I secretly save the best for myself – my messy beautiful

The boy across the street is incomparably generous. He lets Jo borrow all manner of toys for weeks on end. He often intones, “I have soooo many toys. Sure, Jo, you can borrow.”

Jo, on the other hand, is like a stingy old codger on his death bed, bony fingers wrapped around whatever happens to be within reach.

Photo by Skesis

He gets it from me.

When I’m portioning out food for a meal, I constantly evaluate AJ’s plate against mine, and if his looks better or has more meat or sweet potatoes or sauce or whatever I might be after, I do a little switch-a-roo before smacking the plates down, and no one is ever the wiser.

My stingy little codger gets fed, eyes twinkling. “I got the best one.”

I know at this very minute that there are 4 chocolate chip cookies remaining in their crackly plastic sleeve on top of the refrigerator. I hid them under the tortilla chips last night so that Jo won’t notice them. If he asks for one later today, after having eaten an entire kale salad topped with steamed broccoli, I will give him one. Maybe half. And I tell myself it’s because I want to keep him healthy. But mostly, it’s because I want them for myself.

I have a friend, Clio, who I laugh with while our kids bounce around on her back yard trampoline. She brings out bowls overflowing with berries. Platters of cut cheese and crackers. There is an industrial size box of sustainably-manufactured, organic gummi candy in her pantry, and she doles out those little packets like they’re going out of style. I love going to her house. Shockingly, so does Jo. I often imagine–nay, hope–that heaven is like Clio’s house. Laughter in the back yard and delicious snacks neverending.

I know the basic concepts that are behind all this. My mother was also a food stasher, and likely her mother, who grew up poor in a dusty Texas town. Scarcity vs. abundance, blah blah blah. And I’ve tried to shift the dynamic—boldly buying a big $5 clam of strawberries and just polishing off the whole thing with Jo in one sitting on our front porch. Those moments of abandon feel good. But my default is the codger.

The bony old hoarder who thinks there’s never enough for her.

Pull up a chair, old gal. What are you hungry for?

***

I was inspired to write post by Glennon Melton’s Messy, Beautiful Warriors project on her blog, Momastery. The very first post I ever read there was this one. So I’ve kept in touch with her.

Learn about how to add your voice to the project here, and check out her book here.

(And no one paid me to write this, despite the commercial feel of that little banner down there. I just harnessed the inspiration this morning and thought you might enjoy knowing about Glennon’s stuff.)

What to say to any pregnant woman on earth who is close to her due date

For some bonkers reason, pregnant women are given a due date of 40 weeks after the first day of their last period, even though the average day of arrival for first and second babies hovers around to week 41 . So, odds are that if you know a pregnant lady, it’s likely she’ll go past her due date. And odds are, if her due date is looming, and you happen to like her, you’re going to wonder what’s going on. You’ll want to text or call her to see how things are going.

It’s quite likely that without meaning to, you’ll say something that makes her feel like this:

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Photo by istolethetv

Never fear, dear readers. Now you can be spared from making this easy mistake. I have two dear friends who just had their first baby (2 weeks past their due date, surprise!) and they came up with this easy way to determine if your comment to the very pregnant woman is worth putting out there.

It is very simple.

This is it:

Your comment should end in a period, not a question mark.

YES: “We’re thinking about you so much and are here if you need us.”

NO: “Do you need anything?”

YES: “I’m so excited to meet the baby.”

NO: (And this is quite possibly the biggest no of all.) “Baby yet?” or “Any baby?” or any question remotely like this.

Quite simply, waiting to go into labor can be ridiculously unnerving, and while it’s lovely to know that the people you love are thinking about you, it sucks to feel required to talk to them or to answer stupid questions. If you convey your support and curiosity in a statement, then your pregnant lady has the choice of whether or not to get back to you.

So keep those comments confined with periods, people. That way, you can rest easy knowing that you didn’t annoy the crap out of her and that she knows you’re one of the supportive and thoughtful ones.

Easy, dreamy German Baby Pancake recipe

We like German Babies at this house.

This kind:

cal booty

And this kind:

I’ve been particularly devoted to baking the latter on the weekends, since I started craving it a few months ago. It had been years since I’d eaten one, but I never forgot. We had a magical first meeting, the German Baby and I. My friend Kat whipped one up for me years ago on a rainy Portland morning. I was allured by how it just curled its golden edges up out of the skillet. And how it tasted sort of like a crepe, but thicker and more hearty. And how you could just top it with any delicious thing and have a miracle breakfast.

