Sometimes weeks go by and I don't check in here at all. Other times, I will spend several hours reading through old posts and comments, studying photographs, piecing together the story of the last few years of my life. I am amazed by how much the kids have grown over the course of my time writing here. Luke and Jaz have changed from round-faced preschoolers into lanky second-graders. Zeb has been transformed from my delicious baby into the funny little (four-year-old!) guy that he is today. And Leo was conceived and birthed and has now grown big enough to where he is no longer simply a baby in the chaos, but the running, tumbling, talking, cause of much chaos (in a most fabulous way, most of the time)!

I am so grateful to those of you--and there have been many--who have continued to write to me and encourage me, and send love, despite my long, unexplained absence and my lack of response. It was never my intent to abandon the blog all together, and I apologize for not being more forthcoming about my status.

Our family has endured a very difficult autumn and is now taking on a new form. Lena and I have been living apart for a few months, and the kids began dividing their time between two homes in November. I am not currently planning on writing about the experience of separation-- nor more generally about my marriage--in this space, but I do hope to return to blogging about parenting, in one way or another.

I assure you that all of us are physically well, that Lena and I are striving to be our most gracious and best selves as we navigate this painful, emotional transition, and that our children remain very, very loved.


On Milk and Equality and Nighttime Parenting

A few weeks ago, we began the process of night-weaning Leo. For those unfamiliar with the term, night-weaning refers to weaning a baby or toddler from breastfeeding at night (while daytime nursing is not restricted). For us, "night" is defined as the hours between bedtime (7:00-8:00 p.m.) and about 5:00 a.m. Our other kids were older when we closed down the nurse-all-night breastmilk bar, so we weren't sure how it would work for a younger toddler with more limited communication skills. But I remembered wishing--after I night-weaned Luke and Jaz at 18 months--that I had done it months earlier (before the sleep deprivation really made me crazy), so we decided to try it, with our wee 13-month-old (I tend to take the approach of trying new parenting ideas, even if I don't feel sure of the outcome: we can't know if we don't try, and we can always change our minds). And it's worked out just splendidly. Instead of nursing him when he wakes in the night (no, unfortunately, night-weaning typically does not fully eliminate night-waking), we just snuggle him back to sleep. The first couple of nights were a little rough--Leo cried some in our arms--but since then it's been remarkably smooth sailing. Leo lets out a whimper, we spoon him close to us, and he's instantly back to sleep.

The big deal here, as far as I'm concerned, is that we're both equally able to nighttime parent Leo now. Previously, I could nurse Leo back to sleep if he woke when Lena was unavailable, but it was always rather stressful (he'd fuss on and off at my breast, and clearly be looking for Lena). While my new found ability to quickly comfort Leo in the night is lovely--and relieving for Lena, who had been nearly solely responsible for putting Leo to bed and getting him back to sleep when he'd wake--in and of itself, I've been shocked by the unanticipated effect it's had on my daytime relationship with him.

Leo nurses with me more and more frequently these days
(laptop camera self-portrait: low-quality photo)

It is hard for me to admit this--I feel so passionately about breastfeeding and mothering through breastfeeding--but Lena choosing to stop nursing Leo in the night has really been to the benefit of my relationship with him. He is more easily comforted by me during the day, and seems less as though he is looking for Lena around every corner when she's gone. Sometimes he even chooses me for comfort when Lena is home. I am simply thrilled with the new state of things. If I had come to feel like Leo truly was my son before, I'm feeling it at least ten times more strongly now. Or rather, it feels much more reciprocal now than it did previously.

Some friends of ours--a two-mom family with two kids, wherein each mom gestated one of the babies--recently weaned their two-year-old all together (no daytime or nighttime nursing). And his non-gestational mother was telling me about how even though the decision was incredibly difficult for his gestational mom--and was not without significant loss and grief--there's been an equal and opposite positive impact for her, the NGP. And I can definitely understand that now, how the breastfeeding relationship--so rewarding and special, but also rather exclusive--can keep a non-breastfeeding parent (or, in my case, a minimally breastfeeding parent) at some level of distance. That said, our current experience leads me to believe that it is the nighttime parenting--more than the breastfeeding specifically--that is making the most difference. Kids are often at their most vulnerable in the night, and someone who is able to comfort and soothe them during that time is then more likely to be able to comfort and soothe them during the day.

