Tag Archives: family

“We Will All…Fall”

“We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point of our lives (pause) fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts, that what we have is special. That it can be taken away from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.”

Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights

Life is brutally hard, sometimes. For me, anyway. I have found great solace lately in focusing on the positive, whether by changing my thought patterns or through my own vision. Seeing with my own eyes the dazzling natural beauty we are surrounded by, observing the goodness of the mundane: it helps. I use my curiosity about the world to wonder why my tomatoes didn’t grow very well this year, and why my chard did. I enjoy satiating my own children’s curiosity by exploring topics they want to know more about. I make their lunch with homegrown apples and carrots and fine organic yogurt from our local creamery: this makes me happy. I keep up with the laundry, taking pride in the excellent folding I do. I provide the twins with fresh, downy sheets and towels and underwear and socks. I rearrange my closet with cute, pre-arranged outfits, complete with jewelry and shoes, to make getting out the door easier. I try to outfit our life with beauty.

Even reading the list above makes it easy to remember that I did some good today, even though I failed more than I succeeded, that I feel so alone in my day-to-day life. That I feel so achingly responsible for everything and everybody.

Infertility and loss (and did you know that it was pregnancy and infant loss remembrance month?) is when I fell, to quote Coach Taylor. Those experiences tested me, severely. They isolated me. They made me look inside myself.

Today I was chatting to Darcy about my college experience (a four year sojourn in one of the most beautiful places on earth where I made many friends and spent most days in yellow sunshine), as opposed to the miserable East Coast weather and highly academically competitive university he went to. He often thinks I went to the wrong school: that those sunny, mellow years didn’t suit my personality or make me as tough as I need to be. I don’t know: in some ways, he’s right. But in other ways, I’m glad I have that bedrock of happiness to look back on.

Because when I fell, first during my illness and then my failed IVF cycle and loss, I needed to remember what happiness was. Happiness was running on a warm abandoned beach with the surf gently beating a slow tattoo, while I gazed upon a sailboat harbored, glittering in the sunlight. Joy was boarding the EuroStar and arriving at the Gare du Nord, and noticing that even the ugliest buildings in Paris had beautiful architectural details and balconies that welcomed coffee breaks.

Parenting twins is not parenting triplets or quads. But it is the Mt. McKinley of parenting, especially when your husband works such tough hours and the kids are testing boundaries like those Velocirapters in their pen in Jurassic Park. My children are wonderfully bright. But precocious as heck.

Sometimes my mood goes from zero to 100 and back all in one hour. How can my mood swing so dramatically based on parenting? Yet it does.

Somedays, like today, I think about all my friends still in the trenches and I grit my teeth.

I think: I am lucky. I am lucky.

***

I am lucky.

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Filed under Discovering joy, Family

The Beauty of Life

Oh, boy. This weekend, it kinda blew. Ear infections, tantrums, exhaustion, etc.

I will spare you all the details, because my Mom and some friends made it better.

Amidst the chaos and the difficulties, as always, there was beauty. I struggle to express the beauty I see without feeling like I am sugar-coating life and making it less authentic. But, beauty is always there. It is. And the more I notice it, the better I feel.

We ate that freaking delicious (if wonky) cake all weekend long: it actually tasted better with each day that passed.

We spent one last day at the beach.

Our tree continues its yearly odyssey into winter. Trees losing their leaves? Beautiful, but it is a display of loss. Maybe the finiteness of life makes me enjoy the display. But I blushed with pleasure when our neighbor told us how much they enjoy watching our tree from their living room window. I’m glad something we have brings beauty into someone else’s life.

I’m in PHASE TWO of The You Project. Which is: trying to change each negative thought I have into a positive. At first it was difficult, but today I’m finding it much easier. The more you do it, the more it becomes a pattern.

For example, Jjiraffe’s internal monologue:

“You are letting the twins watch ‘My Little Ponies’ again. Rainbow Dash is not a positive role model. You suck.”

Positive thought insertion:

“You don’t suck. You are only letting them watch that because the preschool has had holidays 33% of the school year so far, and if you don’t do this, no laundry or dishes will get done.”

It works.

