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.


A few things for baby...

This was a very productive day when it comes to Maeve and her eating. I was inspired by my beloved sister-in-law (my only sister-in-law) this weekend when she arrived at my parents' house for a ski weekend with what seemed like dozens of little colored containers with interesting varieties of food for her son, my children's only first cousin Wyatt who is seven months old. Although I do try to cut myself a little bit of slack since I do have four children and she has only one, it did make me think a little sheepishly of the wrinkly old ziploc bag in my freezer which contains the dregs of about 36 original frozen food cubes, all different varieties of orange roots. Of course, I had not brought any of those cubes with me and at the time that Lisa was unpacking her (new and unstained) lunchbox full of this nutritious, varied food for her little son I was rustling up some stale cheerios and a leftover piece of broccoli for Maeve to pick at in lieu of a planned meal. I had intended to make more food for her, and intended to bring it, but....

And then today, I had one of those moments: there will never, ever be a day when I decide, TODAY is the day when I have time to make baby food. So I just set to work. Below are the recipes for some nutritious possibilities for your baby, if you're lucky enough to have one just now. These recipes will help you to avoid some of the pre-made fortified foods and have some carbs in them as well as molasses for iron and potassium. I freeze everything in ice trays and pop out the cubes into bags in the freezer to thaw later.

Yummy Breakfast Cubes
1 cup cooked rolled oats
1/2 lovely ripe banana
1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses

Whip it up in the blender. Yum.

Green Lunch
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1/4 cup kale
1/4 cup brown rice, cooked

Steam for quite a while. Whip it up. I even pushed it through a sieve to make it extra yummy.

Orange Supper
2 sweet potatoes
1/4 cup kale

Steam these together for quite some time, then add a dollop of molasses and whip it up. Beware, this one looks yucky, but it's actually delicious. And your baby doesn't actually SEE what's in her diaper, so she won't think it looks gross.

Lastly, these are my favorite entertainment for mealtime to keep a baby who has a limited repertoire of finger foods. This recipe comes from the King Arthur Flour cookbook so I can take no credit for its genius. You can tell from the way it's written that I'm not actually copying it from the cookbook, so I will take credit for the brilliant instructions on how to make these. The biscuits are hard as cement and can't be bitten, and I usually give my pre-molar babies one a day and rinse it off after each meal and then throw it out at the end of the day. Truly most of what you mix up will end up in the trash but it's still worth it for the entertainment value. I have made exactly four batches of these in my life-- one for each baby. By the time they get through one batch the phase is over and we're both tired of them.

Teething Biscuits
Mix together:
1/2 cup whole milk (or milk substitute- I use rice milk)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

Stir in 1 1/2 cups EACH of whole wheat and all purpose flour. The dough will be very stiff, and you will have to knead it together for about 5 minutes to get it smooth. This step is important because if the dough is crackly you will get cracks in your biscuits which can break the biscuit while baby gums it (bad). So knead it nice and smooth, and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

Then roll it out about 1/4 inch thick and cut it into bars about 1 by 2 inches. Of course this will involve some re-kneading and re-cutting to use up all the dough. You can prick the biscuits with a fork a few times for good measure. Let them rest for 10 more minutes, and then pop them in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, and let them cool completely to harden.

So now my freezer is full, I've got biscuits in the cupboard, and even though I do believe there's some real good in my baby eating cold broccoli off of her sister's plate, at least I'll have some food I put my heart and soul into to supplement whatever dregs I pass her way.


For Monday

So I say to Fiona, "This morning we're going to sew".
She toddles into the dining room, where I have an entire closet filled to bursting with our family's craft supplies. I pull out the felt, and some fat yarn, and my embroidery supplies. I don't have anything really interesting or fabulous I'm planning to sew during this time, but I want to block off specific time for she and I to work on "sewing" projects while Maeve is sleeping so that we can make this part of our life together.

