Eight weeks to go

Actually, seven and a half now. Not that I’m counting down or anything!

But I am. I’m just not sure whether I want time to speed up or slow down. One part of me wants to press fast-forward right to baby’s due date because I am tired of carrying around this extra weight and turning down booze and burping or farting every time I move. The more rational part of me would like to buy a few extra weeks, please, because holy shit are we really ready for this?

(Answer: no, not even a little bit. But we did assemble a Pack-n-Play and a swing this weekend. So that’s something….

packnplay

…and with that, the inevitable pile of baby crap taking over the living room begins.)

Aside from being a bit tired and uncomfortable these days, things are going fine. Still running, although I’ve noticed that 3-4 miles has become my new default. And my pace has slowed down even more, and walk breaks are becoming a regular thing. Also, I need new running shoes badly but I’m hesitant to buy them because what if my feet decide to suddenly expand? When I worked in running stores I remember pregnant ladies complaining about this. I don’t think my feet have grown at all, but I’m sure the second I decide to plunk down cash for new shoes they’ll spread out like pancakes.

At 32+ weeks, I am still squeezing in to most of my old running clothes too. Um, sort of.

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Because who needs fancy maternity workout clothes when you can look perfectly ridiculous in your regular ones? (On a related note, I’m sorry to everyone in Piedmont Park this evening who glimpsed the bottom of my pasty, vein-y, and slightly hairy belly. Hey, at least I wasn’t running around in a sports bra!)

I don’t even want to talk about how absurd my swimsuit is starting to look. Let’s just say there will be no locker room selfies.

Anyway. Other baby happenings:

– The fetus got her final TSA pat-down last week when we flew home from visiting my family for Christmas. We traveled a ton this fall and I’ve enjoyed all of it, but I’m also glad to be done with planes for a while. (In case you were wondering how to make a 5-hour flight in a cramped seat even less pleasant, set a 15-pound weight directly on your bladder, then proceed to drink every drop of water you can get your puffy fingers on because every doctor and midwife you’ve ever spoken to has harped on the importance of hydration when flying while pregnant. And hope you have an aisle seat.)

– According to my Mayo Clinic book, the last couple of weeks have been baby’s peak movement weeks, and I believe that! Sometimes I really wonder what the hell she is doing in there that requires so much thumping and squirming. Chill out, baby. And kindly unhook your wiggly little foot from the bottom of my ribcage, please.

– (But really, it’s pretty cool to feel her move around and see my stomach churn and twitch from the outside. It makes me smile. I have an anterior placenta and didn’t feel movement at all until quite late, like 23-24 weeks, so I’m enjoying it!)

– We had our childbirth class a couple of weeks ago. Yikes.

– We have our infant care and CPR class coming up this Thursday. Double yikes.

– Remember those icky Lovenox injections I blogged about a while back? Well, I have gotten used to them and now they are no big deal. Most of the time I barely even feel the needle and I am lucky in that I’ve only had a few small bruises so far. I still make my husband do it when he’s around, but mainly because I can barely reach across my belly to get both hands to the fatty part of my side where the shot needs to go.

And just so this post is not completely pregnancy-related, behold one of my favorite Christmas gifts of 2013.

CAH

I AM A CARD AGAINST HUMANITY.

Technically, I guess this is a gift I bought for myself. Did anyone else sign up for the 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit? I thought most of it was sort of meh but this personalized card alone was worth the $12. I can’t wait to have my name attached to porn jokes and Holocaust quips next time we play!

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve, and will someone please drink a couple of glasses of bubbly for me? Ringing in the New Year with that crappy sparkling juice that people pretend is Champagne is going to be a little sad.

Sigh. Eight more weeks. (Seven and a half….)

Full of cheer

According to some random newscast I saw recently, there are six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. (Fewer…than average, I guess?) The talking heads were all abuzz about how this is affecting the retail industry, but my thoughts immediately went elsewhere.

Six fewer days of horrible music assaulting my eardrums from the car radio, TV commercials, the loudspeakers at the damn gas station where I usually fill up….

Ugh. Christmas music.

I know I’ve written about this before, but Christmas music really is the worst. For some reason at this time of year, rational people who ordinarily have decent taste in music will voluntarily – and enthusiastically! – listen to hokey crap about Grandma getting run over by a reindeer and Alvin the Chipmunk whining about his hula hoop. Over and over and over again.

I don’t get it. They’re terrible songs, people!

Anyway, I am not a total grinch, I swear. Our tree is up and trimmed and our stockings have been hung with care. And I’ll admit that I get a little warm fuzzy in my coal-black heart when I look at the new one in the middle, embroidered name TBD.

stockings

I’m tempted to make a disclaimer about not turning this in to a pregnancy/kid blog, but let’s face it: for nearly a year now it’s been a nonexistent blog, and harboring a fetus is the Big Thing going on in my life right now. For months and months I didn’t post, largely because of all the shit that was going on related to acquiring and retaining said fetus. But now that we’re on the home stretch I’m feeling more chatty and open about the whole thing, so I’ll bring you up to date on the first 29 weeks of this little adventure.

Morning sickness: I never had it all that bad. There were several weeks at the beginning where I felt constantly nauseous, but as far as actually throwing up, that only happened a few times. I’m considering myself lucky here.

