Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Torch Song for My Baby

I'll start with a preface: Danielle and I are not giving up on trying to have a baby.  However, we've not done much recently in the way of discussing next steps and have no idea when our next try will be.  If I'm being honest, we're probably afraid of making the next move, of taking that risk that's never paid off.  In the meantime, I've been spending a good deal of mental energy preparing myself for the worst case scenario- never getting to be a mom.

I don't think that this story will end with no children in our lives.  Still, I like to be prepared.  (Perhaps my background in scouting is to blame.)  Losing the chance to become a mother would be the greatest loss of my life, so I am trying to face that possibility head-on.  The way I play with my demons and try to make sense of them is through writing and making music.  Thus, the damn baby gets a torch song.  Imagine emotive orchestration or a finely played piano accompanying these lyrics.  And perhaps Trisha Yearwood's voice, with a well-placed catch here and there.  Sure, the song is a sad one, but I kinda like it.  And I can get through it without crying.

Take that, demons!

If You Don't Love Me
If you don't love me
If I'm not your choice
If you won't come running
when you hear my voice

If I just keep calling
and you never show
If you don't love me
baby, let me know.

I have been waiting
like a common fool.
You're like the summer
and I'm still in school.

I've got a yearning feeling
that only seems to grow.
If you don't love me, 
baby, let me know.

Should I move a little closer or just move on?
Are you right around the corner or too far gone?
I wish you'd tell me.
Won't someone tell me?

Seems all around me
are starry eyes
from a dream come true
or a sweet surprise.

Am I the only candle
that can't seem to glow?
If you don't love me,
baby, let me know.

Should I move a little closer or just move on?
Are you right around the corner or too far gone?
I wish you'd tell me.
Won't someone tell me?

If you don't love me
I'm gonna take it hard.
So let me go on,
let me get through the saddest part.

Right now I'm drowning
in the ebb and flow.
If you don't love me,
baby, let me know.

I just can't keep drowning
in the ebb and flow.
Do me a favor.
Baby, let me know.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Case for Selfishness

I am considering renaming this blog "Redundance" because I have the same news to report this month that I seem to report every month: we are not pregnant...again.  This puts us at 0 for 15.  If we were a sports team, I'm thinking our playoff hopes would be dashed already because our record stinks.

And to tell the truth, our hopes are a little dashed at the moment.  Before we got paid this month, we were down to $32 dollars in our bank account.  This has never happened in my adult life.  Simply put, we can't afford another IUI procedure, much less go the more expensive (but much more effective) route of IVF.  And adoption?  Between the daunting legal process and the roughly $20, 000 price tag, I can't begin to wrap my head around that option.  All that seems certain is this: it will be a long time until we get to meet our child.

This is a difficult reality to face.  After all, just because we aren't getting pregnant doesn't mean a national moratorium on pregnancies will go into effect.  We will still see baby bumps on Facebook, and close friends and family members will continue to have babies on the way.  Our future is sure to include baby showers we will try to smile through or birthday parties for children we thought our kids would grow up with.  Some days, we will handle this well.  At other times, we may not be able to get off the couch.  Regardless of the consequences, however, stepping away from the infertility roller coaster right now seems very, very necessary.

Even though our finances were the deciding factor in our taking a break from trying, this forced hiatus may, in fact, turn out to be a Godsend.  For the past two and a half years, we have invested nearly all of our money in baby tries.  We have given up taking trips together and have not spend much money at all on our house.  I have been dying to get some end tables to put by the couches, but getting a little extra furniture was never in the budget.  We need to re-glaze our tub and clear some brush on our property.  We'd like to fence in our backyard.  We're not talking about huge renovation projects, and yet we have not tackled anything on this rather modest wish list.  The damn thieving baby took all of our money.

Well guess what, Butterfinger Baby?  Mama's about to spend some dough on her own damn self.

I must admit that it feels quite good to be spending my energy looking forward to furniture-hunting or backyard landscaping instead of counting down the days till I ovulate.  It's nice to be reminded that I can get excited about other smaller adventures and that, baby or no baby, there is and will continue to be excitement in my life.  It's wonderful to go out on a nice dinner date with my wife without being overly cautious about the price of what I order.  Let's face it: sometimes, you just have to indulge.

In the coming months, Danielle and I have some big decisions to make.  Do we continue to try to get pregnant via IUI?  Do we scrimp and save for a year or two for an IVF try, which is more likely to result in a pregnancy?  Do we quit gambling away our money and begin the adoption process?  At the moment, I have no idea of which route to take.  And that's okay.  Because I can assure you of our next steps.

I am going to drink wine with my dinner so that I can unwind from the stress of my workdays.  I am going to have a strong cup of morning coffee without worrying that I am negatively impacting my fertility, and if the day is especially difficult, I will help myself to a second cup.  I will take steaming hot bubble baths because there is no fetus to damage.  I am putting away the prenatal vitamins and ovulation predictor kits.  I am going to hug the heck out of my dogs and kiss the heck out of my wife.  I will take her on a real date every now and then and even plan a little getaway.  And I will do this until I can remember and relearn the simple truth: we have a happy and whole life just as we are.  Yes, we want to have children very badly, but we were really, really thrilled with the state of our lives before we ever started trying for kids.  My goal for the moment is to get back to where we started.

All of this is not to mean that we won't be getting back on the roller coaster at some point.  In fact, when we look at end tables, I'm sure we will choose something with rounded edges to make sure no clumsy little toddler foreheads get cut.  We will shop with durability in mind.  Yes, I fully expect our end tables one day to be covered in tiny little fingerprints.  At the moment, however, the tables will boast glasses of wine and little plates of semi-pricey cheese.

And I am prepared to drink to that.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lessons of the Loon

     If you asked my friends about me, I think they'd concur on a couple of things.  A) I am a terrible bowler and B) I am, in general, a pretty positive person.  It's not that I don't complain about my job, my car, the baby disappointments, financial problems, etc.  I certainly do.  However, I can usually find some type of silver lining in the midst of a mess.

