28 September 2008


In case I have any returning readers out there, sorry for the lack of posts. Any time for thinking, reading & writing has been directed to school work. I'll make an effort to post more than once a month though!

27 September 2008

Review--The Snow Leopard

THE SNOW LEOPARD by Jackie Morris

I picked this up during our library visit last week. It's the sort of thing I'm drawn to: a story set in the Himalayas is likely to have spiritual overtones which resonate with me. And this one exceeded my expectations.
The illustrations are lush with mood and emotion. They evoke a melancholy which transcends mere sentiment, a quiet sadness rooted in an awareness of suffering and the transitory nature of life.
The text was no disappointment either. The mythic and haunting nature of this story is accented by the dreamy, poetic prose, rich with sensory details. The complex, densely imaged phrasing did not capture Charlie's attention for long, but I imagine at a later stage in development he will be captivated as I was by the breathtaking and lovingly crafted words and images in this book.

09 August 2008

A Dream & Anticipation

In my final cat-nap stretch of sleep before crawling (literally--our current co-sleeping bed arrangement is funky) out of bed this morning I had a vivid dream. Charlie and I were at a little farmer's market. I think he was on my back in the Ergo. There were eggplants of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the usual dark purple to lavender/white in color. And I think there were mushrooms growing here and there. Many people were crowding around the wooden bins where the eggs were. There was a mess of broken eggs and empty cartons. We were there especially to buy eggs and I was upset when some folks grabbed the last bunch. "I need them to feed my family!" I pleaded. I don't remember the exact resolution of this part--as dreams go we were moved into a dormitory type room with a wood-framed bunk/loft type bed. It was a small space--all wood paneling, and filled with debris like dried leaves, mushrooms, cobwebs, bugs, etc. It was somewhere I had stayed before and I was excited about being there and sharing it with Charlie, and I eagerly picked up a broom and vigorously began sweeping away the webs and clutter. I woke up with a good feeling.

Even without the online dream dictionary (here's one to check out), it was easy for me to understand this one. After nearly ten years I am going back to school to complete my Master's degree in English. When I left the program I had two incompletes and an unwritten thesis, and I was in a difficult place emotionally, having opened the door to search for my birth family and dealing with some powerful feelings which surfaced. I also had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. While applying to Ph. D. programs that final semester, I realized my motivation for a career in academia was driven by a need for external validation (college professor=worthy/valuable person) rather than a love for the work itself. Truth is, my real motivation to read and learn was not about love for the work of interpreting literature, but to better understand myself and my place in the world. I hated writing papers; the critical part of my mind went into hyper-drive and writing was an excruciatingly constipated process. In fact, this blog is the first time I've been able to enjoy writing in all these years. In school, despite a progressive-minded department, I could not write freely and creatively for myself; instead, I needed to meet specific criteria, and do so well enough to merit the almighty A. Now I'm a lifelong unschooler and much happier.

For a time my mind was in a lachrymose haze, unable to complete a coherent paragraph, much less write the papers to finish my degree. And soon I was overly preoccupied with making a living; we were dirt poor and needed to get on our feet financially. I almost went back to school while we lived in New Mexico--both jobs I had there required teaching certification, but I just couldn't afford the tuition. And we got the itch to move back east, where I worked my way up the ladder in retail and Shad enrolled at UNCA to finish his degree. Then came Charlie. School was nowhere on the map.

Once in a while I thought about looking into completing the degree. I assumed it would be more work and more money than I would be able to manage. I even revisited my thesis research to see if writing it might be a viable option, but the idea was overwhelming, and I'm no longer the same person who started that project, so how could I finish it now with any coherency?

While it wasn't something I would brag about, I was at peace with the situation. After all, lacking the piece of paper did not mean I lacked the education. My time in grad school, coupled with my experience teaching, was invaluable--as painful as that time was, it was essential to the process of finding myself and becoming a secure and more confident person. I had no regrets, even without the formal closure of a diploma in hand.

Then through toddler fun I met Jessica, who encouraged me to look into teaching at the local community college where she is an adjunct in the English Department--a flexible job in which she managed to avoid expensive child care for her son. I loved teaching, and found myself with enough motivation to inquire about completing my degree. I only need one class, which I can take here and transfer to my alma matter for credit.

