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how unschooling, or "flow" learning, brings joy to our life with kids

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Certain things change when you have a child with a serious heart defect. I immediately saw through the veneer of certain societal norms : time spent staring at a screen to escape reality, time spent doing something that doesn't bring joy for the sake of getting ahead, time spent away from my kids in order to make more money. It suddenly all became just that: Time Spent. Spent and gone. That precious, precious Time. If there was any doubt in my mind that I would homeschool my kids before Lachlan's diagnosis, it was completely erased post-diagnosis. There would be no wasting of any time in school.  For kids with HLHS, childhood is often a Golden Time - their heart function often declines as they enter their later teen years and early adulthood. Why waste my son's precious life with time spent waiting in line and taking tests? I didn't know then that I would come to believe that schooling at home isn't worth our time as a family, either.

My little boy with half a heart is old enough to be in kindergarten, away from me five days a week. Instead, he is home with all of us. He wakes up in the morning and starts working on the ramps he builds for things with wheels, or he asks someone to read him a story. He helps with breakfast, and buils a boat out of cardboard. He fixes himself a snack of apples and almond butter when he's hungry. He might choose to go outside to swing, woo a neighbor cat from under the shed, or ride his bike down the neighbor's driveway. He plays with the neighbor kids in the afternoons, or enjoys a board game with me if the weather is crummy. He has become “quite the hiker,” to use his own words, and is amazingly helpful with outside chores and gardening tasks. In the moments in between, he is either playing the piano (figuring out melodies in different keys is his jam) or on the couch with a book in his lap.

Last year at this time, I was struggling with homeschooling. I didn't feel like family life was joyful. I felt pressure to help my eldest learn to read. I felt pressure to come up with a family rhythm that worked for all of us. I felt pressure to find time to get in all the “educational stuff” every day, to make sure our days were nourishing, calm, and enriching. In my head, it went like this: first, math play with Daddy. Then, violin practice, followed by family music time. Next, we would move on to read-aloud and a planned art project, followed by reading and writing practice, outside play, and quiet time. Oh my. I met with resistance from one or another of my kids at every step of the way. Even though I was trying my best to maximize our moments of enrichment, it just started to feel like Time Spent. Precious Time - wasted because I was still holding onto the belief that, if I didn't expose my children to most subjects most days, I was an unsuccessful homeschooling parent. I was doing a disservice to my kids.

Thank goodness I got over that. Because my goal is not to have children who can recite math facts at incredible speed, or whose handwriting is beyond lovely and whose spelling is pristine at age seven. My goal, quite simply, is to live joyfully with my kids. I do not homeschool in order that they may get into an Ivy League university. I homeschool so that their minds can flourish in an environment of respect, so that they can practice listening themselves and empathizing with fellow humans, so that they can explore and have time to hone their own gifts and passions. I homeschool so we can enjoy living and learning together as a family. Which is why we shifted to radical unschooling.

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I'm not writing this to convince you that unschooling is the “right” way to homeschool. There are so many different kinds of personalities, and a school-at-home method might be perfect for certain kids and families. I'm writing this for anyone who feels like I did at this time last year – that homeschooling is a slog. This is for the homeschooling parent who feels stressed out by the pressure of fitting in all of those different subjects, who might be meeting with resistance from highly self-motivated kids. That was me. Turns out, my kids can smell a “teachy mom” with an agenda from miles away. They don't want a teachy mom. They want me: a mom who listens, who empathizes, who marvels with them, who supports them, who demonstrates passion, kindness and work ethic through her way of living rather than her words and rules, and who gets out of the way when they are concentrating.

The day I accepted that my own passions and interests wax and wane, and that I learn best when given the time to focus on one thing at a time, really getting into the flow of concentration, the sky opened up and a chorus of angels started singing. Of course my kids were constantly annoyed that they didn't have enough time to work on what was important to them. (I get annoyed when told that I need to stop doing what I'm focusing on in order to work on something else, too!) Obviously, just because I don't write every day, that doesn't mean that I am not a writer. Just because I put aside my sewing design work for months at a time, that doesn't mean I won't come back to it later when the moment is right. Just because I lose interest in cooking fancy meals in order to make time for a burst of interest in painting doesn't mean I'll never cook again. The idea that learning must happen at a constant, plodding pace is just plain wrong. When I liberated myself from the idea that I had to be all things all the time, I passed along that grace to my children as well. (Notice that I don't commit to write a weekly blog post, or come out with a new sewing pattern every season. I'll do those things when I'm inspired to do them – that way, they fill me with energy rather than depleting me.) Just because my kids don't practice math daily doesn't mean they won't obsess over rubik's cube theory for two days straight. Just because they write a story one day doesn't mean that I need to worry if they put aside that work for a while after a burst of concentration and interest.

