Papa’s Police Preschool

This month, J returned to work after a full two months home with us as a new family of five. It’s been such a gift for us for him to have a long parental leave — and a perk for taking what amounts to a six-year low-pay apprenticeship.

We all recovered quickly from the whirlwind birth of our Elizabeth Ann, since I didn’t have any injuries this time and we are slowly figuring out how to handle this newborn thing, three kids deep. So we returned to Police Preschool sooner than I would have expected, and it was such fun to see how different homeschool looked with the papa on the premises.

Although we’d talked often about why we might homeschool and what we’d like it to look like, when J was actually home, it became clear he didn’t actually know what our day-to-day looked like. He hadn’t realized where our co-op was held, for instance, or what I do with Scout while I’m trying to knock out lessons.

But I hadn’t realized all the riches he had to contribute. I had thought, abstractly, that someday I could lean on him to teach geometry and my other academic weak spots, but the kids and I were delighted to see what he could contribute to our school day, especially during these weeks of frequent interruptions for nursing.

J has always been the border collie to my basset hound, so I wasn’t surprised that he often had the kids outside, romping on the playground or boisterously playing Swallows and Amazons. I loved that he worked more music into the kids’ day, teaching them Christmas songs throughout Advent so they could sing when Christmas arrived; I didn’t love that he got Pip playing a Chase McCain video game, but I try to remember that there are cognitive benefits to playing video games and that other people can love my children differently than I do.

With a strongly structured start that gave continuity to the kids’ new world, our days relaxed with Advent. While I baked cookies with the kids and read Advent books, J began to teach Pippin chess and tracked down movie adaptations of books P had heard read aloud — Little Women and Swallows and Amazons and A Christmas Carol — so that we’d casually discuss what changes the movies made to the books as we snacked and cuddled.

The season looked different than I would have planned it for our family — and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.


On Lying Down with My Sick Child

I have friends who cosleep with their kids till they’re two. I have friends who spend a stretch each evening stroking a child’s hair or singing her songs till she drifts off.

I am not that mom.

I’m the mom who values consistency, independence, a nap where I’m free to roam about the cabin. My kids fall asleep on their own, and I’m more often proud than wistful about it.

But a couple times a year, I am called upon to violate my precepts. We are in a new place, or someone gets sick, and I need to lie down and wait for someone to fall asleep.

Recently, it was both: we were in a new place and Scout had a tummy bug and fever and asked me to help her fall asleep.

She lay down on her back and I settled on a narrow strip of trundle bed beside her, one arm draped over her warm belly. She whispered spookily, words I couldn’t understand and I began to catalog all the things I would do to get comfortable if I were free to do so: take off my glasses, remove my cardigan, roll over onto my back. Scout stirred against me and my hand twitched for my phone, bored and restless. I’ve spent so much time during my most recent pregnancy forced to be an observer in my own life that the last two months have been energetic, almost frenetic, and to be suddenly still again is frustrating.

But in that moment, stillness was my only job. Eventually, I extricated myself with agonizing slowness–my hair trapped under her heavy head, almost as close as two people can be– as her sweet little snores began, praying my saucer-eyed girl felt better by morning, that her siblings might be spared, that I might have the grace to give and receive this sacred trust of motherhood: a warm little body, nestled for comfort against mine.

Christmas Eve Under the Arches 

(I wrote this for a newspaper contest when I was 14 and won, and now I’m making you read it, suckers, because I just rediscovered it in my basement excursions.)

Our family doesn’t have strict or ornate Christmas traditions. I’m not going to tell you about some fascinating cultured experience. After all, the Grimms are pretty much your average bunch of Americans. But one family ritual stands out above the rest in a quirky example of an unconventional Christmas.

That famed night sneaks up and we head for the Christmas vigil Mass as the stars prick the dark sky. After the Mass has ended and frazzled parents are chasing their giddy offspring in all directions, we have one destination that is set in stone: McDonald’s. Our car pulls up by the kiddie play place and the four of us emerge into the brisk night air, headed for the Golden Arches. Dressed in our Christmas finest, we slide into a vinyl seat and eat our meals from paper gags.

The Grimm clan has chosen Mickey D’s for Christmas Eve dinner ever since we moved to Tallahassee about seven years ago.

I think it was my father who suggested it as a joke, but the slightly insane tradition stuck. While many families are devouring beautifully prepared dinners in their dining rooms, we sit in a plastic booth and unwrap our Big Macs.

There are slight variations on the routine, because time alters traditions slowly. When we were younger, we insisted on playing on the slides and ball pits after popping off our little patent leather shoes.

Only forfeited when the weather was bitterly cold, we had the little plastic playground to ourselves and played to our hearts’ content. As tastes change, the meal we choose from the menu also changes. And alas! We kiddies are no longer devastated by not getting the toy we hoped for in our Happy Meals.

