one perfect night

Any parent of small children can tell you: stuff usually does not go according to plan. You either learn to live with this, become flexible, and go with the flow, or you spend a lot of time frustrated that life never just GOES RIGHT. Someone will always poop their pants on the day you forgot to pack a spare outfit, but never on the days that you did, you know?

But in the same vein of my “it gets better” post, I think it’s important to notice when things actually do go really really right. It may not happen often, but I promise, it does happen just often enough that if you take time to notice, outweighs so much of the “STUFF NEVER GOES RIGHT” frustration.

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Last night we had one such perfect night, and after we got the kids to bed and fixed our ritual fancy drink, my husband and I clinked our glasses and remarked on what a great night we’d had. It started when both kids actually took good naps, so we were primed and happy as we set out. We met up with some friends with a son our girls’ age at a local pizza place, and everyone sat in their chairs and happily ate their food, which was served promptly, and no one spilled any drinks or threw any fits. The kids entertained each other with silly antics and enjoyed sprinkling their own cheese on their own pizza, and we got to chat with some actual grownups, too.

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Then we walked up the street a couple of blocks to the fanciest hotel in town, The Capital Hotel, for their annual Christmas tree lighting. The Capital does it up right– there was even a man literally roasting chestnuts on an open fire right outside the front door. The girls were given jingle bells on red ribbons as we walked in. We each had a tiny glass of egg nog. There were Nutcracker ballerinas wandering around, and my two little ballet dancers stared at them in awe. “Ballerinas LIKE ME!” Etta exclaimed. Claire got one look at the giant tree in the center of the lobby and declared: “It’s ENORMOUS!” Each girl got one perfectly iced sugar cookie, and Etta chose “a star LIKE ME!” while Claire went for a red and white candy cane.

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The girls led us up the grand staircase to the upper balcony, which turned out to be a perfect spot from which to watch the tree light up, and left us perfectly positioned to be third in line to see a wonderful, real-bearded Santa when he assumed his perch on a reserved velvet sofa nearby. Third in line is ideal, it turns out, because the kids can see other kids greeting Santa and surviving, and you have just enough time to rehearse what you’re going to tell him you want. (Claire, a jack in the box; Etta, an umbrella, a typewriter, a music box, and a vacuum cleaner. I have no idea where my kids got such retro wishes, either.) A friend happened to be nearby just in time, so we even got a lovely picture of all four of us with the Jolly Old Elf, who gave each kid a jumbo candy cane, and then we headed toward the door.

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We arrived home and they gave up their largely unfinished candy canes without a fight (shocker), got into jammies with Etta only vetoing two pairs before settling on one, and did our nightly Jesse Tree reading before stories and bedtime, which also went smoothly. By the time I was mixing us up some cranberry rosemary Moscow mules (recipe soon, I promise), I was basically high on visions of sugar plums. I know how rare a night like that is at this stage of parenting. I’ve been through enough of the opposite to know I should be thankful. If this one perfect evening with family and friends is the closest thing we get to a Christmas miracle this season, I will count myself lucky.

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I’m looking forward to this season with our girls. They are full of wonder and hope and joy and innocence, and it turns out they are capable of some pretty magical moments. And when they’re not, and things don’t go according to plan? At least I know I’ve got my cranberry rosemary mule recipe perfected…

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I’m a big old feminist, but I love Barbie. Their new ad shows exactly why.

I'm a big old feminist, but I love Barbie. Their new ad campaign shows why. | erniebufflo.com

Last week, my girls got their first non-baby dolls. They’re some Disney Princess toddler dolls they fell in love with Sam’s Club, and I’ve already roped their grandmother into sewing some clothes for the dolls by oh-so-helpfully sending her some links to some patterns. I foresee many hours of doll-playing in our future, and I know that soon enough, when they are a little bit older, it will be Barbie time.

This may surprise people who know me, a person who has been known to actually walk around in a tee-shirt that says FEMINIST across the chest, but I’m absolutely going to let my girls play with Barbies. Yes, I agree that Barbie presents a certain impossible beauty standard that is problematic and should be discussed and maybe even changed (hey Mattel, is fixing Barbie’s waist-to-hip ratio too much to ask?!), but I also think Barbie offers girls something no other toy does: the ability to imagine and enact narratives about adult life. Baby dolls facilitate one kind of play: parenting, which is wonderful and valuable, and all kids should get the opportunity to pretend-nurture and act like their parents, but it’s still limited. But Barbie? Barbie is a blank canvas. Barbie can be anything, and by extension, so can the child bringing her to life.