We cleared our morning schedule and allowed to allow the kids to get into interests and projects. And man, it feels SO right. We are all so happy. And learning, even the kind that can be measured by a test, has blossomed. No wonder – neurobiology has finally caught up with educational luminaries such as Jean Piaget and John Holt. It turns out that simply living joyfully, respectfully, and responsively with children provides the necessary environment for all sorts of learning to happen:

 

It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion. And after all, this makes sense: the brain is highly metabolically expensive tissue, and evolution would not support wasting energy and oxygen thinking about things that don’t matter to us. Put succinctly, we only think about things we care about. - Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang

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It was only when I stopped trying to teach Finn to read that he started to read on his own. When I stopped asking him to read aloud and stopped trying to institute a predetermined silent reading time, he took a mini reading vacation. He loved listening to read-alouds or audio books, but didn't pick up anything on his own. A few months into his vacation, I started displaying books that I thought might capture his interest. I put them, cover out, on the couch, which is where he first plops himself when he comes downstairs upon waking. He picked one up and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. From that point forward, he has been reading for several hours a day, nearly every day, of his own accord. All I do is “strew” books he will love in his path, and he gets lost in them.

The same has been true of Lachlan, who learned his letters in the hospital while recovering from his third surgery. Other than that, he was spared my well-meaning attempts at formal reading instruction other than following along with my finger during read-alouds, answering his direct questions, and playing some sound games. I put out books that I think might tickle his funny bone, and he happily plops himself down with them and reads book after book after book. I'm sure he isn't able to read every word in the Amulet series, but he gets most of them, and, like his older brother, he views reading as a diversion rather than a chore. Sadie is following suit, and she spends a good hour a day “reading” out loud all of the picture books she can get her hands on. Our living room floor is always covered with books.

Would I feel the same ease with unschooling if my kids hadn't embraced reading so readily? Sometimes I wonder, but the fact remains that they only started doing this once we had been curriculum- and rhythm-free for a good while. I attribute much of their rampant reading, natural interest in mathematical theory, and focused problem-solving capabilities to my graduate degree in Montessori education. Because of all of my immersion in Montessori, I understood the importance of preparing the environment to assist the child in entering into depth of flow, or concentrated effort. (For more on this theory, check out this talk TED talk by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow: The Secret of Happiness.)

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I've written before about our toys (and where we keep them) in a previous post. The gist is this: our few, open-ended toys are kept upstairs in a small play room. We spend most of our time downstairs, where they have access to myriad books, all of our musical instruments, the kitchen, and our art/tinkering space. During our “lazy” mornings, we all enjoy these activities (with some homemaking tasks thrown in for me and the occasional child.) All of these activities are set up to be welcoming and accessible for each child. We have cozy bean bags for reading, age-appropriate art materials available within reach (tempera paints aren't accessible for the 3 year-old, but markers, scissors, paper, etc. are.) We have headphones available to a child who wants to play the (electronic) piano while another is reading, so as not to disturb the reader. All of the baking supplies, as well as their cookbooks, are available to the five and seven year-olds in case they feel thus inspired. The snack drawer is nearly always stocked with a panoply of healthy options; even the toddler can serve herself whenever she is hungry.  Any Montessori teacher would feel at home in our house - the only thing missing is the expensive and space-consuming Montessori materials. Our home is designed so the kids can act safely and independently at a place where their interests are perfectly matched with just the right amount of challenge. They almost always enter this state of creative "Flow" given enough unstructured time.

