How To Streamline Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping with kids is enough to make anyone twitch. Why is this simple task so hard? What about “Don’t touch anything” means “Yes, please grab 14 boxes of pasta!”? Why the sudden need to exercise and run around despite the cart designed to look like a fire truck?

And what on earth is so intriguing about the other side of the store when you don’t even know what’s over there?

(Yup. Just answered my own question.)

I still struggle with this. We’ve moved around so much since having kids that I’ve had to get used to a new grocery store every 18 months. I wish I could pay Cub Foods for footage in their parking lot the other day. You’d see a pleasant, happy, engaged mama going in and then an hour later a crazy maniac coming out, running for her car as if fleeing a hungry bear.

HALP!

Lord knows I’ve learned a few things that have helped me. And hopefully we’ll get used to our new grocery spot soon. Here are a few things I do to make things less … well, torturous:

  • I categorize my list

I still prefer pen and paper, for some reason. I start my grocery list by marking 4 sections: produce, grocery, dairy, and frozen. As I add things to my list, I put it in the appropriate section. My trip through the store is much simpler and I don’t end up bouncing around as much. Here’s my Grocery List Printable.

  • If I can, I involve the kids!

Kids actually love to be a part of what you’re doing. If they’re old enough to be interested, humor them!

If we walk to the grocery store and I’m pushing a stroller, I let the kids push the kid-sized cart and lug the groceries. Why they love it, I don’t know, but my almost 3-year-old sticks to me like glue and is at the ready when I hand him something.

If I bring coupons to use, I let someone be in charge of them. I’ll bring a small envelope for one of my kids to hang onto and as I find the items, I’ll hand the applicable coupon for them to keep in the envelope. Again, they love being in charge of that.

I’ll bring a $5 bill, which a kid gets to keep in his pocket. He then gets to pick out a treat within a section (this usually means berries from the produce department). We keep that item separate – the kid can even hold it in his lap or carry it – and he gets to pay for it separately at the end of the grocery trip.

My last go-to involvement is loading the groceries onto the belt. Kids love it, even the heavy items. Again, I’m bewildered and so thankful 😊

  • I bring snacks.

Nothing makes a child stay put like a snack. Granola bars or string cheese are good for this situation. Enough said.

  • I take a trip to the bathroom, if necessary.

If someone keeps acting up, we take a trip to the bathroom (or in front of the bathroom if it’s not cart friendly). Here, they get a very direct reminder about what good behavior is in the grocery store. My kids hate the idea of being brought to the bathroom, so even the question, “Do we have to take a trip to the bathroom?” usually makes them wise up. They know what it means! Most of the time, if you give extra diligence to nip things in the bud, your kids will start to get it. Unfortunately, this often means having to inconvenience yourself by bringing them aside somewhere or taking them out to the car. Yes, grocery trips take 3 times longer with kids. Oi vey!

A word on rewards: I try to avoid rewarding good behavior in the grocery store, although I completely understand why parents do it. I try to remind myself that I want to encourage good behavior in public whether I treat them or not. Grocery shopping is simply something we have to do, and I want to encourage my kids to behave for its own sake. That’s their contribution. I also like giving treats because I love them, not to coerce them into good behavior. It’s way more fun that way.

You can do this, mama. If you like to grocery shop for yourself, you CAN. Even with your circus in tow. Just don’t forget how amazing you are. If you need an extra boost, just wear your cape to the store.

On Staying Connected with your Spouse after Childbirth

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today.”

– The Impressive Clergyman, The Princess Bride

Find someone great, tie the knot, and boom! Built-in companionship for life. After that, you just hang out and enjoy each other and live happily ever after.

Aaaww!

But marriage is not a crockpot. You can’t simply set it and forget it. It’s more like frying eggs: if you’re not there at the right time with the right tool to flip or scramble, they get a little burnt (or a lot burnt). They stick to the pan. They make a crusty mess. And then you have to decide: stay with these eggs through the rest of breakfast or throw them out and get new ones.

Then, you decide to add kids to the stovetop. There’s bacon. You’re sautéing onions and flipping pancakes. It’s easier to pay attention to your beloved eggs when it’s just them, but when you add more to the mix, those eggs have a higher chance of getting burnt. Plus, all that food on the stove is exhausting and the bacon spits hot stuff at you and the pancakes flip onto the edge of the pan. Argh!

I want to share this week what my husband and I have learned about making sure the eggs (aka: him!) don’t get burnt or forgotten, and how we have successfully avoided throwing him out… for now. 😉

There’s a process to figuring out parenting and marriage within a family. It’s beautiful. And imperfect. Balancing the emotional attention and physical connection the husband may need and respecting the physical space, patience, and support you need as the wife is a challenge. If you go into it like a crockpot and forget that what you actually have is eggs in a pan, somebody might get burned.

What my husband learned about maintaining our connection:

First patience, then sweet fruit:

“Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet.” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)

My husband and I had a difficult time maintaining our physical connection after our first child. We are huge fans of attachment parenting, which had the unintended consequence of rarely having time for each other. I’ll spare you the details of the process he went through, but he has firmly accepted this mantra: patience first.

It’s often jarring to embrace something counterintuitive. He wanted to be more physically intimate with me, but I had limitations: a child with 24/7 physical needs, exhaustion, and recovery from childbirth. Many marriages struggle with this exact thing and it is truly a trying experience. But, when he sees me overwhelmed or exhausted, instead of being pushy or sour, he acts decidedly patient. I’ll spare you the details there, too, but let’s just say that it helps our intimate life remain healthy, sincere, and mutual.

 “Patience it not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” (Joyce Meyer)

Decide what love is between you and your wife, and no one else:

There are many ways married couples can maintain their emotional connection, and only they get to decide what that looks like. It is not uncommon for couples to go into marriage with preconceived notions about what they will be like and what their love will look like. What’s dangerous is they are preconceived. They are not based on the actual relationship itself. They may come from your own parents’ relationship, what you’ve observed in your friends’ relationships, or maybe you’ve watched too many Hollywood movies and think it should be something like Fifty Shades of Grey (yuck).

After fighting our own preconceived notions, we’ve settled into the pleasantness of knowing what our own love is. Mostly it was through accidental discovery, like how much we both enjoy doing the crossword together. Other times, it has been through intention, like how my husband always makes me swing dance in public (ugh). We’ve learned to embrace and harness our love for what it is instead of trying to make it what it isn’t.

We’ve gone down many false paths through this journey of discovering ourselves. So, if you’re reading this and hoping to apply lessons that we’ve learned to your own marriage, don’t be afraid of trial and error. My husband and I both know that going out to movies is just not for us. Sure, we like to see a movie on the big screen occasionally, but 1) both of us hate the price, 2) with kids it’s nearly impossible to enjoy, and 3) we’d rather spend those three hours in a coffee shop than sitting next to each other watching a movie. That’s us, though. Many couples love the romance of this classic date. That’s the point: decide what love is between you – no one else can!

Dedicate time that will always be available:

By far the greatest discovery we have made was shortly after our third child was born. Between attachment parenting and zone defense, we quickly realized we were spending less and less time with each other. And what time we did have together was spent corralling children in tandem. When were we supposed to find time for each other?

We figured it out by dedicating fifteen minutes to each other right after the kids were asleep. We guard these fifteen minutes viciously. Our kids are still young and have early bedtimes, so by eight o’clock, it’s nothing but crickets in our house. My husband comes to me in the bedroom straight from putting our older kids to bed. Then, we simply sit and yap away at each other, for longer than 15 minutes if we can get it. No phones and no TV. Just each other.

Setting aside this time just for each other is a tool to maintain our connection. He calls it a tool because it’s not this dreamy, wonderful, deep conversation every evening. To be honest, I’m on the verge of consciousness most nights because all I want to do is go to sleep. But it gives us the opportunity to connect, even if it’s just catching up on daily business, hearing how the other person’s day was, and sharing fun stories about the kids. We’ll often plan our schedule for the next day. I remind him of any social engagements we’re committed to, which he dutifully forgets before morning.

What I learned about maintaining our connection:

Open your eyes:

As a mother, it’s so easy to fixate on the kids and miss what your husband is doing. When my husband was first trying to be intentional with our connection after our third child was born, I would miss his loving actions if I wasn’t paying attention. I did my best to see and understand when he was being patient, extra supportive, or understanding. I let these actions sink in and it swelled my love for him, which in turn improved our connection. I saw the ways in which he was giving, and it naturally made me want to give love when I could.

This is such a mental exercise. Just pay attention! Make sure your eyes are open to the love your partner is trying to give you.

Everything counts:

My husband is someone who thrives on physical connection. I knew this all along but misunderstood this to mean that sex was the key. Of course, sex is important, but I’ve learned that all forms of physical and emotional connection matter – holding his arm in church, scratching his back while he prepares a meal, kisses in passing – and it doesn’t have to lead anywhere. All of it has value for its own sake.

This takes the pressure of off me to “make something happen” and helps us maintain a good flow of intimacy throughout the day. It increases our appreciation of one another and helps us feel good feels within our marriage.

Intention, intention, intention! (and don’t wait for sparks to fly):

Like I said, sex is not everything. But it still matters! Of course, it takes special, above-and-beyond intention when you have kids. If you don’t try to make it happen, it never will. It’s too hard when you have kids. There’s always a deterrent: exhaustion or busyness or an off mood. But I find that when I have a tiny spark of interest and run with it, that intention pays off and we stay connected. It doesn’t have to be this grand experience, like the kind we enjoyed in our honeymoon phase. Enjoy the feeling of a more seasoned marriage, where quiet, steady love is the foundation. Be gracious and generous with each other. This is perhaps the point of marriage: to learn how to be good to other people above yourself.

In the end, every couple has to figure out how marriage thrives for themselves. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, which is both a blessing and a curse. The process of learning how to live with and love each other takes time, especially through the challenging child rearing years. These challenges have made us stronger, and yours will, too.

