2014 Recap: I Must Have Been Busy!

Well, it’s been almost a year since I last posted here. My journey of motherhood has been very much hands-on for the last year. I’ve not been so interested in having a virtual life on the interwebs when my two little suns (concentrated balls of energy and light–yup! That’s my boys!) are so very much PHYSICAL, and ALIVE. My desire to be present with them (because I believe that if children need anything from their parents, they need their REAL presence) has forced me to reevaluate my online life and my own screen time. We’ve been going on walks, playing chase, reading books, swimming, taking baths, doing laundry, eating food, raking leaves, and laughing. We’ve been doing other things. Anyway, here I am feeling like I need to justify why I haven’t been writing anything on my blog the past year… REALITY CHECK! I’ve been parenting. I think that sums it up just fine. Moving on…

Last year I wrote that my intentions for 2014 were to go outside, make more music, be available to myself and others, grow, and do less surfing (online) and more writing.  Since the year has turned yet again, it’s a good time to reflect on my success at following the trajectory of those intentions.  On all accounts, I added more of these things in my life than in previous recent years, except for the writing (hence, my absence here).

1. Go outside. I was definitely outside a lot, although I would still like our family to be in the woods more than we have been so far. We’ll get there. We certainly were at the coast a lot, and despite two boys with very different sensory needs, we found a sweet little spot south of Newport (Ona Beach) where both boys could enjoy playing in dry sand.

2. Make more music. This was an important one to me because once upon a time I was a singer-songwriter, and music has always been a primary part of my life. While music-making is still a much smaller presence in my life than it was before kids, B and I both made an effort to bring live music into our lives on a regular basis. We took both boys to a Kindermusik class, I took my guitar and fiddle out of their cases and now they live on hooks on the wall, always available for playing, which both J and A love. We sing as a family all the time. J and I often will “read” Rise Up Singing and learn bits of new songs from it. We now have a family ukelele and a child-size guitar, both always available for the boys to play.

3. Be available to myself (and others). I learned some important lessons about self-love, community, and reliance this year. I learned more about saying no to things beyond my top priorities so that I have the resources and energy available to devote to those things most important to me (this year it was parenting our sons well, and fostering good mental health for myself and my partner). I’m not just talking about outside commitments and activities, but also saying no to expectations and assumptions my mind likes to make me think are important. I’m proud of the ways I stayed true to this intention in 2014 and I’m looking forward to carrying what I learned into 2015 and continuing to hone the balance of energy between self, family, and community.

4. Grow. I am saturated with information and knowledge (we all are), but what have I LEARNED? How am I GROWING, and what is causing it? Is the information I’m consuming actually helping me to grow in the ways I want to? In 2014, I’ve thought a lot about the ways I use technology and social media.  It’s one of our parenting goals to limit the time the kids see us using screens to a bare minimum.  That means that by the time they are asleep and there’s just a wee bit of the day (and my energy) left to squeeze out before I collapse from exhaustion, scrolling blankly through Facebook or marathon-binging on an instant streaming TV series are attractive and tempting activities because I *think* they will be relaxing.  But I’ve made an effort to bring these choices to a more conscious level this year.  If I only have those few hours before I fall asleep available to myself and to my partner without distraction (i.e., the kiddos), how do I want to spend them?  They are so precious! It’s so easy to go on autopilot and automatically check Facebook, but half the time I do that, I’m too tired to actually read anything or comment on anything. The more I try to bring my use of social media to a more conscious level, the more contempt I have for it because of the way it makes me feel. Sure, there are the great things about it (blah blah blah, we all know what they are), but it’s also such a time-suck and an energy-suck, not to mention a very clever tool of capitalism and thus, specifically designed to make me feel like my life is inferior and incomplete in a multitude of ways. So what does this have to do with growth?  Getting better at making conscious choices for my life, I guess, and being comfortable with what I choose because I’m getting better at being my own authority in my life.

