Rockabye Sweet Baby James

Ten years ago today at 6:39 a.m. a new baby boy, James Hodges Oginsky, was born. At the very same time, a new mother was born. That was me.

There are few things as precious as holding your newborn baby for the very first time.

That afternoon my husband – Dan returned to our little bubble of newborn euphoria after going home to take a shower. He burst into the room and said, “Our son must be a poet!”

Why? I asked.

“Because everything is in full bloom!” he responded.

I imagined the tightly closed tulip buds in front of our house. It was our first Spring there. I had no doubt that the tulips bloomed just for James. I would not be at all surprised if his first act on earth was to make the tulips bloom. I can still picture the bright yellow tulips welcoming us home from the hospital a couple days later. We listened to Sweet Baby James by James Taylor as we pulled into our neighborhood. We were so excited. As brand new parents, we had no idea what we were doing and I don’t think we cared.

So, I have been a mother for just about 25% of my life. This is the longest I’ve stayed at any job.

Motherhood thrust me into the fullest expansions and contractions I’d ever known. Before James was born I buried a lot of emotions deep inside my soul. I tucked all that was unpleasant neatly away. I learned that some things were better left unsaid. I decided that some feelings were meant to be kept to myself. That approach to life didn’t serve me well in motherhood. Suddenly, my emotions knew no bounds. Once our sweet and healthy Baby James arrived complete with all working parts, I could not contain my joy. At each and every one of his milestones, I beamed with pride. I soaked up everything he did in pure delight. I lived more fully and I felt more deeply. I expanded. And, I also contracted. I remember sitting at home with James, just the two of us. I was exhausted. I had never been so tired in my entire life. My bones were tired. I felt depleted. I was spit upon, sucked upon, and pooped upon. Dan and I were in a competition to see who was doing the most with the littlest amount of rest. Neither of us seemed to be winning. I had heard about motherhood from my friends. They said it was AMAZING. That told me that becoming a mom was the best thing they ever did. I wondered why my friends lied to me. It was hard. I was tired. Sometimes I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I shrunk into myself whenever I could, trying. Desperately. To conserve. Energy. I think being a mother is a lot like breathing. Sometimes I take deep, deliberate breaths, expanding my lungs to their fullest capacity. Sometimes I hold my breath, waiting, wondering what is yet to come. Sometimes I am out of breath. Most of the time, breathing just happens. I eventually learned that my friends didn’t lie to me about motherhood. It was everything they said it was. But, it is hard too.

About a month after I found out I was pregnant, the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground. In as much as I was overcome with joy when I learned that I was growing a baby in my belly, I was paralyzed with fear on September 11, 2001. I remember lying in bed with Dan the night of 9/11, wondering how I could bring a baby into such a violent, hate-filled world. I was mortified.

A lot happened in ten years. First, of course, Sweet Baby James was born. Dan worked a lot. James and I stayed home playing with trains and watching Oprah. I had a miscarriage. Dan took a new job and the three of us moved into a new home, closer to that new job. Another baby was born. And then another. My dad passed away. I fell apart. We got a dog. I put myself back together. We moved again. Over the last ten years Dan and I built our family. We were happy for the most part. We laughed. A LOT. We cried a lot too. The first day that James was to ride the school bus to kindergarten, Dan and I walked him to the bus stop. James walked up the steps to the bus and he didn’t even look back. Dan and I went home and cried together on our loveseat. Dan cries at most movies. I cry all the time. Our kids cry. Even the dog cries.

The last ten years seem so full to me. Then I think about other people and what they have experienced…getting married, getting divorced, fighting illness, beating illness, running big companies, starting small businesses, leaving jobs and finding new ones. Moving across the country. Moving overseas. Losing loved ones. Giving birth and adopting babies. It is all happening at once. We are all expanding and contracting in our own ways.

I have vivid memories of my labor with James. That could be because I’ve heard Dan retell HIS version of the story so many times. In his version, I slept through labor and POOF! The baby was born. In my version, he slept through my labor. Truth be told, he snored through my labor. When it was time to push, I woke him up. I put on some deodorant. We may have even brushed our teeth. I pushed.

The doctor asked if I wanted to feel the baby’s head.

I screamed, “I CAN FEEL THE BABY’S HEAD!” (this is true in both versions) and then POOF! James was born.

I remember how scared I was when we learned that James was jaundice. I had no idea what that meant, but it didn’t sound good. He had a little box in my hospital room where he bathed in fake sunlight. He wore infant sized sunglasses. Having to put him in a box instead of holding him seemed like the end of the world to me. Then, when our second son, Alexander, was born, he had his own little box too. In the NICU. He was in a medically induced coma for days. Then, that seemed like the end of the world to me. We didn’t hold Alexander until several days after his birth. We left him in his little box when we went back to our room at the hospital hotel each night. It didn’t feel right. All the images I had preconceived about the happy days after Alexander’s birth were blown to bits. James welcomed his baby brother enthusiastically. He stroked Alexander’s little head and whispered brotherly wisdom into his ears. And then there was Sophia. I don’t think anyone will ever dare to put our little Sophia in a box. The fact that the two very same people can have three very different children will never cease to amaze me. It happens ALL THE TIME, but still, how does that happen?

