Ingrid hadn't nursed since December, but this morning while I was feeding Iris she asked to, and I let her. She couldn't remember exactly how to latch on. She got a little, and laughed and said There's not enough milk in there! Iris noticed what Ingrid was doing and started to laugh, and for a full minute they both nursed and laughed, nursed and laughed.


I'm reading about music and all the ways our brains can turn it around. One person in ten thousand can recognize and name each tone just as easily as I can call the sky blue. It's possible to hallucinate music, hear it ceaselessly, as though a radio is on and can't be turned off. It's possible to lack—or lose—the ability to "hear" music at all; it can sound like nothing but noise. And a stroke of lightning can uncoil, in a regular guy, a passion so great that he teaches himself to play the piano and stays up all night composing.


A's dad taps his maple trees every spring and cooks down the sap in a vat over a fire. We drove up today to help carry buckets, chop wood, and stand around in the sun breathing wood smoke and maple steam while the dog and cats squashed around in the mud.

Iris was enchanted with the dog, and I repeated several times That's the dog. The dog says woof. Woof woof. Woof. The dog did a lap around the house, and when he reappeared, Iris was right on him. 'oof, she said. And again, looking right at the dog, 'oof.

The sap runs just during the time of spring when the days are above freezing and the nights are below. The warmer days make the roots start pulling water up from the soil. The sap runs until the buds pop open, until you see a haze of green across the woods; then it's done. Forty gallons of sap boil down to a gallon of syrup.

A's brother showed up, and his grandma, and we all ate lunch outside. Iris rode in the sling for hours. Ingrid zipped around the yard, peering at the roiling liquid, tossing sticks on the fire, letting A lift her up to sip drips of sap right from the tap. She careened back to me and locked Iris and me in an almost illegally tight hug. My baby sister, she said. My baby sister. I'm going to keep her forever.

We wrestled both girls down for naps, and by the time they woke up it was late afternoon and the sap was almost syrup, murky and foamy. We took turns tasting it from a metal ladle, all four generations of us. This is the kind of sweetness I want for my girls: the kind that can sleep underground all winter. The kind that takes all day to boil from barely sweet water to thick sticky syrup. The kind that tells the leaves it's time to open up and see the sun.



To update you on a couple of loose threads:

She has not yet worn the underpants to day care. Several of you pointed out that the key thing will be the teachers' reaction, and I think that's right. And I know the teachers there will back up any girl's right to wear train undies, no special request required. She just hasn't chosen those on a day care day. Yet.

A head-in-the-sand approach is proving similarly effective with the baby squishing problem. I realized the other day (probably as a direct result of listing, in that post, all of the contortions that A and I have done in response to this behavior) that our response has been escalating as it's gone on, and that the goal of our response has been: Make it stop.

Not a bad goal, in theory, when the baby's rib cage is in constant danger of being crushed. But everything we've done with that end in mind has failed.

So now I'm looking at it this way: for whatever incomprehensible almost-three-year-old older-sister reason, Ingrid is sometimes just not able to control the impulse (desire?) to squeeze the bejeesus out of her baby sister. She is not going to stop it. She is not going to explain to us why she is doing it. So instead of getting our blood pressure all out of whack trying to get her to cut it out, we should be aiming to (1) make sure Ingrid knows it is not ok with us when she does it and (2) keep Iris safe.

So now Iris has a lot of play time in the crib, which she seems to love (she plays peekaboo with us through the bars and laughs her head off) and which keeps her away from the squish monster. When the two of them are close together and Ingrid begins to lose her gentleness, I say We don't do that, separate them, and ignore Ingrid in sort of a low-key way. No punishment, no long explanation, and no extra attention.

Is it working? I don't know. Iris is still alive, and I am less hoarse.


Crusty Old Woman

Iris is contagious after all (sorry, Emmie!). What I thought was a resurgence of the last cold appears to be something new, something extra-snotty. I mean there are tablespoons of snot running out of her. I wipe it up often, but it's sort of a losing battle.

It even impressed the checker and bagger at the co-op, guys who are probably in their early twenties but who, to a woman in my wizened state, look decidedly adolescent.

"Do you want a? Kleenex?" asked the checker, looking queasy, as the bagger stopped mid-bag to check out the snot bubble inflating and deflating outside my baby's nostril.

There was a lot of snot on her face, but aren't men in the bloom of youth supposed to be able to handle a high level of grossness? I really, really wanted to say, "Young man, this is nothing. You should have seen what was smeared all over my boob this morning."


It will make a perfect baby shower gift.

