Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What a Month!


Tonight as I was putting Lila to bed and we were cuddling in the dark, she said, "Mama, I have a secret." She then whispered in my ear, very slowly and carefully, "Do horses have chicks?"

"No," I whispered back.

"Do donkeys have chicks?"

"No. Chickens have chicks."

"Oh. Do daddy chickens have chicks?"

"No. Just mamas. In fact, no daddies have babies except for sea horses."

We snuggled together a little longer. I breathed in the smell of her sweet hair. In the next room, Johnny was making little grunting sounds that meant he was well on the way to sleep. I felt a little sad; tired as I was, I wanted to go back and snuggle with him some more too. (I probably will end up in his bed nursing him sometime between 2 and 4 in the morning. That's been the pattern of late.) And just a few hours ago I was so at the end of my rope, I wanted to run screaming from the house. This love for one's children––my love for my children–– is visceral, sensual, more powerful than anything I've ever experienced.

March came in like a lion and is on its way out, lamblike for sure. I can't remember the last time it actually followed that folkloric pattern. It's been one month since I started writing every day, and there are ways in which I feel transformed by the process. Also ways in which I feel just as lost, overwhelmed, confused, cluttered as ever. (And I haven't touched my novel, The Big Idea.)

But here's what I have gained:
-George Harrison. He is a big big hit in our house.
-More brain space. That was the number one issue with life coaching: too much space in my brain occupied by too many disparate situations. Right now I need to focus on as few things as possible, as such a huge part of my emotional landscape is taken up by my three (human) family members.
-Martha Beck. Oddly, I feel as though I spent the month being coached. I listened to her book Steering By Starlight daily on my iPod during my run. If/when I return to my practice, I will do so with more wisdom, compassion and clarity.
-The knowledge that I am not alone. Thank you. You have affirmed, and continue to affirm that parenthood is a group project.
-Art! I have never had so much fun in my life! I love my new daily practice of painting, drawing, knitting, just using my hands and mind to create. Who knows what's next? I want to ask for a sewing machine for my birthday.
-That uncanny willingness to stop and ask my inner wisdom (or God) what the next right move is in this minute.
-A greater trusting of my "gut." (Or is that the same as inner wisdom/God?)
-Amanda Soule! Thanks to all of you for turning me on to her!

So I plan to continue to blog as much as possible. Maybe even tomorrow. But for now, there is a dog snoring by my feet whom I need to rouse for one more walk in the balmy spring evening. I will look up at the stars and see where the moon is. Then I will come back inside, turn off the lights and join my husband in the bed I've sorely missed. In just a few hours, Lila will come running down the hall yelling, "Surprise!" and I will take her into our bed and snuggle her again. And we have a big day tomorrow.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Changing My Mind

...But her soul, only partially
unpackaged, sings
through the slate that guards it,
contacts those of us waiting here
with a splay of its soft
scrutinizing fingers.
Her soul is a sapling thing,
something green, dew-damp
but resolute, entering this world
with an angel's thumb pressed
to her unformed body at the very last,
a template affixed to her body
when they decided it was time
to let her go, for her to come to us
and their good work was done.
An angel's thumbprint, a signature, her soul.

Abridged from "Her Body, Part 4. The Soul" by David Halpern


We ended up going to church on Sunday after all. I'm not going to say it was the right thing to do, although when I walked in and found this in the pew we usually sit in, I felt like it wasn't entirely the wrong thing to do either.



Everyone was in a bad mood Sunday morning. Johnny had woken Tom and me around 1am and I'd nursed him for a half-hour. He was not eager to go back to sleep, and Tom was wide awake anyway, so he took over and rocked the baby for another hour until Johnny finally caved in. Meanwhile, I lay in bed fretting over everything I'd read about temper tantrums a few hours before, worrying that Johnny was suffering from Second Child Syndrome (basically being neglected), anxious about Tom's insomnia and the fact that he would be extra tired the next day. Which he was. Plus, the house was a mess and we were supposed to welcome George Harrison the Chocolate Lab into our home later that afternoon. I had no business going to church. I knew staying home made more sense. Johnny would get a real nap, and I might too. And the diapers might stand a chance of getting folded and delivered to one of their three possible stations.

But something was pulling me towards church. I missed my friends and the music. I love the idea of us all being together during a block of time on the weekends. Saturday we'd done the divide and conquer thing: each kid getting a parent one-on-one. Plus if I went to church, Tom would drive and I'd have an hour and ten minutes worth of knitting time. I am so close to being finished knitting the scarf I started for Tom in August of 2004 when he proposed to me. He gave me a diamond ring and I promised him a diamond scarf. Four-and-a-half years later, I'm within 12 inches.

By the way, there has been no attempt at nor interest in potty training since sometime last Thursday morning.

I found this wonderful quotation by Patti Smith that I wanted to calligraph and watercolor.


I sat with our family in the music room and focused on my letters, trying to make a decision while Tom drank tea and Lila painted and Johnny crawled around. Sometimes when I am equally divided about what to do, I flip a coin. So I went up to our bedroom, put in my contacts and washed my face. I couldn't decide whether to put on my running shoes to get in a quick run while I still had child care, or to put on a clean pair of pants and brush my hair and go to church. I flipped the coin; heads for home, tails for West Cummington.

Tails.

So I put on the clean pants, grabbed some clothes and toys for Johnny and we threw ourselves into the Jetta.

"The thing is," I said when we were about halfway there. "We seem to do this to ourselves every weekend. We say we're going to do less, just be together, take care of the kids and maybe clean the house. And then we do more and we end up more tired and stressed out at the end of the weekend than we were on Friday. Either we have to change our wicked ways, or I have to change the way I think about weekends. Because it's my thought, 'weekends are for relaxing and recharging' that's causing the problem. What if I thought, 'weekends are incredibly stressful and cranky-making'? Then at least I'd have more appropriate expectations."

Church was pretty much a blur. Lila was full of beans, racing up the stairs of the alter; Johnny was doing his pterodactyl impersonation (a high-pitched screech for those of you who have never heard a pterodactyl) and wanting nothing more than to crawl around in front of the pews. Fortunately our church is a place where this is acceptable behavior (really and truly: also, our church thinks of itself as a place where broken people go. Unbroken people don't need church. Those of us who are carrying around these cracks in our hearts on rainy Sunday mornings––we're the ones who need to be in church.) But even so, it wasn't fun for any of us. Except for a few moments when Lila went down to Kids Church and I was left with Johnny crawling around. He rolled over onto his back and played with one of his toys, and I had a moment where everything was just fine the way it was. I got that everything I ever need as a parent is within my grasp; I just have to trust that I can and will get through the difficult moments. Anyway, I was able to both watch and enjoy my son and listen to the scripture (Luke 9:59-62, "Let the dead bury the dead") and take in enough of the sermon to feel well-fed. But after that, we decided to leave early and spare the good congregants any more distraction from the Nields-Duffys. Tom took Johnny out to stand in the narthex while I collected our many baby toys, coats, hats, diaper bags, water bottles, and wrote a check for our contribution for the month of March and gave it to our friends in the pew behind us. I found Tom holding Johnny carefully, gazing out the window at the rainy view of the Berkshires, still devoid of leaves or even buds. He was crying.

"Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you for coming to church."

I cried too, and it felt like a gentle maneuvering of my heart into the right spot in my chest.

"Now I get why I was supposed to come to church today," I said. "It was because I needed to cry."

The rest of the day felt like it was in the pocket as well. The kids went down easily for their naps and Tom and I cleaned the whole house. George arrived with his former owners, one of whom turned out to be a Nields fan. I took their picture, but I forgot to ask their permission to post it here, so I will refrain. Lila has not let George out of her sights ever since. She has been leading him around the house by his spring green collar, and if there is a sight cuter than an almost three-year-old and a big docile chocolate lab, I don't know what it is. She is very excited to give him commands. "George, fetch!" she shouts, though she's not exactly clear what he is to bring her.

