Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Box By Box--Day One

I had planned to start packing on Monday. We are moving in 33 days, and we have lots of stuff. My goal is to purge about a quarter of what we own. But I am feeling over-whelmed and scared about the future so it is easy for me to find other things to do. The actual act of packing makes those feelings sharper. So yesterday I went to the pool, and napped and read mysteries. Those things did not keep my insecurity from rearing its head but it did prevent me from doing anything productive.

A conversation about writing with my mom and H helped me to push past my feelings of failure in that area (Why oh why does no one read my blog? And that does mean I am a craptastic writer?) We talked about what my goals are for writing and how my expectations might not be realistic (what a shocker, right?) But I also got very excited about a mystery series I'd like to write, and I think I got them excited too. So the day wasn't a total loss.

But today I determined to start going through our books. I had sworn to be merciless because let's face it, moving boxes of books in July is going to suck. I started with the homeschooling/kids books and managed to go through all of H's school stuff at the same time. I weeded through those books quickly, and ended up with three piles: recycling, used book store, and keepers. As I was doing this, H decided to go through his Spanish language books, and it hit me that I needed to go through my religious studies books. A pang hits, and I consider just putting it off.

My first impulse is to throw them all out but I suspect that is a petty impulse that I will regret. However another part of my brain says "Why are you hauling all these books when you're not going to do this ever again?"

"I think I'll go through my religious studies books," I tell H. "I suppose I shouldn't just throw them all out."

H looks at me in surprise.

"Ummm...no you shouldn't throw them. You might use them again."

And I realize that there is still a bit of hope inside me that I will use them again. I am not ready to fully let go and say "I"m done." But there is no peace with this realization. Realistically there is very little chance that I will ever get a Ph.D. H has at least four years to get his Ph.D, and who knows where he will end up. I suppose I could apply to Emory but if I didn't get into a state university what are my chances of getting into an elite Ivy League university? Plus do I really want to drive a four hours a day to do school? But I am not ready to let go of something that I have been doing for a long time now. Something I thought I was pretty good at. And as I go through the books, it is only a small pile that I am giving away. The rest will come with me perhaps to only serve as reminders of what I am not doing.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Year of Pleasures 25

Night swimming.

The days have finally been hot enough to heat up the nights, and once again we find ourselves suiting up at 8:30 to head to the pool. Night swimming is a sweet pleasure in the South when the days are seriously too hot to spend by the pool. The nights are prefect. Balmy with no sun beating down on you requiring constant vigilance and layers of sun screen. Instead we can swim with abandon with no worry. The pool's lights change our limbs into ghostly shadows beneath the water. We float and look up at a sky full of stars with purple edges heralding the last traces of sunset. 

Last night as I held R pulling her through the water, her fat legs kicking out behind her, I happen to glance up and saw a shooting star. In that rich moment, hearing the laughter of my children and my husband, it took me  a minute to think of a wish.

Year of Pleasures 24

My mom.
Another great thing about summer is that we see my mom a lot more (she's a teacher). I'm relishing this time with her in particular because it won't be so easy once we move. But hanging with my mom is a big part of my life. When I need someone to whine and complain to, I always call her first. She's suffered through years of these calls, and seems to know when I just need to vent and when I need advice.

I have only lived really far away from my mom once in my life. And now we are moving pretty far away again (although not as far), and I'm feeling pretty sad that she will no longer be a quick drive away. Spur of the moment grillings, and visits to the pool, will be no more. We will of course see her often but it won't be so easy to call and say "Hey we're headed out to Barnes and Nobles, want to join us?" And I value those unplanned times when we just talk and laugh. Sometimes silent but comfortable.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I lift you up onto my shoulders, and you wrap your tiny, fat fingers into my hair. As we move towards the not so towering trees, you squeal and wiggle. My ear is pressed against your chest, and when you go silent in wonderment at sunshine through the leaves of a branch, I can hear your heart. It occurs to me as I listen to that small, steady sound that I have not heard your heart beat since I was in labor, and they pushed the Doppler against my abdomen to check for safety. Already I feel closer to you, remember that this heart once beat inside my body. A tiny gesture of life each time I heard it. A reminder that you were there and a live. Inside me. Now you are out of that warm dark womb and out here in the big world. I feel helpless to protect you sometimes. Weak with the fear that something could stop that small rhythmic sound. I hold you closer with my ear pressed to that chest, and banish the fear with small, semi-formed prayers. I consciously move my thoughts to the celebration of life that you are. You are a joy bringer. A life saver. A series of moments captured in the flesh.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Not Going It Alone

