Sunday, September 29, 2013

Autumn and Letting Go

Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine
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Fall is my favorite time of year. The humidity and sweat of summer recede. I love the bite of the air in the morning, a trace of frost.

We take the kids to fairs. We watch pumpkins sprout up, brightening doorsteps. We sip apple cider. I run in the nearby cemetery, which will soon grow a crunchy carpet of leaves.

Fall is cinnamon and light wind on my cheeks. A knit scarf tickling my neck.

Back in Alaska, where I grew up, the trees didn’t put on the show they do back east.  

But the salmon did.

Every year, my parents took my brother and I to see the Sockeye salmon that spawned in the rushing streams. They came from the wide seas, where their bodies had been silver, and they made their way back to the same streams where they had hatched.
Like the leaves, the bodies of the salmon brightened. They turned rouge and green to attract mates. They laid their eggs, fertilized them, and died. Their bodies became part of the soil and water near the nests of their offspring, who they would never meet.

I love pumpkin patches and apple picking and fairs. I love the whimsy of Halloween, where for a day, we get to don costumes and wigs and pretend we’re someone else.  

But with all this blooming and dying, whether it be leaves or salmon, autumn, for me, is also a reflective time. A time to shake off the looseness of summer. A time to get cozy, and also a time to think.

The blazing leaves and my childhood memories of the salmon, who give themselves away to the cycles of the earth, always remind me to let go. They remind me to shrive myself of what no longer works, what no longer serves me.

And for me, there is always plenty to let go of. Plastic bins overflowing with toys, too many appointments, outgrown clothes. The urge to know what’s next for my career, my family, the weather.  

I’m trying to channel the courage of the salmon, the trust of the trees. To let go.

What does fall mean to you? What might you let go of?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How I Stopped Using Paper Towels

Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine
Visit me at

I’m pretty middle of the road when it comes to green-ness. I am obsessive about recycling, but I used disposable diapers with both kids. I don’t eat meat, but I almost always forget to lug my re-useable grocery bags to Trader Joe’s.

When I first met Kate and learned how she came to create Love for Lemons, she told me that giving up paper towels was one of the first steps she took in her journey to being more environmentally friendly. I stowed that idea away, considering it from time to time as something I should look into. But with a preschooler, a toddler, and my own tendency to slosh coffee everywhere, spills happen. Daily. Coffee, body fluids and milk coat the surfaces of many of our belongings. Grabbing a wad of paper towels was second nature to me. I used them for spills, wiping faces after meals and cleaning. Half the time, I grabbed them without even thinking. The idea of giving them up seemed daunting. 

But I decided to try giving up my paper towel habit anyway. I figured I could try it for a few weeks, and could always revert to using them if it proved too hard. Shoring up on motivation to help me white knuckle my way through paper towel withdrawal, I learned that the environmental impact of using paper towels is considerable. Besides the epic amount of trees and energy required to produce them, they have a significant impact on landfills. An estimated 3,000 tons of paper towels are thrown away daily.

So I washed up all our cloth napkins, and I braced myself.

And it was… just fine.

My daughter dribbled a slug-like trail of watermelon juice from the kitchen to the living room. My son spilled milk on his shoes. I used those cloth napkins to wipe the floor. I ran them across mouths and fingers. Couches and counters. The thick, cushiony roll of paper towels stayed in the kitchen, forlorn.

I had one brief relapse when I was getting ready to take the kids to the beach. After scrambling around for 30 minutes juggling towels and Tupperware for snacks, we were finally ready to go. As I was changing my daughter into her swimwear, she trickled a steady stream of pee all over the kitchen floor. With no cloth napkins in sight, I guiltily reached for the paper towels.

But otherwise, it’s been smooth sailing. I don’t miss paper towels. It was so easy for me to make the switch that I leave you with only two tips should you decide to try it:

  1. Have plenty of cloth napkins, towels and rags ready and reachable for spills, wipes and cleaning.
  1. Toss the napkins and towels in with the rest of your laundry so you can replenish your supply often. (Please note that mingling your laundry can have unintended side effects.)

