My little sister turns thirty today. THIRTY! I’m pretty sure that even though we used to be seven years apart, she’s catching up to me and we’re getting closer and closer to converging at the same age. That’s possible, right?
I remember waking up on my 30th birthday and startling myself by starting to cry. I wasn’t even sure why, but for some reason turning thirty hit me much harder than I thought it would. Maybe it was because I didn’t know what the next decade would bring and the unknown can be scary. Maybe it was because I wasn’t measuring up to the expectations I had set for myself by this milestone. Maybe I was panicking about the fact that I could no longer deny that I was actually an adult, so I knew I had to start acting like one.
Little sister, if you’re having any of those anxieties, don’t fret. Your thirties are going to be the best decade. Here’s why:
1. The panicky “What am I going to do with my life?” self-questioning ends. At least sort of. Resume creation turns into resume updating and job interviews become easier because you actually have relevant experience you can expound upon (much better than having to make up bullshit about how your job waiting tables has prepared you to be an excellent project manager). After your first “real” job or two you have a trajectory to follow, a sense of where your current job could lead to, something you couldn’t fathom when you first graduated from college. Each piece of training, each gain in proficiency is a unique little snowflake, and you continue to build your repertoire of involvement and competencies, creating a gusty little success storm. Before you know it, your self-assurance and your expertise snowball into an avalanche of amazingness.
2. You stop renting with roommates. Finally you escape the financial need for roommates and you get out on your own, or you start living with someone because you actually like them and you want to, not because you found them through a desperate newspaper ad because you had to. Now you only have to deal with your own dust, your own dishes, your own pile of hair stuck in the drain at the bottom of the tub. (Why is your own pile of hair so much less disgusting than your roommate’s?) It’s true that home ownership can be a huge pain in the ass at times, but it’s worth not having to split the cable bill with a potential psychopath.
3. You decide whether or not you want to have kids. For some of us that decision can be hard, agonizing even, trying to weigh the pros and cons of maintaining freedoms like endless traveling, drinking margaritas at the bar until 11:00 pm every Thursday night, and comfortably retiring at an early age, versus bearing the great responsibility of having little mini-yous running around the house, ruining your furniture and obliterating any chance you might have had at staying up past 9 pm (even on the weekend) or buying that yacht when you’re in your fifties. It’s an important decision. A defining one. So, it’s a relief when you figure out where you stand.
4. You become comfortable in your own skin. You’re in good shape (quite possibly the best shape of your life) and you finally figure out what kind of clothes flatter your figure, which is no longer changing as wildly as it did in your teens and early twenties. You’re fit and you’re cute, and to top that off you begin to understand that looks don’t actually matter all that much, so you stop wasting time meticulously anointing yourself with eyeliner and foundation, or applying, taking off and reapplying mascara, or trying on a million outfits before deciding what to wear when you go out. You free up a lot of valuable time and you master the art of the messy bun. This combination of physical strength and mental confidence make you the sexiest you’ve ever been.
5. You figure out how to prioritize your time. This is the decade when you acknowledge that having a steady paycheck and a job with benefits is important. But you’re also beginning to notice how nutrition affects your energy levels, how good friends and work-life balance affect your well-being, how spending time with loved ones and how exercise and books and yoga (or whatever your hobbies of choice may be) are what enable you to fully inhale. And after you notice, you start planning and scheduling those things in. In other words, you finally figure out how to take care of yourself. This is the decade where you begin mastering the art of adulting.
The Thirties might be intimidating to the youngins who are worried about being over the hill, but those of us who have already crossed that hump know how awesome this decade really is.
Happy 30th, little sees. Welcome to your best decade yet.
The first time my (now) husband took me to his parent’s house I didn’t get to meet them because they were out of the country, visiting their native Greece, but his yiayia (grandma) was there. She wore an ankle-length, dark navy dress, her usual attire as I would come to find, and her long gray hair was twisted into a bun that rested on the nape of her neck. Her hands were thick and wide, strong from a lifetime of manual labor, the skin covering them was stretched out and creased and it would hold the shape of an object long after she pressed her hands down upon it; the elastin was long gone. They were also very soft. Maybe it was the muscle underneath, or maybe it was due to the fact she had been in the States for enough years for the calluses to wear away.
She walked slowly, but steadily, as she led me to the backyard and introduced me to her garden. She spoke to me in Greek, which I couldn’t understand, but that didn’t deter her from chatting away and her not understanding English didn’t stop me from chatting right back. She loved me from the get go, she smiled at me and held my hand and looked at my husband and winked as she rubbed my back. We visited for a couple of hours and then prepared to leave to head back to campus.
“Meinete kai na fate (stay for lunch)“, she insisted.
Mr. Grouch tried to say no, but his weak protest didn’t do any good. I was confused why he would say no. We were college students and what college kid doesn’t want a free meal? He relented, as it was clear he would, and she nodded and took my hand and led me to her garden again where she started picking the fresh onions, parsley, and spinach from the bed. She washed and chopped the greens and then started mixing dough and began rolling it out into thin sheets with a narrow wooden dowel. She was making homemade filo dough. For her, a “quick lunch” was making spanakopita (spinach pie) from scratch. It was a solid six hours later before we were out of there.
But damn, that food was good.
I’ve learned that for a Greek mom (or yiayia), feeding her family is the ultimate expression of love. Feeding her family often. Bottom line: The more food they offer you, the more they like you. For my in-laws, it all stems from living as goat herders in the xorio (the village). If they didn’t eat enough, they could literally die. They dealt with illness without doctors. Exposure to the elements without shelter. Feasting because there could be famine. Eating more food really could have meant the difference between survival and death. From this perspective, food is love never made more sense.
