The “Think of the Children” agrument

Censorship really angers me, especially when it’s keeping people from reading books.  People all over the country lose their minds and try to keep certain books out of libraries (50 Shades, anyone?) and off school curriculum. Why? Because they feel the content is inappropriate, for whatever reason. “But the CHILDREN! Think of the CHILDREN!” they cry, charging ahead for battle.

Well, I am, actually. I have children and I want them to be able to read what they want, but I also realize that some stuff might not be appropriate for their age. So, should we BAN what I don’t want them to read? Hell, no, because I can simply NOT READ IT TO THEM. That goes for movies, too. Parents can control to a very large degree what their children see and read. Involved parents know what their kids are watching and what they’re reading and if they aren’t sure about something, they should read/watch it first. Take it for a drive.

Granted, my children are very young and it’s relatively easy to keep them protected from the big bad world. As they get older, this will get harder, especially with the internet just hanging there, ready to be explored. Which makes censorship even more ridiculous, really. If a kid wants to read or watch something, there’s not much you can do to prevent it if they have access to the internet. Teenagers LOVE the forbidden with a fiery passion.  You cannot keep them from ideas that you don’t like nor can you keep them wrapped in wool and on their leading strings forever. Like everything in regards to children, you have to teach them how to process tough ideas and emotions.

Kids are not stupid; they’re just young. How can you teach kids empathy if they never see other people suffering or have suffered themselves? How can you teach them to be kind and not judge unless they see/feel what happens if people are mean or judge? How can they develop critical thinking skills if all they ever experience are the ideas YOU believe in? The POINT of reading and education is to create people who can think on their own and don’t just take something at face value. They are supposed to QUESTION. I know, I was a high school English teacher.

Schools don’t assign these books just to make you nervous. The administrators and department heads aren’t sitting there gleefully twirling their mustaches and chuckling evilly.  Those books are assigned for a reason: to TALK about them and to LEARN shit. Aside from that, who is anyone else to tell me what I can’t read? Trying to keep a book out of a PUBLIC LIBRARY is insane. Adults can make their OWN choices, thank you, they don’t need someone telling them it’s not ok to read something.

(Aside: I despise the 50 Shades trilogy, but I’m not going to tell you you CAN’T read it. I’ll advise you not to and give you my reasons why, but you absolutely can read it if you want. Oh, and why I hate it has NOTHING to do with the fact that it includes elements of BDSM and graphic sex scenes, which is apparently what those who wanted it banned were upset about. Our country’s terror toward anything sexual is a whole other blog post).

I once did a long term sub job for an AP English class and we read “The Kite Runner.”  This is a heavy book and deals with heavy stuff, mostly sexual assault and it’s ramifications. Not only is the male protagonist assaulted, he was assaulted by a male character, in the Middle East, during extremely conservative rule. DUDE. Now, this is not a book I would give a freshman to read, probably, but this class was filled with Seniors who were all college bound. An AP course gives you college credit and as such requires that you read college level literature. It also requires the students give college level analysis and exhibit a certain level of maturity when faced with such sensitive content. I can tell you when we discussed that scene in class, you could hear a pin drop. Everyone made excellent points, and NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, made any jokes. Were they uncomfortable? Well, I certainly HOPE so. It was an uncomfortable topic. But they analysed it, looked at it from both sides, figured out motivations, and left class with a brain full of thoughts. As far as I know, no one was emotionally scarred from it. And yet. Yet parents have tried to ban this book or remove it from a curriculum because of it’s subject matter. Le sigh. I guess their children will never hear of a sexual assault in real life or, you know, WATCH THE NEWS.

When you talk about things like sexual assault in books, inevitably you talk about things like consent and reporting. This is important and I can almost promise you that conservative parents don’t talk about this with their kids. I HOPE they are, but if they aren’t, then having this conversation in the classroom can HELP someone who’s been assaulted. This is a Good Thing. Discussion is ALWAYS better than avoidance. ALWAYS. Not only does this book discuss sexual assault, said assault happens to a BOY. Men get assaulted too, you know, but are often afraid to come forward.  I cannot think why it would be a BAD thing to read this book in schools. To students who might be legal adults no less.

