Thursday, August 21, 2008

Deep Breath

Because I need to take one. I have yoga class in an hour, but I don't think it can wait that long.

I have sent in three new job applications since Monday. Good, right? The one I submitted online had someone called me yesterday between 5 and 5:30. And left a message since my husband never answers the phone unless he recognizes the name and wants to talk to them (so, rarely). I called her back this morning.

I talked to her while I was putting away the breakfast cereal, rinsing the dishes, and folding laundry, because I find that I am less nervous if I am doing too things at once. Or maybe I'm just too nervous to sit still. It probably doesn't qualify as a job interview, more of a screening. I'm not a good interviewee (have I said that before?), and I'm probably even worse over the phone. It's very possible that she decided she didn't want me after a couple of sentences, but continued just to be polite. It's also possible that one of my rambling run-on sentences contained something that turned her off. Maybe when I said "stay-at-home mom" (a phrase I hate, but seems to be the most commonly used way to describe being primary day-time caretaker of your children; better than "housewife," I guess. Ugh.) or maybe when I admitted I like the "flexibility of part-time." Let me just try to recall the way the interview--oops, screening--went.
____ . ____

Thank you for calling me back. I just wanted to find out a little more about what you're doing right now.

(rambling answer about doing some volunteering and mostly being the, you know, primary caretaker of my young children. forgot to mention grad school, for some reason. )

Okay. Are you interested in full-time or part-time?

Either. If the position is full-time (it was advertised that way), I want full-time.

Yes, but are you interested in part-time?

Er. Yes, I mean, whatever the position is. I would be willing to do part-time. Most of the positions I am applying for are full-time, so that is what I am thinking. I guess I like the flexibility of part-time, but I'm ready to work full-time. (I think I actually said,) I'm ready to get back in there.

Okay (seeming to chuckle), and what hours would you be interested in? Day, evening, weekend?

Er, any, really. My husband works from home, so we can arrange the schedule (blah, blah, blah).

Yes, but what's your preference?

I guess daytime hours would be better, but I'm flexible.

Okay, let's talk more about the last three jobs you've had.

(I did. Internship last year, blah, blah, blah, what I did there, paid through part of it, blah, blah, blah.)

And why did you leave that one? It says here (referring to my application, no doubt), "internship and semester ended"?

Yes, the internship ended. There weren't any paid positions available, so when the semester ended, I left. (I might have, but didn't, rambled a bit more here, because actually, this internship had some stress involved in it. The supervisor was a passive-aggressive weirdo who didn't know how to run a business, stopped paying me in March, but I stayed on to finish my hours even though I resented it. Sleepless nights. Long ranting, occasional crying sessions in my internship class. Wasn't going to talk about that.)

Okay, and the one before that?

(Rambling about how it was super part-time while I was at home with my kids, starting right after I had my first daughter. Consulting, teacher training, grant writing, blah blah, blah.)

And before that one?

Hmm. Before that (I did the grant thing for five years), I was the librarian at the same private school. (Explained, perhaps unnecessarily, that I had looked for public school jobs, but didn't find one, so took the librarian job.)

Ah, you didn't include the librarian job. (Did she sound triumphant? Like she'd caught me?)

(More rambling about how I tend to forget about that one because it kind of came in between things--between the real teaching job in NC and moving back here and having a baby.)

So, why did you leave the librarian position?

Umm, the school year ended in June or end of May. My baby was due in July and I decided not to go back to work or look for a job right away. (I was pretty sure this had come up already.)

Okay, so I see you already have a Master's degree.

In education.

And you're working on a degree . . .

In [my field].

(Repeats name of my field as if she's never heard of it before.) Right. And how did you hear about this position? What makes you interested in it?

(More rambling about how I check their website regularly for job postings, how I have considered them as an internship site. How, if I were to get a job there, I might try to do a separate, unpaid internship there as well. [The job I was applying for is a volunteer coordinator, not applicable to my internship requirements.])

I see.