Once I met my now my mother-in-law I learned that she also created magic in the kitchen. She makes simple dishes, yet they are so full of flavor that I usually want to eat half the pan. Okay, one time, I DID eat half the pan. I think I shocked her. It was melizantes (eggplant and onions). I usually have some self-control, but that time I just couldn’t stop. She is such a great cook, and hostess, that we don’t ever alternate which side of the family we visit for Thanksgiving, we just always go to her house. Her food is the best. And while she has much to be proud of, the downside is that she is a total food pusher. It used to give me anxiety, to think of her basically force-feeding my children. I’ve gotten over it, since we go over there and get free meals several times a month. I have completely traded any worries about my children learning to eat when they aren’t hungry for homemade dolmades (grape leaves) and horta (cooked greens) and loukanika (sausage). I’ve even gotten to the point where I sometimes brag to her about how much I got my kids to eat so she’ll be proud of me. Which doesn’t usually work.
“She at two eggs today!”
“Hmmm, well that’s good she ate. But so many eggs! Too many. All that cholesterol!”
Nevermind that after offering my daughter homemade spinach pie and french fries and koulourakia (cookies) and spaghetti and pancakes and sausage she will also offer McDonald’s and Cheeze-its and microwave popcorn and those ice cream sandwiches that don’t even melt in the Sun. She will feed them anything to get those grandkids of hers to eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. She can’t help herself. Her grandchildren MUST SURVIVE.
I absolutely hate cooking, but her recipes truly are the kind of recipes that are worth taking the time to learn and make. They are worth dirtying up a million dishes or having to chop for hours. They are made from scratch and filled with love, and typically a lot of garlic and butter. They are heavenly.
If I am at home and I want to ask her about a recipe, it’s a gamble to try to call her on the phone and ask how to do something. She can’t remember. Or she can’t articulate it. Or she assumes I know…anything about cooking. When she cooks she relies on muscle memory. It’s like her brain might not really know what she’s doing but her hands do. And her eyes do. They remember, even if her mouth doesn’t. This is a woman who consistently calls potholes, “potholders”, after all. If I want to know how to make a dish, I have to see her make something to ensure I’m getting accurate information.
When I do watch her make something, and jot down the directions as I observe, there is still much room for error. You see, she doesn’t measure. She doesn’t necessarily make things the same way every time, depending on what ingredients she has on hand, and, what is partly due to her naturally flippant speech, and partly due to English not being her native language, she sometimes (often…always…) says one thing and then contradicts herself and says the exact opposite thing.
I am 100% positive that at one point she told me you could bake baklava and freeze it, but you had to do this before adding the syrup. Once the baklava was thawed, she told me, you could make the syrup and add it. When I finally get around to making some baklava, and thinking maybe I could make extra to freeze for later, I asked her about this, but she told me she has no clue, and she has never done that. Then, she tells me I could bake the baklava, add the syrup and then freeze it. I know this is completely different information than I heard before, and it can’t be trusted.
I think maybe we’re having communication difficulties about this because when I asked her we were talking on the phone. I wait until I see her next in person and ask her, “If I’m going to make baklava and freeze it, do I add the syrup before or after I put it in the freezer?.
Her response? “Yes”.
I asked my husband’s sisters. His cousins. NO ONE KNOWS. Which I call total bullshit on. But, unless you watch them do it, you’ll never learn how to cook like they do. And, let’s be honest, even when I watch them, mine still tastes like MINE and theirs still tastes like THEIRS. I’ll take it though, the MINE version is better than anything I would ever come up with on my own. So, I periodically meet with my mother-in-law and watch her make a recipe I love so I can try to recreate it at home.
Here are a few classic scenarios that occur every time I am furiously scribbling one of her recipes down.
“How much flour do I add?”
I look at her little elfish hands. I look at my gigantic man hands. *blink blink*
“How many walnuts do you put in for one batch?”
“About four handfuls”
The old handful conversation again.
“How much salt should I add?”
“Just a little” (said with a tone that implies I should understand what she means).
“Yeah, a pinch. Not too much”. She pours out how much she needs into her hands, and then transfers it into a measuring spoon so I can record the amount.
I nod my head in acknowledgment. A teaspoon. I totally understand what a teaspoon is.
“But you need enough. Not too little either”. She takes the salt shaker and pours an ungodly amount, unmeasured, into the mixing bowl.
I bang my head against the wall.
“See?” She dips a spoon into the pot and lifts it up, letting the liquid pour back out. She’s trying to make me see the level of viscosity of the syrup.
I see pouring liquid. I don’t see what I’m supposed to see.
“Um. How many minutes until it’s done?”
“Until it looks thick enough”.
I will my eyes to be smarter. I stare harder. I might as well have a blindfold on. I’m cooking blind.
“So, I need three scoops?”
“Three scoops. Full ones”.
“Got it”. I put three scoops in and smile. I did it!
She looks at it with a critical eye and says, “Maybe a little extra”.
BONUS: YIAYIA’S SPINACH PIE RECIPE:
You will need:
Yiayia sized mixing bowl: She can curl up and fit in it. Yes, she’s only 4′ 10″, but still. You don’t have one this size, trust me.
Yiayia sized pan: Yiayia uses a dented pan made from an unknown metal that has been passed down from the women in her family since the late 1800’s. Good luck finding one like that. You could use a sheet cake pan. Or two large pans. I can’t tell you what size because it depends how thick you make your spinach pie.
Salt: Way more than you would ever guess. But definitely not too much.
Dill: Copious amounts. Full disclosure, Yiayia doesn’t put this in hers. Except for the times that she does.
Feta: A huge hunk. But not so much you ruin it by making it taste like there is too much feta.
Cottage Cheese: A one pound container. The only thing you will know for sure.
Corn Meal: A large handful (a cup or so).
Green onions: Three bunches. Unless you forget to buy it, or don’t have it in your garden, in which case, zero bunches.
Yellow onions: If you want.
Parsley: Two bunches. If you’re chopping like Yiayia, take each leaf and carefully cut the stem off. If you’re cooking like me, hack away, and eat a million partial stems.
