Magic in a Jar of Dirt

So there’s a scene in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies where Jack Sparrow is trying to avoid Davy Jones. Tia Dalma, a voodoo priestess and otherwise witchy character, gives him a jar of dirt, as Davy Jones can’t set foot on land.

“Is the… jar of dirt going to help?” Jack asks, utterly skeptical.

Tia Dalma stares him down. “If you don’t want it, give it back.”

Jack clutches the jar to his chest protectively. “No.”

At that, Tia Dalma smiles and steps back. “Then it helps.”


There’s a weird sort of power in that kind of talisman, in a real life kind of talisman. I don’t necessarily mean an actual power, but that comforting power… the idea that maybe this will help, that maybe it will make things go right. It’s come into play both in my infertility journey and in my parenting.

I had a lot of talismans for my infertility journey; the most important were green fingernails, for fertility, and my Princess Leia socks, for strength. I started wearing them this year, after last year’s IVF treatments kept falling flat on their faces. I don’t think they really necessarily did anything, but then again, I could be wrong. I wore them to my two embryo transfers in the first half of the year, but both of those failed. But then again, I also wore them to my egg retrieval and transfer for this actual pregnancy, so who knows? The point is that they made me feel better, good luck charms, if you will. They made me feel like I had some control over a situation that has long been completely out of my hands.

In truth, the success of this IVF cycle was a combination of things: Kyle’s semenalysis had much better results this go-around, we used the right medication cocktail, I took it easy and carefully throughout the earliest days. Did the socks and the fingernails have anything to do with it? Probably not; but you bet your ass that if something happened and I had to go through this again for any reason, I’d be wearing those Princess Leia socks and painting my nails green.

(which is to say, next time, I’m totally going for beetle wing green)

Talismans, rituals, magic, all of that is pretty important when you have a little kid, too. They need things to comfort them, because they don’t always understand the world around them. It’s big. It’s weird. It’s sometimes scary. And they’re small and often powerless, so giving them something to hold onto that makes them feel more powerful, even if it’s not really magical or powerful… it helps.

When I was really young, I was terrified of thunder. Absolutely bananas terrified. My parents gave me magic to help with it: they called it a thunder stick. It was really just a paper towel tube, sometimes even a toilet paper tube. It was my weapon against the thunder, though. I could shake it at the sky, and I could yell, “Stop that thunder!” and eventually, the thunder would stop. I was powerless, really, against the weather (sadly, I was not a pint sized shaman), but believing that I had that power made me feel less afraid.

(I was not this vulgar as a three-year-old, but if I needed a thunder stick nowadays, I would be)

Sam has his talismans, three that we see regularly and a fourth that we consider breaking out the big guns. The three regulars are his lovies: Puppy, the ubiquitous stuffed husky that Kat got him for his first birthday; Pillow, which is literally just a Star Wars pillow; and Blanket, one of the Aden and Anais receiving blankets we were given when we were expecting him. They obviously haven’t got any real magic or power to them. They’re tools of comfort, things that make him feel safe. And he won’t go to bed without them.

The big guns talisman is his Darth Vader bear. That one, though, I actually believe has magic in it.

Eleven years ago, when Kyle and I first started dating, a lot of people in our community cheered us on. We were pretty well known in the small, tight-knit group of RPers, and it seemed like everyone was thrilled to see us together. None, however, were more thrilled than our guild leaders, Veri and Ged. They lived thousands of miles from both of us, but we may as well have been down the street. They cheered us on more than anyone; I swear, when we announced our engagement, we could hear Veri’s squeal of delight from across the country.

And that’s to say nothing of when we told them we were expecting Sam. Veri greeted us whenever we talked by asking, “Are there going to be any baby bears?” (Kyle’s nickname among the group was Kody-bear… it’s a long story) When we told her that yes, a baby bear was imminent, I’m amazed that the joysplosion didn’t take out half the country.

A couple of weeks later, a package arrived at our doorstep, our very first gift for Sam. It was a box from Build-A-Bear, and inside was a black bear dressed in Darth Vader’s robes. The bear was, of course, from Veri and Ged, and came with warmest wishes for a healthy pregnancy and greetings for our new baby. As soon as Sam was born, I started to introduce him to the bear; in recent months, it’s his greatest comfort when all else fails.

