A Baby Story

It’s six o’clock in the morning, and I am sitting beside a hospital bed waiting for my daughter Quinn’s endoscopy procedure to start. Which seems like an apropos time to write about her birth story. Maybe it’s the smell of the surgery center, or the visual of the hospital bed, or the beeps and boops of the machinery in this place that reminded me of that experience. Maybe I’m just trying to take my mind off of my ladybird having to be here at all. Whatever the reason, this story is a good one, I think. Even though it as almost eight years ago and I’m sure that my brain has deteriorated considerably since that day, I still remember almost every detail.

Craig and I started working on getting pregnant a hot second after we got married. Which is significant because I suffered from a life-long and intense fear of giving birth. Something about the thought of passing a cantaloupe through my shmashmina was paralyzing to me. Still, we jumped right in on trying. I mean, our wedding song wasn’t “Let’s Get it On” for nothing!

My competitive spirit must be greater than my fear of giving birth, because my focus rested solely on getting pregnant. I will never forget the feeling of horror that washed over me, as I watched the drugstore pregnancy test turn positive. I honestly hadn’t even thought past getting pregnant, until that very moment. The only thing that saved me from my greatest fear was ultimately getting so big and so uncomfortable that I was practically begging to give birth. The universe has a funny way of turning fear into impatience, when it comes to the eviction stage of pregnancy.

I’m going to digress for a second and talk about my experience with pregnancy in general. Look, there are many women who really do radiate beauty, even through the third trimester. I was not one of those women. I did did not carry a perfectly shaped basketball in front of my tummy. At no time did someone mention that from behind they wouldn’t have known I was pregnant at all. I actually grew amazingly wide in every single direction possible. Near the end, my feet were so swollen, I couldn’t even wear Chuck Taylors. CHUCK TAYLORS, PEOPLE! I was a walking series of unfortunate events, which included an absolute abomination of a haircut that accidentally resulted in a bona-fide mullet.

Whoa, what happened to all that self love and Project Healthy Body stuff you’re always preaching, Holly? Listen, I really do love myself inside and out these days, but even looking back at photos now makes my eyes water – and I bet it will make yours water, too.

Quinn’s birth story began with an audible pop that woke both me and Craig out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night. We had recently purchased a new mattress, and I remember Craig joking with me that I had better not ruin it if my water broke while I was sleeping. In fact, Craig just reminded me that we put down puppy pads under the sheets, just in case. I’m not sure why “don’t ruin the mattress” was my knee-jerk reaction over “yay, we’re having a baby” but like I wrote above, nothing about the birthing process is even remotely similar to the Hollywood version. It was the new mattress that prompted me to triple-sow-cow my extremely pregnant carcass out of bed and into the bathroom, where I wouldn’t put any furniture at risk.  All of which, in hindsight, is perfectly laughable given how expressly familiar we have become with all matters of explosive bodily fluids since having kids. Other parents will agree, I’m sure, that family life is basically just a series of body eruptions from birth to age twelve.

About one nano second post-pop, I started my first real contractions. I still remember thinking that I would quickly hop into the shower and “freshen up” before heading to the hospital, when I was suddenly rocked with a wave of intense cramping that forced me to stabilize myself against the hallway wall while moaning. Moaning isn’t even the right word for the low-frequency bovine-like sound I was making. I had familiarized myself with what to expect by watching a couple of episodes of “a baby story” on TLC and can remember hearing the women on the show make that guttural labor sound and thinking, “Jesus, lady – get yourself together!” Yet here I was standing naked in my hallway at 3:30am and steadying myself against the wall to avoid collapsing while mooing with the other broads I’d unintentionally judged. As it turns out, payback isn’t a female dog; it’s a COW! 

By the time we arrived at the hospital, the contractions had become more bearable and the feeling of shock had melted into anticipation. We couldn’t wait to meet this little host that I had been avoiding champagne for the better part of a year. Well, mostly avoiding.

