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On Childhood Holiday Traditions, and a Classic Canadian Recipe

family life, motherhood No Comments

There weren’t any holidays growing up that my family made a big deal of.  Not that we didn’t celebrate – we just didn’t have the same fervor and protocol and fanciness that some may have.  I didn’t really even know how intense people got about the holidays until I married my husband and met his family… and christmas exploded in my face.

We got to celebrate every few birthdays growing up (10 kids, people – that means hiring a full time party planner if you’re gonna do the annual circuit).  Sometimes we got to invite friends, but just a few.  There weren’t that many to choose from, let’s be honest, and who needs friends when you have 9 adoring siblings just dying to make a day all about you??

Birthday celebrations really meant just one thing – choosing your favorite meal to be served.  Since we lived on a farm and mostly ate the same rotating, fully farm-sourced menu every week, we would naturally choose things like – you guessed it – boxed mac n’ cheese (called Kraft Dinner in Canada, because no one knows how to turn a box (or 12) of mac n’ cheese into a coma like a Canadian).

Christmas was low key and the highlight was usually smuggling the conference room TV out of my dad’s work and binge-watching Star Trek for a week.  Happiness is in the little things, like the comforting sound of a dozen people fisting potato chips into their mouths in serial fashion, knowing that potato chips won’t be around again for awhile.  This, and stringing popcorn for the Christmas tree, and washing dishes all day long in shifts, and playing games until 3 am and bleary eyed mean Christmas to me.

Clearly, these are traditions of their own, just not very alike those of culture at large.  There were no plate chargers or dinner courses, no perfectly coiffed tree and no trips to bowling alleys or ski lodges for birthday celebrations.

I dare say that there was a lot of love, in most of the ways that count.  Gift giving, always meager but heartfelt, truly taught us that giving was better than receiving.  The time it took to hand-make an elaborate Star Trek Clue game for dad on the back of a Cornflakes box, complete with my sisters’ careful renditions of the cast from the original series, was better spent than all of the times we played it.  And to this day, the best gift given may be the deck of cards (representative of so much in our family) made by my sister which features photos of each of us in character during one of our epic games of Mafia.

We might not have fancy cocktails but my God we know how to execute an innocent townsperson with unanimity and moral impunity on Christmas Eve, drunk on the kind of tribalism only generated by a small village or a family resembling one.

I do also love the new traditions I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, but I would say that most of them that I have latched onto have to do with the sharing of food.  I love to set a beautiful table, and the art of a perfectly coursed and plated meal, but only because of who I’ll share it with.  And mostly, I love to bake.

We did love to bake growing up.  Simple things, usually, that didn’t require a lot of precision or perfection, considering that measuring cups and spoons were profoundly prone to disappearance.  This did gift us with a handy ability to “eyeball” ingredients and come out (mostly) ahead, something that still serves me to this day.  If I text my mother to ask how much of something to put in a recipe, I am not looking for an exact measurement but instead rough approval of the deviation or assumption I’ve already considered.  And that’s just what I’ll get.

I can’t exactly recreate the formative chaos of my childhood for my son, nor the specific experiences that became tradition (or lack thereof).  My husband can’t do that either – and neither of us would want to pass every bit of it on.  But there’s a lot to pass on, still.  Now, with a 7.5 year old, there is suddenly so much opportunity.  Nostalgia, you guys.  He’s capable of it now.  He talks wistfully of memories and experiences, and can start to sense the connection between the people you love and the things you share again and again.

He wants to bake with me, and doesn’t bail after the first batter tasting opportunity.

He asks Gramma if she can make him “eggie in a hole” when she comes to visit.

He only plays Speed with Grammy.

He wants to build a fire every night with Chase.

He’s forming his own sense of what tradition is, and what the feelings are that come with it.  It’s amazing how tradition just becomes something we do (even if we enjoy it), without really thinking about what the purpose of it is.  Watching a child form their relationship to tradition really shows you how it’s about those connections.  With people.  He feels something in each of those moments, with these specific people, and is starting to realize that those feelings are desirable.  Pursuable.  Repeatable.

This year, he asked me back at the beginning of December, “are we gonna make those things again, the ones with the raisins?  What are those called?”

Oh hell yes, son.  We are going to make butter tarts.  We are going to make so many butter tarts you will be sick of them.  Until next December, of course.

Butter tarts are a traditional Canadian pastry – and my family recipe is the best.  Yes, they have raisins in them but trust me that you just don’t know yet why this is what you’ve been missing your whole life.  This is one of my families only translatable traditions – and if you are still wondering what to make for that holiday party or christmas day treat, then all I have to say is do not pass go.  Do not collect 200 dollars.

