An Ode to Bag Balm

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I read somewhere that the best way to tell a person’s true age is to look at their hands. Thanks to the intersection of our vanity with innovations in technology and medicine, it’s now possible to camouflage signs of age in the body, face, hair, and teeth. But as far as I know, not much can be done about wrinkled, mottled, vein—y hands.

Hands may just be the real Picture of Dorian Grey.

According to my hands, I am roughly 102 years old. I imagine that if, somehow, Mt. Mansfield were to erupt today, and my body was preserved, Pompeii-style, in ash, the future archaeologists who unearthed me would say: “Well, according to the hands on this one, she lived a long, hard life. It also appears that, at some point, she was attacked at high speeds by a stack of crisp paper, and she defended herself using only her hands.”

Click here to continue reading my “Faith in Vermont” column for The Addison Independent, and discover my hand-care solution!

Postscript: After Dropping the Baby

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Last week, I published a post called, “And Down Will Come Baby” as part of Momastery.com’s “Messy, Beautiful Warriors” Project. First of all, thanks to those who read it and liked it and posted nice comments — no small thing, because it was looooong, as posts go.

That post was a combination of two previous posts from The Pickle Patch, both about the various ways I’d done stupid, clumsy things that endangered or hurt my children. And yes, it was long, but let me tell you: I spent the better part of a month editing it down, trimming off extraneous words. Out of necessity (or, out of respect for the number of times readers are willing to scroll down in a post), I omitted some things. But I think they’re things worth saying, so here goes:

The “takeaway message” of “And Down Will Come Baby” is that we can’t keep our kids from getting hurt — sometimes, despite our best efforts, by ourselves. But accidentally hurting my children (whether physically or emotionally) has taught me about grace (I need forgiveness from my children and myself), and about my daughters’ resilience.

True, true, true.

What I left out are the lessons I’ve learned from other people’s reactions to my parenting fails. Namely: my husband and my mother.

1. The Husband: Is that a log in your eye?

My husband has never, ever (to my knowledge) done anything to endanger our girls; never put their carseats too close to the stairs, dropped them from the bed, cut their fingers, or flipped them out of their strollers. Unfortunately, he’s had to remind me of this fact several times when I’ve criticized his own parenting skills.

For instance, a short time (a very short time, like, maybe, minutes) after I put Fiona’s carseat too close to our stairs and watched her slide backwards, I was nitpicking Erick about something. I can’t even remember what it was; probably that he didn’t cut up her food small enough, or put her diaper on tight enough — something small and ridiculous. And Erick looked at me in exasperation and said, “Hey, I’m not the one who just dropped our daughter down the stairs!”

If you don’t know Erick, that sounds harsh. If you DO know Erick, then you can only imagine how annoying I must have been to make him snap like that. But the point is: He was exactly right.

I find that the times I judge Erick’s parenting — or anybody else’s parenting, really — are exactly those times when I’m feeling the most insecure. After Fiona’s carseat took the plunge, I felt like a complete failure as a mother. So I reacted by trying to find something, anything in Erick that would make me feel superior. I may have let her slide downstairs, but at least I cut her food into small enough pieces!

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to parenting. Whenever I find myself becoming critical of someone else (especially poor Erick), I usually need to step back and consider exactly what I’m feeling guilty or insecure about.

2. The Mother: Everyone has something.

It’s extremely difficult for me to imagine my mother ever making a mistake. She’s a perfectionist, she’s incredibly careful and thorough in everything she does — and she only had one child. (Me).

I published the original “And Down Will Come Baby” post on Mother’s Day, and ended it with well wishes for my mother — who, I said, had certainly never dropped me.

My mother happened to be visiting us when that post came out. She read it, and then walked over to me and gave me a big hug. “Oh, sweetie,” she said, “you fell off of the changing table.”

This rocked my world. First, I have absolutely no memory of ever falling off the changing table. Second, for all I’ve done wrong, none of my daughters has ever fallen off of the changing table. (There I go, judging again!)

What my mother’s confession revealed to me is that everyone has a story. I never thought, back when my own baby-dropping incidents occurred, that I’d ever share them. I was mortified, certain that if anybody knew how I’d blown it as a mother they’d…I don’t know, not like me anymore?!? But through simply sharing my stories, I learned that my mother still loved me, and she’d done the same thing!

And not just my mother, either; after “And Down Will Come Baby” appeared through “Messy, Beautiful Warriors,” I was barraged by baby-dropping stories, both from people I know and people I don’t. Apparently, babies are flying through the air at an alarming rate. But we don’t know it, because nobody talks about it. And my guess is that nobody talks about it because we’re embarrassed that we’ll seem like bad parents, because…nobody else ever mentioned dropping their baby, right?!? It’s a cycle of repression that keeps us under guilt’s thumb.

