Matters of Importance

I know I said I'd write about my dad’s clothes. But I can’t write about them without first writing about something he told me a couple months before he died. We were sitting outside on the terrace at his northern Virginia farm. It was early October, and across the sloping fields to the north, the trees on the high, lumpy ridge of Rattlesnake Mountain were blazing orange and red. But here in his yard, uniformly green and lush, summer still had one hand in the game. Dad had his checkbook out and was working his way through a small black notebook jammed with envelopes, presumably bills, which he’d labeled “Obligations” in his thick, uppercase handwriting. I didn’t want to distract him, but it seemed important to make light conversation while he plodded through his tasks, to let him know I was there with him, in solidarity. “I’m thinking about starting a blog,” I said tentatively. I always hesitated a little before telling Dad about my writing projects. He had spent most of his professional life as a photographer and editor at National Geographic and had exceptionally rigorous ideas about the difference between meaningful work and fluff. Or so I’d always thought.

Dad looked up from his checkbook, pen in mid-air. Quite possibly many words came out of his mouth— supportive, interested, and encouraging. But the ones I remember were: “Be sure it’s about Something Important.” Dad had a way of talking in emphatically, in capital letters, sort of like the way he wrote, but his pronouncements never came off as forceful, supercilious, or strident. Just quietly assuring, as though he knew What Was Good and Right but wasn’t going to rub it in your face because he had the utmost certainty that if you paid attention and tried hard, you’d eventually figure it out, too.  

Dad, with my sister in October, taking a break from his Obligations
“Hmm, well it’s about….” I stammered out some vague description involving motherhood and creativity, but I found I could no longer grasp the Great Idea for My Blog. It had gone blurry in my brain, as though I had turned a kaleidoscope too far in one direction and the picture I had once seen so clearly was now splintered into a dozen unrecognizable pieces. Thank God, I wasn’t pitching an editor—the idea would have died an ugly, instantaneous death on my lips.

Dad went back to his Obligations, and I sat there in the still-warm, late afternoon sun, thinking about what he’d said and—I hate to admit it—feeling a little put out. What did he want me to blog about?  The state of the Chinese economy? The fallout of the BP oil spill? Foreign relations with Israel? It’s not that I don’t care about those things, or think about them from time to time, but riffing on macroeconomics and diplomacy isn’t me. Maybe I’m self absorbed or lazy or both, but if I have to choose, I’ll err on the side of personal fluff over Seriously Meaningful Global Issues every time.

But now I had Dad’s words in my brain, and there they stayed, smoldering into a big old inferno of self-doubt. It was October 3, and though we didn’t know it then, he had only two months to live. A tumor had clawed its way into his kidney and was snapping up real estate like a slobbery foreclosure agent. I spent many more days with him before he died, talking about a zillion different things: his college jazz band, rooting around the Olympic Peninsula on assignment, the marbly sound of Virginia accents, roadhouses in New Orleans, food he no longer had taste for. But we never had that Last Conversation, the one in which he raises his hand and cocks his head in a sage, fatherly way and says, “Now I want you to always remember…..” and then proceeds to tell me the Secret to Life as he had come to understand it.

Instead, that passing comment might as well have been his dying words for the way it echoed in my brain for time immemorial—or at least a couple months. Is blogging Important? Does it really even Matter? I’d ask myself in the weeks after he died, during those fleeting moments when the grey soupy fog of grief lifted long enough for me to remember. Oh yes, the blog. The truth was, it felt as though nothing much really mattered. We had lost Dad, and so quickly. And so I procrastinated, expertly and with singular focus.

Dad's Barn, which he Built by Hand, November
But then one day a couple weeks ago, I just felt like writing. It felt important (lower case i), at least to me. It felt like something I wanted to do, something that might someday—in ways I couldn’t predict any more than we could have predicted his sudden, devastating illness—matter to someone, if only me. Wasn’t that what counted? Dad had always lived his own life, following his own inspiration and ideas, even if they weren’t always popular with the rest of us. Wouldn’t he want the same of me? I logged on and started to clack away, and as I did, I could feel something inside me lighten. It was like swimming out of the weeds and pulling yourself up onto a hot, sun-baked dock to let the warmth of the day worm its way into your skin. It was like someone you love grinning back at you. 

