Friday, August 11, 2017

Breast is best....except for when maybe it's not.

A few days ago, I was desperately nursing Everett in the front seat of my car. I was late to pick up Grace from my dad's office, where I had stashed her so I could tackle my six 
week OB-GYN follow up semi solo. I was sweating and flustered and I must have been emanating "hot mess express" because a sweet older lady peered into my window and gave me a smile and a thumbs up.

I appreciated the gesture, the implied solidarity of all mothers who have chosen to nourish their children in this way-- the #breastisbest army. But it made me pause. Because what this well meaning woman didn't know is that following this less than blissful feed, I would be mixing up an ounce or two of formula to "top off" my little guy. And I had a sneaking suspicion that if I had been spotted bottle feeding my infant in the library parking lot, I wouldn't have gotten any encouragement. At best, I would have been ignored. At worst? A judgmental side eye or unsolicited opinion about my feeding choice. 

Everett's birth was far more serene than I had expected for a c-section (which is another post for another day). He was placed on my chest immediately and wasn't removed for hours. He breastfed successfully within the first hour. Every nurse and lactation consultant who watched us feed (and trust me, there were a lot) complimented me on his "beautiful latch" and voracious eating. At only 6 pounds, he surprised me with his energy and enthusiasm for food. 

I was so relieved. My daughter did not take easily to breast feeding. She was jaundiced and sleepy, often needing to be stripped bare  and her tiny little feet flicked to elicit a few measly sucks. There was nipple trauma and so many tears. I left the hospital with a nipple shield and zero clue what I was doing. I was able to breastfeed her for about six months, but she was always a tiny baby who was slow to gain weight. It was not an experience that I look back on fondly, and I gave it up entirely when I started grad school and couldn't get it together to pump enough milk for her to have when we were apart. 

This time, I was so committed to making breastfeeding work. I was older and unafraid to access resources or ask for help. Everett lost far less than the accepted 10% of his birth weight before our hospital discharge. When our visiting nurse came a few days later, he had even gained an ounce or two. I was so proud. I felt like a warrior mama, a champion breastfeeder who was continuing to sustain life. It somehow eased the transition from pregnant to not and helped replicate the closeness and bond of the rolls, kicks and flutters that had kept me company all those months. 

A few days after that, we went to his first pediatrician appointment. He was down an ounce from when the visiting nurse had been there. And in subsequent weight checks, he continued to lose until he hovered dangerously close to 5 pounds. To say I was devastated wouldn't even begin to describe the despair I felt.  

Cue frantic calls to lactation consultants, home visits that spanned several hours and palpable heartbreak every time a well meaning friend or relative peeked at Everett and said "Oh! He's so tiny" or a nosy stranger asked me if he was premature. 

I started a strict regime of nursing, supplementing with a combination of breastmilk and formula via 10cc syringe (to avoid the dreaded nipple confusion) and then pumping. This entire process took at least an hour. Newborns eat every 2- 2 1/2 hours. Typically by the time I finished pumping, Everett was so irate about being put down for more than seventeen seconds that it took me some time to settle him back down. You can understand how this routine was less than conducive to any type of reasonable sleep. It was a daily ordeal that left me feeling so raw and vulnerable that even responding to well meaning text messages just took too much energy. 

I took all the supplements and bought overpriced "lactation" cookies and brownies. I choked down multiple cups of Mothers Milk tea even though I absolutely HATE the taste of licorice. 

From July to August, Everett gained a pound and a half. It was a decent gain but not reflective of all the hard work I'd been doing. My life had become completely consumed with feeding him. If he fell asleep after eating, nestled beautifully against my chest (one of the best parts of the newborn days) I only could allow myself a few minutes to enjoy it before moving him so I could pump, or wash pump parts or stuff food into my own face while I had two hands to spare. I couldn't leave the house without feeling stressed and overwhelmed. If I fell asleep during a nighttime feeding (or slept through it entirely), I berated myself for hours. Grace got to spend no meaningful time alone with me and my husband ended up on the receiving end of countless snide comments brought on by lack of sleep (and lack of autonomy). I did the math and I was spending almost eight hours a day with a baby or breast pump attached to me. The internal pressure was so great that during a trip to the ER following a terrifying stint of vertigo, I found myself pumping and nursing from a hospital bed, attached to an IV. All this work, and I still felt like I was somehow failing my son.