5.  Less surfing, more writing.

Obviously, these last three are really all tied together. Beyond what I’ve already said, I’ll add that I definitely did less internet surfing than I’ve ever done in my adult life, and it felt good. Yes, I probably missed some important things (like “the news”), but to be honest, there is no dark void in my life because of it.  I’m a big fan of voluntary simplicity, and beyond material simplicity (which I’ve already worked on, continue to work on, and think I’ve hit pretty close to the “sweet spot.” Something that gets overlooked a lot, I think, is mental clutter. I used to always listen to public radio programming in the car. I used to watch Democracy Now! every morning, follow various critical blogs, keep up on what movies were coming out, keep tabs on climate change activism, and track which environmental disaster occurred where this week. Do I still care about these things? Yes. But I want to become less of a consumer of information and more of a creator of the world I want to leave for my children. To do that I need to focus my efforts, my mental space, and my heart to my *actual* sphere of influence–my relationships and my local community.  And I’d be willing to bet that even though I’m barely aware of the news, I could tell you the gist of what’s getting reported and I’d be pretty damn accurate.  If I want to be a good parent and a good partner, those things take time, energy, and mental space.  I also need time, energy, and mental space for myself. Something’s got to give.  What gives in your life?

While I didn’t do nearly as much writing as I dreamed of doing, I’ve got some pretty exciting ideas that were planted and fertilized in 2014, and I think that 2015 is going to be fruitful, grounded, and productive.

Coming up in my next post: It’s already the third week of January, so I suppose I’m a little late to the party, but it’s time to state my intentions for this next year.

This is Not That Child

The one that came before, with whom I’ve done this bedtime with two years ago,

the bedtime of endless crying, little body rolling over and over and over again as if on a spit

head plowing into the pillows, head butting the walls

the instinctive need to ambulate

the ability not quite there but so close

impossible to let the trying go, and yet

here sleep is, here it is, there now, hush.

This is not that child,

The one who slept in closets or on boards

just for the fun of it

who emptied her drawers to sleep on a bed of clothes

who remembers all these nighttime rituals thirty years later, and only now gives a sympathetic thought to that child’s mother, who never got enough sleep

that child can bring up from the depths of memory a particular smell

that she always knew was her mother’s scent but

only now when it soaks her own clothes, pouring freely in little white rivers for this child

understands that all this time, it was the milk.

the scent memory so strong, animal in its ability to tie infant to mother so tightly that they can find one another even in the dark, breast and mouth,

smells like love, like eggs, like dark warm, like head in lap, like eyes hiding in a warm neck, like cows in fresh hay, like female skin, like celery, like sweat, like blankets, like a mother’s pillow.

This is not either of these children,

but like happens and has happened a thousand thousand times before

the sleep will come, milky and heavy

stillness will settle into small limbs, and you, my child, will assume the shape of all-surrender.

I’ll place the blanket over you, and while you’ll be half-aware, your body will not move. Like when, after waking in the middle of the night you might lift yourself from the mattress to peer outside and discover that a blanket of snow covers everything in the world, but this change will just invite more sleep. Stillness and silence, these are discoveries.

By the blankets, we know the world has changed, but all the better for sleeping, and so we shall.

Birth Story: A Forty Hour Labor

Waiting is hard to do.

It’s especially hard when you’re waiting for labor to start so you can finally meet your baby. At 38 weeks, I was DONE with inhabiting a pregnant body, and I wanted to see my son. I did not particularly enjoy the pregnancy experience, especially since I had had six months of morning sickness that required medication in order for me to function. Month seven was great, and then by month eight I was starting to feel like a blimpy hippopotamus in a slow motion movie. So yeah, I was over being pregnant. I was looking forward to labor because I’d much rather be DOING something about a particular situation than being a passive participant. Even though it’s not really like this, pregnancy felt like a very passive thing to me. I looked forward to labor because I felt things would finally start HAPPENING that I could participate in. Plus, it would mean that I wouldn’t have to be pregnant much longer. But I had to wait some more, had to dig deeper into practicing patience, which as it turns out, is what motherhood is all about. It wasn’t time for my body to go into labor yet, so despite whatever I wished for, my uterus remained relatively quiet and my cervix steadfastly closed.

In week 39, I started having BH contractions that came at steady intervals. They were painless but noticeable, and coming every 5-7 minutes. I thought (of course) that maybe this was the beginning of the real thing, but really my uterus was just doing a little pre-game trial run. I had 48 hours of this 5-7 minute pattern and then whoosh they vanished. It wasn’t until ten days later at 40 weeks 5 days that labor actually started. The nice thing about that was that it gave my mom time to get here for the birth, which I was so glad about. She arrived from 3,000 miles away on July 16. We spent the 17th relaxing, and on the 18th we took a longish car trip, hoping superstitiously that it might get things moving along because we had gone to the beach for a day trip the day before Beth went into labor with James. Worked for her, might as well try it again, right? Mom cooked one of my favorite meals that night (gf chicken and vegetable lo mein) and I gobbled it up. Nobody said so, but we all had the feeling that “tonight’s the night.”

