Friday, January 20, 2017

In This House, We Believe:


This yard sign goes up at my house today.


I believe everything this sign says. I also know that many of my neighbors disagree with some of the important points listed here (we live on a rather conservative, white, Catholic block). The fact that it feels sort of daring to put in up in my yard indicates to me how much more I need to do to speak up and take action.



I can't attend the Women's March on Washington, but I'm wearing this to work today and marching in St. Louis tomorrow.


I'd take Zuzu with me, but she would have to miss swimming lessons so we all know that's a nonstarter. And I know these are relatively small gestures, but they are also important. Here is where we begin. We begin where we are. We begin where we live. Here are the values I want to model for my daughters.


(Special thanks to Sarah for making me aware of this sign! If you want one for your yard, they are available here.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On Stealing and Nice Girls

Disclaimer: I hesitated to publish this because the thought that someone might form a negative opinion of my Special Snowflake is stressful to me, but the research I've done on this indicates that it's actually a typical, developmentally-appropriate (though obviously not socially appropriate) behavior for a four-year-old. Zuzu has an understanding of right and wrong, but she doesn't have much in the way of impulse control. And we've obviously established that she is not a people-pleaser, so she's going to have to figure out how to regulate herself, which is hard for a four-year-old, I know. Still, I hope that someone reading this will tell me that it's not impossible and that she will quickly outgrow this phase! Anyone out there have experience with this? Please tell me I'm not the only one who has a four-year-old with metaphorically sticky fingers as well as literally sticky ones.

Zuz got a few of these tiny little "palace pet" toys for Christmas. They are tiny, pastel-colored dogs and cats who coordinate with and therefore belong to various Disney princesses. They are kind of cute, really, or maybe I just have a weakness for all things in miniature. But they join Peppa and her family for rides in the PJ Masks vehicles and they dance with the little Mickey and Minnie figurines and the girls are pretty crazy about them and play with them a lot.

The other night, Zuzu had a handful of the little animals and she said, "Mommy, can I tell you a secret?"

Of course I said sure, and she held up a tiny pink dog and whispered in my ear, "I stole this from Mesa."

(Mesa is my cousin's three-year-old daughter, and we celebrated Christmas with them on New Year's Eve and the girls played together and all received palace pets presents from one of my aunts.)

Naturally, this confession prompted a long and Serious Conversation about stealing... it's wrong, it's a crime, it hurts people's feelings, we don't have the right to take things that don't belong to us, if you want something so much you should talk to Mommy and Daddy about it, you can save up piggy bank money and we can find it at a store, or maybe offer to trade Mesa for something else, but we absolutely cannot take things that do not belong to us... Blah blah blah. Followed by, "Do you understand me?"

She seemed to get it, and I was thinking that maybe the confession meant she was feeling guilty about what she had done. I was actually feeling kind of GOOD about our conversation, like she really understood where I was coming from and maybe even had a bit of a grasp on the morality of what is right or wrong.

That night before bed I told her I love her and she said, "Mommy, next time I tell you I stole something, can you not freak out about it?"

I must have just gaped at her with my mouth open for a moment because I mean really???

The next day, she had the nerve to ask me if she could play with the little pink dog (which I'd confiscated during our previous Serious Conversation), and of course I said absolutely NOT and told her we'd be sending it back to Mesa.

She burst into tears and sobbed as though I'd taken her most precious possession and tossed it in the garbage.

So then we had another, briefer, but still Very Serious Talk about why we're returning the dog to Mesa and a review on stealing (not okay, against the rules, makes people sad). I said to her, "Think how sad Mesa feels since she doesn't have this doggie to play with."

(Side note: I talked to Mesa's mom and the pink palace pet has not been missed at all--in fact, Brandi isn't sure it was actually Mesa's. But obviously that is Not The Issue. Whether or not Zuzu actually stole it, she believes she stole it, and I want her to feel remorse about it. I mean, I once stole a tiny fuzzy bear that was for sale for a quarter by the cash register of a fabric store, and I never confessed it to my parents, but I did feel guilty about it.)

Zuzu seemed to be actually considering how sad Mesa might be feeling, so then I added, "Think about how you would feel if Mesa came to your house and stole one of your toys."

Zuzu whirled around and looked at me indignantly. I thought perhaps we'd had this amazing breakthrough of empathy and understanding and we could maybe avoid a not-too-distant future diagnosis of sociopathy plus klepotmania.