For Fiona, I simply cut out a small rectangle of felt and offered her a large embroidery needle with some lightweight wool yarn on it. That gave her something nice and sturdy to pull through the felt that wouldn't unravel on her. I gave her a real needle that could easily push through the felt and showed her how the tip was sharp, and helped her to learn how to grab it without poking her fingers. She eagerly set to work "sewing" her little blue rectangle (work displayed above).

So now I was free to do some sewing of my own. I decided that something easy and mindless and eventually satisfying I could work on with her would be little labels for the many baskets in my mudroom. We have a very tiny mudroom with shelving up one wall that is stacked with baskets-- baskets of shoes, hats, mittens, sweaters, wallets, cellphones, and more. Most of the baskets are person-specific, but the people need to remember and know where their own baskets are, and as there are four of them and two of us, sometimes it's hard to keep track. I modeled these labels after the ones I've made for our laundry baskets upstairs. Just a simple rectangle of felt with blanket stitching around the edges and the name in the middle. If you've never done a blanket edging, it's very, very simple and puts a finished look on an otherwise completely plain piece of felt. I've photographed mid-stitch here so you can see how you simply come up through the edge from underneath and go back through your own stitch.

So I stitched around the edge, embroidered Liam's name in the center (using a stitch where you come up through the previous stitch to join the stitches) and that was that. The project was finished and so was Fiona. About eleven minutes had elapsed, but now I had something to show for my day.
As the day goes on my children will make more laundry for me to wash, dirty the dishes I've just put away from the dishwasher, drop crumbs on my freshly swept floor, and take out the toys I've just put away, but in the mudroom I'll hang this little project and know it was one, small, concrete task that wasn't undone only moments after I'd done it.
The life of a mother. There is so much that is incredibly fulfilling and satisfying about raising children, but I do find that the daily grind of tasks to keep four children going can sometimes seem incredibly unfulfilling and it can make a world of difference to try to do one creative thing each day that does not get undone. So even if it's only something tiny, it can make me smile.

Now, on to hang the little tag. Enjoy this Monday.


Snow Day Brownies

At our house, these are called snow day brownies. Last winter, by this time, the snow was heaped up so high that the older children could literally reach out and touch the roof of our porch from the side yard. For days and days and days, feet upon feet fell from the sky and our world was deep, white, and quiet for many months.
This year, it couldn't be more different. We had one tiny snowfall the third week of January, and since then it's been sunny and above freezing every day. Now, there's only the tiniest hard cover of icy snow in the shady spots, and the dry, brittle winter grass is exposed. At midday we are even seeing mud. It's a warm winter, and I'm not sorry. It's the busiest I've ever been and with two children whose legs are less than 18 inches long we wouldn't be having the worlds most exciting time in deep snow anyhow.
But last winter, when school was cancelled again and again, the kids and I sought to make the most delicious, fantastic brownies ever. Well, I admit. It was my project. I tweaked the recipe and they taste tested. But after a few rounds we landed at these as the tastiest, most dense, chocolately brownies we could make. The combination of cocoa and baking chocolate really amps up the flavor. If you can get it, really high-quality chocolate does make a serious difference. I normally buy Ghiradelli as it's easy to get at any supermarket but if you're a Whole Foods fanatic you can probably even go upwards from there.
The recipe is as follows:

1 cup butter
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch salt (more or less depending on whether or not you used salted butter)
scant 1 1/2 cups flour
about 1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup chocolate chips

Melt the butter and chocolate together over low heat. Cool, and beat in the eggs and sugar. Mix in the vanilla, salt, flour and cocoa. Finally add the chocolate chips.

Butter and flour a 9x13 inch pan. (I always line the pan with foil, and grease and flour that. To alleviate my guilt about wasting a piece of foil I use it to wrap the brownies in after they come out, as we always eat at least half the pan before they cool. Let the foil overhang the ends of the pan so you can lift the foil out easily when the brownies come out of the oven)
Pour the batter in, spread it out evenly, and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes. With brownies you don't want the tester to be completely dry, it's better to have some wet crumbs stuck to it as you want them moist and gooey. When you take them out you can lift the foil and lay the brownies on the counter to cool. When cool they should peel right off the foil.