As soon as I get a minute I am going to write a book of affirmations for mothers and mothers-to-be. It’s going to have a pastel cover design with some sort of soft-focus photo of a mother and child, and the title, written in sparkly, curly letters, is going to be: You Are Not A Bad Mother.

It’s going to have a lot of short chapters, and, like all parenting books, it will be marketed as being for all parents, even though it will probably only really fit some of us. The titles of the chapters are going to sum up truths about mothering: Who Cares If You Never Clean Your Oven; Everyone Loses Their Shit Sometimes; Eventually They Sleep; It’s None of Their Business; You Only Have Two Arms; Sometimes They Just Want To Cry; Next Week Will Be Different.

Chapter one is going to be called “Sometimes You Hate It.” It is going to go like this:

The worst thing a woman can say is “I hate being a mother.” We are supposed to like this. Good mothers like being mothers.

But what no one ever says is that sometimes you do hate it. For days or weeks or months, or, I guess, if you’re lucky, just for a few minutes here and there, you wonder why you decided to become a parent at all. You just want to eat your cereal by yourself. You are tired of doing puzzles. You don’t have any more ideas. You want to walk across the living room without stepping on a Lego.

If it took some effort to bring your child into your life (like if you were infertile, or went through a long adoption process, or if you had an awful pregnancy) you feel especially dumb and guilty about this. You longed for this life. You made a lot of noise about wanting it, and you and your partner and maybe your family and community put their hearts into making it happen. And now you don’t really like it.

And unless you are very, very lucky, you can’t say this to anyone. The other moms in your play group complain about being tired or about a list of daily frustrations, but no one ever says, "I just hate this. This is not for me after all."

Not only that, but there’s always someone who beams and says that it is her dream job. That in spite of how hard it is there is nothing on earth she’d rather be doing. You want to chew up a fistful of play-doh and spit it at her, and so do probably half the others who are nodding and smiling, but no one says it. No one busts out with "I hate it. Sometimes I think it was all a mistake." Some echo her, some stay quiet, some dig a burp cloth out of the diaper bag.

But the key word—for all of us—is sometimes. Even the beaming play group mom has moments—even if she never, ever admits it—where she hates it, too. Where she’d like to leave the children in the living room, check into the Holiday Inn with a novel and a loofah and spend the next month doing nothing but exfoliate, sleep, order french fries from room service and NOT be a mother. And when you hate being a mother? That’s a moment, too. Even if it’s a month or a year. You’re not a baby person, or not a toddler person, or not into hanging out with 7-year-olds, even ones you love, or for whatever reason you just need a break. That’s not forever. You hate it now. That will end.

But I don’t want to gloss it over: You DO hate it. "Just a moment" is not the same as "just a mood". I believe you when you say that right now you hate it. What’s to love? You are tired. You are doing, over and over, things that are just not that interesting. Hard is not the same as challenging. Vital is not the same as lovable.

You do hate it. But before you start thinking of yourself as a miserable ogre for feeling that way, ever, consider this. These three things can all be true—unequivocally, absolutely true—at once. Without contradicting each other:
  1. You wanted your children so much you would’ve given one and a half of your lungs to bring them into your life, and if you hadn’t been able to have them you’d never have really gotten over it.

  2. Your children are the most important people in your life. They are beautiful and brilliant. Losing them would kill you.

  3. You hate being a mother and can’t stand the thought of continuing with this gig for even one more hour.

The cliché is that your heart grows when you become a parent, and this is why: to hold all of those things at once. You want your children, you love them, and right now you hate taking care of them. It is all true, all at once. You are not a bad mother.


Sestina Striped Bag

Here it is, stuffed with newspaper and almost dry. I might still take a razor to it to make it less hairy.

The deal with the stripes is, they are in the same order as the end words of sestina lines would be. I told you: geeky. I only got through about three and a half stanzas, but there it is. Weirdly, I feel like I understand better how a sestina works now that I've stitched out the pattern and seen it in yarn. Cross-training, right? Because I haven't written a poem in ages.

I am ready for winter to be over. I am also ready for my kids to grow up and move out of the house. I hope one or the other happens soon. Iris is teething or something and not sleeping. I'm out of fun ideas and am the most boring parent in the world. And "yell, bribe, and threaten" is starting to take over my discipline toolbox. Green leaves are going to save me soon, right?


Mmm. Green beans.

I put three dapper little foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies in Ingrid’s Easter basket. They were so cute in their striped suits and bowties—and she is so fond of small, animal-shaped toys—that I assumed she’d be far more interested in playing with than eating them.