At Everett's six week appointment, we were told that I had to continue supplementing for the foreseeable future. My husband gently suggested to me that something had to change. I knew he didn't like seeing me like this, measuring my worth in ounces gained and ounces pumped, chained to our couch. But I had never stopped to consider how this crazy crusade of mine might be impacting our marriage, my relationship with my daughter and even my ability to bond with my perfect baby boy. I was singularly focused to the point of madness.

I met with a second lactation consultant to try and figure out if there was a way to keep breastfeeding but not lose my mind. We figured out that Everett was transferring a decent amount of milk, but that it was only enough to maintain his weight, not gain. He has a mild tongue tie and my supply (based on my pumping output) isn't exactly robust. We had a host of factors working against us. The lovely LC gave me permission to ease up on the frantic pumping schedule, to enjoy my baby and to do whatever iteration of combination feeding actually worked for my family. 

I left that appointment and knew I needed to give myself some space to mourn the breastfeeding relationship I desperately wanted but was never going to have. I suddenly understood why days before, in the midst of "World Breastfeeding Week", I dissolved into tears during a 2am feeding session while pouring over beautiful curated images of mothers feeding their children (who had gorgeous fat rolls and robust double chins) on Instagram with hashtags like #liquidgold. I saw nothing that reflected my reality, of exhaustion and tiny full term babies in preemie clothes, of pumps and syringes. 

Every time I worked up the courage to be honest with someone about my struggle, they always responded with "me too" or "I had a friend who went through the same" or "I quit after two weeks". Nobody was surprised to hear how hard breastfeeding was. Every exchange like this was a salve to my battered ego and broken heart. And yet- nobody ever really talks about it. Which creates this vacuum where breastfeeding feels tremendously isolating and allows mothers to continue with the false narrative that if breastfeeding is not working out quite right, you're a failure. 

While I can certainly get behind initiatives like World Breastfeeding Week, I feel pretty confident in saying that the majority of my parenting peers know that breastfeeding is the gold standard. But what about when breastfeeding takes an unhealthy precedent over helping an older sibling acclimate to a brand new family dynamic or over the mother's health and sanity?  What about when the success of breastfeeding feels so wholly important that every stumbling block feels like abject failure? 

As mothers (and as humans) we need to be better about supporting each other and being kind to ourselves. We need to talk about how HARD the first few months postpartum are and how feeding is a huge part of this. When a passionate breastfeeding advocate posts yet another article about the benefits of extended breastfeeding, perhaps she could pause and examine whether the article contains a subtle subtext that shames the mother who formula feeds, by choice or by circumstance. It is difficult enough to quiet the internal pressure and judgement without fighting it from the outside in. I'm all for having intelligent and passionate opinions, but also figuring out how to express them in a way that is respectful and kind. 

I still don't know where our breastfeeding journey will end up. For now, I'm trying to be gentle with myself and cut myself some slack. I'm less chained to a rigid pumping schedule, but still feel committed to continuing to nurse in some capacity as well as providing Everett with as much expressed milk as I reasonably can. But I feel equally committed to actively enjoying this newborn stage, to refusing to shamefully mix up formula in secret and to reinvigorating my relationships with my family, my husband and my daughter (and giving them the opportunity to fall in love with Everett too). 

Can we all just agree to support each other and share our hard experiences? You'd be amazed at how hearing a "me too" often feels like a lifeline. Having a new baby is truly one of the only experiences in life that is equal parts awful and miraculous, both exhausting and invigorating- and we owe it to each other (and ourselves) to be honest about that. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Dear Grace, 

Eight. I honestly cannot believe it. I’m certain I say this every year but truly…eight feels so old to me, so grown up and impossible. 

You are flying through second grade. You’re learning how to write in cursive and read with a fluency and fervor that continues to impress me. You get frustrated with math and your imperfect penmanship and are quick to claim you are not good at either subject, which breaks my heart a bit. But with a little coaxing, you are able to see it through. I hope I have the patience to continue to build your confidence because kiddo, I truly believe you are capable of doing anything. 

You are so kind. Recently, you ran in your school’s annual 5k and after the race a friend of mine pulled me aside and whispered “She could’ve ran much faster, but her loyalty to her friends is impressive”. I am so grateful for the countless times I don’t have to remind you about doing the right thing. 

