Independence Day

July 4, 2018

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Independent:

Not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction, autonomous, free

 Not relying on another or others for aid or support

 Not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc. thinking or acting for oneself.

 

On this, Independence Day,  July 4th I cannot help but think of babies and their parents. There is such a cultural push to have babies become independent. There seems to be a fear of babies being too dependent on their parents. I hear the words “needy” “bad habits” “spoiled” bandied about in reference to babies’needs. But that is what they are: NEEDS.

Babies need to be held and fed and spoken to and socialized. They are not ready to be independent until at the earliest 18 years old.

Routine and structure are important but separation or rejection is not healthy. If you meet your baby’s dependency needs they will grow independent in time.

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Uniforms and Fairy Dust

January 30, 2015

Why do new parents seem so guarded or opinionated or defensive? Well, much of it is that they are protecting their new family.

Another thing I have noticed is that parents feel they have to subscribe to a specific style. In the years since I first became a new mom – over nineteen years ago, I have noticed that so much around parenting is trademarked. I believe that is all about marketing. I have written about how poor parents are the biggest target of marketing these days.

I remember when it was time to start feeding Phoebe solid food a mom at a La Leche League meeting suggested baby led weaning. This made sense to me – let her take food off the table – I would bite off a tiny piece of apple and let her chew it, I would continue to nurse her. Eventually I became a La Leche League Leader. A couple of years back at a meeting I was leading for toddlers a mom mentioned baby led weaning and I was thrilled to hear this concept being embraced until I heard about all the “rules around it. Rules? There is a book! Wow. I thought it was about being instinctive with a few guidelines about what foods to give and which foods to avoid so that they would not choke.

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I also noticed how people would comment on how attached Phoebe and I were. Of course, I am her mom, we are together (the company I worked for closed while I was on maternity leave and I was a full time mom then.) Then I learned there is an organization called Attachment Parenting – which I love! But I hear moms asking, “Is it is AP to . . . “ Or “does it go against AP if I . . .”

Then there are the breast feeders and the bottle feeders and the co-sleepers and the baby never comes into my bed, and there are “Never let the baby cry” and the Cry It Outs.

I belong to way too many groups on Facebook and I hear so many new moms asking permission to go outside of the rules of whichever category they have chosen to join. I hear arguments about how you cannot do this or you should do that.

Titles: Tiger Mom, Hippie Mom, Crunchy Mom, Stay At Home Mom, Working Mom

Does one need only belong to one “club?” Does anyone only do things exactly as planned out in a book? Do breastfeeding moms never give their babies a bottle? Do most parents have their kids in their bed at least some of the time? Do the families that make their own baby food sometimes use a jar or sometimes eat convenient food? Do the touchy feely moms yell? Does the Tiger mom cuddle? Does the home-schooling mom want to send her kid away to boarding school? Does the mom with the most awesome and fulfilling career want to quit her job and stay home?

If you asked these questions to these parents you would get a resounding YES from time to time.

It seems like a new mom has to wear armor to defend herself and her choices. She has to seek permission to care for her baby. Whatever happened to instincts? Have we cultured intuition away by writing books and coining phrases and categorizing everything and everyone?

Maybe the extended family has done things differently so a new mom feels she needs to defend her choices. Perhaps she is faced with criticism and needs to wear a uniform.

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Whatever it is I wish I could hug all new moms and blow some instinct like fairy dust at them and let them take it in, take in their babies. I want them to clear out the noise so they can hear. So they can hear that voice inside them that tells them: this is your baby, your child, do not strive to fit in, strive to find love, strive to find the wonder in your little person, strive to grow along with them.

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In the meantime I will interject my thoughts in those groups when I have it in me to do so. I imagine fairy dust with each click of the keyboard.IMG_7271

The Power of Tears

January 10, 2015

You never know what may come out of your mouth and how it may impact another person

In my early years as a La Leche Leauge Leader I used to hold meetings in my apartment. One steamy summer afternoon I sat on the floor of my living room folding laundry as Phoebe napped. The buzzer jolted me as I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was the day after the Series Meeting. A voice over the intercom said “I am here for the Meeting.” I buzzed her in.

