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Lux: children dreaming on the shoulders of their parents. Should be a series.

Joan: in the closet after picking out her clothes. “I look beautiful mama.”

Alma: She’s discovering all the wonderful ways to use her hands these days. 

Occasionally I look at Alma and worry I’m not taking enough photos. Is that stage gone already? Did I catch it? Did I even get one look at it? I think to myself. I don’t think I worried about this with Lux. Maybe I know now that when it’s gone, it’s gone. Or maybe I’m more addicted to documenting than ever before, and documenting one moment simply leads to wanting to document the next, and the next.

And yet I must be subconsciously finding it unsatisfying to rely on them as a record of what happened–as of course they are. What I want is a mental state that has documented all this. One enriched by all these wonderful things my eyes have photographed. I find it remarkable I can still manage to spin a day and say, that was too much, I was so weak and tired, oof glad it’s over. If I just took a moment to review my mental images from the day, it would be full of sweet wonder, blessing, and love.

It reminds me that a mental state of thankfulness and contentment is not a reflection of reality–it won’t appear, no matter how much beauty I see–but an attitude built on habit.

 

a photo an hour

morning7am Alma is up after waking at 11pm last night and 3am this morning. I bring her to the kitchen so she doesn’t wake Joe up, and make tea, one lump sugar, for myself. It’s already snowing, and looking up from our windows, the flakes look enormous.

7:15 Joan appears, sleepy, cuddly, and anxious for cereal. Once we sit down together, she doesn’t eat and just wants to talk. Joe finishes her bowl after she abandons it twenty minutes later.

8:30 Lux wakes up like a languorous lion in the afternoon sun. For the millionth time I note to myself that this time next year, she’ll already be in school. For better and for worse, I think.

8:45 Joe leaves for work. He’s taking the train instead of biking because of the snow.

9:40 We read several Richard Scarry stories on the couch while I nurse Alma. There is a brief standstill when Joan refuses to trade the middle seat when it is Lux’s turn to hold the book. Pondering her sullen mood I remember neither of them have eaten breakfast yet. We decamp to the kitchen for them to eat together.

beach_scene
 11 While I’m doing the breakfast dishes, an elaborate beach scene has been set-up involving at least twenty items from their room. Fortunately other areas of the living room are still clear. I put Alma on the floor to listen to their storytelling.

I begin making Ina’s Weeknight Bolognese for dinner.

doctor12 I was thinking about offering lunch but the girls are still completely engaged in their game. Beach has turned into doctor. I pick up Alma and wrap her up for her nap.These days I never expect her to sleep more than 30 minutes, but at least she always wakes up refreshed.

pasta

12:10 I remember the simmering pasta sauce and check it. Smells so good I want to eat it immediately. Thank you God for sending Ina Garten to this earth.

art_room

12:20 They’ve moved the doctor’s office into the art room. So now it is silent in the kitchen, which is a nice treat. Walking past with a pile of clothes to put away, I hear them sing “blah blah black sheep.” Lux leads the song and Joan repeats everything she says, a half note behind her.

I’m all for art projects but as far as today’s room-tidy-tally the living room is super messy, their room looks like a elephant went through and knocked everything to the floor, and the art room will definitely be trashed. But I’ve still got my room and the kitchen!

12:30 I put on water for hard boiled eggs for the girls and find a leftover burrito in the fridge. I sit on one of the girl’s chairs since my chair is still part of the beach scene in the living room and page through a New Yorker. I used to read this magazine cover to cover but now I just pick one or two articles to keep up with each week.

Alma

12:40 Call to the girls and ask if they’re ready for lunch. “I’m still finishing my monster.”

If I could take a selfie right now, it would be me leaning against the doorway frame of our room, listening to Alma grunt and settle, trying to decide if she’s going to fall back asleep or is up for good.

1pm Hop online and look at my sister’s beautiful recipe for tabbouleh. I want to make it for my friend this Friday. Frown. Why did she sub in quinoa for bulgur?? I’m definitely not doing that.

But I will take this tip about adding sliced almonds.

Hunt for Lux’s ballet stuff in her room. Find some half eaten jelly beans. Possibly this is why “the kitchen mouse” as we call him has been seen headed to their room lately. I discretely bundled up a bunch of things to throw away as I walk out, hiding them behind my leg as I walk past the art room. I set all her ballet stuff by the door.

lunch

1:15 I finally tell the girls they have to stop playing and come eat. The hardboiled eggs are perfectly done, nine minute eggs, but of course neither of the are eating “the yellow parts” these days and miss the beauty of that. Fortunately I am eating them!

