Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Familiar Abyss

Here it comes again--January. I'm no longer sure of how to approach this month that brings renewed hope and vitality to those around me. I'm certainly not out to bring everyone else down, but I can't shake the feeling of dread that has happened every January for the past three years. I don't expect everyone else to understand--far from it--I am VERY clear on the fact that she was my baby, that I was the one carrying her, that I alone felt her kicks and knew her rhythms so intimately. The first anniversary of her death was horrific--I cried and cried, each minute of the day from the 19th (the day I went to the hospital) to the 22nd (the day we lost her), as I relived what I had gone through. "At this time last year I was having an ultrasound," I would think. "At this time last year I was getting the news..." "At this time last year I was holding on to a thread of hope..." and so on. It was miserable. And, of course, to add insult to injury, over her first anniversary I was not pregnant. I was, in fact, 7 weeks out from a miscarriage. Argh.

Last year, the second anniversary of her death, I did not expect it to be as bad as the first. I figured the first was clearly the worst and it could only get better, right? Wrong. Although I don't remember the details, I remember being so emotional and sad that on the night of the 19th I picked a fight with my husband (isn't that the best tactic for getting out emotional energy???) and by the time I went to bed, I was sobbing. He came in quietly, wrapped his arms around me and said, "Yes, I know what day it is. I miss her too." Argh.

So here we are again--on the cusp of this abyss that I can't seem to cross without losing my mind. I'm feeling it bubbling up inside me and I can't find a way to make it, if not go away, at least reduce its impact on my life. To make matters worse, my husband will be gone in the days leading up to her birthday, so not only do I have to not lose my mind, I have to be a patient and loving single mom of three at the same time. It won't be easy, but we'll do it one day at a time. Then Chris will return, we'll have cake and ice cream mixed with the tears we will both shed for the baby girl we never got to keep. And on the morning of the 23rd, I'm guessing, the sun will rise again. Sometimes the whole day, the whole experience, even the baby girl herself, all seem like a hoax. Did it all really happen? To me? Really? Argh.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is he real?

I wish I could capture Evan's face in the morning. As the soft gray-blue light begins to ooze around the shade, I look towards the middle of the bed and there he is, head on the corner of my pillow, body tucked neatly into mine. His eyes are closed and his little pink lips are puckered up. He is usually arching his neck, as though looking at something over his head, and I'm not sure how he sleeps like this. Today he was wearing his white, fuzzy pjs with the green frogs on them. They used to Erin's and then they were Megan's before they were stored away for the next one. Of course, she never wore them, so they sat in a box and waited--waited for this amazing little person to wear them as he snuggles close to my heart.

As the quiet of the morning unfolds into the chaos of the day, I take a few minutes to just look at this angelic face, so peaceful in the morning light. I watch his chest rise and fall with each amazing little breath. I have to hold myself back--the urge to pull him closer, perhaps even tuck him up inside of me, is great. (Of course, doing that would wake him up and I am realistic about not wanting to have a grouchy baby on my hands all morning.) But still, the feeling that surrounds him is so much more than love--he is a miracle, in the true sense of the word. He is the child that never would have been, but yet is because of Sophie. That tragic event that changed our lives forever led to this, this incredible little person who fits so perfectly into our family. How is that possible?? 10 months I have lived with him in my arms, 10 months I have watched this miracle unfold and still, I can't always believe he is real.

Anyone with any suggestions on how to take a picture in that gray-blue morning light without a flash, let me know. I want to capture him just as he is, and I'm not sure how to do that. How do you photograph an angel on Earth?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Friend Indeed

My friend Karen is one of the kindest people I know, truly. She is just amazing and wonderful and I don't know what I would do without her and the ability to call her 3 or 4 times a day just to hear the voice of another adult. I met Karen when I was working at Bangor High. We were office mates and team teachers who quickly became friends and, eventually, running partners (remember that, Karen??) When our lives turned to parenting, we both realized early on that parenting was going to be our lives and our support of and for each other became vital for our growth as we tried our best to navigate the world of breastfeeding, high-needs babies, diapers, food choices, schooling choices, discipline and everything else that comes with growing families. When Sophie died, Karen never faltered in her support of me or my family--while we both recognize that there were some rocky moments when things did not always come across as intended, the apology was quick and the forgiveness heartfelt. I never, for one second, doubted her intentions, and now it is all so far in the past that I feel silly for even bringing it up.

Karen and I are polar opposites on many political issues. This made for some interesting discussions through the years--and some friends even ask me how I can continue to hang out with her, "She has a BUSH sign on her lawn!" they would say. Yeah, I know...but she is a kind, compassionate, breastfeeding, gentle discipline practicing mama, just like me. I can't explain her wacky political beliefs anymore than I can explain her husband and his shed. But I digress...

Karen and her husband are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary this summer, and they are doing that by getting married again. I have been asked to be the Matron of Honor and I can't even believe that Karen would bestow this honor on me. I can't believe I have ever given her as much in support as she has given me--but she claims this is so. And because I love her so much, I will wear a dress in public and hope that maybe I can find some shoes to go with it (Tevas okay, Karen??) Anyway, the point was that Karen's "Save The Date" letter was fantastically written. It was a description about a walk in the woods through the beautiful, fall foliage and how she tried to capture this by bringing home one perfectly colored leaf. Though she looked and looked, upon close inspection she found imperfection on each and every leaf she picked up. While the color was there, it was interspersed with "fungal spots, egg masses, caterpillar holes and damage from falling branches." But when she stepped back and looked at the forest as a whole, it was full of astounding richness and beauty. Like her marriage, she said, each day has had its own "fungal spots" but when viewed as a whole, it has brought much beauty into her life--and that is the beauty we will celebrate with her at her re-wedding.

Her description of her marriage is so wonderfully descriptive of the parenting journey. Each day has fungus and there are definitely times when I feel like caterpillars are pooping on my head...but the beauty of the whole is amazing to me. When Erin helps her sister read or when Megan flips pancakes for breakfast or Evan smiles and nuzzles my neck, I know that the beauty is firmly planted inside my kids. It doesn't always come out (this is true for everyone, isn't it??) but my kids are working hard at growing up and they are doing a pretty good job.

