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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Unexpectedly More

When Ben and I got married 8 years ago today, I thought I knew what to expect.  After all, we had been dating for 4 years already.  We'd been on some amazing trips together--time visiting with each other's families, weekend roadtrips to visit friends, a spontaneous fall break in New York, spring break in Gatlinburg, and of course, our epic 3-month road trip across the United States.  We both had steady jobs, him at Brylane USA and me at Zionsville High School.  We had already purchased our first home, a ranch in Zionsville, and I had lived there for several months while he lived with a family in town.  We had established our church home at Zionsville Presbyterian.  We had four pets (two dogs and two cats) to care for and cuddle.  I thought our future together would be smooth sailing, more of the same of what we had come to know.

In many ways, though, the past 8 years have been utterly unexpected.  We've been through so many changes and adventures together, things that I never could have anticipated 8 years ago.

Those "steady jobs" of ours turned out to only be temporary.  Ben has worked for four different companies since we got married (Brylane, Covance, Ingersoll-Rand, and Camp Tecumseh), and I worked full-time for two different schools (Zionsville and University), as well as held a myriad of other part-time or short-term jobs.  In fact, 8 years later, neither of us is on the career path that we expected back then.  Ben has left the world of coporate finance in favor of fundraising for a Christian not-for-profit.  While I used to be a high school English teacher, now I'm a stay-at-home mom, working on a masters degree in library and information science in hopes of a future career as a librarian.

We always knew we wanted kids, but our timetable was unexpected as well.  By the time our first anniversary rolled around, I was halfway through my pregnancy with our first child.  I've been pregnant 7 times in the last 8 years, resulting in 3 heartbreaking miscarriages and 4 beautiful, perfect kids.  8 years ago, I didn't know anything about the extremes in sadness and joy that these events could bring.

After the birth of our first child, that ranch house in Zionsville seemed too small.  We're now in our third house as a couple.  (Ironically, our current house is smaller than that first one.  Oh, how little we knew back then!)

Speaking of big-ticket items, we've also been through 7 cars in the last 8 years.  Ben had a Ford Taurus when we got married, but he replaced it shortly thereafter with a Volkswagon Jetta.  He also drove my friend Melissa's Honda Insight while she lived abroad for a year, then purchased a Chevy Malibu.  I stuck with my white Jeep for most of that time, but when our family got too big to fit into it, Ben inherited it and I upsized to a blue Dodge van.  The Jeep died a painful death a couple of months ago, so now we're a two-van family, having added a Chysler Town and Country to the mix.

When we got married at Zionsville Presbyterian, we had visions of raising our family there.  We ended up leaving that church two years later to become members of Connection Pointe in Brownsburg, followed by a long search for a new church home after we moved to Delphi.

When we got married, we thought of ourselves as animal lovers and were quite happy with our small zoo.  Two years later, Jag and Dash (our cats) found a new home through the Humane Society placement program when transitioning to a new house with them proved to be too difficult during showings.  Our beloved dogs, Dagny and Tela, had to be put down shortly after Liam was born, as they had gotten old, cranky, and sick.  Now we're a no-pet household.  The rule at camp is that full-time families have to live here for five years before getting pets, but I think Ben might be hard to convince even after that.

As for those amazing vacations, we did take one to Ireland about four months after we got married.  Since then, though, our only vacations have been with family, and even weekend trips to visit friends are now a rarity, since trying to travel anywhere with four children is quite a challenge.

So 8 years in, is married life what I expected?  Absolutely not.  It's more, in every way.  Sometimes overwhelmingly so.  More chaos, more decisions, more changes.  More chances for us to grow together.  More memories as part of our life together.

So happy 8th anniversary, Ben.  Here's looking forward to 80 more!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bloody Burps

WARNING: Long story from pissed-off mother ahead.

On the first night that we had him home from the hospital, Aiden spit up blood.  We didn't realize it at first.  I found a spot of blood on the outside of my bra, but none on the inside (where I had a nursing pad).  That was in the middle of the night, and when we turned on the lights in the morning, we realized that there was also blood on the sleeve of Aiden's pajamas and more on the Boppy where he lays when eating.  Hmm, we wondered, did this blood come from him or from me?  I couldn't find any cuts or blisters that would indicate that it had come from me, but that did seem to be the logical conclusion.

Until the next night, when I had a truly horrifying experience.  I have been using a nipple shield when nursing Aiden, and when he pulled off at the end of a feeding, there was a gigantic blood clot on his side of the shield.  Ben says I am never to use this phrase again after this, but it was pretty much like a big pacifier of blood that he was sucking on.  SO SCARY.

When I burped him after his next feeding, he spit up blood instead of milk.

After that, we started finding bloody spit-up on every surface he had touched: his crib sheet, multiple pairs of pajamas.

At 8:05 am on Friday, we called his doctor.  Let it be said that none of us have actually met this doctor yet.  We switched the kids' insurance about a month ago, so now we can see this doctor that has been highly recommended to us, but we haven't actually been there yet (his birth follow-up appointment is on Monday).  Ben talked to a nurse at that office, and she said that it sounded like I was the one transmitting the blood and that I might have an infection of some kind, so I should call my OB.  That didn't make any sense to me, especially in light of the blood clot, and it didn't sound like something that an OB could handle, so I called the lactation consultant instead.  I left her a message, then waited several hours for her to call back.  When she hadn't called by afternoon, I tried calling her again and got her message again, so I figured she probably wasn't at work on Friday.  Then I called my OB, and the staff there said that 1) this was not something that they would typically deal with, 2) that given what I had told them, it didn't sound like there was any way that the blood was coming from me, and 3) we should take Aiden to the ER.  We then called back the family practioner and told the story to a different nurse, who consulted a different doctor, and told us to take him directly to the ER.  So after wasting 8 hours on attempting phonecalls, we packed up the baby and headed back to the hospital.  The older kids stayed with my mom, who had arrived on the scene in the midst of all these phonecalls.

When we got checked in to the hospital, the nurse wanted us to give her Aiden's medical history.  Um, he's 4 days old (actually 3 at that point, but he turned 4 days about 2 hours later...); his entire medical history has occurred at this hospital and should already be in your system.  The nurse then told us that we would be seen by a PA, who she praised as "very thorough."  When the PA came in, the first thing he did was look inside Aiden's mouth to see if there was any blood in there.  After that, he told us that he was baffled because he had never seen a baby so little before, so he was going to call and consult with a pediatrician.

After he walked out, Ben kept looking at Aiden, then said, "I know that guy said he didn't see blood, but I thought I did.  I'm going to check."  So he used a washcloth from the exam room to wipe out Aiden's mouth, and sure enough, it came out bloody.  At that point, it had been about four hours since I had nursed Aiden, so clearly, that blood came from him, not me.

When the nurse came in again, we showed her the washcloth and she decided to do a test to see if it was actually blood.  That seemed ridiculous to us, since obviously it was blood; we wouldn't have gone to the ER otherwise.  But she wiped the blood from the washcloth onto a testing strip, then rinsed the washcloth and tossed it into the laundry bin.  Sure enough, the test showed that it was blood.