That’s it! If I can stop using paper towels, anyone can. Maybe, despite what Kermit the Frog says, it is easy being green. Or at least, greener.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Running, Late: How I learned to Run in Midlife

Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine
Visit me at
image by Colin Brough
Last fall, I was struck by unexpected the urge to run. I was walking through the sprawling cemetery near my house like I’ve done for years, when suddenly my body wanted to move fast.
I was always the kid picked last in gym class, staring down at my Adidas’ while everyone else got snatched up for team sports. In middle school, I once tried to break my leg to get out of playing volleyball. When I was only left with a few lilac bruises on my ankles for my efforts, I convinced my pediatrician to write a note explaining that my chronic sinus infections rendered me unable to participate in gym class.

Though unlikely, especially at the age of 38, the strange desire to run was persistent. It felt like I had little bolts of electricity in my body, pushing me to be fast. I was also drawn to the efficiency of running; as mom to two young children, I don’t have much spare time, and I knew I could accomplish more physically on a short run than on a long walk.

And, approaching 40 and mired in the beautiful and boring tasks of child-rearing, I needed to prove that I could still surprise myself. Maybe even surprise those grocery clerks who kept calling me, ‘Ma’am.’

A good friend of mine told me that she had just started training to run using an app on her phone called Couch to 5K. The eight week program alternates bursts of jogging with sweet respites of walking. It gradually increases the amount of time you jog until you are ready for a 5K. I decided to sign up for the Mother’s Day 5K in May; I would have eight months to make it through the eight week training program.

After loading the app onto my phone, I again headed to the cemetery. My phone instructed me to jog for 90 second intervals between longer stretches of walking.

But I didn’t know how to run.
As I tried to pick up my pace, my body felt disconnected and jerky. The asthma that had lain dormant for years suddenly reappeared. I felt like a middle schooler on the dance floor—what was I supposed to do with my arms? Why wouldn’t they coordinate with my legs? I also feared I would make the dreaded porn face that so many runners make; the scrunched up, concentrated face that looked a lot like intense pain.

Some days, just to keep going, I pretended I was running away from my children.

Every once in awhile, when I stopped thinking about it so much, my arms and legs synched up. My brain got quiet. Endorphins sparked and rushed through my blood. The music from my phone slipped into my muscles like cold milk sliding into a glass.

As fall progressed, the bite of cold in the air pushed me further. With the crunch of melon-hued leaves beneath my feet, I jogged past headstones with names like Sterling and Ruth and Eliza. It was impossible to not think of aging and death. My body would not always be so healthy and capable. Sometimes, with the sound of my own heavy breath, I heard myself whisper to my body, to the universe: thank you.

Other days, I had to drag myself out the door. I would jog and walk, jog and walk, wondering why the heck I was doing this to my poor old body. Loud thoughts would scamper through my head: Do they make Spanx for running? Would it be embarrassing to have a heart attack during a light jog? Then, from my phone app, I would hear a pleasant, female voice announce, “You are halfway.” Shit, I thought. I am only halfway there?

image by Ariel da Silva Parreira

When hills of snow obscured the ground, I joined a gym. My feet pounded the rubbery black treadmill. Slowly, I was improving. But every few weeks, I’d twist my knee or my back would seize up, and I’d take a week or two off from running to recover. When I started up again, I would dial myself back a week on the Couch to 5K program.

Suddenly, it was April. Despite my consistently inconsistent training program, I had still not managed to make it past week five of the Couch to 5K program. The Mother’s Day run loomed near. Ancient, negative tapes in my mind hissed at me: You’re a loser. You never finish anything. You’re no athlete.

Being in the middle of the human life cycle seems like a good time to challenge those old, unhelpful thoughts and patterns. To ease deeper into myself and let go of perfectionism and competition.
So I reframed my expectations. I wasn’t a loser because I was walking in between running. I was freakin’ amazing because I ran in between walking!

And then my husband started asking, “Are you excited about the race?”


I really hadn’t thought about the run being a race before. The word reactivated those nasty voices in my head: You’re going to lose the race! You will come in last place!

Fortunately, I’d promised to do the race with a good friend. While I was ambivalent about the idea of letting myself down, I’d be damned if I would break a promise to a friend. I decided I would walk as much as I needed to. My only goal was to finish, and to run at least a little bit.

On the day of the race, it drizzled. Maybe they’ll cancel it, I thought. They didn’t.

My friend and I situated ourselves towards the back of the crowd of people at the starting line, alongside elderly joggers and moms pushing strollers. While we stretched a bit, I worried: What if we run at different paces? What if I come in last place? What if I have to pee?

We started.

We jogged by my husband and kids, who stood on the sidewalk beaming at me. I reached my hand out to give them a high five. The feel of their little hands on mine propelled me forward. I was following through, doing something good for my body. I was teaching my kids by example, even if I did come in last.

