Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

This is vacation week for me and the Little One. By vacation, I mean a week in the frozen expanse of Northwestern Ohio at my mother's house. Ice underfoot, steel grey skies overhead and relatives for days.

No fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them. No coconut-scented suntan lotion to be rubbed onto my back. No deep tissue massages. No surf sounds to soothe me to sleep under the Caribbean sun.

On the upside, I haven't had to empty the dishwasher yet this week.

As I sit here, still in my pajamas (I'm on vacation!), tapping away on my laptop, my kiddo is watching her 37th "Andy Pandy" of the morning. (She's on vacation!) I felt guilty for about a minute. Then I remembered the warm, white sand I don't have between my toes.

I know I just told you that I don't make resolutions. And I don't. But this year, I'm flying in the face of this self-imposed restriction. This year, I resolve that next year I will take a warm, kidless, relation-free, totally indulgent vacation. A vacation involving lots of sand, sleep and sarongs. And sleep.

I'm so excited about this decision, I'm going to start researching destinations right away. After all, next year is almost here. And anyway, I have a little time to spare this morning; another episode of "Andy Pandy" just started.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy New Year

It wasn't all that long ago when I wrote something here about change and my Little One's infectious, relentless optimism. That day, as every other, I learned an important lesson or two from her.

As 2009 is packing the last of its bags for departure, I find myself being brought back to that autumn afternoon, when she reminded me how important imagination is. When combined with a little effort, we can do pretty much anything we decide to do. All we have to do is try.

What better invitation to test our potential than the New Year? Admittedly, New Year's celebrations have never really been my thing. (Alright, in college they were.) And I don't usually make resolutions. There is something, however, that I can and do appreciate about the holiday: The act of beginning again. It's only a symbolic new beginning, sure, but symbolism has its place.

For us, 2010 is shaping up to be a year full of changes big and small. Thanks to my kiddo, my arms are now outstretched, ready to welcome it all. See, the other thing she taught me that autumn day was about the power of joy. When we greet life, in all its enigmatic uncertainty, with audacious joy, how can we help but soar?

We can't. We just can't.

So, Mamas, here's to 2010: new, uncertain and bursting with limitless opportunity.

I say: Bring it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Great Joy


The countdown to Christmas has reached a critical point: T minus four days, and counting.

In the last minute scramble for things Merry and Bright, the essence of Christmas can sometimes be lost, buried under so much tinsel.

Kate DiCamillo's story of homelessness, charity and great joy is a gorgeous and poignant reminder for parents and a wonderful introduction for children. Glowing illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline will warm you and yours on the coldest of nights.

"Great Joy" reminds us what joy really is, and how capable we all are of giving the gift of joy to one another.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Redefining Christmas

Almost exactly a year ago, I told you Mamas about a terrific organization dedicated to a more charitable holiday season. Redefine Christmas is still around and stronger than ever. What are they about? Well, they're not out to reinvent the holiday. They just want us--all of us--to take another look at how we define gift giving and receiving. They want us to consider giving more charitable gifts--gifts that give multiple times, "to the giver, the receiver and to people truly in need."

This is gift giving for the 21st century: sustainable and sustaining.

Not convinced yet? Consider this: The amount of money we spend in this country on candy alone in the last three months of the year exceeds the annual budgets of the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and Habitat for Humanity combined. I don't think anyone would argue that we could do with less candy and more caring in America, especially at this time of year.

So consider giving a gift that goes a little bit farther than usual this year. Don't know where to get started? I have a few ideas. And so do the charitable elves at Redefine Christmas. Happy giving!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Joy of Giving

Most 3.5 -year-olds know what Christmas is about: Santa. Presents. Rudolph. Presents. Snow. Oh, and presents.

We're working on combating this culture of consumerism in our house. But it's a fine line to walk. My Little One believes in Santa. (Go ahead, cast your stones at me, all of you who have decided not to perpetuate one of Life's Great Lies and have omitted Old Saint Nick from your family's Christmas traditions. I say: We spend most of our lives as jaded adults who lack imagination. I'd like her to embrace the magic of childhood for as long as possible. For me, that includes leaving cookies for Santa, hunting for Easter Eggs and buying into the Teeth for Cash program run by a little fairy with a big penchant for incisors. Really. You should watch 'Miracle on 34th Street" again.)

In any case, we're doing the Santa thing. We're also doing the Jesus thing. By that I mean we have the creche set up and she knows Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. But somehow this has still translated into "getting presents." Christmas, birthdays, it's all the same: You get stuff.

So I've been trying to instill in her an appreciation for giving as well. I mean, she's 3-and-a-half, so I can't really say how much of it is sinking in. But some of it is working. Here's proof:

We started weeks ago, actually, when we went together to an emergency homeless shelter in a neighboring town to deliver bags of her outgrown clothes. At first, she wasn't so jazzed about the idea of giving away her stuff. To be quite frank: She was pissed at me. But I kept talking to her about the little girls who maybe didn't have quite as many nice things as she did. I told her about little girls who wouldn't be able to play in the snow without warm snow boots. I made her put her feet into her old ones so she would understand that they really didn't fit, that she really couldn't use them any more. I reminded her that she had brand-spanking new ones just waiting for the first snow. I tried to build up her sense of pride in her own generosity, make her understand how many little girls she would be helping, just by getting rid of stuff she couldn't use any more anyway.

She was still pissed.

But then, when we went to the shelter, she saw some kids. She saw a little girl who was there with her mother, half asleep on the mother's shoulder. We dropped our bags in the overcrowded, understaffed, dingy little office. The Little One was silent. And she was looking around. When we left, she asked me "Will that little girl get my old snow boots?" I told her that maybe she would and she didn't say anything. We got in the car and went about the rest of our day.

But a few days later, I tried to squeeze her into a sweater from last year. After first getting her stuck then unsticking her little head, we decided on another sweater. Then, out of the blue she said "Maybe that little girl would like this sweater? It's warm. And now it doesn't fit me."

What a moment! The feeling that I had actually reached her, that I taught her something, that she could wrap her little mind around the very big concept of charity was thrilling! It was kind of a Christmas Miracle.

We have since made another trip with more bags to the same shelter, this time with no protest at all from the Little One. And while her letter to Santa still reads like an inventory check list from Toys 'R Us, this latest trip was proof she's also learning to embrace the joy of giving. At 3-and-a-half, I'd say she's way ahead of the curve on that.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Share the Joy: Mama's Charitable Gift Guide

'Tis the season to shop. So while you're searching for the perfect presents for all those special someones, why not check out these online outlets selling great stuff for good causes.

The Joyful Heartshop

Gourmet chocolates, personal pampering items, cozy blankets and fine jewelry are all available in the Joyful Heart Foundation's online Heartshop. A portion of each purchase benefits the foundation's groundbreaking work with survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. There's truly something for everyone in this online store. (Seriously, the Fran's artisan Smoked Salt Chocolate Covered Caramels are about as good as chocolate gets. Better.)

UNICEF

This global program dedicated to the welfare of children around the world always has beautiful cards, handcrafted ornaments and other holiday wares at more than reasonable prices. This year, you might also consider something even more inspired. UNICEF's Inspired Gifts program allows you to purchase lifesaving items for needy children, gifts like High Energy Protein Biscuits, Oral Rehydration Salts, books or soccer balls. Make your gift to these children who need your help and dedicate it to a friend, complete with a card. Really, it's the perfect gift for most of us who have everything. Everything we need, anyway.

