Sunday, September 30, 2007

Coming out from under

I've been sick this week. It started off with a "No, I'll be fine... soon..." and ended with a whimper. I finally called in sick on Thursday. And then I slept till noon. And went back to bed at eight. Apparently I'd been sicker than I thought.

I'm still not 100%, but I'd say I'm about 98%. Anyway, that is both my excuse and my reason for not posting this week. Excuse, because "I've been siiiiick", but also reason because: well, I've been sick, so really, very little interesting has made it past the concrete in my head to make much of an impression.

This next week is the Week O' Appointments. One on Wednesday, one on Friday--probably. As these things go. And the only time the Friday one could be scheduled was midday, so I'm burning more sick time then. Life would be so much easier if I were a lady of leisure. I'd be batshit crazy by now, but I wouldn't have to worry about using up sick days and making sub plans and rearranging lesson plans for doctor's appointments.

And while I'm at it: we're paying these dudes enough, really--couldn't they have appointment times AFTER, oh, 3:30? I'm just saying.

These are kind of high-stakes appointments, so I'm kind of trying not to think about them for right now. Kind of. Denial! Operation Distracts-a-Lot: go get makeovers with Emily! Go car shopping and test drive new cars! Go to the convention center and see the Home Remodelers Show! Watch a lot of netflix! Cook! Gah, even grading was a good distraction for a couple hours today.

And of course, while wandering these hallowed halls of American consumerism, I manage to run into my fertile collegues with spousal units in tow. One, Miss I Need MILK for My HEARTBURN, while she was coming out of Motherhood Maternity (not awkward! not awkward at ALL!), and the other at the convention center, wrangling her boys and her little girl.

Because sometimes, apparently the Powers That Be don't want me distracted.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Congratulations! You've Had a Baby! 1940s-style.

Part of the Paperwork Onslaught from Operation Granparents included a book the hospital gave my grandmother when my mom was born.

It's a gem. Now, as we all know, I don't have kids. So while I can't attest to the hilarity that this might induce, I do want everyone to know what the world perpetrated on mothers in the 1940's.

First, you open the book to great, creep-tastic Wartime ads.

No pressure, there, sport.

Then there are "articles":

Do's and Don'ts (my comments are next to the text)

Do: Keep your baby on an exact time schedule as far as possible.
Do: Bathe your baby every day. In hot weather, he should also be sponged two or three times a day. (really? two to three times a day? who does this?)
Do: Be sure the baby gets at least sixteen hours sleep a day the first year and from twenty to twenty-two hours sleep the first month. (I hear the hooting from here.)
Do: Give the baby complete quiet at feeding and sleeping hours. (It's like early Scientology!)
Don't: If you feed your baby out of a silver mug, be careful that the cup is not too hot.
Don't: give the baby tea, coffee, beer or wine of any kind, fried foods, pickles (?!), pie, lollypops, candy of any kind, nuts, pancakes, berries, ice cream cones (???), rich cakes, puddings, or meat gravies. (also: don't pound them in the head with hammer, feed them rancid meat, or let them eat out of the kitty litter box. Also: no radishes. But raw yolk is okay (see next article))
Don't rock or jounce your baby unncessarily. (DAMN that unnecessary jouncing.)
Don't let nayone kiss your baby if you can avoid it but if you cannot, let the kissing be done on the back of the baby's neck. (No, no wait! don't do that! Here, let me turn him over first: NOW you can kiss him!)
Though he cries, don't pick up your baby if he is well. A good lusty cry is excellent exercise. (Because I'm sure that's what'll run through your head: At least this is good exercise...)
Don't wash out your baby's mouth unless your doctor tells you to. (Whew! And to think: I was about to wash out my baby's mouth! WITH VODKA!)
Don't leave safety pins open. (I especially like the last one, because NORMALLY I think it's a good idea to leave safety pins open and about. However, once you have a baby, that's a bad idea. Only then.)

