About Me

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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Less than 5 minutes

Leaving the dermatologist's office on Monday, I wandered into the quiet hallway. Not many people going to doctor's appointments during the last week of the year. As I approached the elevator I crossed paths with a short blond woman.

"I'm trying to figure out where I'm going!" she said.

"I think the elevator is right here,"I said pointing ahead of us.

The light streamed in from the wall of windows. The building was quiet except for our conversation. I pushed the button.

"Hospitals are so confusing!" she said. "I can never figure out where I'm going. They all look the same. I've been in so many at this point."

"They are confusing," I agreed. "I think that's why they pick the art they do, so you can navigate by telling yourself you're in the hall with flower pictures or kids' artwork."

The doors opened and we stepped in together. I pushed L. The doors closed.

"My husband just passed away, He was fifty-six" she said.

"I'm so sorry," I told her.

"We were in so many hospitals. Up in Santa Rosa. At John Muir. At County. The one in Santa Rosa wasn't so good."

I asked her which hospital. My work has me thinking in hospitals--where they are, how often we go there, what its personality is like, whether I've been there.

She told me. It wasn't one of ours. We share Santa Rosa with the OPO* in Sacramento.

The doors opened in the lobby, we walked out together.

"I'll tell you, of all the places we went County was the best."

"Oh good," I said. "In Martinez? That's good to hear."

"He died of cirrhosis. He bled out everywhere."

"Oh man. I'm so sorry." I said.

"I had a liver transplant myself."

Why did I tell her that? Because cirrhosis is a liver thing. Even though I thought there was a chance that knowing I'd been transplanted might make her sad or mad or bitter because it was likely that the possibility of transplant had come up for her husband at some point.

"Oh! So you know," she said.

"Yeah. And I work in transplant so I really know."

"Oh! So it must have been easier for you."

"I got my transplant before I started working in the field."

"Well, I have hepatitis C myself so I will probably need one myself someday," she said.

We walked out the front door together, into the cold sunshine. The parking lot was a third full of cars but there were no other people around.

"Maybe not," I said. "Have they said anything about it?"

"They say my liver looks good."

"Have you done interferon?" I asked.

"Nope! Haven't needed to."

"Well that's good. Maybe your liver will just stay fine. You never know. Good luck!"

We'd walked a few rows of cars in together and were coming to a point of going different ways.

"I can't believe you had a liver transplant! How long ago?" she asked.

"Fourteen years," I said. I pulled up my shirt to show her my scar and she leaned in to look closer. It was the first time we'd stopped walking outside of waiting for the elevator.

"Wow!" she exclaimed. "Good for you! Good luck!"

"Thank you," I said. "I'm really sorry about your husband."

She walked left, I walked right.

"We were married thirty years!" she yelled back. Smiling. I was smiling too.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Work history

For a meeting today I dressed in an oatmeal-colored tweed skirt and a soft brown sweater. Red suede t-strap heels completed the look, despite their impracticality. Sometimes you need to wear your power shoes.

Those shoes made me think of another pair of red heels--the ones I wore up on stage in front of 900 people. Several years ago I spoke during a plenary session of an industry-wide conference, my hand shaking as it held the mike. Can't even remember what the topic was. Looking good gave me confidence and I knew that once I started speaking my hand would stop shaking; it did.

Almost twelve years ago I went in for an interview for a position I was in no way qualified for. I saw the job listing on Craigslist--Transplant Coordinator. Transplant! Great. I'm a recipient! This is the job for me. I was two years post-transplant and my identity was Liver Girl. I thought a lot about my hospital experience, my surgery, how the whole thing had changed me. Still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I thought about how I could fit myself into this new world I'd been baptized into. I wasn't a doctor, I wasn't a nurse. What could I do?

They only called me for an interview because my surgeon put in a good word for me. Actually, I'm pretty sure he told them they had to hire me. The interview was for an Assistant Hospital Services Coordinator--mostly an administrative role. Absolutely for sure the worst interview of my life. I had no idea how much I didn't know. Recipient! I'm perfect for this job. . .wait, what do you do again? I was unprepared but I also knew I was smart and good at learning. The hiring manager asked all sorts of character-based questions that I had a hard time answering ("Tell me about a time you had to go around someone rather than through them" Ummmmmmmmmm) and I walked out of there cringing. Nonetheless I got called back for a second interview. Back then the CEO interviewed everyone herself and within five minutes of my interview with her I knew I would get the job. We recognized each other right away. She deserves her own post.

My first day at the office I felt. . . wholly alive. Like I had arrived at the place that was everything I'd never known I'd always wanted. People were smart and curious and caring. The office was attractive and full of windows. I started on a Monday and sat in on the weekly morning conference call, during which most of the organization reviewed the cases from the week before. I could not believe I was there, part of this conversation.

I was in that assistant position for less than a year. During one of my many trips back to the intimidating but exciting closed door of the Placement department I caught that team's eye because I was able to be taught how to fill out one of their forms with relative ease and they were desperately under-staffed. I got invited to apply for a job that usually sought out people with science backgrounds. My Spanish-Literature degree was not anything that meant anything to anyone in this role. Training involved learning how organ allocation works, learning to speak to surgeons on the phone where I would describe the medical histories and current organ function of all sorts of different patients. I could barely remember what a normal pH was. Hell, I barely understood what pH meant let alone what arterial blood gases, diabetes insipidus, cardiac output, and pulmonary hypertension were. There was a lot to learn and I had a great many teachers. For at least a year I would occasionally wake up from a dead sleep and feel like I'd almost just remembered this vital piece of information that someone had told me was essential to doing this job, but then it would slip through my fingers and I would sit there in the dark worrying that one day they'd all realize I had no idea what I was doing.

They told me and every other hire it would take at least a year to get good at the job, and that they you would have to worry about being too comfortable. That once you lost the fear of messing up, you really had to pay extra attention to make sure you didn't mess up. It was fast-paced, emotional, exciting, fulfilling work. I carried a text pager and a cell phone and worked twelve hour night shifts. Sometimes twenty-four hour shifts. I made some truly amazing things happen in that job.

As an outsider I was able to notice many things about this new world of mine. How in the medical field people can be afraid to admit when they don't know something. Understandable, because we want our doctors and everyone involved to know all the answers. I didn't have to worry about that. Everything was new to me and I just wanted to learn as much as I could. I learned and learned. Passed the national certification test--one of the first in my department and one of a short list in the entire company. Passed by one point :-)

I often wondered how it was that I'd been allowed into whatever room or conversation I was in. The first time I put on scrubs and went into the operating room to observe organs being recovered from a brain-dead patient. I saw a heart beating inside the chest; the next second it was in a doctor's gloved hand. I gazed at perfect, pearl-like lungs. Inflated with air, held aloft They were so unbelievably beautiful I still catch my breath picturing them more than ten years later. The patient's toes also struck me. Her toenails were painted with glittery, lavender polish, slightly chipped. After the organ recovery was complete I reached my hand out and held her foot to say thank you and to hold her in my heart as she must have been just days before, painting her nails or having them painted. I was awed to be there.

I gave that talk on the big stage. I got invited to give other talks. I led meetings where I was explaining a new biopsy protocol to a group of doctors and they were the ones asking me how we planned to do things. I wrote policies. I had an an article published about kidney allocation. I was invited to join and then head committees.

I became a quality specialist and then a supervisor. A year later I was asked to apply for a new management role in a different department. The Clinical department. If I'd thought the old Placement door was intimidating, this was a different level entirely. These were the people who had been my main teachers. I was going to manage them? I was scared.

That job was the hardest thing I have ever done professionally. It crushed me. I doubted myself. I didn't know how to do a good job and that bothered me so much. I upset many people, many different times. For a long while I lost my ability to admit when I didn't know something. I felt like I had to be the Boss. The person who knows. No good for anyone.

But I learned. So, so much. And I had moments of great success and pride. I had someone ask me to manage her team, telling me "A year ago I would have said no way but you've grown so much now it would be great to have you manage us." I stepped into operating rooms and was the one explaining what was about to happen, the one answering questions. I started asking questions again, starting letting go of my fear of being exposed as someone who didn't know. I needed to know and I needed people to teach me.

The moments of wonder. The pure, acute humanity we get to stand next to when we do this work. The times I got to sit next to a person when his or her heart stopped. To be there, holding space for that moment and for their families. To honor their lives. To be surrounded by such deep grief and to know there is nothing you can do to make it go away. To know this is only the beginning of great pain and adjustment to the unrecoverable loss. And to sit there anyway because that is the one thing we can do for one another. Be present and make room. Be a professional who is not in the grief, but next to it. And work as hard as we can to make the most of the gifts those people have given others.

I'm not the same person I was when I started this work. The work has changed, my role has changed, and I have changed. The future will bring more change--I'm not sure what. I'm ready. I'm smart and I'm good at learning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday night

This blog is like a silent companion that I talk to in my head. I've always had this internal monologue running but now it's filtered through the lens of how I would write about what's happening. Like the way the photography class I took Freshman year in college made me notice the world around me with entirely new eyes.

I want to write but I am a sleep scavenger. I will grab minutes of sleep where I can get them, particularly in the mornings when I'm curled around one of my little girls on the couch as one after the other they wake up, drink a bottle and fall back to sleep in my arms.. It is those early morning hours when I could find the most time to sit and write. But sleeps pulls me down every time. Sleep and one-on-one baby cuddles.

Thoughts today, in the order that they find their way back into my cloudy memory, not the order in which they occurred:

-The look on my son's face when he sees me is just. . . radiant. I can't believe how lucky I feel to be looked at that way.

-I feel very vulnerable these days. It's hard not to throw up my walls and go all Ice Queen and shrug certain things off. I'm glad I'm learning to recognize when I feel this way and to ease myself through it.

