Thursday, December 29, 2011

Clearing Space and Cutting Hair: Letting Go of Stuff in the New Year

I’ve never been fond of having too much stuff—stuff on the walls, on shelves, stored away, in the brain. Traveling and changing residences a lot in my twenties helped to facilitate my love of periodically paring down, because I could not possibly carry that much on my back, transport that much in my car, or find the space to store everything in whatever new space I was about to call home. But when you start living somewhere for a long time, with no plans to move for years or even decades, you have to grab the reins and take charge of this process a bit more, force it to happen, or readily give in if you feel a sudden urge to create change.

Unlike some, I enjoy the process of periodically going through my papers, my clothes, my boxes full of ‘special things’—and now my son’s clothes, books, and toys too-- and figuring out what no longer needs to be kept. Ideally, this kind of organizing can be done while alone, playing music, and at a leisurely pace, with plenty of time to allow the mind to pause and linger over old memories as you make choices about what you can let go of. Otherwise, if you don’t have the right time or space to do this, you might be tempted to just re-stuff jumbled piles into new boxes, afraid that you will make a hasty decision that you will regret.

In any case, I’ve been on a de-cluttering kick this holiday season. I took one of my 2.5 hour breaks one day and attacked my overflowing pile of papers and files on my bookshelf. I three-hole punched and stuck in a folder many pages of writing from the last couple years, and I threw away old drafts of grant applications, outdated insurance forms, and old writing magazines.

I also decided to finally throw away a folder full of rejection slips that I’ve collected for almost fifteen years. You might wonder why I hung onto these slips at all, and I assure you it’s not because I enjoy reinforcing my failures (at least not on a conscious level). No, I’ve kept these slips precisely because I’ve been so convinced of the opposite—that someday I would have such success that I would be able to look back on this folder, perhaps even show it to some of my students pining for instant publication and fame, and say, this is what it takes. You can’t be hurt by rejection, you’ve got to keep writing and learning and getting better. You’ve got to trust deeply in your intrinsic love of the process, in your intrinsic knowledge that this is what you want and need to do with your life—amongst other things, of course. Even writers can’t be writers all the time.

But you know what? That folder was taking up space that I could otherwise give to something else. I’ve barely submitted a piece in the last few years due to a lack of time, but also because I’ve transported my “publishing energy” to this blog. And I’ve said this before-- although my audience from this blog may be relatively small, I still am interacting way more with people who are reading my words than I was before. I have not given up on traditional publishing modes, but I’ve taken a sabbatical from pining for such goals because, a.) Like I said, I don’t have the time right now, and b.) refreshingly, the blog format allows me to let go of my perfectionist tendencies, and instead to just keep writing, as much as I can, and put stuff out there even before my ideas may be fully formed or paragraphs fully edited. Is it my best, most polished or lyrical writing? No. But is this process just as satisfying, albeit different, as it was to labor over essays for months, even years, putting them through rounds of feedback and revision? Yes.

There’s just as much of an ego-tripping danger in holding on to something to prove your worth as there is to holding on to something to prove your lack of worth. It’s really just the inverse of the same impulse. In my stubborn clinging to my own outdated notions of what it means “make it” as a writer, I devalue other crucial layers of my creative self that are evolving every day.  I persist in clinging to notions of "making it" (book contract, career in academia, recognized in literary circles) that I don’t even fully strive for anymore, for the longer certain beliefs have been established within me, the longer they take to dispel. On many levels, I still value more what the outward, linear trajectory of my life story “says about me” versus the inward, cyclical trajectory that I have come to know as the true reflection of the way I learn, grow, and live.

It’s important to say goodbye to things—to people, to homes, to outdated lifestyles, goals, and beliefs—on symbolic outward levels, on levels that we can recognize, in order to help move the stubborn clinging old stuff inside that persists, despite our best intentions. This, to me, is what this season of solstice and darkness and hibernation and reckoning has come to symbolize: saying goodbye and letting go. Shedding old skins, pledging to new ways, marking time with ritual so that our deepest desires and wisdom can sink into our conscious psyche and manifest in our actions that much more.

Although the actual day of winter solstice passed by in our home without even a lit candle or nod of ritual (what can I say? we are tired; the days blend), this season of letting go and inviting change has not escaped me. Not only have I been purging files, but I’ve also been rearranging items on shelves, re-hanging pictures on walls, moving furniture and plants, and getting rid of bags full of old blankets and clothes. My motivation may be practical and aesthetic (our tiny home’s clutter has reached an all-time high, and we are debating how to either create a little zone for Cedar or, more drastically, move our bed into the living room so we can give him the bedroom), but my underlying impulse to clear space and get rid of things has a more primordial drive. As I continue to move furniture and plants, I cannot help but also dust and clean long-neglected corners of the home, corners which I might not see or notice in my every day, but which are there, collecting physical and psychological weight all the same.

I love how small acts like rearranging pictures on the walls and repositioning things on shelves can make a space feel so different. It’s so easy to get stuck in thinking that this one way of arranging things is the best or only way, when in truth there are a multitude of ways in which we can inhabit our space. I have this fantasy of someday taking our family to live abroad for a year and packing up all our stuff in storage—but ironically, a big part of this fantasy involves the process of then coming home again; of how our home will feel new to us, and by extension how we will be freed to recreate our space, and our lives, in a vital way.

The other unexpected change that my husband and I have embarked on this holiday has come in the form of hair. My husband took the biggest leap and cut off his long locks that he has grown out since high school. He’s been considering doing this for some time, but he’s also known that once he does, he may not have long hair again for a long time—or ever. (Who wants to go through the awkward growing out phases at this age?) It helped that his sister, Sarah, is a hair stylist who brought her shears to our Christmas gathering and gave cuts and highlights to just about everyone in the room.

As for me, I got my bangs trimmed and a shorter cut. Then when Sarah asked if I wanted some color, I confessed to my long-harbored desire to do something even more playful. I just am so low-maintenance and frugal that I can’t really justify spending the money nor time involved in re-coloring roots and what not, but now that she was offering, why not, what did I have to lose?

So here I am, feeling trendier than I have in years with my amber-streaked hair that has loads more “dimension” that I never knew was lacking. Change is fun, and even if it’s “just” on the surface, the surface too is a valid part of the equation that helps us stir up our crusty interiors. It’s probably no coincidence that my new haircut is coinciding with a period in my life in which I am gearing up to lead some workshops and be more “out in the world” than I have been since before I got pregnant. And the fact that my husband and I are working to help clear up our living space is no doubt conspiring to make room for new, more conscious ways of being alive together in our home.

Our homes may be the place where we chill out and relax, but they are also the places from which our habits our born. If we live (and work, for some of us) in a space that has not been “updated” in a long time, it follows that it might be that much harder to break into new modes of thinking and seeing. And similarly, if we slouch within messy clothes or stagnant haircuts for too long, this too can affect the way in which we carry ourselves in the world.  

So here’s to clearing space, cutting hair, and letting go. Here’s to asking ourselves not just what we want to do or acquire in the New Year, but also what we want to say goodbye to. After all, if we want to invite something new into our lives, first we need to make the room for it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Toy Envy, Consumerism, and What We Really Need

Lately, an article from Wired magazine about the 5 best toys of all time has been circling the net again. It’s a good article, but if you don’t want to read it, I’ll tell you what the list consists of: sticks, boxes, string, cardboard tubes, and dirt.