Like tonight, when the wind and rain were making him nervous. I rocked him in my arms for a while and let him talk out his anxieties. He wanted some of the stuffed animals that he knew he’d tossed out in the hallway, so we walked over to inspect them, and then he asked me to bring them into his room while he got into bed. He didn’t even ask for Darth Vader bear, but when Darth Vader bear came into his line of vision, it was all he cared about. He touched the mask, the hands, the feet, gently and almost reverently. He asked me to tuck him in (moments before he’d been asking to go downstairs), and his eyes closed as I slipped out of the room.

So Darth Vader bear is special, even more special because Veri passed away last year. She was this beautiful light of a person who could make even the most stubborn of skeptics believe that magic was real, and there’s an ache whenever I remember she isn’t here anymore.

Darth Vader bear may be just a jar of dirt. It may be special because it’s a gift from someone who loved us, who’s gone now. Sam may feel comforted by it because it’s a plush Darth Vader, the only one he has at the moment. He may feel comforted because it’s been part of his life since before he was born.

But for my own sake, I like to believe in a little bit of magic. I like to believe that the most magical person I ever knew put love and blessings into this sweet keepsake, and that maybe, when Sam hugs Darth Vader bear at night, a little bit of that love and magic is hugging him back.


Water Redeemed

This was the weekend of another family trip, kind of a pair of day trips that got melded into a weekend getaway. The occasion was a celebration of Kat’s birthday (29 years young tomorrow!), and the destination was the Plymouth/Carver area of Massachusetts for some beach shenanigans and adventures at King Richard’s Faire.

Which went okay. King Richard’s Faire was, ultimately, a wash. We got there around 10:30 and were thrilled to get front row-ish seats for the tiger show, but around the time the show started, so did the rain. Within a few minutes, it went from spitting to a downpour, and the awesomeness of seeing big cats jump around the stage and show off their majesty was rapidly overpowered by the misery of palming handfuls of water out of our faces.


Sam dressed up as a pirate but had no interest in the fair whatsoever because of the rain. He and Kyle went on a swinging boat ride, but after that, the whines set in and our attempts to keep Sam entertained despite the storm were mostly futile. He felt better once a few performers teased smiles out of him, and even better after he had a large pretzel and ice cream (look, you don’t go to the faire and eat healthy, ok), but the realization that we weren’t going to drop $300 on a shoulder dragon hit him kind of hard towards the end of the day.

Kat had initially planned an elaborate costume for this excursion, all feathers and corsets and the like. She wanted to portray the Raven Queen from Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder lore, but after we found out the weather would be iffy at best, she pared the costume down to just a feathery mantle and a gorgeous wrap that looked like wings. She looked awesome (though she won’t let me post the pictures; I have them on my phone, so I have proof) but also got drenched and learned that the black feathers of her mantle weren’t actually black feathers–they were rooster feathers dyed black, and the dye wasn’t set enough to not trickle down her arms during the downpours. That said, she got a gorgeous tooled leather collar as a birthday gift for herself, so all wasn’t lost there.

Kyle spent the entire time with a soggy Sam because I can’t carry anything that weighs more than 10 lbs (doctor’s orders; that along with pelvic rest make me basically the most pathetic wife ever). That said, Kyle was also sad that we didn’t have $300 to spend on a shoulder dragon.


As for me, I managed to acquire a barometric pressure headache at around 3:00 in the morning before anyone woke up. The right side of my head felt like it was cracking open like an egg, and I ultimately shuffled off to the hanging swing chair building to rest both my pelvic muscles (which scream at me if I walk for more than 10 minutes or do physically strenuous things like rolling over in bed) and my head. To say I was disappointed is the understatement of the year; I LOVE King Richard’s Faire. I love exploring the shops, watching the shows, and overall just exploring. But my god, I was so miserable, I couldn’t even keep my head up.

And that headache lasted for two more days, until the stupid tropical rainstorm that caused it finally shuffled out to sea.

(I tried SO many remedies to calm things down, but ultimately, with a barometric pressure headache, you just have to weep and soldier through)

But that was just Sunday. Saturday, which we spent in Plymouth, was a fantastic day.

We went to Plymouth last summer, just on a fun day trip to Plimoth Plantation and to wander around on the beach for a bit; it wasn’t a bad day, though it was agonizingly hot. The beach was crowded, as beaches tend to be at the absolute peak of summer grossness, too crowded for us to get much farther down the shore than a tiny sliver of sand right beside the parking lot. This was meh in and of itself, but poor Sam had the worst time of it–being all of two years old, he was terrified of both the sand and the waves and remained either firmly planted in one place or attached to either me or Kyle like a lamprey.

