Sunday, December 8, 2013

Deep Breaths Mama, It Doesn't Last Forever

Tuesday was such a busy day.  Days always start off busy as I am the person who takes the boys to daycare since Trevor has to be at school by 6:30.  They start busy, stay busy and end busy and sometimes I see life as a watercolor painting filled with blurred lines.

Tuesday was such a day.  My day started with teaching one of my favorite classes at work and I had approximately 1.5 hours to rush home, pump and then head downtown to help lead a teambuilding event.  I flew into the house, threw my coat on the counter, grabbed a banana and headed for the living room to grab the pump so I could pump in the bedroom while delicately balancing my laptop on my lap to catch up on emails from the morning.

As I crossed through the dining room on my way into the living room, something stopped me right in my tracks.  The midday light was streaming through the dining room windows and it illuminated a handprint on a chair.  And from out of nowhere a voice, a kind, gentle voice came into my head and she said (yes, it was definitely a she although the voice was not my own), "Deep breaths mama, it doesn't last forever."  I stared at that little hand and wondered when it had appeared.  How long had it been there without me noticing it?  How long will it stay there before time or a wet towel remove all evidence of the little boy who rested his hand on that chair for a brief moment before moving on.  Why is it all going so fast?  Why is life like a watercolor and not a work of pointillism where every moment is clearly identified and distinct?  In 20 years when I step back to look at these days, will I see a canvas of blurry images that, with the benefit of perspective will appear sharp and clear or will it still look like a blur?

"It Doesn't Last Forever"

The next day was Wednesday and the great dance of my life commenced again before the sun even came up.  With the haunting image of that handprint in my head I whisked the boys off to daycare, lingering perhaps a bit longer to see them off.  On my way back to my car I had my second stop-dead-in-my-tracks moment of the week and captured another image that to the casual observer might appear commonplace or ordinary, but to me, the message was clear.  In the midst of piles and piles of dead leaves, one, single, solitary brilliantly green leaf rested serenely on top.  How in the world did this little green leaf hold on for so long?  How has it still managed to retain this youthful perfection in the face of battering winds, rain, snow and sleet that have come and gone over the past few weeks?

Nowhere else on the entire curb did I see another one like it.  All manner of dirty brown, orange and gold leaves were scattered about, but only one tiny green leaf.  And the message was clear.  It doesn't last forever and the hands of time are forever ticking ahead whether we are aware of it or not.  But to let the passing of time cause some sort of paralysis is to forget that every single day is a chance to hold on to the moments we have been given.  For today, my boys are that little green leaf who sit perfectly in the present, in the moment, against a sea of what could have beens and missed opportunities.  It would be so easy as a parent to focus on the endless opportunities when we weren't present, weren't engaged, weren't connected.  I think it's worth much more of our time focusing on what we get today.  What we get today is that little green leaf.  What we had yesterday is that handprint.  Live in today.

"Deep breaths, mama"

After stopping to stare at my little leaf I sat in my car to reflect on all that I had learned over the past two days.  As I took my deep breath I was overcome by the horrendous realization that at some point in my walk from the little green leaf to my car I had stepped in what should be described as the freshest possible droppings of someone else's dog to keep this blog beautiful.  I can think of other words, but that might take you and I out of this magical place we're in right now.

Luckily our house is halfway between daycare and my work.  I tore into the garage and examined my left foot.  Clean.  Then the right.  Unclean.  Of course.  The foot I use to tap both the gas and the brakes.  The shoes were chucked onto the deck to deal with at a later time and after putting on new shoes I grabbbed Lysol spray and paper towels and went about cleaning my floor mats and pedals.  Satisfied that I had killed the germs and the smell I drove to work.

After one meeting first thing in the morning I had a few minutes until the next one and I used that opportunity to call the Disney Store to inquire about an order that I made for Christmas. 

"Thank you for calling the Disney Store, this is Charlene, how can I make your day more magical?"

Silence.  Then, absolute laughter.

Oh universe, how do you know just what to say?

"Charlene, I have to tell you, it wouldn't take much to make this day more magical."

But in reality, this has been a magical week, it's a magical life. I see these little signs all over that lead me to believe that there is a gigantic conspiracy going on to tell us that it's all going to be ok. If that was God who whispered in my ear, "Deep breaths mama, it doesn't last forever," then we have the kindest, most benevolent God.  And whoever is whispering in your ear  telling you that life is working out exactly as it's supposed to, I hope you take a moment to listen.  And if, for today, it's me, then I'll say the same thing to you...

Deep breaths my friend, it doesn't last forever, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Examples of pointilism
Touch the Sun piece was a school project developed by Hungarian artist Sakura Chrno in just three days.
A single image, brought together by clusters of thousands of dots.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Currency of Marriage

What is the currency of a marriage?

Exasperated sighs
Looks of disbelief
The same old stories
The same old excuses
Retreating to each other

Now add children

More of the above, plus
Stinging tears of utter frustration and exhaustion
Clockwork routine
Retreating to a book, a phone, a laptop, a TV

Summer 2013.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of tricycles, it was the age of strollers, it was the epoch of chaos, it was the epoch of order, it was the season of failure, it was the season of success, it was the spring of endless possibilities, it was the winter of dead ends, we had everything before us, we had everything behind us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going to time out.

There is a hum to our lives, a rhythm, an almost unbelievable predictability in how our day will begin and end.  It is of our own creation, our own painstakingly precise creation.  We teeter precariously on a tightrope of routine and the four of us, even the little wee one must do our part to keep moving forward.  Routine is the bread and butter of parenting.  It keeps you going, but makes you fat.

