Friday, July 12, 2013

"this little light of mine"

adam and i were invited to speak at our church, the denton unitarian universalist fellowship, to help cover one of the sundays while our amazing minister was on vacation.  the worship committee vaguely asked for a talk about "what you both are doing with the city", but left it rather open-ended after that.

nervously, we said yes.  what followed was a lot of procrastination, uncertainty, terror, and finally, a big push at the end to get it done.  adam and i had never done anything like this before -- we've both spoken in public plenty of times, but never on a sunday morning, and never in front of a group of people we cared so much about.  we were terrified that our sermon would fall short of what the congregation hoped to receive at a church service.

in the end, no one fell asleep, so we're counting it as a minor victory.  and i have to say, doing the morning announcements now at church seem like a breeze after agreeing to do this!

you be the judge -- if you're interested, the text is below, and there's a video too.

The situation is hopeless. Let us proceed.” When the American composer and writer John Cage said this, I think he meant that the world is full of problems. You won’t solve them all. But you have to start somewhere – knowing that you probably won’t see the finish line. When nations are at war, when cities are blighted, when the fabric of neighborhoods is torn and tattered – you have to look into your heart. Find your inner strength. And then roll up your sleeves and pick up a shovel or pick up the phone and begin.

Adam and I are here today to tell you about how we began our journeys of service to our community. We are delighted and grateful for the invitation. But we are also very aware that we are definitely not the only ones here on this journey. Indeed, we have been inspired by many of you who have done far more than us serve the common good. Our hope this morning is that all of you – whether you are far down a path of service or just starting to think about what you might do – can read something of your own journey into our stories and that, together, we can spur each other on to a greater commitment to our community.

For me, things began when I tried to cross the street.

It was 2009, and we had just moved to Denton. We bought a house in a quiet neighborhood on an even quieter street. We were excited about being so close to the center of town, and only a few blocks away from a great elementary school. We were excited about being able to walk and bike everywhere, since that's what we were already used to. Because before we lived here, we had spent three years living in the Netherlands, which is about as bike-friendly as you can get. Prior to that, we lived in Boulder, Colorado, which is famous for its mountain bike trails and pedestrian-friendly downtown. Crossing the street safely just seemed like the natural order of things, I guess. So I was surprised one day, when Gracie was not quite two years old, that pushing her in her stroller across the street was almost impossible, if not extremely dangerous.

That simple, yet frustrating experience was the turning point in my life. If I can't even cross the street as an adult, how in the world would Gracie be able to cross that same intersection when she started Kindergarten? Her future elementary school was over there – was I going to have to drive her three blocks every day to get her there safely? Were we going to have to sell the house we had just bought so we could move to the other, “safer” side of the street? Was I going to go crazy living in this car-centric metropolis?

I guess at that point I had two options: I could have complained to my husband, and anyone else who cared to listen, about bringing me to this godforsaken concrete jungle when life in Holland was so much easier. Or I could do something about it. I did live here, after all. Looking back on what we left behind seemed less productive than looking forward to what we could create. I kind of felt like I should invest in my new hometown. So, I chose the latter. It just seemed more... worthwhile, I guess.

So, I got involved. I sought out some bike activists and asked to meet for coffee. I asked to learn about the history of bike culture and politics in Denton, and left armed with a list of phone numbers of various city officials and staffers who might be relevant to my mission. I can't say I was the easiest person to talk with in the beginning – my anger and distrust of city leaders made me more reactive than I probably needed to be at the start, and I admit to still being more dramatic than I ought to be at times. But by getting to know people and finding our common ground, I learned that dialogue and tenacity was a pretty productive way to get things done. And what I've learned along the way is that our city aren't bad guys. Just like you and me, they just want the best for Denton. And if we don't tell them what's up, they won't know where the needs in our community are. I read an article a while back called “Democracy is for Amateurs,” by Eric Liu in which he argues that Americans have hugely overdeveloped consumer muscles and atrophied citizen muscles. Having strong citizen muscles means thinking about the future and not just immediate gratification. It means asking what’s good for the community and not just oneself.

Liu goes on to write: “When self-government is dominated by professionals representing various interests, a vicious cycle of citizen detachment ensues. Regular people come to treat civic problems as something outside themselves, something done to them, rather than something they have a hand in making and could have a hand in unmaking. They anticipate that engagement is futile, and their prediction fulfills itself.”

He mentions a billboard that some of you may have seen. It simply reads: “You're not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” By analogy, Liu argues that we aren’t stuck in sclerotic government and extractive politics. We are these things. This is an indictment of apathy, but it is also grounds for hope, because it means if we just shift our mindset and our habits we can reclaim civic life. As Liu says, civic engagement can become contagious as more people realize that “We are the renewal of self-government we yearn for.”

If I've learned anything about living in this dynamic, vibrant, eclectic community, it's that if you give people an opportunity to get involved, they'll do it. It's inspiring the way that we can get things done in Denton, with the citizenry that we have here. A few examples:

When I was appointed to the city's bicycle task force, with the task of designing a comprehensive bike plan for Denton, I knew I needed input from my neighbors and friends. So when I announced that I'd be at a coffee shop, over at Dan's, or heading out for some tacos somewhere and wanted to meet about this, people showed up by the dozens to share their ideas. That knowledge opened up an opportunity for me to serve on another committee to look at how we can improve the condition of our crumbling streets. And when I asked people to give me some ideas on how we could incorporate public art into these road improvement projects, people shared tons of ideas which I was able to then bring back to the committee. And when Gracie was involved in a couple of scary bike accidents recently, I realized that she needed a bike safety class. So I called the Denton Police Department and asked if they could teach one to her and some of her friends. And simply by making a few phone calls and putting out an announcement on Facebook, I was able to arrange for 15 little ones to participate in a Bike Rodeo at the Denton Community Market. I had the idea, yes, but it was the community who came together to help volunteer, share their space, and donate some amazing treats for some pretty awesome goody bags.

