it’s all a matter of focus

My first true archenemy was neon yellow. Spikes of felt ran down his spine boasting a treacherous array of rainbow colors. This enemy was quite compact. Tiny, in fact. When caught off-guard, he could fit in the palm of my hand. And when I shook him, he jingled. My only justification for that would be that in his last ruthless battle against Good he swallowed Santa and his reindeer whole and all that was left was their sleigh bell jingle. You’d think I’d encountered this menacing fellow as a child, but my enemy and I met when I was an adult on a long Tuesday when my first child was born.This coming Saturday will mark nine years since that day in battlefield with my neon yellow dinosaur (aka, The Birthing Focal Point) and my petrified husband (aka The Coach) and I remember every moment of it as clearly as if it were yesterday. My skirmish in the Labor and Delivery room was long and hard-fought and full of grimy and unique detail, just as every woman’s experience is there. I went in totally unprepared for how I would come out, and nine years later, I still travel down the road of motherhood falling and stumbling and constantly looking for the signs on the road that are not there. But on that day with that bright neon dinosaur I learned one of my first lessons in parenthood: be prepared to throw all your plans out the window.Dinosaur wasn’t always my archenemy. He came with us as my friend: the honorary role of The Focal Point. I had carefully picked him out amongst a pile of other candidates (a photograph, a tennis ball, a spot on the wall). I felt Dinosaur to be the appropriate one to guide me through the birth of my child: he was tiny, he was a stuffed animal and he had a gentle, soothing jingle each time I shook him. He enveloped the Hallmark-version of all the wonderful things about having a child. At about contraction number four I started hating Dinosaur. It didn’t take long for every inch of that fuzzy creature to annoy the crap out of me. Pain has a way of doing that. Unbelievable, psychedelic pain in your uterus has an even more instant way of doing that.But Dinosaur wouldn’t know this and neither would Dinosaur’s trusty sidekick, my husband, who clutched this fuzzy friend as if it were HIS lifesaver, not mine. “Please focus, please focus”, my terrified husband chanted (or begged), hoping for the magical effects of the neon yellow creature to cure-all and make me whole and smiley again (it didn’t). His big, calloused hand would swallow the little yellow dude whole, creasing his neck in half and blurring its eyes. He’d shake. Shake. Shake. And like an ill-fated song he’d follow each rattle with a faint command: “Use your focal point” (shake) “Use your focal point” (shake) “Use your focal point.”In the end Dinosaur was cast aside, as was my husband. Both represented the same to me: guys that loved me, meant well, were cute but quite useless with the task on hand. My best friend took over as coach, and it was following her soothing voice, her dry wit, and her gaze brimming with years of shared secrets, fights, and lots of laughter that I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Daniela.All was not lost for Dinosaur and his sidekick. They were both there throughout the entire experience and were able to enjoy it even more because the pressure was not on them. When I wanted an extra hand to squeeze, my husband’s big, warm hands always did the trick. And when I started getting an odd craving for chocolate chip pancakes both where up to the task. Almost instantly revived with the hopes of doing something useful, my husband (still clutching Dinosaur) shot to attention and ran for a nurse.Husband: (with the uncontrollable urge of a five-year old) “Can my wife have pancakes?”Nurse: (A look of pity and awe in her face) “No sir. Your wife can only have ice chips” (She considered smacking this stupid ass on the head be relented. He’s a first timer. She’ll let it slide).And so the promise of chocolate chip pancakes became my husband’s focal point. As the labor grew harder and harder, my husband’s words of comfort developed around my craving: counteracting every nugget of pain with a detailed description about the buttermilk fluffiness, the chocolate chips oozing and the maple syrup sweetness that would hold it all together. I would deliver a baby and he would deliver me these pancakes.I had not had chocolate chip pancakes since I was about ten, so, the imagery was quite captivating (in between contractions) and certainly more engaging once the epidural was in place. I’d crunch on my cold and indifferent ice chips and wonder about that stack of warm and inviting pancakes I would soon have somehow. And then, that second would be over, and I ‘d be hard at work again.Daniela was born at 3:24pm on February 23, 1999. I had begun the whole process the day before at 4:00pm, so, after embracing my screaming child and welcoming her to this world, I nearly collapsed from exhaustion. My husband was equally excited to meet his first-born. After he exchanged his excited hellos with his daughter, he turned to me with a beaming smile. I knew what he was going to say. It was not “isn’t she beautiful?” or “can you believe it?” or “she’s got all ten fingers and toes!” No, our connection ran well deeper than that, and, even though we both shared the same excitement and fear of our newfound role as parents, we knew we would somehow be all right, particularly because we shared this role together. My husband turned to me and declared with utmost joy and relief:”Now you can have your chocolate chip pancakes!”And with that, I closed my eyes and I smiled.Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Pancakes1 cup all-purpose flour1 teaspoon baking powder3 tablespoons sugara pinch of salt1 egg1/2 cup buttermilk1/4 cup milk2 tablespoons butter, melted1 tablespoon vanilla1/2 cup mini chocolate chipsIn a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Lightly beat the egg in a smaller bowl. Add buttermilk, milk, butter and vanilla and mix well.Pour wet ingredients into dry and gently mix with a wooden spoon until barely incorporated. Don’t overmix! Heat greased pancake skillet over medium-high heat. Drop big spoonfuls of batter and sprinkle with chocolate chip. Wait until tiny bubbles appear (a minute or so) and then flip and cook another 30 seconds.*Makes 12 – 18 pancakes*Pancake size and chocolate chip quantities vary according to taste. If you had a baby seconds before, you will want LOTS of chocolate chips in your pancakes. If you are sending your kids off to school and want them to focus and not bounce off the walls, you’ll want to reduce the amount. Your call.

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it’s all a matter of focus

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