newsletter: month thirteen

February 26th, 2013 by vika

Dear Nico,

Last month you turned a year old, and I cheated. This month, I’d best come up with something entertaining and new to write, or else face the possibility that you’ll get bored, stop reading these newsletters, and toddle off into the sunset. Happily, for now you’re still not walking independently, my tiny little captive audience.

We had a birthday party for you, which at this age is mostly a party for everyone else. There were so many everyone-elses that we ended up moving the shindig to a nearby frozen yogurt place. This turned out to be a brilliant idea; there was much merriment, which you took in impressive stride given that it lasted three whole hours. You received many fine gifts, most of them letters that we’ll be requesting every year and saving for later reading. (Thanks for the idea, Offbeat Families!)

Baby NAZ, the love you engender in your social world is astonishing. Your first birthday had to be moved out of the house because so many people wanted to attend. I can only hope that whatever magic you carry today will stay with you in the future. But if it starts to wane, there’s always glitter and frozen yogurt.

(Can it really be that I don’t have a single photo from your birthday party? Yes, it can.)

A small list of ways in which you are barreling towards toddlerhood:

  • You’ve entered the stage of using a single word (in this case an emphatic tah) to mean most things for which you would like to have words. These are: fan, light, lamp, cat, dog, [pick me] up, and others. I hear this is a common thing in baby language development.
  • The above notwithstanding, you have actual words! This development is recent: the first one emerged this past weekend while we were visiting our friends in New York. Avocado is cacacaca (Mark points out: it stands to reason that your first food word is four syllables long). Today you managed to create recognizable versions of apple and stuck.
  • Besides all this, in the last few weeks you’ve been holding forth in fairly long conversational tirades. A language explosion is just around the corner, or already happening, depending on how much the whole “intelligible” thing matters.
  • Your hair has gotten long enough that civilized people would trim it. I, of course, am compelled to clip it away from your face and let it grow out a bit. Did you know that there are no baby-safe hair clips? Choking hazards, all of them.
  • One morning a couple of weeks ago I left you sitting in the middle of the living room while I went to pack up the lunch bag. I returned to find you standing on the other side of the coffee table from where you had been, holding on to it and looking at me, all, what? Yeah, I pull myself up now. No big deal. Since then you’ve been practicing pulling yourself up on the big bed every morning, holding on to the headboard, prompting grim visions of you tumbling off the bed on the side where the foam bumpers aren’t.
  • Speaking of heart attacks, knowing that your newly found interest in climbing stairs (carpeted and bare) is healthy doesn’t stop me from wishing sometimes I could superglue you to the floor until you’re eighteen.
  • Oh gods, the preferences. You know a lot more about what you want, and of course don’t have the language to get it yet, so you do this point-and-whine thing. We’ve stepped up your exposure to sign language, because babe, the whining a thing I can take only in small doses. Happily, you seem on board with the sign language, and you practice too.

Last weekend we got in a car with Mark and Eleanor and drove due west, into New York, to visit Sianna and her kids. The weekend getaway was perfect—a sprawling farmhouse, glorious homey food, a dance party in the living room, and a museum floor full of big boxes. You sat inside your very own tiny fort for something like half an hour, exploring the adhesive properties of duct tape.


There’s more, always, but it’s time for sleep.


(ps more pix, and videos)

birth story

January 25th, 2013 by vika

Burns Day 2012, January 25th, I was drumming my metaphorical fingers on all the desks I could find. My due date had been the 19th; another day or two, and they wouldn’t let me give birth at the Birth Center anymore. This risking out business was annoying! But that was where the bureaucracy won, and I was going to play along whether I liked it or not.

I was giddy with impatient anticipation. Felt like an amazon. Wanted haggis. Molly and I briefly fantasized about going to get the really good stuff somewhere in Jersey, but that wasn’t in the cards. I had itchy feet, though, and Molly is the platonic ideal of my traveling companion.

“Wanna go have dinner in Maine?” Do I!

Duckfat. I’d heard about it, but had never been to the Portland place with amazing-sounding fries. Two hours away is far enough to be a road trip, but totally close enough to get back if, you know.