I can't thank you readers and friends who have emailed me enough for the advice, support and most of all compassion you have given me around my struggles with parenting, particularly around tantrums. I want to share what you've said, so I will try to paraphrase and synthesize the wisdom that's flown my way on angels' wings these last few days:
-It IS a stage. Relax.
-Kids who have tantrums grow up to be interesting and creative and wonderful adults. Relax.
-Pay attention to transitions. And relax.
-It really IS a difficult time. Take care of yourself and relax.
-It's incredibly hard to be a very small ambitious person and have no control at all!
-Pray. And relax.
-You aren't going to spoil her by "letting her win" a few battles. You don't need to take every opportunity to teach her who's boss. Relax. Let her drink the water in the bathtub once in a while.
-Don't believe the stories you make up about what a bad parent you are or what a bad child she is. You can relax about that, too.
-Sometimes the tantrums are funny. Try to see that.

Today we were tantrum-free. The stars aligned, perhaps. I was conscious of transitions and gave her a lot of presence for a half-hour before her babysitter took over.

Tonight in the bathtub, she leaned over Johnny and hugged him. "Hello, little man," she said. "I love you!" Then Tom took Johnny out of the tub. George Harrison followed the guys out of the room (for the first time in my entire life, I am living in a household with more males than females!), and Lila and I were alone. I should say that right now, the word "special" is often code in Lila-ese for "I don't want to have to share this with anyone, especially my brother." So I said, "George really loves you, Lila. I think he would tell his friends and family that you are special to him. I think he would say, 'Lila's my special person.'"

"And you're my special person, Mama," she said, looking up at me and giving me one of her shatteringly brilliant smiles.

"Oh, Lila!" I said, putting my arms around my wet child. "Thank you!"

"Friends forever," she said. (I'm not kidding.) And we proceeded to have an "I love you"/kiss fest.

Then she proceeded to drink the bath water, over my protestations. After a few minutes, I gave up and let her.

One of my favorite parenting books––okay, actually the only parenting book I've come close to reading––is by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn and it's called Everyday Blessings. I have been picking it up recently to be reminded that everyone agrees parenting is hard, and that, as with everything, mindfulness is key. In one of the chapters, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, "So why do it? Maybe Pete Seeger said it best: ‘We do it for the high wages…kisses.’ Children give us the opportunity to share in the vibrancy of life in ways we would not touch were they not part of our lives….they share …[their] vital nature with us and call it out of us as well, if we can listen carefully to the calling.” (Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting).

Yes. And those kisses.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Masks



I have been trying in vain to upload a video of us singing and playing at Meltdown. So instead, here are some photos of the masks we made yesterday.

Meltdown Video!

Nerissa and Katryna Nields and the CrackerJack Band performing John the Rabbit at Meltdown March 28, 2009

video

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Tantrums

About temper tantrums.

I owe apologies to both of my sisters and about a thousand other parents of children between the ages of 2 and 5 right about now. I didn't get it. I didn't get it at all. In my typical way, I had the idea that if I did everything right––in this case, if I were the perfect mother, kept my kid away from television, plastic toys and sugar and exposed her to wholesome folk music, and stayed at home with her most of the time, and affirmed her experience, and wore her on my body, and breastfed her, and let her co-sleep, and crushed her baby food in a baby food mill (or chewed on it myself and then regurgitated it for her) (not really) ––that she would never be sad, and that she would certainly never have a temper tantrum like the ones I witnessed other kids having.

And experience seemed to back up my theories––for awhile. She was a delightful baby and a lovable, easy toddler. In my many judgments of other parents and children, I failed to notice that their tantrumming kids were all over the age of two.

"When and if we get to that stage, we simply won't tolerate it," my husband and I said to each other. "We will never give in to the tantrum, so therefore, she will try it and quickly give it up." As though tantrumming were some nasty habit, like chewing tobacco.

Ha!

Today I was Skyping with my parents who were visiting my aunt Laura, mother of five.

"Laura, did your kids have tantrums?" I asked, as Lila and Johnny both vied to be in the front of the picture.

Laura had to think about it, which I took as a bad sign. "Sure," she said doubtfully after awhile. "All kids have tantrums." Later, after Lila and Johnny were scooped up and taken outside to enjoy the warm spring morning, I asked just my mother, "Did I have tantrums?"

"No," she said right away, which I also did not take as a good sign. My kid is the only one on earth having tantrums this bad! "You didn't. But then, maybe you did and I just chalked it up to development."

How I want to do that! Just chalk it up to development! And it's very likely that she is just going through a phase. But when I read up on tantrums, I find that some kids just don't have them. I was so sure Lila would be one of those kids, and she clearly is not. But why? She was such an easy baby and toddler! Is it because I had Johnny? Is it because I am such a disaster around potty training? Does it have anything to do with me at all?

Tonight, after a really long day, I gave Johnny a bath. Tom took him and I asked Lila if she wanted one too. "No," she said, and if it hadn't been for a recent diaper incident, I would have let her go without. But before I could suggest that, she said, "Actually, I do want a bath."

But she didn't really. She pouted and refused to sit down once in the tub. I forgot that I was dealing with a very ambitious little person and not my compliant 7-month-old, or the compliant 16-month-old she once was. I took advantage of my 100 pounds on her and lay her down on my lap to wash her hair. That's when the kicking began. I was not about to have a fight in the bathtub, so I lifted her out, wrapped each of us in a towel and carried her, kicking and screaming into her bedroom. (When I say screaming, I mean ear-piercing, gut-wrenching, lung-rattling screaming.) I held her tightly and shhhed her the way I did when she was an infant. I told her I loved her, and just kept holding her even though she wanted to run out of the room and find her dad. I said, "You can be with Daddy, but first I want you to calm down. It's okay, it's okay." After about seven minutes, she did calm down. I said, "Are you so mad at Mama? Or are you sad? Or both?" And she burst into tears again, but this time it was definitely sad, not mad. She clung to me, weeping.

"Do you want to play with the dollhouse?" I said.

"Yes," she answered in a tiny little voice. So we sat down and two of the dolls had a fight over who got to wear the purple socks (Johnny's socks.)

I let Tom read her a book and put her in her crib and I sat on the couch in the family room, letting the sadness come. Tom joined me after a few minutes; Lila had gone down peacefully.

"I just don't know if this is normal development or if there's something I should be doing better," I said. "I feel like this is all my fault."

"What about my part in it?" Tom said. "What about that tantrum she had Monday morning?"

I vaguely remembered it. "I just figured she was having a tantrum," I said. "I didn't think it had anything to do with you. But when it's me, I think it's all my fault."

"Oh, sweetie," Tom said. We sat together in the dark.

I keep reading that the best thing you can do for kids who tantrum is to try to prevent them in the first place. So maybe we shouldn't have gone over to our friends' house for dinner tonight. Maybe I shouldn't have brought my kids to Meltdown, the festival we played this afternoon.

Tomorrow, we are supposed to go to church. But we are also supposed to be welcoming George Harrison into our home at 2:30. Johnny has just recently started crawling in earnest, and church will surely be a wriggle fest for one of us. I just told Tom that he can go with Lila and I will stay home so that Johnny can take his morning nap at the time he's accustomed to take it. So many times we drag both kids around with us to maintain the lifestyle we had before having children. Before this month, it seemed like an unconscious compulsion; now it seems selfish. Yes, I want to go to church. I miss it. I haven't gone in a month or more. But church will be there in the future when Johnny is no longer napping in the morning and when he's old enough to go to Kids' Church with his sister. For now––for tomorrow, at least–– we're going to choose what's best out of all our delicious options, and that may mean there will be some disappointment. I will be giving up doing a family thing all together and giving up my own connection with my spiritual community. But Lila will be getting some much needed Daddy time, plus she loves Kid's Church. Tom will get the church hit he craves. Johnny will get his nap and some alone time with Mama. And I will get to breathe easier, knowing my family members are being taken care of.

