Monday 28 March 2016

Seventeen months and family vacation

Spring has arrived in western Canada, and last week we headed out of town for our first "nuclear family vacation." That sounds vaguely like a disaster alert, but what I mean is that while we have traveled for holidays before, we stayed with our parents in both cases. Last week it was just the three of us. As we hit the road, it occurred to me that a family vacation might present its own challenges. We go through our daily lives more or less smoothly, but our days are structured by work, study, daycare and the necessities of life such as shopping, cooking, hygiene, errands, chores, etc. We hadn't really had an opportunity to experience a whole week of unstructured time together. Would we be able to find ways of amusing ourselves and enjoying each other's company, all on our own initiative?

Happily, I can report that yes, we did! We did not pull each other's hair out; we had no difficulty finding fun things to do; the TV was not turned on once (except when AJ was playing with the buttons) and it was awesome to spend so much time with AJ and to witness the pace at which she is maturing and developing.

We chose to stay for a week at a small resort community in the mountains of the East Kootenays.

I enjoyed this view during a solo bike excursion

We had a relaxed 5 hour drive, following the speed limit and stopping for lunch, to reach our destination. AJ handled the drive quite well, fussing only when she had to go to sleep in her car seat. We stayed in a time share condo that had a full kitchen and laundry, which allowed us to settle in and make ourselves at home.

Vacation highlights:
We rode our bikes out for the first time in three years. AJ got to ride in her new chariot, a gift from my dad. He always said that he wanted to buy her sports equipment, so we are going to honour that wish.
Mr. Turtle actually pulled the chariot: I'm posing

Mush daddy, mush!

We did a short hike to the top of the "hoodoos", i.e. clay cliff formations which ended in a beautiful view. Afterwards Mr. Turtle and I admitted to each other and we were preoccupied throughout the hike by thoughts of cougar attacks, bear attacks, AJ toddling off a precipice, etc. Ah, parenthood. I found that I had a lot of these intrusive thoughts for the first few days. I think being in an unfamiliar place put my mothering instincts on high alert. I also slept much lighter and more restlessly throughout the trip, although not for any reason I could identify. But as the days went on I did relax more, and preoccupation with danger slowly faded too. Beautiful views and picnics helped.

I'm not imagining us plummeting to our deaths over the edge, really I'm not.
Back in the frontier days, the East Kootenays were opened up by railway (further west, my maternal grandfather worked for the CPR and was granted his land as a result). Trains still run, but fewer than there used to be. Now many of the old railway tracks are being converted to recreational trails, which is awesome. We rode the North Star Rails to Trails. It is paved and perfect for the chariot, although we were turned back by snow after about 8km. But it was just as well as we had to go uphill to return.

During picnic break at a scenic spot, AJ practiced walking. The big news is that in the past week she has decided she likes walking and wants to do it. She still hangs onto our hands or furniture, but she has discovered her sense of adventure. 

AJ thoroughly enjoyed our trip, and loved having new places to explore. A favourite part of the condo was the gas fireplace. She called it "cookies" for a while - I guess the fake charred logs looked like baked goods? We detached the seat part of our highchair to use as a booster, and she loved having her own armchair.

Perhaps because she was in a new place, AJ was extra attached to her "kitteez" this week, especially one of them, which she often insisted on bringing with her. Here the Kitteez are going for a ride in daddy's shoes.

AJ was very receptive to learning new things this week, and we had some fun with this. For example when she was happy to see her kitty, she would stuff its nose in her mouth. If she wanted to crawl somewhere, she had gotten into the habit of carrying it in her mouth like a dog. While rather cute we agreed this was more than a bit gross, especially since Kitty gets dragged through pretty much everything. So we told her to give kitty kisses instead of big bites. And it worked! Now she gives kitty little baby kisses (and us too when we are lucky). I also showed her how to "feed kitties milk" by dipping their heads in a cup and making slurping noises. Then how to pour milk by pouring from an (empty) coffee cream container. Immediately she started doing the action herself. 

I guess I must spend a lot of time wiping things up, because AJ now wants to help. She takes a Kleenex and wipes her nose and mouth, and wipes her table too. She spent about 10 minutes dusting one of the end tables.

I must be showing a good example, though from the amount of dust in our house, you might not think so.

AJ learned "No" this week. She still says it quite gently, but will swat away whatever it is she's refusing if you don't get the message. She uses the softer "nah-nah" for something she knows she shouldn't do (like play with the knobs on the air conditioning unit) but really wants to do anyway. She will approach forbidden object and say "nah-nah" but in the tone of voice you might use when contemplating a tub of chocolate ice cream. On the other hand, sometimes she will mutter "na-na" and move on to the next attraction. So her senses of individuality and self-regulation seem quite in synch for the moment.