Thank you, Karen, for your help and love along the way. The house across the street is still for sale.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sorry...it's a soapbox!

There are some things that truly confuse me about the way some parents make choices. I'm not being judgmental, because I have yet to meet a mother who is trying to intentionally make bad choices for their child, but sometimes I just don't understand, given all the information out there, why some choices are made.

Food is a major example of this. Take the discussion I had the other night with a group of moms I hang out with. It was about sugar cookies and how mine "look funny." Well, they look funny because they are made with whole wheat flour and have flax seed in them. Sorry, that's what my kids* are used to. Why? Because you are going to put frosting on them and those particular ingredients do not change the taste, so why wouldn't you? If the kids always eat whole grains, they will never know anything different...so again, why wouldn't you? The thing about it was that after I explained the difference, this group of moms just looked at me like I was from a different planet. They weren't convinced...oh well!

Another example is juice--it isn't in our house. Yes, my kids do drink it when visiting friends or whatever, but it just doesn't live here. Why would it? If you look at the ingredients list on most juices, the first ingredient is High Fructose Corn Syrup. Even if you choose natural, organic juices, you are still talking about a lot of sugar per serving, even if it is cane juice. Let's face it--you would never let your child sit down and eat 7-10 oranges in a sitting...and that is what you are giving them in the average glass of juice? Juice is simply the sugar and water of the fruit...none of the fiber or other "roughage" that you would get from eating a serving. Why not give them an apple and a glass of water? Again, it isn't that my kids never get juice, it is that they don't get it regularly. I don't think this makes me a bad parent, especially knowing what we now know about nutrition.

And don't even get me started on white bread--it should never even be introduced. If your kid only ever eats wheat, from the first taste of bread, they will never expect the blander flavor of white bread. My daughter was at a friend's house one time and at lunch she was served PB & J on white bread. She didn't like it. The bread was too "mushy" and the pb "didn't taste right (yes, we only eat natural pb, too!) She was very polite about it, but it just wasn't a taste she was used to. I don't think it is a bad thing that my kids prefer the taste of wheat.

Finally, we never go to fast food restaurants. Never. My kids have never eaten a Happy Meal or anything like that. There are two reasons for this: First, places like McDonald's or BK generally don't have vegetarian options, which means there isn't anything there for my kids to eat. Second, as a family, we don't agree with the business practices of these kinds of places. Now, I recognize how fantastically convenient it would be to not have these moral standards--I've been on a highway with hungry kids in the car and no place to go, I totally understand! But every time that has happened, we have discussed as a family what would happen to our dollars if we gave them to that particular franchise. And every time we agree that our dollars would be better spent elsewhere. We always manage to find a way through the situation. This is the one that I get made the most fun of for...people who can see their way around the juice thing and the whole wheat thing, always manage to make snide remarks about the fast-food thing. Not sure why. Again, given what we know now about nutrition and how fast-food is produced in this country, why would you make a different choice? If you never introduce your kids to the world of Happy Meals, they never know the difference. They just don't and they don't care.

I'm not trying to sway people to my way of believing--as I said, I start with the belief that I don't think you are out to hurt your children. But please, don't insult the way I'm doing it, either. My kids are far, far from neglected. Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up without white flour, fruit juice and Happy Meals, and she turned out just fine! (Like my kids, she grew up without TV too...but that is a topic for another day!)

*Also as an aside, I want to be clear that when talking about "my kids" and food choices, I'm only referring to the older ones...the 10-month-old is still about 85% exclusively breastfed and 15% simple veggies/fruit/oatmeal/rice combos. I know that will get people going as well--but there you have it!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Got Kids?

So there we were--trying to get out the door to go get a tree. Just trying to get three kids and two adults out the door. You wouldn't think it would be so hard! It started with the chaos of trying to find everything, moved on to the the yelling from room to room, "I can't find my ____!" This was followed by the begging and the "I don't have my socks," and "I need a different shirt," and "I already went potty!" And before you know it, we had spent 30 minutes just getting the older two ready to go--snow pants, coats, hats, mittens, boots, etc. Finally, they get out the door and we can focus on the "easier" baby. He only needs a clean diaper and a few warm layers of clothes followed by being tucked into his fleece-lined, warm car seat. He does need a hat, obviously, so we put that on...and on again when he pulled it off...and again...and again.... Then, of course, WE need to get ready to go--boots, pants, hat, mittens. So there we are, ready to go and we look over at the baby and we see that face. You know the one. The "I'm pooping!" face--usually followed by a big grin. What timing, Little Man, what timing! Of course by this time the girls came in again wondering what was taking so long....

Is there anything to do except start the whole process over again??

Gotta love it!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Probably not what he is saying...

So Evan's first word was clearly, "BA" as in, "The sheep says BAAAA." He would crawl around the house saying, "ba ba ba ba..." it was very cute, and so obviously related to connecting sheep to his everyday life. His second word was clearly "MAMA." I know this because when I was holding him, trying to get some stuff done one-handed, Chris took him to try to help me out. Evan immediately began to cry and say, "MAMA, MAMA, MAMA!" and wave his hands towards me. Clearly, he was referring to me. The child is obviously an early-talking, gifted genius. Though, to clarify for the parents of all the actual early-talking, gifted children in the world, when Evan says, "MAMA" he is almost always patting my breasts. Kid knows what he wants.

But for all you dads out there who want Evan's third word to be "DADA," know that you are almost right. My dear husband, the geographer in the family and my favorite geologist in the whole world clearly heard Evan's third word this week. Yes, folks, Evan's third word is "MAP." And, of course, like the sheep, Evan crawling around saying "MAP" is quite in context to him pulling books off the shelves or dumping out the dog water or climbing up ladders.... But hey, it is Chris's birthday. If he wants to think Evan is saying, "MAP" then that is okay with me!