     Case in point: At the moment, Danielle and I have a little ant problem in our kitchen.  We have sprayed, bought ant traps, and cleaned out drawers and cabinets.  In the process, we ended up getting rid of a few kitchen gadgets while separating the remaining tools into neat little compartments.  So, when I open our now nicely organized drawers, I smile and say, "Thanks, ants!"  (Granted, this doesn't keep me from squashing the little buggers when I see them crawling on the counter, but I still think the anecdote is illustrative.)

     This is why it's such a shock to my system to experience a deep depression each time a baby try doesn't work.  Fortunately, the feeling lasts only 24-36 hours before life gets more or less back to normal.  But those hours can be a doozy.  Once, I went grocery shopping almost immediately after finding out I wasn't pregnant.  Big mistake.  I wandered the isles like a zombie and almost had a a meltdown because I honestly couldn't remember where to find the chips.  (Psst!  They have a whole isle for that.)  My thought bubble was something along the lines of "I still don't (sniff) have a baby, and NOW... I ...CAN'T... FIND... THE... FRITOS!  WAAAAAH!"  Ridiculous.  I also wavered between being numb-but-calm and on the verge of an ugly cry.  It's a wonder no one found me wailing and drooling and dripping copious amounts of salty goo from my nose next to the cool refrigeration of the organic vegetables.  I was not, shall we say, at my best.

     Sadly, we had yet another failed pregnancy attempt.  (That was try # 13 for anyone keeping count.)  We found out the "blessed" news while vacationing at the beach and visiting my aunt and uncle.  I had thought that the distraction of the beach might offset the usual blues, that the reliable sound of crashing waves might be of some comfort.  That standing of the edge of the world and looking out into all that vastness might make my problems seem smaller.

     What I hadn't counted on was bad weather. During our week long stay in Pensacola, Florida, we had exactly 6 days of pouring rain.  We're talking non-stop, torrential rains, dangerously flooded streets- the works.  On our second-to-last day of vacation, we'd planned to have a day at the beach and then get together for dinner with some friends who were vacationing nearby.  This get-together fell right within my 24-hour depression window, so I was looking forward to a bit of daytime sea salt therapy before putting on a happy face for my friends at dinner.  That morning, Danielle and I set out on a rainy drive toward the coast.  The weather, we figured, might clear up by the time we arrived.

     To be fair, it was not raining when we first arrived at the beach.  It was cloudy, extremely windy, and chilly, but there was no precipitation.  We couldn't engage in our favorite beach activity- lying out and reading- because the wind would've made it impossible to keep the pages of our hardbacks stationary.  Therefore, we began a somewhat grumpy walk along the beach.

     Within 10 minutes, even the luxury of this activity was rendered impossible as the rain cranked back up.  Instead of spending additional time at the beach, we decided to have a leisurely lunch date and then head on to see our friends.  Using the GPS, we quickly located one recommended restaurant, only to balk at its prices and cuisine.  (Sorry, but I don't go to the beach to eat French food.)  Still determined, we entered the address of another restaurant into the GPS.  This time, we were not as lucky and were incorrectly sent away from town and access to restaurants.  When we turned around to head back toward civilization, we found ourselves in heavy traffic.  Between beach goers and cautious rainy-day drivers, the cars just inched along like run-on sentences punctuated periodically by red lights.  If driving in traffic is like reading, this experience was War and Peace.

     At this point, I just wanted to go home.  I wanted to be off the road and in my own bed.  I was in a constant state of either crying or being on the verge of tears, and the rain was, let's just say, not helping.  Worse, I could see that my mood was bringing Danielle's down.  I felt guilty for ruining our beach day.  It was in this pouty, weepy state that I texted my friends to let them know we were grabbing a quick bite to eat before driving to their condo.  Their text back did nothing to improve my state of mind.  While Danielle does the most accurate and hilarious impression of my reaction to their text, I'll try to replicate it in writing.

     "They said (gasping sob) there's a tornado warning (bigger sob) for Fort Walton Beach (gasping sob) and that we (gasping sob) should just come on over and have sandwiches.  (Bawling ensues.)  I'm okay (gasping sob), I'm okay......"

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet the low point of our trip.

     About an hour later, we finished traveling the mere eight miles to our friends' condo.  What a comfort it was to see familiar faces!  Turns out, they, too, were pretty bummed about the gray week of rain.  We swapped crying stories and laughed at our pouty moments.  Rain on vacation?  A total First World problem.

     Our superhero friends swooped in with snacks and mimosas (Which I, not being pregnant, could now enjoy.), let us borrow cozy sweaters and warm socks, and put on a movie.  Eventually, there was a lull in the rain, so we all went out for a walk on the beach.  Sure, it was cold and gray, but it was also beautiful.  The water was this earthy green-brown color.  I'd never seen the beach this way.  We collected a large cup full of intact and unique shells.  We slowed down.  We looked around.  We noticed beauty.  We leaned on friends.  We breathed deeply.  It was wonderful.

     As we walked near a jetty, we noticed a bird that seemed to be injured.  Our friends told us that the strong waves brought on by the heavy rains had washed the bird onto the rocks that morning.  A good Samaritan had freed the bird from the rocks, but it just sat on the sand as if nesting. Small crowds huddled around the bird from time to time, but no one seemed to have a solution to the bird's predicament.  Eventually, our friend called Fish and Wildlife and described the problem over the phone.  It was determined that the bird (possibly a loon) was not used to being on land and would move best in water.  With the help of a kind stranger, our friend carried the bird to the shoreline and set it on the sand a few feet from the water.

     As if driven by an ancient instinct, the loon began to pull itself across the sand by its wings, its impotent legs dragging behind its body.  At last, the bird entered the water and began to swim.  Instantly, it looked healthy, safe, and at home.  In that moment, big concepts like Grace and Redemption took on feathers and a beak.  And I got to witness the whole thing.

     As you might imagine, the rest of our vacation was marvelous.  We shared a big, messy, delicious meal with our friends.  We spent the night on their pullout couch in order to avoid driving in the rain after dark.  We swam in a pool, performed fake synchronized swimming routines, and took one last walk on the beach.  We devoured homemade peach ice cream that tasted like summer and childhood and happiness.  The next morning, Danielle and I had a delicious breakfast date at a diner our friends recommended. 