Birthing the present

This morning I was called in for a birth. The thrill and excitement never grows old as I prepare to drive to the hospital to meet the woman I will doula for through Woodwinds Volunteer Doula Program, I am humbled at what I may or may not encounter and the unknown that lies there. I have only been participating in this program for a little over a month and already I have been called four times. As I leave my house this morning, with the snow still falling after blanketing our yard with an additional four inches overnight, I catch myself contemplating my need for a ritual to mentally, physically, and spiritually prepare myself for someone's birth. The last one I attended was hard. While I have processed all that happened at her birth (much thanks to my conversation with you K!), which ended in cesarean after a long labor, and seen her since, I realize the need for such preparation. I have a ritual for after I leave a birth. I walk through snow. I wipe the souls of my feet clean and offer gratitude for the honor and opportunity to be at a birth, and blessings on the new babe and parents.

Today's birth was easy on me. I went in to meet the parents, they informed me that they just found out the baby was breech and that they were slotted for a cesarean and no longer felt they needed me. After talking with them, I was amazed at how at peace they were with this turn of events. I savored their ability to relax into their present reality. I think I would have gone kicking into that knowing that breech babies can be delivered vaginally if the care provider is willing and the mom advocates for it. I would have been calling in acupuncture and pleading for aversions--I mean an inversion. No I would not have gone gently into that change of course. This mom's optimistic resolve was inspiring. That is the lesson I took from her birth. She stayed right there with her present reality, pure acceptance.

I was home by noon. Happy to see my boys, tuck them in for a nap, and take some time for writing and rest myself. My writing soon became an invitation for a Zen sitting after I wrote my blog last night I became aware of how much I needed it and missed it. It went like this:
"Sink into silence I told myself, watch my breath-- I can do this."
Seconds later aware of the iPod still playing downstairs and U2 singing, I told myself, "Let go of the music."
Aware of the subtle noise of L. flipping pages of books in his bed, "Let go of the pages. Let go of whether L. naps or not."
Aware of the itch on my chin, "Let go of the itch, okay give into the itch." So I did.
Aware of my breath moving from my neck to my abdomen I heard my digestion at work, and gave gratitude for my breath now settling into my belly.
Aware of my baby kicking, "Let go of the baby, return to breath," and amazingly I finally sunk into a deeply relaxed state of silence able to neither be tempted away from it by distraction, nor needing to focus in on it. Just to be, and that gift from this morning's birth of being in the present sank to another level and my mind let go of the trillion tasks of life's little intrusions I hoped to tackle today, dry cleaners, laundry, writing, returns, etc. and for 15 blissful moments I was just as I am.
L asleep, although not from today, from many "presents" before when his naps were a given!



So I have been silent the last few days on our blog...not that I have meant to be, nor that it has been my reality here. In fact the opposite my mind has been abuzz with thoughts and I am desperately missing our Zen sittings we sank into with initial reluctance at Upaya in September to a welcomed relief at the end of our writing retreat.

The sun finally came out today after two days of damp grey winterness in this northern tundra and it was a sweet relief I relished. The cloud covered sky was beginning to weigh on me, and I was beginning to think I may never see the sun or anything warm again. The boys worked on their igloo that they built five snowstorms ago in our front yard (it still manages to thrive even with an occasional melt).

Since we moved back to St. Paul from Santa Fe I sometimes feel like I am swimming underwater as I drive through the city streets. St. Paul is humid, and wet, and filled with snow. Santa Fe is arid, dusty, and filled with a crispness that St. Paul will never know because of altitude and the way the light hits here. When I am in Santa Fe I feel like I have come up for air after a long underwater swim. Especially after our hikes, that I so desparetly miss, even if my 5.5 pregnant self sucked wind up the last one post New Year! Thank you K for going at my snails paced--such an embarrassment!