This was it. Last chance to kick start labor and probably avoid a hospital setting. Mid-afternoon, I went to the store and got blue and black cohosh drops. I took some while parked outside of Molly’s workplace in Cambridge, waiting for her to come down.

At a gas station half an hour out of town, I went to the bathroom and stared at a tiny wet spot on my jeans. Slight incontinence is a common travel companion in late pregnancy, but this felt different.

Getting back, I said, “I think my water just broke.”

Molly stared at me. “Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure. There wasn’t a dramatic gush or anything, but yeah.”

“…Is it bad that my main thought is, drive faster?” We laughed.

“Bad, no! It’s why I love you.”

So we went on to Portland. I hadn’t thought to bring pads with me, and further didn’t even think to buy any at the gas station. So the moment we were seated at Duckfat, I said to our waitress: “So… My water broke, and I’m in labor! I’m totally fine, or we wouldn’t be here. But I need a pad. I don’t suppose you have any here?”

Her eyes got momentarily wider, but she kept her cool. “Congratulations, wow. Uh… *I* don’t have any, and the rest of the staff are dudes. Let me take a look in our first aid kit.” Moments later she was back with a big packet of gauze. “Best I can do.” It was good enough for the moment.

Dinner was delicious. Creamy soups, duckfat poutine (!!), duck rillettes, salad with duck confit. I had a blood orange and lemon curd shake that left me speechless. We texted Mark, who was at a company party. Molly posted pictures of our food, one of them captioned: “Tomato-fennel-basil, cream of onion, PS Vika’s water broke.” Our local internet erupted in good wishes.

The contractions started very slowly, sometime over dinner. After, we drove to a pharmacy and got real pads. The cashier at the pharmacy walked with me to show me where the bathrooms were. On the way there she suddenly called out, “Whoo! Hot flash!” I laughed and explained to her why I needed pads and a bathroom. We shared a sweet moment.

I drove us home. I wanted to see how far I could get, driving through mild contractions, and it turned out–all the way! Molly livetweeted, of course. We chatted about everything. We’ve had some great conversations over the years, but that evening’s was one of the best.

Got home in a beautiful dusting of snow, sometime between 11 and midnight. Mark was parked by my place, and we handed me off. Molly walked home, just down the hill. Mark and I went inside, puttered a bit, prepared things to take to the birth center when the time came. He snapped some pictures. We went to bed around midnight.

I got up at 2:30am with stronger contractions, and here things get hazy. The intensity of the contractions increased pretty rapidly. I tried to keep hydrated with water and tart juices (can’t stomach sports drinks), but couldn’t keep any of that down. Over the next hour I proceeded to get mildly dehydrated, which worsened the contractions and pushed them closer together, though I didn’t draw the connection then.

Around 4am we went to the birth center. The midwife on duty there, Laurie, wasn’t anyone I’d met before, and had easily the worst bedside manner I’d encountered in that place. She was displeased that we’d come, despite the fact that Mark had been on the phone with the center and we’d been told to come. She gave me an internal exam and used a speculum, which hurt like a mofo, and the entire time she was as gently disposed as sandpaper.

I wasn’t dilated enough, she said. A few centimeters. A non stress test showed no reason for worry, and an ultrasound confirmed that baby was head down. We should go and keep laboring at home. And, oh, drink lots more fluids.

Arrrrgh. Everything they tell you about how much it sucks to ride in a car while having contractions is true. And the pavement quality on Beacon Street between my house and the birth center is infamous with local bicyclists for its potholes. I felt every one, plus all the cracks in the road.

We went home at 6am, and the next several hours are a haze of pain and further dehydration. I might have slept a little bit. Throughout the night and morning, Mark was wonderfully supportive, but I don’t remember interacting much around the actual contractions — that seems to have been something I felt the need to deal with on my own.

He timed them, though. Things progressed, too slowly. There was a lot of pain. We talked to the birth center once or twice more, and were encouraged to stay the course. But at some point I couldn’t. Sometime close to noon I told him we were going in. He didn’t argue.

