It seemed like a long week. Mark O kept waking me up at 5:00am, big round eyes peering up at me through the darkness. He likes to sleep in a swaddle, so when he's ready to wake up, you can watch him shrugging his shoulders and wiggling his hips to get out. He babbles now, "mmmm mmmm mmmm" and sometimes it sounds like "mom" and we all gather around and coo at him to make that sound again.

Aside from the bicycle accident, nothing really bad happened. But that was bad enough to leave a sour note on the whole week. By the weekend we were in deep need of restoration. My parents came over to watch the kids and M and I went to our friends' house, where they were hosting a concert.  Mike and Shellie put out an incredible spread of food, a nice crowd of people showed up (always good conversation with those folks) and when it was time for music, we all crowded into their living room and watched Mike June and Jon Dee Graham play acoustic sets by candle light. In a club show, there's always the din of crowd noise behind you. Glasses clinking, someone who is a little too drunk babbling to their friend. It never stops. But here, in a house with 40 or 50 people, there was absolute quiet in between the notes. They told stories in between songs and there were some enthusiastic sing alongs towards the end of the show. By the end, I had totally forgotten how tired I was and was just thinking about the big, sweet life I have.

There was also something incredibly refreshing about hearing two guys do what they love, what they are called to do in this world. It gave me some courage to think a little more about doing what I am called to do, instead of going with the easiest path or doing what I think I'm "supposed" to be doing. American Dream and all that.

Then M went out to the mountains and ran a 50K (and placed 9th! Go M!) and I took the kids to my parents' house, where we ate some delicious food and sat around a fire on Saturday night. I also took 2 naps. Which my mom friends will totally understand to be absolutely amaze-balls. There is no other word.

So now it is Monday and although I am more tired than ever (remember when Mark Oliver didn't cry ever? Not so much anymore...), but my Spirit was restored at least.


Safe Passage for Bikes

Yesterday, we were enjoying our usual slow walk home from Laurel's daycare, when a young boy on a bike was hit by a car, dragged, and trapped underneath. He was traveling with his father and sister, on a designated bikeway, obeying all traffic laws. The driver simply didn't see him.

It was truly one of the most awful things I have ever witnessed. It will be a long time before I forget the metallic sound of his bike being dragged and the screams from his father.

People ran from all over the park to help. The fire fighters arrived within a few minutes. I understand from a news report that his injuries are serious, but that he is expected to survive. Blame seems to flow freely in the wake of such tragedies and I saw many people trying to process the event this way as the story was broadcast on the news and shared on Facebook.

Even Laurel was trying to make sense of what she saw by asking if it was a big kid or a little kid. We have this need to find out how the victim is different than us, so that we may feel more secure from such danger.

It's hard to know what to do in such a situation. Luckily, some friends had the idea to have a bike ride. No speeches. No signs. Just families on bikes, enjoying the beautiful spring weather, riding to show our support for the little boy and his family, and our desire to have safe passageway in our city.


The Ingredients of Nourishment

It is one thing to be fed, another to be nourished.

Michael Pollan has written a new book, and when I read this review of it in the New York Times, I thought of our tiny kitchen and how two cooks bump against each other in it. How I am constantly washing dishes, the old-fashioned way in a dishpan, while staring out the window at the neighbors kitchen window across the driveway. There are a lot of dishes, because there is a lot of cooking. Spinach omelettes for breakfast and lentil stew for lunch. Homemade yogurt and pickles and veggie burgers. Giant pots full of chili.

We buy ingredients, and when I say ingredients I mean it the way Bittman and Pollan speak of it....elements of food in their rawest, most natural versions sliced and diced and sauteed. Transformed, as Pollan calls it. We fill mason jars from the bulk bins with dried beans and quinoa, sugar and salt. We pick out radishes and kale and mushrooms. We buy five dollar a dozen eggs, with deep yellow yolks. We have well-worn cookbooks, stained with splatters from saucepans and drips from the jug of oil. Our  house smells like food, onions sizzling in butter or the pungent odor of cabbage fermenting, the starchy humidity of grains bubbling in a rice cooker, the buttery smell of cookies baking.

Before the whole Katy's-body-freaks-out-over-gluten thing, we didn't think so much about what we ate...not in terms of health, anyway. What we sought was a different kind of nourishment...food that was rich or filling or tasted of the land on which it grew. Food that was fun to eat. Food that we would be delighted to share with guests, should someone happen across our doorstep.