One thing that all three labors and deliveries have in common is Dan repeating to me, “Don’t push back. Let it flow through you…” That relaxed me. Well, you know, as much as one can relax when she is trying to give birth to a baby. Because I have to hear something several times before it finally settles in, he had to say that a lot. He keeps saying it, in fact. Of all the words of wisdom I’ve ever read or heard (and if you know me, you know that this would amount to many, many, MANY words of wisdom), I think this simple mantra is one of the most powerful. Don’t push back. Let it flow through you.

I never really imagined myself as a mother. Sure, I was a nice girl, but I’m not sure I was all that nurturing. I didn’t babysit a lot of kids. I wasn’t a camp counselor. Mothering didn’t come naturally to me. I distinctly remember the first time I ever helped a baby to fall asleep. It was during one of my volunteer shifts at a shelter for battered women and their children in D.C. The baby was crying. I waited for someone to make him stop. It didn’t happen. I picked him up and held him close and bounced a little, like I had seen the moms at the shelter do. I even patted his little diaper coated bottom. He stopped crying right away. After awhile I looked down and saw that he was sleeping and I thought for sure a miracle had taken place. I think that was one of my proudest moments ever. Soothing someone to sleep may seem like a small task, especially if you do it every day, but I still believe it is one of the most magical, miraculous acts of humankind.

It is almost unimaginable to think that the tiny infant I held for the first time ten years ago today was the James I now know. He reads before bed each night. He usually turns off his own light. Could this be the same child who didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months old? He doesn’t always order from the Kids Menu at restaurants anymore. He makes his own breakfast. It really does go by so fast.

It is a profound privilege to grow a person. It is simply astonishing to listen as a small child, my child, assembles sounds, then words, then sentences, and then stories. It is remarkable to watch as a baby takes command of his body. He reaches. He discovers his hands. He marvels at these hands as he learns to grasp things. He sticks his fingers in his nose. He learns to crawl, walk, run, and eventually round the bases and do a high-kick in karate.

It is a huge responsibility to grow a person too. Huge. I remember taking James to his well-baby exams. Eagerly waiting to receive professional validation of how he had grown. Hoping I gave accurate answers to the stream of routine questions. When the stats were in and all looked as it should, the pediatrician smiled and said, “Good job, Mama.” I blushed.

I don’t hear a lot of “Good job Mama”s anymore. Not that expect to. I understand that the outcomes are much harder to measure. And, really, most importantly, it’s James who is doing a good job now. He is an incredible kid. He is so sensitive. He defends bugs. He always has. Once when I swatted a bee away from Alexander’s head, and it died, James cried. We had a funeral. He has his dad’s short temper. He is freaky smart. He has a GREAT sense of humor. He believes in fairness and justice (unless it involves his Legos and his little brother). He is a lot like my dad. He even looks like my dad. When he was born Dan said, “I think you just gave birth to your dad.” My dad adored James. Tomorrow would have been my dad’s 65th birthday. It is still strange to celebrate James’s birthday and not my dad’s birthday too.

My mom sat in front of me weeping this week. She was remembering the day James was born. She said the forsythia bloomed at her house that day. She said, “do you remember that little box he was in?” I laughed. I told her I was writing about all of that. She said that she and my dad went home that morning and made a pot of coffee. Then they swapped stories about the early morning hours, when they became grandparents. I never thought I would find an adequate “thank you” for my parents, for all that they had done to support me and nurture me and help me along my path through life. But when I saw the way their faces lit up around their grandchildren, I felt like I had repaid them in a way by making them grandparents. As my mom and I talked and cried, it felt a lot like my dad was here too. He would have been crying with us, remembering the day he met Sweet Baby James.

I just thought of something. In ten years, James will be TWENTY.

And I will have been a parent for almost 2/5 of my life.

Now, THAT is unimaginable.

I thought feeding my kids was a huge responsibility. Um, how about getting a kid through puberty? And teaching him to DRIVE?

I thought sending James off to kindergarten was heartbreaking. What about COLLEGE?

Despite the fact that I’ve been a mother for ten big years, I am clearly still a rookie! I’m not real sure I am qualified to parent a tween, much less a teenager! But, then again, a lot of what I’ve done so far is to help prepare James for his journey through life. My Sweet Baby James is his own person now. If you don’t believe me, ask him. One of our favorite James stories involves Dan pleading with James, who refused to choose a favorite between rivals Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Dan suggested that since the people who “breathed life into” James are Michigan State Spartans, James might take that into account before making a decision. Wouldn’t that be grounds enough to at least consider declaring an alliance to the Spartans too?

