Postcards from the Best Summer Ever

I spent last summer slowed by the sweet weight of Iris, first in my belly, then in my arms. The summer before that, I was barely emerging from the fog of the first year of motherhood, and afraid, still, of getting my baby dirty. The previous year I was frozen in the heat, shuffling through sweaty, milky postpartum days. And before that trails a string of nondescript grownup summers, indistinguishable, almost, from winter in their bland air-conditioned office chill.

But this summer. This summer the weather is gentle and we spend hours at the park, the girls and me, getting filthy. A joins us after work for picnic dinners, and we add watermelon juice to the layers of sweat and sand and sunscreen. Ingrid is brave on the ladders up to the big slides, even swings alone on her tummy while A and I eat and Iris showers her own back with fistfuls of sand.


Ingrid is in an easy time—eager, interested, easily soothed. During Iris's morning nap, we do special fun things together. I build us an obstacle course ("oxtable horse") in the backyard, and we follow each other under the low pear tree branches, over the picnic table, and along the winding line of the garden hose in the grass.

We raid the fridge and empty all the eggs into a bowl so we can cut the carton into cardboard caterpillars. We each paint one, sitting on the warm backyard path, and then rinse our purple hands in the sandy wading pool.

I lay paper over an ivy leaf and rub across it with the breadth of a blue crayon, touching foreheads, almost, with Ingrid, as we watch the veins of the leaf emerge—the thick, prominent lines first, then the finer ones...more on the paper than we can see in the leaf itself.


One night last weekend after Iris was in bed, I was cleaning up the kitchen, and A and Ingrid were in the backyard. "Caro," I heard him say. "Come here for a sec." I dried my hands and stepped out the back door to see him lying on his back on the concrete walkway, his head resting on the bottom porch step. "Lie down here with me. The ground is warm, and the air is just perfect."

The ground was warm; the air was perfect. We lay watching the high-up wind drag the thinnest veil of cloud across the sky. We could hear cars on the next street over and each leaf of the neighbors' elm tree rattling just slightly. Ingrid puttered between porch and living room, bringing blankets and stuffed animals to drape over our chests and nestle near our necks—we were her dental patients, receiving rewards for our "good cooperating". We lay there for minutes and minutes, quiet, resting.


We drive to the CSA pickup spot with the windows open, nixing the A/C and letting the breeze cool us and mess up our hair, blasting the Music Together CD and singing Jumpin' Josie with every set of words we can think of, wearing clothes that have seen a day of play. We pull up in the driveway next to a spotless Saab. I watch a well-pressed suited woman emerging from the cool of her car on her way home from work. Looking at all that neatness, all that control, I am surprised to realize that for a change I lack envy. This is what I want. This is freedom.


In which I request gifts ask you to toot your own horn

Today is the fourth anniversary of my first blog post.

I've had a long hiatus or two, but, still, four years is a long time, and it's way longer than I thought I'd be at this. I started this blog to join the community of bitter, funny infertile women writing on line—a community I needed, at the time, desperately. Since then this has been part notebook, part brain dump, part builder of small but important on line friendships, part connector with real life friends.

One of the strangest things about this little hobby is the possibility of sudden disappearances. Whole blogs—whole people—can just vanish. And there are little, daily disappearances, too. Insight and beauty—on occasion, I mean—flash up on the screen, then are slowly buried and sink away. How many of us dig around in each other's archives, really? You probably wrote something hilarious or enlightening just before I started reading your blog, but I missed it, because, hello, I only read page one.

So here is the blogiversary gift I'd love to receive. (Keep reading...this could be a sweet little love fest.)

Leave me a link to your favorite blog post. Of yours, I mean. The funniest, the silliest, the wisest, or the most enlightening. One that you wish weren't buried waaay back there in your archives.

Then, go read what someone else linked to, and, if you're moved to, leave them a comment on their ancient masterpiece.

See? Love fest. Go.



We chose Iris's name a few days before she was born. It rose to the top of a pile of names that we liked but that each had a fatal flaw: Edith or Alice (too plain, maybe, and without much meaning for us), Harriet (too much like my real name), Freya (A loved it, but it made me think frazzled), Siri (a nickname for Sigrid, it turns out, and it means butt in Japanese), Esther (a bit too old lady, we worried).

