October

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We have shifted from late summer’s wane to early autumn’s chill over this past weekend much as I remember being the case with Liam’s debut seven years ago. Summer sure is fleet of foot around here, but-oh, apples and sweaters and cook out fires and pie. I’ll get by.

Having lived seven years as a mom, my self identifying (mid 30s, educated, white, progressive) is starting to even out in my pulse rather than maintaining it’s early roar of: What Do My Choices Say About Me, What Is Best, Who Will tell Me and What Does The World Believe It Knows of Me By My Choices? I can still remember stomping along the western edge of Central Park after dark, pounding my feet to the refrain, Who am I, Who am I? (Thank you, Yassin Bey.)

Becoming a wife and mother did not appear as well-trodden paths of tradition and culture to my younger self, though as time has gone on, I have noticed more places where my footsteps overlap with my own mother, my foremothers. It felt like I had stepped into a cultural watershed where natural birthing, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, elimination communication, baby-wearing, etc, etc were just being discovered, rediscovered and proselytized about. This perspective, of course, was part and parcel with living on the edge of Park Slope and Fort Green in 2008.

My choice to attempt natural births while at home has been hard to shine light on since, particularly in relation to the more challenging, medicated experiences of friends, when I want to be a supportive doula friend. The incredulous looks of strangers and family members and my own over indulgence in reading broadly on the internet: essays assuming home birth it as a practice of self harm, self hate or lack of feminism to ignore the choices provided by modern medicine.

And for sure, I have had to unwind a lot of what I got wound up in early on in my process of forging new identity: Yes, mom, of course I want a stroller now or Hell no, I am not making all your baby food, baby. I will however still be the mom asking you what screens my kids will have access to at your house and for how long, just as I will still be cajoling my boys outdoors to take walks and play in the mud.

I want to celebrate what I have experienced, the sheer weight and push of life passing through my body, not just once but twice. I know that if pain medicine was offered, I would have gladly swallowed (or exposed my lower spine as the case may be) and I am so grateful for the sense memory of the work, the labor, my body conducted. I feel the lineage of humanity in my bones for that.

My oldest little boy is seven now and childhood is fleet of foot, too. Already, he is not the one daily collecting gun and dagger shaped sticks by the armload. He did, sweetly, dip back into his costuming phase recently and took up his four year old self’s super hero toys. I wonder if it was a gesture of touching into younger childhood before stepping into the middle years. He is learning to read and write now and be brave in new friendships. He is so, so cool.

I wrote this next piece as a reflection on his birth. Having just reread it, I resist the urge to add, subtract or revise. I include it here as my own gesture of touching back in time:

The Body Decides:

The next day, my Jackie and I hung out, she fresh in from Tel Aviv;
she brought her period and my body responded with cramps, er
contractions. We walked to Prospect Park and spent a lazy day on the
lawn watching clouds, studying for doctor exams and then getting a
breastfeeding support pillow. The next two days, my body continued to
have contractions at random intervals and I walked ALOT. I was really
tired of being pregnant and trying to get the last few details in
order (says pre mom Devon). I felt unsure if this meant labor was
imminent, I did not want to jinx anything!
Wed night I began to have regularly occurring contractions a bit after
midnight and they lasted up until KC woke for work at which point I told
him “hon, I think I’ve been having contractions all night” “you
think?” was his logical response “ok, I’ve been having contractions
all night” (still not ready to own it).
I ate breakfast with him, texted my midwife and went back to sleep
until 11am, awoke to contractions still regular 20-30 min apart and
noticing that my back really hurt with each contraction.
Long story shorter, labor continued through the day, evening and
night. The back pain got increasingly miserable. I used tennis balls
to massage while I was home alone, KC got back around 4pm and took over
the back massage, we walked a bit, I ate a little more. I felt like
labor could go on all night and was unsure about telling my mom and
Jackie to come over at this point. KC started setting up the tub in
the living room (see his story for that part). I spent good time in
the shower with my yoga ball and hot water on my spine. Around 11pm my
vocalizations ranged from whimpers to screams and I was starting to
wonder where the freaking baby was. I found satisfaction in hitting my
wall during the contractions and found it really hard to relax during
them, but took the rest that I could between them at about 7 min apart.
Jackie arrived and tag teamed my back massages with KC and I put them
in charge of calling Kristen (my awesome, awesome midwife) when the
time was nigh. I had no interest in knowing times, measurements, any
numbers, but I really wanted things to progress so I could get to the
other side.