A few minutes into the race, we reached the top of a small hill. I looked forward. The road ahead was a river of moving people, a rainbow of bright T-shirts.

We jogged, and pretty soon we were passing people. My friend and I braided in and out, in and out, our paces perfectly synchronized. I didn’t make the porn face because I was too busy smiling. I brushed my bangs, wet from the rain, out of my eyes.

We didn’t talk much, except to occasionally check in with each other.
“You okay?”
“Yep, you?”

I caught slivers of conversation from the people we passed and the people who passed us. “The antidepressants help me think better…”

“Jimmy is almost done with school…”

“It’s all downhill from here!”

While we ran, I thought about the lives of these people running with us. I thought about them the way I sometimes do when I’m at a stoplight and I watch other cars streaming past: I watch the drivers’ faces: solemn or angry, heads bobbing to music or chatting away on their cell phones. When I’m quiet and present, I love these little snapshots. I love watching these people I might not ever meet, who just happen to be here at the same time as me, alive at the same time. So beautiful, so temporary.

We ran and ran and we didn’t stop. I took in all the different body types of the runners and walkers: stocky, muscular, lithe, round and everything in between. All the same and all different. All here now, moving. Because we could, and because we won’t always be able to. I heard once that the electrical energy field of the human heart extends out several feet beyond our skin. I thought about all those hearts working so hard. Maybe it was the heat of all those humming and pumping hearts that kept me running. 

You are halfway, I thought. Right in the middle. Of my messy, lovely life. Of all these people.

The race ended in a baseball stadium. As we rounded the finish line, I was still smiling. We did it, I said to my friend, my body finally slowing down to a walk. I searched the crowd of spectators for my family.

After the race, I got an email with the results. I came in somewhere towards the back end of the middle.

If I’m lucky, I am only halfway through this achy, gorgeous life. I might not ever run a seven minute mile. But for that uncoordinated little girl who loathed gym class, that little girl who is still so completely me and not me at the same time, a 5K is a miracle. Learning to run, to sink into my muscles in a deeper and different way, is a miracle. It’s a metaphor for being more comfortable and stronger in my own skin.

On Facebook, I’ve noticed several friends have also recently started running. My husband is training for a five mile run. I love that in this middle place of life, we can still surprise ourselves. We are halfway. 

Did you take up running, or something else surprising in the middle of your life?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Some Practical Green Cleaning Tips From Love For Lemons Co. Owner- Kate

   I was at the Yarmouth farmers Market Yesterday and was talking with some customers and I realized that I should do a Blog post about some of the interesting (well, interesting to a geek like me) alternative uses of our products.

 So here are a few tips and alternative uses for some of the products that I make.

1.) Our Eucalyptus Carpet Deodorizer is a versatile 3-in-1 product. Its main use is to deodorize your carpets. The eucalyptus is effective at removing mold and mildew odors and the Sodium minerals are perfect for the toxic free deodorizing of carpets and upholstery. 
         The Second awesome use for this product is to put it to use as a bathroom or stove scrubber. Mix the powder with a little vinegar or water for a great tub, sink ,toilet, or stove scrub that has some real teeth! 
          Lastly, When I find my drains running slow- I mix a half cup of the powder with a half cup vinegar and immediately pour into drain. I let it sit for 15 minutes and rinse with very hot water. Beat that caustic Drano!!

2.) This next one is a bit weird, but I will explain. Our Antiseptic Boo-Boo Spray is always perfect for cleansing scrapes and cuts. It is super antibacterial and uses the power of tea tree oil, lemon oil, and a few other expertly blended essential oils to fight germs. This blend of botanical oils are just as powerful as rubbing alcohol (MRSA bacteria is rapidly becoming resistant to alcohol as a disinfectant) or other petroleum based antibiotic ointments (VOC's yuck). 