-I have such spectacular women friends. I had four different exchanges today; one a vent session on the phone with someone I've been friend with since I was a kid. The other a Facebook messenger exchange with someone I've met in person only twice or three times but who has the ability to make me feel known and accepted in less than ten sentences. One a phone call with a friend who is falling in love. The tenderness in her voice was a promise of wonderful things to come. And finally a work call with a younger colleague who gave me just what I needed emotionally in a totally unexpected way.

-I almost never tell people "It will be ok" Mostly because I hated it when people said that to me after my liver transplant. I was in the throes of grieving my old life and adjusting to this huge new thing (whoa, dramatic but hey it was a dramatic time). I wanted to yell at people, "Oh REALLY? It will be ok?? How do you KNOW? Who are YOU to promise that?" and then punch them in the nose. In my mind. I would never punch someone in their real nose. Similar reactions occurred in response to being told "Everything happens for a reason." (Gah! No it doesn't!)

So I almost never tell people it will be ok but I quite often tell myself that. Huh.

-Holding my daughter on my lap and dancing her to The Little Drummer Boy and watching the funny faces she made, the way she moved her head, the way she moved her body, was like drinking a life-giving tonic. Man, that kid.

I don't know what the future holds. Having four babies is overwhelming and just. . .so much life to contend with. But I know myself so much better than I ever have. And I have such a good net of people who love me and take care of me and cheer me on. And I have the incredible good-fortune to get to see these four little people every day. To know them, to watch them grow, to squeeze them and make them laugh. To pull me out of the tiring inner monologue, out of my head and into my body, onto my butt onto the floor with hands on my face and feet in my lap and drool all over everything. I'll take it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


We introduced the big kids to hot cocoa this evening. They weren't sure at first and it was hard to figure out what kind of cup to serve it in but once we brought straws out they were big fans. Lily looked at me, then to the cup, then to her dad and said "Mm!"

Earlier we went out front in rain boots and pj's with jackets on top. I jumped into a big puddle in the driveway and the look on Lily's face was what I dreamed of when I imagined being a mother. She jumped right in and was so thrilled. The rain came down on us and the four of us explored the puddles and the wet grass and the wet cards.

After giving both big kids hot chocolate and a chocolate cookie I thought it would be better parenting to actually give them true sustenance so I started making some mac n cheese. (The food we feed our kids is actually really important to me though that is not apparent at all from the previous sentences. Or maybe it is. Food means many things and ceremony is definitely one of them.)

I started making the pasta and the kids stayed in their high chairs, getting a bit impatient but hanging tight for the most part. I asked my husband to put on some Christmas music, expecting to hear Jingle Bells or something. Out poured the strains of a song I didn't recognize. A church choir singing something about our savior being born. "This is a Christmas song?" I asked, before hearing the part about the savior.

The music filled the room and filled spaces in my heart. I love Christmas so much. Memories of driving through San Francisco when it was dark, seeing the big tree at the edge of Golden Gate Park lit up with long strands of lights like the bright shadow of a hot air balloon. Watching my mom and dad and sister brother open gifts. Waiting for my dad to get a cup of coffee so we could open stockings. And going to Mass, at midnight or earlier depending on how old we were and what church we were going to and so many other things.

I watched my first-born twins feed themselves, together as they almost always are. Looking up at me sometimes with their bright shiny heart-stopping faces. Being themselves, being little. Safe. Warm. Fed. Loved. I felt and feel so much joy.

Joy. That's not a word I use lightly or often. Listening to the churchy Christmas songs--Little Drummer Boy, Oh Holy Night, What Child is This, Silent Night. The voices are so filled with joy which to me is different than happiness. It is heavier, it aches a bit. It is full of gratitude. Blessedness. Awe.

I grew up Catholic and I'm not practicing now. I am one of those many people who has described herself as "spiritual but not that religious". When I was younger I didn't think about being Catholic. Church and CCD were part of what we did as a family. I spent most of the time in the Red Room baby-sitting the younger children and it's from way back then that I knew I wanted to be a mama. I didn't get confirmed because by then weekend soccer games had replaced going to Mass. I went to a Jesuit high school and then a Jesuit college and I just kind of forgot that not everyone was Catholic. Even though not everyone at those schools was Catholic, enough were that it just blended into the background and became an invisible choice. It just was.

For several years I've been missing something that I consider the spiritual aspect of my life. I haven't been sure I wanted to start going to church again but I could tell that something important was not being given the time and space it needed for me to feel full. I believe in God but it's not something that I think that much about or try to explain or defend. I don't ascribe to everything written in the Bible and I disagree with many of the stances of the Church, big "C". I love the new Pope and his words have beckoned me back more than once. And for sure being a mom has brought up questions about what I want to surround my children with.

The words and the music and the tone of the voices singing about Christmas wrapped me up and gave me a Christmas Carol kind of moment. Where I could stand back and look into this warmly lit kitchen at these two young children and imagine the joy at being told that a blessed child had been born. I think having that story as part of Christmas when I was growing up is part of why I love it so much.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New home

Yes, I'm sending out "New Home" cards with our address. From the house we moved into in March. The text of the card lists four of our names and then says. . .and more to come. Because I bought them while still pregnant and, though we knew what we'd be naming our daughters, we didn't want to announce their names on these cards. This of course became a moot point when they were born, two months after the cards were purchased and still six months before I'm actually getting them in the mail.

Yes, when my aunt visited us two months ago and saw the stack of these cards sitting on our dining room table she thought I was crazy. Who sends out change of address cards with two sets of twins under the age of two? The same person who still has thank-you notes to write from June. . . I'm on top of it.

Side note: a friend of mine texted last night to ask "Dude! Are you pregnant??"

"WHAT?!? No!" I replied. Except my reply had a very bad word in it.

He and his girlfriend thought the ellipses meant there were even more to come. Ack! Oh my God, please tell me I didn't just send a confusing semi-pregnancy announcement to a big group of people. And no, definitely definitely not pregnant. I might die. My husband would lose his mind. In fact he asked me more than once if I'd gotten my period yet during the month of November just because this time of year has that "holy shit maybe we're having twins again" kind of feel to it.

End of side note.

The idea of committing to an address long enough to make it worthwhile to send a card appeals to me. Our home. We can see ourselves living here for many years. Raising this brood here. Learning to garden here. Growing accustomed to what the seasons look like here, for there actually are seasons in Concord, California. (This native San Franciscan was shocked to find this out)

 I moved a lot in my 20s and early 30s. So often that when we were filling out the loan paperwork for this house I really had to sit and think hard in order to list out my addresses for the past ten years. The Ship To page of my Amazon account was helpful. Otherwise it was me thinking things like "Ok, I'm 36 so ten years ago I was 26. I started dating T when I was 27 and at the point I think I was living on Steiner. . ." Eight to ten addresses later my brain was tired.

The New Home cards represent the me I like to be. Someone who takes a moment to recognize and celebrate transitions and big moments. We moved into this house when I was four months pregnant. Our big kids were nine months old. We didn't get movers so the first two weeks were an intense sprint of me taking care of the kids all day while my husband moved us out, moved us in, fixed up the old house, fixed up the in-law unit, all the while going to work and staying up until three or four in the morning. We all slept in the same room the first few nights, the two of us on our mattress on the floor and the kids each on their crib mattresses pushed up against the wall, with us on the other side of them. It stayed light until past seven o'clock and we didn't have curtains up yet so these babies were being told to go to sleep in new rooms, bright with sun. And then they started majorly teething. And got sick. And I think we both almost went insane.

So moving cards! We are here. We are alive. And more to come. . .

Friday, December 5, 2014

Unedited #2

I started writing a post about white privilege last week after the non-indictment decision in the Michael Brown case but got tangled up in the words and put it away, vowing to finish it later.

Speaking of unfinished posts I have the following:

-One about all the crying that was happening in my house one day during the four week sick-fest that included Hand, Foot, Mouth disease, croup, a trip to the ER, a random cold, sickness in both parents and our baby-sitter plus her roommate and also maybe her kids, and almost a month of non-stop diarrhea and diaper rash/yeast infection in the little babies. So that happened. It was not sweet.

-Another post about another scream-heavy day during which some neighbors who had twin boys in August stopped by. We'd met them back in April (maybe? some month before June) at a neighborhood party. I knew we were due around the same time but I couldn't remember their names nor where specifically they lived so I had no way of finding them. I think I drove by them once but I was in the van with all four babies and the idea of randomly pulling to the side of busy Clayton Road to jump out and semi-accost some semi-strangers with two newborns in blue blankets seemed less than ideal. SO. They somehow knew how to find us and stopped by during an atrocious 49'ers game and sat down on our dog-hair-covered rug to chat for a while. The look of relief on their faces when I told them how much the first couple months suck with newborn twins was immense. The mom said "Oh THANK YOU for saying that. We thought we were the only ones" So that post got started and never finished. . .

-A post where I started writing my parenting manifesto which includes a list of seven things (numbered) that feel important to me as a parent. I envisioned making a complete list which would at the very least give me something to laugh at and roll my eyes at in a few years. But I got overwhelmed by how hard it was to put things into words so I saved the draft and haven't gone back

-A post entitled "Tell me what you want baby cuz I got what you need" in which I explore the difference between wanting someone/something and needing someone/something.

-A post that is somehow about buying our house but also about how much I love San Francisco and my feelings about the suburbs. . .

