Wednesday, December 31, 2008

..and an Engish Christmas in Africa

The Christmas marathon continued with presents from Santa, and a large family dinner, with all the extended family, many of whom I had not yet met, South Africa being a very long trek from San Francisco. Us early risers were charged with preparing the table for the dinner (21 seated to eat), along with the housekeeper. I haven't quite got used to the idea of having servants, but "cookie", a sweet indian woman who comes every weekday to clean and do laundry, is very sweet, and certainly makes our lives easier. Labour is cheap here, and all middle class folk of any race employ help in the house. (the kids, always early birds, are getting up atound 5.00am here, which is slightly denting the 'relaxing vacation' concept.)

The sight of her stocking stuffed wth gifts brought great excitment from geekygirl, though we did persuade her to down a bowl of "strawberry pops" before the unwrapping frenzy began. (every single breakfast cereal here seems to be sugar coated. I eventually found a Cheerio like brand, called Oatees, but even these innocent and wholesome looking cereal circles were coated in a veneer of sugaryness. I find going to the supermarket in different countries to be endlessly fascinating. Here there are many unfamiliar brands. In this age of globalization one tends to find many of the same products everywhere, but the forced isolation of South Africa by international sanctions forced it to develop its own version of almost everything. Though apparently not heathly breakfast cereal!)

As I hoped, Geekgirl was enthralled with her new baby doll, Christened after a whole day of consideration as "Hannah". She retreated into several hours of fantasy play, and allowed me the luxury of a bit of time with my book!

When she woke from a very deep present stimulated nap, the house was filled with guests. Geekygirl is wary of new people, so was rather overwhelmed. Geekybaby, however, loves everyone, and was passed arund from pillar to post, lighting up the room with his baby smile, despite the yellow crusts around his eyes. Poor guy developed a nasty cold after the trip, one of the downsides of taking a curious ten month old who puts everytihng in his mouth on three consecutive flights.

Two of the new comers though were Nikki and Sasha, boys aged 5 and 3. It did not take long for Geekygirl to become the boss of them, engaging them in a hilarious game of kiss chase. "I chase you then I kiss you".

The afternoon had a scary mment though. This houe is on a golf course, green and beautiful, and very civilized. It doesn't really feel like Africa, until the electricity goes out (every couple of days), the water goes out (just once so far), and the plumbing fails (a couple of times on the trip). The other thing that gives a tase of the exotic is the local pests; monkeys! Just as squirrels may run around in an ordinary estate, the monkeys raom free here. They are adorable little beasts with long long tails. The children are fascinated, geekybaby demonstrating his pointing skills at the fantastic creatures.

Geekgirl was so enamoured of them on Chritsmas evening that she walked backwards of the high patio in the courtyard, losing her footing and tumbling down 5 steep concrete steps. I thrust geekybaby into the arms of the nearest relative and grabbed her, my heart in my mouth. I waved off the attentions of the gaggle of well meaning great aunts, who geekygirl was not very keen on anyway, and definately did not want to be fawned over in her terrified state. Fortunately she was unscratched, and this was confirmed by a cousin who is a doctor. Within a few minutes she was back to running around with the boys as if nothing had happened.

It was certainly a Christmas day to remember

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Danish Christmas in Africa

The Christmas celebrations are over, we are knee deep in toys, generously given by the many new relations I have met, but making me nervous about how much our already laden bags can hold for the journey home, and living of tasty leftovers.

Christmas with the Geeky inlaws is a multi faceted affair. We are in South Africa, the native country of my father in law. His heritige is British, and so are the Christmas traditions. (The white folk in South Africa are of two basic stock, British, the descendents of colonialists, and Afrikaans, people of dutch descent who have their own language and culture. Despite the many years since the end of apartheid, south Africans still identify strongly with their own cultural group, and make the others the butts of jokes. The Afrikaaners seem to get the short end of the stick). My mother in law is Danish though, and the 'Jul' traditions of that country are very different. So we got to do all of it:

On the 24th we all had to sit and sing around the tree (Artifical. Apparently they once tried to get a real tree here, but ended up with some kind of tropical plant that bore no resemblance to a Christmas tree and whose branches did not hold up to the baubles, so it was a very sorry sight). Then gifts were exchanged. Geekybaby had retired for the night, the poor guy has had a nasty cold, but Geekgirl was very enthusiastic, both at giving and getting. Her enthusiasm affected the whole room, with her "What do you have"? "Who is this for?" "Open it, Open it, Open it", More presents, there are still more presents!". My brother inlaws girlfriend has her seventeen year old son here too. He is of course too cool to get all into presents...until he opens a box containing "guitar hero III, legends of rock", and he turned back into a little boy! Actually so did we all. Everyone should share Christmas with a three year old for the sheer joy and wonder of gift opening, and with a seventeen year old so that you can play "Guitar hero", and awesomly cool game. And I am not a gamer. I know what Geekydaddy is getting for his 40th birthday now!

Dinner came after presents, the Danish traditional roast duck, steamed red cabbage (sweetended with currants and cooked in wine), and boiled potatoes coated in sugar, followed by rice pudding with cherry sauce. Geekgirl tried to stay up for dinner, and sat exitedly at the big table, but after a couple of mouthfuls said "I'm just going to take a little rest. Then I come back". So sweet! I put her to bed, and not surprisngly she fell asleep immediately, and slept until morning, awaiting the next present marathon, the much anticipated visit from Santa Claus.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I'm stealing a few moments while Geekygirl watches her new sesame street DVD, and Geekybaby sleeps, to share a few stories form the past few days.

The estate where Geekdaddy's parents live is on a golf course, right on the Indian ocean. Surrounded by a large electric fence. It is quite a long way from any ameneties, so any trip to the shops must be well planned, since you can't just pop back if you forget something. On December 24th, Grandpa, Geekydaddy and geekgirl were sent out on a mission to pic up the floral centerpieces for the Christmas lunch table. They also had a laundry list of other, less importtant items to collect.

They went to the shopping center in Bellito, a modern affair very similar to a mall in the US, and the only shops for the myriad of developments that are springing up along this section of the Durban coast. Geekgirl, Grandma and I had been there a couple of days before and I had been surprised by the bland cleanness of it. Apart from the stores selling carved giraffes, it didn't feel very African at all. Until we went to the "Wimpy' bar; fast food, but with table service, a bounce house, and roving nannies who swoop your kids off to play and bring them back when you call!

Considering the history of this country, I was impressed by how egalitarian it seemed, that both the store assistants and the shoppers were a mixture of white, black and Indian people (back in the 1800's, the British brought Indians here to work as servants and under apartheid there were four racial classifications, white, black, Indian and 'colored' - mixed race).

Anyway, After queueing to get in to the center, and circling for parking, our shoppers found a spot and completed the purchasing. Grandpa had just relinquished the coveted parking spot when Geekgirl, peering into the back of the car said "Where are the flowers?". Yes, they had forgotten the one thing that was mission critical! Two grown men and it takes a not quite 3 year old girl to remember what they actually went to the shops for! So another parking spot was found, and the flowers were collected. Geekygirl saved the day, and Grandpa's ass.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

the longest journey

I'm blogging here from the beautiful 'rainbow nation' of South Africa. It's in the high 80's here, with a warm breeze blowing in from the Indian ocean, which I can see from the window here in my father in law's office. It is great to finally be here. It is a very long way from San Francisco. The trip was beyond exhausting, but really went about as well as one could expect. The whole geekyfamily can now be considered seasoned travellers, so I thought I would share a few tips for traveling half way across the world with a baby and an almost three year old:

1. Use Skypark, or equivalent. Take your own car to the airport, and use an off airport parking company that shuttles you right to the terminal, and has people to help with your mounds of luggage. Buses are as exotic as airplanes to our kids, the evil automobile being our main mode of transport, so we started out on an exciting note!

2. Pack as light as you possibly can. We booked seats for the kids (which I am so grateful for being able to do. Though despite having their own seats we both had a kid asleep on our lap for at least part of a flight), which meant we had a lot of baggage allowance, but of course babies cannot tote their own bags.

3. Use car seats on the plane. Much safer, and the kids are used to sleeping in them. We have the radian 80 seats that fold up and come with a shoulder strap, so though they are heavy, they are much less bulky to carry than the regular seats. Our two, amazingly, slept all the way from San Francisco to London.

4. Break up your journey. Instead of jumping straight on another 10 hour flight to Johannesburg, we spent one night in London. My lovely sister and her family live close to Heathrow, so we had a great 24hrs there. Geekygirl got some bonding time with her cousins (they even slept in the same bed), and we got to catch up and relax before steeling ourselves for the next leg of the journey.

5. Fly South African Airlines. Probably this only works if you are flying to Africa, but they were so awesome. Full interactive entertainment system, yummy food and free booze, (really nice south african red wine). They provided baby food, kids fun packs, and give you socks and eye masks and tiny toothbrushes (in a zebra striped pouch!). It was flying like it used to be before all the airlines went bankrupt.

6. Don't fly to Johannesburg from London over the holidays. There are many many South african ex pats. Most of them go home for the holidays. There are only about 5 immigration desks at Johannesburg international airport. We were the last people off the plane, and found ourselves at the back of an insanely long line. Well not really a line, more like a mob. For some reason, though we gate checked out stroller, it was not given to us at the gate in Joburg. And it was miles and miles of walking to get to the baggage claim. Luckily I had a baby carrier (an essential on any trip), but poor Geekygirl had to walk the whole way, since her dad and I were laden with bags. Another tip, practice carrying your carry on bags for half a mile, then decide exactly how many board books, toys, encyclopedias and barbells you really and truly need on the flight! On no account, though, remove the life saving portable DVD player and its extra battery, however much they may weigh. I borrowed one of these treasures at the last minute, having been reminded that its all very well getting the kids their own seats and their own TV, but often the programming does not include "Clifford the big red dog", or "Charlie and Lola".