So my expectations for a beach day on Saturday weren’t terribly high, especially as it’s October, and though the weather was nice, it was a little cool for the beach.

We started our jaunt at the Cabby Shack (if you’re in Plymouth, I recommend them very highly, though be forewarned that the cheese in the mac and cheese is basically queso–not bad, but a surprise), where we feasted on the thickest clam chowdah in the world, fried clam strips, and coconut shrimp. Sam was game to get his picture taken with one of Plymouth’s infamous lobsters…


…and once we’d done that, we headed back to the same beach we’d visited the year before. Again, my expectations weren’t particularly high; Plymouth beach isn’t a bad beach, but I always prefer my autumnal beach jaunts to take place on rockier coastlines or somewhere on Cape Cod that’s removed enough from streets and bustle that all you can hear are crashing waves and seagulls.

(maybe I’m a beach snob)

(but not as bad as Kat is, though in her defense, she spent most of her life living in Santa Barbara)

Once we’d parked, Kat headed off to explore and Kyle and I escorted Sam down to the water’s edge. Things were already a little different–Sam eagerly kicked off his flip flops and ran through the sand, not at all wigged out by the different textures beneath his feet. He hesitated just a moment when confronted with ridiculously cold North Atlantic seawater (look, you don’t go swimming at New England beaches, unless you like turning into a popsicle) but a beat later, he was splashing through the waves and laughing gleefully as he found rock after rock to toss into the water with Kyle.

And they had a blast. Kyle isn’t a big beach person–his beach experiences mostly come from the Gulf Coast of Texas, and in his own words, those beaches “aren’t the best” (he’s very polite). Even when he’s not out of the car and splashing in the water, he’s expressed that the vastness of the sea and sky make him skittish (to which I always say, “You’re from Texas? Where you have nothing but sky?”), so when it comes to beaches, he’s reluctant, to say the least.


But on Saturday, he and Sam dove in together. He tried to teach Sam how to skip rocks (that went about as well as you’d expect), and then they got to work trying to build a sandcastle. Kyle led Sam into the waves (pretty tame at this beach; nothing that went above Sam’s knees), and they both had an impressively great time frolicking about, as if neither had felt anything but love for a beach in their lives. Sam loved the beach so much that, at one point, he scooped up a handful of seawater in joy and tried to drink it as I squawked, “No, don’t do that!”

Well. It was a learning experience. And it didn’t ruin the day for him; he spat the water out and then went right back to playing happily, jumping up and down in the water and screeching, “Yay beach!” as loudly as he could.

Kat, meanwhile, returned to us with a handful of seashells (always her gift to me when we hit the beach) and a $20 bill (she called it her birthday gift from the ocean and used it to buy that tooled leather collar on Sunday).

Once we were all beached out, we packed up the car again, de-sanded ourselves, and headed back to the hotel. Most of Plymouth’s hotels are quaint little B&Bs or fancy spas, so our choices were either squeeze into a way-too-fancy room at a spa or B&B or the Hilton. Of the two, the Hilton seemed the better option, and we had a nice room on the second floor, just a quick walk from the pool and jacuzzi.

Yes, pool. An indoor pool, at that. Nothing terribly deep (the deep end was 4 feet even, the shallow about 3’9”), nothing too fancy, but we all wanted to get some swimming in, and Kyle and I wanted to give Sam a chance to try a swimming pool again, this time accompanied by our guiding hands.

He was reluctant to step into the pool, to say the least, but Kyle was right there holding onto him the entire time, and I was nearby (in a super cute suit, I might add; thank you, ModCloth, for still having cute plus-sized bathing suits despite your turn towards the awful lately). Gradually, Sam’s fear of the water began to disappear. He still didn’t want to try floating on his own (and every time we tried to sneak it in, he screamed, “I want to get out!”), but he liked “swimming” between me and Kyle and splashing about and playing overall. I couldn’t hold him as much because, again, lifting over 10 lbs (I gave myself some leeway because water makes things buoyant and that helps with lifting), but I held his hands and guided him around the pool and helped him get over his fear of putting his hair in the water.

