LOVE – It’s The Secret Ingredient

turkey-soup

Turkey & Rice Soup (Several days later and still sooooooooo delicious!)

There’s a certain alchemy that can happen in cooking… It’s not just about putting flavors together and being satisfied with delicious results. Sometimes, if a recipe you’ve watched your Mom make too many times to count, a recipe that’s never been written down before, suddenly turns out *just* right, it’s possible to be instantly transported back in time to your childhood.

Here I am, at age four looking up at my Mom standing at the stove, careful not to have it turned on high heat yet because I’m so close to her hip. I watch as she’s trying to fit the turkey carcass into our big, fat silver soup pot. She uses the kitchen shears, a knife, sometimes just her fingers, to break the bigger bones up into smaller ones to fit – just so – into the pot. Mom never liked to throw out anything that still had so much to offer.

Here I am, a couple of years later, standing on a kitchen chair and asking, “Can I add the carrot and the onion and the celery? Please? I’m old enough. I can do it.” But I would have to wait a few more years before I got the job of chopping the vegetables into big chunks to help flavor the broth as it started to boil. How high the heat should be and how long the broth should simmer on the stove always depended on two things: what time my Mom began this whole process, and how much patience the rest of the family had to wait before eating.

Pulling the meat off the bones would have happened in earnest a day or two before – on Thanksgiving. But only after the crowds of people had left and after the kids had gone to bed. My immediate family always lived far from aunties, uncles and cousins, so our gatherings were always a wonderful mix of “framily” – those people whom we’d adopted, or who had adopted us for the holiday meal. I wonder if my Mom ever found enjoyment in discovering just how much meat there would be to add to the year’s batch? This was always the unknown variable… Would the soup be thin and mostly broth? Or more like a thick and hearty stew? It was dependent on lots of different things: how big of a turkey we could afford in any given year, the number of guests we’d invited, how many appetizers and sides they’d brought to share, and – how hungry my teenaged brothers were.

As a tween and teen, more interested in eating the soup than actually making it, I would salivate as the smells of turkey goodness filled our entire house. Only then would my Mom turn the burner off, strain the solids from the broth and pick through the remains once more. She would want a mostly clear broth seasoned to perfection before adding anything else. And then came my favorite part: adding the rice. “Plink, plink, plink!” The individual grains would splash and get sucked into the depths of the pot, only to resurface as the heat got turned back on and the broth began bubbling again.

I never understood how my Mom knew when to finish the soup so the rice was cooked just right. Confession: I always cheat on this part and use the rice cooker and add the finished rice into the pot right before serving. The rice turns out pretty close to perfect, but alas! no wonderful “plinking!” sounds. At some point, Mom would declare the soup to be “Finished!” And then add in the turkey meat and a jar or two of tomatoes. She’d give one last good stir to mix everything together and then ladle the soup into our bowls, while we sat at the long dining room table ready to gobble it all up (no pun intended…)

My Mom’s “Turkey and Rice Soup” might not be something you’d find in a fancy restaurant, or pay top dollar for – but the best food in the world rarely is. This recipe is so much more than just a delicious way to transform Thanksgiving leftovers. And this year, at first taste, and after 26 years of trying to re-create the experience, I almost wept (almost – I’m not really a crier…) as I was instantly transported back to my childhood kitchen watching as my Mom created something that over the years became a symbol of love, of comfort, of home to me.

That’s the kind of alchemy that I’m talking about. There’s a certain magic that you can actually taste in a meal that’s been cooked at home. Whenever my own children find something that I’ve made for them especially delicious and then ask me what’s in it, I list off all the ingredients and then say, “But there’s a secret extra special ingredient added! Can you guess what it is?” They’ve heard this from me so many times now that even as they roll their eyes, they still respond: “LOVE!” 

Yep, lots and lots of love. Heaping tablespoons and cups spilling over with love.

I’m not sure why this ingredient has been missing from this recipe over the years. Or, more importantly, how it finally found it’s way into my own soup pot this year some 2,264 miles away from my Mom – but I’m so glad that it did.