You absolutely love to make people laugh. You immediately sense when something you’ve done has made someone smile and amplify it to one hundred, even if it means being unbearably silly. 

You have a fire in you that is challenging. You still throw tantrums bigger than I thought humanly possible and are unbelievably stubborn (which is completely infuriating 100% of the time).  You push me in ways that have led me to shut and lock my bedroom door and dissolve into angry tears on the other side of it. I am completely terrified of when you are a teenager but try and remind myself that this strength and self-assuredness will someday serve you even if it kills me first. This is the constant contradiction I have found while raising a daughter, wanting you to be sweet and kind but also strong and sure. 

Someone recently, after briefly meeting you, referred to you as an “old soul”. They mentioned that you had a polished, self-contained quality about you that isn’t often seen in second graders. That you were articulate and confident. Sometimes I worry that I keep you woven in too tightly with me, try and control your experiences too closely and that maybe I’m denying you some sense of a more carefree childhood…but that comment made me radiate with pride. 

You may be growing up faster than I would like but you’re still full of that crazy exuberance that only comes with being little. You have an imagination that is astounding, inventing outlandish scenarios for your imaginary friends and your entire army of stuffed animal “children” who are often suffering a multitude of broken bones due to the ineptness of your mostly absent husband. You are the leader of a super secret spy crew and often interrupt me mid-conversation to take very important phone calls from your boss about a variety of nefarious villains. Shawn, Kali and I have all been inducted into this crew but we aren’t allowed to talk about it so I’m still not exactly sure what my role in the whole thing is. That’s probably for the best. You are currently obsessed with Ed Sheeran and we start many days with very serious dance parties to his latest album and I never tell you how grateful I am for that reminder to give in to joy. 

This is the first year that we’ve been apart on your birthday. It’s your weekend with your Dad and if I’m being honest, it has been harder on me than I expected. I’ve been on the verge of tears all day, even though I know you are being celebrated and spoiled and loved. But maybe this is a lesson for me, to loosen my grip a little bit. The time is rapidly approaching when most of your time will involve experiencing the world without me and learning to appreciate the times we are together will become even more vital. 

When I kiss you good night I often remind you that you are the best thing to ever happen to your Mama. Recently, you’ve been asking me “But what about the baby?”. The first time you asked it shocked me into silence because yes…what about this new baby?

I feel this self-inflicted pressure to make these last few months of you being an only child the most perfect months ever. To fill them with the best memories. I am so worried that you won’t be able to recover from the way your whole world is going to be turned  upside down by a choice that I made. You have taken the news of becoming a big sibling in stride, feeling excited and sure everything will be wonderful even though you know that babies cry a lot and that it might be a brother even though you’re longing for a little sister. I’ve been struggling to find the words to explain to you how it is that you and this baby will both be so loved but that it is also so distinctly different. 

This baby was hoped for, prayed for, planned on. But you? You were something else entirely. You were a marvelous and terrifying surprise that pushed me farther than I ever imagined I was capable of. You gave me a strength that I was sorely lacking from the moment you burst into the world and we did a whole lot of our growing up together, hand in hand.  For so long we were a team, taking on the world together. With some quiet and careful hesitation, I slowly opened up our tiny world to include other people, people like Shawn. And in doing this, the love and happiness in our universe just continues to expand. It honestly keeps getting better and better. I reassure myself constantly (because you truly don’t need reminding) that this is what will happen with your new sibling, that the love and joy will just double.

So, I told you that this baby would be the best dream I ever dreamed and that you would remain the best thing to ever happen to your Mama. 

And that will always be the truth. 



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Happy Seventh Birthday

You are officially twelve days into seven. By now it should come as no surprise to you that this birthday letter is a whole lot of days late. The right words have been harder to come by the bigger you get. 

We’ve had another banner year kiddo. We moved (again) to the home you will grow up in and move out of to start your own adventures.  Shawny asked me to marry him while you were singing and twirling around us and then immediately asked you for permission to be your “other dad”. In case you forget when you’re a sullen, fuming teenager—you were totally thrilled at the prospect, face timing everyone you knew to tell them all about it. You currently are wandering around missing your two bottom teeth, much to my dismay. It is a tangible reminder of just how grown up you’re getting. You have thrived in first grade and genuinely love going to school.  You’ve scored a 100 on every single spelling test except one, where you got a word wrong because you got distracted and forgot to finish writing it (apparently we’re related after all).  