Of course, I'm all for reducing consumerism and fostering imaginative play, but it occurs to me that only someone who already has plenty of money and toys for their kids can make these kinds of assertions. The popularity of this article speaks to the culture of materialism-overload that it comes from. But for anyone who doesn’t have the means to buy special treats for their kids, to suggest that they already have the ideal toys for their at their disposal, strikes me as a bit… privileged.

Kids like variety, they like being exposed to new things, and toddlers in particular have notoriously short attention spans. There are lots of activities that don’t require money that can help keep them entertained, but when it comes down to it, having the money to buy a diverse range of experiences for your kids—whether in the form of toys or enriching activities—is pretty damn helpful.

Like many parents these days, when I was planning for my life with my child I imagined that I would limit the number of bright, plastic noise-making toys that entered our home, and instead collect (expensive) wooden toys that would last much longer (and be less of an eyesore). I would fill baskets with natural objects like shells, pinecones, and stones, in lieu of plastic doo-dads, and we would start painting and making arts and crafts as soon as developmentally possible.

Well, first of all, I was not accounting for a generous aunt who spent months scouring Goodwill to collect for us a big box of plastic noise-making toys-- a Leapfrog “piano”, a bilingual “guitar”, a talking cookie jar shape sorter, a singing “Alphabet Pal”caterpillar, a singing plastic book, a talking dog, and then some. Next, add in the grandparents and others who’ve contributed over time: a musical, flashing ring stacker, a musical dump truck, a singing bear, a singing Easter bunny, a musical remote control airplane, a musical activity center, a singing train, and before you know it, we are one of those families whose house is chock full of plastic, noise-making toys.

The truth is, Cedar loves these toys, and most babies and toddlers do. It's the parents they drive crazy. Some are not that bad—in particular the ones that play music without words. The ones that drive me mad are the ones that sing, talk or giggle in syrupy sweet, incredibly annoying "kid-like" voice. Why do manufacturers think that kids will only respond to such voices? You can sound friendly and sweet without being nauseating.

In any case, since the relatives have bought Cedar plenty of toys, I have not felt the need to buy much-- until recently that is. We've reached a point where Cedar is not very excited about any of his toys (unless of course another kid comes over and starts playing with them). And while I am somewhat proud of the fact that I've only ever bought Cedar a handful of toys (mostly from Value Village) and I think this makes it that much more special for him to experience new toys when at preschool or friends’ homes, I also have recognized that I get toy envy when I go other parents’ homes.

Mostly, I get wooden toy envy. Wooden toys are more expensive and harder to find used, so we don’t have many. I covet those cute little Plan Toy xylophones and shape sorters, those Melissa and Doug puzzles and blocks, those expensive push toys and wooden kitchen sets complete with wooden fruits and vegetables that can be cut apart with a play wooden knife. I also covet those sturdy little easels, those velvety plush beanbag chairs, those tunnels and tents for toddlers to crawl through. And the more I’m exposed to, the more I start wanting more stuff for Cedar.

One built-in limitation is that our home is small (850 square feet), so there isn't room for us to collect too much, without it feeling like utter chaos. There isn't much storage space to store stuff away, so we have to live with it all in sight.

Our other built-in limitation is that we simply cannot afford to buy a lot. Instead, I borrow a lot of board books from the library, trade toys now and then with my neighbor, find random things in the house for Cedar to play with (radios, flashlights, dominos), and scan Value Village now and then for a treat (more of a way to help pass a long day, than anything).

Enter the Christmas season. I wasn't planning to get Cedar much; I figured he'd get plenty from the grandparents and this would be enough of a toy windfall for one month. But somehow, I've gotten suckered into the materialism of the season, and found myself buying more than ever. A few books here, a used few puzzles there, a couple things from Fred Meyer (yes, plastic), a set of wooden stringing beads (relatively expensive), and some stickers and dot paint tubes from the art store. Once I caved and started to spend, suddenly it was as I'd given myself permission to access a long-harbored, unconscious list of coveted things. This toy lust was compounded by a few Amazon searches prompted by my dad who requested a Christmas wish list, not to mention my joining a new mom’s list serve with daily deals and offers.

I’ve felt a tad guilty about my recent splurge, but I've countered this with an entitled sense of “I/we deserver this” to at long last be the one to pick out a few special toys for my son. I've spent about $100, and depending on who you are that may seem like nothing or like a whole lot. For me, it's a lot to spend in a few weeks, with the purpose of giving it to a child all at once, so I am spreading it out. A few of the presents have already come out of hiding in fact-- we've been having some looong afternoons, and I've needed it. Why wait till Christmas, after all, the day when he'll have way more than enough to keep him stimulated? It’s not like he knows what Christmas is yet.

For now though, I'm done. I highly doubt I will buy him another toy for many months. I'd rather put money towards going to a music class together, or to check out more drop-in play spaces. We need to get out of the house every day, preferably for several hours, and not just to the grocery store; but with our rainy weather in the NW, we can't just rely on playing outside at parks—or sticks, boxes, and mud.

It's important to point out how we don't need lots of expensive toys for our children, and how they can be happy with much less. But the truth is, it's hard to get around needing money to keep a child entertained. After all, we all need a break from parenting, especially stay-at-home parents; none of us can be entirely present, patient and engaged if we are on 24-7. So, there are a number of ways we get these breaks. If we have plenty of money, we can pay for babysitters and daycares to get our “recharge/adult time”. We can also pay to bring our kids to enriching classes, which we may or may not participate in ourselves. Or, if these are not viable options, we can buy more toys or, evil of evils, turn on the T.V. (a subject of its own).

Sure, the most creative and resourceful amongst us will create budget-friendly craft projects for our little ones, and although I don’t consider myself outside the realm of those who might do such things, I do have my limits. A 20-month old's attention span is not long. When I'm tired, I don't really feel like getting out messy paints for what might be a five minute project. I can only invent so many new games or find that many new household objects that might be interesting to my son for two minutes of a day. And so, I’ve found myself resorting to letting him watch an Elmo video or Sesame Street clips on youtube more and more. Or-- I find myself realizing the value in having a healthy supply of toys. Enough toys so that you actually have enough to put a bunch away for a while, with the idea that they’ll seem “new” again when you cycle them back out in rotation.

There is, I believe, only one true antidote to feeling like you need to spend lots of money on your child-- and that is being surrounded and supported by a strong community. That means: relatives who will babysit for free, trustworthy neighbors with similar-aged kids who will swap childcare, and friends who will meet up often for playdates to make full-time parenting a bit less mundane.
Finding and sustaining this community, however, is harder than it may seem. As a relatively new stay-at-home mom, I’ve taken my child to plenty of play gyms, storytimes, and music classes, participated in PEPS (a great support group for moms in Seattle), enrolled my son in a toddler co-op preschool one morning a week, and reached out to lots of old friends and acquaintances who have kids of similar ages, but despite all this I still find it hard to create the kind of community I seek.