-A post that starts with "My fingernails are jagged and too long" (that sounds like one people are clamoring to read) p.s. I also just spelled clamoring "clammering". Sigh. Jesuit educators around the world are cringing at how far I've fallen. I blame Spanish and spellcheck

-A post about how important the women in my life are

-A post about how to talk to kids about current events

-And a post about a trunk show I hosted in August that I think was going to be about making time for things that are important to me but I'm not sure because that was August and I can barely remember yesterday

Speaking of remembering I brought up dream feeds with my husband two nights ago and started explaining how the twin listserve talks about how they can be a good bridge for helping babies sleep though the night and he said "Yeah, I know we did those with Lily and Cyrus". And I stared at him blankly because even after he said that I had absolutely no recollection of ever doing that with our older twins who are only 18 months old. I hope I write some good things in this blog to help my kids see aspects of their childhoods because it doesn't seem like I will be recounting many stories to them. It's all a blur!

There are 8 more posts still in draft form--the list of drafts is so long it didn't even fit on one page. So it appears I need to finish some thoughts? Let go of some fear and perfectionism? Edit less? Not sure. But there are lots of words hanging in the ether.

What do you want to know about? It can be any of these or something new. Poke me with a proverbial stick please.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Listening to music so I'm not listening to random conversations about trying to park in Martinez for jury duty. Pandora, the Ed Sheeran station.

I'm looking at data, reading through cases and making notes. Each case is a person who has died. Some became organ donors, some did not. I'm not really reading through the stories or the details--the words in the charts can only barely suggest the true stories anyway and I'm trying to get through the numbers I need.

"Fix You" by Coldplay comes on. I keep working but eventually stop and stare off in to space, listening to the music build, listening to the words. Thinking of an old co-worker who always comes to mind when this song comes on. And then thinking about the girl who saved my life by being my donor. The ultimate fix you for me but in order for that to happen she died. She was 16. Her death was by suicide. I think of her and listen to this song and wish someone could have sung it to her in such a way that she could have heard it. Could have made a different choice. Could have held on longer, made it through the shitty, crappy, painful, intense teenage years. Could have seen who she would become as she became more able to be herself.

Fourteen years ago on this date I was in bed in the ICU. I'd been listed for a liver for two days. I was so very sick. My family was so scared. What was going on in her life? Did she know she would die soon? Was she scared? Did her family know she was in such trouble?

I haven't written in weeks because life has been overwhelming. Sick kids, though not scarily sick. Hard times at work, though nothing too dramatic. Messy house. Busy, tired, hard to sit down and write about it.

My mind has been turned in different directions, trying to focus on my kids while also working through challenges around the job that pays me. Wanting different results from things I'm working on and wondering if I can impact the outcome. Wanting different decisions to be made by people I'm not in charge of. Wanting to find ways to paint the picture the way I see it. Wanting to move past my ego, past my worry of possibly losing the job and just do good work. I go around and around in my head, thinking of things to say, ways to approach it, things to bite my tongue about.

And then I'm sitting here in Starbucks, listening to this song, thinking of this unknown, never-met girl whose body lives on inside me, mourning her, feeling such gratitude to her and I'm reminded for the thousandth time why I do this work, why I care, why I will keep trying to make it better, keep trying to honor the people we come into contact with while also trying to honor the people who do the work.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A brief

Sometimes I quail at the thought of my children experiencing the painful things about being a person. Other times, like right this minute, I look forward to and hope that they get to feel the heart-clench and shivers of hearing a song they really love.

I will write more soon. It's been a weird week.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Oil change

The last time I got the oil changed in the minivan I was pregnant. I unloaded two babies from their car seats into the double stroller  and had the dog jump out of the back. Why did I bring the 70-pound dog? Because I am an insane person.

I answers the service guy's questions and he said he'd call me when it was done. I didn't even ask to use the shuttle service because I assumed they wouldn't take is anywhere. We wheeled our way to the back of the dealership parking lot and looked for a spot to set up camp. We ended up on our striped blanket spread out on a narrow strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk.

We ate snacks. We watched cars and trucks drive by.  I kept Lily from crawling off the blanket into the street. We pulled up grass and some of us ate some of it. We spent a pretty contented hour and a half there until we finally decided to go check on the van. It was done but they hadn't called us.

Today  I'm  alone at the dealership; the kids are at home with Super Stephanie, our baby-sitter. I have a novel to read when I'm done writing. I just had a quick phone meeting with a colleague.

What a difference a few months and a few thousand miles can make.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cries in the night

I think the big kids are getting molars. I'm not sure what else it could be. They are just. . .not themselves. My daughter was crying at 4 am today. Unlike her. As a parent of twins, and I imagine a parent in general though I don't know the difference, I try to be fair. But when it comes down to it, fair does not mean doing the exact same thing for each child. They are so different. I check myself though when I'm about to do something I wouldn't do for the other. Hell, even now months later I think about the fact that I wrote a post about my eldest daughter but still haven't written something about my son. . .the little girls weren't born yet so I haven't included them in the "not fair, you haven't written about me" category. Plus none of them can read so all of this is just a mental monologue. It's a tiring, exasperating, sometimes glorious place to live, this head of mine. I keep making steps to get out of it.

So my daughter was crying, in sad distress. Not screaming, more like weeping in misery. I know. Even writing those words out sounds so sad. How could I even think about not going to get her? Well, for one thing, it was 4 am. I didn't want them to get up that early because it would make for a very rough morning for everyone. For another, I knew I would most likely not be able to get her out of her crib without upsetting her brother. I didn't hear him, but from past experience I knew going in there would start a two-link chain reaction. And finally, because I was checking myself for fairness. I almost never go get my son. He sometimes cries in the night. He also sometimes cries after an hour or so of napping, but will go back to sleep after a few minutes.

I never thought I would do Cry It Out (CIO in the parenting world). It sounded too sad and too hard. When we ended up doing it, it was incredibly sad and hard. Would I recommend it to another parent? I think so, but probably in my head because I try very hard not to give parenting advice unless someone specifically asks. Am I glad we did it? Yes. Do I know it was the right thing to do? No.

I made a choice not to read many parenting books for two main reasons. One is that I felt like I had pretty good instincts when it came to kids and the other is that I know myself and I like to do things "right". I have a tendency to read a book and fall completely under its spell, whether it's well-written or well-researched or not. "The book says this is the way, so this must be the way!" Nope. Didn't want to do it. I read one part of one book about sleep and it helped when it came to getting my eldest daughter to sleep. She would fuss and cry at about the same time every night and it seemed like she was tired. The book told me to look for signs that she was ready to go to bed, and it seemed like we were seeing those. Sometimes she would cry for a couple minutes when we put her down and then fall asleep. Often she didn't cry at all and went right to sleep. This was from a young age, probably three months or so, and has stayed consistent. She just likes to sleep. She falls asleep in the car and is almost always happy to go down for a nap.

Our son did not follow that pattern. He absolutely hated being put down in his crib. He would scream and scream, even back in his mellowest baby on the block days. A title which Baby #3 seems to have taken over for the time being, hallelujah thank you my one mellow child. We'd end up keeping our boy out in the living room with us until he eventually fell asleep on the couch. Then we'd move him to his crib. Where he would proceed to wake up many times throughout the night.

Their pediatrician, who is not bossy and whom I trust implicitly, started telling me he should be sleeping through the night. I would sort of cringe and shrug and think "You don't know. I can't leave him, he's too sad." I thought about how long he was in the NICU--two months of sleeping alone, without his parents. I thought about how long it took him to finally eat well. How could I deny him if he was hungry? I also didn't understand how human beings would need to be taught how to sleep. Isn't it a natural thing? Would it make evolutionary-sense to need to figure out how to sleep? So we kept going with multiple wake-ups and feedings through the night. Often I'd end up sleeping on the twin bed in their room with him curled against me. I was grateful for that time, even though it meant I was tired.

I went to listen to a sleep talk given by a self-proclaimed expert. She was a bit kooky and said a handful of things that made me question her credibility. Like "Oh, SIDS isn't really a thing, it's caused by babies sleeping on their stomachs and breathing in some chemical from the mattress." Ummmmmm. Maybe that is true but I've worked in the health care field long enough to not follow someone blithely dismissing a cause of death in infants without any data. I digress.

She said some things that made sense though, including the idea that babies need to learn how to be alone. Well! I don't know if that is true but it resonated with me. She also said something about it being the parents' job to take care of their children's health and that when it came to matters of safety and health, parents shouldn't be afraid to be firm. I believe getting enough sleep is a huge part of being healthy. My son at that time had transitioned from super mellow to a state of extreme sensitivity. He would scream when we went into the store, or into someone's house, or into the doctors' office. Not a little screaming. Prolonged inconsolable screaming that only stopped when we walked out of the offending location. He did not want to be held by anyone other than me or my husband. He was having a rough time. So were we!

This sleep person made some suggestions to the group. Like having play dates in their cribs during the day. Most of us love our beds, she said. You can teach your children that their cribs are a great place to be. This worked for us. We also got a white noise machine. Holy cow was that a delayed purchase. And we started sleep training our son, letting him cry it out. It took a few nights the first time and it was brutal to listen to him. I lay in bed, worrying that he was scared and miserable, that we were traumatizing him. Once or twice I got into the shower so I couldn't hear him. And then it worked and he started sleeping through the night, although it took a while for him to stop waking up at 4 am.

We had to do a couple sessions of CIO over the next two months. Once because we stopped being consistent and starting going in to get him. And once after we moved into our new house and their sleeping schedule went out the window with all the transition. One night, six months pregnant with the little girls, as I went in to get him for the third or fourth time I burst into tears and thought "I can not do this!" That was the one parenting moment so far where I felt like it all might just break me. So we let him cry for another couple nights and he's been sleeping through the night since then.

My belief is that when he cries in the night now it's because he's momentarily woken up and feels sad or scared. I think and hope that he looks around and sees his blankets and crib. Sees his sister in her crib. Sees the curtains and the walls of his room. Hears the rain sound of their noise machine. And all of this reminds him that he is safe, so he falls back to sleep.

When he started sleeping more, he became a happier kid during the day. I know my husband and I have been very glad that the big kids sleep through the night, especially once the littles arrived.