I have also been allowing myself to watch Freaks and Geeks as a treat once the twins have gone to bed. By myself. Watching each episode is like a spa treatment. How did that show only last one season?

Finally, I am freaking proud of myself for making that cake. It’s by far the most delicious dessert I have ever baked. And next time, I can double the frosting recipe and it will look as beautiful as it tasted. Practice: whether baking cakes or telling yourself what you need to hear or reminding yourself of the beauty in this world.

Practice Makes Perfect.

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Filed under Discovering joy, Family, Parenting After IF

Replacing The Bad With the Good

One of the exercises I’m really liking from Keiko Zoll’s The You Project (the best $7.50 I’ve spent in AGES, by the way) is writing down the negative things I think about myself during the day.

There are a lot of them.

Most fall within a specific pattern: I tend to feel I let others down, then I feel guilty about it.

Darcy had a birthday and we make a big deal about birthdays around here. I spent 4 1/2 hours baking him a homemade chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. In a way, cake-making might be the biggest nightmare out there for perfectionists who are hard on themselves. (Remember how baking a cake caused one character to have a nervous breakdown in “The Hours?”) The cake tasted incredible, but it looked in a word: WONKY. I didn’t make enough of the buttercream frosting so it wasn’t covered completely. The buttercream recipe was completely fussy and required me to add very small amounts of confectioner’s sugar over the period of an hour to the butter. Again it tasted incredible. Darcy (who never holds back his words and whose opinion I care most about) loved it.

It didn’t look picture perfect.

So I was simultaneously annoyed with myself for not DOING IT RIGHT then I beat myself up because I didn’t include my kids in the baking of this cake like the French do, then I thought, why do I care so much about making things the best?

That’s a bad wormhole to go down.

In addition, I have a friend who has the worst timing in the world, at least when it comes to our friendship. She calls at the worst possible moments, shows up when I’m in the MIDDLE of something or when the house is a total wreck. I’m always explaining, it’s not me, it’s you, I’m tired, I’m sick. It’s happened enough to strain our entire friendship.

Today I woke up with the feeling that someone was sticking a dull, cheap Ikea Allen wrench deep into my left ear every 15-20 seconds. It hurt a lot. I was able to make it to a doctor’s appointment, and he quickly told me I had a nasty ear infection and I needed antibiotics.

Poor Darcy took the day off for Yom Kippur and went to services without me, drove me to the Doctor with the kids, dropped us off then went to pick up the meds.

During the doctor’s visit, my friend called. I didn’t answer. Then as soon as I got into bed, trying to amuse the kids while still feeling the dull pain of the Allen wrench, she texted me and said she was around the corner with her daughter visiting her dad.

I did not answer her text.

Readers, I hid the phone behind my pillow.

Darcy got home and said he had seen my friend at the drugstore while he was picking up my antibiotics. She was really upset and wanted to hang out. She was sick of my excuses, he could tell. He felt badly for her.

I let down a friend today. I didn’t value her friendship enough to put away my own suffering and blithely serve her the leftover chocolate cake. Which is what I should have done.

I don’t really know how to atone for this.

Keiko Zoll tells me that for each negative self-thought, I need to show myself one kindness.

So right now I write this entry, because what I love to do is write. And tomorrow, I will call my friend (even though I hate talking on the phone) and try to make it up to her.

***

Do you have negative self-thoughts? How do you ignore them/get past them?

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Filed under cooking?!?, Family

Family Outing

One of the many reasons I love our neighborhood is that it feels like a cocoon when you enter it. Tall, mature elms and Oaks block out the heavy traffic nearby, lavender, green lawns and large lots provide trappings of privacy yet there is a distinct feeling of neighborhood. Within this wooded and private retreat, we are lucky enough to have friends and family who live nearby. Best of all, the twins have two boy second cousins, one the same age as them, and they love to have rowdy light saber and robot battles. My daughter bosses them all around.

My favorite occasions are when one of the families hosts a dinner and instead of having to say no, we don’t have any babysitters, we are told to bring the kids along. Best of all, we walk a brisk 10 minute wooded trail to reach the cousins.

