Babies: My Gratitude Photo Journal


This week, and every week I am grateful for babies.  I love them all.

Sleeping Babies

And those not yet asleep

For babies willing to humor us

And for show tune babies

For traveling babies

And for babies getting to know their brother

Especially, I am grateful for my babies

Because without my babies, life would not  be nearly as bright, or engaging or lovely.

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No Better Mother


I think Owen was four months in this picture. "Normal" was nowhere in sight. But I was madly in love with him anyway.

I was reeling for months after my first child was born.  I could not believe what was happening.  Everything was surreal, I felt like I had stepped into a life that was meant for somebody else.

Somebody more organized, rational, patient, sane.

I went through the motions and acted like I was okay.  Like life was just as it should be.  But I knew it was not.

I knew that this was a horrible mistake.  That I was wrong to think I could care for a baby, and raise a human to be good and honorable and sane.

I knew that life was never going to be the same.  I was going to be tied to this tiny little creature forever, and there was no turning back.  I feared that I would never feel normal again, I would never have my life back.

This baby needed me all of the time.  He nursed incessantly, cried when he was not being held, and slept like a baby as long as he was in the arms of myself or my husband.

In a few short moments my life had drastically changed.  I had no idea what I was doing, and I was not prepared.

I was not ready for the lack of sleep and how it would affect my body, or for how lonely I would feel in the middle of the night while I was awake and only with Owen.

I did not know how important the comfort of another human would become to me, and that not knowing how to achieve it would devastate me.

I had tunnel vision when it came to my son, and all I could see was what he needed.

The periods of caring for Owen and getting him into a restful state were so intense that they consumed every part of me.  This made the moments when he was sleeping contentedly on my husband the most difficult because I did not know what to do with myself when my baby did not need me.

I often found myself standing in the middle of the kitchen, hair strewn all over, wearing breastmilk stained pajamas that had been on for days and a blank stare.

I was shell shocked.

It is so strange to me, I look like myself. But I was not. Not at all.

And here I am four and a half years later, and I made it.  Of course I made it.  We all do.

And looking back now I do not feel that my mental state during that time was inappropriate or silly or dramatic, I honor it.  I gained great strength from knowing that I pulled it together, and stuck it out, and made lots of good choices.  And I developed a stronger sense of confidence and purpose than I had ever known.

And I accepted that the “normal” I thought I was longing for would never come back.  Ever.

I traded it in for a level of joy, completeness and gratitude that I never imagined possible.

Because with Owen’s birth, everything seemed bigger, more hopeful, brighter and chock full of possibility.  I wondered what I did before this gorgeous little being joined our family, and how I ever felt happiness without him around.

Those first weeks and months with my first baby were the  most difficult of my life, but every moment was just as it needed to be. I know with every bit of myself that no matter how long the days are, and how many mistakes I have made, this is exactly where I am supposed to be.

And that ultimately there is no better mother that could have been given to my children, than me.

An unfair trade: I gave up "normal" for these two. Whoever got my normal, lost big time.

A Movie By Pondering Jane: My Happy Baby


Okay, so my sister who works in film said “I would not so much call this an animated short as…” and that is where she left it.
At any rate, I had so much fun making this and hope to make a couple more. Click below to view the movie.

My Happy Baby!

My Motherhood Is.


This is also my motherhood.

My motherhood is a constant contradiction of wanting to be with my children so much that I do not want to leave them to work, and being so bored from playing cars that I desperately want to be in an office full of adults.

My motherhood is the moment of seeing my children after hours or days of not being present. Of letting our moments together pass unnoticed, as I went through the motions of meeting only their most basic needs.

My motherhood is bloodshot eyes from a night without sleep, and still needing to ensure the health and safety of two people incapable of doing so themselves.

It is the loss of patience credited to too many hours spent with only my whining, demanding children.

It is an endorphin rush from an unexpected gesture of affection from one of my beautiful babies.

It is pure wonderment as I climb into bed because I have nothing tangible to represent another day completed.

It is mental longing to be doing something other than spending time with people under the age of five, and a physical pull that keeps me in the same space with my children.

It is a flash of regret after reaching frustrations point of no return.

It is the feeling of pure joy and child like giddiness that comes from watching my two children laugh together and enjoy each other.

My motherhood is a morning spent giving my two young children baths, mindlessly. And enviously thinking of those accomplishing tangible goals at the very same moment, like providing a report to their boss, or the sale of a newly designed cake.

It is understanding that this is my choice, and that I continue to choose this daily.

It is comprehending that not too long from now, I likely will affectionately and longingly recall these days, when my primary focus was caring for, teaching and shaping my children.

