The Power of One vs. Biomass-Burning Incinerator

Biomass-Burning Incinerator At Our Doorstep

Daisy, activist-in-training! (Photo credit: Dana Pilson)

Maybe you’ve noticed I’ve been absent from the blog rolls these days.  Here’s why: early this summer, we got word that a company from Maine was proposing to build a biomass-burning incinerator in our town.  Considering we live about 700 yards from the site, we thought we should learn more about biomass, what it is, and what this facility might mean for us.

Unfortunately, it’s been bad news all around.

Biomass (also known as trees, harvested from local forests) is burned in large incinerators for energy.  Emissions from the 200 foot tall smokestack would include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. The list of other harmful emissions is too long to present here. Health organizations have stated that there is no safe level for particulate matter — it is so small that it travels widely and lodges itself in your lungs, exacerbating existing respiratory problems and causing other health problems.  The seventy or eighty diesel trucks a day bringing fuel to the incinerator would add even more harmful emissions — all of this pollution would stagnate in our deep and narrow valley, home to hundreds of families, a handful of farms, and a wildly popular summer camp.

It only gets worse: the developers propose to use water from the Hoosic River, which is presently at an all-time low level from lack of rain all month. They need  400 gallons a minute, a staggering 576,000 gallons per day.  Locals know that the river is laden with PCB’s from years of dumping by industrial sites upstream. The company says there are no PCB’s in the water, that they are in the silt and soil.  But anytime there is a heavy rain the silt is stirred up, possibly dislodging PCB’s that could then go into the cooling towers and be emitted into the air.  If river water isn’t sufficient, the developers plan to use water from an existing well that extracts water from an aquifer.  The effects on local property owners’ wells is not clear.  If wells dry up, the state will “mitigate” the situation, possibly bringing in bottled water.

Biomass relies on logging, and the developers plan to obtain wood from within a fifty mile radius of the plant,  330,000 tons of it each year.  The very idea of cutting our trees for electricity generation is so depressing to me, it is difficult to think about this aspect of the project.  That we as a  society have become so cavalier about our natural resources, that we would be so short-sighted to cut and burn the very trees that sequester carbon dioxide, provide homes for woodland creatures, green our hillsides in the summer, and explode with color each autumn, that we as a society could stoop so low to resort to this practice saddens me so much I have literally shed tears thinking about it.

My husband and I talk about it all the time.  We plan to move from our lovely house, a house that we have worked so hard to renovate, insulate, landscape, and make into a home we can be proud of.  Years of Christmas trees dot our front yard, we have labored over rosa rugosa plants along our fence row, nurtured recalcitrant lilacs into blooming, fostered a peach tree that now blesses us with abundant fruit each summer, and have tended a lawn with nothing other than love and a push-mower so that now it glows green in the sunshine.  We purchased the property next to us so Daisy could have thick woods to roam in, a stream to explore, and hills to roll down.  It is a virtually fairy-land within those woods: we have spent many hours building fairy houses and gnome homes, sketching the landscape, and examining rocks, fallen trees, animal tracks and wildflowers.  To give this all up and move because someone else has decided to put in a wood-burning incinerator so close to our sheltered eden has fired up the activist in me.

I now spend my days researching and photocopying material, administering a website with information for our community, calling legislators, planners and the Vermont Public Service Board.  I’m part of a group that is circulating a petition, distributing information, making connections with environmentalists and scientists and others fighting the same fight in their towns.  We’re calling our selectmen, bringing questions to the developers and preparing for the hearings in October.

Like a mama bear, I will do all I can to protect my cub.  She is the only one I have and I will fight to keep her air clean and to shelter her from the mad doings of a world gone energy-crazy for as long as I possibly can.  She recently wrote this note to me: “Der mama, I hope the biyomas plant dus not come in. Wut can I duw to help. Lov Daisy.”  It broke my heart, but I must carry on.

