It’s Sew On

Last week was a big week for me, dear readers. Not only did I go out on Wednesday to Meg’s for a clothing swap, I also went to EC’s on Thursday night for sewing. About a year ago she started hosting an information sewing night for the less-than-capable-with-a-sewing-machine-crowd. EC is mad crafty, but while I like to think I am, I really just read about people being crafty or buy their goods. Anyway, thanks to EC, her neighbor and Meg, I’m now about a C+ on the sewing machine.

Thread

Since I don’t take out my sewing machine except for these planned evenings, I generally spend a fair amount of time re-learning how to thread the darn thing, but then slowly work my way through a project for Miss Red. She’s worn a few wonky tops, but she’s little and can’t tell and little kid clothing is cuter and I think easier to work on than adult clothing. We took one of the tops I made out of an old pillowcase to Japan, and she wore it in one of my favorite pictures.

CH and Miss Red

Back to my non-story. I ended up doing my first clothing “hack” – I cut the top off of a sun dress that got too stretchy and decided to make it into a skirt. I am an insanely slow sewer and it took me three hours. But it’s comfy and I wore it all day Monday, when it reached 90 degrees in our little hamlet.

Hacked Skirt

What I love so much about the sewing nights is that it feels like stolen time. We meet at EC’s house after our kids have (allegedly) gone to bed. She makes great appetizers and we bring over food or wine. We catch up and I get to learn new things each time I go. I forget a lot of what I learn, but when I’m shown the next time I remember a little longer. I love that I’m learning from my friends. I love that there’s always a new person joining in, knitting or quilting or sewing. I love the swearing at machines and tangled threads. And I love that there is usually something produced at the end.

EC, finishing an awesome reversable bag

In my job I am lucky that I can often see the culmination of my efforts – a story placed, published, produced – but as soon as it’s done, it’s done. Sewing something for Miss Red, even out of an old pillowcase, or unevenly sewing a new-to-me skirt gives me a goofy smile. Each time I complete something I hold it up, and like I am five, show it to the group. With uneven edges, or threads hanging every which way, they cheer for me. I go home, often close to midnight, high on creation. I am proud when I hang a new shirt in Miss Red’s closet, or put new curtains on our windows. I am proud that I am learning a skill I can hopefully share with Miss Red. I am proud that I can learn from my friends. I want Miss Red to see her mama try new things and new experiences, and that it’s OK if you’re really only OK at something, as long as you tried and had a good time with your friends along the way.

Trusty steed

– MD

Getting the World

Some days I have those moments as a parent where I feel like I’m making headway in providing a rich environment in which my kids will grow.

These are the days that I put aside the worries of having the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood because I know that their experience won’t include what I see as imperfections.  [I’m reminded of this every day when Little A sits at the top of the steps and stares out the window, anxious to see if his “horsies are open” or if they have gone to sleep, if they are twirling in fun (STOP STOP HORSIES!) or if they are waiting, eagerly, for their Little A rider.]

Days like today I’m reminded that we chose to live in a diverse neighborhood, and that it wasn’t by mistake that they go to a school where kids’ families are made up of people who love them as their only constraint; where they teach who really founded American and that African people are descendants of kings and queens and start everyone morning recent “I am Somebody” to focus their day. That to see their principal receiving an award for helping eliminate racism in our community is no small thing.  [Aside: It makes think back to my days as a young girl learning about women in science and being encouraged to think big, despite my gender, never knowing that it was revolutionary to teach girls such a thing – and because of this straightforward approach, I never doubted my abilities.] And I know that their experiences in this school, in this neighborhood, in this community, with these role models and support systems will give my children the gift of knowing that all ethnicities and cultures are learned from, respected, lifted-up without question. That every person is somebody just because they are alive. They’ll just know. And they will feel that way, too.

On some days I know that I’m choosing right when I step into “controversy” by letting Abbott pick out the pink shiny shoes at Goodwill and celebrate his happiness in wearing purple sparkly Dora glasses that make him look like a Cross between Elton John and Bono.

Little A channeling Elton John and Bono

There are they days that I feel confident when we all talk about our piggy banks, and how mommy and daddy don’t have a never-ending stash of pennies in our pig because we don’t make much money at our jobs. And it’s because we chose these non-proft jobs – On purpose.