So it's all coming together, and I'm a bit surprised by how excited I am to be clearing out those dusty cobwebs inside myself and steering my life in a new direction (eggs) which I had not anticipated. The mess with the eggs in my dream likely reflects my anxiety over getting registered at the last minute--I've called admissions more than once to make sure there is no glitch holding up my entry in the system. I'm not one who likes to wait until the last minute, and I'm concerned that the class I want might be full. But these issues should be resolved this week. And the presence of the vegetables just confirms for me that this change will be a nourishing one.

What a pleasant feeling to have these images floating around my mind and to detect an almost crisp quality to the air this morning, and to notice some leaves gathering at the trunk of the Ash Maple in the backyard--suggesting that autumn will be here before long, and change is good.

25 July 2008

Review--Sensational Meditation for Children


Last week Charlie and I had the pleasure of attending a party at our friend Sarah's home to celebrate the release of her book. It was a well-attended, family friendly event, with a fun castle-shaped bounce house, and fantastic food. I met Sarah when she gave a presentation on meditation at Stroller Club last summer, and a few months later I saw her work with a group of young children at a children's health event hosted by my chiropractor friend. Remembering how engaged the children were, I was eager to read her book to learn more.

Sarah's writing reflects her years of experience, solid background knowledge and her love for working with children. There's plenty of information here to develop a good understanding of the various purposes and benefits of meditation for anyone, and children in particular. With your appetite whetted, she then presents detailed, easy to follow, step-by-step instructions for a variety of child-friendly meditation exercises. These sound like a lot of fun, with titles like 'Fudge Swirl," "Inside Friends," and "The Happy Tree." I especially liked the way the meditations are grouped thematically in chapters titled Clearing My Mind, Healing My Body, Renewing Spirit, and Finding Out Who I Am. Woven throughout are specific suggestions and exercises to connect with your child and ways to make the most of the meditation experience through art and writing, among other ideas. The final chapter offers guidelines and inspiration for creating your own meditations.

This book is a great tool for parents, educators and anyone working to connect with children, to help them open their minds and souls to possibility and higher self-awareness, and not least of all, their imaginations! Please go to Sara's website to purchase her book and to learn more: http://www.sarahwood.com/

19 July 2008

Review--The Breastfeeding Cafe

May be enjoyed by nursing moms, moms-to-be and anyone interested in cultural issues surrounding breastfeeding and motherhood.

This is one title I picked up with birthday money (thanks Gram!), and it was hard to choose, with dozens of books on my "save for later" space in my Amazon.com checkout cart. What an enjoyable read! With a structure intended to reflect a conversation among mothers, Behrmann skillfully weaves together a myriad of voices from a wide range of cultural, economic and educational backgrounds, from women who have nursed children through age five and beyond and others who were unable to breastfeed due to medical issues or lack of information and support. She describes her intention with this format: "Telling our stories is an act of power, of taking control of our own life, of helping other women in theirs. It is, above all, a starting point. My hope is that the stories in The Breastfeeding Cafe will give women the courage and permission to dispel myths, reveal secrets, and be honest." (292) There is both vibrant emotional connection and thought-provoking academic perspective. Pretty much every conceivable aspect of the topic is touched upon. The last chapter, "Where Do We Go From Here?" will rouse your inner lactivist: she clearly outlines specific societal changes needed to improve breastfeeding success in America--things like mother/baby friendly care for birth and the postpartum, better education for health care providers (whose ignorance is frequently responsible for sabotaging nursing relationships), truly family-friendly labor policies, including an actual paid maternity leave, and other actions the need for which is well documented within her collection of narratives. Inspiring.

09 July 2008

In Breast We Trust

Recently, I had one of those uneasy conversations which played over and over again in my mind afterward, and I wish I could go back and edit my response. A well meaning person asked, in genuine curiousity and without intended criticism, if my son would be able to develop self-soothing behaviors and coping mechanisms as long as he was "placated" at the breast whenever he was upset. I stumbled through a defensive response, citing arguments for the psychological soundness of breastfeeding past infancy, how by age five most children will have a variety of internal coping mechanisms, and how children I know who were breastfed responsively have grown into very secure, indepentent individuals, etc.

It was the word placate which shook me. Sure, it was used innocently enough, but the connotation is one which in my mind evoked the image of me thrusting my breast into my son's mouth whenever he gets disagreeable. Here's something that will stop your whining--pop! There's also the suggestion of the s-word: spoiling. That by placating him with the breast I am allowing myself to be manipulated, or that I'm reinforcing my son's neediness by giving in to his demands by nursing him, as they say--on demand. Again, I don't suspect these notions were suggested by the questioner, but they are common assumptions in our bottle feeding, baby scheduling culture.