After that, we waited.  I nursed Aiden.  Ben went to the cafeteria.  And an hour later, the PA came back and said that the pediatrician had finally called him back and said that in 99.9% of cases, the blood is coming from the mother.  Yes, we explained, we know that; I even experienced that with Shay.  But we found a blood clot in his mouth, on his side of the nipple shield.  And now we've wiped blood directly out of his mouth.  And oh yeah, the two times that I have pumped, there hasn't been a single speck of blood in it.  Did you tell the pediatrician all that?  Well, no.  Exit the PA to call the pediatrician back.

Next a nurse from the mother/baby unit came down to see us.  That was the best part of the night.  We'd had a really good experience there, and it happened to be one of the nurses who had cared for me earlier in the week, so I felt good about that right away.  She listened to everything we had to say, then did a breast exam to see if I had any cuts or blisters--which I did not.  She said that it sounded to her like it was utterly impossible that the blood was coming from me and that she would report that to the PA and (theoretical) doctor (who we had not yet seen).  Because she was such a sweet woman, she also called the lactation consultant on her cell phone and left a message.

Then we waited some more.  Another hour passed.  Finally the PA came back in and said that the pediatrician had called back and (without ever having seen our child or talked to us) ordered an x-ray.  So we took our poor little 4-day-old over to x-ray.  And what did the big, expensive, scary test reveal?  That his onesie had metal snaps on it.  Ohhh, right guys, maybe you should take that off first.  So they did two x-rays.

Back in the exam room, a doctor finally came in to see us.  The first thing he said to us?  "So, I hear you have a lesion on your breast."  Um, no.  The whole point of the nurse's report was to tell you that was NOT the case.  If that had been the case, then it would be pretty obvious where the blood was coming from and I wouldn't have brought my baby to the ER.  But he kept coming back to that idea, in spite of the fact that we kept correcting him, and he never did an exam himself to show otherwise.  Awesome.  He repeated the statistic that in 99.9% of cases, the blood comes from the mother.  We argued and again presented our evidence that it didn't (clot, wiping out mouth, pumped milk).  Fine, he said, if we had a sample of the blood, we could run a test on it to see where it came from.

That was great news.  By that point, we'd been at the ER for almost 5 hours, and every person we had seen and talked to was wasting their time arguing over where the blood came from.  We felt sure that we knew it was coming from Aiden and had gone to the ER in the first place to figure out what was the matter with him, but no one else seemed to be caught up to that idea yet.

The only problem was that he hadn't spit anything up since we'd been at the hospital, so we didn't have a sample.  Finally we reminded them about the washcloth and--I am not kidding you--they dug through the dirty laundry to get it out.  We reminded them that the earlier nurse had rinsed it out, but they took it off to the lab to try to run a test anyway.  Not surprisingly, the test was inconclusive.

Then we asked about the x-ray, and the ER doctor said that even if Aiden's GI track  had been swimming in blood, that wouldn't have shown on an x-ray, because they only show bones and organs.  Um, yeah, so then why did we just have one??

At that point, it was like they all just gave up.  The doctor and the PA just kept repeating that statistic about 99.9% of cases and that he was "probably fine."  And they sent us home.

As we were checking out, the wonderful lactation consultant called my cell phone.  She listened to everything we had to say, then reiterated the mother/baby nurse's opinion that there was no possible way that the blood was coming from me.  She was shocked that a doctor who had actually seen the evidence of his blood on the washcloth could have concluded otherwise.

So basically, the only two people who actually listened to us at the ER were the lactation consultant (via phone) and the mother/baby nurse.  The doctor, PA, ER nurse, and whoever that pediatrician over the phone was just kept repeating statistics about "usually," not taking into account any of the factors in Aiden's individual case.  And after 5 1/2 hours in the ER and two very expensive and completely useless tests, they sent us home with no answers.  Not very reassuring to the people whose 4-day-old baby is spitting up blood.

We came home exhausted, hungry, and beyond frustrated.  We've been keeping a close eye on him, and he hasn't spit up any more blood today (although he has spit up milk).  The working theory that Ben and I have developed (which none of the useless people in the ER even suggested) is that perhaps he had swalled some gunk (for lack of a better term) during birth and was coughing it up during those first few days of feedings.  We're really, really hoping that this is correct and that these bloody burps don't signal some much greater problem yet to be discovered.

Oh, and as an addendum to the story.... This morning, while Ben was at work and my mom was watching the kids, Liam somehow escaped her, ran into my bedroom, and woke me up.  He then climbed up on the bed, jumped, and fell directly across my chest (which was already severely sore and leaking milk, since the trip to the ER had completely wiped out Aiden, who then ate poorly in the night).  Somehow or other this caused me to lose a large chunk of skin, so now I actually DO have a raw, bleeding spot on my nipple.  I have had to pump rather than breastfeed all day to avoid giving him more blood, and clearly now any medical professional that we see is going to point at that and be like, "duh, obviously the blood is coming from you."  So, so frustrating.  Not to mention painful.

So, friends, please just say some prayers that Aiden is okay and that this doesn't all indicate some greater problem.  Aside from the spitting up blood thing, he's perfect.... great appetite, great sleeping, alert and strong.  So we've had a scary first few days and a rough transition home from the hospital.  Please pray for us and for things to get easier!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Introducing Aiden Thomas

After nine VERY long months of waiting, Aiden Thomas Pfanschmidt Meyaard is finally here!


 As you can see, he's taking this whole "being alive" thing very seriously.

Vital stats: He was born at 6:35 pm on Monday, June 18.  He weighed in at 9 pounds 1 ounce and measured 22 1/4 inches long.  He is considered "LGA" (large for gestational age) and was "off the charts" (which means above the 90th percentile) in weight, length, and head size.  He has blue eyes and tons of dark brown hair.  His eyebrows and eyelashes are blond though, so we think his hair will lighten up (as it did with his sisters and brother).  If you notice a distinct similarity between this and previous baby pictures posted on this blog, you are not alone... He looks just like his sisters and brother did as babies; clearly this is our product!

Background story: We were scheduled for a 7:00 induction, and I had pretty much been counting down the hours.  But at 5:00 in the morning, our phone rang; it was the hospital calling to tell us that they were too crowded, and my induction would have to be pushed back.  As  you might imagine, this put me in a VERY bad mood.  We'd had Mel, a friend from camp, spend the night to look after our kids in the morning, but she left for camp and our daily sitter, Miss Rosy, arrived to start the day while we continued to wait.

Shortly after 9:00, the hospital called again and said that they could get us in.  This was followed by a flurry of last minute packing and preparing and saying goodbye to the kids, and we finally got out the door around 9:45.  We then sat stopped in construction on a country road for at least 10 minutes on the way to the hospital, followed by a further delay involving a "code red" (usually meaning a fire, in this case just meaning that the stairwells were clogged with dust from renovation and had set off an alarm) that prevented us from using the hospital elevators.  But around 11:00, we finally got settled into a labor room, filled out paperwork, at got hooked up to an IV for hydration.