This has also been the year of the distracted Mama. Between wedding planning and working and just general life responsibilities I spend so much time in my day telling you “just one minute” and answering your questions through a fog of a thousand other thoughts and to-do lists. I worry constantly that I’m not giving you enough, that you’re feeling neglected. That 10 years from now you’re going to look back at this time in our life and remember me crying about invitation envelopes or fuming about seating arrangements and not remember the February vacation we spent doing something fun every single day (ice skating and beach walking and bookstores and museums).  Or that you’re going to remember all the times I told you there was no time for a bedtime story and not the nights that I let you read three books to me in a row. 

Your family birthday party occurred the day after my bridal shower. I was exhausted, frazzled and completely wracked with guilt that there was not one ounce of Pinterest evident in your celebration. But you see, you’re always surprising me.  You spent the day with a giant grin plastered on your face and at bedtime you told me that your favorite part of the day was not presents or cake but spending time with your friends and family. Another valuable life lesson orchastrated by you.

Shawn and I got you a swingset this year. It was installed the day before your birthday and when we got back from a celebratory dinner with Mimi and Grampa, you and I leapt out of the car and sprinted to the backyard. We dove on to the swings and tried out every last feature together, giggling amid shouts of “Come see!”.  Shawn looked at me with a sly smile and said “I’m not sure who is more excited”. 

This is what parenting has been like this year for me.  So many moments of worry and guilt and arguements and tears followed by moments of pure, exhilirating joy. The kind of happiness that you feel in the tips of your toes and to the very top of your head. 

One night last week, you invited me to come swing with you. Inititally I said no. The kitchen was a mess and I still had work to do and…the list is endless. But watching you swing in solitude from the kitchen window tugged unexpectedly at my heart and I realized with a jolt that before I knew it you wouldn’t be asking me to do anything with you any more. I knew my position as playmate in your life is tenuous at best.  So I joined you. As we were swinging lazily side by side, you talked incessently. About how beautiful it was in our backyard, about how excited you were for the wedding, about how special it was that Shawn chose to love you when he didn’t have to, about how Shawn probably tried and tried not to love me but finally couldn’t take it anymore and just had to give in. Having this unfiltered view into your mind was something pretty special. Because with each day you become less an extension of me and very much every inch your own, independent person. 

My days start with listening for the sometimes shuffle sometimes speedy patter of your feet coming down the hall and then having you slide into bed between Shawn and I for some early morning cuddles. At the end of my day, before going to bed, I sneak into your room to marvel at you, for just a minute (the amount of pictures I have of you sleeping on my phone are probably a little creepy) and plant a kiss on the top of you head with a whispered “I love you".  In between, there may be raised voices and exsasperated sighs and slammed doors but my day always begins and ends with you. Being your mama is what I measure every other experience in my life against. 

No matter what kind of craziness life may bring to us my girl, you will always come first. 

Happy 7th Birthday to the very best thing to happen to her Mama.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Wedding Woes...

I’m getting married in 39 days.

Or, if I consult the countdown app that I downloaded because I’m a total masochist- 1 month, 7 days, 23 hours 35 minutes and rapidly disappearing seconds.

When we started planning our wedding a little more than a year ago, I was convinced that a full years worth of wedding planning would be a practically unbearable amount of time. That the days would drag and linger and I would be left just twiddling my thumbs and waiting.

Like most of my ridiculous assumptions, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This year has flown by in a flurry of decisions (not my strong suit), tears (both of the happy and the absolute irrational meltdown variety) and a moment or two (or 5,253) of “why the hell didn’t we just elope”. I’ve bored just about everyone I’ve encountered with incessant wedding chatter and have developed actual opinions about things like wedding bands and photo booths.

Suddenly, people who I barely knew began sharing their thoughts about my wedding without even a second of hesitation.  I have become fluent in a language I didn’t even know existed- of linens and letter pressed stationary, calligraphers and seamstresses and so much etsy.  Wedding planning turns rational, kind human beings (myself included) into insane monsters with toddler-level emotions and coping skills.