See? Gifted children must run in our family!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lights Are Up

Tonight I was sitting rocking Evan and I went into that kind of thinking/staring trance that can happen when you are on your 2nd straight hour of nursing a baby who is awake just enough to not let go but asleep enough to not really need any attention. As I stared at the lights outside on Sophie's tree, I was thinking about this time of year and how difficult it has become in the past 4 years and how much has changed for us. Looking back, the holidays of 2006 were so wonderful and so full of promise. Chris had just been offered a dream job in a great location, we were under contract on a perfect little house on a dead-end street, and I was happily expecting our third child. Everything we had worked for, all the sacrifices, all the moving around...it was all going to be worth it. Hope and promise surrounded our family--anyone could have felt it.

Of course Sophie's birth and death in January of 2007 changed everything for us--for Chris and I, for our girls, for our future. Everything was different after that. Not necessarily "bad" different, but different nonetheless. I won't even begin to talk about most of 2007--probably the most difficult year of our lives. So when the holidays began to roll around again, we tried again to grasp at some hope...hope that was crushed firmly in the first week of December when our next pregnancy abruptly ended. Christmas that year was a charade for our girls, and nothing more. Chris was struggling to hold me together and I was a broken, deflated shell of who I could be and who my family deserved.

The holiday season of 2008 felt different to me. We decorated Sophie's tree with brilliant, flashing lights and placed lit-up sea creatures at the base (sounds tacky, but it isn't, really--we have a seal and a lobster!) My goal in 2008 was that someone flying over our house would see her tree and know that she existed--that she was a real person, and that she was loved deeply. But that holiday was different in another way too. As I sat in the rocking chair, I could wrap my arms around my growing belly and know that there was another living being trying to enter our family. Did I dare to hope? Were the holidays made better by the promise of a new life? I'm not sure. I know both Chris and I were very guarded about the whole pregnancy (always saying "if" the baby came and not "when" the baby came) but I also know that when I sat looking at the sparkling lights of my missing baby, I felt something. Something that many people would see right away as a feeling of hope, but that I myself could not identify because it had been so long since I had felt it.

Tonight, as I sat staring at the sparkling lights and the sea creatures, the 2009 holiday season in full swing, I had my arms around a very real bundle--a very real little being who has found his way into our family and into our hearts. I thought about what Joseph Campbell once said, "We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." I thought about the life we had planned so carefully and that had (we thought) finally fallen into place back in 2006--the life that slipped from our grasp so suddenly and tragically. And yet here I am, with my arms around this little boy, watching the holidays come one more time, and I know that despite our sadness (or maybe because of it?) we are living the life we have here and now.

Holidays will always be hard because there will always be someone missing. But this year, with no regrets and trying hard to avoid the "what if" game, I will add yet another string of lights to Sophie's tree--because now, the goal is for her presence to be felt on the moon. Donations of light-up sea creatures are always welcome.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Family Haiku

Nine-month old baby,
Toilet paper, dog water.
You can do the math.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


For Thanksgiving this year we went to Florida! We swam in the pool, went to the beach, Dino World (a must-see attraction, really!), the aquarium and just generally took in the sun and the warmth before winter really hits us here in Maine. We had a great time!

This is Honeymoon Island--very fun!

This is a hike through a "very scary" jungle. I have a picture of the rattlesnake they encountered, but given that some family members have snake phobias, I won't post it here. You can thank me later...or those of you who want to see it can email me and I'll send it to you.

Evan at Dino World--trust me--this place is a hoot! Life-sized dinos of all kinds, fossil digs and more. Yes, there is definitely a high geek-factor in this outing, but we all had a great time!
And this picture is special...Erin seems to have inherited her father's and grandfather's sense of humor. Lucky me. Anyway, Grampy, this is for you. After drawing this at the beach, she runs up to me and says, "Hey, Mommy! Are you hungry?? Here is a sand-witch! Get it??" Um, yes, Erin, I get it. Thanks.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I have anxiety about being home alone. I don't like it, really. I know, I know, I'm an adult and all that, but I've never lived alone--I went from my home to college (lived in a dorm) to teaching at a boarding school (alone?? What's that??) to living with Chris and our roommate, Ken, to being married...I've never lived alone. That said, I'm fine (really) when I am alone. I take the normal precautions--we live in a very safe state and a very safe neighborhood, I lock the doors, double check the windows and we do have a fairly protective dog. Normal precautions. The anxiety I feel stems from reading the newspaper daily, listening to the news and also knowing a handful of people who have had their house broken into (including one family friend whose house was broken into while they were sleeping!). I know the danger is out there--I know this--and it does cause me some anxiety.

A few weeks ago at a conference, I met a woman who was injured and whose husband was killed during a violent home invasion decades ago. Despite the fact that I read the paper and know these things happen, despite the fact that all of us have heard about these things on the news, and despite the fact that I openly admit to being somewhat nervous about being home alone, I know that I don't - I can't - understand the level of this woman's anxiety regarding this issue. Instead, I talked to her about the courage it has taken her to continue on with her life while she talked to me about how truly, deep, deep down, she has an issue with weddings. She hates them. She wants to "shake brides and yell, 'Don't you know what could happen??'" (Sound familiar? Most Babylost Moms have a deep-seated urge to shake pregnant women and yell, "Don't you know what could happen??")

My point here is that everyone has had losses in their lives and everyone has anxieties about things related to their past. I get that. Babylost Moms have a very unique perspective on pregnancy and birth--one that is not and cannot be shared or understood by anyone who has not heard the soul-crushing silence that falls on a room after a doctor announces "Your baby has died." or "Your baby will not live." There is a huge difference between normal "mothering" anxiety and Babylost Mothering anxiety. Most cannot understand, just as I will (hopefully) never understand the anxieties of the woman above.

I know, also, that the vast majority of people who say, "I understand" (when they really don't) are not saying it to be mean. They truly want to help and are completely at a loss as to how to go about it. In fact, the most common question I get at the seminars I lead is, "My friend just lost a baby - what can I do? What will help her?"

