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.