I feel like the last three posts I’ve written, have had more than a little bit of wistfulness to them, their unifying theme a longing to be closer to my family this year. I thank you, dear reader, for indulging me.

Typically, I write about issues that are of importance to pregnant, birthing and new parenting families. But one of the things that becomes more important over time, I think, is acknowledging that who we are as parents originates in how we have been parented. The families we are creating for ourselves now, find their roots in the families of our birth. Sometimes, and in some particular ways, we may choose to break away from that family of our birth to create our own, new definition of family.

But sometimes we look ahead and wonder if our own children will ever tell their children about how turn a tupperware full of Thanksgiving leftovers into something so much more.

Spoiler Alert: It’s all about that secret extra special ingredient.

Do you have any holiday recipes that have been passed down in your family that hold such power? Is the recipe written down? Or can it only be brought together through a lifetime’s worth of memories? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share them in the comments.

Take Your Kids Camping, Please!

Boler

Our upgrade from the early days: cute little Boler camping trailer. Kids are still in a tent, but not us!

If I’ve timed this right, this post is going to drop right in the middle of our annual week-long camping trip along the Oregon Coast. It is, by far, my favorite Summertime activity and I look forward to it like a child waiting for Christmas.

This week marks our 6th year of camping and there have been some changes since the early days. That first year, we piled everything we needed inside the Honda Odyssey (we didn’t even have a roof rack!) and I took us on a road trip that covered about 800 miles in total and had us setting up and tearing down camp every two days.

“Variety is the spice of life” is a personal cliché of mine, and I had no idea what kind of camping we’d enjoy the most: near the beach? in the mountains? high desert? Obviously, I also had no idea how much work was involved in setting up and tearing down camp! Which is why on the last day as we were driving home I took my husband’s hand and asked, “You sure you still want to be married to me? I’m so sorry…”

That year we had four kids under the age of 10, including one that was still nursing, in diapers, and happened to spike a pretty high fever on our first night as we huddled together in 40 degree temperatures at beautiful (freaking-cold-at-night) Crater Lake. “Oh, this is why the ranger kept insisting that I get a fire started when we arrived at 4 pm when it was still 80 degrees!” I thought to myself as I shivered while making dinner via flashlight.

Our air mattress popped in the middle of the night so we woke up on the freezing cold, hard ground and had to head into town to buy a ridiculously expensive new one so that my husband’s back wouldn’t break. Remember, it was already under considerable strain due to the loading and unloading of all of our crap from inside the mini-van. I seriously can’t believe that he agreed to do this again after that first year! Were we crazy? No, I’d like to think that even in the middle of all the nuttiness of that first year we realized a few of the “whys” of camping is so good for our family…

There is nothing like the smell of fresh air that surrounds you as you drive into your little campsite encircled by old growth pines.

We play games – Farkle, Gin, Loaded Questions, Apples to Apples, just to name a few!  And our charades are legendary.

The food! I’m a bit of a nut job in that I like to prepare all of our dinners ahead of time and freeze them – so that all I have to do at the end of the day is warm up a big pot of something delicious and we eat as well as we do at home. This gives me more time to sit by the fire, drink a beer, and connect with my family (or a really good book!)

And my kids love that they get to eat stuff that we rarely have at home: Top Ramen (Hey, don’t judge! I LIVED on Top Ramen, beer, potatoes and peanut butter for four years while I was in college, and I turned out okay!), Pop Tarts, Funions (what are these anyway? I don’t even think “onions” is in the list of ingredients…) and so, so many s’mores.

But the thing that I look forward to the most is that there is no wi-fi and because we have a super crappy phone network, no cell service. For an entire week, we are all unplugged and I.LOVE.IT. My kids, who are pretty much digging their Summer screen time which is waaaay over what I know is good for their brains, get a break from it all. Especially the older ones – for whom the world and its pain never leaves them alone for a minute when it’s all just a click away on their phones.

We engage. In the here and now. With each other. And it is good.

Take your kids camping, please.

Let them find “their” climbing tree and the hidden way to get to and from the bathrooms. Buy them fishing poles and sit quietly next to them for hours in August after the lake’s bounty has already been snatched up and hope, hope, hope that this is the year they catch “the big one” that is legend around these parts. Laugh yourselves silly and sing at the top of your lungs. Create the type of memories that matter as a family. Then sit back and wonder who gets the most out of this experience – you or them.

