Sunday, January 29, 2012

To the Child with Many Siblings

Dear Child of a Big Family,

I recently read an article written by the mother of 9 children saying that motherhood gets easier with each new child.  I'm curious if her oldest child thinks her life got easier with each new sibling.

For me, it got tougher.

Tougher, but wonderful too!  But now I'm getting ahead of myself...

For three whole years I had my parents all to myself.  The trouble is, those years were from 0-3 so I don't remember any of them.  My earliest memories flash in my brain like a flickering home movie played on a projector and they always involve having siblings.  There are thousands of records of my siblings' presence in my life, like an old cassette tape of me singing Christmas carols at the kitchen table.  And right after hoping that you "have yourself a merry little Christmas", I shrieked "She's got a knife!!"  My baby sister had picked up a butter knife off of the table and being the highly responsible older sibling that I was, I sacrificed that Star Search audition tape to save my sister (it was never really going to Star Search, but isn't it more dramatic and heroic if it was?  Like I was George Bailey saving his drowning brother).

I have a scar on my elbow from the time my brother and I were chasing each other around and I went sliding into the very sharp corner of a dresser.  I would later blame him for a lamp I broke.

It was a spring day in 1990 when my mom sat me down at the kitchen table.

"I'm going to have another baby."

My voice started shaking and I looked her right in the eyes and pleaded, "But I don't want another baby!"  At 11, I knew that with this 5th sibling my role as Mom, Jr. was cemented.  It took my mom years to realize the gravity of the words I used- "I'" don't want another baby.   11 years old.  I might have been the youngest unwed mother in the country.

I never went to summer camp, I never took a single lesson in anything.  Not many of us did.  What we lacked in hobbies we made up for in friendships.  Our house was a magnet for kids.  People loved being a part of the chaotic energy that was our house.  We were a novelty, a side show, a carnival and people wanted to be admitted.

Those years when we all lived together crept by so slowly while we were living them. Life was crowded in those days.  We tumbled over each other like socks in a dryer until one by one we left.  We moved out, we went to college but when we came home to visit we jumped right back into the dryer and tumbled along again.  And like socks, we felt better when we were in pairs, when we had our other halves to make us complete.  And I know that when my mom has all of her socks together in one drawer again she sleeps better at night.

The soundtrack of my childhood is really noisy.  We were like puppies yapping and yelping, a discordant symphony of alternating laughs and screams and cries and giggles.  As an adult it took me years to feel comfortable in silence.  Silence growing up always meant that something was wrong, that someone was in, or about to be in, trouble.   I remember what it felt like to live alone for the first time.  Have you ever been in your house at the moment when the furnace or the air conditioner stopped running and the silence felt cavernous?  You didn't even realize that your house was, only moments before, filled with sound and now it's gone?  That's what it feels like when you leave your big family to move out on your own.  I used to go to the mall just to hear noise.  Noisiness felt comfortable to me.  I had to learn to live in the silence, I had to learn to be ok by myself.  A lonely misplaced sock.

People often judge parents of big families by saying, "You can't possibly give your children the attention they deserve!  It's so selfish!  You're overpopulating the world!"  To those people I want to say, "Ahhhhhh!  Why are you yelling?"

Let's talk about that last one for a minute.  My mom often jokes that there is a landfill near metro Detroit filled only with the diapers she changed in her decade of diaper changing.  Not very green at all, but there's a flipside.  Maybe my parents overpopulated the world by having 6 kids, but we are AWESOME kids.  We give back, we volunteer, two of us have made kids of our own who we know will be prodigies, presidents, and peacemakers.  Two of us graduated from college and chose to work for City Year, mentoring and educating some of the country's neediest kids.  We were nominated for the Homecoming Court by being nice to everyone, not by having the best wardrobe.  I guess if you're going to have a lot of kids, at least raise them to make this world shinier and happier.  What's better for the planet?  A big family filled with awesome people or a small family filled with jerks?  I'll let you decide.

But what about the attention?  The time?  The love?  Every parent in a large family will tell you that's the toughest part- making sure everyone has enough.  I never got enough, but if you were to ask me how much is "enough", I'm not sure I could tell you.  I think many parts of my life are a mystery to my parents.  Here are 3 things I bet they never knew about me:

1)  I wanted to be a magician after watching the movie "Houdini" with Tony Curtis.  Yes, even knowing how that ended.
2)  I really wanted tap dance lessons in 2nd grade
3)  I broke that lamp, not Tommy.

