Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Saturday morning, I woke up with Johnny asleep in the crook of my arm, as usual. I lay for a long time watching him breathe, watching the perfection of his little face; the curlicues of his nose shapes, his little bow of a mouth, the whorls of his ears. The morning was so new it was still dark outside, but light enough to make out these features. I let myself bathe in my maternal love for this perfect little boy, so lovely, so cheery, so good-tempered. He woke up and stretched backwards, his little fists next to his ears, and then he opened his eyes and smiled at me, hiccupping with giggles. I was thinking about something I’d recently learned from a child psychiatrist: that babies have such undeveloped nervous systems that they literally depend on their parents to provide that calming effect for them. And the nervous systems of boys are actually much more delicate than the nervous systems of girls. For this reason, this doctor recommends that boys co-sleep for longer than girls. I was thinking about all the times as a child I went to my parents for reassurance over my many fears: fears of tigers, monsters, robbers, avalanches, rattlesnakes, Bad Guys, hornets and the abominable snowman in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

At six forty-five I got hungry and carried him, still dozy, downstairs with me. Usually at this point, I put him in the neglecto-matic while I make my eggs, but this morning, I wanted him close for some reason. Like a new lover, I wasn’t ready to let our sweet night of connection end. So I got out one of our baby carriers. I may have already mentioned this earlier, but I am a disaster at baby wearing. I have been shown countless times how to work our many varieties of baby wraps, and I seem to fail at all of them, but none worse than on Saturday morning, when I “froggied” Johnny’s legs and placed him, back against my stomach, into the easiest sling of them all, except somehow I missed the pouch. Thinking Johnny was secure, I let go and he fell from the height of my chest prone onto the floor with a thud. And then he produced the longest, most horrible scream I have ever heard. My baby turned red, and wailed, huge wet tears spewing from his eyes. I immediately picked him up and sat on the floor, trying to comfort him, first with my breast, which he didn’t want, and then just holding him and rocking him and cooing to him. But he was inconsolable. I called the emergency pediatric nurse who told me to get him to the ER right away. By this time, Tom had come downstairs and found me, blind with my own tears, trying to change Johnny’s diaper.

“I dropped him!” I sobbed. “We’re going to the hospital.”

And Tom responded the way the world’s number one best husband would respond:
“Oh, honey,” he said, wrapping his arms around me. “He’s going to be all right. Babies are made of rubber. But I’m so glad it was you and not me who dropped him.”

But even though Tom did not yell at me, I was yelling at me. How could I have done this? What if he were really hurt? What if his neck had snapped? What if he suffered brain damage? As I sat on the floor holding my screaming baby, I knew this much: no matter what, I would love him. Crazy promises to God went through my head, to save him in exchange for…for what? Even as I was bargaining, I knew God doesn’t work that way. So I just vowed to love bigger. And try to pay attention more. And no matter what, to grow.

Fortunately, we live across the street from the hospital, so I bundled Johnny up against the 21 degree cold and raced over. They took his vitals as he continued to scream. The doctor, a young guy with a goatee, repeated what my husband stated about babies being made of rubber and looked in Johnny’s ears. “Kids fall out of swings all the time,” he said, putting away his stethoscope.

Sling,” I said. “Not swing. He was on my body—I was standing–– and he fell off.”
“Oh,” said the doctor. “Well, that’s quite a fall. I’m going to order a CT scan.”
I started to cry again.

“Just to make sure.”

The doctor called Johnny “Boo boo,” which calmed me down a little, and Tom and Lila arrived which calmed me down even more. Then the nurse brought us some black tea and I felt almost able to handle the situation. Then Johnny stopped crying and did a double take as if to say, “Well, hello! It’s you! How marvelous to see you!” and started talking to me in his current language that sounds like, “Euh, Euh! Euh Euh!” and I knew he was fine.

The nurse wheeled us through the hallways of the hospital to the CT scan room. We donned lead aprons and I was instructed to keep Johnny still for the photos. He cried at first, not liking to have his little neck encumbered by the strange pillow situation, but I sang “Hush Little Baby” to him and he went back to staring up and me and smiling.

He was pronounced the cutest baby of the day, which didn’t mean much since he was the only baby there and it was 9am, but still. He was. We waited and waited to be told the CT scan was normal, and by that time I didn’t need the results. The young doctor came back in and said, “Okay, now just to be safe, we’re going to do an X-Ray.”

“No,” I said. “We’re not. But thanks.”

He sputtered a little, and then admitted that we didn’t really need an X-Ray and bid us farewell. I wrapped us up again and we crossed the street and found Lila and Tom playing “Hostibal” with Lila’s Groovy Girls. There are five Groovy Girls and most of them are named Joanie and they are all doctors. They all had special beds that could roll. I told them the good news about Johnny’s return to himself and general OKness and then I sat on the couch and called my parents to tell them about the adventures of the morning.

“Oh, sweetheart!” they both exclaimed, each one on an extension. “That’s the worst thing in the world."

“The thing is,” I told them. “I spent that first hour so mad at myself, so miserable, so worried, and I kept thinking, ‘if only I’d stayed in bed a few minutes longer, if only I had put him in the swing, if only I hadn’t turned on NPR which might have distracted me.’ I mean, now that everything is fine, I’m actually glad I got to just spend two uninterrupted hours cuddling my boy and making faces at him. But if he’d been seriously hurt…”

And they shared with me the stories I already knew, about my sister’s various trips to the hospital, how there’s no fear like the fear of your child being injured. We talked about Thanksgiving, about how great the election was (again), about how great Lila and Johnny are, about the cold spell we’re having. I told them for the millionth time since I became a parent how grateful I am for all they did (and do) for us girls.
I hung up the phone and realized this forty-something mom of two had just used her sixty-something parents to calm her nervous system, and I smiled. And then Tom and Lila and Johnny and I bundled up once again and braved the cold, determined to seize the day, walk into our little town and say hi to our Saturday buddies and face our next fear (Lila’s first haircut) with as much grace and gratitude as we could muster.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Essential Twenty-First Century Mom Conflict

Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Is it just me, or is everyone having the same fantasy? I find myself saying to myself several times a day, “Oh, that’s okay; when Barack Obama is president, that’ll be solved.” "That" being everything from the ever-sinking Dow to our high health insurance premiums to the mice who have taken up residence in our cupboards to my daughter’s continuing refusal to become potty trained. Now and then I remember that Obama is just a guy, albeit a smart and attractive and charismatic one, and that he probably can’t wave his hand and produce miracles, but I think it’s probably good for my nervous system to pretend he can right now.

A friend of mine sent me two articles today that stirred up my Time, Money, Calories matrix and left me panting for breath. One article was from the magazine Brain, Child and the other was her response to it. The Brain Child article is called "Eco-Housewives" and tells of a woman named Shannon Hayes who is writing a book tentatively titled Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity form a Consumer Culture. It sounded right up my alley—a sort of Annie Leonard "Story of Stuff" homesteady fantasy, and with trepidation, I started to read my friend’s response to it. My friend, the mother of three and a brilliant professional writer and card carrying feminist, took offense at the suggestion that “eco-moms” were somehow more enlightened and evolved than those who, as she does, shop at ShopRite and occasionally accept plastic bags when they forget their canvas ones. My friend raised the question “what is enough?” which to me is at the root of what I keep thinking of as the essential Twenty-First Century Mom Conflict.

What is enough? My friend was clearly disturbed and, by her own admission, thrown on the defensive by Hayes’s embrace of a completely consumer-free lifestyle: no TV, all local organic cuisine, no presents at Christmas, etc. Hayes’s stance didn’t bother me in the least: I admire her; occasionally want to follow that path; don’t (I have many an eco-sin); and figure it’s good enough that I use cloth diapers and make my own wipes and drive a biodiesel (which may or may not be an eco-sin, but that's a topic for a different post). It’s about batting averages, I figure, and I am grateful to the Hayeses of the world for allowing me to have lower ones.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own areas of defensiveness. I get defensive around moms who spend most of their day actually doing something that can be perceived as “playing” with their kids. I am pretty good at making up stories, but oddly terrible at engaging with my daughter around her stuffed animals or dolls. This is especially odd as that was exactly the kind of play I did as a child. The other day when I was lamenting my lack of talent and interest in imaginative play, my husband said, “You don’t like to play with her that way because you brought that part of you along with you. Now you play by writing novels and songs, and you can’t go back.”

Maybe so, but I still feel like a rotten parent when I see someone else–– a babysitter, another parent, my husband–– animating one of her dolls and getting her to giggle and shriek with joy. I have friends who get defensive––in fact, go on the offense––when it comes to a career they may have left behind. These moms speak with passion about selfishness and priorities and deathbed regrets.

Whatever. Motherhood, career, good stewardship of the planet, It's impossible to do it all. I give up. Also, I give up on trying to be enlightened. The High Priests of the Present Moment may now come and officially excommunicate me. I’ve been trying so hard to live in the Now so as not miss a single thing my darling children do or say that I think I’m seriously in danger of losing my sense of humor forever. I wish today, with all my heart, that my friend and I (and all the Shannon Hayeses of the world) could just relax and enjoy our few moments here, even if that means we are zoning out and watching Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central; EVEN if that means we are sitting around the kitchen table judging our other mom friends for watching Comedy Central. Either way, at least we will have a few precious moments for ourselves, even if they are self-righteous ones.

Today I let my daughter cry in her crib for five minutes after I put her down for her nap, and yes, I felt terrible, and yes, it was the absolute best choice I could make given how exhausted I was and how my son needed his diaper changed. Then I noticed that she stopped crying, sung herself the ABC song and fell asleep. When she woke, she was in a great mood.

“I say 'hostibal,' mama, and you say ‘hospital.’ Isn’t that funny, mama?”

I picked her up and snuggled her. “I’m sorry you were sad before your nap,” I said.

