Tuesday, December 2, 2014

simplify

Sometimes I read articles that inspire me.  Like this article I read the other day about how some of the most successful people wear the same thing everyday.  The idea makes a lot of sense...when you don't have to waste brain power deciding what to wear everyday it frees up a lot of time and energy in your life. As a full time working and stay at home mother of two TIME is something I need more of...Energy is also something I could use more of...so logically this article sang to me.  If you know anything about me, you know I have a thing for clothes...when I lived in Florida somehow I managed to acquire over 150 dresses...(no I'm not over exaggerating...I counted them one day...this is what happens when I have a large walk-in closet). When I moved to Chicago I exchanged half of those dresses for sweaters and fleece lined leggings...but I've always had an overly stuffed wardrobe.
Having a plethora of options has always been comforting...

Well I decided to risk throwing away that comfort in an effort to save time, space and energy...and let me tell you it was a glorious decision! I wish I had taken a before picture, but I didn't so you'll just have to imagine that both my closet and my armoire were so stuffed that I could barely squeeze a hanger in between two articles of clothes. I had 115 hangers in my closet and 61 in my armoire. Now there are just 30 in my closet and 23 in my armoire.

How did I do it? You ask?
Well I thought about it for a good week. I read several different articles about pairing down clothes/wardrobes...I already had a clothing swap planned last Monday so when I finally decided to take the plunge I did it with gusto and gave away all my clothes.  Of course getting them out was the hardest part...and I did that by:
a) Taking EVERYTHING out of my closet and assessing every piece of clothing one by one.
b) putting each piece of clothing into one of three bins: 1. Keep 2. Clothing Swap 3. Not sure
c) I gave myself rules. Since I've decided to have a base outfit I needed to decide what that base outfit is and then came up with guidelines in order to keep an article of clothing. My base outfit is a neutral colored dress with leggings and a layering piece for warmth.  So, for each article of clothing I kept I had to answer Yes to each of these questions:
          1. Does it fit right now?
          2. Is this a neutral colored dress, leggings or a layering item?
          3. Does this work comfortably for breastfeeding?
          4. Have I worn it more than once in the last year?
          5. Do I feel attractive when I have this on?
          6. Will this work with multiple things in my wardrobe?
If I could NOT answer yes to every one of those questions then the item would then get placed in one of the other bins. The "Not Sure" bin was reserved for pieces that didn't fit the rules but that I worried I might miss if I let them go. (In the end this bin only ended up with about 18 items in it...I placed these items in an opaque bin on top of my wardrobe for assessment at a later time.)
I also kept 4 pairs of pants (just in case someone ever asks me to wear them) and a drawer filled with long sleeve and short sleeve shirts for pajamas/lounging.

This was the end result:

That's it...that's my entire wardrobe (with the exception of my pj's and leggings in my dresser).

  Honestly I couldn't be happier with the results.  Now I can clearly see everything in my wardrobe. Getting dressed is simple...I take a pair of leggings from the top of the pile and grab a dress from my closet and then I select a layering piece from my armoire and I'm done! And I look and feel great. There is still plenty of variety and plenty of fashion...and far less decision.  The best part is I now have no desire to shop. Before I used to feel obligated to buy things if they were cute/ on sale and in my size...now I will only buy something if it fits my uniform rules and is cuter then something I already have. I want to keep my wardrobe small...I have a 40 hanger limit in my closet. I currently have 10 empty hangers...once those hangers are full for every item that comes home I have to choose something to come out. My armoire is full...if I add anything from this point forward it will be to replace something that is already in there. 

This, my friends, is therapy. De-clutter...simplify...stop consuming for the sake of consuming...I highly recommend it.





Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Empathy: A Lesson in saving my family

A woman was singing in the shower in the women's YMCA locker room yesterday.  Her glorious vibrato echoed along the tile floors and bounced off the metal lockers filling the room with her joy:
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: 
How great thou art! How great thou art!

"Someone is happy!" said the woman getting dressed next to me "It's amazing that anyone could be so happy considering the weather we're having" she said as she piled on thermal underwear under jeans and a thick wool sweater. 

I hear the stars I hear the rolling thunder;
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!

Her sweet voice soaring through the laughter of children playing in the pool above. That's when I caught a glimpse in the mirror of the smile that had swept across my face amidst the rapture of hearing a familiar hymn in an unexpected location.  And then to my own surprise I started to quietly join in...harmonizing with sheer delight as I packed my bags to leave...part of me wanted to stay, to sing duets with a stranger...but alas my babysitting time was up and I had to collect the kids. But I left with a smile and a skip into the bitter Chicago cold. It's amazing how contagious emotions are. 
A woman who I never even saw was able to turn my day around.  A woman whose happy tune sang to my heart and carried me through the rest of the day. As a parent I'm learning so much about the power of my own emotions. 
For the past four weeks we have been struggling to maintain our control over Gunnar.  Through a lack of structure, sleep deprivation and abused authority our family unit was spiraling out of control until finally one night Gunnar's frustrations smacked me right in the face, literally.  He shouted, he screamed, he punched. I tried to maintain my cool and carried him kicking and screaming from the car to his room and closed the door which I had to hold closed for two hours until he finally stopped screaming and throwing his body and anything else he could find against it. As I stood there holding the door with one arm and a baby in the other I had time to consider how we got there. I noted that this child who thrives on structure, had no structure. This child who was used to having all the attention from both parents for the last 4 years now had next to no attention from either parent. I noted the child who used to love to please was now doing whatever he could to get under my skin...to make me snap. As I stood there with one arm holding the shaking, screaming door closed and the other arm holding a sleeping baby, I began to cry as I recalled the barking orders, the pushing away of kisses, and the fact that my almost four year old hadn't bathed in almost seven days. I could blame the little baby in my arms who has robbed me of a decent nights rest for three months straight. I could blame the stresses of teaching three "new to me" classes.  I could blame the stress of responsibilities in helping to run a theatre company.  I could blame the stress of running a small business on Etsy. I could...but I won't. There's no excuse for neglecting one of the most important people in your life.  There's no excuse. 
It's my fault. 
It's my fault.
It's my fault.
I have to fix it.
I have to fix it.
I have to fix it.
When the screams finally subsided I opened the door to find my son sitting calmly on his bed wiping tears from his tired eyes. "I'm sorry I hit you mommy." 
"I know. Mommy loves you buddy. We have to do better. Can we start over tomorrow?"
"Yes mommy" he said as he crawled into bed. 