7. Accept help. A couple of uniformed staff (very important in Jo burg to only accept help from the official people, apparently) saw our plight, and overheard us say that our connecting flight to Durban was in 1 hour. We were probably a good hour away from getting to the front of the immigration line, and then still had to collect our checked bags, re check them through to Durban and get over to the domestic terminal, so the prospect of making that connection was looking rather grim. These fabulous guys whizzed us through passport control, found our bags and shouldered some of the burden, rechecked them for us, jumping the queue due to what looked like some serious flirting with one of the ground staff, and then took us through the flight crew security instead of the passenger one. We made it with 10 minutes to spare!

8. Break the rules. Toddler only allowed pacifier and blanky for bedtime and car rides? Those are our rules but I added on planes, in airports and at any time during transit. But be warned, Blankies, those threatening objects, must be surrendered to the X ray machine. Mind you, the amount of filthy floors they have been dropped on between American and Africa, they probably are a biohazard by now.

9. Be prepared for the mother of all tantrums when the rules must be re-enforced. Having been a true trooper of a traveller, Geekygirl finally lost it completely when I took the paci away today. I think its her way of releasing all the stress of the last few days, and I'm grateful she saved her meltdown for the safety of our temporary home.

10. Take a tiny camera that fits in your jeans pocket, and take lots of pictures documenting the whole trip, not just the kodak moments. I'm planning on making a photo book for the kids, telling the story of this trip. Though they are too young to really remember it properly, I think a book will recharge those memories and keep them alive.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

holiday party

I know some people don't much like their company holiday events, but I have always enjoyed them. An American company holiday party is generally a far less debauched affair than that enjoyed by the typical British employee, but ours have always been fun. Both geekydaddy and I are social creatures and enjoy a party. I like to socialize with coworkers in a different environment, and to meet their spouses. Plus these days it is a rare occasion that we pull out suits, ties, pretty dresses and high heels and go out all gussied up. It took Geekydaddy five attempts to tie his tie, it has been so long!

In fact, the kids have so impacted our social life that I realized, scanning my closet, that I was in that age old dilemma of 'not having a thing to wear'. I can't complain too much about the way my body has recovered from pregnancies, but I am not the hard bodied size 4 (US size, i must add, before I terrify any UK readers into thinking I suffer from anorexia) that I was before the two kids. My slinky bias cut dresses just don't hang right on my muffiny mummy frame, and spaghetti straps don't work with nursing bras. Maybe I watched too much 'what not to wear' while on maternity leave, but I couldn't bring myself to flaunt my 38 year old thighs in a tiny mini skirt, even though my thighs don't look half bad thanks to pushing a double stroller around the hills of San Francisco, and it is a classy wool one from 'Theory'.

So, the day of the party, while both kids were napping and Geekydaddy was in charge, I nipped up to 'Ambiance' in Noe Valley. This is a tiny store that stocks dresses from French Connection and BCBG, and more importantly, cheaper designers of the same ilk. I filled a fitting room with about 20 dresses, sensibly selecting size 6's and mediums, and threw them on one after another. Shopping post kids is a speedier and more decisive process than the lesiurely days I used to spend browsing, trying on, contemplating choices over a nice lunch, then finally returning to select something.

Luckily one dress was a hit, a short shirt dress in ivory and black stripes, made of that knit polyester that hangs elegantly but can also be thrown on the floor after wearing and shakes right back into shape. Even more fantasitic, I had to return the medium, and buy a small! I was so speedy in my selection that I even treated myself to a drop in pedicure, and when I got home only one of the kids had awoken from naptime!

Feeling almost glamorous in the new dress, we were ready to go. Some kind of police action in the neighbourhood delayed our babysitter, but we eventually got out of the house. We go out so rarely that I don't have a regular sitter, but we do have a great network of parents in our neighberhood who share resources. Gloria was a sweet mexican Grandma, who seemed kind and competent. However I think she feels we don't keep our kids warm enough; Geekybaby goes to bed clad only in his fleecy pyjamas, no blankets. He wriggles too much for coverings. When I got home Gloria showed me proudly that she had found several blankets to cover him, surrounded him with stuffed animals, and wrapped a cloth diaper around his head, in the fashion of a cartoon character with toothache!

I unravelled him from her ministrations, and went to bed, hoping that I had drunk enough water during the evening to avoid the dreaded "up at 6.00am with lively kids and pounding hangover" syndrome, that afflicts us reformed party girls, who sometime forget that after two pregnancies and years of breast feeding, we now have the alcohol tolerance of a teenage nun.

Monday, December 8, 2008

baby's breath

Its supposed to smell sweet and wholesome, soft and milky and to draw a mother in for snuggley closeness, I believe. There is even a sweet smelling flower of the same name. Last week, geekybaby's breath, if it smelled like a flower at all, smelled like that exotic thing at Kew gardens that flowers once every 50 years and emanates the odor of rotting carcass.

As any parent of a child in daycare knows, now is the season of back to back colds and sniffles. Geekybaby, on the mend from his first snottiness of the winter developed another fever last week. This one was accompanied by heavy congestion. There is nothing more uncomfortable than a congested baby, unable to nurse he bit at my nipples in frustration. Strong as he is now, he fervently resisted my attempts to squirt saline up his nose and suck the boogers out with my bulb syringe. I hate to do this, but find it strangely satisfying when a large volume of snot is retrieved! And on top of this his breath took on a putrid smell. So nasty that I kept thinking he had a soiled diaper, when in fact he was just exhaling. I could imagine a comedy moment where a friendly passer by, lured in by his adorable smiley face, leaned in to tickle him under the chin then recoiled in horror at his reeking dragon breath. Something so cute really shouldn't smell this bad.

The nice advice nurse at the doctors thought he probably just had a regular cold, but when I mentioned the breath issue she suggested I bring him in. By this time his fever had subsided, and apart from the stinky mouth breathing he seemed in good shape. He giggled at the lovely young resident who examined him, even happily endured the dreaded ear exam, and I felt quite daft, bringing this clearly perfectly healthy if rather congested baby to the doctor. Even the breath seemed less foul, though the resident took a sniff and said "well that certainly isn't baby breath".

This was Friday, and we were planning a weekend trip to tahoe, so though no infection was diagnosed, ears and chest clear, I got a prescription for antibiotics. They next day, fever still coming and going, and smell even worse than ever, I started to treat him. The putrid smell thankfully vanished after the first dose, and the congestion cleared right up too. I don't know what he had, maybe a sinus infection, but I'm glad he no longer smells so horrible!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'tis the season

This year the geekyfamily are heading to South Africa for a southern hemisphere Christmas with Geekydaddy's parents and extended family. We're excited about this of course, but the closer our departure date comes, the more daunted I feel by the thought of taking a 9 month old and an almost 3 year old half way across the world, spending over 20 hours on airplanes. We are breaking our trip after the first of our three flights, spending a night with my family at my sister's house in London. We will get to meet her latest addition, baby Sophie, and Geekgirl and Geekybaby will get to spend some time with their cousins. Then we hit the air again with another 10 hour flight to Johannesberg, followed by a short hop to Durban.

I apologize in advance to anyone unfortunate enough to be seated near us on any of these flights!

Though geekygirl enjoyed opening her presents last year, and mastered the word 'presents' in the process, this will be the first year she can anticipate the visit of Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, as we would call him back on the UK and in South Africa). We are not religious, and in fact Geekydaddy is quite the Scrooge, would happily do without Christmas altogether. I however embrace my inner hypocrite, and really like to celebrate the holiday. I'm comfortable separating the peace, love and giving part from the the baby Jesus coming to save the world part, and want to create our own traditions for the kids.

So, this means that Santa's presents must be transported half way across the world, without the benefit of flying reindeer. To cut down on bulk, I removed Santa's bounty from its packaging. I'm thinking this was a good idea anyway, since I needed wire cutters to get her new doll out of its box, and this may have caused some frustration on Christmas morning. Santa has been asked for a new baby doll. I had looked at very beautiful, lifelike and stupidly expensive dolls, and almost bought one, then came to my senses as I realized that one of Geekygirls favourite dolls is my old "tiny tears" circa 1972, with her matted hair and marker pen decoration. So Instead I sensibly picked up a nice, inexpensive, "little mommy" doll, easy to dress with her soft body and lifelike with her plastic face, arms and legs, and a selection of extra outfits and accessories for her. However, as I looked at her in her box, in her jaunty purple toweling outfit and blue sneakers, I realized that she was not truly a 'baby doll'. More of a toddler doll. After unpackaging her, I decided to dress her in one of her alternate outfits, a more baby like pyjama set, and then I nestled her in the soft pink carry cot bed I'd bought for her. Somehow this made her much more like the baby doll I think geekygirl is envisioning, and I feel satisfied that she will be delighted with her new baby. I feel an inordinate amount of stress about providing perfect gifts for my sweet girl. I know that love isn't about material things, but still, I want so much to give her things that make her happy. I can feel how easy it could be to fall into the trap of gift giving excess that those clever marketing folk at the toy companies try to push on us.

I have also purchased gifts for various South African cousins who we will be meeting for the first time. For two little boys I chose fisher price "Cars the movie" shake and go vehicles. Some genius at fisher price decided that these should be sold active and ready to go, which does save that scramble for batteries, but also meant that any time these things were moved they let our an offensive, loud throaty engine roar and said things like "you can't escape the law". I had visions of our luggage getting unwanted attention if every time a bag was handled these these noisy little buggers started roaring, so I hacked them out of their little display boxes to find the off switches, and put them to sleep for the trip.

Now I just need to find the time to mail my Christmas cards, launder everything that needs to be packed, double check the kennel booking for the animals, find everyone's passports, and fill a bag of tricks to amuse the kids on the flights!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

happy turkey, peacock, warthog and grizzly bear day

Yes, the geekyfamily visited the zoo this Thanksgiving.

before regailing you with the tale of our trip, I must pause to think of everything I am thankful for. The list is long, but in the interest of brevity I'll stick to the biggies:

My family. To have two such wonderful children, Geekygirl so lovely, so bright and full of ideas and life, Geekybaby, so happy, and such a blessing to arrive through an easy pregnancy and joyful delivery, despite my advancing age, completing our family so perfectly. it is only on reflection that I appreciate how lucky I was to meet such a fine man, and to squeeze in our two incredible kids against the tick of the biological clock. I'm so thankful for Geekydaddy, the best husband and father any family could have. Though my dad thinks he does too much housework, I know I am fortunate to live every day with that rare creature, a man who is also a feminist.

