Friday, December 14, 2012

So Many Words for Something that Defies Them

A lot of words have already been written about what happened in an elementary school in Connecticut today, and millions more will be written in the days to come.  I can already see the documentaries, the commentaries, the editorials, and one day probably a TV movie.

The shootings today will become a rallying cry for gun control, for homeschooling, for better school security. Everyone will have an opinion on why it happened, on how it could have been prevented, and on what we need to do to stop it from happening again.

But for some families in Connecticut, it will simply be the day that the precious life of a child they carried in their wombs, held in their arms as newborns, nursed through colds and flus, proudly watched go off to school to learn and grow, loved with every ounce of their being was coldly and cruelly murdered.  Their children.  Their babies.  That part of the heart, they say, that walks around outside the body.  Dead.  Gone, forever.

No words, no opinion pieces, no dissecting of the events leading up to the shootings or of the possible ways they could have been prevented can ever change that.  Those innocent children are never coming back, no matter what we do.

Today, as I met my son at the Kindergarten door with tears in my eyes and held him, confused and trying to tell me about his day, close to me while I took deep breaths, I thanked every God and Goddess I could think of for that chance while parents across the country were somehow trying to come to grips with the reality that they would never do that again.

I know how I feel about the issues that surround this unbearable event, but right now they don't matter.  Right now I shed tears at even the thought of the pain parents just like me are feeling tonight.  They, like me, kissed their kids goodbye and were sure they would see them right after school like always.  But unlike me, they were wrong.

Whatever happens in the days to come, we must all try to remember that unspeakable truth.  I won't be one of the people who gives opinions or advice for what needs to be done.  I can't.  It's not that I don't think something must be done, or that something must change, but that I am above all else a mother who grieves right now for other mothers whose grief I can't begin to imagine.

While events like this can and must influence us to change for the better, we can't lose sight of the basic, human horror that happened today and of the lives that will never be the same.  Eventually, all such tragedies slip into the past, and most of us can put them behind us.  Some people never can and never will.  Most of us will see the documentaries and watch anniversary specials recounting the horror and feel sad all over again.  But those families who lost loved ones today will recount the horror every day, face the heartbreak every day.  It won't ever be over for them.

Children are dead.  It could have been any one of us.  

All else pales before that realization.  So much will be written, and yet, that's all there is.  Children are dead.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Cost of Loving Kona

On Tuesday our dog, Kona will have surgery.  Again.

About a year and a half ago she had surgery for a torn ligament in her left knee.  The result of favouring her right knee for so long is that she tore the ligament on that side as well, and now can't walk on it.

When Kona was 5 months old she ate wood chips, because lab puppies are really, really dumb.  Cute, but dumb.  Whatever blood she is mixed with didn't offer much in the way of intelligence boosting.  She blocked her intestines and needed surgery to clear it.  A few years later she had a growth removed from her tongue that thankfully turned out to be again.

As of this surgery, we will be into our little pound puppy to the tune of nearly $10,000 in surgeries alone.  That doesn't count her regular vet bills, food, and all the other costs of keeping a nearly 90-lb chocolate lab.

When I tell people those numbers, I get looks of absolute amazement.  Many people comment that it's a crazy amount of money to spend on a dog.  Yup, it sure is.  We've dubbed her the world's most expensive mutt, and at nearly 7 years old she's still got plenty of years to continue emptying our already pathetic savings.  So why do we do it?

Kona came to us at 3 months old when we were going through fertility treatment.  We got her from the humane society where she had already been through two homes and sent back, for some unfathomable reason as she was already the sweetest dog on the planet.

Kona the day we brought her home

Yes, I admit she was a substitute to fill the hole in my heart from all of the failures to conceive a child.  She was my first baby and her fur absorbed many tears as month after month went by without success.  When we did finally have our first baby through IUI, she was immediately his best friend.  No jealousy, nothing but love for that screaming bundle of what to her was surely dubious joy.

Nolan was born with a cleft lip and palate as most of you know.  He couldn't breastfeed directly as he could not form suction.  So I pumped for him, every three hours, all day and all night.  Who was awake with me, lying on my feet as I sat half awake, delirious with exhaustion attached to the milking machine?  Kona. She was there through Nolan's surgeries and the long nights of his recovery.

Kona with baby Nolan

Then came Aaron, a preemie at 29 weeks.  Again with the pump, and there was Kona, with me through it all.  We got through those times, the dark years we like to dub them, of two under two and so little sleep it's a wonder we survived at all.

The kids grew, and as they did Kona put up with all kinds of baby and toddler-related torture.  Ear pulling, eye-poking, tail-grabbing, attempting to ride her like a horse. She never growled, never snapped at them.  She put up with it with mostly good humour and the occasional baleful glance in our direction for assistance.