I don't do any of this alone. I couldn't! Not if I wanted to get anything done! From the very beginning, I've involved my family – whether it's asking Adam to rearrange his work so I could get to an important meeting or dragging both Gracie and Lulu down to city hall to stand witness to the positive changes we're trying to create together, I feel it's important that we're in this together, as a team. “The A-Team,” if you will. I really don't think any of us, if we want to be productive, does anything alone. We are, all of us, full of ideas and potential, and given the right opportunity are powerful makers of change. And as I look out among you this morning, I see many inspiring people who have accomplished great things on behalf of this community as well. We're kind of getting known as “that activist church,” and I'm proud of our reputation! There are others among us who may just need a little nudge in the right direction. Others still who are searching for the right fit. And probably countless others who just haven't crossed their dangerous intersection yet, but when they do, will be unstoppable. [AMBER END HERE]

My story begins in 2006, when we moved to Holland and I became a foreigner. I couldn’t read the papers or understand the issues. I learned the connection between language and citizenship – and what this means for being human. If you are going to be a human, you can’t just metabolize like the plants or move about like the animals. You have to speak up and act on behalf of ideals that go beyond mere survival. I couldn’t do that in Holland, so I came back to the U.S., to Denton, looking to recover my humanity.

I found it, of all places, in a gas well. Or, rather, in the 267 gas wells inside the city limits of Denton. Did you know we had that many around here? That gives us an impressive gas well to Whataburger ratio of 90:1.

I started to learn about all this in 2011 when Amber and I watched the documentary Gasland. The film makes the argument that all those wells are poisoning our air and water and destroying beautiful places and communities. There are dramatic scenes in the movie of people igniting their kitchen tap water on fire. Flames shoot out of faucets, nearly taking the hairs off the arms of the folks holding the lighters. This happens, the movie claims, because nearby drilling operations have introduced methane gas into their water supply.

After seeing those fire balls, I looked at Amber across the couch. We didn’t have to say a word. Ten years of marriage and I know when we are both thinking the same thing. So, we dug around the house for a lighter and sheepishly approached the kitchen sink. Amber turned on a trickle of water. I put the flame next to it with my arm extended as far as possible from my body. Nothing happened, then suddenly a brighter flash of light and a bigger flame lit up the kitchen sink. ‘Oh my god!’ I thought for a split second. Then, I noticed our water wasn’t on fire…our plastic water filter was on fire. I got the lighter too close to the part that attaches it to the faucet and it had started to burn and melt. It still has a crack in that spot to this day.

Lots of people don’t know Denton has been so pin-cushioned by drilling rigs. This may not have turned my water into fire, but each gas well is allowed to emit several tons of air pollutants every year – one study estimated that gas wells in our area are responsible for as much air pollution as all vehicles on the roads. And the chemicals used in drilling and fracking (essentially breaking up the rock formation) might contaminate ground water supplies. But there are also the economic benefits and people’s mineral property rights to consider.

In 2010, three wells were drilled on Bonnie Brae next to the hospital, McKenna Park, and several homes. I spoke with one City Council member who said approving that project was the toughest decision of his six years in service – “I felt like I had a gun to my head”—he said, because the city was powerless to stop the developer or get them to move the wells further away. Many people protested this industrial incursion into a residential area.

That’s when Denton started revising its rules for drilling and fracking. Councilmember Kevin Roden asked me to lead a citizens’ group to help City Council make better rules. We were an unofficial or ‘shadow’ advisory group. The city had its own official task force, but three of its five members had strong ties to the oil and gas industry. Mr. Roden hoped that we could provide a more representative voice of the people.

There were about eight of us and we called ourselves DAG, short for Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group. Over the course of two years, we authored reports, hosted public forums, ran a blog, and even moderated a mayoral candidate debate. We spent countless hours at City Council meetings. We lobbied for greater protections for health and welfare. I can’t say many of our recommendations got adopted, but we did get the setback distance between wells and homes increased slightly and helped push through measures to reduce pollution.

I was fighting for not just the health of our children, but also the health of our democracy. We are dependent on high tech energy systems that we cede a great deal of power to the corporations that own and operate them and the experts that design and manage them.

The question isn’t whether technology has politics, because it always does. The question is: who gets to participate? I think people who live next to polluting industrial operations should have a say in their design. We should democratize technology. I don’t like slogans, but if I had one it might be “no innovation without representation.”

Now, we all know Amber is a better person than I am. It’s true in so many ways. One way is the fact that her activism is done entirely on her own time – not as part of her job. But I get paid for my political activity. I am a philosophy professor at UNT. That makes me a public servant. I see my work as part of the mission of the intellectual to serve the common weal.

So this is when you think, hmmm…you know, I could do a lot more community service if I got paid for it too! But is your job really as narrowly defined as you take it to be? Perhaps even at work you can serve the community.

That’s been true for me. Philosophers typically write philosophy papers for other philosophers. Their professional identity is bound up in this. They think their disciplinary peers are the only ones qualified to judge them. It makes no sense to write reports for city council or talk to a COO of a local drilling operation – they’re not philosophers!

But Socrates never once spoke to a person with a PhD in philosophy. In that spirit, I’ve been practicing what we call field philosophy. We see our work as being out in the ‘field’ where real-world problems exist.
This blurring of categories is something UUs do well. In the 1930s, the Unitarian Minister L.P. Jacks said it beautifully: “A master in the art of living,” he writes, “draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. Enough for him that he does it well.”
I thought about this quote when we were out for pizza last week. The restaurant had a program called ‘pizzas for a purpose’ that donates 20% of receipts to a non-profit organization. That didn’t just happen. Someone thought of that. And in so doing they went from just serving customers to serving a greater cause. [ADAM END HERE]


And so we ask you here today, what's your greater cause? We realize that there's a world full of issues to tackle: global hunger, human trafficking, climate change, Monsanto, the civil war in Syria, marriage equality... I could go on seemingly forever. But we've chosen to keep our efforts at the city level, inspired by Alexis de Tocqueville and his notion that it is by involvement in local politics that citizens learn to be free and become imbued with what he calls the “spirit of liberty.”

