Monday, December 26, 2011

A Christmas Card, of sorts

"All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea and out comes [. . . ] " - Dylan Thomas from "A Child's Christmas in Wales"

Out comes many wondrous things.

I've noticed that, mostly, holidays don't live up to our expectations. We envision this calm, peaceful and glorious set of days filled with laughter and warmth and good cheer. It tends to fall short of that. This year we had two sick little girls. Buttercup's cold (caught from Blueberry) ended up settling in her chest and we needed to use a nebulizer on her this Christmas. In fact, I took her to the ER two days before Christmas Eve. Then I started getting sick on Christmas Day. The house was a mess. Blueberry whined a lot, ate too much sugar, and bounced off the walls. Buttercup coughed a lot and was pretty grumpy opening presents.

But there were presents, both useful and useless. (Mine, for example: down coat from LL Bean, iPhone!!!, and a device that makes your pancakes and eggs cook into the shape of hearts.)

There was mulled wine and latke's and my brother's amazing seared cod on Christmas Eve.

There were children nestled safely in their (scratch that) our bed.

There was a fire in the stove that lasted for days, it felt like.

There was a lovely Christmas breakfast feast.

Blueberry still was an angel in a Christmas pageant in town on Christmas Eve. In fact, she was the only angel who said her line with gusto: "Glory to God in the highest!" (you could probably hear it across town.)

Blueberry was far more eager to give things away to anyone who came to the door - mailmen, UPS drivers, neighbors bearing treats - than to get stuff.

There was a light snow-globe snow falling on Christmas day, starting as floaty feathery flakes when we woke up (at the extremely decent hour of 7:30) and then getting steadier throughout the day.

It was a genuine storm by dinner.

There was Nonni and Pop Pop's Christmas dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

All my siblings were together, the five of us recounting Christmas pasts and participating in lots of good-natured teasing.

There were Christmas crackers unexpectedly filled with confetti. And there was cleaning it up together.

There was uneventful travel in the slippery snow.

There was my grandmother opening a beautiful snowglobe - something she'd wanted for all her 80 years.

There were two babies falling asleep while nursing by the Christmas tree.

There were too many cookies and too much port wine.

There were paper dolls and Colorforms and puzzles, books and hand-knit hats and mittens, so my daughter's Christmas had a air of timelessness. Everything she got was low-tech, yet she loved it. (And yes, I'm brave enough to post a picture of myself in pj's on Christmas morning.)

Boxing Day has dawned bright and clear with snow-laden trees against an impossibly blue sky and our home is warm and full of Christmas remnants and a couple of presents that Santa "forgot."

Peace and joy be yours this season, this year's end, even if it fails to live up to your expectations. With love from us all "at the rim of the carol-singing sea."

Thursday, December 8, 2011


"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose." -- Kevin Arnold

I realize it's been a while since I posted. For some reason the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems to get a bit crazy... I'm probably not alone in that. I am also dealing with the ramped-up needs of my two little loves.

News from the little world:


Blueberry has her first official loose one. It's cute, but also a bit icky to me. She's touchy and whiny about it, likes to wiggle it constantly and I love watching her try to eat an apple without using the loose tooth. It's the front bottom right, her first to come in (after consulting her baby book), and will be the first to go. I'm thinking Santa and the Tooth Fairy may converge this year. Not sure what the going rate is for teeth but perhaps a lovely little felted gnome or angel will be her prize.

Buttercup officially has 4 teeth now. It's also adorable, but those top two gave her a lot of trouble coming in and they are still growing and seem to bother her. She "grinds" them a lot and looks a bit like an old man doing it, but in the sweetest way possible.

(please note the pearly whites and the pearls from Nonni. so cute.)


We're trying Baby Led Weaning, sometimes called Baby Led Solids, with Buttercup. It's really brilliant not to have to make purees and force feed your baby. Check it out. I love it. Well, so far. Sweet potato didn't make it near her mouth and she's had a few bites of banana. She's not terribly impressed, but it's comforting to know that she'll pick it up at her own speed and with her own inclination. She does love to take sips of water out of Mama's glass and is messing around with a sippy cup in an increasingly skillful way. Still loving the boob 24/7. And I'm cool with it. She's large and healthy and thriving, so despite the fact that she's 7 months (!!!), I'm really not concerned pushing her to eat "real" food.

