Sunday, November 30, 2014

It's a One-derful Life

It's Sunday night, or Back-to-School-After-Thanksgiving-Break Eve, and I'm feeling grateful for the time off and the good times.  I'm also noting that last year at this time I felt grateful, but walked on shaky legs, wondering how to cope with my life and my job and mostly just Being Myself.  This year, I'm celebrating this one-year-sixteen-month-old and all the joy she has brought us.

I was explaining to my aunt, who was here visiting this week, that without Tootsie, it would be easy for us--with two daughters eight and eleven years old--to each go our own ways:  someone reading here, another on a computer there, someone at a friend's house, on a bike ride...but instead Tootsie is her own nucleus for the family, our touchstone.  Everyone gravitates to her in the mornings when she wakes.  She's the first one we ask for upon arriving home.  Her antics and tricks are the center of our attention.  And as she's a toddler, we know where she is at all times, in her best interests and ours.

Last year she felt like a hurricane to me in terms of magnitude on our lives.  This year I recognize her as the eye to the hurricane we are, swirling around her and magnetically drawn in, a beautiful antithesis to entropy.

We took her on a few hikes and walks this week.  She's almost running and jumping now, loving to walk on different surfaces and stopping to run her hands in the dirt (and to eat a rock or two) and to smell every flower.  She practices words and phrases and signs some too, and when she doesn't know what else to say, it's "bee-baaa" or "baaa-beee."  She dances to Sesame Street and Katy Perry.  She's empathetic and compassionate and caring, giving loves and hugs to her cousins and friends and siblings and often teary on our behalves.

She's been sick the past few days with a high fever, sleeping and cuddling and breastfeeding around the clock.  Our initial panic at her high temperature reminded me that she has been remarkably healthy since her time in the hospital.  Our hearty, heart-full, happy girl.

We are so, so grateful.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pumpkin Made Saucy

I'm not doing so well at the writing-every-day routine so far.  But I'm thinking about writing almost every day!  I'm also thinking about exercise every day.

Tonight I made both pumpkin pizza (original recipe here) and ravioli with pumpkin sauce, two favorite seasonal dishes I haven't made in a while.  For tonight's version of the pizza I used naan bread for the crust (super quick and way easy), sweet Italian chicken sausage, shredded mozzarella and romano cheeses, and arugula.

I used the same pumpkin sauce for the ravioli (spinach and cheese), and sprinkled with shredded romano cheese.  The ravioli went to feed the twins' parents.  We ate the pizza.

Pumpkin sauce makes for a mellower/less acidic sauce on a pizza, and in my view, draws more attention to the toppings.  Worth a try!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Twins...and Toddler

Our new baby cousins were born last week--beautiful, healthy baby girls and an uneventful labor and birth!  Now we have Tootsie and her cousin, only two weeks younger than she, and the twins.  It's going to be awesome to have two sets of kiddos at the same heights bumbling around.  The two older toddlers are already great fun.

Slay me for this, but I wouldn't mind another baby.  Husband said he wanted to throw up at the mere mention, and can rest assured that my tubes are tied.  So I'm happy to have not one, but two new babies to satisfy my need for infant snuggle time.  And when I watched my sister-in-law pumping yesterday, in an attempt to build a store for two babies (how do you do that?), I backed off my baby envy a little.   I am still breasfteeding Tootsie.  Which is not like breastfeeding an infant, by the way.  More on that later.

Tootsie is completely smitten with the new babies.  She was like a Love Bully, kissing the baby I was holding with aggressive passion, over and over, and insisting on feeding her her bottle.  She must have said "baby" a hundred times or more.  She was transformed into (by juxtaposition) a giant smothering affection monster, a manic crazy overwhelmed older cousin in love.

It was quite a sight to behold, and I used my left arm for defensive moves as she continually came in for head butts/kisses, as my sister-in-law observed with nervous laughter.

There's no absence of love, as well as little fingers and toes in our family.  It's awesome.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


I forgot that I promised myself I'd write every day in November, like I did a few years ago in an effort to force myself back into a discipline, which, like exercise, tends to make me feel better about myself.  I  just haven't been writing, and recognizing that is a reminder of how much my life--and I--have changed in the past year and a half.  I'm determined to reacquaint with the Fer who writes regularly, the Fer who is excited to connect what happened today to some lingering thought that has been bouncing around in her mind.