     Though the getting there had been difficult, the trip was well, well worth it.  Pouty self, take note: there's a lesson here.

     As I write this, my mind keeps returning to that poor loon stranded on the sand.  Each time we find out we've had another failed pregnancy attempt, I am not unlike that bewildered bird: immobile, scared, and entirely out of my element.  But, even though I look injured, I'm really going to be okay.  After all, I have friends and loved ones to pick me up, flailing wings and all, and carry me back home.  Eventually, instinct kicks in and I remember to laugh and hope, dive and float.  It might take cajoling, mimosas, or comfort food, but I will come around.

     By the grace of God, sea salt, and love, it happens every time.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dear Damn Baby

If you've not seen the movie The Waitress, I highly recommend it.  It's about, well, a waitress with a no-good husband and an unplanned pregnancy.  Throughout the movie, the main character (played beautifully by Keri Russell) composes "Dear baby" letters in her head.  When life is particularly rotten, it's "dear damn baby".  Now that Danielle and I are entering our third year of the baby trying/ infertility process, I've been writing some "dear damn baby letters" of my own.  Here are a few.

Dear Damn Baby,
This is your mother speaking.  Listen, we've spent all of our savings trying to get you here, and I suggest you start cooperating soon.  You're already coming home from the hospital in a 1996 Corolla.  If you don't want to drive that car to high school, you'd better get yourself here.  And if you hold out much longer, you will be taking a segway to school.  And no one will make out with you in the back of a segway.
Please make a good decision.

Dear Damn Baby,
Would you rather be named "scholarship" or "Pell grant"? 
Thanks for your feedback,

Dear Damn Baby,
We need a new roof.  Could use your help in this matter.
p.s. The plumbing is gone to shit, too.

Dear Damn Baby,
Don't make me put you in hand-me-downs for the rest of your life.  Sure, it's all well and good when you're a baby, but you may feel differently when you're the only kid in your middle school wearing Hammer pants.  This is not a threat.

Dear Damn Baby,
We are treating the dog like she's our first-born.  She hates those little doggie outfits, but we break down and buy them when we're feeling particularly child-deprived.  Your mommy even holds her like a baby, which just causes the poor pooch to scowl and tuck her tail.  If you don't get yourself born soon, I am afraid we will be one of those weirdos pushing a baby stroller... with a dog in it.
Please do the humane thing,

Dear Damn Baby,
Every time I see a pregnant woman smoking, I want to kick her in the belly.  Multiple times.  While cursing a blue streak.  My resolve is wearing down.  Get here now, or you may find yourself being born in prison.  And you don't want to wind up in the foster care system; trust me on this one.
Just a suggestion,

Dear Damn Baby,
We are considering naming you Prius since that's what we could've bought with what we've spent in medical bills so far.  And I mean the nice new one that has more room.  Believe me: when you see what kind of car you could have come home in, you are going to shit yourself.  (Who am I kidding?  You're going to shit yourself anyway because you will be incontinent the first 2 or so years of your life.) 
Just remember this: if it gets to the point where we could name you Lexus LX, I am going to start garnishing your allowance.
Think on it,

And a final word:

Dear Damn Baby,
If you are reading this, first of all, congratulations!  You are a great reader!  If you can read, you should be old enough to have realized that I am full of shit and that this whole correspondence is a load of bunk.  Here is the only part that is true: if you find yourself going through a dark time in your life (which you will, as much as I'd love to shield you from it), please arm yourself with an equally dark sense of humor.  It may be just the thing to see you through.  Take it from someone who knows.
With love,
p.s. If you want to get a job when you are in high school, I would be totally okay with that.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Stupid Things We've Done: Part II

Before I garner a reputation for being the "blonde" in this relationship (see "Stupid Things We've Done, Part 1), I give you another story.....

Ah, Amish friendship bread!  Such a lovely idea.  One friend makes a starter batch of dough, bakes bread using a portion of the dough, and shares part of the starter batch with friends who, in turn, separate the dough and share a portion with their friends.  Think of it as a culinary chain letter.  Sounds benign enough.

Well, not in our hands, apparently.

When one of our friends gave us some starter dough for friendship bread, Danielle decided to bake a loaf.  However, we don't have a loaf pan in our house.  (We bake homemade bread on a pizza stone.)  So, she poured the dough into several casserole dishes and maybe even a ramekin or two and set the dishes in the oven.  The smell of cinnamon filled the house.

A little while later, the waft of cinnamon took on a burnt scent, and turning on the oven light revealed that the dough had risen and poured out of the baking dishes, making little friendship bread waterfalls throughout our oven.  Immediately, we turned off the oven and let the gooey mess cool.  Once the oven was cool to the touch, Danielle informed me that she had cleaned the oven. 

Now, Danielle and I see eye-to-eye on just about every topic.  Politics.  Music.  Child-rearing.  Education.  However, we have highly divergent views regarding what it means to have "cleaned the oven."  My definition involves scrubbing, soap, and rags.  Danielle's consisted of peeling off the chunks of partially-cooked bread from the bottom of the oven. 

The next day, I decided to roast vegetables for dinner in our "clean"* oven.  I preheated the oven, waited, and then, upon seeing smoke coming from the oven, decided we needed to change our dinner plans.  Maybe we should eat something boiled or microwaved.  If I remember correctly, Danielle and I had a brief conversation about her "cleaning" methods and agreed that the oven would need more TLC from us before its next use.  That's when we stumbled upon the oven's self-cleaning feature.

A word about the self-cleaning setting: it is not magic.  There are no animated scrubbing bubbles who slide through some fantastical pipe into your oven.  Fairies do not appear with miniature feather dusters, ever-ready to make your oven sparkle and shine.  There are no singing mice like in Cinderella.  The only thing that happens is this: your oven gets hot.  Really, really hot.  As in, this is how our oven came to be on fire.

