Archive of ‘Gratitude’ category

Friend.

Some friends are so embedded into your soul that they become a part of the very essence of who you are.  There is not a major life milestone or memory that exists without them being a part of the landscape of that day.  Even if they were not physically present, it seems as if they are always with you and a part of all that you do. And in reverse, when you are not a part of a certain occasion in her life, you feel as if you were right there through the stories or tales.

Your lives are intertwined because one feels the sorrow and joy of the other.  A journey that is sometimes simultaneous, and experiences that are sometimes asynchronous yet always known by the other.

Miles and years are irrelevant when you carry a friend with you, and whether you’re looking forward or looking back, she is always a part of your heart.

My dear friend is celebrating her birthday today.  She is not the public shout-out type, so I’m posting this in her honor and wishing her a full day of frosted sugar cookie wonderfulness.

Unexpected Magic.


As a parent at this time of the year it can sometimes feel like we are struggling magicians posed at the center of the holiday season frantically waving our wands against a mounting pressure to make everything special.  With words like shine, cheer and merry swirling around we’re aware that these are the moments that count.  After all, these are the memories that will be forever etched into our children’s hearts.
I do believe that the new and old traditions that I’m both creating and upholding with my children provide a lineage linking generations before me to generations after.  However, I should have learned during my first holiday season as a mother to also believe in something else.  Something equally powerful and sacred.  I should have learned to believe in unexpected magic.
During that inaugural holiday season as parents, my husband I left our then 11-month-old with family for a night and took the train up to Manhattan.  For the three hour ride, we steadied ourselves against the sway of the train roaring over the tracks, giggled and poured Bloody Mary’s from a Thermos canister made for coffee or soup (nine years later the Thermos still carries both a subtle tomato juice taste and stain).  
We delighted in the rare opportunity to return to our carefree and childfree ways.  It felt like an eternity since we had slept, relaxed, dined or drank.  While we were madly in love with our son, even at less than a year into this grand adventure called parenthood, we were ready for a brief respite.
The respite would indeed be brief.  In just 24 hours, the gig would be up, the spell expired and we’d be back in a pumpkin returning home to reality.  So we prepped ourselves for fun as our carriage, disguised as a train, roared up the Northeast Corridor.  Out of DC, then past Baltimore we zoomed.  As the tune goes, we went over the river and through the woods in Maryland and Delaware as we continued on our way.  Next we raced past the Philadelphia Zoo, and through towns of New Jersey before ducking into a dark tunnel, plummeted deep into the bowels of the great city and then popped back up smack dab in the middle of the island called New York and in the station called Penn.
The city instantly greeted us with hustle and bustle and sights and sounds.  So much so that it was impossible to deny the Christmas spirit swelling all around us.  In fact, it really did feel like we were under a bit of a spell as our faces gleaned with excitement at the beauty taking form before our very eyes. The streets were strung with twinkling lights and adorned with works of art delivered by way of department store windows.
We pulled our scarves tighter around our necks and stretched our gloves up over our hands.  My arm swung through my husband’s elbow as we put thoughts of sleep schedules and diapers aside and set off to explore a city alive and vibrant.  Down Bleecker, Barrow and Bedford we sloshed making our way through the very streets where it is fabled that Clement Clarke Moore was inspired to pen “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  We ducked into tiny pubs and cozy former speakeasies raising our glasses to both the season and to ourselves.  Cheers!  Despite medical stresses and professional changes, at nearly year in we were surviving this thing called parenthood.  And since this was our big break from the duty of raising a child, we toasted and toasted and toasted some more trying to prove to ourselves that we were still the old us.  Parenthood hadn’t changed us or slowed us down.  No way!
But of course it had changed us, rather evolved us.  As the night chased away the day, our energy soon followed, but we resisted telling ourselves that we should go for it and stay out all night long!  With our baby in the safe care of others this was our chance.  Finally communicating without words, but instead through shared yawns, we admitted that we would rather sleep and headed up the avenue towards the promise of a comfortable bed and the possibility of our first uninterrupted night’s rest in quite some time.
The cold, crisp air of the night sky set against the back drop of the lively city structures created an almost electric energy similar to what Mr. Moore described as the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow giving a luster of midday to the objects below.
We enjoyed peering into the windows as we passed by.  From our quiet perch on the sidewalk, my husband and I laughed and whispered as we created stories of the people or parties on the other side of the panes of glass.
When a yellow light radiated from a bar window ahead we stopped to look in.  Our eyes settled past the steam resting on the window’s cross bars and we spotted a bearded man in red with a pint of beer in his hand.  I turned to my husband and smiled.  Oh what a story we could create with this scene!   He grinned and pointed back towards the window.  Next to the bearded man in red was another bearded gentleman in red and yet another and another.  As we looked more closely we saw at least three-dozen Santas in the bar all carrying on and patting each other on the back, and raising a drink.  We stood at the window for a few more minutes quietly observing this unexpected, yet quite magical scene unfolding in front of us.  Standing on the cold sidewalk, we could feel a certain kind of warming glow put forth from this community of individuals who spread cheer to others sharing in a moment of camaraderie and celebration with one another.
During the rest of our walk we excitedly traded thoughts on what the Santas were doing in the bar and cracked jokes that started with “so a Santa walks into a bar….”.  We were so taken with the idea of the Santas that we continued our dialogue on the train ride home the next morning.  And while they were likely a group of pub-crawlers dressed in costume, years later we still discuss the possibilities of that event and that night.   It’s a wonderful kind of indulgence to let the imagination run free for a bit, isn’t it?
And there it was beyond the dinner and drinks and decorations.  Unexpected magic.
Another world away, far from the Santas and the sparkly city, we were returning to every day life with jobs and a child and demands.  Our brief escape was over.
Back home with our young son we celebrated his first Christmas and did some hustling and bustling ourselves to attempt to create our own magic.  We made a trip to see Santa and sent out holiday cards.  Of course our son fussed during the visit with the Big Guy and we took about 80 shots before capturing a halfway decent candidate for the card.  I acknowledged to myself that if this was what Christmas with kids felt like, it seemed more stressed and sweaty than magic and miracle.  The previous week’s trip to New York and the Santas seemed like a long, long time ago.
But then the actual Christmas Day rolled around and our little guy served up a little pixie dust of his own when he took his first steps, across my parents’ living room floor and in front of our extended family.  While every adult in the room paused and acknowledged the fun, at age 90, my great aunt laughed a familiar and deep chuckle, clapped her hands together and said, “well now, isn’t that something?  I never thought I’d get to see that!”  A teacher and a kindred spirit herself, she never had children of her own, yet loved them dearly. 
I knew she would not live long enough for my son to know her directly, but I also knew that I would share this story with him and form a bond between the two even years after her death.
It wasn’t the card or the presents but for a second time that season it had struck again.  Unexpected magic.
When I think back to that first Christmas as a mother and reflect on my desire to reclaim my old self it seems like a wish that is foreign to me now.   Nearly a decade in, there’s no old self or new self.  There’s just this self.  I don’t want to say that my children define me, but they are most certainly the axis at which the rest of my activities and decisions rotate around in some form or another.
Certainly there are the stressful moments like getting everyone out the door to a special holiday meal, or the inevitable stomach flu that will hit as you’re doing so.  Trying to take a family photo in the beautiful great outdoors while potty-training a toddler is particularly challenging, I know.     
But interwoven in those stressful moments are other things.  Now in our tenth Christmas as parents our family has grown and there is a wonderful collection of photographs perched on our mantle of visits with Santa and another set to match of pajama-clad kids anxiously awaiting at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning.  The gifts have have slowly progressed from ones that are simply something to open with a favorite cartoon character on a box of band-aids or a toothbrush to more coveted bigger toys or electronics.  Somehow we have managed to pull off a Christmas card photo every year that captures our children growing up.  Their faces change each year as they grow older and longer and their smiles sometimes have gaps with missing teeth before being replaced by bigger teeth the next year.
I’m sure there were arguments as we snapped those photos or tension in the lines at the stores to secure those gifts.  But that’s not what I remember.  What I remember is the look on their faces and more importantly the feeling in my heart.
Sure there are sacrifices, but parenthood is not a duty or responsibility.  Parenthood is privilege at all times of the year, but especially during this time of the year. 
Now I don’t want to escape my children at Christmas (mostly…), I simply want to soak up every moment I am given with them to bask in their glow of anticipation and excitement.  And so our traditions continue, but in different ways.


