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Here's a fairly concise illustration of parenthood (!): listening to your four-month-old (!!) happily and loudly talking to himself in his sweet, baby voice, cooing around his own fingers, which he's recently learned how to suck on... at five o'clock in the goddamn morning.

(Andrew: "I guess I'll take him downstairs and we can both practice our vowels.")

(Sylvia: "You try your handful of notes / the clear vowels rise like balloons.")

For a while I had a drafted LJ post going where I kept having to change the age at the beginning: 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 11 weeks, before I finally gave up.  Let's see if I can actually finish this one, even though it'll be hilariously far from the comprehensive, thoughtful post I imagined.  'cause summing up four months of the most intense phase of my life in one entry should be easy!

That notional LJ post about the whole baby-having thing would vary wildly in tone depending on how much sleep I've gotten lately.  Chronic, unpredictable sleep deprivation is a level of demoralizing I can't possibly describe.  And the immense host of variables that could contribute to why the baby is upset at any given moment or sleeping extra badly in any given week is so so frustrating.  If the immediate and obvious solutions aren't working, there's no way to ever reliably know what it is or what you could do to fix it.  The internet will kindly provide 28 different and conflicting possibilities plus impossible-to-implement fixes with murky timelines.  It's like a universe where cause-and-effect seem totally divorced.  So that's a lovely, helpless feeling.  We've dealt with not only the miserable first couple of months of breastfeeding trouble but bad reflux and chronic overtiredness and some kind of food sensitivity to something I was eating, which I could not manage to isolate but which seems to have hopefully resolved itself?

And hardest of all, we got a baby who does. not. nap. And if he doesn't, of course, gets insanely overtired and spends the day declining steadily until he's in major meltdown mode by late afternoon.  Poor kid.  So like 90% of my daytime feels like it's spent fighting the sleep wars, trying everything imaginable -- both the things you're supposed to do and the things you're not -- to get him to fall asleep.  And if he actually does, he snaps wide awake 21 minutes later, almost without fail.  Know what you can do in 21 minutes, during which you're probably already holding or strollering the baby?  Not a goddamn thing.  Definitely not nap.  Or shower or use the breast pump or fold some freaking laundry.  I'm so insanely jealous of people with babies who nap for decent stretches or at semi-predictable times or even just in a crib.  And it's not like there are even options for sleep-training a 2- or 3-month old  (myr_soleil, I've thought of you with sympathy so many times.)

Weeks when he's sleeping somewhat decently at night -- and my bar is so low, by that I mean maybe a 4-hour stretch and a 2-hour stretch -- I can kind of function.  But times like last week, when he had a stuffy nose and was waking up every 90 minutes and then refusing to fall back asleep -- and with the aforementioned nap problems, I can't nap during the day -- feel like torture in a very literal sense.  Even worse, there's rarely an obvious cause like the stuffy nose.  And I never know which kind of night it's going to be, so it's like having PTSD.  (Or not even post-traumatic: ongoing-traumatic?)  I've never felt so out of control of my life and never, ever for so long.

My maternity leave ends next week.  Part of me is really, really sad that our time together hasn't gone better, that it's been so rough that I haven't been able to enjoy him to the level I'd want or settle into any kind of routine.  (Or accomplish even my lowliest goals: clean out one drawer in my office.  Get to inbox zero.)   On the other hand, part of me is excited to be going back to work. I seem to remember that your coworkers don't arbitrarily spit up on you and you can choose which order you do things in.  And actually feel a sense of accomplishment for finishing discrete tasks?  Maybe even go to the bathroom any time you want.

(The 'is it harder to stay home or go to work' debate doesn't even make sense to me any more; work doesn't occupy every single second of my waking time or have constant 2am emergencies.  It's like comparing oranges and fish.)

