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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mirrors usually tell the truth

When I glanced at my reflection tonight, quickly darting over the parts I know too well that I'd rather not focus on, and going to the ones I can usually find something kind to say to myself about, I couldn't help but think "Who the hell is that woman?". The dark circles seem almost physically imprinted under my eyes, like the shadowy hollow that is left after being really ill. The color I might normally have swiped over my cheeks and lips was long gone. The mascara flaking off my tired eyelashes. The "clean" shirt I changed into after work already stretched out, wet from tantrum splashes and a writhing, wet kid at bathtime. And, my first thought was not "man, I need more sleep" but more along the lines of "surely I don't look that bad in real life, right?".

And then, my thoughts were broken up by a still-screaming preschooler who has been having one tantrum or another for nearly the entirety of the 2 waking hours on either side of the work day I've been with her. And, I would say this is just a particularly rough day, everyone surely has these moments...but lately it's been the norm for her to scream/cry/whine/hit/kick/thrash/go limp/go ninja for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-4 hours of the day, as long as she is in my presence.

Instead of meeting her needs with kindness, with strong, welcoming, supportive arms, with all the right words to soothe her tears and build her confidence like the mother I always imagined I would be, I meet her screams with my own. I mirror her tears with the same salty, burning hot ones from my own eyes. I swear. I shout at my spouse. I seethe with red-hot anger at myself for the fact that I have absolutely no idea what the hell to do.

When I screamed at her "YOU ARE MAKING ME SO F*&%ING ANGRY" and her tiny reply through tears was "well you are making ME angry!"... I remembered that we tend to mirror each other, and what we see across from us is probably what the other is looking at, too. We butt heads because we are so alike. We are both seeking acceptance and love from the other. She needs me to keep on being here for her, even when she's terribly hard to be around. I need her to keep on being here for me, and reminding me that she does still need me, and that she keeps asking for my love, even when I'm not so great to be around, either.

So, yeah, next time I glance at my reflection and think "who the hell is that exhausted, burned out, glazed over woman?"...the mirror probably is telling the truth. It's me. I'm just a mama, trying her best, plain and simple.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Don't bend me or I will break

I haven't written in nearly a year. I have so many stories that need to be told, stories that my life has written out in those many moments. Stories that make me laugh, and stories that took a piece of my heart when they marched on. But there's no way to catch up on life lived out, only stand in the present, looking ahead.

And the present, it hasn't been the easiest place to stand. It's not that much of my story hasn't been told before, by working mamas, by wives, by those in professions wherein loss and heartache are the norm rather than the exception. But my own unique experience of those's an amalgam of the joy and pride I feel in being a mother and spouse, in having a career I should be confident in, and fear and insecurity about the uncertainties of the future, of my own success, value and worth to those around me.

I have the beautiful privilege of walking with families through arguably the most difficult experiences any family will know. It's my job to be something for them that they cannot be for themselves. I've taught myself how to balance being emotionally present with them without shredding the tender pockets of my own least I thought so until this week. And like I've told myself for the past four years since the last one that brought me to my knees and almost put an early end to my career as a medical social worker, there will be others, surely, that will tap little cracks into the harder shell I created around that tender heart.  Until now, it hadn't happened.

But, now it has. There is a tiny little baby boy in our care who desperately needs a liver transplant. But his body is too sick, too septic and malnourished, to receive one right now. We can't even offer the parents the promise that we will do everything we know of to save him...because we know what to do but aren't in control of when that can happen.

Today, as I walked into his room, his mother curled up in the hospital crib, cradling his tiny frail body in the curves of hers, as though she wanted to crawl inside his skin instead of him. I know that's what she's thinking, because it's exactly what I would do if my baby were in that crib instead. Giving her strength over to him, telling him to fight for something harder than anyone should have to in their whole life, certainly not at 4 months old. And watching her husband, a military man who is due to report back to base in 3 days, hold them together while talking to the physician and asking questions he must never have imagined he'd form words to ask...that harder shell I thought I'd built...started cracking wide open.

Leaving that place at the end of the day, to walk out into the sunshine and play music in my car, drive myself to teach Zumba, to move and push my body to feel alive, to think about my family and what we will eat tonight. To know that my own baby has been missing me for 12 hours, and that is my biggest hardship today. The sense of caregiver guilt has become a battle I had forgotten about fighting. Why do I deserve the happiness and health my family has? Why isn't it my baby in that bed? Thank goodness it isn't...but what does that make me to think?