I make a cup of tea so I have something to keep me seated with them while they eat. Too often I hop around the kitchen when they’re eating, which doesn’t make for good conversation or time together.

outside
 1:30 Take a photo out the window and begin to get ready to leave with gusto. Strew the girls’ coats and boots in front of the door so they understand what’s expected and don’t try to pull out their “cozy” coats that are useless at keeping them warm.
1:45 Wake up Alma and nurse her. Pull on her wool sweater, socks, booties, and hat. I put on my ergo and clip on the winter-weather cover that my friend Lisa gave me. It’s fleece lined and will keep her toasty without a bulky jacket.
2pm Take the elevator downstairs and make it outside as scheduled!
outdoor_cover
 2:01 Take first steps down the sidewalk and realize Lux forgot her backpack containing her ballet shoes, and somewhat mysteriously, a stuffed turtle. Walk back to the lobby and send Lux up to get the backpack. Joan demands to stay in the alley by herself, which is fine with me.
2:10 Ten minutes later. Joan? I call out. I see a sliver of her hat tip through the doorway into the garden. “Everything ok?” I call. The sliver barely nods, then disappears again. I guess everyone is enjoying their alone time right now.
2:15 Fifteen minutes after she first went up, Lux reappears. “I realized I had to go to the bathroom!” Count myself lucky I wasn’t there for the removal and reapplication of her coat, snow pants, leotard, tights, and undies.
walking
2:40 As expected, eating snow and stomping snow is really slowing us down. But the snow is so darn beautiful! I decide that even if we miss class, it was worth it for the long walk alone.

waiting_for_the_train3pm As expected, the trains are delayed. Lots of people are waiting when we arrive, and we have to wait for ten minutes. Even more people are waiting now. When we get on, two people give up their seats for the girls and both girls immediately start to whine about not being able to see out the window from those seats. Given the twenty adults currently standing, I attempted to silence them with my eyes and mentally add train manners to the list of manners we are currently working on.

3:08 We get off the train. As we wait for the line of Able and Capable Adults to climb the stairs first, I briefly lecture them on the etiquette of train thanking and gratefulness. A guy waiting to go up the stairs says “y’all are the cutest thing I’ve seen all day.” “Yeah,” mumbles the grad student behind him. Thanks, man!

3:15 Three grand staircases later, we are on time for class. Confetti should fall from the ceiling to celebrate this accomplishment, but instead Lux gives us hugs and kisses and Joan and I just walk downstairs.

3:30 Downstairs in the dance hall lobby. Joan laments for the 6th time since Christmas that there are no free fortune cookies downstairs anymore. “Why no treats here today?” I remind her this was a Christmas thing.

3:45 Joan and I walk to the library nearby. I talk with my friend Melissa who is also waiting for her daughter’s class. Her sweet daughter Verity attempts to share a book with Joan. I look over to see Joan respond by sprawling on the floor like a dead spider, staring at the ceiling. Melissa and I continue to enjoy our conversation about kindergarten and upcoming 5k races. Fifteen minutes of adult conversation adds a lot to my day.

walking

4:30 Waiting for the crosswalk after the train home, the cars are roaring through the slush. The girls seem to often choose these moments to ask me elaborate questions, all while facing forward. It is impossible for me to hear them. I respond like myself in sixty years, yelling “What? What? You have to look at me for me to hear you!!”

Alma is over being in the carrier but it’s still going to take us 30 minutes to walk. Oh well.

girls
5:10 Home. I realize my feet are freezing from the walk. Joan is so, so proud that she isn’t cold. I had no idea she noticed that she is usually cold, but Lux and I are not. Today, she wins. I take the pan of sauce out of the fridge and put it on the stove. I add a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
quiet_time
5:30 The girls angle for what we call “quiet time together,” something that sometimes happens on days when Joan doesn’t nap, which means they both get ipads for 30 minutes (usually just Lux gets an ipad for 30 minutes while Joan naps). I settle onto the couch with dear Alma who has been so patient and is so hungry, and give them the thumbs up.
alma
6:15 Joe gets home, hooray! Bolognese is heated up. Pasta noodles are boiled. There is a box of white wine in the fridge. Dinner!
dinner

6:30 The girls eat almost nothing but talk animatedly to Joe about their day. It’s clear the after-dance snack of Milano cookies on the train has filled them up. Or maybe I just over filled their bowls? They both opt to eat a few carrots, Joe and I excuse them and enjoy our dinner. Alma sits in her little blue bouncy chair on the floor, smiling whenever someone looks at her. Or maybe she’s often smiling, but we just aren’t looking. The only time she cries is when she’s tired, hungry, or in a quiet room by herself.

