Sunday, June 27, 2010

running into third trimester

Running during this pregnancy is going well. During my first pregnancy, I made myself get out and run, keeping close to my pre-pregnancy miles through the first trimester but dropping my speed significantly. This time, I cut miles and maintained speed during the first trimester and picked up a few more miles during second trimester while slowing the pace just a bit.

I kept to eight minute (or just under) miles for most of first trimester, sometimes throwing in a few fast days. Second trimester saw 8:20s become 8:30s, and I'm still most comfortable running around an 8:35 mile. I am hoping to finish running through pregnancy without going too far over a ten minute mile.

Weekly mileage is still thirty to forty miles. I actually keep track of my runs in kilometers since that's the measure on my treadmill. A regular daily run is 13k, which converts to just a smidge over eight miles. Once a week I aim for a 14.5k run, or nine miles. I am learning to be okay with shorter distances - I don't know why I have an issue running under seven miles, but today I ran 10k. I was tempted to tack on an extra one and a half kilometers to round out a seven mile run, but decided: let's be rational. 10k felt good, leave it at that.

In fact, running feels good! During my first pregnancy, I experienced much more pain in my hips and groin during a run, with general achiness after. Perhaps by not suddenly dropping my speed this time, I kept an efficient stride. I had some hip and groin aches early in the second trimester, but I haven't had much discomfort since - even my lower abs are still feeling strong.

Because I usually feel good during a run, it is just a matter of talking myself onto the treadmill. Really, somedays it seems ridiculous that I'm still running. I look at my belly where I used to see feet, I feel the baby shift his weight, I know I will only get slower and heavier. But when I'm in the middle of a run, breathing even, and my feet are landing right: I am coordinated and strong, content to check in with the parts of my body, pleased that I am still able to run.

Sometimes while I am running, I do not feel the limits of pregnancy at all. I remind myself to run tall. My baby belly which makes eating, sitting and bending over to help Claire with her shoes a challenge; my baby belly which makes rolling over in bed a sport - that belly doesn't yet bother me on a run.

I know it will. I am twenty-eight weeks pregnant and in a few short weeks, this boy will be packing on his weight, getting ready to be born. And I'll be slowing down, growing heavy and talking myself onto the treadmill.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

it isn't me, honey, it's kuwait

Parts of Kuwait literally stink. Eau de Oil Refinery. Sometimes, driving toward the refineries, you can see great flames shimmering orange against the white sky. When I first saw that, I thought an apartment building was burning. It was just the gas.

Gas. (Segue here).

We'll be driving around and the air will suddenly stink. "Justin, did you just -" I'll say and before I can finish he says, "No, I didn't fart."

So I've quit asking.

That's what Kuwait smells like sometimes. Like a big fart. And then you'll be through the bad air. I still do not understand exactly why Kuwait smells like this, pockets of noxious gas that make you think of guys sitting around in hunting cabins after a supper of beans and beer.

The one advantage I can think of to living in such a spontaneously stinky country is that you could fart in a closed car and blame it on Kuwait. No one would know.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

pt chronicles: part two

Potty training woes no more. I just hid the underwear from Claire. She gets up, she sits on the toilet reading and chatting, and we head to breakfast. She continues to talk about the potty, mostly saying "Poop! Poop!" and even though I explain wet and pee, it's all poop right now.

Important thing is that I am not going nuts, and that she and I are leaving the apartment. The bathroom is like this background music in our lives right now - it's there and sometimes we stop to hum along. (Terrible analogy perhaps. But it's better than the bathroom being the gong that rings every half hour). I am not watching the clock. Claire comes to me if she needs a change and she is beginning to realize when she has to go before she goes.