The children play together and tend to work out their own battles (mostly) while the adults adjourn to the outside table, overlooking the lawn and play area. It’s comfortable, we hold witty banter and just enjoy the company.

Tonight’s Menu: Smoked brisket, potatoes lyonnaise, broccoli and a homemade chocolate cake in preparation for Darcy’s birthday (in a few weeks).

After a spirited and disturbing discussion of “Deliverance” (which I have never seen) we retired home, pushing the stroller within our safe confines, with me pushing the Citi-Mini a bit faster than necessary because of the chill that had settled in quite suddenly.

We changed and tucked our little ones into bed.

I never had cousins who lived nearby and I feel privileged to be able to provide my children with this experience. The twins and their younger cousin are almost like triplets because with such close birthdays, they will enter their kindergarten class together. This makes me very happy.

He also makes me very happy.

Are you close to extended family? Do you like to interact with them?

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Filed under Family, Parenting After IF

The End of the Road

My neighborhood is at the beginning of a long road, one named for the famous explorer who “discovered” California. As if it hadn’t been here the whole time.

My husband’s car has been unreliable in the last few months. It’s been to the repair shop a few times. The long faithful automobile is 14 years old (in fact it was constructed the year Darcy and I met) and Darcy had been postponing the inevitable for quite a while. (Mostly because of the plumbing and repairs to our basement that need to be done.) But he finally had to give in and purchase a new vehicle this weekend.

We decided to take it out for a spin with the kids. He drove along our long road for many familiar, happy miles until we reached a sunny seaside town that I love, where we ate oysters gathered a mile away.

Full and happy, we decided to do something rather foolish. We decided to follow the road until the very end, where the land meets the sea and a lighthouse marks the divide. Neither of us, even though we are locals, could remember visiting this landmark.

We set out for our journey amidst the bright sunshine. “Where are we going?” my daughter asked. “To visit a lighthouse,” I replied. “There’s a lot of fog where lighthouses are,” proclaimed Cassandra.

Almost immediately after her prediction, we winded up the two-lane byway and ran straight into some wisps of cloud which became a regular bank of that heavy, migraine-producing white pea soup the Northern Pacific Ocean is renowned for creating. We also noticed a steady stream of cars headed back, ominously, towards the sunshine.

“Should we go on?” Darcy asked. We both tend to get headaches from heavy fog.

“Yes,” I replied steadily. I wanted to reach the end. I wanted to show the children that lighthouse.

Google maps did not indicate just how many hairpin turns and winding sections our road produced. Our road! The one which was so orderly and well-traveled near us had become wild and unpredictable, with cattle grates and cars passing slower vehicles. It took 25 long minutes to go but a few miles. Finally, we reached an area of thick traffic, thicker fog, and cars parking along the side of the street. One car was leaving.

“Let’s park there!” I exclaimed.

We did. And we joined throngs of families and couples and tourists, hastily wrapping themselves in cardigans and sweatshirts, bracing themselves against the wind.

“I want to go back!” cried my daughter. “I’m cold!”

Darcy stopped a young couple heading back, towards us. I thought maybe they were honeymooners.

“How far to the lighthouse?” he questioned.

“40 minutes, at least,” explained the man.

“What?” I started. “How?!”

“You have to walk 15 more minutes,” the woman said. “Then you have to wait in the line for the tour. There are so many people waiting for the tour that you can’t get past them. You can’t even see the lighthouse, it’s so foggy.”

Well, we went back. We weren’t ready or prepared to wait in line. Our clothes were too thin. Our energy was too low. Our heads had already begun to ache.

“I want to see the lighthouse!” my son cried.

“Another time,” I said. Another time.

So we went home and I harvested some chard from our garden and cooked it.

After dinner, I read this extraordinary post about Luna’s blog, from Sam, a young woman. Luna is parenting after infertility and loss, and the woman notes:

“I started reading (Luna’s) story at the point she got pregnant with her second daughter. I read through her pregnancy up to current posts. Then I went back to her very first post (4ish years ago I believe?) and have been reading from there forward. It’s been actually really cool for me in a weird way. Since I know how the story ends, since I know what’s next, sometimes I find myself smiling when she talks about the pain of thinking she’ll never be pregnant again. Or the uncertainty of the adoption process, if it will work, if they’ll have a baby, if it will be a good relationship. I smile because I know how it ends. I can see 2 years down the road. I smile because I just want to say: it’s right there. Just hang on.”