“I not sad now,” she replied. “Talk about the bear and the scary boy, okay Mama? That’s a good idea, right Mama?” and she hugged and kissed me, and perhaps I was forgiven, but at any rate, her innate, instinctive kindness allowed me to forgive myself. In this, as in all things parental, the kids are the best teachers of all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Bear, Part One

In late October, Tom and I had a $26 date. I packed up my dinner and met him at the Haymarket, our local coffeehouse/ vegetarian eatery where Wi-Fi is free and the local writers hold office hours. The $20 was for the babysitter; $6 was for Tom’s egg sandwich. On the way home, driving past Smith college, I saw what looked like a giant Newfoundland dog bounding in front of the art museum.

“A bear!” I shouted, pointing. The bear ran across Main Street right in front of our car, Tom jumped out with his cell phone and called the cops, following it a pace. I called out to the Smith students, “There’s a Bear on Bedford Terrace,” and they responded with appropriate enthusiasm.

When we got home, of course we told Lila right away. That might have been a mistake.

“But,” she said, wrinkling up her eyes and nose and feigning amusement but actually looking terrified, “Will the bear come in our house? I don’t want the bear come in our house.”

“No, sweetie,” I said. “Bears don’t come inside houses.” Then I remembered too late that our most recent favorite book—the one we read three times per night—was Goldilocks. “Real bears don’t come in houses,” I amended. “They can’t. They don’t have hands, so they can’t open doorknobs.”

This didn’t seem to relieve her much, so Tom quickly added, “And they like woods. We don’t have enough woods here for the bears.”

Three days later, our family of four traveled to Brattleboro VT where Katryna and I participated in a No Nukes Jubilee. It was a dismal day, not quite raining, but definitely threatening to, and the crowd was not huge. The first thing we saw, (having hoped for face paint and a bouncy house and maybe some farm animals to pat), was a clown dumping a barrel of autumn leaves on a group of children. Lila promptly screamed and jumped into Tom’s arms. “Who’s dat guy wif lipstick?” she shrieked.
And now it’s, “Clown’s can’t come into our house, wight Mama, because dey don’t have hands.”

It’s a time of fear and loathing—after all, it’s almost Halloween, not to mention election day. We Democrats are so scared we can hardly look each other in the eye these days. The polls look fabulous, with our guy above 50% and campaigning vigorously in states that haven’t voted for a Democrat since before the platypus became extinct. People are talking landslide. People are talking mandate. People are talking about a filibuster-proof Senate. People are talking about major parties on November 5. And I continue to be glued to my laptop where I can read the latest article about Why McCain Fell Short and The Palin Effect and Who’s Going to Be in Obama’s Cabinet instead of doing a million other things that would be, as my friend says, more nurturing.
Like: meditate, exercise, write in my journal, play with my kids, write a song, or best of all, do nothing. As a life coach, I often prescribe just this for clients. Take five minutes of nothing and call me in the morning. Today, I raced upstairs to get dressed for my weekly morning self-care date (therapy plus Pilates=saner and fitter mama) and as I passed my unmade bed, I lept onto it, rolled on my back and lay there for the count of thirty. Then I jumped back up, put in my contacts, washed my face and brushed my teeth. Tonight, after dinner and before my writing group, I found a CD from my college days—the fifteen century Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez––and let the complex melody with the simple one voice arrangement act as a tonic to my nervous system. I recently learned that the young child (or baby) uses his parent’s nervous system to regulate his own. He literally relies on the parent to calm him down, and as anyone who ever played those outdoor adventure/inner quest activities knows, one must be well grounded in order to ground others. Thus, the Gregorian chant.
That extra hour we got when we “Falled back” was lost on us—it just fell into the big sleep deficit.

So this last week went a little differently from the previous weeks. I tried to put the oxygen mask on my own face before putting it on my kids, to use my all time favorite metaphor. I made sure I got to the gym, scribbled some musings in my journal every day, and went out for dinner with my husband and another wonderful couple while our kids got to eat Halloween candy and misbehave with a babysitter. And it worked, and I did feel better: not quite as convinced that if I didn’t take in every single last moment with my two growing children that I would lie on my deathbed regretting all my choices.

People didn’t used to parent the way we parent today. My parents left us in our bassinets by the side of the tennis court, and we turned out just fine, mostly. Some nights when I wake up in a pool of vomit (or worse) and my neck is bent at a radically unnatural angle as my body curves around my sleeping boy, I wonder why I let fear of SIDS keep me from using that lovely crib in what used to be my office down the hall. But then, just a frequently, I take in the unparalleled sweetness of my sleeping son, cuddled in the crook of my arm like the ultimate teddy bear and know these days are numbered: he’ll be in his own bed soon enough. I got an email from a friend whose boy is now 13. “I sat through the entire season of American Idol last year,” she confessed. “Just so I could cuddle with him on the couch under a blanket.” I totally get this.

I was reminded recently of one of the benefits of our way of parenting in a recent New Yorker: apparently the teen pregnancy rates (and even abstinence rates) are lower in so-called Blue states, and many sociologists attribute this to attachment parenting. Of course, all those sociologists probably are or were attachment parenting devotees, so the report may be suspect. Are we going overboard in our slavish devotion to our children? Where is that elusive balance? Given that my resources are so taxed, can I settle for a life where it seems the pendulum keeps swinging from one extreme (focus on kids) to the other (focus on self)? Or, to put it another way, can I let go of all my judgments, not to mention the judgments of others and just live my imperfect life imperfectly but with great joy?

Friday, November 07, 2008

I Might Have to Hang a Flag (Rightside Up) Off My Porch

I might have to purchase an American flag and hang it on my porch.

I come from a family of patriots. Every July 4 my mother dressed my sisters and me in red, white and blue, complete with red, white and blue ribbons for our braids. We climbed Snake Hill Road in Long Island with other tri-colored patriots in the annual Fourth of July parade. We sang “America the Beautiful” and other America songs and waved small cloth flags, and in the summer of 1976 we collected Bicentennial quarters. We grew up outside Washington DC and every time a friend or relative came to visit we took them on tours of the Smithsonian, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Washington Monument and the American History Museum. I knew the stories of Paul Revere and Betsy Roth better than I knew the episodes of the Brady Bunch. My grandmother, a Democrat, could barely speak of her brother-in-law who had been an America Firster in the forties—not because he had been a Republican, but because he, in her view, had distorted the notion of patriotism into something resembling selfishness. My other grandparents were Republicans, and until 1980, my parents were independents, choosing their leaders based on trustworthiness, intelligence and experience.

Then Reagan showed up, and I don’t think anyone in my family has pulled the lever for a Republican since.

But I don’t want to write about the past twenty eight (!!) years of partisan politics. As much as I am an eager participant in the blood sport; as much as I enjoyed this morning’s Huffington Post expose of the rifts between the McCain and Palin camps (she thought South Africa was just the southern tip of the continent as opposed to a country unto itself! She couldn’t name the countries in NAFTA!), I mourn the America of my childhood, broken and disillusioned though it surely was to the adults who were living through Vietnam, Watergate, stagflation, oil embargoes and the first wave of culture wars. Back then, there may have been rancor between Democrats and Republicans, but it wasn’t codified the way it seems now to be.

In July of 2004 I was sitting next to my fiancĂ©, now husband at our friends Dar and Michael’s house in front of the Democratic National Convention. We watched a fresh young candidate from Illinois running for the senate stand up and address the people, urging us to put partisan politics aside because:

“We worship an "awesome God" in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

I turned to Tom and said, “Why can’t we have him as our nominee?”
“Why can’t we have him as our president?” said Tom.

It seemed like such a ridiculous long shot. First of all, there was the name. I found myself wishing he would change it. There was no way, in my mind, that someone whose last name rhymed with—was one letter different from—our public enemy number one, and whose middle name was the same last name as our public enemy number two, could be elected chief dog catcher, let alone commander in chief. He wasn’t even yet a senator, and if he did get elected, he’d just be in the job a mere four years. Maybe he could run in 2012, or 2016. Hillary was a safer bet for sure.

I read his first book and discovered this was a man with a remarkable sense of himself, a balanced visionary (didn’t know such existed) who by the way could write like an angel. Then Iowa happened, and I was a goner. If a lily-white state like Iowa could believe in this guy, surely I could too. So I did what little I could given my pregnancy and motherhood of a toddler: made phone calls, sent money compulsively, saving the thank you post cards for my daughter, put bumper stickers on my car, argued with my in-laws and anyone else who couldn’t escape, and prayed to my awesome God. High-fived when he––we––won another primary. Became mentally ill from checking the polls every five minutes. Almost walked out of my church on Easter Sunday when our minister noted that Barack Obama was not going to be our real savior any more than Jesus Christ was—the real savior is and always has been ourselves (yes, I go to an unusual church, if you can call it that.)

Of course, the joke about that is that this is what Obama has been saying all along. The change is us, people, the change is each of us. And that is why I am in love with our country again, so in love that I might have to hang a flag, rightside up, off my porch. Because ever since I first voted in 1988 (for Jesse Jackson in the primary and Michael Dukakis in the general) I have thought that elections were big shams. Back in the 80s and 90s, only about 50% of the population at the most even voted—so no politician was really chosen by very much of the populace. And even though I could tick off issues where I agreed with my Democratic politicians, I never loved them. I never really thought of them as leaders. A leader is one who has a vision and through the power of example and inspiration compels others to follow him or her. That was never the case for me, even with Bill Clinton, whom I voted for strategically: to protect the supreme courts; because I knew he was intelligent and would make better decisions than Bush. But I never felt he had a vision I could be a part of, except the vision of a Democrat majority, which never materialized, even with a booming economy.

Then in 2000 and again in 2004, voter turnout increased significantly, and many more red states turned blue—but, well we all know how that turned out. Our guy won the popular vote but the whole thing hung on those hanging Florida chads. Our guy was up in all the polls, even the exit polls, but the whole thing hung on broken machines in Ohio. We had the most cynical administration in history systematically destroy our reputation in the world, our economy, our justice system, even our media (remember how the press couldn’t interview the Bushies unless they proclaimed fealty?) Karl Rove and the Dicks: Cheney and Armey, Donald Rumsfeld–– their very names like dull clubs on my skull. I seriously fantasized about a new nation composed of the northeast, the left coast and some choice blue cities like St. Louis, Boulder and Chapel Hill.

