BREAKING NEWS!!!

“Partner’s Touch Reduces Pain For Laboring Woman”

receiving-hands-1920865_1920In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that a partner’s touch resulted in something the researchers termed, “physiological coupling.” The same study also found that empathetic touch from the partner contributed to an analgesic effect via the woman’s autonomic nervous system.

In other words, when a partner held the hand of the woman they cared for and a pain stimulus was activated, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling. In addition, the woman would report that her pain lessened while holding hands with her partner. If they were sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, her pain level would not be affected.

Obviously, this has implications for the families I teach, which is why I joke about this study being big news and something I didn’t already know about. But it’s important to share this news far and wide, because even though I’ve been preaching it for close to 20 years – “Everything you do for your partner while she’s in labor makes a difference! Even if all you do is hold her hand!” – partners still don’t seem to believe it!

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we’ve either diminished or ignored the partner’s experience of labor – to everyone’s detriment.

I’ve mentioned many times before that I have a soft spot in my heart for the partner’s experience. I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman experiences and moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we’re not paying equal attention to her partner’s experience, we’re not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

I spend a lot of time discussing the second stage of labor (pushing and delivery of the baby) using my uterus and baby doll props to share what to expect and what it will look like from the partner’s perspective. At this point, the nurses and provider have their attention focused on the laboring woman and baby – with good reason. They need to be aware of any changes in the heart rate as the baby moves through the birth canal, and they need to remain alert as the baby’s shoulders make their way through the woman’s pelvis.

But not enough attention is being paid to what the partner experiences during this critical time. Partners need to know what a newborn baby really looks like and what the process entails so that the moment their baby enters the world it’s a moment full of joy for the whole family! When we forget about the partner’s experience, and they have no idea what to expect, that moment can result in a partner frozen with fear and in a state of shock at what they’re seeing and what’s happening – and this can negatively impact their transition as a new parent in a significant way.

Likewise, if partners don’t realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman’s experience, many partners will freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as if their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth!

Sometimes I use a marathon analogy to discuss how important the efforts of the partner can be in helping a woman through labor and birth.

Imagine you’re running your first marathon. You’ve heard from friends and family how challenging it can be, but you’ve also heard about all of the “extras” along the race route that will help you make it across the finish line: the excitement and camaraderie of other runners, the music blaring at checkpoints, the mileage post signs marking your progress, the water stations providing hydration, snacking on energy-packed gummies, reading signs of encouragement from strangers, and awaiting you at the finish line, cheering crowds and some of the best peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk you’ve ever tasted! Now, these “extras” might not seem very important – until we take them all away.

What if I painted a very different picture of your marathon experience?

You’re told to stand at the starting line alone and when the gun goes off, run for 26.2 miles toward the finish line with nothing to help you along the way – no water stations, no music, no snacks, no encouraging crowds, no one waiting for you at the finish line… nothing.

The difference between the first scenario and the second is stark. Without all of those “extras” even the experienced marathon veteran would have a hard time completing the race. Let alone, crossing the finish line with even a hint of a smile.

So it is that every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters, and it matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

I’m reminded of this when I think back to being in labor with my first, some seventeen+ years ago…

I had two doulas – one for me, and one for my husband! I came prepared with a full team of support for this birth. They all worked so hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor that began, as most labors do, in the wee hours of the morning. I wasn’t the only one exhausted some 20 hours into the experience – my husband had been awake and working hard just as long as I’d been. And he was getting tired.

I remember hearing my two doulas talking in a stage whisper with my husband: “Go ahead and lie down. Try to get a quick nap in now before the really intense labor begins. We’re both here – we can take care of her.”

A statement that was completely true! One of my doulas was an L&D nurse (soon-to-be-midwife) and the other was my best friend who knew my husband and me almost as well as we knew ourselves! They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I’d been handling really well.

Upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then strangest thing happened – I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions! It was as though I’d lost my way, somehow. The next handful of contractions felt incredibly painful to me. So much so, that I cried out in anguish which woke my husband up and he hurried to my side and held my hand once more. And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to continue and handle my contractions, until I gave birth several hours later.

I know from talking with my husband and other partners about their own experiences how challenging it is to watch the person you love go through labor and birth. It pulls strongly on the heartstrings and can leave partners feeling incredibly helpless to do anything that will be effective in increasing their partner’s comfort level.

But here’s why I think the findings from this latest study are so important: it’s the feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and analgesic effect that help a woman when she’s experiencing pain.

