Monday, January 26, 2009

Week 19: Your Baby Gets Superpowers

One funny thing about getting pregnant is that suddenly your life is measured in weeks. It's 40 weeks from start (well, before start, technically) to finish; and each week is brimming with developmental significance. Thanks to ever-improving technology, we know more and more about what happens with a developing fetus from week to week.

So once you're knocked up, there are countless books and websites available to tell you what's happening each week in the mysterious realm of the womb. There's what I like to call the "produce phase," where each week your baby is compared to a particular fruit. This week the baby is the size of a blueberry, next week it's a large raspberry, and the following week it's an olive. I can't tell you how confusing that was for me, trying to figure out what size olive is appropriately bigger than a large raspberry.

Then we move on to plum, peach, avocado, etc., until the baby's size is such that a comparison to a fruit no longer makes sense. So the fruit descriptors are relegated to the mother instead of the baby (uterus the size of a cantaloupe!), and discussions of the baby focus more on other developmental markers like organs, hair, and fingernails.

Now all of this is pretty fascinating, at least to the parents-to-be, but I will say that it's also a little strange to know so much about this tiny person who is with me every day and occasionally kicks me in the belly - but who I've never seen or met. It's also a bit of added pressure, knowing that certain things are developing this week makes me ever more vigilant about every move I make, not wanting to disturb the fragile process.

What's even scarier is that during some of these critical weeks, there are nerve-racking tests designed to screen for a host of chromosomal and other anomalies that could seriously impact the life of the child, or even be fatal. These screening tests are wonderful advances of technology, but their high incidence of false positive results can sometimes make them more anxiety-provoking than reassuring.

But I find myself wondering other things about this little person... Not whether the intestines have re-entered the abdomen through the umbilical cord (they do that!) or about some scary potential condition. Instead, I want to know whether my little guy or girl will have a sweet, easygoing temperament like their father or if we'll experience the dramatic ups and downs of a child more like me. Will he or she be kind to others, have special talents, make contributions to the world? Leap tall buildings in a single bound? :)

It's so amazing and interesting to know what is happening week by week, but it leaves me wanting to know so much more... anticipating the personality, the uniqueness and the fun that's in store in the years to come. In some ways, it's too bad that an ultrasound or other tests can't tell us more encouraging, meaningful and exciting things about our children.

Of course, there is one big, exciting thing new parents do get to know: in a couple of weeks, we'll have the option to find out the gender of the baby. Most parents do opt to "find out" -- and the reason I most often hear is for planning the nursery, etc. But I suspect that if other parents are experiencing what I've experienced, part of the reason is that it's just so nice to hear some good, happy news in the middle of all the waiting and nail-biting.

But on the other hand, maybe anticipating all those exciting things is part of every parent's journey, day by day. Eliminating risks from our kids' lives is not an option after they're born. We also don't get to know ahead of time whether our kids will be talented in a particular way, interested in a certain occupation or activity, gentle or boisterous, healthy or ill... we can't predict, and beyond the influence that we have in raising them as best we can, we can't control how their lives play out. But what we get to do is something altogether more thrilling... we get to watch it all unfold, and to nurture the process as it goes along.

So maybe all this wonderful science has the shadow side of pushing us to think we can somehow predict (or create) perfection in our kids; and that somehow by knowing more about them, we can plan their lives and ours more thoroughly. But as the old Yiddish proverb says, Men plan, G-d laughs. Life isn't always ours to plan - not our own lives, and especially not our children's.

So the "plan" (insert divine laughter here) is that we are not going to find out in a couple of weeks whether our little one -- who I'm happy to report is approximately the length of a standard office stapler -- is a boy or a girl. Sure, it would be fun to know more about our little one; but for now, I'm learning to savor the mystery.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Blog

Well, it's not really my inaugural blog - it's my blog about yesterday's inauguration. I'm sure I am echoing the sentiments of many when I say this, but it's astonishing to me how the peaceful fulfillment of the democratic process fills me with an increasing sense of awe, year after year.

I'm a fairly worldly person, generally, and I've been known to have a cynical streak -- especially when it comes to our government. But listening to President Obama's speech yesterday, seeing the crowd of 1.5 million plus gathered in peace, and watching the solemn yet vibrant exchange of power from one administration to the other.... I realized again how lucky we are to live in such a country.

In many places around the world, the voice of the population is not heard in any semblance of democratic process. A change of power in those places often means violence, recriminations, loss of personal property and the summary execution of dissenters.

As I watched the dignified public ceremony yesterday, my bitterness with the old administration and my wariness of the new one faded into the background -- at least for a while. For a few minutes I was not a Libertarian, a cynic, an angry taxpayer, or anything else.