But what happened on Tuesday night changed all that. I, like all of you, saw America on the front yard of Chicago, weeping and cheering and taking their marching orders from our new leader; someone whom we chose, as Frank Rich said in the Sunday Times on Nov. 2, because “we are a people as practical as we are dreamy. We’ll soon remember that the country is in a deep ditch, and that we turned to the black guy not only because we hoped he would lift us up but because he looked like the strongest leader to dig us out.” The real leader is ourselves. Democracy works. We cashed in that promissory note that all of us are created equal; that we each have a voice and a vote; that if we don’t like the government, we can change it, because the government is us: by the people, for the people. This is my country. Not since those July days in the 70s have I felt that that has been true. Since Reagan, I’ve always felt like a leftie oddball, a small nag shaking my tiny fist at the powers-that-be. But today, I feel powerful, and my guess is that you do too. Having felt the power of the people, the power of a good vision, my bet is that we are never going back to our disenfranchisement.

And, for the moment, I am done with partisan politics. May the goodwill that seems to be burbling up from every corner of the world seep into every corner of this great land of ours. May we lay down our swords and shields and be, as Obama calls us (as Jesus and every leader of every major religion calls us, as our own consciences call us) our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. May we rejoice together that our hopes and dreams and love overcame our fears on November 4, 2008. May God bless the United States of America, and may our country be a good, caring and righteous patch of green on this big blue planet.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Time, Money, Calories

As I write this, the Dow has just plunged to its latest lowest low, which means the small amount of money I have managed to squirrel away for our retirement has evaporated. Unemployment is up; the price of oil is threatening to force many families to choose between food and heating this winter, and there is general discussion that our country is on the verge of another Great Depression. Somehow, this made me want to shop for a pair of Uggs.

I have a pair of very nice fake ugglike boots—Merrills, which are more practical but not as cute. But recently, I’ve been seized with the idea that I absolutely need a pair of real Uggs. Six weeks ago, I gave birth to my second child, and even though much of my pregnancy weight is gone, I am still carrying around a good (okay, exactly) 13.5 pounds more than I had on me the day I married my husband. So I rationalize, now is certainly not the time to buy new items for any body parts north of my ankles, both because I hope soon not to fit into that new pair of jeans I would buy today; and because, like most people I know, my family lives from paycheck to paycheck with not enough to make the expenses we have, let alone the $800 bill we just received for repairs to our car. (This because we let our two year old daughter “drive” the car while we unloaded groceries; when we returned, she had taken all the quarters we keep next to the stick shift (for easy access to our town’s meters) and dropped them one by one into the CD player.) Clothes are so out of the question in terms of importance in our budget that we are still wearing the ones we bought in the early 90’s. But somehow today, the thought crossed my mind that Uggs would be just what I needed to give me a quick pick-me-up. They will fit in spite of the vicissitudes of my waistline. So I went on EBay to see if there were any candidates in my size. (Seven and a half, in case anyone out there has an old pair they want to sell me.)

I was breast-feeding at the time, sitting on our couch in the middle of the day. I’ve arranged my life so that the morning belongs to my daughter, the afternoon is when I work as a life coach, the evening is when I run writing groups and go out to perform with my sister as one half of The Nields, and occasionally make contact with my wonderful and long-suffering husband. But the middle of the day—from about 11am to 2pm—is mine. Or it used to be. It used to be when Lila took her nap, but now it’s the time when Lila gets dumped into her crib along with all of her dolls and her stuffed animal menagerie plus five or ten children’s books to keep her occupied while I race downstairs, make myself something healthy and quick, and eat it while I hang out with my seven-week-old son, Johnny. He snoozes for part of it, but mostly I feed him, dandle him, stare into his big blue eyes, kiss his soft chubby cheeks and read him articles from the New York Times online.

Or occasionally shop online. Of course, there were hundreds of pairs of Uggs in my size, but not my price range of $10-$15. Instead, they came in at around $100. I found a pair that were up for their bidding time in 7 minutes. I started to type my name and numbers into the screen when I suddenly remembered the car payment bill. Also, I remembered my principles, my new hungry family, our limited income, my general desire to de-clutter our house and not bring anything new into it and the fact that when Uggs first hit the streets a few years ago I vowed I would never ever be seen in anything so useless and trendy. I navigated away from the page and went back to obsessively poking around the RealClearPolitics sight to see if Obama’s numbers had changed at all. The baby on my breast started squirming and fussing. Absentmindedly, I rocked him, but he just fussed more. I picked him up and looked him in the face. As soon as I gave him my full attention, he stopped grunting like a little groundhog and instead gave me one of his drunken lopsided grins. I suddenly thought, “When I go to heaven, St. Peter will say, ‘Why should we let you in? You had heaven on earth with those two charming kids, and instead of enjoying them, you spent all your time reading minutae on the Internet. Get lost.’”

Having a child was a huge change for Tom and me. We used to be two single self-employed artists whose biggest concern (besides bone-chilling loneliness) was whether to spend Thursday morning writing in our journals at the Haymarket or going to an Anusara yoga class. After Lila was born, we had to negotiate who would be with her, and who was going to be working to bring home the (local, organic) bacon. Now, with two, it’s who will be on bath duty, who on kitchen clean up and how are we going to juggle the baby while attempting to follow the story lines Lila has concocted for the family of dolls in her dollhouse. Most evenings, I collapse in bed with my infant son, who won’t go to sleep unless I am lying next to him in our (dark, silent) room. I have about forty-five minutes a day—on a good day—to advance my agenda: to “get things done.” By “getting things done” I mean taking a shower, putting in and taking out my contacts, doing the never ending loads of laundry, cooking our meals, shopping for our food (and ecologically friendly laundry detergent), and last but definitely not least, getting some exercise so I can lose those 13.5 pounds.

I find myself bartering with myself constantly: if I walk to the store with Lila in the stroller and Johnny in the front pack, that means Johnny naps now, which means I won’t be able to count on it later, which means I won’t be able to pay our bills online today. But it will mean that I’ll burn about 80 calories, which means I can have a mango for dessert tonight. Mangoes are $1.50 each, which is more than an apple right now—apples are more like $1, unless they’re Honeycrisps, in which case they’re more like $2. And if I walk with Lila in the stroller, I can’t hear her talking very easily and therefore can’t interact with her well, so it’s not really “quality time”—maybe instead I should just take her to the park, but that will mean I’ll have to skip my own naptime tomorrow if I want to get to the grocery store. And we’re out of diaper wipes.

In other words, I’m in a constant matrix of time, money and calories. Each day, I have a certain number to spend, a certain number budgeted out. We all do. And it’s been occurring to me recently that many of us have the same kind of amnesiac disconnect that I experienced today over the Uggs when it comes to these three daily “goods” we’re all given. Everyone now knows we’ve botched our finance markets, both nationally and personally--the average American is in debt and lives in a kind of delusion of credit. We’ve got an obesity epidemic as well as a seriously distorted BMI ideal that fuels our insidious $100 billion a year dieting industry. And we are a notoriously busy nation, taking an average of 13 vacation days a year (France takes 37; Italy a whopping 42!) So I am not alone in my journey through this matrix. And, like many of us, I have always thought of myself as a particularly good navigator: I am in good health, physically and financially, usually fit and trim, solvent and something of a time management specialist. As a life coach, it’s my job to help other people with these three issues, among other things. But recently I’ve added three balls to my juggling act: Lila, Johnny, and for lack of a better term, the desire to be a good steward of my corner of the earth. There are lots of ways to save time and money and calories if one is willing to trash the planet: in no particular order: disposable diapers, driving to the supermarket instead of biking or walking, drying clothes in a clothes dryer, using a non-stick spray like Pam, buying groceries at Costco or Wal-Mart, working out on a treadmill instead of bundling up and going for a jog…the list seems to grow daily in my head as I try to be “good.” And mostly, I fall short. I hung one load of laundry out to dry in the wooden drying rack I freecycled last summer, but mostly I’ve been too lazy, or the weather hasn’t co-operated and I end up using the dryer. But I have decided to write a book in the hopes that through my struggles and attempts at being not the supermom of the 80s who was all things to all people including a sexy (skinny) wife at the end of the day, nor the Blackberry-wielding organizational powerhouse mom of this decade but just Lila and Johnny’s completely imperfect mother, Tom’s daydreamingly frustrating wife and the musician/writer I’ve grown into over the last 41 years, I can help some other new mom or anyone who has extremely limited time and money and wants to lose a little weight in the bargain. Even if the reader gets helped by putting the book down and saying, “Well, clearly THAT doesn’t work.”

If any readers out there have anecdotes on the topic, I welcome them! This book is for new parents and anyone else facing a period (or lifetime) of extremely thin resources. I hope to create a clearinghouse of stories and ideas to inspire us on the journey.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Blood, Yellow Slime, Tears and Reflections on Sarah Palin and Motherhood

Ah, it’s all coming back to me. The cracked nipples, that slightly sour smell of witch hazel and healing flesh, the endless bleeding, the Ibuprofen tablets the size of horse tranquilizers—and the indescribably sweet smell of the top of my new baby’s head.

I love all baby smells, even the mustardy poops which my husband refers to as “baked goods” because they smell strangely sweet. Even the milky puke. Even that fold in his neck where strange odors, probably associated with trapped breast milk, linger and lurk, which no baby washcloth seems to eradicate for long. My two-year-old, whom I usually find delicious in all ways, climbs into my lap and I am painfully aware that she smells like a human being, whereas Johnny smells like he comes from a much better world. Even the moment I pulled him out of me, covered with blood and yellow slime, he seemed to smell like herbs, or fresh-cut grass.

