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!

It’s Been A Long Day…

Long Day

One morning, I called my Mom, almost in tears, saying that I’d already yelled at my kids “at least 25 times” that day and it was only half past nine in the morning! I asked how she’d done it with twice as many kids as me, and without ever yelling at any of us.

“What?” she’d asked incredulously. And I’d responded, “I don’t ever remember you even raising your voice at us.” And my wonderful Momma laughed out loud for a full five minutes before saying, “That’s what you’d call ‘having a selective memory’, sweetheart!”

Then she shared with me some epic tales of losing it and going off on us kids (none of which I remembered) and then told me something important: “Honey, when your children are small the truth of the matter is that the days are long, but the years are short.”

And now that I have one child talking about college, the two in the middle are rocking their High School & Middle School years, and my youngest is turning eight (tomorrow!) – I’d have to agree with her.

I was teaching this past weekend to a room full of expectant parents who must have thought I was crazy when I told them how jealous I was of them. But, seriously, I am.

I don’t envy the sleepless nights, the sore nipples, or the diaper changes to come. And to be sure, age three was unbelievably hard for me! (ALL four times!) No, I don’t have hazy, rose-colored memories of parenting infants and toddlers.

I vividly remember being attached at the hip to at least one of my babies all day long and what it felt like when the only hours that belonged to me were either those when I was sleeping or when I was alone in the bathroom without one of my children walking in on me, or asking me a litany of questions through the closed door.

(In all honesty, these bathroom moments continue to be few and far between…)

But I do envy expectant parents the opportunity to be transformed by the awesome power of birth: to find a strength that has yet to be tapped, and a vulnerability that has yet to be explored. I am jealous that they get to discover a whole new person they never even new existed inside themselves being born on the same day as they welcome their new baby.

I love being a Momma and my kids are absolute gifts in my life. But parenting has been, by far, the hardest job I’ve ever had! And on the eve of my “baby’s” 8th birthday, I’m starting to appreciate the nostalgia expressed by parents who are no longer in that intense phase of parenting little, littles.

You know what I’m talking about…

You’re in the middle of Target with a 6-year-old who always manages to be where you can’t see her, a 3-year-old who keeps trying to get out of his seat in the shopping cart, and a newborn who’s decided that NOW! is the perfect moment to have her first real meltdown and is screaming inconsolably.

As you struggle to wrestle the baby out of the front-pack carrier, unhook your bra with one hand, corral the other two and sit down in the middle of the storage container aisle to feed your baby, you catch the eye of an older woman walking past. She sees your frustration rising to a breaking point, walks over, gives your arm a tight squeeze and says, “You’ll miss all of this one day! They grow up too fast!”

And in that moment, you can’t decide if you want to hug her – or punch her in the face!

(This may or may not have happened to me about 11 years ago…)

What does she mean?! She can’t possibly mean that she wishes to switch places with you (she doesn’t). Or that she longs for the days when her children were all moving in different directions and demanding so much energy, time, and attention that she remembers feeling like she never had enough for herself (she doesn’t).

But maybe with the passage of time, she’s realized the wisdom in my mother’s words: the days are long (and let’s face it – some days longer than others!) but the years are oh-so-short! And maybe she too, has a somewhat “selective memory” when it comes to what it was like to have babies and toddlers underfoot. Maybe she honestly forgets (or chooses to, anyway) all that made that time in her life so challenging and instead focuses her attention on all that she loved about that time as well:

~ the softness of her newborn’s cheek

~ the delicious smell of her baby’s head

~ the dimples of her toddler’s hands

~ the chubby feet and rolls upon rolls of her little one’s thighs

~ the sing-song call of “Mommy! Mooooooommmmmmy!”

She doesn’t envy you those incredibly long days. But, maybe she wishes that she could freeze time for the days that went by too fast. It is a blessing for us all that selective memory exists when it comes to parents – and children. 

