Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Beyond Attachment

When I was pregnant for the first time, I threw myself into preparing for motherhood. I researched gentle parenting techniques. Kyle and I prepared to rearrange our lives to accommodate and nurture our baby twins in the most loving way possible. I couldn't wait to change their tiny cloth diapers. I couldn't wait to snuggle them close to me in the Moby wrap. I felt peaceful in the idea that attachment parenting would provide us with the right tools to gently nurture our little family.

When the boys were born seven weeks early and whisked off to the NICU, our plans for the early days with our babies changed dramatically. Instead of taking a quiet few weeks together at home to bond, the boys were kept in plastic isolettes amidst the constantly chiming monitors. When I was discharged three days after my Cesarean, I was told to go home and visit the boys during the day, rather than staying with them in their room as I desperately wanted. Weak and overwhelmed, I agreed. I was petrified for my tiny babies alone in their fancy plastic bins. How would this time impact our bond?

Somehow, as time went on, in the blur of postpartum depression and sleep deprivation, I began to think of those first few weeks as my first transgression against attachment parenting. Every AP article I read talked about the shoulds and should nots. I should always respond to my babies' cries. Did they do that at 3 AM in the NICU? I should not allow my baby to spend hours a day laying alone in a plastic bin. Nothing addressed things not going according to plan. In whatever big or small way, I felt I had failed.

Fast forward several months. I persevered with attachment parenting, trying my best to live up to what were beginning to feel, at times, like pretty exacting standards. As time wore on, that early NICU experience started to feel like the first of many stumbling departures from AP. At nine months, there was sleep training - a desperate and heartbreaking solution to my extreme sleep deprivation from getting up to nurse the boys every two hours at night. Skip ahead a few more months. At some point I yelled for the first time. At some point, I swore. At some point, I tried time outs. In my head, all I could hear was "failure!" "Failure!" "Failure!"

Here's the thing. I think attachment parenting offers some wonderful tools. I believe the world would be a better place if more people adopted its principals. However.

I AM AN IMPERFECT HUMAN BEING. I am not always entirely zen. I am emotional, sensitive, and quick to react to my environment. No matter how hard I try, I can never be true to myself AND fit my circular body into a square shaped box. But it goes further than that, too.

I'm concerned about the ominously missing coverage of "what if" situations in AP literature. No parent is perfect all of the time. I'm wary of any parenting advice that quickly and harshly judges those who chose other paths, and I can't help but feel horrified by every AP article I've ever read that warns of the brain damage! and antisocial behaviors! suffered by non AP children.

As a feminist, I'm left feeling icky about the implications of AP on women. AP is child centered, but I'm not sure that it's family balanced. In college, I spent my senior year completing a capstone project on women and self-help culture. My overwhelming conclusion was that our society's plethora of self-help books and television, largely aimed at women, lead to the message that we're somehow not good enough as we are. Forget that we're all supposed to look like super models. We're also not centered enough on the inside. At some point, AP advice has started to feel the same way to me.  I need to be more patient. I need to do a better job of empathizing with my child. I need to be gentle and maintain my child's dignity when disciplining. If I do not do these things, I bear the weight of harming their very sense of self.

I offer these thoughts not to condemn AP or those who practice it. In most ways, I continue to parent in a very AP fashion. What I want is to be honest with myself about how and why I choose to parent. I want to challenge and examine it. AP is becoming increasingly popular. I suspect I'm not the only one who at times feels confused by a parenting style that centers around the gentle treatment of children yet leaves me feeling like my own sense of self has taken a beating. In the end, I pick and choose. More than anything, I strive to parent mindfully, in a way that is gentle for our entire family. As a mother, I know that I am not now and never will be perfect. I'm learning that this little fact isn't a failure on my part. In all reality, it's one of the best parts of this journey.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One bird. Six meals.

