Saturday, November 20, 2010

Barking back.

Have you ever noticed that when you walk a dog on the street, the dogs who are trapped in their yards bark, but the walking dog never barks back?

The dog in the yard is jealous of the dog who is out there walking down the street with her person, trotting down the pavement, sniffing the breeze, stopping to leave a mark here and there. The dog in the yard barks displeasure at this free and loose dog of leisure passing by with barely a sniff in his direction, off to the next smell, nails clicking on the street like a woman in high heels.

The dog in the yard barks, wished he was the one out there walking. The dog in the yard looks out, and ignores the fact that he is in a yard, and not a kennel. The dog in the yard barks, ignoring the fact that he is in a suburban yard and not on the urban streets. The dog in the yard barks, ignoring the fact that he is steps from the door to a warm home where he will receive food, affection and a place to sleep. The dog in the yard is a fool.

How much time do we spend barking like dogs, staring at what we don't have and wishing it was us? How much time do we spend focused on what is beyond our yard at the expense of ignoring what is there? How many of us are so focused on what the other dogs are doing that we fail to realize how lucky we really are?

Stop barking. Start appreciating your own yard. I mean to.

Friday, October 1, 2010

But Memory Will Fail Me

These are the things I must remember. I write them down, because I can not take photographs of them. They disappear into the past so quickly, and they can't ever be recaptured. They are the parts of parenting no one ever tells you about, because they can't really be explained. They are the things that fill your heart when you think of them, both because you are so blessed to have experienced them and because you are so heartbroken that you won't ever get to relive them. These are the things that can't be captured, that slip through my fingers like water, leaving only the residue of memory.

These are the things I must remember.

How small my son's hands are in mine, the fineness of fingers, the thin bones, the softness of their skin. The trust of that little hand, to be held and led. The feeling of walking with them, each holding a hand.

How they smell, right after a bath. How they smell when they need a bath. How they smell in the morning.

The taste of their tears, when I kiss their cheeks as they cry from a bump on the head, a disappointment, a bad dream, a reason I can't discern. The salt of it. The wet cheeks under my lips.

Their weight when they have fallen asleep on me. Heavy heads on my shoulders, limp arms hanging down, legs dangling. The warmth left behind on my skin when I have laid them down in bed and they roll over contentedly.

How sweaty and warm they feel when I take them out of bed in the morning or after a nap, hair damp, cheeks warm, sleep still in their eyes.

The way they ask the oddest questions and wait for the answer, trusting implicitly that I have it, and that it is true, because they do not understand or believe that there is anything I don't know.

The light in their faces when I have been away and they see me arrive back. The joy that I have returned, the happiness that their little world is right again. No one else in the world, not even my dog, has ever been so happy to see me, nor shown it so clearly.

The sounds they make in their sleep. Little snores, deep breaths, mumbles and coughs. The sounds that keep me awake at night both exhausted and relieved to know they are there, they are ok.

The way they climb on me, all knees and elbows, making me grunt in pain and surprise. The discomfort of it, the joy they take in it. The way they always want to be on me.

The sound of their feet running through the house. The soft footsteps in the early morning. The herd of elephants when they are ready to play.

Their arms around my neck hugging with abandon. The wet sloppiness of their awkward kisses.

The feeling of them both in the bed between Shaun and I early in the morning, squirming because they are ready to get up and yet happy to be where they are.

The way they display every emotion they feel with every part of their body, completely surrendered to the feeling, without restraint.

These are my children. They are growing and changing, and soon none of these things will exist. These things, these are what I must try to remember. These things I must lock in my memory somehow, and protect them from time's attempts to make them fade.

These things, I must remember, to know that they were real.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This post is about boobs

I just gained a huge readership of males who will quickly disappear when they realize there is nothing sexy about the topic. And the topic today, my friends, is just that: boobs are not sexy.

Ok, let me qualify that. Pre-kids boobs are sexy. I guess. I have always found it odd how intensely the Western world has sexualized the female breast. Much of the rest of the world pretty much thinks they are no big deal. Remember how scandalized you were when you first saw a naked African woman in a National Geographic magazine, and wondered how she could just walk about with her boobs out? Nobody thinks it's weird over there. It just is. A part of the body. And it's bloody hot, so no thanks on the bra and shirt.

Boobs. The essential part of what makes us female, a part of the trifecta of measurements that allow us to determine how close we are to Monroe-esque perfection. So very important that you can have them enlarge, reduced, lifted and even have surgery to change the size of your areolas.

When you become a mom, and you decide to breast-feed, you discover the awful truth. You were not provided with your breasts in order to titillate the males around you. They exist to feed that crying little creature in your arms. They leak. They hurt. They are decidedly not sexy. And unless you opt for some of the procedures above, they will probably never be sexy again.

So we all lament the loss of our sexy, perky, pre-kids boobs. And then we are told we should be proud of our saggy, stretch-mark covered twins. Because they are battle scars! We fed the hungry! We nourished a child! Go BOOBS! It's not that I'm not proud. I am glad I made the decision to have my boys and to nurse them. But proud of my stretch marks and the sad state of my girls? Not so much.

I accept that I am not the sexy young thing I once was. I accept that it's going to take some serious help from Victoria's Secret to make my shape anywhere near what it once was. I accept that braless is no longer an option. I just wish that boobs weren't such a huge part of what is supposed to make us feel sexy. I wish that they didn't have to be so much a part of my identity as a woman. I wish that our society would just accept that boobs are not sexy, they are just a part of our biology, an important piece of the reproduction puzzle.

