Category Archives: Toby Tales
My life just got a little easier. I’ve volunteered to be the volunteer coordinator at my local community theatre, and my first assignment was to help plan and execute the large, annual Volunteer Appreciation Party. It was on Saturday. Whew.
My life also changed at the beginning of the school year with a little phone call telling me that Toby would no longer be bussed to school. Two frustrated phone calls later plus lots of corresponding with many local parents leaves me walking two miles every day to and from school in the morning. Yes, I’ve talked with the principal and a bus driver and yes, we’re building a plan for when it’s cold and rainy.
That leads me to my writing topic today.
It’s cold and rainy.
The way we talk about the weather fascinates me. In an annoying way. That pesky pronoun: what is it?
The sky is freakishly sunny today.
Well, actually, the sky is always sunny. The sun doesn’t fade on and off as the weather changes. It’s the clouds that make the difference.
It’s cold, and I HATE the cold.
The cloud is cold? The sky is cold? How do you know the temperature of the sky? Do you have a weather balloon attached to your shoulder?
Okay, so “it” is the weather.
Gosh, I love it today. It is so gorgeous out there.
The latter works, but the former does not. Why? Why did our language become that way?
Maybe “it” is the air. Gee, it’s a lot of talk about the air. I’ve learned that when we talk about the weather with complete strangers, we do so because that kind of talk is the neutral zone from which we base all other talk. If this complete stranger gets passionate about the sudden wind gusts today, we know that this stranger is easily excited, with highly expressive reactions. This stranger will probably have similar reactions if we continue the conversation to different topics.
If another stranger looks off in the distance while talking to you about the weather, and you know they’re not concerned about a distant tornado… You continue to talk to them about the weather, but they continue to not make eye contact… You know that is their normal conversational habit.
But the “it” thing? I mean—
The weather is hailing! Wahoo!
—it sounds so odd.
I’ve been posting quite a bit about Lottie, but it’s probably because I’ve discovered I like two and a half as a parent. But, if you remember, I have a Toby, too.
Toby is six, and as a friend of mine aptly put it, he is very much “in his own brain.” He babbles and jabbers and all his thoughts come out of his mouth whenever I’m in his company.
When Toby was just learning to talk, I told myself, “I will listen to everything this kid says.” Well, I was wrong in promising that to myself. Sometimes, I just can’t handle hearing the sound of his voice because he goes on and on and on… Sometimes, this makes me guilty– occasionally, he has amazingly creative and ingenious ideas that I love to hear! But it’s usually surrounded by half-baked ideas that I end up using quite a lot of effort correcting. Or rehashing of PBS shows he watches and melding them with obvious ideas from the current video game he’s playing.
For several years now, he has talked about the restaurant that he will build when he grows up. By now, it has turned into The World’s Largest Mall; it has fishtanks lining the walls and a roller coaster in the middle… ugh, I’ve lost track of all the stuff he has said will be in his restaurant.
I’m also proud to say that Toby can carry a tune and make all the rude and cool sound effects that boys make.
I’m also kind of happy to see that he uses mild potty language because it means he’s a boy with normal feelings. I often worry that Toby will be gay. Sometimes he has feminine mannerisms and sometimes the things he says and feels sound distinctly feminine. I have decided that I will still love him and support him if he is gay, but he’ll have an awfully hard time in society, in spiritual matters, with friends, finding a job…
All the friends he talks about at school are girls, and he plays in a very feminine way by standing around and talking instead of running or shouting or being mostly physical. He loves cooperative play– working together with a group of kids to achieve a building project. He loves board games; today, he and I played four games in a row, from setup to someone winning, before his feeling were hurt and he ran off in a tizzy.
However, I remember when I first met Just’In and when I was first establishing a friendship with him. My first impression was that he was really hot. And as I talked with him, I recognized that he had very feminine hands and gestures. I asked him at one lull in the nearly-nonstop conversation: “So, not offend you or anything, but are you gay?” He just looked at me and said, “No! Why would you think that?” And I sighed a really big sigh of relief and told him why.
And eventually, I married him.
Also, my dad loves talking. As a kid, we’d all get out of church and head toward our cars. While walking through the parking lot, we’d see the men of other families waiting for their wives with their kids; their wives were inside, lining the halls, checking up on each other, renewing friendships, and laughing. My siblings and I would stand around the car or get into the car after Mom had let us in, and we’d all sit in the car and wait. For Dad.