Look at that piece of paper you drew or wrote on at the start of this service – that thing in your immediate community that needs your attention. Now look at that big, ol' empty space taking up the rest of the page. That's where you come in. What are some concrete ways you can tackle that need? Do you need to introduce yourself to your city councilperson? Do you need to contact your kids’ principal, or join the PTA? Do you need to buy a couple of bags of mulch, or talk with a like-minded neighbor to organize a neighborhood cleanup party? What can you do? And who can you get to join you? It doesn't have to be much, but it can be something.

You see, friends, our work starts HERE. And as Lao-Tse explains, it starts with you:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

a year of firsts

has it been a year already?

before lulu was born, i had serious fears that i would never love this child as much as i love gracie.  how in the world could THIS baby be even half as amazing as my sweet doodlebug?  would i neglect this baby because gracie was so much cooler?  would i love gracie less because i only have so much love and attention to give to my children?

boy, was i wrong.  if i've learned anything this past year, it's that the human heart is capable of INFINITE love.  and though my attention has definitely been divided, my love for each of them is equally as deep.  how is that possible?

i will admit, though, that my attention to them has definitely been compromised. i feel like baby #2 is growing up faster than baby #1, because i now have TWO children to pay attention to, so i'm missing out on something somewhere almost all the time.  plus, baby #2 is watching what baby #1 is doing, so she learns a lot faster (which is amazing because i swear i haven't taught lulu a damn thing all year -- i'm just too busy! -- but somehow she's meeting all of her milestones way ahead than gracie did when she was a baby).

my precocious lulu.  turning over at 6 weeks. sitting up at 3 months. solid foods at 4 1/2 months.  crawling at 6 months.  walking at 9 months.  RUNNING at 10 months.  talking at 11 months.

her first sentence at 11 months:  "mama!  ah duh!  gooooo!  mama goooo! ah duh!"  (she was all done at the thrift store and REALLY wanted to leave.  like, adamantly.  but instead of crying, she just said this sentence over and over.  what a bright child!)

her first food at 4 1/2 months was organic, local sweet potatoes, licked off of a spatula.  (actually, her first food was breastmilk.  her second food was sweet potatoes.)

her first steps at 9 months were taken at gracie's taekwondo studio.  just up and walked.  there was no thinking, or practicing, or whatever.  she just up and walked one day, and that was the end of it.  (she got sick with a bad fever for a week shortly thereafter, and then we went on a trip to louisiana for a week, so she kind of forgot.  but the moment we got home, she walked again.)

she loves books.  she loves toddling into her room, sitting down in front of the bookshelf, and grabbing a book to flip through.  she doesn't rip the pages, or eat the covers.  she's very gentle and curious about turning the pages.

she loves music.  ALL children love music, but this one in particular has shown a great aptitude for rhythm and tone.  she learned how to clap her hands very early on (maybe at 8 months old?) and loves clapping whenever she has an excuse to.  i love when other people are clapping for someone, for a job well done, and lulu (not really paying attention to what just happened of course) will drop what she's doing and start clapping too.  or, for example, if gracie goes down the slide and i say "way to go, gracie!  yay!"  then lulu will stop mid-stride and clap her hands for gracie who just went down the slide.  she does this for everyone all the time always.  so sweet.  ...  back to music: she LOVES music.  seriously LOVES it.  there was a time when i couldn't sing her a lullaby to get to sleep, because she would instead tune into the tone and the rhythm and pay attention to the music instead of sleeping.  i'd instead just have to whisper to her, "shhhh. mama's here.  shhhh.  mama's here," over and over.  i can finally sing to her now, but it's only one song in particular:

hush a bye, don't you cry
go to sleep little baby
when you wake you shall have
all the pretty little horses

if we ever can't get lulu to settle down, we'll play music for her.  if it's loud enough to be heard over her crying, she will almost instantly quiet down to pay attention.  eventually she will fall asleep, but it's only because she's EXHAUSTED (which is what made her cry in the first place), and not because the music lulled her to sleep.  

we've got her in the early childhood music program at UNT on saturday mornings, and boy does she love that!  the interesting thing, though, is that when she sits on my lap and faces me, she LOVES this class.  giggling, happy, clapping hands, etc.  but when she sits on my lap and faces the rest of the circle of children, she studies them and pays attention to what's going on.  then the shakers and drumsticks come out, and that's it -- she will NOT give up her egg shaker unless you pry it out of her hand at the end of class.  she doesn't do the interpretive scarf dance very well, either, because she's still busy with her shaker.

speaking of dancing, lulu loves her little baby dolls and stuffed animals.  she has two care bears that she adores.  we think she picked up on this baby doll obsession because she's the oldest baby in her classroom right now.  so all day long, she walks around patting the babies, or rubbing the babies, or talking to the babies, or loving the babies.  one day she discovered this baby doll at the house (i think maybe i introduced it to her??  it was one i bought for gracie when we lived in holland -- she never showed any interest in it but i kept it just in case).  and ever since then, all you have to say is "lulu, where's your baby?" and she'll drop everything to go in search of her baby.  or her care bear, whichever she's in the mood for.  and she'll find the baby, and pick up the baby, and pat the baby, and hug the baby, and then dance with the baby, and then bring the baby over to her swing (which she has been too big for for a long time now), and swing the baby, and tuck the baby in, and love the baby.  IT'S SO FREAKING CUTE I CAN'T STAND IT.

lulu also loves vacuuming, doing laundry, and helping with the dishes.  she'll close the washing machine door and stand there to watch the clothes swirling about.  she loves taking silverware out of the dishwasher (usually when they're still dirty) and licking them.  that part's gross, but i appreciate her interest in helping out.  and if you ever need to know where lulu is in the house, just turn on the little purple vacuum cleaner.  she'll come tearing out of whatever room she's been in and make sure that you let her use the vacuum cleaner too.

