from Happy-Sad....

I don't know what it feels like to lose a child to a senseless act of violence. I can't imagine being a parent right now to one of those twenty children, the same age as my Aoife, who now lie lifeless somewhere, waiting for their burial the week before Christmas. 
But somehow I'm different, even just a little, from most of the other people I know who also can't imagine this. I do feel dizzy, and vaguely sad and confused. But I know this is not my pain to feel. 
Because, once, I did walk back into a house and look at things that belonged to a person who used to be alive and wasn't anymore, and I wondered what I should do with those things.
I have unwrapped gifts that were for someone who wasn't alive to open them. 
I have lain on a floor on a soft wool rug until the entire room smelled like wet wool, my tears never ending.
I have heard the wails that sounded like an animal coming from my own body. I wondered who could sound that way. 
I could not look at my face in a mirror.
Mostly, I just know how in an instant, a world that seemed predictable and fair can suddenly be nothing like it was three minutes ago. How in the beat of a heart, your future can turn from one of joy and everyday rhythms to a bottomless well of grief. 
Thinking of those parents whose children were slaughtered on Friday makes Charlotte's little death seem so quiet, so easy. There was nobody to blame. Just a quiet, unknown baby, slipping away. 
But she was still my future, and I loved her very much. So there are some things I know.
And the greatest thing I learned from Charlotte I am reminded of again, and it is good to remember this. Any day could be the last. This fact, however, should not invoke fear and reservation, but rather inspire us to love openly, seek out joy, and dearly love the ones in our midst. 
I don't pretend that I grieve for those children. Yes, indeed, my heart hurts and aches and pains at the thought of their lives lost. But I would not belittle the pain that their families, friends, and mostly their parents feel by acting as though what I feel is grief. I am sick at heart, I am lonesome for them and what they might have become. But I know how to breathe right now, and those mothers are now struggling to draw a breath. They are willing their hearts to beat, not quite knowing why. This is not me. 
Me, I walk down the hall and lie next to each of my children while they sleep. I admit I linger a little bit with Aoife, kissing her soft cheek, watching the shadow of her long, long lashes on her cheek in the glow of the night light. Then, I return to my bed and I lie there and think of the cupboard of Christmas gifts that is in my room, at the ready, and I wonder for how many years those mothers will keep their children's unopened, unreceived gifts for.
 I imagine it might be forever. 


I can't blame them. I am there with them, in the isolation of raising small children in a world devoid of neighbors, in a world where nobody raises their eyes anymore to say good morning, or to comment on the weather. I am here, too, in a world that bustles with people who have very important things to do, and very important places to go.
But it really makes me sad when I see all these people, mostly mothers, I'm talking about now, who walk about after their children at the park, or the Children's Museum, or the playground, and they look like they are driving little remote control cars. They are following their children, but their eyes are down in their hand, where their phone lies. They flip through messages, check email, see what's going on on Facebook. Their children wander, not unhappily, exploring their world as children will. The mothers are there, sometimes answering absently as their children prattle on, eyes down. They are missing most of what is going on in front of them.
I can't blame them, I'll say it again. The lure of connection, of somebody else out there, of someone who cares, or can make you laugh, or can remind you of the self you have when you aren't alone with your children, is enormous. We all need that link to our former selves. But Oh! how quickly childhood passes, and how fast the days of being able to be with little children will go by. Here are mothers who have the privilege of being with their children, yet they are gone. I feel sad for them. I feel sad for myself. I worry about where the world will be when my children are older, a world where people only interface by handset and ignore what's going on around them.
Here's why I can watch this: I don't have a phone. Yet. Because what will I do when I have one? I will look at it. I will try to keep it in my purse but sometimes I, too, will be overwhelmed by the curiosity of who might be thinking of me, loving me from afar. I know it's hard. I'm resisting joining this club until I absolutely have to.
Another reason why I can see this is because I have been here before, with Liam and Aoife. I have walked the parks, and visited the pool and the library for those early years and have watched the minutes and days be gobbled up before my eyes. Now they are in school, they are away from me for seven hours a day and I miss those early days. The knowledge of how incredibly fleeting early childhood is gives me seemingly infinite patience for the little things, the boredom, the beauty of puttering around with two little girls. I am already anxious about its end, about what the next stage will bring. I am dragging my feet, and I don't want anything to distract me from the warm hugs and cream cheesy kisses that I get today.
I'm so lucky to be here again, with these two little ones, and to have the joy of the big ones, too. I love, love, love our big family. There is so much figuring out to do with two children. The first comes, and then the second, and it's all a big guessing game, it's walking in the dark. But this second time, with number three and four, there is no mystery. Life is an open, clear book. I have walked this path. Suddenly it all seems easy, even the new things with the older kids. I realize it all comes around, ends up alright. Things don't cause stress. I'm so lucky to be here.


Pulling from both Ends

My son and I walked in town today together. It was Bag Day, where everything is 20% off to get you buying for the holidays. I had a haircut and then picked him up at a friend's house. He's so easy. I said, let's go to town and putter, and he said, OK. We parked, and strolled. Got a cookie. Dropped off a ring at the jeweler's I'd had in my purse for weeks. Popped into the toy store where he browsed for himself, asked for nothing, and picked something out for his sister. We strolled back to the car, hand in hand, and headed home. Life is so easy with a big kid, it's predictable and sweet. I love being a mom to a big kid.
Home we come, and Maeve is already at the door, arms open, calling for me. I pick her up and her strong, wiry arms wrap around my neck like a baby monkey, clinging to me as if I'd been gone for days or weeks. She claws at my shirt to nurse, mouths my cheeks and seemingly tries to climb inside my body to infuse herself with as much me as possible. Her warm body, her closeness, her intimacy makes me almost weep with joy. I never want this to end. Yet I can barely walk from one end of the room to the next without her needing me, and leaving her unsupervised is taking a mighty risk. There is nothing, not one, single thing, that is easy about Maeve. Yet I want to freeze-frame her just how she is, tiny and needy and warm, sticky with dried soy yogurt under her chin, marker in her hair, her little nose wrinkled with a perpetual laugh. She melts into my arms, beautiful, joyful Maeve, and I want her to stay a baby with me forever.
Which way do I want to go? Do I want my children to be big, so I can be easy with them? So I can walk with them, and laugh freely, and play games, and have them accompany me on my daily life? Or do I need them little, where I carve out their life but they dictate mine? I am in both places now, stretched long and lean with babies on four places of the spectrum. They are all amazing. How lucky I am.

But I can't shake the fear of not having a baby ever again. Will I ever love anything again, ever, in my life, as I have loved raising a baby from tiny, mewling, naked bird to walking, talking, thinking creature? What if I never do?

I just love this so much. I wish I could stay here.


I must remember this day.

