My family left me alone in the house all day so I could sit quietly and heal a sprained rib that's aggravated by talking and moving. So here I am in my house, alone, with the inability to pick stuff up and move it to a different location. Which is, let's be clear, pretty much what I'm either doing every second or THINKING ABOUT doing every second that I'm in the house. I mean, without cleaning, organizing, or reading books to children, what do people DO all day? I'm having a bit of an identity crisis.
Then I remembered I wanted to finish some sock monkeys.
This is what happens when I get two pairs of Christmas socks that are too small. My feet aren't as petite as they were before I had my babies and started spending long periods of time picking up heavy things and moving them to different locations.
I've written about making a sock monkey before. They're not at all hard, though more time consuming than you think for something that necessarily comes out looking "homespun." The only downside to making sock monkeys is you really need a new pair of socks to pull one off. In a used pair of socks it's the heels that go first, and it's precisely the heels that you need to create the shape of a monkey (two to be precise: one for the butt and one for the nose). You can make a bunny form a worn pair of socks but it looks even MORE homespun, even on the verge of venturing into the "trash" category. So unless you have a new pair of socks that just ain't working for you, a sock monkey isn't really upcycling in any way.
On the other hand, maybe the upcycling obsession is a little much in this case. Maybe you can show your friends enough respect to not give their kids trash toys made out of your old dirty socks.
I don't really know who these monkeys are destined for. The next pair of siblings to have a birthday, perhaps? The next two one-year-olds who invite us to parties? The couple at church who I barely know but I know are having twins? All possibilities, now that they're in the "finished" drawer. Oh how I love that finished gifts drawer.
Of course, Harvey and Zion were eyeing the first monkey as it came together, each of them fighting for their turn to hug it. So if I run out of steam next month maybe these could serve as impromptu Easter gifts for my boys. On the other hand, they act like that with EVERYTHING I sew. They pretty much want every toy they have ever seen or heard of, ever. And Harvey already has two sock creations that he never plays with. Except to throw at me when he's angry. So maybe no more monkey business for that one...
One reason I haven't written any blog posts in a couple weeks is illness: we were all pretty sick most of last week. At one point I was cuddling on the couch with Harvey as he moaned with fever and suffered through bouts of intense coughing; in between hacks he repeated, "I really love camping". To cheer him up we looked through some old camping blog posts and soaked in the beautiful, summery pictures. When we came to the end I remembered that I'd never finished writing about last year's camping trip and I promised him I'd do that. He told me he'd look forward to the posts, and then he threw up all over the iPad.
We're all better now. So here's the story of our first full day up in Maine last July (for the story of our trip up, go here). After our traditional breakfast at the cafe we decided to do something hiking-eque that everyone young and old could participate in and headed out to Compass Harbor, a wonderfully secluded cove five minutes from town by car and ten or fifteen minutes by foot from the road. Once we got there the Archibalds all wanted to change into swimsuits.
Not that wearing his swimsuit tempted Zion into the water: he mainly wanted to throw rocks, eat rocks, and be carried around. Harvey and I were more interested in a submerged pathway leading out to a large rock—well, I was interested and he was interested and terrified. As the tide went out—you can see the stepping stones fully exposed in the second photo above—he summoned up his courage and we all crossed over to be photographed triumphantly.
Well, I say all; Rascal was there too but he was concerned with other things.
Rascal obviously went swimming, which he does; I also took to the water, but only briefly, since it was very cold. No one took a picture of me, I don't think, which is too bad. I'm sure I looked fine, brave, and blue.
Then it was some more hiking, first—led by Andrew and Washington Raccoon— around the promontory for some fine views of the ocean, and then—Harvey and Rascal in the lead—back through the woods to the car. Zion was worn out from all the exertion.
Back at the campsite with plenty of daylight left, we worked on getting everything organized to our satisfaction, and then we played and cooked. The Archibalds made dinner, but I don't even remember what it was: we were totally upstaged by the dutch oven pineapple upside-down cake that Andrew and Becca made for desert.
Now that's camping at its finest.
This week Christians everywhere begin a season commonly referred to as "lent." It's usually marked by increased focus on prayer and fasting, and sometimes that means an equal dose of hair-splitting as irritating church ladies looking down their noses at any early April party-goers who dare enjoy a slice of birthday cake.
In our church (which is mostly free of persnickety ladies) we run a yearly experiment called the "leap of faith." We use the 40 days before Easter to pray and see if we can get something more from God. Some people see amazing things happen, like new jobs are marriages or babies or miraculous healings. Some people see nothing happen. You don't really know what you're going to get when you try for something more with God. That's why it's called taking leap of faith and not, i don't know, ordering crap from Amazon.
I am excited to participate in this year's leap of faith, even if I expect to be a bit preoccupied over the next two months. As long as it's not called "keep your house clean of faith" I think I can manage. Doing a little more bible reading and a little more praying will be right up my ally when I'm bedridden. And then after that I'll get to enjoy all those extra middle-of-the-night awake moments that are prefect for praying.
I'll be asking God for some stuff, two things actually, which really seem like one thing in the end. The first is to supernaturally smooth out my relationship with Harvey. Don't get me wrong; I really love Harvey. He is sweet and smart and fun to be around... often. But he's also going through a phase where sometimes, sometimes for moments and sometimes for days on end, he tries to make life as miserable as possible for everyone around him. He wants to fight with someone, and we just happen to be the people he lives with. The fact that this is a normal stage of development doesn't make it any more pleasant to live through. (Seriously, I am about done with the word "options," as in "I don't like those options for dinner!") My dearest hope is that our love for each other can survive both my legitimate disciplinary measures and his legitimate raging against the machine.
