Monday, March 30, 2015

This Weekend We // Sena's Disco Funk Party

Quite frankly, these pictures didn't capture the chaos.
Or the noise. 
Or the fun.

They don't really convey Sena's nonstop smile, or the satisfaction she had regarding a party she has been planning in her own mind since days after her last birthday. Actually, I take that back. She's been planning this party since before her last birthday. 

She invited all her friends, and lucky for me, she counts among her best friends many of my best friends, grown-ups willing to indulge in late night Parliament dance offs.  The party included a disco ball, a spotlight, tons of sparkly dresses, an Afro, a Russian fur hat, and plenty of impressive moves. Sena had the foresight to spend the morning stretching in preparation. She wasn't going to let cramps or sore muscle keep her from the action. 

We also discovered that Arlo takes after his big sister in more ways than we previously knew-- just like her, he never wants to leave the party. He fell asleep on Tom's back dancing, then woke up through the night begging to dance with his friend some more. 

The party also felt like my first real attempt at my New Year's resolution, which has been on my mind a lot despite not being put into action the way I had intended. As it turns out, having fun in the dead of winter while pregnant was not all that easy. Have I been happy? Heck yeah. But I don't think I've had a ton of fun, per se.  A disco funk party was just the way to change that, so thank you Sena for making that happen, even if it did mean strapping a three week old to my chest so that I could bust some moves. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Moment Just For Me

Tonight the house is dark and quiet, filled with only two souls-- me and a sleeping Alamae. The rest are off doing their own things while Alamae and I enjoy the comforts of a semi-empty home.

Tonight, I will stay up a little later, drink mint tea and watch a movie of my own choosing. Tonight, I have the luxury of finding these words, sinking into my own thoughts without interruption. It's something I have been missing as of late. When I was working, I had time during each day that was mine alone. I could think my thoughts without anyone asking me for anything. I could aimlessly drift through dozens of ideas. But this stage in my life is about efficiency, which has never been a strong suit. I have to use my moments well, especially those moments when I do not have another human being physically attached to me. My time is not my own, a price I am certainly willing to pay. But these few moments on this dark, cold spring night are appreciated and not the least bit taken for granted.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fairweather Friend

I wish I was more outdoorsy, that I made it a consistent priority to breathe fresh air and get a little dirty. I wish I knew the names of birds and insects and that I could start a fire more easily. I wish I went out there when it was cold and damp, that my family was good at setting up camp.

But the truth is, I prioritize dozens of things above moments outside, especially when it's not that warm.  Laundry needs to be put away. Dinner needs to be started. My sister has come over to drink coffee. So the outdoors wait, and I sneak a peek at my phone or a blog, and I see all the folks living in the great wide  open while I'm inside.

I want to be one of them-- those people who own all weather jackets and appropriate footwear. But I've never been that woman. My family never went camping growing up. My first night in a tent was when I was thirteen on a mission trip to Venezuela. Most of my camping experience since then has been right beside my car while on the side of a mountain for some music festival or another. In college a friend's boyfriend criticized us for our indoor ways-- he was off to play midnight soccer, while we were content with a board game, a box of wine, and a stereo blasting our favorite live shows.

All day yesterday I vowed to get out there, to put everything else aside. But then it rained and when it cleared, Alamae was fast asleep, and there was such a small window until dinner would need to be made. So plans to go to the beach turned to plans to sip tea on the porch and putter about the yard. It didn't feel outdoorsy in the way I had hoped. But we did hear the spring peepers as the evening settled in, and we spotted a cardinal hanging out on own of our azalea bushes. We discovered mole tunnels snaking through our yard, and Arlo delighted in meeting his shadow.

The weather will turn soon enough, and I will spend more time beyond these walls. For a little while longer though, I might just be a porch person, enjoying the first signs of spring from my newly hung swing.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Playing Scientist

I am fond of making plans, and I am equally fond of cancelling them. Actually, that isn't true. While I frequently cancel plans, I'm always deeply dissatisfied when I do. And yet, I still do it...all the time.