Make these butter tarts.  Aside from them being the most delicious thing you’ve ever had (let alone easy to make! and bite-size! and totally glutinous! with a recipe to follow!), perchance you will better imagine a small glimpse of the chaos of a farm table set with mismatched dishes and crowing youngsters backlit by mostly burnt out christmas tree lights and the blue glow of the TV in between The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home.  They don’t know it, but they are about to have the best feast of their lives.

 

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Butter Tarts (my family recipe, or so I am told)  

makes 24 mini tarts

Pastry Dough
I hands down recommend using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  All butter, extremely flaky, and impossible to mess up.  Make sure to refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling!  I use a water glass about 2.5 inches across to get the perfect sized circle for mini muffin tins.

Butter Tart Filling

1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 TBSP vanilla
2 TBSP cream
pinch of salt
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat your oven to 375.  Now, here’s the best part.  You literally put all of these ingredients into a medium sized saucepan (I am usually doubling the recipe) and on LOW heat, mix together until butter has melted and all ingredients haveIMG_3191 come together, stirring constantly.  This is important so that the egg white doesn’t cook and separate from the mixture.  Once everything has come together, turn up the heat to MEDIUM, and continuing to stir, bring to a gentle boil for about 1 minute.   The mixture will thicken an
d darken and become like caramel.  I will take this opportunity to instruct you that you will be basically be eating caramel.  Inside of flaky, buttery pastry.  Remove from heat.

Place your pastry rounds into un-greased, non-stick mini muffin tins.  Using a small spoon, fill each pastry round with filling between 1/2 and 3/4 full.   The filling will bubble while cooking and likely spill over the edges, but this only improves the caramelized bits, in my opinion.

Bake for 14 minutes or until filling has bubbled and you can see that the pastry rim is slightly golden.  After cooling for 5-10 minutes, remove from tin and let cool on a cooling rack.  These will “last” for about 2 days at peak deliciousness, but can be frozen for later if you’re Canadian.

Finally, try to share with friends but if that just doesn’t happen don’t be too hard on yourself.

Happy holidays to each of you!

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Healing at Home: When The World Is In Pain

family life, motherhood 2 Comments

If you have kids of an age to comprehend, on some level, what is going on in our nation, you know how it adds an extra degree of complexity to the processing.  You don’t have the luxury of just feeling your emotions, whatever they may be, and displaying them without thought.  My son, 7.5, has been thrashing all week.  I wish I could say that he spent that first day signing petitions and committing random acts of kindness.  While he has asked a lot of good questions, his main reaction has been one of angst and he has acted out a lot, pushing all of the boundaries and being very aggressive.

My own first instinct is to “batten down the hatches” – no more TV, thank you very much.  Nerf guns, in the goodwill basket.  Playdates with that rude kid down the street, forget about it.

And some of these might be necessary.  But as we both thrash our way through finding an authentic and effective way of responding, I realize that consequences aren’t going to highlight any of the right things.  What we need right now is connection.

I’ve been craving more mindfulness as a mother lately as it is – being pregnant and getting closer to my due date comes with so many uncertainties, not the least of which is knowing that my relationship with my son is about to change forever, no matter how intentional I am.  I do not know what it will look like; I cannot know.  And while we have been very connected during this pregnancy, lately I feel his drifting interest in the novelty of this change, and my shift to focusing on preparation for her arrival.  We cannot always see each other.

Then, this last week – it feels like a hurtling, like something viral, out of control.  We feel divided, sometimes within our own homes or inner circles, and it is painful.  We can’t always see the good in others.  I have struggled to see the good in my own son amidst calls from school and conversations slipping towards fear and anger.  Who we are in a time like this, especially for children, starts at home.  How do we come together as a family?

I watch his wanton strafe-bombing of citizens in another lego war of epic proportions.  I want to tell him that this is not how humans grow and find peace.  We have had these conversations before, but this week it feels like too much.  I want him to see, to get it.  I want him to piece it all together.  

He learns and connects with his hands.  I know this.  I am reminded when his nanny mentions something his teacher said this last week, how he learns through his body, how we can work with that.  I am easily disconnected from my body, one of the reasons I’ve been craving more mindfulness lately, and also why I so often forget who he is and how to connect with him.  It has always been a struggle for me to get down on the ground with him, to use my hands alongside his.  But I know the life we both find in this together when we do; how connected we become.  How much more we both see.

He is working it all out in the legos, his own language that no one else is bothering to learn.  His hands have a lot to say, but no one is listening.

