Monday, September 28, 2015

"That's MY shadow on the moon!"

The "Super blood moon" of 2015
When I got home from catachumenate they were all upstairs, recently bathed and all jammied up, watching "Madeline." Sean gave me a look to let me know that getting to that peaceful moment had been a struggle. Lately, it seems like everything with both kids takes so much energy.  They are at the peak of their defiant powers and we're not entirely sure what to do about it.

I have found that saying things like "You need sleep to live" and "If you would just cooperate, everyone would be happy and the world would be a better place" are NOT, ultimately, helpful.

Sean told me he didn't want to make any more decisions that night and I said, "Not a problem.  I have a plan, and I will drive. Just help me get the kids in the car."

Walter was wearing one of my old t-shirts for a jammie, and threw on a pair of slip on shoes.  Sean carried shoe-less Sally out into the night.  "It's dark. It's late." she said.  I filled two sippy cups with ice water.  We stood in the driveway for a minute.  The view of the moon was pretty good there, but I thought viewing from the van would be better for mosquito avoidance.  That, and there's something special about driving out into the night to go watch the moon.

Really, there's something special about being up late and looking up at the sky together.  Walter immediately thought of fireworks.  Sean helped us find a great spot to park not too far from the house but in a nice dark patch of clear sky ... there were a couple other moon viewers (lunatics, if you will) out there, too.  Sean brought Walter up into the front seat to sit on his lap.  I squeezed in to the space between Sally's seat at the door, where we casually held hands.  We listened to classical music on the radio and watched the shadow on the moon get bigger and bigger.

We talked as we watched, an almost constant stream of Sally and Walter commentary on the situation. Sally was quite pleased when we affirmed her observation: "That's MY shadow on the moon!" Well, yes, in a way, it is.  The rest of the night, she referred to it as "Sally's shadow."  Walter careened between rather brilliantly correct observations, "You can't see the planet earth, but you can see its shadow on the moon" to observations we weren't sure what do with "The planet earth is above the sidewalk, now" to the downright poetic "The stars are shining on the road!" to the unintentionally earth-centric "I don't like it when you call earth "a planet." You should always say, "THE PLANET EARTH!"

I think Walter and I are a lot alike.  We fall in love not just with an event, but with all the sensory input and everything else surrounding the event. So, the lunar eclipse itself was quite wonderful, yes.  But for Walter, it was also a night to celebrate the classical music on the radio ("that's good, because I'm learning violin") my choice of beverage for them ("cold ice water, my favorite!") and his spot on Daddy's lap ("I really like this seat.")  All in all, the excursion received Walter's highest praise: "That was a good choice."

I don't think I realized how difficult the choices of parenting would be. I think the hardest ones are the choices we make when we don't feel like we have a choice: when one of the kids is doing something dangerous and we have to raise our voices or pick them up to get them to stop; when we're running late and we can't gently coax them into putting their shoes on anymore ... we just have to do it for them, muttering unhelpful things about the fleeting nature of time and the possibility of greater happiness through independent shoe putting-on.

That said, the choice to take my 2-year-old, who has a cold, and cold-induced-asthma, and my almost 4-year-old, who is testing the limits of every adult he knows and needs every minute of sleep we can get him, out into the night after their bedtime to see a lunar eclipse they probably won't remember ... that was a pretty easy choice.  We sat in the dark together, holding onto each other with that easy, comfortable grip of people who love each other without question.  We listened to the violins and looked up at the sky.  "The next time this happens," Sean said to Walter, "You will be the age that Mama and Daddy are, now."** "And if you have kids," I said, "You can bring them out after their bedtime to watch the moon." "Yes!" said Walter excitedly. "Let's do that right now!" 

**This turns out to be in error ... the last #superbloodmoon was 30 years ago, but the next one will be 18 years from now. 

I like to be with my family

Un-posed moment of sibling sweetness.
A few weeks ago, back when September was new and Sally was just starting to come more fully into her two-ness, we took a week of family vacation. We spent the first part of the week at Barb's House in Osh Kosh, the second part in Baraboo/Wisconsin Dells, and visited with my parents before, in between, and at the end. We did some more celebrating of Sally's birthday with dear friends, we did some poor sleeping and questionable eating.  There were fits of great sadness and defiance and moments of unbearable sweetness.

I took notes. 
  • "Salad noodle cricket." Those were Walter's first words to me as we woke up at Barb's house Tuesday morning. I made him repeat it. "Salad. Noodle. Cricket." he said. "What is it?" I asked. "Something very yummy."  Silence for a bit.  "Would you mind saying that to me one more time?"  It never changed, and he continued to insist on it the rest of the morning. 
  • "That was a good choice." That's all I wrote in my notes, and I don't remember what exactly it referred to, but it's something Walter's been saying quite a bit lately when he's pleased with a family activity and how it goes.  He likes to affirm my good choices. "Mama, that was a good choice."  I think in this case he might have been talking about going to the Appleton Children's Museum, or to the coffee shop for a snack after we played at the museum, or maybe it was the day before when we rode the train at the Oshkosh zoo with his dearest ones (Sally, Henry, Bennett, and Anna and the moms of same.)  When he enjoys something, he really enjoys it. Which leads me to ...
  • "I think they did that for me." Another fairly common recent Walter-ism, which he says when something really delightful happens, like a violin piece coming on the radio while he's listening, or an especially beautiful sunset. 
  • "All my toes are asleep.  Let's wake them up!" This is Sally, now. She is HILARIOUS.  And she seems be fairly intentional about it and aware of it. Other funny Sally sayings from vacation week: 
    • "Look at that doggy, he can drive!" (On seeing a dog in a parked car.)
    • "I'm gonna eat your pizza, Mama! Om nom nom nom nom nom!" (With great menacing flair, a gleam in her eye, and seriously wicked, pizza-stealing intent.) 
    • "I'm standing. I'm a lamb." (I have no memory of what the set up was for this one, but it was one of the best and most brilliantly-delivered punchlines in the history of comedy.)
  • Wandered Off: The Musical. Both kids sing almost constantly.  Two musical moments stand out in my memory of this vacation week.  One was the song Sally wrote while we were swimming one morning: "Swimming swimming where's my shoe? Swimming swimming where's my shoe?"  The other was on our last day in Baraboo, as we finished up lunch at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum and started to think about heading out to Umma and Baba's.  Walter found a giant tree stump and declared it a stage.  He got up and started to sing, and told Sally to dance; she complied. Then he started to sing her story: the story of a little girl who wandered off into the woods one day. "Wandered off!! Into the woods!!" Eventually, our hero makes it back home. Whew. 
    I like capturing the moment right before they zonk out.
  • "That's what I'd been planning on." Walter's plan, every day we were at the hotel, was simply to maximize our time in the hotel pool.  Eating the deli meat we'd brought with us in the hotel room was great, because if we ate in the hotel room, we were closer to the pool. I think we swam a minimum of three times each day.  Our skin and hair will never be the same.  
  • "Where's the duckies?" Excursions that took us out of our hotel room and into the gorgeous September days were met with some resistance: Walter only wanted to swim, Sally only wanted to watch movies. But we did manage to get them out and about.  My favorite outing was a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks.  The ducks are amphibious vehicles from WWII re-purposed as tourist carriers. I loved holding little Sally on my lap as we zoomed through the woods, the wind blowing in our hair.  I loved watching Walter walk very confidently up to the front of the duck when the driver asked for a young volunteer: we were out on Lake Delton, and Walter got to drive, and he did so like he'd been born doing it.  As we were walking through the parking lot to the van to head back to the hotel, Sally sleepily said, "Where's the duckies?"  All this talk about ducks ... well ... where were they?
Vacationing together is pretty exhausting.  Separated from their usual routine, the kids had some sustained moments of genuine misery.  They missed their friends, their teachers, their regularly scheduled programming. We started the week with a house full of friends, and when they went home and we four stayed, Walter was very lonesome for them and asked, repeatedly, as young ones do, "Can we just go home, now?" But we persisted in our vacationing, and the kids had fun, and so did we.  We watched a new Daniel Tiger episode while we were getting dressed and going one morning, and the theme seemed to fit just right with what we were doing, so we sang it often, usually led by Sally: "I like to be with my family!" Sometimes we'd sing it as though we were trying to convince ourselves. Other times we'd sing it and I'd know that there's nothing more true in the whole world.  
I like to be with my family!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sally, two days from two years old

Walter has entirely given up sleeping in his room, by himself, in his own bed.  He refers to the room Sean and I used to share as "his" room, and his bed, now. How we got to this point is a story, but it's a story for another time ... and maybe a story I will NOT record for posterity.  As you might imagine, this sleeping arrangement has put a damper on blogging. And many other things adults like to do. But, for now, making sure Walter gets enough sleep to behave well during the day is the priority, and this is how we're doing it.  So, tonight Sean sleeps with Walter, and I bunk in what is arguably the comfiest bed in the house, the single bed in Walter's room.