Soon, I'm going to post some thoughts on cost of living as it relates to motherhood and feminism. I realize that dropping a teaser like this at the beginning of a post is totally unfair. How will anyone enjoy their Thanksgiving while sitting in anxious anticipation of such juiciness? The short version goes like this: life is expensive. High cost of living limits parenting choices. Limited parenting choices equals less than ideal family situations. Bad for society. Saving money becomes tool of liberated women everywhere. Or something like that.

In the meantime, I'm taking frugality pretty seriously around here. I recently mentioned that I love cooking, and have been considering adding some food elements to my blog. There are lots of great cooking blogs, lots of great money saving blogs - and lots that cook while saving money and stomping on one foot and saving the earth. I'm not breaking out anything really novel here. BUT. I do cook while saving money, maximizing my time,  and entertaining three small people. Perhaps this will be in the very least entertaining.

So. Let's do this.

What we're cooking: Turkey. One bird. Six meals.
It's Thanksgiving week, which means turkey is on sale. Go buy a turkey. Unless you're a vegetarian. But otherwise. Really. Even if you're not hosting. Especially if you're not hosting. I bought a fresh ten pound turkey for eight dollars with a coupon and am using it as the base for six meals. 

Meal one: Turkey dinner. Roast your turkey. Eat. Enjoy.

Meal two: Salad with turkey. Make a salad. Top with cold leftover turkey. Throw on some craisins and goat cheese. Yum.

Meals three through five: Turkey pot pie. Here's where I actually give a recipe. One that I created myself, at that. Muster appropriate awe and proceed. 

Turkey Pot Pie
5 cups roasted turkey
3 carrots, roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
3 T cooking sherry
Salt and pepper
1/2 stick butter
3 T flour
2 cups chicken stock (or beef/vegetable)
1/2 cup half and half (or milk)
2 cups frozen vegetables of your choice - I used a mix of rutabaga, broccoli, and peas
3 ready-made pie crusts (or puff pastry sheets)
1 egg 

How to cook three turkey pot pies with three little people running around and constantly requesting help using the potty:
I try do most of my dinner cooking during the day so I have plenty of time and don't get frazzled if the time elapsed between chopping carrots and actually sauteing them takes forty-five minutes. I prepared this particular meal during pre-lunch play time, lunch itself, and then finished it up once I had everyone down for the post-lunch nap. Here's how I broke it down:

1. First I browned my vegetables. Chop and saute onions. Do this on low heat so that they don't burn while you're wiping somebody's nose. Cooking with toddlers and babies around requires slowing things down. It's noon, dinner's not til 6:30, we've got plenty of time. While the onions cook, chop your carrots, celery, and mushrooms. When the onions start to brown, add the vegetables you just chopped. Season with about a teaspoon of thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Saute until things get glossy and the vegetables soften and brown. Set aside. Be proactive, and set your frozen pie crusts out now to thaw. If you're using fresh pie crusts, congratulations.

2. Get that turkey meat. No knives here. Use your hands. If you're following my little plan (which is doubtful, but let's indulge in the idea for a minute), you've already had this bird for dinner twice. There should be plenty of meat left if you're feeding only a few substantial meat eaters (our toddlers are more of the vegetarian variety) but you're also probably at the point where you need to work for the meat that remains. Push up your sleeves and get to it. I was able to recover at least five cups of turkey. Chop it up. Dump it in a big bowl.

3. Make your sauce. I did this step while my kids were napping. It's not difficult, but it takes a minute of patience and a few more minutes of undivided-ish attention. Melt half a stick of butter over medium heat in a heavy pot. Add three tablespoons of flour. Whisk until uniform. Stir for a couple of minutes to toast the flour. SLOWLY add your stock, whisking constantly. As the sauce thickens, add a bit more, then a bit more. If you add it all at once, your sauce will be watery and you'll blame me for making up bad recipes that disappoint your entire family.  Once it's thickened and you've added your stock, add your half and half using the same method. Let this simmer while you add a teaspoon of thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and your cooking sherry. Give it a good stir and let it simmer for a minute before turning off the heat.