On the other hand, the baby himself is a freaking delight.  He's cheerful and funny, with delectably kissable cheeks and chunky thighs, and watching him engage with the world and figure out his body is this ceaseless, private joy, a series of tiny, daily miracles.  Like the week where he figured out he could bring his hands together and spent every spare moment doing that, in front of his own eyes, with intense concentration.  Or the week when he discovered how to kick one leg at a time and turned into a full-time trick-pony, furiously stomping out the answer to imaginary math problems.  The time early on when he decided our ceiling fan was the most hilarious thing he'd ever seen and would just lie on the bed grinning and chuckling at it.  When it wasn't even on.

I love him and I like him: his persistence, his curiosity, his dimples (!), the way he beams at Andrew, the way he cuddles into my chest in his brief windows of unguarded tiredness.  Best of all, the way he lights up entirely when I come in the room or lean over to pick him up in the morning.  That smile is so unguarded and genuine.  Like a shot of unbridled joy, straight to my bloodstream, to my brainstem, every single time.

Like a taxi throbbing waiting.

Today I'm 37 weeks pregnant, which means that even though there are three weeks 'til my official due date, this kid is now considered A Full Term Baby. Guys, there is a completed human being residing inside my torso -- what. He's all knees and elbows and undulating rump, prone to late night aerobics sessions and yoga stretches where he pushes off my hipbone to press out against my rib cage at the opposite side. It's exactly as strange as you'd think it would be; also cool, irritating, uncomfortable, in turns.

All of a sudden the interminably long period of pregnancy has become a last minute scramble. Things we haven't done yet: assembled the bassinet (haven't even bought the crib), gotten newborn diapers, picked a name. Probably ought to get on that.

It's such a strange feeling, waiting for this Huge, Irrevocable Life Change but unable to do anything to speed it up, not too much to prep, not even knowing exactly when it'll happen. A little like waiting to go off to college, but with more heartburn and backache. I can't wait for the baby to drop, which should happen any day now, so I get a little of my lung capacity back.

Also I am VERY EXCITED about the Gilmore Girls resurrection.

I am listening to hear where you are.

He's not a fish anymore; more like having a rabbit tucked underneath my shirt, one who decides to struggle for release every now and then. My stomach ripples and swells like something out of a TNG episode. If I have something on my belly that he doesn't like, he'll buck and push 'til I move it. All day I get these little nudges and wriggles. I think over and over again of the Neutral Milk Hotel line, I can hear as you tap on your jar.

It's strange but fascinating. I try to use the movements to figure out what position he's in, but it's hard to tell. Last week I had an ultrasound and he was sideways, his feet both up by his face; definitely not a position I would've ever guessed. He's supposed to turn head down soon. Getting ready to come out.

At the same ultrasound, the technician flipped a switch on the machine and it changed from the regular murky profile to one of those 3D views -- tech I didn't even know they had in this office, and which I've long made fun of for being creepy -- but oh, suddenly we were looking at his little face, this brand new person nobody had ever seen before. I haven't been able to stop staring at the printout. I'm so excited to meet him, see if I can recognize parts of me, of A, learn about who he'll be.

(Though somehow at the same time I manage to be petrified about what an enormous change this will be, worrying about how much it will suck to not have free time and flexibility and lazy weekend days, how it'll be hard and endless, worrying about turning into my mother. My brain can create an awful lot of anxieties in the space of 9 months.)

We went to see Inside Out in Colorado last week and the baby went crazy during the ukulele song in the pre-movie short. We played it to him again at home, from my phone, and the same thing happened. We have a tiny ukulele fan. I'd be embarrassed by his twee prenatal taste, but I'll just chalk it up to an early interest in Pacific island culture.

I'm just about 30 weeks pregnant, into the 3rd trimester, about to hit 7 months. I feel at the same time like I've always been pregnant and like I'll never actually get through all the things to do before November. The product research alone, guys, uggh. I spent this Saturday night cross-referencing registry recommendations lists from friends. With a highlighter. I'm a party monster.

