Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The birth of a daughter (or, losing my firstborn "baby")

Story time!

When my first daughter was born nearly 7 years ago, I was dizzy, overwhelmed, smitten, heart-over-heels in love with her. She was my baby. She was THE baby. She was the only baby in the entire

Her first poop was a life-affirming artistic expression. Her first smile was the best smile I'd ever
seen. When she started talking, everything she said was brilliant.

She and I developed a strong, fantastic bond, and she was the absolute light of our lives. (She still is, actually! ;o) ) She and I were in blissful sync with one another (which is actually very healthy for a mother and baby), and she was the only baby in the world. She was funny, busy, intense and she was mine.

Then, we were expecting baby #2 when she was fourteen months old. Like every mom with a new baby on the way, I tried to prepare us for the We read "We have a Baby" together in endless loop. We talked to my belly, and talked about tiny babies, and talked about all the things we could do for the baby together. We talked about how she'd be my "Big Girl Baby", and I
couldn't imagine her ever being anything or anyone but my charming almost two year old (what grid did I have for that? )

Bessie Bee, 23 mo, the week before Nomi was born :O)

I suppose my point is, I saw her as "The Baby"-the only normal standard I had in my life, as far as intimate interaction with a child was concerned, and the place she held in my heart and life was my ONLY experience with a baby or toddler. Who she was, and the age she was were mysteriously linked and mixed and inseparable. In my heart, beyond the reaches of my rational mind, she'd always be this age, because I had no experience with seeing her any differently. She was Baby.

And then, Naomi was born, fast and furious, late one afternoon in warm
southern September.

She was minute in every detail. So very, very TINY, even at 8.5 lbs. And she was utterly, completely, in every way, inside and out, different from her sister.

I was dumbstruck. I felt my heart's tendrils tentatively kissing every part of her spirit in welcome, and dropping my jaw at how very, very unique she was in every way. She would not receive love identically. She would not seek reassurance in the same way. Holding either one of their hearts in mine for the first time was a singular experience that I would never duplicate
again. This was NOT mini-Esther. More importantly, Esther was not merely "the baby". They were people, different from me, different from one another, and little distinct entities. The change that this realization brought was a force to be reckoned with.

The bright, chattering, brilliant, mischievous puppy-child that galloped into the bedroom, pounced onto the quilted bedspread and then seriously inspected her sister's toes was a GIANT. :D What's more, she was a gem, and fantastically and uniquely her OWN self, just like the tiny hiccuping little nymph in my arms. Two brilliant fires, uniquely colored flames. Both deeply precious and needing of love.

I cried until my eyes were swollen as my almost 2yo sat beside me singing along with her favorite Pooh dvd little chubby cheeks wiggling, "I want to be like this- forever, if only I could promise-forever....Forever, and ever is a very long time, Pooh! Forever isn't long at all when I'm with you!" (Damn that movie and it's sentimental songs! ;OP) In my postpartum, hormonal haze, as tears fell onto my buttered toast, the realization of the weight and fleetingness of my time with my daughters hit me like a ton of bricks. She was going to grow up.

I seriously felt like the world had come to an end. It was like the first time I'd broken a sand dollar as a child; something was painfully wrong, and I'd not be able to fix it. I couldn't put it back the way it was. Life stunk, in that moment. Every little old lady in the market who had ever sighed sadly and advised me to enjoy my children, because one day they'd be GONE suddenly made sense. They were right. This was the only part of my life when I'd "have" them, and then, I'd be a sad, lonely lady trying to drown my sorrow in pantyhose, fancy hairdos and Little Debbie Cream Pies. My baby would disappear.

However, as I'm not writing to you from a black painted room full of pewter skulls and brown roses (my initial plan, which, fortunately only lasted until the next breastfeeding session ;oP), I'm happy to report that I didn't stay in that frame of mind forever.

Because I started to realize that Esther never was mine, at least not in the owning sense. Since she was born, she was always the Esther she was intended to be since the dawn of time. As an infant, as an old woman, as an adult, as a silly 6.5, she will always have the wild, intelligent, thoughtful spirit of Essie. Our bodies and development are bound to time, but our spirits are not, really, quite so tethered.