Apparently, some people call it a German Baby, others a Dutch Baby, or a German or Dutch Pancake. One thing is for certain. It is easy and magnificent. And it has brought much joy to our lives these past few weekend mornings. Jo is now an expert baking assistant, cracking the eggs and stirring in the flour and milk.

Dutch German Baby Pancake

3 eggs
1/2 cup milk, divided
1/2 cup flour, divided
salt
butter

Preheat oven to 450 with a cast iron skillet inside. Beat eggs and add a pinch or two of salt. Add 1/4 cup of the milk and mix. Add 1/4 cup of flour and mix. Then repeat–remaining milk, mix, remaining flour, mix. At some point in this process, throw a knob of butter in your hot skillet and let it melt. Make it a serious knob, folks–1-2 tbsp. Once butter is melted and swirled around bottom and sides of skillet, pour in batter. Bake at 450 for 5-10 mins, until you see the edges start to curl up. Turn the oven down to 300 and bake for another 5ish minutes. Until she puffs up in all her glory.

Then you top that sucker with whatever you want. Fruit, nuts, yogurt, all 3… We’re especially into apples, sauteed with butter, sugar, cinnamon and some lemon juice and topping the whole thing off with some greek yogurt.

apples

And I bet this can be easily modified into a gluten-free recipe. I’ve been subbing in 1/4 cup of buckwheat flour and will try one with all buckwheat this weekend, just to see how it goes. Let me know if you perfect a gluten-free recipe, and I’ll post it.

This recipe feeds Jo and AJ and I for breakfast. I also recently discovered the joy of eating all of it myself, when I was home with a sick baby and feeling a little under the weather.

germanbabysickday

This was certainly the high point of the sick day. Things quickly degenerated, and I posted the gory/hysterical family GI distress details on the Facebook page. Let’s just say it was a doosey of a Friday.

So now that I’ve whetted your appetite and possibly made you feel a bit queasy, go forth and enjoy!

A p.s. on Valentine’s Day

My awesome friend Jenn commented on the post I just wrote about Valentine’s Day and the tragicomedy that has accompanied it through my relationship with AJ. She wrote,

Good points, and relevant to all sorts of expectations, not just holidays. You didn’t mention, have you ever done anything for AJ on Valentine’s Day? As a non-Valentine’s-celebrator, I didn’t really notice until this year that it seems to be a one-way affair of heterosexual men lavishing their heterosexual women with presents and romantic gestures. That seems weird to me. If it’s a celebration of love and your relationship, and you have an equal relationship with your partner, wouldn’t both partners have to work to make it a lovely celebration? Or, my preference, ignore it and then buy the marked-down candy!

Now you see why I’ve been friends with this woman since I first wandered into her Bob Dylan-postered dorm room. She raises a sensational point. I did not mention the years, like the last few, when I gave AJ valentines, declaring the particular ways in which I loved and was grateful for him. So yes! I have done things for him on Valentine’s Day.

valentine

Like this one that I  call “Valentine Amoeba meets The Greenhouse of Love”

And, I’m a tad ashamed to admit that the swelling arc of my feelings around Valentine’s Day has tended to have 90% to do with what I want or might get or what AJ is not doing for me. I like to explain this with the notion that I am a creature of the world, and my specific world has this particular story on hyper-repeat—this “one-way affair of heterosexual men lavishing their heterosexual women with presents and romantic gestures.” One reason I like that explanation is because it makes me feel less like a selfish, ungrateful twit. Another is that I think it’s true.

So let’s talk about the other stories here. What do you like to do for your partner on Valentine’s Day? And if you’re a heterosexual man, what’s your experience of the whole situation? Do you feel left out? Disappointed? How does this whole all play out in same-sex relationships? For folks who aren’t partnered? Bring it on, dear readers. How do you experience your expectations around Valentine’s Day? Any other selfish, ungrateful twits out there?

Giving up the Valentine’s Day ghost

I’m an idealist. So I often fantasize about someone knowing the Exact Most Perfect Version of what I want and presenting it to me on a platter at the precise time when I most need it. Shockingly, the result of this practice has been a fair amount of disappointment.

Even when my family would scratch it all together and throw me a surprise 15th birthday party, I would notice all the ways it fell short of my perfect, Platonic Ideal of a 15th birthday party.

I’m sorry, Mom and Dad and Maxine. It really was a delightful party.

And yes, this brings us to Valentine’s Day. What a horrendous notion for a holiday, for us fantasizing idealists and their partners.

