Learning to feed my hunger

I will never let another pair of pants tell me I’m fat again.

This from the mouth of my friend Rachael, as she speared another piece of perfectly roasted cauliflower off of the plate in front of us. We met for drinks, Rachael and I, and as the fathers of our children readied our kids for bed, we ordered another cocktail.

I eyed that tiny plate of cauliflower with resentment. It was so good. And there was so little. What a tease tapas can be.

R’s declaration convinced me of what I already knew—I must go buy new jeans.

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Familiar, anyone?

Oh, the ever changing expanse of the post partum body. I’ve been rail thin with huge boobs to very squishy and everything in between. The rail-thinness was the product of exhaustion, depression, and breastfeeding in my first four months with Jo. I remember being stunned by the sight of myself in the mirror after a shower–I finally had the body I’d been told to strive for. It was strange and thrilling to see it on me. And I enjoyed it, guiltily, like a $50 bill you find on a busy street. Does this really belong to me? I didn’t work for it. It simply came through suffering over those early months of becoming a mother.

My current squishy reality, were I to guess, is the product of going to dance class less, breastfeeding less, and a little practice I’ll call The Celebration. It starts around 8:30 most nights when the boys are in bed. AJ will make some popcorn. I’ll grab another glass of wine and the cheese puffs. And then we’ll trot out a pint of ice cream while watching some show on the computer. It’s such a miracle to Eat and Watch without having to share or explain to the children. To be left alone to make terrible health choices and then to fall asleep on the couch. Don’t ask about the couple weeks when I worked through a box of 24 Haagen Dazs ice cream bars.

The Celebration also unfurled itself during the first few months of my job. It was just so miraculous to sit, unfettered at a desk—no one needing a snack or crying or hitting. So I would buy a tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups at Trader Joe’s and polish of half (or more!) in an afternoon. Partytime.

The women’s group I attend every month? It is an oasis. Smart, interesting, engaged women, their beautiful child-free homes, wine and food. Last month, when I walked in, I thought, “Get ready, self. Time to over-eat.” I do it every time. The Rosé and cheese platter and berries with homemade whipped cream are just so damned abundant and miraculous that I have to pack it in so that it will last until next month.

I’ve felt uneasy about The Celebrations, just as I feel uneasy inside my jeans. And it took writing this to really see it:

I’ve gone and confused food with relaxation.

One feeds my body. The other, my soul.

In the confusion, both my body and soul have gotten squishy.

When I’m experiencing a significant break, rest, respite from the relentlessness of motherhood, I pack food into myself. As though the food will tide me over until next time.

It doesn’t.

And then, instead of really sinking into the moment, feeling the rest, the support, the entertainment, I zone out on food.

This week, I’ve been reading Women Food and God, and I tripped over this sentence several times because it was such a zinger.

To discover what you really believe…pay attention to the way you eat. You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe that there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival.

Guess which one I am, piling more sesame noodle salad onto my plate at my woman’s group like it’s the last meal I’ll see for days?

So, I’m turning over a new leaf. The concept of mindful or intuitive eating. I learned about it from this insightful TED Talk, and while at first I was left laughing off the possibility of mindful eating, it’s been surprisingly helpful in practise:

I eat what I want when I’m hungry. Eat till I’m full. If I’m not hungry, and I want to eat, pause the food train and be in the moment.

It’s felt like a homecoming to listen to and trust my body.

The new jeans aren’t too bad either.

5 things I wish every woman knew about birth

  1. There’s no right way to give birth. Throw moral superiority out the window. Women who have epidurals aren’t weak and women who have drug-free births aren’t strong. Every woman needs to do what feels best for her, deep down in that quiet place that knows what it wants if you get really still and listen.

    Here I am, getting still and listening during my labor with Jo. Or perhaps I’m just very stoned. Photo by Candace Palmerlee.

  2. How matters a lot more than what. There’s pretty much nothing I’d rather listen to than a birth story. So I’ve heard A LOT of them. And the consistent thread is this: The way a woman feels about her birth has lots to do with how things happened and much less to do with what happened. It’s easy to see birth as a binary with Drug Free Birth on the Winning side and C-Section on Losing. It’s that kind of black and white thinking that can leave women feeling less than open to options that might be helpful or necessary when the time comes. I’ve seen epidurals work wonders. I myself, hoping for a homebirth, said “I love Pitocin!!” during my labor with Cal.
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    Pitocin ain’t too shabby. Photo by Candace Palmerlee.