Everything's felt so hectic lately (/always). I just counted and I've been on 9 out-of-town trips just in the past 12 weeks. (Chicago, South Carolina, DC, Boston, Kosovo, DC, Mexico, Boulder, DC.) I have two more next month for work, New York and DC, and then I can't fly anymore; I'm almost looking forward to being forced to stay in one place. All the in-between weeks have been packed full of doctor's visits; as if all the baby stuff isn't enough, I'm having all these problems with my eyes, my mouth, so I'm spending all my time at the dentist and ophthalmologist and rheumatologist and OB/GYN and feeling frantically, constantly behind on work because of it. This stupid, terrible body.

I'm usually so mopey towards the end of summer, because after summer comes fall and after fall comes HORRIBLE WINTER. This year, though, I'm looking forward so much to the cooler weather, the lower humidity, something to wear besides the same 2 pairs of maternity shorts. And Atlanta has its lovely long springs and falls going for it.

Still struggling with not feeling at home here; I was back in DC this week for work, as usual, and walking to the office in the morning, through all the energy of the city, so many different kinds of people and streets and things to see and do made me so happy. Today I discovered that the closest post office collection box here is A MILE from my house -- and I'm in one of the walkable neighborhoods. Behold my snobbery and muttering about places that call themselves cities. My drugstore is a 20 minute walk away, across a highway exit ramp, and making that trek in the scorching summer heat is so miserable it's almost unthinkable; but I hate driving everywhere! And for just a mile? I feel lazy and ridiculous. I still don't really know anyone here and I still feel cranky and tired just thinking about making new friends. All that time and energy and effort, and so few people turn out to even be worth it in the end!
I had one of those surreal, self-aware how is this my life moments late Friday afternoon. Sitting outside in the mild sunshine on a tree-covered patio in the capital of Kosovo, having macchiatos with a coworker and our favorite counterpart in the government there, the one who gets all the work pawned off on him by his coworkers. Kosovo is known for having amazing macchiatos, strong, smooth and frothy -- not just in fancy bookstore-cafes like the one where we were, he was telling us, but everywhere in the country, down to a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

He was telling us also how the little town where he"d grown up used to be quite mixed, Kosovars and Serbs, before the warCollapse )

He's living back in the country now after years away: some time in Istanbul with a girlfriend, his high school years in Bosnia after he fled the country to avoid the war. He was 14 when he left: right after Serbian soldiers rounded him up with a group of men and boys in his hometown and put them in a barn ("I don't know the word for it -- an old house, for horses?") and set it on fire. Everyone escaped, because the soldiers didn't know there was a back exit. He was running across the fields away from the barn when it exploded behind him.

It was a gorgeous almost-evening in a place that seemed entirely peaceful. After he left, my coworker and I pulled out our laptops and put in another couple of hours of work, since none of our other projects calm down even when we've spent all week in meetings and running trainings on an in-country trip like this. We got two enormous pieces of cake, two of those macchiatos, an espresso, a bottle of water and paid only €9, taxes and all. Kosovo's the poorest country in Europe, pegged to the Euro even though they're years and years away from any kind of EU accession. (A crazy huge budget of EU funding is what I've been urgently trying to spend down for the past year that I've been managing this project; 7 days 'til the 6-year contract ends and we're going to come out in the clear. It's a million moving pieces of staff time and sprint planning and goal setting and cajoling and fund reallocating and getting to learn all these things about the place and its context. I love it, I love it.)

This was my second time to Pristina in four months, and so much better than the last one. This trip I only threw up twice. Last time I was in my first trimester and sick as a dog, everything filtered through a haze of nausea. Because oh, yeah. I'm having a kid. I'm having a kid!

Pregnancy is fascinating and strange. Like this easter egg subroutine my body apparently knew how to run this whole time, and I'm just along for the ride. The first couple of months were so, so bad. I'm lucky because I wasn't actually puking that much, but it was just unremitting nausea 24/7 and the worst heartburn of my life (which is saying an awful lot). Such a nightmare: March and April are just a blur of misery and feeling like I'd made a huge mistake.