So during this leap of faith I'll be praying every day for God to give me more of the love that he has for Harvey. Love that I assume is truly, supernaturally, demonstrably unconditional.
And there's one more thing.
I want to be a person who welcomes other people into my life. I mean, sure I host two home groups a week and I am even as I type this getting ready to welcome another human permanently into my home (contractions are 7 minutes apart and 15 seconds long, so I think I can bang out the rest of this blog post.) But I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that hospitality is different than really loving people. Sure, I welcome many people into a home when it's clean and I've made fancy snacks. I welcome people into a specific impression of me that I have cultivated, as an accomplished homemaker or at the very least a consistant hippy.
This month I would like to think about inviting people into my vulnerability. I would like to think about connecting with people where I'm not clean and put together, where I don't know what I'm doing, where it's not about ME offering THEM something but us actually loving each other. As frightening or annoying as that sounds.
Those are the prayers I'll be floating for myself this Leap of Faith, and I trust that God will do something productive with them. And here's where I offer you an invitation.
During this season I'll be praying for my friends that God does good stuff for them. I'd love for YOU to be included in that group. If you would like me to pray for you during this leap of faith, please leave a comment after this blog post, or email me separately if that feels more comfortable.
There are other ways you can get involved in our church's leap of faith this season. If you're in the area, please do join us for church on Sunday mornings. There will be fun new things to try during each of the church services from now until Easter, and as always there are free coffee and bagels. If you're reading the blog from somewhere (gasp) outside of Massachusetts, you can still help yourself to the daily bible guide that starts this March 9th (I think this will be on the website; Dan can you link this later if I don't have time to find it before my labor picks up.) And you can also pray for me and let me know how I can pray for you.
Please do take a leap with me this year.
In this age of widespread social media, we totally broke our baby news embargo early; I hardly feel like it's even worth posting here except for the future reference value. But officially: as Leah was just about live-blogging on Facebook, we have a new family member, one who arrived in very civilized fashion at around 10:30 this morning. He's adjusting well to living with us, and the reverse will no doubt be true as well in time. Also in time we'll decide for sure what to name him. The midwives tell me we have six weeks or so before we need to make a final choice, but I don't think it'll be quite that long.
Leah took some good pictures, many of which are on Facebook. None of mine are worth sharing, so this post is even more unsatisfactory: no name, no photos, why even bother?! I can say that he weighed in at seven pounds even, which surprised us all so much we checked the scale and weighed him again. I guess he's just a compact little guy.
And yes, there were some tears when his gender was discovered, but we're recovering well. He's pretty cute; I think we'll keep him.
My water broke at 5am yesterday morning, but it was a slow leak which was quite different from the waterfall deluges I had come to expect with my other two children. For this reason, and also because it was five in the morning, I waited an hour to call the midwife. I was crampy but not having real contractions yet, and I wanted to rule out the possibility that I was having a reaction to all the Shrove Tuesday sausages I had eaten the night before. It's not like I routinely wake up by peeing the bed after I eat sausage. But pregnancy does weird things to the body and you can never be too sure.
I called the midwife at 6am, and she got here before the kids woke up. Harvey woke up first, a little after 7am, and he found me hanging out in the bath. By this time I was having contractions 15 seconds long and 5 minutes apart. They weren't too terrible, but they were enough to make me close my eyes and clench my fists, and Harvey was very excited to see that something was happening. He sat with me in the bathroom, and after each contraction he exclaimed brightly, "All done!" and "That was a short one!" I was overwhelmed with feeling grateful for Harvey, my sweet compassionate firstborn, especially when Dan came in to offer breakfast and Harvey said "I don't want to leave Mama."
Then Zion walked into the bathroom, looked at the two of us, and burst into a plaintive, "I WANT TO GO TO GRANDMA BETH'S HOUSE!" We had a pizza play-date already scheduled for that morning, and the way Zion saw things it looked just enough out the ordinary that he was worried about a disruption to his plans.
I didn't want to mess with their schedule, so I gave the boys the choice. Do you want to stay and watch the baby being born? or do you want to go to grandma's? Even with Harvey's doula tendencies, there was no question in either of their minds. If the baby was not going to emerge from the womb holding two personal-sized pizzas, then watching the miracle of life was inferior to grandma's.
Grandma came and picked them up at 9:30am, and I was a little sad to see them go. At the same time I was starting to have contractions so strong they made me cry, so I was equally happy to be the sole center of focus in the household. Without the boys to distract him, Dan did a champion's job of filling the birth tub and taking care of me. Within a half hour I was in warm water sipping lemon juice from a straw. Another half hour later I was holding a baby.
We do these things quick around here. As long as the kids were at a play date, I figured I'd do the hard stuff first and get in the maximum time for relaxing.
In all respects this labor went better than my previos two. It was quick, but not emergently so, which meant I had longer to face the intense sensations that made up the experience. As for the pain, all I could think of was that gospel song, "Oh sinner man, where you gonna run to?" Left, right, in or out of the water, there was nowhere I could run to hide from the awful thing that was happening inside of my body. "Run to the sea," I thought to myself, "Sea will be a boiling." No shit.
Imagining the end times made me feel a little bit better about my predicament. Also I conjured up an image of the Lord presenting his face to the smiters (incorrect biblical reference, but whatever) and those two things together made me think I could probobly bear up under a few minutes of suffering.
