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Autumn Days Are Here Again

Autumn Baby

Four days old on a beautiful autumn day

Dear Sweet Autumn Child,

Once again, the air has begun to cool and the smell of autumn is in the breeze. As I feel the new season approaching, I can’t help but think — as I imagine I will for the rest of my life — of my sweet autumn baby boy.

One year ago, I sat outside with my hand resting on a swollen belly and I wrote a letter to you, my autumn child. I wrote about this season and what it means to our family — how it’s special to your dad and me for so many reasons. And now, here we are again in the season of your birth.

There was so much I didn’t know on that autumn day last year.

For starters, I didn’t know you’d be a boy — a rough and tumble kind of guy who gets up from a fall and takes off again, undaunted. I certainly didn’t expect your blonde hair or your big blue eyes. I didn’t know if you’d be colicky or easygoing; a good sleeper or a night terror. I didn’t know if I’d be a confident mom or easily rattled by a crying jag — and I didn’t always believe I could do the job I had ahead.

Before you, I thought of autumn as a season of endings — of leaves and flowers fading away and the wildlife preparing for winter. Now, I see autumn differently.

It is a season of beginnings, of arrivals, of impending change. It’s not a time for the weak.

Although I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, my memory of the day you arrived has grown soft around the edges. My pregnancy, which seemed interminable at the time, now seems like a movie I watched late at night; I remember the plot, but some of the details have become foggy.

I wish I knew how to grab hold of each beautiful day with you and make it stay just a little longer. You’ve become a whirlwind of activity, and I breathe a sigh of relief once you’ve finally gone down for the night. But there’s also a little twinge in my heart for another day gone by.

Last night, I listened to my father read you the book Love You Forever on the last evening of your grandparents’ visit. Each time he sung the little song from the book, you tilted your head up at your grandpa and smiled, and I took a little mental snapshot of the two of you. It was a poignant moment, one I’ll hold on to for a long time to come.

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always.
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

No, you are not yet the man who rocks his ailing mother. Nor are you the unruly teenager or the sullen 9-year-old boy. But suddenly, you seem more like the mischievous 2-year-old than the tiny baby in the story.

It’s been nearly four years since the beautiful autumn day when your father and I were married, and nearly a year since the beautiful autumn day when you came into our lives. I recall our first walks when I bundled you tightly against the brisk fall air. I remember the chilly winter mornings when I’d pull a blanket over my knees and you’d nuzzle your warm body against my skin. I remember the spring afternoons when I carried you in your sling and shielded your eyes against the bright sunlight. And I remember our long summer together, swinging and playing and discovering the world.

It’s already been a wild ride, and I know we have so much more to come. Welcome to autumn, my son, the season of your birth.

Best Laid Plans

Newborn baby love

Gazing at my newborn son’s perfect head

Yesterday, upon reading a friend’s account of her newborn daughter’s birth story, I couldn’t help but think about best laid plans, and how often they veer off course. And, how perfectly the phrase about best laid plans captures the always-going-awry world of parenthood.

This friend of mine planned for her baby’s delivery more meticulously than anyone I know. She chose her natural birthing center long before she ever became pregnant and did everything possible to ensure the most natural experience possible.

And yet, she could never have planned for the many complications she endured throughout her pregnancy, including a bicornuate uterus, a potentially breech baby and “unstable lie”, a constantly flip-flopping fetus and an external cephalic version. (You’re not alone: I had never heard of most of those things before either.)

Unfortunately, all her careful planning went out the window when her baby first decided to wait until more than a week past her due date to arrive, and then showed signs of distress during the slowly developing labor. Despite months of preparing for a natural, drug-free birth, my poor friend found herself being wheeled down the hallway for an emergency C-section.

Best laid plans: how they do go awry.

Parenthood is full of plans gone amiss; it’s almost as if labor and delivery are nature’s way of preparing you for a life filled with the unexpected.

I had my own best laid plans for my son’s delivery, most of which went out the window in the 41st week of my pregnancy. I had intended to let him arrive on his own schedule, until we went for a 41-week ultrasound and were (mis)informed by an overzealous technician that our baby was already weighing in at nine pounds (“And growing more each day!”).

While my husband and I were thrilled to have such a healthy and vital baby, I became terrified for the labor I was already dreading. Two days later, in the darkness of night, my husband and I checked in for an induction with enough luggage for a three-week stay.