Danielle and I had completely opposite reactions to the discovery of the oven fire.  I became annoyingly calm and methodical, and she acted as if the apocalypse was imminent.  If the incident were a  play, the dialogue would go something like this:

Danielle:  Elaine!  Elaine!  A fire!  Look!  A fire!
Elaine: Okay.....
Danielle (opening and closing the oven door and fanning the flames in the process):  Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god....
Elaine (in an exasperatingly slow voice):
Danielle (with much more rapid speech): Ofcourse!  Areyoucrazy?!  Yes!  Callthem!  (fans flames, darts out of kitchen, runs back into the kitchen, fans flames again, rushes out of the kitchen.  This cycle repeats indefinitely.)

I proceeded to call 911 to explain the embarrassing situation.  "Apparently, we did not clean our oven well enough, and now it is on fire."  The operator was getting more information from me when Danielle ran into the living room with the fire extinguisher in hand.  "Ask her if it's okay to spray the oven with a fire extinguisher!  Ask her if it's okay to spray the oven with a fire extinguisher!"  More running, screaming hysterically, opening and shutting the oven door, and darting around ensued.  I told the 911 operator to hold on, covered up the phone, and told Danielle, "I can't answer her questions and yours at the same time."  Possibly with a tone of condescension.  (This was not popular.)

Eventually, the fire burned out on its own.  The operator and I agreed that it was probably unnecessary for the fire department to come out.  She asked me about the amount of smoke in the house, but I told her it was manageable due to the big windows, screen doors, and ceiling fans in our house.  Then she said, "Wellllllll....let me go ahead and send them out just in case.  They have these big fans that can push that smoke right out."  Reluctantly, I agreed, thinking that a small truck could bring such a fan to our home rather inconspicuously.

Or not.

We heard the sirens long before they reached our neighborhood.  It's the only time in my life when I've secretly hoped that maybe someone else in the area could be having a fire at the same time as us.  Surely there's a local arson problem, right?  The only upside to the sirens is that we had plenty of time to scoop up our dog, who already was wondering what the hell was going on, in order to keep her from running in front of the fire trucks.

Yes, trucks.  As in, plural.  One small truck pulled into our driveway first.  The truck was followed by two full-blown engines and, for good measure, another truck.  All for the oven fire that was already extinguished.  We were mortified.  We saw neighbors we'd never met standing on their porches and gawking at us.  One especially kind neighbor stopped by to check on us later because "it looked really bad with all of those trucks out there."  Don't worry, we assured her.  Only our egos were damaged.

The firefighters, for their part, were very kind and waited at least until we were out of earshot before laughing at us.  We promised to donate annually to the volunteer fire department.

And as for Amish friendship bread?  The friend who gave us the starter loaf suggested that from now on, perhaps we'd better just stick to eating it.

*My wifely addendum:  Danielle would like me to mention that, when it comes to cleaning, she is actually the anal retentive one in the relationship.  "You clean around stuff," she told me, "but I move things out of the way and get behind the furniture."  There was also something about how she comes from a long line of German minimalists, but I can't quote that one as accurately.  Bottom line: my wife is not a slob, and I don't want to sleep in the doghouse tonight.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Stupid Things We've Done: Part I

I'm not saying that Danielle and I are sticks in the mud, but we do like our comfy little routines.  The road more traveled?  Fine by us.  Reading before bed.  Date night on Thursdays.  Dinner out at our same favorite places, where we will order our same favorite dishes.  Church on Sundays.  Walking the dog in the evenings.  You get the picture.  Sometimes, however, we cling a little too tightly to routines for routine's sake.  We have to remind ourselves that we are not yet old dogs that it wouldn't kill us to learn some new tricks.

However, when trying new things, one should take time to read- not skim- the directions.

With the beautiful spring weather in full force, Danielle and I have spent many of the past few weekends hiking or taking long walks.  We love our usual hiking spots but have been eager to try more of the trails that crisscross our region.  Two weekends ago, we decided to venture out to a trail system two of our friends have been raving about.  I even researched the trails online and found a 2.5 mile loop that would be appropriate for a hike with the dog in tow.  We packed a lunch, filled two water bottles, brought water and treats for the pup, and were off for an adventure.

When we arrived, we got off to a grumbling start as we struggled to find parking.  (Again, we are not exactly go with the flow when trying new things.  And by "not exactly," I mean "not even in the same zip code as".)  The small parking lot area beside the trails was packed with vehicles; on one of the first pretty Saturdays of the season, nature lovers were out in full force, and the area was even more crowded due to some type of mountain biking event.  Despite our default mode of "curmudgeon", the Zen of being outdoors worked its magic on our systems, and after about a quarter of a mile we settled into an easy, relaxed walk through the woods.  We felt the cool relief offered by shaded areas and listened to the trickle of streams that popped up intermittently along the path.  We shared conversation and comfortable silence.  Eventually, we admitted to each other that we were grateful to be on the trail at the same time as the mountain bikers because all the activity decreased the likelihood of a bear sighting.  (Both of us cultivate highly active imaginations and harbor a strong fear of bear encounters on hikes.  It would not be unheard of for us to talk abnormally loudly or to shake our keys during a hike to scare away the bears.  If you have encountered obnoxious people on what you hoped would be a tranquil hike, I apologize.  It was probably us.)

We covered two miles and congratulated ourselves on getting back onto the hiking/exercising bandwagon.  (We are so healthy!  Go, us!)  Not long after that, we encountered a marker for mile 2.5, but the trail seemed nowhere near the end.  Mile marker 3 turned into 3.5 and then 4.  At mile 4.5, we came to a lookout area with a flat bed of pine needles and some shade.  We had planned on having lunch at the end of our hike, but we decided to stop and have an impromptu picnic.  Being tired and famished will do that to a person.  While we were eating, a trio of bikers came up the hill and kindly stopped to admire our dog.  We all struck up a conversation, and at some point mentioned that we had been under the impression that the trail was two and a half miles long.

The cyclists' faces fell.  They looked at one another.  Who would break the bad news to us?  "Oh, no.  It's way more than that."  And they proceeded to discuss among themselves how long they thought the trail was.  Their consensus?  Somewhere between 6 and 7 miles.