Thoughts on Meal Planning

Meal planning can be such a doozy, can’t it? If a meal suddenly catches you off guard, it’s turned into a frenzy in your mind. GAH what should I make, what should I make, what should I make? So, what usually happens? Takeout. Never mind the fact that you have to come up with dinner again TOMORROW. (and the next day) Get out of that vicious cycle of last minute dinner prep and avoid the apathetic responses to: “What would you like for dinner?” Instead, choose to plan ahead. The benefits of staying on top of meal planning are endless: less stress, better nutrition, and happier tummies! In my life, it’s been worth putting a little forethought into each week.

Here are some tips for getting that knack for meal-planning.

  • Figure out what works for you!

I used to do a fancy meal planner (here) and liked it at first. I could see all my recipes at once and easily choose a variety of meals. But, I found that as I tried new recipes, it was too limiting – not a lot of space for growth.

I ended up craving something simpler. Now, I have a recipe book that I’ve typed out and I meal plan right in my planner (yes, it’s still paper…). I love that it’s incorporated with my thoughts on regular life and scheduling in general.

The time and effort it takes to figure out what works for you is well worth it. The recipe binder works for me. My mother prefers an old-fashioned recipe card box. My mother-in-law has dozens of food magazines and post-it tabs them as she goes. What will work for you may end up being something entirely different.

  • Make the planning process as easy as possible.

You’re a mom; things need to be easy! For me, that means my planner, recipe book, and grocery list are all right there in my kitchen. I can start thinking through meals, planning, and compiling a grocery list while I wait for water to boil. I can check on ingredients in the fridge and pantry so I don’t buy too much. I can also see what we have a lot of and base meals on what needs to go! The easier meal planning is, the better the turnout.

This also makes it easy to include the rest of your household, since your grocery list is accessible to everyone. Encourage them to add to it when something runs out.

  • Build it into your routine.

If you have a regular time for meal planning, you’ll start to get triggered as that time approaches. For me, having a regular grocery day (Monday) helps. As the weekend winds down, I realize that I have to meal plan and compile that grocery list for Monday morning.

  • Don’t do gourmet.

There is no need to break your back over every meal. Simple is good. Nutrition can be easy. One way to make cooking easier is to bulk cook one meal and freeze some for later, like our Double & Freeze idea. And there’s no shame in doing leftovers one (or more) night a week. We do!

  • Build on what you have.

Keep recipes that you like and find a system to organize them. I built up so many recipes that I typed them up in Word documents according to category:

  1. Breakfast
  2. Appetizers
  3. Dressings & Sauces
  4. Main Dishes
  5. Sides
  6. Breads & Rolls
  7. Desserts
  8. Drinks
  9. Baby Food

Oh my! I have this document printed, laminated (to withstand kitchen messes), and placed in a 2” binder. My Main Dishes category gets some special love and is broken down into:

  1. Fish & Protein
  2. Rice, Grains & Beans
  3. Pasta & Pizza
  4. Soups

I bounce around between these four categories and it helps me maintain variety in our meals.

The bottom line is: when it comes to meal planning, you just have to do it. Like any habit, meal planning takes time to get used to. The more you practice it, the more it will work itself easily into your routine and your mindset.

But, give yourself grace! I’ve been learning to meal plan for years and I still end up with nights that include: Well, I guess it’s frozen pizza tonight! and You guys don’t mind leftovers two nights in a row, right? As long as your kids don’t starve, you’re doing a pretty good job.

Shout Out To Baby-Wearing!

It seems as your family grows, the ways to keep up with housework become less and less reasonable:

  • Ignore children completely
  • Hire help with imaginary money
  • Operate at super speed
  • Grow more limbs
  • Burn house down

Right?

Now, before you go off to light matches, I’d like to share what has helped me immensely in this area. If I leave you uninspired, then by all means, do some research on becoming an octopus.

Here’s my secret that’s not actually a secret:

Baby-wearing!

This is the best way I’ve found to regain the use of BOTH OF MY HANDS and keep the baby happy. Babies love to be close to their mamas (after all, they were inside of us!), and they become so peaceful when they’re allowed to be. They can enjoy your rhythm and natural warmth, and you can more easily be in tune with their early cues telling you what they need. THAT means less crying and happier babies.

When my daughter was a younger baby, I would wear her around the house almost all day – doing laundry, preparing dinner, and any other necessary housework – while her brothers entertained each other. She would even sleep on me, which meant I could take my boys out to the park anytime – whether younger sister was napping or not. We were mobile most of the day and could escape to an outdoor space whenever things were getting crazy!

When baby is super little, I use a ring sling. Most of the ones out there are great and you can even make your own. When baby gets a little bigger, I love the Beco Gemini. This carrier is very versatile and I use it until baby wants more independence (when they start crawling or walking, essentially).

Babywearing has made my life less complicated. I can still be there for my older kids, and I’ve been able to keep up with housework. The Beco Gemini is by far my most useful tool in my mom arsenal.

Cue montage proving how versatile and useful baby-wearing is!

01 - Hiking on Guam!02 - Out for coffee!03 - Out for beer!04 - On a Navy Destroyer!05 - On the train in Japan!06 - In the middle of Tokyo

Nurturing Your Older Kids: The Tea Time Ritual

I would never say having a baby is easy. On the contrary! But when you have an only child, the focus is simple. There’s only one tiny being to look out for. You can drop everything else for the sake of that tiny being and feel justified.

Dishes? They can wait. Laundry? Whatever. Errands? Hopefully you stocked up on canned goods. Everything else can be put on the back burner if your baby needs you.

But when you get pregnant with your second, you have to start juggling! What were your concerns when your first child became a sibling?

For some reason, my transition from 1 baby to 2 babies was fairly simple. But I did worry when 2 was going to become 3. I found out I was pregnant when my second was only 9 months old. I was elated – but also worried about my baby-about-to-be-a-middle. Was he ready for this? Were any of us? How would I ensure that my boy and his 2-and-a-half-year-old brother got everything they needed? The unknowns were consuming.

Luckily – and as with most things in motherhood – we slowly figured it out. A few months after I had our daughter, we started to find our routine. And one thing that allowed me intimate time with my sons was tea time!

Every day, after my daughter’s first nap (spent in our Beco Gemini – more on that next week!), I would start tea and prepare a snack alongside it – usually trail mix or muffins. Then, we would set our tray (teapot, tea cups, & snack) and head on over to their “kids’ table.” It was truly an event!

Next, the boys would sit at their table. I would sit on the ground next to them. And our baby Ruthie would do tummy time on a soft blanket right there with us. We’d sip tea, eat munchies, talk about anything, and read our favorite books. There, we would linger and enjoy. Endlessly! Well, until Ruthie said No more tummy time!

Even now, I’m sighing at the thought of it! These were truly precious times. It relaxed us and helped us stayed connected with each other. It led us to our newest favorite books. It ensured that I actually looked them in the eyes as much as I should, heard what they had to say, and smiled when they shared their hearts. I know I can get consumed with baby care, so the reassurance that my big kids are also being nurtured is everything.

What helps you connect with your kids when it’s not a daily given? How do you accommodate all your babies when it’s not easy?

Play Dates Are Actually Mom Dates

I love moms. I love motherhood. I love being a mom. And being around moms. I can’t put words on it, but there’s certainly something special about womanhood being lived together.

I’m almost convinced that play dates are secretly for mothers. Sure, we plan and coordinate. Oh yeah, let’s get the kids together! They’d love it! We say we’ll meet somewhere for the kids. You know – the park or PlayPlace or children’s museum. We tell ourselves this is good for our kids socially.

And, of course, it is. But man, aren’t playdates just so good for us? You could easily argue that the good vibes are even better for moms than for kids.

And mom dates are loaded with benefits.

  • We get to have an actual adult conversation that doesn’t involve a food order.
  • We have common experience – we can commiserate or slap hands in celebration. We can get advice or reassurance or encouragement. All with and from someone who gets it.
  • The kids socialize and have a playmate that doesn’t tucker out in 7 minutes like mom does!
  • We all get fresh air!

And this is all without having to pay a babysitter. Hallelujah!

Here are some mom date ideas that I’ve loved in the past. If any of them inspire you, start coordinating!

  1. Stroller walk + coffee shop + park

This one is my favorite. It’s so simple! Meet at someone’s house, pack all the kids up in strollers and take a long walk to your nearest coffee shop. I’ve found that a mile is the perfect distance. Grab coffee and unload the kids at the nearest park. Sip and play!

  1. Mall park

Mall parks are the best in the dead of winter because it’s where the kids go. Meet at your nearest mall with a park and you’ll have at least an hour to catch up. Most mall parks are also contained so there’s low risk for wanderers.

  1. Host brunch

Hands down, brunch is the best meal of the day. Have a mom and her kids over for a mid-week brunch. Feel free to potluck – you provide the main dish and coffee, she brings a side.

  1. Volunteer together

Local shelter, soup kitchen, or nursing home – kids bring life to these places. Bring your gang together to help out somewhere, and your kids will enjoy shared learning experiences.

  1. Farmers market + picnic

This one is great because you don’t have to pack food! Bring blankets and plenty of water, walk around the market, purchase goodies, and enjoy! Most farmers markets set up where there’s a local park or good seating area.

  1. Community events

For this one, think local library or community center. Keep track of their age-appropriate events and activities and invite along a mom and her littles. Story times, nature walks, STEM activities, and best thing is, most of these events are free!

  1. Park + potluck picnic

Coordinate picnic items and meet at a park. Have lunch and play time. Your kids will be outside for at least two hours and will get plenty worn out.

  1. Seasonal activities

These activities are for enjoying your current season. For summer, think the beach or your city parade. In the fall, go for an apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Winter is all about sledding and Christmas events! These come-and-go activities are best enjoyed with friends!

Are you amped up yet? Have some fun out there!

Cheer Here #2: You Are Worth Helping

I began motherhood as an I-can-do-it-all mom. I was fiercely independent. I felt many cards were stacked against me, and I had to be in control in case they fell. If anything went wrong, I would have the assurance that I could handle it myself. It made me feel secure – this idea that I could bear it all.

Of course, this is unsustainable! Things go wrong, life happens, and it can quickly overwhelm a mother trying to do it on her own.