Two words: compassion and validation. Saying you understand is not the same as saying "I imagine this must be extremely hard for you." Asking, "Is there something I can do to help you through this holiday?" is helpful. Saying, "I know this would have been your baby's first Christmas," is helpful. Better yet, sending cards on special dates (due dates, birthdays, holidays) and remembering to use the baby's name when everyone else has forgotten. I cannot even tell you how much that would mean to a Babylost Mom. Please, don't try to minimize the loss, belittle it or take the pain away--you can't. And feeling the pain is part of the healing--it is a way to feel closer to that loss--closer to that little being that never was. And when that mom calls you sobbing because everyone in the world has moved on and she feels so left behind, just listen. Tell her you remember. Give her permission to talk about that baby--because that baby is a part of her life, a part of her family, a part of her soul.

No Babylost Mom is expecting you to understand, really. We just want compassion--compassion and validation for the piece of our hearts that will never mend.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Welcome to the world baby girl...

I'm not sure how to say what I want to say without A) hurting someone's feelings and B) sounding like a bitter, jealous and all-around horrible human being. So I guess I'll start by saying that if you are not a Babylost Mama, you will probably not understand how hard these feelings are--so please don't read this. I would hate for you to think less of me.

For those of you who are still reading, I need to say that the person I'm talking about is such a dear, dear friend. In the months after Sophie died, she was my lifeline. She was the one who always knew exactly how to put my feelings into words--not just because she is a gifted writer, but because she also lost a daughter. I'm hoping she will forgive me.

This dear friend of mine, this woman who is also babylost, this woman who was my lifeline for so long, has birthed a baby--her fourth--and it is a girl. A beautiful, healthy, very hard to come by, wonderfully loved little girl. And the awful part about it is that when I heard the news, I felt a pang of jealousy. A girl. She got a girl. How ridiculous is it that instead of overwhelming happiness (which, for the record, I also feel), I felt this little twinge of sadness?? I mean, here I am cuddling and nursing the most fantastic miracle of my own making, a little boy, and I'm jealous of this baby girl? How does that work?

Sophie died in January of 2007. In October of 2007 I was pregnant again--that lasted 10 weeks and ended in December of 2007. In April of 2008 I was pregnant. That lasted until May 13th. When I found out I was pregnant in June of 2008, the only thing I felt was fear--not joy, not hope, not excitement--fear. Fear and anxiety. Fun stuff. And who was there for me? Who else. And do you know, I kept telling her that I needed this baby I was carrying to be a boy. I needed it to be a boy so that it would be completely different from Sophie--completely different so that maybe, just maybe, I would get a living baby out of it. And it was, and he is. A wonderful, miraculous, loving, happy, amazingly alive baby boy. I can't even begin to describe the amazing place he has in our family and the amount of healing he as brought to our hearts. I never wanted anyone but him. Never.

But a girl...a little baby girl. And it isn't even like I've never gotten a living girl--I have two of those myself. But what it comes down to is this gut-wrenching feeling of longing for what you can't have. As my friend snuggles, nurses and hugs this new little girl, you can bet she is thinking about the sister this baby will never know. As I watch her holding a baby girl, I'm thinking about the baby girl I never got to hold. And yes, I recognize that my friend has these pangs of jealousy every time I mention my happy, wonderful, energetic 6.5 year-old who is mere months older than her lost baby girl would be now. See? It hurts all around.

My husband and I are pretty sure we are done having kids. The anxiety, the pain of loss, the fear...it is just too much to do again. So that means that every baby girl that I know of from now on will bring on this pang of jealousy and sadness...this desire to get back that which I will never get back. Because the truth is that I could have another child, I could have 10 more children, all girls, and they would never, never, bring back what I lost. And that is just how it is.

Are you babylost? Do you understand what I mean? I hope it doesn't sound like I'm taking away anything at all from this new little life and I equally hope it doesn't sound like I'm taking anything away from the love I have for my own little boy. Let me know.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Isn't he a bit young for that?

My 9-month-old son likes to crawl under a small, wooden desk used by the girls. He often gets stuck and he often bumps his head and fusses about it. Today he crawled under there and as I was trying to get him out I said, "Silly boy, this is how you bump your head!" and he responded with a noise that sounded exactly like, "NUH-UH" with that teenager inflection of defiance. When I said, "Yeah-huh!" back at him, he smiled and said again, "NUH-UH" with the same inflection.

I'm in trouble....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trying Something New

Have you read the book, "Simplicity Parenting"? I have, twice. It is the first book I have found that really put into words so many of my values as a parent. With this book as our guide, Chris and I are working to simplify our house and our lives. This is a tall order considering how little we already have, really. But we think it would be better for our kids to have fewer choices when it comes to clothes, toys, books and things like that. It is simply too much right now--one does not need 10 pairs of shoes! This process is difficult given how anxious change makes Erin, but if I do it when the kids aren't home, they truly do not notice the change (how sad is that? Do they really have so much that when you take half away they can't name what is missing??)

So I started in their closet. Both girls are links in different chains of hand-me-downs, so they are very well off with clothing. Too well off, in fact. When I took out the jeans that they never wear, the shirts that were "too scratchy" and the tights that "itched," I wasn't left with that much. From there, both girls agreed to try a month where they had only 8 outfits available to them--basically one for each day of the week (mix-and-match depending on weather) and one extra, as well as 3-4 favorite dresses. Erin was anxious about this idea, but she picked her 8 outfits carefully and packed up the rest. Megan was easy--she picked out her stuff for Stripes Day and Yellow Day and Dots Day and then a few dresses. All was well. And I can tell you, it has been over a month and Erin finds it SO easy to get dressed in the morning! Megan, who has always been pretty easy going about clothing, is also totally fine with this new system. I will say the one kink in this system is that when Chris and I fall behind with the laundry (which is pretty regularly, I admit), there can be issues. Not so many as to cause stress yet, but I can see how that might happen. I'll keep you posted.