Spinach: A shitload. Rinse it in a sink full of water and keep draining and refilling the sink until there is no more dirt settling to the bottom. Repeat stem-cutting steps as mentioned previously.
Butter: Melt a stick or two. The amount you need depends how dry the filo is. If you’re like Yiayia, clarify the butter by scraping off the gunk from the top. If you’re like me, don’t waste any time, or butter.
Filo: Bought. Because some family recipes are so much work you know you’ll never make them yourself.
Oregano: From a plant transplanted from a tiny Greek village high in the mountainside, picked fresh from the garden, dried in Yiayia’s guest bedroom and stored in a glass jar with a broken handle and ill-fitting lid that your husband won’t get rid of, no matter how many times you cut your hand on it.
Garlic powder: Never enough. Garlic can stream from your pores for days after eating and it still wouldn’t be enough.
You will do:
1. Chop the greens and onions until your hands are sore and you have newfound respect for the strength Yiayia possesses. Be nicer to her, because you realize she probably could kill someone by crushing their windpipe with her bare hands, based on this hand-strength metric.
2. Add the corn meal and squeeze to soak up some of the water.
3. Combine the rest of the ingredients.
4. Butter the bottom of your pan(s) and place 8-10 layers of filo.
5. Alternate layers of spinach mixture, then three layers of filo, then layers of spinach mixture, etc…until all spinach mixture is used up.
6. Top with another 8-10 layers of filo. Brush butter on top layers, and by brush I mean SOAK. Then add more. Pro tip: add a bit of olive oil on top of all that butter.
There were so many people at my high school graduation party that June. I remember feeling surprised by how many there were, family members, friends, neighbors. I had the same feeling at my sixteenth birthday party. I didn’t understand why all those people were there to celebrate something I found so insignificant. I understand, now, as a parent, that the people weren’t just celebrating ME, they were celebrating for my parents. She made it this far. She’s doing okay.
That’s a pretty big deal.
I get that, now.
Everyone came, even my grandfather, who was ill, dying of prostate cancer at the time, but he was still doing okay, a little tired, a little weak, but he still had his same good-natured self, his dry, slightly strange, sense of humor. He was always a good looking man, and even then as an old grandpa, I admired (and patted) his buzzed-cut hair and his square jaw, that always held a smirk. He was a strong man, a sports-watching, billiard playing, beer drinking man. He was sarcastic, silly, and usually quiet, though it might be because he just couldn’t get in a word edgewise, being married to my Grandma. He was caring. He loved us all so much, and he was never afraid to show it.
That party was the last time he made it to our house.
By Thanksgiving, at his house, he was so thin that at one point when he stood up at the dinner table, his pants fell off, and his Depends undies, with his thin little thighs poking out, were exposed. Oh, how we LAUGHED, because that is what we do, and that is how he was. And it was so funny, even while it was so sad.
When he knew it was the end, he wanted all of his children around him. He could not speak, with his mouth, even though he could still speak with his eyes. I love you, they said. You crazy suckers, they added, with a wink, that could no longer physically occur, but that was still there, in a twinkling sort of sense. And he waited, an extra day even, for one of his children to fly in from out of the country, and once we were all there, we circled him, hands held together, in prayer, and said goodbye together. And then he was gone. If a death can be beautiful, then this was that death.
And even though I didn’t totally get it at the time, a comment my aunt made at my graduation party always stuck with me. “You’re lucky”, she said, “to have known him”. Teenage me slightly scoffed at the remark. Of course I was lucky to know him. Did she think I didn’t know that? Because teenagers know everything and everything is about them.
I wasn’t fully able to process the fact that my aunt’s daughter, my cousin, was only a few months old at the time, so she wouldn’t remember her grandpa at all, who was so witty and so loving and so kind. And that she was really missing a lot. She is still missing a lot, from not ever knowing him.
Now that I’m a Mama, I get it. I see my daughters with my parents, my in-laws, my grandparents, their aunts and uncles, everyone, that they are so lucky to know, now.
None of us are promised tomorrow, and every day that my kids get to spend with a family member that loves them is a gift.
It’s sort of everything to know where you come from and know how you became you. We don’t emerge from isolation, we are products of our genetics and our familial environment and the interactions between the two.
I’m trying to wrap my brain around how important it is, or why it is, but I know that it JUST IS. Maybe it’s that it is a good reminder that many of our traits aren’t solely ours, but are mostly a modified collection of characteristics and quirks and beliefs passed down from our relatives, most of whom we didn’t ever know but who have influenced us nonetheless. I think about my grandpa often, and how right my aunt was.
As an adult, Christmas has been my least favorite holiday. For starters, I’m not so into the whole religious aspect. Or the wasteful over-spending on gifts no one really needs. And it’s almost not even worth mentioning the over-booking, the last-minute changes of plans, the cooking, cleaning and never-ending dish washing.
I do love spending time with family, under normal circumstances, so I’ve tried VERY hard over the past several years to just enjoy the holiday season as family time. It’s just hard when there is SO MUCH family time packed into a very few number of days, with burdensome plans and to-dos that get in the way of actually spending quality time.
I essentially married Mr. Claus; my husband is obsessed with all of the “delights” Christmas brings – gaudy holiday decorations, buying way too many presents for family members (the money spent could be used to feed and clothe a family of four for six months), 24/7 holiday music on the radio, and the unavoidable gluttonous consumption of peanut butter cookies and cheesy potatoes.
Seriously, I’m trying very hard to be a better person overall, which includes enjoying the holiday season with my family, but this year, I failed MISERABLY on all accounts. Here’s why:
Pukey McPukeson strikes: After celebrating with my dad’s side of the family, we woke up our sleeping babe around 11:30pm to begin our hour and a half trek home. This was already several hours later than I’m used to staying awake (I’m lame, I know) so I was exhausted, and my stomach wasn’t feeling so hot. Since I’m pregnant, those two factors are quite typical lately, and were no concern to me. About 10 minutes into the return trip, however, I became concerned. I needed to puke. My husband pulled over as fast as he could, and I ALMOST got my door open all of the way before puking out the side of my car. I let the rain/sleet wash away some of the puke as I wiped up as much as I could with paper towel. Mr. Grouch can’t handle puke, so he walked away from the car and was dry-heaving.