We all end up needing the support of others, which is a lesson I learned as I was preparing for my first international flight with my 12-month-old son. I was scheduled to travel for 25 consecutive hours without the help of my husband. Our situation was no anomaly to the dozens of military families around us, and one mom gave me sound advice:

Accept ALL help, she said, every single offer to hold something, get something, play, distract, retrieve, say YES.

In a rare moment of humility, I followed her advice. I went into this challenge solo but determined to embrace help when it came to me. I knew I would need it!

At the beginning of our long travel day, my son got sick on the way to the airport and threw up on the both of us. My need for support had started early! It just so happened that a labor & delivery corpsman was sitting at the back of our bus and quickly jumped in to help. He was happy to help a young mother with some paper towels and assured me that he was used to that kind of mess. The rest of our journey was arduous, but stewardesses and friendly strangers offered support in ways that I needed. I don’t know how I would have made it without all the help I received.

Since then, I’ve been progressively more receptive to the help and kindness people offer. Just the other day, I was in the line at the post office with my three kids. We were doing fine – I was still in the gentle-reminder phase with my boys. But, the man in front of us offered a budge. Four-years-ago Carrie probably would have politely declined. Oh no no. Thank you, we’re fine. But present-day Carrie accepted his offer with a heavy dose of gratitude.

That kind gentleman gave up a couple minutes of his time. Hopefully, it was a small imposition. But getting out of the post office line two minutes earlier is 120 fewer seconds I have to be on high-alert to make sure my kids are behaving. For me, it was quite a gift. Experiences like these are making me realize that we’re worth helping. Moms are worth helping!

It often feels like we mamas are a burden to society. Kids are loud. They can be obnoxious! When we’re out with our children, we move slowly and fumble around quite a bit. We start to believe we’re hindrances because there are people who say, “Maybe you should take your kids home” when all you want is to meet that author at his book signing, or “Wow, you have your hands full!” Or the ones who tail you in the grocery store because your tank-sized cart is difficult to maneuver with 100 pounds of people and product in it.

Yes, whenever we go out into the world, you might as well put up flashing lights in back with a sign that says “WIDE LOAD; SLOW-MOVING INDIVIDUAL” because it’s true!

But a burden? I don’t think so. It’s not like we’re raising the next generation of awesome humans and ensuring the future of decent upstanding citizens. No big deal.

Mom: you are not a burden to society. In fact, you are worth helping. You are worth helping! Don’t ignore those who see your value as a mother. When people in public offer you help, that’s what they’re saying. I see you’re taking on something challenging. Let me help. Oh, by the way, thank you for doing such an important job. They’re supporting you as you support the next generation.

So, accept the help when it’s offered. It’s a gift for you not because you’re weak, but because you’re worth it and you’re doing something great.

How Motherhood Changed My Hygiene

I have been dreading this post, for obvious reasons.

But now I have to face the music. Sigh.

Let me tell you how having kids has changed my hygiene (please don’t judge me, please don’t judge me, please don’t judge me):

I started motherhood near a Naval base in Japan. Three weeks postpartum, my husband deployed with his ship and was at sea for a month. I had to figure out how to take care of myself with no extra hands in the house and no family within 6,000 miles. Needless to say, I didn’t spend much time dolling myself up in the powder room.

I have a distinct memory of my friend, Ashley, coming over so I could take a shower.

[This is the same Ashley from my first post – what on earth would I have done without her?!]

She said: Take your time in there. I’ve got Steven. Don’t rush. But poor baby and poor Ashley, he wailed the whole time. That ordeal etched in my mind and from then on, my hygiene didn’t go beyond the basics. It just wasn’t worth the difficulty. It was also time spent away from my newborn. And even if it was just a few minutes, as a new mom, I didn’t like having to do that unnecessarily.

I still brushed my teeth (you can do that holding a baby, yippee!). I still washed my face – perhaps once every other day (yikes!). But makeup? Nope. Face masks? Yeah, right. Blow dryer? Not happening. I did the bare necessities.

For the first two years of our son’s life, my husband was in and out on deployments for varying lengths of time. Through this unpredictable challenge, I embraced a lifestyle of minimal hygiene that has stuck with me. Even now, I take showers twice a week. And my routine is simple. There isn’t anything in my bathroom that takes additional scheduling: no night cream, no astringent, no volumizing hair products… Just soap. Toothpaste. Shampoo and conditioner. And coconut oil.

And you know what I’ve discovered? My body has found a balance. A lot of natural oils came through. Sure, I was maybe a little greasy at first. But then my body started regulating itself. My skin and hair now relish natural oil. Through this basic routine, I feel free. For me, the less time spent in the bathroom means the less difficulty trying to make my routine happen. Hygiene is nice and easy.

My mothering life includes fewer showers as well as fewer glamorous moments. But it works for me and it’s to the level that I am comfortable with in and of myself. After a lot of practice, I can now say that I don’t resign myself to any social expectations regarding appearance. Is my skin perfect? Hardly. But I know it’s healthy, strong, and balanced.

The postpartum phase changed my expectations and liberated me at the same time. Now, when I do put makeup on, it feels extra special (though I have to remember not to rub my eyes!). Makeup isn’t my go-to anymore in order to feel beautiful. I sense my inner spark is what makes me appealing. I feel as if I’m exercising what it means to be an authentic woman. One who strives to prioritize connection over concealer.

Often, we are told what’s good for our bodies (“Use this product!” “Reduce your pores!” “This deodorant is great!”), but this experience has taught me that it’s worth learning how to listen to your body and respond accordingly. You are worth that. I learned how to take care of my body by listening to it instead of telling it what to do or how to behave. I’m learning how to nurture it because I know it. I feel more naturally feminine than ever before. I feel pure in heart. And I’ve come to a point where I like being seen for what I am.

The Postpartum Experience and the Church

Five years ago, I joined the Orthodox Church. And I’m tempted to tell you all about it. I’m quite proud of this community.

But I won’t. I’ll spare you the boring testimony of my years of struggle and eventual deep appreciation for the teachings, traditions, people, blah, blah, blah.

But, here’s what I do want to acknowledge:

Although the Orthodox Church has a grandiose exterior and profound teachings, by being a part of the life of the Church, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing traditions that have smaller voices.

The Orthodox Church taught me about the 40-day rest period after childbirth. This can quickly become a controversial topic for some who think this is about the “uncleanness” of a woman (which it is not). I can tell you from personal experience that this gift is a blessing to a woman. Instead of feeling pressed to fulfill our religious obligation or to show face in church because it’s a good thing to do, the Church simply lets us off the hook and tells us to stay home.

This tradition is beautiful and encourages a woman who is otherwise burdened with family life to have a sort-of lying in. This teaching is a recognition of the arduous nature of childbirth and the tenderness of the postpartum phase. In my mind, it is where the church says: Stay home, mama. Rest and be at ease. God’s not going anywhere. He made this day for rest and it’s what you’re meant to do.

My priest didn’t have to tell me twice to commit to this custom and it has been a blessing to me every time I’ve had a child. My third baby – a daughter – was born in the middle of Lent. In the Orthodox Church, Pascha (Easter) is the most joyously celebrated feast of the year. It’s all food, drinks, and celebrations going late into the night, and that’s just what happens at church. So, while my church family committed to a heavy service schedule and joyfully celebrated Pascha, I simply stayed home. I rested. I slept. I nursed. I held my newborn and inhaled her sweet scent. I ate good food. I listened to my body. I recovered. And my return to church a few weeks later was peaceful, strong, and whole-hearted.

Not having to choose between my need for rest and my eagerness to return to church was like a burden lifted. I didn’t have to make up my mind. It was all laid out right there in front of me. I was given plenty of time and wasn’t expected to get back to church the moment I started to feel better.

Isn’t this such a beautiful thing? I wish the rest of life and society were like this – that a mom would be expected to stay home, entertain no one, cocoon with her baby, and do only what’s necessary for herself and her newborn. Essentially – hibernate!

What do you think? Should we be taking notes from the Church on how to bless our postpartum women? Does our society need to change its view of the postpartum experience?

Double & Freeze: Bean and Cheese Enchiladas

This week, we’re introducing a series called Double & Freeze. It’s something I do often in our house in order to get more bang for my buck in the kitchen. The concept is simple: when you cook dinner, you make twice as much. You serve half and freeze half (often after assembly but before baking). This series will include meals that cater well to that idea – that freeze gracefully and don’t get mad when you stop them mid-process.

Our first Double & Freeze is bean and cheese enchiladas! I knew this would be our first as soon as I thought of sharing this concept. I double and freeze this meal pretty much every time I make it for our family. It makes life much easier.

So here we go! Let’s get started.

Here are all the things you will need:

  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 jalapeño peppers
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 (15 oz) cans black beans
  • 16 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 (28 oz) can red chili enchilada sauce (I use mild)
  • 16 tortillas (flour or wheat are fine)
  • cilantro
  • 2 – 9×13″ pans
  • aluminum foil

Enchilada Ingredients

First, cook your rice according to package instructions and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Chop up the yellow onions and jalapeños. Watch out for seeds! I wear gloves if I have them.

02 - Onions + JalapenosIMG_0380

Heat your olive oil (3 tablespoons) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté your onions and peppers until browned, 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle the cumin (2 teaspoons) over your veggies and cook a few minutes longer. (YUM already!)

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Remove your veggies to a large bowl. Time to make the filling!

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Drain and rinse the beans. Add them to the bowl.

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Add the brown rice. Throw some salt and pepper in there, too!

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Half the cheese. Add it! (you’ll need the other half for sprinkling on top!)

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Stir stir stir!

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YES! Looks so good.

Time to assemble. Open your can of enchilada sauce and cover the bottoms of your pans. No need to be particular; we’ll drizzle the rest of the sauce on top later.

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Filling → tortilla → pan. I do 8 tortillas per pan.

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Then, the rest of the sauce goes on top. Drown those babies!

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Lastly, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top (is there any worthwhile meal without this step?!).

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Pan #1 goes into the oven for 15 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted. Garnish with cilantro before serving warm.

Pan #2 gets covered in aluminum foil and goes into the freezer! When you want to prepare it for dinner later on, I recommend thawing it (freezer → fridge) overnight. Bake as usual: 15 minutes at 400°F.

IMG_0406Enchiladas

Oh, I love you, Enchiladas.

