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words' end

searching for the ineffable


words' end



December 15th, 2014

By way of recap: for the past four years I’ve been Boston University’s institutional repository librarian. I’m writing this as a private citizen, but since this post is about why I do what I do, it’s relevant.

I spent the evening knitting. It’s hard to convey how rarely I get an opportunity to just sit and knit. Between the full time, bursting at the seams job and the child and the household, I don’t just sit down and knit. I don’t just sit down and do anything. But there’s a holiday gifting idea in my bonnet, so here we are.

Along with knitting, I finally watched The Internet’s Own Boy. It’s 1h45m long. Since you’re reading this blog post on the internet, if you haven’t already seen this documentary about Aaron Swartz, you should. I’m allergic to telling people they “should” do anything—but you should. It directly affects the rest of your life, and all the ones that follow.

It’s not even worth trying to recap Aaron Swartz, but here are some highlights. He was intimately involved in the creation of Reddit, Demand Progress, the RDF standard, and Creative Commons, among too many other initiatives to list. He had a history of making information publicly available—including court documents that were public in the first place, but for which PACER charged obscene amounts of money, effectively making the most comprehensive documentation of the U.S. justice system inaccessible to entire socio-economic classes of people.

Swartz also contributed a big-data analysis of the Westlaw database to a study at Stanford that revealed widespread corruption in law publishing. (That article doesn’t credit him, but I’ll give Kahle and Lessig the benefit of the doubt.)

In 2011 Swartz was a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, about which then-director Lawrence Lessig wrote: “The work of the Center? Studying the corruption of academic research (among other institutions) caused by money.” Whether he decided to download massive numbers of academic research articles from JSTOR for research purposes, or political-activist ones, or both, will remain unknown. But download them he did, by the tens of gigabytes, using MIT’s network.

This should be review for you, so I will only highlight what happened next. Swartz got caught; MIT, JSTOR, the state of Massachusetts, and the FBI’s cyber crimes division got involved. The state and JSTOR brought charges against him, which were later dropped. The federal government brought a lawsuit containing four charges against Swartz; the number of charges was later expanded to thirteen. They offered a number of plea deals, all of which would have involved pleading guilty to a felony, and all of which Swartz refused to take. In January of 2013, Aaron killed himself.

The documentary dives far further into the messy complexity of this. The interviewees include Lessig, Tim Berners-Lee, Quinn Norton, the Swartz family, Brewster Kahle, and numerous other collaborators. The film has a decidedly political stance from the beginning, but makes a convincing argument about the powers involved in the struggles around freedom of information on the internet. This argument is unsympathetic towards the U.S. government, specifically the Obama administration, and with good reason. At the same time as this administration has failed to prosecute what the film calls the biggest crime of our time, the Wall Street machinations that led to the economic collapse, they chose to prosecute the hell out of a young activist researcher in order to make an example of him. Plenty of other damning activity, legislative and otherwise, let’s see: SOPA/PIPA, TPP, NSA spying, net neutrality vs tiered internet access — you haven’t been living under a rock, you know this is a problem.

Now imagine the mainstream media’s coverage of the recent police murders of Black men (and women, and children) being the only thing to which the entire country, the entire world had access. Could the current iteration of the civil rights movement (and it is that) have flared up if the internet were openly censored by the U.S. government, instead of merely by commercial interests?

Enabling open access to academic literature is the way that I’ve chosen to contribute to addressing this dangerous interlocking tangle. In conversations with faculty I usually emphasize other true things: there are individual professional advantages for them, of making their work openly accessible. Increased citation, increased serendipitous opportunities for collaboration and presenting, an establishment of their public voice much earlier in their careers than was possible only 20 years ago, increased opportunities for peer review—all of these are true and valid, and come with the nice side effect of encouraging faculty to learn more about copyright, and how to retain and exercise it in a way that most benefits their purpose, which (stop the presses) publishers often de-prioritize in favor of profit. Helping to fix the thoroughly broken academic publishing system, and maximizing benefits of knowledge dissemination for individual researchers, is a great service to us all.

But that exists alongside, and does not nullify, knowledge workers’ civic obligation to disseminate the fruits of our research in a way that benefits the largest number of people. It benefits the workers, yes—but it also benefits humanity in ways we can never predict. The documentary describes one case of a high school kid coming up with an early detection test for pancreatic cancer, but there are others, and their possibility is precluded by toll access to the results of previous research. In cases where marketplace profits have been all but exhausted (most of everything ever created), retaining millions of articles behind $35-per-item paywalls when they’ve already been digitized, and the expenses of that are recouped, is nonsensical. Seriously, what would be possible if all our recorded knowledge were digitally accessible to everyone? What problems would we be able to address?