Does it matter? Not really.

Have you ever camped as a family before? Did you love it? Only do it “for the kids?” What other kinds of things do you do with your babies/kids that might become a family tradition? Let me know – I love this kind of stuff!

My Third Is Now Eleven. Wait – What?

Supergirl

It is my girl’s birthday today. She has turned 11 years old and I wonder, “How in the hell did that happen?!”

Last night, she feigned interest in listening to me read some Harry Potter to her younger brother, attempting some wacky dance moves instead. But she gave herself away when she shared, “I love it when you give all the characters different British accents!” (Well, how else are you supposed to read Harry Potter? I mean, seriously!)

After the chapter was over, I drew her in close and told her the story of her birth. You would think that given the fact that my whole professional life revolves around birth that this is something I’ve been doing with each of my children since they celebrated their first birthdays – but you’d be wrong. It’s not that I haven’t shared their birth stories with them, it just hasn’t become an annual birthday thing.

But even so, my daughter supplied the last line of her story which is: “I came out just like “Supergirl” And she did, with her hand and arm outstretched over her head, like she was flying through the sky. The memory of this makes me laugh now – but at the time, it wasn’t so funny. While a newborn’s closed fist is pretty tiny, let’s just acknowledge that in birth every centimeter counts, and I didn’t necessarily appreciate her grand entrance… although this has proven to be something that she’s quite good at.

This led me to wonder again about the topic of nature vs nurture. And I can’t help but think that the essence of who we are already seems just about fully formed before we even make our entrance into this world, grand or otherwise.

I think back to when Lucía was yet to be born. She was an eagerly anticipated baby and my pregnancy had been pretty smooth. Her older siblings were 6 and 3+ years and with one in Kindergarten and one in Preschool, I didn’t have much time to sit and dream about this little peanut growing inside of me. I was a very busy Momma already! Thankfully, I had a straight-forward pregnancy and I was boring and healthy throughout. Sure, she caused me some pretty bad heartburn (cum gastric reflux), but otherwise I was able to exercise well into my pregnancy and I felt great.

I had anticipated going past my due date with her, as I’d already done that 2x before with her older siblings. Apparently, all my babies all like to bake from somewhere between 40 and 41 1/2 weeks. (*Fun Fact- Did you know you can feel your baby’s hiccups best through the their back?) I knew from where I felt the increasing hiccups with baby #3, (due to my increasing sweet tooth!) that when I went to bed the night before my due date, it was with a baby in the best possible position for birth: head down.

During the middle of the night, I woke up, completely startled and awake, but by what? I didn’t have to pee (for once!), so I settled back to bed thinking that maybe it had been a bad dream. That bad dream became a reality when I realized the next morning that my baby had flipped overnight into a head up position – and that’s what woke me up!

I can’t even tell you how angry I was in that moment. “You have got to be kidding me!” I thought. I marched upstairs and grabbed a bag of frozen peas and promptly put it on what I thought must be her head. Then as they thawed, I switched out the peas for a bag of frozen corn, and back and forth – peas and corn, peas and corn –  all day long. But that wasn’t all! Oh, no! That night I propped myself up in this crazy position in bed with my butt waaaaay up in the air so that her head would be extremely uncomfortable compressed in my ribcage and – I waited. This was going to be an epic battle of wills.

I could tell this little person was not one to be trifled with, but neither was I! Sure enough, after a few hours, I felt a huge sea change happening and she settled back into my pelvis – head down. “Hah!” I thought, “Sometimes you have to teach them who’s boss even before they’re born!”

But, seeing as I’ve already spoiled the ending, you know that it was she who got the last laugh as she was born. I guess she showed herself to be a little bit of a boss that day as well.

And the two of us have had that kind of relationship ever since. It’s not bad, it just gets complicated from time to time. If we were dance partners, it would be to disastrous results because we both want to lead, all the time. I have come to find that this daughter who is so unique and absolutely her own person is also the one who is most like me – and as it turns out, parenting oneself can be mighty challenging at times.

