Few words, lots of pictures (and tears on the keyboard)

Dear Z,

You are four years old today, which sounds just about right and unbelievably WRONG at the same time.

I worked myself into a bit of a state this week, over your birthday. I wanted it to be perfect and I wanted to make you all kinds of homemade gifts, staying up late into the night obsessing over the details. I do this around holidays and I do this when I'm feeling things that I'm scared to really feel. I know better. It didn't need to be perfect. It is perfectly imperfect. Just like us both.

I know this is your birthday but I can't help but feel emotional in a very personal way every time it rolls around. This is the day I became a mother. Your birth was the most cataclysmic day in my life thus far. And so all day today as we celebrated you, I felt this internal stirring, a celebration of my own, a remembrance of what this day means in my life.
Baby Zoe, April 29, 2006

At four, you are smart and chatty and silly and full of feeling and deeply invested in people and relationships. You love your sister and your friends and cookies and dolls and macaroni and cheese and you always wish I would let you pick just one more flower. You don't want us to call you "Boo" anymore, the nickname that has, for the last three years pretty much supplanted your given name, and we're trying to not let this break our hearts.

Super Zoe, April 29, 2010

Yesterday as I pushed you in the swing, you said "Mommy, can you hold me and then let me go?"

And I thought That's what I do every day: hold you. And let you go.

Happy Birthday Boo baby girl Zoe.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Wild horses

Z approaches the horse slowly, eyes wide, one set of fingers in her mouth, the other intertwined with mine. I smile and restrain myself from pushing her forward, kneeling down beside her instead.

"It's okay, darlin'. You're going to learn how to groom the horse before you ride her."

The teacher comes over and hands her a brush, tells her what it's called and how to use it. Z steps toward the horse's chest and starts grooming. Sandy colored hair falls away under her little circling hand.

Suddenly, the horse sneezes, sending a thick stream of snot down Z's arm and she jumps back with a scream. The teacher quickly wipes it off and applauds, telling her she's a real horsewoman now that a horse has sneezed on her. This stops Z's tears and later she will happily ride without incident but she won't resume grooming today, she's still too scared of this wild animal and its unpredictable expulsions.


Z's been having problems in school. Girls have already formed alliances, tribes, cliques. Girls shift and morph from friends to "best friends" to "you're not my friend... JUST KIDDING!" and back again.

Girls will be girls.

The friendship games these girls are playing are confusing and painful for Z and it doesn't help matters that she's still prone to throwing herself on the ground, sobbing, at the first sign of frustration. She's extremely sensitive and deeply emotional and takes everything literally and I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE ANY OF THIS COMES FROM except, oh, maybe, DIRECT FEMALE LINEAGE.

And I swear, I would stuff her back into diapers and deal with teething and sleepless nights and every hard baby thing, over and over again, for ever and ever, if it meant that I would never again see the terror and confusion on her face when someone tells her they don't want to be her friend or laughs at her tears. It makes us both sob with big inconsolable breaths.

A book I read recently slapped me upside the head with this basic truth: just because our girls are emotional doesn't mean they know how to deal with these emotions. One of my jobs as a mother is helping my girls learn how to understand and channel the bewildering emotions inside them. And how to communicate with other girls with those same churning emotions. Since I'm not sure I ever learned how to do this for myself, I feel like I'm standing beside her, or even running behind, trying to catch up, as we both stumble our way through the politics of preschool friendship.

So I talk to her, because that's all I can think to do. (Besides, of course, talking with her teachers.) I talk about how people can be unpredictable, how we need to be clear about our needs, how we must listen to our instincts when interacting with people who may not mean what they say or say what they mean. How sometimes underneath "I'm not your friend!" is "I'm frustrated!" or even "I'm scared!" and how "Just kidding" doesn't excuse whatever hurtful teasing came before.

Since I don't know much, we talk about what I DO know. How it's always a good idea to use calm, clear, nice words and, if they aren't respected, finding someone else to play with. We talk about how sometimes, no matter how nice we are, some people aren't going to be nice to us. We talk about how we can't control what other people do but we can control our own reactions to it.

