Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Brought to bed - put to paper

Before the modern hospital birth, women mostly delivered at home. This period of labor, delivery and post-pregnancy, or “brought to bed,” was when mother and newborn could heal and nurse until they felt ready to be presented to the world.

Those with other children to care for (to say nothing of housework) spotted the flaws in this expression right away. So the phrase became just that. A slogan rather than an endorsement.

Much as I would have liked to have spent gluttonous amounts of time getting to know Lydia from the comforts of a pillow bank I, like my foremothers, had other children to give attention to. So there was no brought-to-bed – except for the occasional cup of coffee (which I was grateful for).

There has been quite a bit of sitting though, just as there has been time doing things with one hand. And much as I wanted, time for art has not been part of the equation. Reading books had to take a backseat for a while. Until I caught on to large-format books: picture books read from my lap to the twins and large, glorious art books. It is a perfect way to spend time while feeding a newborn. 

Although most handwork had to be put on hold, I committed myself to one finished piece during my maternity time. Something as simple as a greeting card.

And now nine weeks later we have just that.   

Lydia was Baptized on July 20, and I spent the week following reflecting on how it could be presented in a thank you to those who were there.  

I decided on a watercolor of Lydia’s gown with art masking fluid and a blue wash on watercolor paper. The paper absorbs the paint and resists the masking fluid. So what comes through is the pure white cotton paper. 

An appropriate and simple image for the Sacrament of Baptism. 

I started out out with a rough sketch and traced it onto watercolor paper. And painted on the masking fluid and taped the paper to a flat surface. I wet the paper, lay the wash, let it dry, peeled off the masking fluid with my fingers. And there it was. 

I scanned the artwork and used InDesign to turn it into a 4.25 x 5.5 card. And if you’re blessed to know a printer (as I am) you write to your father in-law and beg him to print your file and score them.

They even arrive all wrapped up. 

For me, art is what you can put to paper. Even one-handed. 

I did a book reading in March at a local preschool. During the question-period, the teacher offered that I describe my studio. I fumbled with a response:

“I don’t have one.”

“Oh, then tell us about where you do your work,” she offered.

I hesitated. “I work in my bed propped up with pillows. I spread out my work to dry and look at.”

So I guess we refresh old habits. Because what is one to do when there isn’t a studio to go to or even a few minutes to sneak away and create something?

I guess you do as your told – you bring it to bed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My husband leaned over and said, “It’s a girl”

A month ago I went for a walk.  

After talking to a few friends and co-workers, we determined that would be the best course of action. When you live in Worcester there are few ways to induce labor. We’re a city of a variety of spicy foods and restaurants; apparently there’s a legendary cream cheese you can try. But when I was four days past our due date, my flavor was to walk one of the city’s hills, nearby Wrentham Road, which has a grade to make any right angle jealous. In my defense I had few options – my doctor said induction would not be tabled. So Baby-Two-Cents-Plus-One had to come on his/her own or I would have to have another C-section (the latter, I decided, would not be tabled). I was in this category called "Trial of Labor" which, as the term implies, means I was going to try labor. And try I intended. So Wrentham Road it was; and for locals needing an endorsement – it worked like a charm. 

I know the trend today is to author a birth-plan. I didn’t make one. But even if I did, I don’t think I could have created a better one than what happened. I half-joked late in the pregnancy that I wanted to have Peanut Butter Fox Tail (i.e. Lydia) at home (I didn’t want to be away from Henry and Sophia for any length of time) and I thought they would be better birth-coaches than anyone I could hire or ask. As it turned out, I stayed with Henry and Sophia until the (almost) end. I leaned against the bed and they built duplo-towers around me. They were an adaptive, accommodating, and alleviating presence throughout labor. I felt so comfortable with them that I sent Tony off to work in the morning.

With Henry and Sophia, I never experienced a contraction – never felt any of the hallmark signs of labor. I have no regrets about their entrance into the world – but their birth left me completely clueless. And my level-headed doctor was not one to create scenarios. “Call us if anything changes,” was the prescription for this pregnancy – one that suited me just fine. So after going for that kick-starter walk, things had changed.  