She got a lot of my good stuff, but unfortunately, she also got some of my bad stuff,too.

She’s a lot of fun and really funny. But she’s also impatient and unwilling to ask for help. She is intuitive and one of the most street-smart and savvy kids I know. She’s compassionate to a fault but wants love and affection – on her terms only. I love her fiercely, but I’m only allowed to tell her that when she’s in the mood to receive it. She’s going to do big, big things with her life – as long as she doesn’t burn out in a blaze of glory first!

Lucía is but one of the four reasons I get to hold the title of “Momma.” She pushes my buttons – sometimes all at once! But she is also the one who teaches me the most on a daily basis about how to try and do this mothering thing better than I did the day before.

She is my Supergirl. And she is 11 today. How the hell did that happen?!

What about you and your babies? Do you think they are the same little people on the outside that they were when they were in utero? How much of who they are reflects nature vs nurture? I’d love to hear your comments about this! Please leave them here.

Traveling WITHOUT Children

Traveling

It’s 5:03 am Chicago O’Hare time and I’m trying to find some free Wi-Fi that actually works. I passed a Starbucks on my way to the gate and I can imagine my chai tea latte (extra hot!) in about an hour, when the place finally opens.

I’m able to sit and write uninterrupted for the next couple of hours and I’m amazed at this list of things I don’t have to do:

  1. Listen to Thing #1 complain pretty much non-stop about how bad the Wi-Fi in this place is “I can’t even stream my music, Mom!”
  2. Argue with Thing #2 that even though he thinks he “didn’t sleep on the plane at all!” he actually did – I saw him, and I know he’s tired, I’m tired, we’re all tired
  3. Navigate the obstacle course that is Thing #3 ’s collection of markers, colored pencils and fashion design books strewn all over the floor
  4. Chase after Thing #4 as he swings on the bars attached to window ledges and asks over and over and over again, “When’s it our turn to get on the plane?”

Traveling without children isn’t something that I get to do very often. And so it’s still a bit of a novelty to me. When you have four kids, traveling is usually quite the production!

You know your family is “big” when you take up two full rows on the plane. The first thing we always do is decide who’s sitting next to whom. This is not as easy as it sounds.

My hubby and I usually do some form of Rochambeau to determine who’s sitting with the littles and who’s sitting with the teens. It’s obvious who loses this game as one of us ends up having to come up with as many adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs as we can, to then listen to the resulting Mad Libs story at a deafening volume you can hear over the roar of the airplane’s engines.

We bring electronics people, I’m not going to lie. Apple products are some of the world’s greatest inventions when it comes to traveling! We download movies onto the iPad – but we have to figure out what Things 1 & 2 will both want to watch vs Things 3 & 4. It’s hard to find movies that all of our kids ages 16, 14, 10 & 7 actually like and are willing to watch again for the umpteenth time.

Plus – there’s only so many movies that can fit on a portable electronic device, so we can’t just rely on movies as our main tactical maneuver for traveling bliss. Oh, no. I have to make sure that each one of them has a book, but it has to be the right book: long enough to last most of the trip – without weighing 15 pounds! But I can’t forget all the other books: coloring, work, sticker… whatever will distract and entertain.

We try to take up two rows on the same side of the plane instead of side by side. We do this to avoid the looks of irritation from strangers who continue to a) get a kick in the pants no matter how many times we remind our kids to “Stop kicking the seat in front of you!” and b) get whacked in the head by a steady stream of our bags being sent across the aisle. 

And then there are the snacks. Holy crap! You’d think we were flying one-way to a deserted island somewhere with no hope for a food drop, based on the amount of food we bring along! Food is one of the best ways to keep kids on a plane happy though, so it’s got to be a good! I try to bring a mix of sweet and savory, with plenty of protein and nutritious stuff thrown together with a few “plane only” foods. These will inevitably get eaten on the first leg of the trip first and then the whining begins, “Why does he still have Oreos?” (Because your Dad has learned the art of delayed gratification, my friend.)