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The one thing that we do differently from many radically unschooling families is screen time. Like most unschoolers, we don't restrict their time on screens and we don't waste our time or energy on arguing the value of video game vs. a good book. We just naturally don't have screen time. We don't own a television. (Since moving out of our respective homes at 18, Patrick and I have never owned a TV. It has never been our preferred way to relax.) We don't own a video game consul. Our kids don't have their own tablets or computers. Patrick is a computer programmer, and I have an online business and write on my computer, but it's clear to the kids that we don't look at screens if we aren't working. We'd rather be playing an instrument, drawing, hiking, or playing a board game. Screens just seem to suck away our precious time with each other, so we treat them as an occasional tool rather than an inevitable fixture. We are not Luddites; we use YouTube to learn a skill and watch documentaries together. We watch Spanish language kids' music videos. The boys really enjoy programming music in Sonic Pi with their dad. Finn spent a few weeks last spring putting together elaborate stop-motion videos, which required learning to use my camera and lighting equipment and gaining proficiency with the stop motion software. They watch the occasional cartoon at their grandparents' house. But they don't have their own screens and they don't do school work online.

Rather than making it a self-regulating screenapalooza or a stress-filled, parent-regulated, much-sought-after commodity, we just naturally don't have screens readily available in our house. It's a perfect fit for our family. I'm not arguing the merits or disadvantages to unrestricted screen time, but I wanted to add this screen-light option to the radically unschooled dialog. Perhaps knowing that a naturally screen-light home environment is an option will help some screen-wary families open to the possibility of unschooling. It's certainly been a positive shift for our family. Goodbye curricula, hello Flow, hello healthy connection between parents and children.


Encourage Your Kids to Hike and Give Them a Lifelong Gift of Joyful Movement

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In the past year, we've slowly emerged from a period of time during which I couldn't take my three kids out to hike by myself. When Sadie was born, Lachlan still very much needed to be carried after a short period of walking. He can tire easily (he only has half a heart!), but sometimes he just didn't feel like walking – something he shares with most kids of preschool age, I imagine. And when a preschooler doesn't feel like walking, well … you shift your ideal to accommodate your reality.

 

My ideal is being able to enjoy multi-day backpacking trips with my kids. I grew up next to the Tahoe National Forest, and my dad and I would often head to the trail for the weekend. My dad is not an effusive guy, but during those hikes, camped beside isolated Sierra Nevada lakes, we connected. We didn't talk each other's ears off, but we did hard things together, and shared many funny moments. I want to experience that same distraction-free connection with my kids. Also, my dad's implicit confidence in my resilience as a backpacker framed so much of my self-conception as a woman today – no less capable of doing hard, adventurous, physically and mentally demanding things than my three older brothers. This is an image he cultivated in me from the time I was four, when he and I summited Mt. Lassen. Throughout my life, he told that story proudly. How the rest of the our friends' kids grumbled their way up the trail, and I kept on truckin' and singing, all the way to the top. He and I did a goofy dance in the summer snow patch at the summit. It is one of my most cherished childhood memories.

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My little guy with a congenital heart defect would not have been able to summit Mt. Lassen at age four . Instead, I adjusted my ideal and we picked hike-free natural places to explore while he grew in physical and mental resilience. We would (and still do) bring a picnic, art supplies, nets, magnifying glasses, field guides and set about exploring and simply enjoying the nature right around us. Sometimes we would go for very short hikes, but we tended to stick nearby. I wanted to cultivate positive vibes about nature. Check.

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And yet … I didn't want our experience of nature to remain sedentary. I am very aware of the benefits of moderate physical exercise for heart kids. Lachlan's heart function depends on a lifestyle of movement. His little heart is a muscle, and the more regularly he works it out, the better and longer it will serve him. He won't be able to play competitive soccer, basketball, or any organized sport like that. But as a family, we can provide him the knowledge of a physical activity that he can continue to enjoy well past the time that most adults stop participating in organized sports and start sitting in front of a computer screen for work. Hiking. Outdoor adventuring in general. A joyful gift of lifelong movement and health.

Here are the things that I'm currently doing to pass along a love of movement in nature, with a goal of going on our first family backpacking trip within the year.

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Scavenger hunt hikes

Sometimes the excitement of a scavenger hunt will get them out of the house in a jiffy. These can be “collecting” scavenger hunts, where they look for bits of nature to bring home for the nature table, but sensory scavenger hunts are my favorite. They have a list of things to see, smell, touch, or hear. Check out Pinterest for inspiration.

