By Danny Thomas
I sat in the nursery
holding the baby
for what felt like
the fifteenth hour in a row
it was the morning nap…
but I had spent all night in the
and her poor, sore, teething mouth…
getting her down
for the morning nap
had been a relatively painless endeavor
probably due to
but I was still feeling peevish
and my body was awkwardly cocked
in some rutty position
for fear of waking
it was late morning
and I was watching the sunlight travel across the walls
in my distracted slumbering state…
and I noticed that
when we rearranged the room,
moving the crib and dresser
so that the heater
could actually heat the room,
we left the pictures
as they were…
it looked off.
just a little odd,
out of balance…
and I thought
well we need to change that.
and that led to a whole
storm of thoughts
about how our instinct
or our reflex, rather…
is to look at things
and think about how they
rather than to
how they are
and accept it.
my life should be like this.
my house should be like that.
my job should be like so.
those people should be this way.
these people should be that way.
this table should not be swathed in sticky.
there should be a flat surface in my house not covered with stuff.
and this is the
default we seem to have as a culture,
that I seem to have
as an individual…
especially when things are
that if we change it
in just the right way
it will be better
never be uncomfortable again…
will go away.
and the oven will clean themselves
the piles of papers
accumulated from school bags
and the mailbox
will be neatly tucked away
and dining room
will look like
pages from architectural digest
or better homes and gardens.
if I can just pin
the perfect solution
just one more idea
it will all fall into place.
if we can just make a little more money
if we just had a few more square feet
if I just had a little more time
maybe if we try the couch over here…
if I change to this other laundry soap
this other anti-depressant
maybe if I change my lifestyle
give up that vice
just change my diet
if I change how I sleep
I’ll feel so much better.
there are books and blogs
and pin after pin after pin…
there are gurus and psychics
doctors and financial planners…
self-helpers of every stripe
many with the best intentions…
some a little more dubious
helping people change.
make that little change…
we are bent on changing things.
and I am far from an expert
but I am starting to think
that there is no special formula
no guide to life
no pill, product, or prophet
that is going to make this mess go away
that is going to relieve the moments of frustration…
with six easy steps or less
determining your goal
and routing a plan
step by step
to achieve that goal
is also treacherous
and at least partially misguided
and here is why…
there is this feeling that to navigate life
what you need is something like a tidal calendar…
but if life is like the tides…
if we are in a life that flows like the tide…
we are, if we are lucky, a stone, but more likely, a grain of sand
getting tossed in the chaos of each wave
more like a grain of sand, anyway, than a fisherman or sailor.
I’m hoping that I have enough of an idea of who I am
in my little grain-of-sand-y soul
to float through those entropic waves
and try to find the patterns
or at the very least some of the joy
without losing myself.
in the last three weeks
I have sold a house that is 1500 miles away
been hired to begin a full-time, stay-at-home, telecommuter job
given notice at my current job
learned that my wife has secured a tenure-eligible position at the college…
maybe you can see why I feel
like a stone
getting tossed around…
some things must change
and we must change some things
I think maybe…
some things are going to happen
no matter what we do
I guess Reinhold Niebuhr put it best
in The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference…
By Danny Thomas
It’s St. Patrick’s Day…
We keep trying to make family traditions
for St. Patrick’s Day,
none of them stick.
In my head
it was always
a big deal with my family
We certainly always
ate a special meal.
If not corned beef and cabbage,
then something related.
Sometimes we went to see a film
an irish film
at some art house theatre.
My mom loves foreign films.
And art films.
We went to a lot of independent films
at art house theatres
when I was growing up.
It sometimes depresses me
when our holidays
do not jive with
the holidays I remember growing up.
and St Patricks Day…
I just need to give it time…
let the traditions develop…
let the family grow…
and create relationships…
with each other…
and with other families…
and those traditions will take
it takes work,
and decisive thinking,
on the part of the family,
to create the traditions.
It takes some effort.
And right now
is aimed at other things in our lives.
But there is time…
I keep coming back to this idea,
to this notion
of the difference
how we imagine things to be…
how we hope for them to be…
and the reality that they become.
This thought; that we have an ideal
or an expectation,
and sometimes the world matches it
if we’re lucky,
the world falls drastically short of our expectation.
Does it fall short,
or is it just different
than what we expected?
And wouldn’t it be worse,
to get everything you expect,
and know every bump down the road,
than rolling with
the ups and downs?
As much as it seems nice to have everything in place all the time,
the dreary monotony,
would be relentless.