Don’t read the book or watch the movie if you think you won’t like it or it might offend you, but don’t try to tell other people what THEY can and cannot do. Is your kids’ school having them read “The Kite Runner,” but you don’t want your kid to read it? Guess, what: THEY DON’T HAVE TO. They can take the zero. Maybe you can work out an alternate assignment with the teacher. But don’t pull out your picket signs and start protesting. Don’t sign petitions or complain at the PTA meetings. Don’t take away something that can enrich someone’s brain. Don’t force YOUR fears and beliefs on others. Just don’t. All parents want to protect their kids, but it’s just not a realistic idea that a parent CAN protect them from everything. Instead, the goal should be HELPING them process and deal. Period.

(the “think of the children” idea was inspired by @SamSykesSwears. He writes books that I recommend you read, and I also recommend that you check out his website and read the comic found therein)

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What do you REALLY need for a newborn?

Ah, all the stuff that a baby brings with it. Stores will try and sell you all of the things, whether you need them or not, and then a lot of that stuff will sit there not being used. You won’t use it, but because you were nesting at month nine, you opened everything, washed everything, and set everything out looking so pretty and cute, so you can’t even return the stuff. Well, let’s see if I can help you narrow it down to stuff you really need for when baby arrives. Anything not listed, you can probably wait to buy for a month, two, or even three. It’s also important to note that ALL of these things are available to buy used on Craigslist and it never hurts to check your local thrift store. Also, ask around and see if a mom is done using her stuff, she might just give you something.