 

Snack bags

Have snack, will walk. It's really amazing to me how far my youngest two can go when they have bags of crackers or popcorn to dip into. While I try to keep cracker-face-stuffing to a minimum at home, on the trail they are a much-anticipated treat.

 

Gear Up the Kids 

Sometimes the gift of a special hiking backpack, hydration system, hiking boots, or trekking poles will inspire them to make some forward momentum on the trail. Lachlan is a big fan of “gear”. (Finn would go naked and barefoot into the woods, and Sadie of course prefers wearing her Halloween-princess-costume-turned-hiking-dress, but Lachlan is motivated by his backpack!)

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Gear Up the Mama

Two items have changed my ability to hike solo with my little family: my backpack with a comfortable hip belt and my ultra light-weight Boba Air baby carrier, which folds itself into a tiny zip bag when not in use. I'll start with the Boba carrier – I always stow it in my backpack. In case Lachlan or Sadie get tired, I can pop them in the carrier. In case both of them get tired at the same time, I can (as a last resort) put one in the carrier and the other on my shoulders and view it as an excellent work out! (I always anticipate this, and consider it a gift of a great work out rather than a situation to be feared and avoided at all costs.)

 

My backpack is filled with crackers, extra clothes, and water, mostly. It also provides me with the ability to facilitate a sweet little rest time, if needed. I love to pack a nature-themed story book like The Burgess Bird Book for Children, as well as some simple nature journal supplies (The boys tend to carry their own sketch books and water in their trail packs now, but I started out carrying everyone's supplies so as not to weight them down before they were ready.)

 

Sometimes a Curriculum is Helpful

I have loved some of the suggestions in Exploring Nature with Children, a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool curriculum. While we are radical unschoolers and don't follow curricula, I use this as a learning resource for myself, so I can be informed about seasonal details in nature. The book's suggestions are great, as are the themed nature walks. There are even some crafting ideas thrown in there! Highly recommended.

 

We've also participated in and enjoyed the Wild Explorers Club. The kids get weekly “assignments,” which vary from week to week. Some of our favorites have been making your own special walking stick and creating a map of a hike or natural area. When they complete a level (about 4 assignments), you can order them a special badge. We put our membership on hold this fall, but the boys have been asking to start up again. I should get on that.

 

Find a Hiking Community

It's no surprise that kids move more quickly, and with more gusto, when they are doing it with friends. So much more running happens on the trail when we hike with other kids! We are fortunate to have outdoor-loving friends. If you're still searching for your tribe, see if Hike It Baby or Adventure Mamas has an active community in your area.

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Go Slowly, Go Quickly

Be prepared to stop and play in water. Be prepared to marvel at small things. Be prepared to notice the feeling on dirt as it sifts from one hand to the other. Children move slowly, and we should follow their lead. Conversely, be prepared to play a game of tag. Be prepared to race to a tree. Be prepared to be playful. Children can move quickly, and we should follow that cue, as well. Nurturing a balance between fast and slow will keep everyone in balance as you hike.

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Talk it Up, Build Their Identities as Hikers

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Just like my dad did for me, talk about what amazing hikers your kids have become. Be in awe of their small triumphs, their resilience, their ability to do hard things. After a hike, talk up all of the neat things you saw, all of the fun you had. Plan hikes together - start a Pinterest board together of nearby trails you'd like to get to know. Teach them navigation skills, give them a camera to help document your nature discoveries. Let little ones take turns leading, and thank them for their help afterwards. Tell bedtime stories about them as explorers. Brag about their hiking to their grandparents in the same way you would mention how well they are learning to read.  Essentially, communicate that joyful movement in nature is an esteemed family value. In time, your children will come to self-identify as capable outdoor adventurers.

 


a philosophy of sewing

 

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Or, why I took a break from sewing, and why I'm back at it.

I worked myself raw in the years after Lachlan's birth and first two heart surgeries. I filmed my Craftsy course, came out with a ton of new patterns, and attended my first Quilt Market. Sew Liberated was our primary source of income while Patrick was in grad school, and since we had such high medical bills, it needed to grow. Sewing became work - something that took me away from my little family. But Sew Liberated wasn't cutting it. We made the decision for Patrick to teach himself programming so he could jump off the history PhD ship that was sailing to oblivion. We needed to be able to stay near Duke for Lachlan's cardiology needs, and we needed a more stable income. When he landed a programming job, I became a full-time mom, and no longer had the time to work on Sew Liberated, even if I had wanted to.

