Halloween Pie 2017

This Halloween continued the trend of child-led costume assembly that began last year. I’m all in favor because it appeals to my general laziness and to my “bah, humbug” attitude about holidays, especially holidays that don’t involve roast turkey.

So, my children took the reins with decorating and costume assembly while I served as a consultant and occasional assistant. There’s a lot less swearing this way.

My daughter used a white bedsheet to create a chiton (I helped with safety pins) and I put her hair in a bun, and she became a woman from Ancient Greece. She looked so tall and confident and womanish it made my heart hurt to look at her.

My son donned a black sweatshirt, black sweatpants, my red scarf as a sash, and two coffee filters around his neck as a 17th-century collar to become Albrecht von Wallenstein, whose army helped out Frederick II and the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years’ War. For more information about Albrecht von Wallenstein and the Thirty Years’ War, visit your local library or Wikipedia.

They hit the very quiet streets and came back with a decent haul, probably because our neighbors were, like us, desperate to get rid of their candy on a strangely kid-light Halloween.

As is the tradition here on Imperfect Happiness, here are the candy pies:

Daughter's Candy 2017

Son's Candy 2017

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Nursery Song

Today, my daughter recounted for us a story she’d read about a pregnant woman who put headphones on her belly so her baby could listen to music. When my children stopped laughing, I told them I’d done just that when I was pregnant the first time.

I’d read somewhere that if you play a song for your baby in utero, it will help soothe her after she’s born. Something with a strong beat was recommended so baby could hear it through the white noise of the womb. It seemed pretty low-risk, so every night before bed I would put the headphones on my belly and play this song for my daughter:


After she was born, it did work pretty well to calm her when she was crying. So did running the vacuum or the hair dryer, but this way was more pleasant for her dad and me. As a toddler my daughter called it her “crying song,” but the actual title is “Captain Badass” by Songs: Ohia.

Today, my children giggled at the title, of course. When I played the song for them, they weren’t particularly impressed—“Okay. Can we eat lunch now?”—but I loved it as much as I ever had.

“Will you stand up for your one chance? Will you stand up for love?”

Halloween Pie 2016

It’s Halloween once again! This year to celebrate their third reading of The Lord of the Rings (including an audiobook and a read-aloud by each of their parents), my daughter dressed up as Legolas and my son dressed up as Aragorn. I provided transportation to the thrift store and the funds to purchase items, but the design and assembly of the costumes was otherwise all them (thank goodness; I am not a costume person, and this development dramatically reduced my Halloween-related stress).

The costumes might change, but not our tradition of charting their candy haul. Here’s how it all broke down this year:





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To Drink Deeply

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.”

-from Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Over breakfast, the kids and I decided that we’d do our lessons, eat a quick lunch, and then arrive at the wildlife sanctuary early so we could take a hike and enjoy the weirdly warm December weather before our nature class.

We worked well and ate lunch quickly, but by the time we were on the road, we’d somehow lost most of the extra time we’d figured in. We discussed it on the way and decided that if we didn’t mind being a few minutes late for class (which we didn’t), we’d still have time for a quick hike.

We pulled into the parking lot with twenty minutes to spare. Perfect! We jumped out of the car, ran to the office to check in and let them know we might be a smidge late, and then hit the bathroom.

By the time we were at the trailhead, it was five minutes until class.

How the heck had we lost fifteen minutes? Read More

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:

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 7.43.05 PM


Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 7.43.28 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 8.01.12 PM

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!

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.

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.

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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.

“Mommy! Look!”

“Mommy! Look! Leaf buds!”


“Mommy! Look! There’s mud on my sneakers!”


“Mommy! Look! Crocuses!”


My daughter’s oversized reactions to subtle signs of spring draw me out of my daily doubts and stresses and into her enthusiasm. Together we exclaim over the sounds of meltwater running beneath mounds of snow, daydream seeds toward the sunlight, and poise our ears to catch the first peeps of thawed-out frogs.

The soapy dishwater is the key.

Washing, Rinsing, Conversing: Doing Dishes with my Five-Year-Old

Mommy, I still wish I could have one of those superhero flash drives. Maybe I can get one when I’m older.

Sure, when you’re older and you need a flash drive, you can get a superhero flash drive.

There was one that was a cat queen or something. She looked like she had ears and a cape.

That might have been Catwoman. She’s like a cat superhero.

Yes, there’s Batman and Catwoman and the most awesomest one that shoots red blood from his eyes—Superman!

Superman shoots blood from his eyes?

Yes, red blood. He was fighting some green aliens with green horns, and he was shooting from his eyes—it might have been like what comes out of light sabers.

Oh, I got you. Like red lasers?

Yes, red lasers. I think we need to air-dry the rest of these dishes. This one is too big for the towel.

Yes, the cookie sheet is pretty big. Do you want me to help you? Oh, wow! You almost got it all dried! There’s just a little spot here…there! Now I’ll put it away.

Mommy, do you know about the drunkards?

The drunkards?

Yes. They do nothing but drink all the time.

Oh, yes. Drunkards. How did you hear about drunkards?

From The Little Prince.

Oh, yeah. I remember that. You’re quite the listener.

Oh, yes. I’m a very good rememberer. There was a picture of the drunkards and there were bottles of soda all around. Soda that puts sugar on your teeth. Like agave nectar. That’s sugar. But honey is made by bees.

Yes, honey is made by bees, but it’s still got sugar in it.

Yes, because the sweet liquid that’s in it is…pollen.

Actually, nectar is the liquid.

Oh, yes! Nectar is the sweet liquid and pollen is like a powder. There was powder on our car window one time and Sister told me it was pollen. It was a powder and it was the same color as nutritional yeast.

Wow, you are on fire today!

Yes, I’m a very good rememberer.