a garden in riotous bloom
Beautiful. Damn hard. Increasingly useful.
fresh cuttings 
25 June 2016 01:41 - "When I am a driver"
legs, boots, potential, travel, feet
The Brexit news is wretched and I can't pay too much attention to it or I fall into this sort of stupor of grief. Fortunately we had a lot to distract us today: our first-ever car trip as a family, the minimum-three-hour drive to visit J's mother upstate.

Prior to this, the longest drive I'd ever done was the two hours between Boston and New Haven for last year's Readercon travel Rube Goldberg machine. And my arms have been very cranky, as noted elsewhere, and my knees have been a little cranky, as I think I haven't even bothered noting because there's so much other stuff going on; highway driving is fine for my knees but stop-and-go is awful, and anytime we drive out of NYC there's going to be stop-and-go unless we leave in the middle of the night, which we can't do because baby. And X has their learner's permit but their driving test isn't until next week, so they can't spell me as the driver when we're renting a car. So we were all concerned about how that was going to go. I had a tiny little additional anx over never having rented a Zipcar before, but at least I'd seen other people do it and basically understood the process.

Kit does great in cab rides but has never been in a car for more than an hour. They've also never slept overnight anywhere other than our house (not counting the hospital where they were born). So we had no idea what or how much to pack, and had no idea how often we'd need to stop, and had no idea whether Kit would abruptly run out of "happy to be in the car" before we reached our destination. Plus I was nervous about the responsibility of being the driver with the baby in the car.

Given all of that, it's a wonder we only all snapped and griped at each other a few times over the course of getting ready and getting on the road. And then it went totally fine. We planned the fuck out of it, and 98% of the plan worked, and the 2% that didn't (Kit's folding crib not fitting in the rental car trunk; me packing all the burp cloths in a duffel that we put in the trunk) were things we had a backup plan for (I remembered that you can see a Babies R Us sign from I-87 in the Bronx--I've gone by it a million times in Chinatown buses--so we stopped there and bought a super compact folding crib/playpen that juuuuust fit in the back with the rest of our stuff) or coped with well on the fly (X noticed the lack of burp cloths and grabbed a few more before we left the house). My knee was kind of murderous after the two hours of stop-and-go traffic that got us to the Bronx, but traffic was much lighter the rest of the way and it recovered quickly. X was a superb navigator and deejay in the front seat while J entertained the baby in the back seat. Kit slept, ate, complacently tolerated being changed in the Babies R Us bathroom, slept, ate, complacently tolerated being briefly extricated from the car seat at a rest area where I stopped to eat a sandwich and have J jab the pressure points in my shoulders, and then cheerfully babbled and watched the sun-dapple through the trees for the last 45 minutes of the drive while J sang them silly songs and cracked us all up. We started the trip grumpy and anxious, but I think we all ended it feeling much more relaxed and content.

After nearly five hours of travel, we arrived at Glory's house, where she was standing out front waiting for us so as not to miss a single minute of her grandchild. We set up Kit's folding chair right in the driveway and plunked them in it, and they looked around wide-eyed at their ecstatic grandmother and all the glorious trees and then gave us a huge beaming smile. I have never felt so good about my life choices as I did in that moment. All the stress, all the fretting, all the physical discomfort was 100% worth it to see my baby smile like that.

While I iced my arms and knee (which all felt pretty good, but why take chances), J and X unloaded the car and Glory doted on the baby. J brought all the heavy bags in and then swung right into cooking dinner while X took point on feeding Kit, which was a bit of a challenge as we were sitting on the porch and they kept getting distracted by all the trees. So many trees! All moving constantly with wonderful breezes that smell so delicious! Kit happily sat on Glory's lap, happily let X take them inside and finish feeding them away from the distractions, happily had their diaper changed and put on pajamas, and happily lay down in their new crib (on their familiar mattress, with familiar music playing and a fan for white noise--we wanted to take as few chances with sleep as possible). More than an hour after their usual bedtime, they were still wide awake. But we all said goodnight and turned the lights down and left them to settle, and after a few minutes of babbling quietly--to themself? to the house spirits? who knows? it's not a thing they usually do--they conked right out. That was four and a half hours ago and they haven't woken yet.

Friends, I don't know what we did in a past life to deserve this baby. I think we were a trio of saints.

I'm already trying to figure out how often we can come up here. A five-hour drive is no picnic, even once X can split it with me; we all took today off to make it happen. I can't imagine doing the trip on a two-day weekend. Even a three-day weekend is pushing it. But Kit is so happy here. My little elfling. :) At the very least we should take more walks in Prospect Park. Trees! Trees are the best.

I'm so glad we have this trip as a trial run before going to Readercon in two weeks. By the end of the weekend we'll have a much better idea of what we need to bring with us and what's overkill. We'll know what to pack where we can reach it during the trip and what can go in the trunk. (I'm still embarrassed about the burp cloths.) We'll know the car; we've already reserved the same one for the Readercon trip. (I'm not sure I'd rent it a third time, but it's good enough that familiarity trumps wanting a car where the gas pedal is not set so much further forward than the brake pedal that it's literally impossible for me to find a comfortable seat position.) We'll know which of our travel gear works and is useful, instead of just having to hope. (Static cling car window shades: amazing. The thing that goes under the car seat and protects the upholstery: probably not necessary until Kit's old enough to be dropping Cheerios everywhere.) We'll know how often we need to stop and take breaks. We'll know that my "quiet and mellow" playlist is something the baby can sleep through--though frankly I wouldn't be surprised if Kit slept through Darude's "Sandstorm", Hamilton, or Beethoven's Fifth--but not so mellow that it puts me to sleep while I'm driving. We'll know that our baby is an amazing travel baby. And we'll know that we're a pretty amazing travel family: we may be a little irritable as we're getting on the road, but we can recover from that and go on to have a decent trip and a good time at our destination. Plus there should be a lot less irritability on the next trip, now that we have any idea what we're doing.

I didn't mean to type so much; I should go do my OT exercises, ice my arms a bit more, and get some sleep. I'm just so glad that at least in our tiny little corner of the world, everything went okay today. I needed that.


