Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What to Expect When You're Expecting: The Duchy Edition

We were half-expecting it to happen. It happened when D1 was on the way, and the circumstances were even more favorable (or unfavorable, that is) this time. We could probably create a formula to predict it:


Where i=intensity of morning sickness, d=duration of morning sickness, n=number of pre-existing children, a=average age of pre-existing children, q=one of those magic numbers that makes formulas come out right, h=degree of help available, and w=number of weeks before DOB seriously injures something.

Until we can find a qualified doctor (his old one retired since his last injury and his foot is no place for generalists), we're not sure exactly what is going on, except considerable pain and a dull red mark in a new spot on his foot. But we think it's a torn ligament.

See, usually DOB, in the approved fashion of male chauvinists, comes home from work and sits down (although minus the easy chair, TV, and beer, none of which we have on hand). He, however, has a good reason for doing this, and when life has been such that he can't do it (such as a wife lying whimpering on the couch), we soon find out just how good that reason is. His feet can't handle much being walked on. Sooner or later they go on strike.

Unfortunately for this time's formula, "w" came out to be a smaller number than "d". I am intermittently vertical, but just barely. I still tire quickly, about at the time I've finished thinking of what needs to be done next. And suddenly most things are much longer and more complicated, and we are constantly reminded just how very un-handicapped-accessible this house is.

On the brighter side, the ducklings are an amazing amount of help. They fetch. They carry. They set the table. They clear the table. They put laundry in the basket. They clear dangerous items off the floor. I just wish I could teach them to cook. (I did try instructing D1 in the art of spreading peanut butter. Messy, but edible.)

And it could have happened two weeks ago, when I wasn't vertical at all. Then we would have just had to lay us doon and die, I suppose.

And DOB's shoulders are getting a great workout from being on crutches. I'll have quite the bodybuilder to go out . . . er, stay home with . . . on Valentine's Day.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Equal Opportunity Parenting

A major concern of the modern parent, or at least of modern parental advisors, seems to be raising children in a manner free of gender bias. Thus parents may be advised to encourage their little girls to play with trucks and their little boys to play with dolls.

Regardless of ideology, this seems a little challenging to me. All the parental encouragement energy I have is used up encouraging them not to play with things like my bedding and the toothbrushes. I have none left over to encourage them to play with the politically correct (or, for that matter, the politically incorrect) thing. If it doesn't break easily and I won't have to wash it at the end, it's fair game.

Fortunately there's another way to ensure your child gets a well-rounded playtime free from gender bias: have a child of the opposite gender fifteen months later. (Although honesty requires me to confess that in the long run this is probably not less work.) Suddenly your house will be filled with boy and girl toys, and we all know there is nothing to "encourage" a child to play with a toy like the sight of it in someone else's hands.

The children will, of course, ignore toys of all descriptions and play with their blankets and the laundry baskets.

The ducklings do occasionally both play warm, nurturing games of tucking in stuffed animals. (We only have one doll here, and as it never has clothes on, I think that's enough.) For some reason it's always called "hospital," not "house." Sometimes they play more aggressive games of crashing cars together. But usually they play games of universal appeal to male and female, young and old, like traveling to exotic locations (usually located behind the couch) and eating.

Yesterday they held church services behind the couch, D1 preaching in her most impressive tones with her previously-unknown Scriptures ("Come unto God in the Holy Day of Thunder"). She always imitates the intonation of the most Bible-thumping of traveling evangelists, instinctively I suppose, since she never hears it at church or home.

I wondered whether I should intervene with a discussion of roles of women in the church, when I found a far more pressing issue arising. D2 suffered a minor head bump, and D1 paused her exhortation long enough to comment, "Go tell QOC about it."

"Excuse me?" I said, "I am your mother."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


You might deduce from the increased frequency and decreased whining of the posts that I am feeling better. That would be correct. Of course, it's all a matter of perspective; this would have been feeling rather poorly in October. But compared to not daring to roll over, it's a huge improvement. Don't look for folded laundry any time soon, though.

Wondergirl has left, having saved our lives in the meantime. I am able to cook again, and even sit up to eat my meals. This is a big step, as for some reason that was impossible for a long time, and eating tomato soup lying down is dangerous to the couch. I wonder how the ancient Romans managed all those reclining meals; I bet they didn't eat tomato soup.

Nigerian Chicken Recipe

There is an elegant Nigerian lady at our church who is also an excellent cook. So when I was enjoying her baked chicken at the potluck this week, I told DOB that I would have to ask her for the recipe some day, but not right then because I still would rather not talk about food too much.

He came back from a trip for refills to report that he had asked her for the recipe himself. She replied, "I put a lot of spices on it and baked it for a long time."

That's what my recipes usually sound like, too. I'll have to try it sometime.

Life: The Musical
D1's fascination with making up songs has become chronic. Sunday morning we were greeted with toes sticking under our bedroom door and serenaded with a song about purple and blue socks. D2 joined in on the choruses.

Getting ready to go to church, she sang the Mitten Song (a pre-existing composition) and then composed a lengthy Glove Song, with a verse for each finger. When I found myself singing about the troubles of getting children in and out of the car, DOB said that this trend had gone far enough.