I really believe that I’m a writer today in part because I played with Barbie. She allowed me to create stories and dramas, to write dialog before I ever knew that was what I was doing, and to participate in what sci-fi types might call world building. I even did literal building, constructing furniture and houses for my dolls out of things around the house. I can still remember exactly how we made a Barbie couch out of rolled kitchen towels. Through Barbie, I imagined and enacted conflicts and their resolutions. Through Barbie, I imagined all sorts of jobs beyond just a dolly’s mommy. I look forward to my girls one day doing the same, and I think maybe when they’re 4 or 5, they’ll get some Barbies, including many of my own that my family saved for me.

All of these memories were stirred up when I saw Barbie’s new ad campaign, and it seems they’ve realized and decided to highlight what I always thought about Barbie: she is a vehicle through which children can explore the possibilities of the adult world. The ad is pretty breathtaking:

What about you? Did you play with Barbie? Will you let your kids play with her?

 

*Note, this is not sponsored by Barbie. I just have fond memories of the toy, and had been thinking about my girls and dolls when I saw the video shared on Twitter.

serenity now

Serenity Now: how parenting is like being a super hero in training

Lately, I’ve had the feeling that having children is like becoming a super hero. Not in the get exposed to nuclear waste and suddenly find yourself in possession of amazing mutant powers sense, but in the receive a call to greatness and head off for some really intense training with some kind of fighting master who kicks your ass and teaches you to calm your inner storms and harness all of your strength in the service of something greater. Only in this scenario, my ninja masters are about 3 feet tall and their methods seem a little questionable. Like, they might violate the Geneva Convention. Luckily they’re really cute, because they push me to just about all my limits at least 10 times per day.

I never thought of myself as a super patient or gentle person, but when I think about how much those powers have been tested and grown in the last 3 years of this bizarre baby-led boot camp, I might as well be a super human in comparison to my former self. I don’t always get it right, but luckily my little teachers are very patient and determined to keep testing me until I learn.

They’re so good at it, in fact, that I’ve thought about lending them out so that others can get this sort of zen training themselves. Every time I drive past the ecumenical meditation center, I fantasize about dropping off my two little zen masters to give the folks inside some real mindfulness training. Finding peace in a tranquil room while listening to the soft sounds of a babbling brook? That’s the easy level. Finding peace while two master interrogators pepper you with questions every 36 seconds is some next level stuff. Finding it while someone needs to potty, the other is starving, they’ve just gotten into a hair pulling match over a dollar store toy, you’re 10 minutes late to get somewhere, you haven’t had time to feed yourself all morning, and suddenly everyone hates everything they’re wearing and YOU GAVE ME THE WRONG CUP, MOM, EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE…well, that’s super hero type stuff.

Most days, these little fantasies make me laugh. When I think about all the ways even my most exasperating moments in parenting are helping *me* to learn and grow, it’s easier to feel something closer to appreciation than desperation. It especially helps to think of myself as Batman and the girls as my little martial arts masters. Because I may not be Super Mom yet, but every day, I’m learning a little more.

it’s apparently breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, i’m not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

When I nearly died from complications after delivering our twins, I grieved one thing possibly more than any other: the loss of my ability to breastfeed my babies. Breastfeeding was just something I knew that I would do. It was really important to me, and in our first few days in the hospital, I was breastfeeding Etta and pumping to send milk to Claire in the NICU at Children’s Hospital, too. I remember the agony of my possessed hospital pump that would randomly turn itself to high and threaten to rip my poor nipples right off. I remember the ritual of Jon cleaning all the various parts in the hospital room sink so we could get ready to do it all over again all too soon. And I remember the pride I felt in sending those little 2 ounce bottles of “liquid gold” to my girl recovering from surgery to close her myelomeningocele, feeling comfort that if I couldn’t be there holding her, at least she was getting a little bit of me to strengthen and nourish her. It was so important to me, that when I was intubated and unconscious in the ICU myself, my husband had a lactation consultant bring the pump up, because he just knew I’d be very mad if I woke up and discovered they had let my precious milk dry up.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Unfortunately, when I woke up, they told me that drying up was exactly what I would have to do, because the medicines I needed to help my heart were not safe for nursing moms, and there were no safer alternatives. I had to stop breastfeeding so my heart wouldn’t stop beating.