4. Combine the sauteed vegetables with your chopped turkey. Add frozen vegetables if you wish. I added them for some extra nutrition and substance, but I have mixed feelings about frozen vegetables. On a more food snobbish day, I would have skipped them and increased my sauteed mix. Go with whatever moves you. Pour the sauce over all of it. Mix well.

5. Assemble your pies. Lay out three pie plates. You don't have to grease them. Spread your turkey mix evenly in the plates. Roll a pie crust over the top of each one. Tuck the edges down and cinch if you wish. Get a knife. Makes slits in your crust so the steam can escape.

6. Freeze two pies. Wrap them well first. They'll keep in the freezer for at least a month.

7. The other pie is for dinner tonight. An hour before you want to eat: Heat your oven to 350. Brush the top of your crust with a lightly beaten egg. Pop that pie into the oven. Start checking around 30 minutes. I cooked mine for 45 - you're watching for a nicely browned crust and bubbly edges.

8. WAIT! You're not done! That's only five meals. I promised six. Before you clean up: grab that turkey carcass. Plop it into a large pot of water. Add an onion, chopped roughly, a few broken carrots and stalks of celery, and two bay leaves. Salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for several hours, until the liquid is cloudy and reduced by 1/3 to 1/2. Strain the liquid - now you have stock. Use it to make a turkey stew, or separate and freeze in 4 cup quantities, which is the same size as those boxes you buy at the store.

9. Okay, now you can break out the bon bons and relax. In all practicality, you just prepared 3-4 meals in about an hour's time, using refrigerator staples and leftovers. Plus, if you're lucky like me, your two year old twins are only half an hour into a THREE AND A HALF HOUR afternoon nap. Hooray momma.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Honey and water

It has been so, so long since I've written about my kids. Truly written about them. I feel panicked when I realize this. All of these moments, all of this time that just keeps plowing forward...it baffles me and breaks my heart. I am so overwhelmed by the everything-ness of them. Watching them grow is like trying to cup water in my hands - no matter how tightly I press my fingers together, it somehow still slips through and falls away.

I am sometimes guilty of rushing bedtime for the boys. That last leg of the day before becoming an adult again, anxious to savor the indulgent few quiet hours where nobody is pulling on me or asking for juice, where Kyle and I hungrily soak up every luxurious moment of just being. I do love our evenings. But. Toddlers, teetering on the edge of sleep, slow down to the pace of honey rather than water. At bedtime I can't help but give them a hundred kisses, all over their still-round faces, their downy skin and deliciously fat cheeks, their soft jaws and little rubber noses.

The boys are not babies any more. They are tiny people as certain and forceful as the tides. They have gentle souls that pour out into everything they do and touch. They are the best of friends. I am endlessly amazed by the extent to which they are entirely individual in their beings. Rhys is independent, deeply sensitive, and has a remarkable assuredness. He becomes fully immersed in his play and his curiosity of the world, making his way through tasks at a pace he refuses to alter for any agenda other than his own. This is one of my favorite things about him. Getting him dressed or walking up a flight of stairs could easily take ten minutes. He is unapologetically true to himself. He has an incredible imagination and a deep, nurturing love for his toys and the stories he invents for them. Tonight, he is sleeping with a tiny rubber frog nestled into an egg carton. This is very typical. In the mornings, he crawls into bed with me and pushes his face against mine. "I wuv you mama. I wuv you the moon and stars."

Quin is funny, charming, and empathetic. He is boldly inquisitive and is the child who just last week, while in line at the fabric store, turned to me while pointing at the woman behind us to ask, "why she got purple hair?"  He loves music and dancing and piggy backs. His laugh is infectious and wild. He is a dutiful helper, and will often slip out the back door while telling me, "stay there. I be right back. I just getting a log for the fire." He'll then pull on Kyle's size 14 sandals and venture naked into the cold November air to pull a log half his size off  the wood pile. My efforts to stop this are entirely futile, so I've given up. I cannot keep clothes on him for more than twenty minutes at a time. His propensity for empathy and thoughtfulness are moving. Rhys was feeling sad at bedtime tonight. While I rubbed his back, Quin climbed out of bed but quickly returned, carrying a stuffed musical giraffe. He pulled the string. "I play music for Rhys," he explained, "and now he will not be sad."

