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He’s Back

To help limit Frankie’s movement, my husband and I have been taking Frankie to the bathroom in the unfenced front yard instead of making him go down several stairs to the back. The past two days have been pretty trouble-free: put on the leash, open the glass door, ease him down three steps, let him do his business and then shepherd him back inside.

Today, it went more like this:

  • Take leash off hook.
  • Make frantic attempt to contain Frankie, who, upon seeing leash, does bucking bronco routine around kitchen.
  • Grab collar of other dog, since both dogs have now decided it’s time to play.
  • Wrestle leash over Frankie’s nose and bear hug him to stop the prancing.
  • Burst outside through glass door, opened just in time to prevent major incident.
  • Take all three steps in one leap, while being dragged into front yard.
  • Step in last night’s dog poop.
  • Nearly fall while trying to remove poop from bottom of Ugg boot.
  • Attempt to pick up last night’s poop with flimsy plastic bag while Frankie whips around and starts game of tug, using his own leash as the rope.
  • Remove leash from Frankie’s mouth, only to have him take off across the yard to provide more poop to pick up.
  • Take off Ugg boot and hop to front door to deposit Frankie inside.
  • Hop back down to pick up this morning’s poop.
  • Look through glass door to see Frankie, leash in mouth, making frenzied circuit around house.

Apparently, he’s back.

We’ll have to monitor his movement for a few more days to be sure, but he certainly seems to be back to his mischievous, maddening, exuberant self.

Thanks for your prayers and words of support. I’ve been amazed by how universal it is to love a dog. There’s definitely something about their loyalty, their optimism, their big, human eyes that strikes a chord deep within us all.

A little while later, when I had finally gotten things settled back down after Frankie’s manic spree, I walked back to the nursery and came upon this scene:

Dog guarding baby

A few minutes later, it looked like this:

Dogs with baby

This is my life. And it’s a good one.

For Love of Frankie

This is Frankie.

He’s — how shall I put this? — exuberant.

If you’ve ever come to my house, you may have a slightly different description, such as wild, hyper, manic or insane. In the first 10 minutes, Frankie likely jumped all over you, put your forearm in his mouth, ran wild circles around the house and made off with at least one of your shoes — possibly from inside your suitcase.

Despite (I cringe to admit this) four rounds of obedience training, Frankie doesn’t make a very good first impression.

But to my husband and me, Frankie is the heart and soul of our family. And, strangely enough, he’s my role model. His enthusiasm and zest for life is greater than that of anyone I know. He’s passionate in a way I wish I could be. He’s curious, crazy-smart and loves intensely. Sometimes I think he understands me better than anyone in the world.

So when he started limping around and whimpering last night, it sent shockwaves through our family.

I was out taking an infant safety and CPR class (yes, I just now got around to the “infancy PR” class I was supposed to take before Hudson arrived) and came home to find the house in a state of panic. I had missed my husband’s voicemail asking me to call before entering the house, so when I put my key in the door, Frankie — even in a state of acute pain — jumped up to give me his usual exuberant greeting.

My husband — filled with emotion and anxiety — said, “Something’s wrong with Frankie.”

Those are words I never want to hear about either of our dogs.

When you have a dog like Frankie, you have to be accustomed to a few bumps and bruises. When he was a puppy and I was desperate to tire him out (three vigorous walks a day just weren’t doing the trick), I took him to a tennis court so he could run freely. Insanely excited, he took off in his usual high-spirited style. After a few throws of the tennis ball, I looked down to see blood flowing from all four of his paws.

Panic-stricken and guilt-ridden, I carried him nearly a mile back to my apartment, tears streaming down my face. The vet bandaged his injured paws and declared him fine, and I avoided tennis courts from then on. But when we got home from the vet’s office, Frankie looked at me, and — I swear — his eyes said, “Let’s go!”

No matter how many times he gets knocked down, he always gets back up. He accepted first the introduction of a new puppy (who grew up to be bigger and stronger than him) and then the arrival of a new baby. He’s the kind of dog who excitedly bursts into the vet’s office with his tail wagging, forgetting how many times he’s encountered pain inside those doors. He’s the kind of dog who will always jump up to greet me, regardless of how much he’s hurting.

