Thursday, February 23, 2012

Surf 'n Turf

What a weekend it was!

We had our first Christmas-Gift-Adventure-Experience (our second, if you count the ice skating last month) to an awesome indoor pool complete with splash-park type slides, a current channel, two big swirly slides, a diving well, and swimming lanes. I posted this drawing on our refrigerator on Friday afternoon as a reminder of the fun Christmas gift we could anticipate for several days:
(The kids got an Ed Emberly drawing book for Christmas that I, er, they, love to use during afternoon art sessions).

I love this picture. I took it during the 15 minute rest break for kids, and Pax kept trying to sneak back into the pool. Normally so shy and chagrined if ANYONE reprimands him, let alone a stranger-lifeguard, Pax could care less about who was whistling at him. He was hellbent on being in the water no matter what anyone else had to say about it. I love how much this boy loves to be in the water. We've said it from the start - he is a fish! (Jeff thinks it's all because of his water birth into this world.)

... here, we're near the diving well watching Jeff perform a million and one fancy dives, channeling his former 17-year-old diving team self.

I love this picture because of the woman who took it. She seemed to sense this was not just an ordinary trip to an indoor pool. She seemed to sense the special-ness of our afternoon, possibly realizing that it was a gift. She seemed to want us to have this afternoon captured, and she offered to take the picture. I loved that - I wasn't going to bother anyone, wasn't going to ask, and there she was, wanting to help us preserve this memory.

Our adventure became one of those rare outings where the kids didn't whine, where there wasn't any fighting or bickering. Brothers excitedly demonstrated new tricks they'd developed in the water, and waited patiently at the top of the slide for another brother to catch up. Pax's lips were so blue the lifeguard asked if he'd just eaten a blue lollipop, yet he refused to get out of the water to warm up because he was having too much fun. The afternoon held so much laughter and smiles shared and lots of look at hims murmured between Mom and Dad, each of us wanting the other to catch sight of and enjoy one beautiful quiet moment after another. At the end, we were all waterlogged and worn out, and yet we still laughed about Pax hiding in the lockers; we didn't get impatient when Leo wouldn't put his shoes on; we simply waited when Aidan lingered too long, reading all of the brochures. It was magic. Kind of like Christmas.

(I also love the photo because it bears an uncanny resemblance to the picture I drew on Friday, don'tcha think?)

We left the pool, bundled warmly with damp hair, and drove home to be greeted with this sight:

Naturally, Jeff and I felt like the Most Amazing and Awesome Parents in the Entire Universe to arrange for swimming AND sledding all in one day (surf and turf, get it?) Talk about a Christmas gift! Our first (and likely only!) snow delivered a generous 6 inches, enough for plenty of sledding and snow angels. Monday was already a day off of school, and we spent the morning outside, reveling.

The weekend had one final gem to offer. In taking this photo, Pax delivered the ultimate icing on the cake: a brand new word to add to his small-yet-growing vocabulary. Without any prompting on my part at all, when I held up the camera to take this shot, Pax yelled "CHEESE!" with the accompanying grin. Not only did he use a new word, proudly, loudly, recognizably - I have the photographic evidence to prove it!

(P.S. Please note the infamous Carter Trash Bag Snow Pants on Leo. I had snow pants this year for Aidan and Pax, but none for Leo. Initially, Aidan loved his cool snow pants, but as soon as he found out Leo was having Trash Bag Pants, he said, "Leo, you are so lucky! I LOVE trash bag pants! I wish Mom didn't get me these snow pants so I could have them too!" )

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Heart Day

This morning, Aidan gave Leo the Valentine he made for him. Leo looked at it, then looked at Aidan and said,
"This card is so cute that my eyes turned into tears."
Aidan replied knowingly, "Yep, that happens sometimes."

My Valentines (3/4 of them):

Pax decided to help me out with decorating my Valentine packages. This was all his doing!

Chocolate covered strawberries; pretzels dipped in chocolate; homemade truffles; white chocolate raspberry creme brulee.

