Vincenzo’s Bday

Baby #1 turned 13 last weekend.  It’s been thirteen years since something wriggled out of my body and BLAMO turned me into Mom.  A few friends and I got to swapping labor/delivery stories at a soccer game on Sunday, in between standing up and shouting, “GET IT OUT OF THERE!” and, “GO GO GO!” and it felt very appropriate.

Nothing brings a group of women together like sharing a good labor story, so I will share Vincenzo’s here now, because I didn’t have a blog then and because his birth day is my answer to that question, “If you could relive one day of your life, what would it be?”*  I always feel it is a weird answer because it was the most physically painful day of my life, but there you are.  We can’t always predict these things. 

Now here it is, that day thirteen years ago, on September 29, 2005.

I couldn’t sleep that night because I had a backache, so I was watching The Wedding Singer, starring Adam Sandler.  Who would have known that from then on I would feel a special kinship with an actor I had only felt mediocre about before? But Adam Sandler was there when that first contraction threw me off the couch to the floor where I found myself rocking back and forth on my knees.  That was weird, I thought to myself, perfectly fine a minute later and back on the couch.  But it kept happening, so I crawled down to the bedroom and woke Kevin up.

“I think I’m in labor,” I said.  “Will you stay up with me?”

“Sure,” he said, and promptly fell back to sleep.  I went back to my movie but a couple hours later couldn’t bear it anymore, so I woke Kevin up for good this time, grabbed my hospital bag, picked up our cat and gave him a tearful goodbye.  “You won’t be my baby when I get back,” I sobbed.

We made it to the hospital around midnight.  The first part of my labor was just how I imagined it.  I’d have a contraction, pause to breathe, congratulate myself on how I was managing the pain, then make conversation until the next one hit.  The contractions got worse and still worse, as contractions are wont to do, and I remember a string of family and friends coming in and out of the labor room, holding my hands and helping me count to ten.  There were so many people in that room with me, it was like a TV sitcom.

At 7cm, Dr. Wang broke my water and the pain got worse and I lost control of my breathing and couldn’t count to ten anymore, so I looked at Kevin and said, “I need an epidural.”

He said what I had trained him to say.  “You got this, Babe.  You don’t need an epidural.”

That worked exactly twice.  The third time I looked at him and said, “I need an epidural!” and he said,“You got this, Babe,” so I yelled in a demon voice,“I NEED AN EPIDURAL!”

And he was all, “NURSE!  GET MY WIFE AN EPIDURAL!”  Those six little words saved our marriage.

I had been panicking, unable to focus on anything, unable to breathe, but when they told me to lie still for that epidural even an earthquake couldn’t have made me budge.  I did not want to mess with the possibility of being paralyzed the rest of my life, so I laid there, still as a stone, while contractions racked my body and an anesthesiologist stuck a needle into my spine.  The needle wouldn’t thread.  So he tried again at a different spot.  Same problem.  So they brought in a different anesthesiologist, who stuck two more needles into my spine but couldn’t get the medicine to thread.

By then I was at 9.5cm and you’d think I’d say, “Forget it then, let’s just DO this thang!”  But I didn’t.  The pain was still more than I knew could exist, and now they wanted me to PUSH on top of it all.  So I got a fifth shot in my spine—this time a spinal block—and then had a few blissful, pain-free moments of pushing.

I had been looking forward to pushing.  I was strong and in shape, and I figured I’d give a couple pushes and Vincenzo would come out with a few handfuls of confetti and all the doctors would say what an easy delivery this had been.  I was going to be a delivery superstar! But the spinal block wore off quickly, my morale was low, and each contraction felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my back and twisting it around.  At some point I started screaming with each contraction, and that didn’t help the pushing at all, and despite what my sitcom delivery room friends were saying, I didn’t feel I was making any progress.

Then Vincenzo’s heartrate started dropping with each push, so I got a second saddle block and Dr. Wang got out the baby vacuum.  “Three chances,” she told me.  “You get three pushes and then we go to C-section.”

After all that fuss, all the pain, all the needles in my spine, all that counting to ten and all the screaming, it took Dr. Wang’s warning plus two pushes to end up with a warm, slippery, loving baby on my chest. With a whoosh, he was out.  With a whoosh, I was born, too.