We talk about how people who don't treat us well don't deserve our friendship.

Because THIS I know.


At her next horseback riding lesson, Z grooms again, this time a little further back on the horse, a safe distance from the horse's nostrils. She knows how to hold each of the brushes and what they're called. She tells everyone who will listen how "last time, I got HORSE SNOT on my ARM!". She tells her teacher a long story about the horse race we saw the previous weekend and asks hopefully if she's going to learn how to jump today? Like those jockeys she saw?

She's talking a blue streak and she's smiling and she's a little nervous. When her horse whinnies loudly, she jumps back and refuses to help lead her from the barn to the ring. I glance at an older girl tacking her horse. Her chest is covered with a stiff metal vest - to protect her organs if she's thrown, I guess?

I should take Z home, read her books, stay inside. Preferably until she's 25.

I wonder if that vest comes in Z's size?

But Z says she wants to ride so we walk beside the horse, out of the barn. Soon she is up and walking around the ring, learning more about how to kick the horse to get her walk and how to hold the reigns with her thumb and pinky on the outside.

The smart, smart teacher teaches Z "jumping position", which Z does with an eyes-closed grin for the length of the ring.

She pulls back lightly on the reigns to stop but it's the handler who actually stops the horse as Z hasn't earned the respect and control of this big horse yet. She listens intently to the teacher, about how she's supposed to be in charge, how the horse listens to everything she does with her body so she needs to be clear and confident in her actions.

One of the other mothers leans over and tells me Z's doing a great job. When I thank her with a nervous smile, she tells me her daughter started out at Z's age last year, how she was shy at first but that being in charge of this wild, unpredictable animal has given her tremendous confidence. We both watch silently as her 5 year old daughter trots alone on a horse that is at least twice her height.

Even though I went through my own youthful horsey phase, these huge animals make me nervous around my tender, precious daughter. But I want Z to experience things she loves (which, for now, include horses). I want her to learn how to be in charge, and how to communicate that power with confidence and sensitivity. I want her to feel her own strength as well as the strength that is beneath and around her. I want her to learn to have a conversation in every way that matters. I want her to be aware and respectful and clear.

But often I want, more than anything, to protect her.



I've been thinking about my last post a lot, often when catching myself labeling both my girls and my self. I think the most important thing I can do, for us all, is to speak in terms of circumstance and possibility. Of who and what we can be given the right situation. Because I've been struggling with labels for myself as well. I am not totally comfortable with the SAHM mantle. It feels like a limited, meaningless description.

Some days I order books from the library on managing this 24/7 mothering life like a high powered career. Other days, I look at a calendar and wonder when I will "go back to work". Of course, since we moved, there's not exactly a job to go back TO as I think the commute back to the Pilates studio in Pasadena would be a tad bit LONG. I'm sure I could find a job here doing something but it's not like I have a high-powered career just waiting for me to jump back in the game. And I'm not going to go back to work just to work at any old thing. So I try to take a breath and imagine all the possibilities and to recognize that I'm not ready yet, I'm just not there yet.

I try not to wince or stammer when announcing that "I'm at home for now" when meeting someone new. I know the SAHM label doesn't define me. I know it's not forever, or even, in the grand scheme of things, for very long.

So yesterday when Z described a classmate as "shy" and another as "a troublemaker", I challenged her labels. I told her he might be shy RIGHT NOW, in the moment, but maybe in other situations he can be out-going. I reminded her of all the times she felt shy or she made trouble but that didn't make her ALWAYS shy or a troublemaker FOREVER.

Right now, I am a SAHM. I have not ALWAYS been. I will not be FOREVER.

Z and E can be many, many things.

I can be many, many things, too.

Do pidgeons even like holes?

I never understood why parents would label their kids: "the smart one", "the troublemaker", "the sporty one". Why would you narrow your child's identity, especially when childhood is all about expansion and exploration, discovery and possibility?