That’s why I’ve always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world’s greatest labor doulas, if the partner provides the laboring woman with their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during the labor, she will tell everyone that she could not have made it through without her partner – even if all they did was hold her hand!

I love it when someone else does the research and publishes findings that support what I’ve been teaching my families for the past twenty years!

Because, let’s face it… Some partners in my classes may think that I’m just trying to make them feel better or elevate their role in the birth experience. (Which is exactly what I’m trying to do, by the way!)

But I’ve also known forever that empathetic touch – combined with all of the other wonderful comfort measures partners learn in our time together – really can help a laboring woman when she needs it the most.

And now, I have the science to prove it.

Can you relate to this post as a laboring woman? Did your partner’s touch (among other things) actually make labor and birth easier for you? What about partners – have you felt helpless in labor? Does this information about how your words, actions and touch really helped her through labor and birth make you feel any better? Let me know your thoughts. I love hearing from you!

Being Present

Being Present

Or, “The True Gift of Labor Support”

I got called out of retirement and had the privilege and honor of being the doula at the birth of Baby M born just over two months ago.

I’ve been asked by many couples over the years if I would consider being their birth doula. It’s always a bittersweet moment for me, as I love being a witness to birth almost more than anything else in the world. But with four kiddos, two part-time jobs, a relationship with my hubs that I like to see flourish, and this writing gig of mine – I have ZERO time to attend births.

So, when M & A asked me if I would be their doula at the end of the first night of our 4-week series, I told them what I usually tell all of my students making this request: “Oh, that’s so sweet – but I’m not really doing births. My life is just a little bit too full to consider this a realistic option right now…”

They were a little bit disappointed – but said they understood and they’d see me next week. I promised I’d send them an email that included thoughts on hiring a doula, what to look for, what questions to ask, and a few referrals for local doulas that I thought were really great.

The next week, I asked if they’d decided on a doula yet.

“Ummmm, no. We only want you.” This flattered me, but I knew when their due date was and not only would I be teaching a ton of classes around that time, I was also scheduled to leave town to go to my niece’s wedding. There really was no way.

“I really wish I could be your doula – but it’s just not going to work out. I think you should contact some of the people that I’ve referred you to and we can chat more about this next week.”

I’m guessing you’ve figured out what happened next.

Every week they’d come back and say that they hadn’t talked with any of the referrals and finally they decided that if I couldn’t be their doula, they’d be just fine on their own.

Now, I think couples can do really well on their own, but it’s hard to deny what the evidence shows about having the continuous presence of a doula during labor and delivery – statistically better outcomes for both Mommas and babies!

On the last evening of class, M & A gave me a book and a thank you card which read, in part: “We would be remiss not to formally ask you to consider if you would attend our birth. We completely understand your busy teaching schedule and travel plans and if it relieves any hesitance or pressure, we wouldn’t plan to rely on your presence. In our minds, the structure would be that if it worked out such that you were free and available, we’d love it if you would join.”

I mean, really, how could I say no to that?

This was a couple that I believed would be just fine if I wasn’t able to be there on the big day – I didn’t for a second think they were trying to say the right thing to get me to agree. They were being completely sincere and were speaking my language… I’ve always felt that when labor begins, the people that are supposed to be there to witness the event somehow end up being there. If I was meant to be at their birth, I would be there.

So, we came up with a really interesting split-fee set-up: one amount for the pre-birth “Phone Doula” work that I would provide for them which included: a formal interview about their birth wishes, some assistance creating a template for what really mattered for them in their birth experience, some questions to spark discussion with their provider, and the availability to answer any questions and advise them as they came ever closer to the birth of their baby. And if I ended up being able to be at the birth, there would be an additional fee.

The real gift of labor support is being fully present to an expectant family.

And for me, that began when they hired me. It wasn’t as if I dropped everything I was doing, but we had some regular text check-ins and a few phone calls to see how M & A were doing as the due date drew ever closer. I slept with my phone on and next to my headboard at night (I usually have it turned off, far away from where I sleep and covered up as any “Ping!” noises or even the battery light is enough to keep me awake!)

I kept my phone with me at all times and was checking it much more often than is usual and I’d get back to M & A as quickly as possible after receiving any contact from them.

And on Saturday, April 8th, I began my formal “it could happen at any moment” doula-watch. M called to report that A was having contractions and that “It might happen tonight!” While I appreciated his excitement, after hearing that they were both scarfing down Mexican food at 11 o’clock at night, I encouraged them to get some sleep as I didn’t think that they were going to have a baby anytime soon.