Which brings me to my extended family. I'm thankful for my dear Mum and Dad, that they are able and willing to get on a plane and fly half way across the world to see us, and techno savvy enough to embrace skype, so we can see each other across the atlantic. And I'm thankful for my sister and brother, and their lovely spouses and families. I only wish that San Francisco could be located just a tad closer to the UK. That or maybe those NASA folk could hurry up and invent teleporting.

Our trip to the zoo reminded me to be thankful for the amazing and incredible variety of life on this planet (Warthogs are very weird looking animals), for the opportunity I was given, many years ago now, to live in this wonderfully diverse city, and for the great and true friends that I have made here.

As for our trip to the zoo, well I think we may have started a new tradition. There were two high points to an all round superb day. The first was that we arrived early enough to see the grizzly bear feeding. A crowd of small and large folk gathered around the glass window dividing us from the swimming pool in the grizzly habitat. When the zookeepers came they released live fat brown trout into the water, and we got to watch a National Geographic special, as the two bears, huge, golden, and well, grizzly, gallumphed through the water, one of them finally pinning his trout with a determined paw right by the glass. Nimbly transferring the flopping fish to his mouth, he proceeded to bite off its head, and crunch the whole thing down in a mess of blood, saliva and irridescant scales, inches from Geekygirl and I, who had a prime spot by the glass. Geekygirl was wide eyed, but surprisngly un-phased by this display of Nature in action.

As we left she told me "the bears have a restaurant in a swimming pool"!

The second high point of the day was our restaurant lunch at the zoo. Not in a swimming pool, but right by the flamingo pond, the 'leaping lemur cafe' is the only place to eat if you are ever at San Francisco Zoo. Geekygirl considers it the finest restaurant in town, since it serves lovely french fries and chocolate milk. Today it also put on a nice Turkey dinner, which, since Thanksgiving fare from my pescaterian kitchen is the "traditional roasted salmon" rather delighted geekydaddy, and was an unexpected bonus to an already wonderful day.

To top off the day, on our way home from the zoo, we picked up our darling geekydog from the vet. She was bright eyed and pleased to see us, and is now resting, shaved and be-coned, at home with us. Now all we have to do is relax and finish our wine, and look forward to three more whole work free days of kids and friends. And maybe a little shopping.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

all I want for Christmas is a new dog knee

So, it seems that our annual donation to our Vet's mortgage fund has come due once again around the holidays. let me back up here and tell you that last year, on a beautiful crisp sunny day between Christmas and new year, geekydog was running along the beach when she fell, yelped, and hobbled over to us on three legs. She had blown out her cruciate ligament. Several thousand dollars and a long rehabilitation later she seemed in great shape. Geekygirl still remembers the incident, one of her first full sentences was "geekdog hurt leg running too much".

We had been warned that that if one knee goes, the other is probably on its way out too, and I had noticed her limping a little on her "good" back leg. Sure enough, this weekend I let her off leash for a quick romp, and once again witnessed fall, yelp, followed by three legged hobble. Geekgirl keeps asking "what happened to Geekydog?" and says "take her to the vet right now".

She saw the vet today, who confirmed that she has ruptured the other knee, and that instead of going to Tahoe tomorrow for romping in the woods our poor dog will be going under the kinife. And we will be foregoing expensive Christmas gifts instead giving each other dog orthopedic surgery for Christmas this year.

Its not just the expense of this which is depressing though, it is the trauma of the surgery for our poor dog. She does not like the vet, and I still remember how hurt and changed she was after the last surgery, eyes turned feral with fear, muzzled at first, since any hand hear her injury provoked a snap. I'm just hoping for a fast recovery, since this is complicated even more by the fact we are going to South Africa for Christmas and are planning on boarding the animals.

So much for our cheap, low maintenance dog from the pound!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

cute sayings

One of the things I love about watching the kids grow is hearing new language coming out of their little mouths. Geekybaby has mastered his da da da's and ga ga ga's, and I swear he said 'kitty' the other day. Baby talk is cute, of course, but what I'm really excited about is all the little turns of phrase that Geekygirl is coming up with. Sometimes she just sounds so grown up for not even three. Her latest word is "actually", and this is how I first heard it:

One of her dolls "Lydia" has a little blue and yellow striped skirt that Geekygirl calls her 'underwear'. Grandma has just knitted a lovely yellow sweater for this doll, so I said "Oh, the sweater matches the stripes in Lydia's underwear.

Geekygirl replied "That is not her underwear, actually, Mummy (with great emphasis on this new word). It's her skirt". I guess that told me!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

stay at home mum day

Geekybaby is not well. He was feverish on Sunday, and still feverish Monday morning. The doctor thinks its probably just a virus, so nothing to worry about. But this is the first time he has been sick, so of course I am a little concerned. Geekybaby is such a cheerful little soul most of the time that it seems even more sad to see him sick. As the second child, he has never gotten as much attention as his older sister did at his age. He seems to have decided that the way to our hearts is through his considerable charms, since rather than being a loud and demanding baby he is a smiler and giggler, a little ray of sunshine. But today he is having trouble letting his sunny side shine (though he is trying, bless him). But I am enjoying being able to cuddle him all day!

Having a sick baby day like this gives me a taste of a different kind of life. Just for today I'm a stay at home mum of one, instead of a working mother of two. We've built some towers of blocks, and played the xylophone, and while he napped I've sorted a pile of laundry that has been needing attention for days, swept a shi tzu sized ball of dog hair out from under the bed, and cleared my cluttered dresser of old costume jewellery that has not been worn in years. I've saved few of the safer pieces for geekygirl's dress up drawer. We walked the dog, geekybaby snug in his ergo carrier, and Geekydog and I enjoying the crisp wintery air (well wintery for San Francisco, we needed our thick sweaters on). It has been a really nice day! Though of course being a stay at home mum of one baby is a breeze compared to having both kids!

Much nonsense is talked about 'the mommy wars', stay at home vs working. The family friendly options that many of my European friends enjoy are difficult to come by here so the choice is starker, and the divide deeper. (For example many of my friends in the UK have a situations where one or both partners, professionals with well paid jobs, work part time, and this is not considered career death).

I'm glad that our situation has worked out so that Geekydaddy and I can continue our careers, and be parents too. Its busy, its expensive, there is never enough time and there is always laundry spilling out of the closet, but it is right for our family. I used to be one of those women who would say 'I could never stay at home with the kids, I'd go insane'. But now that I have the kids I realize that if circumstances demanded it, if a child became ill or had special needs, I would, and I would enjoy it and do it well. You never know what the future holds. Of course maybe this is because I am already insane.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Adventures in hardware

We and our contractor are scrambling to get our basement guest suite remodel finished in time for my parents arrival this Thursday. As I speak the bathroom tile is being installed. We're hoping to get even the towel rails and other sundries up before the first honored guests of the new room arrive, but had not actually found the time to pick these out.

Before kids, we remodeled our main bathroom, and were mesmerized the sheer choice of towel hanging options. We put considerable thought into selecting them. Oh how times change. This Saturday was "Mission towel rails", and we selected the Home Depot Expo store in Emeryville as a likely place for one stop shopping for our needs. The morning had begun well; geekydaddy and geekygirl had fetched bagels and lattes for our breakfast. An outing to a coffee shop guarantees a chocolate milk for Geekygirl, so she was quite lively but manageable as we left the house.

Forgetting that most of the world does not get up at 7.00am on Saturdays, we got across the bay in record time, and pulled into the Home Depot parking lot before the store had even opened. Geekybaby was sleeping, but we didn't really want to sit in the car for 20 minutes. So we looped around to Peets Coffee for another coffee. And of course, another chocolate milk and a slice of banana bread to share, just to get those sugar levels nice and high.

Back to home depot, we found the store open, and made a beeline for the bathroom section. The store was quiet, but as Geekygirl span through the aisles wanting to climb into all the bathtubs, I began to regret that second chocolate milk. Alternately corralling geekygirl into the areas of the store where she could cause the least damage, and gazing like deer in headlights at the walls of rails, little glass shelves and toilet paper holders in myriad finishes Geekydaddy and I made some selections. Finding an assistant we started to jot down what we needed, then a chance remark revealed that we had been mistakenly looking at the stuff that needed to be advance ordered, and not in the 'take home right now because we need it installed yesterday' section.

Finally redirected to the right section, Geekydaddy and I must have forgotten who was in charge of our sugar crazed toddler (though I think it was him), because we turned to see her right at the top of one of those movable stairways used to reach stock from high shelves, looking down at the store from about 10 feet in the air.

I caught glances form the parents of the well behaved children, and managed to speak gently without revealing the panic I felt seeing her up there. She did come down as soon as she was asked. We were standing right in front of some perfectly acceptable towel rails, so I grabbed those off the rack, and we headed out of the store. She fell alseep in the car, of course!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It's OK to be different

The geeky family are sad and disappointed that Californians voted on Tuesday to ban gay marriage again. Yesterday I happened to be reading a sweet bedtime story, a book by Berkeley author Todd Parr called "it's OK to be different". I wish every child and parent in California had this book. No, its not about princes marrying other princes, it isn't controversial in any way, though its message is about accepting yourself and accepting diversity. It just tells kids, with colorful illustrations, that "its OK to wear glasses", "Its OK to have a wheelchair", "It's OK to have a big nose". The final page states "Its OK to be different. You are special and important just for being who you are".

On Tuesday, California voters told a group of people that they were not important, just because of being who they were.