I was wrong, and holy shit, do I ever now know why we don’t usually give her sugar. She ate two yesterday and the other (unauthorized) this morning, and both times (but especially this morning, without Grandma around to channel the energy) it turned her into a crazed, wiggly, defiant, impervious creature.

The worst is it exacerbated our parenting problem du jour, which is that Ingrid squishes, hits and pokes Iris in ways that, while not always intentionally harmful, are clearly Not Safe. We’ve tried Be gentle, and we’ve tried No. That’s not safe. And we’ve tried You must be feeling very mad at Iris and What were you feeling when you did that? and Why don’t you use this doll to show me how you’re feeling? and You can tell mama you feel mad instead of doing that. We’ve tried time outs. We’ve tried telling silly stories about little girls who turn their baby sister into an orange and eat her up. We’ve tried Do this gentle thing with Iris instead. And we’ve tried (ahem) bat shit crazy freaked out mama screaming and running into the other room to get ahold of herself before she does harm.

Nothing works. She does not react to anything we say to her about it. She won’t talk about it, either in the moment or after. And if we give her a time out (which, for a while, we were doing with absolute regularity around this issue), she waltzes into it happily, hums and sings as she sits on the steps, refuses to engage in discussion afterwards, and then, often, goes right in for another round of squish the baby. Gah.

The morning was pretty intensely full of that. We finally got ourselves out the door to take the cat to the vet, and it turns out the cat has a six hundred dollar dental problem that is almost certainly painful and most certainly not in the budget.

Then when it was time to leave Ingrid refused to either put on or carry her coat, and I, with baby in sling, cat in cage, and diaper bag over shoulder, decided the best natural consequence would be to leave the coat behind at the vet’s office. So we did.

Later we walked to the coffee shop, and I’d thought the sidewalks were clear but there are some pretty big snowy stretches, so we mostly walked down the middle of the street.

By lunchtime, I think the bunnies had worn off; we were all calmer, and when Ingrid, standing next to Iris’s booster seat, began gently trying to lick pureed green beans off of Iris’s face, I was so relieved to see something even halfway resembling sisterly affection that I just let her.

P.S. Felted bag pics coming. It turned out ok. A says he'd like to use it as a stocking cap and put his ears through the handle holes.


Ready to Felt

I know you'll want to share the suspense with me. Remember all that yarn? Here's what it looks like knitted up into sort of a bag shape and ready to throw in the washing machine and felt down to (I hope) about two thirds of its size and a whole different texture.

In retrospect, I don't think it was really totally necessary to use all the colors for this. It may not end up being the thing I want to carry everywhere I go. But it's been a harmless diversion.

And if you can detect the very geeky rhyme & reason behind the order of the stripes, I'll buy you a beer.


Books: Encore!

When my girl loves a book, she wants to read it over and over and over and over again. My friend Alex (who really gets kids) says most kids are like this, that it's because they crave predictability. And that adults, mostly, crave novelty. This explains why I sometimes almost always skip every other page of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and also why I hid that one Dora book under the bed two weeks after my grandmother gave it to Ingrid for Christmas.

But every once in a while we hit on a book that I genuinely don't mind reading as many times as Ingrid wants. We've had a couple of these lately: Books that sound and look beautiful, and that leave open some mystery.

My Name Is Georgia is the most recent one, and it is terrific. Told in the voice of the artist growing up, learning, doing what she loves to do even when the wind almost blows her over. We've read it at least twice a night since my sister in law gave it to us a couple of weeks ago. And it looks like the author/illustrator, Jeanette Winter, has some other great titles, including one about Emily Dickinson. Hooray!

I Am Pangoo the Penguin is like Velveteen Rabbit meets I'm a Big Sister Now. Ingrid and I are both loving the determined stuffed penguin—Absolutely! And the story (the favored stuffed animal displaced by new birthday gifts but, it turns out, still loved fiercely) is pretty resonant around here.

We've borrowed My Dog Rosie from the library at least a dozen times since we discovered it when Ingrid was just about one. It's a simple story, and the illustrations were some of the first that she really was able to "read", but there's still something in it even now that longer, more complicated stories are on the shelf.

And last, a true classic: In the Night Kitchen So absurd. So rhythmic. So much fun.

Which books do you ask for over and over and over again?


Fly Girl

A big reason for Ingrid's sudden interest in getting out of diapers has been her desire to score a pair of Percy Underpants like the ones her friend Henry wears at day care. She mentioned them to me one evening in an admiring tone, and I casually mentioned we might be able to buy her a pair once she got really good at using the potty.

(I don’t believe in bribing children. Really, I don’t. I was thinking of this more as a natural consequence: You’ll be good at wearing undies, you’ll need new undies, you can pick out the kind you want. I love Alfie Kohn. Honest.)