As it turned out the whole thing was quicker than I expected, so that the contractions that threw me into the revelations-style reverie only lasted 20 minutes, and the two pushes that followed surprised all of us with their finality. The midwives rushed a bit getting on their gloves, but this time they believe me when screamed "THIS BABY'S COMING!" and there were plenty of hands in the water to scoop up the baby, perfectly pink and crying and beautiful.
Of course, at first I thought they were handing me my beautiful baby girl. I saw his sweet face and curly hair, the lower half of his body obscured by my arms, and I thought: here she is, the sweet little girl who's the answer to all our prayers.
Because before we conceived the children were praying EVERY DAY for a baby girl. "Please give Mama and Dada the seeds of a baby gu-guh" they said. How could God not listen to the sweet prayers of blond children?
And because we tried to maximize our feminine chances by timing conception four days before ovulation...
And because the baby in my belly was smaller and made me much sicker than the other two...
I thought for sure this one would be a girl. I didn't even have any boy names picked out.
I waited a few seconds for my arms to stop shaking. When I thought I had control of my limbs again I lifted the little body towards me to check. "Are you a boy or a girl?" I asked, almost for forms sake. And what did I see? A beautiful, feminine, LIGHT baby boy.
At this moment I was glad that my kids were not present, because I cried and I cried and I let myself feel the full weight of disappointment. The long wait of pregnancy. The agony of labor. Did my family need another boy? Had I failed them all?
And though life is long and we might get the baby bug again, or we might just screw up and slip with birth control, I had really intended to make this pregnancy my last. I thought so many times over the course of this last year: this being pregnant thing is just too much. It's not even fair to my kids. It's not fair to deprive them from motherly consortium for so many evenings in the pursuit of "planned" illness.
And so I mourned a lot of things yesterday. Not only the loss of pink frilly baby clothes which I intended to buy. I thought:
I'll never watch my child in a dance recital
Or braid long hair
Or teach someone how to put on makeup.
I'll never help anyone get ready for prom
Or shop for a wedding dress
Or stand beside a birth tub holding my daughter's hand, telling her I did this and it's going to be okay.
And then I thought: Well, maybe it's better if I don't have a girl, if I clearly have such horribly oppressive expectations for her entire life trajectory.
The kids got home from grandma's and were excited to meet the little one.
"I wanted a girl," Harvey said to Dan.
"I know," Dan said. "We all did." There was a respectful pause. "But this baby is cute too."
The baby made some newborn mews and the boys both giggled. "I like his noises!" Zion exclaimed. "He sounds like a kitty!"
"His hands are so tiny," said Harvey, kissing them. "I love you little baby."
And just like that my sweet sensitive (surplus) boys teach me how to be loving. By holding lightly to expectations. By facing surprises. By looking at what's actually in front of them and smiling at it and then getting distracted by toys and a huge blow up birth tub in the room.
This is the family I love. The real people God's given me to be with and to be surprised by and to constantly challenge my expectations. It makes me glad I don't get to plan everything out myself. As much as I think my plan is the best. Real life has a way of being blessedly different.
As the dad of a new baby, I've had several people ask very kindly how we're doing. Honestly, I've had to answer that we're actually doing great! But I make sure to explain that this is the easy part: at this stage in little Elijah's life he mostly hovers in a halfway stage between sleeping and waking, and he likes nothing better than to be carried around while we accomplish other useful tasks. At the same time, everyone around us is incredibly solicitous. We get to avoid all the usual responsibilities of our everyday life, and when we manage something simple like going to church we're treated like heroes; and even better, people keep bringing us delicious food!
It started on Thursday with a roast chicken dinner, complete with mashed potatoes, gravy, and vegetable sides, cooked to perfection by my mom with maybe four hours of warning (and delivered to our door in time for our unsocially early 5:00 dinner hour!). Friday saw two pasta dishes—allowing us to choose between mac-and-cheese and pesto penne—as well as giant deliveries of fruit from both grandmas. Not only did we get pizza on Saturday, but the Stevenses came over and cooked it fresh in our oven while their children entertained ours. And today we got meatballs, more chicken, and brownies.
If you're keeping score at home, that comes out to six dinners so far, in just four days. So even with our best intentions and appetites there are leftovers; in fact, the refrigerator is so full that taking anything out—to say nothing of putting it back!—is quite a puzzle. A puzzle I'll happily solve, of course, since it means that whenever I want I can eat, say, a chicken sandwich with avocado and baby spinach with sides of mashed potatoes and pesto pasta. And the fruit. Thanks, everybody!!
Now two weeks from now things might look a little different. Elijah will have found his crying voice, I'll have to go back to work, and Harvey and Zion will be over the novelty of having a baby in the house and will be back to expecting (fairly, I might add!) a little bit of attention themselves. And people might have stopped bringing us food! Of course, that's the one part of our woeful future that you, dear reader, have the power to change. We have no food allergies or dietary restrictions, and Leah is very good at sending thank you notes promptly. You don't even have to tell us before you come by with something!
Having a baby, like going to prom, makes a girl into a princess for a very short period of time. In this small window where I'm still bleeding heavily (I'm talking about birth here and not prom, thank God) I can ask for pretty much anything I want without social repercussions. For example, right after I delivered Elijah I asked Dan to cook me an omelet, and then I asked him to feed it to me bite by bite. It was like that last scene in Clockwork Orange where the dude just opens him mouth demanding food like some kind of asshole fish.