But many customs still withstand. Dad always teases us with the threat to take us back to church for Midnight Mass if we don’t behave. Mom always insists that we order whatever we want and top it off with big gooey sundaes, providing we clear our plates (so to speak). It’s quite an experience to munch calorie-laden food and shoot straw papers at your family while enjoying the fast-food restaurant that is so uncannily devoid of anyone else, much less a very cheery family like ourselves. The roads are always nearly deserted at 8 o’clock on Christmas Eve, and as the four of us coast home we absorb the vibrant holiday spirit bedecked on all the houses, and think of the morning to come.


(Just a couple years after writing this contest entry, I met a boy I eventually married, a boy whose Christmas Eve birthday changed my traditions forever. These days, our family is divided between three states. My sister is vegetarian and doesn’t eat much McDonald’s; I have three children who already eat too much McDonald’s. But our family still manages to get ourselves to Mass, somehow, and we are still a very cheery family. Merry Christmas.)

In Favor of Lying In

Lying in view

Last month, J and my parents gave me the gift of a lying in week. For a whole week, I mostly stayed in bed with little Elizabeth Ann.

I read The Awakening of Miss Prim and half of An Inqusitor’s Tale and a third of another novel I abandoned. I watched the first season of The Durrells in Corfu on my phone. I nursed and texted when I needed a snack. I wafted downstairs once a day like Mary Crawley to greet the older kids before retreating back to my life of luxury. I took the maddening advice of old ladies everywhere and slept when the baby slept. It was glorious.

When Pippin was born five years ago, I felt banished to the bedroom. Like I was too messy and immodest for human company as I tried to figure out nursing. Like I’d be pinned down by this baby forever and unable to accomplish anything ever again.
Fast forward five years and I know this season is fleeting, and a luxury — if still messy and tired and tender. Soon enough I reentered the swing of things, but Elizabeth and I were both strengthened and relaxed by our snuggle time getting to know each other and recover.

Have you been able to take a lying in before easing back into real life?

Precipitation: Roo’s Birth Story

(Sweet Roo is here! Elizabeth Ann arrived on the evening of November 4. This is her arrival story.)

At my 37 week appointment the week before Halloween, the midwife gave me the green light to go into labor whenever — she said often mothers just need to feel ready for labor to begin. I had been reading a lot of Ina May Gaskin and this did not seem particularly insane. I came home from the midwife appointment and willed myself to go into labor. That Saturday night, I had a run of prodromal labor and began to feel close.

And then — nothing. Days slipped by. We celebrated Halloween and Pippin’s fifth birthday, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have two Halloweeny babies, but then I began to despair.

Objectively, it was completely ridiculous, right? I was only 37, then 38 weeks. But when you’ve had babies ten days early and one month early, your sense of deadlines shifts. I was ready to be done, and it felt like that day would never come.

The next Saturday rolled around, and I was finally ten days from my due date. We went to vigil mass, then arranged an impromptu date night because if you’re going to be pregnant forever, you might as well eat tasty things and enjoy your husband. I overate, came home and stayed up late (ok, 9:30, whatev), then lay in bed, trying to fall asleep despite being hugely uncomfortable.

The first contraction hurt so much I thought it must be something else — my previous labors had started gently. I tried to welcome it in Ina May Gaskin peacefulness — finally! maybe the day has arrived! I am getting closer to meeting my baby! — but the second had me cussing under my breath. On the third, I texted J to come up from downstairs and started timing. I was already 1 minute on, 4 minutes apart.

J started to finish last minute work emails, then, watching me, stopped and called a friend about childcare. I felt ridiculously overeager — I’d been in labor maybe 10 or 15 minutes — but my teeth began to chatter.

While J was on the phone I began to finish packing our bags, but I was dropping to my hands and knees for every contraction, and I wasn’t able to time anymore. On all fours in the nursery, I emailed friends a broken update: this is labor, coming fast.

We headed downstairs just in time for me to start throwing up. Our friends arrived to watch the kids as I sat in the van, arms wrapped around my mixing bowl, shivering madly.

I don’t remember the hospital ride being painful or scary — I was working too hard to realize I must already be in transition and that there was a real chance of having the baby in the van. In the hospital intake room, I answered mundane questions while huddled in the fetal position, chattering and trying to relax, until I finally broke in — “I think I’m going to have to push soon.”

In the delivery room, I immediately lay down on my side as the midwife breezed in, wearing her pajamas. “OK,” she said calmly as nurses tried to remove my cardigan and set up the room. “I’ll check you when the next contraction ends.”

The contraction went on and on, and again, I don’t remember the pain so much as an absurd embarrassment that I was keeping everyone waiting. On and on and on and finally I squeaked out, “I’m sorry, I think I’m going to have to push now.”

“That’s OK!” said the midwife brightly, and everyone scurried to remove all the clothing I was still wearing. I hadn’t had an exam, or an IV, or a chance to fish out my birth plan, but with a roar and a couple pushes on my part, Roo was here before they could even remove my socks.

The entire labor had been well under an hour and a half. I hadn’t torn, and I was barely tired as Roo was placed on my chest, tiny as her sister, brunette, and perfect. The afterbirth was a bit complicated — who knew a placenta could turn inside out? — and I experienced some bleeding as a result, but the whole thing felt very slapdash and casual.

