Monday, December 15, 2014

Giddy Cat

It's the palm of his hand that I love the most right now.  He pets me, rubs his soft palm across my arm, reaches out to pet my face, feel my nose, my cheeks.  He grabs hold of my thumb, tiny clutches I never want to break even if before that moment I thought I needed my hand to do something else--grab my phone, the remote, my glass of water.  He grabs my thumb and I realize that's all my thumb needs to do right now--sit and be held, feeling soft, feeling wanted.

He's got a wave in what's left of his thinning hair, a giant wave that flips up and over and I imagine a tiny surfer cruising through it, under it, all his soft, dark, fine baby hair.

And the coo.  The coo that comes early morning.  The one that replaces the newborn cry.  I love to stand by the door, just outside and listen to what he has to say.  Little ears discovering a little voice that can rise and fall, be LOUD, be soft.  When he screams, we call him Giddy Cat because he wails it out, gives it all he can, makes sure no one else can be heard above him, makes sure we're all listening to what he has to say.

And a couple nights ago...he laughed.  And I got to share it with David.  That first real laugh is like a celebration--you want the neighbors to come, some wise men, a drummer boy.  You want the world to hear the sound of his tiny happiness.  The sound that comes when you tickle him just right between his chin and his neck.  The sound that reminds you that he's coming alive.  That he's more than just suckle and cry.  That he's starting to know you, and you bring him joy too.

Giddy Cat Video:

Thursday, November 6, 2014


A momma sloth carries her baby around for the first year of life.  She hangs from tree branches and climbs from limb to limb gathering leaves with her sloth baby clinging to her fur all the while.  They're never apart.  Baby grabs on with her three-toed paws so Momma never has to let go.

I learned that last night as I found myself captivated by a CET network documentary about pygmy sloths while Gideon stretched out across my lap.   (We are rediscovering the world of public broadcast networks ever since we got rid of cable.)  

I had just tucked Finny and Charlie into bed for the third night in a row while Gideon screamed from his crib. David has been away on a work trip to England this week, so bed time has been totally up to me.  In order to read the older two stories without interruption, I have to put Gideon down and take a deep breath while I listen to him cry, telling myself this is just the way it has to be this week--I am only one person and it's just a few minutes.

"Mommy, will you sing us that song you've been singing about the river?"

I've been singing them Garth Brooks lately, another thing I've rediscovered as of late, but my cortisol is rising as I listen to the crying.

"I can't, Finny.  I'm sorry.  I have to go get Gideon.  It's just me right now and he's upset."

A two-year-old Finny would have protested as I shuffled off to care for baby Charlie, but six-year-old Finny has big boy Charlie to snuggle up with in the bottom bunk, so he lets me go.  He understands.  I feel like he is taking care of me.  My little six-year-old Man of the House.

This time of night after Finny and Charlie are all tucked in, some days this feels like my first real moment to look at Gideon, to sit down and run my fingers through his hair, slide my finger across his soft palms, cajole a smile out of him while I admire him with a happy grin--"Hello, Handsome."

And last night as he drifted off to sleep in my lap, I found myself staring at the TV with envy of the momma sloth all snuggled up with her baby in the canopy of a tree.  She never has to put him in the Boppy chair while she empties the dishwasher, never has to buckle him in the car seat while she drives the carpool, never has to listen to him cry from his crib as he wonders at ten weeks old if he's been abandoned--"Where did she go?  Does she still exist?!"  

And who knows, maybe Momma Sloth would look down at me and think, "Ah, man, that lucky Momma Human, she gets to put her kid down once in a while.  What I wouldn't give--my back is killing me!"

But I can't help but think as I look at those little brown sloth eyes and those long furry sloth arms all bundled up so that you can hardly tell where the baby begins and the momma ends--how much I would love to just have Gideon clinging to my fur all day long, all wrapped up in a constant state of snuggle.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lovely Charlie

You showed up at my bedside at 3:30 a.m. buck naked and crying, asking if I could help you find your Ninja Turtle mask.

Charlie, where are your clothes?

I was getting dressed.  I can't find my Ninja Turtle mask.  

There was worry and desperation in your voice.  I got out of bed, foggy, confused about your nakedness, puzzled by your alertness at this hour of the night.  You took me downstairs.  I turned on the kitchen light.

There it is!  The mask you had made yesterday at Caleb's birthday party was laying on the table, just where you'd left it.  You scurried back to me, still naked, and I took you back upstairs to find your pajamas and convince you to go back to bed.

I was waiting for the clock to turn seven, but it wasn't turning seven, you said, Mommy, will you lay with me?

Even though Gideon would be up at any moment, even though I am desperate for every moment of sleep I can catch right now, I couldn't refuse.  You ask for so little and when you do ask, it's quiet and sweet, never a demand, always a polite request.

I laid down next to you and your Ninja Turtle mask and brushed your hair away from your forehead.

Mommy, I was dreaming of Gramma.  Mommy, remember when you used to lay with me in Minneapolis?

Yes, I remember.  You're such a good boy, Charlie.

You're welcome, Mommy.  You say "you're welcome" often, even when it's not quite right, as if you understand that every compliment I give you is also a kind of thank you.

Thank you for your softness, your easy nature, your kindness.

You're such a good Mommy.  How do you know to return a compliment with a compliment?  Where did you learn that?