When I fell in love with him, there was no defining moment. There were a series of moments that came together to form a mosaic that I could touch upon when things got rough or seemed dark. There was of course that first moment when I saw him on the lawn. Illuminated by the porch light. And I suspect it was my loins more than my heart that reacted. 

As we grow older, and our marriage takes on the kind of longevity that makes people's eyebrows go up in surprise, there are different moments that make me fall in love with him. It is the moments when I see him as a father because in those moments all that is good about him is there before me. His compassion and empathy. His sense of fun. His intense love and devotion to his family. These are the things that make my heart beat faster. That make me want to pull him to me. These are the moments that I pull out and savor.

This first moment came the day of Umberto's arrival in the world. I wish I could say it was that second after birth but I don't have much memory of that time. I was shell shocked. Too stunned to be aware of much. Instead, it was later while we were resting. I woke up and turned to look for my baby who was not in his nursery crib. No my baby boy was snuggled beside his father on the cot beside me. H was softly reading T.S. Eliot to him. And I thought that I could not survive this love. But I did. Only to have repeated three more times.

Seeing his hand on Camille's little head, eyes filled with tears. Him and I birthing Piper. His smile as he got to finally cut the cord on one of this babies. Our eyes meeting as they pulled R to my chest and knowing that we were going to make it. Really. Fill in those moments with thousands of images of play and care. Him in the pool playing "Water horse" with the beasties. Him talking us into walks around neighborhoods while we whine and cry and finally settle into enjoying this time with him. Him cradling Camille as her chin bleeds onto his tee-shirt. Him telling Umberto, "It's okay. Just wrap your arms around me and I'll be here the whole time." right before Umberto seizes. Him reading to kids or playing board games.

It is not that he has morphed into being just a father. It is rather that being a father has sharpened all the qualities that make him someone I love. I love him because he has allowed his children to make him a better person.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Not Good Enough Parent

A long time ago I once said to H "Why don't you read parenting books? You spend hours reading books for your papers and you do NO RESEARCH for raising your kids." He tried to explain to me that it wasn't the same thing and at the time I really just didn't get it. I felt angry and resentful that I seemed to be the only one doing any research but now years later I get it. About a year after I said this to H, I stopped reading parenting books myself. I can remember the exact moment where I stared to question the research I was doing. We were at the park for a homeschooling event. A friend and I were venting about our kids fighting all the time. Another woman shook her head at our failure to keep peace and said "My girls NEVER fight. I suggest you read....." For a second I wanted to slap this woman. Her children were kind of awful and frequently beat the hell out of other kids at the play dates. They might not fight with each other but they certainly vented their aggression out on everyone else. And really this was just a microcosm of every parenting discussion I had. Someone would make comment that their kids NEVER did whatever horrible thing my kids did and then the recommendation of a book.

Initially I read all the books. I couldn't bear the thought that I was going to screw up my kids so I read every damn book I could. In some ways this was pretty normal for me. I am an academic and academics are trained to read and research. I approached child raising the way I did an academic paper. But there were a few key differences between writing a paper and raising a human being. Like the fact that my kids were not some kind of generic sample from a parenting book. They were a unique combination of biology and culture with pretty distinct personalities. They didn't respond the way the books said they should. And unlike a paper I couldn't mess with my data to make things look different. So when I read "How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen...", I felt utterly frustrated when Beastie Boy mastered the language and used it to manipulate the crap out of us.

