Emerging: A Book, a Pregnancy, and Summertime

I’m back. In so many ways, I feel like I’m coming up for air after a long, long time.

I finished my book, or at least the first draft. I submitted it to the publisher a few weeks ago, and it’s now at the mercy of peer-reviewers. Like any big project, this is a huge weight off of my shoulders. It has commanded so much of my attention and energy over the last 18 months that I feel an almost unsettling freedom in each block of free time that comes my way. Where do I put my energy next? Between traveling, a much-reduced childcare schedule, and a sick Cee, I haven’t had much free time. However, since finishing my book, I’ve suddenly noticed cobwebs in the corners of our house, that our living room was still full of toddler toys that Cee never plays with, and that she had commandeered the lower shelf of the pantry for now-forgotten objects like band-aids, old catalogs, puzzle pieces, bottle caps, and pieces of gravel from the driveway. For a couple of days, all I wanted to do was clean and organize.

Another weight has lifted, too. I’m pregnant! Finally. It turned out that it took me longer to make a baby than to make a book. I’m now 15 weeks pregnant, and everything looks healthy so far. This experience – of trying to conceive, infertility, and pregnancy loss – has been more difficult than I imagined. When I tackled writing the book, I knew that the final product would be a result of how much time, effort, thought, and desire I put into it. Not so with getting and staying pregnant. This has been a lesson in relinquishing control and in patience. Having made it through the anxious first trimester, I’m now trying to adjust my attitude from one of bracing myself for something to go wrong to enjoying the pregnancy and letting myself think ahead to a new baby in December.

And now, it really feels like summer. I’m not teaching at all this summer, the first term I’ve had off in nearly two years. We’ve cut Cee’s childcare schedule way back to just a few mornings per week – just enough to give me a little time to write and edit the book as needed. We’re taking a few trips, catching up on appointments for our whole family, and sharing good meals made from our CSA produce. Best of all, we’re spending time together.

Cee and I especially need this. Over the last few months, my husband and I were doing a lot of baton parenting – both of us working long hours and then taking turns with Cee so that the three of us were rarely all together. I was starting to feel like my limited time with Cee was spent in too many battles and limit-setting and not enough connection and cooperation. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about and putting into action a sort of parenting reset – trying to think clearly for the first time in a while at what is working and what isn’t and being intentional about how to change it. Happily, I already feel like we’re back in a better place, and I’m looking forward to lots of time with her this summer.

I’m also setting my intention to getting back to regular blogging this summer. I plan to post at least once per week, maybe a bit more. I’ll be blogging about pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, babies (of course!), and some of my current parenting journey. I have a long list of topics accumulated over the last year or so, but I’m always open to new questions; if you have topic ideas, send them my way!

I’m really looking forward to blogging and engaging with you all again. Thanks for all of your kind notes over the last few months and for bearing with me. It’s good to be back!

Hopeful for the New Year

I, for one, am not sad to see 2013 go. It’s been a rough year for me. I haven’t been blogging about it – haven’t been blogging about much of anything, actually – and I think it is time for an update.IMG_5374 2013 started with a miscarriage in progress, finally ending with a D&C on January 4. I grieved that lost pregnancy openly on this blog. It was therapeutic for me to blog about it and to feel support from women who had had similar experiences, or at least had empathy for the magnitude of love and hope that comes with a pregnancy. I started to feel better. I was confident that I would be pregnant again soon, and that was the obvious way to fill the gaping hole in my heart.

In the spring, I watched seedlings poke through wet dirt. Our neighborhood burst with color and new life, and I felt hopeful. But as the days grew longer and hotter, I felt sadder and sadder.  I still wasn’t pregnant. My previous due date came and went, now just another day, but such a heavy one for me. Cee and I sorted through newborn clothes in our hot attic, not for a new baby for our family, but to lend to a friend. Cee asked to keep a few onesies for her baby doll. I showed her how to fasten the snaps and then sent her downstairs so I could cry.

