Karma bulldogs

This morning my daughter A makes up a little game. One dog food bowl has a little kibble left in it; the other a little water; so she dumps the food into the water, the sloppy wet kibble back into the other bowl, back and forth, to create a ticking time-bomb of a mess. I allow it for one simple reason: I am washing the dishes.

Sink empty, I take on A’s fall out. Wet kibble is harder to clean up than I thought it would be… still I’m feeling fine (I chose this after all). But A is unsatisfied by my contented mood. She looks at me sideways, picks up a bowl of yogurt and berries, and chucks it into the mix.

In a moment of surprising maturity, I look at this small human, who is both so adorable and so infuriating, and in a calm voice I say, “I’m starting to feel mad.”

I’ve been wanting to talk about difficult emotions (I’m a writer; that’s what we do). It was a toss up between anger and shame, but it looks like anger just won.

Photo by N. Hanson

I have tried to build skill around anger for as long as I can remember, but I never improved much until A came into my life. Guess I needed a 24:7 immersion to get enough practice.

Baby A inspires me to do better when it comes to emotional self-control, yet I still fall short sometimes (every day?). I want A to understand how to express her emotions authentically but also kindly. I want her to know it’s possible to resolve conflicts by talking and listening.

I want A to grow up in a peaceful home. I know a non-violent existence is possible even if I’m not there yet. I want to be it so that I can believe it; but also I want to teach my child what is possible through my own example. What is seen is so much more powerful than what is said.

I am always looking for some tip or trick to help me break that quick link between emotion and action, but if you offer Zen advice on how to handle anger skillfully then I automatically doubt you’ve ever experienced the real thing. In my mind your advice can’t be both useful and authentic.

How are any of us supposed to break in a gas-pedal moment well enough to respond instead of react? There is no time to count to five, find compassion, or breathe. Here’s some advice from one who knows anger: Get everyone out of the house. Leave the hard-drives and important documents.

If you want to save the world, it’s best to start with yourself. Maintaining enough perspective during the kibble incident that I actually 1. Remain calm, and 2. Use my words, makes me so proud of myself. It has taken more than a decade of hard work to arrive here. And I’m proud of A too. In response to my words, she lifts her hand, touches me on the face, and says, “Pat, pat, mama.”

Pat, pat is the gentle way I’ve taught A to touch living things. Friendly dogs like a pat, pat. Plants, too, get a pat, pat. Apparently, so do angry mamas.

We laugh. Seas dissipate. Clouds part. Birds sing. At 3′ tall and just shy of 30 lbs, my daughter knows more about how to push my buttons than anyone. But she also knows more than anyone about how to help me feel better.

Just as a parent shapes a child, a child also shapes her parents. Kids are karma bulldogs who lead us down life’s path on short, taut leashes. If you seek patience, you will get a trying child, and thereby you will learn patience. If you seek self-containment, your child will make you an island. If you seek inspiration, you will get a child who makes your heart sing. My child does all of these things for me.

My old habit in handling anger was to get quieter and say nothing until I became mad enough to shut down the party. I had this secret (as in unconscious) three-strikes system: Cross me once, and you will never know it. Cross me twice, and I will maintain. But cross me a third time and I blow like Kilauea.

In a recent moment, my husband was the victim of my ‘three strikes’ system. When I blew, my reaction seemed to come out of nowhere. What he said, with confusion on his face, was: “But you can be so nice sometimes!”

Staying quiet during the initial phase of my anger does my family a disservice. No one ever tried to help me calm down because no one knew I was mad. How could they? They never even saw it coming.

Letting my family know how I feel gives loved ones an opportunity to change course or to help me change course. Also, the use of “I feel” words integrates strong emotions from the limbic brain – a place of instinct and quick decision making – through the rational prefrontal cortex to a more empathetic and reasonable place.

I watch my behavior and try to understand what keeps me coming back to anger. Here’s what I see:

There exists an illusion that anger is useful in regaining order amidst chaos. When rage monster appears in a room, everyone stops and does whatever they can to get her to go away again. When it’s all too much, there’s always the option to go ballistic and bring people back under order.

Anger is effective, but it’s not very nice. Anger justifies itself, claiming you are the only rational person in the room. But really, people appease you because they are afraid or think you’re nuts.

I am looking for a middle way. So, I’ve decided to keep this little phrase: I’m starting to feel mad. I say these words at the first hint of a spark; long before the inner Kilauea starts to boil and all the good people should run for cover. I say these words for my husband, my toddler, or for myself if no one is around. Before the dark cloud moves in solidly over my face, before I yell or threaten, I say these words, and we are all spared.

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Can we find joy?

When you were a child, did you have some special place in nature? I was lucky enough to grow up at the edge of the big city, and my place in nature was a patch of woods in my backyard.