nursing hormones + sun on my face = total bliss

As pleased as I am with this new experience of parenting a night-weaned version of Leo, I don't wish that we had night-weaned him any earlier. I think it's important for babies to be able to nurse through the night at least through the first year of life. And, even if I'd known then what I do now--about how positively Leo's and my relationship would be affected by the night-weaning--I still would have supported Lena in choosing to continue to nurse Leo through the night indefinitely, for as long as she so desired (as it was, she was becoming increasingly sleep deprived, which is what prompted the decision to night-wean).

Frequently, in my experience as Leo's non-gestational mom, this conflict arises between what I believe to be the best choice for any baby and gestational mother, and my own desire to have as equal a role in mothering Leo as possible. It began when he was just born, and Leo was placed on Lena's chest for his first couple hours of life. Of course I wanted very much to take him in my own arms, to feel his little body pressed against mine, to breathe him in and kiss him everywhere. But even more than what I wanted for myself, I wanted Lena to have the experience of constant contact with him, of relishing the feeling of having just pushed a baby out and loving his body on the outside for the first time. And for Leo, I wanted him to remain in earshot of Lena's heartbeat and in smelling distance of her breasts. I knew that my time with him would come eventually, and it did.

Likewise, when Lena started back to work a few months after Leo was born, it would have been most convenient for me to be able to feed him her expressed milk (either by bottle or with an at-the-breast supplementer). Beyond convenience, it would have allowed me the experience of being able to fully meet Leo's needs all day long, of feeling free to go about my day as I would have had I been Leo's gestational mother: spontaneously choosing to go out to lunch with friends, or making a visit to my grandparents, who live a little over an hour away. But instead, Lena and I chose not to have her express her milk. Her job allowed her to work mostly from home, and it was no trouble for her to take a break to nurse Leo every couple of hours. This meant that the two of them never had to be separated for longer than the time between feedings (which I myself never would have been able to handle, when I was the gestational mother), Leo never had to suck on an artificial nipple, and Lena never had to make milk for a breast pump in place of a baby. Unfortunately, this arrangement--while ideal for Lena and Leo--sometimes left me feeling like more of a baby-sitter than a parent; I had to keep my eyes on the clock, and rush home with Leo so that he could nurse when he got hungry. But that felt like an acceptable consequence for being able to preserve Lena and Leo's full-time breastfeeding relationship.

While I would have loved to be able to co-sleep with Leo in his first year, my arms circling his warm body, feeling the rhythm of his little breaths on my neck, I wanted even more for Lena to get to experience it (as I had with our other babies). I wanted her to see how her instincts would cause her to awaken just before he did, offering the breast when he'd only just begun to squirm, nursing him back to sleep without even fully waking up herself. I wanted Lena and Leo to get to continue being one in as many ways as possible, for as long as possible. Because that is my wish for every single gestational-mama-and-baby pair, certainly not to the exclusion of a pair--Lena and Leo--so very close to my heart.

I accidentally nursed him to sleep

This go-round, Lena and I have managed to mother our baby way more equally than we were ever able to in the past (largely due to the fact that we were both only working part-time through his first year, whereas previously I was the sole at-home parent and Lena worked full-time). We've even been able to fulfill my long-term dream and take advantage of all four of our breasts. But still, I wouldn't say that our roles in Leo's life have been equal. Sure, I kept the sperm that contributed to his conception warm in my bra prior to the insemination, but Lena grew him in her body from a tiny zygote to a 7-lb person! I think that to expect a fully equal experience of parenting baby Leo would have been misguided and inappropriate. That said, as Leo gets bigger--and becomes increasingly independent--I certainly appreciate the growing significance of my role in mothering him. And I know that a few years from now, none of this: who nursed him when, who slept with him more, even who gestated him, will feel relevant.

I continue to be grateful for having my eyes and heart opened to the experience of non-gestational parenthood, and have no regrets about the way we've chosen to mother Leo for the past 13.5 months. And I will continue to rejoice in each sign I get--from Leo, from my own reactions--of my strengthening bond and attachment to this most beloved little one.