We were a little tired at the 4.5 mile resting stop but were hanging in there.  The dog, however, had never done more than a 5K up to that day.  So, as we continued on our journey, Danielle stretched out her t-shirt, stuck all 22 pounds of dog inside it, and made a makeshift carrier in the style of a baby-wearing wrap.  (Think Baby Bjorn or Moby wrap.)  For the remainder of the journey, she would carry the dog about half a mile, let the dog walk half a mile, and then start the cycle all over again.  By the end of the hike, that t-shirt looked like a damn cowl neck.

As time passed, our key jangling and noise making ceased.  The distance between the half mile markers seemed to grow longer and longer.  We became concerned.  Just how long was this trail?  Visions of our bodies being airlifted from the woods drifted into my head.  How long would it take for a rescue crew to reach us?  Would the bears get to us first?  Who would take care of the dog in our absence?  What if I never lived to eat another bite of chocolate?

To put out minds at ease, we needed some confirmation and solid facts.  Although we were out in nature and weaving our way around a huge lake surrounded by woods, we still got clear cell phone reception.  So, we decided to call one of our friends to have her look up the length of the trail.  To our dismay, she told us it was a total of nine miles. Nine.  Friggin'.  Miles.  The blisters on our feet instantly began to sting with more fervor.  Our water bottles suddenly seemed dangerously depleted.  I was *thisclose* to pouring a jar of honey over my head and just letting the bears finish me off.  No use postponing the inevitable, right?  Then, we got some good news.  The trail was 9 miles if you included a 2.5 mile loop but only 7.5 miles if you avoided the loop.

Hmmmm.  A 2.5 mile loop.  2.5... miles.  Sound familiar?

I, in my infinite wisdom, had put my family (which includes a short and almost nine-year-old dog) on a 7.5 mile trail because the 2.5 mile loop I'd been searching for was only accessible several miles into the hike.

My bad.

Obviously, our misadventure turned out fine.  We made it out of the woods (literally), and neither the long hike nor Danielle's wrath killed me.  (She was quite forgiving of my blunder, actually.)  Danielle got some monstrous blisters on her feet, and my skin was a patchwork of sunburns, but we were generally no worse for wear.  In fact, we were quite proud of ourselves.  Between the trail length and the distance between the trail and trailhead, we covered a total of 8.4 miles.  Not something we'd have thought we were capable of but something we were proud to have done.  Something we'd conquered together.  We even talked of hiking the route again over the summer sans pooch.

We got home, cleaned ourselves off, and proceeded to eat whatever the hell we wanted.  After all, we'd walked 8.4 miles.  My map-reading accident turned out to be a happy accident.  We'd ventured far outside of our comfort zone and lived to tell about it.  In fact, we'd actually enjoyed it.  And it made for a great story.

Nevertheless, Danielle has informed me that all direction-related tasks are to be double checked by her in the future.

Seems reasonable.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Home Is Where the Law Is?

For the past week or so, I have had this insatiable urge to write and get back in the habit of posting here more regularly.  This is for a couple of reasons.  First, I'm a little afraid people will stop following the blog if I don't, you know, blog.  More significantly, though, I feel I should somehow weigh in on the Supreme Court cases involving DOMA and Prop 8.

And for the past week or so, I felt I had nothing to say on the subject.

Obviously, I have many reasons to care how the Court rules in both cases.  And I do care.  It's just that, regardless of the ruling, my everyday life will stay the same.  Danielle and I will continue to be a strong and happy couple.  We will keep curling up beside each other with books every night, and she will, without fail, ask me to play with her hair.  We will have breakfast out on Saturdays and wake up at the same ungodly hour on work days.  The SCOTUS rulings will neither keep us from making up ridiculous song parodies on an all-too-regular basis nor prevent us from growing veggies in raised beds over the summer.  The stuff that makes us us?  Those little moments won't change a bit.

The paradox here, of course, is that while little will change, Supreme Court rulings in favor of gay marriage could change everything.  In a mere instant, we could go from being second-class citizens to having the full spectrum of rights straight citizens enjoy.  That the fate of this emancipating instant is in the hands of only 9 people is terrifying.  Talk about feeling vulnerable!  Potentially, our fears about the big moments of our lives could dissipate.  We wouldn't have to worry about whether or not the wishes outlined in our living wills and final wills would be respected.  Child custody issues?  Gone.  Inheritance taxes?  Buh-bye.  Worries about insurance?  Nope, we're totally covered.  Granted, big moments like surgeries, the birth of children, and, well, death don't happen often.  However, these often are the moments when we are at our most fragile and exposed.  It is unconscionable that the law would step in for a swift kick in our direction at the very time we're already down.

Even with these weighty issues in mind, I couldn't think of anything substantial to add to the gay marriage debate.  Yesterday, however, I found my activist panties.

Apparently, I'd left them in the car.

One of my good friends and I were driving around and making easy conversation about the future.  Work, babies, school; the usual stuff.  I was telling her about how Danielle and I would eventually both like to enroll in PhD. programs to further our careers and increase our job opportunities.  Danielle could start school as early as next winter, at which time we could potentially have a baby.  So, Danielle could be working and going to school while I would stay at home with said bebe'.  For as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to stay at home with my children for the first few years of their lives.  Ages 0 to 3 are the most crucial years for brain and language development; moreover, they are the prime years for cuddles and general cuteness.  Plus, I am an early childhood specialist, so infants and toddlers are kind of my thing.  Add to the mix that there is little access to quality childcare in our small community, and staying home becomes a no-brainer.

And it won't be at all possible.

You see, in our state and most others nationwide, second-parent adoption is not an option.  This means that in same-sex unions only one parent has custody of the shared children.   Because I will be the biological mother of our first child, Danielle will co-parent this baby without enjoying any parental rights.  She cannot have custody, sign school permission slips, make medical decisions, nothing.  Obviously, this leaves her in an extremely precarious position.  I could, in theory, skip town and take the baby with me, leaving her with absolutely no recourse.  (This really, really won't happen.  We have already promised each other that, in the unlikely event we do break up, we will not be assholes when it comes to the kids.)  While such worst-case scenarios simply won't happen (invoking "No Assholes" rule here), Danielle's lack of parental rights puts a heavy monkey wrench in our plans for me to be a stay-at-home mom.  Because Danielle won't legally be the parent of our child, our child can't be covered under her insurance.  Since Danielle and I aren't legally married, I can't go on her insurance either.  So, if I choose to stay at home, the kiddo and I will either be uninsured or extremely underinsured through some hyper-expensive private insurance policy.  Because of some politicians' "family values," then, this mother can't stay at home with her little baby because she will have to work to stay insured.