A more fitting response would have been to clarify that my son is not placated at my breast, he is nurtured. Nursing provides him not only optimal physical nourishment, but emotional sustenance. It is a safe haven for him, a place where he comes to center himself, to process his experiences and recharge his batteries. Unlike the child who may smirk with self-satisfaction once his manipulations have been rewarded with a formerly taboo object (the sweets he was whined for, as an example), the child soothed by nursing returns to his activity like one rising from meditation--calm, with focus and once again able to act from the better part of his nature.

Unlike anything I've ever experienced in my life, breastfeeding my son feels intenseley and inexpressively right. The urge to meet his needs this way is prompted from deep within and acted upon peacefully, without question, with no trace of hesitation or internal conflict. I imagine many moms who have responsively breastfed their little ones well into infancy and beyond touch upon this deep feeling of inherent rightness. This may be one inspiration behind lactivism and breastfeeding support efforts, just as I imagine a similar feeling inspires the natural birth movement. It's something which is extremely difficult to convey to those who have not experienced it.

Of course, I intended the title of this post as a little joke. It is not in the breast but our children in whom we need to place our trust. I have complete faith that in time Charlie will find other sources of emotional nourishment, other ways to center himself and cope with life's challenges. He learned to walk and talk. He wants to be able to do things for himself. He will wean. He will sleep through the night and someday he will even prefer his own space. Our time spent nursing may serve as a bedrock within him--evoking that place of safety, a deep well of comfort and love which he can always draw upon as needed.

Review--Wild About Books

WILD ABOUT BOOKS by Judy Sierra, Illustrated by Marc Brown
May be enjoyed by children ages 18 months-- about 9 years

In the first major compromise of my parenting ideals, I bought a DVD for Charlie to watch: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Scholastic. What began as a cute infatuation with The Simpsons (Charlie would point to our DVDs of the series and shout, "Dooh!" his approximation of Homer's ubiquitous "D'oh!") sparked concern as Charlie grew more imitative. Not eager to see him grab a stuffed animal by the throat and growl, "Why you little..." I found an appropriate distraction with "Boom Boom." We both enjoyed the animated version of Wild About Books (one of seven stories on the disc), so I found a copy of the book.

Book lovers will especially appreciate this story, which involves a librarian bringing her bookmobile into a zoo and igniting a passion for reading and writing among the inhabitants. There is a dedication to Dr. Seuss on the last page, and the rhyme and meter evoke his style without being overly derivative. The writing and illustrations are playful in a way which makes you feel the artist and author found much pleasure in their work; there are little jokes and allusions peppered throughout which may be appreciated on various levels, such as waterproof Harry Potter books for the otters and a penguin scribbling, "The Iceman Cometh." My favorite part is when the insects write haiku, with the scorpion giving out "stinging" reviews: the dung beetle writes, "Roll a ball of dung--/Any kind of poo will do--/Baby beetle bed," to which the scorpion responds, "Stinks."

The illustrations are whimsical and engaging. Charlie loves the hippo who has a big grin from being awarded the "Zoolitzer Prize"--he will turn back to that page and look up at me with the silliest, squinty-eyed smile. This is one we will enjoy for quite a while.

25 June 2008

The Birth of Charles Thelonious

So, I'm a fairly voracious reader, and while I was pregnant I spent most of my free time devouring info online at places like Mothering.com or reading books like Birthing from Within, Spiritual Midwifery, etc.  I knew years before getting pregnant that I wanted an unmedicated birth experience for myself and my baby, and I planned a home birth with New dawn Midwifery.  My ideal vision was Leboyer inspired: to be in the dimply lit, calm, quiet, comforting space of home, perhaps staring at the trees outside the window while I drifted into labor land, and my son would make a peaceful transition from womb to world in water.  And I accepted that it most likely would not happen as I expected--maybe the water wouldn't work for me, and who knew what manner of positioning or caterwauling would be needed in the process.  I resolved to be open and my biggest concern was not the pain management, but surrendering control.

Having learned from my midwives and online sources like spinningbabies.com the difference fetal positioning can make in labor and birth, I began regular chiropractic care with Nancy who specialized in working with pregnant women.  From 28 weeks along through the rest of my pregnancy I saw her twice a week.  I took vitamins and fish oil supplements, Floradix when my iron count dropped, and drank strong infusions of pregnancy tea (red raspberry, nettle, etc.).  Given my demanding work schedule I did not eat quite as well as I wanted, but I kept a pretty healthy diet.  The one thing I didn't manage was regular exercise--I was simply too exhausted from work to take walks; I just wanted to lay down.

