Pain and Birth and 2000 Meters

My freshman year in college, a former rower stopped by our boathouse following the birth of her first child. At that point in my life, and in the lives of all the women I rowed with, a 2000 meter race was the most intense pain any of us had experienced. We were quite certain nothing could top it, though some workouts and erg tests came close. So of course our first question as we huddled around her: "Was it as painful as a 2000 meter sprint?" I'll admit I was pretty sure she was going to say no.

She replied it was much worse.

Worse?! You could just see the fear on everyone's face, the quick dashing of plans for children in that very moment.

In the years that followed I carried that information with me, along with memories of rowing pain. There were times in some races where I was quite certain I would die, right there, on the spot, and fall out of the boat. I remember thinking, "I guess I'll keep rowing because everyone else is still going, and I don't want to let them down and if I die, I'll just die. And then I'll be done rowing." And that thought seemed pleasant.

Tufts Crew

Over the ensuing years I've done physically grueling things: hikes, weight training, intense spin classes, swims in a rough ocean, even a marathon. Nothing comes close to the pain of rowing. Nothing.

So when I got pregnant with Ollie I knew I wanted a natural childbirth with no epidural. After all these years, I'd be able to see how something could possibly be more painful that rowing! Because Ollie was overdue, I was induced and I managed 13 hours on Pitocin, all through the night, in agony, before I succumbed (in tears) to an epidural. Ollie was born two hours later.

With Minna I was determined to avoid that situation, and worked with a midwife throughout my pregnancy and planned for a home birth. I labored in my living room, watching the Giants vs Cowboys, then paced, breathing and counting. The counting's a holdover from rowing, when we'd do "10s" for power, or technique, and you'd just do ten strokes to focus on pulling ahead of another boat. I do 10s when I run, or whenever I face a physical challenge. I count through the pain.

Jason filled the birthing tub and after a few hours I decided to get in. Instantly the contractions slowed and the water felt fantastic. The midwife had arrived and the three of us actually just hung out and chatted, and I'd pause to do some deep breaths when a contraction arrived. Since Ollie's birth had taken so long, I assumed I had hours to go in the tub when suddenly I felt the baby and needed to push. I gave two excruciating pushes. My midwife checked the progress.

"Do you think it's five more pushes?" I asked her, hopefully.

"Oh I'd say two, maybe three." she replied.

My heart leapt!

"Well I can do five!" I said, in some kind of crazy counting birthing delirium.

I didn't need to. Minna popped out after two.

In my list of pain, it currently stands:

1. Minna crowning. Intense but very brief.
2. Ollie labor on Pitocin. Hours of long immobilizing agony.
3. Crew race of 2000 meters. Intense. Horrific. Still the worst concentrated seven-to-eight minutes of my life.

Way way down that list, everything else.

In rowing we used to always throw around the saying, "Pain is temporary, pride is forever." I get to look at my two great kids every day. In a box in the closet is my gold medal from the 1992 New England Rowing Championships. If it wouldn't be weird to wear it around, I probably would.

Food shopping with Ollie

Somewhat proven theory: Including kids in the food process creates good eaters. I often take Ollie to the supermarket with me and I let him pick out all kinds of things to buy. Last week he really wanted to get something from the fish counter, and he picked New Zealand cockles. I broke my "keep it local" rule because when your kid asks for cockles, how can you say no?

When dinner rolled around, I made a linguine with tomato sauce, olives, and capers and cooked the cockles in the sauce. Ollie had fun eating them out of the shell at the table, using one shell to pluck the meat out of another, just like when we eat mussels. He was pretty excited to eat them.

I also include him in the cooking as much as possible, so that he's part of the whole process. Does this make him a better eater? Hard to say with my limited data set (my daughter eats anything, like she'd eat a raw piece of liver off the floor if you let her). But I do know that including him in the shopping gets us eating things even I wouldn't think of buying (like cockles!) and broadens the palate of our entire family.

On oversized baby hairs

I keep a list of things I want to write about on this site because I've had lots of ideas lately but not always the time to write the whole post. I recently came across this note to myself: "Babies so hairy length of body hair programmed for adult scale human." I don't recall what prompted this thought, maybe I discovered a giant hair on Minna? I guess it makes sense but really it's not seeming like something I feel like writing a whole lot more about. So if you have a baby and find him or her covered in long hair, just think about how that hair follicle is designed to grow a grown-up sized hair, and that some day it will seem normal.