This didn’t last too long before he drove the truck to church.
To counter this thought, there’s also this: we just got back from camping last week. While I was at our campsite, preparing food, there were three boys, climbing over huge tree skeletons and talking with each other loudly, as kids do. The boys were probably eleven or twelve, and they stopped on a huge log and just stood there, talking at each other, much like my six-year-old son does with his friends.
Their tone, their stances, even the content of their conversation sounded exactly like Toby’s, which made me wonder whether, like his academic skills and his vocabulary, he just has social skills that are very advanced for his age. Did I mention that he started reading on his own in preschool and he can now read at the end of second grade reading level? Yeah, I’m both proud and freaked out about that.
The worry that he may be gay is very similar to a worry that he might lose an arm or that he might get run over by a truck. I just don’t want to see him hurt. I want him to be more successful than I am, faster, stronger, smarter than I am. More socially successful, more financially successful, more spiritually in tune…
Six is my favorite number, but it is not my favorite age right now. I don’t want to be in school myself anymore, but I love school because Toby can talk someone else’s ear off for many hours every weekday. Or he can be silenced by being freakishly well-behaved in public all day. Right now, I don’t care which one it is.
Toby is my investment. I pray for patience every day, and I know it works when Toby tells Heavenly Father in a prayer that no one got mad that day. He has small endearing moments, and I still love him.
Can I get a hallelujah?
The Problem with Males and Art
By Shelle Luaces
Hiding in the bathroom, quietly behind the door…
flipping through my journal of unfinished sketches and
agonizing over incomplete pieces, abandoned visions
i identify two problems.
One: my artistic life blossoms when i am unattached to a male.
Two: i have spent fourteen weeks of my adult life unattached to a male.
Slipping into a vision of life as an artist
living a quiet existence of incredible success, filled with beautiful
finished pieces adorning my walls, their walls, gallery walls…
pushing and pounding on the bathroom door…my boys…
“mommy, mommy…where you are…
mommy, mommy, where you—
there you are!”
Falling into my lap, my one year old knocks my journal to the floor–
squealing to find me hiding as if waiting for peek-a-boo
throwing his arms around my neck, my two-year old whispers “uh-oh”
as my pen rolls behind the toilet
taking with it another almost-captured idea
and i identify two overwhelming truths.
One: i will never be unattached to a male again.
Two: i have created and completed two works of art in the last
And they are both male.
This poem was published in a volume of poetry titled Voces; it comprises the polished work of members of the 2002 National Hispanic Cultural Center High School Writing Workshop. This poem is at the end, by the director of the workshop.
Its message is the epitome of my life. I have a three-year-old who shouts, “Where you are!” And I have two males in my life; the other is thirty. I have a growing file of unfinished ideas. I figure that when my life is a little more susceptible to long projects like this, I’ll have a ;large pool of inspired, original ideas from which to pick from and my product will be quality stuff because I can pick out the best.
Meanwhile, I grab inspiration and motivation when I can, in whatever medium is most handy. It got redirected during the holidays, beginning with Toby’s birthday. Last week, it returned in the form of the creation of two Artist Trading Cards. Now, it’s this. I expect my boys to come tumbling in at any second.
When a toddler pulls a board game off the shelf and wants to play it, a parent might groan inside. “That game is too complicated for his intelligence,” you think. “Now I have the task of redirecting, distracting, and juggling other, more interesting things so he won’t be interested in that board game.”
I’ve found a trick that has a a living room frequently littered with board game pieces when there’s only a preschooler to make the mess: create a simplified game using that board and its pieces. After all, it’s the pieces that fascinate your kid: what do these colored pieces do? What does a set of dice do? What do you do with this board once you unfold it?
We received a game of Clue for a Christmas present one year. We’ve played this particular set by the regular game rules, but it’s not very fun with just two people. So it sits on an open shelf in our dining room with all the other games in the household; we offer to play a game when we have dinner guests over, and everything is within scrutiny’s glance.
Just last month, Toby expressed an interest in Clue. It’s one of our most complex games, with more essential playing cards that could be bent, papers that could be lost and torn from the pad, lots of tiny game pieces that are all important to the game, and pens that I’ve stashed in the game itself because pens are so important to this particular game.
