Saturday, October 29, 2011


Growing up, we had a Hoosier in our kitchen, an antique wooden kitchen cabinet with drawers, shelves, and a metal countertop that could be pulled out to make extra space for rolling out pie dough or letting cookies cool. Inside one of the cabinets was a flour sifter, which fascinated me even though my mom chose to keep her flour in the silver tin with the red metal lid instead. The cabinet held cookbooks, a box with stamps and unused greeting cards, tape, glue, odds and ends. And, for a while, it held a couple of old Instamatic cameras, the very cameras which my mom had used to capture so much of my childhood. 

There were a few other older cameras around the house, old twin-lens reflex cameras in leather cases, with two lenses on top of one another and a flap at the top which opened up to reveal the viewfinder. There were cameras in our house for as a long as I can remember, and I almost cannot remember a time when I wasn't trying to use them. The first camera I ever used was one of my mom's old Instamatics, and eventually my parents got me a little red Pentax which I used for years, until they gave me my first single lens reflex camera. Photography, carving up life into what I can see through the viewfinder, is as much a part of me as any other part of my childhood - red Ohio clay, the smell of donkeys eating corn husks, Fiestaware, tomato leaves crushed on a bee sting. 

I had breakfast with a photographer friend recently and she talked about how it feels when you know you've gotten a shot just right, when the light and the action and the composition all come together and you know the image is perfect. You can feel it when it happens - everything just clicks into place. She said it feels like a drug, like an addiction. To me it feels like a rush of energy, a transfer of some spark between me and the universe, me and my subject. It feels...right. Like what I'm meant to be doing. 

I love that feeling of a perfect composition captured, but it's more than that. When I'm looking through the lens I can clean up the world, edit all the messiness out of the frame that makes life so difficult. That's what makes a great composition - space. It's as much about what is not in the frame as it is about what's there. What else in life can do this, can simplify life down into what fits inside a little rectangle or square. It's the only tool I've found that creates real simplicity, that lets us push out all the mess and focus on what we want to see - the hands together, the kiss, the baby's bright eye, the smile. 

It lets us stop time, too. Whenever I'm doing something I really love, or with people I love, I want my camera there, too. Walking on the beach, sharing a great meal, the changing of seasons. Even when they are things we've done before I want to capture them, want to try to freeze those images so I can savor the feeling a little longer, feel the sand and waves on my feet even when I'm back home with the furnace running and my slippers on. 

Right now i feel like time is moving faster than ever, watching my sweet kids growing up before my eyes. The weeks are tumbling by like all those crisp leaves on my street, scraping across the pavement in the wind. I have one more week of maternity leave, one more week where my focus can be on my home and family, where I can sit on the couch with Oscar's warm little head nestled under my chin if I want to. I'm thankful for the time I have had - I know it's more than most are blessed with - and thankful for my job. But I am sad to leave this sweet boy, sad that the brutal reality of life is that working full time and being a mother are not really compatible, not matter how family friendly the work environment. 

So, I'm trying to stop time with my photos, trying to capture the new smiles and the soft hair that sticks up so funny after bath and the way Oscar makes a fist with his thumb stuck between his first two fingers. I'm trying to get it all down on film so it doesn't really go away, so that somewhere - even if its in some digital cyber universe - there is a new sweet boy kicking his legs and babbling and smiling at me, waiting for the next opportunity to nestle his head under my chin.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

life with a newborn

I had forgotten how elemental, how primal, life with a newborn is. It makes perfect sense that this flows directly from childbirth, perhaps the most primal act of all. Caring for a newborn you are boiled down to all the most basic elements in nature: food, air, love, light, breath, sleep, exhaustion, pain. You spend hours skin to skin, babe to breast, listening to baby breathing, swallowing, panting. When you're not thinking about how much you love your new baby or how much you miss sleeping, your thinking about food. Communication is reduced to its simplest forms: touch, comfort, nourishment, staring into your newborn's impossibly deep, cobalt blue eyes, seeing the world and light and your face for the first time.

Even in the early morning hours when I'm aching to go back to sleep, I find myself staring at Oscar, amazed once again at how deeply and completely I am in love with this child. I sit and fight back sleep just to watch his little face, waiting for a fleeting smile to cross his lips, watching him nursing in his sleep. When I look at him I can feel the love surge through me like the blood in my veins. I love every little detail about him, from his funny spiky hair to his freakishly long, skinny toes (sorry Oscar - you got those from me). He has soft, tiny white hairs all over him, covering the sweet, soft curve of his back, arms, shoulders. He looks like Brian, looks like Dora as a newborn. He even smells delicious - just they way he should, like one of us, a member of our tribe. 

Even with that deep love coursing through my veins, it takes a lot of faith to get through this time. It is a time of great blessing, and of great pain as well. In the labor room, I was crying out to God to help me. And I need God to help me now - to calm my fears as I fall again in such all consuming love with my children, to give me wisdom and patience in the late hours, when I am bleary and sleep-deprived and hardly functional, while simultaneously being relentlessly tested by my children. I need God to help me believe in myself, believe that I am a good mother, believe that I can manage this. I need God to be listening, perhaps now more than ever.

