T minus 6 days and counting

We’ve less than a week to go before Younger Brother’s head surgery, and people keep asking how I’m doing.  I never know how to answer questions like that.  I’m confident that my baby is going to be OK in the long run, but I’m increasingly stressed about the hows and whats of it all.

In any big event, my worry gets focused on logistics.  Getting everyone to the right place at the right time, with the right paperwork signed and the right preliminaries completed: these are the things that cause me stress.  I also like to know as much as possible in advance about what’s expected of me, lest I fail to live up to those expectations.

Right now, I’m worried about the pre-op testing.  We might have to take Younger Brother in for a blood test or something, to make sure he’s healthy enough for anesthesia.  Or maybe it’ll just be a phone screen.  I don’t know, because folks from the hospital are supposed to call about it and they haven’t yet.  I can’t just trust that what needs to get done will get done, because we’ve had multiple referrals get lost in the ether at earlier steps in this process.  I’m worried that something important will be forgotten and we’ll show up on the day of surgery and be told to reschedule.

(I’ve called the pre-op testing people.  The receptionist said I should hear back today.  We shall see.)

I’m worried about Younger Brother getting sick.  His brother has caught yet another preschool cold and we’re trying hard to keep the germs contained.  The surgeons tell me that a bit of sniffles is fine, but a phlegmy cough is a no-go with anesthesia.  We’d have to postpone the surgery.  I’m worried that my mother will drive 1000 miles to be with us, only to have the surgery rescheduled for illness.

I’m not worried about the surgery itself.  In a way, it will be a relief to know that at that point, all we have to do is wait.  I trust the doctors and the nurses and the anesthesiologist to do their best for my baby.  He’ll be asleep; he won’t know what’s going on.

I’m worried about after.  When will we get to see him?  When will he be able to eat?  Will I be able to hold him and nurse him?  Will we be able to stay with him?  Will we be expected to be with him 24/7?  That last one seems horribly selfish to ask, but… I’m worried about my own sleep.  I’m worried that the nurses will judge me if I need to leave him for a while and take a nap.  My only experience with babies and hospitals has been giving birth, where they expect the parents to provide basically all of the infant care.

I’m worried about when he comes home.  Will it be like the newborn days again?  Will we be waking every hour to tend to a poor sad baby who doesn’t understand why he hurts?  Do we have the right clothes for him, things that can go on over his healing head?  Do we need more baby hats?  I’ve been reading every craniosynostosis blog I can find, trying to get a feel what this part is like and how long it takes to return to “normal.”

I gave up practicing Christianity a long time ago, but I have been thinking about Matthew 6:34 lately.  This is the “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” verse, but I prefer the New International Version:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

If ever I needed to stick a Bible verse in big bold letters on my wall, it would be this one.

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The 4 types of responses you get when selling on Craigslist

We’re definitely not having any more babies, so as Younger Brother has outgrown his newborn stuff, I’ve been looking for ways to get rid of it.  Craigslist offers a nice win-win scenario: I get a little extra cash, while someone else gets gently used gear at a good price.  I’ve made $55 in the last month—nothing to retire on, but nothing to sneeze at either.

I learned pretty quickly to not get too invested in any particular response to my ads.  These responses tend to fall into one of four general categories:

1. The Scammers—”Is Item,,still available”

Message literally says “item”?  Delete.  Scammers copy-paste the same email to everyone.

2. The Window-Shoppers—”Are the baby clothes still available?”

Plausible grammar?  Correctly references the thing for sale?  Might be a more sophisticated scammer, or it might be a legitimate person doing some virtual window-shopping.  I don’t really understand why people use Craigslist this way, to be honest.  They haven’t yet decided whether they want the thing, but they go to the effort of sending an email anyway.

This group used to annoy me (if the ad’s still up, it’s still available!) but now I just write a five-second “yep, still available” reply and move on.  They rarely answer.

3. The Non-Readers—”What part of town are you in?” / “Location?”

Craigslist sales are in-person, cash-only transactions, so location does matter.  I completely understand why someone wouldn’t want to drive 25 minutes across town for some used baby clothes.  Which is why I use Craigslist’s handy “Show on Maps” feature.  All of my ads include street map with a pin dropped at the nearest major intersection, with the names of the cross streets written in text below the map.

Obviously, when it gets to the point of finalizing a pickup, the buyer will need my full address.  This category isn’t about that, it’s about the people who ask for my location right off the bat (or as their immediate response to a “yep, still available”).  Like the window-shoppers described above, these people haven’t actually decided if they want to buy the thing.  They also haven’t bothered to spend more than two seconds looking at the ad.