From where I sit now, with happy, healthy three year olds, this seems like an obvious choice– the clear, right thing for my health. But at the time it felt rather devastating, because I believed I’d be settling for “second best” for my babies. Oh, how I cried. I remember noticing that even my damn formula can said “breast is best” on it and SOBBING. And for a while, I felt sad or defensive every time breastfeeding came up. Sad because I didn’t get to do something that was important to me. Defensive because I felt like so many people essentially wanted to see a doctor’s note to justify our “choice.” “Breast is best” became a trigger for rage– oh yeah? Let me show you how bonded I am to these bottle-fed babies! Let me tell you about immune systems and antibodies when these formula-fed kiddos haven’t had a single ear infection in over 3 years of life!

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

But now, 3 years in, it’s amazing to realize how all of that has just kind of fallen away. My kids eat food now. They drink mostly water, and sometimes whole cow milk. No one really asks if they were breast or bottle fed. No one really questions our bond, or their intelligence, or their health. They’re just happy, healthy kids, and what seemed SO IMPORTANT and SO DEVASTATING to me back in that hospital room, my breasts and my heart aching for what I could no longer give to my babies, well, it seems so far away and so small now.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Today, I don’t feel a twinge of pain or sadness or loss when I see my friends nursing their babies. Today, I can stand alongside other parents and say that our culture needs to do a whole lot more to support nursing parents. And today I also feel a whole lot of compassion for those of us who feel a little too aware during breastfeeding awareness month, too aware of what we perceive as our failings or shortcomings, or too aware of what we perceive as judgment from others, or too aware of loss and pain. To you who are still in that place, I am writing this to say: it gets better. Your babies will thrive not because of what they are drinking, but because of your great love. They will be bonded to you not because of your breasts but because of your hearts. They will be healthy because of your care, not because of antibodies in their milk. They will grow, and they will thrive, and this big deal will shrink and shrink and disappear in the rearview. I promise. I’ve finally made it there.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

Kids in restaurants have been a hot topic lately because of a restaurant owner who definitely acted like a jerk over a kid who was maybe or maybe not acting like a jerk while the parents maybe or maybe didn’t do something about it. Until some third party describes what really went down in that situation, I’m not making any judgments about it.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

However, as someone who loves food and likes eating out and also has two small humans who often accompany us when we eat out, I did want to talk about eating out with kids. Part of my job as a parent is raising my small humans to be good citizens, who know how to navigate social situations, who know how to act in public. Eating out is part of that. And you can’t learn how to do that until you actually do it. Our kids have been going out to eat with us for all of their three years of life. The best times were probably when they were infants. We could put them on the floor in their baby buckets…I mean, car seats…and they’d sleep the whole dang time while their tired twin parents guzzled cheese dip and margaritas. Local Mexican restaurants and an Oyster Bar near our house were two favorites. As they got to be older babies and early toddlers, we played to our strengths: we went to noisy places, the types with high chairs and kids menus, and we went EARLY. We took toys and sippy cups, and when they fell apart, we took their butts right out, sometimes even all the way home, although that was rare. Now that they’re three, they’ve had years of practice eating out, and also years of practice of being expected to sit in their high chairs, eating their food, at the table with everyone else, until everyone is finished for dinner at home every night. I can’t remember the last time we actually had a bad experience in a restaurant.

Now, we don’t just have to stick to “family restaurants,” but can even go to places with like, actual table cloths and stuff, like in that picture from Forty Two at the Clinton Presidential Center, which may seem fancy, but also has a very courteous wait staff and a GREAT kids’ menu. Strangers have actually remarked to us on several occasions how cute and well-behaved our children are in restaurants, and we smile and tell them thank you, it took a lot of practice, and if they weren’t being cute and well-behaved, we wouldn’t be staying long.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

We love the patio at US Pizza. The girls love their spaghetti and meatballs, which can feed two kids for $3.50, and we can walk there.

The way I see it: no one else should ever have a bad time at a restaurant because my kids are being annoying. Generally, if a place has high chairs and booster seats, I assume my kids are welcome, and I expect that they will behave appropriately– otherwise we won’t be sticking around. We don’t take them to bars, though we have taken them to a local brewery, Lost 40, where they enjoyed the heck out of drinking water from little flight glasses and eating cheese dip and bratwurst. (Jon happens to love their beer, so we always have a keg from them in our kegerator at home.)

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

Etta at Lost 40.

I think the best statement I’ve ever seen on kids in bars was on the menu of a place called The Bird where I had one of the best burgers of my life in Jackson, Wyoming.

Kids in bars and restaurants, some guidelines

I probably would not take my kids to The Bird, because we like having high chairs, and because it really is more of a bar than a restaurant. Once they were old enough to not need a booster seat? Maybe. But I like that they make their standards clear, and I realllllly loved that burger. I’d hope that if they did have a kid or parents who were “messing up,” they’d just politely ask the family to handle the situation or leave, without, you know, screaming at children.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

For the record, this is the amazing burger and amazing view at The Bird. A literal cheeseburger in paradise.