I think it would be great if parent education classes included this little bit of information: “At some point, you will probably drop your baby. Or nick them while cutting their fingernails. Or fail to properly supervise them and they’ll hurt themselves. You will feel terrible, but it happens. And your baby will, more likely than not, be okay.”

Until that happens, I’m convinced of the power of sharing our failings, embarrassments, and insecurities with others — especially with new, terrified parents. Because “Me, too!” is one of the best phrases out there — “Me, too!” encapsulates the best part of being human. And you can’t get a “Me, too!” without first submitting a “Me.”

Minibury Guest Post: Meet the Parent!

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Okay, more new and exciting things are happening over here! Feels like spring!

Right around the time we moved to Middlebury, a local mom named Eliza started a website/blog called Minibury. Minibury has quickly become the go-to site for local parents. It pulls together everything you need to navigate central Vermont with kids: activities, camps, announcements, parenting resources, and more.

Eliza is now on maternity leave with her third child, so I’ll be doing some guest-posting for Minibury over the next couple of months. I decided to start a mini-series called “Meet the Parent!” as a way of introducing local parents and giving them a platform to share their own experiences. (This should be a nice break for regular readers, because — for a change — you don’t have to hear about my own experiences and opinions!)

First up is one of my newest friends, Julie Barry. Meet Julie here! You’ll be glad you did.

And Down Will Come Baby — My Messy Beautiful

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Keep a grip on that baby, ma’am!

My husband and I are raising four daughters in a small town in Vermont. Once you have four children, people assume you have a certain parenting expertise. “Four children! You must be a pro by now!” I hear from friends, colleagues – even our pediatrician.

The truth, of course, is that parenting isn’t a video game; they don’t give you another kid once you’ve mastered the first. I never expected to have four children. But (most days) I love our crazy, noisy brood. And (most days) I love being a mom. I’m far from perfect: I’m always exhausted and often one tantrum away from a breakdown, but I think I’m a pretty good mom.

But I’m a pretty good mom who’s dropped my baby.

In fact, I have – unintentionally, clumsily, stupidly – endangered every one of my daughters during her first year of life.

When our first child was several months old, I set her, in her carseat, a little too close to the edge of the ten concrete steps leading to our front door, while I rummaged around for the keys. I turned to see, as if in slow motion, the carseat wobble backwards and slide down the entire flight of steps.

I swore I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. I was only partly right.

Because when our second daughter was 4 days old, I was nursing her in bed late one night, attempting to stay alert by reading. Despite my best efforts, I nodded off with her in my arms. I woke to a loud THUD and my baby wailing. She had rolled off the bed (which, thankfully, was only 18 inches from the floor); more accurately, since I’d been holding her when I dozed, I had dropped my newborn.

I didn’t drop our third daughter; instead, when she was 5 months old, I nicked a chunk of skin out of her tiny finger while trimming her fingernails. She bled for the better part of an hour, through two washcloths and countless tissues.

After these incidents, my daughters were fine. In every case, my baby cried for a minute – mostly in response to the panicked signals she got from me, no doubt – and then carried on with being a baby. No daughter has any memory of these events today; no signs of the mental, emotional, or physical distress I feared I’d inflicted upon them.

On the other hand, I was beside myself with guilt each time. Like anybody in their right mind, I’m no fan of hurting babies. Since becoming a parent, there are movies I can no longer watch and books I can no longer read because they feature bad things happening to children. Yet I’d been careless with the very babies I’d been trying so hard to nurture and protect – not once, but three times.

You’d think that the fourth time around I’d have learned something, or at least exhausted all possible disastrous scenarios.

Nope.

The fourth time around, I brought innocent bystanders down with me.

In retrospect, it was a poor choice to use the stroller. The stroller in question was a “Snap & Go” model: a wheeled frame that can hold an infant carseat. This stroller had been through three babies already; it was rusty, the fabric basket was torn, and I expected a wheel to pop off any day. But since our fourth daughter was 8 months old, it only had to last a while longer.

This rickety stroller was my baby transportation while running errands in town the day after a snowstorm. Mounds of snow were heaped beside the sidewalks, and deep puddles of slush pooled along the curbs. Every few feet the stroller would get stuck and I’d have to puuuuuuush it through the slushy snow.

But I soldiered on with the stroller; with two bags and two additional children in tow, it was my best option. Of course I didn’t fasten the belt that secures the carseat to the stroller frame; I hadn’t done that in years — who has time? Also, the baby wasn’t buckled into her carseat, because she’d been fussy in the store and I’d had to unsnap her to soothe her. But since we weren’t driving and she couldn’t get herself out of the carseat, I figured it was fine to simply lay her back in.

The girls and I crossed Main Street. Then, at the curb, I hit a slush trap. The stroller was stuck and wouldn’t budge. I would have to lift it over the curb and onto the sidewalk.

