We Share Our Losses

My grandmother wasn’t a happy woman, not when I knew her, so this picture I came across the other day is especially striking.

Pauline and Harry

The joy and openness in her eyes, the width of her smile, radiates joy. Beside her is my grandfather, a man I never met, who died when my mom was eight years old. A man who never felt like he belonged to me, in any way.

His ending was a cautionary tale of a congested heart. Three strikes and you’re out. That’s how many heart attacks it took to kill him. A young man, in his mid-forties, he left behind the love of his life and two bereft children. My grandmother never recovered from his death. It left her shattered and bitter, furious at her bad luck. The life she had imagined turned into dust.

I don’t know how my mother recovered. She had been a daddy’s girl.

When I was a kid my mom rarely spoke about her father, though I’m sure she must have explained to us what happened at some point. I remember how she used to light a yahrzeit candle a few weeks before her birthday on the day of his death. Quietly it would sit on the white countertop and burn without ceremony. For the rest of the year it resided in the rarely used kitchen cabinet filled with dusty wine glasses and an assortment of solitary cups and mugs that had lost their companions.

Looking back, I wish I asked more questions, I wish my mom had been able to share her grief with me. But as a cousin reminded me recently, grief wasn’t discussed openly back then. Maybe my mom thought she was protecting us by keeping it to herself, or maybe her memories were too distant to access, but the space it left, in the shape of a father and grandfather, loomed large in my imagination.

My childhood friend Tamra, who I’ve known since third grade, saw the photo when I posted it on Facebook and made a comment that caught me completely off guard.

She wrote, I see the resemblance with you and your mom. I automatically assumed she meant a resemblance to my grandmother, but when I read the rest of her comment, I realized she had been referring to my grandfather. I stared hard at his jovial good-natured face, searching for familiarity: I saw shadows of my mother easily, and then, I almost saw myself.

I stared at him, this man I had never met, barely knew anything about. Despite all that he was mine. He did belong to me. For a brief moment I allowed myself to imagine what life might have been like if he had lived. A grandmother and grandfather coming to visit, living close enough for me to spend the day, the night, to curl up in his big arms and be read to, held, and loved. My grandmother might have smiled more, and maybe, just maybe she would have been a better mother.

Up until this point I had never allowed myself to stake a claim on this man, to miss him, or mourn his absence. To imagine what he might have meant to me. I felt like that would have been selfish. This was my mother’s loss, not mine. But I was wrong. It was both of our losses. Just like her death is not just my loss, but my daughter’s, and my son’s.

It seems so obvious to me now. We don’t have to hide or hoard grief, we don’t have to pretend it’s not ours to mourn. Like love, there is enough to go around.

The spring before my mother died, when she was weak and recovering from a long winter illness, but before we knew she was dying, my uncle came to visit. Her older brother. When his father died, he became “the man” of the house, too heavy a burden for a twelve-year-old to bear. Nevertheless, he bore it out of necessity, and out of love for his little sister, but it left a bitter trace on him, a shadow of his mother’s twisted anger.

We talked about the past that day, which was unusual. Maybe it was me. Maybe I asked about my grandfather, maybe I offered what I had been unable to offer all those years earlier. An acknowledgment of their deep loss. My empathy.

I listened with rapt attention as my uncle recalled that fateful day of the final heart attack. Their father taken away, and then later, the news traveling back to them, my mother running to her room in tears.

“She couldn’t stop crying,” he said, looking awestruck so many years later.

Those four words hit me hard. I looked over at my mother. Her big brown eyes were wide with sadness and memory as she gazed at her brother. In a flash I saw the two of them as children, trying to care for each other.

Before he left that day, my uncle said goodbye in his usual brusque but loving manner. A quick hug for me and a wave to my mom across the room. She said goodbye from her reclining chair where she had sat for nearly a decade since she lost the use of her hands and legs to multiple sclerosis.

“Go and hug her,” I told my uncle in a low voice. He looked at me surprised. This was not his usual way. I don’t know for sure, but I think her handicap made him uncomfortable. Maybe it was too hard for him to look at her in that chair. But that day I didn’t give him a choice. I took his arm and pulled him into the room.