So far, I’ve managed to convince him of things like, “No, that one’s for grown-ups,” or, “How about we play this other board game instead?” But this time, he pulled it out and had it open before I could distract.
“Wow, what’s this for?” I heard over and over. Time to invent a preschooler’s version, I thought as I sat down next to him.
We pulled out the board and I explained the rooms to him. Then we pulled out just the room cards from the well-mixed deck of character and weapon cards. I showed him how each of the room cards matched the rooms. Then we looked at each of the game pieces. My version of Clue is really cool because each of the game pieces is shaped and colored like the character, down to their shoes and the details in their hair. It’s all wonderfully detailed, and it’s perfect for someone just getting to know the characters.
We placed each character where they belong on the board, and I had him pick one. After that, I changed the game from it’s original rules; I tucked everything but what we needed for the game back in the box and closed the lid. Then I put just the room cards on the hall room in the center, faces down. (This particular game board has a room in the center that isn’t on any of the cards.) Then, I had Toby roll the dice.
I read the number that the dice showed, and told him to pick a card in the center. Then I told him that he had to go to that room with his character.
At this point, I discovered that he’s not interested in counting the tiny little squares between rooms. I nitpicked about it for awhile (“No, here: one, two, three. Your piece goes here, not way over there.”) but then realized that he’s more interested in the process of the game, not the concept of following rules and competing to win. So I counted tiny squares on my turns and took two or three turns to get from room to room and he rolled, but then bounced from room to room.
The object was to get your character to the room on the card you were holding. Then you put the card face-up on the room that it matches. Then it’s the next person’s turn. For someone who can’t read, he enjoyed studying the pictures on the cards and matching them to the rooms on the board. It’s novel to him that all the game pieces match up so perfectly like that. It’s also novel to watch the pieces move around the board, to manipulate your environment in such a miniscule way.
And I find I do this with any board game. It doesn’t work with everything; he pulled out one of those BIG boxed puzzles one day. It was of a I Spy scene, with lots of tiny toys. Being the Yes Mom that I like to be, I said, “Okay, sure, we’ll do what you want to do,” and dumped out all the pieces on the dining table. After the awe of so many puzzle pieces, I asked him again if he wanted to do this. He was interested, but after a few minutes of turning all of them over with me image-side up, he wandered off.
Toby watched with interest as I put all the straight sides together and made the frame. I handed him four or five pieces that were obvious they went together and let him fiddle with those while I worked on the big one. After I was about halfway done and feeling in the groove, he started begging me to do something else. I could hear the whine of boredom in his voice, but my stubborn streak set in.
“You said you wanted me to do this, so I’m going to do it,” I told my preschooler. And I did, while he played nicely. I even let him put in the very last piece. We’re not doing another big puzzle together for a few more years.
Besides, we’ve got plenty of board games to amuse him. We make our own designs with Battleship boards and don’t ever battle. We separate the jewels in Mancala into color groups even though the colors don’t matter at all in the actual game. We roll the wheeled game pieces in Trivial Pursuit across the game board and make patterned designs out of the wedges.
We even have an old game called Extinction; I don’t even know what the real rules are to the game or how to really play it. I just know the preschooler version. Considering we never had all the pieces to play the real game, our made-up game is fine with me.
This week, someone who loves us sent a care package. Inside, among other goodies that did make us feel loved, were craft idea booklets. While I don’t like crafts because many of them just produce kitsch, I can be convinced to make crafts that don’t require a trip to the craft store for supplies to make said craft. Especially when I can recycle the craft when I’ve successfully used it to distract little ones.
So this blog post starts with something that, believe it or not, is supposed to a craft.
Salt. In a tray. Combed quietly into a zen garden, complete with pebbles. And, whaddya know, I didn’t have to go out and buy anything.
I’m not dumb. I knew that when I handed this activity to my kid that the salt wouldn’t stay in the tray. I combed it, he shoveled it. I tried to introduce the pebbles, but he protested that they were in his way. He made an uncoordinated-but-careful pile on the table, and I tried making a pile in the tray instead. Then I tried to distract my pile-maker by throwing the pebbles into the tray. He liked that activity until we ran out of pebbles.
Toby went back to shoveling salt from the tray onto the paper-covered table. I transitioned from combing to just making sure it was evenly distributed in the tray so he had less depth of mass from which to pull.