In August, I had another miscarriage, this time very early. Then, another one in October, early again (and thankfully spontaneous) but far enough out that I let myself think ahead to another summer due date. That one really crushed me. I know miscarriage is common, and it’s easy to chalk the first up to bad luck. But by the third time around, I had really lost faith in my body. It has failed, repeatedly, to do one of the things I feel it was always meant to do. I’ve always wanted children, and the family that I have, for which I am exceedingly grateful every day, doesn’t feel complete. There’s still a gaping hole here, and it’s only gotten bigger.

Meanwhile, Cee turned three in November. I know my sadness has affected her, and it’s affected my parenting, because my emotional reserve is just plain depleted. I am working hard at being enough for her and at assuring her that she is enough for me. (And she is. She really is. I’ve come to terms with that, most days anyway.) Continue reading

Two Mom-Driven Media Ventures You Should Follow (and Support!)

I want to take a minute to highlight a couple of newish media ventures that I think readers of this blog would love. Funnily enough, both are a little old-fashioned. One is a literary magazine, printed on real, honest-to-god, paper. It arrives in my mailbox, and I know I need to clear my evening – put away my laptop and phone and snuggle into my bed a few hours before I actually intend to go to sleep. And the other is a podcast. Maybe that doesn’t count as old-fashioned, but as I listen, this form brings all the warmth and comfort of a radio show that makes me want to slow down, close my eyes, and just listen.

Both of these projects are doing something special and filling our need for real parenting voices amidst the chatter from popular websites and advice-filled magazines.  After every installment, they leave me wanting more.

longest shortest time headerThe Longest Shortest Time is a podcast and accompanying blog created by Hillary Frank. Hillary is a writer and a professional radio producer, and her experience shows in the podcast. I love good radio, and this is good radio. I just discovered the Longest Shortest Time last summer, at the recommendation of a friend. I was immediately hooked, and I plowed through the 20 existing episodes, recorded over the last three years, while I packed up our house in preparation for our move.

The Longest Shortest Time is about stories. But stories are different when they’re told from one friend to another, or one mother to another, empathetic mother. That’s something that Hillary recognized. She says:

“Something I did know from having been a radio producer for about 15 years, is – if you have a microphone, and you stick a microphone in someone’s face, they will tell you just about anything, and it’s not awkward. I just started sitting down with moms and calling moms, and dads too, to hear their stories of struggles in early parenthood.”

These are some incredible stories. The most memorable is Hillary’s conversation with her friend Kelly McEvers, an NPR war correspondent, about what it was like to combine early motherhood with her very dangerous line of work. That’s a perspective that I’d never heard before. I am nothing like a war correspondent, in my personality or work, and my experience with motherhood is nothing like Kelly’s. But still, I felt a certain amount of kinship with Kelly when she said this:

LST kelly quote

Continue reading

My Favorite Parenting Strategy

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Cee’s long, drawn-out process of getting ready in the morning. She was maddeningly slow at changing from pajamas to her clothes for the day, but she also insisted on doing it herself. If I tried to help, the pace of progress slowed even more. If I tried to take over, it became a physical battle, and I was sure that wasn’t worth it. I tried a few strategies to keep our mornings moving, and readers offered more great ideas in comments on my post.

One of my more brilliant ideas, I thought, was a hand-drawn morning schedule for Cee. I drew a step-by-step diagram of what she needed to do each morning – get dressed, go potty, brush teeth – and then I showed that we could have a few minutes to read a book or play together before leaving the house, assuming she could move through her schedule at a reasonable pace. We drew out the schedule and discussed it the night before, and she was really into it. She showed it to Daddy and carried it around for her bedtime routine, then carefully placed it by her bed before she went to sleep. In the morning, she was excited to follow the schedule and get to book time, and she did it! I thought it was quite a success story. But, by the next morning, Cee was bored with the schedule idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure she saw right through it as one more pressure tactic from me. Cee doesn’t respond well to pressure, thinly disguised or not.

So. I settled on my favorite parenting strategy: patience. Honestly, I can’t think of a more important asset to the parent of a toddler.

