On Gray Hairs and Disney World

I found my first gray hair today.

I sat in the passenger seat of the car while my husband drove us to the movie theater for our first date without the kids in over a year.  I flipped the visor down, opened the mirror to inspect my makeup, and spotted it front and center at the hairline on my forehead.  Seemingly innocuous, comparatively short to the rest of my hairs.  Sturdy.  I plucked it just to be sure that it was what I thought it was.  I set it against the black sleeve of my husband’s coat for contrast.  It was, without a doubt, a silver strand.

Hard to believe he's only a handful of weeks away from his first birthday.

Hard to believe he’s only a handful of weeks away from his first birthday.

I held it between my fingers for a bit, twisting it this way and that, holding it against the sunlight as we rode along.  Could I really have gray hair?  But I’m only…

Then I realized: I’m not only anything anymore.  I’m not only twenty-something.  I’m not only thirty.  I’m in my thirties.  And I have two children.  I’m a mother, barreling towards middle-aged at lightning speed.  And once I get there, I’ll soon have high-schoolers.  After that, adult children.  Grandmotherhood.  Death.

How did this happen?  How do I stop it?

More importantly, how do I enjoy the here and now?  The single strand of gray hair?

I’m not sure why, but this seems to be the year for going to Disney World.  Several friends in my Facebook news feed have either recently been, are currently visiting, or are planning a trip to what’s widely considered the happiest place on Earth (And it is.  I have been and can verify.)  I find myself envious of these families who are treating their young children to such an adventure.  I imagine what fun it must be to break the news to them that they’ll soon be on a plane to meet Mickey Mouse.

It's heartbreaking to stop and realize just how quickly she's growing.

She’s getting so big and so smart, so quickly. She’s become a whole little person.

You might say that I can’t wait to take my kids there.

My husband and I have agreed for a while now that we would take a trip to Disney World when all of our children were old enough to remember it, enjoy it, and ride on most of the rides.  No babies, no strollers, no diaper bags, no parent having to ride the bench with an infant or toddler all day while the other one gets to do the fun stuff.  Since we plan on having another child, we estimate that we’ll be going to see The Mouse when our kids are 9, 7, and 5.  Since our oldest is only 2 now, that means seven more years of waiting our turn for the big Disney trip.

Seven years.  That’s a long time to wait and to have to hear about everyone else’s awesome time in Disney World.  Nearly a decade will pass between now and the time we finally pack our bags for Orlando.  And I find myself saying things like “I can’t wait to take my kids to Disney World.”  And I need to stop saying things like that.  Because I also say things like, “I can’t wait until the ten month-old starts walking,” and “I can’t wait until the toddler is potty-trained.”  I can’t wait for this, I can’t wait for that.

I can wait.  I want to wait.

This is all happening too fast.  Much faster than I’d like.  And there’s absolutely nothing that I or anybody else can do to slow it down.  The kids are growing, the hairs on my head are changing colors.  Life is happening, ticking along, meandering towards its inevitable end.  It’s terrifying.  So when I say things like “I can’t wait for this,” what I’m really saying is that I’m impatient with the speed at which life is traveling and I need this event or that milestone to happen faster, to arrive sooner.  And that’s simply not true.  If anything, I’d rather that life move a whole hell of a lot slower than faster.

I can wait.  Disney World and baby’s first steps can wait, too.  (Potty-training could actually happen any time it wants to.  I welcome it with wide open arms.)

I know that nursing won't last forever.  We're in no rush, we're on no schedule.

I know that nursing won’t last forever. We’re in no rush, we’re on no schedule.

I don’t say any of this with the intention of dismissing the very real challenges of everyday life.  Today is hard.  It is hard to take care of two small children.  It is hard to get such little sleep.  It’s hard not to want them to be independent, to be able to dress and feed themselves.  It’s hard to spend most of my day negotiating with a toddler on absolutely everything, from the color of the socks she’ll agree to wear to the right color dinner plate that she’ll let you put her food on.  It’s hard to nurse a baby what seems like a hundred times a day.  Life, right now, can be hard.

But I promise I’ll savor it.  I’ll savor these hard days, because the days after them will be hard for different, probably bigger, reasons.  Parents will pass away, and surviving that pain will be immeasurably harder than fighting over sock choices.  Teenaged children will keep secrets from us, and accepting that we are not needed for everything anymore will be far harder than nursing a baby.  Life will get harder.  On we will go.

I can wait.  All of it can wait.  Today is all I’ve got.  This toddler, this baby, and this husband are what I’ve got here and now.

Oh, and this gray hair.  And I can definitely wait on getting more of those.

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Beets & Greens: Two Fall Harvest Recipes

‘Tis the season, people. Time to cover those arms.

See that right there?  That’s a sweater sleeve.  And do we wear sweaters in the summer?  No.  No, we do not.  We wear sweaters in the fall.

Oh, yeah.

How you doin’, Fall?  Wanna come cozy up next to me on the couch so we can clink our mugs of mulled wine together and toast how awesome you are?

Why is fall so awesome?  Well, besides comfy apparel and alcohol on the stovetop, it’s really all about the food.  Everything becomes pumpkin flavored, and there’s not a thing wrong with that.  And the jewel-toned vegetables that come out of the earth when the weather cools are really something to be celebrated.  Ruby beets, emerald kale, golden squashes… If you ask me, Fall kicks Summer’s ass when it comes to produce.  Hands down.

Beets and turnip greens

On this particular fall day, I decided to try something different with a few of the goodies we got from the local food cooperative that we just joined.  There’s plenty of time in the season left for soups and stews and roasting vegetables in the oven with olive oil and sea salt.  Come February, I’ll admit that I usually suffer from root veggie burnout from doing the same things to them over and over.  So, with beets and turnip greens as the stars of my feast, I took on a pancake and a tart, respectively, for this chilly fall evening meal.

I adapted these recipes from two of my favorite sources – Vegetarian Times and 101 Cookbooks.  If I’m being totally honest here –and I am – I’ll admit that neither of these were easy dishes to make and I kind of wish I hadn’t made them both together.  Separately?  Sure.  I could see having the beet cakes stuffed into a whole grain pita shell and served with some oven-roasted potato wedges.  Or the turnip green tart with a side salad and maybe a little fruit.  But not together.  It was just too much work.