Not really.

James said, “But I breathe life into me now, Dad.”

Thankfully, it only took one amazing basketball season to convert James to a full blown Spartan. He rode piggyback on Dan and they jumped around the house cheering for the Spartans through the season. I loved watching James gain enthusiasm for the Spartans. Maybe it meant even more to me because it was something he chose to do. Eventually.

Perhaps the very best I can do is to be here for James, to stand by his side, and to again embrace the opportunity I have to bear witness to his growth and discovery. To give him the facts and help him to make his own interpretations. To help him with his homework. To help him get along with Alexander and Sophia. To make him laugh. To snuggle with him. To listen to him. To guide him. To protect him. To fight for him. To love him. To expand, to contract, and to make myself available, for the times when I am needed to rockabye my sweet Baby James.

James and me last night - the night before he hit double digits.

Happy 10th Birthday Buddy! I can only imagine what you’ve got in store for this world. I look forward to seeing how your story unfolds. Love, Mom

I’m too sexy for my…BODY.

So, it’s February now, Folks. Time to ask ourselves how we’re doing on meeting our goals for the New Year? Specifically, the goal of achieving great health and fitness! Are we kickin’ it’s butt? Have we fallen off the wagon?

“Lose weight” makes my list every year. Over the last few years, I have lost weight, just like I wanted to. And then I gained it back. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it is supposed to work. As I thought about what might happen in 2012, I wondered what I could do differently.

In November, a friend of mine forwarded a message to me about an online Body Restoration class being offered by the Brave Girls Club at www.bravegirlsclub.com. I knew about the Brave Girls, but I hadn’t heard about the class yet. If you are unfamiliar with the Brave Girls Club, they describe themselves as “a worldwide community of women who want to live the best, happiest, most productive and fabulously brave life they can possibly liveā€¦and that means something different to every single one of us.” It was founded in 2009 by Melody Ross and Kathy Wilkins. While they offer many amazing opportunities, I think they are best known for their Soul Restoration workshops and Brave Girl Camps. Their website is beautiful – filled with gorgeous images and inspiring words. I am in love with it.

The class sounded intriguing, and fun, so I registered. Before the class even began, I figured out what would need to be different in order for me to meet my great health goals by the end of this year. First, I knew I had to want it. I knew that because my Weight Watchers leader told me so when she heard me say, “I need to…” She told me that if I thought I needed to lose weight, I wouldn’t, but if I wanted to do it, I would. That made sense to me, especially since most anything I think I need to do gets put off until the last possible second. Second, I knew in my heart that if I was going to change my lifestyle, it had to come from a place of self-love, rather than self-hate. Ouch. It hurts to even think about how much I have hated myself at different points in my life. This requires going to a dark place and until recently, I was afraid of the dark. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences – I’m not sure I do), as I figured out what needed to be different, I also figured out that the Brave Girls’ Club Body Restoration class might very well help me to bridge the gap between self-hate and self-love. Ahh…huge sigh of relief. Not even a brave girl should have to go into the dark alone.

The objective of the class is to “make peace with your body through art and journaling.” Obviously, I love journaling and the art part entails making collages. SO FUN! My mom is taking the class too. She is a master journaling artist. Her journals are beautiful. She cuts things from magazines, newspapers (God help you if you discard a newspaper while traveling with her), and catalogs to make wonderful collages right in her journal. Then she journals around them. She makes cards too. I am in awe of her artistry. I covet her journals. I convinced myself that I would never have time to journal like her. I rarely get to reading my magazines, let alone cutting them up afterward. Although now that I think about it, maybe cutting them up in lieu of reading them would save me a lot of time? Anyway, one of the many aspects of beauty in this class is that Melody Ross and her team have already spent hours creating art and words to use in the class collages. Melody is a fabulous artist. I love her style. And I love love LOVE having the opportunity to take her work and incorporate it into my very own collages. Let me tell you something else too, on the few occasions that I actually committed to making collages with my mom, I quickly learned that one can literally spend HOURS in search of the “perfect” word for a collage. Especially one who may exhibit signs and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m not mentioning any names. So the brilliance of the idea that all the words and images I need are provided for me on .pdf files that I can download and print at home is not lost on me. At all.

Okay, so the whole point of this post is to process the collage I just finished. There was so much involved that I need to debrief. Last week’s lesson was about how we objectify ourselves and other women. Hard pill to swallow. I received many a training in relationship violence back in the day, I have a degree in Social Work, and I’ve worked with young girls as a Girls on the Run Coach (www.girlsontherun.org). I have both received and given lessons on body image and the multiple ways in which we objectify women in the media, especially in print. I’ve done my fair share of ranting about the injustice of it all and the disallusioned men who buy into it. I don’t remember ever really taking to heart the possibility that I buy into it.