  1. Bassinet. If you’re at all like me, the idea of co-sleeping fills you with terror at the thought you will roll over and crush that precious baby. So, you will look for cribs and bassinets. I will tell you this: that baby is probably not going to sleep in a crib by itself for longer than two hours at a time for at least 3 months, more like 4. A bassinet is great, but they are very very small and your newborn will outgrow it very very quickly. I compromised and bought a co-sleeper. It’s pricey, but also transforms into a playpen, so it’s a two for one. This newfangled contraption allowed my babies to sleep next to me without being in the same bed as me and I could roll over to check on them or breast feed. It was awesome. Both girls slept exclusively in this (or on me because newborns are like that) for at least three months.
  2. Clothes. Well, here’s the thing, your precious bundle of joy will go through so many outfits in a day. They spit up and poop all the time. ALL THE TIME. Diapers work, but they also poop while you’re changing an already poopy diaper and then there’s poop on the new diaper, oozing on the changing table, and oozing all over them. Buy simple outfits that are comfortable without a lot of frills or buttons and that you don’t mind getting dirty. It does not matter what a newborn wears when because you and them will lose all concept of morning, evening, and night. I highly recommend something that DOES NOT go over the head like these from Carters. Just buy a ton of those and let them wear it all the time. Onsies are also a win as are gowns (no buttons!). Sleep sacks are amazing for night time since you can’t put a blanket on them (SIDS). When it was hot I used these (which I don’t see at the Carters website, but check back, they might add it back) and for colder weather, these. For the light weight one, you can use the shirt or not and you don’t have to put anything underneath the fleece one. Sorry, I really like Carters. Their clothes last forever and are easy to wear and clean, but other brands are fine.
  3. Burp cloths. You will need more of these than you think. Buy a bunch and then buy even more. It’s important to realize that not all burp cloths are equal. Some can be really scratchy and some seem absorbent but are really terrible. I really liked these and those come in other colors and patterns. I still have all of mine and use them as rags. They hold up REALLY well.
  4. Receiving blankets. Not to be confused with swaddles, receiving blankets are usually too small to effectively swaddle but are supremely useful in other ways. I used to have on in the bottom of the co-sleeper to protect the sheet from poop and spit-up. I would also use them if I had to put the baby down on the floor or couch for the same reason. They are a light cover for going outdoors in their car seat or stroller and a myriad of other things. I like the flannel ones because they’re super soft.
  5. Swaddles. This will make your newborn sleep a little longer than if they weren’t swaddled. Remember, they’re used to being all scrunched up and squeezed and they just have no idea what to do with all the freedom that comes with being born. They’ll flail and wake themselves up and then you’ll cry because you’re just so tired. So, swaddle. There are a multitude of swaddles out there to choose from. Have the nurse at the hospital show you how to do it with a blanket so you don’t get home and panic. For that type of swaddle, I liked these. The vast majority of the time, though, I used these (even when they’re awake, they like to be swaddled). They were tough for the baby to break out of and easy to use even when I was exhausted.
  6. Noise machine. This is not an absolute must but it’s key to remember that the baby was used to noise before it was born. There was mama’s heartbeat, the rush of her blood through her veins, and her laughing and talking (not to mention everyone else laughing and talking). They are USED to the noise and if you put them in a quiet room, it might be hard for them to sleep.
  7. Feeding supplies. Have this ready before baby comes home. If you’re planning on formula feeding, ask your pediatrician what they recommend and buy some. If you’re breast feeding, you can rent a breast pump or buy one, and have milk storage bags on hand as well as lanolin for your nipples. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s important to remember to try not to give bottles or pacifiers for at 4-6 weeks because your baby might prefer those to latching on the nipple. Still, it’s always nice to have a bottle or two on hand. I really liked these but there are so many to choose from and it’s a pretty personal choice. A feeding pillow like a Boppy is very convenient, but a bed pillow will work if you find the cost prohibitive. If you have a body pillow, try wrapping it around your waist and using that, I did that with my eldest.
  8. Skin care. I include diaper rash ointment and any lotions you wish to use in this category as well as baby powder and baby wipes. Everything should be fragrance free and hypoallergenic because their skin is so new. I really like Pamper’s sensitive baby wipes and still use them. Desitin is a perfectly serviceable diaper rash ointment, but they have super organic stuff you can use if you prefer. As for lotions, I know a lot of people go for Burt’s Bees, but come to find out from a labor and delivery nurse, that brand actually causes a lot of skin irritation and rashes. I also discovered that with my first born after I used a baby balm on her and she broke out in a rash. I switched to Aveeno’s Baby line which I REALLY liked. I use their lotion and body wash with the kids still.
  9. Diapers. I didn’t use cloth diapers, so I won’t be too helpful on that front. If you want to know about them I do know of a really go informational site for you. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about cloth diapering. If you’re using disposable, I will say I had a definite preference. For newborns I loved Pampers Swaddlers.  They will most likely have these in the hospital. They have this nifty yellow line that tells you when the baby has peed and they don’t leak as much as the Huggies equivalent did.  Once they started moving around, I changed to Huggies Little Movers and my 18 month old still uses those.
  10. Car seat/stroller/bucket seat. Ok, there are a TON of choices for these, so I will tell you what I did and then give an alternative or two. I purchased this stroller/car seat system. It work great because I could just remove the seat from the car, set it in the stroller and be on my way. Both the stroller and the bucket seat were easy to use. Honesty compels me to tell you, however, that I didn’t use the stroller on it’s own. Ever. So, you can probably get away with buying this frame instead (but the car seat and base alone still seems really expensive and comparable to the stroller/seat combo).  You will need to buy a base for the car seat and that will also cost you money. Now, I’ve known several moms of the baby wearing variety who just bought a car seat and then wore their baby everywhere. The problem is you won’t know which way (baby wearing or stroller using) works best for you until you have the baby. You will absolutely need a car seat, so that’s the one thing I can tell you you have to buy before baby arrives.  There are many types of convertible car seats available, but I recommend Britax brand. I had a Graco one but ended up having to return it because my 18 month old could open the buckles. The Britax I have has lasted at least 2 years and will be used for at least 1.5 more and shows no signs of wear (both babies moved out of the bucket seat at around a year).
  11. Monitor. So many types of monitor available. I would avoid any of the cheap ones simply because their signal is easily interrupted and you’ll just hear a bunch of static and beeps all night. A good alternative is this one from V-Tech (which I have used and is GREAT). I didn’t have a video one, so I can’t recommend one for you, but I did have one with a sensor that would tell you if the baby stopped breathing. FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am not sure how accurate this monitoring system is. It’s prone to false alarms which makes me doubt if it would actually go off when it needs to.