Life with two small children, both in diapers, one a bit more communicative than the other (and on some days this doesn't necessarily mean the older one) can be so unbelievably exhausting that it's amazing that we get up the next day to do it all over again.

Trevor started school right after Labor Day.  We had whiled away a blissful summer together, home with baby Will while Jack spent a few days a week at daycare.  There was still a routine, but while I was on leave, we could fudge it a bit and improvise.  But then we both were back to work and Labor Day ushered in the best and toughest of times for our little family.

Our day begins at 5:00 in the morning and ends sometime around 9:30 at night when we're collapsed in our bed, the hum of 2 baby monitors reminding us that we're never alone.  If you stumbled into our bedroom after 9:00 at night, you might think you had wandered into a call center.  Each of us has our phones on our nightstands, laptops open on each of our laps.  The only lights in the room are the soft pale blue light shining onto our faces as we play games, chat with friends, read articles and occasionally shine our laptop into the other's face to show them something funny.  Then, the laptops would close and we'd lay our weary heads on the pillow, not to close our eyes but to open up our phones.  The light, dimmer now, would illuminate our faces in a smaller beam until one by one the phones would be put to rest.  "Good night!  Good night!  Love you!  Love you!" and a few hours later we'd get to do it all over again.

Then, one night, I turned to Trevor and asked "How did we get here again?  I feel like we were just in this very bed last night and all of a sudden we're back here again.  How are the days whizzing by so fast?"  It was clear that something had to change.  The routine that kept us sane as parents was killing us as a couple.  Neither of us had an answer, so we went to bed.

A few days later Trevor said he had a thought.  Trevor's thoughts are usually good so I was all ears.  "I was thinking of something we could do at night to break up the routine.  What if we started that 2,000 piece puzzle I gave you a few years ago?  That could be fun."  I love puzzles.  I sort of see life and people as big puzzles that I enjoy piecing together, I've always been that way.

When we got Jack's crib, the first baseboard had a hole in it so we ordered a new one, but kept the damaged one not sure if it would ever come in handy.  Trevor brought it out for us to use as a base for our puzzle.  After some quick measuring, we realized that the board was nowhere long enough for this massive puzzle.  Trevor remembered that we had kept the cardboard box that our 52" flatscreen TV came in.  He dug it out from storage and we happily discovered that the puzzle would fit perfectly on this box.  With the hum of 2 baby monitors and Jon Stewart in the background, we set out to assemble the pieces together.  

We shuffle pieces between us, we talk puzzle strategy, we talk life strategy, we recall the events of the day, we laugh about the funny things our boys do.  We remark on how much we miss them when they're asleep.  Cell phones and laptops are upstairs, it's just the two of us...and Jon.

This is the puzzle.  A colorful collage of world currency.

It is as beautiful and complicated as we are right now.  The puzzle and act of putting it together represents our lives right now.  I don't have all the pieces of this great puzzle figured out and neither does he.  We each have a corner of it that we're trying to figure out and through an ever increasing awareness of each other's purpose, we keep an eye out for the missing piece that will help the other move forward.  By remaining in a constant state of disconnection, we had forgotten why we got married in first place.  We absolutely enjoy each other's company.  We had forgotten how fragile a strong marriage is and how much tending you need to do to keep it alive.  We love each other as parents, but even more so when our arms aren't full of babies or diapers or wet napkins used to sop up spilled milk.  We still love the boyfriend and girlfriend we used to be when togetherness was the rule, not the exception.  When he passes me the critical piece to my part of the puzzle that I couldn't find, he reinforces our partnership. 

We don't work on the puzzle every night and we certainly still check our phones, but if I replace the act of assembling cardboard pieces of a puzzle with the need for loving words of affirmation or a listening ear, it's the same.  I may say, "Can I talk about my day?"  And when he says "Yes." it's me saying "I'm stuck on this part of the puzzle, can you look for my piece?"

We exchange those physical and metaphorical puzzle pieces every night now.  They have become the currency of our marriage.  If you're feeling that one of your relationships is on the verge of bankruptcy, it might be worth considering what its currency is.

Last weekend, Jack dumped out the pieces to a puzzle all over the floor.  6 pieces not 2,000. It was a picture of a horse.  His tiny fingers rotated pieces until they found their mate.  I did my best to help, but to also let him figure it out.  We don't have it all figured out yet.  Each of us gets up each day to put the pieces together as best we can.  But I've learned that if we can all be a little more present for each other, we just might have

the missing word, 
the missing hug, 
the missing smile, 
the missing piece that someone else has been looking for.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Object Permanence & All That Jazz

There is a theory in early cognitive development called object permanence. The term is used to describe an child's ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard or touched.  I used to think Will had a magical 6th sense that triggered him to cry as soon as I turned the coffee maker on.  In his mind, I had vanished and he would cry out to me.  So the coffee would wait until I could reassure him that I had not disappeared.  At some point in our development we realize that things that can no longer be seen or felt or heard haven't disappeared, they're still there.  She's just traveled into the kitchen for some caffeine or as is the case this week, she has gone back to work.

I've had a lot of friends ask me how to make the transition from maternity leave back to full time employment outside of the home.  For starters, I have come to believe that lack of object permanence is the greatest gift our babies can give us.  If we linger just a little longer by their side until they drift to sleep and we can quietly sneak away, it anchors us in the bittersweet reality that this soft and sleepy, peaches and cream time with them is not permanent.  It does disappear far too quickly, so breathe that new baby smell in until it fills up your heart and brain and you can take it with you back to your little desk where you will be thrust back into projects and problems that for a few weeks will feel surreal and maybe even meaningless when compared to the life changing experiences you've just gone through.  Don't ever compare them, there is no comparison, but enjoy the time you spend tackling problems, helping colleagues, expanding your mind, perfecting your craft and yes, enjoying an uninterrupted hot cup of coffee.  Your life has so many facets and if you can see life as a wonderful un-choreographed jazz number, you won't strive for balance, you'll strive for rhythm and an ability to improvise.

