October 2009

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Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Sammy and I went on a school field trip to the pumpkin patch.  We’ve been talking about it for days.  We had a really great time, and as we were coming home, Sammy asked me why none of the pumpkins were wearing eye patches.
  2. It was only after I got the results of the chromosomal analysis that I realized that I had almost completely forgotten that I was supposed to get them today.  Those results could have contained really terrible news, but I never worried about it once since the miscarriage because it was so unlikely.  This tells me that I am doing a great job at really and truly keeping this loss in perspective and not allowing it to make me fear disaster at every turn. 
  3. Red wine.

Trisomy 16

I went to the doctor today for my follow-up from the miscarriage.  It was all good news.  There was no indication of any problem with my body or the way I carried the pregnancy.  This is good because those problems might have meant higher risk for the future. 

The chromosomal analysis showed that the fetus had Trisomy 16.  This means that instead of a pair of chromosome 16, the fetus had 3 copies.  Trisomy 16 is the most common chromosomal cause of miscarriage.  This problem alone doesn’t indicate any higher risk of problems in future pregnancies.  If you’ve never heard the word “trisomy,” you might be interested to know that Down Syndrome is also known as Trisomy 21.  People with this condition have 3 copies of chromosome 21.  All trisomies are major problems but only trisomies 18 and 21 generally appear in living humans (although there are rare cases of live births withother trisomies).  The rest involve defects so severe that the babies die before birth.

Another good thing is that Trisomy 16 is in no way related to what happened with my first pregnancy.  The two problems that I have had are most likely totally unconnected.  This means that I’ve had some bad luck, and bad luck is much better than an underlying problem!

I still have to wait until Monday for blood test results to make sure that my hormone levels have gone down.  If they have not, that would indicate that some tissue remains and my body still thinks it is pregnant.  But once I clear that hurdle, we’ve been given the green light to try to get pregnant again during my next cycle, which means we have to wait just about a month.  I don’t think we’re going to try to avoid pregnancy this month, though; we’ll just see how it goes.

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Rationally Selfish Radio
  2. Longest walk with the dog this year.
  3. The words, I LOVE YOU TOO, MOMMY.

Don’t you dare go over to 3 Ring Binder to read this week’s Objectivst Round Up.  That would be just awful.  Oh my god, you’re about to click the link–don’t do it, don’t do it!  Oh, you did it.  Bye bye.

As I’ve mentioned, Sammy is going through “a thing.”  The symptoms include hitting me, yelling at me, delaying, defiance, crying, begging for hugs, saying I WANT DADDY all the time, anger, tantrums, giving orders such as, DON’T TALK, MOMMY, and about a million instances of the word, NO screamed at the top of her lungs.  It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to talk to her at all because I’m actually afraid of how she might react.  I find myself tensing up at every interaction and I am not enjoying her company much of the time.

I’ve tried a number of things with no real results.  For a while I thought she was just missing her dad who was away on a business trip for a few days, but the more comfort I offered, the worse she behaved.  I tried getting more strict with her and that helped a little bit, but not much.  I redoubled my efforts to give her explanations, to give her time to process, and to offer choices, but that actually made things worse.  I noticed that the more I talked, the more angry she would get so I tried talking less.  That helped when I was silent, but the minute I would open my mouth, she’d flip out again.  Even telling her, “I like your drawing,” would put me in danger of being attacked.

A few days ago, I had to physically force her to get dressed for school.  I’ve had to force her into the car seat twice in the past week.  I hadn’t had to do those things in a very long time and I realized that we needed to do something to snap out of it.  I decided that I needed to do something new, even if all it did was to break the pattern that we’d been falling into.  I tried to think of what the essential characteristic of all of her behavior has been, and I came to the conclusion that it is defiance.  She is doing whatever she can come up with to thwart me.  All of the other things are either variations of defiance (like delaying tactics) or consequences (like anger when she fails to get her way).  I do feel like I’ve been “giving orders” to her a lot lately.  Somehow, the things that she used to do on her own, or would do happily when I’d remind her, have become points of contention between us.

