Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from Santa and his Elf!

Happy holidays to you and yours! 

I'm very excited about the holiday season with our bambino. While I could make myself quite anxious planning his first Christmas and the traditions we are creating for him, I'm trying to just enjoy our time together. After all, we are still establishing sleeping routines and are at the beginning of many new things together. 

I'm also attempting to put aside my computer/phone/camera a little every day - and every event - to really enjoy my time there and be present with those I love. There are the photographic and written records, but there are also the memories. The memories I can relive as I am falling asleep or starting a new poem and will share later with our bambino.

See you back here in 2014!

What are your favorite holiday traditions? 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

After Swaddling: Halo SleepSack Wearable Blanket

Tummy time, Good Night Moon and getting ready for bed in a 
Halo SleepSack Wearable Blanket

The Halo SleepSack Wearable Blanket solves the problem of keeping your baby warm without the dangers of a blanket. A loose blanket, or anything in the crib including a bumper, can increase the chance of SIDS because an infant might suffocate. To keep our newborn safe - and well-rested - we followed Dr. Karp's Happiest Baby on the Block suggestions. His Huffington Post piece here explains the process well.

Around three or four months, our bambino was able to roll onto his stomach (but not back again) and we stopped swaddling him. He still, however had (and has) limited controlled neck and limb control, so a blanket still isn't safe. We moved from the SleepSack Swaddle to the SleepSack Wearable Blanket.

With a onesie underneath the wearable blanket, our bambino, who is now six months old, sleeps (mostly) through the night. And so can we, since we don't have to worry about fabric. He can roll over - there's plenty of space for his legs to move inside the bag - and his arms are free.

We're smitten with this cotton one with an elephant on the front. He seems to like it, too. When we change his clothes and put on the wearable blanket, he knows that it is time to sleep. It is a part of our evening routine, before I read a book to him in Italian and my husband reads a book in English. We all snuggle together on the bed and then transfer him to the crib to fall asleep on his own. (Well, we're still working on the last part.)

Click through for more about the Halo SleepSack sleep initiative in a recent post I wrote about infant swaddling. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

One Bambino-Bear and His First Snow

Ok, so after living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, yesterday's Washington, D.C., snow might barely qualify as snow. Still, it was our bambino's first sight of it. And this morning, he raised his eyebrows at his first sight of icicles on the branches outside the window.

Dressed up like a teddy bear and squinting in the bright cold, he was mostly nonplussed yesterday. I held up a little snow that had fallen on a leaf for him to touch. As you might have guessed, he didn't like it. We took some pictures and quickly went back inside to warm up. Hot cider for us and some apples and oatmeal cereal for him. 

I love watching our bambino notice and explore this brand new world. I'm constantly reminded that every. single. thing. is brand new to him. And, happily, it starts to become (at least) a little new to me, too. Today on my writing coach blog, I wrote a little about how his explorations are a good reminder that writing should offer the same discovery. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Nom, Nom, Nom: Starting Solids


Starting solids is messy and time consuming. And I love it.

I love our bambino's surprise at new tastes and the way he negotiates his lips and tongue to try to keep the food in his mouth. We make each other laugh, which often ends up with food sprayed everywhere, but that only makes us laugh more. Yes, sneezing with a mouthful of food did provide the biggest laugh and mess.

Sitting in front of our our bambino in a Bumpo on the floor, I feed him with an infant spoon from a little plastic bowl suction-cupped to the tray. An easy to clean plastic bib and lots of paper towels, dry and wet, keep us both mostly clean. We might have succeeded avoiding a lot of baby-products, but these have all proven really helpful. Sometimes he assists me (with limited success) to guide the spoon into his mouth and then use the rubber end to massage his gums. He is able to hold onto my pinky if I extend it while holding the spoon. He definitely tries to pull the bowl off of the tray, but the suction - amazingly - keeps the food (generally) safe. Pretty soon he'll be big enough for the high chair and a larger tray for everything.

I didn't immediately start with fresh foods. Sure, that was my goal, but after starting with the fortified, dry rice cereal, I guessed (correctly) that his first bites of fruits and vegetables would be very small. I didn't have the time or the patience to puree teeny, tiny amounts. I started with prepared containers of bananas, carrots and apples. His pediatrician suggested trying one food for a few days (not more than two new foods a week) in order to best catch any possible allergies. We started with rice cereal around five months and have been adding in bananas, carrots and apples.