We got in around 12:15, and discovered that they couldn’t admit me unless they checked me again, and I was so dehydrated that they couldn’t check me until I rehydrated. So for the next hour and a half I lay on the thin narrow couch in the “family room,” a sort of tiny interstitial room, hooked up to an IV saline drip and trying with varying degrees of success to roll with it. Mark intermittently held my hands and made sympathetic noises, and was a generalized rock-solid loving presence. The contractions got bad enough that at some point I remember telling him, “I don’t know if I can do this. I’m close to giving up.” I was afraid, and later decided that this was the beginning of transition into the final stages of labor: often that time is marked by fear. But in the moment, of course, I didn’t remember that, and concentrated on my loved one and the kind nurse encouraging me to get through the rehydrating stage and find out where we really are, because what if we’ve progressed a lot? Would be a shame to check into the hospital with no need, since that’s a thing I wanted to avoid if possible.

Fair point, and the baby was doing just fine, so I kept on breathing.

Two liters of saline later they took me to get checked out. I actually started crying at the thought of another speculum exam. “No speculum,” the midwife on duty promised. I’d never met her either, but she was different from Ms. Mousy Sandpaper. She was solid and reassuring and full of warmth, and she helped me breathe more easily in the midst of labor. So when she mentioned a student midwife and asked me if it would be ok to have her along, I didn’t think twice. I love student medical practitioners. They’re sweet and brave and interested. And let me tell you: Kate ended up taking over the entire thing including my postpartum visits, and was amazing.

But that was later. For now, the senior midwife (whose name I no longer remember) checked me without a speculum. “Oh! You’re at 7.5 centimeters.”

Holy crap! Turns out my body had been laboring hard and productively. “Does this mean I get admitted?” Oh yes. Ohhh thank all the deities.

They took me to an honest-to-goodness laboring room. With a BATHTUB. I got to float in the warm water, easily the best thing to happen all day up to that point. My birth-center-provided doula was summoned (did I mention I loved my experience at the Cambridge Birth Center?), and spent some intense time with me getting to full dilation without pushing. She had to really work on me, there. The urge to push was strong with this one.

This whole time Mark was with me, being a rock star, best birthing companion I could’ve wished for. Later I heard that when he finally left us the next day, he sat in Molly’s kitchen and ate peanut butter straight from the jar for a while, recharging and staring off into space. Plenty deserved.

The midwife was covering both the birth center and the hospital delivery ward next door, so we spent some time waiting for her to come back and check me again. Ages later she came back, checked me quickly, and pronounced me fully dilated. But, surprise! The warm tub water was too cool for the baby to be delivered into, so they wanted me to come out.

I just looked at them all in disbelief. I remember feeling flickers of rage, but the whole thing was so preposterous—I mean, couldn’t they just turn on the damn hot water faucet?—that there had to be something I didn’t know. I couldn’t use words at that point, so I turned to Mark, who proceeded to be my lungs and mouth. Couldn’t we turn on the hot water? They answered him as they were hustling me out, so I didn’t catch the answer, but he told me later: no, they said. There wasn’t time. This baby was coming too fast.

Whee! Everything’s a blur. Here’s what I remember: they got me on the bed and put down some disposable towels. I think I pushed in earnest a total of four times. Then I had a baby.

I’d been admitted sometime around 2pm on January 26th. By 3:50 he was out. I was on all fours, and they put him on the bed under me. We stared at each other. He screamed with shock and indignation. I cried and laughed. Mark cried.

Everything they tell you about the pain disappearing into a haze on account of the endorphins is true. It was the best, cleanest high I ever expect to experience. Someone helped me turn around and sit, reclined, on the bed. They cleaned up my baby and put him on my belly. Sometime in there I delivered the gorgeous root structure of the placenta, which I had no interest in keeping but was fascinating to see. I had a tiny tear that didn’t need any stitches. They cleaned me up. Everything got a lot more quiet.

We rested. Babe-a-licious got checked out and pronounced perfect (7lbs 9.9oz, 21.5 inches). Nobody once suggested taking him out of the room: there was no need. I think I had toast and tea, courtesy of the lovely doula lady. We tried to get him to latch on with some success. Mark snapped some photos. We got a visit from Molly, ate sushi for dinner, drank a vodka toast to his arrival and a long and wonderful life, and picked out his name. Nico Alexander Zafrin. I called my mom. There was another exam (his blood is B+, by the way), and then we napped the nap of the smugly accomplished.