Short, shameful confession: There were a couple of date nights in the third trimester where I thoroughly enjoyed half a glass of Schramsberg Brut Rose with ice so that it looked like a full glass. Ok, and one time when, at my wits end with work and, oh, I don’t know, MAKING A HUMAN, Craig walked past the bathroom and caught me lounging in a hot bubble bath chugging a cold Coors Light!

Almost immediately after checking in, a very nice nurse met with us to walk us through what to expect and ask a few questions – like whether I planned on having an epidural. Look, lady, I didn’t avoid manicures, pedicures, hair dye, or the occasional Guinness (for the iron, obvi) while I baked this baby – I sure as shit am not avoiding an epidural!  Next, the nurse asked whether we had any specific religious requirements, to which I exclaimed, “YES! We are going to need a live chicken!” Apparently, nothing brings out my sassy sense of humor like the anticipation of fuel injected narcotics!

It would be a lie to say that the rest of my labor and delivery was uneventful. After twelve hours of waiting (thanks to the epidural) three hours of pushing (without an epidural) and no baby, I ended up in an emergency caesarian section which was cold, terrifying, and absolutely necessary. It was not my favorite experience, but it had the happiest ending imaginable – and it was totally and completely worth it (the entire experience from start to finish).

I had to remain in the hospital for a few days after Quinn was born to finish a pretty heavy dose of antibiotics, and make sure my surgery was healing properly. Craig stayed with me the entire time, and those first few days were a mixture of complete shock, overwhelming love for each other and our daughter, and near constant interruptions form nurses and doctors. Unfortunately for all of us, my hospital bed was stuck in an upright position. Which is not the best situation for this side-sleeper. Between the interruptions and my bum bed, I had gotten exactly ZERO sleep in over forty-eight hours and was desperate for a few minutes of rest. Our hospital room was equipped with a club chair whose cushion could accordion fold out into a thin slice of padding on the floor so that partners can stay together before being discharged home. At this point, I was still very much a patient. I was recovering from surgery and hadn’t showered or slept in days – a real gem, to be sure! So when I asked Craig if he would switch beds with me so that I could get some sleep, I can understand why he was reluctant.

“You know I would do ANYTHING for you. But please don’t make me do this!”, he pleaded.

Of course, because Craig is the absolute love of my life and best partner I could ever dream of, he acquiesced and gave up his floor mat to me. I remember how hard we laughed thinking about the poor nurses and doctors who came in to check on me only to find my husband fast asleep and tucked into the grand hospital bed, while his wife who had been cut in half a few hours before lay awkwardly on the floor on the tightrope thin convertible seat cushion. What they must have thought of our household hierarchy!

Just about the only thing Hollywood got right about my first baby story was that it had all of the elements that make a blockbuster hit: it was a comedy, horror, drama, and love story, all in one. It was (and remains) the most life-altering, altruistic, shocking exhilarating, and hilarious experience of my life. It also taught me that once you face your greatest fear, you can basically do anything! It also taught me to always keep perspective, to look for the humor in big life events, and to be grateful for all of it. Except that mullet. That shit was reaaaalllllyyy tragic.

Theme: My Summer Vacation

Summer Sun

Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.

The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy’s inmost nook.

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes

Robert Louis Stevenson

Ahhh, summer. There is something about the extended sunlight, the extra outdoors time, and the smell of chlorine mixed with vodka that brings out the very best in us. We stay up a little later, we get out of town for a while, and we get a welcome influx of Canadian visitors popping in for a night or two on their way to Disneyland. We are sun kissed, well rested, slightly tipsy, and ready for F.U.N.

