Monday, March 16, 2015

Dear Arlo: A Birth Story

Dear Arlo,

We went camping on Cousin Beach (our name) in Riggins in June of 2013 with Uncle Garrett and Margot and Iris. It was literally 100 degrees and we drank beers and never changed out of our bathing suits. I got super exhausted and slept for twelve straight hours in the tent one day. I think you were implanting in my uterus.

On our 13th wedding anniversary, July 11th, I took three pregnancy tests from the Dollar Tree and they all came back positive. We couldn't have been more excited, or scared.

Three weeks later the morning sickness hit so hard, as did the tiredness and bloating. Six weeks later I got excruciating sciatica and I knew what that meant; it had happened before. It was Labor Day weekend and we were traveling home from the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Idaho Falls and I was terrified. It was the same feeling I had when I miscarried the first time.

The next day I did, in fact, miscarry your twin at home, in the bathroom. I thought desperate thoughts about it being all over. I sobbed tears of confusion and joy during an emergency ultrasound when I first saw you, my little wriggling bean. You are 11 weeks alive. I bled for the next six weeks and puked for six more months. I spent much of my pregnancy with you hovering over the toilet, crying and crippled with worry. My belly continually measured larger than normal and I had extreme pregnancy symptoms, my placenta was too low and you were breech. I believe you and I and my body were still making room for your sibling. I swam twice a week at the rehab hospital pool to get you to flip because the thought of a cesarean birth ripped at my heart. I meditated and reminded myself about hypnobirthing techniques I used with your sisters.

At 36 weeks you turned, head down, and I had a baby shower for you at my house. The contractions had started, and the mucus plug had fallen out. By 39 weeks, I was walking around dilated to 4.5 centimeters. My doctor was leaving on vacation for Spring Break and didn't want me to deliver without her, so scheduled an induction the day after your due date, March 21, 2014, the Spring Equinox. The contractions hit again, coming every five minutes on your due date, March 20. Ah, I said, here he comes. Grandma Lou came to stay the night with your sisters, in preparation for the induction at 8am. We got burgers and Oreo shakes at Big Jud's for dinner and ran into friends. I paced the restaurant, as the chair was uncomfortable, and the contractions were, too. You look like you are about to pop, the waitress told me.

We went home and I slept for five solid hours, waking at 4am. I got in the shower and shook your daddy at 5am. He's coming! All on his own! We drove to the hospital and your daddy dropped me off in front of the family maternity center. I looked up at the bright moon, pacing and rocking and breathing. Two other women in labor were dropped off next to me. We walked a few feet and stopped to breathe through a really tough contraction, repeat, repeat, repeat. The hospital is full. I was preparing to call you to cancel your induction, the nurse told me. No need, I said, I'm already here and he's already coming, on his own.

They put me in the tiniest and least favorite and only remaining room and I'm dilated to 6.5 centimeters. At 7:30am, my water breaks and it's full of meconium, so the NICU staff is called and you and I will be monitored. I breathe and imagine waves in the ocean crashing and that with each contraction my uterus is opening up a bit more like petals of a flower, pushing you out. My thoughts and my breaths are calculated and important and I move into my animal/earth mother zone and shut my eyes so I can't see the commotion. I'm dilated to 9 centimeters by 9am and they are calling my doctor. My bed is broken, so they can't lower it. My veins are too difficult to get an emergency IV into, just in case, but they poke me with a needle a dozen times. I squeeze your daddy's hand and roll and moan and STOP PUSHING, cries the nurse. We all know I'm not pushing, you are making your way out all on your own. The NICU arrives, frantic phone calls are made, the on call doctor makes her way to my feet, your heart rate is dropping so an oxygen mask is haphazardly slapped on my face, my doctor rushes into scrubs in my room, you are crowning with your umbilical cord over your head, it moves and with a flood of blood and poop and fluid your whole huge, pink body is out, and I'm shaking ferociously. Your daddy bursts into tears and it's 9:38am on a gloriously warm March spring day.

I feel strong and powerful and like I just lost a limb. We name you Arlo Valley Brown, after your most kind great uncle Arlo from Weiser, and the Treasure Valley, where we live and love and make our Idaho home.