Lena and Leo, nursing on the beach


Thirty Three

Yesterday we celebrated Lena's thirty third--oh, how I love palindromes--birthday with a small gathering of loved ones, many balloons, and two cakes. I baked one favorite blueberry cake, and one cheesecake (the latter being Lena's forever preference). The form of the cheesecake turned out a little funky (depressed in the middle) due to our funky oven (though, looking at photos from her birthday last year, I noticed that that cake looked a little funky, too, and that one was baked in our old house. So maybe I can't blame the oven), but was exceptionally delicious with a perfect texture (disappearing all together about 5 minutes after Lena blew out her candles).

I topped the cake with both a tree and a baby lion, for my forest ecologist, lion-loving wife.

It took years to settle on a cheesecake recipe worth repeating, and now that I've found one (this has been the standard for at least a few birthdays now), I have stopped looking.

Lena's Birthday Cheesecake

7 packages (8 oz. each) of cream cheese
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F, and butter an 8" spring-form pan.

2. Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan.

3. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese together with 1 cup of sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.

4. Pour the batter into the pan, and bake for 2 hours and 15 minutes, until top is golden brown and edges are firm (center will still jiggle a bit).

5. Let the cake cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least 12 hours before serving.

When I met her, Lena was 21 years old. And now she is 33. How is that even possible?! She seemed so old then (I was, by comparison, a wee 18-year-old; she could buy beer), but now, when I think of her current age, I think of how young she still is. Of how young we still are. Of how many, many birthdays there are still to come. Of how many dreams still left to be realized, some not even yet wished for. This is only the beginning. Who knows where the next 12 years will take us?


Life is Beautiful

Today was a hard day.
The kind of day where it takes a lot of effort to remember
that there is beauty everywhere.

That I am surrounded by it.
That life, itself, is beautiful.

Please let me never lose this ability:
to pull myself out of a funk and find Hope again.

Love is all over the place.
I'm in charge of my own beautiful;
I just have to keep my eyes open and believe it.

(sunflowers courtesy of my mom's garden)



I feel like there are so many posts I could write with this title: Balance. So much of life as a mother and a partner and a professional person is about balancing commitments, priorities, desires, needs, dreams and reality. But this post is about the actual physical act of balance, specifically Zeben's balance.

Zeb first started riding his hand-me-down balance bike in March of 2009, when he was 2 years and 4 months old. At the time he was barely tall enough to sit on the seat properly, and didn't do much riding at all. He'd just walk it around, legs straddling the bike, believing that he was riding it. But by the end of that summer he had grown enough so that he fit the frame well, and he was able to zoom all the way to his preschool from our house (about 1.5 miles). Here is a short video of Zeben riding his balance bike in March of 2010, nearly exactly one year after he first started trying it out:

This summer he has biked to and from town at least a couple dozen times, and I noted that as we walked, his feet were making less and less contact with the sidewalk; he was spending the majority of each ride gliding. A couple of weeks ago when we took Luke and Jaz to buy some new bicycles (bigger, and with gears; they can keep up with their moms on the bike path now!), Zeb fell in love with the tiny 12-inch two-wheeler bicycle in the shop, and we decided to let him get it. I figured he was ready for a real bike, and while he probably could fit on one of Luke and Jaz's newly discarded 16-inch bikes, I knew he'd be more comfortable learning to ride on a smaller one (he is a bit short for his age, still wearing mostly size 2T pants now at 3.5).

We let Zeb ride around in our driveway with the training wheels still on the bike (it came that way) for the first day (he thought it was quite fun), but on day 2, I took the training wheels off. Zeb was not pleased. He did not believe that he'd be able to ride the bike (and he yelled about it so loudly that I'm certain the whole neighborhood heard). I promised him that if he really wanted me to, I would put the training wheels back on after he tried to ride without them. And so he agreed to try. Here he is, 10 minutes later:

Clearly, the balance bike taught him to balance quite well!

"Wow!" I exclaimed, after he'd gone several yards, "you're really riding it!"

"What?" accused Zeb, showing no pride, "you thought I couldn't?"