SAVE THE CHILDREN

This international program dedicated to creating lasting change to children around the world has a similar giving program. Just $30 will buy a sheep for a needy family, giving the gift of warm wool, nourishing milk and the potential for additional income. Thirty dollars. Most of us spend that much on coffee in a month. Save the Children lets you dedicate your gift to a loved one of your own and will even send a plush sheep toy as a reminder of the difference you made. Spend $100 dollars and Save the Children will donate in-kind, brand new books to a suffering U.S. library. Many more inspiring options are available here.

THE LITERACY SITE

Like many Mamas I know, I'm a real sucker for just about anything that smells good. At $5.50 a piece, these soothing soaps in scrumptious scents make perfect stocking-stuffers. These fair trade items were created to "help women worldwide gain economic security for themselves and their families." The soaps are also eco-friendly. And, if you're not convinced yet, the Literacy Site will donate one children's book to a needy American family for every soap you purchase. Talk about stretching your dollars. Interested? They have many more gifts here


Check back before the holidays for more gifts that do double duty. This is what I call happy shopping.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Virginia Witt: Blue Sheild of California Foundation

A veteran of the non-profit, philanthropic and public policy worlds, Virginia Witt's presence is not surprising at today's "It's Time to Talk" event, sponsored by Liz Claiborne. As Director of Public Affairs and Policy for Blue Shield of California Foundation, her job is to make sure people are talking about public health issues. She also wants to make sure people are listening. And acting on what they learn. Because apart from 20 years of experience, she also brings a relentless optimism to this fight.

"I see the situation a little bit differently," she tells me after I greet her with a disturbing statistic from a study conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission. The survey was conducted in the days following the breaking news of Rhianna's brutal physical assault at the hands of then boyfriend, Chris Brown. Several hundred teenagers were questioned about their opinions regarding the assault, which became front page news and tabloid fodder, complete with graphic and disturbing photos of Rhianna's swollen face. Almost half of the teens surveyed--46 percent--placed the blame for the assault on Rhianna. This is a statistic that continues to haunt, anger and sadden me, and I tell her so. "The way I see it, this is an incredibly important, teachable moment for American teens and their families. All of the sudden, people are paying attention to this issue, they're talking about it because it's happening, out in the open, and affecting two successful, attractive, creative people. On so many levels this unfortunate incident is shattering the current thinking about who this happens to, where it happens and why. So, rather than be disappointed by the survey, I see it as a window of opportunity."

I have to concede her point.

"This is a topic that requires new thinking, new conversations. Almost everyone knows someone touched by this violence. But no one talks about it. And starting the conversation is where change can begin. So whether it's an event like this Liz Claiborne day or a Public Health Commission study, the point is that we have people's attention. And now that we do, we need to act."

Tim Gunn: You're IN

Tim Gunn is stylish and sweet. And he's as impressive in person as he is onscreen standing next to fashion diva, Heidi Klum. He's also very real. (He even oohed and ahhed with me over photos of the Little One.)

So what was he doing at today's Liz Claiborne "It's Time to Talk" Day event?

"This is my third year participating in this event," he tells me. "I also attended a Domestic Violence awareness conference in LA in October. And one of the things that's really being clarified for me is that we need to fix the abusers. So much of the focus in on girls and women--and it should be. But we also need to broaden the scope of the conversation. We need to reach out to the boys and the men, to help them identify abusive behavior and stop it before it escalates. I see this as our responsibility."

Whose responsibility?

"Everyone is responsible for this. The education needs to be to both genders. Look, the most egregious cases are easy to identify. But in an age of prevalent technology--texting, IMs--dangerous patterns can be established before anyone knows what's happening. Nowadays, there's this machine," he points to my laptop, "that sits in between the relationship. So many teens today communicate through technology--through computers and smart phones. At least on a telephone call you hear my voice. But using machines as a preferred form of communication leads people to say and do things they wouldn't necessarily do in person--or even over the phone. With machines, abuse gets easier to perpetrate and to hide."

How do we get this message to teenagers?

"This is the great conundrum; your children's peers, the influence they wield and the role of what they see played out on TV. I mean, I don't want to sound like an old prude, but some of what's being shown on television is part of the problem. Some of these shows glorifying people behaving badly, violently, it's not helping."

So what role does the media play in this discussion? What role should they assume? How responsible is the media for putting a stop to this violence?

"I don't believe in censorship, in any form. I want to be clear. And, let's face it: These shows persist and proliferate because people watch them. But when parents are watching, kids are watching. Maybe there needs to be a conversation that happens at home like, 'You see this? This is a lesson in how NOT to behave.'"

But how do you make that message clear for a teenager? Don't do this, even though it might get you on television?


"Maybe the thing to do--and I think you've just given me an idea--is to make public service announcements that correspond to the action on the shows. I mean people in the public eye and people who make the decisions about what the public views need to accept responsibility for what they're doing. They need to make responsible decisions. If you're showing this kind of programming that glorifies bad behavior, maybe it's wise to address it in a public service kind of way. At least it would seem a more balanced approach, wouldn't it?"

Joanne Sandler, Deputy Executive Director, Programme of the United Nations Department for Women (UNIFEM)

Joanne Sandler is a ray of light walking across the Liz Claiborne showroom to my little blogging table, windows looking over a bustling Times Square. She has a broad smile and a warm demeanor as she shakes my hand. She doesn't have the look of a woman who has been working on the issue of domestic violence since the movement began in the mid-seventies. She looks positive, encouraged and really happy to be at the New York nexus of discussion today. As she sits down across the table from me, I like her already.

"In 1975, when I started this work," she tells me, "shelters were at their incipient stage. Hotlines were just beginning. There was little governmental support and even less public awareness. For the first 5 years, all we did was try to convince leaders and people in power that this was a public health issue."

And now?

"Sure, there have been changes, good changes," she smiles. "You'd be hard pressed these days to find a politician who will tell you that this isn't a public health issue. And that's a far cry from the seventies. That's the good news." I sense the approaching caveat. "But this isn't an easy issue. It isn't purely a public health issue. It requires a huge, multi-sectoral response. Every single part of our society needs to be working on this. Parents and teachers are on the front line, there's no question. But we need a major, coordinated response: law enforcement, public health officials, anthropologists, star athletes, presidents and prime ministers--everyone needs to be working on this. Everyone needs to be directing messages to young people about this. And right now, they're not."

Why not?

"You know, I think most of us who work on this issue believe the data we have--while shocking and awful--is inaccurate. This epidemic is so pervasive, crossing every possible line, that it's kind of hard to talk about domestic violence or violence against women and girls without addressing the culture of violence we inhabit. More poverty means more violence. More unemployment means more violence. Less education means more violence."

Does the media perpetuate this "culture of violence?"

"The media definitely gives confusing messages about this issue, about how men should treat women and how women should expect to be treated. We need to make girls and young women understand at a fundamental level that it's not OK, it's not acceptable to live with violence," she pauses, reflecting on what she's said. "Basically, you have to unpack masculinity--you have to redefine what it means to be a man."

Before I can turn the conversation into a media-trashing diatribe, she reminds me of the power the media has to do good. "We had a real breakthrough with a public service announcement campaign in India, called Ring the Bell or Bell Bajao, reaching out to men and boys. It's been very effective and it's reached over 150 million people in India. Basically, it encourages people--men--to get involved. It helps them understand that they do have power to help stop the violence."


