July 22

It's so tiring doing nothing at all but hiking and biking and eating that it's felt hard to sit down to type. This morning, based upon the premise that to hike with children one doesn't have to actually pick kid-friendly hikes, but rather hike in a kid-friendly fashion, we explored the beginning of a Canmore to Banff biking trail. This trail begins in a creek valley up near the Spray Lakes. We ambled along at an extraordinarily kid-friendly pace, weaving through wider patches of the creek saturated with moose prints, crossing over log bridges, and picking many wild strawberries. The children were delighted and our pace was so delightful. Sadly, only about a mile in we reached a crossroads and additional trailhead sign declaring that the trail was, from that point onward, closed. The wildlife needed more space to stretch out... and we were happy to allow them that space, even though it meant turning back. Our return hike was even slower, and we returned to the car with three mud-covered shoes, lots of bug bites, and red-stained lips.
This afternoon I hopped on my bike and took to the trails. I rode by myself for miles downriver following a bike trail that was well travelled but not crowded. The water was so clear and aqua and the sky so high and blue and I was so alone. The sun was so bright and I felt like my bike might just take flight and begin to circle like a hawk. The day was so warm but the air is so dry here that you don't ever get hot and sweaty, which makes you feel like you could exercise continuously without ever getting tired. Nevertheless, I did ultimately turn around and head back to town, where Greg and his cousins had taken all of our kids to a wonderful playground. We followed the romp with a trip to the local flatbread company where they laid out a beautiful table for 12 for us and our noise completely drowned out anything else that was happening in the restaurant. It was gorgeous.

I have to close with an anecdote of little Maeve, our stalwart hiker, who asks with great regularity to get down from her pack. She's quite good natured about staying in if the other little kids are up, but I do let her come down to hike if our pace is lazy. She putters along, picking up stones, intermittently running, gathering flowers and grasses, and sometimes grabbing my hand. And then, inevitably, after a few minutes, she stops and stands still. She says the same thing every time, and so do I.
I say, "Maeve, it's time to keep hiking. We have to walk."

And she says, "I'm looking at the woods".

I love that girl.


July 19th.

There was a rainbow tonight. Right now it is almost ten o'clock. The sky is a clear, bright blue, and sunlight bathes Ha Ling peak above our house. We have only just gotten the children into bed.
Today I brought the girls into Calgary to see my cousin and her three children. The drive seemed longer than it really was. We enjoyed our day thoroughly, but as soon as we were buckled into the car for the return trip, I was anxious to be back. The mountains on the horizon seemed to be calling me home.

The girls were content, somehow, looking out the window. We came up the road to Bragg Creek and cut across to the Trans-Canada. We passed only one canola field here in the foothills. Then we began to weave in, across the Morley Flats, past the Lac Des Arc and the washed-out Heart Trail, and on into Canmore. There is an old camper that sits in a pile of flood washout in the median strip of the highway just before we exit. It follows an old microwave.

We got back home and Greg jumped right into gear getting the girls into bed. It was only just past five, but they hadn't napped and company was arriving at half six. We had them tucked in by six, and I was then able to arrange myself on the deck in the sunshine with some tasty hors d'oeuvres and a glass of white wine.

There was no laundry. I did not cook a meal, or wash a dish. I didn't tidy one single thing up. The children were generally well-behaved and lovely. What a true vacation this is.

The light on the mountains is turning pink. It must be almost time for bed. Last night I woke up and saw the mountains at 3 AM. It was the first time I've seen darkness here. I love the light.

July 18

Photo caption: from the top of Ha Ling Peak, my index finger points directly at our house. On the right side of the photo, what looks like a superhighway coming down from the mountains is actually the washout from Cougar Creek in Canmore. If you are Canadian you know about this flooding, if not, you could check it out. There is currently no water at all in Cougar Creek. 

Although it had been light for three hours, it still seemed like the first breath of dawn when we parked the car at the trailhead this morning. There were four of us-- the two brothers and their wives-- and we had left the house with only two of the five children awake to see us off. As the bright morning rays began to creep over the mountaintops, we were off on the short drive up the mountainside to park at the base of the Ha Ling mountain trail.
Our ascent began in the most magnificent pine forest. The ground was covered with thick, green moss and the trees dripped with mint-green strings. It was so lush and alive and the dirt beneath our boots was dark and rich. We began to climb immediately-- the average grade on this hike being 30%.  It wasn’t long before the dirt changed over to hard rock and the trail began to switchback up the mountainside. The pine continued to shield most of our view, but in the snippets of vista we caught we could see a moose feeding in a small mountain pond below us. It was completely silent. We were the only ones on the mountain. 
Nearly two hours into the walk the trees left us completely. The last kilometer of our hike was scrabbling over the rocks up to what was truly, truly a peak. For a while only sky was silhouetted behind it, but then as I reached the top I tentatively peeked over the edge-- it was a sheer cliff on the other side-- and gasped at the view. What a beautiful thing it was to see the entire valley spread before us, the Rocky Mountain range, and down the Bow River all the way to Calgary. It was truly the most magnificent peak we had ever climbed. 
I missed Maeve on the way down. I had tip-toed out of the house before she’d awakened, and I felt strangely alone having not felt the wiggly warmth of her in my arms before my departure. Being away from her for five hours is a long time, and particularly after a long night’s rest, I knew I’d be grateful to hold her in my arms when we arrived home. When we arrived home she was grinning at me from the upper balcony, and she melted into my arms as I came up the stairs. It was a sweet end to a beautiful morning of adult time. 