Faber and Mazlish have a whole section on engaging cooperation in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.  Instead of giving orders like “Get that wet towel off my bed!”, you can:

  • Describe what you see:  “There is a wet towel on the bed.”
  • Give information:  “The towel is getting my blanket wet.”
  • Say it with a word:  “The towel.”
  • Describe what you feel:  “I don’t like sleeping in a wet bed.”
  • Write a note:  “Please put me back so I can dry.  Thanks, Your Towel.”

I use these techniques all the time but I still get the sense that she is bristling at being bossed around.  I never tell her to do something simply because I say so.  I’ve explained all the ways which it is in her own self interest to cooperate with me.  We’ve talked about cooperation in general, and about specific issues.  She agrees in the abstract but then doesn’t want to do it.  I’ve stopped cooperating with her as a consequence to show her how we both need to work together.  That works for 5 minutes then she’s back to her old ways.  We use timers and schedules to help make transitions go smoothly and to minimize the need for me to give directions.  But we’re still having this problem.  So in addition to the techniques above, I decided to try a reward system, something I usually try to avoid.  I created a “cooperation chart” for her, and she gets stars when she does a good job cooperating with me.  I thought simply writing these things down might help because Sammy loves the written word, and she loves her written schedule.  When I brought home the new whiteboard and magnets I would use for the cooperation chart, she squealed with delight, A NEW SCHEDULE, MOMMY!  ANOTHER SCHEDULE!

Here is Sammy’s Cooperation Chart:

Cooperation Chart

The tasks I listed are the areas where we’ve had the most conflict lately.  “Follow instructions,” “Nice words,” and “No hitting” are things she needs to do all day long.  (I added “Potty” to the list since we’re having so much trouble with that lately too.  And right now, I do think that her not using the potty might be a cooperation issue.)  I explained all of it and she was excited about it and agreed to try to cooperate.

We started using it yesterday and had our first mostly-good day in a long time.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will continue to help.  I’m not sure we’ll keep using this chart indefinitely.  I tend to think we just needed something to break us out of this cycle.  It might change from a cooperation chart into a chore list at some point, or maybe something else.  But for now, it seems to be working.

One other thing that I started at the same time and which is helping a lot is the use of humor.  One time I told her, “Good job” about something she did and she flipped out.  After she calmed down, I asked her if it made her mad when I said “Good job.”  She said, YES, so I asked her with a grin, “Would you rather I told you you did a terrible job?”  She cracked up.  So for 2 days now, I’ve been using this humorous reverse psychology to great advantage.  “Don’t you dare put your napkin in the trash, young lady!”  “You did a really awful job using the potty.”  “That underwear better stay right there on the floor or you’ll be in trouble.”  Fun stuff.  Sammy loves it, and there is no danger that she’ll confuse this with real instructions or anything serious.  This technique can’t last forever either, but again, it helps to break up the serious stuff and the anger that had built up between us.

We’re having fun again.

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I had the best day with Sammy that I’ve had in weeks.  My good idea seems to be working.  Hint: it involves a whiteboard.  I’ll write about it tomorrow.
  2. I tried cooking my vegetables in chicken fat for the first time tonight and it was delicious. 
  3. Sammy had a 2.75 hour nap today, and I slept for 2 hours myself.  Enough said.

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Sammy made it through school without pooping in her pants for the first time in about 2 weeks.
  2. I came up with a promising idea to deal with Sammy’s latest problem behavior (defiance, sass, hitting, back-talk, and just general nastiness).  I’ll write more about it later.
  3. I bought Sammy some new clothes and pajamas.  Little-girl clothes are so cute!

Sammy and I were driving along the other day when I had to put on the brakes pretty hard.  Her sippy cup, which had been resting in her lap, fell forward to the floor.  In a curious voice she said, MY SIPPY CUP FELL ON THE FLOOR, so I told her that I put on the brakes to slow down the car, but since there was nothing to stop the cup, it kept moving forward.  I told her that was called inertia.

Then we passed the mountain of mulch that we had climbed last week.  It was shorter and wider than it had been before, after all of the climbing that had been done in the meantime.  I pointed this out, explaining that no mulch had been removed, but that the mountain was shorter.  I reminded her how the mulch rolled down to the bottom when she had climbed and slid on the mountain and told her that all that fallen mulch now made the mountain wider.  There was the same amount of mulch, but now it was in a different shape.