I reply to these people, but I’m a little snarky about it.  “I’m at Maple and Elm, like it says in the ad.”  Does this drive away potential buyers?  Possibly.  Were they likely to follow through on the purchase in any case?  Nope.

4. The Buyers—”I’m interested in the Graco swing.” / “Can I get both sets of swaddles for $15?”

The serious buyers—the people who are likely to show up and pay for the thing—send non-generic messages.  They indicate a definite interest.  They correctly reference the item for sale, and they’ve actually read the ad.  Maybe they offer a price, or ask for a deal buying multiple items.  (I say yes to any reasonable offer, because I’m not interested in drawn-out negotiations.)

Not all of these people will end up buying the thing; some will stop responding, while others will set a time for pickup and never show.  But all of my eventual buyers have come out of this category.

I’ve only been selling on Craigslist for a month, so I suspect there are a few types of replies that I haven’t encountered yet.  Do you have anything to add to the list?

Three years and counting

I published my first blog post three years ago today.  WordPress put a little “Happy Anniversary” badge in my notifications to celebrate.  Woo!

My kids were born almost exactly three years apart, so Younger Brother is now the age that his brother was when I first started blogging.  Little Boy goes to preschool and my spouse goes to work, so it’s just me at home with the baby most days.  I get a strong sense of déjà vu sometimes, which couples oddly with the feeling that we weren’t supposed to stay here this long, here in this lovely rented house with the bright windows and the big garage.

It’s interesting to look back on my old posts about parenting with the experience of a second-time mother.  I can think of several more things to add to the list of what not to say to new parents.  My tips for newborn sleep are still generally good advice, but I laugh a little at the confidence with which they were written.  I’ve pulled the running stroller back out; where Little Boy used to get loudly grumpy about running, Younger Brother just falls asleep.  (In related news, I’ve discovered that some newborns really do have “quiet awake” time.)  And while we’re still struggling to find the right balance of TV time for our older child, we are way more relaxed when it comes to the littler one getting the occasional glimpse a television screen.

There’s been another change to my family, one that I haven’t talked about much on the blog, that also casts some of my older posts in a new light.  More than a year ago, my spouse revealed that he wanted to be a woman, and, with my support, began the long and nonlinear process of gender transition.  I have seen how hard it is for him in the in-between times, as he deals with a deeply internalized sense that “feminine” fashion can’t be paired with “masculine” physical features.  It has reaffirmed to me the importance of making sure our boys aren’t limited to “boy” things as they grow.  My spouse’s true gender identity also makes our earlier fight against falling into traditional husband/wife roles even more striking—turns out we aren’t a traditional heterosexual couple, and yet various factors kept pushing us that way.

I don’t know what the future holds for my blog.  I’m most active on Twitter these days, enjoying its faster, more fleeting nature and greater interactivity.  I can type a tweet with one hand while nursing; a blog post, not so much.  But I’m still glad to be here—and if you’re reading this, I’m glad you’re here too.

A pile of new books: late additions

I have two late additions to this year’s “books received for Christmas” pile, courtesy of my mother-in-law, who presented them in person when we saw her last weekend.

Marie Kondo's book "The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up" sitting on top of Caroline Fraser's "Prairie Fires."

Don’t worry, I asked for both of these; the Marie Kondo book is not some kind of passive-aggressive mother-in-law comment on my tidying skills.

Long scary medical words about my baby’s head

Metopic craniosynostosis.

The infant skull is made up of multiple pieces, allowing the head to be squashed a bit during birth and then accommodating rapid brain growth over the first few years.  As a child grows, the fontanelles (soft spots) close, and the suture joints between the skull pieces begin to harden.  The first suture to close is the metopic suture, running down the forehead between the frontal bones.

Sometimes one or more of the skull sutures fuse too early, before birth.  This is called craniosynostosis, and this is what happened to Younger Brother.

Looking back at his newborn pictures, we can see the bony ridge running down the center of his forehead, the sign of a prematurely fused metopic suture.  Nobody thought anything of it at the time; after all, newborn heads are often somewhat misshapen.  He also had a big—and completely normal—purple bruise at his hairline from a long time spent crowning in the posterior position.  The bruise faded within about a week.  The forehead ridge didn’t go away.

For a while, I figured it was just a funny quirk of his appearance.  With fine, patchy hair and a lingering birthmark on his eyelid, Younger Brother is adorably goofy-looking in the way that only babies can be.  His behavior and motor skills have progressed normally, and his head circumference at his two-month checkup was right on target.

