Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Letter to Ace, the night before his birth

Dear Ace,

Tomorrow you will join us out here in the world! You've given us quite a crazy couple of days here, but I truly don't mind:-) It's been a wonderful pregnancy--relatively free of problems, and quite full of love and joy.

I'm sure you'll hear many times how you got the nickname of Ace. We were quite certain that you were going to be a girl, and had your name picked out from the get-go (Alexandra). Well when they called to tell us that you were a boy (we had some genetic/chromosomal testing done in NYC early on, because of my "advanced maternal age" and all, so the lab called with the results a few days later when we were back home), we were completely shocked, and had absolutely no idea what to name you. We all went out to Friendly's, and I started surfing the web on my Blackberry, looking for baby name sites. The first one that popped up had, as about the 3rd or 4th name, Ace. Ace? I said. Ace? Is that really a name? We thought it was so funny and cute that we decided we'd start calling you that. We eventually settled on Ben (Benjamin) as the name we are probably actually going to give you. But I'll be surprised if you never get called Ace.

You are being born into a busy, loving household. Your parents are crazy about each other, and couldn't be happier about your arrival. Your siblings are also thrilled. And although we all feel quite connected to one another already, you are going to give us all an extra bond. Yet another way that we are all connected. And I love that. You also give me another bond with your daddy's whole side of the family, and your daddy another bond with my side of the family, which feels wonderful.

You won't really have a room of your own, but I hope you won't mind. In fact, we've been joking that your nursery is the bathroom, which is actually only sort of a joke--the bathroom is *huge* and had lots of wasted space, so we put up a wall and put your changing table in there, and put your clothes in the big built-in cabinet and drawers. But of course we're not actually going to make you sleep in there:-) At first you'll sleep with your daddy and me, and then you'll move into your big sister Lindsey's room. When she gets ready to have her own room again, she and your oldest brother, Brad, will switch rooms (his room is on the third floor, and we don't want you all the way up there when you're little!). But we'll leave that timing up to her.

Lindsey is soooo excited about you. She talks about you all the time. She can't wait to take you to the park, and take you on walks, and change your clothes and even change your diapers. She's often sort of the odd-man out around here, because your big brothers George and Brad are often playing older-boy games that don't interest her. So she really can't wait to have someone else in the family to play with! When you get a little older she'll push you on the swings, and run around with you outside, and play ball with you, and maybe eventually help you learn to ride a bike and stuff like that.

George is also really, really happy that you are coming. He already loves you so much! He hugs my belly and kisses it and talks to you through it. He is always figuring out how old you'll be when he's various ages (he's almost exactly 10 years older than you), and has it all planned that when he's in his 20s and you're in your teens he's going to take you on vacations with him. He's very excited about teaching you how to read, and teaching you all kinds of things--he wants to homeschool you himself (unless you *want* to go to school, he always adds). Except for kindergarten--he wants you to go to the kindergarten he went to and have the awesome teacher that he had. It's just down the street from us and you might really like it. But there's plenty of time to figure that out! In the meantime, you'll have in George just about the best tutor I could imagine.

And he's going to be an awesome big brother. He's been waiting to be a big brother for a long, long time now. Since he was 4, actually, when I tried to adopt a little girl from Mexico. We got all approved (which was quite the long process) and put on the waiting list, but then they never called us with a placement. We were pretty disappointed, but now we know--we were waiting for *you*, all along!!!

I, too, was born to a busy, blended, loving household, with three older siblings, and it was awhile before I had my own room. But I never minded. In fact, I used to love sharing a room with any one of my siblings. I was much younger than they are, as you will be with your siblings, and I really loved it. I had a fabulous early childhood. I remember that there was always a pair of arms outstretched to me whenever I wanted a hug. There was always someone to teach me something or to read to me or to take me to the playground (or the beach, which you won't exactly have, but hey, we've got the pool for at least a few months out of the year!).... My oldest brother Michael, your Uncle Metro (who is currently sailing around the world, but is going to come visit you this summer), used to love to teach me all kinds of random things that I used to love walking around spouting. And your Aunt Melissa taught me the alphabet one night--I remember I had had a bad dream and was going down the hall to see my mommy, but I only made it as far as Melissa's room, and she snuggled up with me and taught me the alphabet to give me something else to think about besides my bad dream, to make me feel better. I remember that it totally worked. Anyway, my point is, although your siblings will all be so much older it could end up working out really, really well for you, as it did for me!

You have three cats waiting at home for you. I'm hoping that two of them will love you, but I'm pretty sure that one of them, Lucy, is not going to like you one bit. On the day that I brought George home from the hospital and had set him on the bed next to me, Lucy jumped up on the bed, happy to have me home, until she suddenly spied this little creature next to me. She gave me a look I'll never forget, that said very clearly, "You have GOT to be kidding me. What in the HELL is that thing, and WHAT is it doing on our bed?!" She hissed at him, and has hissed at him ever since, pretty much every time he walks by her. Which is why I got two more kitties, Coco and Leo, because George was getting such a bad impression of animals in general! Coco and Leo are Ragdolls and are supposed to be super-affectionate and love everyone, and they *sort* of are/do. But we'll see how they react to a new baby!