In my first week of late-night feedings, I re-read "Traveling Mercies" by Anne Lamott, one of my very favorite authors. In this wonderful book she chronicles her journey of faith, which is quite dramatic and extreme - from alcoholism and drug addiction to a strong, enduring commitment to her faith and her church. I love this book (and all of Lamott's writing) because it is written with such honesty, acknowledging her personal flaws and shortcomings while simultaneously showing us the grace and humility (and humor) of life. She doesn't shy away from the pain that she and her friends and family have in their lives, but instead shows that by coming together, by "showing up", we help each other get through all of life - both the bitter and the sweet. 

In his three weeks here with us Oscar has been to church a couple of times. It has been wonderful to be there, in that sacred space, surrounded by so many people who love us and have supported us and our growing family. I love that my children are growing up in that community, where there is always someone willing and ready to hold the baby, to wrangle my wild 4-year-old, to bring us a meal, to "show up" without even being asked. In our church family and with our community of friends here in Asheville, we are surrounded by people who just step in, just seem to know when they are needed.

Last week we also went to a memorial service for a wonderful friend and co-worker who passed away this spring after a battle with brain cancer. He was a lovely, warm, positive person and is sadly missed by many people. The service was held outdoors at the NC Arboretum. Friend after friend approached the podium singing this man's praises as the sun rose above the trees, bathing all of us in warmth and light. As the day wore on it became uncomfortably hot in the sun, people moving around trying to catch the last bits of shade. The service was almost over and a friend was reminding us of how we can keep Joe alive in our hearts by learning from him about positivity, about enjoying each moment, about having a smile on our faces. A deliciously cool breeze blew through the crowd as the service ended, and I felt our friend's presence strongly among the people present, all of us who had "shown up" to remember him and acknowledge his loss.  

Having children does open your eyes in ways that few other things do. Living with a newborn is a great reminder of how much we need other people, how much we need them to "show up", to come together around us, to step in, to know when they are needed. The newborn reminds us of all of our primal needs, shows us how these needs continue even in the complicated world of adulthood. We need each other, and we need God - from the delivery room to the memorial service, from birth to death, from hours spent staring lovingly at every detail of the newborn baby to a lifetime spent remembering, and learning from, our lost friends and loved ones. I am thankful for this time of reflection, for being reminded of these things, for the opportunity to accept the love and help of others. Thank you to everyone who has "shown up" for my little family - we are truly blessed by your love.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the birth of a mother of two

One week ago a mother of two was born. I have been nervously anticipating the birth of this new mother for a long time, even before there was even a pregnancy in place to make her a reality. I have worried about who she will be, if she will be kind and loving enough, if she will be sane enough to safely and successfully raise two children, if she will be brave enough. I have worrying about the pitfalls and mistakes of the past, and conjuring up new ones I haven't yet experienced. I've been looking forward to meeting her, getting to know her, learning to love her. As my belly changed and grew over time, I looked forward to experiencing again the perfect love that bonds us to our children, even as I feared what this change would bring.

Last Tuesday I woke up feeling like the change was about to happen. Little signs were beginning to appear. We had all guessed that the baby would arrive mid-week. At breakfast, Dora said "memember mommy, the baby is coming today". The three of us spent the morning out at Bent Creek, walking in the woods with the dog, eating peaches. We ran errands, had lunch and a little nap, and headed out for more fun - just Dora and I. We went on a wild goose chase all over town looking for a place to swim - the pool was closed, Dora didn't want to go creek wading at UNCA, so we ended up at Splashville, me sitting in the shade on a towel while Dora ran through the fountain with another little girl she befriended. I sat there feeling contractions start, casually beginning to keep track of them to see if they were coming as regularly as they seemed. 

My friends Aurelie and Mandy came over for dinner while Brian was out at a rehearsal. About halfway through making baked spaghetti squash with fresh tomato sauce for them, I had to turn over preparations to my friends while I rested between contractions. I wasn't really sure this was labor - it was all starting so different than it had with Dora - and I was dreading what was becoming more and more apparent: a night-time labor. I do not like being up all night (which probably makes you wonder why I have kids at all) and I hated the thought of laboring when I should be sleeping. 

I ate a bit of dinner, already feeling nauseated, and started getting very weepy and anxious about little Dora. Should I send her home with Mandy since this could be labor? Should I keep her and then have to wake her up later? I could hardly bear to see her leave. I had known this moment would be really emotional and it was. She was excited about sleeping over with our friends, so it was an unceremonious goodbye for her. For me, the bittersweetness and overwhelming emotion of that moment will stay with me forever. I ached watching her leave. 

I called the doula, called my husband, waited on the couch with my friend Aurelie, dozing between contractions and noting how much more intense everything felt this time around. By 10:30 or so, I really needed help getting through each contraction. Brian and my doula, Stacey, arrived around this time, and shortly thereafter I said that we needed to go to the hospital. The night air was cool and I had the window open on the way there, Brian driving painfully slow as the contractions came one after another, only a couple of minutes between them. I was 5 cm on arrival, and I knew we did not have long before our baby would arrive. 

Once in our birthing room I had to be on the monitor for 20 minutes, which I thought would be the end of me. I didn't really want to ask for drugs, exactly, but every contraction was so painful and so incredibly intense that I felt sure I could not go on. I thought if someone could die from pain, this could probably do it. I felt like I was being broken in half by the pain, and I couldn't even begin to communicate with Brian or the doula about what I needed. With Dora, I had been able to go into this very internal, almost animal place to meditate through the pain. I tried over and over to get there with this birth but had a much harder time disconnecting than I had, maybe because things were moving very fast. 