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22 June 2016 22:00 - "No rings on your sword hand"
arm, strong, powerful, determined, workout
I went to see a new occupational therapist today. She instructed me to look at everything I use my arms for and figure out how to do it more ergonomically. If I'm not sure how to make improvements, I can have someone take photos of me and she'll help me troubleshoot.

* Using my laptop. I just bought a very clever folding standing desk that hooks over a door, which means I can use it in my bedroom where there's a/c but no room for a desk or table, and will set it up with my laptop and ergonomic keyboard; hopefully that will help. Nothing to be done about using the laptop when I'm out and about, unless I want to spend another $300 on a ZestDesk. (There are much cheaper folding standing desks, such as the $25 Oristand, but they're hard to tote around.) I'm also going to try OS X's built-in voice recognition; it doesn't work for InCopy, but it's good for social media. I am, in fact, dictating this sentence right now. The selection commands don't seem to work very well within this Chrome window, but I'm impressed by the speed of it and how well it understands my commands when I'm speaking at a normal rate.

* Using my phone. Holding it is hard and swiping on it is hard. I don't know what to do about this. Just use it less, I guess. I should definitely use the voice recognition more, since it's surprisingly good.

* Folding laundry. Ergonomically it's okay, I think; I stand at a table that's a good height. It's just a strain.

* Reading books. I downloaded Moon+ Reader, an Android e-book app with pretty decent auto-scroll functions; it can do continuous scroll on epubs, and for PDFs it'll do this wacky thing where it starts unrolling the next page at the top of the screen while you're reading the bottom half of the current one. If I can prop up my tablet and auto-scroll a book, that gives me something to do while putting ice on my arms, and is generally easier on me than holding a physical book. I've been using auto-scroll in Chrome to read books on Gutenberg and it works really well.

* Driving. The OT recommended changing hand positions frequently, doing upper back stretches (bringing my shoulder blades together) while driving, and taking breaks to rest and shake out my arms and shoulders. I also plan to bring our giant ice packs in an insulated bag. They won't be frozen solid by the time we stop for a break, but any cold is better than nothing.

* Picking up the baby. The OT suggested scooping from the side (one arm supporting the baby's head, the other supporting the bum), which uses my upper arms, rather than lifting under the armpits, which uses my forearms.

* Pushing a stroller. Hard to change the ergonomics of that, but we just bought a lovely shiny 10-pound Maclaren Volo that will be much easier to push and lift than our splendidly feature-rich but heavy Graco Modes; the Volo even has a carrying strap to use when it's folded up. We also got an Ergobaby 360 carrier that's better ergonomically for both us and the baby than the Baby Bjorn. X would rather push a stroller than use the carrier, especially in the summer, so they'll bring the baby to daycare in the Volo, and I'll pick them up with the 360 and either push the Volo home empty or fold it and carry it with the strap.

What the hell else do I even do with my hands these days? X and J have been taking over a lot of my chores so I can rest and recover. And I already know not to stir a pot or chop vegetables or carry grocery bags by hand. I suppose this is enough to change, anyway. Just another way that I'm shaking up my life. Might as well do it all at once. (I am very glum today, but that always happens on my first day of physical therapy or equivalent; it brings up a lot of miserable feelings about how long I've been in pain and how hard it is to believe that I'll ever really get better. I'll be okay once I've had a chance to get some rest.)


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21 June 2016 13:39 - "You can be a new man"
boy, crossdressing
Someone just wrote to me asking for advice on getting started building a dapper wardrobe, and of course I have LOTS of advice. I figured I'd share it here too.

Style inspiration: I love looking at portraits of the original dapper dandy, Beau Brummel, and his fellow Regency-era men. A quick Google search for "Regency men's clothing" will give you a ton. If you like more flamboyant styles, researching the fops and fribbles who predated him is also a lot of fun. In the modern era, try looking up drag kings, who have fabulous style and do interesting things with the basics of menswear. Or flip through the catalogs/websites of high-end butchwear companies even though you can't afford anything they make.

Buying clothes: EBAY EBAY EBAY. I'm a boy's size 16/18 in shirts, and it turns out there are a lot of teen boys who wear very nice shirts once and outgrow them, and then their parents put them (the shirts, not the boys) up on Ebay for pennies. The best thing is that many of them are posted with measurements as well as size numbers. Buy a few different brands and see what fits. You can also go to a big department store and try on things from the boys section. Men's trousers are more difficult to find unless you're skinny all the way down; I have a small waist and a big butt, and I do pretty well with Old Navy men's jeans as long as they're a tapered fit. Don't shy away from fitted clothing. Baggy pants won't hide your shape--they'll just make you look shlumpy, and you won't feel good about yourself, which hampers the self-confident attitude that's the true hallmark of the dandy.

In one word, I teach you the secret of success in dapperness: ACCESSORIZE.

The most obvious accessory is the tie. If you have a short torso, regular men's ties will be much too long for you, so get pre-tied clip-on or zip-up ties for kids (very easy to find on Ebay in a wide range of colors and sizes) or wear bow ties. You can also try bolo or string ties if that's your style. I like wearing a vertical pin on my shirt placket to give the suggestion of a tie without the formality of one.

My favorite way to dress up a button-up shirt is with a vest; it can be hard to find one that fits if your chest is big, but a little subtle tailoring can turn a blocky square vest into something smooth and glorious that also hides your waistline a bit. Sweater vests stretch to accommodate your shape and are great for autumn. In the winter, wear suit jackets. In the summer, wear a white cotton undershirt (I like Hanes men's small) to soak up sweat and keep your thin cotton shirt from wrinkling or going transparent. Use shirt stays--they're like suspenders that attach your shirt to the top of your socks and keep it tucked in and smooth. A neatly folded pocket square or a pair of suspenders can also do wonders, though I find that I have to wear a binder (gc2b is an excellent brand) if I want suspenders to lie properly on my chest.

And hats! Hats are great! My preferred hat shop is Goorin Bros. even though they inexplicably started dividing their collection into "men's" and "women's"; ignore those artificial distinctions and get yourself a fedora (we can reclaim them from the whiny bros) or a flat cap. If you have long hair, either tuck it up into a hat or wear your hair in whatever long style is associated with men of your race/culture (single ponytail, single long braid, tidy dreads, loose and all one length--there are a surprising number of options even if you don't think of there being long hair styles for men), with or without a hat.