I received word from M in the early morning hours that A had slept soundly through the night – confirming what I thought was happening… Great early labor, but nothing to be getting too worked up about.

Over the next several days, I was in pretty close phone contact with M & A as they navigated what seemed to be prodromal labor. They were handling it so well and really only needed quick check-ins for reassurance that they were on the right path and that everything they were experiencing was normal and good work for what was to come.

On Thursday April 13th, the call finally came: A’s water had broken! I think they were both excited for this very positive sign of labor finally happening, although the contractions hadn’t progressed enough to call it “active labor” yet.

I was excited for them as well – I’ve had prodromal labor myself and I know just how frustrating it can be if it continues past a couple of days – and we were closing in on six days at this point! I was also thrilled they’d gone into labor before I left to go out of town – but, I was scheduled to teach a class that evening and I hadn’t arranged for a sub yet.

It took some finagling on my part (and a small bribe of chocolate and beer) to enlist my friend and colleague Jen to take my class for the evening – but the details weren’t figured out until about 4 pm that afternoon. During the day, M & A made their way into the hospital and I continued playing Phone Doula for them, encouraging them at one point to try some exaggerated marching through the hallways to see if they could get the labor to pick up speed. Apparently, this was a hit with all of the nurses – they loved it!

I finally arrived at the hospital around 6 pm and after saying hello, A had what was, by the reaction, her first real-deal contraction, saying “Whoa! That one was really different!” I laughed and said, “Well, now that your whole birth team is here we can get serious and have ourselves a baby!” And, in fact, about eight hours later that’s exactly what happened!

I won’t give a play-by-play of the entire labor, other than to say that, I fell in love with this couple as I watched them work together to bring their baby into this world!

The act of giving birth, watching partners support the one they love giving birth, and witnessing the birth of a family is sacred work to me. And in this sacred space, time stands still as we are all present to one another, living only in this moment together.

And while it’s nice to know a few things about breathing, and positions and other comfort measures – the real gift of labor support is in being present.

Some people might doubt how having continuous labor support can make such a difference in positive labor outcomes for Mommas and babies – but in our ever-increasingly-barely-ever-present culture, I think it makes more sense now than ever!

As a birthing woman settles into her rhythms and rituals, making claim to the strength she might not have been aware of until this moment, she’s able to ask for whatever she needs – RIGHT NOW – to realize this act of co-creation. She opens herself, both figuratively and literally, to bring forth this new life from within.

And in this moment-by-moment experience, everyone focused and working for one purpose, a miracle occurs: it’s not just a baby that is born, but also a mother, a father and a family. These people are now connected to one another, and they will be, for their whole lives! To witness this in whatever role – doula, nurse, provider, friend or family member – is also a gift that connects all of us in this one moment in time.

I was really exhausted after this beautiful birth! And I couldn’t figure out why at first – I mean, I was only there and working hard from 6 pm until about 2:30 in the morning. In the world of birth, that’s not a lot of time! And then I realized why… It had been awhile since I’d been so focused and present in a continuous way for such a long period of time. And it’s intense to be truly present to the sacred for any period of time.

But oh, what a gift!

I dedicate this post today to M & A and Baby M. I’m so honored to have played a small part in witnessing the birth of the three of you as a new little family! Thank you for your persistence in hiring me, and for giving me the idea of being your “Phone Doula.” I’m so happy to be connected to you in this way.

PS – We’re also connected in one other very important way… Baby M and my son, Alejandro, share the same birthday (only 15 years apart)! I’m pretty sure that this is another sign that I was meant to be fully present at this birth.

Stretch Marks

Stretch Marks

Not my belly… but isn’t it gorgeous?

The other morning I got out of the shower and leaned over to wrap my long, curly hair into a towel and couldn’t help but notice the stretch marks on my belly.

These were the same stretch marks I was convinced I didn’t have when I was pregnant with my daughter 17+ years ago. I kept looking for them in the mirror, but to my utter amazement – I didn’t have any! Or so I thought…

The illusion was broken when I was about eight months pregnant and marveling at my changing body in front of the mirror again. Only this time, my husband was in the room.

Me: “I can’t believe I don’t have any stretch marks! I mean, my belly is HUGE! I would have expected there to be a ton of them! But nope, not one.”

Him: “Ummm… I think you have some down here” (pointing low on each side of my belly) “Whoa! there’s a bunch of them… you just can’t see them.”

And he was right. My belly had gotten so big that that it had begun to cast a shadow and all of my stretch marks were hiding – on the dark side of the moon.