Oh, and (yes, I interrupted her) I also was interested in this position because of the volunteering part. I have always volunteered. I am volunteering right now. (OMG, I sound like an idiot.)

Okay. So, for this degree you're working on, will you need time off to attend classes during the day? This position is 8-5.

Well, I don't have any classes this semester, but in the spring I will have to be on campus one night a week. The class starts at five.

And what campus would this be?

(Campus name). It takes about an hour to get there from (job location). I could work later another day to make up for it . . .

Okay, well, this position is 8-5 and that's not flexible. We have to have the same hours for all the volunteer coordinators.

(Finally, I'm silent.)

Well, thank you for talking to me. Thank you for calling me back. Oh, and we do do internships, so you know, keep us in mind.

(Snapping back to attention)
Oh, do you know who the contact person is for internships?

Um, well, maybe. Oh, just call this number and ask the receptionist.

Okay! Well, if you talk it over and decide there is some way to work this out, call me back.

Okay. (Now she really sounds dismissive and patronizing. She really does. In that one word.) Thanks again for calling me back.
___ . ___

After (mostly accurately) transcribing that, I can tell I made several errors. I rambled. I didn't answer questions firmly, directly and confidently. I need to work on these things. Don't ask me how, but I need to work on these things.

Doesn't it seem, weird, however, that she asked me very early on if I wanted full-time or part-time and what kind of shifts I would work and then very abruptly identified my one hour a week potential deviance from the set-in-stone 8-5 hours as a deal breaker?

Some of my immediate angry sarcastic thoughts:
  • Well, why would you want someone who's earning a Master's degree in a field whose graduates you employ as a necessary component of your agency?
  • And why would you want to maybe discuss the one-hour-early one-day-a-week five-months-from-now issue with a team or a superior before crossing me off the list? I mean, she called me one day after I submitted my on-line application and the job's been posted for three weeks. They're obviously still looking. Maybe this is why.
  • Why wouldn't you say up front that this is 8-5 M-F non-negotiable?

Should I have lied? Not mentioned my need for an internship in the spring or my class requirement in the spring? Gotten the job and then asked for the time when I needed it. Most people in my program are employed. They leave work early once or twice a week to get to class.

Maybe she was just grateful to have an excuse to end this excruciating call. Maybe I should have been, too. Maybe I shouldn't want to work somewhere that is so inflexible anyway.

I should not let this affect me. I have no control over it. But I am the kind of person whose self-esteem is diminished when someone honks at me in a parking lot. Must work on that, too.

If I don't leave now, I will be late for yoga.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Don't Forget to List Your Loser Jobs, Part Two

Back, from Open House (D#1 is starting kindergarten on Monday) and dinner and bedtime routine. (Want more about the bedtime routine? Read this.)

At the end of the interview, we walked through the building to the large open room low-walled, two-sided cubicles (apparently called cubbies) where the people who are already doing this job work. Some of them had two screens, the better to manage data! A few of them looked up at me with what I chose to interpret as curiousity: as a longterm zoo animal might view a visiting one, if prospective zoo animals had the opportunity to shop for zoos.

My interviewer had given me two pages on which to fill in those gaps (six slots available) and a pen. After thanking her for the interview (gag), I sat down in the lobby of the building with a clipboard and began to take myself back to the nineties.

I filled all six squares and the sad thing is, I can think of three jobs I left out. I had at least nine jobs between 1993 and 1999. Is that sad? Or the acquisition of interesting life experience? What exactly is the standard for number of jobs in a six year period? And who sets that standard?

Job 1: Fresh out of college (I did a lit major in three years, thank you very much), I took a job as a middle school English teacher at the private school where my mom worked (and still does). I was woefully unprepared, since I had decided an education major was beneath me (or maybe I was hung up on the idea that I couldn't do it in three years). My enthusiasm for literature was not matched by any ability to manage a classroom or deal with moody adolescent girls. Frankly, I was relieved when it didn't look like they were going to ask me back. And then when they did, I said no. Ha! (10 months)

Job 2: Bookseller at Not-Barnes-and-Noble. I had coworkers my own age! I experienced an unrequited crush again! Prepared me for working at Barnes and Noble. (10 months) Then I moved out of my parents' house and to another state. For the adventure of it all.