For readers not up to date with the history of gay marriage in California, here is a brief summary of how we got to here. Marriage in the US, like in many countries, is a civil contract in which your chosen partner becomes your legal next of kin, and thus grants certain important rights. The right to visit your partner in hospital and to make medical decisions for each other, to inherit, and to be covered under a partners health insurance policy are assured by marriage. Religious marriage is a separate thing. Wherever you marry in a church, synagogue, or mosque; by lake tahoe, in a casino, or while skydiving, you must first obtain your marriage license from your county clerk's office. In 2000, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. In February 2004 the brave, decidedly heterosexual, and really quite cute Mayor of San Francisco decided that this was discriminatory, and allowed the SF county clerk's office to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. This lasted a few months, and 4000 marriages, until it was ruled to be against the state constitution. In May 2008, a case addressing the rights of a gay couple to marry was brought to the supreme court of California, and the justices decided that to deny these civil marriage rights to a group of people base on sexual orientation was discriminatory. This ruling allowed county clerk's offices across the state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Since May, more than 18,000 gay couples have been legally married in California.

In reaction to this, opponents of same sex marriage pushed a proposition on to the ballot this November (In California legislation as well as candidates for office can be put up to a vote), to amend the state consitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus reversing the right of same sex couples to marry. This legislation passed, by a narrow margin.

Personally, I just don't understand the opposition to equal marriage rights.

Don't believe in gay marriage? Well don't get one.

Gay marriage 'threatens traditional marriage?'. Of those 18,000 gay married couples (or are they married? Their status is in limbo now), I doubt many of them woke up that May morning in a traditional marriage, and said to their opposite sex husband or wife "You know honey, now that gay marriage is legal, I'm going to leave you and marry my buddy, Joe/best mate Susan".

If the only reason you chose' traditional marriage' over' gay marriage' was that the latter is not legalized, well you've got problems that legislation can't solve!

What opponents of gay marriage don't seem to realise is that gay people get married, they always have, they get married in their churches and by their Rabbis, or in front of their friends and familes. What the court ruling did was to finally allow these marriages, which have always existed, to be recognized by law in the same way that heterosexual partnerships are.

I suspect that much of the opposition comes from two basic misconceptions :

One, that someone can choose to be gay. That it is a lifestyle choice, something kids do to annoy their parents like getting tattoos or riding motorbikes. That if our kids see gay couples just as accepted as straight couples they are going to choose to become gay. This makes no sense. Did you choose your sexual orientation? Or is it just a fundamental part of who you are? And if our kids are gay, (and some of them are), don't we want them to grow up in a world where they see happy gay couples in accepted relationships? Where they may still feel different, but at least not alone?

Two, that being gay is a moral failing. This one is harder to address, some religions prohibit homosexual behavior, and many Americans have strong religious beliefs. But religions evolve as understanding of human nature evolves. It used to be a sin in Christianity to lend money at interest, and just fine to enslave people. Many people reconcile their homosexuality with their religion, many religious leaders are themselves gay. And besides, religion and state are separated in this country.

Proposition 8 wasn't about religion, or the nature of homosexuality. Though the advertisments in favour of it must have convinced people that it was. It was simply about keeping a civil right for one group of people, and taking it away from another.

The silver lining in this cloud is that at least this time the legislation passed by a much narrower margin than in 2000. Lets hope it doesn't take another eight years for Californians to recognize that its OK to have a different kind of marriage, and that we are all special and important, and entitled to equal rights under the law.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

a brighter future

I moved to this country in 1996, quite ignorant of the US political system. I watched, perplexed, through "Monicagate", frustrated as this great democracy decided the 2000 election though recounts and partisan court decisions, afraid as the twin towers fell and bombs started to fall across the middle east, and finally, angry and appalled when Americans voted for Bush/Cheney again in 2004.

For the past eight years, the America I see and walk in every day has not been represented by its leaders. Today I see a leader who is the face of the future generation of Americans. When I think about the Americans of the future I can't think of a better representation than our daycare center. It has always reminded me of the Christmas cards we used to buy to support Oxfam, with a picture of smiling children of all nations holding hands in a circle. Our children are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and every mixture of race. Their parents are straight and gay, single and married, blue collar and white collar, new immigrants and generational Americans. Our children don't see race, they just see their friends.

I believe that the election of Barak Obama just changed the world for our children. They will grow up seeing that a black person from ordinary beginnings can grow up to be president. They will grow up believing that they can do anything, because now we parents can believe that too, and this will pervade our collective conciousness as a nation and a world.

Geekydaddy and I often talk about returning to the UK, mainly for personal reasons; to be closer to our families, to raise our children in a system more familiar to us. But I realize today that the part of me that wants to return to Britain was also drawn by the thought of raising and educating my children in a more tolerant, kinder, fairer society. Today I believe that society could be this country. Today I want my children to grow up here, and for their earliest memories to be of growing up with President Barak Obama.

Monday, November 3, 2008

another pet?

With two cats and a dog at home, I don't think we really need more pets. But Geekygirl has decided that a rapidly deflating halloween balloon is her imaginary dog, "Giddy". Giddy is two years old, and "her got a new leash for her birthday". Giddy celebrated with a green cake made from peas and beans, with two candles on it.

A house full of lovingly chosen toys, and she spends hours playing with a balloon. I think that is pretty cool.

Friday, October 31, 2008

a tale of two halloween costumes

This year I made the executive decision that Geekygirl was too young to really care what she dressed up as for halloween, and that we were too busy to take her out on a weekend to a costume store to select one for herself. Instead I picked up a cute 'bumble bee fairy' costume in Target well in advance of halloween, congratulating myself on avoiding the usual last minute scrambling through the sale racks for something suitable, and finding something that she would like, since she loves insects. Well she used to love insects. The costume was tried on and approved , and even enjoyed and worn last week to our local 'pumpkin walk'.

But rumblings of dissent had started a few days earlier. On the way home from daycare one day I heard "Sean is going to be a dinosaur for halloween. I going to be a kitty". The daycare teachers must have planted the seed that children get to choose what they want to be for halloween, rather than have constumes thrust on them by their parents. I must have a word with them about that.

"I thought you were going to be a bumble bee fairy?" I replied. "I want to be kitty" she retorted. "Hmm, a kitty would be a nice costume, maybe next year" I said mildly, hoping to diffuse the desire.

But every morning and evening Geekygirl would look at her pretty bumble bee costume sitting on the shelf and say "Whats that Mummy". The reply was always "That's your bumble bee fairy costume for halloween". And every day she would reply "I don't want to be bumble bee fairy. I want to be kitty to Halloween." Each day the fantasy seemed to get more vivid: "a fluffy kitty", "A pink fluffy kitty", "A pink, fluffy kitty with a long tail". It was amazing to me to see how she was envisioning herself in a kitty costume, that she had a vivid mental picture of how she wanted to look. But what was I going to do about it?

This was a real parenting dilemma; on one hand I wanted to encourage my daughter's imagination and share her fantasy, and get her a perfect kitty costume. On the other hand she already had a costume and I didn't want to over indulge her and teach her that she can have whatever she asks for at the drop of a hat. I decided not to hunt for another costume. But I found myself nipping out from work to buy lunch at places that "just happened" to be next to target, or Walgreens, or toysRus, and popping in "just in case" they had the perfect cat costume sitting on the rack. But no luck. I was resigned to persuading her to be a miserable bumble bee fairy, when I recalled a post on our neighborhood parents Yahoo group a week or so back advertising a kitty cat costume for sale. I hunted through my email trash, found the message, called my neighbor and sure enough she still had the costume for sale. We stopped at her house on the way home and I picked up the costume. Geekgirl was thrilled. "Its pink and fluffy!" she exclaimed from her carseat. On further examination "It has ears!", and then a few moments later "It has a LONG TAIL!".

The kitty costume has been worn every night since we got it. Geekygirl is throwing herself into her cat persona, scratching and licking her paws, and is so excited about being a kitty at daycare today. My trip to Barcelona was mercifully canceled so I get to enjoy the holiday with the family. Now, if only the rain will let up by tonight, maybe this will be a perfect halloween after all!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

the kindess of subaru dealers

Like the working mum protagonist of 'I Don't Know How She Does It' by Allison Pearson, I have a constantly running list in my head of tasks to be checked off. This morning top of the list was 'take car for service'. At 147,000 miles our trusty subaru outback deserves a nice oil change once in a while.

The morning started off OK, out of the house by 7.45, at the dealership by 8.30, at the rental car office by 8.40, on track for being in the office by 9.00am, when a fatal flaw in the plan was revealed. Item 103 on my mental list "replace old expired drivers license in wallet with brand spanking new one that arrived last week in the mail" had not been checked off. The rental company shuttled me back to the Subaru dealership, where I called my boss to let him know why I would not be in the office, and prepared to wait for three hours with only a back issue of Marie Claire for entertainment.

Just then, Howard the mechanic and now my hero, stuck his head around the waiting room door and provided me with a shiny new Subaru to borrow for the day! So I made it to the office after all. Now I'm just hoping they don't find anything too expensive wrong with the car.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

halloween twins

The Halloween season has begun in earnest. Our costumes got their first outing at a party hosted by my friends K. and J. prior to the neighbourhood 'pumpkin walk'. Carved pumpkins are placed in the community garden, and kids and adults get to enjoy a bit of spooky fun.

K. and I met when we were heavily pregnant in a baby care class at the hospital where we delivered. In retrospect it was quite funny, a class full of professionals in their late 30's being taught by a sweet Berkeley mom subtly emphasising her co sleeping/babywearing/cloth diapering philosophy, to diaper plastic dolls and put them in slings. The class must have been effective, since our girls survived and thrived on our mothering (despite being diapered in disposables and sleeping in cribs. We did at least carry them in slings.) Two and half years later we and our little girls are fast friends.

And we did not plan our costumes together, honestly!

Monday, October 27, 2008

garden party

One of the reasons we have parties is to force us to tidy up. Saturday was spent in a whirlwind of organizing. Geekdaddy was in charge of shopping for last minute necessities (who knew that Whole Foods refuse to sell maraschino cherries because they consider them unwholesome?. Party poopers!), making the marinades and setting up the bar. I tidied and cleaned, using the opportunity to get all the toys into their respective organizer bins (dolly's clothes, baby dollies, toy pots and pans, vehicles, legos, baby rattles, soft toys, puzzles). While geekybaby took his morning nap, and Geekgirl was ensconsed with her Charlie and Lola DVD I got the whole place ship shape, with enough of the aesthetically attractive yet inviting toys displayed to entice the small guests, but not so much hideous noisy plastic tat on display that we would horrify the childless guests.

