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Feminism

Motherhood is all of this

This one goes out to every mother who has ever felt lost. Over it. Wired and exhausted. Overwhelmed and broken. It also goes out to every mother who has felt at the top of her game. Winning. Like her kid is the bees fucking knees.

Perhaps, once or twice, you’ve felt trapped by motherhood. Or incomparably blessed by it. Maybe today you’re just going through the motions when all you want is a silent room and some grapes. Or you’re pumping your fist in the air because you’ve got this thing nailed.

If you’ve been at this gig for any length of time, you’ve spent good portions of time on both sides of this fence.

As I write this, I’m feeling pretty blissed out. Cal only screamed like a banshee twice so far today. I can hear AJ making breakfast downstairs and the kids are whooping happily outside. This is living.

A week ago, not so much. Way back then, in the distant past of last Saturday, I wanted to stop being a mom. As if I could just walk out wearing my uniform, flip off the manager and never look back. Imagine the freedom. The wind whipping my hair, a whole horizon ahead. All of that space.

How could someone not want to abandon this job after days of intermittent but relentless screaming? Those wild animal toddler rages. The utter loss of adult competence and control.

The truth is this: if motherhood were an actual job, the kind that you could interview for and request a transfer away from, precious few would keep it.

You see, a week ago, back when I wanted to quit, I’d been solo parenting for 4 days. That may sound minimal. For me, it was not. Given the latest, grating loop that our resident 3-year-old, Cal, has introduced to our lives, it only took 2 days for me to start feeling like a cracked out war veteran.

These days, Cal, screams bloody murder at the slightest provocation. “I want that TRUCK! Not THAT truck! NooooOOOOOO!! STOOOOOP!” He wants everything Jo has, the moment he has it, and not a moment longer. When the toy or rock or hot dog leaves Jo’s grasp, Cal could not care less. As long as Jo does have it, Cal is a desperate, wild animal. Sometimes, Jo marshals up his patience, tries to leave the room, or asks for help from me, but inevitably, frustration overwhelms and he hauls off and smacks Cal. This is met with fiercer Cal screams and a good old-fashioned brother brawl. You see how this goes. A nightmare boy typhoon that twists around again and again and again. After the umpteenth time, I start to hate it. And then I start to think I hate them. I can feel that twisting inside. I become a hard, knotty old broad who pickled sour and is out for revenge. I stomp around the house on tree trunk legs with a scowl on my face just waiting for an opportunity to bust my boys for bad behavior, because they’re so very bad.

Shockingly, when you add the stomping, bitter broad to the whole boy typhoon, things don’t tend to go well. There’s often shaming. And crying. It’s basically the worst.

And then somehow, things change. I scream and then we all cry. Or I slam a door and later, I lie to Cal that the wind blew it closed. Or I turn on the sprinkler and let the chickens out.

That’s how I found my first 2 or 3 consecutive hours of peace on that terrible solo-parenting weekend. We all needed it bad. It was like finding a spring in the desert, and we gulped it in and smiled a lot. I remembered that they aren’t only here to ruin my life, and that I can be soft, wise and relaxed.

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Then there was bedtime, and the barrage of questions and song requests and popping out of bed, and I morphed, exhausted, yet again.

After that, I slunk down the stairs to our couch and cried.

Motherhood is all of these things.

And while my story might not align with yours too well, I know there’s overlap. Maybe you have one kid and he keeps you up all night. Maybe it’s your middle-schooler whose anxiety holds the whole house hostage. Maybe peace and joy reign in your kingdom today. Any way you cut it, we are all brought low by motherhood. We all feel shame, and rage and hopelessness. The trouble is that unlike the shiny happy feelings, these ugly-step sister ones get shunned, or glossed over, or buried in our desperate pile of parenting books.

So remember this, the next time you see that mom pick up her kids from school looking flawless and at ease with her beautiful, obedient children. God bless her, she might be having a good day. Or she might not, and like the rest of us, she’s just really good at playing her role in the “I’m a tremendously good mother” pageant.