Dan's omelet was perfect of course, but sometimes the more specific the thing you ask for the more likely you are to be disappointed. The night of Elijah's birth I asked someone to bring over Ibuprofen for my cramping. She brought a full bottel of Ibuprofen PM, an interdicted substance for anyone nursing or needing to wake up every hour with an infant. Similarly, yesterday I confessed that I needed another pair of newborn pyjamas. I soon found myself with 12 pairs of 3-month outfits that are twice the length of Elijah.
With each transaction there is a predictable series of emotions. First the rush of relief when someone says they will solve your problem, then the flood of gratitude when that person puts a newly minted plastic bag in your hand. Then the slow burn of frustration, anger, and shame. Frustration when you realize the thing isn't really going to solve your problem at all. Anger that you have to find another way to solve your problem. And shame that you've put your pride on the line by asking for something, that someone has put out love and effort trying to get you the thing, and that now it's all for naught. You have fruitlessly 'used up one of your wishes.'
Now, in all fairness, people who aren't nursing don't carry around medical encyclopedias in their heads. People without babies don't have a sense of how big they are, and they don't know that 0-3 is a totally different size from newborn for some ungodly reason. And pyjamas and over the counter medication can be procured from Amazon with free two day shipping. In the mean time there's laundry. There's an expired bottle of ibuprofen in the cabinet.
Is it worse when you don't get something you're asking for from God?
Our church is currently observing a season we call Leap of Faith where we put our pride on the line to ask God for something we really want. I blogged about my current hopes this season, and I am praying for various things for my friends. I want for them (respectively) that they would: find more sources of income, have more time for creative work, connect with their neighbors, or conceive a child.
These are things that either happen or they don't happen; You either do or you don't get pregnant. Just by asking you're either setting yourself up for relief and gratitude or frustration anger and shame.
With asking God for something there's a sense of risk. It can feel like a big thing in a any relationship to work up the courage to ask for something and then deal with the disappointment of not getting it.
Though we love baby Elijah (and we really really do), every single member of my family had prayed earnestly for a girl. How do you process that sort of disappointment?
Do you ask yourself (like I did following the Ibuprofen/onesie debacle):
Am I doing a bad job of communicating?
Is it possible to ask for a very specific thing and not be rude?
Does the specificity of a request damage a relationship because there's more opportunity for error?
Is asking for help even worth it? Am I better off taking care of everything myself?
In answering these questions, I find that my relationship with God is much more resilient than my relationships with people. I am quicker to forgive God when I don't get what I want. This may be because God gives me other things that I like, like my beautiful baby boy. Or because I trust that God knows what's best for me. Or because in the end he's God, the judge of the universe, and I don't really have any other choice.
Indeed, every time God doesn't come through for me, I see it as a chance to make our relationship stronger. I get to affirm (like it's some great sacrifice) my love and trust for him beyond my capacity for understanding.
With people I tend to be less forgiving. Which is probably unfair, since they're so much farther away from omnipotence.
This season I hope to be able to forgive, to love, to accept help, and to leave myself open to disappointment. Not just disappointment from the God who I love, but from people who I sort of love but sort of find annoying. I hope (within the bounds of socially accepted time frames) I can keep on asking and keep on receiving whatever I get.
The weather today was beautiful and our kids needed an outing, so we piled into the new minivan and headed to the Discovery Museum in Acton. Did I mention we bought a used minivan? We did and it's incredible.
We got this car 5 days before the baby was born. Just look at all the stuff we can store, baby included! And that's not even counting the two back seats.
This is where the kids sit. At the moment I snapped the picture we were getting a bale of straw thrown into the trunk. Now that there's straw scattered all over the floor the van really feels like home.
The only problem with the van (well, outside the environmental impact of driving at all) is that I have to get out of my seat to hand the children food. I find I'm doing this between one and several times a trip, and we haven't taken many trips so far. At one point in our journey today I was squatting in the middle of the van handing Zion his water bottle, when the road suddenly turned and I was thrown against the side door.
"Are you okay?" Dan asked. I nodded as I struggled to my knees.
"Isn't it good we have so much room in the new car?" Harvey exclaimed brightly, "that you have room to kneel down, Mama?"
Once at our destination, the boys enjoyed the children's museum with their friend Eliot.
While Elijah enjoyed sleeping in the sling.
The weather was so warm that we could even eat our picnic lunch outside! Despite the piles of snow everywhere there are signs that spring is coming one day.
Baby E stayed toasty in the sling with an added blanket outside just in case.
After lunch we took in the discovery science museum, where there are nice soft lounge chairs for mama to sit in. I mean, something something the boys did science.
It was a fun day, but by mid afternoon I was ready to get back in the van. Adventures are tiring, especially when interspersed with nursing and poopy diapers. Luckily there's a nice long spring ahead of us. Here's to time for adventures and resting both.
My brain feels like it's leaking out my ears. This morning Dan ran around the house asking "Where is the sprinkle cheese? Did we finish the sprinkle cheese?" and I looked at him blankly as my brain tried to make the connection between the phrase "sprinkle cheese" and the object that it might represent. I answered something snippy like, "I don't know what day of the week it is - I have no idea if we finished off the sprinkle cheese."
Later after Dan left for work I found the cheese. We hadn't put it away after dinner and it was ON THE KITCHEN TABLE.
So yeah, things are pretty much going exactly as expected.
Thankfully we have wonderful family and friends in the area, and today Harvey and Zion went to play at one grandma's house while the other grandma came over and held Elijah for over an hour. So I had the biggest blessing I can imagine right now: a quiet hour around my house HANDSFREE! I ran around just putting stuff where it belongs. Having a 3rd baby has given me a newfound pride in how much work I do every day just putting shit away. I don't mean this in a bad way; rather the reverse. It makes me feel important to believe I'm indispensable to the household, at least in this one area that no one but me cares about.