Birth:

Around 1pm, I got up and made my way to the tub, hoping fervently that
if I got into it, I’d get back out with my baby. I started to feel
like I wanted to push (a strange sensation like, mmm, maybe a head
resting on your cervix). I told KC this twice and he called Kristen
who said she’d be right over. That was what I was waiting to hear! (I
had no real idea of how long it would take until one’s midwife shows up
but, really, what’s she going to do? Watch every contraction for 20
hours?)
It turned out that she did not have long to wait, she arrived and I
was pretty much bellowing (ahem, vocalizing) through my contractions
while KC kept tremendous pressure on my back and he and Jackie said
nice, encouraging things. Kristen told me I could push and to try to
use some of my breath to push down. Good advice and I finally felt
like I was having productive pain. She told me to reach down and feel
what was going on and I could feel the water sac emerging and beyond
it my kid’s head. All I wanted was labor to end, so I was screaming
and pushing as hard as I could (after she reassured me it was normal
that it felt as though my asshole was going to burst) I could feel the
baby’s head come out, I thought he was biting me (his hand was next to
his face I learned, a true child of teachers, born with a question)
I had to wait a bit for contractions, but I was feeling pretty
hopeful now that I would be able to take a rest in the near future. A few more
pushes, when I heard “reach down and pick up your baby”. He was floating
and slippery, he was a baby. KC and I spent a while in the tub with
him while his cord finished pulsing and I delivered the placenta.

Post-partum:

KC and I are very much learning how to be parents and I feel we are
off to a strong start. Breastfeeding was an initial challenge, but
we’ve made a lot of progress. I feel like I need to do more processing
of the actual birth-because it was scary, but it was beautiful and
powerful and I can’t believe I did it at all, let alone at home with
the indispensable help of my husband and best friends. I started
drawing some pictures about it today.
Liam really likes to sleep, just not at night, so that’s our biggest
challenge is trying to get enough rest.
My mom has turned out (not surprisingly) to be the world’s best post-
partum doula and has been helping us and loving us tremendously. Good
family and friends have been bringing us food. My step mom and mother
in law have been tremendous breastfeeding support, calm and
reassuring in the face of a bawling newborn.

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Crushing It With Grapes

Right now, my hands smell like chives and parsley and it has been awhile since that’s been true.

Gardening can look like a poor metaphor when my glazed eyes are surveying this year’s small attempt at growing food; three years in New Mexico has taught me that it is a true endeavor to eek sustenance out of the red soil. Locally, I am captivated and appalled by this sad ending of Gaia Gardens; an amazing exemplar of how to do just that.

My time in fertile parts of the country and my penchant for staring at homesteading blogs in my early years of parenting has kept me trying, but this year I have scaled way back on my ambitions. Lazily, I have flat out refused to water for stretches of time, trusting in rains that only fall by whim and chance to provide for my plants.

So, rather than expecting groceries to emerge from my patch of earth when for three years I have been witness to withering and dying by sun, drought, insect, cat and benign neglect, I tried to keep it way simple. Carrots and basil planted alongside my boy, greens in the hoop house, experimental melons and squashes, sunflowers for fun, oh, and potatoes, because I never have.

My ability to tend is all used up most days before the plants make the list, but one of the sweetest times of day is just past bedtime, just past sunset, standing in the yard. This year, as a gardener and landscaper cum woman of the earth, I have most relished trimming back plants, ripping out weeds, digging and yanking out roots and food plants gone to flower to soon. This is why I smell of parsley, and chives, right now.