"Mesa would NEVER do that!" Zuzu said, "She is a NICE GIRL!"

* * *

I admit that I had to walk away because I started laughing when Zuzu valiantly defended Mesa's reputation, apparently not realizing that she was thereby defining herself as anything BUT nice.

But, honestly, this is something that kind of weighs on me. David doesn't seem to think it's a big deal, and I do understand that she's not necessarily defined as a criminal based on what she does when she's four. I just want to make sure we're handling it appropriately.

After reading up on it, I realize that I need to not go overboard on the lecturing. Actually, it's not all that unlike our go-to lines when Zuzu was three years old and having some behavior issues. Instead of talking about how it hurts people or makes them sad, what I've read suggests I just need to establish the firm expectations: "In our family, we do not steal." The big picture explanation of why we don't do that can come a bit later.

Logically, I understand that approach makes sense for a pre-schooler. But also I just want to make sure she gets that stealing is ACTUALLY WRONG and not just that if she gets caught stealing she'll get in trouble.

Also I'd like her not to end up in juvenile detention, mm-kay?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Listening/Reading/Watching

Listening...

I love listening to podcasts and I actually consider it a small perk of my job that it gives me a quite 30 minutes in the car to listen to something without the chatter of small children making unreasonable requests or complaining about things I can't control ("Mooooooommmmmmy, the sun is bothering me!"). Anyway, right now I'm listening to a lot of the Folger Library's Shakespeare Unlimited podcasts because I'm teaching Shakespeare this semester and I like to learn things on the podcast and then casually mention them during class as though I actually learned them in graduate school or by doing scholarly research like a legit professor.

But the podcast I want to recommend is Terrible, Thanks for Asking. It's so great. It's about grief, and the host of the podcast is Nora McInerny, who lost her husband to brain cancer and miscarried their second child within weeks of each other. Her father passed away a few weeks after that. So she knows something of grief, and she's honest and real about all of it. She also brings a guest in for each episode, so the first one is specifically about young widowed mothers raising their toddler or preschool age sons, but later episodes cover other kinds of grief as well--professional failure, depression, traumatic brain injury, and, yes, stillbirth and infertility. It almost always makes me laugh and cry.

Reading...

My book club selected A Man Called Ove for this month's discussion, and then (sadly) had to cancel our last meeting because of weather. The book is a real gem, though. It's a little bit formulaic in the beginning, but as things unfold the characters become less cartoon-like and more and more endearing. By the time I got to the end, I had cried actual real tears and I didn't want the book to end.

Our next selection is Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, which I just started this weekend and am already loving.

I've also been reading The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England. I listened to part of it in audio, but it's a nonfiction book that I'm preferring to read rather than listen to. Also, it speaks to my genuine nerdiness that I didn't realize that a book about the history of Elizabethan England written as though it's being offered as very (very!) thorough instructions for a potential time-traveler might not have universal appeal. Imagine my surprise when David didn't want to listen to the audio book on our Midwestern tour over Christmas! Anyway, perhaps it will only appeal to a very specific taste, but I think it's fascinating. Hashtag nerd alert.

As part of our We Stories curriculum, we're now focusing on books about America with the girls. It seems especially important right now that we spend time talking to our kids about America's diversity and our (complicated) history of immigration. We've read several good books, but my two favorites are Emma's Poem (about the poem who wrote the poem for the Statue of Liberty) and Of Thee I Sing (children's book that Barack Obama wrote for his daughters that nearly moves me to tears each time I read it).

Watching...

David and I caught up on the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series. They are so good my only complaint is that I have to be focused to watch them! Last night I tried to finish a photo book of our summer vacation while watching (yes! crossing off 2016's resolutions at long last!) and I need to re-watch the episode.

I've been having a hard time listening to NPR because the news feels bad to me. But I love Samantha Bee and I can't get enough of Full Frontal. As much as I like it, I'm also kind of glad it only comes on once a week, because I don't enough time to watch all the TV I want to watch, and that makes it easier.

Last night after I'd put Coco to bed and David was reading with Zuzu, I watched a funny new show called Teachers. It made me laugh out loud a couple of times, and David said he didn't want to watch it because he has a hard time with comedies that are mostly based on secondhand embarrassment (see: why we're not listening to NPR news so much these days) but he laughed out loud, too, when he came downstairs and it was still on. I think anyone who works in an elementary school would find it pretty funny.

Friday, January 13, 2017

On Swimming

Zuzu started swimming lessons again.