I'm the woman lucky enough to be her mama while she's small, but, even more than that, I have the privilege of being a part of her life in this lifetime. That's huge. The only thing that changed the day I saw her so differently was MY perspective; she'd always been herself-always on the trajectory of Estherhood. :O)

In a way, on the day that Naomi breezed into my life like a mysterious azure butterfly, I was given two daughters-each unique, each to be honored as an eternal and distinct soul, each full on eccentricities and complexity and eternity. Neither that I owned at any age, but two that I could have the honor of nurturing, teaching, cherishing and honoring as the souls that they were and are.

Having my preconceived notions about my children removed, and seeing them as who they are as a whole, the boundaries of time removed, is always a rich and humbling blessing.

(Funny thing? It totally happened all over again, or was at least re-clarified, 2.5 years later when Eva was born. ;oP Some of the little gems you pick up along the way have to be dusted off every now and again.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Empathetic children.

While most people are relatively aware of the general surface-level emotional state of others, and can take it into account, some people are sensitive to the subtle moods and feelings of others to the point of taking on that emotion themselves, even from childhood...

So I thought I'd share my experiences as an emotionally sensitive child here, in case it resounds with anyone, or helps anyone who has a child who seems more sensitive than most! :O)

Most children have the ability to identify basic displays of emotion from others (if they can slow down their busy play long enough to notice! :D), and to respond with a kind and socially
appropriate response (often with a little coaching and training for more logic-oriented kids).

Being a really empathetic child is a totally different life experience, from my own life observation. An empathetic child runs into a room with her friends at a playdate, and all the other kids are honed in on getting their needs met, saying hi to mom, or continuing the sword fight...but the empathetic child has been plunged into another emotional world entirely.

All at once, s/he is aware that the grandmother in the corner is lonely and feeling irrelevant, mom's friend is acting tough to hide her insecurities, mom is overwhelmed with pride for her new baby, father is anxious at having his space invaded by so many people, auntie needs to feel important...however, being very young, the child, of course lacks the vocabulary to express the specific ideas. But, the emotions, being emotions, are felt and understood, even though immaturity limits the ability to understand why or process it appropriately.

Obviously, personality, culture and age probably dictate how the child responds to the information overload. As a child/teen/college student, I was often accused by my friends of being aloof, "ditsy", quiet, meek (I still guffaw inwardly at that one), head-in-the-clouds, quirky, mysterious, weird, snobby or distant. :P (Somehow, though, I managed to have no shortage of friends, probably because I was really good at anticipating their emotional needs!)

The thing that I did most often (and probably still do) appearedto be dawdling/procrastinating/daydreaming on the surface. Indeed, getting me to make it on time to ANYWHERE was almost impossible.

The reason for this was usually that I needed massive amount of time to process (often through play, talking to the mirror, sleep, rehearsing conversations in my head) all the emotional information I was receiving. Trying to explain that to anyone else was like trying to nail butterscotch pudding to the wall; all the action and logic and intelligence was not only happening on the inside, but I also was processing things that others didn't observe easily. I may as well have been trying describe a platypus to a martian in Russian. :OP

Empathetic children can appear inflexible or inexplicably moody, because what's effecting them emotionally doesn't always originate from them or observable interaction. They wear out quickly in large crowds or in intense emotional situations, and can burst into tears or grumpiness seemingly out of the blue.

I lived with the constant nagging terror that others were as aware of me and my emotions as I was of theirs, which led to all sorts of funny self-talks and rituals and self-protective efforts.

Trying to pay attention to verbal instruction was near impossible as well; the speaker would be instructing away about a specific set of concrete directions, and the information I was receiving was their emotional state at the moment. I was getting information LOUD and clear, but, unfortunately, what my brain naturally honed in on wasn't the information they were trying to communicate. At the end, they'd say, "Do you understand?", I felt, "Please, please understand so I don't have to say all that again", and so, I'd agreeably nod yes to their feeling, not their words. If I could sense that they honestly didn't mind repeating it, or if they actually enjoyed hearing themselves talk, I'd ask for them to repeat it, go through the whole scenario again, reach the end again, and think, "DAMMIT! I missed it AGAIN!!" Frustration. :P

Books were my friends. :D

I've noticed that my own daughter often responds by ignoring me, if I'm emotionally keyed up myself. We've talked about it, and here's her reason: she feels like I'm invading her emotional space when I'm upset or angry, because she senses it in her own body so strongly. It's a self-protective measure..not because there's anything wrong with her knowing that I have feelings, but because she feels them so acutely, she doesn't yet know how to process them and set appropriate emotional boundaries. (Fwiw, with this particular child especially, I make an effort to not be demonstrative with my anger or raise my voice...she's honestly just that sensitive.)

