Thursday, August 25, 2016

Removal Anniversary Day is Coming

My bebe will be two in a few weeks.

I'm rather in denial about it.

I have never been one to wish away the infancy of my kids, least of all with him. My last.

We've been working on teaching him how to make a two with his tiny little chubby fingers for a while now, and he's just about got it down.

Even if I'm not particularly ready for him to be another year older, he is.

We have this family tradition here where we make a video of the kids singing Happy Birthday to whoever we can't sing to in person. Many of our family members and close friends live far away, so there tend to be a lot of singing videos.

The baby has started to sort-of sing along with the older kids.

One time, totally jokingly, The Oldest mentioned that we shouldn't sing Happy Birthday to him. We should instead sing Happy Removal Day, since he was born via c-section.

I laughed because it was pretty hilarious at the time, and it's still pretty damn funny.

It's also the truth.

I've had nearly two years now to come to terms with the fact that my last child was born surgically.

Haven't done it.


Still not past the anger portion of that grief process.

oooooookay, ladies and gentlemen, this is the part where I make a few disclaimers.

1. I am talking about MY feelings, and they don't have anything to do with anyone else, so don't take my words and project them onto yourself or anyone else or make assumptions about my general feelings about c-sections.

2. I am a doula. I literally spend my life trying to help mothers have amazing birth experiences. I never got one myself. Even with five kids.

3. I will never have another baby, so this was my last personal birth experience and it was rather shitty. I'm not apologizing for being honest about it.

4. If you had a c-section and loved it, I'm happy for you. Truly.

5. C-sections are a vital piece of maternity care. I have a long background in maternal child health and know that they do indeed save lives. I also know that most of them are avoidable and unnecessary. I also am well-versed in the side effects in all manners of delivery. No need to lecture me.

6. I repeat, this is about me. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I'm entitled to my own feelings and emotions. If you don't like them, stop reading.

Oh, the disclaimers. JFC the way the internet is anymore, even with all that nonsense, someone will still come along, absolutely guaranteed and insist that all that matters is the health of the baby and how dare I say anything negative about this procedure that saved ______________ life.

The health of the baby is not all that matters.

The health of the baby is not all that matters.

The health of the baby is not all that matters.

That's a lie you've been told, that people have been told for generations now, and guess what.....we seem to believe it.

Birth trauma is a real thing. It happens to women every single day in this country. Every single day.

I can virtually guarantee that if it hasn't happened to you out there reading this, you know and love someone who was emotionally scarred from her birth experience. Maybe she was even physically injured. It has happened to me twice and I am a birth professional. 

Does a healthy baby matter? Yes, absolutely.

Is it the only thing that matters? No.

Insisting that the health of the baby is the only thing that matters strips autonomy from every pregnant woman. It makes her, her physical being, her mental stability, her emotional healing, it makes everything about her secondary at best.

Without a healthy mother, a healthy baby won't stay healthy long.

If that statement makes you uncomfortable, we should have coffee sometime. For real.

The problem with my last, most terrible, birth experience is that I know that it was unnecessary. I know that. I knew it then.

The only reason I had a c-section was that the baby was breech.

He was not my biggest baby.
He was in the most favorable breech position for vaginal delivery.
I had already birthed FOUR other children with no delivery complications.
The longest I'd ever pushed with my prior children was five minutes.
I have, shall we say....a roomy pelvis.
I am basically the perfect candidate for vaginal delivery of a breech baby.

It wasn't even an option, and I was stuck with the physician group I was stuck with, in the hospital I was stuck with for insurance reasons.

My regular OBGYN, the one that I called in tears afterwards, the one that wasn't covered by my insurance at the time?

He'd have delivered, no questions asked. He hugged me while I cried. Told me that he wished things had been different.

The worst part?

I knew all that.