Are you finding your activist panties right about now?  Your ticked-off boxers?  Your enough already thongs?  (Oh, who am I kidding?  Nobody wears thongs.)

Unfortunately, as the conversation in the car continued, the topics did little to assuage my need for activist panties.  My friend asked if Danielle and I had given any more thought to moving to another, more gay-friendly state.  I have.  I do.  Honestly, I think about it all the time.  Staying here makes no legal sense.  Why would I pay taxes in a state where I'm not welcome and my family is denied legal protections?  What in the world would keep us from catching the first flight north?  What keeps us tethered to this place?

The heart, apparently.  Legal considerations aside, we love where we are.  We bought our first home almost three years ago and have put much time, sweat, and creativity into making it our home.  We will shed buckets of tears when we have to leave this house.  Besides, we have the most incredible friends here, friends who have encouraged us, comforted us, and planted themselves firmly in our corner.  They've helped us paint the exterior of our house, brought us transplants from their gardens, accompanied Danielle to the doctor for one of the baby tries, offered up their trucks on countless occasions, and shared many, many, many meals with us.  (We heart food.)  While I am confident we'd make new wonderful friends in the event of a move, I can't imagine leaving the extended family we've created right where we are.  And speaking of families, Danielle and I currently have a three and a half hour drive to visit either set of our parents.  It is my family value that my children be raised an easy day trip away from their grandparents.  I don't want to see relatives once or twice a year or have to fly on an airplane with young children any more than necessary.  Also, I'm secretly afraid my mother might just move in with us if she doesn't get enough of a grandbaby "fix".  (Sure, she loves living with my dad, but he doesn't have chubby cheeks and is terrible at babbling.)

Although I'm not exactly a typical Southerner, I know that in my bones I am a Carolina girl.  I have traveled widely and lived in South Texas and Washington, D.C.  While I enjoyed navigating the D.C. metro system and still crave the breakfast tacos of the Rio Grande Valley, I always get a catch in my throat when "Carolina in my Mind" starts to play on the radio.  James Taylor's voice reminds me of my father, of standing outside looking at the stars, of breathing fresh air from wide open spaces.  The song makes me think of roots and tradition and where I come from.  I dream of rocking my baby while crooning, "Can't you see the sun shine?  Can't you just feel the moon shine?"  Truly, I feel "a holy host of others standing around me".  Although I consider myself to be a reasonably articulate person (Hey, I used "assuage" in this post.), expressions like "might could" and "fixin' to" roll out of my mouth as easily as words from my GRE study book.  This place flows through my blood, anchors my soul.  How could I possibly uproot myself?

So Danielle and I are left with impossible choice.  Do we leave the place and people we love in order to provide our family with important legal securities?  Do we stay here and leave ourselves and, more significantly, our children vulnerable to the whims of the law?  The Declaration of Independence promotes the values of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".  Yet, in our case, these purportedly inalienable rights appear to be multiple choice.  We can move to another state and instantly be granted more liberty or we can stay where we are and pursue happiness in the midst of our family and friends.  I sometimes make a big deal over trivial choices (Where should we eat tonight?  What should I order?  Red wine or white?  Which movie should we watch?), but this decision matters.  And I genuinely do not know what to do.  And I resent that my family has to wrestle with this decision at all.  And it gets my activist panties all in a wad.

Come June, the Supreme Court can choose to nullify this dilemma, to lift a huge burden from our lives.  It is a truly thrilling, deeply exhilarating possibility.  I'm trying not to get my hopes up, and I know that if now is not the time, the time is still coming soon.  The tide is turning, and momentum is on the side of justice for all.  But if the Court could cut down on some wait time, well, I would be very grateful.

It would be heaven to stay up at night worrying about silly things.  What should I eat tomorrow?  Red wine or white wine?  (A perennially tough one!)

I'll take those choices any day.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Richness: Because I Can’t Afford a Nicer Present


          In the midst of some pretty expensive baby tries, Danielle and I have run into a few "Oh shit!" moments when it comes to money.  In late November, we had a plumber come to our house to make some minor repairs.  This experience ended with him informing us that our pipes are, in his words, "on borrowed time".  Oh shit.  Then there are the maintenance jobs our aging cars require.  Danielle's car was in the shop for a semi-expensive repair when they called to tell her that there is a hole in her exhaust pipe.  Since her particular car is no longer being manufactured, replacing the pipe is more expensive than the already pricey work that had brought her car to the shop in the first place.  Oh shit.

          Other issues have been so pitiful they're almost- okay, they ARE- funny.  Concerned about our vehicle situation, Danielle's well-intentioned father called to say that he had found a used Ford Taurus on sale at auction for $3,000.  $3, 000 for a car with 70, 000 miles on it is indeed a budget-friendly deal.  Many sensible people would jump at the chance to get a reliable car at such a low price.  And yet, all I could think was, "A Taurus?  Ugh."  I don't expect to be driving anything remotely new or high-end, but I'd like to sport at least a modicum of style or personality when I get behind the wheel.  Hemming and hawing about my superficial reasons for avoiding Taurus ownership was, in the end, a totally pointless task, however. Even at a rock-bottom price, we don't have $3, 000 to fork over for the car.  I'm pretty sure that's a new low: We can't afford a used Taurus.  Being auctioned.  Oh shit, shit, and shit.