At my door was a petite new mom with auburn curls and a five-month-old baby asleep in a dark red Baby Bjorn carrier. Beads of sweat speckled her stiff body. Tension permeated her.

“I am sorry but the Meeting was yesterday. Come on in and have a glass of water,” I said.

Her face fell but her body remained at attention.

“Come on in, I‘m just folding laundry. Have a seat.”

“No, I don’t want the baby to wake,” she replied.

She stood in my living room as I sat back down on the floor and went back to the task of folding a load of pinks, greens, oranges and yellows.

“It’s hard being a new mom isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes.” There was a pause.

Then, “and my own mother wants me to stop breastfeeding. She doesn’t understand me. I just want to cry,” she blurted out.

“Well, then, cry,” I offered.

“I don’t want to cry in front of my baby. I don’t want her to think I am weak,” she was incredulous.

“You know, there is strength in tears,” I said as I folded one of Phoebe’s flowery sundresses.

The floodgates opened. I didn’t know if it was five months of pent of tears or a lifetime.

Her body softened with each sob. Even her curls fell easier around her face. Her baby girl woke up and she sat on my couch and nursed her. At first she was stiff. I touched her shoulder and gently pressed her back into the back cushion. More tears fell.

This woman had traveled from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the East Village. If you live in New York City you know that is quite a journey on public transportation, particularly for a new mom.

I never saw the woman again or heard from her but I learned the power of simple words that day.

I often cry with the moms with whom I work and I cry in front of my children. I always feel powerful after.

Those Eyes

November 13, 2014

Looking through old photos of Phoebe I was taken back to the moments she was born. The thing I remember more than the pushing, the pain, the fear of what was going on with my body, more than thinking about our apartment move as I was in labor, more than thinking about moving out of Manhattan, more than thinking of whether she would be a boy or a girl, about what we would name her, I remember those eyes. Those eyes saw right into me. More than thinking if I would be a good enough mother, more than thinking about breastfeeding I remember those eyes.

She is a young adult now and I am still taken with her eyes. Looking at this photo when she was about two years old, the image is a bit blurry but look at those eyes.

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I would wonder what was going on behind those eyes, what she was thinking.

There are certain moments in mothering that leave indelible images in my mind. There was when Chloe, at three weeks of age told me she did not like the light in her eyes while she was nursing – she pulled off my breast, turned her head toward the lamp beside the bed and fake cried then turned back toward me and stopped – she repeated this action until I figured out to turn off the light. She then happily latched on and nursed herself to sleep in the dimmed room.

There was the moment when two year old Finn looked up at me, a stressed moody mama trying to get out the door and get three children to school on time on a rainy day – you know that level of stress – I began to raise my voice, speak angrily. Instead of heading my demands to get into the stroller he stopped, crossed his little arms across his chest and proclaimed, “you have to be patient, Mama.” A tear rolled down his check. I listened.

There are many stories like this but there is nothing like a first. Phoebe’s first look into my soul made me the mom I am. Never forget to look into your child’s eyes. Never forget to watch your baby’s actions. Never forget to listen to the wisdom of a two year old.

Ten years ago today my mama left this earth. I wish I could say she left in a space ship or an airplane to take a ride and come back later but, no, she left permanently.

I know she is pretty mad about not being here. She loved life.

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I learned a lot from my mom. I learned how to be a mom from my mom. I learned it was all right to make mistakes as long as you learned from them. I learned how to dress and put on make-up and to make sure my hair never looked a mess. Mama was very stylish. She had a keen eye for bargains and she also knew how to sew. One of my favorite memories is going to the fabric store. While Mama poured over the Butterick, Vogue and Simplicity pattern books I would walk the aisles with rows and rows of fabric. The colors and patterns caught my eyes and I loved stroking the silks, the textured corduroy, the soft felt. Much of it was tacky but Mama could find the right pattern and the right fabric and accessories and put together a sharp looking outfit for herself or a sweet dress for Traci and me. We were six years apart so often she would use the same fabric but make a different dress.