The evening was the time of day that my BH contractions would come back, so Beth and I took a walk around the neighborhood, and I took up a pace that was brisker than usual (although I’m sure I was still just moving like a waddly puddle.) I went to bed having contractions that felt stronger (squeezy) but still painless (not crampy or sharp) and slept well. I got up to pee at 4am, and when I got back in bed I felt a twinge-cramp thing that got my attention, and a flick-pop on the lower right side of my belly (assumed it was the baby kicking). Ten seconds later, warm fluid poured out and I said “Oh!” I was excited to have a clear signal that things were finally rolling. I woke B up and went to the bathroom to check the fluid– it was clear. Real contractions started immediately, but I could still talk through them. After calling my midwife and doula, I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep through the contractions anymore. Since the amniotic fluid was clear, my midwife said I could stay at home for as long as I wanted before coming into the hospital. I knew that laboring at home for as long as possible would help things progress, but I also was apprehensive about transitioning to the hospital when already in active, intense labor. I decided it was time to go a few hours later, and we made our way to the maternity ward.

I was just 2cm, and the contractions were INTENSE. (I’m going to write a later post in which I’ll try my best to describe what labor actually felt like to me, since that’s the question on the mind of every woman whose facing labor for the first time). They strapped the monitors on my belly for the initial 20 minute strip, which I hated. They encouraged me to sit down in the rocking chair, which I HATED. No, I don’t want to sit down. No, not even between contractions to rest. Don’t you understand, there is a baby skull pushing on my cervix, trying to get out! It doesn’t want to get pushed back up by a chair!

After the strip was finished, I was free to walk the halls, with the help of Beth and my doula. I have no idea how long I was walking– in real time it probably was not much more than an hour. All I know is that when I started, I could still keep walking during the contractions, albeit very slowly, as long as I kept breathing deeply. When I said I wanted to head back to the room, I was grabbing whoever was closest to me and latching them into a slow dance, moaning into their shoulder, and thinking about how nice it would feel to crawl back to the room rather than stay upright.

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The next nine or so hours I was deep in Laborland. The nurses couldn’t find a fetal heartbeat distinguishable from my own, so I consented to an internal fetal monitor (the kind that is inserted just under the skin on the baby’s scalp.) Count that as Plastic Thing Number One connected to me. Every hour (or thirty minutes? Who would know the difference? Certainly not a woman in labor), they put my finger in a heart rate monitor and took my temperature. Thing 2, Thing 3. I hated the Things. Then I needed IV fluid, the reason I cannot recall now, but I know at the time I fully agreed it was a good idea. But it was another Thing connected to me.

All during this time I was trying out the full spectrum of “labor comfort measures”– birthing ball (No), squatting on the bed using the squat bar (YESSSS), massage on my lower back (YESSS!), counter pressure on my hips (NOOOO!!!), drinking water (YESSSSS), getting in the bathtub (NOOOO), sitting on the toilet (no), sitting in a rocking chair (no), laying on my side in the bed (FUCK NO), hanging from the squat bar and the foot of the bed (OH YES), kneeling and leaning on the raised head of the bed (No, yes, no, yes, NO). Finally I got to five centimeters and they could get the birthing tub ready. About an hour (two hours?) later, I got in the deep warm water and it felt soooooo good. Beth got in the tub with me and we had some really beautiful cuddles and kisses in between contractions. She tirelessly dug her knuckles into my sacrum during Every. Single. Contraction.

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The warm water helped me relax enough to be sleep a little in between every contraction. It also made me nauseous, so I asked for some Zofran because I knew that if I started vomiting, I would lose my rhythm, my calm, and my confidence. The physical sensations would just be too much. The feeling of pressure started to increase, and I started feeling pushy and grunty. The midwife came in to check me and I was only 7cm but she said I could follow my body’s signals and push if I felt like it. I pushed a little with each contraction, but not with full force because I knew I wasn’t fully dilated. That went on for a couple hours, and I started losing all sense of time. The span between contractions seemed to me to last twenty minutes, and I started to worry that labor was stopping. I talked to my mom between contractions, asking her over and over again if it really had been twenty minutes since the last contraction, and if I was doing ok. I needed her constant reassurance that it had only been three minutes since the last contraction, not twenty, and that I was doing everything right for my baby. I needed her to say these things to me between every contraction, and she did. Time stopped for me. I was deep in Laborland with no concept of how long I had been in labor. I was only aware of the previous contraction that had just ended and the one that was approaching. It was quiet and dark. There was nothing to do but just ride the wave.

