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.