Parents with 1 or 2 kids don't know everything about their kids, but I imagine it's a little easier to keep up with the big things, like tap dancing and Houdini.  Lamps get mysteriously broken no matter how many kids you have.

We never had the coolest shoes or jeans.  One time, we all went to Payless Shoe store and my sister looked around and said, "Mom, where are the Nikes?"  To this day, we are scrappy and resilient.  We tease each other mercilessly and love each other ferociously.  But I would by lying if I told you there weren't times growing up when I wanted to run away with the circus because then at least I'd be getting paid to juggle monkeys all day.

But I want you to stay strong, child of a big family.  As long as your siblings are alive, you will have witnesses who will tell the world that you're not crazy.  They had front row seats to your formative years and they will defend you to the end for all of the seemingly insane things you do.  They know you're not crazy because they know where you came from.  They tumbled along with you in that dryer and they know that argyle is exactly how you're supposed to be.  And if all else fails, they'll nod when you blame mom or dad.

Someday, far into the future you will be out to dinner with your sister eating burgers and fries.  You will casually remark, "All of my life I've been eating the fries first and I have no idea why." And she will say, "What's easier to steal off of someone's plate, a burger or fries?"  And you will look at her radiating in the warmth of 1,000 light bulbs that have gone off over your head.  Of course!  Children of big families eat the fries first because they used to have to defend them from the hands of hungry dinner table thieves.  They eat the fries first because it's a game of survival of the fittest in a big family.  You learn to take seconds before you're done with your firsts.

But look farther into the future.  Someday, you'll be old and if you had children, they are all out of the house.  You'll be sitting down at the table in front of a huge pile of french fries.  They're all yours!  You'll look to your left and to your right.  Empty chairs.  You'll have that whole plate to yourself but want nothing more than to have hands reaching over stealing those fries.

My five siblings and I don't all occupy the same table too often these days.  When we do, we are always  mostly very polite and never  hardly ever steal off of each others' plates.  We have learned that it's just easier and more sanitary to just take more right off the bat.

Child of a big family, you understand when I say that it's tough.  It's the toughest luck in the world.  But treasure those socks because it's really cold without them.

Me and my socks

Sunday Morning, a Play in One Scene

After a long night spent with a crying baby Nancy sits on the couch in the basement checking email on her laptop with her back to the stairs, Jack plays around her.  Trevor appears at the top of the stairs.

Trevor:  Hey Jack, give that paper towel to Mama!

Jack obeys and hands Nancy a large pile of crumpled up paper that he has been chewing on.

Nancy:  Thank you Jack!

Trevor:  Hey, he just threw the remote control under the couch.


Trevor:  Your laptop isn't charging anymore, he just unplugged it.

Nancy (oblivious to all of it):  Oh.  Thanks!

There are mornings that you just aren't mom of the year and it's during those times when you're glad that someone has your back.  In this case, literally.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The New Perfect

I am thrilled the announce that an article I submitted to the authors of "Good Enough is the New Perfect" has been selected for publication on their site.  You can check out my article and their webpage here and buy the book here!

The authors of the book admit that the title can be deceiving.   The book is not about settling, the book is not about mediocrity, it's about having it all, but creating an "all" that you can love.  Filled with real stories from mothers all over the country, this book has become the closest thing anyone has given me to that elusive "manual" on how to be a mom, especially a mom working outside of the home.

This particular article deals with belief systems and how those belief systems can be the source of stress in our lives.  

You may have read about my son's first birthday party in the guest blog written by my mom "Perfectly Imperfect".  I had a meltdown over a balloon.  I'm not proud of this fact, but the balloon and I have made peace and we both feel we're in a much better place now.

When Jack's beautiful birthday balloon (which was perfectly color coordinated to his birthday banners...sorry, really, I'm at peace with it) started to deflate so did I.  "Well, now I have to go back to the store to get it replaced!" I said, as I suspiciously eyed the banana cake that was cooling on the counter.  Did it look too dark?  Was it burned?  What kind of party has burned banana cake and deflated balloons?  

My mom looked at me, "Honey, it's a $5 balloon, is it worth $5 to head out in the snow to get a new one?"

"This balloon is ruining my party!!!"

We both laughed.  It's true, isn't it?  Birthdays in those first few years are really all about the moms; dads too, but they tend to shrug off deflated balloons as long as there's good food.

My mom later posted a picture of that balloon on my Facebook page with the caption:  "Evidence for your case with Judge Judy: Nancy v. Balloon"

By the end of the night the balloon lay on the floor in a wrinkly old heap, but by then I was too happy to care.  In my belief that every last detail had to be perfect, I was missing out on the true meaning of that day- the celebration of my beautiful baby boy's first year of life.  His first trip around the sun and here I was, disappointed in a deflated balloon.