Ahem. So over the past few weeks she’s been doing great with the toilet peeing, so Saturday I decided it was time to follow through on the bribe dish out the reward buy her some new underwear.

When I asked her if she wanted to go out with me to pick out some new undies, she literally quivered all over: PERCY!

You probably anticipated this: Every last pair of Thomas the Tank Engine underwear (at least in our T@rget) is “for boys”. With a fly.

This gave me less than half a second of pause in the store. With a tiny bit of effort, I probably could have redirected her to one of the many types of “girl” underpants that sort of caught her eye anyway. (Ponies!) But I am stubborn and unwilling to let the sexist underwear-making establishment deprive my daughter of the train-imprinted butt she’s been dreaming of for the past many weeks.

We bought the Thomas underpants, fly and all. She held onto the package all the way through the store, all the way through a trip to the bakery (for a special green cookie) and the library and all the way home. She loves them.

She noticed the fly, of course, and the idea that a boy who wore those undies would pee through that hole has clearly captured her imagination. But it doesn’t at all diminish her sense that those are her special underpants.

But now I’m thinking about day care. She’s so proud of them, she’ll want to wear them there for sure. Her day care is by far not a place where old-fashioned gender roles rule. But still, most kids there are three and four years old, and I’m beginning to see that kids that age can be pretty insistent about what’s For Boys and what’s For Girls. Am I setting her up for some sort of ostracism—or—worse—disillusionment about her beloved, chosen, prized undergarments—by sending her to day care wearing undies with a fly?


We Made it!

For the first time in months, there’s far more water than ice. It’s comfortable to go outside without a coat, at least for a while. The sun isn’t just bright; it’s warm. I can open the windows and let the (I know, now) stale winter air out and the sweet, sweet outside air in.

Today was just gorgeous. Perfect blue sky, perfect warm sun, and everything melting, melting, melting. We splashed in puddles. We drove with the windows open.

There’ll be colder days again before we’re through, I’m sure. There might even be more snow. But I can smell spring from here. The front porch and back yard will be ours—really ours—again, and the house will feel three times bigger. Ingrid and I will be able to dig in the garden while Iris naps. Green things, I’m told, will start busting out all over the place.

All day I’ve been surprising myself with how happy and relieved I feel. It’s as if every half hour or so I wake up from a nap, blink a few times, and discover again that the whole world is made of chocolate.

If you live somewhere more temperate, this will seem silly; you had this day ages ago. But if you’re in, say, Duluth or Winnipeg or Fairbanks, take heart. It’s coming. It really, really is.


With My Pants Down

I haven't written about the girls' constantly overbooked pediatrician's office and its awful time suck of a phone system, but it—and our resulting lack of a consistent person to look into the kids' ears when needed—has been a major pain and occasional near medical disaster this winter. It's the sort of large bureaucratic mess that, every time I deal with it, makes me want to speak to the person in charge, tell them exactly the nature of the inconvenience their establishment is causing me (and probably all of their other clients as well), and extract from them specific and realistic promises about how and when it will all be made better.

So a couple of weeks ago, in my spare time, I hammered out a ranty yet respectful letter to the clinic manager and medical director expressing my concerns.

This morning as Iris was napping and Ingrid was bopping around the living room taking stuffed animals from the airport to the library, the phone rang. It was Smeldon Smirkowitz, MD, Medical Director of the clinic.

The good doctor was completely sympathetic, graceful, and articulate. He gave a long and somewhat convincing spiel about their sincere efforts to rectify the situation. He said that they do not, as I accused in my letter, want patients to rely on M*nute Cl*nics for care; I countered that someone in his office had, not two hours earlier, suggested I go to such a place for the infant flu vaccine that Dr. Smirkowitz's clinic had apparently understocked.

As he continued with his spiel about supply and demand this and hospitalized patients that, I found myself in the most dreadful mommy-brained state, using every neuron to block out the Music Together and the toy-covered carpet, follow what he was saying, and make the slow, fatigued shift of gears from You can have a banana or a pear; those are your choices to formulating some sort of articulate response.

As the gracious doctor wrapped up his final point, Ingrid climbed onto the dining room chair next to me. Is there anything else, asked Dr. Smirkowitz, that I can tell you? Do you have any further concerns?

Just as he said this, Ingrid put her arms around me, looked into my face, and said, Mama, I peepeed in my pants.

I thanked the dear doctor for his time, hung up the phone, and went to find the girl some clean undies.




For a day when I couldn't breathe through my nose, my birthday yesterday seemed pretty charmed.