Step One. Hatching the plan. That night John and I strategized for the first time in our history as parents. We sat down and planned dinner menus and daily schedules. We created structure to the havoc of our crazy life as working parents of two. 
We rallied. We planned. We changed. 
The next morning we woke up and went to church for the first time in months followed by a strategized trip to the grocery store. Together we conquered two grocery stores, armed with a list and recipes for 7 days. We walked down the aisles with purpose and drive, it felt empowering to walk on past the tempting shelves of microwave dinners and prepackaged meals without regret. As a team we walked out with seven days worth of groceries, spending less than $100 and our shopping took less than one hour, all this...with two kids in tow.  
If our arms hadn't been holding babies and grocery bags I'm certain we would have high ten'd, fist bumped AND patted each other on the back. Instead we hip bumped and winked at each other in gratified achievement.  
When we got home Gunnar helped me create a weekly schedule for him on poster board. He cut out pictures of things he likes to do and we glued them onto velcro strips which he could choose from day to day. We included daddy and mommy time to every day so that he could see and know when he will have our undivided attention. Dinner and bedtime would be at the same time every night. Bath time would now be included into the schedule. 


Step Two. Implementing the new plan would be the biggest challenge of all. For ten years of marriage John and  I have coexisted without the slightest hint of routine. We've lived on the edge of our seats, making plans as we go. Taking spontaneous trips, random outings, winging holidays and never knowing what or where our next meal would be.  Our lack of structure and indecision has been the excitement of our relationship and at the same time has nearly ruined us a dozen times over. This week would be a test...and we would succeed.
Because within the structure we found freedom. At first the schedule seemed to be all the answer we needed to glue our family back together. Family dinners providing time to talk about our days. And thanks to daddy's terrific idea, we've started a new tradition of going around and saying what we are thankful for everyday. But despite the improvements somewhere along the line the barking orders, the nagging, and the yelling creeped back into my mouth. Physical battles with the almost four year old followed shortly and my soul snapped awake when I found myself yelling, lecturing my poor little boy about how ungrateful he is and blah blah blah dying children in Africa. Who is this person? Why is she talking like this to a little boy who hasn't even learned to tie his own shoes yet?

Step Three. Find additional help. The book. Love and Logic Magic. Ahhh...empathy. Empathy my old friend. Compassion. Empathy. The one thing I had excluded from my parenting for at least the last 4 months, perhaps much longer. A few months earlier I remember hearing John using empathy with Gunnar and being really impressed. Gunnar was frustrated about not being able to watch a movie at 5am...instead of giving in, I heard John say "Are you frustrated Gunnar? I get that." And with that...G let it go...Daddy understood. I made a mental note to try this approach myself. Unfortunately for me, pregnancy mental notes never stick...damn pregnancy brain. But now in reading this book,  here it was...proof that empathy always wins. I spent the better part of the day yesterday repeating "empathy. empathy. empathy" in my head, in hopes to show my son compassion and understanding.
The result astounded me. When I normally would have shouted "Stop throwing toys Gunnar! Do you hear me? That's it I'm throwing your toys away!" I replaced with "Oh...Bummer Gunnar, if you can't play nice with your toys, we'll have to find a new home for them.  I'm really sorry buddy I want you to keep your toys but they need to be with someone who will be nice to them" And when I found him over using toilet paper instead of  "NO! What are you doing? You never put that much toilet paper in the toilet!" I said "Oh...bummer Gunnar this is never good. It's okay buddy I know you don't know this but I just want you to know that if you use too much toilet paper the toilet might clog. The water will keep coming and the toilet might flood the bathroom." at which point I saw his eyes get really big "are you scared?" I asked. "Yes!!" and his eyes welled up with tears. "Oh buddy I know...that's scary isn't it? But do you know what the good news is? It's not going to happen today because I stopped you from putting this wad into the toilet...and now you know not to do that...so you don't have to be scared okay? It was a mistake. Mommy's not mad. I love you. I just wanted to let you know." Gunnar hugged  me and said "I'm sorry mommy. I'll never do that again."
Turns out handing out consequences along with a healthy dose of empathy is the magic wand of parenting. 

Today I had an encounter with someone who snapped at Gunnar and looked at me with disdain. For hours after this encounter I was in a state of sorrow and confusion...what had I done to deserve that? Was it my fault? I carried this attitude with me into a store plastered with mirrors where I couldn't ignore the furrowed expression imprinted on my face. That's when it all made sense to me. This person had unknowingly transferred their emotion onto me. Emotions are contagious. No wonder Gunnar has been so upset all this time. No wonder. And then I remembered the woman who had been singing in the locker room the day before, the one who had unknowingly planted a smile on my face and helped me in my task of exploring empathy with my son with her good mood...

We all have hard times...we all have bad days...but today I learned that despite my own struggles I want to choose to be the singer. I want to choose empathy. I want to choose compassion. Emotions are contagious...

I want to spread the good ones, even when it's hard. 
So the next time my emotions needs a good tweak...you might find me singing that old familiar hymn in an unexpected place. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A day in the life with two...