These are questions I can't answer. They only bring more questions into my mind. Like, how am I going to go back there tomorrow...check the census and scan for his name. Will he be there? Will the conversation with family be one of relief that another night has passed and he's with them? Or will it be one of grief and loss and planning something they never wanted to plan in their lives? Will I hold them up, or will I break down too?

These are the thoughts in my head this week. And then, just like that, I'm also thinking about whether the spaghetti stains came out of Norah's new shirt, and did I remember to brush her teeth tonight, and shoot the car needs gas before driving to work tomorrow. Oh, and she needs milk. Picking out my outfit for the day in my head...only to realize tomorrow that I can't find that belt, and that top isn't really clean. And, oh, will that sweet baby boy be curled into his mamas body tomorrow, or will she have to pull herself away from his tiny, puffy, line covered body for the last time? And, will I break, or will the shell hold this time?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Summer catch-up

Well...the summer is over and I only updated this blog once! We really had some great adventures and made some wonderful family memories with Norah, now that she is getting old enough to actually talk about and recall things that happened longer than 20 minutes ago.

We took a family trip to Boyne this July and Norah absolutely loved every minute of it! Rather than re-upload 800 pictures, I'll share the link to our photo album and if you want to flip through feel free :)

We have pent lots of time outside, riding bikes, playing on her slip n slide, taking walks, going to "the blue park" and generally soaking up as much childhood summer whimsy as we can. Mostly I've had my iphone handy for taking photos, so these shots are the best I can do for a taste of our summer:

S'mores by the bonfire

ice cream dates with mama

Down the slip n slide

and a duck! 
So many bubbles! 
On my head!

and a beard! 

Daddy's birthday cake 
Being a doggy doc

new leotard for gymnastics, won't take it off (even slept in it)
Elbel Field band practice 

First game day, waiting for the band to march by
there they are! 

so excited!

hairuts, haircuts! all around!
tea party with Mary Read's vintage tea set (she was like a grandmother to me growing up!) 
tea party with Julia

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strawberry Jam 101

So, after picking 23 lbs of strawberries, one must decide what to do with some of that beautiful bounty. They were almost too pretty to cut up, but once I started I was on a mission. 

The first step in making jam (or canning anything) is to gather your supplies. You need: 

a large canning pot (preferably with a canning rack inside)
jar lifting tongs 
clean mason jars with lid rings and new lid inserts  
whatever you plan to use to fill the jars. I didn't have a wide mouth funnel, but using a 1/2 c. measuring cup worked just fine.  

You need to sterilize your jars and utensils to be sure no bacteria gets sealed into your jars and ruins your jam (that would be a complete travesty!).  I threw everything I would be using into the dishwasher and set to the sanitize cycle.  

Next, to start making your jam, you have to make it in small batches or it won't set.  I followed the proportions from the original Ball Canning recipe.  

Per batch:

5 c. mashed strawberries 
1 box Sure-Jell pectin
7 cups sugar (I know!)
4 T. lemon juice
1 t. butter

Start by mashing up your hulled strawberries with a potato masher until you have 5 cups of fruit. Pour that beautiful mess into a large saucepan.  

Add a small pat of butter, which helps to reduce the foam produced as your jam cooks (which you will have to scrape off later, but this decreases the work at that step)

Pour your pectin in, and whisk to be sure all clumps are dissolved.  Add the lemon juice.  Now get that strawberry pulp boiling! It needs to get to a rolling boil for at least a few minutes - the longer you boil it the more the fruit breaks down so if you want chunkier jam just let it go a few once it gets up to a rolling boil (this means you can't stir it down, it just keeps boiling despite stirring).  Then it's time to add ALL that sugar...there are recipes that call for less, and you have to use a special low-sugar pectin, but for my first try I thought I'd go old school and do it the way our grandmas all did. I mean, jam isn't supposed to be sugar free, right?

Once you add the sugar, bring it all back up to a rolling boil again. Let that go about 1-1.5 minutes once it gets there, and then turn off your heat. After it cools a few minutes, scrape off any foam that formed (but don't throw it away! It's still delicious, just doesn't look so pretty in your jars of jam. Just think of it as a sample.)