Yesterday, for the first time, he ate fresh food: half a pureed avocado mixed with formula. Nope, not appetizing to me, but he seemed to enjoy it. That is, he seemed to enjoy it after scrunching up his face every which way as he tested out this new flavor.

I'm really looking forward to cooking various foods for him and eventually with him. I like to cook, even if I haven't had time to blog about it since the bambino was born. I'll see if I can't cook foods that we can all eat, putting some aside for him to puree for him before flavoring the grownups. I'm also hoping to freeze portions for him for the future. We'll see how this all works out as the work piles up at the end of the semester, but I'm optimistic.

The Mayo Clinic's website offers clear advice about starting solids. WebMD offers tips on preparing baby food and what foods are appropriate for each stage. What has worked well for you and your child?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Finding Childcare: Reliable? Heartbreaking?

Being a working mom means needing affordable, trustworthy childcare. And that's not easy.

Since I mostly teach online and both my husband I have a flexible, academic schedule (some days, at least), we were able to get through the summer and this semester with an occasional p/t babysitter. Next semester, my husband will be on family leave and he will be the primary care giver. Still, we will need some help here and there.

We searched for sitters on, and local list serves (neighborhood, family and alum lists.) We tried asking friends, but got very few recommendations. Clearly a good sitter is hard to find and families are reluctant to "give away" their sitters. We've tried to buck this trend by recommending ours and hope the good karma returns to us when we need to find someone in the future. (I'll let you know if that works out.)

We met some real doozies - one woman said goodbye to our bambino by knocking his bare arm with her keys and another yawned throughout the whole interview. We also found a few kind women with excellent experience who we really like. offers possible background checks and personal information. To be extra safe, we've photocopied government-issued identification for folks we found elsewhere. also has a good list of questions to ask a sitter, what information and items to leave, and how to best show a sitter around your home. At first, I was taken by women who were native Italian speakers, but had little infant experience, or who seemed like they could be friends. Of course, their experience with soothing, playing, feeding and teaching babies new skills are more important.

It took us almost five months to feel comfortable leaving our bambino alone with someone who wasn't a close relation or friend. Usually, I would work from home in another room while the sitter takes care of our bambino. This means that I wanted to find someone I felt comfortable spending a lot of time with, too. Of course, if I'm not comfortable, why should my baby be?

It was - and is - incredibly hard to hear him cry with someone else and not comfort him. It was - and is - incredibly hard to hear him laugh and not run into his room to join in the fun. The range of emotions is exhausting and not always conducive to working. Still, I've been able to keep up with my teaching and some writing. It has also been comforting to be home to hear the sitter interact with our son and to offer some suggestions, when necessary, as they get to know each other. It has been hard at times to not only share my baby, but also our entire apartment as they move from room to room.

Of course, a sort of Murphy's Law holds true that a baby who won't nap all morning will go down for a sitter as soon as she arrives and wake just as she's about to leave. Money well-spent, right? Theoretically, I can work without having to keep an ear out for my son. Of course, I usually do keep listening and can't avoid hearing him, but I can attempt to relax knowing someone else is responsible for him.

I've started to leave the house to work elsewhere and trust that our son will be ok with our chosen sitters. The other day, I even suggested that the two of them take a stroller-walk. That walk marked the first time I'd been alone at home since mid-May. It both feels good - and productive or relaxing - to be alone, but also alarming when I suddenly don't hear or see my baby close to me. I imagine these emotions will continue for a long while.

Infant childcare costs are astronomical (there are full-time places we visited close to home in Washington, D.C., that cost around $2,000 a month. A month!) Waiting lists sometimes open years after parents joined them. Some centers allow families to put down a deposit and join a waiting list as soon as the mother finds out she's pregnant; others ask for the baby's birth date. Childcare is clearly something to think ahead about.

What tips do you have for finding good childcare?

Monday, November 18, 2013

In Sickness and in Health: Parenthood

Parenthood includes making hard decisions. The bambino and I, with help from the nonna, drove up to New Jersey recently for a short visit. And then the bambino, who already had a little cough, and I developed full blown colds. The yucky, noisy, hard-to-sleep kind.

I was very sorry to have to cancel a reading and an intimate gathering with friends and family. After all, we'd been planning the visit forever and were looking forward to, well, everything. We're finally starting to feel better, after a few visits to the doctor here and in N.J., and lots of (mostly attempted) rest.

