Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quad B strikes again: The Red Tent

The Baren Bitches Book Brigade is at it again, this time reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

The Red Tent is a novel that gives voices to the voiceless and nearly so. It alters the stories of Genesis, or gives them subtext, or, for nearly all of the second half of the book, ventures into entirely separate territory. I found it really interesting that all the questions submitted for the book club this round dealt with the first part of the book, the one that re-tells a Bible story.

I have a connection to this story that seems to go beyond the story itself. It's not just that two of the very important people in my life (one now estranged and one still very much in it) have names that are derivatives of the main character's name, though I am sure that plays a role. I think it's also that I like women's stories, women's voices. I read voraciously as a child, but now that I think about it, most of the stories I read had a very male point of view. Unsurprising, really. And at the time it suited me fine. I was a tomboy anyway, climbing trees and building slingshots. Playing chess. I had good girl friends growing up, but for the longest time a lot (most?) of my friends were guys.

These days I claim friends of both persuasions, but I have to admit to being closer to women friends. More than that, though, women's stories and voices are something I seek out. Not just on the internets, mind you. The two discs in my CD changer in the car that are not Old Country or kid music are Dar Williams and the Dixie Chicks. I am still not a girly girl, and I find that the stories I gravitate to have markedly little in the way of pink fluff. But they are decidedly women's stories, with decidedly woman perspective. Whether the blogs I read only reflect this transformation or actually contributed to it I can't say, and in the end I think it doesn't matter all that much. This is just where I am.

I was struck by the idea that awareness of the moon controlled women's cycles. I always knew that the moon could MARK women's cycles, but controlling them was a new notion. I first read The Red Tent while going through IF and had some magical thinking that if I just paid attention to the moon each night, that I could regulate my cycles. Have you had any magical thinking about returning to Nature, even as you turned to Science to pursue your baby dreams (assuming you did)?

I actually first read the book when pregnant with Monkey. It was the first English language book to obviously invade my dreams. I had this vivid first trimester dream, where I was either in or watching (couldn't remember when I woke up) the famous meeting of Jacob and Rachel at the well. Can we say hot? And I don't mean the temperature in the desert.

The idea of synchronized cycles didn't entirely freak me out, as I saw it happen on a small scale in my dorm. But I didn't think the moon was involved.

So I was reading this in something like the third months of my second pregnancy, achieved after two years of infertility and a miscarriage. I was 27. I was just shy of 25 when we started. The first half a year was just a giant WTF moment, as following bidding adieu to the pill my body hastily returned to my old pattern of period? What period? We don't need no stinking period. And then I got the diagnosis of PCOS, and read up on it. I read about low carbing, and how it has helped some people restart their cycles. I was 25, and I thought I had time.

Had my life been different, had I only been starting to try now, only getting my diagnosis now, I know I wouldn't feel like that. I know I would be pounding down an RE's door (just as I did when we were trying this last time), and lining up vials on the bathroom counter. But then, then I thought I had time. And more will power than a tank. No, really. I went low carb. And stuck to it. It took about two years from the diagnosis, plus gym, plus some other things, but in the end there it was-- I started ovulating, and eventually I got pregnant, twice by the time I was reading the book.

Had I been less lucky, I think I would've found my way to an RE. Though how long that would've taken, who knows. However, one thing I definitely don't remember engaging in at all was magical thinking. I'm a science girl. First thing I did after getting the diagnosis was read up on the whole hormonal axis involved. When I stumbled on low carb, I read up on why and how that could connect to the hormones in question. It made sense. I gave it a try. I stuck with it because it made me feel better, a lot better, and because of that whole tank thing. So it wasn't about magical thinking, though there was a whole lot of listening to my body going on. In the end, the approach I took then was all about the time I thought I had.

For a time uber-fertile Leah and barren Rachel did not speak to each other. "She could not smile at her sister while her own body remained fruitless." Was there a time in your experience with infertility when you ceased communicating with your fertile friends/relatives. Did something finally bring you together or did you drift apart?