And that's good, because Sally is about to turn two (on Friday, the 21st) and I want to record a bit of what she was like tonight! And, if I want to blog anywhere near her birthday: this is my chance.  Carpe laptop!

It's Wednesday night, which means I eat dinner with the family and then head back to church for Holden Evening Prayer.  When I came home after worship all the lights were dark in the house but I heard lots of voices coming from Sally's room, so I slipped off my shoes and went in.  "Mama!" Sally greeted me warmly. "Mama come home!"

Walter usually greets me, too, but he was pretty engrossed in the 5 minute Disney Princess story Sean was reading. Sally was the opposite of engrossed (grossed out? not exactly ... but certainly not interested.)  She was taking care of her baby ("Baby Baby"), which is actually the baby we got Walter to get him ready for Sally's arrival about two years ago.  She was taking off Baby Baby's clothes. "It's dirty, otay? Take a bath. Take off clothes, otay?" I helped take off the pink pajamas, knowing that if I wasn't able to convince Sally to put the clothes back on right away we might have a permanently naked baby on our hands ... but this is the risk we take in imaginative play.

Photo credit: Walter Paul Edison-Albright
"Take a tub ... in dis!" She grabbed a foam cheesehead hat that was lying on the floor (the way we all do, in Central Wisconsin) and stuffed Baby Baby in. "Dere you go! Take a bath! Get clean! Put clothes on?" I jumped at this chance, but she changed her mind. "Take anudder tubby."  Into the cheesehead hat again. She carried the hat around a little, looking for a good place to put the makeshift tub. "On-na my head!" she joked, and tried to balance the hat-full-of-baby-doll on her head, giggling.

Out of nowhere, she came over and did her classic Sally "throw myself at you and you will catch me" move. I did, indeed, catch her. She gave me a nice hug. "Mama home again. I love you. I get you a nana, otay?" She headed to her bedroom door to get me a banana.  "I'm OK, Sally. I don't need a banana." Her attempt at hospitality thwarted, she frowned a little, offered the banana again with a look of loving concern, then decided to get me something else. "I get you ... a pull up!" She got a Dora the Explorer pull up out of her box for me, and repeated the gesture for Daddy. For Walty, who has been completely in undies for some time now, she got a diaper. He didn't mind, and thanked her kindly.

We arranged for the boys to head upstairs for part two of their bedtime routine, while I stayed with Sally for two more short books and some songs. Walter was very sweet ... Sally asked for ice water, and he got it for her, and she was like, "That my Walty." He gave us goodnight kisses.  The sleep is doing him good, and he is a good, good big brother indeed.

Our Sally is so beautiful
As we read books and settled into bed, Sally continued her almost constant stream of patter. When she asks a question and gets an answer, her response these days is "Ohhhhh" or, even more hilariously, "Ohhhhh. That's right!" Every answer she gets becomes confirmation of what she already knows to be true.

We read "Clifford's Family" ("SALLY'S family!" ... and then she named us all) and "Dora's Backpack"

Sally said: "Hooray, to Dora!" "Hooray, to Backpack!" "Hooray, to Boots!"
Our Sally is always talkin'!
I said: "Hooray for Sally!"
And she giggled. "No way," she said.
"Yes, way! You helped, you get hoorays, too."
"I say, 'Swiper no swipin'?"
"Yes you did! You stopped Swiper. And you counted books. And you solved the troll's riddle."
"Hooray for Sally!" she said, decisively.
"Hooray for Sally!" I echoed.
"Hooray for Mama!" said Sally, always gracious, always generous.
"Hooray for Mama!" I echoed again.

We sang some songs, and she went to bed in her big girl bed with no fuss. We haven't taken the crib down yet, and she still asks to sleep there sometimes, but we'll make that change, soon.

Lately, Sally's been asking us: "Sally baby?"
The answer, you should know is "No." Or, as Sally says it when we echo that question back to her:
"No WAY! Sally big girl!"

Happy soon-to-be-birthday, big girl Sally. We all love you very much.

Our Sally is two-years-old!

Friday, July 3, 2015

A toast!

A week ago today, the Supreme Court ruled that it is discriminatory for states to prevent same sex couples from marrying. Auds and Curt were visiting, and they giggled a little when I responded to the news with a hearty "THANKS BE TO GOD!"  I forgot that such a response is not entirely universal! But to God be the glory.  Any time the arc of history bends toward justice, God is at work.

The end of the day brought us all together very briefly before we went in separate directions: Sean picked up the kids from day care, and then Auds and I set off for a sewing party to make re-usable sanitary pads for girls who live in countries without access to pads (I told our wonderful hostess, "This is our kind of party!")  Sean and Curt took the kids out for fish fry and put them to bed. But there was this brief moment, after day care and work and before we all scattered, when Sean gathered us in the van and told us we were going to have a toast.

He'd bought two bottles of sparkling grape juice and cider, and grabbed some plastic kids' cups from the kitchen.  It was pouring down rain, that serious summer rain that instantly floods the driveway and drenches you to sogginess. We all crowded into the van: Sean in the driver's seat, me in the front passenger seat, Walter and Sally in their carseats, Curt in the back and Auds crouched down next to Sally. We gave Sean our full attention.  The kids knew something important and interesting was happening.

"So, today," Sean said, as he started getting the juice and cups ready, "Today the Supreme Court, which is part of our government, decided that people who love each other can get married. You see, it used to be that there was a whole group of people who weren't allowed to get married, but now they can."

"It used to be that only women and men could get married in a lot of places," I clarified. "But now, all over over the country, women who love women can get married. And men who love men can get married. So, when you grow up, you can marry the person you love, whether that person is a man or a woman."

Walter listened with growing excitement.  It was clear he had something to say ... an announcement of great importance to make:

"I am going to marry Mama!"

We shouldn't have been completely unprepared for this; it's a pretty common assumption among three-year-old boys.  Also, he's told Sean in the past: "When I grow up, I'm going to sleep upstairs with Mama."  "Where am I going to sleep?" asked Sean. "Probably with one of the neighbors."  Sean was relieved that Walter still wanted him to be nearby.

But we did fumble slightly in the moment, and while we didn't guffaw or anything, we must have smiled and given him an "oh, sweetie" look, because immediately his joyful, proud look changed to one of shy disappointment.  "Mama is married to me," Sean explained. "But she'll always be your mama."  "And I'll always love you," I added.

With the grape juice poured and glasses distributed, it was time for the toast: "To marriage equality!" said Sean. "To marriage equality! To love!" I said.  "To love! Cheers!" the kids and Auds and Curt joined in.  Auds had offered to share a cup with Sally, but it was clear that Sally did not need any help drinking her grape juice.  A refill or two later, and we went our separate ways into a fun Friday night.

Sean texted me during the day on Friday to ask if we could sing "How Can I Keep From Singing?" in church on Sunday, and that morning the band backed him up while he sang (beautifully, and a little tearfully.)  The song was a perfect bridge between lamentation--as we mourned the murder of nine black church leaders at the hands of white supremacist--and celebration ("When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?")

It was my Umma's (my grandma's) favorite song, and I remember hearing it sung on a Prairie Home Companion, and hearing her sing along with all her heart.  I've always like Enya's version of it, too, and we used to listen to that album on our way up to visit Umma during the last year of her life.  It makes me think of summer, of 1991, of fresh raspberry pie from Norske Nook, of the sound of Umma's voice that I can just barely remember.  I wonder, now, what she thought about while she sang the song, and what it meant to her.