I built a fort there with my sister and our neighbors in the alders. The branches drooped from our climbing them to form a sort of roof. We tunneled under those long, scraggly limbs, swept out the leaves, put pine cones up in the larder, and built ourselves a happy home.

Being outside has always been when I feel the most free and most essentially myself. When I sink back into those first experiences of the natural world, the feeling I remember is of pure joy.

Lately climate change is threatening that joy. If we continue with business as usual the planet will be ice free by the year 2100. By that time, there may be 10 billion people on the planet. Florida will be underwater, and the largest animal on earth will be the cow.

In 2100, my daughter will turn 73. Anticipating this inevitable crowding, temperature rise, loss of biodiversity, and struggle for resources has me worried. How can we expect life to carry any quality under those conditions? This is not the world I would choose to leave for my child.

Changes are already happening. In Juneau, Alaska, where I live, the snow melted out of the mountains in May this year. There was no frost over Memorial Day weekend to take out the zucchini plants of over-zealous gardeners; meaning that our growing season is suddenly extended by almost a full month. Fields of wildflowers bloomed in the first week of June instead of over the Summer Solstice. Before the first of July we saw 85-degree temperatures, ripe salmonberries, and the tall, blooming fireweed that used to signify the end of summer rather than the beginning.

The ocean is warmer too, and the waters are less nutrient-rich, meaning there is less out there to eat. For five years the humpback whales in Glacier Bay National Park have been in a steep decline and last year they had a total reproductive failure. King salmon returns to Southeast Alaska in 2018 were the lowest we’ve seen in 50 years of record keeping.

I don’t think people are drawing enough meaning from these observations. They are not separate issues; they are distinct symptoms of the same illness. Even with so many warning signs, I’m afraid the end of life as we know it is going to catch us by surprise.

Again, I shake it off. Bad situations always get worse before they get better; the downward spiral is a kind of progress. Pain pushes until a system breaks, and then we find a new way forward.

Climate change is especially scary for parents; because our peace of mind depends on world that will maintain a friendly, habitable surface beyond our natural lifespans.

I hear some friends saying they don’t want to have kids because of climate change. I’m not sure exactly why; maybe these sensitive people intend to slow emissions by limiting population growth by one human at a time. Maybe the idea that children will inherit our ecological damage seems too unfair. Perhaps they know parenthood would increase their worry and suffering. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these reasons.

If you don’t want kids, then don’t have them. They disappear your free time, rub avocado on anything, and sixteen years later inevitably scream, “I hate you!” into your face. Bringing a new life into the world is a contract that should not be entered into lightly.

But don’t opt out of parenting for the sake of the planet. Only when we are whole, when we stay human, will we do our best work. Let kids inspire you to live with your eyes open, and find joy, no matter how small, in every day. Fear of the future isn’t reason enough to miss out on your life.

Five years ago I saw climate change ramping up, and my need for a baby only intensified. Kids drive my commitment to talk about this thing and prioritize solutions whatever the cost. Before I became a parent, I might have gotten tired and stuck my head in the sand. But now, I can’t. With my daughter as my muse the burden of this work feels more serious, but also somehow lighter.

In Parenting from the Inside Out, Dr. Daniel Siegel writes: “Enjoying your child and sharing in the awe of discovering what it means to be alive, to be a person in a wondrous world, is crucial for the development of your child’s positive sense of self.” I feel this intuitively: That the play and fun threatened by anxiety are the very resources we need to get all of us through the climate crisis.

I have an awesome memory of being nine, sitting on the tarmac in Anchorage waiting to fly to California with my mom and younger sister, and the three of us singing “I’m so excited! And I just can’t hide it! I’m about to lose control and I think I like it!”

Flying standby, all of us in dresses, and waiting for our red-eye to take off, we serenaded our airplane. Can you imagine this happening today? Of course not. But maybe that’s because you haven’t met my mom. My mom is a master of spontaneous fun, and she does not embarrass easily. A silly childhood is a gift my mom gave me.

Sometimes this kind of fun is an effort for me. But it’s getting easier. Because of my child, I have memorized lyrics from the Moana soundtrack. Because of her, my husband goes to the swimming pool and does handstands underwater with a goofy grin in his face. Because of her, Grandma goes down slides saying, “Wheeee!” and makes herself sick on meri-go-rounds.

I would like to say I am giving this gift to my daughter but actually the reverse is true. In wanting my daughter to be proactive and resilient, I too am becoming proactive and resilient. Thank you, A, for bringing silly back.

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I went to Anchorage this summer and got to take A and my nephew B back to that little patch of woods behind my parents’ house where I used to play.

The backyard is not the same. It is cleaner now; with more light and fewer mosquitoes. The alders fell down and my parents cleared the brush. It is better in many ways, but I can’t help feeling nostalgic.

