Mahster Baathroom (after)

I interrupt my previously scheduled hand-wringing to bring you this breaking bulletin:
Our bathroom remodel is complete!

A shower head that doesn't require my husband to do the limbo!
Cabinets with drawers! Medicine cabinets with many shelves! A toilet that doesn't need to be plunged every day!

A grown up tub, deep enough for a full-sized person (+ a cozy friend)!


Mixed Media


I'm supposed to read "The Shack" for my book group meeting next week and I can't make myself finish it. It feels.... trite and heavy-handed to me. Surely this is further evidence that I'm going to H E Double Toothpicks.

I just finished (when I was supposed to be reading another book, AHEM)  What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen and I found it very entertaining and thought-provoking in the mommy memoir roller-coaster-of-emotions kind of way.

Weeks after finishing the book, I'm still thinking about some of the characters in The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and I don't even like baseball all that much.  Whoever you are, you should read it.  Unless you hate beautiful writing or are terribly homophobic.

Kids Books:

You know those kids books that you always chose when your kid asks you pick a book to read to them? The ones that give you goosebumps?  Here are a few of my current favorites:

Me.... Jane by Patrick McDonnell.  There are fabulous illustrations in this story about Jane Goodall as a little girl.

Pretty Penny Sets Up Shop by Devon Kinch.  I adore this story because it reminds me so much of Z and her shops last summer.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble, aka "Mom, you ALWAYS chose that one!"

The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson, adapted by Gloria Fowler.  The illustrations in this book are so beautifully detailed, Z and I gazed at each page for a long time when she was sick last week.

So, okay, these next few don't exactly give me goosebumps but Z, a new reader, needs books with very simple sentences and I am beyond bored by the ones she chooses from the library (usually based on a TV show or Barbies or some other mindless drivel).  However, I can listen to her stumble her way through the Elephant and Piggie books by the incomparable Mo Willems and the Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik for HOURS.

Any other Non-Barbie beginning reader book suggestions would be GREATLY APPRECIATED.


1.  I walked into town to see the movie last night - and can I just pause to say how much I love saying that?  I can WALK into town to see a movie!

Anyway, the movie was a documentary about kids and nature called Mother Nature's Child and while it certainly was preaching to the choir - who else besides nature-loving parents are going to pay to see this movie? - it definitely provided me with some food for thought. 

Most of the information I already knew:  for younger kids, the sensory input from irregular, impermanent nature is unrivaled by any of the fixed, safety-tested play structures of suburbia. 

But the theses about older children really interested me. In middle childhood, when children are building their identities and beginning to separate from their parents, access to nature and, especially unfettered time ALONE in nature, can be profoundly soothing and confidence-building to a child.

If you don't live in the country, how does one allow children to run loose in wild places in this day and age? I love that I can walk to town but that means we have to drive to get to any real wild places. And there are ticks here! And MAJOR Lyme Disease!

(See? Even the nature-loving parents have issues to overcome.)

In the teenage years - the years where children focus on their peers and risk-taking, sometimes in equal measure - outdoor experiences with peer groups (like summer camps) can allow them to build the peer relationships and take the risks they developmentally crave.  The documentary hammered home that if we don't give them acceptable risks, they will create their own risks... duhn duhn DUHN!

The upshot:  I'd recommend seeing this movie, if it interests you at all.

2. We are supposed to go to the movies this weekend. Anyone seen anything good lately? Bonus points for good kissing scenes (me) and loud car chases (my husband).


The Golden Pop-up Tent

In my sophomore year of college, I volunteered as a legal advocate for battered women. This challenging work introduced me to a whole new world;  I had never been beaten, had never been involved in the legal system, had never experienced much outside of my suburban upper middle class reality.  I had little to offer these women, many of whom had lived lives defined by trauma and deprivation.

I saw first-hand how the cycle of abuse drew its tentacles across generations.

I wound up very attached to some of my clients, and very protective of them. When I started dreaming about them and, worse yet, lying awake night after night wondering if they were okay, I knew I needed help.

My new therapist, a college counselor not much older than me, told me to create an invisible golden pyramid around my body, to protect my fragile self from seeing broken eye sockets while hearing "But I LOVE him!". Every time I walked in to greet a client, I was to build my golden pyramid, through which I could see and reach out, but nothing could truly penetrate.

He knew from our very first session that I had little internal defense against outside influences. I was then, as I am now, highly sensitive - an easy cry, an easy mark, a hair-trigger sensor of neighboring emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and then I place that sleeve directly into the palm of pretty much anyone I interact with, saying "Here you go! Do with it what you will!"

I gamely tried building this pyramid when interacting with my clients and my lack of success surprised no one. I would spend copious amounts of time visualizing a shining pyramid, only to find it vaporize the moment a client began to cry.

I always cried too, which was not terribly helpful.

After similar experiences in a special education classroom, a teen alcohol and drug inpatient unit and a suicide hotline, I decided I wasn't cut out for pyramid building and so gave up on the notion of pursing social work as a career.

Someone else, someone a lot tougher than me, would have to save the world.