Beet Pancakes with Dill Yogurt Sauce (adapted from Vegetarian Times’ recipe, here)

Dill Yogurt Sauce

  • 6 oz. plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Pancakes

  • 3 medium [I used 6 small] beets (1 lb.), trimmed and scrubbed
  • 2 medium carrots (6 oz.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg plus 2 large egg whites, beaten

To make Yogurt-Dill Sauce: Whisk together yogurt, dill, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 3 days.

To make Pancakes: Preheat oven to 250°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray, and set aside. Shred beets and carrots in food processor fitted with grating blade, or grate with box grater. Place beet-carrot mixture in large bowl, and toss with garlic and salt. Add egg and egg whites, and mix well.

The beets and carrots, all shredded up from the food processor. Aren’t they just gorgeous?

Lightly spray large nonstick skillet with cooking spray, and heat over medium-high heat. Drop 1/4 cup beet mixture into skillet, and flatten slightly to form 3-inch-diameter pancake. Repeat, forming 3 other pancakes in pan. Cook 4 minutes, or until undersides are golden brown. Flip pancakes, and cook 3 minutes more. Respray pan, and repeat process with remaining batter, keeping prepared pancakes warm in oven. Drizzle with Yogurt-Dill Sauce, and serve immediately.

The verdict?  They were a little difficult to keep together in the frying pan.  They didn’t seem to be bound together well enough.  The flavor was okay – it was what you’d expect from eating beets and carrots together.  Very earthy, very… beety.  Without a good roast on them to mellow them out and enhance their sweetness, I think beets can be a little powerful, so I think if I made this recipe again I’d maybe swap out a beet or two for a potato of the same size, to make these more hash-like, and to soften the flavor up a bit.  I’d also season them more.  I think that some paprika would have been lovely in here, or a heavy dash of chopped herbs like tarragon and flat parsley.  Topped with that yogurt sauce (which I could have eaten all by itself with a spoon.  Yum.), these would be really yummy in a pita pocket with some fresh greens and a bit of feta or chevre.  So, I don’t want to write these pancakes off entirely… they just need a bit more pizzazz and a helping hand from the spice cabinet.

Beet pancakes in the skillet

Turnip Green Tart (adapted from 101 Cookbooks’ recipe, here)

I did a few things differently here.  For one, when I parbaked my tart, I didn’t cover it with parchment and dry beans, as the author instructs in her original version, because I didn’t have parchment paper.  It still turned out fine.  Also, Heidi’s recipe calls for Gruyere cheese, which I also didn’t have.  So I used a sheep’s milk queso fresco, whose creaminess worked really well with the mustardy zip of the tart’s filling.  Finally, I omitted the red pepper flakes and used whole wheat flour instead of spelt.  Note that doubling this recipe is a lot easier for measurement purposes, so Heidi did just that and made two tart shells.  I had no interest in doing that, so I halved everything and made just one.  To simplify the prep, feel free to double everything below to make two shells.

I just love the soft texture and the bright, mustardy flavor of turnip greens. This batch was particularly gorgeous.

Cornmeal Tart Shell:

  • 1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, cut in cubes
  • 1/2 large egg yolk (*use the other half in filling mixture.  See below.)
  • 1/4 cup – 3/4 cup cold water

Turnip Green Filling:

  • 1/4 lb. turnip greens
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • 2 large eggs + 1/2 yolk (*use the other half from your tart shell)
  • 3/4 cup veg. broth
  • 1/4 cup milk or cream
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon salt (more if broth unsalted)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose seasoning, Herbs de Provence, or other herb blend
  • ½ cup sheep’s milk cheese, Gruyere, chevre, or other cheese

Process flours, cornmeal, and salt in food processor. Add butter and pulse 20-30 times.  Add the egg yolk and 1/4 cup water. Pulse, trickle in more water if needed, just until dough comes together. Turn out onto a floured countertop and gather into a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Carefully roll out dough on a floured surface to about 1/8” thickness and transfer to tart pan.  Press all around the surface of the dough with the heel of your hand and be sure to fix any holes.  Use your rolling pin to trim off any excess.  Bake for 25 minutes.

For the filling, process turnip greens and garlic in the food processor. Add the eggs and yolk, pulse. Then the broth and cream. Lastly, incorporate the salt, mustard, and herbs. When you’re ready to bake, fill the tart shell and bake for 30 minutes or so, or until the center is set, and has firmed up to the touch. When there’s only 10 minutes left on your oven timer, top the tart with the shredded or crumbled cheese of choice.

Ready to eat, bubbly cheese and all.

This one was a pretty big success.  The toddler loved it, which is the only true barometer of what’s considered a good meal in our household.  It was a lot of work, a lot of prep time, but worth it.  A great, outside-the-box recipe to use up those bright fall greens in a creative and satisfying way.  I’m going to keep this one in my bag of tricks and try it with spinach, arugula, maybe even chard.  With a sweater on my arms and warm wine in my hand, I can do no wrong.

Happy Fall, all!

Turnip Green Tart and Beet Pancakes with Yogurt Dill Sauce

Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack

I had an anxiety attack today.  My first in many months.  One of only a few I’ve had since my son was born.

After my daughter’s birth, they were a regular occurrence.  I was treated for postpartum anxiety and depression and felt the walls closing in on me on a regular basis.  It’s not a great feeling.

But this time around, my disposition has been pretty great overall.  No major mood swings or blue spells.  I’ve been optimistic despite our constant financial troubles, and haven’t really let too much get to me.  I’ve been in a good place.

So today came out of left field.  I wasn’t prepared for it and didn’t handle it well.  I ended up on my parents’ doorstep, sobbing hysterically and begging for help with the kids.  The entire time I’d been driving over there, I hadn’t been able to stay on top of my breathing.  It was like being in labor.  That feeling you have when your contractions are overwhelming you and you cannot catch your breath.

My vision kept shifting from clear to tunnel.  My hands and face felt numb.  I kept repeating the same thing over and over again, screaming “What?  What?”  I wasn’t asking anybody a question.  It was just something that came out.  It terrified my poor toddler, and I’m sure the infant was freaked out, too.

