Saturday, August 25, 2012

Eight years ago today

Earlier today I read this post about how time seems to move more slowly when you are taking in lots of new information. That's why childhood days seem so long, and the years fly by the more routine and less engaging your life becomes.

I'll say one thing for routine, though. If you do the same kinds of things at the same time every year, and a momentous occasion happens to coincide with one of them, you get an annual reminder of that occasion whenever that part of your annual schedule comes up. As long as the momentous occasion is a good thing, it's a wonderful chance to remember.

The routine in which I was engaged eight years ago today is something we call PPP -- Professors, Pizza and Pie. The dozen or so freshmen in my Honors seminar meet in the evening with me and the program's dean for some food and conversation. Over the course of a couple of weeks early in the semester, all the freshman seminars will do this, with the dean and their instructors.

Eight years and ten hours ago, I had just come home from my group's PPP. I immediately put on my pajamas and was helping Archer get ready for bed. And my water broke. Copiously. We called a friend to come stay with Archer, I changed into something that wasn't soaked with amniotic fluid (I'm pretty sure it was a muumuu-like swimsuit coverup), and Noel drove me to the hospital. And just a couple of hours later, Cady Gray was born.

I can't think of a single day since that hasn't been more magical because of her presence. I sound like a typical parent when I say it, but I don't know of any way to get across her all-around wonderfulness. She is brilliant, creative, hilarious, sweeter than honey, and beautiful beyond anything that we could have possible contributed to producing. There's a light in her eyes that illuminates the world.

Yesterday, the day before her birthday, I was jokingly bemoaning the fact that seven-year-old Cady Gray was going to go away forever, and I would always miss her. Cady Gray wrapped her arms around me as she does dozens of times a day. "Seven-year-old Cady Gray will still be here," she said. "It's just that there will be a little bit more."

And I was strangely comforted. Yes, the child I love will always be there, receding perhaps under layers of additional years and experience, but never gone. I'll stay connected to her as long as I'm still having pizza and pie with new students, telling them the story of how the dean almost had to assist in her birth, laughing, remembering, and silently giving thanks.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


When I got home this afternoon, a delighted Noel made Archer come tell me about an unexpected homework assignment. "I had to do something for my parents without being told to," he said. "So I cleaned my room without anybody asking."

Later that night I reminded him that he had a questionnaire about that assignment to fill out. He came back having written only one sentence under each of the three questions, even though there were several blank lines available. I had a little chat with him about how the space provided tells you something about the expectations, and made a deal that if he wrote enough to get down to the fifth line, he could play some more DS.

I loved what he wrote. He was a little apprehensive about the third answer, asking me "What if what I wrote just started being garbage that is off-topic?", but I thought he fulfilled my request cleverly and well. The first sentence of each answer, by the way, is the original response, before his elaboration.

Do something for your parents, grandparents, or someone you live with. Do something nice without being asked or told to do it (e.g. clean your room, or feed the dog without being told). 
1. Write what you did to "DAZZLE." 
I cleaned my room without being told. I sorted the books and instruction booklets. I did it with so much vigor, it was amazing! I could not have done it faster. It was clocked in at about 1 minute, 30 seconds. 
2. Write what your parents, grandparents, or guardians did when they were "DAZZLED." 
They were very proud of me! There was no special reward, but at least I got their respect. If I could rate it on a scale of 0 (worst quality ever) to 10 (best quality ever), I would rate it a 9.1. 
3. Write how it made your feel to "DAZZLE." 
I felt proud to myself. I got 100% of the credit. I got 100%, the entire thing, the whole enchilada, yada yada yada.  Cady Gray (my 7-year-old sister) may have helped, but she decided not to.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eleven years ago today

Eleven years ago yesterday, I had gone into first stage labor with our first child. It was exciting. Noel and I took a walk together, just like we had seen in all the childbirth videos and read about in advice books.

Eleven years ago today, right now, I was recovering from an emergency c-section. My son was put in my arms briefly after I got out of the recovery room.

So much of becoming a parent these days is trying to predict the unpredictable. We read books, we watch shows, we slurp up all the advice we can, and it's all in an effort to peer around the corner and see what's coming, so we can be prepared.

We weren't ready for what happened to Archer. He wouldn't nurse, and after his first-week checkup he was immediately hospitalized for failure to thrive. We were sick with worry. And for my part, I felt angry. I felt lied to. All the preparatory apparatus we had consumed that told us everything was almost always all right -- well, it wasn't.

Strangely enough, I didn't feel that way two and a half years later when Archer was diagnosed with autism. That news didn't come as a blow crumbling some ideal developmental expectation we had to dust. Instead, after the initial shock, it was a relief to have a framework to put around his idiosyncracies, to have some steps to take to help him integrate into a neurotypical world.

When I think back to those days of crippling uncertainty, I'm so grateful to Noel for the way he stood behind me. We had to make some tough decisions. Honey, you know what I'm talking about. You didn't hesitate. You supported me in responding the way I felt was right.