    I’ve witnessed rad homebirths and victorious C-sections. I’ve also listened to women talk about hospital and home births as traumatic. If you want to love your birth, focus on supporting yourself around the game-time decisions you’ll inevitably have to make during labor, and let go of the end game. Not surprisingly, you will be much more likely to feel good about your birth if you experience it as something you actively did and chose, rather than something that was chosen for and done to you. To that end, bring someone with you to your labor who will listen to you and help you understand the ins and outs. Which brings us to #3:

  3. It’s more about who you’re with than what you want.  I always figured that the largest factor contributing to a woman having the birth she wanted was her commitment to that kind of birth. After birthing twice and working as a doula, I know that idea is complete crap. What matters more than any commitment is having a care provider at your birth who has a depth of knowledge and experience about the kind of labor and birth you want. Labor without drugs–things like how to help a you relax through your contractions, how position changes and movement can hasten your labor and delivery, and when to use certain techniques and not others. Labor with drugs–things like how to dose pitocin so it doesn’t overwhelm you with contractions but so you’re not laboring forever and what types of pain relief are most useful when. Here’s the other kicker: if you’re having your baby in a hospital with an OB or midwife, it’s most likely that you won’t see them until you start pushing. Until then, the person who is going to help you is a labor and delivery nurse who is assigned to you (or nurses if you have a long labor that spans a shift change). I was really surprised to learn this, and I decided not to put all of my eggs in my OB’s basket, since she would, at most, be attending the last few hours of my first birth. Turns out, with Jo, I pushed for less than 15 minutes. They pulled an OB out of the hallway. I still don’t know her name. But I’ll never forget the calm, constant, trusting presence of my doula, Candace and the kick in the pants that was my labor and delivery nurse, Jackie.

    If not for my doula and L&D nurse, I would have never taken this walk outside after nearly 25 hours of labor. But I did. And while my face here looks pained as hell, I remember it as my most transcendent experience of labor.

    You might luck out and be assigned to a labor and delivery nurse whose skills match with what you want. And you might not. My advice? (As if you had to ask…) Do your research about the skills that the labor and delivery nurses at your hospital have. You and your partner can beef up your skills at a birth class geared towards your goals. And you can invite a doula who has the skills you want to your birth. You should also really like your doula and feel safe around her. Which is the perfect segue way to #4:

  4. The safer and more relaxed you feel during birth the better. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Cause in the end, you birth with your instincts and your gut. It’s good practise, cause that’s often where you mother from too.

    Blissful, transcendent photo by Candace Palmerlee

  5. There is no plan. While I’m a fan of “the birth plan,” I’m not a fan of calling it a plan. (“Birth hopes” maybe?) If my births and every single birth story I’ve ever heard is any indication, birth follows anything but a plan. I know it’s a bit of a downer, but I’m going to call a spade a spade: no matter how many books you read or classes you take or visualizations you do, unexpected things will happen during your labor and delivery. Things that you don’t like will happen. And while that might sound terrifying, getting comfy cozy with the practice of planning for (ha!) and adapting to uncertainty is one of the most helpful things any woman can do to prepare for her birth. How the heck do you do that? Control the things you can: read the books, take the classes, and invite the people to your labor and delivery who you trust in times of uncertainty. Then throw your hands to the sky and let go.

Where I found my dreams

I was surprised that you all related so well to my post about losing my dreams.

When I wrote that one and hit the old PUBLISH button, I worried that it would thud into your lives as a big ol’ downer. Maybe it did. But as usual, reading your responses helped me feel like part of the human race again instead of like a lack-luster misfit.

Something else interesting has happened.

I’ve started to daydream. I did it right before I sat down to write this. Instead of hurdling myself straight from work into writing, like some sort of eternally productive robot, I first found a grassy field, popped out the kickstand on my bike and laid down. I do my best daydreaming supine on grassy fields. After a while, I took off my shoes. And that was that.

Taking the space to require nothing of myself has been glorious. I lay. I breathe. I close my eyes or leave them open. I smell the exhale of leaves and damp soil.

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“Daydreaming” by Eric Borgelt

Today, the idea to write this came to me. I also saw myself planting some grass seed or sod in a little strip of ground we have that the chickens can’t destroy, so I can have my own little daydreaming patch at home. And do you know what that is folks? It’s a dream. A good old-fashioned dream like I haven’t had in years.

I didn’t realize how compressed my days had become until I started breathing some space into them. I lurch from waking to dressed and making breakfast in 5 minutes or less. And on and on through the demands of the day. It’s easy to do with work and kids and bills and Netflix On Demand. There’s little if any space. By default, the days are dense. And they keep stacking up.

But something shifts when I’m laying down with my toes in the turf. My arms and time stretch out. There’s a drifting. And sometimes it’s magical.

This last week I had a Rough Day with the boys and called AJ in a very mature Take Care of Myself moment, “I need to get out of here when you come home,” I said. “Will you tell me what time that will be, so I can hang all my hopes on it?” He agreed, and I pedaled away from our house without an idea of what I was going to do.