Your daddy and I have fun trying to imagine what you'll be like. You seem to love music already, especially rockin' music, and especially rockin' guitar solos. It almost seems like you recognize your daddy's guitar, because you respond to it so markedly! It's really sweet. We think you might end up being a guitar player. But don't worry; we won't be disappointed if you don't! We mostly just can't wait to meet you, and to get to know you here on the outside, and to see how you grow and develop. You will always have a special connection to our music, though, especially to the album we've been recording, because more than half of the songs were written either right before you were conceived or while I was pregnant with you, and several of them have been recorded during the pregnancy. Plus many of them were performed for the first time while I've been pregnant with you. We had a pretty active gigging schedule right up through the seventh month! (So clearly, it was a pretty good pregnancy, if I could swing that:-)

Plus, you are our little Woodstock baby, conceived right around our Woodstock-themed anniversary. (Won't it be funny if you grow up to be uptight and conservative! Ha! You better not! Just kidding. Sort of. :-)

What else to tell you? Well, I started knitting you a baby blanket, as I did for George when I was pregnant with him. Only I didn't finish his until he was about 3, no longer a baby! And in fact I was on track for the same with yours, but my friend Jacqui offered to finish it up for me. So you'll get to use it while you're actually a baby. It's soft and blue and has a diamond pattern on it. You also have another really soft, blue blanket with a heart pattern that we'll use with you a lot--our next-door neighbor Mary knitted it for you.

You will have extended family both near and far, which is great. Your Grandma Jane and Grandpa Bill live about 40 minutes away, and you'll get to see them a lot. My mom lives far away, in California, but that's fun, too, because we get to go visit her there. You also have uncles and aunts and cousins in various places that are lots of fun to visit.

And, you are being born into a neighborhood of people who will love you! We really are lucky to have so many amazing people as friends and neighbors. You'll see; we are really part of a community here, and I'm sure you'll love it. I had that in my early childhood in California, and I remember loving running back and forth to different neighbors' houses, feeling so at home everywhere I went. I also remember how sad I was when we moved away from that to Northern Virginia, and the neighborhood just didn't have that same kind of friendly openness. But this one sure does, and I just know you'll love it. We also have a great community of homeschooling families that we are getting closer to all the time, and I know you'll have lots of wonderful connections with them as well.

My sweet little baby boy... I've got to call it a night, because you and I both have a very big day tomorrow. I so can't wait to meet you. I do kind of wish there were an easier way for you to transition from the place where you are now to the outside world! But no matter--soon you'll be here in our arms and that's the important thing. Here's wishing you an easy and non-traumatic entry into the world, Ace. I know I already said it, but I really can't wait to meet you, this little person that's been growing inside of me and kicking me in the rib and dancing when I play Johnny Cash on the guitar or when I sing or when Bob plays just about anything on his guitar. You've already filled all of our lives with so much joy. I can only imagine how much joy you'll bring us when you join us out here!


Flips, False Starts, and Granola Bars

I really, really should be asleep. But who can sleep with all of this craziness... (not I, clearly). What a day yesterday.

It started at about 6am, when I awoke in a panic because the baby was hardly moving compared to before. I mean, he was still moving a little, and I know it's normal for him to decrease his movements in the final stretch, since there's so much less room for him in there, but it just felt like such a sudden and marked decrease.... But he definitely *was* moving some, so I chalked it up to some not-fully-awake-over-reacting, although I was very glad that I'd be seeing my doctor later.

Later in the morning, I finally packed my bag for the hospital, as I knew there was a chance that the doctor would decide at my appointment that the baby should come out. After all, she kind of wanted to take him out last week. But the plan was that if everything looked stable we'd wait until Thursday, and my intuition was telling me that's when it was going to be. Bob was thinking the same thing (in fact, he hadn't packed his bags yet, and from what I could tell wasn't going to until Wednesday. Fine; we were pretty sure he wasn't coming yet). ANYway...

I had made plans to have an early lunch with both my mom (who's in town from CA for the birth) and my mother-in-law at a nice little cafe; after that my mom and I would head straight to the doctor for my appointment. Lunch was lovely and I felt really happy for the baby, that he's going to have two such wonderful women as his grandmas.

After lunch my mom and I made a quick stop by a great little toy store that is near the cafe, and the strangest thing happened--even though it was sunny, and not really all *that* cold, and April-freaking-27th, it started to snow. Weird. It briefly crossed my mind that I was glad he wasn't going to be born today. I guess I was just feeling a little (uncharacteristically) superstitious or something, but it just seemed too odd to me.

At the appointment, we started with a non-stress test, as usual these days, to check Ace's heart rate. It was fine, but still he wasn't moving much. They did the little noise zapper, which last time made him go crazy, but he only moved for a minute or two, and even then, not all that much. The doctor came in and said his heart rate looked ok, but she was thinking we should just go ahead with the induction today. TODAY? TODAY?

Ok, you might be thinking... what's the big difference, an induction on Tuesday or on Wednesday night/Thursday morning? What difference was one more day going to make? My bag was packed; all I had to do was to call Bob and tell him to bring it on over. But for some reason I was just having a very hard time wrapping my mind around this one.

The doctor ordered another ultrasound, which she said would help us decide--we could probably see better why the baby wasn't moving so much, check the fluid, and all that. So I called Bob and told him to pack his bag and get mine and Ace's ready, and be ready to head on over, pending a later update.

They sent my mom and me back to the waiting room, because there was a long backlog of patients waiting for (last-minute/previously unscheduled) ultrasounds. So, we sat. And we sat. And I tried to get used to the idea that the baby was probably coming in a few hours. Eeeek! Eeeeek! Okay!

By this time it was already after 3:00; the non-stress had taken a long time, and they weren't kidding about the backlog. Woman after woman was called in for an ultrasound. Finally it was my turn. All the technicians in this office are super-nice, but it happened to be my favorite one who called me in. I took this as a good sign! My mom was excited because she had never seen a live ultrasound before (only the pictures afterwards).