Everyone is busy—working long hours, caring for multiples, keeping up with complicated schedules. Everyone is tired. And it takes effort to foster a connection that goes beyond a familiar face you exchange a few pleasantries with at playgroups. Even if most of us parents end up passing long afternoons at home with our kids during which we wish we had a more creative option, for some reason getting a playdate on the calendar- and following through- can still be a hard feat to accomplish-- especially if your kids have different nap schedules or once we’ve entered the season of perpetual colds. Although I feel fortunate to know a good number of moms in Seattle right now, sadly, much of this community remains online and via good intentions. There have been many with whom I’ve wanted to nurture a friendship, but after too many failed attempts to get together, I’ve let go of my former hopes.

Community is the true secret to enjoying parenthood and childhood—not toys, whether of the natural or manufactured variety. But it takes a lot more than having kids of a similar age to foster a sustaining connection. Sometimes the viability of a connection does come down to scheduling, proximity and convenience; sometimes, for example, driving all the way across town for a playdate can seem like more effort than it’s worth. But ultimately, creating community has to be something that is mutually sought out and desired. All too often, it ends up being easier to go into default mode—which for our culture means staying isolated within our own nuclear families, sticking to what we already know, and buying stuff to fill in the voids.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Goodbye Old Tree

Last week, five men showed up on our property at 8 a.m. and proceeded to cut down a tree. Not just any tree, but a 100+ foot, seventy-year-old big leaf maple. A tree that towered over me as a child, and a tree that sheltered the front of our house as an adult. A tree that bursts into green in the spring, and glows a vibrant yellow in the fall. A tree that sheds all of its leaves in November, leaves that we are still often raking into the new year. A tree that has grown humongous roots and been circled for decades by flowers: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, bluebells, and forget-me-nots. A fairy ring, Els used to call it, Els who planted most of those flowers during the forty years that she lived here. I have only lived here for four. But as a young child, I lived next door for ten.

When I was young, Frank used to climb up in the tree himself to take out the dead limbs. I remember my parents talking about it, and Els being nervous. He took out two of the main limbs himself when they were dying, which left two massive remaining ones-- still plenty of tree. In recent years, I had noticed that the leaves on one side of the tree looked smaller- a sign of decay. There was also a smaller dead limb in the middle—“smaller”, yet still large enough that it would likely be fatal if it fell on your head. Maple is hard wood.

This year, we finally decided that we needed to get serious and do something about the tree. Our neighbors had politely enquired about its safety shortly after one of our big cedars came down one day into their backyard, missing their house by a few feet. Root rot. We hadn’t a clue.

We got several bids and no one could tell us anything conclusive without expensive testing, but everyone agreed that the maple was in its “twilight years”, and showing signs of decay. Some suggested erecting a cable that would bind together the two main limbs and prevent “catastrophic failure”, but another said that this would not guarantee that the tree would not fall. Either onto our house, onto the neighbor’s house, into the street and power lines, or- worst case scenario-- onto a person. Even if a cable could buy us a few more years or at most another decade of enjoying the tree, it was still on its way out. So we decided to shell out the big bucks and have it removed as recommended.

I thought the tree guys would be here all day; that’s what I’d been told, and even that had seemed fast to me. But when they got to work by 8:15, I could tell it would go even faster. Our family of three stood by the window and watched as the arborist spun around on a rope, wielding the saw. Crash! Down came the first branches. Down, down, down. Before we knew it, he was already working on the main two trunks, sectioning off chunks that fell with loud booms. Meanwhile, four guys with orange hard hats scampered below, wielding their own chainsaws, pulling the smaller branches up the steps to be chipped, and leaving us a pile of rounds for firewood.

Cedar was mesmerized. We ate our oatmeal on the daybed, staring out the window. Down, down, down, came the tree. By 10:00, the whine of the chainsaws was starting to get to me so I decided to take Cedar out to get some groceries. Surely they would still be here when we got back. But when we drove home at just past eleven, the yard was silent. You could still smell the gas from the saws in the air and the ground was littered with a confetti of wood shavings. Otherwise, what was left was a giant stump, five feet in diameter, and a huge pile of wood for my husband to chop.

It felt… surreal. Less than three hours and the old tree was gone. Cedar and I stepped up onto the trunk, which now was the perfect platform to give some future speech or poetry reading from, or play king of the mountain. The sky above was open, which is nice since our property is otherwise surrounded by tall trees and shielded from sunlight. But I also felt a stirring of sadness. Something that grew steadily and slowly for decades was erased within minutes. Responsible as our choice to cut down the tree was, the speed at which it was removed still felt like an incursion.

Now, when you sit at the window seat, the ideal spot to read and stare out the window all day, you can be seen from the street. Part of the beauty of that perch was that you used to be totally hidden from view, looking out on a mossy green oasis of trees. And we could pretty much walk around naked in our house and not worry. Granted, we still mostly can. But in the grand scope of how little has changed on this property over the course of decades, saying goodbye to that maple is no small thing.

Thankfully, we have one more big towering maple in back. The two maples were probably planted at the same time, anchoring the house, to the south and the north. Raking their leaves in the fall is always a long, time-consuming process, and yet, I love those trees, and by extension, those leaves. I love looking up into their lush canopies, seeing the squirrels jump from limb to limb, and the baby flickers emerge in the spring. The maple in back is also in its twilight years, but it’s not yet showing any signs of decay. We can enjoy it a while longer.

Every fall when I rake the leaves from the maples, I think of Frank and how much time and energy he used to put into caring for this yard. I had come a few times to help Frank rake when he was weak from cancer, and he’d shown me his method of getting every last leaf, creating little piles, lifting them into the wheelbarrow with the help of the rake, and then stacking the compost pile in a tidy square, a few feet high, and only when the leaves were moist so they would properly decay. For the next couple years, I made sure I was as thorough as Frank had been about getting all of the leaves. It felt important. I instructed Matthew about how the compost pile should be shaped. Because that’s the way Frank did it, and he must have had a good reason.

Eventually, though, I let this protocol slide. Now, I am no longer as vigilant about getting all the leaves (especially those pesky little ones from the plum and apple trees), and I let Matthew dictate the shape of the compost pile. These days, we don’t have the time to be perfectionists about anything. It feels good enough if we manage to get the bulk of the leaves raked, and just hold the basics of this place together, not let it slide into a state of neglect. 

These days, I have also not had much time to write about Els, Frank and the cabin. Motherhood has consumed me, and any writing energy I have has gone towards addressing my present. But now, for the first time in months, I feel a melancholy stirring inside, sprouting from that same seed of gratitude that infused me after Frank passed away, and as I moved in and discovered him and Els’s artifacts during the months that followed. This tug of melancholy reminds me of how this legacy is still waiting within me, dormant yet pungent, waiting for me to return to the outline of chapters and words I laid down over two years ago. It reminds me of how the roots of the story of Matthew, Cedar and I, and our present life in this cedar cabin, extend so much deeper and farther than the in-your-face immersion in parenting that we have been swimming and breathing through, day by day. It excites me to think about delving into Els and Frank’s past again, to find passages in Els’s letters about planting seedlings that today tower over us, or passages in Frank’s letters that hint at visions of countries and ports that no longer exist, at least not like they did then.