"It's pretty clear what we need to do, but the focus, the money, the determination that this is something we can do something about still needs to coalesce. We need that pivotal moment--that Al Gore "Inconvenient Truth" moment that tips the scales of public awareness and determination. Something that says, 'Look, we know that this is a problem. Now is our moment to solve it."

Who should make that movie?

She smiles, "I don't know. But maybe because of today's conversations, someone will start working on it."

Patrick C. Lynch, Attorney General, State of Rhode Island

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch commands a presence, even in a showroom filled with other commanding personalities. He's direct, intelligent, handsome and highly knowledgeable about the issues of dating violence. A committed activist against this violence, he backed the very first law in the United States, Lindsay's Law, mandating dating violence education for grades 7 through 12 in all Rhode Island schools.

"I met Ann Burke," he tells me right away as we share a table in the Liz Claiborne showroom, "and she's why I got involved. Rhode Island is one of the only states where the Attorney General also does all of the D.A. work. So I handle every crime that happens, assign a prosecutor and get the case started. Unfortunately, domestic violence is the crime we see the most often. When the Lindsay Burke case came through, it was particularly horrific." He doesn't elaborate on the details of Lindsay's brutal murder. He doesn't have to.

"I met Ann at the outset of the case and I told her not to expect closure, even with a conviction. Closure is pretty hard to come by for surviving family members. Most just try to live with the pain in whatever way they can. But some are able to actually rise out of it--out of their suffering--and ask what else can I do? Ann is one of those special people. She told me 'I want to do something. What should we do?' We looked at her family's background in education, at Lindsay's love of education, and it was clear what we needed to do."

"We're at a deficit of education in our schools in this country. I challenge anyone reading this--moms especially--to look at your schools. Call them, ask them specifically if there is existing dating violence education programing in their curriculum. If the answer is no, challenge them to implement one."

"You know, I'm coming at this issue not just as an Attorney General, but also as a parent. This type of violence starts much younger than most of us realized. All the studies I've seen, studies by attorneys general, put the onset between ages 12 and 14. Our kids need to know what this is, they need to know that they're not alone and they need to know there are informed people they can talk to and trust. A coach, a teacher, a friend, a friend's parent--whomever. Because these days, with new technologies, texting and everything, your middle schooler can be sitting quietly next to you experiencing abuse in the form of excessive, invasive, bullying text messages and you could have no idea. And she might not know that it's not OK and that she can talk to you about it." As he talks, the Attorney General in him recedes a bit, and the concerned father comes to the fore.

"As an Attorney General, I see three ways to make a difference on this issue," he says. "In the courtroom, but that's after the fact. The scars are already there, the lives are lost and the Ann Burke's are already mourning their daughters. The second way to make a difference is through legislation. I can try to enact laws to protect women, to protect girls, to prevent more losses. But the third way to make a difference is the most important. It's education." He lets that sit as he looks over my shoulder out the window overlooking Times Square. "If we can reach all those people, if we can reach teens before the violence, if we can help them understand that it's wrong and that they don't have to endure it, then we're making a real difference. That's how we'll stop this violence."

Ann Burke

I'm sitting down with Ann Burke, mother of Lindsay Burke, who was killed in 2005 by a jealous boyfriend when she was only 23 years old. Ann is an educator and an activist and wants all of us to get smart about the issues of dating violence. She's also the founding member of MADE.

"You know, I have Masters in Health Education. I've been teaching kids for years. Shouldn't I have known about this? I didn't even recognize the signs in the beginning with Lindsay. Some things made me uncomfortable, but I didn't really see it for what it was." When Ann speaks, the pain of her loss sits with her, she carries it. But it's clear that she uses it to fuel her work.

"I believe the time to learn about this is before our kids get involved in these relationships. We lull ourselves into complacency, thinking 'I'm a good parent, we have a good home, I know what my kids are doing,' and this thinking sets us up and sets up our kids for experiences they're not prepared to deal with."

"After Lindsay's murder, I spent a whole year researching this topic. I was blown away by the statistics, by the methods abusers use, by how much I didn't know. So when I went back to work in my 8th grade class and I was teaching them about HIV, STDs, drugs, alcohol, I started to think, 'Why isn't dating violence education mandated?'"


That's when Ann set to work to do something about it. She got involved with Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch's office and partnered with him on enacting legislation, which has since been passed. Lindsay's Law now mandates dating violence education in the State of Rhode Island from grades 7 through 12.


"Lindsay's Law got passed in 2007," she says. "Several other states are stating that they support mandated education but have yet to pass laws. There are currently about 8 states with some kind legislation. But a lot of states lack the funding to train the teachers. In Rhode Island, we didn't ask for any funding--we offered volunteer teacher training and materials, but we're a small state. For other states that approach might be harder. But I'm of the mind that if you wait for the money, the laws will never get passed. I'd rather force the issue and make the states come up with the funding. This issue is too important to wait."

At the end of our 15 or so minutes together, I ask Ann if her activism brings her any satisfaction.


I see the tears sneak up as she tells me, "It doesn't bring back Lindsay, but it does bring some satisfaction, yes. I think we've done a lot to honor her memory. After her murder, I thought long and hard about what she would want me to do. I tried my best to think, if she had survived the attack, what would she have wanted to do? She had a degree in education, so working toward education just made sense to me, not just for her memory, but for everybody else. If she had survived, Lindsay would have been talking about it. I have no doubt."

Start Talking

Today is national "It's Time to Talk" Day, started by the tireless activists at Liz Claiborne, Inc. What's it all about? (See my last blog for details.)

Basically, it's about getting educated about domestic and teen dating violence in our society. (See news coverage of Rhianna's ordeal . Or Tameka's. Or Sheena's. Or Claudette's.)

We've got a problem in this country. An epidemic actually. These are the statistics:
  • Of the women between ages 15 and 19 murdered each year, 30% are killed by their husband or boyfriend.

  • 1 in 3 teenagers report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner.

  • More than 1 million women are stalked each year in the U.S.

  • 56% of corporate leaders today say they are aware of employees within their organizations who are affected by violence against women.

  • 54% of parents admit they have not spoken to their children about dating violence.

Well ladies, it's time to speak up.

I'll be blogging and tweeting live this morning from the Liz Claiborne showroom, in the middle of their "It's Time to Talk" day activities. Personalities, experts, advocates and survivors are all getting together on this issue today and raising their collective voices. Today is a day to move this issue out of the darkness and into the light.

What can you do? Well, you can:

Get educated.

Get involved.

Get help--for yourself or someone you know who needs it. (Teens can get help here.)

Blog, tweet, Facebook. Call your best friend. Talk to anyone and everyone who will listen today. Make it your problem. Please? Our kids are counting on us to try to sort some of this out, before they have to.

Suzy is talking about it.

Ann is talking about it.

Stefania is talking about it.

Linda is talking about it.

Are you talking about it?

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's Time to Talk

You’re a well-informed parent, committed to raising a healthy family. You read food labels, give your kids vitamins. You enforce bedtime, check homework. You’ve had—or are planning to have—conversations with your kids about the dangers of alcohol and tobacco use.

But are you planning to talk to your kids about dating abuse?