After some time, the new normal life begins when you embrace, or at least accept that life demands that you work outside of the home to support your family.  Or, maybe you work by choice and God love those pioneering women who helped us have these choices.  I remember nights when I'd look at the clock and see it was 9:30 and immediately collapse onto the couch.  I'd feel something funny and wonder what I was sitting on and there was my work badge still hanging from my belt loop.  Work and home all tangled up together because it is more important for me to catch up on work when my babies are asleep so I can leave earlier during the day to see them when they're awake.  No balancing act, just the busy rhythm of this jazz number called my life.

I write this now so I can take my own advice.  In many ways, returning to work was harder this time because I knew the emotions that lie ahead, but I learned to not treat my last day of leave like the end of the world, just the end of this happy, blissful season.  In some ways it was much easier, mostly because of the warm welcome I received from my loving coworkers.  I'm lucky to work in a department that gives me the ability to find my own rhythm and make work and home life happy and whole.  But it was also easier because I have Jack to look to.  He is growing up into a curious, wonderful, bright, funny little boy and he's had two parents who have worked outside of the home.  I have loved, treasured and drunk in every single second of my time at home with Will.  I was so happy to have a spring baby.  Oh the places we'd go!  And you know what?  There were many days we stayed in bed, just holding space together.  And that was always enough.

When it comes to this time with Will, I had no object permanence.  I've known from the very beginning that this time would pass all too briefly and I know I made the best of it.  The constant feedings would slow down, his arms and legs would begin to pop out of his newborn clothes and larger sizes would be brought down where they had lovingly been stored when his brother outgrew them.  My body healed and his body grew and we went through it all together.  But now, object permanence is my best friend.  I am still his mom, all the time.  He's no more than a quick drive away if he needs me (or I need him).  And if I can't always be there to touch, smell or see him, he's carried right there in my heart, along with his "brudder" Jack.

The weekend before I returned to work, a massive storm blew through our neighborhood.  Trees fell, houses were damaged, sidewalks crumbled when massive roots came out of the ground.  Things that were there for years were just gone in a gust of nature's mighty fury.  I would love to hold on to this time a little while longer.  In some ways, returning to work feels like those trees who get uprooted.  But over time, after a few weeks of rehearsal, the jazz ensemble finds its rhythm.  I wonder if my transition back to work will be reflected in the clean up of my neighborhood.  It all feels so messy and disorienting now, but little by little the clean up has begun and as the weeks go by, the neighborhood will be itself again and I will have remembered what it's like to work through lunch to pick them up a little early.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 Nothing gold can stay, but if you look for it, the gold seeps in through the cracks of your life in new ways.  Days spent napping together in bed are replaced by joyful reunions at the end of the day and after all, weekends were invented for naps and you still have those. Maternity leave is borrowed time, a stolen season.  I enjoyed every second of that season.  Now I'm back to my little cubicle surrounded by picture frames of my life's greatest treasures.  On my first day back, Trevor texted me a photo of Will smiling brightly after his first bottle of the day with the following message. 

"Mama! Have a good day! We are proud of you!"

 Oh my heart.  And just like that I remembered that this little family is doing so well.  This little family has managed to cling to each other despite all the business life tries to throw our way.  We have sweet moments every day.  

My little spring baby has grown so much over these past 12 weeks and for that matter, so has Jack and so have I and so has Trevor.  The sun rises and sets on these two boys and their dad and I am a better person for loving them and having them love me.  I hope that the next time someone asks me what I do I can have the presence and clarity to tell them that I'm a full time mom who gets to have this fun gig at this cool company that allows me to help support this crazy awesome family of mine.

So the next time you hear Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington or the great Billie Holiday and their music sounds messy and alive, you'll think of this little family and maybe your own too.  And maybe you'll throw out your notion of balance and just dance to the rhythm of your life.

The last day of maternity leave, July 23, 2013

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

At the Drive-In

I've written twice about "The Other Times"- times when parenting is so hard, so rough, so brutal that you forget why you signed up for this for a few hectic moments.  But if there are "other times", that means that there are just plain "times". Times when parenting is so magical, so memorable that you believe for a few brief moments that you could do this 10 more times.  July 3rd was a time.

The morning didn't just start off on the wrong foot, it started off on the wrong feet...and hands...and elbows.  Jack had no interest in getting up and after a bout of "not nice hands", Trevor was at his wits' end.  Life with a 2.5 year old is like working on a bomb squad.  This little ticking time bomb clicks and Trevor and I just look at each other trying to figure out how to defuse him.  "Cut the green wire!" I'll shout.  "No, it's the red wire!" Trevor replies.  And as we try to figure out what wire to cut, the bomb sits there ticking until its inevitable explosion or diffusion by sheer luck on our part.  The thing of it is, for me, cutting a green wire works, for Trevor, cutting the red wire works.  Jack is not a one size fits all kind of kid.  Wednesday started out a minefield kind of day.

A few days before, Trevor had the idea to try and take Jack to his first movie at the drive-in nearby.  Could it be?  Could we tempt fate and have a magical family night under the stars with this little bomb?  We seldom dare to dream of those moments these days, but deciding it was all worth the risk, we decided to go.