Like tonight during bathtime, she stands up and pats her bottom and says, "Poop?" so I set her on the toilet and we read and chat. She gets tired of waiting and returns to the tub only to pause in her splashing to again sit on the toilet. And she pooped! Then she leaned waaay too far into the toilet bowl to look at what Mama was so happy about. Later she was running around - naked time - stopped, announced "Poop" with some authority this time and so we walked fast back to the bathroom and she almost made it! Peed at the door. I set her down on the toilet to finish and we got all excited about that.

So we'll see what happens next. Thank you thank you thank you for telling me to relax about all of this. Claire might be potty trained in a couple of weeks or it might be another month or so before she's dry during the day. Either way, I'm fine.

Think she'll mind that I blogged this? I don't think I've said poop so much in my life as in these past couple of weeks.

Monday, June 21, 2010

pt chronicles: part one

PT, as in Potty Training. As in, I could have titled this particular post: The Mom Who Thought She Was the Toddler. As in, I label it "part one" knowing that an unknown number of parts will finish out these particular chronicles.

Let me start by saying that I didn't prepare for Claire by reading gobs of books about how to parent. I read about birth and breastfeeding and then counted my experience as the oldest of eight as good enough reason to assume I would intuit any parenting situation. But I didn't actually raise any of my siblings and I was in college or on my own when most of the little ones were born. So any really relevant baby and toddler raising experience I gleaned was from weekend visits home; and even then, Justin was usually the bigger hit because he let them climb all over him and knew about things like Legos.

But I did - and still do, for the most part - assume that most parents are given an instinct to understand what their child needs. I think it helps to watch others parent and to ask questions of those who've been there, but I didn't think much about devouring expert advice. I just figured that I'd get it.

And then God gave me a very willful independent busy social little girl who moved quickly from walking to raising ruling ambitions. And about this same time, I thought: well, we should probably begin potty training.

I borrowed Toddlerwise from a friend and read it in two days, reread parts even. It was full of helpful ideas about creating a schedule and how to discipline, and it included a chapter on potty training with suggestions about letting your toddler pick out her underwear and buying loads of juice and treats to ensure that her bladder was full to bursting at each visit to the bathroom. I read this book while teaching and thought: Can't wait until summer when I'll have time to do this! and I returned the book.

Then I started getting really serious about the upcoming potty training. Claire followed me into the bathroom and learned pee and toilet paper and wipe and flush and wash hands. She wanted to sit on the potty. I thought: Awesome. So we spent a couple of weeks casually sitting around the bathroom, Claire on the throne. That was fine, I learned, when another friend of mine emailed me a scanned copy of the potty training chapter from the Toddler Whisperer.

What I really like about Tracy Hogg's approach is that she thinks of potty training as a process rather than an event. She points out that learning to walk takes longer than the first toddling steps; walking begins with the baby pulling himself to standing and finding strength to balance. That's the start of walking, but most of us don't recognize standing as a walking milestone. So she was encouraging to me, essentially saying: Take your time, relax. But be consistent.

Okay. I can do that.

First week of summer vacation: Claire gets up and we go to the potty. She eats breakfast and twenty minutes, thirty minutes, or forty minutes we go to the potty again. We tried all those times, a range from a variety of sources. Her diaper might be wet or dry, but we sit on the potty. Raggedy Ann joins us in the bathroom and we sing songs and read Peter Rabbit and talk about the illustrations. Claire dribbles and I am ecstatic. Overboard, just like the book says. She beams.

It doesn't happen again for me.

The Toddler Whisperer chapter advocates early potty training but assures me that Hogg's "second favorite time" to potty train is the eighteen to twenty-three month window when toddlers are still fairly interested in pleasing their parents. That window is the same window when toddlers are beginning to rehearse for actually turning  two, so it's still a little dicey. The advantage to beginning in this stage is that Claire can understand most of what I say (I am not sure that is always an advantage). So you begin by just putting her in panties.