Then, his untrained muscles twitched and he accidentally flicked salt onto the floor. I caught, with a cupped hand, as he repeated the accident. Then I caught a glance from his face.
“This is getting boring,” the face told me.
I realized why I was doing this in the first place–not to fill the minutes of the day, but to share an experience. My cupped hand over the floor was the cautious in me, the one who prevents and restrains, the one caring for the careless one next to me.
I realized that I could teach the careless how to be carefree instead. With this realization tightly held, I dipped my fork into the tray and flicked onto the floor. I heard a shriek of delight, and very soon, we had a puddle of white silt on a black rug, full of controlled abandon. Some kind of mess that we made together.
The difference between careless and carefree is what happens after the action. The careless throw litter on the ground and do not care. The carefree throw their belongings on the ground to roll down the hill with a spirit of spontaneity, but eventually pick up their dignity, happily refreshed, and go more happily on their way.
In this case, we turned clumsy toddler behavior into minutes of glee. Flinging anything is fun, whether it be food, salt, grass, paper, or mud. Salt is the easiest to vacuum up when we’re finished and the easiest to pour back into my salt container to reuse. Because Toby helped me pick up the paper and watched me vacuum up, he learned a little bit of careful. It’s important for children to see their parents having fun, but they also need to know that there’s value in caring for the surroundings.
Salt is reused wonderfully, even after we’ve picked it up and poured it over our fingers to feel the texture. There’s only one type of bacteria that grows in salt, and it’s not harmful to humans. All the better for my cookies to be flavored with a tiny bit of carefree delight.
Kids love options and making choices for themselves, and Toby is no exception. He’s developed a meal routine that involves standing in front of the open fridge, shaking his head at all the food options we give him. Sometimes, it’s a matter of degrees: take out of the fridge whatever he shakes his head at the least. But sometimes, he’ll nod twice, curtly, confidently, quickly, and then he’ll nod slowly once. He presses his lips together, too.
Toby’s nods are funny. Sometimes he’ll nod confidently thrice and then say, “Uh, yeah,” then turn on his heel and walk straight to the kitchen table. He does this as we walk around the neighborhood, too. We’ll get to a crossroads on the sidewalk and I’ll give him the option:
“Okay, do you want to go this way or that way?” He’ll point, indicating his position on the matter, nod quickly thrice.
Then I ask, “Okay, shall we go that way?” and he’ll say, “Uh, yeah,” and turn on his heel and go. It’s funny to see such a small one be so decisive with such clarity.
When he’s feeling particularly distraught and I don’t know what’s wrong… Sometimes, Toby just needs a hug. And when he’s gotten the reassurance he’s needed, sometimes he’ll lay on my shoulder for a little longer with his arm draped over the outer curve. And he’ll give me a reassuring pat on the back.
After a loud pediatrician’s appointment, which was unwittingly scheduled during Toby’s naptime, I pulled out his shoes from the diaper bag. He doesn’t need shoes when being carried in a sling, at my hip.
After shoes were on, he was thrilled to be walking around, and that woke him up. You see, he had wanted to sleep during the entire appointment, which caused lots of shouting. We walked out the door and across the street and around a few buildings and into another lobby. I had written his next appointment on the back of his most recent growth chart; it was included with the blood work order that I handed to the phlebotomist behind the desk.
After I folded up the growth chart, which had his weight information, I sat down in the lobby to feed Toby lunch–cheese, crackers, pieces of little smokies. A few bites into the meal, the phlebotomist wanted to know how much he weighed.
After I told her, bewilderingly, that I didn’t know and that I didn’t memorize that kind of thing, even if he was just weighed within the hour, Toby demanded more food. The phlebotomist guessed on his weight while he ate. Then, it was time to have four vials of blood drawn from two tiny veins, which was also very loud.
Afterward, I asked if there would be any side effects I needed to watch for. I was reassured, twice, that there would be none. Absolutely no symptoms from having blood taken out of an underweight year-and-a few-months-old baby. I was wary.
After a long wait at a bus stop and several strolls down different sidewalks, I finally decided we needed to book it across a street and to our next bus stop. So I picked Toby up and stuffed him in the sling again. Then, he very suddenly fell asleep against me.