Job 3: Temp receptionist at hospital turned into permanent receptionist at hospital (when one of the permanent secretaries has fatal heart attack!). Worst. Job. Ever. Typing from dictation (on tape, not live) gives me TMJ. Listening to grown women call their boss "Doctor" (not Dr. X or First Name) but "Doctor" as in "Doctor likes all of the charts facing the same way so he doesn't have to turn them around when he's initialing the notes you just typed" gives me the heebie jeebies. Also attending a new employee seminar about 401K benefits at age 23 filled me with a sense of suffocating dread as if I could see rising up ahead of me like steep concrete stairs the years of servitude in a job like that one. This is not why I went to college. (Not surprisingly my view of 401Ks is now more favorable. Also the benefits were awesome, but I didn't really need them then.) Quit after crying to my surprised supervisor that I just couldn't take it anymore. (Temp: 2 months; Permanent: almost 6 months) Oh, and the cute surgeons? All married.

Job 4: (Not included on State addendum) Substitute teacher. Not much better. My sole experience in the elementary school involved a field trip to a Mexican restaurant with 2nd graders. I think I know why the teacher took the day off. 7-year-olds don't like to try new foods! Knowing names is very helpful in 2nd grade! I was not any better at classroom management. A few high school gigs, including one during a power outage, and one where students in the back of the science classroom poisoned the fish with soap powder. (2 months. End of school year. Thank God.)

Job 5: (not included on State addendum) Secretary at a church. Better. More independence. Less pressure. Learned how to do layouts for church bulletin and newsletter with MS Publisher. Had unrequited crush on the Fed Ex guy. (slightly over a year, overlapped for a few months with Job 6)

Job 6: Barnes and Noble. Finally, a keeper (by my standards). I was making $5/hour when I started. I remember making a half-hearted effort to start at, I don't know, $5.50, by talking about my freaking year of experience. Manager: No, that's the starting salary. But I was good at shelving books, a crack cashier, and I walked almost as fast I talked, so I got promoted. Also I met some friends with whom I still talk. Oh, and my husband. (3 1/2 years, overlapped for four months with Job 7)

Job 7: Teacher Assistant/Intervention teacher. I did this while at grad school for my M.Ed. Yep. For some reason, I decided to give teaching another try. Didn't so much like the teacher assistant thing (I do not like being told what to do!), but I thought the intervention (one-on-one reading tutorials) might be like what I would be doing when I got my degree. Sort of true. (10 months, 1 school year)

Job 8: (Not included on the State addendum) Census Taker. My second census. My first one was when I was 18 (also not included on my state app). The first time my partner was an old lady who packed sandwiches for us to share. Unfortunately her sandwiches were Wonder Bread with potted meat (I didn't even know meat came in a can before that. Well, except for tunafish and Spam). The second time, census takers worked solo, but I took the class with my fiance. I talked it up big, like it would be so much fun. He had already quit his job in anticipation of starting an MBA program (in four months!) and pretty disinterested, but I talked him into it. He hated it, and I didn't find it much fun this time around either. (2 months)

Job 9: (Not included on the State addendum because it overlapped with first post-Master's teaching job, so it didn't cover any gaps. Plus I'd run out of room.) Research Assistant. This one was fun. Also it was the first job I'd gotten solely by applying over the internet. Unfortunately, it was designed to be temporary. I was trained to administer assessments to kindergartners for a state readiness initiative. I had to score them and send them by Fed Ex to the university. (They sent them back if I'd made errors or left blanks!) The kindergartners were cute and it turns out I like administering tests almost as much as I like taking them. I should keep this in mind. (2 months)

Random thought. I just had one of those weird post-mommy moments when I wrote that the kindergartners were cute: I thought, What did I do with D#1 when I was driving all over town? . . . of course she wasn't born yet and wouldn't be for 3 years! (Also, for some reason I knew D#2 wasn't around yet. The mind is a weird thing. At least mine is.)