I am more inclined
to find a way
my rattling cage.
My dad’s birthday is on Thursday.
it’s the first one
since he died.
The thing that
makes me most sad
is not that he doesn’t
get to have another birthday
(he was tired of them 10 years ago)
or even that I don’t get to wish him another happy birthday.
The thing that makes me saddest
is thinking about my mom
who, by default of her partnership,
and the traditions built in around
has had something to do
on March 21st
for the last 50 years
I wish we could be together this
I wish my brother could be there too…
All of us.
But this is another one of those bumps in the road.
This is one of those ways things are different than we expect…
this is one of the ways things change.
And embracing change
the stuff that
with the same
that brings us
By Meika Rouda
I’ve always hated my nose. It is short with a wide bridge that plateaus off the tip landing with a thud. There is nothing elegant or sculpted about it, unlike my mom’s nose, which could have been the prototype plastic surgeons used for rhinoplasty in the 80’s. My nose has no structure or shape that gives it any dignity. There is nothing as righteous as a bump. It is just shapeless, with round nostrils like a baby’s.
As much as I admired my mother’s perfect profile, I never wished it were mine because it couldn’t be. We don’t share the same DNA. I was adopted. Now I know DNA doesn’t really mean much. Not everyone relates to their family, but at least you know where the manic depression, extra long second toe, or hairy arms are from. You have someone to thank and to blame for your assets and deficiencies. A cord of disheveled genetic code that makes you… you.
While I enjoyed the uniqueness of being me, I also realized that I looked different than my family; my skin a shade darker, my eyes and hair a milk chocolate brown. My parents are both fair-skinned and light-eyed, while my adopted sister has blonde hair and blue eyes. It didn’t matter to me though because my parents loved and adored my sister and me. They rejoiced in how lucky they were to be our parents. Adoption was something to be proud of and we did feel proud. Our family was full of love and affection and generosity and even though we didn’t look like one another, we did fit.
But people were always curious about my background. I have that mysterious brown palette that makes strangers ask “where are you from?” Over the years, I have had many people guess my heritage: Indian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Turkish, half African American, Cherokee. I had a guy come up to me once, randomly, and ask if I was from Genoa. When I replied that I didn’t know, he assured me I was Genovese and that everyone there looks just like me.
My friends have also called me in a frenzy convinced they had seen my biological mother somewhere: a stewardess on a Greek airline, a retail worker in a mall along highway 80, an actress from a TV movie. While I know they meant well, I didn’t know how to break it to them that I just wasn’t that interested. I liked my parents, my family, my home. The truth is my biological parents did the right thing giving me up and I was dealt a royal flush by ending up with my family. Besides, what is so great about looking like someone else really? It doesn’t mean you like them.
But then my husband and I decided to try and have a baby and suddenly I was curious. Maybe I should know more about my peeps if I plan to pass on these esoteric genes. And it wasn’t so hard to find out because coincidently, my dad’s law firm handled my adoption so he had all the forms, photos, and birth certificates in his office. That is how things were done in the 1970’s. So, I asked my parents for my file and much to my surprise, they said “sure”. I was worried that I would hurt their feelings by requesting it, like I was insinuating that they had failed me somehow but they were happy to help.
A few days later, we were at the theater and as my dad struggled to tuck his well worn briefcase under his seat, the one I used to pull around the house when I played “lawyer” as a kid, he mentioned that he had my file. It was 3 minutes before the show was going to start and my mom excitedly said, “Well, let’s see it!” I held back and let them review it all, squirming in my seat not to peek; I never imagined finding out my nationality minutes before a Broadway musical. But as they “Oooohhh’d” and “Aaahhh’d” and showed the photos to the strangers seated in front of us, I couldn’t resist. “Okay, let me see” I said, surrendering to my fate. There were 3 photos of my biological peeps: one black and white of my bio-mom in her very serious senior high school portrait; one color photo of my bio-dad looking jovial at a party and a third shot of them standing together on a suburban lawn. In this third photo, he was dressed in a suit, she in a yellow mini-dress and they looked like they were going to a high school formal. There were three rays of sun damage splayed like fingers across the print, leaving a ghostly sheen to their faces.