We no longer live on the East Coast, but now Chicago.  Last weekend I wanted to do some of that treasured memory making and took my oldest two kids on the inbound train to enjoy the holiday windows in the store fronts and to see Elf the Musical.  As we took our seats in the theatre I overheard some people a generation or so older than me sitting behind us talking a bit too loudly about how kids are spoiled these days and what they really need is a good old-fashioned spank’in.  For a moment I felt self-conscious about bringing my children to the theatre and sank a bit in my seat.  But then I stopped myself and thought about the season and the show we were about to see.  This isn’t a time for grumpy complaints.  This is a time for cheer and fun.  I began to happily point out all of the fun things in the auditorium to the kids and a game of ‘I Spy’ ensued until the lights dimmed and the curtain opened.  As the music started and the actors performed my kids laughed out loud, clapped, smiled and bounced in their seats.  At a particularly upbeat song, my son started waving the Santa hat he was wearing.   I thought of the grouchy people behind us who were probably irritated. 
At intermission I prepared to issue an apology to them but instead I overheard a much different conversation taking place.  They were chuckling and saying how much fun it was to see this show with young children around enjoying it so much.  They were commenting about how they had missed being around kids. 
Abracadabra!  There it was again.  Beyond the theatre tickets or excursion.  Unexpected magic.
I smiled and let myself off the hook at bit.  While at this stage of life with children aged 9, 5 and 3 I’ve been given the gift of sharing this special season with them.   It feels like the light of the season is shining right on them and I am posed to play a significant role in their Christmas.  

But I’m not the maker of their magic.  I’m simply the guardian of the season’s spirit and the usher of their memories.  I can prepare and plan and orchestrate, but the real magic is being made and spread in the most unexpected of ways.  I just need to help make sure that my children and I am able to see it.
Its treasured, but limited time that I get to accompany these little people through this season and bask in their expectation, wonder, awe and belief.  Someday a time will come when the light of the season shines most brightly on my children’s children or others who are younger than me.  And when that day arrives I’ll sit back, trust and enjoy their glow.  
But as for right now, and our current version of ourselves, my husband and I look forward to a different kind of night.  It’s the evening in December when we tuck ourselves away in the basement and have a secret wrapping session.  It may not be the streets of New York, but over Scotch tape and bright rolls of paper we share a glass of wine and give a toast to the season, and a toast not to ourselves, but to the family we’ve created and the miracle that we are.  And that’s pure magic.



Grace in a Goldfish Bowl

There’s an old saying that a mother is only as happy as her most unhappy child.  Different people have different feelings about this quote, and that’s ok.  Everyone is unique and so is each parenting experience.  But for me personally, that sentiment was never more true than it was this morning and over of all things, a goldfish.
My mother-in-law raised four children and always jokes about which of them is currently at the top of her worry list.  Someone is always there, claiming their mother’s concerns, but the child occupying the space varies.  For some time the slot is claimed by one, until things settle for him or her and then someone else fills it.
Really, that’s life.  It’s hard to feel tremendous delight for yourself or another, when you know someone else is having a hard time.  One friend may be rejoicing, while another unrelated friend is suffering.  Compassion and empathy is always there on one side of the emotional tug-o-war while celebration and joy yanks the other way.  Yet the rope in this game of life is always interwoven with threads of happiness and gratitude making it possible for us to acknowledge and feel both deeply and simultaneously.
In my own family’s emotional tug-o-war, over the last few weeks we’ve celebrated baptisms and birthdays, and entered into this festive time of the year with a cheerful bang of decorations and parties.  Yet I feel a slight tug in the other direction because my son has been hanging out at the top of my worry list.  It’s nothing major right now but enough to be holding a decent portion of this mother’s mindshare.
Do we push him or give him space?
He just finished his first trimester of 4th grade and things are starting to get a bit more real on all fronts:  academics, social dynamics, athletics and other extra-curricular activities.  This is the first year that his grade card will have letter grades and teams are starting to have try-outs and cuts.  He’s still in pursuit of his passion and my husband and I have been having many late night conversations about it all.
Do we enroll him in the activities he has fun doing because they come easier to him or challenge him and go for the ones that will sharpen the skills that need it?
We decided to start pushing a bit more and make changes in activities that were getting too comfortable. We changed up his piano teacher and he was terribly upset.  But even as I explained to him the rationale behind our decision, I wasn’t sure I believed it.
Will he respond better to good cop or bad cop…threaten and punish, or reward and encourage?
In general my son is pretty tender-hearted and sweet.  I believe he is kind to others and really feels compassion for friends, animals and even our planet.  He’s curious and inquisitive and interested in geography, history and science.
But while he has favorite college and local Chicago sports teams, he’s not going to track statistics or rankings.  He prefers individual sports like swimming and golf more so than team sports such as baseball or soccer.  Yet his real strong suit is his imagination and creativity.  He loves to draw, sculpt and take improv classes.
At recess he’s a master of the rainbow loom, not the soccer field, or even the four square court.  Recently he and his friends have created a game that involves mining and storing ice-crystals in an invented fort on the playground.  This seems like a wonderfully innovative and non-violent game.  Which is good, I think.
Is it even possible to turn a lover into a fighter?
While I believe that his good nature will serve him well as he gets older, I worry that the world will eat him alive!  So I’m desperately trying to foster and encourage his natural traits, while sharpening the characteristics that don’t come as easily to him.   I am really very proud of his kindness and curiosity, but still feel myself wanting to instill into him more competition and drive.
Even though I know every expert would advise that this is wrong, I can’t help myself and I cringe as I ask him who is in what math level at school.  He smiles and answers, “I only pay attention to myself, not others”.
Why would I try to turn a lover into a fighter?
So with all of these issues swirling around he’s claiming space at the top of my worry list and lately my husband and I have been trying different tactics to light a bit of a fire under his behind.  We’ll look at each other and agree that we only want to push him into trying his hardest, doing his best and nothing else.
But then in the middle of homework he’ll do something frustrating and maddening and the conversation starts spinning, and spinning…and before we know it we’re saying things that we shouldn’t and hating ourselves for doing so.
We had one of those conversations the other night and it was so, so miserable and so, so ugly.  It went places that even I was surprised it went with me referencing our son’s surgery when he was just three days old and how he can’t ever give up on himself because (my God!), he is supposed to be here so he better make this life count!  And then there was my husband talking about getting into college and the world passing him by!!  And finally Jack pulling the pillow over his head and saying he just wished he didn’t exist.  Which given the medical history I’ve just described, pushes every last emotional button I have.
And boom!  With that there was a huge, screeching halt.  Brakes applied, the conversation redirected and thanks to the grace that fell all around us in that sacred moment, we found the right parenting words, or at least the better parenting words and talked and hugged and cried and reassured.
Eventually our conversation moved onto pride and how good pride feels.  We asked Jack to think hard about what he was most proud about from that day.  He thought and thought and thought.  We offered examples from our own days like serving others, making someone smile, challenging ourselves.  He thought and thought some more until the answer struck him, “I’m most proud of how long my goldfish has lived”.
We were going for something related to school, sports or being kind to others.  While it’s not the answer we were looking for, it’s true.  He is so proud about the longevity of his pet’s life.  He was thrilled when he learned that all 3rd graders receive a goldfish as part of a science study.  We counted down the months until that study.  During the study the fish stayed in the classroom and Jack analyzed what he believed were the personalities of each.  He would come home with reports like “today my fish was playing with Sam’s fish, but then Ava’s fish tried to attack them.”  And I rolled my eyes to myself on the inside, but smiled on the outside at their innocent excitement.  And finally last winter, the day arrived and he came out of school beaming with his new fish!