I don't know for sure what memories Walter and Sally will associate with the song, but I can tell you that they have been singing it a lot lately.  To make sure he could sing it without crying too much, Sean practiced singing it almost constantly over the weekend--while changing Sally's diapers, while getting Walter ready for bed, while walking Hank the Dog.  And so the kids, also, have been singing it as they go about their daily tasks of life. Walter likes to add a little extra vibrato when he does: "How can I keeeeeep .. from singinginginging!"

As I told the congregation on Sunday: God is at work for justice, peace, mercy and love in the world.  And we are called to be God's instruments in that work.  And we have a lot of work to do.  But as we work, we sing.

How can we keep from singing?

These are the lyrics Sean put together for church on Sunday, a hybrid of Pete Seeger and Evangelical Lutheran Worship:

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
What though the tempest round me roars?
I know the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness round me close?
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
In prison cells and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


When you are getting close to 22 months old, you are pretty much the center of the universe.  But you are very adorable about it.

***We were trying to get the kids to sit down in their car seats so we could buckle them up and get the doors closed and not let too many mosquitoes in. "We don't want to let in any bugs," said Sean. Sally, also known as Sally bug, pointed at herself. "Bug right here," she said. "Right. Here."

***We've always made that line in "Baa, baa, black sheep" into "the little girl who lives down the lane" when singing it for Sally.  We all do it--Sean, me, Umma, Baba--without talking about it with each other or thinking about it much. We never explained our reason for the change.  Lately, when I sing that line, Sally helpfully adds, "Sally!" right after ... making it clear who the little girl down the lane is. She gets it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

All this before we left the house today

Walter climbed into bed with us around 3:30 this morning. At around 8, he woke up with Umma and Baba's on his mind. "We need to go to Umma and Baba's house," were his first words to me upon waking, his little head nestled next to mine. When he saw that I was awake, too, he elaborated on his plan. We should make doot doot cake.  TWO doot doot cakes.  One for Walter to make, and one for Sally.  With white doots and brown doots. Enough for both of them to share.  I explained that we'd be going to visit Umma and Baba in two weeks, but he still spent most of the morning campaigning for going down there today.

Walter was mostly interested in playing this morning but when Sally woke up she made it clear that breakfast was the first order of business, so we settled in for some miniwheats. Sean made himself a taco with some smoked trout, and the kids wanted some, so he gave them some tortillas to eat, and some fish, too.  I watched Sally expertly wrap up her tortilla, burrito-style, and was delighted when she unwrapped it to see that she'd put her fish in there.  Sally is taco-proficient.

Walter and Sally were being sibling-y, and getting on each other's nerves a bit. Sally made a funny baby-dinosaur scream noise and then Walter did it too, prompting Sally to say, "Too loud, Walter." And Walter said, "But you did it first, Sally." And she explained, "Too LOUD, Walter," and he reiterated, "But you did it FIRST, Sally," and so on.  Sally dumped some of Walter's milk out of his bowl at one point, reaching in to see if he had any more miniwheats. When that got a reaction, she tried to do it again.  At one point, though, Walter ran out of fish and Sally gave him some of hers.

"Thank you, Salla Balla," he said, lovingly.
"Otay, Walla Walla," she shot right back, without missing a beat.

I think improvising terms of endearment must be some kind of major developmental milestone, right? Because ... so wonderful!

After breakfast Sean got himself and the kids dressed while I did some dishes so we could get out of the house and start our day. This was the plan. This is always the plan.  But it is really hard to do.  It's been made more difficult, lately, by the fact that Sally has decided I should not clean the kitchen after meals.

Cleaning the kitchen after meals is kind of my happy place, honestly. I should find ways to include the kids in the process, and I've tried to do that now and then, but really ... I just love having the kitchen to myself and a little time to get something accomplished on my own. I like pouring myself a big glass of selzer and drinking it while I work.  Sometimes I'll eat a little chocolate. I listen in on Sean and the kids playing in the living room and join them when I can ... but I enjoy that time by myself.

It's hard to say no to Sally, though, when she looks up at me and says, "C'mon, Mommy! Play! Living room! Toys, Mommy!" This morning she added, "Take my hand!" and gave me her hand, which of course I took.  She led me into the living room, to her purple chair from Santa, and commanded, "Sit down. Right here! Play, Mommy!  Toys! Read a book!"

We left the house around 10, which meant we didn't end up with much out-and-about time before we had to come home so I could eat and get ready for a wedding I officiated this afternoon. But I don't think I would have wanted to rush it any more than we did.  Some things can't be rushed: dreams about doot doot cake, miniwheats and trout tacos for breakfast, endearments and playing in the living room ... all good things.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Walter, philosopher; Sally, backseat driver

Two recent conversations with the kids worth documenting:

There's kind of a tough left turn to get from our house to everywhere we go. We were at that intersection, waiting.  I was driving. From her carseat, Sally voiced her opinion. "Go now, Mommy." It wasn't clear, so I stayed put. When I did make the turn, Sally noticed there were some cars headed our way (a safe distance away, I assure you.) "Cars coming, Mommy," she said, helpfully.

The deer in our backyard. Looking right at us. 

Yesterday there was a big doe in our backyard. She would have stayed there longer, I think, but she was a little spooked by all of us, gathered at the window, gazing at her.  Today, the deer was still on our minds.

(Hank walks past us in the living room)
Walter, joking: Look! A deer!
Me: A dog deer!
Sean: A dear dog!
Me: That's true. Hank is our dear dog.
Walter: Yes, he is. Forever and ever.

Friday, May 22, 2015

That time I thought Sally was a month older than she really is ...

Yesterday I proudly announced on facebook that Sally was 22 months old, the same age that Walter was when she was born.  Pretty wild/crazy/neat, except that she's actually 21 months old.  Whew.

Still my baby!
I've been anticipating that milestone, of course. As it approaches, I can't help but draw comparisons, and wonder and feel wistful about how little Walter was, really, when Sally joined our family. I don't think many people say this out loud, unless they are saying it to their pastor, but while there are benefits to spacing babies close together, there are some things worth feeling sad about, too.  Walter lost a little bit of babyhood, no doubt about it.  And my relationship with Walter changed, too ... we started having, as he would put it, "some troubles."  We're still sorting these troubles out, Walter and I.  I anticipate ... going out on a limb, here ... that there may still be more troubles to come.

My sweet boy, with pink flowers
But I'm not sure "totally conflict free" was ever a good goal for me to have in terms of relating to my children, especially Walter who is so much like me. I might need to let that goal go, and go for "mostly appropriate, healthy response to conflict" instead.  To that end, Walter and I have been practicing our calming breaths and our "I" statements.  He's really, really good at "I" statements.

Walter's coming out of a rough time of acting out at school, we think due to transitions (older kids moving up into a different classroom.) We helped him with strategies for staying calm, alternatives to hitting and biting, and incentives for good days and good choices.  But, mostly, I think he came through it and out of it on his own.  He was ready to start listening and self-regulating again.  After more than a week of co-sleeping, he's back to spending most of the night in his own bed, just joining us in our bed in the morning when he wakes up.  He's smiling more, laughing more, brightening all around.

Little kids have big feelings. I remember feeling like my emotions were much larger and more powerful than I was when I was a kid. I truly, truly enjoyed growing up and leaving each stage behind (life got easier as I got older.)  I wonder if Walter will feel the same way?

We'll see ... in the meantime, I'll do my best not to rush him, or Sally, months or years ahead of where they actually should be!