It’s very simple. When we pick apart our bodies and other people’s bodies, we objectify ourselves and others. I’ll use my breasts as an example. They are big. See? When I say they are big, I am seeing them as objects. The point of the lesson is to really see that we, nor any parts of our bodies, are objects to be looked at and picked apart. This is what I LOVE and what really hits home for me: we are not our bodies, WE ARE SOULS. Admittedly, this is not the first time I have heard this message. There is something that happens though, when you spend time cutting out images and words. Then more time figuring out how to lay them out on paper. Then more time handling them, covered in Mod Podge, placing them each individually on the collage. Then more time brushing them again and again, with Mod Podge, so that they stick. Sealing them, securing them. I come to treasure each little piece of paper and the image or words it contains. We develop a relationship, in the quiet of the night, when my children are sleeping, and it’s just the images, the words, (the Mod Podge), and me. I handle each piece with care. I am deliberate. Sometimes I cry.

Here is the collage I’m talking about, No Woman is an object to be looked at and picked apart…We are all souls:

You’ll need to piece it together because it covers two pages.

I used Melody’s images and some of my own. Here is a picture of me when I was pregnant with my first child, Sweet Baby James:

Even though I loved being pregnant, I had fears, like any woman on the brink of motherhood. Like anyone really. In pregnancy especially, we need to know that we are more than our bodies. My mom took a lot of pictures of my belly. I had no idea what a luxury it was then to have SO MUCH time to just sit, rubbing my belly, or waiting for James to move around in there. We took pictures with the other two, but it was much more of a blur, in the midst of caring for the person or people who were already born. I might sit for a little bit, but it wasn’t long before I needed to get up again.

The woman in the middle here, the middle of the three in white, she is Minka Kelly:

I had to put her on my collage as a reminder that she is indeed real. She played one of the love interests of Tim Riggins, my fake boyfriend, on Friday Night Lights. I was real-life jealous of a fake person. Whatever. She is real. Not an object.

Here is Oprah. I had to have Oprah on my collage!

Although she doesn’t know it, Oprah and I have a love-hate relationship. I started hating her when I walked into a bookstore in the mall once, many, MANY years ago, and saw a huge display of journals with a sign above them that read: “JOURNALS, AS SEEN ON OPRAH.” I was offended. No, I didn’t invent journals, but for the love of God, Oprah didn’t invent them either! I loved her again when James was first born. I was at home with him and Oprah was sometimes the first adult who spoke to me each day, at 4:00, from the television set. One day she had a show about the reality of motherhood. I have loved her ever since. I don’t care what the haters say, Oprah does good stuff. And she is real. And she keeps going.

This is a picture from two summers ago of some of my goddesses and me.

I love this picture. My goddesses are a really special group of friends. If they weren’t entering right along with me, they were there to welcome me into motherhood. They have supported me through my three pregnancies and births, through mothering and married life, through the loss of my dad, and just about anything else that comes my way. We don’t all share world views, but we are all very good people, and we provide a safe space in which to explore our differences – with no judgment (okay, maybe a little judgment, sometimes, but we still love each other at the end of the day). I don’t know if my goddesses know this, but I think they are mostly responsible for showing me the value of taking special care of myself. Come hell or high water, we have gotten together at least once each year for a Girls’ Weekend for the past 12 years (roughly…). We always treat ourselves to a spa treatment. I had NEVER had a massage or anything outside a manicure from the local beauty school in my home town until our first weekend together. Even when it only occurred once a year, that hour or so of being pampered has been pure bliss and I am so grateful to my goddesses for showing me that I am worth it.

From left to right, we have Paige – she is a teacher and she thinks a lot. She thinks about teacher stuff, and other stuff too. Then, Michelle – she is hilarious! She can impersonate Molly Shannon. She makes us all laugh, and so she laughs. Next is Janelle – she is a photographer, so she creates. Then me – I give. I thought that was appropriate because I hosted that weekend. I gave out goody bags. Then Libby – she tries, really hard to be the best person she can possibly be. My wish for Libby is that she will see that she already is the best person. And finally, Holly – she hurts. She was the first in the group to lose a parent. She lost her dad and she misses him and it makes her heart hurt.

Now, look at this woman:

I have no idea who she is, but I think she is beautiful. Look at her eyes. She has stories to tell.

Here is my sister and me:

She IS a beautiful human being. I want her to know that she is okay. She is a-okay.

And this is my mom.

Isn’t she lovely? After my dad passed away someone told her that rather than torturing herself with the unanswerable question: Why did he die? Why not ask, “Why did I live?” Torturing is my word. The person who made that suggestion was much less dramatic. So, here she is after climbing to the top of a dune, something she wasn’t able to do the year before. She IS alive! She also deserves a loving chance. Oh, she has so much love to give. More than anything, I want her to find love again. She definitely deserves that.