I'm not the typical obstetric patient. I know far more about the ins and outs of birth than most pregnant mothers ever will. I knew that the doctors weren't giving me an option that I should have had. I knew that I was a perfect candidate for a natural delivery. I knew.

And I was stuck.

Because they refused.

I sobbed uncontrollably for the week leading up to delivery, for months afterwards. The moment I expressed any degree of anger or frustration or sadness at the fact that I wasn't allowed to have this baby the way I should have been was immediately met with criticism, usually from women, usually from mothers.

And do you know what they said to me?

A healthy baby is all that matters.


Mothers matter too.

If all that mattered was the safety of my child, I wouldn't still be upset two years later.

Mothers matter.

I mattered.

Or at least I should have.

Removal Anniversary Day is coming.


Don't worry, we'll sing Happy Birthday the correct way, and I'll keep fighting to make sure that the women who come after me have an opportunity to have the amazing birth experiences I was denied.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The tooth fairy, no longer.

I always knew that this day would come.

I have.

Knowing doesn't make it easier.

Not much about grief is ever made better by advance notice, though. I've learned that one more than a few times.

There was, of course, a part of me wholly in denial about it all. A part of me that believed that things would always stay the way they were, that the experiences of my children would be similar enough to keep it going.

They weren't.

I knew they wouldn't be, but I allowed a part of myself to believe it anyway.

My father, gone over five years now, was the Tooth Fairy. It's a funny story, actually. He earned the title eleven years ago when my eldest child was in preschool, back before cancer and panicked phone calls in the middle of the night and hospice.

Back then, my son was a curious kid wondering about the occupations of people in the family. In class that day, they'd talked about jobs. Some of the people in the family had jobs that were easy to explain to a preschooler. Policeman, firefighter, accountant, writer, grocery checker. My father, though, his was a little more nuanced. Took some more explaining.

He was a dental technician.

He designed and created dentures and partials for people who'd lost their permanent teeth.

I did the best I could to explain this to my child, and within seconds, he'd figured it out. Grandpa made teeth for people who lost them, so clearly that meant that he was the Tooth Fairy.

Made perfect sense to a four year old.

We named our fundraising team
for the Relay for Life after him.

I called Dad that night and informed him of his new profession.

He laughed heartily, accepted the position immediately.

From that point forward, any time the kids had a loose tooth or had something happen at the dentist, they'd call him. He was the one to talk the nervous child off the ledge over a procedure, he was the one to explain why they needed to really floss instead of just saying they'd flossed. He was the first one they'd call when they lost a tooth.

Then cancer arrived and took him away from us.

He kept the job, though, after death. He even took the last tooth lost on his watch with him when he left, tucked into his shirt pocket.

The kids reasoned that he'd just have wings to go along with the tutu now, so it made sense.

Instead of calling him, they'd leave him notes when a tooth fell out, hoping that he'd write back.

In the span of a few weeks this summer, my middle child lost her last tooth and my now-eight year old lost his third. That middle child, she had a special connection with Grandpa. She was the content and squishy one as a baby. His death hit her than hardest, as have most things since.

She always knew, though, that for as long as she had baby teeth, he'd be around.

She lost her last molar a few weeks ago, left her last note for him.

I don't think it's really hit her yet. 

She's in such a hurry to grow up sometimes that she has no recognition of the things she's leaving behind in childhood.

Maybe it's better that way.

I know that I'm not about to point it out to her. 

A few days after she lost her last tooth, her little brother finally lost his third.

He was late to get his baby teeth, has been late to lose them too. His roots are long and deep and stubborn. It takes months for him to wiggle them enough to get them out.

When he lost his tooth, he tucked it under his pillow, as all his older siblings always have...but for him the Tooth Fairy is just the Tooth Fairy. 

The Tooth Fairy was never Grandpa in his world.

He was only two when Grandpa died, and whatever memories he might have are secondary ones, constructed from pictures and stories other people tell.

He doesn't actually remember my Dad.

I realized this truth, then had to sit with it for a while.