So, anyway, that’s where I’ve been.  That’s where I’ll be.  I’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out.



Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world.

Keeping Family History Alive for an Only Child

Family History

With an only child, keeping family history alive is so important. Daisy is the heir apparent to all our collective memories, so I try to take as many photos, write as many stories and letters, and tape as much video as I can. My father’s parents died shortly after I finished college, but my mother’s parents lived on into their 80s and 90s. I had grand ideas of taping my Grandpa Sidney as he talked about his life growing up in Brooklyn, or my Grandma Fudgie recalling her peripatetic childhood — her parents were both actors in the Yiddish theater. I never got around to doing it, and before I knew it my grandfather was struggling with dementia and my grandmother was battling ovarian cancer and the effects of lifelong diabetes. When my grandparents died, so did their memories and stories. I won’t make the same mistake with my own parents. I plan to interview them, and write down their stories and memories before they too become lost to the wind.

I took some of my family history, a story that has been handed down along my mother’s side, and blended it with a bit of fiction to create this tale for Daisy: Read the rest of this entry »

The Wonders of Summer, Family & Community

Making Memories

Real-home-town parades for the 4th of July. (Photo credit: Dana Pilson)

There’s nothing better than a good old red white and blue, wrapped yourself up in an American flag, July fourth holiday. And nothing says July fourth better than a parade and fireworks. This year proved to be one of the best. Our little village puts on a real-home-town parade, replete with sirening fire engines, antique cars sporting American flags, proud selectmen, a tiny marching band, baseball players, prancing miniature ponies, and bringing up the rear, on pony clean-up duty, a former Massachusetts governor driving a golf cart. The whole town turns out — and every year, Daisy and I struggle with the decision: should we march in the parade, or watch? We could march with the library, our CSA, Daisy’s dance troupe, or her school. Or we could sit on the curb and cheer, collecting candy tossed from the floats. Author Elizabeth Winthrop, a part-time Berkshires resident, wrote The Biggest Parade, a children’s book based on the Williamstown parade. The mayor in the story is so concerned with making sure everyone has a role in the parade that there’s no one left to watch!

Spectators clap and cheer the parade on, including Dana and her daughter, Daisy.

This year, we decided to be spectators. Seated on the sidewalk amongst friends and family, we clapped and cheered and held our ears to block out the wailing fire engine sirens. We sprang up to gather candy and waved to the selectmen and all our friends marching with various groups. As usual, we procured a free balloon from the toy store, enjoyed a festive free barbecue, and had a slice of birthday cake proffered by the local coffee shop. These are memories in the making. Each year, we add to the store of July fourth memories, cementing in Daisy’s head what it means to create traditions: not just family traditions, but communal.

In the evening, we usually travel to Bennington, VT, to watch fireworks, even though they start around 9:30pm and we don’t manage to get back home until close to 11pm. Some families might argue that fireworks start too late, there are too many teenagers tossing firecrackers at each other, and the kids need to be in bed. But July fourth comes but once a year. What do I want Daisy to remember: an evening spent like most others? Or the excitement of heading out to the local park, finding a spot on the hill for our blanket and chairs, munching on cold grapes as toddlers race around with sparklers, watching the golden sunset as the stars, moon and planets emerge, and then, finally, after so much waiting, witnessing the magic as the sky lights up with exploding colors?

We have so few opportunities to create lasting visceral memories. Fireworks can hardly be caught on film, you cannot capture the boom that rattles your insides, the crackle and sputter, or the screaming of the twirly whirlies. Words can’t adequately describe the feel of the cool evening grass in your toes, the taste of quickly melting ice cream, the smell of the sizzling sparklers, uttering in unison “ooh, aah, peachy keen,” and then the absolute darkness when the fireworks end and we feel our way back down the hill towards the parking lot. These all must be felt, and experienced using all our senses.