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I loved watching the ladies behind the counter open the bolts and the fabric would spill over the side and then came the click of the scissors scraping off a yard or a yard and a half. Then we would make our way to the accessories area and pick out buttons, zippers, snaps – I love the snap machine! It was like a hole-puncher but you punched a snap onto the fabric. One year for Easter Mama made her and me a plaid pastel pantsuit. I loved matching Mama. It was in shades of yellow and gray with a trace of pink and the jackets closed with mother-of-pearl snaps. We layered lemon tank tops under the jackets.

Mama was always terrible at good-byes. The conversations always lingered. It would drive Rob crazy every time we drove the twelve or more hours to North Carolina and the morning we were packing to leave Mama would run into the house after a week long visit and come running out with a box or shopping bag full of stuff saying “I meant to go through this with you.” It might be a bunch of photographs or letters or some trinkets from my childhood. Something sure to engage me, distract me from leaving, from the goodbye.

When I found out Mama had lung cancer my heart cracked. I knew lung cancer was bad. That summer I made a few weekend trips alone and one week long trip with Phoebe and Chloe. Through it all Mama always stayed positive. She was determined to fight that cancer. She got mad if anyone spoke negatively about her survival.

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That last visit I remember looking across the living room at her and I knew she didn’t look good. It scared me. She was in Daddy’s leather recliner, asleep, with her head cocked back, the oxygen tubes forming a nearly visible mustache, which blended with her gray skin. She looked old. I fooled myself into thinking she looked this way from the chemo – which she barely had as she could not tolerate it.

That weekend Traci and I took Mama to Cato so that she could by her sister Rita something for her birthday. She chose Cato because it was close by – the mall would never have worked. We had to push Mama in a wheelchair with her oxygen tank on her lap. Traci and I were mostly quiet, listening to Mama’s frustrated directions. She chose a colorful blouse and a pretty grass green jacket. Across the crowded discount store Mama spotted a display of hats. Dragging clothes off the racks we pushed her chair to the hats. Mama considered a fuschia fedora for herself for when the chemo kicked in and she would go bald.

Earlier that summer Phoebe, Chloe and I had shopped in a vintage clothing store and bought Mama four colorful silk scarves for when her hair fell out. I remember the owner of the store being annoyed with the girls as they helped pick out the scarves. Chloe’s little hands touching the silk – that girl loved the feel of silk more than anything. At the age of one she took a silky pajama shirt of mine and cuddled it and always held onto “shirt-shirt” while she nursed. This collection of silk scarves was nearly nirvana to her and she contained herself like a true lady yet this hag gave her the eye of death. I have never given her my business again.

That last visit Mama had me pack up a sweater she had bought from the J. Jill catalog. It was her style exactly. She said she didn’t really need it, that she didn’t really like it that much. I sent it back. That same day we organized all of her insurance papers. Mama also gave me a floppy disc with a few of her short plays that I still have not had it in me to open up.

The day before I was heading back to New York, October 1, I asked Mama about Thanksgiving and Christmas. She said “you have Thanksgiving in New York, I won’t be feeling well from the chemo and then Dad and I will come to New York for Christmas.” I was so happy to have a plan for those holidays especially because I did not know what to expect. Mama died October 19, a Tuesday.

The Sunday before Mama died, Dad called to say Mama was not doing well and the doctor gave her about 10 days to two weeks. I talked to my brother, Mike. We agreed to fly to North Carolina on the same day – he from Boston, me from New York and we would drive together from the airport.

Rob arranged for his mom to come help with the girls. She came in on Tuesday. I felt raw. Tuesday, early in the day, Dad called to say Mama wasn’t doing well. I told him to tell her I love her and I didn’t want her to be in pain and if she needed to go that was fine with fine with me. That night Dad called, I answered and his words were, “ Leigh Anne, Mama’s gone.” I screamed and threw the phone. Mary picked up the phone as I lay on the floor wailing.