And today, he’s lying here next to me, in pain.

We’re scheduled to take him to the vet’s office today at 4:00. I’m hopeful he only has a mild sprain, from yesterday when we took him to a field for a game of Frisbee. Still, I can’t help but think about what’s to come.

Frankie is 5 ½ years old now. He and I have lived together in four apartments and one house in three different cities. I’ve watched him jump as high as my reaching fingertips; I’ve cried into his soft fur. Every day, I kiss his nose and notice that it’s grown a little pinker.

As I look at Frankie, I think of my favorite memory with him. In Boston, we lived in a small apartment, but had a massive park the size of six soccer fields just a short walk away. Inside a locked, chain-link fence lay acres of nothing but lush green grass — Frankie’s paradise. Once again desperate for a way to release Frankie’s boundless energy, I’d hoist my agile dog over the chest-high fence and then hop over it myself.

One day, I brought a chair and my journal with us, planning to let Frankie explore the field while I sat in the sun. After a few minutes of roaming, Frankie came and lay next to my chair, no more than three feet away. I looked out over the expanse of green and thought to myself, he could be anywhere in this entire field, and instead he’s chosen to lie here next to me.

I don’t know what the vet will say today. But I know that whatever Frankie needs, we’ll give it to him, no matter how much it costs or how difficult it may be. To my husband and me, Frankie is a symbol of all that’s good about us, and he reminds us of how far we’ve come.

He is our first baby, our chosen son. He is patient with his canine brother and amazingly gentle with his human one. His intuition astounds me.

I only wish I could find some way to tell him how much I love him. In a moment, I’ll bring him another bowl of water and feed him some more banana, which he loves (although not as much as butter). I hope that lets him know just how much I care.

What the Frump

I’m engaged in a deep existential struggle: To frump, or not to frump.

I’ve always believed wholeheartedly in the value of keeping up one’s appearance. Many times I’ve sworn to myself I would never turn into one of those moms you see schlepping around the grocery store in threadbare sweat pants and a circa-1985 banana clip. Oh, no. I don’t wear sweat pants. I wear yoga pants.

It wasn’t having a baby that threatened my credo on this matter; it was breastfeeding. When you’re breastfeeding, there’s little reason to get dressed at all. If you decide going topless just isn’t for you, you’d better find a shirt that can be stripped off with a crying baby in your arms and no more than two free fingers. Add in that it should be barf-resistant and breathable enough to keep you from melting while a toasty warm baby is pressed up against you, and your options grow smaller.

And so, despite having a closet full of beautiful dry-clean-only garments, I find myself wearing the same two or three things day in, day out. Then, I got a robe.

I’ve never been too big on robes. Reference the Abilify® antidepressant commercial: a robe that’s supposed to symbolize depression but looks more like cookie monster’s ghost stalks a woman who can’t shake her chronic sadness. Apparently we’re supposed to understand that the formerly unhappy woman has left depression behind. To me, the robe seems more like a date rapist, lurking about and then jumping her from behind when she least expects it.

The funniest part of this commercial is when the lady’s doctor shows a movie of himself explaining the drug’s evil side effects. The robe watches the movie and takes notes — as if he’s plotting his strategy for how to fight back.

"You can't beat me ... muah ha ha ..."

This commercial makes me laugh every time I watch it, and pretty well sums up my usual association with robes. But, my parents gave me a very nice robe for Christmas, a plush and luxurious one that’s about as stylish as a robe can be. So, I gave it a try.

Now, I wear my luxurious depression robe every day. Since I’m all toasty warm in it, there’s really no need to change out of the pajamas underneath the robe. Plus, it meets my other criteria: it can be opened with the flick of a finger and — bonus! — is the exact color of baby spit-up!

The only problem is when my husband sees me in the robe. I usually try to have changed out of the robe and jammies by the end of the day, but sometimes he comes home for lunch and finds me strolling around in it. He’s taken to calling me “Hef-etta” when I wear the robe, as if I’m the female version of Hugh Hefner. I consider that a compliment, as I’d rather be Hugh Hefner than the sad lady from the Abilify commercial.