July 14.

 A few photos from the past few days....

Moving Westward in the timezone is always so refreshing for me. I’m sleepy in the evening, despite the persistent daylight, and I wake up feeling rested at six or so. I try to ignore the voice that’s telling me it’s eight in New England, and rather attend to the reality that I’ve gotten myself up at a good, early hour. I was up before the girls today, which made me feel like a version of myself I haven’t seen in quite some time. 

We picked today’s hike last night, a short, but steep climb that began just a few miles from our house. We were at the trailhead by nine and it was immediately obvious that this hike was perfect for our first of the season. It climbed steeply and the views were just incredible. Liam and Aoife scrambled up the trail -- it was called the Grassi Lake trail-- like two little mountain goats. There were stone steps carved into the rocks, steep waterfalls, and breathtaking scenery. At the top of the loop were two pristine, crystal clear mountain pools. We stopped for some trail mix, swatting mosquitoes the whole time, and took in the view. 

I find that when I return to the Rockies it at once looks absolutely normal, just like the Rockies always look, but at the same time I never lose the appreciation for the  awesomeness of the craggy, tall peaks. While they’ve become familiar to me, they still always seem breathtaking and unreal. They clear my mind and make me relax immediately. I still feel like I have to pinch myself that we will be staying in this house for sixteen more days. 

Traveling with the girls hasn’t been too difficult. Even with the combination of the two of them, I feel constantly reminded that we really have left the baby days behind-- for better or for worse. Most routines we have can be flexible, most baby/toddler gear which is convenient at home is flexible. The girls have done fine switching time zones and houses and meal schedules. I feel proud of them and of us, and I am scheming already for more adventure. 

I am sitting on the deck now while they sleep. Nearly everyone else, it seems, is napping. Aoife is playing contentedly with an enormous five-gallon pail of Lego that we found in the house and Liam is playing cribbage with Grandma. The contrast to my life of four weeks ago, of seemlingly endless loads of laundry, a house full of mess to keep track of, van loads of children to shuttle from place to place, couldn’t be more stark. I am so grateful for this literal breath of fresh air. 


The Mountains

We've arrived in the mountains today. I am sitting on a deck surrounded with rugged, craggy peaks. This is a most peaceful place to write.

Yesterday was a roadtrip down memory lane. We drove north of Edmonton to a little town called Busby. There isn't much of a town there, but what's there are acres and acres of land that belong to Greg's parents, because they are the old homestead where Greg's mother was born. In the early part of the century, when his great-grandparents were clearing the land for their homestead, they lived there in an earthen dugout for their first winter while the house was being built. The land where the old farm still lies is overgrown now, and the house has fallen into disrepair as it hasn't been lived in for many decades. There are many little, old wooden buildings that once comprised a bustling family farm. The lot across the street where the little old Arvilla school once stood is now vacant. That is where Greg's grandmother attended school. It is all quite amazing. We visited the parcel across the street, where Greg's mother's cousin still farms. They had tiny kittens and newborn rabbits and the children were delighted. Then we got into the back of a pickup truck and drove through the pastures to inspect the calves. Greg's parents own cattle they keep there, and most had calved by now. It was calming and sweet to be out there.
On the way home we stopped at a dinosaur park with life sized, moving, roaring dinosaurs. From a system of boardwalks one can admire these excellent replications of real prehistoric creatures. The children were amazed and it was a fun thing to break up the drive home. When we arrived back we were treated to an amazing dinner by Greg's uncle Wayne. Out on the deck, with the sun still so high in the sky, the canola rolled for miles, shining bright yellow. For the third night in a row I went to bed with bright sunlight pouring in my bedroom window. I have not yet seen darkness in Alberta.

Today we drove south, passing from prairie to mountains. We will stay here for more than two weeks. I am so fortunate.