There was a lot of fanfare as our kids welcomed the fish to it’s new home.  They decorated the tank with colorings and crafts.  And something truly interesting happened!  Jack’s fish had a hole in the dorsal fin, yet after a few weeks at our house, the hole repaired itself.  Jack assumed this was because he was taking such good care of the fish and his teacher agreed.  By the end of the school year Jack’s fish was still alive, while others were not.  So again, this was remarkable and fun.
All summer long we made sure to feed that fish the right vacation tablets when we left to go out of town.  When we returned home each Sunday night, the first thing Jack would do is race to his bedroom and let out a sigh of relief.  Even his little sister would say, “is the fish still alive?”
When school started up in the fall Jack headed off to the 4th grade wing, but made sure to pay his 3rd grade teacher a visit and let her know that the fish was still alive.  She was amazed and told Jack so, bolstering his pride even more.
And then this week….the week he’s hanging out at the top of my worry list, and the week after the emotional piano teacher switch, and the week we’ve been riding him so hard about his homework and the week he just declared his fish’s life as the achievement that he feels great pride in….this week the fish started swimming on its side and not eating.  <insert dramatic sound effect, Ba-ba-bum.>
Jack saw it a few days ago and called me panicked to his room.  I downplayed it and we continued on our way.   But when it happened again this morning, it didn’t look good and both he and I knew it.  The drama was thick and would be almost funny, if it wasn’t so sincere.  He was knocking on the side of the bowl and saying things like “stay with me”.  He didn’t want to eat breakfast since the fish couldn’t eat.  He decided to wear a shirt to school today with a graphic of a fish on it to stand in solidarity with his pet.
I explained that it was probably time for him to start saying good-bye.  He asked if we could do anything and I said not really.  He suggested we call a vet.  Now we don’t have a veterinarian, because pet fish. Fish!  Finally I relented and called a veterinarian practice in town.  I explained our situation while the receptionist very kindly and patiently played along allowing me to say into the phone loud enough for my son to hear “ok, so you’re saying there’s nothing we can do.  How long do fish usually live?  Oh gosh, only a few weeks?  Well then I guess we should really be celebrating what a long life we gave our fish!  Yes, he didtake good care of that fish. Thanks so much.”
I knew my son needed to get to school.  Admittedly, I wondered for a split second if I should allow him to stay home and spend time with his beloved pet goldfish before it died.  But I thought better of it, and told him he needed to spend a moment or two with the fish and then it was time to go.  I offered that he could come home for lunch and suggested that he could pay a visit to his 3rd grade teacher who he is so endeared to and let her know.
Between his tears, he liked this idea.  So, I quickly went and sent a note to his current 4th grade teacher, his 3rd grade teacher and the school social worker explaining the situation of the morning.  I labeled it “Goldfish Tragedy” and in a tongue-in-cheek tone I said that they should not baby him, but he might need an extra pat on the back or hug today.  They were so kind and all wrote me back this morning.
On the way to school we talked about how he needs to be brave, and I struggled with my own emotions and contradictions.  I love that he wears his heart on his sleeve, but it’s so vulnerable hanging out there!  I wanted to tell him to compartmentalize his feelings, and to not let others see him cry.  Yet I know that’s all wrong based on my own experiences with grief.
I started to explain that others are going through hard times as I thought of parents I know who are losing their own children to cancer right now, kids we know who have parents going through a divorce right now, and the thousands of people in the Philippines who we don’t know personally but who are facing utter devastation right now.  I wanted to slap a bit of perspective into my son and scream “its a goldfish!”
But I remembered when my own daughter was born still and in a conversation with my mother she good-intentionally offered stories of other seemingly “worse” tragedies.  I think she was hoping I’d realize that others were suffering as well.  But I was insulted and screamed back “I know there are starving children in the world and I feel terrible about that….but that doesn’t make my loss suck any less right now!”
And that’s when I caught myself.  One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to accept is that things are not mutually exclusive.  My world may be crashing, while someone else’s is jubilant.  It may not seem fair, but it’s hardly unjust.  It’s not one or the other.  It just is the way it is.
Toughen him up, or keep him soft?
When we arrived at school, Jack got out of the car and took a quick pause to look in the side view mirror.  He asked me if I could tell that he’d been crying.  I didn’t lie and didn’t tell the truth, I just said that it looked like he’d been having a bad day.

A bad day, that was it!  This was my advice to give.  We talked about how he was having a bad day and that everyone has bad days.  And everyone has good days.  And they aren’t always on the same day.  But the bad days help us appreciate and recognize the good days.  Then I continued that even on one of the bad days, it’s still a day worth having and one we need to get through.
He sighed.  As I watched his slumped back bravely enter the building in its puffy winter coat, I started to tear up a little bit myself.  Because I remembered my own very bad days and how I still had to keep moving.  Sometimes the movement was forward, sometimes backwards, but each and every one of those days consistently arrived.  And each and every one of those days brought with it both a sunrise and a sunset.
To my child’s tender heart, the loss of a pet goldfish is a big deal.  And even though I’m an adult and can see this morning’s tragedy as funny and ironic (Come on!  I sent a note to the school and called a veterinarian for a goldfish for goodness sake!!), most powerful of all, I’m a parent.  And once you’ve grown, sustained and nurtured your child’s heart both inside and out of you, you’ll always feel it as it swells with joy or breaks with grief. 
Throw him a rope, or let him rescue himself?  
Wish me luck!  I’m off to save a goldfish now.  With the help of my husband’s Google search I’ll be performing a trick that involves spoon-feeding a fish a frozen pea.  Because a super hero never hangs up her cape, and neither does this mom.

Conflicting Feelings About Food and the Holidays

‘Tis the season.  Doesn’t it feel like we are in the middle of a marathon of food right about now?  And we’re only at mile seven or eight, maybe nine.  Its starts with the Halloween candy and carries right on through until the final scraps from the fortune bearing pork dishes are scraped off the plates as they begin their first wash of the new year.

There’s an entire diet industry planning their marketing calendars and banking on our over indulgences this season.  But this isn’t a post about weight loss, decadence, condemning, condoning or even resolutions.  Because food is a special part of this time of the year.

It is both celebration and community.  There’s the patience of tending to a harvest as it grows over months.  The art of combining different ingredients and techniques to make something flavorful and fulfilling.  The act of coming together over laughter and cheer to work collaboratively towards a common goal.  And the practice of giving thanks for the bounty of the season.

Food can be comfort and food can be home.  The sound of clanging dishes indicates a table being set for not one, but many.  The way our mothers wipe their hands on a dish towel feels as familiar as the way our fathers use their hands to carve a turkey.  The squealing delight of children pulling a wishbone sets against a delicious scent wafting in the air serving as a reminder that these things are only presented to us once a year, at this special meal.

The sights, sounds and smells of the kitchen can represent family and togetherness and are just as timeless as a handwritten recipe card.  Its beauty lies not within the directions themselves, but in the way the ink is smeared from a greasy thumb of yesteryear.  These simple instructions are transcending technology, being delivered from hand to hand, skin to skin, generation to generation all while forging a connection from a family’s past to a family’s future.