My motherhood is desperately trying to remember this while I wipe another snotty nose.

It is an overwhelming contradiction of dejection and joy, with no resources readily available to make sense of or combat it. And knowing that even if I could find tools to help me navigate motherhood, I would have no time to utilize them.

My motherhood is, by design, two tiny people who are the priority in my life.  And the acceptance that really, I believe this is for better not worse.

And so is this.

What is your motherhood?

Peace, Joy and No Resolutions.


With the marking of each new year, I am always tempted to make a list of resolutions.  Things that I promise myself I will do, or change, or eliminate, or add.  All in the coming year.

And then, not make them happen.

And the lack of completing these things will prove that I am incapable of following through on anything. Which really, I already knew.

So this year, I have decided to cut myself a break.

Instead of committing to unrealistic goals, for the next twelve months I will simply keep a few things in mind.  Some small efforts that I think will make life more peaceful and happier for me and my family.  None of these things will have quantifiable results.  This is intentional.

For example, I am not going to commit to going to the gym 5 times each week and losing 30 pounds by January 9th.  Instead, I will focus on allowing myself to feel better.  By making choices like nourishing my body with food that will make me feel good, and providing it with regular movement to keep the blood and oxygen flowing to the places it needs to be.

This will make me happier and calmer (and yes, hopefully thinner!).  A mom who feels good must be better for her family.

Instead of promising that I will never lose my patience with my kids again, I am going to ease up on my expectations of them, myself and our time together.  I am going to feel more comfortable canceling plans and missing activities if it means eliminating the chaos that is created by trying to get to said plans.

Rather than saying that 2012 will be the first year in human history that a wife has not been mad at her husband, I will work toward clearer and more positive communication. I will find and use resources for this purpose, so that our arguments decrease both in frequency and intensity.

And instead of repeatedly reminding myself that I am best at making mistakes, I will remind myself that I always make choices that I believe are best for my children and my family.

My children are at the beginning of their time here on Earth.  I want to make their journey as joyous as possible.  And if I do not make joy and happiness an intentional priority now, our years together will pass with me hoping that we will happen upon these things as a family, instead of doing my part to create them.

I suspect that in order to experience real and consistent joy, peace must be present, and that regular attention must be paid to choosing it.

So in addition to making myself feel better this year, I will make seemingly small choices that will allow my family to relax.

I will focus on remembering to choose peace and calm whenever possible.  And I will regularly question if the thing I am trying to force is worth giving that up for.

My hope is that these small efforts will yield a greater result:  more joy.  For me, my family and all those who come in contact with us.

                                                                    Not only in 2012, but all the New Years to come.

Here is wishing you and yours a Happy New Year, filled with Peace and Joy!

Magic In The City: A Love Letter for My Children


Daddy and Sydney watching the skaters and Rockefeller Center.

Dear Owen and Sydney,

It is a few days before Christmas, and it seems a natural time to reflect on things we are grateful for, and to look for magic in unexpected places.

As summer ended I told your dad that I was feeling festive this year, and wanted to do something magical in the week leading up to Christmas.  “In fact,” I said, “How about an idyllic city christmas?”

Your dad agreed.

There are two cities that I really enjoy being in around Christmas time, and New York is in driving distance, so we booked a hotel.

Our vacation began perfectly with pizza for dinner. We woke up on our first morning to snuggle in the hotel bed for hours.  We watched a little TV, but mostly chatted and tickled and cuddled.  All four of us.

We were all laughing and happy and relaxed.

We took in all of the sights and you both enjoyed every one of them.  The windows at Lord and Taylor were enchanting, and both of you laughed and squealed with glee upon seeing them.  I was amazed by how much of the detail you noticed.

Enchanted.

Amazed.

Entertaining (Sydney dancing to the music, enchanting all those who watched, of course!)

We spent a while in front of the tree at Rockefeller Center and walking up and down 5h Avenue.

The best night of the trip though, was our last.

Right across from our hotel was Bryant Park;  a city park transformed into an idyllic winter wonderland for the holiday season.  A Christmas tree beautifully decorated in blue and white lights overlooked the entire scene, and tastefully chosen holiday music playing at the perfect volume solidified the scene.

It was as though we had walked into an ideal “city Christmas”, one so perfect it seemed as though it were created as a set.

Owen, you wanted to go skating so badly on the rink constructed for the winter season that was right in the middle of it all- and daddy and I understood why.  It was magical.

Because it was so late, you were the only two young children still out.  Sydney and I watched as you and daddy skated and skated.  Sydney entertained the onlookers with her dynamic dance moves and chatted with all sorts of passersby.  She nursed while sitting under the tree, and every time you and daddy skated by us, you stopped to chat.