The Prairie

When we arrived here, I told Maeve and Fiona: Look out the window. The thing you will notice about the prairie is that the sky is very big.
Oh, the big, big sky. How I have grown to love this land here, with its rolling patchwork flatness and the big, vast sky above. At this time of year, in a wet July, the colors are striking and vibrant: the green, green fields of oats and barley and the gorgeous, bright yellow of the canola. The lines between the fields, and where the roads cross, are crisp and neat. In the distance one can see busy highways, with cars and trucks floating past, but here on this road it is quiet. I can see the skyline of Edmonton, its downtown not quite twenty miles from this place. 
We went running this morning, Greg and I. We ran out the road, the straight, straight road, breathing in the delightfully dry air. It rained lightly on us and the temperature was mild. It was such welcome relief from the humidity and terrible heat of the Northeast we’d just left. We passed the old farmstead where Greg’s mother grew up, where only the dairy barn remains of the original farm of her youth. We ran over railroad tracks and past a canola field that had been battered last week by a hailstorm. The plants lay sideways, flowers still a blinding yellow against the grayish, rainy sky. Everything here looks beautiful to me. 
I can imagine so easily, being here, how somebody who had lived here for a lifetime would find the heavy, green walls of forested New England incredibly claustrophobic. While I love the dense woodlands of my home, I am awed and freed by the incredible, sweeping beauty of the prairie. I feel grateful to have married into a family who calls this land home, so that I have had the opportunity to learn to love this place. 
There was a time in my life, before the arrival of children and the beautiful, beloved chaos of the life I now call mine, where I found coming here dull. I didn’t know what to do with the space: both the physical space, of being remote and removed, and the space that the was simply time: it was being away from a hustle and bustle of my daily life. I cherish this now. I can sit here, I can write, I can read a magazine, I can watch my children play cards, and read to themselves, and there is no hike to be hiked, no odd job to do, no chickens to feed. It’s just me and the big sky, and the peaceful air, and I am very content. 

July 10th

July 10th.

We have had two long days of travel, nine hours each. Yesterday Greg and I awoke to a dark, steamy morning just a few minutes before 4 AM. In preparation for our house sitter, who will stay in our home for the seven weeks we are away, we had cleaned everything up to a sparkling shine. Every surface was cleared of clutter, every picture straight on the wall, everything gleamed. The bedroom almost echoed with the pine floors devoid of everything-- no laundry baskets, no items of clothing tossed aside the night before. Everything was ready to go. As we crept outside in the pre-dawn, the yard was perfectly manicured. It looked like a park. I felt almost sorry to be leaving, everything looked so perfect. The river rushed quietly down the hill as we put the last few things-- our hot coffee and refrigerated lunch items-- into the car.
It was just after four when we fetched the sleeping children and transferred them to their car seats. Our children do not sleep in the car. They never have, and I imagine they never will. But leaving at 4 AM guarantees us at least two hours of absolute peace and quiet as we drive. So as we negotiated the quiet back roads and wove along the Massachusetts Turnpike through the Berkshires, all was quiet. 
Not an eye closed, and when the sun crept over the horizon at five-thirty the Froot Loop necklaces were out, books were being read, and the first round of coffee was finished. I love leaving so early in the morning. We passed the halfway mark of our travel (mile-wise) at 8:20 AM. With a revolving door of audio books, movies, novelty snacks, puzzles, and crayons we managed to make it through the 9 hours that it took us from door to door without much of a whine out of anybody. We stopped twice for short breaks and arrived a little after one o’clock at DeGrassi Point feeling ready for anything. 
The arrival at our ancestral land wiped out those nine minutes in the blink of an eyelash. We were staying at my cousin’s house, so at first the arrival confused Fiona: where were we? Where was the DeGrassi she remembered? I took her out to the end of Barb’s dock and there it was, just along the cove: the green and white boathouse, sandy beach, big dock, and landmark yellow and green slide in the water. Fiona looked up at me, her eyes glowing with joy. “There it is!” she squealed. “It’s the baby beach! I want to go there! I want to go swimming!”
The timing was impeccable. My cousin Caley was just about to put her 11 month old son, Lachlan, to bed, so clearing out the house seemed just the thing to do. As the kids scrambled down the dirt road in the direction of the commons, I grabbed the suits out of the car and brought up the rear with the little girls. 
Coming around the bend in the little path that connects the cove with the commons I felt the weight of a busy school year lift off my shoulders: there is was. The most familiar little dirt track in the world to me, the sagging shed-garage and green and white wood siding of the cottage my great-grandfather built in 1912. Even though we wouldn’t be staying the night in this “home”, the sight alone of it, and being able to walk past its deep gables and in the shade of the pines that grace its front lawn brought me a year’s worth of peace. The children had run ahead and were joyfully playing on the metal “swingset” that my cousins brought home from living abroad in Papua New Guinea in the early ’70’s. Only one swing remains but the ladder across the top is sturdy and fun, and it remains a focal point of play for all the children of the commons. Upon seeing me they jumped down and headed for the water. 
We spent the afternoon doing what we always do at DeGrassi: kids playing in the sand and water, adults playing alongside, swimming, assisting, and catching up on the dock. As always, it’s as if we’ve always been there and never left. We couldn’t have picked a better place to burn off steam and erase the travel than spending the afternoon there.
We returned to Auntie Barb’s cottage for a two-tiered spaghetti dinner, with the kids eating first and then swimming and playing some more before heading down for a six-kid big cousin sleepover in the basement. Fiona and Maeve were exhausted and managed to fall asleep in the same room for the first time ever without much intervention. Our supper happened after everyone was tucked in, the adults chatting and laughing with cozy candlelight on the porch, lulled by the lapping of the waves on the beach and seawall. 
The next morning we feasted on home made waffles and headed for the airport at just past 9. My dear cousin Briare, who is my age and has been among my closest friends for my whole life, had offered to keep our car at her house and give us transportation to the airport. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to check in, take care of our bags, manage to rearrange our seats so that we would be together on the plane (in two sets of three), and grab some lunch. We boarded the plane and got settled for the 4 hour and 12 minute flight to Edmonton.
Bless my heart, I volunteered to take Maeve in my row for the flight. She was mostly fine. We had her in her car seat on the plane, as it’s been our experience that it’s easier for small children to understand the concept of remaining buckled in one’s seat if they are in a seat they are used to for travel. The down side of this travel arrangement is that their feet are lifted about 18 inches closer to the seat in front of them, which means lots of reprimands not to kick the nice lady sitting in front of us. But we managed to power through, with lots of snacks, stories, and even a (nurse assisted) nap on Mama’s lap. It seemed cruel to me when, moments after Maeve fell asleep, we hit turbulence and the seat belt sign came on. I could see the flight attendant coming through the cabin to check to see if everyone’s belt was fastened. Miraculously, I was able to set Maeve in her car seat and buckle her in with plenty of time to spare. She stayed asleep for almost half an hour-- a welcome break for me. 
We arrived in Edmonton at close to 3 o’clock local time. Greg’s parents were there to greet us and helped us get situated in a rental car that we will use for the duration of our time here. Back at Greg’s grandmother’s house the girls were delighted to find a bag of My Little Ponies that Greg’s mom had bought at a tag sale that morning. The three of them were sucked into dramatic play while Liam joyfully ran around the yard and burned off steam. A few games of cribbage later the girls were tucked into bed and the adults and big kids were at the table and Liam and Aoife hit a wall. After having eaten most of their lasagna, they both looked up, eyes heavy, and asked to go to bed. It had been a long few days. 
Greg and I weren’t long to follow. After dessert and coffee, we headed down to the cool, nearly sound-proof room in the basement for what we knew would be an amazing sleep.  I didn’t emerge for nearly twelve hours. 


