots to show him what it was like, and he promptly heisted himself off of it and crawled away to go find a toy. I know these people are professionals (it is one of these fancy day cares that costs a million dollars per month), but still, I don't think they have any idea what they are going to be dealing with. I asked them if they ever expel a child for crying too much, and they laughed and told me no. But seriously, they are in for a wake up call. I am terrified to send him to daycare, but in the same sense, I feel that we are all just hanging on by a thread, trying to work while juggling child care.

Little man on campus
Will outside my office

Floor time
Playing on the floor of the hotel room. Gross.

Well, his highness is fussing, so I guess I better turn off the computer and try to breathe very quietly for a while so that he doesn't wake up. We could be in for a long night.

Thanks for reading

Friday, August 20, 2010

Has the mail gone?

My Grandma Florence passed away early this morning after 94 years on this earth.

When I was little, I loved going to Grandma and Grandpa's farm in the summertime to spend the night. I remember how Grandpa would have cornflakes for breakfast, and when he finished the cereal, he would swish together the last bit of milk with his coffee and drink it down. Even in the heat of summer, Grandpa wore long pants, long sleeves, and a seed company cap when he went out to farm. I remember running around in the pasture, I remember the musty, earthy smell of the barn and the sound the cows made as they breathed, I remember the sleek German shepherd Tasha who would run full speed straight at me until the very last instant when she would veer off to the side and circle round me. At night time, Tasha would come in to sleep in the "cellar," and Grandpa gave her a cookie before she went to bed. I remember how Grandpa knew the names of all the birds ("Jenny wrens" were what he called a lot of them). I remember going fishing in the creek (pronounced "crick"), and how we'd always throw back what we caught. When I was visiting Grandma and Grandpa at the farm, it was hard to decide whether I wanted to play outside or inside. The bedrooms upstairs, which had belonged to my aunt and mother, were full of interesting things and toys. One of the rooms was where Grandma stored all of Auntie's and Mom's old prom dresses and formals. There was so much chiffon and lovely high-heeled shoes with impossibly pointy toes.

We would always go to the farm on Christmas morning, and there was always snow. There was every kind of food you could imagine, and an old fashioned Christmas tree with multi-colored lights and tinsel and ornaments from when my mom and aunt were little. In the wintertime, the pasture turned into a sledding hill, and Grandpa would push us on the sleds until somebody made us come inside.

Grandma was the root of us all. Pretty much every trait that my mother, sister, aunt, or I possess comes from Grandma. From her, stems our inability to be idle and the feeling that we must always be actively doing something. Grandma was always working, scrubbing, or cooking. There were strawberries and new potatoes to be sliced, sugar cookies to be baked, beans to be snapped, and corn to be husked. There was bread and butter and pie at every meal.

Grandma knew everybody in the county and was probably somehow related to at least half of them. She knew everybody's name and age, who they had married, and all the names and ages of their children. She remembered all of these things well into her 90's. She read the farmer's almanac cover to cover and knew when to plant everything. She always brought gladiolas when she came over to our house in the summer. She never complained about anything. She just rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Grandpa was nearly deaf from before the time I was born, and Grandma became his ears. When Parkinson's began to take hold of Grandpa, Grandma took care of him so well that for a long time we didn't realize how bad it was. When it got too bad and Grandpa could no longer walk or talk, and he didn't seem to recognize any of us anymore, he went to go live at St. Joseph's Nursing Home in Lacon. It was right after Christmas. We all tried to be strong and cheerful and to not cry as we moved him in. Grandma was the strongest one of all. Only once Grandma's voice faltered. As we were getting ready to leave, Grandma told the sweet nurse who was caring for Grandpa, "This is the first night we've ever been apart; the first night in 60 years." Then she kissed him on the forehead, patted his arm, and said, "All right, George, I'll be back in the morning."

And she was. Grandma went to St. Joe's every morning and stayed there by Grandpa's side all day long. She called it her "job." She sold the farm and farmhouse to pay for Grandpa's ever increasing medical bills and his ever decreasing health. She moved into a little apartment in Lacon, just a few blocks away from the home. She never complained. She just did what needed to be done.

She had a certain way of doing things, a way that has trickled down through the generations. When I was little, I remember being frustrated with the way my mother folded the towels because it seemed unnecessarily complicated. Once as I was trying to help with the laundry and just couldn't get the towels folded right, I grumbled to my mother, "Why do you fold the towels this way?" She thought for a second and then said, "Well, that's the way Grammy Florence folded them, I guess." I vowed that I would never fold the towels that way when I grew up. But you know what? I do. I fold them the exact same way.