Little A, Thug

And I feel good when I think back to February and March [ok, and April and May] of this year where I dragged my kids down to the Capitol day in and day out to protest bad people doing bad things to the people of Wisconsin. They saw (and hopefully will remember) that you don’t turn your back when someone is being hurt – you get loud. You stand up. You get involved, you care.

Big H, Thug

Now before you start to worry that I’m all high on myself as a parent, I want to introduce to you the thing that has followed every single one of these situations.

Fear.

Quite simply, I’m afraid my kids won’t understand, won’t contribute, and that I’m missing the opportunity to make them great. After all, Big H has already mastered nearly 6 years of his life and Little A is sneaking up on 3 himself. Gone are thousands of days.

And  I don’t mean great from the perspective of big jobs and titles and big salaries. I mean Great because they feel their hearts in their chests on a daily basis and see themselves with that same heart in their hand, ready to cut it into little pieces to hand out to the world. Great because they get that everyone is somebody, and that being better and happier every day because the sun is shining or because they discovered a new combination of colors or saw a building that made their knees weak is a choice. Great because they know a grey day outside means a chance to slow down and that rain is fun for puddles and umbrella walks and because ultimately, it makes the flowers – and the watermelons – grow.  Great because they met someone who inspired them or because they did something kind that inspired someone else.  Great because instead of keeping all of their pennies to themselves they know that happily giving up their pennies because someone else needs them is even better, and will make sparkles shinier and the moon glow brighter.

When I see kids who get it enough to ask to start a lemonade stand to raise money for a Food pantry, I worry that the only thing my Big H has wanted to give up his pennies for so far was to buy a TV for a friend who didn’t have one (and let me tell you, he certainly didn’t understand why his friend’s parents would Choose to be so deprived). I worry that when given the choice, instead of painting his nails green and saying “Take That, Outraged People” he’ll jump on the Fox News bandwagon.

I have a genuine all-encompassing and unwaivering fear that they won’t get it. That I’m missing out on opportunities to teach them the way. That their lives will be clouded by a misunderstanding of wealth, a misunderstanding of the equality and love in the Grace of God, a misunderstanding of what it truly means to live every day. What if they never really get that life on earth ENDS someday. That This is it.  That There isn’t time for wondering what others think – there is only time to Do, to Love, to Care, to Give, to sidle next to Wonder of the greatness of the World. When it’s done, it’s done, and you either took advantage of every dang second and did something good with it, or you wasted it. That you either loved and supported or you deprived someone of this gift that shouldn’t have really been an option to waste.

Big H

How can I guarantee that they’ll live this life that I would do anything for them to have? Sure, there are days that I’m not a perfect parent and Little A will find himself at the end of the day only having eaten graham crackers and the cookie I bribed him with while we were protesting downtown. There are days when I yell too loud at my kids or even say something that isn’t really nice and I should be ashamed to admit. I’m not out to be the perfect parent – it’s long since been passed up. But I care that I provide them with the tools that they need to really LIVE in this big wide world. And to spend their days and nights and seconds in between making change for good. I’m serious! What are you doing to raise kids who get it?

-EC

Ladies Night

When you have kids, you find that you’re willing to be tired from staying up too late because you’re always tired. You grab moments of sanity and down time after kids are tucked into bed or finally fall asleep. You pick up a book, zone out in front of the TV, start or finish a sewing project, laugh with your partner, knowing that the next morning, your late night will be cause for an extra cup of coffee.

Last night Meg hosted a clothing and housewares swap. If you’ve never been to one, just go ahead and organize it. It involves everyone bringing over items they no longer need, such as clothing, dishes, etc. and letting the free-for-all of taking what you want home. The host takes everything not nabbed to a local thrift store afterwards. There’s always wine and beer, and lucky for us, the most amazing rhubarb custard pie and chocolate pie, because Meg is some sort of extraterrestrial goddess-mom.

A fine night.

Fortunately, Elizabeth picked me up and could fit the large steamer trunk, filled with eight bags of clothes no longer needed, along with a few “give up the dream” pieces of clothing from my pre-pregnancy days.