That’s how I remember it, anyway. For me, family vacations are a little like giving birth. The moments of physical pain, screaming, and crying seem to magically disappear – and all that is left are the warm memories of love and togetherness. I am sure we had to football carry one or both children out of a fancy restaurant at some point.  I am also fairly certain that a complete stranger approached our table to shame me because the kids were giggling too loudly in a lobby bathroom.  It is entirely possible that we sent the kids to bed early (and without dinner) for fighting the very same night we returned home. And I know for certain that I spent an uncomfortable 24hrs working through a stomach bug when we returned. But even that memory is lined with silver, because who wouldn’t enjoy, at least at some level, some effortless post-vacation weightloss (or, five the hard way, as it’s known under my roof)!

carmelWhat I do remember from our family trip to Carmel was our after-dinner walks to the 18th green, where we would let the dog and the children off their leashes to chase the wild turkeys across the fairway.  I remember the daily 1:00-5:00pm time at the adults-only pool with Craig, while the kids were at the resort “camp”. I remember the sticky sweetness of s’more’s around the fire pit at night, and I remember two young ladies approaching us at breakfast one morning to tell us that a) we were the most loving and adorable couple at the pool the day before, b) that we were their relationship goals, c) did Craig have any single brothers, and d) that they thought we were even more adorable, when they saw us with Walter and the kids at dinner.  I will never forget it; I felt so proud.

In some ways, summer can be a little stressful. The kids are out of school, and we are off of our regular routine. Also, the girls spend a lot more time together, which creates room for a lot more squabbling (like, a lot more). A couple of months ago, I was excited for the upcoming McGreggor / Mayweather fight – now I find I need such a break from the constant bickering that I can’t even sit down to enjoy Bachelors in Paradise, let alone a boxing match. The trade-off for summer fun definitely comes at the expense of our routine and good behavior. Yet, it is familiar enough for me to dismiss it as a phase, or at least somewhat normal. For me, the equity struggle between my kids is my own childhood with my sister staring back at me.  For Craig, an only child who is prone to hyperbole, the sky is falling: we have failed as parents, and we are raising thankless, lawless brats! Only until fall, I assure him. And by then, the memories of scratched backs, slamming doors, and my own yelling will fade with the extra sunlight.

GuinnessMy selective memory, it seems, is not just relegated to time with the kids. Craig and I managed to squeeze in a week long trip to Ireland (without our little martial artists). It was an unforgettable adventure which included quality time with my extended family and friends, gorgeous countryside, and the friendliest most lovely people in the entire world. I remember my cousins beautiful fairytale wedding, complete with a castle. I remember the night we spent in Tipperary reconnecting with good friends. And I still tear up when I think about the quality time spent with my mum and dad, the carriage ride through the streets of Dublin with Craig, and the incredibly talented father/daughters band that we heard in a tiny pub in the tiny village of Kinnity.

Forgotten are the stressful moments driving 100km down sidewalk sized streets on the other side of the road, no less. Moments made worse by my gripping door handle, heavy breathing, and pumping the invisible passenger-side brakes. The stress that I endured during those car rides was nothing compared to the piled on anxiety felt by my husband, the driver. The distilled version of the trip, for him, was time spent in the car = divorce / time spent in the pub = marriage.  You may be wondering why, if I am such a controlling hag in the car, didn’t I just drive? Because my brain is so fantastical that I simply could not grasp the concept of staying to the left. Every single time we pulled up to a corner, or a roundabout, or a highway on-ramp, I would simulate driving and pick my next move – and EVERY SINGLE TIME I failed and killed us all. So, we opted to teeter on the edge of divorce between villages and then erase any leftover tension at the local pub.

We arrived home from Ireland certain that the kids squabbling would signal the first and last time that a grandparent agreed to look after our barbarous, feral kittens for an entire week. Not that I would blame them. Age 4 and 6 is easier than age 3 and 5, but it is still far from being civilized. Especially during the very last week of constant togetherness before school starts. It wasn’t exactly an ideal setup, to say the least. We are, however, eternally grateful for the time away and fully recognize how hard it can be – particularly when you aren’t used to it.