Grandma had a certain way of saying things too. I didn't quite realize how Grandma's manner of speaking had rubbed off on me until I was 19 and studying abroad in Paris. I was living in international dormitory with many of the other students from my program, and whenever someone had been past the front desk, the rest of us would ask, "Has the mail come?" Except for me. Instead, what I'd ask was, "Has the mail gone?" I didn't realize that was a peculiar way of saying it until some of my friends looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Melissa, mail comes, it doesn't go!" But still, has the mail gone just seemed like the right way to say it, and I kept trying to figure out where I'd gotten it from. Finally, I realized that's what Grandma said. Has the mail gone. The mail goes if you are mailing a letter, and Grandma often was. She wrote to her many friends and relations all throughout the country. She wrote to me too, and at least a couple of times she sent me a care package of my favorite homemade lemon sugar cookies. She always claimed that she didn't add any lemon to them, but they tasted like lemon, so you know she did.

Grandma's health failed little by little, and in fact, we didn't even realize it at first because Grandma had always been so strong that it seemed inconceivable that she would ever falter. But she had a lot of little strokes, each one taking its toll. She also some big strokes and some grand mal seizures. Eventually she went to go live at St. Joe's, where Grandpa had lived some 10 years ago before his passing. Her once sharp mind faded. She couldn't really talk anymore, and when she did, the words were garbled strings of syllables that didn't make much sense.

Grandma may have just left us, but really, she's been gone for a long time now. Because of the way her health deteriorated, it doesn't seem like she was really Grandma in the later years. Instead of how things were at the end, I'll remember her when she and Grandpa still lived at the farm. She would be working in the kitchen, surreptitiously adding lemon to a batch of sugar cookies. Or showing up at our house on an early Saturday morning in the summer with some fresh cut gladiolas.

I'll miss you, Grandma.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dear William (12 months)

Dear William,

Today you are 12 months old. That is a whole year! Happy birthday!

The past month has seen a lot of changes in all our lives. It all started out when I had a job interview at Washington University, was offered the position, and accepted it. William, we are moving to St. Louis!

Ragfields in St. Louis

Melissa fills out paperwork outside of her new office

We have all been under a lot of stress the last month as we are preparing for the big move. You have been hanging in there and putting up with us as best you can, but at times it does get difficult.

Sign of the times

You got another new tooth this month! You're up to 7 teeth now!

The biggest news is that you started crawling this month. You've been quite mobile for a while--scooting around every which way but forward. And then one day (July 31 to be exact), you just got up on your hands and knees and crawled. You were going after your dad's Nalgene bottle. I was upstairs packing some boxes, and I missed the whole thing. But luckily, you were thrilled with your new skill and kept crawling more and more throughout the coming days. You were a bit clumsy at first, but you kept getting better and better.

This month, you've also started pulling up on your knees, or on one knee and one foot.

You've still been a very fussy eater. You pretty much only eat bread and fruit. William, that is all well and good, but you need to start eating your vegetables again. You just won't eat much of anything off of a spoon. You push my hand away from your face and vocalize quite forcefully if I come at you with food on a spoon. About the only thing I can sometimes spoon feed you is vegan yogurt. I mix your vegan yogurt with sunflower seed butter so that it's more substantial. For lunch most of the time, you have your very own "sandwich"-- I spread hummus on a slice of bread and cut it into small pieces for you. Sometimes you love kiwi or peaches or mango or banana, but other times you refuse any of those things. You have developed this horrible habit of throwing your food on the floor if it displeases you (and it just about always displeases you). I've tried to give you soymilk or apple juice in numerous types of sippy cups, but most of the time you just hurl them across the room. Sometimes you won't eat a single bit of anything at a meal. It is very, very frustrating.

Food goes on the forehead

You have plenty of words, but you do not talk yet. For many months, you have said, "Ba ba ba ba," "Da da da da" and "Ma ma ma ma." But they are really just sounds; I don't think you attach any meaning to them. The other day though, you were in your high chair (refusing to eat), and I went in to the kitchen to try to come up with some other food that you might want, and when I went out of your line of sight, you craned your neck and said, "Ma ma ma ma." I sort of almost wondered you knew what you were saying.

We had a party for you the weekend before your birthday. You had a blast. You didn't like your cake though. It was a chocolate cake. The same kind of cake I baked when I was in labor with you. I couldn't believe that you didn't like it. Your dad got you to eat some the next day for lunch, but you haven't had any more since.

Eating the cake

William, we have been through so much together this past year. I will never, ever forget the moment you were born, the moment I first laid eyes on you. I will never forget that feeling of absolute familiarity, like I had known you forever even though we had just met. I remember how I couldn't go to sleep, couldn't even close my eyes, because I couldn't stop looking at you. William, I love you so much that sometimes it seems like I can't contain all that love inside me. How could I? There's not enough room in the whole universe to contain how much I love you.

Happy birthday, William.


Waterlogged and tender

Sleepy Will


Yeah, I need a nap too

Today was a good day

Poor baby

Splish splash

12 weeks

Kiss from Mommy

Sock monkey

Look me in the eyes


Will says

Show me pouty

Momma's new do


Dr. Mom

Will gets into the pool with Dad

Will in the big city

Book worm

Hi. My name is William.

And the photo shoot is over

Ha ha!

Drop and give me 20


Monday, August 9, 2010

One year later

Has it really been a year since Will was born?