We both picked Jack up from preschool that afternoon and saw his little curly head from behind running laps around the playground, his little blue running shoes kicking up dust like a cartoon character.  When he saw us, he ran over to the gate shouting "Mama!  Daddy!  Brother!"  We scooped him up and hugged him and told him of the amazing night we had planned for him.  I've learned not to over-sell him on our plans.  Once upon a time I took him to Bounce Land promising him the time of his life, promising him it was the Disney World of Kalamazoo.  And what did he do?  Play with a train table and avoid the bouncy stuff completely (until Trevor dragged him up a massive slide which he actually loved.  Joke was on Trevor when Jack begged to go back up that massive slide 4 more times).

Trevor packed us up for a night at the drive-in- blankets, pillows, bug spray, lawn chairs, diaper bag etc, etc. He remembered it all.  With Aunt Bean and her friend Sierra (She-Ra per Jack) in the back, we set off toward the drive-in.  We got into town and decided to go through a drive-through for some dinner.  And we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We waited so long that we were afraid the elderly man in line in front of us passed away in his car.  The car ahead of him moved forward and he stayed put, un-moving with the car in park.  "Oh no!  He didn't even get his last meal because this line is moving so freaking slowly!" I said, seconds before he put the car in gear and moved up.  Phew.

Burgers and chicken nuggets were passed to the way back (I have a car with a "way back" now, I'm officially a parent) and we set off toward the Capri.  As we got closer we saw hundreds of brake lights dotting the side of the road.  We followed the line of cars down a side street and around the bend and found ourselves behind the most massive line of cars I've ever seen.  Trevor looked positively crestfallen and I was now regretting not getting any food at the restaurant.  Were we going to make it?  Would we find ourselves at the front of the line only to be told it was sold out?  I looked in the back of the car and saw the pillows and blankets and bags and the hopeful little faces of our passengers.  "Trevor," I said, "I did not drive all the way to Coldwater to watch people eat Burger King!  We're going to make it!"  With each car that inched its way through the gate, the mood got lighter in the car.  When we finally got through the ticket booth, it was like entering the gates of heaven itself.  We quickly found a spot which Trevor backed into so we could use that "way back" to its full advantage.

Trevor went into full dad mode, setting up lawn chairs, creating a cozy nest of pillows and blankets and passing out snacks he had wisely purchased at a gas station.  He even got us all popcorn because seeing movies without popcorn is like eating bacon without extra helpings of bacon.  As the movie began (Despicable Me 2), Jack climbed into Sierra/She-Ra's lap and Trevor and I held our breath waiting for that bomb to go off.  And it didn't.  This little guy was enjoying himself.  He didn't try to escape or run screaming into traffic, he just sat there eating popcorn under a Spider-Man blanket.  Thank you baby Jesus.  Meanwhile I sat in the way back with Will nursing him in the little nest his dad had built for us.  Jack gazed skyward and whispered "stars" to the group and Trevor scooped him up to point out constellations.  Little Dipper, North Star, our little boy who shares his middle name with a star looked up with all of the kind of awe and wonder that you hope never goes away.

As the credits rolled on the first movie, we thought for sure Jack would turn into a pumpkin, but that guy just kept going as Monsters University began.  Eventually I put a sleeping Will on Trevor's lap and we moved a sleepy Jack into the crook of his arm while the 3 of them climbed into the way back nest.  The sight of them back there swelled my heart up to the point I thought it would burst.  Jack finally fell asleep around 1am and at the end of the movie, Trevor put both boys in their car seats and we made our way home.  "This was the greatest parenting night ever." Trevor said and I agreed.  "The good times are starting to outnumber the tough times." I said.  And as we drove down the highway under a blanket of stars we relished that fact.

Someday, I hope Jack remembers how good it feels to have his dad's strong arms carry him up to bed, gently lay him down and whisper "good night, Jack."  I'll always remind him of it when he forgets.

The Terrible Twos can beat you down and wear you out.  Cutting the green wire doesn't always work and sometimes the bomb just goes off.  I worry sometimes that I'm losing my boy in all of the noise.  He's getting so big, but still so small.  He knows so much and so little.  But with each day that passes, he learns to control his impulses a bit more, he masters the elusive vocabulary that allows him to ask for what he needs and he becomes a bit more boy and a little less baby.

Getting into that drive-in that night was a huge metaphor for life with 2 very young kids.  You want so badly to have a nice dinner together without tantrums and tears.  You want so badly to go out to a museum or aquarium without incident.  You want so badly to do these things as a family and most of the time it just never quite works out.  Well that night, it did.  We got through that incredibly long line, we got through the evening without tears or tantrums.  Everything just worked out and it was grand.

The next day was the 4th of July and again, Trevor and I had grand illusions of watching the fireworks from the pontoon boat out at his grandparent's house. We imagined the look in Jack's eyes as he watched them explode in the sky, a rainbow of light and fire and magic!  Jack watched exactly 2 fireworks before shouting "OFF BOAT!  OFF BOAT!" and rattling the door.  

"Well Trevor, apparently we're allowed one magical family night per week and we used ours at the drive-in."

There will be many more fireworks and pontoon rides and 4th of July celebrations, but there will only ever be one of those nights at the drive-in.  

And as long as I live I'll never forget it.

At the drive-in 7/3/13

Monday, July 1, 2013

Coming Home

I come from a long line of martyrs and food addicts.  If the women in my family were Biblical characters we would have had our last supper and our last dessert before turning ourselves over to the Romans.  I thought for a long time that I had avoided that trait until I realized that women in my family don't really become martyrs until they have children.  For some reason the gene must lay dormant in the uterus until through its expansion it activates this belief that everything we are up to this moment has vanished and we must give ourselves over to our children at the expense of ourselves.

But before I get to here, I have to go back to there.