The smile on your face was breathtaking.

You were so happy to be ice skating here!

With few exceptions, everything about this Christmas vacation was exactly as I’d hoped for.

What was unexpected though, is that I did not spend much time looking at the sites we had come to see.  I spent my time observing something far more magical;  my two beautiful children.

I could not help but smile fully as I watched you two.  You pointed out interesting things to each other, instinctually picked up items dropped by strangers, and wished many a “Merry Christmas.”

I watched as you saw the carrousel turning in the cold Christmas air, and I inhaled your smile.

I witnessed your enchantment by the Christmas scenes displayed in the store fronts, and knelt down to put my arms around you and squeeze you.

I smiled with your awe upon viewing Rockefeller Center, with all of its lights and perfectly spaced Christmas angels, and kissed your cold, Christmas-y cheeks.

And it was all of these moments, and many, many  more that fulfilled my wishes for an idyllic City Christmas.  My joy did not come from where I expected, and I suppose it would not have mattered if we were in New York, Chicago, or Boise.

I left feeling grateful that these moments are endless for us.  We are at the beginning of our time together, and the joy that we will experience is limitless.

While I do not know what next Christmas will bring, I do know that the magic from this one has infiltrated me.  It has seeped into the deepest part of me, and I think it has in you, too.

When we go to Mass on saturday evening and daddy and I chase our toddler around, wondering if there is really any point in attending, I will know that there is.

Because I will be thanking God for each of you, and celebrating the birth of Mary’s child.  I will pray to Him that the joy of our little family continues, and that I always remember to look for magic in unexpected places.

Magic in the city.

The Motherhood Groove


I was blindsided by motherhood. I had no idea how much it would change my life.

Before my oldest child was born, I was committed to keeping my life as it was whether children were a part of it or not. I held fast to my commitment to read, work, keep up with the house, maintain my relationships with friends, and my husband.

Then Owen was born. And I was not prepared.

For the connection I would feel for him, the way that life was only right when he was peaceful and touching me, the fact that with the birth of my first child, my eyes would be replaced with new ones.

Every desire that I had before children became distant in my mind, seldom receiving any consideration.  All that mattered to me was that Owen was comfortable and content.

I am not embarrassed by this. I do not feel ashamed that my priority suddenly became my children. I feel grateful. Now.

But for the first months, and years, I tried to maintain it all. I tried to work, and stay connected with my “self” (the definition of which was my pre-child self) and not let life change.

Of course, life had already changed and I was just pretending.

Twenty six months later my daughter was born, and as she began needing attention I became a maniac. I tried desperately to meet the needs of both of my children all of the time.

I was constantly stressed. Even if both kids were sleeping, I was beating myself up over the way I had handled a situation, or I was prepping the house for when they woke up.

I was either making lunch, putting away toys, or planning an activity. Anything to free up my energy and time so that it could all be devoted to them when they woke.

Somewhere during this time I stopped working. Entirely. I tried to take my children on outings planned around nap times and snacks, and enroll them in music class.

My inability to accept that life had changed created both an inner struggle and tension between my children and I.  My life had no rhythm, and though I tried, I could not find a groove.

Then, without planning or realizing it,  Sydney’s napping became more predictable and Owen spent more time playing on his own. The house began to stay organized more easily as Owen began to consistently pick up after himself, and Sydney.  I became calmer. And several months ago, I realized that things were getting easier.

Owen and Sydney started playing together- frequently and for close to an hour at times. I often just sat and watched them. Amazed.  Mornings could be spent reading books, watching a movie or doing laundry.

Owen and Sydney joined in to help me prepare lunch.

As blocks were turned into structures, I sat on the couch in front of my children.  I read my book, or caught up with friends on Facebook. Music played quietly in the background.

Instead of cries of frustration and prayers of desperation, giggles and conversation became regular. Suddenly, it seemed that not only did I love my children, but that I loved Motherhood.

As I reflect now on life since Owen was born, I realize that there was nothing magical about this transformation. I gave up lots of preconceived notions about how things “should be”, and started doing what felt right to me, and made my children happy.  Expectations were altered or eliminated all together.  This removed unnecessary resistance and chaos from our lives and changed our dynamic.

We were no longer trying to force an outcome, we were going with what was in front of us.

This is not who I am at my core.  Or, not who I was.  I am learning.

Every day is not perfect and neither am I.  I cop to my weaknesses and shortcomings regularly.

But mostly now, I enjoy almost every moment of the day. Grateful for this amazing life. For spending most of my moments with my children. By choice.