But November 1 is almost over, and I only have scattered and disconnected updates:

Tootsie walks and talks and signs words like "please," "more," "dog," and "milk." But most importantly, she's learned very recently how to throw an epic tantrum, and has been practicing daily since.  We've experienced our first Store Episode and Stiff-As-a-Board-Can't-Get-In-Carseat Antics.  Thank goodness she's still cute and loving, and a dancer and snuggler.  Her habits include placing everything from belts to dishcloths to pajamas around her neck and pretending to feed and walk her dolls and Elmo.  And because of the number of hours she has spent since birth at the fields, she can kick a soccer ball.

At the Patty Griffin concert tonight, she covered a Jimmy Durante song:

"You've got to win a little, lose a little,
yes, and always have the blues a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of life.
That's the story of, that's the glory of life."

I was struck by how true that analysis is, and what I'm still learning to accept--this notion of living with the blues a little.  I'm trying to fight less, stop myself from a mantra of "I don't WANT to be this stressed/tired/frantic/overwhelmed," and instead figure out how to make life less so, in the face of things I can't or won't change in the short term:  I'm a principal.  I'm a mother of three.  I'm busy.  I have bills to pay. I have laundry to do.   

And I was thinking earlier this week that there are seemingly a million little things people do for me and mine everyday to make life easier, better, more beautiful.  The colleague who waters my plants; the friend who texts me a coffee icon and an invitation for a fresh cup; the friend who drops off lunch; the parents who offer advice, childcare, and meals; the neighbors who drive my kid to school; the babysitter who comes to me to pick up my baby and goes out of her way every day; the friends who reassure, advocate for, and believe in me; the husband who holds it all together, day in and day out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Message from Middle School

Big Sis is in sixth grade, for just over a week now.  And I've been tempted to post something to the effect of middle school:emotion::Pope:Catholic.  Because, wow.  Maybe it's just, as a BFF calls it, Transition Sickness.  But there's been a lot of turmoil, sobbing, exhaustion, nostalgia for the easier times of childhood, and, as it turns out, reflection.

Tonight, Big Sis busted out a soliloquy that I urged her to write down.  Because she's so right on, and she has managed, through her tiredness and tears, to focus on some big themes.  Her ideas resonated, because just last week I exhorted a group of seniors to think of college:life::wedding:marriage.  College isn't what you've spent 18 years preparing for; it's not the be all, end all.  Life is what you've spent 18 years preparing for, and you're actually living it NOW.

It took me 43 years to figure this stuff out, but Big Sis has some wisdom as a newly minted sixth grader (and I copy her text here with her permission):

OK, Here it goes.  I have just begun middle school, and lately we have been given a few talks.  During each one I am thinking.  We're hearing that middle school is all about preparing, preparing, preparing for life.  But really it's not just preparing.  It's all an experience.  You're not just learning to learn, you're learning for your own good.  You're living RIGHT NOW.  

You can't always be living in the future, because it's like we are only preparing for the life ahead of us, which makes us a big stress case.  Just go with the flow and relax and just think about how you're doing right now.  Because otherwise all you're doing is waiting.  All waiting will do is discourage you.  You're not always preparing if you're having a great experience living in the now.  

Of course it's alright to have your mind set on a certain career.  But think of other things you might enjoy as well.  For example, I love soccer, and would like to pursue my dream, but I can't put all my eggs in one basket.  I also love to read and would love to become an author as well.  

Not every stage in life is preparation for the next stage.  If we act like that, when will it stop?  The problem is, it won't.  We will keep living like this and it will never end.  

So, what I am humbly saying is that we, (especially us kids) need to think about life differently.  School, in particular.  We all need to think of it like an experience.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One...Singular Sensation

I'm ONE!  That's right, everyone, point your finger:  ONE!  One year old.

One year ago today I made my unexpected debut in Boston, Mass, far away from home but in great hands.  Today, you'd never know I was a preemie, that I was born with meningitis and scared the heck out of my family, that I spent a month in the NICU.  Today I am Just Fine.  Better than Fine.  I'm plump and developing appropriately.  Any areas in which I'm behind (say, sleeping through the night) are my mom's fault (Hey!  She likes to snuggle me!).