(water? really?)

And, Blueberry. Increasingly I've noticed she's sensitive to sugar. And preservatives and food dyes. SIGH. M&M's are SO good! Crap! I know. I didn't want to acknowledge this, really, but am realizing it makes a huge difference in her attitude, sleeping patterns, and overall behavior and health when I cut those things out of her diet. This is where Baby Led Weaning is brilliant. You realize you're cooking for your baby too, so you tend to cook healthier; whole foods, not any added salt or sugar, but lots of nutrition and flavor. It's going to get exciting the more foods I add on to Buttercup's repertoire.


We're getting ready for Christmas here in the little house by the sea. It's fun. I need to remember that and not stress about all that I want to do. We've made popcorn chains and pinecone garlands, "gingerbread" (graham cracker) houses, put up the tree and decorated it, made a swag for the front door, gathered lots of greens and berries for buckets outside, the mantle and refreshed our Thanksgiving centerpiece with cedar, rosehips and mussel shells. It's pretty. We purchased just a few things for the girls this year. Quality over quantity. Blueberry will be getting a wooden ironing board and laundry set, puzzles and small chalkboards, per her current fascinations. Buttercup will be getting a sweet small Waldorf doll, a couple of teethers and balls. I am trying to take things off my list rather than adding them on. It's hard. I plan to make a nightgown for Blueberry and matching pj pants for Buttercup. I'll post them when they're done! But I want to enjoy this season of peace and joy and take lots of walks, drink lots of hot tea, do lots of crafts, have lots of tree-side snuggles and savor the Advent.

Here are some photos to situate you, taken on our daily walkabout today.


house, with Mittens Alexatar foregrounding

backyard stream to the sea

Blueberry at the front door

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

As we gather

And present gratitude
Insures the future’s good. . .
John Greenleaf Whittier

It's a sleet-y, snowy day before Thanksgiving here on the coast of Maine. Buttery mashed potatoes have been made, the smell of pumpkin pie is coming from the oven, I'm taking a break before I make my mother's sausage stuffing. There's a fire in the stove, the house is warm, the children are napping. It's a traditional and comforting feeling here today.

(Aren't sleeping babies delicious?)

(Cozy fire today)

There have been times in my life when I have rebelled against tradition. Truly. I barely think of myself as "traditional." Yet I am going to polish my silver candlesticks until they shine, set a centerpiece of fruits and dried corn and iron my newly made napkins. Let's set the record straight. We aren't wealthy, monetarily speaking. In fact, we'd be firmly in the "99%" of Americans who generally live paycheck to paycheck, struggle with their insurance co-pays, and wonder if Santa could possibly be real because otherwise it will be a lean lean Christmas for their children. All this is very real, very depressing at times, and very uncomfortable to ponder. Here's the thing, though. I've decided that my strongest, fondest childhood holiday memories come from two things: a sense of love in a gathering and a sense of beauty and care taken with preparations.

I have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house. My grandmother had ironed her heirloom linens, set the table with her best china and silverware, even for the kids to use!, lit candles and decorated with gleaming fruits and nuts. My grandfather would be standing over the stove, stirring gravy, eating bits off the freshly-roasted turkey, inevitably cursing and probably drinking whiskey or vodka. I remember the sense of awe and delight upon coming in, being welcomed; coats would be shuffled off the spare bedroom, my grandmother would offer us gingerale in her fancy glasses, my grandfather's warm hard hand would "koosh" my head and he'd sneak us kids bits of crispy turkey skin. There would be a fire in the fireplace, Bach or Beethoven on the record player, (those who wanted to watch "the game" were relegated to an upstairs television), and there was always the sound of laughter, the tinkling of glasses and china, and the rich scent of spices, wine, and roasted meat. Looking back, I don't think my grandparents were particularly "wealthy." They were pretty typical for their generation - my grandfather had to work two or three jobs at a time, my grandmother's heirlooms were all handed down to her and she simply kept them well, took care of them, and yet wasn't afraid to use them. We used to drink out of her cut crystal and she never minded if we spilled on the tablecloth or if a glass or plate broke. The children felt just as welcome as the adults and everything was lovely, comfortable, serene and beautiful. We always, regardless of religious belief or affiliation, said some sort of blessing over our meal, holding hands in a sense of calm, security, touching a bit of the sacred, if only for a few moments. The food was always delicious - prepared with love and joy. We always had lively conversation too and lots of hugs, kisses and laughter. Our hearts, minds, and bellies would be filled to the brim upon departure.