Really sit with it.


I knew all along that this day would come, I just wasn't really prepared for it. The reality of having children who were so young when my Dad died is that they won't all remember him. My youngest was born after he died. To him, Grandpa will only ever be a story.

For a flash of a second, I thought about trying to perpetuate the Tooth Fairy. I thought about recruiting the older kids to tell their stories. I thought about it in a desperate attempt to keep this connection to my Father alive.

But I was thinking about it for myself. I was wanting this connection, this perpetuation. For me.

Not for them.

And I can't do that.

I can't allow my grief and my processing of the loss of this piece of my Father to affect them.

I can't put this on them.

And I won't.

I'll let him go, one more time.


Because this is mine and not theirs, and I need to make sure it stays that way.

Thank you, Dad, for all those years of flying around and dropping off dollar coins and fancy two dollar bills and packs of gum, for all those letters left and read and answered. Thank you, Dad. Thank you for everything.

You were the best Tooth Fairy in the history of the universe, but even the best have to retire eventually.

Love you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

the hardest lessons...

It's August. Around here, this month is wildly predictable. It begins with rampant lethargy, boredom and heat. So much heat.

Within the first few days, the panic starts to set in that summer is almost over and an urgency develops. We need to do this or that, go here or there, do all the things we set out to do back in May when we were full of optimism and planning, back before the pajamas and sleeping in really took hold. The urgency turns to dread as the days on the calendar tick off, each one closer to the beginning of schedules and lunch making and alarms and obligations.

We take a brief break for a birthday celebration, then chaos descends.

The first day finally arrives, with its insistence that we adjust immediately. Except that we don't. We never have. We probably never will, for as long as we have children in this house in school of any kind.

We have these lofty aspirations to be people who adapt seamlessly to change, but we aren't those people and we almost certainly never will be those people.

The back end of August is always like this, filled with frustration and anxiety and sleep deprivation.

We get on each other's nerves, all of us.

This week, one of my children, who shall remain nameless for these purposes, hit the proverbial wall. The changes too many, the adjustments not immediate, the emotions all over the place, the demands of getting older and having more expectations placed upon them too much. It was all just too much.

This kid hit the wall, much like I do when I hit it, in a spectacular collapse of emotions.

First there was yelling. Projecting. Lashing out. Then the tears.

Tears, the dry heaving variety.

And it all came out.

In that moment, I was so grateful that my kids see me as the safe dumping ground....even if that means that I'm blamed for far too many other things I can't control all the other times.

My lap will never be too small, not in those moments.

After it all came out, a few days after, I asked this one how they were doing now. Were things better? Encouraged this particular child to come to me before hitting the wall if possible, to let the frustrations out in pieces when they come, so that they don't boil over, spilling onto everyone around them.

(I'm far better at giving this advice than following it, I know.)

The response:

I don't talk about it because I know that my emotions have to come after everyone else.





Knocked me back, that particular set of words strung together, uttered by this child of mine.

Because I know where this comes from.

This whole idea of stuffing your emotions down so that you can do whatever needs to be done for whoever else needs it at that moment.

I know exactly where that comes from.


I know that the tendency to ignore what is bothering them, to tell those emotions to get back in the box....that comes from both of us, their father and I.

Our children, they come by this honestly.

Because they come by it honestly, from an origin so deeply organic and entrenched not just in who they are, but in who we are, it is our obligation as parents to make sure that they understand just how unhealthy this can be.

Ignoring your own emotions, your feelings, your mental health, dismissing it, disavowing how much it impacts you, stuffing it is a seductive short term solution that never makes things better. It sounds great because it works well right now. In the immediate period.

But you'll always, always, always hit that proverbial wall.

And it might not just be yourself that you are running into that wall at full speed by the time you hit then, you could absolutely be dragging other people along with you.

How odd it is that a coping mechanism so often designed to put others first and suppress emotions can end up resulting in even more harm?


