Tag Archives: Winnie

How I Hold Them

When she was first born, she was my fragile thing, my carton of eggs, my soap bubble.

As she got older, she was no less precious, but not quite as delicate, so I jostled and shimmied and jumped and danced with her. Anything to make her sleep. Make her laugh. Make her happy.

After that, I held her on my hip, casually, like a load of laundry or a sack of groceries. She put her head on my shoulder, looked over my shoulder, looked all around. She pulled away, she pleaded to get down, to run. After such intense dependence, she shocked me with her yearning to be apart.

More and more, it was I who yearned for separation. I put her down. I made bargains and contracts and rules. I carried her only on the way there, only until that tree, only if she stopped crying, only if…

When she was hurt, or sad, or tired, I held her like a baby again, pressed her chest against mine. She wrapped her arms tightly around my neck like a dance partner.

It gets harder each day to pretend she is still a baby. I can only hold her on my lap if I fold her over onto herself. She lays her head against my chest and I wrap my arms around the whole of her, stretching to contain her limbs. We both stay longer than is comfortable, knowing well that the moment is gone already.

Still, I can hold her hand, which she doesn’t seem to mind as much as she used to. I hold her face between my  hands. I hold her close to me when she climbs into our bed in the mornings.

With the boy, I’m back at the beginning. He looks up at me, his face round and full of easy delight, a wide grin to greet the world. He looks my way and, impossibly, he opens his mouth even wider, showing me his gummy smile. And I smile back, both of us content to be safe and happy and together in a world no wider than the circle of my arms.

And, at night, I press him against my chest, and tuck my chin over his velvet head. My arms wrap all around him, my back curves forward to shelter him. He is my stolen loot, my thieve’s ransom. I say sometimes that I wish I could steal him away from time, from the changes the future will bring. And the words are true when I say them.

Really, though, I marvel at the different shapes our embrace will take. I can be their cocoon, their clown, their toy, their bed, their haven… And then what? And then what?

One More Makes Four

When I was pregnant with my daughter, people often told me, “It goes by so quickly!” Several times a day I heard this, so frequently that I got a little tired of it. I know now how true the sentiment is, and also how many different things that simple phrase can mean.

It can mean how hard it is to see your sweet baby pass through phases that she will never visit again. These days, I linger over photos of my girl when she was just a baby, and my heart swells with love, along with a bevy of other emotions – nostalgia, sadness, joy, pride. I can not believe that she will never be that size again. Each day that passes is too short, and she changes so quickly in each. Each day she grows up more and more, and she needs me less and less. It makes me want to weep, freeze time, push on her head… anything to slow it all down.

Meanwhile, another voice in my head shouts, “Thank heaven that the time passes so quickly!” Because the truth about parenting is that, while those early days are precious, they certainly don’t leave much time for one’s own pursuits. That the neediness of her infancy is finite means that I get to enjoy parts of me that I’ve sorely missed over the last couple of years. I get to go back to being a creative, social, working, WHOLE person again. And it feels really, really good.

Our little family is pretty sweet right now. The fact that we big people have little people outnumbered means that the dude and I can easily tag team parenting duties, and help each other make time for the things we love and need to do. Living with one child, which used to feel so overwhelming, now feels quite manageable. In fact, living with Winnie has become a little like living with a foreign exchange student. (Not a hot French one, but more like a slightly geeky one from Poland.) We have to explain absolutely everything to her and put up with her hanging around us all the time, but she also says hilarious things because of her limited English skills, and she helps me to see the world in a new and more expansive way.

There are a million reasons to be glad for what we’ve got, and not mess with a good thing. And, yet, messing with it is exactly what we’re doing. We’re having number two.

Deciding to have a second child means signing up for exhaustion, physical and emotional upheaval, dirty diapers, and mountains of laundry, not to mention the strain on our relationships and the cost to our professional lives. But we’re doing it anyway. Why? Are we gluttons for punishment?

Perhaps. But we also know now, better than we did before, how fast these days, weeks, months, and years will fly. How the drudgery will be sprinkled with delicious moments of laughter and delight. How those moments will rush around us like water, buoying us up (and sometimes threatening to pull us under).

I need the miracle and mystery of parenthood in our lives. When our second is born this summer, I know that our hearts will crack open in a million painful and beautiful ways, just as they did when Winnie was born. Only now Winnie will be here, with us. It will also be her world that is shaken and rattled. We will each – all three of us – miraculously become more than we were before. The dude and I will grow to adjust to the new challenges of parenting two children, and our little girl will become a big sister. She’ll face her challenges, too, I’m certain. She’ll be forced to practice patience and compassion, and sometimes she will fail. She will love and protect her sibling, even while she resents and even dislikes him or her at times.