Then I heard a gasp of horror from Geekydaddy, returned from his garnish gathering. Geekydog, who up until now had been treating the new yard with respect, had attacked and uprooted one of the newly planted euphorbias! Dirt and roots covered the previously perfect patio. And to add insult to injury, we found that orange geek the cat had peed on the kitchen counter. We think the nasty beast was expressing his anger that he was unable to get to the salmon skin in the counter top composting bin.

We cleaned up after our errant animals in time for the first guests to arrive. My mood was much improved by Geekydaddy's most excellent pina coladas, The barbequed chicken and shrimp were just perfect, and a great time was had by guests both large and small.

Though we are realizing that the decorative pebbles our garden designer used between the patio slabs, though they do look very stylish, are not the best choice for a garden frequented by toddlers, especially toddlers whose parents are drinking pina coladas. Inspection of the lawn the next day revealed that the pebbly contents of the patio had been collected and rolled down the slide into a big heap in the grass!

Friday, October 24, 2008

happy birthday to me

Tomorrow I turn 38. In honor of this momentous day we are having a little party in our newly remodeled backyard. This seemed like a good idea two weeks ago, but now I'm wondering if my advanced age would be better celebrated more quietly and cheaply, with a dinner, a bottle of wine and a day spent of getting on top of the laundry piles threatening to take over the closets after my weekend playing hooky in Vegas.

But the evites have been sent, the yard has been professionally weeded and mowed, two climbers are assembled on the lawn for the small guests, the bar is stocked for the big ones and paper plates and extra lawn chairs have been found. (Why is it so hard to find lawn chairs in San Francisco in October? It drives me crazy that the stores are full of winter coats and christmas decorations, when it is "indian summer" season here, and 85 degrees outside!)

So I guess we are having a party! Cheers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

a sweet sibling moment.

I know that siblings can have very different personalities, and that being related to someone doesn't mean that you will get along well with them, but I do hope that my two kids will become close, and enjoy each others company. I love my own two siblings; of course we fought as children, but most of the time we got along really well, and do to this day. I want this for my children too.

To this end, avid reader that I am, I got hold of 'siblings without rivalry' by adele faber and elaine mazlish. I rave about this book to other parents, because there have been so many occasions where I have used their advice, and been amazed by the effectiveness. They believe that your parenting style can affect how well your kids interact with each other (Though make no claims to make them love each other all the time!) I was reminded again of how glad I am to have read this book during a little exchange with geekygirl last night and this morning. To put this in context I have just returned from a weekend in Vegas for the bachelorette party of a dear friend. The kids were home alone with dad, and despite remaining in their pyjamas for 48 hrs, had a pretty good time without me. Mummy's attention is at a premium now that I am back, though.

Last night I was drying geekygirl after her tub, when she said to me

"can we put geekybaby away?"

My natural instinct (after laughing a little) would be to respond with a "no, he lives here too, and he's your brother, you love your brother, right?"

But primed by "siblings" who tell you that all of your childrens' feelings are acceptable and should not be denied, and that by allowing the very natural negative feelings about each other to be voiced, the kids ultimately get along better, I empathized instead: "it can be hard to have a brother sometimes. Do you wish it could be just you and mummy and daddy?"

"Yes", she nodded, "can we put him away?"

"Where should we put him?" I mused. "In the cupboard?" That idea was met with approval. I decided to test the deepness of her desire to be rid of her brother and asked "Should we leave him at daycare?". "No" said geekygirl emphatically, "I want to put him in a cup." "The cupboard?" I corrected. "No, a cup, a big cup." she replied, and with that rather adorable mental picture formed, we left off the conversation.

This morning, when we went in to get geekybaby up for the day she requested to give him a big hug, as she often does. This time she kissed him between the eyes and said "I love him soooo much"!

And my heart melted, of course!

Monday, October 20, 2008

a meme for me!

My friend followthatdog at from mosh pits to mashed potatoes,(and also from stage dives to station wagons) tagged me for a meme. I get to tell you 6 random things about me, and I get this lovely award! Thanks, Followthatdog.

1. I wanted to be a vet, but I didn't get good enough 'A level' results to get into Veterinary college. Instead, I ended up developing drugs for people!

2. When I was about 18 months old I but my tongue almost in half, falling over while running away from my mum and dad who were trying to put me to bed. The hospital staff couldn't see what had happened through the blood and swelling, and determined that I had damaged my front teeth, so they removed two of them, one big front tooth and the one next to it. Then they realized that actually it was my tongue that was damaged (as my parents had told them in the first place). So I got to grow up with a gappy smile until my adult teeth arrived. And I still have a scar in my tongue.

3. I love horses. As a teenager I loved horses more than people. I wore my horseriding boots to school, and managed to put a drawing or description of a horse into every into assignment.

4. I love cars, but I didn't learn to drive until I was 30.

5. I met my husband at a 'bad taste clothing party'. I realized as we continued our relationship that he had not been in costume at the time.

6. The older I get the worse my music taste gets. I frequent a radio station that plays 80's big hair music like Journey, Bon Jovi, and Bonnie Tyler, and I sing along in my car at the top of my voice!

The tradition is to pass on the love, so I send it to:




Friday, October 10, 2008

the last kid at daycare

It has been an extremely busy week at work, so I've picked the kids up later than usual every day (except Wednesday, music class day, I did manage to get out early that day). But for the rest of the week I have crawled up the peninsula in rush hour traffic, barely making it to daycare by 5.45 rather than my usual 5.00pm. They have not quite been the last kids there, at least. I know someone has to be last, but I always feel awful when it is my kids, particularly when they are some of the earliest to arrive, too. They are always playing happily when I finally rush in, but I think it worries Geekygirl, watching other parents come, other kids hug their parents, grab their lunchboxes and wave by bye, while the class shrinks, the sun sets, and she is still there. Even Geekybaby, at 8 months, starts to watch the gate hopefully if I'm later than usual, gets excited whenever a small blonde mummy comes in, then disappointed when it isn't his.

Last night Geekygirl asked me "are you happy when you are at work, mummy?". I wasn't sure what to say, but figured we are teaching her to be honest about feelings, so I answered honestly "Yes, I am happy at work, but what makes me most happy is to be with my Geekygirl". "Are you happy at School?" I asked. Her response was "I'm happy when I'm with my mummy".

Being tugged in all directions is just part and parcel of being a working mum, feeling guilty to be the first person to walk out of a meeting, then guilty for being the last mum to get the kids. The pressure to stay at work is not even coming from above; I'm fortunate to work with women and men who also juggle work and family, and understand the demands of small children. I put the pressure on myself, since I don't like to leave when I feel my contributions to a discussion are valuable. Its all internal. Where do I really want to be? Debating the finer points of a biological mechanism revealed by our latest experiments, or home with the kids, early enough to read some stories and play before dinner and bathtime? The answer is that I want to be in two places at once, of course. I guess human cloning is the only answer to my dilemma.

At least it is Friday, it's going to be a beautiful weekend in the city, so maybe between tackling the laundry overtaking the closets, assembling the new bookcase purchased to help us keep on top of book clutter, grocery shopping and picking out hardware for the new guest bathroom we may get to have a bit of fun family time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It's raining, it's pouring

Coming as I do from a rather damp little island called England, I'm still not quite used to our California seasons (we have two, the wet season and the dry season). Last weekend we took a trip up to the mountains, where the temperatures are dropping, and I realized rather belatedly that the kids had no warm clothes. One frantic dash around Target later I packed a bag of sweaters and fleecy pants. Geekygirl was very excited about our trip, and I warned her that it was going to be raining most of the weekend.

"Rain like on the tellytubbies?" She asked me.

I was floored for a moment, as I realized that she probably doesn't really remember experiencing rain. When did it rain last? Maybe in March? Six months is a long time in the mind of a two and half year old. Her concept of rain is a fleecy, bottom heavy alien(I think it was Tinky Winky) being followed around a TV screen by an animated cloud!

I guess she is a true Californian!

It did indeed rain up in the mountains, and Geekygirl was not impressed with it at all "my face is getting all wet" she howled, and insisted on sitting under the cover of the stroller rather than stomping through puddles like a proper English child. I think we need to toughen her up!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

photo day

One of my favorite fundraisers at daycare is 'photo day'; they bring in a photographer and we get lovely pro shots of our kids (admittedly with hokey 'seasonal' background props), and part of the proceeds go to the center.

I'm not usually too fussy about what the kids wear on regular school days, I try to make an effort for birthday parties and music class, but can swallow the feeling of "why is my child the scruffiest urchin in the room?" if it means we actually get out of the house and to the desired location almost on time.

But photo day, well that is on their permanent record, so I do like them to be dressed attractively. This morning Geekydaddy got Geekybaby up and dressed. I feel that we have a very egalitarian approach to parenting in our house, but even an incredibly involved, hands on 'co-parent' like Geekydaddy does not have 'photo day today' seared on his mind, and a cute outfit planned out days in advance. I just don't think it is a father thing. Except of course in two father families, where I can envision serious conflict over whether junior should sport an edgy 'urban baby' look from Diesel, or a wholesome, preppy J crew outfit. According to my 'adorable photo moment' plan, I redressed geekybaby in his Old Navy linen printed shirt and kahkis. At least he, at seven months, has no opinions on his clothing.

Geekygirl is a different story. Not only did I want her in something cute, but I wanted it to go with what her brother was wearing, for the must have cute siblings together picture they offer, in order to extract more cash from us. My options were severely limited by the renewed vigour with which we have been pursuing potty training (big girl undies were worn to daycare this week!). Many acceptable outfits were in the laundry basket. But we found something reasonable, her only clean pair of leggings with a pretty pink tunic, worn proudly with those big girl underpants.