But does this mean I’ve given up? Have I become the banana-clipped mom? Have I abandoned all standards for myself?

As in most things, I think the answer lies in balance. I embrace my depression robe. When the crying baby alarm clock goes off each morning, the robe is a quick and easy solution that allows me to tend to my son quickly and effortlessly. But each day, I try to put on real clothes at some point before dinnertime. And I may not be doing full hair and makeup each day, but I’ve found it’s good for my self-esteem if I spend just a little time on myself. I think it helps me be more confident, more efficient and a better mom.

Balance. That’s the key. I’ll stick with my robe, but it stops there. If you see me trolling about in a Forever Lazy, I give you permission to kick my ass.

A Difficult Choice

Grinning Baby

My Daily Affirmation

I can’t decide what to have for breakfast.

This may sound like a minor issue, but it feels like a bit of a crisis. This morning I’ve been meandering around the kitchen, washing a few dishes, getting things out and then putting them away. I finally decided I could make some coffee, and then, with that decision made, started wandering aimlessly again.

I’m a little lost.

I’ve made the very tough decision to leave a fulfilling job as a writer and online content manager to stay home with my son (for now). And while I’m incredibly thankful to be able to do this — and wouldn’t give this up for anything right now — this major life change has my head spinning.

I had my first summer job at 13, when I helped out at the preschool where my mom worked. After that, I worked at the neighborhood pool’s concession stand, then got a job at the Gap (a very ’90s thing to do), then took some shifts as a hostess at a restaurant after school. I even worked during the school day, volunteering in the main office (okay, this was mainly to get out of tardiness violations), visiting grade schools with the D.A.R.E. program and changing the world (or so I thought) as a member of student council. During college, I worked at the rec center, waited tables and led campus tours, and came home periodically to pick up waitressing shifts in my hometown.

Whether a part-time gig or a demanding grind, work has always been a big part of my life. It’s been a mental challenge, a creative outlet and a daily social encounter — not to mention a big part of my identity. Going to work was often stressful and exhausting (especially while I was pregnant and sporting a belly the size of a small cruise ship), but it provided me with a sense of camaraderie and companionship I’ve really missed.

After my son arrived, choosing between him and spending nearly two hours in the car was pretty simple. But there are still drawbacks to my choice. Some days I can actually feel knowledge leaving my head, and I worry that I might be a better mom if I went to work and came home to Hudson at night. But at some point every day, I know I’ve made the right choice.

Yesterday, that moment came when I used a makeshift luggage scale to weigh my son. In his first month, his weight gain was exceptional. But it was only half of what I hoped it would be at his two-month appointment. Since I’m breastfeeding, I was devastated at this news, and felt like I was failing at my newest — and most important — job.

So I was a little nervous to find out where he stands at three months old. It’s been 34 days since his last weigh-in, so I was hoping for an increase of around 34 ounces. After rigging up the scale, I thought I was having another case of “the dumbs” and that my math couldn’t possibly be right. But after checking it again, I was sure: my son has gained a whopping 58 ounces since his last appointment.

What an amazing feeling of accomplishment. With nothing but my own body, I’ve been able to provide my son with everything he needs and more. Looking at him only confirms this feeling. He is apple-cheeked and chubby, and every time I look at him — every time — he breaks into a slow grin that lights up his entire face. His impossibly blue eyes grow bright, and he often sings out, “nnnnnggoooo” or lets out a little squeal.

Today, I have to start all over again. The batteries in the baby swing are marching toward their death and the song it plays has taken on a maddening warble that just may make me lose my mind. I’ve yet to get dressed and a dust bunny tumbles across the floor, mocking my lamentable housekeeping abilities. I haven’t even been able to decide whether to fix some oatmeal or get out of my pajamas.

And then the coffeemaker sings its five beeps, telling me it has a steaming cup of black coffee ready for me. That’s a start.

My Marshmallow Days Are Over

Madonna's Buff Bod

This can't be too hard, can it?

It’s been eight weeks since I gave birth to my son. Those eight weeks were preceded by 10 months of pregnancy, during which I ate pounds and pounds of ice cream and considered walking to the cafeteria my daily exercise.