Would you want to see to the end of the road? Not just your journey through infertility, but to the end of your story? Why or why not?

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Filed under Parenting After IF, What Say You?

“Bringing Up Bebe”: Book Review, Part Two

Stumbling Gracefully is hosting a book club and the book we are currently reviewing is “Bringing Up Bebe,” by Pamela Druckerman.

In Part One, I revealed my own roots as a Francophile and my connections to France.

So, Part Deux: The Review

Pamela Druckerman is an ex-pat who lives in Paris and, like many writers before her, she finds fruitful writing ground in cross-cultural differences. Specifically, she finds her own child-rearing techniques lacking compared to the French parents she meets. She notices that French children behave well in restaurants, sleep through the nights early on and seem to have a politeness and belief in the authority of their parents that her own children and the American children she knows do not. So she sets out to find “the secret” to the way the French raise their children.

In light of the Time Magazine “Mom Enough” controversy and the very real “Mom Wars” currently raging in the US, I’m tempted to say that there IS a secret and that is: there doesn’t seem to be any debate in France at all about how to raise children.

But, let me move on to what Druckerman observes. She first notices that culturally, childbirth is different in France:

“French moms often ask me where I plan to deliver, but never how. They don’t seem to care. In France, the way you give birth doesn’t situate you within a value system or define the sort of parents you will be.”

The national health system there covers Druckerman’s hospital stay for six days. There is not the strong focus on breastfeeding in France either. Most women don’t breastfeed there.

This is explained partially by the state-covered childcare, which Druckerman extols in terms of its quality and availability. With such a system in place, the vast majority of French women return to the workplace: there isn’t the same agonizing of whether to stay home. Staying at home seems to not even interest the vast majority of French parents Druckerman knows.

Druckerman also notices that most French infants begin “doing their nights,” or sleeping through the night, very early: usually beginning at six weeks. Druckerman figures out, after interviewing French parenting authorities and parents alike, that French parents use a method she calls “the pause.” “The pause” essentially means that when a baby cries the parent will “pause” and wait to see if the child can self-soothe and fall asleep quickly on its own before picking the child up.

And with “the pause” begins perhaps the central tenet in French parenting, as Druckerman describes it. “The pause” is an introduction to the key French concept of delaying gratification. They teach children to wait before eating dessert, to wait before rejecting food they haven’t tried and to wait for their parents to finish talking before they chime in. That’s not to say they are not tuned in to their children: part of what Druckerman observes is that French parents are very attuned and listen to what their children say. They just don’t necessarily give in to what their children want.

Also key: the sense of “cadre,” or parental authority. The authority of the parents is pretty absolute. What seems different to Druckerman is that French parents seem quite confident in laying down the law. There seems to be no hesitation or guilt when parents tell their children “no.” And the word “no” is apparently not used sparingly.

The relationship between the parents is apparently treated as sacrosanct. Ayelet Waldman’s infamous New York Times article would probably have been totally ignored over there. Says Virginie, a French parent:

“The couple is the most important. It’s the only thing you chose in life. You didn’t choose your children. You chose your husband. So, you’re going to have to make your life with him. So you have an interest in whether in it going well. Especially when the children leave, you want to get along with him. For me, it’s the prioritaire.”

I could go on and on about the two major influences of French parenting authority (Rousseau, who my dad pointed out abandoned his own children at an orphanage, and a pioneering woman in the 60s named Francoise Dolto) and the advantages of the creche (daycare) where delicious three course meals are served to children.

But here’s where I note my impressions of Pamela Druckerman. She is a charming writer, and an insecure woman amongst a population of beautifully dressed women who seemly maintain it all: their looks, their weight, their jobs and their love lives with their husbands. I mean, I get it. Sub in Lulemon yoga outfits for skinny jeans and boots and impossibly fit physiques and Pamela is me: feeling like a fish out of water.