I usually ice them with this icing, but you don't have to:
3 tablespoons soft butter
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

smoosh this all together, and add about a cup of confectioner's sugar. I then drizzle in cream or whole milk to make it the right consistency to ice the brownies.

Yes, this is a delicious, dairy rich recipe. The batter in the photo is a totally sub-par, poor substitute for this recipe, but this dairy free mama has got to eat something before I shrink away into nothing. So please, all you readers, go to your kitchens and bake a batch of the real deal for me, and eat them up with gusto. You only live once.


Just for me, Fiona right now.

That being said, Fiona Clementine is actually one of the most adorable, pleasant two year olds I've ever had the pleasure of parenting. Right now she is just the most perfect, hilarious, two there could be. She's sweet and compliant and obstinate and thoughtful and creative and indignant and determined. I am truly quite fond of two year olds, even though the graduation to this infamous age is often feared. The sweet innocence of the one-year-old simplicity is sad to say goodbye to, but there is something quite endearing about the two year old's determination to try to establish herself as an independent person with free will and thought. Because they are so little, and really do still lack most common sense, I find it easy to forgive a two year old. I also find them still relatively distractible from their woes when they get in a snit. (all of these observations are actually comparisons with the more odious age of three). And they are funny, really funny, to be around.
Fiona right now is absolutely engrossed in the world of dramatic play. She loves her dollies, she dresses them up, feeds them, swaddles them, gives birth to them. She combs their hair, washes them with cloths and wipes and tea towels, and changes their diapers many times each day. She is so adorable in the way she mimics the way I mother her. She talks constantly as she plays and her dialogue can bring me to tears in her tenderness towards her little charges. She plays beautifully by herself but also loves nothing more than to be roped into her older sister's dramas and will willingly play along in her assigned role.
Fiona's communication is so adorable. Her former habit of repeating everything twice changed over to an occasional repetition of the first word of her sentence. She is very cute about always asking if she can do things, rather than stating that she wants to do them. I'll go to get her from her nap, and she'll say, "Can, can you pick me up?" with this big, beautiful smile, and of course I say yes, and I do, and then she'll say, "And can, can we go downstairs? And can, can we pwease read a book together? And can, can you pwease hold me on your lap? And can, can we pwease read together a few books?" and as I'm nodding, and saying yes, her little tiny smile is getting bigger and bigger until her little face looks like it's going to crack.
Yes, she's naughty sometimes. Sometimes she whacks her baby sister, and most nights at the dinner table when the conversation is steered elsewhere she sends her spoon sailing across the dining room ("Aaah! My syoom!"). But these things are endearing all the same (maybe not the whacking) because it's just all part of the package of getting older and closer to the amazing person she's going to become. It's all so much easier when you've done it all before-- you see your two year old as just a spot on the continuum, rather than a wicked little person who is relatively difficult to control. I'm thankful for that perspective as it makes each day a little bit easier and lot more hilarious for me.


Au lieu de demander, dire. Au lieu de suivre, mener.

Last Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published a Saturday Essay entitled, Why French Parents Are Superior*. The article, by Pamela Druckerman, was delightfully written and agonizingly thought provoking. I'm sure your curiosity will lead you right to it, and by the time you're reading this next sentence your mind will be swimming with all the ways in which you, too, could be more like a French parent. So rather than regurgitate Druckerman's keen observations about American parenting versus French, I'll just proceed straight to my own reactions and I've been stewing over since I read this article.