The second problem had to do with how this reading made me feel. When I researched for an academic paper I usually felt pretty good about myself. The accumulation of knowledge to tackle a theoretical problem made me confident and prepared. I could go into the paper with a solid plan that 99% of the time panned out. And on the rare occasions when it didn't, I had an arsenal of other theories that would likely work. It seems like this is what parenting books would do for me as well. Well no. Parenting books basically just confirmed that I sucked and that I was a "NOT GOOD ENOUGH PARENT."  I had a list of sins: I said no too much. I made too many decisions for my children. I praised them too much. I didn't praise them enough. I gave them too much freedom. I did time outs when I shouldn't do time outs. I didn't do time outs when I should. On and on. Every time I read a parenting book, I was more and more aware of what a shitty parent I really was. I was screwing up my kids for life. They were going to need years of therapy.

And hanging out with other parents just confirmed what the books were telling me. No matter what group I hung out with, they had read all the books and unlike me they had mastered the skills. For every problem I faced with my kids there was a long list of what I should be doing that would make things better. But it was clear from their sideways looks and condescending tones that I just sucked.

One day watching my kids play in great joy at the pool, I realized that it was all a load of bullshit. As my kids jumped in the pool again and again, laughing with joy, I thought "They are the happiest kids I know." And I realized that their joy was a reflection of the kind of life that we had given them. I also realized why H didn't read parenting books. There is no hand book for raising up tiny human beings. In some ways, we will never get it perfect and why should we? Our kids should watch us fumble. They should have parents who yell sometimes and then have to apology for being mean idiots. They should have parents who sometimes make decisions they don't like. They should be able to fight with their siblings and figure out ON THEIR OWN how to smooth things over because at the end of the day they are each other's best friends. My kids might not have parents who have mastered any set of parenting skills but my kids do have parents who not only love them but are crazy about them. They have parents who let them be kids. Who read to them. Who play with them. Who paint rocks with them. Who bring them to coffee shops and buy them books.

On that day I let go of the guilt. I stopped trying to justify my parenting choices to people. I made a decision to not except the guilt that other parents tried to place on me for decisions they did not make. I refused to read books that did the same thing. I refused to label the we parent. I cut myself free from all that baggage and stated to parent my children.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Year of Pleasures 23

Family Movie Night.
Yes we have one. Take a few minutes to get over the shock. I know, it's such a suburbian family thing. And normally we just don't get behind that shit.
Well Camille LOVES it. And it totally has our little twist in that movie night is never scheduled. It happens whenever we have a cool movie that we all want to watch. This means it could be three times a week or once every two weeks. And again Camille LOVES it. She writes stories about it. She tells random strangers about it:
Camille to Walmart clerk: We're going to have a family movie night. I love it. We sit as a family and watch a movie. Sometimes we have pizza."

I admit that I love them as well. We lay on the floor in the playroom (we don't have a t.v. in the living room). We always have an array of snacks. But mostly there is the pleasure in simply watching something wonderful together. Last night it was The Cat Returns. We all laughed and then imagined Strike on his midnight adventures. These moments make me realize I need to spend less time here and more time there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Year of Pleasures 22

Summer vacation. One neat thing about being in the education field is that you have perpetual summer vacations. When May rolls around, the feverish anticipation of two months off begins. The calendar starts to get marked with red Xs. I'm not normally one to wish away time but I can't help it when it comes to the count down to summer vacation. It reminds me of being a kid when that last month was a bittersweet time filled with waiting and the slowness of time. The last week of school was filled with good byes, packing up of random bits of artwork, and teachers just trying to fill up days with coloring sheets and movies. Once you're a teenager, it's a bittersweet moment because if you're carless you're not likely to see your friends all summer.

And there was the joy of planning. Day dreaming at your desk about all that you would do. In Maine, it was swimming in lakes, sleep overs with the cousins, time spent with my dad. It was long days outside playing baseball and riding bikes. It was hot afternoons spent in the cool, old stone library across town. I usually finished the reading program fast, and the old librarian would challenge me new goals. One year I read a hundred books, sticking little half circles to a caterpillar shape to mark each story.