I love breastfeeding, even though the first week was so painful my toes curled every time he latched on. I am even coming to love the forced bed rest while my dainty parts heal, and have made an untidy nest on both the downstairs couch and our bed. I’m surrounded by large glasses of water, eye-pillows, sections of the New York Times and my laptop. I listen to Elizabeth Mitchell’s wonderful children’s CD You Are My Flower and put the two Woody Guthrie covers on repeat: “1 Day, 2 Days, 3 Days Old” and “Little Sack of Sugar.”

Here’s the part I don’t love: the six o’clock weepies. Even though I know they are just hormonal dips (plunges feels more the correct word), while I am in one, I seem to forget everything I know, like that 80% of women suffer from baby blues. That in a few hours they’ll be gone. They remind me of labor contractions—the waves are intolerable while you’re in the middle of riding one, but once you’re out, you forget the pain.

Thoughts make the pains worse, and the thoughts that inevitably accompany the tears go like this: soon my parents will die, soon I will die, soon my babies won’t be babies but surly teens who will surely choose to listen to some kind of music I will find intolerable (and “not music”). It’s all downhill from here, in short. What’s the point? Moreover, when the weepies strike, I forget that I’m not the only woman who’s ever had them; instead I feel ashamed and defective and I don’t want to tell anyone how sad I am, so I don't call my friends or family. I just read the New York Times and check the polls on realclearpolitics.com obsessively.

Also, I miss my work. I miss playing guitar, singing, performing, writing, coaching. I miss the small families of writers who come to my house twice a week and bring me outside of myself and into their creative worlds. When I’m in Six O’Clock Weepyland, I think, “How can I do my job as an artist, coach and facilitator and also do my job as a mother?”

So imagine my amazement when all of a sudden the national news started reporting that women all over the country were asking the same question right at this very moment: as a mother, how much do you have to give of yourself to your family, and as a (for lack a better word) Big Succeeder, how much do you have to give to your work and the people who depend on you?

I’m writing of course of Sarah Palin, John McCain’s new VP choice. Anyone familiar with my politics can guess how I feel about her—I wouldn’t vote for her under any circumstance because her politics and vision for this country are about 180 degrees from mine. I disagree with her about the environment, the war, the economy, and every social issue on the book. But I kind of identify with her desire to be all things to all people and to fill her cup to the brim, preferring it to spill over rather than leave a centimeter of a margin. I heard that when her water broke last April, she stayed to finish her speech and then took a plane home to Alaska to have her baby. That’s not THAT far removed from my showing up at Falcon Ridge knowing I could drop the baby any minute, or asking my OB two days before the festival if I could perform on the main stage the day after giving birth (just hypothetically). Don’t get me wrong—I’m horrified that McCain picked Ms. Palin and I don’t think she has the experience to be president, but I don’t dislike the gal. It’s nice that she’s supporting her daughter to have a baby at age 17, even though I question her judgment in running for VP knowing that would mean her daughter would be under intense scrutiny (and criticism) from the rest of the country as a result.

But how, I ask, trying to refill my water glass, juggle baby Johnny in his sling and get Lila a peach all at the same time, can she take care of a family of five, including a four-month-old with Down Syndrome (who, by the way, lives over 4000 miles away from Washington DC) AND be a (72-year-old’s) heartbeat away from the presidency? How good a job can she really do? What gives?

Yet I totally relate. As I sat bent over my breastfeeding baby, bawling my eyes out, my husband reminded me that last spring I had a full roster of clients, full writing groups, gigs every weekend, a book coming out and a CD I was recording, plus a toddler. “You were so busy I felt like I never saw you, and even when you were there, you weren’t there,” he said. What gives for me? Or, rather, what will I give up?

I don’t want to be only partly there for my husband and kids, and I also don’t want to give up any of the things I get to do now. I want to write a new book and make another CD this year. I want to write in my journal and keep up my meditation and exercise practices, and I want to coach all my clients and run my writing groups and take the kids to the park and the Y and the library and read to them and bathe them and tuck them in every night. Also, I want a social life and I want to have a weekly date night with my husband. But something has to give. At least, I suspect it does.

This makes me cry at 6 o’clock.

But in the mornings, I feel euphoric again--after all, I just gave birth to the cutest baby since Lila, and in general I live in the knowledge that I am the most fortunate person ever-- and Monday I took advantage of the relative dryness to make a bunch of calls to friends and family letting them know what was going on with me. “Right now I’m fine,” I said. “But by tonight I’ll be a sobfest again.” I got so much support from everyone, and one dear friend sent me this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:

God Speaks
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Maybe nothing has to give for me; maybe nothing has to give for Sarah Palin, either. Maybe a day at a time, it’ll all work out—not perfectly, but in the messy, bloody, slimy way it always does. (Of course, if I mess up, it usually just means a song doesn’t get written or a book doesn’t get published. If Sarah Palin messes up, we might find ourselves at war with North Korea.)

Someone said to me a few days ago, “Whatever your kids are doing now they won’t be doing for long. Bad or good, it’ll change.” And last night at six o’clock I looked around and noticed the world did indeed seem a bit dimmer, but not as dim as it had the night before. I waited for the tears, and they didn’t come. “No feeling is final.” And the answer is the same as it always is: pay attention. Thoughts are not reality, so don't buy into them. Instead, whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your heart and mind. Get out of the fretful thoughts and celebrate this moment, even if it seems dim or mundane. Smell the top of your baby’s head, notice the curve in your lover’s calf, sculpt your sentences, savor that peach. “Don’t let yourself lose me.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Will Meet You There

It’s beginning to occur to me that most of this is out of my control. By “most of this” I mean: getting pregnant, staying pregnant, how incapacitated the pregnancy makes me, how each week seems to bring new challenges even as it takes away previous ones, and––most significantly at this moment––when the baby actually shows up. If you comb the internet (not that I do—all that much), you will find a gazillion and one questions from woman to woman, basically asking a variation of the same question: How can I use information to figure out where my little ship is at this moment in time? More specifically and recently, I have Googled:
“lost mucus plug—labor soon?”
“2cm dilated—labor soon?”
“cramps—labor soon?”
“thunderstorms—labor soon?”
And thousands of pages come up, most of which say, “The baby comes when the baby comes. You can’t rush it and you wouldn’t really want to if you knew the consequences.” Some say, “Yes, that was the beginning of my labor,” or “I had that, and delivery was still four weeks away.” You’d think I’d learn by now that there is no relief to be had by punching my questions into that little bar on the upper right side of the screen, but just today, I typed: “crying jag—labor soon?” And got the same three answers: yes, no, and the baby comes out when the baby comes out.

It’s been a kooky pregnancy. I had my daughter a bit early (36 weeks) and so I’ve been anxious about a premature birth for this one. I’ve had a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions since Memorial Day, and so the docs have been monitoring me carefully. The big question for me was whether or not I’d make it through (or to) the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, my favorite gig of the year. I was determined to be there no matter what, and fortunately I have an OB who is a folk fan. She said I could show up at the festival the day after giving birth if I needed to. (There was an OB at the festival site, and also an ambulance—I was prepared to jump in if the contractions got strong.)

I made it to and through Falcon Ridge, and here I am, over 2 weeks later, wondering if this or that contraction is going to morph into the real thing. Have I mentioned that patience isn’t one of my virtues? Nor is sitting still and doing nothing. I have taken this opportunity to move my office and decorate both children’s rooms. I had some hopes that the heavy lifting would trigger labor. I eat spicy food every day. I do all the things one does to satisfy the folklore. But the piece of folklore that’s sticking is “the baby comes when the baby comes.”

So about my crying jag. It started yesterday morning when I noticed the candlesticks on top of the refrigerator. As per my book, How to Be an Adult, I was following directions on how to get the wax off. You put them in the freezer and a few hours later, scrub them under hot water. The wax falls off easily. But before I can get a few hours in, my husband keeps taking them out, annoyed at the way they fall into his face when he wants to get some ice. (Can’t imagine why that irritates him.) So he puts them on the roof of the fridge, and I, later, put them back. This had been going on for weeks, and I suddenly had the thought that the baby wouldn’t come out until I’d succeeded in de-waxing these last two candlesticks. So when he came down for breakfast, I said, in my best gentle and reasonable voice, “we need to have a talk about these candlesticks.”
Now my husband has been fairly saintly throughout these last 9 months. When my doctors began to worry about me, he took over all the housekeeping and almost all the care of our 2-year-old daughter. But something about the candlesticks beaming him every time he wanted some ice must have been the last straw.

“We do NOT need to talk about these candlesticks! YOU need to get them out of the freezer and keep them out! And stop talking to me like I’m in third grade!”

“I’m talking to you like you’re in third grade,” I said through gritted teeth. “Because I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll hit you in the face!”

This shocked him, since I don’t usually talk like that. Ever. He said, “What do you want me to do?”

“Take them to the downstairs freezer!” I shouted, as if the idea that I could possibly carry that huge load––two candlesticks––all the way to the basement and then have to ascent again with my big pregnant belly was practically wife abuse. He took the candlesticks down, and I promptly burst into tears and didn’t stop crying for four hours. We drove up to church, and I said, “I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry I said I wanted to hit you in the face. I’m just pregnant and emotional.” I sobbed through church and all the women with babies came up to me and said, “Oh. You’re really close.” One said, “Don’t worry. It’ll all be okay.” Another said, “You should worry! It’s all scary and real! And now is the perfect time to cry!” They were both right, and it was perfect advice. I felt grateful.

The scripture for the day was that Rumi poem with the lines: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing is a field. I will meet you there.” That pretty much sums all of this up. As the wonderful writer Catherine Newman says in her book, Waiting for Birdy, pregnant women put so much emphasis on the details of labor and delivery. In addition to my burning question (“when is the baby coming?”), so many women worry about how it’s all going to go on Labor Day. Medicated or “natural”? Home birth or hospital? Midwife or OB? Vaginal or C-section? And on and on. It’s like focusing on the wedding instead of the marriage, writes Newman (or something to that effect.) The real point of the whole enterprise is what we do with the baby after that first experience. Similarly, (and obviously, I am sure to every reader of this piece) the day the baby is born doesn’t matter one whit, even though I’ve convinced myself that astrologically, seasonally, financially, childcare-wise and school-wise (if the baby is born in September rather than August, he’ll stay back a year) it does.