So I'm sure not everyday will be as crazy as the last few days have been...but you know...I'm pretty darn proud of the fact that I've sailed through these crazy hectic days without losing my head.

Life with two kids hasn't been easy so far. But I also haven't had too many days where I had to balance my life and my kids lives all by myself. I've been blessed to have my mother and mother-in-law trading off every two weeks to help me with everything while I settle into teaching (almost full time- 3 classes) and raising two kids at home.  Thank God someone has been around to do the dishes and fold the laundry...heaven knows if they hadn't been here I probably would just be buying new clothes for everyone because there just isn't time to do laundry some days.

But today I had the two mostly to myself and I came out okay. Which is a good sign because starting next week I'll be all on my own again for the first time in almost 2 months. But after today...I think I'm mostly ready.

The day started (or rather continued?) around 4am when John woke to leave for his two day trip to Michigan. I had been awake until 2am finishing midterm grades for my three classes which were due by noon.  Margot who had been miraculously sleeping since 8:00pm finally woke for a feeding and then, as usual, would not be satisfied by being put back into her crib. This is typical...I could rock and rock and rock until she seems asleep and transfer her to the crib and the second I put her down she screams bloody murder. The only solution I've found is to snuggle her. In my bed. And because I am mostly paranoid about crushing her in my sleep...I remain mostly awake until John leaves. Promptly, just as John walked out the door, Gunnar arrives in my bed also wanting to snuggle.  And then there is no hope of sleep with a babe on each arm and a cat between my legs. I reach for my iPhone to do some light reading while the littles ones sleep.

Around 7:15 Gunnar wakes up and asks if he can go visit Grandma downstairs. I agree and he skips cheerfully down the hall.  Twenty minutes later my in-laws pop in to tell me they are leaving for the day and that Gunnar is sitting on the couch watching iPad. Moments later Margot wakes up, I feed her, change her and make Gunnar breakfast and make myself some tea and grab a banana. I still have to grade papers for one class and enter in their midterms before noon...I don't have time to waste.

I attempt to put Margot in her swing for a bit and ask Gunnar to turn off the iPad and focus on a puzzle or coloring instead. He chooses a 200 piece puzzle (awesome those take him about an hour).
Unfortunately Margot isn't having the swing and needs to be held. So with one hand I finish grading papers and type emails to students and enter grades for the better part of the next 2 hours until Margot finally falls asleep and allows me to put her down in her crib.

For two more hours I focus on my grades but by now Gunnar is on his 3rd puzzle and has become frustrated and asks for the iPad again...seeing that I still have 4 papers to grade and I only have 40 minutes before the NOON midterm grade deadline...I comply.  Margot begins to scream at 11:54...and I'm only half way through calculating grades. Of course. But I cannot ignore pitiful baby screams so I rush to offer her a pacifier which she promptly spits out and screams even louder. I bend over to pick her up and get a whiff of yuck...I have no option but to do a wicked fast diaper change. I change it as fast as I know how and with her on one shoulder I race to my computer to finish calculating and enter the grades with literally seconds to spare. Somehow I manage to get it done on time. I imagine giving myself a pat on the back but I don't have a hand available to actually do so.

Now that its noon I realize that I have 5 hours to finish the 3 owl halloween costumes I am working on for customers of my Etsy shop. I've made it a goal to get these done and shipped today in case there are Halloween events these customers are hoping to attend over the weekend in costume.  But now I have 2 children awake and no hands to spare. Not sure how this will even be possible...and it's lunch time.

I make a deal with Gunnar that he will eat his lunch in his room while he reads some books. Margot fell asleep again on my shoulder so I put her back in her crib and rush downstairs to cut the eyes and noses for the owl hats...but that's as far as I get before I hear a baby screaming again...this time she's covered in spit up. Gunnar has beat me to the crib and is trying to offer her a pacifier (sweet boy).
It is then that I notice his mangled hair...I'm quite certain it has been a good 5 days since either of these cuties was bathed. (That's a problem with having too many helpers, everyone assumes the other is getting certain things done when in actuality no one is getting it done...in this case it's bathing the children).  I decide why not do it now? Both kids are up...it will be relaxing and play filled for both and might just get them in the mood for a nap after.

Bathing a 4 year old and a 2 month old is hard when there is only one person. It takes a lot of thoughtful preparation...like prepping the towels and washcloths before putting naked babies into the tub. Nevertheless the bath is a smashing success and both come out smelling like daisies. We get dressed, read stories, put baby M in a swaddle and send her off to dream-land and then I rub Gunnar's back and thank him for being such a helper and cooperative boy all day.  Before he falls asleep I promise him we can do something special when he wakes up, if he takes a good nap. He instantly requests a trip to the park with the "long long long hippopotamus" (which is actually a dragon). Even though this park is far away at the mall I agree (there are a few things I'd been meaning to look for there anyway). I watch G until he's clearly sleeping and rush downstairs to continue working on the owl hats.

A few minutes later my in-laws return and my sweet mother-in-law offers to help me with the finishing touches for these costumes. While I sew on eyes and noses, Kathy sews on hooks and eyes and buttons to the owl capes for the next 2.5 hours. Margot sleeps for only about an hour but is entertained lovingly by her grandfather while we ladies continue sewing. Gunnar sleeps for almost 3 hours and by the time he wakes up I'm packaging the costumes to go to the post office. He has not forgotten about our special trip and excitedly gets ready to go.