I'm keeping that balloon as a forever reminder that these little things don't matter.  If I'd done an exit poll of the party, I can guarantee that no one would have said, "Almost a 10, what happened to that balloon?"  Well, maybe my nephew, he really likes balloons.

That balloon will be there to remind me to let go of the little things that don't matter, you know, for those times my mom can't be there.

" think I care about balloons?  There is cake to be eaten!!  To the highchair!!"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Perfectly Imperfect

I wanted to feature a guest blogger who keeps things forever "real" for me, my mama.  She taught me to be a warrior.  

This is my grandson Jack's 1st birthday cake. His party was yesterday and my niece fondly referred to this as the "murder cake." Red frosting is just bleeding all over the scene of this decorating crime.

Every mother wants everything perfect for her child's first birthday and my daughter is no exception. The red and green icing tubes were left over from Christmas, and just after finishing the "k" on "Jack", things looked pretty good. Within minutes however, the icing began to bleed, and this is what the cake looked like after an hour (that's a pirate ship, with anchor and sails, at the top).The little piece cut out was Jack's first piece of cake and he loved it. It was a Banana Cake with Whipped Cream frosting and it was absolutely delicious.

Never judge a cake by what it looks like on the outside (and that goes for people too). I've been offered plenty pieces of gorgeous and perfectly decorated cakes that were unpalatable. The love behind Jack's Banana Cake was present in every imperfectly decorated bite.

The helium balloon purchased the night before didn't survive its icy cold trip home. In the midst of party preparations, my daughter was determined to head back to the store to get the balloon replaced or to get her money back. A slightly deflated, imperfect "Happy Birthday!" balloon was simply not acceptable for her Little Prince. Jack thought otherwise. It floated, it made crinkly noises, and it was fun. He loved it. The imperfect balloon was perfect fun.

Prior to beginning party preparations in earnest, I went running for the first time in a week. I had been under the weather and tried to talk myself out of going because it was going to be ugly. I wasn't going far and I wasn't going fast - so why go? I went anyway. Yak Trax kept me sturdy on the icy road and the combination of blue sky and sun was a balm for my soul. The run was perfect in its imperfection and offered just what I needed. I have yet to experience a "perfect" run and I'm not sure I ever will. I have, however, experienced the near-perfect joy that comes from stretching myself and rising above physical discomfort and negative head chatter.

The lessons continued on into the afternoon in more subtle ways. Nancy's dad and his wife Joyce came to the party. Joyce and I had an enjoyable chat in the kitchen at the party's end. I boxed up (delicious!) Banana Cake and cupcakes for her and celebrated "Aarrrgyle the Sock Puppet" Jack's gift from his grandpa. After years of struggle with the imperfection of our broken marriage, I saw clearly yesterday, in all the laughter and smiles, how perfectly imperfect all of our lives really are.  

Jack's first birthday party was perfect in all the ways that matter. The guests came to celebrate Jack's life and his mother and father's joy. Love permeated their crowded and noisy home. Nancy's grandmother was a last-minute cancellation (imperfection); her honorary brother Eric, in from Alaska, was an unexpected surprise (perfect!). Everyone that came was fully present. What a gift.

Sometimes people, places and things don't come off as we intend. If we are able to look beyond immediate and surface disappointments, we may see how we are gifted in wonderful, unexpected ways. Each experience of imperfection encourages us to shift away from seeing the flaw - to cherishing the essence.

God can speak to us in life's perfect imperfections, and this past Sunday, at my grandson's perfectly imperfect 1st birthday party, the sweetness of God's loving messages just flowed.

How perfect.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Warriors, Every Last One

For Bettina Forbes, a pioneer and great defender of mamas everywhere.  Thank you.

Women are warriors, we always have been. From the legends of the Amazonian women to the determination of the suffragettes, we are warriors, even when we don’t realize it.

Mothers are warriors.

They spend 9 months building cathedrals in their own bodies from a blueprint created by her and her partner until that glorious moment when they are finally allowed to glimpse their masterpiece. Mothers’ bodies shape-shift and evolve. Hips widen, breasts become rounder and stomachs stretch to encase their pearl. Like a soldier preparing for battle, our bodies change, they become armor protecting that delicate passenger.

A woman’s body is a miracle.