People have asked how the kids are doing with the transition, and I think the answer is also "as expected." Harvey is in love with the baby and excited to help with dressing him or pointing out every time he opens his eyes. At the same time he's thrown off by the disruption to his routine, and unsure how the breakdown of parenting responsibility is changing. He compensates by asking Dan to actively engage him every single second. Can you play legos with me? Can you fight with me? Can you read me TinTin? Dan is very quickly teaching Harvey to read in the hopes that it'll give us five minutes of peace and quiet one day.
Zion also asks to hold Elijah and says very adorably, "I wuv you baby Elijey." At the same time he's taken to coming into our bed in the middle of the night, which I don't mind if that's what he needs, except sometimes I dream I'm trapped inside a submarine. Also Zion has ramped up his being bad on purpose, breaking Harvey's legos and saying "I'm gonna hit you, Harvey" which is more annoying than actually hitting. On the plus side, Zion's doing a good job verbalizing his feelings. He's been saying "I love you Mama" more frequently, and also "I'm mad at you Mama" both of which feel like good emotional awareness.
Physically I am doing well, healing much quicker than I did with my previous two births. If there's a word that characterizes this third birth experience it would be "mercy." I am very much aware that while I have some complaints, postpartum could be SO much worse. My body may be tired and misshapen, but it's not broken.
My brain, on the other hand, is suffering from exhaustion. This evening Dan asked me to steam a squash for soup and I sat there looking at the vegetable for over a minute thinking: how do I cook these things again? I'm supposed to cut them up, right? But I don't think we eat the skin on this food, and if I cut it up the skin will still be on. There must be some way to make the skin come off... nothing... still coming up with nothing... have I ever cooked a squash before? Oh, I know! A peeler!
So we seem to be making it through somehow. Baby Elijah is a delight. And now there's soup in the fridge.
After we got back from the museum Mama and Elijah took a rest while me and the big boys headed out to spend some time in the yard. How could we not: it was positively springlike! Coats didn't last long.
Our museum trip also included a stop and the feed store to pick up some straw for the chickens, and when we brought it back to them we saw that they really needed it: melting snow combined with the ice dams all around their run had turned it into kind of a toxic swamp. Several pounds of straw gave them some drier footing, and while the boys spread it I did my best to get the snow off the roof of the run to stop it melting and pouring down. Then we set ourselves to draining the swamp.
Besides the yuck factor and the fact that an inch or two of water on top of ice outside the run door made it very tricky to get in and out of the coop, Harvey and I realized that we'd be even more trouble when it turned cold again: the door would be frozen in solid! But we were able to chop a channel down towards the raspberry bushes, and had fun pushing the water along it.
It wasn't all hard work, though: we had some time to play in the woods.
And to just be silly!
Our work paid off, too: our channel took the puddle outside the coop from this:
to this, the next morning:
At that point the door could also open wider than at any point in the last couple months! Of course, this morning we woke up to steadily falling snow, so winter's got a couple more good days in her, but we very much enjoyed the spring preview.
Dan said he didn't get any good photos from Elijah's birth day, but I saw this on his computer today and called shenanigans. The image says so much to me. How much I loved the baby in those first few minutes, despite the unpleasantness of birth and not having a name picked out and oh my goodness another child with a penis.
But look at that cutie sucking his thumb. Look how beautiful he was right off the bat.
Of course, I tried to do a little photoshopping for the sake of modesty, and Dan laughed when he saw my attempt. "Um, are you making art?" he asked.
"No, I'm making a photo for the internet, and I won't ask you to make it better, because you'll work on it for seven hours!"
"Seven hours! I'll work on it for fourteen hours!"
Then because he loves me but has real work to do, Dan gave me five minutes of his amazing photoshop skills to made my modesty curtain look passable. So that's the explanation for the photoshop you see. I put a lot of myself on this blog, but I stop short of bearing nipple.
Gratuitous homebirth propaganda: check!
I have been blessed three times now with beautiful baby boys. Do they look like each other? Here they all are at all under 2 weeks old:
Our older boys are complicated. They interact with us, and each other, in complex ways. One of many examples today: I wanted to take Zion on a bike ride, and when I broached the idea to him initially he was all for it. But when departure time came, he balked. Harvey, on the other hand, started whining that he wanted to go. He couldn't because I already do lots of things just with him, and more importantly he's too big to go in the trailer or the seat, and we haven't got him a trail-a-bike yet. Leah offered the inducement of an art project to him, which he wanted nothing to do with; but Zion thought it sounded great. That was not the plan.
But we should have expected it: such things are typical. They are lovely much of the time, our boys, but they also fight, and yell, and whine, and act defiant—sometimes for understandable reasons, other times in ways that totally act against their own self-interest. They're people, and I don't always know what's going on inside their heads.
Lijah, on the other hand, is a guinea-pig. He's simplicity incarnate: he's happy to be held most of the time, and snuggles happily, only occasionally opening his eyes. When he's upset it's because he needs a new diaper or wants to eat. Even better, so far he's much calmer and quieter that guinea-pig Harvey was—we don't want to jinx it, but he's a pretty good baby so far.
So as I sit in the rocking chair holding my third son, watching my first and second fight over one lego man among dozens, I send psychic thanks his way. I appreciate your simplicity, Elijah, I really do. Good work.