Thank God for the second trimester and feeling like myself again. Even if I do still occasionally barf my guts out in Balkan government ministry bathrooms at 22 weeks in. Let's blame that on jetlag.

I'm just past the halfway mark and it's crazy to think there'll be an actual don't-have-to-give-back-to-anyone baby here in November. Mostly I just want to fast forward to that part, where there's a real human baby -- with a face! What will it look like! -- instead of just an endless parade of weird new symptoms (belching! nosebleeds! and now clothes that don't fit).

Except hahaha, how can I possibly be ready for that when I'm still the exact same hot mess I've always been? Irresponsible bedtimes and forgetting to eat and reading novels (okay, the internet) instead of washing the dishes. I always thought I'd wait to have kids 'til I felt like I had figured out the whole Responsible Adulthood thing a little more. And 'til I stopped being so weirded out by the concept of growing another person inside myself. Except none of that ever got around to happening and so here we are.

I started feeling the baby move almost three weeks ago: these tiny little pulses that felt like muscle twitches or things digesting. He's stronger now -- a pound heavy and a foot long -- and the little nudges are unmistakeable. A rippling low in my stomach, little fish wriggling awake.

The faraway nearby.

Oh, hey, sometimes I notice I have an LJ app! Which reminds me that I have an LJ.

I was out of town, mostly out of the country, for just about the entire month of August. Obvs I am big into travel but that's just over the top. I'm excited to be a homebody for as long as I can -- maybe all of September?! (I was in: Uganda, Atlanta, NYC, Italy. Two for work, two not.) Exciting! But exhausting.) I'm feeling nesty. I want to Organize All The Things and clean the bathroom and curl up on the couch in the evening with novels. In these daydreams it's also crisp and deliciously cool, so I can break out things like long sleeves and layers, though of course tomorrow it'll be 90-something here.

Ugh. This post is boring. Good thing approximately nobody is on LJ anymore to read it!

My ability to focus on anything -- or even remember things from moment to moment -- has become really really really bad. Internet-induced ADD? Brain meds? Old age? It's so stressful and frustrating and makes me obsessed with writing everything I have to do down instantly so it doesn't fall through the gaping cracks in my brain. Futzing around with ToDoist filters. I want to be fixed! But the only thing I can think of to do is meditation, which I loathe, but I'm desperate enough to start trying again since it's supposed to be the silver bullet for concentration, yadda yadda.

I love my job; which still feels exhiliarating and weird to say. I'm getting loads of new projects and being bumped to PM on nearly all of them which is all thrilling but also fairly panic-inducing. Don't let me mess up. (Please don't make me be the monkey butler.)

EVEN MORE BORING. Let's see: jet lag is hitting me hard this time, which is unusual since usually I love the west-to-east timechanges. They're *so* much easier than the opposite and a generally nice counterweight to my frustrating nightowl/slugabed tendencies. But when I got home Sunday I accidentally fell sound asleep at 6:30 at night and woke up wide awake before 3am. ROOKIE MISTAKE. Surreal feeling. Exciting to have time to read and doze off again; NOT exciting to then have to go to the office to do a full day's work. (Three days later and I'm still having trouble eating.)

I got up and went out a little after 6. Excited to wear my new MOMA tanktop with a Stephen Shore photograph, excited to make the three minute walk around the corner to my favorite coffee shop, excited to get coffee and a cheddar rosemary biscuit and walk back home past cheerful morning people commenting to each other on how lovely the sunrise had been, the air fresh and the sidewalks mostly quiet. An alternate universe very slightly diagonal from the world I'm usually in. I'm told it comes around every day?

I am so bad at not being anxious. Even when there's nothing to worry about at all.

I'm doing this ten steps to happiness thing, and the next one says: write down something you're grateful for.  Watch me segue.

1. Coming out of yoga class, feeling dim and dozy, into the warm spring night and the busy busy sidewalk of my neighborhood, the sandwich shop underneath the studio spilling light and Modest Mouse out its open windows, and walking the twenty-or-so steps home.