As my delivery date neared, I started working from home exclusively and was so sedentary my sister worried I’d develop blood clots in my legs. My coping strategy for getting through the end of pregnancy involved moving everything I needed — laptop, phone, TV remote, several of my husbands oversized t-shirts, bag of jumbo marshmallows — into bed with me and getting up only to pee.

If you know me, you’re aware I’m not a terribly athletic person. I was in Coke-bottle glasses by age seven. I was the kid who had to be thrown into the pool for morning swim team practice. I was 10 before I mastered a bike. I was a reader, a drawer and a daydreamer. My idea of a fun, competitive activity is lobbing a tennis ball over the net without serving or keeping score.

You get the picture.

My lack of competitive drive causes my husband — a natural athlete and the most competitive person I know — great consternation. Early in our dating years, when we’d visit a sporting goods store, he’d yell out my name and then throw a bouncy ball or Frisbee at me to “test my reflexes.”

I knew what that really meant: he wanted to find out if I carried the necessary amount of athletic genes to produce a champion football player. While I’m certain I never passed these tests, as I surely fumbled every pass thrown at me, my husband decided to marry me anyway — poor vision and “let’s all get along” attitude be damned.

So, now that I’m faced with the challenge of getting back in shape, I’m not exactly brimming with confidence. This just isn’t my area of expertise.

During the past eight weeks, I looked for every any excuse to avoid getting in shape. I was thrilled when I read that I should wait for my doctor to give me the “all-clear” at my six-week checkup before doing any strenuous activity. On the day of my appointment, I was sure my doctor would say, “Absolutely no exercise for you, young lady! You are still far too fragile. Just relax with a bag of marshmallows for a few more weeks.”

That did not happen. Instead, I got a breezy, “Looks good!” and a stack of brochures about contraception. What??!! Does this mean my 10 months and six weeks of special treatment, of having the perfect excuse for total laziness, are over???

After spending the past two weeks in denial, it’s finally time to face facts. Truthfully, I’m tired of wearing the same pair of yoga pants (yoga — ha!). It’s time I got reacquainted with my wardrobe, which I’ve been pointedly ignoring up until now. The only place that’s more of a “factory of sadness” than Cleveland Browns Stadium is my closet.

I’m ready to get in shape. I think.

The last time I felt this motivated, I told my sister (who was working as a personal trainer at the time) to put together a workout plan that would make me “look like Madonna.” After seeing what it would take to look like Madonna, I decided looking like myself wasn’t so bad after all.

But will I ever again look like myself? Veteran moms, please tell me: has my formerly stick-straight shape permanently changed? I’m okay with having a few more curves than I used to, since my former body shape resembled that of a 12-year-old boy. I just want to know what’s ahead.

And, if you have any tips for getting into shape, please feel free to share those too. Especially if they involve lobbing a tennis ball over a net, reading a book or eating marshmallows in bed.

Dear Sweet Baby Boy

Cute Baby Boy

Today, you laughed. You looked into my eyes and tossed your head to the side, letting out the most joyful noise I’ve ever heard. Already, you’ve turned me into a slobbering pile of emotional mush — even more so than during my pregnancy. And then, you laughed. What a beautiful sound!

Every day you smile and smile, as if life is handing you a series of delightful moments, one right after the other. And every day you seem to grow a little more into yourself, becoming a little person. You are such an easy, happy baby.

I take pride in seeing you grow big and healthy, but find myself wanting desperately to slow it all down. You’ve left newborn diapers far behind and are quickly growing out of the impossibly small outfits I first dressed you in, when I hardly knew what to do with you. I want each moment to last twice as long, each night to stay with me for just a bit longer before it’s gone forever.

So many things about motherhood have caught me by surprise: how challenging (and time-consuming!) breastfeeding can be; how defined your personality is already, even at such a young age; how much poop can come out of you at one time (where did that all come from??); how different I feel.

But what surprises me most is how much more I value my life. It’s not that I didn’t care before, just that I suddenly feel so important now that another human being depends on me. It struck me one day when I was driving home from an errand. What would happen to you if something happened to me? I sat a little straighter in my seat, drove a little more carefully. Smiled a private smile as my stomach fluttered.