I drank wine, ate pie and laughed with other moms about our kids, tantrums, stretch marks and everything under the sun.

Tucked away.

I was home by 10:30 p.m. But that part of me that needed a little extra spark was re-lit.

– MD

Before I Even Ask the Question

Before I even ask the question, I know the answer and I believe it with all my heart. I really, deeply do.

I know that my heart will explode with as much love, adoration and amazement for my baby girl as it did with my baby boy a year and a half ago. I do, I really know this and believe truly believe it.

But I still ask myself the question: how am I going to have double this love, adoration and amazement for another babe?!?

I have 10 weeks to go before we welcome our second kiddo, a baby girl, into our family. While I get the ‘sweats’ thinking about having two children under two years of age, I keep wondering how am I going to possibly love another kiddo as much as I love E?!?

Worth the wait

When E was born, through the haze of coming out of an emergency C-section after days of induction and laboring, and four hours of pushing, my heart exploded. Right there in the operating room. Then it exploded again as I finally got to hold him. And then again when I saw him finally feeling like myself again post-op.  And again when he opened his big brown eyes looked at me. And again when we got the hang of nursing. And again and again…

All of E’s ‘firsts’ have made me boil over with love and pride of his sense of accomplishment. And mine. And his papa’s. E is now a running, chattering, funny, loving, and adventurous little boy who hugs and kisses my pregnant belly. He tells me there is a baby in my belly. And in his. And in his papa’s. He continues to amaze me and makes me laugh everyday. Really, he truly does.

It took me some time to find my feet as a mama. Now that I am comfortable with my ‘mama legs,’ I wonder how my confidence as a mama will change how I will love, adore and enjoy our baby girl. I wonder how seeing our baby girl and all her ‘firsts’ through the eyes of her big brother will change how I see and feel love, adoration and amazement. My guess, it will only increase the frequency of my heart exploding.

The thing is, I am so full of this love, amazement and adoration; I can’t imagine doing it again and have this sense of fullness double. Really, I cannot imagine it.

NVC and big brother-to-be

And yet, I cannot wait.

– NVC

Acting As If

One of the stages I really like in toddlerdom is the acting out of life scenarios. I don’t even remember when this started. Maybe before Miss Red was one and she would mimic talking on the phone? I don’t know, those memories have slipped away.

But since she turned two those situations have been more elaborate, starting with independent play and having her “guys,” or Fischer Price toys, march about.

Dr. Red is in.

She started to remember trips to the doctor’s office and would reenact those scenes with her toy doctor kit, always giving us shots and listening to our hearts. One of our treasured heirlooms is her paternal great-grandfather’s stethoscope. We let her play with it, and she loves listening to our “beat hearts.”

"You need a shot, dada."

There was much to-do about her haircut on Sunday, and she spent the remainder of the day talking about her hair cut, the “hair cutting store,” and reenacting getting her haircut. She slung a purse over her shoulder and dragged a small chair around, insisting that she was cutting hair. She scraped at CH’s head with a toy spatula, finishing when her mind decided she was done, announcing that “she had to go to work.”

The afternoon also consisted of us playing “rest time.” She brought out her blankets, laid them on the floor, and had us rest while she quietly walked around, telling us she was the teacher. CH actually nodded off a few times until she announced that rest was all done.

I think what I love the most about these moments is that it’s seeing her life lived on the outside. As adults we learn to keep our thoughts inside and probably relive our day’s scenarios in our minds one million times. But watching Miss Red replaying the big moments in her life – again and again and again – is like dreaming while awake.

– MD

Baby’s First Haircut

Miss Red isn’t a baby, but even with her approaching three, we still hadn’t cut her hair. It was one of those things that I couldn’t emotionally handle, even as CH combed through tangles each morning as we chased her around with a wide-toothed comb. But it had reached a critical mass, and we were able to pile it on top of her head, very Lucille Ball-esque.

Miss Red, channeling Lucille Ball

So last week I made an appointment for her to get her first haircut with Alice at Cha Cha. Now, before you get all “wha – you took her to that hipster place for her first cut?!” Yes, yes I did. Alice is amazing and loves cutting curly hair and I predicted I would be a sobbing mess and knew that Alice would be able to handle that. And it’s half of a normal haircut.