          Last night, we were looking on Facebook and saw people's postings about what they were giving up for Lent.  We realized that- oh shit- we hardly have a thing left to give up.  We have already cut way back on eating out, almost eliminated wine consumption (sniff, pout, pout), and have whittled down our grocery bill considerably.  I even created my own answer to a "Get Rich Quick” scheme by making a "Get Poor Slower" list.  List items include going on free dates to the library or getting plain coffees at the coffee shop instead of fancy lattes.  When I say we are scrimping and saving, I am not just being cute.  We are kicking it so old-school frugal, it's like Dust Bowl days in our house.  So giving something up for Lent? Look.  We don't have cable, we're already eating dried beans, and my car is almost old enough to be legal.  Right now, "Lent" is called "my life".

          This hasn’t been the easiest of seasons in our house; yet, I still approach most days with such a feeling of fullness.  Sure, the threadbare stuff will get threadbarer.  Any shopping we do will be preceded by the word “window”.  But my life is rich.  Luxuriously, decadently, delightfully rich.  My Valentine makes it so.

          Here are a few reasons why:
1.      Dear Valentine,
We are rich because we both know how to cook.  In our home, even eating the staples tastes good.  Simple frozen veggies taste much more decadent when we add embellishments like toasted nuts or caramelized onions.  To stay within our budget, we also have tested many bean soup recipes.  They have made the house smell wonderful as they simmered, and they provided cozy comfort food.  Most dishes gracing our table were prepared with creativity, adventure, and love.  Absolutely delicious ingredients, if I may say so myself.

2.      We are rich because we prioritize our time together.  We treat it like our highest commodity, which- come to think of it- it probably is.  I never feel displaced by your work, even though you have taken on a great workload to support our needs.  I know that when you have free time, you will want to share it with me.  I know this because I want to scrape together every spare moment I have to spend it by your side.  Even if we’ve had a long weekend filled with nothing but hanging out together, I hate to leave you when the work week begins.  I love that we both feel this way after almost nine years together. 

3.      We are rich because we have the cutest-ever-in-the-whole-world-not-that-I’m-biased dog.  Who needs cable when we can watch her roll around on the floor until her ears are turned practically inside-out and her beard is sticking out in every possible direction?  And when she swats at her face with her paws?  I could watch that channel for hours.

4.      We are rich because we have hope.  We have faced grief after grief this past year, but we remain determined to become parents.  Not to toot our own horn or anything, but it takes a lot of strength to make oneself vulnerable to potential pain over and over again.  I love that we haven’t forgotten that this risk and vulnerability is also the only path toward the great joy we seek.  I continue to believe this journey will be worth it, and I’m grateful you have the courage to take this road with me.

5.      We are rich because we can laugh at ourselves.  I love how we both found it hysterical that we could not afford an auctioned-off Taurus and how you laughed when I wrapped up a library book to give you as part of your Christmas present.  I’m sure some wife somewhere complained to her husband that the diamond he bought her for Christmas wasn’t big enough or should have come from Tiffany’s.  I am so rich because my wife thought the borrowed book was fabulous.  

6.      We are rich because we are crafty and resourceful.  You can take napkins you find on sale and turn them into beautiful pillows for the living room, and I can dig plants out of the garden and from overgrown pots to create the terrarium I’ve been wanting.  We have painted every room in our home, stained the deck and porch, sewn curtains, and even put up backsplash.  Truly, truly, we have made this home our own and have done it on a budget to boot.  I have such pride in what we’ve accomplished, and no one can take that from us.

7.      We are rich because this struggle is just temporary.  We are not impoverished.  We find ourselves overwhelmed with several big expenses happening at once, but we have not doubted for a moment that we will get back on our feet.  Some people will never know the feeling of seeing a light at the end of the financial tunnel.  In that respect, we are so, so fortunate.    

8.      We are rich because we have one another.  We are not in this thing alone, not for a moment.  I take such comfort in knowing that you’ll be there to hold me when I cry and be proud of me when I succeed.  I hate getting out of my pajamas on work days, but it’s almost worth it to hear you tell me I look pretty.  I love how you savor my cooking.  (Well, except that time I ruined some tilapia.  That shit was gross.  And even then, you rescued the meal the next day when you made me leftovers.)  No one else could take such good care of me or make me laugh till I cry.  No one else would be romantic enough to order water instead of soda when eating out because you knew I was worrying about money.  No one else could encourage me, challenge me, and love me in so many, many little ways throughout each of my days.  Sometimes you say I love you by washing the dishes.  Other times, you say it by drawing a bath for me.  Sometimes you make love to me.  Sometimes you say I love you by graciously holding your tongue.  But you always, always say I love you.  And that, my love, makes me an exceedingly rich woman.

Thank you for this abundance.  I love you, and I love us.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Woman of the Year

Slack blogger's preface:
2012 has ended, and I come to you, dear readers, with hat in hand.  It seems that I accidentally, unintentionally, mindlessly forgot to post for two whole months.  (Oops.)  Not quite the way to build up my readership, huh?  To make reparations, I give you two posts in a 48-hour period.  (I hope this will be welcome news.)

To begin with, I should probably explain the reasons behind my silence.  These past couple of months have been challenging and saddening for Danielle and I, and I did not know how to write about them without morphing into Debbie Downer with a keyboard.  I wanted to share our story in case it could provide comfort to other couples also experiencing the monthly grief cycle that is infertility.  Yet, I wanted to avoid self-indulgent navel gazing.  No one wants to read about my forays into self-pity.  (Besides, I can't remember the last time I cleaned my navel.  I could have been headed for some pretty crusty territory.)

In a nutshell, our recent and more aggressive attempts to conceive a child were unsuccessful.  The last try was the most devastating because it seemed so promising.  Danielle was one tough cookie, mixing her hormone doses and giving herself injections each night leading up to the insemination.  She even did one round of injections in the ladies room of a Carrabba's Italian Grill.  (Personally, I think that should be the restaurant's new slogan.  Carrabba's: With bathrooms roomy enough to mix and administer your hormone injections!  It'll catch on.) This cycle, Danielle had five- count 'em- FIVE mature eggs, and the doctor was very concerned about the chance of multiples.  (As opposed to my reaction of, "Cool.  I can quit my job and stay at home with the triplets."  I am partial to any kind of work that does not necessitate my ever leaving the house.)  We made jokes about BOGO babies and how we never do anything in moderation.  When the time came for the insemination, the doctor said our timing was absolutely perfect, neither too soon nor too late.  We somewhat prepared ourselves for the possibility that the try wouldn't be successful, but come on: with odds like that, how could it not work?