Cue laying in grass.

I had three thoughts while I watched the wind tickle the boughs of my favorite redwood tree in the park:

Rice bowl
Cocktails
Sonya

I felt weird about bellying up to a bar for a cocktail all by myself. And I didn’t have Sonya’s number. So I just started riding towards the rice bowl place. Just before I got there, I saw Sonya’s husband standing outside their parked van, and I raised my arm and eyebrows in a “What the Eff?!” Then, who but Sonya emerged from the van, and I explained how I had actually just manifested her.

She came with me to get a rice bowl. It was great. And then we walked back to her house where her husband made me a gin and tonic. Also great. And just what I needed.

Check check and check.

The thing about daydreaming is that it’s receptive. And that’s a stark and medicinal shift away from the monotony of productivity.

To be open to receiving whatever drifts down.

That’s where dreams come from.

Giveaway winner: how to survive mornings with your kids!

Step right up! Get it while it’s hot! Get it while it’s buttered! Parenting advice you actually want is being served up by my favorite experts.

Congrats, Susie, you won!! See Angela’s letter below for help with your kid morning dilemma. And congrats to Allison, vjentzsch and Jacquie (and the hoardes of the rest of us) who share Susie’s exasperation on this issue!

And BONUS, Angela and Niels will be answering all of your other questions on their podcast! Woot!! Read on…

Here’s Susie’s question:

L is 5. And INCAPABLE of following directions. In the morning, particularly. It’s “please brush your teeth” and “please do first pee” and “please get your clothes on” and despite many calm talks, and a chart we made called “L’s Morning,” with fetching pictures of what he needs to accomplish, AND with the sometimes-threat (delivered kindly, in my defense) that he will lose the privilege of watching Wild Kratts later if he can’t help out more, he dilly-dallies like no other. I sometimes have to ask 5 or 6 times for each of the three things he needs to get done. We help more and more (pick the clothes, cue up the toothbrush), and that’s fine–we just want some ownership over the activities and a little frigging help around here, please. Often, he completely ignores us, not in a willful way exactly, but in a “I’m-spaced-out-and-am-going-to-pretend-I-don’t-hear-you-so-I-can-play-animals” way. It is SUCH A BEAR to get out of the house, and it often results in yelling or tears or drama that none of us wants. My patience has worn thin. I’m over it. THANKS!

***

Dear Susie,

Oh, yes, the morning Getting-Out-The-Door challenge. Who hasn’t been there? Whew.

First, let me say this: please, please, don’t take any of my advice as a way to be hard on yourself. Parents are stuck between a Rock (children’s hardwired need for connection) and a Hard Place (societal structures and rhythms that make connection extremely difficult, nearly impossibly sometimes).

Be mad about this. It sucks to parent in this culture of isolation, speed, stress, and the pursuit of perfection. Be very mad. But don’t be mad at yourself.

Every moment of warmth, listening and laughter with your child is nothing less than a counter-cultural act of resistance (Do I sound dramatic here? I feel rather passionate about this). Give yourself lots of love and praise for every drop of patience, compassion and ingenuity that you manage to come up with as a mother or father parenting in the here and now. And trust that your kids are resilient enough to take the bits of connection you manage to cast their way and use it to heal, grow, and create their own ways of moving through the world. So without guilt, and while dousing yourself in self-appreciation for the awesome parent you already are (and I can tell this is true!) … read on!

Ok, you might want to first watch this little video to get oriented to why connection is the key to helping things run smoothly in our families, and what this might look like in the very real, very challenging everyday moments with our kids:

So … mornings. A big time of challenge and upset in most families. These are my thoughts on it…

Mornings are really hard for young kids because they are facing many hours away from us. Children who have been pretty well treated—and yours clearly are!—still have high standards for what life should be like. And at age five, it is much, much, much more reasonable to want to spend the day with people who love and adore you than with people who might be nice enough, but don’t necessarily love you. I’m assuming that’s what school is like for kids, even at great schools. So…a five year old, whose brain still relies on lots and lots of warm, attuned limbic-to-limbic resonance (love) to be able to function well, has understandable apprehension when anticipating many hours away from you—the capitol S source of love in his life!

But there’s still lots we can do to gain kids’ cooperation and help mornings go better, especially once we understand that we are asking young brains to swim upstream from their natural impulses. And smoother, warmer mornings are better for everyone because they set us up to enter the day well. So, I think there are three main things that can make a huge difference in the morning—these aren’t easy things to achieve, but well worth our attention. (And I challenge you to do these things imperfectly, at best.)

