Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Next Chapter

From the moment Hope was born, I began photographing me and me with her. It was never completely clear to me at the time as to why I was doing this. I only knew that I wanted a record of something, but I wasn’t sure of what. The other day I took a few moments to look back on these nine months in pictures. For perhaps the first time, I see them for what they were. My smile tells the story: it was a true season of healing and gratitude. I don't see myself standing in the mirror pinching my stretched and soft stomach. I am wearing my smile.

Indeed as is often the case, the pictures tell a story I did not realize was unfolding or fully appreciate when I was taking them, and living them. For this gift of perspective and hindsight, I am so grateful for each of these shots, in each of their blurry imperfectness.

This first photo was taken 24 hours after my c-section. There were complications during my surgery and what is usually a routine procedure lasted more than 3 hours. I am standing up on my own in this photo. Initially, it took two nurses and my husband to just help me get vertical. To be able to stand on my own two feet by myself, was an amazing accomplishment.

Here, we are getting ready to go home a few days later. I am still standing, and this time strong enough to do so while I am holding her. She is wearing the tiny ducky outfit my mother picked out for Dylan all those years ago. I am bringing a third baby home in this outfit, and am proud that my mother has been a part of each of those trips from hospital to home, even when I couldn’t have her with me.

Post haircut. It’s my first outing to take care of me after the baby and somehow the cutting of my hair shocks my whole system and reminds me to feel alive. I do not feel whole, but feel a slow return to something like that.

I am still in maternity pants here. She is nearly two months old in this picture, and I’m still in maternity pants. I remember this really bothering me, yet when I see myself I appear genuinely happier than I recall. It was special then. And I suspect I was too tired to realize some of this specialness. I can see her cradle in the background. She is wearing the ducky pants, a personal favorite for each of my babies.

She’s holding herself up. I suppose I'm doing more of that too. I am stronger.

I love how she’s looking at me here.


She’s becoming more curious, trying to grab the camera.

Hope steps in front. The picture is becoming less about me, and more about me trying to capture some piece of her.

It’s the last shot. We’re sitting because she squirms too much when I try to hold her. It’s blurry because she is moving on, literally and figuratively. Not so newly born, getting ready to toddle on to the next chapter. We both are.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Distracted Living: One Year Later

One year later, I want to tell you that I’ve got it all figured out.

It’s been exactly one year since I wrote Distracted Living. I had no idea that my story of that night, of that feeling of losing the ability to single task, of feeling that slip away from me like water through the drain, would resonate with so many. What was it that we were responding to? How it is that so many men and women across the country saw themselves in that moment? They know this feeling. What was it that was taking over us?

I have revisited this question many times over a long, wonderful, hard, and exhausting year. I believe there were two parts to my story that night. The first, was a desire that I believe resonates with many of us to feel frustration or boredom in the day to day minutiae of parenting and to use our phones as an escape from these hard feelings. The other piece of it was a desire to operate much like our phones, to try to do multiple things at once with increasing efficiency. Perhaps it’s not just that we’re glued to our phones, but rather that we’re becoming them.

I regret that after all this time, I still have more questions than answers. I wonder, are our lives supposed to have a headline, a main story that we could in effect be distracted from? Or are we supposed to be living in multiple places, spaces, and stories at all times? Were we designed that way? Is that preferred? Or are we adapting, literally evolving from an evolutionary place in terms of how we operate, based on these little devices we almost always have in our hands, next to us, in our back packet, in front of our faces, on our nightstands, never more than 2 inches from us.

For me, after much introspection I have come to realize that my desire to multi-task stems from a very human place, not just an overly aggressive attachment or dependency on technology. You see, what I missed in my post to you one year ago was that I pinned the source of this inability to single task, this feeling of chronic distractedness as directly correlated with the rise of smartphones and tablets. It was easy to blame this feeling on something and technology felt like the likely candidate. It doesn’t mean I don’t think there is some truth to that – that there is some sinister underpinning to the increasing scope of this stuff in our lives. But what I undervalued is what drives that increasing scope: you and me. Human desires, struggles, boredom, frustration. I wasn’t just externally distracted by other people and places and things that needed me, I was equally seeking distractions in a very human quest to evade tricky feelings through enough apps and clicks.