At that moment, my Good Samaritans appeared. This happens frequently when you have young kids in our nice little town, especially when you look as frazzled as I do — someone’s always offering to help me out. In this case it was a young couple — a childless young couple, I later deduced.

“Do you need help?” asked the husband.

“Thanks, I’m okay,” I grunted, wrestling with the stroller while my two older daughters ran ahead.

He didn’t buy my independent act, and stepped towards the stroller. “Well, okay, maybe if you can lift that side…” I said gratefully.

At which point, he lifted not the stroller, but the carseat sitting atop the stroller. And remember how I didn’t have that carseat belted on? So, he lifted the back end of the carseat out of the stroller frame, flipping the carseat right over.

And remember how my daughter wasn’t buckled into that carseat? So, when the carseat flipped over, my baby flew out and landed on her stomach in a puddle of slush.

The husband stared at me, eyes wide, and exclaimed, “Holy s*#%t! There was a baby in that stroller?!?” Apparently, when he saw my other daughters run ahead (good thing they did, so that I didn’t have to define “s*#%t” for them) he assumed I was a normal person with two children, pushing an empty stroller.

When I picked up my daughter (unhurt, just a little soggy), she was totally unfazed. She even smiled at the man who’d just flipped her out of her carseat. Her entire demeanor said: Yup, I’m a fourth child and I have no concept that my life is supposed to be safe and easy.

The couple didn’t notice how fine she was; they apologized frantically. They even offered to give me their names — I guess in case I wanted to sue for damages. (I probably should have jumped on the opportunity and requested a scholarship fund. But I chose the high road).

“It’s really okay,” I reassured them. “She’s a fourth child. This sort of thing happens to her every day. It’s my fault; I knew there was a baby in the stroller. Excuse me, I should probably catch my other children now.” (At this point, my two older daughters were small dots in the distance, oblivious to their sister’s traumatic experience).

As I trudged away, I’m sure the nice young couple stared after me in horror. Perhaps they felt guilty, or perhaps they were wondering whether they should call social services. (In either case, that’s one couple that’s probably going to wait a while before having kids.)

SO, I am living proof that time and experience don’t necessarily make you a better parent; they just make you an older parent. I’m as capable of dropping my fourth child as my first.

But I do think that time and experience can bestow perspective.

Looking back, I see these little traumas – the times I accidentally endangered my babies –as valuable life training. I can even chuckle at these stories now, because they ended well (thankfully — I know that’s not always the case). But regardless of the outcome, the point is: We cannot keep our children from being hurt. Futhermore: It is highly likely that, despite our best efforts to love and care for our children, sometimes we will be the ones doing the hurting. As my daughters grow older, I’m less likely to physically drop them (phew!). But in the future, try as I might, I’m surely going to leave them with emotional wounds.

Parenting is messy like that.

But there’s beauty in the mess, if we look for it. When I unintentionally hurt my children – physically or emotionally – I can allow myself to be crushed by guilt. OR I can see it as an opportunity to experience grace: grace from my daughters when they forgive my slip-ups (or, better yet, don’t remember them!), and the grace that I extend myself by acknowledging my imperfection and moving forward (God helps me with that — a lot).

The most beautiful things to emerge from our parenting messes, though, are our children. My daughters astonish me with their resilience, their ability to weather the hurts that the world — and I — throw their way. I pray that they will always find the strength and grace to emerge from a puddle of freezing slush…and smile.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! messy-beautiful-450b

What’s Happening Tomorrow — Exciting!!

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It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I don’t have much time for the Internet. Writing and keeping up with email — that’s about all I have time for in the few, blessed, kid-less moments I snatch each day.

But there are two blogs that I never miss. The first is Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience. And the second is Momastery, the blog written by Glennon Doyle Melton, author of the book Carry On, Warrior (which is well worth a read — I have an extra copy if anyone wants to borrow it).

So, when Glennon Melton invited other writers to share their own “messy, beautiful” stories on her site for a project she’s calling Messy, Beautiful Warriors, it was too good to miss.

And that’s what’s happening tomorrow (April 11)! I’ve written a post called, “And Down Will Come Baby — My Messy, Beautiful.” It’s going to be published here and linked to Momastery. If you’ve been reading The Pickle Patch for a while, you’ll recognize it as a compilation of some of my messiest parenting stories (including the popular, “Holy s*#%t! There was a baby in that stroller?!?” episode), along with new material. I’m proud of it, and humbled to be in the company of some gifted and honest writers. I hope you’ll read it, and check out the other Messy, Beautiful Warrior stories on Momastery.

Thank you, as always, for using your own precious Internet time to read this!