And Berit, the most gorgeous reject of all. It means splendid, magnificent. It's Scandinavian, but related to the Irish Bridget, the goddess of fire, poetry and wisdom. But it's too odd, we thought. "Her name is Berit," we'd say, and people, we predicted, would answer, "What?" Our last name is unusual, hard to spell, and easy to mistake for a female first name, and we didn't want to set our girl up for a lifetime of "What?", a lifetime of spelling it out.

Iris, we loved. Love. I love that it is strong, short. Feminine without being too delicate. I think goddess and rainbow far more than flower.

The problem with it, we knew (and we were drawn to it strongly enough to choose it in spite of this) is that it's a lot like Ingrid. It looks like we chose it to match. We didn't. But people are either charmed by the cute matchiness or they have trouble telling them apart. "Oh, the sisters with the I names," people say. "Which is which, again?"

This bothers me more than I thought it would. Ingrid and Iris feel different to me—ok, similar in sound, but almost opposite in tone and texture. It irritates me that people think of them as alike. I don't want anyone to think of my daughters as interchangeable. They are not.

And also this baby girl, this red-headed, bright-eyed, intrepid little gusto-filled rocking chair surfer of a girl, seems way more Berit than Iris to me.

I've felt it since she was born. Curled on the hospital bed peering into her bassinet in the middle of our first groggy night together, I kept thinking of her as Berit and having to correct myself. That went on for weeks.

And then for months, in my broken new mom sleep, I dreamed of being pregnant again, which I didn't and don't want. My main feeling in the dream, though, was relief: We could call this one Berit.

A agrees: she seems like a Berit. She seems like Iris, too, he points out, because we call her that over and over and it's grown to fit her, sort of. He is less likely, even, than I to rock the boat or go back on something so significant. But we've both slipped, in the past couple of months, into calling her Berit or Bear. Ingrid has picked it up, too, and uses Berit interchangeably with darling, sweetie, and Gyris.

At a barbecue this week, someone heard me call her Bear and asked where that came from. "Um. Um um," I said. "Um, well, partly it comes from, you know, from her just looking like a little bear. And, um, it's also short for..." And then, mercifully, I needed to go and rescue the little Bear from the stairwell and the conversation didn't continue. What could I have said? It's short for the name we didn't give her but should have. The name that seems like hers even though it's not.

I've thought a lot—and A and I have talked—about officially changing her name. About going through whatever paperwork that entails, and sending friends and family an email with the subject line, "The Baby Formerly Known as Iris." We're reaching the end of the time when that kind of change would be unproblematic for her little self.

For now, we are going on with the multiple nicknames. Are we nuts? Will we ruin her? I don't think we will officially change her name. But I can see a future where we start to use Berit more than Iris, at least within our family, and maybe outside it, too. Whatever we do, I have a feeling Berit will follow Iris through her life like a bright little shadow.



Right now the blackboard of shame says 8 days, and my record is 11.5.

No one at day care ever so much as batted an eyelash about the train undies.

The neighbors finally took down their Christmas wreaths around the first of June.

I run at least twice a week these days, and my pelvis hardly makes that snapping sound at all anymore.

Ingrid has asked about nail polish two more times, and each time my wimpy ostrichlike vague response has somehow satisfied her.

The nipple healed after one day of pumping and one day of acrobatic new nursing positions. It turned out the cause of the weird nursing was not teething but coxsackie virus; both girls had it, with the sores on their tongues, fevers, and crankiness. All better now.

The day care decision is pending. The at-home day care lady swears she's only taken one sick day in the past year. I'm leaning toward that, but waffling.

The little car is great. We never miss the old one. Well, we haven't sold the old one yet, but we never drive it and never feel the need.

Speaking of cars, I've now gone a whole seven days without anything flying off the roof of my car, but I did drive all the way to the fabric store today with the trunk open.



This is certainly a case of caro being late to the party, but last week I discovered Alltop, and I am smitten. I'm a sucker for simplicity in design. And what an elegant way to skim through favorite reads and find new ones.

My blog is on there, as well...waaaaay at the bottom of the moms category. And I'm so tickled to be part of such a nifty site that I am doing just what the clever Alltop marketing masterminds anticipated: telling y'all about it.

Check it out.


And I laughed through it all.