After we climbed onto the bus home, I felt really stupid because I had realized something: after standing at the check-in window at the blood clinic–because Toby is underweight and needed to be checked for anemia and other diseases–I had tucked the weight chart in my diaper bag when I could have given it to the phlebotomist. I was also hungry; I noticed that he wasn’t stirring at all from all the noise and movement and sunlight on the bus; and I was worried about the weight guess and its ratio to vials of blood. His pacifier had dropped into the sling; that made me even more worried.
After I checked to see if he was still breathing and his blood was still pumping, I told myself that it was rude to make a phone call on the bus. But, as usual, the bus got to the end of the route and the driver told us that it would be a few minutes before we started again. So I pulled out my phone and called a nurse at the pediatrician’s office I had just visited. She picked up right away, and I explained to her my worries. She asked me one question:
“Can you wake him up and have him look at you?”
After shaking, poking, repeating his name louder and louder for several minutes, I determined that I could not. The nurse on the phone told me, “Call 911.” When a nurse tells you to do this, you do not hesitate.
After hanging up, the bus driver asked me if I wanted her to call 911. I affirmed, then stood and tried again to wake him up. I was shouting and bouncing and the bus driver had pulled over to the side of the road–that combination did it. His eyes opened and he looked around, as if to say, “Huh? What’s going on?” I looked straight into his eyes, and even if he didn’t look directly at me, he blinked heavily, as one does when they’re between sleep and awake.
I sighed heavily, then told the bus driver that it was a false alarm. I thanked her profusely, then I walked home with a very asleep boy, tuckered out from screaming and walking and a loss of blood. He barely stirred when I set him in his crib. Finally, I went to fix myself some lunch. Phew.
While living outside of the computer this week, I’ve watched Toby as he continues to respectfully flip through books. He’s examining a cookbook right now. It’s spiral-bound with plastic–I’ve used those binding machines in an office setting– so it doesn’t matter if he flips the covers together.
He’s riffling the corners of the pages, like he’s studiously skimming for something. He’s fascinated by this because recipe books look very different than novels in format. Also, the binding makes the paper sound different when the pages are turned; the book creaks.
Now he’s whimpering every few minutes; I can hear the exhaustion in his voice. He’s getting frustrated at nothing–time for a nap.
When he’s not pulling books into a pile onto the floor or examining one for a long-for-a-baby period of time, Toby is walking. With much concentration, focusing on placing every step and making sure to place his path in the center of the room.
He’s walking through doors with objects from that room in his hand. Objects like a toilet plunger and his laundry basket, which has a handle at the top; they both hover only an inch off the ground and act as a cane if he needs more balance.
And I’m rooting for him, every step of the way. I don’t grieve about his growth because it might be too fast, but rather, I celebrate it. I would hate to have a baby Toby for my entire life. I want a child that can learn and retain. Right now, I want a baby I can play silly games with–like Exaggerated-Protest-When-Sticker-On-Forehead-Is-Removed and This-Little-Piggy-Goes To–Hey, Wait! Those both bring lots of giggle from both of us.
I also want him to be tired of those games so I can remember new ones. He enjoys This Is The Way The Lady Rides, but doesn’t find the humor in the Fall In The Gutter game. Toby is charming, in that he points and waves, but sometimes, I don’t know what he’s pointing and waving at.
And it will come with time.
Do you have any memories associated with these games, played with knees, fingers, and toes?
How do you introduce books to an infant?
I’m having trouble with this. Right now, I’m watching Toby rifle through a National Geographic book on mountains. The pictures are clearly ’70s fare–faded to blues and browns– and I don’t mind whether he bends the corners or steps on it repeatedly. He’s learning how to turn pages: the physicality of it, involving the arm and the fingers and how to move those muscles. Because the book is about as big as he is, it also involves how to move the shoulder and which part of the page to grab, how to shift his balance so he can lay on his belly and use one arm. I want him to learn how to do this.
And yet, it’s a book. A book from a thrift store that I will never read, granted. A book that will be used for a writing surface during family games and coloring times and homework, sure. A book to merely flip through just to look at the pictures. But nevertheless, it’s a book–something I revere because it holds information and it smells divine. The pages and the spine were made with care and precision. The pictures were chosen by several someones who all love the visual art. Someone took great care to write out the text, however outdated it is.
We have lots of books. We have novels, picture books, fluffy books that have only a few words per page and that are tiny. We have cookbooks and board books and cartoon compilations and lots of how-to-write books. We’ve got textbooks and coffee table books. And we also have a baby who will inevitably get into those books.