        The Alternative use for this product is to combat body odors with this antimicrobial spray. Think feet and armpits mostly. The odor causing bacteria is no match for this product and it is much more body and earth friendly than deodorants. It has been said that some  breast cancer tumors contain the staple chemicals used in Antiperspirants and are located near the armpits. Here is a little research on this from JulieGabriel.Com
         British molecular biologist Philippa Darbre reported that found in breast cancer tumors came from something applied to the skin, such as an antiperspirant, cream or body spray. This could explain why up to 60% of all breast tumors are found in just one-fifth of the breast – the upper-outer quadrant, nearest the underarm.
“The presence of intact paraben esters in human body tissues has now been confirmed by independent measurements in human urine, ” writes Dr. Darbre, “The ability of parabens to penetrate human skin intact without breakdown by esterases and to be absorbed systemically has been demonstrated through studies not only in vitro but also in vivo using healthy human subjects.” In addition, the parabens have now also been shown to possess androgen antagonist activity, to act as inhibitors of sulfotransferase enzymes and to possess genotoxic activity. You can find the entire post here-

3.) On a lighter note, One of my favorite customers from the Local Farmers Markets told me that she has used my Maine Rosemary Laundry Soda in her dishwasher and it worked. It's low sudsing formula won't remind you of that time that you put your dish soap in your dishwasher (we have ALL done it, right??) and the salt based minerals are a powerhouse on dirt and grease. Also, anytime that you are using a more natural dishwasher soap, make sure to use white vinegar and a bit of rubbing alcohol as your rinse aid. In fact, since Phosphates were banned from all dishwasher products a few years back- it is smart to use vinegar/rubbing alcohol for a rinse aid 100% of the time. It makes a huge difference in streaking and white spots. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thoughts On Being Your Own Version Of An Astronaut...

Hello Internet Readers, Fans and Customers- Kate here. Our frequent guest writer, Lynn, does such a nice job on here but I thought that I would take a minute to chime in on this Steamy Maine Day. (We get about ten total all summer, so I am enjoying it)
Lately, I have been switching up just about everything in my little corner of the world. We will be welcoming a new addition to our Family this October (yes, that makes three and we will be outnumbered). My hard working husband has graduated and is now working 80 hours between his two jobs, apparently thats what you do in corporate America.(I wouldn't know, not my thing).  I have also sold my large cleaning business recently. This was a huge change for me. I was getting used to being an on the go, wheeling and dealing, successful business woman. It was a hard business, late nights, early mornings, and a few ulcerative fits thrown in due to stress. Obviously, it was time to slow things down, but these newly found slow paced and hazy summer days have left me contemplating "success". I know it seems rather narcissistic to think about your personal success, but I have a feeling that we all gauge our effectiveness and accomplishments in this world from time to time. 
      Driving around this little slice of Mid Coast Maine I often cruise past, or behind, my high school chemistry teacher. At seventeen-I was no student, but he was kind and patient with me...when I decided to show up. On the last paper that I turned in, late no doubt, he wrote: "I see great things in your future". I have kept this piece of paper and I think of it often. 
     I had always thought that this statement was something that I have fallen short of. I had habitually imagined these "great things" as being more akin to the career paths of astronauts, corporate execs, teachers, writers, etc.
I was no astronaut.

    It took me ten years to get my Bachelors, something that seemed to be much easier to accomplish as my toddler and infant watched with their little eyes. In the meantime during my twenties, I was busy soaking up life: traveling, working as a nanny to an amazing family, and dabbling in this and that. Diving head first into little because there was always something intangible to swim for instead. If I did take a dive, I quickly found my way back to the shallow end. 
         Something about my opinion of my own 'success' or accomplishments has shifted this past year. Perhaps these 'great things' that my teacher had foreshadowed are things that I have already accomplished and what I am in the middle of "doing".  Yes, I do believe that raising happy and well adjusted children is a feat no less noble than shooting oneself into outer space (cross your fingers for me-both require the same amount of skill and luck). Making sure that we didn't lose our home when my husband left his longtime, well paying job, could very well be said to require the craft of a corporate exec. 

      My Product Company may not be on the shelves of Target. However, many people thank me for my products and their presence in their favorite local shops. I am always so  happy to see my regular customers greet me at various Farmers markets.  All of my career paths have allowed me to bring my daughter to each weeks ballet lesson, be present to kiss Greysons MANY boo-boo's, and get their lunch on the table each day. Of course, these simple things may not be everyones life ambitions, but if I really think about it, they are definitely mine.
Maybe its not about world domination, but more so about dominating the realm within which you choose to walk. 

As a Side Note: There is a new item for sale on the Web Store. A Starter Pack of our essential chemical free products.
Free Shipping and great savings on this bundle.
Use Coupon Code SAVE5 to take $5 off your purchase of 20.00 or more. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Cast from Eden

Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine
Visit me at

We are Skyping with my parents when I realize it is time for the talk.