We hired Danica to run the show, and I took a deep breath. Lachlan's third open heart surgery was on the horizon, and I did a ton of mental work to prepare myself for that sickening moment when I handed my baby off to scrubbed and masked strangers. I meditated. I did yoga.  I tried to get us out into nature as much as possible. Tried to create a nurturing cocoon of a home. Tried to do anything in my power to equip my little ones with love, attention, and good memories. I birthed a sweet baby girl. I felt my ability to focus on anything other than my family slipping away into a pleasant, homey blur. My family became my creative outlet. Months went by, and I didn't touch my sewing machine. Then a year passed. I didn't miss it. It was work. I didn't want anything to do with it.

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I didn't miss that rushed feeling of trying to sew "just one more seam" before the baby awoke. I didn't miss feeling frustrated when I didn't finish a project in the allotted time frame. I didn't miss the constant stream of project ideas that would hound my thoughts when I could have been enjoying the present moment with my kids. I didn't miss the creative to-do list. I didn't miss the stacks of yet-to-be-used fabric, beckoning me from the shelf. They used to cast a shadow of resentment over my children for their incessant needs that took me away from being a more productive creative person. 

The surgery day dawned. If I hadn't focused on Sew Liberated since before Sadie was born, now I didn't even give it one thought. Facing the tender, fleeting, mortal nature of being human gives you tunnel vision. This little boy of mine had his heart mended and fit by a tailor far more skilled than I. His surgeon's skilled hands touched Lachlan's heart, stitching pieces of previously-used human cloth onto my baby's own fresh tissue. Weaving gortex with muscle, he re-designed a circulatory system that would, for the first time, provide Lachlan with near-normal blood oxygenation levels and the energy of a typical three year-old. Lachlan's heart is re-purposed. Fully functional, yet beautifully flawed, like sashiko mending. 

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Nearly six weeks later, after battling with accumulating fluid on his lungs and the subsequent dehydration of his treatment, Lachlan's little mended heart slowed and stopped. I was at home, nursing a stuffy-nosed baby and five year-old. Patrick was with him as they rushed him to the pediatric cardiac ICU, soon starting chest compressions. When I got the call, I was eating a veggie quesadilla, which I spit out while I screamed and fell to the floor. I thought he was dead. I guess, in a way, he was. Had he been at home, 30 minutes from the hospital, he wouldn't have survived. (Hence our eventual move downtown. Covering bases, you know.) 

Lachlan recovered. But what does it mean to recover? To cover again. To mend. The mending is visible. Like his heart, life for our family would never be quite the same. There is a patch that covers our physical and psychological wounds. There is stitching that holds it together. Sometimes the stitching is pristine, in other places it is knotted with fear and anger. But we are functional. And achingly, imperfectly beautiful. 

We are still mending. A well-rubbed piece of cloth will, eventually, break down. When it does, we take up a needle and thread and piece it together any way we can. In my family, the cloth is often made threadbare by sibling bickering, hidden scary medical memories, and parental stress. But it can always be mended. Re-covered. Made functional. Unique.

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At some point, perhaps when that subtle shift occurred and my toddler started to spend long stretches playing with her dollhouse, a few minutes opened up in my days. I wanted to make her clothes as a gift of love. I cut into some soft cloth. She sat on my lap and removed the pins as I sewed. It was slow. But it brought me so much joy. I didn't take pictures of it. I didn't have to market the design. It was just that, a physical manifestation of love. An expression of my creativity and a happy investment of my time. I never want to sew for any other reasons.

Sewing has an important place in my life again, along with writing. But I have a personal manifesto that I now follow.