She's right. And she's not necessarily right that the French are all better than the Americans, but only that the style of parenting she witnessed among middle class French is a more effective way to socialize children than what is going on here in North America. This is not really news to many of us, and particularly those who have been trained in early childhood education.
Ask any stellar teacher of young children how she manages her classroom. Her explanation will be remarkably similar to the way Druckerman describes the French parenting their children. You create structure, you create boundaries. Children are expected, without exception, to behave in a certain way within this structure. Freedom is granted. The classroom functions. When rules are broken, there are always consequences. They are fair consequences that are based on the offense. The consequence happens every single time. The teacher continues to hope and expect that the student will change. A teacher who sticks with this type of structure will usually be adored by her students and will run a very tight ship. Those same students will be picked up by their parents and will hit them in the hallway and throw a temper tantrum in the parking lot. Hmm....
I have always believed that being a teacher of young children prepared me very well for being a parent. I have always known that my children required an authority figure to survive. I had seen the households where students' parents had helplessly explained to me, "We don't really have a boss in our house." The children were flailing, grasping for anything to help them muddle their way through the world. There is a reason why human infants stay in the nest for so long. They are counting on us to guide them.
This knowledge I use every day in my parenting. The part of parenting that teaching did not prepare me for was the emotional attachment to my children that I did not feel for my students. It also did not prepare me for how easy it was to give in when there were only a few children to contend with. So while I believe in firm boundaries, consistent consequences, and everything else I learned that helped me to be a very effective teacher, it's just harder with my own kids. It's hard to do what I know is right. So where am I failing? What could I do better on?

In the past few days, I've been paying close attention to the way in which I and the parents around me speak to their children. It's opened this incredible new door for me because I've noticed this insane, nonsensical habit that everyone seems to share: we phrase our instructions to our children as questions or suggestions.
As in,
Are you ready to get ready for bed?
How about we put our coats on now?
It looks like it's almost time to get going.

As a two year old, might I respond to those three phrases: no, no, and I disagree? Are these choices, or mandates? As a child, it might sometimes be hard to know. Because sometimes we ask, do you want the blue shirt or the green one? and we don't care which the child chooses. But if we ask, are you ready for bed? It's not a question.

So, post-article, I suddenly see the possibility for:

My sweet, it's time for bed.
My darling, please put your coat on.
Fiona my love, we are going to get going.

Those are statements. Lovingly stated, gracefully offered, but there are no options. It is neither a conversation nor a place to deliberate. It is simply the grown up in charge kindly informing her beloved daughter of the plan. If it's not a choice, don't ask a question. Deliver a statement. This doesn't mean you are an unkind dictator. It means you run the show. (and you do). It makes the child's world more clear.

Here's the second thing I am becoming conscious of: being the leader. I watched a mother today who was walking down the street with her son. She said to him, "It's time to turn around now." The child, about two, turned to enter a little food market immediately to his right. "Oh, you want to go in here? We can go in here," the mother said. Immediately post article, my antennae went up. Who was in charge of this situation? More importantly, who would take the upper hand? Moments later, the mother emerged, screaming toddler in her arms. We can all use our imagination as to what happened. Toddler entered, mother, not planning to purchase anything since her plan was to turn around, tells him he can't buy anything, and the tantrum ensues.
She probably felt like she was being a fun, carefree, relaxed and kind mother for saying, Sure, we can explore this store. But it wasn't kind, because you can't let the two year old be in charge. It always ends in a tantrum.
I'm watching this, and commenting on this, through knowing eyes. I have done this myself, many times, and so by no means am I judging: I am merely reporting. When you let the child decide where you'll go, and what you'll do, you make him think he's in charge. When you suddenly change the rules and take the reigns, the disappointment is huge. If the mother had said, No, it's time to turn around. Should we skip or hop back to our car? Perhaps it would have been all fun, and no tears. (easy for me to say, watching from the car with my two buckled in... but as I say, I'm simply musing, and passing no judgment: I have been there).

So this is my start, my mantra for the week: don't ask, tell. Don't follow, lead. My children will thank me for it. More importantly, I will thank myself for it.

*The article was adapted from a book that was published Tuesday by Penguin Press entitled, "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting." I'll be curious to read this one,


Make it-- A cool shirt for a kid.