I have been thinking about that time in my life lately, the time of primary infertility. I have no idea how I survived that with virtually no support structure. I think, though, that one big factor was that most of our friends were our age, give or take, and very few were engaged in reproduction. So we weren't constantly slapped in the face with successful and glowing friends and relatives. The one time I had to attend a baby shower, shortly after the diagnosis, I held back until I was needled directly. And then I replied honestly. Compared to what many others have had to deal with, this was a very mild episode, and the one asking the offending question learned from the experience. All very lucky, and probably sanity-saving.

"The Red Tent" vividly describes the ritual Dinah's mother & aunts perform to celebrate her coming of age. Lately, I've been hearing about young girls being presented with cakes & gifts when they get their first periods. This was definitely NOT done when I was growing up! Describe your first period & your family's reaction (if any) -- how old were you, & how was the occasion marked (if at all)?

Originally I wasn't going to answer this question, as my own memory of the event is not exactly great. My mother, whom I told when I found the blood, reacted as it was custom in the Old Country. A strange little custom laced with superstition. She thought I knew that's what it was supposed to be, but I didn't. I was horribly confused and hurt. I remember sitting on the toilet, having no idea what to do and crying. When my mom returned, having gotten some supplies for me (it must've been minutes, but it felt like hours), I was sobbing, and I asked her what did I do that she would react like that? How was this my fault? She hugged me and apologized. She thought I knew. I wonder now what happened when it was my sister's turn. (Adelynne, care to tell the class?)

But the reason I decided to take this question after all is that this is a great reminder that I don't have all that much time until it's Monkey's turn. Very likely we are more than half way there. Funny that when I read the book the first time, I remember being mesmerized by those scenes-- when first Rachel and then Dinah herself are welcomed into womanhood. But I didn't make a connection to our lives today. Even this time around it didn't ring that particular bell. Methinks time to consider a new family tradition...

Dinah is awaited and welcomed by all of Jacob's wives. The one daughter, the one to carry all their stories, all their voices. In the context of the book it is a literary device that allows the author to tell us stories of Jacob's wives from their own perspectives. But what does it speak of to you? In your own life, have you felt, as Dinah does, a carrier of living memory? Do you feel your own voice to be better protected in the age of the blog, or do you see an enduring need for connection across generations?

This is one of my questions. I think the reason it bubbled up for me is that I have been thinking about my own family. My grandmother, her voice now almost entirely unrecognizable, warped by disease. In the last couple of years I tried to get her to write up some of her family history, but it seems I was too late. Or too busy/too overwhelmed by grief-- I considered at one point calling her up every so often with questions and writing down what she said, but I never found the time. What I do have of my grandmother's voice, though, are the recipes I managed to learn over the years. Just like women in the novel, there are recipes in my family that almost define us, define the taste of my lineage, if you will. Some of them have skipped a generation, because my mother and aunt never asked for those recipes, content to consume the finished product at grandma's, but I did. And have now taught my sister. But there are also those that none of us got, and those are likely gone forever. Just like most stories of the generations gone before. That makes me very sad.

And at the same time I wonder about these blogs of ours. Will our children and grandchildren treasure these, or will this be an expected detritus of their lives, generations growing up with cheap electronic storage space as their birthright?

In the book, women's relationships to higher power(s) are complicated. Jacob brings with him the one God, but that is not any of the gods of their childhoods. And it is to the gods of her family that Rachel calls with her simple and desperate ultimatum: "Give me children or I will die." In the context of your own relationship (or lack thereof) to a higher power, do you feel entitled to the same kind of an ultimatum?

And this is my other question. This scene, and the description of Rachel's barren life, unsurprisingly struck a chord both times that I was reading. The role of prayer and relationship to the higher power is something I have been thinking of a lot, particularly since A's death. Though I have to say that my theological foundation was firmly established before, and possibly because of that, it didn't crumble. My personal foundation is that the age of miracles is long behind us.

