26 Dec 2011, 10:50pm
brains life nature


Who Needs Sleep

Every new mother parent knows about sleep deprivation. I was curious (and fearful) to see how it would impact me. In high school and college it sometimes seemed like I hardly ever slept, but somewhere in the following years sleep karma came crashing down and I turned into a zombie anytime I got less than a solid 8 hours.


I got my first taste of long term sleep loss in my final trimester. It wasn’t so much the frequent bladder demands- I am a rotten sleeper generally, so frequent waking wasn’t too much of a change. The bigger issue was the pain… one of the pregnancy hormones, I think its relaxin (?) makes all the ligaments stretchy, and it gets excruciating in the middle of the night, mainly around the hip region (not coincidentally).

But of course a newborn is a totally different ballpark.

Things got better around the 2 month mark, then much worse for a while, then way way better (with a few hiccups) around 4 and a half months. It’s all relative though. I’ve always assumed I was nocturnal through practice rather than nature, but it seems I lean that way even given incentive to change: now, waking consistently at 7 or earlier, I still have trouble falling asleep before 1 most nights. It’s a problem.


I have certainly adjusted though. I have not (that I am aware) become a zombie. I’m pretty much always tired, but you get used to it.

This weekend, thanks to an abundance of extra willing hands, I got some sleep. Every morning Ender went down for a two hour nap and every morning I went down for a two hour nap too.


Now, I have never been a great napper, but since having a baby I have managed to start taking naps at least when I REALLY need them. When I’m especially tired I do try to take naps in the morning with Ender. It’s amazing though what a difference having family there makes. Sleep is far more restful when I’m not sleeping with my ear cocked for the sounds of him waking up. When I know that I don’t HAVE to get up right when he wakes because someone else will go and cuddle him when he starts crying. Matt usually can’t fill that spot because generally if I’m tired enough to need a nap, so is he, so


we nap together, and when Ender wakes up, we get up together.

It’s funny. Getting a bit of extra sleep seems to be like having a bit of food after starving for months. I was more dopey with sleep this weekend I think than I have been the weeks before.


Today though? I feel great. It’s hard to pinpoint the difference, but it’s not just mental, even my body just feels better. Usually holidays, as fun and enjoyable as they might be, wear me out. And this Christmas, especially seeing it as I imagine Ender must be seeing it for the first time was no less tiring than any other holiday, but I feel energized instead of exhausted

Now if I could just start getting to sleep before midnight, maybe I can hold on to this lovely feeling of rest.

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  • Out of Reach

    One thing that has surprised me about being a parent is how fascinating babies can be. Don’t get me wrong, by the time bedtime rolls around it seems way past due, but I can spend so much time just watching Ender puzzle out the world. Even when it seems like there isn’t much going on, he’s working on putting it all together.

    The most recent observation on my mind is the question of why Ender is not crawling yet. I don’t mean in terms of hitting milestones — Ender is 6 months old which is still early to be crawling. I just mean the physical and mental hurdles that are keeping him stuck like an overturned turtle.

    Pediatricians stress the importance of tummy time because it allows babies to develop the muscles they need to crawl, and eventually walk. Supposedly they develop the necessary muscles around 6-10 months. It seems like the going theory is that as soon as they are strong enough, they up and start crawling, but I have my doubts.

    Ender is STRONG. He was born able to hold his head up for short periods of time (and peck us like a bird, mouth agape, when he wanted to be fed) and support his own weight with his legs. The first time I laid him on his tummy, about a month and a half, he rolled over. Which is NOT to say he rolled over early. I count his real rolling over somewhere between 3 and 4 months. At a month and a half he had NO idea what he was doing, he was just angry to be on his tummy and flailed his way back onto his back.

    My point is that I don’t think strength is what is keeping him from crawling. I may be wrong. He could sit with support — I thought just balance — for a long time before he was able to sit unassisted, and he was quite shaky at first. He would sort of gradually lean forward until he was almost on his tummy with his legs out next to his head (which, btw, he really did NOT like). So apparently his back muscles weren’t as developed as I thought they were. And maybe now, they still aren’t as developed as I think they are. Nonetheless, I think there’s something else going on.

    A baby has no understanding of perspective. There is no near and far. There is just, I dunno, here? And not here? In my hand, (or usually in Ender’s case, mouth) or want it in my hand? It must take a lot of new brain power to understand the concept of traveling, because from the baby’s perspective, objects move to them. Or they don’t. True, much of a baby’s life is being carried from one place to another, but since the baby exerts no effort to get there, since they have no control over where they go, it is as if their entire environment is one big object being turned and brought to them.