Kona after surgery in 2011, wearing the "hemorrhoid pillow of shame".

Kona is just a dog.  Yes, you could say that.  Just a dog, whose needs in life are simple.  Food, a warm place to sleep, a few squirrels to chase, and to be with her people.  She loves her people with that basic, uncomplicated love and loyalty that only dogs are capable of.

She deserves that love and loyalty in return.  $10,000?  Yeah, it's a lot of money, especially to people like us who live basically paycheck to paycheck.  But would we take that money back in exchange for Kona if it was offered to us?  Nope.  Kona has been there for me, in the only way she knows how, and I am going to be there for her, as best I can.

People either get this and feel the same way, or they just don't get it.  I know I can't make them understand, but I felt the need to say it.  The cost of loving Kona is small compare to the joy of loving her, and having her love.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Campground, a Purple Heart, and the Kindness of Strangers

We meet people every day by chance.  Sometimes those people, through who they are and what they have faced, can impact you in ways you couldn't have imagined.

On Friday evening, we pulled into a campsite as dark was falling at Silver Falls State Park.  We had booked at the last minute, and instead of getting the usual out of the way private site we prefer, we got a site on the inside of the loop, where your neighbours are so close you might as well be camping together.  The people next to us were an older couple camping in an RV.  They helped us back our trailer in and helped me move our picnic table while Shaun was occupied with something else.  They played light tag with a flashlight with the boys while I ran around setting up in the dark and getting some food ready.

We wound up chatting with them quite a bit, since we were so close to each other there was no avoiding each other.  They were down from Snohomish, WA, visiting their daughter who is attending law school in Salem for her birthday.  Shaun wanted to see the inside of their RV, curious as to how it was laid out.

In one window of the RV was a photograph of their son.  The other displayed a Purple Heart.  A US Marine Corps flag waved from the front.  I had seen the Purple Heart but thought perhaps the man was a veteran.  I was wrong.  They were the parents of Cpl Jeffrey Starr, a Marine killed in Iraq on Memorial Day, 2005.

After his death, a letter was found on this computer to his girlfriend.  It made him famous, and President Bush even read out a portion of it in a speech.  They told Shaun this story, and he relayed part of it to me later.

You can read the whole story here.

The loss of a son is a sadness I can't begin to imagine.  Under these circumstances, and followed by that sort of press attention - well, it's all so far beyond my comprehension.

They were wonderful people, incredibly warm and friendly, eager to help and treated our kids like they were their own grandchildren.  They clearly raised an amazing child.  My heart breaks for them that he was lost this way.

Last Memorial Day I had trouble expressing to my kids what it was all about.  I won't anymore.  I will tell them about this family.  They are now the face of the war to me.  I hope to contact them again, because as we sat under the towering Oregon trees, I couldn't find any words for their loss.  I'm still a little lost for words.  I am hoping will I will come up with some way to express to them how that chance meeting impacted me.

All I can think to do is to share this story, and hope that it impacts you, too.  And that not only he will be remembered, but the parents who loved and nurtured him and are left with a hole in their hearts and lives will be remembered too.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Just a Tiny Bit of Cleft Awareness

REPOSTED FOR JULY - Cleft Awareness Month.

I'm not much of an awareness person.  I don't wear coloured ribbons and really don't believe that sharing an image on Facebook is going to cure cancer.  Or anything else for that matter.

But there are some things that can and should be passed around.  There is information out there that could prove very helpful to mothers preparing for the arrival of a new baby, or facing an unexpected diagnosis.  I wish more awareness campaigns would focus more on getting actual information out there and less on using guilt to make people hand over money.

It being Craniofacial Acceptance Month, I have decided that although I don't believe awareness will in any way help children born with clefts like my son, it might help a few parents to deal with the news and people deal with those parents.  So here is my own contribution to said awareness.

10 Things To Know About Clefts.

1. My son was born with a cleft lip and palate.  That's palate, not palette, he is not an interior designer with space issues.  It means that his lip and the roof of his mouth did not fuse properly in the womb.

2. Clefts are among the most common birth "defects" around the world, and yet almost no one seems to know it.  Approximately 1 in 700 births involve a cleft of some kind.

3. I hate the word birth defect.  My son is not defective, thank you.

4. The cause of most clefts is unknown.  I did not drink, shoot heroin, or sniff glue during my pregnancy.  While some clefts are hereditary, they often come out of nowhere as a surprise to the parents.  Most of the pregnancies were totally normal.

5. "Hare lip" is an antiquated and very offensive term for a cleft.  Please do not use it.