While your jam is cooking, you need to multitask to prepare your jars.  Get enough water in your canning pot to cover at least 2 inches above your jars. Put the sanitized jars on in there, and get the water simmering. This is to ensure that the glass and the jam are about the same temperature so when you fill them they don't burst! 

In another pan, get your lids in simmering water as well. The sticky part of the ring needs to heat up to get gummy enough to make a good seal.  Be sure you have some metal tongs or a special magnetic wand to lift them out of the water when you need them.  

Ok, so when your jars are ready, your jam is ready, and you are ready, it's time to fill them up and get canning! One at a time, take a jar out of the large pot using your jar lifter tongs, drain the water back into the pot, and set on the counter. Fill it with jam, then wipe the top of the ring off to be sure you catch any drips.  If it seems like there are bubbles in there, you can tap your jar on the counter, but be careful because it's hot! Or, you can slide a knife around inside the jar.  To be honest, I skipped both of these steps and it turned out fine! 

Next, get a lid out of the pan, center it on your jar, and put a ring on, screwing just enough to get some resistance (i.e don't screw it on super tight or you'll never get it off!).  Repeat with all your jars until your jam is used up.  Place them back into the large pot of boiling water, and be sure they are all upright and covered with water. Cover the pot and boil at a rolling boil for 10 minutes, and then take the lid off, letting them sit in the water for 5 minutes before removing them to equalize the pressure.  Then carefully using your jar lifters, take each one out, and set it on your counter. Do not mess with the jars, they will seal and you will hear "pop-pop-pop" as those lids seal while the jam cools! Music to your ears after all that work :) If any don't seal, don't worry, just toss them in your fridge and they will last for weeks...if you don't eat it first. 

Strawberry Picking

We are in peak strawberry season in Michigan right now, and there truly is nothing sweeter or more perfect than a sun-ripened strawberry picked and eaten right there in the field.  We decided to try and take Norah to the u-pick farm near us and see how she did this summer, and it was an absolute success! We went to DeGroots Farm in Gregory, MI and the picking was good, prices were great ($1.58/lb!) and the atmosphere was friendly and low-key.

 It seems that two years and two months is the perfect age for strawberry picking - she enjoyed eating the fruit, helping us load up the carton and dump it into the flat, she didn't whine about the heat or having to go potty or how tired she was or that her legs itched or... (like a few of the older kids in rows near us).

Looking for the red ones

Dedication to the cause, right there

SO juicy Mama! "Dis 'trawbewwy yummy!"

She also loved the small farm animals area with goats, baby pigs, chickens, and peacocks.  
They had 9 baby goats, and she was thrilled to be able to feed them! 

These guys are LOUD! One little girl near us goes "Hey, it's Kevin!" (if you've seen Up, that's the crazy bird they meet...peacock yelps totally sound like Kevin!)

These goats just climb all over the place, Norah found it quite amusing! 

We ended up with nearly two flats - 23 lbs of berries! I'd say that's good work for two adults and one toddler in an hour and a half! 

Next up - my first canning adventure and making strawberry jam! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013


The word carries differing connotations depending on the words we use surrounding it. This week, to me, it best describes the weight I sometimes feel is carried in my heart, just by loving my child so fiercely. Motherload. The load of the emotions I have for my family is so great, so beautiful, and yet so completely overwhelming that when the world around us seems so ugly and uncertain, the load of my love can almost feel crippling. I'm not a religious person, and I don't even think I have a strong belief in whatever I might call my own spirituality...I generally feel that in raising my daughter I want to teach her through my words, my actions, that we treat one another with grace, dignity, love, and we will see the same in return. But then. Then, these things are proven wrong, again and again. Bombings, shootings, accidental explosions. Innocent people, doing the things they feel to be fulfilling, productive, loving, taken too soon. And sometimes, it just feels like too much for my mama heart to hold, this notion that I can't protect my child purely with love.  That even when I do the things I believe to teach her about good, the slinking shadow of hate may still show its face at any given moment.

I've read many bloggers' accounts and thoughts this week following the Boston Marathon bombings about parenthood in this world as we know it. I've been inspired, and brought to tears, and reminded that more than hate, there is love. And I have tried to let it prevail for myself this week, and not to let hate swirling around weigh down my heart. Last night after Norah was asleep, I laid my hand across her chest, feeling the strong, quick beats of her tiny heart. I was overcome by the feeling that from my own body came this perfect creature, so pure and full of promise, so very loved, and so vulnerable. How do we as mamas, carry on, knowing that these little beings we literally grew within our own bodies, are out in the world?  I know this is no unique plight, but rather one that I'm sure has weighed on the hearts of mamas for all of our existence.