We spend a lot of money on food and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Sometimes I'm tempted to think that it is not a good use of time because it's hard to quantify in earning power or dollars how this is benefitting our family. It just seems like an expense we could be cutting back on, or time that could be spent working. 

Pollan argues, however, that this sort of behavior....cooking from scratch, as we call it....could be the answer to the epidemic of health problems our country is facing. There are no weird chemical preservatives in homemade food. No ingredients you can't pronounce. You pick out higher quality vegetables to chop up, and use them in a fresher state. It's a pain to deep fry potatoes, so you are less likely to make things like french fries and more likely to bake or boil them. 

Instead of fighting battles with big food companies to make processed food healthier, or labels easier to understand, people should just be encouraged to cook at home more. From scratch. With stuff they bought on the perimeter of the grocery store. 

It's going to take more than encouragement. People don't know how to cook. We need a giant home ec class for the whole country.


I'm a Little Tired Now

Thankfully, emphasis is on the "little." Mark O wakes up 1-2 times each night to nurse, but usually goes right back to sleep. When he cries, he is hungry, tired or needs a new diaper. Occasionally he really freaks out when he has to fart. Address those needs and he stops crying. Just like in the books. It's actually kind of awesome.

Newborn Laurel kicked my ass. She cried a lot. And loudly. I can relate to what this woman wrote about her experience with her newborn. It was painfully exhausting at the time, but in retrospect, it all seems kind of funny. In a blurry sort of way.

We had endless strategies for comforting her. She liked when we ran the vacuum cleaner next to her cradle. We listened to Yo La Tengo's Pass the Hatchet, I think I'm Goodkind on endless repeat, while vigorously rocking her stroller back and forth directly in front of the stereo speakers. We wrapped her up tightly against our chests in the Moby Wrap and bounced up and down on a yoga ball for hours in the evening. I stopped eating dairy. I nursed her more. I nursed her less. I gave her formula. We swaddled her in something called a "Miracle Blanket". I had a half dozen methods for laying her in her crib without waking her up. We became very superstitious about sleep. We tiptoed around the house and rigged up complicated systems for generating white noise (it had to be very, very loud white noise. Laurel scoffed at those stupid little stuffed animals that play"soothing" sounds). Despite all of these efforts, most days she just cried for 3 or 4 hours. Straight. For no discernable reason.

Strangers and friends offered us advice. Put rice cereal in her bottle! Let her cry it out! Try baby wearing!

I thought I must be a very bad mother. I cried a lot. There were many nights when I slept for less than 2 hours. Did you ever stay up all night partying and get hung over before you actually make it to bed? That's how I felt all the time. Shaky and nauseous.

But when people asked me how I was doing, I said the same thing that I do now. "I'm a little tired."


Childcare - is it really an "American Hell?"

Hands down, the most stressful part of being a parent for me is figuring out what to do with my kids when I go to work. I don't know why this is more stressful for me than it is for M, or even that it is. Maybe I just talk about it more. Actually, I obsess over it. I will freely admit that. I talk about it with my friends all the time. For the most part, we're talking about making sure that our kids are learning and growing and being treated right and treating their peers decently, but sometimes the conversation does go into the "are the kids physically safe" territory.

This article in the New Republic on American child care is going to get a lot of buzz. Warning before you read it...there's a fire and little kids die. I heard an interview with the author on Fresh Air today, and he admits that the story is worst case scenario and extremely rare. But what is really scary to me is the lack of regulation and oversight in the daycare industry as a whole. I trust that the accredited child care center my daughter goes to is staffed by people without criminal records. I trust that their building is up to code and they have rehearsed disaster procedures. But really, I don't have a clue about how Laurel's days pass, except from what she tells me, and what the teachers tell me. Honestly, it's a little difficult to piece together a story that makes sense when you are dealing with a 3 year old's complaints about her day and a 2 minute conversation over deafening noise with the child care worker. And when you drop off your nonverbal infant, you really have no idea what's going on.

We really lucked out with getting an opening when we did. Because we only have one car, we needed a daycare either within walking distance, or with long enough hours so that I could do both drop off and pick up. Our last daycare opened at 6:30 and the morning rush with me trying to punch in at school by 7:00am was stressful every single day. Laurel cried at drop off for the entire school year. Not fun.