How many of us have returned to our special childhood place and found it changed? Or maybe the land you love hasn’t suffered anything extreme, but it looks different when seen through an adult lens. Can adults return to changed natural places and also find joy? I don’t know how to, but we have to try. Otherwise, we will only hurt ourselves and our children.

There are days when I don’t know how I will cope; when a tightness grabs ahold of my throat, and I focus too hard on the constant flow of traffic. I miss the way things used to be; but playing with A helps me to accept changes in the natural world and feel grateful for what beauty remains.

I would have liked to see the American West when bison roamed the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies. I wish I could have rode over the Sierra Nevada to find a raw California coast glittering in the sunlight. I would like to have seen an un-dammed Columbia River teaming with salmon spill over a wetland full of nesting birds.

But my life would not have been better for it. Every generation has feared for their childrens’ future. We stand at an extreme and important moment in Earth’s history, but the emotional stress we feel as parents at this time may be less unique than we think. It is hard to know what matters except in hindsight.

In sad moments I take a hard look around my city. I find beauty in the architecture; in the intentions of city planners and their vision for the future. I do my best to focus on the ways things are improving. Sometimes, all we can do is accept the times we live in.

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There is a lot of beauty still in the world, and it deserves to be celebrated: For our kids’ sake and for our own. Returning to my childhood backyard is difficult for me because I know how it used to be and I see the changes. But through my daughter’s eyes, nothing has been lost. Perhaps one day she too will rake the leaves, gather pine cones, and feel that same joy as I once found there.

As we bravely step forward and raise the climate change generation we will help our kids through uncharted environmental disasters and emotional challenges. Despite the uncertainties, it is we adults who will miss the most. This gives me some comfort. Shifting baselines are the blessing curse of passing generations.

I believe, whole-heartedly that my daughter will have a good life as long as I teach her to appreciate the world for what it is and not for what it used to be. I’m not saying it will be easy; I’m saying I have to try. I don’t know if we can find joy in this world, but I know kids help joy to find us.

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Thanks C & M for the good conversations that led to this post.

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Theoretical parenting

As my daughter A transitions from toddler to kid, I realize how many milestones we are careening towards that involve a lot of concerted effort (read: struggle) on my part.

I recently filled out a form that asked what goals I have for my two-year-old in the next year. My list included: weaning, potty training, eating regular meals, loosening our attachment anxiety, and better sleep (always better sleep).

Seems like a lot. All of these tasks fall into a dangerous realm I call “theoretical parenting”. Theoretical parenting, like the Artist formerly known as Prince, is a trademark with no name. It involves a lot of reading and is the purposeful way I know to solve problems. It is the opposite of the take-it-as-it-comes parenting I prefer.

Babies don’t progress in any linear way; so I guess that makes them just like anyone else. Right after I wrote a parent’s prayer, A indeed started sleeping through the night. After three nights of unadulterated sleep I started talking nonsense about a second baby. Good thing A’s second set of molars started to grow in and she got us back on the crazy train right away. I am safely back in square coo-coo; happy to report that once again I feel gripped and very satisfied with our single-child household during most minutes of most days.

Theoretical parenting is handled by the logical part of the brain that also does math and applies for bank loans. After two years of broken sleep and under-use, this part of my brain has withered and died. The take-it-as-it-comes part, however, is thriving; which is why I can justify eating ice cream at any time of day and can’t make plans more than twelve hours out.

Theoretical parents read the books and execute, struggling through the emotional stress of cry-it-out sleep training to announce that their baby sleeps through the night two weeks later. I applaud your determination and I am glad you are well rested. You deserve it. Thank you for not gloating while I am in earshot.

So far, three molars have erupted in A’s mouth; the crowns are still over-laced with gruesome gum webs. It’s actually the fourth tooth, which has yet to cut its way to the surface, that has her waking me up six times a night.

Take-it-as-it-comes parents go with whatever seems natural in the moment and pray this sequence of decisions leads somewhere the family wants to go. Maybe we live in the moment and lack an end game; or maybe we prioritize cultivating a well-rounded adult over characteristics of an obedient child. Either way, I feel it’s best to justify my situation by making myself really, really happy with my situation whatever it happens to be.

For example, I get less sleep with A in my bed right now, but I wouldn’t trade those snuggles for the world. Because this round of teething feels like the end of her babyhood. I feel a little tortured (my nipples hurt for the first time since A was a newborn), but it’s ok because it’s all almost over, etc…

A smart friend, one who does not have kids, asked me a laundry list of questions related to weaning, sleeping, and potty training the other day; as if maybe I hadn’t noticed these tasks coming up on my dance card. “What’s yer plan?” she asked. At the moment, I couldn’t remember everything from the outline I’d written up. I told her about the molars; how they feel like enough right now. She seemed unimpressed.