After my initial shock (which really wasn’t warranted… there was no way that my belly could have gotten as big as it did without stretching enough to leave a mark!) I’ve never given my stretch marks a second thought. After all, they’re not that big, they’ve faded over time and aren’t very noticeable, and besides, I don’t regret any of them because they mark me as a mother.

I’d forgotten they were even there, to be honest.  But the other morning as I stood bent over, eye-to-stretch mark, I couldn’t miss them. And suddenly, I had a thought about how a different type of stretch mark is happening to me right now.  It’s one that no one else can see, but it marks me as a mother just the same.

My oldest daughter – the OG stretch mark maker, herself – left on Thursday to go halfway around the world to perform with her dance company, The Jefferson Dancers. They’re in the South of France (Ooh! La! La!) for ten days.

It’s my heart that’s being stretched right now – and it’s going to leave a mark for sure.

I don’t have the typical angst that you might think would go along with kissing your “baby” goodbye as she heads to a timezone that’s 9 hours ahead. I know her to be a mature, strong, smart young woman and I know she’ll come home with amazing stories to tell and wonderful memories to last her a lifetime.

It’s just that this trip signifies something more. My girl is almost grown and out of the house.

My first little bird is getting ready to fly away.

As I typed that last sentence, I paused to see what feelings this brought up for me…

No sadness – just deep, abiding joy and pride at who my girl has become. And this: how amazing to think she still has so much life left to live. So many more memories to make and stories to tell. So many chapters yet to be written.

As I get ready to head home to see my own family later this month, I can’t help but wonder what it was like for my parents as they watched all of their little birds fly away. Some, not too far, but me? Two plane rides and a 3-hour time zone away!

