Wednesday, March 30, 2016

(Stuff Jo Writes) - Portland Moms Blog: Becoming a Frozen Family

disney princess

Portland Moms Blog published my first piece, about my learning to "thaw" my "Frozen" heart and get some good feels about Elsa and Anna, the Bean's most favorite sisters of Arendelle. I mean, she did say to me this morning, "Mama, I think you're even beautiful-er than Elsa and Anna." Now if only I could learn to braid my hair like that.

Becoming a Frozen Family: Learning to Love Disney Princesses

We recently acquired two new members of the household. They are sisters who wake me every morning with their Broadway vocals, doff their dresses to join my daughter in the bath, and hijack at least 78% of our family’s dinnertime conversation. I was never particularly interested in making the acquaintance with these Disney princesses of Arendelle, but have gotten pretty used to having them around. They are Frozen’s Elsa and Anna, I loathe to admit that they might even be growing on me.

Click here to continue reading this story ...

Sunday, March 27, 2016

In Transition - the Camino, the VA, and the Next Steps

This blog post was originally titled "Contemplating the Camino." Although I can now officially call it "Planning for the Camino." Or "I Just Quit My Otherwise Perfectly Great Job." Or "How to Prepare for 3+ Weeks Alone With My Father, Away From My Precious Daughter, and Walking Nearly 200 Miles." Or "But What Will We Do About Money?" Or maybe later, hopefully later, "Finding My Way."

It's been on my Bucket List for several years to walk the Camino de Santiago, specifically walking the Camino with my dad. He's done it more than a dozen times in the 15 years since my mom died, experienced various Camino routes and distances. A couple years ago we talked about doing a multigenerational trip - Alex, the Bean, my dad, and me. I learned then of the VA Rehab Medicine department's two-week max leave policy, and the trip felt overwhelming enough then that I think I was somewhat relieved to have it not work out then. But it came back on my radar this Winter. My dad and I talked about it, and it seemed like a distinct possibility. I spoke with my supervisor at the VA about the prospect and was told, once again, that the Rehab Department policy allows an employee to be absent on leave for no more than two weeks. She explained that if I had actually accrued three weeks worth of AL (annual leave), she might have more ground to stand on for requesting an exception. But alas, I currently have a mere 10 hours of vacation and wouldn't even earn three weeks worth in the next year.

So I hemmed and hawed. Do I actually seize the opportunity and go on the Camino? Could it wait? Should it wait? Can I justify quitting my job? Should we plan for a walk later in the year? But what about my dad's health? Or what if I actually get pregnant one of these months? Should we bring Francie? What about Alex? Do good mamas really leave their precious babies for weeks at a time? Will I get sick of my dad? Will I get sick in general? What if I don't like the experience? What if I DO like the experience? What if I want to keep walking and traveling? What if I don't like spending that much time with myself, my thoughts? What if I'm bored? What if I get hurt walking for so long? What if there are bed bugs? And can I really leave behind my favorite little Bean? No one quits the VA, it's like the crème de la crème for medical SLPs. Am I crazy to leave my job? What if my next job totally blows? I don't want to regret anything. But won't I regret NOT going?

I ruminated. I had restless nights. I brainstormed pros and cons. I tried to write about it. I talked travel and walking details with my dad. I mulled over all the decisions with Alex. I got diarrhea at the thought of it all (a la talking about childbirth). I tried to meditate on it, to assess my true, gut feelings. I daydreamed about the various scenarios while jogging. I cried about it to my therapist.

Alex offered incredible support, even in the face of my absence for 3+ weeks and the loss of my part-time income. He encouraged me to quit my job, to take a trip-of-a-lifetime with my dad, but ultimately to separate the two decisions from one another.

And I had the support of Paul and Chris, who enthusiastically agreed to assist Alex with his single dad duties and help care for my girl.

And the support of my dad. I mean, did you see that postcard?!? Not that you can probably read his illegible handwriting anyway.