Plus I will read all my old copies of the New Yorker during Johnny's nap. And maybe even paint my toenails.

Friday, March 27, 2009

George Harrison



We have decided to get a dog.

Before you take the trouble of logging in to tell me how this goes against everything I wrote about last night, about working against my Grasping type and my recovery from busyness, please read the following as a kind of apologia.

Tom came home from work last week and said, "I know this is an insane idea, but there's this dog named George who needs a home." George is a three-year-old chocolate lab who has been trained as a therapy dog, which means he has been brainwashed to allow kids to scream and yell and maul him and to respond by blinking his big coffee-colored eyes and roll onto his side. The center where Tom works paid to have him trained, but the dog needed a home and an official owner. Tom would take him to work everyday, 9-5. We would let him romp in our (almost) fenced in back yard. He'd be almost no trouble at all.

My first response was this. "That all sounds manageable, but the part I can't quite swallow is just the idea of having to cut one more slice out of the family love pie. I feel like we're all squeezed to the max emotionally. Lila and Johnny both seem to need more and more attention as they get older, not less. And hello! What about me and my need for attention! If we get a dog, you're just going to put him in your truck and take off and go hiking with him and leave us behind."

"First of all, we don't have a truck," said Tom.

"Yeah, but the dog will give us an excuse to get one. In fact, that's another thing. We don't have a big enough car for two adults, two kids in car seats and a big brown dog. Where will the guitar go?"

"I know it doesn't make any sense. But I still kind of like it," Tom mumbled.

"I like it too," I said. "But absolutely not. No dogs till both kids are potty trained."

"George is potty trained," Tom pointed out.

That was a good point. My line has been, "We'll get a dog when both kids are out of diapers."

I love dogs. I have had dogs for most of my life. Our beloved Aussie, Cody, died while I was pregnant with Lila, and I assumed at some point we would get another dog. But the idea of training that puppy keeps stumping me. In what faux future would anyone in our family be able take the dog to Puppy Kindergarten? Who would clean up the messes?

"I just can't have another creature I'm supposed to take care of," I said.

And that was that.

Until that night. Katryna and I were on our way to the Circle of Friends coffeehouse gig in Franklin MA. The sun was setting, and a family was out walking their chocolate lab.

"That reminds me," I said. "We almost got a dog." And I told Katryna about George.

"Are you crazy?" she said. "Why wouldn't you get that dog? Therapy dogs are the best!" And I thought again about Puppy Kindergarten, house breaking, crate training--all that we wouldn't have to do to get a dog who would be better trained than any dog who went through the Nields-Duffy method of Dog School.

And suddenly I remembered something. Two summers ago while I was trying to get pregnant with Johnny and being disappointed month after month, I drew a picture of my family in order to manifest my reality (yes, I watched The Secret). In the crayon picture is an image of Tom, Lila and me, holding a baby. Next to Tom is a big brown dog with floppy ears.

I am not a chocolate lab fan. In fact, I think of them as the kind of big dumb clumsy dogs I eschew in favor of shepherd types. I grew up with a beautiful golden retriever, but she was pretty dumb too, and she also bit. So it was sort of weird that the dog in my picture was a chocolate lab.

Also, I found this picture of me in my iPhoto file. This was taken in 2004 at a house concert we did in St. Augustine, FL. The dog's name is Sweet Pea, and as you can see, I fell madly in love with her.



So I came back from the gig and asked Tom if the dog was still available.

"Oh, I was just thinking it was a bad idea," said Tom.

We spent the next week thinking about it, going back and forth. I anticipated that George would be a lot like Nanna from Peter Pan. He would probably potty train Lila and soothe Johnny to sleep at night. I asked God to send me a sign, like perhaps show me a terribly behaved chocolate lab, or a particularly lovable one so that I could make an informed decision. We also asked Lila if she wanted a big brown dog named George.

"No," she said holding her hands about five inches apart. "I want a teeny tiny little dog named Mia."

"We need to stay open-minded about this," I said to Tom, but also mostly to myself. "If Lila isn't down with getting a dog, we can't do this. After all, she's just had her world rocked by the addition of her brother. Who is now crawling. She's going to have to compete with two four-legged creatures now."

Today George was scheduled to come over for a visit. This morning during my run, I saw a woman walking a chocolate lab in the park. I knelt down and patted her ears. They had that soft-as-silk texture. I reached my hands into that peculiar waterproof lab fur around her neck. The fur seems to go one forever, deep into her body. It felt right.

When we introduced George, Lila's face immediately broke into her sunniest grin and she threw her arms around his big thick neck. She then proceeded to shepherd him around the yard, and when he took off after some scent, she pursued, saying, "Here George Harrison, here Buddy!"

Some of George Harrison's other commendable traits:
-he doesn't bark. At all.
-he doesn't climb on furniture
-he doesn't jump up on people when he meets them
-when he finds something interesting on the floor and picks it up, and you say, "Drop it!" ––he will, and then walk away.

We are going to call him George Harrison so no one thinks he was named after the last president. Also because George was the Quiet Beatle and he is our Quiet Dog.

After Lila had proclaimed George a member of the family and Johnny had vetted him thoroughly (and gotten a big wet kiss on his face), I sat down at my computer to write about our new addition. George flopped down by my feet and promptly fell asleep. I am reminded of what was so good for me about having a dog. Dogs know how to relax. Especially this one. His energy may be just what this family needs. He will be an excellent teacher.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Recovering Busyoholic

The CrackerJack Band rehearsing for Meltdown


Bass player Paul Kochanski

Katryna



Drummer Sturgis Cunningham


Dave Chalfant, multi-instrumentalist and The Man

In Buddhist psychology, I am told, there are three main hindrances or personality types, and while every (unenlightened) person exhibits all three hindrances in some combination, one tends to predominate. There is the Grasping type: the person who wants everything, who is greedy for more, who never has enough. There is the Aversive type: the person who says "no!" as a knee jerk reaction, who pronounces everyone and everything guilty until proven innocent (and who, at base, is full of fear and practices contempt prior to investigation.) Then there is the Deluded type: the person who lives in a fog and can't seem to get out of it, who constantly tells herself subtle or not so subtle untruths.

Though I recognize aspects of all three types in myself, I am definitely the Grasping type. I am or have been, an over-eater, an over-consumer of material goods (which is another way of saying a clutterer), a miser, an obsessive planner, and of course as we've established, an over-doer. Probably the correct term is "overachiever," but I hate that term. It makes me feel pathetic. You may as well say about an overachiever, "She has this tiny little amount of potential and it's just a miracle that she's able to do anything! No gifts or looks or brains to speak of, but she sure works hard! Give her an A for effort!" I so wanted to be a person for whom achievement was effortless that I refused to even attempt any activity that I wasn't naturally good at. And by "good at" I meant elite. B-'s didn't count, nor did the kind of guitar playing that was about just accompanying a voice or two. If I couldn't be Lindsey Buckingham or Mike Campbell what was the point of even playing?

But my Grasping nature goes beyond achievement. I tend to overshoot the mark in any and all arenas. I can't bring myself to turn the gas on the stove part-way; I always turn it on full blast, as if I didn't trust the mechanics of a medium flame to cook my eggs properly. When I come home from vacation and the heat's been turned off, I overcompensate by turning it up to 80.