6. Cleft repair is an ongoing process involving multiple surgeries starting in infancy and long-term treatment by a team of specialists.  It's not something that ends once it's "fixed".

7. Children with repaired (or unrepaired) clefts may have trouble hearing or speaking.  That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with their brain function.

8. Children with cleft palates usually can not breastfeed because they can't make suction.  They need to be fed with special bottles that work on compression.   Breastfeeding such a child is a long and difficult process involving a lot of quality time spent with a pump.

9. It's ok to ask questions about the cleft.  Parents don't mind talking about it.  We know it's visible.  We'd rather you ask than pretend you didn't notice and try not to make eye contact.

10. Please don't ever tell a mother who has just been told her baby has a cleft how it "could have been worse".  We know it could have been worse.  We know there are a thousand scarier diagnoses.  We are grateful that, unless the cleft is associated with a syndrome, our child is going to live and has a future.  But imagine how you would feel being told that beautiful baby face you were dreaming of when you saw that positive pregnancy test all those months ago has a hole in it.  Yes, it could be worse, but right in that moment, it still feels awful.

That's all.  I hope you are all feeling much more aware now.  Carry on.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Memories Aren't Pictures

There are no pictures of my son on the day he was born.  He came into the world at 9:30 pm on a Sunday and was whisked away to the NICU.  I saw him only briefly, clawing at the mountains of blankets that were on me because I was shivering.  This tiny form, who was blessedly, thankfully, crying - so I knew he was breathing.

I didn't see him until after midnight.  So I had no opportunity to take a picture of him on the day of his birth.  He was almost 24 hours old before I was allowed to hold him, and then only for a moment.

I couldn't really see his face because of the CPAP that was helping him breathe.  He had to be placed right back under the heat lamp, like someone's dinner order being kept warm until the server came to get it.  Plastic-wrapped.  Blue lights for jaundice.  Preemie diapers folded down nearly in half because they were just too big.

I didn't cry.  I went back and forth between my room and the NICU, calm, collected.  I was sent home on the second day.  There was no reason for me to stay, and I had a 14 month old at home who needed me.

I came back for my follow up appointment.  I sat in the waiting room with all these women who had their babies with them.  I was alone.

That's when it hit me.  Four days later.  That my baby wasn't coming home for a long time, I had no idea how long.  That I couldn't hold him whenever I wanted to, couldn't try to feed him, couldn't bathe him or introduce him to his brother.  That is when I started crying and thought I would never stop.

But I did.  Stop crying.  There is really nothing so painful that we don't eventually stop crying.

They moved him from place to place in the NICU.  Finally downgraded him to the "feeding and growing" area, where things were less intense and the sound of alarms announcing "YOUR BABY ISN'T BREATHING" came rarely if at all.  I watched other babies come and go, saw their proud parents take them home after a few days, a week or two.  I waited.

I spent my days with Nolan and my nights with Aaron, my family divided.  It was seven weeks.  It felt endless.

His day finally came.  We took him home and finally, he met his brother.  He got fat.  He got big.  He learned to walk and talk and no one would ever have known that he was a preemie.

He is four now.  He's the sweet, reserved, quiet child who is the image of his father.  With a little less facial hair.  His beginning doesn't matter anymore, except that now and then, on his birthday, I realize there are no pictures of his true birth day.  And I remember all of that day, every moment, crystal clear.

Now I can hug him whenever I want.  So I do.

Happy Birthday, Aaron.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

On Nights Like Tonight

So Mommy has had a few drinks and is listening to Matthew Good. Alone in the house with two little boys sleeping, Shaun out with friends.  Blame the wine, blame Matt, but I am feeling sentimental, and I have something to say, interspersed with Matt Good's words.

It feels like time to let it go
It feels like time to break or show

A week from today a good friend and I experienced one of the craziest weekends of our lives.  It locked us together for life.  She will not be named here for her own privacy.  But she knows who she is.  She lost a child, and I delivered one prematurely.  Four years have passed.  But that weekend is as clear as ever in my memory.  Sometimes I still can't believe it is real.

It feels like just another day
Like one more dead town's last parade
Like we're taking pictures of a tidal wave

Aaron turns four on the 24th.  The miracle child I never expected.  The preemie who became the sweetest child I could ever have imagined.  The living, breathing proof that hope is worth it.

Recently a friend of a friend lost a child to a terminal illness.  On Monday she and her children will release balloons into the air in his honour as his memorial service goes on in another place.  I can't be there.  But my heart hurts for them, and I hold my children tight as I offer my own form of prayer for that family.