Last week, I almost did it. I planned to take the kids to the Calvert Marine Museum. I had an itch to go after spying sea otters on my parents' pier for the first time in ten years, and since the museum has a pair of otters it seemed like a fun idea. Then I discovered that on Friday they were having their twice annual home school day, so it seemed perfect.

However, when I woke up Friday to snowy weather, the prospect of trying to get four kids out of the door by nine seemed impossible and completely unappealing. Plus, the last time that I tried to take my kids to a museum did not go so well. I called my mom to bag the whole thing, but then called her back three minutes later to say wait, wait, I changed my mind. Let's go.

So we went.

And I am so glad we did.

Sena, generally, loves museums of all varieties. It's easy to engage her. Her nerdiness runs deep. Gus, however, is pulled in as easily. So the fact that he loved the place meant a lot. There were lots of hands on activities, and the museum had undergone massive growth since the last time I was there when Gus was a baby and Sena was a toddler. The giant Megalodon hanging from the ceiling of the Paleo Hall was definitely a highlight. And Arlo enjoyed pushing any and all buttons he could find.

It's pretty awesome having such a beautiful museum dedicated to our specific part of the Chesapeake. I think that was part of the appeal for Gus; he wasn't learning about far off places that he can't particularly relate to. He was learning about his backyard.

The weather did keep us from checking out the sea otters though, so we are going to have to head back once warm weather comes round these parts in earnest.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Four is the smallest "big family" number. It's a whole human being over the idea of 2.5 children average. It feels like a crowd, a traveling party We've only all ventured out once so far- to Whole Foods to stock up on provisions. It was a bit of an ordeal which luckily ended with running into a friend as we checked out, a friend who generously helped me out to the car to unload (Thanks Christie!).  Sena expressed pride in our numbers, recognizing that we seem to stand out a little more than we did a few short weeks ago. And Sena is always happy to stand out.

Tom says four is our max, that he just can't handle the idea that there are any more people to be out in the world to be worried about, too many fragments of his heart living outside his body, in need of protection. And while I am not 100% ready to think that there are no more children destined to join our family, I do know what he means about worrying about all the pieces of you that are off living without you. Four such pieces does feel like a lot.

The days have mostly been remarkably peaceful and quiet, considering.  Some moments scattering the four kids across the house, other times finding them all in one place. We're trying to find our rhythm, balancing the needs to two homeschooled kids, a toddler and an infant. Sena and Gus have been quick to help. Sena frequently has Alamae filling her arms, and Gus has been taking Arlo outside to play when the little man requests it.

There have certainly been kinks and bumps, but we'll figure it out, establish a new normal or at least something as close to a normal as we are likely to ever experience.

Monday, March 16, 2015


There are so many parts of being a parent that feel confusing and contradictory, none more so than the desire to see the future while slowing down the present.

I look at her little, tiny face, with the chin that comes straight from Tom's mother's family and I imagine her as a crotchety old lady, magnificently outspoken and unapologetic, full of convictions and a fair share irreverence.  I try to  stop myself. I'm just imagining based on little more than a bizarre worldly entrance and a few milky expressions.

I want to know what color her eyes will be. I want to hear the sound of her voice. I want to watch her explore and discover and find her place in this family, in this world.

But mostly, I just want it to be slow enough that I can commit each little bit and piece to memory, to be retrieved at a moment's notice, to be reexamined without the pain that so often accompanies my nostalgia.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Right Now

Alamae James is sleeping in the swing by my side. Tom is at the indoor pool with the other three.

It's peaceful and spring will be here soon.  The waiting is over and my heart is undergoing the beautiful growing that occurs while it stretches and expands to hold another person within it.

These people are mine. It is almost more than I can bear. They love me and they love each other and it feels so perfectly perfect that I don't even know that language can begin to encompass the totality of it all.

Every cliche is true. I'm like a sixteen year old falling in love for the first time. My eyes see things differently, see things better, rosier, certainly. Every word I want to write feels like bragging. I want to hold on to this feeling, but maybe more quietly, privately. Here I am sharing because I know no other way. I have never been good at keeping things to myself.

It doesn't matter that it is damp and gray outside. Silver linings dance around the edges of my view.