I want to listen.

On my way home from some appointments I stop at the toy store.  I buy a puzzle.  That night, after dinner, I surprise him.  We begin this puzzle together, learning something new with our hands together.  Compromise, cooperation, patience.  Feeling the momentum of progress as the borders come together, then the castle, waiting, waiting for the dragon to take shape.

We take up knitting.  He’s been learning at school but doesn’t know how to keep adding rows, and I can’t remember.  We watch YouTube videos together, getting so frustrated but reminding each other equally that everything takes practice.  Magically, we both get it.  We take turns, talking about all the things we’ll make for baby sister, how we can stop wasting money and make all our own clothes and christmas presents, how it’s so strange that more people can’t knit.  Does Uncle Johnny know how to knit?

Our hands bring us back to each other, back away from the edge of anger and despair.  We don’t need many words to explain ourselves to each other, to see each other.  What we ask of each other is readily given.  Lego wars and Facebook feeds become pleasantly distant.  

He invites me into “family time” for the first time ever.  “Family time” is part of the bedtime routine he and Chase have where they role play with his stuffed animals, each having it’s own character.  He has always been hesitant to let me participate.  Now, he asks, not me.  He is expansive and generous – I can do whatever voices I want for the animals, he says.  He roars with laughter at the questionable east coast accent I affect for Giraffe, and tells me some of his secrets.

We bake, we play games, we snuggle extra hard.  We use our hands every way we can think of, finding and demonstrating peace, connection.  Here at home, where it always starts.  The conversations move towards hope.

This mindful connection we are creating with each other brings me great comfort.  It extends into other parts of my world, sometimes resembling routine, sometimes spaciousness.  Listening to my body again, adding new layers I haven’t experienced before.  Holding the events of the last week with less fear.  Seeing so much more of each other.

Healing just takes connection.

We are all tired.  We are angry.  We are confused, trying to sort through the myriad responses to what is happening in our nation and land on what feels the best, what feels right.  Where do we go from here?  Who do we become, what do we fight for?

The truth is I really have no idea.  I have no idea where to put my energy.  I have no idea how to really show up for the world right now, how to engage the children so that this time matters, isn’t forgotten.  But if we want to help heal the world, we might have to help heal each other first.

To The Daughters Born During a Trump Presidency

motherhood No Comments

Momma and BabyThat first night, I cried.  I walked home from a friends with the remains of a homemade #imwithher cake in hand, finding it hard to breath.  I saw people across the street, walking the other way, equally distraught.  In the distance, there was a loud bang – even in my safe Portland bubble I quickened my steps to get home.

I feel you in my belly, and wonder if you feel the ache coming through me, the fear I feel at bringing you into a world slipping, plunging back through time.  Not so long ago, our kind, you and me, we were nothing more and nothing less than our vaginas, and even those didn’t really belong to us.

You will be born during the presidency of a man who bragged about “grabbing pussy” and getting away with it due to his fame.  We may not ever know all of the truth about him, but we know.  We know that to him women are still just meant for his objectification, his disposal, and we know that enough other people were able to dismiss and justify this as they made their choice.  We know that the effect of reversals of justice this widespread and downplayed cannot be measured.

You will be born into a world where this is normal.  Where a racist, misogynistic celebrity is chosen as President over a qualified woman.  We will contort ourselves every way we can to show you that this doesn’t have to be true, but it will be what you came into.  We watched it happen, allowed it to happen.  But you, you will inherit it.  And we cannot un-inherit it for you.

You will, mercifully, probably not be old enough to remember this first president of your life.  But you wont have a choice other than to live in the aftermath of what we lost this election.  And you’ll hear the stories.

You, my daughter, will wonder why the world looks different than I tell you it should be.  We will talk of love, of inclusion, of opportunity for all, but you will hear the hateful language, see the closing borders, watch the isolation of those who appear different, who are smaller in numbers.  You will ask me how these can all exist together, and I will not know what answer to give.

And one day, you will ask me squarely how, if women really are more than 50% of the population, and at least some men didn’t vote for Him, how did we let this happen?  I will cobble together an answer for you, about a polarizing and blinding campaign, about voter suppression and how it disproportionately affects minorities, about the confounding Electoral College.  But the truth is, I do not know.  I do not know how we let this happen.

I wanted you to be born into a world where the rules are the same for you as they are for the boys, for the muslims, for the gays and the kid with glasses and the refugees.  I wanted to hold Her up as a symbol of that world for you, a promise of a gentle new future.

But the rules don’t change overnight, and female president or no, there was still a lot of work to do.