I don't know how folks balance it all. Some days it seems quite simple and other days I wonder if I'll have time to eat dinner, let alone spend quality time with my son, attend to my classes and continue to write.

Today the weather is warm - high 60's in D.C. - and the windows are open. Starting to feel hopeful again.

I'll feel more hopeful when I'm caught up on work. See you next week!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Emily Nichols Grossi on Blogging, Motherhood & Food

Thank you to Emily Nichols Grossi for today’s post about writing regularly as a mother. Emily was a student in a recent memoir writing workshop I taught at Politics & Prose bookstore. I was struck by her attention to sensory details and enthusiasm. I’m excited to have the opportunity to share her thoughts with you today.

Emily Nichols Grossi is a Louisiana native who has happily called DC her home since 2007. A stay-at-home mother of two young sons, Emily also writes the blog, Em-i-lis,, teaches canning and preservation classes throughout the DC-area, runs Em-i-lis Catering, is an avid school volunteer and is working on a memoir.

Blogging, Motherhood & Food by Emily Nichols Grossi

It began over shallow bowls of steaming pasta tossed with wilted greens and mascarpone.

Actually, it was born months earlier when I told my friend, Shawn, how I'd informed the manager at Jack Falstaff's, a now-shuttered restaurant in San Francisco, that his crab cakes were utterly sub-par. "Shawn, never waste a dining experience by going to Falstaff's!" I implored. He laughed so hard I thought hyperventilation was nigh, and after recovering he told me for the umpteenth time that I simply must write about food. "Doll, you talk about food with such gravitas, like it's the most important thing in the world."

"How can I do this?" I asked my husband, Tom, as we grated cheese over our bowls of glistening pasta. My youngest son was about to turn two, and I craved an intellectual endeavor to enliven my days. I was happy as a stay-at-home mother but desperately wanted to carve out time to pursue the interests I'd put on hold. Tom suggested blogging.

I was a blog virgin at that point but quickly realized that it would be a terrifically workable format for me: short posts written when I had time. I decided early on that authenticity would be my mantra.  As such, I am frank and share my successes as well as my mishaps. I often write about all things food-related, but as the boys grow, I find myself writing more and more about motherhood too. My byline says it all: musings from a servantless, stay-at-home, cooking-obsessed mom.

Since I started Em-i-lis almost three years ago, I've managed to work lots of writing into stolen moments in and around naptimes, school drop-offs and pick-ups, trips to the pediatrician, potty training and playdates. I am proud to have written every day but three and have felt enormously fulfilled in doing so.

People often ask me why I write so regularly and with such candor. I wouldn't make the time if I didn't love it, didn't feel I simply must get X, Y or Z down in words. Certainly, the love of the craft is part of the why. But I've also found that there is something profoundly illuminative about committing words to page.

Through Em-i-lis, I have come to know myself much more thoroughly. I have found a confidence and a voice and a sense-of-self I'd long sought. I have recorded innumerable, quotidian details of my sons' lives that otherwise I would surely have forgotten. I have become a really good cook. I have met and reconnected with incredible people, and I have realized how honesty and openness can forge the most wonderful ties with them.

Be sure to click through to visit Em-i-lis!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Car Seat Research: Important, Scary (and a little boring)

Our current carseat/stroller combo, the Chicco Keyfit 30, will expire when our bambino reaches 30 lbs. We've found it very easy to use; the seat simply latches into the stroller base and the car seat base. Best of all, our son generally doesn't mind sitting in it. I'm sure we still have a while more that we can use it, but I'm starting to research the next size up so that we can take advantage of sales after the holidays.

My head is spinning. There are so many different options and things to consider. And, frankly, it is all pretty boring. Not to mention scary to think about what could happen.

Here are the facts from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

When it comes to crashes, children are safer now than ever. The rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per million children younger than 13 has declined 78 percent overall since 1975. The rate at which children die as passenger vehicle occupants has decreased 59 percent, while the rates at which they are killed as pedestrians and bicyclists has declined by 91 and 92 percent, respectively.

Proper restraint use can reduce crash deaths and injuries even more. Appropriate child safety seats provide significantly more protection in a crash than safety belts alone.

Choose the right restraint for your child’s age and size, and always seat kids in the rear.