What makes a theoretical parent?Does your head generally guide your heart? Do circumstances, like your need to care for other kids or wake up at 6 for work, push you to prioritize practicality over idealism? Are you better at following directions than me or more willing to postpone rewards than my husband? Are you and your spouse philosophically better aligned than we are? Are there any downsides to your choices?

Why a person ends up as a theoretical parent, or why not, seems to me a chicken-or-egg situation in which I am left seated squarely upon the two concepts; flapping my arms and clucking.

In short, I thought I would be a theoretical parent, but instead I am an take-it-as-it-comes parent. Therein lies the source of all of my inner conflict.

Ignored parenting tasks do eventually go away. Either desperation drives me to decisive action or the issue fades and becomes irrelevant. This is my “plan.” You laugh, but acceptance is a totally viable solution to most problems.

My take-it-as-it-comes methodology is not out of apathy: I always read the books. They’re interesting. But, truth be told, I only allocate the 15 minutes A spends in her nightly bath to reading them. While she scrub-a-dubs, I comb pages, desperate to glean the one useful sentence hidden in the next 250-page tome. It feels much like searching for buried pirate treasure indicated by a very long and sanctimonious map. If I manage to wade through the muck and mire to find that one glittering sentence, it will help; or rather, the vague shadow of it that hangs around our house for more than 48-hours will help. A little.

My aversion to theoretical parenting comes from not wanting to turn my kid into a problem. I have enough problems without making my two-year-old into one. So I don’t try to solve her, and she’s not a problem. See how that works?

My parenting is guided by intentional philosophies, but I rarely try to achieve any specific outcome. No dolphins are learning to jump through hoops at my house, but send them over and they may very well become self-regulating, confident, and likable dolphins.

As soon as A sleeps again I’ll start on that list. Promise. I will get her to fall asleep in her own bed. She will poop on a potty chair. I will find a way to leave her at day care. I will eat lots of sage and dry up the ne-ne for good. Sorry in advance to my upstairs neighbors. Hopefully her screaming will only last a few days.

Milestones, and accompanying parenting challenges, are unavoidable. The saving grace is that things are always changing. This makes kids hard, but also interesting. There’s the rub.

Whether we try to fix our kids or not, they’re going to grow. Maybe, in some ways, I can shape my daughter into an adult I’ll be proud of. In other ways, she’s bound to become the person she is becoming no matter what I do. What a relief.

The only real say any of us has in the trenches is in how we feel. I think people become theoretical parents when having a plan helps them to feel better. If the plan doesn’t help how we feel, then we take it as it comes. Hopefully we also enjoy the ride.

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Millennial me

Hi. My name is Heidi, and I am a millennial. Before you judge, let me explain:

I was born in 1981; a cusp year. I grew up watching the Cosby Show, Smurfs, and the first class of Saved By the Bell. I played with Little Miss Make-up, Care bears, and Pogo balls. We wore slap wraps, hammer pants, hyper-color shirts, and a bunch of other stuff most millennials have never heard of.

I grew up with gen-X friends and cousins who probably see millennials as a bunch of lazy, self-serving good-for-nothings living off of their parents and whining that they’d get rich if only they could get their big break… Or maybe that’s a thought I’ve had. I hoped if I passed myself off as one of you, I could escape that reputation and my sense of personal specialness.

For a long time though, I’ve excused myself as being “culturally gen-X” under the guise that upbringing is more important in deciding generation per se than birth year. Like maybe I would have been a millennial if I was cool enough to have dial-up internet in 1993 when the only thing to do online was talk to people you didn’t know in weird, themed chatrooms; but I was’t. Be-bo-be-bo-crrrrrrr.

My family did not “get the internet” until 1998 when I was about to graduate high school. I spent a lot of time those days on Instant Messenger talking to friends who had already gone away to college.

Also, I can’t spell “millennial.” I have been struggling with that one for 19 years so how could I be one? Thankfully, I use the internet well enough that I was able to come up with the correct spelling for this post plus lots of pictures of young people taking selfies.

The first time I heard anyone use the term “selfie” was in 2014. I was working as a Park Ranger in Glacier Bay, and I was aboard a cruise ship parked in front of a tidewater glacier. A young man with an iPhone caught my eye and said, “Selfie?” I didn’t understand what he was asking, and I didn’t like it, so I just kept walking like any self-respecting gen-Xer would do. A few minutes later he was back, peering at me from around a corner; “Selfie?”

Whaaaaaaatt!?

Thankfully, being from the most empathetic generation ever, he read my confusion and used a complete sentence: “Can I take a selfie with you? ”

“Oh,” I said. “Sure.”

What good is identity anyway? I like to rebrand myself now and then just to keep my inner psyche on her toes. Here’s what did it:

Last year I watched Iliza Shlesinger’s Netflix stand-up comedy special, Elder Millennial, thinking I’d get to enjoy feeling superior to the millennial generation. But I got all of the jokes. I loved it, and I identified with it.

