World’s worst mom award

Max is the damaged one on the left.

Max is the damaged one on the left.

I felt terrible about missing the sunrise with my son, Max.
I’d brought him all the way to Utah for March break and still managed to neglect him.
So I did a few things.

  1. I’m a writer, so I wrote about it for the Medical Post here (http://www.canadianhealthcarenetwork.ca/physicians/discussions/opinion/are-doctors-unequipped-to-value-the-quiet-times-40631#comment-9399).

You have to sign in to read it, but it’s worth it to read the comments, including a thought-provoking account from a doctor whose dad was a workaholic another who says light-heartedly, Me too, and I hope I’ll can make it up with my grandchildren.

2. I decided to read up on families. I research other things that interest me, from cardiac ultrasounds to how to make applesauce without peeling the apples. Why not families?
I wanted to read about realistic families, not glamourized ones promoting a political and/or religious agenda.
So far, I’ve read these:
Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families. Not bad. I loved the idea of brainstorming about the qualities that make your family unique. Max and I had fun making up lists for up as individuals (for example, “environmental stewardship” is very important to me, but not to anyone else, unfortunately) and as a family, although I would never call it our family brand. I hope our little tribe is one of the few things in the world that’s not marketed and sold.

I also liked the research pointing out that knowing your family history makes kids more resilient, so I’ve made an effort to talk about basic things like how Matt and I met (“Oh yeah,” said Max, in a bored voice. “You needed a ride home from school, and someone said, ‘Why don’t you ask Matt Innes? He always has a car because he lives in the country.”)

I did try to play word games with the kids at supper time, because apparently parents dominate the dinner table, which is no fun for the kids, who learn verbal skills if you engage them. I thought it would be just as fun to concentrate on music, math, or another language too.

Neither the ideas nor writing style were earth-shattering, although it was nice to hear a guy struggling with the same sort of questions, and to learn that basically no one manages to have a date night. Most of the themes are encapsulated in this NYT article, and you can download Feiler’s toolkit for free here.

Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at HomeI thought The Happiness Project was pretty good, and this is much the same. Rubin picks goals of the month, based on some research, and reports up on how she and her family responded. I adored the idea of Wednesday adventures with her daughter. Imagine, every week, exploring New York with your kid. I was jealous, since a) my emergency room schedule varies every day/week/month/year, so I could never do this, and b) I don’t live in NYC. Yes, I could find adventures in my neighbourhood, but after a few months, we’d be scrapping pretty hard. Clearly,  having the time and money to do this would make us much happier.

Anastasia's musical adventure in NYC. More exciting than South Glengarry? You decide.

Anastasia’s musical adventure in NYC. More exciting than South Glengarry? You decide.

I was glad it wasn’t all picture-perfect. Rubin then suggested weekly adventures with her lawyer husband (whom she raves about earlier, how ideal he is), and he basically said nope, not interested.

I don’t think either of these books made me happier. To be fair, I’m a happy person anyway, and I’m not looking for extra cheer, just ways to prioritize my family.

Books I’ve already read on families

Bruce Brooks’s Midnight Hour Encores. God, I love this book about Sibilance T. Spooner, the 16-year-old world-class cellist, raised by the world’s coolest dad, and who decides to search for the mother who gave her up at birth. Sibilance has attitude with a capital A. I have to admit, when I read it as a teenager, I didn’t get the ending. It’s really about choosing her family and therefore her destiny. But I loved it so much I bought it, and when an acquaintance failed to return it a few years ago, I bought it again.

Katrina Kenison’s Mitten Strings for God: I almost didn’t read this because of the word God, but it was one of the first books I reached for during my maternity leave with Max. “Like Thoreau, I love a broad margin to my life,” Kenison wrote, and I felt like I could breathe again. No, I don’t want to work myself down to sinew and bone so I can buy a lot of crap. I want to write and love my family, thank you. Although when I tried her technique of just breathing with her son when he cried, Max sobbed, “I. Don’t. Want. To. Breathe!” and I thought, Yeah…I’m never going to attain this maternal sainthood. I also enjoyed the sequel, The Gift of an Ordinary Day, where her boys are teenagers and she’s struggling more how to reach them, plus loses her job and buys a broken-down house.