But alas. I live here and not in the Africa of National Geographic. Perhaps I should consider a move, me and my proud, saggy girls.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Promises, Promises

Nolan had his first day of school today. He cried when I left, and was clinging to me for dear life, and I felt awful as I left.

"Mommy will come back for you sweetie! I promise. I will always come back for you"

That's what I told him repeatedly, before I left and again when I got back and he threw himself sobbing into my arms. His relief at seeing me again translated into tears, pretty much the way 3 year olds express everything from fear, to frustration, to even apparently total joy. At least the kind of joy that comes at the end of a period of abandonment by the most important person in your life, when you discover you aren't abandoned after all.

Now, I know I am a bit of a morbid person. You don't have to tell me that. I have a tendency to see the dark side of everything and my mind often travels down the worst of the "what if" paths of possibility. And in keeping with this side of my personality, it struck me today that I made a promise I couldn't keep.

It is my hope, as it is the hope of all parents, that I should leave this world before my boys. No parent wants it the other way around. But I assume that will be far off in the future, when they don't need me anymore. When they are no longer counting on mommy to come back and get them, to hug them and take them home for lunch and a nap.

There is no real reason to believe I will be one of the people for whom this will be an accurate prediction. Certainly there is enough proof out there on a daily basis to make it clear that a good number of us don't outlive our children. One day, I might promise Nolan I will come back. And I might not. And yet, for all the horror and grief of that possibility, it is still to the mind of a parent better than the reverse.

We are none of us promised tomorrow, or even the next five minutes. People die every day in a million different ways. We have the luxury in this country of making a fairly safe assumption that we will safely return to pick up our children at the end of the day. Most of us never stop to think about the chance that we might not. That's probably for the best, because if we did our poor kids would be stuck with clingy, overbearing mothers for the rest of their lives.

The thought leads me to some of the other things we take for granted. That my kids take for granted. For starters, they know that when they wake up in the morning, there will be breakfast. That they will go to bed every night safe and warm, and have no reason to fear anything in the night. Their fears are abstract, unfounded. We promise our children that there is nothing under the bed, nothing lurking in the shadows. We tell them there is no such thing as a monster, and nothing can hurt them.

We are liars, all of us. For those of us lucky to live in a country that is wealthy, where war, disease, and starvation aren't every day concerns, we feel relatively safe telling these lies to our children. What else would we tell them? Certainly not the truth. There is time enough for that, reality will intrude into every life at some point.

We keep our kids safe from the truth - that there are monsters in this world. That there is danger in some of the shadows. That food does not always appear as if by magic when they are hungry. That mommies will not always be back.

Dear God, by all the names and all the faces you are called and seen by, let me be a liar to my children for as long as possible. Let them believe the world is a safe and happy place for many years to come. Please, please, let me always be there to welcome them back into my arms and take them safely home. For as long as they need me. Let my promises be true, at least for now.

I know that I am lucky, so lucky, to be able to make these promises and tell these lies, because so many mothers the world over can't. Reality has been there in faces of their fearful and starving children from the day they were born. And there are many mothers who did not come back, who died before laying eyes on their children, or who set out to help them and did not return. And those mothers, perhaps they tried to lie too. Perhaps they told their children not to fear, that they would be back.

How silly to compare leaving my child at preschool to what mothers far less fortunate than me have to face. How ludicrous. How unbelievably lucky am I. Lucky beyond all deserving. And I promise to never forget it. Let it be a promise I can keep.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Face I Won't Forget

So, dear readers, it's been a bit too long since I was last here. The last time I posted, I talked about Nolan turning three...and here I am two months later and Aaron is turning two.

You probably all know Aaron was a preemie. At 29 weeks, out of nowhere, I went into labor and delivered him within an hour of my arrival at the hospital. Although I had been having contractions all day long, my morning visit to the hospital found no cause for concern. Twelve hours later I was back there, and was told I was at 10 cm and my baby was delivering immediately.

There's no way to explain how that feels, hearing those words. Shock. Panic. Fear. In the triage unit, as they quickly did an ultrasound to determine that Aaron was head down and ready to be born and prepared to wheel me back, I heard the words and felt the ground drop from under me. I couldn't breathe all of a sudden. I grasped at the oxygen mask over my face, trying to get it off, and the only thing I could say was the word "No" over and over.

Leaning over me, close to my face, the nurse looked me in the eye and told me to breathe. And she told me my baby was going to be ok. That he had everything he needed to survive, he was just going to need a little help to grow. She was calm, cool, collected and so certain that my little Aaron, not yet free from the womb he was apparently so anxious to escape, was going to be just fine.

In retrospect, I know she had no way of knowing for sure he would be fine. 29 weeks is early enough that most people give me a look of shock when I say the number. It's not the earliest gestational age at which a baby can survive, but it's certainly very early. It was very possible that he could have serious complications, and long-term ramifications of his early birth.

But right then, it was the only thing she could have said, and I am forever grateful. After that moment, I didn't panic again. The birth was hard, and I was still afraid for my little guy, but the panic was gone. In that moment, when she looked me in the eye, she became a focal point for me and carried me through one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

When I close my eyes, I can still see her. Every detail of her face. The random labor and delivery nurse who was assigned to me by chance, and made it possible for me to calm down enough to do what I needed to do. The woman who didn't know me from Eve, but looked me in the eye and said what I needed to hear. I never got to thank her.