If  you'd ask me, I'd say that I'd like to spend my winter Saturday mornings sleeping in (until 8:00am) and then drinking coffee while reading blogs or reading a novel and then leisurely doing a yoga video from youtube. Of course, I expect that this is all punctuated by loads of laundry and various requests from children (seriously, my kids start EVERY SENTENCE with "Mommy, I want...") but mostly it's pretty chillax.

Zuzu has started swimming lessons on Saturday mornings, so now my Saturday mornings are filled with the stench of chlorine instead of a lavender scented candle and a one-sided best-friendship with Adriene of Yoga With Adriene.

We held off on enrolling Coco in swim lessons after last year's disaster, but hoped that she would just want to play in the shallow part of the pool during Zuzu's lesson.

I don't like swimming at the indoor pool at the Y because I am a grumpy high-maintenance spoilsport, but really the water is so full of chemicals and it's never warm enough and also I don't want to feel pressured to shave my legs, and I really only want to put on a swimsuit in January if I'm going to the beach somewhere warm and tropical.

Anyway, David swims with Coco while Zuzu has her lesson and I just sit in a plastic chair and watch them all while drinking my coffee and getting a headache from the glare and the noise and the chlorine smell. Also, I struggle with what to wear because it's freezing outside but it's warm and humid in the pool area, so I was sweaty last week in my t-shirt and hoodie.

The truth is that I could stay home and David could take the girls himself and then I could have exactly the kind of relaxing Saturday morning that I want--lavender candle and laundry and yoga and whatnot--but somehow it is worth the chlorine smell and the journey out of the house in the cold and wrestling kids into and out of coats and carseats and wet swim suits and all of that because, you guys, Zuzu loves it SO MUCH.

She is thrilled to get in the water. She sits on the steps, listening (actually listening) to the swim coach, quivering with excitement as she waits for her turn. There are four kids in her class, so it's not the one-on-one attention she had in her private lessons last summer, but she does a great job. It just kills me that every time she goes under water, she comes up with a huge grin on her face.

Toward the end of her first lesson, they had the opportunity to swim freestyle across a section of the pool. The coach walked with them and helped redirect them if they got off-course. She held one little girl's sides to help her get across. When she asked Zuzu if she'd like her to hold onto her, Zuzu said with great confidence, "No, I can do it myself!" and flung herself face-first into the water with glee.

After the lesson, the coach came up to me and commented on what a strong swimmer Zuzu is and said that she did so well that she should have no problem passing into the next level at the end of class.

I was grinning as big as Zuzu.

Is there anything that feels better than hearing someone praise your kid? It's better than a compliment for yourself.

It's like sharing the secret that you hold in your heart all the time--that your kid is the awesomest and the best and the cutest and the smartest and they just need the right place and the right guidance to let them shine and be fully themselves.

And when someone else sees that and recognizes it and articulates it? It. Is. Awesome.

I just felt so proud of her, so proud of the way she is fearless and excited in the water. I marvel at the way swimming is something that truly seems to come naturally to her--all we've done is try to foster the delight that she's had literally since the day she was born.

(In those early days home from the hospital, she loved baths so much--her first smile was in a baby bathtub on our kitchen counter--but I started to dread giving them to her because she would SCREAM when they were over--no matter how warm the towel or how soothing the lotion, girlfriend wanted back in the water!)

So now I'll trade in my relaxing Saturday mornings to sit in an uncomfortable chair, wearing too many clothes for the indoor air temperature, breathing in the humidity and chlorine, because I want to watch my girl splashing gleefully in the water.

Like legions of parents who sit huddled under umbrellas in lawnchairs in freezing temperatures, or who fan themselves listlessly in the blazing sun as their thighs melt into outdoor bleachers, or whose ears ring from listening to squeaky shoes and loud buzzers in high school gyms that have terrible acoustics and smell like dirty wrestling mats, something that I never thought I wanted to do on a Saturday morning has somehow become a highlight of my week.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Christmas Redux, Part III: Traveling

We left St. Louis the day after Christmas to set off on our trek across Missouri and Kansas. Aside from the binky incident, our time in the car was blessedly uneventful, but we were busy. (Speaking of the Yucky Binky, I took Cousin Amanda's advice and took Cooper to the vet to get his butt squeezed (anal glands expressed) before we headed to Kansas. The vet tech who took care of him was very nice and declared that his glands were "Really thick and full." gag-gag-gag.