A change in management at my job tripled my already high stress levels, and that's my guess why my systolic pressure escalated in the last months of my pregnancy.  (Testing for pre-eclampsia was negative.)  Then, about two weeks before my estimated due date, I caught the worst flu I've ever had in my life.  Nothing stayed in but saltine crackers--I could barely keep down water--for ten days or so.  I lost five pounds was worried the baby was not getting enough nutrition.  My husband fell ill too, and for a while our home was a disaster, our recovery was slow.  I went on maternity leave and prepared for the arrival of my mom and sister and niece Emma.  My blood pressure was still high, so the caution flags were raised.  

Friday, December 15th 2006 was my due date--fairly meaningless in my opinion, since I never remembered the exact date of my last period.  I'm preparing to leave for the airport when Jan from New Dawn calls to inform me that she had an ultrasound scheduled that afternoon.  Because we were planning a home birth, the consulting OB wanted to be sure I didn't have a closet case of pregnancy induced hypertension.  So I pick up my family and drop them off at my house with hugs and kisses and we'll catch up later and Shad and I speed off to Mission Hospital for the appointment.  The first thing the technician says is that the baby was breech.  I thought she was joking!  He had been in a great position for months.  But earlier that week I did have a strange and intensely painful sensation of pressure moving up my spine--that is probably when he flipped.  And at that week's check up, Kirsten did have a harder time picking up his heartbeat, like it was not in the same place.  So there we were--surprise breech and my fluid levels (which took the technician a good 20 minutes to measure) were low at 4--too low for the doctor to consider a version.  We left with orders to return that evening for a non-stress test and were told the c-section would be done that evening or first thing in the morning.  From this point I felt that things were set in motion and I was no longer at the wheel.

I was in shock, and I wanted to spend time with my family, so we went out for dinner.  Emma was probably a little stir crazy from a long day of travel and she spilled her coke all over me.  It was a welcome diversion--we all laughed.  I just couldn't get my mind around the situation.  I had done everything I could to prepare for a natural birth--I had been SO determined to NOT have a c-section.  How could this be happening?  

After dinner we went for the NST, and the baby was fine.  I was having regular Braxton-hicks contractions, which I would have never felt if we hadn't watched the monitor.  It was just a slight pressure--like a rubber band snapping but without any sting.  I wasn't dialated or showing any signs of labor, so they sent us home with instructions to skip breakfast and be in by 6am to prep for surgery at 8.  

I suppose I was just too stunned and still too drained from my illness to take action.  I could have asked for more time to just see if he would turn despite the odds.  Nancy would have been happy to perform the Webster-technique.  I might have set up an acupuncture treatment--I knew about using moxa on the pinkie toes to turn breech babies.  I could have even tried the breech tilt described in Birthing from Within.  But instead, I sat there in a daze and surrendered to it.  That's just where I was at the time.

Poor Shad was coping with shock himself--he had an hour of sleep that night at best.  I managed to get in only about four hours.  We were not prepared to be in the hospital, so we hastily threw a bag together and I armed Shad with a list of "demands" like no Hep B, no circ, no artificial nipples or supplements, breast only, etc.  The fear of surgery was setting in and I fretted over how well I would bond with the baby, since plans for the optimal skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping were out.  But oddly I also felt peaceful--surrendering to the "accepting things I cannot change" part of the serenity prayer, and when Jan arrived she commented on how well I was handling things.  Of course, part of it was that I was still numb, but part of me felt that this was somehow meant to be.

The staff at the hospital were considerate, and I liked Dr. Sherr who was to perform the surgery, especially when I found out his children were born at home.  It felt like he was in my corner somehow.

Jan was assisting with the operation, and she held my hands as the spinal block was set up.  I was terrified, but it was just a tiny prick and cold feeling, then nothing.  The room was blazingly white--floors, walls, ceiling, everything, but there was some natural light, which I appreciated. I felt better once Shad was able to be at my side--he was freaking out a bit I'm sure, but he kept it together and was so sweet and supportive.  Once things were underway I remember not feeling well.  I must have reacted to the medication, and I'm pretty sure my BP crashed.  Shad said I turned gray at one point.