First, calm, cooperative mornings require a calm, regulated parent. As the Master Regulators of our households, our emotional tenor sets the tone for the whole family. But before you beat yourself up about how stressed and frustrated you often feel in the morning, know that it is TOTALLY unfair that you should have to get yourself and your kids ready and out the door so early in the morning, and that to do it while being CALM is a high order, indeed. You shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are, parenting at a time in history that sets us up to have to work extra hard. So give yourself kudos for all the mornings when you don’t lose it, and be extremely gentle and compassionate with yourself when you do lose it.

And then try this strategy to help your system feel calm in the morning: wake up thirty minutes before anyone else in your family.

Spend this time being with yourself, in some easy enjoyable way, before you become Mommy. For instance, make your favorite hot beverage, sit in the comfiest chair in the living room, and let yourself enter the day gently. Sometimes I light a candle just to help me set the right tone (otherwise, I am liable to start worrying and fretting over the day as I sit there with my coffee). Do whatever you need to make this time pleasant. Recently I have added to my morning time a little self-given foot rub with coconut oil and a few drops of my favorite essential oils. This is a time to treat yourself really well because you are a champ and doing an amazing job in an impossible situation. (A mom in one of my classes recently asked if it “counts” to spend her thirty minutes taking a shower and getting dressed all by herself. I could tell that the thought almost made her giddy, so my answer: Hell yes!) But however you spend your thirty minutes, keep it simple, keep it enjoyable, and make it all about you.

Second, get your kids connected before you ask them to cooperate. This can look different for each kid, and it may change over time. I used to start the day with a morning cuddle with my daughter in bed. The only problem was that then she really never wanted to get out of bed. So we started a ritual of having a “morning couch cuddle.” When she was five I could still lift her, so I’d scoop her up and carry her to the living room where we’d snuggle quietly until she’d wake up to discover she was hungry. These days, enjoying my own morning foot rub with essential oils has inspired me to start her day in a similar way, so I sneak in and give her an invigorating foot and leg rub while she wakes up.

You can also start the day with a little dose of “Special Time”—which is two to five to ten minutes of undivided and enthusiastic attention while you do whatever your child wants to do—with a timer set. Here’s a video in which Niels describes this powerful practice.

But whatever your “connection strategy,” just think of this as a quick fill up before the day begins. Because if we can get our kids juiced up with connection right away, they often have it in them to cooperate better through the morning. You can also give them “micro-fill-ups” as you go… nuzzles, twinkling at them, extra body contact wherever you can, lots of appreciation for what they are doing right (I love how you picked out your own socks this morning!!). The more full their connection cups, the better equipped they are to do what needs to be done and face the day.

Third, make it fun. I know, I’m rolling my eyes just rereading those words because I know how impossible it sounds. But fun greases the cooperation wheels in a grand way. Kids are suckers for a good time. You are on the right track with your “task chart,” by the way. But the difference may be in the delivery. Can you make it into a game? When my daughter was in kindergarten, we went to Staples and she picked out a a write-on wipe-off board that we hung on her bedroom door. On the board, I drew pictures with little check boxes beside them of each step she needed to take to move through the morning. As she did each task she got to check it off. Something about that made it fun—and empowering. Plus, I would give her high-fives as I noticed items that were complete, and with a twinkle in my eye I’d say, “I wonder what the next step is on your list?” when I noticed she was lagging.

Fun is in the attitude. And it creates connection. You can give them piggy backs to the kitchen for breakfast, or announce that you are SURE you will be the first one to get your shoes on (and then be sure to lose). It can mean announcing that you have three things that need to go into the backpack, can anyone help by counting as they go in? Lunchbox, 1! Homework folder, 2! Sunscreen, 3! It can mean adding a dose of silly to the task. This morning, when the foot rub wasn’t enough to get my kid out of bed, I blasted Taylor Swift in her bedroom and we had a ten second dance party (and all her eye rolls let me know I was reaching new heights of “cool” by the goofy way I danced).

Making it fun is like flirting and courting your child into the day. Does it sound exhausting? Yes, I guess it is. But so is wrangling them, nagging, and yelling. And in my experience, a little connection and fun goes a long way. Opera tooth brushing and a skipping race to the car is far, far easier than having to ask my child to put her socks on fifteen thousand times. And it makes us both feel a hell of a lot better.

Smooth Mornings Getting Out The Door really begin the Day Before…, or the Weekend Before.

This is the real kicker…We really only have time in the morning to give our kids “micro-fill-ups” of connection, which isn’t really enough to get them through the morning (and the rest of the day) in good shape. Little fill ups of connection work best in the morning when a kid has had a BIG fill up of our attention sometime recently.

What does a big dose of connection with you look like? It might be a romping pillow fight or your tender attention while they feel their difficult feelings deeply and fully (or even both, because play often gives rise to the big, vulnerable feelings that are often right underneath the surface).