I tend to take a more skeptical look at things than Druckerman, however. I have to admit that I gave the book the side-eye a few times. Druckerman would repeatedly tell the same story: she would think she wouldn’t like a certain parenting technique then she tries it and BOOM! It works! Eyeroll.

Mainly though it raised the question: why? Why do we Americans constantly feel so insecure and unsure about how to raise our children? Why are we so defensive about what choices we make? Why ARE there so many choices on how to parent?

Here’s where I decide: I’m going with what my parents taught me. I’ll never be the amazingly nurturing personality my mom is, but I’ll do my best. I agree with my dad that education, politeness and teaching your children to question are the defining virtues of parenting.

And, I will do my best to not compare that and contrast it with what’s out there. Because I’m doing my best. That will be enough.

Final cultural note from my in-laws who just spent a month living in Paris: they went out to dinner with friends with children and the children did NOT sit during dinner, they were LOUD and they didn’t particularly listen to their parents EITHER.

So, there’s that.

And here’s a photo of my children and myself in the latest styles of Paris, as procured by MIL. Because I’m shallow and what I love most about France is the fashion and the food 😉

To read more reviews, click here.

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Filed under Bringing Up Bebe Book Club, writing

Cooking the Classics: St. Patrick’s Day Revisited

Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one.  Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between.

I made our traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner late this year.  There are some reasons for this which don’t particularly make me glad.

I married into a clan and they are very family-oriented.  I have traded in much to fit into this family: my religion, my holidays, my free time.  (Kidding! Sort of.)  Most of the time, for many reasons complicated and varied, I am just fine with that decision.  Happy, even.  I didn’t grow up with extended family around, and my own parents and brother have moved across the country and we see them rarely.  So, family.  Good to have around.

There are some times however when I begin to chafe at the obligations.

I begin cooking my St. Patrick’s Day meal by boiling a large, four pound cut of corned beef.  It simmers with peppercorns and bay leafs for at least three hours.

After we had kids, my big line in the sand was St. Patrick’s Day.  My mom did some genealogical research recently, and it turns out my family is not as Irish as we thought.  In fact, we’re mostly English.  Be that as it may, every year growing up I looked forward to the annual, special St. Patrick’s Day feast.  The food, it was not gourmet.  It was not fancy.  But it was made with love, it was homemade and it was delicious.

While the corned beef is boiling, I start making the Irish Soda Bread.  Just the Joy of Cooking recipe, nothing special.  I whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sugar together, then add the raisins and caraway seeds.  I had trouble finding those seeds at the grocery store.  Are they Irish?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then whisk butter, egg and buttermilk together.  It all looks a bit granular.  Is that OK?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mix the buttermilk batter with the dry ingredients, and it seems to be a sticky mess.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I pile it on a baking sheet and hope for the best.

It’s important to me that the kids experience at least one tradition that I had growing up.  So each year, I plan a St. Patty’s Day menu.  This year, the week of St. Patrick’s Day, I had two birthday dinners (one for a family member, one for a friend) and a pre-school religious festival that I helped plan and organize. St. Patrick’s Day got lost in the shuffle.

I have to double the baking time for the Irish Soda Bread.  I think our oven is really old?

I felt horribly guilty about this.  I decided to make the dinner on Sunday night, when Darcy was around to watch the kids.  Sunday night we have a standing date for a family dinner elsewhere.  We have already attended two family occasions this week, so we decided to invite the family over to our house for dinner instead.  I bought the ingredients.  I bought the lilies and Irish bells for the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I pick rosemary from our herb garden.  I wash it well.  I don’t want the “je ne sais quoi” of the meal to be radioactivity.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The family, not pleased.  Standing date claimed, the wish to have dinner at their own house cited.  Pressure was exerted.  Darcy held firm.

I roast the fancy small potatoes I got from Whole Foods with our local rosemary, garlic and olive oil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I arrange the corned beef on a platter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I boil the cabbage in the corned beef water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I serve the soda bread, which looked and tasted like a giant scone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my perfect moment was the following:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own home-cooked, hard won St Patty’s Day meal, served to my immediate family of four.  Served homemade, and with love.

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Filed under Cooking the Classics, cooking?!?, Discovering joy, Perfect Moment, The Reluctant Cook