I was never a chubby kid.  Looking back I looked completely average- right down to the requisite awkward years from 4th-8th grade.  In high school I was never the skinniest.  The hips that would eventually help me bear these children began to take shape, but I never felt terrible about myself.  In college I found myself in an incredibly unhealthy relationship while I struggled to come to terms with my parents' divorce.  When my parents and siblings moved me into my dorm freshman year, it was the last time I saw them all together until I graduated from college 5 years later and all of the residual pain and confusion from that time grew and grew and I allowed it to manifest itself into a body that hid who I was from the world.  Eventually I found myself in a much healthier relationship with a man who actually had a 2 bedroom apartment with 1 bedroom devoted to working out.  He had a TV mounted to the wall, a treadmill, weight bench, the whole nine.  In his own gentle way, he nudged me toward a healthier lifestyle.  

Not too long after we began dating I found a 3 pack of Billy Blanks Tae-Bo VHS tapes that I had purchased in college.  I sat there staring at the toothy grin of Mr. Banks and on a whim put in the first tape and DIED.  That bastard almost killed me!  But dammit if he wasn't incredibly inspiring and charismatic and so I kept going.  I had to drag a kitchen chair into my office where I worked out to support myself while I tried to master those leg lifts.  But eventually, I abandoned the chair, got stronger and because enough time had passed traded in those VHS tapes for DVDs.  Working out became a 5-6 times/week activity.  By the early spring of 2005 I was wearing 5 lb weights on both ankles and 3 lb weights on both wrists as I did my workout.  I lost 56 lbs.  One of my coworkers commented to me that he had run into someone we used to work with that said, "Hey, I heard Nancy got really hot."  "Correction," I said, "I was always really hot."  As funny as this may sound, as the scale went up and down, I always maintained some confidence in myself sandwiched in between self-deprecation. My own form of body dysmorphia, I stood in the mirror overweight and always saw someone thin.  

I liked who I was back then, I liked shopping for clothes in the single digits.  I never dreaded a costume fitting and welcomed photographs.  For 4 years I managed to maintain my weight despite being in a new relationship with a guy named Trevor who had a fully stocked bar in his basement.  He converted an old refrigerator into a kegorator (which we still have) and yet I still kept the weight off.

I got pregnant in the spring of 2010.  At the time I was about 20 lbs more than what I would have liked.  Marriage brings about its own form of the "Freshman 15" once the fear of not fitting into a custom designed wedding dress goes away.

The weight crept up rapidly.  At the time I loved to think that it was all happening to me.  Water retention was happening to me, joint pain was happening to me.  I had become someone helpless to everything that was happening like I was going through an out of body experience.  Breastfeeding did not prove to be the magic bullet of weight loss that celebrities with personal chefs and trainers tell you it will be and guess what?  Chasing your kids around doesn't make you lose weight.  I want to rip the "Body after Baby" sections out of every gossip magazine on this earth.  Seriously People magazine, get an editor who's a mom.

I gained 50 lbs in my pregnancy with Jack.  I lost none of it.  Why I lost none of it would, for quite some time, be blamed on hormones, being too busy to exercise, being insatiably hungry from all the breastfeeding and any other excuse du jour that I could think of.  But the truth is that after Jack was born, I didn't see myself anymore.  If I was really paying attention, I'd see a photograph of me where I thought my eyes sparkled nicely or my hair looked good, but I'd never let my gaze fall below my neck.  How sad looking back on that time.  Everything below my neck had been what both created and sustained a person for over 2 years, first through pregnancy, then through nursing.  But I wanted nothing to do with that part of me.  I resented that part of me and eventually I just stopped seeing it.

That blindness allowed me to get pregnant for a second time before being as healthy as I should have been.  Where my first pregnancy was relatively smooth and illness free, the second one was plagued with problems.  I gained 50 lbs in my first pregnancy and gained 8 in my second.  8 lbs.  This was mostly due to the fact that nausea made me lose weight early on and kept me from eating much for over half of my pregnancy.  It certainly wasn't due to the fact that I was any better about diet or exercise.

Coming home from the hospital with Will, I felt like a truck had run over me.  The out of shape body I brought with me to the hospital had valiantly delivered this baby but had nothing left for me.  And that's why women in my family are mama martyrs.  Once our babies were out of our bodies we lost all love for our stomachs, hips, legs and arms despite all that they had given us.  We stop seeing ourselves after our children are born.  I saw it happening to me and it scared the hell out of me.  After weeks of pain and the somber realization that I don't have enough energy to raise 2 boys I made some changes.

10 years after discovering those Tae-Bo tapes, exercise still hurts, but I'm doing it.  I have decided that I'd rather get a hug from my son than from a cupcake so I joined Weight Watchers.  Trevor and I started the Couch to 5K running program.  I feel my body starting to come back.  On June 14th, Trevor and I set off for Week 1, Day 1 of Couch to 5K.  90 seconds of running felt like torture and I was taken back to my old apartment 10 years ago when I had to use a kitchen chair to get through a simple leg lift.  If a senior citizen mall-walking brigade had come through my neighborhood they would have lapped me for sure, but when we got back to the driveway after that first day, I didn't care, I was so happy to have done it.  As for Billy Blanks, we'll catch up again soon.  I have missed that sweaty bastard.

Day 1 with my little running companion

He's proud of me, I just know it
Tonight I took full advantage of a breezy, cool night to complete Week 3, Day 2 of the program.  90 seconds of walking, 90 seconds of running, 3 minutes of walking, 3 minutes of running and repeat.  The great gift that running has given me is that I can't ignore my body anymore.  I feel the earth under my feet as it travels up my legs, into my stomach and out through my arms.  I saw fireflies sail over backyard fences and I breathed in the fruits of my neighbors' beautiful flower gardens.  As I walked the last leg of the program home, I saw our house with the garage lights on.  3 lights.  I imagined that each one represented the person inside of that house for whom I am embarking on this journey.  Those cheerful beacons welcomed me home.  I want to be around for a long time for them.  I want to be around for a long time for me too.  Coming home tonight felt like I was coming home to myself and it felt good.