He leaned over her chair and hugged her, maybe for the first time in years, and I heard him say in a voice so tender, “I love you Susii,” her girlhood name. The name her father must have called her. The name my father called her until she became my mother and decided she was no longer a girl, and to please call her Susan.

The next time he saw his sister, she was under hospice care, unconscious, and close to death.

When I got pregnant, shortly after my mom died, I knew right away there was one thing I’d do differently. My children would know their grandmother. I would tell them her name, show them pictures, and talk about her life, her art, and one day, her death.

There are two of them now, grandchildren. A girl and a boy, in the same order my mother had me and my brother. A strange kind of twinning, but not.

They do not wonder about the blank space as I once did because it’s always being filled.  My hope is that she is as vibrant and beautiful in their imagination as she was in life.

mom and Harry

My mom and her dad, my grandpa Harry

Rest in peace, Harry Cooperman, grandpa. I know I would have loved you.

Grieving While Pregnant

A few weeks ago on Facebook, one of my favorite sites, What’s Your Grief, asked readers to offer advice or pose questions about how to parent while grieving. This immediately caught my attention. Parenting while grieving is the only way I know since my mom died shortly before I became pregnant with my first child.

Pregnant with Emma Feb2008 copy

February 2008 pregnant with my daughter, my mom’s portrait beside me

On a whim, I decided to pitch the site an idea about grieving while pregnant, my other unfortunate expertise. To my surprise and pleasure, my pitch was accepted. I immediately started taking notes. I couldn’t write fast enough. Clearly, this idea had been brewing in my subconscious for, well, years.

If you haven’t seen it already, I would be so honored if you’d stop by and take a look, or perhaps send the essay to someone who might be able to relate. Click on the link below to head over to the site.

Making Time For Grief During Pregnancy

Thank you again!

Making it Count

This is the hardest part. Getting there. The sitting down to write. The writing.

desk at workAfter the morning rush – making breakfasts, lunches, fixing hair snafus, finding socks, waking up a rumpled, warm late-sleeping little boy from my bed, and then hurrying out the door for school drop-offs, first the big kid, then the little.

Throughout it all, there is buzzing in the back of my head, a warm recognition of what day it is, that soon, this morning will belong to me. Soon the house will be quiet and I will be alone, except for the cat nudging the computer with her chin, and the birds frequenting the feeder outside my office window.

But first, the logistics of mothering two children. Sometimes there is a struggle, a scuffle or two. Often there are tears, from the little, at our parting. Arms wrapped octopus style around my neck, fingers that are sometimes pried off, one by one.

Me walking to my car in a sad defeated haze, thinking, is this worth it? Am I doing everything wrong? And yet, I know that I’m not. I know that I need these mornings alone as much as my little needs school. On those days especially, I know I must make my alone time count. Every minute.

I didn’t always. There were the hibernation years of early motherhood when I wasn’t writing. My daughter, newly diagnosed with celiac, was often hungry for sweets she was unable to eat, so I’d bake gluten free treats during naps, then fold laundry or do dishes. I’d keep my hands busy, but my mind was restless, itchy.

Things are different now. There is much less baking and even less folded laundry (if that’s even possible).

I’m not winning any housework awards and I must admit to feeling a stubborn knot of pride about this. My kids have clothes that are clean, even if they have to pick through a pile to find them sometimes. They eat off dishes that have been washed. But mundane chores are not a priority. Not ever, to be perfectly honest, but especially not during my writing time.

I protect it, as fiercely as I protect them. Because if I don’t, there is a price to pay. My rising irritation and frustration. Unhappiness. Snappishness. Writing releases something for me, it helps me to both understand and escape myself.

After ushering the kids off to school and returning home, it’s time to begin. I walk briskly by the detritus of the morning rush. There’s pretty much zero chance I’ll stop to fold the laundry, though I may kick a pair of underwear out of my path. The real concern is the internet.

It beckons me with its side roads and back routes, under the guise of research, a promise of just five minutes, the happy ping of outside validation. If I step in, I’m sunk. I might lose an hour, or worse, my confidence.

On the way to my office I grab everything I need because I won’t get up again until my time runs out. Not to reheat my coffee, which I only drink hot, or to retrieve a forgotten water bottle. My computer, breakfast, books, and journals must be at the ready.