Within minutes of meeting her baby, a woman’s body stands at the ready, fully prepared to provide the critical nutrition needed in those first precious moments of life in the outside world. If she is lucky and her caregivers see her as the warrior she is, they will see the fatigue, the battle scars, the swell of emotion, and, if she chooses and is able, they will gently, ever so gently, guide her hands, her arms, her breasts into the perfect position to feed this little miracle, this cathedral in human form.

Women are warriors, but so often we forget. And when we forget, others forget too.
I almost forgot.

When my baby and I struggled to make that critical first connection I relied on the experienced hands of my nurse to help us, and then, like the warriors we were, we won that battle and mother and child became physically connected once more. When we continued to struggle a new option was presented, a tiny bottle filled with something else, a formula made other people not by me. No, that’s not what I want; I want to do this, to get it right. But I forgot that I was a miracle and when they tried to offer him that bottle, his tiny arms pushed it away and his cries became louder until our nurse came and guided us once more into position. Soft sweet suckling sounds filled the small orb of electricity that surrounded us in those first hours.


Someone else’s formula is not the enemy. Someone else’s formula gives babies nutrition when their mothers cannot or choose not to. But when we want to breastfeed, when we long to breastfeed and share our own bodies with our babies once more, we are our own enemy when we forget how powerful we are; when we forget about the months of miraculous growth that has occurred in both our babies and ourselves to prepare us for this moment.

To the hospitals who give us packages of formula as gifts for our journey, we must kindly decline. Please keep your formula for the next mother who needs it.  She is a warrior too, so do your best to give her the purest and safest options to feed the sweet baby you helped bring into her world. But please don’t bring it to me. You must have forgotten that I am a warrior. You must have forgotten that my body is a miraculous builder of cathedrals; that I am part of a long legacy of fearless and brave mothers who fought through pain and tears to build tiny hearts and brains, fingers and toes.

You have forgotten, or maybe you didn’t know, so I am telling you today.

I am a warrior and everything that I am is all that I need.

My Breastlaration of Independence.

Ahh nursing!  That ancient and beautiful ritual between a mother and child.  We have all see the images of beautiful curvy women breastfeeding their children with ease.  My mother breastfed 6 children, many of us until we were old enough to inform her when it was time to switch sides (me).  Seeing my mom breastfeed my siblings was the most natural thing in the world to me so when I found out I was pregnant it was a foregone conclusion that I would be nursing.

This is what I thought nursing would be like: 

 This was how we actually started out:

I had this idea in my head that babies were born knowing how to nurse, that my baby would emerge from within me, crawl up to my chest, tuck a napkin under his chin and feed himself.  Oh if only that were true.  My beautiful son came 11 days early and while I was convinced that he was the size of a county fair prize watermelon, he tipped the scales at a whopping 5 lbs 14 oz.  
We struggled with nursing from the minute he was born.  His tiny mouth + my gigantic lunch boxes were not a match made in lactation heaven.  Some nights it would take me 40 minutes to get him to latch, he'd nurse for 45 minutes, fall asleep and wake up 30 minutes later to nurse again.  Trevor and I have this theory that someday in the future, Jack is going to watch Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark- you know that scene where a huge boulder is barreling after him?  Jack will watch that scene and turn to whoever is in the room with him and say "I could go for some milk."

We learned how to latch together, we found a routine, we struggled through a plugged duct, we survived late night feeding and "Family Ties" marathons.  We made it an entire year together.
There is a lot of pressure on a new mom to get this whole nursing thing down those first few weeks.  People all of a sudden became very fascinated by what was happening in my breasts.  Wait, scratch that, they're still fascinated by what's happening in my breasts.  20% of women breastfeed for a full year.  I wonder how many drop out because of pressure from friends and family.  For every woman who asks if your milk has come in, there is another one about 1 year later who asks if you're weaning yet.  I have come up with some responses to that question:

When will I wean?

- As I'm walking him down the aisle at his wedding
- Right after I make him his first White Russian on his 21st birthday
- When it becomes creepy when I ask if he'll take any cream in his coffee and start unbuttoning my shirt
- When he finds a set of breasts that he likes more than mine
- Tomorrow

But do you want to know the real answer?  The real answer is, I just don't know yet, but we'll both figure it out together.  From the moment we cut that cord, motherhood became one good-bye after another.  For 9 months we house this precious person right under our hearts and when that moment comes and we have to hand them over to all of the unknowns of the world, in a way, it's our first good-bye.  Nursing, among its myriad of other benefits, allows us to keep a physical connection with them as long as we can.  Weaning is a monumental good-bye between a mother and a child.  Constantly asking your friend when she plans on weaning can dredge up some very deep emotions for her.  So just tread lightly.

