I had this idea that the "about" section of our blog doesn't really suffice for any readers there might be out there, actually reading and wondering all about us and how we came to be and all that good stuff. So in order to make me a total target for identity theft, I thought it best to just tell everyone the story of our family. So...
Once upon a time... Jon and I met September 24, 1998 at community college. We took a class together (along with his recent ex-girlfriend) called "The Search for Utopia." Our first date was October 10 and then we got married (the first time) November 7. We had a second wedding July 1, 2000 complete with the usual wedding accoutrements to satisfy the public.
So there's that. See how young we were? 21 at the time of wedding #2.
When we met, I was on my second go at college and Jon had started about 6 months before, after taking time off following high school graduation. I was attempting part-time community college while working full time after I'd dropped out of Antioch College the previous spring. Antioch was originally supposed to be a mix of freedom and structure (they have no grades, just evaluations) to follow my 2 years unschooling the last bit of high school. It didn't really work out.
I'm telling this story all sorts of out of order. When I was 15, a friend of the family's gave me a copy of Grace Llewellyn's Teenage Liberation Handbook. It spoke to me so much. I was miserable in school - bored to tears and unable to focus on the things I was really interested in. I did poorly out of lack of interest, not lack of intelligence. I preferred writing, reading, theatre, and hanging out with friends to Algebra, Spanish, and the worst English teacher in the history of the world. I spent my entire sophomore year of high school convincing my parents that I didn't have to be there. Finally, in May, they consented to letting me come home.
Interestingly, Jon had a similar miserable experience in high school, but wasn't given any opportunity to get out. While his friends were National Honors Scholars, Jon was reading Carl Sagan at home and earning Ds and Fs at school. He graduated with a 2.7 gpa.
Early in our marriage, we talked about homeschooling any potential children we had. At the time, I figured I'd send my littles to Montessori school like I was, maybe homeschooling later, like I did. I had a bit of an aversion to being so responsible for my children as a stay-at-home mother, though I didn't really have a career that I planned to have occupy me outside of the home anyway. At the same time, I envisioned early on that I would be at home with my kids, exploring my own interests from a home setting: writing, painting, gardening... Ultimately, the fears as well as the conversation were pretty pointless pre-kids. Then came Aleksander.
I found out I was pregnant December 9th, 2001. So I guess we had one of those post-September 11th babies that I later read were a myth. We didn't plan on having a baby then. I had started to talk about potentially having children sooner than we'd originally anticipated, like maybe trying in a year, when Jon would be starting graduate school. As it was, we were living an hour from our families at a major university where Jon was finishing his Bachelor's degree and I was just deciding to quit my third attempt at going to college, having found it unsatisfying and feeling frustrated by having to take classes that didn't interest me. But we were pregnant.
The first few weeks were full of fear of the unknown and constant nausea. Our car got broken into and we were barely making rent, so it was a pretty unsettling time to be making a baby. After I started to feel better and we made it to the second trimester, I found my groove though and enjoyed my pregnancy. I took prenatal yoga, ate well, and enjoyed time rubbing my burgeoning belly. I became isolated from my friends being that I wasn't hanging out in bars anymore and had to hold down a full time temp gig to survive, but I still enjoyed being pregnant and focusing all my attention on preparing for birth.
We immediately planned on having a homebirth. I always knew I'd have my babies at home. I was born at home, my younger sister was born at home, and all our close family friends pretty much had their babies at home. Several family friends were direct-entry midwives and my mother had become a Certified Nurse Midwife while I was in high school. She mainly caught babies in the hospital, but would attend us at home with a midwife friend assisting.
The pregnancy passed insignificantly, and we prepared for an early birth that summer at my mother's house. We chose my mother's house to have our baby for several reasons. First, we were unattached to our cold apartment which was in a bad neighborhood, so we couldn't imagine being comfortable there. Second, Jon accepted a position as a graduate student teaching assistant at a university in Montana, which meant we were set to move just weeks after my due date.
I spent the summer months eating ice cream five times a day with my sisters and thinking I was set for an early birth so I'd have time to get to know my baby before moving across country. Oh, how wrong I was. I was due August 1, 2002. Aleks made his entrance on August 16th, the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death. The complete details of the birth story can be found here. Here is a slideshow of the birth (warning: graphic):
Aleks was born with a cleft lip and palate. It meant that my plans to nurse went out the window. I started pumping full time.
This also meant that Aleks would have to have surgeries. Lots of surgeries. His first surgery was at 12 weeks. The surgery brought together his lip, part of his soft palate, and part of his hard palate, and installed ear tubes (the cleft affects Eustachian tube functioning). He didn't eat afterwards for four days and could barely wake up. He also had trouble breathing due to the swelling.
Aleks' 2nd surgery was at 6 months to complete the remaining half of his hard palate. He again didn't eat for days on end and having kicked out his IV on the first day, became dehydrated. The nurses tried to get a new IV hooked up four times - once for each limb - and failed. Finally, on the fifth try, they managed a line in his head.
The hospital stays sucked, but the view was always nice.
His 3rd surgery to complete the rest of his soft palate was his easiest. He spent only one night in the hospital. Afterwards, he was finally able to eat solid foods without shooting cheerios out his nose. He has since had 2 additional surgeries to replace ear tubes - one at 13 months and one at 3-1/2.
Around the time Aleks was 7 months old, I started spending time on Mothering's message boards and figuring out that what I already did in terms of parenting and family life had a name- attachment parenting/natural family living. I also got way into making our commitment to leaving a decent planet for the kidlet stronger. We retired the few toxic cleaning products we had, went totally organic, and felt all the more confident about everything else we were already committed to: cloth diapering, family bed, my extended pumping (13 months!), natural birth, gentle discipline, and I finally came back around to homeschooling.