I did a lot of little things to ease our morning crunch. I got as much ready the night before as I could; I went to bed and got up earlier to get some work done before Cee woke; and I asked Husband to take over on mornings when he could squeeze it in his schedule, just to ease my nerves. And then, I tried to summon more patience and relax. I trusted that this was a phase that wouldn’t last forever.

dressed and ready

Dressed and ready to go

I’m happy to report that I was right. For the last few mornings, I have woken to the sound of little feet running down the hall. Cee has been waking early, dressing herself, and then coming to wake me up with bed head and a big smile. That whole dressing fiasco? It’s gone. She’s getting dressed on her own, while I’m still snoozing.

Why the change? It isn’t anything I did. Me telling her that she needed to get dressed faster had zero impact, I can assure you. It’s more likely that it prolonged the process. Maybe she’s discovered that it’s more pleasant to get dressed without me breathing down her neck. Maybe she herself got bored with the snail-paced process and figured she’d rather get on with more interesting things in her day. But whatever it is, she is very proud of herself, and I am too. We’re both relishing her autonomy.

But now Cee has moved on to other time-consuming projects. Lately, she’s been wanting to buckle her own car seat. She can do this, but it takes long minutes of sitting in the car waiting for her. Sometimes we’re in a hurry, and I tell her that I have to do it this time, and sometimes that causes a meltdown. But if I can, I try to find my patience and let her do it herself. Just like the dressing process, the learning part takes time – much longer than if I did it myself. But I trust that at some point she’ll get really good at buckling her own seatbelt (always followed by my check). And then she’ll feel proud and independent, and ultimately that means that she does more things for herself. So again, patience.

Patience tells a toddler: You don’t have to be more than you are right now. And when I choose the patience strategy, I’m telling myself the same thing: You don’t have to fix this. You don’t have to have an answer. Staying calm is enough.

It’s tempting to try to fix the little challenges of every stage, but so much of childhood we really can’t control. We can try to prevent meltdowns with attention to sleep, food, daily rhythms, and choices, but when it comes right down to it, the meltdowns are bound to happen at some point. We can do everything right (whatever that means) in the transition from diapers to undies, but we’re probably still going to have some accidents and setbacks along the way.  We can cosleep or sleep train or something in between, and we’re still going to have days when we’re dead tired. So much of parenting is riding out the stages, focusing on the parts of each that we love and then coping with the tough parts as best we can. And then waiting, with patience, trusting that we’ll come out the other side with our kids, who will be moving on to new challenges before we know it.

What are your kids working on that is requiring your patience? And maybe more importantly, where do you find more patience when you’re running low?

I’m Still Here.

Last week, I received a sweet email from a reader, saying that she was missing my posts and that she hoped everything was okay. And this morning, my Facebook inbox was graced with a photo of an adorable toddler, son to one of my most loyal readers.

I LOVE getting these little notes. I’m completely flattered and honored that there are parents around the world who have let me into their parenting lives and think of me even when my blog has grown quiet. But getting these notes also make me feel a tad bit guilty: “Crap! I should be blogging more! I need to be more of a resource! People are counting on me!”

At the moment, I have a few other projects that are taking precedence over blogging. I’m hard at work on my book, and that is pretty much consuming most of the energy I have for writing. It is harder work than I thought it would be. I’m falling deep into topics that I thought would be much simpler to sort through and translate into readable chapters. It’s really interesting and fun, and I can’t wait to share it with you. I had imagined that I would be able to whip off quick blog posts about my book research, but I haven’t been able to pull it off. But, I promise you, once I get this manuscript in (which admittedly, may be a while), I will get back to blogging regularly. I’m keeping a list of post ideas, which pop up a few times per day while I’m working on the book.

I’m also teaching a couple of nutrition classes at my local community college this summer, and we’re working on buying a house (and soon – moving!). And… it’s summer. The Oregon rain has nearly stopped. (Although, for some reason, we signed up for swim lessons starting last week, and we’ve been shivering at the outdoor pool in 60°F, drizzly weather these last few days.) We’re making time for camping, hiking, leisurely walks to the park, and picking strawberries.

Strawberries2 june13strawberries1 june13As a side note, let me just tell you that I’m having lots of fun parenting right now. Cee is two-and-a-half. She’s stubborn and independent, and most of the time, I love it. And oh! Continue reading

Do-Nothing Day

Last weekend, a friend asked if Cee and I would like to go for a hike with her on Sunday morning. I would have loved to go. It was perfect Oregon summer weather, and this friend is one of my favorite people in the world. But, I said no.