My feelings as I read that scene are mixed. Wonder is big, for this scene is almost breathtaking to me. The boldness of it. I would never utter a prayer like this, mostly because in my theology it doesn't work like that. Personal requests are not granted. There's no divine intervention. If there was, if I believed that prayer actually works as a means of procuring one's heart's desire, it would be devastating to consider the implications. But, as the rabbi in Monkey's school says, in my theology God doesn't work as a vending machine-- insert prayer, receive outcome. I don't feel singled out for blessings or curses, and I don't feel entitled to think that I am so special (or that I can pray hard enough) that my prayers would be answered.

And yet I don't read this scene as arrogant. I read it as a window into the time of miracles (or the time when people believed was the time of miracles). Rachel asked because she believed she could. After all, her husband's grandfather talked to his God personally. He damn near killed his own son because El told him to (ummm... yeah, ask me some other time what I think of the binding of Isaac, ok? It's a separate discussion, and not a short one either). And, I think, Rachel asked not because she was posing, or overdramatizing, or threatening even. It doesn't mean that had she not had Joseph, she would've died. She might have, as some remarkable women we all know (and sort of like Dinah towards the end of the book), after a lot of hard emotional work found a new way and a new purpose to her life. But at that time, I think, that was her truth, simple and, therefore, devastatingly powerful.

More book club posts can be found at Mel's place. Please go over to follow the links, and to sign up for the next installment of the book club, Mel's own book-- Navigating the Land of IF.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Fashion show

This post of comic relief is brought to you by the department of "I was dressed by my father."

Do you like the stylish "back" pocket there? And how about the lovely and fashionable bodysuit closure over the pants?

Personally, I think the man should actually get credit for the fact that in seven plus years of parenting this is only the second piece of photographic evidence of his misadventures in child couture.

Your turn-- fess up to some of the more colorful ensembles you've perpetrated (on self or others) or that have been perpetrated on you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Almost by definition you can't get the whole story at a cemetery. All we get is fragments, snapshots. A skewed view. And yet...

Because from her own gravestone I know when she died, and how old she was just then, I also know when the future Mrs. Lucy Willson was born. But not much else, for a while. Because of what else I see on the surrounding stones, I want it to have been that the first 35 years of her life were blissfully happy. I surmise that sometime, presumably prior to 1791, she married one Mr. Solomon Willson. And again, I want the marriage to have been happy and warm.

Because some things I do know. I know that the turn of the century was not kind to Mrs. Willson. Whatever it was that came through her small New England town in late spring of 1800, or maybe something cruelly particular to her household, something in the water maybe, whatever it was though, it took her eight year old at the very end of May. And a week later it, or something else-- who knows,-- took her baby, only months old.

1801 was the year she buried the two infants whose stone caught my eye in the first place. And in January of 1803, another infant. Though perhaps she didn't literally bury that one, since only three days later Mrs. Lucy Willson herself passed from this world. Presumably from complications of childbirth. She was 38.

I wonder whether she knew she was dying. I wonder if at that point it seemed like a welcome relief. Or not. Because I also wonder how many other children was she leaving behind. I want it to have been not zero. Not because I want those children to have been left motherless, or because I want it to have been that she spent years and years of her life pregnant or breastfeeding, or both. And not because I think the ones she would've been leaving behind in that scenario would've made lovely consolation prizes. But because, even two hundred plus years later, I just don't want the five buried next to her to have been it.

Mr. Solomon Willson, by the way? He lived a long and, judging by the thickness and the width of his eventual tombstone-- both significantly greater than Lucy's and the children's,-- and made of a more substantial material too, prosperous life. He remarried, and his second wife is buried with him, having lived a long life herself. Whether the second Mrs. Willson was luckier or unluckier than the first in the childbearing department, that I do not know-- none of her children are buried anywhere nearby. Though maybe all it means is that she didn't ever have any. Either way, if Lucy's surviving children did exist, I want the second Mrs. Willson to have been a good step mother to them.

Glimpses and shadows.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Paaaarty, paaarty, paaarty!