  1. Begin each project with the intention of expressing love and gratitude for the intended recipient, be it my own body or the vibrant bodies of my children.  
  2. Breathe deeply while cutting. Breathe deeply while sewing. Sewing is slow, and the act of slowing down is a gift of mindfulness. Accept any interruption in the process as a gift to be present. Find joy in the process, and appreciation for the amount of time it takes.
  3. Buy less. Make what you need, but not more.  When clothing wears down, mend it. Bring a mindset of minimalism to the fiber arts.
  4. Sewing is an act of self-care. It is not selfish. It is practice of mindfulness mendfulness. I sew because it helps me on my journey to be a more aware, loving mother and creative person. 

If I returned to my old way of sewing - the resentment, the oppressive to-make list, the feeling of being squeezed for creative time, I would need to stop and reassess. My time with these three little children is too short. With this healthier creative mindset, I hope to mend together my creative nature with parenthood.  

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I made these Rainbow Shorts for Lachlan using the Basic Pocket Pants pattern in my book, using Kaffe Fasset's Exotic Stripe in the Earth colorway.  It took me two weeks to sew them - a seam here, a seam there. He helped me. So did Sadie. He is clothed with love. 


expecting

knits for baby girl - korrigan and retro baby smock

 Knits for baby girl - Korrigan on the left and the Retro Baby Smock on the right. The newborn-sized Korrigan was knit with unlabeled yarn from my stash, and the Retro Baby Smock is an unabashed copy of Alicia Paulson's darling version - info here 

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It was such a huge leap to decide to have another baby. Back and forth we went, between not wanting to upset the (currently) calm waters of parenting two, to thinking about what it might be like as our children grow into adults and Lachlan's half a heart begins to grow weary. What will our family look like in twenty years? Thirty? How could we possibly have a baby while Lachlan is in the hospital for his third surgery this coming summer? Folly, for sure. And what if … what if we had another baby with a heart defect?

And yet. We wanted another baby, as much for ourselves as for our boys. We knew we had a short window. We couldn't have a newborn, and we couldn't have a mobile baby. But we could have a four to six month-old baby, right? The baby could accompany us in the wrap while we sat with our big boy, in that oddly plastic-like blue recliner that they so generously (ha!) provide for weary parents of heart babies, while we held our big boy's hand, sang to him, and read to him while he recovered from surgery.

I find “expecting” to be such an odd way of describing pregnancy. These past two pregnancies have been nothing like my first. With my first, I knew nothing of the process of pregnancy or birth (or parenthood), but I did fully “expect” for things to go well. I was bull-headed in my expectations, I'd say. Natural birth? Check. Breastfeeding? Check. I just went down that list checking things off.

With my second pregnancy, the shit hit the fan at the halfway point. I went from “expecting” normal to not knowing if my baby would survive. It was a heart-wrenching, soul-searching, balls-out emotional journey, that pregnancy. I'm still not sure if I can find the words to describe to you what that was like. Think tsunami crashing into the home you once knew, pulling you out to sea and depositing you on an island where you had to rebuild your emotional home from scratch.

You think you're alone in your sorrow, but then you look around and see other islands close by. You step into the water and wade across the shallow, sandy-bottomed channel separating your island from the next. Then you see her. Another mother, walking your way. Another mother, her own hands rough and blistered from rebuilding her own emotional home after the storm of parental sorrow. Perhaps she miscarried. Perhaps she had a difficult birthing experience. Perhaps breastfeeding didn't work out. Perhaps she couldn't soothe her colicky baby. Perhaps she bore a child with health challenges. Perhaps she was gradually worn down by the daily rain and wind of parenting a child whose behavior is not in-line with societal expectations. No matter the reason. We are never alone. The very act of becoming a mother is an opening of our lives to the ebb and flow of sorrow and joy. The respite is found in coming to a place of peace in our hearts, knowing that this ebb and flow is a natural and communal experience.

So here I am. Joyfully expecting my third – most likely our last – baby. Once again I've opened my heart to the ebb and flow of sorrow and joy. It would be untruthful for me to not mention that I truly desire a natural, peaceful birth and an easy transition to a family of five. I need to be honest and disclose that it (often) irks me that our baby girl has to be monitored by a pediatric cardiologist just because her brother has a heart defect. Sometimes, I desperately want to scream at the allopathic medical institution to just leave us the hell alone. But that is not our reality. After all, that very institution gifted my child with life - an amazingly rich one at that. The medical and the “natural” are contradictions that are surprisingly intertwined in our family's life.