I hope Double & Freeze serves you as well as it serves me. These babies don’t last long in our house, and they are wonderfully hearty and kid-friendly.

Here is a printable PDF. Margaritas not included (though encouraged).

On Having A Clean House

It was a peaceful spring morning. And then it wasn’t.

I don’t remember what I was doing at the time, or why I wasn’t minding my kids on the other end of the house. The shock of it all probably blocked that out. What I do remember is the moment I walked into the kitchen.

And all I could see was cocoa powder.

It. Was. Awful.

The 3-year-old had poured it down the cabinets. The 18-month-old tried to eat it (read: wipe it over every inch of his head). I think there were even paw prints from when the cat walked in to find his bounty.

I wanted to fall on my knees with my arms in the air for a slow motion (say it with me) Nooooo! I wanted to swear off baking forever just to be spiteful. I wanted to hose my kids down in the front yard and then start vacuuming immediately. I wanted to run away with all my belongings tied into a bandana and jump the first train I could find.

Moms, I’m sure you all have a story like this one. The memory is probably already dancing around in your head and making you twitch. If you don’t have a story like this, you’re either super mom (teach me please!) or your kid is currently plotting. Stop reading this and go find him stat.

Keeping your house clean is such a DOOZY in the mom world, isn’t it? Get this – before I had kids, I would clean the house, and it would stay clean. For DAYS.

The thing is, our instinct in response to this is often to try harder. Work smarter. Learn how to get the house cleaned faster. Buck up. But a valuable lesson I learned in motherhood is to give myself heavy doses of grace.

Meaning:

It’s ok to let some things go.

Perfection is not worth the stress.

♪ Let it Be ♪

This too shall pass. In other phases of life, you may be better equipped to keep your house perfectly clean. But now is not the time. And that’s okay.

The blogger in me wants to make a list on how to make cleaning easier, but that’s not the point. I don’t need to help us fix our houses or our cleaning systems or our efficiency. None of that matters without inner peace and family balance.

In this post, I just want to send out good vibes.

You’re doing a great job, mama, regardless of how your house looks right now.

Balance trumps perfection.

A squeaky-clean house is not as good as a lived-in one.

And overall, our focus is best served creating peaceful places for our kids (and ourselves!). This comes from the heart, not from the mop bucket.

So, will you be a bit easier on yourself? There may be crummies on your kitchen counter, crusties on your kids, and crud in your bathtub. But is your house at peace? Consider that a job well done.

The Importance of Routine When You Have Small Children (and How to Make One)

Routine is golden. And for moms, it can be the guiding light in a frazzled world full of meal prep, butt wiping, and wrenches thrown in every system. Routines help us keep our heads above water and for that reason, I adore them.

I will say: routines are not schedules. Schedules are by the book, minute-by-minute. If you don’t keep up with them, it’s disappointing and stressful. But routines are guidelines. They’re helpful friends that are flexible and forgiving, ready to steer us back on track when we’ve lost focus or gotten behind. Routines work for us, not the other way around.

I used to love schedules, but they don’t work in my mom world. When my first son was born, I belonged to a Navy spouses’ bible study on the base near my house. I would try (TRY!) to get there on time, right at 9:00, but my little Steven wanted to nap close to his mama around 8:30. The first few times, I pushed and insisted we get to bible study on time. And it only caused stress. But when I embraced nap time at home and snuggled that little 3-month-old while he napped and nursed, life became peaceful again, I got to bible study eventually, and no one really cared when it was that I showed up.

That’s what’s funny about moms with young children. People don’t really expect much of you when it comes to being prompt. But we forget that and try too hard anyway. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be timely, just that it’s not worth the stress to count minutes.

Nowadays, I have a (pretty minimal) routine for day in and day out with my kids. I also have “daily do’s.” These are not a checklist, just goals. They’re good things that ensure my kids get poured into daily, that I’m spending quality time with them instead of always in do-the-laundry-wash-the-dishes-cook-clean-cook-clean mode. If I don’t do all of my daily do’s (there are 5), it’s no big deal. If I do happen to achieve all 5, it’s cause for celebration! Woo!

Here’s my list of daily do’s and my POD (“Plan of the Day” – thank you, Navy!):

POD for reals

Notice how there are some time slots, but more when-then scenarios.

When we’re done with snack, then we get out of the house.

When we return, then we have lunch and do education hour.

When Ruthie wakes up, then we play outside.

Operating this way is helpful. I don’t feel like I’m racing a clock. Instead, I use the time to guide me. For instance, “It’s 9:00 – time to start preparing snack.” That doesn’t mean, though, that everything is set in stone. If we have to be out the door at 9:00 for something, I can do snack at 8:30 or pack a snack for the road. I have the freedom to change things, and it’s easy because I already have a guideline.

We also have weekly routines. We do bath every Tuesday and Friday evenings. Laundry is (hopefully only) Monday and Friday. Library story times are Tuesday and Thursday mornings. These things don’t go by the way side and we don’t have to think about them because they’re what we do every week. They also make life easier since all we have to do is execute based on what day it is.

A few tips:

  • Think about your family’s natural rhythm.

When is wake up time? When’s the best time for dinner – to accommodate bedtime, but also before they (and you) get hangry?

  • Think about the times you need to be home.

For lunch? For the baby’s naptime, if he won’t sleep in public? Then schedule much of the rest of the time out of the house, or at least doing concentrated activities that are fun.

  • Think about how many times your kids need to eat.

Dinnertime was a struggle for our family until I realized my kids didn’t need to eat 7 times a day! They weren’t hungry for mealtimes, and as a result, they ate poorly. Now, we eat 4 times a day, five if we need it. I find they eat better – more of the healthy stuff – when they’re fed less frequently. When creating a POD, I start with our eating times and naptimes, then I base everything else on those necessities.

  • Be willing to change.

My routine changes when my kids do – about every 6-8 weeks (seriously). I’m constantly tweaking it. Acknowledging that they are changing, growing individuals helps me stay flexible and helps us thrive within our routine.

I imagine this idea is especially important for a working mom (though I have no experience in that realm!). The pressure on working moms is extra intense, so if I were to start work tomorrow, I would make a separate POD for weekday evenings and for the weekends. Weekday PODs would be about getting everyone home safely, fed, and into bed efficiently. But weekend PODs would be about what we do to enjoy each other as a family. I would also give myself some slack and do “weekly do’s” instead of daily ones, in order to spread out my goals over the week. Then the particularly busy days won’t be wrought with guilt over what I didn’t accomplish for my kids.

In the end, it’s what works for your family. You are the expert in that area, so go forth, make routines, and prosper!

How to Deal with Deep Sleprivation

We make plenty of decisions when we become parents. Daycare or stay-at-home parenting. Crib or bassinet. Stroller or baby carrier. Breastfeed or formula. Or both. But there’s one thing that’s inevitable no matter how you finesse your decisions. At some point, you will be sleep deprived.

Dun dun dun!!

Few parents say, “I get more than enough sleep!” in their child’s first year (or two) of life. It’s simply something we have to go through at one point or another, a sort of rite of passage. There’s no real simple fix, there’s no elixir of life here (though wine does help), but here’s what helped me when the going got tough:

  1. Revert to the newborn phase

Sleep when your baby sleeps! We imagine infant sleep gets progressively better as they get older, but it’s more like a roller coaster. They sleep fine for months, and then out of the blue, will wake up at god-forsaken hours. There may be difficult times when your baby doesn’t sleep well. You’ll deserve naps when you can get them. And if you’re still in the newborn phase, why are you awake right now?

  1. Get some fresh air

Nothing does a body (and spirit) good like being outside. Something about breathing fresh air and soaking in vitamin D helps with everything, be it physical, emotional, or mental. Take your baby (and older kids) to the park. Go for long walks. The sun wakes us up beautifully. Even if you’re in the middle of winter, getting out to a 3rd place (coffee shop, mall park, or McDonald’s PlayPlace) is better than nothing. During the long Minnesota winters, my favorite place to take my kids is the library, especially for story time. And along those same lines …

  1. Stay active

It’s much easier to endure a tired day when you’re moving around. It’s when you’re stationary that your eyelids start to get irresistibly heavy. Keep moving, and the hours will move you faster towards bedtime (the kids’ and yours!).

  1. Spread out your caffeine

Let’s be honest. We want need caffeine. I have liberated myself from the caffeine debate. It’s a guilty pleasure, and coffee is my bread and butter. In phases of fatigue, I like to spread out my caffeine in the form of iced coffee. With hot coffee, you have to make a whole cup via Keurig or drip coffee maker. But iced coffee is more flexible, and you can drink as much or as little as you want at a time. I’ll drink half a cup in the morning and half in the afternoon, which doesn’t surpass my caffeine limits as a nursing mom. I keep a bottle of Starbucks Iced Coffee in my fridge for emergencies.

  1. Focus on high energy foods

We exacerbate our fatigue when we eat poorly, though it’s tempting to shove handfuls of candy into your mouth. You’d be justified, but you’ll do yourself a favor if you eat mindfully. Your body will be fueled to handle the day more gracefully than otherwise. Nutritionists recommend focusing on foods high in magnesium and vitamin B, which help you metabolize and convert your food into energy:

  • Almonds and other nuts
  • Salmon
  • Peanut butter
  • Hummus
  • Bananas
  • Oatmeal
  • Pistachios
  • Kale
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Apples

When I see this list, I think trail mix, smoothies, porridge with fruit and nuts, green salads, and my favorite snack: apples with peanut butter.

  1. Ask for help

Your husband or partner is an obvious go-to, but he may be working late, traveling, deployed or just as tired as you are. It’s a minor imposition for a friend, auntie or grandparent to come over for a couple hours to mind your kids. But two hours of rest when you’re sleep deprived makes a world of difference and can be the springboard you need to get back on track. If you don’t have family support, try trading off with another mom and promise to have her back when it’s her turn to lose sleep.

  1. Keep it simple!

If there’s a week that you’re dragging your feet more than usual, simplify. This seems contrary to my advice to stay active (see #3 above) but moving your body slowly and peacefully (an afternoon walk) is different than the stress of a frantic life (toting your kids around to activities). Saying no to extraneous events and obligations can preserve your energy for the rest of your waking hours. Also, turn off your TV and go to bed early. My indicator for my own bedtime is: if I can’t read my book properly and keep glazing over, I know I’m too tired to function and it’s time for night-night.