Well the technician set the wand down high on my abdomen and what do you suppose she saw first thing? The baby's HEAD. Up high. After months and months of being in the perfect position (including just last Thursday, when I had my last ultrasound), this baby had flipped! WHAT? Not only that, but she was seeing something else in there, because she asked me if I had a history of fibroids. WHAT? I did actually have a fibroid once, but it had long since disappeared. But she said there was something that she really couldn't tell what it was that was almost sort of blocking the exit in there. She looked at it for a long time, and then said maybe it was possibly some sort of echo and wasn't really anything. She also said that today had been a weird, weird day, with all kinds of strange things happening. I was beginning to see her point.

Ok, so, I went into an exam room to discuss these new developments with the doctor, but then another ultrasound technician came in and said she wanted to take a look too, to see if she could figure out what the mystery mass was. So, back into another ultrasound room. (Stop me if this is getting tedious. Ok, you can't actually stop me, but feel free to stop reading or at least skip ahead!!) More of that goop on my abdomen, and another look... the baby was still breech, or maybe more sort of transverse (sideways), but the good news was that the mystery mass was totally gone. Ok, well, whew.

Back to the exam room to wait for the doctor. At this point it was about 4:40. I hadn't eaten since before noon and was getting pretty hungry, and so was my mom, so we decided to split a (very small!) granola bar that I had in my purse. It was delicious, by the way. And, as it turns out, a rather fateful little snack.

A few minutes after that, the doctor comes in and says that I have two options, but either way the baby is going to be born today, that she's going to admit me to the hospital right away. Ok, this is really happening. Ok.

So, the two options are: C-section, or she tries to flip the baby back and if it works we induce right away before he can move back again, and if not we do a C-section anyway. Whoah. Really?

Now, I have to admit, part of me is thinking that I have brought this on myself--last time, I found giving birth to be so incredibly painful and traumatic, and I had an abnormally long recovery, that I have been sort of daydreaming about having a C-section. I think I may have mentioned somewhere in this blog that even though I have always wanted to have more kids, I was never thrilled about going through that again, and in fact had tried to adopt a little girl from Mexico about 6 years ago, which ended up falling through. But anyway, I'm thinking, how bad could a C-section really be? 6 weeks of recovery? I had that last time anyway (without getting overly personal, I had a bad tear that took longer than it should have to heal). And if you were going to choose where you were going to be sliced open, would it be at your most vulnerable spot, or low across your stomach? The choice seems mighty clear to me, although I know that when they cut open your stomach they're also cutting through a lot of muscle and other stuff and it's a much more serious cut.

Ok. Anyway. I'm also fearful of the cord getting wrapped around the baby's neck in the process of flipping him. I know that most of the time when the cord does that it's no problem, but it actually happened to my stepson, and he has some pretty severe learning disabilities that have been attributed to loss of oxygen during birth because of it. So, just something else to be worried about.

Anyway, at this point the doctor says we'll need to wait to do either until 6 hours after I last ate. Your stomach has to be empty for the anesthesia, and even if I opt for the flip I have to be ready for the C-section, right away, because occasionally (not usually, but it happens) flipping the baby can put him in distress and they need to take him out right away. So, when did I last eat? Uh-oh; I just had half a granola bar. Does that count?!

Yes, it does count, so we have about five hours and 45 minutes to mull all of this over. Ok. So, she gives me my paperwork and tells me to head up to the maternity ward, to have Bob come join me, and we can talk and make our decision then. Either way I'm going to be hooked up to an IV (which is just as well if I can't eat or drink anything for the next 6 hours, because I'm starting to get thirsty!), so we might as well get started.

I call Bob and tell him to meet us up there, and my mom and I head down the hall. Passing by the window, I look out and see that the beautiful, sunny day has again turned snowy! I try (unsuccessfully) to ban from my mind the blues song "Born Under a Bad Sign"! I'm really not a superstitious person in general. But for some reason, this is what kept going through my head.

Anyway, up we go to the maternity ward. Bob gets there pretty soon, suitcases in tow, and he and my mom watch and wait while I'm hooked up to an IV, have blood drawn, and fill out 50 million forms with the nurses. All of this takes quite some time. Finally, at around 6:45, we're done with the forms. My mom heads down to the cafeteria for a little dinner and Bob and I start talking. Do we do the flip? Do we just go right for the C-section?! How do I make such a decision? And my head is still spinning at this point as I even try to grapple with the fact that the baby is going to be born tonight.

The doctor comes in and chats with us, and does a quick ultrasound and confirms that Ace's head is still up. We tell her we still haven't decided.

Our phones are ringing a lot. Various family on both sides wanting to know what's up. We still haven't decided.

The doctor leaves again to let us have some more time to talk/think about it, but she also says that if we want to skip the flip and go for the C-section, we might actually wait until tomorrow morning or even Thursday. She said if we want to do the flip, time is sort of of the essence, since the fluid has been starting to decrease, and will continue to do so, which makes a successful flip less likely. But since I ate that granola bar, in any case we can't really do anything until about 11pm anyway, so we still have some time to decide. In the meantime, she figures she will check with the anesthesiologist who's on duty, because we can't do anything without the anesthesiologist being ready.

So, Bob and I talk about it some more. Are we staying? Are we going home? Are we doing it tonight? Are we spending the night in the hospital but doing it first thing in the morning? Are we trying the flip? Going straight for the C-section?! Aaaaaaaah!

My mom comes back and then leaves us to go home and get George from his friend's house and put him to bed; we tell her we'll call her and keep her posted. Bob's mom wants to know if we'd like her to come (she lives about 40 minutes away). We have no idea what to tell her. We just can't decide.