Sweet, well-meaning coworkers and distant facebook acquaintances were constantly minimizing my stress level, insisting that this should be “the happiest time of my life”. To which I would dryly reply “dear god. I hope not.”

I have this awful habit of trying to do everything and doing none of it particularly well. I had been working long days, doing the mom thing, getting up at 5 am to work out in my basement in the name of “self-care” (aka being totally anxiety ridden at that thought of 250 people seeing me in a wedding dress) and balancing my laptop in my lap while “relaxing” in bed, placing orders for various wedding “essentials”. Two weeks ago, I reached a level of exhaustion that I didn’t know was possible. I called in sick from work and slept. For an entire day. I got up, ate dinner with my family, and went back to bed and immediately back to sleep. 20 hours of sleep and I began to feel moderately human again. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, other than perhaps I was actually dying.

That Friday, I left for my bachelorette party. I knew nothing about our agenda, except that were were heading to Newport and that most of my favorite people would be in attendance.

That weekend was magic.

I didn’t think once about the minute wedding details that had been ruling my life. I didn’t think of the unfinished pile of paperwork sitting on my desk at work. I didn’t think about my 6 year old for more than the time it took to FaceTime and say a hello and I love you (she was having the time of her life with her grandparents, as usual). I didn’t think about what Shawn was doing, except when he checked in with me at 11pm on a Saturday night to tell me he was exhausted and would rather be falling asleep on the couch with me.

I was happy.

I was surrounded by this amazing group of women, by my friends and Shawn’s friends and my soon-to-be sisters in law. Any worries I had about how everyone would get along dissolved instantly. We played silly games, laughed more than I have in a very long time, helped each other with our hair and makeup and ate our weight in junk food. We danced. For hours. (And for one glorious 10 minute period, to the best Beyonce mash-up I have ever heard. I’m pretty sure that DJ is STILL rolling his eyes) We had a private wine tasting with this actor-turned-wine expert named Kevin who complimented us for leaving our penis accessories at home and gave us much more than your typical tasting pour whenever his boss wasn’t looking.  I took a late night cab ride to a very exclusive hot dog stand that turned out to just be a 7-11 and I ate the hot dog anyway. I don't even like hot dogs and it was still delicious. 

I felt loved and supported and buoyed by all this positive energy.  A sense of excitement and anticipation started buzzing within me, replacing the “how am I ever going to get all this stuff done” dread that had been weighing heavily in the pit of my stomach. I missed Shawn fiercely, sending him a barrage mushy texts after last call. This was a marked improvement over the week before when I was not-so-silently fuming at him for the way he was stuffing invitation envelopes and irrationally thinking “oh no is this really what I’m going to be stuck with FOREVER !?!?”

That weekend was a gift. One I will be forever grateful for. 

It provided me with an essential bit of perspective. That the whole point of this wedding nonsense is to be surrounded by people who love you, who have watched you flounder and grow and flourish and to celebrate. To be happy. Since that trip, I’ve been able to consciously chose to not worry about every little detail ( a rather impressive accomplishment, seeing as I’ve encountered a way too small flower girl dress and several invitation snafus in the last 72 hours alone) and to let myself just be excited.

Engagement and wedding season is rapidly approaching and I have this unsolicited piece of advice for all brides-to-be. Accept that you will, no matter how laid-back or organized or decisive you are- momentarily lose your mind. People who you love and admire may also join you in temporary insanity. You will have at the very least one 20 minute period where you cry uncontrollably- and the catalyst for this will be entirely unrelated to your wedding and very confusing for your fiance. You will become a distant (at best) or terrible (at worst) friend and a moderately distracted employee. But also know- it gets better. You can make the choice to let it go and just look forward with excitement and joy. Accept help, delegate tasks and realize nobody cares as much as you do (or as much as you think they do. Except for maybe your mother. She probably cares, a lot). 

On May 7th, I’m not going to be worried about the quality of my table linens or if the white hydrangeas compliment the meticulously selected yellow roses. I’m not going to care if there was enough Advil in our bathroom baskets or if our guests are scraping the Gorgonzola cheese off of their fillets. I am just going to be happy. To be surrounded by all the people who have loved me throughout the course of my life while I proudly commit the rest of it to a partnership with the very best person I know.

And I’m going to be dancing. For hours. Preferably to Beyonce.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Home Sweet Home...