Oh, my beloved curmudgeon: won't you ever be excited about anything? But the truth is that I think Zeb is a little proud of himself for having learned to ride his bike. Since that day, he's just gotten more and more adept at it, and can now turn circles and everything. I'm so glad for him to be becoming such a confident little bike lover. I don't generally think of him as being a gross motor kind of kid, but this summer he's learned to pump on the swing, and now to ride a pedal bike, and it's great to see him enjoying the physical abilities of his body more. It was also really cool to get to see him go through the full cycle of the balance bike experience; it just makes so much sense! What a fun and stress-free way to learn to ride a bike. I can't wait for Leo to be big enough to start the process (then again, maybe I can; daredevil baby is going to be trouble on wheels!).


Two Moms, Four Kids, One Tent

It had been slightly more than two years since the last time we went camping (and, to be clear, I use the term camping incredibly loosely here; we were sleeping in a tent, but that was the extent of the ways in which we were roughing it), and I swear that our tent shrank significantly during that time. The first time we used it--when Luke and Jaz were 3, and I was pregnant with Zeben--it felt positively spacious. Lena and I were accustomed to real camping at that point (the kind where you're miles from civilization, cooking on a propane stove, peeing in the woods, and sleeping in a tent just big enough to lie down in), and the fact that we could fully stand, upright, in our giant, not-suitable-for-backpacking, temporary shelter was enough to make it feel like it was more house than tent. But now, post addition of Zeb and Leo, post creation of our outrageously comfy family bed extraordinaire, post ability to remember much of life pre-kids (real camping included), our 9' x 9' tent felt kind of a lot like the 81 square feet it truly is.

We brought a quilt, sheets and our king-sized duvet from our bed at home, hoping to recreate our cozy nest inside the tent. But I think the key ingredient to a cozy nest of a bed is actually not the bedding, but the mattress. And our tent version of the family bed was sorely lacking in that exact category. Our therm-a-rests just didn't cut it.

The kids actually slept really well in the tent. They woke up well-rested, and smiley . . . for the most part anyway.

I feel like I'm glimpsing a teenage version of Lukas here.

"Why, yes, Love, I slept absolutely wonderfully last night."

Fun with flashlights . . .

6:42 a.m.

6:44 a.m.

. . . quickly became fighting over flashlights.

6:46 a.m.

But what I love about camping at the Cape--why we'll continue to do it, despite less than ideal sleeping conditions--actually has nothing to do with the tent or sleep at all (or even, to some extent, the huge amounts of money we save, not renting a house). I love that camping forces us to be up and out by 7:00 a.m. each morning, with only one place to go: the beach. We ate three meals a day while looking out at the ocean, clocking in at least 40 hours of beach time in a three-night vacation. For a brief window, the rhythm of the tides became the rhythm of our life.

7:00 p.m.
Bedtime reading, 10 feet from the ocean

The lack of a house or a kitchen meant there was no need for us to spend any time preparing food or cleaning up (such a change from regular life!). There was no temptation to put the kids in front of a movie, and no need for toys of any kind. There was just sand and water, stones and wind to keep the children entertained all day long. We'd return to the campground after dark, transfer the kids into the tent (at least 50% of them would have fallen asleep on the drive home from the beach/P-town), and take a luxurious 4-minute shower (bonus feature of this campground: outdoor showers) before climbing into the tent ourselves.

As we were packing up on the last morning, I did find myself eyeing some of the pop-up trailers and RVs longingly, wondering what it would feel like to both sleep comfortably and be "camping," but the truth is that I think we do pretty well with our 81 square feet. And if nothing else, it certainly makes us appreciate our bed when we get back home, despite the fact that, sadly, there is no ocean in our backyard.


Rainbows Aplenty

We timed our recent trip to the Cape to coincide with the annual event of Family Week, but only somewhat on purpose. We'd been planning to send Luke and Jaz to camp during that week, but learned at the last minute (um, because we waited until the last minute to try and sign them up) that the camp was full. Suddenly plan-free, we decided to call up some campgrounds on the Cape and see if there were any campsites available, figuring we could vacation now and send the kids to camp later (there is room in camp during the last two weeks of August, when we'd previously hoped to vacation somewhere). Family Week always takes place during the first week in August, and I've always been curious about it, so this seemed a good opportunity to check it out.