None of us thought this was going to be forever! It was supposed to be a one-year commitment with The Jesuit Volunteer Corps. But almost 25 years later, here I am getting ready for the first of my own four to stretch her wings and soar.

~~~~~~~

I spent the entire weekend teaching expectant parents. Saturday was a one-day express childbirth preparation class, focused on providing these families with realistic expectations about birth. Sunday, was my first ever Becoming Us class, where the focus was on realistic expectations of the transition to parenthood and how to keep the couple relationship strong despite of, maybe as a result of, the normal changes and challenges of new parenting.

I could see the stretch marks on these parents as they wrapped their minds around all that’s involved in the birth process or what it really means to become a parent.

But how can I express to them what is yet to come? Soooooo much stretching!

They will be marked and marked again on their parenting journey: the day they drop their baby off at preschool; the late night worry they’ll feel when their baby is sick; the piercing cry they can’t stop hearing after their toddler’s spectacular wipeout; the good ache that comes from a heart full of pride as they watch their child do something amazing; the bad ache that comes from a heart breaking right along with theirs as their child feels the sting of rejection; the recognition that, if you’ve done this parenting thing right, eventually… they leave.

I love my stretch marks, all of them – maybe those not visible to the naked eye most of all. For they’re a reminder that I have birthed my babies not just from my body, but out and into this great big world. A reminder that mirrors why I’m still so passionate about the work I do with parents who may not have discovered any physical stretch marks (yet!) The parenting journey begins when a family says yes to welcoming a child into their hearts. And from that day on, it never ends. It never breaks down…it just stretches on and on.

PS – I got to talk with my girl at my 11:41 pm my time to 8:41 am her time just as I was putting the finishing edits on this post. It’s a weird thing this stretching – my heart is so full, I sometimes think it might burst. But it doesn’t, it just stretches a little bit more.

Do you have stretch marks? Are they purely physical, or can you relate to the idea of “emotional stretch marks” as well? I’d love to hear what you think about this – please leave me a comment, or share this post with anyone who might appreciate it. PS – I appreciate YOU!

One Is The Loneliest Number…

one-is-lonely

Being a mom is lonely…why is making mom friends so hard? I swear it’s worse then dating. Pretty sure I’m just going to throw in the towel on having a social life until I’m old and retired and can play wheelchair races with other loner stinkies down the nursing home hallways. Raise your hand if wine is your best mom friend these days.

This was the post I read the other day on an online Facebook page that I lurk on. By “lurking,” I mean that I’m a member, but rarely do I post anything. The group is supposed to exist as a means of support for today’s super-connected new Mommas. But when I read some of the responses to posts members have written, they feel anything but supportive.

I’m not bashing the Admins for the FB page. I believe they work hard to police any comments that are out of line with the quote prominently displayed on their banner: “Whatever you do, do with kindness. Whatever you say, say with kindness. Wherever you go, radiate kindness.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie) But when you have 15K+ members, it’s hard to keep up.

I believe that being a new Momma today is much, much harder than it was when I had my first baby 17 1/2 years ago. And the number one reason, in my opinion, is: Social Media.

Now, before you think that I’m going to tear into how “social media is the devil” and that we would all be “better off without our faces glued to a screen” – I’m not. I’m not much of a ranter, in general, but if I went on a rant about social media, it would make me a hypocrite.

I share rich and robust connections with people all over the globe… that I only know online. There are a few whom I feel incredibly close to – even though we’ve never met, or even talked on the phone! So, no… social media is not some sort of demon that we all need to try and exorcise from our lives.

Motherhood on its own is one of the toughest gigs around. But add a little social media to mothering and you’ve just made it that much harder. Here are a few reasons why I think this is so:

  • It’s too easy to sit at your dining room table and “connect” with other people online instead of getting out of the house as a new Momma to interact with people face-to-face. (Important to note that this can lead to all sorts of issues: increased feelings of isolation, increased risk of PMADs, a lack of conversational skills with someone other than your non-verbal infant, or your partner) 
  • A lack of conversational skills can make any attempts to connect with people in the real world seem super weird and awkward. (“Hi – do you want to be my new Momma friend?”) 
  • Interaction with others online only, means miscommunication is bound to happen! (“Did she just say that to me? I can’t believe she just said that to me!”) 
  • Engaging in interactions with others that are not face-to-face can be socially dangerous. (Not being able to read body language and facial expressions, means you might not understand the meaning behind the comment: they meant to convey humor or sarcasm, you interpreted it as mean and hurtful.) 
  • It’s also too easy to feel defensive about a parenting choice you’ve made and then go into attack mode if you feel your decision has been challenged by someone else – especially if they’re just a name and a profile picture on a screen. (Making parenting decisions almost always leaves you feeling a little bit uncertain and defensive. And we often will “say” things online that we would never say to a person standing in front of us.) 
  • People don’t usually share their parenting fails – or any other fails, really – online. (The virtual world is where most of us present only our very best selves, leaving out the not-so-glamorous details of our everyday life. This can lead others who might be struggling to believe that they’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough… to be able to do this Momma thing “right.”) 
  • While we all know that perfection is just an ideal, and not something that exists in reality, it’s hard to be okay with your imperfections when others are not willing to reveal any of their own. (This is what I like to call “The Curse of the Pinterest Parent.”) 