I was just an American.

The gratitude and pride I felt was tremendous. What a blessing to be in my living room -- basically free and basically safe -- sitting next to the person most important to me, watching history happen before our eyes, and wondering hopefully about the future.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bookshelf Curriculum

I figured it out the other day -- I'm 33 years old, and I have spent almost exactly two-thirds of my life in school (at least part time). My first reaction as I write that sentence is to question the wisdom of all that higher education, and the next one is to try not to calculate how much it has all cost me.

I was thinking of this the other night as I wandered through the bookstore, wishing that I could take time out from my busy life (and, let's be honest - I probably could take time away from my TV-watching and Pathwords-playing) to just wind my way through the stacks of books, choosing the books that I want to read most, rather than the materials and assignments prescribed by my program of study.

That got me thinking - what would my chosen "curriculum" be? What are the books I've read that have been most influential on the way I think or how I look at life? What would be next - the things I've always wanted to read but not made time for, or new stuff on the horizon?

Here are some of the books/works I've read that had the biggest impact on me, in no particular order:

- 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein
- Absolom, Absolom by William Faulkner
- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
- To Life! by Harold Kushner
- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
- Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- Countless works of William Shakespeare
- "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot
- "Evening Hawk" by Robert Penn Warren
- The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
- The Lonely Planet Guides to Europe and the U.K.
- The Stand by Stephen King
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
- Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding (I admit it! I loved it!)

These are just a few. I'm sure I could (and will) think of many more as my workday brain defrosts and delves deeper into my academic and pleasure-reading past. I'm amazed, as I make this list, how many of these books I remember loving and being influenced by - but I have lost touch with so many of them that I'm not sure I could recall many of the particulars. Wouldn't it be great to be able to make the time to re-read all your old favorites with a new perspective and appreciation?

In addition to a long trip down memory lane, I find myself craving new reading material that isn't either a grad school requirement, a work-related book, or pregnancy guide. Here are some of things I'd like to add to my own "curriculum" in the future. (Suggestions are helpful!)

- A fresh, inspiring biography
- A (somewhat objective) history of politics and violence in the Middle East
- A science fiction series anywhere close to as well-written and textured as LOTR
- An intrigue escape-type novel that's not too masculine, too feminine or too hokey
- A light, fun read, a la Bridget Jones, that is actually well written and innovative
- Anything that makes me want to set aside my current life and take one more stab at being a professional writer!!

I would love to hear what is on everyone else's "Bookshelf Curriculum."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lessons from 2008

On New Year's Eve, a few friends converged on our house for a cozy evening of pizza and silly board games. It was wonderful. Earlier that morning, a colleague shared with me a NYE tradition she has: writing down things she wants to leave behind from the old year, and burning them in a bonfire.

So in the middle of the evening, we decided to write the things we want to leave in 2008 on little slips of paper, and toss them into the roaring fire. We didn't share what we'd written, but I imagine the little slips included bad habits, negative events, and even some deep regrets from the past year. For me, it actually turned out to pretty cathartic - a nice symbol of turning the corner into 2009.

All this got me thinking, though, that there are plenty of things I learned in 2008; and while I might want to leave behind the mistakes that created those "learning opportunities," I'd like to believe that I can carry the lessons with me into the years to come.

So here are a few of the keepers from 2008:

1. When you're in a car accident that's not your fault, make sure to ask the other insurance company to compensate for the car's lower resale value before settling the claim. (Grrr!)

2. It turns out that the fudge icing I make for my favorite layer cake also works really well for pecan pralines.

3. If you feel consistently unfocused and scattered, you probably are. It's time to reign it in.

4. Don't neglect your cat's toenails - ours had one actually grow back into her paw because it got so long... Poor kitty!

5. If you order a Jameson's over ice in Dublin, it's considered a "cocktail."

6. It really is okay to change your mind about the direction of your career, the color of your bedroom or your plans for the evening. It doesn't mean you were wrong the first time (or first three times), it just means you changed your mind.

7. I know this is what everyone says, but it's true: running really is all about putting one foot in front of the other.

8. Sometimes living life in the moment means accidentally becoming part of an Irish pub band. No, you don't know the words, so just have another Guinness and fake it.

9. Sometimes when you are completely frustrated and feeling most like giving up, life gives you a miracle that restores your faith and rewards your patience and effort tenfold.

10. Just when you think you can't love someone any deeper.... you can.

So those are 10 of the 10,000 things I learned this year. I'd love to hear what lessons other folks are bringing with them from 2008!!