I sit down, turn on the computer, and open the blank page. I’ve arrived at the leaping off point. The almost-there place. It could all go wrong with one simple click. Most days I hold steady, keep focused.

Then I begin. The words come or they don’t. But I remain at my desk for three hours, taking breaks only to sip my coffee, flip through a book, or gaze at the birds. I feel grateful for my time, even though it’s short.

In a little over a year, when the little guy starts kindergarten, there will be entire days stretched out in front of me like taffy. I hope the practice I do now will help me take advantage of those luxurious hours. Until then, I am a madwoman, making every minute count.

Do you have solo time to unspool your creativity? How do you keep it safe? Do you?

Out in the World

“Motherhood is an endless cycle of letting go, a constant reconfiguring of rules and boundaries. You have to be flexible, quick to shift and shed. These are things I struggle with in regular life, and as a mother, even more.”

One of my recent posts, Grief and Gray Days, is now up on Mamalode! I’m so thrilled to be on their site, which is filled with thoughtful and lyrical musings about motherhood.

If you haven’t read the essay yet, please head over to check it out. I love that it’s getting a second life.

white sky day

Thank you as always!

Skating with My Daughter

We’re flying. That’s what it feels like, though neither of us is going all that fast. She’s cautious, like me, but we’re both taking chances as the hours go by. I’m lifting my feet, one at a time, feeling the balance of my body coming and going, savoring the smooth glide. I watch her arms flap, her feet moving in little chops as she picks up speed. Her polka dot helmet shines under the disco ball lights.

It’s our date. My husband and son are at a birthday party and we’re in Frenchtown, NJ at a roller skating rink on top of a hill in the middle of an enormous field. Inside it’s like traveling back in time to my childhood. Pure 80s. Retro pink and green zigzag designs on the walls.

A worn and faded Skate at Your Own Risk sign hangs above the rink, read and ignored by multitudes, though my daughter does ask what “risk” means. Taking chances, I say as we lace up.

skate at your own risk

The skating floor looks new in some ways, polished and sleek, but if you look closely the pale wood is marred with nicks beneath layers of filler and varnish.

My rental skates remind me of the ones I used as a kid and probably just as old. Khaki tan in color with scuffed orange wheels and thin dark laces. They are worn and soft, good for my ankles with my unfortunate extra bone. I lace them up tightly. Got to protect my middle-age ankles. The fact that I’m forty years old still makes me pause. It surprises, pools my stomach with dread, and yet sometimes, delights.

The shampoo girl at the hair salon, literally half my age, gaped at me in surprise when I revealed my digits. Flattery? Perhaps. While my skin has lost some elasticity – gone is my dewy youth – and laugh lines are visible around my eyes, I’m not yet deeply marred. I balance on the cusp of my life, hopeful for more wrinkles, more time.

We skate in circles to pop songs. Boy bands, fierce girls, and grown ups close to my age belt and croon and rap around us.

When a favorite comes on, “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors, my daughter turns around and her face lights up. We skate faster.

I feel light on the bulky skates, and every now and then I am conscious of being seen, something that has evaporated since having children. Being looked at. Watched. Ogled. Not a bad thing. I hated the catcalls and running commentary when I lived in the city, but there is a kind of loss in feeling invisible.

We glide past other children, other dads and moms. I watch my daughter with a smile on my face. Despite this mask of contentment, I am vigilant. Ready. My arms are by my side, keeping me aloft, but they are poised to catch, to scoop, to rescue. That’s who I am. Call me whatever name you want. I’m a helicopter if that means feeling a ferocious desire to take care of my young.

My girl is seven, barreling toward eight. The vise of time tightens around her, threatening to squeeze us apart. I wonder, how many more years will she hold my hand, how much longer do we have to skate together, just the two of us?

There is a mother and son ahead of us. I watch and recognize their wobbly pattern. He is new at skating and his mom encourages him. I see her hand reaching out, darting away, reaching out, pulling back. He does not reach for her and remains aloft, just barely. I recognize myself in her. When we pass them, the mother and I share a smile.