Our hearts found each other’s instantly and we loved each other for all we had done.

It was not the prettiest of labors.  I was on magnesium sulfate and oxygen, I had been awake for 30 hours, Vincenzo was not interested in breathing was a bluish.  But it was raw.  It was real.  It was wild.  And it was worth it.

Thirteen years later and we have a lanky, salty teenager lurking about our house.  Sometimes I think I don’t recognize this baby of mine, but then my heart reaches for his and feels the catch and I know for sure: he is still the brand new baby on my chest.

Pesto salmon
Gnocchi with browned butter sauce
Kale salad with dates and parmesan
Red velvet cake

*To Rocco and Leo:  This does not mean I love Vincenzo best.  I love you all best!  Vincenzo’s birth marked the beginning of my favorite stage of life—the one that led me to all of my boys.


My bed* was getting a little saggy so Kevin fixed it for me.  I cannot help but be at least a little offended.


I picked up Leo from his friend’s house and they have the perfect Home Alone staircase.  I was bombarded with all sorts of things on my way up.  This sign was my favorite.


Some things should never get cut short.


Leo tries on a pair of his stuffed animal’s suspender pants.  He is not the first Beto to have tried.


A graphic organizer I made to help me with my novel.


Crystal clear!

Leftovers, including but not limited to:
Spaghetti and meatballs
Chicken fajitas with tomatillo salsa
Pork chops with plum sauce
Whatever vegetables in the fridge have not gone mushy
Chocolate chip cookies

*Yes, I say “my bed” and not “our bed.”  Part of the solution to ending my insomnia was to have Kevin move to the couch.  It makes me sad, but on the other hand I am also much happier now that sleep does not a ten hour battle that everyone loses.  Hopefully we can start phasing him back in soon!

If I Had Energy to Blog

I’d blog about the three days I spent at a writing conference.

I’d blog about how the agents I met with pleaded with me to finish my novel so I can send it to them.

I’d blog about how overwhelmed and full of doubt I felt after the elation wore off.

I’d blog about how I cried and cried when the boys went back to school and friends, family, and my therapist propped me back up and got me back out there again.

I’d blog about how my only writing goal this year is to learn to be happy and also be a writer.

I’d blog about my newest picture book, “Literally,” and how I turn a whole class of students into bananas.

I’d blog about  chicken and dumplings, ginger carrot soup, peanut butter chip brownies, tomatillo salsa, chocolate macadamia nut cookies, and loaf after loaf of homemade bread.

I’d blog about the hours of my day I scrap together to read beautiful books and how lovely it is that reading is a part of being a writer.

Yes, if I had the energy, I’d probably find a funny way write about all this and then tie it together with a montage of embarrassing photos of the boys.

But I don’t.  It’s been an emotionally draining beginning to the year, but as of last week, I have met my goal every day: to be happy and to also be a writer.


And I’m totally good with that.

Chicken and dumplings
Lemon garlic broccoli
Peanut butter chip brownies

Why do I write?

People have been asking me this, especially people who are close to me and have seem me struggling, breaking down, hurting, frustrating, raging, falling down again and again.  They have seen me sobbing on the floor, literally and figuratively, and they ask me why?  Why do I keep doing it if it’s this hard?  Why don’t I stop and just enjoy life and do all the other things I love doing that don’t also make me cry, like laundry?  Laundry has never made me cry, right?.  (Well, actually it did once, but I was nine months pregnant with my third child and it was to be expected.)

I asked the question of my writing coach and she reminded me: I write because I am a writer.  I have something to say, and as hard as it is to get the words out and sounding right, it is more devastating to keep them inside.

I write because I spend a day at the beach, and this is what I feel:

And oh, how her heart broke and swelled when she saw the sea. All the life it had given, all the life it had taken back.  She could feel the struggle for life under the waves even as she felt the calm those great, lolling waves offered her.

The sea! The sea! She tasted the water, and it was the same as her tears, but it sparkled so, and the wind it brought made her think she had no use for tears anymore.

But it was a trick, for the moment she left the sea, the her heart despaired.

And even though I had these thoughts while sitting by the ocean, I couldn’t very well turn to the person sitting next to me and say them. 