    So when you think about it, crawling is quite a leap. Even reaching is a leap. We think it’s lack of hand-eye coordination that prevents small infants from grasping objects (and obviously that is the main issue) but maybe part of it is that it just doesn’t occur to the baby that an object CAN be effected by their hands, maybe a baby needs to concentrate over months and months to understand that they have the power to move themselves from one object to the other.

    Ender is not quite there yet. He is trying, oh so hard to crawl, but he just doesn’t quite get how it works. I have no idea if the motion is instinctive, or if he’s imitating other babies he’s seen at Story Time, but he makes quite convincing swim-crawl motions with all four limbs that do absolutely nothing to help him. They are so convincing that I can’t quite see why they AREN’T moving him.  He’s probably further frustrated by the fact that in his crib, he gets all over the place, assisted by having walls to kick off of from every direction. I’m not even sure if, in his baby brain, the movement has a purpose, if he thinks it will move him, or if it’s just a Pavlovian response to wanting something out of reach.

    My favorite motion, and I’m pretty sure this is a legitimate intentional attempt to move, is his inch-worm. This is the most hilariously ineffective thing I’ve ever seen.

    He does this mostly when we put him on the bed, I have no idea why, and he doesn’t necessarily do it to try to get anywhere in particular, it’s like he’s really just practicing. First he kicks his legs about for a while, like he’s trying to remember what to do with them.

    Then he bunches them up under his belly, and squishes into a potato bug like ball. Sometimes he falls over at this point. Next, he sort of straightens his legs and pushes his butt way up into the air. He falls over even more often at that point. Often enough though, he balances, perched on the verge of motion.

    He LOOKS like he’s going to do it. Surely, he is just seconds away from pushing himself a few inches forward and experiencing the triumph of movement.

    But no. He only makes it halfway. Once he gets his butt in the air, he seems to think he’s accomplished his goal. Rather than pushing forward, or even slumping, or falling, or sliding slowly forward, his legs SHOOT back out and he ends up right where he started.

    Fortunately, he never minds when I laugh at him.


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  • 9 Apr 2010, 11:15am
    brains travel writing


    Escape from Shmoopocolypse 2010

    Or, “If Shmoocon 2010 was a Zombie Movie.”

    It’s taken some time, and a whole lot of therapy, but I think I’m finally ready to talk about what happened.

    Everyone’s heard of the great “snowpocalypse” in DC a few months back, the snowstorm that covered the east cost this last February. Most people don’t realize that this story is a government hoax; hiding something much darker than snow.

    It did snow that weekend. Matt and I drove carefully into town, eager to attend Shmoocon, DC’s annual hacker convention. We checked into the hotel and brought our bags to the room. We were disappointed with the view, but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for the convention. We scampered downstairs to the convention center, innocent and happy as ripe strawberries. Matt’s Utilikilt flapped merrily, alarming the other guests. How could we have known that our carefree time would soon come to an end? No one could have predicted it.

    We went to see the keynote speaker, not a thought in our heads beyond computer p0wnage and chocolate tastings. Caught a session on cyborgs, with a deeper look into modern brain surgery. I think it was this focus on brains, and all the busy brains at work, that brought them.

    Hanging out in the hotel restaurant during lunch break, one of the hackers started acting strange. More strange than usual for computer geeks I mean. Reader be warned: consuming a few too many Great Lakes Beers may push you to try things that are not wise. Our friend Tom Eston was lucky to escape with his life.

    Matt and I left the bar, only a little uneasy, but we quickly realized things at the convention were spiraling out of control.

    The government run media didn’t make up the snowstorm entirely. When we got to the doors, snow surrounded the building like trigger happy Blackwater mercs. There was no way out. Inside, hotel doors were exploding with groaning, staggering hackers. At first I thought they were drunk, normal enough at ten AM on a convention weekend, but then Larry Pesce took a bite out of poor Paul Asadoorian and I realized it must be more than normal hacker hijinks.

    A crash and a sprinkling of glass made me look up. Fists smashed through the skylights, mindless of the cuts. Snow thundered down along with several battered people. They fell three stories to the atrium below. Then they got back up. That’s when I knew something was very wrong.