I said no because Cee needed a Do-Nothing Day – or at least Do-Nothing Morning. Five days per week, she goes to daycare for the morning. She has a great time there, and I get my work time in. It’s a nearly perfect arrangement. The only thing that’s hard about it is actually getting there.

Cee likes to do things herself, and she likes to do them at her own pace. She does not do well under pressure, and she does not like deadlines and ultimatums.

It is vitally important to her to choose the right underwear for her day. And sometimes she can’t decide on the right pair, so she settles on two pairs instead. (And once, six pairs at a time, which made potty time quite a production.) And then the right pants, sometimes two pairs of those, too (or one pants, one shorts, since we’re on the verge of shorts season). And then a shirt. Maybe it is one particular favorite shirt that she really needs, and if it’s in the dirty laundry, we have to talk about how we wear clean clothes to school. Sometimes we don’t make it to socks – I just carry her to the car barefoot with a pair of socks in my pocket.

Cee enjoys this process, and she sees right through my efforts to shorten it. If I put two pairs of pants in front of her and ask her to choose the blue ones or the grey ones, she thinks about it for what feels like a long time and then says, “Hmmm, where are my red pants?” and starts digging through her drawer. For now, I have accepted that getting dressed just takes some time. But usually, around the time that she has her undies on and one leg in her pants, one leg out, I glance at the clock and realize that we running late. I end up rushing her (with mixed success), and we’re often both a little frazzled by the time we get in the car.

This snail-paced getting-dressed routine is annoying to me, but lately I’ve also been noticing just how stressful it can be to Cee. She doesn’t like to be rushed, and I don’t think she likes seeing me get impatient either. She slows down, shuts down, and falls apart, and that’s a rough way to start the day. Continue reading

To the Little Girl Who is Afraid of the Ocean

Cee in HI

A relatively relaxed moment in a calm, protected bay. She didn’t get much closer than this to the water’s edge.

We just got back from a week in Hawaii. It was a great trip and may become a February tradition now that we’re residents of the great and rainy state of Oregon. It was brilliant to escape the lingering wet winter, soak up a little sunshine, and relax together with some of our best friends.

We stayed just a couple of blocks from the beach and went there daily. I had pictured Cee playing in the sand and splashing in the waves. But the minute we stepped foot on the beach, Cee clung to my neck and did not want to be set down. It was yet another lesson in setting aside expectations and meeting my child where she was. And at this point in her life, she isn’t a fan of the beach.

Cee hasn’t spent much time at the beach in her short life, but this wasn’t her first time either. We visited Hawaii when she was 6 months old, and we’ve taken day trips to the Oregon coast a couple of times per year. But all of her previous experiences have been to rather wild coastlines, so she’s only dipped her toes in from the safety of our arms. I admit that we probably didn’t give her much choice about those early encounters. This was really the first time that she’s been able to verbally describe to us how the ocean makes her feel.

“I no like ocean.”

“Feel scared beach.”

“Go home, Mama?”

She’s terrified of the ocean.

And I can’t blame her. The ocean is huge. It’s unpredictable, powerful, and loud. It’s incomprehensible. To a two-year-old who wants to control her environment as much as possible, the ocean is frightening.

I tell her: It’s OK. I’m scared of the ocean, too. It’s OK to feel scared.

But let’s just put our toes in, I tell her. Let’s see how the water and the sand feel on our feet. She nods, though skeptically. I pick her up and we walk towards the surf. A wave approaches and breaks several feet out, and an inch or two of water and foam gently wash over my feet. She grabs me tighter and says directly into my ear, “All done, Mama! All done, Mama! All done, Mama!”

I respect that. I respect a little girl who can look me in the eye, head held high, and tell me she’s afraid. She says this even as children play around us, racing the waves breaking on the shore. I know that I can’t explain away Cee’s fear of something this big.

But I do want to tell her this:

The ocean terrifies me too. Continue reading

A Question of References

stack of booksI’m working away on my book, but my progress is maddeningly slow. I’m getting hung up on really important questions of scope and tone, and I’m hoping that as I resolve these, the writing will start to come easier.