On a more poignant note: AJ has also started saying "No" to cuddles sometimes. Sigh. I know later in life I'll be glad that she has this skill.

AJ has more words than I can keep track of. New ones this week were "grups" (grapes) and "piders" (spider). No, we were not overrun with spiders (shudder) but AJ is currently into a series of Moonjinmedia books of updated nursery rhymes, one of which is Little Miss Muffet. Every page features a riff on the nursery rhyme and a friendly spider in a top hat.  So we have great fun reading "Along came a....." AJ fills in "Piders!"  "Boops" were a significant part of our holiday and read them all at least 5 times a day.

On our final day we cycled in a nearby small city which we both really liked, and would gladly return to. We ended the day by going to a German restaurant on the highway. In a way, this restaurant symbolized the spectrum of emotions I felt on this trip. You see, the East Kootenays is very familiar to me in some ways but new to me in others. It is familiar because I drove through it with my parents umpteen times as a child, teen and young adult on our way to our vacation home further west. All the landmarks bring back memories of those times. But in those days we never stopped and explored: we were always on our way through. So the memories Mr. Turtle, AJ and I made exploring on this holiday are all fresh and belong just to us. It's an interesting combination. 

I thought a lot about my dad on this trip. It was inevitable as we were doing many of the activities that he particularly liked. I would imagine myself telling him about the hikes we took, the trails we cycled, and suggesting that he and my mom should try them on their next trip to BC: only to remember that this is impossible now. That made me sad, even as I enjoyed each experience with AJ and Mr. Turtle. But I also found as the days went by that the sad feelings and thoughts were replaced by a sense of gratitude: my dad and mom enjoyed outdoor activities throughout their lives together, and we are enjoying them now. It didn't totally take away the sadness, but the awareness gave me a feeling of peace too.

Back to the restaurant: Since it was on the highway, it was a very familiar landmark, but I had never been inside. I think I was almost afraid to go in finally because what if, after all those years, it was a disappointment? But it was not. It had the kind of cozy yet communal layout which I particularly like in restaurants. We had our own little space, but we could also see everyone else (and be seen). I'm sure there were tourists like ourselves there, but there were also local families gathered together to celebrate. A deep peaceful buzz of conversation surrounded me, people of all generations shared food together, and I felt like I rested beside a river that ran through past, present and future and promised to nourish all our lives together. Mr. Turtle and AJ went off to explore, and I took it all in and realized that one of the best things about our vacation was that I had been able to live in the moment. I like our daily life, work and chores and all. But it's easy to be perpetually busy preparing for the Next Thing and not take the time to absorb the amazing reality of the present.  Mr. Turtle and I share a life together; between us, we share another (still) tiny human's life. For all the half-understood forces that surround and influence us, the currents that could catch and sweep us away, still we are, miraculously, and blessedly, here.

The restaurant had only one high chair, so AJ had to sit on a booster on a real chair. It was adorable to see her at the table like a big girl. She also eats with a spoon now, more or less successfully, and she made short work of her cup of lentil soup.

In summary: Family vacation was a great success, and I hope to keep processing and learning from the deep feelings and thoughts that I had a chance to experience.

Happy spring to everyone.

Monday 14 March 2016

At least I'm not in menopause

Last week I got my results back on the medical tests I had recently. There was nothing particularly interesting about them, hence why I haven't updated sooner.

Bone density scan: Dr. Gnomish said it was pointless to even requisition this test for me (resident inexperience?) because there is no data on bone density for someone who is 36 years old. The standard age to begin the scans is 50. So unless I have another x-ray in some years to compare to this one, they have no reference with which to make a judgment about my scan.

Blood tests: The numbers were within normal parameters for a woman who is cycling.

Pelvic ultrasound: The fibroids were noted, and that they are much the same size. Everything in my pelvis looked fine. The ovaries were "hard to visualize", but appeared normal. I asked what that meant. Basically, no cysts or anything unusual. Dr. Gnomish said ovaries get smaller with age and that is probably why they were hard to see. But they didn't do anything like an antral follicle count.

So, the conclusion: I have no emergent health problems, and I'm not in menopause. While none of these tests had much to say about fertility, after events of the past few months I am very happy to hear that they saw nothing unusual in my innards and my organs are all working fine.  And I'm glad I'm not in menopause, although I already knew that as I've had (fairly) regular periods since January.