In conclusion. The years between 1993 and 1999 (actually my musings took me to 2000) were eventful. Maybe I am being too harsh to call them my loser jobs. I would like to be the kind of person (someday) who considers all her experiences worthwhile for what they taught her and just for the life they represent. It's not the destination, it's the journey and so on.

So, the State job? This one I interviewed for today? Suck it.

Don't Forget to List Your Loser Jobs, Part One

Yesterday I took a math test for a state job that I didn't really even want. I just like taking tests, especially ones on which I am likely to do well. Or ones with no wrong answers. Like personality tests. Unless there are wrong answers on personality tests . . . never mind, I'm straying from the topic.

I and the seven other people gathered in the crowded minimalist conference room had to answer questions like this:

The X family, with three adults and 4 children is applying for food stamps. Mrs. X received two child support payments last year, each for $300, Mr. X received bi-monthly paychecks of $187.62, Mrs. X's father makes $6.36/hour and worked 485 hours last year. What is their monthly income?

Answer: They need food stamps.

I successfully proved I can use a calculator, round to the nearest hundred, figure out a percentage, and read a paystub correctly. Yay, me! For my perfect score, I received a phone call to set up an interview for today.

A little bit more about the position. I won't give you the exact hourly amount, but it's somewhere in between what these two housekeepers who work for hotels owned by Disneyland make. Think closer to the lower number. And I'm not at all saying they make too much. That is not my point. Plus, this job also includes no benefits for an indefinite period, until a "career" position opens up. "Could be up to a year," said the less cheerful of the two seasoned state workers who proctored the test. Have I mentioned that these lovely people kept emphasizing how stressful this job is? And that it took me 45 minutes to get to the testing site, which is also where the 40 hour a week/six-week training would take place?

And here we all sat, me one of only two under 40; the others were all closer to 50-60, all wearing professional attire, eyeing each other for potential weaknesses. The one who lives in another county and probably wouldn't want to drive an hour. The woman who kept asking questions about when the benefits start and probably would eliminate herself.

I really don't want this job. Can you tell? Do you think the interviewer could tell? I think, maybe. But I went because a) I need practice interviewing (because I hate it and I am bad at it) and b) I really really want people to like me and give me external validation even if they are humorless state workers who are trying to hire people for a job which sounds like it sucks to the extreme.

I'm getting to the point, I really am.

Before this whole process began, I filled out a state employment form online. It was an arduous process which required me to look up various addresses from old jobs (again, thanks for the internet, Al Gore or whoever really invented it). In a normal job application, you just include the most recent or relevant jobs, right? I mean, that's what I do. But, I am unemployed, so maybe I should check on this. Well, I did more than that. I went back several years, but at some point I thought it was enough.

The interviewer called me on the "gaps" in my employment. To be precise, she asked me what I was doing between 1993 and 1999. "I see that you graduated here [pointing to line on application] in 1993 and then you have a job here, starting in 2000. We need to fill in the gaps."

I don't actually have any gaps. Just a lot of dumb jobs. I was 21 in 1993. It was not the pinnacle of my professional career. I was a slacker or I lacked self-confidence or I didn't know what I wanted to do yet, so I did a lot of things. Not all of this went through my head, but I did bluster to explain myself by saying, Ha ha (it seemed funny to me), I didn't know I had to fill in all my jobs way back.

She didn't seem to get it. "You see [pointing to the form again] we need to fill in the information about what you were doing between this and this." And later after I questioned whether all of these jobs were necessary, she said, "Oh yes, you're supposed to include all the jobs. Or the reason you weren't working." She seemed suspicious. Maybe I seemed suspicious. But I was working. I was sometimes working two jobs which is what people do when they need to pay rent. And can't commit to anything. And people annoy them. And they're twenty-four.