Yes, this food and these festivities are beautiful indeed.  With food at the axis of the season, how would we celebrate without it?

Since I’m the parent of a child with life-threatening food allergies, food poses a paradoxical puzzle because what sustains my child, will also cause him great harm. Between the holiday cookie exchanges, gingerbread parties and chocolate advent calendars there’s only so many creative solutions I can come up with to help make the holidays more allergy friendly and safe before it feels like one big circus act.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I want my son to approach his food allergies with a can-do attitude.   He loves to eat and prides himself on having a big appetite.  So while I want him to have a healthy respect for the threat that some foods pose to him, I also want him to have an equally healthy appreciation for food.  Its confusing to square away my own feelings about something that is both dangerous and enjoyable, let alone trying to explain those opposite emotions to my son.

So during a season that is often focused on food, we’ve incorporated the below practices into our holiday repertoire as a way to make the holidays not only safer and but more settling for us all:

We keep our family traditions allergy-free.  If our son can’t have it, we don’t have it.  During the rest of the year we have a few exceptions.  But in general and especially on special days like holidays, we’re all in it together!  The holidays are about family so what one of us eats, we all eat.  We and us!  Its how we operate.


We gravitate towards family and friends who get this and do it as well.  As our son grew older we didn’t want the conversation with others to always be about what he couldn’t have.  He was getting old enough to overhear those conversations and feel it.  We don’t want to emphasize his differences so when my extended family members graciously offered to dine on an entirely allergy-free meal themselves, we were so happy!  What a nice way to show us how much they value all of us being a part of their holiday and letting us know that they accept us in whatever dietary form we require.

We get creative.  After a bit of practice, we’ve all grown to enjoy the challenge of making dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free feasts.  Olive oil or soy butter works just as well as dairy-based butter to baste or saute, and there’s plenty of soy and tofu creamers available as well.  We make cut-out cookies using applesauce, baking soda and oil to stick since we can’t have eggs to do so.  And thanks to Disney’s Prep & Landing, we know that Santa has a nut allergy, so we give the big guy a personalized ingredient alert.  We still make treats for our neighbors and special friends, but those tin canisters are filled with homemade oatmeal instead of cookies.  One of our favorite traditions is to decorate gingerbread houses.  And we’ve designed some really clever ones using gum drops for roof linings, marshmallow shrubs, gummy bears for toys and even added aquariums on the interior with Swedish fish.

We remove the food-focus.  The meals are nice, but there’s plenty of other things making the season special.  We take the horse and carriage rides, but skip the hot cocoa…its just as cozy.  We go caroling, but don’t have the cookies…its just as joyful.  We visit with Santa, but skip the candy cane handout at the end…its just as magical.    One of the most special things we do is one of the most simple things.  This idea was shared with me a few years ago by a dear friend.  At some point in December we give the kids baths, and put them in their pajamas just like every other night.  But right as they are about to be tucked in we tell them that this is the night and we drive around listening to holiday music on the radio and looking at the lights on houses.  We wear Santa hats, giggle and sing and its sheer delightful memory-making, without an ounce of food!

We remind ourselves that food is nourishment and survival.  During every holiday season we volunteer at the food packaging charity, Feed My Starving Children. We volunteer here a few times throughout the year, but especially a this time of the year.  It is one of my son’s most favorite things to do!  He invites friends and together the kids and adults prepare Manna packs to ship to children around the world in need of nourishment.  Its collaborative, fast paced, fun and often set to rowdy music.  Its right down my nine-year-old son’s alley!  The organization does a nice job of explaining how each Manna pack is specifically formulated to feed malnourished children and at the end of a packing session, they tell you exactly how many meals you prepared for how many children in need.  My son and his friends enjoy being able to quantify their efforts.  I love the cause. I love that he loves it.  But I especially love that not only is it a powerful reminder of the real value of food, but is also a way for him to be involved in the tradition and art of preparing a meal for others, despite his food allergies, all while helping others who desperately need it.

And so we’re back to those conflicting feelings I have about food and the holidays.  In many ways food is such a big part of the festivities at this time of the year.  And I understand that.  But when we stop and think, isn’t Thanksgiving really about gratitude, Christmas about giving, Hanukkah about light and New Years about beginnings?  With all of it falling under an over-arching theme of family, love, tradition and togetherness?  Well that seems to me to be the real reason to celebrate!

An Unwanted Expertise

How To Help Parents Survive Pregnancy after Perinatal Loss

Last week I was honored to sit on a parent panel discussing how we survived the emotional turmoil of a pregnancy after suffering an unexpected full term still birth.  The workshop was called “The Effects of Perinatal Loss on Subsequent Pregnancies” and the audience was a group of medical professionals from around the Chicago area comprised of nurses, hospital chaplains, social workers and physicians all working in bereavement support.

About half way through the panel discussion something happened.  Not only did I sort of hit my stride conversationally and feel myself steady as I settled into this difficult topic, but I realized that in this room and this setting, I was the expert.  As the quiver in my voice evened, I processed the audience members.  Few I knew, most I did not, but all I admired and respected.  Yet, this prestigious community was looking to me and my fellow panelists for our expert opinions.

I wish I didn’t have this expertise.  Oh, so many times I’ve made this wish.  Yet its mine and its one that I’m glad to use if doing so can help someone be better able to provide a bit of a peace to parents at a time when their world is falling apart.  So I sat on this panel sharing my experience and owning my expertise.

I was a bit rattled during the discussion and understandably so.  The workshop was taking place in the very hospital that holds some of the most tragic and sacred moments of our lives.  It is also the professional home of some of the treasured people who helped us survive those moments.  These are the moments that have shaped our family story and nurtured this expertise.

Last week I was seated at table in a conference room not far from the labor and delivery wing where we delivered our stillborn daughter seven years earlier.  As I parked in the garage and walked towards the yellow elevator lobby I remembered exactly where we had parked on that day.  Almost like muscle memory, my emotions were triggered by this physical space.

It is in this location where we attended monthly support group meetings diligently for twenty-two months through not only our grieving process but also our subsequent pregnancies.  We have gone on memorial walks at this hospital and planted flowers in our children’s honor in this hospital’s roopftop garden.

Whenever we drive by this building our living children will point with delight and declare it as their sister’s hospital.  On sad days or holidays when I’m especially missing my daughter I jog by this hospital and intentionally take an extra beat under the wing where we delivered and spent time with her.  Just recently a special room was dedicated and set aside for families who are in the process of saying goodbye to their dying or recently deceased baby.  My husband and I donated a crib to this room after carefully choosing that specific model because it’s name happened to be the same as our daughter’s.

Its natural that for us to want to give back to this hospital, this organization and this cause.  Its a space and place that means so much to us.  Yet during last week’s workshop I had to describe how I couldn’t return to this beloved hospital to deliver our subsequent babies.

Some of my fellow panelists shared my perspective and need for a new setting.  Some did not and felt most comfortable returning to the same hospital where they experienced their loss.

I thought I would until when just a few weeks into my subsequent pregnancy I had a spotting scare and went to the Emergency Room at that hospital.  As I sat paralyzed with fear and grief for a baby I was certain I was about to lose, I heard a name over the PA system.  It was the name of the doctor who had the unfortunate role of informing me that my baby’s heartbeat had stopped during my last pregnancy.  I thought highly of that doctor, but hearing her name in that space, triggered an emotional muscle memory and I knew I wouldn’t be back as a patient.

I told this story last week during the workshop.  My fellow panelists each had their own story to describe what the physical space meant to them.  Just as each of our children is unique, each of our losses are unique.  Yet we all share the universal heartbreak of grieving a child we never had the chance to get to know.