At one point during my crying jag, I prayed. “What should I be doing? What am I doing wrong?” and the answer came back lightening fast: “Nothing. You’re supposed to be crying.” Life is full of weather like this. Why do I try so hard to control the things I cannot change? Even that question has to be left on the near side of the field. Hopefully, I will look back at this ninth month of pregnancy and laugh. Hopefully, my son will too, whether his moon is in Capricorn or Cancer.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Wall-E, the 2000 Watt Society and Fun

When I announced I was going to be giving birth in August, all my friends were horrified. “It’s the worst time of year to be pregnant!” they all chorused. “You’ll be so hot.”

Since I am usually cold and rarely hot—as in I wear socks to bed even in June, and long underwear from October to May–– I wasn’t too worried. Besides, I thought, if it gets really bad, I’ll go to the movies. What’s a better escape from the summer heat and the frustrations of everyday life than a communal air-conditioned experience?
Then the summer arrived, and I promptly wilted into a useless puddle of PermaContractions (very rare and apparently harmless scenario when a pregnant woman get Braxton-Hicks “practice” contractions if she so much as lifts a glass of water to her parched mouth). Also exhaustion, bad aches and low- (okay, mid-) level grumpiness. I began to look for a suitable flick to take my cranky self to, but somehow I forgot that going to the movies doesn’t really fit into my schedule anymore, what with my two-year-old daughter, three careers, etc.. Sex and the City came and went (in that I would have seen it the first weekend out, but the reviews made me lose interest). Then one of my clients told me about Wall-E the day after Frank Rich wrote about the movie in his Sunday Times column, and I was determined. When my OB told me I couldn’t do my scheduled show at the Boston Children’s Museum last Friday because she didn’t want me out in the heat of the day with my jumpy old uterus, I made a date with my friend Lisa, and we were off.

I’ll try not to spoil anything, but I will say this: Wall-E does not really strike me as a children’s movie. Made by Pixar, with gorgeous computer animation, there's even a cameo by one of my favorite “real” actors, Fred Willard. It was so dark for the first 40 minutes that Lisa and I sat hunkered down in our seats trying not to let the kids in back of us know we were sobbing. It takes place circa 2800 and the only signs of life left on planet Earth are a cockroach and one little green sprout. Humankind—what’s left of it––is circling around the Earth in a spaceship equivalent of the Love Boat. They’ve evolved (or devolved) into infantilized versions of themselves: obese and unable to walk, they travel about in motorized BARCO loungers, subsisting on a diet of shakes. Even the captain is completely clueless about their history and what brought them to their current situation: an apparent take-over of the earth by a conglomerate called Buy N Large, which has literally trashed the planet. Earth is no longer habitable, and a fleet of Wall-Es (Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class) was left behind to clean up the mess, but only one seems to be still functioning at the beginning of the film.

Wall-E, unlike the viewer, does not judge humans harshly for leaving behind all this trash. In fact, Wall-E seems kind of fascinated by us, and part of his daily routine involves filling a small cooler with artifacts he finds along the way: a Rubik’s cube, incandescent lightbulbs, an engagement ring box and an old videotape of Hello Dolly!. He’s taken by our creativity and our passion, and reminds the viewer that despite the near complete destruction of the Earth, human beings were not all bad. The question the movie asks over and over is: where does creativity turn into proliferation?

I left the movie in tears, and not just because I’m pregnant and had to view apocalyptic scenes of my children’s future environment. When I got home, I curled up into bed with last week’s New Yorker and read an article about the island of Samso, Denmark, which recently won a renewable energy contest, turning a small farming community (hardly a bunch of progressives) into net exporters of energy in less than a decade. The article, by Elizabeth Kolbert, went on to discuss an equally intriguing Swiss initiative called the 2000 Watt Society. 2000 Watts is the world average of energy usage per capita per day. But the figures are skewed by the huge disparity between developing and developed nations: Bangladesh, for example, uses 2600 watts per capita per year, while we in the US use 12,000 watts per person per day.

Since reading the article, I have been combing the internet trying to find out more about the 2000 Watt Society, but I can’t find a whole lot. I want to lower my wattage to 2000 so they let me in their club and I can feel good about myself. More than that, I love the idea of making conservation a personal goal, sort of like trying to climb all 46 mountains over 4000 feet in the Adirondacks was for me and my sisters when we were growing up. One of the villagers of Samso said that once residents started thinking about creating and conserving energy in this new way, “it became a sport.”

It could actually be fun to try to save energy. Rather than see it as deprivation, I want to see it as play. And, as the founders of the 2000 Watt Society point out, reducing energy consumption needn’t lead to a lower standard of living. On the contrary. What sounds more fun: staying inside with air conditioning, or sitting with my two year old in a Freecycled kiddie pool? Driving yet again to the local fluorescent-lit grocery store or riding a bike with a trailer to the downtown farmer’s market where I am sure to meet many dear friends? Throwing out another “disposable” diaper, or hanging out a load of wet but clean cloth diapers in the warm July sun?

Of course, I am lucky that I have these choices to make. Being pregnant and on strict orders not to exercise, I actually can’t ride my bike to the farmer’s market, which makes me notice how lucky I am to live in a bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly area instead of a megatropolis built around the automobile. At the same time, because I have to drive everywhere these days, I am acutely aware of how much I rely on technology, and how grateful I am to have my own transportation. I try not to buy plastic, AND I’m grateful that plastics have literally saved lives in their applications in various surgeries and other health related matters. (Condoms, for example. Intubation tubes and catheters for another.) I am grateful that we have electricity to power wheelchairs, elevators so that my friends who are unable to walk can bypass stairs. Moreover, the residents of Bangladesh are not living on 2600 watts of energy a year out of some desire to be eco-martyrs. The question that I kept asking after seeing Wall-E (and after seeing An Inconvenient Truth two years ago) is: where did we go wrong? Where is the line? Where does human ingenuity turn into self-destruction? Where do basic human needs get mixed up with desires for iPhones and bigger cars, not to mention hegemony over countries that are oil-rich so that we can maintain our current lifestyles?

That old bumper sticker comes to mind: "Live simply so that others may simply live." When I first saw that, it just made me cranky. I felt preached to, scolded. I was an anti-environmentalist when I was a teen-ager, rebelling probably against my zealous mother and Birkenstock-wearing aunt. (Back then, I could not understand how anyone could allow themselves to be seen in footwear so hideous. Right this moment, I am wearing my beloved 19-year-old pair of Arizona-style Birks.) I remember freshman year in college saying out loud to a friend, “They say there’s deforestation, but look.” I pointed to the trees lining that portion of I-95, probably in Maryland. “Tons of trees.” (My brilliant point was not met with a sympathetic response.) It’s taken me a very long time to get over my feelings of entitlement and try to do my tiny part to lower my footprint, and I know that laying on the guilt doesn’t help. Like any addict, I wasn’t ready to let go of my substance (in this case, consumerism and the easy fix—“just toss it in the trash”) until I was ready.

But I do know this. It works when it becomes play. It works when you make it a game. It works when you see the gift of “less,” the gift of creativity inherent in placing limits on oneself. And it works when I see the truth that no gadget, no processed food, no article of clothing ever made me as happy as the view from the top of an Adirondack Mountain, or the sugar snap peas we grew this spring in our garden, or anything having to do with my little daughter, including her cloth diapers hanging out to dry in our backyard.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Do less. Then, rest.