Even if it’s 7:32. #noshame

So, here’s to the hope that your sleep deprivation is minimal and your coping methods are wholesome and effective.

Cheer Here: You Are Enough

Every 8 weeks, we’re going to take off our big-blog-post hats in favor of simple encouragement. Our needs – a mother’s needs – are indeed physical and mental. But I believe our emotional and spiritual needs to be loftier, trickier to fulfill, and more painful when they’re left wanting. So, every two months, we hope to uplift all the moms out there (new ones especially) with a small encouragement, hoping it comes at just the right time for those who need it.

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In the chaos of life, when seeing your messy house, unbathed kids, and thrown-together dinner at the end of the day, it’s tempting as a mom to doubt yourself and think:

What have I accomplished today? All I do is keep these tiny humans alive!

Sure, we’d all like clean houses, check marks on the to-do list, to have finished that load of laundry that now stinks from seven hours of sitting in the washer, wet and soppy. We’d all like the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day that, you know, what the other moms have when they go to bed.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we have to “get things done” to feel like good moms? Why does the laundry matter when those little stinkers poured salt all over the kitchen floor? Again!

If you’re there cleaning up that salty mess, then you’re a good mother. If you even thought about a to-do list, then you’re a good mother. If you hold your kids at the end of every day and can still say in your heart “I love you,” then you’re a good mother.

Don’t worry about that load that is still stinking up the washer. You’ll remember to fix it when you do more laundry. All you need to do is give every day what you’ve got. And let what you’ve got be enough for every day.

So, say it with me: I am enough, I am enough, I am enough …

An Ode to Best Friends

PREGNANCY IS THE BEGINNING OF YOUR SOCIAL DECLINE. Have you ever had this thought? Do you lie awake some nights over the loss of normal social interaction? From now on, my friends will think I have become a hermit and all I know is the rotation of: diaper change > nap > nurse > diaper change > nap > nurse > DIAPER CHANGE > NAP > NURSE!

Consciously or not, this is something we fear on some level.

The diaper-change-nap-nurse rotation can feel eternal at times. Like you’re in the 9th circle of hell.

Diaper change!

Nap!

Nurse!

It’s true, having a child changes your life like nothing else. And yes, there is a grind that you have to buck up and get through. But I want to discuss the social positives (yes, positives!) that having a child can bring.

My friendships changed when I became a mother. Sure – I wish I could go out with friends on a whim. I wish I saw acquaintances more often. And of course, some friendships faded.

But my friendships that have strengthened are mind-blowing! These friendships are significantly deeper than they were B.K. (Before Kids!) because these friends have now turned into family.

My best friend isn’t a mother. But she is the most fantastic auntie. It’s not even that I should say she still fits with our life; that undermines her. Every part of my life and our family’s life and my children’s lives (and hopefully her life too!) is better than before. This woman comes into my house, forgets to say hi to me, and runs to my kids. Half the time, I don’t even realize she’s arrived until I hear my kids’ screams of glee. She can’t help herself when Cat & Jack goes on clearance at Target, to the point where she wants me to update her the moment my kids are growing. She suggests family outings, and cool places to take our kids. She comes to our house 99% of the time because toting around kids is hard. And she brings coffee. She participates in bedtime. She reads books and plays games.

To be honest, I love our friendship now more than our friendship B.K. I experience more with her, open up to her in different ways and have to be authentic (read: vulnerable) more often. Our friendship is tested; it requires more grace, more flexibility, more heart. And it does not wax and wane easily.

But the thing is, I can’t credit myself with the longevity of our friendship. It is simply a blessing. So, if you’re a mother and have a close friendship like this – if you’ve been nodding and mmm’ing as you read – make sure to tell her (or him) how grateful you are and hold onto them like the treasure they are.

If you’re a mom and you don’t have a friendship like this, it just means you have to find and foster one! And truly, it can be done. Here’s how I managed when my best friend wasn’t near:

  1. Get yourself out there!

The Navy taught me this one before I even had kids. I was dropped into a world where I knew nobody except my husband, who was often deployed. I learned to put myself out there to find friends, even (and especially) when it made me feel uncomfortable. I still haven’t perfected this ability, but I have learned that trying pays off more often than it doesn’t.

  1. Find other people who are doing the same.

Where are the other moms? Find them, and you instantly have common ground. Have older kids? Find the best park in the city, put away your smart phone, and make conversation with the other mom wearing her baby. Go to church? Start or join a mom’s group there. Go and find your next best friend – she might be right under your nose.

  1. Ask for help – and offer it too.

Moms need each other! We imagine getting help means we’re an imposition. That it’s simply a burden. But in reality, giving and receiving support builds community. It brings us closer to each other as we live our lives and helps us avoid isolation. It brings authenticity to our interactions. As my 2-year-old wisely stated this afternoon while we were hiding from monsters: “You can save me and I can save you!”

  1. Do your best, forget the rest!

I just quoted Paw Patrol (forgive me), but it’s true. There will be flops. There might even be rejection. I can remember off the top of my head multiple times when I came on too strong for people (Let’s be friends!!) and had to adjust along the way. And even some people that I scared in the beginning turned out to be good friends in the end.

Try, take a deep breath, and get up again tomorrow. Then try, try, try again when it seems like nothing is working. I guarantee you that you are worth befriending.

  1. Give it time.

Sigh. I know. This is the piece of advice no one wants to hear but knows is coming. Genuine friendship takes time. While we were in the Navy and far from home, I had to find other friends in lieu of my bestie. Luckily, I have been able to make deep friendships along the way, but they always took time to build.

What about you? Do you have any stories about how your friends embraced your growing family? What was challenging? What surprised you?

Cheer Here #5: Time to Stop.

Cheer Here #5: Time to Stop.

I recently had my kids to myself for two weeks. My husband is in the Navy Reserves and took his annual 2-week obligation in Yokosuka, Japan. As the wife of a former active duty sailor, I’ve done this before, and I know how to set reasonable goals, how to capitalize and make the best of our time without dad, and – most of all – how to survive with grace!

But, I’m an ambitious mom. “Ambitious” is the euphemism I use for flighty, frantic, fast-moving, overly-focused, and (often) motivated for no good reason. I just try to get a lot done. Laundry and a trip to the library and dinner and Oh, maybe I’ll make bread for us today. (Spoiler alert: the bread did not get made.)

This is often too bad for my kids. Can you imagine being with this person all day? Even in stressful circumstances, I still push hard, work more frantically, Let’s go let’s go let’s go! Like being (more) of a crazy person will make me more efficient and get shiz done.

While my husband was gone, I learned how ridiculous this is. One morning, I was particularly stressed while trying to get my three kids ready for the day and out the door towards the destination, the goal, that I had set for us ALL to achieve that morning. I was forcing things and pushing my kids and it didn’t work. Go figure! They resisted and bit back. Can you believe it? 😉 I finally threw up my hands because I was sick of this scenario that we kept finding ourselves in. I sent my 2 youngest to the playroom and just stopped.

I sat there with my 5-year-old. And did nothing. I stopped. Stopped pushing and striving for that arbitrary deadline.

Instead, we watched the rain. We prayed. We sat. I enjoyed his presence, pure and simple. And he relaxed. And I relaxed.

I thought that if I threw in the towel on my frantic pace, I would lose opportunity, time, or my Mom-of-the-year award (still waiting for that to come in the mail…). But I didn’t lose any of that. I don’t even remember what we were rushing off to.

I didn’t lose anything; I gained. By loosening my grip and just stopping, I found peace. I gained connection. I got my center back. It rocked! And it made a huge difference the rest of our week.

My point is: whatever you’re struggling through as a mom (or a parent in general!), remember that you are allowed to just stop. Sometimes that’s what we need in order to keep going. Stop striving. Stop figuring it all out. Just do nothing and be present with your kids. Take that time. It will make you a better mom; not a worse one.

Hey Mama! In your greatest moments of difficulty, you are allowed to just stop.

Skip the Baby Shower and Throw Her a Nesting Party!

Skip the Baby Shower and Throw Her a Nesting Party!

Golly! There are so many boundaries with helping each other, aren’t there? So much fear? So much insecurity and uncertainty? Whenever a friend of mine is postpartum, my mind whirs.

Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Am I overwhelming her? Are the things I’m doing the things she actually needs, or just the things I think she needs? Am I even the person to do this for her?

In my dreams, I am what Heng Ou calls the Fantasy Visitor. I show up at a new mother’s doorstep at a time she knows I’m coming. There’s a meal in my hand (and muffins, and homemade bread!) that I tuck into her fridge for later. I step in quietly and keep a peaceful atmosphere. This is her and her baby’s time for quiet and rest. I give my friend a gentle squeeze and gush with her over her new beautiful baby.

I know what you’re thinking: this is all pretty easy and natural so far, right?

Without her asking, I go to the sink to wash my hands to hold her baby (but only if she wants). While I’m there, I wash the dishes. I already know what gets hand-washed and what can be placed in the dishwasher. I know where to find extra dish soap. When I’m done, I gently take baby and mom gives a small sigh of relief as she stretches out her shoulders. We sit on her couch; her living room is in upheaval but she already knows I don’t care and doesn’t fuss over it. She melts into the couch and we discuss how things are going. I ask: does she need to process her birth experience? How is nursing going? What’s been her biggest challenge? I don’t ask if baby is sleeping through the night. I don’t ever ask if baby sleeps through the night. It’s not the right goal for a newborn mother.

About 45 minutes into my visit, mom yawns and I rise to give her the baby. I suggest she go and rest. I’ll let myself out. As she ascends her stairs to cocoon in bed with baby, I sneak into her front closet to find her broom. I sweep her kitchen, then I quickly clean her bathroom. I make sure everything is tidy, put out some dishes for dinner that her husband can find when he gets home, and slip out the door.