There must be gum available for takeoff and landing – not because it actually helps that much with ear pressure, but if I put a big enough wad in my mouth, I can distract every kid on the plane as I blow bubble after bubble while they laugh as it pops on my nose and cheeks.

Almost always, the flight attendants remark as we’re getting off the plane how well behaved our four kids are. And they’ve been saying this since the days when they were all under the age of ten. I’m not trying to be smug, here. The trick to successful travel with children is to remember: YOU’RE TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN!

You might get to read that novel from your book club or the latest O Magazine when you get to your final destination, but no way are you doing any of that on the plane! When I fly and I see kids really acting up it’s usually because THEY’RE CHILDREN, and their parents have forgotten this.

Traveling for hours strapped into an uncomfortable seat, with no legroom, a tiny little window that looks out into nothing, and where the only place to wander off to happens to be the world’s smallest toilet is hard enough on us adults! But when you have children with you it means you have to rally and be ready to parent every second of the flight – or at least until they fall asleep.

Sleeping children on the plane is always worth striving for! If they’re still nursing, it’s a little bit easier because they might end up sleeping the entire time – as long as there’s a nipple in their mouth! (Which may be the best argument for extended breastfeeding ever!) But if they weaned several years ago, you have to be prepared to help them make it through the flight and the best way to do that is to be as present as possible.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly exhausting! But it usually prevents most of the meltdowns that are likely to occur if you forget that you’re traveling with children!

I’m aware of how easy this is for me to write about today, seeing as I have none of my brood with me. But this is really just a reminder for me to pack well – as we will be traveling with all four of them, on a very, very long flight in just a couple of weeks.

And I need to be prepared.

How do you entertain your kiddos while traveling? Any pearls of wisdom to share about how to keep the littles distracted and happy for those of us who will be facing a big trip this Summer? (Hint – I’m talking about me here, and I could really use some new ideas before mid-June. Help a Momma out!) Bonus points if the idea doesn’t take up any room in the carry on bags. May you all have safe and relatively pain-free travels. Don’t forget – you’re parents, now.

What Do I Do Right?

Do Right

I’m taking part in Elly Taylor’s, Becoming Us Facilitator Training, and it’s fantastic! This training is based on her book, Becoming Us: 8 Steps to Grow a Family That Thrives. I love this book as it aims to prepare couples by presenting them with normal, realistic expectations for the transition to parenthood. Through this training, I’m learning how to “plant seeds” for my expectant couples so their transition to new parenthood goes as smoothly as possible.

This work is not necessarily new to me and the way I teach, but going through this training has allowed me to look in-depth at the incredible transition that women and their partners go through as they become parents to a newborn. This is a life-changing event, after all, and we need to do better in preparing our families for all of the changes that will be happening to them as individuals and as a couple. This is why I’m taking part in this advanced training. I’m weaving Elly’s work into my current curriculum to better prepare my families with realistic expectations that go far beyond the birth itself.

The module that I’ve most enjoyed so far is learning more about the challenges new parents have in grappling with their lowered sense of identity and self-esteem as they move into their new roles. We’ve definitely moved away from the idea of parents receiving a boost to their self-esteem by other members of the larger culture when they start a family. The idea of ushering in the next generation as a role of honor, just isn’t a part of our cultural identity any longer.

In a society that elevates the material world and success is measured in how much money you make, the work parents do to raise their children doesn’t even rate in our collective consciousness. It’s barely recognized, let alone given any extrinsic value. When we look at parenting through this cultural lens, it starts to become obvious why the identities and self-esteem levels of new parents, both men and women, take a hit.

To address this issue, I’ll sometimes talk about parenting in a way that resonates with my student’s experience up to this point: Parenting is a job. But it’s not just any job, it’s the job – the one you’ve been focused on getting for the past year at least, maybe even longer and finally, you land that job.

And it ends up being the hardest freaking job you’ve ever had.

The hours suck. There’s no pay, no vacation time. Your mentors aren’t that helpful because they were trained about 25-30 years ago, and things have changed – a lot. There are so many different manuals with conflicting information about every aspect of this job, that you just stop reading them.

