Halloween Pie 2015

Categorizing and graphing my kids’ candy haul has become an annual tradition. And my kids, as nerdy as their parents apparently, cheer more for making pie charts than they do for the candy itself.

Here’s how it all panned out this year:

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As in years past, my more-selective daughter had less variety in her candy bag than her brother did, but for the first time, my son has more total candy than his big sister.

Here’s the trend since 2013:

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Perhaps my son’s hands are closer in size to his sister’s this year, or maybe he’s less inhibited about displaying gluttony, or maybe people just like six-year-old sharks more than they do ten-year-old ninjas.

It’s also possible that our daughter’s relatively small haul is a reflection of her waning interest in trick-or-treating. As she said as I was tying the old t-shirt around her mouth and nose as part of her ninja costume, “I’m looking forward to trick-or-treating, but I’m just calm, not excited like I was last year.”

Then she added, once again proving that she’s my daughter: “And that’s good because I feel much better feeling calm than I do feeling excited. Feeling excited kind of makes my tummy hurt.”

Whether you like feeling excited or you prefer to feel calm, I hope your Halloween is as sweet as you’d like it to be!



My constant companion is anxiety—with just a smidge of depression—that I keep in check (mostly) with diet, mindfulness, journaling, an hour or more of exercise each day, and one massage a month. It works, mostly, to keep the eddy of worry from swirling into panic, but it’s a delicate balance and when my spouse goes out of town and I’m left with all of the responsibilities, my barely-held-in-check anxiety goes into hyper-overdrive.

I’m wound so tight, if you bumped into me, I’d twang like a guitar string. Or I’d deck you, just because I’m in this perpetual fight-or-flight thing that has me screaming at drivers who randomly try to give me the right-of-way even though they have a stinking green light and are going straight and if I turn left in front of them and at that moment someone decides to pass them, I’m in an accident and it’s my fault because I didn’t have the right of way. I don’t care how much you blink your lights and wave your arm, there’s no stinking way I’m turning in front of you because you have a green light! Green means Go, and following that rule is what makes the world work and keeps us from descending into chaos. Chaos!

When I’m not in the car, I indulge in escapism—part of the anxiety package deal—and since I’ve got urchins to care for and I can’t literally escape, I “escape” via the Internet. Doing this, it doesn’t take long before I find the posts about about how wonderful gratitude is. Science has proved that gratitude is the secret to being happy and not-anxious, so if I just give it a try, I’ll be calm and fine, and everyone else will be spared my shitty moods.

But gratitude doesn’t work that way for me.

Whenever my spouse is out of town, I think about my mom and how she had three kids compared to my two and how my dad was on cruise with the Navy for six to ten months every other year rather than a week or so three or four times a year, and you know what? It doesn’t help.

Yes, I am grateful that the guy who scoops the cat litter and brushes the little kid’s teeth before bedtime and does the dishes so I can be alone before 9pm is only gone for a week rather than ten months. I’m grateful that I can leave him a voice mail or send him an e-mail any time I want to, or, if it’s a big emergency, I can call his hotel because I know where he is, unlike my mother who wasn’t allowed to know beyond the most general descriptions where my dad’s aircraft carrier was.

Admittedly, I would feel more grateful if my spouse didn’t tell me about how great it is to sit in his kid-free hotel room drinking beer and watching football, and I’d also be grateful if he didn’t micromanage my handling of Garbage Day remotely, especially not while the kids are fighting with each other in the background and I’m trying to figure out what these maggoty things are all over the basement floor. (Turns out they’re acorn weevil larvae from the acorns we collected week before last. Public service announcement: don’t collect acorns with cracks or holes in them unless you like fat little grubs eating their way through the plastic bags you stored your acorns in.)


Even feeling grateful that the grubs weren’t something that would infest anything we have in the house because all they care about is acorns doesn’t make me feel better. (Okay, maybe a little better.)

Despite the promises of science, I’m able to feel anxious even while feeling grateful.

What gives? Am I just contrary? Not trying hard enough? A scientific anomaly?

Nope. Digging just a little deeper I found this:

In a study looking at the effects of sleep and gratitude on depression and anxiety in patients with chronic pain, researchers “found that after controlling for the amount of sleep people got, gratitude still had an effect on lower depression scores. This means that regardless of their levels of insomnia, people who showed more gratitude were less depressed. With anxiety they found a different result. After controlling for sleep, gratitude showed no effect on anxiety. So while higher gratitude led to less anxiety originally, this is simply because it helped people sleep better, and sleeping better improved their anxiety.” (emphasis mine)

As it turns out, I’m not a freak of nature; I’m just a victim of the oversimplification of the results of scientific studies. (For those interested, here’s the abstract of what I think is the original article referenced in the link above: “The differential effects of gratitude and sleep on psychological distress in patients with chronic pain,” by Ng et al, published February 2013, in Journal of Health Psychology.)