Before you write in and tell me how sad this all is, I should say: I'm working on it. Everything in my new job description of mother-of-two is about being willing to do things kind of badly. The kids need to stay alive, stay reasonably healthy, be reasonably happy and feel deeply loved an appreciated. I need to stay alive, be healthy, be happy in order to give them this. And most of all, I need to stay present and I need to stay grateful.

I believe in encouraging kids to do things they love even if they're not, by some subjective-but-agreed-upon-standard, "talented." My mother tells me that I used to love to draw and paint (and I vaguely remember this) but that right before I went to some private New York City pre-school interview my artistic grandmother told me a story while simultaneously illustrating it on a pad of paper, me on one knee, the paper in front of us on the table. My mother says that once at the interview when the admissions officer asked me to demonstrate my drawing abilities, I took the pen in my fist and make a gigantic angry scribble.

I'm not sure what to make of this story: perhaps it just proves my competitive side was alive and well at age 3, or perhaps I already felt that if at age 3 I couldn't draw like my grandmother, an accomplished artist, I might as well throw in the towel. More likely I was a 3 year old in a bad mood who needed a nap. But I do look back and have some regret over the fact that I never properly pursued painting and drawing; it's a skill I wish I had, an outlet I crave. I wish I'd studied art history in college. I have a deep yearning to understand visual art, and I also have a piece of myself that feels like I'm not worthy to be admitted into that particular club. Maybe this is the way people who got told to mouth the words in their high school Glee Club feel about music.

I want to learn how to edge my rags with pretty thread and some kind of stitching.

I sit down with a blank page and a paintbrush or my new packages of magic markers and wonder what to draw.

I want my daughter and son to do things just because they are fun to do, just because they like the physical sensation of, say, drawing an orange streak across a white page, kicking a soccer ball, sticking your thumbs into a pot of dirt to support a seedling, or playing a chord progression on the piano.

A friend of ours just got a cancer diagnosis. A bad one. She has it all over her body. It gets worse: she is the adoptive mother of a young child, and her partner with whom she raised this child died several years ago––of cancer.

I can't even comprehend the pain of what it must be like to know that at some point one would have to tell one's child that one might only have months to live. The only thing worse than this in my mind would be a similar diagnosis for my child.

Hearing this bad news makes me want to reach out, not just to our friend and her family, but in general, to the community. I am reminded that we are all connected, even when we think we are most alone.

Today in HooteNanny, Lila stole off by herself and found a pencil and a piece of scrap paper. She was deeply involved in her drawing for about twenty minutes. When she brought it back to me, I praised her and told her what a good artist she was.

That's easy for me to do. I am always going to be impressed with whatever my kids do, even if they don't meet some agreed upon standard. Being a Grasping type is actually a good thing in that way (for others, just not always for myself, I am a huge cheerleader. I see potential in everyone). What's going to be more challenging is to model that kind of quiet pride in a job done––if not well-done, done with care and honor. And so, I would like to make some clumsy handkerchiefs. I would like to draw some awkward but enthusiastic stick figures and maybe even work at improving my skill by taking the time to make some less-than-pleasing sketches. I would like to go back to the guitar and practice once in awhile (what a notion!) and do it not so that I can attempt to be Lindsey Buckingham or Mike Campbell, but because the feel of the strings under my fingers feels good. And because I am alive, and because music is a language that my kids and I share, and because we are all here, now, at the same gorgeous, precious moment and none of us knows how many more of these moments we will be granted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stop N Shop



"From what we get, we can make a living. What we give, however, makes a life." -Arthur Ashe, tennis great, AIDS activist.


Johnny is no longer down with being the number two guy. Ever since he started crawling, he's been questioning the hierarchy. He is no longer content to be relegated to the corner in a bouncy seat or a swing or any contraption that confines him in any way. But more significantly, he doesn't want to be ignored. He crawls right up to me and butts his head against my shins until I pick him up.

Today feels like a throwback to two months ago; I woke up and haven't stopped, and don't plan to until I get home from the studio tonight at 10pm and hurl myself into bed. This morning I took Lila to her first dentist appointment. It went well, and she was rewarded with a purple plastic mouth whistle (don't ask) plus a bag full of those mini flossers that resemble tiny wrenches and a brand new pink toothbrush. She was such a big girl, swinging her baggie of goodies and wearing her new (hand-me-down) sneakers with the yellow truck that flashes its lights whenever she stomps. Then we went to the Stop N Shop which should be re-named Temptationland. What a difference from shopping at River Valley Market, our co-op where the most exciting items are the bins of bulk oatmeal! But we needed to pick up the prescription vitamins for Johnny and get some orange juice, and Stop N Shop was across the street from the dentist, so...

First of all, can someone tell me if it's really OK to give these vitamins to my son? They contain fluoride! He doesn't even have teeth! I hear that we all need about five times more vitamin D than we thought we did, and I am down with that. But fluoride? Please inform.

Second, I have been seized recently, as you know, by the urge to draw and paint, and so I was drawn like a magnet to the art supply aisle and ended up buying two full packages of multicolored sharpies, a pack of construction paper, play-dough, and push pins to stick our art up on the kitchen wall. So I obviously didn't set a very good example for Lila who proceeded to pull almost everything off the shelves and attempt to house it in our car cart. The car cart, oy, the car cart! She likes to ride in the car part for about three minutes, at which point she abandons ship and runs free of me while I follow behind in the world's most cumbersome shopping vehicle. Plus in the middle of the store, she announced, "I can't sit down anymore, Mama, because I pooped in my pants." When I said I would need to change her diaper, she ran away from me. At one point, I caught myself saying in my most threatening tone," If you don't come back here right now, I am going to change your diaper!"

NOw it's 9:34 and I am home from our rehearsal. Tomorrow I will post pictures and give a report, but for now, here is a cartoon (Kartoona) Katryna did last week. Patty and Tom watched our kids who played together so sweetly. At one point, Patty asked William when his bedtime was.

"8:30," he answered.

"What time is your bedtime, Lila?"

"Sixteen-thirty," she responded.

I think I left the tops off the play-dough containers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today's Post is Hiding



For some reason, today's post comes earlier than yesterday's post. I don't know why. It's called "Communal Mothering and Hobbies" and you can find it if you scroll down below Super Wyatt.

But since we're both here, how about some more pictures from the Smith Bulb Show?

Monday, March 23, 2009

SuperWhy Super Wyatt


Nerissa is occupied with non sleeping son Johnny. So this is from Katryna:

At our show in New York we were given some cool SuperWhy swag by the Breens. Their son is a creator of the terrific PBS kids show which teaches kids to read. William and Amelia were so thrilled. William took the CD up to his room and played Ukulele along to it dancing like he was listening to his rock'n'roll. This morning, inspired by the SuperWhy stickers and Nerissa's Almost Flat Lila™, we made Almost Flat Super Wyatt. Here he is. There are 4 characters in this show. Now William wants the rest of them... Lots of important work to do!

Communal Mothering and Hobbies

I am reading a couple of books right now that give me great courage ("courage" coming from the root "coeur" which means "heart") in this journey towards (in? of?) motherhood. One is called The Creative Family by Amanda Soule. Amanda is the crafty mom I can only imagine impersonating, since crafty I never have been. But she makes me think I could. As she tells us in the book's introduction, she wasn't crafty either; her children brought it out of her. Being with one's own children, observing their inherent creativity coaxes the creative juices out of ourselves, she writes.