I read anything I could get my hands on, now that I was a full-time mom. I felt like I was doing serious research about mothering, like I'd finally found my occupation, my dharma. I read Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small, which reconfirmed everything I was doing. I got a hold of Grace Llewellyn's new book, Guerrilla Learning, and realized that I had to return to unschooling for my kids.
Jon graduated with his Master's degree in May of 2004 and accepted a position in a PhD program in Cleveland. We moved back to Ohio, settling in Cleveland in August. We also decided to try for baby #2. I had discovered fertility awareness and planned my second pregnancy down to the minute. I wanted an early summer baby so that Jon would have the full three months of vacation to spend time with us. We hit it perfectly on our second try. My due date was May 30th, 2005. We planned a second homebirth with a local midwife, though I seriously contemplated going unassisted. Ultimately, it happened the way it needed to happen.
During my pregnancy, due to exhaustion and nausea, Aleks was first introduced to Star Wars. It has been the most enduring obsession to date. Over the years, Aleks acquired action figures, light sabers, costumes, and watched all six movies and the Clone Wars cartoons ad infinitum. Most of his play revolved around Star Wars. It clearly succeeded like nothing else at making him feel powerful!
Aleks as Darth Vader:
At 22 weeks gestation, the unimaginable happened. Seriously, you can't even guess. Late January 24th/early morning January 25th, driving home from a (very late) homebirth meeting, a semi-truck flew off an overpass and landed on my car.
The baby and I were fine. I got hit in the head and had a bit of a bruise that disappeared by the next day. You can read the whole sordid tale here or watch my interview with Katie Couric:
Our car was totaled, but we were eventually able to get a new (used) one. Baby, now dubbed Zeno Warrior Fetus, kept kickin' and groovin' right up 'til his precipitous birth on May 29th (complete details).
We spent the summer relaxing and getting to know our family while Jon attempted to read 700 books in preparation for his comprehensive exams. He didn't succeed in reading 700 books, but we had a great time visiting with my sisters and parents while getting a handle on having two kids. It was the best three months of my life. We went to Canada when Baby Bastian was but six weeks old and to North Carolina at nine weeks. My sisters played in the ocean with Aleks while Bastian slept in a hammock and happily nursed in the sun.
The next fall, I joined a midwifery study group and began thinking seriously about midwifery as an actual career path. I was already an outspoken birth advocate and the study sessions helped bolster my growing obsession. Over time, and with life with two small children, the obsession petered out somewhat and the members of our group began to seek different paths. Still, I searched for activities other than being a stay-at-home mom to fulfill me.
The boys grew and grew. Aleks became obsessed with Halloween after we hosted a Halloween party. He loved carving pumpkins, all things scary, and eating junk food. His play often reflected his love of Halloween. His drawing skills began to blossom at this time too. He was able to draw figures not just with recognizable features, but with clearly delineated body parts.
Meanwhile, Jon readied himself for the comps. He scheduled to take them in May 2006. I set out to go to Santa Fe with Sebastian just afterwards for Mothering magazine's 30th anniversary. I had been volunteering as a moderator for their bulletin boards for more than a year and was excited to get the chance to meet Peggy O'Mara.
Just a couple of days before I was to leave, Jon got the devastating news that he failed to pass 3 of his 4 oral exams. Bastian and I went to New Mexico anyway, but came home to Jon's months-long struggle to find professional confidence again.
Jon rescheduled his oral comps for December 12th. I busied myself figuring out unschooling, getting Aleks into speech therapy, cleaning the house, picking up the million and a half Lego we'd suddenly acquired (the latest obsession thanks to several packages of Papa's old Lego sent by Grandma Barb), and come November, writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. Unremarkably, my novel was about a bitter housewife.
Then, more trauma. Cuz we always need more of that.
On November 25, 2006, while I was washing dishes after a post-thanksgiving party at my mother's house, a casserole dish broke and sliced through my dominant right wrist, severing two tendons, a nerve, and nearly slicing completely through two more tendons. It was gruesome. I had to have surgery, couldn't change a diaper, and was in more pain than I'd ever been in. Thank goddess I had my sense of humor and Clyo the hand-bandage to keep me company. Oh, and all those drugs.
Bastian and I discussing important stuff while I'm all doped up on narcotics (I nursed through it all, thanks to some consulting Dr. Hale, though I do still regret that it had to happen that way, but Bastian's still nursing and I'm no longer on drugs):
The boys and I stayed at my mother's house for several weeks after the surgery with a friend hired to take care of me and the boys during the day while everyone was at work, and my sister and father pitching in to get me to the hand surgeon and the occupational therapist. Jon went back home to finish the semester and pass his oral comps with gusto. Seriously. He won an award for best comps.
It took four months of occupational therapy and 10 months of meds (with a stop on the way to deal with unforeseen addiction - way to go docs!) before I was able to feel somewhat normal. Even still, my thumb, pointer, and middle fingers are largely numb. I regained full movement though with regular neuromuscular electrical stimulation. It was fun.
In February 2007, after having been incapacitated by the hand injury and because I didn't finish my novel, I wrote a poem a day as a challenge to myself. I put the poems together in a chapbook, which Aleks illustrated. The process inspired this year's Month of Poetry challenge.
Aleks' Dinos from my book, february:
And now, here we are. Jon is finally in the dissertation phase of his PhD, writing on Standard Oil and the Cuyahoga River. I'm starting my own business, and was just published in two books with my six-word memoir. The boys have grown so much. Bastian does all the things his older brother does, or tries to! Every day they are learning and changing. It's an amazing process to watch and we cherish the moments when we're able to step back from our modes of doing and really sense it.