"How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterward,"
So goes the famous Spanish Proverb. These seem to be my marching orders these days. Tom and Lila and I had a super long vacation Memorial Day weekend. Well, long by Nields standards: 4 days! On Friday, we took the long, slow way up to the Adirondacks, stopping on Route 9 to drop off copies of my books at various co-ops and generally enjoying the little towns of my past (Williamstown and Bennington in particular.) By the time we met up with my parents at the Treehouse (our name for our cabin in the High Peaks Region), I was so tired I didn’t feel like eating dinner, which means that most likely the Second Coming is at hand, or Hell is freezing over–– one of the two.
As I’ve written before in this space, we Nields are not exactly a sit-around-and-chew-the-fat kind of family. My father is a high-powered Washington lawyer who goes for a run every morning, and at the age of 65 has climbed the 46 peaks over 4000 feet in the Adirondacks at least twice each. My mother is a retired high school history teacher who has more energy in her little finger than I have in my ever-growing body (though perhaps not more than my soon-to-be-born son. This kid is a mover and a shaker!) While we were visiting, they were mostly out playing golf, though they did manage to climb a few mountains, too. Tom went with them and carried Lila.
I? I slept. I took not one but two naps per day.
Oh, I did a little more than that. I played my newly restored Martin guitar and chose some songs to do at our upcoming sing along show. I read a client’s (wonderful) manuscript and cooked a chicken dinner. If we’d had internet access, I certainly would have spent a lot of time combing the blogs about what was going on in the political landscape, and thereby raising my blood pressure, but fortunately, we did not, so I did not. Instead, I slept.
I don’t know if other pregnant people can relate, but I find these days that even though the quantity of sleep I get is prodigious, the quality is weak. I dream almost constantly—of new houses I have just inherited, of book projects, of having to tour in China––and of course, there’s the having to get up to pee every hour and a half. It’s true that I’ve been working particularly intensely lately, what with the book coming out and our double CD being recorded, etc. etc., not to mention the never-ending, completely compelling work of mothering a two-year-old. But still. I couldn’t shake the feeling, as we drove back to Massachusetts on Monday, that I’d wasted time. I hadn’t even done the basic self-care disciplines I swear by: meditating, writing in my journal, doing yoga. I was too tired—WAY too tired.
Someone asked the question on our Howtobeanadult.com blog: “How do you manage the process of taking time off? If work blends seamlessly into life, what techniques do use, what rules (if any) do you set for yourself, in order to feel that time off, and get re-energized by it?”
Coming on the heels of this weekend, I was at a loss. I don’t know. I wanted the answer to be this: Even though it didn’t feel good for a Type A Workaholic Artist like me to do almost nothing but sleep for a weekend, it was good for me. I needed it. And the proof would be in the productivity pudding on Tuesday morning: if the vacation had indeed been “re-energizing”, I would feel well-rested and buoyant and re-energized, right? But that’s not how things worked out.
Instead, I started experiencing such frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions I had to be hooked up to a monitor at my OB’s on Wednesday morning. (Braxton-Hicks contractions are a completely normal part of being pregnant—they don’t hurt; they are the uterus’s way of warming up, so to speak. But one does worry when one has more than 4 in an hour, and/or if one has a history of preterm labor. Since both of these applied to me, I was worried.) As I lay on the doctor’s table, goop on my stomach and two monitors around my gigantic belly, my train of thought went something like this: “This is awful! I will have to cancel all our gigs! I LOVE the shows we have coming up! I need them! And I won’t be able to do HooteNanny! I NEED HooteNanny! What will Lila do if we can’t go to HooteNanny? But then again, if I have to be on bed rest, maybe it will be okay. I will make sure there are toys set up all around me and Lila can play on the floor. I will read all those books I have stacked up next to my bed. I will write in my journal. Maybe I will write a novel! Maybe I will meditate a lot and become enlightened!” And then, secretly, I whispered to a part of myself I rarely acknowledge, “Finally, an excuse to get cable TV!”
Fortunately, my cervix is shut, and they sent me home to live a slowed-down, do-less, but no-bed-rest-yet kind of life. They told me to cancel any shows that weren’t in close proximity to a hospital (I told them Falcon Ridge was literally right around the corner from several highly regarded ones) and to drink a lot of water and keep my feet up as much as possible.
And another piece of advice came to me, unbidden, as I lay around Wednesday afternoon, doing nothing. I realized, with some surprise, that I miss me. I miss the me I get to connect with when I meditate, write in my journal and do yoga. And, I thought with a start, maybe that’s why my dreams have been so intense: maybe my subconscious mind is looking for an outlet, and so it keep me awake, so to speak, with all sorts of symbolic imagery and frenetic trips to China. One of the aspects of motherhood, is of course, that constant tug-of-war of the heart, between one’s own self-care and the care of one’s children, both the external ones and the internal ones. I don’t have any answers yet about how to resolve that one, but I do think tonight I will take a half an hour to stretch a little on the floor, write a few pages and sit with my thoughts and feeling and breath—even if what I mostly end up being aware of is the kicking and turning, the sweet, knobby ballet that is going on in my womb.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Let It Be

I didn’t used to be an emotional person. I’d notice people–sometimes my friends–crying at movies or during a sad song, and I’d wonder why. Of course, when I was a kid I had trouble keeping the tears back, and so I trained myself well to keep that from happening: think of something funny. Think of a math formula. Think of a chord progression.

I got good at cutting off my body from the neck down. If I could work through problems in my head, I could usually come up with a calm, rational way of dealing with them. This was helpful in lots of areas of my life, specifically relationships. If my partner was behaving badly, or treating me “unfairly” (extremely easy to do, since my tolerance for being treated any way other than like a member of the royal family is low), I could go up in my little attic of a head and give myself a pep talk. “He was abused as a child,” I’d counsel my hurt self. “Don’t take it personally.” Or, “She’s envious. She doesn’t have your advantages.” Later, as I became slightly less insecure and slightly more evolved, the pep talk would be more along the lines of, “Maybe you didn’t treat him enough like a member of the royal family. Maybe you’re actually envious of her. Can you look for the gratitude and the acceptance?”

I could and did. Gratitude and acceptance became my watch words. Cultivating gratitude—working actively to appreciate the life I do have, the gifts I have been given, rather than focusing on what I think I lack––has turned my inner world into a much more pleasant place to live. And seeing acceptance as my path to God—taking what comes, letting things be, going with the flow, seeing reality as my true source––works a lot better than fruitless prayer that things be changed, improved, altered, avoided, granted.

But lately, I’ve been pregnant. Lately, I’ve been invaded not just by this new person (whom I did pray for, did invite), and not just by frustrating back troubles which have kept me on the couch during the most glorious season of the year, but worse, by all sorts of hormones raging, turning me into someone especially touchy and twitchy and prone to—yes—cry at the drop of a hat.

Exhibit A. Saturday morning I woke up for the first time in about five months with absolutely nothing to do. Nothing I had to do, I should say. There was plenty I could do, like fold diapers, organize my daughter’s books, write her yearly birthday letter, call my parents, help Tom make bread, do something crafty, etc. But the only thing I wanted to do was to break my eight-week media fast and find out what the polls were saying about Barack Obama. So I put on my comfort disks (Beatles and Bob Dylan, plus Dan Zanes, ostensibly for Lila but really for me) and went online, only to make myself sick the way I used to make myself sick by reading women’s magazines. I started to read a New York Times article online about McCain and Obama clashing about Iran, when suddenly emanating from my ancient stereo, I heard the first chords of “Let It Be.”
I’ve always liked the song, (who doesn’t?) but it’s not like it’s one of my favorites. After the age of 13, I eschewed the more sentimental Paul McCartney songs for the grittier, angrier “more real, man” John Lennon ones. Give me “Come Together.” Give me “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” Give me “Julia,” Lennon’s tribute to his dead mother who was hit by an off duty cop when Lennon was just 16 years old.

But on Saturday, something wordless came over me, and I started to sob. Taking the advice of an old friend (which I dutifully passed along in How to Be an Adult), I lay on the carpet with my feelings, which were huge and wet. As I lay there hoping Tom and Lila would stay in the kitchen and continue to make bread, I wept on the floor, listening to the familiar chord progression, the background vocals of George and John singing their “ahhs”, the overdubbed guitar solo, the raw sentiment of the tune, what it meant to the fans in 1970 to hear this song, knowing their favorite band had broken up, thinking about Paul’s own “Mother Mary” who had also died (of breast cancer) when he was 16—but Paul, unlike John, had been mostly reticent on the subject. The song bore into me, and I felt like a channel of all the world’s pain, and so I just cried along. I suspect this is a pretty typical pregnant woman response—when we are suddenly conduits of new life, our bodies really do become channels for the Other, whether that’s God (in the case of another Mother Mary) or just the pain of the world. I certainly can no longer witness children in any kind of pain any more, nor can I hear about families losing their children, such as the many stories coming in from China over the weekend.

So I cried and cried and after listening to the song twice through, I picked up my guitar and tuned it and played along to the next song, “The Long and Winding Road.” Lila came in and sat next to me, excited to see the guitar out. “You cwying?” she said pointing to my face.

“Yeah. But it’s okay. Mommy cries sometimes when she ‘s sad. And then she feels better. Just like you.”

Lila crawled into the space between my rapidly diminishing lap and the guitar and sat quietly while I strummed along. I thought about 1970, the year Let it Be came out: my own mother struggling with the many burdens of young motherhood (like I will soon be, she was the mother of two kids in diapers) and the burgeoning feminist movement, tired of government corruption, a cynical Republican president fighting an unpopular and unwinnable, costly war, rising costs of fuel. And little two and a half year old me, too young to have heard “Let It Be,” unless it had been piped it into the supermarket where we shopped (doubtful—I think 1970 was strictly Muzakland in places like supermarkets). Then I thought about letting it be; how that’s after all become something of a mantra to me. I thought about music, and how it saves me every time, and how grateful I am to be a conduit for music; as grateful as I am to be a conduit of this baby boy in my belly; this two-year-old on my lap.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Another Pregnancy Blog