(This is my grandmother, in the center, sometime in the 60s. I was not around then but you get the idea.)

I'd say, today, that we, The Man and I, have less "money" than my grandparents did. But this week we're going to host our own little Thanksgiving and I am realizing what I want my children to remember about the holidays. No, I don't have embroidered linens, nor matching china, but I do have a few special pieces that my grandmother handed down to me. We do have plenty of firewood, a lovely turkey from a local farm, family recipes for stuffing, pie and cranberry bread, and the desire to make the gathering special, lovely, memorable. I will set the table well, showing Blueberry how the dinner fork goes on the inside of the dessert fork, and that the butter knives' blades should point toward the plate - we may not have fancy glasses but they can go above the spoon, as my grandmother and mother taught me, just as the mismatched bread plates go above the napkins. I made the napkins myself out of pretty calico, but they can be starched and iron and treated well, as if they were heirlooms. Blueberry will help me make a centerpiece out of bits foraged from our forest. Care will be taken. No television will be blaring, no one will be without a seat of honor. The point is that my children will remember the sense of aesthetic and care and love I take in my preparations. The atmosphere of beauty and generosity is what I want them to remember. I want them to remember the table set, the faces around it; the solidity of wood with the gleam of silver and the flicker of firelight.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since
creation, and it will go on.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make
men at it, we make women.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They
laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together
once again at the table.
Joy Harjo

(Homemade dinner napkins)

(Centerpiece constructed by Mama E and Blueberry)

I never want to say to my children, "No, we don't have enough money to do that, so you be content with that paper plate." You don't need to focus on what you don't have. Thanksgiving, the very act, is to be walking in gratitude for what you do have. I have elbow grease, ingenuity and a sense of how to make something beautiful. It does matter. I don't want my children to say, "Oh, we grew up poor, we had to have Thanksgiving out of a can." There is nothing thankful about that. I refuse to embrace a spirit of meanness or want. We have all that we need, and more. And for that I rejoice. For that I set a beautiful table. For that I carefully choose my food for the feast, not based on price, but on quality. I want to flood my children's senses with loveliness. I want to teach them how to live well with the bounty they do have, rather than looking over their shoulders at others. I want to foster contentment by making what we have the best it can be. Is this an elitist attitude? No. This is good stewardship. This is showing gratitude for what you have by using it well. Using it well today, not saving it for some future that might never come. We are young now. As The Decemberists say, "But for now we are young, let us lay in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see." I look around my home and I can count a lot of beautiful things.

Here are some things that are true. You do not have to have a lot of money to set a pretty table. You don't have to have a lot of money to dress in your nicest clothes. You don't have to have a lot of money to make delicious and healthy food well. You don't have to have a lot of money to greet people warmly. You don't have to have a lot of money to turn off the television and put on the classical music station (if that's where your tastes lie). You don't have to have a lot of money to make the children at the feast feel equal and to have them sit at "the big table." You don't have to have a lot of money to make a beautiful centerpiece - the woods abound with greenery, berries and nuts. You don't have to have a lot of money to light some candles and turn off your electric lights. You don't have to have a lot of money to linger over your meal, to make washing up fun, and to play charades or shadow puppets after pie and tea. You don't have to have a lot of money to teach the youngest ones how to make a pumpkin pie or the right amount of real butter to put into the mashed potatoes. You don't have to have a lot of money to have joy.