All infants and toddlers should ride rear-facing until they are 2 years old or until they reach the height and weight limit of their child restraints. 
Once they outgrow rear-facing restraints, children should ride in a harness-equipped forward-facing child restraint for as long as possible, up to the height and weight limit of the child restraint. Top tethers should be used whenever a child restraint is installed forward-facing.
When children outgrow child restraints, they should use belt-positioning booster seats until adult safety belts fit properly.

We had luck with the first car seat by going out to Great Beginnings in Maryland. We got lots of good advice from a salesperson and could try out the different options in-person. We also got a great price with a coupon from joining their mailing list. (I blogged about the store here.)

This time around, I'm not really up for a little road trip with the bambino to buy a car seat. We hope to find something online and call it a day.

Here are some helpful online resources I found:
Great Slate article: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About #%!@% Car Seats

Very useful FAQs from Car-Safety.Org about weight, height, boosters, airplane travel, and everything else you can think of.

New information about the LATCH system.

What car seat would you recommend? 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Feminist Halloween It Was: Yoda in D.C.

Star Wars family

Feminism and personal history came up the other day in a memoir writing workshop I'm teaching at Politics and Prose bookstore. Some of the women are writing about the contrast between their mothers' risks, their own wider opportunities and their granddaughter's even wider choices. Halloween brings some of these issues to light for our nuclear family.

I feel quite aware of my own opportunities and choices I make as one of two primary role models for our son. There are some easy decisions, like keeping my "maiden" name, and bigger ones, like continuing to work as a new mamma and sharing household tasks with my husband, who works full-time. Leading up to Halloween, there was our bambino's costume to consider.

Choosing a Halloween costume for our infant son, who can't yet show an interest in choosing his own outfit of course, feels less daunting than it might be for a little girl. There are more "boy" costumes that represent a strong, intelligent and, hopefully, kind character or role. There are less frilly and troubling princess costumes and more work-related or super hero costumes for boys. Of course, at this age, babies barely have gender, so really, this shouldn't even be an issue. But it is.

As a little girl, there were times I enjoyed dressing up in shiny, frilly outfits. But I also helped my mom on photo shoots and later in the office filing her images and documents. I sometimes went to work with my dad and saw him meet with clients in his law office. With each parent owning a business, more than one day a year was "bring your daughter to work day."I hope our son, as he grows, is free to try out various more traditionally masculine roles, as well as traditionally feminine. What we don't want to do is force a particular definition upon him. 

Our bambino was dressed as a thoughtful Yoda for Halloween (and earlier in the day, since so many infant clothes are like Halloween outfits, he was Chewbacca and R2D2), and his parents were Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. In the morning, he chatted with me, in baby-Chewbacca fashion, while I frosted homemade Halloween cupcakes and later as I sat at the computer (attempting) to write a Halloween poem. He saw his mamma doing a little bit of traditional work in the kitchen, which she loves to do, and professional, creative work, too. While she was dressed as princess that evening, she was the kind who couldn't have saved anyone with crinoline under her skirts.

Shannon Brugh gets it right in Raising Feminist Sons,
Before my first son was even born, I remember screaming in half-seriousness, “Don’t put my kid in a gender box!!” I was looking around at all the sweet baby clothes—boys in blue, girls in pink—and wondering why it had to be that way. From birth children are told what is for them and what is not—based exclusively on their gender. Puppies for boys, kitties for girls. Trucks and foot/base/soccer balls for boys, dollies and bows and hearts for girls. It was near impossible to find gender neutral (or at least, not gender obnoxious) items for the baby growing in my belly. Before I knew the sex of my baby, people dreamed about my potential girl and the tea parties and dress up we would play. They dreamed about playing in the mud and rough-and-tumble with my possible boy. But never did those two paths cross. What if my son wanted to play tea party and wear a feather boa? What if my little girl wanted to play flag football and never wore dresses? Why would one of these be celebrated and one be whispered about? The whole thing made me insane. Why is it that so many things are already decided on behalf of our kids simply because of an X or a Y chromosome? And, more importantly, can we change that?

Everyday Feminism offers a Framework for Feminist Parenting that includes things like, "respect for choices, gender and sexuality," as well as concrete examples. Now, if only we could all be on the same page and simply call this "parenting." Maybe our grandchildren won't need the word "feminist." If a little girl chooses to be a princess, great. If a little boy chooses to be a warrior, great. It is the parents' job to make sure that these are choices, rather than decisions made for them based on traditional expectations. 

I love how teaching memoir, and my students' life stories, offer some context and questions to my days and our lives. 