I got in the tub after the monitor, and the first contraction in the tub was easy. I relaxed, I guess, and the ones that followed were even more intense and painful. I had only been in the tub for a few contractions when I told the doctor I would need to push soon. She checked me and I was 8 cm. Everyone left and just Brian, Stacey and I were in the room. All I could do was hold their hands tightly for each contraction. At one point, Stacey stepped out for just a moment, and I turned around in the tub. At that moment, my water broke with great force, and I felt the baby's head come down quickly. I went through transition in about 60 seconds. I was screaming, throwing up, pleading for help, and my poor husband was pretty scared I think, trying to find someone to help us. Everyone returned in a rush and said I'd have to get out and get to the bed, which sounded like being asked to run a marathon at that moment. I got to the bed and immediately began pushing, without even thinking about it - the body and the animal had taken over. 

The doctor suggested I slow down, take breaks between contractions, but I could not. I made loud noises and in my mind hoped that no one else in the neighboring rooms had yet to deliver, for my vocals would probably scare them completely. I remember being relaxed, quiet, focused when pushing Dora out, and that it was intense but not truly painful because I just couldn't feel anything anymore. This was the opposite, other than the focus. I felt everything, and the pain was so intense all I could do was try to end it quickly. I pushed our baby out in 8 minutes. 

The baby was placed on my chest and everyone was laughing. Brian and I were crying, and he told me that we had a son, a baby boy, which I had known in my heart all along. He did not cry instantaneously and was taken away for a moment to be roughed up, and I could hear him crying. He was brought back to us soon, lots of hair and bright blue eyes, just like Dora. He looked a lot like her to me, but bigger, rounder. His head was perfectly round, like a c-section baby, because he had been whisked through the birth canal so quickly. We named our son Oscar William Turner, born at 2:10 AM on Wednesday, August 17th, 2011, weighing 7 pounds, 13 ounces, and measuring 20 inches long. 

And now I am that mother of two, born last week. I am muddling through this transition, trying to be everything that both of my children need and so far feeling fairly unsuccessful at it. Dora is incredibly excited about having a brother - when she met him she said, "I wanted a boy and we got a boy!" But she is angry with me, "sad" about me, missing our time together. I miss it, too - miss focusing on my little sidekick, doing things with just her, snuggling her in bed. 

I was prepared for the intensity of the newborn days because we've done it before, and in many ways Oscar is an easier baby than Dora was (so far at least) - sleeping a lot and eating well. What I was unprepared for was the rift that would form between my older child and I, the way that not only would our time together be shortened but also the quality of the time changed. It is getting easier now that family has gone home and there is no audience to observe Dora's bad behavior, her screaming at me and slamming doors, but it's still there. 

When Dora was born one of the things that I wrote about was how it changed my marriage, how it felt a little like a bucking wedge being driven into a fireplace log, splitting us apart so we could work together more strongly, burn more brightly for our new family. Maybe this is what has to happen to Dora and I. Maybe our relationship will be made even stronger through this, by being pushed apart this way we'll be drawn even closer together in some new way, joining forces as the women in our family, taking care of the boys, doing girl things together, having our special "girl" time that only she and I can share. 

I know that having a sibling will be a wonderful thing for her, and I know that my family now feels whole and complete, as if a final missing piece has been added to our little puzzle. I always thought I wanted another girl but now that Ozzy is here I see how perfect it is that he is a boy. I know that what I heard is true, that our capacity for love is endless, that I love these two children completely and fully. I do not know how my relationship with Dora will evolve but I do know that we will find a way to always be close, and that though I may be an imperfect mother of two, all of us will be bonded together by a perfect love, even as it changes and grows over time. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

4 years ago

Four years ago today my sweet girl came into our lives. It was an incredible day, and our lives have never been the same. Every day my love for her grows even more - it's amazing. 

Since today I'm not only celebrating Dora's birthday but looking ahead in great anticipation of another birth, I spent last night tracking down what I wrote about Dora's birth a few days after the fact. Back between 2007 and 2009 I wrote many blog posts on MySpace about being a new mother - over 100 pages worth - and this is one of the first posts. I've always felt guilty about not completing a baby book for Dora, but when I look back at all those pages of writing I realize that her baby book is just in a different format. I'm so thankful to have that record - and perhaps someday she will be happy to have it, too.

Happy Birthday sweet girl - you are everything to me! 

10 days ago written on August 14, 2007

The big day finally arrived! On August 4, Brian and I welcomed our daughter into the world. She arrived a few days past her due date, so we were starting to get a little anxious - mostly because our doctor wanted us to consider induction, even though we didn't want that. Luckily, and with some help from some eggplant parmesan, things got started on their own. My water broke at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and by 6:30 I was having good contractions. I got out of bed - we had tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep and just spent the time talking about how nauseated with anticipation we both were, and laughing about how sensitive both of our stomachs are - and started walking around the house and packing for the hospital.

I had planned to bake a chocolate cake for the baby while in early labor (just one of many awesome ideas in Birthing From Within) but I didn't. I was too busy timing contractions, trying to stay calm, and packing. At 8:30 we called our wonderful doula, Jo, who came over and helped me relax and focus. Between her, Brian, and yoga breathing, I stayed pretty calm, shed a few tears, and agreed that we should go to the hospital around 11. When we arrived I was already at 5 cm, and I knew then that I could get through the labor without drugs as we had planned.

