Monday, October 25, 2010

A Rare Breed

In our rural wooded neighborhood, the sounds of fall are all around. With hundred year old trees towering in all directions, leaf cleanup and disposal is practically a national sport around here. The sounds of rakes, mulchers, lawnmowers and blowers fill the quiet air. This weekend Ryan and I spent four hours outside pushing massive piles of dry leaves into the woods, mowing little crumbled leaf debris until our lawn was a sprawling, green, velvet carpet. By that afternoon a new thin layer of dead leaves coated it once more. But there is satisfaction in the work itself—truly. Jada napped for hours and Twila played in the woods, talking quietly to herself, no doubt narrating some wildly inventive game. It made Ryan and me smile to see her stomping though the thick, untamed underbrush and crunching through huge piles of leaves, nothing but a still and chilly lake breaking up the wooded landscape. This is why we moved here, we both thought as we raked and bagged and watched Twila play.

As we sat on the deck later, the sky still dry, but threateningly grey, we breathed in the smell of damp air, moist soil, and dry leaves. There is a clean rottingness to the crisp air of autumn, which mingles with the gentle wood smoke of neighbors burning brush. The crack of a pellet gun split the silence and a herd of geese took flight from the edge of a nearby shore. Our noses were pink from the chilly air but our bodies were warm, wrapped in thick sweaters. It’s the time of year that Minnesotans feel very smart for living in the Midwest. And it’s the time of year I often think about my birthdaughter and placing her with her parents eleven years ago.

Ryan and I cradled hot tea in our hands, worn out from carrying buckets of mulched leaves into the woods; Twila stood at the outdoor table playing with the new toys she’d gotten from Nicole, her birthsister, just a few days before. Happily playing she looked up at me and said with a sigh, “I’m glad Nicole is my birthsister.” Unable to schedule a full-on birthday dinner before their birthdays got another month further away, Twila and I met Sandy and Nicole at my mother’s house in St. Paul. Driving over there in the mid morning of a gorgeous, warm, sunny day, I thought, not for the first time, how lucky I am to have joined this open adoption.

I know many birthmothers and even more birthmother stories and over the years I’ve seen that most birthmothers have something positive to say about their birthchild’s placement. Sadly, most birthmothers also have a lot of complaints. ‘Complaint’ is almost too shallow of a word. Most birthmothers have a lot of unmet needs, a lot of disappointed hopes, a lot of longings—many, many birthmothers, hold some amount of regret.

Regret, could there be any worse a word to have to contend with when examining ones decision to place a child? To place your child in an adoption, open or otherwise, is perhaps the biggest, most life-altering decision a person can make; not only for themselves, but for their child and the people who are adopting her.

Adoption is beyond emotionally charged; it’s like a knot of emotional nerve endings, raw and exposed. The birthmother is facing the unbearable act of carrying and birthing a child with the intention of saying goodbye. The adoptive parents are likely coming off of an era of disappointment in their own lives and are then expected to turn, gratefully and openly to a new idea, one which they may have not in their lives until this point considered. Adoptive parents, being the “beneficiaries” of the adoption relationship, are supposed to be happy and thankful and, birthmothers presume, accommodating. What else should a birthmother expect, she is making a huge and generous sacrifice, right?

But unseen are the deeper, more complicated feelings of the adoptive parents, the grief of the notion that they might give birth to their own offspring, the disappointment of being unable to conceive, the fear and uncertainness of entering into an intimate relationship with someone they don’t know.

In so many ways, open adoption is a recipe for disappointment. Here is the birthmother, making a difficult decision, perhaps an unbearable one, perhaps closing her eyes to the full reality of what she is doing because it is (for any number of reasons) the only choice and she has to get through it. Then here is the adoptive couple, perhaps suppressing some unattractive feelings in order to attract and connect with a birthmother; perhaps putting on the best face possible, genuinely willing to do whatever it takes to make this exchange successful and (they hope) mutually beneficial. In short, everyone has their best, most effort-giving, faces on for the adoption arrangements.