G and I rush to the post office only to find it closed at 5pm...40 minutes late. Wa-wa. Oh well, we'll mail them first thing in the morning...at least they're done. G and I head off to the park at the mall...no sooner did we arrive did G announce he was hungry. So I buy him a grilled cheese and smoothie at Epic Burger and in between bites he runs around the playground joyfully.
Just as we are about to leave G suggest we move to sit on a comfy couch and finish his sandwich...as we are walking over, Gunnar's smoothie pops open and spills all over the rubber floor (which has a sign not 4 feet away asking not to bring food onto the playground) whoops. And of course, just as I bend over to wipe it up with the 2 napkins I have...my iPhone falls into the pool of strawberry banana smoothie with a plop. Awesome.  But I stay cool. I remain calm. I rip open the bag that had once occupied G's sandwich and used it to pick up as much of the smoothie as I could before running back to the restaurant to get more napkins.  I then spend the next 30 minutes cleaning my phone...which miraculously survived it's adventure in swimming with smoothies.

We check a few stores for some gifts and then dash home for bedtime, not before stopping at Portillos  to bring home dinner for my in-laws and me.  We come home to find Margot watching the world series with Grandpa and Gunnar spends the next 30 minutes getting into his pj's and telling G & G all about his day while I try to eat my Chicago dog and nurse Margot at the same time (not an easy task).  Once Margot's meal is done I hand her off to grandpa as I take Gunnar off to finish getting ready for bed.

Halfway through story time I catch a whiff of a strong poop smell....and I can't finish the book. I'm up and searching with my nose. And that's when I find our cat Sven running into our room with about 12 inches of poopy ribbon hanging out of his rear end. YUCK! After chasing him for about 5 minutes I finally get a hold of him and with a pair of scissors I cut off the ends of the ribbon. Ugh.  After thoroughly washing my hands and a few floor surfaces I continue with story time and get Gunnar down for bed...

Margot then follows with baby stories, swaddles and nursing...and although I had to get up twice to nurse her while typing this...I would say...all in all...it was a pretty good day. Not bad mama. Not bad.



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Our Newest Addition

So my sister joked with me when I started this blog "Won't your second baby be a little jealous that you named your blog only after Gunnar?" Well this was something I hadn't really thought about until I got pregnant with #2 and I took a while to decide that I would start another blog that could link through this blog with stories about raising two children, and specifically about raising her. It's only fair...right? So please welcome our newest babe and our newest blog sequel (?? Is that a thing? I don't know...I guess I'm making it one) in Mothering Margot:

http://motheringmargot.blogspot.com/

Monday, June 16, 2014

Making Room For Baby!

I've been beyond fortunate to have the better part of the last month without any substantial obligations to focus most of my time on preparing our home for our newest arrival.  I made lists and lists and lists, we had a very successful yard sale, I've re-organized every baby/toddler bin in the house, scoured yard sales and ebay for the few things we've needed and successfully swapped rooms so we had room for both kiddos (and all their "things") in one room! We gave the kids the big room and John and I moved into the smaller bedroom (which we surprisingly like better).

And now with 4 weeks to go, I finally feel like I can slow down a bit as mostly everything is in its place...

So here is a little taste of what baby girl has to come home to...

In a way I gave Gunnar a "spirit animal" (owl) so I decided it was only fair to give my daughter one too (we chose fox, owls and foxes are often depicted together for wisdom and cleverness) I designed/made Gunnar an owl mobile, so reusing the same mobile parts I made little fox creatures for baby girl's mobile!
Love this tree rug I found on Zulily for $12!!
So much love and heritage went into this wall. The owl needle point at the top was done by John's grandmother in the 70's. The sketches on the lower shelf are of "The Little Engine that Could" and Winnie the Pooh all three were done by my very talented Aunt Julie for me when I was a little girl. The fox picture on the left and was a gift from my mother and sister.  I made the pennant banner and the "What does the fox say" hoop. 

Baby girl's side of the room is kiddie corner from big brother Gunnar.  The dresser still holds Gunnar's clothes (because his clothes are bigger and require more space) but the shelf next to the dresser holds all the changing table needs (diapers, first aid, etc) 

This is my clever placement of these two fox items.  The hoop frame will be available in my etsy shop later this month and the adorable fox on bike is actually a greeting card I found on etsy by SkippingFox, LOVE it!

This fox hoop and the fox mobile will also be available in my etsy shop later this month.  Take note of the sweet foxes we found! One from Ikea, Gunnar gave his "Fox in Sox" from grandma to baby sister, the small fox and the fox lovey are also from Grandma as is the beautiful fox quilt which she made!!

here's a close up of some of the darling fabrics on this quilt!

Here's a close up of the fox hoop I made...available in my shop!

And now to the other side of the room...here is my favorite corner in the house..."The book nook"!  The light and shelves are all from Ikea (though we got the bigger shelves at a yard sale for $5!) The alphabet bookshelf we bought 2 years ago at a yard sale, but it wasn't completely usable until we added a lazy-susan on the bottom (borrowed from an old CD organizer we found out in the alley)...now it spins all the way around which is soo convenient!  Owl painting was done by a friend of my mother-in-law's for G before he was born. 
Gunnar loves sitting on his little red rocking chair which my mother-in-law found at a yard sale for $5! This was a great idea to add to the book nook as it gives big brother a place to sit while I nurse or read to both kiddos! Also this shelf which is backed up to G's bed is also from Ikea with bins I customized for G...may need to change a letter when baby girl arrives... (the M is for Miles, Gunnar's middle name...bottom bin has a G on it).  The sweet sock monkey quilt on top of the shelf was a gift to G from his Great Aunt Lisa when he was a newborn.

Here is Gunnar's side of the room!  Alphabet Quilt made by my talented mother-in-law again... Love the framed vintage alphabet paper poster we found at a yard sale! Underneath is a pottery barn basket (also found at a yard sale) which holds ALL of G's famous caps) On the side wall hangs a beautiful Noah's Ark cross stitch made for Gunnar by friend Lisa! The sweater name banner is currently available in my etsy shop. 
Under Gunnar's bed are these FABULOUS storage boxes from Ikea (we only bought one and regretted instantly when we got home and realized we had room for two...by luck we found another one at a yard sale for  50cents!!) In one we store Gunnar's shoes and the other is a toy bin with bags made by my mother-in-law for organizing! They are AMAZING!