Open access (OA) issues and a more proactive approach to copyright are still met with overall researcher indifference, and this is frustrating given how closely aligned OA is with things (like careers and social justice issues) they more consciously care about. Likewise with administrators, so many of whom are surprised to find OA topics directly relevant to their work. I think it’s worth the trouble for all knowledge workers to become knowledgeable in open access and copyright issues, both for personal benefit, and for the benefit of everyone else. And for all of us, it is worth periodically reminding ourselves the consequences of not working toward open access.

Here’s that documentary again. For all its white-affluent-male-ness, it’s worth watching. Thanks for reading.

Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.

January 29th, 2014

Dear Nico,

You haven’t noticed this, because you don’t read my blog yet, but this is the first newsletter I’m writing in three months. It’s also the last public one for a while.

You’re growing so quickly, and I want to write to you a ton. But you’re a much more autonomous person now than you were even just three months ago. I’ve already been shaping your online presence with these newsletters. Maybe it’s time to back off and let you craft your own when the time comes. Up until now, I’ve been justifying these letters to myself as being really about me and my perceptions of you. But it’s getting harder to write amusing trivialities without revealing the person you’re becoming. I want to leave that to you.

Twoddlerhood is in full swing. This appears to be the first age of deafness to my questions, but I can hardly stay grumpy at you for that: it’s mostly because of your total absorption in what you’re doing.

I’m slightly miffed to report that one of your favorite activities is rejecting people. “No Sierra!,” you shout. “No Rio! No Romy. No Mary. No Luke. No… mama. Yes mama.” Well, at least you grudgingly acknowledge the hand that feeds you most often.

You need feeding, for all of those major, major growth spurts over the last few months. Feelings are the biggest every time. You’re sucking down milk like nobody’s business, building bones I would think. You’re moody and have strong preferences. In other words, you’re two.

Some of your newest mad skills:

  • You know how to pet the cats so that at least half the time they stick around for it. You also attempt to cuddle the cats and beep them on the nose. Nochka will disdainfully have none of that; Aki is theatrically tolerant.
  • You’re semi pro at spoon and fork wielding for anything that’s not liquid. Super purposeful at experimenting with the “wrong” side of the spoon, which gets you more guacamole than it does soup
  • You zip and unzip your coat with the best of them. Woe unto anyone who attempts to do it for you, whether intentionally or absentmindedly. (Ask me how I know.)
  • Despite all the big feelings, sometimes you ride the emotional wave pretty well. For example, these days you agree to wear scarves and mittens when weather-appropriate without freaking out about it.
  • Huge climbing and balancing improvements.
  • You know all the letters, and all the numbers 0-10.
  • Last week, you “read” (repeated after me while looking at the words, which totally counts) your first two words: FINE and MINE. As in, ooooh, snuggle puppy of mine, everything about you is especially fine.
  • You remember names more or less immediately.
  • You’re all language all the time. Five word sentences.
  • Drawing!
  • This has now happened more than once: adventure walks where you push the stroller (or just walk) farther than reasonable to expect. I can’t wait for the forest to get warm and beautiful again.

In the “notable lack of mad skills” department: first and second person pronouns are hard to learn when there are just the two of us. Our conversations are sometimes like Who’s On First.

Your current favorites:

  • Foods: flavor-wise, most of them, including spicy and minty. In practice, favorites are anything you can eat by yourself. My heartwarming little omnivore.
  • Legos. Just wait till they open that Legoland right near us.
  • Music: what you’ll actually request — MIKA OMG MIKA, Jack Johnson, Bob Dylan. Trucks song. Piano song. Dog song. Whoa oh oh song. Rainbow song, at bedtime. Other stuff you will happily listen to — any of Sandra Boynton’s CDs, Elizabeth Mitchell, Patty Larkin, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Franti, Miles Davis, Jason Mraz.


  • You’ve been asking to have your ears pierced. “Nico eenning. Peas.”
  • Speaking of language! Akalilalo means at least a few things: radiator, avocado, alligator. You’ve accidentally figured out that “mixer say whaaaaaa” makes me laugh, and say it a lot now. You slay me with that look of intense concentration while absorbing language from lyrics. Is that why kids like listening to the same song over and over in a row?
  • Words: baloom. Row bot cup (which is an actual cup, not sippy or anything, with robots on it). Row bot juice (juice when served in that cup). Ohgoosus (oh goodness). Tolly (totally). Psyche. Pinano (piano). Kidlee (kitty).
  • Holy wow, are routines awesome. We have a bedtime routine, a coffee making routine (where you are the one pressing the grinder button), and a routine around getting you to do stuff. You know, the one that goes, “I’m going to count to three, and if X doesn’t happen, Y will,” and variations on it. If you don’t choose a shirt to wear, I’m going to choose one for you. If you zip up your coat, then we can go outside to the car.
  • Love is all. You sign “I love you” and triumphantly declare I LOFF OO! You regularly request snuggles. There are spontaneous hugs, transcendent little moments.

