Week 30: Childhood Memories

As I get closer to becoming a parent, I find myself thinking back to my own childhood. For a relatively young person who hasn’t killed off an excessive number of brain cells, I remember shockingly little about the past. But now and then, certain memories emerge.

When my brother and I were small, my family lived in a small town in Germany while my father was on sabbatical from his teaching job. We lived in an old stone house ringed with grapevines and other exotic foliage. We slept under fluffy featherbeds instead of blankets, and you had to pull a chain to flush the toilet. Grocery shopping involved going from store to store downtown. The shopkeepers would sometimes slip us slices of bratwurst or tiny, exquisite animals made from marzipan. (This pre-dated my vegetarianism.)

I’m told I picked up the language quickly, as children tend to. My father likes to tell the story of the first time I taught him a German phrase. On the walk to kindergarten one morning, I pointed at a splat on the sidewalk and said, “Look, Papa, fogle ah-ah!” Roughly translated, that means “bird doo-doo.” What can I say? I was a child prodigy.

Then there was the humiliating incident with a street vendor. They would sometimes push their carts through our neighborhood, calling out in guttural tones. One afternoon, my mother handed me a few francs and told me to run outside and buy a loaf of bread for dinner. Together, we rehearsed my lines several times until I had them down. I approached the man alone, with hands that shook only slightly. “I would like to buy one loaf of pumpernickel bread, please,” I said in my childish German. His reply was along the lines of, “Kid, I don’t have any bread. I sell fish!” Hot tears snaked from my eyes as I turned and fled home, furious with my mother for embarrassing me.

Maybe that’s when I started to think this whole multicultural upbringing wasn’t so great after all. But when we returned home to the States, my parents were determined to retain some vestiges of our life abroad. A new rule was implemented: On Saturdays, only German would be spoken in our house. It didn’t work. My brother and I were loathe to do anything different than our friends’ families.

So my father tricked us. He invited over a colleague from the college. Though she was American, we had met this woman for the first time in Germany, so naturally we assumed she spoke only German. I’m not sure how long my father kept up this ruse until we figured it out.

But the thing is, somewhere along the line, my parents rubbed off on me. I ended up majoring in French in college and spending a couple semesters abroad. I listen to reggae music and prefer pungent ethnic food. For the baby’s room, I passed up Disney characters in favor of the worldly French elephant, Babar.

This poor kid’s not even born yet and already his parents and grandparents are making sure he’ll never fit in with his normal, American peers. It won’t be long before we’re teaching him to say “bird crap” in several languages.


Week 29: Little Suzy Homemaker

I am living the life of a retiree at age 31. Presumably, I am still self-employed, though once clients start hearing that you’re expecting a baby, it’s remarkable how quickly the assignments taper off.

So yesterday I got up at 9 a.m., ate some high-fiber cereal (more on that later), watched the “Today” show, and went to my sewing lesson. That’s right, I’m taking sewing lessons. My mother and mother-in-law have conspired to see that I’m schooled in the domestic arts by the time this baby arrives. They keep offering to buy me a sewing machine, and they send me money for lessons since they’re not around to teach me themselves.

Not that they haven’t tried. But sewing always seemed so tedious and time-consuming, not to mention impractical. I mean, why go buy a bunch of fabric, patterns, pins, etc. and spend hours slaving over a sewing machine when you can just pop over to Old Navy and pick up a brand new shirt for $9.99?

I’ve learned part of the answer to that question: sewing kills time. A lot of time. And that’s one thing I have in abundance right now. So I signed up for private sewing lessons with Irene, a bespectacled 60-something with a dry wit and a knack for needlework. She is part of a clique of white-haired ladies that hangs out at a local fabric store.

It’s a whole little subculture, complete with its own language. They talk about selvedges and quarter-inch feet and “thread play.” They praise each other’s patchwork teddy bears and complain about their latest projects. Irene’s having quite a time with the sleeves of a Renaissance costume she’s sewing for her granddaughter’s school play.

