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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

how building a house is like having a baby

You've been dreaming it up, imagining how life will be different, picturing your family with its newfound treasure....

Congratulations! You are now parents of a!

Yes, I have decided that building a house is a whole lot like having a baby. Here's why:

When you are about to have a baby, you think about that baby all the time. What will it look like? Whose hair will he get? What colors eyes will she have? A baby hijacks your thoughts. When you build a house it is the same except instead of wondering about eye color, dimples, freckles or nose size, you wonder if the sketch on paper will come together to look good, or let's be honest, even decent. Instead of hoping for 10 fingers and 10 toes you hope your kids' rooms allow them space for a bed and to actually turn around. You assume the layout of your master bath is perfect until your bathroom designer points out that when you are lying in your bed and look through the door to the bathroom you will be looking straight at your toilet.  In short, you wonder how it will all come together.

When you are expecting a baby, you spend so much time waiting- an eternity it seems!- that you  think the day may never come when the baby actually arrives. It may just live in the belly forever. Waiting for a house to be done is much the same except you wonder if you have just invested your life's savings into a structure you will never get to live in.

When you build a house, you can plan all you want on a due date but, like (most) babies, it will be done when its done, not when it's convenient. In both cases, it is best not to get too attached to a date.

When you name your baby, it's often wise to keep the name to yourself. Rarely are people as excited about the name as you are, especially if it is at all outside of the box. ("Oh. I see. You named your child Boxer. How interesting.")

The same is true of a house. It can be downright disappointing to share your house plans with people. They may not like it as much as you do and may struggle to hide it. ("Oh you are building a yurt/craftsman style house with a windmill farm in the backyard. Love it.") Like safekeeping baby names until there is an actual breathing human being associated with the name, it might be better to keep your house a secret and just invite people to the housewarming. (Word of caution: this is hard to do in a small town.)

When buying things for your baby or for your house there is a common theme. Everything costs more than you think it will. "Do we really need this swing that plugs in instead of using batteries?" (You do.)  "Do strollers really cost this much?" (They do.) "Wait, how much did you say that faucet is? Is it made of unicorn horns?" (No. That one would be 20 times the cost.)

When you have a baby, you get loose with your mouth. You don't mean to but you talk about things you wouldn't ordinarily discuss (nipples, hemorrhoids, excrement, etc.) in common company. You must also watch your mouth with house building because when people ask, "Hey, how's the house coming?" they might not have the time for the 20 minute monologue on your dilemma over choosing a heating system, the intricacies of granite striations or the pros and cons of wood versus engineered flooring.

When you have a baby you are starving for information ("Yes, I would love a DNA map of our fetus, thank you very much.") and especially for a sneak peek at your little one. Each ultrasound, no matter how much the image departs from that of a human baby, is a source of pride and glee. The same is true when the foundation goes in for your house and the roof trusses show up. Even though they don't actually resemble a house, they practically bring a tear of joy to your eyes. ("Will you just look at how beautiful those triangles are! Have you ever seen a nicer shade of gray?")

House building, like parenthood, also provides an instantaneous bond between people. Folks you might not have sought out for conversation become the ones you turn to for commaraderie or to celebrate a progress made ("She rolled over for the first time!" or "We have electricity!") or to ask advice ("He wakes up at 4:30 every morning for the day. What do I do?" or "We need to decide if we want vinyl balusters or aluminum. What did you pick?").

When you are preparing for the arrival of your baby, every detail seems of the utmost importance: what texture the baby blankets should be, if that shade of yellow is warm and sunny or looks like pee, if it is better to get the mobile with the sheep or the ducks. Never has there been more on the line.

When you are building the house, there are are exponentially more choices and you make each with painstaking care (bi-fold vs. pocket doors for the closets, backsplash or no backsplash, track light vs. recessed light) not sure which ones will matter in the long run, which ones to make a priority in your budget and which ones you will be so relieved you spent and extra 5 hours of your life deliberating about.

Both house building and parenting require a couple to foster positive relationships with everyone who will be helping them along the way (you would no more want to get on your pediatrician's bad side than your builder's), to quickly establish each other's strengths and weakness and divide and conquer along those line and, most essentially, to cultivate a generous sense of humor with each other. It may be hard to laugh it off when you co-parent pretends to be asleep when the baby cries in the night or when you spouse contemplates a helipad on the roof, but truly, laughter is the best prescription here. That and some carefully chosen words. 

In the end, it won't matter how close or far from her due date your baby was born or what exact date you moved into your house. It won't matter how many pounds you gained while pregnant (unless of course you still have them and then it may matter a lot).  You won't remember most of the sacrifices you made during the building of your house, the near argument you had over the tile for the kitchen or the 50 houses you drove by to pick the perfect color of siding.  You won't care that your house wasn't tight by winter the way it was supposed to be or all the days you drove by and no one was working and you were in danger of throwing a two-year-old tantrum. 

Because now you are holding that baby in your arms and your heart is melting as he smiles at you for the first time. You are cooking in your dream kitchen or sitting by your brand new, push button fireplace. And because now you have new things to think about. You have another human being to take care of. You have a mortgage to pay.

