Defining death. To a child.

I love words. I love reading and writing and hearing peoples’ stories, and telling them, myself. Anyone who knows me will freely say that I’m not often at a loss for words. I’m finding, though, that as a parent of a nearly three-year-old child,  attempts to describe or define the meaning of words and actions often leave me without the means to accurately convey a concept. To be sure, some of it is developmental; small children are not the most abstract thinkers. But beyond that, there’s a desire to shield him from the ugliness of the world, at least for now, while still making good on my values to raise him in honesty and reality.

As we walked through the cemetery in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I thought of my mom, as I often do, and that I should visit her grave. It’s been awhile; I have a hard time ascribing meaning to that space. I asked D if he wanted to visit Grandma Patti’s cemetery, and he said yes. He immediately started chattering as we walked home, about seeing her, bringing her some of the chocolate strawberries his dad had made for me the day before. We talk to him about my mom a lot, show him photos, tell him stories, to help him understand her importance in our lives. It broke my heart to listen to him, knowing that I needed to try to explain the reality of the situation.

We got to her grave, and he smiled, recognizing my mom and dad on the etching in the headstone. “Is Papa Steve coming here, too?” he asked. I told him no. A car pulled up, and he stood, wondering aloud if that was Grandma Patti. He really believed he was going to see her. I took a breath, and asked him to sit with me. I said, “Grandma Patti isn’t with us anymore.”He asked where she was. Knowing that he attends church with his other papa, I tried to use terms that he might have some concept of; “She’s an angel now. She’s all around us. She watches us.” He just looked at me. I finally decided to try to level with him, as leveling with a three year old is always the smart choice (ha ha). I said, “Honey, Grandma was really sick. There was something in her body that made her very, very sick, and it made her heart stop working. We need our hearts to live-so we can breathe, and play, and be with other people. She can’t do those things anymore. Her body didn’t work, and now it’s here, in this ground, to be kept safe. This big stone helps people to remember who she was, and lets us come visit her and think about her.” The entire time, I kept telling myself to stop talking, to stop being so pseudo-biological and blunt about it.

He listened, looking at the ground and running his fingers through the thick grass around him. “She’s in heaven?” he said. “Yes, baby.” “Oh.” For a moment, he looked like he might start crying, and I regretted all of it. Enough of us had shed tears over her loss, and I didn’t want him to take on that burden. Not yet. He never even got to know her, just being held by her once, when he was three days old. And then she was gone. But, I think he understood, as much as his three year old abilities would permit him. “You miss your mommy, Mom?” I blinked back tears. “Yes, I do.” He gave me a little smile.

We started to get up to leave, and I said my goodbyes aloud to my mom. He followed my lead, and said, “Bye, Grandma Patti. I love you and miss you. The doctors will come and fix your heart to work again, and you will come back to life”, blowing her a kiss. More blinked-back tears. That innocence over the permanence of death, the desire to make someone else feel better, made me both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. He’s trying to understand how others feel, while learning to manage his own emotions within those contexts. That’s a hard thing, something that most of us struggle with well into adulthood.

As I drove home, him watching a show on my phone, I thought about what happened. Maybe it was OK that I shared what I did; after all, life does not exist within an absence of conflict and sadness. I want him to grow with the understanding that it’s OK to display emotion, to communicate pain in a constructive manner. Maybe he can’t really grasp the concept of death, but he can understand sadness and hurt and love. Something that my mom instilled in us was empathy, and to truly see people and their complexities, even if they aren’t on full display. This experience with D yesterday made me hope that perhaps I am starting to lay the same foundation for him, to help him intuit what is in other people’s hearts, even if he can’t fully know what has hurt them.


Full-On Mom Jeans.

That’s the nickname I’ve given myself-Mom Jeans. Alas, I have become that asshole that I have always hated-posting a million photos of my baby on IG/FB (that no one ultimately cares about, I know this; I mostly didn’t care about your baby, either), posting inane status updates about my lack of sleep/loss of independence/back pain/baby screaminess, and commiserating with other moms about the glamorous life of parenthood. It’s annoying, and here is where I issue my blanket apology-I’m sorry. I will also not stop, so it might be a good idea to remove me from any social media feeds or defriend me altogether. Maybe block my phone number too, if I’m texting you unwanted photos. But it’s a baby! In tiny shorts!

Even more startling are my behaviors in private-perpetually tiptoeing around the house, squealing D’s name over and over again so I can get through a shower without him losing his shit (this only works 14% of the time), singing every ridiculous made up song I can conjure off the top of my head, and putting more thought into his outfits in the morning, than my own. Oh, my eating habits? That consists of anything I can grab with one hand, and stuff into my mouth, like a raccoon. This runs the gamut from healthy (apple) to disgusting (finger swipe of peanut butter). I know this is normal, and I don’t hate it. It’s just..shocking, sometimes.