Today was one of those days that you had to seize immediately, as it was borrowed from summer and given as a gift. The colors are just brilliant, yellow and red and orange and still green, and the sky was clear and blue, and the sun was glowing and warm, still high in the sky. The morning started off so crisp, so cool but quickly warmed in the sun's light. After dropping Aoife and Liam at school, I walked with the little girls down on the Mill River trail, around the sandy bend and to the spot where Charlotte's stone sits under a tall, white pine tree. The tree is probably 40 inches in diameter, and has growing from its huge roots a tiny tree that reaches for the sky. The path to the stone and the stone itself were covered in fallen needles and golden leaves. While the girls puttered around, gathering sticks and scratching designs in the sandy path below, I cleared the path and the stone. A wipe from my purse helped to clean off some of the mossy growth that had obscured some of the writing on the stone (which reads, We Love You Charlotte Amelia, and has our names engraved on the side) and I easily found most if not all of the sea glass the children have collected and left for her over the years. New to the site was a silver, wire heart, left by a passer by. A kind, simple gift. As I finished rearranging the rocks around the edge of the garden that surrounded her stone Maeve started to charge into the woods, and as I chased her I discovered a magnificent deposit of pine bark from a fallen tree some ways down the trail. I retrieved the huge pieces and used them to line the edge of the path to Charlotte's stone, imagining to myself that these big, beautiful, natural found objects would sometime soon lead some stranger to wander up this small trail-off-a-trail and discover her stone. They would read her name, and wonder who Charlotte is, or was. Charlotte would be real.
When my trail work was finished, the girls and I wandered slowly down the trail back towards the college. Fiona was interested in going to the greenhouse, so eventually I piled them into the stroller and walked all the way back to the trail's beginning at the Plant House. We wove our way through the warm, sweet smelling rooms of the greenhouse, Fiona leading the way and chattering the whole time. She's just magical right now. Having had two previous two year olds, and having one on the way to two, I just can't believe every day that Fiona is what she is. She's a little person, a baby almost, but she's always happy, and she almost never complains about anything. She never whines, she doesn't disobey, she doesn't try to get her own way more than once or twice. She's just absolutely easy, and therefore absolutely delightful. It's just wonderful. She's just the most wonderful company. And she made a super  guide in the greenhouse!
Maeve is just as flexible as can be. She loves to do whatever Fiona is doing. The first words out of her mouth every time I get her out of bed are, "Fi - na na?" She needs to know where Fiona is and has to be with her right away. It's so cute. She was thrilled in the greenhouse to see the ceramic frog in the orchid room and the waterfall in the temperate house. Then we headed up to the campus center (a cafe, I told them) and to my delight they had both chocolate milk and chocolate soy milk-- so both girls were able to enjoy a sweet treat together. Then we dallied our way along the path back to the car and returned home for lunch.
Naptime was a gift, even though Fiona didn't sleep, and then in the afternoon Liam had chorus and I stayed in Haydenville with Aoife. She played on the playground for about half an hour with friends while I chatted to the moms, and then we headed with some friends down yet another trail, on yet another section of the Mill River. The sun was so warm, and we walked for a while and then the kids climbed down onto the rocks and dipped their feet into the cold water. What a beautiful sight, on a warm, October day, of bare toes in a river, knowing that eight weeks from now snow could be flying and we will be gathering around the Christmas Tree, preparing for another long winter. It was a day of outdoor wonder with my girls, just soaking in the sun and their joy and curiosity.
I just love doing this, raising children. Right now I'm so calm, I love all of it. What a gift.


Early September

When I arrived home from the lake this year, I noticed how loud it is at our house.

On the shores of Lake Simcoe, where we pick up the Augusts of my past 36 summers each year, there is no sound in the night except the occasional waves lapping against the soft, sandy shore. A motorboat might happen by and on the weekend there might be the occasional party on the lake, but on a quiet, weekday evening there is almost nothing to hear. I walk across the common, the cold dew having already fallen and chilly on my feet, and there is almost the sound of the breath of the earth. The stars shine in the enormous black sky, and the lake looks like a black mirror stretching out to the nearly invisible horizon.

Here, the first thing I noticed when I came home was the chorus of wild things. Crickets, frogs, and other creatures create a constant din that surrounds our home when night falls. That, combined with the river, which can babble or roar depending on rainfall, make a stream of white noise that almost drown out the occasional passing car. Our windows are always open wide to the night. The cat sits on the sill, watching the moths that play with the escaping light. Upstairs, the children, all four of them, are asleep.

This September marks a change for me. After almost a year and a half of being with children almost all the time, I have finally gotten my two younger girls on the same napping schedule. At noontime each day, I tuck each of them into bed and I come downstairs to a house that is quiet. That time is very different from the quiet time that I have now, when it is dark. During the day the rooms are brilliant with sunlight, spilling over with energy and I have to go, go, go. Of late my favorite pastime which absolutely qualifies as useful, housewifely work is just tidying. the. place. up. No matter how long the girls sleep for, if this is my chosen task, I use the whole nap time to do it. The whirlwind of destruction-- or actually, I should call it misplacement, as in placing items in places where they don't belong-- that happens each day in my home with the four children all going at full tilt is just astounding. So, for an hour, or half an hour, or today almost two, I attempt to return things to the places where they are supposed to be. I never finish, but I have been able to look around every evening since school started ten days ago and feel almost relaxed in a home where I can see the tops of tables and the rugs are visible (albeit not vacuumed). Physical order (or somewhat order) somehow makes me feel more calm in general. I know this about myself.

The girls are happy little dumplings. They play together now. It's just absolutely breathtaking. Maeve is walking, running, climbing, laughing, talking. She's a small girl. She's still my baby, but she's a force to be reckoned with. She's up on rocking chairs, clinging to the back and rocking full force. Fiona is laughing, egging her on. She's sneaking out the door to pick green tomatoes. She's over by the chicken coop, methodically opening and closing the bottom latch, wondering why she can't open the door (there are two latches). She's emptying out the plastic recycling bin for the 25th time that day, stacking yogurt containers and hiding small shoes in other plastic places.
Fiona, meanwhile, might be setting up a school. Or making a nice, wide bed out of blankets on the floor that might hold all 17 baby dolls. Then she'll call Maeve, leading her gently by the hand, and try to reel her into her play. She's too much a baby herself to understand that Maeve can only maintain the drama for less than 60 seconds. But she does, Maeve does, she'll lie down cooperatively on the blanket next to the dolls, then rise and cradle one of them and load her into the stroller. Fiona, at two and a half, is so flexible in her play that this works for her. They're off. I'm watching them, amazed. Two little sisters, playing together.

In these days when Liam and Aoife are in school I almost feel I'm beginning to relive my life with two children, like I did in the old days with the two of them when they were little. I'm visiting, or planning to visit, the same places we enjoyed four or five years ago. I know where to go, what to do. I've done this before. What a gift to be able to do it again. And as I look at them, two little girls, I can't help but wonder whether this would have been my story, if Charlotte had lived and I hadn't been gifted my bonus boy. Would she have been followed, two plus years later, by some other daughter, a phantom that never existed because of her loss? It gives me goosebumps to imagine that there is an entire family of children that might have followed her. Goosebumps to imagine who they might have been, and also to think of the fantastic, tremendous flip side of my dead-awful luck: these four magnificent people with whom I now share my life. Just amazing.

This afternoon we visited "Big Bend" in the river again. I "dove" into the swimming hole, feeling the bracing cold of the river water as Aoife and Fiona squatted in the soft mud examining the raccoon tracks we had discovered and Greg (holding Maeve) and Liam hurled rocks at a rotted tree trunk on the riverbank. It was a glorious end to the week.


Tonight, we gathered around the same table. The smell of fresh-cut grass was in the air. Homemade roasted tomato sauce topped our pasta, with fresh, local, sweet italian sausage and basil from the garden. The wine was poured.
Fiona would not stop bawling. She cried and cried. We left the table, we came back. Maeve threw the bowl of pasta. She cried. I threw both girls under my arms and went inside. My wine and pasta were untouched. The girls both fell asleep without eating supper, they were so tired.
Going back outside, Liam and Aoife were in the middle of bickering when I returned to the table. I screamed at them. The neighbors heard. I shoveled in my pasta, drank my wine, and was glad I had ruminated on the beauty of last night, because otherwise I might have cried.


The Crew

A beautiful start to September

Today ended like a long, slow exhale. I wonder if I should even write the words, because it almost seemed too good to be true.
It ended with the six of us sitting around our glass topped table, under the big green umbrella, out in the backyard. While Greg grilled, I had set the table while Liam played with Maeve on the back lawn and Fiona and Aoife perfected a pillow fort in the living room. We joined at the table and it wasn't until we were all eating ice cream for dessert that I realized how beautiful it was. Here we were, six of us, including the two year old and the one year old, and we were all still sitting here. We had all eaten our meals. I hadn't gotten up from the table even once. Nobody had cried to get down or asked to be excused while somebody else was still eating. We had all just enjoyed the meal together, and we still were. It was like we were... we were... six people eating dinner together.
This might not seem like a remarkable accomplishment. Clearly I am a person with a strong sense of family and one might assume a family dinner is part and parcel of this package. We do sit down, the six of us, every single night. This means five o'clock meals for Greg and I, but we're happy with this arrangement. We envision pleasant conversation, laughter, and good food... but you know the rest. Somebody isn't happy with the meal. Maeve starts to dump rice on the rug. Aoife needs to go to the bathroom. Somehow, it seems every meal unravels in some way so that we're almost never six people all eating and talking, as we imagine we might do.
But tonight, we did. It felt almost like a first, although it might not have been. The beauty of sitting there for so long, so pleasantly together, under the sunset-lit pines, needed to be captured.