And once again, my carefully laid plans unraveled, one by one.

It turned out that labor was a far cry from what we saw in a series of horrifying videos shown at our childbirth preparation class. My experience was nothing like that of the overalls-wearing mom (seriously, who gives birth wearing overalls?), who walked the hospital corridors and brayed loudly while rolling around on a yoga ball.

Within moments of arriving at the hospital, I was given a hospital gown to wear, hooked up to a monitor and prepped for an IV. So much for the socks and tennis shoes I prudently packed so I could walk the halls and undergo natural childbirth. So much for the birthing ball, which we never unpacked from the car (given the other six bags we dragged into the facility). So much for the Jacuzzi tub I was so excited about, which never saw a drop of water during our entire stay.

Since that day, there have been plenty of other best laid plans.

There was the Superbowl party we tried to attend, only to have my usually happy 3 ½-month-old son launch into hysterics just as we pulled into the driveway. (Little did those partygoers know there was a woman frantically trying to breastfeed a manic baby only steps from the front door.)

There was my snobby attitude toward baby formula, which ended up being a lifesaver in the post-partum days when my son and I struggled mightily with breastfeeding.

There have been numerous cancelled plans, countless ruined outfits, endless missed opportunities.

That’s all just part of being a mom. You plan like you’ve never planned before, only to have things fall apart at the seams. You worry endlessly about one thing and then discover you were worrying about the wrong thing all along. You stress and agonize over your child’s birth, only to learn that the delivery is just the beginning of a long journey you’ll make together.

As it turned out, my friend’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her baby’s neck, not two or three, but four times. As her baby traveled down the birth canal, the cord pulled tighter and tighter around her sweet baby’s neck. The natural birth she had so carefully planned may have actually spelled disaster. Who could’ve ever guessed such a thing?

As my friend so beautifully wrote to her perfect little daughter, “On the day you were born, you were born. And that’s all we really wanted anyway.”

Those words bring tears to my eyes.

You try. You do your best. You make your plans, and watch as they fall apart before your very eyes.

And at the end of the day, you look down at the perfect little head of the human being you created, and you smile. Nothing else really matters. Nothing else ever will.

Read parts one and two of Sara’s delivery story on her excellent blog, www.vivacatalina.com.

Perfectly Imperfect

Tree Swing

So read the tattoo sported by a man who came to hang a swing from a tall, shady tree in my yard.

Perfectly Imperfect.

His was not a private tattoo, carefully placed in a spot he could conceal if he so chose. It wound around his wrist and artfully snaked up his arm, streaked with dirt and sweat on a late July day.

I found myself wondering what made him choose that phrase for his permanent ink; what was it about that statement that made him want it emblazoned on his skin for all the days of his life? And then I found myself thinking how freeing those words are.

While not as old as my husband and I would have liked, my house is not new. This house has lived longer than I have. It has stood in this spot for over 40 years, and bears the scars of people who lived here many years ago.

The windows are old and heavy, and require more than a little elbow grease to be heaved open. The edges of the glass panes wear shaky little mountain ranges of paint, unevenly applied by someone I’ve never met.

Behind the large mirror mounted on the bathroom wall, you’ll find a layer of psychedelic wallpaper that I just couldn’t bring myself to tear down.

And the built-in cabinets in our den wear a once-fresh coat of paint, applied by us only a few years ago. Now, just four years after we arrived here, the paint has begun to chip away and show the dark, old wood underneath. When you open those cabinets, you can peer into ancient caverns that once held someone else’s belongings.

Perhaps they once stored some child’s toys. And perhaps those toys belonged to a boy named David, who perfectly imperfectly tattooed his name on the inside of one of the doors.

This little detail, this tiny personal touch, is one of my favorite things about this house. I love being reminded that people lived here before us; that families made their lives here and raised their children and ate family dinners in the very spot where we today eat ours.

I love feeling the breeze come through the kitchen as my reward for the effort of heaving those large windows open. I love seeing that, no matter how many times we apply a fresh coat of paint, we are reminded that we can no more cover the past than we can erase it.

And I love seeing little David’s name, scrawled in his childish hand, when I open the cupboard door to retrieve some firewood or a photo album. (Because, in my house, those things perfectly imperfectly live in the same spot.) It’s a reminder of those who came before us, and those who will someday live here after we have moved on.