One more sleep. That’s all that sits between now and a brand new house. Tomorrow morning I will wake up, leave for work from one place and come home to an entirely different one.

Our new house is beautiful. Quite honestly, it’s a dream.  We’ve spent countless hours there, ripping up carpet and painting walls and imaging hypothetical furniture placement. But I haven’t yet reached the place in my head where I’ve transitioned from “Oh, this is a gorgeous house” to “Wow, this is my home”. Part of this is my faulty brain wiring, where I am conditioned to assume that beautiful things will eventually be taken away and that struggle is somehow the only way to measure success. And the other part is just the bittersweet reality of new beginnings. 

The house we live in now is truly Shawn’s. It is dark furniture and leather couches and masculine paint colors. It’s a garage with a Scarface poster. It is a place where I am largely glad that the walls can't actually talk. When we moved in, Shawn did everything he could to make it feel like ours. He bought a giant bookcase and spent an entire Saturday night assembling it. He converted the basement into a playroom, research and agonizing over the proper padded flooring. And he didn’t even pause when an entire woodland animal themed bathroom set landed in our cart during a Sunday morning Target trip.  But despite all of his efforts…it was never really ours.

But it was the house where all of our growing together occurred within its walls. The backyard that witnessed a spontaneous, inaugural “I love you, you know...” and almost exactly a year later, a down on one knee proposal. The house that we returned to after our first Valentine’s date -where I wore a red lip and a tight red dress but peeled out of it as soon as we were done with our fancy dinner and immediately put on sweatpants. Where I got so mad that I irrationally cleaned everything we owned but realized no matter what corner I turned, I wasn’t by myself anymore.  The house where Shawn and I have navigated strange modified parenting- reprimanding Grace together and then dissolving into coconspirator giggles as soon as she stomped up the stairs.

I suppose this is an odd sort of love letter to this house. I feel like I crossed the threshold a little battered, somewhat broken and definitely backwards. I wasn’t really expecting to fall in love or looking for any life-changing growth experiences. I just wanted to eat some Chinese food, lose myself in a awful movie (Bad Grandpa, for those of you following along at home) and maybe snuggle a little. Along the way, some things changed. Growth was inevitable and love followed just behind. 

Moving from the house where I was able to finally exhale with an “everything is actually going to be ok” to the home where everything is going to get even better.  

I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Love Story...

This week, I had a phone meeting with a potential wedding photographer. She was kind and soft spoken and asked me a million questions about our wedding and our relationship and our life. 

When I got off the phone, I told Shawn I always had a hard time describing how we met. He gave me a  perplexed look and said "You were friends with my little brother. We met at his engagement party on New Years Eve…can't get much simpler"

That's Shawn. Concrete and solid and forever reasonable. Logical and even-keeled in a way that is sometimes maddening, when I just want him to be outraged in solidarity. 

But for me, our "love story" is made up a million smaller but significant moments. We "met" at an engagement party, but we often marvel at how often we were  in the same place at the same time with minimal interaction. There were countless parties where I was sober and he was decidedly not, serenading me with a spirited version of "Call Me Maybe". At the engagement party, I was heading down the stairs into the basement when he asked me what was going on down there. I quickly replied that it was just some people playing games, nothing too special. Shawn looked directly at me (something I have always found disarming) and told me that he thought I was pretty special. I muttered some nonsensical rebuttal and walked down the stairs with a rather violent accompanying eye roll, lamenting to my best friend that "Isaac's older brother was at it again". Yet somehow, by some combination of tequila and New Year's Eve magic, we shared our first kiss at midnight. 

We didn't exchange numbers or make any future plans then. I breezily decided (contrary to my nature) that if he really wanted to see me, he'd figure out a way. 

The next day, my universe disintegrated. My parents and daughter got on a plane to Mexico and before they had even landed, I was on my way to the ER with my grandfather. What followed was a nightmarish tangle of hours that trickled by in hospital waiting rooms and then at  hospice. This gave me a lot of time to sit a talk with my aunts and eventually, when we had exhausted every other available topic, we began dissecting my dating life. As if on cue, my phone buzzed and I received a Facebook message from Shawn, thanking me for a fun New Year's Eve and giving me his phone number. I agonized over whether or not to respond, worried that it would be uncomfortable if it didn't work out. With the not-so-gentle prodding of my aunt- accompanied with the accurate assessment that my normal way of doing things was not exactly producing any results, I texted him. 