The "Dinosaur bag"! We also have bags for vehicles,  character toys, Mr, Potato Head and accessories, etc

Gunnar's favorite part of the room...the closet/kitchen/market.  We got the tall skinny dresser at a yard sale for $10!!! I have baby girl's current season/size clothes organized in there by category.  (FYI: I hate hanging baby clothes...so almost everything goes in dressers. The only things hanging are special occasion suit coats.)

We stapled $1 store baskets to the wall to create a "market" for shopping and organizing all the food. 

Bins from Ikea go on the shelf in the closet. I hot glued chalkboard plates on the front so that they can change easily as baby grows. These bins hold the clothes for the upcoming age/seasons. I saved one bin for G as well but we more gradually grow in and out of his clothes. 

And here is a shot of the room from the door...I still have to add the pottery barn black out shades I bought on ebay but the valance and three of the owls were made by Kathy and two of the other owls were gifts from my mom and sister. 
So there you have it...our new "Nursery"! Gunnar LOVES it and can't wait for baby sister to join him. He's been practicing holding and burping with his baby doll and even asked to bring his baby doll along to story time at the library. He's going to be a great big brother! 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Do you know what it's like to be a short/white/straight chick with funny toes?


When I was sixteen I remember waking up from a vivid dream with sweat pooling in the palms of my hands and a questioning fear that I couldn't shake for nearly a year.  You see within this dream I was in a relationship with another girl, a girl I knew, not a close friend, but a friend none-the-less and...in the dream, I was very much in love.  And as I awoke from this dream I couldn't help but question if this was revealing something about myself that I hadn't otherwise known.

The year was 1997, and although I'm quite certain I knew about homosexuality, I don't believe I had any personal encounters with it, yet. Sure, there were a few characters who were suspicious candidates for the profile but it wasn't a time when teenagers felt comfortable about "coming out." So, there really wasn't anyone I felt comfortable talking with about this new fear.  At least there was some comfort in knowing one thing...I was most definitely attracted to boys (or A boy) as I had carried on a crush for one boy, in particular, for nearly 3 years. But I'd never kissed a boy, nor had I had any kind of romantic relationship of any kind. So what does a young girl do with a dream like this? (I'm certain if the Internet had developed google to the point of what it is today I would have found some answers online...) But, since that didn't exist, I did the only thing I could think of doing, which was to privately and secretively explore these feelings.  I only had one class with the girl so I made the most of what I could.  And when we broke into groups to discuss something I made sure to join her group and sit especially close. I even remember inviting her to tag along with my friends to the movies once or twice. I tried so hard to conjure up the feelings I had had in the dream, I was almost forcing them...but I couldn't replicate anything. I tried to find the attraction for nearly a year...I wanted to be sure, I didn't want to deny myself this understanding. But in the end, I found myself more attracted to any boy in her vicinity than I had ever felt in her presence. And when a boy finally kissed me a year later, all thoughts of liking girls romantically fled my mind entirely.  It was only a dream, nothing more.

I didn't choose to be straight. Nor did I choose to be short or white or born with the weirdest toes on the planet. These aren't choices one can make before coming into the world. Much like the title character Brahman/i (in the new co-production by About Face Theatre and Silk Road Rising directed by Andrew Volkoff) didn't choose to be born a Hijra (a South Asian term for hermaphrodite or intersexed).

In my adult years I have become more than comfortable with the LGBT movement, I have been a friend, an ally and an advocate. Heck, my son road on a float in the Chicago Pride Parade with me when he was only 8 months old! As an actress, I've played a fair number of lesbian roles and kissed more than a handful of women on stage and in scene studies.  In college I even performed in a play about a hermaphrodite. But I have never before felt that I could completely understand what it must be like to live everyday in the mind of someone who doesn't fall within the social norms of "heterosexuality." And the truth is, I probably never will completely know what that is like. After all...I'm straight. But I will say this...nothing has helped me dissect the idea of what it might feel like to be in the head of someone who falls outside of those norms more than the preview performance I saw this afternoon of Brahman/i.

Staged like a stand-up comedy act Brahman/i takes the audience on a journey growing up as an Indian/American hijra. Aditi Brennan Kapil's sharp and witty script uses comedy, mythology and history as a mechanism to make the unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable material accessible to all. Kapil could have easily taken this story and staged it into a normal two act play, but because she chose the vehicle of stand-up comedy, we were able to hear how Brahman/i (played with tour de force passion and charisma by Fawazi Mizra) processed through the events of a confusing life in a reflective and comedic way.

It's quite amazing and a bit overwhelming to even imagine growing up and identifying with both genders.  But for Brahman/i that is the reality of the situation. And because Brahman/i relates to both genders, both male and female audience members can relate to Brahman/i's story.

From the moment we are born people start placing us into categories and as we grow those categories begin to expand: male/female, white/not white, Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Atheist, gay/straight, single/married, parent/non-parent, young/old, fat/skinny, short/tall, meat-eater/vegetarian/vegan, rich/poor, Republican/Democrat, corporate sell-out/grunge granola hippy etc, etc. By adulthood we typically make choices that further place us into categories that define who we are as individuals. These categories give us a place of belonging, a community of common understanding...but they are also what separates us as humans.