And, rewinding, it seemed especially beautiful because we ventured out for the second time this afternoon to a new place we discovered that we call "Big Bend". It's a little further down the river that's behind our house. The river makes a huge curve and we discovered a big, deep soaking spot that comes past my waist and is wide enough to actually SWIM. The river is riddled with gigantic, glacial boulders and only 15 or so feet downstream from the soaking pool are all these pebbled islands that are perfect for the little girls to perch upon and throw rocks into the river--only six inches deep at that point. All around us in the river the boulders are covered with deep, green moss above the high-water mark and the land rises steeply-- and I mean so steeply that one couldn't possibly walk up it-- on the east bank where the old hemlocks are all that anchors the earth to the rock. It is so impossibly beautiful and I still can't wrap my head around the fact that my little children have this as their own backyard, their childhood, this beautiful gift we have given them.

Remind me, at all costs, I must never move.

My kids didn't fight once this afternoon, they cared for each other and played beautifully and it was magical. (and imagine that I choose this day to write... it paints a lovely picture, doesn't it?)

This day I chose to capture here because I can look back and remember, on the days where more squash ends up on the walls than in their mouths, where there is yelling and crying and despair, that there are days like this where the sun shines and there is beauty in everything.


Aoife, ever creative and unintentionally hilarious, is always full of new ideas. An ongoing theme over the years has been the birthday party. So last night, pondering the fantastic pinata that had been the highlight of one of Liam's end-of-year events, she created her most amazing birthday party idea yet. Folks, I'm thinking of patenting this one, so please don't use it yourself unless you give Aoife the credit for the copyright.
"So, Mimi," she says. "I've been thinking of a few ideas for my next birthday party".
"Mmm hmm," I answer absently, having heard so many ideas and knowing I have eight months to plan.
"The theme I'm thinking of is war."
My ears perk up. I look at her, and my head is probably tilted to the side the way a dog's does when he hears a strange noise. "War?" I ask her.
"Yeah, war. I'm going to have this huge pig pinata, and it's going to be made of wood. Daddy's going to carve it. We'll carve the pig and fill it up with some kind of red liquid. Then the guests will stab the pig with wooden spears, stab it until holes are poked all in it and the red liquid oozes out all over the place... "

So there you go, folks. If any of you think I'm not raising a creative little girl, you might have to think again about this one. As to her understanding of what war actually is, I am pleased to realize she is still blissfully unaware. She seems to be confusing carnivores with warriors, and while bacon has always been one of her favorite things to eat (and she'll even joyfully exclaim such disturbing things like, "Pig tastes great!") she seems to imagine it takes a great deal more strategy and planning to get the bacon from farm to table.

And, just as an FYI, she knew she was being hilarious. This isn't an expression of pent-up anger. She's just... well, a ham. (sorry)


Summer is here. We've been on summer vacation for a week now. I could not be happier.

I love having my children home, and I love having the weather beautiful and us all outside. I love the sudden liberty of being able to stay in our pajamas or cross the street to the river or eat from the gigantic glass jar of Whoppers that Aoife won at a birthday party (for guessing the right amount, 220) at 9 in the morning if we feel like it. Yesterday Aoife and I went to the grocery store and bought a package of Bubble Yum bubble gum so I could teach her how to blow bubbles. That's how good it feels right now. Organic lettuce from our farm share, beef from our neighbors, the chickens roaming in the backyard, and some good, old fashioned Bubble Yum, which may or may not have been on the shelf of the grocery store since the 1980's (which was the last time I chewed Bubble Yum). Sometimes you just have to wow your kids with the power of YES.

I love this so much, yet to me, vacations feel to me like springtime in New England: I love this freedom and this ability to live life on a whim because I am scheduled the rest of the time. I can remember the end of last summer feeling grateful for the clock and the ritual of getting up, getting dressed, sharing breakfast, and heading off past the green fields and winding river to our sweet little school every morning. During the school year I love hearing the stories the children share with me, and knowing that they are independently developing themselves in a place that is only theirs. I am incredibly grateful and lucky to be able to have them in a school where they can operate as independent learners, where they are met at their own level, where they investigate and explore and laugh and run around and sing together every single day. I love the privilege of their school life, but I also love the privilege of this. Of being here, together, with absolutely NOTHING to do.

Today, Greg joined us on summer vacation. He's done for the summer. It was a hot, hot day. We gathered the troops, threw bathing suits into a bag, peanut butter, jelly, bread, and watermelon into a cooler, and headed up the hill. There is a beautiful lakeside park, nestled in the hills among tall pines, with hiking trails, campsites, and a busy, bustling beach. We arrived early and staked out prime real estate by the waters edge, where a little creek runs out of the lake. Maeve and Fiona puttered around in the shallow water, the big kids swam and laughed and met friends and explored the creek, and we were all just happy together. We tried not to worry about who wasn't napping when, and when everyone had completed their trip to the cooler and their dunks in the lake and we were feeling hot and fried we moseyed back down the hill to home, where the little girls snoozed away the afternoon and the rest of us quietly escaped the hot sun.

This has been a challenging year. It's why I had to stop writing completely. There are moms who say they have no time. Most of them actually do have time. This year I actually didn't. The combination of the most extreme sleep deprivation I've ever met with and two very busy little girls who have to be watched like hawks at all times and never, not ever, not once nap at the same time, left me so breathless I had to carve everything except taking care of the children and family out of my life (and that's not really even factoring in the other two children, who are lovely and well behaved and who I'm desperate to gift some of my time). It was hard, but I knew it would be short lived. And now that summer has arrived, and Greg is home, and I am determined to nap the girls together come September, I feel a lifting of sorts. I can breathe now, and think about maybe working on a photo album, and posting on the blog, and pulling a few weeds with one hand while I shovel dirt out of Maeve's mouth with the other hand.


The family marches on.

Greg and I had a real day of reckoning on Charlotte's ninth birthday. It was an emotionally charged day, I need not say, and so it came to the surface finally and all at once how completely and totally burnt out we both were. We were parenting like crazy, each of us, almost separately under the same roof. Our four children, all different ages, all different needs, were running us ragged. We had neither time for ourselves, nor time for each other. Something needed to change.

Was it really that something changed? Or did we just say the words, and suddenly things seemed easier? It's true that things have felt hard. Having four children (or is it that the two little ones were so close?) seemed easy for the first five or six months. Maeve was an easy little baby, content to snooze in a wrap or be toted around in a sling. But once she started to need naps in bed, a bedtime routine in the evening, and started to crawl like a girl with a plan at around eight months, things became much more busy. Suddenly the little girls were ripping things off the shelves much faster than I could pick them up. I was juggling and jostling schedules of two, small, relatively inflexible people. I had them napping on an alternating schedule so that I could not leave the house. This was intense. Just writing it down makes me realize that much of the frenetic pace was the result of the 18 month gap. The two older kids were constantly having to wait. I felt insufficient.

Things feel better. Things feel streamlined. We've started to go out on dates. Imagine that! And we're trying to give each other time to do what we want to do. Life is good.

The kids are super.


(Maeve Eloise, in new scarf handmade by Liam)

I can't believe this. Seems like only a few short months ago that I suspected labor at dawn and pushed out a new, mewling daughter by breakfast time. But it has happened, the circle has spun round once more and she is now a year old.