So today, as I look back on that day exactly two years ago, and my little preemie is doing just fine as predicted, I want to take a moment to say thank you. Thank you to that nurse who stood by me and helped me breathe. Thank you to all the nurses who bring babies into the world every day. I know you do the harder job, and the OB's for all their training and paycheck are really the ones assisting.

Thank you for helping all of us with the strange, beautiful, sometimes intensely frightening process of childbirth. Thank you, random nurse whose name I don't remember but whose face I can't forget, for assuring me my baby would be just fine. You're right. He is.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My little boy is not so little anymore

I sat across from Nolan this evening in the dark bathroom, on his second trip to the potty since attempting bedtime an hour previously. I sat on the edge of the tub while he chattered about random things and did nothing resembling actual potty business.

They tell you that time flies, but there is just no way to understand that until you are sitting there, on a cold and somewhat damp tub ledge, watching your firstborn discuss the finer points of playtime etiquette, on the eve of his third birthday.

It could be because so much has happened in the three years since he was born that it seemed to go by incredibly fast, but I know that's not it. It's just the way it goes, for all moms. You blink, and that tiny baby you held in your arms, so new and fascinating, so small and sweet, is a kid. And I know I will blink again and he will be a teenager. And then another blink, and he will be gone. Moved out, moved on, and not needing mommy anymore.

Being a mommy has been more challenging, more frustrating, more of a struggle and more exhausting than I could ever have imagined. Back when I was struggling to conceive a child and wanted the title of mommy more than anything in the world, I would never have believed the day would come when I would just want to not hear the word mommy for a little while. I could not have guessed how downright draining it would be.

I also could not have guessed that I would be sitting on the tub, feeling a strange awe that this little person I made, gave birth to, and went through so much with has actually been here for three whole years. And in that time, has morphed into a little boy with thoughts, opinions and the ability to express them. A little boy who gets up repeatedly and rather annoyingly to pretend to go potty after he is supposed to be sleeping, and thinks it's quite funny.

Time flies. Babies grow. People change.

My son is three tomorrow. Three. Behind him, Aaron is sneaking up on two. I won't have any more babies. This is it. Babies are behind me. How can something I dreamed of and fought for so long and hard be in my past now? And when I think of what is in my future, I feel overwhelmed by the knowledge that I have only a few short years to turn boys into men.

And only a few short years to be mommy before I am mom.

I sat on the edge of that tub, and then I tucked him back into his bed. And I gave him every extra hug and kiss, every "one more song" and sat with him for a while longer than usual before I left his room. I closed the door with the odd feeling that I would re-open it in the morning to find a big kid on the other side, and no longer my sweet little Nolan. I am just not ready for that.

Happy Birthday to my Nolan, my first baby, and the first to grow up before my eyes. You drive me nuts. You completely exhaust me. You make me wonder if I am cut out for this mommy gig. And I am so grateful for all of it.

I love you little boy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It isn't easy, folks.

There seems to be a general belief that working from home is easy. When people hear what I do from home, I get the impression they somehow think it's a great gig. I get to work at home, be with my kids, and save on childcare costs all at the same time. I admit, I once thought working from home part time sounded easy as pie too.

Here's a little reality check. It is HARD. I have deadlines. I have clients who expect quick replies, I have work that has to be done, just like everyone who goes to an office. It's not optional. I can't just put it off because the kids are sick or I am tired or I just don't feel like it. It's my job. Only I do it WHILE doing my other, full time job, which is raising two boys full time.

I work 24/7. That is the case with all working moms, whether at home or at the office. But because I am taking care of my kids all day, I can really only get my work done when they sleep. Which means a day looks like this:

6-6:30 am, kids wake me up
7-8 am, provide breakfast, check client emails while kids eat
8-12, take care of kids, entertain kids, feed kids snacks and lunch, attempt to fit in what little work I can while they are playing
12-2:30, kids nap. Shove food down throat while working the entire space of the nap.
2:30-7, amuse kids, prepare a meal, feed kids, bathe kids, put kids to bed
7-8, continue to put kids to bed, clean house
8-11, work
2-2:30am, convince Nolan that it is not morning, and no he can not go in the living room
2:30-6am, sleep

Start over. Oh, and attempt to spend some time with my husband too, somewhere in there.

I am never off duty. I do not sit down at the end of my day and relax. There is no lunch break, no coffee break, no break. Yes, some days are better than others, depending on my work load and deadlines. No, I would not trade the time with my kids for anything in the world. It is my choice, it is my life, and it is damn hard some days. It's worth it, in the end. But is it easy? No.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Cutest Baby

I am not going to vote for your baby in the cutest baby contest. I don't care what you could win. It's not that I don't think your baby is cute. It's not that I don't want you to win fabulous prizes. It's not that I have a problem with you thinking your kid is the cutest on the planet.

It's that I am the mother of a child who was born with a serious facial deformity; a complete bilateral cleft lip and palate, and cutest baby contests make me cringe.

If you have never walked through a store and seen people trying not to stare at your baby, whispering as you walk away, or even flat out asking what is wrong with him, then you can't imagine how painful the concept of a cutest baby contest can be. You can't imagine knowing that even if you did enter, no one would vote for your baby, except maybe your friends and family out of pity, or to prove they think your baby is cute.

Everyone loves to tell me how they always thought Nolan was cute, but I am not stupid. I am a realist. I know he had a deformity that wasn't cute in anyway. I know that even though it is repaired he will never look 100% normal. I know that it will follow him for the rest of his life.