A celebration of Walter, exactly as he is now (3 and half-ish ... I'm not counting months anymore ... I'm clearly not very good at it ... )
She seems like a good role model

  • Walter has a new favorite color: green.  Pink and purple are also still favorites. He is excited to start gardening soon. 
  • Walter is excited for outdoor farmer's market season to begin, and enjoys reading the latest (summery) issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray. He enjoys watching cooking shows in Create, too. 
  • He loves shrimp, all kinds.
  • He got to choose new bedding for his room, and chose Doc McStuffins. which I don't think he's ever seen, but we were pleased with the choice. 
  • He is tremendously sweet and snuggly.  I love going on walks with him, holding his hand. 
  • With Walter, you can really relax and enjoy the good things in life: a nice walk, a snuggle in the morning,
    Walter, with blocks
    eating popcorn and watching a movie, a beautiful bluegrass song. Our favorite thing to do  continues to be breakfast together once a week ... a very simple time apart from the rest of the world that we both really enjoy.
  • On our family walks, Walter likes to get out of the stroller and run (though never too far, and never so I'm too nervous about it.) He also likes to pick dandelions. He was horrified when I told him that, once he'd picked a yellow dandelion, it would never continue on to the white stage. He's a pretty sensitive kid, and interrupting the dandelion life cycle was a serious issue for him, no matter how hard I tried to reassure him. Now he only picks white dandelions, and always blows the seeds and scatters them, to help them. Sometimes he plants the seeds in Sally's hair because, in addition to being a sensitive soul, Walter is also a sibling. 
  • He is brilliant and HILARIOUS. His word play is really getting very good.  The other night, Sean made mu shu pork.  Suddenly, in the middle of enjoying his dinner Walter stopped and said, "This is no good ... IT COMES FROM COWS." As he waited for the pun to sink in, he realized there was another pun to be had. "It comes from the FEET of cows!!" He added, to our great delight. 
  • Walter loves books of all kinds. He loves Fraggle Rock and Curious George.  He's not into anything right now (not like the Frozen or Peter Pan hey days) ... lately he wants to be outside, or he wants to rediscover his inside toys, like his blocks or his workbench. 
  • His greatest sources of delight: visits from Umma and Baba, outings or other time outside school spent with Henry and family, sweets, especially chocolate (he got my sweet tooth,) breakfast or other dates with Mama, reading to us (counting books and others he has memorized or can figure out from pictures,) and snuggles especially with Daddy. 

A celebration of Sally, 21 months old (NOT 22!)

  • While she occasionally tests our limits/patience/the laws of physics, Sally is almost entirely a delight. I was listening to her talk over the monitor, before she fell asleep, which is one of my favorite things, and I asked Sean, "Is she always going to be this delightful?" "No," he said, "Definitely not."  It's not that we think she'll be less delightful as she gets older, it's just that there's nothing in the world as delightful as listening to a toddler sing a medley of "itsy bitsy spider," "twinkle twinkle little star," and "my purple balloon goes sailing," to the dolls in her crib.  That's pretty delightful.
    Playing/working hard. Gave me a smile when she saw the camera.
  • What we're mostly listening for over the monitor these days is bad coughing/asthma-like symptoms (we haven't gotten an official diagnosis, or anything, but Dr. L. is treating her like she's got allergy-induced asthma, and that seems to be the case.) What I'm celebrating about that is that she's really good at taking her medicine, including her albuterol inhaler. Walter helps her with her medicine, too, which is wonderful (and he recently learned how to swallow pills, which is amazing. Sean and I, allergy-having kids though we were, didn't learn to do that until we were seven or so.)
  • Sally loves her lullabies, including the one I wrote for her, but she insists that I insert the names of other people into it. Tonight we sang to "Jaysa bug," "Jackson dear," "Chelsea girl," and "Emily boo," all at her request. Other favorites include Mommy, Daddy, Walter, Jesus and Matt (Henry's dad.) I think it's her way of praying for other people, kind of a "God bless..." prayer. It's an odd experience for me, sometimes, to sing something so personal and tender to classmates of hers I barely know.  She's taking that "your family is the whole wide world" stuff to heart, that girl. 
  • Sally loves all food.  Sometimes she'll try something and not like it.  No big deal ... she'll just move on with the meal and not eat that thing, but usually she'll try it again later and like it.  She's been dairy-free for a few weeks to help with some GI issues, and has managed that quite well.  She's the eating champ of the world.  She prefers salty things to sweet ... she and I polished off a bag of black olives the other night and I was pretty proud. 
  • Sally can count, reliably, to five.  She loves counting, especially because it's something Walter teaches her to do. 
  • It goes without saying, I think, that Sally is a brilliant communicator (that's kind of a funny sentence, when you think about it.)  She has a huge vocabulary and puts together sentences very well.  Two favorites: "Read the book, Mama." "_____ right there" (informing us of something that is happening and the fact that it is happening ... right there. 
  • Sally calls me "Mommy." I'm not sure why ... we usually use "Mama" in this house. Maybe they taught it to her at school? Regardless, Sally is pretty clear on her use of "Mommy" and "Daddy."  It's nice ... it feels like being named. 
A celebration of the two of them, Walter and Sally
  • The way they love Dr. Suess books that feature Sally and her big brother (who we assume is Walter.)
  • The way they love to brush their teeth and read books.
  • The way Walter always wants to read books in Sally's room, and Sally always wants to read book in Walter's room. 
  • The way they are in this picture (the one I took just before the one posted above, before Sally realized I was taking pictures and gave me that big smile.)  They went to the living room after dinner and immediately got to work.  Sally brought the stool over to the easel, got herself a marker, put her drink in one of the paint cup holders and set to work.  Walter went over to his work bench, got out a board and various screws, nuts and bolts and a screw driver, and set to work.  I came in and sat down behind them, and they were just so beautiful, so industrious, so focused, so at peace with themselves and the world. Some people would probably look at this photo and see the opposite of peace... they'd see the clutter, the mess, the chaos. But truly truly I tell you, it is a picture of peace. And it is, and they are, beautiful. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Yuri's Night to Mother's Day

Sean and I have been trying, lately, to go out for a date at least once a month.  When I saw that Yuri's Night, April 12th, fell on a Sunday, I arranged for our wonderful babysitter to take the kids and started plotting a dinner date. I searched the area for a Russian restaurant.  Nothing. I searched the area for a Polish restaurant.  We live in a very Polish part of Wisconsin, which means there are no Polish restaurants, because you go to your grandma's house for Polish food.  Maybe German food? That's kind of stretch. We went with fusion/eclectic pub food, because it's yummy and reasonably priced and because there are no visible borders from space. We had a wonderful meal and capped it off with some local soft serve before going to get the kids. It was a great night.

Sally had thrown up while we were out, though, and continued to throw up into the night and the next day, heralding the beginning of The Family Stomach Virus From Hell, 2015 Edition.  Life since then has been a bit of a blur. Somewhere in there we decided, rather definitively, not to have any more kids. It wasn't the stomach virus that did it ... we've been pretty much decided on it for awhile. And there are all sorts of good reasons for that decision, the biggest one being that we don't want to risk my health/life in another pregnancy. Dr. M., who was very supportive and excited about our decision to try for a second baby, was equally definitive in his opinion that we should not try for a third. "Take precautions," he said, sternly. "EVERY time.  It's been wonderful knowing you. Enjoy those two beautiful children."

I'm not particularly sad about this decision, but maybe that's because we've been giving away baby gear and clothes for months, now, and I did a lot of my nostalgic crying about it when Sally was first born.  I felt very sad, for example, feeling the absence of her in my womb, knowing that I'd never feel those kicks and flutters again.  I felt sad weaning her, knowing that I'd never breastfeed another baby. But on a day like today, on this particular day even, which is Mother's Day, when everyone is napping and we are just us four, I do not feel an absence or an ache.  This is my family.

There is an absence, of course, but I don't really feel it or think about it unless I'm observing the anniversaries, mindful of the dates, or reflecting on The Bean and loss for other reasons.

The first time we celebrated Yuri's Night, I was pregnant for the first time and we were so, so excited. We wanted to celebrate. Sean said, "Let's go out for Yuri's Night," and made a reservation at a fancy Russian restaurant in downtown Chicago. I took the train downtown and we we walked together from the station.  I was surprised at how tired I was as I walked, and delighted by that tiredness--a symptom of my pregnancy.  We ate lots of dishes with beets that night, we beamed at each other.  A few days later, my miscarriage began.  On Mother's Day, not long after the miscarriage was over, I decided to write about my experience, so that people would stop saying things like, "When are you going to have a baby? You're going to be a great Mom!" without realizing what had just happened to me.

The space between Yuri's Night and Mother's Day isn't much, really. But it's a significant span of time for us, and we mark it.  We decided to keep celebrating Yuri's Night, as much as we are able, every year. We want to celebrate and remember the joy of that night--its promise and hope. We give thanks for The Bean's short life and for the family we've been able to have since then.