All that to say that I don't really know what to “expect” anymore, but not in an exasperated, hopeless way. Quite the opposite. I do know that there are certain, small things that I can control, and many more larger things that I can't. I do know that, no matter what happens, there is a certain peace that comes with knowing that there will be both hard times and wonderful times, and that this experience is one that I share with all mothers, past and present. I do expect the opportunity to grow as a person, knowing that peace is not an external state, but rather my inner serenity. I know that hard times are natural, and will circle back once again to shining delight.


little things

booties for my friend's baby girl

Oh, it's SO good to be back! Hello to all of you sweet people. Your words of congratulations and encouragement fill me with gratitude for this technology that connects us, despite the temptation to use it to escape from reality. It is my hope to continue to use this space to share our family's committment to (and often, our struggle with!) enjoying the present moment with our children. That the future is uncertain was branded on our hearts the moment we received Lachlan's diagnosis, but it has, in some ways, been a bittersweet gift. I hope to write a bit more about our healing journey in the coming months. I feel ready to open up about that and put down in words some of the mess of emotions which has characterized these last three years for me. 

In the meantime, there's a jar of sequins that has just been spilled on the floor of the kitchen that needs to be dealt with, and another request to help sound out a word. You know - the reality! 

A few things:

- I made the above booties for my friend's baby daughter who was born last month with HLHS. Baby Annie will be home very soon, thank goodness. I'm sure I'll have to knit another set for our little girl! The yarn is Madeleinetosh sock in the Night Bloom colorway, and the pattern is called Stay-On Booties. Dude, I'm going to have to start keeping up with things on my Ravelry account. It's amazing what opens up to you, crafting-wise, when you're expecting a little girl! It's ridiculous, really.

- I'm now on Instagram! Follow along at instagram.com/meghanmcelwee 


and he's (almost) two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

a train trip to celebrate two

My dear little Lachlan,

Tomorrow, February 27, it will have been two years since I first gazed into your calm eyes. Two years since you had your one and only nursing session. Two years since the bright room full of specialist onlookers waited for you to pink up, then take you away while I lay there, dizzy with oxytocin and yearning for you. Daddy was with you as much as he could be. I didn't sleep but for little spurts in the blue lounge chair in the pediatric cardiology ICU. Your brow was swollen and blue, your nose a bit bruised, too. I'm not sure any other heart baby in that ICU was near your whopping nine pounds.

Two days later, we kissed your unscarred chest and they wheeled your bassinet to the operating room. We held it together until we couldn't see you anymore, then we collapsed and wailed in a dark family waiting room. Other people ate breakfast while you were under. I just thought that was weird, but life does go on, somewhere, doesn't it?

And life went on for you, in the most amazing of ways. You emerged from surgery, had some ups and downs, but mostly ups, in your recovery, then we were home (only after having been told by a geneticist that you were missing a miniscule piece of one of your chromosomes, which could make you prone to autism.) I carried that worry with me. The fear of your second surgery. The fear of your genome print-out. 

Yet you smiled. You cooed. You were oh-so-easy (except for the nursing/feeding thing.) But look at you now! Two years later, you have a husky little voice, speak in eloquent sentences, memorize entire songs, run along behind your brother, and eat phenomenally well, I must say. No one on the street would guess that you still have half a heart, and that your blood oxygenation is at 80% of normal.

What you are is a wonder. A medical wonder, a human wonder. You are hilarious, spunky, cheerful, and wise.

At two, you like reading books, singing, playing with cars, "washing" the dishes, and being with your Mima and Papa. You occasionally like your brother, who will occasionally play cars with you. You are starting to engage in imaginative play with puppets and cars, and start off many conversations with "You be this one, and I'll be this one. Hi! My name is car! What's your name?"  

At two, you don't like sharing Mama, and you don't like it when I can't play cars with you right now. You give the funniest looks, and you like to practice saying "no." But mostly, you're a carefree fellow. And we can't imagine life without you.

Happy birthday, love.


giving thanks

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Inspired by the fat brush strokes in Giving Thanks, Finn sat down at his desk and started to work with a selection of brushes and paints. We chit chatted about colors, lines, and curves, then I walked away. An hour later, he presented his interpretation. Then he flashed that "I'm three so I never smile in a normal way when asked" smile. 

