The Donut Tree

Andrew spent last night at the campus observatory. So this morning we got to see a little more of Daddy than usual.

As I am 8 months pregnant my first thought after “can I make it to the bathroom” was “what should we have for breakfast?”.

“How about pancakes?!” I asked Andrew, trying not to sound too enthusiastic.

“That sounds DELICIOUS.” he replied kindly. But we sat for a moment as I could see him reviewing his answer.

“Or we could do donuts…”

Now, with Andrew, you never know. That statement could mean he was thinking of MAKING donuts which would mean he would have to find a recipe, go to the store to buy enough vegetable oil to fry our homemade pastries and then make said donuts.

I paused looking to him to fill in the gaps of his plan.

“Yeah” he said ” I could go to the store and get some donuts.” My pregnant stomach was relieved.

“Sure. Either is fine.” I say trying again not to sound like I might eat the bed if he doesn’t get the donuts fast enough.

Clare finished her bottle and we asked her what she thought of the idea.

“Dat should be gate!” (That should be great) she said.

“You go pick donuts with Daddy?” (Can I go pick donuts with daddy?)

our "fruit" from the donut tree

Say what you will about giving your toddler donuts but the simple fact that Clare thought that she was going to pick donuts from Daddy’s garden means we’re probably doing something right. Our raw vegan prefers getting the vast majority of nourishment from our own back yard but she tolerated the donuts.

Though I informed Clare that you have to go to the store to get donuts she still thinks someone picks them off the “donut tree” as she put it and then brings them to the store for us to buy.

I’ll let her kindergarten teacher or her unmerciful peers break that one to her. That…along with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

My History With Eczema

I first learned about this impossibly hard to spell disease when I was a little girl. I had practiced ballet for years, a discipline where the body is key and scrutinized constantly. Though my parents did an excellent job finding a school where everyone was accepted and body image was not emphasized one might still notice differences between yourself and another girl simply because we wore only a simple leotard and tights.

I noticed that one of my dear friends, Courtney, had markings all over her arms. This was a type of rash I had never seen before – peculiar, red and raised. It look extremely uncomfortable so I asked about it being as empathetic as my own daughter, who when hearing another child scolded bursts into tears.

Mommy's dancing, Daddy's skin.

Courtney was unintimidated by my curiosity and quickly answered my question. She told me that it was a rash that she had constantly and was itchy and that she had a special lotion for. (pretty good for a 9 year old) I smiled and went back to goofing off. I never thought about it again.

That is until I met Andrew.

I was in love with Andrew from the moment I met him and the peculiar redness to his skin was something that was easily out-shined by his inner light and something I didn’t even see until we had known each other a few years.

We were sitting on an open lawn. I, with my browning skin, sat in a tank top and shorts and enjoyed the new beams of the spring sun as if gloating about my genetic make-up while Andrew sat as near as he could to the shade wearing a fleece and jeans and obviously sweating. I glanced at his hands and saw what looked like a massive 2nd degree burn all over his fingers and asked what the heck he had done to himself. He blushed under his freckles and looked away to tell me it was from his dark room chemicals.

I told him he should stop developing his own pictures, get a new hobby and then I moved on to another topic.

He got a bad sunburn that day.

Years later when we began dating Andrew was finally open with me about the rash that crept into his hair line, covered his arms and legs and inflamed his back. He told me he had Eczema, expecting that I had never heard of it. He was embarrassed I could tell and I saw him try not to scratch too much while he was around me. I was confused. Why was he content with his misery like there was nothing he could do about it? Though Courtney had told me about Eczema so long ago she had not explained how horribly uncomfortable it was. But Andrew seemed to have resigned himself to a disease without a cure and figured it wasn’t too bad because the prognosis didn’t lead to his death.