My mom and dad’s disembodied heads grin as my four-year-old disrobes. “Oh, Max, can you please keep your clothes on?” I beg. It is just after 1:00 PM and we have already had four costume changes. Lately Max demands to dress monochromatically. His favorite such outfit is his gray sweatpants and grey shirt, which my husband says makes him look like a 1950’s gym teacher. He just needs a whistle. “I want my grays!” are among the first words out of his mouth in the morning. But now, his grays lie on the floor near his bare ankles.

Max opens his mouth, cackles a bit and does a little jig in his Cars underwear. Except that he is removing that now, too. “Maxie! That’s private,” I say. As I say it, I realize I have never said that to him before. I have begged for privacy myself: Can I please just go to the bathroom without an audience, just this once? I have stopped him from barging in on unsuspecting friends as they use the potty: Maxie, Addie probably wants a little privacy. On the computer screen, my parents shake their heads, still smiling.
We have taken a very relaxed approach to nudity thus far. I am amazed and awed by the way that my children are strangers to shame. Having had a long history with negative body image and shame, I ache to preserve this feeling for them for as long as possible. Soon enough, societal pressures and rules will have their way with my babies and they will be exposed to our culture’s strange and conflicting ideas about bodies and sex.

My husband and I have tried hard to create a little slice of Eden in our home; we use the correct parlance for body parts. We don’t make a big deal if of our children see our naked bodies while we are bathing or getting dressed. Max recently asked me, “Mama? Why are your nimples so big? Are you gonna have another baby?”

But lately, Max has been removing his fig leaf a bit too often. His penis has joined us during playdates with friends, at an indoor play space, and recently, on our windowsill. He is four now. He can count and write his name. Soon he will be in grade school, and it seems unlikely that his kindergarten teacher will encourage the unleashing of genitals during show and tell.

“Bye Baba! Bye Papa!” Max bellows at the computer, his fingers rushing to push buttons to disconnect from Skype. “Bye Ma--!” they say, the screen going black.  

I take a deep breath and begin. “Maxie, I need to talk to you about something.”

“What?” He looks at me. I can tell by the light in his eyes that he thinks I am going to tell him something exciting. Yes, you can have that Easter candy for breakfast after all! We are going to watch Cars movies all day long, only taking short breaks to eat pepperoni and Easter candy!

“Sweetie, there’s nothing wrong with your penis,” I begin. Already I am saying it all wrong. The expectant light will now drain from his eyes forever, and all he will hear is “Wrong with your penis!” This will be the moment he will someday pinpoint in therapy, the beginning of his downward shame spiral.
“But it’s a private part of your body,” I stumble. “We just don’t show our privates to everybody, okay?”

 “Okay,” he says, prancing off to pound on his drum set.

 I head into the kitchen to scavenge for lunch for him and Violet. I am slicing a pear, gauging at the stiff core and seeds, when I spy something pink out of the bottom right corner of my eye.

“Maxie!” His underwear is pulled down just far enough that his penis rests atop Lighting McQueen’s bulging eyes. “Remember what we just talked about?” I ask.
“Pitano is a monster who puts his penis out!” he blurts.

What? I think.

“What?” I say.

“Pitano is a monster who puts his penis out!” he restates.
“Where did that come from?” I ask.
“I made it up!” I laugh, unable to stop myself. Who is Pitano? Does Max now think he’s a monster because he’s exposing himself? I imagine a future Max in a shadowy room, flogging himself like the tormented Silas from The Da Vinci Code. Bad Pitano! Bad Pitano! He will chant.

Max is trying so hard to understand the world. He asks things like, “Why does mans not care if they get their shoes wet?” and “Why isn’t Aunt Sue’s dad alive?” and “But where were Violet and I before we were in your belly?”

They are questions I mostly don’t know the answers to. And truthfully, I don’t really know why it’s not acceptable to display one’s genitals publicly. Perhaps our bodies and sex would seem like less of a big deal if we all were privy to one another’s privates. If, like Muppets with their uniquely colored heads and hair, our bodies, with all their quirks and variations, were exposed. We could go about our business, Muppet genitals flopping in the breeze.

The kids and I eat lunch, then head to the playground. Pitano doesn’t make any more appearances. After the kids are both in bed, I try to read, but something nags at me. Though it seems to not have sunk in, I hate that I severed a little slice of my son’s innocence today. I cast him from Eden, never to return. It aches, the same way it aches when I catch a glimpse of him at his daycare before he sees me. There is Max, out in the world.