This selective memory allows us to decide what we choose to focus on. I really cannot remember my Mom raising her voice at us – in fact, as I got older, she mastered the use of lowering her voice for emphasis to great effect!

But this imperfect recording of my childhood gives me hope! Maybe the same will be true for my own children. Maybe they’ll also have a selective memory of their childhood and focus mostly on just how much I loved them, not on how often I failed to show it because my temper or my impatience got the better of me – and I lost it once or twice. Or more.

This is my hope for all of you Mommas out there who’ve had that moment of regret – that you weren’t “perfect” in your parenting today. And if today has been incredibly long, may tomorrow be easier, but not necessarily shorter. And may you and your children have beautiful and imperfect memories of your day-to-day together, and instead someday feel wistful and nostalgic for those years that went by too fast.

Does this ring true for you in your parenting? It does for me… I’d love it if you’d share your comments. And I found this super cool Amy Winehouse song that I don’t think has ever been released… But it seems so fitting to the topic, that I offer it to you here

Why I No Longer Care If My House Is Clean…

Dusty

Let’s be real… I’ve never cared if my house is clean. But once I started having children, the pretty low standards I began with kind of bottomed out.

YAY! I’ve been published again on the parenting website, Red Tricycle! Please click here to read the rest of my article and then share it widely with those who you think might want to read it. And I’d really love it if you’d comment below if you feel like cleaning has taken a back seat to your parenting (“Misery loves company!” or maybe, “There’s solidarity in numbers!” – ??? In any case, it will make me feel a lot better about the state of my house if I know I’m not the ONLY one.)

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.

#Adaptation: #1 Job Requirement in Parenting

adaptation

Today we all have a choice: We can take risks and actions to ensure that we adapt with the constantly changing times or we can hope for the best and do nothing. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready? #Adaptation

This is the latest “instigation” from Linda Rottenberg as part of a really cool program I’m involved in during the moth of December to envision how I will try to do “business as unusual” in 2017. If you’re interested, check it out – there’s still time to join me on this Quest. I’ve been writing a lot in response to these prompts (this one is #8), but sometimes they’re more personal and end up in the private Quest 2017 Facebook forum. But sometimes an instigation like the one above, fits so well with what is asked of new parents, that I feel compelled to share the response here.

I can think of no other time in my life where I’ve had to adapt more than when I first became a parent. Starting in pregnancy I felt like I had to adapt constantly month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, and so on…

We are creatures who appreciate the usual, our known norm. We like having expectations about how our lives will flow from one day to the next because it allows us to wake up in the morning and get on with our day.

If the world was an uncertain mess (which, really, it kind of is) and we focused only on the not-knowing-what-to-expect-ness of it all, we’d likely become paralyzed – doubt, fear and concern about what’s going to happen next weighing us down.

I was incredibly sick with my first pregnancy. I threw up about 10x a day until I was sixteen weeks along. I lost fifteen pounds during that first trimester. I had to adapt, and adapt quickly, to this huge change in how I felt all day, every day, until my body finally decided that the “foreign body” growing inside of me was not my mortal enemy and we could co-exist without attacking one another. It wasn’t easy!

Then I had to adapt to the fact that once I could eat, I wanted to eat EVERYTHING not nailed down. I made up for lost time, that’s for sure! I ended up gaining 45 pounds over my starting weight (which really means, I gained 60 pounds if you count the original fifteen that I’d lost due to all my puking!) and I had to adapt to my ever-expanding and changing body as the baby took up more and more space, making it harder to breathe and move about in the world.

I had to adapt to having to pee every 15 minutes throughout the day (and night!), and eventually I had to adapt to start eating Tums before, during and after every meal because I could never be sure what would trigger my intense heartburn.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I had to adapt to wearing a belly band because my round ligaments were so tired of trying to hold up my belly throughout the day. Finally, in the last weeks of my pregnancy, I had to adapt to crawling or being carried up the stairs at night when it was time for bed because my sciatica would shoot searing pain down my backside.

