Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Family History - How We Got Here

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.


Rachel said...

Anna, this is an amazing story, and I am so thankful you shared it all here. In some ways, it was just what I needed to read to get my out of myself and the general feeling of ennui that this February has brought me. Your post, combined with learning of the death of someone I don't even know but who is in the unschooling community, have snapped me awake.

I read your entire post and its links (the ones you wrote), I read the birth stories, the story of your car crash, I watched your interview with Katie Couric, I looked at the pictures of your injury (the gruesome warning did not even do them justice), I read your month of poetry (last year's, this year's, you really captured my february with your poem the agony of weather), and all I can say is...wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.

I connected with you on so many things. And yet, my life seems so easy in comparison. Laughably easy. I can't believe how much you have been through in the last years. And you are so young, I realize. I didn't know from any of your previous posts that you were so young. I was just so ignorant when I was in my 20s, and I can't believe that anyone could have it together as much as you do at such an early age. Or that you could have been through so much.

I didn't even know what unschooling was until I had Max (we didn't even know what a family bed was, actually, until we had one!), so the fact that you were thinking about all this before having children (even experiencing it yourself) is just a lovely thing.

It makes me laugh even more to think of a comment you left me a while back, that we did so much in a year or something. You are simply amazing, and you don't seem to know it!

Also, I wanted to say I went to school very near Antioch College, and I used to go to Yellow Springs and hang out and wish that I were there. The Winds Cafe. Oh, I loved it there. I still miss Young's Dairy Farm...ice cream in the middle of the night with all my friends. I heard recently that Antioch closed, and it made me feel so wistful. It's too bad you didn't like it--I know a few people who did go to school there and did like it, we could compare notes, although they are all much older.

Anyway, thank you for such a wonderful long introduction to you and your family. I hope you have a lot of uneventful years that leave you all free to enjoy each other and this sweet life. I mean this in the best possible way. Do lots of fun things, go out, be joyful, but enough with the car and casserole accidents, already.

anna kiss said...

Thanks so much! I'm so glad someone read all that! I hope we have a lot of uneventful years too.

I think that I've been helped a lot because my mother was into natural family living when I was little as part of that whole back to the earth movement in the 60s and 70s. It's encouraging in a way, I suppose, because I feel like when given a good foundation, really good, authentic things can happen for kids. I feel like I'm a living example of what I'm trying to do for my kids. And I'm trying to do even better.

Antioch didn't work out for me because school didn't work out for me. I was just reminiscing today about all the great experiences I had there, despite being completely depressed the entire year. They're closing this June for a year, I guess. Some say it's the final nail in the coffin, others are confident that something can be done to bring it back.

Where did you go to school? I grew up in Dayton, my step-father has had a radio show at Antioch for more than 25 years, so we spent a lot of time in YS. Plus I was an honorary "townie" in high school.

em said...

Amazing post! I have been reading from afar for a while and have been wondering about the backstory. Your story is inspiring especially as I struggle to hold true to ideals in building a foundation for my daughter. I can't wait to follow the journey and see where the words take you.

Rachel said...

I tried to respond to your comments last night, but I was having trouble getting on your blog for some reason. I went to Wittenberg, didn't really like it, actually, but stuck it out anyway. I guess it was an okay experience, and I was not motivated enough to find anything different for myself at the time. I spent some time in Dayton too, as I had a really good friend who had transferred from Wright State and he still had friends there.

I also wanted to tell you that I couldn't stop thinking about your post (my husband even read it, b/c he saw my comment to you when it posted on my email, and he doesn't usually take the time to read other people's blogs...he was very intrigued by the whole story). But anyway, as I was making dinner, I suddenly thought the kitchen seemed wrought with peril. I was using a very heavy cast iron pot, and it occurred to me that you could call it a casserole dish. I very nervously washed it. The image of your wrist was really hard to shake. As I was doing dishes and noted how many knives were just soaking in the sink, I gasped to wonder how I had never had a serious injury in the kitchen.

Once I sliced the tip of my finger while cutting a bagel. And a few times, I have cut my hand b/c of careless knife use. But it's amazing nothing worse has happened, as much as I am in the kitchen. I am completely dumbfounded by your very serious injury. It's scary to think how easily terrible things can happen. I truly couldn't stop thinking about it, and found myself feeling weak at the thought of your experience.

anna kiss said...

em - thanks for reading! Please out yourself more often!

anna kiss said...

rachel - it sounds like you've got a lot on your mind. Honestly, I don't think about kitchen accidents too often. It is the mostly likely place in one's home for an accident to occur, and I try to "respect" the knives, etc., as it were. lol But the whole experience was sort of serendipitous, in a bad way, of course.