I believe this, and it's certainly been my own experience, especially since I quit my day job. Somehow, I am drawn towards the small creative domestic projects I used to scoff at. Years ago (I mean years--like 20) at my fifth high school reunion, I inquired about a classmate who hadn't shown up. "Oh, she's gone domestic on us," her former best friend told me. "She's all about homemaking." This surprised me, since "she" had been the best student, bar none, in the class and had had her pick of the Ivy League. I had had an initial sense of, "Well, THAT'S not right. She should be discovering a cure for cancer or mediating peace in the Middle East; not sewing drapes for a nursery or making her own baby toys."

I don't have that attitude anymore, but up until recently I did think that being "domestic" (whatever that meant) would never be anything I'd want for myself.

The decision I made last month in Florida resonates as a right move more and more every day. As I live with it, and continue to make the changes I set in motion with that decision, my world keeps getting bigger and deeper, like a lake I have been drawn into, or a house with a labyrinthine basement and multiple rooms. Each day that goes by seems to show me how right it was to pull my attention inward, to give more of myself to my family and my art and less of myself to the wider world. And part of that seems to be, for lack of a better word, taking real pleasure in the domestic.

First of all, I have been a Freecycling maniac. I have been setting all sorts of boxes and bags on my porch, watching gleefully as strangers stop their cars in my driveway and remove them. I feel like I am able to take deeper and more sustaining breaths with every item that leaves the house. I have finally let go of the boxes of my larger sized clothes which supported me lovingly through my pregnancies and post-partum periods. And of course, with each development and pound, Johnny sheds clothing and ––barring any unplanned pregnancy–– we will never need again.

But I'm also awake to the small, joyful tasks that are the privilege of running one's own household. I say this because I'm aware of how lucky I am to live in my own house, where there is plenty of room for everyone. In another country, in another income bracket, I'd be trying to raise my kids while sharing space, sharing resources, sharing aural real estate. I get to have a dishwasher to clean my dishes. I get to have a washer and dryer to deal with the commodious amounts of laundry we create. I get to shop at a food co-op where there is excellent local organic produce and poultry.

And yet, even as I express my gratitude, I yearn for other women in close proximity to help me raise my children, and to get to do the same for them, which is often a byproduct of communal living. I recognize that a more communal approach is what was the norm up until recently, even in this country. For one thing, it's so essential for moms to remind each other how hard it is to be moms. I don't mean we need to whine and complain to each other, though there is a place for that. I mean it's easy to let the culture fool you into forgetting that this isn't just like falling off a log, for most of us, anyway. Just having another mother say, "Oh, potty training took my kid forever", or "No one in my family slept last night either" makes me feel less alone and lifts a huge burden from my chest.

The other book I'm reading is Katrina Kennison's Mitten Strings For God. I read a little each night before I turn in; she writes short, sweet chapters all about mindful, intentional parenting. Recently I've been reading her chapter called "Quiet" and what a gift it is to our children to turn the radio/TV/stereo off and just work and play in silence. I had been noticing that it is actually no longer possible to listen to All Things Considered anymore at dinner time. Even if we could hear it over Lila's demands to be held and Johnny's end-of-the-day wails, I don't think the sense of the pieces could penetrate our own tired, over-saturated minds. So, for the next while, I officially don't know what's going on in the world and will have to rely on my sisters and parents to inform me.

Katryna came over today and we made get-well cards for our sister and her husband. Lila and William painted and chatted and played outdoors and generally charmed us so thoroughly that we looked at each other and said, "We are the luckiest people in the world." Then an hour of complete chaos followed that culminated with my counting the minutes until the babysitter came over so I could go to the grocery store (by myself! Imagine that!) and steal a five minute nap in my car. Parenting does that to you--whiplash emotional switches.

Lila found a Mr. Potato Head in its unopened box in the attic. I was going to Freecycle it, but didn't have the heart to once she found it and said, "Is this mine, Mama?" Well, of course it was. So we opened the box on which the product purported to induce wild amounts of creativity. I don't get it. It has hands, eyes, a tongue that sticks out and a hat and feet. What's so creative about that? I can see that if you took a real potato and fashioned shoes out of, say, gumdrops, that that might be creative. But what is creative about plastic old Mr. Potato Head?



"You could put his eyes where his feet should be," Katryna suggested. Big whoop.

We also made a puppet out of a paper bag and some construction paper. That was fun because we got to play with the Elmer's glue.



I notice my nervous system slows down and I experience a kind of euphoria when I am doing crafty arty things with Lila. And I am reminded of an interview I did with the publicist for the major label we were on in the 1990s. He was gathering information about each of the band members, and I was feeling really good about him and about our CD. Toward the end of the interview, he said, "And what are your hobbies?"

I was stumped. "Hobbies?" I swallowed. "Well, I run. And hike."

"Uh, huh," he said. There was a pause. Playing the guitar wouldn't count.

"I really like to run," I went on lamely. "I run every day."

"So you're the active type," he concluded.

I felt odd. "Not really," I said. How could I tell him that I only really ran (at that time) to stay thin so I would look good on stage? Everything I did, I realized, was for my career. I lived for one thing: performing. Everything in my whole life was aimed straight at the goal of being a better, more successful performer. There was no room in my life for hobbies!

And that made me indescribably sad.

So here's a happy ending. Today, I am learning how to knit, draw, paint, make paper-bag puppets, garden, sew and who knows what else. The great thing about being a parent is that you get to see the world through your child's eyes, and whatever she wants to pursue, you get to follow. I can't wait to see what comes next.
video

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday in March


Flowers at the Smith Bulb Show

Red bud on the trees. Garlic coming up in our garden. Lila on a tricycle. The snow melted to just a few gray-black porous wedges along the sidewalk which we crunch giddily with our sneakers. Running into friends and having an impromptu play date. I love March.

Last night we played at Circle of Friends Coffeehouse in Franklin MA. I love love LOVE this gig! Thank you for letting us be performing musicians. Thank you thank you thank you!



Nerissa, Jake and Katryna loading in.


Members of the audience being good sports about it all.


Nerissa knitting backstage



Katryna knitting backstage.




Photo Lila took of Nerissa at the Bulb Show.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Music Is Not A Luxury



"... I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time.[sic.] Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds."- Karl Paulnack


A friend gave me this wonderful article last week by pianist Karl Paulnack; you can read the full text here. He writes, "the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us." He goes on to talk about the deep shifts he has seen occur in individuals during his concerts, and concludes that the work we musicians do is every bit as life-saving as that done by ER surgeons: "...someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft."

As I type this, Johnny is on the floor with a variety of HooteNanny instruments: plastic and wooden shaky toys, and his favorite, drum mallets and a drum. I am quite impressed that at seven (almost) months he has figured out that hitting the drum--a small almost flat head surrounded by an orange ring--is more satisfying to his ear than simply hitting the mallet to the floor.

Each HooteNanny ten-week session has its own discrete curriculum. Every session includes at least two lullabies. This session, we are singing Pete Seeger's wonderful "Sailing Down My Golden River." I cannot get through the song without crying. I don't quite know why. Certainly a part of it is the line, "Life for all my sons and daughters/Golden sparkles in the foam..." which evokes my children, how deep an unfathomable my love is for them; my love for my own father of whom the whole song reminds me; Pete, himself, who gave of himself so richly to the Hudson River community and his own son and daughters. But then there's also the music, simple though it is: the way the tonic moves to the relative minor and then to the minor second ("D minor--the saddest of chords..." First prize to the reader who gets THAT reference.) Something in the moment creates that internal shift of the "big moving pieces," my own peculiar galaxy.

Our babysitter's father died a couple of weeks ago. She told me she and her sister had printed the lyrics of "Sailing Down My Golden River" on the back of the program for his memorial service.

Johnny has reached the couch and is trying to pull himself up. I help him into my lap and feed him a spoonful of organic baby pears, the first food we've found that he loves almost as much as breast milk. I have to go to a gig tonight, and I wish I could take him with me, but he will have a better time with his dad and his uncle Dave and his sister and cousins. Besides, I am going to practice my new directive as musical astronomer. Someone might be in need of some serious emotional ER at the concert.