I'm awash with gratitude for all the little things this year. If I had known that this is the way it was going to turn out two years ago at this time, I would have saved myself those truck loads of worry. I'm still pretty amazed that I get to spend my days with two healthy and vibrant little boys.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends! I'll be back here in a week.


fun was had

the fun we have

Before I left for Denver, I found myself with a bit of senior-itis when it came to my sewing course. You know, I had to pack, attend to small details, etc., but all I could do when I sat down in front of the computer was search for sensorial play ideas for the boys. 

And oh, my. The 'nets are chock-full of fantastic "activities," as we call them in our house. 

the fun we have

First up is shaving cream and ice paint from Growing a Jeweled Rose. Total hit. 

the fun we have

Lachlan had the idea of covering his hair in shaving cream. Finn and his friend thought this was the greatest idea ever. Somehow, we avoided shaving cream in the eyes, which was fortunate. 

the fun we have

What I like about Growing a Jeweled Rose is that Crystal has so many innovative ideas of her own, but she aslo posts thematic round-ups from around the web, which is very helpful for planning activities for children of different ages and interests. 

the fun we have

She does not shy away from messy play, and has great ideas for containing it in a bath. She calls them sensory baths

This was our first time trying a "special bath," as Finn now calls them. Both boys were awestruck with the glow bath I put together for them. 

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I'm pretty sure if Lachlan's cardiologist saw this picture, he would be concerned! Black light + camera at work. Speaking of Lachlan's heart, I forgot to mention that, at his last quarterly check-up, he was looking so great that his cardiologist gave him a six-month pass! No hospital for six months! Way to go, Lachlan. His heart function is excellent.

I hope you all have a great weekend, and that you have the time to do something crazy fun. We are heading back to the beach (can't stay away!) for an impromptu, two-night camping trip to celebrate Patrick's birthday. 

Happy weekending, friends!


lachlan's little amigo doll

lachlan's little amigo doll

This little fellow was stitched together with so much love. Finn sat on my lap and helped trim threads, stuff wool, and guide the fabric through the sewing machine. I worked on him here and there for the week prior to Lachlan's birthday, taking those quiet moments to reflect upon the priviledge of having a little boy for whom I could make this red-headed doppelganger. 

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lachlan's little amigo doll

He's a Little Amigo from Growing Up Sew Liberated - the knitted cap is the one Lachlan wore as a tiny babe, and the hat is a retrofitted Huck Finn. The pants and shirt are on-the-fly mama-made patterns. And, thanks to this doll, I also have a doll wig tutorial for you that I've been promising for a long time - it will be live tomorrow afternoon.

lachlan's little amigo doll

lachlan's little amigo doll

Finn, of course, was the one who noticed. "He has a scar, Mama, just like Lachie!" I felt it was important that both Finn and Lachlan have a doll with a beautiful scar. Finn often asks about Lachlan's "ouch" while bathing, and this is a way to address their feelings and questions about it through play. It's just a normal thing in our lives, and the scar certainly doesn't define the doll (as the real scar doesn't define the boy), which is made in the Waldorf tradition of minimal facial expressions so that the child is free to pretend that the doll has all sorts of emotions, not just the bright-eyed, fixed smile so common in playthings. 

lachlan's little amigo doll

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Sweet boy. I'm glad you like your little friend. 


one year

skin-to-skin for the first time since surgery

One year ago today, we held Lachlan skin-to-skin for the first time since his surgery. 

Though we didn't dwell on all that he has been through in his one year of life, it has been a week of reflection for me. For, when you have a baby whose heart works only because of the skilled hands of his surgeon, a baby who struggled to nurse or take anything by mouth for the first five months of his life, who was fed with a tube ...

attentive

becoming normal

There's something so amazing about the pictures of him on his first birthday, February 27th. He takes it all in, this little one. He's full of sweetness and spunk. At one year old, he asks "waz dat" about every 13 seconds or so. He wants to know everything, see everything, hold everything ... eat everything in this world. Have your cake, little Lachlan. This life is pretty amazing, isn't it?

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

lachlan turns one

We ended up baking him the "Baby's First Birthday Cake" from Organically Raised: Conscious Cooking for Babies and Toddlers . It was plates-in-the-air yummy.