There are so many people to love in this world. There is so much to see and so much to do and even doing almost nothing feels like just the right thing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Story of a Birth

I checked the weather forecast a bit obsessively in the weeks surrounding my due date, trying to tell my body which days would be good for birthing and which days should be avoided. I hate driving in bad weather and the past few weeks in Maryland had been full of just such conditions.

I knew that Thursday, March 5th, was a bad day to go into labor. Even though it marked a week past my due date, I DID NOT want to go into labor that day. Tom stayed home from work  that day because of the snow, and I spent the day cleaning and cooking. That night we pulled out mattresses and blankets and watched Beasts of the Southern Wilds with the kids on the living room floor, and the whole time I wondered if I was feeling the beginnings of labor. The contractions weren't very strong, but they were pretty regular and coming close. As I tucked the kids into various beds, I became pretty certain I was going into labor. I called my mom and sisters to let them know, but decided to give it an hour or two.

Like most pregnant mothers planning on natural chilbirth, my plan had been to labor at home for as long as I could before going to the birth center. However, the weather messed up all my plans, and I was reminded yet again, that plans mean nothing. I was afraid of laboring too long at home and then getting stuck on terrible roads. It seemed inevitable that I was going to deliver my sweet girl on the side of the snowy highway if I didn't try to get to Annapolis sooner rather than later.

My sister Molly came from next door to stay with my two sleeping boys and my one very anxious daughter who could not possibly sleep with the prospect of a baby being born on the imminent horizon. With weak contractions coming about every three minutes, my mom drove Tom and I towards the birth center. However, en route, we discovered that the birth center was closed due to weather and that we needed to go straight to the hospital.

The roads were awful. My mom white knuckled the hour long drive, her shoulders clenched directly under her ears the whole way. The moon was full and the snow covered farms we passed on the way were beautiful, but my contractions all but disappeared because of the stress. When we showed up to triage, I was 5 cm dilated but clearly not in active labor.

As a fourth time mother, I sort of expect myself to "know my body," and I was embarrassed that we had come all this way, but I had misread the whole thing. The midwife on duty (there are seven midwives in the practice) suggested I walk for a while, and she'd check me again in an hour or two to see if things got restarted. After countless laps around the maternity ward, I could feel little waves coming again, and I knew something was happening, but it was still subtle. At 2 am, I was another cm dilated and having mild contractions, so we decided to officially check into the hospital, if for no other reason than we knew we couldn't drive home, and I didn't particularly want to check into a nearby hotel.

As we got settled in the room, the midwife suggested breaking my water to get things going, an idea I was completely opposed to. I was disappointed that she even suggested it. In my mind, the whole midwife model of care is about very limited intervention and letting your body do what it's going to do. There was no medical need to rush my labor, and breaking my water would have put a timer over my head.

I decided to spend the next few hours trying to get some rest before doing my best to get things going.  My mom, Tom, and I settled in. The two of them shared the pull apart couch contraption, each in nearly fetal positions at their respective ends. At some time around seven the midwife came back, asked me about breaking my water again, implying that if I didn't I might need pitocin. When I declined, she told me that that Anne, a different midwife was coming on duty in a little bit and that I could discuss it with her. I felt like she was being dismissive knew we didn't see eye to eye. I was so grateful that someone else was coming on duty. I knew I did not want to deliver my baby with that particular midwife. When Anne came in a little while later, I was shocked at how different her presence was. She was full of life and energy and happiness, and she clearly had a great relationship with the nurse on duty.

As I said, I wanted to give birth at the birth center. In Maryland it is basically illegal to have a home birth, not that I have previously been very interested in having one. But I have grown quite weary of hospitals. Something about discussing your living will and being all but forced to get a stint upon arrival doesn't make for a joyous celebration. The fear of staph lurking in corners, the flu spreading like wildfire, the sense that everything is dictated by insurance companies and avoiding liability.  My three previous hospital births have been wonderful because I left with wonderful, healthy babies in my arms, but there was almost nothing else about them that I enjoyed.

This birth was different though.