And when Sydney turned two just a few weeks ago, instead of being filled with a feeling of bittersweet that she was getting older, I was filled only with joy, that my baby is so happy.

Because now I know that I am not fighting motherhood, that I am comfortable, gratefully sinking into it. That I appreciate nearly every moment and am giving my children the best part of myself.

The regret that I so frequently felt when Owen was two is now replaced with confidence. An assurance that comes from knowing that every day my children are calmly loved and appreciated.

Instead of ending each day thinking of how I will do better tomorrow, I end it smiling with the knowledge that I have finally found my Motherhood Groove.

Enjoying time with my children. Daily. Photo by Owen.

Overparenting. Is It Real?


20111219-084716.jpg

Sure, it's a challenge, but Sydney can handle it. If she couldn't have though, I would have helped her right away.

Reference has been made to “The Age of Overparenting” and admittedly I am not sure what practices this is referring to.

The term itself does concern me. In an age where activities, school and media disconnect us from our instincts and children, I fear that we will be further confused by thinking that we “coddle” our children too much-that we over love them.

Maybe even, that we are “spoiling” them.

But really, how can we “overparent” our children? We can overschedule their activities, overfeed them, and overlook them, but “overparent” them?  It does not seem possible to me.

Maybe this term means that we are overly involved in their lives. That though, would be nosy, not overparenting.

Perhaps it suggests that we are providing too much physical affection. But, that is impossible.

I guess the term could mean that too often we are caught starry-eyed gazing, basking in the love that we feel for this beautiful and wonderful being. Busted while thanking God that He thought us worthy enough to raise this, our beautiful child.

No, I do not believe that it is possible to “overparent” your children. To listen to them too much, laugh with them too often or over-encourage them when they need it.

Because it seems like parenting your children means that you know when they need encouragement, and when too much encouragement would simply be inflating an artificial ego.

And we certainly cannot make our children feel better more often than they need it.

It seems to me that really parenting your child means keeping them safe. Not keeping them in a protective sheath or bubble. And knowing your child well enough to know which you are doing.

That a parented child feels genuine love and respect from their parents, and that they can trust their mom and dad to teach them appropriate boundaries. And is there a way to “over”do this?

It seems to me that when we spend enough time with our children to know them well, there is very little risk of “overparenting” them. We will know that ballet is just too much for them, and that really, they do hate piano lessons.

When we have allowed ourself to be completely open to falling head over heels in love with our children, we want to remove unnecessary negativity, because we know that enough tough stuff comes from other places.

And that appropriately assisting them with challenges will strengthen them and make them intuitively compassionate, not cause them to lack fortitude and coping mechanisms.

If we permit ourselves to invest fully in our child, we trust ourselves, and we do not have to wonder if we should have made them honor their commitment to stay at a sleepover even though they were scared.

Overparenting is not something that I am worried about because I do not believe it exists. All of the other stuff we will struggle with, and will try to find the right balance for our family.

But too much love is not corny, it is just not possible.

Have I missed something? Do you think it is possible to overparent? Is the term confusing?

Mary’s Birth Story, Unsweetened. From The Archives, For My Grandmother.


I dedicate today’s entry to my grandmother, whom I love more than any other grown up in the world.  And whose relationship with our Mother Mary is unique, special and direct.  

Mary’s Birth Story, Unsweetened

Let’s put this in perspective.

I live outside of Boston.  Let’s imagine that in my ninth month of pregnancy, my husband Kris finds out that we have to go back to New Jersey or else we’ll lose our health insurance, or something of equal importance.   We have to go.

After packing up our things, our donkey pulls up out front.  I, nine months pregnant, mount it, prepared to ride for days to reach Kris’s hometown.  Except, his parents no longer live there, and he has no friends or family left there.

We know nobody.

As we set off for my husband’s place of origin, my faith- though not unshakeable, is strong. So is his.

After a long and tiring journey, we finally arrive.  I am medically exhausted.  It was too much for my pregnant body, and it requires rest.  Not necessarily out of chivalry, but out of compassion, and because he is my partner, my husband searches for a place where I can get the rest that my baby and I need.

My abdominal muscles, back, and legs all hurt.  I am having that ninth month of pregnancy pressure in my pelvis, and I am in tears because I just need to lie down, take the pressure off my body and sleep.

Each door that my husband knocks on provides the same answer: “We have no room for you.  We have no place that your pregnant wife can rest.”

My husband becomes more desperate as he sees the pleading in my eyes, hears it in my words and feels it from my body.  Finally, he comes back to me as I wait on the mule and says, “I have found us a place to sleep for the night.  It isn’t the most comfortable of accommodations, but it will have to do for tonight.”.