Wait a minute, said my cerebral cortex, if she was born only two years after you…and she’s a millennial…wouldn’t that make you…

Stop! Shouted my limbic brain. No need to go any farther with that thought!

Ok, said my cerebral cortex. My mistake. She is from New York City so her family probably got the internet really early, like 1992…

Phew, said limbic brain. That was a close one.

Meanwhile the participation trophies are still lined up on the shelf, threatening to overthrow my childhood bedroom. (Actually, all of my childhood stuff is still basically in that bedroom. It’s like my own personal shrine.)

Sigh. I know Millennials have a bad reputation with older generations, but the older I get the more I relate to and need my younger friends. Here’s what I love about them, ahem, us:

I’ve never met a group of people with such admirable hearts. Millennials are smart, creative, funny, honest, and ambitious. We refuse to compromise who we are. We have the courage to ask hard questions about who we are and why we do what we do; because experience with failure has caused us to lose our fear of failure. We ask the hard questions – Who am I? Isn’t there more to life than this? – over and over, and we are not afraid to change the answers. We accept ourselves and empathize with others. We refuse to compromise who we are and so grow into people of great faith and focus. Our roots are woven together into a fabric of human equality, ethics, and a vision of a better world.

Ambitious haircuts still make me nervous. I don’t have an Instagram account, and I struggle to use hashtags (#wtfhashtags). But I’m working on these things. Like it or not, I’m a millennial, and I might as well get used to these things. Maybe generational confusion is a natural part of growing up as one generation of peers makes its way out of the world, and the next generation makes its way in. Or maybe that’s just me, a millennial, thinking I’m someone special.

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Toddler logic

Yesterday A and I went for our first summer hike; or so I had planned.

In fact we threw some rocks into water.

Then, we rambled around in these woods for a while.

In total, we traveled less than a half mile, which is fine. It has to be. While last year my nature baby and I had endless (low-angle) summer adventures, nature toddler and I might spend a little more time at the park.

Don’t get me wrong: This little girl travels fast and she travels far, but that’s kind of the problem. Wherever we go, she wants to get there with her own two feet. My baby backpack and list of adventures have been rendered useless; I am setting them aside.

Baby A narrows and expands my world in a way that is hard for me to explain. It takes us forever to get outside, but once we are there she shows me an entire world that exists in the length of our driveway. Because of her I finally paused long enough on a warm day last fall to hear the popping sound of lupine seedpods bursting their ballistic seams. I had waited to hear that sound for years.

When I became a parent my friend S told me about the idea of flow. Flow, she said, is a parent’s ticket to enjoying their child. Find that state of flow with baby A, and you’ll have a great time.

Dr. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the Hungarian-American researcher who first coined the term, describes flow as the intersection of your interests and talents; that thing that happens when you are challenged but perfectly at ease; the space between anxiety and boredom; that zone where hours tick by like minutes. “Hard work is fun,” my friend’s dad likes to say. That’s flow

I know the feeling of flow: It’s why I write. It’s why I refuse to clean during naps. Only one problem: Flow requires quiet time and working through challenges toward an attainable goal. Parenting is really more about trying to stay sane and focused enough to get dinner made despite the day careening endlessly toward chaos. This precious flow state-of-mind is exactly what became scarce when A came into my world; so it’s strange to think about how to find flow in the days A and I spend together.

Despite the comment from my friend S, parents reportedly spend very little time in flow; especially when they are with children. Jennifer Senior talks about this loss of flow among parents in her book, All joy and no fun.

Missing flow is what sends some of us scrambling for childcare and headed back to work before the end of our maternity leave. It’s all true. But as I read I remembered what S had said, and thought, No no, no. Something is wrong here.

The biggest misconception I had before I became a parent is I thought the day would be spent as I wanted and my child would also be there. Instead, it’s the opposite: A spends the day as she wants to, and I am also there. Finding happiness in the trajectory of my day depends on linking my sense of flow with my kid’s. Flow happens; but it’s her flow.

Toddler flow, of course, is based on toddler logic: Always do whatever is the most fun in the moment and accept no substitute. Scribble all over the wall with this highlighter? Check. Walk off the edge of the meadow and into the lake? Check. Don’t trust them. Ever.

There are also beautiful life’s lessons to be learned from toddler flow: Like leave no puddle un-stomped.

Try on large shoes at every opportunity – why wouldn’t you?

Sit on every bench; especially if there are snacks to be had.

In a state of toddler flow, I have very little say about what we do with our day. I just drive the car.

I can plan from afar, but when the day’s adventure arrives fun requires complete and total surrender of my expectations. As long as I have no expectations, it is fun. Super fun.