It was not a usual morning, our garden remodel team were round to do the final walk through. In all the excitement poor Geekygirl wet her pants. This left me with the dilemma of having no more clean leggings for her to wear. Trying to convince her to wear jeans or a dress with 5 minutes to leave the house felt insurmountable. In desperation I pulled a pair of leggings from the laundry basket (not peed on, just regular once worn grubby, I hasten to add) and grabbed the cute corduroy Osh Kosh tunic that went with them. I don't think she saw me, I hope not, if she did my frequent argument of 'you can't wear that, it is in the laundry' is not going to fly anymore! This was actually the outfit I had wanted her to wear had the leggings been clean, so I was quite satisfied with how the outfits turned out.

I discovered when I picked the kids up today that though Geekybaby was photographed today, and they did the sibling shot too, Geekygirl gets her solo photo tomorrow, Guess I'd better go and do some laundry!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

boys are gross

Geekybaby is quite the wriggler now, squirming across the floor using his arms like a seal out of water. His sister is possibly his most favourite person in the whole world, so he lollops after her, squealing for attention. Last night she dropped down to give him a big hug, and for the first time he reached around and hugged her back, then dropped one of his big open mouth kisses smack on her lips. She was enchanted. For a moment. I should explain that Geekybaby has a bit of a cold. Then I heard the shriek: "Yuck, booger kisses. Geekybaby gave me booger kisses. That's gross!"

Probably just the beginning of many, many yucky acts that this little brother will commit on his big sis, no doubt!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

cruelty to animals?

We refer to Geekydog as 'the dog of love'. She is a snuggler, a dog who craves human affection. She weighs 55lb but secretly wishes that she was a tiny lap dog. She has been with us since before the arrival of the children, and though we love her as much as ever, the amount of attention she gets from us has diminished quite dramatically over the years. It was an incident this weekend that brought home to me how neglected our poor dog must feel.

On Saturday I gave her a much overdue bath. Like most dogs, geekydog is not fond of being bathed, but she puts up with it, hops into the tub willingly, and tolerates the shampooing and rinsing with a hangdog expression.

On Sunday, Geekydog followed me into the bathroom and hopped into the tub again, wagging her tail hopefully. Yes, the poor beast had decided that if the only place she gets attention is in the tub, she would gladly take another bath!

I think this a reminder for us to slow down a little, smell the roses, and pet the dog.

Monday, September 22, 2008

little miss perfect

I have posted before about our efforts to get to 'music together' class once a week. Semester has started again and we made it through the first class unscathed last Wednesday. We actually had a really nice time, Geekygirl is one of the older kids now, so dances and sings along, and geekybaby is enthralled by the novelty. Though he hasn't yet grasped that each prop (egg shakers, scarves, tamborines) are brought out for one song, then taken away again. He is delighted with each new item, then appalled when it is taken from him so quickly!

Each semester there are some new babies and some familiar faces. I'm always on the look out for kindred spirits, whose children sport the 'dragged through a hedge backwards' hair and clothing look, but yet again, the class seems to be favored by the impossibly well turned out. 'Little Miss Perfect', of the beautifully ironed (ironed! Who irons kids clothes? I won't even buy things that need ironing!) floral frocks with matching bows and pristine clean white sandals, is still in attendence, accompanied by her mom, a woman who still manages to look gorgeous seven months pregnant with twins. I'm secretly hoping that the arrival of her twin boys this fall might throw a spanner into the air of fabulous ease that this family exudes (yes, dad is handsome and well dressed too). But I just know that it won't. She will be back in her size 4 Chanel suits three weeks after giving birth, the babies will be adorable moppets that never spit up on their Petit Bateaux sweaters, and Little Miss Perfect will have learned to french braid her own hair. I've decided to stop being envious and just to hang around with them (they are extremely nice despite their perfection) in the hope that some of their gilt rubs off on us.

This weekend we attended a birthday party for one of Geekygirl's classmates. With last week's contrast between my urchin and the perfect girl fresh in my mind, I really wanted Geekygirl to look adorable. I remembered to wash her hair the night before, I offered her three acceptable choices of dress (all no iron cotton jersey, but dresses nontheless), remembering that she will only wear a dress if she can have leggings on underneath, and even snuck a cute pink and blue fabric butterfly clip into her ponytail. The overall effect was pretty and practical.Just how I wanted her to look, the picture I had in my head when I thought about what she could wear to the occasion (as if I don't have enough to think about).

The party was great, a low key affair with fine beer and great cake at an amazing local playground. And watching Geekgirl run and shout and play, in her pretty frock, almost matching leggings and her favourite bright blue crocs, with the sun fanning her messy but clean golden curls into a halo around her face I felt a glow of pride that this gorgeous child was mine. My very own little miss perfect in every way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The right fork

I'm a big reader, a devourer of books. I'm a fiction junkie, and an avid reader of the scientific literature in my field. That is what scientists do. If we want to know more about a subject, we do a literature search, and read all the papers. When I got a dog, I read every dog training and dog psychology books I could get my hands on. So it is not surprising that as a parent I like to read books about child development. I prefer the books that try to give insight into how a child's mind develops, and teach the reader how to apply that knowledge to helping them grow into the world.

I have tried to put the strategies I have learned into practice; for example explaining why certain behaviours are off limits and offering alternatives that are acceptable. I felt my reading had given me helpful tools, but last night I had a small epiphany. It was an ordinary moment, but for a second I felt the world as my daughter feels it. And I realized what my daughter knows already, that it is really hard being two.

Geekygirl and I were eating dinner. Since Mondays is now my pilates class night, GG, GB and I eat together before GD gets home. She had a toddler knife and fork to eat her ravioli, and was doing a great job of forking the ravioli to her mouth, when she hesitated, lowered her fork, looked uncertainly at it, and asked me

"Does this go in my mouth?".
"Yes", I replied, "your fork is for putting your food in your mouth".
"And my knife does not go in my mouth?" she continued.
"That's right", I said.
She then recited a little mantra "Knives are not for eating with, Knives can be dangerous, forks are for eating with".

And having reassured herself that she was using the correct cutlery she carried on with dinner.

This little exchange illuminated to me just how hard it is to be a toddler, how much information they have to absorb, and how easy it is for us to forget that they are still so new in the world, and their worlds are full of arbitrary rules. She had simply forgotten whether it was the knife or the fork she was supposed to put in her mouth. And really, it isn't entirely obvious, given that her toddler fork is quite sharp, and her knife very blunt. One is not obviously more dangerous than the other.

I made a mental tally of all the things Geekygirl has learned in the past couple of months; how to dress herself, and even make sure the label goes at the back, how to pee on the potty, how to feed her brother without gagging him with the spoon and making him cry, how to put together puzzles with lots of pieces, how to count to ten, how to draw a face, and so many many more things. Compare that to how many new skills we adults could master in two months. I still don't know what half the buttons on my new camera do. And if I'm forced to 'upgrade' to new software for my various work applications it takes me at least two months to become competent, and I get quite frustrated in the process too.

Every moment of every day our toddlers are figuring out the world. It must be like the first week in a new job every single day. I'm going to hold onto this feeling through the tantrums and tears of frustration.

I always believed the experts who said that consistency is important, but I understand it better now that I try to see the world through my child's eyes. Many things in her world are uncertain, so Geekygirl clings on to the rules we provide; the fork is for eating, the knife isn't, the cat tree is not for climbing, but the climbing frame is. In little soundbites like this, she learns how to negotiate the world. She is amazing!

And hopefully, by the time she is awarded her Nobel prize (Peace, preferably, but we'll settle for Medicine, Chemistry or Literature), she will have mastered the vagaries of cutlery selection and will not eat her dessert with her salad fork at the acceptance dinner!

Monday, September 15, 2008

back to mom

This is a 'Monday writing prompt' from Absolutely Bananas. A nice reminder that we need to take some time for ourselves.

When you work full time, and have two small children, time to oneself feels like a selfish luxury. But I know that I am an all round happier and healthier person if I get a little bit of exercise. Over the years I have avidly embraced almost every fad in personal fitness, including every 'brand' of aerobics from step, to slide (remember that short lived phase?!) to water. There was a point in my life when I took 8 aerobics classes a week (I think that is called endorphin addiction), which gave me shin splints, not the perfectly honed body I longer for. Before babies I became an avid runner, which in San Francisco means an avid hill runner, though I never actually achieved my goal of running a marathon. I'd got my training runs up to about 17 miles, when I was hit by a car (not while running, but while crossing the road after leaving the pub!). After that the increasing inflexibility of my aging body drew me into Yoga, which, after I got accustomed to the chanting (so very un-British!), also became part of my life. Then after the birth of Geekygirl, eager to strengthen back those core muscles I took up pilates, private classes using the bizarre 'reformer' machine.

I've been longing to get back to it, the body of a mother of two takes a beating. Though my outward appearance is of someone in pretty good shape for having had a baby 6 months ago, I don't feel in good shape at all. I have noticed that every time I carry geekgirl on my hip, bend to lift Geekybaby out of his high chair, or lug the car seat up the stairs my back squeaks at me "Ouch, you are getting old, lady". Now that we finally have some semblance of an evening routine, I've decided to take up pilates again. If you only have an hour a week to get in shape, I really think this is the best bang for the buck. I started last week, and despite the fact that I spent the next 3 days feeling as if someone had punched me in the guts, I am really glad to be doing something proactive to take back my body.

our new floor sweeper

The youngest member of the household is on the move!

Now the title of this blog is inspired by the fact that our beloved Geekydog and the cats tend to leave quite a lot of hair around the place. There is nothing like a baby in a blanket sleeper sliding across the floors to reveal exactly how much hair there is in the house!

I'm tempted to send him on a crawling expedition under the beds to give those floors a good sweeping.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where was I?

My friend followthatdog asked 'where where you?'

I was just thinking about it.
I had sent my parents, who were visiting, off to SFO to catch a flight to Las Vegas when geekdaddy called me from the road to turn on the TV. I turned it on in time to watch the second plane hit.

My folks never got on their plane, but were bussed back into central San Francisco. They were unnerved at being dropped downtown surrounded by the tall buildings, but impressed with the calm way the airport staff handled the unprecendented event, and by the kindness of the people around them.