Throughout this pregnancy, people had wished me a fast labor and I’d been hesitant — parts of Scout’s four-hour labor were scary because I still envisioned a timeline where I would hurt at that level for fourteen hours, like with her brother. But this time, I went into labor prepared for the possibility of a precipitous birth, and the intensity of the experience kept me focused on the moment. It was by far the best of my three labors, but not something I can imagine enduring if it had been my first labor, or if I had entered labor committed to getting an epidural. For me, though, it was the perfect end to an unending, crappy pregnancy.


Five Favorites Link Up: Non-Toy Presents

Today I’m linking up with The Big White Farmhouse for Five Favorites.

Tomorrow is Pippin’s fifth birthday, and I’m also trying to polish off my Christmas shopping before Roo debuts, so I’ve got gifts on my mind. I thought I’d share five gifts I’m excited about giving this year (or the kids receiving from other family) that Are Not Toys.

  • A party. My oldest kid is only five so this is still a pretty early family tradition, but I’ve been moving toward fewer birthday presents and instead doing a low-key birthday party for each kid. That way I feel like I have the latitude to buy outrageously overpriced Octonauts napkins or whatever (which Pippin loves), and they don’t wind up with more stuff — just memories. I guess when they’re older they can opt out of the party for a really cool Lego set or whatever, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it.
  • Wool long underwear. How cruel is this gift? But seriously! Merino is expensive, and it makes a big difference in our ability to get outside in the cold months. This year, this is Scout’s baselayer, which she’ll receive for Christmas.
  • Fancy rain boots/rain jackets. We all know the popularity of galoshes in the preschool set, and a good pair can run in the $20-30 range — not a casual sum in my kids’ wardrobe budget. They also, because of their (over)use don’t usually make it into hand-me-down bins in my circles. But give my girl a pair of cherry red boots or my boy a policeman rain jacket (like my parents are doing for his birthday), and they’re over the moon.

  • Police gear. For Christmas, Pip will receive traffic cones and police bike gear. I hope this will help get us all outside as outlined in the Police Preschool precepts. I guess these are kind of toys? But them living outside and performing a specific activity makes a difference to my mind.
  • Art supplies. Nothing too fancy this year — just an infusion of PlayDoh, but in the past we’ve done glitter glue, Kwik Stix, twistable crayons, watercolors and paint smocks to great (and only semi-destructive) acclaim.

Do you love posts like this, that give you gift ideas that won’t add to the toy pile? They’re a weakness of mine. I particularly liked the suggestions here, although they’re mostly for kids older than mine.


Morning Sickness and Death

Now, let me draw the distinction right now between:

  1. Feeling like you’re dying
  2. Wanting to die
  3. Literally dying

I’m not kidding here. 1 is something I think most of us experience, if not in first trimester than in unending third trimester, or in labor, or in the newborn phase. 2 is something common enough when you feel really, really poorly (depression is actually a symptom of HG), but you should see a midwife or doctor for help. And 3 means you should see a doctor, too. I’ve done the IV, and it is amazing.

I’m reminded of a chapter from one of my favorites, What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. The author, Naomi Stadlen, spoke with many mothers over many years in new moms’ groups, and one of the most common refrains was, as the chapter title goes, “So tired I could die.”

These were mothers of newborns, but I feel this way often in pregnancy, especially in those unending early months. And I think what Stadlen argues of new motherhood in her book is true of pregnancy, too: you kind of are dying. Dying to your old life, your own expectations, your own definitions of success. It’s exhausting work, emotionally and physically.

In the same way that Haley Stewart argued that getting your life back may not be the point of Christian parenting, I would suggest that this death through pregnancy is maybe a difficult gift that prepares us for motherhood when the baby is here. It certainly makes me softer and less obsessed with doing for myself, less dedicated to my own ideas of how things should play out.

This pregnancy, I’ve gotten into the pretty metal Mary prayers they tuck at the end of the book. In the past, I’ve always found them almost comically intense (“this vale of tears” indeed!). Suddenly, though, I’m so grateful to have a prayer that acknowledges how “Sinking we strive and call to you for aid.” I’ve been sinking, that’s for sure. And if I’m buoyed now, it has everything to do with prayer and friendship and relenting hormones, and very little to do with epsom salts and Sea Bands and Zofran.

If you’re finding yourself on the same sinking ship of severe morning sickness, here are some of my favorite resources for processing those feelings. There seems to be a shortage of resources on managing the despair and anger that comes with feeling really, really bad while something really, really good happens to your body and your family — probably because desperately barfy women don’t tend to have great word output, and once you feel better, you rightly want to dwell on the baby and not how you felt like a trash fire in the early months. (I once threw the perfectly innocent but relentlessly cheerful Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers to Be across the room when the author mentioned you might not feel up to mopping as often — at the time, all I could manage was scrubbing the toilet a bit as I lay beside it.) These writers understand the blessed awfulness of a trash fire pregnancy, and have helped me:

Getting my IV when I was so morning sick I didn’t realize I also had a stomach bug until in retrospect