I thought this article was faintly amusing. It's now counter-cultural to have children before you're thirty--at least if you have a college degree. And people actually feel like they must be too young and inexperienced to have children at that age! The truth is, everybody is too young to have children until they have them.

Then again, thinking about it, most of the couples around here that are our age in fact do not have kids yet. We'd rather get it over with before we're too old and tired to handle them. (And later arrivals will at least have older siblings to chase them.)

Growing Pains
We had been suspicious for awhile, but DOB measured D2 this week and discovered the shocking truth: he's grown an inch and a half since the end of September. No wonder we weren't having to roll his jeans up anymore. I thought children were not supposed to grow as fast in the winter. It's definitely a bad time for it, as his winter shirts are all starting to get too short, and his stomach is going to get cold.

Poor lad, he still is not reconciled to the idea that he is too big for Mama to carry (or that Mama is too tired to try). We have to remember to give him the choice between being carried by Papa or holding Mama's hand; then he's usually happy with holding my hand.

His speech continues to increase in elaboration and precision. I want to call him Baby Jeeves. "Papa is going to the chiropracor, also." "That would be a good idea." "Yes, I am able to do that." It really doesn't sound that cute in print; you have to see his wide-eyed baby face producing these solemn sounds.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jane Austen Sews a Quilt

Apparently many persons (unknown and therefore unattributable) upon seeing exhibited a quilt made by Jane Austen have commented that the world would be better off if Miss Austen had eschewed quilt-making and written another book instead.

As devoted as a fan as I am--as delighted as I would be to find a new book--and as correspondingly uninterested as I am in her sewing--I cannot find myself agreeing.

I'm quite certain that the world would not be a better place if Miss Austen had given up tedious morning calls, country balls, and gossiping with her sisters in order to devote herself more completely to literature; I'm not at all certain that a decrease in quilt-making would have been any more helpful. Who knows what plot elements were pieced together while she sewed?

Even if it were helpful for astrophysicists or musicians to devote themselves to their genius to the point of eccentricity (which I doubt), surely a novelist is the last person who can afford to become less than a whole person in the pursuit of Art. A novelist is in pursuit of life; they have to live in order to write. (Although they should not take it to the extreme of the one who is said to have deducted all his expenditures on his income tax forms.)

Besides, isn't six books enough? There are many authors who are both great and prolific, but there are very few who didn't say all the really important things they had to say in six books (or, if very given to padding, in the equivalent of six books). More might be fun to have on a rainy Saturday, but more are not particularly helpful to the state of the world. Genius might as well not be spread too thin.

The trouble about protesting where this or that person wasted their genius in something else, or had it stunted through some suffering, is that it's quite impossible to tell where wasting was occurring and where inspiration. Even dissipation provides its own peculiar inspiration; as have blindness, sickness, exile, and nagging wives. Surely we can allow a small place for quilting.

Sometimes I have heard it suggested, to young people trying to find God's Will for their life, that they should consider what one thing they do uniquely well and devote their life to that. The trouble is, I am fast approaching thirty, have tried many things, and still have no idea what that one thing might be. I have found many things I do quite well, many things I enjoy doing, and many, many things I need to do whether I like it or not.

Fortunately I can figure out God's will on most of these things without undue soul-searching as to whether this or that is worthy of my whole life's endeavor: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. I know there is a place for eliminating useless activities from life, but in the modern obsession over priorities and specialization, there also needs to be a place for just living.

I hope Miss Austen worked hard at the quilt while she was making it. I will now go work hard at lying down and reading Dickens (because I finished rereading all my Austen books last month).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Do small children have a sensor, similar to that of wild animals who can sense fear, that lets them know when you are bored stiff with reading a particular story and therefore causes them to clamor for it over and over?

What is the use of baby bathrobes, except for taking cute pictures? If a child is dried off, who would delay the diaper? And once you have the diaper on, why not just put on the pajamas rather than leave the child to get tangled in a robe? (And why can't I bear to part with any of the cute baby bathrobes that have fallen into my hands, even though I know I never use them?)

Why do they put lights in the restrooms of public places that make you look as if you had an advanced case of leprosy? Do they want to scare you back into your hole so you never come out in public again?

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Morals of Galileo

Galileo Galilei (the Man with the Unimaginative Name) has been cropping up a lot in my reading this year, because I have been on a medieval/renaissance kick in preparation for studying the time period with the ducklings in four years or so. (Overanalyzing is my maternal hobby. I don't scrapbook.)

Books on the Renaissance for grownups do not have as much chronological snobbery as they used to, but books for children still are pretty commonly dedicated to the proposition that the world languished in darkness until a few Italian fellows came up with the bright idea of Questioning Authority and discovered those patently obvious ideas that we all know today.

Exhibit A, of course, is Galileo, a bright little morality tale about the forces of Science versus Organized Religion and Modern Thought versus Superstition. Young children like morality tales, of course--if you do not tell it as one, they will demand to know who the Good Guys and Bad Guys are. But although I recognize this as a necessary stage of moral development, I am not quite content to tell the story so simply.