The woman in the photos didn’t look like me, even-though my parents thought she did. I didn’t feel anything when I looked at my bio-mom. No instant bond, or “Ah ha, this is what I look like!” To tell you the truth, it was sort of a disappointment. The mystery was gone. Bio-mom was not the exotic islander I envisioned. My peeps were whiteys. She had blonde hair and blue eyes! Bio-dad was darker, more like me and tall. I saw a little bit of myself in him, especially when I was a kid and had a pixie haircut. But I felt totally removed from them, both physically and emotionally. Nothing felt resolved, just extinguished. All of my fantasies dissolved, my curiosity cured, my unique self now not so incredibly unique. I suddenly felt average.
My bio-mom was German/Irish and bio-dad German/Italian. I guess that Italian gene was pretty strong, but German? I couldn’t feel less German. I hate schnitzel and sauerbraten and have no sense of superior order in my life. Where is the woman from Guadalajara or Tehran or Mykonos that was supposed to be my bio-mom? I felt duped. How could these be my peeps?
I suddenly realized that it is the stories I share with my family, the knowingness of what is familiar, the foods we eat, the songs we sing, the fact that we are Jews who celebrate Christmas, Easter and Passover. That is what makes me… me. These are my peeps! Family is more than your DNA; it is who you share your past with. The people who have been there to see you succeed and fail and always had loving arms for either circumstance. Looking like someone isn’t half as fulfilling as being like someone. Maybe if I find my bio-parents someday, they too will be writers or dog-lovers or have a habit of eating ice cream for breakfast. But for now, living with the question is better than knowing the answer.
Just as the lights started to dim, I held the picture of my bio-mom in my hand and looked at her nose. It was short and stout with perfectly round nostrils. And then the curtain came up.
*A longer version of this essay was first published on Fresh Yarn www.freshyarn.com.
By: Rhona Berens, PhD, CPCC
My wife, J, is 8.5 months pregnant. She insists that the 0.5 matters when you’re the one carrying the baby, and I believe her. (As anyone who has lived with a pregnant woman knows, believing /agreeing with her is imperative to everyone’s wellbeing.)
Both of us have always wanted kids, plural. We’ve held on to that desire, despite my infertility and despite the physical, emotional, and financial demands of J getting pregnant the first time. Our fertility doctor still refers to S, our daughter, as a “miracle baby.” We couldn’t agree more.
Like a lot of life decisions, our visions of the future—what we want as much as what we don’t want—play their part. As the youngest of six close siblings, J couldn’t imagine S not having a brother or sister. As a pseudo-only child growing up (don’t ask), I’ve yearned for a sibling who shares my family history. Plus, we’re both in our 40s—well into them in my case (J says she’s not yet well into hers and I believe her)—and we know that, no matter how we slice it, S will be relatively young when we die. While a sibling won’t prevent that, we imagine that sharing that loss will be helpful.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that S and her brother (yes, we’re having a boy) will get along. The focus on sibling rivalry in a lot of parenting books suggests they might not. Yet, we’re optimistic and prefer to believe those studies that indicate that, by their mid-teens and adulthood, if not sooner, most people really value their sibling relationships.
It’s not as if we didn’t talk about the real or imagined downsides of having a second child before J got pregnant again. We discussed exponentially increased (not just doubled) childcare demands, expanded household tasks (e.g., more laundry!), even less alone time for us individually and as a couple, increased financial demands, more pressure on work-life balance, higher stress on our relationship, and so on.
As a coach who specializes in helping couples stay connected after they have kids, I’m keenly aware of the research on this topic and the fact that most new parents report a major decline in relationship happiness after the birth of their first child.
Interestingly, studies focus overwhelmingly on new parents, leaving the impact of subsequent children mostly to speculation, which often goes something like this: Though we haven’t studied the effect of additional children on relationship satisfaction, we anticipate it’s even stronger (meaning, worse) than with the first.
Those few studies that have looked at the impact of more than one child (e.g., by Arlie Hochschild or Rebecca Upton) reinforce the claim that >1 child = yikes! Specifically, as Jennifer Bingham Hull, author of Beyond One, notes:
The birth of a second child commences the most difficult year in a marriage.
Individual happiness, too, seems to suffer, at least for moms. According to Hans-Peter Kohler, a sociologist at University of Pennsylvania, a first baby positively enhances individual happiness for mothers and fathers, while a second child has a negative impact on Mom’s individual happiness (and a neutral effect on Dad’s).
Of course, given the heterosexual bias of this study (and most existing research on the impact of kids on individual and relationship happiness), I have no idea if this spells double-trouble for two moms and double-joy (or no biggie) for two dads.
Assuming for the moment, that subsequent children are not a boon to personal satisfaction, and considering research that suggests a mother’s relationship with her first-born deteriorate after having a second child, why would we, informed parents and spouses devoted to relationship happiness, still have another child? How did we weigh these compelling negatives against possible positives?