I wanted to just give you this new world, my daughter, but of course that is not how it works.  You will have to help us build it.

We will not be afraid – and we will fight harder than ever to regain this lost ground and all the ground still to be gained.  Because even though I will not be able to explain how the man who was president when you were born came to be such, I believe that you will see better times too.  Better times you will have had a hand in creating.

I’m just sorry that your life will begin during a time that will cause so many pain and fear.  And I hope to be part of showing you that how we fight injustice and inequality is by standing up not just for ourselves, but for those who are afraid and whose voices will not be heard.

Welcome, my daughter.  The world will always need us to fight – we are the feelers, the seers, and also the fighters.  We are strong.  They cannot do it without us.

We cannot do it without you.

How to Name a Baby

motherhood, pregnancy 6 Comments

Your oldest brother had his name before he even had a real shot at existing.  Your father and I, young and infatuated with each other, read a book together, a novel – an epic tale of an Irish monk named Aiden whose story went deep inside us and became part of our story.  We met and fell in love in Ireland, after all – and so your brother came to us, even then.

When he came to us, in the flesh, it was through fire – true to his name and to the spirit he would own from the beginning.

Your second brother’s name also came to us without fight – boy or girl, Rowan was always who that baby would be.  We washed all of the baby things and reassembled all of the furniture and set up camp to wait.  Your brother, he had other plans.  We packed all of the baby things and sold all of the furniture and set fire to our camp, letting it burn until nothing was left.  His name also meant “red” or “fire” and it rings perfectly from beyond, like it was only ever chosen by a son who knew he wouldn’t be able to stay.

But we got lucky, with these names.  They came to us.  Now, we hold our dreams a little differently, less and more sure all at the same time of who we are and where we are going.  When you came along and your green tender soul peeked at us from the dirt we said “there you are” and “who are you?” and “will you be able to stay?” all in one breath.

Your father says we will choose a name for you and you will both ride it and be crushed by it for the rest of your life.  It will become part of the fiber of your being, something that you wake up to and fall asleep to, oblivious to and in wonder of it’s power all at once.

Yes, we do hold you differently.  You are more precious, in the sense that we know now life is not a given, that we don’t get to call the shots.  You mean something different than your brothers, whose presence was taken for granted.  We know to hold you with open hands, even as we want you so badly.

I search for names that meant “gift” or “longed for” or even “rainbow”.  They all fall short.

But there is this one name.  I have a list, a dozen names that I like or love.  I run them by your father; he shoots them all down.  No mere mortals name will do for his daughter.  This one name haunts me – but he doesn’t feel it and I have some reservations too.

There is also another name – one we circle again and again, trying it on, ridiculous in our attempts to imagine who you will be.  We have almost decided on this name, this name that makes the most sense, but then I envision you and you are a bossy 5 year old.  Your father cannot shake the image of an evil stepsister.  We know these thoughts are juvenile – like a schoolgirl writing her name next to every boy in class, but we can’t help it.  The name doesn’t fit.  We let it go without ever saying as much.

I am anxious for your name – I knew your brothers by name since they were fresh in my womb and urged them from that same womb to my arms by their name.  You feel far away without yours.  You are a girl, which makes you more the same as me but even more unfamiliar to my experience as a mother.  How will I know who you are?  How will I bring you into a world where you belong?  Your name feels like the right place to start.


I had always said that I would never choose a name with a strong meaning again.  Aiden means “fiery one” and there were days where that seemed like a cruel joke – one that we had unintentionally played on ourselves.

I would name another child something that meant “great sleeper” or “fond of quiet play” or “listen to the words of your mother”.

But it turns out that these are not the names I like.  I search for names for you, poring through lists of Irish names, Hebrew names, any names.  I find names I love that mean “descendent of the sad one” or “this child, too, will die” (northern europeans were very dark in the dark ages).  We rule these names out because no matter what you believe about the meaning of a name, this is just too much.

We rule out beautiful Irish names based on their pesky non-phonetic spelling.  We rule out names simply because your father thinks they are not noble enough, or are too whimsical, or too down-to-earth.  The bookending of vowels becomes a sudden and inexplicable taboo.  Another name gets close consideration but is ruled out for being too obviously copycat.

Still, your name has not come.

Then, one night in bed your father whispers your name to me.  I am high on love drugs from an unexpectedly sweet bedtime with your brother, who stroked my belly for some time, whispering “baby sister” and words of love to you and I.  He does not know the gift he gave me that night, or how it was the first time you really felt real to me.  He does not know that it was the first moment I believed we are actually going to be a family.