  • Despite all of this, we continue to persist in trying to make these online only “connections” with others – but we also continue to be surprised by the result. (Relationships that don’t feel very deep or authentic; relationships that end up being not very satisfying and leave us wanting something more…) 
  • It’s no wonder then that the current generation is one with the most connected group of people in history reporting the highest levels of loneliness and isolation.

Wow. How’d we get here? But more importantly, how can we get out of here?

The feelings of vulnerability that get stirred up during pregnancy are intense and very unsettling. Everything seems to be changing: our bodies, our relationships, our feelings about the world, our identities as individuals and as a couple – and there doesn’t seem to be anyplace where we can find sure footing.

It’s one thing to make decisions for ourselves, but now we’re making decisions for our baby – and we really don’t want to screw this up! We’ve either had:  A) the greatest mother in the world, which is fantastic – but an incredibly tough act to follow! or B) the crappiest mother in the world, which is awful – and we’re desperate to not repeat her sins. Either way, there’s an awful lot of pressure to be the best parent EVER!

I’ve talked often about the need to find your parenting tribe . It’s not necessarily easy, but it is easily one of the most important tasks of pregnancy and parenting preparation. And even if you’ve already had your baby, but still don’t have your tribe, then I encourage you to get out there and find them – in person!

This might sound challenging – but it’s completely worth it, I promise. Go to where other new parents hang out. There are usually New Parent groups in most communities – check them out! Usually the first couple of visits are either free, or super cheap to attend, so there’s no real investment, other than your time.

These groups are usually run by a facilitator who can help the group learn one another’s names and provide some ice breakers or discussion topics for people to weigh in on. It might take a month or more of weekly hanging out for you to make a connection, and it may only be with one or two others, but it’s a start. And even if it does feel eerily similar to dating  (Noooooooooooo!), hang in there. Going out for coffee after or meeting up early to take a walk before the group starts can give you a little bit of time to get to know one another better and see if you’re a good “fit.”

Sign up for some sort of “baby and me” class – music, messy art, reading at the library – or just go hang out at the park. Parks exist for one reason only: so parents can gather, commiserate and let their kiddos run wild and so as to not destroy the house! (I realize there are lots of other reasons… This is just the one that saved my sanity when my kiddos were small.)

But here’s the part that might be hard for some of the Mommas in this generation to hear… While you’re hanging out, trying to meet other new Mommas – Put the damn phone DOWN! Interact with your baby and the world that surrounds you. Be present. Look up and smile at another new Momma – she’s probably feeling exactly the same way you are. Strike up a conversation – about how cute her baby is, or where she got the killer stroller, or how crappy the weather’s been lately…

But after the small talk, get real.

Real connection does not occur when we hide who we really are. Real connection with another human being only happens if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You don’t have to dump on your new potential BFF, but it’s also okay to reveal a little bit about yourself that shows her you’re human, you’re not perfect. This can disarm her and her natural tendency toward defensiveness as a new Momma.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might get shot down… And if you do? That’s okay, you’re just not a good fit. But what if she responds with,“I feel the same way!” Well, then my friends you’ve got the start of something beautiful – a new friendship that is based upon shared circumstances, similar parenting styles, and cute babies that you really hope will like one another as they grow up. The potential to make life-long friends is there for the taking as a new parent – it’s just going to require a little bit of effort.

But please, please don’t give up…

The Momma who wrote that FB post did something that others might have thought a little crazy – but I thought it was beautiful and brave. She opened herself up and expressed her vulnerability about not having many new Momma friends – and she did it online, which is very taboo. And do you know what happened? As of this writing, she’s received 73 really positive and encouraging comments from other Mommas who are looking to make real, face-to-face connections. She started an online thread for all of these other women to share their own feelings of loneliness as new Mommas and it looks as if there will be meet-ups happening all over the city!

My hope is that these women make connections with one another and begin building their LIVE tribe of new parent friends – those who will be honest with one another about the challenges of parenting, and willing to share their epic parenting fails. When we realize we’re not alone on this new parenting journey, it can be so helpful!  Because trying to do this parenting thing without your tribe is hard and one can be the loneliest number.

How are you feeling in this age of “connection?” Hooked-up and well engaged? Or lonely and in need of a friend? Where did you/will you find your tribe?

For an added bonus check out this video from Three Dog Night from 1969… It’s so good in all the bad ways.

Snow Dazed and Confused

snowflakes

My kids were home from school two days last week because of snow.

In Portland, Oregon.

It’s kind of a big deal when that happens around here.

I remember when I first moved to Portland from Indiana a long, long time ago. My first winter, I called home laughing about the fact that the Mayor(!) had come on TV to ask that all “non-essential” employees stay home because of “hazardous weather conditions.” I think there was maybe four inches of snow on the ground! People were abandoning their cars on the highway!

(Granted, it rarely snows here, so people really don’t have a lot of experience or knowledge about driving in it, and teaching folks to turn INTO a skid is super counter-intuitive… Plus, I think PDX only has two snowplows. I might be exaggerating here, but we don’t have nearly enough to dig out an entire city!)

In contrast, when I was a kid, I’d gone to a Catholic High School in Indianapolis, one where the Jesuit Priests lived on campus. The joke was that if they could walk down the halls, there was going to be school that day. My friend Bridget and I had to dig her huge van out of more than one snowbank on the way to school – and we’d still get a tardy slip and a snarky, “Should have left home earlier!” from the school secretary once we finally made it in.