The next time your friend’s kid hits yours, or says something cruel, or has a complete meltdown in the park, remember how gritty and hard motherhood has been for you at times. You probably have all sorts of judgements and ideas and advice for how she could be a better mom and fix her mean kid, but then you can just remember how shitty it feels to be barraged with judgements and ideas and advice when all you feel is ashamed of your child’s behavior and humiliated by what her problems must mean about your own inadequacy.

Probably the best thing that any of us can do for each other or ourselves is to remember that our kids and everyone else’s are both adorable dreamboats and thorny little devils. That all of our lives as parents are sweet and disastrous. That none of us knows which way the tide will turn on any given day. One minute we are charmed. The next, undone.

And that there is nothing, nothing more relieving than simply being witnessed by someone who can see all of those things.

On Mamalode! Cherish: the agony and ecstasy

My very first blog post here was about an experience shared by mothers of small children everywhere: being told to enjoy every minute by various ogling passers-by. Each time it happened to me, I suppressed the impulse to grab said stranger by the collar and scream “Why don’t you effing enjoy it while I go take a nap!??!”

There is a presumptuous and powerful nostalgia that strangers will shove right in your face as a mother of little kids–a command to cherish, and do so obsessively. It’s sort of sweet. But it’s mostly obnoxious as hell, because remembering life with small kids is light-years away from actually living it. And telling someone to enjoy every minute is clearly delusional, since they certainly didn’t, and since there are many Many things about raising children that are not by any means enjoyable.

My essay, Cherish: the agony and the ecstasy is up on Mamalode. I’m delighted to share my straight-talk over there.

Cherish: The Agony And Ecstasy

Gratitude: the friend who just doesn’t get it

If one more effing person apologizes after sharing a sad, difficult, upsetting part of their lives with me, I’m going to scream. And my shriek will leave a tiny crack in the shell of robotic positive thinking that our happiness-obsessed culture shrouds us with.

I’ve written about this before, and it’s no surprise that I’m feeling it again a year later.

It’s winter. Trees are bare, skies are cold and dark, the world around us is not bursting forth. And yet.

And yet. We expect the eternal fruits of summer from ourselves. Regardless of season or circumstance, we should keep our chins up, find inspiration and, my personal favorite, be grateful.

Gratitude can blow me.

Here’s why: it’s become the well-meaning friend who just doesn’t get it. She’s trying to help, for sure, but here’s how good old Gratitude misses the mark: She’s only makes it worse if you use her to avoid difficult feelings.

Dark side of Gratitude Mask

Which is how A LOT of people like to use her these days.

It’s the polite and sunny way to end a particular kind of conversation.

I’m so sorry about your favorite grandmother who is dying. At least you can be grateful for the time she had.

Yeah. Thanks. Sorry for bringing up the whole dying grandmother thing. I don’t mean to be such a downer.

Why are sadness, grief, anger, fear, or disappointment so disturbing to us that we literally apologize for sharing them? We wish we hadn’t done it. Sullied the moment, spoiled the conversation.

It’s hard to hang out with pain that we can’t instantly fix.

And yet. And yet.

Hanging out with it, with a person in grief, with a bitter sadness, can actually be sublime. There’s a deep sense of wholeness that comes from letting the dark winter simply exist, without trying to jack it up on silver-linings of gratitude.

That’s why I feel–wait for it–grateful when a neighbor admits in a casual conversation over the fence that her cancer came back. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I know this is really heavy.”

Quite the contrary. Sharing your heavy reality creates more room for my particular mess.

So please. Bring on the downers. What stray puppydog facts and feelings of yours get smothered by the eternally sunny, productive and happy waters we’re all swimming in?

Make my comments box your own personal repository for whatever downer you’re sitting on.

I’d be most grateful.

Energetic Boundaries 101

Some pretty mind blowing stuff went down for me in September that I’m only just beginning to articulate. I went to this rad women and kids communing with nature power weekend with Jo. We ate and sang and played and learned and gathered around the fire together. And once Jo got his bearings, and he and a friend were absorbed in scratching at the dirt with sticks, I took a class about energetic boundaries. Which is to say that for a couple of hours one morning, I sat in a circle of women on the ground near a big fallen tree I wish I knew the name of, and listened to this woman share her wisdom about the ways we habitually do and ideally can choose to create boundaries that protect or reveal ourselves.

I still don’t understand exactly what it was about that class that changed things for me, but it did.