A recent study by Liz Claiborne Inc. showed that parents are seriously out of touch with the realities of dating violence. The majority of parents surveyed couldn’t identify the warning signs of teen dating abuse. The majority of teens surveyed don’t confide in their parents about their abusive relationships. Sometimes teens themselves don’t know that they’re what they’re experiencing is wrong or where to get help.

Isn’t it time to start talking?

Liz Claiborne Inc.’s Moms and Dads for Education (MADE) to Stop Teen Dating Abuse is a coalition of parents, teachers and concerned citizens advocating that every high school in the country teach a curriculum on preventing dating relationship violence and abuse. MADE highlights: the power of education, the importance of reaching kids as they are beginning to engage in relationships and the potential for parental involvement to effect prevention.

On Thursday, December 3rd, Liz Claiborne Inc. will host their 6th annual “It’s Time To Talk Day” at their New York City headquarters in partnership with Talk Radio News Service. Celebrities including Mariska Hargitay; Tim Gunn; Malaak Compton-Rock; Ann Shoket, Editor in Chief of Seventeen, and Stacy Morrison, Editor in Chief of Redbook; authors; corporate and government leaders will join with advocates, relationship and adolescent development experts, parents of victims, and teen survivors from across the country to get the conversation started. Leading local and national talk radio hosts will conduct interviews with these participants who are willing to speak-up about domestic violence and teen dating abuse. I'll be at the event as well--interviewing, blogging, tweeting--doing my part to keep the conversation flowing.

“It’s Time To Talk Day” is also an opportunity for all Mom Bloggers to help spark a national conversation about the importance of parents taking action and talking to their children about healthy relationships. You don't have to be at the event to be a part of it; by joining MADE, by talking about these issues, by educating yourself, your family and your community, you're effecting the change we all wish to see in the world. (The MADE website has some great ideas on how to get the conversation started.)

As a parent, your support is invaluable in raising awareness on this issue. All of our children benefit from your involvement. By actively and vocally promoting healthy relationships, we can effect change.

By starting the conversation, we can help stop the violence.

For more information or resources on these issues, please visit:
Love Is Respect (National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving Thanks

Three-and-a-half years ago, a miracle happened. Eight pounds and two ounces of happiness pushed, struggled and ultimately, joyfully, screamed her way into my life.

And since then, nothing has ever been the same.


For every single one of the 49 pounds I gained to give her life, I am grateful.

For every sleepless night, brought on by teething, illness or bad dreams, I am grateful.

For every day that begins before the dawn, I am grateful.

For every book read more than one dozen times, for every art project completed, for every Crayola design I have found on my furniture, I am grateful.

For every hug, every snuggle, every tantrum, every tear, I am grateful.

For every time I have held her sleeping body in my arms, I am deeply and humbly grateful.


Little One, you have taught me more about what it is to love than you will ever know. Your very existence--the fact that you are--has transformed my life in ways you'll likely never understand until your own pushing, screaming, living bundle of love comes to be.

It's you that I'm most grateful for, in every moment of every day. Thank you for being my child. Thank you, Sweet One, for being at all. By the very fact that you are, you have changed the world. And that is something for which to be abundantly, rejoicefully thankful.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Not Your Mama's Mashed Potatoes

OK, I haven't actually tried this recipe yet (but I will tomorrow morning, part of my contribution to the Little One's preschool Thanksgiving feast). I got it from a Mama friend who happens to be a culinary genius. Seriously. The stuff that comes out of this woman's kitchen is out of this world.


Mama Sarah's Mashed Potatoes

10 Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 8 oz package sour cream
1 stick of butter
salt & pepper

Optional add ins:
fresh chives (1/4 cup, chopped)
garlic (3 to 6 cloves, mashed)
paprika (2 teaspoons)
grated cheddar cheese as a topping (the more the better)

Boil the potatoes whole, with the skins on, until soft. (Cutting the potatoes before boiling can make the finished dish a little watery.) Strain potatoes, let cool, cut into equal parts to make mashing easier.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl or pot, put potatoes, softened butter, cream cheese, sour cream (and any of the add ins you're using, except the cheddar cheese). Mash, mash, mash, skins on and everything. (Electric beaters work best, but take care not to over beat.) Salt & pepper to taste.

Spoon into a buttered baking dish (top with grated cheddar if you're using it) and bake for a half hour.

UPDATE: I made this dish tonight, in preparation for the Little One's preschool Thanksgiving feast tomorrow and I'm happy to report that it's divine! One word of warning, however, you'll need to get your fork into the sink right quick after tasting because if you don't, you'll be in danger of eating half the dish!

You've been warned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

H1N1 Vaccine is the New Black

Thousands of people waiting in line, just for a chance to get it. Grown women pushing children aside for a spot closer to the front of the pack. Doctors' offices, town health departments, schools--no one has it. And that makes the rest of us even more desperate to get it.

It reminds me of the Cabbage Patch Doll phenomenon of the 80s. I think my grandmother actually went to fisticuffs with another granny over my first Cabbage Patch Doll, Lucy Therese. (Yeah, I got the doll. Grandma won. I come from a long line of hearty, Eastern European Mamas.)

I managed to get the Little One vaccinated and today is the eve of her booster. A huge relief, to be sure. But my work is unfinished. After all, what good am I to her if I fall ill with this 21st century plague?

So I've been trying like hell to get the vaccine for myself. No mean feat these days, as many of you already know. I considered lying to my town health department when they were doing their clinics. I figured I could tell them I was pregnant. Or caring for an infant under the age of 6 months. Or both. (That lie, I figured, might garner me extra sympathy.) But I'm a terrible liar. Plus, it kind of felt like bad karma to lie about something so big.

So, instead, I've been carrying around a can of Lysol in my purse. (No, I'm not kidding.) I've been bathing in Purell. I've washed my hands raw.

Many of my friends are actually a little scared of me now.

Over these past weeks, I've married my anti-flu vigilance with a steely determination to find and procure a dose of this vaccine for myself through honorable means. And my efforts have finally paid off. I have an appointment this week to finally get the most coveted accessory of the season: The H1N1 Jab. And I'm proud to say that I didn't have to bop any grannies over the head to do it, either.

Avoiding the Swine Flu by vaccination: $30.
No longer spraying Lysol on the Metro-North train to NYC: Priceless.

Now, if I can just avoid catching it until Thursday...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gustafer Yellowgold

What do you get when you throw together an auditorium full of preschoolers; some thoughtful, absurdly addictive original tunes; and minimally animated stories of a little yellow visitor from the sun?

You get one of those rare occurrences where you're actually having as much fun as your 3-year-old, even though you're doing the same thing. That's Gustafer Yellowgold.

Thanks to some seriously hip friends, the Little One and I were introduced over the weekend to Gustafer, and his frighteningly talented creator, Morgan Taylor. Taylor is the illustrator/singer/songwriter behind Gustafer Yellowgold. And despite the slightly silly premise, Morgan's music is anything but fluff.

There's no mistaking Taylor's musical aptitude or his flair for performance. In fact, it's impossible to listen to Gustafer's musical adventures without being reminded of another slightly silly musical quartet: The Beatles. (Who else but John, Paul, George and Ringo could have made a song about an Octopus's Garden sound so good?) Like the Beatles, Taylor brings a poetic sensibility to his music. And it's this poetry and intelligence that so much of today's children's music lacks.