At my 6 week post-partum checkup, my midwife lifted up my shirt and said "Oh you poor honey."  It was covered in bumps and bruises from the injections and newly formed stretch marks.  "My stomach is a roadmap of motherhood," I told her.  "All those marks tell a story."

The story of how I became a mother is well chronicled in the dozens of blog entries I've written over the years.  The story of how I won't lose me in the process has been told here.

As a footnote, the song that came on my iPod as I started out tonight is one of my most favorites- Warning by Incubus.  No coincidence there, just another wink from God.

Bat your eyes girl. 
Be otherworldly. 
Count your blessings. 
Seduce a stranger. 
What's so wrong with being happy? 
Kudos to those who see through sickness yeah 

She woke in the morning. 
She knew that her life had passed her by 
She called out a warning. 
Don't ever let life pass you by. 

I suggest we 
Learn to love ourselves, 
Before its made illegal 
When will we learn, When will we change 
Just in time to see it all come down 

Those left standing will make millions 
Writing books on the way it should have been 

She woke in the morning. 
She knew that her life had passed her by 
She called out a warning. 
Don't ever let life pass you by. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Birth Story: The Sequel

Nothing about this pregnancy would have part of anyone's birth plan.  It was not the birth story that any expectant mother dreams or hopes for, in fact, it was perfect in its imperfection.  But as imperfect as it was, the result was beyond anything I could have wished for.  This is the story of how William Malcolm came into the world.

It's impossible to begin this birth story without backtracking a bit to the pregnancy story.  I remember the night we found out we were having another baby.  It was a Monday night, August 27 and Trevor was giving Jack a bath.  I took a pregnancy test into our downstairs bathroom and faster than you can say "I should have chugged down one more glass of wine" 2 pink lines appeared on that stick.  I took the test upstairs to the bathroom where Jack was rolling around in the tub splashing Trevor in the face.  "Hey guess what?" I said.  "We're having a baby."  Trevor, his glasses covered in water droplets, broke out into a huge grin.  "Jack!  You're going to be a big brother!"

Three weeks later I was in the emergency room with what I thought was a pulled muscle which ended up being 3 blood clots in the deep veins of my right calf.  So began a 9 month journey that would test every fiber of my being as I made it my mission to get this baby into the world as healthy and whole as I could.

And now, the birth story.

Birth Story (n): The tale of how a pregnant woman gets a baby out from under her ribs into the waiting hands of a doctor who has gotten way too familiar with her insides without even buying her dinner first.

Tonight I taught Jack how to give Eskimo kisses on our last night as a trio. Hearing him laugh and say "more noses" was everything. Tomorrow we head to the hospital to meet this little boy. It's the ending of winter and the beginning of spring and also the changing of seasons for our little family. Prayers and good thoughts are most welcome!

Hey Mark Zuckerberg!  Were you aware that waxing poetic on your website can send a woman into labor?  Well it can!

A few minutes before 9pm on Tuesday April 30th, I sent that note out into Facebook in anticipation of the induction I was scheduled for at 5pm the following day.  For some reason, Jack didn't want to go to bed that night so Trevor, Jack and I cuddled on our bed watching a movie before he finally relented and let Trevor take him upstairs.  Looking back, I feel that he just knew something monumental was about to happen.  Jack has had a 6th sense about this pregnancy for weeks now and I think he knew somehow that we all needed one more night with just the 3 of us before everything changed.

No sooner had I hit "enter" on that status that a whopper of a contraction hit me.  A few minutes later my brother called me to say hi and wish me well and during the entire conversation?  Contractions.  Hmmm.

After another came on strong I asked Trevor to pull up a contraction timer app on his phone (modern parenting for the win).  5 minutes, 4 minutes, 6 minutes, 5 minutes.  They just weren't stopping.  You know things were getting serious when I put my bra on.  Awful contractions are no excuse for going to the hospital full native.  My mom was called.  In the words of Rafiki in "The Lion King": "It is time!"  In the meantime, our wonderful friend and next door neighbor Angie was called to come wait for my mom so someone could be with Jack.

See, all the logistics change when it's your second child.  You can't just drive willy nilly into the night to go to the hospital.  Baby monitor ranges don't extend that far.  If they did, we'd have saved a lot of money on babysitting costs.

Trevor called the after hours number for my OB practice.  Dr. Goodspeed was on call.  Oh good.  A doctor who I had met once during my entire pregnancy...again!  The same thing happened with Jack's delivery.  I had moved to this new practice to work with the midwives, so I'd never have to have a strange man gaze inside my lady parts again, but midway through my pregnancy, the practice decided to abandon the OB side and all the midwives left for other practices.  So I was left with a doctor again, but to be honest, it could have been Dr. Seuss, Dr. Pepper or Dr. Teeth on call that night and I wouldn't have cared, I was just so ready to meet my son.

Dr. Goodspeed advised Trevor to have me wait an hour and see what happened.

"NO.  We're going now." I said with a vice grip hold on our kitchen counter.

Trevor dutifully relayed the message.  This is not his first time at the rodeo.  Trevor knows that once labor starts I become a honey badger.  Dr. Goodspeed gave us the green light to come to the hospital.  I like to think that he glanced at a chart at that moment that said:  "Nancy, age 34.  Don't trifle with this broad, she doesn't mess around."  A quick hug to Angie and we set off into the night toward the hospital.