The fighting didn’t magically disappear when we got home, either. In fact, I started to question my own theory about siblings, squabbling, and school being out. Shit, I thought to myself. Maybe Craig is right. Maybe we are raising violent, lawless kids! Then last night, just two days before school started back for both of them, we had huge win. ButterflyQuinn was in line to get her face painted at her friends birthday party. The artist was legit, and creating the most beautiful unicorn and butterfly designs. So of course all of the children wanted one.  I noticed Quinn waiting in line on and off, but was busy socializing with friends and didn’t pay much attention. It was just about time for us to head home, when Craig noticed Quinn sitting with the makeup artist getting her butterfly.  He walked over to snap a photo of her, when the woman asked if Quinn was his daughter?  Yes, he replied. She told Craig that Quinn waited 45mins for her turn, and that when she was about to sit down, Wrenn walked up and said she also wanted to get her face painted. Without missing a beat, Quinn asked the lady if her little sister could go in front of her? Sure, she said – but you will have to to the back of the line and wait again, since there are so many kids who have been patiently waiting.  That’s fine, Quinn told her, and ushered Wrenn into the chair before heading to the back of the line. Quinn waited another 30mins before her turn. The artist told Craig that in 7 years of doing kids parties, she had never seen anything like it. We joked with the lady about how we were at our wits end with the sibling rivalry that has plagued our house over the last month, and how her story helped restore our faith in our ability to help guide our children, and our children’s ability to listen and act in ways that mirror our expectations of them.

This morning, I told Craig that sometimes my blog posts write themselves. Yesterday, I didn’t know how I was going to tie all of this together – then Quinn pulled the sister of the year card and I had my happy ending! In some ways, I wish I had pulled out my laptop last night to wrap this one up.  In other ways, the photo below is a much better representation of the yin and yang of the family Fange.  This is Quinn’s bedroom door, which Craig just unhinged after she slammed it 4 times in a row at the end of an argument….with her mortal enemy…her sister.

DoorTonight, I am raising my pint glass of fireball to both kids starting back up at school full time tomorrow. Who’s with me??


Dude, where’s my village?

A couple of weeks ago we took the kids to a local amusement park, where I had two back-to-back experiences that left me asking the question, “When did we become so afraid of other peoples children?” Since then, I have been tossing this question around my head like the load of whites which I have washed three times since Friday (laundry that I STILL forgot to transfer to the drier this morning, damnit). Before I opine on why I think that we have lost our village, I will first describe the incidents that caused me to ask the question in the first place.

Local readers are likely familiar with Happy Hollow (the amusement park and zoo geared toward small children in our neighborhood) – and if you are familiar with Happy Hollow, then you probably know about the crooked house – and if you know about the crooked house, then you know about the tube slide that transfers children (and playful adults) from the second floor to the ground level. Of course, I am using the word transfer diplomatically. The sunflower yellow tube slide is decidedly quaint juxtaposed against the Victorian architecture of the crooked house. At first glance, it is the most unassuming slide in the entire park! But as most families discover, it is actually an aeronautical rocket booster that is just shy of breaking the space/time continuum.

Every time, and I mean every time we visit the park, I sit in bewildered horror (ok, it is actually more like psychotic delight) as kids and dooped adults sling-shot down the tube slide, before rock-skipping 5-6 times across the slivery tanbark pond at the bottom. Someone with an entrepreneurial spirit and an iPhone could easily take first place in an upcoming episode of Americas Funniest Home Videos, based on crooked house slide footage alone! And why, god, why, is there ALWAYS at least one family who cannot resist the urge to launch their 9-12month old baby down the thing? What could possibly go wrong, they must ask themselves? Ummm, it’s a god damned baby, not a pilot trying to prove their ability to withstand G-forces! There should be a disclaimer at the top which reads, “must have prior centrifuge experience to ride this slide.” This is a slide that turns babies into men and women, and men and women into babies. As a spectator, it is well worth the price of admission, I assure you.