Last night we were at our neighbor's Haggis party, and I got to talking with a mom who was on her third date since her 1.5 year old boy twins were born. As we chatted, she confessed that her friend asked her, "Have you taken the boys sledding yet?"
To which she replied, "I don't do things like that with them at their age when I am solo."
It hit me again, as it has before, the utter necessity to have single girlfriends in your life for this very reason. When you are single you have that carefree-ness that Steph has, that ability to do as you please and sometimes it pleases the single person to sink into the messy, chaotic life of child-rearing even for a fleeting moment, maybe even long enough for a run down a hill on a toboggan with twin boys inside. As I confessed this to her, we both emphatically agreed and then shared that most of our single friends live other places like NYC or California, not in the get-married-when-you-are-young-Twin Cities. As I looked around the party and the amount of boy children present, three of them being mine, with perhaps a fourth on the way, the idea of girls and girlfriends and finding time for girly things seemed all the more important as I tread in the my third trimester of perhaps birthing another son.

No I have been far from silent internally and that is why our writing practice is all the more a necessity to calm the jitters of my mind that race when untended, to focus my heart, and to keep my hands steady and strong.

Wave the White Flag Dept.

Steve is away for the weekend, skiing in Silverton. Lucky boy. Yesterday was one of those days when, for several fleeting, insane moments, I actually regretted becoming a mother. I’d spent the morning mountain biking La Tierra on the north side of town with my friend Steph. The trails were freakishly dry and clear for January, and I was riding skinny, silky singletrack on a Saturday morning with one of my best and oldest friends—the ways things used to be; the way things ought to be. Afterward, we sat in Steph’s sun-streaked kitchen, comparing notes about how our lives had diverged. She doesn’t have kids and can come and go as she pleases, no advance notice required. The full weight of my captivity hit me as I realized that she could walk right out her door that very second and do whatever she felt like doing without having to tell anyone or make a single contingency plan. I, on the other hand, had a ticking watch on my wrist, two tiny children at home, and a nanny about to turn into a pumpkin, so I saddled up and coasted downhill to home. All afternoon, while Pippa squawked in her crib instead of napping and Maisy cried herself to sleep, I wallowed in a giant sinkhole of self-pity. I felt ancient and exhausted—not just from two hours on my bike, but from the thought of all these years and changes still ahead of me. I wanted my old life back, thank you very much. But of course there’s no going back—never ever.

Later that evening, after the girls had gone to bed, I put on the DVD “The Kids Are All Right.” It opens with flashing vignettes of teenagers snorting lines, hurling themselves off of garage roofs, and sneaking around behind their parents' backs. I felt instantly defeated. I’m not sure I can survive, I thought. And not just this, but the next 16 years. But then a weird thing happened. I began to relax. Maybe it was glass of wine I’d just chugged or bad-boy Mark Ruffalo playing the loving, rebel sperm-donor dad, but the movie started to soothe me.

I slouched on the couch, watching Annette Bening go off the deep end and come back again in a feat of badass emotional resilience, and an old saying came back to me: “Oh, my crazy life!” This was my mantra before mantras were the hip, enlightened thing to have (in the late '90s), and I’d chide myself with it whenever I made dumb decisions or got into a snarled-up, tangled mess. Which was often. The funny thing is, the line kind of works. Life is crazy. No one has any control. Sometimes you just have to throw yourself onto the train tracks and let yourself get run over by a couple dozen trains: the two-and-half-year-old-refusing-to-nap train, the I-can’t-string-two-sentences-together-without-interruption-train, the two-hours-on-my-bike-now-kicks-my-postpartum-butt train. One after the other, they’re steaming down the tracks. The sooner I can accept this, the sooner I’ll stop grasping so hard to the illusion of order, predictability, schedules I can set my watch to, naps long enough for me to write a hundred word or two, the foolhardy notion that my girls will be anyone but who they already are, and are meant to be. And the sooner I’ll be able to do the only sane thing in the face of insanity: laugh it off.

Oh, my crazy life. 


Learning to Cook

I’m teaching myself how to cook. Though it’s been my on my to-do list for ages, I only just got around to it this fall. My husband’s a great, easy, unruffled cook—the kind who rarely uses a measuring cup, who can toss in spices with reckless, show-offy abandon, and read a magazine while multiple pots are simmering on the stove—so I’ve never had much incentive to learn. Lately, though, my cluelessness in the kitchen has stopped feeling like a blind spot and has started feeling like a character flaw. I have two daughters, and though I harbor no desire to be the next Nigella, I figure any decent mother should have more in her culinary arsenal than soft-boiled eggs from scratch.