Being a mom makes me feel unique and irreplaceable.

My heart pounds with the rush of so many complex feelings — gratitude for your existence, amazement at your tiny features, even a strange and fleeting fear that you’ll somehow be taken from me. I am perpetually exhausted, frequently overwhelmed and often intimidated by the job of raising you to be a kind and responsible young man.

And yet.

My love for you astounds me.

Cute Baby

Dear Sweet Autumn Baby

Autumn Wedding Day

Our perfect autumn wedding day in November 2008

Dear Sweet Baby,

After a long, hot summer, the weather has finally started to turn cool. It’s beginning to feel like autumn: the season of your birth.

Your father and I were married in this season, on a gorgeous fall day nearly three years ago. There’s something so peaceful about this time of year, so mature and deliberate. Spring, with its wild abundance and infinite possibility, has always been my favorite season. But autumn seems like such a perfect time for you to come into our lives. It’s certainly become a special time in my life, and becomes more so with every passing day as we draw closer to your arrival.

I’m fully in preparation mode now, doing all I can to feel ready. It never seems like enough. I know there’s nothing I can do completely prepare my heart for the day it grows huge with love for you. Nothing in the human body can expand that quickly without some pain involved — without aching at least a little bit. I already feel my heart swelling and being stripped raw at the same time, just by having you inside me.

People talk so much about crazy pregnancy emotions, but rarely about why expectant women get so soft and vulnerable to everything around them. Perhaps it’s a kind of practice run for how fully and helplessly we love these babies when they finally arrive.

This pregnancy — the process of creating you and growing you into something real — has not been brief or fleeting. It feels like I’ve been pregnant for ages and I still have more than a month to go. I can feel my body readying itself to bring you into the world; now it’s just my heart that needs to get itself into shape. I fear it will truly burst when I finally lay eyes on you.

It’s been more than 10 years since your dad and I first met. We were so young — in years, but even more so in spirit. We took our time growing up: moving to new cities; changing jobs and careers; collecting experiences and friends along the way. It took a long time for us to get here, and a lot of people haven’t always understood why.

But we know.

We know it took every one of those years — every week, every month, every season — to bring us here today. We anticipate your arrival with hearts that have grown broader and stronger with every passing year. And still, we know you will turn us upside down and inside out. That our lives will never be the same again.

Ten years. Ten autumns. And now, the autumn of you. Of new feelings, new experiences — a whole new chapter for us. I wait for you with bated breath, knowing this is only the beginning of the rest of our lives.

118 Months Pregnant

BabyAheadAll of a sudden, I’m a hundred months pregnant, and it happened overnight.

A couple weeks ago, I went to bed 32 weeks pregnant. I woke up the next morning with a belly twice the size it was the night before. Did I unknowingly sleep-eat after midnight and turn this baby into a Gremlin?

Ever since this sudden belly expansion, complaining is my drug of choice. I can’t go more than an hour without it. The other day I was whining to my sister over the phone, and she asked pointedly, “Is there anything that is okay to say to a pregnant woman?” After a long pause, I came up with the answer:


Not at this stage, anyway.

Part of me is dying for it to be over. Part of me is terrified for it to end. Most people — seeing how slowly I’m waddling around these days — assume I’m more than ready for it to be over. On many levels, they’re right:

I’m ready to be able to climb into bed without lying on my back and panting, struggling to roll over like an overturned cockroach. I’m ready to stop mopping sweat from my face while all my co-workers complain about how cold the A/C is. I’m ready to hold my baby in my arms instead of balanced on top of my bladder.

But am I ready to have a baby? In addition to the fact that this baby still has some cooking to do, I still feel a long way from prepared to be a mom. And yet, the baby’s arrival suddenly seems imminent.

My feelings of unpreparedness were compounded by a recent doctor’s visit. My husband and I saw a different OB-GYN at my usual practice and, while we liked her a lot, she had a lot of questions. We didn’t have too many answers.

“Have you started interviewing pediatricians?”

“Have you considered taking infant CPR classes?” (My husband made a note on our to-do list: “infancy PR class.”)

“Have you toured the hospital?”

I meekly offered, “We’re taking a childbirth class at the end of this month …”

“Great! Have you pre-registered for the delivery yet?”