Which I did at the start of our second week of summer vacation. On day one of Panty Potty Training, Claire was thrilled with her underwear, pointing to them and saying "Pant-tees, pant-tees" and pulling her waistband lower to see Dora the Explorer. We marched to the bathroom every half hour and sat, chatted, sang, read. But didn't pee. She did tell me when she was peeing though, on the floor, standing on the stool, in the middle of the kitchen. We spent day one missing the opportunity to have a Potty Dance by minutes. We would be on our way to the the bathroom, or she would have just hopped down announcing "Aw done!" and Claire would pee and I would wash her panties, give her dry ones and we'd return to coloring or blocks.

Me, just waiting to get it right. That is what it began to feel like: I had to get it right. Something I was doing was not working. I kept missing the cues to shuttle Claire off to the bathroom. I just wanted Claire to make the connection: Peeing on (not next to, or within ten feet of) the potty is GREAT! So when Claire peed in her room (our fourth or fifth almost-made-it-on-the-potty) - "Pee-ing, pee-ing" - I got up and went to my room and cried.

I hated my life in general and potty training in particular. Really, really hated potty training. I thought: Who cares if the majority of kids outside the U.S. are potty trained before age two? And what kind of nut sits their infant on a toilet? Is it really scarring to waddle around in diapers until you're three or four? And if Claire gets potty trained within the next week or two, it just means we'll spend our upcoming vacation to Lebanon searching for public restrooms (which, wait a minute, I'm pregnant: we'll be doing that anyway). Okay, I'll give day two a try.

Today is day two. So yesterday, Claire's bladder was a clock and today it was a time bomb. I kept waiting for her to poop. I thought it'd be terrific for Claire to hit jackpot and poop on the toilet. Claire thought it'd be terrific to say "Poop, poop" and send us running to the toilet, just to sit and flip through Peter Rabbit. I kept trying to summon patience. Claire wanted to live in the bathroom this morning, even if she didn't want to actaully use the toilet. We had two misses, just after nice congenial potty chats and on the second miss, I set Claire to washing her hands and left to cry. I went to the kitchen and cried.

What do I need to do!? Surely the Catholics have a patron saint for this. Perhaps I should convert and light candles for a few weeks. I am standing at the counter, raging at myself for not getting this right! and so upset I think I might toss the dishes out the window. I felt the need to be dramatic. And in the middle of this, I realize: I understand Claire's tantrums! I'm having one myself! Revelation! But still: what do I need to do!? First: get a grip. Breathe. Go make sure the bathroom isn't flooded. And second: just relax.

In the bathroom, Claire is having a grand time at the sink. "Poop, poop," she says, and I empty her panties into the toilet - "See, this is where poop goes!" - and plunk her in the tub for a quick wash. I don't cry, and I count that as success enough.

The measure of my mamahood is not whether Claire goes pee and poop on the potty. I have just spent two days obsessing about potty training and Claire's liquid intake and timing trips to the bathroom. And it's just made me cry and want to smash my dishes.

I was looking forward to hanging out with Claire once I was finished teaching. She's a neat little girl and I enjoy her company, but I've turned our last two days together into something more about me than her. And I've forgotten that potty training is a process: I just wanted it done. Now.

So if having Claire wear panties just means I'm washing out panties (new bathroom decor) and mopping up pee (yea for tile!) and feeling failure at each miss, then I need to give this a rest. When Claire gets up from her nap this afternoon, I'll take her diaper off and we'll go do our bathroom chat with Kitty or Froggy or whoever is joining us today, and then I'll put her back in a cloth diaper. I'll keep an eye on the clock after meals and hope we get a few successful trips to the toilet, but I need to let go the frustration.

I'll call it Potty Training Lite.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

in the heat

Today's BBC forecast for Kuwait is 51degrees Celsius. That is 124 degrees Fahrenheit. I hesitated before deciding to go ahead and make that conversion. Knowledge is not always power. Right now it sounds nicer to say fifty-one and think Wow, that's hot without knowing just how hot.