Taylor's brainchild, Gustafer Yellowgold, and the accompanying musical, multi-media adventures are the thinking parent's dream. So, if you don't know Gustafer yet, you can meet him here. Listen to his music, read his story, or pick up a DVD. And don't forget to check out the concert schedule. Because, like all good music, Gustafer is best experienced live.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Resistance is Futile

The elves are out in earnest now. (They have been since the day after Halloween.) And while I'm largely opposed to stretching the holiday season beyond its natural limits, for this particular gift item, I am happily making an exception.

Compendium is a Seattle-based company that creates and distributes a fresh, design-rich line of inspiring gift products--gift books, journals, stationery, desk accessories and home d├ęcor at prices affordable enough to warrant celebration. (The gorgeous Her Words Mini-Notebook pictured here sells for an incredible $3.95.)

But their inspired journals offered at inspiring prices are not why I am making an exception to my rule.

Compendium is also a generous supporter of my favorite non-profit, The Joyful Heart Foundation, created to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.

In addition to the materials they donate to Joyful Heart retreats and other wellness programming, Compendium is currently offering a 30% discount off of your entire purchase to all Joyful Heart supporters. So if you're in the holiday shopping spirit and you're looking for gifts that say something special--something from the heart--then check out Compendium. Just enter promo code JOYFUL01 when prompted at the online checkout. Simple.

While you're online, make sure you become a Facebook fan of the Joyful Heart Foundation. Thank them for setting you up with this discount, and for all of the unparalleled healing work they do. Talk about cause for celebration.

And don't forget to spread the word. After all, the holidays are, um, just around the corner.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Things I Never Thought I'd Hear Myself Say

Motherhood requires troubleshooting skills, on-the-job learning and some serious improv abilities. Every day offers new adventures and we Mamas must remain adaptable, if nothing else. There's no handbook for some of the stuff our Little Ones throw at us. I've compiled a little list of phrases I'd never have guessed would ever pass my lips, until I became a Mama:

Please get your face off the toilet seat.

Don't lick that.

No, you can't put your tutu on the dog.

Would you like it if someone stuck their finger up your nose?

If you don't go back to sleep, we'll never have fun again. Ever.

Get your hand out of your pants.

Get your hand out of my pants. (Full disclosure: I'm sure I said this at least a half a dozen times in college.)


And, finally,the mother of all Mama phrases. The one I swore I'd never utter:

Because I said so.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Learning to Fly

Sunny, sixty-something degree weather today lead quickly to a back yard romp in our leaf piles with the Little One. While rolling about on autumn's colorful carpet (and momentarily pushing the fear of ticks from my mind) I was intoxicated by the Little One's laughter. She was in a state of complete abandon, the kind of enthusiastic surrender that only children experience. (After all, three-year-olds have no idea about Lyme Disease. Why should they be worried?)

Lots of changes are afoot in our lives. Some weigh heavily upon me. Others offer hope: a thin, bright line on the horizon. For me, all change is unsettling. Such is the nature of change, I guess.

But her laughter--that full-bellied, joyful noise, utterly devoid of self-consciousness--was an affirmation. It sounded like a promise. It sounded like the future. Not in a trite way; the future always holds a balance of joy and suffering. But her euphoria echoing off our newly stripped Maples rang out like a shot--clear and strong. Its very utterance the proof of days to come.

It is that future--the uncertain one--that promises. The Great Wide Open is exhilarating and terrifying. And we all have moments in our lives when we're able to see it--and how much we're at its mercy. But if we turn the prism just so, we can see the rainbow.

Catching our breath and pulling golden Maple leaves from our hair, the Little One sat up and hugged me. It was one of those moments that's now burned forever in my memory, a snapshot of an emotion.

Then she said, "Do we have to put all these leaves back in the trees?"

I felt a stinging in the corners of my eyes and a smile erupt across my face. "Do you think we could?" I asked.

"If we could fly, we could," she said.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Nightmare Before Christmas

No sooner was Halloween in the coffin and buried than the stores began pumping the Christmas music in earnest. A quick trip to a kid's clothing store today made it clear what the next two months will bring: A Christmas cacophony, jingling it's way into our collective consciousness with a single, unified message. Buy, baby, buy.

Look. I love this time of year. I love Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. The leaves, the food, the parties, even the family. All of it makes for a festive, cozy end of the year.

But Frank Sinatra's "12 Days of Christmas" at 10 AM the morning after Halloween? I'd barely made it through my latte and I find myself contending with Old Blue Eyes and his extended family. It's not right.

We've all been battered by the economy over the last few years. Job losses, falling home values and vanishing 401ks have left us all a little spooked. The sum total of which amounts to people spending less. So, I get retailers encouraging us to look ahead to the inevitable season of buying giving, with the hope that we might loosen our purse strings sooner and more often.

But I swear, if I have to hear Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" daily for the next two months, I'll be one wicked Grinch by December 25.

To whom do I address my appeal? The Chamber of Commerce? The Better Business Bureau? Eight tiny reindeer? Stop the madness! Christmas is two blessed months away! I promise I won't forget to gift my kiddo, my parents, my brother, my nephew, my hairdresser and my garbage men.

As for me, I can't think of a gift I'd appreciate more than allowing time to proceed along its own already absurdly rapid pace. Let's not fast forward our lives by foisting Frosty upon unsuspecting Mamas in early November.

Father Time doesn't need the help. He moves pretty fast as it is, for an old guy. I've got a three-year-old to prove it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Laryngitis Diaries

Today, after the Little One came home from preschool, we had a little exchange about the state of my vocal chords:

Little One: Talk normal, Mama.

Mama: (In a barely audible whisper, emphasising with hand gestures) I can't, love.

Little One: But you have to try. I don't think you're trying.

Mama: I am trying, sweet one. But I lost my voice.

A look of concern mixed with fear clouds her face. A look like: "Lost" her voice? I didn't know this was possible.

Little One: But where'd it go? Did you lose it? (Looks at Mama's pockets.)

Mama: (Nods)

Little One: Oh no. What happened? Did you swallow it?

Adventures in deductive reasoning, sponsored by my three-year-old.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Sound of Silence

I've lost my voice.

See, I've got kind of a nasty cough (no fever, so no aporkalyptic swine flu fears) and it seems to have robbed me of speech, or at least of vocalization. At first blush, it's not the end of the world, right?

But consider A Day in the Life of a Mama:

  • I need to write out my Starbucks order before getting online. Dunkin' Donuts drive through isn't even a possibility.

  • When the Little One takes off running toward the supermarket parking lot, I open my mouth to yell "Stop!" But what comes out is...nothing. Fortunately, she's as well trained as any Pavlovian canine and so came to a screeching and immediate halt once at the curb.

  • The Little One is on her 6th tantrum of the afternoon. I need to call another Mama to vent, but am reduced to texting, which is, of course, not the same thing.

  • Bedtime turns into a nightmare when Mama can't read even one of the six books requested. Compromise prevails, though, when we silently agree to look at them together.

Any good home remedies to bring my voice back? I'm not psychic, but I foresee tantrums and storybooks in my near future.


Monday, October 19, 2009

The World Series of Love

So I'm watching game three of the ALCS tonight. I'm an unabashed Yankees fan, as anyone who knows me will tell you. (Stay with me West Coast readers.) I was dazzled by the magic that closer Mariano Rivera worked as only he can. The man's arm is graced with some serious positive juju, the likes of which I've never seen in my life as a baseball fan.