They don’t let you stick around for long at the birth center, and I didn’t feel like transferring to the hospital without true need. Around midnight we went home in a dusting of fresh snow.


newsletter: month eleven

December 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

You’re eleven months old, and clearly done with immobility. No more wobbling across the floor; you still need the support of grownup hands, but given your druthers, you’d be running. Zoom! Unless you’re practicing your drunken-sailor walk—there’s still a lot of that. Whatever the speed, my hands are too busy holding you up to take photos.

My back gets pretty sore, you know. So your holiday gift from mama is a baby hand truck, the kind you can stash toys in and wheel around the house. You’re slightly suspicious of it, and not quite steady enough to go freewheelin’ yet.

The other day we were zooming around the apartment, and then you skidded to a stop to look at your reflection in the mirror. The reflection grinned and squealed with delight, and then you two very gently bumped your foreheads together. You learned that trick from your five-year-old friend Pip, or was it your four-year-old friend Syl? They both like playing the game where you ever so lightly bump foreheads and then the other kid flails and falls over onto his back. That’s a fun game. But your reflection didn’t fall over onto his back, so you just stood there giggling and licking the mirror, patting each other’s hand.

Hard to say what the best game of the month is. There are so many, and everything is the best. Cats, CEILING FANS, curtains, people, building blocks, socks, drums, the cabinet underneath the bathroom sink, oh dear, I should really install baby locks on some of these things. Favorite game of the past week, though, is increasingly: sit down with a box full of blocks, take blocks out one by one, and throw them on the floor until they’re spread out more or less in a circle around you, in a single layer. And then you’re the king of all you survey.

Firsts for this month include antibiotics, oh did I mention you’ve been sick for five weeks? It’s finally getting better, but not before we take care of this stealth ear infection. This part isn’t awesome, but at least the medicine is tasty enough. And while having one or both of us be sick for weeks on end can get dispiriting for your caretakers, it’s not like this has slowed you down much. We still had a completely lovely solstice with some of our favorite people, including sunrise on the river again. We still spend time with our friends. We still bounce and giggle and read books (your favorite right now is Little Penguin, which has a finger puppet right in the book, and Global Babies, which has photos of babies from around the world).

The baby NAZ fan club is ridiculous. That most of our friends are into you isn’t surprising. But then there are supermarket cashiers, burly guys at the body shop, doctors, our new veterinarian. What I’m saying is: your plan for world domination is proceeding apace. Good going, babe.


(more pix)

newsletter: month ten

November 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

Last week you turned 300 days old. Today, you’re ten.

When do we get to claim you’re walking? When it’s unsupported, I guess. You wobble clear across a room holding on to grownup hands, and still no interest in crawling. I’ll get a photo of that sometime, but it’s hard when both my hands are occupied.

We went to the Aquarium this month, and I’d like to apologize for not letting you swim with the big fish and rays. We didn’t have a swimming suit with us, and it’s too cold to swim, and anyway they won’t let us swim in that pool. Sorry. We did see a bunch of fish, though, and then went and ate fish, because that’s just the kind of awesome we are.


Perhaps your most startling effect on the world thus far: you’ve prompted me to take up knitting. This is something others tried hard to accomplish for years, without success. Maybe their downfall was the reasoning? You’re a girl, you have to know how to knit. No thanks, I’d rather climb a tree. Then, one shiny mamahood day, I was bit hard by the need to make you a scarf. So supplies were got, and then videos were watched, and then it got started and finished. You’re welcome. And: whoa.

We read books. We play with a ball. We dance around, and I think you’re singing. You like Ziggy Marley and Mika and Kris Delmhorst. And drums! We were late to meet a friend one day because you noticed the djembe on the way out, and demanded to play it. Who was I to refuse?

Then babushka came back from vacation with a NAZ-sized drum. This is the BEST THING.

drumming with babushka

Best thing, that is, if you don’t count curtains, cats, playing cards (delicious), clapping, standing, light switches, pull cords, or your stuffed sheep.