This, all of this, is my family.
(And I love them. Very much!)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Two Easter Mondays

Easter Monday, April 2009, The Schönbrunn Gardens, Vienna, Austria
Easter Monday, April 2015, The Parking Lot at the Pediatrician's Office, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
A retired pastor whose son, granddaughters and great-grandchildren are part of my congregation hugged me and blessed me after the second service on Sunday. We talked, and he asked, as he always does, "So ... how are the kids ... ?" And the unspoken questions that we both know are there in the ellipses go something like this: "Have they seen you, lately? Are they acting out? Does the congregation still love them? Does the congregation think you spend too much time with your family? Do your kids blame the church for you being away days and nights and weekends? Do they blame God?"

And there may be other questions I haven't even thought of yet, hidden in those ellipses, in that dear pastor's eyes and in the way he hugs me and blesses me.  There's another pastor of the same generation who also comes to visit his family in my congregation sometimes; he brought me communion after Walter was born.  Sometimes when he visits he'll ask the question and then sigh deeply and say, "It'll be OK!" before I've had a chance to answer at all, and then he hugs me again. There are many untold stories and years of experience behind that hug.

The truth is that, at this point in our lives at least, it is OK, and even wonderful, for me to be a pastor and a mom. The two weeks leading up to Holy Week were rough, though, no lie. Lots of long days, late nights, busy weekends and sleepless kiddos. We ate out a lot, and that takes a toll.

Holy Week itself was humane by contrast: no evening meetings on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and I was able to get home early enough on all those days to start dinner before the kids got home at 5:30. Maundy Thursday worship and meal are combined; our most kid-friendly Holy Week service of the five services this week, and also my favorite.  The kids stayed home with Sean and Baba on Good Friday, but I was home by 7 to help with bedtime.  We were even in bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday, the night of our first annual conference-wide Easter Vigil, though of course I was too excited and elated by the events of the night to go to sleep.  Saturday was a busy day all around, with egg dying, runningrunningrunning outside with Umma and Baba, Umma's birthday cake baking/decorating and Walter skipping his nap in favor of cleaning the living room with Baba.  I got the sense that the kids were maybe a little more tired than non-pastor's kids might be on Easter weekend, but overall were no worse for wear, maybe even slightly better grounded into the rhythms of the Triduum than the average 1 and 3-year-olds (I may be reaching, here.)

After the second service Sunday morning I was pretty worn out, and I could see that my support network was maybe even more worn out than I was.  If you were to put "preaching and presiding at two Easter services after a full Holy Week" on a scale balanced against "caring for two small children, giving them a festive Easter experience and preparing Easter lunch" you would get a good visual of why it made sense to have me on one side of the scale and Umma, Baba and Sean together on the other side ... and also why they were probably more tired than I was.  Naps all around (except for Baba. He drove home.)  When bedtime came, Walter resisted until about 11 pm, and Sean turned to me and said, "I'm broken.  I'm starting to get sick. I'm going to call in and sleep all day tomorrow." I told him he should always plan to take Easter Monday off. "Like in Slovakia," I said. And remembered ...

My first Easter Monday after a busy Holy Week was in 2009, when I was on internship in Bratislava, Slovakia. Sean and I were both teaching at the bilingual high school and I was also interning at the English speaking international congregation. I think we taught classes until Wednesday, and then my supervisor and I worked on the putting together everything needed for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. Sean cooked and cooked and cooked for a community-wide Easter potluck. Early Monday morning we hopped on a train to Vienna and spent the day wandering around the gardens at the Schönbrunn, which was free, and so beautiful.  We took a nap on a bench by a fountain, sitting in dappled shade.  It was maybe a touch too warm, which was perfect after the relentless sleety winter of just weeks before. I sat on that bench with my head on Sean's shoulders and felt about as completely happy as a person can feel. 

Easter Monday 2015 has been different, of course. One of the concerns Walter shared with us late Sunday night was that his ear hurt, and he'd said it a few times over the weekend, so we decided to try and get him in to see Dr. L. Walter has been so healthy, other than allergies and little fleeting maladies best treated at home, that he hasn't been to see Dr. L since his well-child visit in October. With Sean and I both going the ear-check took on the feel of a fun family outing, which was kind of odd, but also really genuinely nice.  And it turned out that, yes there was fluid in his ear and gunk in his throat due to the tyranny of springtime, but no ear infection. We took our boy back to daycare and commenced sleeping. It was a really good, happy day. 

While we were waiting for Dr. L, Walter did some extraordinary imaginative playing.  He assigned roles: I was Junior Gorg, he was Wembley Fraggle, Sean was Gobo Fraggle.  It started out pretty standard Fraggle fare. Sean told Walter to run through my legs. I chased him and said, "Ohhh, you pesky fwaggles! Stop stealing my wadishes!"

Then Walter gently touched my arm and said, "Junior, Junior no.  We're not stealing your radishes. We are planting OUR radishes."  I looked at Sean, confused.  This wasn't in the script. "You mean," asked Sean, "You mean we should grow our own radishes, Wembley?" "Yes, so we don't have to steal from the Gorgs!" "Oh," I said, still in character. "Do you need some help?  I'm a pwetty gweat gawdener." (At this point I started to question my commitment to the voice, a bit.) "Yes!!"said Walter/Wembley, and we proceeded to plant a bed of radishes on the exam room table.  Every time we encountered a scenario where there was potential for conflict (the dinosaur appliques on the walls also wanted my radishes) Walter, on his own, came up with a non-violent solution (Walter and I collected grass for the herbivores, fish for the carnivores, and old meat for the scavengers, and then I explained to the dinosaurs that they shouldn't eat my radishes while Walter planted another radish bed especially for them.)  I know he doesn't have as much success doing that with his peers at school, but I was very proud of him. And grateful for that time together.

When I took the picture of the three of us in the van in the parking lot, I was thinking about the picture of me and Sean in the Schönbrunn, and how it would be funny to compare them.  I do think it's pretty funny.  

But here are the things I want to be sure NOT to say:

  • That life and ministry with kids is any more or less an adventure than life and ministry without kids.
  • That my life and ministry before my kids was all palaces and sun dappled afternoons in Vienna, and that after kids it's all trips to the pediatrician's office.
  • That I'm happier now, or that I was happier then. 
  • That my life before my kids wasn't full or meaningful, because it was. Quite full, quite meaningful.  And my ministry, though it was just at its start, was too. 
Sean and I dearly, deeply wanted kids, and we are overjoyed to have Walter and Sally in our lives. Part of loving them well, I think, is realizing that we are still real and full people apart from them. We existed before they were born, and we continue to exist as fully differentiated human adults, the way we hope they will be, someday.  I think Sean and I may have gotten a glimpse of Walter, the peacemaker, today. He's already his own person, and goodness knows Sally is, too. 

Based on the sighs and hugs and blessings of my elders, I can guess that there are challenging times ahead. But I don't know what the next years and decades of life and ministry will bring by way of challenges (one could point out that I technically don't even know what tomorrow will bring, but shhhhhh.)  For now, we are OK, and today we are a little better than OK: we are Easter Monday happy.  I know, because as we got out of the van to go see Dr. L., Walter, unprompted and unfamiliar with the term, said this: 

"What day is it?"
"Easter Monday?"
"Yes, buddy, it's Easter Monday. Come hold my hand."

And he did, with one of the biggest smiles I've seen on him in a long while. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Walter Explains It All

Once a week, Walter and I have breakfast together. Usually it's "Mini Wheats with Mama" (I'm trying to figure out how to sell that story to Kellogg's ... it's advertising gold, I tell you) but today we went out to McDonald's. On the way there I was impressed, as always, with Walter's use of logic.

Me: "Would you like to go to Denny's or McDonald's?"
Walter: "MCDONALD's!" (Pause) "McDonald's is very very far away."
Me: "Actually, it's very close by!"
Walter: "Actually, it's far away.  Umma and Baba live far away.  McDonald's is by Umma and Baba's house. That means, McDonald's is far away, too."
Me: "That's true! There is a McDonald's near Umma and Baba's house.  I love the way you thought about that.  But there's a McDonald's by our house, too."
Walter: (Skeptical silence.)

We turned into Crossroads Commons, across the street from our house.

Walter: "Oh! Yes, there is a McDonald's here. You will turn here and that's where it is. There are two McDonald's, one by Umma and Baba's house and one by our house!"
Me: "That's true!  And there are even more McDonald's than that, too!"
Walter: (exasperated) "WHY?"