Helpful Pregnancy Tips

I have SO MANY people I know who are pregnant. People are breeding everywhere and I’m fielding questions and giving tips left and right.  While I know a lot of you aren’t currently hosting a parasite in your belly, I thought I’d give actual helpful advice to some of my pregnant friends. Seriously, it’s not going to be the “sleep while you can’ bullshit people give you (pregnancy insomnia is a thing as is pregnancy rage so don’t tell a pregnant woman to sleep, she might kill you).

Ok, this is going to be long, so settle in. Get your water bottle, put up your feet, and relax. I read blogs on natural births, had a doula, and then ended up with a c-section completely unprepared for that eventuality. I’m here to help you as much as humanly possible BEFORE you have to make a decision.

  1. Tour the hospital. Ask questions while you do it. This will make the whole visit to the hospital less scary and you will be aware of procedures and processes BEFORE you have to worry about them. This includes if you will get to hold the baby immediately or if they bathe, do eye drops, vaccinations and stuff first. If you get baby time, is it for 30 minutes? Educate yourself on what, if anything, needs to be done immediately. Hospitals are beginning to come around on this issue, and do baths and whatnot AFTER mommy/baby bonding time. Decide if you WANT all those procedures on your baby or if you don’t. Some people forgo that stuff, but make sure you talk with your doctor/pediatrician about it too. Before the birth. Unless you’re giving birth at home, in which case, you already know the procedures, but go over it with your midwife in detail.
  2. Find a pediatrician. Yep, have one before you give birth. They are going to want to see the baby almost as soon as you get it home, a week after that, and then at it’s 1 month check up.  It’s a lot, but it’s to make sure the baby is thriving and it’s important. It’s also hard to do that if you don’t have a pediatrician yet. Ask other parents who they like, go interview. I, for example, have one that refuses to see patients who don’t vaccinated and I like it that way. Choose one that works for your philosophy.
  3. Vaccinations. Your doctor will have you all caught up before you deliver. Some give the TDAP after you deliver, some before, (that’s tetanus and whooping cough). Your baby won’t have anything for about 2 months. That’s 2 whole months of no vaccinations, except hepatitis B, I think, which they do at birth. I was hardcore about requiring anyone who wanted to visit my babies to be up to date on their vaccinations, including flu and whooping cough. If they weren’t, they couldn’t come over. Period. No one complained about it, and everyone complied because BABY. You may not feel so hardcore about it, but I wanted to let you know it’s OK to do this. It’s your baby, you get to decide. That will be your mantra for the next…18 years or so.
  4. Visitors.  Decide before you give birth how you will handle visitors.  This is your first baby, people are going to want to see it and will be clamoring for visitation rights. I had a strict rule that if you came to see me, if you stayed longer than an hour, you had to either bring food, make food, or clean my house. If you didn’t you had to leave.  You will be tired and hormonal and in pain, you will NOT want to play hostess. You don’t want to get dressed, brush your hair and smile. You want someone who will bring you food, hold the baby so you can shower, and then get the fuck out. Trust me on this.  If you make your rules (whatever they are) clear before visits, they won’t be outraged when you kick them out.
  5. After you give birth, your body doesn’t just snap back. Whether you do a vaginal birth or a c-section, you are uncomfortable for a while. Buy some heavy duty pads (yes the big diaper-like ones) because you’ll bleed, a lot, and you can’t use tampons.  Look up padcicles online and buy the stuff to make them.  Have it all on hand so you don’t send your partner to the store to buy it for you upon your return from the hospital.
  6. Steal stuff from the hospital. Yep, grab everything you can. The big ugly mesh panties are amazingly comfortable, grab a bunch. Pads, blankets, whatever. Take what you can get.
  7. Mom friends. I cannot stress the importance of these people. Once you return home with your new baby you are: tired, hormonal, in pain, and have no idea what the fuck you are doing and you are required to keep this tiny human alive. If you’re breastfeeding, you are learning how to do that (and I don’t care what they tell you, that shit is hard). If you’re using formula, how much do you make? How much is the baby supposed to sleep? Is it pooping and peeing normally? Bath or no bath? Why won’t it sleep in the bed you bought for it? You feel like you’re the only person on the planet going through everything, but YOU ARE NOT. All mom’s have been there too. Make friends with some. If they have kids the same age, that’s a bonus.  2 months after my first, I called up the women from my birthing class as we all got together once a month with our babies and hung out. It helped immeasurably.
  8. Birth plan. Well, I’m not going to tell you NOT to do it, but in my experience, you have absolutely no control whatsoever when it comes to the birth of your baby.  I had an extensive plan when I went in with my first; it was obsolete as soon as I walked in the doors of the hospital. Have an idea of what you want, try to stick with it, but understand that things can change in an instant. Or they might go exactly as you want. It’s really a crapshoot.
  9. What to bring to the hospital. You can find lists online, but I found that minimal stuff is fine. The hospital provides you with gowns to wear and if my experience echos everyone else’s, you end up pretty naked by the end anyway. Don’t buy a fancy nightgown to wear, seriously. During labor you’re oozing stuff out of your vagina and it just gets worse as time goes on. You’ll stain that nightgown beyond repair and it’s just not worth it. Wear the gown they give you, trust me (and don’t worry about the naked thing, by the time you’re ready to have that baby you will not give one fuck about who’s in the room and how naked you are, trust me). Do bring phone/computer chargers, a camera if you want one, and music you want to listen to. I recommend soothing stuff, but maybe rock/metal is soothing for you. Don’t load up on snacks because they won’t let you eat and as soon as your partner opens that snickers bar he brought, you’re going to want to kill him. If he/she gets hungry, they can find their own food and eat it out of sight in five minutes or less (the time it will take you to start demanding where they are and WHY ARE THEY NOT HERE?!) Bring a change of clothes to take the baby and yourself home in. Stores try to sell you a special going home baby outfit, but bring something practical and easy-ish to put on them. Dressing a newborn is like dressing an octopus and as soon as you put it on they will poop or spit up and and that’s that. Personal care stuff: shampoo, body soap, toothbrush/paste, hairbrush. Really, that’s it. They have pillows, pads, underwear, and even blankets to wrap baby in. You just don’t need a lot of stuff.
  10. Birthing classes: YES. Do this, whether you plan on having an epidural or not. The classes will help you understand the process and the instructors can answer questions you have about…well, anything.  They will help you find ways to deal with the pain (yes, it fucking hurts) and get through the whole process sane.  There are three different types, unless one popped up in the year since I had my last baby.
    1. Lamaze: Yep, still around. Breathing and pain management techniques
    2. Bradley Method:  this is a 12 week course. Yes, 12 weeks. Similar yet different to Lamaze.
    3. Hypnobabies:  Self-hypnosis.  I did this one with my first. It worked ok in that it kept me very calm during a crazy thing, but I’d probably choose Lamaze or Bradley if I could do it over.