I appreciate you all saying how cute you thought he was as a baby. I know that you all saw him through the eyes of love, just as I did, and that his cleft never mattered to any of you. It's not that I don't believe you, it's that I know your opinion was tempered by the fact that you care about me and my son.

Now, I have a second son. He is as cute as they come. Aaron has huge blue eyes, full lips, round little cheeks with a dimple in one when he smiles. He is adorable. I have been told he could be on the cover of a baby magazine. Recently, I saw the ads in Parents for their cover model search, and thought, I bet my Aaron would have a chance. But I won't enter him, just as I will never enter him in any contest that is all about looks.

You see, I believe both of my sons are beautiful, adorable, and worthy of the cover of a magazine. But I know that the rest of the world wouldn't see it that way. And to consider that one child is more important or special than the other because of his looks is abhorrent to me. The idea of babies competing based on looks is saddening to me. The very reminder that my sons' looks will affect the way the world treats them and thus their happiness in life is heartbreaking to me.

I know we live in a world where looks matter. There is no point in pretending it isn't so. I know that every time I put on make up or clothes to improve how I look I am a part of it as much as everyone else. And I am not pretending for a second that I have never judged anyone for how they look. We all do it, and anyone who says they don't is flat out lying.

But babies. Children. Their beauty isn't in their big eyes or their kissable cheeks or their soft as silk hair. Their beauty is in their spirit. And maybe we could wait just a little longer before we start beating that spirit down with the realities of our harshly judgmental society where appearance is everything, and what is within falls second.

Maybe we could wait a little longer to teach them that how they look is so important, we need to have a competition over it.

Do as you will with your own children. I wish you luck, and I hope you win something - prizes, bragging rights, whatever. But I am sorry, I am just not going to vote. Because my vote is for every baby, and my heart is with every mother who has cried for her child's pain, suffering, and the differences that will never be accepted by society, no matter how much we pretend we're better than that. We're not.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

So if anyone wants to hire a writer...

The following overwhelming list, that causes me to want to cry, do tequila shots, and laugh all at the same time. This is the List of Things that Require Repair or Replacement in my House.

1. The carpet
2. The bathroom floor
3. The dishwasher
4. The fridge
5. The driveway and patio concrete
6. The windows
7. The fence
8. The front door
9. The caulking around the tub and sink
10.The toilet
11.The dining room chairs
12.The patio doors
13.The wall between the kitchen and living room
14.The dog

And this, dear readers, is the list of the things we can afford to repair or replace:


Yeah. Anyone want to hire a writer?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Things I Don't Understand About America (part one)

This may need to be a multi-part series of posts, now that I think about it. Just as I was ruminating yesterday on some things I wanted to say here, this craziness with Arizona has been brought (more fully) to my attention, and I will have something to say about it yet. But for now, I need to get something off my chest that has been sitting there since I drove all the way down 185th behind a car with some interesting bumper stickers.

Among these bumper stickers, this one stood out:

"I'll treat YOUR President with the same respect you gave MINE"

Where to start with this one? Ok, well how about with the very basic concept of "your" President and "my" President. Now, correct me if I am wrong, because I am Canadian and there are still a lot of things about American politics I don't get (the electoral college - wait, the people voted him in but he didn't win? Head spinning) but even if you didn't vote for him, he's still your President. He won, and unlike in some situations I can think of, there was no question that he won.

The incredible sense of division in this country along political lines sometimes shocks me. Not that it doesn't exist in Canada, but the pure venom that I see aimed from one side to the other is just something I have never really encountered before.

I am at a loss as to how Americans can proclaim this the best country in the world and yet they can't even treat each other with respect, much less other nations. To stand up to the world as a supposed perfect example of democracy at work, while the country is so divided and can't even come together to support the man who is their democratically elected leader is laughable. Either you believe in democracy or you don't - and if you don't believe the system works and the man who won is therefore rightfully the President of the entire nation, you don't believe in democracy.

Yeah, I get that Bush supporters were probably a little tired of hearing about what a crappy President he was. But in a nation struggling with its worldwide reputation and major financial crisis, more political division is the last thing we need.

I am not even allowed to vote (although I can pay taxes, don't get me started) but I still acknowledge that while I live in this country as a legal resident, Obama is my President. "I didn't vote for him, so he's not my President" is childish, counter-productive, and downright idiotic. And it's sad. And it gets worse than that bumper sticker. I have seen Facebook groups indicating they hope and pray that President Obama dies. DIES. Where does this anger come from? To wish a man dead because you don't like his politics? Is that what this nation stands for? Because I thought killing for political beliefs was part of what America is trying to eradicate in other nations. Or, claims to be trying to eradicate - that's another post.

Now, I get freedom of speech and the right to political dissent. I am not denying anyone that right. I'm not naive and I don't expect everyone to get along. I guess I just wish it didn't have to be so painfully divided. I would like to think better could be expected from such a privileged, wealthy nation that has so much potential.

You really don't like Obama that much? May I suggest you go give North Korea a try? I suspect you'd be kissing Obama's feet in a week or so. I'm just saying is all.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Memories of an imperfect smile.