The NICU nurses rush to grab you but I hear a noise from your tiny lungs, and I know it's okay. Your hair is reddish brown and matted and there's not that much of it, really, compared to your sisters. Your APGAR scores are great and they hand you to me and I cry so hard and you latch on to nurse right away. A few minutes later you squawk at us. Finally, we weigh and measure you, 8 lbs 14 ounces (almost nine pounds! I cry) and 21.5" long (the same as Lucy! I cry). You get a warm bath under the faucet in the sink and we find a birthmark that looks like a bursted blood vessel on your belly (it's still there) and that one of your ears is kind of flat and a bit wonky (it still is). I wear baby diapers filled with ice for the swelling and blood and would give anything for a hot shower. Your Grampy brings me a peanut butter cookie dough Blizzard from Dairy Queen upon request and I order a turkey sandwich from room service. We don't hear a peep from hospital staff for three hours, except for the ringing of lullaby bells each time a new baby is born over the loudspeaker at the hospital (seven of them the same day as you!). Later in the afternoon we are finally moved to a recovery room and I can't stop staring at you.

Your sisters arrive after school to meet you in their matching BIG SISTER tees and they hold you and love you immediately. It's calm and lovely and I get a salmon dinner with sparkling cider and a massage and a dozen white roses and (finally) that shower. The next day the staff photographer comes and takes newborn photos of you and when she returns two hours later with proofs on her iPad, I sob hysterically. Because here you are, my rainbow baby. The beautiful calm after a storm of failed pregnancies and so much pain and more tears and confusion. And with your arrival you brought more joy and love and healing than I ever thought possible.

This week we celebrate our first year with you. You suck your two middle fingers just like Alice, your hair is blond, your eyes are brown, and you've got that lucky ear. You have three teeth, are just about to walk, jabber up a storm, and still squawk at your daddy and I. Eating is your favorite, and so is playing in the water. The backyard chickens are hilarious to you, and you giggle like mad when we tickle under your arms.

Holy moly, we couldn't adore you more. Our Arlo, our baby boy, our little potato. You complete us. Happiest first birthday to you.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

FOODIE: The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge | February Update

Friends, it's month two of my 2015 New Year's Resolution Revolution to make every recipe (all 100+ of them!) from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier, her second cookbook. A few years ago I took on her very first cookbook, and made all those recipes. (Yes, my family is SO LUCKY.) Here are the recipes I made in the month of February, with our family and friends weighing in on each one.

(Links to the recipes via her website are all provided.)


First, let's start with the NAWS. Because there are so few this month!

Beef & Bean Burritos: These were just alright. She makes them up a few at a time and microwaves them for lunches, but that's a bit too much work for easy lunches, in my opinion. But, I'm also not feeding ranch hands, so there's that. We made them for dinner, rolled them and put them in a baking dish, and baked with cheese and enchilada sauce on top instead. That made them better, Dr. Brown says. Neither of us are fans of ground beef in burritos, but my girls loved these. (But our votes count more, because we are the bosses of this family, dammit, so it's listed in the naws. I probably should've done a just okay category this month because I could've listed these there.)

Rib-Eye Steak with Onion-Blue Cheese Sauce: First off, steak is super expensive. Second, I am, admittedly, not a fan of red meat. I never have been. The sauce was pretty good, but it was just okay. Dr. Brown even agrees, and he loves a good, medium-rare steak. (Gross.)

Twice-Baked New Potatoes: I've made these several times in my life, albeit someone else's recipe. PW's is similar to all the rest. Nothing to write home about.

Let's move on the to the FOREVER AND EVER AMENS.

Lemon Blueberry Pancakes: I love homemade pancakes (and can I get an AMEN for heated up maple syrup?! None of that cold stuff). These were a fun twist, but came out a bit flat (not as fluffy as the photo, but whatevs). And so good. Arlo's very first pancakes, and he loved them.

Best Grilled Cheese Ever: This has been called PW's favorite sandwich recipe in the past, and I have to agree with her, because there is nothing I love more than a good grilled cheese. Therefore, I'm giving this two big thumbs up. It's messy and yummy and while it might not technically be the BEST ever, it's still a fun twist. (Also, rye bread is my favorite, and no one else in this house likes it, so any chance to buy it is a win in my book.)

Perfect Spinach Salad: We made this as a side dish with the above sandwich for dinner. Not a good pair, though, because both dishes are super rich, so it was a bit too much. Warm bacon and red onions with hard boiled eggs make this a winner. Even the girls liked it. Would be great served with a meaty main dish.