But what finally inspired me to stop wishing I could cook and start cooking was that writing retreat Elizabeth and I took this fall at Upaya Zen Center. As students, we ate three meals a day with the Zen monks and residents; Upaya’s a meat-free campus, so the food, made from scratch in the sprawling farmhouse kitchen, consisted of whole grains and greens—quinoa, kale, oatmeal, nuts, brown rice, spinach, tofu, all served-family style at a long wooden table. Zen practitioners are big on conscious eating, and after a group prayer in which we thanked the “numberless beings who gave their strength so that we might eat and strengthen others,” we spent the first ten minutes of every meal eating in silence.

The combination of simple, vegetarian food, prepared honestly and with compassion, and eaten deliberately rather than scarfed down distractedly as per usual, made a huge impression on me. I had never felt so clean and virtuous—and hungry. Ravenous. ALL the time. I was nursing and Elizabeth was pregnant, and we’d sneak out after meals on illicit, if ill-fated, frozen-yogurt missions (strangely, Yoberri was always closed when we got there). Still, I felt that eating, which had always seemed so reactive and necessary, something to be rushed through to get to the next thing, now had larger purpose: It could help me become more present and conscious. It could be part of my fledgling Zen practice.

I liked the idea of that a lot, but the reality is that it’s pretty hard to eat with total consciousness when you’re not actually making the food yourself. When you couldn’t make the food yourself even if you wanted to. So I decided that if I wanted to eat cleaner, simpler, healthier, and more humane meals on a regular basis, to eat this food with deliberation and gratitude, and better yet, feed it to my family, I was going to have to learn to cook. Finally.

I didn’t have a plan. The idea had evolved naturally, from within—not from external pressures, though God knows, I’d felt withering disapproval from most sides on many occasions. ("What did you eat before you met Steve?” my mother-in-law once asked me pointedly.) I didn’t know how I was going to do learn to cook, only that for the first time I actually wanted to. It was no longer a should. That was what mattered.

Meditation is a solitary act. People can tell you how to fold your hands and where to fix your gaze and how to cross your legs and plump your bean-bag cushion before sitting down, but when the gong goes off, it’s just you and your racing mind. Zen meditation is the original DIY, so it seemed appropriate that learning to cook ought to be, too. I would teach myself. One recipe a week. It didn’t matter what it was—Devil’s food cake, one-egg omelet, or salmon and asparagus—just that I was inspired to try it. If I had to force myself, it wouldn’t happen. I had to feel it.

One recipe a week, anything goes. How hard could it be?


Writing Practice

Last fall, my friend and blog co-conspirator, E, and I took a five-day writing retreat at Santa Fe's Upaya Zen Center with Natalie Goldberg, author of the bestselling writing bible, Writing Down the Bones. At the core of Natalie's philosophy is what she calls "writing practice," the act of writing steadily on a topic for five or ten or 20 minutes in one go. This isn't so much "practice" in the traditional way—meant to improve your grammar skills or narrative voice or spelling acumen—as much as a meditative exercise in patience, compassion, and good listening. We all have a true inner voice yelping to get free, and it takes practice to coax it out. This is stream-of-consciousness, freeform writing, and there are only two rules: 1) No editing, deleting, or crossing out and 2) as Natalie says, "You are free to write the worst shit in the world."

Natalie’s also a big fan of reading your work aloud afterward, either to a friend or yourself, because it's only then that you can really see what you've written. The person who's listening isn't allowed to comment, good or bad, on the writing. What it is, or what it will become, doesn’t much matter. The writing speaks for itself, and even when it’s total self-indulgent crap, it’s unexpectedly, thrillingly, liberating.

E and I were hooked. Determined to keep up with our daily writing practice but stymied by distance—she lives in St. Paul and I live in Santa Fe—we decided to do our writing practice on our own and then read aloud what we'd written over the phone a couple times a week (no blabbing or pandering permitted—just listening). Eventually we began to wonder what it would be like to use our blog as a way to share more of our writing with each other without burning up our long-distance minutes. (And who has time for endless yakking on the phone, anyway? No thanks.)