A year old, a year new. Still so much to learn, and to do, yet I feel like something has ended.
She's only a day older than yesterday.

It has been for nine years and nine months that my life has been saturated with babies and babyhood, pregnancy and nursing and waiting and conceiving and birthing. While I can hardly bring myself to face the possible end of this phase, the practicality of the life we lead forces me to consider it. I put a hand up to the side of my face, trying not to see. I don't want this to end. I want to have a baby forever. It seems like all I know.

This being said, I went to Liam's baseball game with just Aoife and Fiona on Saturday. Maeve was at home sleeping, and the girls and I brought a wicker basket full of tea, milk, sugar and snacks. We got out the china and we had a gorgeous, civilized picnic and watched the game. There was no disaster-prevention necessary. Just me and two level-headed daughters having a picnic. It felt so sane, and I could have melted into the grass for how relaxed it made me to not have a baby on the picnic blanket.

But then she reaches for me with her long, wiry, pale arms, and clings to my neck. Her mouth is wet on my shoulder and the back of her dark hair is a little sweaty and damp. Her skin is so smooth and she grabs me with sharp fingernails, clinging to me, her rock and anchor. I am everything to her. I want it to be this way forever.

She reaches for me and calls, Mama. She laughs when she comes into my arms, stroking my cheek. She points at all the things around her, labeling them when she can. Dog, ball, cat. Pop, Bob, Papa. Dad. When she's not sure, she points and says "that". She wants to know. She waves at everyone we pass, offering a delicious, seven toothed smile and a lazy, "Hiii...". She is innocence and beauty. I cannot resist admitting the delerious joy I feel at being her absolute favorite person.

Maeve is one. The baby I rushed to have, thinking that it wouldn't work to stretch things out. The baby that came so quickly, right on the heels of her sister. When Fiona turned one I was four months pregnant. Today I was sleek in new white pants and a green shirt. There will be no new baby. Our family is growing and changing and I miss already the beautiful little baby who is turning into a girl before my very eyes.

Happy Birthday, Maeve. You have brought me immeasurable joy. The beauty and completion you bring to our family is beyond words. May you live for a hundred years, surrounded with light, beauty and love. I love you so very, very much.


May thirteenth has come and gone, the anniversary of the birth of my motherhood stolen has passed me by once again. That her birthday fell on Mother's Day seemed both appropriate and also a cruel joke. I desperately needed a day this year to be honored as a mother; as it was I felt too numb to admit the day was anything but hers and couldn't wrap my head around doing both. We did what we always do, we planted flowers, we puttered around the yard, we baked things to eat. We talked about her, we thought about her, we argued because the grief made us cranky.
This is how we parent the fifth child.
Meanwhile, four hearts still beat strong beneath us, even when we want to crumple and wrap our arms around the shadow of the daughter we might have had. So we parent them, we parent them hard, and we try to be brave when they ask us difficult questions about our journey.

Tomorrow, now, our baby turns one. One whole year of beauty with her. She sleeps now, upstairs, and I can see her on my new-fangled baby monitor that I bought to ease me through the transition of her out of my bed and into a crib (five feet from my bed, but a crib) so that we could try to restore something resembling an evening to our home. Now I can put her to bed at night and she goes to sleep, and I come down here and I can read to the older children, and I can tuck Fiona into her bed and sing to her, and I can parent them all.

It is nearly midnight. I have crafts abound to finish for Maeve's birthday. But while I waited for some photos to print, it seemed right to post on the eve of the last spring birthday. Perhaps another post soon.


What a month of transition, and I have stepped back from anything without a pulse in the wake of some incredible family time.

I will return, quite soon. I have many stories to tell, and many moments to share.

And here, a quote. These are my words, and over the past month I have had to remind myself quite often that mother is almost always right.

What surprised me the most about becoming a parent was that I trusted myself. Like a steadfast mother cat, hauling her kitten confidently to a safer place by the scruff of his neck, I somehow seemed to know what to do with each baby, each time. I never did end up looking at a book, and I've never second guessed anything I did upon instinct. My babies were almost always happy, and so was I.

Soon, my friends. Very soon. Stick with me.


Our daily bread

This is the bread recipe our family uses for our everyday, so quick you don't have an excuse not to make it, bread. You almost don't even have to knead it, and what dough isn't used sits in a big jar in the fridge and can be plucked out, left for 45 minutes on the counter to warm, and thrown onto a hot stone to bake. Fiona loves to make bread and I always give her her own ball of dough to "knead" and "shape" into a loaf. Her tiny bread bakes much faster than my large loaves and she loves to butter and spread creamy honey on her still-warm bread.

Try this at home:

In a large bowl, mix:
6.5 cups flour-- we use 4 cups bread flour, 2 white whole wheat, 1/2 cup hard whole wheat
3 T yeast
3 T salt

Add 3 cups warm water, stir/mix/knead till combined. You can actually knead it for a while if you want to, but this is actually optional. I often do only because I want the dough to seem lovely and smooth and elastic-y, but the truth is when I'm in a rush and I don't it doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

At this point you can either throw the dough into the jar for the fridge, which I usually leave out for 30 minutes or so before putting into the fridge, or you can let this dough rise for a while and then form loaves which I let rise for 30 minutes.

At this point I put the loaves on a preheated, 500 degree baking stone for 10 minutes, and then lower the temp to 400 for another 20 minutes. If you are unsure how long your loaves will take, an instant read thermometer should read at least 200 degrees for an internal temp to indicate doneness.

Yum. And also, keeps us busy for an entire winter morning, if I let it. This morning she even washed all the dishes for me.


Sink or Swim

My little Aoife loves to swim. By the time she was 17 months old, she was crossing the pool at the YMCA with a bubble on, determined to be independent. She'd push my hand away and pedal off. I always thought she resembled a tiny seahorse, her little bobbed head rocking back and forth as she paddled around, upright with the little square bubble on her back.
Nearly five years later, she hasn't actually progressed much. She's an absolute fish, but she doesn't like to get her face wet and she can't swim at all. (Or so she thinks. A few minutes after the above photo was taken last summer, she ditched the life jacket for a boogie board and paddled out into deep water. She fell off the board and swam quite a ways before reaching sand she could touch. But that's another story).
In real life, she swims confidently and with strength as long as there's something for her to hang onto. A noodle, a life jacket, or the old favorite-- the bubble on her back. All of my attempts to get her to swim without such crutches have been pushed away.
This winter, I decided it was time to take the lesson into somebody else's hands. As much as I feel so strongly that I'd like to be my child's primary educator in many realms, the truth is that they just perform better for others. So it was with a long, guilty face that I informed Aoife on Monday afternoon that her swimming lessons would begin that day.
She was angry, but a lollipop in the car (really? but yes, I did...) soothed some of the initial anger. I promised her that it wouldn't be so bad. Liam was coming too. He's a confident swimmer, strong, but unschooled. He doesn't swim with proper strokes yet, because he's never learned them. So he was excited to become more skilled. Aoife not quite so much.
At the pool, they both got dressed and came cooperatively into the pool room with me. A teacher was at the edge of the pool with the 12 or so students, sitting on the side, and 3 teachers were in the water. The idea was that the children would be broken into ability groups. I quietly said to the teacher on the side, "She's absolutely terrified."
"Don't worry," she said, "She'll be with Emily, she's terrific."
And then she proceeded to ask each child to jump in and swim to a teacher.
I wasn't sure what to do. Should I walk back and clarify that Aoife was a non-swimmer? Should I walk back and reassure Aoife that she didn't have to swim, but that we could explain that she was there to learn how to swim?
I watched, my stomach in knots, as each child jumped in and swam to a teacher in the water. Some swam 10 yards, some 25. Some face in, some with real strokes.
I watched, my belly churning, as Aoife's face became more and more stricken with fear as each child dove in.
And then it was her turn, and she just threw herself in, and went all out. She managed to keep her head moderately above water and the teacher advanced to meet her. I could see her face beginning to crumple as the teacher helped her over to the side of the pool. The absolute sheer terror on her face made me want to curl up and die. I felt so awful. I jumped up and knelt beside her.
Oh, honey. I'm so sorry. That scared you so much... I didn't know what to say. I felt as if I had failed her. I thought about advocating for her, but I didn't. Her little heart was pounding so hard it felt like it was going to jump out of her chest. Her tears and sobs were some of the most genuine I'd ever heard. I felt absolutely mean. I couldn't believe I'd set her up for such terror.
Fortunately, "Emily", the teacher, was an absolute gem. She softly convinced Aoife that she'd be with her the whole time, and she'd never let her go. It was only Aoife and one other little boy in her ability level, and he was a better swimmer so she had Emily basically to herself. I rose after she had calmed and moved myself aside.
Without me there, Aoife performed beautifully. She put her face in the water and blew bubbles. She jumped off the side of the pool. She lay on the back with her head and ears in the water and kicked gracefully. She did, in effect, everything I'd been trying to get her to experiment with over the past 4 years in the 45 minute lesson.
When I picked her up, she was delighted with herself.
I congratulated her, and felt like giving her a present. All evening, I flashed back to her terrified face in the water, and her awful, wracking sobs of terror. I wished I could have gone back and leapt up and stood up for my daughter, instead of sitting there not knowing what to do. What should I have done? I should have protected her. Instead I sat there worrying that I would seem like a helicopter parent. You can't win.
It's hard to say what I learned. I learned that I should speak up for my child, but I also learned that by forcing her to try something that was scary, she accomplished something that she had perceived to be beyond her reach, and was incredibly proud of herself. I would never intentionally replay the situation that happened yesterday, but in the end the result was exactly what I had been hoping for. Aoife was pushed, and she succeeded.
And she was happy.