I decided to go to work, I was a postdoctoral researcher at UCSF at the time. I sat on the shuttle bus, unsure of my decision to leave the house. I was aware of every sound, sitting there with my heart in my mouth, expecting any moment to hear that the transamerica building or one of the bridges had been attacked

Like the world trade center, our lab was a true multiculteral melting pot. Being there with so many citizens of other nations joined in shock and horror at this terrible attack on our adopted country felt right.

Though the events of September 11th 2001 made me feel more American in my identity, what stuck me the most was how many nations lost citizens in that strike on an American building.

It was a strike not just against Americans, but again the fabulous diversity, multiculturalism, idealism and openness that America represents. I am saddened that 7 years on, the reputation of this country has been tarnished by the repercussions of that day. Maybe the way to fight back against terrorism is not to close borders but to open them, because by keeping our borders open we can continue to open minds.

possibly the most pointless exercise in the world

We all know that the US has a huge budget deficit, and thus is invested in preventing people from cheating on their taxes. Fair enough, but I think that when there are corporate loopholes big enough to drive an oil tanker full of money through, there is a point where documentation and auditing of us puny individual taxpayers can be taken too far . For example:

We donate unwanted clothing to charity, and this can be deducted from our taxes, just like charitable donations of money can be. It used to be that we would simply keep a tally of items donated, then refer to our accountants list of the values that could be deducted. Now, our accountant has decided that we need to document each item, which means take a photograph of it! I don't know about you, but actually going through my closet, sorting out unwanted clothes, and writing down what I have put in my big plastic bag is a gargantuan effort. The thought of taking a picture of everything too made the task insurmountable.

My last few rounds of closet purging, most recently inspired by too much watching of 'what not to wear' while on maternity leave, I just threw into bags, so downstairs in our basement I had several large bags of undocumented clothing. And since geekybaby turned out to be a little boy, I had bags and bags of tiny girly outfits (geekybaby wears his sister's old pink pyjamas, but when he goes out of the house I prefer him to be attired in a more masculine fashion, even though this is San Francisco, where boys in flowery pink are an integral part of the landscape).

But the day of reckoning arrived, we are upgrading our 'half finished because we ran out of cash' basement guest suite into a more luxurious dwelling, with heating and a bathroom. And we are on a tight timeline because I have promised my parents that their guest bathroom will be ready for their much anticipated visit in November! Since the room that will be the bathroom has been used for the past few years as storage, it was time to finally get everything donated. So I spent my Saturday going through the bags and photographing the clothing. It felt like the stupidest task in the world. I can only imagine that we will one day be audited, and some poor soul will have to leaf through piles of photographs of tiny shoes, pants and onesies. I can't wait for the phone call that tells us "Oh, Mr. Geeky, I see you claimed for 45 onesies, but I only count 42 in these pictures, off to tax evasion prison with you"!

Some of my old clothing had been in bags for so long that I had almost forgotten I ever owned it, so I was tempted to pull things back out again! I resisted, these clothes had been rejected for good reason, but much as it is a good idea to rotate the kids toys so they don't get bored, maybe I should hide and rotate my clothing, to revitalize old outfits and prevent shopping binges!

It was a bittersweet day, giving away the baby clothes. I fingered the newborn clothes, the tininess of those babies compared to the sturdy toddler and 7 month old they have become is now held only in memory. I hoarded several of the most precious outfits from both kids, the ones they came home from hospital in, the first gifts from grandparents, the dress geekygirl wore to my brother's wedding and quite a few others I was too sentimental about to give away. I can't believe that my babies have grown fast. I feel my baby snuggling days slipping away into a toddler herding and preschooler guiding future.

Monday, September 8, 2008

taking a duvet day

On Friday I decided to work from home. What I really wanted to do was take what is known back home in the UK as a 'duvet day'. This is taking a sick day when you are not technically sick, formerly known as 'skiving off work', but now given legitimacy by many UK employers. The concept even has its own Wikipedia entry, which states:

"An employee receives an allocation of days where if he or she gets up in the morning and doesn't want to go to work for any reason, he or she can use a "Duvet day".

Obviously employers don't give out too many of these treasures, or people would fail to show up every Monday! But what a great idea. Given the paucity of any kind of paid time off in the US employment world I don't see this catching on here though, more's the pity.

The guiltiest pleasure of the working mum is the ability to take a "day off" from both work and children. Oh, the appalling, selfish luxury! I sent the kids to daycare, then stayed at home alone. I was expecting the garden construction people to be working, and had wanted to be home to supervise a couple of things, but I think the amazing weather (high 80's in San Francisco, that jewel of a week we always get sometime in September) had prompted them to also take a 'duvet day' or maybe a 'lying on the beach day', and I can't say I really blame them.

I had such a relaxing day. I kept poking myself to test for guilty feelings, but non surfaced. I did do quite a bit of actual work, but I also took a lunchtime nap, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I awoke naturally, feeling languid and refreshed, rather than being pulled from sleep by a crying baby or a two year old saying 'is it wake up time yet?'

I did a little image software work on a nice picture I took of the kids, and got an 8x10 print of it developed for a couple of bucks. I'm really pleased at how it turned out.

I took the time prepare something a bit special for our dinner (mahi mahi with pasta and and spicy peanut sauce), it felt so nice to cook unhurried, instead of chopping and mixing so hastily that I risked my fingers. When I picked up the kids (nice and early, a few hours of alone time was plenty, the quiet tidy house started to cry out for some mess and noise), I had a surfeit of time and energy for them. We sat in the almost finished backyard, enjoying our new lawn. Geekybaby was fascinated by the grass between his toes, Geekygirl and Geekydog ran in circles and fell down on it. I basked in the glow of the evening sun and felt more relaxed than I have in a long time.

Maybe I can get 'Duvet days' introduced into our company policy, and from there start a quiet 'work life balance' revolution in California.

Friday, September 5, 2008

miss bossy boots

So it has started already, Geekygirl is bossing her little brother around. No doubt this will continue for the rest of their lives. I'm sure I still boss my (not so) little brother around when I get the chance.

At the dinner table, Geekybaby was flapping in his highchair and giggling his insanely gleeful baby cackle. He was quite loud:

Geekygirl: "Use your inside voice, geekybaby. You are too loud"

Geekybaby: More insane cackling. Throws spoon on floor

Geekygirl: (with world weary sigh) "Oh geekybaby, your spoon is on the floor, its all dirty, don't do that"

Geekbaby: Continues with the giggling, grabs for geekygirl's fork

Geekygirl: "No grabbing. Use your words. You are too small for forks."

It is so lovely to see the two of them developing a relationship. So far the relationship is pure adoration from Geekybaby's side, and overenthusiastic affection or amused tolerance from Geekygirl's. I sense that before long they will be in cahoots, the small people will take over the house (and I know the dog will side with them), and we will be in big trouble. I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Breastpump Maria Barcelona

Now there is a movie Woody Allen should make.

After all, on a good day, in a low light, if I smile and arch, I am about 2% as hot as Scarlett Johansson on a bad day!

As the title infers, my breastpump and I are off to Barcelona. Had you told me three years ago that I would be anything less than thrilled that the company was sending me to Barcelona to present our latest and greatest data at a conference I would not have believed you. Going to exotic locations to hear the latest breakthroughs and socialize with fellow scientists who share my narrow scientific interests has always been one of the things I enjoy most about my career. And when it was just the three of us, Geekydaddy took vacation and we took geekygirl along to conventions, I nursed her between sessions and daddy and daughter explored the sights of Washington DC and Aspen.

But now with a toddler and a baby bringing everyone along is just not possible. I find myself underwhelmed by the thought of 4 days away from my children, 16 hours in transit (no direct flights from San Francisco to Barcelona), trying to pump in airline, convention center and hotel bathrooms. The trip is scheduled for halloween weekend, too. Now Geekygirl is not yet three, so hasn't built up a great anticipation for the holiday yet, but I love halloween, and I fear this could be the slippery slope of many family occasions sacrificed to work. I don't want to be the mum who misses trick or treating becuase of a business trip. Neither do I want to be the scientist who can't present her team's work at an important meeting because she has small children.

A fellow scientist/mum pointed out one bright side to the trip; at least I will get some unbroken nights of sleep!

So, I am going to Barcelona to get some sleep, that is what my life has come to!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

brown bear brown bear.....

Overheard today while Geekygirl was drawing:

"Paper, paper what do you see?
I see a crayon looking at me.

Green, green what do you see?
I see Blue looking at me.

And later, somewhat less charmingly:

Pee pee, pee pee what do you see?
I see poo poo looking at me!

Friday, August 29, 2008


Geekydaddy and I cannot vote in the US presidential election, since we are not citizens. Like many of the Geeky folk that make up the bio and techy community we gained residency thanks to our scientific education. In fact of 26 PhD's at my company, 17 are foreign born and educated. Now I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me here, so I'm personally glad that the US needs to import scientists and engineers, but like Barak Obama, I think America should be able to educate its citizens so that they too can have these opportunites.

We do however have two brand new little citizens in our house, who I very much hope will grow up in an America we can all be proud of. We watched Barak Obama accept the Democratic party nomination last night.

Geekygirl (mesmerized by his on screen presence): "Who's that man?"

Me: "That's Barak Obama"

A few seconds later

Geekygirl (standing on her head to see if he looks different from upside down:) "Who's that man?"

Me: "That's Barak Obama"

This conversation was repeated about fourteen times from several vantage points.

The stadium errupted in applause

GG: "Ooooooooh." She clapped along with the audience

Geekygirl then retrieved an electronic toy that has an "applause sound" button, and decided to use this during the frequent bursts of clapping in order to bring the atmosphere of the stadium to our living room. It was quite effective.

As the camera focused back on Barak her questioning began again:

GG "Who's that man"

Me: Who do you think it is

GG "Barak Obambapappa"

Me: It's Barak Obama

GG: "Who's that man"

Me: Who do you think it is?

GG: "Barak ObamaPyjama."

