Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Basketball turns into a family affair

We followed the game on television in the suburbs and out on a sea island, through streaming video in Prague, and by text message in the mountains of Switzerland. None of us had the view that my brother had, blogging from the press box, front and center in Raleigh, but more than thirty of my family tuned in while Davidson played Georgetown last Sunday in the NCAA tournament.

We are a sports family anyway. My uncles and father can tell you the stats on most of the starters in the tournament stretching back to high school; they’ve followed the games of these players throughout their college careers. My cousins and brother all played high school sports and keep track of stats too. Even I played basketball on an intramural team in graduate school (after music school, so I could break my fingers with impunity).

But we watched the game, not because we are die-hard basketball fans who watch every game, or because we thought this little team would turn into the Cinderella of the tournament, but because of my brother. He’s the youngest of our generation, the last in college, the one who has taken his sports knowledge and his ability to write and turned it into a job at his college where he works for the Davidson sports information desk, where he runs a sports blog with hundreds of hits a day, and where he has turned his efforts into a job after school too (he’ll be joining an NFL team as a media intern in May). We watched the game for him. And boy am I glad that we did.

Because it was a fabulous basketball game. The first half made me despair - Georgetown is a big, rough team, and they kept Davidson’s star shooter, Stephen Curry, away from the ball by siccing three (3!) players on him. By the end of the first half, Georgetown was up by 11. But the Davidson team came out of their locker room after the break and in the second half they knew what to do, and they did it, beating Georgetown by 4 points. When the game was over, it was late night here in Prague. Caroline was long asleep and Will was snoring. I jumped on our bed and started hopping up and down yelling the unbelievable news. Will was too fast asleep to appreciate the rip-roaring wonderment of it all, so I started to call the family.

I knew they would understand.

Next weekend my brother will sit at the Sweet Sixteen press desk in Detroit and live blog the game between Davidson and Wisconsin. We’ll be there with him, watching in any way that we can. And Will? He's promised to stay awake too. I suspect he sees it as an easier fate than being trampled upon by a pregnant person round about midnight. He's probably right.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Watching basketball from abroad

The last book read, the last song sung, Caroline called good night and it was time for me. I could hear C's music box lamb playing his tunes to her as I clicked onto CBS sportsline and got in the queue to watch the games.

Basketball games, that is - the NCAA tournament and March madness. I went to school at basketball universities and, while I learned a lot about music and English, bball fandom seeped into my pores. My brother, a senior at Davidson and a sports writer for the team, typically keeps me updated when I get out of the loop with sports. This year though, with UNC a number 1 seed, Vanderbilt a 4th seed, and Davidson running into the NCAA championship with the longest winning streak in the country, he doesn’t have to send me reminders about what's happening in the sporting world. I've got that covered.

I keep up with sports online through blogs (like my brother's) and NYT coverage. Watching the games though I thought would be impossible - U.S. sports events don’t make it to the German kids' channels we get on TV, and ESPN online charges for most live games. Then yesterday I found out that CBS is airing the tournament live online for free. Here’s the link.

It isn't television, and when you get online you do have to wait for bandwidth to open up, but for free it's a great deal. When I watched Kentucky play Marquette last night, I started out 45,986 in line. Five minutes later, I was 52nd in line and thirty seconds more I was in, watching Marquette close down Kentucky (despite some beautiful three pointers from UK’s side).

Last night I kept the games on until I went to bed, listening as I worked. Because the sound of sports announcers talking basketball is just about as homie for me as Caroline’s lamb playing its lullabies.

Go Davidson!! Davidson vs. Gonzaga, 5:25 pm Central European Time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Epidurals in the Czech Republic

Will and I still remember the screaming. It was the woman in the next room in the hospital and she screamed to hoarse silence as she gave birth. I hadn’t gotten tired yet and was still in a chatty mood, but the screaming made us scared.

"Will it get that bad?" I asked. "Is this usual?" The doctor shook her head. "No, that lady didn’t want an epidural, and now she is regretting it. Don’t worry, pain like that isn’t common with an epidural."