We're so terribly complicated.

I told this child, in no uncertain terms, devoid of a hint of sarcasm, in the realest way possible, that their first priority in this world has to be self preservation. Do not sacrifice yourself at the altar of other people's needs. Do not do this.

No one else is going to take care of you first. 

No one else is going to put your emotional well being first.

No one else is going to worry about you before they worry about themselves.

Not friends.
Not boyfriends or girlfriends.
Not spouses.

No one.

The only possible exception to this would be parents, and even then it's far from an absolute. Some parents put the needs of their children before their emotions. Some don't.

It's a hard lesson to learn in life. One I've learned over and over and over again and I know to be the truth, even if I have so desperately wanted to be wrong.

When I was done speaking, the look of shock on my child's face told me that I'd really rocked them to their core.

It's not every day that you're forced to erode a bit of your child's faith in humanity...

I don't want to be the bearer of bad news.

I'd rather be able to tell them that you can rely on people to look out for you.

I'd rather be able to tell them that your friends will always have your back.

I'd rather be able to tell them that no one will ever lie to you or break your heart.

I'd rather be able to tell them that you can trust other people with your emotional well-being.

I just know it's not the truth.

And I can't lie to them.

I can't.

Even if I really, really, really want to.

The hardest lessons to teach are the most important ones.

teach them anyway

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Before You Go To School This Year, 2016

Before I even start writing this one, I have to tell you guys that I meant to get it done before school actually started....I did. I just didn't end up that way.

But hey, that means that I already have a current first day of school picture that includes all of you to put here, so there's that.

Since you always reap the benefits of being the oldest kid, Oldest, I'm going in reverse order this time. So, hang on a sec.

I really need to come up with another nickname for you. Little Asskicker made sense when I was pregnant and even when you were a little baby, but you're going to be two here in a few weeks and it's generally frowned upon to have a swear word as a nickname for a toddler. 

So....let me think about that one for a minute.

Anyway, you're hell on wheels if ever there was such a thing. You've figured out how to actually run, as opposed to what you used to do when you were smaller. You used to swing your arms super fast and pant and make all kinds of movement, believing that you were running fast, when really you weren't going anywhere faster than you would if you were walking. 

Truthfully, it was pretty adorable. That...and I didn't have to chase you too much back then. Now, the chase is on. All day every day. You're the first kid that we've actually had to remove chairs for. All the kitchen chairs reside on the other side of the baby gates unless someone is actively sitting in them. You figured out a long time ago that you could get on the counter much easier if you pushed them around the kitchen.  You scare me a little. 

You aren't going to school this year, obviously, but I'm going to do my best to teach you all kinds of stuff here at home. Letters, numbers, songs, colors. You already sing almost constantly and have been working on making a two with your fingers for a while now. You're ready for that birthday picture. 

Don't grow up too fast. You're the last one. Enjoy that. 

Little Boy
As I write this, you're emptying the dishwasher and watching Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes on Netflix. You're here, at home. Again. 

I'm not sure how long you're going to be doing most of your learning at home, but for now it works. You've made so much progress in the last year that there are times I forget just how much we had to work to get here. 

The fact that you could do most of it in pajamas was just a bonus, I suppose.

Keep working hard, keep doing your best. It shows when you try. I know that so much of this is hard for you, that it doesn't come easily. You've got to fight for all those little pieces of progress sometimes, but keep fighting. 

Also, do jazz hands at every possible opportunity.

I can't wait to see how much you will learn this year and I'm so excited to start attending the programs at the Botanic Gardens with you. ALL THE FIELD TRIPS. All of them.

You also need a new nickname. We should work on that. Your feet are almost as big as mine, so that "little" part won't last much longer. 

Mini Me
Oh, child. You've been such a ball of nerves these past few weeks. I know that it's been making you worry, all these changes. Middle school, new teachers, new friends, new experiences. I know that you don't anticipate change well, even if I've had to remind myself of that more than a few times in the last couple of days.