These are examples of the Big Doses of Connection that kids are really looking for in the morning, but who has time then? It’s much easier on everyone if we can provide the Big Doses after school, in the evenings, or on weekends. So whenever you can manage it, let yourself drop your other responsibilities and playfully connect with your kids, and if their feelings start to erupt, stay close and let ‘em flow. Be the safe container for their storm, and welcome the feelings forth. Because if they wake up on school days with their cups already pretty full, then they are more likely to be sated by the “micro-fill-up” that you are able to give in the morning.

But know that it’s not always going to happen when it’s convenient. Some mornings we just have to toss the schedule out the window, and sit down on the floor with our wailing, thrashing child, and beam our love on their emotional storm. When kids have regular chances to release the pressure in this way, you will find you get that time back in spades.

And tomorrow morning will likely go just a bit more smoothly.

I hope this helps,
Angela

PS. We, Angela and Niels, have read all the questions and thought about answering them all. And we will. This week is the start of our new podcast. One of the first episodes features an interview with An Honest Mom herself. You can listen to that interview here.

In the coming weeks of the podcast, we’ll answer all the questions you asked in the comments section of the the giveaway post. You can sign up for the podcast on the Every Parent Podcast website or directly on iTunes, so you won’t miss an episode.

You can also visit us on our regular website, Parent Connect East Bay, where you can find information about our classes and coaching.

My wish about my dreams

I’m gonna fly in the face of the wives’ tale and tell you the wish I wished yesterday as Jo and I blew out my birthday candles together. It was this: for my dreams to come back.

Is it motherhood or just good, old fashioned adulthood that clamped a lid down on the dream-spinning version of myself? That 20-something gal who would hatch a plan like working on organic farms in New Zealand and then incubate it till the shell broke open and she found herself standing, dazed, on a South Island beach with a backpack and some mix tapes.

At this very minute, sitting at my dining room table while Cal naps, these are my dreams:

  • To save some money when Jo starts going to public school in the fall
  • That Calvin will start sleeping well enough that we can move him out of our room and into Jo’s
  • A flexible career that will pay me well for my emotional intelligence, creativity and people skills
  • To be at peace with my squishy belly

Ok, so I’ve got some dreams. But I miss the sexy ones. The ones that feel more like an adventure and less like a project.

Growing older feels like a steady process of pruning my dreams back to reality. Consolidating the fruit to where I can reach it–a weekend in the city with AJ, a flexible, part time job, extra money in the bank.

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And if I tug on that thread just a little bit more, I arrive at this: It’s seeming like my life is going to be a little less grand and important and special than I originally thought.

In my adolescence, I genuinely believed I had a strong shot at becoming President of the United States. In high school, I had high-powered business woman fantasies (with images heavily stocked from the movie Baby Boom (!) which greatly impacted my life in other ways). College was all activism–ending hunger and homelessness, liberating sweatshop workers, reforming corporations. I felt reasonably sure I could save the world in a very high-profile way.

At the ripe old age of 36, I’ve scaled back. I don’t expect that greatness and achievement anymore. There’s relief in letting it go. And also defeat.

I try to invest my time, energy and dreaming in smaller, daily things that make me happy: sitting in the sun watching the chickens preen, climbing trees with Jo, a really good strawberry.

But I can’t help but wonder if I’ve pruned back too far.

In the name of realism, have I cut back parts of myself that would have grown into something inspiring and brilliant?

Is it having kids, or risk of failure, pessimism, laziness–what? that keeps me from stretching out into that ambitious dream space again?

Giveaway: Parenting Advice You Actually Want

I think my son is possessed and I’m not sure I’ll survive the toddler years.

This was a text I got last week from my friend D whose son is 3.5.

Quick on the heels of that, I got this email from L, whose son just turned 2:

It seems we have fully entered the so-called Terrible Twos (also terrific twos, at times, but…) We both brought up your name during our “we should get edu-ma-cated about how to HANDLE THIS SHIT” (not that it can necessarily be handled, but maybe more-to-the-point: how we can endure it while maintaining everyone’s sanity?)

After reading both of these, I breathed a massive sigh of relief that Jo has emerged out of his Most Difficult Stage. And then I felt extreme compassion for these gals, because I know how effing hard it is (Cal has taken to Hulking Out when I tell him he can’t open the refrigerator for the 103rd time). And then I sent them both to Angela and Niels and their website, Parent Connect East Bay, because they are the people who taught me the magic that has helped my relationship with my boys the most.

It’s no surprise that the most popular blog post I’ve ever written was inspired by what I learned from Angela and Niels. I think it struck a chord because parenting is often a lonely and desperate enterprise. We all have different kids and lives and treats that we hide for ourselves in the top corner cupboard, but we all find ourselves in the weeds. And we need resources we can come back to again and again to help us find our way out.