In short, people were both the bane of my existence and the beauty that my world revolved around. Even when I appeared to not be listening or at all connected, I was possibly more connected than most...though it probably took some time to come to fruition. I smile and cringe when I see similar traits in my own daughter, and am thankful that I at least have something useful to pass on to her-the empathy of what it feels like to be empathetic. ;P

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Anise flavored homemade lick-stickers!

0r...How Totally Awesome People make Stickers.

Before you began this tutorial (which I stole from SkiptoMyLou), first, check and make certain that you are truly awesome. A quick whiff of the armpits should do the trick. Once awesomeness has been confirmed, proceed to Step 1.

  • Step 1. Decide to make one of these on Valentine's Day, but get so busy that you forget to do it. It helps if you order an Anthropologie magazine for the occasion, and it doesn't show up until a month too late. Now, you're on the right track.

  • Step 2. Regroup and decide to make stickers. Have an hour-long paper cutting party. Use scissors or a decorative punch, and the most colorful magazines or wrapping paper you can find. (We liked Anthropologie & old National Geographic mags) It helps to make silly faces while you do it, and make sure to make an enormous mess! This is imperative to the process.

Step 3. Decide that's enough for one day. Go clean the house or eat an entire bar of chocolate or something. ;OP

Step 4. Gather a packet of plain gelatin, 2 TB boiling water, and 1 TB corn syrup + a dash of
  • your favorite flavor extract (we used anise..mmm!). Stir boiling water into gelatin until dissolved, then mix in corn syrup and anise.
Now, your toddler should wake from her nap and fly into an inexplicable fit of hysterics,
and you should nurse her until she regains her sense of safety and
calm. Walk to the table,
and discover that your "glue" has turned into fantastic anise-
scented see-through gel! :D

  • Step 5. Reheat the anise-gel until it liquifies again. Go out on the porch (tis messy!), discover that all the paint brushes are missing, and decide "What the hulabaloo...let's use TOOTHBRUSHES!" Chuckle at the irony of brushing corn syrup glue onto stickers with dental hygiene tools. Remind yourself that they'll wash (you hope).

  • Step 6. Brush a thin coating of glue on the wrong side of your pre-cut stickers, and rest them sticky-side up on sheets of wax paper. If you're shorter than 4ft tall, you should apply at least some of it to your hair or your sister. If you have no sister, you may apply it to the cat. If you have no cat, feel sorry for yourself, and apply it to a sock puppet.
  • Wait for a gust of wind, and realize that you should weigh down the wax paper sheets at the corners. Chase the toddler and cat away from walking across the sheets of drying stickers. Fret when they curl up, and discover later that curling is just fine and doesn't effect function. ;o)

  • Monkey around for a while, while the stickers dry.

  • Lick, stick, and make beautiful creations! Enjoy your totally awesome stickers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Recovering from upheaval-13 things that help our family!

I thought this topic might be timely for some, considering all the global and local unrest and emotional yuck that's floating around right now. :) Big moves, family changes, births, tragedies, loss of a pet, and larger scale disaster can necessitate a little extra lovin'. Here are some ideas that have worked swimmingly for us that I've collected over the years (most through trial and error), to bring comfort and emotional healing/equilibrium!

1. The power of smell! If you love essential oils, or just nice scents, this may be helpful for your family! (Obviously, only use them in dilution, and be sensitive to any allergies you may have). Our favorites for supporting calm are lavender, rose and chamomile; our favorites for mood boosting are grapefruit, sweet orange, bergamot and mint. Our favorite delivery method is water: either a few drops in a small spray bottle or a few drops in a nice warm bath. If essential oils aren't your thing, you could always make your favorite fragrant meal, let your child sleep with a tshirt on that smells like you, or bake a family favorite treat. Smells are powerful emotional triggers, and potentially very comforting.