Simple Sesame Noodles: Admittedly, we have been making this for years, from the recipe on PW's website. It's so quick and easy and delicious. We always have the ingredients on hand, so it's one of those raid the pantry type meals. The whole family approves. We can't recommend this recipe enough.

Sesame Beef Noodle Salad: This is basically a version of the above recipe. We added leftover steak slices from the blue cheese onion dish above and it turned out great. The best thing about PW's Simple Sesame Noodles is that you can add any kind of meat and veggies to it. Or not, if you're not a carnivore.

Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork: This, I think, was the clear winner in February. Also an expensive dish (we picked up a pork butt at Meats Royale for almost $40), but great to feed a crowd, with enough left for freezing for later. We served it on rolls with coleslaw for my mother-in-law's 70th birthday dinner. You can adjust the heat a bit by using only one can of chipotles and taking them out before shredding the pork if you're serving kids, like we were. But the flavor is wonderful.

Pots de Crème: My friends always host an annual Oscars Party with a movie themed dinner buffet. This year I picked The Grand Budapest Hotel and served these alongside tiny store-bought chocolate eclairs with pink and blue sprinkles a la Mendl's bakery from the film. To serve a crowd, I made mini pots in small glass baby food jars topped with fresh homemade whipped cream. They were so good, and set right up on the cold back patio in just three hours. I heard lots of yums from the audience on hand. What a sweet treat!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mid-Range Parent

Alice has always been a highly active kid. And tinier than normal. When she was less than two-years-old she could run and climb with almost as much dexterity as her five-year-old sister. She had a lot of energy that has always needed channeling, so we have always spent a lot of time at Boise's city parks. At 22-months-old, I felt comfortable letting her climb some of the smaller play structures at the park alone, careening down slides and climbing ladders. I was close by, of course, watching like a hawk. One day an angry mother came marching over to me. Your baby is on the top of that play structure. That is very dangerous. You need to watch her better. She glared at me as she climbed up tiny steps to be less than a foot away from her toddler. She's just fine, I snapped back. She can climb these things. But my eyes stung. I was watching her - grow stronger and braver and up and away from me.

I guess I'm not a "helicopter parent."


I always put my babies to sleep right next to my bed from birth. I'm too paranoid that I'll roll over on them and suffocate them in the night to co-sleep, but I'm too scared to put them in their own room. We lived in a tiny 1920s brownstone walk up apartment downtown Minneapolis when Lucy was born, so there was no other room for her to have to herself anyhow. She slept in a little woven Moses basket on the floor next to our bed, or in her carseat because it felt best for her acid reflux. (This was in the days before we knew this was dangerous.) Alice slept in a travel pack-n-playyard in our bedroom here in Boise for the first year of her life and Arlo is doing the same. Because I can't sleep if I can't hear their tiny breaths right next to me. I keep the fan running in the bedroom and check to see if Arlo is sweating, because both are precautions against SIDS. I'm not ready to let him sleep twenty feet away from me instead of one.

I guess I'm a "neurotic parent."


I've been writing about parenting and my kids for magazines and newspapers and blogs for the last seven years, so back in 2008 when Lenore Skenazy let her then nine-year-old son ride the NYC subway alone I was following the story. She wrote about it, and it made national news. In fact, it inspired a movement called "free-range parenting" and she launched a more successful career, a book and a blog about it. The basic idea is how to raise safe, self-reliant kids without going nuts with worry. Hmmm, I thought at the time, back when I had a four-year-old and a newborn. She seems smart and logical and wants to teach her son how to safely navigate life in New York. Seems fine to me.

Last year when those poor parents in Maryland were accused of child neglect for letting their six and ten-year-olds walk home by themselves from a park near their house, I was worried. Shit, Eric and I said to each other, we do that all the time. Lucy is a very responsible fifth grader, and we all spend a lot of time at our neighborhood elementary school, just four blocks from our house in Boise, Idaho. Alice is in first grade, but proved to me during the first month of the school year that she would listen to her sister and look all ways before crossing streets, never leave the sidewalk, and be aware of anyone asking her to come into their house or car. I met them half way for the first week or two, watching from a comfortable distance. Since the first of October, though, it's become old hat. They walk not only home from school, but to their friends' houses in the neighborhood, some a few blocks more than four.  Would other parents in my neighborhood call the police on my children? I'd like to hope not. That wasn't the case for those parents in Maryland, though.