Stay tuned as spring semester memoir writing classes open for registration at Politics and Prose bookstore

Thanks to Alanna Michelle on Etsy for the fabulous Yoda hat and robe!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Yoga One Year Later

Thanks, Yoga District, for inexpensive and "gentle" yoga in our neighborhood

I did it. After over a year, I returned to a yoga class. A "gentle" yoga class. Pregnant, I had tried following prenatal yoga DVDs, but I gave up after quickly feeling (even more) nauseous.

I had been taking yoga classes on and off for the last four years. The regular stretching and exercise helped to center me physically and mentally. Yoga helped me when I was grieving and trying to return to my body after witnessing death. I finally found the courage to attend a class hoping that the movements would connect me to this new body of mine.

Pregnant, miscarrying, pregnant again, giving birth and now nursing, my body has changed a lot these last two years. Sometimes my cesarean scar feels like a warrior's mark. Often my stomach just feels flabby. I don't exactly fit into my old clothes even if I've technically lost the pregnancy weight.

By starting to exercise again, I hope that I can both look even better than my old self, even if that's vain and shouldn't matter, and feel stronger. I don't get as winded as I did when I was pregnant, but I haven't  yet built up my muscles.

I love to take walks and carry the bambino in the carrier, but now that he's grown so much, it is harder to keep up any kind of speed. His legs dangle down and he tends to push against my thighs as I walk, too. (I guess that's a fun game for one of us.)

The "boys" in my life have been models on how to strengthen a body. After serious training, my husband ran the Chicago marathon. My son is now practicing holding his head up, sitting up and standing. I'm hoping to join my husband in modeling good, healthy behavior towards physical activity for our son as he learns to crawl, walk and then run. And he might even join me in doing a downward facing dog one day.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Memoirist Monica Wesolowska on Writing About and As a Parent

Thank you to Monica Wesolowska, author of Holding Silvan: A Brief Life, for today's interview with an author about writing as a parent. I particularly appreciate her discussion of finding time to write and how she dealt with telling a personal, and also family's, story. Her memoir explores motherhood, medicine, and the ethics of forgoing medical intervention for a newborn son.

In the opening of Holding Silvan: A Brief Life, Monica Wesolowska gives birth to her first child, a healthy-seeming boy who is taken from her arms for "observation" when he won’t stop crying. Within days, Monica and her husband have been given the grimmest of prognoses for Silvan, and they must make a choice about his life. The story that follows is not a story of typical maternal heroism. There is no medical miracle here. Instead, we find the strangest of hopes. Certain of her choice, Monica must still ask herself at every step if she is loving Silvan as well as a mother can.

What kinds of choices did you make writing about your child and including other family members in your memoir?

At first, I didn’t choose. I simply wrote. I had to write. I was telling the story of my first son, Silvan. Ten years ago, Silvan was brain-damaged during birth. He was so brain-damaged that he could survive only on life support, and my husband and I fought for the right to let him die. Silvan lived for thirty-eight days, most of which we spent holding him. 

For years, I didn’t know how to tell that story publicly. Even after I had two more boys, Silvan’s story seemed too sad for others to bear. But with time, my feelings about the story shifted. I could see the heroism in it, and the universality—in the age of modern medicine all of us will have to make complicated choices about death—and I saw the joy and love shining through the grief. 

I wrote mostly about Silvan at first, but as his story took on flesh as a memoir, I saw that to write about myself, my family, and my subsequent children was actually part of Silvan’s story. Though he only lived a brief time himself, he fit into the larger story of all our lives. I just kept writing, hoping that those I wrote about would see it that way, too. 

Did you show family members the manuscript before publishing it and/or ask them for permission?

I waited until the book actually sold to a publisher before I showed it to family. I’m not talking about my husband, of course, who read every single draft. But I waited to show my mother, my in-laws, and my close friends. I waited until it sold and then I immediately sent it to everyone I could think of who might be personally affected by its publication.

I was open to their criticism. I planned on changing things if anyone felt really uncomfortable with something I wrote. I was also prepared to change names and that kind of thing, but I had wanted to sell the book before opening myself up to family criticism. 

As it turned out, everyone was super enthusiastic. Even people I’d criticized seemed fine with it maybe because I hadn’t spared myself in the portrait. I’d tried to be as honest as I could.