Everything changes. The old generation can barely recognize the new. Trees have their cycles. The one you plant today, you likely will not get to enjoy when it is full-grown and towering. But your children will. Or someone else’s children. Everything has its story. And everything, in the end, will die.

Now, the stump looks ugly, bare and obtrusive. But my husband reminded me that this is the worst it will look. Next spring, the fairy ring of blossoms will come up again, and we will get to choose a new tree to plant in their midst.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


ONE-DAY INTENSIVE: Saturday, February 11th, 9:00 a.m. -2:00 p.m.
EIGHT-WEEK SERIES: Saturday mornings, March 3 - April 21, 10:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m.
Has motherhood been a profound or complex journey for you?
Do you long for time to write and digest your experiences?
Whether you are a beginning or experienced writer, a new or longtime mom, these workshops are designed for you!
In a small group setting, we will gather to explore our diverse, individual experiences as mothers. Each week we will free-write from a series of prompts that explore themes such as: joy and intimacy; isolation and community; shifting identities; cultural myths and taboos; longing, change, and letting go.
Participants will be encouraged to share from their writing in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. Together we will aim to go beyond labeling our writing as “good” or “bad,” and to let go of our internal editors so we can access the place where our writing reveals new insights. Each week, we will also read quotes and essays from mother-writers such as Rachel Cusk, Anne Lamott, Naomi Wolf, and Hope Edelman, which we will discuss and use to jump-start our own writing.*
By the end of our time together, you will have generated pages of new writing, connected with a community of mother-writers, and emerge with a stronger sense of what motherhood means to you.
* The one-day workshop will not include readings, and instead will focus on free-writing and sharing aloud. The themes will be similar, but condensed.
Sign-up early for a discounted rate! Details below.
Limited partial scholarships available. 
All workshops held at the Good Shepard Center in Wallingford: 4649 Sunnyside Ave N. Seattle, WA 98103.
One-Day Intensive:
Saturday, February 11, 2012        
9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Max.# of students: 10. Register below.

Payment Options

Eight-Week Series:

Saturdays, March 3 – April 21, 2012
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Max. # of students: 10. Register below.

Payment Options

Online Registration Information

1) PayPal encourages people to register and establish an account. When you click on the PayPal link during registration the page will prompt you for a PayPal user ID and password. Please note it is NOT necessary to have an account with PayPal to register for a workshop. Below the question "Don't have a PayPal account?" you will see the word "CONTINUE," click on this and you will be able to finish paying for your registration by credit card without setting up an account.
2) If the workshop is already full and this information has not yet been posted on this page, I will notify you and issue a refund to your credit card. If the classes do not fill to the minimum (5 students), I will do the same.
3) You will receive e-mail confirmation of your payment from PayPal AND an email from me. If you do NOT receive this confirmation it may mean your registration has not been received. Please email Anne at:
4) I will send a group email out to the class a couple weeks prior with room information and any other instructions. Thanks!

Scholarship Information

If you are interested in attending either workshop but cannot afford the tuition, you are welcome to apply for a partial scholarship. Please send me an email ( letting me know what your financial situation is, why you wish to take the course, and how much of the tuition you can contribute. Requests are due for the one-day intensive by 1/11, and for the 8-week series by 2/3. I will then let you know within two weeks of the scholarship application deadline whether your request can be granted.
About the Instructor
Anne Liu Kellor holds a MFA in creative nonfiction, and is a Hedgebrook and Jack Straw alum. Her essays have appeared in the anthology Waking Up American (Seal Press), The Los Angeles Review, and other publications. Anne has read her work from coast-to-coast and led writing workshops in community centers, senior centers, schools, prisons, colleges, and living rooms. She has written a collection of memoirs, Searching for the Heart Radical, and blogs on motherhood and writing. 

Questions? E-mail Anne at:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude: A List of Things I Love

  1. Coffee. I still can’t have it all the time or Cedar’s tummy gets upset, but I have it enough to know how much it can help me through a day.

  1. Cheese. Ditto on the above, can’t have it all the time, but when I do, let me tell you, I enjoy it! The best was the cheese plate at the overpriced wine bar with its miniature slices. But did I care? No! The size of those slices was perfect for me and mirrored my savoring-every-small-bite approach. Speaking of which….

  1. The wine at said wine bar was damn good, too. Thank God I haven’t had to cut out wine from my diet. Enough said.

  1. Okay, on to less oral delights… I love…. the way my husband lets me sleep in on Saturday mornings. The feeling of sinking back into a deep, uninterrupted sleep for three hours, and the ability to sprawl my limbs across the wide expanse of the flannel sheet-covered mattress is downright heavenly. With the aid of the white noise machine and earplugs, all outside noises of small children are blocked out, and although I emerge from this dream-laced stupor feeling groggy and out of sorts, this ability to catch up on my sleep on the weekend has felt physically necessary, what keeps me from getting sick, what keeps me sane in the midst of going on 20-some months of continually interrupted and inadequate sleep.

  1. What else? I love… my son’s silliness. The way he cracks up in hysterics when we blow on his tummy, or the way he copies us and blows on mine. The way he says his new word “no?” like a question. Running my hands through the curls on the back of his head. The way he likes to kick and stomp his feet, and turn in circles when he “dances”. The way he chases our cat through the house, screaming “Mao, mao, mao…”, cat in Chinese. Witnessing him absorb language, new words left and right. His recent obsession with candles—requesting (more like demanding) that I light a "ka da" whenever we are sitting at the table. There are worse things for a toddler to demand. Like…. “Elmo! Elmo! Elmo!” Okay… too much Elmo may get annoying, but those folks at Sesame Street sure are clever—ever seen Feist’s “1, 2, 3, 4…” song or Adam Sandler’s song about Elmo? How about India Arie’s alphabet song or that British guy singing Elmo a “lullaby” with a pounding punk guitar? Uh, huh. I’ve watched these video clips on You Tube many, many times, and more often than not, I’ve got one stuck in my head. One more, you say? Okay, baby. And another? Why not. Half an hour’s worth? Well, alright, just this once...or twice. Then mama can wake up and drink her coffee.

  1. Obviously I could fill this entire list with things about my son. After all, he’s the center of my universe right now. The center of my universe forever? Perhaps. So let me just pick one more thing I love about him, then move on. I love…the way he runs around the house with a plastic stir stick meant for my husband’s beer brewing. I also don’t like the fact that this has become his new favorite toy, pushing it in front of him on the wood floor like a vacuum, but I do love how this current excitement of his speaks to how children can find enjoyment in the oddest of things. He likes this plastic stick too much for me to err with my cautious side and take it away from him (lest he trip and it jabs him, or it trips him). Whatever. It’s not sharp and pokey. There are worse things for him to attach to. So of all things to love, I pick the stick. Really, I just love watching him discover the world, I love his incessant curiosity. I love (and sigh about) how he wants to hold and copy every last thing that we hold or do. Nothing  escapes his notice. He makes me see the world of mundane objects anew.

  1. What else? I love… watching him connect with his grandparents. Watching him play hide-and-seek with my mom. Watching my mom run down the hall or army crawl behind the dining room table—my serious, often grumpy, yet wonderful mom, morphing into the silly, delightful child that she also is. I love the fact that Cedar has so many people who love him, so many people with whom he can feel safe with, so many people he knows. I love seeing him lift his arms up to a new friend to be held, I love seeing the delight in their faces as they feel chosen by him, having passed the energetic test: you are safe, you are kind.