Over the past several months, I have taken some steps to increase my comfort level with the role of technology in my life, and to minimize distractions. I have specific moments in my day when phones and tablets are far away. These include: meals, driving, bathing, and bedtime rituals with our children. I have deleted all social media apps from my phone. If I want to check something I need to do so through Internet Explorer which is more cumbersome and less user friendly on a mobile device. This is good because it discourages me from doing so too often throughout the day. Perhaps most importantly, all of my notifications have been disabled. It doesn’t hum or rattle or beep or anything. It just lies there and does nothing, the way it should as a one dimensional piece of plastic.

But this feeling of struggling to single task, I would be outright lying if I said it didn’t still persist. It is hard to be okay with letting things drop: being late, or messy or uncomfortable or letting little ones feel impatient. It is hard to feel that you cannot help them all or do it all. It is a hard truth borne from a slowly evolving realization that doing less can in fact mean more.

I recently read an article detailing a scientific study that people who read books, or who engage in “slow reading,” are more able to retain information than if the same thing is read on an e-reader. The authors write: “As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning.” And this is it exactly. This perfectly sums up this feeling that I continue to struggle with: this feeling of trying to do too much at any one time; this feeling of skimming through life, rather than absorbing the meaning.

Do you know this feeling? It is the difference between sitting at the table versus being at it, or putting them to bed versus tucking them in. It is the difference between eating your food versus tasting it or raising your kids versus enjoying them. Ask yourself, are you truly there in mind and body, or are you skimming?

Honestly, it’s harder than it looks. One year later, I still fight the impulse to avoid hard feelings by looking down instead of turning in, or to just multitask my way through the hours. Each day, I am at war with myself over the misguided and culturally reinforced notion that having it all, in fact means doing it all. It is a truly hard fight. But I continue to wage my own personal and daily struggle with intention. I fight knowing that this life and the people I love are worth it, knowing how much better and brighter it will be to put down a world filled with to-dos and mindless externalities that glow at me from within my phone, to truly stay present in the world I am blessed enough to be in.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First on the List

I serve Dylan his dinner and he gives me his signature glare: “Mom! It’s touching!”

Dylan hates when his food touches on his plate. Everything needs its own neat and tidy space, as if life and all of its gastronomic pleasures should forever be served in a Bento-esque container so that the ketchup never EVER touches the salad. Never. But that’s not life and sometimes the ketchup is going to touch the salad. Just sometimes. “Deal with it,” I perhaps too hastily snap. “Sometimes you just can’t separate it all neatly.” Which is entirely true about dinner and sometimes true about life.

Over the past week or so, everything has seemed to collide and touch: the messy, the uncomfortable, and the wonderful. Life’s ketchup made its way all over that salad. It was Rosh Hoshana and the whole family came together from near and far to celebrate a sweet new year. Ruby lost her first tooth. We celebrated my 37th birthday. We finally got around to giving Hope her Hebrew name just a few days shy of her 8 month birthday. And through all of these wonderful events I have just been waiting, waiting for the phone to ring, enjoying myself but with an asterisk: what if?

Two weeks ago I went for my first ever baseline mammogram. By most standards, I have zero risk factors for breast cancer. I am 37 years old. I have no family history of breast cancer. I don’t smoke. But I do have two very important things that put me at risk. I have breasts: two of them in fact. And the reality of what’s happening here is that if you have breasts, there is risk.