More importantly, they said they were glad to have the chance to relive the story. My sister-in-law in particular said she was really relieved to find the same joy in my story that she herself had felt while Silvan was alive. She’d been afraid she was the only one who had found such joy even in the grief of holding Silvan.   

How did/do you balance your roles as a woman, mother and writer? 

I’d spent years before having children writing and trying to publish a book of fiction. I was afraid that if I didn’t publish first, children might become a barrier to writing. I saw Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen as models in their childlessness, forgetting that Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, and so many other writers do both. 

In the end, I couldn’t wait for publication. Silvan’s death did stop my writing for a while, but once Miles and Ivan were born, I found myself writing while they nursed, and on the floor of the locker room at the gym when I was supposed to be exercising. I learned to dip right into my writing during nap time and pluck myself back out at the first sound of a child crying. Motherhood really made me ask myself what I needed to get done in life besides mothering.

Realizing I couldn’t give writing up, I had to figure out how to do both. In addition to my personal drive, I’ve been very, very lucky. My husband has been the major breadwinner. He’s carried so much of this family on his back. I’d actually promised him that if, by the time both kids were school-age, I hadn’t published a book, I’d seriously reconsider the amount of time I spent writing. And then, half-way through Ivan’s kindergarten year, I sold Holding Silvan.

What approaches would you recommend to other parent writers? 

Parenting is all about multi-tasking. There’s nothing more gratifying than feeling like you can do it all: snuggle with one kid while reading to another, cook dinner while helping with homework.  However, writing is the opposite. Writing is serious single-tasking, going deeper and deeper, just to get to that still place where, from the infinity of your imagination, you can find something whole.

For me, my biggest battle as a writer is quieting the mind that, in the panic of not being able to get a sentence right, suddenly thinks that my time would be better spent researching summer camps or buying the kids new socks or just going upstairs to snuggle.  All writers have to quiet the busy mind, but when kids compete for your attention, the distraction goes to a whole new level. Because, of course, what’s more important than writing? Your kids are.

What I have to tell myself is that no parent is perfect. No writer is perfect either. I’m just trying to keep the balance right. I tell stories because I have to, but I also believe the world is a better place because of stories. I want my children to grow up in a world where writers and their books exist. There is nothing as blissful as watching my own children curl up to read. I hope I’m doing a good job as a mother, but I also hope I’m giving them a permanent love of books. I think their lives will be better for it. 

Monica Wesolowska is the author of the memoir Holding Silvan: A Brief Life. With an introduction by Erica Jong, Holding Silvan explores motherhood, medicine, and the ethics of forgoing medical intervention for a newborn son.  A skilled public speaker, she’s been a guest speaker at hospitals, book clubs, and other venues discussing pregnancy, medicine, and grief. She’s published fiction in many literary journals and anthologies including Best New American Voices and teaches both memoir and fiction writing at UC Berkeley Extension. Read more at

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October: SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

October is SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It is important that we each do what we can to protect against SIDS and other losses, while continuing to support the families who have experienced these losses. October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

In April, 2012, pregnant for the first time, I miscarried. From the moment we learned the news in the doctor's office, I felt alone, surprised and depressed. I didn't understand what had happened and hadn't realized the likelihood of losing a pregnancy. I should have been better emotionally prepared. According to NIH, "Among women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15-20%."

Since recovering, and and of course not forgetting, I have been writing about the experience in a poetry collection titled Carried. Some poems from the unpublished manuscript are forthcoming in Minerva Rising Literary Journal and Literary Mama.

I've gathered together some resources I found helpful at the time and now as we work to do what we can to keep our bambino safe. While it would be easier to ignore these risks, that's dangerous. What other resources would you recommend? 

Miscarriage Resources & Links (portal to other sites)

Reduce the Risk of SIDS from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) from the CDC

Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUIDS) from the CDC

Safe to Sleep National Campaign from NIH

After a Miscarriage, Surviving Emotionally from American Pregnancy Association

Things We May Not Know from Miscarriage Support (New Zealand)

In my Amazon store, I've gathered together some examples of literature of mourning that I found helpful after this loss and others.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Anniversary Vows & Poems

Every year my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary by reading our wedding vows to each other. We usually walk around the monuments by the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., and find a quiet place to sit. This year, with the government shutdown and the rain, we read our vows at home. 

And, with the new addition of the bambino in our family, we've added to the tradition. Since the pregnancy, we've been slowly writing a list of wishes for our son. While it rained outside this morning, we sat together and read both our vows and the growing list to our growing son. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from Our Wishes for You: Things to Learn

Your great great Aunt Dora’s chocolate cookie recipe. 