"This is How We Spend Our Day"
This is how the schedule starts:

5:55 a.m.: Diaper and night gown changed so that breakfast be better enjoyed.
(My friend Leah: "I don't think I dressed my kid for the first month. Or me.")
6:00 a.m.: Breakfast served--a la breast or via bottle
6:25 a.m.: Diaper replacement due.
6:30 a.m.: Back to bed for a snooze (we hope)
8:50 a.m.: (if awake) Orange juice. If sleeping, of course, do not disturb.
9:10 a.m.: Clothes off--all save the diaper-and into his crip or onto the top of his bathtub, safely strapped, for setting-up exercises of his choosing ("I'd really prefer the pilates today, mother."). Cod liver oil served "in the nude" saves spotting of clothing and is acceptable just before being dressed. (AFTER being dressed, however, it's worse than wearing white shoes after Labor Day.)

And so it goes... "10:30 a.m.: Nap, preferably out of doors." Um, really?

"2:00 p.m.: Refreshments; milk of course; egg yolk and other solids." Apparently, they didn't have that pesky salmonella back then.

And so on, until "10:00 p.m: Liquid refreshments--if infant and doctor insist. Diaper changing and back to sleep until 5:50 a.m."

Heh heh. That's exactly how I've heard of it working.

Now, this, of course, is predicated on the "6-to-6" schedule, but if you prefer, you can train your baby to the "8-to-8" schedule "if you're persistant."

"We guarantee it will sound fine to the man of the house who will not be awakened daily before break of dawn."

"His eating at 12 noon, would leave you free to keep your 1 p.m. luncheon engagements." Because I know those luncheon engagements (where does baby go? with you? I didn't know there was a baby-keeping place at luncheons) are of utmost importance to new mama's. Over, say, dressing. Or showering. Or maybe napping.

Also included in the book: all the updates from my mother's pediatrician appointments.

When Mom left the hospital, she was eight days old. And included on the "Instructions for Mothers" is
--The baby should nurse for not longer than twenty minutes
--Offer warm, b oiled water between feedings when the baby is awake.
--The formula recipe is: Carnation milk, 5 ounces, boiled water, 9 ounces, and Dark Karo CORN SYRUP, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons.

One month later:
--You can discontinue the nursing now.
--Make a formula using One large can of Carnation milk, 23 oz of water, 3.5 tbls. of Karo
--Offer 4 1/2-5 oz of this formula every 4 hours, 5 times daily
--After feedings occasionally, offer 1-2 eas. of water, to keep the mouth rinsed out.
--Give 3 drops of the Percomorphum oil twice daily. Drop this on the back of her tongue.
--At the same times that you give the oild rops, give 1/2 oz of strained orange juice diluted in 1/2 oz of water. Sweeten if necessary (sweeten????).

But really, it's in the back, where the ads get really good.

Look! It's the essentials for your baby! That include: strapping your baby in bed! Because that's totally safe! Safer than letting them ROLL AROUND LIKE COMMUNISTS! And also! a stuffed animal absolutely COVERED in chewable bite-sized buttons! BY DESIGN! It's even CALLED the "Button Buddy!" Your child's choking hazards should be portable! Now, they're conveniently attached to a dog-shaped...thing!

No, really, rub your baby's head with this bottle of... uh... stuff... seriously, we make chocolate, and that's good and tasty, right? And babies with curly hair are cute! so... no, there's no chocolate in this, but you trust us, right? And it's only a dollar!

You can't think about toilet training too early, so this ad, in this magazine given to you JUST AFTER YOU'VE GIVEN BIRTH, before you've probably pooped in a toilet yourself, is perfectly placed! But moreover, checck out our extra super special detail: yes, about half-way down, it's the TOIDEYETTE: "tall plastic shield and deflector".... Even better, strapping your child into a training potty WILL NOT GIVE THEM A TOILET COMPLEX IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER, WE SWEAR.

Apparently they were really into strapping those kidlets down at every available opportunity. Look at this ad, from a seemingly innocent Qtips:

Yay! Qtips and a baby! It's cute! Look, it even says, "It's Fun!" "There's a cotton tip at each end of the stick to save you time." (Uh, I added that emphasis.) But all is not so innocent--no! Take another look at that Mama and happy baby:

Scary Mommy! Scary Mommy, threatening Giganto Baby with Pointy Thing! Giganto Baby, strapped in, can't escape!

I think this explains a lot about our parents, don't you?


Just a quick note. That test I was talking about? WAS NOT a pregnancy test. The results of said test probably explain why I miscarried last winter, that's what I was trying to get across. I'll talk more about it soon. But right now, the treatment kind of sucks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

General Updates

A barrel of laughs
Originally uploaded by karijean
This is an example of the what I found in my grandparents' basement.