Gideon started to cry.  I have to go feed Gideon, Charlie.  I'll come back to check on you when I'm done.

You didn't cry.  You didn't demand that I stay with you or get angry at me for leaving you for your  baby brother.  You let me go.

Last Monday, I took you to Coffee Please on a rainy afternoon.  Finny was in school and Gideon slept in the stroller while we shared a raspberry scone and played Uno.  You listened patiently as I taught you how to play and you lost graciously when my cards disappeared before yours.  I asked you if you wanted to play again and you simply said, No, thanks.  I want to go home.

Do you know how far your little No, thanks gets you?  You're so reasonable, no pouting, no fight.

Charlie, will you try your lasagna?

No, thanks.

And it's hard to be frustrated with someone so gracious.

There are so many days I wish I could stop and write down all the precious things you say, but our life is full of movement right now with very few moments to pause and capture, so I hold them all in my heart, even if they disappear from my slow, tired brain.

I had no idea how you would be as a big brother, no sense of how you would react to sharing me with a baby, but from the moment Gideon was born, you claimed him as your own.  I've never seen you jealous or angry; only helpful and loving.

You kiss him all day long.  It's time for kiss time! you exclaim as you shower him with kisses.  And it's not just Gideon.  Without even asking, you'll come up unexpectedly and kiss me over and over again--my face, my hand, my arms, my nose.  And Finny.  And Daddy.  You fill our buckets.

Where did you get your good nature?  Where did you get your soft, quiet temperament?  So patient, so forgiving, so ready to love, and willing to give.  I marvel at you.  You are three and selfless.  You rarely get ruffled, only want to please.  You are a gift.

With your gruff little voice and your penchant for weapons--swords, light sabers, blasters--someone might mistake you for a tough guy.

But your the best kind of tough guy.  My little boy who snuggles up and watches Daniel Tiger with me on the couch.  My little boy who quietly paints Komodo Dragons on the easel in your smock, filling every inch of the page, not letting me tell you how much I love it until it's all done.  My little boy who kisses as often as he sword fights.  Your curls are gone and you're getting too big for me to carry, but you are still my baby.  My big, tough baby who plays quietly, lives lovingly, and giggles contagiously.

My words can never adequately express how proud and blessed I feel to have you as my son.

Komodo-dragon painter,
tiger-pajama wearer,
two-wheeler bike rider,
bucket filler.

The world is lucky to know you.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dear Gideon

August 23, 2014

Dear Gideon,

Happy Birthday, little one.  You were born just twelve hours ago and now you are sleeping snugly in your hospital bassinet beside me.  We're in a corner room on the third floor of Mercy Anderson and I have a view of treetops and storm clouds in the distance.  They tell me it's pretty muggy, but I haven't been outside today.  You and I have been here, recovering from all that we've been through together this morning.  We're focused only on the bare essentials:  eating, sleeping, bathing, peeing and pooping.

We're getting to know each other face to face.  You get to see who's been carrying you around for the past nine months and I get to see those little feet that have been kicking and jabbing me, the little bundle who's been begging for glazed donuts all this time.

And you are a little bundle.  At 6 lbs, 3 oz, you hold your donuts well.

Look at that, buddy.  The sun just came pouring down through the storm clouds flashing light into our room, across those trees, doing that thing that makes it look as if the rays are the hands of God descending, reaching down to grab the earth.

And that's what you are, isn't it?  A little piece of heaven in a pink and blue swaddling blanket?  Your fingernails soft and curled, your eyes opaque and dancing, your knees pink and curled up to your chest, trying to learn what it means to have room to stretch out.

I heard you before I saw you this morning.  They laid you on my chest, but my eyes were clenched tight from the shock of it all--I couldn't see you.  I only felt you wet and wiggly, ready for air.  The nurses took you and cleaned you up and cleared you out; they weighed and measured you, and I didn't look, but I listened. When I heard you speak for the first time, I smiled.  You cooed like a lamb, the littlest mew, the sweetest sound.

Daddy held my hand for a long time.  He stood by me, stayed with me the whole time.  Told me how strong I was, showed me how loved I am.  And when they were done with me, wrapping me up, putting me back together, I opened my eyes and there you were--tiny nose, black hair, wrinkled ears.  Soft.


I'd like to say I knew you were coming, but I didn't.  I had a feeling, but there are lots of feelings towards the end.  Lots of feelings with big question marks.  Is this...?  Could it be...?  Predictions, but nothing solid.  It could all just be gas after all.

I had made one request of God, of my belly, of you:  I wanted to be there when Finny got on the bus for his first day of Kindergarten.  I wanted that moment of watching him, little and independent climbing the steps, walking back to his seat.  It was a milestone, important, monumental.  My first baby stepping out.  After that, you could come.  And you did.

I had called Aunt Laurie at midnight.  Something was happening, nothing regular, nothing I could bet the farm on, but something that woke me up, unsettled me, hurt differently than before.  She came right over, went to bed in the guest room, ready to be there for your brothers in case we needed to leave.

Two hours later I felt you again, urgent cramping.  Tightening that lasted.  Three in a row, ten minutes apart.  My body felt hot and tender.  I called the answering service, requested a phone call from a midwife.  Went into the bathroom and saw the blood.  Heavy blood pouring out of me, staining my clothes, puddling on the floor.