I am busy and I am noisy.  I babble; I squawk; I growl.  I say "dog," "baby," "doll," "Mama," "hello," or pretty close renditions.  I wave; I talk on the phone (the shoe phone, the banana phone, the block phone...).  I've learned to make an ungodly screech if someone takes an electrical cord out of my mouth or I'm forced to return a toy I've stolen from a cousin.  But my cousins!  How I love my cousins.  I lean my head in close to theirs to hug them over and over when I see them.  I've gotten to see lots of cousins this summer.

My mom told my sisters I'd annoy them someday and they didn't believe it.  But I know how to bug them when they're on the computer, or to head for the stairs or dog food super quick when Mom or Dad asks them to watch me.  I can pull hair and I pinch when I'm pulling up on Big Sis's shoulders. I also know how to let my sisters know if they're annoying me.  We're like legit siblings now.

I'm not walking yet; there's time for that.  I'm a really efficient crawler, and I like to cruise between pieces of furniture.  Sometimes I take my hands off just to show off.  My favorite activity is standing up and playing--at a table, water table, play kitchen...I have lots of plans for things to build and touch and put in my mouth.

Thank you to all of you who have made my life wonderful, and my family's life manageable!  There are SO MANY OF YOU.  It's been quite a year for my family, watching me, holding me, hugging me, and chasing me.  I'm booking them for more chasing me around during my second year.  And I've got walking and talking to master.

But first, tonight?  How about some Elmo cupcakes my sisters made?  Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Turned All the Way Up to Eleven

Tootsie is on the cusp of turning one year old, on the cusp of walking and talking and ditching the breast and the bottle.  She is on the cusp of beyond babyhood.  I mused on her sweet uncalloused feet last night, respecting how little time of tenderness remains.

This month of her almost-oneness, the month when, a year ago, our lives went topsy turvy, has been emotional.  I can easily recall planning for the upcoming year at work, packing for travel, unpacking at the new house, and enjoying pregnancy.  Summer feels like Boston.  It feels like the hospital.  It feels like uncertainty and anything can happen.  It also feels like family, like love, like hope and excitement.

Tootsie is busy, busy, busy.  We took her on her first airplane ride since coming home from Boston, to Iowa to visit Husband's father.  We spent much of the weekend in the hospice house with family, Tootsie providing distractions and entertainment, cruising from chair to coffee table, babbling and growling and cackling with laughter at her sisters.  Life continues, we all nodded, as the seventeen-year cicadas swarming in the trees outside provided a fervent symphony.

She eats curried chicken salad, apples, diced grapes, and even Baked Lays potato chips (benefit of a trip to Subway with her babysitter) with her sharp little teeth, including new fangs on top.  She loves swimming, soccer balls (gooooooaaaaaaaaallll!), toys with microphones, and rocks.  She sings along.  She makes noises like an elephant.  She loves her baby cousins.

As always, she grins and smiles and laughs far more than she ever complains.  She's been ours for almost a year.  We can hardly remember life without her.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ten Months, and Tootsie's Tips

Tootsie turned ten months amid a very busy time at home and at tournaments, preparations for 5th grade promotion (Big Sis's outfit and event planning...), sister and brother-in-law and baby cousin coming to town, end-of-year awards, campaigning and bond election, and graduation.  Meanwhile, she was busy tackling more developmental stages, as well as remaining her cute and smiley self.  I found myself having a good old cry at the passage of time (my baby growing less babyish inspiring tears on one hand; my spending time elsewhere as she keeps growing on the other).  But I did some healthy reflecting on the nostalgia around our children's inevitable development, and allude to epiphanies below in my graduation speech.

Here's the big "step" Tootsie took last month:

And, of course, such strides result in frequent bangs into furniture and bonkings of her head.  She otherwise crawls at warp speed toward the dog food, giggling mischievously en route, or finds tiny objects to put in her mouth to scare the bejeezus out of us.

Instead of the 'ooo' face of wonder she adopted as a tiny baby, she now makes a serious "ohhhhhh" sound and expression when she's truly captivated or curious about something--dogs, animals, and other babies in particular.  She loves her cousins.

Her favorite song is Pharrell's "Happy," which Big Sis sang at her choir concert last month.  Her favorite books are Hug, Hush Little Baby, and On the Night You Were Born (though she was born in the AM).  She likes the Hairy Maclary book, but only until the page with the scary cat, Scarface Claw.  Then she cries.  She doesn't like the Elmo character at Sea World either.