Get shoes from Tomboy Toes, or from Payless, which has some decent men's shoes in very small sizes for very cheap. My first pair of shiny captoes in size 5.5 came from Payless and cost something like $20. I still have them and love them, even though the soles have cracked.

Pay attention to detail. If you're wearing a jacket, shoot your cuffs. Shine your shoes. Wear silk socks and boxer briefs, even if no one but you will know. Iron your handkerchief. Wear earrings that match your cuff links. Wear men's shirts rather than masculine-styled women's shirts so that the buttons are on the correct side, and never ever wear a men's shirt with a women's jacket or vice versa. The little touches that pull an outfit together are really what give the impression of dandyness.


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annoyed, annoying, pain
I am getting really tired of people asking "Boy or girl?" and "Is this your first?" and "How are you sleeping?" and have also been caught without suitable alternatives when meeting other people's babies. So here, have two lists of useful, appropriate, non-intrusive things to say when someone (EDIT: by which I meant someone you don't know well--apologies for not making that clear!) tells you they have a baby, introduces you to the baby, or shows you pictures of the baby. If you feel totally lost when confronted with babies, memorize these lists and you will come off like the world's #1 baby fan.

1) Statements. Statements are great! They make no assumptions at all--they don't even assume that the parent is the biological parent, or is happy to be a parent (that day or at all)--and don't require the parent to give you information that might turn out to be way more personal than you (or they) want. Statements can also be made directly to the baby, which further reduces the risk of asking accidentally inappropriate questions or hearing discomfiting anecdotes from parents given to TMI.
  • "Congratulations/mazel tov/that's wonderful!"
  • "What a cutie!"
  • "Oh gosh, so adorable!"
  • "That's a great outfit!"
  • "Look at all that hair/that bald little head!"
  • "Look at those smishable cheeks!"
  • "What long fingers/toes!"
  • "ELBOW DIMPLES OMG" (Seriously, you are permitted and encouraged to be loudly impressed by any visible part of the baby, because literally every part of a baby is, by definition, cute.)
  • "Aw, you're getting sleepy."
  • "Aw, you're a little shy. That's okay, kiddo, you're not required to make friends."
  • "Wow, what a smile!"
  • "You're making noises with your mouth! That's so cool!"
  • "You just cooed/farted/grabbed that toy! Yes you did!" (This sort of babble sounds like nonsense but it really is part of how babies learn to identify objects and actions.)
  • "Who's the cutest baby in the immediate vicinity? It's you!" (Asking and answering rhetorical questions teaches babies the patterns of conversation. I'm not making this up.)
  • "What a strong grip! Ha ha, guess you want to take my finger home with you!" (You washed your hands before touching the baby, right? Good.)
In essence, you are agreeing that the baby is a baby, and approving of the baby's baby-like qualities. You really can't go wrong with this.

2) Minimally invasive questions. Any question is going to put the parent on the spot a bit, but these at least avoid the possibility of answers involving infertility, miscarriage, life-threatening labor complications, and the like.
  • "What's the baby's name?"
  • "When was the baby born/how old is the baby?" (Do not follow this up with a comment on the baby being big or small for their age, or on expected milestones.)
  • "What's the latest exciting thing the baby learned to do?"
  • "Can I do anything for you?"
  • "I'd love to give you a present for the baby--is there anything you especially want or need?"
  • "I've/we've got a baby on the way--any advice or recommendations?"
  • "May I come over and babysit sometime?"
Topics to avoid, unless you are a close personal friend of the parent and they have indicated that such topics are fair game (because obviously these aren't things that one may never talk about, but they need to be handled with some care and context matters a lot):
  • The baby's health (including eating, sleeping, and digestion), size, personality, intelligence, or well-being.
  • The parents' health, weight/size (yes, people make comments about the bodies of people who've given birth, it's terrible and disgusting), age, mood, parenting skills, or well-being.
  • Labor and delivery. Even if you've given birth yourself and are well equipped to offer support and sympathy over a hard labor, hesitate before asking someone to recall what may have been a traumatic experience.
  • The process of procreation, including plans for any frozen eggs, sperm, or embryos.
  • The process of adoption, guardianship, or fostering, or anything regarding the baby's birth family.
  • Existing or future siblings.
  • The baby's assigned gender or genital anatomy.
  • The baby's race, citizenship, or ethnic heritage.
  • The baby's intelligence or achievements.
  • Comparing the baby with their age cohort or with any other individual child in any way.
  • Plans for the baby's education.
  • Plans for the baby's religious upbringing/education or lack thereof.
  • Plans for childcare.
  • The baby's future profession or accomplishments.
Folks with kids, feel free to let me know what you think I should add to any of these lists!


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31 May 2016 17:24 - "Let's see what's in the box!"
you're welcome, origami, gift, helpful
The Con or Bust auction is going on right now, and you can bid on a tea-and-advice date with me!

http://con-or-bust.org/2016/05/tea-and-advice-with-rose-fox/

There are only two bids up there right now, and the top four bids win, so bid early and often. :) And if we're not going to be in the same geographical location anytime soon, we can have a Skype-and-advice date instead.

Con or Bust is a fantastic organization that gives people of color financial support and free memberships to attend SF/F conventions. They've helped hundreds of fans and do amazing work. I'm thrilled to be supporting them by donating my time, and I hope you will support them too by bidding (there are lots of other delicious things up for auction, including jewelry and signed first editions), donating to a future auction, and/or spreading the word. Fan-run fan-supporting organizations like Con or Bust are part of what make the SF/F community so great--please help them keep doing their amazing work!


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30 May 2016 20:58 - "Thanks Slackbot"
OCD, order, untangling, connections, computer games
[twitter.com profile] jsuttonmorse asked me whether I knew of or had written a post on using Slack for households. I don't know of one, so I decided to write one.