It feels like time ain't time at all

There is so much to remind me of how blessed I am.  Beyond words, beyond understanding.  As my family faces a difficult time I can only remind myself of what we have.  My two beautiful, miraculous boys.  The husband I could only have made real in my dreams, who is mine in reality.  The family and friends who love us all.

I can only bow my head and let my heart break for the loss of others.  I can't imagine the loss of a child to cancer.  I have miscarried but can't imagine making the heart-rending choice others have faced.

Take me out, lay me down
Let the dirt fall all around me

I won't blame it on Matt Good or wine.  I will try to internalize this understanding, as I send out love and my words, which mean so little in the end, to all who have lost a precious baby, and all who live every day in fear of losing one.

Baby, ain't it good to be back home?

May I never forget how fucking good I have it.

Love to all who have lost.

On nights like tonight, when no one's around
I turn on the record, the record I found
When I was a kid, and the world was a town
And Heartbreaker weren't nothing painful

Just sit tight, and I'll make my way to you
I'll find a way to get to you

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Nolan Has Taught Me

On Saturday my first baby will turn five.  In the past five years, we've been through a lot, from his surgeries to the birth of his preemie brother to the challenges of having "two under two" - or as we here in the K house like to call them, "The Dark Years".

My baby

Nolan is a spunky, smart, crazy, sensitive, amazing little boy who reminds me of myself on a daily basis.  But as much as he is like me, or maybe because he is like me, he has taught me a lot.  About life, and about myself.  About the little things and the big things.  About who I am and who I want to be.  In honour of my little boy's five years on this planet, and in looking forward to the next 5 and more - I want to take a minute to acknowledge the Things I've Learned From Nolan.

1. Sleep is Not Overrated.  It's not.  God, it's really, really not.  Oh Nolan, my terrible sleeper, my up at all hours, tiny bladder just like mommy boy...I have learned from you that sleep is something I love, need, and miss.  It's also something I would give up only for you.  And maybe your brother, but he doesn't test that theory much.

2.  A Smile Can Break Your Heart - and Repair it.  I will never forget the day I found out about Nolan's cleft.  I was devastated.  I mean completely destroyed.  I cried for four days and ate my weight in cake and ice cream.  I told my parents I wouldn't take any baby pictures of him lest people think he was ugly or make fun of him.  All I could think about was the day his smile would be repaired and people would stop staring.  When he was born, I found out that he was perfect.  I couldn't possible have cared less about the cleft.  And on the night before his surgery, I lay awake pondering how to call it off and somehow live with the cleft.

And then he came out of surgery.  And I cried because I didn't recognize my own baby.  His face was so different.  I had lost the smile I loved.  And time went by, and his unique new smile filled my heart again.  Today I can hardly remember how he looked before, but I know that his smile has broken and mended my heart many times over, and it is the most precious part of him.

Right before surgery

3.  You Can't Have Too Many Hugs.  But you can sure as hell try.

4.  Some Baby Terms Should Be Kept.  We'll never stop calling restaurants "The Hungry Store".  It's just too brilliant.

Turning One!

5.  There Is Now Someone More Stubborn Than Me.  Yes, Nolan, you are the most stubborn person I have ever met.  Able to amaze other parents with your sheer stamina when it comes to a tantrum or attempting to get your way.  More stubborn even than the reigning champ of stubbornness - your mother.  I hope you'll outgrow it, at least a bit.  But you probably won't, so really, I hope you learn to use it for good instead of evil.

6.  I Am Loved.  Because you tell me so, a dozen times a day, most often when you are sitting on the toilet, I can never forget that some little someone loves me very much.  And that's a pretty good way to go through life.  I could lose the toilet part though.

7.  The World Is Amazing, and Police Cars Are Pretty Damn Cool.  Every parent says it - that seeing the world through a child's eyes give you a whole new view of things.  It's true.  And as Nolan's mom I have learned much about the inherent coolness of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances.  I have learned that bubble bath is the single greatest invention of all time.  I have seen everything again from knee-height, and the world is crazy, amazing place in your eyes Nolan.  And best of all, I am an amazing person in your eyes.  Thanks to you, I can see myself that way.

8.  Every Challenge Can Be Overcome.  You, the poster child for cleft repair, came into the world with a facial defect that could have ruled your life.  But you speak as clearly as any other five year old and although the signs are there - you simply don't care.  You never thought there was anything to overcome, and so you simply did it.  And though I still worry about your future, as every mom does, I know that you will overcome each challenge you encounter.  And you have taught me that I can overcome my challenges too.  That no matter what waits on the other side, win or lose, we are who we were always meant to be.  Challenges get us there - and even if things don't come out the way you wanted them to, you have still overcome simply by stepping forward and just doing it.