Life is just a little overwhelming right now.  We have a lot of big changes going on and I feel as though the weight of it rests entirely on my shoulders.  All of the decisions that have led to this point have been mine.  It was my decision to leave my job; my decision to leave our house so that I could stay at home to raise our children.  I am 99% satisfied with the choices that I’ve made, but that one percent of me tickles my brain from time to time, asking, “Did I really do the right thing?”

Whether or not I did the right thing was the star of today’s anxiety-riddled sideshow.  I was pondering this very question while sitting on a park bench at the playground, my toddler climbing a slide slick with last night’s rainfall nearby.  And, of course, she slipped and fell, hitting her head and screaming in pain for several minutes.

Image

Typically, my daughter is a master of playground equipment. Here she is on a different, sunnier day (in more ways than one) than today.

I knew I shouldn’t have taken her to a wet playground.  I knew better than that.  I should have been wearing the baby in the Ergo so that I could have supervised her more closely with two free hands, ready to help her.  But I wasn’t.  I wasn’t there.  I made a bad decision and it resulted in her getting hurt.

And suddenly, the knot on the back of my little girl’s head was a metaphor for my whole life.  Look at all these bad decisions I make.  Look how I screw everything up. 

The next thing I knew, I was crawling along at 25 mph in a 40 mph zone, terrified of giving the gas pedal any more pressure for fear that we’d veer off the road.  Drivers behind me honked and waved their hands in frustration while my heart raced and my skin went clammy.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.  I had to just let it run its course, run through me, and eventually run out of me.

Why am I sharing this?  Honestly, I don’t really know.  Maybe because writing about it is cathartic for me.  Maybe so that if you, too, suffer from a postpartum mood disorder then you’ll know that you’re not alone.  All I know is that feels good to put it on paper.  And I’m not afraid of it.

I’ve been through this before, and it was a hundred times worse than this the first time.  I know what to do, I know what changes I need to make in my life.  I’ve worked with an immeasurably helpful postpartum therapist in the past and I intend to implement the same measures that worked then, now.  Among these include:

  • Eliminate caffeine.  Caffeine is an upper, and can trigger or aggravate anxiety.
  • Eliminate processed foods and refined sugars.  I try so hard to do this already, but have slipped lately.  It’s an ongoing battle that I don’t think I’ll ever conquer.  But for right now, I know that my body needs more whole foods and less junk.  It always, always, always makes me feel better emotionally to feed myself healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
  • Exercise more.  This almost goes without saying.  Endorphins are mood-busters.  Exercise is nearly always the answer – or part of the answer – to any problem.
  • Supplement with Vitamin B12, Omega-3 Fatty Acids (preferably cod liver oil), and herbal remedies as needed.  Passionflower is great for anxiety, as is skullcap, catnip, and lavender.
  • Get 15 minutes of direct sunlight each day.  This should be no problem if I can get a handle on exercising.
  • Take a break.  Ask for help.  Hand the kids over to the husband or to the grandparents and go into a room, shut the door, and read a book.  Or nap.  Or knit.  Or watch a TV show on Hulu.  You get the idea.  Just take some time away from Motherhood.  It’ll still be there when I get back.

These are the tips that have worked for me in the past, though they might not work for everyone (and they are NOT intended to be medical advice).  Some people may do best with prescription medication, or with meditation.  I know myself Imagepretty well and I know that I suck at meditating and that I can’t tolerate the side effects of pharmaceuticals.  So this is the plan of action I intend to take for me and for my circumstances.

The silver lining about having a postpartum mood disorder the second time around is that you know what to expect, and you know how to treat it.  I’m not suggesting that I have postpartum anxiety again – I suspect that mine is more of a case of situational anxiety due to some of the huge life changes that are happening right now.  But it gives me peace and optimism to have a game plan, to know that I can survive it again if I have to.

The Vegetarian’s Dilemma, The Omnivore’s Solution

Has it really been since April that I’ve last posted?  Yikes.  So much for maintaining a blog.  Well, what can I say — it’s a busy life raising two young children.  So busy, in fact, that we didn’t exactly start our homestead this year as planned.  Neither I or my husband had too many free hours during the week to plant or tend to a garden.  The good news is that we’re moving to a new homestead (yay!) in November and will definitely be planning some raised beds this spring.  I’m really looking forward to growing some of our own food.  And speaking of food…

Coming this fall — our new/old farmhouse! And yes, Phish’s “Farmhouse” has been stuck in my head ever since we first saw it.

I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons when I was 21 years old.  It was a class discussion during Philosophy 101 in college that prompted the switch.  I’d always been an animal lover and a reader of labels, always checking for the little bunny logo to tell me that no animal had been harmed in the making of the product.  To stop eating animal flesh altogether was a natural and easy choice to make.  I read everything I could on the subject – learning the horrors of factory farming, the heart-breaking sadness of the life of an average dairy cow, the deplorable living conditions of sows confined to gestational crates.  I started shopping differently at the grocery store, trading meat for “faux meat” products.  Veggie burgers, veggie chick’n nuggets, veggie hot dogs, veggie sausage patties, veggie bac’n… you name it, they faked it.  I was happy with my newfound diet and subsequent self-righteousness.   Yes, everyone who wasn’t also an enlightened  vegetarian was, as far as I was concerned, a murderer.  Or at least an accomplice.

Soon, being a vegetarian wasn’t enough.  I needed to take it a step further once I learned that a conventional egg-laying hen would never spread her wings, never see sunlight, and would share a space the size of an 8×11 sheet of paper with several other hens.  For her whole, short, miserable life.

So, it was out with the eggs and in with the Ener-G Egg Replacer.  And scrambled tofu.  Also gone was the milk and cheese – in their place were soymilk and soy “cheeze.”  I was on a sanctimonious high.  Look at me now!  Look how humane I am!  Look at my healthy, vegan lifestyle!

Did you know that Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos were vegan?  Me, neither.  I threw two bags in my shopping cart each time I went to the store.  And Oreos?  Also vegan.  And soy ice cream and vegan whoopee pies and even vegan buffalo wings.  With vegan blue “cheeze” sauce.

No animals were harmed in the making of this fatty.

That’s right.  I gained weight.  A lot.  Over the past ten years, I’ve justified every crappy, caloric morsel that’s gone into my mouth on the basis that it was “humane.”  The trouble was, my definition of “humane” was very, very narrow.  It either had animal ingredients in it, or it didn’t.  I saw food in absolutes, in black and white.