Food cravings/aversions: Sugar. Sugarsugarsugar. At one point I asked my husband to bring me a cupcake and when he asked what kind, I actually said “sugar flavored.” As I’ve always been a salt fiend and never really had a sweet tooth, this is bizarre to me. I’m just thankful I don’t have gestational diabetes or I’d be even more of a grinch right now.

As far as aversions, nothing. Well, nothing brought on by pregnancy. Pickles are still the epitome of disgusting evil, in spite of the pregnant-lady stereotype.

Weight gain: I didn’t gain at all for almost the first half of pregnancy. Or more accurately, I probably lost a little extra fat when I cut out the booze, which offset anything baby-related. Now, at 29+ weeks, I’m up about 12-15 pounds (net) and seem to be packing it on much more quickly. I swear sometimes my abdomen grows noticeably overnight.

Alcohol and other “banned” substances: Honestly, I haven’t missed the booze nearly as much as I thought I would. Beer sounds awful, not because of the taste but because I imagine it would quickly fill up what’s left of the real estate in my stomach and leave me a bloated, burping, reflux-y mess. I do miss wine, but I enjoy a small glass of that occasionally, just enough to scratch the itch.

As for the twelve-thousand other things you’re not supposed to consume while pregnant…eh. I do avoid cheeses that are obviously unpasteurized and while I can’t say that no raw sushi has crossed my lips, I do pass on the weird stuff that’s unlikely to turn over quickly. I was never a big eater of tunafish or deli meat, so that hasn’t been much of an issue.

I have been avoiding eating cat shit, though. As much as I love the daily feces hunt, my husband graciously offered to take that chore off my hands. Even though the risk of getting toxoplasmosis from our indoor-only cats is basically zero. I’m not complaining if he’s willing to deal with the cats’ dirty work for a while.

Running/exercise: I’m still running, slowly, a few times a week. 4-5 miles tops these days, and I always need to make at least one pee stop. It seems my bladder can take about 15-20 minutes of bouncing at a stretch. No pregnant marathons for this girl! (Seriously, that sounds so unappealing…I’d be out there for eons and I don’t even want to think about how many port-a-potties I’ve have to visit along the way.)

I’ve also been lifting weights a couple of times a week (nothing crazy, just maintenance-type stuff) and swimming laps occasionally. Swimming feels great and I would do it more often but the chlorine absolutely kills my skin, which tends to be dry and itchy in the winter anyway.

Nursery status/baby gear/crap we need to buy: We have done basically nothing on this front. I will spare you the details but we are having some not-fun-but-necessary work done on our house and the theoretical nursery is in the destruction zone. The whole thing is a disaster at this point. There may not be a nursery until after the baby’s born.

However, thanks to very generous friends and family, we’ve been baby-showered with the most essential items: car seat, pack-n-play, rock-n-play, swing, carrier, lots of cute clothes. So baby will survive, even if she has to camp out in our room for a while.

The “bump”: Lucky for you, even though I haven’t been blogging, I have been taking blurry awkward mirror selfies from time to time! Because what would kind of pregnancy would this be without them?

So here ya go:

belly

Merry Christmas. :)

I could’ve been a superhero

The nurse came in backwards, using her rump to bump open the door. As she turned around to greet me, I saw why: both of her hands were full, clutching an alarming number of glass vials. They clinked cheerfully as she deposited them in to a little basket on the counter next to me. There were at least a dozen and they all had my name on them. My palms started to sweat.

“You’re kidding me, right?” I squirmed in the hard plastic chair. “I’m not going to have any blood left in me!”

I don’t do needles well. I mean, judge me if you want, but I’ve never even donated blood. The very thought of it nauseates me. And here I had thought the standard few vials I had taken at the outset of the pregnancy were bad; they had nothing on this.

“You got plenty to spare, sweetie,” the nurse said.

At four months pregnant, I was being tested for a smattering of obscure-sounding disorders and genetic abnormalities that I’d never heard of, and none of which were necessarily indicated by the perfectly healthy baby growing in my belly. No, these were the ghosts of pregnancies past, of those months where cells had joined and multiplied and progressed enough to turn a pee stick pink but never made it much further.

Habitual Aborter, that was what the diagnosis on the paperwork said. Naturally I was highly offended the first time I saw it, until I realized it was simply the clinical term for recurrent miscarriage. You’d think they could come up with a better way of saying it. Oh yes, my bad habits, I had chuckled bitterly. Picking my cuticles, forgetting to replace the toilet paper, and aborting fetuses. 

I closed my eyes as the nurse tightened the elastic band around my arm, my nails digging into my clammy palm as I obediently clenched my fist. I couldn’t bear to watch her stick me. I knew it wouldn’t be painful, but it was just…gross. Needle in my flesh. Ew.

Initially, I had bristled at my doctor’s suggestion that we pursue these blood tests, known as the recurrent loss panel. Why does it matter now? I had asked. I’d just come from my big 20-week ultrasound and seen our perfect little fetus – a girl! – wiggling and kicking away. All her pieces and parts were in their proper places. I didn’t want to revisit the past, those clusters of cells that never made it. I wanted to focus on the one that eventually did.

They just wanted to rule out any possible problems, the doctor had explained. A clotting disorder. It was unlikely, of course. But just in case…

So I had agreed.