So, these things make me feel better about our current place...
Word of mouth - lots of people in our neighborhood send their kids there and love it. Lots of moms of older kids also gave it a good recommendation. Staff turnover is low.
Google search - a quick google search didn't reveal any scary news stories, so that's good, right?
Random, unannounced visits - I did this sort of accidentally once she was enrolled, because my work schedule varies, but it did allow me to see exactly how things go outside of drop-off and pick-up

But ultimately, we had to consider....
Who had a spot open when I landed a job
Monthly tuition
Hours of operation

....just like the moms in the New Republic article. When you have to work, you have to take what's available.

I'm curious about what other parents feel about childcare options? Do you feel awesome about the place you leave your kids? How much of a financial hardship is it? What would you love to see in your "ideal" childcare situation? Anyone use an au pair or nanny?


Things I Love

I love Marks.
Thunder rumbled all evening so Laurel skipped the "falling asleep in her own bed" part of the night and we all piled into our bed early. In the morning, when I was nursing Mark O in bed, Laurel poked her hand out from under the covers and grabbed his and my heart skipped a beat over the cuteness of that gesture.

I love the way her hair spills over her shoulders in the morning. I love the possibility of the new day, even when the previous day was filled with disagreements. We couldn't seem to make it further than the front porch, even though we had plans that I thought would be fun.

I love having the means to buy food that nourishes and heals my body, which is a better way of saying I have to do the elimination diet again. Goodbye nuts, dairy, soy, grains, beans, citrus and nightshades. I love you, but I have to figure out which one of you does not love me.

I love three year olds that ask hard questions and force you to give them good answers.

I love looking out my office window and seeing all the bright green of leaves unfurling on the trees. I love packing away my knee-length down coat and getting out the flip flops.


On Screwing Up

Sometimes.... I yell at my kids. Forget to feed the cat. Distract myself on Facebook when I should be working. Get mad at my husband when he lacks telepathy to magically know my every need without me telling him.

What do you do when you screw up in front of your children? You can a) pretend it's not happening and send them to their rooms if they say something about it or b) acknowledge your humanity, apologize to the appropriate parties, and move on.

I'm pretty sure b) is the better path. We posted a list of rules that Laurel and I came up with a few weeks ago. The first one is no yelling. I mainly put it down because she was being loud and annoying. But now she points out when I am yelling. At first, this was hard to hear. But it has become a way to diffuse a situation.

Recently, I've heard some people confess really heartbreaking stories about mistakes they made, sometimes literally decades ago, that they still feel bad about. These transgressions gnaw at them, even though I imagine the wronged party doesn't even remember it, or at least, isn't still feeling bad about it. I'm convinced that you will be a much healthier and happier person if, when you wake up in the morning you do so with the acknowledgement that you are probably going to eff up something that day. I think it gives you permission to take more risks with your time, with your energy and with your love.

When you practice apologizing, it becomes a routine and comfortable act that serves to build relationships, and not one that you are reluctant to engage in. When you don't avoid it, it's much easier and faster to move on.

And really, this practice is useful for screw ups that occur in all facets of your life, not just with your children. When you commit to something that you can't really follow through with, or miss a deadline, or say something that offends someone at work, it can be hard to repair the relationship or situation. Instead, you might turn to blaming other people or avoiding them altogether. Most workplaces don't foster a culture of saying sorry and repairing relationships, so we aren't used to behaving this way. I was just discovering this way of thinking last year when I was teaching at a high school, and it was extraordinarily difficult for me to unveil my vulnerability this way to my students, colleagues and supervisors. In fact, when I did, the results were not good (for me professionally).

There have been a dozen shootings in the neighborhoods around my home in the last week or so. Warm weather and retaliation are to blame, I guess. There's always an increase in crime in the early spring around here. Laurel was bothered by the news, and suggested that we post a sign, "No shooting other people." Then she said we should move to another state, and pointed to states on the map, one by one, asking "are there guns there?" When we said yes over and over again, she put her hands to her forehead and dramatically said, "this is ridiculous!"

I should have filmed it for a gun control ad.

But really, it's not the guns that are to blame. Certainly, if they were less accessible, fewer people would die. But the underlying issue is that many of us have no means by which to acknowledge our failures or struggles or mistakes. The culture of the street is to step up if someone steps to you. Not doing so puts you at grave risk. It's easy to see how harsh that way is when the result is gun violence and death, but I would argue that this problem is pervasive across our society.