Now, nursing is more like this:

We're a lot more confident now, we do it with ease.  He stares in my eyes and explores my face with his hands.  Every day we nurse a little less and I say good bye to the physical connection we have shared.  In doing so, I learn to say hello to a million other connections and memories we will share.

1 year.  We did it.

Images from top to bottom:  Keralite Mother And Child (Breastfeeding)- Artist Unknown; Nursing Mother- Paula Modersohn-Becker; Young Mother Nursing Her Child- Mary Cassatt

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Other Times

For SMP.  I trust this one will not make you cry~

Sometimes, parenthood is a dream.  It is moving, and inspiring and filled with wistful glances at the little miracle who you created!

But then, there are the other times.  This is the tale of one of those "other times" involving copious amounts of vomit, a sundress, a cell phone and a picnic blanket.

Last Wednesday, Trevor and I had a pretty good deal going.  I was going out to dinner with friends and then headed home around 8 to tag him out so that he could go bowling with his friends.  Ahh the best laid plans of mice and parents.

I came home at 8:30 to find Jack fast asleep in bed.  How absolutely lovely for me!  But no sooner than 10 minutes after Trevor's departure, Jack woke up.  I wasn't too upset though, because I got to see him before he fell asleep.  He seemed a little strange, but I thought nothing of it because he was just so sleepy.  I laid him back down in his crib and had no sooner taken one step out of his room when I heard that sound.  The cringe-inducing, unmistakable sound of puking.  I ran back into his room and...well...let me spare you the details, but suffice it to say (or is it "suffice to say", I can never remember, but I digress), Jack had puuuuuuuuked.

A thousand action movie cliches ran through my head, "You only had 1 glass of wine with dinner, get a hold of yourself!"  "Get it together, this is NOT a drill, all of your training has prepared you for this moment, you've GOT this, you can do it!"  If I'd had a glass of water I would have splashed it in my face.  If I'd had a helmet, I would have put it on.  I should have found a hazmat suit...

I pulled Jack off of "the pile" and stripped off his pajamas and put him on the floor.  The pajamas, the sheet and the mattress cover all got balled up and thrown into the hamper and then I turned my attention to my naked baby.

You know how they always say, "I think people should have to take an IQ test before they're allowed to make babies?"  Here is your first question:

Your baby has thrown up once.  How many more times will he puke that night?
A) zero times, you're in the clear!
B) 87
C) until a boot comes up
D) at least one more time so get him into a bathtub immediately.

Well go ahead and revoke my license to ovulate because I'll take "Zero Times for $500 Alex"

Jack had walked out into the hallway so I followed him out to wash his face and dress him in  some old Christmas pajamas.  I knelt down in front of him as he stood there looking totally fine and not like he was about to puke at all (1st mistake).  I was halfway done buttoning him up when my baby's head started spinning around, his eyes turned red and he projectile vomited all over me.
Ok, maybe just that last one.

I've never seen puke fly horizontally across a hallway. Those big brown doe eyes looked up at me and just blinked.  I knew if I started screaming or freaking out, he would too so I just looked him in the eye and said calmly in an overly happy, creepy kind of way, "Oh wooooow!  Ohhhhhhh, look what you did!"  I looked down.  My purple shirt had a large orange stripe going down the middle ending in a pool in the middle of my lap.  If I was a backboard, Jack would have scored the winning basket right at the buzzer and been the hero of the game.  Off came his pajamas, my shirt and sweatpants.  Now there were two naked babies up in the hallway (Dear neighbors- this is why we keep our shades drawn).

It was at this point I grabbed the phone and called Trevor once, twice, three, four times--d'oh!!  He's bowling!  It's probably loud in there and he can't hear his phone.  D'oh!!  He's probably quoting "The Big Lebowski" right now making everyone laugh while I'm covered in barf!!

I went into the guest room where I keep my summer/pre-baby clothes.  Jack toddled in behind me.  I found an old sundress in the back, threw it on and carried Jack downstairs.  I put him in his playpen in our room (2nd mistake) while I texted our friend who organized the bowling night asking him to have Trevor call me.  Well at least someone had their phone on him because within a minute, Trevor called back.  Dear Trevor, our baby projectile vomited all over me.  I'm sure he's fine now (3rd mistake) but I wanted to let you know in case it gets worse, that I might need you to come home.

I hung up the phone and looked at Jack who was standing up in his playpen looking over at me sweetly.  He grabbed the side rail with one arm and then...oh, then...