Benign and dozy from our gluttonies,
the candles down to stubs, defenses down,
love leaking out unguarded the way
juice dribbles from the fence when grounded
by grass stalks or a forgotten hoe,
how eloquent, how beautiful you seem!
Maxine Kumin, from "Family Reunion"

(Silver polish is probably super toxic but it works wicked good.)

History buffs will forgive my retelling of the first Thanksgiving, but wasn't it about making due with what was available? Making something out of "nothing"? The settlers, starving and whining, "Wah, wah, we're so hungry, this land sucks, there is nothing here, we have nothing to eat, what are we going to do?" The Native people saying, "Umm... look at all this! We have corn, we have cranberries, we have venison, and we'll even be nice and show you how to gather and cook this stuff into a proper feast." The settlers saying, "Whoa, look at all that is here! This is actually awesome. We thought we had squat." The Native people saying, "You just need to look around you." I want to be like the Native Americans this Thanksgiving; making and sharing from the beautiful bounty that our land gives us.

This Thanksgiving, I will ask a blessing over our meal, over our gathering, we will hold hands, we might even sing together. That's right. We will truly gather together...

Friday, November 11, 2011

{this moment}

Inspired by SouleMama, a fantastic mama blogger. The idea is simple. Every Friday post only a photo, with no words, that captures a moment you want to remember and revel in from the past week. Here's mine.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gratitude, our high-wire act

So, cliche as it may be, November is the month for giving thanks. In this generally dismal month, it seems a fitting exercise to list what we are grateful for in our lives, from the smallest detail to the fact that we have lives at all. To that end, I'd developed a daily ritual for Blueberry and myself. We made a calendar, sort of like an advent calendar, called "30 Days of Gratitude." It has little construction paper flaps and underneath we write something every day that we are (well, she is) grateful for. It was going wonderfully well. "I am grateful for my food." "I am grateful for my family." "I am grateful for my toys." Ok, ok. Excellent. Expected, but good. And today, day 9, we had one of those days. I was feeling edgy, over-tired, sarcastic. Blueberry and I clashed a little bit in the morning over getting dressed, chores, etc. I did not allow her to turn on the television when she asked so she declared that I was "not being a good mommy!" and stormed off to the school room. Attempting to breathe deeply, I followed her and tried to derail her mood by engaging in the gratitude activity. Well, day #9's post, as dictated by Blueberry, would have been, "I am grateful for my mommy only when she lets me turn on the tv." (Hear me sigh heavily.)

This got me to thinking, though. Gratitude isn't really just saying, "I am thankful for ....", it isn't just making a list, saying a prayer over a meal, being happy in an excess of material possessions; it's a place of being. It's a hard place to be. It's a high wire. I get this feeling that gratitude is a skill too. You have to practice it, like piano playing or yoga or driving. There are days when I am home with my girls and it feels like the day stretches into monotonous eternity. Don't get me wrong; I love what I do, but there are days when I feel like I've been swallowed by a whale. I suppose these days come to us all. On these days remembering gratitude is hard. It's tricky to find, tough to practice and I fall off the wire. My response to Blueberry today was, "Well, thanks for that, Blue." (Sarcasm is sometimes my refuge when I'm driven crazy by these little beings.) And then I stopped and realized what she was doing. She was falling off the wire too. Maybe this was a stupid idea, I thought. Maybe writing down what we are thankful for is the exact wrong approach. Like saying, "I'm awesome" instead of just being awesome. We just have to be it. We have to live in gratitude; to practice balancing until we get it. And once you get it, you can just run.

I suppose even writing about gratitude like this fails the gratitude test. I should be less aware of it. I should just see it and live it and breathe it. It's such an open place to be. My sweet Buttercup is excellent at it. She just turns toward things that please her - nursing, silly songs, kisses, toys with bells, mama playing peekaboo, love of any kind - and her whole being lights up with gratitude. It comes before words. It's instinct. As John Berger, the art critic, notes, "Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak." Babies see and respond in an utter attitude of thankfulness. Not the type of bowing lip-service we adults are so quick to espouse. Not Emily Post or Miss Manners type thankfulness. Nothing humble or modest or meek about it. It's a lightness in response to what is given them. My baby glows with gratitude.