Then we had to wait for my doctor to be available to come over and check me.  Of course, she'd been available at 7:00, but now, five hours later, she was with other patients.  So we waited.  At 12:30, she came in and checked me.  I was 4 centimeters dilated, and she thought that we might be able to "get things going naturally."  So she broke my water and instructed me to "walk for a half an hour."  That sequence of events left me sobbing; it was easily the worst part of the whole hospital experience.  The doctor "couldn't get into a good position" to break my water, so between that and my raging varicose veins, it was very painful.  On top of that, thanks to the bedrest, it has been about two months since I've walked a collective half an hour in a day, much less all at once... so I only made it through about 10 minutes of that.  Thankfully, the nurse understood all of this (unlike my flighty doctor), so she got be tucked back into bed in short order.

When I did not "get things going on my own" (which I could easily have told you wasn't going to happen, but the doctor wanted to try), the doctor finally put in the order for some Pitocin.  The nurse hooked me up to that at 1:30.  So finally, a mere 6 1/2 hours after my induction had been scheduled to start, we were on our way.

They upped the level of my Pitocin every 20 minutes, and my contractions were moving along nicely.  I was pretty much ready for the epidural the minute that I checked into the hospital (if for nothing else than to take away the pain from my veins!), but my doctor wouldn't let me have it until my contractions were "regular".... meaning every 2 minutes, lasting for about 1 minute each time, hard and painful.  That happened around 5:00.  With only having about 60 seconds in between each contraction, I was worried that we were going to miss our window (like I had with Liam), but the anesthesiolgist managed to get it in there.  There was definite crying on my part (HATE needles), but it started working its magic pretty much as soon as we got it in, and I stopped feeling contractions before he had even packed up and left the room.

Ben went down to the cafeteria to get some dinner and I attempted (unsuccessfully) to take a nap.  He came back up around 6:00, followed less than 5 minutes later by my doctor and the nurses.  The shift was about to change, so they wanted to check me one more time before new nurses came on duty.  At that point, I couldn't feel my legs at all, and there was no pain or pressure whatsoever, so I was convinced that nothing has happening.  But, to my great shock, the doctor reported that I was at 10 centimeters and it was time to push.

My room filled quickly with people--my doctor, a med student who was observing, and both nurses from both shifts.  I was totally stunned and could barely grasp what was going on--I was still fully convinced that it was nowhere near time.  I felt no pain, no pressure, no urge to push.  But they got me all proped up and told me to push, so I did, all the while protesting that it wasn't time.... and the doctor reported that our baby had a full head of hair.  Another push, and Ben could see it too.  Another push, and the baby was out.... and I seriously hadn't felt a thing.  I told Ben that I thought I was having an out-of-body experience.  I had just had a NINE POUND baby and hadn't felt it AT ALL.

I was pretty dazed in that first half hour following the birth, hardly able to believe what had just happened.  I delivered the placenta and the doctor stitched up my laceration, and I felt absolutely nothing with either experience.  The nurses weighed, measured, and cleaned baby Aiden and passed him over to me.  He was absolutely perfect, and I was totally in love.

The wonders of the epidural lasted while I got moved to the recovery room and our other kids arrived to meet Baby Brother.  They each got to hold him.  Bryn and Shay were beyond excited, exclaiming over how cute he is and how much they love him, but Liam was largely mystified (and at one point called him "Baby Molly," which is the little girl I babysit).

Bryn holds Aiden for the first time.

It was almost 10:00 by the time we got our older kids on the road home and I settled in for what I figured would be an uphill battle to nurse him.  Two of my previous three kids never did get the hang of nursing (but injured me plenty in their attemps), and the third took many weeks and much help from a lactation consultant to get the hang of it.  So you can imagine my shock when little Aiden latched on right away, ate heartily on both sides, and then fell sweetly asleep.

Ben and I went to sleep too.  At that point, I was still feeling the aftereffects of the epidural and felt pretty good.  When I woke up at 1:00 though, well..... I felt like I had had a nine pound baby and had vaginal varicose veins.  Owie.  Enter nursing staff with pain meds.  There wasn't much sleep that night (though there was much checking of vital signs), but my pain level was doing somewhat better by morning, when my dad and stepmom brought the kids back to visit.

Every time she holds him or gets near him, Shay wants to cuddle Aiden. 

Here, both girls are playing "This Little Piggy" with Baby Aiden.

Since then, my hospital stay has been pretty quiet.  Some of our dear friends from Indy got a little crazy last night and made the drive up to visit us (even bearing Dunkin Donuts as a gift--yum!), and Ben went home for a few hours yesterday to play with the older kids.  One of our friends from camp spent the night with our kiddos last night so Ben was able to stay at the hospital, and we've had our wonderful sitter Miss Rosy with them since my parents left about 1:00 yesterday. 

Aiden continues to do great, sleeping well and eating well, and now we're just waiting for the nurses to finish up his 48-hour checks before we head home from the hospital and officially start our lives as a family of six.  Stay tuned for the adventures yet to come!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book #27 of 2012: Tuck Everlasting

Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting has been on my radar for a long time as one of those books that I "should have" read.  It seems to have been a staple of many people's late elementary or middle school years, and in my librarian classes, it's one of those books that people always fall back on by way of illustrating a point.  Somehow it never made my childhood reading list, though, so I finally decided to remedy that.

In this story, 11-year-old Winnie Foster happens upon a 17-year-old stranger (Jesse Tuck) in the woods outside her house.  She sees him drinking from an underground stream and says she wants a drink too.  To her surprise, he reacts with extreme concern, telling her never to touch the water.  She asks why, and before she knows it, Jesse's mother and brother have abducted her, running her away on their horse, promising to tell her the whole story as soon as they reach somewhere safe.  The story that they tell is even stranger than their behavior: Over 80 years ago, they passed through those woods and drank from that stream.  Since then, none of them have aged, and no matter what horrible accidents befall them, they cannot be killed or even injured.  They take Winnie to their house and explain to her why being immortal isn't all it's cracked up to be--in fact, it's an aberration of the natural course of things.  And this is why no one else must ever know the secret of the stream or drink from its waters.

In the one day that she spends with them, sheltered little Winnie comes to love the entire Tuck family.  In spite of their immortality, they live simply, and in spite of the wisdom of the ages, they are essentially innocent.  When Winnie is returned to her own family, she has a choice to make--should she drink from the spring and live forever (perhaps with the Tucks?), or should she keep their secret and live out her natural life quietly?

Even though it's a little on the old side (published in 1975, and set about 80 years before that) I think this would be a great book for classroom discussion in middle school.  It's a simple story, not hard to read, and raises some very interesting questions.  If you had the chance to live forever, would you take it?  And if you had forever ahead of you, how would you live?  Mr. and Mrs. Tuck have a different answer to this than either of their sons.  And does morality somehow change when you have forever to deal with the consequences of your actions?