For those not familiar with Slack, it's a chat room app, as distinct from a one-on-one chat app. It runs basically like IRC, if you're old enough to remember IRC. :) The fundamentals are:

* multiple users
* timestamped chat in text and emoji
* topic-based conversations in individual chat rooms called channels
* personal conversations by direct message (DM), one-on-one or in groups
* importing and integration of images, documents, links, etc.
* searchable archives
* hierarchy of owners, admins, and users, plus a programmable autoresponder called Slackbot
* can be used on the web, in a desktop app, or in a phone app, with various types of notifications
* reasonably full-featured for free, accessible pricing for additional features

Slack is pitched as a platform for business collaboration. I've never used it that way. But I'm currently part of five different active Slacks and one that's gone dormant. The active ones are the Subtle House household Slack, two social Slacks, and two project Slacks. The inactive one was an attempt to be a combined project and social Slack and it never really got off the ground for reasons I'll get into below.

LongreadCollapse )

And most importantly: Your Slack will work if everyone enjoys using it and finds it valuable.


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28 May 2016 01:10 - "Feed the hungerbeast"
baby-wtf
Now that we're starting Kit on solid foods, I'm trying to figure out when to give them food, and how to include them in mealtimes. I don't think they've ever really seen us eat! J and X leave work at 6 and have ~45-minute commutes, so usually J cooks while X and I put the baby to bed, and then the adults have dinner around 8 after Kit's asleep. And mornings are such a rush; I'm not awake then, but I think J and X usually grab a quick breakfast during Kit's morning nap. So I think for now, solid food will have to happen on the baby's schedule, and I guess once they're old enough to stay up until 9, they can have dinner with us at 8. (I was always a night owl and perfectly comfortable eating on an adult schedule, so the whole "kids have early dinner" thing totally baffles me.)

Parent-type friends, what do/did your young kids' mealtime schedules look like? How did you manage this transition?


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futurekid-yay, baby-yay
Many months ago, before there was a Kit in the world, I went over to [twitter.com profile] kissane and [twitter.com profile] meetar and [twitter.com profile] dailyjuna's place to hang out with them. I think [twitter.com profile] kissane and I were having a work date or something.

[twitter.com profile] meetar came home and was v. tired and shagged out after a long day. He went to their music player and put on some amazing soothing music I'd never heard before. It was the most relaxing. "What is this?" I asked in wonder. He told me it was Brian Eno's "Thursday Afternoon".

I fell in love with it. I played it for X, who fell in love with it. And one night when we had a fussy baby, X played it for them. Now, every night at bedtime, we play "Thursday Afternoon" and rock Kit until they get sleepy, and then we put them in the crib to sleep. And every night I think how glad I am that [twitter.com profile] meetar happened to be in need of some soothing music that day.

Today I downloaded "Thursday Afternoon" to the tablet we have over the crib for a baby monitor, so it could sing Kit to sleep. Just now they woke up yelling--poor baby, trying to get used to dreaming, which really is such a weird thing--and I put my hand on their belly and put the music back on. They settled right back to sleep. Out like a light.

The only snag is that we have to wait for the track to finish, or sneak in and turn it off*, before we can use the sound-activated baby monitor. But that is a very small price to pay for an aural sleep-cue that is 60 minutes long, can be turned off at any point without a strong sense of interruption, doesn't become boring or annoying no matter how long or how often you listen to it, and doesn't require a parent to sing the same three-minute song over and over to the point of hoarseness. New parents and parents-to-be: I recommend it very very highly.

* At some point I'm sure we will set up some sort of networked speakers, or root the tablet so we can remote-control it. Right now, tiptoeing in works fine (and lets us stare at the baby a little bit too).


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17 May 2016 23:13 - "You have the bridge"
sleeping, loved, happy, resting, satisfied
X and J and I all have separate bedrooms and keep different schedules. This has led to us being the most well-rested parents of a newborn in the history of ever (other than those who have 24/7 nannies, I suppose). J naturally wakes up around 7 a.m. and I naturally go to bed around 3 a.m., so we shifted our schedules two hours each and met in the middle, doing a shift change at 5; our bodies didn't entirely love it, but we at least got decent rest for six or seven hours a night/day. Once X stopped having to get up in the middle of the night to pump breastmilk, they got to sleep their natural hours, which was really important for C-section recovery.

Four and a half months later, Kit is now consistently sleeping through the night. There's been a bit of four-month sleep regression waking (or maybe a growth spurt? They've also been super hungry and eating huge meals) over the last couple of nights, but mostly they can self-soothe back to sleep when they wake up. (This is a skill they taught themself; we can claim no credit at all for sleep training.) We've nudged their bedtime from 7 to 8 so they have a better chance of sleeping until 6. And X is pretty well recovered from the surgery. So as of tonight, I go to bed when I want to and J gets up when he wants to, and in between, X sleeps with the monitor on. Specifically, I tiptoe into their room and turn it on when I go to bed, and J tiptoes in and turns it off when he gets up, so that X isn't woken by baby-fussing when someone else is already awake to handle it. X is a very sound sleeper and falls back asleep easily once woken, so this should work pretty well.

I really appreciate that X immediately said "Yes, I'm totally happy to take my turn being at risk for sleep disruption" as soon as I suggested the change. Yay for good partnership and load-sharing. 💞

The only downside for me is that I won't get to see sleepy J in the mornings. But since he's not getting up at 5 anymore, I'll get to see much more awake J for longer in the evenings, which will be stellar.

I don't even know what to do with all this freedom! I'll be able to have noon lunch dates again! I could go to bed at 2 and get up at 10! I could get most of my work done during daylight hours! I only just finalized a schedule last week, and tonight I spent a couple of hours revising it and putting it into Gcal. But I'm really happy with where it is now, and especially with the lovely long stretch between 01:30 and 12:00 that contains getting ready for bed, eight hours of sleep, and two hours of time to myself (as distinct from work time) that I can enjoy before and/or after sleep, as I choose. And never going to bed later than 4. *happy dance*

It'll probably be a little while before my body clock (such as it is) gets used to this, but oh, I can't wait to be used to it.