Acts of Kindness

I like helping people, but I hate recognition for it. Seriously, if I do something nice to you, the WORST way to repay me is to find me in a crowd and loudly exclaim how wonderful it was and then proceed to tell the gathered crowd what I did. I will want to kill you at that point. The fact is, doing kind things for others makes me happy and is it’s own reward. I like making people happy and that’s just about it.

I’m trying to teach my kids to do this, by being a living example of kindness to others. I say please and thank you, I hold open doors for people, and sometimes I do nice things for people we know or even strangers.

For example, this past weekend I went to a BBQ for the board members of our co-op preschool. While there, I started talking to the main teacher there who has been working there for practically forever. I love this woman. She is hilarious and is so knowledgeable about kids that age. She is amazing. During this conversation, I mentioned that I enjoy baking (I do, it’s kinda of a problem, like I need to go to meetings or something) and SHE said she was looking for a good scone recipe. Well, come Tuesday, I remember that and I happen to have a good scone recipe, so I made some orange cranberry scones from scratch, wrapped them up, bundled the kids into the car, and drove to her house. Elizabeth got to see her teacher and hear her thanks and watch the whole giving and receiving exchange. It was wonderful.

Sometimes at the check out line at the grocery store, I get a gift card and put $15 on it, sometimes $10, and ask the checker to use it for the guest behind me. This is the perfect scenario for me. I make someone’s day and I get to flee the scene before they know what’s happening. The most I have to deal with is the checker telling me how awesome it is. Please, checker, shhhhhhh. Once at Trader Joe’s, one employee found me a week after I had done this and proceeded to tell me that the gift card had paid not only for the person behind me, but the person behind THEM and how WONDERFUL it was. I just kept edging away, smiling, wondering if she would chase me if I ran.