7pm Joe motivates teeth brushing and pajamas to be followed by reading in their room. They are deep into the Chronicles of Narnia’s The Silver Chair, which is one of the ones I didn’t read as a kid. I disappear into our room with Alma to nurse her, swaddle her, and then I fall onto our bed listening to her fall asleep.

Note: I always enjoyed reading these types of posts back when I had just one baby and wondered what the future looked like. It feels strange now, almost misleading, to pick a day and write it up, because every day really feels so different. This was a day when I woke up feeling rested because I went to bed early, and the girls got along wonderfully, but the next day–Tuesday–they wanted to be in the same room with me the whole day, and I barely had a moment to myself!

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Lux: taking a photo of pair of doors after I told her they were two of my favorites in the neighborhood.

Joan: her granola came with four blackberries. ‘I need more blackberries,’ she repeated for the rest of the meal. Don’t we all, Joan.

Alma: her little eyebrow furrows.

I had two food goals for March: 1/ get the girls to eat muesli or “cold oatmeal” for breakfast. I spend an enormous amount of my weekly budget on food, and yet I loathe putting money into cereal manufacturer’s coffers. The girl love oatmeal, but the ten-minute-prep-and-cool time is usually too long for us to wait. So muesli would eliminate processed grain cereal—saving money and cutting sugar. And it would mean breakfast would be ready in bowls, in the fridge, first thing every morning.

2/ Get the girls to eat beans and rice for several meals a week.

Both goals get an A for Attempted. Joan took to the muesli, aside from the one day I optimistically added raisins the night before and they bloomed into foreign things (in her mind). Lux did not take to it, now matter how charmingly I set out little bowls of brown sugar and raisins to accompany it, and she skipped breakfast all together on those days.

I made an enormous pot of rice and beans but made the mistake of following a recipe that asked for Chinese chili spice. It was too much for them, obviously, and it was just me that ended up eating rice and beans for about ten meals.

I’ll do a simple batch next and serve for lunch–a time when my meal prep is needlessly harried.

Both goals are coming with me into April.

Squash gratin

kale_gratin

My friend Jenny dropped off this dish after Alma was born and I’ve made it a few times since then. It looks very innocent in the pan but then is dynamite once you begin to experience it. Much like a baby, really.

I could be posting about pink rhubarb or pale green asparagus or blanch white parsnips or some other spritely spring vegetable; but I’m still in hardy-winter-veggie mode. Kale and squash! You could accidentally drop these troopers down a flight of stairs before cooking and they’d be fine, if not improved by the bruising.

Jenny got the recipe from the blog Alexandra’s Kitchen but she adds roasted butternut squash to it. This is an extra step that totally pays off in flavor. I’m becoming one of those grown ups whose eyes widen in pleasure at the sight of caramelized squash (the ticket to a faint caramelizing is not to toss them when they are roasting).

It reheats beautifully in the microwave and I love the idea to line the pan with parchment. I’d never done that with a casserole–it makes it easy to move the leftovers to a new dish.

kale_gratin

squash gratin

3/4 lb pasta penne or whatever (I use 1lb–the whole bag)

4 Tbsp butter

1/4 cup Flour

2 cups Milk

2 cups water

3 cups butternut squash cubes (I peel and chop up a whole squash)

1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

black pepper

8oz kale stems removed and chopped

1.5 cups grated parmesan

1 cup fontina or mozzarella diced into cubes

Preheat oven to 425. Roast squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper for 15-20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a tbsp of salt. Boil pasta for two minutes less than the box’s suggested al dente time. Drain, do not rinse, set aside.

Melt 4Tbsp butter over medium high heat in a medium saucepan. Add flour, whisking constantly for one minute. Add milk and water, whisking to remove any of the flour-butter mixture from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer. Add 1 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until mixture thickens for 20 minutes or less. Remove from heat.

Chop kale into small pieces. Toss pasta with the bechamel sauce and grated parmesan. Fold in kale and squash.

Line pan with parchment paper and spread pasta on top. Distribute cubed mozzarella on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden.

 

 

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Lux: about to take a photo of spring blossoms with her camera, wearing her “sparkling water” outfit underneath. As in “I’m going to a sparkling water party.”

Joan: she loves to sprint down the hill and stops-short at each intersection. Wearing her current-favorite dress, pink and red cherries. She asks to sleep in it. 

Alma: listening to everything around her, turning her head to follow the blurred motions of her sisters. 