She listened intently each time.  It’s exciting that she’s old enough that I can start giving her these explanations!

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I visited a friend today and we chatted while the kids played.  I was relaxed.  It was simple and nice. 
  2. My friend who visited yesterday gave Sammy the most wonderful book, All the Places to Love.  I can’t read it without crying; it’s just lovely.
  3. In today’s mail I received another thoughtful gift from a friend who, with her words, has helped me to accept all of this support and sympathy I’ve received.  I am a different and better person than I was 2 weeks ago.

Ok, are you ready for more good stuff?  I’m just bursting with it lately.  Again, during that horrible weekend of the miscarriage, I had an important breakthrough.  I finally thought of a good plot idea for a novel.

A little background:  I’ve wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember, but I basically just gave up the idea for about 15 years because, well, I suppose I just didn’t have the courage to try it.  About a year and a half ago, I read I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was, by Barbara Sher, on the recommendation of Jean Moroney.  You can read my About Amy page to find out how that influenced me to start this blog and to try to do non-fiction freelance writing.

I’ve completely dropped the idea of freelancing for magazines as I had intended.  I love writing my blog.  I love it more than I ever could have imagined.  But I have no desire to write the kinds of articles I read in magazines.  It’s mostly tripe.  I might be able to make money from it, but I wouldn’t enjoy it.  There are opportunities for writing quality, substantive articles, but to make money doing that you really do need to have some kind of specialized knowledge, which would defeat the whole purpose for me.  So I’ve been looking for some other way to write as a career.

Then, a couple of months ago, I re-read Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction and participated in an on-line book club discussion about it (thanks, MOBsters!).  My desire to write fiction returned full-force and I’ve been working on ideas ever since.  In the past, I’d always been able to write good scenes, but never to construct a plot or even to find a plot-theme that seemed worth exploring.  I’d just get stumped and wouldn’t be able to move forward.  My breakthrough was finding a seed of an idea that I am excited about enough to keep plugging away at it.  I like this idea.  It’s not too ambitious for a first effort but it’s not superficial.  The theme is very meaningful to me personally.  The events draw on knowledge that I already have (I don’t have to do a ton of research on designer molecules or the history of Albania).  The situation presents a wealth of potential conflicts to explore.  I like thinking about it.  I am loving the actual work, not just the abstract thought of finishing a novel.  And finally, I seem to be able to accept that I need to work on it incrementally.  It doesn’t bother me one bit that this might take me 10 years, or that I might have to scrap this particular idea and start over.  I can even accept that I might fail.  I must have made some progress on my time-sickness!

I’m obviously not going to share the actual story idea here.  For one thing, it is constantly evolving (it has already changed about 80% since my initial thoughts about it), and for another, I think it would hinder my thinking about the actual work to be reporting on it directly.  But I do want to share something of what I’m doing here on the blog, because, well, I think it is interesting, and maybe you will too.  (If you know of any writers who blog about their day-to-day work process, let me know – I’d love to read them.)

So to kick off this “Writing Files” thread, I’ll give you a little idea of what my work on this story consists of.  For now, I use my mental down-time (showering, walking the dog, driving) to think about the story.  I usually have to spend about 5 minutes bringing the full context of what I’ve already accomplished into the forefront of my mind.  This is difficult and takes an act of will.  Usually, as I’m doing this, I recognize what I need to work on next but sometimes I have to do a lot of thinking just to figure out what to think about next.  So far, I can hold all of this in my head without sitting in front of my notes.  I’ve already spent a lot of time on character development and clarifying my theme, and I’m still in the early stages.  But this is an interative process and now I’m working on the plot – more specifically, I’m looking for a climax.  In The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand gives this invaluable advice:

When you construct a plot, the first event to figure out is always the climax…First devise an event that dramatizes and resolves the issues of your story, then construct the rest of the plot backward, by asking yourself what events are needed in order to bring your characters to this point.