Now, what I have been suspecting for the last several hours is undeniable. I am in labor.  Though I try to stay calm for my husband’s sake, this is my first pregnancy and I am scared.  I am afraid of labor and possible complications.  Mostly though, I am terrified of the enormity of what is happening to me.

A tired Mary lay on a “bed” of hay or dirt, surrounded by animals that were dirty, and smelly, and who urinated and defecated all around them.  I’m certain though, that when Mary first held her baby, like all of us mothers, her surroundings were irrelevant.

I wonder if understanding that her child was the Son of God made her feel greater emotion.  As a mother, I suppose not.  I imagine that she was filled with the exact same emotion that I felt when Owen and Sydney were first put into my arms, and your children into yours.

That she looked at her beautiful baby Jesus, and wondered how she could be so blessed to have such love delivered to her life, and how grateful she felt that the man standing beside her was faithful and brave enough to protect her and her child so significantly.

I suspect that it was at least hours before Mary felt the itch of hay against her legs again, and once more became aware of the smells of the animals; that the swaddled bundle in her arms provided only a temporary analgesic from her surroundings.

I certainly can’t fathom Mary’s “birth story” having delivered my two children in a beautiful maternity unit with the most wonderful caregivers in attendance.   I have always imagined, or understood, that Jesus’ birth was serene, and lovely.

I probably believed this because songs like “Away in a Manger” are sung by angelic voices and accompanied by the finest musicians playing perfectly tuned instruments.  More so though, I know that this belief stems from the results of this birth. Results that were indeed beautiful, and awesome.

So this Christmas, when I sing I “Away in a Manger”, I will sing it as beautifully as I can. I will reflect on the images surrounding the birth of Jesus and the emotions that his mother must have felt.

This event, this birth, deserves not only my praise and gratitude, but also my admiration from one mother to another.

Owen and an amazing Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, 90.

“A Gift-less Christmas”. From the Archives


My husband Kris and I both love Christmas and are quite traditional in how we celebrate. We decorate our house simply, but festively and have Christmas music playing both in the car and in the house. We talk with Owen, our four year old, and even Sydney, our two year old, about Jesus and his birth, and why this birthday is so important. We take as much time setting up the Nativity Scene with Owen as we do decorating our tree. We explain the meaning of the Christmas music that we sing, and talk about how important our family is.

Because Kris and I are both extroverted, type “A” personalities, we typically have our family on the go. But something washes over us during this time of year that allows us to enjoy slowing down. We pluck the best qualities portrayed on TV from the 1950’s, and turn into total “suckers” for our own version of a Vintage Christmas. We go to the Santa Parade, drive around to look at Christmas lights, attend a Christmas concert or caroling, and stroll through villages and shops whose halls are decked.

The second year that we were married, Kris and I decided to have a “gift-less” Christmas. This was as foreign to both of us, as eating Caviar is to this vegetarian. But, we wanted to eliminate the stress of finding a gift that wouldn’t be returned, paying the best price for it, and hoping that it was in stock.

Kris and I appreciated this decision so much that we eagerly agreed to make this same commitment with my extended family. This means that other than a couple of small gifts for my children, there is not one single gift purchased or exchanged within my family. I come from a large family, and this decision changed our Holiday significantly. No longer are Kris and I throwing back and forth possible gift ideas via text message, or aimlessly searching for the perfect gift for a sibling.

I do not spend my time in stores and traffic, frustrated with fellow shoppers who are feeling the same pressure that I am, as we share blank stares or frantic looks instead of holiday wishes. Instead, Kris and I are sitting on the couch, enjoying a glass of wine in front of our tree, listening to Christmas music, while Owen and Sydney play together. I know, it sounds idyllic.

It is.

The first couple of Christmases without gifts were strange. It seemed that none of us really knew how to shift the focus of the day, or what to do with the time that was usually spent opening gifts. But the vacuum from the missing presents filled in quickly and more fully, and we no longer even remember that they were there. Now our Christmases are filled only with conversation, fun, food and spirits; and it is these things to which we look forward.

The further away from exchanging gifts I become, the more I realize how much it detracted from our holiday. Now when I hear people talking about how much they have left to do and they wonder aloud whether their, parent/sister/grandmother/uncle will like the gift that was purchased for them, it seems as strange to me as the thought of a Christmas without gifts once did.

It has been several years now that we have practiced gift-less Christmases with my family. As with all changes in life, we have adapted, and not surprisingly, the holiday is filled with more quality time together. The focus of the night is on family, and the birth of one very special Baby.

 

Santa does not come to our house, but even Owen will sit on the lap of a pretend resident of "The North Pole".