Years later, I was running a private massage therapy practice as a way to support my dance "career".  I loved the work; it was quiet, one-on-one, tangible. Seeing and feeling the difference I made in someone's body was deeply satisfying and when people left my table happier, more relaxed and grateful .... well, it was a heckuva lot better than waiting tables.

Somewhere along the line, while working with dancers, athletes and desk jockeys in equal measure, I began to attract a new type of client: the chronic pain sufferer. These women - for they were all women - were sweet and vulnerable and deeply, deeply suffering. I think they mostly liked me because I listened to them, as they often wanted to talk just as much as they wanted to be massaged.

Before massaging any client, I always grounded myself first, a hippie massage school version of building a golden pyramid. I had worked on this version of pyramid building since college and with most of my clients it served me well. But I soon found it wasn't enough when I worked on those with chronic pain.

One would come in with an unrelenting headache and leave feeling relief, but I would have a headache. Another suffered from general stiffness and depression and I'll be damned if I didn't feel stiff and depressed every time I finished working on her.

It was like their misery seeped into my body. Their pain became my pain.

I tried to visualize their tension flowing through me. Or reversing the flow and sending good energy into their body. Or letting it bounce off of me and disperse into the air.

None of it worked.

Eventually, I wound up with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, my arms so weak I couldn't work, drive, type, brush my hair. I finally found relief through studying Pilates and closed my most of my massage practice to become a Pilates trainer.

It was clear to me I needed more distance from my clients, that physically touching suffering people was too draining on someone as sensitive as myself.  I just didn't have what it took.

Someone much tougher than me would have to heal these people.


In the years before I became a mother, I worked in therapy on setting boundaries in every relationship I had. After years of trying to guess what people wanted from me, the thought that relationships can be an open, equal give-and-take was new. I slowly learned how to turn my antennae inward to sense what I felt and what I wanted and then give those needs tentative expression.

I gave birth to Z at the age of 34. I had done over a decade of weekly work in therapy and was finally in a equal partnership with someone who knew me and supported me in all my imperfection.

I felt I was as evolved as I was going to get.

When you've worked on setting boundaries in psychotherapy for many years, having a child is an especially humbling experience.  When she opened her mouth for her very first cry, I could almost hear the universe saying Those are some shiny new boundaries you got there, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT.

From the moment of her birth, she and I were tethered in a way I had never been with another person (other than my own mother, perhaps) and I had absolutely NO barrier between her emotions and my own. When she smiled, I grinned like a loon.  When she despaired, I would tear my hair out trying to calm her, to soothe her, to make it right. I could see my needs, but they were far away and her needs were always front and center. Of course, this is mostly the way it should be with infants; they cannot fill any of their own needs at first and we must attend to them as best we can. But somewhere along the line, my needs, newly understood and wanting to be filled, had to fit in too.

It didn't take me too long to decide that someone much tougher than me was needed to do this mothering thing.

But, of course, while there are many, many people tougher than me, there is no one else to do this job of mothering my girls.

Motherhood is not an internship I can quit. I have to muddle my way through every moment with my girls and hope that the benefits of being raised by this deeply sensitive, deeply imperfect mother outweigh the negatives. I am learning, in my typical two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach, to set and enforce boundaries with the biggest boundary pushers I've ever met.

I think about my college therapist's golden pyramid often these days, as my girls give me nearly constant lessons in boundary setting.

"This is my notebook, but I can get you one of your own." "I'll be available to help you when I'm finished with this phone call." "You may get angry with me but you may NOT hit me."

I still struggle to not be affected by their every mood; despite all my efforts my skin is still paper thin, my inner defenses against the emotions of others, especially those I love, are still weak.  But I don't build a pyramid to protect myself anymore; it takes too long and it lacks flexibility.

Instead, I imagine a pop-up tent. It is pressed down to the floor most of the time as I let my girls in close to me to be seen and heard and loved. At other times, when they are being too loud, too close, too needy and I can feel their emotions flood into mine, I let the tent pop up around me. I am there with them, but on the other side of a whimsical piece of fabric, a thin flexible boundary between us.


Use Your Words

"I feel MAD. And SAD. And a little.... FRUSTRATED that this is so hard," Z said yesterday while trying to put her puzzle together.

We're working on her owning her feelings, and finding appropriate ways to express them. This begins with recognizing and naming her feelings, since so often she is upset and doesn't really know why.

The unintended result of this latest effort? We now have a running commentary of her day's emotions.

"I feel PAIN. And a little MAD at you, and I just want to GRRRRRR" she says, gritting her teeth when I brush her hair every morning. And then "I'm MUCH happier now" as soon as the brush is set back down.

"I DON'T LIKE THAT. I'm starting to feel VERY MAD and like I WANT TO HIT YOU because you aren't listening to me," she tells her sister who, in the time honored tradition of younger siblings everywhere, has discovered juuuust how to push her sister's many buttons.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me about this recent State of the Emotion, is how unsettling it is for me to hear her declare her emotional state. Now, I didn't grow up in an emotionally repressed household; if anything, I tend to be a little TOO loose and comfortable with displays of emotion. I think my discomfort stems from being an adult long enough to be shocked when someone comes right out and says bluntly how they're feeling and why.

