Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mother Trucker

As anyone who's ever had a baby knows - or anyone who's ever been in public with a friend or family member with an infant - carting around a tiny human has the same effect as walking around with a T-shirt imprinted with the words, "I LOVE STRANGERS! PLEASE COME TALK TO ME!" Everywhere you go, randos want to tell you how cute your baby is. They want to know how old she is. How heavy she is. What she eats. When she sleeps. Where she got her huge blue eyes. I have no problem entertaining these inquiries, though after the umpteenth time, I tend to get a little snarky. ("Where'd she get those eyes? Oh, probably from her father. I saw her attack his face with a spoon, so I'm assuming she gouged them out. She's spunky, this one!") 

In recent weeks, I've learned that there is a one surefire way to take that T-shirt and turn it into a billboard that says, "YOU! HEY, YOU! COME HERE! I NEED TO KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS ON MY BABY! IMMEDIATELY!!!" 

Slap a helmet on a baby. Game over. 

As most of you already know, Lib was fitted for her helmet a couple weeks ago to fix a flat spot on her head. The technical term for what she has is deformational plagiocephaly. All that means is her head was forming a little flat on one side and she needs the helmet to help it round out. I was anxious about it at first, but thanks to some great info and advice from a longtime family friend who also went through this (thanks, Leanne!) and the reassurance from all of Lib's doctors that this was going to be harder on me and Justin than on Lib, I soon eased up. The helmet truly doesn't seem to bug her. It took us a minute to get used to it, but now that we are, it's just another part of daily life. Lib will get scanned again in November, and if she's made enough progress, we're done. In the grand scheme of things, this is just a blip on the radar. 

But in addition to helping even out my child's head, the helmet serves the dual purpose of attracting all kinds of attention ranging from helpful to just plain weird. Helpful: the woman who approached us at the mall to tell us about her nephew, who wore a helmet for six months, and the awesome artist who decorated it with his favorite cartoon characters. Weird: the guy in Home Depot who asked me if he should look into getting one of those helmets for his grandchildren, because aren't they just for "keeping the kid from hitting her head?" I mean, now that she's crawling it is kind of nice to have a little extra padding up there, but no, not really, Guy. 

But the weirdest of weird came when Just, Lib and I were traveling to visit family over the Labor Day weekend. We had, very fortuitously, pulled off at a truck stop on a windy county road for a snack when a microburst-like storm smacked down. We had just made it inside when winds sent the garbage cans sailing past the gas pumps and the station's power went out. The place was soon packed with wide-eyed fellow travelers and drenched truckers who'd pulled off to wait out the doom. Lib was completely unfazed. Between the ice cream I bought us to share and the seemingly random offerings of this particular truck stop store - everything from fancy Bedazzled fanny packs to neon Jesus plaques - she was kept perfectly entertained. After a half hour, the worst of it seemed to have passed and we decided to get back on the road. Justin offered to get the car and bring it to the curb, as it still was raining. I waited near the doors until he pulled up, then prepared to sprint as best I could while clutching Lib to my chest. The instant I pushed open the door with my hip, a stream of water hit us. At the same moment, a voice called to us from behind. 

"Ma'am?" A man beckoned to us from just outside the door. I turned and saw a flannel-clad trucker sucking on a cigarette. 

"Yes?" I asked, pulling Lib closer to me and blinking rain from my eyes. 

The trucker took a step toward us. 

"Ma'am? What is the matter with your baby?" The seriousness of his tone gave me pause. My initial urge was to say, "What's the matter with my baby? Well, at the moment, she's soaked because you're making me stand here in an effing DOWNPOUR." But then I decided the high road was better than the...bitter, wet road?....so I answered. 

"She has a flat spot on her head and the helmet is helping correct it." I flashed a fake smile and turned to go. 


Beyond annoyed, I spun around again. 

"It's just that...she looks like she's ready to play quarterback!"

I looked down at my helmeted, dripping child and couldn't help but smile. Dammit, she did look like a teeny football player. Kind of like a wee George Clooney in "Leatherheads." 