I took Nolan to OHSU today for his cleft team visit, which happens every 6 months and involves seeing specialist after specialist to check up on his progress. We first visited Doernbecher Children's Hospital at OHSU shortly after we found out about Nolan's cleft, while I was still pregnant. But our first visit there with Nolan was when he was 4 days old. In spite of being utterly exhausted from lack of sleep and recovering from a c-section, I remember that visit suprisingly clearly. Tiny Nolan lying on the table while the plastic surgeon examined the extent of his cleft. The first tape being applied to his cheeks, which would spend the next 6 months in some state of redness or bleeding from the constant presence of that tape. The surreal realization that my baby was really, truly going to have surgery.

In all my visits back there since, I have never been in that same room. Until today. It's funny how memories can be so visceral. Walking into the room hit me like a punch to the gut I didn't see coming. Nolan, walking beside me, chatting about his new Hot Wheels and asking his endless questions, no longer the infant I first carried into that room in my arms. Nolan, lip intact, palate intact, talking as clearly as any other almost-three year old I have met. The baby I feared would never learn to suck, sipping from a juice box as a reward for letting the doctor look into his ears.

That day, that first day in that room, so tired and so unsure of what was to come, I had no idea yet how much I could bear, how much I could endure, how much I could love. I couldn't yet see the struggle with the NAM, the endless crying, the bleeding cheeks. I couldn't see the sleepless night following the lip surgery, looking down at the face of a baby who was mine and yet not mine, struggling to understand what had become of the face I had loved so much, loved in spite - loved because - of the cleft that the world told me made him disfigured. His defect, his smile, the face of my child. I couldn't see the long nights that followed, the second surgery and even worse recovery, the crying and screaming. I couldn't see the unexpected conception and premature birth of my second child, Nolan's brother and all that would follow that day.

I was just tired, and afraid. I just wanted my baby to be mine, to just hold him and keep him safe, and not have to do any of those things that lay ahead in the future unseen and unimaginable.

Now, with the virtues of hindsight, I can look back on that day with the knowledge that it was all worth it, every moment. Now, I can hardly recall what he looked like before, which brings mixed emotions. When I walk through the craniofacial clinic lobby and I see the babies wearing the NAM, I want to hug their moms and say "It's ok, see? Look at my son, look at my little miracle!" The problem is, just like me back in those early days, they wouldn't understand my words; and although they would believe me logically, a mother's heart doesn't absorb logic and reason so easily. Their suffering must be their own, they must come out on the other side as well, to look back on those days and wonder: Holy crap, how did we make it through all that?

But we did. Somehow, it has been nearly 3 years since that first day, and while that seems a long time, in some ways it feels like it could have been even longer. It is worlds away. I was a different person. Time and the struggles we went through have changed me; but more than that, motherhood has changed me. Nolan has changed me. He has taught me that everything we will ever be is already present in us when we are born; that we can overcome anything. That love is stronger than I ever could have imagined.

That a smile can mean more than anything in the entire world even if - especially if - it isn't perfect.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I am a parenting expert

Hold on, hold, I know, that's funny. Come on...stop laughing. Deep breaths...there you go. Ok, so it was a hilarious and utterly ridiculously inaccurate title. I just thought we could all use a good laugh.

What I really wanted to do was to bring up the entire concept of parenting experts. Because, let's face it, it's ludicrous. I don't care if you are the Duggars or have a PhD, I don't think anyone can accurately call themselves an expert in parenting. Maybe there are some people who have some good ideas. And there are some people who definitely have more experience than others. But an expert? Really? I don't see it.

Ok, so I am only slightly under 3 years into this whole parenting thing, and most certainly don't know as much as many other parents, but I can tell you this: these kids, they can't be predicted or figured out. And if you think you've got their number, well, I can tell you that you're in for a surprise. Every kid is different, and every kid is different on every different day. This is what kids do - they keep us guessing. I think much of the parenting "expertise" out there comes from hindsight, which is all well and good, and nice that they want to pass it on, but it doesn't always apply to all kids.

The main problem I have with the parenting "experts" is that those of us who are still struggling to figure it out and do the right thing at any given moment are made to feel like idiots when the expert solutions don't seem to work. Are we doing something wrong? Is there something wrong with our kids?

And then, there's the issue of all the experts who can't seem to agree. On the subject of sleep alone there are literally dozens of experts who claim to have the one and only solution. How can it be? How can they all be experts and all be right when they disagree on the most fundamental aspects of child rearing? How can one expert say "cry it out" and another say "never let a baby cry" and both claim to be experts? And how on earth are we mere mortals in the parenting trenches supposed to know the difference?

So, I am throwing out the experts as of today. I'm sticking with friends, family, and my gut for advice, but mainly going with what seems to make the most sense at any given time. As far as I can tell, the experts are just as confused as the rest of us, so I am not going to let them make me feel like I don't know what I am doing anymore. So it's true, I am pretty clueless. But I think I am in good company, right?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ode to the Girls' Weekend

Having just returned, exhausted and aching, from a girl's weekend on the east coast, I feel I must take a moment to consider the female friendship. Not just as it applies to my life, but in general.

You see, I have never really been one of those people who had a large circle of friends. Up until recently, I couldn't have even come up with enough female friends, least of all who all know each other, to make a girl's weekend even happen. I don't know why that is. A little shyness and low self-esteem, maybe, or perhaps there just aren't that many women out there who can be my friend. It takes a special understanding of my dry, sarcastic and generally cynical outlook on life, and most women aren't like that. At least, I never thought so. Or maybe it's just that I didn't try hard enough. I don't know. Everyone talks about how hard it is to make friends now that we are older; I have always felt that way. Making friends was never easy for me. Not in childhood, not in high school, not ever.