Now that I am older it's more than just feeling that excitement with my children. It's somewhat muted here since we home school but the joy is still there. Summer comes whether go to school or not. Now their (and mine) joy comes from knowing that H will be home with us. There is the kickoff party/grilling of Umberto's birthday. Swimming season starts and we spend nearly every afternoon at the pool. We grill three or four times a week, enjoying the smoky taste of hot dogs and grilled veggies. There are late walks when the heat of the day dies down. There are afternoon movies. Late mornings. The sheer joy of time coming to a still.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Good Morning Baby Boy

By June, it just felt as if I could not expand anymore. My body was swelling to gigantic proportions. I couldn't move much or far anymore. I spent a lot of time reclined in the recliner watching "A Baby Story" and panicking silently about giving birth. There was a deep terror that I couldn't name that this baby had to come out.  For 9 months, I had been lost to the reality of pushing a baby out but each episode of A Baby Story was chipping away at the hard coat of denial. When I wasn't reclined I slept. A lot. The waiting was rough, and I had nothing to do in these final weeks. We had moved but everything was unpacked. I had no classes. I felt too restless to read.

One day I woke up with renewed energy, and I insisted that we pull down every blind in the big house we were renting. I carried them outside with a bucket of soapy water and scrubbed them down. H stood helpless, worried as I scrubbed for hours. It was such a useless task but it had to be done. I knew this with a compulsion that I could not explain. The next day I was sore and exhausted. I could barely get out of bed to go the bathroom.

A few days later we brought cake and pizza to my mom to celebrate her birthday a day late. We laughed and ate. All of us on the cusp of waiting for this baby to come into world. I felt his presence strongly as I had ever since we made a beach trip a week earlier. I alternated between being impatient and being fearful content to let him gestate longer. Tonight I was just relaxed enjoying good food with my mom and my friends. I was not thinking about babies or birth. And then it felt like I peed myself but I was pretty sure I hadn't. I went to the bathroom and a trickle of water dripped out of me. When I came out everyone was quiet, looking at me. I had thought I had made an inconspicuous exit.

I think my water is breaking.

Everyone exploded into talk and activity. Plans were made while I just stood there terrified.

Of course nothing was ready. I hadn't planned on even giving birth until July and here it was early June. We went back to our house where I packed my suitcase. My mom made a list of things I would need: nursing bras, robe, food for them. I was excited and tentatively waiting for excruciating pain to suddenly hit and leave me prostrate on the floor. But there was nothing. We loaded ourselves into my roommate's car and we started the drive to the hospital which was 45 minutes away in another town.

After a side stop to Walmart, we arrived at the hospital which was quiet on this sleepy Saturday evening. It was too early for the drunken ER visits. The nurse checked me and said that my water had not broken and that I was not showing any signs of labor. Disappointed we squeezed back into the car and headed home.

We returned to my mom's house to finish off her birthday cake. I was embarrassed but secretly a little relieved. And then while munching down on cake in my mom's kitchen, my water did break in a wave that left no doubt  about what was happening. At this point, I started to cry and shake. I was terrified. H held me while I sobbed in terror. We got everyone back in the car and once again made the journey back to the hospital. This time I felt crampy and my back hurt but I didn't realize at the time that this was contractions. I shook most of the journey and attributed that to sheer terror. I kept asking my mom "Is this going to hurt worst than the burns?"

At the hospital it was determined that my water had broken but the nurse told us to get some sleep as we wouldn't likely see any action until the morning (it was about 11:00). They settled H and I in a room, and put my mom and my friends in the nurse's lounge. I was initially much to excited to sleep although I tried. How was I supposed to sleep when a baby was about to come out of my body? Seriously? But I did sleep. A  fretful sleep that did not close of my senses to the room around me. I woke up a little than an hour later in pain. I shook H awake and told him I was hurting pretty bad. He went to get a nurse who came in already annoyed.

"This is just the beginning!" she snapped when I asked for medication to help with the pain.

Even with the awful pain that radiated up and down my spine and around my stomach couldn't help the shame I felt at her words. Obviously I was supposed to be much tougher than this.

"You should be trying to sleep." she lectured annoyed at having to deal with me.

"I can't." I whispered.