Which is, of course, exactly why we have to teach him about privacy. A big part of our job as parents is to help our kids learn to be okay out in the world. Wearing clothes. Even if they’re monochromatic.

How do you teach your children about nudity and privacy? Or other societal rules that you don’t 100% buy in to or understand?

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Perfectionism Monster

Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine

It is spring and my perfectionism is in full bloom.
It happens at the playground: Why is my child licking the statue like it's a giant metal ice cream cone? It rears up regarding career and ambition: How come she is younger than me, but has already published a book and has a story in the New Yorker? And at the gym: Did you see her butt? It doesn’t move when she runs! My butt is so big, it has its own pair of running shoes!
Needless to say, this voice sucks. It is not helpful. It doesn’t inspire me. But it is loud, bossy and persistent.
Sometimes, when I’m smack in the midst of struggling with a life lesson, the universe gives me a little extra material:
“Mommy, you left your underwear at my school,” my son says. Four year olds say many weird things, flailing from the existential: “But where were me and Violet before we were in your belly?” To the bizarre: “Pitano is a monster who puts his penis out!” To the embarrassing: “Why are your nimples so big? Are you going to have another baby?”

I have become used to fielding bizarre questions and statements. So the underwear comment semi-permeates my consciousness, but quickly glurps beneath the surface of my quicksand mama brain.
But the next day, he says it again. “Max, what are you talking about?” I ask.
“Deb was holding it up,” he says, his arm outstretched to demonstrate.
 Oh dear God. I can instantly feel the static that his school nap blanket and sheet create when they come out of the dryer, clinging to each other like new lovers. I remember not taking the three seconds to shake them out and fold them before I dropped Max off at preschool on Wednesday morning. This must be why most people wash their sheets or towels separately from the rest of their clothing instead of tossing it all together, a bright stew of darks and lights, nap sheets and panties.
I bet the other mommies all shake and fold. They probably even do it the night before school, right after they finish cleaning up from the five-course organic meal they made for dinner, I think.
When I drop Max off at school the following day, my fears are confirmed. In his cubby slumps a crumpled plastic Hannaford bag, the kind that his clothes come home in when he gets pee or vomit on them. I peek in and spy a flash of bright pink.
“Hiiiii Deb!” Max bellows to his teacher as he struts into his classroom. Violet makes her bowlegged way after him, heading straight for a tray of small, shiny beads that are exactly the same size as her esophagus.

“Hey, Deb,” I say. We make brief small talk about the upcoming auction for the school while my underwear blazes in my son’s cubby. I take a breath and decide to confront the situation head on. “So… Max tells me a pair of my underwear made it to school the other day?”

“He told you?” she says, surprised.
“You’re not the first,” she says. A breeze of relief flushes over me.
“Really?” I ask.
“I’ve seen thongs…all kinds of things…” She trails off, a war veteran trying not to summon up the horrors her eyes have beheld.
“At least it was clean,” I quip. And not the enormous, leftover maternity panties that I drag out once a month, I think.

After I hug and kiss Max goodbye, I grab Violet and my underwear.
Maybe that wasn’t so bad, I think. I’m so tired of trying to gauge how I measure up, always coming up short. It takes so much energy. I make mostly good choices. My kids are healthy and loved, and they seem to be kind human beings. It is unlikely that the underwear incident will be mentioned at my funeral. It is doubtful that my inability to get a meal on the table that doesn’t contain peanut butter or pepperoni will come up. We are human. We have body parts and children that don't always behave as we'd like them to. We are wildly imperfect, shimmeringly flawed creatures.

That being said, I will probably shake and fold my son’s nap gear next week.
How do you battle the perfectionism monster?

Friday, March 22, 2013


Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, a writer in Portland, Maine 
It was the first day of spring, despite the foot of snow most of us Mainers just got. A day of hope, when the amount of daylight is finally equal to the amount of darkness.

It was also the anniversary of my brother's death; fourteen years ago, my only sibling died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose. Because it had been over a decade, I wasn't prepared for it to be an exceptionally hard day. 

But after I dropped both kids off at daycare and sat down at my home office to work, I felt a pit of something dense and hard in my chest. 

After I worked for awhile, I grumbled around the house by myself, managing to inject my cloudy mood into the most mundane household tasks: I shut the door to the laundry machine just a smidge too hard. I pouted as I wiped down the kitchen counters. 