Your father whispers the name.  It is the name that has haunted me for weeks now.  Just two days ago I saw a photo of a young girl that I imagined to look like you and in my heart this is her name.  She is perfect and she is you.  But your father hadn’t felt it yet.  It feels like it is deep inside of me, waiting to be called out.  This night, when I see you so clearly inside of me, inside my future, it is found.  First you; now your name.

It is the same name as your brother Aiden.  It’s feminine version, also meaning “fiery one”.  You will own your fire, just like he has, and it will be the best part of you.

And so, in the end, I believe that a name is found, like treasure – or maybe it finds you.  One way or another, sometimes before it’s time or seemingly after, but it will come.

Dear Pregnant Mom Whose Older Child Is Being an A**hole

family life, motherhood, pregnancy No Comments

Dear pregnant mom whose older child is being an asshole,

Little girl with pout that looks at her pregnant mom in her bedroom.

You are worried.

When you agreed to sign up for the obvious madness of having another child, you’d held some naive hope that you’d done this before and it would be crazy for awhile but then you’d find your groove.  And now, your toddler has reached whole new levels of asshole-ness.  Perfect timing, asshole kid.  You are exhausted, probably puking as a not-so-side gig, and concerned about how much more quickly your body is expanding this time around than the first.  You don’t have enough emotional bandwidth to email a friend, let alone deal with the raging psychosis of a 4 year old.

You are also embarrassed.  Your family life has never been instagram-perfect but you haven’t considered complete quarantine a potential option until now.  Maybe it’s potty training regression, maybe it’s massive tantrums, maybe it’s sudden reports of escalating aggression at daycare.  Whatever it is, this isn’t how you envisioned your family, and you can’t imagine what people must think of you at school, at the grocery store, at playdates, at church.  It’s humiliating.

And the scary part is, you really believe this is your new forever.  Parenting a young child has an interminable quality to it to already – like a comedian trying to fill an hour, you chase your child around the living room or read them a story and – DON’T YOU DARE DENY IT – when you’re done you’re like, “that was probably about 3 minutes”.  But you don’t have to fill an hour.  YOU HAVE TO FILL A WHOLE DAY THAT STARTED AT 4 AM.  Not to mention all of the rest of the days for eternity.

Of course, your rational brain is capable of reassuring you that this, too, shall pass.  But when you have a young child and things are rough, you actually believe on a cellular level that you’re stuck here, in this horror, forever.  There is no listening to reason.  And if you happen to be pregnant and today has you wondering who should be institutionalized first; HALP.

So, you’re worried.  You’re worried that you’re raising a sociopath, you’re worried that all this stress is going to negatively affect your pregnancy, you’re worried that it’s really only going to get worse when the baby arrives and how will you cope then if you’re barely coping now, you’re worried that maybe you didn’t get the timing right after all.  Your spouse doesn’t really get it – he’s unconcerned, or checked out, or amused, or not around enough to know how bad it really is.

You’ve got your imperfect tools and you try it all – time outs, time ins, positive reinforcement, yelling at the top of your lungs, ignoring the behavior, redirection, the removal of privileges.

(as a side note, have you tried pretending to be asleep?)

When I was pregnant with our second, the first was 3.  We’d finally decided there was no use in stretching it out any further, we didn’t want kids too far apart – and suddenly, mysteriously, our 3 year old was facing some complicated and very stressful (non-life threatening) health issues.  This primarily affected his sleep/mood/behavior (need I say more?) and he was too young and I was too pregnant to meet each other where we were at.  It was a traumatic 9 months – anxiety bloomed like a virus inside of me and he and I spent that season locked in a battle of will and emotion that took a serious toll.

It wasn’t until I learned how to truly let go – of my agenda, of my assumptions about the future, of my fear – that we began to heal and find each other again.  Now, I am 20 weeks pregnant again and this time with a 7 year old – yes, he’s older and more reasonable and he and I have WAY more practice at being human to each other, but guess what?  He’s being an asshole again.

If we were having coffee and telling stories that made us laugh and cry, these are the only things I would want you to know, dear mama:

 

What you’re experiencing is normal.  So normal, in fact, that it’d be abnormal if you weren’t.  Somewhere, some mother on instagram can’t relate and is posting photos of a luminous child kissing her pregnant belly accompanied by anecdotes of breakfast in bed.  She’s either lying or she’s one of the unicorns who actually has a child that doesn’t struggle through transition.  Either way, you should pay no attention to her.  The rest of us?  We’re not sure if everyone’s going to survive today either.