Aidan's Valentine's Cards - the one that made Leo's eyes turn to tears.
Channeling my inner Seventh Grade Girl:
A very wonderful day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lost Baby

"Awareness born of love is the only force that can bring healing and renewal. Out of our love for another person, we become more willing to let our old identities wither and fall away, and enter a dark night of the soul, so that we may stand naked once more in the presence of the great mystery that lies at the core of our being. This is how love ripens us -by warming us from within, inspiring us to break out of our shell, and lighting our way through the dark passage to new birth." -John Welwood

I do not remember the original context of this quote. What I do remember is reading it, and hearing it speak directly to my heart, making sense of pain and loss and love and compassion - my pain, my loss, my love, my compassion. My story.

Six years ago on this day, Jeff and I found out the devastating news that the baby I was carrying had died. I was nearing the end of my first trimester: that is to say, I was loving that baby so much, already.

I've kept so private the grief I feel, each year, when February arrives. But when I read that quote by Welwood, I realized two important things: if we are to change the hush-hush stigma that surrounds the loss of a child through miscarriage, it begins with women who are willing to share their stories. Who are willing to stand vulnerable and be honest and open. Who acknowledge the grief and the loss and the suffering. Even when that grief is six years old.

And the second important thing I realized is that my baby deserves to be remembered.

And so I am sharing excerpts from the letter I wrote in 2006 to my Lost Baby, in the hopes that it will speak to the hearts of Lost Women.


Dear Baby,

When was the exact moment when your heart stopped beating? When did it beat for the last time – what was I doing? Was I kissing your Daddy? Hugging your brother? Was I laughing? Was I crying? Did your heart beat long enough to know how much I love you, how I will love you forever? Did my own heart skip a beat when yours stopped beating?

I will never know you, my tiny stranger. Your Daddy and I were so proud of you already, so happy that you would come into this world and make our lives even richer. We would hold you and kiss you and love you unconditionally and forever. Now, we will hold your memory in our hearts forever.

I need you to know a few things. I need you to know that I understand that there was something not healthy about you, and so you had to die. I need you to know that I love you just the same. I need you to know that I had a deep connection with you, that my “mother’s intuition” actually was working quite well. I knew deep in my heart that there was something not quite right about you. I worried about you so much…

I never imagined that this would happen to me, that I would belong to the horrible club of “Women Who Have Had Miscarriages.” I never imagined that losing a child through a miscarriage would be as heartbreaking and devastating as it is.

I want you to know how much we love you, how many people were deeply affected by your death, how many tears I have shed over you. You cannot imagine the love I have for you, your tiny being who I will never know but whom I love beyond measure. We had such plans for you!

Baby, we will always love you. We will never forget you. You were created out of a deep love that your Daddy and I share with each other. You were nurtured in my body and I was so good to you. I was eating well for you, I was exercising for you, I was loving you so completely. I know that we will have other children, and we will love them, but I need you to know that you will never be forgotten, that no child will ever replace you, that it was YOU that I wanted. I wanted you, I love you, I will always be your Mama, and I will see you one day.

Finally, baby, I am so sorry. I cannot help but feel that I have failed you as a mother. I love you, my child. I will meet you again one day. Until then, you will remain in my heart forever.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


February is the cruelest month. In these endlessly dreary, chilly days, I love to have the photographic evidence that we actually *do* manage to have quite a bit of fun.....

For Christmas, Aidan, Leo, and Pax gave my parents the "adventure experience" gift of treating them to an afternoon of ice skating and drinks (cold beer for the grown-ups; hot cocoa for the kiddos). My parents both grew up in Michigan where ice skating was a regular winter activity; my father played ice hockey and still has some fierce moves on the ice. In November, we'd taken the kids skating, and they loved it - and in January, Leo started taking skate lessons once a week. So we knew it would be a fine time for everyone - and it was.
Aidan was so confident and cheerful, despite several falls!