During my pregnancy with my daughter, B, I craved meat.  I craved cheese and eggs.  Especially eggs.  In my Bradley Method birth classes I learned how critical eggs were to fetal development, how perfect the composition of Omega 3 essential fatty acids were, and how these nutrients couldn’t be replicated with a supplement.

So I ate eggs.  But I knew that if I was going to eat eggs, I’d have to do it the right way.  I had to keep my conscience clear.  I bought eggs from our local farmer’s market one weekend after talking to the farmer about his chickens and how they were kept and raised.  Satisfied with his answers (and with the fact that I knew exactly where his farm was and had driven by it several times in my life), I bought a dozen and went home that very day to cook up an unforgettable swiss chard omelette for lunch.

Slowly but surely, I started adding dairy back into my diet, too.  And more whole foods – luscious fruits and bright vegetables from the farmer’s market, which we were now frequenting on a weekly basis.

When B was about 10 months old, I gave her her first piece of tofu.  She vomited for six hours.  Weeks later, we’d try again, with the same result.  She had a soy allergy.  With this discovery, gone were the Morningstar Farms products I’d come to love and count on as dietary staples for nearly a decade.  They all contained soy protein isolate as their key ingredient, the thing that made them “meaty.”  As it turns out, lots and lots of food products contain soy in their ingredients.  And they were no longer allowed in our house.

We began relying on grains and dairy as our primary protein source, as the baby was too young for nuts and neither she nor my husband liked beans.  (The same isn’t true for me.  I could eat lentils every day and never tire of them.  Mmmm.  Lentils.)  So dinnertime was usually a pasta dish or a rice-based casserole.  Usually with cheese on both counts.  And pizza.  We ate a lot of pizza.

After the birth of Mister, my second child, I was absolutely disgusted with my weight.  But it was more than just the pregnancy – it was the result of truly irresponsible eating for the better part of a decade.  Now I’ve never been what one would consider “textbook” thin, but I was a very healthy weight in college before I became a vegetarian/vegan.  I don’t mean to villainize the lifestyle or the diet because both are legitimate, healthy, respectable options.  And I share the ideals and the values and the meaning behind it with those who practice it.  And I’ll also say that there are definitely ways to do it right so that you’re eating a varied diet full of whole and healthy foods.  But I hadn’t been doing that and, with a family who couldn’t eat soy and who hated beans, our sources for complete proteins were very limited.  I was tired of eating pasta all the time.  I mean, literally tired.  My energy levels were nil and I was just putting way too many carbohydrates into my body.  I needed a radical change.

I talked it over with my husband many times.  Many, many times.  These were long, thoughtful conversations.  He’d been a vegetarian for three years; I for ten.  To make the switch back to omnivorism was a huge decision to make, and we wanted to do it right.  We agreed to carefully research the farms in the area for our meat sources and select a few from whom we’d be comfortable sourcing our meat.  We based this on how the animal was fed (e.g.: grass-fed, grass-finished for cows), whether growth hormones or antibiotics were used (definitely no on both counts), what kind of life the animal led (not just “access” to the outdoors, but truly living a pastured life), and how and where the slaughtering was done.

Happy pastured chickens, photo via MotherEarthNews.com

After weeks and weeks of research and satisfied with our findings, we bought a chuck roast to cook in the crock pot with some seasonal vegetables from the farmer’s market.  I seasoned it simply then cooked it low and slow in its own juices for a whole day.  Before we took our first bite, I led our family in a prayer – and I never pray – to thank the cow for his sacrifice so that our family could be so well-nourished by his flesh.  I thanked the farmer for his hard work to raise such a happy animal and to ensure it had such a good life.  And then we all took a bite.

It was delicious.  And soon, it was gone.  Even my daughter – whose iron levels tested very low at her recent two-year-old doctor’s visit – enjoyed the meal and has really taken to eating meat.  I’m thrilled to see her eating a more varied diet and to be getting a complete source of protein.  We agreed that we’d add a meal that contained meat from one of these farms to our menu planning for one or two nights a week, depending on that week’s budget.

Ah, yes.  The budget.  See, in order to fund our omnivorism (local, humane meat ain’t cheap), we had to cut out a lot of our staple food products from our grocery budget.  To find money for a whole pastured chicken or for uncured Heritage bacon, we had to eliminate the processed and packaged foods.  So now, if we want cookies, we bake them from scratch.  If I want a snack, I dehydrate kale in my food dehydrator or roast chickpeas in the oven until they’re crispy.  It’s a lot more work but a lot more rewarding.

No elastic waistband! Real, actual jeans! Yay, me!

Because yesterday, I zipped up my pre-pregnancy jeans for the first time in… well, it’s been so long that I’ve lost count.  Without adding in any exercise to my daily routine (and yes, I know that I should), I look and feel better than I have in months.  Maybe even years.  The first time I ate meat, I could actually feel my energy levels increasing with each bite.

Again, I want to emphasize that plenty of vegetarians and vegans do just fine – in fact, they thrive – on a meatless menu.  And ours is, for the most part, still a vegetarian lifestyle.  Except, once or twice a week, we eat a humanely-raised animal to give our bodies what we feel they need.  It’s what’s right for our family.  We still don’t support factory farms or inhumane practices when it comes to raising animals for food.  Our dollars go exclusively to local farmers who we feel exemplify the farm-to-table ethos.  I feel really good about this change, and I’ve found a whole new appreciation for my slow cooker and the wonderful magic that it can work on a meal.

I still share a bed with a rescued Jack Russell mix each night, and I still shampoo and condition my hair with cruelty-free products each morning.  I am the same animal lover I always was.  In a strange way, eating animals has renewed my appreciation for them.  I live near a lot of farmland.  Running errands or visiting friends always means driving by some farm or another out here.  And when I drive by – often slowly, so that the toddler can have a look and wave at them – I look at the animals differently now.  I genuinely appreciate what they do and why they exist.  I am grateful to them, and to the farmers who thanklessly work so hard to raise them from birth to death for the purpose of feeding people.  It’s an admirable job that they have.  They’re not murderers, not by a long shot.   Motherhood has afforded me the good sense to start seeing things in shades of gray, instead of in black and white.

I am happy in my shade of gray.  Happy and sated.