We didn't know we could have a CD playing for the birth and there weren't any in the car which felt right to me, so I agreed to listen to a guitar lullaby one they had in the operating room. Right before Charlie entered the world the song "Simple Gifts" played--a song which is near and dear to my heart. "Tis a gift to be simple/tis a gift to be free/Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be/And when you find yourself in a place just right/Twill be in the valley of love and delight./When true simplicity is gained/To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed/To turn, turn will be our delight/Til by turning and turning we come round right."  I remember feeling so comforted and happy to have that spiritual tune welcome my little guy.  (Although as I write this I'd say the turning bit is ironic!)

We heard an irate screech and Jan announced, "What a handsome little fellow!" and Charlie was held up over the curtain and Shad cut the cord.  I could not move to get a good look at him, and it still saddens me that all I saw before they cleaned him up was an arm and a leg.

Shad asked if I needed him or if he should go be with Charlie, and I told him to go, absolutely!  I wanted Charlie in his father's arms since he could not be in my own.  It wasn't long before he was brought to me.  I remember his little pursed lips opening and closing and wishing I could nurse him even though I wasn't sure how.   I felt so helpless with my arms in restraints and unable to move.  But I spoke to him and could not take my eyes off him.  Those moments are fuzzy in my recollection--these intense shakes started and I didn't feel fully present in my own skin for some time.  Somehow I did have the presence of mind to request that our placenta be kept for us, so we could plant it later to honor Charlie and this special time we shared in one body.  

We settled down in recovery and despite my continuing convulsions, Jan and the nurse managed to get Charlie latched on for his first of countless nursing sessions.  Soon my mom and sister came in to see him.  I felt touched my the tears in my sister's eyes as she saw Charlie for the first time.  Then my in laws had a turn to share in the joy.  I was the only patient in the recovery room and we had the royal treatment, with the nurse bringing ice chips and answering questions.  Before long we were wheeled into our own room and the exhausting, sleepless weeks of life with a newborn began.

Ironically, my son's birth being the opposite of what I had intended was just the introduction to motherhood that I needed.  Being the sort of person who searches for meaning in my life, I took away from this experience a spiritual lesson which has changed me deeply and made me a better mother as a result.  There was a moment when Shad returned to the hospital room after a needed break and he told me of a strong deja vu feeling which prompted a memory of a dream with the image of the antique dresses framed in the foyer by the elevators.  This, from someone who is not remotely new-agey, inspired chills.  At the very least, Charlie's last minute acrobatics may have been his own way of determining how he was to be born.   And so, while I continue to take seriously my responsibility as a parent, educating myself, being conscious and informed, I also realize than I am not "alone" in this endeavor--Charlie's life is also nourished and supported by our family and friends, our culture, and in the grand scheme of things, the universe.  Who knows what myriad of influences and experiences will shape his unique, individual process of becoming? It is certainly not all up to me!  My desire for control and tendency toward perfectionism have been strongly tempered by this understanding, and, if I daresay, I have gained a measure of trust and learned to let go.

23 June 2008

OK, so I am not a hook-nosed old lady...

straddling a vaguely phallic bird.  And I'm not much for writing in meter & rhyme.  

Frankly, I was stumped by what to title this blog.  How do I sum up what I am attempting to do here in a few choice words?  What am I attempting to do here besides have an online presence to sell Barefoot Books (see link below)?   Then, as I was going through my shipment from Barefoot Books (they are great, check them out), I came across this passage in the introduction to Clare Beaton's MOTHER GOOSE REMEMBERS:
As the carrier of the Hindu goddess Saraswati, who presides over the learning of language, music, and the literary arts, the goose has been associated with the power of speech for centuries beyond telling.  (Tessa Strickland, publisher of Barefoot Books)

Loved the idea, so we have a blog title.  Another reason the goose image drew me was a fondness I have for water birds.  Back in my college days a friend asked me, "What is your favorite animal?" to which I replied, "the blue heron."  "And what do you like about it?" was her next question.  This was harder.  They are solitary, you don't see them every day and they frequent lakes and streams and seem so serene and wise standing meditatively in the still water.  "Well, you just described yourself," she said.  It's a fun little game which generally works--try it.  

So, putting aside the obvious differences, the goose fits the bill (he he), and captures the essence of my purpose here, which is to share my love of books and discuss what I'm reading, and to find moments of calm reflection within my busy mama life.

(Go Barefoot!)