I give away my never to be used again baby stuff to people who will use it. I could sell it, but this stuff is so expensive. I enjoy knowing that someone who needs it can have it, for free, no strings attached. I have given away strollers, car seats, high chairs, clothes and toys. SO MANY clothes and toys. Oh, and a breast pump, the accompanying parts, and a diaper bag.  I have one of those stand and play things in my garage if anyone needs it. 🙂 When I go through the girls toys to determine what goes and what stays, I tell them what’s happening and that other boys and girls who can’t afford this stuff are going to get it.

Kindness is something that you don’t see every day. Not everyone practices it. It does exist. I cannot tell you the number of times someone has held a door for me as I juggle two kids and three drinks on my way out of Starbucks, or picked something up for me after Josie drops it and I don’t realize it. But very very rarely do you see someone just do something because it’s kind. It doesn’t have to be much or expensive. Sometimes it’s just paying attention and then giving someone something they mentioned in passing they wanted. In an age of entitlement (so many kids are raised feeling they deserve everything first and now), I’m trying to teach my kids to see that they are lucky, that making people happy can be it’s own reward. Pay it forward, pass it on, practice good karma. It takes too much energy to be hateful or rude. It never hurts to be polite or kind first. Ever. Be kind, be polite, and practice good karma.

Elven Dance

I was looking through some of my old stuff and I found something that was actually published. Well, barely published, considering it was in a “webzine” back in 2002 that is now defunct. But still. It’s pretty bad, but I’m going to share it with you all anyway. Please be kind, I was very young and just starting this writing thing.

(published in Demensions, 2002)

She was late.

She moved quickly on the forest path, feet automatically falling on the thickest layers of pine needles so that she moved silently. The world was dark, especially here under the trees. Something twinkled in the distance and she immediately looked towards the light. Her sharp eyes saw the flicker of a fire, possibly a campfire, or perhaps another like the one like she was headed toward. Normally, elves did not make a fire for everyone to see, but tonight—well, tonight was different. She was curious, and wished she could investigate whether the fire was the work of careless humans or that of another elven tribe, but she had something more important to do.

The forest was dark around her, but not silent. There was the occasional screech of an owl or the longing song of the nightingale, accompanied by a chorus of crickets and cicadas. Sometimes, she would turn a corner and see a group of fireflies in their mating dance, flashing in the dark like little globes of light. There were fewer of them this year, though—fewer of everything, because of the drought. There had been little rain the year before and practically no snow this last winter. The spring had been the driest in many years. Most of the streams had dried up, and many of the rivers were so low that they were little more than pockets of soupy mud. The carpet of needles on the forest floor was thicker, and the crop of summer fruits and berries incredibly small.

A pair of golden eyes peered out at her from a straggly bush. They were too small to belong to a cougar; it was more likely a bobcat or a lynx. Not wanting to scare it, she stopped, bowing her head respectfully, and waited for it to make a move. Finally, a slim, sleek, adult bobcat emerged to gaze at her, ears pricked forward. Then, as if it realized the importance of her task, it turned and, with a grace only bestowed on felines, slipped into the forest on silent feet.

Once more she headed for her destiny, moving a little faster now. He would not be happy with her for her tardiness. She felt a flash of nervousness, and immediately squashed it. Her hands straightened her leather belt and smoothed her tunic, then reached up to tuck her silver hair behind her ears. She had thought about her outfit carefully. At first, she had chosen a formal gown, but a gown would get caught in her feet and legs during the ceremony. Robes were out for the same reason. She had finally settled on tight brown silk leggings and a loose fitting tunic of fine dark green velvet, a formal outfit normally reserved for hunts with the king. She had decided against wearing a sword, as it would serve no purpose where she was going.

The ceremony was rare. She had only seen it three times in all of her two thousand years of life. Each time, an elven maiden was chosen for her grace and musical talent to perform the Dance and call the Goddess. A male was chosen also, for his ability to

dance and move gracefully, but also for his strength. He had the difficult part of the ceremony.