Anwen's name means beautiful and pure; she is both of those things. She is an easy baby, full of joy and mischief. She loves her brothers and has every intention of keeping up with them. She has a head full of fuzzy wisps and big round eyes with heavy lashes and a beautifully bowed little mouth. Her birth and early infancy helped to bring me back from the trauma and sadness that surrounded the early days with the boys. She has renewed my faith in myself as a mother to a young infant by helping me to feel calm and confident, just as my pregnancy with her renewed my faith in my body's ability to nurture life. She is the answer to questions I hadn't yet acknowledged asking.

These first days since I've left my job have been bliss. The pace of our life has slowed to a crawl. I just feel happy. And peaceful. Incredibly, foolishly lucky. Every day. I feel like I'm looking at my children for the first time in months. I have nowhere to rush off to. No conference call. No email I need to get to. I'm just here. With them. I never expected motherhood to be a forceful lesson in mindfulness. It doesn't have to be. But what a tragedy to not allow it to be.

Monday, November 14, 2011


So I mentioned I left my job. Life had gotten so chaotic. I stopped being the mother I know I can be. We all have days when we're 'less than' mothers. Less than we know we could be. Less than we know we should be. Less than we'd hoped and dreamed of being. It's normal. But my 'less than' days were becoming my norm.  Something had to give.

We'd wanted me to stay home from the time the boys were born. But god. Life is expensive. So I went back to work. The first six months I was back at work were completely heartbreaking. I hated leaving them. At first I just worked a little. A small position. Eighteen hours. Mostly from home. I got used to it, and it was okay. Within a year, I somehow found myself back in my old position, except instead of doing the job in forty hours, I was trying to cram it into twenty five. It was stressful. I was struggling to maintain balance, but we made it work. Then Anwen was born. My game changer. I had a three month maternity leave. It was Spring and beautiful, and although I was adjusting to three under three, life was peaceful. Near the end of my three months, I started to panic. I didn't want to go back. Anwen wouldn't take a bottle, and I didn't want to leave her. When the day came for me to return, I brought her with me. I promised I'd work to get her to take a bottle. Week after week, she refused, and week after week I showed up at work with my baby wrapped cozily on my chest.  When Anwen was five months old, my boss asked me to bump my hours up to thirty per week. I was falling behind. I felt like a 'less than' mother at home and a 'less than' employee at work. Somewhere in between ear infections and twin two year old's who loved to murmur "I wuv you" in my ear, I had lost my passion for the work I was being paid to do. But I was scared to leave. I said yes to the thirty hours. It was the best mistake I've ever made.

For two months, I struggled to work thirty hours a week. My employers were so flexible with me. I was lucky. Although I worked mostly from home, I went in to the office about once a week. Each time, I'd show up with Anwen, who by now was crawling and making her presence known with loud exclamations of "AHHH!" throughout the day. I'd work at home at night when the kids were sleeping. During nap times. Our home life became total chaos. My time home with the kids was spent trying to frantically play catch up. Instead of playing with the boys, I was stripping beds and throwing in loads of laundry. Folding baskets full of clean clothes that had become wrinkled from sitting ignored for days, while the boys sat and watched tv. I was miserable and bitter. I resented everything.

Finally, it was clear Anwen couldn't come in to the office with me any more. She'd outstayed her welcome. I knew this day would come, but I had made no arrangements. She still wouldn't take a bottle. I had no desire to put her in any form of child care.

In the background, Kyle and I had been planning and restructuring our finances. For two and a half years, we chipped away at getting things in order. We sat down and looked at the numbers. It would be tight, but we thought we could make it work.

I gave my notice. Two and a half weeks.