As it turned out, the lab nurse was correct and I did, in fact, have plenty to spare. Life went on normally without those dozen vials of blood. A couple of weeks passed. My belly grew rounder; I started to feel the baby thump and kick, hard enough even for my husband to feel it from the outside. We giggled and marveled as I’m sure all first-time parents do at such milestones. I was 25 weeks when I got the call that the labwork was in. At that point, I’d almost forgotten about it.

“There are a couple of things we should discuss,” the doctor began.

That’s not how these conversations start when everything’s fine.

“You have a genetic mutation, heterozygous MTHFR,” he continued.

The what? The motherfucker gene?

“And you have a functional protein-S deficiency.”

A protein deficiency? But I eat lots of protein… 

“Taken on their own, neither of these things would worry me much. But when we look at the whole picture, including your history, I believe it’s possible that you may have a genetic clotting disorder.” He paused, perhaps to give me time to process. I flipped through my copy of the lengthy document provided by the lab, pages of acronyms and unfamiliar terms. Someone had pen-marked each of the offending parties, the motherfucker gene and the delinquent S protein, with a circle and a sloppy asterisk.

Genetic mutation. It was the stuff of comic books and superheroes, of fantasies on the evolution of the human species. As in: somewhere, deep in the bowels of her coding, a switch gets flipped and all of a sudden she can fly! Or regenerate wounded flesh! Or snap pencils with her mind! By comparison, having slightly thicker-than-average blood seemed not only disadvantageous, but downright mundane.

The doctor went on to explain the course of treatment for clotting disorders, which he recommend pursuing as a precautionary measure for the rest of my pregnancy. It was a pros-vs-cons game, of course, but the lineup on one side had some pretty heavy hitters: low birth weight, late-term miscarriage, stillbirth. The opponents were fairly flimsy: bruising easily, inconvenience of dealing with a daily injection of blood-thinning medication….

Of course I would treat it. Even though the treatment would involve needles. It wasn’t even a question. I caught my first glimpse of what parents mean when they say they’d do anything for their kids. I would jab myself with oodles of needles every single day if that’s what my little girl needed to grow properly and come out safely.

Still, it is unsettling to learn that there may be something wrong with you when you feel perfectly fine. I mean…seriously, blood clots? Never crossed my mind. I’m healthy. This pregnancy has been easy and uneventful. I run and I eat my vegetables. How can there be something wrong with the blood that circulates my veins and arteries completely unbeknownst to me?

It seems so nefarious and unfair. But I guess that’s the nature of symptomless diseases.

We still don’t know for sure whether I actually have a disorder. Pregnancy hormones, it seems, can mess with the contents of your blood and make these things difficult to diagnose without a baseline. Next year, after baby’s born and the pregnancy hormones have left my system, I’ll see a hematologist and figure out what’s going on, whether this motherfucker gene and defunct protein thing is for real.

But for now, every night before bed, I close my eyes as my husband sticks me in the side with a thin, inch long needle. It doesn’t actually hurt much, and I can do it myself if I need to, but I prefer not to watch. Old habits die hard.

Atlanta Beltline 8K: A (Half-Baked) Race Report

On Saturday, I ran my first race since Boston. It wasn’t something I had trained for, exactly, but what the hey. It was a beautiful morning and some friends were running and there were rumors of free Chipotle, so I showed up for race-day reg.

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(The tear-off at the bottom was the free Chipotle coupon, and it was taken at the finish line. The nerve!)

I’ll just go ahead and stick the scroll-down details here:

  • Finish Time: 49:something. That’s like 9:50 pace. And for me, a personal worst by about 15 minutes!

Some relevant contributing factors:

  • There were three water stops and I walked though all of them.
  • I also added some distance by traipsing across a park in search of a bathroom. I had to pee. Badly. (Fortunately it was unlocked.)

But while those things certainly affected my finish time, I’m going to place most of the blame on the extra weight I’m carrying around these days.

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Not a beer gut – it’s a nearly-half-baked baby gut. Arriving February 2014!

Crop rotation

The garden beds were a point of contention from the start.

“You’re really going to grow vegetables? Really?” my husband raised a skeptical brow at the line item labeled CONSTRUCTION OF 3 RAISED BEDS, 3X8 as we dissected yet another landscaping estimate. The yard had come last on the priority list during those first months of home ownership, trailing behind more pressing concerns, like having gutters and properly-functioning appliances. Both budget and patience were wearing thin, but something had to be done.

yardbefore

Yard, June 2012.

Attempts at DIY had failed. The weeds were eyeball-height and the mice were outnumbered only by the mosquitos. One contractor described our property as a “hotbed of King snake activity.” King snakes, for the record, are snakes that eat other snakes. We were so flush with snakes that we had attracted a snake that eats snakes.

That jungle shit had to go.

So last fall, it finally did. We accepted a modest bid which allowed for clearing, tilling, laying of sod and planting of indigenous shrubs along the fence.  And one splurge in the form of three elevated garden beds.

“Are you kidding? I will absolutely grow vegetables!” I insisted as we signed the estimate. “And fruit too! Just think, we’ll have fresh strawberries and tomatoes and peppers and….”

I’m not sure what other tempting crops I rattled off, but eventually he gave up and let it go. And in November, sod was laid and raised beds were constructed. I was so excited about my new beds that before a late-autumn breeze could blow the sawdust away, I was at the local nursery, perusing their selection of winter-hardy seedlings.