I actually resort to flipping a coin. (I like to do this sometimes to clarify how I'm feeling about a difficult decision. Bob thinks it's completely nuts.) Heads I do the C-section, tails we try for the flip. First toss: Tails. Ok, of course I have to try again; two out of three, right? Second toss: Heads. Ok. Third toss: Tails. Really? How about three out of five? Fourth, fifth, and sixth tosses: Heads! This is not giving me the clarity in my own mind that I was hoping for. I'm just overwhelmed and don't know what to do. I do a little prayer/chant/meditation for clarity, and it comes to me to tell her to try for the flip, even though I'm not feeling great about it (neither am I feeling great about C-section. *Adoption* is sounding good at this point, though I do realize it's a bit late for that). So anyway, I figure leave it up to fate, or Ace, or whatever--try for the flip and if it doesn't work we'll have our clear and definite answer. Ok.

The doctor comes back in and I tell her the new plan, and she tells us that she's talked it over with the anesthesiologist, and he doesn't seem too keen on doing a non-emergency C-section at midnight. And since I don't have my heart set on a vaginal delivery, and will be fine if the flip doesn't work (again, the more time goes by the less likely the success at this point), we all agree that we'll just wait for Thursday morning after all!!!! Who knows; maybe he'll even have flipped himself back by then.

Whew. CRAZY. Crazy, weird, snowy April 27. Honestly, even though I had finally wrapped my mind around delivering, I was not too sorry to wait. Even though it meant pulling out the IV, having to go through all the intake paperwork again, and dragging all of our stuff back home and then back again to the hospital... it seemed like the right thing to do.

But I couldn't help thinking if I hadn't had that half a granola bar at nearly 5pm, I could very likely have my baby in my arms right then. (Finished eating lunch at just before noon, so they could have started the process pretty much as soon as they had gotten the IV in and done the intake paperwork.)

But that's ok. I'm really ok with this. I'm really ok with Thursday. And even though this hospital admittance seems like it may have been an exercise in futility, it actually served a purpose.

I have been so scared about this birth. I really have not felt "connected" to it. I've had a wonderful, wonderful pregnancy, and feel a very strong connection to the baby. But I've been almost in denial about the actual birth. And in an odd (and quite disruptive!) kind of way, this experience actually kind of centered me and helped me get ready to *really* do this thing, one way or the other.

Bob and I headed out for a late dinner (it was about 9:30 by the time I was discharged) at Ruby Tuesday's, which gave us the chance to unwind a bit together. It was so nice. He's such a supportive, kind, and fun partner, and I'm so happy we found each other, and that we're getting to have a kid together. Whatever ends up happening on Thursday, I know we'll be able to handle it just fine.

I can do this, people!

Some pics:

The grandmas at lunch

Whoah! Ready to go. Or not.

Mom waiting patiently...

My awesome, awesome doctor

Suitcases back out of the closet...

...and back down the hall to go back home for a day!

Not exactly where I thought I'd be, but not a bad way to end the day, nonetheless.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Within a week...

...I'll have a baby!

I went to the dr. yesterday. They're monitoring me pretty closely because of various risk factors (age and other stuff) and saw some things they didn't love, and were considering taking me right up to the hospital (the office is in a wing of the hospital building). Whoah! After some further tests they decided everything was ok, but my dr. said the baby is ready and she doesn't want to press my luck, so if the baby doesn't come out on his own sooner he'll be coming out by next Thursday at the latest. Which honestly, is fine by me.

I know, natural childbirth is best and all that... Well, I truly don't mean to denigrate anyone's choices here, and I completely get why many women (probably a very high percentage of my friends, actually) are super-pro-all-natural childbirth. In fact, two friends of mine are midwives; they are wonderful and I think what they do is a really beautiful thing. And I'm certainly not one to blindly trust anyone with a medical degree. But in my current case (and maybe this is partly because for half my life I've been studying the Middle Ages, where so many women and babies didn't fare so well in birth!), I'm really perfectly fine being in a hospital, under the care and following the advice of a physician whom I really trust. It could be different if I were 25 with no risk factors, but I'm not. And I feel just fine about the way this is all unfolding. Ok, now that I've gotten that off my chest...!

So, I'm going in Tuesday for more monitoring. Depending on what they see, they may take me in Tuesday, but they'll probably leave it until Wednesday night or Thursday morning. When Bob heard Wednesday night, he shot me a look, and I knew he was thinking "Band practice!" Which I said out loud and we both laughed. The dr. asked what time it was over and I said around 10, and she said that if we need to go with Wednesday night we can come in after that. The thing is, we're halfway through recording "Been a Long Time", and we'd have to shelve it for a long time (as it were) if I can't get my vocals down now (and I can't do my vocals until Mike first lays down the drums and then Bob lays down the rhythm guitar, which I'm pretty sure they can't do until practice on Wednesday night).

Of course, I must say that I kind of love the idea of going into the hospital to have the baby directly after band practice! This has been our little rock and roll baby from the start, and somehow that would just be fitting. Let me explain.

First of all, he was conceived right around our first anniversary, which also happened to be the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, which we sort of made the theme of our anniversary. We visited both the town and the concert venues, and even had our own little impromptu concert on the lawn, right where the original stage was. We played all of the songs we had just recently written (on the lake in New Hampshire--more on that in later posts) and had spent a portion of the weekend revising/refining.

Two or three weeks after that, I took the pregnancy test, right before we were about to play our biggest gig yet (a national/international bike race that takes place in our town). I remember I wanted to take it then, right before the gig, because sometimes we like to party a little bit before we go on stage, and I was thinking that I'd better just check this out before I tossed back a shot or two of blueberry vodka! Anyway, the test was positive, and that was one exciting/intense gig, let me tell you :-)

And throughout the pregnancy our music has really flourished, especially our songwriting. It's just been an incredibly fertile time for us creatively (not just procreatively--ha).