When her sisters ask her questions like, "Do you want to help me with my homework?" she shakes her head vigorously with big grins.  Her vocabulary includes "blah blah blah blah."

She loves to swim and take baths, and we've spent some good times with the cousins in Mammom's swimming pool.

As far as nursing goes, it's like breastfeeding an octopus or wrestler.  And she uses her free hand to pound me on the chest.

But she made an apt subject for my first commencement address as a high school principal.  Here are Tootsie's Tips:

Last summer I was a pregnant new principal who planned to start the school year and then take a little time off when our baby was born in September.  But next thing I knew, I was having my baby early, in the wrong state across the country, and we were in the hospital on your first day of school.  I wound up missing the fall semester of your senior year, and you can go ahead and blame it on the baby, Faera, or as she became known to many, Tootsie.  As school has come to a close, I’ve been thinking about some of the lessons Tootsie taught me this year, and I want to pass them along to you. 
 First, accept life’s vicissitudes.
 There’s a tendency, a normal and natural and wise tendency, to plan out your life.  And I suggest you do.  But this year I’ve had to recognize what parts of life are in and out of my control.  Tootsie has helped me accept that life is messy, unpredictable, scary, and mysterious, but also beautiful and surprising and serendipitous.  You may invest time, work, and hope, only to experience a disappointing outcome.  Practice facing the circumstances before you and renouncing regret for what couldn’t or cannot be.  Tootsie would endorse what your classmate Ines Cruz wrote so aptly in her Identity Project in art:  “I want to fearlessly go, and see what unfolds before me.  If I mess up, I want to know it’s okay; it’s part of the journey, part of the design of my life.” 
 Second:  Embrace the new and unfamiliar
During babies’ first months, every experience, every place is brand new.  I watch Tootsie wake up sometimes and I know she’s thinking where the heck am I now?  Here you sit before us, about to depart the familiar—your daily routine at home and at CHS with the people you know—for an adventure of the unexplored.  You’re going to cry about it sometimes—Tootsie does—but we don’t bail her out every time she wants to eject from a seemingly scary place.  Recognize that this is your mission:  to explore the new, and to exploit the opportunities that adventure brings. From Ines Cruz:  “I need to walk on warm sand, not on hot concrete, under stars, not street lamps, over miles and miles of new places with new people, not standing stagnant in place.” 
Third:  Make the most of where you are:
Tootsie only recently started to crawl.  She has spent most of her short life stuck where we put her—in her carseat, stroller, crib, or front pack.  But from flat on her back or sitting up she finds the world an amazing place and the people around her fascinating.  Ever been stuck in a long line and noticed the adults looking anywhere but at each other?  Babies seek out and gaze right at fellow humans with wonder.  They grin, coo, and engage with anyone who catches their eye, no matter who they are.  You, too, can make the most of where you are, and even make someone’s day, on planes, in traffic, at jury duty, in your dorm with assigned roommates: entertain yourself, enjoy the view, bring your best attitude.  Get to know the person next to you. 
This one is for the parents too:  Accept your own and others’ evolutions
I always wanted a third baby.  I love babies (almost as much as I love teenagers). But a baby is a growing person, and however much we want our babies to stay small and cute and cuddly, they grow and change.  Every day my Tootsie is a newer version of herself.  And so are you.  You haven’t discovered all of your own strengths, skills, and vulnerabilities.  Future experiences and relationships will bring out new facets of your self.  You don’t have to be whom you have always been or expected to be.  By next summer you may have adopted different interests and aspirations, hobbies and habits.  Be prepared to find your high school friends and family members have, too.  Let yourself and others shed dead skin and emerge anew.  Graduates, parents, friends:  pledge to reacquaint yourself with your loved ones in their present. 
 Just a few more tidbits from Tootsie: 
Dance, sing, laugh, or act goofy. Every day.
When you perceive an injustice, holler about it.