I borrowed a fancy camera and planned to document each snip, for posterity’s sake. I planned on catching her lovely hair and saving it for, I don’t know, the next Rapture.

Per Alice’s recommendation, we also brought along the iPod for distraction. I packed lollipops. We talked about it over the weekend and driving there she was so excited, “We going to the hair-cutting store, mama!” and “Is the lady nice?”

Once we got to Cha Cha she was shy. Alice put on the special booster seat, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. So Miss Red sat in my lap, with the cape wrapped around me. I fired up the iPod and Alice snipped away. The cut took all of 15 minutes and CH missed it since he was on his way home from Quaker meeting.

It wasn’t until the very end I remembered the camera. I also forgot to cry. I grabbed a small chunk of hair that was stuck to the cape and put it in an envelope. I snapped a quick picture, with dry eyes.

Miss Red, post haircut

– MD

Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother

A book review! Don’t worry, the theme of this blog and its angsty writing hasn’t changed, but I do want to share an angsty book that I selected for my book club. Actually, this isn’t a book review at all.

Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother

Side note on my book club/pat on the back: Nine years ago I co-founded Literati, an all-women’s (aren’t they all?) book club with co-workers. While only a few of us still work at the place we all met, we still get together once a month and the person who hosts picks the book. We’ve read everything under the sun.

Anyhoodle, I hosted Wednesday night and selected Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother. I read her latest book Red Hook Road earlier in the year and liked it. Then I heard her on a replay of Terry Gross’ Fresh Air, where she recounted her essay where she famously acknowledged that she loved her husband more than her four children. Gasp! Splat! Swoon! It’s more complicated than that, believe me, but she went on Oprah and was almost torn to shreds. I thought, “I gotta read this.”

I’m not going to share anything new about the book that hasn’t already been written about. But I can share some of the insight from my book group. Not all of us have children, but all of us are children and remember our mother’s so we had some interesting conversations. I found Ayelet on Twitter and asked her, “My book club is discussing BAD MOTHER tonight. I’ve been recommending it to so many people. Any ?s you recommend I ask?”

To my surprise, she responded with, “Ask the women the very worst thing they ever did as a mom. Answers will be hilarious, I promise.”

Side note: I love Twitter. I like it more than Facebook. I find out information faster than news organizations post it, have met people in Madison I now regularly hang out with, and actually have conversations with people I would never be able to, like Ayelet. Are we on a first-name basis, Ayelet? Hope so. Also, this is why I’d make a terrible book reviewer.

During our conversation we talked about the hardships most women place on themselves, and found similarities to raising children in Madison as in Berkeley. Most of us gave it a “B” overall, except for loving her brave and heart-breaking chapter, “Rocketship,” for which we applauded her honesty.

So what were some of the worst things some of the moms did? Both were accidents, but one mom vacuumed over her baby’s hand and another locked her three children out of the house in winter while she went to work. Two moms shared that at the time of their parenting they thought they were great moms, but in looking back, actually think they weren’t so great. Why the change, we asked? They were tired and yelled, they responded, and while had some support from their partners, it was in that 80s male way, as Ayelet describes, of “showing up.”

I shared this with Ayelet on Twitter, to which she replied, “Nobody ever screamed so loud in a parking lot that someone called the cops?”

Not yet.

We discussed imposed feelings of guilt, working and staying home and everything in between. But can I share a secret with you, fair readers? I don’t think I’m a bad mom. I’m not the best, but I don’t even know what that means. I think I’m a pretty good mom for Miss Red, and a lot of that is because of the support I receive – from CH, my town, my friends, my family, my job. I’m lucky. I know. And I might not be the best mom if we had a different type of kid, but that I don’t even know. The worse thing I’ve ever done to Miss Red? I guess forgetting to buckle her car seat straps when she was a baby and I was sleep deprived. But I figured it out a few blocks later and pulled over, crying and sweating and freaking out and thanking the sky above that nothing bad had happened. And being bad is relative, right?

So let me ask you, what’s the worst thing you ever did as a mom?

– MD

p.s. If you’re so inclined to find me on Twitter, check me out. ALW can be found here.

