3/31/15

en fran├žais

So much of life hasn't turned out the way I imagined, but some things do. I knew if I ever had children, I'd want them to speak French. Last month they where excepted into the French program at their school. Let's begin!

3/29/15

Paska bread

Easter is the supreme holiday. Number 1, at least for me. I'm doing some preparatory baking!
Paska bread is a tradition in Eastern Europe. Five points of you can name the three Christian symbols on the bread. 

3/28/15

Yoga studio: Stage One

My husband and my father built the foundation framework today. I had all the intention of the world to get work done on it too, but the girls' strep caught up with me. I was dead to the world! 
When I emerged from the world of death sleep, I walked outside to find this:
*Squee!!!*
This is what happens when I ask the girls to strike a yoga pose. I really love Amelia's up dog. 


3/27/15

outdoor studio

There have been three things that have preoccupied my mind the last two months. First is the history of food. Second, making my own pasta (and of course thinking about the history of Italian food while making it). The third is yoga. It all came together in one place for me when I went to the ONLY grocers in all Utah Valley where you can buy semolina durum flour - Sprouts, and I bought a yoga magazine in line.
Some days my children finish their breakfast/lunch/dinner before I even sit down to eat mine, so I keep a small stack of magazines near the kitchen table to read in the 5-10 quiet minutes when the children are satisfied and before I have to clean up. It took me a while to read the whole yoga magazine, but when I did I reflected on it, and made a validating realization.

The magazine interviewed a dozen or so of the nation's leading yoga instructors, the teachers who are in some way trailblazing or experimenting. They asked the same set of questions to each instructor, and every single one I read had a common theme: Yoga as an intentional choice to find healing. All of them turned to yoga after a traumatic experience that rocked their world. They said things like: "It was the bottle or the mat, and I chose the mat, thank God." Not one of the stories was, "I needed to fill an extracurricular credit in college, so I signed up for yoga and loved it." None of them stumbled upon it or took it up casually. Each of them had something horrible happen, and then deliberately chose yoga.

I occurred to me how easily my story would have fit in the pages of the magazine. "After a horrific pregnancy and childbirth, my baby was born without an esophagus and spent the next 8 months in the hospital..." It felt validating, because sometimes I'm embarrassed in front of others for my newfound passion for yoga, and how much it has done to help me heal. But I feel like I'm in good company.

We are building an outdoor yoga 'studio' in the backyard for me. I am sooooo excited. I have a teeny tiny budget to work with, but it will work because my sweet dad bought all the lumber for me. Work starts tomorrow! I'll try to take pictures, but I can't promise anything!

3/24/15

milestone

St. Patrick's Day marked a year from Eloise's discharge from the NICU. I was glad to have the milestone because it made me review the year and take stock of the progress we have made. I am a private person on the whole, and this post is uncharacteristically personal. But I am writing it because of Danielle. She was one of Eloise's primary nurses at Utah Valley, and she became a dear friend. She and I had dinner together the other evening, and she asked me if I was writing any of this down for Eloise. I don't keep a proper journal, and this blog is the closest I've got. So I am really writing this blog for a future Eloise, and if I don't publish it here, it won't be found. So...if you read on, keep that in mind.
Eloise coming home was an incredibly happy thing. But it was also completely crazy. She came home on oxygen, and a whole room full of equipment, like a suction machine, feeding pump, ambubag, an oxygen tank the size of the one that got Jaws in the end. I didn't get a lot of sleep. Eloise had never slept in a quiet, dark crib. The NICU is never dark, even at night, and never quiet. All those beeping alarms and chatter...oy. I would hear phantom alarms all the time for a month after she was discharged. Just recalling that sound sends a shiver up my spine.

My three girls at home missed me. They were cared for by so many other people and had to adapt to shifting, changing schedules. Sometimes I would promise a tearful Millie "I will be home to kiss you goodnight, sweetheart." And then I couldn't. Something would happen at the hospital, or I would sit in an hour of traffic on Foothill Drive trying to get to the freeway from Primary's. It was excruciating to feel desperate about my baby in the hospital, constantly worried about what has happening to her, and at the same time desperate to nurture my sweet daughters at home. How horrible is that?!

Coming home was a completely different trial. I was caring for Eloise all the time, and we weren't apart, which is what I wanted. But caring for her was (and still is) an absolutely Herculean task. There was rarely a week I didn't have to rescue Eloise from suffocating blue spells. At the beginning I was taking Eloise in for weekly dilations at the hospital, which required full anesthesia, and afterward she always had multiple blue spells. Supremely stressful.

I also had three little children at home. Twin four-year-olds and a three-year-old, and it felt like an impossible errand to be mother to all. It was a relief to be free of the NICU, but I missed certain people terribly. Feeling alone in caring for Eloise was a heavy burden, and now I didn't have a network of people helping me. I was home alone with four children all day, and Eloise never let up. If it wasn't a blue spell, she was gagging and wretching 2-3 times an hour on her own spit. Vomiting spit can oh-so easily turn into asphyxiation. I could not ignore one throw-up, one problem, one crying fit from that baby, not for anything else. I would have to let dinner burn. I would have to stop reading/talking/cuddling/teaching any of my other children to care for her, immediately.