Monsoon Season

It is a warm, wet night. It is monsoon season here in the hills of Western Massachusetts. Every day it rains heavily for a time, and the leaves and grass are heavy with moisture. When the sun comes out, the earth steams. It is so deliciously warm, and I've lived this soggy New England summer enough times to love the dampness in the air. It feels okay to me to toss my clothes in the dryer for a while after line-drying them, and to know that I must paper-clip closed the Cheerios bag or else feed them to the chickens. I feel enveloped by warmth and I am happy.

Happy now, that is, comfortably seated on my soft, luxurious couch, which is of course decorated by several different shades of magic marker and various food stains. The children are nestled in their beds, fans in the window blowing moist air into their rooms while they sleep. The night stretches long before me. Maeve and Fiona sleep all night long now, they do. I am safe until at least five a.m. every day to sleep uninterrupted. There are exceptions, of course, and now that I have written this I am certain tonight will be a doozy. But after more than three years of staggered sleep to be able to sleep six or seven hours in a row for perhaps five out of seven nights feels like heaven. So I know I will sleep tonight, and that makes me feel glad. Glad because I no longer have to fear the night.

It's the days I fear right now. One day, when we were basking in the bliss of the babies being six months old and nearly two, I said to Greg: two babies isn't what will be hard for us. Do you realize that some day we will have a two year old and a three-and-a-half year old? That will kick our ass.
And so it has.
Fiona really escaped everything but sweet, adorable, compliant kindness until recently, when her role-model and sidekick Maeve began to model the typical behavior of the emotional, invested, independent, passionate two year old. It was almost as if something clicked in Fiona's brain that said, hey! I forgot to do that! So together this little team of small girls has may just destroy my sanity.

This is how it feels at my low moments. The monsoons kept us in all day today, and so there were many moments. Maeve and Fiona are still so little and they demand such an incredible amount of my attention. Hugging, kissing, refereeing, feeding, toileting, dressing, playing, there is little that can be done independently. As I scurry around attending to their every need and desire (within reason) I see my rational, interesting, creative older children and I yearn to attend to them. I want to quietly quilt with them, or listen to an audio book with them while knitting. I want to play board games ad nauseum and do interesting messy art projects. I want to invest myself in parenting these older, interesting, reliable people who still adore me and love my company. When the girls have a moment of happy play, or seem to be resting in the afternoon, I try to engage my older children in some of this. They always seem gratefully delighted, and so am I.

Enter the destroyers! The board games are scattered, quilt pieces torn from one another, needles tugged out of sewing projects. As hard as I try, it seems they always wiggle into the midst of all my efforts to creatively parent Liam and Aoife. And in those moments, Maeve and Fiona are also adorable, smiling, giggiling, devilish and sweet. Sometimes we just laugh, and fall onto the floor all together in a big laughing heap. Sometimes it turns into a tickle party or a big game of hide-and-go-seek. But sometimes it turns into me screaming at my children and then feeling really, really awful. I am tugged in two directions all the time: between the two sets of children, the toddlers and the "big kids", and also as a mother. I want the little girls to stay little, because I can't envision my life without a baby in it, but I also feel desperate for some relief from the chaos.