Power Outage: Around 1.30 am we got close to our house, and were greeted with an ice-covered landscape; a huge ice storm had hit our area. We entered our neighborhood and discovered that we did not have power. Many of the mature trees in our neighborhood could be seen toppled over onto the power lines. Shit. Mr. Grouch skated to our front door, heading inside the house to get supplies. Thank goodness we were able to find refuge at my parent’s house, only a few miles away.
Pukey McPukeson strikes cont…: I continued to have stomach troubles all night – I was up puking and shitting, and I had a small case of the shakes, so didn’t get almost any sleep.
Fish Tank Fiasco: Mr. Grouch’s disgustinghorrifying relatively new hobby is setting up and maintaining aquariums full of fish. I will admit, when the fish aren’t dying grotesquely or eating each other, they are lovely to look at. At this point, he’s sunk a decent amount of money into the tanks, so it would have been hard to just let all the fish freeze to death in our basement. Not to mention the fact that he likes his little aquatic pals. So, we borrowed his parent’s generator, to keep the fridge, freezer and aquarium running while we were out of power. This required him/us to come back and forth every 8-10 hours to refuel the generator.
Clearing Trees and Holes in Roofs: Our family owns several rental properties nearby. Due to the storm damage, there were many trees that needed to be cut down and removed from a few of the houses. Mr. Grouch was called in to help clear trees from four properties. At one of the houses, a tree had poked a hole in the roof, requiring that they also patch that up. I was exhausted and still not feeling well, so took a couple of naps during the day while Yia Yia Grouch helped to watch the baby. We migrated from my parent’s house to his parent’s house.
Winterizing the House: Mr. Grouch didn’t want any pipes to burst so on one of his many trips back and forth to refill the generator with fuel, he drained the pipes in our house.
Leaking Sinks: After a day of clearing trees and repairing roofs, Mr. Grouch was hoping to relax. However that plan was foiled early on when Yia Yia Grouch’s kitchen sink started leaking into the basement. He and Papou Grouch had to take apart, and then put back together, the kitchen sink.
Bulldozer Boy and The Gang: Mr. Grouch’s sister was also without power, so she and her two boys came over to join us at Yia Yia’s. Later in the evening, she went home to try to hook up a generator with her husband, and she left the kids with her parents (and us, by default). Her two kids are incredibly smart, sweet, funny. And energetic. I’ve come to the realization that while I feel like I work incredibly well with teenagers, I have zero skills when it comes to dealing with 3-year-olds. In fact, I’m becoming concerned about being a horrible mom once Baby Grouch gets to this age.
To be fair to myself, we can refer to one of her kids as Bulldozer Boy, because he’s basically a destructive nightmare, albeit in a cute little package. He raced through the house, breaking holiday decor, shaking and knocking over the wrapped Christmas presents, turning the thermostat on and off, and almost knocking over Baby Grouch, at full-force, about 15 times. He does not listen (I know, I know, he’s three; he’s supposed to act that way). I’m sure I’m not the first to exclaim that three-year-olds are scary, obnoxious little fucks.
Regurgitated Wine on the Carpet: Usually my mother-in-law and I sip on a glass of red together, at the end of the night, any time we spend the night at her house. Since I couldn’t indulge, I bought her a four-pack of single serving Merlot, so she could have a glass without having to open up a whole bottle. She deserved a treat since she was housing and feeding several extra house-guests (and let’s not forget, chasing around The Bulldozer). She hugged me, and tilted her head into my chest when I gave it to her. She needed it. She sipped one of the wines right out of the mini-bottle, so she wouldn’t have to wash one more glass.
Unfortunately, not only did I bring her the red wine, I must have also brought her my plague, because in the middle of the night, she awoke, needing to throw up. She rushed to the bathroom, and almost made it to the toilet. She covered her mouth in a futile attempt to hold back the tide, resulting in spraying merlot-colored puke all over her cream carpet. She was sick all night.
Carpet Cleaning: Yia Yia Grouch is one tough cookie, so after being up all night sick, she was up and at ’em in the morning, and was more concerned with the wine-stained carpet than her own health. I figured since I brought over the wine AND the virus, the least I could do was to clean the carpet, as best I could.
Cats: Today it was decided that my sister-in-law’s cats might freeze to death at their place, which was still without power, so the cats were brought over and they reluctantly joined the fun. Meow. Meow. Bulldozer Boy and his brother ran up and down the basement steps (the one part of the house adjacent to the room Baby Grouch was napping in), screeching at the top of their lungs that “the cat is stuck behind the washer!” and, “I need my MOM! The cat is stuck behind the pipes!” for a solid 45 minutes.
Celebration Number 2: Today was my husband’s side Christmas celebration – so all of us ate, opened presents and frolicked gaily, amidst the chaos that is family. Other than my niece falling on her face on the kitchen floor and giving herself a bloody nose, it was exhausting, but quite a lovely time. My sister-in-law introduced me to Anna’s Ginger Thins, which made the dealings with the adorable Bulldozer Boy more than worthwhile.
Late Breakfast: Okay, at this point, I started to get tired. Really tired. And, let’s not forget I’m a hormonal basket case, and then my blood sugar plummeted. Breakfast was supposed to be at 10:00, but my sister came in late, so we ate around 11.30 instead. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. This was my breaking point. My alter-ego, Irrational Bitch Girl came out. Just in time to celebrate with my immediate family. Lucky them. Once I shoved breakfast into my face, I started preparing my dish to bring to dinner at my grandmother’s later that day. On a positive note, my sister made up for her lateness with a delicious chorizo and sweet potato hash.