We ordered our breakfast from a beautiful woman with grey hair named Carol. She was tickled when Walter ordered his own chocolate milk.  Walter got pancakes and sausage. I got oatmeal and plain coffee. I have another money-making idea for an app that rewards you for every just-ever-so-slightly-healthier choice you make.  Patent pending.  Walter was dismayed by my choice, and kept trying to share his pancakes with me.  "Mama: there are TWO pancakes. You can have one!" I told him he didn't have to eat it all if he didn't want it, and he said, "Oh Mama, you know I want my pancakes."  I also told him I was very happy with my oatmeal, and he thought about that for awhile. "BABIES can't have chocolate milk," he said finally. "But they CAN have oatmeal."

"That's true!" I said. "Except for very little babies, who just drink Mama milk." That lesson in parenting about not constantly correcting/contradicting my child? I am still learning that one. But mostly, Walter doesn't seem to mind. "That's true," he said, taking a thoughtful sip from his chocolate milk.

He sighed. I guessed I knew what he was thinking about.  "Isn't it amazing that Sally's not drinking Mama milk anymore? She's really getting to be a big girl." I said.  "Yeah," he sighed again, and pursed his lips.  He was deciding how to tell me how he was really feeling about that.

"Sally really likes 'other side'" he said, his gaze off to the side somewhere. "Sometimes, she cries for it." He looked up at me. "And sometimes you cry for it, too." He smiled, and giggled gently, the way I do sometimes when I say something uncomfortably true. The giggle that means "my goodness, life is something else, isn't it?"

The morning after I wrote that blog post about Sally weaning and not even asking for "other side" anymore she, of course, started asking for it again. Sally's approach to change is to embrace it wholeheartedly without question for awhile and then reject it for a bit before--slowly, this time--working her way back to acceptance.  I know this about her, but it still surprised me, and hit me pretty hard.  She cried, and when I tried to explain it to Walter that morning, I cried too.

"Do you miss drinking Mama milk and nursing?" I asked. He nodded. "I do," he said. "Maybe you'll miss it less as you get older?" He nodded again and used his straw to get every possible drop of milk, then took the straw out and brought the bottle to his mouth, tilting his head way back and tapping on the bottom of the bottle with his palm.  Then he picked up the straw and sucked the last drops out of that, then looked at me, raised his eyebrows, stuck out his tongue and indicated that he was going to lick a couple stray drops from the straw off of the table. "Ick," I said, and handed him a napkin, which he used to clean up the drops.

I'd been wanting to say something about bigger and better things, about growing up and getting to drink chocolate milk, about all the good things that come in the years after we all leave "other side" behind. But Walter and I both know that it's not as simple as that.  Something is lost.  When something is lost, it's not enough to just say, "move on, it'll get better." Life is good, but also, loss is real.  Contradicting it doesn't help.

We cleaned up the table so thoroughly that we accidentally threw out his happy meal toy.  He didn't notice, but I figured he might eventually, so I explained what happened to Carol and she said, "Let me get you another, dear.  Here, give him two." She gave me a kind smile.  People have been so, so kind to me all week.  I asked Sean if I have a sign on my forehead that says, "Weaning my toddler; feeling fragile and in need of kindness."  I went back to our table and showed Walter the cars.

"One to keep and one to share," he said.
"Who will you share it with?"
"Donna." he said, decisively.
Donna is his teacher at school; she's known him since he was 3 months old. I used to come to Room One and nurse him once a day.  Donna always laughed when he'd fall asleep in my arms, and then woke up when I tried to put him down in his crib.  "I'm so glad he does that to you, too!" she said.

He can't possibly remember any of that--the nursing, the way he hated sleeping in cribs, the way we rolled our eyes and laughed and secretly didn't mind getting to hold him for awhile while he slept.  Maybe he does miss being a baby, though. I miss those days sometimes, too.

As I buckled him into his carseat, Walter asked, "What does 'determined' mean?"  I don't think I'd used the word with him today, although I might have when I was encouraging him to persevere in putting on his own socks. "It means that you keep working on something, even if it's hard and you can't get it right away. Are you determined sometimes?" Walter: "Yes, I sure am." "You sure are. I love it that you are determined. Do you think Sally is determined?" "Yes," said Walter, resolutely. "Sally is very, very determined." "She is, indeed." We shared a knowing smile. That Sally is going to be OK, and we are, too.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weaning is not the end of the world: Part II

I was going to title this post "weaning IS the end of the world," just to be funny, but earnestness strikes again and I find I can't even joke about it, even when it's clearly a joke. I'm not really in that much of a joking mood, what with the sudden precipitous drop in oxytocin.  Research has shown that petting a dog also releases oxytocin in humans, so I've been hanging out with Hank a little more than usual (Hank: "I'm not complaining, but also, what gives?")  I also find that I enjoy spending a little quality time with my harmonica after dinner.  I'm not good enough to actually play the blues ... yet.  But I can see the instrument's appeal as a form of catharsis.

After months of wondering when and how weaning was going to happen without the motivation of being pregnant (motivation we are not even considering, even though Walter has made it clear that he needs another baby now that Sally's all grown up,) after some false starts and half-hearted attempts to cut back and Dr. L and my mom conspiring with each other to make the exact same argument for weaning (more on that, later,) after all that, it feels like we just kind of fell into the weaning thing this week.  On Wednesday, I got home late from preaching out at a country church, so Sean got Sally to bed. It went well, so we've kept going with Sean putting Sally to bed at night and me taking over with Walter. Sally and I nursed once in the morning until Saturday, when I had to get up and leave for a meeting before she woke up.  Today we jumped right into breakfast, so no nursing at all today, either. 

This is really happening.

And again, it's not the end of the world. But it hurts, and I'm sad.  Not for-a-reason-sad, really.  Just sad. *harmonica solo.*

So I went to Sally's 18 month well-child visit a couple weeks ago and Dr. L told me I had to wean her.  She was careening madly all over the exam room saying "other side," which is how she asks to nurse, and Dr. L said "When they're old enough to ask for it by name, it's time to stop."  And I was like, "When did you talk to my mom, and how much did she pay you?"

Mom has never pressured me to wean Sally at all, actually, but she has shared in the past that my ability to ask for "boppy" was a factor in her decision to wean me.  And with Sally I've rebelled against that reasoning because really, why should the ability to talk be the determining factor?  Just because she's super verbal, Sally doesn't get to nurse as long as a toddler the same age who doesn't talk? That doesn't seem right. Breastfeeding up to age two is not unusual. I produce lots of milk.  Why not keep nursing her? She likes it.  I like it. What does talking have to do with it?

Then this week Sally started busting out three, even four word sentences left and right like it was no big deal.  "Baba, where are you?" (in perfect sing-song cadence.) "Bye bye Mama." "All done, mini wheats."  "I want it." And, of course, "More other side."

I still think there's more to it than her ability to talk. But the talking is indicative of other changes, other signs that Sally really is ready to move into a different stage.  That's what my mom saw in me when she weaned me, and that's what Dr. L saw in Sally. I can see it now, better than I could before we started weaning her.  Since we weaned her, she is sleeping better and going to sleep with less help.  She is as affectionate as ever with me, but also enjoying having more time with Sean. She hasn't asked for "other side" since the last time I nursed her Friday morning (and oh, I am so glad, and so sad about that.)  She was ready.

The last time we nursed was Friday morning, up in my bed, while Walter watched Curious George.  Sally was very interested in watching the show, too, in a different way than before, and I recognized that as another sign that nursing wasn't her top priority anymore.  But she settled in to nurse very happily, and smiled when I patted her bottom as I held her.  When we were done she immediately asked for "more other side" and I said, "Silly goose, you've had both sides." She smiled and snuggled with me, happy to watch some George before getting ready for day care. She likes routine, like all of us do.  As long as her new routine includes snuggle time with Mama, she's happy.