And, this kid comes alive with music! Well, in particular, with music that really rocks, and especially with the guitar. It started during one of our gigs--can't remember which one--but he'd start going nuts when I'd pick up the guitar and play Johnny Cash's Fulsom Prison Blues (if you don't know it, it's a really kicking song, especially at the tempo at which we play it). It was a little disconcerting the first time it happened, but then it became something I kinda looked forward to and that actually cracked me up. It happened every single time I played that song (and often during some of our other songs that really move... but never during any of the slower ones). More recently, he's started going nuts every time his daddy plays one of his rockin' solos. A couple of practices ago, for example, we were listening to some of what we'd recorded, which was pretty loud and with a booming bass drum beat, but he was perfectly still in there. But when Bob strapped on and plugged in his guitar and started noodling, the baby jumped into action! Dancing all around in there. The guitar wasn't any louder than what we'd been hearing; in fact, it was not nearly as loud, so it's not that. It just must be something about the sound that he really responds to. It's happened many times (at home, as well, when Bob picks up the guitar).

Yesterday during one of the tests in the dr.'s office (a non-stress test, where they test the baby's heart rate), the baby wasn't moving enough. I had brought a cookie with me, because the same thing happened last time. Well, the cookie wasn't doing anything, so after about 10 minutes I got out my Blackberry and found the one video we have on YouTube and started playing it while holding it right up to my belly. It definitely got him going a little bit at first, but where he really went nuts was during his daddy's guitar solo! And then he slowed down when the solo was over, and then at the very end of the song, the way we do it, each instrument has a little one- or two-bar solo, and when it came time for Bob's, again he went nuts. You could see it on the monitor. It was hilarious. And of course, Bob loved it!

OMG, too funny... I just went to YouTube to get the link to put here, and played the video, and he did it again--woke up and started kicking during the guitar solo. Then went back to resting.

Speaking of getting back to resting, I'm going to try to do that now. Soon there will be not much resting to be had in my life!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Band Practice: Recording

Had an *awesome* band practice tonight.

We haven't been performing since about mid-February, but the timing of this break has worked out perfectly to record our CD, since Bob and I have been on a songwriting spree. We had been playing about 7 of our own songs along with all of our classic rock and blues covers as a band at our gigs, but Bob and I have written about 13 more songs in addition to those, and have been working on them a bit, and were ready to start recording them (along with the 7 we have been playing) with the band. So that's what we've been doing with our Wednesday nights since the end of February.

My plan was to write in here about each song as we finished it, to post something about the circumstances under which it was written, etc., and also provide a link to that song. But we've been continuing to tweak each one, so we don't really have any of them totally ready yet. And I'm getting tired of not writing about them, because I'm so excited about it all!

The recording process is something that was completely new to me. Bob and I got a recorder off of eBay, and fortunately our drummer, Mike, had a good mixing program on his computer. (I guess you can do the mixing right on the recorder, but then you'd have to completely finish each song before you started the next one, and as I said, we've been continuing to edit and redo parts all along.)

The first step is to record a scrap track for the song we're going to work on. It's a track that doesn't have to be perfect (once you get enough of the real parts down, you "scrap" it), but it does have to be perfectly in time. We found it works best if it's just Mike's drums, Bob's guitar, and my singing, but all together on one track. Once we have that down, Mike re-records his drums as an isolated track, while listening (and keeping time with) the scrap track. Then Bob usually lays down the rhythm guitar part (again, on his own isolated track, but while listening to the scrap track). At that point, either Ryan (our bass player) or Sue (our keyboardist) will lay down their parts, again separately and again while listening to the scrap track. Usually I do my vocals last, and I do not do it while listening to the scrap track because it would throw me off to sing along to my own voice. But it doesn't matter, because we have all the parts recorded separately by then anyway, so I just listen and sing to that. In fact, sometimes I've done my vocals earlier on, with just the rhythm guitar and drum tracks down, which also works just fine. Oh yeah, and somewhere along the line Bob records his guitar solo parts.

Then Mike transfers all of the separate tracks to his laptop, and gets to work on mixing them to get the right levels, which is quite tricky. There are several tricky things about this, but one of them is that he might get it mixed in a way that it sounds just right on his stereo, but then when we play it back on someone else's stereo the bass is too booming or the vocals are muffled etc. etc. So it takes a long time and a lot of experimenting to get it just right.

We have recorded 5 almost complete songs at this point: Don't Go Lookin' For Trouble, Why, Bad Girl, Mental Health Day, and I Land on My Feet. The first four of those are part of our regular set list, and we've played them out at gigs many times. The last one we've never played out but had gone over it a few times in practice--we just hadn't yet gotten around to polishing it.

Tonight we started on the first brand new song. It's called "Been a Long Time, Baby". It was one of those songs that practically wrote itself--it's almost like it showed up in my mind as a song I already knew. Music and lyrics. I was hearing it as a rock song in the vein of The Doors. We hadn't worked it up yet with the guitar, though we'd been talking about it, and had even been listening to some Doors so that Bob could start to get a feel for the kind of sound I was talking about. Well, he was taking a nap one day next to me and must have been dreaming about the song or something because out of the blue (almost seemingly without waking up) he asked me what I would think about making it a reggae song. I loved it!

I have more that I've written already about how the song was written, but I'll post that later, when the song is ready. I really just wanted to write about the great feeling I had tonight, down in our neighbors' basement (where we practice), hearing this song come to life. This song that I've had in my head since last July (it first came to me when I was on a boat ride on a lake in New Hampshire)... now here it was no longer just inside of my head, but all around me, being played by these really, really good musicians, and sounding awesome! If I do say so! It came together so quickly; we were able to have everyone learn it and lay down the scrap track just like that. Bob was totally grooving on his guitar, and everyone else was sounding so good, and it just made me so happy. It really was quite the high. I can't wait until all these songs are really done!