Here’s the best I’ve got:

It helped me understand the fundamental way I align myself with other people. In short, I’ve got some pretty loosey goosey boundaries. And I always track the people around me. I take in what I think their needs and feelings are. I’m like an octopus with hyper extended tentacles, constantly scanning in all directions for what my people are feeling, thinking, wanting.

TentaclesOut

It. Is. Exhausting.

And obliterating. Cause where do my thoughts and needs and feelings come in, given the OCD tentacles? Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. My needs and feelings are stifled at the bottom of the heap. They play second (or third or fourth) fiddle. Those suckers languish deep inside the proverbial haystack.

But somehow, in a circle of women sitting on the ground of a crisp fall morning, I gathered my tentacles in. I chose to create some boundaries. Now I look more like this.TentaclesIn

I deliberately chose to disengage with the endless stream of

Jo is happy and absorbed (sigh of relief) . Cal wants water and needs to put his pants on. Where are his pants? . That guy on the sidewalk seems really desperate . AJ is still mad at me after last night, but I don’t want to say I’m sorry . Jamie wishes I visited her more . Cybil called me three days ago and I haven’t gotten back to her . Ryan seems pissed, is it something I did? . This person wants . This person needs . This . Person . Feels . . .

Reeling in the tentacles made me lighter, buoyant even.

I started to float.

I could see and hear and feel things that hadn’t gotten in for a long time because there was so much noise and obstruction, and so little of my attention left over.

Here’s what I saw:

Everything is a game.

Every relationship, project, chore, obligation.

Some games have higher stakes than others, but at the core, there is a lightness, a playfulness in the atmosphere around all the heavy stuff.

The playfulness is this: in every game, you get to choose your move. Every time. And you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Then the other people get to choose their moves. Now it’s back to you. And the game plays on.

For years and years, I’ve gotten stuck trying to play other people’s moves for them, while my piece languishes in one damn square not very far from START.

That hyper focus outwards, on other people, has been crippling. It’s been deafening.

It has weighed me down, drowned me out, and left me listless on the couch because I’ve quite literally forgotten myself.

It was part of the reason for my post-partum depression with both kids–in that first year, rarely was I able to see and act on my own feelings and needs in the snow-storm of everyone else’s.

Well, I found my way out of that bullshit.

I have a new sense for where I end and everyone else begins.

And I wanna play.

For now, while I’m still learning these new moves, and how to keep my own needs and feelings at the core, I try to keep the tentacles for me. I use that super scanning empathetic power on myself first, because then I know the most key intelligence about the game: where I’m starting from. If I don’t know that, I can’t really play.

It’s game on, people.

 

Dreamy movies for kids and grownups

If you’ve tried to find kids’ media that is gentle but edgy enough, that respects a kid’s need for safety and curiosity about danger, then you know you’re in for an epic and unsatisfying quest.

We’ve waded through all sorts of “kids” movies. Some left Jo huddled in the corner of the couch with hands clapped over his ears (Cars), others that had great moments (and songs!) but required tons of challenging explanations and fastforwarding through scary parts (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). We came really close with the Herbie the Love Bug movies, but there was some sexism in those that pissed me off.

So it was a profound relief to discover My Neighbor Totoro. Jo and I were both completely transfixed and delighted. The main character girls are curious, vulnerable, angry, kind and determined as hell. Totoro naps in a huge, soft cuddly heap, and carries the girls, safe in his tufts of fur, as he flies on a spinning top in the night sky and bellows a fierce, resonant roar.

We reveled in this story — it doesn’t dumb down intrigue and fear at the expense of delight, and spins characters out of wonder–six-legged Catbus with furry interior, anyone?

catbus

Now I’ll tell you why we’re all damn lucky. The studio (Studio Ghibli) and director (Miyazaki, who has quite possibly the most sparkly but respectable elderly man face ever) that made Totoro was pretty prolific, so there’s also Ponyo, which is Jonah’s favorite. And why wouldn’t it be? A five-year-old boy named Sosuke lives on a house that teeters over the ocean, where he gets to go and play by himself. He makes friends with a goldfish-turned-girl and names her Ponyo.