Tonight after I put the kids to bed maybe I’ll turn off the computer and go to bed myself, feeling grateful that I’m getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

Yep, I’m sure it will happen just like that.


To Hell With Date Night

I have a confession:

I hate Date Night.

Seriously. Hate.

I love my spouse, but really, Date Night is just too much pressure, especially because we live in such a lame city with no live music or theater or decent restaurants. No improv or stand-up places. There’s candlepin bowling, but then you have to put up with the other bowlers. And we’ve done that already anyway.

We’ve gone hiking, but we do that with the kids and it’s getting dark so early now, I’m worried we’ll surprise a skunk, which would make for a memorable Date Night, but not a terribly fun one.

Last time we had a Date Night, we went to the lawyer’s office and signed our wills and then went grocery shopping. Read More

Wrapsody Bali Baby Breeze gauze wrap-style baby carrier. This pattern is called "Morgaine."

No Easy Way

Wrapsody Bali Baby Breeze gauze wrap-style baby carrier. This pattern is called

Wrapsody Bali Baby Breeze gauze wrap-style baby carrier. This pattern is called “Morgaine.”

My spouse and I had just signed our wills, a task that had been on our to-do list since I was pregnant with our daughter ten years before, and were so excited to know that our kids would be going where we wanted them to go should we both kick off before they reached adulthood, we decided to celebrate with a trip to Whole Foods.

It was a hot date.

As we stacked kale and cans of beans on the conveyor, the mom in the line beside ours was soothing her infant, who was clearly not content with being in the stroller. She jostled the stroller and said things to him in a sweet, Mommy voice and he gradually calmed down.

“I remember those days,” I said. “My daughter hated the stroller. I ended up wearing her every time we went anywhere because she would cry so hard.”

“That must have been so hard!” the mom said.

I didn’t know how to respond. I’d shared that little tidbit as a way to show her empathy, but had she thought I was trying to get empathy from her? And I was a little confused, too, because I’d worn my babies not because I liked the more difficult path, but because it was easier for me than using the stroller.

That’s not to say it was easy. I’d clearly unnerved my fellow shoppers at a variety of businesses by swinging my baby onto my back and strapping her on with the mei tai or Didymos wrap. And getting items from the bottom shelf was a challenge with an extra twenty-plus pounds on my back. I’d never figured out how people with stroller babies used a public restroom. I just wore my babies into the stall with me. My biggest challenge was making sure my pants were fastened under the carrier strap around my waist. (Sometimes I met that challenge, and sometimes…)

But whether we wear our babies everywhere or use a stroller or carry them in the car seat bucket, parenthood is just hard.

After two kids, I recognize that the easiest path is one of surrender, but actually surrendering is often the hardest thing to do. When my daughter was screaming herself red in the stroller in the middle of Staples or on our otherwise pleasant walks under the eucalyptus trees in the California spring or in the nursing bra section at Target or sitting in the lactation consultants’ waiting area, one thing was clear: I was doing it wrong. Everyone else seemed to be doing the exact same thing I was, and yet their babies were smiling or sleeping or at least not wailing.

It was an act of surrender to dig the sling out of the garbage for the fifth time and attend a La Leche League meeting for a tutorial. I was crying “uncle” and stepping outside of the mainstream, using products I couldn’t buy at Babies R Us, and leaving the bucket in the car.

It wasn’t the first surrender—I’d already surrendered to the science fiction way in which my body had expanded and shifted over ten months; I’d surrendered to the reality that my baby hadn’t read the baby manuals and seemed intent upon never, ever sleeping; I’d even surrendered to watching “The 700 Club” at 2am when I was up nursing my finally-quiet infant and the remote control slid out of my reach from inside the elaborate arrangement of pillows and rolled-up towels that made nursing possible in those first weeks—but it was the first conscious choice I’d made to surrender.

My baby wouldn’t stop crying when she was in the stroller or car seat bucket. My baby would (sometimes) stop crying when I was holding her, therefore, I needed to find a way to hold my baby constantly and still fulfill my need to use my arms.


Once I’d made that surrender, other surrenders became easier. When I had my second baby, I just assumed I wouldn’t get more than four consecutive hours of sleep for the next four years. I was pleasantly surprised when it took much less time than that, but it really helped to have low expectations. I didn’t even buy a car seat with a removable bucket, nor did I attempt to establish a sleep schedule. I just wore the baby to gymnastics class and preschool story time and Costco and play dates and the zoo and anywhere else my four-year-old’s schedule took her, and he napped whenever he could.