I'm working my way through the OOODLES and OOODLES of irreplaceable and emotionally resonant family documents. But some of them are just mysterious. Take a look. And hey--if you notice anyone you recognize from YOUR family history? Two things: (a) we might be related! and (b) let me know!

I mean, I know we come from Norwegians. But apparently we come from dour, sour, cranky Norwegians. Look at those cheery cheery faces! Now I just need to NAME them.

In other updates: not much to update on the Dr. Doogie front. I got some test results last week that may explain a lot of things. I'm not being intentionally mysterious, it's just I'm not really at a place to be all, Hey Internet, Lookit Me! about it just yet. As always, though, Andrew is 100% my rock. He's helping me work through the solution. He's worked out a System. With a timetable. And alarms.

I will say, though, this is apparently the year when EVERYONE I WORK WITH is getting knocked up. I was in the lunch line with another teacher (that I work with but isn't exactly my BFF) who was all, "Hmmm, should I get milk for my heartburn?" pause pause expectant pause "Oh, maybe you don't know. I just found out that I'm pregnant."

I mean, really? Literally, this woman was, oh, seven weeks pregnant. (Scary that I know this? Yes.) And I understand when it's at the top of your mind and you feel you want to tell everyone in the world, I've been there. But you need to tell me so bad you tell me in the lunch line? I had already picked up the subtle hint about the heartburn.


So school is running merrily apace. I was hoping for funny stories, but the past two weeks have been spent trying to get back up to speed, because I not only had to miss a week for my grandfather's services, but then I had to miss another day for the doctor's appointments. But I'm caught up now, so yay. Funny stories for another day.

In the meantime--can anyone ID my relatives? Thanks.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Endings/Beginnings II

My mom was an only child, so we were the only grandchildren for my Minnesotan grandparents. Not only that, Grandma was an only child too, and Grampa's only sibling had passed away in the sixties, childless. We were it, for family.

We'd visit, as often as we could. That's probably a little white lie; we could have visited more often, technically. But they were in Cold As Hell Minnesota, and we gradually spread as a family over nine time zones (although, curiously enough, pretty much all at the 45th parallel, lattitudinally speaking). As children, we went up in car trips (bookstore trip before we went, stop at Tomah for McDonalds, fight over the middle seat in the caravan). As adults we would try to visit when we were in the vicinity (which was anywhere in a five hour driving radius, because, really, when are any of us in the vicinity of Duluth? it was tough enough to be THAT close).

At the end of each visit, as we backed up out of the driveway and pointed the car towards the freeway, Grandma and Grandpa would stand, arm in arm, large and solid Grampa, tiny bird-like Grandma, forlornly waving until the car was out of sight. Even as new cars (or rental cars) had tinted windows and they couldn't tell if we were waving back (or looking at all), they would wave and wave and wave. Not frenetically, but gently, continuously, graciously.

Last Sunday, my brother, Andrew and I each packed up our clothes and whatever family pictures or documents we were salvaging from years of fruit crates. Fortunately, we had only brought one carry on suitcase, so we also grabbed a suitcase (oh, so ancient suitcase) from the collection of suitcases in the basement for our piles of precious cargo, figuring we could check it on the way back.

Mom had spent the previous day helping Grandma pack up clothes. At one point, Grandma had turned to me, showing me one of her trademark Classy Lady jackets, tailored, timeless, (in fact, the one she wore to our wedding), red and black houndstooth-checked, with subtle gold buttons, asking me if it "widows wear such things."

"Grandma," I said, "widows wear whatever they want to."

"Oh," she said faintly.

"Do you feel pretty in it?" I asked.

She looked at the jacket, with her head tilted. "Howard always liked me in it."

"It comes with us, then," Mom said decisively, and folded it gently into the suitcase that had been requisitioned for this trip.

Grandma is nearly blind, partly deaf, can't drive, and has very little short term memory and is losing her long-term memory. Convincing her that she couldn't stay in the house she and her husband had built fifty years ago was a traumatic and heart-breaking process, because she couldn't always remember which parts of the conversation she'd already had. She would be sitting quietly at breakfast, and then turn to Mom and say, "You know, dear, I think I should just stay here," as if she were politely refusing an invitation to winter in Michigan. Even after we reminded her that her doctor, the reverend at her church, and her friends all said she could not stay in her house by herself, all were relieved to know that Mom wanted to bring Grandma back with her, she would find a new reason to stay. Or rehash an old one. Again and again and again.