Will the sun shine tomorrow? It will when those girls wake up at the ass-crack of dawn. They will wake up joyful, as they always do, delighted to see us, eager for some books and some breakfast. Then the bigger kids will come down, pleased to see the little ones, and there will be a few minutes of happy, joyful family reunion. Every day here gets off to a great start. It's just keeping that going....


Last weekend, we successfully negotiated our first weekend of camping, all six of us. It was a delightful graduation of sorts, and while there were deep breaths and compromises, it felt deliciously thrilling to be doing something all together.
The campground is one of pristine beauty just twenty minutes from our house-- gorgeous pine and deciduous forest surrounding a small mountain lake. The campsites are wooded and private, situated along a mostly paved driveway which is perfect for kids and bikes. There is a private beach for the campers and, best of all, it's twenty minutes from our house. Did I mention it's only twenty minutes away? This relieves us of all concern that the camping trip will be a bust. Because if, at any point, any individual seems ill-suited to camping, she can be buckled into the car and delivered home in twenty minutes. This can happen at 7 PM, 11 PM, or even 2 AM.
Initially, I had intended to send Greg and the older kids up on Friday night and stay home with the little girls until they awoke on Saturday morning-- which would put me at the campsite at about 6:30 AM at the latest. It seemed worth missing the excitement of Friday to ensure the good sleep that would happen at home. Friday morning was dreary and rainy, and I even questioned if perhaps all of us might delay until Saturday. But then the sun came out, and steam began rising from the grass and trees. The afternoon became a beauty and suddenly I didn't want to miss out on even one minute of the trip, even in exchange for sleep. So at 4 PM on Friday, just an hour before our girls were "scheduled" to eat dinner and go straight to sleep, we began to frantically throw things into our two cars (yes, we brought both-- only ten miles away!) to send six people camping for two nights.
The best thing about car camping ten miles from your house is that you can bring whatever you want. Things from the cupboard were chucked into milk crates and sweaters and fleeces were stuffed into grocery sacks and a few bags were packed. Sleeping bags and air mattresses and pillows took up one whole back seat. Fiona's entire mattress from her little bed went into the trunk. I called the cafe along the way and ordered two pizzas for us to bring up to the park. At 5:30 we were off, and by 6 we were at our picnic table in our campsite eating gourmet, wood fired pizza while crickets chirped and birds sang overhead.
And now, for the best, best part. There were eight other families we knew coming up for the night, all with kids our kids' ages. Oh, the joy! The running, the biking, the shrieking. Our family had both the eldest and youngest children of the crew. Everybody's huge car-camping tent became the fort, every fire was game for another s'more. The alcohol prohibition at the campground was strictly ignored. Wine was poured, marshmallows were roasted, and the babies stayed up until 9:30. It felt so incredibly liberating. No bath, no books, no stories, no songs. The routine had been abandoned. It felt amazing.
The next morning the girls slept until 5:15, which felt like a major victory. Sunrise now is just past five, which puts first light at just past four, which was when I was planning to wake up. So I was pleased at this "late" sleep, and our morning at the campsite was relaxed, lazy, and quiet. Maeve pushed her doll around over the roots in her stroller and we ate Cheerios and bananas and brewed coffee and it was quite a joy. At 7 AM the campground came alive (quiet hours over) as the kids began flying between campsites. The coffee clatches began and pancakes were shared.
By 10 we were at the beach for what ended up being a rather windy, chilly morning, but children being children they enjoyed every minute. Between the families there were a canoe and kayak, which the children delighted in. I delighted in the company of so many other amazing women friends and loved watching my children just basking in their element-- hoards of other kids having fun. We returned to the campsite at around noon for lunch which was followed by a group-ish hike up to a fire tower with 360 degree views. We could see five states. It was so amazing. Fiona hiked over two miles on her own and Maeve nearly a mile.
That night we were able to get the girls down somewhat earlier, around 8, and the bedtime was much simpler due to their extreme exhaustion. There was one moment of panic in the night when Maeve awoke, hysterical, at midnight and carried on for four or five minutes. I thought I might have to take her home... but suddenly she quieted. We all lay there for a while, listening to a pair of Barred Owls hooting back and forth, and drifted back to sleep until a quarter past six the next morning. I awoke feeling absolutely victorious-- two nights in a tent with my whole family, with no white noise. We had done it.
Predictably, that morning was consumed with packing up all the things we'd hastily thrown into the cars two days earlier. Fortunately our children were extremely well entertained by all the other kids. There was a pack of six-year old girls desperate to be responsible for Maeve and Fiona, which felt just dandy to me. They were thrilled and I could actually organize our things so the chaos was slightly diminished when we arrived home. At just past noon, we left. She-who-never-sleeps-in-the-car fell asleep immediately and remained asleep in our driveway for an hour and a half after we arrived home. It was cloudy and overcast and we let the older three collapse on the couch in front of a movie about leprechauns. We sorted the things into thirteen loads of laundry and began washing.
It was a beautiful weekend.
And now, tomorrow, the last day of school. My first and third graders will become second and fourth graders. These tiny children, these little babies of mine are growing so fast.