So having a group of women who evolved over time from people I simply had one thing in common with, to a close-knit group of friends I can fly across the country to spend a weekend with in close quarters is kind of a minor miracle in my life. I could say that I needed that weekend away as a break from my kids, and that would most definitely be true; but far more than that, I needed it to be a part of something like that. We all have a need to belong, but I always shoved aside the feelings of needing to belong to some sort of female group, thinking it didn't matter. But I have come to see that it really does matter.

It's more than sharing makeup and group pedicures, shopping for shoes and sipping wine. It's a connection with people who share the fundamental experience of what it is to be a woman. Although we are all very different, we are all in some ways very much the same. And not just because we are all mothers. I like to think that had we found something else to bring us together, we might have connected just as well, but who can say?

I do have female friends, who are and have been vastly important to me. But I have never been a part of something quite so magical and different before as a large group of women who can laugh together, share our secrets, and accept each other so openly for all of our differences and flaws. The more I think about it, the more I think it's not just a miracle in my life, but a miracle in general.

So, much love to my girls; I can't wait to see you again. Thanks for everything.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Life without kids?

I always wonder about people who say they don't want kids. Not that I can't figure out why they might feel that way; frankly, I totally get it. Let's face it, most of what you hear out of parents is not precisely encouraging. The lack of sleep, the crying, the diapers, the food fights, the teething, the tantrums. And that's just the first few years. No, I get why it might not be entirely appealing to those who haven't lived it.

The thing is, I wanted kids badly. Really badly. And wanted them even more when they were denied me by infertility. I wanted kids in a naive fashion, because I had no idea what it meant. But I think that the people who don't want kids are just as naive in their own way. Perhaps they are being realistic about the hard parts of parenting, things I underestimated and was in no way ready to handle. But the thing is, there is another side that you can't ever understand until you are there.

I have often said that you don't know what love is until you have kids. And I stand by that statement. There is no one, nothing on earth that you can ever even begin to love the way you love your kids. And I wonder how anyone can be so sure that they don't ever want to know how that feels. The thing is, you can't know. Just as you can't know what the word tired really means.

I realize that it's hard to miss an experience you don't know anything about. Having kids is one of those things you can't explain, nobody can tell you what it's really like; you have to live it to get it. Still, I wonder how you can choose not to have such a huge, monumental, and really very basic life experience. Maybe it's because there was a time when I didn't have the choice. Infertility made me look at becoming a parent in a whole new light. It's amazing how much more you can want something when you are being told you can't have it. And hard to understand why someone would just shrug off that thing you want with all your heart and soul.

No, I get why having kids might not seem like something you'd want to do. I still have days when I think maybe another dog would have been the better plan. But my boys - those two little parts of me running around turning my life into chaos at every chance - my boys are an experience I wouldn't give up for the world. It's a rough rollercoaster ride, but I am raising my hands in the air and screaming for all I'm worth. It's a scary ride to get on, but when you step off it with shaking legs, out of breath and unsure what just happened to you, I would guess it's impossible to regret it. On the other hand, you might just regret it if you don't get on at all.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Mother's Hands

I have my mother's hands. I mean, really, physically. When I look at my hands, I see hers. Especially now that I keep my nails trimmed and natural. We have the same slim fingers, a little crooked. The same pale skin that allows the blue veins to be visible just beneath the surface. Hers are probably a bit more wrinkled than mine now, but my hands are the same hands that my mom had at my age.

A lot has been said about a mother's hands. About their magical ability to soothe, to stroke away sadness, to always be cool on a feverish forehead. My mother's hands had all those qualities and more. They are the most capable hands I have ever known. They can hem a pair of pants and roll out pie dough with equal skill. They are the smallest, but the strongest hands I have ever known. They guided three children to adulthood, steered the family's ship through some rough waters, and have always, always been open.

My mom talks about God a lot. I am not really religious, but I have my own beliefs. I believe that whatever the word God means, if there is a force for good, beauty, and love in the world, it is manifested most and is easiest to see, in a mother's hands. If anything in the world is sacred, it is a the hands of a mother, who can bring peace and healing so swiftly with only her touch. When I think about my mom's gentle yet powerful hands, I know that whatever God is, she has that power in her hands.

I have always wanted to be like my mother. To be the kind of mom she was to me and my brothers. To handle things with the same grace and skill she has always displayed. I don't think I will ever live up the bar she has set. But when I look at my hands, I know that at least, I have a place to start.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I am sensing a pattern

One in which I only ever blog to apologize for not blogging. Not precisely what I was going for here.

It's not that I didn't know I wasn't going to have a whole lot of time for it, but lately, well, time to myself has been pretty limited. Like, limited to showering and using the toilet. And I don't even get to do that privately most of the time either.

Nolan has settled down and is mostly STTN with a few hiccups here and there, but bedtime is still a Battle Royale (except, apparently, for the one night Shaun put him down by himself as I was at my book club, of course) that lasts an average of 45 minutes. After that I sit down to write, but first must come the freelance gigs - finishing two jobs right now. I'd like to be done by the weekend so that I can have some "free" time with my family, and yes, I use the term loosely as I know perfectly well that I will have housework and all the other usual crap to do that tends to interfere with those perfect family weekends I always envision.