Yesterday Claire and I went grocery shopping. We get out into the morning heat and she pinks up, tugs at her shirt and looks at me, "Hot. Hot." Once at the Sultan Center, we stand in front of the cool cool air conditioned meat counter and drink water. Claire is a champion water drinker. Back from our errand, her head is damp with sweat and her hair dries in curls.

I am seeing swollen ankles in my future.

Inside, our apartment is comfortable. We get morning sun and keep our drapes closed until midmorning. Our air conditioners can keep up. The other side of the building isn't so fortunate. The afternoon sun is hotter, merciless, and their air conditioners struggle to keep the indoor temperatures in the low thirties (in the 80 or 90 degree Fahrenheit range). There are men securing themselves with ropes tied to our stairway banisters, hanging out hallway windows, fixing AC units all day long.

Since we cannot walk comfortably in the heat, Justin and I will probably start our Mall Routine today or tomorrow. Just heading to a mall - any mall - and walking around in the ice air. Claire has a baby doll stroller she likes to push, drag, or carry. The alternative to wandering a mall is laying on a couch. Somedays that will be the better alternative.

I think of this summer as my Wisconsin winter. Winters keep people inside. In Wisconsin, the winter days are short; the dark and the bitter cold and the wind and the crummy roads say: Watch Oprah. Skip your run. Here, you look outside at a blinding sun, the Gulf a beautiful silver and it looks like it should be perfect summer, but it is just hot hot hot. And we're here for it. Our hot winter.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

out for summer!

I am waiting for my first period students to pick up their report cards and go home.

But this semester was good for me. Not always ideal, but good. I learned a few things as a teacher and I'll carry them to my next job, whether here in another year or two, or at another school.

1. Grading was incredibly manageable this year. I usually balk at the stacks of paper and when I finally sit down to actually read and grade essays, I waver over minute points. Not this year. I did put off grading the research paper - a beast that I was tired of by the time it was due - but when I did sit to grade, I just graded. Rubrics help. But more so, it helps to not second guess every point deducted. Seven years into reading student work and I am finally getting the hang of recognizing an A paper compared to a B paper.

I sometimes lack confidence in my ability or knowledge to grade. I question whether this thesis really is strong enough: maybe it is? is it? hmm. That just adds piles of time to grading. Perhaps I've met an unnamed threshold in essay grading and I finally just know what I'm encountering. I am a much more accurate grader for the experience of just grading - all that practice adds up to understanding how to grade. And I think that makes me more fair.

My attitude toward grading - particularly toward doling out poor grades where deserved - has shifted over the years. Starting out, I would frequently award credit just for completing the assignment and while I still have a few of those grades on my books, I realized it was unfair to give equal points to two students who obviously invested radically different amounts of time and thought in a project. It was also just lazy on my part, and not doing my poorer students any service by feeding them the illusion that garbage work was acceptable. I think that one reason I hesitated to be more demanding in my grading was a. For the first four years of my teaching, I counted it an accomplishment if most of my students even turned in an assignment. Out of a class of twenty, getting twelve or thirteen assignments was good. And b. Aren't we all a little indoctrinated by the You are so special speeches? Giving a failing grade seemed like saying You are not so special. How discouraging.

I haven't sorted out all of my grading qualms, but I definitely felt much much more at ease with my grading this semester. And part of that might be owing to

2. Time management! When I accepted the semester job, I was terrified at how much of my time would now be eaten by stacks of essays and unit planning and rereading novels. I would be teaching several works I hadn't taught previously - so I would need to learn how to teach Their Eyes Were Watching God  and Death of a Salesman among others.

Then I decided: Just don't bring work home. Go to school, work work work at school, come home and be home. I compromised and decided that reading or rereading at home was fine, but no grading or planning. Leave the business at school. It worked. It helped that I was very motivated to keep work at work and home at home. I still carried worries home - student issues, parent meetings that I needed to prepare for - but I'm that kind of person: an overthinker.