Then, the baby is born; the baby is adopted—legally, officially. Realities set in for the birthmom: longing, missing, hoping, needing. Realities set in for the adoptive parents: parenting, feeding, waking. Everyone is tired and suddenly ones’ own needs takes a more present position in the equation than it did before. Tough decisions need to be made by the adoptive parents (now having the power, almost entirely—a paradigm shift) about how open they really want to be. Many, many adoptive parents feel fearful about having their child’s birthparents around. When the realities of parenting and moving-on as a birthparent begin to emerge, birthparents and adoptive parents begin to let each other down.

Each adoption is different but many adoption stories I’ve had the honor to read about or listen to first hand, hold a similar thread like this. So many hopeful adoptive and birthparents find some amount of disappointment in the aftermath of placement. The more I hear and read, the more I come to understand how lucky I am.

I am one of the truly happy birthmoms. We may be a rare breed. Adoption is too momentous a happening to think it could ever be perfect. That would be like an expectant mother hoping that she will be the first perfect mom. I think the most any birthmom can hope for is that there will be more happiness in her choice than sadness; more joy than pain; more pride than regret.

I have the benefit of being eleven years into my birthdaughter’s open adoption, so my reality as a birthmom, and now a mom, has had time to solidify and settle. It certainly wasn’t always as good and easy as it is today. Today, when we get together Nicole tells me about school, Twila follows her around like she is a celebrity, asking Nicole to pick her up. Sandy and I talk about motherhood, laugh about the quirks of children and remember fondly that autumn eleven years ago when we met.

Sandy was an uncommonly generous adoptive mom. I sometimes wonder what her other mom friends and neighbors thought of her having her daughter’s birthmom over to the house, almost weekly for a while. Those weekly visits were what got me through a would-be painful time. I remember craving the smell of Nicole, the weight of her body in my arms when she was a newborn. I needed that fix, that connection, if even just for a few moments. Not unlike a new grandmother might gatecrash her new granddaughter’s home for the first months of her life, I just reveled in those visits. It didn’t matter what we talked about, how long we were together, as long as I could hold the little bundle for a few minutes, see her in her home, with her mom and dad and dog. It brought a peace to me uncommon, I think, in early days of birthmotherhood.
Still, there were hard days at the beginning, sad days, days I missed the thought of what might have been. But by comparison, I have been lucky. My birthdaughter’s adoptive parents were willing to be as open as they originally said they would be. Nicole fit into their lives seamlessly. And I went on to resume my interrupted youth. So now when I look back eleven years with Sandy, as our daughters play, as we celebrate their birthdays, seven years apart but in the same month, we have only pleasant nostalgia to look back upon. Time is always on your side when healing an old wound, but so was our honesty, our willingness to understand each other’s pain and our hopefulness that ours might be a new kind of adoption.

These days Twila asks more questions about Nicole, more in-depth questions about when she grew in my tummy and how she came to be adopted by Sandy and Tom. She loves when I get to the part about when I got pregnant with my first daughter and how ready I was to be her mom. I know there will be more questions, harder questions to answer; maybe some I don’t want to answer, but for now, as Twila enjoys being a big sister, enjoys the thrill of seeing the much older Nicole whenever possible, her sentiments are simple: “I’m glad Nicole is my birthsister.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Imperfect Imbalanced of Nature

Our house is infested with mice and the irony is not lost on me. The first bit of irony is that we were not that sad that our three cats separately wandered from the security of our yard and have, one by one, chosen not to return. Ryan and I both feel bad about how much we don’t feel bad.

In many ways it was the right time to part ways with those three cats who had, of late, taken to urinating behind the couch in my daughter’s room when they weren’t interested in journeying all the way to the basement; and behind the bar in the basement even though that is quite close to their litter box: a feline middle finger to us more than any sort of reflection on their physical limitations. When we discovered that half of Twila’s toys were soaked in cat pee a week or so after the final cat took a camping trip and didn’t return, Ryan and I both thought, good riddance.