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Around 2 or 3 in the morning, the midwife checked me again, and I had not progressed past 7cm, and my cervix was a bit inflamed, so she recommended that I get out of the water to get things moving again. In retrospect, when I had started to get worried that labor was slowing down an hour or two before, I should have listened to that inner voice and gotten out of the tub then. But “should” is a useless word, so let’s move on.

As soon as my body lost the buoyancy of the water, the contractions came right on top of each other and I felt like I could barely catch my breath between them. I think I labored on all fours on the bed for a while, and at some point the baby’s meconium started coming out, which is a possible sign on distress. I also had a fever over 100 at this point, and my water had been broken for 24 hours– all concerning signs for the medical professionals.

The midwife sat down on the meconium stained sheet and talked calmly about our options.  In the 60 seconds between each contraction, she said 1. The contractions seemed to have plateaued. 2. I had a fever (probably fighting infection), and a fevered uterus cannot work as efficiently as a non-fevered one. 3. I had been laboring like a champ for more than 24 hours, and I seemed very tired to her. 4. In her opinion, we were at the point of doing things to avoid needing an emergency c-section. 5. I could continue laboring naturally, and it was possible that I might continue to progress, but she felt it would go very slowly, and she was concerned about how little energy I would have left when it came time to push if we went that route. 6. I could use some pitocin to “re-establish a regular pattern of contractions” and an epidural so that I could try to rest for a few hours before it was time to push.

She left the room, and I talked it over (semi-deliriously) with Beth, with my mom, and with the doula.  They all felt like the interventions made sense, and they reassured me that this was the kind of instance where those interventions were important and appropriate.  I was at the point that I couldn’t really think well enough to make a decision on my own, so I was grateful for the birth support team–who knew what my priorities and wishes were–to help me make the decisions I needed to make.  The idea of an epidural scared me.  The needle, the paralysis, the poking around in my spine.  I didn’t really want one, but I knew at that point it was the best decision for me and my baby.

Nobody knew I was trying to get a TEN POUND BABY out of my body.  Hindsight is not really very useful when considering birth because there’s no going back and doing it a different way, but knowing now that I DID have a ten pound baby inside, I know I did everything I could to have a “totally natural” birth, and that I did everything I needed to do to have a vaginal birth, which was important to me.  Could I have kept laboring without the pitocin and the epidural? Probably.  Could I still have had the energy and the wherewithal to push out the mammoth two hours, seven hours, ten hours later?  I don’t know, and I never will, and in the end it doesn’t matter. I don’t believe I’m any less strong for deciding to have these interventions, or any less of a mother.  I did get an epidural at 4am, the pitocin did establish a regular pattern of contractions which I SLEPT THROUGH for a few hours, thanks to the epidural.

The midwives’ shift changed at 7am (I used a practice instead of an individual midwife, so you get whoever is on call) and the midwife came in before she left. Claire said she didn’t want to check me yet, since I was already fighting infection, and she wanted to give me a couple more hours of pitocin contractions before doing another assessment.  This was the same midwife that delivered our first son when Beth was pregnant, so it was really beautiful that she was the midwife on call for me, too.  We hadn’t talked about it beforehand, but knowing that Claire was going off duty, and that by freak occurrence we had found ourselves in the hospital on one of the few days per year where they only have an OB on call and no midwife, Beth asked Claire if she would come back to check me.  She didn’t make any promises, but she said she would see what she could do.  She had a few things she needed to do, but she might be able to “swing by later on.”

In the company of the automated blood pressure cuff and my IV drips, I got a few more hours of sleep. Beth and my mom found places to doze, and the doula and the photographer had both gone home when I got the epidural, with plans to return when I started pushing, or if there were other developments.

Nurses started stirring in the room around 10:30 or 11, and Claire walked back into the room!  She sat on the bed next to my paralyzed legs and said 1. She was going to check me. 2. If I was fully dilated and effaced, I would start pushing. 3. If I wasn’t fully dilated and effaced, we would need to talk about a c-section. I said OK, check me. On the next contraction, she slid her hand in and bumped into my baby’s head, and she said with a smile, “Whoa, we’ve got a major conehead coming!”  He was already at +1 (in the birth canal) so she said, “OK, let’s push!”  Click here to read the rest of my birth story.