her first word (after sign language) was GO!  if she hears the back door open, she'll run as fast as she can (and lordy is she fast) to the door, yelling "a go! a go! a go!" waving her arm bye-bye, and trying to get out the door before you close it behind you.  if you DO happen to close the door before she can get there, she'll stand on the other side and CRY so hard!  most of the time, though, you can't close the door fast enough (because that child is quick!) and she's crawling down the little step into the garage and tearing down the driveway out to the street just as fast as her little feet can carry her.  she may look like adam, but she's got my personality: any chance to get out of the house and GO, she's all for it!!

and we're still, gratefully, thankfully, gladly going strong on the breastfeeding.  we had a really rough start at first, and after a week i finally caved and got a lactation consultant to help us figure out what was going on.  but now that child won't quit!  all i have to do is sit down on the couch and she'll attack me until i nurse her.  but what i love is when i just call out to her, "lulu, do you want some milk?"  crash! bang!  drop everything you're doing and bulldoze your way over to mom QUICK!  i can't get my shirt up fast enough, she's whining and clawing and sucking on my arm or neck or whatever trying to get to the milk.  it's amazing, and hilarious, and really reassuring considering all the struggles we had that first week.  i swear the child will be nursing until she's in kindergarten.  i have no idea how i'll be able to wean her.  she's addicted, that's all there is to it.

there's so much more to share.  and if you can't tell, it's been just shy of a year since the last time i blogged.  wanna know why?  i'm totally busy with my two little girls.  i feel bad i'm not documenting my time with lulu the way i was able to with gracie, but i hope at least that the adventures we're on together, and the fun times we're having as a family will make up for all the missed blogging opportunities.  that child has kept me on my toes, that's for sure.  and i have loved every exhausting minute of it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

labor of lululove

it's been nearly one month since the birth of our second child, louisa mae briggle.  i keep meaning to sit down and write out the story of her birth, but haven't been able to find the time until now.  imagine that.  and i'm sure i'll get part way through this and have to put it down for another day...  but i'm learning as the mother of two children to pace myself.  it will all get done eventually. And actually it is mostly Adam's fault that this is posted so late...he keeps doing work rather than helping with this blog!

the day i went into labor with lulu, i was out at the denton community market.  i was 6 days "overdue" at this point, and though i was happy as a clam being pregnant forever (i'm so good at it!  and i get to eat as many donuts as i want!), i was getting annoyed by all the people asking me (good naturedly, i'm sure) when the baby was going to get here, and how long i'm going to be pregnant, and haven't i had my baby yet, and and and...  seriously, people.  enough.  plus, it's getting hot here in texas and i wanted to hold my baby in my arms before passing out from heat stroke.  it's not easy having a 9-lb heater strapped to your belly all day long when temps are already in the 90's.

but back up:  i really think my labor started a few days before this, as i had been uncomfortable with back pains (lulu was "sunny side up") and having some bloody show.  i had a feeling i wasn't going to last the weekend, even though i still felt (mostly) calm and comfortable.  (with my labor with gracie  i got huge and squishy and hormonal several weeks before, and was a sloppy mess, and i was mostly expecting that to happen with lulu too, since that's all i knew about what labor was like...)  and this baby that i had been carrying so high for so long had been steadily dropping with strong braxton-hicks contractions ever since the end of april.  my body was readying itself.

so the day i went into labor, i was at the community market, trying to keep myself occupied, knowing that soon enough i'll be homebound with a sore body and a newborn.  that afternoon i went home for a nice, long nap -- i was up for several hours the night before, feeling uncomfortable and antsy.  i ended up at the birth center at about midnight on Friday, the night before i actually went into labor, because i just wasn't sure if it was labor or not, but something didn't feel "right" to me.  after an hour or so on the non-stress-test monitor, the midwife sent me home.  so it was a long night, but an exciting one!  Adam came with me that night after picking up Barb to stay with Gracie while she slept. Of course, that was the one night in the last several months Adam had decided to go out for a few drinks with a friend. He was relieved Lulu decided to give him another day to recover.
anyway, naptime on Saturday, then got up and made a nice, easy, healthy dinner of baked tofu, rice, and steamed broccoli.  i sat down for some ice cream for dessert, and felt a HUGE contraction that just had a different quality to it than the ones i'd been having prior to this.

i went to the bathroom and noticed some pink (blood?  amniotic fluid?) in my panties, so i called the midwife again to check in with her.  i didn't want her to drive all the way to denton to check me since i had kept her up the night before with my false labor, and it was the weekend after all...  so i told her i'd keep her posted.  then i went outside to walk up and down the street.

i could feel my neighbors' watchful eyes as i waddled around, pausing every 2-3 minutes to have a contraction.  cal came out of his house to see if i needed anything.  i could tell that pearl was watching me from her window.  i just needed to keep moving to see if i could get this labor started. by 7:30 or so i was ready to do this thing, so i called my mom who was out babysitting and asked her to come over to watch gracie.  Barb was able to borrow a convertible car from a friend. then i asked cal to come over to hang out with gracie while we took off and gracie waited for her.  i packed up a few things, and adam drove me to innana where we waited for jean the midwife to come and check me out.

she arrived around 8:00 pm and i followed her in.  she checked to see if my water broke (it hadn't), then did an internal exam and found i was already 6 cm dilated.  "so, what do we do now?" i asked.