I laughed. The trucker looked so sincere. I realized his question came from nothing other than normal curiosity and that I needed to calm to eff down. It's normal to want to make sure that little ones are nothing but happy and healthy. A simple question followed by a silly comment isn't the end of the world. 

Since then, I've tried to be more patient with strangers who approach us in public. I'm happy to talk about Lib's experience, listen to stories about their friends and family members and answer any questions they have. 

And if any neighborhood kids need a QB for their game of pickup football, I have just the girl. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Agony and the Idiocy

Remember how I told you about how much I hate being embarrassed and how I do pretty much everything I can to avoid it?

And yet, I still manage to make an ass of myself at every given opportunity. This time, I did it to myself. I walked right into it. Well, I hobbled into it.

I threw out my back (this is not the embarrassing part - that's coming, don't worry). My back problems started about seven years ago when I injured it while dead-lifting at the gym. I had never dead-lifted in my life and had zero weightlifting experience, so when my then-boyfriend asked me if I wanted to give it a shot, the logical answer was "sure!" An hour later while recovering in my hospital bed, it occurred to me perhaps I should have given my response more thought.

Since then, I've thrown my back out at least once a year doing the most mundane tasks: running the vacuum, putting a gallon of milk in the fridge. Any awkward movement can trigger it, and I end up with debilitating spasms of sheer agony shooting through my body. This time, I was sitting on the floor with Libby. I lifted her up and turned at the waist to put her on the couch. The movement was off just enough to send that first spark of pain up my spine. It wasn't so terrible, just enough to make me take note and realize a full-fledged spasm wasn't far behind. But, in my experience, that warning shot can mean days of general discomfort before the Big One comes. I had to work at the library that afternoon, and I really didn't want to call off so close to the start of my shift, so I decided to ignore it and proceed as normal.

Later, looking up at the ceiling of the library office as I lay rigid on the floor,  it occurred to me perhaps I should have given this more thought.

While lying on the floor while willing myself not to scream at my place of employment was embarrassing enough, this still wasn't the worst of it.

The worst of it happened en route to the library. The drive there had been fine - sitting upright in the car actually felt pretty good so I figured the pain was subsiding. I parked on the street behind the building as usual and started the short walk up the hill to the library entrance. By halfway up, I was clinging to each brick as spasm after spasm attacked my back. I couldn't breathe. Sweat poured down my face. I was cold and hot at the same time and so, so nauseated. I started to shake. I knew I just had to get to the top of the hill, round the corner and make it 50 feet or so past a few other storefronts to the library door. I cried out with each step, but being able to use the side of the building to steady myself helped. Until there was no more building left, and I had to let go.

I mustered what meager strength I had left and stepped around the corner. This landed me directly in front of a taco stand a few doors down from the library entrance. I buy those tacos at least once a week, so I'm on a nod-hello basis with the guy who runs it. Today, he had a group of about six patrons enjoying an early dinner at his stand. The instant I saw them, my back froze. I was simultaneously paralyzed and writhing in pain. Taco Guy caught my eye and assumed, justifiably so as I was now lingering in front of his stand, that I was there to buy tacos.

"Hola! Tacos?" he addressed me as the pain started to make me jerk like a person having a seizure.

Every eye turned toward me. I couldn't respond. All I could do was stand there and will myself not to pass out.

Taco Guy furrowed his brow, shot a confused look to his patrons, then looked back to me.

"Tacos?" he asked.

"My....b-b-back!" I managed to scream whisper.

He pulled another perplexed expression, but my answer seemed to satisfy him. I was now also dying of embarrassment, but I couldn't worry about it. I could see the library entrance. I had to make it. I sucked in what little breath I could, and forced myself to move. In my mind, I just kept saying, "Baby steps to the library. Baby steps to the library," channeling Bill Murray in "What About Bob?"