Two years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, who Andrew and I named Clare, which means “light” or “clarity”. While were pregnant with her we thought only of how beautiful she would be and her personality and the life that we would get to see her live. She was three months old when we noticed something strange about her skin. It almost seemed as if she had boils on her skin. We tried different solutions for a month with our pediatrician and were in and out of the office almost every week. Finally she recommended us to a dermatologist, who after looking at Clare for a split second diagnosed her with Eczema. “Just like her daddy” she said with a smile as if that was cute or something we wanted to hear like “freckles” or “blue eyes”.

I was devastated not because I cared about the red blotches all over her little body but that it meant I had to see another loved one suffer through extreme itching (like that of poison ivy or chicken pox) for what could be her entire life.

We are now approaching the birth of our second daughter and with all the wonderful dreams about her we are also anxious about what the state of her skin might be.

I will be chronicling our experience with eczema as a part of my blog to encourage those who might come across it. Look for more articles in the future.

All By Herself

I don’t understand how it feels to be an only child. I was born into a well oiled kid machine. My two older brothers were not only smart, capable and creative but also nurturing and loving. I found myself in an environment that was FULL of people. It was hard to get time alone but I didn’t want that. I loved being surrounded by others. And now, as a mother, it just seems weird to only have one baby.

Clare was an “accident” and by “accident” I mean we got really lazy on purpose. Big surprise, Val. What did you think was gonna happen? Bah!

The next time around I wanted to mean it. I didn’t want to just stop trying to not try and have a kid. So after Clare was born we talked about having more children and when. We figured we’re on the wagon might as well hurry up so we can get off before we’re 30. Right? Am I right? Please tell me I’m right…

We never really wanted Clare to be an only child. I don’t think she would like it either – she loves being the boss way to much. She will be a genuine, loving and interested older sister. She will shine in this roll. I know it. Never overbearing. Never overshadowing. Just her sweet self, shining – a quiet inspiration for her younger siblings.

Being a woman is wonderful but it’s a little confusing when it comes to birth control. Even though your brain says, “It would be REALLY stupid/irresponsible to get pregnant right now.” your body and hormones are saying, “But look how handsome he is. Don’t you love him? You should make a baby with him as soon as possible.”

You have this logical plan in your head and as soon as you ovulate your sweaty husband starts smelling like a sweet, heavenly flower or bread fresh out of the oven. Your eyes glaze over and all you can think about is him and babies, lots of babies. You start crying at the thought of weening. You have a complete break down when you see someone else’s newborn. You stop drinking alcohol and caffeine even though there is no chance of you actually being pregnant. You have to keep slapping yourself in the face and saying, “Getting pregnant right now would be really ungood.”

The time Andrew and I had planned to start trying again is fast approaching. Much faster than my logical brain thought it would (much slower than my hormones want). Right now Andrew just smells like himself and I don’t have pictures of dancing newborns in my head. I don’t have visions of myself holding the earth next to my huge motherly bosom and nourishing all of humanity with my great womanliness.

I’m scared of what it would mean to have another person join our family.  What would happen to Clare? How would we have more room, more money, more love? How would we have enough?

Right now Clare will remain all by herself – an only child … that is until I turn into a raging baby machine.

On the flip side: We found Clare eating a dead bug the other day. I thought to myself, “Man, she is taking a long time to eat that Cheerio.” Nope. Not a Cheerio, Val.

Family picture

It used to be that Andrew and I could get a good picture together no problem.  As long as I was compliant and didn’t make a weird face to disguise my awkward feelings toward pictures. We had quite a few good ones of the two of us and I thought that was no big deal.

So a few days ago I was looking through our Easter pictures and noticed we had a picture with all three of us together.  We looked out of sorts and weird but we were all three together and it got me thinking…”do we have any other pictures of the three of us?

I went on a search and this is what I found.

Ah the accidental family photo. This was the day we took Clare home from the hospital. We didn’t even think to pose for our first family photo.  So…this is it. Too busy. Too tired. Too anxious about getting her into that car seat to think about a picture.