The doctor was at least partially right - I never felt like screaming. I did sing Beethoven very loudly when they cut off the analgesia for the last stage of labor (apparently music is my dinosaur brain’s way of coping with pain), but labor hormones combined with the epidural helped me remember C’s birth as a challenge rather than a trauma. I'm guessing, though, that the doctor was wrong about why the woman didn’t have an epidural. When epidurals are provided to far less than 10% of women giving birth in a community, your next door neighbor's drug-free delivery most likely isn’t about a real choice.

Less than 10%. In 2002, MedLine reported that over 60% of women in labor in the United States used epidurals (65% in California). In Western Europe and Scandinavia, the average seems to hover around 30%, depending on location (women in the countryside have a lower epidural rate than women in cities). Availability of an anesthesiologist, cost, hospital willingness, and the education of families are the key contributing factors to women receiving epidurals.

How do I know this? Besides a MedLine/Google addiction, I am in the middle of reading through a worksheet on epidurals, provided by my obstetrician. It is actually part of a packet of documents that I have to sign and hand back to the clinic next week. Most of these papers are related to the birth certificate or to reserving a space in the hospital and I’ve read through the lot, but the epidural pamphlet, that kept my attention. Eight pages long, it not only asks for my approval and sign off on all risks (which I expected), it also presents a history of epidural analgesia, a list of frequently asked questions, and anecdotal stories from doctors and patients.

One doctor’s story: "I personally recommended delivery with the help of an epidural to one of my patients...to my surprise the anesthesiologist informed her that her legs could become paralysed as a result of the epidural."

The doctor had three possible explanations for this. "Either this anesthesiologist had little experience with epidurals and was afraid to apply them, or he didn’t want to spend the night monitoring his patient, or he wanted to save his hospital money, as the insurance companies reimburse clinics only for a small amount of the actual cost."

Sounds like an honest appraisal to me, and I’m guessing the lady next door to us had a similar story to tell. Or maybe, based on one of the FAQs in the brochure, her husband talked her out of it. See below. I liked the answer, though I would have been more blunt.

Q. My husband calls me a coward for wanting pain relief.
A. That is a somewhat old-fashioned and incorrect opinion, especially since men will never have to go through such pain.

Based on Will’s still remembered fears from listening to the lady next door, I’d bet that husband called his wife a coward before her water broke. At least she got the birth hormones.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Little Bitty Egg

Reading through my old commonplace books written in a preblog time, I found this story from my pregnancy with Caroline and thought I'd share.

The other day I went to a corner store that has just opened up close to our apartment. We needed eggs, milk - the standards I suspected even a local grocery would carry. After picking out my favorite boxed milk and admiring the displays of pickled cabbage and Coca-Cola products carefully arranged, I still could not find eggs. So I went up to the deli counter and mentioned to the lady in my most polite Czech that I would like, if at all possible, some eggs: "Chtela bych vejce."

Now, the way you say "vejce" in Czech sounds a lot like "vaysay" and it's a pretty easy word to pronounce, so when I made my request to the counter person, I was surprised at how startled she seemed for a grocery store employee. But then she looked me over and told me (also in Czech) that yes, in the office I would find them.

It takes me longer than it should to translate a simple sentence back into English, but after only a few seconds spent considering the ceiling tiles and humming aimlessly, I had jumbled all her words together enough to figure that we were in what might be called a communication breakdown. I knew for sure that most little stores in Prague didn't keep their eggs in their offices - they kept them on the floor right next to the cleaning products.

I started talking about hens, round objects, small children, any word or phrase I could think of to somehow clear up the confusion. The lady, perhaps thinking I'd lost my head and memorized a thesaurus of oddly related Czech terms, came around the counter, grabbed my basket and marched me off towards the office. My heart sunk, the baby kicked in objection, and I realized I'd obviously violated some obscure local shopping etiquette and was going to face the manager and be told all my sins.

I considered bolting out the back through the loading dock, but then I'd have to leave my milk and sugar behind, and after all it was such a convenient location for a grocery store. Suddenly we stopped, no manager in site, and I came out of my miseries to find the grocery lady triumphantly pointing out the "VaySay" (WC).

Illumination dawned! She'd decided that I was a pregnant woman in need of a bathroom!