I like to think that, before we do, my son will tattoo his own name in a spot I’ll never find. A new child will feel the breeze in his hair as he swings from the tree in our backyard, where a little plastic swing is waiting for him. And one day, he’ll open a cupboard door and see the mark of a boy who lived here before.

I hope these children — both the one who lives here now and all those to come — grow up to remember an idyllic childhood, marked by open windows and backyard tree swings. I hope they’ll look back fondly upon a house that was perfectly imperfect. I hope they’ll see themselves as perfectly something, even if that thing is imperfect.

And I hope the mom who finds my son’s name someday smiles when she sees it. I hope she thinks of us, and imagines us reading in a chair or sharing a meal in the kitchen. I hope, like me, she will never try to scrub this tattoo clean or paint over it. I hope she sees just how perfectly imperfect it is.

We’re All “Mom Enough”

Babywearing

My little guy, happy in his sling

Congratulations, moms! Society has found a new way for us to fail.

As much as I tried to avoid doing so, I have to discuss last week’s provocative cover of Time Magazine. You know the one.

It’s weird. It’s controversial. It’s challenging.

So what?

I admit, at first glance, I thought it was depicting another one of those inappropriate teacher-student relationships. (Sorry for the mental image.)

But, no. It’s a gorgeous, stylish mom, breastfeeding her 3-year-old son. And now, people all over are judging her and weighing in on her parenting decisions.

The funny thing is the article isn’t really about breastfeeding at all; it’s about attachment parenting. I won’t go into the details on what that is — I don’t really feel I’m qualified to discuss it. I don’t even know if I would be called an attached parent or not.

Yes, I practice “babywearing.” The sling is a great way to tote my baby around, simple as that. (Also, I don’t know how “attached” I am, since in the photo above, I’m not actually wearing the sling. I’m the one in the background enjoying a glass of wine.)

No, I don’t co-sleep with my son. Frankly, I’m afraid if he and I sleep and nurse in my bed, we’ll never leave it. The dishes will pile up; the dogs will starve to death; before I know it, he’ll be 3 and we’ll be on the cover of Time.

Yes, I make homemade baby food. Trust me, if this were any more complicated than putting a sweet potato in the oven, it’d be beyond me.

No, I didn’t have exclusively positive, affirming thoughts throughout my pregnancy. Any mom who didn’t spend some of her pregnancy in bed with a bag of marshmallows is a stronger gal than me.

Whether you’re practicing attachment parenting, helicopter parenting or whatever else, you’re probably just trying to do the best you can. Despite the wealth of parenting books out there, babies don’t come with an instruction manual. Aren’t we all just trying to figure it out one day at a time?

My state’s recent inability to love thy neighbor, to live and let live, has made me suddenly hyper-aware of all the ways we pass judgment on each other. And based on what? As a society, we’re not exactly knocking it out of the park.

According to the National Poverty Center, 22% of our nation’s children are living in poverty.

One out of every three American children is considered to be overweight or obese.

One-third of our country’s fourth grade public school students are at or below the “Basic” reading level.

So why are we worrying about this healthy, well cared for child?

I was inspired to finally write about this subject after reading an amazing commentary titled, Wake Up Moms — You’re Fighting the Wrong Fight! I was hooked by the second paragraph, just after reading this line:

I’m sorry – I’m busy perfecting my “style” of parenting. I just like to call it “parenting” and it involves me making sure my child stays alive. It’s working out pretty well for us so far.

Amen, sister. Whether or not you agree with the author’s perspective that our country’s standards for maternity leave are deplorable (I do, by the way), she makes a great point. Why are we moms wasting our time judging each other? Isn’t our job hard enough?

I have no idea if my style of parenting would meet society’s approval or not. I really don’t care. I’m just doing the best I can. I don’t know a mom who doesn’t question herself every single day.

As for the breastfeeding mom? She’s taking care of her son the most effective way she knows. And let’s not forget: breastfeeding isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It’s one of the most selfless things a mom can do for her child, and it’s really, really hard (at least for me).

And still, that beautiful mom probably looked at that photo of herself and found something to criticize.

I say, bravo to her. Bravo to you. Bravo to me.

We’re all doing the best we can.

Love Thy Neighbor

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Love thy neighbor.

When I think back to what I was taught in Sunday morning gatherings, in 12 years of Catholic school, in all the children’s books I read growing up, that is the message I remember most clearly from my education.