At some point, my daughter falls. It’s inevitable. No longer new on skates, she’s playing at speed, taking more chances. It’s a good thing for my girl, prone to anxiety, so often fearful. Her face scrunches up in tears and I help her up.

Falling is failing to her, so I must redefine the term, the act, for us both.

It’s okay, I tell her, assuming a confidence I don’t always feel. Everyone falls. You just get up and keep going. She nods and we push off the wall.

We continue making circles and the tears dry, her face curves into a smile.

My job is a balancing act. Compassion and propulsion. I watch her, my beautiful fragile child, my strong growing girl, as she skates ahead. She wobbles, rights herself. I watch, holding my breath, and let her go.

roller skating girl

Grief and Gray Days

Today the sky is a mask.

The clouds huddle together so tightly there appears to be no sun at all, just an endless swath of dull white.

white sky day

I cried after dropping Leo off at preschool today. Not because he was crying, not today, though he did say goodbye reluctantly, clutching his stuffed purple bunny close to his chest.

On Tuesday I kept him home. He had the beginning of a cold. That’s what I told myself as we cuddled on the couch watching shows while I worked on the computer. I could have sent him. If I worked, I would’ve had to, but I have the luxury to make these decisions. Sometimes I end up second-guessing them, but not this time, not after he said this:

Chin down, lip out, my little guy said, “I don’t like going to school.”

“Why not, honey? Aren’t your teachers nice?”

Big sigh. “Yes, but I don’t love playing with them as much as you.”

This made me tear up, partly because it seemed overly generous. The truth is, I kind of suck at playing. I think I was better with his older sister, probably because I didn’t have a smart phone. No Facebook to scroll through to break up the tedium of children’s games.

I tried to make up for it by leaving my phone behind when we went upstairs to his room later that day.

We made up a game inspired by his current favorite movie, Inside Out, which I also love. If you’re not familiar, the movie centers on emotions and memories, things that I have intimate knowledge with and interest in.

Using a bunch of small gray plastic balls from a building set, we pretended they were memories. “Core memories,” he called them, referencing the movie, and then we rescued them from the memory dump, over and over again.

That’s the thing about playing with kids. They want to do the same things, repeatedly. Nothing gets old. They don’t get bored of games, and they don’t get bored of you. A gift, really.

At one point I found myself staring out the window at the tree branches moving in the breeze, most of the leaves gone, a few hanger-oners hanging on.

I was reaching the edge of discomfort, the moment when I’d normally grab my phone or reheat my coffee. The kind of moment I imagine happens during meditation or yoga, when you think you can’t sit still or hold that pose a moment longer – but you do, you can.

There is a reward in staying.

I shifted my gaze to my son, staring at the tufts of soft blond hair standing up around his head like chicken fluff. The light from the window turned it translucent, illuminating the lone freckle in the center of his scalp.

IMG_2836

I recently heard about the pregnancies of two friends, well, one is more of an acquaintance, but the other feels like a friend. These are not people I know in real life, but online. Fellow writers, mothers.

Both times I felt a deep pang upon hearing the news. A painful wrenching. It took me a while to figure out what it was.

The first time it manifested close to disgust. Another baby? I thought about what that would mean to me – loss of freedom, inability to write, onslaught of sleepless nights. It seemed like a hideous mistake. Foolishness. I backed away as if I had stumbled upon a sleeping bear, careful not to rouse it.

Then, a few weeks later, another reveal on social media. I studied the woman’s picture, while examining the twisting sensation in my stomach. The luminous smile and bright eyes, her face already glowing with the mystery and otherworldliness of pregnancy.

That’s when I understood what I was feeling. It wasn’t disgust, or jealousy. It was grief.

I have two children. The youngest just turned four and while I assume it’s possible for me to get pregnant again at forty, I don’t want to. That phase of my life, new motherhood, which encompassed the entire decade of my thirties, is over for me.

IMG_2073

Never again will I hold the secret of pregnancy inside my body or feel the let down of milk fill my breasts.

There is grief in this realization. My son stopped nursing in late June, a week before my fortieth birthday, days before I left for a writing retreat, leaving my children for the first time in my life.