"David!  It's time to go.  Something's wrong.  I'm bleeding."  We grabbed a towel, Daddy grabbed the bags.  We stopped for nothing.  Got in the car.  I prayed.  What was this blood?  The blood wasn't right.  There had never been blood.  Something was wrong.

"David, it could be the placenta rupturing."

"It's ok, Jill.  Everything is ok."  He squeezed my leg, driving the winding roads through stoplights, avoiding deer.

"I just want the baby to be okay.  I just want to be okay."

"I know."

We drove on in silence, urgency.  Worried, scared, trying to be calm.

Daddy parked in the ambulance lane.  I waddled in with the towel between my legs.  We waited in triage. Everyone trying to be calm, worried about the blood, trying not to jump to conclusions.

The nurse saw us to our room, helped me into my gown.  Agreed that it was a lot of blood, but assured me that it could be the capillaries of my cervix rupturing.  She checked my progress between contractions, hooked up the monitor.  I heard your heartbeat.  You were fine.  We were fine.  I breathed.  I relaxed.  I labored.  6-7 cm, contractions every ten minutes.  I rocked on the birth ball, back and forth.  Daddy stood there, looking helpless, trying to figure out his place.  It was 3:30 a.m.  Every ten minutes he pressed on my back, trying to relieve the pressure from the contracting, from you working your way out.  This lasted two hours--the longest we'd ever been in the hospital before delivery.  My water still had not broken.  This was new.  I thought it would be quicker.  How long would this take?

And then another contraction came.  Five minutes, not ten.  It lasted longer, 80 seconds.  The nurse had me back in bed, hooked up to the monitor.  She left.  Five minutes again.  And again.  But then three.  Three minutes.  Then one.  I started pulling my hair out, turning hot and pale.

"David, it's time.  Get them.  I have to push.  It's time to push.  I have to get it out!"  I cussed a lot.  It was sudden and urgent and time.

The big lights came down from the ceiling like a spaceship.  The midwife came in.

"Remind me how to do this!  How do I do this?  Hold my hand!  Someone hold my legs!  Shit!  Can I push now?"

Take a deep breath and push, Jill.

I did and there was your head.  There was your body.  There you were.  Out.  Quick, fast, furious.  Relief.


Born on a Saturday morning in August.  Born in a hurry.


Your name came well before you did, early this summer in Minneapolis.  I was doing the dishes while Daddy was giving your brothers a bath and that My Morning Jacket song came up in my playlist shuffle.   Gideeeeoooon, Jim James wailed and I stopped, looked out, let it settle in.  Gideon.  I looked up the meaning behind the words of the song and found multiple interpretations, but nothing solid.  I looked up the meaning of this ancient name--destroyer--not exactly what I wanted for my little boy.  Warrior--that was better, but warrior for what?

I turned to the Bible, the book of Judges, one of the oldest, there was Gideon.  Warrior for God.  Called on to bring a complacent people back to their values, back to their creator, back to God.  Gideon, called on to remind the people to be grateful and humble and faithful.

That would work.  The meaning and the sound of it, coming out of the speakers in the kitchen as a song, passionate and big.  Daddy and I would listen to it all summer long, always with a secret smile on our faces, knowing our little boy would have a big name.

Gideon.  Six pound, three ounce warrior.  Blessing.  We're so glad you're here.

We can't wait to see who you become.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

When you only have two years...

I have a rare moment alone on the sleeping porch just before dusk.  The tall, sturdy oak beside our garage hangs over in a canopy of leaves, over old rooftops staggered all around me, and there is Lake Calhoun, just peeking through the branches, still and bustling all at the same time.

I'm saying goodbye.  Just like I did weeks before I left Poland, sitting in the grass by the pond overlooking Pszyczna.  I had taken the train there by myself and wandered into the grass to have a sandwich and a nap and a moment to see Poland as the memory it would become.

I'm saying goodbye, not just to Minnesota, but to what it symbolizes, this moment in time, this chapter in my life.  These days that have been both long and fleeting.  In a few short weeks, I will never have this view of the world again.  I will no longer live in a house on a lake, where a short ten-minute walk carries me to fish tacos, sailboats, paddleboards and kayaks, a trolley ride to ice cream at Lake Harriet and a concert at the Bandshell.  From this vantage point, my bike could take me to at least ten parks, a slice of pizza, a beer or a cup of coffee, not to mention the grocery store, a haircut, a movie or yoga in the park.

But as I look at Minnesota dreamily through the canopy of trees and the whisper of Lake Calhoun, I have to remind myself that there is another season here.  A season when the sleeping porch is closed, when the lake is a sheet of ice, when the air bites your fingers off and you don't see your neighbors for months on end because even taking out the trash is a herculean effort.  Dark evenings make the days short and restless, and this old house struggles to keep out the caustic bite of the wind, always searching for a way to get warm.

I have to remind myself of this, so my heart doesn't ache for what we'll leave behind.  Friendships, neighbors, new hobbies, new favorites, new traditions and routines.  This place in our life when our boys are five and three, where our boys were four and two, where they arrived three and one.  Their early childhood was here surrounded by lakes and snow and Minnesota family and friends who have watched them grow, watched Charlie gradually lose his curls, watched Finny learn to ride a bike, swing across the monkey bars, swim across the pool.