That first surrender, though, was the tough one. The only reason I was able to make it and sustain it was because I found a group of families to show me that there was another way to do things and to offer me the community I needed to make me feel like less of a freak.

In two of the three states in which I’ve been a parent, that community came from La Leche League. Where I am now, LLL is different, and I’ve not felt the connection with the local group that I have in other places. I miss that community of outside-the-mainstream mothers and that chance to offer a different way of doing things just by taking a trip to the library with a kid on my back. Now that my kids are older and I no longer nurse in public or wear my kiddos to show another way of doing things, I try to offer a verbal picture of that other way of doing things when I see a mom struggling. Not that she has to do things the way I did, but maybe just by seeing that there are options, she can feel more confident that she’s making a choice rather than feeling trapped in just a single way of doing things.

But with the reaction I got from that mom in Whole Foods that day, I suspect that people see those kinds of comments as just another criticism of the way they’re doing things. Maybe I’m doing more harm than good by making these comments. Maybe that’s not the kind of community people are seeking.

Or maybe the new crop of moms just want to—and perhaps have to—find their own way.


The Ring of Power

I was on the phone when my six-year-old ran into the room, grabbed my hand, and began working my wedding ring off my finger. Once he’d wiggled it free, he looked up at me and grinned conspiratorially then put it on and hid behind the bed.

This has been happening for the past week or so and is a symptom of the Lord of the Rings mania that’s gripped him since we read the books together (and pointedly did not watch the movies). Apparently, my wedding ring is the Ring of Power, and he uses it to turn invisible at bedtime and cleanup time.

When I asked him why it is I don’t turn invisible when I wear it, he said in what I think was supposed to be a British accent, “It only works with its true ownah.”

But I wonder sometimes if my wedding ring really does make me invisible, or at least makes it possible for me to be invisible. We’re past the era of me being “Mrs. Husband’s Name.” My spouse and I both hyphenated our names, each taking the other’s last name and tacking it to our own, but people generally attribute my original last name to him, leaving me essentially invisible name-wise despite the hyphen.

And although I could easily fall back on the “Mrs. Husband’s Name” formality or take my spouse’s last name in a non-hyphenated form, our marriage allows me to be invisible in other ways.

I can let my spouse’s name be the only one on our utility bills and on our mortgage, making me largely invisible to creditors.

As a stay-at-home parent, I am invisible in the work world.

People in some of our social circles see us as such a package deal that they talk to one of us as a representative of both, and because my spouse is taller, louder, male, and more approachable (he smiles more and doesn’t scowl when he’s thinking), he’s usually the one who gets talked to.

Mostly, this is more an asset than a liability. Every time someone asks the question about which superpower you’d prefer—flight, x-ray vision, or invisibility—I always pick invisibility. I prefer to be anonymous most of the time. I prefer to let my words speak for themselves without my name and personality attached. I prefer to be able to leave when I want to and have people walk past me when they’re looking to gossip or engage in political machinations.

I actively do not want to be famous. If I’m known, I want to be quietly known as someone solid, someone who can be depended upon, and as someone who cares more about outcome than about getting credit.

Until my wedding ring became the Ring of Power, it didn’t occur to me that by marrying I’d actually facilitated this invisibility.

I don’t think it works the same way for my spouse. His visibility doesn’t seem affected at all by our marriage. If anything, he’s got more piled onto his identity, carrying me and our kids in addition to his career.

I wonder how this works in same-sex marriages. Is there always an invisible spouse and a visible spouse? Is this a male-female dynamic, or just intrinsic to coupled relationships? Or maybe it only happens in relationships like mine in which one party is happy being invisible.

What do you think? Is there an invisible/visible dynamic in your relationship? If so, to what do you attribute it—individual personality/preference, societal expectations, or something else?


The Stretch

I used to do a lot of yoga. I’m not a naturally flexible person so yoga was a particular challenge for me. Not only was it a challenge to reach for my toes in a forward bend, but it was also a challenge to avoid looking in the mirror to see just how far I had to go. I hated that feeling of stretch, of being unable to do something I set out to do.

But I stuck with it. I kept pushing that edge, easing into it and sitting with the intensity until it subsided then easing into it again, this time a little farther, playing that edge of pain and fear, not quite going straight into it, but just pushing the border. Once in a Yin Yoga class we held a hip opener for a million years, and I felt my right hip relax beyond any relaxation point it had reached before, and I suddenly thought that this relaxation might be boundless and therefore my body might be boundless and then what did that mean for me? Panic rose up through my chest along with the urge to run out of the room, and I might have had my leg not felt like it wasn’t a part of me anymore.