Speaking of blurs, this week went by in one. I remember doing my grocery shopping last Sunday like it was yesterday instead of a week ago. Some days Alma napped for several hours, some days she woke up after only 20-minute respites. It was hard for me to get anything done. Spring feels like it’s about to burst upon us, but instead we had rainy and grey days that kept us inside and a bit cooped up.

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Joan: a visiting-guest-photo by Bridget Hunt. Cuddling and coo-talking is how Joan spends most of her life.

Lux: a pink faux-fur collar cape under her jacket on the way to Alma’s doctor’s appointment. She’s always waiting for someone to notice her outfit. 

Alma: running a little low on the pediatrician’s weight curve this week, but good spirits always. 

Paternity Leave

The truth is I fantasized about Joe’s leave for weeks beforehand. The more my knees buckled under pregnancy, the more I dreamed of the Prince Charming arriving by white chariot/stroller. Was there any situation that wouldn’t be readily fixed by the addition of two handsome hands? I doubted it. All I had to do was have the baby, and paradise would arrive.

In the very last weeks before the baby came, I found myself deeply done with my current children. I’m not sure if that’s part of the rapid hormonal heart-shuffle before a new baby arrives but the way room in my heart was made for a new child was this: I became very satisfied with the extent that I had raised my current children, and I was ready to pass them on to better hands. Anyone’s hands, really, so long as they were open. Had a boarding school for preK called at that point, I probably would have sent them. “They love carrots,” I would have scribbled on the submission form as I cheerfully waved goodbye for a month, or six.

After Alma was born, of course, my true feelings re-appeared and I was overwhelmed with pride at how amazing and incredible they two were. Was it too much to say they were the best humans to ever exist? my addled brain wondered. No, it was not.

In a bizarre, nearly other-worldly, turn of events, Joe was able to take eight weeks of paternity leave from his job after Alma was born. It was the longest amount of time Joan and Lux had ever had with him in their lives. It happened as a result of Alma’s birth, but really it was a way for us to parent in a way we hadn’t before, and a window of time to regain our balance after the disruption of a new baby.

It absolutely flew by for all of us.

As I look back over it, a few thoughts occur to me about what we learned/loved/lost…

learned: stop the interrupting starfish

Have you heard the joke about the interrupting starfish? Ideally no, because the gist of the joke of is being interrupted. It’s a hardy-har-har refresher on how annoying that is. On paternity leave Joe and I realized we were raising a fledgling stock of interrupting starfish, and frequently we weren’t even bothering to correct them. We would look at each other over their heads, one of us biting our lip mid-story, and shrug. Most of our weekly conversation seemed to happen over dinner, at which point I was too tired to deliberately pause the interrupters, and anyway, my ear seemed more tuned to their pleas than Joe’s voice.

On his leave, because we were together so much more and noticed that the interrupting had become a serious and troubling habit, we got our game back. “Dad is telling me a story.” “Shhh I’m listening to Dad.” “Dad was talking.”

They still interrupt, but now they’re accustomed to us stopping them immediately, and there’s no eyes-wide-brimming-with-insulted-tears. Just finished conversations.

learned: the home office doesn’t work

Oh the home office. Long have I fantasized about the perfect life, with Joe somehow working at home, and interacting with the girls all day. It seemed so plausible and perfect. Then Joe actually did try to work at home and it drove us both crazy. I really couldn’t stand the sight of him typing away at the computer, headphones in place, as noisy chaos built around me. “Go ahead darling, get some work done.” Five minutes later…”Hello?! I could use some help here!”

And it made no sense to the girls. They couldn’t tell when he was working, and when he was open to being recruited for a game or going outside.

We quickly realized it was far better for him to be out of the space for a couple hours. And me handling the situation myself, chaotic as it was. I stopped day dreaming about home offices, and started appreciating all he got done while he was away. Then he came home, and I got to take a break.

loved: it’s just as blissful to coparent as you’ve imagined 

That said, when Joe was home with me, not trying to work, but home with me for more than just a weekend, it was wonderful. It felt like we had kids and we were dating again. We took shifts with the girls. They did adventures outdoors. I napped with Alma. We made lunch together. I said things like “I can’t help with that because I have no free hands, but Dad can!” We lounged over our coffee cups. We did errands with just one or two children at our heels. We got deep into conversations and cheerfully shushed the girls when they tried to stomp in. Yes, it was bliss.

loved: kids, they’re fun

What Joe experienced can be summed up as: kids, they’re fun. Joe got to experience the humor and joy of discussing the exact same topic from different perspectives for five days in a row. He got to catch spiders and bring them outside. Go for a walk and stomp on snow piles. Go to a museum, then go to a candy store on the way back. He got to memorize constellations and read good books aloud. The girls become less mysterious: he understood what they meant when they used their strange monosyllabic giggle language. He understood why they had an unexpected meltdown at 5pm, because he saw them sprinting back-and-forth at 11am, and having vehement disagreements at 2pm.