All of this to explain why I didn't immediately go get my daughter. It's rare for her to cry at night so I usually go check on her because something is usually wrong. I always pause to worry that it's not fair. I don't know what would happen if we started responding to my son's cries in the night, but experience showed that once he knew we'd come in, it would start happening more and more. This morning I did go in. My son was sitting up quietly in bed, my daughter was laying on her belly crying. She got more upset when she saw me and wanted to come out. I lifted her up and my son started wailing. Two very sad babies at 4 am. I went to get some Motrin for what I think is teething. They cried louder. I went to get some small bottles of milk and told them "It's not time to get up yet" and walked out. It's almost 7:30 and they're still asleep.

It's scary to write things like this out. Parenting is not a science. I think it's like being a good doctor--the practice takes a mix of art and science. And you need to let your patient (or your child) inform you what you do. There's data out there about what's happening developmentally. There are lots and lots of opinions, informed or otherwise. It is easy to second-guess and doubt, especially when it comes to worrying that you might be damaging your child. I think they're okay though.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I Used to Do

It's 6:46 am and almost pitch dark. Three babies have bottles with them, the fourth is asleep on the couch where I was recently curled around her sleeping. I'm drinking from a mug of tea and eating a toasted bagel with cream cheese. It feels earlier than it is, because of the darkness. Ten years ago at this time I would have been almost to work, arriving in time to start a twelve-hour shift that started at 7.15. I didn't work every day, but each time my alarm went off at five I'd cringe and drag myself up. I was never a snoozer--just got up to pull myself into the day. I didn't like waking up that early but often as I'd be driving East across the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, I'd see the sunrise. Driving early in the morning when there are few cars on the road can feel sacred, and the sky fired with orange red violet pink made me glad I was one of the lucky ones who was awake.

I worked in the Placement department, allocating organs for transplant. Meaning talking to surgeons and nurses to help them decide which of their patients was the right fit for the liver, kidney, heart, pancreas, lungs or small bowel. Together we'd go down their lists, starting with patient number one and comparing the information of the donor to their possible recipient. How tall, how heavy, how old, did their patient have a fever, were they strong enough for the transplant surgery. It was the coolest job I've ever had. When it was busy the phones rang all the time. Text pagers making noise, fax machines going off. Terrified I'd make a mistake. A few times I did make a mistake and I had to call the doctor immediately to 'fess up. The consequences could be really bad--death of a patient, giving the wrong organ to the wrong person--so there was no trying to hide it. I learned so much in that job and for a long time it was the most important thing in my life. It was like a boyfriend--sometimes the kind you know you should break up with. That work sucked me dry and made me feel crazy. My brain would be so full of stories, needs, rules, conversations, timelines and personalities that it would take an hour or so after my shift ended for it to settle down. In other ways that job fed me. Made me feel smart, competent, like what I did mattered. I helped people get transplanted and that felt amazing, especially the times when it almost didn't happen but I kept working, working, working until it did. I could talk about it for hours At a cocktail party or a bar you pretty much win the "What do you do?" conversation. People were always interested and I loved explaining how it worked. It was a fun, stressful, exciting time.

Because of how I did that job, I eventually moved up the ladder into other jobs. As a friend and colleague once said to me, it wasn't that we'd taken a step up the ladder, it was that we'd stepped off the ladder entirely and climbed onto another one. Management was a different ballgame. And I really hated it, for the most part. I didn't realize how much I hated it until I stepped away from it. There were parts I liked--I liked solving problems, I liked being able to listen to someone who was having a hard time and help them out. I liked making decisions when I was on call, using my expertise to make cases go more smoothly. I didn't like never being able to make people happy. I didn't like not having concrete accomplishments at the end of my days. I didn't like feeling so under-qualified so much of the time. I didn't like not feeling like myself. i had a whole set of ideas of how a manger should be. Not getting too personal with colleagues. Fair and impartial. Standing up for the decisions made by upper management while also speaking up for the people who reported to me. Finding ways to walk that line. I stepped into my "manager role" and it didn't fit very well. It was exhausting and disorienting. Now that I'm not doing it anymore I can feel how I was changed by it. The way I  think, the way I work with people, the way I approach a problem. I learned a lot.

It's challenging to write about my work because. . .well, mostly because I love the mission of what we do and I never want to speak less than positively about any aspect of it. Like any job, there are things that could be better. Processes that could run more smoothly. People who could work harder. But this job is so important to so many. And so few people know anything about how it all works. I'm afraid to give even one person the wrong impression, to make them doubt or mistrust organ donation. That's ultimately why I made the decision to step away. The kids and the fact that I was losing perspective. Getting burnt out. I've worked with way too many people who stayed too long, got mired too deep into the problems instead of seeing the magic. It truly is magic. Hard-earned, holy magic that few people have the opportunity to be a part of. I will keep searching for the words to describe it the best way I can.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mom brain

The way my brain works these days. . . it's a challenge. I'd heard about mom brain before but I didn't really believe it was a thing. Or I thought it was similar to "tired brain" and I'd had that before. But no. I can almost watch a thought appear in my mind and then disappear, like some text in Powerpoint that has been animated to fade out. It's there. . .but if I don't write it down or immediately do something about it, it goes away. Maybe forever. This makes switching between my paid work and my mothering very challenging.

I work from home. Usually this means I work at Starbucks, drinking an absolutely delicious venti soy latte from a ceramic cup. I open up my laptop, type in my various passwords, check my to-do list and slowly switch my brain to a different way of functioning. It takes a while, longer than it used to. Then once I'm up and running, really firing, it's time to shut down and go home. Well, I decide when it's time to shut down and go home so I technically could stay longer. It's hard to leave when I'm on a roll. But I don't like missing too much of the day with the kids--I feel pulled home after being gone a few hours.

This brain situation makes blogging a challenge. When I have time to sit and write, I want to get caught up on the project I'm getting paid to do. I'm in a new role so I'm still learning how to do it, learning how to organize my time, learning how to produce a good product. The way I want to write requires time devoted to the writing and to the editing. Making a goal to write every day (which I already haven't met but I am undaunted!) makes writing that way difficult because I haven't carved out any sacrosanct writing time. I try to fit it in, but my funny brain is making multi-tasking very very hard.

What to do? Post this half thought out post for now. . .because I said I would.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Last night I decided I was done pumping. The girls are a little over three months old and I've been pumping every day since they were born, though less and less each day. In the beginning I pumped every two hours because I wanted so badly to establish a good supply so I'd be able to feed them both. I didn't have enough for my big kids when they were little and it made me feel bad.  My breasts ache right now. It's been more than 24 hours since I've hooked myself up to the hospital-grade pump, though I've nursed my youngest since then. She's the only one who breastfeeds. With my first set of twins, my daughter was the only one who nursed. My son did it once after many attempts and I thought we'd cracked the code and would do it from then on but that wasn't the case. He was a bottle guy. My heart aches too as I try to find the words to describe my experience.

I wrote that paragraph last Friday morning but stopped because. Because I had paid work to do. And because I wanted to take time to live the experience of letting go of breastfeeding before writing about it. Ceremony is important and my heart told me there was mourning to do. I imagined sitting outside, quietly nursing Daphne, paying attention to the sensations because soon they'd be gone. But what really happened is I had a weekend full of mothering and housework and swimming and birthday party and I didn't spend any time focused on the end of nursing at all.

Luckily my body did what it needed to do and by paying attention I've been able to feel myself letting go. The first night I leaked a puddle into the green sheets on our bed. The first day I had a couple moments of tightness, hardness, slight pain. I nursed Daphne and it went away. I nursed her very early this morning but haven't since then and my breasts feel fine. My silhouette shows that I'm not back to non-nursing size but I don't feel full or uncomfortable. I'm changing, day by day.

Before I became a mother I actually dreamed of nursing. It was nights like those that made me believe that the doctors were wrong and that I would someday give birth. I could feel it in my body--the pulling sensation, the warmth of the heavy body in my arms, laying against my chest. In reality, I never really connected with the experience like I thought I would.

I remember Lily's face the first time I put her to my breast. She looked so tiny and her eyes grew wide in amazement as she looked up over the mountain of my breast. Her tiny mouth, opened as wide as she could hold it, closed over my nipple and she stayed there, not nursing. That was our first attempt. It took many more tries before milk was exchanged. Those first few days in the NICU I hooked myself up to the pump in an effort to fill the tiniest of vials, smaller than my pinkie finger. A few drops splashed in and we used a syringe to suck up the drops left behind--so much effort to capture the precious colostrum. Every day I walked myself into the tiny pumping room down a short, hidden hallway in the NICU. Sometimes I sat with other mamas, sometimes I sat alone. Noon, 2 am, 7pm. The other blended together, the radio station played the same Top 40, I scrolled through articles and blogs on my phone, and I pumped. We grew to recognize one another as the days passed and sometimes we'd share stories or tears. It was a funny little place, an initiation ritual none of us wanted but one we became grateful for as we settled into our new lives.

I felt like a failure more than once. Not enough milk. I hated having to supplement with formula but it quickly became normal. I guess I thought once we got home we'd all settle into the nursing rhythm--I pictured myself tandem nursing. Turns out Cyrus preferred to eat without being touched so he'd lay on the couch with a bottle propped up (a no no in the baby world but an everyday occurrence in our twin household). My husband and I mixed many, many bottles of formula and we were able to split the nights, each getting some sleep because I wasn't the only one feeding. It worked.

When both Cleo and Daphne latched on the day they were born I thought we'd have the breastfeeding experience I'd always imagined. But no, again. Maybe it's because in the NICU they bottle-feed and the babies were focused on that. (Of course it's possible that if I'd been present for every feeding we could have tried breastfeeding every time but that was not to be). Whatever the reason, I settled into pumping again, though this time on my own on the couch at night. I ferried bottles of milk to the hospital. This time I felt proud that I was filling up their freezer. I was sure I'd have stores to last a year or so when we got home. But I pumped less and less, we went through the freezer bags at home and I started to think about stopping.