So it went really well! Sam likes playing in pools now, though he’s still not quite independent in the water, but we’re getting there. Overall, Saturday was a day of redeeming water adventures, and I’m happy about that.

We ended the day with a trip to a local IHOP, an IHOP that was… surprisingly really nice inside. Most IHOPs have that really casual “yeah, we’re IHOP, don’t expect much” feel to them, but this one was decorated like some sort of fancy independent restaurant, with exposed industrial ceilings and the kind of shabby chic decor that would make it feel totally normal on any given HGTV renovation show. The food remained IHOP-y, but the fanciness and the fact that we were the only ones there turned it into this strange sort of liminal space, and I’m still not sure that it was a real experience.

And it was a good weekend. A wet weekend, a weekend that ended with us eating McDonald’s food instead of turkey legs at King Richard’s Faire and driving home at 2 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. like we’d expected, but a good weekend nonetheless. And best of all, Sam is no longer afraid of large bodies of water. Hallelujah.

Big Brother Blues

Sam’s been having a rough week. Roughly every night has been punctuated with nightmares, usually about Kyle walking away from him or Kyle not being able to help him with something scary (like falling into a pond). We have these nightmare phases whenever Sam becomes aware of a big change coming up, and there are a LOT of big changes coming up, one of them bigger than the others.

(hint: the big change is acquiring two babies, seen here at my 11 week appointment)

All my life, I’ve imagined having a gaggle of kids (the “gaggle” in my imagination has shrunk to a “few” since getting pregnant is such a pain in the ass). I grew up with two siblings, and my parents have four siblings apiece, so the idea of only childhood is kind of a foreign concept to me, and has been since my sister was born in 1986. Kyle only had one brother, but he, too, couldn’t imagine having just one kid, even though that one kid took a LOT of work to bring into the world and has the energy of roughly five kids combined.

So it was never a question that Sam wouldn’t be our only child, but as our attempts to have more kids took longer and longer, Kyle and I started to wonder about something that never crossed our minds when we’d talked about family size before: how was this huge change going to impact Sam emotionally?

Now, of course, that question wasn’t enough to keep us from charging forward–we’re both oldest siblings, and we turned out pretty okay (most of the time)–but it still gave us pause. Although we know that Sam will eventually adjust to older brotherhood really well, the transition is something that’s worrisome because neither of us really remember how to help him cope with it.

As I mentioned before, I’m the oldest of three. My sister was born several months before my third birthday, so I wasn’t quite old enough to feel established as THE child yet. I don’t remember any strong emotions building up to my sister’s birth; anything I remember from the nineish months leading up to my big sisterhood is completely unrelated to that and more related to things like the awesome green icing on my birthday cake or the hurricane that knocked down the entire woods behind our house.

I don’t even remember anything about when my sister was actually born. Pictures exist of me visiting my mom and sister in the hospital, sitting on a rocking chair and holding her, counting her toes, playing with my mom’s wonderful hospital bed. I don’t remember feeling anything, though; I’m sure I did, but it wasn’t anything strong that my brain decided to store as a memory.

Family lore has it that at some point when my sister was very young, I remarked to my dad, “Daddy, do you remember when it was just you, me, and Mommy? That was best.” This seems to be a pretty common thing for kids becoming big siblings, even if I don’t remember it happening. Kyle’s mom tells the story of him asking, a week after his brother came home from the hospital, “So when does he go back?” My favorite, though, is the story of Kat’s father, who apparently punched his younger brother the day he got back from the hospital.

BUT. I don’t remember this conversation. What I do remember is Christmas. As with every Christmas, we spent a good chunk of the holiday season at my grandparents’ house in New Jersey, along with the rest of my dad’s family. The two years prior, I’d been the star of the show–I was the first (and to that point, only) grandchild, and all of the aunties and uncles fawned over me and played with me and indulged my toddler whims. My grandparents made remarkable gifts just for me (some of which are still in my house, like the enormous toychest my grandfather built when I was two? Ish?), and overall, it was a good time.

But this year was different. I wasn’t the only grandchild anymore. Now there were two new grandkids added to the equation–my sister and my cousin Tim, born about six weeks apart. The attention was, naturally, almost entirely on the new babies–that’s pretty much par for the course at holidays. Any time a new baby or two or three (as was the case on my mom’s side of the family one year) shows up, that’s what everyone wants to talk about.