Parents want to be able to eat out. Kids need to be able to eat in restaurants in order to learn how to act in restaurants. Obviously kids will mess up along the way to learning how to act, and it’s on the adults around them to model correct behavior, like asking people to leave *politely* if they’re being a disturbance, like getting the heck out of Dodge if your kids are consistently being obnoxious/tired/emotional/loud. If everyone did that, everyone could have a good time not just at The Bird, but in every restaurant.

lessons i’m learning in my toddler’s dance class, and a Claire Bear update


In this room full of toddlers in tutus, absolutely no one is worried about their rounded belly under purple spandex. No one has given a thought to her chubby thighs in pink tights. Not a one has looked in envy upon the body of her classmates. Instead, as a boombox plays an instrumental of “Beauty and the Beast,” they giggle and grin. They grab hands and twirl. They hug and spin. They are grace in action, even as they regularly fall down.

Even as I feel my own infrequently-exercised thighs burning as we march with high knees and pointed toes around the room, I’m learning powerful lessons too. And they have nothing to do with poise or pointe, and everything to do with grace. Grace for myself and my perfectly imperfect body. Grace and love for the women around me, that I may see them as hands to hold and partners to dance with, not competition or something to compare myself to. Grace, even, for my toddler when she refuses to participate with the rest of the class on a particularly bad morning.

Six weeks of dance classes with Etta Jane are drawing to a close, and I am happy to sign us up for the next six. My happiness is doubled because this time, I get to sign Claire Bear up too. After a year and a half in developmental preschool, Claire has made a lot of amazing progress. Enough, in fact, that we feel ready to back off on some of her therapies. She’s going to be staying home with Etta Jane and me, and we’ll be seeing her PT on an outpatient basis. I am thrilled to get more time with my girl before she has to start real preschool all too soon, and I know she’s going to love dance class as much as Etta Jane and I do. I talked to the teacher and made sure that it would be ok if she had to wear braces and sneakers instead of ballet shoes, and was assured that she is more than welcome to join the class. Grace abounds. There was a point where I didn’t think our girl would walk, and now she’s ready to DANCE.

naming and claiming…yourself

 

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Me in my original Ernie Bufflo days.

 

My name is Sarah. Except it wasn’t always.

I was born Sara. For a while, as a young kid, I insisted my name was Ernie Bufflo, which is why this blog has such a funny name, and why encounters with people who previously only knew me online are always a little awkward, as people are obviously hesitant to ask a total stranger, “Are you Ernie Bufflo?” in case they’re actually wrong and the other person has no idea what they’re talking about. Then, sometime in Sunday School, I became aware that the Sarah in the Bible story actually has an “h,” and I became convinced my parents spelled my name “wrong.” I felt about Sara the way Anne Shirley felt about Ann:

“Oh, I’m not ashamed of it,” explained Anne, “only I like Cordelia better. I’ve always imagined that my name was Cordelia—at least, I always have of late years. When I was young I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like Cordelia better now. But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E.”

“What difference does it make how it’s spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

“Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you’ll only call me Anne spelled with an E, I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia.

For years, I managed to pass as a Sarah-with-an-h. I possibly even lied a little in order for my drivers’ license to say “Sarah.” My diplomas all said “Sarah.” I was Sarah, not Sara. I figured I’d make it officially official when I got married, but then I discovered that the Social Security office only changes last and middle names, not first names. I thought I’d have to go through the courts, but then I discovered that for a simple spelling change, all I needed to do was request an amended birth certificate from the Department of Vital Records and pay a $15 filing fee. I got myself a new birth certificate, and while I now probably have an identity document trail too sketchy to run for president, I’m officially Sarah Sweatt Orsborn.

Needless to say, I think it’s important and powerful to be able to name and claim yourself and your identity.

Fast forward several years, and now my little Etta has started making it clear that she wants to be known by both her first and middle names. While my non-Southerner husband wasn’t too keen on the idea of a double name, it seems our girl has other ideas. We’ve always called her Etta, but she proudly introduces herself “NAME ETTA JANE!” Claire calls her Etta Jane, too. As far as I can tell, she figured Claire Bear has two names, so Etta Jane should as well. And who am I to deny my girl the naming rights I so proudly claimed for myself? If she wants to be known as Etta Jane, then I’m going to have to train myself to call her that.

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Name Etta Jane.