If you’re lucky, you have partner to help you in this new job – but guess what? They were hired the exact same day you were and they don’t seem to know any more than you do about the right way to get this job done. Plus, they’re as sleep-deprived and resentful of the “No-Pay Policy” as you are, so morale in the office is really, really, low.

But maybe the worst part of this job? You don’t get to have regular job reviews with a supervisor that can sit you down, talk with you about what a great job you’re doing, provide helpful feedback with some of the challenges you’re facing, and ultimately encourage you to keep going. No one is there to remind you that this job is important, it matters, it has meaning, and even if the payoff is hard to see right now, it’s completely worth it.

When we come from a world where we get regular pats on the back for a job well done, being thrown into the job of being responsible for your newborn’s life without any of that regular feedback can be really hard. And in some ways, it’s harder on men who become fathers than it is for women who become mothers. Men today, who really want to be much more involved, might not have a strong role model in their own father. They might end up feeling like they’re playing catch-up to their partner who may have been encouraged in her role as mother since she was a young girl through (stereotypical) ideas of nurturance, play, and babysitting.

But studies show that identity and self-esteem of both men and women are lower after they become parents. They’re often floored by how much they don’t know about parenting, how much “on-the-job-training” comes with having a baby, and often feel like they have to defend their parenting choices, or be ready to criticize other parenting choices as a way to lessen their own feelings of vulnerability in this new role.

I think waiting for our culture to provide parents with a pat on the back for a job well done will be an exercise in futility. I’m not sure it’s worth waiting for. Depending on the relationship, we may or may not get any positive feedback even from our own parents. Which is harsh to say, but true. Still, this issue needs to be addressed as it has long-term implications for new parents as individuals, as well as their couple relationship. 

I think the obvious person we need to look to in this situation, is our partner.

Our partner is the only person that understands the level of sacrifice, the long hours, the hard work, and the immense love that we have for our children. They’re the only ones that can provide us with feedback as to how we’re doing in this new job. And studies show that what our partner says about our parenting has the greatest impact on our feelings of identity and self-esteem.

Take the time to let your partner know that you think they’re doing a great job as a parent in this shared “work project.” Try to focus on the positive – remember that this job will become exponentially harder on both of you, if you end up doing it by yourself from two different job sites. Instead of telling your partner what they could do better, focus on what it is they’re already doing really well.

We need to know that the person who is intimately connected with the work that we’re doing day in and day out, respects us and the tireless work we do to parent our newborn, toddler, tween, teenager and young adult. Because it never ends, this parenting gig. And to have a committed partner in parenting makes this job so much more enjoyable and rewarding.

Tell your partner one thing that you love about how they parent – today. It will give their parenting identity and self-esteem a very much needed boost!

This whole blog post was prompted today by this song  by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack I heard on the way to school drop-off this morning. And because everything somehow connects to the worlds of pregnancy, birth and parenting, I give you this as a reminder of how it can start to feel if we forget to tell each other what we do right as parents.

Were you surprised by a lowered sense of identity and self-esteem after you became a parent? How do you and your partner acknowledge one another in your role as parents? Isn’t every day as a parent Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?

Class Is In Session

Sex Ed

“Mom, do people have sex when they’re not wanting to have a baby?”

And there it is. The opening for me to have a great conversation about sex with my 10 year old daughter. I know a lot of people who have a really, really hard time talking with their kids about all things sex-related, but I’m not one of them. I love to talk about sex with my kids. There’s nothing off-limits or taboo in our family.

Sex is everywhere in our society and it gets thrown in our children’s faces from such an early age, it’s no wonder they have questions – and lots of them. What’s supposedly “sexy” is on display everywhere: the sides of buses, magazines, billboards. Nearly every commercial that tries to sell us something, sells it through sex. And the internet offers up lots of versions of “sex” that I don’t want my kids exposed to – at any age.

My kids are fairly sheltered when it comes to what type of media we let them engage in at home. We don’t let them watch PG-13 movies until they’re at least 12 years old (the latest Star Wars being the exception, not the rule), and SNL has to wait until High School. My 16 year old watches just about everything now, but that’s only happened recently. We try to keep the stuff they have access to in our home pretty PG.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have access to it just about everywhere else! I know there are lots of parents who are more permissive than we are and that my kids are consuming media we’d prefer them not to when they’re away from us (or maybe they’re sneaking it on their own from time to time! That’s what I did when I was a kid.)