The other day we held your second birthday party, themed Trucks and Fans. A smashing success. We colored and assembled “DIY” (pre-cut) pinwheels, we colored little unfinished wood cars with markers made especially for wood (who knew those existed?), we played with Legos. The house was a bustle of joy. The store-bought cake was unexpectedly delicious. Everyone had a good time, and then they were all gone, and you and I giggled our way to bedtime.

I love you so much, Nico. Happy second birthday — and many, many more.


PS pix, as usual.

Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.

October 26th, 2013

newsletter: month twenty-one

words' end

Dear Nico,

October was language acquisition month. And as of today, this goes for Russian too. Use the power wisely.

My favorite words are “pinano” (piano) and “keedlee” (kitty).

You delight in naming people you know. Seeyehyah, for Sierra. Mah-shosh for Michel. A couple of weeks ago we were in the car on our way to Delight, and I told you where we were going, and said “yay [for seeing] Romy!” And you said, “yaaaay Wony!,” and then thought a little and said a yay for every denizen of that house, and then everyone else you could think of. Yay people, indeed.

with Carolyn

Pronouns are still confusing, though at least you’re using them like crazy. “My boots!”—”Do you want to wear my boots?”—”Yeah.” Or, looking in the mirror: “Who is that?”—”Youuuu!”

Adjectives are fun. In the bedroom there’s a big light and lalalight (little lights, a string of fairy lights), and that other light on the bedstand—you don’t know “medium” yet. There are many yellow stars in that one book. These shoes are new (to you). One morning you started nursing, then broke away grinning and declared: “boob! yummy!”

You’re increasingly anthropomorphizing everything, particularly stuffed animals. You feed your chipmunk at dinner time. You say bye to a seemingly random assortment of inanimate objects. Today it was the car: why today and not any other day, when you see that thing at least every twelve hours?

hedgehog nose

Your manual dexterity is improving, and with it, your interest in drawing and Lego. The other day I had to shake a sharp plastic block out of my shoe before putting it on.

You LOVE tea. Last week you requested it, and while it was steeping, we stepped outside to see the most surreally lit luminous cloudy sunset with a double rainbow. Then we came back inside, and you drank half a mug of tea.

We went to Maine with family, and it turns out you love hiking as long as you’re being carried and it’s not close to bedtime. You also love the forest, with its sticks and pine cones and trees to hug, on and all the dry crinkly leaves and the mushrooms and the berries and…


Today at your babushka’s house you invented your first dance, a slow rhythmic clap to the ABC song.




Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.

September 28th, 2013

newsletter: month twenty

words' end

Dear Nico,

You and your mass of inexplicably blond curls passed out half an hour early today. We’d been playing hard all day, starting with a 7:30am (!!) breakfast with friends and ending with a housewarming, with a lot in-between. It’s been like that a lot. Here are some snippets.

We went to Cape Cod the weekend after Labor Day, thanks to your babushka’s kind invitation. Yep, you’re still a water baby. I have mixed feelings about Cape Cod at best, but beach time with you is a bubble of pure happiness.

beach, late summer

You love books like crazy. You’ve started pointing to letters everywhere and naming them, often correctly. Thanks to a Zooborns book, you can say “aardvark.”

The word explosion is impressive. Your sentences are getting more comprehensible. You call socks “slock” and stars “tai.” You know most of your friends’ names, my favorite being “Oony” for Romy. You know the name of George, the neighbors’ cat.

The guesswork isn’t gone from communicating with you, but you’re usually pretty clear about what you want. When we were at our friends Josh and Tori’s house and I asked you if you were ready to go home and go to bed, you nodded and said, “All done Josh.”

We’ve had conversations. “Would you like to sit in the stroller?” — “No. Push.” — “OK. Hey, can I put the bag in it?” — “Yeah!” Wait, was that just a… yes, it was.

dapper (photo by Aatish Salvi)

You have a stuffed giraffe you’ve named Fluffy. Or maybe you were trying to say “giraffe” and it came out as “Fluffy,” and I extrapolated. Anyway, we’ve named him Fluffy. He has a knob and some buttons on the back, and makes noises. Really, it’s intended to be white noise for crib babies, but you weren’t much interested in him until recently. One of Fluffy’s noises involves a drum. You’ve started doing a little beatboxing to it. It’s the most adorable damn thing.