There is a way to be grateful that includes everything.

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to the store
to buy breakfast and the paper, on a

stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have

your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman

down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,

is this a message, finally, or just another day?
from "Starfish" by Eleanor Lerman

My Blueberry's rebellion against our gratitude "exercise" was the jolt I needed. Telling someone, yourself even, you're going to walk a high-wire and walking a high-wire are completely different things. You have to get out and step on, stiff knee and all.

It's sort of like that old mantra, "It's better to give than to get." So lame, the teenager in me thinks. But you are getting something. If you give out, you get the gratitude of others. Spark and light. It's electric. It's a refuge for the life-weary. It's the hardest place to get to but the simplest place to be. Flint and stone. Glint and fire in the dark. We gravitate to those who give it off; even in our deep wells of sarcasm, cynicism, negativity, stoicism, it is the grateful people, the people who glow with it, that attract us. I want that for my children. Heck, I want that for myself. Lerman's poem goes on:

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life's way of letting you know that

you are lucky. (It won't give you smart or brave,
so you'll have to settle for lucky.) Because you

were born at a good time. Because you were
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your

late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And

then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,

with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

And so, I will keep things about me that remind me to be grateful -- things that fulfill the criteria of usefulness, beauty, and simplicity. They will be my cues. The simple white sheets and cloth diapers on the line. The wooden spoons in the kitchen. The richly-hued watercolor paint and thick creamy paper in the schoolroom. The photo of us on our wedding day. The box of matches near the stove. The brilliant blue silk scarf Blueberry plays with all day. The golden honey in a jar catching sun on the windowsill.

If my girls are going to learn to run on the wire, I must learn to first.

(picture from

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Blue November

"November always seemed to me the Norway of the year."
- Emily Dickinson

After a freak October snowstorm,

right before Halloween,

November has come to us wearing temperate winds and crisp blue skies.

When I look at all of this beauty, this achingly blue (is there such a thing?) sky and glorious sunny glints glancing off wave edges, I start sensing a worry, a lingering dread. Like how the wind has a bite to it now in November. Winter in Maine is so long, so terribly long and cold and snowy and I get very cave-like. I don't want to take Blueberry and Buttercup anywhere, dreading the bundling and freezing car and sneezing, coughing people everywhere. Part of me likes the cave, all cozy by the fire and deep into thick plummy novels. Part of me is afraid of the descent. To mix my poetry metaphors, I'm afraid of diving into the wreck of my boat of quiet hours. Because isn't that what we all do every spring? Step out of the cave and turn around and smash it to bits because we don't want to remember we ever lived there? The cave we had made so carefully, gathering things to adorn it, to make it habitable; our stores of food, books, cushions and quilts and long underwear and slippers and stacks of messy chopped wood for the fire and knitting needles and cocoa mugs and crayons and paper. Our caves filled with our hearts stiffened against the winter with sticking plaster, keeping out everything, forgetting to take things in. We want to destroy them. To crack them open like constrictive eggshells and step out into the sun, reborn. But now is the quiet descent into winter. Now is the time for fortifying our caves. For building our quiet boats that will take us through to the other side of winter.

The wild things are telling us to be quiet. Soon the balsam will be covered in snow. Soon the snow will hiss into the sea and freeze the tackle lines on the boats rocking at anchor. Soon the ice will cover the pond and seal the rocks to the edges as if securing its babies. This brief interlude of blue and gold will soon be lost to white white white freezing-knuckled-fist-clenched-fish-fleshed white....

Housebound with children amidst the white. This is what remains at the end of the descent.

And yet, here into this boat I willingly climb.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Maine, in gray.

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall [. . .]
-- Longfellow

And suddenly, the weather has turned. The sky is as heavy steel and there is a freezing drizzle making everything miserable, cold, damp and generally icky. Not the best day, perhaps, to take a walk, but with Blueberry and Buttercup nearly crawling up the walls, (well, Buttercup's version is simply to whine incessantly, whereas Blueberry nearly shakes the house down), I pack up the car full of stroller, child, baby and snacks, and venture down the road to one of our favorite little villages. The passersby in their cozy cars (ok, trucks, as it is mostly lobsterfolk), must think we are a bit crazy, bundled and trundling down the road pushing Buttercup's bright red stroller; a brazen and conspicuous sight we must be in the gray, dark Maine day.