Even though it’s hilarious that the whole family gets a snow day when the PPS School District closes (sometimes based on only a potential forecast of snow) – I’m not complaining! I love snow now even more than I did when I was a kid!  Probably because I only get to play in it a couple of days each winter…

So it was that I spent over two hours sledding on the hill at the park down our street this past Thursday – even though you could still clearly see the grass beneath the inch of white stuff on the ground. And, as usual, my kids were ready to call it quits and head home long before I was!

Kids: “Mom, we want to go home and have some hot chocolate!”

Me: “One more run down the hill!”

Kids: “Mo-om, you said that five runs ago…”

Sometimes I wonder what they’ll remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Do you remember how Mom would go flying down that sledding hill? Even when she was six months pregnant with Felix? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

Day two of our unexpected school break wasn’t quite as much fun. Snow has a way of turning into ice pretty quickly around here. If the temperature rises by just a few degrees during the day, it starts to rain. Then overnight, the temperature drops below freezing and that’s when you end up with an entire city encased in ice.

The result is something reminiscent of the castle of the White Witch from Narnia – beautiful, but oh-so-cold and dangerous. Our lights flickered on and off throughout the day and we lost all electricity (and heat!) for a few hours at a time. 

Being stuck inside the house and unable to go anywhere only occurs every once in a long while (years can go by before this will happen again – or it might happen again tomorrow. We’ll see…) But every time it does, I think to myself: “I’ve got to order a pair of Yaktrax!” Because I have GOT to be able to leave my house!

You see, the rest of my family (and really, most other people) enjoy a little at-home hangout time. My husband, for instance, loves nothing more than to stay in his PJs for weeks at a time. But I’m not him. I find it really, really hard to not be able to leave my house for even one day. I need to get out in order to feed the beast within that craves social interaction with others.

There are many people today who might feel as though they’re getting a lot of their social interaction needs met through the mighty inter webs.

I’m not one of them.

The irony that many of my readers will find this post through a social media site is not lost on me. And I have to acknowledge that I’m currently traveling with this incredible online community of creatives looking to do business as unusual by taking part in Quest 2017.(there’s still time to join us, if you’re interested.) I also have to admit that I’ve made some incredible friendships through and because of my online presence.

But I’m still so grateful for my local, real-world “tribe” – work colleagues, the NACEF Board, friends and framily (typo intended), especially my Momma-tribe: those co-parents (who are not Roberto!) that I can get together with on a semi-regular basis to see and be seen, to listen to and be heard, to share in something different that’s not captured in an email or text. What I mean by “something different” is that we engage one another in real-time conversations that are often messy, give and take, back and forth, meandering, untamed, free-for-all discussions about whatever comes up as a natural (and sometimes unnatural) extension of the topic at hand.

For an extrovert like me, this is where I do my best work. It’s where I get my free therapy. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s where I find the intimacy, honesty and authenticity that I believe is so important in our ever-increasingly techno-obsessed world.

I had lunch with a small group of co-workers the other day, and we were discussing the idea that people might be losing the ability to speak face-to-face or rather, heart-to-heart, with one another. Then I came home from that gathering and read this amazing piece of writing that talked about that craving for real-world connection from one of my friends, Brenna Layne. (An aside: Brenna and I met on-line a couple of years ago and have never met in person. But, as it turns out… we’re twins! No, not really. But it feels like we are when she somehow writes All The Words tucked away deep inside my brain and my heart without me even knowing they were there in the first place. She is lovely and a shining example of my conflicted feelings about online connection vs real-life connection.)

Through these two experiences, I felt inspired to write about something that concerns me very much: We are losing the art of conversation.

The members of my tribe are still wanting to meet face-to-face. They are willing to set aside all other distractions and just be together, sharing time and space. In fact, we talk about how much we all need to do this more often than we already are!

And even though I work hard to make sure my children are able to look people in the eye and engage in a conversation with others that lasts longer than a few minutes, I wonder will they have friends who are able to do the same? Will they find their own tribe not just willing, but wanting to share in that same level of real-time face-to-face intimacy and interaction?

So, here’s another thing (maybe a much more important thing) that I hope my kids will remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Remember how Mom would take us on “dates” spending one-on-one time with each one of us? And then, how she would always ask us about the Big Things – like what we thought about God, who we were crushing on, or what happens after you die? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

The art of conversation is just that: art. It needs to be protected and cherished like all great masterpieces. And I think we should be encouraging our children to engage in it from birth. They need to get their hands messy with it, create it and shape it in real-time, unaware and unhindered by the self-consciousness that can sometimes be so paralyzing. If we don’t do this, I’m concerned that this art will be lost forever. And being our children’s first teacher, I think it’s up to parents to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Because our world needs this honesty and authenticity, it craves this intimate interaction and engagement now, more than ever before.

How do you engage your own children, even your baby, in the art of conversation? Do you think this is a topic worthy of discussion, or am I too “old-school?” I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Please share them with me in the comments section below.