Sometimes we’ll be in the kitchen, and you’ll go away behind a wall to eat or poop in peace. I try to respect your privacy.

You say bye-bye to everyone and everything: me, other people, cats, Pici the great dane, fans, flowers, those little decorative garden twirlers.

You’re a curious mix of extrovert and observer.

fabulous sparkly hat

We’ve been going to friends’ houses past your bedtime a lot this month. These days, when I wake you to go home, you stay awake until we get in bed back at our place. Sometimes the moon is out. Once we saw a raccoon. I love these tiny dark just-us moments.

One day this past week you took a three hour nap and woke up naming all the letters you could see. I feel like we’re hovering on the brink of the next thing. I’ve been feeling that way most of the time you’ve been alive.


PS pix

Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.

August 29th, 2013

newsletter: month nineteen

words' end

Dear Nico,

Every month I sit down to write these missives to you, the thought of finishing one seems more ridiculous. A month is forever. Each month is fuller than the last. These snippets capture a few moments of your world… which may be appropriate, actually, since I only get glimpses of what’s really going on for you.

It’s wild to think about how little you’ll remember of your early life. These windmill-tilting newsletters are better than nothing.

evening playground

You continue to insist on calling all cats “Aki,” all fans “tah,” and milk “mama”—despite knowing full well the correct words. You seem to actively enjoy having your own language that is nonetheless understood by others.

You’ve learned to blow your nose, which is a huge deal, because goodbye the hated nose-sucker and hello agency.

True to toddler form, you’re full of no. Control over your own body is super important: even if you got yourself into a clearly uncomfortable position while sleeping in the big bed, you’re damn well going to get yourself out of it. Any physical help is met by betrayed wailing. This gets tricky when you’re too sleepy to fix a situation yourself.

Luckily for the adults involved, you’re also full of yeah. It means that we can mostly trust the no. More importantly, I think, it means that you trust us to believe what you say. I hope this continues.

Another new discovery: the concept of dirty. The toilet is a potty, and it’s dirty, so you shouldn’t play with it. Toilet “training” is nearing—I have no investment in its timing, but it’s fascinating to watch interests get “turned on” more or less in the sequence that they do for billions of other humans. DNA is crazy. Socialization is crazy. Put them together, and why in the world didn’t I go into early childhood development? Humans are fascinating.

(Remind me to tell you why I did go into my field. It has to do with stories, and humans being fascinating.)

Favorite games these days include hide-and-seek, in which you hide inside a curtain; figuring out the connecting construction blocks; a couple of pretty great tablet games we’ve found; and books. I can’t possibly tell you how much I love that you love books, so instead I try to show you by always agreeing to read one (or three) whenever possible. Anything by Sandra Boynton is automatically the best, but you’ve been branching out.

a favorite book

One of your caretakers put a temporary tattoo of a butterfly on your arm a couple of weeks ago. It made a huge impression. You kept showing it to everyone: “TA-toh!” Now, every time you see a butterfly in a book, you get all excited: “TA-toh!”

Big feelings and tears all over the place, not always predictable, and sometimes inconsolable. On the other hand, you love belly buttons and find mine comforting.

“Adaa!” for “all done!” is pretty freakin’ adorable.

You totally give kisses. To me, to other people, to stuffed toys. To books.

We have impromptu dance parties.




p.s. Pix as usual, and three new videos.

Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.

July 28th, 2013

newsletter: month eighteen

words' end

Dear Nico,

The other day you turned a year and a half old. We celebrated by decompressing at home from our three-week road trip to Nebraska. You screamed with and without reason.

Holy hell, it’s the season of big feelings with lungs to match. The feelings have been there for a few months, but now you can and do communicate them on your loudest, shrillest setting. I’m trying to minimize the perceived (by you) effectiveness of this method of communication, but damn, child, I’m here to tell you: it gets my attention every time. Especially when we’re in the car.

That said, I’m happy to report that you’re a fantastic road trip companion. We drove a total of 3,823 miles to the DH2013 conference in Lincoln, Nebraska and back. We took a week to go each way, and stayed in Lincoln for another week. On the westward leg, we were joined by your cousin Tesher. It was a great vacation.

On the way west, we went to Reptiland, where you quite enjoyed the komodo dragons and animatronic dinosaurs. We drove up and down Pennsylvania along state routes, and eventually you figured out how to make your ears stop hurting from all the driving up and down mountains. We went to Indian Echo Caverns, which you liked ok but only as long as your cousin was carrying you. None of this mama nonsense. (Tesher held up well, but come on, man, that was bordering on cruelty to teenagers!) We also went to Fallingwater, which you mostly didn’t see because they don’t allow the under-six crowd on tours—but I’ll take you there again. That place is something special.