Anne felt the baby in my stomach and determined that she wasn't in the right position; she was laying diagonally rather than up and down. When she went to feel for her head, she discovered that the baby's head was sort of crooked, so she wasn't coming down the way she should. She told me to rest for a few more hours sine Ihad basically been up all night and then suggested that we push the baby into position and tie up my belly with some sheets to force her to stay that way. It sounded a little crazy and like the sort of thing I'm totally into. After reading and rereading Ina May, I was ready for some serious midwife action.

At around noon, she tied up my belly, my mom went out to her car to make some phone calls, and I took the nurse's suggestion to employ the age old nipple stimulation trick, and damn if it didn't get things moving. For the next hour my contractions started in earnest, a few reaching around the eight mark on the super subjective "pain scale." I was able to sway through them pretty easily, though a few times I did need to do a little moaning.  At some point after one, I had to get hooked up to a monitor. They tried to let me do it standing up, but they couldn't keep the heartbeat that way, so they made me lay down.

When I first laid down, it seemed as though it completely destroyed my contractions. Tom rubbed my feet, and I actually fell asleep for a few minutes before a pretty terrible rush hit me. I thought the ferociousness of it was because I couldn't move through the pain, but I was also feeling a little panicked. My last birth was natural, but my first two births were medicated.  I was regretting having another natural childbirth. With Arlo my moment of panic / regret was mere moments before his arrival, and I was convinced that I still had a long haul ahead of me with this birth and that it was going to be terrible. I had tried to prepare myself to be calm and peaceful through labor and delivery, envisioning a serene delivery that would somehow validate me as a person, a woman, a warrior. I wanted to prove myself. My motivations were all completely ridiculous and superficial, but it's hard to let go of your heart's desires.

But as I went through a second contraction laying down, I kissed yet another plan good bye. I wasn't going to make it. It was awful. I knew there would soon be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  But then, out of what felt like nowhere, it hit me that I needed to push. Tom grabbed the nurse and midwife from the hall. They quickly repositioned the bed so I could be sitting up. At the next contraction it felt like my whole body was convulsing, and I felt that little baby move so far that I do not have words to adequately express how bizarre it was. It felt like she was traveling through me, not mere centimeters, but rather undertaking a great journey. I was aware of her entire body moving through my body. There was no ring of fire. No crowning. No head first. In a matter of seconds, she all but flew out of me and was set on my quivering, shocked belly.

It took me a while to process what just happened. She was here. She was here? And she looked so small. And she was here, already? That was all?

I feel weird saying "That was all." I had arrived at the hospital 14 hours prior, but most of it had been so uneventful, so boring, and quite frankly, disappointing. It felt like nothing was happening and as though I shouldn't have even come. I spent a lot of hours second guessing myself and feeling a little embarrassed. And then, all of the sudden, here she is, squirming on me rather than in me.
Here she is.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Staying At Home: Words From Last Week

I wrote this last week and thought I posted it, but apparently I didn't. It's amazing how fast everything can change, how one little eight pound person makes all the difference. 

Yesterday was my first day of being a "stay-at-home-mom." It's a rather ridiculous claim in many ways because even if I was going to return to being a "working mom," I would be on maternity leave right now. And realistically, I'm going to have to get a part-time job in a few months so the title doesn't completely fit. And... yesterday was yet another snow / ice day, so I would have had off no matter what. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of it.  I knew that yesterday was not the new baby's day to come, woke up knowing it. Sena, Gus, and I started the day making coconut flour pancakes together before they started on their school books. I checked in on them while folding loads of laundry, brewing more Kombucha, picking up the kitchen, entertaining Arlo. In the afternoon we sat down to work on nature journals together before their friends came over to build popsicle stick weapons while I planned a homeschool unit we'll start soon enough.  It felt like everything I ever wanted it to feel like. This is where I have wanted to be.

I won't go counting chickens yet. I know that adding in an infant is going to change everything. And I know that a peaceful first day means next to nothing. But  I won't let that undermine how perfectly this new stage started. The rough days ahead can't take that away from me.

I don't think the baby is coming today either, so I'll stockpile the kitchen and freezer and go to what I hope is my last midwife appointment before the big day. I'll keep plugging away at all things nesting while sipping on the endless cups of raspberry leaf tea.