Maybe it is a good thing I didn't get this written last week and didn't actually get around to it until you were at school for the second day. Maybe. 

Now I can tell you with absolute certainty that you're going to be okay, because you already are. The tiny little skeptic in you is always doubting my words, and this would be no different, but since we're already over here on this side, maybe you'll hear me.

You're going to be okay.

You aren't just going to be okay. You're going to be awesome.

This year is going to be a big one filled with many challenges.

You can do it.

I have to be honest with you...remember when you said that you wanted to do the triathlon this summer? I want to say you mentioned it for the first time in March or so. You just blurted it out one day, and your Dad and I looked at each other a little shocked. Where did this come from? Was she going to be able to do it? Would she stick to the training schedule? Would she finish? I think we were as nervous as you were.

You did it. You did all of it. And almost all of it, you did on your own. 

We were just there cheering you on from the sidelines. 

You can do anything you set your mind to. Don't ever forget that.

Are you my best friend? 

I miss you.

Those are two things that come out of your mouth countless times a day, and while I know that you're almost always totally kidding, I also know that it's your unique way of connecting with me. 


Now that school is in session again, I fully expect that the emails will start arriving soon. (at least I hope so)

You've grown up so much this year. It's startling, actually. You look entirely different, like some little girl was in your body last year and this young woman is there now. Maybe like a chicken wearing a human suit, or is it the other way around? (for those of you reading at home, I know this doesn't make sense. Inside joke.)

You've spent so much time lately working to help others. Between volunteering at the humane society and band and helping your siblings and father with whatever needs done, you've matured in a way that I wasn't really prepared to see. 

It's been amazing to watch. 

Stay weird, keep pushing yourself in school, join all the science and math nerd groups and dammit, girl, if you want to join drumline, DO IT. 

Do it do it do it do it. Or I'll sing. Don't make me sing. 

The Oldest
How did this happen? I know I keep saying that, and I'm sure that by now you are exceptionally tired of me asking questions that probably don't make much sense to you...but deal with it. 

I'm not stopping any time soon. 

How did you get to be a sophomore? How? 

I just put you on the bus for kindergarten yesterday. And now you're taller than your Dad and learning to drive. What the???


You're almost done with your Eagle Scout Badge, which is crazy. Only one merit badge left and that project. I know you're proud of yourself, and we are proud too, but we also know that you're highly motivated by the electronic promise at the end of it all. HIGHLY MOTIVATED.

Your Dad is insanely proud of you. I know it doesn't seem that way, with the incessant teasing and all, but he is. 

You already know what you want to be when you grow up, which is weird because I don't even know what I want to be when I grow up. You have everything all planned out, too. My advice, the thing I feel like I'm always saying to you...make good choices. And be flexible. 

Life isn't always going to work out the way you hope or plan. Don't let that mess things up for you. Adjust and adapt, get up and dust yourself off when you have to. 

And always know, that no matter how old you are, if you need me, I'll be there. Waving my arms frantically from the audience. 


Have a great year, you guys. I love you.

p.s. math homework is still the worst

Monday, August 15, 2016

When You Woke Up This Morning, You Were 8

Dear Little Boy,

You aren't so little anymore, I suppose. I keep asking you when you are going to outgrow my lap and you've started to believe that it is going to eventually happen. You used to just laugh and tell me that you'd always be my Baby Chicken. These days, though, you know that time marches forward and that you get bigger and stronger and older all while my lap stays the same size.

You tell me that when you outgrow it (which your siblings haven't yet, so I am not entirely convinced you ever will either), that it'll be fine because I can just sit on you instead.

Always with the touching and the tucking.

You've always been a tucker. Hands, feet crammed underneath me in some odd way. It looks terribly uncomfortable and doesn't always feel fantastic from this end, but you seem to crave it sometimes and so I indulge you.