Toys...they simply have too many! Now, because of our firm belief in not buying them stuff, most of it comes as hand-me-downs and, of course, gifts from our fantastically generous, loving and quite large extended family. At first, I didn't mind because everyone who buys them gifts was generally quite accepting of our no-plastic-made-in-China-crap request and usually got them educational, fun toys that used their imagination. This was good. But it has gotten to be too much. Our basement playroom looked like a toy store and the dress-up bin was so overflowing it was getting stressful for them to play dress-up! I took boxes down there and quickly took away nearly half of it--things they don't use, things that are broken, things that only have one purpose, that kind of stuff. Then I took another box and packed away things that Evan will probably use someday, but it doesn't have to be out right now. Finally, I created a Toy Library for the girls--they can take a toy off the shelf and bring it into the unfinished, storage side of the basement and trade it for a toy I had taken out. This way they have fewer choices out, but they can get "new" stuff when they want. I was able to remove three cubbie shelves from down there and, again, the girls have hardly noticed. Their construction toys are still there, their musical instruments are still there, the dress-up stuff is still there (though there is less of it) and they are so much happier to play down there now. It feels good!

Books. Now, here I admit that I have a major problem--my kids LOVE books. Erin devours them, reading several chapter books a day. When I first thought of simplifying their book choices, I couldn't imagine ever taking books away...most parents have the opposite problem! But then I began to go through them and, like the toys, quickly found quite a few we just didn't need anymore. Once those were packed away in a box for our local thrift store, I went through again and removed even more. These I put in a box on the storage side of the basement, again for a library the kids can go to when they are bored with the selection they have out. As with the other simplification ideas, this has worked wonders. The girls have discovered some "lost" old favorites, Erin has slowed down her reading a bit (which was actually a goal of ours, if you can believe it) and Evan delights in having his own shelf of board books. What a change!

So that is how we have started. This weekend I'm hoping to finish the girls' room and the classroom (guest room) and perhaps start on the kitchen. I know simplifying to the point I want will be a huge job, but room by room it is getting done. I think we will all be happier when it is done. The change so far in the girls has been wonderful. I think one reason I'm writing this is that truly, truly, we didn't have that much stuff to begin with--so I can imagine if it was overwhelming for me, some of you might also feel overwhelmed. And perhaps right now the change is working because it is new and interesting and perhaps in mid-February taking the toys away won't seem like such a great idea...but for now, I really do think I have happier kids. I'll keep you updated as the year goes on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Say It Loud!

I know that at some point during the course of this blog, I'm going to get in trouble for something I said (again). So, as a warning, I'm going to list a few things I feel very strongly about and you can decide whether or not to take this blog off your bookmarks list. As I've said before, I'm not judgmental because I'm certainly not about to tell others how to live their lives, but I do firmly believe in the values I'm raising my kids with (why else would I be raising them like this?) So here it is:

1) Breastfeeding--I mean, why wouldn't you??? It is free, it is easy, it is ready-made and it is SO SO SO SO SO much better for your baby. I could go on, but I'm sure I've already ticked off enough people to make my point.

2) Baby wearing--again, why wouldn't you? I get so irritated by the millions of products on the market designed so that you can actually go from dawn to dusk with little more than picking up your baby to move him/her from one plastic apparatus to another. Babies were made to cuddle, love and hold close to your heart. I, for one, can't get enough of my baby nuzzling into my neck.

3) Gentle Discipline--please, don't teach your child not to hit by hitting them. And along with that....

4) Cry-It-Out. I HATE that. HATE IT! HATE IT with a red hot raw passion that few can understand. That is a little PERSON crying in there! A person so new to this world they don't know if they can trust it or if they are safe--and you are leaving them there alone in the dark as you sit and hope against hope that they will eventually "learn" to fall asleep??? I'm sorry, but that really bugs me.

5) Buy local and watch what you buy--this is the one that tends to get me in trouble. I do NOT shop at W.al*M.art, I do NOT eat at fast food restaurants, and yes, my children know to check out the business practices of a company before they buy any toys from China. We get our food locally, we try to get most of our goods locally and we live without a lot of "comforts" that many people take for granted. And, forgive me, I think we are smarter consumers because of it. Perhaps that sounded a little too "high horse" for some, but there you have it. Again, I do not expect others to be as uptight about this as I am, but please, don't ask me to do a quick spin through the McDonald's Drive Thru while we are out together--I might explode (Cathy, are you listening??)

I know there are others and I'm bound to get on the soapbox about them at some point, but this is all I will subject you to for now. Remember, though, I'm not judging!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not much to say...

I'm having a really hard time putting together coherent sentences tonight. Perhaps it is because I'm tired from a wonderful weekend at a friend's house. Or perhaps it is because of the energy I spent at the awesome La Leche League conference on Saturday. Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is because I spent the whole day trying to home school a 6-year-old while the 4-year-old was sick on the couch and the 8-month-old was crawling around NOT napping.

So instead of writing, I thought I would post a sample of the umpteen pictures I have taken in an effort to capture the wonder and beauty of Evan's first teeth.

You can see that he is less than cooperative about it all!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Understatement

Yesterday was Erin's home school science class. This is a fantastic class that meets at the town library and Tony, the man who teaches it, always has something really cool to show the kids. Yesterday it was tree frogs. He started by showing the kids how these two fist-sized frogs could literally climb up the door. Then he got them down from the door and put them on the floor and had all the kids sitting around them as he was describing some of the cool things about them. He says, "Does anyone want to hold one?" Erin, my brave little soul, tentatively sticks out her hand--and this is where a video camera would have been very handy. Before you can blink, one frog has jumped from the floor to her arm to the top of her head while the other one has jumped to her leg and then to her arm. Well, Erin let out a screech (that literally brought the librarian down from upstairs) and starts waving her arm and shaking her head. Tony can see that she is pretty freaked out and is trying to calm her while at the same time trying to save the frog who is clinging to Erin's hair and shirt (remember, these are tree frogs so they have sticky feet!). Erin finally shakes off the one on her arm and Tony gets the one on her head before Erin scuttles away to the other side of the room, panting and shaking. Of course you might feel badly for her, but she composed herself very quickly and got back into the group and went about her class. (Leaving us grown-ups laughing hysterically at her 30-second freak-out!)