It took forever, but I finally made it. I managed to avoid knocking over the displays of best sellers in the front of the library and made it all the way to the circulation desk, where I flung myself while my concerned coworkers ran to get me a chair and cold compress. I eventually made it to the floor, where I stayed until the worst of it passed. I called Justin, who came and picked me up and got me home and in bed with a heating pad, where I stayed for the next 12 hours.

X-rays the next day showed it was just another bad sprain. A couple doses of steroids and muscle relaxers later, and my back was somewhat back to normal.

However, thanks to my continued state of mortification, my taco consumption has decreased dramatically.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Losing It

"So...do you know the sex?"

The woman with the kind eyes and warm smile approached me in the library near the circulation desk. I tilted my head to the side, the universal sign of "I want to be nice but have no earthly clue what you're talking about."

"I'm sorry?" I said.

"The sex? Of the baby. Do you know what it is?"

My head swung to the other side. What a weird question. I mean, babies make your brain a little scattered, but I think I can keep track of Libby's gender. Clearly, I was dealing with an insane person.

"I do," I said, trying to match the woman's warm tone. "She's a girl."

"Oh, how wonderful! And when are you due?"

Due? But I....



The realization that this woman thought I was still pregnant hit me just as the reality of her gaffe passed over her. We both had this little moment of silent panic while we decided how to proceed.

"Oh, I'm not...." I started.

"I'm so sorry!" she interjected.

"It's fine. Really, I..."

"Oh, I'm mortified!"

"Don't be. I have a four-month-old. I guess I just...."

"No! No. You look great. I'm so sorry."

"Really, it's OK. Honest mistake."

But at this point, I was talking to the back of her head as she'd turned to flee from me and the horror of the situation. I felt for her, really I did, but in that moment as the tears started to burn behind my eyes, I knew I needed to get out of public ASAP. I went to the rest room, where I stood in front of the mirror, turning from side to side to assess the situation.

Did I look like my pre-baby self?

Not a chance.

Did I look pregnant?

I mean, not to me. Granted, I was wearing a loose hanging peasant blouse that didn't do my figure any favors, but pregnant? I mean.....

OK. Maybe the tiniest bit.


Clearly, it's time to actually put some effort into losing the baby weight. Time to pack away the maternity clothes, stop avoiding the scale and get myself back into shape and to a size I'm more comfortable with.

True talk: I gained 55 pounds during my pregnancy. I lost 40 in the first few days after delivery, and another three since. So I'm floating around 12 pounds higher than where I was pre-pregnancy. Not the end of the world. But enough to make it so my normal clothes are just a tad too tight for comfort. And I like my normal clothes, so it's time to get to work.

I've dealt with weight gains in the past. The freshman 15 decided to hold off until my mid-twenties and at age 25, I actually weighed close to what I do now. That gain was so gradual, I didn't even really notice it until my brother, in the most loving and straightforward way possible, pointed it out to me. (Eric has this amazing personality trait that I'd kill for: He can say literally anything to anyone and somehow, it's never offensive. I don't know what it is, but I know for sure I do not have it. I can tick people off just by looking at them.)

I digress. Eric simply pointed out that I'd put on a few pounds, and at that point, I decided my best option was to join a gym. I signed up at Bally's, and was shocked to discover that I could barely make it around the 1/8-mile track without getting winded. I took it one day at a time, adding another lap every day, until I could run a full two miles again. I alternated running days with weight-lifting days, and after a few months, I was back to normal. But once I hit my goal weight, going to the gym became more a chore than something I looked forward to. Hundreds of wasted membership dollars later, I terminated my contract.

I stayed the same for a little while until a series of events led to the most extraordinary weight drop I've ever experienced. In the matter of two months, I dropped from a size 10 to a size 6 without ever lifting a weight or running one lap. All it took was being dumped in the most unceremonious manner possible by my then-boyfriend and the subsequent break-up blues that left me utterly uninterested in food. Seeing as how I'm now happily married, I'm not thinking this approach is the best solution for my current problem.