Fifteen minutes after Tony left, I called my mother who is an hour and a half away and asked her for an assessment. Apparently, when you are in labor you need to know how to time contractions properly – not from the worst part, but from start to finish.

I now know this.

My mother, being my best friend and source of limitless knowledge (even over the phone) knew I was further along than I thought. “I’ll be right out,” she said.

I somehow managed to signal Tony to call me at home. My mother was stuck in some traffic and I was still in denial that I was in labor (I thank God that my mother didn’t listen to me when I said, “No, really, I think this is going to take a long time. Don’t rush.”)

By the time she got to my house, my mother took one look at me and said, “I think its time for you to go to the hospital.”

“But what if they send me back home because I’m not far enough along?” I said.

My mother calmly replied, “They’re not going to send you home.” 

And it turns out they didn’t send me home. We got to the hospital, I was checked and quickly admitted. Eight centimeters they told me. I was introduced to my no-nonsense but lovely nurse. I was too far for any pain medication, she said. Okay, I said. A little bit longer and you can push, she said.

There was a Resident with kind, wide eyes. And Tony in street clothes. That was all. Gone were the dozen plus people who were around for the twins’ birth. Gone were Tony’s blue scrubs. But then in walked the same, savior-like doctor from my practice who delivered Henry and Sophia. Apparently I said, “I could kiss you” or something (I have no memory of this) and he laughed. Then I knew, It Was Time.

I approached this birth with no intentions – except for one. We didn’t know the gender of the baby. I had this vision of requesting from whatever medical staff was there that I wanted an “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” shouted with cinematic-quality pomp. I never really articulated this to anyone – I thought it would conversationally come up pre-arrival.

The funny thing is, there was nothing chatty about my labor or delivery. So I never got the chance to tell the doctor or my nurse that we didn’t know. After that final push and she was here, it was quiet (save for a crying newborn). Instead they said, “reach down and hold your baby” and it was Tony who leaned over and told me quietly “it’s a girl.”

And with that I was glad that the one element of my birth plan fell through. 

And as for the original two cents? I couldn’t be prouder of them. Over the past year we’ve said many goodbyes. We’ve said goodbye at rehabilitation centers, in the ICU, in hospitals, nursing homes and in private moments to friends moving away. Goodbyes for a short time, an indeterminate amount of time and a long time. We said goodbye to our dog. To family members we didn’t know if we’d ever see again. To both my beloved grandparents when we visited the same graveside twice in a year.

But they also learned how to say hellos – hello to new friends and teachers when they started preschool in September. And the mysterious welcome-to-the-world-hello when they met their baby sister for the first time. 

So back to where this story started – with a walk. Walks I know we’ll all take together

And when we leave the house
It will be in two straight lines

[feel free to join in here]

in rain or shine
with the newest one
Lydia Madeline

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sham Rock

Twelve years ago I took this photograph of Tony with my much-loved 35mm camera. To this day it is one of my favorite pictures. We were visiting Newgrange, a prehistoric site in Ireland. We traveled to Dublin, stayed at a youth hostel and drank up as much of Ireland as we could in a few days (Tony kept his sights on the local Guinness; I called anything on a tourist map). 

“Be the Rock,” I said to him.

“Got it,” he replied.

Traveling to Ireland is really as Irish as we’ve ever been. Tony told me that re: raising the twins, it is my job to determine how much of my own heritage to insert; he would take care of his. 

Fair enough.

I started by diving off the deep end, “Donovan” I told them, “which is the last name Mama had before she married Daddy means descended-from-the-dark-haired.”

Henry and Sophia pretty much stared at me (and my hair) and we left it at that. 

It’s not that I am ignorant or unwilling to share my parents/grandparents/great-grandparents heritage. I’m just not sure how you begin. Short of doing a DIY Saint Patrick preschool craft web-crawl and becoming your kids’ personal on-demand shamrock/rainbow/pot of gold drawing machine, how do you start to talk about something as complex as cultural traditions without being confusing? Perhaps you just have to embrace the mystifying. Which is probably why folklore lends itself so perfectly to my children. 