  1. I love my family, love my friends, love my community, even if I often miss them because they are far away or busy. Oh, so busy. Everyone’s so busy. But still, even though I haven't yet, I love the knowledge that I can take the train down to Portland with Cedar some day to visit two of my oldest soul sisters (our own little adventure), and I love the morning weekend drives that I've made with my husband to Olympia en route to visit Grandma and family. I love that my sister now lives only a few miles away, and I love the fact that we have a small growing nucleus of families with babies next door, families that we will no doubt BBQ and have playdates and drinks with all the more. I love how I have been trading childcare with my neighbor—once a week I watch her daughter for a few hours, in exchange for the same. This is how it is done! That whole village thing. It really matters. We are all so tired, we don’t have the energy to drive across town once we’re cozy in our homes. But we do have the energy to walk next door! And often the morning goes faster caring for two than for one, when suddenly all the old toys become interesting again.

  1. Okay, I lied. Back to Cedar. I love watching him interact with other babies and kids. Whether it’s his 16-month-old buddy Cecilia next door (who adores “C” as she calls him), or the 19 other kids at toddler co-op preschool who we spot more and more around town at library storytime or at the park. I love how he is forming his own little community, and I love trying to imagine what it feels like for him to realize that the world is  populated with little people just like him! I love showing up at school every Friday morning and seeing the new (to us) imaginative toys and activities set up in the room, and watching him roam around at will, every so often calling out, “Mama, mama!” and running into my arms for a hug, before darting off again to explore some new corner. I love knowing that he feels safe to explore the outer limits of his environment, yet also knows to come back and check in and get some loving. I love loving this little boy. He is so full of love. I inhale his whole being into my heart when we embrace, drawing as close as I can to his essence.

  1. I should wrap things up here or this list will get unwieldy! So here goes… I love… my husband. My dear, poor husband, who often feels picked on, neglected, nagged. Yes, dear, I have my gripes, but never forget how much I love you passionately. I love your fish smoking and beer brewing ways. I love how you embody my favorite season, fall—building a warm fire, chopping wood in a flannel shirt, baking apple pies, sitting at your table under the lamp tying flies. Yes, we are different. You don’t like to read, and I like things a lot tidier, but somehow those things are not so important when it comes down to what we enjoy most out of each other and life. Like our ability to just sit on the couch and listen to music and talk (or NOT talk!) for hours. And if I haven’t said this recently, let me tell you again how much I love watching you with Cedar. I love the throaty growl with which he’s decided to intone your name (Baba!), and I love the mischievous light in his eyes and yours as you chase him through the house, running to dive onto the bed, collapsing into tickles and laughter. I love your gentle and patient, yet firm ways. I know we will be good partners in compassionate discipline. I know we see eye to eye on parenting, and this is not something to be taken for granted. What else do I love about you? I love… your deep sensitivity to nature and to life’s evolving flow. I love your ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos and change; I love your ability to stay open to inner growth and always on the lookout for taking on new opportunities that scare the shit out of you, but that you know will be good for you. I love your humility, your down-to-earthness, your country bumpkin redneck hippy meets urban commuter technological music fiend. I love you, honey. I love our life, as much as I like to complain about it. I love our story, our past, and I love dreaming together of our future. I love this life, this breath, the eternally unfolding expanding and contracting mystery embodied in this moment.

This moment. I love the unknown possibilities inherent, ripening, ripened: waiting for us to show up and take hold.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Baby Lust— Or Not

I used to always think that I would probably have two kids. Two parents and two kids seemed like the “perfect” family unit, balanced and lively yet manageable, without necessarily requiring the purchase of a minivan. I grew up with a sister, and although we fought a lot (we are a year and a half apart, and many of our spats ended in fear-inspiring threats like, “You can’t wear any of my clothes anymore, ever!”), we also had lots of fun together.  We understand each other on an intrinsic level because we grew up in the same environment under the care of the same people.  Being an only child always seemed so… lonely. Only children might grow up to be more… self-centered, or demanding, or possessive of their things. Well, even if these aren’t true (in fact, siblings might feel more of a need to establish their personal territory), I still always felt that two was better than one.

But now that I’m the parent of a toddler, I see things a little differently. It’s true that I still see families of four (or five- but five’s the limit) eating crepes, drinking coffee, and reading the paper and picture books together on Sunday mornings at the café, and think how great that would be to be able to go on family outings someday where everyone will be entertained. But then, during the week, I see mothers pushing their toddlers in a stroller, while also carrying a baby in an Ergo and walking the family dog, and I feel a kind of empathy for them. Or is it pity, born of thankfulness that, no matter how tired I am, at least I’m not them? I’m sure that they treasure their family and that this may very well be the cozy family unit that they’ve always dreamt of, and yet, no one can deny that these full-time mothers shoulder a heavy load.

Mostly, I have embraced my initiation into motherhood over this last year and a half, and I have been grateful for my ability to stay at home with Cedar while he is so young. And yet. I have also acutely missed my loss of time—namely, to write and pursue my career. Because so much of the work that is involved in being a writer is unpaid, we cannot afford to hire a regular sitter so that I can go sit in a café and write. Instead, I depend on the two afternoons a week of childcare that my mom provides, or my weekend morning respites care of my husband—and inevitably, half of “my” time also gets funneled into the mound of dishes, laundry, emails, or chores that I haven’t been able to get done while I’m with Cedar.

Recently, as my son has grown older, I’ve slowly started to claim back little pockets of time to write, not to mention to begin to consider pursuits like teaching and publishing again. And despite what can feel like painstakingly sloooww progress, chipping away at a long list of goals, it has also been hugely satisfying to begin to inhabit the larger spectrum of my creative and professional identity again, even as I remain a “stay-at-home” mom. Don’t get me wrong, I have only the fullest respect for stay-at-home moms—I know how hard they work (for no pay, for often under-expressed thanks from their partners, and for a sliver of respect from society), and I also know what a joy this occupation can be. But I resent feeling like I am “just” a stay-at-home mom in the eyes of others, I resent the distinct ‘demotion’ that this role occupies in our society, and the way that it’s demands usurp all other aspects of my identity.

And so of course I am excited for each new stage of independence that my son moves into—whether this was his ability to be away from the breast for longer periods, or, his ability to go to preschool for several mornings a week in the not-so-distant-future, during which I can dive into my projects all the more. Even if we’ll have to find the money for these additional school hours, this spending will feel more ‘justified’ since it’s good for Cedar to be exposed to other children and creative environments. This investment will be “for Cedar” and not just me, even if I will reap just as much—if not more-- satisfaction out of this new routine.

So with this new phase of motherhood on the horizon, it’s hard for me to feel eager to get pregnant again and to plunge all over again into that altered, caring-for-a-newborn state of mind-- only this time with a toddler to chase after simultaneously. If I’m so tired and desperate for more time with just one, how on earth will I be able to do anything else but care for my children if I have two? Of course, I realize that eventually when they go to school you gain some of your time back. But I don’t think I can handle waiting the four or five more years that that it would take (if say, I got pregnant today) to come back to the state of equilibrium that I’m only just reclaiming now.