And finally, Tootsie has this look she gets on her face when she’s particularly proud of herself.  It’s okay to think you’re hot stuff, especially when you’re making a huge developmental leap.  So, high five, graduates; swagger on down that carpet.  You did it.  Congratulations.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy to Have a Happy Mother's Day

Since last Mother's Day, our third daughter, Tootsie, joined the family.  By now most of you know the saga of Tootsie--born two months early across the country, and with meningitis.  Tootsie and I spent six weeks together in a Boston hospital apart from Husband and Big and Middle Sis.  But the truth is, after a fairly speedy recovery from her infection, Tootsie was pretty good to go. Throughout the ordeal, we were fortunate on many levels, benefiting from the care of incredible health care professionals in an amazing hospital, the overwhelming support of family and friends, and a lack of related long-term health issues.  Today, you would never know our bouncing baby girl was a preemie.

Because this was my third go-round with pregnancy and childbirth, I knew to watch myself for signs of baby blues.  I figured I was particularly susceptible at this point in my life, with a new job and already busy household.  Returning to a recently purchased home with a fragile newborn and two daughters who missed their mom added a few variables.  But I had no idea how difficult things would be.

While this Mother's Day morning I woke up cheerful, loved up my girls, did a load of laundry, went for a jog, and enjoyed brunch with my family, mere months ago, in the throes of serious post-partum depression and anxiety, I struggled to get out of bed each morning.  Now that I'm reunited with Myself, I have the perspective to appreciate how scary post-partum depression can be for a normally happy, confident woman and her family.

I feel it's important to acknowledge how many women enter into what is universally considered the blessed state of motherhood with the monkey of PPD on their backs--a monkey accompanied by Fear, Lack of Confidence and Motivation, Guilt, Self-Loathing, Malaise, and Search for Meaning, among other unwanted guests.  The challenges of parenthood are great enough without attempting to mother from the bottom of a well.  Sitting among first-time mothers in my therapy/support group, I wondered if I would have had more children if I felt the way I did this time after our firstborn.

I am well enough now to know I would do it all over again.

But the journey back to rational thinking and happy days felt long and hard (and necessitated work on myself I'd never felt compelled to do in 42 years), and I suspect I will always keep an eye trained on myself and my vulnerability to overwhelm.

Whatever the causes of PPD--hormonal, societal, circumstantial, genetic--it's important we are mindful of the mamas out there. It's easy for those of us missing infants and rocking chairs to exclaim to new mothers that these are the best of days and aren't you just so in love?  I was always in love.  But I was also wide-eyed and paralyzed by a sense that everything was Just Too Much to Handle.  Thankfully, perceptive family members and friends began throwing out lifelines as I floundered.

We've got to continue to ask new and experienced mothers probing questions, offer help and support, and be persistent about seeking professional care when there's concern.  I was told a million times that the best mother is a healthy one.  I was told a million times it would get better, and a thousand times I didn't believe it.  But I am a happier, healthier self than I was six months ago, and I love being a mother more than ever.

Happy Mother's Day.  This year, I am not taking the "happy" for granted.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Nine Months

9 Months Old (young!)
She's officially been out of the womb longer than she was in.  And this month, she's on the go, crawling across the floor as of Sunday morning.  We need a gate on those stairs, stat!

When she's not bonking her head during one of her mobile adventures, Tootsie is blowing raspberries, showing off her two little razor-sharp teeth (and using them to gnaw on puffs, strawberries, Mum-Mums, her toes, and family members), lunging at her dog, practicing syllables (dadadada), and perfecting her role as soccer fan.  At her developmental check she was deemed right on target. Go Tootsie!

But no, she doesn't sleep through the night.  We call that a parenting fail.  Okay, okay:  One particular parent's fail.

One early morning this month before meeting her babysitter I brought our little rascal into the school library and asked our friend the librarian to hold her as I visited the restroom.  I returned to find her being passed around among staff members and students, who were taking pictures with her on their phones and competing for her company.  One of the older teenage boys was especially tender with her, resting his head on hers and breathing in her baby scent.

Her ready smiles and willingness to be held by strangers make her a great ambassador and her tagging along renders my work enterprises (cheering at lacrosse games, walking precincts for the bond election, attending superintendent's meetings) much more joyful.  Sometimes where my Work Life and Mom Life intersect is stressful, and sometimes it helps me feel better about both.  That morning, watching our baby connect with my students, I felt more connected to both them and her.

Her sisters still find that sun rises and sets on Tootsie; in fact, when there are occasions I whisk her off with me early in the morning and return with her late, they admittedly pine for her all day.