9.  It's Ok To Laugh At Farts.  Yup.  They're funny.  And having little boys gives me license to giggle.

10.  Life is Short.  Too short.  Already my boy is five, and his brother growing up fast behind him.  The years will pass me by and leave me looking back as I am now.  And one day, you won't be here anymore - you will be off living your life and I will be sitting here ruminating on the boy you are now and how you became a man.  Life is too short to worry about making the bed or having a perfectly clean house.  Life is too short to skip a trip to the ice cream hungry store.  Life is too short to get out of bed on a rainy day when you can snuggle with the ones you love.  Life is too short not to laugh at silly jokes and make silly faces.  Life is short, and for the short time that I am here, I get to be with you, Nolan.  I get to be your mom for this short time on the planet.  That's a good thing to be.

Happy 5th Birthday Nolan.  Thank you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tell Me all Your Thoughts on God

This week we had to say goodbye to a family member. Our 12 year old cat Aragorn passed away (yes, you now know my geeky little secret), and I was faced for the first time with explaining some pretty heavy stuff to my kids.

I wound up with "Our kitty went to heaven where he is very happy and having fun playing with other kitties." It was satisfying to them but not so much to me.

I have run the religious gamut in my life, from being raised Catholic to winding up a pagan. At this point in my life, I have settled somewhere off the beaten path with some still-confused but mostly satisfying beliefs about what's going on around here. But those beliefs I came to over a long time, a lot of experience, and plenty of introspection. I can't really explain them to my kids, for one because they would stare at me blankly and ask to watch Caillou, and for another because they are very personal beliefs - and a part of those beliefs is the conviction that such things must be personal for everyone.

I don't believe in God, exactly. Nor do I believe there's just nothing out there. I don't believe there is some puppet master in a nebulous location pulling the strings and running the show. I also don't believe that there is no meaning at all to our lives here, that we are simply unimportant bits of matter moving from the cradle to the grave.

My kids themselves are part of my reasons for believing as I do. They are an incredible mixture of two types of miracle: the medical miracle, and the far less concrete miracle I can only refer to as divine.

Nolan was conceived by a miracle of modern medicine, and his ability to smile and speak like any other child also requires a nod to science. Aaron, on the other hand, was conceived by a more divine miracle to parents told that natural conception was just not going to happen; yet without the miracles of modern science he would not be here today. Medical miracles allowed a preemie to live and to thrive and to have the chance to experience the miraculous life given to him. For both of my kids, I have much thanks and praise to give to science. But when I look at them sleeping, or see the light in their eyes as they experience the simplest beauties in life, I know that there is something divine there.

I don't want to lie to my kids about death. I can't tell them that there is a kindly God waiting beyond pearly gates for them. The truth is that I don't know what's on the other side. And although many may be convinced of the existence of heaven, they don't really know either. None of us do, until we get there. So how to give my kids peace in the face of the death of a beloved pet, and yet avoid the pretty lies that are so easy to tell? Maybe that's a problem for another day. For now, at this age, they were satisfied with the story that Aragorn has passed on to somewhere else, somewhere beyond this life that for lack of a better word I called heaven.

I know I will have to face harder questions down the line. But for now, I think heaven lies on the same plane as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny - both of whom we have brought into our kids lives simply because I can't deny them that simple childhood joy I remember so well. Someday, I will have to explain to them that these things don't exist - only heaven will be the harder one. I simply don't know for sure if it exists, and I want them to make their own determination on what belief works best for them, one day.

I believe in the divine. I can't help but believe. But I don't think it lies somewhere out there. I think it's here, now, everywhere around us. I don't want my kids to miss the divine that is in every moment of their precious lives because they have been told that the divine lies in the beyond; that they won't be able to touch it until after death. I just wish I knew how to explain that to them. Maybe when they are older. For now, I envy them their ability to just believe that Aragorn has gone somewhere awesome. Because I kind of think right here with us, our weird little family, is a pretty awesome place to be. So I guess I'll go back to trying to enjoy it rather than immersing myself in questions of the afterlife.

Maybe I should have told them Aragorn went west and away over the sea, and into the Grey Havens. Maybe I should believe that myself.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Primal Adventure

After living in Portland for a while, you start to get some weird ideas. You know, like that 70 degrees is swimming weather and socks with Birkenstocks is really not that bad of a fashion statement (ok, that's going too far). Eventually, you will become a little nutty and decide to try some sort of nutrition changes that most people find, well, odd.

Enter the Primal Blueprint. That is, a slightly modified version of what most people know as Paleo. No grains at all. Meat, healthy fats, veggies, fruits and nuts.