Here's Arlo Guthrie singing "Sailing Down This Golden River."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Vernal Equinox!



We sense that there is some sort of spirit
that loves birds and animals and the ants -
perhaps the same one
who gave a radiance to you in your mother's womb.

Is it logical you would be walking around entirely orphaned now?
The truth is you turned away yourself,
And decided to go into the dark alone.

Now you are tangled up in others, and have forgotten
what you once knew,
and that's why
everything you do has some weird failure in it.
-Kabir


Spring always surprises me. Coming from New England, I never trust it, but today I acted as if I did. I woke early, ran around the park and noticed a slew of yellow, purple and white crocuses about to burst in our neighbor's yard. I meditated on the Taoist concept of wei wu wei––"doing without doing"––and marveled at how that always seems to be my answer.

Lila and I spent the non-Sesame Street portion of the morning painting and drawing. I have finally found the activity that we both love doing so much that while we are doing it, time falls away and there is no need for conversation or music or any kind of distraction. I could paint with Lila all day.



The other focus of the morning was on potty training, of course. A mom friend of mine told me yesterday that she is giving her three-year-old a lollipop to suck on while sitting on the potty. I won't talk about our other experiment since it's so embarrassing and it didn't work, but it involved putting the little potty seat in front of the TV in the hopes that that would keep Lila interested. (With copious amounts of newspaper under it, but still. Gross.)

Our big outing of the day was to the food co-op to buy organic lollipops. When we got home, Lila sucked down one whole pop, insisting that Johnny, still in his car seat and therefore a captive audience, be placed right in front of her, "So I can show him how I'm pooping and eating a lollipop." I was happy with this arrangement as it allowed me to unload the car of the five grocery bags and put said groceries away and clean up the kitchen. But when I went to check on her progress, though Johnny was amused, Lila had not exactly delivered. She was, in fact, crunching the remains of her Pomegranate Pop.

"Now I want a purple one, Mama."

"No," I said, switching tactics as I do at the first hint of defeat. "Not till after you poop on the potty."

So Lila scrunched up her face and trembled and immediately produced! We both shouted and whooped and celebrated and hugged each other around the neck. Johnny cackled. Lila was given a stash of goods not seen since the last episode of "The Price Is Right": another lollipop, five M&Ms and five pennies to put in the Bribe Jar. Also stickers, which no longer have a home, but I told her she could put them wherever she wanted. (The carpet, it turns out.)

When I came back from my appointment, her babysitter reported that she'd pooped in her training pants, but I didn't care (much). I'll take these little victories wherever I can get them. Katryna called this afternoon while I was out to remind me that a pair of sisters we know (not us) who are among our favorite people ever, and the living example of how you would want your daughters to turn out, have told us on several occasions that their mother claims to have completely failed at potty training. Yet look at how well they turned out. So I am going to stop worrying and just enjoy this kooky time. We are having fun, my daughter and I. She is, for sure. She thinks there is nothing in the world funnier than poop, and who could argue?

Meanwhile, Johnny is perfecting his porpoise-like manner of ambulation. He gets up on all fours, rocks front to back about five times and then hurls himself onto his belly, a few inches forward. Sometimes he goes from all fours to an elegant downward dog, hurling himself into bow pose. He loves that--it makes him chortle.

Once I watched television. I used to love it. I miss it. My sister Abigail, who shares my sense of humor to a T sent me a bunch of links, the most apropos being this one which made my stomach muscles hurt from laughing so hard. Please watch and enjoy. Happy spring!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Potty Training

Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better.
-Samuel Beckett


Lila is sitting next to me on the corner of the easy chair as I write this. She is wearing mismatched pajamas and black rain boots. She wants to know why the writers aren't eating snacks right now. I tell her it's because they are writing and also that I forgot to put the snacks out. She wiggles down and slides off the chair and runs over to her shelf full of toys and drops a big basket of percussion instruments on the floor. I hear her mutter, "Don't worry, it's not a problem."

Earlier this evening, we were watching old videos on my computer of Lila when she was seven months old (Johnny's current age) and eleven months old and eighteen months old. It gave me pangs to see that sweet, funny, light-of-my-life little person, that person who didn't know the meaning of the word "tantrum." In truth, neither did her mother.

I haven't said much about potty training. That's because it's a blight on what is otherwise a peaceful and serene life, and I want you all to think I mostly have it together. But there are times when my interactions with Lila around this issue make me feel like THE most incompetent parent in the history of parentdom.

There are lots of ideas out there about potty training. One, T. Berry Brazelton's, is to leave the kid completely alone and wait for him to figure it all out for himself, presumably before he's in junior high. Others, including a number of disposable diaper-hating environmental types like me, think the diaper industry is behind this and argue for earlier, more hands-on toilet learning.

Except that nothing I have done ––or continue to try to do–– works. Lila showed great interest in the potty about a year ago, and that interest lasted about a week. My interest in her learning the potty, however, did not wane. As I have written here, we mostly use cloth diapers, and as the months progress (and the population of diaper-wearing members of our family doubled), I become more and more eager for the elder of the two to figure out where to put the products of her digestion.

By the way, in my earnest desire to be green, I also eschewed commercial diaper wipes in favor of rags (made from soiled and stained baby clothes) and a spray bottle of a mixture of water, olive oil and baby shampoo. This system works wonderfully and is cheap, though it does require laundering and sorting the rags into equal piles which must then be delivered to three distinct diaper changing stations. It also requires keeping up with the three spray bottles and making sure they are full and present at each station. I was willing and eager to do this until recently when Lila discovered the spray bottles and decided it was her duty to use them to "clean" the bathrooms. She knows I don't want her to do this, so she says, "Mama, I need privacy," and slams the bathroom door shut. At first I thought this was good news and might lead to toilet use, but I have since found that it always results in her emptying the spray bottles of their contents, sometimes onto the vanity mirror, sometimes into her potty, and sometimes all over the changing pad. So we are going to suck it up and go back to paying $5 per package of wipes.

A friend recently suggested the M&M method of toilet training: one M&M for a pee, five for a poop. This worked well the very first time: Lila gladly obliged, but five minutes after eating her one M&M she opened her eyes wide and said, "Mama! I have to pee again!" and ran to the potty. She peed three times in an hour and then lost interest in the M&Ms completely.

We tried blowing bubbles every time she peed. We have made charts. Lila puts a sticker on, then I forget to hide the stickers and I find the chart covered with them a day later. The day after that, the chart is crumpled up, having been used as "wrapping paper" for a gift (the gift being something along the lines of an empty dented Crayola box.)

Lila likes her diapers. Yes, she is interested in underpants, but not in a fanatic way. She will pee on the potty if she is bare-bottomed, but if there is anything between her skin and the floor, she will pee or poop in it. And if I could only subscribe completely to T. Berry Brazelton, I would be so much happier. Busy doing diapers, but happier.

Steven Hayes (along with Martha Beck) talks about clean pain versus dirty pain. Clean pain is when something happens that we don't like: a broken leg, a broken heart, a job loss, a death. Dirty pain is the thoughts we add on top of the experience, thoughts like "This bad thing happened because I am accident prone, or clumsy, or unlucky, or ugly, or unlovable or incompetent." And the thought that often goes along with these nasty untruths is, "I've finally been seen for the loser I really am." I am having dirty pain galore as a result of the speed of Lila's toilet learning. I think I am warping her by encouraging her to use the potty. I think I am too impatient to really sit with her and let her figure it out: that a more talented parent would be able to coach her child into happy toileting. I think if I'd left well enough alone and just let her go at her own speed, she'd have figured it out by now.