I found out later, when I was asking the questions you're supposed to ask at interviews (now I can't find it, so no cool link), that my interviewer got her state job from a job fair at college and has moved up and over within the system since. Her fourteen years (we're the same age!) since graduating look a little tidier than mine.

Must run. I will continue with Part Two later.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Body Image

I'm sitting here eating a bowl of graham crackers in milk. I usually do eat a bowl of cereal after the kids go to bed. I've even heard it's good for your metabolism (although that may be propaganda from the cereal companies). I don't eat dessert, so . . .

The problem is that I'm gaining weight despite exercising more consistently than at anytime in the last few years. I don't mind the number so much--I have started strength training and that might add pounds--but the fact that I can't fit into any of my pants, even shorts I wore with ease earlier in the summer, that bothers me. Here are the places my thoughts go:

My metabolism is shutting down . . . I'm getting old . . . There's nowhere to go but down (or, in this case, up) . . . Maybe I have a tumor. . . How come my husband can eat and drink whatever he wants and never go up or down more than 2 pounds? . . . I'm going to have to wear skirts everyday to hide my gigantic ass . . .

I have had some weird health things this summer, most notably two yeast infections, the first of which went untreated because I didn't know what it was and kept thinking it would go away. And I just got back from a week of vacation where I didn't exercise, ate as much as I could, and drank more than usual (that is, every night I had a few glasses of wine). The toe just happened last week, so I doubt that's been much of a factor yet. I am willing to give myself a break. I mean, I'm going to keep exercising and eating my normal healthy (if + extra cereal) meals, and try not to worry about it.

I want to start running again, but when I think that the last time I ran consistently (~3 years ago), I was 20 pounds lighter, I think I might not be able to run. Which is silly because people run at all weights. (People, yes, but what about me?) That would mean getting up earl(ier than my kids), though. Ugh.

I'm going to check in with my progress here every once in a while. I'm not going to record my weight or anything, but I'd like to be able to measure my satisfaction with things like fitting into my pants, over time.

Maybe, I joked to my husband while we were cooking dinner, I need to start breastfeeding again. He looked at me with horror.

Lessons from Yoga

What happens when you walk in late to yoga? Well, it wasn't me today, but the yoga teacher for our beginner yoga class at the local YMCA had to get firm with some students about arriving after the starting relaxation time had begun. She huffed a little bit when someone came in late, then said, We'll have to talk about this later as a class, as adults.

After we finished the lying down stretches and sat up, she said again, Let's talk about this coming-in-late issue as adults. Everyone agreed that it would be okay for her to lock the door when it was time to start and then unlock it after the five minute relaxation. She encouraged us to arrive on time and promised that she would do better at ending her last class on time so she could start this one on time. It was all very pleasant and reasonable.

Then she said, See that's why I don't have kids, because you can't have a reasonable discussion like that with them. Everyone laughed. One woman said, Well, you can, but they won't listen. The yoga teacher said, Well, when I have a discussion, I like to get a response. If I just wanted to talk to myself, I would.

Because I have a hard time quieting my mind, I considered why she might have said this. My first thought: If you don't have kids, you don't know what you're talking about. My second thought: Well, she may be super flexible and skinny, but that's because she doesn't have kids. Several thousand unflattering (to me) thoughts later, I thought to wonder if she wanted to have kids. I wondered if she'd tried, struggled with infertility or even lost babies. I don't believe all women want to have children, but I wondered if her comment could be a defense mechanism. Maybe she was used to (and tired of) explaining to people that she didn't have any children. It doesn't really make any difference, but I tried to open myself up to all the possibilities of who she was and how she might have struggled. On the heels of my breastfeeding post, I wanted to be generous to all women and their lives.

And then I tried to go back to the breath. Or to balancing my right ankle over my left knee while squatting with my back arched and my fingers sliding down the mirror in front of me.