But there is no way possible. And each time we have to remind her of that, it's incredibly hard not to cry. Or grind our teeth into oblivion. Because it's tragic and frustrating all at the same time.

So when the time came Sunday morning for Mom and Dad to be off (they had a two-day car trip), the car was packed and all it took was getting everyone into the car. Andrew and I didn't fly out of Minneapolis until after 7 that night, and my brother's flight wasn't until that afternoon either, so we were leaving a little later. The plan was, we would do thing things to close up the house, those little things that would have been terrible for Grandma to witness. Toss any remaining food in the fridge (some of the eggs, by the way? "Use by 2006"). Take out live plants. Lock all doors, close all curtains. That kind of thing.

But first, Grandma was leaving.

We all went to the door, out into the yard. Grandma took Andrew's arm as she negotiated the steps down to the driveway. He walked slowly with her, not taking a step until he was sure of her footing. Mom tried hard not to look like she was crying. Dad forced himself to walk patiently behind the procession. Surprisingly, no last minute petitions to stay. Maybe it was the influence of walking on a man's arm, but she was graceful as she sat in the car and waved at us, her grandchildren, staying behind.

They loaded themselves into the car, Grandma in front, Mom in back with the dog, Dad driving. As they backed slowly out of the driveway, and pointed the car towards the freeway, my brother, Andrew and I stood in the driveway, waving good-bye, long past when we could tell if anyone was waving back. Or looking at all. Waving until the car was out of sight.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


It seems weird to be in this house and not have him asleep in the chair across the room. Not have him about to walk in the door after having taken the dog for a walk. Not have him hold Grandma's hand.

Sixty eight years. That's how long they were married. We found old birthday cards, old anniversary cards, addressed "To my bride of fifty eight years", signed "You're ever-lovin' guy." We also found every check he's ever written since August 2, 1940. Every income tax return since 1955. And every piece of mailing he's ever received having to do with medicare, his bank account, or the masonic lodge he had been a part of in the fifties. No, seriously. Literally. Every. Mailing. Every newsletter, every bill, every invoice.

We found the invoice for heating repair in 1962.

This week has been a flurry of trying to find all the necessary paperwork for Grampa's accounts--insurance, social security, etc. The man was a serious packrat. On the bright side, though, that meant we found my great-grandfather's ticket from Norway to the US, and my great-grandmother's Norwegian baptismal certificate. We also found every single one of my mother's grade reports--all twelve. Including the one that said, "Mary needs to talk less with her neighbors." For a man who didn't like to talk about the past a lot, he sure kept it around. In triplicate. Just in case.

It's a conflict of bittersweet and tenderness, what I've found filed around the house. I've found itineraries and fliers for trips planned, but never taken. But I've also found every single letter my mom wrote to them, bundled and stored in a fruit crate. I've even found the letters my brother and sister and I have written to them. Of course, they were stored in a cabinet in the bathroom, but still. They were saved. (But then, so was the invoice for the bathroom tile. That was laid in 1957.)

It's bizarre, seeing a life from this vantage point. Reading letters about things he never talked about (apparently his retirement wasn't quite as gracious as he liked to talk about). Identifying the dreams that were realized--the house that they designed and built themselves, that they documented, every step of the way, that they lived in for 49 years. But also noticing that they never did visit their friends in Scotland like they wanted to. Or retire to Sun City, like they had talked about (apparently, going by the voluminous paperwork they had filed).

I'm leaving for home tomorrow, taking with me a suitcase full of irreplacable family history. Leaving behind a houseful more.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Good bye

Originally uploaded by karijean
I don't know what I expected, I just know the mix of surprise and inevitability when my mother's phone call woke us up Monday morning. Inevitable because I knew it was coming. He's 92, for Jeebus' sake. Surprise because... not today. Not Grampa.

I'm leaving tomorrow to say good bye to him. Considering how hard it's been to get out there, and how rarely I've been able to go, I'm so so glad I was there two weeks ago to be able to say one more time, a million more times, how much I love him.