"i'm admitting you, and i'm calling betty to come deliver your baby tonight!"

i was stunned.  half believing, half unbelieving...  i still felt so good, so healthy, and so patient.  was my baby REALLY coming right now?  why was this so different than with gracie?  weren't my contractions going to stop or something?  they weren't that bad, after all.  doesn't my water need to break first?  it did last time i did this.  but, okay, if you say so...

i sent adam home to get my big pilates ball, the same one i labored on with gracie.  and to get me an ice tea from whataburger -- i felt like i was going to need the hydration and the caffeine to keep me going.  meanwhile, i settled in -- got the computer all set up so i could listen to my yoga music on pandora, changed into my labor gown, put my juice boxes in the freezer...  just...  nesting, i guess.

adam came back and made a few phone calls: the birth photographer  (who also doubles as a doula -- she did such a great job with these pictures because as a doula, she was never invasive or pushy, but always held the sacred space for me), my parents, a few friends, etc.  then we waited...

i wanted to MOVE during this labor.  with gracie, i wanted to rest and sit still a lot.  a lot like my pregnancy with her too, now that i think about it.  but with lulu, i felt like i had to keep moving or my labor would stop. (who knows if it would have or not -- but i didn't want to sit still.  just like during my pregnancy with her, too.)  i labored on my yoga mat.  i labored on my pilates ball.  i leaned on adam.  i walked.  i held onto one of the posts on the bed and squatted.  and it was such a lighthearted atmosphere, too!  at some point the birth assistant showed up, so it was just us four girls (betty the midwife, heidi the photographer, katie the assistant, and me) just chatting away.  i'd be in the middle of a sentence, then i'd have a contraction, pause, and then pick up where i left off.  it was so funny!  i had to have complete silence and focus, and be left alone with gracie's labor, but with this one i was social and active, and wanted to snuggle with my husband.  completely different!  there are pictures of adam in the background, and i asked him what that expression was in his body:  he looked nervous, or like he was concentrating or something.  he answered, honestly, that he was just bored.  funny to say, but he said it was like a girls night out in there or something, and that he didn't really have much to do until the very end.  which is true, i guess.  how funny! Yes, indeed, Adam felt a bit out of place and also useless...there were so many experienced women there to do all the work so he just hung out, occassionally texting people with updates.

at some point i got into the bathtub.  i always thought i wanted a water birth for my children -- with gracie i just never looked into it, because having a baby at home in a foreign country seemed crazy enough.  with lulu, i was looking into buying or renting a birth tub (originally we planned another home birth but i changed my mind a month or two before), but then when i decided to deliver at the birth center, i thought maybe i'd just use their big, gorgeous bathtub there.  my contractions were getting stronger and closer together (or at least, that's what it felt like), so i thought if i got in the tub, that would help ease the pain a bit.

it did help.  a lot.  i immediately relaxed, and i could tell that i was going to deliver soon because the conversation slowed way down, and the room got quieter and more intense.  after maybe 20 minutes (??) in the tub, i had to pee -- AGAIN.  but didn't want to do it in the tub if i was going to deliver my baby in there. so, once again, i got up to pee.  and at that point my contractions became so intense that i couldn't get myself back in the tub if i wanted to.

it was at this point that i started to get scared.  because, and sorry to keep bringing this up, it was so different than what i was expecting based on what happened with gracie.  with gracie's birth, i had visualized every moment of her birth.  i meditated on it daily, and talked to "spruitje" about what to do when it was time to be born.  and spruitje followed the script exactly.  so when things were touch and go with her birth, and everyone else was afraid spruitje wasn't coming fast enough (or at all), i wasn't worried -- i knew it was going to be okay, because i had already played it out over and over again in my mind.  but as hard as i tried with lulu, i could NOT picture what was going to happen.  believe me, i tried.  i even sat in the labor suite a few weeks before she was born, trying to map it out in my head, with no success.  i guess i was just going to have to go along for the ride when the time came.

so when my contractions came hard and fast, and it was getting close to the time to push, i started to get scared.  my sweet husband was so helpful, though -- i'd lean on him during a contraction, and he'd tell me how strong i was and what a good job i was doing already.  betty checked me and though i was only at 8.5 cm, she told me i could start to gently push if i wanted, to ease my cervix open, which i was more than happy to do.  up until now, i was just going along with it all -- now i actually had something to do. Adam could actually feel the baby drop lower during these contractions (or at least he thought he could)...which started to come one on top of the other.

around midnight Adam called my mom and gracie, and they came over right away to witness the birth of the newest briggle.  before things really got going, i looked right at gracie and told her that if she didn't want to be there, she didn't have to be -- she could go play video games on my phone in the other room, or she could go back home and wait for lulu and we'd be home in a couple of hours.  gracie and i had spent the last several months preparing her for her presence in the labor suite -- i told her about what was going to happen, and some of the things she would see.  i showed her some pictures of mamas giving birth naturally.  i told her that she never has to do anything that makes her feel uncomfortable, but that if she felt okay, she was welcome to stay in the room when lulu is coming out of my body.  and armed with that information, my big, brave, curious girl wanted to stay, and i was in no state of mind to kick her out.

around 12:30 a.m. i got onto the bed and began to push.  and ROAR. At first Amber lay on her back, but that hurt and she began to feel dizzy but she could hardly move the contractions were happening so consistantly. i roared this child right on out of me, and i think it was the noise more than the sight that concerned (and scared) gracie.  betty told me i could lay on my side if i wanted (i hadn't thought about that as an option!), and though i'm not sure why she recommended that, it definitely worked -- after only 8 minutes of pushing (!!!), louisa came flying into the world, arms outstretched and eyes wide open! This was a very scary few minutes for both Amber and Adam. Amber said she was scared and had a look of panic in her eyes. Adam again felt hopeless- all he could do was help hold up Amber's exhausted left leg in between pushes. He got her a cold towel for her head, which seemed to help a bit, and he told her that she was only scared because she figured having done this once before it would be a piece of cake. But that is not the case - labor is always a big ordeal....that doesn't mean anything is wrong.
betty let me discover for myself if lulu was a boy or a girl -- which took an extra push because the umbilical cord was a bit short and was getting in the way of what i could see.  imagine my surprise and delight, when the child i thought was a boy turned out to be a girl -- AGAIN!  Yeah, and Adam was craning his neck trying to get a look at the seemed like forever before anyone said whether lulu was a boy or a girl. she took to my breast immediately and surprised me with her powerful latch.  she wasn't cross-eyed like how gracie was moments after birth, and she lifted her head over and over again looking for my breast. she also even grabbed a hold of the midwife's stethoscope (or some instrument with a cord on it). she did, unfortunately, take a big ol' swallow of amniotic fluid on her way out, which betty had to suction out of her over and over again using a big, noisy, painful sounding machine that gave louisa a sore throat for a few days, but other than that, she was here and healthy and pink and perfect.