Harvey and Zion—especially Zion—are in love with explaining compound words and two-word phrases. It started with pancakes: Zion asked one day a couple months ago, "Why they called pancakes?", and I told him it was because they're like cakes and they're cooked in a pan. He continues to delight in the knowledge, and every Saturday I get to hear that "They called pancakes cause they cakes, an they in a pan!!"—only text can't convey the glee with which he pronounces those words.
But he doesn't limit himself to repeating explanations that I told him. He took the pattern and ran with it: "Iss called dog food cause iss food, an iss for a dog!"; "they called rain boots cause they boots, an you wear them in the rain!"; and so on and so forth. It's pretty charming.
You see I make some attempt to reproduce Zion's speech in "eye dialect" form, but I could go still further: for example, he doesn't really pronounce /th/ so "them" is really more like /dem/. Which leads to another amusing point of Zion language that I noticed the other day: the fact that he's mis-analyzed "dessert" as "the zert", and so says things like "after my carrots can I have some zert?"
All this goes to show how much hard serious work is going on in his toddler brain all the time as he tries to figure out this crazy language of ours. Tries, and does: folks have been remarking lately on how much more he's talking, and we've noticed it too. He's more confident with language in the last couple months, both in the range and variety of his sentences and the range and variety of other people he's willing to talk to. Language learning is working! And if he's still working hard, just imagine how much processing is going on in Elijah's brain right now... no wonder he sleeps so much!
I never before had a baby that stayed in newborn sizes for longer than a week, so little LyeLye surprised me by needing much more in the way of baby duds than I had on hand. Last Friday I went to the mall with my mother and picked out clothes for her to buy. When the cash register tipped a hudred and fifty dollars she started to make a face and remark, "Do you really NEED all these outfits?"
Then I felt a little greedy and guilty.
Then I took the stuff home, washed it, and watched Elijah poop or puke through EVERY SINGLE OUTFIT in a day and a half. So yes, even with all that investment I still need to wash baby clothes every day But he sure does look cute in those few moments before he's covered with effluence. Here are a few shots I snapped in between trips to the changing table. Dan thinks anything more than a fleece dress is silly, but I like having a little baby doll to dress up for as long as he'll allow it.
Dan: "A hoodie? For a baby? What's he got to put in his pockets?"
Leah: "OMG, a hoodie! For a baby! Look, he's like a little boxer, punch punch!
Leah: "He looks like an elf!"
Dan: "He looks like a clown."
Leah: "Look! Elijah is a little bear!
Dan: "Can you stop taking pictures and get in the car?"
(Actually, Dan didn't really say these words. They were communicated through a meaningful look.)
Okay, so this isn't a new outfit, it's a sweater and hat I originally knit for Zion. But oh my goodness, look at that little reindeer herder! I had a pink combo ready too, but I won't suffer Elijah that. The next friend to conceive a girl will get extra organic-cotton lucky.
Oh my beautiful little newborn. I love you so much. Now I gotta go fold your laundry.
Over the weekend I suggested Dan take a bike ride to get away from the children (um, projecting much?). His bike saw my "take a break" and raised to "and never come back!" by popping a tire in the middle of Concord center.
And so it was that the whole entire family took an impromptu trip to the Concord river.
We got to see that big float of ice hit the bridge, and the boys had a ton of fun running around the monuments. If it wasn't for the chilly weather, Dan's wet feet, and my exhaustion, we might have even PLANNED such an outing.
Whenever plans go awry I find myself overwhelmingly thankful for the character of my husband. He hardly ever shows disappointment, he can turn his expectations on a dime, and he seems to have a limitless capacity for waiting around while I wrangle three kids in coats into a van. Or maybe he just stoically holds his complaints. All I know is that while I would have had the countenance of a storm cloud sitting beside the parking lot with wet feet and a broken bike, Dan looked like a beautiful ray of sunshine when I pulled in.
Whether he's turning a cold afternoon into a fun family outing, or hugging children who need a time out, or putting a fussy baby to sleep by leaving him in his car-seat and turning on a Sousa march (I can't believe that worked, by the way), Dan reminds the rest of us that life can be filled with love and sunshine. And we all love him madly for it... even if it means fewer breaks.
Pulled this onesie out of the the drawer just now and I flashed back to baby Harvey's first Sunday out of the house.
Now Elijah's got it on, albeit layered for the cooler weather.
Looking back through my pictures, I was struck by how YOUNG I looked only 5 years ago. Young and overwhelmed.
Good Lord, I used to wear makeup!
Now I'm old and wizened, and while taking care of a newborn is easy stuff, keeping the house clean doesn't seem to be.
Why is there always laundry in the background of every photo now? Wait, I know the answer.
Some bloggers take good pictures. And I don't mean like the carefully-composed shots of food you can see all over the place, I mean pictures of real life: beautiful, artistic documentation of everyday hippy existence. Soulemama, for example, or my new favorite hippy lifestyle blog, A Little Craft Nest. Those folks must carry cameras—good cameras!—around with them all the time. I don't do that. But I do have my phone!
Sadly, it isn't even a passable camera. I've made a vow to do better with my real one, at least for a couple weeks. But the snapshots in this post are at least documentary, like the one above that shows what our boys and their best friend not names Stevens can accomplish during a single church service. Then we were back to church for an evening meeting and they were less creative (but not at all disruptive!)
The weather was nice at the start of the month, as the shot that leads off this post shows, but then we were surprised by more snow; not least Harvey's bike, which supposed it was safe to spend the night outside.
Of course, at some point in the period we had a baby. Zion wanted to sleep with him.
Baby in tow, we went to the Discovery Museum. Mama said more about that, but she missed a few Dada-Harvey exclusive moments.