This one is a couple weeks after Clare was born. Everything was still so new then. I took Clare out on the porch one beautiful fall morning and Andrew happened upon us in this moment.  He set up his tripod and took a few timed shots.  It’s basically hilarious.  I look like I’m mad about kissing Clare.  Andrew looks like a little kid and Clare looks like she is either trying to eat my face or she is going to punch it. We thought it was so funny we made it our Christmas card.

These were taken at a Christmas party we attended.  Mandy Sroka took these two. She did a great job.  Andrew and I look like, “This kid could start screaming at any second. Why did we bring her to a Christmas party? We should have just stayed home and watched Biggest Loser.”

I look like I’m praying that I won’t get breast milk on my silk dress. I can tell Andrew was wondering what kind of Lens Mandy was using.

What I think is so funny is that Clare looks so unamused. Then we kiss her in the bottom picture and she’s like, “What the hooha!? More kissing?! This is getting on my nerves.”

Then of course there is always the shoot it ourselves family photo. “Hey everybody! Look over here!”  Someone always has a double chin and someone else’s face is half cut off.  Priceless. Again…Clare was unamused.

Here is the best of our Easter pictures.  I look like I’m trying to swallow the camera. Andrew looks like he just ate a handful of Sour Patch Kids. Clare is finally introduced to the demon sun. She doesn’t like it.

Family photos are funny. I’m amazed at people who get all 8 of their children to Olan Mills for one of these bad boys every year. Here’s hoping that Clare smiles in the next one.

Daddy’s Shift

There is the quote from a movie that I’ve seen a hundred times.  Let me set it up for you:

Two friends are talking and the one friend mentions the others friend’s husband.

“Oh but don’t you have to get back to Joe?” says the friend not wanting to keep her longer than she should.

“No. No. It’s good for him to be with the kids when they’re coming down from the sugar.  He usually loads them up and then they go through detox on my shift.”

Ha. Ha. I laugh every time.

Sorry.  Had a moment there.

So the other day I had to head South to help my mom prepare for Care and Eric’s baby shower. I left Clare with Andrew.

The sight of me leaving the two of them was hilarious. You’ve seen it.  I kissed Clare a million times until she started fussing at me to get off of her. I told Andrew, “Now, if she does this I always try this first and then that and then I cross my heart and hope to die and twirl around and whistle. Did you get that? Cause it’s really important that you do all that before you even TRY to put her to sleep.”

“Val, GO!”

“OK, ok.  I’m leaving. Are you sure you’re gonna be ok?”

“YES! GO!” said Andrew.

As I drove away I pictured Andrew holding Clare at arms length and her screaming her head off and giving him a heck of a time. I have no idea why. He’s always done so well with her before. I guess I wanted to feel needed…important.

Well…not only did Andrew do well. He took Clare to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore!

What the heck!?

That’s so fun! I wanted to go.

I would have been like, “Oh…I’ll just stay home so Clare can take a nap in her bed and so she doesn’t get too overworked and blah, blah, blah.

Heck! I could have been taking her all over this wide earth and here I’ve been staying at home to protect her because I thought that’s what she wanted. BAH!

Look at that girl.  Free as a bird.  Happy as a lark on the top of the world….

with her Daddy.

Not to mention she slept like a rock that night.

I love how “coming down off the sugar” for my kid is really coming down off the thrill of adventure.

On Backward

I have this hilarious memory of my older brother Joe. He is one of the most humbly intelligent people I know.  He has memorized every word he has ever read and as far as I know could learn to do anything if he was determined to do so.  Of course with extreme intelligence comes a few short comings in common sense.

I remember Joe, not a morning person at all, would come down the stairs, eyes still closed from grogginess and plop down in his seat to a prepared bowl of cereal, which he would promptly inhale before any of us were allowed to say a word to him.

In this time one of us would most likely find something wrong with Joe’s wardrobe.  He generally misplaced something like his shirt was inside out or backward or sometimes both.  Sometimes he would accidentally put his pants on backward.  There was one time in particular that included a certain younger brothers underwear.