July fourth may be our country’s birthday, but it is also a celebration of the wonders of summer, family, and community. Our family might be small, a tiny unit of three, but it doesn’t mean we can’t make big, rich memories to last a lifetime.



Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world.

CSA Farms Are Like Family

Purple Carrots

Daisy and a friend pose with their 'quarries.' The joy on their faces is priceless. (Photo credit: Dana Pilson)

Hooray, it’s finally summer! Which means it’s time to head back to our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for spinach, garlic scapes, turnips, pea pods, herbs, strawberries, and all sorts of wonderful lettuces. As the summer progresses, we’ll get tomatoes, carrots, peppers, beans, edamame if we’re lucky, and all sorts of other wonderful veggies as well as flowers and more herbs. The year winds down in the fall with squashes and pumpkins, potatoes, beets and other harvest-time goodies. Through the winter we visit the root cellar for carrots, beets and lots of root vegetables. Solstice rituals, harvest festivals, and other events pepper the year and bring members together to celebrate the farm in a festive environment.

We’ve been going to “the farm,” as it is affectionately called, since my daughter Daisy was tiny.  We figured that even if she didn’t eat much of the produce, she would at least get the experience of the place.  I used to carry her in my front-pack as I bagged up the week’s goods, or headed into the fields to gather herbs and pick-your-own crops like tomatoes, raspberries, and green beans.  As she got older, she preferred to play on the toy tractor, dig in the sandbox with friends, watch the big kids catch frogs at the pond, or dip her toes into the cool stream that meanders through the cow pasture.

The children’s garden, started last year, is a new favorite spot. Located conveniently near the barn where the week’s produce is distributed, the kids disappear in there and read in the teepee covered with scarlet runner beans and gourd plants, admire the flowers, or pluck and eat cherry tomatoes.  The biggest draw of all is pulling and munching on purple carrots.  There’s nothing as kid friendly as a purple carrot, fresh from the ground.  Wash it off, use the greens as a handle, and voila, a perfect fresh-from-the-garden snack.

Thanks to the farm, we’ve tasted new foods and tried new recipes, such as oven-roasted crispy kale, stuffed peppers, and sauteed turnips and escarole.  Some have gone over like a ton of bricks: Daisy detested the kale, and it smelled up the whole house something awful.  Others are household favorites: barbecued corn, zucchini pasta, peas straight from the pod.  Daisy has tried new veggies with various results: she’ll only eat a cherry tomato fresh off the vine.  The ones we bring home are of no interest and might as well be a different food altogether.  Strawberries, warmed by the sun and eaten right in the field are like “sweet sugar,” according to Daisy.  Raspberries are another favorite, and we often consume our share before even leaving the confines of the bushes.  A piece of lettuce, however, has yet to pass Daisy’s lips, and she continues to turn up her nose at spinach, no matter how kid-friendly I try to make it.

Thanks to the farm, we now eat with the seasons.  When I was a kid, we ate strawberries year-round.  I never knew that they grew in the spring.  The food I ate came from the A&P.  That’s where all food came from.  It was grown somewhere else… where, I had no idea.  The only thing I ever attempted to grow myself was a crystal in a jar of sugar water.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Wilds of Camp

Six Weeks of Camp

The zip line was the biggest draw of all at camp. (Photo credit: Dana Pilson)

Daisy was hesitant on the first day. Arriving amidst a flock of parents and excited children, we were directed to the girl’s barn to drop off her things. Daisy was thrilled to find her name above a hook. She put her backpack on the bench and hung up her bathing suit and towel. I slathered her with sunscreen as she looked around and we read the names of the other girls who’d be coming that week. Thankfully, we already knew many of them. We then went outside and saw a boisterous group of boys chasing after one of the counselors, a long-legged good-natured teenager. A cluster of little girls were in the arts and crafts barn with another counselor, unspooling yards and yards of ‘gimp,’ — which I remember calling ‘lanyard.’ I excitedly rattled off the names of some of the stitches I knew: barrel, box, cobra, butterfly. Daisy picked out pink and purple. Trailing the strands behind her like an octopus, she went outside and finally found her best friend, Kira. They ran to each other and hugged as if it had been years, and not just since yesterday since they’d last seen each other. I gave Daisy one last big hug, took a commemorative photo, and was on my way.