Somewhere in there I got strep throat. Surprise! Cousin T hung out with you while I went to get antibiotics. I was terrified that one of you would get it too, but you remained healthy and ate like small horses. Since an easy way to tell a toddler has strep is that they’re not eating or drinking because it hurts to do so, for once I felt my genetically informed impulse to feed you because you’re too thin was justified for health reasons.

We spent a day and a half in Chicago, where we swam in a huge clean lake and you got to try your first Italian ices—and your first carousel and Ferris wheel. You approached all of these with the usual basic-research mindset, and got so engrossed in the carousel motion that you didn’t notice the music stop. You usually notice whether there’s music (and, to my delight, love having it on).

Then we drove on to Omaha, where we exchanged Tesher for our friends Molly and Natalie at the airport. These two joined us for the Lincoln portion of the adventure, and hung out with you while I conferenced. It worked! You visited the Lincoln Children’s Museum, like, five times; I think you might’ve gone to the zoo; you swam in the pool. Several times a day you breathlessly looked out the glass back wall of the elevator and lightly bounced, chanting “up… dow… up… dow….” while most of the adults witnessing this cracked up. I assume those who didn’t, don’t have souls.

Meanwhile, I ran around like crazy from session to meeting to super important atrium chat every day of the conference, morning to early evening, and some later evenings too. This used to be my every day, and things have only picked up since I became an only-occasional digital humanist.

Someday, I’ll be delighted if you find work that thrills and inspires you like this stuff thrills and inspires me.

Then the conference was over, and on the way back it was just the two of us with no particular plans and a week to get back. You road warrior, you. Held up like a pro. Oh, sure, there was some screaming, but I could see the gears in your head whirring and clicking: you actually exercised patience when necessary. You’re a year and a half old; you aren’t supposed to have any patience yet. But you do.

We had rest area picnics. You ate an ungodly amount of fruit and watched ants do their thing. You insisted on playing the on-off-on-off game with light switches in about a dozen hotel and motel rooms. You discovered the power button on a CRT TV.

Swimming! You LOVE swimming. We did it in the Hudson River at the beginning of our trip, and you were beside yourself with joy. We did it again in Lake Michigan, and you squirmed like a happy little pollywog. We went to a hotel pool together, and you actually tried swimming on your belly like a big kid. I may have to get over my extreme dislike of chlorinated pools just to do swimming lessons with you, fish boy.

We visited your great-uncle and great-aunt in Saint Louis, and you saw your aunt and some other relatives too. Never having seen these people in your life, five minutes into the visit you were clearly at home, demanding that Aunt Liza play clapping games with you and turning lights on and off with Uncle Roman. It was a lovely visit, and I missed your grandfather so.

We visited our New York family again, too. And your babushka on the very last leg homeward. And then we were home.

Since we came back, you’ve become that toddler. You’ve leveled up in the scary direction, my friend. Every other word is a carefully considered no. Sometimes it’s “no no no no NO. no.” The screaming has subsided, though, so maybe we have some hope of productive negotiation. Yes? Let’s try for that. In the meantime, I’ll be over there with a glass of wine in my hand, reminding myself that at least now you have the attention span to sit through an entire movie, and that you bring me books to read, and that you invent games, and that all told life with you is full of laughter.

Love you madly,

p.s. Boo.

p.p.s. More pictures still and moving, as usual.

Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.

June 26th, 2013

newsletter: month seventeen

words' end

Dear Nico,

You’ve been calling everyone by their name. Well, sort of. All cats are still Aki; but you know (and incessantly say) Martin, Eleanor, Mark, Baba (for babushka, which is accented on the first syllable). When I say “Mark-k-k-k-k,” you dissolve into peals of laughter.

Things you do all by yourself include:

  • learning to drink from a big-kid cup (in the bath tub), and use spoons all by yourself (at the table, often followed by the bath tub);
  • putting together and taking apart Duplo blocks (a bigger kind of Lego);
  • ferrying everything in the apartment from where it was to other places;
  • leafing through books;
  • laughing to yourself in a vaguely maniacal fashion;
  • practicing your diction;
  • running around in sprinklers.


Things that you demand be done for you include:

  • setting “tops” spinning, including a spare kitchen drain food catcher;
  • walking up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down stairs;
  • opening doors that have knobs;
  • putting on your shoes.

Things that are hard basically boil down to molar teething and big feelings. And hey, it’s understandable to not want blunt objects to poke their way through your quite solid gums. To add insult to injury, you don’t have any molars yet, though that last front tooth finally did make its appearance. Ah well, at least you can have artichokes. They don’t require molars.