You are going to have days where you do great and days where everything falls apart (mostly you).  You will fail miserably and be certain you’ve made everything worse.  Accept where you’re at.  You are hormonal and tired, your child really is being an asshole, and nobody else has to live with it the way you do.

What if your child isn’t broken?  They are going through something real, just like you are, and if you see your child as something that needs to be fixed you will spend your whole life trying to fix them.  Let go of what people think.  Let go of trying to figure out how to “handle the situation” perfectly.  Let go of the idea that any of this has anything to do with how this child is going to turn out.  Just let go.

Our children know when we need something from them that they can’t give.  They know when we feel like the stakes are unimaginably high, like everything is riding on this situation that they are clearly at the center of.

But what if your child isn’t broken – what if they are just waiting for you to really see them?   What if they just need to know that you believe things are going to be ok, that THEY are going to be ok, that this hard day/week/season isn’t anything other than just that?

I don’t believe we’re only “given as much as we can handle”.  The truth is that sometimes you get broken wide open and spilled everywhere.  You will crack and you will break.  On the other side of this, someday sooner than you think, you’ll laugh and drink wine excessively and face some new challenge with just an ounce more belief that it’s not going to last forever.

Hold onto that ounce fiercely when you get it.

Some Days You Just Can’t Be Cool (or, A Guide to Losing It)

anxiety, family life, motherhood 7 Comments

momyellingSome days you just can’t be cool.  Some days you have to scream and kick and throw your own tantrum.  Maybe slam a door or two.  Utter a few ominous threats in a gutteral tone.  Let people know you are not cool.

I’d even say go so far as to deliver some outrageous ultimatums to your self-absorbed partner and ungrateful children.  Make sure they know you are serious.  They will be easy to convince and will take you totally seriously.

Refuse to make dinner, or make it in a hateful hurry and throw it on the table to drive home the obvious point that nobody around here appreciates you.

Don’t do anything that would actually help you unwind or reconnect.  Avoid a walk around the block or a quick bath at all costs. If some
bastard gently suggests calling a girlfriend for a chat, snarl at them so they know how much of an idiot they are for suggesting such a thing.

Do not, whatever you do, agree to a civil conversation with any member of your family.dirtydishes

Clean something you don’t care about vigorously.  Curse the mountain of dishes, the long flight of stairs down to the laundry room, your genes, the stack of unsorted mail.  Definitely curse that effing Lego piece you just stepped on and the fruit flies you can’t get rid of to save your life.

If you feel the tension start to loosen a little bit, don’t let it go.  Not yet.  You deserve to be mad.  Nobody appreciates you.  Nobody knows what you deal with, what you put up with.

Hear your husband start to put the kids to bed and feel a fresh wave of rage as you hear giggling and wrestling.

How dare they have fun after what they’ve put you through.  How dare Dad rile them up before bed.  God, he sucks at this.

Scroll Facebook detachedly for awhile.  Keep scrolling, long past when you’ve caught up on the few things you might actually care about.  Look at pictures of other families and imagine their perfect lives, their clean houses and appreciated mothers.

Ignore your husband when he comes downstairs from putting the kids to bed.  When he asks if you want to watch an episode of Downton Abbey,
look at him like he is the worst decision you ever made and say you are going to bed.  Go upstairs.

Regret not saying yes to an episode of Downton Abbey.

Haul two armfuls of unfolded laundry from your bed and stuff them onto the chair in the corner.

Catch your sons favorite torn up jeans out of the corner of your eye and remember the adorable conversation a few days ago where he legitimately talked you out of throwing them away.  Finally do what you should have done hours ago – let it all come apart and have a good ol’ cry.

Cry for awhile, mostly feeling sorry for yourself at first.  Then, cry for another while as you feel guilty about some of the things you said today and how permanently damaged your kids are going to be because of it.

Inevitably wander down the hall to the kids room and open the door, letting the hall light sneak in just enough to show their faces.
Tiptoe over to the bed and remember why we don’t eat our young like some mammals.  Stare at their angelic faces and let all of the anger and crazy from the day just melt away.

Lean over and kiss their foreheads so gently, making sure you don’t awaken the beasts and destroy this memory forever.

Climb into your bed.  Try to remember the reasons you were so mad, why all of the hard things of the week got to be such a big deal.

When your husband comes to bed, sleepily whisper “I’m sorry”.  He will be smart and say your actions were totally understandable and you are obviously beautiful.

The next morning, make breakfast and apologies.

Some days you just can’t be cool.  And everyone is going to be just fine.

It’s Never Too Late to Go Back and Grieve

loss, miscarriage, motherhood, stillbirth 3 Comments

overhead view of polaroid photos

I don’t know what it is with me and losing babies when I’m traveling.