Now, I might lose some of you super-healthy eaters here, but I’ll say this: I was not excited about the options. Collards? Cabbage? Fucking cauliflower? These are not things that I enjoy eating, generally speaking. I mean, I have come a long way with veggies in the last few years, but cauliflower is not something I will ever be stoked about unless it’s tempura-battered and deep fried.

Nonetheless, I selected a few tiny plants (rainbow chard, purple cabbage, cauliflower), brought them home, and planted them…and then proceeded to completely ignore them.

“So, how is your garden doing?” my husband would ask, a good-natured smirk teasing his lips.

“Great!” I’d answer. “Go look at it!”

And the thing was, it was doing great. Throughout the winter, the cabbages formed layers of pretty purple circles, the cauliflower built hearty white lumps, and the chard grew broad leaves in a dark waxy green atop reddish-purple stalks. All with zero nurturing from me. Occasionally I’d venture out in the morning and walk the frost-tipped grass beside the garden beds. I had to admire these plants: their ability to survive the chilly winter months, and to thrive and grow fat under the tutelage of the world’s least attentive gardner.

But that didn’t change the fact that I had absolutely no interest in eating them.

Winter turned to spring and I continued my neglect. The days grew warmer and the plants grew larger: monster cabbages the size of beach balls, clumps of chard that looked like pink-trunked trees. The cauliflower went to seed, sprouting tall heathery stalks with little yellow flowers that were actually oddly pretty. The idea of harvesting and eating these prehistoric-looking vegetables became laughable: did I even own a pan large enough to sauté a leaf of chard the size of a baby elephant’s ear?

As the plants became ever more comically overgrown, I began to abbreviate small-talk with the neighbors, limiting our driveway chats to a quick hello, fearing that they’d ask what the hell was going on out back. I started to skirt around the garden the way one avoids an email that’s gone too long unanswered: at some point, it’s just an awkward pain in the ass to deal with. My husband, I’m sure, silently assumed he’d been right all along about my fleeting interest in backyard farming.

But last weekend, I decided to finally dig them up and start over.

garden1

This is what happens when you neglect your chard and cauliflower for six months. Country-fair ribbon-winning material right there!

Hours of digging up roots the circumference of my wrist and turning over crusty soil. Another trip to the same local nursery. A chuckling spouse who shook his head at me as I carefully nestled baby strawberry, tomato, and pepper plants into neat rows.

garden2

At least this time, I’ve planted something that I actually want to eat. I think that will make all the difference in the world. I mean, it’s only been a few days and I’ve already watered them several times. I’m setting myself up for success here.

Remind me of that this fall when I’m wrestling with crusty tomato-stalk corpses and a thousand strawberry plants gone to seed.

A rundown of recent first-world problems

1. The ants. I guess, technically, they won. I called mercy and brought in reinforcements.

The exterminator arrived on a muggy morning and circled the outside of my house. After commenting on the truly “incredible” number of ants treading on and around its foundation, he scattered little trails of what looked like potato chip crumbs. I squinted at the tiny little assholes – a bit smugly, I’m sure, as these were the outside ants – as they immediately seized the poisonous flakes and began to carry them back to…uh, “where, exactly?”

“Their nests are probably underground,” the exterminator said. “Sometimes they make colonies inside structures, but…well, let’s just assume they’re underground.”

Yes, let’s. I’d prefer not to think of my walls as mass insect graves, thousands of tiny arthropods entombed with their deadly potato chip scraps.

2. The bangs. Surprise: I’m growing them out.

What on earth was I smoking when I decided it would be a good idea to cut a thick fringe of hair atop one of the sweatiest parts of my body on the cusp of the hot/humid season? Why did none of you stop me from doing this? (Oh right…infrequent posting….)

Here’s the thing: they’re quite cute for about an hour after I’ve freshly shampooed and blow-dried them.

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Then my forehead starts sweating. Just glistening, just a little bit, but it’s a downward spiral because my then the bangs make my forehead hotter and then my forehead gets even more sweaty. And then this happens.

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At which point I locate the nearest pair of bobby pins, which is usually easy because ever since I got these bangs, I’ve noticed, there are little piles of bobby pins stashed all over my house. Clusters of bobby pins constantly poke me from inside my jeans pockets. The bottom of my purse is lined with bobby pins the way a forest floor is lined with pine needles. I would probably die without bobby pins.

So, yeah. They’re pinned back all of the time anyway, so I’m growing them out. High-maintenance hair is too…well, high maintenance.

3. The new toy. In the couple of weeks after the Boston thing, I was without my computer, and therefore I convinced myself that I needed an iPad.

ipad

(I just took a picture of my iPad with my iPhone. iHate myself a little bit.)

I got the iPad Mini because it was significantly cheaper and seemed easier to haul around. I also got a little bluetooth keyboard and this combo worked surprisingly well as an interim computer. (I even did a significant amount of writing on it, including that really long Boston post.)

But now I have my computer back and do you want to know what I mostly use my iPad for now? Candy Crush Saga.

I seriously don’t know how I previously managed to clear all of the jelly and bring all of the ingredients* to the bottom on my tiny little phone screen. And thus, I suppose my life has been improved in one miniscule way by this tragedy.

But here’s the issue: I cannot seem to get my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook on the same page. I add things to my calendar on the iPad and they show up on the phone but not the computer. I save a picture on my phone and it shows up on my computer but not the iPad. I feel like my “cloud” has problems and I’m not sure how to fix them, short of hauling all of my devices to the Apple store. Which I could certainly do, but…ugh, the mall.