The labels can be deterministic, can't they? With you either accepting them and building on someone else's limited perception or rebelling against them and living your life to prove the labels wrong (even if they are slightly right)?

Of course, no matter how much I understand the dangers of labeling my children, I find myself struggling with it. Daily.

E isn't even a year old yet and I fight the urge to label both my girls every day, often in relation to each other. I find myself noticing things, differences between them, and I start to project who they are and who they will be. I notice Z's attention to structure and rules (not that she follows them exactly- OH that'd be NICE- just that she's acutely aware of them) and her sensitivity to.... most everything, and I decide I know something about her, present and future.

Do I know something about her? Do I treat her differently to perpetuate what I think I know?

(Have I totally thought myself into a corner? Have I used up my daily allotment of question marks?)

E's rarely content to sit still, and I rarely feel able to sit still, so I am deeply ashamed to say that I didn't spend much time reading to her at all in her infancy. ME, the mother who read to Zoe for HOURS every day of her babyhood. It's just that E didn't seem interested in books, she rarely sits still, and "she's a gross motor baby".

A couple of months ago, after I realized how little I read to E, I resolved to make a concerted effort to bring books into her life. I put some of our favorite board books in her room and sat down with her to read before every nap and every bedtime and she has, of course, shattered my assumptions. No matter how spazzy she's been that day, she always, ALWAYS, sits still at book time, reaching to turn the pages, smiling at the one that has become her favorite.

How can we as parents recognize, embrace, support and steer our child's true selves without pigeonholing them?

Do you all label your kids consciously or unconsciously? Or am I the only one who sucks in this particular way?

(QUESTION MARKS!!!???????????)


Other people's messes

For a year, right out of college, I ran a bed and breakfast in Northern Maine. I laugh every time I hear someone say how when they RETIRE, they're going to run a bed and breakfast because I have to tell you, that was the hardest job I've ever had (until motherhood, of course) and I fervently pray that my retirement does not include activities like smiling at racist, sexist a-holes over cinnamon scones that I woke up at 4:30 am to bake just for them.

It was a great job actually, racist and sexist a-holes aside, and my time there taught me a lot about myself. I thought it would be all Walden: I would get to live in nature and read the great books and ponder the meaning of life. Instead, I watched the entire OJ Simpson trial and I got called "Girl" a lot, like it was my name, and I pondered the best ways to remove bodily fluids from bed sheets.

That last part? Was GROSS, and unfortunately, the most informative for my life right now. Cleaning up other people's messes is LOW on my list of favorite things to do. Right below going to the dentist and right above making phone calls to, well, pretty much anyone.

Something happens to you when your job is to make things work for other people, seamlessly, with a smile. To be a duck, body placidly gliding along on top, legs furiously paddling away underneath. To be invisible, flying under the radar because you are just there to serve.

You notice how people treat one another. How one elderly guest pulls out the chair for his wife, while another talks over his. How one wife rolls her eyes behind her husband and then yells at her daughter for rolling her eyes at her.

You notice how people view those of us in the service industry, whose job it is to clean up other people's messes. To pick up their toenail clippings from the bathroom floor (because putting them in the trashcan 6 INCHES AWAY is too hard?!?). To scrub every manner of bodily fluid from their bed sheets (Because they can't use a tissue? Because they forgot their sanitary lady materials? Because they mistook the bedsheets for TOILET PAPER?)?

My least favorite task, for some unknown reason, was clearing every surface in the bathrooms of all dark and curlies. I do not want to estimate how much time I spent staring at white tile, searching for someone else's stray dark and curlies. TOO MUCH, that's how much. If you ever stay in a place of lodging and there are no wayward pubes in the bathroom LEAVE A TIP for the person who was on their hands and knees making sure that's the case, is all I'm saying.

I think about that time a lot these days. Mostly I think about it on Wednesdays because that's when the cleaning lady comes. I don't know what else to call her, actually a rotating band of "her"s, so I call her the cleaning lady in my head, though I know they all have names and families and dreams that don't include scrubbing our toilets for us.