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spark, aha!, insightful
Copied from a letter I just wrote to a friend:

I have been thinking a lot about writing, and getting into some good conversations about it, and doing some good reading about it. It's making me realize just how little I know about the craft and process of creating a book. I know it abstractly, in broad strokes, but not the nitty-gritty. And some of what I think I know is wrong, which is actually great, because the stuff I'm unlearning is stuff that was holding me back. I'm doing a lot of poking at outlining right now, for example, and unlearning all my notions about how one goes about making an outline--it's not the same thing as a synopsis at all! It's a crafted piece of writing, the way the book itself is a crafted piece of writing, but using a totally different skill set. And there are lots of different possible ways to craft an outline. You can write it start to finish, or you can develop a set of hypotheses and test them (a notion that made me really get the idea of doing preliminary character sketches first, because in order to do plot-chemistry with your characters you have to understand their characteristics and how they interact and what makes them explode), or you can develop your outline as you're writing the book and let them argue with each other, or any number of things. I could even make a flowchart outline with images for the scenes instead of words! I didn't know any of this, really, and the idea of outlining is now much more interesting and appealing than it used to be. It feels like a useful tool instead of building a cage that my story is trapped inside of.

So in retrospect it feels sort of silly to say "I started actively trying to learn things and lo! I have learned things" but the best thing I've done for myself as a writer is to approach it as a student instead of a hobbyist--to think about it every day, and seek out new knowledge and relate it to what I already know, and scrawl angry notes arguing with books on writing (the one I'm reading now asserts that no one will care about your characters until they do something interesting, and that is SO BACKWARDS and made me SO MAD that I nearly crossed it out in the book itself, but I settled for complaining in all caps in my little writing notebook). And it doesn't feel like a delaying tactic, partly because I'm constantly trying to apply what I'm learning to the projects I'm working on, and partly because this skill-building and analytical thinking is so clearly necessary as a precursor to writing. Like learning good form before lifting heavy weights.

Speaking of which, writing in that little notebook is hard on my arm, and I did a fair amount of it tonight after going to a really splendid panel on transgressive fiction (Ellen Kushner, C.S. Pacat, Sarah Rees Brennan, Damon Suede, Marie Rutkowski, and Eloisa James--stunning lineup, wonderful conversation). C.S. Pacat said some useful things about developing and maintaining tension as a matter of writing craft and I wanted to make sure to write them down before I forgot them, and then I just kept going because it was a long subway ride back to Brooklyn. But then I got home and did a lot of editing and now I really need to stop typing and go to bed.


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smug
Last night I dreamed that it was some sort of trans pride day and I was carrying a big rainbow flag around. A cis woman mistook me for a cis guy and made some snarky look-how-hip-I-am comment about cis people horning in on trans stuff. I unbuttoned my dress shirt like Clark Kent to show my binder and was all WHO'S TRANS ENOUGH NOW. And then I hung my rainbow flag on a lamppost and strolled off.

Most satisfying dream I've had in ages. :D


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5 May 2016 01:23 - "I choose you"
futurekid-yay, baby-yay
I had a total meltdown tonight over needing to be the perfect parent so that the baby will love me and believe I love them--so that I can make up for my lack of biological link to them. Kit has a cold (the first time they've ever been ill) and has been so snuffly and feverish and sad. If Kit is sad and I don't fix it, what the hell kind of parent am I? And that triggers the doubts and fears about being no kind of parent at all.

This wasn't helped by someone asking me about my Mother's Day plans with my mom and assuming they didn't include the baby, because that person doesn't really think of Kit as my child or as my mother's grandchild. I've lost count of how many times people have erased my various identities--seeing me and J as a het couple, getting my pronouns wrong all the time, assuming X mattered less to me than J because of gender and distance, to name just a few--but oof, this erasure hurts the most, because on some level I believe it. (And also because the whole idea of being a parent is new, I think. I'm still not really used to it at all, so if someone says or implies I'm not one, I don't have that rock-solid identity certainty to brace myself against.)

I vented on Twitter, as I do, and [twitter.com profile] oh_also sent me to First Time Second Time, a blog by two queer parents who each gave birth to one of their kids. They write a lot about being non-gestational parents and it's really good. Their non-bio mom manifesto is exactly what I needed to read tonight, and the last two paragraphs in particular:
Even though I really hate the “Different but Equal” refrain, I’d be hard-pressed to say that my relationship with Leigh wasn’t different than Gail’s, at least during early infancy. So even though I get annoyed by such statements, I also sort of agree. But if I truly believe I do have a different and equal relationship to Leigh, even though she didn’t grow inside me, even though I didn’t nurse and nourish her as a baby, and even though she does not look a bit like me, there must be something else that I offered her. What is it? What is the “something extra” that I gave to her, that she wouldn’t have gotten in a family with only Gail as her parent?

This has been eating at me for years. Sure, I can see my influence in her mannerisms, the clarity with which she expresses herself, her bull-in-a-china-shop quality, her overt enthusiasm, and her love of connecting with all kinds of people. But none of that seems quite like the answer. The other night, though, I realized Gail had finally figured it out. What I offered to her, that only I could offer her, was my choice. I chose to parent her, and chose to love her deeply, despite a multitude of pressures that said either that I shouldn’t love her, or that I was unnecessary. Some of those pressures said explicitly that I’d damage her by my mere presence (those coming from, say, the religious right). Some of those pressures were more subtle, like the ones that said it wasn’t important for me to take leave to spend time with my new infant, or the ones that said if I pushed too hard to feed her or spend too much time with her, I’d take away from her all-important “primary” bond to Gail, resulting in some sort of vague but longstanding psychological damage. It is precisely the central challenge of being a non-bio-mom, the need to choose to parent your child, that makes the bond special. To spin something precious out of what looks and feels like nothing at the outset — no pregnancy, no genetic link, no nursing link, no overt need on the part of your child — is truly a gift to your whole family, and it is a gift that only you can give them.
I will clutch this to my heart forever. For-ev-er.

I will quibble only to say that each of us made a choice--each of us and all of us made many, many choices over a period of several years--to be Kit's parent. J chose to father the child and X chose to carry the child, and their biological contributions don't make their subsequent choices to be devoted, attentive parents any less important or essential. But my lack of biological contribution doesn't make my choice any less real or meaningful.

I write this from the rocking chair in Kit's room, where I plan to sit all night. Their fever's broken--it never got above 101.2, so we were never super worried, but any kind of fever is no fun--and the congestion is easing, but they're still snuffly. My anxieties are soothed by listening to them breathing, and if they wake up fussy I want to be right here for them. They slept on my lap for a while, and when I stood up to put them in the crib, they woke a little and turned their head and pressed their face against me in the purest gesture of trust and comfort-seeking I've ever seen. They chose me too. I choose to believe them.