So yesterday it was just me and the white-haired ladies. My quilt is coming along quite nicely. Irene loves to tell people, “This young lady is working on her very first quilt for her baby.” This seems to please the old ladies.

I thought I was a perfectionist until I met Irene. She folds, creases, measures, and re-measures the fabric before she cuts it within eighths of an inch. “Close enough” is not in her vocabulary. She insists I rip out a crooked seam I would’ve ignored. I know she’s right, though.

I’ve got the whole front side of my quilt completed. As I look at the bright, cheery fabrics I stitched together with my own two hands (with some help from Irene’s), I feel a glow of maternal pride. I try not to think about the quilts on sale across the street at Filene’s Basement. Where’s the fun in that?

Weird Symptom of the Week: Because my blood iron levels are low, my doctor has prescribed twice-daily iron supplements. In case you didn’t know, iron tends to, uh, slow down the plumbing. Hence the high-fiber diet. Prune juice, anyone?


Week 28: Hypno-What?!

Last night we had our first HypnoBirthing class. Now, if you’re like us, you’re thinking, “That sounds pretty wacky.” It might even conjure up images of the hypnotist who performed at your high school graduation after-party. You know, the bowtie-wearing guy with the staticky microphone who made the captain of the track team stand up on his chair and bark like a dog.

Well, HypnoBirthing’s not like that. It’s more akin to the kind of hypnosis people undergo to lose weight or quit smoking. It’s even more similar to the type of positive thinking techniques self-help gurus promote on infomercials.

So what’s a perfectly normal couple like C. and me doing at a HypnoBirthing class? Well, the thing is, despite my initial skepticism and subtle mockery of the concept, it intrigues me. I may shop at Ann Taylor and lust over Pottery Barn furniture, but at heart I’m a little less conservative than I might appear. I’m into feng shui. I read my horoscope regularly. I once tried on a wedding dress made out of hemp. And as my doctor put it, “You’re a vegetarian and you do yoga. You might do well with HypnoBirthing.” She’d already pegged me as the earthy-crunchy type.

So, with visions of patchouli and Birkenstocks dancing in our heads, C. and I pulled up to the house where the class was held. Another couple was stepping out of their Honda CRV. “That guy looks like me,” said C., with audible relief. We scrapped our escape plans and followed them inside.

As it turns out, we are the only two couples in the class. The instructor, Marjorie, makes up for her pupils’ lack of weirdness, however. She is a middle-aged mother of five with a Dorothy Hamill haircut and an intense gaze. She fixed it on each of us in turn as she asked us about our expectations about childbirth, what we did for exercise, and whether we preferred nature sounds to Tibetan chanting. C. filled the nervous silence for much of the class. The rest of us were grateful for his easy banter.

But even C. lost his composure a bit when Marjorie invited us to try various massage techniques on our partners. “My hands are palm fronds, sweeping gently across her back,” she cooed, as she demonstrated on our classmate. “What?!” said C. “Shhhh! Palm fronds!” I glowered back at him.

For next week, we’re supposed to read up on HypnoBirthing vocabulary. (Instead of “contractions,” the preferred term is “waves of energy.” Instead of “water breaking,” we refer to “membranes rupturing,” and instead of “delivery” we say “birthing process.”) We also have to pick out our birthing background music (I’m guessing Gwen Stefani is not recommended) and practice our visualization techniques. I, for one, will be going the Caribbean beach route rather than the balloons-and-blue-silk-ribbons route. Don’t ask. It’s a HypnoBirthing thing.

Weird Symptom of the Week: I’ve forgotten about this feature for a couple of weeks. The latest? Baby hiccups. Either that, or the rhythmic pulsing means the baby has really cranked up the bass on the constant dance party he’s having in there.


Week 27: What’s Up, Doc?