Everyone assured me that the spot that showed up on my mammogram was “friendly” looking but the doctors acknowledged they had nothing scientific to back up this friendly vibe they were getting from the symmetric looking circled spot on the images. They couldn’t find it on the ultrasound to investigate further. And the general wisdom was to just wait and see, to come back in six months and see if anything changed. But they acknowledged that it might not be friendly. That they really just didn’t know. And I couldn’t live six months in the gray of not knowing. I’d lived six days in the gray and I’d eaten my own weight in tater tots out of stress. For a variety of health reasons, I needed more information.

For me, more information meant a sterotactic biopsy. So right before the Jewish new year and the birthday and the baby naming and just after Ruby lost her tooth, I lay on a table last week with a hole cut out of the middle and my right breast dangling through. The whole thing took about 90 minutes. My breast looked like it had been run over by a truck. And then I waited.

All of this waiting and wondering for more information gives you lots of time to think and it made me wonder how in all of the things I manage to do for everyone else on any given day, I have never in all of my 37 years found the time to check my own breasts. The process of doing this, of carefully or not so carefully running my fingers in a circular motion over each breast would probably take approximately 45 seconds. Perhaps 60 if I’m trying to be particularly thorough. But there was always a reason I couldn’t. I had to rush in the shower before the kids’ show ended, I had to send this email, make this dinner, this lunch, shop, read, write, breathe, watch, talk, do anything but prioritize my own health.

This idea is turning over in my mind this morning as I pull into the pre-school parking lot where throngs of adorable children dressed in coordinated rain gear carefully make their way into the building. Ladybugs, dinosaurs, butterflies and fireman, all with their raincoats, rain boots and umbrellas, all selected to ensure that our little ones make their way inside in the safest, driest, and apparently most fashionable way possible. I look at the mothers accompanying them. Most (not all) look like me. They look wet, bedraggled, with babies on their hips and flip flops on their feet and up to their knees in puddles and not a raincoat or umbrella in sight. Of course this makes sense, right? That we should stand there completely soaking wet while we protect and care for our children? At what point did we make the conscious choice to put their needs entirely above our own? That the caring of them means we stop caring for ourselves?

We need to do this. And not for our children’s sake either. Women are often fed a number of messages of why they need to prioritize their own health, to do it for their children, their husbands and partners and jobs and families and a whole list of people and reasons but the truth is that women need to prioritize their health. Full stop. End of sentence. There is no because or for. Women just do because they matter, they are important, not in relation to other people, places or things but just because they have dignity and that means they take care of themselves for themselves. Because nothing and no one else matters on the list if they don’t start here.

So as I begin this 37th year, I hope you’ll indulge me by granting a few belated birthday wishes:

  • ·               Give yourself a breast exam today. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to look for changes.  Mammograms are annual and while useful, generally don’t start until you are 40. A lot happens before then. And bad stuff can grow fast. The best way to protect yourself is to check yourself.
  • ·               Remind yourself to check yourself. There are lots of useful clever little apps now that do just that. These include Keep a Breast and Your Man Reminder (an instant breast health classic).
  • ·               If you are 40 or older, make sure you’ve got your mammogram scheduled. If you are under 40, ask your doctor about the potential of getting a “baseline” mammogram.
  • ·               Make a donation to help support research for a cure. I am giving money to my sister who is walking in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Give what you can. Just give.
  • ·               Finally, share this post with anyone you know with breasts. Share it because you love them and you want to remind them that nothing else matters if they don’t start by prioritizing themselves and their health. This is important for no other reason other than the fact that they are important. Women matter not because they are sisters or mothers or wives or daughters but just because. They matter. Their health matters and it always needs to be the first thing on that seemingly never ending to-do list.

As for me? After six ridiculously long days I got the call yesterday from my doctor: just a lymphnode and nothing to worry about. I’ll be back in six months for a recheck. I don’t feel as though I dodged a bullet. I feel like someone opened my eyes, and an umbrella and reminded me to take care, and stay dry. I’m full of love and hope and some sort of titanium clip that now lives in my breast to mark where the doctors have been. I’m literally a marked woman now. But in truth, we all are.

So grab a boob, don’t be one. Take charge of your health today because you matter.