Sally has adapted to this change with no signs of stress at all, and that helps me feel better in the midst of my more stressful adaptation.  If I'd actually planned this weaning I probably wouldn't have chosen my busiest time of year.  On the upside, if I keep to the schedule I was on with Walter, the depression should lift right in time for Easter, which seems appropriate.  In the meantime, Sean binds me up at night. I think about pumping to relieve some pressure, but usually just opt for a shower, since I worry that pumping will keep my supply going.  We had cabbage for dinner tonight so I got to wear some leaves in my bra this afternoon (don't know that it helped, but we saved some uncooked leaves just in case.)  The fact that I'm writing this indicates to me that I'm doing better than I was when we weaned Walter. That wasn't the end of the world, either, but I waited until the pain subsided and the clouds lifted, just to be sure (and because I was too incapacitated to write, really.)  The beauty of the second child is that you know, you really know, that whatever difficult stage you're going through, it's not going to last forever.

This, too, shall pass. And there is so much more sweetness, snuggling and phenomenal Sally-ness yet to come.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


We got home today from a weekend in the Dells, our first experience of the four of us coexisting in one hotel room.  We slept ... barely.  So I'm tired, but I need to document at least one moment of the sweetness of this time together.

In the new version of Peter Pan there's a fabulous new song, written to give Christopher Walken an opportunity to tap dance.  The song is called "Vengeance."  The final, big finish, culminating line sung by the pirate chorus is: "Toodaloo and so long Peter/Treasure's sweet but nothing's sweeter than vengeance!"  Walter, with great certainty, sings it this way:

"Treasure's sweet but nothing's sweeter than PANCAKES!"

We've tried to correct him but he's pretty sure that's the correct lyric.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dreams of flying

Walter--often known as Michael, although he's more amenable to be Walter, too, these days--loves Peter Pan.  Sally loves Walter, and she loves music and dancing, so she's game. My feelings about the story are slightly more ambivalent, because of:

  • The way the three female leads fight (ruthlessly, in Tinker Bell's case) for the affection of a boy who, we're told in the prologue, has not emotionally matured beyond the age of 2.  This fighting is the only kind of interaction we see between Wendy, Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell. 
  • The way even good casting and heavy re-writes can't erase the stereotyped portrayal of the Islanders. I tend to recommend the version we've been watching with Walter--Peter Pan Live (2014)--as "the least racist version I've ever seen." 
  • The moral ambiguity that makes the story delightful to me and not entirely appropriate for my three-year-old.  Because really: the pirates are the best. Clearly, they are the best.  
  •  The way the hero of the story is more bloodthirsty than the villain. Think about it. 
But don't think about any of it too hard. That's probably the secret to enjoying the story wholeheartedly. And I find myself doing just that, because Walter loves it so, so much. And I love Walter. And I love:

  • The way he sings, and delights in singing.
  • Singing "Tender Shepherd" with him to help him fall asleep. A couple of times we've circumvented naptime drama by just singing that song.
  • The way he uses the characters as a starting point to tell his own stories, and imagine the continuing adventures of the Darling Family, Tiger Lilly, and Peter Pan.
  • Christoper Walken as Captain Hook.  Really, the live TV version is tremendously good. 
We were telling stories last night using Rory's Story Cubes (more about that, later) and one of the stories included a celebration of Tiger Lily's birthday. Walter was delighted by that idea, and as we said goodnight to him I said, "Maybe you can dream about Tiger Lilly's birthday." "No," he said, "I'll probably be too busy dreaming about flying."


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Your parents, in love

Dear Walter and Sally,

Happy Valentine's Day!

I want to record the events of this day for you, but not in the way I usually do.  I usually write these accounts focused on the two of you and what you did.  Tonight, I want to write about what Daddy and I did when you were at the babysitter's house.

"Ewwwwwww!" I can hear teenage Walter and Sally say. "GROSS.  Mom ... no .. just ... no."

Ah, my future teenagers. This blog is now, always has been and ever shall be rated "E" for everyone, including members of our congregation, bishops, your future employers, etc.  I'm not going to share intimate details.  But I will say this: intimacy is really important to the health of our marriage.  And so is cooking.

You know that Daddy does pretty much all the actual cooking in our family.  There was a time, though, when Daddy and I did a lot of cooking together.  It's something we love to do, and something we don't get to do very often anymore.

I even put on eye make up.
Tonight we dropped you off at Jordan's house, and instead of going out for dinner, we came home and made dinner together.  I'd picked out a recipe from our beautiful new Jerusalem cookbook, a Christmas gift from Umma and Baba. Cod cakes in tomato sauce ... a little more complicated than our usual meals, but not too complicated that it couldn't be done in two hours. We also made Israeli cous cous with dried cherries and swiss chard.  I got all dressed up in a new dress, nylons and high heels ... and a cute apron for cooking in.  While we cooked we drank ginger ale made with homemade ginger syrup, and snacked on delicious Dried and True beef jerky (made by my cousin Rachel and her husband, Matt.) We listened to Linda Thompson albums, chopping and stirring side by side. I chopped up a chili pepper, forgot to wash my hands, and rubbed my nose ... I do not recommend it. But it was just a temporary set back.  We also ran out of time, but that didn't set us back too badly, either ... sure, we ate quickly, and burned our tongues a bit, but it was delicious, and the time we spent together tonight was, too.

I realized at some point that all the things I'd asked for tonight ... cooking an elaborate meal together from a cookbook, listening to Linda Thompson, even the homemade ginger syrup ... these were all things Daddy and I did when we were newlyweds, living together in a little apartment in New Jersey. That's when we started this blog, that's when we started thinking seriously and even trying to have children ... and then decided to wait for a few years. It was not a very hard decision to make--it made sense, logically--but it was a hard decision to live with.  We were very sad, and the sadness seemed like another person living with us, for awhile. But we were also happy, and we were building the foundation of love, happiness and, yes, intimacy, that made us the Mama and Daddy you know today.

I'm not sure what the moral of this story is, or how to sum it all up in a pithy way. I'm way too full, content, and sleepy to ponder it much longer. It was a good day, and a good date night.  Maybe someday you'll think it's gross, and maybe someday you'll think it's cute, but regardless, it's true: Mama and Dada love each other.

And you two, too, of course.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bedtime story

They were about to move on to bedtime book #2 when I interrupted.  "I have a story I need to tell," I announced. "Should it be now or later?"

Now, of course! Walter and Sean both watched me with interest, not sure what was coming.

"I was putting Sally to bed, and she was making sure she had all her friends in there.  Baby, Baby Carol, Moo.  Where was Elmo? He'd fallen out of her crib, between the crib and the wall.  I had to move the crib away from the wall some more and reach, reeeeeaaaach back behind it, and I did it! I got Elmo and showed him to Sally.  She was so happy!  I gave her the Elmo doll and she gave it a big, big hug.

"But then! Then she did something I didn't expect.  I asked her if she wanted to put Elmo down in her crib, and she looked at Elmo and she looked at me and she said, 'Walty!'

"I asked her, 'Do you want to take Elmo to Walter's room?' And she said yes and turned right around and went to your room!"

Walter looked surprised.  He didn't even remember to correct me for using the name "Walter." (These days he goes by "Michael," as in Michael Darling from Peter Pan.)

"I didn't even see her do that!" he said.

"This was earlier," Sean clarified. "While you were taking a bath."

I continued: "She came into your room, and when she saw that you weren't there, she headed for your bed. I asked her if she wanted to put Elmo on your bed for you.  Of course she didn't just want to put him on the bed, she wanted to climb onto your bed.  I helped her do that.  I asked her if she wanted to put Elmo on your pillow for you to find when you went to bed, and then she flipped over your top pillow and ..."

I knocked Walter's top pillow down the same way Sally had, revealing the Elmo doll she'd placed on his bottom pillow, giving Elmo a little pat before putting the top pillow back.

"Ohhhhh!" said Walter and Sean. both smiling, very pleased.  Walter went over and picked up the little Elmo doll. Sean told the story of how, on the night that Sally found the Elmo doll in Walter's room and claimed it for her own, Walter had discovered that he had a second doll, and was so pleased to know that they could both have Elmos he'd wanted to wake her up and tell her about it. Reminded of that story, Walter chimed in and said "I already had an Elmo in my room!"  "Sally didn't know that, though," Sean said. "She brought you the Elmo tonight because she wanted to share it with you."

Walter, quietly, looking at the Elmo doll: "That makes me very happy. Thank you!"

"We'll tell Sally tomorrow," said Sean. "What good kids you both are."

True story!