We found a church that became a home and a family and a new way of looking at things.  We found a closeness with family that had always been distant, a chance to know what it is to be a niece and a cousin.  And we found friends who knew that we were leaving, and invested in us anyway, brought us into the fold, offered helping hands, extended warm invitations.

Just this afternoon the boys wandered into Linda's kitchen.  Charlie played her ukulele with his Tiger sunglasses on, while Finny typed his name on Mona's brand new typewriter at the kitchen table.  We taught him the last name in pieces--Van-Him-ber-gen.  And then he rattled away a string of x's, q's, r's and z's, wanting to know what nonsense word he had created.  Linda, always available for a talk, never too busy to think us rude for wandering onto her porch, showed us how the cockatiel, Olive Oil, purrs over the smell of coffee on her breath.  She's filled with small gifts for the boys:  lion socks, a sleeping bag, a dollhouse, books, puzzles, a child's guitar.  Mona made Finny a bracelet the other day out of plastic string.  He didn't take it off for days.  Mona too is never hurried, always available to make chalk drawings with Finny, to spray the hose on the slide, to show Finny a shrew or an ant or a trick on the swing.  They are four years apart, but two of a kind.  Both wanting the day to go by slowly enough to gather leaves, ride the glider, watch the ants in the cracks on the driveway.

For Charlie, this is all he knows.  Cincinnati is a fairy tale, a land far, far away that we talk about returning to.  For Charlie, Minnesota is a series of places we go, things that we see, friends that we visit.  He might wonder what happened to the purple house we pass everyday on the way to the Y.  He will ask about Nicholas and Enzo, Jasper, Tess and Easton.  He will wonder where the trolley tracks went and the teddy bear pancakes and the "new" grocery store with the truck cart.  He will miss Kitty Jane.  They both will.  She cast a spell on them in the castle room at the Y.

For me, this is where I learned to ask for help.  I almost drowned last winter on the shore of this frozen lake, overcome by motherhood, loneliness, and an inability to do-it-all.  But I didn't.  Instead, I grew up.  I gained wisdom and compassion and a spiritual life and community.  I learned a great secret about life, parenthood, adulthood in general--this is hard.  I will get sad.  I will feel isolated, exhausted, drained.  I will lose some of myself in the raising of small children.  But I will gain a kind of understanding, a kind of patience, a kind of resilience that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to grow.  These kids will beat me down.  They will fill my days with spilled milk, wet pants and conflict.  They will mess up everything I try to clean and get out everything I try to put away.  They will always leave something for me to trip on and a plate full of dinner that I spent way too long preparing for me to throw away.  They will tear me down.  They will grow me up.  When you raise your kids in Minnesota, you start to take it easy on yourself for having the TV on, you get creative with laundry baskets and old toys, and you start to appreciate that jumping on the couch is valid, important, and essential when you are four and can't play outside for months on end.

For David and I, this is where we learned to rely on each other.  We learned to be far from our parents and closer to each other.  We found our identity as a couple and a family separate from the opinions and influences of extended family.  We missed them terribly, but we also cherished a time away, a time to figure out who we are, what we believe, what matters to us as parents and as people.  We took care of each other when there was no one else to look after us.  We took bike rides and went on dates.  We talked a lot.  We ran together, skiied together, served communion together, and learned our children together.  We made mistakes and we said sorry.  We got drunk on the couch and grew addicted to Homeland.  We shoveled, we kayaked, we planned and dreamed and wondered...where is this life taking us, who will our children be, and can we handle one more, can we bear the fatigue, the work, the exhaustion of one more child we feel called to love.

Our friends in Minnesota have been astounded by how much we've seen and done and experienced in our two years here.  But that was the gift:  two years.  When you think that you're home, it's easy to spend your Saturday at the grocery store or mowing the lawn.  It's easy to get the same cheeseburger at the same diner every Friday night, and it's easy to meet the same friends at the same park at the same time every week.  But when you only have two years, you have to ski the Luminary Loppet, you have to wander into the garden of the cherry on the spoon, you have to buy tickets to the children's theater and you have to try paddleboard yoga.  When you only have two years, you have to ride your bike to Minnehaha Falls, you have to pick apples, ride the trolley and run the Twin Cities 10 Miler--when else will you be able to walk out your door and run ten miles around three urban lakes?  When you only have two years, you never eat at Apple Bee's.  It's a wasted opportunity to taste the novelty of the moment.

But at the end of two years, it's not the new experiences we will miss the most; it's the familiar, the favorite, the ones that sunk into our daily lives. It's this porch overlooking the rooftops where we do puzzles and read stories, it's the stairway that leads right into the kitchen where tousled heads bobble down barking breakfast orders.  It's the Edina Morningside Preschool playground, the Foss Swim School, the aqua park, the church parking lot where we learned to ride our bikes.  It's the children's room at the library, the free bread at Great Harvest, our table in the corner at the Chatterbox where we race colors to the end of the Candyland board.  It's My Burger and ginger cookies from Rustica.  It's a bottle of wine at Amore Victoria, the fast blue slide at Williston Treehouse, and the hot tub at Aunt Celeste's.  It's Ella, Willow, Katie, Tess, Mason, Devin, Finnegan, and Nicholas.  Jasper, Enzo, Luke, and Easton.  It's the monkey bars at Linden Hills park, the glider at Mona's, and playing water fight with Raymond.