But now there are multiple mice living in our basement, coming up to the main floor when we sleep and occasionally when we are quietly watching TV at night. They scuttle around the counters, eat up the little crumbs and scraps that our daughters are wont to leave on every surface, and—most frustratingly—poop in little clusters in the corners of the floor, the counter, and the coffee tables.

The poop upstairs is minimal compared with the poop that was coating the shelving in the basement where many carefully wrapped trinkets and long-forgotten knick-knacks were shredded by these new little invaders to make suitable living quarters, I can only imagine.

It was finding tiny clusters of mouse poop on our family-room coffee table that was the final straw for me. Having a nine-month old baby who relishes picking up the tiniest over-looked scraps of plastic, paper or wine foil, and stowing them speedily in her mouth, I began wildly cleaning and disinfecting every surface she could reach. On the third morning of this predawn cleaning frenzy, Ryan announced that he was going to get traps. “Live traps?” I hoped aloud.

“We can try that,” he answered.

After two days, we had not managed to entice a single rodent into the cold, metal box even though it contained a large dollop of peanut butter. Late one evening as we sat watching TV, we heard a familiar scuttling around in the kitchen. We got up fast enough to catch a glimpse of one tiny invader running across the top of the trap. Ryan strode from the room and retrieved the old-fashion mouse guillotines he had purchased a few days earlier.

As he set three neck-snapping mouse traps in the basement, I sat on the couch, my head in my hands pondering how ironic this was. What kind of karmic lesson was I being taught? Not two months ago I was getting up in the middle of the night to bottle feed an infant mouse. My daughter and I were hoping against hope that he might live long enough to open his eyes. He played in our hands and slept in warm blankets under a heat lamp. Now, weeks later, I am an accessory to killing his full-grown counterparts.

“Moses wasn’t running all over the house, pooping on the counters,” Ryan reminded me gently.

“I know,” I said, “it just seems so absurd, now, that I was working so hard to keep him alive.”

“It was absurd,” Ryan agreed, “but that’s what made it so beautiful.”

I know there is a difference between these mice, overrunning our home and keeping a pet mouse—raised and tame— in a cage and away from a baby’s hands and mouth. For our baby’s sake we had to get rid of them, I thought as I heard a loud SNAP under the floor.

Life is strange. It’s odd how we organize things; what we deem acceptable and unacceptable. After my walk home from Twila’s preschool in my nursing bra the other day, I spent a lot of time thinking about how strange it is that men of all ages can run around with their shirts off while women have to wear two layers of fabric over their chests to be appropriate. Why do we keep ferrets inside our house but lock our trash cans against raccoons? Why do we put food out for birds but go to great lengths to keep squirrels from eating the seed? Why do some people live to be a hundred, and others die at twenty five? Why are some people able to birth ten children, while others struggle to get pregnant even once? Fitness and health seem to have very little to do with it, making survival of the fittest an imperfect description of what we actually see in nature.

There is a strange imbalance in nature. This is a notion that occurred to me for maybe the first time when I was pregnant at eighteen. I had stumbled on pregnancy the way some people stumble onto a good restaurant. I was just going along and suddenly, there it was before me. I knew little about fertility or prenatal health. Pregnancy was something I was working to get past. It was utterly foreign to me that some people were, even as I put on a bulky coat to hide my growing belly from my high school classmates, working very hard to achieve what I had mistakenly attained.

As the weekend wrapped up, Twila and Ryan and Jada and I all roamed around the yard, picking up leaves and sweeping the driveway. Ryan and Twila went inside to get a pair of work gloves. Moments later Twila came bounding out of the kitchen door, the metal live-trap held high in the air.

“Mom!” she yelled, “we caught a mouse!”