Truthfully, we didn't get to this diet via weird Portland channels. Instead it came through Shaun's workouts and reading on fat loss. But the more I read about it myself, the more I was intrigued. It's not just because of the promise of a little less fat on my hips and thighs, but also the chance to rid myself of some long-standing health issues. They aren't major ones, but they have been pretty annoying for many years.

Yes, I kind of buy it. The theory behind it is pretty solid. Grains are simply not good for us. They are nutritionally mostly useless, they cause insulin spikes that result in more stored fat, and for a lot of us they aren't good for the old GI system. Which has been one of my problems for most of my life.

So, we are eating Primal, and we are about a month in. At first I dropped a few pounds rapidly, then I leveled out. But the difference in my digestion is phenomenal. So I am forging on. I don't mind the eye rolls and the "Portlandia" comments. I kind of deserve those what with the hunt for grass-fed beef and the coconut flour pancakes. But I don't mind. I will take a few jabs in return for a stomach that doesn't hurt every time I eat and generally better health. I'm getting really serious about it this month, so expect to hear plenty of weird ideas and recipes out of me.

As for the kids, since we started eating this way they have consumed more fruits and veggies that they have since they were babies. We aren't cutting them off from grains, but increasing the amount of healthier choices they get. And they're eating it. That alone is worth the Portlandia comments, so bring them on.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Bookends of Family Photos

Remember when you were just a couple, it was just the two of you, before kids? All of those photographs of you together, just the two of you? When everywhere you went you had a stranger snap a shot of the two of you smiling, some exciting location in the background, looking happy and in love. When the world revolved around the two of you and everything was ahead of you, and you were going to take it all on together. Leaning in for photos, holding up wine glasses and beer bottles, sunsets and romantic dinners, vacations to exotic destinations. Remember those days?

Yeah, me either. I have the pictures to prove it though. We had seven years of marriage before Nolan came along. Certainly it wasn't all a golden age, but we were always the center of our own little world. Today that center has shifted and two loudmouthed little boys have taken over.

Today the pictures are all of them. Sometimes one of us is in the photo, and very rarely a family shot, that miracle of all miracles where everyone is looking at the camera. Rare because now, asking a stranger to take a family photo is like asking them to take on a major feat of photographic skill likely far beyond their abilities. Even professionals struggle for that elusive family portrait where no one is picking their nose. So it's pictures of the kids.

But us? The couple who fell in love and decided to make this little family? They're nowhere to be seen in the photos today. It's like we disappeared from the record, slipped into the photographic Bermuda Triangle.

Why? I guess because the kids are cuter, more interesting, and ever-changing where as we are much the same with the exception of more wrinkles, more grey hairs, more dark circles under our eyes. The photographic record of our relationship morphed into a timeline of our children's lives. I love those photos, every one of them. Of course I do. But sometimes I miss the photos of us. I sometimes wish our online photo galleries showed more often that although our marriage is not the self-centered enterprise it once was, we are still two people who love each other. That although the kids now come first and we, as people and as a couple, come second, we are still the dynamic duo who have hung in there through every challenge and still dedicate our hearts to each other.

We're behind the scenes now. Behind the lens. Waving from behind the camera to draw out those adorable little smiles, to get them both to look in the same direction at once. Our appearances in front of the camera are almost all with the kids. It's ok. We're still us. We'd rather look at pictures of our kids anyway, and so would most people who know us. Rightly so.

One day, they'll move away and there will be photos of us again. A leap forward in time. More wrinkles, more greys. Photos of a couple so changed from where we began. The photos of us, the couple, will bookend the years in which we dedicated everything to our boys. Young and in love. Older and hopefully still in love. Before and after, with a whole life lived in between.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Super Powers

I am a Superhero.

Able to leap tall piles of laundry in a single bound. Armed with x-ray vision, I can see through fake tears, fake coughs, and size 3T pants to reveal the backwards underwear beneath. My super hearing picks up the lightest touch of little feet on the bedroom floor and never misses a middle of the night cry for help, even when only a whisper. The back of my hand is an accurate thermometer, and my lips contain anesthetic properties. I can infuse a bandaid with magical healing abilities.

I am a Superhero.

My super powers let me hide vegetables in any meal and turn the simplest fare into a feast with only a flick of the wrist and a hand holding a magical green jar of parmesan cheese. My precision cutting abilities can create two slices of cake equal to the last crumb. I can do things with a pound of ground beef and a crock pot that boggle the human mind. The grocery budget is my nemesis, but for me it is no match.

I am a Superhero.