"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!"  I couldn't help it, I actually screamed.  I also called Trevor back.  Trevor- this is not a drill, this is an actual emergency, this is what you've been training for.  Not since the movie Titanic has a Jack nearly drowned in an ocean of sadness like that.

I ran into the bathroom and grabbed his sweet little plastic whale tub out of the closet.  I scooped up baby Linda Blair (Google that if you don't know the reference) and put him in his tub.  I wrapped him up in about 4 towels and then sat on the toilet in my lovely summer sundress and watched him like a hawk.

...did I mention he had chicken and sweet potatoes for dinner?  No?  Well, that ought to complete the imagery...

And it just kept coming.  I was waiting for the kitchen sink to come tumbling out of his mouth.  Trevor came home and the cleanup could begin.

It bears mentioning that what follows was only possible because there were two of us.  If you know a single father or mother who has to juggle all of these tasks alone, give them an enormous hug and tell them how heroic and incredible they are and for God's sake, tell them to put you on speed dial so you can come and help them when their kids are sick because dear lord in heaven it's at least a 2 person job, if not a 2 person + Stanley Steemer job.

Saint Trevor of Regurgitated Sweet Potatoes scooped up the dirty sheets and about 38 dirty towels and threw them in the washing machine.  He also had to clean up barfy carpets.  Meanwhile I found one of the 2 clean towels we had left in the entire house and draped it over my sundress.  Apparently rookie parents, when dealing with a puke situation, literally just start throwing clean towels at the puke like they're trying to snuff out a fire.  I laid Jack on my chest and covered him with a picnic blanket we had in our laundry room.  We laid there in the dim light of our living room while Trevor cleaned.  One more blurrpechhhh and he had puked his last puke.  Make that 1 clean towel left in the house.

Jack fell asleep in my arms.  We managed to dress sleeping Jack in some fresh pajamas and take that last towel into our room and make a little bed for him in the playpen (all clean now thanks to St. Trevor).

Trevor and I just looked at each other.  Dear.God.

"Well, do you feel like a real parent now?" I asked

And, his bowling career put on hold for the time being, Trevor just answered with a weary, "Yeah."

Jack did give us a great gift that night, he slept through it.  He also gave us his flu.

Parenthood is filled with magic, with bliss, with joy.  But in those other times, keep your cell phone close and your towels well stocked.  You will make many rookie mistakes, but it's ok.

Because it's in the other times when you really feel like a parent.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First Wish

someday you'll turn 6
and our house will be filled with screaming little boys
chasing each other around the house
playing pirates or ninjas or Star Wars with your dad.
I will soak up Kool-Aid off the floor (I'm sure it will be red, the kind that stains the most)
and scrape pepperonis off of the table
we'll hear giggling all night long and the zip, zip, zip of sleeping bags.

someday you'll turn 16
I will go upstairs to sing you happy birthday
and you'll stick your head back under the pillow with a grumble.
but you'll perk up just a little bit when you see I come bearing pancakes
and I know that under that pillow you were smiling just a little bit (pancakes will do that to you).
we will nervously watch you drive away for a night with your friends & a shiny new driver's license
and boy will we miss the giggling and the sleeping bags.

someday you'll turn 21
I will call you at college to sing you happy birthday
the call will go to voicemail and I'll instantly worry about where you are.
then just as I'm about to leave a message, the call waiting beeps and it's you.
with a drowsy and muffled "hi mom"I tear up at your voice (I'm sure I worried all night).
I'll ask about your plans for the day and tell you that I miss you
and very quietly so that your roommates don't wake up, you tell me that you love & miss me too.

someday you'll turn 40
your bedroom door will creak open and tiny feet will climb up onto your bed;
tiny arms will hug you and present you with construction paper birthday cards.
you'll reach over to put on your glasses to read "HAPPY BIRTHDAY DADDY"
with drowsy but happy "thank yous" you admire their work (my grandchildren are such creative geniuses)
macaroni and glitter get all over your comforter, but you don't mind
because everyone is in the kitchen making pancakes for you and they always make you smile.

someday you'll turn 100
and generations of your family & maybe the local news will gather to celebrate you.
a table will be set up with photographs commemorating your life
your great-grandson will hold up a photo of you in my arms on the day you were born
"you sure were tiny back then grandpa!" you'll chuckle (making your eyes crinkle up like they do when you laugh)
you'll tell stories of your childhood in Kalamazoo, of your mother and father and who they were
promise me you'll look around that room and be proud of everyone and everything that exists because you do

today you turned 1
I had to blow your candle out and make your wish for you
I closed my eyes and dreamed of a hundred birthdays, each happier than the last
I wished for sleeping bags and pancakes and glittery birthday cards
for the kind of friends who can tell stories about you from long, long ago (even the ones you wish they'd forget).
I won't be there for all of your birthdays, but I hope I'm there for most.
so for tonight, I will hold you and sing you to sleep.
first birthdays wishes are for mamas,
but you can have all of the rest.