A Long Labor of Love

My son’s birth counts among the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life.  And also, my proudest.  I worked impossibly hard for 31 long hours to birth him, though to be fair, the whole ordeal truly took 41 weeks.

The first thing I did when I woke up on that Thursday morning was call my chiropractor’s office.  Though I’d been going regularly to correct O’Baby’s frequent acrobatics (one day vertex, the next breech, then posterior vertex, then transverse for a while, and so on and so forth), I hadn’t seen her in a couple of weeks because money was tight and her sessions weren’t entirely covered by our insurance.   I spoke to the receptionist and begged her to squeeze me in for an adjustment.  I explained that I was now overcooking my baby since I was approaching the 41 week mark and could I pretty please be seen a.s.a.p.?  Thankfully, I got in only a few hours later and was pulled, tugged, and Webster’d into a much happier place and so, I’d hoped, was my baby.

I took Blossom (my nineteen-month-old daughter) out to lunch at the local co-op market.  I ordered a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich for her and a cup of spicy coconut soup for me in the hopes that some spicy food would finish off what the Webster adjustment might have started.  It was a beautiful, sunny March afternoon, so she and I ate lunch outside for what would become our last mother-daughter date when it was just the two of us.

Labor “began” (I use that term loosely based on the three weeks of prodromal labor that preceded the real deal) that same day around dinnertime.  My contractions felt exactly the same as they’d felt for the past three weeks and followed the same pattern, too.  So I ignored them.  I cooked, served, and ate dinner as normal, then watched an Elmo’s World DVD with Blossom while we cuddled and nursed before her bedtime, which was at 7:30.  The contractions continued, and I still ignored them, believing it to be the start of yet another evening of false labor that would go nowhere.

Ian put Blossom to bed and I started filling up the tub, remembering that my midwives had told me at my last appointment that if it was indeed false labor, a warm bath would stop my contractions.  I wanted to see if I could keep them going rather than stop them, so I added some geranium essential oil that I’d bought at the co-op when we were there for lunch.  (Geranium is rumored to be helpful in urging a stop-and-start labor pattern along.)

I soaked in the tub and tried to relax, but the waves kept coming.  Eventually I moved from a lounging position to sitting straight up, cross-legged in the middle of the tub, aware that if this was the real deal then I would want to be sitting tailored-style to get baby into his optimal birthing position.

After my bath, I poured myself a half a glass of red wine and sipped it slowly – another trick that the midwives had told me about that would stop a false labor in its tracks.  But the contractions kept coming and though I wasn’t timing them, I suspected that they were getting closer and I definitely knew that they were getting stronger.  It was now about 9:00 p.m. and I decided to call the midwives.

Funny thing about O’Baby’s birth story – my labor began under the full Worm Moon and during an historical solar storm whose effects wreaked havoc on the nation’s cellular service that evening.  As a result, I could reach neither of my midwives.  And. I. Panicked.

I called the midwives’ assistant, Shanna, desperate to reach somebody who could at least come to my house and help us catch this baby who, at least at the time, seemed like he was on a rather quick route out.

Shanna listened to me describe my contraction pattern and then listened while I had one while on the phone with her, which required me to stop talking altogether so that I could focus on it.  She agreed that I definitely sounded like I was in labor and said that she would call Liz’s – the midwife’s – home phone since her cell phone wasn’t working.

Liz called me back soon after.  We had a similar conversation and she agreed with Shanna’s assessment that it sounded like true labor.  Liz had warned me throughout my pregnancy that, as a second-time mom, my labor would likely go quickly and that, since she lived rather close to my house, she would want to come check me as soon as labor started to move along.  Apparently, there’d recently been a lot of second-time moms whose babies were being caught by husbands and partners rather than by the midwives because their labors were so fast, and Liz didn’t want me to fall into that same category.

She arrived around 11:00 pm.  It was raining, hard.  She hurried into the house, dripping and flustered from dodging the wind and the downpour.  She asked me how things were going, and I didn’t really know how to answer that.  I still wasn’t convinced that this was actually it, and I felt guilty for making her coming out in the rain so late at night in case it was a false alarm.  I think I even apologized.

We chatted while I bounced on the birth ball, sipping some pregnancy tea.  I had a contraction.  It cut right through our conversation as I had to set my tea down, grip my hips, and sway with it, moaning and breathing.  Liz looked at me after it had passed, impressed with how powerful it seemed to be.  “That seemed like a strong contraction, Suzanne,” she’d said.  “I’d like to check you if that’s okay.”

I was at 4 centimeters and very thin – “butter-soft,” as Liz described it.  She concluded that I was definitely in labor and that she was going to call the other midwife – Nannette – and Shanna to come and join us.  I think she was still convinced that I would be one of those second-time moms whose babies would fly out before anybody even had a chance to place a chux pad down.

The only photo of me in labor. My Blessingway birth candle burns on the dresser behind me.

Ian, at Liz’s instruction, began filling the birth pool.  Since I would now be laboring overnight, we decided to move the birth pool into the dining room so that I could labor far away from Blossom’s room, rather than in our bedroom which was right next to hers.  My contractions were not yet unbearable and I could easily carry on normal conversation in between each one.  In order to keep them manageable, though, I had to stop talking and grab the nearest stationary object to anchor me as I swayed or squatted during the peak of the rush.

Slowly but surely, everyone filled the pool while I swayed and stomped and sang and moaned and squatted about the house.  Pots of water boiled on the stove, and as soon as those got dumped into the pool, new ones replaced them on the burners.  Finally, I was able to get in and… ahhhhhhh.  The weightlessness, the warmth… it was like sinking into a hug.  I was instantly relaxed, and my contractions took note, as they ran away from me for a bit after initially getting in.  I asked Liz, worriedly, if I should get out of the pool so that they’d come back (my previous birth with my daughter had stalled at 5 centimeters for seven hours, so I was terrified of a repeat performance).  Liz assured me that I should take the rest that the water was offering me and use it to my advantage.  So I lay my cheek down on the side of the pool and tried to doze.  As nice as the water was, though, it was not a place in which I could comfortably sleep, so I got out and into my bathrobe.  I was shivering from the temperature change, which almost instantly brought my contractions roaring back.