I actually already have the general idea of what my climax will be, and I have it in terms of action, not just something like, “the character realizes she must choose X or Y.”  But as I’ve used that climax to start working backwards, I’ve been realizing that I need to get just a bit more specific before I can really move on.  The ultimate conflict needs to be stronger or deeper or something.  I’m not sure what yet.  My next task is to make a “laundry list” of things that would be the most difficult, painful, dramatic, and intense conflict possible for the character I have in mind.  (Another tip directly from Ayn Rand.)  I won’t assess these ideas until later.  Right now, I just want to make a list and see what my subconscious brings up for me. 

So that’s what I’m working on now.  In future Writing Files posts, I plan to talk more about issues like how I get these ideas recorded before I lose them, how much time I spend each day working, any mental blocks I encounter, etc.  This has become a big part of my life now, so of course, it needs to be blogged.  I hope it holds some interest for you.

Three Good Things for the weekend:

  1. We attended our friends’ wedding yesterday.  As Adam pointed out, it was nice to once again be celebrating with friends instead of commiserating.  Congratulations, J&&!
  2. We had a wonderful visit from a friend from California tonight whom we hadn’t seen in years. 
  3. I set up 3 or 4 more social events for the coming weeks.  Our calendar is fully booked up with fun!

I got them, the dreaded words, for the first time yesterday:


And I could take it.

Yesterday I was on Cloud 9; today I’m down in the dumps.  But there are always Three Good Things:

  1. Despite her epic tantrum and refusal to get dressed, I got Sammy to school on time (and clothed) without losing my temper.
  2. Adam comes home from his business trip tonight.
  3. Sammy is contentedly watching The Muppet Movie, her new favorite thing.  TV is an important parenting tool on a day like today.

After we decorated our front, bay window with pumpkins, witches, and a glowing bat, I decided that it was not enough and bought some of that fake spiderweb stuff.  Adam put it up around the window, using our sculpture of Thomas Jefferson to hold it in place, then he left for work.  Sammy said,


And she did.

New Windows

We got new windows installed in our house last week! 

This is the biggest home-improvement project we’ve ever done, so it’s kind of a milestone for us.  The whole project took 4 months, but most of that was just waiting for the windows to be ordered.  I did interview about 7 companies over 6 weeks, and I did a lot of research as well.  (Angie’s List was a great help, although nothing can beat a personal recommendation from somebody you trust.) 

We decided to make this our first big project on the house for a few reasons.  First, we’ll get some return on our investment with the energy savings we’ll experience.  The old windows (original to the house which was built in 1981) were very drafty and inefficient, so it will simply be more comfortable in the house as well.  There was also the tax credit which isn’t huge, but we figured we might as well do it sooner rather than later.  I have no idea if new windows will increase the value of our home, though, and I didn’t even look into it.  We never make home improvements for that purpose.  It’s nice if it happens, but we have never looked at our home as an investment.  We only spend money if we get the value out of it while we live there.  And we never make design choices for anyone but ourselves.  So far, this policy has never hurt us financially.

The old windows also had almost no soundproofing.  Last spring I was awakened every morning by a bird in the tree outside my bedroom window.  It might as well have been in the room.  The sliding glass doors sounded like nails on a chalkboard when you operated them.  The screens were broken.  There was a hole in one of the storm windows.  There was some dry rot in a couple of the sills because some idiot had filled in the weep holes (look it up).  There was mold, or at least some strange kind of dirt, on a couple of the windows.  They were ugly.  They rattled.  And half of them were impossible to open. 

We’re very happy with the new windows.  We got the standard double-pane vinyl windows that everybody gets now.  They open and close so smoothly that I’m much more likely to open them on a nice day.  The house is so much more quiet now.  I love letting the dog out in the back yard because the door is such a pleasure to operate.  The windows tilt in so I can easily clean the outside of them.  And they look great!  I didn’t take any “before” photos, but here is a picture of our next-door neighbor’s window, which is exactly what ours looked like before:




And here is a photo of one of our new windows:



We’re slowly, slowly, making this house into our own home.  I really enjoy the process.  The next big project is replacing the deck and landscaping the yard.

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