Happy Birthday Sweet Boy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What I've Learned About Daycare

On Jack's last day at daycare before Christmas, I went to pick him up and found him as I usually do playing cheerfully on the other side of the room.  Every time he sees me, he grins from ear to ear as he swiftly makes his way across the room to where I'm standing.  I've seen him climb over blankets, balls and even other babies to greet me.  It's the highlight of my day that he's so happy to see me.  But on this particular day before Christmas, I was greeted by Jack and Andrea, one of the owners of the center and she was holding him on her hip.  She is incredibly loving and affectionate with all of the children in her care and I know that Jack adores her and feels very safe with her.  She handed him over to me and then went to grab a gift wrapped package off of the counter.  "To Mom and Dad, Love, Jack".  "A present from you!" I exclaimed.  "Where did you get money?"  He smiled at me and we waved good bye to all of his friends.

When Trevor got home we opened up the package.  Inside was a cinnamon scented gingerbread cutout of Jack's hand with red yarn tied through it to hang on the tree.  "2011 Jack" was written on the front.  I held his "hand" and we looked at him completely touched by this great gift.  "You made this?" we asked him.  "It's sooooo beautiful!"  He beamed.  I remember thinking how funny it was that he helped make us a Christmas gift and so easily kept it a secret because he's still a baby, but somewhere in the twinkle of his eye I got the sense that he knew that he had helped make something very special for us (he's very wise that way).

This is not the first gift we've been given.  For Father's Day, they took pictures of Jack in three different poses holding up the letters D, A, D and made a Father's Day card with it.  This week I got little white footprints on blue construction paper with the words "Those tiny feet tiptoe into your heart and stay there forever" written on it along with the date.

Now, I'd like to think that Trevor and I are the kind of parents that would have an endless supply of construction paper, macaroni noodles, glitter and glue lying around the house, but I know us, and to say that we're "less than crafty" is generous.  Because I need to work outside of the home to support my family, I sacrifice time with Jack.  What I've learned about daycare is that I get some wonderful gifts in return and not just the ones of the arts and crafts variety.

During my first couple of weeks picking up Jack from daycare, I'd rush out of work in a mad dash to get him.  Without fail, I always found him playing and smiling.  What I soon realized is that picking him up early is not the same as "rescuing him" from daycare.  Despite the fact that he is over the moon to see me, he was having the time of his life just moments before I walked in the door.  Recently, we took full advantage of a Saturday afternoon when daycare was open to get things done together free of any working parent guilt about not spending every waking moment with him that we could.  Why?  Because I know for a FACT that he would much rather spend 3 hours playing with his friends than being dragged around Bed, Bath and Beyond.  Side note- come to think of it, that statement could easily apply to Trevor too...

What helped me come to peace with all of this were two key things:

1) Trust and respect for my caregivers
2) Re-framing my ideas about what daycare means

Trevor was going to be a stay at home dad all summer long, something that both he and I were looking forward to very much.  I returned to work on April 1, a Friday.  On April 2nd, a letter arrived in the mail informing Trevor that he had been awarded a Fellowship to obtain a Masters in secondary education.  It was an accelerated and prestigious honor and one that he had 2 weeks to accept.  This threw our entire summer into a tailspin.  Emails were sent, calls were made and through the power of social networking, a friend told me of a little place that had recently opened up down the street from us.  We called, they had an opening and a tour was scheduled.

Jack wasn't even 4 months old yet when we arrived for our tour.  We were greeted by Andrea who was warm and friendly.  I had a great first impression, but was sold when she sweetly said good bye to Jack who gave her a huge smile (Andrea's young daughter is one of the first people Jack walked to).

For an entire summer they accommodated Trevor's fluctuating schedule.  We were able to start him part time so we could all get used to it and then slowly up his hours.  It would have been very easy for them to turn us away in favor of a full time baby, but they welcomed us during a time of great anxiety and change for our little family.  Since then, I have referred two friends there and would refer dozens more if they had the room.  They have earned every ounce of trust I have placed in them for the care of my precious son.  I could not have made the transition to being a mom working outside of the home without them.