I'm pleased to report that after I drew several pictures of eggs and chickens (the office came in handy after all) we solved all communication errors, and, both rather red about the ears, returned to the store to find the eggs so I could check out. They were next to the cookies, not the cleaning supplies - an important lesson I tucked away for future purchases.

I also learned that, though "vejce" is pronounced "vaysay", no one except television commentators uses such a formal version of the word. "One little bitty egg", or "vajíčko", is apparently the term of choice amongst the smart shopping set of Prague.

Thankfully, my Czech has improved since those days, but we still find eggs in all sorts of unconventional spots in the little groceries around our neighborhood.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Signs of the season

Easter’s coming early this year, but then, so are signs of spring. On Friday one of our sitters drew an Easter illustration for C’s chalkboard. Yesterday she arrived bearing birch branches from her chata (cottage). The branches are all ready for their decorated eggs, and they perfectly matched the daffodil colors I've fallen in love with this week.

My posts are a little choppy these days because, thanks to a certain baby, I can either sit up and type, or lean back and breathe. Going breathless seems to be quite hard on the thought and writing processes, thus photos for you today.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Theories of entropy

We’re having a prelaunch cocktail party tomorrow, for the baby. Because I’m sure he’ll want to know how cool his parents were before he was born and they turned all gouty and stay at home. In honor of the celebration, Will has not only made a cocktail party playlist (20 hours long and counting) but he has also taken to housework.

In a spurt of nesting not seen since just before Caroline was born, Will has been sighted vacuuming the tops of wardrobes, scrubbing obscure bathroom tile and considering mopping the floor. If you were to check the attic shelves today, you would even find them dust free. (Sunday would be another story, plaster walls shed dust at a remarkable rate, demonstrating the second law of thermodynamics with abandon).

This preparty cleanup has impressed our babysitters to no end. Yesterday Marie sat me down and, over our daily coffees, told me what a gem Will was, so clever and hard working yet still willing to dive into house help. From there we jumped into a discussion of nationality differences, and how men’s attitude towards housework seemed to vary from one country to another. After further thought we decided that the political system men grew up under might have more to do with how much they helped around the house rather than their nationality.

Marie said that before World War II, Czech families had a balanced approach to work. Women worked inside the home and took care of the children, men worked hard at work and took care of house maintenance. A balance existed between what they did and no one worked much harder than the other. Then came the war, and the advent of communism, and women were expected to work at home, take care of the children, but also work full time at work. Men were only expected to work at work. This created an imbalance of power between the genders, and led to what Marie calls the "degeneration" of several decades of men.

Before we reached the bottom of our coffee mugs, Marie had concluded that maybe, with the current twenty-something generation, family life would rebalance itself. I agreed and privately told the baby in the belly to get ready to dust with his dada, but not to worry, we had a great sound track ready for him to clean along to.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

At least I didn't trip over my tongue (this time)

Not the most graceful of souls in balanced times, the addition of a bolded b belly* has thrown off my center of gravity. I blame my shoes too - wobbly slides that threaten to slip off if I lift my feet too far off the ground. They're perfect for pregnancy (no laces, no heels) but if I get distracted, I just can’t help but add an extra trip step to my walking routine.

I shuffle stepped Caroline over to school today since Will had an early presentation to give and C wanted to show me her school artwork. After admiring a brown rabbit (an original drawing) and a bowtied duck (identical to all of its sibings - I suspect teacher churn out), I helped C change into her playclothes. She showed me off to several friends, we kissed and I turned to leave.

Suddenly, Pani Director was by my side, a sheaf of papers in her hand. Summer term documents, I must sign immediately.

"That's right," I confirmed, "Caroline will not be in school for July, she has camp then. On the other hand, I’d like to sign her up for August, we don’t know exactly the weeks we'll be in town, but we will shortly and of course we’ll pay for the whole month since that is the only option."