Imagine someone asking you to choose between being a mother and being a daughter, or between having eyesight or functioning legs. Two things that are inherently part of you that have helped define who you are and how you live, but now you must choose to live without one of them. You can choose to be a mother but in doing so you disown your parents, or you can remain a daughter but you must abandon your children. You can choose your vision but your legs will be cut off, or you can choose your legs but your eyes will be blinded. This must be what it feels like for intersexed/hermaphrodite/hijra people who are asked to choose a gender.  And why must they choose? So that we can place them in a respective category? Why must we have categories at all?  Why can't we all be supportive bass players for one another the way the character "J" (played beautifully by Damian Conrad) is for Brahman/i...playing a relaxing tune while we hydrate our vocal cords...the vocal cords that we need to use and stretch and strain to allow others to hear and understand what it's like to be uniquely ourselves.  Let's face it...we don't all fit into the same exact categorized boxes, no one knows what it's like to be exactly you.  No one. So why must we hide behind these categories that don't truly define who we are? The only thing we all share in common is that we are human...and the only way we can truly connect is if we LISTEN and SUPPORT and EMPATHIZE with one another.

I've often thought about how I would respond if one of my children felt comfortable sharing with me a dream like I had had in high school. It's certainly not something I'm afraid of hearing, but knowing how to respond is a completely different story.  I'm not quite sure what I'd say entirely, but, what I do know is, I will never ask my child to make a choice. Because I will choose to be that supportive bass player, I will choose to support and love my children for who they are, not what categories society has placed them in.

***This is intended to be a response (not a review) to the play Brahman/i playing now at Silk Road Rising through April 27th in collaboration with About Face Theatre.  If you are in the Chicago area I urge you to see it...it is illuminating, hilarious and beautifully done. For more info click here

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A newborn's cry

I could hear the newborns anguished cries from the moment I got to the top of the escalator and entered my local Target.  I had no idea where the babe was in the store but I knew one thing for sure, the baby was very new. It's a sound you don't mistake, the sound of new vocal chords clashing together in desperation calling attention to anyone with ears to elicit aid in their discomfort.

I was on a quick mission: berries, bananas, avocados, ice cream....done.

But just as I was checking out the sounds of the newborn got louder as a frantic new mother pulled her cart into the aisle next to mine. "We've just got to get out of here" I heard her say.

My eyes were glued on the panicked mother. She glanced my way and clearly noticed the bump peeking out from my stained winter coat.  Her eyes met mine and I flashed a sympathetic smile, knowing it wouldn't help. She reached into her cart and that's when I saw the little pink slipper feet, stiff and kicking with such ferocity. A baby girl.

Although I needed to leave and my check-out was complete, I found myself desperate to stay and watch this little one...so instead of heading to the exit, I decided to grab a decaf tea at the in-store Starbucks, which also gained me a perfect spying ground. The new mother reached into the cart and unbuckled her newborn from the constrains of her carseat and brought the sweet doe eyed baby girl to her chest.

Instant relief. The dark haired baby girl's cries stopped the moment her tummy met her mother's chest.

And that is when my water works began. I was so confused. I've never been an emotional person. I've always laughed at my friends who tear up during Folger's commercials or award speeches. I'm not that kind of girl. But here I was waiting in line at the Target Starbucks weeping just from watching a small interaction between a newborn and her mother.  What is going on?

Yes, I'm pregnant. Yes, I have increased hormones...but this was just bizarre. I'm an actor and I tend to work from the inside out to form emotions on stage. I often understand the reason for the emotion before I even emote...but here, in this instance I found myself desperately wiping tear after tear off my face trying to conceal this unknown burst of emotion.

I turned away, hid my face in my scarf and tried to collect myself before anyone noticed.  But at the same time I was trying to detect what it was that was making me feel so much.

My mind jumped around...Maybe I was just so touched by the baby's needs being met and by the mother/daughter relationship that I will soon be experiencing....but yet I also felt sad somehow, this couldn't be all of it. Then I remembered taking Gunnar to Target when he was just a few days old and nursing him in the fitting room, maybe these were memory tears, longing for that physical bond only babies share with their mothers. Or maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking about how this baby girl was probably one a week old and how a college friend of mine would never experience that kind of bond with her recently stillborn baby girl.  Though I think these tears were caused by a mix of all of these things I think the lingering sadness I was feeling belonged to the latter.

When I was pregnant with Gunnar I avoided thoughts and stories of stillbirths all together. I couldn't deal with that kind of sadness. Who could? Babies aren't supposed to die. Babies are supposed to be gifts of joy and love. There is so much preparation and anticipation that revolves around the 9 month wait for each little bundle. The thought of all that work, all that excitement and preparation of family change to come crashing to a halt by the tragedy of stillbirth is beyond heartbreaking.

How does one bury a life that hasn't even been given the chance to begin?

How does one decide to pack away the cribs, the carseats and the diapers?

How does one explain to their daughter who was so anxiously awaiting to become a big sister, that she will remain (at least for the time being) an only child?

How?

I don't know. And I hope I never know.  But the truth is it exists, it happens. I know because as soon as I started sharing my friend's story with others, suddenly I started hearing similar stories. It's a reality I think we should all begin to take more seriously. These pains aren't just unused receiving blankets we should pack away in a closet because its too sad to think or talk about. These are the kinds of stories that need to be shared with others because it makes up who we are. I teach my students that in sharing our stories and stories of others we learn to empathize, we learn compassion and little by little with compassion and empathy we can begin to heal the human race.

In my evening class tonight I was calling up students one by one to discuss their midterm grades. I took a deep breath before I called up a young woman who has only come to 5 of 12 classes and hasn't turned in a single piece of work. I explained I was on the verge of dropping her from my class but suddenly thought to ask "Is there something I should know about that's been preventing you from doing well and getting to class?" Her eyes filled with shame and tears as she looked down at her feet "Can we talk about it privately after class?" Later in my office I learned that she had gone into a state of shock and deep depression upon seeing her unborn fetus on the table after having an abortion at the beginning of the semester. And that recently she discovered she was pregnant again..."I'm going to keep this baby. I've been traumatized. No one should see their dead baby on a table. I'm choosing life this time. And I realize that means I need to be more responsible." I offered her the opportunity to stay in my class on the condition that she complete the missed assignments and start making an effort to get to class and communicate with me better. She thanked me and agreed to the terms and gave me a hug.  "Congratulations!" I added as she left the room. And for the second time today my eyes began to fill with water as I imagined this terrified young 19 year old girl with a newborn in 8 months time.