Eating well and working less

Great "A Food Manifesto for the Future" from Mark Bittman containing some concrete suggestions to improve the food supply and with it, the health, of Americans. But I really liked comment #2: I can't imagine how Americans can possibly eat well until they are working less hours. I've been meaning to write about this for ages and am so glad to see someone else raise this issue. In all the discussion of obesity and diabetes, no one seems to mention how much time it takes to cook good food, and how hard that is when both parents are working and commuting long distances. I easily spend ninety minutes a day cooking for my family. Nearly every day. I'm lucky to have the time to do it.

That said I did read recently that Americans watch an average of thirty-four hours of TV a week. If that's true then clearly there's some wiggle room in the day for proper cooking, right?

Bad Influence Mom

A little back story: in the early nineties, when I was in college, I went on a ski trip to Colorado. We have relatives who live out there and at the time of our visit, a young cousin was training as a ski jumper. We went over to the practice hill to watch him. He wasn't doing anything like the 90 or 120 meter hills you see in the Olympics, just 20 meters.

It looked like fun, and I wanted to try. I built up from the 5 meter hill to the 10, then 15 and finished with one jump off the 20 meter hill. The measurement denotes the inrun, or how far you go straight before launching off the end into the air. 20 meters, more than 60 feet, was pretty scary and after I landed I decided I'd had enough ski jumping. Still it was great fun. When I got back to school and told my rowing teammates about it, they were very upset. I could have gotten hurt! I could have been out for the entire spring racing season! Etc. etc. None of that had occurred to me, of course. It just seemed really cool to go off the jumps and fly (a very little) in the air.

The present day, Ollie's getting pretty good at skiing, and he likes to find jumps. So this past weekend I'd find little lips and ridges on the trails and tell him to follow me. One had a backside of ice, which I only realized after I skidded across it. Ollie slid and fell. Another apparently was too big for him, because my mom saw him approach and then decide against it, even after I'd gone off. But there were plenty that were great for him, and he got a little air and the thrill of jumping.

Maybe I'm reckless and dumb. Maybe I should be more cautious. Maybe I could have gotten hurt going off the 20 meter ski jump at Winter Park and ruined the spring racing season for myself and my crew. But I guess I don't think that way. And more importantly, I don't want to think that way. I don't want to be the kind of Mom that's always worried, saying "don't do that!" The stereotype is the mom has the common sense and it's the dad that's pushing the kid to do the crazy stunts. Maybe it's some weird rebel/feminist thing I've got, but I want to be the bad influence mom. In the best way possible, of course.

Here's Ollie going off a jump at Mad River on Sunday:

I couldn't be prouder!

Grandma's Silver


For a long time I've been trying to use the good stuff, trying to enjoy the nice things I have rather than save them for some far off "better" time when they'd be appropriate. I learned this lesson the hard way after saving a vintage bottle of Champagne for too long. It was spoiled when I finally opened it for a special occasion. Thing is, drinking that Champagne makes the occasion special, not the other way around.

When my grandmother died, my mother gave me her silverware. When I think of eating at her house, even when I was very little, I do not think of this silverware. I think of some stainless flatware that sat in the kitchen drawer next to the sink. I don't ever recall seeing this silver, and why would I? It was the good stuff, stored out of sight, wrapped carefully in soft flannel to protect it from scratches, tarnish, and ultimately, use.

I'm sure she used it. Sadly, I'll never be able to ask her when, or hear stories about it. But after I got it and looked through it all, marveling at the shape of the soup spoon, and the weight of the fork, I packed up my stainless. And I filled our drawer with the beautiful silverware: the little butter knives and the salad forks with funny cuts in the tines.

We now use the silverware every day, for every meal. We wash it by hand, we take care of it. But we use it. And whenever I hold it, I think of her.

On Manhattan Fashion

At least since last winter, if not before, I've observed a trend I like to call "Arctic Extreme!!!" People dressing like New York City is some vast frozen tundra, wearing huge Sorel boots rated to -60°F, donning 800 fill power down jackets, covering their heads in fur hats donned by Russian czars. I observed this and chuckled, especially when it was 35° and sunny.

Well who's laughing now, with New York buried under 60" of snow so far this winter? With an ice storm underway, and paralyzing amounts of slush and snow blocking the streets, making foot passage nearly impossible? Last year, if I'd seen someone mushing with their dogs down an avenue I'd laugh. Today I'd think, "Huh, not a bad idea. Where do you get sled dogs in the City though??"

Sexism under the hood

Sexism under the hood

Took apart my stove hood this morning for a thorough cleaning and found this little message. If I were a Ms. Electrician I'd be pissed.

Ollie skiing

Here's a video of Ollie skiing last weekend up at Mad River Glen. It's not very good because I was skiing behind him and it's hard to film and look through camera and follow him and try to ski all at once. I need to practice more!