(as an aside about my mom’s side of the family: by the time I came along, there were four older cousins, and my first younger cousin was born a year after I was, so jealousy wasn’t an issue there)

I remember feeling really sad. I wasn’t angry, not really. There wasn’t anybody to be angry with, because it wasn’t anybody’s fault. I was still the cutest kid in the universe (Sam hadn’t been born yet, you see)…


…and I was still lavished with presents. But I felt left out of all the excitement, like I was no longer important to the family as a whole. This isn’t logical, of course, but three-year-olds are hardly known for their feats of logic.

It was my beloved Grandma who eventually noticed that I was sad. This is the two of us in that moment (I’m playing with what I mentally called “mean Santa” because he looked like he wanted to destroy the world rather than bring it joy).

(I sometimes wonder if Sam got any of my genes, but this picture is exactly what he looks like when he’s being serious)

Grandma took me aside and gave me a big hug. She made sure to tell me how very much she loved me and that the presence of my new sister and cousin hadn’t changed that a bit. She told me that I was always going to be special to her, that nothing in the world would ever make her love me less. She took the time out to let me know all of that, and I believed her because that’s what I had been waiting for all along–for her to tell me that I still mattered.

(of course, I’m sure that people told me that from the moment my mom got pregnant with my sister, but this is the instance I remember the most, and also no, I’m not crying, I just have allergies to human emotion)


(but I do miss you, Grandma)

So that’s been the first step of what Kyle and I are trying to do with Sam. I’ve noticed that it works pretty well: on Wednesday, when I got home from work, Sam was acting pretty aloof. He didn’t want to talk to me or give me a hug until I said, “Hey. Dude. I want you to know that even when the new babies get here, you’re still gonna be my guy, okay? I still love you just the same; that’s never going to change.”

And then he tackle hugged me, and we had spaghetti.

(the universal language of reconciliation)

By the time my younger brother came along in 1988, I was an old pro at the sibling thing. I was also five years old, which helped a lot, I think. I remember how I felt when my mom was pregnant with my brother; I knew from the get-go that he was going to be a boy, and I was SUPER EXCITED about that. The day before he was born, I remember dyeing Easter Eggs, and the kit came with a tiny sticker that said “brother.” I held onto that sticker, and when I met him for the first time in the hospital a few days later, I stood on tiptoe and placed the sticker on his swaddling blanket, just so the world would know, this was MY BROTHER.

Probably because of my age, I felt compelled to help a lot more as well. With my sister, I’d been pretty limited in what I could realistically do to help–again, two-year-olds aren’t really known for their childcare skills. As a five-year-old, though, man, what couldn’t I do? I remember helping my mom to give my brother a sponge bath when he was still little enough to have the stump of an umbilical cord (“eww,” I remember thinking, but my mom promised me that the stump would be gone soon). I remember that he cried a lot, and I remember that I could help with that–I’d play music for him from a copper windmill music box we had, and that would help him feel better. I remember feeding him baby food from a bowl, disgusted that he was so eager to eat this mush, but glad to help him do so.

Being a helper was HUGE. It made transitioning from having two siblings to having three siblings a LOT easier on my emotions; I never felt left out or like attention wasn’t on me because I was necessary the entire time. Nobody could get my brother to sleep like I could (so my five-year-old brain thought). I helped and I was needed.

That’s part two of our strategy with Sam, and it also seems to be working to an extent. All of the baby books we’ve bought to explain things to him talk about how he can help with the new babies–playing with them gently, helping give them baths, helping them calm down when they’re sad. I know I’ll be relying on him for even more than that, things like fetching diapers and feeding them and helping with tummy time and who knows what else? He seems to like the idea of being a helper, and we’re trying to involve him even now, letting him choose a few things for the babies… nothing crazy and major, but I think it wouldn’t hurt to have him choose some blankets or this season’s Wubbanubs.

(“What should I buy?” ask first-time moms. “WUBBANUBS!” I roar without letting them finish the sentence)

And, of course, there’s my dad’s brilliant idea: we’ll have two gifts at the hospital for Sammy “from the twins.” The more like Santa Claus he sees them, the better.

It’s a rough transition. I don’t think it could ever be anything but. At the same time, though… I think he’ll be okay. We just need to keep reassuring him that he’s loved and letting him be a helper, and he’ll be okay. Eventually.