Meeting Your Meat

A cuteness bonanza. (Photo by Fiona Gong)

A cuteness bonanza. (Photo by Fiona Gong)

Last month, we loaded our four daughters into the minivan on a Sunday afternoon and drove to Duclos & Thompson Farm in Weybridge to see the new lambs and piglets.

This was our first time at the Duclos & Thompson open barn, an event that for many local families is an annual sign of spring — much like the appearance of sap buckets on the maple trees, or red-breasted robins, or removing your snow tires. Like those other rites of spring, it’s quite possible that the new lambs and piglets will arrive when there’s still snow on the ground; that March weekend, there was a mountain of snow next to the Duclos & Thompson barn that served as a secondary diversion for all the children present.

The primary attraction, of course, was inside the barn: lambs! Two floors worth of black and white lambs sleeping, eating, frolicking, and climbing atop the bigger sheep. So many lambs, plus a little pile of piglets nursing on their mama. It was a cuteness bonanza.

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column for The Addison Independent.

Talk to Me

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Last month I took my oldest daughter on a weekend “Mommy Date.” It’s amazing how quickly you go from being with your kids all the time to feeling like you never see them. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you). This year, between all-day kindergarten and activities and three younger children, my big girl and I don’t have much time together. And this is a girl who needs a lot of time.

This Mommy Date was a combination of consumerism and sugar: I took her to T.J. Maxx to use the spending money she’d saved up (Her choice: an ENORMOUS plush horse purse. Totally practical.), and then to the bakery for lemonade and brioche (She’s moved on from cookies. I blame Fancy Nancy.)

I’ve had enough of these Mommy Dates to know not to expect any deep, quality conversation. In my experience, when you load down a Mommy Date with the expectation that there’s going to be some sort of meaningful relationship breakthrough, you’ll almost always be disappointed. On previous Mommy Dates I’ve  asked probing questions about my daughter’s deepest thoughts and feelings, only to be answered with monosyllabic grunts. (The really meaningful conversations always seem to happen in the middle of the bedtime story that I’m trying to rush through because bedtime is running 20 minutes late.)

This is Example #5,784 of How My Daughter is NOT Like Me. When I was growing up, I wore my heart on my sleeve, especially when talking with my mother. I told her everything: my deepest thoughts, dreams, fears. In retrospect, of course, there was a negative side to this openness; it’s a wonder that my mother had so much patience with me, and I learned pretty quickly after getting married that I couldn’t expect the same kind of fascination with all things ME from my poor husband.

But because I was such a confessional child, I can’t understand — I worry a little, in fact — when my daughter keeps her cards so close to her chest.

For instance, one day she came home from school holding a sweet little apology note (“I sorry becase I ben mean.”) from one of her good friends. It turns out that the day before, this girl had taken my daughter’s seat at a table, there was a dispute, and mean things were said. Now, the friendship was repaired. And this was the first I was hearing of it.

“How did you feel about this yesterday?” I asked. “Did it bother you?”

“No,” my daughter shrugged.

“Well, friend things can be hard sometimes. But, you know, when things like this happen you can always talk to me about it.” I said.

“I know, Mommy,” my daughter replied, practically rolling her eyes “I AM talking to you about it.”

She had me there. But she was telling me about it after the fact. When I was her age, I’d have come home from school in tears and spent half the night reviewing the dispute with my mother. It’s hard for me to believe that any child of mine could be so…stoic.

When I hear about these things after the fact, it makes me wonder what I don’t hear about. My mother had one child; there aren’t enough hours in the day for all four of my daughters to share with me the way I did with my own mother — even if they wanted to.

But there we were at our cozy little table in the bakery, munching our brioche. This time, between sips of coffee, I asked simple, fact-based questions. “What’s your favorite favorite thing to do in school?” “What friends are you really enjoying these days?” “What do you guys like to play on the playground?”

And with that last question, I hit the jackpot.

My daughter talked and talked — easily a 10-minute monologue — about the games that she and her friends play during recess. On the surface, it was the superficial ramblings of a kindergartener, but embedded in her chatting were revealing details about who she likes, the kindergarten social structure, and where she sees herself fitting in. Bottom line: It sounds like the kids are all right.

So, I’m coming around to a new way of thinking as we enter this latest stage with our daughters — this stage in which they’re out of sight for so much of each day, and I rely on their own reporting on their lives away from home. I’m thinking that it’s okay for my daughters to be different from me; if they’re happy to tell me about issues only after they’ve been resolved, so be it. And if there are things about which I never hear, so be it, too. Their mental and emotional health do not hinge on whether they report back on every detail of their lives.

As with so much of parenting, I need to take a deep breath, open my hands, and just trust.

What I can do is be available. And keep asking silly questions. And keep my ears open to really hear their answers.

Open hands, open ears: not a bad mantra for parents.

Guess I’d better increase my brioche budget….