Love thy neighbor. Do no harm. Treat others as you wish to be treated.

That’s why I head to my neighborhood polling station with a heavy heart and a deep feeling of frustration. Today, my neighbors and I will vote on a constitutional amendment that defines marriage between one man and one woman as the only domestic legal union that is valid or recognized in this state.

This action would amend my state’s constitution — no small feat — to actually take rights away from some of its citizens. This amendment is written so broadly that it could take away domestic violence protection for all unmarried women, remove children from their parents and interfere with unmarried couples wishing to visit each other in the hospital.

That isn’t my definition of love, and it isn’t how I want to be treated.

I’ve seen what can happen when the rights of same-sex couples are ignored. Someone I care about deeply was thrown out of his home and stripped of his belongings after the tragic death of his partner. His partner’s family only recognized him as the roommate, with no claim to the life he shared with his partner for many years.

The sad thing is that my state already bans same-sex marriage. So far, this amendment’s main accomplishment has been to divide us from one other and encourage people from all walks of life to insist they know what is God’s will.

So, according to God’s will, which of my neighbors should I love? My neighbors who live two houses down, who proudly display a sign in support of this amendment? Or, my neighbors two houses up, who have lived peacefully and with dignity in a same-sex partnership for more than 12 years?

Here is what I know: I will teach my son to treat all people with respect and acceptance. I will encourage him to remember that he doesn’t know what it’s like to be someone else; to feel what his neighbor feels, to walk in his neighbor’s shoes. I will set an example of humility and open-mindedness when it comes to God’s will.

Moments ago, when I laid my son down for his morning nap, I kissed him first on one cheek, and then the other. I looked into his deep blue eyes and told him that he can love whomever he chooses, and be whatever he wants. I whispered to him that he is a gift from God, and that he can never disappoint me. My eyes welled with tears as I assured him that I will always love him, no matter what.

He is my neighbor, after all.

Today, when I make my choice in the voting booth, I will choose to love all my neighbors. I will not pass judgment on my neighbors who support this stringent, restrictive amendment.

Likewise, I will not purport to know what’s best for my neighbors who have loved and supported one another for many years, and just endured together the protracted, year-long decline and eventual death of the one man’s father.

I watched as these kind men moved the ailing father into the home they share, and tackled together the emotional, financial and physical burdens of caring for a sick parent.

I will not pretend they are merely roommates. I will not remove their rights. I will not presume to know what is God’s will.

I hope my fellow North Carolinians — my fellow neighbors — do the same.

Locomotive Appreciation Day

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Little Red Caboose

Photo credit: Stephen Mimms, Fotoblur

I’m just starting to emerge from the haze of a triple whammy: strep throat, sinusitis and an infection in both ears. Let me tell you: there’s nothing like a few days in bed to make a gal feel needed. With me down for the count and my husband working long hours at his commission-only job, our house looked like an episode of “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” Throughout the week I spent flat on my back, I lost track of the number of times my husband came to my bedside and said, “Wow. You really are the locomotive of this household!”

As sexy and glamorous as that metaphor is, there are many days I want a break from shoveling coal. But, as I’ve mentioned before, the job is relentless.

Over the past six months, I’ve thought many times about how much I admire moms who work outside the home. I remember one day, shortly after having made the decision to stay home with my son, when I watched a woman lugging an umbrella stroller off a city bus with a young child in her arms and rain pouring from the sky.

I think of that woman often. Nearly every time I feel like I’m not cut out for the job of stay-at-home mom, I remember the stolid look on her face. I picture her pulling herself out of bed in the darkness of the yet-unbroken day, yawning as she pulls clothes onto her little one. Walking to the bus stop to board the first of several buses she’d ride that day. Going from home to daycare to work and back to daycare before finally arriving home, exhausted and soaking wet.

Every time I see her in my mind, I think to myself how I could not do what she does.

But being sick for a few days gave me a new and unexpected perspective on my job as a stay-at-home mom. Is it possible I’m tougher than I thought I was?

Every morning during the time when I was sick, my husband would bring my son to me in bed and I’d think to myself, I want so badly to call in sick today. But each day, I still had to do my job. Granted, I didn’t do it well during this time, keeping my son in bed with me most of the day. But I found the strength to smile for him, tickle his chubby belly and nurse him frequently to keep him well. And, amazingly, it worked. My son came through unscathed, suffering no more than a stuffy nose.