Sigh. It’s cram time.

As my college roommates can attest, I was never good at planning ahead for tests and assignments. Any impending exam or art project deadline had me up late the night before, working furiously to load my brain with a semester’s worth of knowledge.

Here I am again, clueless in the eleventh hour.

As always, though, I’m ready and willing to learn. If this were college, I’d be brewing a big pot of coffee and laying out my drawing pencils, finally inspired as I can see in my mind’s eye exactly what I’m going to make.

It’s the most important, exciting, life-changing creation I’ve ever brought to life.

G Is for Gratitude

Old Friends

Flanked by a lot of mom power

It’s pretty well established that pregnancy is an emotional time for a woman, and I am no exception.

I can hardly watch TV anymore without evoking a rushing river of emotions. Any onscreen character serves as a stand-in for my baby, and I find myself straining to figure out what made that child grow up to be a hoarder, or smoke crystal meth or leave her bra straps hanging out of a tacky outfit.

It’s no picnic for my husband either. The other night I watched a program where one character had been born with a vestigial tail. This prompted me to cry out, “Oh my god! What if our baby has a tail?! Do you think it would show up on the ultrasound? Should we have it surgically removed or just leave it on there?”

So when my sister and mom planned a baby shower extravaganza for me — with two events in two days — the crazy cocktail of hormones coursing through me was already lining up the perfect storm. Then the A/C quit.

My poor sister, in an effort to satisfy my average temperature of about 135 degrees, had cranked her A/C down so low the night before the first shower that the unit froze up and quit. As we watched the temperature inside climb to 80 degrees, my sister snapped into action. Armed with a hair dryer, she was able to thaw the unit out and get the A/C working, with about 45 minutes to spare.

By this time, the layer of deodorant I had applied to my entire body was about as useless as a vestigial tail. But, all things considered, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping my overflowing emotions in check. That is, until I opened the first gift.

What I thought was a published book called, “Parenthood From A to Z: Everything That Nobody Tells You Before You Get Knocked Up,” turned out to be something so much more special. As I flipped through the pages, I began to notice some familiar photos: me rocking my Bugs Bunny glasses at my first communion; me playing my super-cool flute to some preschoolers. Suddenly, I realized that the book was actually created for me by my college roommates.

In addition to being some of the funniest women I know, these gals have collectively brought 20 children into this world. (That’s a lot of mom power.) They gathered up their best bits of advice and handed them over to be compiled by my dear friend Kennedy, who’s the kind of girl who’s so smart and talented you just know you’ll one day be boasting that you knew her when.

I’ve now read their book countless times. Each time I do, I think how helpful, touching and well written it is, and how many moms I know who could benefit from all its helpful tips. So, with all credit given to Kennedy and the Playground girls, I thought I’d share a little bit of it here.

A is for Advice. Everyone’s an expert … As a parent, you become a magnet for unsolicited advice and criticism. Every once in a while, these “words of wisdom” are actually helpful, but most of the time, they’re either bad or just not right for your family. Here’s our two cents: pinpoint your “core” advisors — those that you trust the most for advice on parenting. They know your family and lifestyle better than the stranger in the grocery store or your nosy neighbor, and can help you make the choices that will work best for your child. As for all that unsolicited advice, decide if there’s anything in it you can use and ignore the rest.

D is for D-cup. Your much-admired D-cup only remains while breastfeeding. Then your breasts D-flate. Also note that breastfeeding may not be as natural as you think it should be. It can take a lot of work, including help from your husband. You are not a bad mom if you cannot do it.

F is for Forgetfulness. You are not losing your mind, and you are not alone. Parenting uses up the majority of your brain, so don’t be surprised when you find yourself forgetting even the simplest things. Go back to the basics: simplify, repeat names, write things down and give yourself extra time. Most importantly, be patient with yourself when you’re making that return trip to the grocery store because you forgot the thing that sent you there in the first place.

H is for Hormones. Postpartum hormones are a crazy, crazy beast. You are elated one moment, then drowning in a flood of tears the next. The physical and emotional enormity of giving birth and the realization of being a mother tend to hit home once you leave the hospital, which is when those crazy hormones overload your system, causing anxiety and stress. Don’t despair — it’s completely normal and won’t last.