I'm sure that I would have loved this book if I had read it when I was in, say, 6th grade myself.  I'd definitely recommend it to a student of approximately that age.  But while I can reread and still adore a lot of the books I first read in that era of my life (The Westing Game, or Lloyd Alexander's "Prydain" series, or anything by Madeline L'Engle), this one wasn't all that captivating as adult.  Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd read it back then and reading it now felt like returning to a comfortable old friend, but as it is, I mostly just felt "meh" about the reading of this book.  Nothing too captivating for an adult first-time reader, but nothing to dislike either.  So if you're an adult and have never read Tuck Everlasting before, I'll sadly report that it's probably too late for you to get huge enjoyment out of this book.  If you have a middle schooler in your life, though, definitely put this book in their hands, and enjoy the contemplations and conversations that will follow!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book #26 of 2012: The Summer I Turned Pretty

Since I have basically nothing to do except read while stuck on these final few days of bedrest, I have now finished my 26th book of the year: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han.  I've been meaning to read this one ever since I read my friend Katie's rave review of this book and the other two in Han's YA trilogy.  Like Katie, I am not usually a huge reader of books that are unabashedly "girly" (although my recent Sarah Dessen jag might indicate otherwise).  But I absolutely loved this one.  I'm actually contemplating running right out to the library to get the two sequels (but of course, I'm currently not really in the condition to "run" anywhere) right away.

It's the summer that Belly (Isabel) is turning 16, and for the first time in her life, boys are noticing her.  She has spent every summer of her entire life at her mom's best friend Susannah's summer house, enjoying sun and swimming with her own mom, Susannah, her brother Steven, and Susannah's two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah.  She has nursed a crush on Conrad for as long as she can remember, but Jeremiah is her best friend.  Belly is the baby of the group, and as both the youngest and the only girl, she has gotten used to the boys leaving her out of their fun.  But this summer, both Conrad and Jeremiah seem to see her with new eyes.

As cliche as this all sounds, it's a wonderful book, largely due to Han's writing.  It's both beautiful and completely realistic.  At times, Belly is the perpetually annoying little sister, but her adult side is emerging as well.  This book made me think a lot about my own growing-up years and that awkward transition from child to adult.  My family used to vacation to the same beach inn for a week every summer, accompanied by family friends, and that place will always have the same sense of "home" for me that the Susannah's beach house holds for Belly.  While reading this book, I had all kinds of pangs of memory and missing for that inn and the "summer friends" that used to accompany us there.

If you've ever had a special summer place that feels like home, this book is worth reading just to recapture that feeling.  If you like chick lit and haven't yet discovered Jenny Han, you need to read this book.  I look forward to enjoying the second and third books in this trilogy soon.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book #25 of 2012: Flip

I've been meaning to read Flip by Martyn Bedford ever since the young adult book group in my library science program selected it as their "book of the month" (which was several months ago).  I can't actually attend their meetings, since I no longer live in the same city as my university, but I do try to keep up on what they're reading, since they're usually a pretty good barometer of what's popular right now in YA lit.

After actually checking Flip out of the library, I let it sit on my shelf for a couple of weeks.  I gathered from the jacket summary that it was a kind of Freaky Friday story, with two teenage boys inexplicably swapping bodies.  The first chapter was exactly what I expected from this description, kind of cheesy and nothing too riveting.  I started to wonder why this book came so highly recommended.  But I kept reading.... and things picked up quickly.  It wasn't long before I was so engrossed that I couldn't put the book down (convenient, since the baby wouldn't let me sleep last night).

When 14-year-old Alex wakes up in the body of a stranger (a boy his own age named Phillip), he goes through all the actions that I would expect--he freaks out, tries to tell his "new family" the truth, and tries to contact his own family.  Things start to get interesting, though, when he finds that all avenues for contacting his own family have been cut off and, more strangely still, six months have passed since his last memory as Alex.  He reluctantly begins to live in Phillip's unfamiliar life, all the while trying to figure out how to get back his own.

He eventually makes contact with a few people from his old life, all of whom angrily refuse to believe that he could possibly be Alex.  And then he discovers that Alex--his body, anyway--is lying in a hospital in a coma, hovering between life and death.  He then finds an internet support group for "psychic evacuees" and struggles to understand what has happened to him.  This leads him to a lot of big questions: What is the soul?  Is it different than the brain?  If Alex's soul is residing in Phillip's body, then what has happened to Phillip's own soul?  Has Alex somehow unknowingly killed the essence of Phillip in his own soul's struggle to survive?  Or is there some way to save them both?

While a lot of the elements of this storyline are close to what one might expect in a "body switching" story, I found Alex's contemplations on the nature of the soul to be fascinating.  This is Bedford's first novel for young adults, although he has previously published five adult novels (which I now think I'm going to have to check out).  I found the characters to be well-developed and believable, with the exception of their ages--Alex/Phillip read much more like a 17-year-old than a 14-year-old.  I would definitely recommend this book as a quick, absorbing read, as well as one that yields lasting questions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book #24 of 2012: What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows

I just finished reading my 24th book of 2012: What Every Girl (except me) Knows by Nora Raleigh Baskin.  It was a very quick read and I finished it in one afternoon/evening.  I was feeling the need for something light and quick after reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Last year, I read Baskin's Anything But Typical for one of my librarian grad classes and really enjoyed it, so I thought I'd try another one by her.  I grabbed it off the library shelf a couple weeks ago on impulse, thinking that I might not even read it because it sounded so light and fluffy (but it was the only other book by Baskin at our library).

While What Every Girl (except me) Knows was a quick read, it was not all that light and definitely not fluffy.  It kind of reminded me of a Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret for this generation.  That book was cutting-edge in its time (funny to think of now) because it discussed real coming-of-age issues so frankly, something that had not been done up until that time.  What Every Girl Knows is similar in that it discusses real issues that young teens often don't know how to bring up in their real lives.

Gabby Weiss, age 12, is a girl without a mother.  Her mother died when she was 3, and Gabby has no memory of her at all.  For her entire life, though, Gabby has felt that she doesn't know how to be "girlish" or to interact with other girls, because she has had no female role model.  As she enters her teen years, she's unsure of how to act or who to turn to for advice.  This could just be a sweet coming-of-age story, where Gabby makes a true best friend, acquires a stepmother that she truly loves, and begins to communicate with her older brother.  But these events are overshadowed by sadder, more serious things: the best friend admitting that she knew when her mother had an affair, yet didn't tell her father; the potential stepmother leaving Gabby's father because she is afraid of the family's issues; and Gabby and her brother coming to terms with the previously unspoken fact that their mother committed suicide after their father walked out on them.