He asked to nurse one last time, on the phone during Facetime. “I want to nursy,” he said in a small sad voice, using our word, and my own face crumbled for a moment. “When I get home,” I promised. But when I got home he didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer. That part of our relationship was over. Six months later, I wonder if he remembers.

Motherhood is an endless cycle of letting go, a constant reconfiguring of rules and boundaries. You have to be flexible, quick to shift and shed. These are things I struggle with in regular life, and as a mother, even more.

I wrote my congratulations, my mazel tov, with genuine love to my online friend and her growing family, while simultaneously tending to myself, as I move out of one realm and into another.

 

Mothering Through the Darkness: Anthology of the Postpartum Experience

MOTHERINGTHRUDARK

“My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me. My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating. Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me. Til then I walk alone.”  
– I Walk Alone by Green Day

I felt so lonely as a new mother. Isolated, ashamed, angry, and ungrateful. None of which was appropriate since I had gotten exactly what I wanted – a healthy baby girl.

Looking back, it was shame that silenced me. How dare I be miserable when I was holding what I wanted in my arms? So I swallowed it all, and it ate me up.

I loved my baby. Deeply. During moments of peace, when she was sleeping and I wasn’t crying with exhaustion or despair, I’d stare at her beautiful face and trace her features with my eyes, wanting to memorize every curve, every angle. I relished the shape of her sweet bow lips, the delicate slope of her nose, the way her chin met her throat, the way that throat would undulate with milk, even in her dreams.

I loved my daughter. But I didn’t love myself. Many days I was full of self-loathing for failing at motherhood. For not loving it enough. For not feeling grateful enough. For not excelling at it, acing it, as I had many things in life.

All around me, other women seemed to have it together in ways I did not. As the months went by, and years, this grew more apparent and deepened my shame.

I never sought help and I was never diagnosed with postpartum depression. I answered the questions the midwife asked at my check-up and came out “clear.” But my perceptions of PPD were wrong. Just because I didn’t feel compelled to injure my daughter or myself didn’t mean I wasn’t hurting deeply.

What I needed was the voices and compassion of other women, other mothers, reassuring me I wasn’t alone. I needed the kind of help my father and husband couldn’t offer me, though they tried.

That is why this anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger of The HerStories Project is such an important book. It would’ve been a lifeline for me.

In a marketplace where there is a glut of books about prenatal and infant care, where are the books about mothers? Where are the books about PPD in all its nuances and variations?

Now there are thirty-five stories, including my own, “Afterbirth.” Writing it helped release years of pent up pain and shame. I cried as I typed, the words pouring forth, as if they had been waiting for a way out.

When the beautiful book finally arrived, I was thrilled, but a little hesitant to read it. Would I be triggered by my co-contributors’ painful stories?

To my surprise, the answer is no. If anything, I am buoyed by our similarities, by the facets of my story that I recognize in theirs. The commiseration that I longed for seven years ago has been gifted to me now.

If you know of a woman in the maelstrom of new motherhood, or recovering from it, please consider letting her know about this book. Or perhaps, pick it up yourself.

No one should walk alone.

Becoming Mother: Book Review

becoming mother cover

“New mothers need to hear the other voices of the postpartum period – ones that talk about the scary, the unpleasant, the embarrassing, and the downright soul-testing. We need to tell these stories because there is comfort in seeing that we are not forging an entirely new path. In fact, we are walking in the footprints that other mother have left behind.”

– Becoming Mother by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

When Sharon asked me if I’d be interesting in reading and reviewing her book, Becoming Mother, I immediately said yes. From what I read on her blog, and through our online conversations, her ideas about motherhood meshed with mine and I couldn’t wait for it to arrive.

But when it finally did, I stared at the beautiful cover and hesitated.

The idea of traveling back to my grief stricken pregnancy and intensely challenging postpartum period was like gazing into a deep well, whose cold dark interior I knew intimately, and for the most part, tried to avoid.

I had delved back there last year when I wrote an essay that is now part of the anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness. But it’s become apparent to me that the transformation into motherhood is not something easily exorcised – and maybe it shouldn’t it be.

When I finally took the plunge and began reading, I became instantly immersed in Sharon’s story of her pregnancy and childbirth. Yes, some of my painful memories rose up, but I forgot about the flip side – how light almost always accompanies the dark.