This week I realized that Aoife's belly showed in half the shirts she was wearing. She's growing like a weed, she's tall and thin and beautiful and needs some new clothes. I stopped by the local consignment store and found only one shirt in size 7. It was plain and brown, and two dollars. I knew it wouldn't appeal to her-- she likes things that are interesting and patterned. But I also knew that in about an hour, I could easily turn this plain shirt into something she'd love. So here's what I did.

First, I found an image in a book that I really liked. This one is from a beautiful illustrated version of Edward Lear's poem The Owl and the Pussycat, by Anne Wilson.

Next, I chose my fabric and got out my favorite applique tool-- fusible webbing, and you can see that I have Steam-a-seam brand. This webbing has paper on two sides, so you can trace an image and then remove one side of paper, stick it to your fabric, and cut out your image perfectly. You simply have to remember to stick the image to the back side of the fabric so that when you iron it onto your piece of clothing (in my case the shirt) your fabric goes the right way. If your image has a right way and a wrong way you will also have to be mindful that your image is going in the right direction. In my case I traced the outer oval, the inner oval, and the funky heart all individually on their own pieces of steam-a-seam so that I could layer them up on the shirt.

Here you'll see my orange oval ironed onto the orange fabric and ready to cut out. I did the same with the pink oval and the yellow heart, and below are the three fabric appliques placed on the shirt ready to be ironed on.

So I ironed it on, and headed for my machine and set some thread with a good contrast on a small-ish, tight zig-zag stitch. The fusible webbing I use is technically permanent, but with the number of machine washes and dries that the clothing I make will get I always stitch it on for good measure. I stitch every seam, and if you've never done applique before I would caution you to move very slowly and to turn the work on your needle without the machine running-- it keeps the "v" of the zig-zag stitch consistent (if you turn the work as your machine runs the v's will vary more in width)
I added a little extra heart on the back for good measure. Aoife had requested a heart t-shirt so I wanted to make sure there was at least one traditional heart in case the design on the front seemed too funky for her taste.

You can scroll back up to the top to see her shiny and bright in the morning sunshine modeling her new shirt. It was a hit, and I was pleased. This is such a great, easy project-- it took about 50 minutes from start to finish. Now for $2 plus a few cents for the fusible webbing and whatever percentage of a cent worth of fabric scraps, my daughter has a shirt she loves that will hopefully be worn by two other girls that will follow her! Appliques are also a great way to convert a boyish shirt into something a girl will adore, and are also a way to make an interesting shirt for a boy-- I've done sharks, an octopus (big mistake, do not try, I almost broke the machine trying to stitch that one on), and other animal kingdom fun on plain shirts to spice up shirts for Liam.
I hope that some of you will give this a try if you haven't already -- it's so much fun and very satisfying to turn something old into something new.



I absolutely love to bake. I bake all the time, and while I repeat recipes over and over again, I have a terrible time sticking with a recipe as written, and I'm always trying to make things more delicious, a little bit healthier, and otherwise just trying to have fun with food. Over the years, I've ended up with quite a few "custom" recipes that I love to make again and again. So each Friday, I'm going to post one of my home-made, tested and tried recipes for you to try, too.

This week it was sweet, sticky banana muffins with juicy blueberries. These I made with mostly white flour, and only a bit of whole wheat to soak up the stickiness but you could experiment with more whole wheat if it appeals. The flax adds some good bulk and the millet gives it great crunch. You'll notice that for now, all of my recipes are going to be dairy-free, as Maeve has a milk protein allergy. Certainly dairy milk could be easily used in place of the soy milk.

Banana Blueberry Muffins

Mix in a big bowl:

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 c ground flax seed
1/3 c. millet
3/4 cup sugar
2 t baking powder
1 t salt

Take a measuring cup and put in:

1/3 cup of oil
1 egg
Then add soy milk until it gets up to 1 cup

Mix this all up, and then add...

2/3 cup mashed banana
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

Bake them at 375 for about 20, maybe 25 minutes. Till they're puffy and lovely and tan and spring back when you poke the top.

(you can tell I'm an exact scientist)



On Boys.

I am the mother of one awesome boy.