Stretching changes things. It changes me and my idea of myself. It opens spaces in my body that I didn’t know were closed.

Read More


Waste Not, Want Not

Nearly six years ago, my daughter watched intently as the woman I’d hired stood at my kitchen counter and washed, dehydrated, and encapsulated my placenta. Today I planted the remaining capsules under the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in my garden.

In retrospect, I’m not quite sure why I had my placenta encapsulated in the first place. I could say that I had it encapsulated because I couldn’t stomach the idea of making it into a smoothie or a stir-fry, but that doesn’t address the question of why I decided to consume my placenta in the first place.

Read More


Love and Marriage

When the music started, I rose with the rest of the congregation, but I didn’t look towards the doors at the back of the church. I kept my eyes on my brother, my little brother, the man with the beard and the fancy suit, standing on his own with the icons and the altar.

His face was drawn, a crease between his brows.


The doors opened and his eyes found her. He exhaled, his shoulders eased, and a smile dissolved the tension around his eyes. My smile mirrored his and my eyes filled at the love in his face.

She joined him there and they joined hands and she joined our family.

This is what marriage is about. I am so grateful I was there to witness it.

Dealing with Stress

Due to some discord in my community, I’ve been feeling a great deal of emotional stress lately. It kind of sucks, but it’s also provided me a chance to recognize some of the ways in which I manage stress. These are my instructions to myself, and I thought some of you might find them helpful, too.

1. Keep breathing.

I tend to hold my breath or breathe just at the very top of my lungs when I’m stressed. Taking a moment or two to breathe slowly and deeply seems to help. If I remember, I also add in a couple of metta phrases because—well, it couldn’t hurt.

2. Eat well.

My inclination is to drown my sorrows in a bag of potato chips, a bar of chocolate, and a dry martini, but those foods just accentuate my anxiety symptoms. It’s not as satisfying in the short term, but sticking with fruits, veggies, and other whole and healthy foods leaves me feeling better.

3. Take an e-mail break.

This might not work with every stressful situation, but this particular conflict is playing out largely in a frenzy of e-mail reply-alls, which means I get a phenomenal headache and my left eye twitches every time I look at my inbox. Checking e-mail only during two or three set times each day and logging off the rest of the time has been helping. I do worry that I’ll miss something important that’s unrelated to the stressful stuff, though, so if this lasts much longer, I’ll set up a filter and funnel all of the unpleasant e-mails to a folder I can look at when I feel ready for it.

4. Go outside.

Spring arrived in New England not a moment too soon. I take several walks a day, both with my kids and on my own, and while the sunshine and birdsong and peeping frogs don’t cure my headaches, they sure make them easier to bear.

5. Exercise.

Rather than curl up under a quilt, which is what I want to do, I’ve been getting up at 5:30 every morning and doing an hour of Fitness Blender workouts. Admittedly, I do not enjoy these workouts while I’m doing them, and I curse Daniel and Kelly with every jumping lunge or flutter-kick squat, but I feel deliciously exhausted afterward and ready for a shower and the rest of my day.

6. Keep an open heart.

As much as I want to close up and run away or lose myself in fantasies of moving to Asheville (North Carolina) or Brisbane (Australia), I’m doing my best to keep myself here both physically and emotionally. “Cut and run” is practically my motto, but I suspect sticking around offers me a great chance for spiritual growth and learning.

7. Connect with my senses.

On my walks, I look for rabbits and newly-opened flowers. I take my camera and look for new angles on the same old sights. I tune into my kids, especially when they’re playing harmoniously together. I smell the herbs and spices as I measure them into the soup, and I taste the grapefruit on my tongue. These things ground me.

8. Do something for someone else.

Taking meals to a friend or looking up fun, new dessert recipes to delight my family or surprising my spouse by doing the dinner dishes while he’s reading to the kids at bedtime help me take the focus off of my own stress and anger, fear and self-pity. Hugging people also helps.

9. Sleep.

When I’m stressed, I don’t sleep as well, which means I need to stay in bed longer to get enough rest to function well. I’ve been trying to prioritize an early bedtime over other important but less time-sensitive tasks (like my own pleasure reading). I definitely feel the difference when I’ve gotten a solid eight hours (or more).