I remembered lying on the floor after huffing my way through a tortuous pregnancy workout DVD, and how the instructor would say in her adorable lisping French accent, “Now lie down and connect with your baby,” and I felt my future daughter flipping and gliding beneath my fingertips. Reading Sharon’s description of a similar moment, I was transported back to my own magical moment.

That’s why Sharon’s book is not just a guide for new mothers, but any woman interested in stepping back in time. There are gifts of memory and wisdom to be gleaned from retrospection, and realizing the complex and often contradictory feelings of new motherhood are not unique or unnatural, but a shared journey.

The Review

Becoming Mother is divided into six main sections, starting with Pregnancy and going all the way through the first year postpartum. Sharon writes in present tense pausing between sections with a thoughtful reflection. This unique structure keeps the pace brisk and offers the reader breathing room during transitions.

Not unlike active labor.

One thing I particularly appreciated is how the book maintains a sharp focus on the mother’s experience even after the baby is born. Instead of the mom getting shunted off to the sidelines while the newborn takes the spotlight, we remain with Sharon as she processes her physically and emotionally taxing labor and delivery.

With eloquence and clarity, she explains the ramifications of her doctor forcibly breaking her waters (without permission) and another doctor’s cold comments while stitching her up. These moments leave scars, as deep as any C-section, yet invisible to the naked eye. Sharon boldly pokes holes in the popular yet condescending mantra, “all that matters is a healthy baby” with her honest and wrenching account.

While she opted for, and succeeded in having, a natural birth, this book in no way fits tidily into any single style of mothering. In fact, Sharon blows up the assumption that mothers should opt for one style over another, encouraging women to pick and choose what works for them and their babies, and to honor flexibility over any dogma or parenting camp.

We follow Sharon into the heady and delirious days of new motherhood and for her in particular, the painful struggle with breastfeeding. She goes into great detail about this specific challenge, and what initially feels like failure.

A relatable and painful subject for many women, but any mother will certainly understand the hard-earned lesson of reality knocking against theory.

When we’re pregnant we make decisions and proclamations that often get thrown out the window when the baby arrives, thus, the crucial need for flexibility and self-forgiveness. It’s okay to change your mind, or your mindset.

Sharon captures the beauty and awe of new motherhood, as well as the less glamorous aspect of anxiety and loss with thoughtfulness and clear-eyed intelligence.

The first year of motherhood is trial by fire. No matter how much preparation or research you do, nothing can truly prepare you for the change in lifestyle, change in self, loss of identity, and the need to forge a new one.

Yet most of us try to find answers. We take classes, read books and blogs, and ask friends. Pregnant women, and their partners, are often desperate for knowledge. But most stories we hear tend to be on the extreme ends of the spectrum.

There’s the horror story variety: “My labor was 37 hours long and I almost tore in half,” and of course the classic, “You’ll never sleep again!”

While the other side oozes with pure joy and positivity: “I fell in love with my baby right away!” and, “I can’t imagine life without children.”

Neither extreme – no matter how true for the teller – is helpful for new mothers, most of whom are craving realistic answers that fall somewhere in the middle.

On the last day of my childbirth class, I remember one father asking our instructor the question on all of our minds. “But what is it like?”

We all knew what he meant by “it.” He wasn’t referring to the topic being addressed; he wanted to know what being a parent looked like, felt like. He wanted details, minutia. The truth.

I remember people laughing a little, nervously, because we all knew the question couldn’t be answered, certainly not in a few pithy lines on our way out the door. Yet we listened and hung on every word, hoping for some wisdom to carry us to the other side.

This is what Sharon’s book does – she invites the reader to come along with her on the journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood and doesn’t hold back. She gives readers the truth, her truth, of course, but with universal sentiments and her own hard-earned wisdom.

“It’s not about being a good mother. It’s about being the right mother. For this child. In this moment… seek to be the right mother. Every day. And if you can do that, you can find peace in the chaos of motherhood.” (page 266)

Becoming a mother is not something that happens in an instant when the baby arrives. It’s something that continues to happen, for years, maybe for the rest of our lives as our children grow up, and one day, grow away.