Creating this collage was so incredibly powerful. I was moved to tears. Even now, looking at it and thinking about it moves me. I love every woman on my collage. At the end it was so much more obvious to me – the point of this particular process – to really, truly, tangibly see that we, all of us, all the women in the world, are definitely NOT objects to be looked at and picked apart. We ARE all souls. And, the beauty of it is that we are ALL alive, we all keep going, we all think and laugh and create and give and try and hurt. We are all beautiful human beings, and we all need to know that we are okay. We ARE all okay. All of us. For real.

Time will tell what 2012 holds for me and my body. But, I can tell you this, I PROMISE not to pick myself apart anymore and I promise not to pick you apart either. When I look at you, or at myself in the mirror, all I see is a big, beautiful, bright, shiny, super smart and sexy soul. Did you hear me? That’s a promise.

Oh, and you can still register for the Body Restoration class, if you are interested. Go to http://bravegirlsclub.com and look for Body Restoration. There is also a link to their site on the left side of my homepage – the one about whimsy and inspiration. Their daily truths are wonderful.

It’s the little things

My mom and sister and I do this thing. One of us comes up with an idea. Like, let’s say we’re taking a road trip and someone says, “Let’s start a road trip journal!”

Then someone says, “If we’re in a bad mood, we’ll write in blue and if we’re in a good mood we’ll write in greeeen…and we’ll include pictures!”

And someone else says, “We have to take it on all our road trips!”

And then, “And if we forget it, we have to pay a fine!”

And then, “We’ll pool all the fine money and start a foundation!”

And then, eventually, I think to myself, “If you want to start a journal, just start the fucking journal, for crying out loud!” Because we do that too. We swear in our family. We really like the f-word.

Within minutes, we’ve taken a simple idea and turned it into something BIGGER. One might say we complicate things. It’s certainly not a bad thing to expand and expound and think BIG. But sometimes, I just want a simple journal. Sometimes, the smallest things end up being not so small after all. I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days (okay, I think a lot almost every day) and I realized that I do this thing a lot. I think of something simple that I want to try, and over time, I make it really complicated. I make rules. I develop guidelines. And eventually, I choke. My little thing has become so mired in details that it’s just too much work so I stop and I file it away with the rest of my uncompleted projects. Then I feel bad about myself for never following through. It’s an ugly cycle. I think I might be headed down that road with My Hat Trick. In the beginning, I just wanted a place to write freely, like I would write in a journal. I decided not to edit what I write. I get it all out and then I click Publish and then I go on with my life. Over time, though, I’ve come to a place where I wait and I wait and I wait because if I’m going to write something, it better be good. It should be divinely inspired! It should be life altering! And it should all be written in green!

The fact that the forthcoming declaration is more for me than for you is not lost on me. I am making it anyway. I’m done thinking. I just want to play! From now on, I will come to the keyboard like a kid being let out the doors at recess. All in, with reckless abandon. I will jump in puddles! And I won’t even think about spending the rest of the day in wet shoes. I may write nonsense. Who knows? I’m not going to think about it. Fair warning: my blog is my playground.

I attended a funeral on Thursday morning. I am tearing up just thinking about it. It was a sad day. I had a horrible headache when I got home and I went right to bed. Our amazing angel of a babysitter was with my daughter, Sophia. Sophia, who will be four on Valentine’s Day. Amazing angel had to leave to pick up the boys from school and Sophia wanted to stay with me. She crawled into bed with me. She wanted to cuddle. I was sitting up by then. She sat on my lap facing me and buried her head in my chest. Then she turned around and leaned back into my chest. Then she laid down next to me with her head on my lap. Then she fell asleep. When I looked down at her sweet sleeping face, I remembered nursing her as a baby. She looked just as she did then (she even had a huge boob looming over her head). She looked like she had been nursing and then she just fell asleep – fell off my breast, drunk with mama’s milk, to rest her sweet head. I stared at her. I played with her hair and stroked her cheek. I traced her eyebrows. I even took a picture and posted it on Facebook. It was a gift. It’s rather unusual for her to fall asleep on me these days. It’s hard to get her to sleep anywhere, actually. I can’t remember the last time she fell asleep in my arms. I felt so lucky, like a new mom, with permission to just sit and stare at my sleeping baby.