But on the playground nothing has changed since I was in first grade. Kids are still trying to identify private body parts with names that don’t match their anatomical description or definition and they continue trying to figure out what the “p” word, the “a” word, and the “s” word are all about – even in Kindergarten! (Although, I won’t lie about being relieved to hear that the “c” word still means “crap” to a first-grader. Phew!)

So, when my kids are very small (like, two or three years old) I start talking to them about their bodies in a very no-nonsense, no-need-to-laugh-or-smirk-about-this, kind of way. I don’t push it too far. I keep it short and simple and in words that I know they’ll understand.

I’ve found that kids are really self-aware and when they’ve had enough talk about sex, they’ll let you know by suddenly getting very distracted about something they see outside. This means that this particular session has ended. But this is what I know will never change: 

Kids are curious about their bodies.

Why shouldn’t they be? They’re pretty amazing in all their uniqueness and differences, one from the next. And from an early age, kids want to know the whys and hows of this whole baby-making thing. And they want to hear it from us, their parents.

Today, my daughter wanted to follow-up her original question she’d asked a few months back. We had the rare opportunity to be alone, siblings all gone in different directions, so she felt safe to bring it up.

“Mom, you said before that people have sex when they’re not trying to have a baby because it feels good. How exactly does it ‘feel good?’”

And with that, another 30-minute sex ed class was conducted while we sat in the car parked in the driveway. At one point, I called on Siri for a little help. “Ok Google – Illustration of a vulva” and then we talked about the various anatomical structures of the vulva and where and why there might be pleasure sensations happening when engaging in sexual activity.

There are lots of other topics to discuss in these impromptu sex ed sessions. I hope that no matter what, my girl knows that I’m a practical, info-heavy resource on a topic that she’ll probably always have questions about. I hope she realizes that I’ll never freak out about having these kinds of discussions. And I hope she’ll keep asking me questions so we keep having discussions about sex, love, life, death – all the big stuff.

Because I want my kids to feel comfortable asking questions about the big stuff from someone they know only wants the best for them. I’ll continue to have these discussions on their terms, when they want the information – a little bit at a time. I’m happy that this allows me to talk about how our family values fit in with all the big stuff.

Our kids may be growing up in a time when sex is being discussed in the classroom and on the playground and for sure, it’s never going to stop being plastered all over the media. But in our home, sex will also be discussed as a family at the dinner table – and when more privacy is needed – in the car parked in our driveway.

I may not be able to control all the messages they’re exposed to, but I’m grateful I can contribute to the conversation.

How was sex, and the other big stuff, talked about in your family? Was it off-limits and taboo? Or was it an everyday normal topic of conversation? How will you talk about the big stuff with your kids as they grow up? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Empty Nest

It takes a torrential rain or windstorm to blow the last remaining leaves off the trees revealing what was so well-hidden in the uppermost branches throughout Spring and Summer: one, two, sometimes up to three bird’s nests. They vary in size and shape, and I have no idea if these nests were constructed just last year for a whole community of birds to share some space together, or if they’ve been there for years and yet are so sturdy as to withstand several winters. But one morning, after dropping my kids off at school I looked up from my parked car and this is what I saw:EmptyNest

Instantly, I thought of all the families who’ve been preparing in excited anticipation for their babies arrival only to end up with an empty nest. Whether it be through miscarriage, infertility or infant death, these families don’t get to celebrate all they’d hoped for when they began their parenting journey.

Truthfully, I’ve been sitting on this post since early Fall, wondering if I’m the “right” person to talk about this. After all, my husband and I have been extremely lucky in our personal parenting journey. But, despite writing dozens of other posts, this image of the empty nest and what it represents won’t quit me. And since I first made that connection I know several people who have experienced miscarriage and infant death personally. While I may not have experienced these things directly, I do know something about the pain of it – at least, vicariously.

Working in this field, miscarriage, infertility and infant death are realities. And after 17+ years and thousands of couples, I know families I work with who have experienced all of these things. Sometimes I’m privy to this information – a family will choose to share the details of their parenting journey with me. But oftentimes, I’m not.