"Fine. I'll set you up in the delivery room and we'll go from there."

H helped me walk to another room. We meet my friend in the hall and he trooped along with us. The nurse got me into the bed,  checked me (3.5 cent) and hooked up to an i.v. She asked me if I'd like to try to the tub and I said yes so she started to fill that up while she left to do something. I chatted with H and A when the pain wasn't too bad. After about ten minutes, I started to shake uncontrollably and needed to throw up. I refused to do it in a plastic bowl, and H helped me to the bath room where I threw up pizza and birth cake. My back felt like it was breaking in two and I was hot and cold. As I laid back down on the bed, I thought "If this is what labor is like with drugs, I can't even imagine what it's like without drugs."

The nurse returned, stopped the water and then checked me again. She looked up surprised and asked how I was feeling.

"If I could just get my back comfortable, I'd be okay." I answered.
"If that's your worst complaint at 9.5 cents then you're doing good." she smiled. "I'm going to get the Dr. you'll be ready to push soon."

H, A and I all looked at each sort of astonished. I had gone from 3.5 cent. to 9.5 in about 20 minutes.
"I'll go get your mom and K. "A said. I nodded and grabbed H who helped to the bath room where I threw up again. I was shaking hard at this point. The Dr. came in and encouraged me to get comfortable. This meant getting on the bed with about five pillows bracing me from behind. The nurse took my blood pressure and looked over at the Dr. I didn't know it at the time but it was high. They kept me hooked to a blood pressure machine. My mom arrived along with K . They both looked sleepy. I smiled tentatively at my mom as I shook.

H stood beside me, moping my face with a wet wash cloth. My fear was reflected there, and occasionally I would grab his hand and smile to reassure him. Then the urge to push came and it hurt. I went from teasing A about being there to moaning through contractions. Every time I pushed I could feel water pouring out of my body. The nurse no longer critical but kind was beside me, holding one hand, H holding the other. I pushed and pushed. Breathing through each horrible contractions. My back felt like it was spasming with each contraction. It felt unbearable. And then after an two hours of pushing, the contractions started to fade.

Panicking I said to the Dr. "They're stopping."

"I know, " she said. "I want you to push as hard as you can with each one now. I can see the baby's head." She had been saying this for awhile now so I didn't really believe her.

"Shit." I yelled as another contraction hit, and then I whispered "Sorry mom." who looked worried in the corner. And then I knew I just had to do it. I had to buckle down and work this baby out, and that is when I started to roar. Deep throaty roars that came from some place that I had not known existed with in me. I was part of something old and ancient as I roared Umberto into the world. A connection to every female before me and after me. Someday I would watch as my daughter's roared life into the world. All this passed through me, and I pushed Umberto into the world as the birds began to call up the sun outside the window.  And then he was there, still and bluish. Slimy. And beautiful. H was crying quietly beside me. My best friends and my mom joined as they handed me my baby.

"Good morning baby boy." I whispered into his ear.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Role Model

Camille sighs and looks up at me from her chair at the table. "I'm worried." she says. "I keep over-eating." H looks at me with one of those looks. The looks that convey meaning. I have to turn away before I can answer. When you have children your words too often come back to haunt you literally. I am not sure how to answer. Camille does not over eat. She's the only child I know who will stop eating a candy bar midway through because she's full. But it is apparent that she has a new thing to add to "the stuff that makes me anxious" list. And this thing came from me. It's my own anxiety being manifested in the body, the very thin body, of my eight year old.

The day before Piper had lifted her shirt up, and stuck out her belly asking me "Is my belly too big Mama?"

I am shamed. My own bad body image is shaping the bodies of my beautiful little girls. I thought I had modified my talk. I had worked hard at trying to not insult my body in front of them but obviously I have failed. It is so easy for people to lecture me that I have to love my body for the sake of my girls. I want to shake them and cry out "Of course I know this! I studied theory too. I am a women's studies minor. I know these things." But how do you eradicated a life's worth of body hate? How do you erase the cultural influence of a lifetime? How do you teach people to eat when your own relationship with food is dysfunctional and unhealthy?