Cry-fest: Once at my grandma’s, we were greeted with another packed house full of people expecting social interaction. My body was in Reserve-Fuel-Mode. It was keeping my heart pumping and hands moving, but there was very little extra energy remaining for talking, hugging or smiling. My uncle leaned in for a Hello Hug, and said “Congratulations!” since I haven’t seen him since we announced our pregnancy. He then leaned in a little closer and said, “And my condolences on the losses“. I said, “Oh, it’s okay. Thank you” and started crying and had to walk away. I went over to the food table and took a spoonful of my dish. Crunch. The fucking rice didn’t cook all the way through. I was so pissed. What a waste of time and energy it was making that. I went into the bathroom and cried again. I was a mess. I cried a teensy bit more when my nephew, who has recently declared that he wants to be a priest when he grows up, performed “mass” before dinner – complete with readings from the Bible, a talk about prayer boxes and finishing with leading all 25+ of us in a rendition of This Little Light of Mine. It was beautiful. I think I scared my sister’s boyfriend with all the Emotions.
Bitch-fest: I was complaining incessantly about my shitty dish, and when I’m pissed/tired/sad I’m completely irrational. I know this, and somehow can’t always stop the blather that forces its way out of my mouth. I declared that I would never cook anything without a tried-and-true recipe, relying from that point on solely on Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens. I annoyed my whole family. I also got asked for my recipe a couple of times. Go figure.
Almost-More-Cats: My good pal and neighbor friend texted me saying that they were also having a Christmas Nightmare Scenario and were heading back to the area, with or without power. We checked, and while our side of the neighborhood just got power back, unfortunately they were still without. They panicked. They asked if they could crash at our place, with their baby and their cat. I laughed and actually welcomed the visit, as chaotic as it would be.
The thing was, I knew that when I told my friend about my Betty-Crocker-Only-Plan, she would call me an ass and we would create hypothetical scenarios about only eating take-out for the rest of our lives and we’d laugh and laugh and laugh about how stupid of an idea that really is, and I’d call myself an asshole, and that all sounded much better than the reaction given by family.You know the one, the You’re Always So Negative look of disgust, accompanied by zero laughs. Friends always seem to bring out the best, family always the worst. Maybe it’s because friends always seem to be able to decode irrational bitch-fest speak. They understand that “I’m only cooking Betty Crocker from now on” is really code for, “Holy hell, I’m so fucking tired, and I didn’t have the energy to spare on one second of anything that wasn’t worth it, and I spared 45 minutes on the god-damned shitty dish instead of on my family like I should have”.
As it turned out, my pal ended up finding another place to stay that night, so instead of laughing, I just collapsed into a heap and slept like a rock in my own glorious bed.
Today at Yia Yia Grouch’s house, we talked about how the week had sucked for them as well (their mailbox was ran over by the snow plow and Papou Grouch’s truck broke down earlier that week) and she joked that God was mad at us this year and essentially cursed our Christmas.
FRIDAY 12/27: I just woke up to the sound of Mr. Grouch throwing up. Fucking hell.
When I cleaned out my freezer yesterday, I found this Holy Butter Lamb shoved in the back. I pulled it out and put it in the fridge to use this week. An offering to the Gods. Maybe we’ll have better luck next year.
We struggled to become pregnant with baby number 1. We tried on our own for two years before seeking help from a reproductive endocrinologist (RE), who informed us that I very likely was not ovulating on my own at all (makes it a little harder to conceive) due to my PCOS. After a year of ingestible, injectable, and suppository meds, a combination worked and after a relatively delightful pregnancy and birth, Baby Grouch was born. Huzzah! The whole process made me naively believe that, for me, conception was close to impossible, but pregnancy would be relatively easy. Pregnancy Viking!
We knew we wanted another child, so started trying on our own very soon after her birth. Naturally, the whole no ovulation thing meant nothing actually resulted from those attempts. Who did we think we were? Normal people? Hah. So, we went back to the RE, who put us on the same combination of meds that resulted in the first pregnancy. And WHAMMO. Pregnant the first medicated cycle! Crazytown. Unfortunately, that ended in an early miscarriage. A few months later we started our next medicated cycle. And can you believe it? WHAMMO AGAIN! The power of (correctly balanced) hormones is astounding.
In infertility terms, three pregnancies in a row (okay, in a medicated row, over a course of 21 months) is almost unheard of. It’s like winning the lottery. No. That’s not quite right. It’s more like winning The Conception Toilet Bowl, since you’re comparing yourself only to the group of people who really suck at baby-making. Whatever, you still get a prize in the end.
Immediately I could tell that this pregnancy was different. It was so much MORE than the last one(s). First, there was the uterus. The uterus that I swear felt – POOF, and expand exponentially, instantaneously. I seriously felt poochy 3 days after conception. A week later I KNEW I was pregnant. My body was heavy with the pregnancy already. I alternated between feeling nauseous and ravenously hungry. I only wanted to eat Crunchwrap Supremes from Taco Bell, a food item I had previously disliked. But, what did I know? I had only experienced the glimmer of a second pregnancy before, so maybe this is what it always felt like when you already had one child.
Then the data started rolling in. My beta numbers were through the roof. Whereas my beta over the summer was 70 (very much in the average range), my beta in the fall was 1270. Honestly, still in the realm of possibility of a singleton, since HCG levels can vary widely, but the number was noticeably high.
I was sure there were TWO. I sent my husband texts that said things like, “The babieS are hungry today!”. I had a dream that we had twin boys.
Working with the RE, we got to have our first ultrasound at 7 weeks (how on Earth do you normal people wait so freaking long to see your baby?!).
The following stages are what we went through from the day of that first appointment, until now.
1. Fear – What if there isn’t a heartbeat? What if I am just feeling so pregnant because I WANT to be so pregnant? Water poured out of my eyes, as we waited for the ultrasound tech to get ready to give us a peek at my insides. I was just hoping I could blame the tears on surging hormone levels.