Shawn became this gentle constant from that moment on. He acknowledged everything I was going through, offering support but keeping a respectful distance. I could have set a clock by his text messages and I came to rely on that daily buoy (turns out, he wasn't sure when I got out work so he waited until 5pm to text me so that I wouldn't be bothered during working hours--- see what I mean about that maddening yet admirable logic?).

We had our first date late in January, when I panicked at the mention of actual dinner reservations (my previous forays into the "adult" dating world involved "meeting up for drinks" and other noncommittal nonsense). We spent that entire date inventing background stories for other groups of people at the restaurant and giggling and ended the night with out first sober kiss, on the roof of a parking garage just as it was beginning to snow. 

The next day, my best friend stated very bluntly that this was the man I was going to marry. I called her insane (probably along with some expletives) while driving to Shawn's for Chinese food and a movie, with the warning that I refused to wear "real pants" on a Sunday. Yoga pants, crab rangoons and a Boston Terrier who was a little bit uncertain about my arrival on the scene- and it seemed just as swathed in romance as that rooftop kiss. 

A few weeks later, Shawn came to my parents house, with a bottle of Portuguese wine in hand, for dinner with my family. My aunt and mother pulled me aside in the kitchen and stage whispered "Not to freak you out or anything…but you're done. You're marrying him". I hadn't brought a boy home in years, so I allowed them their obscene optimism. 

But it's not the falling in love part that is worth documenting. Falling in love is decidedly easy. It's the being in love part that floors me. 

Being in love is kisses on the top of my head, it's about the first time spent with my daughter happening to correspond with valentine's day and Shawn bringing her her own box of chocolates (but asking me if it was ok first). It's about watching Shawn be enchanted by all the things about Grace that I take for granted like how she sings along to every song on the radio and having that amazement make me fall in love with them both, all over again. Being in love is looking forward to Sunday morning trips to Target and becoming known on a first-name basis at our favorite breakfast spot. It's learning how to act as a's dissolving into angry hot tears face down in my pillow- assuming  I'm alone but suddenly feeling a steady hand on my back. Being in love is rolling my eyes at his inability to navigate a grocery store, but appreciating that he remembered to pick up Grace's favorite kind of cereal without me having to ask. It's trying to remember to push the dresser drawers closed when I'm done with them, but failing almost every time. Being love is about saving the corniest jokes to tell me and delighting in making me laugh until tears stream down my face. It is about demonstrating self-restraint and not throwing something at him when his phone rings at 3 am due to some sort of donut emergency. Being in love is slow dancing around the kitchen after a very bad day while your five year old sings "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"….and then later, underneath the stars beside our fire pit, being promised forever, with the same dance moves and same background music. It's about a diamond engagement ring- not in its size or clarity, but that it was custom made to look just like my grandmother's and uses stones from her setting-- so that I carry her love with me always. It's about including Grace in that moment, presenting her with a bracelet of her very own and asking her if he could officially become her "other dad". 

More than just love Shawn, I admire him. He is one of the very best people I have ever met and he pushes me to be better just in an attempt to keep up. I admire his roots, where he came from. I am so grateful for the way his family simply accepted Grace and I as part of his story, and then proceeded to fall in love with Grace automatically and without question. I am equally grateful that Shawn respects how much my relationship with my family has framed our world and how he has seamlessly fit himself into that equation. 

 I understand enough about the universe to know that the adrenaline of love is not the thing that marriages are made of, but I believe the respect and admiration I have for Shawn, for the partnership we have built, will be enough to carry us through the hard work and harder times of forging a life together and choosing each other every moment of every day.

So this is why a simple "we met at a party" and got engaged "at home, just the two of us" seems insufficient somehow. 

There was a lot of time in my life spent convinced I would never marry. That I had somehow missed out and would just have to watch from the dock as my coupled friends sailed off into their sunsets. I was less concerned about that as I was never truly alone- always with a miniature hand grasping and tugging on mine. I didn't admit this out loud often because I knew how ridiculous and self-pitying it sounded, but it was my truth. 