The midwives got comfortable on the couch and the recliner; I fetched some blankets for them so that they could get some sleep.  Ian and I retreated back to our bedroom in an attempt to do the same, which proved futile for me.  Lying down during the rushes was unbearable and my mind was too restless to let me even nap.  I got up and began pacing through the house.  Nannette heard me come back into the living room and looked up through sleep-soaked eyes, asking me if everything was okay.  I told her that I just wasn’t sure what to do.  I knew that we weren’t close enough yet for a baby to show up, but we were into the show far enough that nobody was going home.  It was Birth Purgatory.   Back into the tub.

As the night wore on, I toggled back and forth from the tub to my bed to the kitchen to the living room.  As long as I was somewhere where I had a solid object to grasp during the contractions (a floor-to-ceiling post in our living room; the headboard of our bed; the countertop in the kitchen), then that was a safe place to ride them out.   I don’t have many solid memories from the overnight hours.  I do remember, at one point, asking Ian to play the birth playlist I’d made, and singing along to Greg Laswell’s “It Comes and Goes in Waves,” appreciating the irony.

I remember asking to be checked, being told that I was at 5 centimeters.  I remember using the bathroom and how awful the contractions felt while peeing.  I remember vomiting.  Those contractions felt even worse.

I remember feeling him move.  On all fours in the pool, I called to Nannette to tell her that I could feel the baby moving, that I felt lots of pressure on my rectum.  She asked me if I felt pushy at all.  I wasn’t sure; it was almost as though I felt like I should feel pushy because I was asked so.  I told her I didn’t know if I needed to push or not, and she suggested I try a few practice pushes to see how they felt.  And so, with the next contraction, I did, just a little bit.  I half-yelled, half-growled that I could feel him moving.  At that, the midwives sprang into action.  One grabbed the Doppler, the other a flashlight.  Suddenly, everyone surrounded me.  The pressure, the intensity, the pain was all so low it felt like I had bricks stacked on top of my cervix and rectum.  I could not discern where the pain stopped and where it started.  I could not tell where my son was moving from or to.  I just felt pain.  Movement and pain.  So when the midwives spotted me with my hands pressed against my lower back during the next contraction – rather than at my hips and pelvis, where I’d previously been gripping – they were worried that the movement I’d been feeling wasn’t the baby descending, but rather him rotating from anterior to posterior.

They were right.

The “right” way for a baby to be born is head-down and anterior, meaning that the baby’s face is facing your tailbone, and the back of the baby’s head is born facing up.  This is optimal because it allows the baby to tuck his chin down, creating a better fit for the crown of the head to fit into the pelvic opening.  When a baby is posterior, it’s more difficult to tuck that chin and rotate, often resulting in the widest part of the back of the head that’s just below the crown to press up against the mother’s spine during labor.  What’s more, this position doesn’t allow baby’s head to connect with the cervix because it’s like trying to fit an oval peg into a round hole.  (See diagram from Spinning Babies here.) Pressure from the baby’s head is what helps dilate a cervix to completion – without an anterior-facing baby, it can be extremely difficult to get mom to a full dilation without intervention.  A posterior baby will stall labors, stop labors, and send moms to an OR time and time again.

So this is what I was up against.  Or rather, what was up against me and my spine.  Ouch.

Once the midwives realized, from this observation, that baby was posterior, they started suggesting different positions and things to do to try and get him to rotate.  One such suggestion was to get into a horrid half-lunge, half-squat position during my contractions to help open my pelvis.  I did this in the pool and it made me hate life.  I was still giving tiny little test pushes during these contractions and during one, I felt my water break.  So, for those of you who have ever worried about showering or bathing during labor and not being able to tell when your membranes rupture because of the water in which you’re already submerged: rest assured.  You’ll feel it.

I remembered shouting, “My water broke!  My water broke!” to the midwives.  Then, I remembered crying because I knew now that my bag of water – my cushion protecting my poor little cervix from O’Baby’s hard head – was gone, the pain was going to get a lot more intense.  I was scared.  I was not embracing the moment, I was not calm, I was nowhere near Zen.  I was tired and I was anxious and I was scared.  But I was also ready to meet my baby, so onward we went.  It was in this moment that I realized that the only way “out,” was through.  It was now 6:00 in the morning.

If the night had been a blur, the morning hours that followed were a smear.  Truly indiscernible moments and memories overlapped and folded backward on each other.  I have no linear timeline in my memory from this point on.  This marked the beginning of The Longest Transition Ever.

I remember the pain being so intense, so searing, that I actually thought I would die.  The contractions were so powerful that they took my breath away.  With each one I would find it hard to inhale, which panicked me.  I had to keep asking for reassurance that I wouldn’t die.  Shanna was an incredible ally during my transition.  She continued to remind me that the contractions weren’t more powerful than me, because they were me.  The contractions were my body.  My body can’t be stronger than me because it is me.  I really connected with the idea of this and latched onto it as tightly as I could in an attempt to cope.

During this time, I crossed a new boundary in my marriage.  Here’s a fun little tidbit about laboring in a homebirth that you may not have read about in some of the other fluffier, rainbows-and-butterflies birth stories: You will pee.  A lot.  And once you’re barreling through Transition, you will not give a rat’s patootie where you do it.

So here’s me, on all fours on our bed.  I am at least lucid enough to realize that I don’t want to pee in our bed, but I have to go, and I will not be making it down the hall into the bathroom, plus I’m afraid of the awful pain from having contractions on the toilet.  I grunt, in my primitive Birth Language, for Ian to get a chux pad and get it on the floor by my side of the bed.  He realizes what I’m asking him to do and why, and immediately starts trying to persuade me into using the bathroom instead.  “It’ll be okay; I’ll help you get there…” Nope.  Do not care.  Must pee now.  Chux pad.  Now.  And so I shimmy my tush over the side of the bed and pee onto the floor.  Like an animal, in front of my husband.  And if you ask him to tell his version of the story, it was at this point that I began yelling at him and crying like a hot mess, “You think I’m disgusting, don’t you?!  You don’t want to be married to me anymore, do you?!?!”  And then I puked, and he had to clean that up, too.  The man is a saint, people.

Around 8:00-ish, Blossom finally woke up (she actually slept through the night!  All this birthy racket going on, and my child – who typically wakes up screaming if you step on a creaky floorboard three rooms down – hadn’t made a peep for the last 12 hours).  Originally, we had planned to play things by ear during the birth with her.  I secretly hoped that she would be able to be a part of it, but the reality of the situation was that this was no place for a nineteen month-old.  We decided to phone my dear friend, Antonette, who graciously agreed to come and collect our toddler for the remainder of my labor.  She agreed to this because she, like we, erroneously believed that it was almost over.