Before Aiden, we had a miscarriage at 11 weeks.  We hadn’t told very many people.  I miscarried painfully in Providence, RI on an anniversary trip with my husband.  I bled and cramped in our B&B bed for 3 days, and eventually, on an afternoon outing that I finally mustered the energy for, I passed the baby in the bathroom of a Jamaican restaurant, with the proprietor cursing at me from the other side of the door.  She had told me I couldn’t use the bathroom as I wasn’t a paying customer, and I was desperate but had no idea of how to tell her the truth of what was happening.  She refused to let me in, and I literally side-stepped under the reach of a giant Jamaican “bouncer” who she had called out of the back, and locked myself in the bathroom.  Afterwards, they chased us out, and she screamed at us down the street for a block or two in a thick Jamaican accent.  We hobble-ran our asses down the street as fast as my body would let me.

We both had to sort of pretend that never happened.

I never really let myself grieve the loss of that baby.  I was horribly devastated at first, but we didn’t really talk about it much.  My doctor gave me the go ahead to try again immediately, explaining that I would “super ovulate” and be more likely than ever to get pregnant right after the loss.  It never occurred to me that anything might be wrong, actually wrong.  It was my first loss, and easily chalked up to statistics.  I didn’t feel any distinct sense of hopelessness.

I did super-ovulate and I was pregnant 2 weeks later (with my firstborn, Aiden).  Life went on.

I have to say that except for that awful little blip, the whole thing felt like one pregnancy.  One baby.

At the time.

Now, I think of that baby.  I wish I would have lingered there a little longer.  There was another one before Aiden.  It’s all mixed up together now, all of these memories, just like any memories, and I don’t remember any of it as more than a foggy, distant sensation.  Was I relieved when I got pregnant with Aiden?  Did I still feel sad?  How long until I felt like everything would be fine this time?

And everything was fine that time.  That one time.

I do vaguely remember feeling some sense of relief when the 11 week mark passed with Aiden.  I don’t remember what it felt like up until then.  I waited, mostly, to tell people I was pregnant until the end of the first trimester.  I’ve written about this here, but after the range of experiences I’ve had during pregnancy, I am now a huge advocate for telling whoever you want, whenever you want (and for some this may mean not telling at all, for awhile).  I did this in this last pregnancy and it was life changing.

It seems evident to me that human souls are often full of things that we haven’t ever unpacked.  Memories or trauma from childhood, regret about choices we’ve made, fear of the unknown, the list goes on.  And, more than ever, I believe that we are given opportunities all throughout our lives to go back and figure that shit out.  We may ignore most of these opportunities, but they are always arising.

What did it cost me to move on so quickly, to not allow myself to linger or to grieve?

When we lost Rowan at fullterm, I did go back and unpack.  A bit, anyways.  Suddenly there was not just Aiden but this whole new category of what it meant (and didn’t mean) to be a mother.  Aside from all of the pain and horror of it, there was this new sense of connection to the fragility of life as a whole, and a distinct mingling of my experience with that of others.  In an interesting way, it was also a mingling of this particular experience of loss and pain to other experiences of loss and pain in my own life.  Some were muted in comparison (most) but they all suddenly felt like they had a single, visible thread connecting them.

I felt sad for that first baby.  I felt sad for the 26 year old whose doctor gave an awkward, unfeeling hug to and was told to carry on.  I felt sad for the friends and family who never got to hold the dream of that child with us.  Never got to say goodbye with us.

I still didn’t talk about it, though.  In some ways it was because Rowan was center stage and there was a lot to process.  In other ways I still didn’t fully understand the significance of that first loss.  It was easy to pack it back up and go on ignoring it.

Years later, I would experience another loss at around the same gestational age and it would rock my world.  The first loss had felt, at the time, like the token “statistic”.  Losing Rowan, tragic as it was, felt like a cosmic error but entirely accidental and unprovoked.  This last one, late and unexpected and fully against my intuition, was like a horrible, meditated violation in the night and turned the gentle connecting thread of all these experiences into a heavy tug-of-war rope that I was on the wrong side of.

Now something was wrong.

Now I really had to go back and unpack.

I’m still unpacking, and it feels like every day I am finding another little tidbit, another note stained by cough syrup or sticking obliviously to a pad that has lost it’s backing.  Moving forward with hope and optimism while working on healing old wounds is insanely hard and exhausting work, and it is not usually pretty.

Here are some of the things that I have learned in my own journey of grieving the past.