This job, which I’m so lucky to have right now, is — frankly — really, really hard. It’s mentally exhausting and emotionally challenging. But I’m starting to realize that there may be some people out there who feel they couldn’t do what I do every day — even if I’m not pushing a stroller through the rain.

While I was sick, each time my husband referenced a train to compliment me, I’d respond, “But I just want to be the caboose!” Alas, we ladies rarely get to be that cute little red caboose. Whether we’re pulling along our friends in times of crisis, or our parents, significant others or pets, we seem destined to be caretakers. We put our own needs last and respond to the call of those we love.

Call me a feminist if you like (I was, after all, voted “Most Chauvinistic” in high school), but in addition to Mother’s Day, I think there should be a Women’s Day. Although, that term sounds a little matronly. Ladies’ Day? A bit menstrual. Gals’ Day? Too “Mad Men.” Vagina Day? That one has potential, but may return some undesired results when entered into a search engine.

I guess that leaves only one thing … Happy Locomotive Day, ladies!

It’s a Beautiful Life Sentence

Coffee Break

As I move the knob up to “brew,” I sigh to myself. For some reason, brewing a second batch of coffee for the day feels like some form of failure.

When it occurs to me I’m feeling this way, I have to ask, why? When I was working, I wouldn’t think twice about needing an afternoon caffeine boost. So, why, when I’m brewing the coffee myself instead of purchasing it in a crisp, white paper cup, do I feel like I’ve failed?

Countless times lately, I’ve looked at my new life as a stay-at-home mom (for now, as I’m always compelled to say), and felt more than a little deficient. This is a much bigger transition than I ever thought it would be.

In many ways, all is wonderful. My baby is happy, healthy — positively cherubic. His rosy cheeks widen every time he looks at me, and my heart melts every time I look at him. I love — love — being able to be with him every day.

But many Friday afternoons, I find myself drained and I breathe that pre-weekend sigh of relief. Then I remember: there are no days off for the stay-at-home mom.

This is a job I treasure — granted, it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had. But it’s a job I feel very, very lucky to have. So I had to probe a little deeper to find out why I frequently feel like I’m not the employee of the year.

Why was I always so much quicker to forgive myself when I worked for someone else than I am now, when I essentially work for myself?

(Maybe it’s because my boss is actually a 16-pound comedian who blows raspberries in my face when I bend over to wipe his ass.)

I think it must be because this is the most important job I’ve ever held. No matter how well I’m doing, I never feel like I’m doing well enough. There is always more laundry to be done; the dogs could always use more exercise; the floors of my house could be mopped clean of dog slobber and potato chip crumbs, if I were so inclined. Right now I’m using the precious time while my son is asleep to explore my feelings through my tip-tapping fingers instead of taking the shower I (badly) need.

The fact is, the job of a mom — whether staying at home or working outside the home — is never done. I look at my own mom and realize that, while she retired from her career last year, she’ll never be completely off work. She’ll never stop worrying about my sister and me; she’ll never stop calling us on holidays or making sure we’re as happy and healthy as we can be. I’ll bet each August and every June, when my sister and I celebrate our birthdays, she’s not thinking about birthday cake or candles. I’ll bet she still thinks about the day we were born.

I know I’ll do this each October 6 for the rest of my life.

Yes, there are days when this job feels more like a life sentence. Because that’s in fact what it is. A beautiful, heart-wrenching life sentence that started the day my son was born, and will probably (hopefully) not end until the day I die.

And there are days when I need a second batch of coffee just to get through the afternoon.

So be it.

(Is it too early for a glass of wine?)

A Life More Ordinary

FAME
Three times in the past three days, I’ve been mistaken for someone else. At first, I concluded I must have a doppelganger preceding me everywhere I go — walking my neighborhood with two dogs that look like mine, frequenting my favorite coffee shop, browsing titles at the library.

But then, another thought occurred to me: perhaps I’m not as unique as I think I am.

We all want to think we’re extraordinary, don’t we? There are so many vehicles available to fan the flames of that idea: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest … so many ways to say, “Look at me! Look where I am! See how witty I am?”

Growing up, I was small. Short, skinny, bespectacled and knobby-kneed, I didn’t exactly command attention when entering a room. I was notable mostly for how thick my glasses were, but enjoyed a brief period of fame by hypnotizing my fellow classmates. I recall spending an entire sleepover in the school gym getting my friends to mumble incoherently (although, realistically, they were probably faking it) and feeling like a powerful sorcerer.