When Antonette arrived, I’d just been checked and was told I was just about complete – 9.5 centimeters with a cervical lip, but very, very soft.  We were going to start pushing, but first I was going to ride out a few contractions in bed to try to get some rest.  Seeing her face was like breaking the surface after being submerged underwater.  It jolted me awake.  It gave me energy.  Having had a beautiful and transformative HBAC herself, I’d drawn upon Antonette’s experience and her strength as a birth warrior throughout my pregnancy.  Now that she was here, offering smiles and genuine words of encouragement, I was renewed.  She left as quickly as she came, and the next thing I knew, the midwives and my husband surrounded me on the bed.  It was time to meet this baby.  It was now about 9:00 am.

The cervical lip and his posterior position were going to make this last stretch incredibly difficult without the midwives reaching into their bag of tricks.  Liz told me that she wanted me in the McRoberts position – flat on my back, with my knees pushed all the way back to my shoulders, while I crunched up (yes, just like when you’re doing a stomach crunch or sit-up), bearing down to push baby out.  Sounds super fun, doesn’t it?

We did this for what felt like a really, really long time.  I mean, hundreds of contractions must have happened.  All the while, Liz kept her hand inside me and broke and dissolved evening primrose oil capsules against my cervix, pushing the lip away while I pushed O’Baby down.  Words cannot describe the intensity of this experience.

I made some progress, but I was far too exhausted to continue after a certain point.  The midwives agreed to let me rest, and Liz said she was going to run to her house for her mugwort stick so that Shanna could perform some moxibustion on me.

I tried to rest, but the contractions were too overwhelming.  No position was comfortable.  I pushed when my body forced me to, but it didn’t get him anywhere.  I was running on fumes.

When Liz returned with the mugwort and Shanna performed the moxibustion, I got – for the first time in many, many hours – some true rest.  The point of moxibustion is to relax the body and thus, the ligaments, so that baby has more freedom to rotate and descend.  It relaxed me, all right.  By everyone’s account, I was actually snoring.  But baby was still firmly, happily sunny-side up.  I grudgingly agreed to start trying to push on the birth stool, which I had feared doing ever since the contractions I’d had on the toilet during the night.

Laboring on the birth stool, for me, felt like a demon freight train being exorcised from my body at full speed.  I hated it.  Ian sat behind me, on the bed, while I hovered over the birth stool (which, first and foremost, was not designed for short women, so my feet were practically dangling) arching my back during contractions in yet another effort to get O’Baby to rotate by opening my pelvis.  After a few contractions and pushes in this position, Liz snapped a glove on her hand and gave me even more evening primrose oil, pushing against the lip while I pushed down.  I remember seeing her, out of the corner of my eye, look at Nannette and shake her head.  She left the room.  Nannette got down in front of me and asked me what I wanted to do.  I told her that I didn’t want to give up.  I wasn’t going to the hospital.  I wanted to birth my baby, simple as that, and that is what we would do.  Here.  I just needed to rest.  I was begging them to let me take a break.

More moxibustion.  More evening primrose oil.  Then, more McRoberts pushes.  Some pushes on the toilet.  Some lunges.  Some pushes on the bed, on all fours.  Somewhere during all of this, my forebag of waters broke (it’s true—you can have multiple membrane ruptures during labor) and a pool filled with the milky-white fibers of vernix puddled up on the floor beneath me.  It was a true sign that my baby was a real person and that I would meet him soon, come what may.

The midwives told me that they wanted me back on the birth stool and that this time, I would have to push with everything I had in me.  There was no “or else” given, but it was implied.

With Liz’s hand, once again, applying primrose oil and pushing against the lip, I roared like a lioness.  I dug deep within myself, searching for a stronger woman than I was.  Someone who could handle this pain and survive it.  Someone less exhausted.

I didn’t find her.

Liz crouched down in front of me, looked me in the eyes and said, “I think we’ve done all we can do here.”  It was 3:00 pm.

Ian began grabbing some items – nursing bras, maternity jeans, my robe – and tossing them into, of all things, a straw beach bag.  (This is what happens when you don’t pack an “in case” hospital bag in advance).  I threw a cardigan on over the bra I’d been laboring in and pulled on a skirt, not bothering with underwear.  In all of the chaos of getting us out of the house and into the car, I was calm.  I wasn’t sad, I didn’t cry, and I didn’t feel defeat.  The only time, though, that I felt a pang of sadness was when I looked over and saw Shanna just as she blew out the birth candle from my Blessingway that had been burning since labor began.  Extinguishing that flame meant an end to my homebirth.  Except I didn’t have my baby yet.  I would now have my baby in a hospital, hooked up to machines, surrounded by strangers.  I didn’t have time to dwell on any of this, but I noted the moment and put it in my back pocket for a time when I could properly mourn it.

The ride to Jefferson Memorial Hospital was the longest car ride of my life.  Every bump, every turn would trigger another unbearable contraction.  I called my parents en route to let them know that we were transferring.  My father was worried, my mother relieved.   (She had never been supportive of our decision to birth at home and so a hospital transfer was, to her, a far better outcome than the one I’d wanted.)  I assured them both that everything was okay and asked them to go and pick up Blossom from Antonette’s house as she’d surely be staying the night with them now.

When Ian pulled up to the hospital entrance, I got out of the car wearing only my bra and skirt.  I remember the hospital staffer and the midwives trying to get me to put my cardigan on as if I gave a crap what I looked like.  I was wheeled up to Labor & Delivery and given a room right away.  The minutes ticked by like hours as we waited to get though the administrative procedures before I could get my epidural, which I was now begging for.

The anesthesiologist’s name was Ray, and when he finally arrived, Ray botched my epidural.  Badly.  As in, my next contraction was just as long and painful as all of the others except now it had the added bonus of having a needle sticking out of my spine and the world’s worse L&D nurse ripping the super-glue tape that surrounded it off of my back so that he could re-insert it.  Which he did.  During a contraction.  I was screaming and crying, tears running down my face, and the nurse had the audacity to look at me and say, “Well it’s not like you were going to get an epidural having this baby at home; why do you want one so bad now?”  Had I not been exhausted from being in labor for the last 22 hours, my fist would have connected with her face and I’d have had my baby in jail.