Ponyo --- One of my favorites scenes from the movie (I have a weird obsession with underwater scenery)

Among other things, they float on top of their world–which is flooded by the ocean and all of its creatures–in a toy boat that uses a candle as its motor. And voila! Another gender-norm-bending, tender-hearted, just-spooky-enough adventure.

ponyo-500And for those of you who have the time and desire to cook after a good bout of movie watching, I stumbled across this, a recipe for Ponyo noodles on a rad blog dedicated to “cooking and eating through children’s literature.” Recipe for crisp apple strudels and schnitzel with noodles, anyone?!

But I digress.

Apparently, the other Miyazaki movie that’s gentle enough for little kids is Kiki’s Delivery Service.

If you haven’t seen any of these, whether you have kids or not, run to your nearest video store (you can’t stream them online).

You’ll thank me later.

Rewrite: I become a six-year-old mom today

Six years ago today, this happened:

photo by our doula, Candace Palmerlee

The celebration of this day feels more significant than any other in my life. It lurched me awake at 5am this morning with memories of that exact time on this day in retrospect. It moved me to get out of my bed in my sleeping house and re-write this post I wrote 3 years ago today.

The anniversary of my birth of Jo is about returning. Every year, I circle back to the same day from farther away. Every year, I remember the same but different. Today, I remember 5am on 09/09/09. It’s not written down in the birth log that our doula wrote for us, and I can feel it more vividly than the moments we caught on video.

It was the hour we drove to the hospital. The hour that the momentum I had built over 19 hours of labor came crashing down into anger. I pissed off the triage nurse by declining a routine but optional vaginal exam. She shot me glances when I would moan with my contractions that said, “Jesus. This one is an entitled drama queen.” And so began my visit in triage–that bed in an open hallway–that lasted hours instead of minutes.

My blooming anger all but stopped my contractions, and just before we were finally admitted to a labor and delivery room, I literally peed on the floor in protest. Squatting down to the toilet was so painful that I chose to stand. The pee ran down my legs into a pool on the floor, and I barked at AJ not to clean it up. If the women who work in this place where mothers go to have babies were not going to respect me, then I wasn’t going to put myself through ripping pain to respect them.

This is the unsung triumph of my first birth: I pissed on their linoleum floor on purpose, without a lick of shame or regret.

As I set off into my 6th year as Jo’s mother, let me grow that mother stronger. The one who knew the moment when politeness and compliance weren’t useful tools anymore. The one who easily sank into her formidable, animal self.

My experience of labor and birth has expanded my emotional territory in all directions. There are sublime moments of rightness beyond knowing, and despair that can sweep me out to the furthest reaches of myself. I never knew I was so big until I started becoming a mother.

No wonder I wake when I could be sleeping to remember it.

Learning to feed my hunger

I will never let another pair of pants tell me I’m fat again.

This from the mouth of my friend Rachael, as she speared another piece of perfectly roasted cauliflower off of the plate in front of us. We met for drinks, Rachael and I, and as the fathers of our children readied our kids for bed, we ordered another cocktail.

I eyed that tiny plate of cauliflower with resentment. It was so good. And there was so little. What a tease tapas can be.

R’s declaration convinced me of what I already knew—I must go buy new jeans.

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Familiar, anyone?

Oh, the ever changing expanse of the post partum body. I’ve been rail thin with huge boobs to very squishy and everything in between. The rail-thinness was the product of exhaustion, depression, and breastfeeding in my first four months with Jo. I remember being stunned by the sight of myself in the mirror after a shower–I finally had the body I’d been told to strive for. It was strange and thrilling to see it on me. And I enjoyed it, guiltily, like a $50 bill you find on a busy street. Does this really belong to me? I didn’t work for it. It simply came through suffering over those early months of becoming a mother.

My current squishy reality, were I to guess, is the product of going to dance class less, breastfeeding less, and a little practice I’ll call The Celebration. It starts around 8:30 most nights when the boys are in bed. AJ will make some popcorn. I’ll grab another glass of wine and the cheese puffs. And then we’ll trot out a pint of ice cream while watching some show on the computer. It’s such a miracle to Eat and Watch without having to share or explain to the children. To be left alone to make terrible health choices and then to fall asleep on the couch. Don’t ask about the couple weeks when I worked through a box of 24 Haagen Dazs ice cream bars.