I know, woe is me. This might be the FWP to end all FWP.

4. The fitness plan. I’ve run a handful of times since the marathon. Mostly easy 3-5 milers, although I did attempt one track workout. We did 400s and it was, um, unpleasant…but I was surprised to consistently come in around 1:33-1:35, which is only about 5-10 seconds off of my “in shape” pace. My confidence swelled.

Then there was last Friday. We were out of town attending a wedding. Right after a late lunch, I tried to squeeze in a quick run before I had to get all prettied up, and…hurk. Three miles felt like six. Eight minute pace felt like an all-out sprint. As I hauled ass back toward our hotel, with turkey club sandwich and kettle chips churning in my belly, I marveled at the fact that I ran a marathon a month ago.

A month ago. How did I get so out of shape so quickly?

No matter, though. I’m not trying to get back in top running shape right now. I have no races** on my calendar. I’d like to burn off a little bit of the weight I’ve gained, and I’m basically going to follow the same formula that I used last summer for the same purpose: a couple of days of boot camp, a couple of days of yoga, and a couple of days of running, maybe one of them at the track.

(And also limiting junk carbs and booze. Which is challenging when we’re in the middle of Wedding Season 2013, and gosh, it’s really impolite to refuse cake and champagne, right?)

5. The house. Okay, let me just say at the outset that I am beyond thankful to have a house that is fucking standing in light of the tornado that tore through OKC this afternoon. What a horrible tradgedy. Tornadoes. They are literally the stuff of nightmares.

I grew up in the mountainous Pacific Northwest in a volatile earthquake zone, and also in a city that sits right in the flow path of an active volcano that most experts think will blow sooner or later. But, to me, for some reason, tornadoes are far more terrifying and surreal than earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.  Even now that I’m a Southerner, living in an area that could theoretically get a twister, it’s still the sort of cinematic thing that I primarily associate with wicked witches and flying monkeys.

And then I watch the news on days like today and that shit is all too real.

Anyway. Our house. It’s not currently under tornado threat, but this thing is a goddamn colander.

When we bought the place a year ago, we knew there were water issues. We had the entire roof drainage system evaluated and reconfigured by a commercial roofing company (we have a flat roof). I have diligently wielded my caulk gun, loaded with a silicon sealant, upon the cracks and crevices that naturally emerge. For a few months, it seemed we’d fixed things. But then, a couple of weeks ago, it rained hard for a couple of days and we ended up with a mixing bowl full of coffee-colored drippings in our dining room. Which is not anywhere near the roof.

dining room

I love our house for so many reasons, but this is aggravating. I’ve had three contractors out so far and have stumped all of them as to the cause of the water intrusion. I suppose there is a reason that flat-roofed, stucco-coated homes are common in places like arid Palm Springs and less so in soggy Northern Georgia.

Anyway. Life could certainly be worse if these are the things that plague me: non-poisonous insects, hair frizz, calendar syncing, occasional ceiling leaks.

Le sigh.

—————-

*What the fuck are these “ingredients” anyway? Acorns and cherries, always acorns and cherries. Either we are squirrels or this is the worst pie ever.

**Well, I have Peachtree on July 4. But I’m not actually racing it. Last year’s Peachtree 10K consisted of 47 minutes of “racing” followed by three hours of drinking beer in Piedmont Park. That ratio seems about right.

Domestic (shorthair) espionage

My kitchen is currently a war zone. And the enemy is winning.

ant1

Okay, that scale is an exaggeration. But what the aggressors lack in stature, they make up for in numbers.

ants2

First, I spotted them trailing across the windowsill above the sink. Back and forth they marched, without any apparent source or destination. I frowned at them, confused. My sink and counters were sparkling and crumb-free. I grumbled as I wiped them down again. Then I dug out one of those square plastic ant traps and placed it right in their path.

They counterattacked by marching around it.

ants3

(I am convinced that those things are actually sold and marketed by ants. Perhaps to fund their exploratory missions in to peoples’ tidy kitchens.)

After a few hours, though, they were gone, and I went about my evening.

But that first attack was just a ruse. A distraction to pull my attention away from their true target.

catfood

Cat food. Irresistible to felines and insects alike.

And why not? Dehydrated meat molded into portable pebbles sitting conveniently on the floor. Still, I recoiled in shock when I went to feed Emmy and Parker that night and saw the bowl teeming with little brown bodies.

Enter the moat.

moat1

I cannot take credit for the moat: I learned of it from my cat sitter, and if you Google “how to keep ants out of cat food,” it’s all over the internets. But it’s pretty simple and brilliant. You put the food dishes in a tray of water. The cats can reach the food, but the ants can’t cross.

Not that they won’t try…a few hours after I installed it, I found several six-legged floaters in the moat. I half-expected the crafty little bastards to build a drawbridge, but they didn’t, and by the following morning, they had seemingly retreated.

Ah. Peace.

But it was fleeting. An unlikely traitor lurked in our midst.

parkerpic1

Back story: I’m not sure if I have ever described Parker’s unorthodox method of kibble consumption. It calls to mind an NHL forward practicing his slapshot.

First, he sizes up his target, flexes one of his giant paws, and does a hey-batter-batter wind-up.

catfoodbowl2

Next, he smacks the kibble as hard as he can, spraying it everywhere.

catfoodbowl1

Then he studies his work, picks out three or four pieces to eat, and leaves the rest scattered all over the floor.