Later, when asked about her day, I hear Erin say to Daddy, "Oh yeah, and Daddy! At science class today I got to hold a real tree frog!"

Just like that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Before you read this, please read my friend Carol's blog post from Monday November 2nd. (here).

I'll wait until you come back....

Here is the thing--I truly think most people are judgmental--whether or not they act on it is the question. All of us have values--especially parents--the way we feed our kids, diaper our kids, discipline our kids, all of these things speak to the way we live our lives and the way we want our kids to live their lives. It speaks to what we value in society. Now I could go on and on as to whether or not you think I value the right things, but it is easy to judge people who value different things. The question is whether or not that value judgment is going to be allowed to affect my relationship with you. For example, if we go out to dinner together and you order a big steak, I'm not going to let that bother me. I do not eat meat because I strongly believe that the way food is raised in this country is bad for our health, our economy and our planet. But I'm not going to stop hanging out with you because of it. If, on the other hand, we take our kids to the playground and upon the expected exhausted kid temper tantrum that happens at departure, you smack your child, I'm going to have a problem with that. Gentle discipline is something I believe in so strongly that it would make it very hard for me to hang out with you. Yes, I would be judging your family values and how you are treating your kids. I was judging your values before, when you ate the steak, but I would never act on that. It isn't about judging right or wrong--it is about judging differences. Some differences are small and some are big. Does that make sense?

Most people understand this and we tend to hang out with people who, for the most part, match our values. No, not all my friends are vegetarians, but most practice attachment parenting, gentle discipline, etc. This is great. But many of my friends have not had a loss, so our values surrounding some important issues are not the same and, frankly, could never be the same. This makes some conversations very hard, some conversations impossible and, sadly, it makes some friends walk away.

So what is it that Carol says so wonderfully that so many don't get? That all of this--all this judgment that parents tend to pass off on each other--is so different when you have had a loss. When you have a child "in the ground," as she puts it, you just see things differently and there is no way to explain that to someone who does not. I have tried--believe me, I have tried. But it can't be done. And it means that as we on this side of the fence sit and look over at the blissfully pregnant women on the other side, when we hear those wonderful happy-ever-after home.birth stories, when we hear about the baby showers and the fearless layette purchasing, we can't help but be "judgmental" and yes, sometimes bitter, about it all. We cannot change this. We see the world differently. And some of us have lost dear friends because of it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I used to Trick-or-Treat when I was a kid. My mother would bring my brother and me downtown to a neighborhood and we would walk from door to door saying "trick-or-treat" and the nice people would come to the door, comment on our costumes and deposit something yummy into our bags. Has it changed so much?

Last night my girls got all dressed up in costumes, looking forward to going to the houses on our street. But when we got there--with only one exception--we were greeted with lit-up porches with bowls of candy on them. The girls picked one thing from each container and we went home. There were no neighborly "trick-or-treat" greetings or comments on the costumes. There was no visiting or meeting the new people. The impression I get is that because there are "only" 12 houses on our street, people who live here take their kids to bigger, better places to get more loot (we don't do this--and we are also the people who give out pencils and stickers--mostly because I have it on good authority that I don't want to make my kids grow up to be the kids of the woman who gives out toothbrushes...don't worry, Melissa, I don't reveal my sources!) It is definitely sad to see this holiday turned into an exercise in going house to house to get candy, with nothing more to it. Although I will spare you a whole blog post on the commercialism of the holiday and making kids think they need the most expensive costume to get the biggest bag full of candy, I will say that I think my girls were disappointed by the lack of people who were home to greet them--they enjoy chatting with the neighbors!

The other thing that bothered me last night was the number of cars driving around my street dropping kids off at each house then driving to the next. I live on a dead end street--it is maybe half a mile long--with 12 houses on it. Really, walking from house to house is not a challenge. My 4-year-old can do it. In fact she did it when she was three. So explain this to me--why drive? Are you afraid of the exercise? The fresh air? What is it? Is it the same reason the school bus drives up to each and every house instead of picking up the kids at the end of the street? Am I the only one who actually had to walk to a bus stop? Either I'm getting old or kids are getting very lazy. Or perhaps it is both. But I digress.....

Our disappointments aside, the girls were very cute last night. Erin was Felicity Merriman (of the American Girl series) and Megan was a fairy princess/ballerina. Evan, of course, dressed up as the cutest baby ever. Underneath that costume he is really quite hideous. (NOT!)

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fall Fun

Today I thought I'd post something a little more lighthearted.... Here are some pictures of Megan and Evan playing in the leaves. Megan ran back and forth with her arms full of leaves and dumped them on Evan's head. Evan was delighted with this and if I had known my camera had video capabilities, I would have been able to capture his magical giggles.

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Monday, October 26, 2009


There is this intersection that I drive through often--the intersection of Center St. and Fourth St. Center St., as the name suggests, is a main thoroughfare through town. Although the speed limit is 35, people are rarely doing 35. Fourth St. is a neighborhood street that has the unique property of going straight through from one side of town to the other with almost no stop signs...except one--the one at Center St. As you can imagine, sometimes people get into a groove driving across town and, because there are no stop signs at previous intersections, they don't see the one at the Center St. intersection and they plow through--sometimes safely, sometimes not. Once in 2004, I was hit as I drove along Center St. Someone ran the stop sign and smashed the whole side of my car. I was not hurt, but the back door had to be replaced, the axle was bent, I needed new tires.... I'm sure many of you have had similar experiences. And now, as I approach that intersection, every time I see someone coming down 4th St., I flinch. I feel my hands tighten on the wheel, I ride the brakes...basically I tense up. Most people would not blame me for this. I've been hit before and I've seen others hit in the same way. It is not a safe intersection, though hundreds, if not thousands, of people drive by it safely every single day.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

I'm not saying this so that the people who have never been hit and who have no fear will suddenly be fearful--that is the last thing I want. I'm not saying it to be the doomsday person with the big "abandon hope all ye who drive past this intersection!" sign. I'm not saying it just to be negative and I'm not trying to take away the joy of the people who drive past there daily, be-bopping along to their car stereo. I'm telling you so that you can understand my perspective. I have been hit driving past that intersection and it scared me. It is really that simple, don't you think?