I have blogged about my thoughts on the damage that is done to moms like me who hear comments about how parents who stay home with their children are doing the best thing for them.   None of us can say with any certainty what is best for our children, all I can tell you is that when I pick him up at the end of the day I'm not rescuing him and if you have a daycare that you love, you will never feel that way, nor should you.

Re-framing is a device that asks you to examine the negative frame through which you're looking at a situation and change it to a healthier and happier point of view.  Every morning when I get Jack dressed, I tickle him and kiss his little feet and ask him over and over again "Are you ready to go play with your friends today?"  That simple question has changed my entire outlook on daycare.  If I re-frame daycare from a place where I stick my kid for 8 hours so I can go work to a place where he plays and interacts with other babies, then I realize that I'm actually doing a great service to him.  No one will love him like we do, but that's not what I pay them to do.  We pay them to become part of the wonderful tapestry of friends and family who are making up his world.

In the end, I don't aspire to be Diane Keaton in Baby Boom with a severe haircut and an enormous shoulder padded blouse.  Women of my generation realize that we can't and don't want to have it all.  It's not about work life balance, it's about work life integration.  What's the difference you ask?  Well, for one, you'll  never find balance, the scales will always be tipping and it will drive you absolutely nuts to try and keep it all together.  Example?  How about the time I was trying to respond to work emails while breastfeeding at the same time and ended up squirting my baby in the eye (those jets are powerful, man).  Putting a little in the work column and the home column constantly just isn't practical.  Integrating those spheres is.  Example?  The fact that I am able to work from home on Fridays to spend that extra day with Jack.  It's a delicate distinction, but an important one- one that can keep a working parent sane.

Jack turns 1 on Saturday.  He has transitioned from a sweet, serious baby to a talkative, laughing, cheerful toddler.  He could barely roll over when he started there and now he walks across rooms.  I owe so much to those women who care for him so sweetly everyday.  I have a baby who loves where he's been and loves where he's going; who leaps out of my arms to play every morning and scurries over to me every evening.  

And I have a little hand and two tiny footprints to forever remind me of these precious days.  Of who he was and who I was and how we both just tried to figure it out together. 

Monday, January 2, 2012


In a few short days, Jack will have completed one trip around the sun.  In the days leading up to his first birthday I find myself reflecting on who he was and who I was a year ago.  It's hard to say who has changed more.  The tiny little bird we brought home from the hospital has been replaced by a little boy and I don't know when that happened.  For a year now, I have caught glimpses of him curled up in his crib or breathing deeply while he nursed and consciously thought to myself, "He's still a baby.  Look at how his tiny legs still curl up and how the sound of his voice still sounds new; how I still have to feed him from a spoon and how he can still fit on Trevor's chest when they nap together.  Don't worry, he's still a baby, time hasn't moved by too quickly."

Tonight, as I was doing what all mothers do one week before their child's first birthday- furiously playing catch up on his baby book that has been collecting dust- I saw a photo that I took today of my little baby and what caught my eye were his feet.  This weekend, Trevor and I came to the startling realization that he's walking more than he's crawling.  When I saw this picture, tears sprung up in my eyes as I saw those two little feet planted firmly on the ground.  For 9 months Jack was connected to the earth through me and now those little feet have made their own connection.  I remember during the summer planting his feet in the grass or in the lake or in the sand. I remember cradling his brand new feet in my hands right after he was born, their sweet soft puckered skin a reminder of how, mere hours before, we shared one space in the world.  I remember smiling at his tiny helpless feet that dangled out from under a nightgown while he ate.  Now, when I hold him, his legs wrap around me and I know that his feet, once as soft as satin, will slowly grow rougher as he finds his footing and his stride.

My baby is walking.  His arms wave in the air as he finds his balance.  Sometimes he'll stop in the middle of his stroll and clap his hands.  He is his own cheerleader.  And then, like a tightrope walker with no sense of danger, he marches ahead.  He prefers to walk toward someone because the reward is a huge embrace and an endless supply of affirming and loving words of encouragement.  I think of the weeks and weeks of him having to crawl everywhere while those legs lay dormant waiting for the signal from the brain to spring into action.  His satiny knees have grown rougher, one of the first signs of him interacting with the world around him.  But now he is walking, his knees are getting a break and he is reaping the rewards for all of that hard work.  He is positively delighted with himself for this new discovery.


Such a silly little thing to make a person cry.  But if I look at that picture a little closer, I see little dimples where his knuckles should be.  I see soft curly hair that has never been cut.  I see the steady arm of his father supporting him. For now, he is most assuredly still my baby- he always will be, and I think that I will always see that little face and those little feet no matter how old he or I get.