Right now, I’m thinking that having just one might be good enough. He can play with his neighbors, cousins, and friends. He can be assured of always having plenty of attention from mom and dad. And he can more easily be schlepped off to the grandparents or brought with us on airplanes when mom and dad regain their ability to go out more and travel (even if this feels like a distant fantasy). Also, having just one will help my husband and I regain some of our own time together, something we desperately need, as opposed to taking away even more.

Maybe if we were rich, some of these factors wouldn’t be quite so relevant. We could hire a nanny, go on regular date nights, both feel intellectually engaged by our work, and still have energy left over to shower on our kids. But we aren’t rich, and when one half of the family income comes from a writer, we probably never will be. So although a lack of money alone wouldn’t stop me from having another kid if I wanted one at all costs, in our case, it’s definitely a factor worth considering. With just one we aren’t quite as pressed to tackle the expensive remodel that our humble cabin requires if my husband and I ever hope to have our own bedroom again.  And with just one, doing something drastic (however unlikely) like moving the family for a year to live in China feels slightly more within reach, whereas everything feels that much more daunting with just one more child’s future to worry about.

There’s something to be said for making life a little easier. I know that some people say that with two they can entertain each other, but mostly what I hear from the buzz on Facebook and the like is that having two young kids is definitely harder. Perhaps it’s a selective memory of the early years (not to mention an intense love) that leads one to proclaim that more is easier. I don’t know.

I do realize, of course, that in another year or two I might take all this back as I’m seized by an irrational desire to have another baby. Even now, as I encounter the newborns of friends, I have small flutters of longing to hold and remember the essence of one of those mystical beings. Those first months are such a blur of hormones, anxiety, and sleepless nights that it’s already hard to recall what it felt like to be privy to care for such a being, but I know that, once again, our selective memories can help us to block out the hardships and to instead pine for the fleeting, yet nonetheless very real moments of joy that come with caring for a baby.

And yet, I fear getting sucked even deeper into the maternal world of diapers, playdates, doctor’s appointments, online shopping, and conversations centered around breastfeeding and sleep.  I fear getting sucked in so deep that it will feel insurmountably hard to reemerge into the adult, work world. And this is in part because I am acutely aware of how much work it took me to get to where I am—and I’m not even satisfied yet; I still have greater goals. And the longer you set those goals aside, the harder it is to dig back into them. Not impossible, never impossible. But hard.

Baby lust. I know it might still hit me. I know some of you out there might be thinking to yourself, yeah, I remember feeling that way… just you wait another year or so, and I concede that I’m still hanging on to those bins of baby clothes up in the attic, just in case.  Yes, there is a part of me that would be excited again to go through the ripening journey towards birth again, with the ultimate climax that comes from meeting the new mystery that life has sent for you.  But I have also not yet forgotten just how hard this first year and a half has been. These last twenty months have shown me how strong I am, how much I can shoulder when called upon, at the same time that they have shown me my limits and where I need to set the boundaries when it comes to my own needs.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Writing Motherhood: 2012 Workshops

I haven't written much lately, but I have been busy making plans. I feel an energy to step out of my comfort zone again, an energy that is buzzing and rising inside of me, an energy that can sometimes manifest as fear, but mostly as a necessary hunger. A hunger to connect with other adults, a hunger to engage my mind and to feed my spirit, a hunger to see what else I can add into the fold of motherhood, to see how much I can take on, little by little, without becoming overwhelmed.

First off, I am planning to teach a couple workshops-- a one-day intensive on February 11th and an eight-week, Saturday morning series starting on March 3rd. Writing Motherhood. Each week, 5-10 women, incidentally mothers, will gather to write from a series of prompts. I will provide readings culled from  memoirs and essays on motherhood, passages and chapters that make me excited, that make me go "Yes!", or make me go hmm...what do I think about this? What do I have to add to this collection of smart voices? What parts of this crazy journey have I been most affected by? What aspects do I most need to spend time with and digest?

I can't wait to share these readings with others and to see how they spark each of us differently. I can't wait to gather a group of women together with the shared intention to explore this vast and complicated, humbling and overwhelming, awesome and mundane terrain called motherhood. I can't wait to learn from other mothers and their writing, however new or far along they are on their mothering and writing paths.

It's been almost two years since I've led a workshop, not counting a short, free one I gave about a year ago. This is not surprising given the fact that my son is 19 months old, and it's been a slow, evolving process of learning how to carve out more time for myself to write, to read, to sleep(!), and to pursue my publishing- and teaching-related goals. 

In the early months, it was enough-- or all I could hope for-- just to scribble out a mad journal entry during Cedar's naps. Then slowly, I began to give more to this blog. Then less again, as other things in life easily took over to crowd out my narrow windows of time to write, be it chores, illnesses, or my parents (i.e. my childcare) going on vacation.

Now, I finally feel like I have enough energy and time (though it's never really enough, of course; we're talking about altered expectations here), to even consider giving a little bit of my writing time away to teach. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching, and the communication and community that can come from facilitating a group feeds me in exhilarating ways that writing alone cannot. But if I have to choose between the two, writing will always win. After all, how can I teach writing if I am not actively writing? How would I have the confidence and embodied love to teach, if I were feeling deprived or depressed or unmotivated ? I would feel like a hypocrite. It's not that I need to be in a prolific period to teach; chances are I'm not. But I do need to feel connected to that essential pulse of excitement and love for the process and craft. 

I sense a new phase of motherhood coming on. One in which I am still exhausted and pining for more time to myself, but also one in which I am actively claiming back my commitment to my passions. One in which I am surfacing from an almost dreamlike immersion, and remembering that I am so many things, that I've lived so many lives, and that I have so much more still to learn and create.

How about you? Are you ready for something new?

Workshops will be held at the Good Shepard Center in Wallingford. 
One-day Intensive: Saturday, February 11, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Eight-week series: Saturdays, 10 a.m.- 12 p.m., March 3 - April 21, 2012

Registration details to come!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Confessions of a Sleep-Deprived Mama: Co-Sleeping with My Toddler Part 2

I rarely talk to people about sleep anymore. While it used to be the most popular topic amongst us new mothers, somewhere along the way more babies started sleeping through the night  and conversations moved on to new developmentally appropriate fixations. Terrible sleep was something that you were supposed to be done with by the time your child was nine months, or twelve, or in my case, certainly by eighteen months. Friends will complain about the occasional bad spell brought on by a cold, but few I know still put up with regular wakings throughout the night, every night. Or perhaps, like me, they just aren’t so eager to talk about it.

Partly, I’m tired of the topic myself. Oh, yeah, sleep. Yeah, read that book, thought about that approach, decided against it, made peace with my lot. And partly, I don’t want to incur people’s judgment. Poor thing. (If you’d only gotten past your guilt/passivity/misguided attachment theories and tried sleep training months ago!).