So much love.  *Blissful sigh*

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Thirds

She's eight months old today, a whole two-thirds of a year, our Tootsie. Every day we get to know her a little better and come to the same conclusion:  she's a happy, happy baby.  In this photo you get a glimpse of her two new bottom (sharp!) teeth, her drool, her expressive eyebrows, and her devilish grin.  She can swivel herself around in a circle, and is starting to rock on all fours.   Crawling can't be far off.

So far her favorite foods are hummus, black beans, and Mammom's salmon.  And Baby Mum Mums as an appetizer.  She thinks she's hot stuff when she holds and drinks from a cup or water bottle.  She's still sleeping, for the most part, right between her mom and dad.

At soccer games (and she's been to many in her short life), she loves to be passed around among the players.  She knows how to relax in the jacuzzi. Dogs crack her up.  She's grabby, gummy, game, and amiable.  As Husband likes to say, "How did we ever get so lucky?"

Thursday, March 27, 2014


I wrote the thoughts below a few weeks ago as I tried to articulate what my new job felt like and seemed like in relation to my old role as vice principal. March has been a blur of teachers receiving layoff notices, emotional meetings, fundraisers, soccer games, writing reports.  Trying to plan ahead while muddling through each day.

Once upon a time, as a teacher, I tended trees.  Of course, I planned activities meant to engage and grow a diverse group of them all at once, but I spent a considerable amount of time trimming and fertilizing individual trees in my care.

Then I became a vice principal and I treated the trees who were sent to me or who came.  I had time to talk to each one based on his or her needs, and their parents too.  Sometimes I managed a stadium of trees or a dance floor crowded with them, but in my office I felt like an arborist of both young and mature trees--learning from our students and staff how to best support their goals and growth.

Now I'm in the business of forests.  I make decisions about trees based on what's best for the good of the woods.  I'm often several steps back from the trees, listening to the Loraxes as I study maps and growth charts and write blueprints, making adjustments to our environment. 

This new perspective has its moments of pride and excitement.  But the responsibility is huge and  and a tree hugger like me covets time in the leafy shade, hikes in the woods.

Note: with a sub shortage, I've had the opportunity to cover some classes this month--fun!

Friday, February 28, 2014

7 months

Dear World,

Look at me.  That's right; I'm 7 months old.  I've got my tiara on my head, my phone in my mouth, my polka-dot pjs on and those awesome eyebrows telling you I think I'm pretty cool.  My sisters accessorized and posed me, and they're partially responsible for my zest for life, my strength, and my nonchalance at being dragged, bounced, swung, and carried. 

I had my six-month developmental check this week, which was a fun appointment with a physical therapist.  She put me on a mat with toys and watched me sit up, grab and slobber all over some play keys, and roll over (my first time was on my sister's birthday this month!), perform my admirable ab crunches and baby push-ups.  Her conclusion?  I'm right on track. 

I enjoy growling, giggling, squealing, kicking my feet, and grabbing hair and earrings.  I started eating solid foods this month, but I still prefer breastfeeding and the bottle.  A smushy banana in one of those mesh contraptions is a special treat, though.  I love Itsy Bitsy Spider and Pat-a-Cake.  My favorite toys are Carlos the Flower and Little Guy (ask my dad). 

My hair is growing in (just like my mom's, finally), and my arms and legs are still deliciously plump.

I remind those around me every day to enjoy this moment; life is good.



Sunday, February 16, 2014


Yesterday I ran fast.  I ran like I'm moving through life right now, focused singlemindedly on what's  in front of me, trying not to trip, a little afraid to reflect too long.  The scenery on either side is a little too serene, or too perfect, in relation to what my life feels like, or alternately, it reminds me of so much sadness in the world.  I prefer not to look, not to think. Just to plow ahead.

But last week I ran with a lump in my throat, and this week my breathing was clear.

I often wake with sadness lingering in the air like someone else's perfume, oddly familiar, cloying and annoying.  I shower to wash it away and most days that works, as I clean and stretch and begin marching through the requirements of a busy weekday.  The busier I am, the better; idle times I let the dialogue begin, the voices asking why I didn't, haven't, or did.  The should haves and could haves and might happens creep in and overwhelm sidles up beside me.

But busy as better seems no way to live and I count the unanswered emails, unseen friends, unwritten cards, unspent moments with my family.  I imagine a less harried life, a simpler job, an unfettered mind.  I think of the mortgage, the college tuitions, the opportunities my salary offers.  I plow.