To be clear, this is not an indictment against the park in any way. We absolutely love and happily support Happy Hollow. We are there almost every weekend, and I will be truly sad when our kids out-age it. And lord knows, I would slip into full protest regalia and hit the streets, if there were even a whisper of making modifications to that amazing slide.

Ok, less tangent, more story…

We had just finished the zoo portion of our usual tour de la hollow. The kids were heading to the top of the crooked house, while we made our way to the viewing area at the bottom of the slide. Craig and I were stationed stage left and stage right respectively, in anticipation of what was sure to be an entertaining slide-show. However, instead of the usual dose of pure parental entertainment, I was left gobsmacked by the unwillingness of other adults to participate in the social construct of the village  that it takes to raise children, sometimes.

First up was an absolutely adorable little girl, who couldn’t be more than four years old. For anonymity-sake, we will call her Velocity. I could hear Velocity’s mum from the top of the slide assuring her that it would be a grand time and that she would meet her at the bottom for a hug and a commemorative photo. It is an odd feeling baring witness to a child’s final moments of complete and utter parental trust. You can almost taste its sugary sweetness.

Three, two, one, blastoff!

Out shoots Miss Velocity, in a manor that was true to her fake name. With an exactly zero chance of sticking the landing, she skidded, face-first, before coming to a complete stop. There were no less than eight parents standing around this child, mind you. And every single one of us knew that it would take a minimum of 45 seconds for the guilt ridden parents to find their way back down the stairs to their shocked and dirtied child – because lord knows that even the sounds of their kids wails couldn’t move them to save themselves 29 seconds with ride down the hell-chute. I mean, we all love our children, but hurling myself down a black hole to Bruiseville isn’t going to help anyone. I was arguably the farthest adult in the pack, yet I was the only one to offer any help. I ran over, picked her up, and started excavating the wood chips from inside and around her mouth. Then, to the perceived horror of the crowd, I gave her a hug and told her it would be ok. Why am I the only one helping this kid, I thought? How have we become so afraid to step in as proxy for each other? Dude, where is Velocity’s village?

I suspect that it may boil down, in some part, to the loss of community / or the village we used to attribute to the business of raising children – and if we drill down even further, to a general sense of fear. When we set aside the 24/7 entertainment porn coverage of daily tragedies in this country and consider the actual data on crime and violence, we learn that we are living in the safest period in American history.  It has literally never been a better idea to kick our kids out the front door to play. Yet the thought of letting our kids explore the world in absence of child proof gates, fences and barriers, leads parents to examine every worst case scenario imaginable! The things that we are afraid of have very little, if any actual data to back it up. I mean, if we take a second to get over our own self-importance and really think about it, nobody actually wants our damned kids. Not even the straight A students, or the ones who go to bed without any objections! We think nothing of strapping our kids into 70 mile per/hr tin cans every day, but lament over 10mins of playing in our front yard without being under the watchful eye of Sauron.  The overwhelming majority of actual monsters aren’t strangers at all – they are people we know and trust!I don’t know when we started to go wrong, but I fear that the consequences of childhood experiences that are devoid of unstructured, adult-free, adventure (and occasional trouble) will seriously and negatively impact their abilities to lead joyous, fulfilling, and independent lives.

You may be wondering what the hell this has to do with the concept of the village. A lot, I suspect. Part of the reason our parents let us wander the neighborhood so freely was because they had confidence that other adults would intervene if they were in trouble, or needed help, or were acting like assholes. It is also probable that they weren’t entirely sober, but I digress (and no judgement).

Which is a great segue into my second story from the crooked house that day: assholes. Children are no different from any other random groups of people. You’ve got some kind ones, some cute ones, some smart ones, some hella funny ones, and one or two assholes.  Two, in this particular case.