How to twirl linguine on your fork. 

How to follow a hiking trail and read a road map. 

How to find and read books that will create memories. 

How to read between the lines.

How to merge onto a highway. 

How to drive stick (your father will have to do that.)

That there’s an order in which to watch the Star Wars Saga. 

How, as Nancy Ladd said, “to become ever more completely yourself.”

For more love poems, you might read the background of one of the poems from my poetry book, Unrest. You might also click through to read a recently published poem to my husband. Happy anniversary, love! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Award Winning Short Story Author Kate Milliken on Writing

When the bambino sleeps, I find time to read Kate Milliken’s prize winning collection of short stories, If I’d KnownYou Were Coming. We met as residents at the Vermont Studio Center in 2007. Since then, she’s been writing, teaching and raising two children. Today she kindly shares some of her experiences as a woman, mother, writer. As a new parent, I was moved by her words. This line in particular struck me, “Kids need to see you trusting other people, so that they may, in turn, learn to trust themselves, to feel confident that they can navigate more than their doting parents.” 

Kate Milliken’s stories are beautiful, from the individual sentences, to the paragraphs to the full stories. Throughout her stories I recognize myself, my fears and other people I’ve known. She ends “Names for a Girl” with “I park in front of a hydrant, outside a bookstore, running in, engine on, to buy this book of names. I am still paging through it, still hoping to find the name for a girl without a story, without a history or a masculine derivation, a name of uncertain etymology. I will have to make something up.” In these fictional, “made up” stories, Kate shares universal, emotional truths.

Kate Milliken’s stories have appeared in Zyzzyva, Fiction, New Orleans Review, and Santa Monica Review, among others. A graduate of the Bennington College Writing Seminars, the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop, and several Pushcart Prize nominations, Kate has also written for television and commercial advertising. She currently teaches on behalf of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and lives in Mill Valley, California, with her family.

Where were you when you learned that you’d won the prize?

We were packing the car for a drive down to Los Angeles. Rushing around, long faced, not thrilled at the 5-7 hour drive ahead-- dependent on the usual kid variables: potty, hunger, general aversion to containment--when my cell phone rang. “Iowa?” Adam, my husband, asked, looking at my phone. We didn’t know a soul in Iowa. But as a writer, a call from Iowa is like a call from New York—you just know it’s your people calling, people who care about the same stuff—words and the way they get strung together—that you do. I didn’t answer. In all honesty, I couldn’t remember if I had submitted to the Iowa Award that year or not. I’d been working on a novel for over two years and my collection of stories had become the older kid in the family, more independent and less worried over. But Jim McCoy, the editor at The University of Iowa Press, left a message asking me to return his call. I remembered then. I had submitted, on the day of the deadline and partially out of frustration, wanting to feel more productive, as I hadn’t worked on my novel that month despite the kids having started a preschool program weeks earlier. I decided that I was a finalist before I called Jim McCoy back, assuming he wanted to see if the manuscript was still available.

On our way out of town, we needed to stop at Adam’s office in Sausalito, so he took the kids up with him so that I could return the call and, you know, hear another human on the other end. When Jim McCoy told me that Julie Orringer had chosen my collection, I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing. Her work has meant a lot to me, so her endorsement made the award that much more special. Yes, I was a blubbering mess when Adam came back down with the kids. I was still on the phone, so he just looked in the car window—knowing he’d be able to see it on my face. He danced in the parking lot. I won’t forget that. Our daughter blushed.

Earlier, Adam had written a note that read, “Hard Drive,” so that he wouldn’t forget to stop at his office to pick up a hard drive for his computer. That note was taped to the dashboard and it stayed there, in front me for the whole 5-7 hour drive down to L.A. I kept having a stupid, giddy inner-dialog with that post it: “Hard Drive.” “No, it’s not! Not at all!” Easiest 5-7 hours ever. For those that have never driven the 5 freeway through the San Joaquin, it can be pretty abysmal—hot, dry, vacant, two different cattle feed lots that stink for miles before you reach them. And now I have nothing but fond memories of that freeway. The collection is set mostly in L.A., so it felt right, finding out then. And that three day trip to visit family turned into a fabulous celebration.

What did your kids say?