We spent the next hour watching our captured mouse eat peanut butter through a small, Plexiglas observation window. Twila talked to him and attempted to stuff a few shreds of grass in through the one-way opening.

As the sun sank low, more quickly than it did during the summer, we carried the live trap out to the far end of the yard and let the little mouse go under our lilac bush. Twila had a hard time saying goodbye, as she does, but we talked about the fairy that went marketing, enjoying all the things and creatures she found for a while and then letting them go, and how we can’t keep creatures just because we love them. She was sort of okay with it, and it was almost like the lessons we’ve been teaching over and over are starting to get through.

We walked back to the house at the end of a beautiful day, content that we were doing our best: subduing the wilderness around our house as gently as possible; content that even in the absurd imbalance of nature, sometimes beauty is found in the midst of the struggle.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Worthy Investment

We dedicated the girls this past weekend. We brought our daughters to church in front of our families and committed to doing everything in our parental power to raise our girls to have a strong inner spiritual life, to have a heart for love and compassion. It was one of the most exhausting weekends of my life. Really wonderful in so many ways, but exhausting, leaving me asking that question I so often ask but so rarely answer: What facets of life should I invest my finite energy in, and how often do I invest that energy in the wrong things?

Ryan was in meetings all day Saturday leaving me to get the whole house ready for Twila and Jada’s dedication dinner that night alone…with two small kids. And it was one of those days where the planets aligned just so to make everyone unavailable to help. Saturday morning was really hellacious. There is no way around that.

The leaves have been falling off our ancient and enormous oaks in the front yard. Most of the year I love these trees but between the months of September and November it is out and out war: us versus them. There seems to be no end to the blankets of leaves they can drop in foot-deep seas on our lawn and driveway. No sooner do we mulch and bag them than they call in another line of troops and we are knee-deep in crunchy leaves once more.

Normally this is Ryan’s department. When we have people over, I “white hurricane” the inside and he battles the endless war, trying to tame the wilderness out our backdoor. But that day Ryan was gone and I had to contend with the inside and the outside of the house and there were no fewer than twenty million leaves on our driveway. But it was cool and gorgeous and I gamely packed Jada into the Kelty backpack and tried to get Twila to go outside with me. But she quickly got engaged in a game in her room which she tends to do when I want her to go somewhere with me. So I decided to capitalize on the privacy I suddenly had and called the store where I wanted to purchase these little charm bracelets for the girls to commemorate their dedication.

I was put on hold for about ten minutes. When finally a clerk picked up my call and asked what I wanted to order, Twila walked in. She started hassling me about being on the phone and in front of my computer which she is doing a lot lately and frankly it just really pisses me off. I spend so little time in front of my computer lately that I just want to be able to do something—anything for two seconds without the little four-year-old guilt-trip.
So I tell her that but I'm already agitated about the situation not to mention unable to tell the person on the phone what I want. So I am simultaneously feeling irritated that she won’t give me a minute and like why should I even get this gift for her when she’s denying me the privacy to do it, which is of course a rotten spirit from which to give a gift. So I ask Twila to give me two minutes of private so I can make a call which she WON'T do.

Finally I get annoyed and tell her, in no uncertain terms to go out of the room. She does, whimpering and wining as she goes. And because her head is down and her eyes are teary, she runs straight into the corner of the wall, hurting her forehead. Now she's SOBBING and I have to get off the phone and I'm more annoyed than sympathetic. All this time I have Jada in the backpack still and now she decides she's sad too.

So I say we need to go outside to do the leaves, forgetting the phone call for now. I bundle Twila in her fall-weight clothes, all the while holding my body in a straight-backed squat so I won’t dump my now winey baby out of the back pack and Twila is also wining and whimpering the whole way out of the house, probably feeling hurt that I wasn’t more comforting about her injury and perhaps still insulted for being sent from the room.