As their Childbirth Educator, they might not feel comfortable sharing with me (or anyone else in class) their history of miscarriage as we’re just getting to know one another. So they remain silent about any struggles they might be having with their current pregnancy. Despite feeling especially vulnerable about the health and welfare of their baby, they might not be willing or able to reach out for support.

And even if I might have played an important role in their preparation to become parents, if a family has experienced infant death, this might be just too painful to share with anyone outside their immediate circle of support.

I respect a family’s desire to maintain their boundaries and privacy around such intensely personal events. Families should never feel pressured to share their parenting journey with anyone other than whom they choose.

I’m dedicating this poem/post to all of the families I’ve known, personally and professionally over the years who have suffered through miscarriage, infertility, or infant death as a part of their parenting journey. I’m not sure how often these realities are acknowledged. But I think they should be.

Empty Arms

“We’re pregnant!”
We want to scream it from the rooftops
But, we’ve done that before
And remember what happened last time
Parents and siblings trying on their new identities:
Grammie and Pops, Auntie Jen and Uncle Matt
Friends joking, “You’ll never sleep again!”

So,

Instead we check the test results over and over again
Like a nervous tic
“Is that a plus sign?”
“Do you see one line or two?”
And we keep the news to ourselves
Locked away
Silent, mute, anxiety-excitement
Heavy in our hearts
We won’t tell anyone

Until…

Morning sickness becomes all-day sickness
The baby starts moving –
A lot
We’re past that day, that week, that month

Because…

We need to feel the weight of the baby in our arms
The emptiness has been almost too much to bear
We can’t go through it again
Everyone else’s excitement crashing down
Heavy, crippling us under their collective grief

So,

We wait
With the breath of hope caught in our throats
We wait
For the right moment to whisper
Only to a select few
“shhhhh – we’re pregnant.”
Please keep our secret – don’t tell anyone
Don’t get excited – don’t believe it
We don’t – we can’t

Not yet

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Every time I see a baby
My heart somersaults in my chest
And I wonder

“Why can’t that be me?”

If her baby is crying and she is frustrated, or angry, or too slow to respond
I wonder
How much better I would be at this:

Mothering

Because –
Why, exactly?
Because – I want it more
Because – I deserve it more

These are not rational thoughts
I’m not proud of these thoughts
But it is completely irrational that I’m not a mother
That we’re not parents

We’ve made the decision to stop trying
But we never decided that we didn’t want to have a baby
That was decided by someone – or something – else

And no matter what bargain we tried to strike
No matter what promises or prayers
We whispered long into the dark nights
Our arms remain

Empty

We still long to be parents
That desire doesn’t just go away –
That desire to be a family
Never goes away

Not ever

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I came into this place I was a mother
Because my baby was still alive
Not of this world, yet
But alive in the world created inside me

I could feel my baby’s every movement
Stretching my belly skin taut like a drum
Pushing my ribs out of place
Tap dancing on my bladder
Beautiful pain and exquisite discomfort
Now only a ghost memory

How can we leave this place now?
Arms empty
Breasts full

We have a car seat, a stroller, a bouncy seat
And there is a room in our home
A room with a dresser, a crib, a changing table, a diaper pail
All of the trappings of what was supposed to be
Our new little family

Intolerable cruelty
How will we ever get through this?

The pain is hot and sharp
It pierces and stabs
The pain is cold and dull
It throbs and aches

A constant reminder of how much
We were willing to love

How will we
How can we
Ever allow our hearts to love this way again?

Know that I grieve deeply with you if you’ve ever experienced miscarriage, infertility or infant death. And while these are such painful realities of many parenting journeys, they deserve to be shared and talked about – if and when you are ready to do so. These experiences are important chapters of your parenting story.

One national resource that might help you process is Share: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support.

I’d also encourage families to consider individual and couples counseling. There are many therapists who specialize in working with families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss.

Lastly, I’d like to remind all those who work with families to be aware that the parenting journey may include these painful issues and our families deserve our full support and compassion wherever they are in telling their stories.