For one thing, it minimizes the challenge of discovery in the first place. The only reason it is obvious to us that the earth goes around the sun is that we have been told it from childhood; in short, because we have taken it on faith. All the patent evidence goes the other way. Even Galileo's proofs of it were not so good as he thought, and before Galileo there was no real proof of the idea at all. Reluctance to accept an idea that contradicts most evidence and lacks definitive proof is not medieval bigotry; it's just common sense.

For another thing, it reinforces a quite unjustified sense of superiority over those medieval bigots who just accepted so many things unquestioningly. Never do we stop to ask what things we accept unquestioningly that our great-great-great grandchildren will laugh at. We do not ask because we could not answer; it takes an exceptional genius to spot even one or two of those things. But we should always keep it in mind that those things exist.

Even if medieval people were overall less inquisitive and less open than we are, it might do well to remember that they were accustomed to being overrun by barbarians, famine, and plague rather often. Catastrophe concentrates the mind wonderfully, but leaves little time for esoteric debate. Scientific discovery is a luxury item. (The Middle Ages did, in fact, contribute considerable amounts in practical advancement, only when and how is lost, so we cannot write the thrilling biography of the man who developed the improved horse-collar or spread the news about crop rotation.)

When it comes down to Galileo's personal story, too, it is very little a case of Science versus Religion or Modern Thought versus Superstition, on which we can look with modern smugness. Much more it is a case of Old Science versus New Science, and that is a battle that is fought over and over in every field, with no more profound motives than the egos of the people involved. When you have devoted all your life to teaching X as true, as agreed by all your respected colleagues, it is understandably annoying (not to mention absurd) to have some young upstart pronounce that X is false.

Most times the Old Guard cannot bend the Pope's ear and pull the Inquisition into the act, but then simple ostracism can accomplish consequences quite as severe as Galileo's forced retirement to his country villa.

We can still take away the lesson that the forces of church and state should not be placed behind a scientific orthodoxy (but that is a moral that cuts both ways); we can also take away the lesson that more humility on all sides would be beneficial and make us look a tad less ridiculous to our descendants.

The whole controversy, however, seems a little complex for the world of picture books and the minds of children still obsessed with Good Guys and Bad Guys. So I was pleased to find at least one book that told about Galileo's great discoveries as something astonishing and even fun; one that gives the spirit of science without smugness. It's called Galileo's Journal: 1609-1610, by Jeanne K. Pettenati.

On a totally unrelated note: carrot panpipes.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Four years ago, in a surge of nesting hormones or something, I decided to crochet a baby bunting (that's a little baby-sack sort of thing with arms) for the impending arrival of D1.

Three years ago, I pulled it out again and worked on it a little longer for the impending arrival of D2.

When books began to pall this time around, I took it out again. I remembered why I never finish this sort of thing. First I crocheted several rows, then I discovered a three-year-old and dozens-of-rows earlier error that required ripping out the entire front side. I crocheted along for a few days, got almost to the previous ripping-out point, and discovered another error about two-thirds of the way down the part I had just repaired. Meanwhile the ducklings have discovered the joys of poking spare crochet needles into balls of yarn (and dropping them and seeing them roll across the floor).

The only consolation is that it's really easy to pull out crochet stitches. There is a reason I never attempt cross-stitch at all.

Getting better is like that. I feel better one day, try some grand venture like sitting up for a half-hour straight, and find myself fighting all my meals the next day. I really am feeling better, but definitely not to the point of dancing around like people in pharmaceutical commercials. (On the other hand, I've gotten thus far without pharmaceuticals. I don't care how safe they are. I do not like putting strange substances into me, especially not when there is someone else in there.)

Wondergirl has very wonderfully agreed to stay on an extra two weeks, in hopes that I can rebuild my strength enough to reclaim the helm by then. I am doing my exercises and taking my vitamins and trying not to worry.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Brief Rant

I was working on a post about my resentment of bureaucratic prying into my life in the form of endless questionnaires unrelated to actually given birth ("Has anyone hit you recently?" "No, but I did suffer a rather painful toe-smashing at the feet of a booted toddler."), bright little pamphlets advising me that babies do cry and that rocking and singing to them is more appropriate a response than shaking them to pieces, and chatty ladies from the insurance company with no discernible information calling up to see how I am doing.

I don't want strange ladies with unclear motives and no apparent intentions of dish-washing calling me up to chat about how I am doing and if I have enough help. I don't want (even at the lure of a $50,000 grand prize) to fill out a little card that says I now know that it is normal for babies to cry, as if to admit that before I was a nincompoop and potential child abuser but have been redirected by their pamphlets onto the straight and narrow path.

Surely elderly ladies at church (who after all have no unknown but potentially sinister powers behind them) are enough for a reasonably competent mother to endure. And while I do not deny the existence of incompetent mothers in the world, I somehow doubt their habits are changed greatly by little pamphlets and calls about their bad habits. They would probably do better with a few nosy elderly ladies in their lives, but it's hard to come up with a good corporate program for distributing those.

Well, I guess I just wrote it.