I tackled my weight again in the summer of 2012, in the weeks leading up to my cousin's wedding. I was a bridesmaid and, in an incredibly rare occurrence, the dress was super cute. It also was form-fitting and full-length satin. So that meant, if I wanted to look even somewhat decent in photos, I needed to tone up. I'd been back to running regularly for years at that point, so I didn't feel the need to amp up the exercise. Instead, I changed my diet drastically based on the advice of a celebrity who had recently undergone an amazing transformation. It was really simple: she said for a few weeks, all she ate was grilled chicken, brown rice and veggies for lunch and dinner, no snacking. I did just that, and by the day of the wedding, I needed two-sided tape to keep the dress up and in place.

(Ugh - this is where I have to tell you which celebrity inspired me, don't I? Do I? Blah, I do. It was Snooki, OK? The "Jersey Shore" train wreck chick. Whatever. She looks good! Go 'head, Snooki!)

My most recent weight loss happened in 2013 for my own wedding. I'd managed to keep my diet pretty healthy, so this time, I was open to a new workout regime. I wanted something fun that would challenge me and give decent results relatively quickly. I wanted Insanity.

My God, Insanity. After the first warm up, I thought I was dead. Not going to die - already dead. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see, thanks to the cascade of sweat pouring from my brow. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. But somehow, I kept going and after a few days, I was obsessed. I was (and still am) so in love with Shaun T. He is the best motivator in the world. I felt so sore, and so happy and so psyched and...God. It's just so awesome. All I need is to hear Shaun scream, "Come on ya'll! Let's Goooooo!" and I'm so pumped, I can't stand it.

So maybe it's time to get back to Insanity. Or maybe bringing back the Snooki diet would be the easier option. Either way, I'm excited to start feeling more like myself again. And ridding my closet of any and all peasant blouses.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gallantly Forward

In college, I had a friend, Pete, who hated when I'd say, "go straight." He'd be driving us to some party or club and I'd be reading off the directions I'd written down (yes, with pen and paper. I'm old), and I'd say something like, "OK, at the next light, go straight."

"I will do no such thing!" Pete would yell, feigning outrage.

I'd sigh and roll my eyes. As a gay man, Pete loved pretending to take offense at my command. Rather than "going straight," he preferred, as he relished in reminding me, to go "gallantly forward."

I think about that often when I'm behind the wheel, and it always makes me smile. The phrase has been in my head even more frequently lately, as I brace for some serious change in my life.

After 12 years, I'm moving on from the newspaper job I started right out of college.

The decision to step away from the only life I've ever known as an adult was not hastily made. I love a lot about what I do. Some things, I love less. But I know it, I understand it, and I'm good enough at it to have used it to help me build the life I want so far. I met many friends through my job. I met my husband at work. Walking away from all that history gives me pause.

But my life is nowhere near what it was when I stepped into this role at age 21, the biggest change, of course, being Libby. My daughter has completely reshaped my priorities and right now, that means being home more. I found part-time work that will let me do just that, so it's time to move on. A decision that once might have caused me great anguish is now as clear as it can get.

Yet that doesn't mean I won't miss what I do. On one of my last days in the office, someone said what a shame it is that my daughter will never know that her mother was a journalist. I'll never let that be true. I can't wait to tell her about all the great things I got to do because of my job, all the amazing people I met, all the places I went. I'll show her my clips and pull things up online and bore her to death with story of how I interviewed Jimmy Fallon and how he loved my voice recording app and said I was like a spy (swoon!). 

But more than anything, I want her to know how much I cared. All the people I interviewed trusted me to tell their stories, share their sides of things, let their voices be heard. I never, ever lost sight of what an immense responsibility that was.

As I cleaned off my desk today, I peeled off a handwritten note I'd stuck to my computer screen years ago. It came from a 63-year-old man I interviewed just days before he and his wife left for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Moldova. He'd written it down to remember a quote from Roberto Clemente that summed up why he and his wife were doing what they were doing. 

It reads: "If you have a chance to make life better for others and fail do so, you are wasting your time on this earth."

I read that note every single day I worked at the newspaper.

I hope I didn't waste any time.

Now, gallantly forward.