Physically I was also going through so, so much. My pregnancy with Eloise was absolutely wretched, and I had to undergo several surgeries of my own to become whole and healthy again. I was taxed to the breaking point emotionally, physically and spiritually. My heart was broken, and I longed for things I could never have.

I remember standing at my sink, doing yet another load of dishes, cleaning a knife, and thinking...it could all be over so easily. I could call my mom, beg her to take the children somewhere, and leave a note...The monumental task of my life could just be finished, and so quickly. I longed for rest, and never felt like I had any at all, so instead I would imagine how wonderfully freeing death would be. An eternal rest from this world sounded delicious, and like the only way to escape.

There was only one thought strong enough to combat my darkest thoughts, and kept me from the edge. I couldn't tolerate the thought of another woman going prom dress shopping with my girls. I didn't want another woman hearing about their first dates, or traveling to France for their first time, or giving them advice on hair cuts. No one else could be their mother, because I'm the only one who can do it.

I slowly stopped spiraling downward. Things started to ease up. I wish I could say something like, "It was my religion that saved me - it was reading my scriptures." But it just wasn't. My religion is complicated for me, entwined with deep feelings of duty, guilt, anxiety, and pressure. Unlike say, Catholic Mass, the LDS Church expects a whole lotta participation. You are called on to talk, to teach, to serve, to work. I had nothing for it. Faith is another matter. Somehow through the hell of the last two years I managed to remain faithful.

I've been pinpointing the exact turning points for us, and it was surprisingly easy to do:

  • Eloise's Nissen Fundoplication last December. This is the single most important thing that has improved Eloise's quality of living. I finally felt like her life was worth living. She ceased to vomit every hour, day and night. She could move around without being plagued by reflux. Her surgeon, Dr. Downey, has been an incredibly vital support and advocate. I am very attached to him, and if it were up to me, he wouldn't be allowed to retire, ever.
  • Now that my body was finally mended, I was amazed at how fabulous living without pain was. I started running, and loved it. It felt so liberating, a small dose of freedom. I tried yoga, and I loved it even more. I started last August, and I haven't missed more than three days since. I also worked hard to lessen my appetite. For nearly 5 years I was either pregnant or nursing, and always HUNGRY. So I slowly made my portions and meals smaller and smaller. I have lost some 40 pounds. I am looking and feeling great these days. I fantasize about yoga retreats, and more than anything I'd love to build something like this in my backyard, a mini yoga studio. It also has infinite picnic possibilities!
  • When Eloise came home I had to surrender my sewing corner. We had to move in another bed in her room, so an adult could sleep with her every night. Trevor still sleeps up there. Anyway, for a year I have had no personal space that was mine. Not a single corner. I needed a space to sew, write, and read. The only space I could convert was the dormer upstairs, a three feet wide and two feet deep. A little determination and creative thinking et voila! I have a creative space. It has had an incredible impact on my happiness. I sewed a spring dress for myself last week, it turned out beautifully, and I chalk it all up to finally having a space of my own.
  • My twins started kindergarten. Future Josephine and Amelia, I love you more than anything, but it was an enormous relief when we had a daily schedule to keep. 
  • Learning. I have a voracious appetite for learning of all kinds. Art history is first, of course, but beyond that I'm interested in just about everything. Driving my children home from school everyday gives me about 40 minutes listening time, so I wear my earbuds. I listen to podcasts or history lectures while I do dishes. Any time I can squeeze in some learning, I make it happen. Thank heavens for the internet. My most recent favorite is a lecture series on the History of Food. Holy smokes, it is captivating! It adds so much understanding to specific eras in history.
I am so happy to say a year out, and we are all doing better. I feel like I'm finally living in part for myself and not exclusively for others, for the first time in a long time, and it feels good.