Sophia was born ten days after her due date. Yes, that’s right, TEN. Those ten days were tenuous. I had excess fluid in my amniotic sac and there was concern that if my water broke, Sophia might be in danger. Dan, my husband, took me to work with him. He was on high alert! Of course now, it all seems very funny, but we were concerned. She wasn’t even Sophia yet. We called her Lola. We had a long list of potential names for our baby girl, but I couldn’t commit to any of them. I had to see her. I wanted to meet her before I gave her her name. Three inductions were planned for Sophia. The first time: nothing. By the way, I didn’t know that could happen. I arrived at the hospital. I had pitocin, I knitted, I bounced on the birthing ball, I had a few contractions, and hours later I left with my baby in my belly. The second time I went to the hospital and Sophia was breech (since she had lots of extra fluid to flip around in) and I wasn’t really dilated and it didn’t seem worth the trouble to proceed. Sophia was born about 20 minutes before we were scheduled to arrive for our third induction appointment. I went into labor the night before and we went to the hospital. She came on her own. That is how I knew Sophia was the perfect name for her. Sophia means wisdom. Following her own wisdom, she came when she was ready. At the same time, she reminded me to trust in my body’s wisdom. Sophia’s birth was a beautiful lesson in trust and I was so grateful that the health care providers working with us believed in letting the birthing process unfold, rather than intervening when an intervention wasn’t really necessary.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect birthday for Sophia because she is a love if there ever was one. She hugs tightly, smiles hugely, and laughs from the depths of her little belly. She sings songs about whatever is on her mind. She twirls and jumps and plays with her whole heart. She embodies love and all of its beauty. She came on her day, a love day.

My sweet, sleeping Sophia.

As I look again and again at this picture, representing what was for me a magical mother’s moment with my sweet Sophia, I remember that these tender little moments are often far more life altering than anything else that might happen to me. When I saw Sophia asleep in my lap, my heart blossomed from the darkness where it hid, back into the light. I may still mourn what was lost and what will never be in my life and in the lives of my friends, but I must also be grateful for what IS and what is yet to come. Sometimes those messages seem so trite to me. I think yeah, yeah be grateful for what IS. I get it. Maybe that is why I was waiting for something bigger to share? In as much as I get it, I often forget it. I think it is the simplest messages that bear repeating. That could be why, no matter how many times we’ve said it before, we say “I love you” often in our family.

I Want My Mommy

My mom and I held each other, crying, when she looked at me and said, You girls think I’m so strong. I’m not strong. I got all my strength from your dad. I couldn’t believe my ears. It was the night my dad died and we were understandably shocked. I wondered when I would wake up from the horrible nightmare I was having. We were both terrified as the coroner did his thing with my dad and we waited for someone to tell us what to do next. We hoped someone could tell us what to do next. I panicked, briefly, but I knew she was wrong. I knew she was strong. Maybe she did draw some, maybe even a lot of strength from my dad, but I also knew that deep inside her lived a wellspring of strength that pumped up and through her veins like blood. Strength is in her nature.

During my grandmother’s funeral (this was my mom’s mom or Mumma, as my mom and her siblings called her), I remember noticing something similar in each of my cousins. I’m not sure exactly what to call it, but it basically says, “Don’t fuck with me.” It’s not a total tough guy kind of thing, but more of a strong and silent confidence. I watched my cousins closely for a while as I considered the fact that each of us had my grandmother’s blood pumping through our veins. I was so proud of all of us. We came from a long line of strength and we carried it with us, we kept it going, and now we pass it on to our children.

When my son James was born, nine years ago, my understanding of Mother’s Day shifted. Now, I was the mom. I never abandoned an effort to celebrate my mom and my mother-in-law on Mother’s Day, but I certainly felt the day was really more about me now. Me, my kids, my family, and what I wanted to do on this one day. But today was different. I didn’t even see my mom today – we celebrated together with my sister and her family yesterday – but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn’t stop thinking about how even if she wasn’t my mom, I would admire her. I would love her. I couldn’t stop thinking about how, at age 38, my need for her presence in my life is more pressing than ever. I need her strength.

My mom is human, let’s be clear about that. I even remember hating her at times when I was a teenager. I remember one time, I was bent over, looking for something in the car, and she was outside the car by my feet. She was on my case about something and I actually, albeit briefly, considered kicking her in the face. We did the typical mother-daughter thing. The thing I dread doing with my daughter.

In addition to being human, my mom is an angel. As I reconnected with girlfriends from the past over Facebook, many of them recalled how sweet my mom was as our Brownie leader. Keep in mind, we are well past old enough to have our own Brownies. When my class, the class of ’91, entered high school none of the teachers would agree to be our class sponsor, as was tradition. My mom did it. She helped us build floats for Homecoming, she planned fundraisers with us, and she connected with a lot of the kids in my class. She still speaks of them fondly, with a smile and usually a funny memory.

She was always there for me. And she has always been there for a lot of people. Until a few years ago she was a school nurse at an alternative school in Flint. She taught childbirth education to pregnant teens. A job fit only for an angel and she did it with strength and grace and respect for those girls like I’m quite sure some of them had never experienced. I loved hearing stories about her students and their babies. They weren’t always happy stories though. There were many, many stories that were tough to hear and many I’m sure I will never hear. I thought those girls were so lucky to have a woman like my mom on their side.