gracie finally got up on the bed and held my hand tight tight tight while i got stitches for a small tear.  (every time i ever got up on an exam table at the "lulu doctors" throughout my pregnancy, gracie was always right there, holding my hand and staying close.)  i think it was a relief for her to finally be able to do something.  she was so sweet and tender, and i was so glad to have her there with me.  and i think she was glad to have something to do. Adam and Gracie walked over to the Wal-Green's next door to buy some snacks and supplies while Amber rested and the midwives finished up tests on lulu and paperwork. When Adam returned, Amber and Barb said that Lulu really liked the name "Louisa Mae." That had not been Adam's top choice - and feeling utterly drained this made him cranky. But it just took some sleep and a couple of days of saying the name out loud for him to warm up to it.

after a couple of hours, we were free to go, and we were all so exhausted from staying up all night that we were anxious to get home.  i felt surprisingly GREAT after just pushing out a 9-lb baby.  i was able to navigate the steps down to the car just fine, and other than feeling dirty and tired, i was GOOD.  i came home to take a nice long shower, eat something, and then went straight to bed.  louisa was so excited to be here in the world, though, that she stayed up for a solid 12 hours before she finally napped!  at 1:00 pm my mom brought her into my bedroom with me, and when i snuggled her close, she just went right to sleep.

we've been enjoying getting to know louisa mae.  she seems to be a very intense child, who is frustrated that she has to be a baby -- everything is just out of reach and just out of focus for her, but each day she seems to get more and more interactive and social.  It also helps that we started giving her probiotics...her tummy was having a tough time adjusting to life on the outside, which had made her kind of a fussy little baby. Each day now she is getting happier and more comfortable in and curious about the world. we also had quite a bit of a challenge getting her to breastfeed, but a trip to the chiropractor (really?!  that's what the midwives suggested and it definitely helped!) and a lactation consultant fixed that up just fine. Actually, 'a bit of a challenge' is a huge understatement. The darn kid would simply not do it...Adam was past the breaking point and ready to just do bottles. But Amber showed amazing resilience and perserverance...she is such an incredible woman. I can't believe how strong she is...after watching her give birth to two big girls I am now twice convinced that she has a deeper well of power and strength within her than I can even imagine. 

Louisa is very snuggly and sweet, and very social, and doesn't want to be left alone for too long -- she gets lonely and bored!  and gracie has been an amazing big sister -- she likes to play with louisa (she was the first one to really get her to smile and laugh!) and pick out her clothes, especially her jammies.  we are over the moon.  how blessed are we to have TWO amazing, healthy, gorgeous little girls?  someone pinch me!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

welcome, baby lulu!

it's funny how life gets all busy, and i don't blog for like a SUPER long time.

this blog first evolved after adam and i moved to the netherlands -- tired of writing really long mass emails that got sent to everyone but us, and never the same group of people twice, we began what was essentially a travel blog.

then news came that we were expecting a baby, and it became more personal -- stories of our "spruitje", written for posterity, so that our little one could someday go back and read about the time when she was just a tiny baby in her mama's womb, and the fun things she did as a baby living in holland.

then facebook came along, and it got super way mucho easy to just put everything on there. but that's not quite the same.

well, it's time to break out the old blog again. because we're expecting baby #2 in mid-may. and it hardly seems fair that miss mary grace should have all the fun stories, and poot little "baby lulu" gets nothing!

so, here goes the story of lulu:

back in august, we had what i suspect was a very early miscarriage. i was devastated. i had been on this hormone cream supplement for months, trying to prepare my body for pregnancy -- my doctor kept promising me all these miracle side-effects: shorter periods! no pms! better sleep! but i never experienced ANY of that. if anything, the stupid cream just made me MORE irritated -- probably because i was expecting all these miracles that my doctor kept swearing were coming any day now -- "we just have to change your dose," she'd say. sigh.

so, after what i believe was a miscarriage (but my doctor disagrees), i say "hey, doc. i'm going off this crap for a while." went the herbal route: chaste berry and wild yam. called an acupuncturist. got an intuitive reading. pulled out my tarot cards for the first time in FOREVER. bought pretty underwear. you know... witchy stuff.

suddenly, my period was late. "AHA!" i thought. "these herbs really work! my cycle has been balanced naturally!" and then my period STILL didn't come, so just to rule out pregnancy (cuz i was SURE i wasn't!), i peed on a stick and it came back positive. i could hardly believe it! i felt so NOT pregnant! i remember with gracie, i had been feeling slightly nauseous and EXHAUSTED for several days before i finally pieced it together. but this one was nothing like that. had the bloodwork at the midwives office not come back with hormone levels through the roof, i wouldn't have believed it at all.

well, fast forward -- i'm now over 14 weeks along. just done with my first trimester. and WOW is this pregnancy different than the one with gracie! for instance:

gracie: tator tots, clementines, carrot juice
lulu: tator tots, bacon, pickled ginger, glasses of milk, bananas

gracie: none. i was all "i don't know why everyone is complaining all the time... being pregnant is SUPER easy. blah blah blah, look at me, i don't have any stretch marks, blah blah blah..." i did feel hot a lot of the time, though.
lulu: exhausted. puking. can't brush my teeth. headaches.

gracie: babies
lulu: food

my mom says that i must be having a boy because i'm dreaming of food all the time and i want to eat biscuits and gravy morning, noon, and night. my sister says i'm having a boy because i started showing like day 2 of this whole thing, just like her. my acupuncturist says she feels boy energy. (i felt boy energy from gracie, too, and i was kind of partly right, but also kind of not...) gracie, however, says "he's a girl." so there you go. she's pretty certain lulu is going to be a sister. and kids are pretty in tune with stuff like that, so i'm going to guess she's probably right.