It was a work day for me, but I came home a couple of hours early to take a nap and sit on the couch knitting in complete silence for 45 minutes or so before picking the girls up from day care.

Ingrid came home excited about the promised piece of Mama's birthday cake (A got ahold of a fantastic chocolate cake with some sort of amazing chocolate cream inside).

Before dinner, Ingrid and A mysteriously disappeared into the basement. It turned out A had a little surprise (earrings! and flowers!) that he got Ingrid to help him prepare. (She signed the card, put the flowers in a vase, and, it seems, helped tape up the wrapping on the earring box).

A friend joined us for dinner: takeout Thai food, a huge treat since our extra-lean budget went into place last summer. Iris fell asleep at seven, and I drank a whole beer. We stretched Ingrid's bedtime a bit so she could have a sliver of cake, which she dug into with relish.

I kept thinking about my past several "birthday wishes"...from when I blew the nuts off the cake five years ago (a baby, please) to the following year (please, a baby?) and the next (a healthy baby?) to last year (another healthy one?)...and feeling so sleepily, stuffily grateful that no giant want looms so large anymore. Huzzah! I can now use my birthday wishes for, I don't know, better hair. Or a winning Obama/Clinton ticket this fall.

I read to Ingrid before bed, and before I left the room I said to her, Thank you for making my birthday so special. With her eyes almost closed, she gave me a drowsy smile and said, I loved it. I wasn't sure what she meant until she finished: It had cream in it.


Blah, Blah, Adorable, Blah,
Genius, Blah Blah

Iris is at the cutest, most dumplinglike possible age: almost seven months, and so cherubic it is pretty much a full-time occupation to kiss her cheeks and the back of her neck. And lately (now that ear infection number two is on the way out) she is in the greatest mood: screeching at the cat, grinning at all of us (but mostly at Ingrid), levitating towards the ceiling fan and the hanging bell in the dining room. Loving sweet potatoes and letting most other foods dribble down her chin. And pulling off some amazing physical feats like going from tummy to sitting to tummy again all on her own.

And her sleep continues to go pretty darn well. Since last Saturday, putting her down for naps and bed has kept on being, well, easy. Nurse, doze, put down, cry for usually less than five seconds, sleep. Middle of the night wakings are still not so good. But the predictable napping and easy put-downs do a world of good for my sanity and, I am convinced, her mood.

Ingrid has done some pretty unbelievable things in the past week or so, too. She is all of a sudden using the toilet for all her waking pees, and is completely into doing it All. By. Herself. Could you give me a little privacy, Mama?

She is also suddenly interested in climbing into the car seat on her own. How embarrassed should I be that I have not been able to get her to do that until now? She’s a reluctant climber, and I just couldn’t persuade her to do it, even last summer when I had to swing her into the car over my giant pregnant belly. All of a sudden, she doesn’t even want me to stand near her while she gets in. Phew. Hooray.

And—this tickles me the absolute most—lately she is looking at letters and words in a different way. She’s realized what I am reading when I read her stories and is interested in how words look. One day last week we sat together at the computer “typing.” (She loves this. Big font. She chooses the color. She asks me to type words, or she presses keys and asks me what she’s written.) I typed “Ingrid” and “Mama” and she “read” them (not a surprise, since she sees those words often—it’s more shape recognition than reading). Then (here’s where the genius comes in) I typed “Daddy” and asked her what it said. And she said? “David.” Which in my opinion is pretty damn awesome. David is a kid at her day care (all their names are written on their cubbies in big letters). She could have easily guessed “Daddy” from the Ingrid/Mama context, but she was looking at those letters enough to know that it looked like David’s cubby. Must give the standard disclaimer: There’s no pressure about this kind of stuff around here; we just follow what she’s interested in, and I know early reading isn’t necessarily a sign of future anything (isn’t even necessarily good). But it’s so exciting to see her figure this out.

There is also, as you perhaps may have detected in my posts of the past, oh, seven months or so, some weirdness and strife in Ingrid’s and my relationship, and it’s hard to explain why but I feel like I am on the verge of figuring something out that will make things better. She has become so mysterious to me, and it seems like there is a key thing about her that I haven’t been understanding right, and I feel like I am almost to the point of figuring it out enough to at least know what questions to ask. That sounds cryptic, but I don’t mean it to—it really is that foggy, even to me. More on that later.

I am turning 34 on Wednesday (Or is it 35?, I keep asking myself, honestly.) My birthday gift from A (which, ok, I requested pretty explicitly) is the time and money to attend, over the next couple of weekends, two writing workshops through our terrific local writing center. Hooray. And spring is almost here. Hooray again!