Later, but while we were still seated, someone raised her hand. Ah, a question, said our yoga teacher. The student said, Could I ask you to move a little to the right or to the left, so I could see you? The teacher said, Yes, but, next time, how about you move?

This time I thought, Wow. Was that passive-aggressive? Or just confident and in charge? Maybe no yoga teacher likes teaching newbies. We're like the remedial English class: all the senior teachers fight over the Honors and AP classes, but someone gets stuck with the 9th grade remedial class. And resents it. Most of the time during the class, I felt like she was enjoying herself, but maybe there are times when it gets to her.

I like yoga. I feel beautiful when I'm doing yoga, which is not how I normally feel when I'm, say, cardio kickboxing. When I'm doing yoga, I feel powerful, like my body can do more than I thought it could. Yoga makes me feel conscious of how I'm standing and moving at other times of the day.

Plus, yoga is one of the few forms of exercise that I can do while my toe looks like this.

More on that later. Maybe.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Breast (Feeding) Wars

So, I thought, with which controversial topic do I want to start? All the posts I have been kicking around in my head, including the one about abortion after watching a documentary called Lake of Fire last week, never seem to get written. Then I was browsing around the blogs and came upon this post by less than two-weeks post-partum Julie. She is a fabulous writer and from the huge response (mostly positive) she received, this is a topic many women have stories about, stories they may have not felt able to share in other places (with family or friends, for example). I also linked from there to this post, which is hilarious, and this one, which is also well-written and refreshingly honest. Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), comments on the original post have degenerated somewhat into a battle between militants. Emotions, hormones, and generous helpings of mommy-guilt and the expectations of others are all involved.

So, why another post about it? From me, who is not currently breastfeeding and may not breastfeed ever again? I guess just because, like most, if not all, women who have birthed babies (and many who want to, but can't), I have strong feelings about breastfeeding. Not so much opinions as feelings. I will start with my own story.

I had no particular opinion about breastfeeding prior to becoming pregnant for the first time. I knew my mother's story, that she had been discouraged from breastfeeding her firstborn twins (one of them was me) in 1972, and that she was determined to breastfeed her second, my brother, in 1979, which she did for a year. She received no support from doctors or others that time around either, although she was told it would be good for her baby. I guess I assumed that I would try to breastfeed. And that's pretty much how I felt even after I found out I was pregnant.

Then my sister, who was two months ahead of me in her pregnancy, convinced me to take a natural birth class with her. Bradley, to be precise. Because I had no plan of my own and am a follower sort of a person at times, I said, Sure, that would be fun. The (12!) classes required our husbands to attend as well, and it was fun (mostly). Our teacher was great. She taught all the Bradley curriculum, but she wasn't hardcore about it. She talked about things that could go wrong and encouraged us to be prepared for things that might not go as planned. I'd like to think that she encouraged us not to think of success as defined by no interventions and no pain killers, but I was a newbie with shining eyes, so I might have missed that part. I did learn a lot about my body and what happens when labor starts, etc. We also learned a lot about the medicalization of birth and how women's natural ability to birth had been co-opted. We learned how to write a birth plan so we could avoid interventions we didn't want.

One of our lessons was about the benefits of breastfeeding. We were encouraged to attend a La Leche League meeting, so I did. If you've never been to one, you might not know that mothers nursing toddlers during the meeting is common. This was not something I'd ever seen before. At this point, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I wasn't sure I'd be going back to a LLL meeting. I mean, it seemed simple. Just feed your baby. Why do you have to talk about it? Or do it in front of a bunch of strangers?

So I gave birth (induction at 41 weeks, pitocin, pitocin, pitocin, amniotomy, enema, threatening with vacuum, some kind of drugs to stop contraction, pitocin again, another wave of the vacuum, episiotomy, tear, and finally, baby) and began breastfeeding. I had already watched my sister deal with engorgement, mastitis, and fits of crying from no sleep and pain. For some reason I gave myself an 8 week timetable. Maybe because my sister's son was eight weeks old when my daughter was born and I didn't want to give up before she did. Or maybe she told me it was finally getting better.