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Share the love

A few months into my life as a blogger, Lovewarrior’s posts reached about 150 people. This was a serious uptick from the previous years when all writing stayed locked inside my computer (writer = 1; readers = 0). It was a very happy time for me.

Lovewarrior’s first followers included my friends, my mom, my mom’s friends… you get the picture. My personal network saturated and readership plateaued, but it felt great to write for you all so I posted more often.

Then I got my first “share” based on a post called her need for love does not shame her, and it reached 350 people.

Looking back on that post, I realize the potential of each cyber move we make and the power of the “share” multiplier effect. If value in written work can be measured by the effect of our words, then with one click, this reader effectively had more of an impact than I did. He or she also extended the reach of my words beyond my personal network. I don’t know who you are, but thank you.

The simple effort of that first share changed how I think about activism and my work in the world. If I spend several hours on any one written post, the least I can do is spend a few minutes sharing the work of others. If you like a post on this blog, or any blog, please click the “share” button and add that post to the feed on your personal page.

What do you want to see grow in the world? Share it. Your clicks change the world everyday.

Food: It’s what we eat

Has everyone you know been doing a “30-day” diet lately? I resisted, held out for all I was worth, judged the idea for a gimmicky “fast fix.” Then my sister sent me before and after pictures. Fine, I said. I’ll do it.

One year ago I lost 50-lbs with my body after baby project, but back in winter again, February had the roads covered in ice and me spilling over the top of my jeans. The numbers that had been fine in the past were no longer acceptable – in large part because of the way my body changed after having a baby.

Fat that was once well-marbled, contoured, and strong was now only flabby. I wish I could claim some big-picture, inspirational objective behind my desire to healthen-up, but I just wanted to lose weight.

There are three options for losing weight: 1. Restrict calories in a measurable way, 2. Adopt a yes foods/no foods philosophy , or 3. Exercise like a maniac. Option 3 is not a real option for adults because anyone who does this still has their high school body.

The 30-day is a yes food/no foods system where you take out all of the foods that might be “bad” for you. Does that leave you going paleo? Vegan? Keto? Grain-free? Several takes on this 30-day theme exist. One must choose.

I look for inspiration in real-life experiences of myself and my friends. The structure of my 30-day was based on the eating habits of a few very fit friends and the delicious fare I ate at Yandara Yoga Institute during a 200-hour teacher certification a decade ago. Those cooks served up the gift of a healthy-foods education along with tasty plates full of vegetables and whole-grains. Here’s what I went with: Yes to a protein shake, veggies, fats and a walk every day. No to cow dairy, wheat, sugar, alcohol, and coffee. Anything is possible for 30 days.

I sort of hate to say it, but this 30 day thing was really effective. I always imagined yes/no method would require a discipline that I just don’t have; I kind of ignored the possibility. But in one month I lost 6ish lbs (my scale is lousy) and a total of 4″ off of my arms, legs, bust, waist, and hips (yes, arms and legs count twice). By the end of March I felt more toned than I’ve ever been as an adult.

If you try this, take “before” pictures and measurements. It feels sooo incriminating and shameful to take them but also committing in a good way. Also its so easy to lose perspective and just look at yourself and think blah no matter what your body actually looks like. Take the measurements and pictures so you can measure the change. You don’t have to show them to anyone.

Calorie counting and yes/no each have their drawbacks. I like calorie counting because I can eat what I want; but if I justify too many treats it doesn’t work. Plus all I get for dinner some days are split peas. With yes/no you never run out of calories, but potlucks and dinner parties are a drag. Until, that is, you return home the conquering hero of your own body.

That said, I ate very well on the yes/no diet: Salads with and quinoa and wasa crackers; smoked salmon and egg omelettes with goat cheese and greens; black tea with coconut cream and almond milk. And I never went to bed hungry.

The really impressive part about this 30-day is that I’ve tried to lose these last couple of pounds and I couldn’t do it with my old method. Calorie counting is like some cruel video game where the better you get at it the harder it gets until, right before you reach the finish line, the method you’ve mastered becomes useless.

Yes/no for the win? Not so fast. Upon further reflection, calorie-counting definitely informed my yes/no system. Based on body after baby I ate low-calorie veg to fill up plus protein and whole grains to stay fueled. It wasn’t simply that I took five items out of my diet: I also chose low glycemic foods like quinoa, masa, corn tortillas, soba noodles, rice noodles, brown rice over high glycemic foods like white rice, potatoes, and corn chips. I built treats in to every day and every week, but I knew not to eat more than about 200 cal of dark chocolate in a day. I found I was able to break the rules, like putting a little milk in a coffee on Saturday morning, without blowing the whole idea.

Because it’s never just about calories or which foods are “good” versus which are “bad.” It’s about nutrition, says my friend SNow I have the choice, to continue eating according to this yes/no diet that has brought me a better body and some joy, or go back to my old ways. I intended to take a month off and eat some ice cream, my daughter’s birthday cake, Easter brunch… But I miss it enough that I am thinking about going back to it early.