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Finally, he retreats to the sofa, a perfect perch from which to lick his butthole and observe, waiting for me to step on one of his rejects and swear aloud. (Seriously, have you ever stepped on a piece of cat food barefoot? It hurts more than you’d expect.)

Anyway. We don’t know why he does this but we’ve always just lived with it and made frequent use of the broom and dustpan in that area. The moat, however, complicated things, and I found myself emptying a rancid tray of water* filled with soggy bits of food every few hours.

Enter the island.

moat2

Okay, buddy, I reasoned with Parker as I introduced the new setup. I’m not going to fight you on this. You knock your food around as much as you want. I’m giving you a place to do it. Just keep it on the inside tray.

This worked beautifully for a few days. At every feeding I’d simply remove the island and dump the displaced kibble, while the moat remained (mostly) food-free. And most importantly, the kitchen seemed to be ant free.

Once again, we appeared to be entering an era of peace.

Until yesterday morning, when I came downstairs to find an unusually expansive array of scattered kibble. The moat was totally clogged and a few bits had even made it to the floor beyond. Upon those stray pieces, no fewer than ten thousand ants** had descended.

I was incredulous – both at Parker’s physical prowess and at the depth of his betrayal. I yelled up the stairs to my husband: “Come look at this! He jumped the moat!”

That little jerk face.

So that’s how I’ve spent my week. Battling an invading army of insects and a traitorous cat who seems hellbent on assisting them. I devise complex food-delivery systems to accommodate his bizarre eating style while keeping the floor clean. He repays me by peforming super-feline acts of strength, delivering the goods right into the enemy’s waiting arms. I’m not going to lie: I’m frustrated.

parkerpic2

But…last night, I allowed him to snuggle right up next to me in bed. I rubbed his fat belly; his purr lulled me to sleep. I guess for the time being, I’ll cautiously grant him double-agent status. Cuddly, squishy, irresistible double-agent status.

And this weekend, I shall build a bigger moat.

*It is astounding how horrible dry cat food smells when wet. The first time this happened, I honestly thought something had died in our kitchen.

**Approximately. I didn’t count. Maybe it was more like 100. In any case, it was enough to be fucking disgusting.

_____________________

Serious endnote to a lighthearted post: Thank you so much for your comments on my post about Boston. It was hard to write, and doubly hard to share something so personal, but every one of your comments made me a little more glad that I did. And as an update, we are doing fine. We finally got our luggage back a few days ago and it feels good to carry on with life without that missing pair of jeans or whatever serving as a daily reminder of what happened. Our friends have moved back into their home and are carrying on as well. We all continue to be extremely grateful for our good fortune. Thanks, truly, for all of your support.

The long version

Preface: I didn’t plan on writing about this again. Many of you are probably ready to move on; I am too. And as the days pass, I feel a dwindling sense of ownership of this story, as I get back to my normal life while others remain in hospitals or worse.

But I guess I needed to write it. I am taking a fiction workshop right now and each day, as I sat down to prepare my pages for this week’s meeting, I found that I just…couldn’t. I needed to get this story out first before I could return my attention to the trials of my created characters. So this is what I wrote and presented instead.

I’m not sure what to do with it: I’m certainly not going to put it in my in-progress folder to come back to later, but it feels bigger than a journal entry, and too important to be tucked away in a private place and forgotten about. So I’m posting it here, in all of its long, rambly, navel-gazey, photo-and-MSPaint-lacking glory:

My feet had failed me.

And holy shit do they hurt, I thought as I eased my butt down onto the low curb. The cement was cold. I pulled the space blanket tighter across my chest and it crinkled as it curled around me like a giant piece of aluminum foil. My fingers were shaky, but I worked laces loose and pulled my feet out of the shoes that I’d spent the last four hours and seven minutes cursing. I pressed my feet into the cool pavement and wiggled my toes. It felt amazing.

But after a couple of minutes, I put the dreaded shoes back on. Impatience took over and I hauled myself up and continued my shuffle down Newbury Street, then cut back over to Boylston, toward my friend’s apartment. I’d actually just been there; I passed it during the last tenth of a mile of the race, grinning as I veered over to the edge of the crowd to slap Drew’s outstretched hand before making a final push across the finish line.

I was annoyed at how slowly I was walking. All I could think about was sinking my rear into the couch and crossing my ankles on the coffee table. Someone would bring me a beer. And then another beer. I’d be showered with hugs and congratulations – I’d just run the Boston Marathon! – and would do nothing for the rest of the day but sit on my ass. I couldn’t wait. And this walk was taking ages.

Four more blocks.

Three more.

Two more.

The bleachers at the finish line were just ahead of me and I paused for a moment to consider how I was going to navigate around them.

And then, the bleachers were gone, replaced with a plume of white smoke.

Next came the sound, which was deafening, sidewalk-shaking. For a couple of seconds, I saw an ambiguous series of images in my head that involved a piece of elecrical equipment spontaneously combusting. Then the smell came. And although I’ve never (to my knowledge) smelled a bomb before, I knew that’s exactly what this was.

I had barely peeled my feet from the pavement when the second one went off.

Which of course pointed to the very real possibility that there would be a third.

Volunteers from the medical tent, who wore white jackets, were rushing toward the finish; a volunteer in a yellow jacket, just like the ones I’d taken water and Gatorade from on the race course, was running in the opposite direction and telling everyone to follow.