I hear the Buddhist exhortation to just be, as to dwell on the past is to regret and to look too far forward is to fear.  Yet I'm having trouble sitting with myself, this self who isn't as fun, as funny, as interesting as I remember her.  And there, regret again.  I must learn to love her, this self, imperfect and foreign-bodied, impatient as she is.

I was told this third baby is here to remind me to live in the moment, and she lives so right now and in our faces gummy and gleeful I can't help but be with her, and her sisters, as she draws them to her, and to us. I hoped, when she was conceived, that she would bring more joy to our lives and so she does.

It's only left for me to better capture the joy and breathe it and hold it and live in it.  More often.

Friday, January 31, 2014

New Year's Tribute: The Robin's Nest and My Village

For the past few years, I've written a New Year's Tribute to someone who helps make my work possible.  It's fitting that I'm barely getting this post in before February, given our current state of muddling through, and the fact that I have the time to write it at all is owed to the objects of my tribute:  you guys.

I've sent thank-you notes in the past few months, but not enough, and I bet some of you got two (and while I probably owe you five for the many blessings you've sent our way, the duplicate is likely representative of my inability to keep track anymore).  In other words, we are indebted; we are blessed; we are so overwhelmed by love and generosity we can't keep up with the gratitude you so deserve.

Which is no excuse.

During the past six months, friends and family have traveled far to help us.  You have picked up our kids and dropped them off.  You have kept them for an overnight, a week, or more.  You have showered us with gifts.  You have cleaned our house.  You have cooked and delivered dozens of meals.   You have given us time off with no questions asked. You have shared NICU stories, postpartum stories, parenting stories, tough-time stories.  You have offered walks, beers, time, babysitting, and kindnesses we haven't even been able to take you up on, but not for lack of want or need.  I've been able to return to work with some semblance of success this time due to your willingness to bake, hug, deliver, reassure, encourage, understand, reach out, believe, love, and support us.  And I've learned to accept my own vulnerability and the help you've offered.

My colleagues worked overtime in my absence and have been patient, generous, and understanding as I continue to get the lay of the land and fumble here and there.

Meanwhile, I tell myself, we don't have hardship; we have a third baby.  The circumstances of 2013, nevertheless, circumstances intertwined and layering, meant blessings brought unforeseen challenges. I grapple with the guilt that what brought so many struggles amounts to so much wonderfulness.

Last spring, as graduation loomed for the Class of 2013, the mother of a graduate, her third and last from our high school, anticipated her empty nest. She offered me and another colleague who was expecting a baby childcare in her home.  I knew she was an amazing mother, having watched her three children pass through our high school.  She taught me one of the most important lessons I learned while I was an assistant principal.  What I didn't know was how special and she would become to our entire family and how much of a Mother Mentor she would be to me.  "The Robin's Nest" is not only a home away from home for Tootsie, but a daily source of comfort for me.  I am grateful for her calm demeanor, her confident care of our daughter, her loving understanding of our two elder sisters, and her words of reassurance just when I need them.  I include an excerpt from a message she sent me in the fall: 

I just read your latest blog and I can so relate to how you feel. I have felt that... How could I be all things to all people?...What worked for me was simply saying upon waking in the morning... "Can I get through just this day with grace and love for all?"    I would always answer, "Yes."   I did this so I wouldn't think about tomorrow or Friday or the carpool on Saturday's game or the guilt I felt dragging my newborn around to all the outings and spending little to no quiet time with her... It's that old saying, 'one day at a time'.. otherwise the mind won't quiet down.

She gets it, which makes it all so much easier, and Tootsie lights up each time I hand her over to her much-more-than-a-babysitter. 

Our Village, complete with nests and meals and so much love, is amazing and so very, very appreciated. 

Thank you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Six Months...Half a Year!

Dear Tootsie,

You are six months old today (!), and this morning I left as you wriggled on your playmat, gurgled away, and chewed on your Sophie giraffe.  It was hard to leave your gummy grin, bright eyes, and chubby cheeks and rubber-band-ringed arms and legs.  It's such an easy love, loving a baby.  And you make it really, really easy with your cheery demeanor, ready smile, and snuggles.