Jason's got a nice little write-up about Ollie's digital camera use. Of course when he writes "we" gave him the camera, and "we" set-up the Flickr account, and "we" hooked up the Eye-Fi card, dear reader, you can insert "Meg", for accuracy's sake. It's been a great little present for him and I've also been enjoying another way to experience his world.

Saying goodbye

Ollie and his great-grandparents

My grandmother died quite suddenly on Veteran's Day. Since she was "only" eighty-eight, and the youngest of my four grandparents, all living until 2009, I wasn't prepared. In retrospect it seems ridiculous to not be prepared when someone's eighty-eight, but that seemed young, especially because she was so active and energetic.

Ollie was very close to her, his "GG" (great-grandmother), and as I frantically made plans to visit with her one final time, Jason and I struggled to explain what was happening. It's been hard for him to comprehend, and it's led to lots of awful questions and statements.

Ollie and GGPa

Now my grandfather, after losing his wife of sixty-six years, with his health already in decline, is nearing his end. We've had more time to warn Ollie of what's imminent and about once a week I sit with Ollie to talk about it.

Ollie's not entirely clear on the concept of marriage, so often he'll ask my father if my mother is his "friend", and sometimes he'll say she's his special friend. I like this idea of marriage.

The other day Ollie and I had a talk about GGPa. I told him GGPa's old body wasn't working anymore, and that very soon he would die. I started to cry.

"It's ok, Mommy," he said softly, looking at me, "because when he dies he can go in the same hole as GG! And they'll be together, because they're special friends."

Somehow that's the most comforting thing I've ever heard.

My Grandma & Grandpa

Made up baking with kids


Recently Ollie's been talking about a time he lived "in England." Whenever he begins a sentence with "In England..." I know he'll follow with something that displays his independence and self-sufficiency. Often the stories are about cooking, and he'll tell me about things he baked in England. Sometimes there are adventures with his cousins, Strawberry and Pumpkin, with whom he lived, and he had some jobs and drove a lot as well. But mostly it's about cooking.

Lately I indulge his "In England" baking stories and we recreate his favorite recipes. He instructs me on the ingredients he used to create things like "Honeychrists", a kind of inedible biscuit like hardtack, and "Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins", which we baked on Sunday.

After the honeychrists episode, I've tried to direct a little more, so these muffin cookies were actually edible and quite tasty. Half-way through the measuring, I got a great idea. Ratio, a book and iPhone app by Michael Ruhlman gives you the ratios for ingredients for all kinds of recipe, would be perfect for this situation. (Though he doesn't have "cookie muffin" listed).

In the future I can guide Ollie knowing the ratios, so if he wants muffins, I can measure 5 ounces of flour and liquid, and 2.5 ounces eggs and butter. He can add the spices or food coloring or chocolate chips, whatever else he wants, and I can be assured that the resulting baked good will probably be edible. I'm looking forward to trying this out, as it's been so much fun to do this crazy baking with Ollie.

Funny thing about the chocolate chip muffin cookies: they were edible! And because I added baking powder and baking soda, they were puffy cookies, soft and kind of doughy, wide-spread on the sheet and mounded in the middle. Just like you'd expect a "muffin cookie" to be!

Four resolutions for the new year

I've never been one for making New Year's resolutions, mostly because I think if you want to make a change you should just do it, no matter where you are in the year. But maybe because I'm older, or in a more reflective phase, or maybe simply because a few changes have occurred to me and it happens to be the start of a new year, I'm making some resolutions.

Resolution #1: Write fiction.
Write more fiction, and by more I mean, write fiction. After lots of creative writing in the eighties and early nineties, I drained my fiction well, or something, because I haven't written a story since about 1994. But I've been remembering how it felt to write stories, how I'd disappear into the world I was imagining. And I want to experience that again. Also I have ideas for stories bubbling.

Resolution #2: Write for Megnut.
I've fallen into a variety of traps that have kept me from writing here. Aside from the lack of time (which is really a lack of prioritization), the other excuses will be ignored and overcome.

Resolution #3: Have Wants Driven By Need
More production is countered by less consumption. I've noticed that a lot of magazines and websites I visit show me things to buy. Mostly they are things I didn't think I wanted or needed before I saw them in the pages of Martha Stewart Living (as an example, because I find it so blatant there lately, and in stark contrast to how the magazine used to be). I like to buy a thing because I need it. But it's hard to resist the lure of such pretty stuff highlighted in all the design blogs and magazines, and the curating sites like Svpply and Pinterest. So no more reading/subscribing to media that makes me want stuff I don't really need (or probably don't even want, except for in the fleeting moment that caviar sounds like a good idea, or some lovely La Lune print can be imagined hanging over my bed...)