It was hard, leaving my only child, to the wilds of camp. It was different than dropping her off at school, which was so predictable, so controlled. The playgrounds at school seemed so safe, the teachers so vigilant in comparison to this big, wide-open camp. Here, the kids roamed about not always under the watchful eyes of the counselors. There was so much more freedom and independence, a good thing, I knew deep-down. Yet I worried about poison ivy and heat-stroke, bears, drowning, bee stings and Daisy getting lost in the woods. I worried about all the possible things that could take my precious only away from me. But I took a deep breath, and let go. There was nothing else I could do. Lonely in my car, I drove down the hill, not even turning on the radio.

That afternoon at pick-up, Daisy excitedly announced that she wanted to go to this camp every year until she could come back as a counselor. And when she was grown up she wanted to send her kids to camp, too. Before heading home, she had to show me everything: the pond they swam in, the frog pond where they netted tadpoles, the tree under which they’d had nachos and cheese for snack, and where they ate lunch (the camp Golden Retriever snagged half of her pizza bagel, she traded the other half to one of the counselors for handful of Oreos), the blueberry bushes growing behind the house, the rope swing, and the biggest draw of them all: the zip line.  Read the rest of this entry »

Connecting with Others, Our Families, Ourselves

The Power of One: 25th High School Reunion
By HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

25 years later, my daughter has helped me take chances, she has helped me become a better person.

This past weekend was my 25th high school reunion. I went to a boarding school in New Hampshire, so high school reunion meant not going back to my old home-town in the suburbs of New York City, sleeping at my parents’ house, and getting together with classmates at a local hotel banqueting room. Instead, Daisy, Will and I drove across Vermont to New Hampshire’s seacoast and stayed at the lovely ivied Inn near campus, where other classmates were converging from all over the country, and the globe.

My daughter Daisy was excited for the weekend, but she didn’t really understand why until we arrived. The campus is gorgeous. Granted, we live right by a college campus here in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, but it pales in comparison. Stately, coherent brick buildings are framed by lovely old elms and maples and oaks. Tidy colonial houses line the streets, and exuberantly happy students congregate by the library, walk together to classes, and smile at us in the dining halls. It was hard for me to say it, “I went here, I was a student here.”

The weekend was like a breath of much needed fresh air. Going about daily life: laundering, shopping, cleaning and cooking, volunteering at a museum and helping out at Daisy’s school…. I forget about myself, my personal voice, my hopes and dreams. On Saturday, Daisy went to the children’s day care program with all the other kids, and I reminisced and played with my former classmates. We talked about old memories, and our lives when everything was new and anything was possible. We had our whole futures ahead of us back then. We could dream of going to the moon, the White House, the ends of the earth. For a few hours I could forget my daily routines, and focus upon old friends, our stories, and our voices.

Of course, I couldn’t completely shake my current ‘self.’ My camera is always filled with photos of Daisy, doing this and that. I took some pictures of her at the reunion, as she raced around with new-found friends. But somehow I neglected to photograph my friends, groups of us clustered here and there, candidly and posed, as if years of photographing Daisy have eclipsed my ability to take pictures of adults. And on Friday night, after putting her to bed, I nestled along-side her and fell asleep myself, even as classmates were congregating in the hotel bar two floors down. My current 40-something body’s need for sleep somehow trumping my desire to linger with old friends. The following night, Saturday night, we managed to get Daisy to sleep and then I did slip out to the hotel bar, staying until the crazy hour of two in the morning. It was worth it, but I paid for it the next day, falling asleep on the car ride home as Daisy watched National Velvet and Will drove and listened to our new 80s mix CD.