Now, years later, we look at each other on a regular basis and just shake our heads in wonder. How did we end up with these brilliant, delightful, surprising, and incandescent children? Archer makes us see the world differently. When he makes a special effort to join our world temporarily, we're so touched. His challenges are singular, but we learn along with him as he faces them. And there's nothing in the world like watching him trying to contain his happiness when it spills over his emotional reserve. His cheeks distort under the effort to control his smile, his spinning and wandering turn into an exuberant dance.

Happy birthday to my handsome, happy robotboy. Gold star for you.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lying in them

Earlier this summer, I suddenly started making beds.

Not obsessively. But regularly. And for the first time in my adult life.

If I were seeing a therapist, we would probably already have had several long chats about this abrupt change in my behavior. Since I stopped living at home full time at age 18, right up until now, I have never voluntarily made a bed unless guests were coming over and a house tour was likely. I never saw the point. You wrestle the sheets and blankets into place, and then a few hours later you mess them up again. Just leave 'em messed up. All muss, no fuss. As long as nobody but you is going to see it, who cares?

And then, sometime in June, I woke up, got out of bed, got dressed, and decided for some reason to straighten the bottom sheets and smooth out the beautiful king-size quilt that Noel's mom made for us and that covers our bed. Or doesn't, because I never make the bed. Usually the quilt is flipped and skewed and tangled with the sheets. If I had to peg one reason I decided to make the bed that day, it would be because I wanted the quilt to look nice, the way it does after the cleaners have just been to the house and the beds have all been changed.

I didn't go whole hog. Didn't make sure everything was neatly tucked all the way around; just left the sheets hanging off the sides. No hospital corners. As I've just now realized writing this, I still have no dust ruffles on any of our beds to hide the bare box springs (another conventional homemaking practice I've never seen the point of), so the "made bed" is probably still a mess by most civilized standards. But the quilt was centered, and smooth. The pillows were stacked neatly if not decoratively at the head. It was a bed that looked different than one that had just been slept in. It was a bed that looked like it was waiting to be slept in later, instead of one that had just disgorged its occupants.

Then I did the same to the kids' beds. And the next day I did it again. And I didn't stop. Even when we went on vacation, staying in two places that didn't have daily maid service, I made the beds.

I liked it. Not the making of the beds, but the made beds that greeted me when I went in and out of the room throughout the day. And at least in the desultory way I went about it, the process took very little time or energy. I think I experienced a shift in perspective. Before, I saw making beds as something you did to finish a night's sleep, and I found it pointless because I was ready to move on. Now, I see making beds as something you do to start the day. So you can have a room that's ready to live in.

Cady Gray took to thanking me for her made bed shortly after I changed my habits. We talked about how nice it was to have that big piece of furniture neatened up, how welcoming that smooth coverlet is for lounging with a book as she loves to do. And I realized that making the kids' beds is an important broken windows strategy to help them keep their rooms neat and floors clear, as their dad likes them to do.  And if they are able to do that, then all of us are far less stressed as we pass through our home without seeing messes that demand to be cleaned up or (worse) are too massive to tackle ad hoc.

My mother is probably laughing her head off right now as my dad reads her this account of my sudden change of behavior. It's not her fault I spent thirty years as a bed rebel. She did her best to get all of us into the habit. Like most people, I went my own way during college, and then I just took a lot longer to find my way back than others. A lot of folks revert to the basic civilized conventions quickly when they get a chance to control their environments. Others walk the walk, but feel guilty that they don't derive the right level of satisfaction from these domestic niceties, or that no matter how they try they won't measure up. I made my dissent into a habit and (mostly) refused to feel inadequate about it, except when it was exposed to others and I couldn't help resenting the judgment I imagined them passing.

And now I've joined the ranks of barely-minimum adequacy in the bed-making department, not nearly enough for Martha Stewart I'm sure, but a huge leap for me. It's not the result of some determined effort of self-improvement or long-procrastinated adulthood. Just a whim that's persisted so far, under summer conditions when there's little pressure to leave home in the morning in an all-fired hurry. We'll see if it survives once school starts next week. And we'll see if it's part of a pattern -- if it means anything more than my conscious mind grasps right now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

And the public wants what the public gets

Today's post about a lucky break and the Olympic spirit is at Toxophily.


And check out my medals! Toxophily is now wearing them proudly. The Ravellenic Games weathered an early controversy, benefitted from a huge outpouring of support from the knitting world and publicity far beyond its borders, and were an unqualified success, far beyond the few awards I earned. Full report coming soon!




Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hold your head up, you silly girl

Today's post about uncharacteristic perfectionism is at Toxophily.


We're pausing here and taking a deep breath before plunging into vacation with family next week. After that it's time to flail toward the start of school like the Olympic swimmers in the 50 meter sprints. See you on the other side!