So, if the baby keeps hanging in there through next week, we should get all the individual tracks for this song done next Wednesday evening. After that, I'm pretty sure the baby will be born, and they'll go on recording without me for at least several weeks, working on the songs that Bob sings and that I have only minimal parts on that can be added later. I'm pretty happy that it looks like we will have gotten 6 songs that I sing done before I take my baby break. Bob has at least 4 more that are ready to go, and that will be enough for an album, even though we still have 10 more on top of those....

Here are some pics I took tonight:

That's my rockin' husband! I just noticed he's wearing his t-shirt from Squam Lake, which is the lake we were on when the song first came to me.

Mike, amazing us all with his reggae skills...

Sue, who not only plays great keyboard parts but also feeds us dinner every Wednesday beforehand...
Ryan, kicking @$$ as usual...
Les, our sound guy...
Whoah, Mama! Yep, that's me. There was actually another picture where I looked EVEN BIGGER, but I decided I looked plenty big in this one!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Growing up faster than I can really keep track of...

The other night George stayed at rehearsal by himself, because his dad was in the same building having a rehearsal for a show that he's in, and it really didn't seem like I needed to sit there as well. The plan was that if George finished first, he could either go find his dad or stay and watch the rest of his own play until his dad came to get him. George is only in the first of the three acts of the play, and hadn't yet seen the whole thing. Well, his dad's rehearsal lasted much longer, so George got to see his entire play which, as I have mentioned, is quite heavy and depressing. (Again, it's Arthur Miller's All My Sons.)

Yesterday George was talking about it, and about how heavy it was, and I told him I was really sorry that he had to see that without either of his parents there. He asked me what I meant by that, and I told him that when you see something disturbing, it can make you feel kind of lonely and sad, and it's comforting to have a parent with you. As usual, was he one step ahead of me.... "Mom, please. Were you sitting right there with me when I read the end of Hamlet? No, you were not. And I was just fine. So don't worry about it. Ok?"


Sunday, April 18, 2010

History, lists, moods, and breakfast

Friday morning I decided I wanted to take George out to breakfast--we have so little time left where it's just the two of us! And I knew Brad and Lindsey (my stepkids) were coming Saturday for several days because it's their spring break, and soon after that my mom is coming because the baby is due super soon, and then of course the baby will be born and chaos will reign for who-knows-how-long, so I really wanted to spend a little special time with George. It almost didn't happen because I had a terrible night's sleep the night before and was trying to sleep in; I had given George the strictest instructions not to wake me up for ANYthing.

Well, about an hour later he came in to wake me up because he had hit his head "really hard". Did I jump into mommy action to help him feel better? No! I told him to get out because I was sound asleep and wanted to try to stay asleep! (Mom of the year, I know.) Well, once awake I realized I was parched, so I had to go get some water, and then I realized I was starving, and it was clear I wasn't going to fall right back to sleep. I was in the foulest of moods.

But then the coolest thing happened. It just popped into my head that I could really decide how the rest of the morning was going to go, that it was pretty much up to me at that point. And I decided that it was going to go great. I went into George's room, and he immediately began apologizing profusely--poor thing! He's a little too familiar with what a foul mood I can be in when I've been awakened prematurely.... Anyway, I stopped him, and apologized myself for not sympathizing with him before, and asked him if he was ready for breakfast. Off we went to our favorite neighborhood diner (which used to be an Arby's; what it lacks in atmosphere it more than makes up for with rock-bottom prices, very decent food, and great service).

We had a wonderful breakfast. He's such delightful company! We talked quite a bit about his homeschooling, and about what our plans are or should be for the rest of the year. I know I'm not going to have the energy or time to supervise much, and there are only a couple of months left anyway. And right now he's *really* busy with the play he's in on campus (plus the Shakespeare play, plus recorder, plus a course called Computer Gaming Academy through Northwestern's CTD that he's recently started...). But I wanted to feel like we had a plan for after the play is over and the baby is born, a couple of weeks from now. I do feel that he has been floundering a bit lately with his schoolwork and I wanted to come up with a workable plan that he'd be excited about and that would be very easy to follow.

What we came up with was a sort of "unit" on American history. I've gotten him several books on American history lately that he's excited about reading, but he keeps not getting around to it. So we decided that once the play is over, he will read these books for an hour and a half a day, and then he can explore some history websites for another half hour or so a day. And he'll watch three American-history-themed documentaries each week. While he's working on all of this, he'll be noticing what aspects of American history he wants to study more in-depth next year.

It's a pretty simple plan (especially considering he usually spends several hours a day reading anyway, and loves to watch the History Channel), but on the heels of our experiment with radical unschooling I have been feeling like he is needing a little more structure. He seems a bit adrift--he keeps busy, but it's sort of all-over-the-place and almost kind of chaotic. He's not quite as grounded as he usually is, and I've been feeling that the blame lies with me, for being rather distracted and scattered myself. I also have been feeling like he's not doing quite enough, or like maybe he's not learning enough. I'm hoping that having a plan like this will help.

Anyway, while we were on the topic of history, we had a great conversation about WWI and WWII and various other wars, and about Machiavelli, and politics and human nature, and it struck me that this kid is learning all kinds of things, actually. I couldn't possibly have had a conversation like that at his age. Maybe not even until I was in grad school. I mean, if someone had talked to me the way that I talk to him on a regular basis when I was his age, I'm pretty sure I could've handled it, but no one ever did talk to me that way about such things. So then we talked about that, and about the kind of uncritical approach to history that I was being fed in school when I was his age, and for the next several years after that. It struck me once again that he really is always learning, that he is growing up in a pretty stimulating environment, that he's always paying attention and that he's learning *plenty* (despite the fact that, for example, I've abandoned our 5th-grade math curriculum at least for now!). It was pretty reassuring. What a journey of doubt and discovery I'm on as a homeschooling parent.