In truth, we didn’t, insofar as life decisions like whether or not to have a 2nd or 3rd or 10th child are leaps of faith (unless, of course, religion is what compels us to have kids).
After all, how can we fully evaluate pros and cons when the outcomes are so unknown?
We won’t truly know how much a second child impacts our relationship satisfaction—negatively or positively—until after our son is here; we won’t know if our son and daughter build a lifelong connection as siblings until they’re older; we won’t ever really know if our relationship with our daughter suffers due to the birth of our son, given that we won’t be able to gauge how she would have fared developmentally during that same period without his presence…
We’re willing to take these risks because we believe that, for us, the perceived benefits outweigh perceived downsides. We’re also willing to leap because we’re committed to mitigating at least some risks, like relationship stress, for example, by booking regular date nights as quickly as possible after our son is born.
One of the things I always discuss with expecting couples is the presumption that, no matter how many friends we’ve seen experience relationship trouble after the birth of a child, most of us assume our experience with our spouse will be different.
No doubt, my wife and I are guilty of that, too. But there’s something else at work for us and for all couples who take time to better understand their own desires for growing their families, and the potential risks in doing so:
We’re going into this with our eyes, not just our hearts, wide open.
Our expectations of what might occur include the risks, as well as benefits. Studies by family life researchers, Philip and Carolyn Cowan, suggest that pre-baby expectations—yes, for new parents—are 1 of the top 3 factors affecting a couple’s satisfaction levels after they have a child. In other words, the relationship fallout for our transition to parenthood is more challenging if we have inaccurate or unrealistic pre-baby expectations.
Hopefully, having somewhat realistic expectations of the impact of a second child will also ease our transition to becoming parents for the second time. At the very least, we hope our perspective will if not lessen the challenges of having another kid, then, allow us to navigate them with some degree of grace, and the knowledge that we’ve chosen our family, risks and all, whole-heartedly. That alone warrants our joy and gratitude.
Rhona Berens, PhD, CPCC is an Individual & Relationship Coach, and Founder of Parent Alliance® (www.parentalliance.com), a relationship resource for expecting couples, and parents of young children, who want their relationships to stay joyful and connected after they have kids.
By: Danny Thomas
also, when I came downstairs this morning
the kitchen was clean
because my mother and I
had done the dishes together
does it get much sweeter than that?
also, Saturday afternoon
we spontaneously had a terrific
gathering in our backyard.
A couple other families
some other friends and colleagues
spent the entire afternoon
hanging out in the backyard
playing with kids,
having good grown up conversations
and drinking good grown up drinks.
I ask you,
what could be sweeter than that?
It portends a fantastic summer.
I am looking forward to lots of
fun summer afternoons
sitting in the yard
drinking a big ginger
or a beer
laughing and enjoying the company
of other families
our dear old friends
and delightful new ones.
I am going to make this a priority for our family.
Social time, it is key to my mental health.
It does us all a world of good
and it’s a pretty simple way to feel good in the world.
By: Joe Newman
Gradually, during the last eight or ten years, I came to the realization that parents and teachers don’t make their most important childrearing decisions based on objective and reasoned assessments of the options available. Rather, adults make their decisions about their interactions with children based on deep-seated emotional reactions to their own experiences as children. Our early experiences with our own parents and teachers create our biases and outlooks that only fully come to the fore when we interact with children, especially our own.
We flatter ourselves with the belief that we choose a childrearing approach that will best suit our children, when in truth we choose an approach that best suits ourselves. It is natural for parents, and to a lesser extent, teachers, to see ourselves in the eyes of our children and to understand their experiences based on our own experiences. We give children what we needed – but never got – when we were children.
I recently consulted with a mother named Elizabeth who, while adept at listening, empathizing, and conversing, had great difficulty setting firm limits and consequences with her five-year-old son. Consequently, her son’s inappropriate behaviors and anxiety increased dramatically when he was with her as compared to his behaviors at school or alone with his father. When we’d talk about scenarios in which she might set firm limits, she would noticeably cringe and become uncomfortable. At one point, to the surprise of both her husband and me, Elizabeth said, “I guess I just need to learn how to be mean.” It was only after I’d heard about her own upbringing that I understood the source of her anxiety around setting boundaries.