I try to put on a game face, smile and start fresh. I get Twila her little shovel and my big one and we start pushing the leaves off the driveway. But Twila is still winey and I just want to shove her into a pile of leaves.

I realize immediately that this is a bigger job than it looked from the windows. One shovel full of leaves removes one one-thousandth of the offending heap from the pavement. So I step up my speed. And as I'm vigorously trying to push the leaves off the drive way, Jada's head snaps forward and smacks the back of mine with a loud crack. Now SHE's sobbing. So I troop the girls back in and unload Jada and put an icepack on her forehead and nurse her.

Then Twila starts fake crying to win some of my attention which makes me feel equal parts annoyed and terrible that she has to sink to such depths to get my affection. Out of guilt and frustration and sadness I bark at her about it so she wanders off crying and Jada's fussing at the breast and I just want to hurl myself off the deck, feeling like a terrible witch for being so crabby on my girls’ dedication day. But I just can't muster any sympathy for Twila as she paces around lamenting over and over "this is not a fun day!"

Eventually I found a way to dig deep and regroup, knowing that nothing would turn around until I, the biggest one there, turned it around. I told Twila I was sorry, I wanted to start fresh. I told her I was crabby but I was sorry for being crabby on her dedication day. I asked if she would help me turn it around. She said she would. All she really wants is to be on my team; that’s all I really want to. So we hugged and sat for a while, sighing. Then bundled up once more and trooped again outside to tackle the massive leaf pile. We shoveled together for an hour (slower this time so Jada’s head was safe) then I took out the blower and began battling the now wipping wind to blow the crunched and dirty, un-shovel-able leaf-pieces off the drive way. Twila stepped inside for this dirty part and as the whooshing sound of the blower filled our ears, Jada’s head drooped and she fell asleep on my back.

A few hours later the house was clean, the driveway was clear, the bathrooms were acceptable and the girls were dressed and clean, and I was utterly spent. Having forgotten to consume anything but the latte I had treated myself to earlier that morning, I was on another planet by the time we arrived at church that afternoon. I thought several times that evening during the beautiful ceremony that sometimes I prioritize the wrong thing.
I put so much energy into making the house look good for our families, I hadn’t cared for myself. I was crabby with my girls and now here I was hardly able to invest myself in this important event. I was so busy trying to make it “perfect” I just about missed it. How often do I do this, I wondered. How often do I invest my finite energy in that which doesn’t actually matter? How often do I invest in the wrong thing, missing what life is really about?

I was exhausted and hungry as I stood before our families praying over our children. But I looked out and saw my sister who I haven’t seen in months, who is only recently speaking to me again and was overwhelmed by the fact that she was sitting there with her fiancĂ©. Our girls were happy and looked adorable in their dresses. And I felt happy that we were there with them. If even just for a few minutes, time slowed down and I was just right there with my husband and my daughters, our family looking on.

Back at our house, we had a nice if chaotic dinner but I was too tired from the day to read the bible verse I selected earlier in the week for Twila and Jada. Last night as I sat inertly at the table eating soup that Ryan made for dinner, still trying to catch my breath from the weekend, I pulled out my study bible from the St. Kate’s bookstore and read to Twila while Jada nursed in my arms, Psalms 121:
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.

Monday, October 11, 2010

You Win Some; You Lose Some

I don’t like the zoo. It’s crowded and hot and the animals stink and are boring. Why do we have Zoos? I asked myself as I pushed our double stroller up the crowded narrow path to the “Large Cats.” I mean battling crowds of sweaty people, on a hot October afternoon to see wild animals from such a distance as to make them appear smaller than a color illustration in a book, borders on ridiculous. To make our afternoon venture even more absurd, October is apparently past the St. Paul Como Zoo’s regular season which means the majority of the animals are inside, some exhibits are completely closed, and the park closes “early” (read: forty five minutes after we arrived).