I feel like I’ve finally solved the puzzle of excess poundage I have poked at for decades. I like eating this way, but now that I have hacked weight loss I also want to take care that my body shape doesn’t become the one thing I can control in this chaotic life I lead. Behind all of our efforts to look better/feel better/take better care of the planet, let us always remember to fill our bellies with nutritious food and not become image-obsessed crazy people forever and ever. Amen.

Sleep through the night: A parent’s prayer

Parenting is either painful or funny. Sometimes it’s both. I prefer to address the hard things with demure side-long glances, rather than the head-in stare of a predator. That way, if I fail to bring the problem down, I can deny that I ever noticed it in the first place.

Sleep, for example, is not something I talk about very often. Mostly because I don’t think there’s any hope for me at this point, and I don’t care to hear what I’ve done wrong from all of you who did it better.

What time should a one-year-old go to bed? How might someone night-wean? Sleep problems continue to unfold like a not-so-fun house of mirrors. Just when you think you’ve got it, a new twist reveals itself (curses canines!).

I recently read that only 5% of two-year-olds wake their parents multiple times a night. My daughter goes to sleep at 9 and wakes me at 11:00, 12:30, 2:30, and 5:30. The words slept through the night have never passed my lips. The worst part is I find it damn near impossible to fall asleep again once I’ve been woken up three times so insomnia usually has me by the throat from 2:30 to 5:30.

I don’t know why most kids persist in night waking (It is maladaptive to kill your parents!), but my daughter has a bad case of the mamas. She wakes me every couple of hours just to make sure I’m still there.

The good news is, she wont be two for another couple of weeks; so we are not like you, you zombified suckers.

At this point you should ask if my child sleeps in a crib and anticipate that she doesn’t. Baby A came into our bed during her first sleep regression and has been there ever since. I had reasons: It was October and she seemed cold in her little bed. An old shoulder injury meant I often dropped her in the last inch as I put her back in and it woke her up. I was exhausted and she just slept better in our bed.

Co-sleeping has its advantages. For many months she never cried at night and I barely woke up to nurse. Travel was a breeze, and all was well for a long time. I arranged her such that I was not worried about rolling over onto her, still, my husband and I never intended to share our bed, and it’s taken me a long time to get behind this thing. Now, I’ll admit, she wakes up more than I’d like, and I’m poking my eyeballs out a little bit.

I can see the look on your face that says, “Ooh, i had no idea… you really have to do something about that.” Like what? A is well past the luggage phase of babyhood. She has words. Since escaping the pack-n-play at 20 months she has been an exclusive bed sleeper; I can’t lock her in bed and throw away the key.

Parenting feels a lot like wandering down a dirt road through thick fog. There are many forks in this road, and you don’t see opportunities to turn until they are right on top of you. Choices must be made, almost constantly, but without any information about what lies ahead. If there is one option that makes any sense at all then you take it. Most days we are all just trying to put one foot in front of the other and stay on the path. In a way, there is very little choice at all.

Nobody knows where any of these roads lead. Like a choose your own adventure novel, every moment in parenting is tied to some previous nutty decision; tho which it was is impossible to say. Only when you are very far from the fork in the road do you understand anything about the benefits or consequences of the path you chose.

So we take the bad with the good and tell ourselves that none of the other forks would have been better; just different. Or maybe there was a better path, but which? And when? And why wasn’t it indicated by a glittery, be-dazzled sign? At times you will fear that you made a mistake; but the only thing to do is dig in your heels, re-commit to your former self, and carry on. There is definitely no turning back.

The hard thing

I love this blog. It started as a way to interpret my slow, otherwise useless-feeling days into something retrospective and meaningful, but it’s turned into something more – a baby book, a journal, a collection of thoughts on life and parenthood, a way to talk about all that feels wrong with the world and what is right with it.

I’m especially happy to have the essays about A’s babyhood. Those moments are preserved in cyber ink like the stains that hold fast in my toddler’s clothing. Mustard. Avocado. Peanut butter. These bits of life are built to last.

Looking back on the past year, I notice that the easy parts of parenting are underrepresented here. I have not written about potty training, for example, because my expectations of my small human are in line with her behaviors. So far so good.

The hardest parts of parenting are also under represented here.

When I started writing for all of you, I opened up my life to your scrutiny and criticism: It was a big mental hurdle to jump. I prefer that you like me; even if it doesn’t always seem so. Sometimes my behaviors are unpopular or downright bad. Sometimes I fear that the more we get to know each other, the less well we will get along.

But the self-protection that keeps me from writing about what is hard contrasts with my deeper desire to be known. Remember childhood? Remember those friends who knew you? I miss those friends.