Seven years ago, AJ and I flew home from New Zealand on February 14th. It was the tail end of a year and a half of gallivanting around the world as only two newly married people without children can do. We crashed in hostels, caught a scary bus in Ljubljana, marveled over this  tree in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Tree

and worked on organic farms in Spain and New Zealand. For weeks after we bought the flight home, I kept slipping little underhanded comments in for AJ. “We’re flying home on Valentine’s Day.” “Did you know that since we’re flying over the International Date Line that we’re going to have 2 Valentine’s Days?”

“VALENTINE’S DAY!!!!!!!!!!”

“I’m desperate for you to do the perfect thing for me on Valentine’s day.”

This was on the heels of the previous Valentine’s day, when we wandered around in Amsterdam for hours looking for a place to eat dinner, and I kept thinking that AJ had a Valentine’s surprise tucked up his sleeve. When I finally asked, he admitted he didn’t even remember what day it was. I gushed out my disappointment and tears all over those charming European paving stones.

IMG_2109

You know how this ends. On the magical mystery flight through two Valentine’s Days, AJ didn’t plan anything. I cried and cried. And then he scrambled and scribbled together a whole stack of handmade valentines and gave me one every hour from his shirt pocket.

I am delighted to report that we have evolved since then. I gave up the Valentine’s Day ghost, as it were, and had a few years of just protesting the whole thing. And AJ has taken to remembering and doing nice things for me on this commercial trap of a holiday. Last year, things were so blurred by pregnancy and home ownership and scrambling to rent a duplex that AJ hugged me, and that felt sufficient. Yesterday, AJ raised the topic of what we should do, and I said, “I want you to buy me flowers from that place by the fish market.” And he did. I wasn’t disappointed.

A mom divided

I wrote this 2 weeks ago, and tossed it aside. Not for the blog, I thought. Too fragmented and emotional. When I read it again this morning, I  recanted. I should post this. Because it’s fragmented and emotional, and I’m sure some of you will relate.

***

I love my new job. And it’s making it harder and easier to be a mom.

I get a break from the incessant demands of home and children. I ride my bike up the hill and sit at a desk and order lunch and walk about freely, where I’d like when I’d like. I’m making money, which feels blissfully good. Being at home has a new sweetness to it.

And

I have so little time to spend with Jo, just the two of us. I’m coming to terms with just how many hits our time together has taken in the last year: baby Cal joining the menagerie, Jo starting pre-school and me starting this job. This time last year, I spent all but 12 hours a week with Jo, traipsing to parks, wrestling him into rest time, gardening and navigating his physical outbursts sometimes with patience and other times by screaming in his face and then being racked with tears and guilt.

Ah yes, there was that. It’s easy to forget from this place, where unlimited time with Jo is the greener pasture. That damned greener pasture—always re-locating to somewhere other than where I am.

It’s such a radical shift to suddenly need to schedule time to hang out with Jo. So much so that I haven’t really done it at all. And I miss him. I miss the team that we used to be—sure, it wasn’t all roses, but he was my sidekick.

I worry that he may be suffering as a result. His crazy dips into extreme hyper-ness, run-by pinching of Cal.

And here’s the truth of it. It’s harder for me to connect with him these days not just because I have less time, but because I just don’t understand him as well.

Somehow, in the past couple of years, he’s slowly morphed from a soft innocent into a hard, fast trickster. And it’s harder for me to like him.

Right around that same time, I gave birth to blonde Cal. Sweet blonde Cal, into whose sweet, chubby softness I can dive for hours and feel an easy bliss.

I’ve been avoiding one child and seeking refuge in the other.

And the less I connect with Jo, the harder it gets. And the stranger he seems to me.

This division of myself between my two sons, this is what I worried about when thinking of having another baby—having to shift my attention between 2.

This gorgeous image was generously shared by Barbara Butkus. Talk about an honest photo. It captures that challenge of toggling attention between multiple kids, no?

Is this just the inevitable course of our relationship? This slowly widening distance over which it feels too hard to bridge?

In having a second child, was I unknowingly signing myself up to lose my closeness with the first?

Winter update: light and dark

Where to begin? It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and I feel all clogged up with words and thoughts that have been knocking around for weeks, trying to get out.

There was Christmas, for which I only managed to decorate this much.

Christmas Lights

Somehow, this string of lights managed to pick up on my lack of motivation, and all but 6 lights fizzled out.

I felt some guilt about this, since I have young children, and I feel some ambient social pressure to drape our house in all sorts of festive finery and set up jolly, felted craft projects. I just honestly didn’t have the energy, and Jo never asked to decorate. To be honest, craft projects hold his attention for about 6 minutes at the most, and if we had decorated, I’m 90% sure that I would have spent all of my time explaining why ornaments are for hanging on trees, not for throwing as ninja bombs.