But Ryan was golfing and the sun was high and bright in a cloudless sky and a promise of a trip to the zoo was enough for Twila to let Ryan leave that afternoon. We saw the back half of a zebra and an uncharacteristically active tiger bounding from rock to rock about a hundred yards away. I was hot and sweating from pushing the heavy, unwieldy stroller all over the place, so the highlight of the trip for me was finding a shady bench on which to sit and nurse Jada. Twila got a three-dollar, deformed snow cone that dripped profusely from the tip of the cone…so it was her highlight too.

As we sat cooling off in the shade, Twila looked at me, smiling with bright purple lips and said, between bites of crunchy ice, saturated with I-don’t-want-to-know-how-much artificial colors and flavors, “Mom this is a great date.”

I learn so much from Twila’s optimism. She didn’t mind that it was hot and the animals were all-but absent, she was thrilled because we were on a zoo bench instead of a park bench. Anything novel peaks her sense of adventure. We played “Jack and Annie” of the Magic Tree House series, which basically just means we are at the zoo but referring to each other as Jack (me) and Annie (Twila). It makes even the most mundane tasks seem exciting (“Come on Annie, let’s wash our hands for dinner;” “Hey Annie, should we brush our teeth before we get in bed?”)

That night, Jada’s nose started running like a stream of clear, thick mucus. It was too soon after the zoo for her to have contracted it at the zoo which means we were those people that make going to the zoo such a likely place to pick up a cold (sorry to all those whose kids get sick today). For the last two nights Jada has been too congested to sleep longer than an hour without needing to be rocked, readjusted, propped up or nursed.

As I dragged myself to the bathroom at four thirty this morning, I felt like I had sandpaper between my eyelids and eyeballs. It’s the kind of tired today that doesn’t make you feel sleepy; it makes you feel like you are on another planet. The bright colors are brighter, the lights are lighter; everything feels surreal and disorienting.

But the weather is so idyllic in Minnesota this week, it is hard to complain about anything, even sleep deprivation. We pulled the dock out yesterday but not before sitting on it with two of my siblings in the warm afternoon sun and having the traditional end-of-the season-beer. The lake was glassy and silent. All around, the trees enclosing the lake were auburn, magenta and burnt-orange. The water was still warm when we stepped in to heave the paddle boat out and detach the dock.

Twila waded in the shallows, finding empty snail shells and gathering small rocks for her collection. Jada sat on a towel in the grass, sneezing; each time grinning, and signing more to our deep amusement.

So I’m tired; but it is heavenly here. You win some; you lose some. I decided to walk Twila to school today thinking some fresh air and exercise might chase the cobwebs out of my brain. But we didn’t leave enough time and the air is still; the sun hot. So I was sweating profusely when I finally dropped her. The stroller’s harness for Jada is malfunctioning but I didn’t have time to sort it out on the way so Jada was laying sideways by the time we turned around to head for home.

I had to stop several times to make adjustments which caused me to want to walk all the faster since my precious, private, quiet time was melting away like butter on toast. In my last stretch of the walk, I was so hot and sweaty, having severely overestimated the wardrobe I would need for a walk on this afternoon, I finally yanked my cotton tee-shirt off, risking that my nursing bra might not look as much like a sports bra as I wagered it would. But it was worth the risk to feel the fresh air cool my bare skin.

It is so completely still now as I look out over the lake that not a colorful leaf stirs on the oak trees overhanging the water. Occasionally a tiny yellow aspen leaf drops, unprovoked, and flutters to the water. Jada sits, quietly playing (for now) and occasionally sneezing, causing her to laugh and sign more.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Exhausting in the Most Wonderful of Ways

“Mom, time me while I count to zero.” It was a testament to how worn out I was by late last night that I didn’t even crack a smile at this request.

Ryan was out of town most of this week and by the end of the trip, I was on my last thread of patience and energy. The thing about kids, especially hilarious four year olds, is that they take a ton of energy because they have a ton of energy, which is all wonderful and delightful but a certain amount of energy is constantly being drained as you listen, answer, ask and participate in their endless creative, imaginative games.