I made a bit of a blunder last night.

There are always moments in my life I wish I could return to and say something different.

Where I stand as a mother, most of those moments have to do with my missing daughter.

I was at a party last night, an engagement party for my sister who will be married in June. It was all the neighborhood moms and dads from my childhood gathered together. Maeve was there with me, smiling and cooing though it was many hours past her usual bedtime. Somehow the conversation led to pregnancy and I commented on how I had enjoyed a "symptom-free" pregnancy with Maeve, even after having had desperately revolting nausea for five months with Fiona.
Well, said one of the mothers, I suppose when it's your fourth time around maybe your body just knows how to do it better.
Fifth, I wanted to say, fifth. I have given birth to five whole babies, all perfectly grown and carved and gorgeous. I was equally pregnant with all five. Pregnancy is, of course, the only domain in which I can claim all my children as equals. It breaks me to deny her in this realm.

But I didn't correct her, not there.

I could be returning to this moment, and there are many like that in my life. I will go home and ruminate over what I could have said or should have done. I will replay scenarios, and imagine myself a bolder, more articulate version of the actual me. Thoughtful, inoffensive words will roll off my tongue, gently setting the record straight with no feelings of discomfort experienced from either party. A far cry from the reality of the situations in which I do speak up, blushing and worrying feverishly about whether or not I've made the other person feel like a blister on a big toe somewhere.

No, last night I just said something stupid, and my feelings weren't hurt, and I worry that I could have left some feelings bruised. Now, or for the future. I was sitting with some of the moms from my childhood, all grandmothers now, my sister and her husband, expecting their first baby in May, and my brother in law, who became a father last June. The conversation had turned to babies and sleep and the lack thereof. I commented on how my children were "notoriously awful" sleepers but that it was completely my fault, due to my total and absolute devotion to their demands in the wee hours, whatever they may be.
I've just never made any attempts whatsoever to help them to sleep better, I said. When they wake up, I just run to them and hold them... because, I don't know, I love them.
Immediately, I tried to pull the foot out of my mouth.
I don't mean to say that if people don't go to their babies in the night that they don't love them, I tried, and continued on from there. But it's one of those things where I feared the damage had been done. Had my statement been blunt enough to imply judgment of those who chose to let their babies cry in favor of everyone eventually getting a good night's sleep? From here, would it be possible to backpedal fast enough to help them to realize that I almost sometimes admire and envy people who can tolerate their baby's discomfort (at a certain age) so that everyone can eventually get a good night's sleep?
Because let me tell you, in my house it takes a good number of years for everyone to get a good night's sleep, and sometimes I wonder if that's for the best.
But last night I just shut my mouth, and said no more. And then all the way home I worried that my brother in law would think I disapproved of them letting their baby fuss, or that my sister, a year from now, would hear my words echoing in her head, wondering if she was making the wrong choice by letting her daughter cry a little.

And really, the reason why I didn't backpedal, is that the true reason why I have no backbone when it comes to sleep training is that I have no eldest daughter sleeping down the hall. I'm funny about my babies now. Even while my skin is crawling to go downstairs to the quiet peace of my evenings with children in bed, I have to hold that sweet baby in my arms until she's blissfully asleep. I have to let myself smell her beauty and brush her eyelashes against my cheek and pat her hair with my lips while she sleeps in my arms a little. I know she's only going to be little for a little longer, and I also still remember, deeply and viscerally, what it feels like to have arms that only ache to have a baby to hold. I don't imagine that feeling will leave me any time soon, and somehow the knowing that someone is there to need me just as strongly as I need her keeps me running hour after hour, night after night, with no end in sight.

So, no. I do not judge you. I truly, firmly believe that each family, mother, and baby has a right to work out a system that brings each party the maximum amount of contentment. My situation dictates that I should therefore hold the baby as often as possible, as long as possible. And I do.

This is the long answer. It's not because I love them, it's because I'm still healing my broken heart.

Which is awkward to say at a party, without people blushing and looking down.


Cold shoulder, warm hand.

It had been coming for quite some time. I could see it in the sideways glances, the shoulder turned a little too quickly away from me when he'd leave me in public. Sometimes, I would give him a casual wave and leave, sometimes a pat on the shoulder, but today, it was clear. His look said, Don't kiss me, Mom. He looked like a calf, panicking in a too-small enclosure as I approached him to say goodbye. I reached out my hand, offering it in a gesture of affection, but he nearly pushed it away. He turned to his friends. I, too, turned away.
I wanted to cry, but I didn't. I knew this was big for him, too. The newness of being self-conscious and aware of what's cool and what's not weighs on him as well. The learning never ends. It took us a long time to learn how to be apart, and this is just the next stage. Now we're apart without pomp and circumstance. Now we will wave, or he will run into the classroom without me. I made a note to talk to him about it when we got home.
I never want to be a source of embarrassment to my children. Of course this is probably impossible, but in so far as we are able to have conversations about their preferences and what feels comfortable to them, I am willing to be very flexible. But it's still sad. The soft, squishy, adoring love of my boy is still so present in my life, but he's moving on in the world that I don't occupy. As a schoolboy he doesn't want to need his mommy, and he needs to look as if he's holding his own. And he is, he truly is.
I did ache all day. I ached for that lost kiss, for the hand that nearly pushed me away rather than squeezing me affectionately. I ached for the sunny days spent doing puzzles on the floor and reading dinosaur books and making spaghetti out of play dough. I remembered how it was only seven years ago that I struggled around issues of dependence and sleep; it was around the President's Day weekend that we started to sleep train him. What I wouldn't give now to have him back in my bed, curled up against me, his warm breath on my face.
I tried to be very cool when I went to pick him up at three o'clock. Casual as could be, I walked to the table where he sat with a book and put my hand on his shoulder. Time to go, I said, would you like help getting your things together? I was expecting a no, I was expecting him to rush out ahead of me as he often does, grabbing his bag out of his cubby and arriving at Aoife's classroom far ahead of me. But not today.
Today he slipped his warm little hand into mine and we walked down the hall together. It was all I could do not to cry. He let me help him put his things into his backpack and carry his coat. As we exited the cubby area, he took my hand once more. He was my boy once again.
I cuddled him extra close last night, just for good measure. He'll always be mine, won't he?