    We hid behind a malfunctioning ATM machine for a while. I rocked in place, refusing to acknowledge what was happening. Eventually I had to accept the truth. ZOMBIES. We made a break for it.

    In the first conference room we met friends: Tom Eston– still shaken from his close call, and Chris Clymer– oddly mesmerized by the corpses slumped in the audience seats. Jack Nichelson and his wife Kim. But our entrance awakened new monsters. These were quickly dispatched with typical hacker ingenuity but time was running out.

    We had to find a way out of the hotel, out of DC.

    From one end of the hotel to the other we fled, meeting blocked doors and drooling ex-hackers. The floor was littered with body parts, blood splattered the walls. Each turn brought fresh foes, but finally we had a moment of peace to think.

    Matt remembered our hotel room. Our lousy view.

    Minds on escape, we rushed to the fire stairs. I fumbled with the hotel key, terrified that another zombie would find us exposed.

    Luck was with us. We spilled into the hotel room, sped to the window. It was alright. No zombies had found the roof yet, and though the snow was quickly piling up, there was room to climb out. Just.

    Fortunately, all hotels in DC have helipads, and the helicopter keys were in the ignition. Chris quickly read through the manual we found beneath a seat and Tom took the controls.

    Hanging out the open doors, Kim and I got a great view of the city, but the ride didn’t last as long as we might have hoped. “We’re out of gas!” Matt screamed over the roar of the rotors. I thought we were going to crash, but Tom managed to bring us down safely inside the panda enclosure at the National Zoo.

    A panda sunk its claws into Jack’s leg. Let me tell you, those things aren’t as cuddly as they look. We got him away from the panda, but the injury slowed him down a bit so we had to help him up the wall. Then we had to climb the outer fence as well because the zoo was closed “due to snow.” A likely story. Once we were outside it was obvious the zombies were not just in the hotel. Scenes of masacre lined the streets. Before we could run from the zoo gates, we saw several zombie orangutans gnawing on some poor sap’s severed arm. Seeing the infected animals made me hope the panda that got Jack wasn’t tainted as well, but I didn’t mention my fears.

    We needed transportation. There were a few lost souls wandering the streets, but it was clear they wouldn’t last long. We wouldn’t last long. We kept low, hiding behind any cover we could find.

    Zombie packs roamed the streets, and a few times we were almost seen. The zombies were slow, but we knew their groaning would alert other groups. We saw the national guard through the trees, but we didn’t dare try to signal them, for fear of giving ourselves away to the hoards. Finally, we found hope:
    An abandoned Bobcat with snow treads was idling a few blocks from the zoo. I tried not to think of what might have happened to the previous operator, it was enough that we had found our salvation.

    It was difficult to fit all six of us in that little Bobcat, but we were so glad to see the last of DC (Doomed City) we didn’t care.

    If only it really were the last. Like a bad Jerry Springer, the infernal city kept pulling us back in.

    Every time we hit the highway, we found our Bobcat grinding back into the center of DC. On our third circuit, it was starting to get dark. Kim let the machine slow to a stop. “What are you doing?” I demanded. She ignored me.

    “Tom!” Kim pointed through the Bobcat’s grill. “Isn’t that…” we looked up ahead to see a small figure crouched behind a statue of Nathan Hale. “It’s your wife!”

    Before we could stop him, Tom jumped from the Bobcat and sprinted to the dark shape. We followed cautiously in the rising shadows, but as we got closer, I saw that it was indeed Tom’s wife, Jill. She didn’t move as we approached her, but clutched her arm. It oozed blood through the bandage she’d fashioned from a Smithsonian banner.

    Tom stopped abruptly feet away from her, staring. “Are you bit?” he asked. She started to speak but couldn’t make noise. Tom wrenched forward, grabbing her about the shoulders and shaking her. “ARE YOU BIT?”

    Jill cried out in pain as her arm shook. “No!” she managed. “I got cut climbing out of the basement of some building in Adams Morgan. Thank God I had a chainsaw to get through the glass.”

    “Thank God!” said Tom, and held her tightly. They had a tenderly shmoo-pey scene which I’d prefer not to dwell on. Then Tom gently removed the Smithsonian banner and replaced it with a tourniquet made from his jacket sleeve. “Let’s go,” he said, pulling Jill to her feet.

    I shook my head worriedly. “Just one problem,” I told him. “Bobcat won’t run with seven.”

    “WE’LL MAKE IT RUN!” he said.