Mothers are naturally empathetic to other mother’s struggles (because we all have our struggles, right?), but we can also be quick to judge. In theory, sure, to each their own, we all have our own parenting styles and we can respect each other’s choices. But it’s hard to completely stifle that underlying layer of judgment, that layer that says: they can do things their way, but I am thankful I am doing it my way. Perhaps you don’t even recognize the judgment hidden behind this statement, because it’s so finely masked. But if we have formed any kind of opinions about parenting, about why we’re doing what we’re doing because it is the best way, then judgments are almost impossible to avoid. And perhaps I am most weary of other’s  judgments because I am also avoiding the part of me that is secretly judging myself.

For the most part, I’ve grown to accept our situation. Basically, most nights, Cedar goes down about 6:30 (in our family bed, a king-sized mattress on the floor), and wakes up about an hour later. I rush in, nurse him for a few minutes, and am usually able to sneak out of there within ten minutes. My husband and I creep around our tiny house, avoiding doing dishes that will clank or turning on music, and obsessively turning down or up the volume when we watch our shows, when a scene gets too loud or else too soft to hear. If we’re lucky, Cedar might do another two hour stretch before waking again. I’ll wait to make sure he’s really waking, then go back in and quickly nurse him back to sleep. And then, when my husband and I go to bed around 10:30, he sometimes wakes from our rustling or from the need to move him over. Then, he’ll usually do a couple three hour stretches at night before he wakes around 6 a.m. and nurses/drifts in and out of sleep until we all rise at 7.

This probably sounds like hell, and to be fair to myself, yes, it can still feel like a form of torture to not have had a single unbroken night’s sleep for 18 months and beyond. And yet, when I want to, I can make it sound not quite so bad by explaining that, most of the time, Cedar’s ‘wakings’ are super brief, so brief that he is not fully waking so his sleep is not disturbed, and I am waking just enough to stick a boob in his mouth for ten minutes or so (or, on rare occasion, just pat his back).

Our sleep situation is way better than it used to be, when Cedar was waking up to every hour or two, often from stabbing gas pains that would cause him to cry and writhe in agony, and sometimes keep us up for hours. And it’s way better than various other periods where he was fighting going to sleep at night, or when he could only go to bed at night when it was me, mama, who put him down. It felt like a major coup when Cedar learned to go to sleep on occasional nights by just lying there next to my husband. Now, he mostly only gives a cursory protest before settling in to rest his head on Papa’s chest. I cannot tell you what a great sense of freedom I gained once I was able to feel relaxed about going out at night, or not having to be the one to go back into the room when Cedar wakes (although, most nights, I usually still am—the quicker we can get back to our show).

I have my theories about why my toddler is still waking. Partly, I do think he is simply a light sleeper. We finally got a white noise machine, but the verdict is still out whether or not this is helping. Mostly, however, I think it’s now just habit. Somewhere way back around four or five months, Cedar started waking a lot, mostly from his gas issues. By the time his gas/food sensitivity saga gradually got better, his habit of frequent waking was firmly ingrained.

Anyone who’s read up on babies and sleep knows that all babies, all humans for that matter, have brief wakings throughout the night. The difference is that some learn to drift back by themselves when they wake, and others continue to rely on their parents. Some would argue that by never having put my child through ‘sleep training’ and letting him cry it out when he wakes, I have deprived my child of important self-soothing skills and made him unnecessarily dependant. And, trust me, when I have gone through phases of “We must change this!”, fervently reading anything from Pantley to Ferber, it has been hard for me to deny the rationale in these arguments. But when it comes down to it, I have not been able to go that route.

For one, we are coming at this from the history of Cedar’s wakings being related to pain—and my ability to help him with his pain, whether by nursing or massaging his tummy. Sometimes, on occasion, food that I eat or feed him still does not agree, and he still wakes from gas, even if the pain is less severe than it used to be. In these instances, I cannot imagine just letting him cry. And since often we don’t know why he’s waking until we go in, I’d rather just err on the side of helping him. Sometimes now it’s teething, and sometimes it’s just waking to our noise, but since the “cry it out” approach seems to be an ‘all or nothing’ deal if you really want it to work, we have decided to stick with the responsive, assisting approach.

This is not to call those who have ‘trained’ their babies to go back to sleep on their own insensitive or cruel. Trust me, I am envious. And if I thought it would be a viable solution with our baby, now toddler, I would have tried harder at it. (As it was, we did a little experimenting with letting Cedar cry, but because of all our variables, not to mention simply an instinctual part of me that overrode my brief moments of resolve, it didn’t seem worth it to me.) In retrospect, the time to try harder would have been when he was younger—before I was worried about him rolling off the bed, and long before he was able to crawl out of bed by himself. But when he was younger, gas was still more of an issue, and let’s face it—some of us parents are just not cut out for that approach, and it’s not because we’re weaker and it’s not because we’re more humane; it’s just not right for us, or for our babies. We feel this somehow, and all these attempts to justify are just that.

Okay, but one last justification. Sleep training and co-sleeping are two approaches to so-called “nighttime parenting” that don’t exactly seem to coincide. Not unless you are willing to continue with “the program” through the night, refusing to nurse or soothe your baby as he wails at your side. Um, no. Part of the reason we’ve chosen to co-sleep is because it makes it easier to soothe our baby at night. And because we don’t believe that this extended closeness with our offspring is going to breed problems with our child’s future independence, but to the contrary, we actually feel it might be good for them—good for their sense of security and belonging within our family unit.

This brings me to the subject of co-sleeping. Why is it that when I tell people we still co-sleep, I feel like I’m uttering some kind of dirty word? Co-sleeping has become more acceptable, at least in the culture of parenting here in Seattle; many parents try it, or revert to it when their babies are young. But the numbers drop by the time your baby is a toddler, and then it seems only the hardcore diehard believers, attachment parenting enthusiasts remain.

But let me make this clear: I am annoyed by parenting dogma and labels, whatever camp it falls into, and I do not consider myself to be an “attachment parent”, however much my practices may fall into this category. I am annoyed by those who assert this is right and this is wrong, and I believe that we all make the choices we do for our kids based on a combination of informed rationale, and a healthy dose of intuition—whatever in the end feels right for us.

Sometimes I suspect that Cedar would wake less now if he were in his own bed, because he does wake sometimes when we toss, turn, or rise to go to the bathroom. Sometimes it feels like torture when, say, I’m nursing him back to sleep at 4 a.m., and it seems to be taking an especially long time, and before I know it I’m fully awake and aware of the fact that I have to pee and my throat is parched, but I know that if I try to get up right after he’s drifted off that he will wake again and cry because I’m leaving his side, so I don’t.

Or, the older Cedar gets, the more he moves around in bed, and the more that nursing can feel like an acrobatic sport, with him lieing on top of me, rolling from side to side, then me lying him down at my side again, then him climbing on top again. Repeat. He likes the closeness of my body, and sometimes, I do too. But it’s hard for me to fall asleep with him mashed up against me—and especially when he’s lying on my organs. And yet. Some nights, especially during that late morning period when he’s in a lighter sleep state, I give up and just let him fall asleep on top of me. Then eventually, when it feels safe, I gently roll him off to my side. Because, more than anything, I just want him to fall back asleep. For me to be sleep deprived is one thing, but for both of us to be is much worse.