And then there was the night of the glorious power outage on our entire block. It lasted for hours. We could see more than the requisite 16 stars, and our house was DARK. Not just we-turned-out-all-the-lights-before-bed situation, when we still have the eerie, golden, sodium streetlight glow seeping in all the windows. It was the darkness I remember as a girl, growing up on the mesa. The darkness that happens when the sun sets and night falls and you’re out on a mesa in the dark, with coyotes.

AJ wanted to light candles, and I wouldn’t let him for the first hour or so. I just wanted to lay on the couch, curtains and shutters wide open, in that quiet blackness.

There’s just more room to fall back when it’s dark like that. To rest your weight and be still.

But then we did light the candles, which felt sort of epic, since these were all the candles that the women in my life gave me to light when I was having the home birth that never happened.

Candles

So they’ve been christened now, and I love watching them burn, late on these winter nights.

Seems like I’m circling around a theme of light and darkness here—not bad for these days as we’re slowly climbing out of the pinpoint funnel of solstice. I often wish I had more quiet in the winter, to contemplate and breathe about the fallow, slow darkness.

As always, my project is to slow down. Drive the speed limit or less. Walk so that my body is upright instead of lurching forward towards the next and next and next thing. But not so slow that I lose all inertia and wind up on the couch hypnotizing myself with the 407th season of the Bachelor and a pint of coffee ice cream…

OH! And there were all of your fabulous photo responses to my call for pumping room portraits, about which I will write a post soon, so that you can see them in all their glory. And I have a pumping room update of my own–all of your Facebook comments inspired me to do some advocating for the lactating women at my office and there have been some developments. Namely, a new pumping room. That’s heated. Isn’t that something? Portrait coming soon.

The Pumping Room

There is no more salient reminder that I am a mom at work than the pumping room.

I spend at least 20 minutes of my work days in one, meditating on the dulcet tones of my Pump In Style’s relentless motor. It’s a stark shift to the day. One moment, I’m sitting at my desk like any other 9-5er. Headphones cutting out ambient cubicle chatter. Fingers clicking away at the keyboard and mouse.

And then this: sitting on a discarded office chair, shirt hiked up to my neck, holding what amount to two suction cups up to my boobs so my nipples can be rhythmically sucked of milk. I do not feel remotely “In Style.”

I’ve taken to calling my sister while I pump, since she’s usually in her office eating lunch at the same time. I told her that she should check out her company’s pumping room, since if she ever decides to have kids, she’ll probably spend a lot of time in there.

“Oh, I’ve heard it’s pretty luxurious,” she said. She works at an investment firm. She hasn’t seen it, but has heard rumors of extremely plush chairs, footrests and amazing views.

I suddenly had a vision of thousands of pumping rooms, some extravagant, some threadbare. Re-purposed corner offices, closets, bathrooms.

So I offer this: a portrait of my pumping room.

Yes. That is an upturned-recycling-bin pump shelf.

So where are you pumping, back-to-work moms? I’m intrigued, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Thanks to the glorious world of social media, you can show us.

Rumor has it, if you take a picture of your pumping room and then share it on Instagram or, god forbid, Tweet it, then you can declare its identity as a pumping room portrait with ye olde hashtag #pumpingroomportrait. I can’t believe I’m recommending hashtagging. But I am. It’s for a good cause.

Whatever your particular social media leaning, go for it. And if you don’t want to share your portrait from any of your personal accounts, send me a message with your photo on my Honest Mom Facebook page and I’ll share it anonymously.

Let’s lift the veil on the nooks and crannies where we pumpers are spending our valuable time. I’ll share our photos in an upcoming post, so we can start forming the social commentary that will surely come from having a compendium of pumping room portraits.

***

This blog post originally appeared at Get Born. And if you haven’t checked it out, you should.

How our family survives cold season

I fear antibiotics the way that some people dread spiders or snakes. I actually had a nightmare when I was pregnant with Cal that I might need them during his birth and woke up in a cold sweat.

Before I go on, let me also mention that I love antibiotics. When I got an infection in my leg from a sting ray wound on my foot, I gulped those suckers down like they were candy. And miracle candy it was. Infection, gone. Leg still kicking. So to be more thorough, I fear and love antibiotics.

In my adolescence, I had several courses of antibiotics after a botched wisdom tooth removal. The surgery also left me with a piece of a dental instrument in my jaw and a partially numb lower lip for life, but the antibiotics threw me the most.