The hardest thing for me to accept about all of this is that acknowledging your screw ups and apologizing doesn't make life all peaceful and orderly and utopian. Conflict remains.


Ferncliff Peninsula National Natural Landmark....with kids!

All 4 of us!
I woke up Saturday morning and said to M, I think it's a good idea to drive to the mountains and hike around with our kids. And M said, yes, fabulous. And then we both said, and let's not give them naps! And pack far too few snacks! And choose a trail that goes perilously close to the edge of a raging river! And so it was mostly fun, punctuated by occasional sobbing.

Actually it was really fun, nobody fell in the river, and I promise to go grocery shopping before our next woodsy adventure. We even got some sun!

Laurel "scrambles"
We went to the Ferncliff Peninsula National Natural Landmark at Ohiopyle State Park. There are many short trails to choose from; the Ferncliff Trail (1.8 miles) runs around the perimeter of the peninsula. I think this is a great place to take young children, because the trails are short, it's close the parking area and you are pretty close to the visitor's center across the river, along with all the ice cream shops that you will need to visit because you bribed your 3 year old to walk further than she wanted to. In all seriousness, though, the trail does go pretty close to some steep cliffs over the Youghiogheny River, and I'd be hesitant to take little kids here unless you have a 1:1 adult kid ratio.

We spotted some frog eggs, yellow violets and a lot of mountain laurel trees. Laurel's favorite thing to do was to look for boulders to "scramble on" and examine the tree roots on blow-downs. She also liked hanging out on the rocks right below the bridge where she could gather sticks, stones and leaves and throw them into the river. That seems to be some kind of universal, instinctual pastime of preschoolers.

M and I are hikers at heart and if it were just the two of us, we would definitely be going further, faster and harder. It's been an adjustment for us to get our outdoor fix while accommodating the needs and limitations of our young children. I'm learning to keep the following things in mind:

1. Bring way more snacks than you think you'll need. Lure your kid along with animal crackers if necessary.
2. Dress them in layers. Bring a change of pants. Not only for when they fall in a mud puddle, but also for the time when they pee on their pants while trying to go in the woods.
3. Pick a patch of woods that you go to frequently throughout the year so they can see how the season changes it.
4. Take your time. Slow your pace way down so they don't feel rushed. Leave lots of time to explore whatever catches their eye. Expect them to marvel at dandelions instead of lady slippers. Be ok with that.
5. Don't worry if someone cries. Someone is probably going to cry. This doesn't mean it's a bad time and you shouldn't do it (just think of how many tears are shed at home over basic hygiene routines and dinner time).

It was awesome to get some fresh air and to spend some time together as a family.


How Many Words Have They Heard?

I've been spoiled by Mark O's normal laid back disposition. Up until now, he's been super chill, rarely cried, and was happy to sleep anywhere....through meetings or dinner or while I took a shower.

This week, not so much.

He's getting a tooth slash having a growth spurt slash unaccustomed to the 80 degree weather. He wants to be held a lot and nursed a lot and resists my efforts to put him safely into his crib, lying on his back, as I am repeatedly instructed to do by all medical personnel we come into contact with. When I try to lay him in his crib he wakes up with a horrified and confused look. He likes to sleep on his side, laying over my arm. That way he can suck and drool and spit up on me. Or he likes to sleep on my chest, especially in the early pre-dawn hours. Then Laurel crawls into bed and snuggles up next to me, so that when M wakes up and looks over, he sees me snoring under a pile of children.

I feel a little bad writing this, but Laurel is more interesting than Mark O right now, and I spend a lot more time thinking about what we should do, where we should go, what to feed her, what she's thinking about, etc. Thus there are lots more posts about her than him. He basically just comes along for the ride in the Moby wrap!

But I don't want to forget his toothless grin, or the way he fusses to get us to babble at him. He likes to play with his pacifier, spitting it out and then sucking it back in. He hates a wet diaper. He's pretty bald - just a little peach fuzz on his head. He smiles at us and turns his head when he hears our voices. I read to him most nights, usually a book that Laurel picks out. It's fun to revisit all those baby board books, especially since Laurel has been listening to chapter books for the last couple of months. It blows my mind that a year from now he'll be running around.