We road tripped again, to New York for Thanksgiving. You road warrior, you. Slept like a champ, then hung out for 60-90 minutes at a time watching the world roll by. That’s huge, man. It says things about how you pay attention and perceive time.


That trip, it was unreal. You were the platonic ideal of happy baby pretty much the entire time. It took, like, ten minutes to put you to bed each night. Aside from your being sick for part of it, that’s how the month has felt. Just living. No big drama. Lots of laughter.



ps More pix, and a lemon video.

newsletter: month nine

October 29th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

I’m writing this as you sleep through a hurricane. Her eye is a couple of states away. Although the wind is high and there’s flooding elsewhere in Massachusetts, and several of our local friends are without power, we’ve been lucky with electricity so far. So I can sit here and type, and fret about your aunt and uncle in New York, which is being pummeled way worse than we are. Let’s hope they don’t float away into the sunrise on the rearing back of the Hudson.

This letter is three days late. You’ve been busy growing, and I’ve been busy keeping my work and the house from descending into chaos. So this month, bullet points. More photos (and a video!) over there.

You like:

  • roasted beets with goat cheese; roasted vegetables of all sorts; my admittedly fantastic beef stew; apple season; paneer; sweet potatoes; squash; in short, all the foods I’ve thrown at you… er, given to you—you throw them just fine on your own
  • the cats, and the dog at Michel’s, for all of whom you have a single word resembling “ack”
  • standing, which you’re content to do until your leg muscles tremble from the strain
  • the big drum & dance, as predicted

You don’t like:

  • having a play thing taken from you, particularly if it’s at all stick-like or a wash cloth
  • …um, ok, so this isn’t much of a list. You’re pretty much convinced the world is out to delight you.

You have the following new, mad skillz:

  • supported forward-wobble stand
  • an explosion of emphatic babbling
  • transport of food into your mouth using a fork
  • spontaneous laughter unprovoked by any obvious external event
  • rolling the ball to me, though you would admittedly rather eat it
  • leading imitation games, often involving the sticking out of tongues and/or a repeated emphatic TA TA TTTAAAAAA

You just keep doing what you do, ok, baby? And maybe the constant sleepy exhaustion will lift, and this month I’ll remember to take notes.

newsletter: month eight

September 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

A couple of weeks ago Mark and I took you to a drum and dance. It was your first—on the outside. I was hoping that all the drumming I did while you were swimming around in your own personal sea world had programmed you to like this sort of thing. And you did! You stayed up all evening, well past your 7:30ish bedtime. You grinned like a fool, dancing there with Mark who was kind enough to wrangle an admittedly delightful you so I could drum some. You were mesmerized by the other drummers. You didn’t miss a thing.

And that was a tiny event, just a few people. I should really take you to Amherst next.

In the meantime, you’re not wasting a minute. You’ve had a, like, month-long growth spurt. People are asking whether you’re a year old. I have no idea how heavy you are at this point, but the speed with which you’re gaining weight has outstripped my body’s ability to build up muscle. Which I need in order to keep throwing you in the air, one of your favorite activities. So, you know, slow down a little.

On the recommendation of your pediatrician, also known as my adored primary physician of many years, I’ve been reading The Scientist in the Crib. You’ll be surprised to know that in the early 21st century, we’re still in the infancy of our understanding what the hell goes on in your rapidly developing mind-body. But we do know a substantial number of interesting things, and by golly, they’re all right in that book, well written and everything. I was already convinced, mostly from memories of early childhood, that babies have insanely rich inner lives. But TSitC has given me an even greater appreciation for every new skill you acquire:

  • passing stuff from hand to hand: isn’t it heady, how you can manipulate (heh) TWO HANDS at the SAME TIME?
  • scooting backwards would totally be crawling forwards if you could, but you’re still building up the power
  • you can throw your body around in the high chair and propel it on its little wheels—unless I put the brakes on them, preventing you from getting to the fun kitchen drawer
  • you have A TOOTH and use it on every food you can get your mouth on, including oatmeal, bell peppers, apples, beef stew, ice cream, tomatoes, daikon-like radishes in hot pot soup, Russian sauerkraut dumplings, bread, cucumber, and a million other things I’ve now lost track of
  • oh, and you might be beginning to wean yourself, though I would request that you not be in a hurry on that one
  • when you’re sleepy but can’t find a comfortable position, you’d really rather be left to your own devices, thanks, and not “helped” because sheesh you can get comfortable on your own

…You know, life. I try to pay attention and write things down, but there’s just so much. We play with the hallway light pull string. You open your eyes a little wider to take in the brilliant yellow goldenrod flowers growing along the Esplanade on the Charles River. You’re into contours—containers, borders, shadows. You like Jon Stewart and Doctor Who. You’re living every moment.