Karen Maezen Miller’s Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold. So funny and honest. I loved that she attended her school reunion and preened when guys marvelled how good she looked, and then she had her daughter and realized that kids just suck the juice right out of you. I liked Momma Zen a little better; I just find it hard to believe that me doing all my own chores is the path to nirvana.

David Sedaris’s The Man Who Mistook His Hat for a Meal. When I first heard this story, I laughed until I cried. My dad loved to eat questionable things, and so do I. Because it’s cheap, because it’s good training for Armageddon, just because.

I looked up books on family relationships, and I just wasn’t feeling it.

For example, Little Women comes up often on reading lists, but since I only re-read the parts about Jo and couldn’t stand Amy, it doesn’t seem like a family book to me.

Similarly, the Little House on the Prairie books, for me, were more about pioneer life (poor, perfect yet blind Mary! Pa eating watermelon even though he thinks he’ll catch malaria from it! Horrible locusts!).

I did love the All-of-a-Kind family books, but learned more about Judaism than about deep family relationships.

Maybe I’m super plot-oriented, but I was far more interested in Tom, Scout, and Jem than family per se in To Kill a Mockingbird. And I’m not planning to buy Go Set a Watchman because of the questionable role of the author’s lawyer, which is outlined extremely well in this Bloomberg article.

How about you? What does family mean to you, and do you have any good book suggestions?

Post-partum mood swings

“untouchable” by D. Antonia Truesdale, The Midnight Orange

“The Great Secret of Death”
by Rainer Maria Rilke; translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.
Joanna Macy
» download (mp3, 4:00)

Letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouty
January 23, 1924

Okay!  Why am I awake at 4:30 am?

Because I nursed at 2300 and then my husband woke me up at 01:50 to do it again.  And I can’t fall back to sleep.  Everyone else is sleeping, including my kids and dog, but I cannot.

I Googled post-partum hypomania and I’ll track down the best links for you: one on bipolar II disease and what meds are safe; one on how late night sleep deprivation can elevate your mood.  Yup, it can make you giddy.  That’s me for two days!  I wrote a ton, I danced, I made up secret signs with my husband and giggled at my own wit, I called a friend and read _Hand Wash Cold_ aloud to her because “this IS you,” I assured her (I was right, but I hadn’t talked to her in weeks before I said, “Merry Christmas!  I have the perfect book for you.  Can I read to you?”).

Two days before that, I realized I felt down.  Fat because I couldn’t fit into my skinny jeans or other cool pre-pregnancy gear.  Blah because I hadn’t made it outside all day because it was too cold for a 5-week-old.  I wasn’t suicidal or even majorly down, but I finally understood why my family doc kept checking if I had post-partum depression after Max was born.  Since I’m not well-tuned to psych issues, I was impressed that she knew enough to ask, but I was happy, not depressed.  I finally told her, “Why would I be sad?  I have a baby.”

I have a baby again.  I love her.  She sleeps better than Max did.  Matt is helping me 24/7. For example, he sleeps beside her while I hole up in another room, because I don’t want his snoring or her gurgles to wake me up one second more than I have to.  Then he changes her and brings her to me to nurse and, after I’m done, I bring Anastasia back and collapse into bed.

Yesterday, I kissed A. all over her face, concluding with one on the lips.  I thought, You’ll never die never having been kissed on the lips.  I welled up.  And then I suddenly, consciously remembered that when our firstborn died at 20 weeks, one of the last things I did was kiss Isadora on the lips and think, You will not go to your grave without having been kissed on the lips, even if it’s just by your mum.  I had forgotten that.

Obviously, I have some healing to do still.  Also, after reading the medical articles, I got the news flash that sleep deprivation was making me cuckoo and so, even though A is a good sleeper and Matt is a good husband and Max is an amazing big bro, I MUST SLEEP MORE or I will go round the bend.  Sorry, I can’t be a supermom or even divide sleep duty evenly.  Matt sleeps beautifully.  It is one of his superpowers.  We must profit from this or…cuckoo!  cuckoo!  (or at least wacky.  Whack-a-mole-y).

I like to ponder things, so I must recommend this podcast.  This octagenarian, Joanna Macy, talks about how she went from a CIA agent to an anti-nuclear Peace Corps activist/Buddhist, with plenty of Rilke to illustrate how God can be envisioned as an organic part of the natural world instead of a guy with a crown (although I think that’s okay if that’s how you roll, I have never been able to buy into it).