The next few hours are kind of a blur of various positions, drinking lots of Gatorade, crying out a few times in pain, and mostly trying to maintain my inner focus and breathing. When I was able to stay focused and breathe carefully, the contractions were very manageable. Other times they were not so manageable, but then Jo and Brian would talk me down from the ledge and we'd get through it. I got pretty nauseated and threw up a lot, which wasn't very nice. At one point I had to be put on oxygen and have IV fluids, which was very uncomfortable, but otherwise the intervention was minimal.

The nurses and doctor were so supportive and wonderful, though. No one ever asked me if I wanted drugs, which was great. After just 5 hours at the hospital, I started pushing. At 4:51, our daughter was born! We were so thrilled when we learned we have a little girl - what an exciting moment. I will never forget it as long as I live. Looking at Brian and sharing that moment with him was so perfect - everything I had hoped for. We named her Isadora Marie. Isadora was Brian's idea - we liked the name and it is also a nod to family names Isobel and Dorothy. Marie as a middle name is a long tradition on my side of the family. The name fits her perfectly, because she isadorable:)

Pictures and more to come soon. For now we're just trying to catch our breath and learn about each other. We feel so blessed to have a healthy baby and to have had the experience we wanted. Never again will I let someone tell me that I can't do something, because I proved to myself  that you really can do anything you set your mind to with the right preparation and support.. I had great support from my wonderful husband and the doula, and that made a huge difference.

Welcome Baby Isadora! We've been waiting for you:) 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

tell me

Dora's new thing as she's going to sleep at night is to ask me to tell her things. "Tell me about what we're going to do this month." Or "tell me about when the baby is bigger and I am bigger." And "tell me about when you were a baby." Judging from the chatter coming from her room right now, I'm not sure how well this actually works for getting her to bed, but it's sweet anyway, and tonight it made me realize something I needed to figure out. 

I have been moping around and writing and worrying a bit recently about not being able to focus just on Dora anymore, about becoming a mom again and having to let go of the luxury of one child. I am really excited about this baby, and having another child is something we want, but it's not without heartache by any means. Last night after work, Dora was being so good while I made dinner - coloring and talking to me. While dinner was in the oven, I sat by her coloring desk and watched her, crying over her sweetness and charm and feeling guilty and sad and scared all at once about how a new baby will disrupt this. 

I've tried to explain to her that there will be a lot of work that I have to do with the baby at first, that mommy will be busy a lot and she'll need to spend time with daddy. I think on some level she's a little worried about this, because she has been extraordinarily difficult and needy lately, especially at night, but for the most part she just talks about how excited she is that the baby is coming. 

So tonight when she asked about what will happen in the next month, I was blathering on about helping me with diapers and baths and feeding the baby. Then she asked me to talk about when she and the baby are bigger, like she knew or perceived that she needed to remind me that there is more in our future than just newborn chaos, that there will be a time when they really play together and become friends. I talked about blocks and the train set and, eventually, Uno (the latest craze in our house). And then I said, "you'll be a wonderful big sister. You and baby will be great friends, and you'll take care of each other." And it made me remember one of the reasons I really wanted to have another child in the first place - to give my children to each other, to give them each someone other than Brian or me to be tied to, to love, to trust, to navigate through life with, to take care of, hopefully for the rest of their lives. It's not to say that I don't think that only children can have this through friends and cousins and other ways, because I certainly do think they can. But I still wanted to give that sibling tie to my own kids, if I could, if the stars aligned to allow it.

Snuggling with Dora again tonight to try to get her to bed, my belly was pushed up against her back and baby was kicking against her. She's asked me before to lay like that so she can feel the baby move. Already they have a connection, one that is probably already more powerful then even the sadness I feel about letting go of this time. Being reminded of that connection doesn't necessarily make me feel any less bittersweet about this, but it does add a new dimension to this jumbled up mix of emotions I'm feeling.

I saw a postcard today about a book project that asked, "what does love look like"? Well - that's it, I guess. Taking care of each other, being connected to one another, learning from each other even when one of us is only 4, loving each other even when it's hot and past bedtime and mommy is so incredibly tired and pregnant. Love looks like sharing the rest of your ice cream cone when mommy drops hers on the floor. Love looks like playing cards one more time before bed, because secretly you love it just as much as your kid does, or maybe more. Love looks like answering silly questions while we fall asleep, making up stories from our own childhoods, the baby kicking up against us, saying goodnight in its own little way.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Last night I was sitting on our bed, relaxing in the air conditioning, wearing Brian's Snoopy t-shirt. I was looking down at my big basketball belly, Snoopy all stretched out over me, thinking about my mom. Thirty-five years ago, give or take a couple of months, she was just like me - pregnant with her second child, wondering if it was a boy or girl, and wondering if it would possibly arrive on the birthday of her first child. Those who know us well know that my older brother and I share the same birthday, six years apart. He was playing with his new Evil Knievil motorcycle in the hallway of a hotel with my aunt and uncle when I was born, delivered by the impatient Ohio University football team doctor who needed to get to the game. And now, here I am, very pregnant, and only a few days away from Dora's 4th birthday, wondering if we might break some kind of statistical odds and have our own set of kids who share a birthday several years apart. 