Another natural approach you might try is Rescue Remedy and, for major upheaval, Star of Bethlehem flower essence...a friend recommended it to us a while back, and it seems to have a positive effect.

2. Make a Plan. One of the favorites mottoes I ever stole was one from Jeff VanVonderen in his book Families Where Grace is in Place: "Our family is a problem solving family." Identify what IS within your power and control, make a plan with your family, and follow through. For example, our girls have felt very uneasy with our daily travel roads being in upheaval from tornado activity, and they feel worried for the people whose homes have been demolished. So, we made a plan: see what we can do to volunteer, decide what our resources are, chart out our week ahead of time so there are no surprises (or at least discuss each day what we'll be doing).

3. Relax your expectations. Expect and anticipate a little bit of out of bounds behavior from everyone in the family, and do your best to meet it with patience and reassurance. While actually doing away with normal rules and boundaries is unhelpful, reinforcing those boundaries with patience and not exasperation goes a long way. That goes for you, too; grown ups need as much grace as small people. Love and understanding begets love and understanding, so try your best to use loving language and touch with those closest to you. (This is what I struggle the most with, and, as fate would have it, the most effective!)

4. Plan a little something frivolous. It doesn't need to be expensive or fancy, and the lower key, the better. Take off all expectations and pressure. (Sometimes, the best moments like this are the ones that just happen, unplanned, so be open to them when they present themselves!) Just make it enjoyable and interesting for everyone; it could just be checking out for a while and taking a nice, long walk together. Be a little silly; don't worry about capturing anything on camera or perfectionism-let your inner monkey run a little wild and forget your worries for half an hour or more. Pillow fights work fantastically, and make for lots of laughter. :O)

5. Try to eat well. Again, nothing gourmet, but people who feel well act better...so ditch the sugar, stay hydrated, and eat some veg, complex carbs and protein. Try to stay close to the food source (aka, not processed)Your body and moods will thank you.

6. Go to bed on time. Kids benefit from this- calms forte, a small low-sugar snack, a warm quiet bath or chammomile tea can help make reality. Adults can pull out the bigger guns and try a hot bath, herbal sleep support, melatonin or a nice glass of wine! Sleep helps us process traumas, heal our bodies, replenish exhausted adrenal glands and (my husband will tell you readily) improves the mood. Even if you have little ones that make sleep tricky, you can still resist the urge to stay up and watch t.v. after they've dozed. Sleep is your friend and ally.

7. Massage/Cosleeping/snuggling. You don't even have to be any good at it; just bust out the bottle of lotion or oil and bless yourself and your family with a good, healthy touch session. (Obviously, don't force anyone who's especially sensitive to over-stimulation. ) Avoid putting pressure on bony areas, use smooth connected strokes, warm towels can help, and enjoy! It will raise the energy of everyone involved, and bring a sense of connection and calm. Sleeping together also helps re-enforce family connections. You share reaffirming touch with a close friend (meal-sharing or shared walks work, too) or with a pet, as well. Everyone benefits. Win-win!

8. Prayer and meditation. Give yourself space to cry out for help and process what you're feeling. Give your mind time to just BE.

9. Music.

10. Go outside! The calming, centering benefits of being among
birds and fresh air and trees are both documented and common sense. No crowded playgrounds or busy sidewalks; the less intensity and man-made structures, the better. The more extroverted among us can benefit from taking a friend along!

11. Unplug the News. Children need lots of time and play to process, and hearing endless loops of heartwrenching stories is beyond their capacity to handle, emotionally. (It's not so helpful for adults, either!) Model being a friend to those in need, listen to real people's stories, but don't invite a constant replay into your home and car.

12. Processing is a process. Children may want to talk about the details of what is effecting them over and over and over. Listen to them as they talk about it on their own time frame. Don't make value judgements about what they chose to share. More importantly, listen to and even participate in their pretend play at this time; it will give you insight into their emotional state. Find someone who can listen to you, too, or journal to release some of the sharpness of the emotional memory and to ground your mind.