It’s that time of year again. The crocuses have wilted, like sad balloons after a kid’s birthday party, and I find myself overdressed by noon, stripping off layers, deeply regretting the wool socks. The red bud is out on the trees and the forsythia is stark yellow against the still brown branches—no green has come yet to soften it. This time two years ago, I was eight months pregnant with my daughter, Lila: full of anticipation, wondering who this new person would be, excited, scared, tired, impatient. Today, I’m pregnant again, and full of the same emotions, but this time around, it would not be a welcome surprise to meet my new child as the lilacs bloom. This time around, my due date is late August, not late May.
This pregnancy has not been easy. I had terrible nausea for the first trimester, and the lift in energy that often happens after about week 14 has yet to arrive for me. I am generally tired at all times during the day, and I seem to require about 10 hours of sleep per night. Perhaps this is because I am usually chasing a toddler around; perhaps it’s because we are trying to cram a year’s worth of gigs into a nine-month period; perhaps it’s because my second book is coming out in two weeks. But the bottom line is: this body can no longer keep up with the dictates of its mind, and recently I’ve lost the ability to walk across the street. I have such bad lower back pain that I am confined to the house and have to ask my husband to lift and carry anything heavier than my dinner plates.
Still, I feel as though I’ve had a meeting of sorts. Last Friday, I had my 20 week ultrasound, and when my ultra-stenographer asked if I wanted to know the baby’s gender, I said, “No, but you can write it down for me and put it in an envelope.” We did this for Lila, and though no one believes us, we really didn’t peek until after she was born. Not knowing whether she was going to be a girl or boy was part of the fun: finding out she was a girl at the moment of her delivery was one of the best moments of my whole life. I wanted that experience again.
However, from the moment my ultra-stenographer put that jelly covered probe on my belly and we turned our attention to the screen above, I was completely unwilling to take my eyes off the little figure wiggling and dancing in front of me. So when she said, “I’m moving down to the legs; you might want to avert your eyes,” I said, “Ehn, no worries. I won’t be able to recognize anything.”
But I did. I was pretty sure I saw the appendage that women don’t have. Still, I thought there had been a penis sighting at this stage of the game two years ago, and Lila is definitely penis-free (something she’s a little sad about right now, but that’s a different story.) The ultra-stenographer said, “Would you like a picture of the genitals along with the information I’m going to put in your envelope?”
“Nah,” I said. “In fact, forget it. I don’t need you to write it down. We can just wait till the baby’s born.”
She nodded. A few minutes later, she was focused on the baby’s hands, which were being waved about by their owner. “This is good,” she told me pointing to the screen. “The hands are open. Closed hands is a soft-marker for Down’s.”
“Mmmm,” I murmured, transfixed. “Can you get a profile picture of the baby’s face?”
“I’ll try,” she said, but the hands kept flying by the baby’s head, blocking our shot. “He sure loves those hands,” she noted.
He! So it was a he! My first reaction was one of deep disappointment. No baby sister for Lila who had been insisting it was a baby sister inside me and not a baby brother. No sequel to the Nerissa and Katryna Show I’d grown up with. Boys have tantrums! Boys tease! Boys play with guns, and if you don’t give them a gun they make the arm of their sisters doll a gun! Boys drive souped up cars and pass you at eighty miles an hour on two lane roads! Boys stop talking to their moms for years at a time! Boys don’t get to wear pink flowery dresses! And for some reason, this was the thing that was making me most disappointed: I wouldn’t get to reuse all those cute baby girl clothes I’d been handed down by my two nieces. Those little pink Mary Janes would leave the family! Oh no!
I pause here to mention that I have been on a huge anti-consumer kick for the past year or so. I buy almost nothing, preferring second-hand everything to putting more money into the system, which manufactures new stuff at alarming rates –much of it from sweat shops in Third World countries; much of it composed of petroleum products. I have been wanting desperately to live off of that particular grid, so it strikes me as hilarious that my focus went to the piles and piles of balled up too-small baby clothes resting in boxes in my attic. Really?
The ultra-stenographer left me to get the doctor. She was gone a long time. I lay on my side and stared at the profile we’d finally taken of the baby’s face. His face. He looks a little more like Tom than Lila did in her US profile. Even then, she looked exactly like me. This baby has longer cheek-bones, like his father’s. He is beautiful, and as I stared, I thought of all the men I love. Tom. My father. Jesus. Gandhi. The Buddha. Martin Luther King, Jr. John Lennon. Bob Dylan. Barack Obama. Not to mention my brothers-in-law and my nephews. And I thought of this one little boy in HooteNanny whom I adore. He sings all the words to all the songs and has a little guitar, which he made Katyrna and me both sign. Having another girl would have been easy: I have two sisters, four aunts and a grandmother. I worked for six years in a girls dorm. Even my pets have been mostly female. But having a boy will stretch me. It will be rich with discovery, a delicious plunge into the unknown.
Disappointment faded and changed to joy, as subtly yet insistently as the browns and grays of March change to the greens and yellows of April. I felt the baby move inside me and I put my hand on my stomach above where I felt him.
“Hello, baby boy,” I whispered. “You’ve got a lot to teach me. I can’t wait to learn.”

Monday, March 31, 2008

Aphrodite, Spring, and My Media Fast

As a former Virginian, I find springtime in New England to be not just disappointing (in its lack of flowers, green and warmth) but also violent. And I’m not talking about the snowstorm that’s supposed to come tonight, nor about the way the ice on the river cracks as loudly as a thunderstorm, nor the way the water rushes down from the Green and White Mountains and floods our Connecticut River banks. I’m talking about the deeper forces that caused the Greeks to name this particular sun cycle after Aries, the Ram (temper, temper) and to associate this zodiacal sign with infants and toddlers. (The Greeks also, I just found out, named the month of April after Aphrodite, who was, by turns, charming and aloof.) Stravinsky must have known something about New England springs, because there is nothing gentle and flower-like about his wonderful, terrifying Rites of Spring. It’s more like a rowdy college keg party, with plenty of Bacchanalian madness thrown in.

Perhaps because it’s spring; perhaps because I’m pregnant, or perhaps because of where we are in this prematurely intense election cycle, but I’ve felt like a frayed nerve for the past few weeks. I cry at the drop of at hat; predictably at that manipulated point in every movie where director hope you will cry, but at other times too: when my father calls to say hi; when my almost two-year-old asks for tomatoes and then spits them out in a glob on the table, and also when she says, “I need cuddle you,” and puts her arms around my neck.

But mostly, I’m a wreck about this election. I’ve been following it fanatically since the Iowa caucus, when I first began to believe that Barack Obama might actually pull off a win. I argued fiercely with fellow lefties who said the country was too backwards and racist to embrace an African American with a foreign name. It’s not about race, I said. This is a visionary, a leader who comes along once in a hundred years! And look! He reaches across party lines! I stayed up way too late most Tuesdays in February watching results come in, mourning when we lost Massachusetts, high-fiving strangers with Obama buttons the day after Wisconsin. I spent every lunch hour pouring over the latest polls on RealClearPolitics.com. I have had many dreams about hanging out with Obama in coffee shops, just chatting about the issues and commiserating about life on the road, and also asking him questions about his church.

Which brings us, of course, to THE issue. Up until the point where Reverend Jeremiah Wright became a YouTube star for his God Damn America moment, Obama was leading both Clinton and McCain in the national polls. In every theoretical match-up, he beat McCain while Clinton just barely lost. And then the endless looping of what I saw as a not untypical African-American preacher doing what many theatrical preachers of all races and political persuasions do: saying things to wake their congregation up and remind their congregation (and perhaps those outside it as well) that our nation is on a dangerous and wrong path. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell both said our nation got what it deserved after 911.

Though I wasn’t bothered at all by what Rev. Wright said, I was very bothered by the reaction to him. And I was thrilled and amazed by Obama’s speech on Building a More Perfect Union. (Predictably, I cried through much of it, but again, that seems to be par for the course these days.) Like many who have written much more eloquently and extensively than I, I believed this to be a transformational speech; one long overdue. I was raised and educated to believe that racism was the number one problem this country faced, and that until we addressed it and vanquished it, our nation would suffer greatly. It’s an incredibly complex problem, and the solutions require all of us to practice understanding and work harder to put ourselves in the shoes of others. I figured once Barack finished saying what needed to be said, we’d all shake ourselves awake and get to work—start practicing understanding, start talking honestly with one another, start recognizing that we need to put our money where our mouths are, and all that.
That’s not exactly what seemed to happen. Instead, I heard more strange insinuations that Obama wasn’t a real patriot, had issues that were distracting the American people from the crises at hand. The poll numbers didn’t move. My best friend called me to tell me her step-father had told racist jokes at their Pennsylvania Easter table. And the media seemed only interested in how the speech played out politically, not that something important had finally been said. I spent our cold, way-too-early Easter in tears, despairing for our country, despairing for my African American friends, heartbroken and furious.
I did my work on this anger, because I have learned that I can’t live with it, and what I came up with was this: I want the world to be about 100 years ahead of where it is now. I bet a hundred years from now we will not be talking about the first woman president, the first Latino president, the first Asian American president or the first African American president. Maybe we won’t even be talking about the first homosexual president. These will all be benchmarks long passed. I’m hopeful too that in a hundred years, we will have solved many of the problems that plague us today. If I look back a hundred years, I see Jim Crow. If I look back 200 years, I see slavery. I hope this ugly period we’re in right now seems as antiquated and backwards as those do.
The morning after Easter, I put myself on a strict diet: no more NPR, no more New York Times, no more RealClearPolitics, no more arguing. My prescriptions include reading Thich Nhat Hanh and Mary Oliver and going outside for walks with my daughter: the kind of walks where your heart rate never goes over 75 bpm because your companion is running up and down the knoll, kicking around dead leaves and collecting pine cones and doesn’t care a whit about getting anywhere fast. And wouldn’t you know it? I feel a lot better. I am still sad and disappointed, but I can see myself and my friends who are working for peace and justice as cogs in the wheel, just as the suffragettes were in the early part of the 20th Century, just as the abolitionists were in the 1840s, just as the feminists and black power leaders were in the ‘60s and just as the advocates for gay rights were in the ‘70s, ‘80s and today.
I know that spring will come. It always does, sooner or later. And I know this as a musician: a great song is one that has great substance—music with integrity, melody and rhythm plus lyrics that lend themselves to many listens, many ponderings, sometimes many interpretations. Those songs might not crack the top ten, but they will be listened to for decades (maybe even centuries) afterwards. What Barack Obama said on March 18, 2008 was akin to a great song. Whether or not he wins or loses, we will look back on that moment as one in which a brave man told the truth in a way that was meaningful, eloquent and provocative.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

National Album Writing Month

On January 31, our friend Anne-Marie Strohman emailed us from Mountain View CA to tell us that February was National Album Writing Month. Since nothing compels me to write songs more effectively than a deadline, we decided that in between finishing How To Be An Adult and painting its cover, running HooteNanny, shoveling snow, playing all over western NY state and raising Amelia, William and Lila (and taking copious pregnancy induced naps-Nerissa, that is) we would take on this challenge. We recorded these songs on our Macs using the Garage Band program and Katryna’s Blue Snowball mic. They are rough demos, done in one take, so we apologize for the flubbed chords and missed pitches. We plan to record some of these for future projects, like our new family CD, Rock all Day, Rock all Night, and the soundtrack for my novel The Big Idea. Some might end up as part of a HooteNanny curriculum. There seems to be a theme to these songs. Anne Lamott says there are two major metaphors in literature: The River and The Garden. I say there’s a third: The Road. Below is a run down of all fourteen songs. You can hear them at http://www.nerissanields.com/FEb08NAWM.html.

1. Who Are You Not To Shine
I took as my prompt for this song the wonderful passage by Marianne Williamson, which is often erroneously attributed to Nelson Mandela.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I wanted to write a song for my children and my nieces and nephews about being yourself no matter what. Here are the lyrics:
Who Are You Not To Shine

Sometimes you wish you were someone different
Sometimes you want to start all over again
Sometimes you want to go back to being a baby
Sometimes you want to jump ahead to the end

Maybe you could start to see it different
Maybe you could sit down here and rest
Maybe you could hear it once from my side
I think you are the best, the best, the best

Who are you not to shine?
Who are you not to glow?
Who are you not to be your own best self?
You can be who you are
You can change as you grow
But be you, don’t be anybody else

If you weren’t you then who would tell your stories
If you weren’t you then who would walk your miles?
If you weren’t you then who would help your sisters?
If you weren’t you then who would smile your smile?