If you were to ask your siblings, they'd probably say that I indulge you more than them. They've taken to referring to you as my Schmoo. They nicknamed you that, to go along with their collective insistence that you're my favorite.

You know what?

Let them think that.

I don't actually have a favorite kid, as I am certain I've explained 783 million times this summer. You're all special and different and unique and challenging and difficult and weird and awesome in your own ways. I love you all for who you each are. I struggle with every single one of you in a different way.

But hey, that's the wonder of parenting I matter what I do, someone is mad at me for something, and so I say let them believe that you're my favorite.

So are they.

This year has been an interesting one, and if you'd have told me one year ago today that we'd be prepping for a second year of homeschooling, I'd have probably laughed in your face.

But then the last year happened and something deep in my gut told me that it was time. School wasn't working for you. In too many ways, it was causing more harm than good and so it was time. I pulled you out just weeks after the year started, panicked a little bit, worried for a long time, and then we figured it out.

You've thrived at home in a way I never imagined. You have made so much progress with reading. You're nearly two full grade levels ahead in math. You are always asking when we can make the next science experiment. What are we going to grow now, Mom? Can we do this?

My living room has been full of race car tracks and rainbows and art projects and presentation posters. I have a chalkboard in my dining room now and spend hours and hours developing curriculum. You've discovered just how much you love music, now learning to play piano, doing musical theater, falling in love with performing.

You have never learned in the conventional way, the one that school seems to focus on. You don't sit, you don't absorb things the way they say you are supposed to. You need to move and do and see and feel. You need to experience the world, and when you get it, whatever it is, you understand it on a fundamental level that a classroom could never teach you.

You make me think. You make me create. You make me wonder every single day if I'm doing the right thing.

I've never really been sure of much with you. You've taught me so often that I really don't know nearly as much as I think I do. You've taught me that I always have something to learn, a new way to do things, a new experience lurking out there in the world inviting me to join.

You live outside. You need outside. You crave it, even.

You don't sit well, but you don't get bored. There's always something to do in your world. Always.

Baseball, bikes, scooters, skateboards, rollerblades. There's always some kind of helmet in my car, and it always belongs to you.

You never know when you're going to need it.

You're a born helper. The more physical work is, the more you love it. You need to move. You love to build. You love to destroy. You're teaching your baby brother to follow in your footsteps and half the time I am not sure whether I should be ecstatic or terrified or a little bit of both.

This year you've been fortunate not only to have your Dad be your den leader for scouts, but your big brother as den chief too. I don't know if you'll stay in scouts as long as your brother. I don't know if you'll ever love it as much as your Dad does. I don't know if sports will take more and more of your time, leaving less of it for scouts over time. I don't know.

I do know that this experience for you, with your Dad and your big brother, has been something that really is amazing. I hope that you understand just how special it is.

This summer you started backpacking, learned how to cast fly fishing, and I hear you caught more fish than your Dad...which could be true or you could just be refining the very important life skill of telling a good fish story.

You've been telling good fish stories for a while now.

One of the coolest things about you is that even when you're scared, you try new things anyway. Fear has never stopped you. I am not sure it ever will.

You're the bravest person I know.

You've been through a lot this year. This whole school thing has always been more complicated for you, even from your first days of preschool. I don't know how long you'll be home, but for now, it works.

I know the transitions have been hard for you, but you've weathered the changes well.

You've always been my most patient child. You have always had to be.

When you woke up this morning, you were eight. You went to bed with one less tooth than you started the day with. Things are changing, you're growing up.

It seems to me like you were just turning three. It seems like there is no possible way that you are already as big as you are. And just when I think you're getting too big, you manage to fold yourself up and tuck your hands and feet under me just like you used to when you were little. Tuck in under my wing as long as you need, Chicken.

School starts tomorrow. Meet you in the dining room, pants optional.

Happy birthday, Chicken.

I love you.

Mama Chicken

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