I was wondering how Daisy would do when thrown into a brand-new mix of kids she had never met. Perhaps it’s because she is an only child, or merely just her personality, but Daisy is a natural ring leader. She was the glue that held the posse of five and six year olds together. The very first evening as the grown-ups hung around in a grassy quad catching up and waiting to go into dinner, I proudly watched Daisy take the hand of a shy girl named Madeline who was hanging back. Daisy looked right into her eyes and urged, “Come on, we’re playing hide and seek!” Madeline’s face lit up as she took off with Daisy to romp with the others. Later that weekend I learned that because of Daisy, Madeline insisted on going to the little kid’s ‘camp,’ not the bigger kids program with her older brothers, as she had earlier insisted on. Her mother was thrilled with Madeline’s new-found independence, and I couldn’t have been prouder of my outgoing, smiley-faced and friendly little girl.

Read the rest of this entry »

Milkettes: A Five-Star Rating

The Power of One: Weaned
By HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

I remember it well, Daisy as a chubby pink baby. She looks up at me with a toothless grin, and then makes a fist with one hand. She opens and closes it, one, two three times.

“Hungry, again?” Okay, I pull up my shirt and let her nurse. As usual, she falls asleep in my lap, her face smushed against my body, growing damp from my own sweat.

We taught her sign language from the get-go, and by the time she was a year old, Daisy had a repertoire of over one hundred signs. But by far, her favorite was the sign for “milk.” She’d wave her little hand in front of my face, squeezing that fist, making the sign whenever she was hungry, tired, cranky, or just wanted some together time. As a Dr. Sears nurse-on-demand convert, I rarely, if ever, said “no.”

When Daisy transformed into a precocious and extremely verbal toddler, she moved on from the sign to a spoken request: “milky!” It transformed, as she got older, to “milkettes,” and later, “I want your boobies!” (where she picked that up, I don’t know), but then settled back in to the original “milky.” I continued to nurse her. She didn’t eat any substantial real food until she was almost two years old. Until then, she subsisted almost entirely on her mother’s milk. We perfected the “I’ll sit in your lap and nurse and no one will have any idea what I’m doing” hold, which as far as I know is not found in any of the breast-feeding books I read. People would walk by and say “aww, how cute, she’s sleeping on her mom,” and I would just smile, knowing that her lips were busily sucking away.

I once asked Daisy why she loved her milky so much, and she said, “because it’s fresh, sweet and delicious, and always available!” We wondered how many children breast-feed long enough to give it such a five-star rating.

Daisy eventually gave up nursing during the day, but as a pre-schooler she would have a nip at bedtime and a refresher to start her day in the morning. She would also wake up in the middle of the night and want to nurse to fall back asleep. I never figured out if she was waking up because we co-slept, or we co-slept because that made it easier to deal with her nighttime awakenings. In any case, she didn’t sleep through the night until she was four years old. And that may be one of our biggest reasons for having an only child, right there. I don’t know if I could go through that again with another. “Of course,” my mother insists, “you wouldn’t! A second child would sleep in a crib.” She’d take a bottle. She’d cry herself to sleep instead of being nursed and rocked and babied. She wouldn’t sleep nuzzled up against your arm, your face, your body all night. She’d sleep through the night at six months. Really? Would I want that? I think I’d rather mother one child, nurse her, sleep with her, ward off night terrors, give her my all, than have a whole nursery of kids crying themselves to sleep.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Banana in a Bunch

The Power of One: Experiment of a Large Family
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

Ophelia the only, says she’s lonely
She wants a playmate at home.
She has toys galore, often asks for more,
But still complains she’s alone.

Would a dog or a cat, be the answer to that?
Would a pet enliven her room?
But dogs bring on wheezes, cats give us sneezes
How to cure such sadness and gloom?