My parents had one bookshelf in the house in which I did most of my growing up. All the books from their waists down got pulled down and ripped up and drawn in and chewed up. By kids. And I saw my mom get mad at those kids for doing such destruction, but she let it happen. And we turned out happy.
I don’t want to get mad at Toby for opening books and learning how to turn pages. I unpacked this apartment in such a way that Toby could get into all the books from the waist down and I wouldn’t get mad. These books can be replaced.
But then I found that when he was bored and whiny, I started handing him magazines and books saying, “This one’s okay to rip up. You can play with this one.” And that doesn’t feel right.
I know that right now, he perceives anything that opens like a book, whether it be paper, cloth, cardboard, or already-read-and-recyclable glossy, to be a book. So when I took on a totalitarian attitude and didn’t let him touch anything that even resembled a book, I knew that didn’t feel right, either. I don’t want Toby to think that he can’t touch any sort of book. That would deter him from reading eventually.
So letting him touch certain things won’t work, right? He’s nine months old. I don’t think he can discern between a book that is in his room and a book that is in the living room. Between a picture book I don’t care about and a $100 Complete Anthology of Calvin & Hobbes. I have vague ideas of just letting chance reign. Whatever takes his fancy, whatever gets struck by the writing tool he wields, is simply a small victim to innocent childlike exploration. Whatever is within his reach. I don’t think Just’In likes that, though.
Even if we would label such destruction with a date and his name. Not to hold him accountable, but to record his mark on the world. To record his interest in books. Because I would often open up a book and wonder who made this alteration. Who exerted their will here. In this book.
Consider this a muddled plea for your advice and experience. Consider it a statement of “Yeah, this concept needs further thought”. Meanwhile, he will continue exploration, I suppose.
Based on a series of link posts on Facebook, it’s evident I’ve had baby clothes on the brain. This is because of a series of events:
Toby just went through another growth spurt, which means culling through clothes that don’t fit and discovering that he needs new ones.
We went to our favorite used-kid’s-clothing store to buy shoes and socks, (by Just’In’s request–and any husband who willingly wants to buy apparel should not be denied) discovered that they’re moving to a bigger location, and were having a clearance sale because of it. Used clothing on clearance. Wow.
In anticipation of the sale, I drew up a list of what I might buy for Toby. Then, when we went to said sale, we found it was so crowded that Just’In just told me, “You shop; I’ll stand here with Toby.”
Because there were so many people, I systematically looked for every item on the list. For example, I went to look at the swimming suits. I wouldn’t normally buy a swimming suit for a baby, but if they’re cheap enough . . . Standing in front of the swimming suit section for little boys, I find there are zero swimming suits on clearance. I did this with everything on the list.
Then I looked at said list and realized that almost everything there was an accessory. And I look around me and see that the majority of people are looking through the clothes racks, not anything else. I head to the section of the store that holds the sizes of clothes that Toby will fit into, and sure enough, as I search for church clothes, I find that there is nothing there marked as clearance.
After Just’In wades through all the people–kids, moms, dads, babies in strollers, irritated people in a long line–and asks me whether I should look for clothes in a larger size than he is wearing currently, I just look at him dumbfounded. Baffled.
He compassionately, gently, suggests that we leave. Even when it was his idea to come to the sale in the first place, and he was willing to pay for whatever I found.
Just’In tells me, as we double back through the parking lot, that he saw many moms who had obviously plowed through the store, snatching up everything that was marked clearance. Apparantly, they had set up camp on the aisle caps with laundry baskets and were going through their piles, deciding what they wanted and making another pile of clearance items they didn’t want. On the floor. Completely ruining it for anyone else who had a kid of the same age.
And as he told me of this, I realized that the irritation had just permeated everyone in there. And slowly, my neck muscles and shoulders began to relax. Even as I write this, the memory of such tension comes back to my muscles. But I’m left with this list of things to buy.
Toby is snoring at this very moment. With that note of endearment he unwittingly brings, please enjoy with me the things I’ve found: a summer romper, covered in snails; a t-shirt at Gymboree.com with an adorable lion’s face and the word “KING” on it; and something that reminds me of little/tall brother, Paul.
These are proof: I’m slowly learning that I can enjoy things without wanting them. Much.