And just today Harvey, Zion, and I took a bike ride to the creek, which was running high and cold. But oops, I forgot my camera. Here's what my phone recorded.
A hippy blog tradition comes to the squibix family blog, but they won't make me use curly brackets in the title.
I have to write a lot of thank-you notes these days, what with friends and family delivering food to my door nearly every day. I like to have home-made cards on hand for this type of situation, because they're cheaper and look nicer than store-bought sets. Also because I am insane and when I convey my heart-felt appreciation to someone who brought me food, I like to do it with a little nidge that says "you may have helped me out this time, but I'm the type of person who sends hand-made thank you cards, so in the long run I'm probably more put-together and better than you."
Just kidding, I only say that in my subconscious.
Pre-children I used to make cards with trendy rubber stamps, but now that I'm a stay at home I figure nobody's interested in my artwork anymore. It's cuteness the world cares about now. So these days whenever the supply runs low, I set my children to work in the card-making sweat shop.
I got the idea of using their artwork on cards when I realized their desire for experimenting with paint far surpasses their desire for saving their creations. So for a while I was cutting up their unwanted canvases and gluing them to cards. But now they're into decorating the cards themselves, saving me a second step.
Zion is deep into his blue period, while Harvey experiments with red and things that can be mixed with red.
Harvey also refuses to confine his artwork to the outside of the card, which means my words sometimes need to snake around his beautiful drawings.
Meanwhile, those of you who think I'm a heartless mother for sending their creations out through the mail will be happy to note that some drawings DO make it to our fridge. Here are two of my favorite Harvey sketches:
Harvey has captured the essence of what it means to be a chameleon in a way that's both explanatory and touching. It makes me happy every time I see it on the freezer. Hmm, I should send him a thank-you note.
The weather report tells us that today saw a return to bitter winter cold, and indeed, it "felt like" 6°F when we got up this morning (a breezy 16° or so). But when it's spring and sunny, it's hard to keep shoes on the boys! Never mind that, above their bare feet, they had on lined pants, two shirts, sweatshirts, and winter coats—the spirit of the day demanded that snow boots be kicked off so that feet could feel the sweetness of the sun-warmed grass.
Well, actually, it didn't demand it to me, and probably not to Zion either, but it did to Harvey. And with him running around exclaiming gleefully about how wonderful each bit of ground felt under his feet it was hard not to join him in his revels. So I did. And it did feel nice; and also pretty cold.
But not so cold that we didn't stay out for a long time—even Zion, who has not been the most hardy in the past was happy outside the whole time, including more than an hour shoeless. The air may have been—read, was—below freezing, but the late March sun is incomparably warmer than what we had a month or two ago. As you can see above, our animal population was also very happy to take the air.
I don't put much stock in the calendar or the equinox as a marker of spring: in many ways it still feels pretty late-wintery around here, and the planting is delayed accordingly. But clearly even on this chilly afternoon there was something irresistibly springlike in the air, and besides fixing the fences we took plenty of time to run and wrestle and roll in the grass.
They kept their boots off until the end—past 4:00—though that did mean I had to carry them inside, because between the sunny spot where we were playing and the house is still a considerable patch of snow and ice. Oh well. Our feet tell us it'll be gone soon.
When Harvey was about a year old my mother gave me a velour one-piece track suit that she'd been saving from my younger brother. It was his FAVORITE outfit when he was a toddler, she told me. It was purple and blue and, did I mention? a VELOUR one-piece TRACK SUIT. It never really did fit Harvey but that was besides the point for me.
The point was: This??? This is the precious thing you have saved for over 20 years?
I am thinking about the meaning of STUFF right now, as I contemplate getting rid of some baby related things. These are things that have been both useful and precious to me. My maternity clothes (bar the jeans I am still wearing for the next month) are in bags ready to go to my pregnant friends. And I am in the process of bagging up the things that are too small for Elijah. These I have promised to give away too. I thought this would be a joyful process. My laundry room is so filled with boxes that I can barely move around in there. I am ITCHING to clean house and get more space to do laundry. And yet, and yet. For some reason I find that letting go is hard.
For starters these things are useful. I'm not 100% sure I'm done having babies. The percentage is small, the part of me that wants to try for a forth, but fertility is a long time and I'm still very young and there's comfort in having those huge boxes of clothes in the basement. The crate of maternity things, the bag of newborn items, they speak to me in a whisper that says, "You're ready. Whatever happens, Leah. You're ready for anything."
The truth is, though, I'm not really ready for anything. A forth baby would be a huge decision. Not only for my family and for my body, but logistically we don't really have a place for a forth child to SLEEP. I can't enter into that decision lightly. I can't to lull myself into a false sense of security just because I've got some sweaters, a few pairs of pants, and some newborn onesies packed in tubs I can see every time I do my laundry.
I have friends who are pregnant NOW, who need things to wear this minute, and that is more important than a hedge to my bets that is slowly turning into mouse bedding. (For those of you who don't have basement mice, I should explain that they sneak into sealed plastic tubs and rip up wool garments. Something something treasures in heaven) Plus, if I do get pregnant again, I'm sure there will be bags of clothing coming back in my direction. Shouldn't I expect to reap the generosity I sow? Or if worse comes to worse, there is always new clothing to be had out there in the world. There are Old Navy and Kohls and their online maternity shops, and for a couple hundred bucks I could have an entire new wardrobe of potential mouse bedding.
So yes, even if there's a chance I might need them again, giving things away is a practical idea. And yet, and yet. I gave away my most useful maternity sweater last night and it felt like a little piece of me was dying.