Because my mom died before I was pregnant with Dora, I've never really had the chance to "share" pregnancy and motherhood with her.  After she died, I remembered hoping that I might someday have a daughter, to have that mother-daughter connection again. When I was pregnant, I comforted my fears by reminding myself that my mom, someone who I eventually thought had all (or at least most) of the answers, was as clueless and scared as I at one point. During labor, I felt like I channeled my mom, making jokes with the nurses just like I think she would have even in the midst of pain. I've found myself connected to my mom through motherhood when she's arrived on the scene through me in some way, or when she's shown up in something Dora has done or said. It's often been unexpected, but also a gift. So now, here I am again, connected to her through pregnancy, through having two babies born at almost exactly the same time of year, through the wonder and worry that comes with pregnancy and birth.

They don't call it a "pregnant pause" for nothing. Pregnancy is naturally such a time of expectation, of wondering about the future, of holding onto your past, of trying to fathom in your little human mind what is really too large, spiritual, monumental to be fathomed in an entire lifetime. Every year around this time I reflect on Dora's birth day, how amazing it was, how we had no idea how much our lives would change because of it. And now this year, I'm reflecting on it even more, looking ahead mostly with great anticipation, and just a bit of anxiety, hoping that my memory of how spectacular birth was is accurate. I've been going around for 4 years telling everyone that birth is great, "you can do it!" - and now I think, "can I?"

There are other thoughts, too, of course. I'm so tired of being pregnant - it's been so much more uncomfortable this time around. I climb out of bed in the morning and I just hurt, all over. But I also know this might be the last time I'm pregnant. I look in the mirror and think, "I have to remember what this looks and feels like, forever, because when it's over I'll miss it". My husband tells me how beautiful I look with my big pregnant belly and I want to hold onto that moment forever, knowing I'll soon barely be able to find a reasonable set of clothes or time to shower. Experience tells me how quickly this baby will go from being a tiny infant to being a kid, how soon I will look back on this time with fondness and a sense of loss. I worry about how this is all going to affect Dora, how it's going to affect our marriage, our finances, my ability to juggle work and home (which already seems stretched to the limit). I worry about going through the post-partum period again, if I'll have the same challenges and anxieties, and if my plan of attack for that this time (different from last time) will work. 

It's such a time of complexity and mixed emotions, and I think the second time around in many ways is even more complex. You know the joys you are looking forward to as well as the challenges you're about to experience. You know how completely you will love this new baby you're about to meet, and how simultaneously joyful and frightening that kind of love can be. You know how crazy-chaotic it's going to be, how you'll hardly be able to shower or make a meal. But I guess you also know that the chaos is (semi) temporary, and soon we'll have two kids instead of a baby and a kid - they'll soon be playing together and fighting and rolling their eyes at us. I'm hoping the knowledge of how temporary the stages are helps us relax and enjoy it a little more.

I always wanted more than one child, just like I always wanted to be married, to have a job, to have a house full of pets and all the craziness that all of that brings. Knowing you want something and trying to achieve it doesn't mean you get a free, smooth ride. But becoming a parent - just like living in a marriage or a hairy house of animals - means finding a joy you hadn't known possible, even if it also comes with sorrow you didn't know about. It is about as far from a smooth ride as you can find, in fact. But when I look at Dora - or my husband and the challenges our marriage has weathered, or my pets and how much I love them - I know that all of it - the bad clothes, and the sore muscles, and the days when just getting a shower seems impossible - all of it is worthwhile. If not having all of that meant not having her - or any of this - well, there's nothing in this world that could make me want that in exchange for less chaos or an easier life. The proof is in the pudding, you know - it's in the early morning snuggles and I love yous, in the kisses and hugs, in the welcomes home from work when she tells me she missed me so much. It's worth it, it really, really is. And the uncertainty - the wondering when this baby will come - the chance to reconnect with my mom in some transcendental, spiritual, walking the same path kind of way - that's all just a little bonus lesson in humanity, a chance to reflect on how amazing life is. Only a little while longer and we'll know some of these answers, and we'll have new questions as well. It will be unexpected, but it will also be a gift.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


This week Dora drew the sweetest, cutest, most heartwarming portrait of our family. I'm going to frame it and keep it forever. She's been drawing these little stick figure, head-is-the-entire-body kind of people for a little while and they are super-cute, but this is the first time I could really look at what she drew and see what she is trying to communicate. It's obviously two adults and a child, and we are all smiling and sort of looking at each other. It makes me smile and start to cry all at once, and gives me that feeling that my heart is about to explode. 

She's been doing a lot of writing, too - practicing her letters, writing her name, and asking to write my name and Brian's name (with our help reminding her of what letters to draw). I'm so proud to see her doing that, too, but there is something about seeing a drawing of hers that communicates something so specific that is really moving to me. It's like this new window into her mind, into the way she sees her world, into what our little family means to her. It's like getting to know her from a whole new perspective. 

We've had a trying week - no naps during the day leading to really fussy evenings, lots going on at work for me, and Brian out working late every night. Between all of that and being pregnant, I feel completely exhausted. Either I wasn't this tired with Dora or I conveniently forgot. I feel like I have almost no time to focus on this baby. Someone told me yesterday about a friend of hers who said she felt guilty because she had no time to focus her attention inward with her second baby, and I completely agree. It's almost like the baby knows, in a way, to keep making its presence known. If I'm getting upset or stressed in a meeting - even just the slightest bit - it starts to kick and move around right away, as if to say, "hey, don't forget about me, don't let that heart rate get too high because you're not the only one having to live with it."