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!

Parenting On The Playground – Hits & Misses

Playground

Yesterday, I came upon my 10 year old daughter in deep discussion with two of her schoolmates about the upcoming sex ed discussion that would be starting next week.

Now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts about this subject, you know that my kid is not going to hear anything new. Sex education is a topic of discussion at the dinner table on a regular basis at our house. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still embarrassing to discuss among your peers – especially if half of those peers are of the opposite sex!

One of the girls, though, was very distraught that this was happening. She had a letter from the school in her hands and was waving it about and crying out in a loud voice, “This is terrible! This is going to be awful! Why do we have to talk about this stuff, anyway? It’s just so gross!” At this point, I felt compelled to pipe up.

“Ladies, ladies, it’s not gross! You’re at the point where learning about all of the amazing things your body can do is really important!” (I didn’t add that, personally, I think 5th grade is a little bit late. This discussion is a lot less gross for kids if you introduce it earlier…) My daughter rolled her eyes at me and said, “Mom, stop! You’re embarrassing me!”

So, I moved over to sit next to another Momma on the bench nearby. She knows where I stand on this particular subject and confided, “I’ve been getting an earful from these girls and I was hoping you’d come over to talk with them. That one is really freaking out!”

I turned again to the young woman with the letter still outstretched in her hand and asked her if I could read it. After skimming what seemed like a completely appropriate note home to parents about what will be discussed next week, I asked her name (obviously she’s not one of my daughter’s closest friends) and said, “Girlfriend, come here and sit down.” She did so willingly and I put my arm around her shoulder and pulled her in a little closer.

“You don’t have to be worried about what’s happening next week. The focus is going to be on learning how your body works. For all of the really embarrassing stuff, they’re going to separate the boys from the girls so you don’t have to talk about that stuff in front of one another. You don’t need to be worried about that, I promise.”

When I asked if her parents talked with her about this kind of stuff at home, she said, “No way!” So I told her that if she ever needed to, she could find me on the playground to talk. I could tell in her body language – she sat close to me, leaning in – that this two-minute exchange was welcomed and I know she walked away feeling a little less anxious about the week ahead.

My daughter, on the other had, was not so happy.

We got to the car and she started in, “Why do you have to talk about that kind of stuff on the playground?” I responded, “Because it’s not something to be afraid of talking about. We use sex to sell everything, and we’re exposed to it every day. But we never have any healthy discussions about sex or what our bodies can do, with people we can trust. You need to learn how your body works. Don’t think of this class next week being about a sexual part of your body, just think of it as if the discussion was going to be about how your brain works.”

She wasn’t having any of it today.

“Don’t you think that was embarrassing to her? Why did you ask her to sit down and talk with her about that?” I answered, “Because she seemed so anxious, honey. She told me this isn’t something her parents are comfortable talking about at home, so I wanted to try and calm her down so she wouldn’t be so worried about it. That’s all.”

And then, my girl started to cry. Big, alligator tears slid down her cheeks and I asked, “Sweetie, why are you so upset? I wasn’t trying to embarrass you, I swear it. It wasn’t about you at all.”

At this, she started crying even harder and saying she didn’t know why she was so upset. I held the space for her and encouraged her to tell me exactly what was upsetting her, so I could try to make her feel better. And finally, she said, “When you were talking to her like that, it made me feel like you weren’t mine. That you weren’t just for me.

Whoa. How do you adequately explain to your child that when you are in “mothering mode” on the playground with other children, that it doesn’t mean you are someone else’s mother? That even in those moments, you are completely aware of the boundaries that exist between you and someone else’s child?

My girl is the most socially savvy kiddo I’ve ever known. She’s been that way since she was a toddler. She assesses what’s up, attaches deep meaning to what she observes, she takes it all in. And she showed this to me again yesterday through this one simple statement.

I gave her the biggest bear hug ever and swore that this exchange between me and her schoolmate was not anywhere near to what she I and share. And that while her schoolmate has lovely parents of her own, this isn’t a subject she feels she can talk about with them. That it’s important for young girls to be able to learn and talk about their bodies without embarrassment or shame. And that if this means being available in that way for other young girls, than I’m willing to do that. But that no one, no one, takes the place of my children. That I was her Momma. I belonged to her, and she belonged to me.

Her little brother, of course, got to listen in to this entire discussion. The three of us got out of the parked car, popped into the grocery store to grab what we needed for dinner, and headed for home.

As we were making our way through the parking lot, I had one more thing to say to my girl.

“Hey, I’m really proud of you for digging deep to tell me what was really upsetting you. I know that it took you a little bit of time and a lot of courage to say what you did. And that’s a real sign of maturity. Being able to recognize and name your feelings is an important life skill that a lot of adults aren’t very good at. Nice job.”

And as we walked back to the car, she said, “Thanks Mom” and gave my hand a little squeeze.

Some of you may still be in the parenting a non-verbal baby at this point, but for those of you who have older children – tweens, teens, grown-ups – do you recall these moments where your child stopped you in your tracks and revealed themselves to you completely? I’m wondering how often this happened while you were in a car? It seems to me that the car, parked or driving, has the magical ability to get your child to open up in ways that just don’t seem possible in other places. Would you agree? Leave me your comments – I’d love to hear from you!