I’ve had two dreams in succession in which you spoke. In full sentences. In one dream you demanded ginger tea. Can hardly wait to have teatime conversations with you, babe.

-Mama (who, as usual, has placed more visual evidence here)

newsletter: month seven

August 28th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

The seven-months newsletter is two whole days late. I’m sorry, baby, but mold waits for no one. Particularly when it’s mold trying to eat half a bushel of green beans.

Just so you know, half a bushel of green beans is a LOT of green beans. And maybe August in Boston isn’t the best time to leave them sitting there for even only a day, but what could I do? Gods know I don’t have space for 25lbs of beans in my fridge, and there was Back Yard Burning Man, and a housewarming, and…

Anyway. They’re gorgeously brined now, the two-thirds that I saved from a moldy death, and the house is back to a liveable shape.

You spent your seven-month birthday weekend in the arms of well over a dozen people at three different parties. They were charmed and powerlessas you telepathically compelled them to throw you in the air, let you pull on cheeks and beards and dark safety goggles, hold you up as you bounced, make faces as you lolled on a picnic blanket, feed you bits of food…

FOOD, oh my goodness. You like, in no particular order: Os cereal, which you often eat by putting your mouth on the high chair tray; beef stew; soaked prunes; peaches; tomatoes; avocado; a tiny bit of ice cream; and whatever is on my plate. You also think wooden spoons and plastic spatulas are mighty tasty. So tasty that you bit off a little piece of a spatula with your gums. When you have teeth, no bendy spatula for you.

Huge month developmentally. Huge. You’re clearly remembering things better from day to day. Stuffed toys with floppy limbs hold your attention for minutes, and I predict that later on you’ll be loving to cuddle with the downy-soft elephant that Mary from New Hampshire gave you. Or did she give you the lamb? That one is marginally less cuddly, but happens to be delicious. Cats are a little bit like stuffed toys, but they’ll walk away if you’re not gentle. They’re still way fun to watch, though. The foam tile flooring we got from a neighborhood mom is fun to bang on, and the jigsaw edges are fascinating.

Oh, and you’re sitting. On the bed, on the floor, with and without the boppy around you for support. In a special little seat in the bathtub.

And any day now, you’ll either crawl or straight-up walk. (See what I did there? Straight-up… never mind.)

I should probably attach those bookshelves to the wall. Holy sh…arks.

Baths are way more fun in the big bathtub. You can make waves! The splashing is way more awesome! You have floaty toys that squirt water! You never smile during bathtime, though—it’s too serious a business. Your usual devotion to exploring the edges of shadows goes all haywire in the big water. SO MUCH to look at, who has time for smiling?

Speaking of the big water, we went to Walden Pond, and the same scene repeated itself there. Sunshine in shallow little waves, oh goodness. You won’t remember this, but we were there with a friend who proceeded to give birth on your seven-month birthday, and with some other friends who just moved here from California. Our social circle keeps getting bigger.

A tiny fraction of the things that have amused you this month: books (this and this and this); bending your fingers (nice isolation work there!); making raspberries and silly sounds and syllables with your tongue (tatatatatatata); having secrets whispered in your ear (it must feel nice); doing that upper-lip-over-lower thing and watching me melt; patting my back as I pat yours, helping you get the air out after a feeding.

Every time I see your naked little body when you’re trying to crawl, the muscles are more defined. Working, working. Sometime in the beginning of the month, I barely recognized your arms—they were so slender in the night. Toddler arms soon.