And don’t even get me started about my appearance. My crowning achievement has been that I shower and dress every morning. That’s a non-negotiable for me (although I understand how many people don’t get to it). However, my mascara wand has never seen less activity, my hair is in a perma-knot atop my head, and I don’t so much care that there’s a rivulet of baby spit/drool/milk all over my shoulder. My dirtiest little secret? Even though I fit comfortably back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, I cannot make myself stop wearing my maternity jeans. Please note, I know this is in no way flattering, as they are huge and baggy on my legs and butt, but weeee! Jeans that also feel like sweatpants! Just toss a longer cardigan on, and no one is the wiser…unless you’re walking behind me in Wegman’s, and watching me hike my pants up every 2-3 strides.

It’s all just interesting to me, how you become almost unrecognizable to yourself once you become a parent. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I do. Like I said, I certainly don’t dislike it, nor do I find it to be a bad thing, but I didn’t always intend to be a parent. I never daydreamed about having kids and all that jazz, nor did I ever think it would actually happen. But now, here I am, with this little redheaded, doe-eyed boy, and I love him so much that it almost takes my air sometimes. He has taught me so much about myself, made me happier, much less willing to abide nonsense from other people, and has given me a sense of purpose that I thought I always got from my career, but is so much more fierce now. I feel incredibly lucky to be his mom, and to have the opportunity to help guide another person to the best life possible. So what if I AM doing it with bags under my eyes and ill-fitting pants? He will grow more independent, and I will look presentable in public again. And I bet, when all is said and done, that I’ll probably miss this time.

Months 3-6: Times, they are a-changin’.

Today marks my entry into the third trimester. A line I’m crossing happily, but also with a bad limp, and slightly winded. The past three months have been full of transformations, realizations, and, well…sugar. Lots of it. But, that’s neither here nor there. So, a few highlights on this journey:

For those of you not in the know, we’re having a boy. I felt all along that it was a boy, and also (not so) secretly hoped it was. Girls-they’re great and all, but I just don’t feel excited about pink, and dance lessons, and her slamming her bedroom door in my face at 15 years old when I ask her how her day was. Of course, I know he will come with his own set of challenges, but that’s stuff I can handle (scoffs naively). Or outsource to his dad. His name will be Dempsey, a name we both love, and were able to decide on easily. Not common, but also not “Pilot Inspektor” weird, either. And his middle name will be Reid, which is Andy’s mother’s family name. I like the history and significance of that. So, one tiny task down. He has a name!

I no longer recognize my body. Over the past three months, my stomach has grown to (what I perceive as) epic proportions, my back feels like someone started a garbage fire in my spinal column, my boobs are huge(r), and nearly everything winds me. I stood in front of the mirror before getting into the shower the other day, and marveled for a minute. It’s certainly not disdain or disgust I feel, because let’s face it-growing a human is a pretty powerful, amazing thing we do, but it was more like, “Is this ever going to go away?” It feels like I’ve always been pregnant, and will always be. Perhaps this is the pre-cursor to me feeling like I can’t remember what my life was like before him. Or, more likely, it’s because all I want is some effing brie, and a bottle of the smokiest red I can get my hands on. And what a glorious day that shall be. I’m also excited about the prospect of painting my toes again, without requiring a nebulizer treatment.

Humiliation 1: For the first few months of my pregnancy, I saw the nurse practitioner at my practice, a woman who I adore. She is warm, and engaged/engaging, and kind, and willing to answer any questions I have. I loved visiting with her. So, the last time I saw her (two visits ago), I brought up my mother’s illness, and how I worry about how that affects my body and the baby, because of the stress it puts on me. We had a great conversation that helped put me at ease, and she shared the fact that her father faced a very similar situation. Of course I cried a ton, because that’s something I do all the time anyway now, but I felt better. I stood up to leave, and thus started the “I think we’re going to shake hands, but you now feel obligated to hug me, given the conversation we just had” dance. We got entangled in this weird embrace that felt like it lasted for 5 minutes, and also ended with her kissing my cheek, which I don’t really think she intended to do. My face was aflame with embarrassment-I don’t particularly like physical interaction with people I’m not close to, and this was off the charts weird. Totally well-intentioned, but just really awkward. So, with that, I decided that when making my next appointment, now was the time to start rotating through the physicians in the practice. Now when I see the NP at the office, we can share a quick smile and wave from a safe distance, and go about our business.