Life is so fragile. We need to be reminded of that. We need to be reminded by crying infants in Target how precious our lives are and how often we take them for granted. We take our lives for granted by forgetting to be kind and compassionate. I almost missed my chance today to offer such compassion. If I hadn't asked my student how she was doing, I could have unknowingly labeled my student as a failure by dropping her from my class.

As I sit here typing I can feel the tiny fragile feet of a growing baby girl gently grazing the walls of my uterus. This baby girl's life is yet to be paved but she awaits loving arms of a mama who, this week, has learned more about how miraculous and precious life can be...and though it seems impossible, I will cherish every cry if I'm so fortunate to hear hers.




Sunday, January 26, 2014

Handing over responsibility

Have I mentioned that Gunnar now goes to Preschool two days a week? In December we were fortunate to have a dear friend help us find a way to get Gunnar into the preschool where she works. I can't explain how amazing it has been to have two full days a week when I can focus on what needs to get done in my various jobs without having to pick up after G or make him a meal or police potty training or spend an hour trying to get him to nap. For two whole days I can focus on my needs without any interruption and it has been GLORIOUS!!!!

Up until last week I was too swamped with lesson plans, etsy sales and holiday business to ever deal with the disaster of our messy home. But finally last Wednesday I decided to put all other needs aside to deal with the house alone and get things back into working order while G was at school. It took me seven hours but I finally got rid of all of the paper piles, the mystery toy pieces, the scattered books and the mountainous heaps of laundry. I organized, organized, organized. I even vacuumed.

As I was organizing my sons toys (which took at least half of the time) I had an epiphany.  This shouldn't be my job. I have a smart son...he KNOWS where everything is supposed to go. How do I know this? Because if a toy goes to time out he has a hissy fit "THAT DOESN'T GO THERE MOMMY!!! IT GOES ON THAT SHELF OVER THERE!!" So I've decided to introduce Gunnar to the concept of responsibility for keeping his things nice and organized. When he came home from preschool to his organized toys (with all missing pieces finally recovered) we had a chat about keeping things nice. I explained that from now on he needs to be responsible for putting his toys away where they belong and in a timely manor. If mommy has to pick up any toys, or if she finds any toys out of place after play time, those toys will automatically be sent to the new "TOY TIME OUT BOX." All toys will remain in the box for one day. If a toy goes to the TIME OUT BOX more than twice it then goes to the CHARITY BOX (or as I say to Gunnar the box for toys we'll give to other boys and girls who are less privileged.) The only way he can recover a Toy from the Charity box is by choosing a chore.  I know he's a little young to be doing chores but its a great time to start introducing the concept. The chores he can choose from are: washing the windows and mirrors, taking out the trash (small bags at a time), washing the kitchen and bathroom floors and putting away and or washing his dishes.

I sat down with Gunnar and explained the new rules several times and asked him if he had any questions. Then later I asked him to explain the new rules to daddy and Auntie Kerry to ensure that he understood his responsibility. To my surprise he seemed to understand the concept fully.

So far we haven't gotten any where near the chores yet because, for the most part, he's taken his responsibility to his toys very seriously. I've seen instant results. He is more deliberate in his playing and stops to put away puzzles before starting to play with something new. It was only today that I had to put a few puzzles into time out after I had repeatedly asked him to put them away and he continued to play. But it was good, we needed to see some toys go to that Time Out box so that he understood it was real. He cried and apologized for not cleaning them up when I asked...he said "I'll do better next time mommy."

It's amazing to see that this three year old already is learning to make good choices. It's amazing that he understands that our actions have outcomes and consequences. I'm so proud to watch him grow and tackle new concepts with such attention and understanding.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Another's Mother

So let's catch up on something I've been timid to talk about for some reason...

This...

Yes that's an image of my uterus about 5 weeks ago...

Yes. We're pregnant with #2. 

 I'm not sure why I've remained silent about it on the inter webs...Perhaps I just needed some time to figure out if this was really happening. Or maybe it's because I've frankly been quite scared of having a miscarriage. 

You see back in mid September John and I decided it was time to start trying for baby #2, and frankly our baby making genes are really quite good (1st try with #1)...because within days of making this decision: my boobs began to swell, I began to get extremely thirsty, my lower abdomen felt constantly warm and I felt extremely bloated (these are all things that could happen to a normal woman during ovulation but never with me...these were signs I experienced instantly with my first pregnancy, for the record I'm never thirsty and have to remind myself to drink).  I was absolutely convinced that I was pregnant...but of course all at home pregnancy tests only work within a few days of a missed period...so I had to wait...As I waited my symptoms began to multiply, nausea and food aversions began to set in at a rapid pace. I was so convinced I was pregnant that I decided to take a test a day before my missed period. It came back negative.  But, I'd been through this before with my first pregnancy, I wasn't able to get a positive test until 4 days after my missed period and took about 7 tests before getting a positive...so I thought I'd wait a few days until my period was actually late.  Four days later, I still had no sign of a period...(and for a period that has come like clockwork since it returned 11 months after having Gunnar, I was convinced this was the real deal)...but I still couldn't get a positive test on an at home test.  

Meanwhile on this day my nausea had escalated and I found myself incredibly sick with horrible back pain on top of it all...and unfortunately I was teaching when the sickness set in. I ran to the bathroom 4 or 5 times during class that day (I wonder what my students were thinking). As I left school, I feared I wouldn't make it home and ran into Argo Tea where I knew I'd need to pay for a drink to use the restroom. But, because I felt so ill the only thing I wanted to drink was water and I was already carrying a large water bottle with me.  I noticed a pregnant homeless woman on the corner and decided I'd buy her a hot chocolate to earn my token to use the bathroom. 