I was neither popular nor unpopular; neither a mean girl nor a Key Club altruist. But I always envisioned a time when I’d be a famous artist, or a bestselling author. My drawings of trees and appaloosa horses would command thousands at auction. I’d travel the globe doing book signings. I’d sing and dance through the hallways of a New York performing arts high school with a troupe of my fellow students following behind in perfect dance-step.

For years — and my heart beats with mortification as I admit this — my ATM pin was 3-2-6-3.

F. A. M. E.

I can’t — and don’t — blame my kid for the fact that I never did those things. It’s not like I became a teen mom and all my hopes and dreams went out the window. I had plenty of time to do extraordinary things before Hudson came along.

Getting married, buying a house and being a mom to two dogs and a baby — those are about the most ordinary and clichéd things a person can do. And yet, I feel I’m finally doing something special.

Part of growing up and becoming a parent is making peace with a life more ordinary than the one you may have envisioned for yourself. I’m not saying any of us should settle, or that we shouldn’t still strive for the extraordinary. But when you’re a parent, you often find yourself taking the road more traveled.

When I was pregnant, I came across a poem that resonated with me in an incredibly powerful way. Part of me felt uncomfortable with the notion expressed in the poem, as I don’t believe it’s healthy to live my dreams through my son. And, I don’t plan to give up on my plans for my life — that just isn’t the example I want to set for my child.

But my son came along at a time that wasn’t the most convenient for my husband and me. Throughout my pregnancy, I felt apprehensive about the heavy responsibilities of parenthood. I wondered how being a mom would change me, and if that change would be for the worse.

And sometimes, I wondered if my time to lead an extraordinary life was over.

I say, no. My love for my son is extraordinary. My responsibility is extraordinary. The work I have yet to do to be the best mom, wife and friend I can be is extraordinary.

My life is ordinary. My child is — well, he’s mine. One shining, extraordinary accomplishment in life.

To My Child

You are the trip I did not take;
You are the pearls I could not buy;
You are my blue Italian lake;
You are my piece of foreign sky.

You are my Honolulu moon;
You are the book I did not write:
You are my heart’s unuttered tune:
You are a candle in my night.

You are the flower beneath the snow
In my dark sky a bit of blue;
Answering disappointment’s blow
With “I am happy! I have you!”

― Anne Campbell

How Do We Keep Them Safe?

At the airport, before our flight

The feeling I have can only be described as “heavy.” My heart is heavy, weighed down by sadness for all the kids impacted by the school shooting that took place yesterday in my home state of Ohio. My head is heavy too; cloudy and confused by yet another tragedy involving our nation’s kids.

There are so many things to feel when a kid becomes so desperate, or unhappy, or murderous, or lost, that he opens fire on a group of his peers. I think it’s natural to feel anger, but I primarily just feel sad.

It’s a hard time right now for kids. And, consequently, a hard time for parents as well. What do we tell our kids in a time when the gap between the haves and the have-nots is so great? When there’s so much pressure to look a certain way, to have certain things?

I attended 12 years of Catholic school, which meant I wore a uniform for nearly every school day of my life. We were told that the point of these uniforms was to level the playing field, to take the focus off of which kids had more or less, thereby putting all the focus on learning.

This suited me fine. My clothes started their life in my cousin Kim’s closet. From there, they went to my cousins Kathy and Kristin, and then to my sister before finally reaching me. (Not that I was the end of the line — from me, they went to my cousin Karen, and sometimes ended their journey with my poor cousin Robert.)

We had no cell phones, no iPads, no laptops. The only opportunity we had to distinguish ourselves was with our footwear. I spent a lot of time obsessing over my socks and shoes, putting just the perfect amount of scrunch in my socks and feeling on top of the world when I had the “right” shoes.

But really, there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure. My head spins when I try to imagine what high school is like today. It seems that every day we’re hearing another report of a kid who was bullied so badly as to wish herself dead. Or a kid who felt so much pressure to succeed that his life was a private hell.

Or a young man whose home life is so bad, he does the unthinkable.

How do we, as parents, protect our kids in this confusing time? How do we help them navigate this complicated world?

How do we keep them safe?