I struggle with this privilege. I can now add this to my list of suburban SAHM cliches: I clean up before the cleaning lady comes and I worry about what she must think of us. I feel guilty that she cleans up other people's messes for a living and I do all I can to tidy and clean before she gets here to make it easier for her. I put a tip in the check but I'm not sure if it ever gets to her.

I know how incredibly lucky I am to have this service, to be on this side of the house cleaning equation.

I think I need to learn their names.


The end of limerence

We're done having babies. We're stopping at two children. We are clear on this, have been for a long time.

But yesterday, I watched E walk, all nonchalant, pushing a toy and I realized she's almost a toddler. I look at infant pictures of both of our girls and I feel a familiar ache and desire. Our baby is growing up. And: Who else would we make?

Saying "no more babies" sometimes feels like saying "no thank you, I don't want to fall in love again."

Because that's what the first year is about for me, in addition to the NOT SLEEPING and the nursing and the major life adjustment smack-to-the-head of OMG there's a new, totally dependent being that is relying on US, it's about falling deeply, helplessly, irretrievably in love. I know I will love my girls fiercely for the rest of my days but there is nothing like the burning intensity of the first year of their lives. Like most types of love, for me, there has been a strong limerence phase in the first year of mothering before the newness wears off, before familiar patterns emerge and become entrenched, before complexity and routine replace simplicity and miraculous discovery, before development demands separation.

There is loss inherent in every leap, every big moment in life, the passing of my last time in baby-limerence is no exception. After all, part of getting married was accepting that I would not fall in romantic love again, this time is -hopefully -my last time. (Though, I guess you could say you fall in love with your spouse again and again every single day but I might have to slap you if you, in fact, say that.)

I started this blog when Z was about to start walking. The limerence phase was ending, I could feel it. I knew her differentiation was coming; I knew the next year would be full of growth and independence and separation and conflict. I didn't want to let go of those cozy, dependent, baby days.

I still don't.


Now all I need is some purdy gold shoes

I like to find children's books that I remember from my childhood and share them with Z (and E). Shortly before Easter, I had a vague memory of "The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes" and after seeing the cover, the memory got stronger so I bought a copy. Usually, I try to pull out holiday books a couple of weeks before a holiday and then put them away a week or so after the holiday has passed. That means, by the end of this week, I should be stuffing this one in with the plastic Easter eggs and the @#*!#& Easter grass and saying goodbye till next year.

It's going to be hard to part with it.

If you aren't familiar with this book, a little brown country bunny hopes that when she grows up she will be chosen as one of the five Easter Bunnies who deliver joy throughout the world on Easter morning. Instead, she has a husband, "much to her surprise" has 21 babies and fears she is "just an old mother bunny". But then, one day, after her children are "half grown", she proves herself worthy of the esteemed mantle of Easter Bunny. It turns out that her swiftness in chasing baby bunnies, wisdom gathered from years of teaching bunnies manners and chores and kindness from loving her bunnies not only made her a great mommy bunny, it also prepared her for this most esteemed job of Easter Bunny, which she then ROCKS.


This SAHM mists up reading this book every night (luckily, Z loves it as much as I do at the moment). I am floored, just a bit, that this author was a man, a white Southern man, in 1939 no less. This man, who apparently was raised by a single mother after his father died, told this story to his daughter (the "Jenifer" in the byline) and was persuaded to put it down in book form. What a gift he gave to her, and the rest of us.

It is a lovely inspiring story for anyone: that we can do anything we put our minds to, no matter where we're from, what color we are, how rich we are. But the message I hear drumming in my head for hours after reading it is this: all these hours spent loving and raising these children are worth something. I am a swifter, wiser, kinder person than I was before motherhood. And these attributes will serve me well when I chose to go back into the paying workforce.

I think I'm going to have a hard time putting this one away in the plastic box marked Easter. I just may need to keep it out for awhile.


April 2009/ April 2010

April 2009

I contain you, within me. Just barely. Just for now.

My skin stretches tauter still with every passing day and it seems it cannot continue much longer or you will burst forth like some terrifying scene from "V" (the first one).