I grew up as one of three girls, the daughter of one of three girls, who was the daughter of an only child who was the daughter of three girls (and one boy, ironically). My maternal side is very girl-heavy, and girls I know.

When my first baby was born and she was a girl, this was, of course, bittersweet. I had spent the pregnancy "sure" she was a boy. There is no doubt in my mind now that this certainty was the result of my own uncertainty of what I would actually do with a boy. I had babysat for boys, taught boys, been friends with boys, even married a boy (we were only 19 when we met), but to raise a boy? This would take some thought.

Upon delivering a girl (whom I would not get to keep) it all came crashing down: this insane, maternal urge to parent a daughter. It seemed so beautiful, so poetic. So cozy. I longed for a small version of myself, someone I would understand and cherish. Some of this was the result of the loss, a natural urge to long for what you cannot have. But some of it is what I imagine most mothers have. They just want to have a girl.

The next time around, I wasn't sure what to hope for or expect. Another girl would be super, and I wanted to have a girl someday so desperately.... but I feared so much that people would think I was replacing Charlotte. When Liam was born and he was, indeed, a boy, I felt I somehow expected this. Attachment came easily and there was no confusion about who was who and what was what. Having somebody completely different worked beautifully for my grief-stricken mind. What it would be "like" to parent a boy didn't make it onto my radar at that point. I took a big, deep breath and sucked him right into the center of my heart.

He was a boy, but I still felt like a girl-mom. My first child had been a girl, and all around me there were people with babies and daughters and I still wasn't sure what to make of my son. There was no regret, that I can be sure of, but at that point he was a baby. A beautiful, adorable little baby who happened to have a penis. I couldn't wrap my mind around him actually turning from baby into boy, and what that would mean for me as a mother. I kept imagining (and still do) this tiny little fluffy-headed baby as a sixteen year old, towering over me and offering me an embarrassed hug. It made me blush. I felt in love in a way I really hadn't ever fathomed.

As he grew from a baby into a toddler, Liam blossomed into a curious, thoughtful little boy. He was always emotionally available, easily able to express what he was feeling and what he needed. He loved dinosaurs, Robin Hood, and heavy machinery. Every car ride was an adventure to see what construction equipment or farm equipment we might see out the window. He loved to be busy, and run and play, but was also very cerebral, enjoying long hours on the couch with his mama reading and cuddling. He snuggled like no man I'd ever known before. He was full of stories and laughs and great ideas and was cooperative and kind and polite. He was my son. I could hardly believe these words. My son.

My son isn't such a little boy anymore. He's almost eight, and somewhere between five and six he stopped pretending to vacuum with the baseball bat and became incredibly athletic. He loves soccer, baseball, lacrosse, hockey, and basketball. He'll throw a frisbee, run a few miles on the track, and ride his bike for hours. He's incredibly fun to be around. He loves to be busy and he loves the contest, but mostly he just loves the game. Inside we'll play Monopoly, cribbage, chess, or Uno. He'll throw a ball against the wall and catch it with his glove or whack a little ball with his hockey stick until one of us goes crazy from the noise and makes him stop. He'll curl up on the couch and read Harry Potter for an hour and half. He'll knit a hat in the car on the way to New Hampshire to visit my parents. He's a person. He's amazing, and he's my son.

I have been gifted with three more daughters, and I'm lucky and privileged to have each and every one of them. I'm almost certain that if I'd never had Liam, and only had the girls, that I would have smugly thought that girls were pretty fantastic and that I wasn't missing out on anything. But oh, how sorely mistaken I would have been. I am so grateful to be the mother of a son, and I'm so grateful to my son for everything he has taught me and for everything he will teach me in the future. I'm so happy to have someone to run hard with and take to game after game and shoot sports stats back and forth with. I loved the days of identifying heavy machinery and farm equipment and categorizing matchbox cars.

I love boys. If you're lucky enough to have one, I bet you do, too.

(Liam, somewhat exasperated at my attempts to get a perfect photo of him. Even the eye rolling is endearing in a son.)