Because we started potty training at just the age where she began to differentiate herself from me (around 24 months), I am not sure where potty battles begin and just plain old terrible-two battles end. If I had done the Brazelton (non) method perfectly, would I still have that sweet little angel who babbles up at me from the computer screen?

No, of course not.

Tom said something really helpful today when I told him that she had wailed and screamed when I told her it was rest time in her room. He said, "The greatest gift you can give her is to let her know that she can have all her feelings, safely. When we try to keep kids from being angry and sad, we send a message to them that those feelings aren't okay and they might not be able to live through them. Kids--we all--need to learn how to manage our feelings. She's safe in her room. She cried herself to sleep and she woke up and cuddled with you and went on to have a good afternoon as a result of getting a nap. And she knows a little better that she can handle a tantrum, and that YOU can handle her tantrum."

I love that. And I love my strong-willed little almost-three-year-old. As I watched her watch her baby-self on the screen, I saw a tender smile creep onto her mouth: the smile of recognition, of one human watching another creeping along the developmental path, doing the best she can.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting Your Body Back, Losing Your Mind

I was under the delusion that at some point this parenting gig would get easier. I thought that eventually, perhaps by the spring, I would regain my former life, or at least the part where every single moment wasn't accounted for by someone other than myself or my own most basic needs (not including showering). Today ignited that hope and then, just as quickly, extinguished it.

One of my new year's resolutions was to reduce the items (read crap) in our house by 10%. In a fit of spring fever, I have been madly sorting, unboxing, resorting, folding and Freecycling all our extraneous stuff away. It feels better than going to get my teeth cleaned, an activity I love. I have let go of so many unwanted things, (though for some odd reason I can't part with the hideous gold floor-length bridesmaids dress with matching shawl in the back of my closet––tomorrow I will post a photo of it). This task also brought me to the attic, where I gingerly brought down a big plastic bin marked "Favorite Performing and Other Clothes", a relic from my pre-pregnancy days. Lo and behold, garment after garment fit! Yes, I am still a bit fluffy around the middle, but the clothes essentially covered me in a way that didn't make me feel like a stuffed sausage.

I felt like myself again. I foolishly believed that because I had my body back, I might have my mind back too. Not so fast.

I had made a play date with one of my favorite moms and her two daughters today. Lila had been completely on board, even enthusiastic about the date up until the moment I told her it was time to get dressed. She immediately went boneless, as Mo Willems would say. Then the kicking began. Fortunately, my brother-in-law Dave was over with Lila's beloved cousin William, so Dave could hold the baby while I took Lila into another room, screaming notes I didn't think possible for the human voice. I wondered if I were a terrible parent for inflicting this kind of control over her, then rejected that; if we only went with Lila's whims, we'd make a million plans and then end up sitting in front of Sesame Street all day (a valid description of many of our days.) Then I wondered if she were a horrible child. Maybe she will be one of those kids everyone hates. Maybe she will be miserable and lonely in pre-school (like I was!) Maybe we will need an intervention or therapy or meds.

Fortunately, I didn't believe any of these thoughts for too long, or at least I didn't believe them solidly. I had a sort of Swiss-cheese relationship with the thoughts. Moreover, I stayed present while she tantrummed, under the theory I've heard that kids need to rely on our nervous systems while their young tender fragile ones are developing. So to that end, the calmer you can be with your children, the better. During the hole-in-the-Swiss-cheese moments, I had an awareness that anger comes and goes, and that Lila's will burn hot and fast and then dissipate.

So I breathed, and after I wrestled her (gently) into clothes that were not pj's ("I.Want.To.Wear.My.PJ.Top!"), I held her close to me and rocked her gently as she sobbed. After about three minutes she bounced up and ran to the stroller.

As I walked into town, I thought about my delusion, the one where things are kind of hard when the baby is a totally helpless infant who can't tell night from day and who pees in your face if he's a boy and how it all gets easier from then on, for after all, people took maternity leaves in the first 12 weeks, right? That must mean it gets easier, right? Wrongo, Buffalo. Lila takes up so much more of my brain space than she used to. When she's awake (which is a lot more of the time than it was when she was an infant), she demands almost constant verbal engagement. She wants me to play with her, to tell her stories about Scary Elmo Woodpecker, to animate her dolls, to explain why she can't have honey for dinner. Ever since I got back from New York, I feel as though I've barely even seen Johnny, even though he pretty much lives on my body. But when Lila is in the room, she takes up 95% of the mental and emotional space. So I don't think things are going to get easier. And I have to admit, I have a good friend with three kids, all older than mine, and she doesn't seem to have any more free time than I do. Less, in fact.

And one more thing. Even though I gave up life-coaching, I still go around all day with the feeling that I'm not doing enough. I'm not being enough in the present moment. So today, after we got back from lunch, Johnny had fallen asleep in the stroller. I rolled it to the back yard and closed the fence and let Lila out. The two of us ran around in circles and kicked the big ball and then snuck around to the back of the barn to find the cave where the bear lives. And something another mother told me today came back to me: "Hang in there. The playing gets more fun. You will feel like playing at some point." Being in the cool of the shade of the backyard on the first warm day of the year, grinning at my two-(going on three)- year- old, I could see that Promised Land ahead, if I weren't there already.

The mom I had lunch with rolled her eyes when I asked if her two angels ever, ahem, had a tantrum. "Uh, like this morning," she laughed. I decided we should be best friends and have a mom group where everyone had to wear the ugliest bridesmaid dress they still kept in their closet.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a totally random video of our visit to the Galleria Mall at Tyson's Corner, VA.


video

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Sightings and a Decision



One of the deepest teachings given by Buddha is that you should not be too sure of your perceptions. You have to practice looking deeply in order not to be fooled by your perceptions... Even if you are sure, check again.
-Thich Nhat Hanh



Spring has officially arrived. See crocuses above, viewed on my daily jog. And we made our decision about pre-school. We are going with School B. On Saturday morning, while Skyping my parents, Lila told them, "I liked the school with the birdseed and the big big toys. NOT the other school." And she proceeded to try to pronounce the name of the Big Philosophy from which School A takes its name. Even though Tom was advocating for School B, he was gracious enough to assure me that we shouldn't be basing our decision solely on what Lila wanted. After all, she wants honey for dinner and would like to play outdoors in the snow wearing only her pajama top. But I took her predilection to heart. I can see that she was really comfortable in School B's space. There was a lot more playing going on there, a lot more free play and a lot more imaginative play, both of which she lives for these days. The tightness in my heart loosened a lot over the course of the day as Tom and I walked and talked it out, weighing the different merits of each place. On Saturday night, I couldn't sleep. I lay in bed thinking about my overwhelmingly physical reaction to both schools and how I would be a hypocrite to encourage people to go with their gut and then ignore my own. But again, that voice reminded me: "What about Lila's gut."

Yes.

And in that moment, I felt completely clear. School B was our school. Maybe not forever, but the next right step was to accept School B and try it for nine months. We could always change after that.

In terms of community, we couldn't have gone wrong: both schools are full of kids and parents that we know and love. Both schools have teachers we think are excellent. Both schools are widely viewed as wonderful.

I went back to School B today to check in with my body to see if it had been unduly influenced by the stomach flu. This time, I did not have the negative sensory reaction that I had on Friday. It helped that the Chipmunk soundtrack was absent. Today, perhaps because it was Monday, the place was much tidier and spacious. My eyes caught sight of walls full of artwork of all kinds, and collages of photos of happy smiling kids. I recognized even more children we know and got to talk a bit with the teacher who will be Lila's next fall. The head of the school showed me the art room which included bins full of costumes for imaginative play, and I had a glimpse of the future: my three-year-old dressed up in butterfly wings, dancing around the community playroom, waving her magic wand and transforming everything in her path, including her mother.

