Searching for Home

For roughly 9 months we have been house hunting and have made more offers than I can remember. Actually, that’s a lie. With a little bit of thought, I could walk you through every house we toured and got excited about, each one we called our parents about, each offer we wrote – and ultimately did not get.

I try not to get excited, try to remain as calm and aloof as my husband manages to. But each time, visions of furniture arrangements and improvement projects manage to creep into my sleepless nights of anxiety. And each time, I am brought to the humble low of disappointment.

Over the months of practice, I get slightly better at the process - slightly better at remaining emotionally detached from the brick and mortar possibilites. I stop telling my family after every offer we make. I avoid looking up makeover projects online. But I just cannot manage to shut-out the excitement – and then the disappointment.

It’s only a place to live, I tell myself. It’s just walls that house us. Nothing more. I hear that. And I even believe it, for the most part.

But I also really want to stop moving. I want to unpack all of the boxes in the corners of our garage, for good, or at least for long enough to get rid of the boxes themselves. I want to paint the walls whatever colors I please and make upgrades and changes without asking a landlord. I want to stop writing a rent check and work toward the golden challenge that is equity. I want it to be ours.

This month, when we find an amazing house just in our price range and make the only offer on the table, I get excited again. The sellers counter our offer and we accept. All of my rules are getting broken as I lose sleep imagining the possibilities. I call my parents. I research the schools nearby. I get lost in the prospect. Even though I keep saying “if” we get the house, I mostly think it’s “when” we get the house.

And then we don’t.

Another offer comes in at the end and is higher than ours. I am defeated and pushing back the sadness. But at the same time, I fully recognize that these are the normal adversities of life – the challenges we are privileged to undergo.

Yes, I am privileged today to be in a place so sound that my defeat stems from the house I live in, or rather, don’t live in.

One day, God will lead us through the front door of our home. Or maybe not. But I understand so long as I am well enough to lose sleep over the roof we live under, I am well.

As originally published here:         


1st Birthday

What’s in a year?
A tiny baby enters the world, enters a family, and alters it forever, filling the space that was awaiting them. Baby grows from teeny feedings of milk every couple of hours, exhausting her parents, from itty-bitty fingers and toes, from eyes that mostly stay closed, to smiles and coos. Her thighs and belly thicken into soft, rounded plump. She starts to reach out for those she loves, to remember, to prefer. She sits up and giggles, sprouts teeth, eats food and expresses tastes. She puts one knee in front of the other and moves at will. Then she puts one foot in front of the other and balances her way across the floor, and into your arms.

Parents, exhausted and euphoric, welcomed her with love one year ago. Twelve months of busyness, happiness – parenthood – slipped past. Now you’re gazing down at your 1-year old, asleep in her crib, and marveling at how much of that small mattress her sleeper-ed little body now takes up. Whenever did she get so long? Wherever did my time with my sweet infant fly away to?

Children turn-up the dial for life-pace.
Parents are more often brought to reflection, to measuring the passage of time by the lengthening of children’s bodies and the expansion of their vocabularies, to remember and reminisce because so much changes so quickly. Because so much happens in a day, in a month, in a year. Because life is full and blooming with significance.

So I will look down at my 1 year old, reflecting sentimentally on her fleetingly fast development, and I will remember to cherish today. When we’re listening, our children remind us of the precious gift that is today.

Happy First Birthday to my daughter. And thank you to her for coming to fill the space in our lives and hearts, for bringing us immeasurable joy and pervasive gratitude, for twirling us into a stupor over the passage of time and planting us right in front of appreciation for the present.


The Art of Carnival Avoidance

I owe my mother an apology. Every year, just as school was wrapping-up and the warm weather was starting to stick, the carnival would roll into town – which would invariably morph me into a whining, begging, pleading nuisance of a child.

“Please can we go? It will be SO much fun. I REALLY want to. Pleeeeeeease.” I would chant over and over again into her tortured ear.

I could not understand why she would want to miss out on a once-in-a-year opportunity to twist, ride, glide, toss, dunk, win fantastic take-home prizes and eat super delicious food, all of which was practically delivered to our front door. What kind of mother doesn’t want to take her children to partake in such immeasurable joy?

What kind of mother? The very kind that I have become.

My 4 year old son has just fallen prey to the irresistible draw that is the traveling carnival. As luck would have it, our urban neighborhood plays host to a small carnival at the school 2 blocks up the street from our house. My son was a young toddler when we moved here and we thought, Oh, how sweet; we can just walk him up there on a nice Saturday afternoon and enjoy the festivities.