Humiliation 2: I got a packet of stuff in the mail, that was mostly pregnancy/child-related deals, coupons, etc. So, a few of them were for free crap, like baby slings and a nursing cover. So I thought, why not? I hopped online, ordered them up, raised an eyebrow at the URL of the nursing cover website, but otherwise moved along. The next day, I paid some bills online, then ran over to the mall to pick up the iPhone 5. I made my intentions clear to the sales guy, rebuffing all his offers of additional accessories (no, I don’t want that wood-veneered Bluetooth device, OR that terrible phone case), and handed over my card to pay. Declined. Wait, what? I asked him to run it again, please, and again…declined. So, that of course embarrassed me, and I asked him to hold tight while I ran to the satellite office that my bank has in the mall. The girl at the window informed me of my balance, which was exactly what I thought it was, and allowed me to make a cash withdrawal, but also told me that maybe I should call ‘fraud protection’, because sometimes they place holds on cards that aren’t immediately visible. Having had my identity conveniently stolen previously, during Christmas 2011, my stomach tightened. Not again.
I ran back, picked up the new phone, and then got into the car, and called fraud protection. Todd, who was most likely not older than 21, took my call. He informed me that they had tracked some potentially odd purchases, and locked my card as a precaution. So, then he started to read them off to me to verify. Yes, I said, as he read 3 purchases off that were legit. Then, he says, “And this next one from “ooo, oooo-der” “What?” I asked, and he repeated himself. “Oooodder covers?” Jesus. Oh my God. That stupid nursing cover I picked up online had a shipping charge associated with it, which I placed on my card. My face flamed red again, and I cleared my throat, trying to be an adult. “Um, it’s” “Oh, um…”, he said. “Look, don’t worry about it, it’s legit, nothing to be concerned about,” I said. I heard him take a breath in, to start speaking again. Oh my god, I thought, we are going to keep discussing this, aren’t we? “Well, usually, odd-sounding websites trigger us that something isn’t right. People’s cards get stolen and used for porn sites, stuff like th-” I stopped him. “Whoa, no no. This isn’t that sort of thing. It’s a baby site. For nursing covers,” I said. “Uh, um, yeah, well, OK, as long as it’s a purchase you made,” he hesitated. Clearly, he wanted this done as much as I did. “OK, great, thanks for your help. Are we all set then?” I asked. Given an affirmation, I hung up. Just another incident in an increasingly-long string of things I never imagined having to participate in. I guess given all the indignities that I will have to endure over the coming years, this is small potatoes. But, God, come on.

So, that’s where I am. This is all starting to get very real to me, signing up for childbirth classes, and not being able to tie my shoes without assistance. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. I can’t wait for him to be here, to figure out what our new normal looks like. And stay tuned-my friend Angie and I recently decided to attend a La Leche League meeting, which ended up being a totally hilarious (and slightly terrifying) debacle. But, that’s its own post.

Happy Sunday, ya’ll.

The Chard Family.

Erin and I have been friends for close to 8 years now, and it’s been an eight years that has brought us from our early twenties, which were full of parties and going out and sneaking cigarettes, to our decidedly more calm early thirties. Over that time, Erin has also started a family, one that I find to be most charming. Erin is a stay-at-home Supermom to Jacob, who just started kindergarten and celebrated his fifth birthday this month, and Cooper who is a year and a half. She and her husband Chris are two of the most engaging, involved parents I’ve met, and it shows in the happiness of their boys. So when they asked me to photograph their family, I was super excited.
It goes without saying that young children can be difficult to photograph, and honestly, I understand. How boring that must be for small children. Add to that a blazing sun and warm weather, and well, you’ve got a very short window of opportunity. But luckily for me, I tend to be more comfortable shooting the candid moments, the things that give you a glimpse into who people are, and their personalities. And I think it worked out perfectly, because we got some fantastic shots of them! And, an activity involving children wouldn’t be the same without the proverbial bribe-with-sugar, so the boys got to end their day with some awesome Cookie Monster cupcakes, courtesy of my sister Kate. Here are a few shots of our time together-enjoy!

Walking the Beat.

My niece showed up at my parent’s house this weekend, toting a pair of plastic handcuffs and this makeshift police badge that her father made for her. She was so happy showing the badge off, and repeatedly handcuffing my dad to his chair. I love the joy that children get from that sort of imaginary play. And it worked out for me, because apparently all I need to get her to look at the camera (and not stick her tongue out) is an accessory worth displaying.

Wherein I become a crotchety neighbor lady (albeit, one with good cholesterol levels).

I had a doctor’s appointment this morning, and it was the one where I would find out if my tireless working out, eating clean, and generally depriving myself of joy over the past four months had effectively lowered my elevated cholesterol levels. Once I was in the room, I was chatting with the nurse, whom I adore, and told her I had been waiting with bated breath all week to find out the results. Being the great nurse she is, she overstepped her professional boundaries, and gave me the results herself, with the promise that I wouldn’t tell the doctor. And guess what? It worked! Ladies and gentleman, I am once again the owner of healthy, happy cholesterol levels…and also of a lighter body frame. So, double score! I told you I’d be the best at cholesterol-reducin’. The best part was that I got to celebrate twice, when the doctor shared the results. Anytime I can get two pats on the back, I’ll take them.