Dr. Gnomish said that if we wanted a referral to The Fertility Clinic, just give him a call. Easy. That part of it, anyway. Do we want a referral? What would we ask the Fertility Clinic to do if we got another referral? Not so easy.

I'm hoping my cycles are trending a little longer. The last 3 were 19, 21, 24 days. Maybe this next one will be a good one, two or three days longer? One can hope. AJ was conceived following several wonky short cycles, after all.

In the meantime, I remind myself to be grateful for and enjoy the life we have. Would we be excited and happy for another pregnancy? Yes. (When not shaking with anxiety). Are things pretty great the way they are? Yes.

We have adjusted to life as a family of 3. I meet the definition (for now at least) of "having it all," though I find that phrase ridiculous for many reasons.  I still have ambiguous feelings about my current teaching position, but I do like it better than I did a few months ago. There are upbuilding, fun things happening. Daycare ("baby school") continues to be a positive experience for AJ. She hasn't cried upon being dropped off there for several months and neither have I. Although I always feel bereft when I leave her, rather like I am leaving half my brain and half my heart behind. Overall it's like I have acquired a mild disability. I can't make it go away but I can learn to work around it and I'm slowly getting better at it.

At the end of March we are taking a week's vacation in the mountains, between 4 and 5 hours drive away. In preparation we took our bikes to the shop to be tuned up. They haven't been ridden in almost 3 years. But AJ has a chariot now (it was one thing my dad particularly wanted to buy her) and so we have hopes of adding another family activity to our routines. Between work, grad school, and the daily stuff that we need to do to survive, we don't do much for active leisure except walk.  As AJ gets older I want to get into the habit of doing more interesting things so she gets a variety of experiences not to mention a good example. On the other hand we enjoy our day to day and we have a decent amount of downtime, so we mosey along pretty well. Certainly, we have more downtime than we would with a second child. Another reason to be grateful for the present.

I am looking forward to a week of cycling and ambling and being lazy as a family. We don't have many plans as AJ still naps for an average of 2 hours right in the middle of a day. Unless she sleeps in the car there's really no point in planning ambitious day excursions, or anything that takes longer than 2 hours to complete. But the main point is  to be together with less distractions. Maybe talk about some of that fertility stuff too; it goes down easier with fresh air and mountains.

Sunday 6 March 2016

Two years ago and today

I was surfing through some old blog entries, and there was March 6, 2014.

I really didn't know how today would go. I've alternated between cautious hope and grim conviction of doom. I also know it's still early days and nothing is guaranteed.  But - but - there is something alive in me and I saw it!!  AlivealivealivealiveALIVE!!! I have (in the privacy of my sometimes cynical mind) been calling this "my horrible miracle pregnancy." Today though, I'm feeling the miracle part more than the horrible part. And I'm grateful.

It was the day I saw AJ's heartbeat for the first time on the ultrasound. That heartbeat confirmed that she was viable and that we might really, truly have a little baby in a few months. There would be plenty of anxiety in between those two points in time, of course, but that ultrasound carved out a little space to hope and dream. Two years later, that space has grown to encompass our whole lives, every thought we have for the present and future. And the past, too.

I can't say I love AJ more now than I did then, because from the moment we knew of her embryonic existence, love was infinite and for always. If I ever doubted that I knew it in the days when I feared we were losing her and grief crashed through every flimsy defense I had built around my heart.

But now I know love in a different way. It's the difference between looking up at the stars in the night sky, wondering if out there there's another planet where life might thrive, and if we'll ever get there, and actually landing in that new world and exploring it. Now I can love in the language of cuddles, and soft skin, and new baby words, and first steps, and yes, sometimes exhaustion and frustration and confusion.

AJ and I yesterday, March 2016

American Authors is the band I associate with AJ at the moment. Their sound is so exuberant and youthful. I don't quite identify with their music myself: although I like it a lot, I feel that at this point in my life I need something a little more....mature? cynical? dark?  More something. But at the same time listening takes me back to that point in youth where you feel that time is on your side and the gift of that knowledge is flexibility, resilience, fearlessness, boundless energy.....Of course you don't have to totally lose those things with age, but one's perspective changes.  It's a give and take.

This is a beautiful song, called simply, "Love". It's a song about going through a difficult time, and having faith that things will change for the better.

"'Cause one day we're gonna come back
And laugh at it all
One day we'll look at the past
With love, love
One day we're gonna come back
And relive those thoughts
One day we'll look at the past
With love, love
With love, love"

What a beautiful promise: that one day we'll look back at the past with love. Not necessarily without sadness or pain, but with love.

I wish that for everyone.