That is just what we did the first summer. And then, about $40 and 14 minutes later, we walked ourselves right on home again. To boot, we had to nearly drag our sweet child out, as he kicked and screamed about not wanting to leave.
Generally, I have found that the simplest activities often bring the most joy in the parent-child relationship. My son and I have spent countless hours in our tiny backyard, building block towers and car roads. We often journey down the street to the grassy parkette, where we play hide-n-seek amongst the 3 trees that grace the corner, kick a soccer ball around, or collect leaves and grass to make soup in his sand pale. When enshrouded in simplicity, I can really spend time with him. We have our best chats at a quiet park or in a small sandbox.      
The carnival, on the other hand, leaves nothing to the imagination. As my mother learned long ago, for an adult, the carnival simply amounts to teeth and brain jostling rides of questionable safety and cleanliness, intermixed with terrible food that churns your insides in an oil and sugar overload - all of which leaves your wallet empty and your children in an unsatisfied frenzy. Not exactly the ideal of a good time.
The year following my son’s virgin excursion to the carnival, he remembers what the lights, music and screams mean on opening night. In a rightful turn of karma, he asks to go incessantly. I want to explain to him that the cost-benefit ratio of a carnival just does not add up; each ride is exorbitantly expensive and disappointingly short. But of course, that will not work. I try cajoling him into alternative activities. How about the park? Or the beach? There is even talk of how superior the fun will be during our upcoming trip to Disneyland, as though the little person I’m reasoning with is rational enough to defer gratification.

I once overheard my mother confess that she would take the long way home to avoid the street past where the carnival would set-up in our town. She would try to keep the entire thing out of my brothers’ and my consciousness. I was furious when I heard this, as a child, but now I credit her strategy as wholly rational and simply ingenious. Some years it worked out for her, and some years she wasn’t so lucky. There was always the risk a friend would tell us or that she simply didn’t realize before it was too late and we had already spotted the gleaming metal and blinking lights.
I don’t have the luxury of avoiding my child’s carnival detection. He can see the Ferris wheel from our driveway; he can hear the alluring music and laughter from his bedroom. How do you resist that?
Oh, I tried. There were some serious attempts at persuasion, preoccupation and postponement. I nearly made it through carnival weekend, haunted by the thought of going or by the guilt of not, when my husband caved on Sunday afternoon. It was just a few short hours before they would close down, pack up, and leave our neighborhood to restored peace, when my sucker of a husband whispered, “Maybe we could take him for just a couple rides?”

With the nod of my head, and a trot down the street, we were amiss in the carnival chaos. My little boy’s face lit up as he surveyed every ride, game, and treat possibility. It’s tough for hide-n-seek at the park to compete with this. And, standing amidst the loud music, flashing lights and hoards of people, I had to concede that it is pretty exciting, if nothing else.

Barely able to contain that excitement, my son tugged at my hand, wanting to go every which way and quickly. For a moment, I was caught in disbelief that I’m the mom – grown-up and deciding to go to the carnival or not. And why ever would I choose not? Wasn’t it just the other day when I felt trapped in childhood, when I was just a little girl standing at the end of the driveway, looking longingly down the road that would take me to the carnival? …The road that I yearned to go to fun and exciting places on.
I like to think that I have used my grown-up freedoms to go exciting places and do worthwhile and fun things. I like to think that I am a good enough mom to sacrifice my own comfort for the joy of my children, as my mother so often did for my brothers and me.

One of the essences of parenthood is the challenge in balancing exciting new experiences with simplicity and moderation. And so I know that some summer evenings, I will end up at the carnival, throwing healthful eating and mindful spending to the wind so that my children can experience a classic thrill of childhood.

But I hope we’re out of town next year.


Donor Breast Milk

Other women’s breast milk sustained my daughter for the first 9 months of her life.
17 different women. 4 counties. 89 days straight before formula was introduced. Some 270 days with breast milk in her diet – of which I did not provide a drop.

I would never have chosen to do it this way. And frankly, it sounds a little scary in retrospect. But, as some choices in life are not plucked from the ideal, this was a path born of improvisation.

It had been roughly 2 years since I woke up to crippling joint pain and roughly 1.5 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer; maneuvering the world with idealism has escaped me. One can only choose from the options available, and my choice here was to feed my baby formula or donor breast milk.

With a newly-blossomed concern against all things unnatural, a decision to use a processed “formula” derived of either cow casein or soy proteins to sustain my infant, who may be genetically predisposed to high risks of cancer, was one I was looking to avoid. I was determined to provide breast milk exclusively for at least her first 3 months.

From Day 1, this was a challenge.

The hospital, afraid of liability issues, asked me not to bring the donor milk in to my newborn. In spite of our Pediatrician’s order to allow such, we were visited repeatedly by uncomfortable administrators and, ultimately, we left the recovery ward early to feed her at home in peace.