While we waited the nerve-wracking two weeks between  insemination and pregnancy testing, we did all the things expectant parents might do- brainstormed how we might tell our family and friends about the pregnancy, reaffirmed our commitment never to make special, alternate dinners for our children (If we are eating broccoli gratin, then they are eating broccoli gratin.  They do not have an inalienable right to chicken nuggets and tater tots.), and discussed baby names.  We prayed, held our breath, and remained cautiously optimistic.

With the good timing and quintuplet eggs in our favor, we were understandably shocked and shaken to the core when we discovered we were not pregnant.  We have grieved over each failed attempt, but this time brought on a whole new kind of mourning.  For days after the news, it took a lot of urging just to get out of bed.  The simple act of lifting my feet from the bed to place them on the hardwood seemed unimaginable.  I have a slight frame, but suddenly my legs were heavy loads of bricks.  Numbness got me through my days, and sobbing carried me through the nights.  While I cannot speak for Danielle, I feel fairly confident her experience was the same but worse.  (See?  I wasn't kidding about the Debbie Downer thing.)

Still, they say time heals all wounds, and while I wouldn't say that we have totally healed, the pain less like an all-consuming, splitting migraine and more like a deep bruise: sore and tender each time it's touched but otherwise fairly benign. These days, that's progress.

Going through such a cripplingly sad time and moving toward the proverbial light at the end of an utterly interminable tunnel was all made easier because of my remarkable wife.  I'm no Time magazine or anything, but she is most definitely Woman of the Year in my book.

Through all of the difficulties of 2012, Danielle has been an absolute marvel to watch.  Even without having children, she has been the consummate mama lion, going straight into battle for her kids.  Her sacrifices range from the simple hardships of giving up caffeine and alcohol to the uncomfortable and inconvenient tasks of subjecting herself to bi-monthly ultrasounds and self-administering powerful hormone injections for several nights in a row.  When the first several inseminations did not produce a pregnancy, she underwent a painful procedure to check to see if her tubes were blocked.  (They were not.)  Upon finding out that eating fresh pineapple might help to promote implantation of a fertilized egg, Danielle faithfully ate the fruit for days on end following each insemination.  I doubt she will crave the taste of pineapple ever again.  She has taken prenatal vitamins for two years straight, practiced yoga and mindfulness for relaxation, and added fertility-friendly foods to her diet.  On top of all this, she has taken on part-time jobs to help offset the cost of each IUI procedure.

All of these ordeals have been an ample challenge, but the struggle has been exacerbated by the absolute baby boom that is happening in our little corner of the world.  It feels as if everyone we know is getting pregnant.  Old friends.  New friends.  Friends of friends.  Facebook friends.  Frenemies.  People who started trying after us.  People who weren't even trying.  Family members.  Friends' family members.  Church friends.  Work friends.  No area of our lives is untouched.  I'm not sure why this phenomenon is occurring at this vulnerable time in our lives.  Are the Shades of Grey books to blame?  Is it because we are in our early 30's and have friends who are also at the family planning phase of their lives?  Does God have British sense of humor that is lost on my little American brain?  Purportedly, there is a reason for everything, but I'm not getting it right now.

Of these pregnancies, Danielle will tell you, "It's all good news."  We want our friends to be happy and are genuinely excited for them.  We are also aware that someone else's pregnancy does not preclude us from being pregnant.  No one stole our baby.  Each person we know who is currently expecting will be a wonderful parent, so these parents and babies are equally lucky.  Yet, we cannot look at other people without holding up a mirror to ourselves.  Why, we wonder, are so many others able to do easily what we still have not achieved despite great effort?  I know life isn't fair, but come on.  Is a little moratorium on pregnancies too much to ask?

It is in the context of all of the aforementioned obstacles and disappointments that Danielle has decided to abandon (for now) her dream of carrying a child in order for us to achieve our greater dream of becoming parents.  This was no casually made decision.  Danielle has been obsessed with pregnancy for as long as I've known her.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to steer her away from the maternity clothes section in Target.  She has dreamed of patting her growing belly, feeling a baby kick inside her body, and nursing an infant.  And yet, selflessly and voluntarily, she chose to stop trying so that I could begin trying to get pregnant.  She put our family ahead of her personal desires, and I admire her so much for the strength and generosity of her decision.

While grieving her loss, Danielle has been a sweet and attentive nursemaid to me as we prepare my body for an insemination a few months from now.  She showed me how to use ovulation predictor kits (My first attempt was an epic FAIL!), makes sure I keep track of my waking temperature each morning, and reminds me to take my prenatal vitamins.  She set up an account for me on to track my cycle and patiently answers my 10,000 questions about what to eat, when to pee on a test strip, etc.  Already, she is an involved, hands-on parent.  I cannot wait to raise a family with her.

So, Danielle, here's to you.  In 2012, you have taught me so much about strength, tenacity, and persistence as you did everything in your power to conceive a child.  You taught me about courage as you had the strength to remain hopeful after disappointment upon disappointment.  (Until this year, I didn't realize how terrifying hope can be.)  In your decision to let me try to get pregnant, you have been a model of peaceful acceptance and of a surrender that is neither weak nor yielding.  You have been the very picture of grace under pressure (or at least grace under extenuating circumstances) as you held our three-week-old nephew and spoke sweet nothings to him until he fell asleep in your arms, all this a mere two weeks after you found out you were not pregnant.  And I know you will continue to be just as marvelous in the months to come.  As you hold my hand during doctor appointments.  As you smile encouragingly during the many baby showers we will attend in the upcoming season.  As you answer my next 10,000 questions.  As you work extra hours to keep our family financially afloat.

Of difficult times, songwriter Ron Sexsmith wrote, "Though our troubles seem like moutains/ There's gold in them hills."  If that is the case, you have made of last year's sorrows an absolute treasure trove.  I love you, admire you, and remain profoundly grateful for you.

I wish everyone a happy, prosperous, and joyful 2013. 

But most of all, I wish it for you.