Your circadian cycle is much better established now than it was at this time last year, as evidenced by your great confusion when I woke you up at 4am last week so we could go to the river and greet the solstice sun. You were up for it, though, enjoying the weird pre-dawn light and eventually going wheeeeeee! along the river bank.

Your favorite word of the moment is potato (patapatapata).

But all of this is trifles. This is nothing. The big news of the month is that last weekend you went deep into Maine with four grownups and four other kids, and I stayed home.

You had a great time in Maine. While I accomplished all the things on my considerable to-do list and then some, and also had a leisurely date and slept without being demanded for nourishment or comfort, you played and danced and examined pine cones and hung out on the bank of a lake. You are having a summer vacation. It’s so great to see this season through your eyes.

After you got back from Maine, Rio informed me that you love, love it when people sing in the car. Secretly, I already knew this. You’ve even started singing along, to one song for now: “cowwwww.”

And now shhhhh, my darling, keep sleeping while I pack our stuff for tomorrow, brush my teeth, and crawl into bed. For tomorrow is an even fuller day than most.



P.S. Sorry about the night weaning. On the other side of it, we’ll both get more and better sleep. Oh, and more pix.

Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.

April 27th, 2013

Newsletters: month fourteen, month fifteen.

February 26th, 2013

newsletter: month thirteen

words' end

Dear Nico,

Last month you turned a year old, and I cheated. This month, I’d best come up with something entertaining and new to write, or else face the possibility that you’ll get bored, stop reading these newsletters, and toddle off into the sunset. Happily, for now you’re still not walking independently, my tiny little captive audience.

We had a birthday party for you, which at this age is mostly a party for everyone else. There were so many everyone-elses that we ended up moving the shindig to a nearby frozen yogurt place. This turned out to be a brilliant idea; there was much merriment, which you took in impressive stride given that it lasted three whole hours. You received many fine gifts, most of them letters that we’ll be requesting every year and saving for later reading. (Thanks for the idea, Offbeat Families!)

Baby NAZ, the love you engender in your social world is astonishing. Your first birthday had to be moved out of the house because so many people wanted to attend. I can only hope that whatever magic you carry today will stay with you in the future. But if it starts to wane, there’s always glitter and frozen yogurt.

(Can it really be that I don’t have a single photo from your birthday party? Yes, it can.)

A small list of ways in which you are barreling towards toddlerhood:

  • You’ve entered the stage of using a single word (in this case an emphatic tah) to mean most things for which you would like to have words. These are: fan, light, lamp, cat, dog, [pick me] up, and others. I hear this is a common thing in baby language development.
  • The above notwithstanding, you have actual words! This development is recent: the first one emerged this past weekend while we were visiting our friends in New York. Avocado is cacacaca (Mark points out: it stands to reason that your first food word is four syllables long). Today you managed to create recognizable versions of apple and stuck.
  • Besides all this, in the last few weeks you’ve been holding forth in fairly long conversational tirades. A language explosion is just around the corner, or already happening, depending on how much the whole “intelligible” thing matters.
  • Your hair has gotten long enough that civilized people would trim it. I, of course, am compelled to clip it away from your face and let it grow out a bit. Did you know that there are no baby-safe hair clips? Choking hazards, all of them.
  • One morning a couple of weeks ago I left you sitting in the middle of the living room while I went to pack up the lunch bag. I returned to find you standing on the other side of the coffee table from where you had been, holding on to it and looking at me, all, what? Yeah, I pull myself up now. No big deal. Since then you’ve been practicing pulling yourself up on the big bed every morning, holding on to the headboard, prompting grim visions of you tumbling off the bed on the side where the foam bumpers aren’t.
  • Speaking of heart attacks, knowing that your newly found interest in climbing stairs (carpeted and bare) is healthy doesn’t stop me from wishing sometimes I could superglue you to the floor until you’re eighteen.
  • Oh gods, the preferences. You know a lot more about what you want, and of course don’t have the language to get it yet, so you do this point-and-whine thing. We’ve stepped up your exposure to sign language, because babe, the whining a thing I can take only in small doses. Happily, you seem on board with the sign language, and you practice too.

Last weekend we got in a car with Mark and Eleanor and drove due west, into New York, to visit Sianna and her kids. The weekend getaway was perfect—a sprawling farmhouse, glorious homey food, a dance party in the living room, and a museum floor full of big boxes. You sat inside your very own tiny fort for something like half an hour, exploring the adhesive properties of duct tape.


There’s more, always, but it’s time for sleep.


(ps more pix, and videos)

Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.