(and no, we won't be finding out the gender at our 20-week ultrasound. it's way more fun to keep guessing!)

gracie has had so much fun with this whole baby business. and honestly, i have no idea how she found out about "lulu" in the first place. we really weren't going to tell her until maybe the big ultrasound day, because 9 months is a long time for anyone to wait, especially a 3-year-old. but somehow, she got it. like, RIGHT away. "mom, can we name the baby lulu?"


don't ask me how she came up with that name. she's at the age where all of her stuffed animals and matchbox cars are named just like how they literally are: "froggie", "blue car", "zamboni", "yellow bear", etc. so -- lulu. that threw us for a loop. but, lulu it is, at least until baby is born and we put something different on the birth certificate.

(and, gracie tells us that after lulu is born, we can name her "batman" and then change gracie's name to "transformer." sounds reasonable to me!)

she's been SO sweet -- coming up to me to rub my back (without me asking her to!) when i'm bent over puking up this morning's breakfast. saving her old clothes and toys and shoes for lulu in a box in the garage. wondering if lulu will like to eat marshmallows and have a fire pit in the backyard too. wanting to teach lulu how to read books and do art projects. she's just so freaking amazing -- where did this all come from? it's completely intiated by her -- she just stops what she's doing and mentions something about wanting to share this with lulu when lulu is born, and then comes up to my belly to yell in there, to see if she can get lulu to kick and squirm (she usually can). it's amazing. it's adorable. it's very reassuring and sweet.

except for some mild spotting around week 7 or so, i've been feeling mostly fine. pukey and tired, but fine. my mom has been a great help, coming over and loading the dishwasher unannounced. adam has been doing daddy duty double overtime so that i can go to bed early. and, as i said already, gracie has been considerate, helpful, compassionate, and sweet.

i just wish i had more time to spend with this one. i feel like i spent so much time with gracie before she was even born -- and this child is just lucky to get 5 minutes from me at the end of the day. i often wonder if that's the reason i've been so sick during my first trimester: it's lulu's way of reminding me that she's actually in there and i need to pay attention to her!

anyway, i hope to utilize this blog much more as my pregnancy progresses and we get to know lulu better. so far i can say that she responds really well to gracie's touch and voice, likes potato chips, and has been kicking and squirming for at least the last 3 weeks. midwife appt tomorrow afternoon -- can't wait to hear her little heartbeat again! it's the prettiest sound in the world!

love you, lulu!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

yay democracy!

yesterday i cut gracie out of school early for her civics lesson: i addressed city council on a vulnerable road user ordinance that was up for vote later that evening. she was such a good girl, sat in the peanut gallery with all the other observers, and quietly ate her goldfish crackers while i spoke my piece.

the denton record chronicle, our local paper, did a very brief write-up on what council did at last night's meeting, and it says that they:

• Passed a “vulnerable road user” ordinance designed to offer better protections for pedestrians, cyclists and people whose jobs force them to work around roadways.

The ordinance sets a safe passing distance of 3 feet for cars or light trucks and 6 feet for commercial vehicles. Violators could face $200 fines.

The ordinance is based on similar laws in 16 states and several Texas cities, including San Antonio and Austin, city officials said

here is the link to the video of my address, if you're interested. i'm the first one up, so you don't have to watch for very long to get to the point. yay, democracy!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"martin luther king day" or "how to raise a good UU"

"justice is what love looks like in public" ~dr. cornell west

to be honest, i've never really thought much about martin luther king day. it was always "just a day off" for me. i've never thought about it as a day of service, or a time to stop and reflect on the life and legacy of dr. king. i know, i'm a jerk.

but the more time i spend learning about my religion, unitarian universalism, the more and more i am learning to really appreciate not only the holiday, but the man and the movement behind it. as a unitarian universalist, i adhere to the seven UU principles:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

martin luther king day should be, as UU's, our biggest holy day: for in this one day, nearly all of the 7 principles are met! inherent worth and dignity of all people, justice and equity, the use of the democratic process to manifest change, peace and justice for all, respect for every living being... i mean, come on! this is it! and the more i embrace my UU beliefs and values, the more and more i am realizing that this one day is really a very special and sacred and holy day. for on this day, we remember the struggles of those who made these principles possible, and we vow to continue their good fight by serving others and working tirelessly for equality, peace, compassion, and justice.

and, as a good UU mother, i want to raise my daughter to be a good UU too... or, at the very least, i want gracie to appreciate her UU upbringing and the UU values that we cherish in this household. (because, if i'm truly a good UU mom, then i will ultimately embrace whatever path my daughter chooses to connect with the Divine. hence the creation of her "god squad.")

so, today, in honor of the rev. dr. martin luther king, jr, and all that he (and others!) did to make this country and our world a better, safer, more loving place to be, gracie and i took part in some of the many celebrations that were happening in our town today:

after a trip to the gym, where i practiced ahimsa (nonviolence) in my yoga, we joined a group of friends to have a birthday party for dr. king. we made brown-bag lunches of cheese sandwiches, apples, and poundcake (the contents of the nearly 80,000 sack lunches that the people ate when they marched in washington, dc the day that mlk gave his "i have a dream speech"). then we sat on picnic blankets on the floor and read two storybooks: one was about the life of king, and the other one was his entire "i have a dream" speech, with color illustrations. along the way, we'd stop and talk with the kids about the big words in the book: "segregation," "discrimination," "slave." we talked about what it meant to be an upstander, vs being a bystander. we talked about the power of words and how that created a more lasting and powerful change than if people had used fists or guns or called each other bad names. we talked a little about the connection to ghandi, and his nonviolent struggle to end oppression (another big word we talked about). it was wonderful. inspiring. really amazing to see and hear these children, ranging in age from about 2 or 3 on up to 10 or 11, understanding, comprehending, discussing, questioning... absolutely beautiful.