And it's them, the boys; it's who they are right now.  Always gathering sticks, rocks and leaves and bringing them into the house.  Dropping their pants to pee on a tree whenever they have the urge, no sense of modesty, no sense of shame.  It's the time in our lives when the costume box is always pulled out on the rug, when we discovered Charlie's love of Otis Redding and a good techno song, and where Daddy taught his toddlers entire scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail--"What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?" in a perfect British accent.

When we first moved here, Finny would scream bloody murder at the sight of an ant.  Today I watched him show Charlie how to cup his hands around one and let it gently crawl up the back of his hand.  When we first moved here Charlie was a head of curls bouncing around in his crib.  Now he's the boy with the big undies, the big bed, the big curiosity, and the big gruff voice always asking--Mommy, is a rocket faster than an airplane? When will the baby come?  And When are we going home?  We are home, Charlie.  What do you mean?  I mean Cincinnati.

And this idea of home.  As a place.  Is it where you're from or where you are?  We left home to come here, but two years later, we are leaving home to go back.  If we'd left in February our unhealthy dose of seasonal affective disorder might put us in a hurry to grab our scarves and boots and pack our bags.  But we're leaving in June and so we have time to stop and look at the view across the lake, we have time to let the sand gather between our toes, we have time to feel the waves lapping up against our boats on Lake of the Isles.  We have time to realize that we love this cold, North country because it was a growing spot for us, that although we are excited to arrive at the next spot, we are dragging our feet trying to leave this one.

It's a lonely, desolate feeling to look across a sheet of frozen ice in January, but turning the corner to arrive at the lapping of waves through a canopy of trees is not a worldview one is anxious to leave behind in June.  So, I stop on my walk, sit in the grass and gaze out at the sailboats and the buildings and the waves.  I take the long way home around the lake, I let my oar rest across my lap and I sit in the sand and drink up these simple moments when my boys find no greater pleasure than scooping up buckets of lake water and dumping them in the canals they've dug in the sand. 

When you only have two years, you try not to drink too fast.  You try to sip slowly, savor the taste of their smiles, the soft, tininess of their boney knees in your hand, and the sound of brilliant discovery in their voices as they notice the chipmunk climb into the wall, the spider swing down from the branch, the fish swim up close to their ankles. 

And you fill with gratitude for this moment, knowing that eventually, you will turn your head and the path will change, the lake will recede into the distance, and something new will come into sight, leaving only the memory of this view, of your time at the lake house, of your little boys, five and three, gathering treasures they've found in the sand and vague memories of cold winters and brilliant summers spent growing up in Minnesota.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Frogs and Snails

(Image from
I've been giving a lot of thought to my lot in life this week.  My destiny to be surrounded by boys.  I've had fun taking in the reactions from family and friends as we announce that we are having yet another boy.  Taking in the horror, the humor, the trepidation in people's voices or their ellipses in their Facebook comments.

When you announce you're having a baby and it is pretty clear that this baby was planned, "Congratulations!  I'm so happy for you guys!" rolls readily off the tongue.  But when you announce the sex of your baby and it's clear that this is likely your last pregnancy and that this baby will be your third boy and that you will never have a daughter, the "Congratulations" comes with a bit of a question mark, some hesitation, some wonder:

"How are you feeling?"  
"Were you hoping for a girl?" 
"Oh, I was hoping for a girl for you guys."
"Well, it's gonna be busy in your house!"
"It's gonna be fun!"
"Well, at least you're ready for it!"
"Are you ready for it?"

I've received delicate condolences, sympathy, camaraderie, laughter and even something sounding a little like blame from my mom who sometimes says silly things like, "Well, that's what happens when you have sex on the day of ovulation!" 

Does she have a camera in our bedroom?  David wondered, horrified.

Does she have a camera in my body?!  I wondered, mystified.

I've enjoyed the processing of all this, taking it all in, trying to separate how I really feel from how others assume I might feel about having a third boy, or rather about not having a daughter.

I have had moments of grief, no doubt.  Moments where I have to take all my dreams and imaginings of our daughter and lay them out in front of me:

Her big blue eyes.
Her feet scurrying by in little white tights.
Her little girl sass; her little girl charm.
The way her hair would look bouncing around in messy pigtails.
The way she'd look snuggled up to David on the couch.
The way her brothers would tease her/protect her.
The way she'd love me and hate me all in one breath.
The way she'd understand me and challenge me--my biggest critic, my greatest admirer.

And of course, I've imagined how I, unlike any other mom on the planet, would dress her in a style and fashion so adorable, onlookers would swoon at how precious she is.  I would dress her in hippy dresses and ruffly pants and bright, bright colors and everyone would know that she is my daughter.  Little girl Jill.  Little girl David.

I lay these things out and then I wrap them in paper, package them away, and put them up on the shelf.

Then, I get out the other box.  The one that has my imaginings and my dreams for my very real, very lively little boy dancing in my belly.

When we found out Charlie was a boy at the ten-week ultrasound, I was underwhelmed.  Oh, another one.  Fine, another boy.  Been there, done that.  