My mother's sink, for one, is porcelain rather than stainless steel, which meant that the dish didn't bounce, but broke in huge jagged pieces. Second, the dish was an old corningware thing (white with a blue flourish on the side, I think everyone over 50 must have one in their kitchen), which, we are told, means that it didn't shatter, but broke in huge, incredibly sharp pieces (ceramic is tremendously sharp). The new corningware, even the ceramic pieces, are apparently specially designed to shatter, like a windshield, precisely so that what happened to me doesn't happen to everyone. Instead, we had these pieces that were sharp enough to almost kill me (I missed the artery by millimeters, if not less than).

I do still look up under overpasses, and fear trucks a bit, but I was one who was always kinda afraid that a car would come rushing through a red light and crash into me. I started driving within a week or so after the truck accident, and didn't really take but a few moments before I was back to cursing at cars to get out of my way, lol.

I wouldn't say that I'm really one who's able to just shrug off trauma - clearly I'm still talking about all this. It really defines me, adds landmarks to my life and history. But you do what you gotta do to keep going I guess. Sometimes I feel like a weenie because I know how much harder other people have it. I think of the entire continent of Africa and think my life is easy-peasy. I think it's important to recognize my privilege and honor my experience, and finding the balance between that to be able to walk forward each day is the real struggle. I have a hard time saying out loud that my son is special needs, for instance, though I do, but he doesn't seem special needs when I consider the struggles that others have to endure. He's normal, practically.

I don't know where I'm going with this, really. Just that as easy as your life might seem, mine feels that way too, in some ways. In other moments, in other ways, I sometimes feel like I deserve a little slack or jealous of the lives of others where things seem "easy." On the other hand, I think having some serious trauma gives me a bit of credibility. Street cred, as it were. lol

Rachel said...

It's funny that you say I have a lot on my mind in regard to what I wrote about your experience. I think it's so interesting what other people pick up in my (or someone else's) writing when it wasn't the intention. Some of it has to do with how email doesn't get across the original intent, and in this case, I was trying to say this in sort of a funny way, half joking that my kitchen seemed so dangerous all the sudden, but also somewhat serious that there are dangers there, that I often take for granted. I've been seriously cooking in the kitchen since I was 7, I grew up with it, with a certain amount of respect for all the instruments in the kitchen, a knowledge of how to use them all that I don't even think about. But your story did suddenly make me reconsider my luck in the kitchen and think about how careless about some things I have become. (I leave knives about, even my kids use the real thing, and this completely freaks my sister in law out).

Anyway, I was trying to laugh at myself how much I was affected by your post, and I think it's interesting that you pick up that I must have a lot on my mind. I guess I do, although it's somewhat unrelated to this. It's just funny what people pick up, what you put out there and don't even realize until someone else points it out. But come on, those are some disturbing pictures. :) It is a wonder you didn't do more serious damage, although it sounds like the damage was pretty bad.

I get what you are saying about having those traumas giving you some sort of street cred, and I guess I have had a few character building moments in my life too, we all have. My life in the last 10 years has been pretty easy going, however, so I can sometimes forget the harder darker parts, and actually, I'm happy to do that and just focus on the present. But I do think it all adds to our personalities, layering us with complexities we don't even know are there. But yeah, I am definitely privileged, and I try to keep this in mind as I move about the world.

anna kiss said...

I was sort of thinking of your posts on your blog too though, which is why I considered you having a lot on your mind. With your uncle, and Lisa, and February dragging on... You were specifically "thinking" I guess.

I imagine that an IRL conversation would go a bit differently regarding all this too though!

Jessica said...

I don't know what else to say except, you amaze me. Even in school I am not sure I even knew who you really were. The things you do and have done are such an insperation to ones self. I hope that if told my story would amaze as well. But I do hope for many uneventful years for you as well!

Rebecca said...

Anna, I just took the time to read through this post (and the Jon & Anna & family "creation" story).

Thanks for sharing about all the amazing things that have happened to the four of you. I'm so glad that you survived your awful encounters with the big truck and the broken casserole dish. Your boys are lovely and Jon seems lovely, too.

I love reading about your parenting/life choices (including unschooling). We have practiced attachment parenting and semi-unschooling (I am terribly hung-up about Math and I can't seem to shake it) since preconception. It helps for me to read about other people's reasons for heading this direction as I'm constantly examining our whys and wherefores.

I'm happy I found you and your blog and that I can continue to follow your journey with your family... which I hope is free of threatening events from here on in!

St said...

Hey, I was rooting around for an email for you when I skimmed through this story. I look forward to reading through it all the way, looks like one hell of a ride.
I wanted to stop by and say that I love what you are doing and I think that you conducted yourself with respect and intelligence in the Classy Chaos conversation. I thought it was obvious that people immediately forced you to defend yourself and then turned around and acted like you were the one assaulting their choices.
I will definitely add your blog to my reader and can't wait to see what kinds of fun things your family is up to!

anna kiss said...

St - thanks so much for stopping by! I'm a glutton for internet arguments for some reason! Look forward to hearing from you in the future... :)