Because of this bond that we share, a few key themes presented themselves as our discussion unfolded. I want to capture those here so that other medical professionals might keep them in mind if they have patients who have suffered perinatal loss and are going through a subsequent pregnancy.  In fact, these are probably good things to note for anyone who is providing friendship and support to someone who is grieving the loss of a baby.

Use the term “child” not “pregnancy”
Sure from a medical and clinical standpoint, our experience is considered a pregnancy.  But to us and our hearts this baby is a person, not an event.  We are deeply grieving the child’s life who either ended inside of us right before they were born, or shortly after they were born. At a minimum we’ve spent the last nine months already parenting our child, making sacrifices and plans, eagerly reading books and preparing nurseries.  But often times we’ve spent years awaiting the arrival of our child. Even as long ago as I was child and old enough to imagine myself as a mother I was already thinking about and planning for the baby I assumed I would have one day.  So in that way, we are also deeply grieving the loss of a dream.  The point being, that to us this is so much more than a pregnancy and we appreciate you acknowledging that.

Review our file first
This whole process is exhausting and its extra draining every time we have to repeat our story.  It would be wonderful if every one we encountered from a medical perspective during our subsequent pregnancy was aware of our history prior to meeting with us.  From the physicians to the nurses, to the ultra sound technicians there is a lot of small talk during pregnancy appointments and that’s friendly and fine.  But please know the enormous tension we are feeling while we’re hooked up to an ultra sound machine or doppler device desperately waiting to hear a baby’s heartbeat.  We are probably analyzing your tone and facial expressions looking for clues that everything is ok.  It is taking every last ounce of our energy to just be here, doing this.

It is excruciating
Period.  Even with a thesaurus, I can’t find the right word.  There isn’t one.  Agonizing, grueling, tormenting, excruciating.  None of these words do this process justice.

We need reassurance
My husband and I made multiple trips to the hospital during the third trimester of our subsequent pregnancies because we were worried about a lack of fetal movement.  Often times we spent hours overnight hooked up to a monitor or ultra sound machine.  There were so many phone calls and extra appointments.  We spent the night before one of our daughters was scheduled to be delivered in a hotel room across the street from the hospital.  We were too worried to be further away.  When our next daughter was born we spent the night before her birth in the hospital triage area worried about a lack of fetal movement.  We were discharged at 5 am, drove home and then returned five hours later at 10 am for her scheduled delivery.  Right up until we hear that baby’s cry we are terrified and in need of doctors who will allow us all of the reassurance visits and phone calls we need.

The best thing you can ask us is “how are you doing today?”
My husband helped identify this mantra during our subsequent pregnancies:  “Today we are pregnant, and today it is going well”.  That is all we allowed ourselves to celebrate…today.  And frankly, as we had sadly learned in the past, that was all we were guaranteed.  Our moods change daily, if not hourly, during this process.  Sometimes optimistic and upbeat, sometimes sorrowful and grieving and sometimes nervous and distracted.  The best thing you can do is help us focus on that moment, that day and don’t push us into a space, either in the future, or past, that we aren’t prepared to be in right then.

When possible use our child’s name
As I said before we spent nine months, and sometimes longer, parenting our child.  But we will never be able to go to her soccer games or his school conferences.  We’ll never build the science fair volcano together or give our child birthday parties.  We can’t teach him the ABC’s or meet her college roommates.  There are so many things we’ll never get to do with our daughter or son.  But one of the few gifts we were able to give to our child is a name.  We are proud of our child’s name and since it is one of the only things that we can cling to as proof of his or her existence, we love hearing it.

All of that being said, of course there’s no one playbook on how to grieve, just as there’s no one playbook on how to help someone through this process.  But as the parent panel portion of the workshop came to a close last week the members of the medical community clapped, and cried and stopped to give us hugs or tell us how much they appreciated our insights.  I was touched by how badly they wanted to know the right answer and right thing to do.  And I was reminded that wanted or not, this is now my expertise.  And just as the medical community guided me through the darkest of my days, I can help them guide others back to the light.

Trick-or-Treat

Halloween is one of the most fun parts about being a kid.  And frankly, if you’re an adult who is a kid at heart, its still a pretty great day!
But if you’re the parent of a child with food allergies, Halloween can feel a lot more trick than treat.  My son, Jack, has life-threatening food allergies to dairy, egg and all nuts.  Bluntly translated this means that most Halloween candy can kill him. 
We discovered his allergies when he was just 15-weeks old, had his first sip of formula and went into anaphylaxis shock.  So he’s never known anything different, and we’ve never known anything different.
While I don’t want to speak for him and won’t provide any perspective on what its like to celebrate Halloween when you have a food allergy, I can tell you what its like as a mom of a child with food allergies.  I can also tell you how I started doing something last year to make the holiday even more fun for both me, and my son.
For eight Halloweens we had been doing all of the things that every parent of a child with food allergies has learned to do.  We have a trade-in policy and exchange the candy that Jack collects for a toy or treat that is safe for him.  When he was younger we carefully monitored which candy he accepted when trick-or-treating.  We carry not just one, but five epi-pens with us that day and have drilled into the kids that they are absolutely not allowed to eat any of their loot until we inspect it at home.  Our neighbors are sweet and will ask if they can provide candy that is safe for Jack. 
But even so, it’s a tough one when your child has food allergies.  And that’s too bad, because it’s a great day!  What’s so wonderful is that Halloween is about more than just the candy collected during trick-or-treating.  It’s about community and fun and everyone coming together on a day of silliness to celebrate fantasy, spookiness and friendship. 
Here in Chicago, we all hunker down over winter and this is often the last time we’ll see our neighbors out and about for many months.  So we do Halloween really big.  In our community, like many of yours, Halloween is about the costumes and candy, but also the celebrations and the neighborhood gatherings.  While kids trick-or-treat the adults follow along with red solo cups full of cheer.  People host parties stocked with pizza, cookies, candy and other things that my son can’t eat and are very dangerous for him to be around.
And sometimes that’s a bit tough because I always envisioned that our house would be the one on the block with the big family parties and the place where all of my children and their friends would want to hang out.  Not only is that fun, but I also I recognize the value in having a house where kids want to be as they get older because you can keep an eye on them, without them realizing you’re doing so.  I remember how much I loved being at my friend’s house when I was a teenager because her family was friendly and the kitchen was always stocked with homemade cookies.  But now that I’m the parent, I think I kind of shy away from those situations because the whole food thing is so tricky.  And I can sense that Jack isn’t always included in other social situations that involve food like lunch bunches or restaurant meals because it makes the other parents nervous.  And to be honest, it makes me nervous too.   But that’s ok because Jack doesn’t seem to mind.
In fact, he has never complained about Halloween or any other food-focused holiday.  He loves the version that he gets.   And as his mother, I want to keep it that way.  Whenever someone comments about how hard the allergies must be, we always reply with “yes, but its manageable.”  And that’s true.  As long as we manage certain situations, Jack is safe. 
He understands that Halloween has its limits from a safety perspective.  But from an emotional and goal setting perspective, I never want my son to think of his food allergies as limiting.  There’s a real difference in tone between words like hard vs. challenging, sucks vs. tough, and limiting vs. manageable.
So with that in mind, last year I decided to stop feeling mopey about the dangers of Halloween parties, and instead dress myself up in a costume that would be a party-on-the-go complete with food that is safe for my son. 
As our family got ready to trick-or-treat with others, I put on a hat from Jack’s beloved Cubs, sneakers, a fleece and carried a cardboard box full of individually wrapped hot dogs self-steaming in foil (thirty-two of them to be exact).  I had stadium mustard and Giardiniera, but no ketchup (this is Chicago, after all!) and kept calling out, “get your red hots, here!”   I was a Wrigley Field vendor.  You know the kind that walk the stands and sell right from their tray?
Jack and his friends loved it and kept coming back for another hot dog as we moved from house to house over several blocks.  I heard them saying “Jack’s mom has the best hot dogs!” and it made me feel good that they could associate Jack with a regular food that they love too, instead of the conversation always being about what Jack can’t have.
It was a hit with our fellow adults too because every good Wrigley vendor also has to have Old Style beer with them.
I loved it because it showed the kids that their mom can be goofy and enjoy the day just as much as they do.  It let them know that I’m in this whole thing with them..its not just their holiday, its our holiday.  I recognize that a day that is supposed to be unabashedly over-the-top fun does have its limitations for him, and for us.  But this was my little way of showing Jack that I have his back.  The limitations are all things that we can manage and I’ll always be there, finding creative ways to help him enjoy himself in safe ways.
As he gets older I know he won’t want his mom around all of the time.  At some point it won’t be cool to have your mom trailing after you, even if she’s handing out free hot dogs.   I can’t always be hovering, and helicoptering as much as I’d like to.  And I need to trust that he will make safe decisions when it comes to his food allergies.
Plus after a few years, these costumes that allow me to travel with food will probably move from the creative camp to the weird camp.  But for now, he’s enjoying it, my neighbors are enjoying it and I’m enjoying it.
Aside from keeping our bellies warm and full of good cheer while trick-or-treating, hopefully the Wrigley vendor costume, and others that follow, will be a reminder to Jack of how to approach food allergies with a can do attitude, instead of a can’t do attitude.  Sure food allergies can be very tricky, but with or without allergies, Halloween should be a treat!  