I received support from my coworkers, Rachael and Ellen, and, surprisingly, from my supervisor, Andrea. From my girlfriends (who are pretty much relentlessly supportive of each other). And maybe even from Francie, who said it's cool to go for a long airplane ride and then a long walk.

Ultimately, I decided to step through the open door that is walking part of the Camino with my dad. I gave notice of resignation at work on Monday. My last day will be May 16. My dad booked our plane tickets - first to Block Island to visit my brother for his 40th birthday and to meet my new baby niece (!), then on to Madrid. The plan is to walk about 17 days from about Leon west to the final destination, Santiago. But, as my dad continually reminds me, walking routes/plans are subject to change, based on weather, crowds, etc. Fortunately I'm just along for the ride so am happy to remain flexible and with few expectations.

On the professional front, I am fortunate to have some connections in the community. I am sad to be saying goodbye to working with this very specific population of veterans (history of concussion; ongoing reports of attention and memory difficulties, usually multifactorial in nature, including contributing factors such as mental health issues, chronic pain, poor sleep, and a whole slew of psychosocial stressors). I once identified this very position as my "dream job," so it feels a bit strange to be parting ways after just three years. But I have also learned in the last year that while I like problem-solving solutions for the myriad difficulties facing this particular generation of veterans, I don't necessarily love the 1:1 clinical work. I could certainly spend hours each day reading the latest research, talking about the treatment and politics and media coverage, or even reading/writing chart notes - but it is a different story when you step into that clinic room and there is an air of "please fix my problems." Those are big shoes to fill, and leave me wonting - to address this from a more systems-based approach, maybe.

I've been interested lately in a more expansive view of brain injury. Public health. Rather than using the micro camera lens that I do in 1:1 cognitive rehabilitation, I'm curious about zooming out, working with a more panoramic or fisheye lens. I am still fascinated and passionate about traumatic brain injury, particularly concussion and particularly in the OIF/OEF veteran population, and I'm hoping some time away will help me think outside the SLP box. I am interested in transitioning into a more creative role, one that more heavily involves collaborating with other professionals, keeping up-to-date on the current research, sharing that knowledge and experience, reading and speaking and writing and creating, and maybe toward the development of public health programs. I'm just spitballing here ...

I am hoping to get hired PRN or per diem or "on call" with one of the local hospitals here, ideally for inpatient rehab. And I have been speaking with a grad school friend of mine who works at a private clinic about what role I might be able to fill there. Fortunately, there are job opportunities for SLPs. A

But also, I hope to have a bit extra time off with my family this summer (tentative plans for Tahoe for the Fourth, Michigan in late July, local camping/backpacking - I know, greedy much?!?).

And also, there's writing. There's always writing, the dreams of success sitting in the back of my mind. I have ideas, but not much follow-through. In part, because I can't actually imagine making anything more of it than a hobby. But maybe the Camino will help me address some of those fears, judgments, and goals, too.

Financially speaking, my dad is a hero. He's got this trip covered. Save for souvenirs. He prophylactically denied any and all materials purchases, and that I'll need my own euro for the junk I might want to buy when the walk is all said and done. He is not, however, covering the Closeman Family basic living costs (especially those that are outside our means). Which is an issue, without a doubt. As we can't afford our current life on just Alex's teacher salary. We are hoping to buckle down and actually get some money saved before my job and thus income ceases to exist, but we've never been so stellar at that. What it really means is that when I get home I will likely have to return to finding work much more quickly than I fantasize about now.

As for childcare logistics, I have the ever-loving and support of my Baby Daddy, and also of Mimi (and Papa). Mimi has very generously agreed to come stay at our house while I am out of town, and has (attempted) to calm my nerves about traumatizing my child with abandonment issues, and encouraged me to do things both for myself and for other family generations.