The next task on our parents-to-be checklist is to choose a pediatrician. I’ve been putting it off because it seems so daunting. First, I’ve got to poll friends and acquaintances for their recommendations. And, inevitably, everybody tells you something different. One loves their grandfatherly-type doctor, while another cautions against going to any physician who’s been out of medical school longer than you’ve been alive. Then we’re advised to actually interview potential pediatricians in person. I printed a two-page questionnaire off a parenting web site, though I don’t even understand half the questions. What do I know about vaccinations or co-sleeping?

Let me tell you, this is considerably more effort than I’ve ever expended choosing a medical professional for myself. Usually, I just open the insurance booklet and pick someone with a name I can pronounce. Or I go with the one who has the first available appointment. Hardly discriminating, but what do I care? Normally I see a doctor once, maybe twice a year. And most spend less than five minutes with their patients, anyway. I had planned to be more thorough when choosing my OB/GYN, but I was pregnant by the time my appointment rolled around with the first potential doctor a friend recommended. I liked her well enough and it seemed like a hassle to switch at that point, so I stuck with her.

We’re going to be spending a lot more time with our baby’s pediatrician, though, so I’m willing to make the effort to find a good one. The first one we met with, Dr. M., is an older woman who treats my friend S.’s kids. She was warm, friendly, and reassuring to C. and me, who clearly know nothing about children’s healthcare. She talked a lot about breastfeeding. She had a reasonable selection of magazines in the waiting room.

The second pediatrician we met with was a guy my friend’s wife had gone to medical school with. Dr. G. is a young, newly-minted pediatrician with an amiable personality. In addition to his office hours and the staggering number of appointments we’d need in the baby’s first year of life, he talked about his dog and his baby daughter. Her name happens to be C.’s number-one choice at the moment. (In the waiting room, C. told me that my first choice for a girl’s name has just been taken by his coworker’s new pug puppy. If this were the only dog we knew with that name, I might ignore it. As it happens, we know two others. What’s with giving canines people names?!) Dr. G. also talked a lot about breastfeeding. His office is conveniently close to a good bakery/coffee shop.

I’m particularly aware of the importance of our decision because of the bond I had with my childhood pediatrician, Dr. Robinson. He was a genial man with slicked-back, chestnut hair who always sounded slightly congested. He once bet me a six-pack of root beer that I didn’t have a bladder infection. I won the bet. (A mixed victory, since guzzling soft drinks is probably the last thing anyone in that condition should be doing.) Still, I liked and trusted my childhood doctor. I would like our child to have a similar experience.

So I guess that means my decision on which doctor to choose should be based on more than whose office is closest to a Starbucks and has the best magazines in the waiting room. Though I really can’t underestimate the value of a good white chocolate mocha and the latest issue of National Geographic Traveler.


Week 26: Fit Mama II

I never got around to signing up for a prenatal yoga class. It seemed like too much on top of the birthing classes and all the home improvements we’re working on. So I’ve continued with my regular Tuesday night yoga class, albeit with a few modifications.

For instance, the Cobra is now out of the question, as is any other pose that involves lying on my stomach. So I’ve invented an alternate pose I call Begging Dog. It involves raising myself up on my arms and extending my neck while keeping my knees in contact with the ground. It’s similar to what my dog, Gracie, does when she smells peanut butter and sticks her snout in the air to get a better whiff.

Then there’s the Dead Manatee, where I flop over onto my back and lift my inflated midsection into the air, imitating a large aquatic mammal that’s gone belly up. This is similar but not identical to the Reclining Hippo.

Since I am the only pregnant person in the class, I do feel self-conscious at times. I used to take pride in my Bow Pose and Dancer’s Pose, envisioning myself as the epitome of elegance and grace. Now, not so much. I refrain from grunting if at all possible, but I often cannot stifle the occasional groan or moan when shifting position. And I flop these days more than I flow. True yogis would shudder, I’m certain.

Still, I have to give myself credit for showing up. That I make it off the couch and into the gym these days is pretty amazing in itself. So I’m not my former fit, flexible self. But I can do a pretty mean Lumbering Elephant.

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