Being Present.

I'm trying to remember Liam crawling, but I almost can't. (But that was seven years ago, wasn't it?)
The thing is, I can't really remember Aoife or Fiona crawling, either. I know they did it. I can picture the way Fiona crawled, with one leg out straight like a paddle. But I can't picture her face, or how fast she went, or what she liked to crawl over to get. This was only a year ago. This was actually only ten months ago. I've already forgotten.
The stages of my children's babyhood are most easily remembered when we weren't at home: I can remember what each of them was like during each month we have spent up at the lake, I can remember what each of them was like on vacations we took. I remember what they were doing, what they enjoyed, what they ate, and how and when they slept. But the every day? The at home? It's left me. They've grown before my eyes, changing every day so very slightly that I didn't remember to try to freeze-frame yesterday for posterity. They have grown up while I was trying to do their laundry and make their dinner and clean up after them. While life spun past me, they have grown up.
Now, it's happening again. I'm conscious of it this time: how am I going to not miss this? How am I going to not forget?
I have a few strategies right now.
The first is why all my day's posts are posted at night: during the day, I keep my laptop tucked away in a little stairwell office. I'm not embarrassed to admit my lack of self control. When I'm home alone with the babies, if it's on the counter, I just can't help it. I open it, I look at it. I get distracted. So I've done this very conscious thing, I've hidden it, and I don't turn it on. It's not available to me. The babies are. This is a gift.
My second strategy is that I don't have a smartphone. Archaic, I know, but it's really quite a beautiful thing. I can't tell you how desperately I never want to have one. I feel so blessed not to be distracted by the thought of being in communication with everyone I know at every single fast-paced, pulsing moment of my life. I feel so blessed to know that because I am out of the house I have absolutely no obligation to be reachable. I have no need to respond. All that will come later, and it can all wait. All of it can wait.
But my children cannot. They are growing up before my eyes. If I spend too much time amping myself up on the social adrenaline rush of email and Facebook and blogs I will miss out on some very beautiful things. Please don't feel defensive. This is not a judgment, just my choice. It makes my life easier.
My third strategy which I am really working on is compartmentalizing tasks I need to do and time spent playing with my children. This means my children get better time playing with me, and also longer stretches of time where they must amuse themselves. Both of these things are important. So instead of trying to fold laundry on the sly while the girls play beside me, I am trying to remember to say, "I am going to fold these three baskets of laundry and then we are going to get out the play dough and play together". My efficiency goes up, and the quality of my time does, too. I have more fun. I worry less.
Lastly I am trying to take the extra moment. This is a long, sustained breath, a pause, where I simply extend something lovely because I can. When I'm sitting in the rocking chair with Fiona before her nap, and Maeve is also ready for her nap, and I have a long list of things to do while they both sleep, I lean back in the chair before I get up, nestle my nose into Fiona's hair, and rest for a minute. I pull her in close to my heart for just an extra moment, because we're both there, and I love her so much. Nothing is more important than that. Nothing is more sacred than just that little extra minute when I'm thinking of nothing but the beauty of that time.

What helps you slow down? How do you help yourself stay "here"?


On the move

Little Maeve is on the prowl. Crawling came quickly over the course of perhaps two weeks, and now every time I set her down she's off like a little wind-up toy crossing the house for her next exploration.
The arrival of mobility is such an adorable time in a child's life. For the first time, as a parent you are privy to what it is that she wants to play with. Suddenly you know what it is she's been staring at across the dining room. You realize that she's really interested in certain things perhaps you've never thought to offer. I love to let a new crawler explore and see what it is that she chooses.
For Maeve, already I see her emulating the behavior of her two older sisters. She crawls right to the baby dolls, laughing at them and faceplanting on their hard, plastic faces with big, sloppy kisses. She pulls down the pretend food and dumps it out, opens and closes the oven door, and tries to pull up on the chairs at the little table. She's been watching them like a hawk, taking in everything that they do, and she's trying it out for herself now.
I'm relieved because Fiona has been very accepting and even enthused about Maeve's new involvement in her play. Whereas before I would generally sit Maeve at a slight distance from Fiona with a distinct pile of toys that were for her, now she is right into what Fiona is doing, but Fi doesn't mind. It warms my heart to imagine that probably only six months from now they will be actually playing together.

Maeve has accomplished so much in the past three weeks. Teeth, clapping, waving, crawling, pulling up, and signing for more and all finished are at the top of the list. My little one is turning into a real person of her own.

I walked with her tonight for quite a while to help her fall asleep. After her bath she was exhausted, and when I cuddled into the rocking chair with her, her long lashes fluttered closed almost immediately as she began to nurse. But then she got all excited and began thrashing her body around, trying to wake up. I tried to be stern with her, and in the end decided to start our routine all over again-- so I turned on the light. As she arched back with another excited flip of her body, I saw that one of her top center teeth had cut through this afternoon. (she has the outer teeth on top). Soon, her gummy smile will be gone. She'll be all teeth and almost a child. It's all happening so fast.
We read a story together and then I turned out the light and rocked her again. Slowly she drifted off, and her little head arched back and she fell into a deep sleep. I sat there with her for quite some time, gazing down at her little face which looked to me in slumber almost exactly like the face of every sibling of hers I've ever held in my arms, even the first. All these gorgeous sleeping faces, each with an individual person hiding behind long lashes while he/she sleeps. I'm so incredibly lucky to have been able to do this so many times. Part of me wants it to go on and on forever.
I don't take any of this for granted, if you know me, you know that. This is all such a gift and while there are so many hard parts to this journey, once all is quiet I cherish it all so much it makes me want to cry. After Maeve fell asleep I held her for a little longer. What greater privilege is there than to have someone trust you so deeply that she falls asleep in your arms, and would like nothing more than for you to continue holding her forever? I don't take this lightly. I held her for a while, and then gently set her down.


A laugh.

This afternoon I headed out all alone.
I got into our little Honda Civic, shifted into first and headed out the country road. I was dressed in my athletic gear and ready for a workout at the Y.
Alone time at the Y. This hadn't happened since last winter, when I used to meet a friend in the evening to swim, our huge, pregnant bellies floating almost ahead of us as we lay on noodles in the warm pool. This afternoon a pocket of time opened, though, and I seized it. It was perhaps the third time I've been without a child in tow since Maeve was born (excluding work functions) and it did feel liberating.
I worked out for a spell on an arc trainer, drowning in a wonderful home renovation show, and then headed up to the locker room to change. I was wearing some old black pants, and an older very tight tank top/bra combo. These I removed and put on my bathing suit, tossing the workout clothes in my locker along with a purple zip up hoodie to slip on later when I re-dressed. I grabbed my cap and goggles and bounded down to the pool.
Twelve hard laps later, I was ready to head out and climbed back up to the locker room. I took a nice, hot shower (all by myself), dried off, and headed for my locker. I rounded the corner and saw my bag sitting on the bench and the locker door open. Immediately I felt sheepish; in my haste to get into the water I'd left my space in a state I would have chastised my children for. I dropped my towel, cap and goggles into the bag, spun out my suit and threw that in, and began to get dressed.
I retrieved my socks and undies, pulled on my pants, and then reached in for my shirt. I lifted up the purple hoodie. There was no shirt. Confused, I took my jacket from the hook, but the shirt wasn't there either. I dumped out my bag. No shirt. Checked in my pant legs, in case I was so exhausted and daft that I hadn't noticed it in there. Looked again in the locker. Opened every other locker in the row to see if I'd misplaced it. No shirt.
So I conclude the only possible option: sometime while I was swimming, somebody came up and took my sweaty, dingy old tank top/bra workout shirt from my locker. Now the open locker makes a bit more sense, but the missing shirt doesn't make much sense.
Could it be just some person who gets such a rise out of stealing that it doesn't matter what they steal? Because I can tell you, that shirt was nothing special. But there I was, left with neither shirt, nor bra. Fortunately, I did have the purple hoodie. I put it on, zipped it up, and headed out the door, a huge smile on my face. I didn't care much about the shirt. But it was pretty funny that somebody took it.
So I headed out to run some errands, shirtless.