But here are my beautiful girls already worrying about their weight. And I know it's going to take more than just not talking trash about my body in front of them. I know that somehow I have to push past the self hate into some kind of place where I love this flesh. I have to figure out a way to capture those moments when I revel in this body that grew and birthed babies with such ease. This body that loves to move. That loves to hold little bodies against it. This body that has nourished and feed the tiny beings that orbit it. There is so much to love. And yet I spend so much time hating it. Trying to change it.

"You're beautiful!" I tell the girls again and again. "You have to eat with love and to be strong." Perhaps if I tell them again and again, not only will they start to believe it but so will I.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


The first inklings came from a grocery store run before a long drive back home. Our college's "Free Thinkers" club had gotten the university van, and joy rode to Portland to hear Hans Kung speak at some center. We left filled with optimism about the future of the Catholic church and about theology in general. We sang Ministry's New World Order, an apparent favorite phrase of Hans Kung, because even while we were quietly moved by his words, we were young enough to be able to poke fun as well. And then I was starving and insisted we stop a Shop and Save before making the trip through the late dark night. Once there I was insatiable and all the food had taken on an aura of beauty. I choose fresh bread, pepperoni(I was a vegetarian at the time), and olives. When I spread my feast out, my friend, yelled "You're pregnant!" And we all laughed hysterically. But I was pregnant.

I remember driving back, my head on his shoulder so in love and thinking that it would be pretty wonderful to be carrying his child. And I fell asleep fantasizing about our future. How was that we had meet when we came from such far away places? What were the odds that we would fall in love? That we would create life? When I woke up, it was with his eyes on me, and his hand in mine.

Monday, June 06, 2011


Lately the hunger has been deep and insatiable. I sit down to eat hamburgers with cheese, chips, salads that flow out of big orange bowls. And it is not enough. At night when everyone is sleeping, I eat in the dark. Peanut butter on whole wheat bread, cheese sticks, bits of candy hidden away high in the cupboards. I lean against the counter, and unwrap Hershey kiss after kiss, slipping them into my mouth and savoring the chocolate, letting it melt against my tongue.

But I am still hungry. I do not feel sick as I eat melon and grapes. I am still hungry after bowls of black bean soup. I prowl the house looking for something to do besides eat. I knit and write blogs but my mind is filled with recipes. I imagine what I will cook for supper as I sit knitting. As I drive to work, I plan my meals with loving detail, salivating.

This hunger is often a little frightening. It does not fit in with my plans to become the thin girl. The hunger packs on the pounds as I wish inside to wear the clothes from two summers ago. I try to banish the hunger by standing naked in front of the mirror forcing myself to see the fat rolls. "Look!" I hiss at my reflection. "How can you be hungry when you see THAT?" But the only thing these exorcisms banish is my self-respect.

Normally I eat to keep feelings away or to bury them in the daze that comes from too much food. But I am not doing that. I am not eating until  I am sick. I am eating because I am so hungry. Life is a little crazy right now but it's that kind of exciting crazy. A crazy filled with possibilities. Why this hunger? Is it possible this is genuine hunger?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Year of Pleasures 19

Pool days. I admit it. I love pools. LOVE THEM. I love our lazy summer days spent hanging out at the pool, beer in hand.  I love having friends over while we float, talk, and get some relief from the heat. This is really R's first year for pool day fun, and she took to it as fast proving herself, yet again, a true beastie.
In Maine, there were whole summers where I went without swimming. Seriously. It was never that big a deal. But here in the South I have become a pool junkie. To the point, where I joined the Y when we lived in NODA so I could have access to a pool. I just couldn't live without those lazy lounging days. 
 The kids are pretty giddy about it too. And they are true swimmers. With a little help from H they all learned to swim super fast, and they're in the pool as much as we'll bring them (although they don't stay as long as we'd like to stay).

The only bad thing about our little house is no pool:( We seriously considered a complex in Athens just so we could have a pool but I realized that pool days might not be so fun with hundreds of college students. Likely we'll join the Y again. Pools are a necessity for this newly minted Southern girl.