I followed for a block and then ducked in to the doorway of a restaurant where a cluster of young women had gathered. I dont think they were runners; they looked like they’d just been having brunch.

“Can I use your phone to call my husband?” I croaked. Without hesitation, she obliged. My fingers were trembling so hard that I had to have her punch in Drew’s number. Of course, I couldn’t get through. I asked her to send a brief text (“its shelby, im ok”) and then decided to move along, back around to Newbury Street, where hopefully I could walk down past the finish and then cut over to get back to the apartment. Because my husband and friends were all inside that apartment, safe and probably scared but SAFE. They had to be.

I didn’t know at the time that the second bomb has actually gone off on their doorstep. Thank God I didn’t know that at the time.

For the second time that afternoon, I walked down Newbury Street. It was so different the second time. Clusters of people whispering and crying. Cell phones pressed anxiously to ears. Police cars and fire engines screaming through the neighborhood.

Finally, I thought I’d walked far enough to clear the finish area, and I tried to cut back over to Boylston. A policeman told me no way.

“But my friends live right there,” I pleaded.

“Your friends are probably far away by now,” he said.

I shook my head, not understanding. “No, they live right there.”

The cop swallowed, his eyes softening a bit, and said he was sorry.
I forced myself to consider, for the first time, that Drew and our friends might not be curled up safely in that apartment waiting for me to return.

* * *

I had started to walk back the way I’d come when a young girl, barefoot in yoga pants and clutching a coffee mug, stepped down from the stoop of a nearby brownstone and asked me if I knew what had happened.

“I’m pretty sure it was a bomb,” I heard myself say. I choked on an inappropriate laugh. It sounded absurd.

She asked if I wanted to come in, if I needed a bathroom, water, or food.

A stupidly obvious idea hurled itself at me. “Do you have internet?” I asked.

Of course she did, and minutes later, I made my safe status Facebook official.

But I still didn’t know where my husband and friends were. A wad of nausea bounced around my gut.

We stood by her front window and she tried to reassure me: “I’m sure they’re fine.” I tried to agree: “I mean, they were two blocks away from it. They’re fine.”

Below, an officer paced the sidewalk, trying to get people to leave the area. “If I were you,” he bellowed in his Boston accent, “I’d be far away from here.”

My hostess cast me a nervous glance and I knew she wanted to leave. I didn’t blame her. So I excused myself and, fighting back the urge to vomit, headed back outside.

I hadn’t been out there for a minute when a group of a dozen or so runners passed by, led by a guy in jeans and a sweater who introduced himself as Luke. He seemed to be rounding up runners who needed a place to go. I didn’t know what else to do, so I followed.

I could tell right away that he was a glass-half-full kind of guy. “My money’s on a transformer,” he nodded with authority as he herded us down Commonwealth Avenue, its stately green median crowded with ambulances and pop-up tents and what looked like armored tanks. Where did all of this stuff come from? How had it gotten here so quickly? Nothing about this made sense.

Our little group didn’t converse much while we walked, leaving the rustling of space blankets to fill the silence between whispered curses at non-functioning cell phones. My finisher’s medal thumped uselessly on my chest with each footfall. The pukey feeling continued to gnaw at my insides. My mind, however, had taken on the wrenching task of analyzing every minute between slapping Drew’s hand in front of the apartment just before the finish line and the disappearance of the bleachers into a cloud of acrid smoke. Would he have walked that direction, maybe trying to come find me at the finish? If so, where would he have been? Was he okay? He had to be okay.

I could tell I wasn’t the only one whose brain was weaving through this maze of potential nightmares. We exchanged anxious looks and gently laid our hands on each others’ backs. Everyone would be okay. They had to be okay.

* * *

At Luke’s apartment, I learned two things in quick succession:

(1) From the TV, I saw that the second explosion was not in the same place as the first one, at the finish line bleachers, as I’d assumed. Instead, it was right in front of my friend’s front door, which was right where Drew had been standing when we exhcanged our victory hand slap.

(2) From logging in to my email, I found out that everyone was safe and evacuated, but that Drew was not with them.

As a writer, I try to avoid trite metaphors. Things like my blood ran cold. Or my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach. Or I felt like all of the breath had been knocked out of me. But I can tell you that all of those things happened to me when I read that email, adressed to both Drew and me, asking if “we” were okay. I sat down on the floor, my hands steepled over my nose and mouth, breathing with effort as someone grabbed my hand and someone else squeezed my shoulder, repeating our mantra from the walk over: everything will be okay.

I don’t know how long I sat there in this weird catatonic state paralyzed by these shock-and-grief metaphors which were surprisingly real, but I’m sure it was several minutes, at least. Finally I pulled the computer back on to my lap and began to sort through my email inbox and Facebook notifications for any other scraps of information, and to start the process of trying to figure out where exactly Drew was, if he wasn’t with me and he wasn’t with them.

* * *

In the end, everything was okay. At least for me, my husband, our friends. We were lucky.

They had all been in the apartment when the first bomb exploded. The party had hit its stride; platters of hamburger patties and shrimp skewers were prepped and headed toward the grill, friends who were running had finished the race, others had taken the afternoon off of work and were trickling in from offices to catch the last bit of the action.

Naturally, if naively, they all ran to the front window. They got there just in time to watch the second one fill the space right in front of them.