Love this kid and his can-do spirit!!!!
....but THIS boy is the one who amazed us all. The first time we skated, Pax didn't much like the ice and was content to hang out on my hip while I skated us around the rink. (I've got some fierce moves of my own.) This time... no way. Pax was only happy if his feet were on the ice, no buckets, just him and the open rink. We skated this way as long as my back was willing to endure it when I finally passed him off to Jeff. Minutes later, nestled against Jeff's shoulder while Jeff slowly skated around the rink, Pax fell completely asleep. On the ice. While ice skating. Asleep!!!!! Only this boy would go from skate to sleep in sixty seconds. ...Grandma happily obliged Small Boy with a brief nap off the ice.
What a fun adventure we had - a very Merry Christmas for all.

I saw this genius idea in some magazine (Family Fun, perhaps?) and I couldn't believe how content these boys were to play with cornmeal and Matchbox cars... all afternoon. Literally, this resulted in hours' worth of play. Admittedly, the cornmeal made more of a mess than I thought it would - it is pretty dusty and made the floor a bit slippery - but the enjoyment factor far outweighed the mess factor. We'll do this again, soon, maybe trying rice instead. I love afternoons like these, when Aidan arrives home from school and seeks the company of his brothers, a bucket of markers, and a bowl of popcorn. I love how Leo is consulting Aidan on what to do next, and I love how Pax is showing off his finished product.

And speaking of Pax and product.... this is what happens when I step out for a bit and leave Jeff in charge. (High marks, Jeff, for snapping all the pictures. You knew I would want to see it all, didn't you?)

Pax finds my "off season" purse (right after making the huge and terrible mess in the background) and wonders what this marvelous crayon might do....

You've gotta hand it to him - he's got the technique down pat.....
Pucker up, baby!!
America's Next CoverBoy:

...and finally, the latest bit of Pax Mischief: today, inexplicably, Pax refused to nap. Really, really refused. He was squirmy and fidgety and really funny; he kept making his "naah naah naah" face (fingers splayed out, thumbs in cheeks, sticking tongue out while saying naah naah naah) at me and trying to make me laugh. But I wasn't in a laughing mood, and I needed some space away from this boy. Frustrated, I gave up and left him in his bed, knowing that there was no chance he'd a) sleep or b) stay there, but I had to escape. Thankfully, he c) gave me three minutes in which to take some deep breaths and get it together again. He came downstairs and played quietly with Leo while I hid in the corner and stealthily ate some Butterfinger heart candy. Half an hour later, I decided to try again. I took Pax back to his room, and discovered this in his bed:

He had carefully and lovingly found a surrogate napper; Agent P (from the infamous Phineas and Ferb television show) was dutifully napping, snuggled under the carefully-arranged blankets and nestled in with Pax's Flippo lovey (the flat, blue hippo - Flippo). This time, I did laugh. Because Pax is so endearing in his tender care of his loveys and dolls, and downright astute in his surrogate choice - anyone who's seen the show will recognize what a perfect substitute Perry the Platypus (aka Agent P) is for a boy who is supposed to be napping.

(I've contacted Dr. Doofinshmirtz, who is presently working on a nap-i-nator for tomorrow afternoon....)

"While we try to teach our children all about life, our children
teach us what life is all about."
-Angela Schwindt

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Way of Boys

Naobi Way of New York University was a featured guest lecturer at my university on Friday. Her lecture, "Boys and the Crisis of Connection," was one I knew I could not miss. Way, author and/or co-author of 7 books, including Deep Secrets, has spent 22 years in language-based empirical research focused on boys' resistance to cultural conventions. Did this lecture have Anne Carter written all over it, or what?

Her 50 minute presentation focused on the shift that occurs when boys become men, leaving adolescence behind and entering manhood. It is a complicated affair, made ever so much harder by our culture's expectations of masculinity and what it means to be a man.

Way's work is eye-opening, a game-changer that the world has yet to recognize, embrace. And so I've included a recap of her most important discoveries, plus a link to an audio recording of her lecture. Because it's too important to keep to myself.