Mostly, this book just made me sad: sad for all the kids in the world that have such rough circumstances (such as a classmate who is revealed to be mentally unstable after being repeatedly locked in the closet by her mother as a punishment).  It made me want to cuddle my own kids close and protect them from the big, bad world.  In fact, I think I'm going to go do that right now.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book #23 of 2012: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I just finished my 23rd book of 2012, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  After reviewing my reading list for the rest of this year, I have realized that this is the first book I've read this year that falls squarely into the category of "adult fiction," as opposed to "young adult" or a mix of the two.  And after reading it, I think I'm going to beat a hasty retreat back to the world of YA lit.  This book was simply too dark, grisly, and disturbing for me to able to say that I "enjoyed" it.

Don't get me wrong; it is incredibly well-written.  Its complexity and depth were impressive.  The mystery included layer after layer to expose, and it was very skillfully done.  Stieg Larsson was quite obviously a genius and an excellent writer.  Based on his writing alone, I can see why this book was an international best-seller.  But I, personally, will not be reading his other two books.  That's really saying something for me; I usually finish a trilogy no matter how much I like (or dislike) the first book in it.  And I really was impressed by this book.  But I'm going to skip the other two, just because I don't think I can handle that much darkness and horror.

The plot is difficult to describe because it is so complex and has so many layers.  The most basic explanation I can give is this: journalist Mikael Blomkvist has just been disgraced in his profession by accusations of libel against a well-known financial giant.  This situation provides a complicated subplot throughout the book, but doesn't bear too much connection to the main story, aside from the fact that it sets Blomkvist up to take some time away from his journalistic career.  The aged and wealthy Henrik Vanger approaches Blomkvist with a highly unusual assignment--to work for him for a year, ostensibly writing the family memoirs, but actually investigating the 40-year-old unsolved mystery of the disappearance of his niece, Harriet Vanger.  When, against all odds, Blomkvist makes some new discoveries in the case, he eventually teams up with Lisbeth Salander as his "research assistant."  Lisbeth is 25, treated as a ward of the state because of her supposed mental imbalances, has a vicious capacity for revenge, and is the most talented computer hacker in Sweden.  This unlikely pair discovers that the mystery of Harriet did not end 40 years ago; rather, there is a criminal still active in the present day.

I actually really enjoyed the story of Blomkvist and Salander's investigation of the crime and how they pieced together all of these seemingly insignificant details from 40 years before to reach their conclusions.  What I did NOT enjoy were the rape and brutality that were woven through virtually every aspect of the story.  Several men throughout the story were described as twisted, violent monsters, and I think pretty much every reader would be horrified by their crimes.  So while I really liked the writing and most of the storyline, I just couldn't stomach the crimes.  I'm hesitant to recommend this one, as I know it is going to give me nightmares.  It's definitely not my usual style of book, and while I'm glad that I read it to see what all the "best seller" fuss is about, I won't be doing a reread or checkout out any of Larsson's other books.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

9 Months of Done

I don't think that I am a weakling.  In fact, if anything, this pregnancy has proven just how much my body can endure.  Let's review:

For the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, I had intense diarrhea at least four times a day and overwhelming nausea day in and day out.  This may have just been due to the first trimester, or it might have had something to do with the fact that I was taking prometrium to avoid miscarriage.

For the first 19 weeks of pregnancy, I had intense migraines every single day.  I saw all 3 doctors in my (former) OB practice, as well as 2 neurologists, before being able to clear these up.  For those entire 19 weeks, I had to take multiple painkillers every day (which, it turns out, were actually causing rebound headaches), mostly with no effect whatsoever.  19 weeks of daily migraine--ouch.

Starting along about week 11 or 12, I started to develop vaginal varicose veins.  This means that I have had to wear a V2 supporter daily for the past 26 weeks.  It also means that my veins have gotten increasingly more painful by the day.  They have spread down my legs, and the vaginal ones have gotten so bad that I can barely walk, and even sitting down hurts.  Basically, I am in pain ALL THE TIME.

Thanks to the development of the varicose veins, I have now been on bedrest for 12 weeks.  I have also been unable to drive (or ride) long distances in the car.  This means that I have missed out on visits and special occassions with family and friends.  In an effort to prevent the veins from spreading, I didn't get to spend Christmas/New Year's with my in-laws.  I also missed out on another trip to visit them, during which the kids got to visit a butterfly garden that they're still talking about.  I didn't get to go to my sister's bachelorette party.  I missed a friend's wedding.  I missed my sister-in-law's baby shower.  I missed several special occassions with friends in Indy.

With the bedrest, I have had to sit in my bed while watching other people take care of my sweet kids.  We have been utterly blessed with a long string of wonderful sitters, but their wonderfulness hasn't taken away my desire to be caring for my kids myself.  I have missed special occassions and events for my kids.  I have missed out on getting to see them experience the spring and start of summer at camp.

I have dealt with sciatic nerve pain for about 10 weeks.  I have sat on a heating pad, searching for any position that won't hurt quite so much.

I have put up with the swelling of my hands and feet.  I'm down to 2 pairs of shoes that I can wear with minimal pain.  I had to stop wearing my wedding ring months ago.

I have let this baby kick and pummel me.  Multiple times a day, I see him poking a hand, foot, or head out the front of my stomach.  Anyone who spends time with me as also seen his antics from the outside of my belly (and I have definitely heard my share of "alien baby" comments).  I have also endured countless comments from strangers and well-meaning acquaintances, asking me how overdue I am (not at all), whether I am carrying twins (no), and if this baby is going to be absolutely huge (not that I know of).

For about 16 weeks, I have dealt with disgusting acid reflux that has not responded to any medication.  I've tasted and re-tasted every food that I've eaten for those 16 weeks and been unable to sleep because of the burning in my throat.

In April, I had a spot (polyp, thing, whatever you want to call it) removed from my face by a dermatologist.  They would not give me any anesthaesia because I was so pregnant.  So basically, this means that I got a thing sliced off my face with a knife with no painkiller.  (For the record, this spot has now regrown and I will have to go have it removed again after the baby arrives.)

I have had at least three cough/colds turn into sinus infections thanks to my cruddy, worn-down immune system--one of which I'm dealing with right now.

Two days ago, my water "leaked" (not to be confused with "breaking," apparently), so I went to the hospital.  There, they discovered that I was having contractions every 10 minutes.  This should have been exciting, since I haven't started contractions on my own with any of my previous kids.  But you know what?  I am in so much pain from the varicose veins and everything else that I couldn't even feel the contractions--a fact which the nurse seemed to find freakish.  And in spite of the water leaking and the contractions, they sent me home from the hospital.  They told me to come back when the contractions are 5 minutes apart, but again, if I can't feel them due to the veins, how am I supposed to know when that happens?

Also starting two days ago, I developed intense back pain unlike anything I've ever felt before in my life (and this is coming from a girl who has years of experience with both chiropractors and physical therapy).  The nurse told me that it is probably "back labor;" all I know is that it hurts like hell and has absolutely pushed me over the edge.