It sounded great in theory, but this morning as I scanned my spiral notebook for something—anything?!—I wanted to post, I realized immediately that there was a hitch: Namely, it’s tempting—and probably prudent—to want to edit the worst shit in the world before you post it for the whole world to read. 

But I had a hunch that my reluctance to put my writing practice online was a sure sign that I needed to do it. I used to make my living as a magazine editor, so I come equipped with a highly evolved, loudmouth inner critic that’s almost impossible to shut up. Posting unedited personal riffs ought to be good practice in ignoring this grouchy naysayer and letting my true voice come out (hellooo, anybody in there?).

So here goes. Our plan is to experiment with posting one or two writing practices a week, lifted straight out of our notebooks, as is— warts, weird confessions, and all. If anybody's out there reading this, please play by the rules: Read it aloud and just listen. No critiques, good or bad. Just watch where our writing minds take us, and then if you want, try it yourself. Feel free to submit your own topics: oranges, insomnia, Ferris wheels, fireflies, or whatever’s on your mind. We’re always desperate for good ideas. 

So away we go.....

10 min. writing exercise: Taking time

I should take more time, but I am usually in such a rush. There is one notable exception: marriage. Six years elapsed between meeting Steve and marrying him, though I think I knew the minute I saw him—really saw him—that he was it. “This is the guy,” I said to myself in a voice that came from nowhere, straight from the purest, oldest, deepest part of me. No a thinking voice, but an ancient feeling voice—this is your heart speaking. It’s easy to see why, even then, I would want to take my time. There was my parents’ divorce, the small distracting matter of someone who had come before, and the fact that I was only 28. I felt as though I had all the time in the world to take. Getting married had not yet crossed my mind. Having kids—an ambition for another universe. Was I so in the moment that I could set those aside, or not entertain future plans in the first place? I’m not sure I was in the moment, truly grounded, or present as much as in a different world altogether. Late adolescence had melded into my 20s and I was still the same girl. My external reality had changed, but I had not evolved. I now lived in Santa Fe in a shoebox casita above Palace, overlooking a weedy yard and below that, somewhere unseen, the Palace Laundry, where I did the wash every Saturday, begrudgingly, but only after punishing myself on a three or four-hour mountain bike ride. I rode my bike for hours at a time, skied nearly every weekend at Taos, cried myself to sleep sometimes for my lost boyfriend, for the loneliness of being 27, but it may have just been fear, not at the idea of being alone, but the reality of it. It was too quiet in the house. I was not mourning my future as much as my immediate past. The future had no shape, was intangible and abstract, and I allowed myself this luxury because I was young. I was unmoored. I worked long hours, drank margaritas at the Cowgirl, went dancing at El Farol, and did not ever seem to stop. I would not stop long enough to think or even breathe—mine was a blurred life of constant motion. Avoidance. I existed to burn through time, to get to the next thing. I was not writing. Saturday afternoons I would sit in a plastic orange molded chair at the Laundromat and watch my laundry chug round and round in the washing machine. My calves would still be dirty from riding that morning: a fine line encircling each ankle. Above: gritty grey brown, dirt or tan, a little bit of both. Below: still pale, clean, where the sock had been. I had not yet met Steve, who would ground me, settle me, slowly anchor me to earth, to this world, like a tether holding a hot air balloon from sailing away into storms and the sun, where it would burn up or crash into pieces. So when he said, “Do you want to see my sprinter’s muscle”—that was his famous opening line—I felt something shift, the earth on its axis and along with it my parallel universe of perpetual motion, and caught a glimpse of another slower, saner world, quieter, more real. I was 27 and I would remain a foreigner in that quiet land until 35, when the waiting was over and the time had been taken, and we were married at Stony Lake, I in bare feet and a gladness, and sureness in my heart. Worth the wait. 