The Bean will likely have a much easier time with my absence than I will. I intend to speak to my therapist about strategies to mitigate the intense separation anxiety I anticipate enduring in parting ways with my daughter. And probably from my house and husband, too. I'm already getting creative about ways to include Francie in my trip, like making a paper chain to count down days until I'm home, or designing some kind of interactive map that she can move me along each day. And there's always texting, the telephone, and FaceTime. My therapist assures me that, developmentally speaking, there is nothing inherently damaging about a mother leaving her 4-year-old for three-weeks-and-two-days for international travel. I, of course, fear the very worse. Eroding her secure attachment to me. Devastating her with my nightly bedtime absence. Total ambivalence about my return. But if her Big Girl weekend in the Bay Area is any indication, she'll be a total champ.

In prepping for the Camino, there is also the physical training and the gear. Which compared to all the mental and emotional gymnastics seems like a breeze. And a great excuse to blow too much money at REI and Athleta (see above about financial concerns). And to walk instead of run.

So, yeah, there's all that. I quit my job. I don't have another one lined up. I'm going on an international trip. To walk across part of Spain with my 72-year-old father. And will be apart from my daughter 20 days longer than I ever have, and from my husband 10 days longer than ever before. There are lots of things in the works in my head, but no real concrete plans beyond my arrival back home June 10. I'm hoping for adventures, memories, epiphanies, professional direction, writing, healing, and maybe even a little fitness along the way.

As they say, Buen Camino.

Friday, March 25, 2016

(Stuff Jo Films) - The Bean's 4th Birthday Interview

Yearly Birthday Interview - Francie @ 4 years

What is your favorite color? silver
What is your favorite toy? Frozen dolls
What is your favorite fruit? grapes
What is your favorite tv show? Cat in the Hat
Favorite movie: Frozen
What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? mac n cheese
What is your favorite outfit? Elsa dress
What is your favorite game? Frozen cards (memory/matching)
Favorite sport? soccer
What is your favorite snack? pancakes
What is your favorite animal? giraffes
What is your favorite song? Frozen - Let It Go
What is your favorite book? Ivy and Bean
Who is your best friend? Asher, everybody at school, even Teacher Liz
What is your favorite cereal? Papa's (Special K with Strawberries)
Best part of school? playing with my friends
What is your favorite thing to do outside? playing with Daddy, soccer
Favorite place to go? to the zoo; to Tahoe, to make snow angels
What is your favorite drink? apple juice
What is your favorite holiday? my birthday
Favorite thing to do with mama? play outside
With daddy? play with dolls
As a family? play soccer with mommy and daddy
What do you like to take to bed with you at night? mommy and daddy
What do you like to eat for breakfast? cereal
What do you want for dinner on your birthday? man cheese with peas
What do you want to be when you grow up? "speef patholjis - like you" (speech pathologist)
Where do you want to visit someday? Africa
When or where or who might you marry someday? Daddy
What is one thing you want to learn some day? play soccer practice
What do you wish for? you guys to never die
What makes you happy? you guys never dying and staying alive
What makes you feel afraid? bad guys trying to kill me
What makes you laugh? when people tell jokes
What do you do that is kind? I never hit people
What is something you do very well? writing my name
What is something you’re not very good at? not crying
I am very proud of … you guys taking care of me
If I were president I would … be a superhero, I would put all the bad guys in jail forever until they die

These videos come in multiple installments, because she grew tired of all the questions. But also, she wanted to interview US! Watch these only if you dare because they are loooooooong, and really intended for us, not necessarily designed for public entertainment.

And to compare to years past ...