I was crying with another pregnant friend the other day about that moment, whenever it comes, when we say goodbye to baby number 1 as we're leaving for the hospital, knowing it will be our last time with just them. This is not to say that I am not excited about having another baby, because I really, truly am. All of us are - even (especially) Dora. But even when we have our trying weeks, I love being Dora's mom. She's so amazing and I'm so lucky to have her in my life. It's really a joy - even feels sometimes like a luxury - to be able to focus completely and entirely on her, on giving her love and praise and holding her close. I will love having another baby and, yet, there is a part of me that is sad about letting go of the image of just the three of us with our round happy eyes and smiley faces. 

After dinner tonight Dora said, "I'm not going to be a baby ever again". This was after lots of talk tonight about becoming a big sister, and how when she's 4 we'll be having a new baby. I know of course that she won't be a baby again - she doesn't look or act like a baby anymore, even though she holds on to a few baby habits that, when she's very quiet or asleep, make her look just like she did as a baby. But somehow hearing her say it got me a little choked up. I looked at her and said, "well, of course, but you know you'll always be my baby." She smiled her sweet little smile and said "yes."

Soon Dora will be drawing our family portrait and adding a smiling, happy baby to the mix. Soon none of us will be able to imagine our lives without baby 2, and I know that welcoming him or her into our lives will be a joyful and beautiful experience. There is a grief in that, too, a loss just like there was when Dora came into our lives. Maybe I'm more aware of that now because I've already experienced it, or maybe I'm just tired and emotional. I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that when I look at Dora, or at her little family portrait, I feel like my heart will explode with love for her, feel my soul filled up with the power of this love that's like nothing else in this world. To have the chance to feel that again for another baby, to have my heart expand even more than I thought possible, and to watch that love unfold between Dora and her sibling - that's a sweet, cute, heartwarming portrait of a family, too, one that I want to frame and keep forever.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dark Chocolate Almond Banana Muffins

What's that you say? A recipe? Shocking I know, as I hardly ever post them anymore. Recently I read Julia Child's "My Life in France" (which I adored), and although I know this is the exact opposite of what she intended, it made me a little more timid about improvising and making things up in the kitchen. That, and all of my recipe-reading, Top Chef-watching, foodie-blog obsessing made me feel a little less-than-qualified to be writing about food. Don't get me wrong - I love food (love it, especially now), and love making things from scratch, reading recipes, taking pictures of the food I make, etc. I'm definitely a foodie - but one who creates her own things? I don't know...

But, tonight, we had this bunch of brown bananas, and it seemed like time to make banana muffins. I've made this Moosewood Restaurant banana muffin recipe many times, but I was missing my usual chocolate chip/walnut combo. Then, I found half a bag of Hershey's Special Dark nuggets with almonds in my cupboard and it was time for a little improv. Just a little. 

Dark Chocolate Almond Banana Muffins
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup packed brown sugar 
2 eggs
4 ripe bananas, mashed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1/2 cup (or so) coarsely chopped dark chocolate with almonds

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil a 12-cup muffin tin. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, using a mixer or by hand, beat together the oil, sugar, eggs, and bananas. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Fold in the vanilla and chopped chocolate. Spoon into muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Enjoy while warm as a bedtime snack with a glass of milk. And don't forget to improvise.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The author of one of the blogs I read regularly has had a book proposal accepted (her second). I read this yesterday and was reminded that I want to do that. I have ideas bouncing around for this in my head, but I never really find the time to hone them, or if I do I find that perhaps the ideas aren't as well-developed as I thought. It's something I really want to do, though, partly because I think I have something to say and partly because I've fallen into the trap of romanticizing the idea of being a writer. There. I said it. At least I'm being honest. 

So after I read this I came home thinking about the things I want to do, the kind of person I want to be - some things I'm already doing and some things I'm only dreaming about. In my mind it turned into something of a mini-photo essay, a words and pictures kind of mini-inventory of where I am, and where I want to go. Mini. As in, not including everything. Here goes. 

I want to be the kind of person who has a dining room table with flowers on it, free of clutter and bills and paperwork waiting to be sorted. I'm almost never this person unless it's a special occasion, or people are coming over for dinner. But it's spring and the lilacs are about to bloom, so it happened on a regular old Tuesday, meatloaf night. 

I want to be the kind of person who brings their kids into the kitchen and helps them fall in love with food and cooking at an early age. Sometimes I am. 

 I want to be the kind of person who makes meals from scratch. I almost always do that. 

I want to be the kind of person who knows how to use a new piece of photography equipment on the first try. I'm not. My first roll of film shot through the Diana is almost all underexposed.

I want to be patient. I'm not always, but every once in a while I am. 

I want to be the kind of person who writes a successful book proposal, who writes in her blog about the new book that's going to be coming out soon, with her name on the cover.

I'm not. Yet.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

expect the unexpected

Dora started a new school at the beginning of February. It was bittersweet for us - seeing her leave behind friends and teachers we had all grown to love, leaving the security of the only place that she had ever gone, where she was known for her bottle refusals and strong personality. We are happy about the new school - especially because she ended up going there with a friend - but it's been an adjustment.

Dora has been telling me stories of other kids being unkind in various kid ways. We've talked to the teachers, who assure us that Dora holds her own very well. We've talked to Dora about how to deal with kids when they aren't being nice. And, I realize that some of her stories may be embellished in her own three-year-old way. Still, I had not expected to be dealing with this so soon. I'm responding to it as best I can - trying to be reassuring without being unrealistic, and without making a huge deal out of it so she worries more. I'm not sure I'm handling it exactly right, but I guess I thought I'd have more time to prepare. 