There are countless uncertainties that keep mothers up at night: Is my baby eating enough? Why hasn’t she pooped at ALL in the last 10 days? Will I EVER write another word once she stops napping? In general, I try to minimize the amount of time I cruise the Internet foraging for answers. (Who hasn’t killed two hours looking for reassurance that baby’s voluminous, goopy spit up is normal, only to unearth mention of some dreaded digestive problem that may require surgery? It’s just not worth it.) I’ve figured out that the more freaked out and desperate I am for someone to tell me EXACTLY WHAT TO DO, the more I know I need to stop looking for answers outside of myself and turn inward to tap the bottomless black hole of my own intuition. As Karen Maezen Miller says in her brilliantly encouraging book, Momma Zen: “I’ll know everything I need to know when I need to know it.”

Still, there’s one burning question I have yet to answer: Does blabbing about a baby’s progress jinx said progress? Maybe it’s a show-off’s karmic payback, but it seems that every time I open my mouth to describe some small accomplishment—even in the most modest and understated of terms—the kid almost immediately proves me wrong. “Oh yes, she’s sleeping through the night,” I fairly screamed to anyone who would listen when P. was still a one-month-old in swaddles. What I did not know was this: Just because she was sleeping seven hours straight at the time did not mean she would sleep seven hours straight forever, or even through the month. Sure enough, my prideful boasting came back to bite me in the butt—a pattern that has haunted me for most of motherhood.

Anecdotally, at least, the baby jinx is a real and fearsome phenomena, but is there any way to prove, once and for all, that it actually exists? I’ve been avoiding updating my previous posts about Ferberizing for just this reason. Open my mouth and six-month-old baby M. is sure to be up half the night wailing. Hmmm. There’s only one way to find out:

So herewith, in matter-of-fact, scientific, strictly quantifiable terms, with zero self-congratulatory back-patting (the truth is, Steve’s being doing ALL the work) is M.’s sleep training to date, by the numbers:

2 hours: total amount of time M cried on night 1
10 minutes: total amount of time M cried on night 2
1: number of times Steve had to jam M's pacifier in her mouth before she went back to sleep on night #3
30 seconds: total amount of time M cried on night #4
0: total number of times I’ve fed M during the night during last 4 nights
0: total number of times I've gotten out of bed to Ferberize M during the last 4 nights (luv ya, Steve)
10: total number of minutes she cried this evening after being weaned of her double swaddle
20: total number of fingers and toes crossed that she does not make me eat my words tonight

Will I wake up tomorrow cursing my big fat mouth? Here’s hoping not….

Now on to more scintillating topics…. 



I took it for granted in my prebabe days--that it would always be there, that I could dabble into it when needed, wanted, desired; like an old coat hanging on a hook waiting to be worn again. As a five year old, I resisted my mother's enforced naps just because she needed a rest. I balked at early bedtimes, even reasonable ones. For a long stretch I could stay up all night until I hit my junior year in college and then all nighters lost their appeal. My energy drop did not come at night it came in the late afternoon when I found myself sleepy, but unable to nap because of sports or after school commitments, or homework, or now children.

An attempt to sleep when Finn slept!!!
Then I had my first son, Finn, and everyone sang the chorus, "Sleep when your baby sleeps." I couldn't comprehend this simple concept when the sun was still up, the dishes piled high, lumps of laundry teased me from its corner. I didn't, I couldn't master the skill of on demand sleep like on demand feedings. It wasn't until I had earned the hindsight with the arrival of our second son, Liam. The morning naps I stole with Finn as a baby vanished, because while Liam needed them, Finn no longer did. My window of morning writing vanished too. The desire to sleep when Liam slept haunted me. Yet Finn's tending to demanded my wakefulness, my awareness. It seemed I became a narcoleptic until dark when both boys settled into slumber this jolted me into action to steal time to read, write, create, anything but my need for sleep. A vicious cycle.

It wasn't until our third, that I got it. With the additional help in those early weeks around us, I would disappear with our third boy, shut the door and snooze greedily. Nuzzled into his sweet smell, our breathing regulated by one each others presence. I got it, that sleep so needed, so sweet, so seductive became my sweetheart. I was foraging for sleep like squirrels do in anticipation of a long winter, knowing that soon, in another season, when he woke up more at 4 months old it too would elude me again.


A "good" bye

Blinkers flash and I scurry Finn out. Parked illegally during school drop off I explain to him I can't stand and wait for him to go inside. The bell rings, he grabs his boots out of the car, his pack, and his breath bellows in the winter air, "Ok, bye mom."