After Mariano got himself, and my boys in blue, out of what could be generously called a serious jam, I kind of relaxed. Mo took control, shut down the threat; it should have been smooth sailing from there.

Here's where the Mama stuff comes in.

After Mo's miracle working, the Yankees failed to deliver a run. So the team, while momentarily out of the woods, still had some work to do.

Enter Joe Girardi, Yankees Manager. A baseball manager is, in many ways, just like a Mama. A manager wants his team to thrive, to succeed, to prosper, just the same as any Mama wants for her family. A manager knows his team, inside and out, the way a Mama knows her family. A manager makes decisions--both popular and less so--based on what he feels is best for his team, just the way we Mamas do. (Think enforcing bedtime and candy rationing.)

Well, tonight, Joe Girardi made some decisions in the 11th inning that I will go to my grave without understanding. He replaced Rivera with Robertson, a young right-hander who performed, for the precious few pitches he threw, admirably. Then, in a mid-inning move that confounded many a fan and--in my mind at least--lost the game for the Yankees, Girardi pulled Robertson for another right-hander, Aceves, a pitcher who has struggled some in recent games.

Why?

Here, Mamas, is the crux of this post: Because Girardi thought he was making the best choice he could make in a tough situation. The game was tied in the 11th inning and he had already used his ace. What next?

See, Mamahood and baseball have a lot in common. As Mamas, we're thrown curve balls almost every day of the week. (At least baseball players get off days!) We're operating in the moment, with outside forces vying for power. (Think MTV, Toys 'R Us and Mean Girls.) We try to anticipate and cut off danger before it even crosses the plate.

But sometimes, in the thick of it, as we formulate our permutations of every conceivable outcome for a given situation, we over think things. Sometimes, in an effort to save, we end up doing some collateral damage.

So Joe Girardi, if you're reading this, let me first tell you that I'm a big fan. But let me also give you some advice, one Mama to another: Sometimes we need to give our kids a chance to fall, before we try to save them from doing so. They'll learn some lessons in the process, to be sure. And the landing might not be nearly so bad as we anticipate.

As for the rest of us Major League Mamas, let game three of this ALCS serve as a reminder not to judge. When you see that Mama at the supermarket with the wild child, check yourself before you let those holier-than-thou thoughts fly: You don't know what she's faced that day or what kind of curve balls she's been thrown. She might have just moved her world through a potential shitstorm with no casualties and could, at that moment, be in need of a solid reliever to carry her through. Whatever her story, she's probably doing the best she can at that moment, just like good old Girardi.

But next time, Joe, if you've got a good thing going? Do me a favor. Let it ride.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reunion Magazine

I've been moonlighting, Mamas.

I know, I know, I probably should have told you sooner. And I love this little blog of mine, don't get me wrong. But another master has been vying for my focus and devotion. So I feel like it's finally time I told you...

We just launched a magazine!

By we, I mean the dedicated, driven and fearless team at the Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by Mariska Hargitay to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.

It's a bold mission that Joyful Heart pursues. Reunion, the magazine, is the latest addition to their impressive agenda. Intended to connect and expand the Joyful Heart community, Reunion also turns up the volume on these issues of abuse for the community as a whole by: "helping survivors and practitioners heal from trauma with thoughtful self-care; educating our supporters and partners about issues important to our cause; and empowering the wider community with ways to work together to help end the cycle of violence and abuse."

As the Editorial Director of this ground-breaking publication, I joyfully introduce you to Reunion. Read it online or sign up for a subscription to the print publication. Embrace the hope and healing it promotes. And, most importantly, talk about it. Talk to your friends, your family, your hairdresser, your school principal. Make these issues of violence against women and children your issues. Together, with voices raised, we will be heard.

Read more about the healing work of Joyful Heart here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Words of Encouragement

I blog pretty often about my own insecurities as a mom, the heavy load of guilt I carry that I'm screwing up my kid, and my efforts to overcome this destructive cycle of self-recrimination.

Recently, some profound--and profoundly simple--words of encouragement popped up in my inbox, emailed by another Mama, of course. It was the text of an article by Elaine Heffner, CSW, Ed.D., entitled "The Good Enough Mother." It's wise and witty and just about every Mama I know will relate to it. We can't be perfect mothers, Heffner insists, so we need to stop trying and give ourselves a break. We need to be, she says, "good enough" mothers. And a "good enough" mother, in Heffner's estimation:

  • loves her child but not all of his behavior.
  • isn't always available to her child whenever he wants her.
  • can't possibly prevent all her child's frustrations and moods.
  • has needs of her own which may conflict with those of her child.
  • loses it sometimes.
  • is human and makes mistakes.
  • learns from her mistakes.
  • uses her own best judgment.

It feels nice to be reminded that you're doing a good job, doesn't it? And we are, Mamas. We are.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mama's Magnificent Pumpkin Bread

We've got baking on the brain today. And we're all set to run to the supermarket to pick up a few ingredients for this, the moistest and most fantastic spiced pumpkin bread recipe around. But before we run out the door, I thought I'd share my recipe with you.

Mama's Magnificent Pumpkin Bread

4 eggs
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup applesauce (unsweetened)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup chopped walnuts or raisins (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour 3 loaf pans (7x3).

2. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, pumpkin, butter, oil, water, sugar until blended. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Blend the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, then pour batter into prepped pans.

3. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes. (Loaves are cooked when you insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This Is Halloween

"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

The creeptastic Halloween season is upon us and my little ghoul and I have already begun our Halloween crafting. We've been hard at work making our own Halloween greeting cards with construction paper and glue sticks (her favorite).

I've been sneaking around, looking for other spooktacular low or no cost crafts to do with her. Here's some fun and easy ideas I've been able to scare up.


This handprint spider is perfect for preschoolers and their mummies. If you need the directions, they're over at Amazing Moms.






Recycle your milk jugs and create a spooky lighted walkway outside your house. Details are over at Disney's Family Fun site.








It's scary how many old t-shirts most of us have lying around. Why not repurpose one into this cute little ghost door hanger? Kaboose has all the details.



And while you're busy making all these tricks, why not give your little monsters a real treat. Chow has the skinny on these "Tricked Out" Caramel Apples. Scary good!

Want more ideas? I found some good ones last year, too.

UPDATE: How could I have overlooked this comprehensive Halloween guide from Cookie?

Monday, October 5, 2009

H1N1 411

This week marks the much anticipated first deliveries of the H1N1 (Swine Flu) vaccine to doctors' offices, health clinics and school districts around the country. But do you have the facts? Should you get the vaccine? If you want it, where can you get it? What if you're pregnant? Should you vaccinate your kids? Is the darn thing safe?

As usual, NPR has a done a terrific job answering the important questions on a major issue. See, they've got a woman on the inside. Journalist Joanne Silberner reports from a front row seat at the CDC's (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Emergency Operations Center, a place where the nation's top health officials monitor all major public health situations, including continued H1N1 outbreaks and the vaccine response. You can listen to the full report here.

Additionally, NPR.org posts listener questions and the expert responses. ("[T]ake the flu vaccine," Dr. Frank Witter, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, tells pregnant women.)

It's a great place to start your research and make your decisions regarding H1N1, the vaccine and your family.