I've had a lot of time by this point to reflect on his birth. I am so thankful for how it all turned out, but going through it was definitely awful. Awful, awful, awful. I looked back on the birth so negatively for such a long time. And I felt so mad, because I had done everything right. I had done everything Ina May's Guide to Childbirth said to do. Why had it ended up being such a thing of terror instead a thing of joy? Why had it left me feeling so defeated instead of elated? I was angry at the hippies in the book for describing contractions as "waves" or "rushes." Those words just didn't do it justice. It was more like a tsunami or being run over by a train but somehow managing to stay alive only to feel the impact over and over again. I think Rob is still sort of scarred from the experience, and he wasn't even the one directly going through it.

I never want to be pregnant again. I never want to go back to that horrible, horrible dark, place of never not feeling like I was going to vomit, of never having any relief from the nausea, not even for a moment. And I never want to have a newborn again. Not one that cries and cries and cries all the time. Nobody understands how much he cried (and still cries), not even Rob. I was the one who was home alone with him, all day, every day. I don't know what was wrong with him. I guess I never will.

But the thing is, I think I could give birth again. I want a do-over. Even though going through the experience was completely awful and terrifying at the time, I can look back on it now and think of it as truly amazing. I still kind of can't believe that I did it. Nothing in life will ever, ever compare. Everything else is just so pale. Instead of remembering the terrible, defeating moments when I was sure they were going to cut me open before I could muster, "I do not consent," I remember the hugely immense power of the contractions. Power like a volcano erupting or like an earthquake ripping the earth in two. I remember how some sort of primal instinct took over, how I intuitively felt the need to stay vertical and how I knew how to hum, moan, breathe through the contractions. I remember how I let go, just completely surrendered to it. Each contraction felt like being thrown from a cliff, hitting the water some thousand miles below and feeling it break every bone in your body. But you just don't fight it, don't struggle against it. Keep your shoulders and jaw relaxed and you'll float up to the top and get a breath of fresh air before the whole thing happens all over again. And again and again. How you manage to live through it is a mystery. At some point during transition, during a deathly calm between contractions, I remember looking at my doula through heavily lidded eyes, and whispering, "I can do this. I can do this." And I remember a look of pride washed over her and she said, "You are doing this." I was. I had to. The only way out is through.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


The past couple of weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. Picking up the whole family to move to a different state and start a new job in such a short time span has been extraordinarily stressful.

We were back in St. Louis last week to look at houses and for me to fill out some paperwork in the department. They ordered me a rug and will be moving a desk, bookshelves, and a filing cabinet into the office. I think I will be very happy working there.

Melissa fills out paperwork outside of her new office
Will does some exploring outside my office door

In the midst of all of this, Will has cut another tooth (we're up to 7 now). He's also pulling up to his knees, and more and more frequently, he is pulling up to one knee and one foot. The biggest news in his life is that he has finally started crawling. For some time he has been quite mobile, but he has never crawled in the traditional sense. I'm not exactly sure how he's done it, but he has managed to come up with alternative forms of locomotion. One of his favorite ways to get around was to sit on his bottom and scoot across the floor. He also would lay flat on his belly and rotate in ever widening circles or push himself backwards. For about a month he's been so close to crawling, but not quite there. And then finally, yesterday (July 31st), he just did it. I was upstairs in the storage room packing some boxes, and Rob was downstairs playing with him, when Will shot across the floor in a clumsy, loping crawl after Rob's Nalgene water bottle. Rob yelled up to me to come down, but way back in the storage room, I didn't hear him, and I missed the whole thing. Go figure. I've been with this kid 24 hours a day for almost an entire year, but I somehow managed to miss his first crawl. Ironic.

He spontaneously burst into another bout of crawling this afternoon, and Rob managed to film it:

In the video, you can see him going after one of his most prized possessions: a blue bowl. This was the bowl in his bassinet at the hospital; I think it had some diaper cream and baby wash and lotion in it. I brought it home with us and use it every night to rinse him off in the tub. He loves it. Many times he carries it out of the bath with him and up to his bed.

It is a relief to me that he has finally hit this milestone that it seems like everybody else's baby has hit months ago. When he was 9 months old and not crawling or pulling up, the pediatrician told me he was "developmentally delayed," which believe you me, has been resonating in my head ever since. The other day when he was screaming in my arms for a solid hour while I was trying to get him to take a nap (he was exhausted but would not sleep), and I was also sobbing hysterically, a thought occurred to me. I really think that he has been so late with many of his milestones because he spends so much of his time crying. All that crying just doesn't leave time for new tricks such as rolling over, sitting up, or crawling. I remember all the other mothers talking about "tummy time" and how their babies would roll over when they put them on the floor. And I just kept thinking, how could they do that? For at least the first 5 months of his life, Will cried whenever I wasn't nursing him. There simply wasn't time for tummy time or rolling over, because I could never put him down. I feel like nobody believes me, but it is true, with the crying. While other babies have been doing things like pulling up and standing and crawling and walking, Will has been... crying.

I need some sleep.