Like that he is gone. No walking him to his line. Just a dash, a wave back with his boot-filled hand. My heart skips and my mind--that's not what I meant, not here, not now, not yet. I feel his umbilical cord cut a little more, this time by him, and I feel the pain of the snap. Yikes! Worry sets in. What if he doesn't make his line? Or he gets snatched between the curb drop off and the line and I don't know it until the trail is cold! What if...I need to breath. I need to settle my mind.

I try to reverse to see him and can't amongst the traffic flow. I circle the block, but he's gone; the school plaza empty.

After I drop Liam, I bring the tuition check back that in my flurried drop off I forgot. I sneak a peak past Finn's classroom. They are in the hall getting dressed for outdoor recess. His back is to me, I hear his laughter and he shakes his snow pants with an authoritative snap into the air and just like that he's grown a little more. My heart swells. I sigh and turn before he spots me--stuck between his school world and home. I miss him.

The Morning After

I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, we are hollow-eyed and wrecked this morning, the walking, talking dead. Steve did the grunt work, Ferberizing within an inch of his sanity for nearly 2 hours last night. I cowered in bed, drifting guiltily in and out of sleep, in a restless sweat, until he finally returned, growling at me as he got into bed: “It’s your turn next.” But I knew that if I so much as heard one bleat of Maisy’s protests, my hormones would spike and I’d fold instantly, and so I told him that, in no uncertain terms he would need to carry us all that night. I then delivered my coup de grace, a sleazy, pre-dawn bribe or—now that I think about it, threat— the kind only made in the most heinous of situations: “If you want to go to Silverton,” I hissed back, dangling his hotly-contested ski trip to Colorado next weekend, “you’re going to need to Ferberize.” Following which, I’m fairly certain that the words “man up” left my lips.

Steve, wisely, did not reply, and somehow we all slept undisturbed until 7 A.M., when the monitor emitted a tiny, hesitant cry. I cracked an eye and crept out of the room, too mortified by my Sarah Palin tough talk to utter a single conciliatory word to Steve. No matter: He was a motionless lump in the bed.

The sun wasn’t up yet, and the living room was bathed in cool, grey light. Outside, the wind was pushing clumps of feathery Stipa grass sideways, and the sky was empty of everything: clouds, Moon, stars. If Maisy had awoken, she was quiet again, and I sat in the half-dark room and thought about meditating or writing or doing something important and in this rare stillness, but instead I stayed where I was and let it settle on me—the calm after the storm.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, amidst this unexpected tranquility, worst-case scenarios began to sidle into my brain: Maisy lying in her crib, screaming silently, her mouth opening but no sound coming out, hoarse from her epic crying jag just hours earlier. Me entering the room to be greeted not by Maisy’s normally impish delighted smile but a horrid, disgusted sneer that spoke volumes: “and you call yourself a mother?” Maisy inconsolable for hours, days, weeks later—her personality ruined, naps ruined, life as we know it, now and forever, wrecked beyond repair. Drama queen.

Then the monitor squealed, and I practically sprinted into her room. There she was, seemingly intact, cooing through her upturned grin shaped like a capital H. One bullet dodged. As for Steve, I let him sleep until 8:30. The first night’s always the hardest, right?  Right?!


One Step Back, Two Steps Up?

OK, so I caved. Four A.M. arrived and with it the tiny, tentative bleating of a waking baby. I did the math in my sleep: Ferberize her now, and both of us might be awake til dawn. Nurse her fast and both of us would be back in bed, sleeping, until the civilized hour of 7 A.M. No brainer. I rolled out of bed, dozed through a sub-ten-minute feeding, and crawled back under the covers. But when I awoke at 7 to our two year old’s screeching from the next room, “Mommy, where arrreeee you?” I couldn’t help it. I felt like a floozy. (Who uses that word anymore?) Maisy had barely cried and there I was—Mama Pushover.