Showing myself that I could keep most of my work at work was good. I needed to know that. Unfortunately, while my teaching time management was strong, my personal time management faltered. I still think that full-time is too busy for me as a mom; I would frequently get frustrated that I was so tired at the end of the day - too tired to really enjoy Claire, too tired to fix dinner, too tired to want to invite friends over for a visit. I was not happy that the bulk of my creative energy was geared to teaching well, and that my Book Project became That Thing I Think About and Feel Stupid For Trying. I am looking forward to a couple of months' recovery: cooking regularly, writing consistently, enjoying my time with Justin and Claire.

3. If You Enjoy It, They Might Too. With the exception of a few grammar lessons and some of the SAT prep, I really really liked the works we read and the discussions we had. I found that when I felt an interest or joy in what we were learning, that same energy was returned by my students. (Not all, but enough).

I also sensed a camaraderie in my teaching team. This is the first year I have consistently collaborated with other teachers teaching the same class as me. Previously, I was the ninth grade teacher or the grade twelve teacher, so this semester was a treat to work with three other grade eleven literature and language teachers. They had ideas, I had ideas and we put together some good work for ourselves and our students. I appreciated their collective knowledge and insight and never felt awkward about having stepped in mid-year. Also helped that we could all joke together - humor on the job oughta be a law.

So overall: A good semester. I needed one of those.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

in defense of boredom

The past couple of years, I've had my students read The Boston Globe article "The Joy of Boredom" by Carolyn Y. Johnson. I love this article. If she'd been speaking from a pulpit, I would have been waving my hand and shouting "Amen, Sister!" (And I am not a hand-waving-"Amen, Sister"- shouting kind of gal).

What I began realizing was that many of my students had a different childhood than mine. We didn't have a television for years and when we got one, I watched "Little House on the Prairie" with my mom after school. Consequently, I know nothing about most of the old 80s and 90s sitcoms my husband references: small price. And then I began realizing that my students are enjoying an adolescence that is very very different than mine. While I had access to a home computer and Internet through high school, I didn't own a cell phone until I was twenty-three (I know!). And I wasn't interested in an iPod until I realized treadmill running sans NPR meant counting steps minutes laps, and imagining whirrs and thumps in my treadmill motor that weren't there. But today, the majority of my juniors have mobiles, Blackberries, iPods - and sometimes all three tucked in their pockets. Constantly plugged in, sucking down text messages and song bites from the sky.

So I make my students read Johnson's article, partly because I want to know what they think of her ideas. I don't think they were all waving their hands and shouting "Amen, Sister!" And that's okay.

Last week, as part of our unit on technology - specifically, our personal use of and daily relationship with technology - we had a Break Up Day. If students wanted to participate, they did so by spending one whole day without _____. They sacrificed Blackberries, iPods, Internet, television, their laptops. I gave up Internet and didn't feel too much of a pinch, except that I compulsively troll news websites and Break Up Day meant I had no non-news to chew on.

I didn't find myself bored without Internet, but I have continued to think about the ideas in Johnson's article and what I want my time and mind to look like. Granted, I am not so dependent on a mobile or Internet that my day is defined by constant texting or FB updates. Granted, I spend more downtime reading books than computer screens. But still. I could stand to quiet my mind further.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about learning to meditate in Eat Pray Love. She talked about how the practice of stilling and focusing your mind and spirit isn't limited to one religion. When I pray, it is often in short breaths, little sentences winged toward God. When I pray, I often forget to practice being still so I can also listen. In "The Joy of Boredom" Johnson clearly illustrates all the ways our minutes are taken from us: we give our time away to short bursts of distraction. Perhaps it is a leap to say that limiting our distractions and embracing a bit of boredom may actually lead to a more meditative state. But at the very least, letting our minds be bored for awhile may open the way for new ideas and insights.

One of my favorite quotes from Johnson's article: There is a strong argument that boredom -- so often parodied as a glassy-eyed drooling state of nothingness -- is an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love.

Isn't it though?