January 25th, 2013

birth story

words' end

Burns Day 2012, January 25th, I was drumming my metaphorical fingers on all the desks I could find. My due date had been the 19th; another day or two, and they wouldn’t let me give birth at the Birth Center anymore. This risking out business was annoying! But that was where the bureaucracy won, and I was going to play along whether I liked it or not.

I was giddy with impatient anticipation. Felt like an amazon. Wanted haggis. Molly and I briefly fantasized about going to get the really good stuff somewhere in Jersey, but that wasn’t in the cards. I had itchy feet, though, and Molly is the platonic ideal of my traveling companion.

“Wanna go have dinner in Maine?” Do I!

Duckfat. I’d heard about it, but had never been to the Portland place with amazing-sounding fries. Two hours away is far enough to be a road trip, but totally close enough to get back if, you know.

This was it. Last chance to kick start labor and probably avoid a hospital setting. Mid-afternoon, I went to the store and got blue and black cohosh drops. I took some while parked outside of Molly’s workplace in Cambridge, waiting for her to come down.

At a gas station half an hour out of town, I went to the bathroom and stared at a tiny wet spot on my jeans. Slight incontinence is a common travel companion in late pregnancy, but this felt different.

Getting back, I said, “I think my water just broke.”

Molly stared at me. “Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure. There wasn’t a dramatic gush or anything, but yeah.”

“…Is it bad that my main thought is, drive faster?” We laughed.

“Bad, no! It’s why I love you.”

So we went on to Portland. I hadn’t thought to bring pads with me, and further didn’t even think to buy any at the gas station. So the moment we were seated at Duckfat, I said to our waitress: “So… My water broke, and I’m in labor! I’m totally fine, or we wouldn’t be here. But I need a pad. I don’t suppose you have any here?”

Her eyes got momentarily wider, but she kept her cool. “Congratulations, wow. Uh… *I* don’t have any, and the rest of the staff are dudes. Let me take a look in our first aid kit.” Moments later she was back with a big packet of gauze. “Best I can do.” It was good enough for the moment.

Dinner was delicious. Creamy soups, duckfat poutine (!!), duck rillettes, salad with duck confit. I had a blood orange and lemon curd shake that left me speechless. We texted Mark, who was at a company party. Molly posted pictures of our food, one of them captioned: “Tomato-fennel-basil, cream of onion, PS Vika’s water broke.” Our local internet erupted in good wishes.

The contractions started very slowly, sometime over dinner. After, we drove to a pharmacy and got real pads. The cashier at the pharmacy walked with me to show me where the bathrooms were. On the way there she suddenly called out, “Whoo! Hot flash!” I laughed and explained to her why I needed pads and a bathroom. We shared a sweet moment.

I drove us home. I wanted to see how far I could get, driving through mild contractions, and it turned out–all the way! Molly livetweeted, of course. We chatted about everything. We’ve had some great conversations over the years, but that evening’s was one of the best.

Got home in a beautiful dusting of snow, sometime between 11 and midnight. Mark was parked by my place, and we handed me off. Molly walked home, just down the hill. Mark and I went inside, puttered a bit, prepared things to take to the birth center when the time came. He snapped some pictures. We went to bed around midnight.

I got up at 2:30am with stronger contractions, and here things get hazy. The intensity of the contractions increased pretty rapidly. I tried to keep hydrated with water and tart juices (can’t stomach sports drinks), but couldn’t keep any of that down. Over the next hour I proceeded to get mildly dehydrated, which worsened the contractions and pushed them closer together, though I didn’t draw the connection then.

Around 4am we went to the birth center. The midwife on duty there, Laurie, wasn’t anyone I’d met before, and had easily the worst bedside manner I’d encountered in that place. She was displeased that we’d come, despite the fact that Mark had been on the phone with the center and we’d been told to come. She gave me an internal exam and used a speculum, which hurt like a mofo, and the entire time she was as gently disposed as sandpaper.

I wasn’t dilated enough, she said. A few centimeters. A non stress test showed no reason for worry, and an ultrasound confirmed that baby was head down. We should go and keep laboring at home. And, oh, drink lots more fluids.

Arrrrgh. Everything they tell you about how much it sucks to ride in a car while having contractions is true. And the pavement quality on Beacon Street between my house and the birth center is infamous with local bicyclists for its potholes. I felt every one, plus all the cracks in the road.

We went home at 6am, and the next several hours are a haze of pain and further dehydration. I might have slept a little bit. Throughout the night and morning, Mark was wonderfully supportive, but I don’t remember interacting much around the actual contractions — that seems to have been something I felt the need to deal with on my own.

He timed them, though. Things progressed, too slowly. There was a lot of pain. We talked to the birth center once or twice more, and were encouraged to stay the course. But at some point I couldn’t. Sometime close to noon I told him we were going in. He didn’t argue.