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examined head, introspective
It's coming up on a year and a half since Valour Advances the Man started kicking around in my head. I still want to write it. I haven't put any new words on the page since last fall. And yes, we had a baby, all of that, but there's other stuff in the way too.

I've been poking at this in various places, and today I did the thing where I ask Twitter to solve my problems mostly so that I can see what I dislike about people's suggested solutions, which in turn helps me define the actual problem.

DefinitionsCollapse )

=====

AnalysisCollapse )

=====

Realistically, it seems very unlikely that anyone is going to hire me to write a novel that I haven't already written. First novels are nearly always written on spec, and I say "nearly always" rather than "always" only because I'm sure there must be exceptions somewhere, not because I personally know of any. (Also, honestly, if I were an editor, I wouldn't hire someone with my résumé to write a novel sight unseen.) But I feel much better having come up with what feels like a plausible scenario for success. I'm going to set it aside for a bit and go get some work done, and let the back of my brain work on figuring out how to mimic or approximate those conditions.


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hands
A month and a half ago, I stumbled across this link on changing habits, specifically with respect to nail-biting. I figured I'd give it a try, since I've been a lifelong nail-biter and absolutely nothing has gotten me to stop for more than a week or two at a time. I didn't bite my nails at all the week that Kit was born, so I knew it wasn't a stress response; it was something I could be distracted from, or too busy to do. Habit reversal training seemed like a good match for that.

I identified my nail-biting trigger: rough skin, corners, bits that stick out or catch or feel not-neat. I dug back in my brain for the self-observation techniques I learned from Headspace and practiced observing myself as I noticed the roughness and felt the urge to gnaw it smooth. I redirected the urge into filing or moisturizing, or just sat there with it and experienced the feeling without judgment. I treated it the way I treat Kit trying to punch themself in the eye: "I see that you want to do that. I'm not going to let you do that. I will hold your hands as gently as I can while not letting you use them that way."

Within a month I'd entirely stopped biting my nails. Entirely. I wasn't even using my thumbnails as sacrifice nails. The urge itself is gone. Now I can put my fingers in my mouth or fidget with my nails and not want to bite them.

Two weeks ago I got a manicure, with beautiful iridescent beetle-wing-green nail polish. A week ago I got another one because I use my hands all the time and no nail polish is going to last for long--but I didn't gnaw any of it off. As I type this entry, my nails click on the keys. This is a very annoying feeling, so I'm going to get another manicure either tomorrow or Friday and get them filed a little shorter this time. I can see a near future in which I become one of those people with a fancy nail polish collection, though I will always prefer having someone else do my nails to doing them myself. emilytheslayer has promised to put nail wraps on me at Readercon, and I might try making my own nail wraps with nail polish or origami paper, as it seems easier than painting directly onto my nails (which I am spectacularly bad at).

I'm very lucky that my nails grow very fast and are thick and strong and healthy. If my nail beds weren't so short, you'd never know that I used to bite them. I hope that if I leave them just a little longer than I actually want them, over time the nail beds will regrow--though it's hard to know whether that can even happen after 30 years of biting.

Meanwhile, on the front of forming a new habit rather than breaking an old one, I've flossed my teeth every single night for almost 28 weeks, with the exception of the night X was in labor. That one I did by keeping a tally in dry erase marker on the bathroom wall--dry erase markers write very well on shiny white tile--and telling myself that if I missed a night I'd have to erase my entire progress and start over. My goal was absolute compliance. (I feel entirely justified in giving myself a pass on the single exception; it was an exceptional night.) This is a pretty hard-line approach, but I'd previously tried simply tracking my progress as a positive incentive and it wasn't quite effective enough; it had worked for getting me into a twice-a-day brushing habit, but flossing eluded me. Obviously, the longer my streak went, the less I wanted to break it, and the combination of increased practice and increased incentive was very powerful. After meeting my initial goal of 26 weeks I stopped keeping the tally, but the habit appears to have stayed. It's now just a thing I do.

It feels really good to be the sort of person who works on self-improvement at age 37, and is successful. I'm glad I didn't give up on myself. And I'm really looking forward to bragging at my dental check-up on Friday. :)


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me and josh
April 8th was my 10th wedding anniversary with J. (We picked 4/8/06 as our wedding date for lots of reasons, and having 4/8/16 as our 10th anniversary wasn't a major one, but it was in the back of my mind as a perk.) We went out for steak frites and took a walk through lower Manhattan. We made each other laugh a lot. We came home and snuggled and made out. It was a very nice celebration, made possible by X's kind gift of all-evening baby care.

One of the reasons we picked that date is that it was also our falling-in-love anniversary. We've been all swoony for each other for 14 years. Gosh.

I wonder whether I should replace my "me and Josh" userpic with something that's been taken in the past 12 years. We both look a little different now. :) But we still look at each other just the same way.

He is my most favorite husband and I am so happy to have him in my life.


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19 March 2016 21:43 - "I got it from Agnes"
board games, card games, games
Letter meme from nwhyte: I got the letter B.

Something I hate: Banana flavoring. Bullshit. Bigotry.

Something I love: Badinage. Backgammon. Botanic gardens.

Somewhere I've been: Brooklyn. :) Bermuda. Boston.

Somewhere I'd like to go: Back to Bermuda, maybe--that was a family trip when I was a kid and I liked it but don't remember much.

Someone I know: [twitter.com profile] ben_rosenbaum, fraterrisus, [twitter.com profile] sbearbergman.

A film I like: Beetlejuice, Big, and I'm sure I'd like Blade Runner if I ever got the chance to sit down and watch it all the way through. I've seen the beginning and the end and probably most of the middle at various times. (Really glad for that movies-I've-seen spreadsheet that can be sorted by title. 😅)

Anyone want to continue the meme? Just ask and I'll give you a letter. I gave multiple answers for some of these because I felt like it, but you're not required to.


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17 March 2016 01:12 - "We're on an adventure!"
baby-whee, me and kit
It has been a long time since a Kit update! Mostly because this has been the week of no sleep, for baby-unrelated reasons having to do with stress and illness and other sucky things. But! here is what's going on with our absurdly long baby.

Kit started daycare on Monday, at age 11 weeks exactly. It's gone pretty well.