Through her collections of stories from thousands of teenage boys, (spending 5 years interviewing each boy) Way describes her findings, which have been scientifically validated, over and over again. In her words, boys' stories sound so much more like love stories - forming strong attachments to a same sex friend; "going crazy" without a close male friend - and sound nothing like what you might expect to hear - stories of independence, solitude, competition, a la Lord of the Flies. Adolescent boys are not "emotionally illiterate" as our culture has stereotyped them to be. Adolescent boys recognize and value the role that a close friendship has on their overall health and well-being. In their own words, these boys observe that "without my best friend, I would go crazy. I would be so depressed. I would not be happy. I would kill myself." Adolescent boys share secrets - deep secrets - with their closest male friends. Even in China, in a culture vastly different than our own, one boy interviewed in a parallel empirical study said, "[translated] nobody knows what my heart wants to say if I don't have a friend."

(Read that sentence again. Is that the sentence of an "emotionally illiterate" boy?)

But then, in late adolescence, our culture demands that boys "become mature" and "embrace manhood." When boys abandon their close friends in order to embrace manhood, they become men who are autonomous, emotionally stoic, and disconnected. Suicide rates drastically increase as boys lose their connection to the one "who knows what [their] heart wants to say."

As human beings, we are set apart from other animals by our ability to feel and express emotion. What makes us human is our ability to make deep connections to other humans. When we ask boys to suppress their emotions, we are effectively asking half the population to not be human.

Boys are so much more complex than the flat stereotypes we apply to them. And we owe it to our boys - we owe it to our humanity - to re-examine what it means to be male. "Survival of the fittest" does not apply to us; human beings survive - and thrive - from being empathetic, cooperative, collaborative, and social. Thus, instead of focusing on what makes us different - our gender, for one - instead let the focus be on what is the same: the deep emotions we each feel; the desire to build and maintain strong connections with our fellow human beings; the love and bond we share with a best friend.

One boy observed, "It might be nice to be a girl. Because then you wouldn't have to pretend to be emotionless."

This left me heartbroken, the idea that boys are pretending to be emotionless. I also felt ashamed, keenly aware of the stereotypes and criticisms women tend to heap upon men for appearing to be just that - emotionless. What have we done to these boys? I kept thinking.

Way's entire talk can be found here. Please note that I used direct quotes whenever possible, but much of my recap was in Way's words; all credit for the above ideas and discoveries belong to Naobi Way.

The implications of Way's research are significant. I'm positive that you will find some conflicting research out there, and I'll even give you a head start. Michael Gurian, who is somewhat of a "boy expert," would argue how important it is for boys to be able to compete with each other, how boys desire a "quest" to follow, how boys often seek to assert their independence quite apart from friends and family. Gurian would also argue that boys are not "hard wired" toward empathy as girls tend to be, yet Way refutes this idea, stating that girls are simply allowed to express their feelings more than boys are, resulting in the perception of being more empathetic. (One only has to watch how a baby offers comfort to another, crying baby to know that empathy is largely cultivated). But what Gurian also attests to is the importance of developing a "tribe" comprised of family and friends whom boys can lean on, emotionally and socially, during the most difficult times in their lives. Gurian recognizes the absolutely essential role that boys' friendships play in healthy and happy development. Way and Gurian come to the same conclusions, albeit through different contexts. (For more on Gurian, see The Wonder of Boys).

So where does this leave us? For me, Way's lecture opened my eyes in many ways. I had no idea - no idea that the stories of boys' friendships sound so much like the stories of girls' friendships, centered and built upon the sharing of secrets, the tight bond, the feeling of love shared. I was astonished, really, to learn how alike boys and girls are in their bonds of friendship. I am grateful to know how important these friendships are, how imperative they are to the overall health and well-being of my sons.

And yet simply knowing is not enough. I will continue to challenge the stereotypes I hear about boys. (Like here). I will remember how much we are the same, talk less about how we are different. I will encourage my boys to build close friendships, to value those friendships. I will make space and time for my boys to grow their friendships. I will seek the company of like-minded mothers and fathers. I will continue to teach my sons how to express their emotions in an open and honest way, and I will validate and support their expressions. I will fill their lives with men who embody what I want them to be: sensitive, caring, empathetic, compassionate, emotionally open, expressive, loving.

And I will offer them the same.