I traveled alone Wednesday morning. I was grumpy, agitated. The lines at the airport were long. I had checked in and asked the ticket agent about an open-ended ticket. I had to say out loud “My mom died yesterday.” It was busy and another agent was trying to board a wedding party. She went to my agent and tried to speed her up or cut the line. My lovely agent quietly pointed at the screen – the other agent looked at me and moved on, less frantic.

As I waited to remove my boots and go through security a big, blond southern Christian lady with a loud sweater, looked at me and nearly sang, “It looks like there is goin’ to be a weddin’.” There was a group of young women all carrying white dress bags. “Yes,” I replied. “Are you in a hurry? Are you from New York?” she drawled.

I looked directly at her mascaraed blue eyes and I said “My mama died last night,” as I fell into her big colorful bossom. She hugged me just right. We got through security. She was sitting in one of the chain restaurants. “Do you want some breakfast?” she sang. I thanked her and told her I was going to sit by my gate with a cup of tea.

Many things happened on that trip: planning a funeral, buying a blouse for Mama to wear in the casket, choosing a casket, choosing flowers, buying appropriate clothes for my girls to wear, writing an obituary.

Dad, Mike, Traci and I had to choose flowers for her casket. We went with red as it is elegant and because she was a Red Hat. There were these beautiful tiny red orchids – I knew Mama would have loved them. The florist sucked in her breathe – I imagine she is used to sad people – she said she did not think she would be able to get them. We were in no position to put up a fight. We accepted her statement and chose an alternative.

Traci was with Mama when she died. Traci insisted that she do Mama’s hair and make-up – none of that over the top mortician makeup. She wanted me to help her. When I woke up the next day, knowing that I had to go help Traci decorate our dead mother I cried to Daddy, “ I can write a eulogy, I can give a eulogy but I cannot dress my dead mother.”

We got through the wake. The morning of the funeral came. I wore black slacks and a black kimono style blouse splashed with bright flowers. At the funeral home Daddy takes me by the arm and says “Come on, Leigh Anne, it’s time to say goodbye to Mama.” I couldn’t believe how strong he was through all of this and he knew exactly what to do and when to do it.

I nearly collapsed in his arms as he brought me for my final goodbye. Mama taught me how to do almost everything but she did not teach me how to say goodbye to your mama. Her mama, my grandmother is still alive.

I kneeled down at the casket and I touched her hand. I did not like the cold, lifeless feel of her hand so I pulled my hand back and looked at my beautiful mom with all of her hair. She never had much chemo in the end. She was wearing an emerald silk blouse under her black pants suit. Her nails were painted red to cover the ashen color they had become.

I told her she had done such a wonderful job with us kids that we would be ok, we would miss her terribly, but we would be ok. And I told her how jealous all of my friends were because she was my mom and not theirs and that she was the best mom in the world. I had to teach myself how to say good-bye.

Her casket had the lovely red, baby orchids.

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Do you remember falling in love? The excitement of seeing that special someone? Your heart speeding up? Remember catching each others’ eyes? The way it felt when your skin touched? The vulnerability you allowed yourself?

As your relationship developed both of you revealed your flaws because you let your guards down. Sometimes you got angry but you recovered because love created a place of safety, forgiveness and acceptance, unconditionally.

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This happens with babies.  We have to negotiate our time and space to accommodate this feeling. Our hearts have unending abundance. There is an excitement and fear because we did not realize our capacity to feel such profound emotions.

Welcome to parenting. This journey is all about falling in love. Love can be wonderful and scary, frustrating and exhilarating.

Fall in love amidst the chaos of a life that is no longer yours alone. You find that you have lost control of your environment. You don’t have time for yourself, your home is a disaster. When did you last shower? Did you eat breakfast?  What happened to your body? Will you ever make love again?

But then you catch your baby’s eyes and all the mess fades away, if only momentarily.

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Your baby doesn’t care about dust bunnies and dishes piled high. She simply needs you.