5 Ways Parenting Has Changed Me

1. Smiling has become so much easier to do.
2. My economy is based on hours slept, not capital gains. I am rich in hugs, touches from tiny hands, crackers, and unmatched socks of all sizes.
3. Something’s happening in Syria…I know that much…
4. My world has gotten so small, so local. It makes me realize that yes, things like climate change or what is happening in Syria are important, but that I can’t actually affect any kind of change in Syria. My influence lies here, in how I raise my children, and how I build relationships within my own community. That is all I can have an actual influence on, and that is enough. It’s not just enough, it’s really where I need to put my energy in order the help the world.

5. Poop. There’s so much poop in the world. Wash your hands, people.

What Labor Really Feels Like

Labor is different for every woman.  Some people have painless births, some people want medication at the first sign of a contraction.  Some people experience great pleasure during labor. What is true for nearly every woman is that as vivid as childbirth is in the moment, you start forgetting what it was really like very quickly after birth.  Try to remember the feeling of a contraction a few days or weeks afterwards and you’ll realize that your memory has become quite fuzzy.  Wait a few more months and you might not have any recollection at all of this experience that was so all-consuming while it was happening.  These are a few of my thoughts on what labor felt like for me, mostly written down a few weeks postpartum. Ready my full birth story here.

On the one hand, it’s the worst thing you’ll ever go through. On the other hand, it’s just PAIN.  Pain that is Purposeful, Anticipated, Intermittent, and Normal. It hurts a lot, but it passes, and then it doesn’t hurt anymore. And, if all goes well, you get to hold your baby at the end, which is an amazing motivator.

**If you don’t actually want to know what labor really felt like for me, you can stop reading now, cause I’m really going to tell you truthfully. Fair warning.**

Labor contractions felt like my insides were turning to stone, extremely heavy stone, and the force of gravity pushed that heavy stone inside me down with immense pressure onto everything—my cervix, pelvis, bladder, sacrum, spine, rectum.  Sharp. Hard-Edged. Solid. The most pressure my body has ever sensed. Not pressure like a blood pressure cuff–more like pinned-under-a-boulder pressure. I’m not saying this to scare people–I’m just trying to be accurate. I got through it, you can too.  There’s actually quite a number of sensations at the same time. Now, seven months postpartum, I don’t have a body memory of how contractions felt in terms of musculature (as in, I can’t remember what it felt like in my uterus, specifically), but I can recall the bone-on-bone crushing sensation on the inside of my sit bones.

Breathing doesn’t take away the pain, it just give your mind something to focus on to get through the contraction. Breathing and “sounding out” are things that can increase in volume and intensity as the sensations of the contractions peak, so it’s a helpful focal point to “stay on top” of the contraction.

Around four centimeters my doula asked me something like “What image or metaphor do you indentify your contractions with?”  Even though she asked me this in between contractions, I was already in Laborland, and she was speaking a foreign language, one that I only understood a few words of, and could speak even fewer words of myself.  The question was too complex for me to both process and answer, so I had to wait until after the next contraction to answer. “Wave” was the only word I could get out. No more complete sentences or complicated syntax for me. I had a baby to push out, and that was enough work for me to do. I didn’t have ANY extra attention for her question, which seemed pointless at the time.  Don’t ask me anymore stupid questions I can’t answer, I thought.

Two times between 2 and 5 centimeters, I entered a contraction and my doula was still chatting or joking with someone else in the room, as if she hadn’t noticed that another contraction was starting. I needed silence during the contractions because any other voices was too distracting and would throw me off my breathing and rocking rhythm.  The first time I said “Stop talking” as I continued my labor breathing and swaying.  The second time it happened I shouted “Shut the fuck up!” and went right on with breathing and moaning through the contraction. Once it was over, I apologized for swearing at her, and she apologized for talking.  It didn’t happen again.

The sensation of needing to push is a lot like having to poop. You probably will poop in the process. That’s ok.

Pushing your baby out of your vagina is a wild, unbelievable, seemingly impossible feat. But women do it everyday.  Yes, there is a “ring of fire” feeling during crowning, and I felt that even though I had an epidural at that point. My baby was ten pounds, so I tore really bad, which I will write about in a different post.