Elizabeth was a very successful Financial Manager who had come from middle class beginnings to attend an Ivy League school on a full ride and go on to amass a fortune before she was 35. Although she had more than enough to live very comfortably for the rest of her life, she was, at 45, a stay-at-home mother and working almost full time. She was raised by a single father who was a strict, sometimes violent, disciplinarian. She told me her father insisted she begin working every day after school at age 14 and pay for all her own cloths and toiletries. She came home drunk one night when she was 16 and her father blackened both her eyes.
Because all the boundaries she’d experienced had been accompanied by anger, judgment, and sometimes violence, she had great difficulty setting boundaries without feeling as though she was “being mean”. She was giving her son all that she had needed but never gotten as a child. But she had no model for giving her son the discipline he also needed in a nonjudgmental, compassionate way.
Slowly, over the course of many months, Elizabeth began learning how to set boundaries and consequences. Although it pained her to see her son frustrated or upset with her, she gradually began to see how much happier he was when she followed through with consequences and allowed him to experience real boundaries. She still has to fight against her instincts to coddle him and take away frustrating consequences, even while he’s being disrespectful to her. However, she’s gradually learning to separate her emotional needs during these moments of conflict from those of her son.
I, too, have been shaped by the biases of my early experiences. In fact, much of what I do with children is the direct result of my being diagnosed Hyperactive (ADHD) in 1970 with the perspective gained by being the “behavior problem kid” who was said to “never work to his potential”. When I’m watching a child in a classroom or a home I often feel as though I’m watching myself. Quite often, I empathize more deeply with the “problem child” than I do with the adult. And while my experiences have shaped and informed much of the insight and healing I bring to my work, I need to be ever aware of the fact that my interactions with children will always be driven by both my desire to help the child in front of me and my subconscious desire to heal myself.
Joe Newman is the author of Raising Lions
[Photo Credit: Jetta Girl]
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
My daughter is sitting on the sofa behind me while I write. She’s got a scratchy throat and a little fever and she doesn’t want to go to bed even though her eyes are heavy. Earlier, she fell asleep on my husband’s chest the way she used to when she was a baby. Just as he used to, he stayed perfectly still for nearly an hour and savored the sweet, solid warmth of her sleeping body.
She is not a baby anymore, but she is still a child. She is a little girl whose big ideas wear her out. So I am letting her keep me company while I write. I am listening to the sound of her breath and she is listening to the sound of my fingers rattle over the keyboard and we are taking some comfort from this shared quiet time.
Lately, I’ve been trying to work on my own projects while the kids are awake and around. I want them to see that I have things that I do that have little or nothing to do with them. I read the newspaper or a novel right there in broad daylight instead of saving it for later. When they ask if I will play legos or ponies or house, I say I will, but after I’ve finished whatever it is I’m doing.
My parents were always doing things. (Because it was the 70s, they were “doing their own thing.”) Art, music, writing, gardening, volunteering…you name it, they did it. And because they were doing things, I did things too. I remember with great fondness whole days I spent alone in my room drawing paper dolls or creating imaginary worlds for my stuffed animals. I read and read and read and later, I wrote stories and poems and long journal entries.
Of course my parents took time out from their “me-time” to have some family time and I never felt ignored, but I understood that everyone had their own project and that felt good.
When my kids were younger, I felt it was my job to turn away from my project to take part in theirs. They were little. They were learning. They needed me. But now, they need me a little less and I’d like them to find their own peace in their own projects. I can’t direct them to make paper dolls or build forts in the back yard, but I can make suggestions. I try to set an example. And if, while I am modeling a little “do your own thing”, a little boredom sets in, so much the better. Sometimes boredom is a stepping-stone to creativity.
So behind me my daughter may be bored right now, she may be impatient, but more likely; her brain is working to entertain itself — working on projects of her own.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Stroller maker Maclaren announced a recall on Monday that affects about 1 million umbrella strollers that can reportedly amputate or lacerate children’s fingertips.
So far, the company said there have been 12 amputations across the country. This happens when children get their fingers stuck in between the stroller’s side hinges while it is being opened or closed.
The South Norwalk, Conn.-based company announced the voluntary recall in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and advises customers to stop using the products manufactured in China sold since 1999 at stores including Babies R Us and Target.
Consumers can contact Maclaren at 877-688-2326 or visit www.maclaren.us/recall to receive a free repair kit.
Maclaren said the kit includes hinge covers designed to fit all Maclaren strollers.
The recall affects the following models, which range in price from $100 to $400: Volo, Triumph, Quest Sport, Quest Mod, Techno XT, TechnoXLR, Twin Triumph, Twin Techno, and Easy Traveller.