So for all the home.birthing mamas out there who might have been upset by my last post or who might have been shocked at the fact that I freaked and sobbed to find out that my nephew was born at home, I'm sorry. In another life, I know I would be a home.birthing advocate. I know this. I love the idea of low or no intervention births, I firmly believe in a baby's need to be skin-to-skin with its mother and not in some nursery somewhere, and I believe with all my heart in the ability of a woman's body to give birth. But at this particular intersection, there is too much at stake for me to drive by without flinching. I hope people can understand this.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I never saw it coming...

You know that feeling when you turn around and realize that a runaway train missed you by a hair? You didn't even know you were in danger until it was over. You are safe on the sidewalk and your whole family is safe and everything is okay...so you turn around and start to sob and shake and all you can imagine is what would have happened "if."

I feel that way right now. I'm shaking and sobbing and can't believe I never even knew the runaway train was heading my way. My sister-in-law gave birth to a beautiful little baby boy today--8lbs, 3oz--and both are doing very well. But the part that caught me off guard is that she birthed him at home. Don't get me wrong, I am not against home.birthing necessarily...but the fact of the matter is that the life I live puts me in the unique perspective of knowing far more people who have had home.births go tragically wrong than people who have gotten healthy, live babies this way. I know, I know, I'm such a downer and a party pooper and everything else--and you're right. But the bottom line is that as badly as I wish people could understand my perspective on this, I would never, never, ever wish this perspective on any other human being--least of all my sister-in-law and my handsome new nephew.

Welcome to the world, Jack Peter Doyle, I'm so, SO happy that you arrived safely. Thank you!

(And just for the record, I'm not "for" hospital births for low-risk women. I think the US needs a substantial improvement in its support of and for birthing centers close to or attached to hospitals--just in case--but that still allow women the freedom of laboring how they want, with or without interventions, etc. So please don't think I'm all about making birth a medical event.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Just for fun

Today I thought I'd post a few pictures of my wonderful kiddos. Here is Megan feeding her baby brother and then a picture of what the baby brother looks like when he is fed by a 4 year old. (In fairness to Megan, we have pictures of her being fed by a 2-year-old Erin and Megan definitely got more food into Evan's mouth than Erin ever got into her mouth. See, Melissa, there is SO much to look forward to!)

Also included are some of our pictures from a hike last week. It was wonderfully chilly and such a beautiful fall day--it was nice to get out.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Today's Concert

Today we went to a children's concert with Megan's school. Red Grammar, the singer, was great. He was doing this birthday song and as he ran through all the months, he was asking people to raise their hands if their birthday was during that month. When he called out January, Erin raised her hand, quickly put it down and looked at me. "Mom," she said, "I know my birthday isn't in January, but Sophie can't raise her hand. Is it okay that I did? I'm not trying to lie and say that is my birthday."

I nearly cried. Because normally when I hear the month of January, my whole body wants to jump up and down and yell, "I HAD A BABY THEN, I HAD A BABY THEN!" I want people to know about the little girl I never got to keep. And usually--usually--I'm very alone in this reaction. But not today. Today, my oldest baby girl, the first one I did get to keep, had that same feeling. She wanted, more than anything, to yell, "I HAD A SISTER! I HAD A SISTER!"

And I loved her even more for that. The whole audience thought she got her birthday wrong (because she also raised her hand for February), but I know better. She didn't get her birthday wrong, she got her sister's birthday right. It totally made my day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

His Kitchen

When my husband makes dinner (which is more often than I do), he seems to know how to do it to minimize the mess. Perhaps this is because he also does the dishes--in fact he does just about everything that has to do with the kitchen--but somehow he has learned over the years how to cook wonderful, healthy, homemade meals while only getting two spoons dirty. I have not learned this. I am not even close to learning this. Tonight I made Pink Macaroni and Cheese (which is regular mac and cheese but with beets in it). So there was a casserole dish that it all was baked in, the pot that cooked the macaroni, the pot that cooked the cheese sauce, the pot for the beets, the cutting board for the beets, the cheese grater, and a plethora of knives, stirring spoons and measuring things (which is another thing my husband doesn't use--he seems to know how much a teaspoon is just by looking). So poor Chris comes home from work and is grateful beyond words that dinner is ready and waiting. And because he loves me, he doesn't even comment that it looks like a tornado ran through his kitchen.

Which is fine, because I never say a thing when he does the laundry.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just a phase??

My oldest daughter is 6.5 (and never let her hear you say she is just 6--she is 6.5). She is very energetic, curious, intelligent, and fun. She is also very anxious and terrified of any kind of change--and sometimes this is the part that comes to the surface when she is tired or stressed, as she has been lately. This makes parenting such a hard, hard journey. I can see how she is hurting deep inside and I can see how badly she just needs to curl up with her blankie and have someone take care of her...but because of her age and desire for independence, most of the time she simply refuses. And she refuses loudly, rudely, and unkindly to those around her--lashing out with grunts and growls and anger. We are trying to weather this storm as we weathered tantrums, teething, illness, bedwetting...but this one seems to be lasting longer for some reason. Maybe it is because I'm so tired and stressed about it all, but I find myself scared, truly scared, that she isn't going to grow up to be a kind person.

Since she was a baby, people have commented on two things--her blond hair and her vocabulary/intelligence. She began speaking in 3 and 4 words sentences at about 13-14 months. She had books memorized by about 15 months (we have her on video "reading" to us) and she hasn't looked back. Now, as a 6.5 year old, she is reading at about a 5-6th grade level, she is doing multiplication and division in her head, and she is truly energized by fun learning activities (building models and things like that). But this has resulted in a child who thinks that the only way to get attention and be successful is to be just that--either the prettiest one there or the smartest one there. And, because people continue to comment on her fancy dresses or academic abilities, I'm not sure how to change this. Because truly--really truly--I don't care how smart she is. I just don't care (perhaps someone out there with a child who is struggling academically would disagree with me on this). I want her to be kind.