This postpartum support. This nourishment. This freedom to have her needs met. This ability to not welcome “guests” but true friends that help out is what mothers need when they’re fresh from childbirth. But this vision? It takes work. It takes time, intention and effort. You can’t just bounce into someone’s life and say: “We’re friends; show me the broom!” That kind of social connectedness requires finesse. And maybe years of friendship. You may desire to be there for a new mother you know, but the abruptness and intensity can be awkward.

I recently brought a meal to a friend of mine who was 9 days postpartum. Friend is a loose term. I adore her and want to become closer. We met at church and our relationship is just – new. A meal and quick chat were appropriate. I did my best to encourage her and bring her joy. But, I’m new to her life; it was my first time in her home. If I were to start rummaging around in her kitchen to “help out,” I might do more damage than good by making her feel uncomfortable. Perhaps I could do the dishes. But anything beyond this basic chore requires foreknowledge that is acquired over time.

At any rate – whether we have the closeness we need for postpartum support or not – we need intention. Things don’t happen magically. But one way to at least get acquainted with a new mother’s home is to throw her a prenatal nesting party!

Now, does it really make sense to throw another baby shower for a mom going on her third, fourth or fifth child? This isn’t exactly her first rodeo. But don’t we still itch to celebrate her? She’s having a baby! Her family is about to change and grow and that deserves recognition. What is more, the larger the family, the larger the need. She’ll need friends who know their way around and are comfortable in her home. So, when your friend is pregnant, ditch the baby shower idea and instead throw her a nesting party:

Before the Party

  1. One month before: Invite all of mom’s closest friends and tell them to wear their cleaning clothes. This is not a day to look your best; it’s a day to nest with mom.
  2. One to two weeks before: Before the day, meet with mom and discuss what goes on to maintain her home. Go through the different sections of her home (you can use our master list for guidance – here) and break it down, including rooms mom doesn’t want touched. That’s ok, too! You’ll use this information to set up a nesting board that her friends can choose from.
    1. Also, see Note below.
  3. The week before: Get artsy! Make a nesting board using a foam board, colorful index cards, and tape (or use our nesting cards: here). During the party, people can choose a card and perform the outlined tasks. Seriously, the house will be clean in a half hour!
  4. The hours before (set up at mom’s house):
    1. Set up your nesting board where you’ll welcome and intro guests.
    2. Set up water and cups in the kitchen.
    3. Set up a laundry basket in a central area for people to put items they’re unsure of; mom can sort through this basket later.
    4. Throw bed sheets and bathroom linens in the washer! Beds will be remade and towels folded and stowed later.
Skip the Baby Shower and Throw Her a Nesting Party!

Have the Party!

  • Welcome your guests and have them choose a nesting card. Invite them to have water, do a short overview of where all the cleaning supplies are, then let them loose to clean, clean, clean!
  • For more involved projects, like the kitchen, encourage people to pair up and work as a team. This way, one person won’t be inundated with a daunting task!

Note: The first obstacle you may run into is mom feeling awkward. Oh my gosh, people are cleaning my house and I feel so BAD! This is a normal modern-day reaction. Besides the fact that she’s embarking on the most wonderful and trying experiences any woman can go through, she might still feel like she doesn’t deserve this kind of support. One way around this is to ask her to prepare something for after all the cleaning is done. Baking muffins or preparing her favorite dish to share. She could make tea or coffee or smoothies (or mimosas!)! When her house is sparkling, you can all sit down and enjoy whatever mom prepared. This may appease her sense of giving back to the community that wants to support her while nourishing her friends and giving everyone a chance to hang out. Remember: if you have a kitchen card on your board, maybe pull this one aside to do all together once you are finished eating and chatting.

Beyond these ideas, the party is your oyster! There’s no real formula as long as the house gets cleaned and the group gets acquainted with mom’s house. You could set up a schedule for bringing meals and invite her friends to sign up. You could even do favors for everyone as a way to say Thanks for helping out! You could do more Blessingway style activities. Or play your favorite baby shower game. Do whatever would support and encourage mom and help her prepare for baby.

Ditch the Baby Shower and Throw Her a Nesting Party!
Ditch the Baby Shower and Throw Her a Nesting Party!

Mom Tip: Mason Jar Snacks!

Mason Jar Snacks

Mason jars have become the center of our universe, and I love their practical uses. When I saw mason jar snack ideas on Facebook, I knew I had to try it! I’ve found that these are great in conjunction with my snack packs (see here). They serve a different purpose (yogurt and granola don’t go so well in a Tupperware container!) and I usually pack 1 or 2 snack packs for the kids and a mason jar for myself. Mama’s gotta eat, too! Never mind that my snacking often happens quickly in the car.

These are super easy to prepare. You need:

  • Wide mouth mason jars with lids
  • Applesauce containers. I’ve found that Mott’s applesauce containers work a lot better than store brands. They’re a bit wider and fit more snugly. Once you (read: your kids) have eaten the applesauce and wash out the container, they’re ready for use.
Mason Jar Snacks

Simply put one snack element in the jar (not too full), chopping vegetables if needed. Put the second part of the snack in the applesauce container. Sneak the applesauce container into the jar, screw on the lid and store in the fridge until you head out the door.

Mason Jar Snacks
Mason Jar Snacks
Mason Jar Snacks!
Mason Jar Snacks
Here are a few of my favorite combinations:
  • Vegetables & ranch
  • Vegetables & hummus
  • Pita & hummus
  • Yogurt & granola with hemp seeds
This is a great way to use up spare vegetables and maintain healthy snacking. Have fun, moms and dads!
Mom Tip: Mason Jar Snacks

The Anatomy of a Tribe

The Anatomy of a Tribe of a Postpartum Mother

I get it. Sometimes, people are caught off guard my new mothers. What do I do for her? Do I even know her that well? What can I offer, really? It’s hard to know where we individually stand in a mother’s life, if we can just waltz over to her home, whether or not to bring a meal (Do they have allergies? I don’t even know!) or just flowers or whether we should just can the idea altogether for the sake of boundaries and privacy.

The thing is: all of these concerns have grounds. You’re absolutely right to be nervous! From one mother to the next, there are different needs. One mother will want everyone to come visit and share her joy. Another mother might want to just be left alone after a difficult labor. Overall, privacy and rest are something new mothers need. But, they also need support and extra hands. It’s a conundrum!

We put together this simple infographic as a guide each time someone you know has a baby. Just find your circle (inner circle, outer circle, or acquaintances) according to your relationship with mom. Are you a neighbor? Coordinate a neighborhood gift, but also give space after you deliver it. Old friends who stayed in contact on-and-off? Bring a meal and offer to do the dishes or make tea. Is she your best friend? Well, you already know what to do, but don’t forget her emotions and her need to process it all.

This is a guide only. These aren’t hard and fast rules. Maybe she is an old friend, but if you feel strongly that you could pitch in more like her inner circle because of the closeness you once shared with her, go for it. Follow your gut. Tune in to the mother and let her be your guide.

The Anatomy of a Tribe for the Postpartum Mother

After Birth by Elisa Albert

Postpartum Article of Excerpts from Elisa Albert's After Birth

The novel After Birth is the story of a woman named Ari as she processes her birth and postpartum experiences. When Ari is 1 year postpartum, her friend, Mina, gives birth and has entirely different struggles. Their conversations are raw and beautiful and they shed light on what motherhood can look like in our modern day.

I’ve taken certain excerpts of this book and compiled them into a sort-of article. I find these excerpts to be cathartic. We mothers experience various things during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum. Hopefully, most of them are good, uplifted, joyful moments. But unfortunately, many aren’t. I found an outlet reading this book, even though I couldn’t relate to everything in it. That’s my hope for whoever reads this small collection: That it can be an exhale if you’ve had an unwanted C-section that you’re still processing. If you’re mourning the loss of liberties you appreciated pre-motherhood. If you’ve been scared of your own postpartum thoughts that sneak up. If you have the anxieties that come with motherhood. Or even if you’re simply wondering: Why isn’t new motherhood as it once was? What have we lost?

This author certainly doesn’t sugar coat anything. Instead, she simply says what we are all thinking, and what most of us struggle with. She brings light to isolation and missteps (by all of us) in new motherhood. Her prose is almost jarring with all its (warning warning!) swears and impolite verbiage. It’s unlike other narratives on motherhood. If you’re a mother – or just want to understand motherhood better – indulge and enjoy.

Postpartum Article: Excerpts Taken from After Birth by Elisa Albert

*All excerpts are fictional and not of memoir

The baby’s first birthday.

Surgery day, I point out, because I have trouble calling it a birth. Anniversary of a great failure.

Ari. Don’t.

Can’t handle a party, none of that circus shit. Baby doesn’t know the difference. We give him his first taste of ice cream after dinner, sing the song, blow out a candle on his behalf, clap, kiss. We forget to take pictures. The joyful chocolate-faced baby, lone candle, flurry of my desperate attempts at good cheer.

Will comes over with a bottle of good scotch.

We made it, babe, Paul says, toasting. Who exactly does he imagine as having made it? And to where? All we’ve done is get used to it.

Clink. I’m surrounded by sweet males. There is that.

I was on happy pills in college, but they messed with my memory and made me fat, so I ditched them. Regularly Paul wonders whether it might be time to check back in with some meds again, maybe “talk to someone.” I bristle. I want to feel things about things. Sad that I don’t have a mother and that the one I had was a total bitch. Mad at my ball-sack OB for gutting me like a fucking fish for no good reason. Surprised and frustrated that even the best man on earth turns out not to cure loneliness. Bored to tears by my own in-depth examination of a subject I once adored. Worn down the by the drudgery and isolation of caring for a tiny child.

He was born on a Tuesday after a long day of labor, but I did not “give” birth to him. He was not “given” birth. The great privilege.

Instead, the knife.

He was “late,” they said. Late, late for a purely invented date. So, he got evicted, and everything went south, and me too complacent to challenge, too stupid to question. Why so stupid? Why so complacent?

They cut me in half, pulled the baby from my numb, gaping, cauterized center. Merciless hospital lights, curtain in front of my face. Effective disembodiment. Smell of burning flesh. Sewn back up again by a team of people I didn’t know, none of whom bothered to look me in the eye, not even one of them, not even once. Severed from hip to hip, iced, brutalized, catheterized, tethered to a bed, the tiny bird’s heartfelt shrieks as they carted him off to somewhere hell itself.