My powerful brain can remember snack day, doctor's appointments, birthdays, favourite toys, playdates, friend's names and allergies, the location of every potty within a hundred miles, an endless grocery list and all of the words to the Thomas the Tank Engine Theme Song. I can read minds and know exactly when my decrees have been violated and who was the evil mastermind behind the plot to see how much toilet paper is needed to fill the bowl or gain illegal access to the cookie jar. I know when you are sleeping, and I know when you're awake. I'm Santa Claus. No really, it's actually me who makes Christmas happen. From my magic bag I can pull snacks, clean clothes, tissues and Hot Wheels at a moment's notice.

I am a Superhero.

I need neither sleep, nor food, nor basic hygiene, but only my cup of coffee and the sheer strength of my will to keep going for days on end. My stomach of steel never revolts, even when faced with the most disgusting secretions of the human body. Even when those secretions are in my hair. I can remain in the most uncomfortable positions for ungodly periods of time simply because a child is sleeping. I can not be budged by tantrums nor fooled by lies. I am the Defender of those entrusted to my care even to my dying breath, and I know their every thought, need, and fear.

I am a Superhero. But you can call me Mommy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The SLWB Concise List of Things You Should Know Prior to Giving Birth

I have a number of friends and family members fast approaching the birth of their first child - in one case, children (twin nephews for me!) - and have been looking back a lot on those last days of my first pregnancy and first months with Nolan. Not in a nostalgic, awwww I miss having a baby sort of way. More in the, what do I wish someone had told me before I went in to give birth sort of way.

So having thought on in quite a bit, I have decided to put together my highly opinionated Concise List of Things You Should Know Prior to Giving Birth. I believe this will put the What to Expect people out of business. Ok, probably not, but here it is anyway.

1. Birth plans are more like guidelines. There's a whole lot of talk about birth plans these days. You're supposed to write down how you want everything to go when you show up to pop that kid out. You know, so the doctors won't give you an epidural, episiotomy, or shot of vodka against your wishes. This is all built on the premise that you are in any way running the show when you give birth. You are not. You will never, ever run the show again. That little person you are about to give birth to is promoted to CEO pretty much from the first contraction. I'm not saying you shouldn't have a birth plan, just be prepared to toss it out the window at a moment's notice. A whole lot of stuff can go wrong and the plan will change on the fly. So just don't get too attached to it. Remember that getting the baby here safe and sound is the real birth plan, and the rest is peripheral.

2. Your doctor has nothing to do with it. The L&D nurses are, second only to the baby, running the show. They will be the ones getting you through labor and most of the delivery process. The doctor will show up at the last minute, catch the baby and leave an invoice on the way out 2 minutes later. Seriously, no one told me this. Of course, some of you may have birth plans in which your husband, midwife, or fairy godmother catches the baby. Refer to #1.

3. They are going to let you take that baby home. No, really. Just like that. They're going to trust you with a newborn. Now on the surface I knew this. But the reality of going home with this helpless little person who is totally unable to communicate and is totally dependent on you, you who are in this mess because of the jello shots 9 months ago and are now being trusted to keep a baby alive, is different. Seriously, just think about it for a minute.

4. Your baby will not sleep. Oh, I know, everyone has a tale of a perfect baby who sleeps through the night right away. But the vast majority of babies are not like this. They have no concept of night and do not care that you don't find 4 am an appropriate time to be up for the day. Oh yes, you're all thinking you already know babies don't sleep. But you really don't get it. You will be up every single night, usually several times a night, for a very, very long time. You will learn the real meaning of the word tired. I emphasize this because while people will joke about it, new moms are rarely told just how much this really sucks. It really, really sucks. Really. Sucks.

5. Breastfeeding is hard, and it hurts. You are probably looking forward to that sweet moment when you feed your beautiful newborn for the first time by that wonderful natural process of nursing. Now, let me be clear that I am a major proponent of breastfeeding. You absolutely positively should breastfeed your baby if you can. The medical evidence is very clear on this. What is not made clear is that although it is natural, it is not easy. Your boobs will feel like coconuts when they get engorged and any sort of movement will hurt like hell. Your baby will need to figure out how to latch on and will do this inappropriately and incredibly painfully until he or she gets it right. Your nipples will get irritated. You will leak at random inappropriate times. You will feel like a dairy cow. Oh, it will be worth it, but it might be an uphill battle. Get a good lactation consultant and be ready. And if it doesn't work out, don't punish yourself.

6. Men do not hear babies crying. This is a scientific fact. There is something wrong with their ears that blocks out this sound. You believe that you and he will be equal partners in the night waking nightmare, but unless you kick him hard, he won't hear the baby. He will wake up refreshed in the morning and say to you "Wow, the baby slept all night, huh?" You will want to punch him.