Tonight is the night-- the first night in seriously I can't remember where I finished the jobs and it was still light out and the kids were in bed and I thought, "What should I do?"
Lately there has just been an endless list of tasks-- thank you letters for donations given to Empty Arms, sewing projects for nieces and sisters, birthdays to organize, meetings to run, choruses to sing in, summer clothes to pull up from the basement and the endless task of making room for them in the drawers, laundry, laundry, laundry.....
But tonight, I really didn't have anything hanging that made me cringe. So I wandered outside and I weeded my garden, and I talked on the phone to my sister about her newborn baby girl, and I felt swimmingly happy. I poured black, wet mulch on the spots I'd weeded and my garden, which has been untended for two summers now, began to take shape. I smiled in the semi-dark as I emptied my weed bucket and said goodnight to that project. And now, I write.
Aoife had a small bout of mono earlier this month which was very sad, she was just flat on the couch and devoid of energy. It felt so sad to see her little body so weary and sick, hot with fever, day after day after day. I spent lots of time with her but with the girls underfoot it never felt like quite the quality of time one might want to spend with one's sick daughter. A few times I was lucky enough to farm the little ones out and that made for some nice, long hours tucked in bed with her reading. She is making a good recovery but still feels tired almost every afternoon. We only have 10 school days left and I'm happy that she will soon be able to sleep until 8 every day (which she loves to do, unlike my other early birds).
Liam is just joy, joy, joy. The boy is always happy, no matter what. He never complains, he is rarely rude to his sisters, he's always nice to me. He loves all the kids he meets. He plays street hockey by himself because I'm too busy to play with him and he doesn't mind. It breaks my heart, but he's happy. I need two of me. It's hard having big kids and little kids.
The girls are a whirlwind. Having a baby and a toddler is hard, but having two toddlers is just exhausting. They are playing together so adorably-- from puttering on the driveway together in twin Cozy Cou.pes to pushing dollies in the swings to cuddling up under the covers of every bed they can find they are just so darn cute. That being said, Fiona doesn't nap anymore and there is always a moment sometime after five. You know, a moment. She has been such an easy girl we've pretty much avoided moments until now, but we seem to be getting them more and more. Alas, but oh, well, carry on. Maeve's coasting with the very clear exception that every time we get in and out of the car she pitches a royal temper tantrum wanting to do up the buckles of her car seat (without her in the seat). Despite the fact that I now religiously NEVER let her do this, she screams and carries on every time. I need a dummy car seat for inside the house to satiate her.
Here's where I am at. Not fine writing, but just something for me to remember tonight by.


Maeve Eloise is two years old. She rushed into the world so quickly my memory of her birthday is one of surprise, of a day where one minute I wondered if I was in labor and the next I pushed a tiny, wet newborn girl into my husband's waiting hands. And suddenly, it was as if she had always been with us.

Maeve is a girl who could have not come, had we decided three was enough. Three could have been enough. It was lovely, and I adored doting on Fiona as my very-little girl with the other two self sustaining in their own four and six year old ways. But I knew,  somehow, that a spirit was waiting. That three was not quite finished.

Maeve ran to us from the heavens in a hurry, as if she had been tapping her fingers, biding time for her moment to come into our family. She was conceived in a heartbeat and was born in an hour. Today, she ran in circles around our backyard while Greg played the guitar, laughing with her squinty eyed smile and singing at the top of her lungs. Her icy blue eyes glinted in the early summer sunshine and the squeals of our friends surrounded her. Our yard was full of children, our friends young and old who gathered to eat barely-risen vegan cupcakes with peanut buttery frosting. We laughed together and sang to this delicious soul, this little Maeve who brings absolute, pure, unbridled joy into every minute of our life.

I am so lucky to have this daughter.


Today is the birthday of the child who is not here.

"Well, you know how in Sleeping Beauty? The witch kills her, but there are always handsome princes who can come and kiss Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White, and she gets alive. Maybe a prince can come next time and kiss Charlotte and she can come back!"

This is Fiona's take on the situation. She cannot understand death. Nor can I.

We all stayed home today, all day. A family day. For the 6/7 of our family available to enjoy it together.   I am incredibly grateful that our pizza pie now has such a small piece missing, as opposed to a year ago, when we had 1/3 missing. But the void feels enormous.

Happy Tenth Birthday, my dear Charlotte.