then later today, gracie and i went on a march with about 100 other people, sponsored by a sorority at UNT. we gathered near the student union center, and after a few songs, speeches, and prayers, we walked about 3 miles to the MLK rec center. the weather was beautiful: nearly 60 degrees, sunny, breezy, and lovely, and the people marching were in good spirits. as we passed a park along the way, we seemed to double in size -- maybe people were having events of their own and were waiting for our group to show up? and then, just when i thought i couldn't push that damn stroller with my enormous 3-year-old in it any further, we were there!

when we walked into the MLK center, we were escorted to the gymnasium, which was set up with bleachers and chairs, and was already half full of people. i really had no idea what to expect -- i think was thinking that we'd get there, there'd be a speech or two, and people would say "thanks for coming, here's the bus to take you back to your car." but no, this was a big deal! the news was there, the mayor was there, a councilwoman was there, several ministers were there, people from the NAACP were there, there was the colorguard, a high school dance team, and a gospel choir. a kindergarten teacher gave a moving speech about the itsy bitsy spider and how he didn't give up, even when he kept getting knocked down, and how water can refresh us and sustain us, even when it seems like we're getting pushed around by it. (i'm not doing her justice -- it really was a great speech!) apparently there was going to be a dinner afterwards (i assume that some of the churches coordinated and asked people to contribute to a potluck???), but we left early: i called adam and he brought the car over to bring us home.

on the way home tonight, gracie and i were talking about martin luther king and our day today and what we learned. and though she is not quite 3 years old yet, i do think she understood two very important lessons today: one, that it's not okay to treat people differently, just because they have different skin, or different hair, or different clothes, or a different accent. all people are important and deserve respect and friendship. and two, words are more powerful than guns, fists, or name-calling. as for the rest, i think that we can build on that in years to come. it's a good start, and i'm proud of us for taking part in the events of today. i hope to make this a tradition in our family.

and, as long as i'm at it, where were all the unitarians today? not cool, guys! i didn't see anyone from my church, and i'm disappointed! i hope next year to get a group together (now that i know better what to expect), and possibly get us a banner so we can represent our church and our religion! so consider this your warning: i'm recruiting you for next year's rally! and we should do a service project too! this is an important event that we need to be a part of!

Friday, January 14, 2011

mother-daughter spirituality circle

shortly before my best girlfriend, teresa, got married in 2009, i was invited to a spirituality circle of her mom's. the group had been meeting semi-regularly for years (maybe even decades?), and we young daughters were invited to join in as one of the women was celebrating her crone-ing ceremony. i was so inspired by the group's depth, connection, and divine power, that i decided then and there that i too was going to begin a spirituality circle of my own.

then we moved, and things just got away from me. unpacking three-years' worth of stuff that had previously been in storage in the usa, plus three-years' worth of stuff that we had accumulated while living in the netherlands, plus getting my husband and child settled in to their routines, plus trying to build a business of my own, plus getting to know my new town and make new friends... well, i just didn't have TIME! but i never forgot. i kept tossing it around in my brain and in my heart, quietly discerning what this group would look like, who i would invite, and what our focus was going to be.

all the while, i was making countless friends, most of them with children of their own, many of whom were girls nearly the same age as gracie. and that's when it occurred to me: start a group of mothers with daughters gracie's age. and meet as often as we want/can, to teach our daughters about the divine power within each of them, the power of intention, the importance of service, the importance of ritual.

we've only met a few times thus far:

the first time we met, we gathered on a playground outside the denton unitarian universalist fellowship to celebrate the fall equinox and to meet everyone else who had been invited to the circle (thus far). we introduced our daughters by telling the stories behind their names, and made a tea for the trees using acorns and herbs from our garden. then we offered these libations to the trees and earth, as a way to say thank you for all that they have provided to us in the past year. each daughter got to take home a small bit of tea, which they were encouraged to pour into their gardens, beneath the trees that protect their homes, or somewhere else spiritually significant to them.

the next time we met, it was at my house to celebrate a traditional halloween (samhain), the way that the ancient celts and druids (and many modern-day pagans) celebrate: a feast for the ancestors! we brought items to place on the altar (pictures of the dead, mementoes from our ancestors, keepsakes from our ancestral homelands, family heirlooms, pomegranates, apples sliced along the equator to display the 5-pointed star in the center, and a nice place-setting for the ancestors to eat at). everyone brought a little vegan-friendly potluck item (squash and mushroom soup, salad, gluten-free bread, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and veggies, apple cider, etc), and then each child served the ancestors by placing a small amount of that particular food onto the ancestor-plate on the altar. then we all served ourselves and as we ate, we talked about our ancestors, and remembered especially those who have left us in the last year. the girls all got to decorate pumpkins and gourds with stickers and crayons, and we got out the face paint so our daughters could decorate our faces too!

the most recent gathering was at j's house, on the winter solstice, where we welcomed our newest member (w, a girl who was born at the beginning of november) and literally rang in the new year by welcoming the sun with bells. we were also fortunate that some of OUR mothers were there, so that even the grandmothers were able to partake in the events of the day. the daughters made sun bonnets out of yellow felt and way too much glitter, while we mothers sat and ate and drank coffee and just generally enjoyed the coziness of each other's company. before we left, everyone went outside into the cold, bright sunshine, and rang bells to welcome back the sun. (it gives me a new perspective when i hear an alarm clock now.) :-)

on monday we will gather once again to celebrate martin luther king day. i'm not sure what all it will entail, but it will be guaranteed to be a remarkable, powerful, and spiritually-uplifting event. and i look forward to many future gatherings: learning about other cultures (chinese new year, perhaps?), serving others (as the girls get older, maybe we can volunteer somewhere to give back to our community), becoming politically active (writing letters to amnesty international or taking part in the annual "take back the night" marches across the country), celebrating the seasons (let's dance around a maypole on the summer solstice!), connecting with the earth (camping trip, anyone?), and celebrating the cycles of life (significant birthdays, first menses, graduations, etc). as our daughters grow, i am hopeful that the connection we are building in this circle will grow as well. and as our daughters grow and eventually have daughters of their own, i pray that the lessons we learned together in this group will be passed on to their daughters, and their daughters' daughters, and so on, throughout all the generations.