***

She came around the last turn and saw the meadow before her, wilted grass surrounding a huge bonfire. He was there, waiting for her.

“You’re late,” he said.

“Yes.” She made no excuses, knowing that excuses didn’t matter.

“Come, it is time to start.”

She nodded and moved into the meadow. Looking up, she saw the bright, full moon, its light somewhat dimmed by the fire before her. She could see no stars, so the moon looked like it had been set on a blanket of the finest, darkest velvet. She closed her eyes and felt the crisped grass beneath her feet, the dusty dirt, and the occasional rock. Her breathing slowed and she counted her heartbeats. One. Two. Three. Soon, she could no longer separate her heartbeat from the Earth’s rhythms. She was connected to everything and her body thrummed with natural energy. A hand touched her shoulder lightly and she opened her eyes. He was standing before her and for an instant, she thought he had antlers—antlers like those of the bucks in summer. His eyes shone silver in the moonlight, and she knew that he, too, could feel the Earth breathe.

She knew what to do now, although she had never been taught. Her feet moved of their own accord as she walked around the fire. Three times she circled it, each time repeating the same words:

“Maiden, help us; Mother, heed us; Crone, hear us. Goddess, bless us with Your tears and give the world Your love.”

She stopped. It was his turn. He circled the fire in opposite direction, but he, too, went around three times and said a prayer:

“Horned-One, help us; Great God, heed us; Consort, hear us. Give Your life to us, and fertilize the world with Your love.”

He stopped next to her. Their hands touched, and then, they were dancing. Around the fire they went, feet flickering, hair flying. She began to sing, her voice clear and smooth, rising above the crackling of the fire that provided the beat for her song. It had no words, but conveyed it every emotion. She painted pictures of loss, war, anger, love, sadness, lust, and longing. As she sang and they danced, she felt herself, her soul, being suffused with life. It was as if a part of herself she hadn’t known existed decided to finally show itself. They danced faster and her song became wilder, echoing the feel of a wood during a fire, the fierceness of the predator before a kill.

Suddenly, as if two giant puzzle pieces had finally come together, she was complete.

“I’m whole!” she cried to the heavens, announcing the melding of her soul.

She saw nothing but bliss, so she missed the glint of moonlight on the blade of the ax. She didn’t notice as it was raised above her, or even that she bent her knees and knelt before it. The blade flashed as it came down, and she was welcomed into the arms of her Goddess, her blood soaking the dried earth.

***

He sagged as the god-energy flowed out of him. He saw the still form lying on the ground, saw the ax in his hand, smeared with her blood. He didn’t remember swinging it, but he must have. He raised his face to the moon, brighter now that the fire had flickered and died.

“It is done, Goddess and Horned-One! Hear me!”

Already, the sky had become hazy and the moon seemed surrounded by an aura. Soon, the moon was peeking in and out of white, puffy, clouds. And then it was gone, as black, rain heavy clouds rolled in. After a year of drought, it rained on the Midsummer dawn, following the Ceremony of Sacrifice.

Praise be to the Gods.

The Body Issues Never Go Away

I went to the gym today. It’s a necessary evil for the foreseeable future. I won’t drop the last of the weight I want to lose without exercise, and if you’ve ever tried to exercise in a house with two small children, you know it’s pretty much impossible to do. I hate running with a passion; besides, I only have a single occupant jogging stroller and I don’t think Elizabeth can run as long as I can. Well, scratch that, at this point she probably can. My stride sucks and my jog speed is everyone else’s fast walk speed. I could do the fast walking thing but it’s nearly impossible to go fast enough for long enough when you’re pushing two children in front of you. I honestly don’t know how women manage to DO that. You are amazing if you can. It’s just not in my skill set.

So, I go to the gym. I learned that I suck at pushing myself, so I take classes, preferring the ones with weights and muscle work, and drop the kids in the child care. The thing about the gym though, is that there are mirrors fucking EVERYWHERE. I know, I know, I hear you say, Melissa, you just LOST 65 POUNDS. You look amazing!