Resolution #4: Read More Books
As I try and escape the magazines and blog posts, I discover I've lost my reading muscle. Sure I can handle a gripping tale like the Lost City of Z but there's plenty of good reading out there that takes a bit of work, effort I used to be able to put in. But I'm lazy now, easily sated by 140 character tweets and 500 word articles. My mind drifts reading a longer book. But no more! I'm reading books this year, as many as possible, until I get back into reading shape.

Is there a Resolution #5? Probably but then I'd get into the usual, all the time resolutions that I live with daily: enjoy time with kids, smell the flowers, get to the gym daily, eat healthy food, cook more, worry less, etc. etc. That's like my to-do list though. So I'll start with these four resolutions. Here's to a year of making more. And desiring less.

Standing up

Standing up

This is her "Whoa I'm standing up" face that she made every time she stood up from the stairs.

Dollhouse and clothes

Dollhouse and clothes

When I was little my mom and I built a dollhouse from a kit. Around seventh grade I got really into making stuff for the house, in particular hats and some clothing. My house spent the past 2o years in my grandparents' attic but yesterday it finally found its new home here in Vermont. Eventually the kids will play with it. In the meantime, I poked around this AM and found all the old stuff and created this photoset to detail my millinery work. I see a new Etsy shop in my future!

Here's the whole set of photos.

I'm honored to be a judge in this year's Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks over at Food 52. My review of Good to the Grain vs Heart of the Artichoke ran yesterday. A perfect Thanksgiving post. And two great cookbooks. It was really a great experience to participate. Thanks Food 52!

Halloween 2010

Halloween 2010

My Frenchman and butterfly.

11 Months

11 Months

I can't believe we're in the final stretch of Minna's first year already! Big progress this past month. She loves to read before bed, turning the page whenever you ask her to and "knocking" in Dr. Seuss's "Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?" at the appropriate page. Her favorite game right now is what I call the "Sharing Game". She'll be playing with things, like a bunch of wooden vegetables, and then hand you one. I always say, "Oh, for me? Thank you Minna!" and she smiles. You can try and give it back, but she'll give it right back to you again. And keep giving you the other ones. She really seems to understand a lot of what you say to her, even if she can't reply.

She's also crazy about Bodhi and whenever she hears him meow she whips her head around to find him and claps and smiles and makes happy sounds. She also does this when she sees him first thing in the morning. And of course when she sees Ollie she just lights up and claps and laughs. The two of them have a band I like to call "The Kottke 2". He bangs on all sorts of things, and she takes the xylophone and a stick and whacks away, and then she claps while he sings and bangs on "drums". It's quite a sight.

Two more teeth on the bottom, for a total of 6 teeth! And I think two more on the top are about to cut through. She's also getting better at standing, but still no crawling and no pulling herself up. She's an eating champ and pretty much can feed herself now if it's not a liquid. And on her monthiversary she had her very first Shake Shack burger. I got some nice pictures of her eating it. But I like this photo better, of her sitting in our backyard, enjoying some O's, and saving that special one for later.

The more things change the more they change

While poking around online (actually trying to confirm the spelling of Buttner's, an old department store on Nantucket) I came across this New York Times article from 1989, Changing, Unchanging Nantucket, bemoaning the changing island. It's quaint in its complaints about the transformation, with notes like "[T]he tariff for motor vehicles had gone to $66.50 from $47.50 each way." It's $380 now. And the development and traffic and loss of stores on Main Street he catalogs are nothing compared to what I witnessed this summer. The stores that replaced the stores he misses have been replaced again by new stores -- the Benetton is long gone! And yet it's true, the mores and beaches are still the same. "There have been changes, but Nantucket remains a very special place indeed." Indeed.

Trouble with sunscreen

My hate-love relationship with sunscreen has taken a turn back to hate. Until I discovered Neutrogena's Sport Sunblock (and then their UltraSheer) I simply couldn't stand the stuff. But oh Neutrogena! It was weightless, it didn't even feel like you were wearing anything. For years I slathered myself happily and regularly.

Recently my father sent me a link to the Environmental Working Group's Sunscreen Guide. And I discovered that my beloved sunscreen had a terrible rating! Worse, I felt horrible about putting it on my kids. So I bit the bullet and switched to some brands they recommended, all of which use physical barriers (as opposed to chemical) to block the sun's rays. Guess what? YUCK. I applied sunscreen yesterday morning and I swear I'm still coated in the stuff! It does not budge, not even with a loofa and body wash scrub-down.I'm totally bummed because I know this is "better" but the other stuff was so nice! Once I'm done breast-feeding I'm tempted to switch back.

Older Entries Newer Entries