As she accommodates – or not – the newest member of our family, she’ll learn her first lessons about love and all its mysteries. Loving someone when you hate him. Loving someone when you’d rather not. Loving someone, and being in awe of the hugeness and complexity of your feelings. We’ll try to explain it to her, and I’m sure she’ll have plenty to teach us, too. I hear it’s different in Poland.

Sweet Nostalgia


When you were a wee baby, we wrapped you in an orange blanket.

Is there anything more lovely than hearing stories of when we were little? Even though Winnie is just two, she repeatedly asks to hear stories from when she was newly born.

When you were a brand new baby, your grandparents and your aunties and uncles came to see you. Everyone held you and kissed you while you smiled, or cried, or slept. And everyone loved you.

When you were our teeny tiny baby, you loved to lie on Daddy’s chest. When you finally fell asleep, he would lie back on the couch and fall asleep, too. When I woke up, I would come to the living room and smile at you both.

When you were an itty little baby, Mommy used to wrap you up tight tight tight in a blanket. I’d dance and sway with you, and whisper, “Shush shush.”

I swaddled Winnie’s stuffed bear in one of her soft, orange baby blankets, showing her how I used to wrap her up.  She pulled the blanket off the bear and insisted, “Wrap me up, Mommy!  I’m a little baby!” The blanket that used to envelope her like a cocoon now doesn’t even come down to her wrists.  I tucked the blanket as snugly as I could around her torso, and I walked around the room while I gently bobbed her up and down. She calmed down and listened, just as she did when she was an infant.

She still likes to play the game once in a while. “Wrap me up,” she says.  And I do, and I tell her about how loved she has always been.  I indulge this baby game because we both enjoy it. Goodness knows, it won’t be long before cuddling with Mommy loses its appeal.

I wonder if this is my daughter’s first experience with nostalgia.  Maybe she realizes – in her toddler way – that some quality of time has passed, and is unavailable to her now. I’ve spent quite a lot of energy over my 30+ years feeling nostalgic about whichever phase in my life happens to have just passed me by: the school years, the single years, the childless years… I have to remind myself that, if we didn’t grow and change, there would be nothing for which to feel nostalgic. So, feeling nostalgic means that we have grown. We are doing what we’re supposed to do: traveling along on this rolling, dipping, dizzying journey of a life.

And, yet, I  believe that there’s nothing wrong with looking back, reaching out to touch those especially sweet moments we have lived. We all do this, some of us through daydreaming, some of us through writing, some of us through hearing the stories of our lives from the people who have lived it right along with us. And me, I wrap up my too-big baby in her orange blanket, and I whisper, “Shush shush.”

Lists, Lists, Lists

It’s hard to imagine life without lists. On any given day, I have to manage several different aspects of my life: my home, my work, my friendships, and Winnie’s needs. Making lists of all my to-do’s helps me make sure I get it all done without having to wander around muttering to myself:  “A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter…” (**See below**)

My notebook is full of lists. Lists of groceries and chores. Lists of letters to write, lists of ideas for blog posts, story concepts, phone calls to make, gifts to buy.  I love crossing off the items on my lists, and am not even above writing something on a list that I’ve already done only so that I can then draw a line through it. It’s a way of tricking my mind (not too hard to do, it turns out) into thinking that I’ve gotten started.

Lately, I’ve been writing lists of books.  You can find a long-ish but ever-growing list of books that I want to read here. I also love writing lists of books that I have already read. I have published several of these at Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations. Making lists lets me share some of my favorite books with a group of folks beyond my immediate circle of reading buddies.  It’s also a valuable exercise for me.  Making lists gives me a chance to reflect on books I’ve enjoyed, forcing me to pinpoint what exactly it is that I like about them, and drawing lines between books that are similar for a variety of reasons.

I recently published a list that was particularly fun for me to make: Pairs of Titles to Entertain (and Educate) Your Curious Toddler. The list includes five pairs of children’s books. For each pair, I started with a beloved fiction picture book and matched it with a complementary non-fiction text.  It was a very teacherly thing to do, I admit. Winnie inspired me one day when she was looking at the book Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons, and pulled out Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar Pop-Up Book to look at right next to it. She literally looked back and forth between the two texts, obviously making connections between the two. I thought a lot about that, and how Winnie is really at the perfect age for non-fiction because of her intense curiosity about the world. Many people have a deeply ingrained preference for fiction.  Somewhere along the way, we learned to think of non-fiction as learning (groan) and fiction as entertaining. Win doesn’t have any of those prejudices, though. It’s a great quality, one on which I’m determined to capitalize.