There is a bounce house in our backyard. I paid exactly $249 for it, including set up and delivery, and I feel that I have never spent better money. I rented it for the day on Saturday, but the company delivered it early Friday morning and probably won't fetch it until tomorrow. It hums in my backyard, it's red pillars and stretched yellow sides reflecting the sunshine of this Mother's Day. This morning we all climbed into it and played for an hour or more. The parts of the plastic that were in the sunshine felt warm under my skin.
I rented the bounce house for yesterday. We invited six families who have held us gently for years to come to our house and sit with us in joy and good company while we mused quietly on the ten years that have passed since Charlotte's birth. In my mind, it was a party for her birthday, but there was no cake, song, or even champagne toast. If the rain hadn't poured from the sky for the middle hour, re-distributing the party from driveway and backyard to porch, living, and bedrooms, perhaps we would have toasted. But what we needed was simply friendship, just the company and love of good friends. There were perhaps fifteen children, in my attempt to make this party as fun and effortless as possible I never counted exactly how many people, we just bought ample beer and wine and asked people to bring food to contribute and it was a glorious and ample potluck spread.
I am grateful that I did that, and that we had our friends with us to hold our hands and sit on the porch while it rained and we thought about the ten years that divided us from the space where all was well and good in the world and the now, where something will always be missing and there is always the possibility of loss.
And for now, I'll go and fetch the baby, whose very short nap is over, and I'll take her out to the bounce house and we'll sing "Jump Jim Joe" and bounce around in circles and laugh, her sticky warm mouth on my cheek with big wet kisses.


With my head deeply in the sand, foot plunged so deeply into my mouth, words eaten ten times over, I have opted not to write for several (almost three?) months following my last post. Three days cannot change anything. Maeve, after that last nap, screamed herself hoarse for an hour for six days straight. Her nighttime sleep got worse. I abandoned the program. I now nurse her to sleep for every nap, which ranges from 30-60 minutes. Greg tends to her in the night. We will ride this train for as long as we can. Why do I ever think I know anything about anything?

Our family is happy. We have four very, very happy children. I am so grateful for this. They are all helpful at times, joyful most of the time, and it makes my heart sing when the four of them race off to play at something, all of them together. They have each other, all the time, and there is literally never a dull moment. I don't think I have ever once heard anybody say they are bored. It simply isn't possible to be bored when there are always so many options.

This being said, there is also an incredible amount to organize. It is a lot of work to have four children. I feel isolated in my parenting because I don't know very many people who even have three children. Almost everyone I know has two children. I realize that every single family fills every minute of every day with tasks and responsibilities. My friends with two children do not have untold amounts of leisure time. My friends with one child do not consider themselves liberated from the clutches of motherhood. But during the April school vacation, when Greg was home, I could have been a rich woman for every person who told me I was so lucky Greg was home. Finally I just wanted to snap, shouting, "For what! So we can finally reduce our ratio to 2:1, which is what you have anyway?" Four children take a lot of work. It is work I am so grateful to be able to do. But I feel sometimes like I need a space to shout it out: when you have more children, there is simply more going on. I have lived with one, two, three children. Four is more. If there exists a reader with four children, chime in. You agree.

And, not only this, but there is the fifth. That child whose birthday looms. Ten years ago I was on the cusp of motherhood, only six days from my due date. Everything was ready. She kicked and rolled. I glowed. I had no idea. This child is not here, but it is work to parent her. Sometimes, in fact, I wonder if I have ever worked as hard parenting a child as I have to parent her. The work of missing somebody is tremendous. So there is, of course, the fifth.


Day 3

Are you wondering how it's going?
Once, I told somebody that you could break any habit in three days. This was how it looked to me after bringing up Liam from a baby to a highly successful preschooler. You go with the flow, and if you want change, you stick it out for three days, and voila.
With Aoife, I felt I ought to eat my words. Although to be honest, I don't know if I ever gave much three days with her.
Fiona was too easy. There were no habits to break.
And then Maeve and her naps.
Day One. 41 minutes of screaming, and then 1 hour and 41 minutes of napping, which was exactly 90 minutes longer than her nap of the previous day. She slept 12 hours that night.
Day Two. Nap is sabotaged by the 12:30 pick up at the kids' school. Despite them yelling at her, tugging at her arms and legs, and tickling her bare cheeks, she conks out for 12 minutes in the car on the way home, won't transfer, and screams for exactly 60 minutes (yelling, just to break my heart a little more, "ROCK YOU!" the entire time).  Sleeps for 13.5 hours that night (with one 12 hour stretch from 5:30-5:30).
Day Three: Maeve screams for about two minutes, shouts intermittantly at me for about two more, plays quietly in her bed for three more, and then lies down and sleeps for 64 minutes.

Could it be that I was right about the three days? I'll let you know tomorrow.


Time for a Nap.

There have been many times in my parenting life where I realize that despite my best intentions and desires for my children, I have to change my course. Today was one of those days. It wasn't a split second decision by any means, but rather the end of a long period of contemplation that resulted in a decision made today, at 12:30.

Naps have been my nemesis for exactly half my children. Liam and Fiona napped just fine. I nursed them to sleep for a long while, and then eventually began to just read to them and tuck them in, and they slept for somewhere in the range of two hours. Liam did this until the ripe old age of four and Fiona is just phasing out her nap as we speak.