We have martinis, we have bellinis, and, of course, the ever popular appletinis. Come one, come all-- it's party time. Why party, you ask? Well, it's because the tenacious Tertia of So Close finally has her book (conveniently also titled So Close) out and available for purchase in the US, and Mel, the queen of stirrups, support, and organization is throwing her a book shower. Which reminds me-- we should really have wine, since that's Tertia's poison of choice. There-- white and red, all better. Now-- what can I get you?

And while you are enjoying your beverage of choice (oh, have you tried the cheese?), let me tell you a story. I've had a few of these virtual cocktails myself already (what?-- I had to make sure they were properly mixed; the things I do for you), so if I get weepy and sentimental, blame it on the booze, k?

The story is most on point-- it's about this very book. The one that's only available in the US now, but one that I've owned for over two years. See, just before A died, we had a visiting scholar from South Africa come for a month. Most of which month I was at home licking my physical wounds. I went back to work about three weeks post partum, just in time for a farewell reception for the visiting scholar. Who very sweetly said that if anyone wanted anything from South Africa, she would be happy to find a way to get it to us. Can you say light bulb? I hesitated for maybe two minutes before deciding that even though I wouldn't normally have the guts to ask for a book unrelated to my professional life, this wasn't normally. At all. This was as far away from normally as I was likely to get. So I asked for the book. In fact, I had to ask my boss, who was the one putting together the list of things people were asking about. And I even did that. Woohoo.

A few weeks later an envelope showed up at work. I still remember it-- covered all over with stamps to make up international postage. As I recall it, my hands were shaking as I opened it, and there was a definite knot in my stomach pulling the book from its padded traveling enclosure. I can't tell you how many days it took me to read the book. Time didn't mean a whole lot then. It felt like I devoured it, but I also remember stopping for the day in a place or two. I cried, yes, but I also laughed. Because Tertia also brings teh funny. Most of all, she brings her heart. Completely open, completely exposed. Fully, consciously vulnerable. Breathtaking, really.

One of the things Melissa asked us to do at this shower is to answer one of the questions she posed in preparation, all conversation-like. I am going with a softball-- where do you draw your support?

Duh, say I, conversationally. Here. On the great wide internets. Well, I also have very good friends who started out IRL, you know, off line, and some who started out as electrons, but are now very corporeal. But the thing that popped into my mind when I first read the question was that way back in the prehistoric times, before Monkey, when I was going through primary infertility, I really didn't have anyone except JD. From where I sit now it just sounds strange. For two years we slogged through by ourselves, and a lot of the time it was really just me, by my lonesome. It sounds frankly insane. How did we, how did I, make it? In fact, I think that had we not gotten pregnant so soon after the miscarriage, it might have well done my unsupported head right in. I was in a pretty bad shape back then.

A darkly funny anecdote from that time. About half way through the two year slog, the first of my friends were having a baby. They had been living together for a while, but weren't yet married. In fact at the time, we were the only ones of our friends who were married. So sometime during that shower another friend decided to rib me to the tune of why is it that the only properly married couple is not the one having a baby, relinquishing the honor to one of the in-sin-living people instead. As I was using all I had in me to just be there, I didn't have the energy to laugh it off. So out came something to the effect of "we would if we could, it's not going so great." Hm... more dark than funny, ha? But the good part of this is that the friend in question turned out to be a one-trial learner, and has later told me that that conversation taught her to never ask that kind of question of anyone lest she step where it hurts.

Mmmm... Let's turn back to the subject of the shower. I may be three virtual sheets to the wind, but I still remember my hosting manners. So let me get you talking, dear guests. Tell me, won't you, what are you drinking? And also, have you ever thought of writing a book? Based on your blog? Or who of the as yet unpublished bloggers would you like to see write a book?

And finally, what do you think of the blogging anonymity and its unavoidable end if a blogger writes that book? I was thinking of this one because Tertia never was anonymous, even in the early days of her blog. But Miss Mel, who is also a published author now (everyone-- do a shot in honor of The Land of IF) was, prior to gaining fame and fortune, a semi-anonymous blogger. So tell me, is anonymity important to you? Would you give it up to write a book? Would you give it up for any other reason (like, say, being interviewed in a newspaper)? Would giving it up change the nature of your blog?