Finally, I did what I knew would at least dislodge my emotions. I sat down and wrote my brother a letter.

Dear Will. I am still mad that you died. Mad that you left me here, a suddenly only child. Mad that you won’t be here for my beautiful babies—for Max who reminds me so much of you, who loves music like you did, who has your same big blue eyes.

I was mad that the only other human in the world who understood what it was like to be raised in our particular home, with our particular parents, was gone due to his own poor choices. So I told him that. And of course, underneath the bruised thick skin of anger was a soft, fleshy sadness.

It still breaks me to think of how you left.

As I strung the words together, I had a good, body-wracking sob. Every cell of my body was droopy with grief. 

Usually after that type of cry, I feel some relief and my mood will shift. But for the rest of the morning and early afternoon, I still felt very, very off. 

And then my kids came home. And they were both on the grumpy side at first, too. But Max asked for a dance party to Put me in Coach, and we twirled around the living room together for a few minutes, letting the music sink into our bodies and lift us up a bit. Afterwards, Max pointed out four smudgy squares of sunlight on the kitchen wall, stenciled by the late afternoon sun streaming through the window. “I want to play hopscotch on the wall,” he announced. I stared at the squares for a long time, the literal imprint of lightness. “I wish we could,” I told Max.

My husband, knowing I’d had a hard day, fetched takeout for us, and while we finished eating, we watched the kids huddle together watching a movie. They took turns putting their arms around one another. “Bru-bru, Bru-bru,” Violet kept saying, her word for “brother.” “Can Violet have some M&M’s?” Max pleaded. “No, sweetie. She’s too little.” (Watch for future posts on how to wean your kids from candy and television.)

I watch the way that Max loves Violet, watches for her every move, shares most anything he has to give with her. And of course I loved you like that, of course I mothered you like that.

And it was bittersweet. To watch my current family of four on the anniversary of the day when my first family of four lost a member. To witness the love that blooms between siblings from simply sharing the same space in time, from sharing the same parents. 

And then the day was over. I put Violet to bed as the daylight waned. I asked the universe to give my kids long and lovely lives, as I do every night. 

I pray that you are somewhere warm and safe. I pray that you are somewhere.

Knowing that the next day, there would be a bit more day than night. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Coping with the Winter Why's

A Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, writer and mother of two

“Mom, why are you stopping?” Max asks from the backseat.
“Because it’s a red light.”
“But why?”
“Because…because we have to take turns with the other cars,” I sigh.
“But why? Why, Mom?”
“So we don’t get in an accident, Maxie.”
“Oh,” he says, and for a sliver of a second he is quiet. Blissfully quiet.

Sitting at the red light, I practice the breath we do sometimes in yoga, where we breathe in for three counts and out for five. Three, fo-
“Mom? Why is the gym there?”
“I don’t know. It just is.”
“Why is Violet asleep?”
“Because babies need lots of sleep,” I sigh. Because she was tired of listening to your questions and fell into the sweet release of sleep, I think, envious.

I pull up to the gas station. “I’m going to put some gas in the car, Maxie. I’ll be right back.”
“But w--“
I close the door a bit more forcefully than necessary. Breathing in the rich smell of spilled gasoline, I glance at Max through the window. He is smiling at me. His lips are still moving.

Maybe it is the winter with the light deprivation and snow-covered playgrounds. Maybe it is because my four-year-old’s constant questions remind of how little I actually know. Or maybe it is because my sweet, easygoing Buddha baby girl has suddenly morphed into a separation anxiety-riddled Drama Mama who clings to me like a fifth limb. Whatever the cause, lately, my patience has been nil.

 I’ve put together a list of tools that have helped me to stave off the winter grumpies:

Dance Party. When I am at my wits end, the last thing I usually feel like is busting a move. But I will say that it’s very hard for one to take oneself seriously when attempting the Gangnam Style pony dance. The kids like it, too. Frugal hint: My kids aren’t old enough to notice that I just use the preview button on iTunes to play songs that I don’t want to buy (or watch on YouTube with potentially inappropriate content).
Write a Song. Getting my son to wash his hands after using the bathroom can sometimes be a battle. Similarly to the dance party, it’s hard to be too grouchy if instead, I focus my energy on creating a song about the battle. Not sure that Sani-tize your hands come on! Let’s have a sanitation! will ever catch on, but it shifted my energy.