Aoife was different. I just had to nurse her to sleep. I tried a few weak attempts at putting her down awake for a nap when she was 18 or 20 months old but she didn't take so well to that plan, so I gave up and continued to nurse her to sleep. At just over two, she deemed herself too cool to fall asleep on the boob and quit napping altogether. As she had no routine of hanging out pleasantly in her bed, there was no rest time to speak of, and we just threw nap time away entirely and moved into a new phase of life. This had its advantages (no nap time! We can do whatever we want all afternoon!) but also its disadvantages (like 4:30 PM onward).

There was a long phase of Aoife's life where she was quite difficult, and I was very certain that being overtired had a great deal to do with that. I see now that Fiona, who does not nap on most days but does spend at least an hour quietly in her bed looking at books, truly benefits from her "rest time". While she still goes to bed earlier on days where she doesn't have an afternoon sleep, she doesn't get crabby in the late afternoon if she has that quiet, meditative time to herself. Looking back I see that Aoife never had that chance to just sit quietly with herself, and I wonder if it would have helped her to recenter herself.

So on to Maeve, who is 20 months old now. I have always nursed her to sleep, too, just like Aoife. Lately, however, I can see her fighting sleep as if it's something she actively doesn't want to let happen. While she's nursing, her eyes are rolling back in her head, yet she's struggling to hold them open. After she succumbs to her brain shutting down on her, the slightest interruption-- such as me setting her down in her bed-- causes her to realize she's asleep -- obviously very uncool-- and she struggles to wake herself up. If I hold her for a while she'll sleep in my arms but becomes uncomfortable and squirmy after twenty minutes or so (which is NOT a nap, just so you know). Normally I try a few times to get her into bed and eventually get her put down and can creep out of the room. Nap totals in bed for the past few days have been numbers such as 11 minutes, 6 minutes, and 21 minutes. This does not make a nap. At this rate she is literally ready for bed at about 4:15 in the afternoon. This baby really, really needs a nap. And I know that it is my job as her mother to figure out a way for her to have one.

Tomorrow she is going to start to spend at least one hour in her bed every afternoon. I know it is going to be brutal, and I am going to hate it. I know she is going to hate it. It is going to make me so sad, because I did have this little dream that since she's my baby I would just peacefully nurse her to sleep for her entire napping career. But my baby needs her sleep, and my method of choice isn't getting her the sleep she needs. So it is my job to help her make a change.

I am posting this, writing this, because I know I have to be intentional to make this work. I am going to be home every day at naptime until I go up to my parents on February 15th, which will give us 11 days to work on spending one hour in bed. Hopefully, this will result in Maeve falling asleep and spending more than one hour in bed.

It feels so important to me as a mother to note these moments where I have to step outside of what I want and realize what my child needs. As an infant, she did always need to be coddled. She absolutely needed to be held, and she should not cry. But as a 20 month old child with full command of the English language and who has simply entered the stage where she is horrified at the prospect of missing anything and thinks sleep is for losers, I have to help her find the sleep. We all desperately need it.

Wish me luck.


Little Kids and Big Kids

The girls whined a lot yesterday and today.

Yesterday, the formerly angelic Fiona was practicing all day the fine art of being three years old. If you have ever had the pleasure of parenting a three year old, I need not explain any further. If you have not yet had this pleasure, suffice it to say that three year olds are absolutely determined to get exactly what they want, except that they do not know what they want, and it greatly infuriates them when you can't get them what they aren't sure they want. For Fiona this simply results in a great deal of whining.

At bathtime, I asked her where her smile had gone to. I told her I missed her beautiful, smiling face. She looked at me with her big, blue eyes and cheeks red from time out in the cold air and her fat, red lips and golden curls, looking like an angel, naked and adorable, and she whined some more. I bathed her quietly and put her to bed. Today she woke up and she was amazing all day. This is what it is to be three.

But to take her place, Maeve, who is to her credit recovering from being sick, moaned and cried all day. If she had gotten her way she would have been strapped to the teat all day. She wanted to nurse all day long. I am a liberal, cooperative, Pioneer Valley mother who is fine with my toddler nursing but my patience wanes in these situations. My patience waned, and petered out, and left me. I told her I wanted to sell her to the gypsies. Is that politically correct?

At dinner time there was food flung and more well executed whining. The big kids were giggling under their breath with me and rolling their eyes. I told them, I have to say it, sometimes it's just plain difficult to raise little kids. Sometimes it's just hard, hard work. But look around! Difficult little kids turn into easy, lovely big kids. And I took them in my arms, not even having to bend over to wrap my arms around them and feel their warm heads against my face, and we laughed together. Because that's all you can do when babies turn bad: you have to laugh.

We tucked the girls into bed, the sweet-faced Fiona and disastrously overtired Maeve (who was actually chipper and cute post-bath, as if she knew her end was near) into bed at 6:00 and launched into our own version of a SuperBowl party with the big kids. We made nacho chips with melted cheese and black bean dip and gave the kids juice and we cracked open ice-cold beers and our little family watched football until the late hour of 8:15 PM. It was a civilized dream.