This article from the New York Times brings up what researchers have known for a while, that talking to your baby from birth has incredibly profound effects on their future learning. Once a week, I read to a 7 year old at a local elementary school as part of the Everybody Wins program with RIF Pittsburgh. He's pretty awesome and getting to simply read with a child (as opposed to doing more intensive intervention work or common core standards stuff, etc.) on my lunch break helps me to stay grounded in my work.

However, I am reminded every week of the language differences that Hart and Risley describe from their study of poor, working class and middle class families. They call it the 30 million word gap. Basically, the poorer you are, the fewer words your children are likely to hear from you. When I compare my 3 1/2 year old daughter to my almost 8 year old reading buddy, the differences are astonishing. We are a chatty family (taking turns in a conversation is probably one of our biggest challenges), but I'm not sure it's just a matter of Laurel having heard a lot of words. I think there's something about the dialogue patterns of our household that have encouraged Laurel to grow her own vocabulary. She has opportunities to use words, not just hear them.

It's a case N of 1 so far. But I'm really looking forward to seeing how Mark O's language develops.


Good or Bad?

A few nights ago at dinner, Laurel asked me, "Are you good or bad?"

I wasn't exactly sure where she was coming from. We'd had some differences in opinion over the amount of chocolate it was reasonable to consume in an afternoon. But I looked at her and paused for a moment and she seemed genuinely curious.

"I think I'm both. Sometimes good comes out and sometimes bad."

Earlier in the week, I'd gotten out of bed on decidedly the wrong side. I was stomping and grumbling my way through breakfast making in the kitchen when M asked me why I was in such a bad mood. This sort of exchange always has the potential to lead to who's-doing-more-for-the-family sort of fight. I said, "I didn't sleep enough, and the baby threw up all over my hair and I have hemorrhoids." I could have gone on, but he turned and gave me a hug and said, "Well then, you do have a reason to be in a bad mood."

And suddenly I was fine. All of the bad feelings coming out of me, confronted by a bit of compassion, morphed into good. I was amazed at how visceral my reaction was to his hug and it was a reminder of how I can react to Laurel's occasional wickedness.

When I look at Laurel and Mark O, I can't help but think that they'll be 13 or 33 or 43. They'll do good things. They'll do bad things. I'll love them no matter what. One of the hardest language habits for me to break is using the phrase "be a good girl." It's such a common utterance in our culture. But it's an unattainable state. They are going to do bad things. Say hurtful things. Judge people too harshly. Forget to be a steward of our earth and resources. Climb out the window into the flower box. (Guess which kid that was.)

My kids will also see other people doing good and bad things, and I want them to be able to separate the inherent complexity of a soul from the actions one commits. It's complicated to talk about and it requires a lot of "thinking before speaking" when I'm trying to discipline Laurel, and I imagine it will be the same way with Mark O.


SAHM Fun: Crumbs, Ponies and Snow

Sometimes I scroll through my Instagram history and wonder what people who only know me from that feed think about my life. It does a great job of capturing the soft evening light from our walks home through the park. The art projects. Faces grinning over ice cream sundaes.

The crumbs? The laundry? The tantrums? Not so much. I do not Instagram Laurel watching 5 episodes in a row of My Little Ponies while I collapse in a heap on the couch and stare at the laundry begging to be folded. It's not pretty, even with the Walden filter.

So here is how we're trying to roll these days. I'm working part-time two days a week and Laurel goes to daycare. We hang out on the other days and I play Stay At Home Mom. Mark O hangs with me all the time right now because he is awesome like that and does not mind if I work so long as I feed him with some regularity. Of course, Staying at Home does not mean literally staying at home because we would all go bonkers and I am of the mindset that children sleep much better when they walk at least a mile or two a day. Yesterday I dragged us all to the zoo. Today to Highland Park. Both days Laurel said, "Where are all the kids?" because it was like 25 degrees and snowing and probably all the experienced Stay at Home Moms were hanging out indoors. It was mostly worth it though because we got to see baby lemurs at the zoo. You really can't beat baby lemurs.

Last week we had a visit from my friend Leah and her son, who I am dying to show you pictures of (OMG, the smile....), but he is internet shy. Leah is the kind of visitor who shows up and holds your babies and cooks you dinner and is very understanding of crumbs and tantrums. It was awesome to watch Laurel play with a slightly older baby. I felt like I got a sneak peak of how my kids will interact once Mark O is awake more and not so floppy.

Lots more to say, but baby is crying and I really do need to cut off the My Little Ponies at some point.