The first time my milk dried up because I got pregnant again. Before I knew I was pregnant I thought my milk was just drying up for no reason and I felt so sad. I wasn't ready to stop. But this time I started thinking about it, gently and with no pressure, just with curious. Maybe it was time to stop. It felt early but it also felt. . .ok.

So on Thursday as I sat on the couch, sinking into the stained cushions happily watching my favorite TV shows, I thought about getting up to get the pump pieces from the drying rack. And then I decided I was done. It felt right.

I've been more of a pumping mama than a breastfeeding mama. That's just how my story has turned out. Instead of quiet nights with a dozing newborn, I've sat alone on the couch listening to the quiet hum and hiss of the Medela. It's allowed me moments of quiet privacy when I needed them. It's invited me to sit down and rest. It's allowed me to fill my babies' bellies with warm breast milk, all four of them. And in the next few days I will be done forever.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What to wear

Most mornings I drive up Clayton Road to Starbucks so I can sit and do some work without my Bigs trying to climb up into my lap to push the laptop keys or feed me Cheerios off the floor or take bites from my toast. Today I changed out of my sweats and put on a gray and yellow skirt, a darker gray t-shirt with a yellow etching of a San Francisco city bus, a colorful cotton headband from El Salvador, and sparkly flip flops. No make-up, hair pulled up into a messy bun at my neck in addition to being pulled back by the headband. I beheld myself in the full-length closet-door mirrors in our room and shrugged. Not hot, good enough.

On Monday I spent the day, sans children, in San Francisco. I took my time getting dressed and chose a pair of skinny jeans (non-maternity WOO HOO), a rust colored t-shirt from Target, tan and brown snakeskin flats (faux, of course), a statement necklace with a chunky olive-colored piece of glass on a copper chain, and a fitted gray stretchy blazer. I looked fabulous and when I saw my friends they told me so immediately. Later on in the day I walked alone down Mission Street, heading back to my car after having a burrito. I felt people checking me out. That hadn't happened in a long, long time. I wasn't strutting but I walked powerfully, shoulders back, head up, eyes ahead. Owning it. It felt good.

I lived in Madrid when I was twenty where men stopped me on the street and checked me out almost all the time. I was a tall, foreign-looking young blonde and people noticed me. Especially male people. At least, they were the ones who talked to me about it. Once while vacationing alone in Italy a man driving down the street passed me, stopped his car, backed up and told me in Italian "You are beautiful" and then kept driving.

It was the late 90's so fashion was much different than it is now. Among my clothes was a pair of absolutely gigantic denim overalls--extra-large overalls from the Gap. I'd wear them with Doc Martens and either a tank top or the softest grey cotton Timberland long-sleeved shirt in the world. I lived with a family during my year studying abroad and my Spanish mama Nella has a closet-full of dated but feminine, sexy clothes. She was constantly trying to dress me. She smoked three packs a day and spent almost all day laying in bed watching TV and smoking, unless she was cooking or ironing or cleaning. And also smoking. One morning she said to me "Odio those overalls." She said the whole sentence in Spanish but I can't remember the word for overalls. I do remember the verb she used--she hated my overalls. Hate. It carries more weight than in English when people say it all the time. She could have used a less intense word to say she didn't like them but no, she really hated them. I think it actually caused her pain to see me walking out wearing them.

I wore those overalls like armor on days I felt like being ignored. I've never really minded having men talk to me on the street. Often I've appreciated it. I know many women really dislike it, or hate it, and feel violated by men feeling free to comment on their appearance. I can understand that and if pressed to choose one social reality that worked for the most women I would choose to abolish cat-calling, whistles and comments on the street if it made more women feel safe and respected. I don't need those comments. I certainly don't dress for those men.

I think I've always felt that, if I don't want people to see me, they don't. I know that's silly and not true. On an overall-wearing day I would walk the streets feeling hidden, sort of like a little kid who covers his eyes and assumes that because he can't see anyone they can't see him. Whereas on a day like Monday I walked the streets knowing I looked good and feeling good about it. It wasn't an invitation for comments but I didn't mind. Having my female friends exclaim over how good I looked was welcome. So was being noticed on the street. And hell, after being pregnant for two years it felt amazing.

So often I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and am absolutely shocked at what I look like. Hair in wisps all around my face. Circles under my eyes. Freckles and wrinkles and sun damage on my Irish skin. Small, soft belly. Bigger breasts than usual. Many days I'm wearing a pair of cut-off sweat shorts and a tank top with bra straps showing. My grandmother would be appalled. It's hot where I live and I get spit-up on or touched with dirty hands many times a day. I walked downtown in that exact outfit yesterday and didn't think anything of it. I felt comfortable and unseen, even as I pushed one of two double-strollers down the streets.

I like being comfortable. But I also like feeling feminine, powerful, sexy, elegant, womanly. Depends on the day. I used to dress for the occasion--not just the event but the people I'd be hanging out with. To fit in, to show the side of myself I felt most comfortable being with whatever friends I was with. Was I with my outdoorsy, music-festival friends? My super-stylish, done-up friends? My sporty friends? I shape-shifted. Back then I believed that I controlled what people saw in me and thought it mattered what version of me they saw. Now I just try to be. Part of that is finding a style that fits who I am.  A mama and a wife who works at home. I want to feel pretty and comfortable and like I care enough to put some effort into the face I present to the world, even if I really don't care who is looking. It's also important that I wear pants that don't show my butt when I bend down at the playground. Priorities, people.

A few months after the Bigs were born my friend the closet organizer, stylist came over and helped me clear out my closet, saying good-bye to many things I was holding on to for the sake of nostalgia. She laughed at me a few times, but she's my friend so that was ok. And it was 2013, not 1995 as she kindly pointed out. The next step was to buy a few key pieces and then try dressing in comfortable, age-appropriate, pretty, machine-washable outfits. She also taught me the term "statement necklace". Then I got pregnant again and all those clothes got pushed to the bottom of the bins again. Hello, old friends! Time to try again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why I blog

At my moms' club book club a couple weeks ago we discussed the book Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton. I didn't choose the book but was happy to see it chosen as I read her blog regularly and had read her book on my own many months before. Our book club does not always spend a ton of time discussing the book; we spend lots of time talking about motherhood and our kids and life in general. When discussion turned to the book at this meeting, the responses were varied.

It's a book of essays, many of which appeared on her blog before being included in her book. While a discussion about a novel can be about the characters or the arc of the story line, a discussion about personal essays often ends up being about the person. In this case her focus on Jesus. The way she talks about her kids. Her addictions. What some people felt was her tendency to talk too much about herself. Talking about her book was so helpful to me because it allowed me to solidify my own ideas about why I'm writing a blog.

I've wanted to be a writer since I was young. In fact, I guess I've been a writer since I was eight or nine if you count keeping a journal as being a writer. I would never have used the term "writer" but now I am claiming it. I am a writer. Wow! Scary and exciting.

Glennon Melton was actually one of the reasons I decided to start this blog. She wrote something about not waiting until everything was perfectly in place before starting to do the thing you've been meaning to do. She wrote about the world needing to hear your voice. She did give those of us with kids under 5 an out, saying that we're in the thick of surviving early parenthood and that is enough. Phew! But it was a push that helped me finally say to myself "I've been saying I'm going to write for a long, long time. I'm 37 years old. When exactly do I think I'm going to start writing?"

Two sets of twins gave me a topic and I assumed I would write mostly about my kids. In fact, I've struggled with the identify of this blog since it began because I've been unsure about so many things. Wanting to protect the privacy of my kids and worrying about writing too much about them on the internet has been the main thing. Even though the blogs I love the most include pictures and very vivid stories about the women's children. I've also struggled when big events have happened--like the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson. I've felt unsure about how deep I wanted to get about my politico-social beliefs while also feeling weird about not sharing something that's weighing heavily on my mind. Quite frankly, I don't want to get in fights about things. The comments that Glennon gets can be excruciating. Every blogger I've followed has had at least one post about how they deal with the things people say to them, not just about what they write but about who they are. Finally I've wondered about creating a disjointed conversation with the people who read this. Does it matter if I bring up a subject and then don't come back to close the loop? Are we in a conversation? Am I sharing my journal with you? What's happening around here anyway?

Our book club helped me see that I'm viewing this blog as two things--a writing exercise and a chance to be as real and authentic as I can be. I will sometimes write about my kids but mostly from the perspective of how I feel as their mother. I'm the one with my hands full (my husband too but he can start his own blog if he wants to). I will write about myself, even though it feels scary to open that up to the world of the internet. Even though it's easy to worry that writing about myself is dumb and self-indulgent and navel-gazing. I actually don't feel worried about that. I want to develop my written voice, write true and interesting words for other people to read. The written word has reached into me and saved me many times throughout my life. The experience of reading something someone else wrote and stopping in recognition--wait, I've felt that way! What a gift. What a relief. And what an opportunity.

Handsfull also creates accountability but I'm raising the stakes. I will write here every day in the month of October. I will!