Our son was two, so it was just smiles and ice cream to him. But our daughter, at four, was asking a lot of questions about what it meant. She was, I think, made a little nervous by it at first, because we were so excited. But she’s got a competitive spirit, so she quickly caught on to the idea that I’d “won” something. Later I took all this as a chance to show her the stacks of rejection slips I’ve had over the years (STACKS!), so that she could appreciate how much more “the game” is about loving what you do, enjoying the struggle, than it is about winning.

She took my book into school for show and tell last week and then lost it, because it just ain’t that important. I love that.

How long did this book take you to write? 

Nine of the twelve stories I wrote during my graduate writing program at Bennington College. So two years there. But then I rewrote those pieces considerably in the two years afterward. Then, after my daughter was born, I wrote two more. The twelfth story, and the first in the book actually, I wrote after my son was born. So they were spread out over six-seven years. Two stories a year? Yikes. I ought to pick-up the pace! Though along the way several stories were thrown out with the diapers. And as I’ve said, I’ve been focused on a novel for much of the last three years.

How did/do you balance your roles as a woman, mother and writer? 

Big sigh. I don’t know that I do. At least not in any daily way. It’s more of a see-saw…Or…Now I’m picturing a novice tight-roper walker, first time out on that rope with that stick as unsteady as a tuning fork.

I wish I could say that I manage to be the best mother and best writer on the same days, but I don’t. I’ve learned that my writer mind works in cycles. Meaning, I have weeks when I’m mentally fired up and I can crank out a chapter, revise, stay up until midnight messing with it. But when I get up with the kids, I am distracted, my attention divided, staring out windows, hurrying them off to school, their hair somewhat brushed. And then the pendulum swings and there’s a week or more where I’m foggy and every word on the page feels stale, my inner-critic louder than ever. It’s those weeks that I’ve learned to let go of the work and put my energy into mothering, to make up for the other weeks; stocking up on the craft paper, the molding clay, baking muffins with them, getting in longer snuggle sessions, being more silly and letting that serious writer lady take a hike. When I can’t write, when that well is dry, I’m a better mother. So, a see-saw.

I will say, I am not a mother/writer who can write when the kids are present. I’m not sure that’s the best policy. I’ve heard from adults whose mothers wrote and how much they enjoyed seeing their mom curled up with her journal and pen. But I write on a computer and I don’t love them seeing me hunched over that screen. I also don’t want to resent the patter of little feet or the sing-song of their voices and I can’t hear the story when I can hear them, so I’ve had to find ways to separate. It is easier this year, now that my son is in preschool and my daughter in kindergarten, but for almost two years I got up at 5am and wrote until 8am with headphones on, while my husband got up and made breakfast.

Maybe my better mothering and productive writing self overlap more than I’m making it sound, but it took me three years to really see that life could have rhythms on a larger clock, in weeks, versus days—as I can no longer prescribe to a write everyday methodology. And so it simply has to be okay, I have to let myself not write some weeks and, at other times, nod absently at the kid’s questions.

What approaches or resources would you recommend to other parent writers? 

Only write flash fiction and/or Haikus.

No, seriously, having kids is a huge adjustment even in the most conventional of circumstances. It’s a balancing act of everyone’s needs. And then, as a writer, you throw in the needs of your, who, what? Characters?! So it seems only fitting that you’ll feel like a crazy person for a stretch there. If you’re someone with a creative urge, you have a perpetual itch that has to be scratched and you’ll be doing yourself and your kids a disservice to not honor that compulsion. It keeps you sane and they, um, need you sane. So don’t fear a babysitter, if you can swing it. But also don’t fear friends and family helping. I did this for a good long stretch. I thought that no one could do for my kids like my husband and I could and therefore we should be the only one doing for them and so I’d just write at 10pm, after the laundry was folded, and really, I’d be fine when the baby woke at 2am, I’d be totally fine when we were all up again at 5am. Fine. No, not fine. Not at all. Kids need to see you trusting other people, so that they may, in turn, learn to trust themselves, to feel confident that they can navigate more than their doting parents.

I had read this, of course, a thousand times in the baby books, but no one ever really says it loud enough. It needs, I think, to be said to a new writer/parent daily. Multiple times. Really loudly. The air mask scenario in the plane going down-put your mask on first—makes complete sense now.

So take the time to honor your creative urge and take help where you can get it. What’s good for you is good for the bambini.

Learn more about Kate, her writing and upcoming readings on her author website.