I have been putting the finishing touches on the book I wrote for anyone who’s lost a child.  It’s called Your Baby Is Safe and I’ve paired up with the brilliant D. Antonia of The Midnight Orange to illustrate it.

One of my three beta readers called our book “sappy and sentimental,” although she hastened to say that “people like that sort of thing….I think it should sell well.”

I respectfully disagree.  About the sappiness, anyway.  I hope it does sell well.  My text is only about 400 words, so it’s simple and to the point.  I chose images from D. Antonia Truesdale’s sculptures that demonstrate everything from delight to despair and back again.  If D gives me the all clear, we will publish the e-book and let the readers decide for themselves.

If you have ever experienced loss, I think you will understand our book.  And if you have processed some of your grief, you will know how darkness [can] be a bell tower/and you the bell.

So I don’t see our book as sentimental. I see myself as a bell, ringing my loss so that those who recognize

its chilling peal might feel less alone.

“Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower”
by Rainer Maria Rilke; translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

» download (mp3, 2:12) 

Joanna Macy reads “Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower” by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

Blessings & Buddhism

In honour of our new daughter, Anastasia, ~10 days old, we will be hosting a baby blessing ceremony December 12.  My West Coast friend, writer and scholar Maggie McVay Lynch, aka Maggie Jaimeson, has already sent me a perfect blessing to use, adapted from an Indian naming ceremony.  If you know more about its origins, please let me know.

Dearest Anastasia born of two loving hearts

You are grace

You are beauty

You are love beyond measure

And gift without price

 

We are gathered this day

To introduce you to your greater family,

And to bless you, before the world

Even as we have been blessed by your birth!

 

We offer you to the Four Winds

That you might embrace adventure

And know the wonder of far-off lands

 

We offer you to the Sky

That you may steer by the stars

And never feel that you are far from home

 

We offer you to the Sun

That warmth and light may surround you always

And guide you safely on your way

 

We offer you to the Moon

That you may find comfort in darkness

And never have cause to fear the night.

 

For parents, drivers & othera who can’t use their hands, I offer some Zen Buddhist/spiritual audio/video resources:

1.  Karen Maezen Miller wrote Momma Zen, a wonderful book.  I can’t wait to read Hand Wash Cold, her latest.  She has videos and radio interviews on her website.

 

2.  Zen Radio (Wzen.org)

Click to listen.  They tell stories or run news pieces.  I heard a show on child soldiers–kids generally aren’t well-trained, so they were using children to lure the gunfire.

 

3.  I wanted to publish an iMix of spirituality podcasts, but they wouldn’t let me because they weren’t for purchase in the iTunes store.  Sigh.  So here are some “Speaking of Faith” podcasts I sent to my friend Genevieve for Christmas, all of which I recommend:

The Spirituality of Parenting (April 3, 2007) A female rabbi talks about how parenting can bring you closer to faith.

Planting the Future with Wangari Maathai (April 24, 2008)

Repossessing Virtue: Sharon Salzberg on the Humiliation of Suffering 9:17

Brother Thay: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hanh (March 2, 2006) 53:18 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast

The Inner Landscape of Beauty (February 28, 2008) 53:06 Krista Tippett APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast Opening to Our Lives –

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Science of Mindfulness (April 16, 2009) 52:09 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Society & Culture 1 15/09/09 5:22 PM

Yoga. Meditation in Action with Seane Corn (September 11, 2008) 53:09 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett

Society & Culture Presence in the Wild (June 26, 2008) 53:09 American Public Media, Krista Tippett APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast

Burma – Buddhism and Power (November 1, 2007) 53:00 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast 1 24/11/08 12:05 PM

Play, Spirit, and Character (August 23, 2007) 53:01 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast 2 09/09/08 2:59 PM

The Body’s Grace: Matthew Sanford’s Story (October 5, 2006) 53:18 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast

Listening Generously: The Medicine of Rachel Naomi Remen (September 21, 2006) 53:12 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett

Podcast Surviving the Religion of Mao (August 10, 2006) 53:12 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast

A History of Doubt (June 8, 2006) 53:18 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast

Being Autistic, Being Human (September 27, 2007) 53:00 Krista Tippett, American Public Media APM: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett Podcast

Namaste!