Make as much noise as you need. Move in the ways that feel right. Trust your body. Don’t think about it too much. This is the time to let your mind take a back seat and let your body just do what it’s going to do. You do not have control over this process, and that is ok. Let go and breathe. Then breathe again. And again. And again.

Driving to Write

My toddler takes his afternoon nap by falling asleep in the car. Usually it takes about 20 minutes of riding in the car seat for him to finally surrender. Driving around for nap today, I keep getting writing ideas and turn into the parking lot at every municipal park that we pass to jot down notes on the phone. At least I’m not trying to do it while driving. But the frequent stopping to type a few sentences is throwing off the rhythm of the car ride, and it’s keeping him awake. “Oh! This one!” he says when we pull in somewhere else. “Ok! Go out!”

“Sorry honey, Mommy just needs to write some more words down. We ‘ll come back here and get out another day.” He’s supposed to be asleep by now anyway, dammit. The baby is dutifully snoring in his car seat, why can’t the two-year-old just forget about the choo-choo train and about going over railroad tracks and just go the fuck to sleep already so I can get down my ideas before I forget this brilliant turn of phrase about the beautiful things he did today?

Twenty minutes stretches into forty, then sixty. Still no sleeping two-year-old. Now I have to pee, so I start heading back toward the house, thinking maybe he’ll close his eyes by the time we pull in the driveway. He asks for “Snowman again” each time Frosty ends on the Raffi Christmas CD. This is not a good sign– he’s too aware of his surroundings to be asleep three minutes from now.

As I pull in and turn off the car, I’ve accepted the fact that nap time isn’t happening and we’re going back inside. I’m steeling myself for a late afternoon with a toddler who didn’t-quite-nap. Ok, I got this. I’m putting the phone away and I’m going to be fully present with my children, who miss Mama and are tired and hungry. “I have to go pee, honey. I’ll be right back.” I jump out of the car with the keys, my bladder exploding and put all I’ve got into my post-perineal-tear Kegels.

“No! My turn go peepee!” I hear him say as I close the car door. Not a chance, kid. I flash him a sweet I Love You smile and unlock the front door.

I pee alone, and in silence.

Ok. I’m ready for this nap-free afternoon. Let’s do this. I go back outside and take out the baby in his car seat, still snoring. I carefully set the car seat in his crib, and go back for the no-napper. “No! I do it!” he whines as I slide open his door. I reach for his car seat buckles. “NO! I DO IT!”

“Oh. OK,” I say. I know what this means. This means that he really does want to go to sleep but he really doesn’t want to go to sleep, and if I unbuckle his car seat, he is going to flip his shit and everything is going to be the wrong thing for him for the next four hours. Poor guy. I’m not going to let that happen to either one of us, so back in the car we go. I turn around and go back  inside to get the baby, still snoring, and gingerly re-click him into the car.

“Back in?”

“Yes, honey. Back in.” As I start the car he looks longingly to the front door.

“Hoooome” he whimpers.

“I know, you want to go home.” I turn off Frosty as we get to the stop sign. No talking, no music. He’ll be asleep halfway through our usual loop. I check his drooping eyelids in the rear view mirror. The next red light is particularly long, and I listen to his breaths getting deeper over the traffic noise. I flick on my right turn signal. We’re going home.

I get a full hour of writing time sitting in the parked car in the driveway, the soft sounds of two boys in slumber the only background noise. Miracle. Eventually the baby stirs. We transfer inside, the no-napper still asleep as I slowly lower him onto his bed with all my love and tenderness. In that moment he embodies all the fleeting, fragile miracles in the world, and I am full of gratitude.

The Four Load Experiment

January 15, 2014

I did something rash today. With two full baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded and one waiting to be transferred from the washer to the dryer, I went into each bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen with another basket and gathered a fourth load of laundry. And then it hit me.
This is all we need.
Anything that is left in the drawers and boy’s baskets is just jamming up a system that might just run a lot smoother if we got rid of everything that is not in our current laundry rotation. Well, not get rid of, but rather put away out of sight until the season, size change, interest warrants an update with an infusion of different clothes.

So I grabbed a trash bag, and set to emptying our drawers into bags.  If it was not in the current laundry rotation, we probably weren’t going to miss it. That was my hypothesis.  I wanted to see if I was right. My goal was to take every item of clothing that was currently stagnating in the drawers and put it away, out of our daily lives.