What Still Makes Me Sad

I am not a religious person, but I know that I am blessed. I found a fantastic partner in CH, and through some type of cosmic luck of the draw, we ended up with a healthy, beautiful, funny and really, really smart little girl. My heart explodes as I type this.

Miss Red

But there are some things that I haven’t been able to let go of from Miss Red’s first months, even as she heads to birthday number three this summer. It’s something I was reminded of Tuesday night and wasn’t surprised at how raw I still feel about it inside.

At  yoga a woman commented that she and her nearly two-year-old were weaning. In her daughter’s cuteness, she was relaying this information to her stuffed animals, “No more nurse, it’s OK, it’s OK.” The other women crooned and smiled. The thought of how clear and conscious we are, even at two, was so grounding for me. But tears sprang into my eyes because Miss Red and I didn’t have that relationship.

Miss Red didn’t nurse. I’ve written about it here and here, but for those who don’t want to click, I did try everything and I have an amazing support system. Five lactation consultants, including hiring the best in town for unlimited home visits in addition to the help from my doula, syphon systems, you name it. I produced milk, but she never got the hang of it, so I spent the first six months of her life pumping, storing, and generally making our home a mini breast milk factory. I loved providing for her, but that closeness, that convenience, that extra snuggle and comfort we didn’t have.

More than two years since I packed up the pump, I am still sad about it. I am sad that I couldn’t have that relationship with her. I am sad that it was something I had wanted so dearly that I was driven to the edge, and it just didn’t happen. I was sad that I tasted some of the disappointments of parenting so soon after becoming one.

I know that other side of this story: the bonding she had with CH, and ultimately that she was taken care of. But that sadness, that longing, still hasn’t left me, even as time dances on with Miss Red leading the way.

– MD

A Few of My Favorite Things

And here we are, the end, for now, of my recounts of Japan. I wanted to end with some of my favorite moments of our time there.

1. Time, Sweet, Time

As I’ve written, my job has been more than intense lately, and the weight of whether or not I’ll have this job – my favorite so far – weighs heavily on me, well, almost constantly. But being away from everything and unplugging from the constant chatter of the online world, which I love, was so needed. My favorite moment was a ton of moments, where I forgot the day, had nothing to do but spend time with my lovely little family. No cooking, no cleaning, no email, nothing. But time.

MD and Miss Red

2. Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

So Miss Red has red hair. Not so common in America, but in Japan it was like seeing a dinosaur. Everywhere we went, and I do mean everywhere, people would smile, comment, and say “kawaii,” cute in Japanese. Older women would reach out and touch her hair, and even thought we didn’t speak the language, we could understand that there was a love of her hair. So much so that Miss Red started to get a little skeeved by it. Understandably so.

Cheese!

But one day while exploring a woman approached us and made the mime of taking a picture. We thought she meant of Miss Red, but she then handed her camera to her companion, stopped down and posed with Miss Red. I tried to capture it myself. Miss Red, CH and I were in shock, and afterward Miss Red clung to our legs. Understandably so. But those memories of the sing-song “kawaii” still rings in my ears. I mean, the girl does have some amazing hair.

3. Swimming

Miss Red took swimming lessons this winter and let me say that it was one of the more stressful things I’ve done as a parent. For a 30-minute class, it was about two hours or wrangling, with getting us both ready, driving there, getting both of us into the water, showering afterwards and driving home. And she hated it. Like cried for 2/3 of each class and I was the one who mostly went with her. We’ll wait until she’s older for additional lessons, but we were excited to head to the hotel pool in Japan.  We didn’t go every day, but as a family we went and CH and I each took her individually and it was so fun. That might seem obvious, but as someone who had to wrestle a slick-as-a-seal toddler in the water, it was so nice to see her, albeit timidly, enjoy herself, and our family, too.

Water baby

4. Castle

One day we took the monorail to Shurijo Castle Park, a complete replica of an castle that was bombed in World War II. It was a long and winding walk to the entrance and Miss Red insisted on walking every. single. step. And she did it. Up and down and all around. I loved seeing her confidently explore and absorb everything as if it were just another day.