I suddenly became a 13 year old with chronic yeast infections that didn’t abate until college, when I got serious about a sugar free, dairy free, wheat free diet. These days, I don’t have to carry around little baggies of sprouted almonds to snack on while everyone else eats cake. But I do take a probiotic every morning. I started taking it consistently when I had a surprise bout of mastitis when Jo was 2. My acupuncturist recommended them and some herbs and manually expressing pus out of my achy boob. Good times.

I kicked the mastitis, which had gotten pretty serious, without needing antibiotics, and I was delightfully yeast-infection-free to boot.

I got especially lathered up about probiotics after I happened upon a PBS special that talked about how your gut is the first line of defense in your immune system–if you want to stay healthier, dose up your gut with a whole boatload of good flora. So I kept taking the probiotics everyday. Lo and behold, I stopped getting sick so often. Everyone in our house would come down with something, and I’d sail through unscathed. I would swagger around feeling biologically superior and imagining that my gut looks like this:

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Image by Cornelia Kopp

That’s when I decided we should all be taking one. So I found the cheapest place that sells the brand my acupuncturist likes and started giving AJ one everyday too. Jo digs his chewable version and I mix Cal’s into his bottle. They are not cheap, but I decided that the money we save from Jo not having missed a day of childcare in 2 years more than covers it. I swear we get sick less often than most other families we know, even though we’re swimming in the same viral and bacterial petri dish that is pre-school.

When we do get sick, it usually looks like a downgraded version of what everyone else is getting, and my favorite go-to for Jo and Cal is this great kids’ health resource. After checking in with it about 6 month old Cal’s sniffles, I’ve been dosing him up with 3-4 drops of echinacea tincture in his nighttime bottle, along with a couple drops of this for good measure.

On a side note: I started the new job. I chuckle to myself every day that I wander into the sea of cubicles. Being there feels a bit like visiting a foreign country–I feel unsure of the lingo–whether someone is kidding or completely serious, but I’m starting to get a toe-hold on the culture of the place. Like magic, I get excited to come home. I open the door and sigh. Home. I feel a sweet little lift instead of the old kerplunk that used to greet me. Also, I am pleased to say that AJ and I have reached a delightful understanding: after we put the kids to bed, we put the house to bed. So my fears of sinkfuls of crusty dishes and general mayhem have been allayed. And it feels, more than ever since having kids, that AJ and I are team. Woot.

On happiness

I’ve been feeling really happy.

Yep. You read it right.

Somehow I’ve tunneled through the depression and anxiety and have found myself here, crudely smacking “SAVORY thin mini CRACKERS” from Trader Joe’s ®, listening to Neil Young croon about a harvest moon while the baby sleeps and the boy does god knows what at pre-school and the watery autumn light stretches its rectangle across the dining room floor and table.

I am happy to be here.

Earlier today I was hiking with my friend K and she said that a friend of her mom’s, who happens to be French, said this showstopper the other day:

Ze defineeshun of ‘appiness eezze deezayerink vaht you already ‘ave.

Viola!

That is *exactly* how I was feeling on Saturday afternoon as I sat on my bed nursing Cal after 20 hours away in the city. My best friend Noel was visiting from Colorado and AJ took the boys so I could celebrate her birthday with her. I was nervous that I would find the whole affair supremely exhausting, but once I was a single Pisco Sour in, everything just naturally followed. Another Pisco Sour, then a dinner of Vietnamese noodles at 10:30 pm (!) and dancing to the groovy beats of some crazy DJ-meets-band situation. I felt profoundly old when I asked Noel, “So DJs play with back up bands now?!”

photo(29)

Why, yes. Apparently they do.

We got back to her sister’s place around 2 (!), slept till 10!! and then had a greasy egg brunch, followed by a brunch dessert.

photo(31)

I felt high when I got home and reconnected with the boys. For the next several hours, I swooned as I brushed my lips across Cal’s suede soft, drooly cheeks and heard Jo’s breathless declaration in the sandbox, “I have a SUPER DOOPER good idea…”

I desired what I had.

What a welcome change from the dregs of daily life. The toothbrushing battles, the hope that I’ll settle into my Zoloft dose and get some relief from daily tremors of anxiety, the remnants of snack and dinner and robot collage scattered all over the floor.

photo(32)

Saturday’s swoon has given way to a softer, less arching happiness. The sour spray of lime on my chicken taco and a AJ’s lingering hand on my neck just before he says goodbye. I try to pay more attention to these smatterings since I re-watched the movie The Hours when I was pregnant with Cal. I felt oddly compelled to watch it during each of my pregnancies when I hit 38 weeks. Something about the depression overtones, the hypnotic Philip Glass music, the woman-centeredness of it all.

This is the part that lingers with me—a mother talking with her daughter about  a memory from her youth.

I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then.

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