3/4/15

A string of unconnected thoughts

  • If we believe in natural selection, Giant Panda Bears should have been extinct decades ago. I'm sorry, but dude, their mating habits both in and out of captivity are ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated. I'm pretty sure if they didn't look like this:
And instead looked like this:
We would have let Mother Nature do her work a long time ago.
  • Last night a woman was arrested for drunken disorderliness on our front lawn, in full view of our living room window. It scared my kids. The flashing police cars, the handcuffs, and the woman was violent and cacophonous. I made a call into the Police Department today just to assure my girls (Amelia especially) that she wouldn't ever be back in our yard. All the same, we had to make a new rule around these parts: No playing in the front yard after dark. Its sad, really.
  • In 1988 there was a catastrophic earthquake in Armenia. Around 50,000 people were killed, and 130,000 were injured. So many children were left orphaned, and were sent to live mostly in the Soviet Union. A charitable group in Armenia worked with these orphans, and with children so young who can't adequately express their emotions verbally, art therapy worked well. There was a pattern with all the children in their drawings - they only used black colors on white paper, and persistently the sun was always colored black. There were some splashes of color, like red. But across the board, it was black on white paper with a black sun. When the adults experimented with giving the children colorful paper and no black pencils, they simply refused to draw at all. Over time, as the horrific event grew more distant in their memories and some healing could take place, colors returned to their drawings. What's completely fascinating is that they returned in the same order that the colors gained nomenclature in all the root languages - black, white, red, yellow, blue, then green. After more research was completed, it turns out that severely depressed people actually perceive the world less vibrantly, they see colors less. Eventually the sun turned yellow in the children's drawings. Learning this gave me an entirely new perspective on Picasso's Guernica
    Its always been a painful and disturbing painting for me, but now I don't think I'll ever look at it without watery eyes.

3/3/15

physical vs. metaphysical

Josephine will sometimes write her letters not only right-to-left, but in mirror image. Not all the time, but occasionally. She has a hard time paying attention in class, and her imagination is all over the place. As her mother, of course I'm thinking, "She has the heart and soul of an artist! YES." But in the public school system, that necessarily must rely on test scores and meeting certain goals at certain points of the school year, Josephine is one of only four children in her class "with red dots" next to their name - meaning they are at "high risk."
At parent teacher conferences, her teacher and I discussed solutions. She suggested "anything homeopathic is better. There's a South African woman, not African American but South African, at the apothecary next to Sprouts who could help." Then the conference was over, and we bustled out with squirmy Eloise and Hazel. Its important for your children's teachers to feel like they aren't alone in teaching your child, that the parents are supportive and involved. So I told her I would try it.

I visited the shop, the owners were extremely nice, and gave me recommendations for Jo. Then I went home and researched. Research for me does not include Google searches, Wikipedia or WebMD, but peer-reviewed, published sources. One of the positive sides of Eloise's extensive hospital time is I can navigate medical literature much better than I could before.

Homeopathy is entirely bogus. The idea of diluting chemical substances and coating them in sugar pills relies on completely false science. Herbs undeniably provide benefits for the human body - however, the production and sales of herbal supplements is unregulated in the United States, thanks to a homeopathic Senator in the 1930s who passed legislation. The amount of herbs in a given marketed product may have as little as half as much of the actual herb as promise (again, unregulated). There is also a whole conspiracy aspect too, people believe the pharmaceutical companies are not trying to better mankind through medicine but fleece our pockets in evil schemes.

By disbelieving modern medical science, people are essentially doubting the scientific method. Medicating or "curing" through homeopathy, self-medicating herbs, or the like, is harmful because an illnesses may go ignored or worsen.

I don't know what this whole trend is, if its worldwide trend or a Mormon trend or a Utah trend or a Mommy trend, but I feel like I am surrounded by people disbelieving medicine and embracing homeopathic or "natural" methods instead. I don't care what people do, but I do care if it affects my children. While Eloise was in the hospital I had a nanny who believed in non-traditional cures wholesale, I've had neighbors, ward members, Primary leaders, family members and friends discuss how they choose to follow herbal or homeopathic self-medicating rather than medical doctors. And now their school teacher recommends homeopathy as a solution to Jo's ADD.

I've been trying to discover the historical roots of this movement, and it turns out it is complicated. Since the Industrial Revolution people have been rejecting technology and medical progression. Psychologists believe it may be "too much too fast," and so people distrust it. Its very appealing for a lot of people to believe in an "alternative" to modern medication. Dr. Hohnemann in the 18th century was the founder of homeopathy, and he incorporated *literally* the philosophy of "magic of similars." From what I have discovered, it appears to root from insecurity, ignorance, and magical thinking.

Okay - people can do whatever they want. They can make health a matter of belief instead of science. But two things make me angry about it. Number 1: When those followers act as if turning away from modern medicine and science is a moral choice, as if they were being virtuous by following a more "natural" path. When they become preachy and self-righteous about it, that's not okay.
Number 2: When it affects my children.

Naturally I turned this thinking onto myself, and tried to see where I may be hypocritical. I have faith in God, and I am a Mormon. I believe in things that science cannot prove. However, is not Moroni's promise at the end of the Book of Mormon the scientific method? Try it for yourself, over and over and over again, and decide from the results. I believe in giving Fast Offerings to the poor and monthly Tithing to the Church because I believe in the cause, and because I know it indirectly benefits me. I believe in praying because I know the practice not only helps me live in a more conscientious way, but I know it benefits my family. The results are quantifiable to me.

Faith is a matter of metaphysical belief and experience, and in that realm I can experiment with it. Science and medicine are physical and can be experimented and tested, and the results should be seen as a blessing, and not a conspiracy.