All I really want these days is for my children and myself to have the opportunity to eat directly from plants rooted in the earth. I don’t need to be the one to sow and tend them directly, but simply to recognize and honor them while they are enjoyed. I want to be part of the village, rather than trying to be the village.

Most of what I planted this season is now suffering along the spectrum of Failure to Thrive and I fall back into gratefulness for those who do the planting and tending for me. The real metaphor in my gardening life is to do what I can and do it well, in time.

The other evening, I was able to reach up from my lazy, midnight hammock ride and pluck a grape right into my mouth, late summer sweetness is all around.

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The Systems that Sustain Us

Some friends in the midst of raising similarly aged children have asked me to reflect on the rules, or systems and expectations, we create in our family.

I have been neglecting this request for many months; it feels challenging and a bit tedious to articulate the rules and boundaries of our home life, but maybe there is something about that resistance in myself that needs to loosen up a bit.

For the last two years, we have been able to choose a Waldorf Kindergarden program for Liam to attend. Within that, there is a lovely structure that is rhythmic throughout each day, week and seasonal year. It has given me some support on which to build our home rhythms, I think the best wisdom that I received was to let each day have alternating times of expansion and big play, followed by going inward and quiet play or rest. But, I think a lot of what KC and I bring to our shared parenting approach is our time spent working in elementary schools.

Recently, I had a moment of synthesis: Waldorf=rhythms, Family Rules=systems, Rhythms, Systems, RhythmSystems! They became one, two names for a similar lens (or perspectacle) of structuring a life bearable to live within. As I get deeper into this life, the more I find permission and space for joy and play when things are flowing inside and around these carefully constructed sluices of expectation.

Not least of all is this just for the kids, when I notice a big gap between how I am living and how I am asking my kids to live, it is clear I am not taking the best care of myself. Last month we took a break from added sugar in our diet and I gained a lot of insight into my food habits. This month, we are taking a break from alcohol and our evenings are automatically restructured, by a closing of one gate, others may swing open.

I do not consider myself an expert, nor atypically skilled at parenting, but I do read a lot and reflect as much as I can and as a twosome we have combined training and experience in preschool and elementary education, transpersonal psychology, yoga instruction from prenatal to seniors, basketball coaching, data collection from the natural world, restorative justice, wildfire management, school counseling and administration, dance party djing…

Hey, that’s my marriage’s resumé! Hire us to teach your baby to swim, or organize your closets, or dj your next party with yoga inspired dance moves…I am really not sure why we are not yet fabulously wealthy by way of all my inspired ideas.

So, what is there to say about all of this in terms of raising kids, keeping sanity, growing viable future adults, etc.? I have become increasingly aware within myself of the desire for routine and rhythms first as an early childhood educator and then as a parent in the home. My husband shares the same tendencies and our oldest responds very positively to structure that he can understand and then choose to succeed within. He has clearly shown us that he wants to feel successful each day. Who doesn’t, right?

One of our foundational parenting practices is to cultivate independence in our kiddos both for their own long-term wellbeing and our short-term sanity. As much of the work that can be shifted from us and to them, bearing in mind their zone of proximal development and all that, we do. (Check out this great chart from the world of Montessori for inspiration.)

Last year at this time, Liam took some months to land in his five year old self and fully embrace his new bigness: big brother, kindergardener, big kid. He needed support in stepping into himself and being his best self (or his golden knight self as we term it, currently). Being the schoolteachers that we are, Liam was enlisted to draw out each of his rules as we discussed them and we believe this gave him greater ownership and understanding of what we were expecting from him.

It looks like this:

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Recently, we instituted an additional system following the same game plan: a child and parent generated chart of five jobs. It consists of helpful jobs around the house and he is practicing completing them each week. In turn on payday, he receives four quarters. I am whole-heartedly embracing his greater participation in keeping the household running and the decrease in times I am personally responsible for sweeping under the table from 30 odd times per week to 28 or so. And, it does feel a fine line, between sharing family responsibilities and an expectation of pay for effort, but so far I feel like we are comfortably navigating that line.