Ray finally got the epidural in on the second try and all I could think of was Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb:”

Okay, there’ll be a little pinprick

There’ll be no more “Aaaaaahhhh!!!!”

But you may feel a little sick

So, is that song actually about epidurals?

Anyway, I won the Obstetrician Lottery and got the sweetest, most non-judgy, patient doctors I’d ever met.  She assured me that she would not be wheeling me into an OR, but rather that she wanted me to get some rest so that I could finish pushing this baby out once that cervical lip got out of the way.  To have been a homebirth transfer after 22 hours of labor, 6 hours at nine centimeters and pushing, and about 12 hours of ruptured membranes, I truly expected to be an instant c-section.  The doctor and staff (minus Ray and his Devil Nurse) at JMH were so amazing in giving me what I truly needed, which was rest and privacy.  They shut the lights off, closed our door, and Ian and I fell asleep almost instantly.

I woke up several hours later to the sensation of contractions and I hit the call button, worried that the epidural was wearing off and that I would be thrust back into Laborland.  A new nurse came to check on me and paged the doctor.  I was checked and told that I was complete and could start pushing with my next contraction, which I could now feel.  I asked for a mirror so that I could watch myself push him out.  They happily obliged, and I began to watch a head thick with hair and vernix emerge into the world, finally – finally! – rotating to an anterior position on his way out.

Oakley was born at 12:57 a.m. Saturday morning, weighing 8 pounds, 15 ounces.

My perfect, vernix-covered boy gets some skin-to-skin from mama.

He cried a wet cry, but nobody made a move for him with any aspirators; he was placed on my chest instantly.  Nobody wiped him down or attempted to swaddle him, and the doctor sat patiently at the foot of my bed, waiting for the umbilical cord to finish pulsating.  Once it had, she told me as much and asked me to reach down and feel it, to double-check to be sure I was okay with her clamping it.  I touched what had been my baby’s lifeline, motionless and wet, and agreed that Ian could cut it, separating mother and child for the first time in 41 weeks.

He latched onto the breast about twenty minutes or so after his birth.  His gulps were audible and I was thrilled to be giving him a real meal after all that work we did.  (Thanks to nursing a toddler throughout my pregnancy, my colostrum had already mixed with mature milk weeks before I’d even gone into labor.)  He was perfect.  I was exhausted, but elated.  Ian stood by us and stroked my hair while I nursed our son.  He was beaming with love and pride and yes, exhaustion, too.

Oakley wasn’t bathed, and our placenta was gently bagged by the doctor, who was supportive of my intentions to encapsulate it.  He wasn’t weighed until well after he’d eaten and I’d been given stitches for a small second-degree tear. There was no rush to get him “processed.”  Our wishes to decline the usual shots and such after the birth were honored.  We were shown to our recovery room, and I was up and walking and feeling great, the effects of the epidural long since worn off.

This was an example of how the system should work.  A homebirth transfer is taken to a hospital where she’s treated with respect; where her wishes are honored; where she isn’t shown the door to an OR without a fair trial of labor; where her midwives can accompany her to her delivery room rather than drop her off on the doorstep out of fear.   Unfortunately, we had to cross state lines to get such treatment because if we’d stayed within Maryland and gone to the nearest hospital in our county, the story would have ended quite differently.

Oakley and I had a good birth.  It wasn’t perfect.  But I got what I needed when I needed it from beginning to end – support, love, suggestions, motivation, physical assistance, rest, patience and trust – and that’s what makes a good birth.  I could have been happier with the overall outcome, but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome given the circumstances.  I had a stubborn baby who continued his acrobatics all the way up until the end, refusing to budge until he was literally crowning.  And, after a 22-hour trial of labor at home with no sleep, I and my midwives jointly made the best decision for getting me a low-intervention vaginal birth, which was the next best thing to a non-intervention homebirth.  I am grateful for their skillful and loving care, and am excited to see them again when we try for Baby Number Three… many, many years from now.  Until then, I’ve got a perfect son and a perfect daughter who require plenty of time and attention and love from me, their grateful, lucky mother.

“So, What Do You Do All Day?”

When I initially made the big jump from full-time desk jockey to stay-at-home mom, I worried about how my child and I could possibly fill up 9-10 hours’ worth of space.  For five days in a row.  And still like each other at the end of the week.

Obviously, we figured that part out pretty quickly, since babies/toddlers demand a crapload of attention and variety in their activities.  So, just what is it that we do all day, you may ask?  (You may not actually be asking that.  You may not really care.  But my kid — and her friends — are super cute, so at least enjoy the adorableness of the following photos, taken on an average Monday.)

Starting the day with a whole-grain flaxseed waffle, banana, milk, and a smile.

Headed out the door, on our way to the library!

B's -- ahem -- friend, JJ, getting a smooch at the library.

B's daredevil friend, E, scaling the train table at the library. How gorgeous is this little girl?

Next stop: Grandma & Pap's house for lunch (which is always tastier when schmeared on the face).

Here, she's playing one of her favorite "games" with her Pap. They each put on a hat and model it in front of the mirror. It's crazy adorable.

Stacking cups are still one of her all-time favorite toys. She's loved them since she was six months old. Her grandparents keep a set in the toybox at their house for her.

Back home! While Mama cooks dinner, Dadda (a.k.a: Mr. T) keeps her entertained by doing... what else? Hanging the swing in the dining room.

Tonight's menu: Stir-fry over brown rice.

After dinner, it's time for lots of belly zerbets from Dadda. Serious giggles ensue.

Before she hits the hay, it's time for one last round of num-nums. Here, we're nursing while watching homebirth videos on YouTube in an effort to prep her for the (alleged) pending arrival of baby brother.

Aaaaaand that's a wrap, folks! Bedtime! She's not super crazy about this time of day, as evidenced by the screaming. (PS: A big-girl room makeover is coming this summer. Please ignore the blah white walls and bedding until then.)

It’s a glamourous life, to be sure.  Whether it’s plastic cups, spaghetti stains, or nighttime tantrums, the dull moments are few and far between.  The smiles and the love, though, are abundant.  This is what we do all day.  And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.