Little did I know that Charlie would not be just another little boy.  He would not be just a replica of Finny.  Although he would wear the same clothes, lay on the same sheets, and play with the same toys, he would be this totally different and wonderful creature.  He would be Charlie, head of tender, messy blonde curls, voice full of tough and gruff--sweet and shy, daring and careful, obstinate and agreeable, independent and snuggly.  Layered.  Lovely.  Sweet.  Hysterically funny.

So, this time around when we decided at the last minute that we did, in fact, want to know the gender of the baby, my reaction was different when David peeled open the envelope and said, "Baby Boy."

I smiled and thought, another one.  Another boy.  Who will this one be?

What dance moves will he create in our kitchen?  
What jokes will he tell at our table?  
Will his hair be curly or straight?  
Will he be focused and pensive or imaginative and spontaneous?  
Will he adore putting on plays with the couch cushions or swinging the golf club in the backyard?  
Will he wear whatever I put him in as Finny does or pitch a fit when I dress him in anything other than pajamas or orange pants like Charlie does?  
How will he fit in?  How will he shape our family?
And will he be as close to Finny and Charlie as they are to each other or will he be the outlier, the third wheel, the independent one who came along a few years later?

Three boys, oh my! I've heard it again and again.  And what does that mean?

Our house will be messy.
The couch cushions will never be on the couch and when they are, they'll be covered in fingerprints, Sharpie marker, and a little bit of pee-pee.
There will always be a slight yellow ring around the base of our toilet.
Every object, every toy, every piece of pipe cleaner or paper towel roll will become a sword or a blaster.
I will wash a lot of cotton t-shirts and a lot of stinky sandals.
I will say No! Don't touch! and Take your hands out of your pants!  A lot.
I will laugh more than I'd every imagined at poop, toot, and butt jokes.
And I will be asked by one more person on a daily basis where my penis is, as if I've misplaced it, left it on the counter at the grocery store next to my forgotten umbrella.

But anyone who has ever loved a boy knows that frogs and snails and penis curiosity are only part of the big picture, a spill in the corner of the canvas.

Anyone who has ever loved a boy knows that little boys are actually some of our most delicate and fragile creatures.  

And some of our most vulnerable.  Because my little boys have big feelings that I sometimes worry the world doesn't want or expect them to have.  Because my little boys love to make beaded necklaces and bake and play princesses and I sometimes wonder, to my own shame, if that's okay.

Because we encourage girls to break into the "boys' world."  To play sports, be competitive, major in engineering.  But when a boy is nurturing and tender-hearted, when a boy wants a doll or a turn with the princess palace, we hesitate and wonder, "Is this okay?"  

When a girl wants to play soccer, we say, "You Go, Girl!"  But when a boy wants to take ballet, we frown and dissuade him, push him in another direction.  A tougher direction, one that allows him to live comfortably within his stereotypes, without the judgment of the world on his shoulders.

We encourage his love of superheroes while we discourage his interest in violence.  We discourage his interest in caring for dolls, but encourage him to desire fatherhood.

The life of a boy is full of contradictions and unjust expectations.  

Don't get me wrong, a little girl has plenty of unjust stereotype placed upon her as well.  But it is not my destiny in life to raise little girls.  It is my privilege and blessing to raise a troop of boys, and so I make it my mission to raise the best of the best.  Top Guns.  Little boys who are not limited by their gender or by what the world expects them to be.

Little boys who put on the princess dress and then slosh through the mud wielding their paper towel holder swords.  Little boys who tackle each other with deep dinosaur growls and moments later end up in a heap of tears on the couch because Darth Vader is dead, because he turned to the dark side, because in the words of tender Finn, "He turned away from God."

Little boys Jill. Little boys David.  Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, and sometimes even feet scurrying by in little white tights with batgirl capes flowing behind them.  That is what our little boys are made of.


As soon as he got here this morning, he peeked over the half-wall and smiled.  "Kitty Jane is here, Mommy!"

Kitty Jane.  She's his girl.  He's three and she's five but he's smitten with that kitten.  She's the girl with the messy ponytail and the big eyes.  She has a shine to her hair that comes from too much pool time.  I don't know if he's ever spoken directly to her or her to him or if he just admires her from afar--her spunk, her charisma, her older woman status in the YMCA play room.  She has a friend named Audrey who is sometimes mentioned too.  And she loves Katy Perry's "Dark Horse."  If know because every time it comes on the radio, he shouts out her name and says, "Let's play Kitty Jane and Audrey, Mommy!"

So I lingered awhile today as I watched him run into the play room.  I stood back and watched him over the half-wall as his full-out sprint transitioned into a cool-guy shuffle.  I wondered if he was going to pull a comb out of his back pocket and run it through his hair or maybe find a jacket to swing over his shoulder.  Instead of Danny Zuko, he ended up looking a lot more like Forrest Gump, shuffling towards her awkwardly with wide eyes, head bobbling back and forth, hands on his hips.