Yearly Birthday Interview - Francie @ 3 years
Her answers are in quotes, the parent-known answers are in parentheses
1. What is your favorite color? "blue" (purple)
2. What is your favorite toy? "frog" (babies)
3. What is your favorite fruit? "carrots ... apples" (blueberries or strawberries)
4. What is your favorite tv show? Daniel Tiger (truth)
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? "peanut butter and jelly ... cereal" (truth)
6. What is your favorite outfit? "dresses" (she really started wanting to choose her own clothes)
7. What is your favorite game? blank stare (Memory)
8. What is your favorite snack? "cereal" (and bars, applesauce, yogurt with fruit ...)
9. What is your favorite animal? "fox" (in fact, she is afraid of foxes, and dear, and bugs
10. What is your favorite song? "Twinkle Little Star" (and ABC's)
11. What is your favorite book? "I Love You Forever" (and Olivia, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Day, On A Summery Saturday Morning, Going On A Bear Hunt)
12. Who is your best friend? "Mommy and Daddy and Logan and Max
13. What is your favorite cereal? "hot cereal" (Cheerios with blueberries)
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? "play bubbles" (true, and going to April Hill Park)
15. What is your favorite drink? "soda" (ha! she's never had it, but drinks milk at school, steamed milk with Beebee, and occasionally has some kind of juice at a party or something)
16. What is your favorite holiday? Halloween (she likes all things "special")
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? "a toy, a frog toy" (her Neenies, except she just gave them up)
18. What do you like to eat for breakfast? "cereal and jelly" (Cheerios with blueberries, waffles)
19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday? "mac n chees" (wish granted)
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? "a teenager" (ensue adult guffaws)

Yearly Birthday Interview - Francie @ 2 years
Her answers are in quotes, the parent-known answers are in parentheses
1. What is your favorite color? "blue" (purple)
2. What is your favorite toy? "box ... bugs" (baby doll)
3. What is your favorite fruit? "strawberries" (true, or raspberries)
4. What is your favorite tv show? no answer (Elmo, on occasion)
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? "bugs" (cereal)
6. What is your favorite outfit? "peas ... shirt" (she doesn't really care)
7. What is your favorite game? blank stare (peek-a-boo)
8. What is your favorite snack? "two" (cereal, apple, Goldfish)
9. What is your favorite animal? "elephant" (true, and also monkeys and horses and giraffes)
10. What is your favorite song? "zoo" (Wheels on the Bus)
11. What is your favorite book? "goodnight" (Goodnight Moon)
12. Who is your best friend? "daddy .... mama ... daddy homie" (she ALWAYS says mama)
13. What is your favorite cereal? no answer (Cheerios)
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? "play" (true)
15. What is your favorite drink? "hot milk" (water, milk, or mama milk)
16. What is your favorite holiday? no answer (no answer)
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? "mama" (Neenie)
18. What do you like to eat for breakfast? "cereal ... Cheerios" (true story)
19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday? "cake" (we also ate waffles, eggs, and bacon)
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? "belly. grow." (she just learned the word born, and that she grew inside mama's belly, so that might be her context for "grow up")
"all done"

Monday, March 21, 2016

(Stuff Jo & Alex Made) - Fourth Birthday "Ambulance Party"

The face says it all. She m just have just discovered she can actually ride in the ambulance, alongside (poor) BG.

Homemade felt "4" crown. Homemade felt ambulance shirt. (Think she'll still let me make her wear these DIY crafts in her teen years?!?) Alex-made "rocking ship." Michael's purchased light-up/marquis number 4. Faded Star Wars tattoos. White tutu. No shoes.

Red burlap and white painted felt "Happy Birthday" banner from her first birthday party.

It was all her idea. Seriously. When I asked her what kind of cake she wanted for her 4th birthday, she told me "ambulance." So we went with it. I admit, I anticipated her requesting a Frozen party, which I was going to have to put the kibosh on. But lucky for us, we got a quirky little Bean who surprises us with her unpredictable predilections.

Francine's birthday fell on a Saturday this year, so we held the party on her actual birthday. In the past we have invited family and our good friends, who also happen to have similarly aged kiddos. This year the Bean insisted on inviting all 12 of her school friends. In the end, we had about 30 people at our house for a lunchtime party, and the sun even made a wonderful appearance. After the party, the Bean watched Frozen while Alex and I patted ourselves on the back, high-fived on another, and sang our family song ("we are the three best friends ..."). And then collapsed on the couch in some version of a hangover. The kind of 30something parents - early mornings, too much cake/frosting, a lot of energy expended on random things like designing cardboard/wagon trucks, blowing up surgical gloves as balloons, and putting bandaids on dolls. All in all, I think it's safe to call this year's ambulance themed party a glowing success.