Twila’s mind right now, is a ceaseless, perpetual idea producer and sharer. A constant stream of new ideas flows from her mouth without pause or rest. If I ask her to get out of the tub she says: “Let’s pretend you’re Snow White and I’m Cinderella and you’re asking me to get ready for the party but I don’t want to because I’m in the bath…okay? Should we do that mom?” And I stand nodding with an open bath towel, agreeing to whatever I need to, to persuade her to climb her narrow, naked body out of our deep tub.

It was during one such negotiation a few evenings ago, that Jada climbed up on the step below the tub and lost her balance, whacking the back of her head on the floor tiles. She screamed. But it was the second time this exact same scenario occurred, resulting in another head bonk, in the same night that I really lost it.

It wasn’t Twila’s fault, I kept saying, but my assurances were followed by big buts of blame. “It’s not your fault she fell, BUT, when I ask you to get out of the tub, please just GET-OUT-OF THE-TUB! It’s not always a good time to play a game,” I pressed on unable to just shut up, “when its night time, and Dads gone and we’re getting ready for bed, sometimes I’m too tired to play. From now on you need to ask if now is a good time for a game…okay?”

I knew I was going too far. I knew she felt bad, and was taking the situation seriously. Why couldn’t I just stop talking? I said I didn’t blame her but I think I really did, maybe just because I didn’t want to blame myself for my baby getting the exact same injury twice in one hour. It was too much. I was angry with myself; angry with my husband for being gone; angry with my exuberant daughter for not just doing what I asked.

As usual I felt rotten when I finally did stop talking. Twila is more compassionate than most four year olds; she is extremely emotionally mature and particularly keyed in to my emotions. She takes very seriously my feelings and her part in causing my feelings. I know this about her and know that I should dial back my outbursts. But for some reason, in the midst of an injury or accident, I have a very difficult time dialing anything back.

My temper spikes, especially when people get hurt. Come to think of it, my Dad was always that way. He hated when we got hurt. He was constantly worrying that we would get hurt and then angry when we did. I guess it’s the parenting paradigm. We know that part of our job is to keep our children safe so when we fail to do that, despite how much to blame we are or are not, we feel inadequate or like we’ve failed.

Twila apologized profusely despite my constant assurances that it truly was not her fault. She retrieved frozen vegetables from the freezer and helped apply them to Jada’s head. Jada was happily nursing and seemed no worse for the two smacks on the back of the head.

When Ryan got home around nine last night, we both looked equally worn out. Twila was unconscious on my lap having succumbed to sleep some thirty minutes before when I told her that Dad was off the plane and in the car. She could hold on no longer. Ryan carried her limp body into bed and then we sat, exhausted, on the couch.

We had a non-verbal disagreement about who was more exhausted then laughed about what we would prefer about the other person’s week.

“I know you have to work really long, boring days,” I conceded, “but when you’re done, you get to go to a nice restaurant for dinner, drink good wine, sleep in a hotel bed—alone. I mean that’s like my heaven. That’s what I’m going to go do when I die and go to heaven.”

Ryan laughed, “I don’t know if I would trade with you,” he agreed. “I would love to have the days with the girls, though. I’d love to be home on the couch instead of on the tarmac. I’d love to spend the day outside when it’s seventy-five and sunny, instead of sitting in a stuffy office for ten hours taking depositions.”

“Yeah, it was a good day,” I said thinking back to the majority of the sunny day, which the girls and I spent at two different playgrounds with other mom friends, “it’s just that it doesn’t end,” I laughed. I think that’s the thing about motherhood, it doesn’t matter how great it is or how wonderful your children are, it is overwhelming because it never stops; not for one second of one day. The constant attention, care and worry are exhausting even in the most wonderful of ways. It’s the inability to shut off the mom-thoughts that can make you worn out, cranky and impervious to the fun and hilarious questions that we parents are gifted to be asked.