Husbands/partners/drivers, there is no winning on that drive.  If you drive too fast, you will hit every bump and pothole and be yelled at.  If you drive too slow you will be encouraged to pick. it. up!  Also, you will hit every single red light.  It's the Murphy's Law of Labor.

Trevor pulled into the drive to let me out at the door so he could park the car.  I told him I'd wait for him in the lobby.  But as soon as I got to the lobby I just made a beeline for the elevator.  There were people milling around the lobby and I didn't want to star in my own one woman interpretive dance show on deep breathing.  I asked the woman at the front desk to send my husband up to the 4th floor when he arrived.  "He's wearing a red, a brown shirt...nevermind, he has glasses."  She nodded at the delirious woman, something she must be very skilled at doing in her line of work.

Triage.  The worst.

A nurse met me at triage and handed me a hospital gown with 900 snap buttons and 350 ties before leaving me staring at this huge piece of cloth blinking.  I sort of draped it around me like a toga.  I must have looked like Little Caesar after ingesting a few of his $5 Hot 'n Readies after a long night of drinking.  A different nurse came back and said "Oh, we should have prepped that gown for you."  So I was not headed into labor looking like a Roman emperor.  By now Trevor  had found us and the nurse asked me to go pee in a cup.  Peeing in a cup while contracting is like being asked to crochet a quilt while jumping on a trampoline.  I might have gotten a single cc of pee in that cup.  I trust that they got what they needed from that droplet since they didn't bug me about it again.  Next up?  A cervical exam!

Are you someone who enjoys when people push on a bruise?  Do you take pleasure in soaking your paper cuts in a bath of salty lemon water?  Then you will love having a cervical exam while in labor.  "5cm!" she exclaimed in voice not entirely unlike the Target lady that Kristen Wiig plays on Saturday Night Live.  So by now it was clear that the train had left the station and wasn't slowing down.  Neither was my heartbeat.  And then, the big question.  "What is your plan for pain management?"

It's no secret to anyone who has asked that I did not have an epidural with Jack.  I am not anti-epidural, but during that entire pregnancy, I had such faith in my body, things were so easy.  Not this time.  The pain was excruciating and everything was happening so fast.  My blood pressure was on the rise.  I started to cry and looked at Trevor.  I told him I wanted some pain relief.  I wanted something about this pregnancy to not hurt so badly.  After more than 500 injections and 20 weeks of crippling nausea, I wanted to end this pregnancy with some sense of calm.  As much as I was dreading being induced, the thought that things would be controlled was comforting to me.  I don't regret that decision at all as I was afforded some calm and Trevor and I were able to rest for awhile before the main event.

At my hospital, the nurses ask you about 1,000 questions while you're in active labor.  Everything from "Are you opposed to having the birth announcement in the local paper?" to "Are we tying your tubes today?" Not only do they ask you these questions, they have you sign documents in the height of your delirium.  Could these documents possibly hold up in a court of law?  I don't even remember half of what I was signing.  I'm certain my signature looked something like this:

After 4 hours in the hospital, at 2:45 in the morning, the pushing began.  Exactly 20 minutes later I met my son.  May 1st at 3:05 in the morning- the very first May baby born in the hospital.  I don't know if I could ever adequately describe in words what it's like to meet your child for the first time.  This little stranger suddenly becomes the most familiar person in the entire room to you.  A long lost friend who has found you again.  That's just what it's like.  His cries were loud and strong.  They placed his warm body on my chest as I looked into his eyes for the first time.  Deep dark eyes crying out the last vestiges of some exciting past life.  We stared at each other as my tears mixed with his.  "We made it, little one.  Happy birthday sweet boy, we made it."  I held him closely, this little miracle who had laid alongside me in the trenches of this complicated pregnancy.  We made it.

Trevor cut the cord.  It splashed in his face.  In his face.  I thought I'd share that detail to add some levity to what has quickly become a very emotional tale.  Being my birth coach is a full contact sport.  It's safe to say I wouldn't have been in this state without him, but it's a guarantee that I couldn't have gotten through any of it without him either.  People ask me if I ever wrote a birth plan.  I haven't, but I can tell you if I did it would have two things written down- Keep an open mind and have Trevor alongside me the whole time.

"I think he's a William," said Trevor the proud father.  "Yeah," I agreed.  "Happy birthday William Malcolm."  He is named for two very important people in our lives.  William Shakespeare, the man who brought his parents together and Captain Malcolm Reynolds, the beloved hero of Trevor's favorite TV show.  A wish for him to live his life with passion and adventure, to be observant of the world around him while maintaining a healthy skepticism and sense of humor.  A strong name for a strong little man who will surely be able to hold his own with his big brother, who, I am happy to say, is completely in love with him.

Will was born on the most beautiful day of the entire year.  We brought him home on a Friday afternoon.  I sat in the front seat with the window down breathing in the warm spring air.  In the short time we'd been away, our lilac bush had come into full bloom right outside of our bedroom window.  Nearly two weeks later, we continue to gaze at our lilacs while we nurse and nap and bond.  Winter is officially over and spring is here.  A new season, a new baby, new life, so much hope.

We just celebrated our first Mother's Day together surrounded by family.  I ended the day on my bed, one son tucked under my arm and the other curled up on my chest.  How did this happen? How am I suddenly a mother of 2?  Who will these little boys grow up to be?  My sister wrote this to my mom for Mother's Day, "Our souls choose our parents."  I am so thankful these little souls chose me.