Well, I look ok. Every once in a while I see how much smaller my thighs, stomach, or butt is and I’m reminded of how much smaller everything is. It really is amazing. But I’m still not the slimmest one at the gym and what I do have left is awfully…jiggly. Seriously. Maybe it’s lose skin from the rapid weight loss, that’s possible, but I stood in front of my bathroom mirror naked recently and, just to see, did a shimmy. It was like shaking a bowl of jello. It was insane. I wasn’t that jiggly when I was larger, so what the hell? Add to that the fact that I carry what weight I have left (I still want to lose 20 pounds at least, so I’m ALMOST THERE) in my butt and thighs, and my boobs have also suffered the ravages of two years of breastfeeding, I’m hardly rocking a taut body.

So, there I stand in my Body Blast classes at a gym that is women only watching my body jiggle and my butt flatten and sag as I sit or stand. I know I should only see the positives, and I DO see them, but all those years of being fat and uncomfortable with how I looked haven’t just gone away. Those thoughts are just there, lurking under the surface, ready to ambush me at any moment.

I can only think the weights and cardio (I do the treadmill on days I can’t make a class) will help tighten things up and get rid of the jiggles. I guess there’s not much I can do about my boobs except buy some push up bras or something. The point, I guess, is that no matter how someone looks, don’t assume they feel great about it. Don’t hate the skinny woman at the gym. She’s there, isn’t she? Celebrate that you’re both there working it off and sweating instead of being jealous of her (not that anyone in their right mind is jealous of ME). I think we all have the body issues. They never really go away.

A Name is Chosen

She stared after them as they disappeared into the woods feeling full of chagrin. What was she to do with a baby? She had no milk, not even a goat, for which to feed it. Damn it, damn it, damn it.

Said baby moved and gave a squawk and she looked down.  Those eyes were a steel grey and they absolutely shined in a face of light brown skin. What an odd combination, she thought, never having seen the like before, but found it quite pretty. She turned and entered her house, eyeing the man on the low cot by the door. He had shot himself in the foot, idiot, while hunting and she had bound the wound as best she could. She wasn’t really a healer, but had some experience with it, so people came to her when they needed something and had no one to care for them at home. This man was widowed with children all moved away with families of their own.

“Didn’t know you were expecting, Sophie,” he said as she entered and he saw the baby.

“Har,” she said dryly. “How’s the foot?”

“Oh, it’s fine, just achy. What was all the commotion?”

“I tried to talk the stork out of leaving me this little person,” she replied, busy unwrapping the infant. She had assumed girl, but she really had no idea and if she was to be in charge of it, it would need a name, which meant knowing a gender. Under the simple white blanket was a warm swaddle of a very fine wool edged in silk, woven with a deep green and chocolate brown yarn. It was a very expensive looking cloth and she eyed it nervously. All of her instincts told her to pass the baby on, to get out of whatever she had fallen into. Nothing she had seen so far made eased her fears.

“Did the stork leave a name?” Gerard grunted as he levered himself into a sitting position.

“No,” she replied, not looking up from her inspection. “You better not move that foot, I’m not re-wrapping your foot if you knock that dressing off.”

“No, ma’am.” he assured her. He had never seen her so flustered and he cursed that he couldn’t make it to the door after the gun shot. Thank the Gods she was unhurt. He had barely gotten back into the cot fast enough to avoid a scolding as she came back in. “Lad or lass?”

She slipped open the clout, which was more than a little wet and needed to be changed, and said, “Lass. Who are you, little one?” she looked up at her, meeting those grey eyes. “Do you have a name?”

Gerard caught sight of those light brown legs kicking and gave a grunt of surprise. “She’s from the south?”

“South?” Sophie did turn at this and arched an eyebrow at Gerard.

“Aye,” he replied, craning his neck to see better. “The people to the south are darker skinned. I visited there in my youth as a soldier.”

“Hmm,” Sophie turned back to the baby. “Do you know any southern names? I can’t just call her little one forever.” Or until those strange people came back and got her, she thought, but shoved that thought back on the shelf.

Gerard pondered that for a moment. “Oh, that was a long time ago, let’s see. I only remember a little, a few words. Found, please, thank you, beer, home, woman…”

“Home, what was home?”

“Aelwydydd,” came the answer. She made him spell it for her, startled that it ended with a double d instead of a th, but nodded.

“Aelwydydd,” she said to the baby. “You’re home.”