I kept an elaborate chart for the first eight weeks: every feeding, every wet and soiled diaper, how many hours slept at night. I never got mastitis, but I did have one sore nipple for quite a while. It was agony to nurse on that side, but I didn't know what else to do. I read my Womanly Art of Breastfeeding which, naturally, suggested that I check the latch and use lanolin and continue nursing on both sides to keep up supply. All in all, though, compared to stories I've heard and read, I had a pretty easy time of it.

I did return to LLL meetings, usually with my sister. I enjoyed communing with other women who were experiencing the same lack of sleep, unsetting change of identity, physical discomfort, etc. Plus, it was often entertaining. LLL meetings always have at least one uber-natural-mommy. The one who grows her own vegetables, tandem-nurses her three-year-old and her newborn, uses cloth diapers, never leaves home without her kids . . . oh, and she tends to be opinionated about other mothers' decisions. As long as no one seemed to be getting their feelings hurt, I kind of enjoyed watching them spar over family bed or potty training issues. We also talked a lot about births. Many of the women were unhappy with their hospital births, where they felt they were treated without respect or were unable to have the birth experience they wanted. I didn't have that experience; although my daughter's birth wasn't the most pleasant (see above), I felt like I made the decisions I wanted to make and that all the medical personnel were working in my best interest. But these women were clearly grieved, and I felt for them.

At some point I stopped going to the meetings, although I still read the magazine (my sister was a subscriber). The stories in that magazine, yikes! It was like the meetings on hyperdrive. Every birth and breastfeeding horror story you can imagine, and these women prevailed through it. I felt thankful I didn't have to go through any of that and "test" my resolve to breastfeed. Breastfeeding my daughter, after the first few months, was mostly a great experience. By three or four months I had her pretty well on a schedule where we nursed at certain intervals or times of the day. I never had to pump because I didn't head back to work. We did call her the Spit-Up Queen because she spit up after every feeding, even as she approached one-year-old, but she exceeded the growth curve and never seemed in distress. It was only a problem of laundry.

I almost weaned her at 11 or 12 months when she was down to about 2-3 feedings a day (and doing very well eating regular food at the table), but I couldn't quite figure out how to cut out the last couple of feedings. She never used a bottle so I couldn't substitute that way. Then we bought a house, so as we packed and cleaned, and did all the things one does when preparing to move, she wanted to nurse more. Likely she needed me, needed my attention, and this was the sure-fire way to get it. I wasn't crazy about it, though, this nursing for attention. My sister, who is an Attachment Parenting sort of girl, nursed when her kids hurt themselves, when they were feeling tired, whenever they wanted. I realized, around this time, that I wasn't in that camp. Breastfeeding was feeding in my mind, and I was starting to feel resentful that this (adorable) little person was sucking on my nipples for attention. Yet, I didn't really know how to stop. I nursed her until she was 22 months old, although around 18 months I tapered off again to 2-3 feedings a day. And none at night. All I felt when I stopped was relief. I felt like my body was mine again. And I decided that if I had another baby, I wouldn't nurse as long. But I didn't tell anyone that. Many people likely thought I'd breastfed way too long anyway, and others held to child-led weaning. I didn't talk about it to anyone because I was afraid of being judged. Either judged as (finally) doing the sensible thing or judged as not being natural enough.

Here's the issue for me. For several decades of this century, women weren't encouraged to breastfeed because science was thought to be better and because breastfeeding was a lower-class or even savage thing to do. So La Leche League was formed as an organization to help women support each other in the effort to feed their babies the natural way. You still get weird looks from some people if you breastfeed (even discreetly) in public. Some women my age and even younger are still uncomfortable talking about breastfeeding; breasts seem to be more easily associated with sex than with feeding. But all of this good effort to allow women more choices and more control has turned some breastfeeding enthusiasts into rabid rigid judgmental fundamentalists. And some of us into more gentle, well-meaning "educators" of those who don't share the same vantage point. Why can't we just let women make their own decisions? Assume that women who've made their decisions have thought about them and don't need our help? It seems to be very hard for women to be neutral about this, or rather neutral about what other women decide. I ask the question because I know I've been judgmental, I know I've felt superior, and I know I know nothing about what some other women have experienced.