The thing I love most about Angela and Niels is that they teach for Real Human Parents. Parents who lose it sometimes, who don’t have the energy to do the best thing all the time, parents who are routinely judged and stressed and do their work in isolation. Parents who fail and love and try again. Down at the foundation of every tool or strategy they teach is the glorious option to not do it. I hear Angela’s voice in my head on a daily basis, “Check in with yourself first. Do you have the bandwidth to listen to Jo as he screams and throws matchbox cars, or do you just need to plunk him in front of a video and go drink some tea and breathe?” The joy of her question is that EITHER OPTION IS FINE. Her point is, do the hard work of listening and connecting with your kid when you have the time and space and energy. And if you don’t, which sometimes you wont! that’s no problem.

Angela and Niels teach classes in Berkeley, and I’m delighted to say that you can now learn their stuff from ANYWHERE because they’ve created a video series that you’ll want to watch because the videos are like this:

Don’t you already feel about 6 million times better after watching that?

The videos teach the same content they cover in their local classes including (but not limited to!) the stuff that still helps me everyday:

  • Understanding kids’ brains and how they’re totally like ours and also nothing like them
  • How to get the support you need as a parent (!!!eureka!!!)
  • Setting limits for your kid without turning into a dictator or a robot or both

So now for the giveaway part! Anyone care for some free online coaching from these two brilliant, kind, experienced teachers? Angela and Neils have generously offered to answer a parenting question from one of you. They’ll put their minds to a question that one of you raises in comments section of this post, and in a week or two, they’ll coach you here in the form of a guest post reply.

And the secret bonus of leaving a comment with your parenting dilemma? There’s nothing quite like hearing other parents talk about their unique, real, gritty parenting problems. Sigh. We are not alone.

To get you in the mood, I’ll leave comment numero uno, where I fess up to a nasty little habit I have when Jo, say, throws the lemon squeezer across the yard after I ask him to please bring it inside.

So get to it. Lay your parenting question on us in the comments to this post. Tell us where you’re stuck. You can comment anonymously if you want.

Don’t just do it for the killer coaching you’ll get from Angela and Niels. Do it for the greater good of all parents everywhere. Don’t we all need to know we’re not the only ones?

I can’t wait to see what you have to say.

Homesteading Update: Chicken Mutiny

The homestead has been pretty idyllic with the days getting longer. We celebrated an unseasonably warm February by planting a long-sought-after fruiting red-leaf plum.

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Brave Irene, our Delaware hen, is keeping an eye on those blossoms for good things to come.

We’ll do some grafting and pruning so this lady grows low and bountiful. We popped her in the ground right next to the chicken run so that when and if we can’t keep up with the plum glut, they’ll be easy to toss in for the chickens.

Ah yes. The chickens. Those longer days have turned our 0 or 1 egg days into 3 or 4 egg days, so omelettes are back in season! But along with our egg bounty came The Mutiny. It started innocently enough. I peeked into our nest box one afternoon and found a cracked egg. While I sighed over the loss, I wondered if any of the girls had helped themselves to a sample. Somebird must have. In the following days, instead of eggs, I found yolky wet spots in the nest box.

I’d heard about this dreaded development–the Marxist chicken revolution. Apparently, once chickens get a taste for their own eggs and owning the means of production, the habit can be pretty hard to break. I tried collecting eggs more often and put some golf balls in the nest box as a decoy. This did not break their revolutionary spirit. Yolky wet spots abounded.

I suspected Mavis, our Auracana. She was the sweetest little sweety as a pullet, sitting on my shoulder and burrowing into my hair for comfort.

Gone are the days of my sweet little Mavis.

Gone are the days of my sweet little Mavis.

She tossed that meek fragility aside in her old age. These days, she rules the roost with an iron beak, so to speak. The ruthless glint in her eye says, “Given the opportunity, and if I had them, I’d kill you with my bare hands.”

So I couldn’t stop a satisfied “I knew it!” from escaping my mouth the day I caught Mavis in the act, gulping down broken shell with the glisten of yolk on her beak. After that, I stomped into the house and broke out the big guns: emptied some store-bought eggs and coated the insides of the shells with dijon mustard. I popped those little dijon bombs back in the nest box and thought I might have won when Mavis rejected the shells after a single, suspicious peck.

Instead, she got a recruit. The next day, Mavis and Rosie were at it together. And LemonCake might have been in on it too. Mutiny. I was incensed. I fantasized about slitting chicken throats to protect the daily food source for my lean, sunburnt family, just trying to survive out on the frontier.

Luckily, my smart homesteader friend R, the one who used to have the goats we milked, offered an alternative to death: the rollaway nest box.