Just like me. I call my mom before I call the pediatrician. God only knows how many times I asked her questions through each of my pregnancies as I anticipated labor and delivery. And when those little bundles of need, and joy like I had never known arrived, my mom was by my side. She gave me the confidence to try new strategies for sleeping, eating, and cleaning up messes. She believed in me. She guided me gently, lovingly, and with compassion. She continues to parent me, even as I parent.

And without skipping a beat, she grandparents. Yesterday she and my two younger children were having a piano concert. Each of them took a turn playing their “piece” and then everyone clapped. The pianist bowed. I’m pretty sure my kids couldn’t have been more into it if they were performing at Carnegie Hall. My mom has this way of engaging children. Somehow she makes it seem that whatever is happening, from cleaning toys up from the floor to picking rocks up from the beach, to looking up at the stars, is the most exciting thing that could be happening in that moment. She makes up songs and stories and my kids laugh and sing and really, simply, bask in her glow.

People love my mom. I love my mom. I am eternally grateful for all she is and all she does. She has been through so much in her life. She lost her husband, the love of her life. That kind of loss can break a person. But no matter what, she never fails to show up. She is always there. She may be late, but mostly she walks through the door with her sparkling blue eyes and a mischievous smile. I say something silly to greet her and she laughs out loud. She is steadfast in her love for her family, her garden, her home, and all her works of art. Like her mother and the many, many mothers before her, my mom is as strong and fierce as she is gentle and kind.

Now that I think I get it a little better, what it truly means to be a mother, and that it doesn’t end, I feel a little dumb for ever thinking that Mother’s Day was more about me in my first months of motherhood. Not that new mothers are not in their own category of angel, but I still had so much to learn…I still have so much to learn. Sitting at dinner today with my mother-in-law and two of her three sons and her grandchildren, I thought about how lucky I am to have such incredible role models. When I stop to think about it, I am blown away by the strength it takes to be a mother. It is a full mind and body experience. My dad may continue to be a source of strength for my mom, like we couldn’t have known he would be on the night we lost him, but at her core, my mom is just as strong, in fact stronger, than her girls ever thought she was. She is the true source of her strength and I am so proud of her. I am honored to share this day with her. Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

mind-BODY-spirit

In sharing my journey toward a deeper mind-body-spirit connection, I guess it was inevitable that I would need to address my body at some point. This is a little tricky for me. You know when girlfriends are hanging out together, pointing out perceived deficiencies on their bodies? Comparing muffin tops? I don’t have a lot to say. Not because I am without muffin top, but having dealt with body-image issues for as long as I can remember, talking openly about my muffin top presents some problems for me. (Men, I imagine you do the same when you’re hanging out with your buddies, right?).

As soon as I had a concept of “larger” and “smaller” I knew I was in the larger group. Sadly, I see in hindsight that this was probably because I was taller than most of my other friends. Of course I was larger, but I didn’t know how to differentiate between larger-taller and larger-wider, and honestly, I’m not sure that would have made a difference anyway. I thought I was too large and I went with it (looking back, I feel so sad for that girl who thought she was too large because she was damn skinny!).

While I’ve reconciled my body-image issues for the most part, I am still pretty sensitive to sharing, even with most of my beloved girlfriends. In the spirit of this journey, I think it is time to change all that. Please bear with me as I take a few steps outside my comfort zone.

In the midst of muffin top discussions, it never fails that I wonder: What exactly are we striving for? What are we comparing ourselves to when we decide our bodies are too much of one thing or not enough of another? Usually, it is some ideal or another, like when we think that someone we saw at the gym last week has a perfect body. Or we see some gorgeous mom breeze through the pick-up line at school. She is fit, stylish, friendly, and she smiles and hugs her children tightly when she sees them. She looks like she has it all. We want her body. Even worse, we want Gwyneth Paltrow’s body or Jennifer Lopez’s body – bodies we don’t ever even see in their natural states. We can all dream, we can work-out, we can starve ourselves, or eat healthy, well-balanced meals, but at the end of the day we have only one body. Our very own, unique, individual one and only body. And we must work with it.

The body I’m working with is definitely in the larger group these days. I think my body and I have developed a relationship much like an older couple who has been married for many years. We’ve been through a lot together. We love each other, but we’re not always in love with each other. Other than a gradual explosion in body size when I started college, and then again when I first started taking “the pill,” my weight was never truly an issue. I could have lost 5-10 pounds here and there, but for the most part, I felt good in my body. Right before I became pregnant with my first son, I even felt great. I was in pretty good shape, I exercised regularly, and I ate well. Then I gained 15 pounds as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I’m not kidding. I have no idea how it happened, but it did, and then it happened again three more times. I have heard there are other women who have had the same experience. It is just another prenatal phenomenon, I suppose. I didn’t over-indulge too frequently, but I ate whatever I wanted to whenever I wanted to while I was pregnant. I didn’t obsess over weight gain and my doctors didn’t either.