So I am not a wuss.  I have put up with a LOT of pain in the last 38 weeks.  But this back thing is the last straw.  I simply cannot take any more.  I am absolutely worn out.  I have nothing left to give.  I am actually really worried that whenever they eventually check me into the hospital to get this baby out, I won't have any strength left to push him out.  I am in constant pain of proportions that I had previously not imagined could exist (and I was in hard labor with Liam, on Pitocin, for 12 hours with no epidural--so I know about pain).  Simply put, I am DONE.  Please pray for strength and hope for me.  I cannot wait for this to be over.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Fighter

I am currently in the process of reading Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist.  I call it a "process" because I can really only read one chapter at a time, sometimes only one chapter in a day, because it's so packed with great thoughts and relatable moments that I need to stop and really think about them.  She describes her book of essays on life with God as "a book on celebration, on the beauty and dimension of our everyday lives."  But the thing is, Shauna Niequist gets that while celebration is needs to be a huge part of walking with God, sometimes our human hearts just aren't capable of celebration on a daily basis.  Sometimes life knocks us down, and it takes us a while to get back up.  And there's beauty there too, though we can't see it at the time--the beauty of God working little miracles that we would never expect, molding even our bad times into a bigger good.
Of the 16 essays I've read so far, at least four of them have made me want to run for the computer and write about how inspiring they are and how, yes, this lady really, perfectly describes exactly what I have felt at various points in my life.  Today I read the chapter entitled "Eggs and Baskets," and I just couldn't hold back anymore.

In this chapter, Ms. Niequist describes leaving her job at a church and the emotional effect that it had on her.  Let me just give you her own words, then explain why this chapter hit me so hard:

"If I had been savvier and more aware, I would have resigned sooner.  For a lot of reasons that I only understand now, I did the opposite: I tried and tried and tried to make something work that had stopped working a long time before I tried to salvage it.  And I left, in the end, because I had no other choice.

"More than a career setback, more than a professional disappointment, what it felt like to me was a heartbreak.  I felt like something unraveled around me.  I felt more vulnerable and powerless than I had in a decade.  I didn't recognize myself in the mirror.  One of my deepest secret beliefs is that I am actually not a good person at all, not a talented or helpful person in any way, and that someday everyone will find out even though I've managed to trick them for a little while, and this felt like the confirmation of all those feelings for all those years.

"The point, I can see now, is not the job.  The point is that the job was like a safety pin that was holding me together, and when the pin released, the whole system of my life and my self fell apart.  People leave jobs all the time.  I know.  I know it's hard, and that it stings, and that you get over it and you move on and you find a new place to work.  I know that jobs are things you do, that they're not badges of who you are, that they're not as important as your character or your family or your soul.  I know.

"I know those things, but something happened to me when I left my job.  Something bad.  I lost it, whatever it is.  I lost that sense that I was okay, and that I would be okay again.  I lost all belief in my future.  I was sad and scared and ashamed.  Without knowing it, without intending to, I had shoved way too much of myself into my job, more than a job can possibly bear, and I set myself up to fall a terrible distance if something were ever to happen to that job.  And then, of course, it did.  I put all my eggs in the job basket, until it because impossibly heavy, and it broke."  (pages 98-99)

Wow.  Friends, this could be me talking, if I was that articulate and self-aware.  My first career was in teaching.  And I invested myself, body and soul, in that job.  I lived and breathed for my students.  Looking back, I didn't have much of a social life during that time.  I spent my evenings and weekends working extracurriculars.  Ben often came to school events with me; all my students knew him.  I wanted to be a really exceptional teacher, but more so, a really exceptional mentor to my students.  After a few years on this path, I transitioned from a classroom teacher to the full-time Director of Student Activities, a change that I welcomed because it enabled me to spend more time one-on-one with the kids instead of mired down in lesson planning and grading.  I loved that job more than anything, and it broke my heart.

Calling that job "full-time" is almost laughable in its understatement.  I worked around the clock, during school hours, evenings, and weekends.  I practically lived in my office; I ate 3 meals a day at my desk and was even known to sleep there on occasion (even though the school was only about a mile from my house).  I was making less money than I had even as I had as a first-year teacher, but I loved what I was doing.  When I went on maternity leave for the delivery of Bryn, the school didn't hire a replacement for me.  Instead, I fielded phone calls about various events at all hours of day and night, sent detailed instructions to students via email, and returned to an immense pile of catch-up work, bleary-eyed and overwhelmed after a mere 4 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.

One perk of that job was that since I was a department unto myself, often going entire school days without seeing another adult near my isolated office, I was allowed to take Bryn to work with me (convenient, since I returned to work before she was old enough to have been eligible for any daycare).  She spent her babyhood in that office.  She watched her first videos on my office tv, was fed her first solid foods by an endless parade of adoring student aides, and napped (or rather, refused to nap) in a Pack 'n' Play in the adjoining concession stand.

By the end of that school year, my overtime hours added up to more than 90 comp days earned.  For that entire year, I had clung to my principal's promises that the next year, my pay would go up and my hours would go down.  With just a few weeks left in the school year, though, he changed his tune: the following year would include added responsibilities; my pay would be reduced thanks to "budget cuts;" and oh yeah, Bryn would no longer be allowed to come to work with me.  I was absolutely devastated.  I loved my job and the kids that I worked with, but with reduced pay and the hours that I was working, I wouldn't be able to cover childcare for my one child.... not to mention the fact that I would never see her or my husband.  With a heavy heart, I put in my resignation.  Thanks to the political machinations of my principal, I was not compensated for a single one of the 90+ comp days that I had earned, and I also lost the $3000 summer bonus that I had been promised.

I was completely torn apart.  I had given my body, heart, and soul to that job and didn't know what to do without it.  While I had been the one to resign, I had only done so because I felt like I didn't have any other options.  So there I was, left at home with an 8-month-old baby who never, ever slept, dealing with what I now realize was a wicked case of post-partum depression, and wondering what on earth I was going to do with my life.  I was 27 years old and quickly became convinced that I had run out of possibilities.

I spent most of that summer trying to get Bryn to sleep (unsuccessfully) and trying to launch a new career (also unsuccessfully).  I was too raw and sad to go back into a school system at that point, so I searched and searched for a job, any job, in another field.  I learned that the English degree my college professors had praised as "versatile" was useless in trying to find a job other than teaching.  I tried to put my love of kids to good use and applied for various youth-oriented jobs, only to repeatedly make it to the final round of interviews and then get cut.  My already-broken heart fractured again and again.  By the time I gave up and admitted that finding a new field of work wasn't going to happen, the school year had already started, and I was out of luck.

While all of my friends were enjoying that first glow of the new school year (and I was envying them from afar), I got a positive pregnancy test.  For a few days, I celebrated joyously--surely, surely, this was why God had led me to become an unwilling stay-at-home mom, so that I could raise not one but two sweet little babies.  But then I miscarried, and my whole vision of the future closed in on itself.  I felt like an utter failure.  I couldn't find a job; I couldn't sustain a baby's life.  I was a failure as both a professional and a mother.  I cried and cried and refused to leave the house.  The only good thing I could find about this period of my life was that Bryn was too young to register or remember what a terrible mess her mom was.