The Celebration also unfurled itself during the first few months of my job. It was just so miraculous to sit, unfettered at a desk—no one needing a snack or crying or hitting. So I would buy a tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups at Trader Joe’s and polish of half (or more!) in an afternoon. Partytime.

The women’s group I attend every month? It is an oasis. Smart, interesting, engaged women, their beautiful child-free homes, wine and food. Last month, when I walked in, I thought, “Get ready, self. Time to over-eat.” I do it every time. The Rosé and cheese platter and berries with homemade whipped cream are just so damned abundant and miraculous that I have to pack it in so that it will last until next month.

I’ve felt uneasy about The Celebrations, just as I feel uneasy inside my jeans. And it took writing this to really see it:

I’ve gone and confused food with relaxation.

One feeds my body. The other, my soul.

In the confusion, both my body and soul have gotten squishy.

When I’m experiencing a significant break, rest, respite from the relentlessness of motherhood, I pack food into myself. As though the food will tide me over until next time.

It doesn’t.

And then, instead of really sinking into the moment, feeling the rest, the support, the entertainment, I zone out on food.

This week, I’ve been reading Women Food and God, and I tripped over this sentence several times because it was such a zinger.

To discover what you really believe…pay attention to the way you eat. You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe that there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival.

Guess which one I am, piling more sesame noodle salad onto my plate at my woman’s group like it’s the last meal I’ll see for days?

So, I’m turning over a new leaf. The concept of mindful or intuitive eating. I learned about it from this insightful TED Talk, and while at first I was left laughing off the possibility of mindful eating, it’s been surprisingly helpful in practise:

I eat what I want when I’m hungry. Eat till I’m full. If I’m not hungry, and I want to eat, pause the food train and be in the moment.

It’s felt like a homecoming to listen to and trust my body.

The new jeans aren’t too bad either.

5 things I wish every woman knew about birth

  1. There’s no right way to give birth. Throw moral superiority out the window. Women who have epidurals aren’t weak and women who have drug-free births aren’t strong. Every woman needs to do what feels best for her, deep down in that quiet place that knows what it wants if you get really still and listen.

    Here I am, getting still and listening during my labor with Jo. Or perhaps I’m just very stoned. Photo by Candace Palmerlee.
  2. How matters a lot more than what. There’s pretty much nothing I’d rather listen to than a birth story. So I’ve heard A LOT of them. And the consistent thread is this: The way a woman feels about her birth has lots to do with how things happened and much less to do with what happened. It’s easy to see birth as a binary with Drug Free Birth on the Winning side and C-Section on Losing. It’s that kind of black and white thinking that can leave women feeling less than open to options that might be helpful or necessary when the time comes. I’ve seen epidurals work wonders. I myself, hoping for a homebirth, said “I love Pitocin!!” during my labor with Cal.
    CalBirth2
    Pitocin ain’t too shabby. Photo by Candace Palmerlee.

    I’ve witnessed rad homebirths and victorious C-sections. I’ve also listened to women talk about hospital and home births as traumatic. If you want to love your birth, focus on supporting yourself around the game-time decisions you’ll inevitably have to make during labor, and let go of the end game. Not surprisingly, you will be much more likely to feel good about your birth if you experience it as something you actively did and chose, rather than something that was chosen for and done to you. To that end, bring someone with you to your labor who will listen to you and help you understand the ins and outs. Which brings us to #3:

  3. It’s more about who you’re with than what you want.  I always figured that the largest factor contributing to a woman having the birth she wanted was her commitment to that kind of birth. After birthing twice and working as a doula, I know that idea is complete crap. What matters more than any commitment is having a care provider at your birth who has a depth of knowledge and experience about the kind of labor and birth you want. Labor without drugs–things like how to help a you relax through your contractions, how position changes and movement can hasten your labor and delivery, and when to use certain techniques and not others. Labor with drugs–things like how to dose pitocin so it doesn’t overwhelm you with contractions but so you’re not laboring forever and what types of pain relief are most useful when. Here’s the other kicker: if you’re having your baby in a hospital with an OB or midwife, it’s most likely that you won’t see them until you start pushing. Until then, the person who is going to help you is a labor and delivery nurse who is assigned to you (or nurses if you have a long labor that spans a shift change). I was really surprised to learn this, and I decided not to put all of my eggs in my OB’s basket, since she would, at most, be attending the last few hours of my first birth. Turns out, with Jo, I pushed for less than 15 minutes. They pulled an OB out of the hallway. I still don’t know her name. But I’ll never forget the calm, constant, trusting presence of my doula, Candace and the kick in the pants that was my labor and delivery nurse, Jackie.
    If not for my doula and L&D nurse, I would have never taken this walk outside after nearly 25 hours of labor. But I did. And while my face here looks pained as hell, I remember it as my most transcendent experience of labor.

    You might luck out and be assigned to a labor and delivery nurse whose skills match with what you want. And you might not. My advice? (As if you had to ask…) Do your research about the skills that the labor and delivery nurses at your hospital have. You and your partner can beef up your skills at a birth class geared towards your goals. And you can invite a doula who has the skills you want to your birth. You should also really like your doula and feel safe around her. Which is the perfect segue way to #4:

  4. The safer and more relaxed you feel during birth the better. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Cause in the end, you birth with your instincts and your gut. It’s good practise, cause that’s often where you mother from too.

    Blissful, transcendent photo by Candace Palmerlee
  5. There is no plan. While I’m a fan of “the birth plan,” I’m not a fan of calling it a plan. (“Birth hopes” maybe?) If my births and every single birth story I’ve ever heard is any indication, birth follows anything but a plan. I know it’s a bit of a downer, but I’m going to call a spade a spade: no matter how many books you read or classes you take or visualizations you do, unexpected things will happen during your labor and delivery. Things that you don’t like will happen. And while that might sound terrifying, getting comfy cozy with the practice of planning for (ha!) and adapting to uncertainty is one of the most helpful things any woman can do to prepare for her birth. How the heck do you do that? Control the things you can: read the books, take the classes, and invite the people to your labor and delivery who you trust in times of uncertainty. Then throw your hands to the sky and let go.

Your Mommy Asana self-portraits

In short, you all kick ass.

This week I’ve been mulling over empty Ergos, watery brinks, and CPR. The photo challenge was to mull over your week and pick a fitting symbol to work into your self-portrait.

Here’s what you were symbolically and literally experiencing last week:

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An invisible baby seems fitting for my symbol this week…

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lowsupply

All the trappings of low supply: beer, dom peridone, herbs, barley water, lactation cookies, figs and a supplemental nursing system filled with donor breastmilk! Not featured: supportive wife.

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This next one was shared with the simple caption, “One more to ponder.”

theWateryEdge

Indeed. Talk about a metaphorical playground. I keep thinking of these 3. Poised together at the watery edge.

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I’m a violin maker.
Oh, wait. Nope, I’m a mom.

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Waiting

It’s all about time and timing for me–the watch, the clock, and two calendars are all symbols of how much I’m waiting for things out of my control right now.

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BabyGotTongue

Baby got your tongue?

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mommyasanaunreadbook

Life with infant, days before returning to work. Both restful and stressful, precious and tedious. And then there’s that book I’m not reading, representative of the many little things I don’t do for myself as often now with babylove in our lives.

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Lester the photographer and mommy only slightly staged. I’ve been trying to teach my kids CPR…..chest compressions, look listen and feel. You know. Not because I actually think they’ll get it. But because I performed chest compressions at work last week on a dead patient who came back to life (from meds. Chest compressions only keep the brain oxygenated while we do other things to kick start the heart.) And it’s a fascinating, wondrous, horrible, and pride producing thing to do.

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There’s more where this came from on my Facebook page. Back burners, keeping heads above water, getting lost in the laundry…

 

My friend's essay about us on Elle.com today

My dear friend Susie is a crisp, courageous writer. Today, Elle.com published her essay about the heart-wrenching way our little Cal has factored into her family’s life in the past year.

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I cried in a bathroom stall at work as I read the first draft of this piece when Susie shared it with me. Feeling the weight of her friendship and longing made my heart hurt.

Her boldness and vulnerability are well worth reading.

(Love you, Susie.)