I have learned that when it comes to holidays, celebrations, decorations, new signs and symbols that four-year-olds are pretty fabulous with their suspension of disbelief (be it willing or not). I can pretty much get them to believe anything I say. So when I took our standard sugar cookie recipe and made up a story about how leprechauns ran loose in the kitchen and stepped on all the cookies (and hid bits of rainbow inside), I had a captive audience who believed (immediately) in the power of mischievous fairies who ran about while mama made her Americanized version of Irish Soda Bread. 

I use the expression a lot of blarney (there’s a more colloquial expression I’ve heard too. But I like to think of this as a family-friendly blog and it is not nice). I’ve never actually kissed the stone, I like to think I have a lifetime of gullibility which I’ve passed on to the next generation.

This is a recipe of my own hybrid-creation. We once ran out of butter and I used the grapeseed oil instead; use butter if you like. Also, the standard recipe in my cookbooks make way too many cookies. This is just the right amount for us.

Leprechaun Sugar Cookies

¾ cup sugar
2/3 cup grapeseed oil
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
2 eggs (or ½ cup avocado to turn the cookies green & be vegan-friendly)
2 cups flour
Rainbow sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheet with parchment. Combine flour, powder, salt, and cream of tartar with a whisk. Set aside. Cream oil and sugar in a bowl. Add eggs one at a time (or avocado). Add vanilla. Gradually stir in flour mixture. Add rainbow sprinkles.

Form into small balls. Press thumbprint (or back of a spoon) into the center. Bake 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool and tell your children a story about how their cookies were stepped on. Delight in their shock as they look at the “footprint” on their confection. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Letter to Tony

"Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." Colossians 3:14.

I remember our first meeting, but not as well as I do our second. It was the spring term in 2001. We were outside the college library. I have a mental snapshot of you in that moment. It was snowing; you were wearing a winter hat; you had a pile of books under your arm; we didn’t expect to see one another. You smiled at me like I was the only person in the world who mattered. And from that moment, I was sunk.

If that meeting is indicative of anything, it is that we were fated for stories.

I love books, yes. But most of all, I love our story. I love what we have done and what we have not. I love that you can master any freaking task in an HOUR; that you are willing to show me anything and forgive my tendency to space out. I love that you’ll finish coma-worthy nonfiction in a matter of days and take a decade to finish a novel. I love that we have a daughter obsessed with pink. I love that these last two facts continue to baffle me.

Most of all I love that loving you has been the easiest thing in the world.

I’ll admit when I found out we were pregnant again I had some severe reservations. How could I find any more? At some point love has to run out, right? Or take from other things and people in your life? I am already completely obsessed with the results of the first pregnancy. Which I teased five years ago was the consequence of over-love. One baby couldn’t possibly hold it all.

So God gave us two. 


And here we are again – facing new life. And looking at the strong possibility that our little square family will shift shape into something resembling a circle. Which if they were books on the shelf would roll around and come tumbling out. But maybe this new book movement is onto something. Maybe they shouldn’t all have four corners.

Or maybe we’ll have to bring back the scroll. 

I won’t pretend that this couldn’t all change in an instant – and that there won’t be things we don’t understand. But for right now I’ll be content knowing how hopelessly wrong I was just a few months ago. This is amazing. This is you – and I will keep my promise to encase him or her in the best that I can give. 

I find myself thinking about faith and love – and that our position has always been that if you’re not keeping the two of them together at all times you’re doing it wrong. Everything else is just noise – whatever else you put in front of it.

I am so joyful that we’re figuring out a way to edit our little life; our small home, small car, small bank account, to include room for one more. As far as what worries everyone else – birth plans and nursery options – all that matters in the world to me is that you were there in the beginning and that you are there in the end. 


Nothing makes me realize the potential of light-out-of-darkness quite the way a sonogram does. There was nothing – and then all of a sudden, there is. A head, beating heart and little hand.  

Thank you, Tony. For this little gift growing bit by bit. Who is completely obsessed with granola and hummus. Who had me crawling on my hands and knees for the last quarter of 2013. 

And for letting me fall in love with you outside a library constructed in the shape of a circle. Which at the time seemed a silly shape for a building to hold rectangular objects.

But now seems just right.