But, for now, here you are, contained.

I sometimes wish I could unstrap this heaving belly like a terrifreakingly huge version of one of those pregnancy cushions from the maternity stores and leave you on the bed for just a minute. But I cannot leave you. Not even for a second.

I lie awake at night, pretending I don't have to pee, wishing the pee away because I'm too tired to get up and too full of pee to go back to sleep. I wish I could effortlessly fly to the bathroom or better yet, pee into the bed without moving, without making a mess.

I put my hands on my belly and ponder your mysterious rumblings. Are you comfortable in there? What does my uterus look like from the inside? Is that a foot? I don't know, I can only guess.

(That's assuming you have feet. Oh please, let you have feet. DO NOT GOOGLE "BABIES WITH NO FEET".)

I imagine your ragged heartbeat, drumming away inside me. How noisy it must be in there with the beat beat beat of two hearts, the woosh of the fluid, the gurgling of my dinner and thumping of my legs as I waddle to the bathroom and HI BABY I'M YOUR BIG SISTER ZOE!

I know this wondering, this containment, this moment will be over soon, so soon.


April 2010

You aren't supposed to be awake yet. By my rules, it's not officially time to nurse yet.

But here you are, awake and screaming and I cannot leave you.

So I pick you up, of course, and hold you to me. I wonder if you are teething; I don't know, I can only guess.

We rock in the chair and I try to get you to settle in my arms, to contain you. You are so long now that holding your body to my chest means that your feet instantly start to push off my lap and before I know it, you are crawling up my belly, feet jamming into my flesh, head peering over my shoulder, fingernails slashing at my face.

There is no containing you.

I finally get you to settle, place my cheek against yours, hold your head still with the flat of my palm. Your ragged heartbeat drums into my chest and after a few breaths, it ever so slightly settles into a slower rhythm.

I have to pee. OOHH how I have to pee. I think about taking you with me to the bathroom, putting you down on the cool tile floor and trying to speed pee while you scramble over to the tub and manage to reach the open bottle of baby soap and the clump of dirty, wet washcloths and something else dangerous and/or dirty that I can't imagine right now but I KNOW you would find something more. I wonder about laying you down in your crib before you're ready and dashing toward the bathroom and the howls that would, no doubt, wake the whole house at the shiny, happy Saturday morning hour of 4:37 am.

So I cross my legs and think of the dry, dry Sahara because I cannot leave you. Not even for a second.

We rock like this for a long while before I see the clock says it is officially okay to nurse you.

You drink in big hearty gulps, both of us knowing it, this, will be over soon.

(So soon.)


Spring ..... break?

I didn't really pay attention to this blip on our calendar, this week off of preschool until last week when I realized OH WOE! A WEEK OF NO PRESCHOOL?? WHATWILLIDOOOOO!?!?!?

"Spring break"? BREAK MY SOUL is more like it.

Okay, it actually turned out pretty darn well. Let's see what we did this week.

First of all, we made that tiara. That started off the week with a sparkly BANG!

Then we dyed some easter eggs, with much excitement (from Z) and control freaky issues (that would be me. I like my eggs dyed BRIGHTLY which means PATIENCE, that precious commodity known to be rare in a three year old. And I like equal numbers of each color and I like to use tape and make designs and OKAY FINE I really should just dye a dozen or 4 all by myself after everyone else is asleep.).
Someone discovered the joys of spaghetti.

A couple of girls spent a lot of time rolling and crawling around on the floor (here, let me just put some microfiber mopheads on those knees....)

and screeching at each other (while I tried not to lose my mind or my hearing).

E added unusual skills to her resume, like pulling herself up to standing using only the dog's dangling tags.

I pulled several dangerous things out of her mouth. EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY.

We met virtual friends IN REAL LIFE. (*mind blown*)

We took walks and played at playgrounds and had a picnic with my aunt, OUTSIDE, in the glorious spring weather.

Okay, the break from school went FINE. Really. Truly.

(But next week is BACK TO SCHOOL WOO HOO!)

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