Bittersweet

Summer is ending and as always I’m feeling bittersweet about the impending transition. I can hardly believe in two weeks I’ll have a second grader and an almost four-year-old preschooler.

Even my daughter is in awe of her rising elementary school status. She keeps saying, mom, I feel like I was just in kindergarten! Yup. I hear you, kid. Me too.

I can still see her posing shyly in front of someone else’s brownstone in Brooklyn because we were too flustered to take a picture before leaving our apartment.

kindergarten 2013

Fast forward a year, a first grader in New Hope, PA, our brand new town, walking through those double doors without me, knowing not a single person. My brave girl.

first day of first grade 2014

Now, here we are, on the cusp of another year. But first: summer.

Summer with kids is always a challenge, as well as a gift. The grinding schedule of school suddenly screeching to a halt, like a city bus we’ve been evicted from, the wheels still turning, as we stumble to find our footing.

With only 3 weeks of camp starting at the end of July, we had many days to fill, and yet, somehow, they blew by. There were touch and go moments of sanity (mine) and some freaking out (everyone’s), but here we are at the end of August, the finish line of this short season in sight, and my heart aches at the upcoming shift.

Before I began writing this post, I studied my phone calendar, trying to figure out where the time had gone. What had we done to fill those days? Did I fail to take advantage of our first summer in our new town? Scrolling through my pictures proved otherwise.

Summer Checklist Highlight Reel

1. Eat LOTS of ice cream. Check.

Dilly's Corner. No, we can't eat any of the fried gluten food, but the soft serve and Philadelphia Italian Ices are GF.

Dilly’s Corner. The soft serve is GF.

2. Go all out for the 4th of July fireworks display. Check. 

summer fourth of july

3. Go to the beach at least once, more to come. Check.

Asbury Park, NJ. Not to be missed.

Asbury Park, NJ. Not to be missed.

4. Host family gatherings and insist on very long, hug-filled goodbyes. Check. 

Farewells are not easy.

5. Spend time in nature. Check.

summer nature boy summer nature girl

6. Do a ton of arts & crafts. Check.

summer arts and crafts

Painting fairy houses on the driveway.

7. Get your nails done and let your kid pick the color. Check. 

I have to say, silver might be my new favorite shade.

Silver might be my new favorite shade.

8. Act silly. Also, take full advantage of the ice cream truck. Check. 

summer crazy

9. Go to local fairs and carnivals. ALL OF THEM. Check. 

He got the sparkly pink car. Score.

10. RELAX. Check. 

Summer relax

I love that this was taken the day AFTER the last day of school.

Turns out, we had a lot of fun this summer in the midst of craziness, whining, and all around lunacy. Basically, life as usual, but with no homework and lots of pool time. Not a bad way to spend a couple months.

Did I get much writing done? Not a ton, but more than I expected. There was my successful Highlights trip where I finished a draft of my novel, plus I wrote my first guest post series on The Gift of Writing.

But the best thing I did for myself was to surrender to summer, because fall comes around way too fast.

I’m leaving you with one of my favorite recipes to help ease you into the new season.

Cranberry Orange Muffins (Gluten Free)

cran orange w background muffins

This muffin is the perfect blend of summer and autumn. Also, completely irresistible, according to my husband’s sweet tooth. They usually disappear within a day – or less.

If you don’t have to be gluten free, check out this Food Network recipe made with white flour that inspired my creation. But if you dabble in GF, definitely give these a try. They are worth the effort.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of one medium-sized orange (preferably a juicy one)
  • about 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (1 to 1 and a half oranges)
  • 2/3 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend (I use Better Batter)
  • 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour blend has it already)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of full-fat or low-fat sour cream
  • raw sugar to sprinkle on top of each cupcake before baking (if desired)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 12-cup muffin tin OR a jumbo 6-cup muffin tin with butter or cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Zest orange and set aside. Squeeze juice and run through a sieve to eliminate pulp and seeds. Place juice in a small saucepan with cranberries. Bring to just a simmer over medium heat. Remove pan from heat and set aside so the cranberries can cool and plump.
  3. In a large bowl, mix (by hand) butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the following ingredients one at a time, stirring well after each addition: eggs, vanilla, orange zest, flour, xanthan gum (if necessary), baking powder, and salt. Beat to combine. Continue stirring until the batter becomes thicker and slightly more elastic, which means the xanthan gum has been activated. Add sour cream to the batter and mix until combined.
  4. Finally, fold the cooled cranberries and orange juice into the batter. Do not over mix.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups – for those who enjoy being extra precise, use an ice-cream scooper. Top each muffin with a generous sprinkling of raw sugar if desired.
  6. Bake in the center of a preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the muffin tin and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