And please, don't forget to stop by the party central for more stops on the shower tour.

Now, who wants another drink?

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Not literally. Literally it has drizzled here and there, but mostly it's been hot-hot-hot-hot. I just mean everything's been happening, and all at once.

I feel kinda like I've run a marathon, and right as I was about to collapse past the finish line, it turns out there's another half-marathon to go. Which I did know about, but decided to kinda ignore in the interest of finishing the first marathon. Being less cryptic, this means that while JD was away for all but five days of a calendar month, I successfully disregarded the fact that mere days after he was finally home, our nanny (who is the best nanny in the world, and normally watches the Cub four days a week while I am at work) was taking off for three weeks. OUCH!!!!! We are managing, and it's only another week to go, but man, I am flat out exhausted.

Though I think what I need most is a somewhat prolonged period of time, like oh, let's dream big, a whole day, during which I am not the one in charge of Cub's well-being. And I am sure the fact that both he and I were sick last weekend and for the early part of last week, and that I am still not fully recovered, and that he is still coughing all have something to do with this. I've had less work hours, yes, but more than that, I've had like no hours for myself. Well, not entirely true-- this week, including the weekend so far, he's been out of my care for something like five hours during which I wasn't also working. Another week this might've been plenty. But given how long it's been since things were "normal" around here, and how long my to-do list is, I'm feeling about ready to snap.

My mom's surgery went well, and she's now recovering at home. My sister was there for the surgery and a couple of days before and after, which was good for everyone. Mom's still on restricted movement and such, but she's made it up the stairs to sleep in her own bed the night before last-- a major accomplishment. And before that, the milestones, in reverse chronological order, were going home (and, you know, mastery of the number two that is generally one's ticket out), walking, sitting, and talking in own voice. The last one was kinda funny, but more unnerving-- mom couldn't talk on the phone till the day after, and then she sounded nothing like herself. It was the pain relief meds, sure, but it was also her discomfort with how her throat felt after she was intubated for the surgery. I think it was day three or even day four before she had her regular voice back.

And just because major surgery is clearly not enough of a challenge, the degree of difficulty was upped when the one nursing home that my mom and aunt liked offered them a spot for my grandmother. To move in less than a week later. Which was this past Wednesday. So my aunt got to be the one to drive grandma over and to sit there with her all of that first day. My dad and uncle have been dealing with the apartment. In the meantime, it became apparent that grandma's home care workers weren't always giving her all her meds. And by became apparent I mean that the night person told mom on the phone that "somedays she's better if I don't give her all those pills in the morning." Yeah, thanks, lady.

The nursing home adjustment is going in fits and starts. The pharmacist from the pharmacy where all of grandma's meds used to come from faxed over his records without indicating that some dosages of some meds were discontinued in favor of bigger dosages. So the nursing home gave her waaay too much of those particular meds, her blood pressure fell, and so did she. They had to take her to the hospital to get checked out. Her PCP took it from there, both on the looking after her front, and figuring out the dosages with the nursing home front, and she was back at the facility that night. She's had a couple of better days, cognitively. But she's also been wanting to go home. We don't know what she means by home at this point, except that with these better days comes recognition that this place isn't it. Maybe, maybe, maybe, if the good days thing keeps up, she will learn that this is where she is supposed to be. Maybe.

I feel this just about summs things up: the other day I looked up and it was May 1st. WTF? When did this happen? Where did my April go? I remember April 1st. After that-- blurs. I clearly need a time machine. Or at least waaaaaaaay more coffee.

Also, if you want a good laugh at my expense, check out the opening paragraph of my latest piece on GITW. It's about self-care, and caps off our body shop month. (And if after reading that you want Vicky's number, I may be inclined to share. Particularly if you are inclined to share dark chocolate.)