Adults don't do this. At least, the ones I know.

Often I find myself cringing and wondering Should I tell her to keep that feeling to herself? At some point, I know we will need to tell her to do just that, to help smooth her school social life, if nothing else.  Her friends and teachers are not going to be interested in knowing the constant fluctuations in her mood throughout the day.

Put on a smile! Turn that frown upside down! 
At first I was a little concerned about encouraging her to announce the shifting tides of her emotions. By declaring the dark feelings, are they are deepened rather than released?  Surely she can just say them in her head rather than needing to announce them to the world?

Now I'm convinced it's a good thing; the feelings would be there no matter what and even if she was capable of keeping them in (hahaHAHAHA!) I think it's safe to say that's a pretty destructive habit. At least this way, there are fewer unexplained volcanic eruptions.  Since she's able to keep it together at school most of the time, for now, we experiment with this at home.

For her.

And for ourselves.

You see, we quickly discovered we would need to model this behavior for her, in real situations.  We wanted her to know that we all struggle with difficult emotions and how to deal with them.

So when I burnt my toast and my fingers the other day, I started to feel my own - very real - frustration and, realizing that Z was drawing at the table steps away, swallowed my preferred muttered expletives and loudly said "I can't believe the toast got burned! And my fingers hurt! I'm feeling so mad right now, I want to lash out. But I'm going to walk away and think about something else for a minute to calm down."

This feels about as silly as it sounds, to give detailed external words to my internal feelings, in real time.

But it's getting more natural as the weeks go by. Of course I clean up the language I use, and sometimes I'll over embellish when I'm really not having THAT hard a time controlling my anger just to show her how it's done. But more often than not, when I'm really, actually struggling with frustration around my girls, I will now stop and try to put clear external words to my anger.

It is surprisingly difficult, this Use Your Words business. It strengthens my empathy for my girls - especially Z - for I ask it of them all the time.

Luckily, Z has started labeling my emotions for me. "Mommy? Are you feeling angry? Do you want to own it and take a few deep breaths?" Z said sweetly from the back seat of the car last week after a driver flipped me off for no apparent reason.

I didn't at first, so caught up in the peak of annoyance was I.

And then I made myself let go and I said I was and I did.

I'm still caught by surprise how much of parenting is learning lessons right alongside my children. I had this idea that I would be - or should be - sending wisdom down from on high to my grub-like children below.

Instead, here I am, no pedestal to be seen, standing right beside them, hoping to keep one step ahead.

Or at least to stay by their side.



I was shoveling my dear friends' driveway in Western Massachusetts on Sunday morning and the combination of the rising sun and my working muscles was enough to bring me to an honest to goodness sweat.  I felt a little silly as I shoveled:  clearly if I just gave it enough time, the driveway would be clear soon enough.  It would be fine all on its own.

But I wanted to DO something. Many somethings. Shoveling was but one something. I baked, laundered, cooked, vacuumed, rubbed, swept, and washed since arriving in Massachusetts.

I'm not sure who actually needed me to do these things, them or me.

I'm pretty sure it was mostly me.

I needed to help. I knew that my friends' lives since their twin baby boys were born have been an whirlwind of breath-taking love and mind-numbing exhaustion. I remember that newborn time, that blur of feedings that run into one another, the nights that contain maybe just a little more sleep than the days, the ache of your eyelids because they haven't closed long enough in days and days.

Well, she's had DOUBLE all that. DOUBLE. Because there's TWO OF THEM.

 All weekend long I kept exclaiming "THERE'S TWO OF THEM!" Classy, eh?

I remember what those early days are like and I double it in my head in a feeble attempt at empathy. And I feel desperate to lighten her load.

I've listened to her struggle from far away, too far away to do anything but listen.

But as I shoveled this melting driveway, and throughout the whole rest of the weekend, I felt so very present.  And I finally understood just how fine they are and will be. They are figuring it out, like all parents have to, one day, one nap at a time. I cannot do any of it for them.

And given time, they would be just fine all on their own, much like their driveway.


Oh my goodness, you guys, I MADE IT.  I made it to Massachusetts to see my college roommate and her adorable twin baby boys and I didn't whisper anything about it EVEN INSIDE MY OWN HEAD before I left because I was so nervous that something would go wrong, like it did last time.

I didn't pack until the very last minute because the gods of viruses and freak snow storms were watching, YOU KNOW THEY WERE.

But I made it and the whole time, from the start of the trip in the airport and throughout the whole weekend, I tried so very hard to just enjoy myself including the delicious moment when you realize I had a book and a pack of M&Ms and a whole plane ride to enjoy them ALL BY MYSELF.

Then, of course, there were the BABIES.

Have I mentioned this? THERE ARE TWO OF THEM.

I basked in the glow of baby feet.

And baby head sniffs.

Even folding baby clothes. Man, that task was SO NOT a chore.

I coochie-cooed and beamed like a loon the whole time, because you guys, I MADE IT.  I was THERE.


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