Why? Because I don’t want to spend my life doing laundry, thinking about laundry, annoyed by laundry, overwhelmed by laundry. Because folding and putting away laundry while my kids play in the next room is not the same as being present with them. Because I like simplicity, and I like creating systems that work smoothly and efficiently so I can spend more time and energy on those I love instead of the stuff I have.

And then the anxious thoughts started.

But what if something happens? What if my children don’t have underwear? What if there’s no short sleeve shirts in the laundry right now? WHAT WILL WE WEAR? WHAT IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS?

Wow, those are some interesting thoughts, I thought. Want to reign that in a little bit? Is anything bad actually going to happen? Will your children really be unclothed? And by the way, your children don’t wear underwear yet.

I confess that as I went from room to room, I couldn’t actually go through with emptying the drawers and baskets. I just had to leave two items in each basket. Just in case.

It stayed like that for a day while I ruminated on my initial runaway train of fears that having fewer clothes immediately accessible would spiral into domestic chaos and throw us into a dire state of emergency. I had left those two items in each drawer and basket as a security blanket, and I pondered why I had made that decision, when my original goal was to leave the baskets EMPTY, save for the incoming clean laundry.

My security blanket…Security from what? 

C’mon, I thought. What are you so afraid of? Do you think it’s actually going to happen? Where are those fears coming from? Are they really YOURS, or something you’ve been taught to fear?

So then I felt like I should be brave, so I went back and put those two extra just-in-case items from each basket into a separate bag.

This is what I’ll get out first. Just in case I need it.

I kept things this way for awhile. I wanted to know:

Did I miss it? Did I need it? Did if make things easier for it to be gone? How much do we really need to be comfortable and provided for? How often do I need to restock/ rotate? Is that a more enjoyable task than folding laundry and putting it away ? Did it make any difference in the quantity of labor needed to clothe my family, or make it a more enjoyable task?

The results of this experiment were:

1. I did end up putting the last two items back in the baskets. It turns out we did need those two extra items in addition to what was in the laundry rotation.
2. Yes it has made a difference–in the way I feel about the necessary task of laundry. It doesn’t seem like an endless task now. Interestingly, I’m still doing the same number of loads total, but it’s much easier to fold and put back in the drawers now so the system as a whole works more smoothly, making my life easier. It take s up less mental space because it does not get out of hand, mountains upon mountains of laundry accumulating in each room. Just one tidy basket in each room, and when it’s getting close to the top I know I need to put that basket in the wash because that person is about to run out of clean clothes!

3, I will need to rotate clothes seasonally and size-wise more frequently because what is left in the drawers is really temperature specific and we’ll all need different selections when it’s not quite so wintry.

4. It’s made me appreciate clothes more, and also not care about them so much. The Four Load Experiment put the focus more on function and quality (comfort) rather than fashion and whimsy (although those pieces are all the more enjoyed).

The experiment continues…

Five weeks later, I organized all our stored clothes, including the ones I had stuffed into garbage bags at the beginning of this experiment. Beth and I have just one tote each of stored clothes now.  There is one tote each of 12 month, 18 month, 24month/2T clothes, and a tote of 3T/4T stuff for J to grow into.  I also packed another tote full to the brim of kid’s clothes to sell at the consignment store. During this reorganization and purge, I pulled out a few more clothes for my shelves, because those four initial loads  didn’t seem to have as much of my clothes as my other family members. Definitely still enough, but after repeated washings these five weeks, the few shirts I had are noticably more worn than five weeks ago. Also, I’m getting a bit bored of my standard “mom uniform,” plus the seasons are changing, crocuses are blooming, and mild 50-60 degree days are here to stay (mostly).

So my hanging shelves are nicely full again, but not overflowing with clothes.  If after a few weeks of this return of more clothes, I notice that I haven’t worn an article of clothing even once during this time, I’ll likely put it away again, or better yet, part with it for good.

The best thing about the experiment is that now I KNOW that we don’t need to have more clothes than four loads worth.  The world did not implode, and everyone had lovely, clean clothes on their bodies, every day.

The disappointing thing was that it didn’t reduce the amount of time I spend doing laundry.  I still wash one or two loads of laundry most days.

How many clothes is the ideal amount for you and your family?  Would you be willing to have fewer clothes, and why would you take those steps to minimize your wardrobe?  What are the motivating factors for you?