Nerissa Nields
©Peter Quince Publishing

2. Thank You
I wrote this backstage at Kripalu on Feb. 2. I love Kripalu. I first went there in 2001 when my first marriage was in its last months. Since then, I’ve seen it as a haven and a refuge. Nestled in the Berkshires, it’s known mostly as a yoga sanctuary, but I’ve also used it as a personal writing retreat. I studied with Julia Cameron there, and taken a meditation workshop with Sharon Saltzburg. It’s sort of like Falcon Ridge to me; I know I will find members of my tribe there.
Here are the lyrics:
Thank You All The Time

Thank you for the earth
Thank you for the sun
Thank you for my family
Thank you for the fun

All I ask is this:
That some one down the line
Finds the same old simple bliss
And thank you all the time

Thank you for the moon
Thank you for the sea
Thank for the different folks
Who share the world with me.

All I ask is this:
That some one down the line
Finds the same old simple bliss
And thank you all the time
Nerissa Nields
Feb. 2, 2008
©Peter Quince Publishing

3. ABC
I wrote the first verse of this song last year for HooteNanny as an a cappella number, but this February, Katryna suggested I expand it and give it extra verses and a Sesame Street beat.

4. Seasons
I wrote this one in my Thursday writing group, though I found the first four lines in a notebook I was using during the writing of the Sister Holler songs. (I think it was an early draft of “This Train.”) We plan to put this song on our double family CD Rock All Day, Rock All Night. It’ll be on the Night CD.

One field is ploughed
One field is fallow
One field’s on the way to harvest
Though the confidence is shallow
We go round and round
We go up and down
As we pass through the seasons of our life.

One road is new
One road’s well traveled
One road’s wide and comfortable
While another one is narrow
We go round and round
We go up and down
As we pass through the seasons of our life.

When I think I cannot take the snowstorms anymore
I see that crocus poking up through the leaves on the forest floor

One child is fast
One child is funny
One child likes the rainy days
While another likes it sunny
We go round and round
We go up and down
As we pass through the seasons of our life.

Nerissa Nields
Feb. 7, 2007
©Peter Quince Publishing, ASCAP
All Rights Reserved

5. Last Train Home
I started to write this song last May, but didn’t get very far. I finished it during another Thursday writing group.
Last Train Home

Riding riding riding on the last train home
Got to get to my baby anyway any how
And if the wheels stop turning, gonna jump out and run
I’m gonna flag another train
I’m gonna steal a tired car
I’m gonna show the country what it means
To get to where you are
I’m gonna show the country what it means to find you

Many months of Mondays I have had my way
Basking in the sun of your compassion
Scheming all the time for something more, more, more
Never happy with my handsome ration


I could never read you right when you were mine
I thought you would stick around forever
You gave everything you had, I asked for more
Thinking that you lived to give me pleasure


Beautiful for spacious skies, waves of amber grain
Can you find it somewhere to forgive me?
If not me, then could you see a way to grant
Clemency for those who will outlive me


Nerissa Nields
May 31, 2007 and Feb. 4, 2008

6. Percy On Pluto
Katryna asked me to write this song. She wanted a sequel to Aikendrum, a song about a guy who lives on the moon and wears food for clothes. Percy is his younger sister, and this song is about how she deals with the news that her planet is no longer considered a planet.
Percy On Pluto

Percy lived on Pluto where the sun was far away
And that means you can’t really tell the nighttime from the day
Her older brother Aikendrum, well, he lived on the moon
He played upon a ladle and Percy played on a spoon

Yodelayeeee Yodalayeee Yodalayeee

Aikendrum wore food for clothes while Percy wore a dress.
She also wore long underwear, a hat, a scarf a vest
Two pairs of woolen socks, a coat, some mittens and warm shoes
At four hundred degrees below, you’d probably bundle up too.

Yodelayeeee Yodalayeee Yodalayeee

Aikendrum told Percy, “Your planet’s smaller than my moon
And since the moon’s not a planet, and I bet yours won’t be soon”
Percy said, “Dear brother, does your moon have its own satellite?
I can see my Charon, if it’s day or if it’s night”

Yodelayeeee Yodalayeee Yodalayeee

One day six light years from now, she got this strange report:
“Pluto’s not a planet anymore, you see it came up short.
It’s really pretty tiny and its orbit’s way off course
You can’t really call it a planet anymore, but you can call it Planet Dwarf.”

Yodelayeeee Yodalayeee Yodalayeee

Well, Percy was very tiny too, smaller than a mouse.
If you saw where she lived you would mistake it for a dollhouse
When she heard that her planet was not a planet anymore
She took a breath of CO2, said, “I am Plutette, hear me roar!”

Yodelayeeee Yodalayeee Yodalayeee

“It doesn’t really matter what you call it it’s the same:
A rose is still a rose, after all, by any other name.
And those of us who are little, we matter equally
In fact that’s why they passed the laws of mass and density.”

Yodelayeeee Yodalayeee Yodalayeee

Nerissa Nields © Peter Quince Publishing

7. Molly the Donkey
This is our version of “There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name o.” We live near a vocational agricultural school that has a number of animals, including a herd of cows and sheep, three huge Clydesdale horses and one tiny burro-like donkey named Molly.

I have a donkey
Her name is Molly
And she says “Hee Haw” all the time.
Molly, mine.

Nerissa Nields ©Peter Quince Publishing

8. Good Times Are Here
This song is for my wonderful father. When Katryna was in her last year of college, she said, “Daddy, how old were you when you became disillusioned?”
He thought about it. “I don’t know. I don’t think that’s ever happened.”
He is the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. I want to be like him when I grow up. In this day and age, we need hope more than ever. By “hope” I mean that quality that fuels our actions; the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson so famously said. We must have the kind of hope that leads to positive, loving actions towards ourselves and our communities if the human race is to survive.
Good Times Are Here

It’s been so long since we had room to laugh
It’s been so long we’ve been traveling the narrow path
It’s been so long since hope had a season
Always trading sentiment for reason
And now you’re showing me the sunrise

Oh, good times are here, Johnny
Good times are here
You were right, you were right all along
Oh, good times are here, Johnny
Good times are here
You were right, you were right all along

I though your love was too good to trust
You had enough dreams for the both of us
And so I let you dream while I worried
Always gave you love in a hurry
And now you’re showing me the greatest surprise

Good times are here, Johnny
Good times are here
You were right, you were right all along
Oh, good times are here, Johnny
Good times are here
You were right, you were right all along

We ate our fear like the noble men
We built our walls to keep the children in
And every year our tribe became smaller
Trading in our heritage for dollars
And now you’re telling me to turn it around
You’re telling me to tear those walls down
That everything I lost can be found
It was there all along in the ground

Good times are here, Johnny
Good times are here
You were right, you were right all along
Oh, good times are here, Johnny
Good times are here
I am glad, I’m so glad I was wrong.

Nerissa Nields
Feb. 21, 2008

9. Dresses
Katryna wrote this song as a sequel to “The Enemy Called Pants.” When Amelia was between the ages of three and four, she refused to wear pants. Ever.

10. I See Me Walking
Katryna called me up and said, “I just went for a walk and wrote these lines.” She sang the first four lines of this song into my voicemail. That night was a Monday, and I had a writing group, so I listened to her tune and finished the song.

11. This Is My Life
Veteran Nields fans will recognize this as a metamorphosis of a song I wrote in 1993 by the same title, and with mostly the same tune and chord progression (although back then it was in E. Fifteen years later, it’s in the more forgiving key of D.) While driving home from Ithaca on Feb. 23, Katryna said, “Why don’t you rewrite ‘This Is My Life’? I always loved the chorus of that song.” The old lyrics were pretty mean. I’ve mellowed, and I wanted to write a love song to my husband.
This Is My Life (2008)

I never thought I’d be
A person with a history
I always thought I’d be racing to
Uncharted territory
How was I to know
That you would be so awfully slow
Taking your sweet time to get it right
And now I can’t believe this is my life

So who made you kind?
And who made you bold?
And who made you someone
Who knows how to dress in the cold?
All of our wrong turns
Became the moves we had to learn
Stumbling though the dark with one flashlight
And now I can’t believe this is my life

Now my racing days are over, We can argue over who lost
Though I loved the speed I traveled
I just couldn’t pay the cost
Wouldn’t pay the cost

And now I spend my time
Watching your face shine
Watching our love grow
And knowing nothing’s mine
I just get to be
A witness to our destiny
All our disappointments and delights
And now I can’t believe this is my life
I can’t believe this is my life!
Nerissa Nields
Feb. 27, 2008

12. For All The Love
This was the second to last song I wrote. Again, I found part of it (the second verse) in a songwriting notebook from 2000. This is a love song to all the people who chose a righteous path to walk, sacrificing ease for integrity. No small feat in this day and age.

For All The Love

Now and then there is a calling
You don’t always want to take
You drag your feet and get distracted
Until you start for your own sake
Cause sometimes staying feels like dying
And though you know you have to die
You want to live a bit before then
And so you pack, you go, you try

No one said it would be easy
No one said it would be straight
But if you go and keep on going
You’ll find your way to that holy gate
And on the way are other travelers
Some are wise and some are mean
But they’re all bound to teach you something
Something you have never seen

And as you go, you’ll find companions
Brothers, sisters, of the way
Friends to laugh with friends to dance with
Friends to comfort , friends to say
That this road’s been a little harder
But we would chose it again
For all the love we made together
All the life that we packed in.

Nerissa Nields
Feb. 28, 2008

13. Lilalu
A lullaby to my daughter.

14. Ode To Underpants
Katryna wrote this when I called her in a panic and said “We need one more song!” She promptly came up with this. William, her three year old, laughed hysterically when she sang it to him.