In the end, all I can say is that when our kids regress tremendously as they do at times (or when we the adults do), it rings our bell of awareness and brings us back to observation, pattern seeking and then adjusting expectations so that all of our needs are being met as well as possible. Over here, these days, that’s the way love goes.

This week school resumed for Liam. I have been trying to keep a few steps ahead of myself in terms of food preparation so that my mornings and evenings can be as calm as possible. I found a great camp out breakfast idea that my kids have been gobbling up out of the fridge and I thought that I’d share it here: into a pint sized jar scoop a 1/4 cup greek yogurt, 1/4 rolled oats, 1 tbsp jam, 1 1/2 tsp chia seeds, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and 1/3 cup of whole milk, then shake. Add a bunch of chopped berries if you are lucky enough to have them on hand and stir. Let sit overnight and in the morning-voilà! (Thanks to Edible Santa Fe for that one.)

For fun:

Backfire Lighting at Archbold Biological Station
That’s me and my boss back in the heydey of my wildfire management career. We weren’t actually sideways, though that would have been really, really wild.

 

One of my many class photos from my time at P.S. 93.
One of my many class photos from my time at P.S. 93.

Me Ow (the unfiltered story)

Spring, a wonderful season of rejuvenation which I have been celebrating as favorite holiday by Spring Cleaning every nook, corner and skylight feature as I find the time and inspiration. Getting around to the Garage, I discovered that our neatly stored luggage was both dusty (a known) and reeking of cat urine (an unknown). This reminds me of another life story, but I’ll save that one as the arc of the narrative does not bear repeating.

I am not sure if this is universal, but I do not enjoy my hard earned objects being thus graced, er- sprayed, particularly by animals that I have not invited into my home.

As a result, I have a pile of what increasingly seems to my mind junk, languishing in our back yard waiting for the day that I have time and inspiration to make a fair go at scrubbing the piss out of it, as it were.

A note; part of our initial attraction to this rental home was it’s preinstalled cat doors, one from kitchen to garage and one from garage to outside. “Brilliant!” we felt at the time since we love fostering independence in our small male charges. Well, overall it has been brilliant with some notable exceptions; coagulated cat piss in the corner early on discovered after a week back East, blood on our bedspread, a cat fight in the living room at 3am, and now it has been calm enough until recently.

There was the fucked up mess of a garage, cats caught in the act of eating Mohammed’s food, cats hanging out in my hoop garden (I swear to god if I find them using that as a litter box…)

And then this, a mid-spring, mid-night’s waking dream…

The baby has just developed the skill set (getting from prone to sitting upright unassisted) to render his co-sleeper (or bed since birth) no longer safe. Ah, I realized this was the why I had been saving that playpen all these years. After a night of our heads popping up repeatedly to see if he had sat up and also figured out how to vault out, last night I set it up in a flash before bedtime.

I wheeled the co-sleeper out of the room; sniff sniff, my baby is growing up, and then come midnight. He stirs and wakes and cries out. Daddy heads over to offer water and soft murmurs, but instead raises his voice and informs me that the baby smells of cat piss.

Huh?

We were stunned, repulsed and angry, but also very confused because we were just a moment ago in dreamland and this is a new experience for us both. The crux of our debate: do we bathe the baby now or ignore it and deal with it in the morning. We repeat back and forth the information: “Baby! Cat Piss! Gross! What next!” until we find our way to a course of action.

Long story short: we all showered, changed pajamas and tossed the playpen back in the garage (teeming with semi feral felines whom I wish to spray with vinegar or vivisect or something appropriate) and the co-sleeper back in for the night, though he mostly stayed nestled between us with a head smelling sweet as redemption.

Good story! True tale! Now, I am off to research effective feline repulsion techniques while wondering if having our cat’s testicles surgically reapplied is a viable option.