Congratulations! Your worry and angst have just begun. Best buckle in and get ready to ride.*

(* I am joking, of course. House building, like becoming a parent, has been one of the most joyful and fulfilling experiences of my life. As I have brought more mindfulness and appreciation to my role as "Mom", I have cultivated the same with our house. I am aware of how fortunate we are to be building a house at all, especially one that is nearly everything we could dream of, and I told myself early on that I would not complain when things didn't go right or there were stresses or setbacks. This attitude has made all the difference and, as a result, the experience hasn't been the harrowing one you hear about time and again. Instead I am approaching it with excitement and amazement. It isn't every day you see a 40-year-old woman jumping up and down at night in the light cast from from her headlights because there is a roof on her house. 

As I get older, and infinitesimally wiser, I know this to be true: it isn't life that makes you happy, it is you that makes a happy life.)

 Wait, did I just make up my own quote?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

maybe it isn't you...maybe it's just a broken window

This is not a political post. Promise.

This is a post about moving forward, stitching things back together, and finding our way back to humanity.

I have been in a post-election retreat for the past few weeks. I haven't been able to stomach the news, the banter, the fear, the gloating and the flat-out hatred that has been circulating.  It feels like the world has been poisoned.

The landscape of our nation has been greatly impacted by this election and would be regardless of who won. There have been things said, words written, insults slung and dormant belief systems reinvigorated and the lid doesn't go back on easily. Nor would I want it to. I prefer that we as a nation bleed out all the nastiness that was seeping under the surface, the philosophies and beliefs so many of us thought had a minimal presence in our modern society. Let's turn the dirt over and see what is underneath once and for all.

Only then can we be free of it.

As I retreated, I have looked around my little world and seen that things are mostly the same. I am immeasurably blessed to be surrounded by love and goodness, kindness and safety. But it is not that way for staggering numbers of Americans who have been targeted during this election and will continue to be in the aftermath. I am aware that as a privileged person, it is my job to be a custodian to those whose lives are profoundly marked by the division and hatred that have grown large as of late. I am not always sure how to do that but I am a writer and, as such, can at least give a voice to it. I can at least say I will stand up for you because I will

I know it sounds impossibly trite to say, "Can't we all just love each other?"

But, really, truly, can't we all just love each other?

And by love I don't mean all-out adoration. I mean acceptance, allowing, kindness, freedom to be. I'm talking about seeing yourself in someone else, recognizing the universal experience of suffering in other human beings. I'm talking about more transparency between us, less devices acting as intermediaries in our relationships, more open acknowledgment that being a human being is a lovely, exhausting, messy, beautiful, humbling, glorious, terrifying journey for everyone.

We don't all have to agree on policy, on leaders, on diet, on parenting, on taxes, on styles, on sports teams, on education, on money or on religion. That would be ridiculous and futile to attempt such homogeny. It would also demolish all the rich texture that makes our nation diverse, inventive and dynamic.

Our society thrives on difference. Sameness should never be the goal. I once heard the expression, "We can't all like vanilla ice cream." And what a bland world it would be if we did?

But there is something we do need to agree on and we need to agree on it soon before we do any more damage to each other. We need to agree that we are all human beings, radically diverse though we may be, and we are all made up of the same basic elements.

We divide, position "us" against "them"and make lines in the sand to serve the purpose of protecting ourselves, our individuality, our freedom, our bonds. What if there was no "us" and no "them"? What if we are all just "us", trying to figure out this life together? If that were the case, if we didn't need to guard against the threat of people who are in some way different than us, then we would be able to recognize the humanity in everyone.

We would so freely recognize that every human being is entitled to basic kindness. That we are all equal and we all deserve a space, a place, in this great nation of ours.

One day at school drop off I was passing the car of a friend. I put my window down to say hello but my friend just waved and didn't roll the window down. I am not proud to admit that I was immediately offended. You know what I found out later? My friend's window was broken - broken -and would not roll down. It was not personal, offensive or excluding. It was just a broken window.

What if the barriers between us are based on misunderstandings, unfair expectations and seeing things too narrowly through our own lenses? What if everyone is walking around with a broken window and, in response, we take offense, put up walls and make assumptions?

All human beings are walking around with the same basic pieces: joy, misery, fear, love, anger, pride, wonder. What if we didn't judge the pieces of others but instead recognized them as the same ones we have, just presented in a slightly different form? Acceptance of each other would get a whole lot easier.  Humanity would return to our country.

What I have learned from this election is that it is easier to hate than to love. But easy has never been our style. We are Americans and we love a challenge.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ella, a portrait of a young lady

Today our baby turns twelve. Twelve. 

To raise a person from an infant to a twelve-year-old is an unparalleled experience. It is not the same as simply loving someone for twelve years or being married for twelve years. To have a being created by you, who depends entirely on you, evolve into her own existence, grow into her own skin, begin to find her own identity is the stuff of magic, of wonder, of indescribable beauty.