We got in around 12:15, and discovered that they couldn’t admit me unless they checked me again, and I was so dehydrated that they couldn’t check me until I rehydrated. So for the next hour and a half I lay on the thin narrow couch in the “family room,” a sort of tiny interstitial room, hooked up to an IV saline drip and trying with varying degrees of success to roll with it. Mark intermittently held my hands and made sympathetic noises, and was a generalized rock-solid loving presence. The contractions got bad enough that at some point I remember telling him, “I don’t know if I can do this. I’m close to giving up.” I was afraid, and later decided that this was the beginning of transition into the final stages of labor: often that time is marked by fear. But in the moment, of course, I didn’t remember that, and concentrated on my loved one and the kind nurse encouraging me to get through the rehydrating stage and find out where we really are, because what if we’ve progressed a lot? Would be a shame to check into the hospital with no need, since that’s a thing I wanted to avoid if possible.

Fair point, and the baby was doing just fine, so I kept on breathing.

Two liters of saline later they took me to get checked out. I actually started crying at the thought of another speculum exam. “No speculum,” the midwife on duty promised. I’d never met her either, but she was different from Ms. Mousy Sandpaper. She was solid and reassuring and full of warmth, and she helped me breathe more easily in the midst of labor. So when she mentioned a student midwife and asked me if it would be ok to have her along, I didn’t think twice. I love student medical practitioners. They’re sweet and brave and interested. And let me tell you: Kate ended up taking over the entire thing including my postpartum visits, and was amazing.

But that was later. For now, the senior midwife (whose name I no longer remember) checked me without a speculum. “Oh! You’re at 7.5 centimeters.”

Holy crap! Turns out my body had been laboring hard and productively. “Does this mean I get admitted?” Oh yes. Ohhh thank all the deities.

They took me to an honest-to-goodness laboring room. With a BATHTUB. I got to float in the warm water, easily the best thing to happen all day up to that point. My birth-center-provided doula was summoned (did I mention I loved my experience at the Cambridge Birth Center?), and spent some intense time with me getting to full dilation without pushing. She had to really work on me, there. The urge to push was strong with this one.

This whole time Mark was with me, being a rock star, best birthing companion I could’ve wished for. Later I heard that when he finally left us the next day, he sat in Molly’s kitchen and ate peanut butter straight from the jar for a while, recharging and staring off into space. Plenty deserved.

The midwife was covering both the birth center and the hospital delivery ward next door, so we spent some time waiting for her to come back and check me again. Ages later she came back, checked me quickly, and pronounced me fully dilated. But, surprise! The warm tub water was too cool for the baby to be delivered into, so they wanted me to come out.

I just looked at them all in disbelief. I remember feeling flickers of rage, but the whole thing was so preposterous—I mean, couldn’t they just turn on the damn hot water faucet?—that there had to be something I didn’t know. I couldn’t use words at that point, so I turned to Mark, who proceeded to be my lungs and mouth. Couldn’t we turn on the hot water? They answered him as they were hustling me out, so I didn’t catch the answer, but he told me later: no, they said. There wasn’t time. This baby was coming too fast.

Whee! Everything’s a blur. Here’s what I remember: they got me on the bed and put down some disposable towels. I think I pushed in earnest a total of four times. Then I had a baby.

I’d been admitted sometime around 2pm on January 26th. By 3:50 he was out. I was on all fours, and they put him on the bed under me. We stared at each other. He screamed with shock and indignation. I cried and laughed. Mark cried.

Everything they tell you about the pain disappearing into a haze on account of the endorphins is true. It was the best, cleanest high I ever expect to experience. Someone helped me turn around and sit, reclined, on the bed. They cleaned up my baby and put him on my belly. Sometime in there I delivered the gorgeous root structure of the placenta, which I had no interest in keeping but was fascinating to see. I had a tiny tear that didn’t need any stitches. They cleaned me up. Everything got a lot more quiet.

We rested. Babe-a-licious got checked out and pronounced perfect (7lbs 9.9oz, 21.5 inches). Nobody once suggested taking him out of the room: there was no need. I think I had toast and tea, courtesy of the lovely doula lady. We tried to get him to latch on with some success. Mark snapped some photos. We got a visit from Molly, ate sushi for dinner, drank a vodka toast to his arrival and a long and wonderful life, and picked out his name. Nico Alexander Zafrin. I called my mom. There was another exam (his blood is B+, by the way), and then we napped the nap of the smugly accomplished.

They don’t let you stick around for long at the birth center, and I didn’t feel like transferring to the hospital without true need. Around midnight we went home in a dusting of fresh snow.


Originally published at words' end. Please leave any comments there.
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