Monday, September 22, 2014


Walking through the kitchen, feet bare on flagstone, I look down and see an upside U. It's a magnet--part of an alphabet set that covers the lower-half of the fridge. Seeing it there pierces me right in the heart with gratitude. I don't know how an inch-long shape, black on gray because its colored side is face down, can conjure up the images of my two Big kids and fill my heart with warm love in an instant. I see their faces turned up to the big chrome door, reaching up to grab letters and move them, drop them, taste them. On their knees reaching up but more recently on their feet. They are growing so much. Learning so much. So curious, such big wide open eyes. I pick those magnets up from the floor every day, just as I pick up the pile of books they spread off the shelves and onto the wood floor every day. Once, twice, three times a day. As many times as we put them back, they'll find their way back to take them off. Why do I bother putting them back? Because it gives them such pleasure to take them off. They don't sweep them off in a fit of destruction or to see what happens when they move an arm. They reach up and pick one off, look at it. Sometimes they look up at me and say something I don't understand, indicating the book as though we're discussing literature. Sometimes they point at pictures. Sometimes the book is upside down. Often they babble to each other as they explore, sometimes they sit quietly. Sometimes they carry a book over to me to read. I love to watch them and I love that re-shelving the books beckons them back to the shelves to explore.

An upside magnet does not always speak to me but I'm glad I really saw it tonight. Saw my life for a second as I passed from room to room, mind on other things.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


I'm sitting at our dining room table, facing East and eating tuna noodle salad. My laptop is in the center of a circle of stuff with me at six o'clock. Going clockwise, the table is covered with:

-two sunhats that the little girls have yet to wear
-the house phone whose number no one but telemarketers and one department at the hospital have yet
-a gift bag full of stationary that I took out so I could finally write a thank-you note for a gift we received a month ago (stationary stored in the bag because I didn't want to be wasteful and throw it away)
-the box my new crock pot came in, empty of crock pot, quarter-full of bibs we're giving away
-pile of grown-up laundry
-pile of kid laundry
-pile of kid laundry
-6 socks
-my calendar

Behind the stacked laundry is one of the vibrating baby chairs we sit the Itty Bitties in. It's on the table to be out of reach of the Bigs who have a tendency to grab pacifiers or stick inquisitive fingers into tiny baby sister faces.

This is one little snapshot of the inside of our house which is quite reflective of the inside of my mind. Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

I feel good these days. My mood is up. The babies are doing well. I'm back in the swing of things at work, actually getting stuff done. My body is in good shape for the most part. I think about blogging every day. When I first started this blog I declared to myself that I would write every day! The thing is, I'm not someone who does anything every day. I am not a routine person.

Someone I know everyday makes a list of things to do the next day. He codifies each item very specifically, indicating the importance and priority, breaking them up into need-to-do and want-to-do. I consider him to be someone who has his shit together. What I admire about this particular guy is that he makes time to do things that are important to him, while also getting work done and staying on top of his responsibilities. I think it's time to face the facts--that is just not how I roll.

To describe how I am different than that, I offer the following example. When I did Weight Watchers a few years ago, I realized that the main thing it did for me was to give me a reason to plan what I would eat ahead of time. Making sure to have food that would keep me within my allotted points showed me that my usual experience was more like "Oh hey! It's one o'clock and I am starving! What should I eat for lunch??" As though the arrival of lunchtime was a mysterious, unpredictable event every day. This happens to me all the time.

"You mean the dishes need to be done again?!"

"You mean I need to pay that credit card bill again?!"

"You mean I need to go to the bank again?!"

I do not have a plan. I have a whirl of half-remembered ideas that pop in and out of my brain vying for attention.

I painted a picture of the table. Here is a similar picture of my thought process during the time I've been writing this:

"Oh! The NICU reunion is this Saturday. I need to call them and find out what time it starts because I lost the flier."

"Let me check to see what time Aunt Roberta gets in tomorrow. Did I write down the right date in my calendar? Yes, ok good. I should make a plan for Saturday morning and let my sister know when to come over. Oh, and we need to pick up the sandbox on Saturday. I wonder if it will fit in the van."

"I need to check the library to see if they have the book we're reading for book club. Wait, what is the date of the next book club? I should write that down before I forget."

Send an email to a colleague asking for feedback on the project we've worked on together.

Realize I've written down two separate dates for the Bigs' pediatrician appointment next week. Is it on Tuesday or Wednesday?

"Oh, I want to write that thank-you note for the diaper service he and his wife gifted us two months ago that I finally started. . ."


I don't feel stressed. Life feels full and even still, I'm more likely to sit down and read a book in the evening than I am to do one of the many, many things on my list of to-dos. There are lots of to-dos. If I were to make a plan or a goal for each day it would be to:

-Spend time with the kids
-Get some work done
-Do at least one thing to improve the house
-Spend some time outside
-Do some exercise, especially yoga
-Talk to a friend

Usually it ends up being at least one, sometimes two or three of those things. Yesterday I swept up half of the leaves around the pool. Monday I worked almost all day to finish a project. Today I'm finally writing. I haven't done yoga in. . .one million years.

I don't strive for balance. At least not using that word. There might have been a time when I sought it but now I'm not aware of having that goal in mind. I would like to reach a point where all of the surfaces in our house are cleared of stuff that doesn't belong there. I don't think I've ever reached that particular state in my entire life. Stuff is everywhere. On every surface and in most corners of my mind. When I turn around to put something away or jot down an idea, a child is reaching up for me or making a noise to indicate that I am wanted. If it's not a child, it's a chorus of other things whose voices get drowned out by my need to sit and not do anything. I do not strive to work all the time in an effort to get things done. I want things to be done, but not if it means I don't get to rest. This is why I cut only a small portion of the overgrown juniper bush bordering our driveway two days ago. I started it but my son did not want me to leave his side at that particular moment. So instead I joined Stephanie, my cousin, and all four babies under a big blue umbrella, on top of a soft quilt on the grass of our front yard. We looked at books and ants until it got too hot and then we went back inside. It wasn't part of the plan but it was good stuff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If you wait for me

When I got sick with liver failure I was living in Orange County, commuting to a secretarial job I didn't like much. I started feeling sick in September, moved back up to San Francisco to live with my mom in October and got admitted to the ICU on November 6th. The doctors weren't quite sure what was going on with me so it took a little while for them to decide whether or not to list me for a transplant. Once I was put on the list I waited 8 days. I got transplanted on November 22nd, had another surgery a week later to have an errant ligament clipped because it was constricting the blood flood to my liver and was discharged a few days after that. The whole thing was a total whirlwind, with time moving both fast and slow depending on the day. It felt like falling down the rabbit hole and I think all of us moved around (or in my case laid around) in a state of dumbfounded shock.

I had an anxiety attack a few days before getting discharged. I'd never had one before but I felt it stalking me for hours before it arrived. I was reading a book and I felt like the words were coming faster and faster and if I could just keep reading, just stay ahead of it, I'd be okay. I started writing a thank-you note for a pair of blue and bronze tiger striped silk pajamas that my dad's friend had given to me. I wrote five words and it all came crashing down on me--total panic. The only pictures we have of me from my hospital stay are right in the middle of this attack. A nursing assistant named Rodney who had loved me and adopted me right from the beginning of my hospital stay brought me a big white teddy bear and wanted to take some pictures with us. I think I'm the only one who can look at those pictures and see how wide my eyes are. Wide from panic and from the high-dose steroids all transplant recipients receive in the beginning.

When my doctors and nurses came to round on me the next day I asked to talk to them all. I explained to them what was going on with me. I said that I was a thinker, always had been. In my liver failure my mind really deteriorated as the toxins that were supposed to be filtered by a functioning liver built up. I was still in there, still somewhat knew what was going on. But I didn't really get it. Now, I was coming back to myself and it was freaking me the hell out. Everything that had happened, the fact that I hadn't really slept for a month, the long list of medications I was being told to take every day for the rest of my life, the fact that I'd almost died--it was all hitting me at once and I needed them to know that I was having a hard time. I needed them to know that I was really there now, really present and paying attention.

The first few times I went back to the hospital for my follow-up appointments, I looked at the long hallways from the sidewalk to the front door, from the front door to the elevator, and wondered why they didn't have handrails for the patients who had to walk them. My belly ached with each step, my severed abdominal muscles screamed as I stood up or sat down. I hurt all over. I watched a recently transplanted woman leap out of her chair and stride across the room and despaired at ever feeling that good again. Of course I did feel that good again and it happened more quickly than I expected.

Two months after my transplant I felt good enough to go back to work. The doctors response was "Um. Why don't you wait a bit longer? Take your time."

So I did. I ended up taking the whole year off work--quit my job, moved permanently back up to San Francisco. Collected disability insurance and had a lot of free time, visiting friends at work, driving around the city discovering new routes from one place to another. I was healing, but I don't think I really thought of it that way. I didn't hurt all over anymore so I didn't think of myself as needing to heal. Even as I dealt with the huge emotions that came in the aftermath of the life-saving surgery. Even as I dealt with feeling like a huge bear had lumbered along and casually cuffed me off the path I'd been walking, sending me flying off the road that had been my life into the unknown. Even as I got admitted to the hospital for a week with an infection. I felt so much better than I had before  the transplant that I thought I was back to normal.

A year and a half after my transplant I was walking down the street in downtown San Francisco. I can't remember where I was going or where I was coming from. The light was the glowing, crisp light that filters between buildings bringing their edges into soft relief. The air was warm. I don't know what I was wearing. I stopped dead in my tracks and took myself in as I realized that I was really myself again. It was like recognizing an old friend whom you didn't know you were missing. "Ohhhhhh," I sighed. "I thought I was better before but this, this is really better. I'm better now."

It was amazing.

Last Thursday I took my older twins to a park to meet a new friend for a walk. We got there early so the three of us--my son, my eldest daughter and I--walked the loop around the park for the first time. The air was warm. The light was bright, almost harsh, on the dry hills around us. We passed a pond full of swans and ducks. The kids were quiet, taking it all in. Our friend arrived and we did another loop, the kids getting fussier as they struggled against the confines of the stroller. We did a third lap when another woman from our moms' group arrived and then I sat down on a blanket with my kids as the other women kept walking. We sat in the dirt, in the shade, between the playground and the soccer fields. The playground was lined with tan bark so we stayed outside because I knew my guys would want to stretch and move without being hindered by splinters. They were wearing shoes outside for the first time and they explored the area, soft and hard, rough and smooth, chain link fence between finger tips, standing and crawling and kneeling on the world. Each one of them fell hard one time, bonking their heads and scaring themselves, coming into my arms for snuggles and reassurance. We loaded back into the stroller and rolled back to the minivan, tired and soothed by being outside, together.