Parties and playdates, visits with playmates
Nothing satisfies our lonely child.
Then we hop on a plane, goin’ up to Maine
To visit with friends for a while.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Nothing, Really, Just Abstract

The Power of One: Art Smarts
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

There are few things more wonderful than a child’s creativity. Daisy recently crafted this family portrait from a kit of felt pieces that includes many more children and babies, cats and dogs. Usually her scenes are complicated affairs, large families with scads of children lined up in rows. I love the sparse, crisp quality of this little trio. I find it interesting that the girl is shown angling toward the mother. The mother, in turn, seems to lean away from the father’s hand-hold towards her little one.

Like most kids, Daisy likes to draw flowers, frogs and ducks, and the occasional rainbow, but people really are her ‘forte.’ These days, influenced by her Kindergarten friends, princesses are all the rage, replete with towering tiaras, wide billowy pink skirts, and pocketbooks festooned with plentiful bows.

This family portrait, on a magnetic doodle pad, is from about a year ago. I love that we all have big smiles on our faces. Here the child is sandwiched between her parents. Granted, she is closer to the mom (females are made up of a single blob of a dress, while males have a top and a bottom, like a shirt and shorts). Arms, apparently, are optional!

One of the luxuries of having an only child is the ability to focus on art activities together. There is no crying baby needing a diaper change right when the paints have come out, or an older child waiting to be driven to soccer practice when glitter is all over the floor. I dance a secret jig when Daisy asks to do an art project: other kids would rather toss a ball or watch a video. I’m just so happy she enjoys art as much as I do. Personally, I just love the smell of poster paints, the aroma of a new box of crayons, the feel of play-dough, and peeling dried glue off of my hands.

When Daisy was smaller, we somehow came across Susan Striker and her book about fostering creativity in children. This link from the Artful Parent, a wonderful blog about doing art with young children, sets it all out nicely.

In short, your child’s imagination should decide how art materials are used; never draw, paint, or write on a child’s artwork; never point out similarities to realistic objects or even show a child how to draw. Striker suggests not entertaining a child by making realistic pictures yourself, and never ask, “what is it?” Instead, praise use of color or design. And, the biggie: never give a child coloring books or dot-to-dots.

Of course, nothing beats reading Susan Striker’s book, Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art. I recommend it highly, although you need to take what works for you, and put some of it on the back burner. Adhering blindly to her philosophy without flexibility could prove exasperating. When Daisy wants to color in the coloring books at our local food co-op, providing me with fifteen minutes of shopping freedom, I am not going to say no And I can even imagine Striker’s dismay at my allowing Daisy to play with pre-cut felt pieces — I suspect she would want Daisy to cut out from felt the people and their outfits herself.

Whether or not we can credit Susan Striker, Daisy’s creativity is boundless. She is a master at thinking outside the box. At a local museum’s family day, kids were filling bottles with different colors of sand. Each bottle was turning out quite nice, but all the bottles looked vaguely similar. Daisy decided instead to take the extra sand that was on the table, mix it together, and put that mixture into her bottle. Inspired, she then began making different combinations out of all the available sand colors. Her bottle, when finished, was truly unique. Other kids looked on in awe, and then they too began to create mixtures and experiment.

I must admit it took Daisy longer to paint and draw recognizable objects, and her pre-school teachers showed concern that she wasn’t making faces and people. Perhaps it was because I didn’t draw people for her to copy, but I think it was she just enjoyed scribbling, the feel of a crayon in her hand, the experience of color, the process of creating. Even now she still likes to doodle away — one time I asked her about a particularly ebullient painting, and she said, “it’s nothing, really, just abstract.” I love that she knows what abstract means, at age five. I think she’s doing just fine.



Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world.

Eli and Elizabeth

The Power of One: Oh My Only-itis
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

I admit it.  I have “only-itis.”  Or perhaps you could call it “pedia-envy.”  Now that it’s spring and all those heavy coats are disappearing, bulging bellies are all the rage.  It seems as if everyone I know is pregnant, and everyone I don’t know, too.