They become less stressful: they all three got to wake up late, leave late, and stay late because they were having fun, and none of that mattered because no one was trying to get anywhere anyway.

lost: and yet, even with all that help many things still went wrong… 

There were some nights when I become convinced that Lux and Joan had eaten nothing but candy and cookies for the last week. I tried to recall the last green thing they had eaten, and failed. Lux went to ballet class without her hair in a bun and she was the only lonely kid whose parents forgot it was Parent Watch week. I missed my six week postpartum check-up. I told my pediatrician I ordered a Vitamin D supplement for Alma and that was a lie. I still haven’t ordered it. Even though we were both on-duty all day, we often collapsed on the couch after bedtime just the same. The capitalist in me frowned at the fact that with twice the labor working at the same job, we ended up with double the exhaustion. “Bedtime” actually just means they are in their room with the door closed–still chatting, still playing, not tucked in whatsoever.

 

 

What to Pack for the Baby

infant_vacation

This is just a silly easy post to write! But it’s still useful to keep a list around.

What we packed for Alma for her six-week-old vacation: 

a sun hat (mostly useless, poolside umbrellas were a must)

a swim diaper (ended up keeping her out of the sun/water altogether)

two blankets (one warm, one light)

diapers (forgot wipes and bought them there instead)

single-use packets of formula, a bottle, two pacifiers

a warm sweater

two carriers, one nice, one form (see below for detail)

a scarf to drape for nursing privacy or block the sun or for warmth

fun summery clothing inherited from her sisters!

infant_vacation

I like to use a form carrier, like the becco or ergo, in airports. You can leave it on through security and my girls often napped in it right up until we sat down on the plane. They ask you to take it off before takeoff.

And I like to use a sakura bloom silk sling, especially in restaurants or going to events, or generally when I’m not trying to lift children/grocery bags/walk long distances.

Alma’s hotel sleep style:infant_vacation

Mostly she slept like this on our bed because I found the condo crib too deep to be useful–all that bending over and reaching! She is the first baby of mine who likes swaddles, this is my make-shift way of swaddling her. A week after taking this photo, I realized I could simply tie the aden + anais blanket and skip the binder clip altogether. At a second hotel I didn’t even ask for a crib, and used a couch cushion as her bed.

Flying with Alma, I remembered how delightful it is to fly with a baby that age, compared to say, a nine month old. They just curl up, nurse, and keep you company. Of course I had my corner seat to nurse in, with Joe and Joan as my bolsters (Lux was across the aisle, with strangers). I have nursed from a middle seat, with strangers on both sides, it is doable but it’s awfully nice to have a row with your people, if available.infant_vacation

No matter what seat you are in, bring one of those airline pillows that don’t actually do anything for adults; the ones you can buy in any airport gift shop. They work so well for infants. It is my favorite thing to rest her head on that instead of my balanced elbow or propped arm.

long form, a book

cards

I know it has been quiet here. I’m keeping material in the editing box because I’d like to tease some of my work into essays, and put the essays into a book. A book like…three children and a year in Boston. Something of an ode to the city, children, a journal of seasons in Boston, mentions of good food and long baths. Baby’s first year–the brand newness of life with an infant–but also that soft repetitive joy and heartache of older children.

What I write becomes so much better and richer if I edit it and return to it. I still enjoy this space so much, I’m not abandoning it! But at this stage, it feels like it’s worth a try. I have so many thoughts scribbled in my notebook, written in fury, or contentment, or frustration, or delight. It will be satisfying to coach them into something.

If I could combine some of my heroes, and their sentences that warm me up no matter what–the writing would be like Nicholson Baker, Nigel Slater, Lauren Winner, and Catherine NewmanTrue, imaginative, buoyant, refreshing are the words I’d love to evoke.

If things occur to you that you hope I write about–I often have that moment with other writers, oh I hope she talks about this–email me please! Readers really have a sense for these things.

xo

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Alma: Her hair is slowly falling out, framing into a goofy tufted mohawk. She’s positively wreathed with smiles when she can hear her sisters talking.

Quote from the girls this week:

Lux: Is she {imaginary person} allergic to cats?

Joan: No, she’s not.

Lux: Well, I guess that means she can eat them.