Wednesday night A was out of town, and it was a work day. The events of the evening seem worth recording for posterity:

Pick girls up from day care.
Decide it will simplify dinner to pick up a you-bake pizza.
Tell Ingrid we are getting pizza.
Drive around tiny cramped pizza place parking lot looking for space.
Drive around block looking for parking space.
Drive around block again.
Drive around block again.
Finally find spot to park.
Get girls out of car.
Order, pay for, and wait for pizza.
Carry baby and pizza to door.
Get pizza guy to walk around counter to open door for me.
(Door opens inward—isn't that against code?)
Inch across parking lot with children and pizza in all limbs.
Place pizza on top of car.
Put girls in car.
Make right turn onto major neighborhood street at rush hour.
Look in rearview mirror in time to see pizza flying spectacularly off roof of car.
Cry, "OH NO!"
Pull over.
Comfort Ingrid, who is crying.
Convince her it is the silliest, funniest thing that has ever happened.
Drive back to pizza place.
Circle parking lot. Twice.
Park illegally.
Get girls out of car.
Wipe cheese and mushrooms off of rear bumper.
Enter pizza place. Laugh sheepishly.
Tell pizza guy what happened.
Order duplicate pizza.
Gracefully accept 50% discount from kind pizza guy.
Wait for pizza.
Gracefully accept help (again) opening door.
Inch back to car.
Ingrid asks, "Mama, are you going to put the pizza on the roof again?"
Reply, "No, kiddo, I think I've learned my lesson."
Arrive home.
Turn on oven.
Feed hungry, tired baby her dinner while pizza bakes.
Field random phone calls from A's friends.
(Why did I not let the machine get them?)
Returning from answering a phone call, notice funny orange coloring on baby's upper lip.
Turns out big sister has drawn her a mustache.
Or tried to let her smell the scented marker.
Decide not to worry about it.
Baby becomes inconsolably tired.
Decide to put her to bed before pizza is ready.
Upstairs, whip off uncomfortable work shirt and bra to nurse baby.
Halfway through nursing, hear oven timer start to ring.
Let baby nurse for another minute.
Put baby in crib.
Rush downstairs, topless.
Remove pizza from oven just on the cusp of burning.
Run upstairs for comfortable bra and shirt.
Run down and cut up slice of pizza for Ingrid.
Baby is crying in crib.
Tell Ingrid to blow on pizza before she eats it.
Run upstairs to calm baby.
Put baby in crib again.
Cut myself a slice of pizza and sit down next to Ingrid.

Next time, I'll probably just make us all omelets and toast.


The Wee Eliot Ness

Ingrid's been peeing on the potty with total reliability for months. Number two, though? Never.

We'd tried all sorts of encouragement, all kinds of potties, all kinds of conversations, and a good long stint of no-pressure, hands-off waiting. Out of some sort of idealism, I'd been resisting offering bribes. And somehow I'd been thinking that, once I finally crossed into the world of offering presents and prizes for poops in the potty, it would definitely happen.

But nope. This jar of temptation has been sitting on top of our bathroom cabinet for well over a week.

And we are still changing diapers. Ingrid apparently shares my resistance to such base forms of coercion.

She has her own ideas of what would help, though, as I found out the other day:

Mama: What do you think would help you learn to poop on the potty?

Ingrid: An ice cream cone.

Mama: Mmm, good idea. When you poop on the potty, it will be such a big day, we'll go out and celebrate by having a big yummy ice cream cone.

Ingrid: No, no. [Stammering a little, trying to express an important thought.] While I'm sitting on the potty waiting for poop to come out, I'll be eating an ice cream cone!

Somehow I think we're just going to have to wait her out on this one.



The red currants are ripe, and both girls know how to pick them—Ingrid conscientiously placing most of hers in the bowl, and Iris with great concentration and two tiny fingers. The herbs—parsley, dill, mint, sage, basil—are ready to be pinched back and harvested. There are flowers, and Ingrid and I clip a little bouquet for the table: coneflowers, amaranth, lavender.

It's hot out, but not too hot to run. There've been warm, breezy days, and no rain since I can remember, but lots of help watering the garden, and lots of time in the wading pool in the backyard and the big pool at the park.

Iris's hair is a couple of inches long, and in the humidity it whips into ringlets. She is intrepid, standing on the seat of the child-sized rocking chair, holding the back with one hand and rocking it, brave and strong as a tiny cowgirl. Everywhere, she looks for things to climb. She is becoming lean and uncontainable.