Baaaaaaby stuffCollapse )

It's strange having the house empty when I wake up. I've been feeling very lonely this week. I'm used to having X and the baby at home, and instead X is at work and the baby's at daycare and I'm all by myself. I have been getting a fair amount of work and housework done, especially tidying things in Kit's room, but it's hard. This has been compounded by all the stress and illness; having panic attacks is even less fun when there are no partners around to hug you and there's no baby around to cuddle. But we'll adjust.


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7 March 2016 01:29 - "Red-letter day"
laughing, joyous, frubbly
What a great week it"s been.Collapse )

-----

Kit going to daycare means we need some kind of fixed schedule for them, rather than the baby-led everything that we've been doing. Schedule neeperyCollapse )


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29 February 2016 00:24 - "Reaching for heaven"
sleeping, loved, happy, resting, satisfied
There's a Twitter meme going around of "for every person who likes/faves this tweet, I will post one thing that makes me happy". I got 61 likes and added the 62nd myself. :) My list:

1) Dozing on the rocking chair with the baby asleep on me.
2) The first post-travel snuggle with Sam after she's forgiven me for abandoning her.
3) Sitting at the kitchen table drinking hot chocolate at 1 a.m. when the dishwasher and washing machine are humming in the quiet house.
4) When I come into the nursery and Kit carefully sizes me up, checks the inner roster of favorite people, and then gives me a huge smile.
5) Walking in the Botanic Gardens and Prospect Park today, watching spring reclaim the frozen earth from winter.
6) Reading a wonderful book with a powerful, satisfying ending.
7) My regular Skype dates with beloved friends who live far away.
8) Animated conversations with J and X where our ideas and desires are all in perfect harmony.
9) Learning new things, especially new skills and techniques.
10) When something works the way it's supposed to, the very first time I try it.
11) Homemade food I can just enjoy without having to wonder whether it's safe for me to eat.
12) Having the perfect outfit in my closet for whatever my gender is today.
13) Helping teenagers feel good about themselves.
14) Being called on my shit by my honest, loving friends.
15) Feeling good today because I was awesome with self-care yesterday.
16) Rereading an old favorite book and finding that it's still terrific. Take that, Suck Fairy!
17) Making a tight deadline.
18) Living in NYC.
19) Feeling that good post-exercise muscle burn.
20) Walking into an event where lots of people are happy to see me.
21) The fierceness of marginalized people reclaiming the center.
22) The unbearable cuteness of baby-size versions of adult clothes.
23) Having just enough alcohol to get a nice gentle buzz.
24) Having just enough caffeine to be really productive.
25) Catching our usually argumentative cats hanging out together or even snuggling.
26) Family cuddles with the baby.
27) Driving on my own and knowing that I could go anywhere.
28) Steph Curry Vines.
29) Being a parent.
30) The way the top of Kit's head sometimes smells like whiskey.

You know I could easily have made all 30 of these about the baby. I feel I have been very restrained.

31) Pictures of turtles.
32) Being a generally healthy, financially independent adult in charge of my own life.
33) My very different but equally wonderful date nights with X and J.
34) Freshly baked or toasted bread with butter and jam.
35) The kindness and support of other parents and kid-carers as we figure out this parenting thing. You're all wonderful.
36) Eating ice cream outside while it's snowing. I haven't gotten to do this in 2015/2016--maybe on Friday, if the promised snow happens.
37) The number 37. I just like it. I like 17 too, and powers of 2.

Conveniently, I'm 37. And not old.

38) Imagining Kit at different ages.
39) When I wake up and open the curtain and light floods in.
40) Potato chips.
41) Hot showers.
42) The diligence and persistence of people trying to make fandom and conventions safer and more welcoming and more accessible.
43) The times when my brain tries to have anxiety dreams and I make them have happy endings.

"Oh, I left all my luggage on the train? My traveling companion was on the train and must have brought it to our hotel."
Dream: 😞
Me: 💁

44) Beaches in winter.
45) My sturdy little basil plant that started out as stems supertailz brought me from the grocery store months and months ago.
46) Tax refunds.
47) Our awesome little ungentrified corner of Crown Heights.
48) Friends who are diligent about protecting our baby from their germs. <3
49) Medium-rare steak frites at Les Halles.
50) Our awesome landlords, who are also our awesome downstairs neighbors.
51) All our silly nicknames for Kit.
52) The way I look in my gorgeous Frye boots.
53) Balancing our checkbook every month and feeling all the numbers click into place.
54) [personal profile] xtina's silliness.
55) [personal profile] sinboy's kindness.
56) [twitter.com profile] subtlekid's goal-driven persistence.
57) The vast improvement to our kitchen vibe just from moving one baker's rack. Can't wait to complete our rearrangement!
58) Watching our friends build the lives they want.
59) The scent of petrichor after a summer thunderstorm.
60) Mole de pavo.
61) My cat's tiny squeaky meow. vine.co/v/iWuOWtelEI3
62) Spending a whole day thinking about things that make me happy! Thank you all for the faves. 💕

(I had NO IDEA I could put emoji in LJ/DW posts. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING.)


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28 February 2016 01:08 - "I told my knees to please not knock"
baby-whee, me and kit
Kit is two months old today.

They're starting daycare in two weeks, when X goes back to work, so I wrote up an unnecessarily long letter for the daycare staff. I really like it as a snapshot (or 2.3 snapshots, since it's about 2300 words) of who we all are right now.

=====

Seriously, unnecessarily longCollapse )

=====

Of course none of this says anything about how the three of us will cope with Kit being in daycare, but I think it'll be fine once we all adjust a bit. It's only three blocks from home and they have a very generous drop-in policy. And this is a great encouragement to develop a more solid daily routine for Kit, which I think will be good for everyone. And we get to order super cute clothing and bottle name labels with tiny foxes on them.

Also, let's be honest, I am REALLY looking forward to having the house to myself for a few hours every day. It will be weird for Kit's room to not have Kit in it, but I'll keep the door closed and take taurine and/or call the daycare if I get fretful.

