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


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!


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


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.


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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.


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Alma: after her two-month-old visit to the pediatrician she clearly didn’t feel good for a few days. I realized how cheerful she typically is, quite in contrast!

Joan: she’s always making gifts for someone. Though, when the time comes to give it to them or send it to them, she’ll often change the story, the intended recipient, and hold on to it. 

Lux: Playing ingredient mixing with a pipette. She loves to do kitchen projects and frequently asks if we can bake together. A carrot cake is next on our list. 

This week was Joe’s first week back at work; it went very well. He managed to get home by 5:30pm on most of the days, which was enormously helpful. I was frustrated to find myself totally exhausted by 6pm every day, but I don’t think there’s much I can do about that.

a few reads

em_emberley crown of Ed Emberley creatures drawn by Lux. 

Start following a few homeschool people on facebook and you’ll be inundated with articles about homeschooling. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed recently…

Confessions of a Former Homeschooling Mom

I think of this one in the morning because she says…

We started every day by snuggling on the couch. There was no yelling at everyone to find their shoes. There was no scrambling to locate homework and lunch boxes. There was no rush. No fuss. No tears. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a homeschool hippie, we started our days in peace and love. What a bunch of weirdos.

Ha! Losing those moments, as it is the same at our house right now, is probably my #1 suspicion of beginning kindergarten next fall.

What changed this teacher’s mind about homeschooling

Having been the only person to be called on for 12 years, she did not use the group’s mass as camouflage, or a barrier, but accepted every question, suggestion, lesson and instruction as her own responsibility.

This one reminded me of myself and how I felt in the classroom, both in high school and college, having been homeschooled up until then.

Haute Home Schools (there seems to be pay block here if you try to read on your phone)

This was just a fun one to read, on the high end of things. You don’t have to build a custom home for it, of course, but Joe and I do talk about hiring tutors for specific subjects that we don’t feel capable of handling ourselves. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Learn Different, on Altschools

This isn’t about homeschooling, but it’s a great overview of where the tech-iest micro-schools are at these days by Rebecca Mead at the New Yorker. The benefits (retroactive omniscience for the teacher!) and pitfalls (tablet frustrations for kindergartners) are just as you might imagine them. Exciting nonetheless.

Reading any good articles lately?

Museum of Fine Arts

During Joe’s paternity leave he took the girls to the MFA and the Harvard Museum of Art frequently. Originally I suggested that he take them to one of my favorite programs–the homeschool Fridays at the MFA. He did that one time, and told me he didn’t like how programatic it was. Which is funny because that’s exactly what I like about it! We realized we each have preferred styles for outings with the kids. I like to plan ahead and have plenty of direction. Joe likes to decide that morning, and riff on the plan as he goes. A nice thing to discover.

On a grey day this week, a day guaranteed to rain all day, Alma and I got to tag along on one of their trips. Joe led the way, and asked the girls a good question to frame our time: what kind of thing do you want to see? They said a tapestry, and a painting of Mary. We never did find a tapestry, but we found plenty of Marys.

“I just love to see children in art museums,” someone commented to me as the girls twirled and semi-sprinted through a gallery. Which is exactly what someone should say when they see kids in public spaces!

And we managed to eat lunch in the lovely glass courtyard. With the new addition, completed in 2010, the restaurant was given an amazing space–centered in the atrium built between the old building and the new. The 63ft high ceilings and the equally high windows dull the acoustics and make you fee like you’re the only table in the place, while the green plants outside make for the most soothing view. We asked for a table along the edge so the girls could hop off their seats to wander while they waited for food.

Joan really really likes to hold onto whatever stroller I’m pushing Alma in. She’s like the guide dog trotting alongside beside me.

Please note the silverware that was used as a distraction before the food arrived.My lunch: steak and cheese. Favorite things!Alma life

Hallway bench, a classic breastfeeding oasis (though they do also offer a lovely enclosed nursing room, near the entrance). 

The Watermill, Puerto Rico

Permit a few photos that are by no means a tour guide to this beautiful island. Looking at these, I keep thinking of Frederick, the mouse who didn’t work at the harvest but instead stored up smells and the feeling of the sun so he could tell the other mice how it felt, come winter, and remind them summer would return.

This was definitely one of our best days in Puerto Rico. The Watermill is a water park designed to look like an old sugar mill. A bit of an odd theme, but after floating lazily around it several times, I was quite taken with the faux stucco plastering and craggy architecture. It was built by the Dorado Beach development and is available to people staying at the Plantation Village condos (which we were, having booked through inspirato-a condo timeshare service by American Express), people with membership at the Encanto Beach Club, and Ritz Carlton Reserve guests.

It wasn’t busy on the Sunday we were there, which made it feel like we had stumbled on an enchanted theme park, perhaps one that had just floated to the surface from Atlantis-like depths. The girls ran from one spot to another, but there were plenty of no-swimmer spaces that made it easy for us to relax while they played. Most of the pools were 3ft depth, the perfect depth to empower a four-year-old. Joe and I loved the lazy river that circled the property, tubes were provided. And the kid-powered pull-across boats–so easy and fun for them!

It was practically essential to have my mom there with us–one of us stayed/relaxed with the baby in the shade the whole time.

After we’d played in the water most of the day (and applied, and reapplied sunscreen) the girls started climbing the rope bridges and ladders that wove into the pools and through the trees. They were challenging just enough to thrill the girls with their successes each time.

I took most of these photos as the golden hours began in the late afternoon–we finally pulled ourselves away from the place at 5pm, sunburned and joyfully exhausted.

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Naturally everyone wants to know how Joan and Lux are with Alma. The truth is, they’re barely with her! They probably notice and say hi to her once every couple hours. They are so busy with their imaginative games that I barely keep up with. They tell me if they hear her crying when I’m out of earshot, in the kitchen. “Ooo Alma,” they say in sympathy. “What?” “She’s crying.” Then we both frown at each other for a moment before I exit right to scoop her up.

If they’re in the room, Alma tracks their voices with her eyes, and I always point that fact out to them as it happens with exaggerated celebration. Mimicking my habit of pointing her interactions out to them (though unknowingly, I assume) Joan has said, “Mama, I’m smiling at Alma.” Then she smiles with the look of someone who has never practiced a conscious smile.

I feel like I have a secret they don’t know, that in a year or two she’ll be such a big part of their lives, just as vital and wonderful to them as they are to each other.

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

For the record there is no nailing an adventure with kids. There is no perfectly packed backpack, no perfect interlude before naps, no perfect weather that will soothe all concerns. You will always find out at the end that one of them has been acting strangely because it turns their feet have been soaking wet from the beginning. They will always be suddenly starving as soon as you buckle their seat belts. They will always ask to be carried at regular intervals and refuse to go down the path you’ve pointed to.

But anyway we still say, “Woah that was a good adventure wasn’t it?” when we get home and they always say, “Yes!”

About forty minutes outside Boston, the Sanctuary is a wonderful place year-round.Free for Mass Audubon members (like Drumlin Farm) about $3 each otherwise. Twelve miles of trails. But you can follow the .6 mile trail to the Rockery, a magic cave made of enormous rocks constructed around 1910.

Joe just finished reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to the girls (“That witch is not very nice!” -Joan Bea). The woods felt just as you might imagine them when Lucy steps through the back of the wardrobe.

You can bring birdseed, or you can just hold out your hand, and the birds will land lightly with their spindle feet that feel like gentle paper clips on your fingers.