They were quiet as we drove home and the songs on the radio soaked into the silence, marking the day. And it happened again. I looked in wonder at myself, realizing "Oh, THIS is how I felt the last time I felt like myself."

Last fall it was the three of us. During the day, I changed all of the diapers, changed all of the clothes, did all of the feeding and soothing and bathing. We went out everyday, sometimes just got into the van and drove so I could breathe in the quiet and enjoy having baby-free hands. We sat under trees and watch the leaves blow in the wind. We napped on the couch together. We danced in the afternoon together. Sometimes we walked the dog, with one baby in each of my arms. It was not idyllic. It was hard and boring at times. I worried about going back to work. I worried that I would never make any friends nearby. I sank into the couch tiredly at the end of the day, feeling guilty for not having made dinner or not having a cleaner house. I was tired. I was in it though. I was myself--a new mom, a new wife, a constant thinker, a sometime worrier.

Coming back to myself, with my son and first daughter in their car seats behind me, was such a gift. To recognize it and to feel grateful for it. To see these last many months of surprise pregnancy, surprise twins, exhaustion, moving to a new house, having a baby-sitter join our daily routine, another premature delivery, another NICU stay, postpartum depression, two more people joining our family--all of that was falling down the rabbit hole again. I've been sitting in dumbfounded shock. Once you hear a secret, you can never unknow it. Once you find out you're pregnant, you can never go back to not knowing. You can make different decisions with the news but you can't unknow that there is another baby. Or in our case two more babies. Everything changed.

In the van I stopped at a light and turned off the radio, turning on a song from my iPhone instead. Tracy Chapman's The Promise filled the car. It's a song from the olden days--pre-babies, pre-adulthood. It's a song of longing for love--I used to hear it as longing for romantic love. It made me think of high school and college.

I heard it again on the radio last July. My daughter Lily had been released from the hospital, my son was still in the NICU. She and I moved into an apartment across the street from the hospital and for the first time I was a mom with a baby living with me all the time. She cried a lot, screamed actually. I was scared to give her a bath because she was so tiny. It was quiet in that apartment--no TV, no other people except when my husband would come spend the night. The song came on and I held my baby girl in my arms, breathing her in and hearing the words anew. I had been waiting and waiting, yearning. And they had finally come for me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I'm feeling better. The Zoloft kicked in sometime last week. I was curious what it would be like--would I feel a change in my body, similar to the sensation of having other types of drugs seep into the system? So far, I haven't felt any physical changes like that. The main change is that, when I think of doing something such as working on a project for work, or imagining a new career for myself sometime in the future, I don't immediately feel like "Ugh, what is the point of even thinking about this. I hate this idea. I have no motivation to work on it at all. Bleh." So hooray for feeling better.

The responses to my last post were really wonderful. A few women wrote me back on Facebook, sharing their own experiences with PPD. An ex-colleague wrote me a note sharing what a hard time she had after the birth of her first child. It was so reassuring to hear "me too" from people. Especially from people who seem like fun, thoughtful mamas. In fact, any time I've opened my mouth about how hard this whole four babies thing has been the people I'm talking to essentially say, "Um yeah, DUH!" Except in kinder, more supportive words.

Perspective is a funny thing. I knew this would be hard. I couldn't imagine it and I didn't spend too much time or energy worrying about it because I knew we would somehow make it through. That's the thing about "making it through" though. It feels different and hard in different ways than you expect. I expected to be exhausted and to have a hard time juggling so many babies. I didn't expect the emotional toll.

I have lots more things to write, so many thoughts that have been flitting around in my head. But the little girls (the Itty Bitties) are crying and my husband is feeding them both as I sit on the couch pumping and typing away. Off to join forces with my partner in the hands-full arena.

More soon.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Ha. Well. Here I've been walking around feeling the weight of this blog on my shoulders (which is actually a good weight and the reason I shared my blog with all of you in the first place, to keep me motivated to come back here even when it feels tough). I didn't realize I actually posted the partial-post that appears before this one--I thought it was still in draft form. So! I didn't mean to share that quite yet and was actually mortified to see it up there but oh well! Half-finished thoughts are representative of where I am these days.

I have been having a tough time. The girls came home from the NICU almost two weeks ago and I was in the middle of a brutal colitis flare. Colitis--blood in the toilet that comes from the insides of your large intestine being sloughed off. Stomach cramps. Urgent runs to the bathroom. A feeling of wrongness that starts at your core and radiates out to your fingers and toes. It feels like someone took a vegetable peeler and scraped it up and down the walls of your colon--this raw, exposed ache of yuckiness. It sucks.

When I'm sick, I get very down emotionally. This happens when I have a cold and it definitely happens when I'm in the thick of colitis. All my energy drains away and I can't see the positive side of anything. I just want to lay on the couch under a blanket and watch crappy TV and hide from the world. Motherhood is not conducive to this desire. I have been dragging, physically and emotionally and taking care of babies has seemed to require more oopmh that I could ever imagine dredging up from somewhere inside myself.

It was into this mindset and bodyset that our daughters came home from the hospital. Not what I imagined. It has felt so very hard. My husband is on leave and he has been wonderful. He takes such good care of these babies and does not complain. Our babysitter Stephanie has been wonderful--juggling the four kids and cleaning the house while she goes. I don't know how she does it but I bow down in gratitude to her. She also reminds me that I'm doing a good job, even when I really, really don't feel like it. My brother and sister-in-law have come to help us several times and they have saved the day, especially on a Sunday when I knew I did not have it in me to do anything but lay in bed. My mom has come, my dad is here. People are helping and want to help. I know this and feel grateful. And yet, no amount of help touches the lonely, afraid feeling that has been lodged in my chest since the babies came home.

It is a weird feeling to know that you can't take care of your own kids by yourself. A bad feeling. My husband and Stephanie have each assured me that they can do it and yet I feel, deep in my heart, that I can't do it. The idea of both of them leaving me alone with the four kids fills me with dread.  I've been alone with all of them for a few hours at a time and it was so hard, so draining. I've found it difficult to take things a minute at a time. Instead I look ahead to the weeks and months to come and think "Oh my god, this is my life, how in the hell am I going to do this?"

Last Wednesday I went to get a massage. I sat in the hot tub in silence and breathed deeply, breathed in being alone. I laid flat on a table and felt strong fingers dig into the ropes of my muscles, pulling out knots formed by carrying other humans. My breasts filled with milk as I lay on my stomach and the pain of turning over was intense. Still, I relaxed. I thought often of the people at home. It wasn't until I was driving back that the anxiety that I hadn't known was there began to fill me up again. The closer I got to our house, the more anxious I felt. As it tightened my stomach I thought of my colitis and the inevitable relationship between fear and worry and my guts. I was all twisted up.

Someone once told me that digestive problems can cause depression, because you lose all the good vibes of oxytocin (I think) through your intestines. When I remembered that I felt better--like I wasn't crazy to be feeling so down, there might actually be a physical reason for it. I was telling myself that once the colitis flare passed I'd feel better. I'd feel happier about having the girls at home. I'd feel less afraid. I was prepared to wait to feel better. When the anxiety filled me up on my way back home from the massage, I knew I couldn't wait.

I called my OB's office and told them I thought I might be experiencing some post postpartum depression. I wasn't sure what they'd recommend. They told me to come in the next day. It was nice to be taken so seriously. At my four week follow-up appointment I'd been given a survey asking questions such as "Do you find it difficult to see the positive side of things?" and "Have you been feeling anxious for no reason?" I'd answered "No" to all the questions. But that was before the babies had come home. It was also when I was on a physical high from not being pregnant anymore. I felt so good that I thought I was fine.

At this appointment I answered "Yes" to almost every question. My doctor was not surprised. She was calm and gentle and she offered an anti-depressant. I said yes, gratefully. The relief I felt was immense. Immense.

During my first pregnancy I actually asked some of my friends to watch out for me and let me know if they saw signs of depression. I saw myself as someone at risk for the postpartum blues and I was afraid I wouldn't know to ask for help. Sometimes I think I get so used to doing hard things, to feeling bad or to feeling down, that I don't even think there might be an alternative. I gird my loins and look ahead, knowing that if necessary  I can get through anything. Gut it out. And look what it's doing to my guts. They are literally falling apart, in tatters, bloody shreds.

It's hard to admit that I'm having a tough time feeling connected to my daughters. It makes me want to weep, thinking of them reading this when they're older. I'm sorry I'm not happier, I think. I don't know what's the matter with me.

The silence on this blog has been due to a total inability to get myself up to write anything down. Too afraid. Too tired. Too sick. I've been hiding, because that's what I do when I feel bad.

I don't feel better yet. I still get hit mightily with the blues almost every day. I am reminding myself like a mantra to take it easy on myself. Be gentle with myself. This too shall pass.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

If this blog were a pen, it would weigh one million pounds. That's how hard it's been to pick it up and write this past week. Or has it been longer? It's all been a blur.

When you think about it, it's pretty amazing that I've never shit my pants. Eww. That is such a vile statement and yet it truly describes some things in a way that prettier language could not. Last Tuesday I got on Bart to head into San Francisco for dinner and a movie with two of my best friends. Such a treat to get to do that. I sat down on the train, listened to the doors close and felt a familiar wave sweep through my body. It wasn't the normal poop chills, it was the colitis chill. The sudden, certain need to find a bathroom in a very urgent way. Except I was on a train, with no bathroom, with an hour ride ahead of me. So I focused my mind on my insides in a way I've done too many times to count and I willed my bowels to hold firm. And they did.