Boo!




The Dinner Bell

It was our first date.  Actually he says it was a date, I say I was going to a Pistons game with a friend.  We had court side seats through a work connection, but our conversation and his jokes were the thing keeping my attention.  On the way home, we got lost in a town we were both new to and drove an hour out of our way before finally ending up at an Irish pub.

For the last decade and a half I’ve stood firm that this evening was not a date.  However, when we found ourselves back in the Detroit area for the first time in several years last winter, I insisted that we take our kids to that Irish pub so they could see it.  He grumbled about the time, I persisted and as we pulled up, the familiar banter started,

“That was totally a date by the way”

“No, it was not – we were just friends”

Then he calmly smirked and offered a statement that forever claims his victory in this debate, “well considering that we’re dragging our three kids into this pub, I’d say it was a date.”  He threw the mini-van gear shift into park, did a little finger tap on the stirring wheel and then went in for my surrender, “don’t you think?”

During that first date (or not-a-date), at the Irish pub we talked about many things including what we called life moments.  Sitting on a wooden bench with a band playing U2 cover songs, a fire going and a cider beer in front of me I pontificated about the significance of life moments.  He nodded in agreement and described a time when he camped out in Arches National Park with his college roommates.  I told him about how I had a conversation with my father in Ohio from a pay phone on a ferryboat while I was making an overnight crossing of the English Channel, and how the idea of that still blew me away if I really thought about it.

Our conversation quickened as we excitedly shared grand, adventurous moments.  Times Square on New Years Eve!  Touching a bullet hole in the side of a building in the old East Berlin!  Taking a mystery flight with college friends and ending up in San Francisco!  Getting a massage in Budapest!  We went on and on, subconsciously one-upping each other by following the previous story with a bigger, better, more elaborate one.

There we were.  Two twenty-two year old kids nodding and laughing and enthusiastically agreeing that we knew all about life moments.  We thought we knew it all.  But what we didn’t know was that right then and there, sitting in an Irish pub after getting lost on roads that are sometimes called 15-mile and sometimes called Maple, we were in the middle of a very big life moment.  In fact, that moment would become the first of our shared life moments.

There have been many more big moments in our life together since.  There are the grand ones that involve international destinations, or major cultural events.  We spent Independence Days on the National Mall and the Millennium too.  We’ve traveled a fair amount and have seen rainbows over the Cliffs of Moher, bald eagles from a kayak in the Puget Sound and sunsets in Mallory Square.  We’ve attended presidential inaugurations and witnessed American history in both its most proud and most disgraced moments.  We happened to be sitting in the House chamber viewing area during the impeachment vote of President Clinton.  And we cheered with thousands of other Chicagoans in Grant Park when history was made and then saw the newly elected Barack Obama give his acceptance speech.

And then there are the major and magical more personal life moments like our wedding, the birth of our children, a champagne toast over pizza on the floor of our first house, renovating another house and the achievement of other professional, athletic or personal goals.

But there have also been many heartbreaking life moments.  The death of aging loved ones.  Trying to find each other when we lived in Arlington, Virginia on 9/11.  Challenges within our families, relocations to new towns and new parts of the country and medical emergencies.  And then there is the biggest one of them all, the death of our second child who was unexpectedly born still.

Gosh, there are so many big ups, and so many big downs, in a lifetime.  They say its a roller coaster and isn’t that the truth?  I suppose the key to surviving it all is to hold on tight during the dips, and to throw your hands into the air, surrendering yourself to the sheer delight of the peaks.  And we have to know that these two extremes are not mutually exclusive.  While there is value in both and lessons in each, one would not exist without the other.

But really, its more than just the old adage, enjoying the ride, isn’t it?  Its about where you focus and how you define those dips and those peaks.  What are your life moments?

Perhaps traveling to a secluded beach in an exotic location, or maybe the achievement of climbing to the top of a mountain.  But it might also be something entirely different and entirely more subtle.

Tonight during a typical Wednesday night meal of meatloaf in the suburbs of Chicago, I looked around my dinner table.  In a dark bay window a small stained-glass angel served as a quiet reminder of who was missing, while the colorful art projects and paintings hanging from the chandelier above proclaimed the presence of who was there.

Around the table I saw two little girls with hair still wet from swim lessons, one complaining about eating her asparagus and the other being sent to a Time Out for pushing her plate away.  I observed a nine-year-old boy hanging out somewhere between his childhood and his tween years chatting about the school play he was in earlier that day and the costume he would wear for Halloween the following day.  A middle-aged man smiled at the conversation, but his heavy eyes revealed the burden of a difficult day and difficult decisions at work.  I myself felt tired and worn down as I reminded the kids that they still needed to practice piano, finish homework and clean their plates if they wanted to ring the dinner bell.

The dinner bell is just a silly little decoration that I picked up on sale at a big box store.  In theory I would have found the bell at an antique market, or had it handed down to us through the generations.  But in reality for just $7.99, we have a dinner bell.

The kids were so excited about it but arguing over who got to ring it.  I told them that whoever makes the dinner gets to ring the bell.  But I also established that each one of them is entitled to a small ring, when they finish their dinner.

Tonight as they each finished their meal and eagerly reached to ring the bell, I thought about how we’ve created a family tradition without even realizing it.  Someday the kids will think about the the dinner bell, and the rules for ringing it, as a part of their childhood memories.

I sat back and smiled and indulged in a deep breath.  And right there, right as it was happening, I recognized it.

Its not always an exotic adventure in a far off land, or a majestic landscape.  Piano lessons, swim team, school plays.  Costumes.  The dinner bell.  All of this.  This is the high.  This is my peak.  This is my family.  This is the wonderful.  This is one of the life moments….our shared life moments.  So I’m throwing my hands in the air and enjoying the sheer delight of the ride.

First Snow

Today was an ordinary day turned extraordinary thanks to a gift bestowed to us in the most unexpected of ways, and at the most unexpected of times.  While its arrival time varies, this gift is consistent in that it appears every year.  It comes without warning but with fanfare, because it always seems significant in a small way.   