We surprised her first thing in the morning with the monstrosity that is her cardboard/wagon ambulance, decorated with bandaids and medical toys and a bandaged BG to boot.

Family pancake breakfast.

And bacon.

The kitchen spread - boxed cake mix with homemade butter/cream cheese frosting

"HB" = Happy Birthday; a hand-drawn ambo by yours truly

Melissa and Doug wooden ambulance toy for decoration.

The living room spread - goodie bags, snacks, and a banner of the monthly 3 year old photos.

Goodie bags - equipped with cough masks and surgical gloves (your tax dollars at work), and other child-friendly goodies

Pill cookies. These were my masterpiece. Alex tried to tell me they were inappropriate.

"Is everyone going to sing Happy Birthday to me?"

Kiddos decorating ambulance cookies.

11 kids in total, not all pictured; 4 school friends and 6 family friends.

Mila, Monroe, and Francine.

The sun was out and the kids headed straight for the fire put and the mud pile.

Present time. It was so happily chaotic that I legitimately don't know who gave Francie what. Thank-you cards this year will be VERY generic.

The after-party, a little role-playing OB: Francie trying to listen to baby Girl Menne's heartbeat.

Logan helping the "medical staff" onto the ambulance.

Logan, Francie and Max take a ride. Fortunately, no one actually needed any medical assistance.

Hard at work.

Poor BG. I guess he got smoothed by a car and his brain fell out.

"Let's make silly faces."

Francie and her daddy.

(Just Pics) - 3 Year Old Year in Review

I'm an obsessive archivist, which likely comes as a surprise to exactly no one. I do it because I want to and I like to - I have a terrible memory for timing and details of things like this, and I love love love being able to look back on what happened when, especially when it comes to this parenting business. So yeah, I still take a monthly photo and recap of my daughter, all through her fourth trip around the sun. And intend to do so until she is 18 and no longer within my legal control. But also, I hope this serves as a good resource for my Bean in the future. Something to look back on, to compare and contrast with her memory of things, to reference if and when she becomes a parent, and to help memorialize just one perspective on our family history. I do worry if and when we have a second kid if I'll be able to maintain this level of devotion to both offspring. Then again, the Dead Mom Card is always a motivator to get photos, thoughts, quotes and memories on paper for posterity.

And to throw it back even further, here's the collage from each month when she was 2 years old:

And each month when she was 1 year old:
And the overly ambitious weekly photo in her first year. Of note, I would NOT do weekly again for another child. For the most part, just because the photo collage is not aesthetically appealing. And I would do face shots, not full body, on a monthly schedule, like I have done since then.

Monday, March 14, 2016

(Just Pics) - Mama and the Bean

Alex took a quick trip to the Bay Area for his grandmother's 90th birthday party at the yacht club in Vallejo. We couldn't exactly justify flights for each of the three of us, particularly with the two of them returning to Vallejo in less than two weeks for Spring Break. So the Bean and I got a special Mama Weekend together, which included:

- hosting a play date with Charlie and Iris; dresses and crowns were donned, and the Frozen soundtrack was played loudly on repeat

- the Bean's very first movie theater experience, Zootopia on the big screen from the 3rd row, popcorn and all; the elephant was even named Francine!  

- Spring Forward Daylight Savings time change = pajamas 'til midday, homemade hot chocolate, puzzles and Ibiza music

- Logan's 5th birthday party, including Lego ships, Star Wars everything, and expert little boy's gun-shooting noises

- a late-night viewing of Frozen (my first in its entirety) complete in Frozen "Elsa dress," and a super-late-night drive to PDX to pickup Daddy after his delayed flight home

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