Additional resources:

CDC H1N1 page

AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) H1N1 info

WHO (World Health Organization) H1N1 response

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It's the Little Things

Two years ago, a week before I was to host my first Thanksgiving dinner, I broke the little toe on my left foot. When I say broke, I mean that it was hanging, loose and limp, like a rotten berry ready to drop off a branch. Yeah. It was ugly. I actually had to go to the ER (for a broken toe!) and call my saintly little brother away from some hugely important football game he was watching to drive me home from the ER. I was on crutches. It was ridiculous.

Today, after a lovely dinner with kiddos and friends at another Mama's house, I slammed the same toe into one of her sturdy oak kitchen chairs. And yes, I broke it. Again.

Fortunately, this time it doesn't look quite so prepped for amputation as it did two years ago. So I was able to leave my little brother in peace.

Like any hardcore Mama, I put a belt between my teeth, taped the sucker myself and drove my kiddo home for bedtime. I'll even admit to some small sense of pride in being able to do so, though it does kind of hurt. (Two glasses of wine have taken the edge off.)

Nevertheless, both experiences have reminded me how important the little things are. This tiny, seemingly vestigial digit is, apparently, quite useful. Almost integral, some might say, to important daily activities like walking or lifting a little one out of the bath.

So I sit here typing, humbled at the power of my little toe and all of the other tiny things that shape my life: little people, little displays of love and the tiny rays of hope that always seem to peek through even the most menacing of clouds. I accept this broken toe as a reminder from the universe not to take the smallest things for granted.

Little toe, get well soon. Bath time needs you. And so does yoga class. I promise you a spa pedicure when you're well. So hurry up and heal, little guy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

We're Not Gonna Take It

If you're reading this blog, then chances are you're a parent. Which means you have kids. Which means you should be aware of the statistics on teen dating violence--and how to address the issue within your family and community.

This morning NPR reported on this underdiscussed topic and found that "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about 1 in 10 adolescents reports an experience with physical violence from a dating partner. If other forms of abusive violence are included — from being threatened or emotionally harassed, to name-calling and insults — that number goes way up." Yeah, way up, to 1 in 4.

The good news is that, as parents, we have a say in what our kids learn about relationships. We can help them identify healthy partnerships. We can instill in them a respect for themselves and others. We can help them learn what to expect in their relationships--and what is just plain unacceptable.

It isn't easy. Not in a culture that glorifies violence and sexualizes girls from an absurdly young age. (Really, why would my preschooler need a leopard print cami and panty set?) It is almost like establishing an underground, counter-culture, one that glorifies respect, not abuse.

But it can and must be done. And it has to be we parents that make it happen. If not us, then who?

There are some terrific resources available online to help you get educated and get the conversation started. My favorite is MADE--Moms and Dads for Education to Stop Teen Dating Abuse. (You've heard about MADE here previously.) They've got the bad news--the statistics--and the good news--what's being done to stop the cycle of abuse and how you can get involved.

Enough is enough, isn't it?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I've realized something this week, now that the Little One is healthy and we're back on schedule. I've realized that this preschool thing, it kind of rocks. It pains me a bit to admit it, but 3 half days a week to do my own thing (like take a yoga class, work on my book, pee in private) is doing much for my sanity.

Yes, she still says "Mommy, don't go," when I drop her off in the morning. But pick-up is a bundle of hugs and kisses and tales of all the fun she's had at school. And the remainder of the afternoon finds me more patient and more present than before.

It's kind of funny to me now, all of the fear and anxiety I experienced leading up to this transition. It's not that all the anxiety is gone (that requires a prescription). It's more the reminder that change--one of the only constants in our lives--is not automatically a bad thing. It's something that the Little One is learning in a big way for the first time, and something that I'm relearning through her, my little teacher.

I still have a few more hours to contemplate this lesson. And I plan to enjoy every minute. But first, I'm going to pee. Alone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Buddhism for Mothers


Motherhood is love in its purest form. It's also several parts undistilled stress and worry. Sometimes, the negative emotions (and the guilt that follows) can overpower the sweetness of our pure Mama love.

In so many ways, motherhood is its own whole, it's own complete experience. There's the yin and the yang, the positive and negative, the joyous and the exhausted, the playful and the stressed to tears.

In her book, Buddhism for Mothers: A Calm Approach to Caring for Yourself and Your Children, author Sarah Napthali explores the unique ways in which mothers can blossom when we apply some Buddhist thinking to our lives. The book is balanced and practical, and Napthali's commitment to helping Mamas care not just for our babes in arms, but for ourselves, too, is refreshing.

She outlines ways to help us remain in the present with our kids (this is a big one for me), to help us stay calm, to deal with our anger and to worry less. Sounds like the perfect Mama, right? That's the beauty of Napthali's work (and Buddhism in general); the acceptance that no one is perfect, that we are all flawed, that we all suffer (the First Noble Truth). She reminds us that having guilt about our flaws ("I snapped at my kiddo," or "I'm so disorganized," or "My butt is sagging southward at a rate of 3 inches per year") is not only unproductive, but that it helps keep us stuck. She encourages us to notice our wrong actions and move on, knowing that we may just do better next time.

When we let go of our expectations, our fears--and yes, our guilt--what remains is peace in the present. And I think that after I read this fantastic book another dozen or so times, I might just be able to put it into practice.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Break On Through

This week we've been suffering through a case of "breakthrough" chicken pox. This is, apparently, what they call it when your kid has had the varicella vaccine and winds up getting the chicken pox anyway.

It took some time for the doctor and I to even realize that she had it. Breakthrough cases are usually milder (as hers is) than cases in unvaccinated kids. And breakthrough cases don't always behave in the same way that standard chicken pox does.

A little itching, a very mild fever and less than 30 spots doesn't seem like much to complain about. Most of us Mamas probably remember suffering through worse when we had it. (I know I sure do; I got the chicken pox for my 13th birthday.)

Being quarantined all week , however, has given me time to question the wisdom of a vaccine that still leads to infection in 15 to 20 percent of cases (according to the CDC). My views on vaccines are not radical; the Little One is up to date on every recommended vaccine. But varicella is largely a benign virus. When we were kids and someone got it, we were supposed to go over and play with them. It wasn't something our parents were afraid of us contracting and very, very rarely led to complications.

So, my question, as the Little One and I embark on a fourth day of house arrest, is this: Is varicella something that we actually need a vaccine for? Especially one that doesn't seem to work all that well?

In a world where our super-clean, hyper-vaccinated lifestyles are being implicated in the exponential rise in childhood allergies (see the Hygiene Hypothesis) it's at least worth asking if somewhat ineffective vaccines against benign viruses are truly necessary. We are graced from birth with immune systems whose specific job it is to fight off illness. Getting sick actually strengthens a body's ability to fight the next onslaught of germs. But vaccines, antibiotics (and their overuse), and antibacterial everything have pushed the front line of defense against sickness beyond our immune systems. When our bodies don't have enough opportunity to fight off germs and disease, so the Hygiene Hypothesis goes, they will go to work fighting other "invaders" like pollen, mold, dust, and certain foods, creating an allergy.

So, while the Little One's immune system is getting varicella virus workout, we're making our way through a small stack of DVDs from the library. And if she's feeling up to it this afternoon, we might do a little finger painting. And I am blessed with some unexpected time with the Little One while she's home from school. Seems like a little case of the chicken pox isn't so bad after all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunny Window

I'm a sucker for just about anything that smells good. Aromatherapy works on me, there's no question. Lavender, sage, tea tree, cedar--I'd like to soak everything I own in these essential oils and drift through my house in a kind of aromatic stupor.