Let Grief Run it’s Own Course

Sometimes all it takes to go back and process something is a long hike or conversation with a friend, or a single good cry.  Other times, grief is a season – something that you sink into and choose to be present with for however long it takes.  This may depend on what you are processing, your personality, and how unresolved the experience is.  It may also depend on how comfortable you are with sitting in grief.  Be ok with whatever grief is going to ask of you – you may feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit what you are dealing with especially if the experience is in the past.

Letting yourself go back and grieve is usually counter-intuitive because everything in and around us tells us to do the opposite – our culture, our self-defense mechanisms, even our schedules.  We want to move on, we feel like we NEED to move on.  Our people and our lives need us to move on.

The truth is that what we really need is not to move on at all – but to allow ourselves to grieve and to learn to co-exist with this new part of our being that isn’t going anywhere.

Find ways to be present with your grief.  Don’t rush it, but also don’t feel bad when you find yourself easily drawn to other things again.  Trust it.  Your grief knows what you need and knows how to help you through this time.

Don’t Isolate Yourself

We want to feel safe before we can be vulnerable but the scary reality is that we have to be vulnerable first to find safety.  Sadly, sometimes we don’t have a lot of safe people in our lives, but I can tell you that if you do not reach out, you will not get support.  An important part of grieving any kind of loss is avoiding isolation.  While we all need different things during hard times, we do all need support.  We do all need those who love us to show up for us, and a lot of the time they may not know how to do that.

When you are going back to grieve something from the past it’s even harder to reach out – the pain isn’t fresh and understandable to the people around you.  All the more reason you are going to have to choose vulnerability and let people know what you need – they will have absolutely no idea if you don’t let them know.ihadamiscarriage

I am confident that you have more people that want to show up for you than you know.  You may be surprised who does or doesn’t show up – but give them the chance.  Tell them what you need.

I love the work of Dr Jessica Zucker, who started a line of pregnancy loss cards to help people find and offer words of comfort for a subject that is often misunderstood.  The cards are poetic, yet angry and honest.  This isn’t just applicable to pregnancy loss – people often don’t know how to support their loved ones and tools like this can help to open the conversation.

Help Others Grieve

One of the meaningful outcomes of experiencing pain of any kind is the empathy and insight it allows towards others suffering similar (or even radically different) pain.  I am not even remotely suggesting that “it’s all worth it, think of the people you’ll be able to help”, but instead that true comfort can be found in making yourself emotionally available for others in pain.  Not only that, but it can be an extremely therapeutic outlet for processing your own grief.  Reliving experiences from your past and allowing yourself to truly feel the weight and impact of them can be both enhanced and yet made more bearable by the outward posture of sitting with someone else in their pain.  This has been my experience again and again.

Side note: being present for others may not be possible for you at all times, and you may have to protect your heart when you are extra tender.  If you are finding that making yourself available to others who are grieving is continually exhausting instead of life-giving, or if you are doing it just because you think you should, it might be time to take a break and tend your own heart for awhile.  You’ll know when you are ready to reach out again.

 

Community and connection are among our most basic needs… and we can easily become isolated and unsure of what we can reasonably expect from our friends and family.  When that happens, I believe that we lose confidence in what we have to offer as well.  

Pain and suffering of any kind can be an incredibly connecting experience, and we are all capable and deserving of that connection.

We also deserve the space and freedom to go back and grieve the unattended moments in our pasts – the ones where we lacked the desire, ability or awareness to be fully present and fully affected.

For all that it takes from us, for all that gives to us, for all that it makes way for – here is to grief and it’s rightful place in our lives.

Anxiety, Motherhood & Healing

anxiety, family life, motherhood 2 Comments

anxiety

My journey as a mother hasn’t been an easy one.  Some of it has been circumstantial, but a lot of it is what I came into it with…  and I know I’m not the only one who unpacked a whole new world of baggage when they became a mother.

In fact, I have come to believe that there are certain aspects of our baggage that we may not even be able to fully engage outside of the context of motherhood.  It would be kind of like expecting someone to realize that they have a fear of commitment without having had the opportunity to be in a relationship – that awareness wouldn’t be very likely.

I’m Really Good at Being a Mom

anxiety, motherhood 16 Comments

Christmas 2015

So why do I think that I’m not?

About a year ago, we had some new friends over for dinner.  They were lovely, their (3) children were lovely, and we had a lovely time.   As I was newly pregnant with Rowan, I was closely observing the wife’s parenting-several-children-at-one-time-with-MAKEUP-ON-and-NO-YELLING skills.

At some point during the evening, as she and I were discussing our lives as mamas and all that it entails, she commented, “I’m just really good at being a mom”.