Its hard to say what’s so special about this day.  Perhaps because it always feels like a surprise and a gentle reminder that we’re really not in charge after all.  Perhaps because for a moment it makes us stop and take stock of the events that have unfolded over the last year.  Perhaps because the event can mute the rest of the world briefly.  Or perhaps because it has a remarkable way of suspending time, yet paradoxically denotes a shift in seasons and announces change in the air.  

Likely we treasure days like today so much because sadly, we are all aware of other days that have started out as normal, then news breaks that is not only disruptive, but devastating and turns the day into something entirely different.  

Yes, days like today are the good ones.  A universal treat arrives that moves people of all ages.  This is the gift of the season’s first snow.


The first snow of the season can elicit excitement in many different ways.  When I was in college the evening of the first snow was welcomed every year by men in the freshman dormitories answering tradition’s call and streaking across the quad lawn.  As soon as someone spotted the first snowflake, giggles would erupt and move across the hallways and cafeteria with a wave of anticipation.  We would whisper, “tonight’s the night”.  

But as we laughed I always spotted at least one guy sitting quietly with a nervous look on his face.  I would pause for a brief moment and wonder if this boy had any idea of the school tradition, and his future obligation, attached to the residence hall listed on his freshman housing assignment.  I could just imagine him sitting in his parents’ backyard on a warm summer day holding the envelope in his hand.  He would be blissfully unaware that in just three to four months he would have made the transition from home to college, started classes and made friends.  Yet just as he was finding his undergraduate footing, he’d be propelled into a campus-wide dare and spectacle to disrobe and make a mad dash in the frigid night air, all in celebration of the season’s first snow….and all because he happened to live in a certain dormitory.  One look at his face, and I knew he was far less excited than the rest of us about the first snow.

Now that I’m a mother of three young children living in Chicago (without an attached garage!), my excitement about the first snow has significantly waned.  In fact, my feelings about the first snow are likely closer to the dread of that college boy living in the famous dormitory than to the giggling girl I was full of anticipation and excitement over the evening’s events.  These days the first cold snap of the season doesn’t mean much more to me than a scramble to dig out winter coats and hats from bins in our crawl space storage to determine what fits which child.

So today when I spied the first flake of snow I wasn’t excited, or titillated.  I was downright grouchy.  After all, the calendar told me that we were just officially into the second half of October and thoughts of Halloween costumes were swirling around in my sinus congested head.  I was sitting in a parked car, on a conference call and trying to hush the three-year-old in the backseat when I looked up and spotted the first damp drop of white on my windshield.  At that particular moment, the arrival of snow was decidedly less magic and decidedly more nuisance.

As my conference call came to an end I drove in the falling flakes to pick up my nine-year-old son and five-year-old daughter at school.  I couldn’t believe it was snowing so early in the season.  I kept saying it out loud partially to my three-year-old and partially in disbelief to myself, “snow!  Can you believe it?  Already!”  The trees were still painted with the spectacular splendor of fall and were still clinging to the leaves to fill out their canopy, at least for another few days.

The snow lessened and turned into a cold rain.  I sighed as I saw my children walking across the school yard and realized that they did not have the appropriate attire for rain or snow.  No hat, no umbrellas, certainly no boots.  As they plopped down in the car with their damp hair, I braced myself for complaints and misery.  Instead, my daughter’s bright blue eyes were wide and contagious with excitement as she proclaimed, “today it snowed!!”

I looked over at my son and said, “did you see the snow today?” and he answered, “well, sadly we didn’t see it, but we heard about it.”

I asked what he meant and he explained.  Today his class was on a field trip with hundreds of other grade schoolers watching a play based on a book in a large, ornate, old theatre.  When the show ended and the red velvet curtain closed, an announcer came out and told the students, “just so you know, its snowing outside…..right now.  Today is the first snow!”

I couldn’t help but smile and asked my son what everyone did when the speaker gave the announcement.  He completed the image in my head, explaining that all of the kids cheered and started dancing and singing “Jingle Bells”!  

With that my children and I laughed about singing “Jingle Bells” in October.  My daughter asked about how we would build a snowman when he hadn’t even jumped in leaves yet!  The kids made up stories about a leaf snowman and created silly songs combining Halloween jingles and Christmas carols. 

In that moment, to me the first snow stopped meaning wet shoes, messy floors and runny noses and instead I allowed myself to see it through my children’s eyes.  To the kids the first snow meant surprise, smiles, imagination and bright eyed wonder.

Wonder with innocence and without expectation.  Wonder at the unfamiliar and inexplicable.  And wonder at nature’s glory.

Today I was reminded that the first snow is the promise of a season, an affirmation of the beauty in what lies before us, and the joy for what is still to come.  

Thank you for today’s gift.






A Liebster Award



I was delighted when a friend that I admire reached out to tell me that she was nominating this blog for a Liebster Award, which apparently is like a Grammy for Bloggers.   (Finally!  I have an excuse for all of the times I’ve stood in the bathroom mirror practicing my acceptance speech and holding a hairbrush as a mock trophy).  In all seriousness, a Liebster Award is a nice way to discover new blogs and writers.

The friend and blogger is Emily who blogs at Em-i-lis.   She is a funny and witty mom with a big smile and spitfire spirit.  She describes herself as a servantless, stay-at-home, and cooking obsessed mom.  Emily and I met this summer at the BlogHer Pathfinders day and I felt like I had known her for years.  Check out her blog and you’ll feel that way too.

Nomination Questions Posed

Below are the questions that Emily posed to me for the nomination and my responses:

What is your favorite nickname, bestowed by another or self-inflicted?

Kiki. My brother called me Kiki when he was little and couldn’t say Carissa. Its become a term of endearment from him, my husband and many others throughout the years. It was a lot of fun in college!


With whom would you most like to have dinner (that you’ve not yet)?

My 7-year-old daughter, Annabelle.  I’d welcome the chance to share a meal with her and remind her to finish her vegetables while she rolls her eyes, picks on her siblings and listen to her explain the best part of her day.  She died unexpectedly when at 38.5 weeks into my pregnancy, I had a placental hemorrhage for no explainable reason so I can only imagine the sound of her voice or favorite foods.  

Our dinner table always feels like someone in missing.  Always.  In fact, if the day ever comes when I sit down for a meal and it feels like my family is complete and entirely present, then I’ll know that I have arrived in Heaven.

Why do you blog?

I was a Facebook enthusiast and used the social site as a way to stay connected with long distance friends and family.  Everyone told me I should blog, but I didn’t even understand what a blog was.  After enough encouragement from others I thought I’d give it a try.  However, I kept the blog a secret for years until The Huffington Post published a piece I wrote last winter.  Since then its been a great tool to connect with people all over the world and make friends near and far.

Mostly, I enjoy the blog as a way to keep myself diligent with my writing and to capture memories in the making and work through my thoughts.

What’s your favorite way to spend an afternoon?


I think my ideal afternoon would be spent surrounded by the people I love the most, outside near a large body of water with beautiful fall colors as a backdrop and the temperature being just warm enough to feel the sunshine on my face, but cool enough to be in a cozy fleece and sneakers.

What have you learned about yourself and/or your interests via blogging/writing?


Blog posts, Facebook updates, Instagram photos and Twitter tweets have made me more mindful of the everyday beauty in life.

Let’s break for an easy one: Sweet or salty?

Both – at once.

Off the top of your mind, what are your favorite three books that aren’t your own (for you pubbed authors)?

The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein
Cutting For Stone – Abraham Verghese
The Red Tent – Anita Diamant

But most recently, I really loved:  
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
(so it might possibly knock one of the others out of the Top Three)

What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received?