I recently took my 4 ½-month-old son on a plane for the first time. Overall, the trip was a great success. But during the flight home, we went through a 45-minute stretch of turbulence that was the scariest I’ve ever experienced.

With my son sleeping peacefully in my lap, the plane began to lurch. The flight attendants scurried to their seats, the pilot instructed us all to prepare ourselves for a period of severe turbulence. I’ve been through turbulence many times before, and wasn’t fazed — at first. But then, things became more serious.

The plane began to shake violently, and then suddenly dropped, causing me to leave my seat and strain against my seat belt. A collective scream rang out throughout the cabin. Ice and ginger ale rained down from above, as the woman next to me lost hold of her full cup. I gripped my son as tightly as I could, feeling more vulnerable than ever before.

My god, I thought. How do I keep him safe?

I didn’t know the answer to that question then, and I don’t know it now.

At the time, I simply held him close. The turbulence passed. We weathered the storm together. And through it all, amazingly, he slept.

Maybe I won’t be able to keep him safe throughout his life. Maybe I can only prepare him as best I can, comfort him when necessary and — from time to time, when the going gets really rough — hold him close.

Om Sweet Om

Baby yogi

Happy baby in Happy Baby

For the past few weeks, I’ve been getting back into yoga after a long time away. So, I found myself one evening in a room full of people, all of whom seemed to have been given instructions I somehow missed.

One by one, the yogis laid out think woolen blankets, then spread out their yoga mats, then layered towels atop the large pile. They rolled back and forth over giant bolster pillows: warming up, loosening their spines, releasing inhibitions and stressful thoughts. As I watched person after person go through their own personal routine, I felt more and more out of place.

Is this a yoga studio or a homeless shelter?, I thought.

When the instructor started moving us through poses, I looked around frantically, trying to decipher the arcane language she was speaking.

“Chaturanga Dandasana!”

“King Pigeon!”

“Happy Baby!”

Ah! Finally one I know! I laughed to myself as I lay on my back like an overturned beetle, wrapping my palms around the soles of my feet. In that moment, my son’s grinning face came to me like a beacon of light through the clouds. I smiled and relaxed a little, easing into the poses and not worrying as much about whether or not I was doing them right.

Moving and stretching, I began to think about how detached from my body I became during pregnancy. My strategy for dealing with the various parts of me growing larger was to just ignore them.

Butt? What butt?

Cankles? What cankles?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as your belly grows, you can no longer see your thighs. It’s the one merciful thing that happens during pregnancy.

As I reached and bent, rolled and contorted, I tried to get reacquainted with my body. Tried to see the good, make peace with the fact that my body isn’t quite what I’d like it to be. And suddenly, I thought of a favorite passage from Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within, where she reflects on her own process of letting go, forgiving herself and celebrating herself.

I realized that, while I may not be happy with my body today, there will come a time when I’d give anything to look like this. To be able to bend and twist, to sweat, to experience the feeling of accomplishment that comes after a workout. Instead of criticizing myself, only to one day realize how silly I’ve been, why not celebrate the youth and vitality I have today?

I came home and took Revolution from Within off the shelf, and reread the passage I had been thinking of. It resonated with me as much today as it did the first time I read it. I hope it speaks to you as well.

Sometimes, when I enter a familiar room or street, I think I see a past self walking toward me. She can’t see me in the future, but I can see her very clearly. She runs past me, worried about being late for an appointment she doesn’t want to go to. She sits at a restaurant table in tears of anger arguing with the wrong lover. She strides toward me in the jeans and wine-red suede boots she wore for a decade, and I can remember the exact feel of those boots on my feet. …

I used to feel impatient with her: Why was she wasting time? Why was she with this man? at that appointment? forgetting to say the most important thing? Why wasn’t she wiser, more productive, happier? But lately, I’ve begun to feel a tenderness, a welling of tears in the back of my throat, when I see her. I think: She’s doing the best she can. She’s survived — and she’s trying so hard. Sometimes, I wish I could go back and put my arms around her. …

We are so many selves. It’s not just the long-ago child within us who needs tenderness and inclusion, but the person we were last year, wanted to be yesterday, tried to become in one job or in one winter, in one love affair or in one house where even now, we can close our eyes and smell the rooms.

What brings together these ever-shifting selves of infinite reactions and returnings, is this: There is always one true inner voice.

Trust it.

—    Gloria Steinem
Revolution from Within

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