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Remember in the early days with your partner wanting to be together constantly? This is how your baby feels. She wants you to hold her and feed her, to talk to her and to touch her. Your baby does not want to leave your side.

As you fell in love with your significant other there were times of uncertainty. If you put limitations on your time together would that make you feel secure or insecure?

Babies feel the same. Putting limitations on touch, holding and feeding can make a baby feel unsettled. She may build up defense mechanisms. Allow yourself to dive deep into this new relationship.

In this new phase of your life you will find you tap into your intuition. Trust this gift. Listen to your baby and listen to your heart.

Life is messy. It is speckled with moments of great amazement and awe but mostly it is ordinary. Life with a new baby can be overwhelming all of the time but after an adjustment period it will be mostly ordinary. You will find the comfort of this new kind of love extraordinary.

Here are some strategies to help you enjoy this new chapter of your life:

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~Talk to your baby, tell her your life story – she loves the sound of your voice

~Ask for help – and accept it!

~Tell people honestly what you need: food (prepared), to clean your house, to hold your baby while you sleep or shower

~Sleep when your baby sleeps – yes, take naps when the sun is shining

~Wear your baby – this can let you move about while still keeping her happy on your body

~Keep diapers and changing gear in more than one place – the nursery, your bedroom, the living room – so you don’t have to travel

~Set up nursing stations – a glass of water for you, snacks, a burp cloth in various areas

~Put an outgoing message on all your communications – “Hello, thank you for contacting the Smiths, we are busy bonding with our baby, please leave a message and we will call you back when we get a chance.”

 

Be vulnerable, take emotional risks, fall in love.

 

 

Love Lines and Body Love

February 9, 2014

My body is the only body I have, the only body I will ever have. It is where I live. My body is where I grew my babies, first inside then outside. I grew them with my breasts, my hugs. I lugged them around on my hips. I am happy to have these soft hips to balance a baby and my soft bosom to catch hugs. If you look closely at my hips and my breasts, if you catch the light just right you will see a light pattern, a texture, almost silvery, once purple but softly faded lines. Some people call them stretch marks I prefer love lines.

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Love created my babies. Rob’s loving hands caress my body. I love the feeling of skin on skin.

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I once held fantasies of having a perfectly toned body, a model size body but I don’t naturally have that body type and life is too much fun to work that hard for an elusive dream.

I had warts as a kid. Mama used to have me take an old silver spoon, rub it on the warts in a circular motion and toss the spoon behind me into the woods. This was supposed to disappear the warts. I was warned to never search for the spoon because if I ever found it the warts would grow back. The spoon trick never worked. Mama said I didn’t believe hard enough.

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When I was fifteen I had thirteen warts on my left knee. The doctor numbed up the middle of my leg and I lay back. I saw a miniature melon-baller in his hand and moments later I felt warm syrup dripping down my ankle. He scooped out those warts and red streaks of blood lined my leg and speckled the tile floor.

To this day I can see the silvery amoeba shape on my knee, particularly in summer when I catch a bit of color.

Speaking of tanning I have been cursed with a skin cancer gene. If you look closely at my chest and face you will see that they are marked up like old pair of jeans that have been reworked, stitches here and there, threadbare in some spots. I am a dermatologist’s dream. I don’t have bad cancer, just basel and squamous cells, moles, things that need to be removed here and there but are nothing lethal. I am a steady customer.

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I have plenty of moles. There is one on my left side, the part that curves in at the waist, just handy for a nursling’s little hand to migrate to and pull and pinch and finger. I had another one that he loved on my upper chest near my arm that was easy access when nursing. I complained to the dermatologist and he froze it off. The boy knew the one on my waist was bigger and softer anyway so he didn’t complain.

My daughters love my curves. They love to cuddle into me. My husband and son love hand-holding and spooning.

The chorus of love I hear is: “Let’s cuddle.” “Spoon me.” “I need a hug.”

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Legs tangle together on the sofa. We are a network of limbs, touching, embracing, kicking. My family is connected physically and emotionally. I feel like we sprang from my marked and curvy body.