I think I was fairly notorious in my elementary school for being the girl whose mom wouldn't let her have Barbies. My mother didn't like the image of beauty that Barbie portrayed. I think it bothered her to think of little girls playing with big-breasted, super skinny, sexualized dolls. I was allowed to have Skipper - Barbie's undeveloped little sister who came with a horse. I haven't really thought about this in years, until the other night when Dora asked if we could play with Barbies. Again - I did not think I was going to be answering this question yet. I told her that, no, we are not going to play with Barbies, and that we're not going to get any Barbies either. I told her how, if Barbie were a real person, she would not be able to stand up because her body proportions are physically impossible. I'm sure this really meant a lot to my 3-year-old. We moved on to reading Personal Penguin. 

In a way, I should not be surprised by any of this, for the theme of parenthood really is "expect the unexpected". I can't even count the number of times I've been surprised, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes not, by being a mother. I'm surprised by myself - how great I can be sometimes and how sometimes I can be really impatient, really unfair, really not the mom I want to be. I'm surprised by my daughter - how smart and beautiful and funny she is, and how she can frustrate me so much so easily. I'm surprised by my fears and my hopes and by all the thoughts this experience brings up for me. It makes you see parts of yourself, your partner, your world you never even knew existed. 

Tonight during yoga our teacher told us it was our last class - a surprise and disappointment to all of us, including our teacher. I realized in class tonight for the first time the power of controlling your breathing as you do in yoga, of forcing yourself to slow down and get quiet. I felt the power of the poses, of breathing through them with purpose. I looked down at my hands in Downward Facing Dog, at my turquoise ring that belonged to my mother, and my hands looked just like hers. I don't remember ever seeing that so vividly as tonight. 

As I snuggled Dora into bed tonight, stroking her hair and her cheek and her perfect little ear, I thought about how I had touched her face this way on our first night together. Awash with the power of labor and the overwhelming new love I was experiencing for the first time, I learned my first lessons of motherhood, of how it opens up the depths of your heart as never before. I look back on it now and think how much more I might have loved her then if I had known what she would become, if I had known how completely central and essential she would become in my life. There is really not much I would change about her birth, but I do wish I could go back there knowing what I know now, so I could really soak in those first moments of her life, really look at her then while knowing what she would become. This is not to say that I didn't love her perfectly then, because I did - it's just that my love for her has grown so much, I wish I could whisper in the ear of myself as a new mother, "you think you love her now? Just wait. It's going to get bigger and stronger every single day, even if you think that's impossible."

Perhaps there will be some sense of this our second time around. Perhaps we'll be able to soak in the weight and depth and breadth of our new baby in his or her first moments. Or maybe to do is physically impossible, like Barbie in real life. I'm excited to find out, and certain that whatever the experience is like, it will also be unexpected. 

To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. 

--Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

help us to show our love

Yesterday at dinner, Dora and I said grace before we ate. It seemed like a day that needed that - a moment of silence or simple words to thank God for our blessings, and to pray for others. I confess that we don't normally say grace unless on a special occasion - something I picked up from my own childhood. But last night, it was just the two of us, and an edamame, cabbage, chicken, and noodle stir-fry on a regular old Monday night. Nothing special. 

I was somewhat surprised to find myself reciting a prayer we said as children, one I hadn't heard or thought of in many years. We've taught Dora the short child's prayer, "God is great", etc., and on special occasions I recite the Runser family traditional prayer, based on Psalm 145, and referred to in our family simply as "the Eyes". But this prayer - I can't even think of the last time I said it: 

Lord, thank you for this food, 
and all the blessings of today, 
help us to show our love, 
by being kind and good, we pray. 

After this, we prayed for the people of Japan. As with any disaster of epic proportions, I am overwhelmed and saddened for all of those who are suffering from this tragedy. As news reports come in of tens of thousands of lives lost, villages destroyed, displaced people going hungry, and possible nuclear crisis, I am reminded of how small and helpless each of us are. It feels like even those of us who want to help can hardly do so, as what does a small donation really mean in the face of such loss. 

I look at my safe, warm, beautiful little girl, my loving husband, our sweet little life, our new baby on the way, and I know I should be saying grace at every meal. I should be thanking God at every turn for all of the grace afforded to me in so many ways, the abundance given to me that is embarassing in comparison to the needs of others. It simply doesn't make sense, how some can have so little while others so much, how some of us are in peril while others are us are warm, safe, fed, and dry. 

I know only one person in all of Japan, my friend Hiroshi. I heard from him yesterday and I know that he, and his immediate family, are safe. He is traveling around the country, trying to document through his photographs what has happened, and hopefully keeping himself safe in the process. In a short message to me he explained that he and his family are safe, and not directly impacted by the earthquake. But, he added, "this is not a matter of where they live and where we live". He went on to say that everyone in his nation must unite to face this crisis. 

This is true for all of us: it is not a matter of where they live and where we live. All of us need to unite with our brothers and sisters in Japan, as we have done for others in the past, to face this crisis, to help one another, to lend a hand, even if we feel small and helpless and like our tiny contribution won't make a difference. 

Help us to show our love, by being kind and good, we pray. 