The months passed, and I tried to rally and recover, but it just felt like I kept getting knocked down over and over again.  We moved to our new house in a neighboring town, and while I was thrilled about the house, that move also took us to a new area of town, where I hardly knew anyone and felt even further separated from the job and friends that had defined my life before.  We had built that house on the assumption that we would have two salaries to pay for it, so I worked an endless stream of odd jobs to help pay for it.  I graded standardized tests in a huge, depressing warehouse, filled with other sad people working on old computers.  I tutored students from my old school, which never failed to re-open the wounds left by my resignation.  I graded more standardized tests online, nearly falling asleep at the keyboard every time I turned it on.  I got a job working retail and prayed that no one from my old life would see me there, as I viewed it to be an embarrassing, plummeting fall after my former professional glory.

Slowly, I got our boxes unpacked and our family settled into our new house.  I made new friends in our new community and found a new church, where I sobbed through the sermons every week, feeling like they had been written with poor, hopeless me in mind.  I enrolled in a graduate program to earn my masters degree, planning to return to teaching in the fall.  And just when I started to feel like maybe I was going to make it out of that dark place, I got knocked down again.... with another miscarriage.  I felt hopeless, immobilized, like nothing would ever be right again.

And then, just a few months later, against all odds, there was Shay.

This tiny little life inside of me, persistently hanging on, growing where two other babies had not.  She was an utter miracle.

And for me, that turned the tide.  Things didn't get better immediately, but I was infinitely more determined to fight back against my circumstances, to see the good in my life instead of the bad.  Dear friends, both old and new, came alongside me for this journey and lifted me up to where I felt like I could breathe again.  I got more involved in my new church, and the wonderful people there lifted our family up with prayer and encouragement.  I made the decision, for myself, to put teaching aside for the time being and to focus on my family.  And through it all, Shay kept growing, kept fighting, giving me hope that I could do the same.

As I look at Shay now, nearly five years later, with all of this in mind, her personality makes so much sense to me.  For her, hearing "no" is a temporary setback, not the end of anything.  She's fierce and strong and never hesitates to fight for what she wants.  She's loyal and determined, unafraid to show her emotions.  She's my sunshine, caring for and comforting the people around her.  She knows what she wants and doesn't waver.  She's beautiful and strong and miraculous.  I have no doubt that even back then, when she was very first growing inside of me, that it was her strong spirit that leant me what I needed to come back to myself.

Now, those dark days seem like something out of someone else's life, something that I can only remember through a veil.  This is why reading Shauna Niequist's story of a similar time in her own life hit me like a punch to the gut, confirming for me that even in those dark times, I was never alone.  While I didn't see much to "celebrate" in that time after leaving my job, God was all the while crafting a better miracle for my life: my sweet Shaylee Grace, my new identity as a mother, and all the adventures that our family has experienced since then.  Of course, Shay didn't change all that by herself; God did.  But the simple fact that she existed, that she was such a fighter, hanging on so tenaciously against all odds, made me want to do the same... and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Monday, June 04, 2012

2 Weeks and Counting

I am thrilled to report that at my most recent OB appointment, my doctor took pity on me and agreed to schedule an induction for this baby.  My actual due date is June 21, but we'll be going in three days early, on June 18.... in other words, a mere 2 weeks from today!  I cannot even tell you what a relief it is to have an end in sight.

This week is staff training at camp, so Ben and the kids and I have really been enjoying visiting with counselors from last year and meeting new ones.  Today, when we went for dinner, one of the new counselors told me that I was adorable and looked like I had just stuck a medicine ball under my dress.  (Of course, then she asked if I was having twins....)  Here's a picture of me and my medicine ball with 2 weeks to go:


A quick rundown on the health situation:

My varicose veins continue to be extremely painful, especially with all the weight of this baby sitting on them.  My sciatic nerve on my right side has also been flaring up really badly.  I told Ben that my entire waist region feels like a hinge--a broken hinge.  I have a really, really hard time sitting up or rolling over in the night.

Speaking of nighttime, I have a really hard time sleeping because the pain keeps me awake.  I have found that taking half an Ambien at bedtime is a real lifesaver.  While it doesn't do anything for my pain level, it does enable me to fall back asleep when I wake up (instead of just lying awake and being overwhelmed by how much I hurt).  I wake up every 45-60 minutes like clockwork, never sleeping more than an hour at a time, so even if I spent a lot of hours in bed, I'm still pretty worn out.

The "worn out" these days is also largely due to the fact that I picked up a nasty cold/sore throat combo from Liam and it is totally knocking me out.  He was sick for four days, during which he wanted nothing but to lie on my bed with his head on my lap.  Sometimes he watched movies, and other times he just stared into space.  Now that I've got it too, I totally understand why he did that.  It has utterly drained me of all energy, and pretty much all I want to do is lay down as well.  Today is my fourth day, so assuming that I follow Liam's model, I'm hoping that I will soon be on the road to recovery as well.  Better be soon, because with as drained as it's got me feeling, I honestly don't know if I could push out a baby right now!

So for the time being, I continue to spend a lot of time in bed, sitting on the heating pad (not really all that comfortable in 100 degree heat, but does help my back).  In case you haven't noticed from my many posts about books lately, I've been doing a lot of reading.  I've also been doing a lot of napping.  I do manage to get out of the house for meals at camp and some trips to the library (since Bryn insisted on signing up for every single program that they offer this summer.... chip off the old block, that one!).  Our summer sitter, "Miss Rosy," is an absolute godsend.  She takes great care of the kids and me.  In addition to keep the kids happy and amused (including many craft projects that I never would have thought of), she has also done my laundry and mopped my floor.  I may not be willing to let her return to the school system at the end of the summer.

So two weeks and counting!  Looking forward to the arrival of Number Four and all the excitement that will hold.

Book #22 of 2012: "Hana" by Lauren Oliver

I actually feel a little guilty counting Lauren Oliver's Hana was my 22nd book of 2012, since it is actually a "novella" and only 47 pages long.  But I'm going to go ahead and count it, largely based on the difficulty that I had getting it.  It's only available in eBook format, and since I don't have an eReader, I thought that I would never get a chance to read it.  Thankfully, then a friend clued me in to a free download on Barnes and Noble's website that would allow me to read anything made for Nook on my computer, so after downloading that and a $3 version of the novella, I was in business.  Maybe the reading experience would be slightly different on a real Kindle or Nook, but reading it on my laptop pretty confirmed for me that I don't really want one.  I'm too attached to the actual pages of an actual book; I have no interest in reading an on-screen version if there's an alternative.  I can see that eReaders have a definite audience (like, say, those who travel a lot and don't want to pack tons of books), but give me an actual print version any way.  Perhaps, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer's librarian Rupert Giles, I'm just too attached to the way that books smell.

Anyway, I digress.

Hana would best be read as a companion to Lauren Oliver's Delirium.  I read it back in January, and while I remember most of the details, I kept thinking that I would enjoy Hana more if reading it directly after Delirium so that I could compare them better.  Hana is essentially the same story as Delirium, but covering a shorter period in time and told by the character of Hana Trent, whereas Delirium is told by the main character of the trilogy (Delirium, Pandemonium, and the upcoming Requiem), Lena Haloway.