Symmetry of Nine Months

Recently, we crossed the threshold from Winter to Spring. With that, Caleb has now been out of my womb for as long as he gestated inside-and ever after, the scale will tip in that direction.

I readily embraced the concept of a Fourth Trimester along with the birth of my first son. Now as I move forward from the point when I birthed my second child, I sense that the trimesters keep rolling on. Throughout my second pregnancy and these nine post partum months, I have felt a shift at each three-month interval: a change in physical being, mood, relationship to self and other.

I do not mean to suggest that we are living by metronome and shift dramatically at precisely three months. Rather, I have observed in myself over these last eighteen months a settling into the experiences I have just lived through and expectation over what will come next.

As this nine-month marker approached, I felt a realignment of my spirit and my body. It felt like landing: oh, hello, old friend! I am back and thanks so much for waiting right where I left you.

Today, in Santa Fe, the weather speaks to the blurry line that exists when we humans make declarations about time or nature. Spring-cleaning happened this past weekend and with that I put the snow boots away. Outside: daffodils, forsythia, cherry blossoms and tulips are opening to the warming days. When I opened the front door this morning the snow falling and blowing about took me aback. And, then it literally took me back; into the house about three more times to gather more layers, snow gear and then unearth Liam’s snow boots from the garage.

In myself, I feel the blurriness of this self-referential demarcation: “I am back!” I have declared. And then there is a pendulum that swings within: coming back into myself, and then dropping away again into the vortex of caring for others that is so much of early parenting. Now that consistent sleep has fallen away, yet again, it is harder to access the will and energy to exercise, connect with others, do anything but loll about and keep the people fed and clean. However, I don’t think it was premature to declare myself returned. It was true in that moment and each time that I swing back into that space, it will be closer to the lasting truth.

Now, with each passing day and for all time, Caleb moves further from the symmetry of growth that the Vernal Equinox showcased for us, nine months in, nine months out. It is hard to imagine him as anything other than the baby he is, yet he is well on his way to embracing the world and it’s gravity, expectation and disappointment.

I appreciate that he was born on the Summer Solstice, so that we now keep the time of his growth (and mine) along with the seasonal changes.

The question I now take to my journal is; will I continue to feel an awareness of myself shifting with the next change in season? (Might this be some of the fairy dust of procreating that blows off of our wings if we do not tend to it?)

And, I wonder, if there is something discrete about these 12-14 week intervals as an appropriate-or reasonable- amount of time to hatch a new plan or vision, live through it and then begin to reflect in preparation for the next go-round.

Onwards, we grow into Spring, planting our seeds, tending our homes and selves and daydreaming about the many-hued possibilities of Summertime.

It’s a Rhythm Lifestyle

I sometimes wonder if I am too intent on my housework.

I find a real sense of ease and beauty when I have placed things just so and the dust has been wiped away. It allows me to sink deeper into the lived moment when my eyes graze the floor and see no thing left to do.

The reality is, though, that it takes hella time to maintain a home, particularly while living with young children and a slightly neurotic feline. The work is never complete. Rather, I pause and return, again and again.

Housekeeping requires rhythm as it is always waiting to recommence. My heart seeks meaningful pauses and to embrace the work, there is a song in all of this yet it can be a real struggle to uncover it.

The reality is that there is an extreme repetition to the work each day and I fear for my sanity if I allow this to be anything less than an inquiry into spirit, culture and-when I am really on my game- craft. The last thing I want to show my boys is that housework is drudgery because that would have me daily resisting my life, but submitting over and over.

And yet, I can not help but look around some days and wonder; as a daughter of the feminist movement, was this the endgame? Am I living the dream that they held in their hearts? Or, are my sisters working with their babies in daycare living the dream? What would allow all hearts and families to flourish in this one precious go of it?

Sure, to be able to choose between career and homemaking is an evolution of culture and some women, families manage to do BOTH, but I want to take it further. I do not believe the conversations of the 1920 and 1970s and all time are over. I hope that you will join me in this conversation when you can.