I took the puppy on a trail run in the Bangor City Forest, a place I used to frequent many times a week with a different set of canines and before children. As I ran with Piper around the familiar curves and turns, keeping close tabs on my little brown rocket, I was thrown back twelve years to when I walked these trails with a different baby on my mind.

Being pregnant with Ella was like a part-time job.  Type I diabetes qualified me as a high-risk pregnancy and I spent hours at OB appointments, endocrinology appointments, perinatology appointments, ultrasounds, tests and yet more tests. Being pregnant was sort of like a job. My blood sugar control needed to be near perfect and part of that was achieved with routine. 

So I walked the trails at the City Forest, two dogs in tow, as my belly grew through the spring and summer until, eventually in the fall, I lumbered through the five miles. I spent my time imagining our baby and my life as a mom and Sandi's and my partnership shifting from couple to family

There is something about a first baby, the one who makes you a mother. The one whose presence forever changes not just how you feel, how you love, how you see the world, but actually changes who you are.  

On Ella's birth announcements we had the quote: "Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body." (Elizabeth Stone)

I have had twelve years of having my heart walking outside my body and I can attest that nothing will tear you apart and put you together quite like motherhood. I have watched this adorable, cuddly, tenuous, discerning baby:

bloom into a confident, caring, sensitive, daring young lady.

It is a metamorphosis I am awed by.

She has gone from her fancy petticoat dress phase (an entire year, no pants whatsoever) to a fashionista phase (6 years), and has landed soundly in athletic mode. This past year she has done basketball, skiing, gymnastics, field hockey and is now trying her hand at cheering.

There were several gymnastics related injuries this year including a broken arm,

an X-ray to rule out a broken foot.

 and a gashed shin that required stitches and a sunny July afternoon spent in the ER. (Talk about FUN.)

There are so many things Ella loves. She loves holidays, homemade macaroni and cheese, when it gets dark outside, cheesecake, the beach, having people visit, interior design, music, salt and vinegar potato chips, clothes, art, slamming doors, writing, her friends, anything made by Apple, chai tea, movie afternoons, a day packed with things to do, photography and getting lost in a good book.

Above all, she loves her family.

She ADORES her puppy.

And, most of the time, she even loves her sister. 

She dislikes:  Sunday evenings, surprises, a day with no plans, when Maya crosses the line (any line, which she does every single day), being told what to do, cheese sticks, endings and goodbyes. And, alas she still does not love her vegetables. (This was actually an April Fool's joke when I told the girls I had made them a super special, yummy breakfast and made them close their eyes.)

Sometimes, in the part of my brain where I make illogical bargains and deals, I think, "I would be such a better mother now than I was 12 years ago. If we started over, with these same kids, imagine how much better a mom they would have now than they had then."

I'm pretty sure that is like being 20 and wishing for the wisdom of an 80-year-old without living the years in between. 

In truth, I would never be the person I am today, the mother I am today, without each and every moment I have shared with Ella: the beautiful, the treacherous, the terrifying, the joyful, the maddening, the miraculous...all of it. 

Ella and I have grown up together.  She has evolved into her own person, with her own hopes and dreams, fears and strengths, successes and failures, joys and pains. And I have grown into a better human being, a better mother alongside her.

I asked Ella if eleven had been a good year. She shrugged. I said, "What would you say your best year has been?"

Without hesitation she answered, "Ten."

I said, "Really? Why?"

"Because that is the year I was homeschooled." I nearly fell over. That year was HARD.

"But you weren't doing so well that year. That is why you were homeschooled."

She said, "I know. But that helped me get better."

There are so many things to love about Ella. She has a quiet demeanor that is very peaceful to be around when it is just the two of you. She has developed a quick sense of humor that catches you off guard in the best moments. She can let go of little things in favor of peace and harmony. She has the most contagious laugh and gives such heartfelt hugs. Her heart has become full of compassion for other beings and she holds a newfound sacredness for them. She is sensitive and feels things deeply. She is generous and kind, brave and adventurous.

There isn't a time that I have been more proud of our girl than I am right now. The growing pains have paid off. The struggle and strife have carved her from a block of clay into a work of art. She has found a place to land with both feet on the ground, her two feet, no one else's, and she looks up at us and smiles. And we smile back because we know she didn't get there by accident or by luck. She got there because she persevered, she traveled, she was gritty, tough and determined.

There is an Buddhist quote about the necessity of struggle that I have thought of countless times over the years of raising Ella. I couldn't find it exactly but I found this quote from "Lost" which succinctly says the same thing:

You see this little hole? This moth's just about to emerge. It's in there right now, struggling. It's digging it's way through the thick hide of the cocoon. Now I could take my knife, gently widen the opening, and the moth would be free, but it would be too weak to survive. Struggle is nature's way of strengthening it.

Letting your child struggle can be excruciating. And, as with all things where the risk is high, the payoff is enormous.

Our girl...our girl is flying.

Happy Twelfth birthday, El. We love you to the moon and back. We love who you've become and we are excited to see all you have yet to be.
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