And I know that kindness is there, I've seen it. I've seen her stick up for the shy kid in her class when others were picking on her. I've seen her let others have a turn on the swings first. I've seen her tuck her sister into bed when she is tired. I've seen this--I know it is there. But I can't seem to get it to come out when she is stressed and tired and going through change (no duh, right??). I know I'm asking a lot from her when I ask her to stop and take a breath. I know this. But when I see her react with such anger when she reaches the end of her rope, I worry. Because I'm her mother and that is what mothers do. Has anyone else been through this? How old is your child now? Are they adults? And honestly, tell me, are they in jail? If not, that would make me feel much better as I work so hard at loving every little bit of her for yet another day. Because that is the trick, isn't it? To love every little bit of her no matter what that little bit is throwing at you--sometimes literally.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stamped at birth

I have a very close friend who is dying. She is my age, she has terminal cancer and there is nothing more anyone can do for her. Let me be clear here--I am NOT okay with this. I talk to her on the phone and I tell her I'm behind her and I accept her decision to stop chemo and not be sick for the time she has left...but really I'm not okay with this and I don't want to accept this. Clearly this is her choice and intellectually I completely accept what she has decided and obviously I am behind her every step of the way for however many steps she has left. I guess what I mean is that I'm not okay with the crap the universe is throwing at her. Where should I register my complaint?

Because here is the thing--would any of us like it if we were born with stamps on us that said how many minutes, hours, days or years we would get to be here? Would we, for example, love a child less who we knew was going to die? I was in the OR two weeks ago to witness the c-section delivery of a baby who we thought would get minutes and, instead, she got days. Some would call this sad, but it was nothing short of a miracle. What love she got for those days! What if, when I met my dying friend back in college, I knew that she would die at age 36? Would that have changed our relationship? Would we have done more? Would I now care less about her?

I'm a firm believer in living every day as if it is your last. Tuck your kids in with enough love to last a lifetime because who knows when you'll get that chance again. But believing in this is one thing--living it everyday? I try so hard, I really do. But the reality is that I have three living children who are in three different places at any given time in the day. I have homeschooling stuff to plan, laundry to do, meals to prepare...and that doesn't even count the volunteer work I do that takes up considerable amounts of my "free" time. I admit to getting overwhelmed at times--don't we all. But here is the other thing--I have gained the ability to step outside myself, look at what I am doing and pull myself back down. This morning I had a list of things that "had" to get done with Erin. She began to fight it and I began to fight her. When the dust settled and the smoke had cleared, you know what? I decided that tomorrow is another day and so we decided to huddle over the chess board instead of fight over math. Some people would see this as a "waste" of a homeschool day and point out that now I'm off my schedule. But know what? If, Universe Forbid, Erin's stamp reads "6years, 245 days" then I will have no regrets.

My dear friend may only have a year or so left. 365 days. 52 weekends. And, sadly, all I can think about is the regrets. The times we "should have" done something cooler or more interesting. The times we didn't get together because one of us didn't want to drive or something came up with my kids. The times I wasn't as supportive as I should have been...those times I could have pulled myself back down and refocused on what was really important--our friendship. So for all the times I said, "It's a duck!" I'm sorry. Truly sorry. Perhaps it really was a swan*.

*sorry, this is an inside joke! And also put that picture on my list, please.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Putting this "out there"

So now that I'm officially blogging, I'm terribly nervous. Suddenly, everything that I have to say (that my friends tell me is so important to get "out there") seems either completely meaningless or simply a repeat of what you could find on any number of other blogs. I don't want my blog to be a story about how I fill my days or cute pictures of my kids (though I will include those occasionally). I want it to be an active discussion about trying to live a simple life with kids. But that isn't the only thing now is it? Because I have had a loss. People who know me know what I am referring to and know how deeply it has changed me.

And now we are at the part I'm afraid of. The death of my baby girl changed me so profoundly that many people simply don't understand it or don't think they need to. Some people think I'm just crazy. They think my baby girl isn''t worth all the energy I put into remembering her or including her in my life. Keep in mind that most people who think this way aren't doing it to be mean--they honestly believe that it would be best for me to "move on" and "stop dwelling." They can't see that what I do is not dwelling...it is integrating her into our lives. It is trying to make sense out of a senseless loss. It is acknowledging that there is, indeed, a huge, gaping hole between my 4-year-old and my 8-month-old. There really is.

Please understand, I don't want this blog to be all about Sophie, because she isn't all there is to me or to my family. But nor can this blog be just about my living kids, because that isn't all there is to me either. Everything I will say on this blog is being said through the veil of a loss--whether it sounds like it or not--and that could very well upset people who would rather I just stopped living that life. Because I can't. That simple.

So there you have it. This is what I'm putting out there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My husband is a geologist....

So I've been wanting to start a blog for a while (everyone is doing it, you know!) but I haven't been able to come up with a title. I wanted something that would incorporate the things that have become the biggest parts of my life--that is my family, my kids, living simply, and living with loss. While hiking the other day, Chris and I tried a dozen different titles to try to get the "play on words" just right ("theholefamily" or "theholisticfamily") but nothing seemed to work exactly the way I wanted it or incorporate everything I wanted it to.

Later, after the kids were in bed, we tried a few different titles but they were all taken or not quite right. After a while we gave up and decided to sleep on it so Chris left the room. A few minutes later he returned....
"You are going to hate this one," he said when he came back in, "How about, 'Geode'" Yes, I'm married to a geologist. But think about it--a geode is very simple in its appearance and it is absolutely beautiful inside. And yet, to make it as beautiful as it is, it needs this big, gaping hole in the middle. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it worked well for our family. So here is my blog--The Family Geode.
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