I started writing for you because I have spent too many moments hungering for connection: for something honest and real and safe to exist between myself and another person. How can we love and support each other through strange and difficult times unless people speak and share our most essential selves?

I once watched a Joni Mitchell interview where she talked about this process of digging through the personal in search of the universal. “You keep peeling back to layers of the onion,” she said. “Then you get down to the center and think, my God, do I want to say that in public?”

The larger issue here, bigger than my desire for self-preservation, is that whatever I don’t write up is just gone. I miss those moments; even if I can’t remember what they were.

One day, A’s childhood will be over, and these memories will be all I have left. Good or bad, I want to keep as many of them as I can. I wont miss the difficult parts, but I don’t want to erase them. They are part of this beautiful, spare string of beads. They are all I have to keep.

So I am going to try to write more about the hard parts. Like this: For me, being a mom has come with the long, slow realization that I have given up everything I once was for the one thing I wanted most. Every moment of parenting A is a joy, but the cumulative effort amounts to an endurance I never imagined. Parenting is like running an ultra marathon, except that instead of running it as fast as you can, you have no control over time. It takes as long as it takes. There is no way to know how much more I have to give, and I hope and pray that I have enough of the right stuff to get through it.

The reward of parenting, is discovering that you do have what it takes. I function, even have good days, while meeting almost none of my personal needs; including sleep. Before A was born, I could not do that. Everything I do from here on out will benefit from the resolve I learned in parenting.

Perserverance is is a gift my daughter has given me. That, and I will never again be bored if only I can sit still and sip coffee without someone simultaneously rubbing cottage cheese on my sweater.

This is my life, I’m gonna breath it in; in all of its forms; for all if my days. Clan of the heart, my next of kin, fill up your chest and let it out again.

Here I write about something hard – both hard in the moment and hard to talk about – because what makes each moment valuable is not that it is perfect, good, fun, or even right, but that it is rare and fleeting.

When A finally falls asleep tonight she is crumpled into an unlikely pile, clutching “Eye,” her owl, whom she named, with her leg slung over a pillow. Nothing seems remarkable to me, but my husband pauses to adore her. “We have to remember this moment,” he says.

And so I do.

*

Time for one’s self

Mama enjoying a morning off

Trying to be an on-top-of-it person, I had the nerve to respond to an email yesterday. In the two minutes I gave it, baby A snatched a pen and scribbled all over a white chair for the second time this week. The first time it happened, I was wiping up food she’d thrown on the floor as a diversion.

This combines well with the fact that I recently diagnosed my 12-year-old dog with depression. I can’t say I don’t understand it: Two years ago I went from his best friend to the person who hurls food at him twice daily and otherwise yells at him to Go outside! Come inside! Stop eating the baby’s food! Get over here and eat the baby’s food! Yeah, I pretty much yelled at him for the past two years while I cared for my late-larval-stage human.

The dog is now on a strict regimen of no being-yelled-at, having his head patted each time I walk by, kibble set lovingly before him, and one full-body hug daily. It seems to be working.

In helping my dog I realized that the only way to avoid such scenarios is to be infinitely available to my family forever. I made it until 5 p.m., but as soon as my husband came home I ran screaming out of the house.

The scribbled chair, the doggie depression, all of my failings come down to one issue: I need some time for myself. People do. That need doesn’t disappear when one becomes a mother.

It’s like I tell my husband – If you are doing something autonomous that makes sense, then I am not.

“Doing anything for our selves feels like selfishness,” says my friend T, “but it is actually more like self-preservation.”

My main scarcities are two-fold: 1) professional opportunity and 2) “wellness,” which includes sleep, nutritious food, yoga, and outdoor adventure. A person needs to go for a walk once in a while without also extolling the virtues of mittens. Maybe if I just get up at 5:30 in the morning…

Writing is my proxy for professional effort. It is something I do during every nap time whether it lasts 15 minutes or three hours. It is something I can do while solo parenting or following my husband around as he commutes between towns. It is something I can do even though A does not yet tolerate child care. Without this time, my day is reduced to wiping things.

I squish writing into the interstitial spaces of the day, which is why I have pulled over to work on this post at the side of the road at the edge of cell phone service. Baby A sits in her carseat in the back. ‘Wheels on the bus’ plays on the car stereo on repeat. I will stay here until she bellows.

Here is the one benefit of parenting as it applies to any art form: When the spare time you have asymptotically approaches zero, everything superfluous is stripped away and what you have left is exactly enough time for the one thing you most need.

I need time away from parenting – to work, be creative, and exercise – for my sense of self worth, but also because it makes me a better parent. When I get it I am kinder and more patient with my child, and I have more fun with her throughout the day. And yes, the husband and dog benefit as well.

Well, another writing day achieves lift off. Now all I have to do is find someone to jump my car 🙄.