Know this: expectant Mommas are ALL about adaptation!

The process of carrying a baby in our own bodies, forces us to adapt from within from the earliest days of our pregnancy. And in this way, we have both an advantage and disadvantage over our non-pregnant partner.

How is this a disadvantage? Puh-lease. Re-read paragraphs 6-9 above if you haven’t already figured this out… All of the physical and emotional changes that happen during pregnancy can be incredibly challenging. And I’m going to say it – sometimes, pregnancy sucks! Not everyone loves it all of the time, and some of us really don’t like it much at all. Pregnancy takes it’s toll on us as women, but we often don’t even acknowledge this.

We just – adapt.

We keep going. We roll with it. We throw up right before teaching a class, hold it together for two hours, say goodnight to our students and make it to the bathroom just in time to throw up again after they’ve left.

But this also is where we have an advantage over our partners. We’ve been adapting for nine+ months before the baby arrives. We’ve already gotten a taste of what’s to come, what will be asked of us as new parents – because we’ve already been doing it for a really long time. This means that we’re a tiny bit more prepared than our partners might be for the rapid fire adaptation that is a requirement once our baby is ex-utero.

Today’s prompt states that today we all have a choice: we can take action in order to adapt to changing times, or we can hope for the best and do nothing.

But in new parenting, I’m not sure that there really is a choice! You must either adapt (and quickly!) on your own, or your little six pound peanut will make sure you adapt in order to satisfy their needs for survival. There really is no “hoping for the best and doing nothing” option when it comes to your role as a new parent. But by the end of “The 4th Trimester” it’s hard to remember what life was really like before the baby came.

Those first three months are intense and packed with so much to learn in such a short period of time. It’s hard to take stock of how many different ways you’ve adapted to this new role of parenting because even though at twelve weeks in you might feel like you’re no longer crawling through the trenches of new parenting, it never really ends.

You really are amazing, you know that?

As a new parent, you’re learning hundreds of new skills each and every day, applying them and testing them out in real time. Sometimes with great success! Sometimes? Maybe not so much. But either way, you should be super impressed with your overall ability to adapt to this new role as well as you have.

It’s not easy to become a whole new person, while caring for a whole new person, and being in relationship with a whole new person. Navigating this new terrain is challenging, to say the least. But it’s not something you can just refuse to do. It’s required of you. This is your new normal, your new reality.

Adaptation will become your constant companion. 

Because this parenting gig is based on a relationship. A relationship you share with your child –  someone who is changing and adapting to their own environment as they grow and develop from a wailing and hangry newborn, to a cooing and babbling infant, an unsure and unsteady toddler, to a walking, talking, running child, an independent and sometimes sassy youth, to eventually end up a distinct individual with their own thoughts, feelings and passions (that may or may not match up with your own.)

Adaptation will be necessary even into adulthood because you’re both forever changing from one day to the next. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready?

How can I help you?

I’m asking this question because I really want to know how I can better serve the people I care so much about: parents.

As part of my personal and professional Quest, in the coming year I’d like to make some adaptations, as well. I’ve got a few ideas of my own that I’m considering… a newsletter, podcast, live Q & A sessions, an interview series with leaders in the fields of pregnancy, birth and parenting.

But I really would love to hear what you would like to find here on my blog. How can I help you adapt better in these constantly changing times? Please help me, help you – and share your ideas and comments with me here by answering this super quick survey. Thanks so much!

Named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and one of TIME’s 100 “Innovators for the 21st century,” Linda Rottenberg is considered among the world’s most dynamic experts on entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership. Ms. Rottenberg is author of CRAZY IS A COMPLIMENT: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags and co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, the world’s leading organization supporting high-impact entrepreneurs. A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Linda lives in Brooklyn with her husband, author and New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler, and their identical twin daughters.

Twitter: @lindarottenberg

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.

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.