Our house was a revolving door of sickness for those last eighteen days, culminating with my catching pneumonia just in time for my last week. I missed more than half the week, sick at home, feeling depressed and feverish. My last day came. I hobbled into the office, wearing a sick and cranky Anwen. It was completely anti-climatic, overshadowed by my seventh day of totally untreated pneumonia. (Which in itself could be another post entirely, but I'll spare you. Let's just say two doctors who told me "Just a cold!" three days apart were quite off the mark.)

That was Thursday.

Today it's Monday. My system is heavy with antibiotics for which I couldn't be more grateful. But more than that, the relief has set in. I've never felt more complete. I have over ten loads of laundry to fold. Several projects...several...waiting to be finished. All in good time. I took the kids to a nearby park with my mother. We had a picnic lunch. We played on the playground. It was the happiest I've felt since my last days of maternity leave. We came home and I tucked my sleepy boys into their beds. I picked up some toys.
I'm happy. I'm so, so happy.

I'm home.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

And about those changes...

I've had thoughts of starting a new blog. The idea of a clean slate, a fresh format, incorporating fancy new features...all are appealing to me. But this jumbled mess of my history from the last four years has me kind of attached. A lot has happened on this blog.

I read other blogs and am inspired by the focus. The clarity. The soundness and consistency of voice. My blog has none of these things. It is what I am from day to day. It is my evolution, and I'm not ready to let it go. I'm still evolving.

I'm going to meet myself half way, though. I won't abandon ship here, but I am going to try and spruce it up a bit. A little clarity of voice would be helpful. And features...I'm going to try some. There are things I want to weigh in on and examine, conversations I want to add my voice to. Parenting choices and style are a big one.  As a feminist, I'm offended by and concerned about much of the parenting advice and philosophy that is becoming predominant. So much of it seems to come with the underlying assertion that relying on one's inner voice and wisdom isn't enough...that we need to read philosophical books on children to understand the beings we have created. Regardless of one's personal parenting decisions, I think any philosophy that praises its followers and condemns others is cause for concern. I'm going to begin blogging somewhat regularly on my own evolution as a parent and how I'm sorting through the rhetoric to find what feels right for our family.

I'll be reintroducing the cast of characters that make up my family...somewhere in the craziness I stopped capturing the growth and craziness of our joint life together. I miss that.

I'm toying with the possibility of introducing some posts on cooking. I love to cook and love to read about cooking. If I can find a way to harmonize with some posts on what I'm whipping up, I will.

Also in consideration...some posts on thriftiness. I began couponing (don't gag yet) a couple of months ago to try and save some money so that my staying home with the kids would be more affordable. In no way do I ever want to become a couponing blog, (though there are some fantastic ones out there) but I do think there is space to highlight the fact that couponing and living a holistic lifestyle are not mutually exclusive.

I definitely plan to work in ongoing posts on mastering the art of domestic goddess-hood. Leaving my seven year career in non-profits, I am coming home with a lot of skills that I plan to maintain and keep entirely relevant in the homestead. I'm a kick-ass planner and an even more kick-ass time manager. Life with three little ones may be chaotic, but it doesn't mean I can't implement some crazy underlying organizational structure to help keep the peace. I know what I'm talking about...at least a little bit. In the past two years and ten months since I became a mother, I've spent seven months exclusively at home (maternity leaves), and the remainder as a working mom, working between eighteen and thirty hours a week, most of those hours from home. Balancing chaos has become an art form in our house.

So we'll see how this all unfolds, It will be a growing process as I figure out what works and what doesn't...at home and for my blog.

I hope you'll still follow along. (And comment, to let me know what is working and what is painfully boring!)

Monday, November 7, 2011

There's Gonna Be Some Changes Made.

I quit my job.

My last day is Thursday.

Life was too chaotic. I was unhappy.

Three beautiful babies, a kick-ass husband, and I was unhappy. Stretched far too thin for far too long.

My writing is rusty, and terribly neglected.

That had best change, because I think I'm going to have a lot to write about on this next leg of my journey, where I throw myself into the role of domestic goddess.

Except instead of wearing heels and an apron, I'll probably be in sweats and a nursing tank. With spaghetti sauce in my hair.

I can't wait.