Being married is having someone that you can talk to about your poop, and they’ll still have sex with you.

Being married with children is having someone you can talk to about your child’s poop, and they’ll still have sex with you.

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What have I been doing? Not blogging, that’s what. Here’s some snippets:

  • Women are amazing. First, they have the ability to keep tiny people alive inside themselves for months at a time. Then they endure incredible amounts of pain to bring those people out to where they can breathe on their own. When that’s done, they shrug it off and start feeding the creatures with food they make from their own bodies. I have never been more in awe of my wife than in the past few weeks.
  • Ciprian is wonderful. He sleeps plenty, eats pretty well, and is extremely cute. The only problem is that he doesn’t always nurse as much as he needs to and has remained pretty small. But we’re addressing that as best we can.
  • I stopped writing the previous WIP, and moved on to a new one. Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t get excited about what I was writing, which is pretty much a death knell for any creative work. I took a while off to write two short stories (which turned out very well), thinking that I would get my muse back for the novel afterwards. That was a failure: the further I got from the novel, the more I dreaded going back to it. When I got started on the thing I’m working on now, I admitted the obvious. The project is dead.
  • But I have a new project! It involves prison and vampires and zombies. And I am LOVING it. This is the most fun I’ve had writing something in a long time.
  • Today was the first day I biked to work. Well, not all the way to work. That’s like eight miles, man. I’m not about to do that every day. I’ll probably talk about this more in the future.

Larisa has her weekly checkup for the baby, which our midwife asks us to do at the hospital, since she’s there delivering another baby. I drop her off and head into work. I’m there for about 15 minutes when I get a call from Larisa. “The midwife says not to worry, but I’m dialated to four centimeters already.”

Don’t worry. Right.

I come in and pick her up at our church, which is only a few blocks from the hospital. She’s attending our midweek Eucharist, with a half-dozen other people. I get in near the end, but we stay through the prayers and take communion. Afterwards everyone prays for Larisa and me, which gets things off to a great start.

The midwife has told Larisa to go home and wait for her contractions to pick up. We head in, pack our bags and get the car ready. In the early afternoon her contractions are coming consistently every five minutes, so we called the midwife and were formally admitted to the hospital.

Things progressed well, but slowly. Larisa’s contractions pick up and slack off intermittently. They never become very painful or powerful, though she does get dialated to 6cm. We wait until that evening, and sleep intermittently through the night.

In the morning, the midwife talks to us. Larisa’s contractions have slacked off through the night, but she’s plenty dialated. We can either go home and wait for her labor to speed up on its own, or we can have her break Larisa’s water, which will provoke active labor. We take an hour’s walk to discuss it, and agree to have her break Larisa’s water. So at 7am the midwife uses something that looks like a giant knitting needle to break the amniotic sac, and the fluid gushes out.

Things pick up almost right away. The contractions start coming more frequent and strong, and pretty soon Larisa’s in a lot of pain. We move into the jacuzzi room, which alas doesn’t help Larisa very much. It becomes difficult for her to walk, and she keeps moving into different positions trying to find something that’s more comfortable. The nurses keep telling her that she’s doing great, but that doesn’t relieve her agony much.

At 2pm, seven hours after her water broke, the midwife checks Larisa’s cervix again. She’s only dialated to 7cm. As soon as the midwife leaves, Larisa starts to cry. She’s been in excruciating pain for hours already, and has made hardly any progress since her water broke. She tells me she wants an elective caesarean. She is done. She wants this baby out.

We talk to the nurse, who sets Larisa up with an IV to prepare her for whatever procedures are to come. The midwife is out for an hour (doing a C-section, ironically), and when she gets back I relay Larisa’s desires to the midwife. She strongly suggests that we not do that. Gradually, she talks Larisa down off the ledge. They’ll give her painkillers to help her relax and take away much of the pain, then she can re-evaluate if she really wants a C-section or wants to keep going for a vaginal birth.

Drugs are great. We were originally going to attempt an unmedicated birth, but avoiding a C-section is a much higher priority. Larisa feels better almost immediately after they give her the narcotics. She also feels rather sleepy. Before the narcotics wear off the nurse anaesthetist comes in and sets up Larisa’s epidural. It’s fascinating actually: they thread a tiny tube directly into Larisa’s spinal column, and drip small continuous doses of anaesthetic that desensitizes the lower body. The effect is remarkably specific: Larisa can feel her feet and knows when she’s having a contraction, but there is little actual pain.