I didn't like Hana's voice nearly as much as Lena's--while Lena has a lot to overcome and learn, Hana comes across sounding spoiled and selfish.  And with only 47 pages, there's not a lot of space for new plot development.  It was very interesting to see Lena's story from another point of view, and I was surprised by some of Hana's emotions and reactions.  They definitely leant a completely different perspective to the story.  The end of the story was especially surprising to me; definitely a cliffhanger.  In fact, to be honest, I have to wonder if I'm reading it right at all, because there was nothing to indicate this development in either Delirium or Pandemonium.  I'm really wondering if it will be addressed in Requiem, as it seems like a pretty major development to just leave hanging.

Sorry to leave you all hanging without being able to give more details of the end-of-story development, but I really think that divulging more would ruin the story.  Just let it suffice to say: if you've read Lauren Oliver's books, pick this one up for a different perspective.  And if you've also read Hana, then you and I need to discuss the ending.  :)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Book #21 of 2012: "Split" by Swati Avasthi

I finished Split by new author Swati Avasthi this morning and all I can say is.... wow.  This book was incredibly thought-provoking, sad, beautiful, and filled with redeeming hope.  Once I started it, I could hardly  put it down, even to sleep.  I highly recommend it to anyone, either teen or adult.

The story starts at 16-year-old Jace Witherspoon arrives at his brother's apartment in New Mexico.  Jace hasn't seen Christian for 5 long years and has no idea what he will encounter on the other side of that apartment door.  The boys' father, a prestigious Chicago judge, has been violently beating the boys' mother for as long as they can remember.  When Christian was 11, he started intervening, defending his mother and bringing the beatings on himself instead of her.  After being hospitalized several times, he leaves home at age 16.  He gets help from a friend's family, puts himself through college, changes his name, and basically disappears in order to protect himself.  Jace has not heard from Christian since then.

Now Jace is 16, and his father has been beating him for the past 5 years, since Christian left.  One night, after he has a fight with his girlfriend, Jace comes home and finds his mother recovering from yet another beating.  Something inside him snaps, and he retaliates against his dad.  His dad beats him to unconsciousness, and when he awakens, kicks him out of the house with nothing more than the clothes on his back.  At the last moment, his mother slips him an envelope--the one letter she has secretly received from Christian--and urges Jace to find shelter with his brother.

After driving cross-country for 19 hours, Jace finds Christian.  It has been five years since they've seen each other, and neither is willing to dip into their shared memories to rebuild their past relationship.  They settle on a "no questions" policy, and Christian allows Jace to stay with him.  Jace slowly begins to rebuild his life, enrolling at a new school, getting a job, and above all, hiding from their father.  Jace worries incessantly about their mother, urging her via email to leave their father and come to live with he and Christian.  And nothing in his new life can help him to forget that terrible last night with Lauren in Chicago....

This story is a poignant tale of familial abuse.  Both Christian and Jace try hard to pick up their pieces of their shattered lives and start anew after escaping from their father, but how can they escape the horrors of what they've been through?  Neither understands why their mother is unwilling to leave their father, even though they know that the frequent beatings will eventually result in her death.  They struggle with how to become men: good men, not carrying around the anger that they see in their father.  They wonder how to break the cycle of abuse, how to start new, and how to come to trust and forgive each other.

Book #20 of 2012: "Along for the Ride" by Sarah Dessen

As you may have all gathered by now, I'm rather on a Sarah Dessen kick this summer.  This is my fourth by her in quick succession, sixth overall.  I honestly think that Along for the Ride may be my favorite book by her yet (although This Lullaby and What Happened to Goodbye are also contendors).

First of all, let me just say that the cover of this novel gets a big "FAIL" in my opinion.  Way too flirty and girly.  After all, Auden (the main character of this novel) would never be caught dead wearing pink, much less some frilly thing like that.  Definitely needs an adjustment of cover art.

But thankfully, I have learned not to judge a book by its cover, so I was able to immerse myself in Auden's world.  She is 18 and about to head to college, but she never had much of a childhood.  Her parents are both university professors, authors, academics, and the world's most selfish people.  She has been expected to be a "little adult" for her entire life, whereas her older brother Hollis is the perpetual golden boy, free to do whatever he wants--which is currently taking a 2-year trip around Europe with his parents' money and no particular goal in mind.

Largely because she has no social life and no plans for the summer, Auden makes a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision (very rare for her) to take her father up on his offer to have her come for a visit.  Her father, his new wife (Heidi, only 26 years old), and their brand-new baby girl Thisbe (a name which basically no one except the selfish father approves of) have a house on the coast, and since Auden basically hasn't seen much of her father since her parents divorced three years earlier, she decides to go for a visit.

This visit meets with stern disapproval from her mother, an ardent feminist, who is sure that a summer at the beach will turn Auden into a frivolous, bikini-wearing ditz.  (Incidentally, Auden's mother wants her to spend the summer reading all the textbooks for her upcoming first semester in college--something that the academically-driven Auden actually spends a significant portion of time doing.)  And when Auden arrives at her father's house, she finds her stepmother to be absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed by a colicky baby, her father locking himself in his office daily to "work on his novel" (and providing no help whatsoever with the constantly screaming baby), and their marriage in a tense, miserable state that she recognizes all too well from her own parents' split.

Out of pity for Heidi, Auden agrees to take a part-time job doing the bookkeeping and accounting duties for Heidi's boutique, which is about as girly of a store as you could ever imagine.  There she meets Maggie, Esther, and Leah.  Auden has no idea how to interact with these girls, since she has been basically without friends and totally immersed in academics for her entire life.  During her nocturnal wanderings (originally designed to avoid hearing her parents fight, but now a habit she can't seem to break), Auden also meets Eli, a former bike afficionado who abrubtly quit his hobby (and his social life) a year earlier when his best friend was killed in a car accident.  Slowly, Auden develops relationships with all of these people and begins a "quest" to make up for her lost childhood.

While I really enjoyed Auden and her storyline, I was also very drawn to the character of Heidi.  This poor mama has one difficult baby on her hands.  Her husband is basically AWOL (which is actually preferable to the scenes where he does show up and fight with her) and she has essentially no support network.  She is exhausted and overwhelmed and has no idea where to turn or how to recapture her old life.  Man, let me tell you, I really felt for her.  Motherhood, especially the first time around, is an overwhelming enterprise.  Maybe it's my own pregnancy hormones, but I totally sympathized with her.  I also loved the way that she supported and cared for Auden in the midst of her own troubles--providing pretty much the only reasonable adult influence in the novel.

If you're in the mood for some chick lit, I definitely recommend this book.  It's a quick read, and unlike a lot of other books I've read, I felt like there were real storylines for both teens and adults.  If you're a Sarah Dessen fan and have somehow missed this one so far, you definitely need to check it out!