I guess I'm a bit of a "free-range parent."


We can’t rely on our neighbors to help look out for our kids, and that’s why our neighborhoods don’t feel safe enough. When you let a 10- and 6-year-old walk home on their own, it feels scary because they’re fully responsible for their own safety. What’s missing is the sense that we’re all responsible for everyone’s children, says a story in the Washington Post.

But how do we change this environment that makes us so detached now? How do we rebuild our village?

We can invite a next-door neighbor over for dinner.
We can make a point of attending neighborhood events, such as farmers markets or park dedications or festivals.
We can make an effort to chat with other parents when we pick up our kids from daycare or school.
We can walk instead of drive, so that we see our neighbors and have a chance of talking to them.
We can teach our children that if they’re alone and feeling scared, they can seek out a woman with children and ask for help. Teach them not to fear all strangers.
We can tie the shoe of someone else’s kid at the playground, or reach out a hand when someone else’s kid wants to get down from the playground ladder. We can ask a parent who’s juggling too much stuff: “Please let me carry that for you.” We can accept offers of help instead of demurring. These small things say “We’re in this together” when every message around us says “It’s all on you,” the writer tells me.

But, I do all of those things above, and I still feel worried about it. Especially this week, as those poor parents in Maryland were found guilty of unsubstantiated child neglect, which means CPS will keep a file on the family for at least five years and leaves open the question of what would happen if the Meitiv children get reported again for walking without adult supervision.


Last night around 4:30 or 4:40 Alice went out front to draw with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. Lucy did homework in the living room and I put Arlo in his high chair with toys while I started spaghetti with meatballs for dinner. Eric had to work late, and I watched Alice from the kitchen window. Our little 1950s ranch house is close to the street with traditional midcentury interior design - a front window above the sink overlooks the street out front to wave at neighbors while doing dishes. Around 5pm a Boise Police Department officer appeared before my eyes in the window, talking with Alice while looking at my house and back down to his phone. My heart stopped beating for at least 2 seconds. I left Arlo safe in his chair and the noodles boiling on the stove and bolted out the front door. Alice kept drawing.

Hello? I said. Hi there, he responded. Just admiring her artwork.

I saw his large black SUV parked down the sidewalk a bit, in front of my neighbors house. I immediately scanned the area for activity; it's not uncommon for BPD to make an appearance in my 'hood. If you've seen any standoffs or assaults or drug houses or possible kidnappings on the news in the past several years, the likelihood that they are taking place in my inner city neighborhood are high. I saw no other cars or officers or suspicious activity, so my heart calmed a bit. I also saw that Alice was fine - unfazed, in fact.

I saw her crouched down here and just stopped to make sure she was okay, he told me. I can see what her favorite book is, as Alice completed a large red and white Cat in the Hat. Yep, I stilled my shaky voice, It's Dr. Suess' birthday week. Did you know that? They are celebrating it at school. Hmmm, he nodded, and slowly ambled back to his rig, got in, and drove away.

I didn't make her come inside with me, as my mind raced. Did someone call the police on my kid being out front alone for the past twenty or thirty minutes? Did they not know I could see her from the window? Did the officer think she was home alone? Did he think I was a neglectful parent? Was he logging me and my address into the "possible bad parent book?" Was it because I live in a "bad" neighborhood?

Or was he simply doing his job as a kind, helpful civil servant, checking on a child crouched on the sidewalk to make sure she was okay as he told me? I hope - I believe - that's the truth.

But, all night long, I couldn't shake the fear that I had done something wrong. Not a fear that my child was going to be hurt or abducted or badly parented, but that I was going to be punished for my belief that she wasn't. The Maryland story and the NYC subway story and all the like stories were running through my mind. When Eric got home, he even felt nervous, worried. Maybe she should only draw in the backyard from now on. Maybe someone did call and report us and the officer just couldn't or wouldn't tell you.

I was just doing my job being a parent. Alice was just doing her job being a good kid. And the police officer was just doing his job to watch out for our community.

I don't know if I'm a neurotic parent, a helicopter parent, or a free-range parent.

What do I know? I'm a thoughtful parent, a careful parent and a trusting parent. It's the best I can do.