IMG_3974AJ and I spent all of Sunday retrofitting, and I am proud to say that our frontier spirit prevailed! We set the nest box floor at an incline, so that once the deed is done, the egg rolls via padded board into a slot which empties into a padded aluminum paint tray.

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Brave Irene seeks out the camera yet again.

I am proud to report that our frontier spirit prevailed! No yolky wet spots for the past 3 days. Means of production successfully wrested from Mavis’ crafty beak.

Top 5 toddler toys that aren’t toys

1) Stroller wheels

The upright stroller is so yesterday. Need to muck out the chicken coop? Get some gardening done? Wolf down the danish you’ve been hiding in your bag so you don’t have to share? Might I recommend the upside-down or side-lying stroller.

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My feral children find spinning the wheels to be mesmerizing. And they pick up all sorts of immune-boosting bacteria to boot.

Here’s an example of how we like to use the upturned stroller in everyday life.

Though it looks like they keeled over from sheer excitement as they watched us put the finishing touches on our chicken run, our strollers were actually just falling in line for a 1-year-old’s wheel spinning bonanza.

 2) Pot with lid and other stuff

Your kid isn’t obsessed with taking lids off of pots and putting things inside, putting the lid on, taking the lid back off, taking everything out and then starting over again? That’s just because you haven’t given her the opportunity! Add spoons or tongs or trucks and voila! You just created a toddler project. And she might be at it for 20 minutes or more.

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You know what that means. Dishes washed. Strange crust scraped off of table. And maybe, just maybe, some texting in the corner where she can’t see you.

3) Baby snot sucker thing

Behold! The most revered and requested bath toy in our house:

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With it, you can suck whole milliliters of snot out of your baby’s nostrils. But no, that’s not all!! In subsequent years, it doubles as a tub toy that delights for hours. Since the various parts detach from each other, you can watch as your children suck up bathwater and spit it out through the clear tubing like a whale with a blowhole! Listen as they bubble and splurt water out of the blue, egg-shaped chamber, and let your mind be transported to that college dorm room, the glow of Christmas lights on Frank Zappa posters, the intermittent gurgle of bong water.

*Bonus* Plastic tubing also works as a siphon. With only a small cup on your bathtub ledge and some suction, your children can explore the miracle of atmospheric pressure.

*Warning* Persistent bath play with this product can lead to mold growth in the clear tubing as seen above. A pipe cleaner and some soap can do the trick. Or you can take a page from the stroller wheel playbook and let those kids keep on immune boosting.

4) Canning jar rings

While I cannot speak to the use of these in terms of food preservation–we haven’t actually canned anything in years (fingers crossed for plum season 2015)–I can attest to their usefulness to a 1 year old.

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They make a tinny clatter when you pour them out for the 30th time on the kitchen floor. They spin around on their ends sometimes. They are bracelets.

5) And last but not least:

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Think scissors are a terrible toy for your toddler? Think again. There is so much learning and fun to be had with these. Last week, I cleaned the entire house while Cal tried to cut his own fingernails with them. After we bandaged his bloody fingers, he cooked me a delicious roasted turkey supper. Then he built a fire in our wood burning stove and performed Hamlet’s soliloquy as I warmed my feet on the hearth.

And if you believe that, then stay a while, and I’ll tell you another one.

True, I allow my kids to drink their bathwater through *slightly* moldy snot-sucker tubing. But even I have my limits.

Cal can’t play with these till he’s 3.

The swoon and growl of baby making

I spent the morning with a friend whose 2 boys are the same age as mine–her first is 9 days older, her second is 9 days younger. I love the symmetry there.

She’s rounding out nicely with baby number 3 and told me with a knowing grin that they had the test–it’s another boy and we laughed and joked. She admitted that sure, there’s a pull she feels towards having a girl, but the boy will be just fine, she’d expected it. A couple of times, after running over to distract her middle son from overly smother-hugging another kid, she said, “I must be crazy. I don’t want another baby.” This was the ‘I don’t want another baby’ of the ‘I’ll totally have the baby, but Lord, what was I thinking?’ variety. The anticipation of something you know will be both joyous and hellish. Admitting you might have been overly optimistic before sperm met egg. You can see now that this thing you made will take what you have and then some.

And before that, I stood on the sidewalk listening to another pregnant friend, who also just found out she’s having another boy. I hugged her for a long time and let her have her anguish. I knew how much she wanted a girl. I saw the craving and dream in her eyes as we sat with our boys in the sand one afternoon. Given the teeny-tinyest Godly spark, her energy and intention and manifesting magic would have crafted a fully formed and smartly dressed girl baby right there in the sandbox between us. But instead, she made a baby the heterosexual way, and his penis and scrotum, or whatever comes before those are fully formed, are floating all sea-anenome-like in his watery cocoon. I found a strange comfort in her wrecked grief.