7. You will wonder what you were thinking. It's hard to believe now, as you anxiously await this little miracle, that you could doubt whether or not it was a good idea. But at some point, when you are covered in baby spit-up, haven't slept or showered in days and have just been peed on for the fifth time that day, you will think to yourself "I can't do this. What on earth was I thinking?" Don't feel guilty for thinking this. It doesn't mean you don't love your baby, just that you are beyond tired and nobody told you how insanely hard it was going to be. Nobody but me, that is. You're welcome.

8. You will do things you said you never would. Remember that birth plan? You probably have something far more elaborate for the actual raising of the baby. All kinds of ideas about what you will and won't do. You'll never let the baby cry. You'll never use a pacifier. You'll never use disposable diapers. You'll never fall asleep while holding the baby, you'll never fall asleep without the baby, you'll keep the baby in your room, you'll keep the baby in the nursery. You'll never take the baby to the bar. Ok, maybe that last one you won't do. But I promise you there is something you will do that you never thought you would. And that's ok...let it go. Your baby will be fine. Seriously. I promise. Well, do be careful on the falling asleep holding the baby, but if it happens, don't freak out. The best laid plans of moms and dads are shattered in the face of the sleep deprivation and general confusion of parenting. Learn as you go and let the "rules" slide when necessary.

9. Your sex life is over. Ok, not totally over, but it will never be what it was. First of all, it takes a while for the nethers to get back to normal, and it will probably hurt at first making you want to do it even less than you already did. You will feel disgusting, you will be exhausted, and you will be leaking milk. Your husband or partner's advances will annoy you. And on the rare occasions when you do get in the mood, the baby will immediately wake up and start crying. This will go on for a long time.

10. You will survive. There will be moments when you are absolutely sure you will not survive. But you will. And one day, you will listen to a pregnant mom expecting her first child gush about how wonderful it will be, and you will chuckle. You will try to warn her. She won't listen. Direct her to this blog.

Good luck ladies. Go forth and lactate.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New...whatever, let's talk about me

I was going to write a New Year's post filled with sentiment and nostalgia letting all my beloved friends and family know just how much they have meant to me in 2011 and how glad I am to be facing 2012 with them in my life. But it's January 5th and that ship has sailed.

So instead I am going to talk about camping. That's totally just as good. Ya'll know I love you right?

Shaun and I are trying to buy a camper. Which of course we can't afford, but we can't really afford anything, so hurray for debt and screw the rest, right?

Nolan will be five in June and Aaron four two short months later. Kindergarten in the spring, every last sign of babyhood gone from the house. Even gave away a lot of the more babyish toys. I have kids now, not toddlers, not babies. Kids. I feel like time is slipping away. I'm seriously going to blink and they will be dirty, stinky, disgusting teenage boys hiding in their rooms doing god knows what. It doesn't bear considering.

So, camping. Time to enjoy them while they are young and slightly less disgusting!! We have wanted to take them camping but have been both too broke and too scared of the lack of sleep and of course the fear of changing diapers in a place without bathrooms. So we had to wait until we could buy a camper, which required buying a tow vehicle. And until we were diaper free. We've got the last two down and well, we wont really ever be able to afford the camper so, what the hell, let's jump in.

Ah, camping with the family. I did a lot of it as a child because my parents were also broke and in debt up their eyeballs. We didn't go to Disneyland, we went to provincial parks. And the odd national one. We sat around the campfire and had some of the best meals of our lives and listened to my dad tell silly stories he made up. In that rosy glow of nostalgic memory it was so utterly perfect. Wonderful days of childhood back when there were no real worries.

I wonder if it was really so much fun for my parents though. When I really think about it, I have to recall the time my dad had to set up the pop-up camper in the pouring rain and almost got electrocuted (because due to the previously mentioned lack of funds we had a pretty sad little camper) and my mother having to make all those meals somehow in a tiny little kitchen and do all the cleaning up too, since I am sure our lazy arses did none of it.

I wonder if camping with the family will be so much better when I look back on it then while I am actually doing it.

Really, if the kids actually sleep most of the night and nothing major breaks, I suppose we will be ok. We are going for the nicer-than-our-house (which isn't hard) has-it-all sort of travel trailer camping situation. No tents, hopefully no electrocution.

But the point is, these are the kind of things that make me wonder if all of the best of parenting doesn't happen in hindsight. The way we tend to forget the worst of it over time and see the past through those rosy glasses, the haze of time that makes us think only with that part of the brain that processes nostalgia for time gone by. You know, like how we all think things were so much better when we were kids. Because we were so utterly clueless about life and reality.

I'm sure that camping with the kids will be a memory I will treasure. I do look forward to it - but I am also ready for it to be less than perfect at first. If nothing else, I will be able to look back and think, wow, that was some fun camping we did. Remember how nobody died? That was awesome.