Eventually, though, we started to get a bit concerned.  The ridge remained prominent, and his forehead took on a distinctly pointed appearance when viewed from above.  (Metopic craniosynostosis is also known as trigonocephaly, or “triangle head.”)  We decided to ask about it at his four-month appointment.

“Wow,” announced our pediatrician.  “I’ve never seen this before in 30 years of practice!”  Gee, thanks.

Fortunately, though, the doctor knew what it was.  He’d seen craniosynostosis of other sutures, just not the metopic, and he knew the plastic surgeon in town who could treat it.

Left untreated, Younger Brother’s condition could constrain future brain growth and lead to developmental problems.  In 10–15% of cases, the surgeon told me, untreated craniosynostosis produces measurably increased pressure on the brain, which is very bad.  So this isn’t a watch-and-wait kind of situation.  It won’t resolve on its own.

My baby needs surgery.  And not just any surgery—they literally have to remove his forehead, reshape the bones, and reattach them so as to allow his skull to grow properly in the future.  The rate of complications is very low, especially in children that are otherwise healthy, but it sure does sound scary.

Now that we’ve had his diagnosis confirmed, I’m of many different minds about it.  Part of me is optimistically stoic.  It’ll all be OK, just stay strong, get us through this, he’ll be fine.  Part of me is pretty freaked out, especially after learning how swollen he’ll be in the hospital after the surgery.  He won’t even be able to open his eyes for a few days.  Poor kid, he will be so sad and scared!  He won’t know what’s going on.  What if he’s never the same?  And part of me—especially in the middle of the night—is worried that we’re all just overreacting.  What if it turns out he doesn’t need surgery and you’ve told everyone for no reason?

All the parts of me want to give my baby extra love and hugs and songs and snuggles.  I stroke his funny head and imagine what we’ll tell him about it when he’s old enough to understand.  We haven’t told his brother about it yet; we’ll wait until the surgery is scheduled and then give an overview appropriate for a three-year-old.  Little Boy had his adenoids removed last week, so he has some personal experience with the concept of hospitals and operations, and won’t, I think, be overly upset.

A weird little part of me is glad that I didn’t put more effort into job-searching in the fall.  If I had, we might’ve already moved and be dealing with new doctors, new health insurance, and complicated schedules with limited time off.  As it is, we’re here in a place that we know, with reasonably good insurance, and I have all the time I need to take my baby to his appointments.  Sometimes, things work out the way they need to.

A pile of new book(s), 2018 edition

The book Artemis by Andy Weir.

Not really a “pile” this year, just the one book.  (A book that I’m quite excited to read, since I absolutely loved The Martian.)  I received some other excellent Christmas gifts, including LEGO’s Women of NASA set and a beautiful framed photo set from my spouse.  I’m still working on last year’s books, plus an extra bunch sent mid-year by fellow blogger Leah, so I’m not in any danger of running of things to read any time soon.

Five children's books.

Little Boy got a more pile-like quantity of books for Christmas.  The picture above includes only the new stuff; my mother also gathered up a half-dozen books from my childhood and sent them home with us.  (She also found and gave us my old Sesame Street sheets and my brother’s Thomas the Tank Engine towel, all in remarkably good shape.)

What are you looking forward to reading this year?

Postpartum dispatch #3

With my first baby, I learned that the first three months are the hardest.  I also learned that it gets worse before it gets better: newborn fussiness peaks around six weeks and slowly drops off from there.  This time around, the roughest parts for me were the seventh and eighth weeks, because we’d hit that peak and it seemed like things should have been improving but they weren’t.

We made it through.  Things did start to improve, slowly and erratically but noticeably.  Younger Brother dropped to two night feedings, then one.  His naps are still all over the place, but that’s less awful now that I’m not as desperate for naps myself.  He’s a sociable happy bean when he’s awake, cooing continuously in his delightful baby voice.  He “talks” to me, to the mirror, to the ceiling fan, to the toys on his chair.

I enjoy spending time with him—and with his brother, although three-year-olds require an entirely different sort of energy—and I enjoy having time to think by myself again, too.  There’s still a sort of underlying panic in my mind about all the things I need to do, but I can ignore that feeling much of the time.  At this point, I figure my priority is to get us all through Christmas, and then I can step up the job searching and other activities in the new year.