Even with all the changes, you’re still a small mammal. Putting my arm on your sleeping body creates a feedback hum. We cuddle at night. In fact, what am I doing up? Time to go join you, for tomorrow is another crazy, unbelievable day at work, and quality time is sometimes unconscious.


P.S. <a href=””>More pix, as usual.</a>

newsletter: month six

July 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

Now you are six. Months old.

Yeah, I don’t know either.

A month ago I was in a pretty bleary state when I wrote in my notes for this post: “4am, tiny mammal nestled against my elbow.” Since then, you’ve become about a million times cuddlier. I often sleep with my arm around you now. This is new—until recently I was somehow unsure of how comfortable you were with the weight of my arm on your torso. As of this writing, you weigh a hair over 19.5lbs, so it’s not like my relaxed arm is going to hold you hostage. Ohhh no, you’re scooting all over the place with your butt high in the air and a gleeful expression on your face. Doomy doomy doom.

The sunny disposition that goes along with your cuddliness served you in good stead when we went to Germany last week. That’s right: Baby NAZ, international baby of mystery. You charmed at least half of Hamburg, and a great most of DH 2012. You didn’t even seem to notice the time change—that is, until we came back to the States. Then you crashed hard. But that’s way easier to deal with.

Your first baby-food-in-a-jar experience was in Germany. Aunt Jo bought you some at the fancy little supermarket around the corner from our hotel. When I came back from that day’s conferencing, she showed me the two jars and said: “So… this jar is definitely carrots. And this other one… I think it’s chestnuts?” I took a look; seemed plausible. Just in case, though, we looked it up online. Nope. Beef. Poof! You are omnivorous.

And you like it, too. But mostly you’ll need teeth for that, and this month you’ve been teething like crazy. But no teeth yet. Here’s a pro tip: fast teething is probably better teething. I don’t think your baby teeth got that memo. I’ve now drugged you several times with homeopathic remedies (which did bupkis, as mostly expected, but I wanted to try) and baby Tylenol (which mostly works).

But never mind that you don’t have actual teeth yet. Solid foods are fun for both of us. Not that you’re losing interest in mama milk. Any day now, you’ll be feeding that to yourself from the bottle.

It’s been the month of limbs and lips. You can operate all four of your limbs with purpose and relative grace. Grabby-motor control is developing fast: you’re probably a week or two away from the pincer grip. We’ll see about speeding up that bit of training by getting you Os cereal. For now, you continue to examine your hands, and now also your feet, from every angle daily.

Consonants are the source of this month’s greatest entertainment for you and me both. Maybe next month I’ll sign you up for the Thpfft Championship. That is, if I can distract you from communing with the cats with the newly unabashed glee of conscious recognition.

Oh, what am I saying. You’re still as distractable as ever.


P.S. moar pix!

University presses, open access, and public engagement

July 19th, 2012 by vika

It’s been all baby [almost] all the time around here, and I’m ok with that, but right now I’m at Digital Humanities 2012 in Hamburg and totally jazzed. Do take a look at the #dh2012 hashtag on Twitter if you like this sort of thing.

Someone on my library’s internal mailing list pointed to the recent NYTimes article “Plan to Close University of Missouri Press Stirs Anger.” In particular, the following bit:

Scholars argue that university presses are vital for academic discourse. They publish erudite texts that commercial presses do not, giving scholars a forum to share and further research. Professors often rely on them to publish the works they need for tenure and promotion. But they are usually money-losing operations. The presses at the University of Chicago, Oxford and Cambridge are the only ones widely believed to be profitable.

I started writing a response to that, which meandered around a bit and became a blog post. Here it is.

That quote above is a fantastic argument FOR open access. All three of these presses have quite liberal OA policies for articles published in their journals (the following are default policies, which may vary by journal):

– Cambridge UP allows immediate sharing of preprints* and postprints*, AND allows dissemination of publisher’s version after a quite reasonable 12mo embargo;
– Oxford UP allows immediate sharing of preprints, and puts a 12mo embargo on postprints;
– Chicago UP allows immediate sharing of preprints, puts a 12mo embargo on postprints and publisher’s version, and actually encourages institutional repositories to use the publisher’s version.