2. Elation – There’s a baby! With a heartbeat! OMG there are two babies!!!! Whumpa. Whumpa. Whumpa. Whumpa. Whumpa. I turned to Mr. Grouch and said, “I told you!” because no wife misses an opportunity to tell their husband they told them so. Um. Three heartbeats!?! Yes. Three. Holy Eff. But, no matter how freaking crazy it might seem, once you hear your baby’s Whumpa Whumpa, you’re elated. In this case, triple time.
3 Shock – The car ride home was mostly filled with silence. Mr. Grouch broke it at one point to say, “We have to buy two new cars. We won’t be able to fit our entire family in either of our cars“. This was followed up with more silence.
4. Denial/Disbelief – It’s so early in the pregnancy. Anything could happen. There might not even BE three heartbeats anymore by the time we go back. There was one little runt that was much smaller than the other two.
5. Guilt – OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD please don’t let anything happen to my babies. Please let them be alright! Whumpa whumpa whumpa echoed in our heads. A primitive, instinctual beat.
6. Trepidation – How will all three babies get enough touch? We can’t hold them all at once. What will the psychological damage from this be? How will Baby Grouch handle suddenly being the sister of The Triplets? Will she feel left out? Holy hell, we can’t afford daycare for four children under the age of 2. At least not without giving up groceries, heat, water and garbage removal. We will never, ever retire. How are we going to do this? Oh, yea, don’t forget we need new cars.
7. Acceptance – We’ll figure it out. We have a good support system. We’ll beg and borrow for baby things. We’ll be alright.
8. Elation – We’re going to have a loud, obnoxious, messy house, plastered with Cheerios and dirty handprints and SO. MUCH. LOVE. And drama. There will be a lot of drama. Still cool.
At around 10 weeks we went in for our last appointment with the RE. We stared at the screen as the ultrasound tech adjusted the wand until all three of our babies were visible on the screen. There they were! Except they weren’t really all there anymore. Not all of them. We immediately noticed that Baby A was still little. Too little.
9. Relief – So there are only two.
10. Grief – So there are only two.
11. Shock – When the ultrasound says, matter-of-factly, “I see one heartbeat“. I inhaled sharply, and Mr. Grouch instinctively reached out to touch the only part of me he could reach – my foot. Since the very beginning there had always been more than one. We had never imagined one. And now she said “one“. It was incomprehensible. It was shockingly sad.
12. Anguish – After losing three of our babies in a matter of months, it was hard to concentrate on the fact that there was still one beautifully healthy looking 10-week-old fetus intact. We both left the office in tears, trying to stay positive and appreciate the good news we had been given. But, we could hardly look at on another other because our own grief was reflected on each other’s faces.
13. Guilt – How dare I be upset about not getting THREE when so many do not even have ONE? I should not feel sad, I should not be so greedy. We’re getting one, which was what we set out for in the first place. But, no matter how many times I reprimanded myself, I was still heartbroken.
13. Anxiety – We graduated from the RE to the regular OB. The wait between appointments was brutal. We had lost Baby A and Baby B, without warning. What made us think that Baby C would be okay? The thought of losing yet another was too hard to imagine, yet impossible to push from my mind.
At our OB appointment, we explained our first trimester history to the nurse. She saw the anxiety on my face, and she measured it with the blood pressure cuff. She told me she’d try to find the heartbeat as soon as she could. She moved the doppler around, “That’s your intestines. That’s your heartbeat“. She kept moving the instrument around my abdomen. Tears started to leak out. Where was the heartbeat, where was it?
14. Gratitude – “There’s the heartbeat! There it is!” Her relief was almost as obvious as mine. Except my elation was exposed in the form of uncontrollable sobbing, right there in the office, in front of the nurse. After our appointment, I played with Baby Grouch, and when she was in bed, I snuck into her room and just watched her sleep. Mr. Grouch and I turned in, and Mr. Grouch wrapped his arm around me, caressing my belly, simultaneously saying goodbye to A and B, while sending love to C. Gratitude wrapped in a thin veil of grief is still gratitude.
15. Elation. We’re having a baby! The happiest words ever uttered.
So, that’s the news. We’ll be keeping the cars we have, and Baby Grouch will be a Big Sister in June.
Flu season is upon us. Flu shots, Vitamin C and hot green tea with honey can help keep the symptoms at bay….for awhile. But, even if you lucked out before, at some point it is inevitable that the flu will wreak havoc through your household. Vaccines, vitamins and all-natural remedies (can I get a what what for my neti pot?) can support your immune system functions, but they’re not magical potions.
Except there’s this. Being sick when you have children is a specific type of agony.
Uh huh. You parents know what I’m talking about. Being sick is never fun, but when you’re a parent, it brings the misery to a whole other level. Here’s why:
1) You can’t rest. Back in the day when you were sick, you’d stay in bed all day feeling sorry for yourself, sleep for hours on end, and give your body some time to heal. You might manage to summon the energy to call your mom or your significant other to ask for a home delivery of saltines and ginger ale. But, once you’re a parent, there is no resting in bed. You still need to feed your children, get them ready for school, and then feed them AGAIN for dinner (they’re so demanding). You also need to make sure they don’t flush all of their toys down the toilet or impale themselves with a shish kabob skewer they pull from a kitchen drawer. You trying to “take it easy” is exhausting and physically demanding.
2) You don’t get any sympathy. In the PK (pre-kid) era, your spouse used to feel bad when you got sick. They’d make you chicken soup, take your temperature and say sweet things like, “Feel better, babe!”. Nowadays when you mention your scratchy throat, or cough extra loudly for attention, your significant other just responds by getting pissed off. Gone are the days of getting special treatment and here to stay are the times of getting leered at with disgust and a growled, “Don’t get sick” request/threat. Because chances are, if you’re sick, so are they. Or, at least on the verge and you being sick means more work, and more exhaustion, for them.