I’ve been looking forward to this

Little Boy went for a run with me today.  Rather unexpectedly, when he overheard me talking last night about my plans for a morning run, he announced that he wanted to run, too.  So I did my main workout, a slow and awkward two miles, and then told him to put on his shoes and join me.

I’ve been looking forward to this, to him being big enough to join in activities that I love.  He may or may not stay interested in running for the long term, but for now he’s three and spending time with Mama is one of his very favorite things.

We ran up one side of the street and down the other, pausing to look at Christmas decorations and the neighborhood peacock.  He ran right next to me or slightly ahead—he likes to be the one in front—while I kept pace comfortably.  It was a beautiful day and it was fun.

On laptops and cell phones in the classroom

The academic side of my Twitter feed has been abuzz recently over this New York Times article, in which a University of Michigan economics professor explains why she bans laptops and other personal electronics in her classroom.  Laptops, she explains, are a distraction, both to those using them and to the students around them.  She also references an idea that has been around for a while, backed up by some research studies: that people retain more information when they write notes by hand as opposed to typing.

Much of the criticism of this article’s attitude focused on its treatment of students with disabilities.  The author allows laptop use as a disability accommodation, admitting that it singles out students who need such accommodation.  It also assumes that no student without a formal diagnosis would ever benefit from typing notes or Googling an unfamiliar term on the fly.

Me, I take notes by hand, because my brain likes it.  I have a very visual memory, and seeing words laid out on a page is much easier for my mind to deal with.  I kept handwritten research notebooks for my dissertation; I keep a physical day planner; heck, I wrote an outline for this post by hand.  I read the research about handwritten notes being good for learning and it makes sense to me.

But not everyone’s brain works like mine, a fact that is obvious in a multitude of ways.  Some people enjoy talking on the phone, some people like music without words, and some people learn better by typing notes.  So while I think it’s fine to encourage paper-based note-taking, university students should ultimately be allowed to take notes in whatever way works best for them.

The distraction factor is a trickier issue.  The internet is awfully distracting, and large screens spread that distraction around.  And it is kind of rude to be obviously on Facebook when someone’s trying to teach.

That being said, here is a partial list of internet-free things that I have done in university lecture halls: doodled; brainstormed projects; read the textbook; read journal articles; read the newspaper; done crossword puzzles; done Sudoku; done homework for that class; done homework for another class; planned my schedule for the next day/week; wrote notes to the person next to me; and tallied how many times the speaker said “um.”  It is incredibly difficult to maintain full focus through an hour-long lecture, even a good one (which, unfortunately, many are not).  It is especially difficult when you’re taking medication that makes you drowsy, as I was for several years.  I could doodle and read and whatnot, or I could straight-up fall asleep in the second row.

I had finished all my required grad classes by the time I became a parent, but was still attending various seminars and colloquia.  My cell phone came with me then, because I needed to know right away if something happened at daycare.  I am now firmly against “no visible cell phones” policies (exams excluded), because keeping my silent phone in view next to my notebook was less disruptive than tucking it away on vibrate.

In an ideal world, we could just trust university students to be adults, take responsibility for their own learning, and be politely discreet about texting.  I did very well in all my classes.  Occasionally I didn’t pay enough attention at the beginning and had to course-correct as the semester progressed.  However, I wasn’t always terribly discreet about doing stuff in class, and I can assure you from my experience as a TA that other students aren’t either.  We aren’t all as good at self-regulating as we’d like to think.

So I’m sympathetic to professors who just want students to stop playing on their phones already.  It’s not necessarily about ego and respect for them, either: plenty of instructors genuinely want to help their students learn and believe (probably correctly much of the time) that cutting back on internet distractions would help.  Instructors—especially those employed as adjuncts rather than full-time faculty—also face various pressures about grades and class performance.  And it’s frustrating when students seem to be ignoring you.  I get it.  Nevertheless, it’s not appropriate to completely ban devices in the classroom.

What has your experience been with laptops and cell phones, as a student and/or instructor?  Which classroom policies work really well?  Which don’t?

Postpartum dispatch #2

Ninety minutes is the magic number, the length of one adult sleep cycle.  One 90-minute nap resets my brain enough to carry on a little longer.  Three 90-minute stretches over the course of a night and I am semi-human the next day.  Zero such stretches—the nights when Younger Brother wakes at the end of each of his 45-minute sleep cycles—and life is gray and heavy.  I fantasize about checking into a hotel, taking a sleeping pill, and crashing for 12 hours beneath a puffy white duvet.

(Update: He slept for five-and-a-half hours straight last night, then went down for another two.  It was glorious.)