Besides, while I felt all this sitting on the shore, it wasn’t until I sat down to write that I knew how big and beautiful the thought was.  My mind or my heart can start a thought but it takes my hands to finish it.

Now it’s posted on my blog and I hear my soul gasp—you’re not going to share this piece of me, are you?  But I am.  I did.  It’s embarrassing, yes, but the gasp, the thrill—it’s also something to live for.

Maybe someone who reads this has felt the same about the sea.  Maybe someone is  struck by the newness of my thought in their head.  Maybe someone will read that part again and wonder if I was writing about myself or about them.

Here they are, my words.  I give them all to you.

With a gasp and a thrill, I give them all to you.

Pasta with roasted vegetables & fresh garlic
Crusty bread
Fresh fruit

More 1st Day Pix

Because I’m feeling self-indulgent.







So obviously, I am here today so I survived Day One.  I was not alone in feeling weepy.  At one point my friend texted me a picture of a watermelon in the basket part of her grocery cart and said she felt sad because her kids should be sitting there instead of the watermelon.  I texted back that I’m right there with her. 

I miss my watermelons, too.

Baked potatoes with cheese sauce
Broccoli, also with cheese sauce
Blackberry hombre popsicles, sans cheese sauce

And here we go again…

Yes, the first day.  It is upon us.  For the past three days, it has felt like the clock has been counting down instead of forward, in an ominous, very loud and obnoxious way.  And here we are, today.

Does anyone else find it disturbing how abruptly the school year starts?  Like how one day we are here, looking like this…



And the next we are here, looking like this:


Shouldn’t there be some thing of some sort to mark the change?  A fireworks show and marching band to send them all off in their brand new shoes?  A month of half days followed by a month of 3/4 days to ease in slowly?  A superintendent who shows up and gives us all a hard slap in the face the day before?

But no.  One day it’s this:


The next, that.


And there they go. 


And here I am.

Penne a la vodka sauce
Roasted brussels sprouts   
Chocolate chip zucchini bread

Almost-September Blues

I’m walking around this week all teary-eyed, like it’s my children’s last week of life instead of their last week of summer.  I pick Leo up for random hugs and kisses, trying to memorize the smell and feel of his blond head.  Every bit of laughter, every pitter-patter of footsteps I take in with a brink-of-tragedy feeling.

School.  That’s the tragedy.

This is how I feel, even though summer has worn me to the bone.  I’m under-exercised, over-baked, dizzy from the front door swinging open, low on sleep and completely devoid of down time.  I should be looking forward to September!  I’ll finally have time to do things I really want to do!

But what if what I really want to do is make waffles with the kids, spend the morning at a museum, pick huckleberries and make a pie with them in the afternoon, read books in their colossal forts, then find a beach and stay until it’s too dark to find our shovels?

The thing is, I’m good at being a summer mom. In the summer I never question if I’m spending my time in the best way.  I never feel guilty for what I’m not doing.  I’m happy worrying about whether or not the kids are eating too much peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or finding reasons not to vacuum the sand out of the car.

I like those worries.  They’re cute, like puppies that might try to chew up a cushion but can’t actually do any damage.

Once school starts, my worries change.  I worry I won’t be able to finish my novel or write another picture book.  I worry that I don’t know how to be happy just  being. I worry that I should be doing something more. I worry that time is going too fast and I’ve started everything too late.

Peanut butter and jelly?  That’s a problem I am equipped to deal with.  Evaluating my self-worth and dealing with the publishing world?

Kevin and my mom both remind me I always have a hard time when school starts.  I’m blaming writing this year because it’s an easy target.  But truthfully, I’ve had September anxiety as long as I’ve known how to spell the word September.

If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know there will be a post next week about how lovely, beautiful, and magical this thing called school is, to take my children for six hours a day while I can do whatever the bleep I want to do.  I’ll get a pedicure.  I’ll spend hours in my garden.  I’ll finally return that one pair of shoes.  Read a novel in a whole day.  Shave both of my legs.  Browse actual stores instead of just the Internet.  Go for a walk with a good friend.  Maybe do some writing.

So anyway, can we just skip this week and get straight to that one?

Ginger salmon burgers
Fresh vegetables
Blackberry hombre popsicles