But hey, it’s not sleep training without a bad case of second-guessing, self-doubt, and a profound loss of will. And deep down, I suspect something else is going on: I think I'm supposed to wait for it. I have a hunch that if I give Maisy a chance, back in her own bed without a cross-country flight on the calendar for at least a few weeks, that she might find her her own natural sleep rhythm again. This could be wishful thinking, but it does go along with my New Year's mantra for 2011: trust what emerges. Good things are going to happen—I just have to pay attention so that I don't space them out when they do. So tonight at least I'm going to trust the emergence. Maybe she'll sleep through, maybe she won't. But I'm going to let the unfolding begin. 

Wish me luck.  


Ode to TED!

I was planning to write my inaugural post about my dad’s clothes, folded and stacked in small pile in my bedroom: signature ragg wool socks, navy blue sweatshirt, faded T-shirts, and a thick handmade sweater from Ireland. Unpacked just yesterday, they’re still tidily creased from weeks, or months in his drawers, as though waiting to be worn again, though not (and never again) by my father.

But I must be procrastinating or exhausted or both, because I feel compelled to write instead about sleep. We’re sleeping training Maisy, starting tonight.

Maisy was the miracle baby, sleeping through the night starting at seven weeks old—not just eight hours, but sometimes a ridiculously decadent 12. But ever since my dad got sick this fall and she and I began flying back and forth to the East Coast every couple of weeks, she’s taken the disruptions as an excuse to wake, cry, and consequentially (and conveniently for her, if not for me) be nursed back to sleep. But I'm done with regression: She’s six months old now, and it’s time for all of us to get the sleep we need.

It’s funny how something so dismal as weaning your baby of night nursings can, with time and distance (and eight hours in a row of shut-eye) assume a rosy, nostalgic glow. Pippa was eight months old when we decide to nip her backward slide in the bud. Cold turkey hadn’t worked: One night she bawled for two and a half hours straight while we lay in bed with pillows over our head and tried to sleep. As if.

Like Maisy, Pippa had been a solid early sleeper, logging eight hours straight at four weeks old. I was tempted to brag, and did. Big mistake. By three months, she had figured out that if she cried in the night, her own personal milk truck (me) would magically appear. By eight months, she’d regressed to two feedings a night, and I was done. The first night we Ferberized her, going in for strictly hands-off comforting after progressively longer periods of crying, she screamed for 90 minutes. Steve clocked her progress on the stove timer, while I slept cocooned by the humidifier’s white noise. Night two was my turn. All told, she screamed for an hour and 20 minutes while Steve slept, and, desperate for distraction, I listened to TED podcasts, one after the other, in the half-dark kitchen. It was a brilliant, if entirely accidental strategy. Inspiring under normal circumstances, TED talks are positively engrossing during the middle of the night, with a baby howling in the next room.

The next morning, the  scene at our house was full-on yard sale. Exhausted, red-crusty eyes, dejected just thinking about the coming night, we stumbled around as though in a dream. All the savvy wit and wisdom I’d absorbed the night before, compliments of TED, seemed like something I’d heard once, a long time ago, in another life, completely irrelevant to the wreckage of our sleep-deprived life.

I romanticize those nights with a baby screaming through the monitor and Elizabeth Gilbert or some other luminary du jour waxing brilliantly through my computer, but in truth, it was only that one night, or maybe two, that I sat listening to the kitchen timer and a baby crying and TED talks on my laptop while everyone else in the world slept like normal humans. By the end of the first week, Pippa was waking periodically, whimpering herself back to sleep, and was soon snoozing 12 hours straight. We gladly retired the kitchen timer, and soon my late-nights flipping like an addict through the TED archives were a thing of the past.

Now we're about to begin all over again, and while I’m dreading the sleep deprivation, the desperation of hearing a tiny helpless baby bawl—combined with the unsettling realization that you, and only you, can make her stop—and the foggy morning-after despair knowing you have to do it all over again in 12 hours, I am also the teensiest bit jazzed about who’s going to keep me company this time: Van Jones, Warren Buffett, Ariana Huffington? Because once we Ferberized Pippa, I never logged on again. It wasn’t that TED was dead to me; it just didn’t translate to long quiet afternoons while the baby napped, well, like a baby in the next room. Suddenly I had more important things to do.

But here we go again. 

And with any luck and a little bit of sleep (or at the very least, late-night TED mojo), I’ll get back to my dad’s clothes tomorrow.