When my brother lived in Ghana he and his Peace Corps buddies took it as a right of passage that one day they would eventually poop their pants. It happened to almost all of them I think.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A snapshot

It rained this morning and we could look out the kitchen window at sheets of water falling into the dandelion forrest that is our front courtyard. The stalks of  some of those plants are so tall and thick that little birds can rest on them and frequently do. The sun still shone as the rain fell but I didn't see a rainbow.

I felt a little sad as I drove the well-worn route to the NICU. No specific reason.

I'm now sitting in the half-light of Room 3437 with a sleeping baby girl on either side of me, each in her own crib. My breasts ache because it's time to pump or nurse by neither one of them is waking up yet. Someday soon we'll work together to get on the same schedule but for now I have no say in the matter. It's peaceful in here and just being near them soothes me. I hope they come home soon.

Friday, July 18, 2014


I am having a feeling today that I haven't had before. It's tempting to say it's too hard to describe but then isn't trying to describe things the point of writing? It's tempting to make a bulleted list about what it is or isn't like, this feeling I'm having. But this feeling isn't fragmented, it's whole. Bullets would split it up and that wouldn't do it justice. If I close my eyes and go quiet, breathe in and out so that I can feel the feeling, it comes to me in a wave. A bubble. A creamy pan-full of melted butter. A fullness.

I think it's richness that I feel. The deep richness of the love in my life that fills up my chest and rolls out from there.

The post I wrote yesterday made other people check in with me about how I'm doing today--how I'm handling not being at the wedding. In fact, someone who reads this blog whom I've never met was brainstorming about how to get me to Vermont so I could be there (Hi Vanessa and thanks!). I so appreciate the empathy--not only because it's nice to be consoled and taken care of but because it shows me the power of this writing. That makes me feel great.

I feel a longing to be there at my brother's wedding. I so wish I could be there. It makes me sad knowing I won't be there--won't get to see all the moments that make their day special. Won't get to be a part of the stories. Won't get to see his face. Won't get to see her in her dress. I love my brother in a way that is totally different than the way I love anyone else. It's not parental, especially now that we're both older and our 5-year age difference doesn't seem noticeable at all. But it's in the realm of parental. I remember the day he was born. He's the first person in the world whom I've actively known from his day one. I remember him as a baby--this unbelievably cute, white-blonde haired boy. I remember him from so many different phases in his life, and I also know there were long stretches of time when we didn't know each other well because I was away at college and the age gap felt enormous.

I haven't watched him grow up as though he were on stage and I was a spectator. I've gotten to be around as he's grown up and I've had the luck to be a little bit older and able to notice big changes, big moments of him coming into his own. There have been moments when I've felt such fear for him, about him. When he left to go live in Africa to be in the Peace Corps for almost three years and I burst into tears while out to dinner with my friends talking about it. It surprised me to realize how afraid I was that something would happen to him. It's not that I've ever been in an actively protective role or been much of an advice-giver. I don't really know why it's like that but I know it's he alone that brings out that unique combination of immense love/pride/worry/gratitude.

These days we are good friends and that is the best of all. I got to pick him up at JFK on a mini break from the Peace Corp when he came to check out possible MBA programs. We walked the entire length of Central Park and talked about love. We talked about how challenging romantic relationships can be and were surprised to realize we share a lot of the same feelings about the subject. Walking with my brother who was living a life I could only barely imagine in an African village with no running water or electricity was a gift. Getting to be the one who fed him and listened to him and laughed at the many absolutely hysterical moments on that trip was. . .a lot. So much. So good.

A wedding is a big deal. Making the decision to commit to a marriage with someone is something I am so glad I've done and am doing, even though there were and still are times when it's really scary and hard. I have very little, in fact no, advice to give. And he doesn't need advice from me. He doesn't need me there, even though I know he would prefer it if I were, just as he knows I would give so much to be there. My heart breaks a little to know that I won't be--that I'm missing it.

The richness comes from all of that and from knowing that I am where I need to be. Yes, I need to be here because I'm practicing breast-feeding with one of my little daughters. And I need to be here because my husband is here and we have all these little kids who need us. We need each other to lean on and take care of one another as we navigate the *$#!^ NICU again. I need to be here because my big little kids are so glad to see me in the morning and they're changing so much and even in the four weeks since their sisters have been born they've transformed into older siblings who actually seem to get it in a way that is hard to believe. I need to be here because I'm pumping breast milk every two hours and it would be a true pain in the ass to figure out how to do that and store it and blah blah blah if I were flying to Vermont for a few days. There are all of those reasons and yet I know that had I chose to go, everyone here would have been ok. They would have more than survived and they would have been glad for me to get to be with the rest of my family. Well, the babies might not have been glad but they would have been well-taken care of and probably not all that concerned at my absence.

The reason I need to be here is because this is where I belong right now. With my husband. With my children. I feel at peace, even though it was a hard decision and it's painful to not be able to be in both places at once. The richness comes from the realness. It is real and hard to not be able to do everything you want to do. To have to make a decision and choose between two wonderful, important things. I will never get over missing my brother's wedding. It makes me cry even typing those words because I want to be there so badly. But how lucky am I to have all that love there and all this love here and to feel it all well up in my heart, marking me forever. How lucky am I to know that I am part of the story there, even though I'm not there. And he and his wedding are part of the story here, part of the story of our girls' births. I know they will be glad to hear about it when they're older.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ode to a place

There are things I want to write about, like how completely frustrated I am by the NICU. Beyond frustrated. I want to scream and smash things and just get the hell out of there. Instead I will write about a place that sits in my heart all the time but that is particularly on my mind these days.

My family, my family of origin, is gathered and gathering in Vermont in preparation for my younger brother's wedding. The wedding and the fact that my brother is becoming a husband in two days time deserves its own post. Seven months ago when we discovered I was pregnant again, before we even knew it was twins and we were still reeling at the news, I burst into tears realizing that I would miss my brother's wedding. I knew I'd be too pregnant to get on a plane and I could not believe that such an important moment would happen and I wouldn't get to be there.

Vermont. My siblings and I grew up going there almost every summer from the time we were very small. I didn't realize what an unusual thing that was until I was older and wondered why I'd never spent a summer in Tahoe or met people my age who had never been on a plane before. I knew it was special in the way it made me feel, though. We usually drove up from Maryland after vising my grandparents and, even as a young person, even though the state is full of green mountains, I'd get excited when I started to recognize OUR green mountains. The smell of the fields and of manure. The feel of the air. Route 14 stretched and rounded its way to my family. I felt filled up.

We stayed in different places over the years--my family takes up a lot of space in Vermont. Good thing there always seems to be more space. . especially since there also always seems to be more family. Each destination, each separate house, brought with it its own daily habits--different rooms in which to sleep, different kitchens in which to eat. Different creeks for walking and exploring, different barns for working or visiting, different roads to walk down or to cross. Different places to sink into and be quiet--under trees, in fields, up waterfalls, in hay lofts, on couches. The group was always different too. My mom's side of the family is big. Very big. At last count I had around 25 cousins and that was a few years ago so we've probably added a few. By proper definition we aren't all exactly first cousins but we do away with the 2nd-cousin-once removed stuff and just say "cousin" or "What up, cuz?" depending on who you're talking to. My mom's generation is made up of many siblings and cousins and step-siblings and spouses and outlaws (which is what we call in-laws who have technically left the family through divorce but who don't actually leave the family because. . .well, family is complicated, isn't it? But love is worth sticking around for and we like to keep people.) All of this is to say that each summer gathering was made up of different members because of soccer tournaments, summer camp, family obligations, perhaps some family feuds, different schedules to work around, money or lack thereof, and various other reasons that I can't come up with because I'm limited to my own perspective of things. Whoever came together arrived and left in a stretched-out way, so there always seemed to be the anticipation and excitement of another mini-reunion.

These days the gatherings are somewhat intense, by which I mean we are coming together for a reason like a wedding or a memorial or a graduation so we come together en masse and have lots of meals and activities and try to see everyone and worry about missing something or someone but do our best to soak it all up. Back in the earlier days of my life we spent summer days that melted and dragged, with no sense of having anywhere to be unless you were trying to be at the barn in time for morning or evening chores. Going to the library in town was a big event. So was going swimming at the Floating Bridge or going on a creek walk from the waterfall to the swimming hole. I picked many bunches of wildflowers, carried many little cousins on narrow hips down to the swimming hole or across the field. I was part of many conversations, sitting on the porch with the elders of my family listening to stories, playing Charades and learning who I was and who I wanted to be. We picked cows that were "ours" for the summer, usually those that were hugely pregnant hoping to be there when their calves were born. Our cows got special handfuls of clover picked on the way over and leisurely brushings and hugs. This summer is the fourth summer in a row I haven't been there and I really feel it in my skin and bones how much I miss it. I've never been away so long. I can close my eyes and picture everything so clearly with no effort at all.

It will be so different to go back now--I have a husband and kids, none of whom were in my life the last time I was there. I think that might mean I'm an official grown-up or something. Vermont has always been a good measuring stick in that way--marking the first time I drove myself up there rather than riding with my family. The first time I was involved in cooking a meal rather than waiting to be fed (though to be honest that probably hasn't happened as much as it should have!). The first time I drank a beer with a cousin whose diaper I had changed. The next time I'm there I will be the one with babies who get carried on younger hips away for adventures. I thought the next time would be now and I feel so pulled to be there. Through Facebook I get to watch the waves of family arrive and join the celebration. They sit on porches and play with babies and I know they are soaking it all up, getting filled up. Knowing that and getting to hear about it is almost as good as getting to be there myself.