By month 2, I had run through the entire, vast supply lovingly pumped by my best friends. It had been difficult for me to judge how long the milk stored up in my deep freezer would sustain her. Before her birth, I would lift the lid and gaze upon the frozen white treasure filling jars in every size and shape, and I mistakenly estimated we would be set for the first 4 or 5 months.
Running low on the milk from my friends, who I know intimately, I started to research public milk sharing. I read up on the risks of such and the ways to minimize them.

A friend of a friend offered her excess milk. I accepted.

I flash-heated the milk and developed a method of quickly cooling it back down to a safe temperature. (This home pasteurization helps inactivate pathogens while still maintaining the majority of the nutritional value.) 
And then I began to develop a relationship with mothers I don’t know, via online milk sharing forums and my local La Leche League. I drove around the southern part of the state, hungry to fill my daughter’s belly with the best odds I can.

From the very moment my infant was cut from her umbilical cord and craved colostrum, I had nothing to give her. A mastectomy completely removes milk ducts. (Mothers with supply issues and adoptive parents are also in the market for donated milk.) Yes, there are some risks. And like anything remotely-controversial, there are many people who disagree with such efforts.
But I feel have made the healthiest decision I could for my daughter, in difficult circumstances. Commend or condemn as you will, I am proud of this story. That my friends loved me, and her, enough… that good-intentioned strangers (who became friends) would take the time and effort to help us… that I could live my devotion to my child by driving, researching, boiling, and bottling milk… yes, I am proud.



The Family Photo

The idyllic family photo: everyone wants one, or many, spanning across the years of their growing family.

I’ve been a bit behind in partaking in this ritual, never yet having had professional portraits taken. I knew it would happen eventually, I just figured we could wait until our family was complete to try for that lovely photo that gets blown-up onto a canvas and hung above a mantel.

So, while I lack a mantel, I do have a family that is complete and so it was about time.
With a session booked, I voraciously went to work coordinating outfits. After all, putting together any four complete outfits is a chore, but these must go together in such a way as to not clash - but yet avoid bringing back visions of the matching 80's family picture wherein everyone has on the same color shirt and the same color pants to go with their big hair. Coordination that looks accidental is the goal. (And there will be no big hair.)

I pick up a new shirt for my son and a new blouse for myself. I open my husband’s closet and pick a dress shirt in the right color family. Then for my daughter: she'll need a darling dress. And a sweater to go with it. And tights. And a bow. And matching shoes.
Nice, coordinated outfits for all: done.
During what is otherwise a month of continual sunshine, the morning of my family’s shoot arrives with rain in the forecast. It is unseasonably cold and the wind is ripping across our coastal city. However, it took my sweet photographer and me two months to settle on a date that worked with everyone’s schedules; we're not canceling.
So, the four of us roll up to our meeting place, in said outfits, in the middle of a coastal storm.

We attempted to arrange a time of day in which our infant daughter will (A) be awake and (B) not be eating. This of course fails miserably; she falls asleep on the drive there and is cranky when we arrive. She wants to eat and completely lacks interest in gracing the photographer with her face. This is fun. Also, her specially ordered shoes and little pink headband will not stay on no matter how many times I reapply them.

My son is so cold I pull his old, fleece jacket from the back of the car and slip it on over his new shirt. So much for my meticulous coordinating.

My husband is notorious for eyes-closed photos, so while he has given this day no premeditation whatsoever, he is currently feeling stressed over the pressure to make sure his eyes are open in each shot. He doesn’t want to get blamed for "spoiling" the one good picture.

And, I'm discovering it was inaccurate to assume I had a pair of jeans that would fit in this post-maternity, but-no-longer-wearing-maternity stage. To the contrary, I find myself in a strange pair I didn’t know I owned that are, I’m pretty sure, cutting off blood-flow to the organs beneath the cinched-tight waist.

Yes, just perfect. We are ready to capture that flawless moment of beauty to idolize on the wall of our home for years to come.
Or maybe not flawless. Maybe just a picture of us, as we are.

My son, who crabbily tolerated this entire affair so as to get a promised hot chocolate at the end, will have blue lips and an ugly jacket on in every picture. But he'll smile his perfectly sweet almost-4-yr-old smile at least a few times. My husband will look perfectly handsome, every time he manages to keep his squinty eyes open. My daughter’s astonishingly-long baby-hair will flop wildly into her eyes, sans the headband that won’t stay on, and she will rarely look up from her knees. But this is her at 4 months, precious in her still young infancy. And as for myself, well, let's just say that I won't see myself with the magnifying glass that you do before you have multiple other people to also get right in a photo.

So, we will just be us - genuine us - to hang on our mantel-less wall.


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