13. Twofold, depending on personality:

Ditch perfectionism. You've just been through something taxing. Be kind to yourself and your family, and let go of some of your unreasonable expectations. Some television won't kill anyone. You can let a few unnecessary goals and tasks slide until you gather your wits a bit. It's OK to recognize that you need to rest. Resist the urge to moralize your difficulty to your family or preach at them. It's OK to lose some rigidity in order to not snap.

and on the flip side:

Be in tune with need for rhythm. Notice when your loved ones may benefit from a little more predictability and structure, and rise to the occasion. If your normal M.O. is complete bohemian lifestyle, unfettered by schedule, do recognize your family's natural need for rhythm. Predictability enforces feelings of safety and security for little ones, even if it feels counterintuitive...your family and your sanity will thank you for going through the motions. Bedtime routines, regular eating, notice ahead of time before being whisked from one activity to another are all helpful.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Our story from last Wednesday night...

Last Wednesday night, I'd made a nice ginger stir fry for our family, and had a great pot of chicken stock on simmer. We were feeling lazy after a long day. The sky went green, and a few friends called to ask whether we knew we were under a tornado warning (we live in SE TN, right smack dab in the middle of Cleveland/Ooltewah/Ringgold/Collegedale; the areas hit most hard by the storms)...and we made our way to our meager little laundry room in the middle of the house, all padded out by pillows.

The girls hung out in there while Nate and I stared at the clouds on the front porch, swirling and brooding, with the trees lashing and dancing back and forth all around our property. We started hearing a dull roar, and went inside. Soon, after, our windows, doors and what felt like even the walls started rattling. We heard what sounded like pounding hail, and we ducked inside the laundry room with the girls, and then the lights went out. (Our power stayed off for the next few days)

Eventually, we made out way out, grabbed a camping latern, and lit a few candles, and I followed Nate outside, Eva on hip. Trees were down everywhere. We took a flashlight outside, and realized that our backyard was littered with several different hunks of people's roofs.

The next morning, we wandered out to find several different colors of insulation scattered ALL over the yard, books, socks, paycheck receipts, splintered furniture wood, foam insulation, wrapping paper, papers, garbage can lids, tin roofs, siding, trash, a hunk of a RC cola vending machine cover, and all sorts of lumber splinters. It was hearbreaking; we felt as if we had inherited tragedy and heartbreak in splinters-remnants of the lives of others from God knows where-all over our yard.

An F4 tornado ripped by our home, devastating our city and those around us, and our area was declared an official disaster zone, and rightly so. I've never seen anything quite like it.

Blue springs road, this is QUITE close to our home. (I could post a map, but for privacy reasons, I'll refrain.)

A drive to work and the grocery told us that homes all around us had been completely obliterated. Driving our usual back way home that afternoon told the tale of a very close call for us (literally just hundreds of feet away from having our home in splinters) and complete tragedy for our next-street neighbors. Not only were there homes with portions sheered off, but there were foundations with debris scattered across open fields (the only remnants of what once were large houses).

A week later, as people are putting together stories and lives, I learned that a couple who uses our midwife and lives literally minutes from our home lost their sister, home and new little baby. Eight people died next to the park that we love, and the entire area looks like a war zone. Children's clothes are scattered in tree tops, animals are roaming free without homes and owners and grief is literally hanging in the air, waiting to punch you in the gut whenever you pass by.

The thing that's struck me as heartbreakingly beautiful is the outpouring of love from neighbors, and the resilience of LIFE. On the way out to pick up some laundry to do for a family who lost their home, where homes and trees and power lines are lying helter-skelter across beautiful pastures, a mama Candian goose crossed the road with her fuzzy little goslings in tow-right by a hunk of roof and tangled power lines. She looked at me as if to say, "Carry on! There are babies to care for and things to do!"

One of my clients gave birth to a perfect, healthy, pink little baby last night (not too long after power was restored!). Clothes that were once covered in splinters and dry wall dust are now in order again, ready to be worn! Retired old farmers in overalls, smelling of Old Spice and tobacco, are chainsawing fallen trees, giving smiles and salvaging possessions, and soccer moms with bright pink lipstick are handing out food and hugs. College students are donating peanut butter and hauling boxes for victims in their tiny little Toyotas. Love pulls us together. Life is a powerful force, and love is a powerful thing to be reckoned with. Love prevails.

This is my heartland. This is my home. If you think of us, send us your love and prayers...never underestimate the power of positive support and concern.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I promise to get back to our usual happenings and thoughts soon, but I'd feel a little glib to not acknowledge the pain that our community is in, in some small way...

...So I thought