I enjoyed answering my crazy cravings (lots of citrus) and overall, I simply loved being pregnant. I was in complete awe of my body while I was pregnant. I loved knowing that while I sat watching a movie with my husband, someone was inside me growing ears. I loved watching my body grow and change. I thought it was fun to wear maternity clothes. I loved the butterfly flutters I felt in my belly as my baby grew and started to explore and I marveled at the punches and kicks I felt as he got bigger. I was not as fond of the sensation I had during the fully-reclined-with-foot-in-my-rib phase of pregnancy, but he came out soon after that so there are no hard feelings. I felt like I was a living, breathing miracle of life. If I hadn’t developed a deeper love connection to my body and its capabilities by the end of my pregnancy, I fell head over heels in love with my body when I gave birth to my son. It was the most exhilarating, empowering experience I had ever had in my body. Once my sweet baby James was out safely and I held him close for the first time, I knew my body and I could do anything.

As life went on with my new son, I slowly got back into shape. I was almost to that major milestone in a new mom’s career – pre-pregnancy weight – when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I was elated! In keeping with tradition, I gained 15 pounds instantly. And then I had a miscarriage. I was devastated. One of my friends described her experience with miscarriage as feeling like a little girl whose balloon got loose and floated away into the sky. It’s funny how my mind works. As soon as I saw that positive pregnancy test, I was flooded with hopes and dreams for our second child, and for James as a big brother. I asked my husband to meet us for ice cream at a diner near his office and dressed James in a “I’m the Big Brother” shirt I had been keeping for this special occasion. It was all so sweet and dreamy. Our family was growing…I was so confused when I realized none of those hopes and dreams would be realized for this baby. I became very depressed. As I reflect on that time in my life, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some level I felt like my Superwoman Mama body had failed me. Maybe that is when I stopped taking such good care of it.

A year later, almost exactly a year later, we learned that I was pregnant again! I gained fifteen pounds instantly and many more pounds after that. Alexander the Great was born. And then, almost exactly two years after that, I found out I was pregnant again! Another 15 pounds instantly. I swear to God! And then Sophia Pearl, our baby girl was born. And somewhere in all of that, I completely lost track of my body. I distinctly remembering trying clothes on at a department store while I was pregnant with Sophia and noticing for the first time that I had back fat. I was mortified. I wondered how it got there.

When Sophia turned two I started training for my first 5K. Running was something I never ever thought I would do, but I loved it! It was liberating. I had a blast making playlists on my iPod and running with the wind. The night my dad died I was running on the treadmill. I felt this surge of energy, like I had never felt before around 8:30 p.m. I think that must have been when he died. A couple hours later my mom called and you know the rest of that story.

A few months after my dad died I stopped running. I became addicted to yummy coffee drinks. I tried to fill the hole in my heart with chocolate and pastries. I gained back all the weight I had lost since I started running and then some extra weight, just for good measure. When I realized that I had gained additional weight, I was really disappointed. I think I again felt as if my body had betrayed me. Who could blame it though? I had completely disengaged from everything I needed to be doing to care for myself in a sometimes desperate effort to care for my children. I cut-up apples for them and then ate cookies myself. It was ugly.

I started practicing yoga more regularly in an effort to reconnect with my body (and quiet my mind and lots of other things) and that has worked beautifully. I feel much more in tune with this vessel that carries me from playdates to pre-school pick-up and back again. Slowly, but surely, I’ve begun running again. We’re on pretty good terms, but my body is asking more of me now. We both want to be as healthy as possible in the coming years of motherhood.

So, my body and I are starting a new “plan” next week. I’ve been thinking that this feels different. This is an effort born of love. I love my body, even though it’s large. I love my muffin top and the stomach below it in all of its stretch marked glory. I am especially fond of my deformed belly button, compliments of Sophia. I love how the right side of my stomach sticks out a little farther than the left side because it reminds me how each of my children seemed to prefer snuggling up over there in utero (maybe the other two had no choice after James stretched it out for them). I love my large breasts even though, well I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that nursing three babies was a very transformative experience for me (and my breasts).

In Martha Whitmore Hickman’s book, Healing After Loss, she says “I care for myself in honor of my life and all who have shared that life with me.” It’s really that simple. Out of love for myself, my body, my life, and all those who share it with me, I care for myself. This isn’t about wishing I had a different body or making changes because I don’t measure up to an ideal. For me, this is a journey about taking better care of my body because this body is truly a gift to be treasured. I hope, or I trust, that made in the spirit of love, this journey will take me right where I need to be.

Wish me luck!