At a local outdoor market over the summer, I discovered Sunny Window, a Massachusetts based purveyor of all things natural and aromatic: soaps, essential oils, teas and a seemingly endless supply of French lavender. I was immediately infatuated with every single wonderful thing I found at the Sunny Window booth, run by Nancy, the charming and down-to-earth business owner.

I went through my purchases pretty quickly. One aromatherapy spray--optimistically called "Joy"--I simply had to buy again. So I emailed Nancy. It wasn't long before I was back for more--and more. Her oils are the purest I've smelled and more than reasonably priced. Soaps and sprays, everything she has just smells so darn good!

So, now that I'm hooked, I can be found poking around Sunny Window's web site regularly. Which is why it's strange that it took me so long to read about Nancy and the story of Sunny Window.


See, apart from being a talented aromatherapist and well-traveled business woman, Nancy is also a Mama with some serious drive and a tough back story. Nancy was 1998's "Welfare to Work Entrepreneur of the Year." It was 20 years ago, as a single mother, that Nancy took $30 out of her final welfare check and started a business at her kitchen table. Her success story is so inspiring that she's been featured in the Boston Globe, Parade Magazine and on PBS, just to name a few.

These days, when Nancy isn't combing the fields of France for the freshest lavender or traipsing around Turkey for the most robustly scented roses, she's giving back. Nancy volunteers as a mentor and public speaker, sharing the secrets to her success with people who could use a little of that joyful juju she seems to possess. If only she could bottle that and offer it for sale.


For now, I'll remain happily hooked on just about everything Nancy offers--including that which she cannot bottle: hope.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Absence

The smoke has cleared,
the dust settled.
Tears long dried,
nightmares subsided.

The city din--frenetic, fierce, familiar--
has returned, an annoyance and a comfort in one.

Tattered paper photos, taped with panic and haste
on every open space,
removed, discarded, or tucked away with regret
and anger for lives unfinished.

Crossing the Triboro at rush hour,
snaking slowly toward the skyline stained crimson by a sun
reluctant to cede the day,
there is still a gaping hole, 110 stories high,
silent and wide.

An absence of glass and steel
that reached defiantly skyward.

Broken hearts, inexplicably--incompletely--mended by time
and the distance it creates.

A taxi trip down 6th Avenue
in the glittering Manhattan dusk is a stunning announcement
of what was
but now isn't.

Heroes made
and lost.
Stories forever untold.

In passing, some look up,
some look down,
some look straight ahead.

Gotham endures, thrives,
intrepid in the face of so much violence,
so many ghosts.

Each loss, personal, unbearable.
The collective loss, immeasurable.

At the heart of the city of excess and abundance,
a void remains. And millions understand the word:


without.




Photo by Marc Morelli

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This Is It

Today is our final day before the Little One begins a long, illustrious school career, starting with three half days a week.

I feel that I've blogged endlessly about this approaching milestone (and if I feel that way, I can't imagine what you readers must think of all this pre-preschool angst of mine!). As promised, it has finally arrived.

So on this Pre-Preschool Eve, I will do what I can to make the day special. I'll make her favorite breakfast. We'll play with her best friend. I will leave the crackberry at home. I will try with every part of me to be present for her on this day. And in a good mood.

It isn't so much for her that I will do these things; of course, she'll enjoy doing all of her favorite things. It's more for me. The first day of school, that's her day. Everything will be new and exciting and outrageously liberating.

But Pre-Preschool Eve is a day more savored by a Mama. Today is the last day of what is. Tomorrow is the beginning of what's to come. Tomorrow, she's off to new adventures of her own. New friends and so many wonderful discoveries that she must make on her own.

But today is just for us. Today is Mama and Little One playing our Greatest Hits of the last three years. Today, she's still just mine.

I want to savor every last second of it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Good News Alert: You're Not Screwing Up Your Kids

Someone wrote: "We spend so much time worrying about who our children will become that we forget to spend time with who they are."

I stand accused.

I am forever worrying about which action or inaction on my part will destabilize, traumatize or otherwise royally screw up the Little One and her chance at future happiness. This thinking is so ingrained in me--and, to a less irrational degree, many Mamas I know-- that I find myself imagining in vivid, accusatory detail future therapy sessions in which she enumerates every injustice she has ever suffered at my hand. (Just think of all the times I say "no," or the times I lose my patience with her, or the times that she wakes up at 5:15 AM and I, with one eye open, snap that it isn't time to get up yet. Surely I am sowing the seeds of her undoing!)

As it turns out, maybe not. Nell Casey examines this 21st century anxiety-producing, hyper-aware parenting philosophy in an article for Cookie Magazine. Casey reviews new research and theories by psychology professor, childhood cognitive expert and author Alison Gopnik. Gopnik's ideas are of great comfort to parents, especially those of us who live in mortal fear of proving ourselves woefully inadequate on a daily basis. Basically, Gopnik believes that we parents have to try awfully hard to screw up our kids as badly as we already fear we are doing.

Of course, Gopnik doesn't discount parenting (or the lack thereof) and its effect on childhood development. She does, however, dispute the fragility so many of us ascribe to our children's psyches.

The article is worth a read. And so are Gopnik's books, from the sound of it. I'm going to get started right away. Then maybe I'll be able to spend more time with the Little One now, and less time with the spectre of who I'm afraid she'll become. After all, she's a pretty wonderful kid. And that's something to think about.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tea and Sympathy

As babies go, my Little One was pretty easy. Happy and with a sweet disposition, we never had to endure the unendurable hours of crying that colic can produce. But I know Mamas who have.

In Anahad O'Connor's "Really?" column in yesterday's New York Times, O'Connor explores the age-old remedy of chamomile tea for gastrointestinal discomfort. The American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed two studies in 2007 in which chamomile tea was administered to babies with colic (control groups used a placebo tea). In one study, it seems that more than 50 percent of parents reported major improvement in their infants' colic.

That, Mamas, is major indeed. Not only in terms of improving the comfort and happiness of your baby (and your entire family) but also in terms of how much such a remedy won't cost you.

Read the whole column here for all the details, including how to check for rare chamomile allergies.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Seashells by the Seashore--and More!

On a recent trip to the Toledo Museum of Art (over our family vacation to Northwest Ohio--please, try to contain your jealousy) the Little One and I explored the Eastern Art Wing. We mused over Buddhas, laughed at some monkey statues and were wowed by a spectacular Ganesha icon.

In the gallery housing the Japanese collection, we found some intricately and beautifully painted clam shells. The pearly insides were decorated with unmistakeably Japanese scenes of bucolic bliss: Streams and plants and tiny, kimonoed figures taking tea in the sunlight. They were lovely.

And they gave us an idea.

Upon returning home to the East Coast, we visited our local beach for some late summertime fun. We filled our bucket with every shell we could find. Then we brought them home, cleaned and dried them, and got out the paints.

Her painted shells lack some of the detail found in their Japanese counterparts, but--at least to this Mama--they're no less wonderful. And in addition to the fun we had setting about our natural and artistic explorations, it was also a wonderful way to make a museum visit tangible and memorable for her.

Next stop: The Met. Next project: Who knows? A rendition of Washington crossing the Delaware? An exploration of Expressionism? With Halloween not too far off, maybe we'll try something more seasonal and turn Barbie into a mummy.