Monday, January 26, 2015


It was bedtime, and we were trying to get the kids to wind down enough for the usual brush, jammies, books, bed routine.  Walter got his skirt/cape out of his drawer, and Sally lunged for it and took it out of his hands.  He went to take it back, but Sean asked him to back up, and he did. Sally wrapped the shiny blue material around her shoulders like a cloak, fled to the exit, found it blocked and stood with her back to the door, ready to defend her prize. Sean offered her a different piece of fabric, and after very brief consideration she handed Walter his skirt and took the other shiny fabric from Sean.  I applauded both kids for the way they handled the situation, and Walter had a thoughtful look on his face.  Walter went to the door, found it closed, opened it and turned to face us with a stormy look. I predicted he'd slam the door, because kind of an Elsa thing to do, and braced myself for it.  But when he turned around he saw that Sally was right behind him and his expression changed. He looked down at her and smiled, put out his hand, and said very gently. "Come! Come with me, now.  Come up to my castle." Sally beamed up at him, a smile that took over her entire face and her whole little body.  She seemed to levitate a little bit with joy. Sean and I instinctively held back, knowing we shouldn't interrupt this moment, and watched as the two of them, without a glance back to us, walked out of the room together. "Can't stand in the way of that," Sean murmured, and we jumped up to tail them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Frozen Fever

Along with the terrible stomach virus that swept through our household this week, our family has been hit by a virulent strain of Frozen fever. Symptoms include staying up very, very late screaming and crying "I want to play Fro-zen!" over and over again.

Of course, it's not all bad. Not even close.  Really, overall, it's delightful.  But it is something different, a new level of intensity to Walter's make-believe.

As soon as Walter starting putting words together, he and I came up with this running gag: I'd ask him if he was something else, and he'd set me straight.  "Are you my snuggle bunny?" I'd ask.  "No," he'd say, seriously.  "I'm your Walter."

While playing train, I'd ask, "Are you the conductor?"
"No. I'm Walter."

"Mmmmm. This meal is delicious. Are you the chef?"
"Chef Walter, Mama.  I am Walter."

I loved this exchange, how reliable it was, how affirming of his essential Walter-ness. Now, though, it's different.

"Walter, dinner's ready!"
"I'm Elsa."

He's usually Elsa, although tonight he switched over to Anna for a short time, which was honestly quite a relief to me.  I've spent some time, you see, thinking about the tortured, desperate character of Elsa and worrying about her appeal to my young son.  Oldest child, you know.  Burdened by her well-meaning parents with unrealistic expectations for self control. (In defense of me and Sean, our efforts to teach Walter how to use "I" statements and calm himself with deep breaths is a long way from "conceal, don't feel" territory.)  Full of magic and power, but terrified that with that great power she will accidentally hurt her little sister. So much responsibility, so much angst. "Ohhhhhh, I'm such a fool, I can't be free!" she sings, and it makes your chest just ache for her. And for your oldest child, who knows there is no escape from the storm of powerful emotions brewing inside of him, just the temporary relief that comes from counting down from five to calm down.

Or perhaps Walter, like every other child his age,  likes Elsa's magic, and her beautiful dress, and that awesome song she gets to sing.

And so he sings, perfectly, word for word. "The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint, to be seen ..." He makes his big blue eyes Disney-wide and practices saying, "Anna!" with different emotions, expressions, and tones of voice. He wears the cape/skirt I made him for his birthday tied up like a halter dress, and seems to have finally forgiven me for not making it pink or purple because, after all, Elsa's dress is blue. He plays Frozen at school, outside on the playground and inside in the dress-up area.  While many of his friends have more variety in their play, I get the sense that Walter can always find at least one friend to play Frozen with, and sometimes more.  I asked him once, "You always seem to play Elsa.  What if someone else wants to be Elsa?" "Then we have two Elsas," he explained.  "Jackson was Elsa with me today."

Not gonna lie, I was relieved to hear that Walter isn't the only boy in his class pretending to be the snow queen.  And then felt bad that I felt relieved.

Walter as Elsa/Daddy/Conductor 
Here's the thing: I have this deep hope that Walter will always be loved and accepted exactly as he is.  And I have this fear that, any minute now, this blissful window of love and acceptance will come crashing closed and crush his spirit.  This is a fear I endeavor mightily to control, because it could keep me from enjoying these amazing moments of play, these increasingly brilliant imaginative adventures.

Today, for example, Walter told us one of his teachers at school told him he couldn't play dress up.  I was alarmed.  His teachers have always encouraged Walter to be fully himself, dressing up however he wants, with no gender norming at all.  Was this the beginning of the end?

No. Walter gradually revealed that he'd "made bad choices" and used his current favorite attention-getting naughty word, "stupid."  The consequence was no dress up.  Such a relief.  Except for the part about him using the word "stupid" ... that's no good.

When we play Frozen at home, Walter never casts his little sister as Anna, though I think there are some striking similarities there.  Youngest child, you know.  Effortlessly charming, open and honest, flinging herself heedlessly through life like it's one giant "crazy trust exercise."  Slightly more pigment in her eyes and skin than her superblonde older sibling.  But even though she's really the hero of the film, no one seems to want to be Anna. Sally, like most of her peers, prefers Elsa. "Elsa," she says. And then sings, pitch-perfect: "Go!" Tonight, when Walter took it off for a moment, she pounced on his blue skirt, twirled it around herself, sang "Go!" and tried to abscond with it.  She tripped on it, of course, and when I went to help her up and get it away from her she resolutely would. not. let. it. go.

This struck me as very Anna-like.

I am usually Anna, except when Walter wants to be Anna, and then I'm Elsa.  We decided earlier this week that Hank and Sally could not be cast as Prince Hans, because neither of them would understand that we were just pretending they were the villain, and it would be confusing and unfair to yell at them for their villainy.  So, Hank was (aptly) cast today as the reindeer, Sven.  Sally, we decided, could be that adorable little baby troll who sings about tinkle. That leaves Sean as Prince Hans, which is OK, because no one could ever mistake him for an actual bad guy ... clearly this is pure pretend.  We don't have a Kristoff, because I think Walter forgets that character exists. Walter (Elsa) makes Olaf, and sometimes makes him visible by pretending his stuffed dinosaur is the lovable snowman.

You can see why he's excited and reluctant to go to bed.  We've had some success telling him that he needs to recharge his powers at night, which is why I think he switched to being Anna right before bed tonight. "I'm Anna," he argued proudly. "I have no powers."

I argued right back, and told him he had plenty of powers. "You are full of true love," I said. "You are brave and kind.  And you need to recharge all of those powers tonight. Go to sleep!"

He didn't buy it (but he is finally sleeping.)

This morning, both kids woke up ridiculously early and ended up in bed with me and Sean. While Sally slept, Walter gently took her hand. "You are Anna," he told me over Sally's fuzzy head.  "I am Elsa." "Who is Sally?" I asked. He looked down at her fondly, and smiled. "Our baby!" he said. She woke up, stretched, smiled and cuddled up to Walter. "Waltee!" she said. "Waltu!"  Walter looked proud, "Yay!" he said. "She's saying my name!"

And I soaked up that essence of Walter and Sally, which, by any other names, would still be as sweet.

And then they started to pinch and annoy each other, which is, after all, also essential.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blatant, unmediated bragging

I wear my sunglasses at night
Sally tinkled on the potty tonight.  Yes, that Sally.  The one who is 16 months old.

I'll have to check with my friend Pastor B., because I think maybe his daughter used the potty at some even more ridiculously early age, and maybe this sort of thing happens all the time in the world of girls, and particularly in the world of girls who are younger siblings of children who are in the midst of potty training, but all that being said ... we are impressed.

I went back through some old blog posts and I don't think we documented Walter's first potty use.  My guess is that it happened some time during my first trimester of pregnancy with Sally, when I did lots of sleeping and next to no blogging.  I'm OK with not knowing, though, because no matter when Walter did it, Sally's potty use tonight was quite an accomplishment for her.  And for him, too.  As Sally sat down on the potty before their tub, Walter gave her lots of encouragement.  "Yay, Sally!  You can do it, Sally!"  And when she, grinning, had a little tiny tinkle, we all celebrated together, and acknowledged that having a potty role model in Walter has certainly been a contributing factor in Sally's interest, persistence, and delight in this new experience.

Now, if only Sally could teach Walter how to lie down and go to sleep at bedtime.