As luck would have it, there was one campsite available at a campground close to the kids' favorite beach, so we snagged it and started packing. I noted that we had missed the chance to register online for Family Week, but then also saw that registering for Family Week costs nearly $200, and decided that we'd skip out on officially participating and simply hope to pick up on the Queer Families vibe without attending any organized events (to be perfectly honest, organized events of this nature give us pause regardless of price tag).

We first headed into P-town on Wednesday evening, on the lookout for queer families and some kid-friendly dinner. Of course, P-town is always swarming with queer folk (in the most fabulous way), but we were hoping to notice an increase in the number of gay and lesbian parents. And we did, but the impact was minimal; I had expected something more drastic. Don't get me wrong, I loved seeing each and every queer family who we crossed paths with, but was disappointed to realize that we were still way out-numbered by straight families. Since we live in an area that is home to an abundance of lesbian families, it was especially fun for Lena and me to come across gay men with kids (sorely lacking in our hometown), and I found myself wishing that we had chosen to register for Family Week officially, if only for the opportunity to get to know some queer papas better.

We ended up at our usual P-town dinner destination: the Aquarium Marketplace, where we picked up some burritos and ate them out on the deck overlooking the bay. I took the opportunity to attempt to photograph the kids in the same spot where I've photographed them in the past. This year's result was no more successful than those from 2007 or 2008, but I suppose it's a tradition that will continue nonetheless.




Walking through P-town with two literate children in tow was a bit eye-opening (mostly for them).

"Mom? This poster says: 'come see the Naked Boys Singing!' What does that mean? And can we?!"

We talked to the kids about how P-town is kind of like PRIDE, and soon they were pointing out rainbow flags everywhere ("gay! gay!"), and talking about how we could know if other people were gay or not just by looking (good question!). And because we wanted others to know that we were gay just by looking, we wore Leo in the rainbow ring sling (freshly altered; it used to be a long wrap--you can see me wearing Zeb in it here, three years ago in P-town--but I cut it and sewed in some rings since we really seem to prefer to wear Leo in ring slings). Thank goodness for a little rainbow baby gear, keeping us from blending in with the straight families (just kidding . . . kinda).

"gay! gay!"

We mostly spent our days at the beach with the best surf (Luke and Jaz love boogie boarding, and Lena and I like it pretty well, too), about 20 minutes south of P-town, but one morning we went to our favorite P-town beach (sadly surf-less), in hopes of finding the queer families. Alas, the beach was nearly empty (it was a bit overcast: my favorite kind of beach day), and those families who did share it with us were nearly all regular old one mom, one dad families (we did run into one queer family who we had seen around town at home, which was fun). But I managed to rainbow up the experience despite our lack in queer company by collecting these rocks:

I've been collecting rainbows of beach stones
since my babydyke days . . . I just can't stop.

Overall I guess I'd say I was a little disappointed by the lack of any apparent queer family vibe. It's now clear that to really partake in the Family Week excitement, we'd need to actually attend some of the Family Week events. Perhaps we will next summer. I did realize, while walking around P-town in search of other families like ours, that I do wish we had more of a queer community in our everyday lives. The vast majority of our parenting friends have always been straight: our parenting philosophies, age, and the ages of our children (among other things, such as our appreciation of good food and drink, and our willingness to let our kids stay up way too late in the name of grown-up fun) trumping our sexual orientations. And that's perfectly fine, but I am feeling a new urge to connect more with the queer culture and to give our kids a larger understanding of what it is to be part of a queer family. I want them to know that it's about more than rainbows.

I recently joined a local support group for queer non-gestational parents, and I love getting the chance to talk about the issues affecting our families in a group of people who all really understand them. How validating! It makes me feel so much less alone, and so much more excited about being part of a queer family. While I still feel like there are other factors, beyond queerness, that are more important when connecting with potential new friends, I am going to make more of an effort to search out other two-mom or two-dad families who we might resonate with. Along these lines, we're thinking of hosting a potluck for local LGBTPQ families, so if you're part of a local, queer family and you'd like to join us, send me an email!