3) Your body never actually gets a chance to heal. In the past, an infection would run its course, and be in and out of your system in a jiffy. No, back then a few days didn’t FEEL like a jiffy, but now you have the perspective to realize that your body used to heal itself with lightening speed. These days, your immune system is less efficient than the federal government, and you’re lucky if that seemingly harmless cold doesn’t linger for weeks, or more. A virus that doesn’t mutate into a lethal condition is reason to celebrate. I’m quite certain that the white blood cell count of parents are at a perpetually statistically significant level of elevation, compared to non-parents.
4) You might infect your poor child. It’s not just about you anymore. Nothing is worse than a sick child. In contrast to being completely pissed off when it comes to your spouse being sick, you have nothing but sympathy for your little one. When your spouse gets sick, don’t be surprised if you alternate between thoughts of, “Help me out you lazy bum!” and, “Get away from the baby – what are you trying to do, kill your own offspring?!”
5) You will probably get infected by your poor child if you have escaped contamination thus far. This sucks for multiple reasons. For one, you probably got infected while having face the repugnant task of cleaning up a bunch of puke from the kitchen floor, from the kid’s car seats, or – the worst – out of the heat vent when your kid leans over the side of the bed to puke in the middle of the night. Great placement, kid! You earn some parenting bonus points if this happens when you’re sitting on the side of the bed, placing a cool dishcloth on your germy bundle of joy’s head, and some of it splatters on your face/lap/in your own mouth. Not only does this make you sick in the Stand By Me sort of a way, but it exponentially increases the chances of you becoming actually infected, and from the looks of it, possibly with Ebola. If this happens to you, suck it up and don’t expect any niceties from your spouse until Spring.
At only 1 year of age, Baby Grouch has taught me how (approximately) 8230753 lbs of mommy-love can be squeezed into a teensy, tiny, Grinch-sized heart. She’s also taught me that the equivalent poundage of terror can be packed into that same cubic volume.
Like some anxiety-riddled, futuristic camera, my brain captures images of Baby Grouch in worst-case scenarios. It would be easy to get sucked in and dwell on this imaginary album and give myself multiple heart attacks each day. I have to refocus my mental camera constantly, to appreciate the real view in front of me. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes the refocusing of the Crazy-Brain Camera feels less like rotating the lens of an SLR and more like trying to swivel the steering wheel of a semi truck that lacks power steering.
With that in mind, here’s my letter to Baby Grouch about my anxieties and my corresponding, seemingly rare, moments of clarity and sanity.
Dear Baby Grouch,
Mama worries about you.
When you are asleep, she checks on you once before she herself tucks in. Sometimes twice. Even though she knows you are probably okay, sometimes the silence scares her. She is reassured by the rising and falling of your chest. She marvels at the fascinating science of DNA inheritance, as she observes you fast asleep with one leg bent at the knee, up in the air, crossed over the other, just like your father sleeps. She admits, without remorse, that she has, on occassion, slightly disturbed your slumber in order to hear you emit an audible sigh.
While you are at daycare, she knows you are in good hands, but she has moments of panic that a tragic mishap will take place. A slip. A fall. An accident. She might even work herself up into an unwarranted frenzy at the prospect of a trivial busted lip. When she walks in to pick you up, and sees your happy, healthy self at play (with both lips intact) a breath she didn’t realize was wedged in her chest escapes out of her mouth. She is so relieved that she doesn’t even mind the smashed graham cracker in your hair or the dried snot under your nose smearing all over her shirt as she gives you a grateful embrace hello.
Every time she hears a news story of a shooting, a car accident, a drowning – she thinks to herself that losing you in such a fashion would be unbearable, unimaginable, fall-on-your-knees-with-your-mouth-hanging-open horrifying. Every time she hears a harrowing story when she’s in the car, at work, watching television or out with friends, for a split second she replaces your wide eyed, grinning, gap-toothed face with the victim’s. She morbidly imagines the photograph that would accompany your news story, one of you scrunching up your nose in excitement, or one of you smiling, with your eyes open wide – two almost-perfect orbs, the left slightly narrower than the right – showing off your favorite doll to the camera. During this brief gruesome flash, she holds back the tears that threaten to pour off her lashes. She manages to keep herself together as she almost falls apart at the mere reminder that bad things happen to good people all of the time. Depending on where she is, this can sometimes be embarassing. But it can not be helped.
When she’s at work, as a high school teacher, hearing snide remarks and bullying tones and hurtful words coming from the mouths of some of the kids, she pictures you as a teen, getting crushed by broken friendships, broken promises and broken hearts. It pains her even now to think of your inevitable heartache in the future. She knows that even though some people make it through high school unscathed, no one makes it through life without some significant rough patches.
But your Mama doesn’t always worry.
While you play you are cheery and you are able to amuse yourself, yet you love to share your joy and engage with those around you. You bang toys together, on the table, on your head. You laugh. You give them to me, then take them back, then give them to me again. You hug your baby and kiss your Elmo. You make “fish” face and surprised “oh!” face and your sideways head tilt “cute” face for the purpose of amusing those around you. You stack your blocks, and joyfully knock them over with a Boom! If you fall while you’re exploring, you get back up. You are strong. You babble as you page through your books and point at the images you look at. You are smart. Oh so smart! And also silly. A winning combination for life.
While at daycare you grow and learn and improve your skills. She’s watched you perform independent tasks since you were only months old and continues to hear reports of how you excel. And she’s proud. She also hears periodic reports of your strong-willed nature, your refusal to follow an occasional rule when you don’t want to, or to want to sometimes do things on your own terms. No one can make you crawl up the steps or eat a cheese quesadilla or sleep for longer than 45 minutes at a stretch, if you don’t want to. And for this, she is also proud. Mama would worry if her daughter didn’t sometimes question what she was told to do.
When you’re older she knows that while you’ll mature and learn new things, you’ll essentially be the same person that you are now. People may go through different phases and stages, but they really don’t change all that much, in the long run. You’ll be strong. You’ll be smart. You’ll be silly. And Mama will still be proud. And even with her anxieties and worries now, she knows in her gut that you will be okay.