For a list of ways you can help the people of Japan, click here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

parallel universe

On Monday, I happened to be in the car for most of the day and caught a Fresh Air interview with physicist Brian Greene. Now, I took physics in college, from the illustrious Dr. Baker, and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit (in large part because Dr. Baker found ways to make his class funny, somehow). But I don't pretend to understand what Dr. Greene was discussing. Basically, he was discussing a theory that states that matter can only combine in a finite number of ways, and if the universe is infinite, then that combination will occur repeatedly throughout the universe. In other words, in an infinite universe, there may be many parallel universes, within which matter has organized in the same way (as in, we are all there in the parallel universe, living our lives like we do here, I guess). 

As mind-boggling as this concept is, I have thought in the past about the possibility of different moments in time happening simultaneously - like envisioning that my mom is her young, healthy, witty self somewhere else in the universe. Maybe then I'm some sort of inter-generational tie between my mom and my daughter, who will never get to meet in this world, connecting them as I reach one hand into the past and hold onto Dora's hand stretching into the future.  

 And there's a sense of parallel universes when you think about all the joy and pain that simultaneously take place in each moment, day, year, life. In my own little life we have an amazing, flashing light of joy among us - another baby coming to join us later this summer. We have dreamed of this for so long and are overjoyed that our sweet Isadora will get to be a big sister. Yet in the midst of our happiness, we have friends as well as strangers in the greater human family facing unimaginable sorrow. Just today I learned of one friend involved in a serious car accident and another, whose courageous journey I have mentioned before, who needs our prayers now more than ever. Perhaps only quantum physics can explain how such beauty and such pain can at once be contained within this world, how the blessings and the sorrows get tossed out across the universe like so many shining stars.

As I put Dora to bed tonight, she said to me, "I wish I was in your belly". I asked her why and she said, "so we could snuggle". I promised her that she will always be my snugglebug, that I'll always snuggle her. We talked about her being a big sister, all the things she will teach her little sibling, how she'll help me with the baby. Dora refers to this baby as a girl, even though we don't know (and won't find out) the sex until the baby arrives. After a few minutes of quiet she said, "maybe she'll like James Brown." I squeezed her close and laughed, wondering how many three-year-olds are so into the Godfather of Soul that they hope their siblings-to-be will share in their musical tastes. 

Maybe not so many three-year-olds would say it now, but maybe on some other plane in the universe there's a 1960s kid about to become a big brother or big sister, hoping their new sibling is going to get up offa that thing, too. Maybe in the parallel universe Mike made it home safely from work yesterday, and Rachel is so healthy she hasn't had so much as a stuffy nose in the past three years. My prayer is that, if matter really can only organize itself in so many ways, these realities in the parallel universe become reality here. I pray for wholeness for the entire human family, for health and healing for all those who need it, for wisdom for those who provide medical care, and for an unending capacity for love and forgiveness among all of us. With all of these things, the universe truly is infinite.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

old movie stars

I made it home safe and sound from my trip last week that involved airplanes. Lots of praying and holding tight to my cross, and reading a fabulous book to take my mind off my fears. Everything was fine, and I am happy to be back home again. 

Dora spent the week in Ohio with my dad and stepmother. I never like the way this house feels without her in it, but we made the best of our time without her. We finished up projects around the house, got her room totally reorganized (finally), and went to a movie. After much debate we saw True Grit. Being the Coen Brothers/Jeff Bridges fans that we are, we both wanted to see it. But, I saw the John Wayne version as a kid, so I was apprehensive about that final scene with the horse. I remember sitting on the faded tan cordoroy couch in my parents' living room, shocked and crying about what happened. My apprehension about the final scene was over me like a cloud in the theater, and at the end when it came I was just as upset as I had been all those years ago. To me that has to be one of the saddest scenes involving an animal in a movie ever made. It just breaks me heart. 

I've always been an animal lover, and I can hardly bear to see one hurt in a movie, even knowing all the rules and regulations in place to protect them during filming. I read that the rules about the equine actors used in True Grit were more explicit and rigid than the rules governing the 13-year-old human actress. In the river crossing scene, the water had to be a certain temperature for the horses, whereas there was no mention of a required temperature for the humans. Nonetheless, I am always tender-hearted when it comes to animals in film. 

In the ladies room after the movie, I was not the only one wiping my eyes. For many of us, animals are a connection, a place of common understanding to which nearly all humans can relate. Sure, there are a few non-animal people out there, but most of us understand the way a cat or dog curls its way into your heart and home, staking out a permanent place of honor at the foot of your bed, on the back of the couch, or on your hearth. 

At Christmas, we adopted a cat from home, a beautiful, long-haired, black and white Maine Coon named Hedy. She had been given to me by my friend Maria years ago, but soon after she walked into my life she adopted my mother as her favorite human. She was definitely my mother's cat. She was a wonderful companion to her, sleeping on her bed, following her into the bathroom, kneading and purring incessantly. When my mom died, Hedy was sleeping on the bed next to her, curled up beside her like she always was, waiting for my mom's hand to stroke her black fur. 

Now that this old movie star is living with us, she sleeps on our bed, purring incessantly, kneading and drooling, happy to be with us. She's as beautiful as she ever was, happily waiting for the next opportunity for someone to pet her. Beyond just enjoying her company and her perfectly symmetrical markings and her stunningly long whiskers, my home and my heart are warmed by her presence because of the connection to my mother that she represents. There is something so comforting about running my hands over Hedy's beautiful black fur, knowing my mother did the same thing not so long ago. I hope Hedy feels that connection, too, a little spark of familiarity, a little bit of extra warmth from a hand that feels just a little bit like one she used to know and love.