So my day starts by launching directly into childcare - and potty training, did I mention potty training? - along with the usual tasks of keeping the house from being a total pigsty, endeavouring to feed everyone, and somehow managing to get in a workout and a shower. These last two I rush through at naptime so I can sit down to write. Which is usually just about the time one of them wakes up. And on we go until the bedtime battle. When that is finally over, I can sit down and work on the writing gigs, trying to get enough done to leave a little time to sit on the couch and watch TV or just relax at least.

Right now, I should be working on the two gigs that I am hoping to finish before the weekend, but I decided to blog instead, about how I have no time to blog. Nice, right? Back to work....

Friday, February 5, 2010

Oh, right, the blog

No, I haven't forgotten you, imaginary readers. I am just not sure what I have to say. I am writing a lot, but for work, not for pleasure. But since writing is my dream job, work should be pleasure, right? So why is it just stressing me out? Probably because I am so far beyond tired I can't see straight right now, and writing "upbeat, fun" web content about the 80's is just not coming all that easily.

Yes, the big boy bed thing has taken a turn for the worse. Not sure if it's because he has a cold, or what. But I am hoping we are over this little bump in the road really, really soon. 4 hours of sleep just doesn't work for me these days. I am through with the sleep deprivation I lived with for two years plus. Unfortunately, I am having trouble getting this message across to Nolan.

All right my non-existent friends, I shall return to you soon and with better news and book progress, I promise. For now, I am only hoping for sleep.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Busy with the Big Boy

That book thing....right. I haven't even looked at it. Between all the work involved in getting Nolan's new big boy room together, and the process of transitioning him into it, plus the two freelance writing gigs I got over the weekend, my book has been on the sidelines. Not that I am complaining about getting the freelance work at all - money is money right? No, I just can't believe they both came in right when I was going into the Big Boy Bed transition.

And on the subject of big boys, would someone like to tell me how exactly Nolan is over two and a half and in a big boy bed, and Aaron is heading for 18 months and walking around like he owns the place? Where did my babies go?

I rocked Nolan for the last time in his nursery and put him in his crib for the last time on Tuesday for his nap. All through the weekend, every time I was in that room I was reminded of all the times I have gone through that same routine with him. Of the long, long nights post-op when he couldn't sleep and I rocked him and sang to him and tried desperately not to fall off the chair with exhaustion. I have reflected on preparing that room for his arrival, on sitting in that chair and wondering what it would be like to hold my baby - and what he would look like. What this cleft we had been told about would really be like, and if everything would really be ok like everyone promised it would. It was. It is.

My little baby, born with a complete bilateral cleft lip and palate, is two and a half. His speech is excellent and you can barely see his scars. He is the poster child for cleft repair. And everything that I went through with him, it has made us all stronger.

He went down in his big boy bed tonight without crying at all - on only his second night in that new room. I am just proud of him, and overwhelmed by the reality that my first baby is really growing up, and that he is everything I could ever have wanted - and not in spite of his cleft, but because of it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thanks mom!

Motherhood. As far as I can tell it's all about working your butt off and being completely unappreciated for it. Cooking lovely healthy meals that your kids will refuse to eat, wiping their little rear ends a dozen times a day, making sure they have clean sheets, clean clothes, a clean face, and providing them with a warm and cozy bedroom so they can cry and fight every time you try to put them to bed.

I am engaged in madness of the last kind on this list right now. Preparing Nolan's big boy room, which will be themed after his favourite show, the Imagination Movers. With the help of my very dear friend Tracie I am going all out to make his room perfect. Multi-coloured gears to decorate the walls - which will be painted each in a different primary colour - new curtains, bedding, a dresser, even the cutest little couch. And who will appreciate this all the most? Well, not Nolan I suspect.

I am hoping and praying that the transition to big boy bed does not result in a whole lot of lost sleep - because let me tell you, I am so done with the sleep problems - but I am also hoping he is going to love this new room. While I know he won't come running to me and thank me for all the hard work and credit card bills that don't bear thinking about right now, I am hoping he will at least be happy. I have this fear he is just going to beg to go back to his old room.

Ah well, the paint awaits me. Let the unappreciated work begin.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

29 Weeks

So, I have started the book, and in the interest of keeping myself sane and also making some sort of progress, I have decided to write the easy parts first. The parts that stand out in my mind so clearly it's like watching a DVD when I close my eyes. Those days, hours, moments, that are etched into my memory and thus easy to pull up and spill onto pages.

I wrote the story of Aaron's birth. In more detail than I have ever written before, and for the first time trying to express how I felt as it was happening. Are there words for the feeling of being told your child is going to be born immediately - and at only 29 weeks gestation? I have tried very hard to find them.

“The baby is delivering right now.”

The words stopped the world. I shook my head, unable to form sentences. From far away I heard the doctor requesting that the NICU be notified. Unbidden, the words fell out of my mouth. “No, no, no, no. It's too soon. No, no, no.” The room was spinning. Someone placed a mask over my mouth, and I fought to take it off. I couldn’t breathe.

Looking back on that day now that Aaron is so big and strong and healthy, is almost surreal. I am pretty sure his head alone now weighs more than his entire self did on the day he was born. At 3 lbs 4oz, he was actually a pretty big baby for his gestational age. But to me, he was the tiniest thing ever. This is no longer the case. My preemie turned into a chunky monkey in record time, and is now toddling around the house like a madman. All the fear of that day has been entirely washed away.

But I am often reminded that I am one of the lucky ones. Not every baby born early, especially as early as Aaron came, goes home. Writing his birth story, reflecting on his short life up until now, I can't help but feel unbearably grateful.