She was playing with the girls, something involving dolls.  He got as close as he dared and coyly picked up a toy airplane and walked away as if he had more important things to do than eye Kitty Jane, pine for her, wish he could somehow penetrate her inner circle.  He put down the airplane and got closer, moved into the dollhouse play, just a seat away from Kitty Jane.  And that's where I left him, sheepishly smiling.  The little boy who knows a good thing when he sees it.  Someday he might have the courage to walk up to her at karaoke night, tell her, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner," tell her he's too drunk to drive home, so could he have a ride?  Eight years later, BAM!  The most precious thing on earth, a three-year-old, little Charlie, puttin' the moves on the girls with the messy hair and the big eyes at the YMCA play room.  Circle of life.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Last year, I would tell people winters in Minneapolis are not that bad.  I would say at least we can play in the snow, ice skate at the park, go sledding, be out in it.  In Cincinnati, it's just wet.  You can't play outside when it's wet, but you can play outside when there's snow.  I would rather have snow than puddles any day.

But today it is so, so wet, and I've never been happier to meet a puddle.  To slosh through puddle after puddle, to feel the drip of melting ice on my head as we pass under doorways, to hear the gentle spray on the wheels as the car glides through a puddle that was only days ago a sheet of ice.

This winter there was little play in the snow.  This year, like a nasty guard dog, the wind would bite and yowl if you tried.  It snowed and snowed and piled and piled.  By the time the temperature got warm enough to challenge the wind, it was almost too deep for sledding, but just right for disappearing.  Snow angels and snow men were buried alive.  Today we finally saw the top of our snowman's hat again.  Maybe tomorrow we'll see the top of his bikini.

Today for the first time in months we delight in the splash we feel beneath our feet.  Our boots are off, our shoes are on, our toes feel light and wiggly.  Coats are on, but hats, scarves and mittens are sitting in their boxes at home on the shelf.  And the sun is so full, so bright, so hopeful, I want a giant straw to slurp it up.

This year, I would tell people winter in Minneapolis isn't just bad; it's brutal.  It bites you when you step outside.  Bites you hardest on the little parts, the fingers and toes.  When it's that cold, -45, -55, the blood just freezes, stiffens, stops flowing, stops creating movement.  Everything wet, hardens.  Boogers, moisture in the skin.  A chap sets in, a thirsty chap.  Everything is hard, crunchy.  Beautiful, but painful.  Sparkly, but lonely.  No one leaves, no one visits.  I hesitate to even put the garbage out, get the mail, return a library book, knowing it will take a while to recover from even a short blast.

And Minnesota was not alone.  The Polar Vortex dipped deep and North and South both got a taste for the sting of the arctic.  We tried not to be crabby, but we were crabby.  Five degrees or -10 degrees--at a certain point, when the wind chews your face off, cold is just cold.

And yet, Minnesotans were still out in it.  Still Polar Dashing, Polar Plunging, Polar picnicking, the beer frozen solid in their cups.  Trying to keep living despite the fact that everything around us was dead.

But today the payoff is here.  The world is covered in dark, dirty, sloshy snow.  Pick up your pants and don't drop anything.  It's gross out there, a pool of dark water all around, piles of black snow lurking in the periphery, still no real place to play.

And yet, if you look down to save your shoes, to step over and around, you'll notice your own reflection, something that can only occur when there is light.

You'll notice the ice speckled with holes filling with water, something that can only happen when there is heat.

You'll notice a gradual filling up as you reach for your sunglasses and turn up toward the sky, something that can only occur when there is...gratitude.

Gratitude for sunshine, birds, and puddles that stain your pants.

Gratitude for green beneath white.

Gratitude for thaw, for movement, for breathing deep, and walking without footprints.

Gratitude not just for living in the light...but for rising from the dead.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

That's Incredible

"That's incredible!"

It started with that.  Impossible to believe, extraordinary, spectacular, magnificent, astounding, awe-inspiring.  Incredible was the perfect word.

There was jumping up and down and because he was really excited, he declared, "I'm gonna punch myself in the penis!"  And then he did and said, "Aggghh!"  It's super weird, but he's five and I guess his penis is the bee's knees, and pretend punching it is about as funny as it gets.  It's actually a high compliment.  I've come to understand this.

Then, it was puzzlement.

"Ok, but how will it get out of there?  Will you rip?  Show me where it will come from?"  And he gestured to my body like it was a map.  He needed a location.

"I don't want Mommy to rip," Charlie frowned, not understanding a whole lot of what was going on, but apparently horrified by this idea.

"No, I won't rip," I lied, "It will come from around here."  I gestured vaguely wanting to move on from this part of the conversation before it got anymore involved.

Then, he threw his head back and sobbed.  Big rolling tears came pouring down his cheeks.  Worry, concern, fear, sadness filled him up all at once.

"But now I won't be able to love Charlie anymore!  I won't be able to take care of Charlie because I'll have to take care of the baby!"

David answered through his own cloud of tears, "Oh, Finny.  Your love will just grow."

"But, I like our family.  I don't want it to change."

And immediately I began spewing examples of cousins, friends, family, everyone I could think of who welcomed a third baby into their family and how wonderful it was and how excited they were and how much they loved it.

He smiled.  Excited again.  And it went on like this.  Up and down between excitement and fear.  Wanting a picture of the tiny white bean in the black sac of the ultrasound picture. Not wanting it.  Loving it.  Fearing it.  All at once.

Now that he's processed it a bit, he's been nothing but excited.  He kisses my belly whenever the mood strikes and randomly announces to anyone who will listen, "There's a baby in my mommy's belly."  Proud.