Joe eventually grew out of his dressing habits and I am quite proud to say that he retained his intelligence and has become a sufficiently good dresser.

Yet, because of my past experience with boys and clothes I have a carried a certain prejudice with me through to motherhood. So on Sunday, when we were rushing to get ready for church, I thought it might be a bad idea to ask Andrew to dress Clare while I ran through the shower, brushed my hair and teeth (not with the same tool) and splattered some make up on. I remembered my brother.

Yes. He took pictures. Evidently I took longer than I anticipated.

I said to myself, “Oh come on Val. Andrew dresses himself every day. He is a grown up. He has a wonderful sense of color and style. He will pick out something lovely for Clare. Maybe even better than you could.”

I passed Clare off to Andrew with specific instructions, as if he couldn’t figure out what to do on his own, and sped in the direction of readiness.

When I came back into the room Andrew had picked out an adorable outfit – jeans and a girly white onesie with embroidery on the collar.

But as I looked closer I saw that the onesie fit differently than I had ever seen before. Then I realized that it was in fact on backward.

“This is on backward.” I said. “Did you know that?”

“Oh.” replied Andrew without any movement to respond.

“…should you change it?” I asked gently.

“Whatever.” from Andrew. “I was wondering why the tags were in the front. So I ripped them out. I think it looks good this way.”

I pause and stare at her shirt front. “But…I mean…it DOES look good but…I just…”

“You want to change it?” said Andrew.

“No! I didn’t say that. No. No. I um…just…”

“It’s going to bother you isn’t it?” said Andrew.

“No.”

“Yes it will.”

“No. It WON’T”. I said insistently.

The truth is, I didn’t want to change her.  It was so cute.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. People always say that. But I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to put her in that onesie the right way.

Let’s hope she does learn how to dress…eventually.

Miracle Grow

Before I got married people would say things to Andrew and I like, “It’s hard. Prepare yourselves.” or ” Oh you’re in love now.” or “It’s a lot of work being married.”

I guess it is hard in a sense.  It’s not easy combining your life with someone else. It’s not necessarily natural to consider someone else better then yourself or before yourself.

It’s a lot of work to invest your life and money and time into someone forever.

But no one said anything to me like, “Marriage will make you grow in ways you never thought possible, in ways you didn’t even know you needed to grow.” or “Marriage will inspire you to become a better person.”

Isn’t it always true that people who have wonderful things to say about marriage or parenthood or finding a carrier or college or whatever…never end up saying anything? And isn’t it always true that people who have had the worst experiences always tend to tell you their story emphatically and with loud and unending enthusiasm?

Before I had Clare people would tell me absolute horror stories about children dying and women losing their uterus and so on.

Gosh people! What the hooha is wrong with everyone?!

Doesn’t anything GOOD happen to anyone any more?!

I actually like being married!

I KNOW! Scandal. I’m supposed to tell you how difficult and awful it is so that when my marriage works out you’re super impressed with me.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve only been married a year and a half and I don’t know what I’m talking about. But Andrew and I have known each other for 9 years and we’ve had a baby, bought a house, grappled with illness, my depression and other serious issues…so I’m not ignorant and I’m not naïve. If any of you doubt that, we can have a nice talk and I’ll give you my qualifications.

I feel like being married has helped me to grow and that is a good thing. Who wants to live a life where they have no reason to change and no areas to improve?

For example: I realized that I’m actually a really bossy and critical person. Didn’t know that until I realized how much I was hurting Andrew. I realized that sometimes blabbing your mouth about anything that’s on your mind is not necessarily good for the other party. I realized how much I talk but how little I communicate. I realized that no matter how many songs I write…I’m still not a very good listener.

I’m learning to love myself.

I’m learning how to love others completely and without judgement.

I’m more inspired to create.

And on Friday night after Andrew threw a few strikes…so did I. Because he helped me. Because he inspired me. Because just being around him and seeing how he lives makes me view the world in a better light.