(I confess, she is impossibly cute, despite her somber look here)

Close to Halloween, there is something ethereally spooky about a cold day in an old Maine village. The girls and I are shivering, not just from the cold. This is why Stephen King can write such epically creepy stories. There is something a wee bit haunted about Maine in the off-season, especially here on the coast where we go from bustling to dead in the space of a month or two.

There's also something Puritanical about days like this. Everything seems stark at the end of October, stark and bare and necessary, somehow. Without the ornament of sun or full-flowering vegetation, the world seems like it's plodding home from church after sitting in straight-backed and freezing pews, huddled against in the wind in plain gray woolens, careful not to let its ankles or wrists show, as if, once a brazen summer hussy, it has repented its beauty and become sparse, practical, and recalcitrant.

The mood affects us. It's not unpleasant, exactly, but I think we feel it as we trudge a bit faster than usual. When you're outside in this weather, it's hurrying weather. Hurry, don't dawdle. Hurry, little ones, hurry home to your holes and caves, burrows and bracken-hidden dens. There's nothing to see here, the wind seems to say. Even the usually effervescent Blueberry seems a little somber, focused.

Still, we keep our eyes open for the beauty. The earth's new found autumnal modesty is still unable to hide the remnants of past glory. We keep our eyes open for our "news of the little world," as we always do, and it is still there.

In the last of the ancient variety of green apples clinging to the gray branches.

In the golden pine needle and leaf-strewn puddle, allowing the rain to ripple its dark surface.

In the gentle show of wild rose-hips, a reminder of the roses that were boisterously blossoming throughout the hedges. It is there. It was the sort of beauty you don't notice. Not showy, not full or ripe or obvious.

Longfellow's poem goes on to say that we must have days like this. Gray and gloom there must be.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Without these days, how could we even see the sun? How could we appreciate its warmth on our skin unless we had felt the bite of cold? Longfellow was a true New Englander. He understood the austere beauty of it, its contrast of seasons. He would have approved of our walk.

The afternoon is passing as the old year is. I've been teaching Blueberry about rhythms lately. The day has a pattern as rhythmic as music, as poetry. It's time to return home - the beat of the day calls for it, as much as Buttercup cries to be nursed. Home now, as the rain comes colder, the wind freshens and the steel sky turns to lead.

i am singing the cold rain
i am singing the winter dawn
i am turning in the gray morning
of my life
toward home
---Lance Henderson, translated from Cheyenne by the author

Sunday, October 16, 2011


For thee, my own sweet sister, in thy heart
I know myself secure, as thou in mine;
We were and are—I am, even as thou art—
Beings who ne'er each other can resign. [...]
Lord Byron, from "Epistle to Augusta"

I remember being so happy when the ultrasound technician told us that he was 98% sure I was carrying another girl. I thought, immediately, yay! Sisters! Then I thought, hmmm, sisters. I grew up with three younger sisters and it was both wonderful and fraught with trial. Sisters can be mean. Sisters can be sneaky and hurtful and wreck your awesome stuff. Sisters might not throw rocks at you or give your favorite doll to the family dog, but they might exclude you from their games, make you use the broken teacup at the tea parties, read your super secret diary, or pinch you during church so you yelp and get in trouble. I immediately related to how my Blueberry might feel. Uh-oh. A little crying sister taking over the house! A little mewling, useless bit of a no-fun thing.