Drew had been down on the sidewalk in front of the building, cheering on me and the other racers. He had returned to the party less than five minutes before it happened. Within five more, he was gone again, looking for me.

They evacuated the building shortly thereafter. Firefighters escorted them out their front door and across Boylston Street, instructing them to keep their eyes forward and not look down or around. It’s horrible to think about what they would’ve seen if they hadn’t.

The group headed to another friend’s house a few blocks away; meanwhile, Drew, having received that first frantic text I sent from the stranger’s phone in the foyer of the restaurant, combed the neighborhood for me. In hindsight, we probably were never more than a block or two apart, but we never crossed paths. Eventually, via a complicated series of third-party emails and Facebook comments, we connected; his phone battery dead, he’d been hunkered down in the home of another generous stranger just a few blocks away. Two hours after the first explosion, I gave my husband the tightest hug I’ve ever given.

I’m not much of an emotional person, but I’ve felt many things in the aftermath of this.

Guilt: over being one of the lucky ones. Over running away from the cloud of smoke rather than toward it. Over living in a place in the world and a time in history where something like this is the big huge deal that it is.

Confusion: over why. Even though in the most basic sense, the rational part of me understands why (it was a big group of people at a huge sporting event with zero real-time security). But still: why?

Gratitude: to the brave officers, race volunteers, EMTs, doctors, and everyone else that risked their own safety to deal with this mess – both the immediate aftermath and the violent manhunt that followed. To yoga pants girl and Luke and the other strangers who opened their homes and offered cell phones and computers and comfort to those who needed it.

Sadness: above all, that four people lost their lives and hundreds suffered injuries, many of them life-altering.

Relief: that I didn’t. It really could have been me. (And then we cycle back to guilt again…)

I saw so many people cry that day and the next. But for some reason, I couldn’t. In fact, a week and a half later, I still haven’t. The ball of nausea in my stomach, however, and the inability to sleep, and the constant exploration of what-ifs…this isn’t over yet, I know. Everyone deals with this stuff differently.

* * *

I think often of the moment that the bomb went off. Although I know that it all happened at once, it’s always sight that dominates the memory: sight, then sound, then smell, these three in a tidy row. Perhaps oddly, it makes me think of working track meets in high school, our fingers hovering over stopwatch start buttons, squinting across the field at the tip of the starter’s gun and waiting to see the little puff of white smoke a split second before we heard the bang. It didn’t seem like much of a difference, but if you started your watch on sound instead of sight, you’d throw off the results of the race.

Sometimes, timing is everything.

* * *

After a marathon, runners tend to overanalyze every moment of the race and think about whether there’s something they could have done differently to improve the outcome. You know, things like: did I really need that extra walk break? Could I have done without that stop to adjust my shoelace tension? What if I’d stuck with that chatty chick in the zebra skirt – what was her time? If I hadn’t blown off my last long training run would I have finished a few minutes faster?

I can’t count how many times I’ve gone down this path and ended up in a labyrinth of dark hypotheticals. Four hours and seven minutes may be one of my slowest marathon performances ever, but it was the perfect time for me to run last Monday.

If I’d had known that as I crossed the finish line, collected my space blanket and medal, and began that first walk down Newbury, I wouldn’t have cursed my aching feet at all. My feet didn’t fail me. Somehow, they did exactly what they needed to do.

No words

There really aren’t any. I don’t know why I am even trying.

I was a block away when the first bomb went off, walking toward it down Boylston. I was right by that Copley Square T station and that CVS. I had finished about 15 minutes prior. Having checked no bag (and therefore having no phone), I was bee-lining it back to my friends’ place, which was on Boylston, about three blocks short of the finish line.

Moments later, the second bomb went off. I found out later that this was actually right in front of our friends’ apartment, and (as I also learned later) about five feet from where my husband had been standing ten minutes earlier.

Having no phone, I wandered around with my space blanket asking random people if I could use theirs to call and text my husband. Of course, they obliged, but anything running through the cell towers was crap. I did this for about 45 minutes in a state of escalating panic until I some (very nice) person asked if I wanted to come in to their apartment and use their internet. Facebook to the rescue.

An hour or so later, we were finally able to find one another. I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life. I told my story of being a block away and seeing/smelling it and just knowing that that was what it was. He told his story of being in an apartment directly above it and having windows broken and smoke filling the area and police evacuation.

 

This was way too close of a call. I’m still a little rattled.

As of right now, we are stranded, but safe/comfortable in another friends’ home. The place where we were staying (which is where our luggage, my phone, and my ID are) is currently part of an active crime scene, so I’m not sure when we’ll be able to get back in. Maybe we’ll get back home tomorrow, but who knows.

Thanks so much for all of your comments and support.

The race itself was fine; I ran pretty easy and finished in 4:07. Good weather and great course and all of that. But none of that actually matters.

I just…feel so lucky right now. If I’d walked a little faster post-race, I’d have been in the blast zone. If I’d run a little slower, both me and my husband would have been in danger, as he was watching for me right next to the site of the second bomb. And if that bomb had been a little stronger, it could have blown our friends’ home to bits, along with the 20 or so people inside. We are all very, very lucky.

My heart goes out to all of the victims and their families tonight. This is all so awful.

If you want to follow along

…with my 9-minute miles and every-water-stop walk breaks:

boston bib

Should be a thrilling ride. See you on the other side.