In other parts of my world: Who else feels like they have been robbed with Day Light Savings comes around?

Finished

Well, people…our kitchen is officially finished.

oh my goodness...we were eating food we cooked in THAT KITCHEN!

And I have to say that Andrew and I were not far from feeling “finished” as well.

Can anyone give me a shout out and say, “Yes! Renovations are seriously hard on a family!”

Now, HOLD ON. I’m NOT complaining. I actually am really grateful that we were able to do this at all and that it didn’t totally put us in the hole financially. I’m so glad that my husband has the intelligence and artistic ability as well as craftsmanship to be able to accomplish something like this.

But it was tough – tougher than boiled chicken.

I want to sleep in here.

Andrew and I had a dream when we started our search for a home last November.

We wanted something with a lot of “potential” meaning we wanted something cheap that we could fix up and sell for way more than it was worth. Yay! Profitable investments!

We also wanted something that we could love and that we could create together – a home, something with pieces of us scattered in every corner.

We had this idea that because the dream was easy that the process of making it happen would be just as easy.

I have NO IDEA why we would even think that.

When I write a song it’s agony to come up with the finished project.

When I gave birth it was HARD WORK.

The week we submitted our bid on the house was the very week that we found out I was pregnant. This meant that me helping (painting, demolition, heavy lifting etc.) was going to be limited and that our dream of working alongside each other with a pair of hammers and sweat dripping from our foreheads was going to be more like Andrew doing all those things…by himself…

The pregnancy also put a deadline on things.  We wanted to finish all the renovations before Clare was born but if necessary we could definitely extend the date to before she started crawling. (that didn’t happen)

So Christmas rolled around and we thought, “Heck! We’d better get a move on.” Not to mention our kitchen was really gross.  I mean…you just can’t imagine how gross. I can’t believe we lived with it as long as we did.

And then one day, just like that, we flung ourselves into the renovation of our kitchen for no apparent reason, almost as if we had jumped off a cliff without any hesitation.

My parents, siblings and friends all took sifts helping us. The entire contents of our kitchen went into our dining room, I made a little sanctuary upstairs for myself and Clare and the process started.

People should budget counseling into renovations. Almost every night I would have some prolonged melt down about how Andrew wasn’t getting it done fast enough (our refrigerator was in our hallway) but he also wasn’t spending enough time with Clare and everything was messy and dust covered and there were saws (more than one) just laying on the ground. (!) I could see Andrew wince, as if to steady himself for a big blow, when he walked in the door every night.

But people! Look at this kitchen! Are you not amazed?! Who knew that this guy was so talented? After each step was finished I could tell a weight was being lifted off Andrew. “Aaaah…” I would see his shoulders say. And he finished it IN A MONTH! Who does that?! I don’t even know professional contractors who could do that and he was working full-time with a naggy wife. I’m sorry but as far as I’m concerned this kitchen is his first miracle toward sainthood. Clare is the second. One more and you’ve got it made buddy! Although…I don’t think Andrew’s a catholic.

Another saint, my mom, literally made us like a thousand meals. Every time she would come up or I would go down to visit she would sneak an entire meal into my purse. (I have a big purse) I have to say that part of me was sad that we finished because I knew that was the end of my mom’s delicious cooking.

We hardly saw any of our friends for a month because we didn’t want them to have to come over and injure themselves on some weird construction shrapnel that had flown into some spot on the couch.

But we did a few late nights working next to each other. We would talk and work and dream some more and little bit by little bit we finished.

Today as I cleaned the entirety of our house, I gave thanks. I gave thanks for Andrew, family, friends and forgiveness. I gave thanks for lead paint tests, tupperware, Dominos pizza and shopvacs. I gave thanks for a week off work so that we could push toward the big finish and I gave thanks for sinks and drains and tile and DISHWASHERS!

And then…I thought, “What’s next?”