Maybe because it balances out the giddy joy I see in other pregnant ladies that I can’t relate to–rather, could relate to but can’t anymore. Maybe because it carves out ever more emotional territory for all of us in a life that can seem one day magical and fated and the next utterly bereft.

There’s something about that time on the verge of creation when you just open up your arms to the sky in welcome. And then boom. The shift into form–from the hazy fluff of what might be into the sure and solid thud of what is.

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“Tiny Roots” by Todd Moon

There’s such a thrill to the idea that you could make a whole, alive person. And sometimes a terror in realizing you have.

Creation is no joke.

Given the chance to root, it so greedily becomes its own thing. Just like we did once, inside our own mothers.

Why complaining makes me happy

I’m an excellent faker.

Surface, social me is deeply devoted to lots of smiling and genuine, Mid-Western eye-contact. My interactions are all unconsciously coated in a thick glaze of I-exist-to-make-sure-you-feel-fantastic. I exude happy and approachable, regardless of my internal state.

During sophomore year of college, a friend formed the outline of a rectangle with his thumbs and pointer fingers, and he looked at my face through the frame. “You? Depressed?” Then he shook his head in disbelief. Actually, I was horribly depressed that endless, grey winter. I flirted briefly with the thought of suicide and wept in a bathroom stall.

During that time and every time I’ve felt bad since, the thing that makes me feel most crazy, most removed and despondent and numb and afraid is when people think I’m fine.

Thankfully, I don’t feel so misunderstood anymore.

I’ve learned to complain.

I’ve learned to inject some aliveness and truth into the litany of the How Are You’s. Like last week, at my office. “Well, I’m pretty terrible actually. Cal screamed bloody murder about his awful diaper rash most of the night, and I feel like a twitchy Army Vet with PTSD. How are you?” And then I walk on with my coffee cup to my desk. Feeling like a whole, real person.

I know this whole idea would be a lot more palatable if I called it “truth-telling” or “venting” or “being honest.” But those are Have A Nice Day words for what I’m actually doing. The thing that helps me feel redeemed and engaged and more happy with my life is complaining.

Since before Christmas, I’ve been in and out of some dark days. Feeling trapped by parenthood, bitterly resentful towards AJ, tired and bored. I fell into a conversation with my mom over our holiday, and she said, “Well, it just seems like things are going really well for you.” I refused to take the Faker Bait. “Actually, things aren’t going that well. I’ve been having a really hard time.” And then I cleared out every gripe I could find, and laid them all at her feet, like evidence. It was cathartic to set things straight. With my angry little pile of troubles taking up some space between us, I felt known by my mother. It felt good.

So why does complaining, that life-giving art that I’ve recently discovered, get such a bad rap?

Duh. Everyone hates a complainer. Even I hate a complainer.

But there’s a difference between complaining and being a complainer. Being a complainer is looking at the world through sad, complainer glasses, where everything you see is some degree of sucky. Complaining, rather, is sharing about the sucky things that are happening in your life at that moment. You can choose to engage in complaining or not. And the minute you’re done complaining, you can do some reflecting or celebrating or enjoying. That’s the great thing about verbs. And complaining.

There’s also this:

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You need not look far to find dozens of reasons how and why you should commit to your own happiness through gratitude, not sweating the small stuff and looking on the bright side. If we all took these directives to heart, perhaps ours would be a world of happy, appreciative, stress-free, smiling people. I suspect a significant number of them would be secretly crying in bathroom stalls and thinking about suicide between gratitude sessions.

I think gratitude is incredibly helpful. It can re-frame all sorts of things and breathe life into cold, hard places. In our current cultural moment, it’s offered as a cure-all, and like any tool, sometimes it’s not suited for the job. Gratitude is not my go-to choice when I’m strung out on sleep exhaustion, angry at my husband and a good friend asks how I’m doing. Complaining is. That’s because it helps me feel known. It acknowledges my current reality. It takes the air out of my angry, resentful, pitiful place, which frees up some space that can be filled with other things, even–gasp–gratitude.

Gratitude and complaining are different tools for the same job–both have the ability to connect us with our lived experience and people we care about. Depending on the situation, both tools can have the exact opposite effect. Noticing things I’m grateful for when I’m swimming in pitiful seas might give me some perspective and remind me that there are also nice things within reach. Listing gratitudes can also make me feel angry, invisible, patronized, lonely and misunderstood. Same goes for the complaining–it can be alternately liberating or toxic.

Since I’ve been having a pretty crappy time of it, complaining has been my tool of choice. And it’s done quite a job. Again and again, I’ve found myself basking in a post-complaint glow where I’m lighter, kinder and feel more love and appreciation. Take that, gratitude.

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Photo, once again, by Oakley Originals.  Complaining by me.

 

 

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