Honey




Our experience playing at Infinity Hall was otherworldly. The theater is stunning and we were greeted at the entrance with a coned-off parking spot and a hospitality maven named Madeline who shadowed us wherever we went, asking if there was anything at all we needed. The sound was exquisite, which for me makes or breaks a show. Katryna was fabulous, and I was wobbly but fine (I think). Kudos to Fred the amazing sound engineer.

On the drive home, we listened to this great podcast with Dan Zanes podcast. In it, he suggests the ukulele as the first instrument a family member might pick up and try to learn. It's easy on little hands. We have such a uke, and so Saturday morning I looked up some chords on the internet and tuned up Lila's little ukulele and played a few three chord songs: "The Fox," "By and By," and "Pelican Fish," the current house favorite. Later, Lila and I did some water colors (see above). I found myself scandalized by the fact that she couldn't seem to keep from messing up the paints. I had to keep reminding myself that she's two. Ooops. This is called Narcissistic Mother/Daughter Confusion Syndrome, and I have it in spades. In the middle of yelling at her for leaning over and painting a big black smudge on MY pretty watercolor of our family (how symbolic is THAT?), I heard that voice in my head say, "She's your daughter, not your sister."

"Sorry," I said. She hit me with her paintbrush. "Don't hit me. But I'm sorry I got mad. Painting is supposed to be messy, and you're doing a great job. But today we are each going to paint on our own paper. But another day we can each paint on each others' paper."

Saturday night we hosted a dinner for members of our church. This had been my idea last fall when I was even more deranged from lack of sleep and the shock of going from one child to two than I am now. I had suggested that during the Lenten season members of our church host what the church of my childhood called Agape Meals: potlucks where members came to cheer each other up from the doldrums of late winter and maybe discuss a Bible passage, but mostly eat and chat and let the kids scramble underfoot and try to eat chocolate (which was my predominant memory of the event). Everyone at my current church thought this was a good idea, so here we were, at 4pm on Saturday with guests (10 of them) scheduled to arrive in an hour and a half. I had just woken up from a nap, and Tom had just returned from the co-op with Lila in the bike trailer and all the groceries he could fit around her. I had just noticed that the fish I had been planning on serving was a mere pound and a half to feed 12 adults. Whoops. I grabbed some fresh chicken breasts and marinated them in a separate dish from the fish while holding Lila on my hip. She was not in the mood to do anything but be held, and the problem was neither was Johnny. And I only had two hips and two hands. Tom meanwhile was putting groceries away and trying to clean our wreck of a house. (We'd cleaned that morning, but the tsunami had made its usual entrance sometime between lunch and that moment.)

"I want yogurt and honey, Mama," Lila stated. Great! I thought. A chance to feed her some desperately needed protein. I handed Johnny to Tom and ladled out some yogurt. Johnny started making car alarm sounds and leaning his body out of Tom's arms in my general direction. Lila started bouncing up and down on my left hip. I squeezed some honey onto her yogurt.

"Don't stir it, Mama!" Lila shouted, so I left it in a neat thin ribbon and put her down at the table to eat it. I took Johnny from Tom and Tom went back to cleaning up. I nursed Johnny, and in what seemed like ten seconds, Lila said, "I'm all done. Now can I watch a video?"

I looked at her bowl which appeared to have as much in it as it had when I filled it. "Have some more yogurt, sweetie," I said, thinking this might be all we'd manage for dinner tonight, given how chaotic it promised to be.

"No," she said. "I ate the honey and now I'm all done."

"Well, what if I put a little more honey in? Would you eat that?"

"Yes, thank you," she said, nodding her head so politely. Having a verbal toddler must be something like living with Joan Crawford. With Johnny on my hip, I squeezed in a little more honey and took the spoon to stir it in--this time I figured I'd get all the yogurt nice and sweet so she'd actually eat it.

Big mistake.

"NOOOOOOOOOOO!" She wailed and burst into tears, throwing her head back and threatening to throw the bowl on the floor. "I. Don't. Want. That. I. Just. Want. Honey! I don't want the yogurt wif the honey mixed in! That's YOURS, Mama, NOT MINE!"

For a moment, I was so stunned at her uncanny ability to articulate my own peculiar food values (read; neuroses) that I was speechless. And here I was, once again caught between all the voices in my head:

Voice 1: "She needs protein! All she eats is sugar and carbs! Make sure she has protein!"
Voice 2: "What is the big deal? Let it go. Feed her what she wants. She's going to get enough nutrition at some point. There's protein in everything."
Voice 3: "Don't let her tantrum! Give her a time out!"
Voice 4: "You are setting her up for an eating disorder later in life. AND IT WILL BE ALL YOUR FAULT!"
Voice 5: "Breathe and hug her."


I did what Voice 5 suggested, and a little of what Voice 3 suggested and then let her watch Big Bird and went back to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea and cry with Tom.

"Why do we always do this to ourselves?" I sobbed. "It's Saturday. I don't have a gig, but we've managed to completely stress ourselves out once again. Why is it that at the end of every single weekend I feel like I need a weekend to recover?"

"I know," he said. "We keep saying we'll do less and then we say yes to something and end up here again."

Albert Einstein says the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In twelve step groups this is also called "addiction." I really thought we were getting better.

"The thing is," Tom said taking a sip of his tea and putting his arm around me. "We're going to have a magical night. We're going to have a great time with our friends from church, and that's why we'll do it again."

And he was right. As soon as the guests arrived, my heart felt like it was pushing out of its cage, I was so glad to see the individuals. We had a fabulous meal (and there was extra chicken left over) and an even better conversation, even with the kids scrambling around and refusing to go to bed and trying to eat more chocolate than they were allowed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Big Dog



We went for a walk to Cup and Top, a fabulous cafe where kids can play while parents snack and chat with each other. On the way back, our kids in the double jogging stroller, we passed a guy with a giant dog. I get a little worried about dogs, mostly because some of our friends who have dogs get nervous when their dogs come into contact with our kids. "She sometimes nips," they warn us. I feel like I've heard that a lot lately. As lifelong (former) dog owners, Tom and I are both very eager for our kids to experience dogs, and we fully intend on adding one to our family at some point, probably after our diaper days are behind us (cleaning up after three sentient beings would definitely throw me over the edge.) So when this giant malamute approached us, and his owner said to Lila, "Want to pat my dog?" I just assumed he knew his dog was kid-friendly, and we enthusiastically stopped our stroller for the kids to get a faceful.

"Big dog," Tom observed.

"Yup," said the owner. "Ninety-nine pounds. And growing."

"Is he still a puppy?" I said. The dog was white with red markings, one green eye, one blue.

"Don't know," said the owner. "Got him from the pound. Don't know nothing about him except he sure don't like sticks. I pick up a stick and he up and bares his teeth and goes postal. I'm workin' on him with my cane. Sure don't know who treated him so bad."

"Heh, heh," I said, noticing that this dog's teeth, while not bared, were about four inches from my six-month-old's face.

"Want to pat him again?" the owner said to Lila.

This is what I mean by baffling parenting moments. Do you go to any lengths to protect your children? Do you take a chance? I had trusted this stranger to know his dog, to know that sometimes dogs are weird around kids, but why did I trust him? What did he know? Did he have kids? No evidence of that. In fact, for all I knew he was a nut job. On the other hand, do I want to model fear for my kids? Do I want to infuse that energy in them at this moment?

I said a prayer and smiled at the dog. Lila reached out and patted his soft white fur. Then she reached across the double stroller and took Johnny's hand. Maybe she wanted to reassure him that this was a world that could be trusted.