    When we turned back to the Bobcat, we realized it didn’t matter how many it could hold. Two zombies, perhaps drawn by the sound of the engine, were stumbling around our faithful machine. Behind them, another zombie tried to claw its way into an abandoned car. At the sound of Tom’s yell, they all looked at us.

    Matt said, “Run!” but Tom shook his head. I looked at Jill and Jack, both still bleeding from fresh wounds and realized he was right. We could never make it. The zombies lurched toward us.

    “Good thing I have this,” said Tom, and he pulled a Molotov Cocktail from his coat pocket. “Who’s got a light?” Matt pulled a metal lighter from his kilt pocket and tossed it to Tom.

    I stared at the Molotov Cocktail. “Where did you-”

    “No time!” said Tom. He lit the rag and threw the bottle, not at the zombies as I expected, but at our trusty Bobcat. It exploded like the forth of July, and after a wave of heat and noise, the streets were blessedly empty.

    For a time.

    It was only a few minutes before the sound of the explosion brought others. We could see black forms walking jerkily in the snow at the end of each street. We stood in the snow, shivering, wondering what to do. Below his kilt, Matt’s knees got goosebumps.

    “There!” said Jack, pointing.

    I don’t know how we missed it before. An undamaged Humvee sitting right in the middle of Constitution Avenue. We ran to the car, looking nervously over our shoulders.

    “I’m so glad I brought my double sided lockpicks,” said Matt, shoving his picks into the doorlocks.

    “Hurry!” I urged him, but he had the door unlocked in seconds. Chris climbed into the driver’s seat and quickly hot-wired the Humvee while the rest of us tumbled in. We ran over four of the zombies with scarcely a bump.

    Otherwise, leaving DC was no easier in the Humvee.

    The roads were chaos. Cars drove in every direction and as before, we found ourselves irresistibly drawn back to the center.

    “We’ll have to leave the main roads,” said Jill as we swerved down Pennsylvania Ave for the fifth time.

    Chris nodded and smashed the Humvee through the cement fence. I winced at the noise, but the car rumbled on, unconcerned.

    Zombies looked in at us stupidly as we ran them over. Their bodies were as slippery as the snow.

    Once we left the main roads, we were alone in the darkness and DC seemed to relinquish its hold. The trouble is, we didn’t know where we were going.

    Matt looked for a way out on his Android, while I tried my iphone, but whatever way we took we seemed to keep hitting dead ends.

    In the back, Jack groaned, and I glanced back at him. He looked a tad grey. I bit my lip, and met Matt’s worried look, but we didn’t say anything. Chris tightened his grip on the wheel and drove.

    Slowly we got further from the city, and we saw fewer and fewer zombies the more we drove. We continued finding bad roads, but we just turned around and continued.

    Around midnight, our road trailed off into a corn field. Chris pulled the car around sharply and we heard a sound like a shot. The car shuddered. My shoulder slammed into the side, painfully. “The tire,” said Kim. “We must have hit a nail.”

    We looked at each other. “We haven’t seen a zombie for hours,” I said.

    “I’ll get it,” said Jack.

    “What about your leg?” asked Kim.

    He shrugged her off. “I’m fine.” I think he knew already, what we all knew. More grey than ever, Jack hopped out of the car (really hopped, that leg wasn’t fine at all) while Kim watched fretfully. The tire came off easily and we all waited in silence while Jack jacked up the Humvee. He was just tightening the final nut when the zombies started out of the corn.

    “Get back in the car!” said Kim. “Jack!” He looked at her and smiled, shrugged.

    He hefted his tire iron. “Come on you bastards!” he yelled. “Let’s see who’s Left 4 Dead tonight!” Jack waded into the melee swinging. They must have finished him in the end, but not before he splattered a bundle of zombies in the snow. We drove off before it was over, knowing there was nothing else we could do.

    We made it home eventually. Since that time, Matt, Tom and Chris have dedicated themselves to zombie research. After two months of hard studying Matt got his PhD and Chris finally earned his MD, while Tom spent his time stockpiling one of every weapon there is.

    Next weekend, at Notacon 7, the three of them will give a presentation on Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. Be there. Because believe me, whatever the government says to the contrary, it’s coming.

    Please take a minute to appreciate the sacrifice off Jack Nichelson who surely lost his life while taking some of these photos, tire iron swinging. Also, a moment of silence is in order for Jess Rudolph of the Confused Greenies, an unwitting test subject.

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  • Lines of Thought

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