N is for Negotiation. Never negotiate with terrorists — as in the ones aged 2 and 3. As your child gets older, negotiation can help him or her feel empowered while building trust and strengthening family ties. Pick your battles wisely, and remember that negotiating is not about winning or losing.

P is for Poop. You will become obsessed with your child’s poop. It’s a little gross, but completely normal. Just know that poop comes in many different sizes, shapes and colors, and just because it’s a little green one day doesn’t mean your child is hosting some horrible intestinal parasite. Beware of the poop shooter and turd thrower; they’ll get you when you least expect it.

Q is for Quiet Time. You will dread the day that your toddler no longer takes a nap. “Quiet time” to the rescue! Spending time alone in his or her room every day will help your child develop patience, focus, creativity and imagination. And while your “break” may not be as long as it used to be, you’ll still get some much needed “quiet time” yourself.

U is for Unit. Boys are obsessed with their “units” from the very beginning. Relax. It’s normal.

Z is for Zoo. Your child’s stuffed animal collection will start out innocently enough. Each holiday, birthday, or other occasion that calls for a gift, however, will serve to grow it exponentially. At some point, it may get so bad that the stuffed animals themselves begin procreating. Don’t let your house turn into a zoo. Keep the most special ones, and donate all of the rest.

Playground Girls: I am overcome with gratitude. I love you all and feel incredibly blessed to have you in my life.

The Fierce, Rabid Giving Tree

The Giving Tree

Courtesy of Shel Silverstein

Recently, a friend sent me a note in which she mentioned that “The Giving Tree” is her daughter’s current favorite book. Before reading my friend’s letter, I hadn’t thought of my favorite Shel Silverstein work in a while. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about why I love this story so much.

“Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy.”

According to Silverstein’s website, this touching story “offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.” The tree loves the boy without condition, never thinking about what’s in it for her. When it seems there’s nothing left for the tree to offer the boy, still she finds more to give. It is a poignant story, and a beautiful concept.

Some people think the tree represents God. I don’t know how I never noticed it before but, to me, the story chronicles the relationship between a mother and her child.

Until now, I didn’t think too much about how mothers give their flesh and blood in the most literal sense possible. Just as the tree provides her fruit, her branches and even her trunk, women share every bit of themselves; all with the goal of helping their babies grow strong enough leave and forge their own way in the world.

My mother did this for me, and her mother for her and so on. It’s an incredible thing when you stop to think about it.

From my earliest visions for the nursery, there’s been one part of the décor that I’ve consistently imagined: a mural climbing up the wall and arching over the crib. Without really knowing why, I always pictured a tree, with or without birds, leaves or fruit, but always forming a protective canopy over where the baby will sleep.

It’s only just now occurred to me that I’ve been picturing the Giving Tree all along.

I recently came across another thought-provoking perspective on motherhood in a book called “Sister Mine” by Tawni O’Dell. According to the book’s protagonist, a mother’s love “is not warm and cuddly like a soft blanket, as it’s popularly portrayed. It’s a fierce, rabid love, like having a mad dog locked inside you all the time.”

Already, I get it — I don’t want to think of this baby ever feeling sadness or fear, loneliness or pain. And if any person threatens this baby’s safety or well being, I suspect there’s a rabid, frothing dog lurking inside me, just waiting for the moment she’s needed. (Suddenly the term, “bitch” seems so perfectly apropos.)

I guess my interpretation of motherhood falls somewhere between Silverstein’s and O’Dell’s versions, but doesn’t align perfectly with either.

I can’t wait to let this baby swing from my branches and nap in my shade, but I don’t plan to end up a felled stump, happy only when I’m serving my child. Similarly, I know I’ll ferociously protect my baby from the pain in the world, but without teaching him or her to turn a blind eye.

I want to be a Giving Tree for this baby and I hope the world will be one too. And yet, I don’t want the world to simply drop apples into his or her outstretched hand. I’d prefer to watch my child climb the world’s highest limbs and learn that the sweetest fruit is sometimes the hardest to reach.

And the tree was happy.

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