She collapsed into giggles and we decided to go to get her ready for bed. But Barak, I think you have a new fan, if only because of the endless rhyming potential of your name.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

you can take a dog to a tree but you can't make her pee

Before our garden landscaping project started, we had a few struggling plants in our flowerbeds. Only hardy shrubs that could withstand dog urine, and being leapt on by the hairy beast stood a chance of survival. The yard was Geekydog's oyster.

Now that it looks like a picture in 'Sunset' magazine, we plan to treat it a little more kindly. I am not sure how we will communicate this new need for respecting the plants to the dog though. We have optimistically desgned in a special 'dog privy area' (as the designer calls it.)

On returning home to the newly verdant back yard, I let Geekydog out as usual. Something about the new smells and sights turned her head and she started to rampage through the freshly planted beds. One plant got rather trampled before I could get her back inside. Though I am sure that some of the new flowery gorgeousness will fall victim to a crashing dog pouncing after a ball eventually, we do want to try and give the plants at least a few weeks to get enough roots to put up some resistance.

I took geekydog outside on leash and tried to get her to pee and poop in her 'privy spot'. Several times. The poor dog just didn't get it.

So instead, when I get home from work, I am now taking her out for a quick walk on the street. This is easier said than done with a baby and a toddler in tow. My first mistake was asking Geekygirl if she wanted to walk or to ride the stroller. She chose stroller, so I pulled out the double umbrella and strapped them both in. We set off down the street. Oh, and to make things more interesting, our street is one of the steepest in the city. It is so precipitous that it is used for the 'street louge' competition in the X games! We got halfway down the block, geekydog still has not peed, and Geekygirl now wanted to walk. So I was left trying to push an asymetrically laden double stroller with one hand, hold the dog with another hand and hold onto Geekygirl's hand with...oh wait, I only have two hands.

We compromised by having her hold the stroller instead, which worked fine until a well intentioned dog loving passer by called out 'can I say hi to your dog', at which Geekydog's ears pricked, and she darted toward him, pulling me off balance, causing the stroller to swing around, almost knocking poor Geekygirl down. Tears ensued, and the passerby sheepishly apologied for the mayhem he had created.

The dog finally found a tree suitable for peeing on, and we made it back to the house without further incident. But it made me wonder about starting a 'mummy X games', we're certainly in training for the one handed double stroller dog walking event.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hives alive

Poor Geekybaby awoke on Saturday looking like this. It didn't seem to bother him at all, but I was a little freaked out by my blotchy baby.

It lasted a couple of days, and is thankfully gone now.
We suspect the culprit was a jar of 'pears and rasberries'. The doctor says often you never figure out what the cause was.
Back to rice cereal and sweet potato for Geekybaby, we'll save the adventures in pureed cuisine for a couple more weeks!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

the power of cheese

Once, a long time ago, when geekydog and the cats were my only dependents I tried to become an expert dog trainer. Geekydog was obtained from an animal shelter, 9 months old, loving and willing but completely wild and untrained. I read books, watched DVDs and took classes. It was a lot of fun.

Geekydog will do anything for a food reward, so after obtaining her many diplomas, she can now sit, heel on both sides, drop into a down 40 paces away from me in response to a hand signal and even execute a series of jumps and run through a tunnel on an agility course. What she won't do is reliably come back when she is called. The fact that I have failed to train her in this most basic and important command has led to some heart stopping moments.

A year or so ago, realizing that something about her chow chow genes, my lack of dog training chops, and the lack of time to even attempt to train her any more made it unlikely we would ever truly master this skill, I bought one last DVD. 'Really reliable Recall'. The principle behind this is quite simple. You know how your dog will come running when she hears the kibble being poured, or in our case when she sees the cheese grater being pulled out of the drawer (maybe it will rain cheese again!)? What this trainer has you do is create a reflex response like that to a word. You pick a word you don't already use as a command (we picked 'Now') and when you say it, your dog gets the best treats and love you can bestow. You treat your dog like she has just been swept from the jaws of death every time you say this magic word. And you rarely ever use it as an actual command, that way you don't dilute its power.

Yesterday afternoon we had a series of events that could have led to disaster. One of the guys working on our yard project came in to use the bathroom and left the french door unlatched. Orangegeek the cat miaowed at his friend Geekydog, who nosed the door open. The doors through the garage to the street were open, since the garden guys were bringing in plants, and Geekydog bolted off for the freedom of the street, completely out of sight in a moment. I called 'Now', and after a tense few seconds I heard the jingle of her collar as she bolted back through the garage and into the kitchen. Where I fed her about a pound of smoked gouda, and locked the door.

Monday, August 25, 2008

birth is biology

After taking the birth survey, I started to ruminate on my experiences giving birth to Geekygirl and Geekybaby. I was incredibly fortunate in that both babies arrived into the world after exhilarating, empowering labours and deliveries, with little medical intervention.

It appears a little incongrous to some of my friends that I feel so strongly about eschewing intervention in childbirth. After all, I have a career devoted to developing pharmaceuticals, a belief in modern medicine, and many friends who are medical professionals. I just don't think childbirth is a pathological condition. It is part of our normal biology, something our bodies know how to do, much like digesting our food (OK, maybe a bit more dramatic and life changing than than eating a bag of chips, but it is not akin to having open heart surgery either.) And since we still don't fully understand the nuances of hormonal and neurological signaling that occur when we do something as simple as eat a sandwich (I work in this area, its amazing what your body and your brain do when you eat!), I would hesitate to say that we understand the process by which we give birth to a child well enough to interfere with it with synthetic hormones and blockers of neurotransmission unless absolutely necessary.

I believe strongly that everyone should be able to make an informed choice about how they give birth. I just don't think our obstetricians here give us the right information to make those choices. For example, apparently 80% of women here are given pitocin (synthetic oxytocin) at some time during their labor. It just can't be the case that 80% of American women don't make enough oxytocin. I have noticed that attitudes toward childbirth are very different here in the US, where the majority of women (and their doctors) assume that they will give birth in hospital and have an epidural, compared to in the UK, where most people aim to try for as few interventions as possible.

When I became pregnant with Geekygirl in San Francisco, I sought the care of a hospital midwife rather than the more typical obstetrician, since midwife care is more usual in the UK where I'm from. I learned from friends who had given birth about the value of having the support of a doula during labor, so I hired the amazing Germaine Reidy, who now works in Ireland. If anyone reading this is planning on having a baby in Ireland, check her out! The picture on her site here is of me taking her infant massage class with Geekybaby.

I went into labour gradually with Geekygirl. People always ask 'how long was your labour?', but I am not sure how to define when it actually started. I had contractions while climbing the stairs from the dog beach at fort funston on Saturday, decided to redo all the planting beds in the back yard on Sunday, and went into what was clearly labour that night, which watching a Wallace and Grommit film. I laboured at home with Germaine and Geekydaddy for most of Monday, ending up in a very peaceful inner place, rythmically rocking on my glider chair for a couple of hours, and ultimately made the dash for the hospital while I was going through the transition phase of labor (I realized after the fact). The back seat of our Subaru was not the most comfortable place to be at this time and I think Geekydaddy thought, as we hit every red light in rush hour traffic, that I was going to give birth in the car. When I got to the hospital I was thrilled to find I was 9cm dilated, though quite dehydrated. IV fluids and a few whiffs of 'gas and air' (Nitrous oxide, this being one of the very few US hospital that offers this wonderful elixir) got me through to 10cm, and to the birthing stool, where I pushed for about forty minutes, being transferred to the bed to deliver Geekygirl, 6 lb 12 oz, so tiny and so perfect.

Until that moment when I saw her I don't think I had truly believed, despite the 9 months of pregnancy, that I was really going to become a mum, that I was actually having a baby. The euphoria of that reality, of her shear amazingness, stayed with me for days, and I can still summon back traces of the feeling when I reminisce.

Though I still think Germaine gave us good advice when she suggested I get to the hospital well into labour in order to avoid interventions, with Geekybaby I wanted to avoid the frantic 'We're about to have a baby in the car' experience. Though there was a long, long ten day wait for it to start, after being in labour for a couple of hours my water broke and recognizing the feeling from the last time, I knew the baby was clearly on its way, so we headed to the hospital. This time the car ride was much more relaxed, and after I checked in to the birthing unit at UCSF  I was able to focus on the panoramic views from the 15th floor as I breathed through contractions. Germaine being in Ireland, we had had another doula,  the fabulous Jessica Berman. Jessica's acupressure technique (on my hand, between thumb and forefinger) allowed me to foregoe even the gas and air this time. I had it brought into the room, and was comforted by its presence, but with Jessica's reassurance that it would just be a few more contractions until pushing time, I never actually picked up the mask. She also kept me hydrated with energy beverages so I didn't need any IV fluids. It felt great not to be hooked up to anything.

Our wonderful nurse brought out the birthing stool, and gave the medical residents attending the delivery the confidence to get down on the floor and assist me in delivering him right there on the stool, in less than ten minutes of heroic pushing. I was amazed at how quickly this stage went compared to the last time, I was prepared for a marathon pushing session and I had hardly got going before he was here, delivered right into my hands. My first impression of Geekybaby was how much bigger he was than Geekygirl (he was 8lb 6oz, and 22 inches long. I'm 5ft 2). He was bright pink, vigorous if a little squashed looking, and immediately demonstrated his functioning kidneys by peeing all over his dad. Meeting the fantastic new little person the second time around was just as incredible as the first.

I enjoyed my labours, and not just because they brought us our babies, I enjoyed the actual process. I admit that the power of endorphins must have blunted my memory of how much it hurt, and though I know intellectually that it was very painful, I don't really remember the pain,  I just recall the incredible intensity of the experience. Surrendering to the power that my own body has inherited over the millennia since the first placental mammal gave birth brought me, the biologist, in touch with my own biology, and helped me to see that being strong is not necessarily about being in control.

I won't have any more babies myself, and I'm actually sad that I will never experience labour again.  I want to try and spread the message that giving birth is not just something to be endured, but something that can be enjoyed, and embraced. It was a chance conversation with a friend, shortly after she had  given birth but long before I thought about children myself, that opened my eyes to this concept. I had never heard anyone wax lyrical about the wonder of labour before. I hope I can pass it on.