This past weekend Daisy and I visited Hancock Shaker Village and saw the baby animals.  A wonderful day, those little critters are darling and fuzzy and oh so cute.  There were tons of kids everywhere, of course, and wherever I looked, another bulging belly, another belly-button popping out, another telltale glowing Mona Lisa smile.  I bumped into an acquaintance while we were there, and she mentioned they were waiting until the baby was born before planning a big move.  Baby?  I glanced at her belly.  Yup, her too!  Congratulations and all that.  But I felt that tell-tale mixture of jealousy and sadness.

I wasn’t the instigator of this one-child thing — I always thought we’d be having another.   Pregnant with Daisy, I was a nervous wreck, a total hypochondriac.  I couldn’t wait for everything to turn out okay, and wouldn’t even dream of setting up the baby’s room until I had her in my arms, knew she was healthy and heading home.  Completely superstitious, I reluctantly agreed to a baby shower, but it was under protest. In the back of my head was always the thought, it’ll be easier next time around.  Next time I won’t be so nervous, next time I’ll sit back and relax, and enjoy the ride.  I just didn’t realize there wasn’t going to be a next time.

In the fall of 2008, we were living in New York City, and my period was three weeks late.  I suspected, but had not confirmed, that ohmigod I might be pregnant.  I decided not to say a word until some sort of test said it was so.  But I did spend three weeks walking around the city feeling like I was carrying a wonderful secret.  I took Daisy to Books of Wonder and the first story she wanted to read was about a mommy explaining pregnancy and babies to her child.  My breasts tingled as we read it.  It must be true, I thought.  I felt so smug, so jangly and happy.  Yeah, I’m reading a book about babies to my daughter, and there’s another on the way.  For three weeks I counted days past when I should have gotten my period and predicted a due date: the end of May!  At one point I dreamt I might be having twins, and I named them, Eli and Elizabeth.  I thought about Eli and Elizabeth every minute.  Would they be blond and blue-eyed, like Daisy, or would my darker coloration win over this time?  Would they be tempestuous and stubborn or would my more easy-going personality hold sway?  We’d been giving away much of Daisy’s clothes and toys and baby paraphernalia, so in my head I drafted a breezy email to friends asking for loaners and hand-me-downs.

It was finally time to take the pregnancy test.  I bought one at CVS and then walked to a Starbucks, where I huddled in their fetid bathroom unwrapping the stick.  I peed.  I waited. Negative.  Oh.  I did it again.  Still negative.  I wrapped up the sticks and threw the wads into the trash, and walked out.

A week later, still no period.  Another trip to CVS, another trip to Starbucks.  Still negative.  Against the odds, I continued to believe I was pregnant.  I thought about buying Folic Acid, I asked a friend about a doctor she could recommend, I rubbed my belly absent-mindedly while Daisy played with her friends at the park.

Finally, four weeks late, my period arrived.  And I cried small secret tears and told no one except a close friend who was trying to conceive via IVF.  She had been through the same ups and downs, elation and depression, countless times.  She believed I had indeed been pregnant, but it just didn’t take.  We commiserated over thick hot chocolate and decadently rich chocolate chip cookies.

And now, my friends are having their second and third children, even a fourth is on the way for one.  The friend I bumped into at Hancock Shaker Village had long ago confessed that she and her husband would probably not have another, would stick with one.  I felt a solidarity with her then, like we were members of a special club.

At night, I sometimes count up my friends with only children.  Those friends are fine, wonderful people.  Their children are beautiful.  My child is beautiful and a wonder of nature.  My one child makes me a mother.  More children would not make me more of a mother.  But it doesn’t mean I didn’t wish it to be so.

A year and half later, I continue to shed silent tears for Eli and Elizabeth.  I miss them.



Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world.