Now, my truth is different. Both of my hands (and my heart) are full. I've been given my happy ending. And I suppose it's not about the wedding I am frantically trying to plan or the "meet-cute" story my inner writer is desperately attempting to create. It is about the waking up every morning, filled with gratitude for the unexpected joy of being here, with him.  

And then realizing that what woke me up was, in fact, his other-wordly loud snoring, a Boston Terrier trying to hijack my pillow as if she were human, and a lanky limbed 6 year old clambering into our bed and planting her bony knees directly into the small of my back. 

Life is not at all perfect. But sometimes it feels pretty damn close.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Happy 6th Birthday Gracie girl...

Dear Gracie,

This weekend we celebrated your birthday party. I spent three days shopping and crafting and generally making myself crazy. The night before, I was up past midnight trying to make sure everything was perfect.

It honestly didn’t occur to me that all my preparation had gotten a little out of hand. This year, there were a couple of well-intended comments by friends, wondering when you would be “too old” to want that kind of themed family party. Shawn told me he had warned Vavo that I took your birthday parties “kind of seriously”.  Up until that moment, I didn’t know that the event required a warning label.

It made me stop and think about exactly why it is that I lose my mind over planning parties for you.

I think it's because when it became just you and I, against the world…I felt like I had something to prove. I wanted the world to know that even when it may have seemed like I was totally and completely falling apart I could pull myself together and throw you an amazing, “pinterest worthy” party.  I wanted people to believe I could do it all, alone.

But the thing is, Gracie…we were never really alone.  Every year, Auntie has been right by my side; creating a plethora of all pink baked goods and staining her hands in the process, trying to stick cotton candy on top of pretzel sticks to make “truffula tree” cupcakes and close to burning her apartment down making blue candy for Elsa’s castle. Without many complaints (but with demands for wine and red bull), she has spent countless hours helping to make you day as perfect as I dream it.

And then there are Mimi and Grampa. They open up their home and host. They scrub floors and clean the kitchen. They tolerate me snapping at them no less than 15 times in the three hours directly leading up to your party. Never mind just your birthday…it’s the quiet ways they’ve been showing up for the past 6 years that count the most.

And now we have Shawn. Who didn't even flinch when I told him to just sit down and wait for me to need him to something this weekend. Who ran out late at night to replenish our supply of dum-dums for lollipop trees and knew not to take it personally when I repeatedly criticized his balloon placement. He has been so patient with me and with you, letting me figure out how to function as one half of a pair as opposed to "alone".  And gently reminding me always that he wasn't going anywhere. 

Every year, I think that this must be the year that there will be less people who come to your party.  You’re getting older (against my very clear and loud verbal wishes) and life has gotten busier and busier for the people that we love. And yet.  They keep showing up.  They carve precious time out of their weekend and they show up to celebrate you.

This year has been a big one for us. You started school. We moved to a new town, a new home. Our immediate family doubled, to include a dog and a Shawn. Our extended family grew too and they didn’t hesitate one minute falling in love with you, enveloping you into their fold like you had always been there. This is something I don’t have the words to express gratitude for.

I guess this is the one thing I’d like to share with you, at the very beginning of your 6th birthday. That there will be moments in your life when you feel like you’re alone. Loneliness that feels so scary and so certain that it must be real. And the truth is, you need me less and less with each passing minute. You’re reading on your own and riding your bike and rolling your eyes at me. You’re walking up the stairs and into your kindergarten classroom hand in hand with your “bestie” while I linger dejectedly on the sidewalk, pretending like me watching you walk away is somehow keeping you safe.

You’re doing so many things on your own already. But becoming capable of doing great things on your own isn’t the same as being alone.

You’re smarter than I could have imagined and you make me laugh every single day. You’re sweet in the most surprising ways like insisting I use your special blanket when I’m sick. You are only the teeniest bit cautious and then completely fearless in the same moment. You love people to the tips of your toes and are kind to everyone that crosses your path.

So in the moments when life leaves you a little broken hearted (unless you allow me to lock you inside the house until you're 45 or so, this unfortunately will happen), when you feel like the world has totally given up on you…

The people who matter will keep showing up. In big huge ways and in teeny tiny ways. In nagging ways that seem like complete and totally annoyances but are really created from love.

And I’ll be first in line.

Happy sixth birthday to the very best thing to ever happen to me.