This lack of August organization kindled fire in Pani Director’s eyes, her voice raised to a sawlike pitch and she began to complain about the difficulties of working with foreigners - their inability to make decisions, how they thought they could pull children out of school at any time. I turned off my ears and pretended to not understand the rudeness. I reminded her we had six months till August, I was sure all would be resolved well before then. She counted the months on her fingers (satifyingly fat and rather stubby), and seemed surprised to find it true. I reminded her again that I was paying for the pleasure of my inconsistency, bid her good day and left, carefully managing not to trip over my shoes until I was well out the door.

* bolded b belly = how C remembers the difference between small b and p right now.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Word I-Spy

Word books for kids? Given the choice between taking or leaving 'em, I use to leave them every time. We have a few for their pictures, or because Caroline became desperately attached in a book store and the alternative was Barney, but once they joined her bookcase, I avoided reading them as much as I could - no plot, no quick page turning, nothing to sing or rhyme, horrors!

Then C and I discovered word I-spy. Word I-spy works like this: we pick a page from a word book and I’ll say, "I-spy a word that starts with a 'b' and ends with a 'k'." Caroline, most slowly and dramatically, will swirl over the page with her pointer finger until she finds the word. "Aha! b, double o, k. Here it is!" If the word is short enough, she’s started sounding it out too, "Buh oo k, book!! Okay mommie, my turn - can you find a word that starts with the letter..."

We’ve played this game every night for the last week or so, extending it into the early evening now that I’m sentenced to rest half the day and can’t run around as much as usual. Besides the thrill of hearing Caroline figure out words, word I-spy is also a great game, and it has the unlooked for advantage of keeping a new book novel for much longer (a page or three a night? fantastic!).

Tonight we finally finished Maisy’s Amazing Big Book of Words. The last page was all about Bedtime. I closed it with a satisfied thwack and started contemplating our other word books, "Hm, Richard Scarry or that slightly wacky English/Czech dictionary, then there is the photo book of words..."

But the choice for tomorrow had already been made. As Will picked up C to carry her off to bed, she yelled over his shoulder as they passed through the doorway, "Night night Mommie, we’ll wake Maisy up first thing tomorrow!"

Monday, March 03, 2008

Help is all around us

Imagine the scene: The hardware section of Tesco, an old fellow absorbed by jigsaw blades, and me - seven months pregnant, holding tight to a four year old so she won’t wander off and get lost (she’s pretending to be a puppy, she wants to sniff everything, I’m considering a collar with a radio frequency tag attached).

This far into pregnancy, I can’t reach my shoes any more. Leaning down is not an option. The bottom shelf in front of me may as well be in sports and fitness, so useless and inaccessible it appears. But then I decide to use for good the pup straining by my side.

"Caroline, can you reach down and hand me that drill bit just there. No, not that box, the next one, the one just under your freckle hand. Perfect!"

"Hm....which bit works with cement? Damnation they have a bit for wood and one for metal but nothing says beton! Oh, sir sir!!" (I turn to a high schooler dressed in Tesco blue, and start babbling away at him in something resembling mechanical Czech.)

The old fellow edges closer and bends a beady eye on the Tesco help to see what he will say. The kid is at a loss, but after consultation between old and young, we settle on a set and go in search of Will, who has studiously avoided our corner of the store - he suspects I will indulge in chattiness. Thankfully Caroline doesn’t see anything embarrassing about a pregnant woman discussing hardware in ungrammatical Czech with the male population of the Tesco drill bits aisle and we quickly find the rest of what we’re looking for - newborn-sized diapers, Scotch tape to replace the last dispenser C devoured, a chicken for supper - and head towards home.

Caroline is enthused by her helpfulness and becomes generous: "I’ll set the table Mommie!" she says, so I gather silverware and placemats together and let her go. By the time the chicken is finished, so is she and we carry plates to the table to find it set with silver candlesticks, forks and knives carefully arranged, spoons placed randomly, small books on each placemat, a drawing wedged between the candles, and sunglasses in front of C and myself.

She begins dinner by flipping through her book, and asking Will for "some juice in a little glass, and this" (she says, pointing to a Flopsy Bunny). I pick up my menu (Now We are Six) and order chocolate ice cream. We all agree ice cream sounds better than rabbit, and then we dig in. Dessert - chocolate ice cream with bananas and nutella on top, is delicious.