Good thing it wasn't my pants.


Dairy Free Bliss

(fantastic image to come when Blogger cooperates)

I abrubtly cut all dairy products from my diet last October. It wasn't the typical, fussy baby experimentation with dairy elimination, but rather a joyful, healthy-looking daughter with bleeding intestines that fueled this sudden change to my diet. I am fortunate to have never struggled with my weight, and so have never had the experience of thinking extensively about what I was eating. Saying goodbye to milk and yogurt were okay. Cheese and butter have been the most difficult. Most of our family meals were cheese-based and so we've now switched to more local meats and eggs. And the butter.... this is where my sweet tooth kicks in. I just love baking, as you know, and most everything I bake has butter in it. Oh, loss! I miss the muffins, cakes and cookies that I enjoy so much. I have, of course, found quite a number of good substitutes, however, and these cookies have become an absolute staple in my diet. I make them and sometimes eat five or six. I know so much sugar is not healthy for my body but I just can't help it; my diet is so low in fat now that I'm craving sweet carbs to make up for it. So this is it: my favorite, current cookie. It's not awful for you, and it tastes absolutely wonderful. After probably 20 batches I feel I've perfected this recipe. I hope you'll try it.

Molasses Ginger Crinkles (makes about 30 cookies)

Mix 2/3 cup vegetable oil with
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar

Mix in one large, beaten egg.

Add 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses

Then, in another bowl, mix together the following dry ingredients:

2 cups of flour (I use "white whole wheat" flour by King Arthur. If you don't have access to this very mild, gentle whole wheat flour you could try half all purpose and half whole wheat pastry flour, or oat flour if you can get your hands on that. Or all purpose, of course....)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves

Mix the dry into the wet to form a stiff dough. Roll out into balls and dip them in granulated sugar to coat. Place on a cookie sheet a few inches apart.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10-12 minutes. The cookies will split and crack on top as they puff up.


12 again

I've had Greg's parents in town now for almost two months. They bought a house about three years ago just over the hill from us. It's a six minute drive and the distance couldn't be more perfect. They adore the children and will help me whenever I need it. This creates a more complicated situation than what might immediately be apparent; because they are almost always available and will nearly always say yes, I am constantly worrying about when and why to ask them to come and take the children and whether I'm using them more or less than I should. In any case, this winter I've been liberal in my requests given that I am under the impression that things shouldn't be more logistically complicated ever again. (am I wrong? it's the two nappers, no overlapping naps, that seems to me can only get easier.)
So today they came at 1 pm and I was able to go off and drive for a field trip for Aoife. She was in a multi-age mini course at school where they raised money and collected products for our local survival center. The last day of the course was the trip to the center to drop off the goods. I was the chauffeur for Aoife, an eighth grade girl (who Aoife was over the moon about), a third grade boy and a fifth grade boy. I collected my group and headed for the car. I organized where they were sitting and made sure everyone was buckled in and started the engine.
The strangest thing happened.
I started to feel shy. There I was, somebody's mom, driving the mini-van, the radio tuned to the top-40 radio station, and I was wondering to myself whether maybe I should be changing the station to the more folksey station. Would I seem to eager to please if I kept on the Katy Perry? Would I seem stodgy if I switched it over to Dar Williams? I found myself imagining each child's parents and trying to picture what would be playing in their car. Aoife was giggling in the back seat, cracking jokes and trying to entertain the older girl beside her, and the boys were quiet. I felt like I should be talking to them.... but about what? I couldn't think of anything to say. I almost started to laugh that I was feeling so awkward in the presence of these adorable, sweet, mild mannered boys. One of them was even in Liam's class! I've got one of these, but still I felt like I was in the seventh grade again.
This is just one of many moments that I have as a definite adult, currently a thirty five year old woman who has birthed five children, where I am reminded that childhood and adulthood are all just human experience. We never really outgrow being children, and so many of those emotions that we imagine as kids that we'll completely overcome by the time we're "grown up" still persist well into adulthood. I took a deep breath. If anything, in the 23 years since seventh grade I've learned that sometimes you just have to take the plunge and feel shy. I threw out a few questions to the boys. They answered awkwardly. And then, I was saved.
Saved, by my five year old daughter, who is not shy. She started to pass around her princess Viewmaster. The boys were captivated. Laughter ensued. I switched it back to the folk station and drove happily to our destination.


Pack Light (ly) and go.

Our family of six, which includes two babies and their accompanying swaddling blankets, snuggly stuffed bunnies, individual sound machines, and other assorted debris, just travelled to Florida for a week with carry-on luggage only. I could act smug, as if I have always been so streamlined. But in fact, I was inspired to think beyond the original intended purpose when it comes to the gear my family has, and use it in the way that makes the most sense for our family.

Once upon a time, Greg and I loved to hike and camp. We both had all the gear we needed to load up a pack, head for the hills, and spend a day or three or four roaming trails and sleeping in lean, lightweight, expensive tents that fit ever-so tidily in our huge, expensive backpacks. We sort of envisioned that we’d continue this sort of hiking when we had kids.

Sort of. Except that the exact kind of hiking and camping requires lots and lots of gear, and lots and lots of walking, and we now have lots and lots of kids, who have very short legs and can’t go very far. So we diversified and welcomed car camping into our life, and we bought a big, cheap tent we could all sleep in on blow-up mattresses that plugged into our car lighter. And we were happy, much happier than our uppity college selves could have ever imagined we would be car camping in a huge Coleman tent.

But we’re on the brink, here, folks. The big kids are 5 and 7 and they can hike, they can really hike. Accompanying our car camping are many weekends spent roaming the hills on 1,2, or 3 mile trails, and their legs are toned, and they can fend for themselves a little bit when it comes to carrying a load. The little girls are still little enough that they can be carried and in a few years they’ll be able to do a mile or two themselves. So we began to look ahead, down the road, and we outfitted the family with awesome backpacks from Deuter so that when that day comes... man, we will be ready. Really ready.

But in the meantime? In thinking about our trip to Florida, and feeling irritated at the prospect of paying $25 for each bag we checked, it dawned on me: why check bags? We have ourselves and our little pack horses, the big kids. Let’s think carefully about what we pack, just like when we were backpacking in the hills, and let’s skip the baggage claim and the check-in process and just print out our boarding passes at home, sling our packs on our backs, and hit the road.

And so it was that Aoife toting her Junior with her clothes and a sound machine, Liam with his Fox 30 with his clothes and a sound machine, Greg with the KangaKid pack with his luggage, Fiona’s stuffed animals and blanket, and Fiona herself, I with my Act Zero 45 +15 with my clothes, the life jackets for the babies, and our grown-up Giga Office pack with the laptop, portable DVD, kids books, and snacks, plus two kids packs of activities, got on a plane and headed to Florida without a hiccup. It was amazing-- we printed out our boarding passes at home, parked the car, and marched straight to security. I’m hoping we turned a few heads, all of us trekking across the airport with our sleek, backpacked profiles, pushing a couple of strollers loaded up with carseats to boot. I feared for the scene at security with six of us and all our gear, but truly it was easy-- with each child responsible for her own things, we all just slung our own pack onto the belt and we were through just as quickly as we had been the year before with two huge suitcases heading for the belly of the plane.

The other best part, besides the fifty bucks we now had in our pockets for take out dinners when we arrived, was that we also had everything we needed for streamlined trips to the beach-- a pack for Fiona, and multiple packs for towels, seashells, and books. Looking back to past years when I actually packed a beach bag in my suitcase I almost laugh.