Just as suddenly as the room was filled with people, suddenly, it was not. And even though I was the center of attention, and even though I was floating in the apathy that is an epidural, I felt like I’d missed something here.
Like a swarm of crawling ants, all on one spot for one particular reason, and then, all the sudden, they scatter, like they all have one mind. And then one ant skitters across the empty spot that they once crowded, intent on some task.
Or like a star at a hairdressing station, parked in front of a mirror: there’s someone doing her makeup, two other people doing her hair, and someone else discussing her jewelry with her. Someone in line to tell her what to wear, and someone else to make sure she stays hydrated. And then, they’re all gone because someone announced that the coffee was there until some minion runs in to hand her a script, and then runs off.
Well, that minion, in my case, happened to be my nurse. Who told me that they’d all decided to just lay off and let Toby chill out and de-stress. Then she asked what every other nurse had asked: can I get you anything? And when she was done, for an hour or so, I sat under a relaxing layer of warm towels, trying to get my limbs to stop trembling. Shifting from side to side to get Toby to ease into the right position for coming out. Trying to breathe deeply through an oxygen mask, which appeared in that panic mode.
All of that effort paid off, and the flow of people began again. But their attitudes were different: confident, calm, competent. A doctor came in, whom I didn’t recognize. He was from the same clinic I’d been attending for the last nine months, but after a half an hour of assessing and stretching my skin, he told the nurse that he was scheduled for an operation. So a shift of doctors occurred, to a doctor I did recognize: she’d covered once for my normal doctor and did a routine checkup. I thought her caring and capable as well.
The shift of nurses also changed, and the new nurse recognized me.
She asked, staring into my eyes, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
In the daze of anesthesia, I said, “I… think so. Let me think.”
And while I thought, she put me into the birthing stirrups, legs up like a frog ready to hop; the epidural made me feel highly cooperative, even more so than I already am. I eventually figured it out, the previous connection between us, after she told me how we were going to work through contractions: deep breath while she counted, then hold it while I push to another set of counts, and then exhale sharply.
After each contraction was something I hadn’t encountered: we all sat around for several minutes, waiting for the next contraction. During one of these waiting periods, in the spirit of trying to figure out how I knew this nurse, I found myself telling her where I was from, where I’d lived, where I went to school. We figured out that she was an RA in the dorms in Cedar City; she was also a women’s group leader for our student-oriented congregation.
One of this nurse’s jobs was to watch the monitor and feel my belly to tell us all when the next contraction was; another one of her jobs was to lift my right leg so my thigh was against my side. I couldn’t do either task because of the epidural; occasionally, I could feel something that could be a contraction, but most of the birth was done to the tune of the nurse’s cues.
It did sound like a tune, occasionally, and Just’In had a job, too, even though he didn’t want one; he lifted my left leg in sync with the nurse on my right leg. He also tapped out the beat of her counts onto my leg, unprompted. I was grateful– after awhile of holding my breath, I couldn’t hear the last of her counts because of the blood rushing in my head. He even included three quick taps at the end to indicate the exhale, since I couldn’t hear her prompt, either.
Just’In was holding my calf and my foot, but he stood with his side to my side, face to my face; he told me from day one that he didn’t want to see any blood, didn’t want to cut the cord, didn’t want to watch the exit. But he still had a part. Which makes me happy.
At the beginning of each contraction, the nurse would say, “Deep-breath-in-and-push: go-go-go.” And the doctor, under a large version of the light dentists use, said, “Big-one, make-this-one-count.” Add counting and tapping and breathing and we were a genuine band, with small talk between each stanza. Sitting around as if we were in a meeting, waiting for someone to show up, or waiting for the movie to start.
So to this tune, the work continued. And while flexing my thighs and pushing in the general area where I was supposed to push, I felt very little. What I did feel was unidentifiable, since I’d never done this before. And somewhere in the middle of it all, a nurse came in with a guy in scrubs like hers, introduced him, and asked if he could watch. He was a nurse-in-training and wanted to do this sort of thing.
The epidural spoke, “Sure, bring anyone you want in. It’s one big party!” His job? He took a few pictures of us when it was all done.
The rest went as portrayed in the movies, except that a bloody, squirming, yowling thing got plopped onto where it used to live, otherwise known as my flattened belly. And there, with my knees still up, in a hospital gown, with lots of strangers in the same room, something happened.