It's been a really good two months and I feel like we're ready for what comes next. We've been talking a lot about plans to rearrange the main room of the house, have more friends over, do more things out in the world (Kit really loves going out, which helps). After the wild upheaval of pregnancy and new baby, we've found our footing, not in the sense of thinking we have it all figured out--because of course things will keep changing as Kit grows, and who knows what other changes will happen in the rest of our lives--but in the sense of having a stable stance. I have been watching a lot of videos of virtuoso basketball player Steph Curry, and it's easy to get caught up in watching his arms, or watching the ball go right where he puts it. But I watch his feet, because that's where the shot begins. With your feet under you, you can handle whatever comes at you. We're getting there. It's good.


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21 February 2016 01:35 - "Amaze and astonish"
baby-wtf
This has been quite a couple of days for our tiny baby!

Nonstop accomplishmentsCollapse )

Tomorrow friends are visiting and Tuesday is vaccinations, but other than that it should be a pretty quiet week, which is good. I'm not sure how much more of this we can all take--it's all great stuff, but pretty dizzying coming on all at once.


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futurekid-yay, baby-yay
Tuesday evening I went out to see Laura Miller interview Peter Straub (which was delightful) and when I got home the baby was bigger. It's so surreal when this happens. It's not just illusion, either. Kit has a favorite onesie (well, it's our favorite; the baby doesn't care) that only has snaps on one leg, and suddenly getting the other leg on is a lot more difficult than it used to be. I think we've got another couple of weeks left in these three-month clothes and then it's on to six-month ones.

BabbystuffsCollapse )


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18 February 2016 00:58 - "A house and all of that"
commitment, wedding ring
Every time a longtime friend visits and meets the baby, I say "Look at me! Look at all this!" with some bewilderment, and we agree that back when we met we had no idea this was where we'd end up. Tuesday was my 15th self-wedding anniversary and I had a similar conversation with myself.

I still vividly remember writing down those wedding vows in my dream journal, back in my slightly shabby room in the mint-green Jersey City house. It was two months before my nervous breakdown but I was definitely already feeling the strain. My lease was coming up in March, I was moving to California in June, in between I had grand and rather daunting plans to tour Europe with my mother and then take a train across the country for alt.polycon, my relationships were coming apart at the seams, my physical health was precarious, being prescribed the wrong dose of Zoloft had completely fucked me up mentally, and I had a job but no career and savings but no goals (other than the move, which ended up entirely consuming those savings faster than I could have thought possible). I knew a lot of things in my life were broken and I had no idea how to fix them.

Making vows to be good to myself--as good to myself as I was to my partners--was an essential first step on the road to making things better, the road to where I am now. I'm in a beautiful house with a wonderful family, my mental and physical health are the best they've been in my adult life, my relationships are rock-solid, my job and career are deeply satisfying, and we're almost done paying off our debt. I've had a lot of good fortune, no question, but there's also no question that I got here because I insisted on loving and valuing myself and continually reshaping my life into one that made me healthier and happier.

In mid-2000, as my mind and my life were slowly falling apart, I wrote this little ditty:

I am here and all is well
And all the world can go to hell
As far as I'm concerned
There's one thing that I've learned
Standing on your own two feet
You beat a path along the street
Sometimes you walk alone
I'm okay on my own
There are people in my life
Though I may never have a wife
But I think that's okay
I'm living day by day

Moderation is the thing
Though I may never be a king
But that's all right with me
It's better to be free
If I never have a throne
I will always have a home
I carry it inside
A place where I can hide
Someday I would like a cat
Perhaps a house and all of that
But that's a ways away
I'm living day by day

No matter if I walk on glass
Or concrete or green growing glass
Don't mind if I'm alone
'Cause I'm on my way home....


I've been singing it a lot lately, with a smile. Here I am, living in someday. It's even better than I dared to imagine. It's true that the particulars aren't quite what I might have predicted, a decade and a half ago. But I have a cat, and a house, and all of that. And even though it's nothing like what I expected, it's exactly what I wanted.


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futurekid-yay, baby-yay
Sleepy from a big meal, Kit reached out and patted me. "You're touching me," I said. "Your hand is on my chest." I returned the gesture. "And my hand is on your chest."

Kit went very still and quiet and thoughtful, and we sat there and looked at each other for a long time.

Then the baby fell asleep, and left me alone with my awe.


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kindness, love (expanded), polyamory
On Wednesday night, X watched Kit while J and I had a date. Tonight J watched Kit while X and I had a date. I'll do the same for them next Wednesday. This is yet another reason to be grateful to be in a three-parent household.

We all seem to be "hooray, a few hours off from babycare" parents rather than "miss the baby even if just for a few hours" parents. I'm relieved that there's no mismatch there; it would be very awkward if one of us was trying to talk about work or movies or whatever while the other one pined and tried to log into the babycam from their phone. We all love Kit and love spending time with Kit and also are very glad to get breaks.

J and I went to Dassara Ramen for our date, a favorite of ours. They had their wonderful lamb ramen on the menu, so of course I got that, and we split an order of shishito peppers that made us miss Japan. We mostly talked about J's work and workplace stuff, and my theories about how there should be way more film and television adaptations of romance novels. The night was drizzly and cool, and we walked up Smith to Fulton and then over to Nevins to get the subway home. I got dairy-free ice cream at the vegan juice bar around the corner--there are two kinds of Brooklyn vegan juice bars, the hipster kind and the Rastafarian kind, and this one is the Rasta kind, so the ice cream came in a plastic half-pint deli container but only cost $4--and then we snuggled and smooched for a good long while. It was really really nice.

X and I trekked into Manhattan to go to Senza Gluten, since all the Brooklyn GF restaurants we might want to go to are actually less convenient to get to. X had their first postpartum beer, a bitter-sharp IPA that made me make the sucked-a-lemon face. We joked a lot with the server, who was so nice that X left them a thank-you note. I had lamb again, come to think of it, in a ragù over cavatelli. We walked up to Union Square in the bitter cold. In the station, we tipped some human-statue buskers who repaid us with some very talented dancing; we just missed our train while watching them, but that was fine because we were enjoying being together. Down on the platform we kept having tender sincere moments interrupted by blaring announcements, but that's what we get for having tender sincere moments on a subway platform. It was really really nice.

When I was growing up in a family of four, it often split into factions: two against two, or three against one. I don't ever want my family to be that way. But I love that we can divide and reunite, in all our various configurations, because all of our twosomes deserve time together.


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