By the time I got home I had the shakes and chills, a massive headache took over and then I started to see double...this was the scariest part for me.  I begged John to bring me to the ER, I didn't know what else to do, I felt awful.  But we had just put Gunnar to bed and John was reluctant only because what would we do with G? So I texted a friend who I knew would be at a bar near by and asked if he wouldn't mind coming and sitting at our house for a bit...like a great friend he came over within minutes no questions asked (with his first and only drink in a to-go container! It pays to know the bartenders well!).
At the ER they took a series of urine tests including a pregnancy test and everything came back negative. They drilled me with tests for stroke and anemia and the only thing they could determine was that I was extremely dehydrated. After a few IVs of fluid they sent me home. My symptoms continued into the next day accompanied by excruciating abdominal pain and eventually expelling large liver colored clots of blood in the toilet. That's when it dawned on me to look up the signs of miscarriage: headache, severe nausea, cramps, clotting blood, and occasional blurred vision...
Although I have no proof this is what happened to me, I'm positive this is what it was. Why else would my body act so violently without signs of virus from my family? What followed was the heaviest, darkest and most painful period I've ever had.  

Amazingly...(by luck?) we were pregnant by the very next month. The at home test showed positive three days after my missed period and symptoms progressed rapidly with the WORST morning (or should I say evening) sickness I could ever imagine. Like clockwork extreme nausea creeped into my body by early evening every night. I slowly learned the only way to combat this nausea was by eating (which was the LAST thing I ever wanted to do...but the ONLY thing that worked). I even had days where the nausea lasted for more than 48 hours...lying down and eating constantly was the only thing that could keep it away for a few minutes at a time. And I guess because these same symptoms were similar to those that I experienced the month before...I was quite scared. In fact I even had some spotting of blood around 5 weeks.  Since my OB doesn't do any prenatal visits before 8 weeks I opted to call the nurses line and left a message. 
A very kind and caring nurse called me back within five minutes and asked me some questions and armed me with some very helpful information. She said "bleeding is natural in some pregnancies and remember all pregnancies are different. There are many reasons you may be experiencing a little bit of bleeding. But,  I wouldn't be concerned unless:
1. You're bleeding through a pad in less than an hour
2. You're also experiencing sharp pains in your abdomen stronger than menstrual cramps."
This information gave me the confidence to soldier through the next 3 weeks before my first visit. 

At that first visit...I was drilled with the usual 10,000 questions. One of those questions was "have you personally experienced any history of miscarriage?" I explained my story...but the nurse brushed it off and said "oh we won't count that."  I'm not sure why...but that hurt quite a bit. I mean, I'm grateful that the pregnancy ended before I could even know for sure it was a pregnancy and that I didn't have to go through that heartbreak...I can't even imagine what that pain must feel like...but at the same time, I still grieved for that baby...despite the lack of confirmation that it even existed...I know it did.  And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has experienced a miscarriage in this way. I'm not asking for sympathy or empathy or counseling...but it'd be nice if someone, anyone could acknowledge that this happens, and that I'm not crazy! 

YES We're pregnant! At that first visit we got an ultrasound and saw our little bean and watched its flickering heart on the monitor...and then we were told that we'd need to find a new doctor! WHAT? Yes...our OB's entire practice was suddenly shutting down deliveries after June 2014. And with our baby due on our 10th wedding Anniversary July 17th, 2014...we'd need to find a new doctor. Surprisingly I wasn't terribly upset about it...but it was a shock! I loved my OB and I loved giving birth downtown overlooking lake Michigan and knowing I was in a hospital that delivered babies like it was its only business...but the truth is I secretly wanted a better labor experience once arriving at the hospital. My biggest issue...IV's. I have horrible veins and getting an IV is always the most painful and stressful part of going to the hospital. I would love to go to a hospital in labor and not have to be subjected to a 40 minute search for the best vein to insert an IV...and then have to cart around this ridiculous cart with me while I try to continue laboring without medication.  This is why I decided instantly to inquire with some of my friends and family about CNM's or Certified Nurse Midwives.  I didn't want a home birth...but would love more one on one time and access to birthing tubs (which generally are reserved for the midwife practice at most hospitals).  

So I contacted my cousin Jessica who gave birth to two babies with a Midwife at the Evanston Hospital and had rave reviews. We met with her midwife at our 12 week appointment last week, and I couldn't have been more impressed. I'm grateful that she works directly with doctors and has oversight by them in case any complications arise during labor.  She agreed that depending on how I test when I come in during labor to try to keep me off an IV for as long as possible, or entirely. But, if I test abnormally she would give me an IV with some fluids and cap it whenever possible to allow me the flexibility to move around during labor.  I like that. She seems cautious to make promises (only because of the unpredictability of child birth) but clearly wants to help me achieve my goals at the same time. I'm very happy with our choice to switch to a CNM...and I think this time we will also hire a doula. 

And the most exciting news of all (beyond being pregnant) is that we've learned the gender.  We didn't expect to...but after a few weeks of trying to explain things to Gunnar and him insisting he only wanted a sister...we decided it would be best to let him know for sure and get used to the idea (whatever gender it may be).  So, at 9 weeks,  we were offered a brand new test called Progenity which tests not only genetic disorders but also can reveal the gender...all this from a simple vile of blood from the mother.  So about 3 weeks ago we learned that we are having a baby GIRL!!!

We feel extremely blessed and are excited for all the crazy changes that are yet to come. Even though we strongly dislike the color pink...we are excited to exchange our 12 tubs of baby boy clothes for sweet (hopefully not pink) little girl clothes.

13 weeks 2 days...Baby likes to make herself known!