And that, my friends, is my birth story- the sequel.  The story of how the most imperfect journey can still lead you to exactly where you need to be.  They say that sequels never quite live up to the original.  This sequel certainly had more spectacle and adventure, but I like to think that my two birth stories are the Godfather and Godfather II of birth stories, each one wonderful in their own right.  If we decide to have a 3rd baby, I will change this metaphor to Indiana Jones.  No one deserves a Godfather III birth story.  No one.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dear Jack

My Sweet Jack,

In just a few days you're going to be a brother.  I know you won't remember life before he comes, but I want you to know that these 2 years and 4 months of our little trio has brought me so much joy.  I remember feeling the same nervous excitement in the days leading up to your birth.  How will I know what to do?  How will things change between your dad and me?

Somehow, your dad and I figured out how to be parents.  You taught us.  And things did change between your dad and me.  We grew to love each other so much more because you forever made us a family.  All of a sudden there was this little person in the world that had my eyes and your dad's lips.  Your face was the merging of the two of us.  To this day, when I look at you, I see the best of everything we are.

One of our first family photos
Thank you for showing us how to be parents.  For showing us how to slow down and see how wondrous this world is.  We have loved seeing the world again through your eyes.  I remember when you discovered Lake Michigan for the first time.  It was a sunny summer morning in August in Grand Haven.  The wind was whipping so hard through your hair and you laughed from the deepest part of your soul as all five of your senses magically burst into life.  Cold water rushed up to your calves as you clutched dad's hand.  I remember looking out into the vast lake.  I saw the whitecaps cut against the steely gray water.  I saw seagulls magically take flight against the wind.  I took all of that in and I laughed too.  I laughed from the deepest part of my soul too and together our whole family laughed, all thanks to you.

So here we are on the verge of a brave new world for our family.  Your brother has outgrown his hiding place and he's ready to meet you.  And it is our turn to teach you.  You are the oldest child of two oldest children and if there is one thing that we know how to do, it's how to be older siblings.  It's not always easy having a sibling, but if there is one thing I can promise you, it's that you will be one of the most important people in his life.

You refused to smile for this picture.  Your dad had to hold the sign  in one hand and an Avengers Golden Book in the other and that's what you're looking at smiling. We know the way to your heart.

The next few days will be strange and sometimes scary for all of us, just like the days before you were born.  But this little family can go through anything together.  My wish for you is to remember that day on Lake Michigan.  You holding dad's hand against those strong gusts of wind.  It was a brand new exhilarating experience and as new and scary as it was for you, you found the joy in it.  You will find the joy in this new experience and every single one that follows.  That's the kind of incredible person you are. 

We love you so much Jack.  Thank you for being such a sweet, curious, exuberant little boy.  On the day you were born, the #1 song on the radio was "Firework". That is exactly what you are.  

Brighter than the moon.  

That's my Jack.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One More Week

Unless little guy has other plans, in one week I will be checking into the hospital to bring this new life into the world.  Yes, that means they are inducing me and I have some mixed feelings about it.  I think every woman hopes that her pregnancy goes off without a hitch and that things progress as naturally as possible.  Nothing about this pregnancy has been smooth sailing, but seeing it come to an end brings so many emotions.  The reason for the induction has to do with the timing of the medication I'm on and not wanting it in my system at the time that I deliver.  Both a doctor and a midwife who I trust at my practice believe it to be the best course of action and promised to be gentle with me.  My body has carried us this far and I trust it to see the baby and me through to the end which is now very close.

So I've been thinking a lot about birth today and all of the changes it will bring to our family.  I wonder how Jack will take the new addition.  But today, God gave me a wink.  Two separate friends on Facebook who don't know each other posted photos of their young sons with captions about how much they love each other.  Those photos, literally taken across the world from each other, have made me so happy thinking about the great gift we're about to give Jack.  Message received. 

A few years ago, I read a book called "Orbiting the Giant Hairball".  The author opens the book with the following passage that has always, always stuck with me.  There are, and have been, so many forces keeping me and this baby safe for 9 months.  I take all of that positive energy with me into the delivery room next week or maybe sooner if this little guy decides he's ready to be born.

Enjoy the story that follows and remember that birth isn't an event that only happens upon our first breath, every day we have the potential to reinvent who we are.

And it's never, ever too late to do something with that canvas.


“Before you were born, God came to you and said:

Hi there! I just dropped by to wish you luck, and to assure you that you and I will be meeting again soon. Before you know it.
You’re heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences. You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean. Quite saturated with nutrients. So you won't have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness. And grow incredibly. And change miraculously.
You’ll sprout arms and legs. And hands and feet. And fingers and toes.
As if from nothing your head will take form. Your nose, your mouth, your ears will emerge.
As you continue to grow bigger and bigger, you will become aware that this dark, oceanic environment of yours – which when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now actually cramped and confining. That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.
After much groping about in the dark, you will find an exit. The mouth of a tunnel.
“Too small,” you’ll decide. “Couldn’t possibly squeeze through there.”
But there will be no other apparent way out. So with primal spunk, you will take on your first “impossible” challenge and enter the tunnel.
In doing so, you will be embarking on a brutal no-turning back, physically exhausting, claustrophobic passage that will introduce you to pain and fear and hard physical labor. It will seem to take forever, but the mysterious undulations of the tunnel itself will help squirm you through and finally, after what will seem like interminable striving, you will break through to a blinding light.
Giant hands will pull you gently but firmly, into an enormous room. There will be several huge people, called adults, huddling around you, as if to greet you. If it is an old-fashioned place, one of these humongous people may hold you upside down by the legs and give you a swat on the backside to get you going.
All of this will be what the big people on the other side call being born. For you, it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.
God continues:
I was wondering, while you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a favor?
“Sure!” you chirp.
Would you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d really appreciate that.
And remember:
If you go to your grave
without painting
your masterpiece,
it will not
get painted.
No one else
can paint it.
Only you.

~Gordon MacKenzie