Most other academic [journal] publishers, including both large-commercial and small university-based, for the most part don’t allow IR deposit of the publisher’s version, not by default anyway. Talking with them about, say, political science or anthropology articles from the 1980s often prompts them to rethink this policy: the revenue they’re likely to get from those articles is miniscule at best.

This is only to say: and the havoc that the digital world has played with scholarly publishing, and the concept of open access, doesn’t actually have much to do with the viability of a given university press. Higher-administrative support does, and innovative thinking does (with regard to both journals and monographs; for the latter, see MIT Press and Penn Press). It’s extremely disappointing that the administration of the University of Missouri seems to be giving up. I wish we were holding on more strongly to venues for dissemination of academic research.

Then again, there’s an awful lot of dry, bad academic publishing going on. Certainly the books/articles with broader public appeal are the more likely to survive. And that may be a good thing. I’m writing this from the annual Digital Humanities conference. Yesterday I found out that the rules have changed for academics in the UK: they now practically have a mandate to engage the public in their research. The mandatory review process that they go through every few years will be specifically looking at their level of public engagement. In addition, I hesitate to add, to the academic integrity of their work.

This is mindblowing. Can you imagine what would happen if this were a dimension of tenure review here in the States?


*I keep needing to remind myself: preprint is author’s original version, as submitted; postprint is a misnomer, it’s the author’s final accepted manuscript, after post-peer-review corrections but before final layout and copyediting.

newsletter: month five

June 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

Congratulations, my child! You have survived your fifth month and your first fall off a bed. It was bound to happen, or so They tell me; apparently it takes on average four of these before you start remembering they ever happened. And hey, by the sixth you start forgetting again!

Surviving is hard work, though most days it’s hard to tell from the way you look all cheerful and gregarious. One day I walked into Carolyn’s house after work, and there you were, holding court amid four grownups and two toddlers, squealing with laughter on Michel’s lap. That evening, you continued shrieking for a good hour and a half in a row—as far as I could tell, because it’s fun to shriek. Michel calls this your pterodactyl noise.

This joie de vivre characterizes most of the past month, though not all. To wit: while writing the above two paragraphs yesterday, I went into the bedroom twice to soothe your crying. You were teething hard all day. Physical pain is such a surprise to you every time that I often catch you smiling up at me through tears and quivering lips. The next moment, you register confusion: how can it be that you’re feeling all these different things at once? Welcome to the human condition, little dude.

Lots of big news items this month. Locomotion! Well, sorta. Certainly movement in space—see above re falling off the bed. You roll all the way over. You do that thing where your butt goes way high up and you scoot your legs under you and lurch forward with your upper body. My adorable inchworm zombie. Your back muscles are more defined. You can sit with your back supported for more than seconds at a time, without falling over sideways. You sit in a Bumbo and in a high chair, too.

You talk a lot. When it’s not pterodactyl-moon-language, it’s often an exploration of your own tongue. You make shapes with it and then vocalize. You do this for minutes, often while staring at your hands. Being a baby is some good drugs.

When you’re not working on your development, you’re often sleeping with your butt high in the air. Remember that conversation we were having about having you sleep more than two hours at a time? Well, you’re doing that, mostly. I’m convinced that the frequent-waking pattern is related to the outside weather. This is both fascinating and kind of a bummer, since there’s nothing I can do about it. No matter what the room temperature is, or how humid or dry it is, you follow the weather gods. Maybe I shoulda named you Storm or somesuch. (No. But maybe.)

Or maybe it’s your little body processing the SOLID FOODS you’ve been ingesting. Kid, I’ve been waiting for this for longer than you’ve been alive. Here’s what we know so far:

  • sweet potatoes are awright
  • prunes are undiluted awesome… no really, please, god, don’t dilute them—certainly not with breastmilk, because that combination is vile
  • beets are tasty enough, even though they get your face all screwed up in an I’m-not-sure-about-this way every time you eat them
  • jury’s still out on avocado, but then, you’ve only had it once

It’s getting late, baby, so I’m going to say goodnight to the internet and go sleep. Life is full of work and commuting and books and dishes and blog updates and nonstop craziness and even a little TV, but sometimes you just gotta say forget it all, and get some sleep.


P.S. more pix here.