Does this sound like hell? Sometimes, yes, it is. And yet. Will you believe me if I say that I experience daily moments, born of this “family bed”, that make co-sleeping feel worth it? That despite it all, there are huge parts of the experience that I still love? I don’t think that with our experiences with co-sleeping that I could convince anyone, not even my closest friends, to try it if they weren’t already pre-disposed to the idea. And yet.

Here’s what I love about it: I love the feeling of snuggling with my baby. Whether at naptime, or in the early morning hours, I love the way that I can hold him close to my body and the way that his sleeping body instinctually responds to this touch—to this knowledge that his mama is nearby—with relief, with a sense of safety. I know mothers whose babies do not like to snuggle, and although this might be an in-born trait, I cannot help but think that it is also a trait that we can grow accustomed to, or not. Cedar is one of those babies that has been held a lot—out of necessity, and out of his mother’s preference, which then became a form of habit. And now he is a toddler who is cuddly as can be. To contradict myself, there are times when I can fall asleep with him nestled in my arms, and I love this. I love the way our bodies still fit together. I love this intimacy, whether we are playing around with him bouncing on me, or whether he is half asleep and guiding my breast back into his mouth with his hand when I try to pull it away prematurely, I love the feeling that our bodies still belong to each other, close to each other, as they should be.

There’s that word should. Sorry, I’ll try to avoid it in the future. But there is this undeniable sense of rightness for me to having my son in our bed with us, a rightness that unfortunately in our modern-day culture of cribs I feel driven to justify and defend. I love how easy it is to just lie down with him at naptime, and let my body decide whether I want to stay and nap myself. There are other perks, too. For instance, if Cedar is sick, I am automatically cued in to what is going on for him at night. If he is cold or too hot, if he has vomited or if his diaper has leaked, my body cues into it before my mind does, and my hand reaches over to check or fix the situation. Also, if we are camping or spending the night somewhere else, I don’t have to worry about bringing a traveling crib. He is used to being in bed with us, or else we’ll make a bed on the floor if the bed is too soft or there is not a side of the bed that can be pushed next to a wall. He is adaptable. Sort of.

Okay, so he needs us to be close to him at night. So what? Don’t you like sleeping next to your partner? Isn’t the presence of a warm body next to you a huge source of comfort, despite the fact that his snores might keep you up or that you can’t stretch out as comfortably as possible? Don’t you think a baby/child might enjoy and benefit from this same sense of sweetness? We can’t rationalize or quantify sweetness. But that doesn’t make it insignificant.

So there it is. That’s the main reason why we still co-sleep: sweetness. Never mind how it’s not dangerous when done right or how it might lead to exceptionally snuggable children. I love it for its sweetness, and for the chance to be that much closer to my child. Never mind that I spend a lot of time complaining about how I wish I had more time to myself. I still can’t express how much I love the feeling of my sweet, breathing, never will be this young again, child next to my side.

Never mind how much I sometimes hate it.

Okay, to be fair to myself, to my husband, and to those who might still be debating whether or not to co-sleep and for how long, I need to disclose more of what I hate about it. Namely, less intimacy with my partner. It’s way less convenient to grab that rare window where we have enough energy at the end of the day to consider sex. And, most nights I am either sandwiched in between the two, and afraid to move Cedar lest he wake again, or, Cedar is in between the two of us and kicking my husband in the head while nursing in a perpendicular formation from my body. I wouldn’t recommend co-sleeping without a king-sized bed, unless you are a single mom, or a midget.

Finally, I must mention that another major reason why it is easy for us to keep co-sleeping, ignoring all the lame aspects and embracing what we enjoy, is because we have a super small house with only one small bedroom. We barely would have had room for a crib if we’d kept our full-sized futon, so instead, we decided to get the king and embrace co-sleeping from the get-go. I also trusted all the material out there about how “mother and baby both sleep better” when co-sleeping, etc., etc., so our initial choice was still more philosophical than practical, but the practical motivation was a driving force too.

My husband and I have discussed moving our bed into the corner of the living room, erecting some college-era, hippy tapestries, and giving Cedar his own bed and room. Eventually, we will probably do this, seeing that the need to make this change will probably trump the day when we have enough financial stability to tackle our dream of a remodel. Some days, I think that we might want to try this sooner than later—perhaps next week even. I LOVE the idea of not waking up every 2-3 hours (wouldn’t you? HA.), and I am impressed by Cedar’s continual ability to adapt. I know we would have to go through a rough transitional period where I’d have to get up and go to him throughout the night, maybe welcome him back into our bed at times, but I suspect that it would eventually work out. And then me and my husband could finally reclaim some of our intimacy, even if it would be at the expense of losing space in our living room (namely, one of us, losing our desk space—and I can already hear the debate).

Other days, however, I think this is not the ideal time. Let’s wait until he’s two, or maybe three—a developmentally appropriate time of increased independence. Or let’s wait till he shows more signs of being ready to wean, for co-sleeping and nursing are pretty tied up together—and if this doesn’t happen (no signs of yet, just increased acrobatics), then when I’m ready. We nurse way less than we used to, but Cedar still can’t have dairy or soy; eggs and beans also give him gas; and meat he can take or leave depending on the day or preparation method. So it is important, if not vital, that I still nurse him right now for him to get enough protein and nutrients. I’m constantly experimenting and hoping, however, that his little body will be able to tolerate more and more.

For now, for better or worse, the family bed is what we’re stuck with, what we’ve chosen, what we both hate and love. Some nights Miles (our 18 pound cat) even joins us, and although this can be annoying and he often gets the boot, there are other moments where hearing his contented purr and feeling his warm lump next to my leg can even add to the sweetness. More bodies, more sweetness.

I will never really know if, and, if so, at what age, we all might have gotten better sleep already by giving Cedar a crib. For all I know (and suspect, or maybe just choose to believe), he would still have woken a lot, and I wouldn’t have been able to just block out his cries, and it would’ve just meant me getting up more, and perhaps just bringing him back to our bed. The choices we make for our children and our families—for some reason, especially regarding sleep—are deeply personal. That is why I don’t want anyone to tell me, or infer, or thus bring up my own guarded suspicions, that perhaps we should have done things differently.

For now, we’ve found our delicate equilibrium. Cedar is well rested most nights, and his naps are getting longer too. My husband doesn’t wake at night like I do (earplugs help, as does the fact that I’m the one with the boobs), so he lets me sleep in on the weekends so I can catch up on what I’ve lost during the week (this feels essential to my health). He also loves napping with Cedar on the weekends, a sweet ritual for the two of them. And we know that things will keep changing every day. Cedar surprises us with a new word, we let him try a new food, we have another bad night, and then we have a good night.

I am still tired. More tired than it seems I “should” be at this stage, more tired than I suspect most of my other mom peers are. And yet. I function. I drink coffee, then tea. I manage to crank out these blog entries, manage to entertain us all day, do my chores, pay the bills, and scribble out my next set of goals. And I am always, always, happy to greet my baby again after being apart from him, for however brief a rest. I am grateful that I still have lots of time to lie next to him, to hold him, to tickle and tease him, to ask for a hug or a kiss and get one in return, to feel his soft cheek against mine, to hold this precious being and remind myself, over and over, that these days are gonna continue to fly, and eventually, I’m not going to remember what was the big deal about a little missed sleep.


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