Ingrid is mysterious as ever, but affection and joy rise up. At the park, she throws off her shoes before I've even set down our bag and wades to the middle of the pool. Look at me, Mama! Look at me! She makes a bed for the two of us on the couch and asks me to lie with her under the blanket and read Shel Silverstein poems. She hugs me—for the first time, I realize, in ages—with arms that suddenly seem so long.

Our CSA delivers strawberries—pints of them that keep coming: one, two, three, four, five. And heaps of salad greens, piles of chard, and handfuls of sweet peas. Ingrid helps me make shortcake biscuits. We eat dinner outside.

We end the days, all of us, covered with the evidence. Sand inside diapers and undies and under my watch band; fingers and faces stained with berry juice; arms and legs and cheeks mosquito-bitten and smeared with dirt; the knees of tiny pairs of pants filthy and scraped; sweat—mine and theirs—everywhere.

For the first time in a long time, I wish this could last forever.


Our Friends on the Outside

Our friends C and J come over for dinner every week, usually on Thursday, when our shared box of CSA vegetables arrives. They are terrific people. Cooking and eating and sitting around the table with them is a deep and reliable source of pleasure. And there's something else, too.

One Thursday in May, C came over early to bake a birthday cake (their oven was broken). Ingrid had refused, in a dramatic and whiny way, to nap, and, in the middle of a long afternoon with an overtired girl, I was relieved to have another grownup in the house. Iris was napping, and Ingrid stood on the stool next to C as he mixed eggs and flour and sugar, coconut and pecans. I kept ducking into the living room to breathe air uninhabited by children, the way some punk would lean out the window to sneak a smoke.

But the few minutes of rest weren't the best part. The best part was what C said later, J nodding along, after both girls were in bed and all four of us were warm with wine and arugula and cake: If I lived with Ingrid, I’d do a lot more baking.

More baking? I didn't get it until he went on, She loves batter. It’s so much fun.

Oh my God, I thought. Fun. I’d forgotten.

Ingrid does love batter. She loves watching us mix things, loves getting her fingers in there, getting covered with it: cheeks, wrists, elbows, neck. She says, I love it! She mutters, sticky-tongued, smacking batter off of her fingers: Mmm. Tastes like whoop cream. Tastes like whoop cream.

And if you’ve had a good night’s sleep—and if you’re wearing a clean shirt, and if you’ve spent at least a few hours recently without anyone climbing up your torso or shrilly demanding your undivided attention—then apparently it’s easy to see what that girl on the stool with her arm in the bowl really is: a joy. A pure example of total sugar-coated delight. And funny, too.

Everyone talks about it taking a village, and about how we need the arms of friends to share the work of cooking and caring and carrying. These friends have definitely got arms. The four of us take turns chopping and grilling and stir frying, soothing and (this falls mostly to J on our dinner nights) imagining and playing—changing one pretend poopy diaper after another, inventing elaborate dances for each of Ingrid's unique and beloved stuffed animals.

As I think about that cake baking day, though, I realize that, often, even more than their arms, I need their eyes. Eyes that are fresh to all of this.

And being a mother—being embroiled, so often, in discipline or struggle or shoulder-to-the-wheel loneliness or just plain exhaustion—I can tell you how very, very rarely I have it in me to offer that to another mom. There is freshness in loving children but being childless. There is something we parents keep using up that these friends—without, I think, thinking about it very much—replenish.

I am sure there are times C and J would rather be visiting friends with less chaotic pre-dinner hours, cleaner place mats, more reliable short-term memories. Their lives, just like ours, are work. But the kind of energy they have left at the end of each day is often different from what we've got. It's the kind of energy that can stand to change a couple of pretend poopy diapers. The kind that can look at a sticky three-year-old and see fun.

We tell them we're glad they're around, and I think they believe us. But I'm afraid my absurd, sloppy gratitude can't ever quite make sense to them. Without experiencing it for myself, I don't know if I'd have ever believed that all a person needs to do to make my day or, hell, my whole week, is come over and bake a cake with my kid at three in the afternoon and then say they liked it. But it's true: that's all it takes. And these two lovely people do it over and over, and I'm so grateful.


Linda (with bonus glimpse of mildewed shower curtain)

This is exactly what people mean when they say blogging will cause your kids trauma and embarrassment. But I can't resist. I have worked very hard to word this in a way that won't attract scurrilous googlers:

This is my eldest's number one favorite implement for bathtub self-exploration.

Obviously, the girl is a genius.