For Sale

One sister for sale!
One sister for sale!
One spying and crying young sister for sale!
I'm really not kidding,
So who'll start the bidding?
Do I hear a dollar?
A nickel?
A penny?
Oh, isn't there, isn't there, is there any
One kid who will buy this old sister for sale,
This crying and spying young sister for sale?
-- Sheldon Allan Silverstein

There is something momentous about giving your child a sibling, and finding out I was giving Blueberry a sister made me feel almost sorry when I started thinking about it selfishly. I was three years old when my younger sister was born and for years I was haunted and embarrassed by my bratty voice on an family old cassette tape - "No, me! My turn! Not her. No, me, me." My poor sister was just innocently trying to learn how to coo and babble but the adult in me understands now the desperation in that little three-year old's tone. Listen to me! Hey, I was here first. What the heck is going on here? I can speak in full sentences and that useless lump can only make weird noises. How can you love her so much?

As we grew older, there was the question of "fairness." This, such a silly notion to an adult (life is unfair, kid, etc), is of the utmost importance to children, but when you have siblings, and I think especially to siblings of the same gender, it is almost ALL you think about. We used to measure and compare to no end all our things, parental attention, the chore division. . . oh, it exhausts me to think that this is coming. Everything has to be fair, the same, there can be no question of favoritism. Even if there is no favoritism, children will perceive it or fabricate the illusion of it. I always had the sneaking suspicion that my parents' second child (not me) was their favorite. This led me to wonder if you really can love equally. It's weird, but now I know you can. Until you have at least two children, you will never ever be able to understand that feeling, so I worried that Blueberry would feel that way too. Crap. I am going to give my daughter a complex, perhaps for life. I figured it wasn't going to be easy to transition from this...

(Mama E and Blueberry, pre-Buttercup)

to this...

(Mama E and Buttercup)

When Buttercup came along, I braced myself for tantrums, tears, for having to give Blueberry extra love and attention, extra gifts. Another of my sisters had famously announced at the birth of my youngest sister (yes, this does get confusing), "Yucky baby, yucky Mommy!" But the moment I had anticipated, the moment I said, "Aaah, there it is," and watched my dear Blueberry feel undone and unloved in the presence of sister-interloper, never actually came. Sure, we've seen some little changes in behavior; the need for validation, closeness with her parents, some "showing off," etc., but never have I seen animosity, distress, sadness. In fact, Blueberry has insisted upon hold Buttercup's hands, giving her kisses, singing to her, helping me change her, and lying down next to her whenever they sleep or nap.

(My girls, when Buttercup was about a month old)

It's been the best-case scenario. Blueberry has fully embraced her role as an older sister. She proudly announces to me, "I'm a great big sister!" And sometimes she needs us to confirm that, "I'm being a good big sister, right?" It's really beyond sweet. It makes my heart go to complete mush. The reason I had to write this post today was that, as we were riding in the car (to one of my sisters' houses, oh, the layers!), Blueberry reached over and took Buttercup's hand as she was falling asleep and whispered, "I need to hold my baby sister's hand while she is sleeping. That way she won't be afraid."

When I was growing up, one of my favorite books was called Big Sister and Little Sister by Charlotte Zolotow. The book is the simplest and yet most profound of tales about the dynamic of sisters. The "big" sister in the book looks after the "little" sister. She mothers her, watches out for her, cares for her, makes sure she is always safe, wipes away her little sister's tears. The little sister looks up to the big sister. There is nothing big sister can't do. One day little sister gets fed up with being told what to do and runs away and hides. She ignores big sister's calls, even when they come close to where she is hiding. Finally, she hears big sister break down into fearful, inconsolable tears. She decides to come out of hiding and wipe big sisters tears away. She realizes that she is needed. "And from that day on little sister and big sister both took care of each other ..." Big sister needed little sister just as much as little sister needed big sister. Simple as that.

As we grow up, this is what remains. As Margaret Mead says, "Sisters is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship." I've discovered, despite not always feeling this way, that it's better to have a sister (or three) than not.

We have each other, always, but really, we need each other.

(Mama E and sisters)

Maybe that's what is so sweet about Blueberry holding Buttercup's hand while she's sleeping. Maybe she's not just being a protective big sister. Maybe she is the one who is afraid when she goes to sleep and the warm weight of a chubby baby hand resting on her girlish fingers is exactly what she needs.

Sometimes I say I’m going to meet my sister at the café—
even though I have no sister—just because it’s such
a beautiful thing to say. [...]
Karin Gottshall from "More Lies"