The next five hours pass pretty quickly. The anaesthetist has to adjust Larisa’s dose a couple of times, but her ability to keep up and her relaxation increase dramatically. The labor picks up–by eight pm she’s almost fully dialated and the baby has descended. At eight thirty the midwife checks again and makes the announcement: it’s time to push.

Larisa is a champion pusher. I hold her legs and shout encouragement while she grunts and groans and pushes. Pretty quickly I can see the top of the baby’s head. Larisa pushes a bit more, and soon we see eyes, ears, shoulders, the whole body. She’s done! They wipe the baby down quickly, and a few seconds after being born the baby is resting and whimpering on Larisa’s chest.

So Ciprian Alexander Bangs was born on May 22, 2008, at 9:15pm, weighing 6 lbs. 12 oz, and 19 inches long. He’s resting with his mother a few feet from me right now.

Here’s a popular Romanian joke:

A gypsy and his neighbor set out to build their houses. They spared no expense, and they succeeded in building two identical houses, brick for brick. When they were done, they both stepped back to admire their work. “What a great house!” the one said. “I’ll bet that I can sell it for a million dollars.” “What a great house!” the gypsy said. “I’ll bet that I can sell mine for two million dollars.” “What?” the neighbor said. “Our houses are identical. Why would yours sell for twice what mine sells for?” “Easy,” the gyspy said. “I don’t live next to a gyspy.”

And here’s a true story that happened to me while I was living in Romania: I lived outside of town and had to take a bus into work. I lived near a gypsy enclave, and my bus was often filled with people bringing their wares into town. One day the bus was very crowded (as usual), and I offered my seat to a youngish gypsy woman who looked tired and weary. She took it without a word. Then, about halfway through the trip, she started harassing me to give her money. I politely ignored her, but she became increasingly strident, offering to tell me my fortune in exchange for whatever money I was willing to give her. As she grew more insistent I grew more impatient, until the bus finally arrived downtown and I hurriedly disembarked to escape. No luck. She followed me, pulling on my sleeve and almost physically attempting to keep me from leaving. In exasperation I stuck my hand into my pocket and pulled out the first thing that I found: a 1000 lei coin (a tiny pittance, since a loaf of bread cost 10,000 lei at the time). I tried to push it into her hand, but it slipped out and fell into the muck and snow at the edge of the bus stop. She dashed after it, then looked at me in disgust when she realized that she had dirtied her hands for such a pathetic sum. A cop was standing nearby, and he started laughing. He winked at me in camaraderie–he naturally assumed that I had done this on purpose to humiliate the woman. Horrified and embarrassed, I fled from the bus stop and towards downtown. I say these two things to illustrate the following points:

  • Romani (gypsies) are subjected to immense, pervasive prejudice in Romania. One simply assumes that gypsies are dirty, irresponsible, rapacious, abusive, fortune-tellers, thieves, and swindlers. Anti-Romani racism is nearly universal and almost never questioned. In this sense Romania is quite different from the US, where racism is usually covert and subtle. Romanian bias is overt, obvious, and most of all considered normal.
  • At the same time, the prejudice is not really racial. It’s cultural. Romani who adopt mainstream dress, language, and lifestyle are pretty easily integrated. My wife descends from such a family: her paternal grandparents were gypsies who settled and entered Romanian mainstream, and this heritage has had close to zero impact on her and the rest of her family. She and all of her sisters are darker-skinned than the average Romanian, but no-one cares. I knew other people who were obviously Romani, but who had no trouble integrating into normal economic life once they took up Romanian dress, religion, etc. This also contrasts with historical attitudes in the US, where one-drop rules meant that people with mixed ancestry felt the full weight of segregation.
  • Partly for this reason, official attempts to redress this situation have been entirely ineffective, from what I can see. Officially, the Romani are not țigani but romi, and public-service advertisements against racism are visible in all major cities. The result? People now tell racist jokes using the word rom instead of țigan. Progress, eh? Additionally, there’s very little political consciousness among the gypsies themselves (that I know of). This dooms any attempts to address the problem through official channels, and makes the gestures that have been undertaken seem like condescension.
  • The story of what happened to me on the bus illustrates a problem with many of the accepted narratives about why racial stereotypes exist. In this feel-good just-so story, stereotypes are a means for the privileged to keep the underclass down, and closer interaction with the oppressed shows the stereotype to be false, and so racism disappears. My experience was just the opposite. Most interactions that most people have with gypsies in Romania serve to reinforce the stereotype. Indeed, the most horrific stories of spousal and child abuse I’ve ever heard have come from my sister-in-law and her husband, who do social work in an impoverished gypsy village. Their experience working closely with the Romani has not served to create the comfortable illusion that the gypsies are “just like us” beneath their skin, but rather has deepened the impression that there are terrible dysfunctions in Romani culture and mores.
  • Since the real divide between gypsies and Romanians in Romania is cultural, some people would counsel tolerance and mutual respect. Tolerance might be possible, but it will never lead to respect, because the differences between mainstream and Romani culture are imbued with moral significance. For example, it is not uncommon for Romani women to be married in their teens, and to have a few children by the time they reach their twenties. This is combined with widespread domestic abuse and general misogyny. Is this something that should be tolerated and respected? And this is just one example that I picked as congenial to Westerners–there are many other examples of cultural differences imbued with moral significance that separate the gypsy minority from the Romanian mainstream.
  • There is a conflict between the desire to preserve and respect Romani culture and the desire to eliminate prejudice against the Romani, because the culture is largely the cause of the prejudice. Okay, we say, we’ll keep the good (or neutral) aspects of the culture and get rid of the bad ones. Keep the bright dresses and lose the child marriage. Okay, but which cultural aspects are good and which are bad? And who gets to decide? The Romani themselves, or well-meaning liberal bureaucrats in Bucharest and Brussels? I have a hunch who’s actually going to set the policies that determine the future of Romani in Romania, and I’m suspicious that it’s just another form of racism, masquerading as multiculturalism.