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Supporting Only Children Through Literature

The Power of One: The Bounty of Books
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

Would Arthur be as amusing without D.W.?  Who would Stella impart all her worldly knowledge to, without Sam?  Sister and Brother Bear might squabble like grizzlies, but could we imagine one without the other?  Annie is spunky while Jack is shy, the two of them make a dynamic duo in their magic treehouse.   Could we imagine Laura Ingalls growing up on the prairie without her rhyming sisters, Mary and Carrie?   It recently dawned on me that my five-year-old’s  most beloved characters all have siblings! They all have their sidekicks, a foil, a partner, another half. My daughter Daisy has been constantly asking why she can’t have a big sister.  “Everyone else has a sibling” she insists, “in real life and in books.”

Thankfully, I can counter that no, not everyone has a sibling, not in real life, and not in books either!  The storybook universe is populated by plenty of precocious only children.  Little Bear is a favorite, and I might add he never seems to complain about being an only cub.  His human friend Emily seems not to have siblings either, but rather a doll that only she can understand.   Loads of books feature one child for simplicity’s sake, such as Rainy Day Together, a sweet story about a girl spending the day inside with her mom, or Frida’s Office Day, about a young ‘cat’ going to work in the city with her father ‘cat.’  Some stories are more self-consciously focused on the only child experience, such as My Only Child, There’s No One Like You (one in a series of ‘Birth Order’ books), and Mr. and Mrs. Smith Have Only One Child, But What a Child! and Here I Am, An Only Child, written from the child’s point of view.  I recently read these three books to my only child at the library, and while she sat patiently through them, she didn’t beg to borrow them, in fact, she was pretty bored by all this only child business.

Stories about only children are much more interesting when there’s more of a story than simply, here’s what being an only is all about.  The “Rose” series, the continuation of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books, is our current favorite.  Rose is the only daughter of Laura and Almonzo Wilder.  Sure, sometimes she bemoans not having siblings, but the books follow her as she grows up in the Ozarks among other families, large and small, in the 1890s.  She plays in the creek, has crazy adventures with friends, rides her donkey to school, and wins the class spelling bee.  We love Rose! We read a new chapter every evening and we play “Rose and Laura” during the day.  Rose figures so strongly in our lives these days that she is basically one of my daughter’s best friends—actually, Daisy often plays that Rose is her big sister.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of One: A Mother’s Journey with an Only Child

The Power of One: My One and Only Daisy
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

I knew it would happen someday, I just didn’t expect it so soon. Returning home from a boisterous sledding adventure with our next-door-neighbor’s children, my five-year-old daughter Daisy bursts into tears. “Why don’t I have a playmate at home?” she wonders. “Why does everyone else have a playmate at home, and I only have you. You’re boring. You’re BORING!”

Okay, deep breath. Hurt feelings aside (I know I’m not a world-class clown, but I still wouldn’t classify myself as boring…) I ask, “Are you jealous of Kira, because she has her big brother?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to come home. There’s nothing to do here.” She crosses her arms, puffs our her lips, and pouts.

“Sweetheart, I know it doesn’t seem fair. Kira and Evan certainly have a lot of fun together, and we have a lot of fun with them, but I can assure you, they don’t always get along. And he’s older, there are probably things he wants to do on his own, without his little sister always tagging along.”

“I want a playmate, too.” She sniffles.

“And even if we had a baby tomorrow, you would have to wait two or three years before you could play together, anyway,” I continue. I feel like I’m flailing, grasping at straws. It’s so hard and I’m trying to keep it together, resisting the urge to crumple and cry myself.

“I don’t want a baby sister, I want a big sister!” she yells, sobbing again.

I pull her to me, then lift her up onto the kitchen counter, so we are face-to-face. “I love you sweetheart, and it hurts to see you so upset. But right now, you are our only kid, and we love you so very much!”

“But you’re still boring. I don’t want to play with you anymore.”

Where to go from here? Read the rest of this entry »

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