Stop complaining and make a change.  That was from my mom during my sophomore year of college and propelled me to make one of the best decisions of my life and study abroad in Luxembourg.

If you love to cook, what’s your favorite utensil? If you hate to cook, what’s your favorite dish prepared by others?

I absolutely do not love to cook, but I do love the tradition and simplicity of a good old fashioned wooden spoon (but Emily, I love that you asked this question!)

What’s one of your favorite destinations (you could have gone once or many times)?

London

My Nominees and Questions

In the good old Girl Scout spirit of making new friends, but keeping the old with some being silver and some being gold, I’m nominating women bloggers that I’ve known a short time, and women bloggers I’ve known a long time.  Some I connected with via my pieces on The Huffington Post, some I connected with via friends of friends, and some I connected with back in college.  But all have content that I enjoy reading and I hope you do too.

Elayna at 5280mama.com in Denver and Meg of Mom Meet Mom. Both are doing something pretty great in connecting moms to each other.

  • What inspired you to help woman connect to one another at this stage of life?
  • How about a round of Rose and Thorn?  What was the best part of your past week, and what was the worst?
  • How is how you grew up similar to how your kids are growing up, and how is it different?
  • What is the one book you want your child to read when they are older?
  • What do you collect?
  • If you could take a cross country road trip, who would you invite to join you and why?
  • What is your guilty pleasure?


Also Mary Clare at Westward Ho who is chronicling her journey from the Midwest to the West Coast and Alexis at The Page of Aquarius who is a wise soul with important thoughts to share.

  • What inspired you to start blogging?
  • How about a round of Rose and Thorn?  What was the best part of your past week, and what was the worst?
  • How is the way you grew up playing a role in your current adventures?
  • What was the last book that you read?
  • What do you collect?
  • If you could take a cross country road trip, who would you invite to join you and why?
  • What is your guilty pleasure?




The Friend That Every New Mom Needs

My That’s Ok Friend

I believe in friendships that last a lifetime, and not because you stay connected on a weekly basis via phone, coffee date, email or even facebook.  But I believe in friendships that last a lifetime because for as long as a lifetime lasts, there is someone out there who values the characteristics that are unique to you (good and not-so-good) and feels the same level of appreciation and respect for you that you feel for them.  

A true friend doesn’t come with obligation or guilt to remember birthdays or reciprocate social invitations.  A true friend comes with the security and power of knowing that they love you always, celebrate your successes no matter what, and feel your heartbreaks deeply.  

I have one of these true friends and she is about to move hundreds of miles away.  She explains it well when she says that a friend doesn’t just know you, a friend gets you and loves you anyway.

This particular friend is my “That’s Ok Friend” because she’s cool with everything.  If our opinions differ, that’s ok.  If I don’t call her back, that’s ok.  I met her when our children were very young and at a time when I needed permission for everything to be ok.  New to my role as a mother, yet still without a revised self-identity I was in a foreign world, wading my way through motherhood and life in the suburbs.  It’s a stage in life that can be full of self-doubt, loneliness and opinions from others who are also trying to navigate their own way through.  

But not my “That’s Ok Friend.”  We have a mutual approach towards one another to just appreciate who we both are and not expect anything else.  I like to think that we share a common trait of viewing the world around us, including things that are different from ourselves, through a lens filtered by curiosity, not judgement.  Sometimes we recognize that we have a lot in common, and sometimes we recognize that we don’t have much in common with each other and with others.  And that’s ok.

During our first conversation, our babies crawled on the floor around us and she revealed to me her plans for securing her children’s admission to an Ivy League school (it involves making a move to South Dakota when they are teenagers).  I loved her wacky but brilliant theory and liked her instantly.  

As our children went from toddlers to preschoolers to grade schoolers, she continued to provide me with knowledge, laughter and intellectual stimulation during a stage of life that often lacks those things.  

She confirmed my suspiscion that when people say they went to school in Boston, it’s really code for going to Harvard.  I bounced ideas off of her and secured feedback on extra curricular activities for the kids.  We debated religion, politics and a moral compass with settings unique to each individual.  We played cards and drank cabana drinks.  At parties, she would go outside for a smoke and while not smoking, I’d join her in the cold night air, just for the chance to steal a few minutes of solo conversation and laughter with her.

She encouraged me to start writing years ago.  And when I finally did she cheered my successes.  

When my life turned upside down after my second child was born unexpectedly still, she offered support in a perfectly gentle way.  She didn’t force conversation.  She just kept persistently inviting my toddler and I over for play dates, simply offering a safe place and way to get out of the house during those long winter days.  

The visits were never fussy or high-maintenance.  She had post-it notes with spelling words for her kids stuck to her walls and I explained to her how to make a crock pot meal.   She wore her high school cheerleading t-shirt and I wore my maternity jeans five months postpartum and that was ok.

A few years later when we were celebrating the anniversary of my daughter’s death and birthday, my dear friend sent me a prayer and helped make that day a little closer to ok.


I still share this prayer every Thanksgiving:

On this day, looking around this table, we naturally think of what God has 
taken away from us.  And, you know, I’m still pretty angry about it.  
But right now I am looking around this table at my friends and family 
and just thinking, wow, Look At What God Has Let Us Keep.  
And for that I am thankful.”

She knows that this is a valued part of our holiday even without a big heart-to-heart conversation where to I told her as much.  And that’s ok.


When I was pregnant with my third and fourth children, I didn’t discuss baby names with many friends or family members.  But I asked this friend for her opinion on names and listened intently as she offered it (even though she admittedly named her daughter after a soap opera character).

That soap opera name is written in black Sharpie on the inside of many of the sweaters hanging in my daughter’s closet.  We receive her hand-me-downs as they come through a clothing trail our friends use to pass on the stuff their kids don’t wear anymore.

  
As our kids grew older and we got busier with their schools, our paths didn’t cross as often.  But when we did get together, it was always treasured time.   I loved hearing about her family vacations around the world and she appreciated our adventures.  We swapped thoughts and philosophies on a continued variety of topics.

Now our oldest children are turning ten and she is moving from the Midwest to the East Coast.  I know how this will go, and that’s ok.  

We’ll keep in touch casually with a text every so often, and she’ll give me a facebook “thumbs-up like” every now and then, but she’ll never post anything.  And that’s ok.

I’ll send her a holiday card every year and she’ll send me an email to let me know how much she likes it, but she’ll never send a card back.  She doesn’t do cards.  And that’s ok.

On the birthdays of my kids she’ll send a text with well wishes and I’ll feel her warmth over my phone.  But I’ll never remember to reciprocate.  And that’s ok.

And someday, I’ll read about how one of her kids is a nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court or Nobel Peace Prize (no, kidding, I really will!), and I’ll think to myself, “oh look at that….she did such a good job raising those kids.”   I’ll be so proud of my friend, even though I won’t have talked to her for years.  And that’s ok.

Its all ok because that’s how a friendship for a lifetime goes.  As we all know, we go through stages and phases of life.  Along the way we pick up people who need to be there to accompany us through that particular stage.   During this stage of adjusting to young motherhood in the suburbs I needed this friend for a sanity check as I navigated through both everyday stuff and life crisis stuff.

But just as this stage comes to a close, the friend who was an important lifeline is moving away.  And that’s ok.  

Because I know, and she knows, that life is continued movement.  And things always go most smoothly when that movement is in a forward direction. But every so often, we’ll get caught up in wave of nostalgia and look back on this stage of life with a reverence reserved for only the most sacred of times.  This is the phase where we discovered ourselves as mothers.  And the people who surrounded us during this most sacred of times will hold the most tender spots in our hearts.

And so my friend is off for a new stage and new phases, and that’s ok.










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