cran orange cloe up

Eat and enjoy! They go fast…just like summer.

Asking for Help

This isn’t something I do. Well, not on a regular basis. I’m one of those, no, I got it, kind of people. Pride, foolishness, who knows. I could go deep and examine myself, but I’ll leave that for my future therapist (if I ever go back to one, ha). Let’s just say, for whatever reason it’s never come easily for me.

When my daughter was a baby, a colicky, screaming banshee, I needed help. In retrospect I see that quite clearly. Not with her – because, believe me, she was a handful – but for myself. The realization that I was in too deep came several years later and I wrote an essay about it, which will be published in the forthcoming anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness.

Recently, I found myself in a similar place. A rough patch in my parenting journey. Yes, it’s summer and my patience is wearing thin, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s more than that. My colicky little baby girl is now an artistic, sensitive, curious seven-year-old, and still as stubborn and challenging as she was as an infant. I used to call her my extreme baby, and, well now, she’s my extreme grown child.

The other day I was at my wit’s end. I lost my marbles, to put it mildly, and fell into a familiar cycle of self-loathing and despair. Except this time, I asked for help.

Not out loud, but in a note on my phone, which has become a makeshift journal of sorts.

And then, the very next day, this arrived:

hands free life

I am a huge fan of Rachel Macy Stafford and the beautiful writing on her blog, Hands Free Mama. She writes so eloquently about parenting. All of it, the messiness, the shame, and the infinite possibility. Her advice always hits a nerve for me. I even bought her bracelet this winter because I hoped seeing the reminder on my wrist, Only Love Today, would help ground me.

bracelets

Recently, I happened across a Huffington Post article on Facebook that I hadn’t read before called, Manager in My Home, which is about her moment of transformation from manager to nurturer. After reading it, and recognizing my tendency to try to control and rush through the days, I realized that I have yet to put her wisdom into practice.

When Rachel reached out to me on Facebook a couple months ago and asked if I’d consider reviewing her new book, Hands Free Life, I was stunned and moved. YES. Sign me up, I said. The truth is, I haven’t read her first book, Hands Free Mama, though it has been on my to-read list for almost a year.

I think part of me was hesitant to buy another self-help style book. I’ve been through quite a few in the parenting genre. Another part of me was afraid. What if her advice didn’t work? What if I was too far gone?

But after digging a little deeper, I think the real truth is this: what if I had to actually work to make change happen? 

It’s one thing to buy a bracelet and admire another’s work, but quite another to change your life.

Well, I’m ready now. I’ve already ordered a copy of Hands Free Mama (which you can get a free ebook of if you preorder her new book), and I’m a third of the way through Hands Free Life.

I’m soaking it up like a sponge. I’m already starting to make changes in my parenting style, in my life. Let me be perfectly clear – I’m a long, long way from shaking off all my bad habits, but I’m finally willing to try.

I’ll be sharing tidbits of knowledge from the book along the way, and also writing a review closer to the September 8th release. Please note that I’m not getting paid in any way to promote this book, though I did receive a free copy. I don’t usually review books at all here, but this book literally arrived at my doorstep at just the right moment in my life.

Are you familiar with Hands Free Mama? If not, let me know what you think if you end up checking out her blog. I also loved her latest moving post about making appreciation jars for her family on the eve of her surgery. I’m definitely going to make them for my kids, maybe even before summer ends…

Speaking of which, I hope you’re enjoying your summer! The school year is right around the corner, which fills me with excitement or dread, depending on the hour. Knowing myself, I will be in full nostalgia mode, despite all the challenges of this summer. Because that’s the way I roll.