ANYWAY, I went back home to work, and while reading through my emails, I suddenly hear a pre-pubescent voice shouting the words to “Joy and Pain,” that lyrical magnum opus by the 80’s own Rob Base. I looked above my computer screen, and saw a group of 12 year olds coming down the sidewalk, the street performer in the middle of them. All of the sudden, they stop at the corner of our property, and now I’m curious, so I step to the other window. There I see the young man who has been singing unzip his pants, and begin peeing in my bushes. Oh, no. No no no. I flew downstairs, and flung open the door, causing the non-peeing boys to begin to shuffle along, looking back at their friend, who is still singing like he’s on the spectrum, the same two sentences of that song, over and over (you can probably guess which ones), oblivious to my approach. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?! GET OUT OF HERE! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!!” I bellow, and now he’s wide-eyed, clearly struggling with his zipper. Little bastard, I think. I hope he gets it caught. His friends have now started running, and he’s unable to gain any momentum, due to his uncooperative shorts. At that moment, Pickle started barking savagely, which was a nice effect, because then he really got nervous.

So, with them gone, I go back inside, thinking to myself about how kids have no respe–, wait, what? Did I just say that to myself? Like something one of my old uncles would, say-These GD kids today, I’ll tell ya, got no respect for anyone. Buncha animals. I have absolutely no patience for anything like that, though, and I can’t imagine doing something so stupid at that age. I hope I don’t get a reputation as that lady in the white house..but come on, who pees in someone else’s yard, especially in plain view? Hand to God, I would’ve given anything for my hose to be handy at that moment, because I would’ve sprayed them ALL. Him, for peeing, and his friends, for hanging out with such a bonehead. It’s just not OK, in my book. Keep it up, kids-Halloween is just around the corner, and I’m totally not above handing out toothbrushes and pennies, in lieu of the good stuff. I’m watching you.

Let’s talk about kids, shall we?

“I have come to the full-on decision, Dad, that I don’t think I’m going to have kids. Ever. It’s just not me,” I said to my father, slowly, anticipating the But-I-need-more-grandchildren! response. Both of my parents have always communicated this idea that life is much more valid with children. I happen to find it much more valid with free time, quiet, a flexible schedule, and only one giant, stubborn ego to battle with (my own). So, agreeing to disagree has been the name of the game.


Steve’s response was this: “That’s fine. Kids aren’t for everyone. Besides, you’re too old to start having kids now, anyway.” Totally serious. Whaaaa? If this is some sort of reverse psychological move, this attacking my age, in order to trick me into having a child, consider yourself denied, Pop. BOOM. DENIED. But no, he was serious. I don’t know what motivated this change in thought, but I’d venture to guess that these proclamations of desiring a child-free life carry more weight coming from your 30 year old daughter, rather than that same daughter at 20. Life is a bit more figured out, you know who you are. I think he recognizes that.

It just doesn’t seem like anyone else recognizes that. I have entered the space in my life where, when talking to someone that happens to be a parent, I hear-“So, when are you going to have a little one?”, “Time’s ticking!”, or “Don’t you want one of your own?”, almost weekly. I DO have one of my own. She weighs 80lbs, sheds hair all over my house, eats paper towels, and chews my glasses under the dining room table. That’s enough for me. As much as I like to say that this incessant focus on children doesn’t bother me, it does. I don’t like being made to feel bad, or somehow selfish, for not wanting children.

Look, I love kids. Adore them, even. And because I love kids, I elect not to have any, because I also love my life, and it’s a life that isn’t conducive to properly nuturing and raising a child, at this juncture. It’s something I never envisioned myself doing, and I just don’t know if I have the capacity to be THAT responsible for someone else. Whenever I encounter a tantrum-throwing toddler, my anxiety instantly ratches up to 1000%, and then I hear the inevitable, “Yeah, but it’s different when it’s your own child.” This isn’t a comforting thought for me, because all I hear is, “Yeah, but it’s WORSE when it’s your own child, because you can’t safely give it back and walk away.”

I know the response that this is going to elicit in some people, and so, what I need to make clear is that I am in no way saying that choosing to have children, and raise a family is a somehow less valid way of life. I respect and admire people who choose to be parents, and are doing amazing jobs at cultivating these outstanding, loving, socially-responsible little people. I think it’s one of (if not the most)important roles that people will ever play in life, and also one of the hardest. I, on the other hand, cannot even properly iron a crease into a pair of pants, let alone handle the pressure of raising well-rounded, emotionally mature children. I can, however, walk my dog semi-sporadically, feed her everyday, and forgive her (begrudgingly) for eating yet ANOTHER possession of mine (RIP, laptop power cord). I guess family looks different to everyone, and the one we’ve created looks pretty good to me.