Walking the path to Shurijo Castle

5. Smile

One morning at breakfast Miss Red made friends with another toddler. They didn’t share the same language, but played for a few minutes, racing back and forth to the large picture-windows over-looking the water. In those five minutes she picked up a cultural cue that many Japanese women use, which is to cover their mouths when smiling or laughing. Japanese women even used to blacken their teeth, a practice stopped a long time ago.

Smile!

We had an amazing opportunity to go to Japan and I’ll be eternally grateful for the experiences and time together. It gave us reprieve from life, and we hope, sparked a travel bug for Miss Red. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and look forward to our family’s next adventures. I wonder where we’ll head next?

Happy Travelers

– MD

What’s Different?

The most common questions we are asked when we returned from Japan were about what we ate and what, besides the language differences, was different. I’ll take a crack at some of what we saw as different. I am not an anthropologist, and frankly, sometimes the other side of town where I live feels different, so differences are relative. We were in Naha, Okinawa, a separate island from mainland Japan, so that in itself marks major differences. Also, I need to find another word for “different.” Enough jabbering, here’s what I’ve got:

Shoes

Alas, for better or worse, I have flat feet (thanks, Dad!). Large, flat feet. That means no fancy high-heeled shoes for me. Danskos it is. Side note: in Madison Danskos can even be considered fancy! But anyone familiar with America knows that we’re trained to perceive the confident sounds of high heels across an airport concourse, or walking down a hall, implies strength and power. Women tower in five-inch heels, never wincing, to slip them off later and hobble around their abodes.

Yet, in Okinawa, women wore all types of footwear, sure, but if they wore high heels, they looked really uncomfortable and they didn’t hide that fact. Women would literally shuffle around in spiky shoes too big or too small, taking painful-looking steps and not worrying how it looked. It was interesting, and frankly, a better illustration of how painful most women’s shoes are.

This shirt could be yours.

Money

As mentioned in a previous post, Okinawa, and Japan in general, is a cash society. We brought cash with us, and fortunately our hotel exchanged money, but many of the family members traveling with us had to find a Post Office to use an ATM that accepted American cards and then exchange money.

It wasn’t only the focus of being in a cash society, calculating exchange rates, which fluctuated from 78 to 82 yen to 1 US dollar during our stay, but that money is not something that is directly handled. Everywhere we went, including in taxis, there was a small tray near the register that you placed your money on. Only in returning money did money literally exchange hands. And even then, paper bills were placed first and coins fanned out on top. I found the practice to be quite nice, since it gave a sense of importance to one’s money and made the transaction seem special.

The ticket machine for the monorail.

Paper Goods

Paper goods are rare in Japan, and most people carry a handkerchief of sorts. More like smaller squares of fabric, they are sold everywhere and come in an endless variety of patterns and styles. Paper towels are rare in bathrooms, since most have eco-friendly hand dryers, but restaurants rarely have paper napkins as Americans know them, and maybe have tissue-like squares or cloth napkins. This description from Craft Nectar, who moved to Japan, summed it up well:

“For Japanese women, carrying a handkerchief is essential. Not all public bathrooms have paper towels so having a lovely handkerchief with which to dry your hands is helpful. The handkerchief is also useful during humid summers to dab you brow or neck on a crowded train. I never saw anyone blow his or her nose into a handkerchief the way Americans do. It’s more for discreet dabbing the way you would when you walk inside after walking a few blocks on a snowy day and your nose drips a tiny bit. Tissues are used for dealing with runny noses and serious nasal congestion while handkerchiefs are a more multipurpose cloth kept either in the pocket or purse. Japanese hankies are made of very lightweight cotton so they dry extremely quickly and are not bulky in pockets.

Even babies had their little handkerchiefs, tucked into baby carriers and strollers. Picking out a few fun ones for Miss Red was a neat experience.

Painted wall outside of a restaurant.

Overall, everything and nothing was different. I’m sure, as Americans, and now knowing cultural nuances, we were at times rude or awkward. But if so, no one pointed it out to us or did we appear to make major gaffes. A few times I told CH to speak softer, only because he has a boomy voice. We did our best to be polite at all times, smile, bow and just be good humans. It seemed to work.

Miss Red ready for another day of sight seeing.

Next post: some of our favorite highlights. Anything else you’d like me to report on?

– MD

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