Picture them grown up.  I have been pregnant or nursing for nearly five years now. So sometimes—many times, I just want everyone to leave the Host Body alone. When my four-year-old wants one more snuggle and I am just dying to tuck into some trashy TV series on Netflix, I think about what it will be like when he is grown. I wonder how much I would give for one of these little tender moments, his nose pressed to mine. Then again, perhaps I will be so busy going to movies and taking naps and doing yoga and sleeping in that I won’t notice what I’m missing. But I just might.

Sniff something/Drink something. No, not those somethings. When I was quite pregnant with my daughter and my son refused to get into his car seat on a daily basis, I got some aromatherapy oil that was supposed to be relaxing. I huffed that thing so hard and so often that I had little crusty burns on my nostrils. Did it help? Not sure. But just the act of doing something for me made me feel a bit less powerless and gave me something to focus on instead of screeching/swearing/curling up in the fetal position. Making and sipping a cup o’ chamomile tea would work similarly.

Adjust your behavior. One of the things that drives me the most nuts is when I’m trying to talk on the phone or check my emails. The kids immediately seem to smell my need for autonomy and instantly start bellowing demands. I am finding it is unrealistic to think I can read anything longer than a comic strip (do they still make Garfield?) at these times. Trying to do so just sets me up for extra frustration.

Take a break. Perhaps this is the most important tip of all. Trade child care with a friend. Go to the gym. Take turns with your partner. (During recent Winter Storm Nemo, my husband and I took turns escaping to the bedroom to sleep/read/stare at the wall). Go to the gas station and take in the ethereal fountainy sounds of gasoline entering your car.

Have compassion. A dear friend says she often reminds herself that her kids are a bit like little insane people. They don’t have the impulse control yet that we expect adults to. They don’t have logic. It must be hard to have such little control on one’s environment. But remember to have compassion for yourself, too. It’s hard to corral little insane people all day long. Forgive yourself if you yell. Let it go; chances are, if you lose your patience/scream/swear/cry, you will remember it much longer than your little ones.  

 What techniques do you use when you’re about to lose it with your little ones?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Small Change

1328012A Guest Post by Lynn Shattuck, writer and mother of two
January. The jewel-toned lights of the holidays disappear. It is cold and dark, and perhaps a twinge of post-holiday letdown lingers in your body. It makes sense that the shiny promise of a brand new year full of hope and possibility would be a welcome beacon.

I am always tempted to make grand resolutions: no TV ever for the kids! Workout so much that I retrieve the body I had when I was 14! Keep the house spotless!

I’ve found that making such big promises sets me up for failure. However, I love the idea of looking back and reflecting on the year that just passed. What worked? What didn’t? What do I want to do differently?

My reflections this year led me to realize a few important things. First, I struggle mightily with consistency. I can keep the house in order for a few days, but before long, toys seep into every corner of the house. Stray laundry lurks in each room. Or, I wean my son off of TV during mealtimes (eek!) for a week, and then he throws an Exorcist-style tantrum and I give in and he is watching Angelina Ballerina on the couch with a cereal bar in his hand.

I know my kids need consistency. I also know that if I take on too many changes at once, I will burn out and stop doing everything. So I’m focusing instead on small daily tasks to create a more peaceful existence: deal with the incoming mail every day. Take the trash out as soon as it is full. Do the dishes at the end of the day. Put the laundry away when it’s done. In short, the mundane tasks of life which have to be done every day for the rest of our lives. I fight it, and I resent it. And yet, when I take these small, consistent actions….it feels good.

The other piece I’ve realized is just as challenging, but a bit more fun. When I had kids, I stopped doing the things that I enjoyed. Not because I wanted to be a martyr, or because I thought it was good for my kids to see a zombie mom with all the joy sucked out of her heart. It’s because of time. There are always a zillion things that I could be doing when I have a free moment; many are those same things that I struggle to be consistent about. Sort the mail. Attempt to match up the 85 tiny pairs of socks that seem to slither about the house like baby rattlesnakes. When I have a free moment, I have become loathe to do something fun for myself.

Sometimes I can barely even remember what I enjoy doing. The quickest way to rediscover it is to think about what I enjoyed doing as a child. Reading, writing, listening to music. Being outside under the trees. Watching movies. These are still my favorite things. In 2013, I’m going to do more of them. It might mean leaving the kids with babysitters or grandparents more often. It might even mean a little less precious sleep. But fun is worth it.

How do you want to fill all those empty, white calendar squares of 2013? What do you want to do differently this year, big or small?