So, getting back to John Taylor Gatto, as I promised in my last post.... The other thing we did at breakfast was to make a list (as suggested by Gatto) of what George wants to be when he grows up, and then make a list of the activities he is doing on a regular basis to prepare himself for those professions. He came up with four things he'd like to be: actor, author, cartoonist, and video game designer. We made the list of activities only for the first thing, actor--but he had so many items to list! Here they are:

--Acting in plays
--Reading plays
--Watching plays
--Acting workshop/class
--Role playing/imaginative play
--Public speaking/reading (at church)
--Singing (church choir)

I'm looking forward to making the other lists with him. Who knows what he'll really end up doing when he grows up, but regardless it was so much fun to think about all of the ways he spends his time and how all of the things he does are furthering his development as a person, in ways that we both value.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

John Taylor Gatto

I've been meaning to write about John Taylor Gatto's talks that I went to way back in February at the unschooling conference, but well, I've been just a little bit busy. But I made use of some of his advice the other morning, so I thought maybe it was time to talk about him a bit.

If you don't know who John Taylor Gatto is, I recommend looking into it and finding out. He's a fascinating guy. Was a NYC teacher for many years, and won the NYC teacher of the year award three times. After he won it for the third time he resigned, speaking in front of the state govt. in Albany and publishing his resignation speech in the New York Times, saying that he thought that school actually hurts children and he didn't want to take part in it anymore. He has spent his time since then writing books and speaking around the country about education.

He said a lot of things, more than I can cover here obviously. But I'll just go over a few of them. One thing was that we baby our children for too long--and that's not doing them any favors. By expecting so little of them (that is, by not expecting them to be self-directed, contributing members of society until they're 21 or so) we are short-changing them. He had so many amazing stories about his students who had accomplished incredible things by about age 15 or so... he served as their mentor, helping them to find and seize opportunities based on their experiences and interests, and he recommended that we do the same with our children. Help them find or create an internship, or to start a business. Have them volunteer at a charity that interests them or where they will build skills that will help them attain their future goals, and make sure to talk to whoever is running the charity and tell that person not to patronize your kid, but to expect of your kid what would be expected of any volunteer, regardless of age. It got George and me talking about what he could do, and we've been thinking that next year he might possibly start volunteering as a tutor in his old kindergarten classroom once a week or so; if it goes really well, he could possibly start his own tutoring business from there. We'll see!

Another thing Gatto suggested was to have your kid think of what he wanted to do with his life, and then sit down and make a list of the skills needed to do that, and then brainstorm about ways to acquire or hone those skills. The idea is that kids should be more actively involved in planning and directing their education. I actually really liked this idea, and have been meaning to do this with George for quite some time now. We finally got around to at least getting started with it yesterday. But I think I'm really too tired to write about it now, so I'll leave the rest for tomorrow....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cindy Sheehan comes to town

In my spare time (ha), I joined with some local peace activists and helped organize bringing Cindy Sheehan to our area. If you don't know who she is, she is a mother who lost her son, Casey, fairly early on in the Iraq war. While she initially supported the war, as time wore on she changed her mind and became a major spokesperson for the peace movement, setting up "Camp Casey" across the road from Bush's ranch in Texas, then founding the group Gold Star Families for Peace, writing several books, and running for Congress against Nancy Pelosi, and ended up being nominated for a Nobel peace prize.

Her visit was to have begun with a press conference at the local UU, followed by a pot-luck lunch with her and the organizers. Unfortunately, her plane was delayed, so she was not able to make either of those events. We hadn't gotten the memo, though, so we showed up anyway, and I'm so glad we did, because the lunch was lovely. It was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed their outdoor labyrinth (joined for awhile by several others, including one older lady who introduced us to a labyrinth/chase game she used to play as a child called "Fox and Geese") while we waited for lunch. It was pretty much the most exercise I'd gotten in quite awhile!

Anyway, then it was time for lunch, and it was great sitting around the table talking peace with a bunch of wonderful people. One of the best parts of it for me was seeing George in that element. He fit right in, and even joined in the conversation, in completely appropriate ways. For example, we were all talking about how Obama had run as the anti-war president, but he wasn't exactly living that out. George chimed in with, "And wasn't it ironic that while he was giving his acceptance speech for the Nobel peace prize he was getting ready to send more troops to Afghanistan!" This kid pays attention:-) He made several other comments throughout the lunch, and I was really happy. Of course with the content of his remarks, but much more than that, with his confidence and his social skills and his ability to take part in and contribute to a discussion like that, with about 20 adults or so. (So much for homeschoolers not learning any social skills, or not having any opportunities to use them, thankyouverymuch!)

After lunch and the exhausting game of Fox and Geese we headed home to rest for a little while, and then went back out to a local bookstore where Cindy was going to appear for a book-signing (and give her press conference). When she arrived, we went up to her to greet her, and she had already heard about George. He gave her a picture he had drawn for her to sign.