2. That I'm feeling good enough these days for both yoga and biking; pushing off in the cool morning, coasting down the bike lane to work.

3. I finally finally finally finally finally finally finally got a job.  There's a reason I've gone more or less radio silent here and it has to do with the hopeless angry feeling you get when you've been looking for a job for six eight ten-plus months.  It's what every post would have been about -- that and my terrifyingly expansive spreadsheets of informational interview contacts -- and you want to read that even less than I wanted to be writing it.

(To clarify, I have been working for most of this time, but contract work at the morally gray multilateral we shall continue to call the Ministry of Magic.  Very lucky because it was money and it was a way to look much more legit to all the folks I was trying to network with.  Very crappy because there was zero possibility of being hired in the long term and it meant I had to keep full on looking for a real job with fevered intensity while also trying to juggle, you know, actual work.  Let us sum up the horribleness of that entire era into the overly tidy: blergh.)

But long after I'd tempered my expectations down to shreds of their former selves (“Look, you’re British, so scale it down a bit, all right?”) and almost immediately after I'd stopped looking for jobs in DC altogether (I'll spare you my tight five on a city that runs on the labor of unpaid interns) ...... I got called and asked to interview for a job at the partner organization for a company I interviewed with fourteen months ago.  Which I did.  And then interviewed some more.  And everything happened very quickly and I ... essentially got my original dream job.  So all of a sudden I'm doing everything I wanted to be doing, the whole reason I went through that stupid grad school nightmare, someone's actually paying me money to do international development technology consulting here in DC.  They gave me a title bump. They acquiesced to my ridiculous salary counteroffer.  (They legit really wanted me to come work for them!!! ???)  They just moved into a gorgeous new office space an easy bike ride from my house.  Today I got assigned my first two projects, for Laos and Haiti. I'll get to travel internationally.  I don't really understand how ten-months-of-ceaseless-rejection suddenly transforms into this, (what even is the labor market?!) but I'm not going to complain.  (And I was looking hard, in all the miserable networky ways you're supposed to; if nothing else, this process has transformed me from sullen introvert into a regular Keith Ferrazzi.)

It has felt very surreal.  I kept expecting it to get taken back away, right up until I walked in the front door for my first day.  I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and pretty damn terrified of everything they're trusting me with.

tl;dr, Richard Siken gets it:
The way it's night for many miles and then suddenly
it's not.


4. POETRY MONTH, KIDDOS, which like 99% of you are already fully aware, I bet.  But (1) aaaaahhhhh, The Hairpin linked to me!!!  And suddenly there are a LOT more subscribers (like, I can't even let myself think about it) on the silly little email list I started for my LJ friendslist long long long ago.  It makes me all verklempt and thrilled. And (2) GOD it makes me happy every year to plunge face first into this frog pond.  It forces me to wedge this thing I love back into my life, hardcore, no matter how busy or stupid my life gets.  Like, I have to let Ted Berrigan take us out:

I am in love with poetry. Every way I turn
this, my weakness, smites me.

This is plenty. This is more than enough.

I just wrote a ridiculous and unnecessarily long email about poetry to an undergraduate professor and it's so rare that I write anything lately that's not work-related, I thought perhaps I should save it somewhere for posterity.  (Also: POETRY!  Oh yeah!  That's that thing I love!)

Poetry of witness.Collapse )

On a completely related note, it's almost the end of January which means it's almost April which means NATIONAL POETRY MONTHAPALOOZA and guys, GUYS, this is going to be my TENTH FUCKING YEAR doing this thing.  I want to do something special to celebrate.  But I don't know what.  E-extra emails linking to some of this huge, glorious backlog from all the past years?  .... something else?  GIVE ME IDEAS.

killed it with kisses

Someone stole my bike tire. It's my own fault, kinda. I stopped using a cable on my tires a couple years ago and hadn't gotten around to changing it from a quick release wheel to the kind you have to stand on end to unlock. Sucks though. I feel like I've been hacked off at the knees. How do I get anywhere? The bus is going to take how long? I'm going to have to… walk these four blocks?