I could barely move for days, let along entertain rational thoughts about the soft, small bundle of bottomless need they placed in my arms later, when I woke in the wrong kind of pain entirely.

We were sent home after the requisite, terrible bowel movement. In the shocking days that followed I saw the requisite awfulness: the baby harmed, the baby hurt, the baby suffering, the baby hurled to the ground, the baby’s head crushed against the wall, destroyed. Ongoing fever dream. In the grip of a kind of black magic for which I was entirely unprepared. Woke in a sweat from intermittent sleep to find him sleep – oh thank God, thank God – breathing.

He’s breathing okay he’s breathing okay he’s breathing okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. I wander too near the white-hot root of things. Flummoxed. Wedded now to a possibility of loss so extreme I could barely breathe myself.

The baby books said nothing about this. Days became nights became days became nights. The baby books said nothing! I held him tight, held him close. Would not let go. The harm that could come to him! The consequence of just one misstep! Unthinkable. Unbearable. What now? What next?

I’ll take him, babe, Paul would say. Give him to me. Try and get some rest.

My infected incision oozed, tight phony grin of a sadistic monster. The necessary course of antibiotics.

I had died, was dead, only a ghost, not fully gone. Watch him breathe: is he breathing? Hold him close. Move slow, wrap yourself around him. Easy, easy. Don’t hurt him. Careful. Is he alive? The world so hideously perilous and the baby a raw egg, only of its kind.

Paul’s mother in Ohio called every third day.

How are you doing? I don’t want to bother you.

How am I. I don’t really know. I don’t know how people are supposed to do this. I don’t know how to do this.

New babies are a lot of work!

I need help, I told her. I can’t do this. My voice was low. She’s good people. Retired secretary, grew up on a farm, hardcore quilter, loves her some sitcoms.

Don’t be silly. Of course you can.

A woman who’s know her whole life how to grow fruits and vegetables, how to can them in the fall, how to sew a dress from a pattern, how to knit a sweater, how to care for the sick. A master of the womanly arts. She was my best bet. Surely she would hightail it over here immediately, show me how. Demonstrate so I might learn.

This child’s mother needs to come and get him now, I said. Someone needs to come and get him. Everything hurts. I’m so tired.

How’s the weather out there, she wondered. I’d better let you go.

A year later, now – happy birthday, moppet – and still I’m working hard to stand up straight, wearing pajamas all the time, avoiding the scar at all costs, suffering those surprise dunks in the rage tank. And occasionally people I barely know cheerfully wonder: are you going to have another? (15-18)

***

He wouldn’t sleep. I felt convinced that the surgery had damaged him, ruined his chances for a happy way in the world. He was always hungry. He needed to be held, he needed to nurse. He shat his diaper, he pissed his diaper. He cried, he needed to be held, he needed to nurse. Endless need. I did not understand how there could be no break. No rest. There was just no end to it. And I couldn’t relinquish him to Paul, not for a minute, because he was mine, you see, mine, my baby, my responsibility, mine alone. I had to stand guard over him, make sure he was safe and okay and breathing and loved and fine and very close at hand. There was an agony that bordered on physical when he wasn’t in my arms. Every cell screamed No! Murder! Where is he? Hold him close! Hold him tight! Don’t let him go!

Way more physically exhausting than I could have imagined. Just the sheer physicality of it, especially agonizing after surgery. Was the baby difficult because the mother was having a difficult time, or was the mother having a difficult time because the baby was difficult?

He refused sleep. Sleep, why wouldn’t he sleep? When might he sleep? We needed to sleep. All of us, sleepless. Lie down now and sleep. Nothing made sense. Sleep. Sleep, Sleeeeep. (49-50)

***

Finally, at my wits’ end, desperate one cold early evening, I knocked on Crispin and Jerry’s door with newborn in the sling. Paul was at office hours, late. Paul was always somewhere, doing something. Paul was still a part of the world. Paul was still in possession of his body, mind, spirit. It felt like he was avoiding me. I had begun to hate him a little because I wished badly to avoid myself, too.

They’d always been friendly, Crispin and Jerry. A pie when we moved in; a polenta casserole when we got home from the hospital. I thought I’d say thank you in person for the casserole, which was so very delicious.

When Jer opened their door, he was laughing at something Crisp was saying. Their house was bright and warm and smelled, I am not joking, of fresh bread. Rickie Lee Jones was doing a particularly jazzy number on the stereo.

His face fell the second he saw me.

Are you okay?

Thank you for the polenta. I forgot your dish, I’m sorry. I washed it.

That’s okay. You’re welcome. Want to come in?

I don’t know. I’m kind of losing my mind? A foreign keening in my voice. Walker asleep on me, bundled in my coat.

Come in, sweetie.

I’m sorry. I just need. I don’t know. Can I just hang out here for a little while? I don’t mean to bother you guys. If you’re busy. Because our house is … I’m just kind of losing my mind? You know what I mean? Are you guys, like, super busy?

Rickie Lee was bebopping, and Crisp shook his hips to show me how busy they were.

Yes, honey, we are absolutely swamped.

They fed me. They murmured and giggled over the baby. They threw this impromptu intimate little party, then sent me on my way a few hours later feeling almost human, almost whole. (52-53)

***

Hey, uh… sorry to bother you? I’m a friend of Mina Morris’s. We’re at uh… Crisp and Jerry’s? The water cut out this morning. The hot water. There’s no hot water. And the heat might be on the fritz. We can hear this banging? Can you call us? Thanks a lot.

Male voice. I listen to it three more times. It’s pretty amazing that these houses are still standing at all, when you think about it.

Will’s happy to see me, I could swear he is. It smells of Nag Champa in there. He gets his coat. We walk. Sunny, freezing.

She’s having a baby. Any minute. Like, she might be having it right now.

Cool. You can show her the ropes.

How deep in shit she’d have to be!

The guy who opens Crisp and Jer’s door is upper forties, short, wool socks, handsome, glasses, flannel. Self-conscious, you can see it immediately in the clothes, which are just slightly too too. Hates his father, wants to impress his father. Not quite enough self-loathing to cancel out the narcissism. Deeply admires people less materialistic than he, can’t quite give up on impressing people more materialistic than he. You grow up among the rich, you become a veritable Jungian psychic where material self-representation is at hand.

Hey, the guy says.

He steps aside to usher us in. Teeth-grindingly cold. A space heater is doing very little to help matters. Mina is bundled so thoroughly in blankets on the couch that at first I don’t see she’s holding her newborn.

We stare.

They look like hairless rats when they’re this new, like soft mechanical dolls. The most riveting, shocking hairless doll rats you ever saw. So intense, what happens when there’s a newborn in the room. This negative energy charge, this weird, blessed pall. Difficult not to whisper, tiptoe, nice and easy, forget what you were going to say.

Hi, I say.

Four days ago, she says, not looking up.

So small and tender, shockingly close to nonexistence. It’s a whole lot like dying. It’s almost exactly the same. Inspires quiet. I worship babies, it occurs to me. This is what worship does: fucks you all kinds of up.

She gestures at the space heater. Sort of bad timing.

How are you? Redundant; I have eyes.

Um. I’ve been better. I’m okay? She’s asking: am I? Her hair is wild.

Will and the guy are standing at attention, like they’re at a funeral for someone they barely knew, no idea what’s required of them.

Then the guy remembers to introduce himself.

I’m Bryan, he says.

Baby daddy? Boyfriend? Relative?

Ari.

Will.

Hi. Cool.

Will leads the way to the basement. Their footfalls thud on the stairs.

Midwife went home the other night, a few hours after. Said she’d stop by again, see how we’re doing. Haven’t heard from her, though. Left a message. She picks up her device and sets it back down.

You have him here?

Yeah, she says, like duh.

Where’s your family? Or whatever. Are they coming? I feel faint, standing over her. A hundred feet tall. And claustrophobic, like when I was a kid, with the panic attacks. A war zone, this: life and death and doing a maddening polka on your soul.

She laughs. Laughs and laughs, shakes laughing, tears up, downright glittery. My family. My family! This is the funniest, oddest idea she’s ever heard. My family! She sighs gratefully, happy for the laugh. Laughter is the great transfusion.

Ah, she says, calmer now. My family. A bit less crazy-eyed, a pinch more present. She stares and her animate bundle. Shakes her head, grins, bugs out her eyes like a soap actor’s interpretation of nuts.

My family!

I sit.

(61-64)

***

She just needs us to sit with her. Process. Not to terrifically much to ask. Not so big a thing.

We’re supposed to have mothers, I say. We’re supposed to have sisters. But what if you don’t have a mother? What if you don’t have a sister? (69)

***

Why couldn’t I just enjoy it? Why couldn’t I be calm and at peace and fulfilled and engorged and certain and calm? Why did lack of sleep make me feel like I was going to die? And why then couldn’t I simply hand the baby over to someone else and take a nap? And why, when he cried, when I had nursed and burped and hugged and kissed and changed and nursed and burped and changed again, when he kept crying, when the crying went on and he wouldn’t sleep and the days unwound sunrise to sunset, when I hadn’t eaten or changed clothes or bathed, when I had no one to talk to, no one to sit with, did I feel like putting him safely down in his crib and walking out into the park and sitting on a bench without my coat on until I died? Why so numb, so incapable, so enraged, so broken?

It’s in your blood, my mother said, and laughed.

Rest for a while, Paul would say.

No, there would be no rest for me. There was no rest to be had There was no escaping the brutal enormity of it: I had had a baby. I had been cut in half for no god reason, and no number of dissolving stitches was ever going to make me whole again. The hysterical imperative was to Feed Him from Myself continuously, no compromise. I had to be vigilant. Omnipresent. I had fallen victim to a commonplace violence, and now I had this baby and there was too much at stake. I had failed him out of the gate. Deprived him the vital, epic journey through the birth canal, my poor doped-up kitten. Poor helpless boy. (92-93)

***

You know why I hate women?

No, doll, tell us, Bryan says to me. Why do you hate women?