Check the list out if you are so inclined. Just because I’m not reading this week doesn’t mean you can’t.

**Note: I recently found this video of the original Sesame Street cartoon that I referenced in this post. (Did you get it? Did you? If you were born in the late 70s, you probably did.) I remember this cartoon so well. Okay, so not as well as I’d thought because I remembered the words a little differently. But, for anyone interested in a trip down Nostalgia Lane:

I Feel Pretty! (Witty and Wise, Too.)

Win's Pink Goggles

Win's Pink Goggles

I knew it would happen someday. Surely every parent must deal with a situation in which a child says something so dreadful that there is no appropriate response.  My daughter Winnie, at nineteen months old, uttered the words that I had particularly dreaded:

“I look PRETTY!!”

I froze, my mind already in denial, already telling itself that I had misunderstood her squeal.  But, no, the words were clear enough.  And, if there was any question, there she was, twirling around the living room, admiring the ruffles on her new dress.  The dress itself was a gift from a relative, and it was an adorably girly concoction of flounces and sparkles.  The kind of thing that I, her mother, would never have bought for her.

No sooner was the dress over her head than Win began a series of spins that would have made any prima ballerina proud.  “I LOOK PRETTY!!” she howled again.

I wondered, how should I respond? I considered something like, “Uh-huh” or “Yup,” but those seemed like empty responses that wouldn’t win me many points on the parenting scorecard in my mind.  What I needed was an enthusiastic response that showed her that pretty was not the point, that pretty is a label that limits and oppresses.  I wanted my daughter to see that being preoccupied with pretty was a slippery slope that would only lead to hours of primping and preening that would be better spent, you know, reading the Constitution or graduating from med school.  This was a teachable moment, and I had to grasp it.

So, I looked her square in her glowing, expectant little face.  I mustered all my maternal wisdom, and I said brightly, “You look… ready for adventure!”

Winnie faltered.  Clearly, she didn’t understand my response, and now we were both confused.  The truth is, on most days she is ready for adventure, dressed in tees, pants, and rugged little boots.  On this day, though, she didn’t look ready for anything more adventurous than high tea.  She looked, well, pretty.

I realized in that moment, that I have a pretty messed up relationship with “pretty.”  We modern gals want to be pretty, but we don’t want to seem as though we’re putting much thought into it.  We’d much rather be known for our smarts and our accomplishments (we’d rather by Elizabeth than Jane Bennet, but Elizabeth was no slouch in the looks department).  When we become mothers, it becomes a stickier situation.  I want my daughter to be attractive – because attractive matters, no matter how much I wish it wouldn’t – but I don’t want her to have to strive for it.  I want her to be who she is, and to be immune to influences that distract her from the important stuff, insisting that skinny jeans or new lip gloss will help her measure up to the other girls.  How can I stifle those influences when I fear that I myself am one, with the makeup-wearing example I set?  And, if she tends toward ruffles, how do I know whether that’s who she is or who she has become as a result of advertising and social pressure?

Even on blogs like Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode, parents debate whether to allow their daughters to play with pink toys.  Pink?! As if pink could make the difference between whether your daughter grows up to be a scientist or a cheerleader? A color doesn’t have that kind of power, but obviously pink signifies more than just a color.

Here are the facts as I know them.  My daughter loves books and trucks.  And she also has a keen eye for all things sparkly and ruffly.  I know that I want her to feel she is pretty, and to deeply know that pretty is not everything she is.  I want her to know that it’s OK to delight in ruffles, but that true prettiness comes from a big heart, laughter, wisdom, a bright mind.

It’s a minefield of girliness out there, and I know it won’t stop coming just because I wish it would.  How about you?  How do you feel about the pressure (or assumption) that girls love dresses and fairy wings?  Should we dissuade young girls from all things pink or feminine?  How can we celebrate all the things that women can rightly be and enjoy, including pink, while also working against society’s limiting concept of girlhood?

This evening, as I was making dinner, Win wrestled with a package that had arrived in the mail. She was determined to open it, and she tore and pulled until it began to give. She was grunting and straining, but she didn’t ask me for help. Then, as the package opened, she yelled, “I’m strong!” I was so glad to be able to agree, unequivocally, with that.