You used to coo in soft sighs, a determined and wonder-filled look on your face as you made each satisfying syllable-exhalation.  Then you stopped talking for a while (only making me worry a little...), but you were just waiting to unleash your new lower-toned guttural gurgle and excited exhortations, which you manage around whatever toy, finger, or foot you have in your mouth at the time.  By the way, you always want something in your mouth.  Watching you duck your head to lock your gums around a toy attached to your exersaucer makes me laugh, and your sisters love when you shake your head like a ravenous tiger and clamp on to a finger waved in your face.

Let's talk about sleep.  You sleep very well at night, and when I say that, I don't mean you sleep in your own bed for a very long time or "through the night" anywhere.  I mean that you sleep in between your many nightly feedings, mainly in my arms, and often in between your father and me. I am lazily (and mostly happily) maintaining this practice because 1) you're my baby, 2) I fall asleep breastfeeding, 3) you snore so sweetly in my arms, 4) I am invested in continuing to breastfeed you, and 5) I'm not interested in initiating the battle to move you into your own bed.  Truth is, I would miss you.  And you've let me know you would miss us too.  Let's just go ahead and put out there now that when we decide to make that transition, it's going to be ugly (insert link to that future blog post here). 

Your sisters adore you.  And despite the fact that you're huge (could be that all-night breastfeeding?), they still manage to carry you around, and it doesn't always frighten me and other bystanders.  You're still learning to roll over and sit up, but you do awesome ab crunches in an attempt to assert your verticality. 

Needless to say, we feel like you've been around more than half a year (it was actually January 11, 2013 when you first became my reality), as you've become so huge in all of our lives.  We love you, baby girl. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

This Week

I'm hesitant to announce that I'm back to work in fear I'll fall off the work wagon again, but I went back to work this week.  I'm tackling life 30 minutes at a time and that's working for me, particularly when I start worrying about May and June and next year.  Or tomorrow morning.

Our refrigerator is woefully empty.  The girls are buying lunch and I'd have to cobble something together for dinner each night if it weren't for our amazing Village.  I owe the universe many, many delicious meals. And cookies. And some Tupperware.

On the sidelines of Big Sis's soccer practice I struck up a conversation with a dad who gravely surveyed my work clothes, my infant (being slung around cavalierly by Little Sis), and her scrimmaging Big Sis.  Our life is a little crazy right now, I acknowledged.  We talked about how hard life can be, even when it's wonderful.  And how wonderful life can be, even when it's hard.  We connected enough to hug goodbye before gathering our kids to head home.

Tonight Big Sis beckoned me to the computer to admire what she'd built on Minecraft and I geared up to exclaim seasick interest in the aerial, diving view of her pixelated landscape, until I realized she had created a version of Camp Half Blood from descriptions of that setting in her book The Lightning Thief.  I suddenly gained new respect for the game and the amount of time my daughter wishes to dedicate to it (almost as much as she dedicates to reading).  Kids, make a Minecraft Book Report!  (Works every time).

I called my cousin, whose mom, my aunt, my mother's big sister, died last week.  I marveled at my cousin's maintainenace of her sense of humor amidst her grief, admiration, and affection for her mom.  My aunt was so creative, artistic, generous, smart.  My cousin has her charisma and fortitude.

My therapist suggested a hot bath with detoxifying salts tonight and I'm pretty much doing what wise (calm, balanced, serene, and kind) clinicians are telling me to do these days, so I lit a candle and soaked.  Little Sis came in and scrubbed my back with lavender sugar and giggled at her Mama in her tub.  I felt like her child for a minute there.

My sister called from the airport; she's heading here to see my uncle (by heart if not blood), who is ailing.  He was my first uncle and a real one to me in the absence of any others.  He was one of the first men to make me feel beautiful and smart as a child (while beating me mercilessly at Scrabble).  He is wise, kind, generous, and faithfully calls me "Fer" after my toddler name for myself.  Dancing with him at my wedding is a cherished memory.

So many families grieving this week.

Today was a rich patchwork of thirty-minute segments.  Despite sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty, I'm thanking myself for being here for each half hour.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year

2013 brought us many blessings, including our amazing baby, new house, and my new job. But lots of change, much of it unexpected, and the loss of family members and our cat made last year a tough one, too. I feel like I limped my way to the end of 2013, but have resolved to embrace the new year with some key verbs for better balanced living:









What is your verb for 2014?