My heart exploded. It was the only way to make room inside me for this very large thing that was before me. The debris from said explosion leaked out through my eyes, and as this new, wee thing was whisked away, and as I was carefully stitched up by a focused and skilled doctor, I asked Just’In for pen and paper.
(You can read Part One here, in the post previous)
Labor went as you would expect: I watched a TV marathon to distract me, but didn’t feel like reading the yet-unread book I’d brought with me. I wished I’d brought music because I couldn’t sleep very well. I expected it to be an overall restless night anyway, but there were more interruptions than usual.
Just’In tried to sleep in the windowsill bed there, under an afghan. He tried reading a book; he told me about his trip down the street to get a burger and the gross incompetence he found in a fast food environment, all to distract me.
The nurses walked in and tried to check my pulse and stuff discreetly, but it didn’t work. You see, these nurses used an in-the-ear thermometer, and nurses change shifts every several hours. I got a confused/shocked look from every new nurse when she tried to take my temperature and found that there was something in the way. Because I wanted to get as much sleep as possible, but didn’t want to take the tiny instruments out and in my ears, I felt compelled to teach every nurse how to pull out my hearing aid by grabbing the tube and pulling.
I was very glad I ate that meal right before the test; dinnertime and breakfast time came and went, and I really wanted food. What I wanted more was to gulp down buckets of water. I knew the nurses wouldn’t let me, even though I was going to the bathroom frequently anyway, so I drank water in sips. I lost count of how many cupfuls I sipped.
Those restroom trips was quite an ordeal; ease out of bed because of the weight, then unplug myself from the heart monitor which was plugged into the wall. After a few times of calling in a nurse to help me off of all the machinery, one kind soul finally taught my husband how to do it himself. Of course, several nurses after her came running in from their remote station when they saw the heart rate and movement both suddenly go dead.
After the heart monitor was removed, I had to take the Pitocin with me and then close the door; I must say that it was odd, sitting on the toilet with a tall, silver stand of liquid medicine as a companion. Somewhere in the middle of all the bathroom breaks and all the labor, my body started to tremble. Mostly my legs and my arms, but sitting on the toilet while trembling violently is really hard.
I wanted to try to do the entire birth naturally, without painkillers. It wasn’t completely natural because my blood was filled with Pitocin, but my mom delivered me naturally and I admire her for that. I’ve read and heard a lot of birth stories that feature The Super Woman who roars and grunts and does it all on love and sweat alone. No chemicals included. Did I have that kind of courage? It was time to try.
I wasn’t against painkillers, but I had only a vague notion of what labor and birth felt like. I knew that the pinnacle of pain was when my cervix reached an 7. I found that I could deal with the pain and the trembling by sitting at the edge of the bed or walking. At the end, I was pacing the length of the wires and standing and rocking in Just’In’s arms. One arm around his waist and my head on his shoulder. One foot forward and one back, just rocking it out, breathing the whole time, of course: cougar screams out and banshee shrieks in. Until the nurse came in and I reluctantly laid down on the bed to check the progress of my work: she told me that I was at a 6.
I begged her: “Please, can I be at a 7?” It felt horrible—surely this must have been near the pinnacle, right? I had one more contraction; while standing under quiet lights with the too-bright pulse of feeling that blinded my sense of touch, in Just’In’s arms, surrounded by wood colors, I succumbed. Painkillers, please. This was my pinnacle—I couldn’t take it anymore.
The wait was torturous, knowing that I could rescind my request, but now would be the only time. Finally, epidural inserted by a young guy who had caring words and quick, practiced fingers, and who explained everything he did. I was kicking myself for not being SuperWoman, despite Just’In’s reassurances that I was amazing. Beating myself, until one more contraction came. Before the drugs set in, as I lay immobile on my side, I felt the pain slip away like the softest of spring breezes and a river of calm set in.
My mom described it best: when under the influence of an epidural, you really just don’t care. An earthquake, a flood, and Armageddon at its fullest red fiery fury? La la la—okay, this is great!
I had not even an hour in such bliss when the room suddenly filled with people, and everything happened in quick succession: Toby’s heart rate went plummeting again, in reaction to the epidural.
The room was suddenly filled with people and activity. There was talk of a C-Section, and they started to clean off the table-on-wheels in preparation. After a night of quiet, this was something new—Trippy, and still trembly, but new.
Toby’s arrival concludes soon. Stay tuned.