I breastfed my second daughter with no complications at all, but I had started back to graduate school and had to be away from home 5 hours at a time twice a week starting when she was three months old. I took her with me for a couple of weeks, but she hated the car, crying and throwing up all the way (1 hour and ten minutes) home. So I started to pump. Compared to women who have to pump right after birth for preemies or women who have to pump for 4o hours of work/week, what I had to do was nothing. But I hated it. For some reason my body didn't like pumping at night, although it would have been the most convenient (baby asleep, me engorged if I've just returned from class). I had to try to pump in the morning with the baby herself sitting in the bouncy seat, usually after nursing on one side. And my older daughter (then just turned 3) wanting breakfast or play-with-me or something. Most mornings I cried.

I would read my sister's LLL magazine and feel like such a wimp for wanting to give up. For some reason I thought it was more important not to be wimpier than some women I didn't even know than to be happy in the morning with my two daughters. I think I gave it four months, then I said, Enough. I still breastfed, but I packed that pump away with a huge sense of relief. She drank formula when I was gone and breastfed when I was home. And when she was a year old, I weaned her. No resentment. No guilt. It was what worked for me.

I am not better or worse than my sister who is still nursing her 2 1/2 year old (while pregnant with her third). I am not better or worse than my friend who returned to work after three weeks and went right to formula, feeling that she'd never had enough of a supply for either of her kids. I am not better or worse than the woman who pumps or the woman who refuses to pump. We all have our own stories and our own choices. We should be glad we have choices and give each other a break.

This post is not as good as I want it to be. For one thing, where's the sense of humor I admire in other people's writing? And the message: give each other a break? Duh!

Whatever. It's too late for me to still be up. #%!$& Olympics!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Goodbye, Alexander Isayevich

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died this week. He was 89. Here is an interesting article on his legacy, if you want more. I read The First Circle sometime during college back in '91 or '92 most likely. I became really fascinated with Soviet political prisoners after this. I don't know if Solzhenitsyn's book was the one that got me started, but I know it was one of the first (and I really liked it). And from that point through the next 5 or 6 years, I read a ton of Soviet dissident memoirs, combing through the shelves in every used bookstore in Sarasota and Charlottesville for any I could find. (They are now still sealed in boxes in my closet, 3 1/2 years after moving into this house). I sat in the archives at U.Va.'s Alderman library reading library bound periodicals like the Chronicle of Human Rights in the USSR from the 70's and 80's. I bought all three volumes of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, but I didn't make it all the way through it. (I'm a lazy scholar, as well, even when the scholarly pursuit is self-selected.)

I even took Russian at U.Va. as a non-degree speaking student, making it through Russian III. (Possibly my biggest compliment [as a writer?] came from that professor, a Russian woman, who said of a short story that I turned in, that I had captured the Russian sense of humor! I don't know where that short story is. I probably couldn't read it now anyway!) That was in 1996. I haven't used my fragile semi-fluency since. I loved to write in Cyrillic, forming the letters: it felt like drawing, especially when I learned the cursive. I think I can still do the alphabet and phonetically spell things like my name. I feel some nostalgia or maybe just wistfulness at the intensity of my interest. Am I interested in anything that much now?

So even though I can't remember exactly where my interest in Russian and the Soviet times in particular came from, or where it went, I felt like Solzhenitsyn's death deserved some thoughts, even if these thoughts ended up being all about me.

I just remembered that all this reading about political prisoners did lead me to get involved with a local chapter of Amnesty International for a couple of years. I'd like to do that again, too.

After losing his Soviet citizenship in 1974, Solzhenitsyn lived in Vermont for many years. He returned to Russia in 1994, where he died. Rest in peace.