So even in the tired frustration of long days and endless questions, I try to listen, to laugh, to even make a joke. After a few minutes, I stopped swirling around and listened. Then Twila and I tried to time her counting to zero. It didn’t take long.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Jada the Goon

My baby laughs like a goon. And smiles like it’s her job, which is fortunate because she also screams constantly at the top of her lungs. No longer content to merely crawl, she screams as she pulls herself up at the furniture, open drawers and my legs—yelling like a banshee until she is fully upright. I may be going deaf.

It was a busy week. Someone at Twila’s school came in with strep throat and all week we felt like our throats were sore. Whether we were fighting an infection or just influenced by the power of suggestion I’m not sure. But we feel well now.

Jada continues to steal the spot light from Twila when we are in public. In classic second child form she grins bigger, screeches louder and flirts more relentlessly to win her fair share of attention—more than her fair share really.

I am practicing patience as autumn descends, settling quietly on Minnesota this October; patience with my girls and patience with myself. I do just one small thing at a time, putting the “list” out of my mind. The slow cooker has been my best friend on these brisk and busy days. I dump a few things in, in the morning and see what comes out at dinner time.

I am writing…slowly. Ryan keeps suggesting that maybe I write in the evenings, after our kids go to bed. “Well when would I sit on the couch and drink wine?” I ask only somewhat sarcastically. I am so utterly spent by nine o’clock when silence finally overtakes our busy house. When Twila has used her last get-out-of-bed-free card and finally succumbs to deep and restful sleep; when Jada has nursed thoroughly and is temporarily unconscious in our bed, there is nothing left to do but collapse on the couch with a glass of wine.

I’m sure I could be a more productive person if I spent that last hour or ninety minutes of my waking hours writing or cleaning the house so we were organized for the next day. But at that point in the night I simply can’t do another thing. I have to just not do for at least a little while so I can get up and keep doing the next morning. It’s hard to just be when I have so much to do.

But I made a pact with myself a few weeks ago to appreciate these years of parenting young kids and the only way that is possible is to find a way to be okay with things not getting done—even the things I really want to do.

It’s one thing to let go of the house work. I remember moms in my Le Leche League group saying: just let the house go—you won’t get these years back! No problem, I thought. Who doesn’t want to let the housework go? That’s easy. What’s hard is letting go of the self-imposed deadlines and the sense of urgency I set in motion in myself a few years back when I started writing and trying to publish my first book. Every day that went by felt like a day that someone else was becoming a published writer. Even to this day I battle a sense of internal bitterness when I hear a new ground-breaking writer being discussed on the radio.

Sometimes it feels like a zero sum game and every person who makes it as a writer cuts my odds of making it as a writer down a little slimmer. But I promised I’d appreciate these days so I’m realigning my expectations, my goals. If I get a little work done on my novel, my plays, a few times during the week; if I blog once or twice and get a couple of projects done with the kids and see one or two friends and play “Jack and Annie” with Twila for a few hours, and find some time to get out in the fresh Autumn air, it’s a good week.

A lot gets put aside and maybe as parents it always will. But I made a choice to put aside the stuff, the things, so I don’t have to put aside my soft-spoken and funny four-year-old or my raucous and screeching baby, who is currently climbing my legs and whacking my keyboard. I sometimes miss quiet and taking naps. But Jada laughs like a goon and keeps me smiling.

Meatless Sloppy Joes in the Slow Cooker


1. 2 cups chopped onions

2. 2 cups chopped red and green bell peppers

3. 1 can of kidney beans, drained

4. One 8 oz can of tomato sauce

5. 1 squeeze of ketchup

6. 1 tablespoon of mustard

7. 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8. 2 teaspoons ancho chili powder

9. Dash of cider vinegar

10. 4 dinner rolls


1. Throw everything but the rolls in the slow cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hours.

2. Serve warm on fresh rolls