I have been practicing yoga for almost 5 years now – I began on the recommendation of my family doctor, when I was struggling with anxiety. From the moment I started, I was surrounded by teachers I connected with and have missed very few weeks without attending a session ever since. It has changed my life; it has made a tremendous difference in improving my anxiety and mental health. It has also tightened and toned me up a bit, which is not my purpose for practicing but is a nice added bonus.
I practiced yoga throughout our struggle to conceive, and was lucky enough to be able to continue throughout the entire duration of my pregnancy with Baby Grouch. For as much as I practice, I oddly only have one yoga shirt, which I love. It is long and fits perfectly, so I never have to think about it, adjust it or mess with it. Or rather, it used to be that way. I stretched out the belly from practicing while carrying the baby, but haven’t yet found a suitable replacement so I’m still wearing the same coral shirt I’ve had for years.
The only problem with this, is that now, when I’m in shoulder stand, my shirt, that used to stay snugly on my hips, now slides up to my boobs and exposes my belly. And there’s not much I can do about it, once I’m in shoulder stand, other than stare right up at my stomach, since my hands are pinned to the floor and turning your head in this posture can damage your neck. So, at least once a week for the past year, I’ve had a few minutes to stare at my post-baby saggy pooch. The fat underneath my belly button has been stretched out, so when I’m upside down, the skin sort of crookedly hangs a bit over my belly button. It’s not very pretty.
I think everyone’s heard the cliché about mothers who are “proud” of their stretch marks, their flabby underbellies. They’ve “earned their stripes” yada yada yada. It used to annoy me, and still does, a little. I can understand being proud of your children, or proud of who you are as a mother, or the choices you have made. But, what’s the deal about being proud of your inability to get back into pre-baby shape? I didn’t get it.
And now I sort of do. Except, I still don’t think PRIDE is the correct term. You can’t really be proud of something you have so little control over. The timing of your conception, how easy or hard your pregnancy was, and how long you were in labor are not anything to be proud of, in my opinion, since our bodies, for the most part, are going to just do what they do. For the most part we did not earn anything, other than being able to truly appreciate a cold salami sandwich and a stiff drink after 9 months of abstaining.
Pride isn’t the right term, at all. But, honor is. What an honor it is, to have the privilege of becoming pregnant, to carry around your baby as he or she grows inside you. What an honor to feel every kick, every hiccup, every movement. What an honor it is to give birth to a child, no matter how laborious or exhausting the process. And a stretched out pooch is my mark that resulted from me being able to experience all of those positive things.
It’s an honor to have a child, to be exposed to her freedom, to experience her joy and to witness her little personality emerging before me. To be humbled and honored by the process and the person does not mean that conception, pregnancy, or labor are not difficult. And we all know that parenting is hard…..really hard. So, it’s okay as a mother to take a moment to honor myself, and my mental sanity, even if that means exacerbating the paunch by indulging in Doritos and wine on a semi-regular basis. There’s something to be said about making sure to honor the part of you that demands to be happy and satisfied.
So today at yoga, I was reminded not to dwell on the pooch or be disgusted by the saggy skin. But, to embrace it and remember that I am honored and lucky to have stretched out my favorite shirt, as well as my abdomen.
It’s no secret that Mr. Grouch and I have been trying for Baby Grouch #2. We’ve been “not not trying” since she was only a few months old, and we started seeing our reproductive endocrinologist again back in May. As we embarked on this journey for a second time, I told myself I’d maintain a positive attitude. That I wouldn’t get sucked back into a self-pitying hole.
I’ve been telling myself that I should be grateful for my family of three, when so many others are struggling to become parents for the first time. I am grateful our process wasn’t as long, expensive, or invasive as what many others have endured. I am so very, very, lucky and I tell myself not to be greedy.
I’ve been telling myself that no matter what, I’ll be happy with the family that I end up with, whether we can ride as a group in a small sedan or if we require a van to haul us around. I have a smart, interesting, silly, happy, curious and delightful one year old who amuses, thrills and amazes me each and every day. She defines beauty, inside and out. And, if she’s the only child I am able to have, I couldn’t have been blessed with a better little human being.
Yet, a nagging whisper coming from inside me keeps saying …But I want one more….If one is this good, two can only be better.
So, as we’ve begun the second round of fertility treatments, I’ve been telling myself that we got pregnant using this combination of meds the last time around, so it should work again this time, and that I just need to be patient.
I’ve been telling myself that I should relax, and if the upcoming blood draw turns out to be a big fat negative, that it will be okay, and we can always try again.
But, apparently it doesn’t matter how much I tell myself those things, however true they may be.
As the two week wait comes to a close and the blood draw date looms ahead, I can’t help but feel incredibly anxious. I can hear my heartbeat and feel it in my throat. My face is shiny, sticky, slick with sweat. My hands are shaky, my knee won’t stop bobbing when I sit. My breath is labored, shallow, my lungs are tight. My high pitched voice barks at those around me and while I try to rein it in, my responses are often short, brash, sharper sounding than I want them to be. At first I couldn’t pinpoint my anxieties, but now I know why.
I don’t want the test to be negative.
And even though I have no control over the outcome, and my rational self knows “if not this month, maybe next month” the horrible dark little corner of my heart whispers…maybe never... And it chews little holes inside me with those words, turning my insides to mush, and squeezes my juices out of the corners of my eyes.
I guess it isn’t just this test that I’m anxious about. My overreactions, which at first glance appear to be over a relatively trivial event, are really projecting my true fear. Going through this process again (for how long?) with maybe nothing to show for it in the end, other than mountains of bills and valleys of disappointment.
But, just continuing to go through the treatments in an indication of hope, isn’t it? That I must think it’ll work out in the end, and that, in the not-to-far future, my heart will be doubly full and this will all be behind us. So louder than the dark voice, I keep telling myself.…Don’t give up…