Because they didn’t prepare me. Because they didn’t help me. Because they let me do this alone. Because they avoided knowing, mostly, themselves. How could they let me fall down this rabbit hole? They knew what was going to happen. Every woman who’s ever lived is supposed to know.

Thank goodness we don’t have daughters, Mina says.

Thank fucking God we don’t have daughters, I agree.

Sheryl told me she played cards in labor. Reported in without affect. Beep went the machines. Beep beep beep. And I said, oh look I must be having a contraction. She giggled when she said it, like she was talking about someone else’s body, someone else’s birth.

Maybe having given birth, you don’t have to fear death anymore, Mina says.

Bryan is typing. My mother leans over and squints at his screen, her arms crossed.

We’re as fearful of childbirth as we are of death, I say. Why else do we do everything to try and numb and control it? Why else does no one like to talk about it? Everyone’s scared. They’re so scared they don’t even understand they’re scared, that everything’s about fear.

That’s good, Bryan says. “Everyone’s so scared they don’t understand they’re scared.”

My mother rolls her eyes.

People have always feared childbirth, she says. And people have always feared death. Since always and forever. There’s nothing new under the sun.

The local NPR affiliate is replaying some Gifts of the Magi special. Think only of what you have, booms a beautifully deep and frayed male voice, and give no thought to what you lack.

Hey, Bryan says later, before I go up to bed. Mina is passed out on the couch, Zev on her chest. The first embers are still crackling. Level with me here. Do you think she’s, like, depressed?

Uh … yeah.

Do you think she’s, like, okay? Because I said I’d come back, but I can’t stay forever.

I think it’s not normal to have a baby and be by yourself.

She’s not by herself. She has you! What am I supposed to do?!

You’re supposed to hang with her. You’re supposed to marvel at how nuts it is. Be indulgent. It takes time. That’s it. Keep her company. Feed her.

I am indulgent. All I do is support her. Yesterday she starts in crying out of nowhere, tells me she’s exhausted and she needs to find a humane way to kill them both. It’s bananas. And I don’t know if this whole thing – he grabs his own tit as if to offer it to me – is really helping. Why not give the kid some formula and get on with it.

That’s not what she wants.

She’s lost her mind.

She’s not the first.

Are you some kind of witch?

Yup, I reply, and stare him down.

(130-131)

***

Paul kept the mood light waiting around for labor to begin, waiting and waiting and waiting, with out giant old thesaurus. I was not simply huge. I was arched, bellied, biconvex, bloated, bold, bombous, bossed, bosselated, bossy, bowed, bulbiform, bulbous, clavated, corniform, cornute, gibbous, hemispheric, hummocky, in relief, lenticular, lentiform, maniform, nodular, odontoid, papulous, projecting, prominent, protuberant, raised, salient, tuberculous, tuberous, timorous.

He got out his guitar and made up a song. I took issue with bossy, and somewhere between bulbiform and odontoid the whole thing began to sound kind of obnoxious. You get sort of oversensitive toward the end.

My due date passed, and officially we were behind schedule. They ordered a sonogram, looked for problems, told us about possibilities and problems. Made concerned faces and laid of the unacceptable possibilities.

Standard practice.

You hear enough monitor, low-fluid, toxicity, big, proactive, posterior, count kicks, strip membranes, and you think, Jesus, okay, fuck, do whatever you have to do, whatever you people say, just make it okay.

Even though I had told that goddamn OB I wanted to “try” for a normal birth.

Sure, he’s said. Nothing bad was going to happen to me with this guy on duty. Give it a try. I’m all for that. That’s great. So you’re a tough girl. Gonna muscle through.

I played along, practically batted my lashed.

I’d like to try.

Good for you. He turned to Paul. I like that. Tough cookie.

And fine: I had failed to watch the documentaries. I was superstitious. I didn’t want to jinx things. I was overwhelmed. I never got around to it.

(Lazy, my mother says. Always were.)

Folks. Here’s the husky OB, dude I had once, just one time, early on.

It is upon us to get this show on the road. Sexy salt-and-pepper, scrubs, fluorescent rubber gardening clogs. Congenial enough, confidence like a birthright. Baby’s gettin’ pretty big. Looks pretty well cooked. Don’t want him getting much bigger. Lots can start to go wrong. We need to take this show on the road. You ready to meet your baby?

I mean, listen. Historically I got that you had to own your body, that they’d take it from you and tell you not to trouble your pretty little head about it. I’m supposedly on my way to a doctorate in women’s studies, for shit’s sake. I had some awareness that Barbara Ehrenreich had done early work on midwifery, the witch hunts, the medical industry’s treatment of women’s issues. I’d heard Ani DiFranco had given birth at home.

But there I was: huge, disoriented, impatient, scared. Bellied, biconvex, bloated. I handed myself over. Gave them my precious protuberance to deal with as they saw fit.

Yes, I’m ready to have this baby.

No more free lunches for the little one, joked an obese nurse in puppy scrubs while hooking me up to the Pitocin drop, which I’ve since learned is synthesize from cattle pituitary.

Induce: trigger, arouse, wheedle into, set in motion, cajole, encourage, prompt, prod, prevail, spur, generate, instigate, trigger, engender, foster, occasion.

Move by force.

I mean, we use motherfucker in all sorts of contexts. We’re pretty liberal nowadays in our collect use of the word motherfucker. But let’s corral it now, shall we? Reclaim it. If you are an obstetrician or obstetrical nurse and your C-section rate is over, say, 9 percent, you are henceforth an official motherfucker.

I pity you, Mina says, her eyes wet and sincere.

Well, that’s direct. It stings. Pity is so goddamn inescapable, infinitely sadder than scorn.

(151-153)

***

Two hundred years ago – hell, one hundred years ago – you’d have a child surrounded by other women: your mother, her mother, sisters, cousins, sisters-in-law, mother-in-law. And you’d be a teenager, too young to have had any kind of life yourself. You’d share childcare with a raft of women. They’d help you, keep you company, show you how. Then you’d do the same. Not just people to share in the work of raising children, but people to share in the loving of children.

Now maybe you make a living, maybe you get to know yourself on your own terms. Maybe you have adventures, heartbreak. Maybe you nurture ambition. Maybe you explore your sexuality. And then: unceremoniously sliced in fucking half, handed a newborn, home to your little isolation tank, get on with it, and don’t you dare post too many pictures. You don’t want to be one of those.

Paul meant well. Paul is the embodiment of decency. But Paul couldn’t help me. You have to know what people are capable of, and forgive them for whatever they’re not. (173-174)

***

Adrienne Rich had it right. No one gives a crap about motherhood unless they can profit off it. Women are expendable and the work of childbearing, done fully, done consciously, is all-consuming. So who’s gonna write about it if everyone doing it is lost forever within it? You want adventures, you want poetry and art, you want to salon it up over at Gertrude and Alice’s, you’d best leave the messy all-consuming baby stuff to someone else. Birthing and nursing and rocking and distracting and socializing and cooking and washing and gardening and mending: what’s that compared with bullets whizzing overhead, dazzling destructive heroics, headlines, parties, glory, all that Martha Gellhorn stuff, all that Zelda Fitzgerald stuff, drugs and gutters and music and poetry pretty dresses more parties and fucking and fucking and parties?

Destroy yourself, says my mother. Live it up. That’s what makes for good stories.

She should know.

Nurturance, on the other hand…

The time it takes to grow something…

BORING.

Crisp and Jer hosted a party for last year’s visiting writer, a Dutch poet.

Come, Jer said. Mothers need to party, too. So I brought my tiny Walker bundle, and Paul helped me limp over there. What a gift: invited somewhere nice with my terrifying appendage.

The Dutch writer was sweet but standoffish. He spoke to me just once.

In Holland we have a saying, he said, gesturing at my bundle. The Tropical Years. When the Dutch colonized Indonesia, you see, military service there counted for double time. Because you must understand it was terribly hot. And the malaria and the disease, and so forth. So it was that one year of military service in the tropics counted for two. Tropical years, it was called. This is what it is to have small children, you understand?

(185-186)

***

What scared me late at night is that Walker’s a person; he hears what I say and looks up at me and wants to love me but doesn’t yet have any clue to fucked up I am. Here he is, we brought him here, he’s one of us now, the living. It’s pretty simple: an infant is to be held and bundled up and carried around. Fed, tended, protected. Helpless creature. You learn to humble yourself to him, pie-faced god. And you want to feel the enormity of that? Want it to hit you square? Imagine him hurt. Imagine him suffering. Imagine him taken. Imagine him dead. Imagine your arms empty. Imagine it, imagine it, imagine it.

These tiny people, they’re not about you. They are not for you. They do not belong to you. They are under your care, is all, and it’s your job to work at being a decent human being, love them well and a lot, don’t put your problems on them, don’t make your problems their problems, don’t use them to occupy empty parts of yourself. (188)

***

Two. I’m pregnant. I am terribly upset. Beyond hysterical. I will procure an abortion immediately!

I’m looking up the number and dialing and pressing 4 for more information and waiting on hold while the bullshit music plays and I start to count the months. August, it’ll be. Everything hot and lush, nights in short sleeves. A new girl, fresh and soft and naked on my chest.

How smart she’ll be. How free. Open and kind. Happy, secure. She won’t sneak a peek at herself when passing any reflective surface. Rarely threatened. Know what she deserves.

One day she’ll grow gray. Rarely paint her face. Eat slowly, move her body often, all sweat and love. Do as she pleases, disregard the superficial, listen more than she talks, stay calm. Be good to herself. Make things. Fix things. Grow things.

Finally someone picks up.

Hello?

I will be her shining example. I’ll become it, so as to never let her down.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

And oh yeah. And I’ll give birth to her. DO the work, earn her. No avoiding the pain, but I can’t wait to make its acquaintance, see its face, square with it. Exciting. What is pain if you don’t suffer it? I will make myself worthy.

Harlan, is that you? Listen, I told you I was going to report you if you called more than twice a day. Harlan, are you taking your meds? You know I have to call your caseworker if you harass us, Harlan.

We’ll do it together – me and this baby girl. She’ll be here in the dog days of summer. We’ll claw our way grunting screaming moaning ecstatically toward each other. A girl.

I hang up.

 (191-192)