Here’s an important question that I’m struggling with, and I’d like your advice. How do you like to see references in a non-fiction book?

The writing in my book is like that in my science-based blog posts. I am basing it on lots of references and papers, but I am trying to frame the scientific questions with real-life stories from my experience and that of other parents.

When I submitted my book proposal, the peer reviewers responded that they thought an evidence-based book backed by references would be a unique and helpful resource to new parents. And based on the responses from you, the readers of my blog, I think you value this as well. So providing references and making them accessible to the reader is important to me.

When my editor and I were going over the book contract, the topic of how to handle references came up. Initially, he thought that I should avoid in-text references – either noted by author or by number. That is, he didn’t expect sentences like this made-up one: “In one surprising study, researchers from the University of Amazing found that children were more accepting of new foods when they XXX.57” Instead, he recommended simply providing a list of references, by chapter, at the end of the book, without necessarily linking each reference to the text describing it. After some discussion, he said he was open to me using in-text citations, but I also agreed to give some thought to different options.

I’m actually really uncomfortable writing about science without in-text citations. I’m used to science writing where you provide a reference for just about every single statement you make. Continue reading

Mama, Talk Busy Day?

Cee was sick about a month ago – sick in a flu-sort of way with fever, cough, stuffy nose, and general misery. We threw our regular sleep routines out the window. There was a lot of back rubbing and singing to help her to sleep and more of the same when she woke burning with fever during the night, needing some reassurance from Mama or Daddy and another dose of ibuprofen.

Once she was better, Cee had a bit of a hard time transitioning back to our regular routine of books, song, and goodnight. She said, “Mama, lie down?” wanting me to stay with her until she fell asleep. I couldn’t get into that habit.  I had humored her a few times, and I knew how it went. I would lay down next to her until her breathing slowed and she was still, but I’d still be afraid to budge for another 20 minutes to be sure she was in a deep sleep. By that time, I would either fall asleep myself or at the very least have lost all motivation to do anything productive for the rest of the night. Plus, I hate the sneaking out thing. It makes me feel like I’m not being honest with her. Cee knows how to go to sleep on her own.

mama and ceeInstead, I stayed with her for a few extra minutes. I held her hand and talked quietly about her day, full of friends at daycare, walks outside, time with mommy and daddy, meals, bath, books, and all the regular mundane things we do together. It was a busy day, I told her, and tomorrow would be another busy day. Time to rest, little girl. Night night. I kissed first one hand and then the other and then her forehead, now thankfully cool now since the fever was gone. It was a good bedtime. She fell asleep, and I got to work.

The next night, as I was kissing her goodnight, she said, “Mama, lie down?”

“No,” I said, “I’m not going to lie down with you. I need to go work upstairs.” (She actually accepts this response. It seems to make sense to her.)

She had another idea.

“Mama, talk busy day?”

And so began our new bedtime tradition. It’s Cee’s favorite part of bedtime now, and mine too. She asks for it with anticipation every night. When Husband is home at bedtime, he shares in it as well. We snuggle together in a Cee sandwich and recall the day. Continue reading

The Courage to Try

I am tackling my book project, and I’m struggling. Like all of you, I’m juggling a few things right now. I’m parenting a toddler, teaching a few college courses, maintaining a home, nurturing a marriage, blogging (OK, barely), and trying to take care of myself. And writing a book. Some of those things seem to rise to the top of my priority list every day, and others always seem to be lingering at the bottom, which invariably means that they either don’t get done or they don’t get done well. Working on my book is one of the things that keep ending up at that bottom, not seeming to be as important as my other responsibilities. I know that if I’m going to write this book and write it well, that has to change.

It isn’t just about finding time and keeping a lot of balls in the air, though. It is also about fear. It is the fear that I can’t write the book I want to write. I don’t even really care if anybody reads it. What I care about most is that it is good and that at the end of this process I am proud of it. And I’m afraid of all the hard work that I know is between here and there. It isn’t just punching a clock and meeting deadlines. It is about the labor of thinking and synthesizing and storytelling. I know that it requires my full attention and energy for at least some portion of every day. The scale of the project scares me. Continue reading