I had to pick him up a few days ago to reach a tall public bathroom sink in order to wash his hands, and he knit his brow.

"Ok, but Mommy, I think this is one of the last times you should pick me up because I'm getting bigger and the baby is getting bigger and I don't want to hurt you."

Protective.  Loving.  My knight.

People ask me if they should think pink.  They ask me if we're hoping for a girl.  Maybe you'll be lucky and have a girl.  And wouldn't it be lovely to have one of each.

And wouldn't it be lovely to have another one of these?  A sweet boy, a prince.  A rough and tumble and soft and sensitive little boy.  Another one.  I have three boys in my life who wrestle and tackle each other, who pull each other's fingers and sword fight over the toilet, who shoot each other with fart guns and who think poopy and penis and butthead are some of the funniest words on the planet.

And I have three boys who cry when they watch Up, when Sulley says goodbye to Boo, when Mufasa gets trampled by the wildebeest.  Three boys who tell me I look like a princess whenever I put on a dress.  Three boys who love nothing more than a good snuggle on the couch and a good back scratch.

I have two boys, yes, and a girl would be something different.  But, so would another boy.  I have a Finny who is thoughtful and contemplative, wise beyond his years, spirited and emotional, sensitive and energetic, imaginative and artistic.  I have a Charlie who talks tough and makes mean faces, but who cries at the slightest reprimand, "Daddy, you yelled at me!"  A Charlie who can tell you when he's listening to Florence and the Machine or Michael Jackson or Mumford and Sons.  A Charlie who loves hats and costumes and wants me to call him Batgirl, Spidergirl, R T Do 2.

They wear me out.  But not because they're boys.  Because they're children.  So think pink or blue or whatever you want.  At the end of the summer, I'm gonna be somebody else's mommy and that, some might say, is nothing short of...incredible.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why Does Cookie Monster Eat the Checkers?

For the third day in a row, Charlie asks, “Mommy, why did Cookie Monster eat the checkers?”

My answer varies a bit every time as I try to give him an answer that will satisfy him, as I try to figure out exactly what it is he’s stuck on.

He eats them because they look like cookies…because cookie monster thinks everything looks like a cookie…because he has an addiction that blinds him to the truth.

“Because he’s greedy,” Finny answers.

“Well, kind of,” I say, “But Cookie Monster isn't exactly greedy.  He’s just…Cookie Monster.  He eats everything.  He loves cookies.”

It’s a lot like trying to explain that when a lion eats a zebra, he’s not being mean.  He’s just being a lion.  Because I think maybe he’s not wondering why he would eat a checker, but rather why he would eat Abby Cadabby’s checkers, ruin the game, hurt her feelings.

This is just one of many questions I get from three-year-old Charlie all day long as he tries to figure out the world.  It’s hard to get through a book these days without a constant firing of questions about every little nuance on the page.

In Duck on a Bike, “Mommy, why does the goat want to eat the bike?”

In Monsters Inc., “Mommy, why doesn't Mike Wazowski have a nose?” (We've apparently already just accepted the fact that he only has one eye.)

In Frozen, “Mommy, what is the soldier holding?”

“A torch.  It’s a little controlled fire that allows him to see because it’s dark in the ice castle.”

I try to give thorough answers right off the bat, cover all my bases, but inevitably I still get follow-up questions that I may or may not be able to answer.

“Why is he holding fire?”

“He’s using it to see.”

“But why is he using it to see?”

“Because it’s dark.”

“Why is it dark?” (pronounced by Charlie—da-uuk)

And I’m out.  “Can I keep reading the story?”

Finny, who’s also been part of the Cookie Monster analysis, has his own question for Charlie, “Charlie, why do you keep asking Mommy the same question?  She already told you the answer.”

And again it’s like trying to explain why Cookie Monster eats the checkers, why the lion eats the zebra, why Mike Wazokwski doesn't have a nose—because this is Charlie at three years old, he asks lots of questions, he loves questions.

And I love that he loves questions.  I love that he asks questions.  I love trying to figure out how to give him the best answer, how to satisfy his curiosity.

But there is no satisfying his curiosity.  And I love this too, deep down, I love this too.  Even though quite often I just want to sit in silence, listen to the song on the radio, read the book straight through, watch the show without interruption.  Even though sometimes, I sigh, annoyed, exhausted, frustrated that I have to answer one more question about the same thing a different way.

I am grateful for his curiosity.  Grateful for his questions.  Grateful his little mind is dissecting the world and everything around him.  Grateful that I’m the one who can answer his questions or at least try.

I take a nap every day at 2:00 p.m.  Regardless of whether Finny and Charlie fall asleep in their rooms, I fall asleep in mine.  I need a recharge, a shut-down, a re-boot, a moment of silence.

So that when I get up, I’m ready.  I can take it.  Put me back up on the witness stand.  Ask me again why Cookie Monster ate the checkers.  Go ahead, ask me.  I still don’t know the answer, but I’m ready to look at it a different way with you, I’m open for discussion, let’s really get to the bottom of this.  What’s going on with Cookie Monster?  Why does he eat everything he sees?  Why is his hunger for cookies never satisfied?

Maybe it’s simply because he’s three.  He’s figuring out his world.  He’s not satisfied that a circle might just be a circle.  He’s wondering if deep down, if he gets a little closer, if that circle might also be a cookie.