Luckily, today it's sunny and the air feels gorgeously balmy at 48°. I walked by the White House on my way to work this morning. Hello. I hear this is a livejournal.

You know how my life always seems crazy? Yeah, that's still happening. CONDENSED RUN-THROUGH OF THE CURRENT BATCH OF INSANITY HERE WE GO:

- As previously mentioned, I finished grad school!!!! Thank fuck. That was without a dobut the hardest thing I've ever intentionally done. It didn't feel real 'til I had the (giant, pretentious, entirely-in-Latin) diploma in my hand and I'm still a little nervous they'll realize there's some economics- or language-related hoop I didn't jump through, but my transcript says I met every requirement and passed every exam so .............

- I got a job? Kind of??? IN APRIL? I started a contract at an institution which, for purposes of unsearchability, let us call the Orld-Way Ank-Bay. Which is kind of hilarious because it's one place I swore I would NEVER work (because I'm the wild leftist in my class: blah blah structural adjustment, highly indebted countries, social justice!!!), but. Here I am. I thought it would be like working at the Death Star but instead it's exactly like working at the Ministry of Magic. Giant atrium, statue of poor Africans, tons of bureaucrats, well-intentioned, mildly evil, way too many elevators. I get lost a lot.

Anyway I've been doning financial analysis of agricultural lending capacity building for banks in Africa and Asia WOOOO SEXY. Also lots of infographics. But my contract ends this week which is honestly a huge relief because I haven't had a break at all yet: I started there while classes were still in session so I was juggling work and class and then work and finals and let me tell you how not fun it was to be pulling 12-hour days doing job-related work and THEN get to start on my school stuff. I still feel unbelievably burnt out and I haven't been doing my best work on ANYTHING in my life. Ideally I would like to sit very still in a chair somewhere with a book and a drink for like three or four weeks at least, just to start recovering from the past two years. (I may get a new contract next month but. We'll see.)

- I went to Panama! For work! With a professor! On a project about social performance indicators in microfinance! Fulfilling my life goal of getting someone else to pay to fly me to foreign countries!

- I went to Alaska! To see my brother! And ke_rose_ne! It stayed light all the time! The mountains were amazing! I was very sleep-deprived!

- I'm going to Maine to see family! And Boston for a wedding and then Georgia to see in-laws! I was out of town for half of June and will be doing the same in July. Hence my whining about juggling work + travel + job hunting + moving. Oh yeah:

- We're moving! Aahhh! Just in DC for now since who even knows where I'll get a permanent job, but our landlady is selling our house so blah blah blah nomadcakes. And we hadn't found a place to live yet but I biked by a building with a rental sign on Monday, went in and saw a unit, dropped off an application yesterday (Tuesday), and got approved this morning (Wednesday), SO I GUESS THAT'S HAPPENING? It's in the ultra hipster part of Northwest DC, so I can pretend I'm living in a pseudo-Brooklyn. It's smaller than our current place but bigger than our place before that and it's a third floor corner unit with seven (!) windows so hopefully it will fulfill my insatiable need for sun.

Moving is going to suck hardcore, as moving always does, but it'll be a major relief just to be *done* and not have to spend any more time helping stage the current house and organize putting things in storage and having workmen in and out all the time.

One day I'll have a calm and stable life again, right? Right???

Also. I'm 31 now. Chew on that.
This morning I woke up without an alarm -- earlier than I meant to since I stayed up late again reading -- lying diagonal across the bed (decadent!) because Andrew's in Australia. I have all the windows open and the delicious, cool morning humidity and the shrieks of kids from the elementary school playground out back were all rushing in together.

I made iced coffee and cleaned the kitchen and then I sat down out on the deck with my breakfast and I read a book. For fun. A book I chose. A fiction book -- my third one this week.

I am really really really really really really really really really happy to be done with grad school. Remind me never to do that again.