Yeah, yeah, that is my teary moment for the week. I wasn't crying when he pooped in the tub tonight. Nor when he did the same last night. Neither was I laughing. Motherhood. What a rollercoaster.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Whose kid is that?

Let me tell you a secret: I sometimes wonder if I am cut out for this mommy business. Today, as I lugged Aaron in one hand, and the package I was unable to ship due to an equipment malfunction in the other, I watched Nolan take off at a sprint across the parking lot. And even as I chased him, trying desperately not to drop Aaron or anything else, it crossed my mind that maybe it was my fault. I know he is 2 and a half, and kids his age do crazy things like that. But when it's your kid, that nagging voice in the back of your head just kicks in: "You're a bad mommy, you're a bad mommy, if you were a good mommy your child would not be engaging in suicidal parking lot behaviour. You suck."

If you are a mom, you know this feeling. You know the sensation of the eyes of everyone around you judging your parenting skills whenever your child misbehaves in public.

And then, the voice comes out of your mouth. The one that you can't believe is really you, even as you're speaking. It's the one that you have heard from other moms when they lose their cool and you have sworn you will never use.

"Nolan, get back here RIGHT NOW."

It actually worked. I got him in the car, got Aaron in the car, sat there shaking for a moment. Took the package to Shaun and asked him to ship it for me, as there was no way in hell I was going back to the post office. And spent the entire drive to IKEA wondering what I was doing wrong in teaching Nolan that it is NOT ok to run across parking lots. And feeling a bit better by the time I got there.

Only to have Nolan throw himself on the floor in the middle of IKEA and throw a complete tantrum because he didn't want to get in the cart.

Seriously, maybe I'm just not cut out for it. Too late though, really.

Needless to say, I have chosen to drink vodka and blog this evening rather than write my book. Which I did, by the way, start last night. But more on that later, right now I need another drink.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chapter One! Or not.

So day one of my new career as a novelist was not exactly stellar. In fact, I can't actually call it day one because I didn't write anything. No, that's not accurate, I did write some articles, but I didn't write anything related to the book. And yes, it's only 8 pm here, and I could do some writing yet. But my head is pounding and I am not quite sure I have it in me this evening. I really just want to hit the couch and vegetate. I fear this is a sign of things to come, proof positive that this is a pointless endeavour. When I told Shaun I was thinking of writing a book he said "What, in your spare time?" And he's right, I really don't have a whole lot of it.

So. What to do. Lie on the couch and relax for the first time since I got up at 7:30 this morning, or force myself to at least start this alleged book? I am hoping it's one of those things, like exercise, that gets easier as you go along. That once I form the habit of writing every day, I will not want to beg off. That once the ball is rolling, it will pick up speed. It will, right?

Ok, ok! Here I go. Writing. I will write for a little while, and then I will re-introduce my backside to the couch. Here goes. No, really.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Who I am, Why I'm here, and other fascinating information

Hello there nonexistent blog readers. I'm Leslie. And right now, I am listening to my 2.5 year old son scream in his crib because I refused to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star again. The very same child I intend to move to a big boy bed in the next few weeks. This should establish for you that I am, in fact, completely out of my mind.

With that out of the way, let's cover the basics of who I am. I am a 32 year old mother of two boys. Nolan is 2.5 and Aaron is 17 months. Yes, you read that right. My kids are 13 months apart, which officially qualifies them for the title "Irish Twins". It wasn't planned that way, but we'll get to that. I live in a small house in a unincorporated area of the suburbs outside of Portland, Oregon. Also residents of this small - very small - house are my husband of nearly ten years, Shaun; a flatulent but endlessly patient lab mix named Kona; and two cats name Aragorn and Stitch. It's a full house. I am a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, but have lived in the US for the past ten years. I've also lived briefly in Seattle and for four years in Southern California. Having very briefly been a resident of British Columbia as a child, that only leaves Alaska to cover every state and province on the West Coast. It's not in the plans, but with us, you just never know.

And on to why I'm here.

When I was little, and I do mean pretty little, think seven or eight years old, I decided I was going to be a writer. It was fully my intent to go pursue a degree in journalism and one day write for a major paper while publishing bestselling novels on the side. As with most such plans, I somehow got off track, and wound up with a Bachelor's Degree with a triple major in Psychology, Sociology and Justice and Law Enforcement instead. I got married shortly after I graduated and never went back to school. And on the story goes until I find myself where I am today - a stay at home mom beginning an attempted career as a freelance writer. With a few small jobs under my belt, you could say I am feeling overconfident. So I've decided to write a book.

About what? About the past three or so years of my life - the surprising conceptions of my kids, Nolan's birth with a cleft lip and palate and the journey through his surgeries, Aaron's premature birth and seven weeks in the NICU. And about life with two kids under two, both miracles in their own way, both causing me endless laughs, frustration, tears and chaos.

Who cares? I don't know. But writing is my dream, and I think I have a story to tell. A pretty good one, and if I am half as good a writer as I hope, one that just might be readable, publishable...who knows.

So I am here to document the insane process of attempting to write a book while caring for two toddlers, pursuing freelance writing to help pay the bills, and of course all the other things that a wife and mother has to do. Somehow, on top of it all, I will try to find time to write both the book and this blog. It's almost laughable. No wait, it is entirely and completely ridiculous and laughable, so please, get your chuckles out. I'll wait.

All right, so that's it. The basics. This is me and this is my life: dirty diapers and blank pages. Here we go.