And yet… I don’t think that we should be complacent about the treatment of gypsies in Romania (or anywhere else). I just think that we should be realistic about the content and the causes of prejudice. If you like this, you may be interested in A visitor’s guide to Romanian racism.

Update: Here’s another article about gypsy demographics, culture, and history which is relevant to this discussion.

It’s April 18th. And it is snowing in Seattle. Big, wet, fluffy, gorgeous flakes. I’ve obviously stumbled into some bizarre alternate dimension where Seattle weather is something other than soggy drizzle for weeks on end, and I love it.

Yesterday my wife wrote me shortly after I arrived at work. She always writes me, usually just to chit-chat. But she said something interesting: “I’ve started bleeding.”

That got my attention.

She had also experienced a few mild contractions the day before and that morning, so we were alarmed, to say the least. A call to our midwife resulted in an appointment for an ultrasound in the early afternoon. It wasn’t urgent, the midwife said: she had no pain, the bleeding was really just spotting, and the contractions were highly sporadic. Still, they were unusual symptoms given that Larisa was still eight weeks away from her due date.

I took off from work early and we headed downtown for an emergency ultrasound at Swedish. The results were, basically, that nothing was wrong. Larisa was not in labor, the baby was of average size, and there was nothing wrong with mother or child. The contractions were unusual but essentially harmless, and the bleeding was attributed to more unusual-but-harmless motion in the plumbing.

So the baby is not, as far as we know, going to surprise us by arriving eight weeks early. Phew!

Last night was a night of great and portentious (not to mention pretentious) moment. Four of we who met at Potlatch, gathered at my house. The celebrants were myself, Jessie Kwak, Natasha Oliver, and Brian LeBlanc, all denizens of Seattle and ambitious neophyte writers. We had agreed to a get-together shortly after Potlatch, and this was the day it got together.

Food was had, and in delicious quantities. Natasha supplied fantastic ham quiche squares, Brian blessed us with alcohol, and Jessie took up the rear with a kind of Mexican cookie whose name I have forgotten. The entree was supplied by me and my wife: ciorbă rădăuţeană, a traditional Romanian soup made with chicken and sour cream. I requested that the revelers learn to pronounce the word before they started eating, which they did with admirable aplomb. Well, at least Jessie and Natasha did. I think that Brian got away with not saying the name of the dish the entire night.

Food meant discussion, which eventually led to reading and critting. Jessie agreed to be the first victim with a short story about… Actually, I won’t say what the story was about. It’s her prerogative to divulge details of her own WIP. In any case, everyone agreed that the format was enjoyable and useful, so others will provide further grist for the crit mill in the future.

We all agreed to an encore, with the exact date to be established in the future. The last order of business was to agree on a name for our cadre. After heated discussion, we agreed on the Shining Creamsicles, for reasons to ridiculous to explain. Note that the name is only temporarily plural: when the Creamsicle Singularity occurs (like the Technological Singularity, but with Creamsicles), we will merge and become The Shining Creamsicle. And I know we’re all looking forward to that.