I have been wondering what I should save out of Elijah's newborn clothes. What is too absolutely precious that if it never makes it back to me in a box of hand-re-rounds I would mourn its loss? There is the white terry onesie with the duckies that all three children have worn. I would not even consider it if I saw it on the rack new in a store, but for some reason I cannot let it pass through my hands. I will put it in a box somewhere, along with the handmade sweaters and the Loved Baby hat, and if they don't come out for a mythical 4th child then I will pass them on to my first grand-baby. Then my future daughter-in-law will look at me, and she will look at the shitty terry onesie, and she will think: This??? This is your precious thing?
And I will say "We women, we don't make sense."
Better yet, let's give all of it away. I am tired of endless sorting in service of an unknown future. I am tired of guessing what provisions I might need, buying in bulk, worrying if I am now ready enough. I am tired of storing away products and plans for potential events, events for which I can never be actually prepared. I had a dream last night that friends came over for lunch and I used up my emergency freezer raviolis. Do you hear that people? I AM DREAMING ABOUT EMERGENCY FREEZER RAVIOLIS! How much power does my pre-pwork have over me that it is taking up the space reserved for the present?
So though it is hard, though it takes a little bit out of me each time, I am ready to give things away for now. I am ready to trust that the future will be okay, no matter what its material needs are. I am ready for more room to do laundry.
Harvey is working on percentages this week, or the concept thereof, prompted by his desire to read everything on the orange juice container.
"One hundred dot line dot," he says to me at breakfast.
"The dot line dot means percent," I tell him. "One hundred percent. That means 'all of it.' All of it is Florida orange juice. Zero percent would mean none of it."
Later today we are cuddling on the couch.
"Mama," Harvey says, "I love you one hundred percent."
Spring is here, signaled by hard rain yesterday afternoon and much of today. So rain boots are the thing. Thursday the Stevenses were over and Eliot had his rain boots—I mean, "puddle jumpers"—and so was very disappointed to find out that the day was too cool and dry for puddles. So we suited up and all headed out for an expedition into the boggy marsh.
There, naturally, we found puddles galore. It was wonderful for those of us with proper footwear, though less so for the ones in snow boots or sneakers. Luckily Bruce is big enough to be able to find alternate routes, and alternate entertainments!
(And also big enough not to complain too much after he fell in and soaked one foot).
As well as our time in the marsh we also had lots of good walking on forest trails. Even though they were pretty icy, everyone did very well—and Zion did very well being carried in the backpack for that part of the trip, after some initial reluctance (read: "screaming"). We brought Rascal along too, and he had a wonderful time, roaming widely and checking in just enough to reassure the kids that he hadn't run away. Not that he was easy to spot at any time.
I was very proud of Harvey, who's turning into a fine hiker. Thanks to the backpack Grandma got him he can carry all his own supplies now, and it also helps him really look the part! We're looking forward to many more hikes to come this spring.
Edit: Leah took better pictures with her camera than Bridget or I did with mine. Here's one that should have been in this post to begin with:
Besides having a new baby around here, we've been seeing some other changes—changes more or less related to the presence of another small person. Most obviously related, Rascal is getting fed up with sleeping in our bed. You wouldn't think he'd have any room to complain, after getting in our way for the past eight years, but after sticking with it for two babies he's decided that enough is enough. He's wisely realized that Harvey's bed sees the least disturbance over the average night, so over the past week that mostly where he's been hanging out.
He doesn't want to sleep alone, of course, which also kept him from moving out earlier. But now there's always somebody in the other room, if only because we can't all fit in one queen-sized bed, so if there's too much commotion in the parents' room he's quick to decamp.
It may be, too, that he's developing more of an attachment to Harvey, which would be only right. Harvey's been helping feed him for some time (as has Zion), and our biggest boy can also put in a respectable effort at a game of tug (though Rascal does know to go easy on him). Harvey is even doing a fine job of holding the leash on walks.
Which points to another change we've noticed: Harvey's walking endurance is increasing by leaps and bounds. One of my physical education goals for his kindergarten year next year was to be able to walk a mile without complaining, but he's easily got that beat now. Yesterday we went up to the library and back and, though we had the double stroller along (with new tires—thanks, Jim!) he didn't even ask to go in it (it served very well to carry his new PowPow car seat, an upcycled clementine box). He kept up well, too, running every third step or so; in fact the only time I had to wait for him was when he stopped to pay more attention to his talking. I almost wrote "stopped to talk", but that would be misleading, since he was actually talking almost the entire time—which makes his demonstration of cardiovascular fitness all the more impressive!
Not that he talks all the time all the time: just when he's not doing anything else intellectually engaging. He's "reading" a lot more now, and really reading too in small doses. Grandma gave him a Tintin book for Christmas, remembering how much I enjoyed the series as a developing reader, and just like I did he's spending hours looking at the books by himself and sounding out the action words—"bang", "splosh", and such like. I can't help but notice that he's two years ahead of my own reading pace at this point.
Zion is doing some talking too. We never thought he was particularly reticent: if you want to be noticed in this family I guess you need to keep the words coming. But his vocabulary is widening dramatically, and he's also more confident socially with his speech. We might not have remarked on the changes, since they're gradual rather than sudden, but on three or four occasions friends have remarked about how much more verbal he's seemed to them. He's even starting to drop some of his idiosyncratic consonant replacements: I think I heard him say "see" this afternoon!
And of course, Elijah is changing all the time! After being very easy for his first two-three weeks he's had a fussy few days, so we're a little worn out; but we know that with him—with all our guys!—the transitions just keep on coming.