10. Keep my family and friends close.

Maybe it’s the oxytocin release of being with loved ones, but it’s been helping to make time in my schedule just to be with my spouse, my kids, and my friends. All of them are precious to me and remind me that I’m precious to them, too, and that helps neutralize some of the negative effects of working through this conflict (even though—or perhaps because?—I rarely talk with them about it directly).

These are the things that have helped me during this most recent stressful time. They don’t erase the stress completely (and I certainly don’t do all of these things perfectly all the time), but every little bit helps.

What do you do to manage stress in your life?


Learning to Ask Questions

“Mom, Laura Ingalls Wilder was wrong,” said my five-year-old one morning while I squeezed lemon wedges into hot water for the “lemon tea” he’d requested. “She said kids like drinking cambric tea because it makes them feel grown up, but I drank cambric tea and I didn’t feel grown up at all.”

I felt unaccountably sad hearing this insight. While I like that he’s learning that not everything he reads applies directly to real life—a lesson I hope he will extend to what he reads online as he gets older—I had no idea that he’d asked me to make him cambric tea because he wanted to feel grown up. Of course he wants to feel grown up. I remember striving for adulthood and all of the rights and privileges I imagined I would inherit upon attaining that magical state. It’s just that I’d not heard this from him before.

Now that it’s in my awareness, though, I’m noticing that both of my children talk about growing up with some frequency. I can hear them working out what it means to be an adult. They talk about their future careers, how many kids they’ll have, who they’ll marry.

Their discussions give me insights into how they see the world. The other night, my son said at dinner, “Women and men do things differently.” When asked for examples, he said, “Well, I know men and women both go to work—” he glanced up meaningfully, it seemed, at jobless me, “—but only women do things like give birth, adopt…”

He trailed off and after a pause I said, “Well, men don’t give birth, but they can adopt.”

“They can?” he asked, eyebrows raised, and I wondered what chain reaction of understanding this piece of information had set off.

It reminded me of a discussion about marriage we’d had a few weeks ago. My daughter said, “I want to get married when I grow up, but I’m not sure yet if I’m going to marry a man or a woman.”

I assured her that she didn’t need to make that choice at age nine, and she’d figure it out when she found someone she loved.

“Well, I have to marry a woman,” my son chimed in.

“Why’s that?” I asked. He looked at me with the “duh, Mom” look he’s already perfecting.

“Because men can’t marry men. They can only marry women.”

“Actually, men can marry men,” I said, and named for him two male couples we know who are married. Then he went on a tangent about how he wanted to invite them to his sixth birthday party, which at this point involves hiring a bus to take everyone we know into Boston to ride the swan boats and eat pizza. We’ll pick blueberries on the way home then have cake and play Legos at our house, outside because our house isn’t big enough for all of the people. (For the record, these are his plans, not mine.)

I’ve recognized all along that my children’s world view is being shaped by their everyday experiences, but these conversations highlight the limited control I have over this world view. My children see the gender roles played out by their parents, and they extrapolate those to apply to the whole species. Our church and social circle include many more women couples and hetero couples than men couples, and apparently my son has interpreted this to mean that he’s restricted in whom he loves. Of course my kids draw these conclusions from their observations, but still it surprises me.

My first reaction is to try and expand their view. “We’ve got to invite John and Elliot over to dinner!” I think. Or, “I need to go back to grad school—right away!” Or, “We need to move somewhere we can walk to things and take the bus! Quick! Buy some seeds! We need to grow our own food instead of having a monoculture lawn!”

I want to orchestrate the kind of world I want them to see as the norm. I want them to see people who love each other getting married and building families. I want them to see that our driving-all-the-time, hyper-consumptive culture isn’t the only way to live; that a big yard might be nice, but suburban living isn’t sustainable if everyone does it, and we should make our decisions with that in mind. I want them to understand from experience that billions of people speak and think and live their lives in languages other than English. I want them to see that people aren’t defined by the choices they make. I want to build my kids into the kind of grown-ups I myself wish I was.

But I can’t give them every experience, and I don’t want every social encounter and every career move and every relocation to be contrived as a “learning experience.” More than anything, I want my children to remain open and accepting, and that’s not going to get done if I limit their experiences to just those that fall in line with the specific lessons I have in mind. My children need to have a wide range of experiences, both direct and indirect, and then we need to talk about them.

And this means I need to learn to ask more questions and give fewer answers. My son didn’t need me to explain to him that a mug of water and hot milk might not make him feel grown up even though it made Laura and Mary feel that way. He thought about it, tried it out, and figured it out for himself.

Giving my children answers limits them to the answers I’ve drawn from my own personal experience. But encouraging them to ask questions and having faith that they can find the answers themselves will open up the world for them.