The moral: One need not be hard core to use hard core gear. You just have to be hard core in a different way. Using our outdoor gear for airline travel to a beach destination made our travels easier than they’d ever been before. Will we use the same gear this summer, here in New England, out in the woods? You betcha. But for now, we’re acting the part. Me, the mom of four young kids, two under two, I like to think I’m pretty hard core. So why not act it, even in an airport?


Love: Actually...

I was going to write a post about love.
The sweet, beautiful, drippy love that comes from being a mother.
Honestly, I feel so despondantly sad for people who cannot have children, and so helplessly sorry for people who think they don't want children. This love I'm talking about is really not something you can experience, learn about, or imagine unless you are in it. It's the best, most powerful, strongest, fastest love there is. I love this love.
So yes, I was going to write a whole post about this: the beautiful, irreplaceable, mind-boggling love that mothers feel for their children.
I learned this love in a flash, as most mothers do on their first birth-day, but under the most desperate of circumstances: the confluence of birth and death. Holding Charlotte, and feeling that irrepressable urge to swallow her whole, to inhale her, to wrap myself around her and cling to her for my very life, and knowing I had to release her, that was quite a beginning.
But it was that very love that inspired me to do it again. I could have easily laid down and died after she died. It would have been simple, and would have saved me so much heartache. But I was absolutely desperate to feel that again for someone else. I could hardly fathom how it would feel to love somebody that much and get to hold them to your heart whenever you wanted to. To feel them breathe and dare to imagine you might get to hold them again tomorrow. So I held out, and made myself keep breathing, keep eating, keep walking.
And then I did it again.
And again,
And again.
And again.

Which brings me to what I am going to have to write about instead of love, and that is parenting four children. Today, the 14th of February, the day when many wives find themselves with flowers, or chocolate, or a card, or at least a little pat on the back, I am by myself in the house after having single handedly put all four children to bed. This is not a brief process. It began at 5:37 and finished at 8:34. I burst into tears once and now I am drinking wine. Sometimes four feels like a lot.
There was this amazing honeymoon of ease after Maeve was born. She was small, she was quiet, she was always happy. Nestled in the Moby wrap or a tight sling she slept her life away, waking from time to time to peer out at her most interesting surroundings, gulp down some milk, and sleep some more. Meanwhile, Fiona, who was a peaceful and compliant 18 months, toddled around happily in her little world. Free will was not on the table yet. She did as told, joyfully, and things ticked along just fine.
I remember this fall practically singing from the treetops. Things were going so well. I felt so competent. I was so thrilled with my life, my children, my home. I felt on top of things. The weather was fine, the baby was happy, the toddler was delightful, and the two big kids were as chipper and pleased as could be.
Simultaneously, the baby came out of the wrap and the toddler turned two. Suddenly, I had a baby on my hands who needed rocking in order to sleep, a proper nap outside of her sling, and time to play. Meanwhile, her older sister was discovering the meaning of the word "no" and experimenting with the concept of independence. Also at the same time, Liam became fiercely addicted to sports as his sole pastime, spending hours outside in the driveway with a hockey stick or baseball bat, begging for an adult to pitch to him or put on the goalie pads, or anything that would engage him in any sort of game. Aoife, struggling with her transition to school, was everywhere all at once. The walls began to crumble. I was teetering. Where had the peaceful ease gone to, and how would I get it back?
Now four months have passed. Aoife has returned to her fanciful, creative, joyful self, and for this I'm just incredibly grateful. Liam is learning a thing or two about flexibility and has come to know that there isn't always going to be somebody who can throw to him all afternoon. We're learning how to work with Fiona and I'd say she's really quite swell, all things considered, and of course Maeve is busy and plenty of work but she's delightful and happy at all times.
But it's just. so. busy. Maeve is crawling all over the place, scooping things into her mouth at a rapid rate (one trip to the ER already: diagnosis made the next morning: swallowed a plastic coated sticker which lodged (and subsequently dislodged) itself in her esophagus). So I have to really be on her all the time. Fiona is two, and not two and a half: she's still a baby, and creative and with no common sense at all. She's wonderful at playing by herself and keeping herself entertained, but it's really not such a great idea to actually let her play alone. Her rate of destruction is pretty swift. The older two are in school all day, but when they are home I am so desperate to spend some time with them and actually play with them, somehow, doing something that feels fun and meaningful for all of us. Many days, this feels like a challenge. The four children are in such different places. It's hard to mix over anything but a Madonna dance party (and there are many of these). Winter is hard. I yearn for outside and warm sun. But I do my best.
Somewhere in here, while trying to keep everyone happy, I have to do all the things we have to do: laundry for six people, all the cooking, food shopping, cleaning up, folding of clothes, organizing of tupperware, washing of dishes, putting away of six people's belongings, paying the bills, take out the garbage, get the mail, wash the diapers, put the diapers away, take out the compost, sweep the tiny stuff off the floor so Maeve doesn't choke. There is so much every day stuff I really can hardly imagine things like changing sheets and scrubbing the bathtub and taking a shower and other things that really do need to be done, but in the grand scheme of where I'm at right now end up feeling optional. All of this excludes the fact that I'm also running a non-profit somewhere in there.
I'm really feeling the pull downward tonight, to the place where I'm saying I need a break.... but knowing there is no break in sight. "Can't you work something out, so you can have a break?" Not really. I really can't. My baby can't really manage without me, she doesn't sleep reliably for more than 3o minutes at a time, and I get panicky and strange when I'm away from her for too long. So I've set myself up into this situation, and I'm willing to live with it.
I'm just saying.
I'm just saying this here, because there is nowhere in my life where I can say this: I have so much to do. I don't have another friend with four children. I sometimes will begin to express when I'm feeling overwhelmed to my friends, and they say, "I know how you feel." But I don't know if they do, because they have two children. And two is actually much less than half of four. And three is a bit less than three-quarters of four. I know this because I have had these numbers in my household before, and somehow there is a tipping point that we've crossed, and suddenly it just got a lot bigger very fast.
For one single second, I don't feel that I've had too many children, or that I wish I had less. I know that I am at a very challenging point in my parenting journey. Having two babies at once with two older children, with varied needs, just presents a situation where I'm very busy all the time. I have almost literally not been without a child during the day for almost eight years. During the fall that Aoife was in nursery school there were FOUR occasions before Fiona's birth where I had a morning to myself. That is the sum total of my "me" time in the past seven years and ten months. Four mornings. Of course I can't remember what I did, but I can dream.

I keep fantasizing about next fall: when Maeve is 16 months, and Fiona is almost 3, and we can have one, streamlined bedtime for the babies, and then an hour or so before it all begins again for the big kids. Right now we have four, extensive, high-powered bedtimes, none synchronized, all perfectly tailored for a sweet, cozy, loving goodnight for each child that is sweet, and lovely, and perfect, until one parent goes out for the evening and then everything goes to hell in a handbasket. This is every Tuesday for me, and I'm venting tonight.

I was going to write about love, but instead I just told you how it is. It's all about love, really. I spend all day cozy, reading, smooching, caring for these people, and I love it. This work is beautiful work because it's maintaining what to me feels like the best family on earth. But it's hard work, and sometimes the best way to wrap your head around a challenge is to just lay it out on the table: this is hard. Hard, but I'm going to keep going. Just as I pressed through the agony of my childless year after Charlotte's death, knowing that there was more beauty in store for me, I continue to press through challenges that arise because I know that around each corner there is something amazing waiting for me.

Today was actually a beautiful, sweet day with our children. Maeve took a long morning nap and Fiona and I made a very cool tent out of rolled up newspapers for her to play in. I made vegetarian chili and cornbread at lunchtime and so there was no dinner prep. Everyone was happy and joyful all day, and even into the evening. It was just me, it was only me. It was just four hours of sleep last night and a long, but happy, day making me feel like I needed an out.

If I started the post again right now, I'd probably write about love.