Mama friends, how do you carry on? What do you talk to your children about if they are old enough to ask questions when things like this happen?  I feel like I'm needing my village right now, to share some of the Motherload.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

3 minutes...

That's all the time it took to "lose" my daughter last night. We were re-making the bed after the previous night's multiple rounds of having a pukey child sleep with us, and she was happily playing with her animals and having "tea" in her playroom right next to our room. I snapped the last pillowcase on and walked around the corner to get her for bed...and she wasn't there. I called her name, and no answer. I went to her room, not there in the chair or the bed (which is currently hiding under a "tent" of sheets strung from the ceiling). I walked out to the living room, dining room, kitchen. Calling her name. Looked under the table, in the lazy susan (where she sometimes retreats to sneak a snack or swipe sugar from the canister). Not there. I started to get a little concerned that I could not find her, and asked Matt to come help me look. The gate to downstairs was latched, but the front door was unlocked, having just let Lainey out one last time for the night. She still stood on the porch, looking out over the dark, rainy yard, probably sizing up what lovely thing she would like to roll in.

We did another, slightly more frantic, walk through upstairs, calling her name, looking again in all the same places. Bathrooms? No. Bedrooms? No. Kitchen, dining room, living room, front hall closet? No. Garage? Not that I could see. Suddenly, I had the sinking, awful panicky feeling that she had gone out the front door which I had left unlocked, into the dark night. I raced outside, and started calling her name, my voice loud and uncertain, my mind starting to conjure horrible images of the possible scenarios in which I suddenly felt I could very realistically find her.

I ran through the front yard, not seeing her, hoping if she'd gone to the road someone would have seen her before the unthinkable happened and come to knock on our door. Then, it hit me. The pond in the backyard.  At dinner she was standing by the sliding glass door, looking out into the dusk and saying "Go see water". We said "No, not tonight. It's too chilly/wet/dark. It's bedtime". I thought for sure she must have wandered to the back to check it out. I raced down the wet grassy hill in bare feet, catching my shins on the prickly wild raspberry bushes growing along the treeline. Calling her name into the dull silent night, with nothing but raindrops answering back. I ran back up to the house, hoping Matt had found her. My mom was just getting home, pulling her car in the driveway, and Matt was at her car door, telling her we couldn't find Norah.

My heart started to sink with the feeling that it had been too long, too many minutes now, if she was in the water, or wandering into the dark, or in the road. Too many horror stories in my head, so many awful things imagined in those seconds. The instant guilt of failing as a parent, I didn't keep track of her, I was responsible for whatever I was going to find. I raced again to the pond's edge, and very nearly jumped in to start looking for her in the murky water, my throat seizing up with fear as I struggled to keep calling her name. Hearing my mom's frantic voice calling her name up and down our street out front.

And then, Matt's voice. "I've got her! She's OK".  I nearly collapsed, and called out to my mom that he had her. And ran back up the hill to the shape of their two bodies silhouetted in the doorway, slipping on the railroad tie steps slick in the rain.

She'd gone downstairs, the gate must have been open after bringing up the clean bedding, and she closed it behind her. She hid under a blanket on the couch in the dark, not moving or answering the multiple times Matt ran down there to look for her. Then he glanced that way and thought to pull up the blanket, and there she was, happy as can be, no idea what we'd just gone through in the past 3 minutes.

I know that she is OK, and she was never really in any danger at all. I know that I'm not a bad parent, and kids wander and hide and play games all the time. But my heart did not stop pounding, and the tears did not stop falling, my hands shaking, for at least an hour.  Knowing that this is exactly how accidents do happen. The unimaginable becomes real in a matter of seconds or minutes. The scenarios I saw flashing through my mind in those moments racing through the rain, they are so horrifying because they have been another parent's reality. I know I cannot blame myself or feel guilty for making the bed while my child played in the room next to me. But I do know that the experience makes me want to hold her closer, not let her out of my sight as often, safeguard our home even more...

I'm sure she won't mind if I just come to college with her, too.