4/15/15

selkies

I'm not sure why, but I always thought my children would have entirely different interests and passions than I do, so when they are the same I am surprised. For the last four months, Josephine has been positively obsessed with harp seals and selkies. It has been an out-of-body experience for me; its like watching a copy of myself as a kid. I was a tad older than Jo, but I went through an all-encompassing selkies and seals phase. Seeing this slight, brown-haired, blue-eyed girl say things like, "If I could just get to Ireland and swim in the Irish Sea, I KNOW I would be a real selkie," is completely bizarre because I probably said the precise same thing at some point. I must have watched The Secret of Roan Inish a hundred times growing up.

So when this movie was in production, Trevor and Jo watched the trailer every night for weeks:
And when Song of the Sea came to Broadway Cinemas in Salt Lake last March, Josephine and I made a special mother-daughter date to see it. It was a magical experience, and one I think Jo may remember forever. We talked about Irish selkies, fairy tales and seals the whole drive to Salt Lake. The movie is a work of art and beautiful in every way. Jo sat on my lap and we snuggled, ate M&Ms and popcorn, and reveled in the film. We loved the movie, and it was special because we had such a lovely time together.
So of course when the DVD was delivered to our door, an 'evening of some significance' was in store. I wanted to sew Saoirse dolls for each of the girls, and asked Trevor to help me draft a pattern. I had two days to finish them before we were having the movie party, but the missed sleep was oh-so worth it. The girls would all want different colors I knew, so we had a green, blue and pink doll, and naturally the white one was was for Jo, because it had to be exactly like Saoirse:
They were so surprised and overjoyed in a way only young children can be. That was the middle of March, and there hasn't been a day since the girls haven't played with their selkie dolls, and we must have already watched the movie a hundred times!

4/7/15

Yoga Studio: Stage Two

Trevor dug freakishly-perfect circular holes, and he and my dad poured cement. Brackets were placed, and 4x4's were placed perfectly evenly in place to lay the studio's framework. I tell you what, both my husband and my father would have made some fantastic construction designers!
Dowel placement exactly like the construction of the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City!
My cute little Millie, who helped me paint sealant onto the boards. 
Being a woman of small means, my mom and I went in search of any inexpensive remnant Trex from the dealer. It was my job today to make all those mismatched boards into something Yoga-Bohemian-Beautiful. With a few blood blisters, a sore back, and a disgruntled Eloise, this is the result:
I placed and cleaned the boards. When you have to make something beautiful out of a series of rectangles of assorted sizes, who should you turn to for inspiration? Why, Piet Mondrian of course!
Next step is to screw all the trex in place!

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.