Before starting to sign things, she talked a bit about her take on politics, peace, and society. It was a great little talk, in my opinion. She said that when she first started out on this journey of questioning, she thought that George Bush and the war in Iraq were the problem, but she has come to realize that they were merely symptoms of a larger problem. She talked about how it's really all about class--how there are two classes, the robbers (the very rich/governing class) and those they rob from. She said that those in power actually foster division among the rest of us (Republican/Democrat, gay/straight, Christian/not, conservative/liberal, etc.) so that we will be too busy fighting with each other to notice how they're robbing us blind in the meantime. Robbing us of our money, our civil rights, our democracy, and in some cases our children and our lives. In response she was calling for a revolution of sorts--albeit a nonviolent one. What she has in mind is for each of us to resist patronizing corporate America as much as possible--living off the grid when possible, growing our own food, patronizing local merchants and farmers' markets, and being active in politics on the local level, since she sees national politics at this point as too corrupt to penetrate. The way to change things, she suggests, is from the bottom up. She also talked about several other things, but I'll refer you to her books if you're interested!

While I loved her message, I think I was even more impressed with her demeanor and her warmth. Losing a child is just about the worst thing that I could imagine happening to a person, and I wouldn't blame someone for being hardened and bitter after that. But she really didn't strike me that way. She was gracious and kind and centered and funny, and it was really a joy getting to meet her. And whether or not you agree with her, I think, you kinda have to hand it to her for taking her personal tragedy and turning it into a life's work doing what she firmly believes will make the world a better place.

Here's the picture George drew for her to autograph:

And here's the picture that ended up in our local paper...(too bad George had just turned his head aside!):

Apparently we also made it onto the local news, but I recorded the wrong channel so didn't get to see it. Oh well!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Breaking up with RU (Radical Unschooling)

Dear Radical Unschooling,

I'm sorry, but it's just not going to work out between us. I gave it my best shot, but I've become convinced that we're just not right for each other.

You might say I didn't give us enough of a chance. That if I'd stuck it out longer I would have seen that we were perfect for each other. But I just don't think so.

The thing is, I do have an idea in my head of the kind of person I want my son to be. You might call that controlling, and you might say that control is an illusion, and that if I'm imposing my ideas on him I'm just messing with him, that I should stand back (or stand very nearby) and let him develop entirely into the person he wants to be, that he chooses to be. Perhaps this could even be true if the world were different. But with so many influences raining down on him all the time from our culture, I feel that if I don't step in a bit I'm not really letting him grow up to be free, I'm merely ceding my role as guide to the media, etc. I think that as his mom I have a thing or two over the corporate/consumer culture that is constantly, subtly and not-so-subtly, bombarding kids with messages regarding what they should value and who they should be. And if I don't speak up and yes, sometimes insist, that culture will play too formative a role in his development. And as his mom, I don't want that. And I actually do believe that is my right (and maybe even my responsibility) as his parent to want or not want that for him, and to act accordingly.

I know you're asking me who I am to insist that my son spend his time in particular ways. What makes me think that he should spend only a limited amount of time, decided upon by me, playing video games or watching tv, for example, as opposed to reading books? If I happen to think that books are more valuable than tv/video games, that's merely my opinion, and I should let him form his own conclusions, right? Sorry; I don't buy it. I really don't.

Let me tell you, RU, I have nothing in particular against the tv or video games. I enjoy them plenty. And I also know that there are plenty of truly educational tv programs and video games, and also that one can learn a lot even from shows and games that are not at all meant to be educational. But there has to be a balance. And with all the tv programming for kids that there is nowadays, I'm sorry but I don't trust that my son would "eventually" self-regulate. I gave this unlimited tv thing a try. And George enjoyed it, for sure. He found a whole bunch of new programs that he loved and started watching on a regular basis. I don't have a problem with that, except that it's all he wanted to do. And with all the cable channels we have, there is *always* something new to watch. And for awhile he was simultaneously watching the tv and playing his Nintendo DS. For hours on end. At the end of which he'd be completely strung out. I felt him slipping away into his own little electronic world. Seriously, his personality changes when he has too much screen time. His sense of humor, normally so sharp and verbal and sophisticated, regressed into mild obnoxiousness. This just does not happen when he spends the whole day reading. And honestly, I don't think it's good for him as a human being!

Yes, I do have an idea of the person I want him to be, and that person is very well educated, and well read. Call me a snob if you must, but I'll counter that I think that such a person can also be well versed in pop culture. I truly have no problem with that, and am quite well versed in pop culture myself. For crying out loud, I'm in a rock band, and I love so-called "reality" tv. If I had more time, I'd actually read People magazine from cover to cover on a regular basis. But again, there has to be a balance as far as I'm concerned.

I want George to grow up reading. All kinds of things. From comic books to the classics. Reading engages your mind in a particular way that electronic media simply does not, in my experience. In a way that I value. It gives you a broader perspective on humanity and the human experience, and sharpens your analytical skills more than electronic media can. I think it makes you a more sophisticated consumer of electronic media, and in the days of "infotainment" and almost non-stop advertising and completely bogus political propaganda being slung around all over the place by around-the-clock stations like Fox "News" (and all the rest of them, really), being a sophisticated consumer of rhetoric is of vital importance. If you are not thoroughly versed in the ways of rhetoric, or at least in possession of a critical approach to and understanding of the ways in which people use language to shape "reality" for you, you are a sitting duck for corporations and politicians who would manipulate you into following them headlong into what's best for them, which at least as often as not is not going to be what's best for you. And I'll tell you what I see: people who are well read and/or well educated tend to be less likely to fall prey to that sort of thing. It was certainly true for me that in graduate school, when I became a much more sophisticated reader than I ever had been, I also became a more sophisticated consumer of both popular and political culture, and that spilled over into all areas of my life, making me a much more empowered human being.

I want that for my son. And I'm going to do what I can to make sure he gets it.

So, anyway, RU, I hope there are no hard feelings. I wish you all the best, and I know you'll continue to thrive in many places, among many families. Just not mine.