Not five minutes after Velocity’s unexpected high-fiber wood chip lunch, I had a front row seat at another baffling example of adults who were completely unwilling to take reasonable action in the name of the village. Two twin boys came traipsing around the corner, who were about Wrenn’s age (4). I will call them Vader and Chucky, even though it is highly likely that those are their actual names. Immediately, they began gathering armfuls of tanbark and dirt and throwing them up the slide just as other children were rocketing down. When you hit a three inch puddle of tanbark doing mach 3, you’re going to have a bad time (hello, sliver butt!). All eight of the surrounding adults looked at each other to see if anyone would lay claim to the little scamps – but either they were too embarrassed, or they were not present. So I pulled up my villager boot-straps, and stepped up to the plate. “Hey guys”, I said politely. “No more throwing the bark onto the slide, ok?” I remembered what it felt like to have a villager reprimand me as a kid, so I was careful to be friendly. I figured that I had squashed the issue, and returned to my post.

However, Vader and Chucky were not phased by strange adults and their demands. Instead of stopping, they upped their game and began throwing handfuls of dirt and bark onto the children as they came down the slide. Maybe they didn’t hear me, I thought – or perhaps they didn’t speak English, i reasoned. I scanned the area again for signs of a parent before approaching them again. “Hey, guys – knock it off. NO MORE throwing dirt at kids coming down the slide. Do you hear me?”

My hand to god, they both looked at me completely amused, pointed at my face, and laughed maniacally before bending down to grab two more handfuls of dirt-bark and running away.  I was half bewildered at the kids reactions, and half shocked at the secret fantasy scenario playing in the movie of my mind. The one where I carry them in a football hold (one under each arm) and promptly toss them out the Happy Hollow gates to the sound of a standing ovation behind me.

Only, they hadn’t left. They had merely climbed the back stairwell to the top of the slide and launched their nastygrams down the slide for the next unsuspecting child to scrape through. When they came back down (via the stairs instead of the slide) to grab more dirt, a woman came up to me and whispered, “you’re doing great.” The sentiment, although supportive, only succeeded in circling my mind back to my original question of when did we become so afraid of other peoples children? Granted, Vader and Chucky were in a class of naughtiness that I had never before experienced (classholes, ha!) – but we collectively had a couple hundred years of experience and age against them, so come on! Use your big girl voice!

Admittedly, I had lost my cool at this point. Given that this was the third round of reprimanding someone else’s children, followed by laughter and ignorance, I was about three seconds from sinking to their level (terrible, I know). Sensing the embarrassment and imminent jail time, Craig stepped between me and the twins and asked diplomatically, “should we take the kids to brush the goats?” Even though I was red hot, I knew he was right.  As turned to leave, I saw a woman sitting alone at table across from the crooked house. It was Chucky and Vader’s mother. I can’t explain how I knew that this was the woman who had spent the last four years of her life catering to every demand, I just knew in the way that only a mother can. She was nose deep into her ipad and completely oblivious to angry crowd still watching her kids throw dirt on others, and my secret fantasy of ejecting them from the park (the crowd goes wild!).

Later on, I mention the mom to Craig. Why didn’t I approach her, he asks? I tell him because I suddenly was struck with the thought that perhaps she needed that time alone. Maybe she knows they’re assholes, and maybe she figured there would be one villager in the crowd to step in and try to get them under control. I imagined how shitty I would feel if I explained what had happened and she started crying. So I said nothing. Of course, it is absolutely possible (likely, even) that she would have chewed my ass out for speaking to her precious little poopsies.

Regardless of what this mother’s reaction would have been, I am standing firm in my belief that we need to bring back the village. Even if we don’t get it 100% right 100% of the time, at least we would be acting as a community. Besides the benefits of helping raise the next generation of independent adults with the ability to think critically, the village mentality also helps parents realize that they aren’t alone. Parenting is hard, but it is less hard when you know that your village has your back. Even if you are too afraid to stand up to a four year old jackhole, for the love of god, please run over and pick up the next Velocity that you watch yard sale all over the playground. Show her that she has a village/community who will help dust her off. And then take that same sentiment and apply it to every single person you meet. That’s what villagers do.