Butt juice aside, here are some of the highlights.

A conversation with Zuzu the day after Christmas:

Me: It doesn't sound like you're using a kind voice to talk to your sister.

Zuzu: Well, Elsa isn't here anymore so she can't tell Santa.

* * *

In the two days we stayed with my in-laws, Cooper peed on the carpet, and ate double his allotted food as well as David's parents' dog's food and a bunch of people food scraps he was not supposed to have. This resulted in him vomiting four times. He also stole a cinnamon roll right out of David's mom's hand, and another one off of Coco's high chair tray, so he was basically following Zuzu's logic (Elsa the Tattling Elf is gone, so eff you all).

* * *

Cooper had a vet visit that cost a million dollars because we ran a bunch of blood tests to find out if he has diabetes or kidney issues causing the peeing in the house.

No diabetes, thankfully. He's just fat because he steals cinnamon rolls.

His kidney numbers came back on the high end of normal, though, so we're shifting him to a low-sodium diet.

* * *

The girls had so much fun playing with their cousins. The weather was nice enough that they could play outside so they had some time at a park while we were in Kansas and got to play outside when we had family Christmas at my aunt Tammi's. They definitely get wild, but they have a great time together with minimal need for Peace Talks.

* * *

I struggled a little bit not just with missing Eliza, because that's all the time, but more with feeling like she was completely forgotten by everyone else. But my cousin Amanda gave me three ornaments, one for each girl, and it meant so much to me to see Eliza remembered in a visible and tangible way.

* * *

Crafty Cousin Amanda also got me a shirt with the message "This Wine is Making Me Awesome" on it and it's one of my favorite Christmas gifts!

That tagline went well with the sampler I painstakingly cross-stitched for my mom: JOLLIEST BUNCH OF ASSHOLES THIS SIDE OF THE NUTHOUSE.

It's a quote from her favorite Christmas movie (Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase) and also an excellent caption for virtually any family photo we take.

* * *

On NYE, we went out to my aunt's house to eat and play dominoes and let the little girls run wild. They had a good time playing and stayed up way past their bedtime (we were there until 10:00pm). When we got home, we discovered that Cooper had managed to drag a bag down off the dining room table and get into a container of beef jerky that had a plastic screw-top lid. He ate the entire thing, then washed them down with a package of birthday cake Oreo cookies. So much for his low-sodium diet!

He was so stuffed that his stomach was distended and he looked like he was about to pop. I was freaking out because I figured at best he'd be puking all night and at worst the salt in his system would send him into kidney failure.

We crated him for the night to keep the barf off the carpet and put a big bowl of water in with him to help him flush the salt. I was tossing and turning all night, worrying about him and hearing him slurping up water. The next morning he hadn't barfed at all, he peed about a gallon when I let him outside, and pooped twice. Then he seemed to be feeling fine.

I'm calling it his last hurrah of 2016, as he must have known that 2017 would bring him a new diet and exercise regimen.

* * *

The girls have done a lot of singing this Christmas season, but I always want to remember how Coco sang the ABC's. Of course, when I tried to video her, she didn't perform it the way she usually does. I'll have to try and capture it again soon. It goes like this: "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I J, K, ELLA LELLO PEE, COO, R, S, T, U, BEE, DUBERRY, X, Y, AND Z!"

* * *

My favorite gifts this Christmas? Tickets to Rent when it comes in May, Aveda hair products, a cute pair of earrings I might have hint-texted to David, the Hamilton biography that inspired the musical, and Hamilton: The Revolution which is all about the musical.

Of course, my MOST favorites were the gifts the girls chose for me when they went "shopping" at our friends' church in Kansas City: Coco selected red fuzzy gloves, and two jeweled broaches. One is shaped like a rose and the other is a silver bow with jingle bells on it. Zuzu got me a set of two square plates with gingerbread men on them and a larger square serving plate. They also made us candle holders at school by mod-podging tissue paper on small glass votive holders. Treasures, all!

Also funny was the ornament Zuzu selected for David. She'd told me it was baseball, but I didn't expect it to be a KC Royals ornament! Cracked us up. She knew it was baseball, but didn't quite get that it was for the wrong team. Of course it will be lovingly and prominently displayed every year, just like the grandma ornament I once got for my dad.

* * *

I got ornaments for the girls this year and tried to commemorate something about them for 2016. Zuzu was easy--she got a mermaid ornament. Coco was a little more challenging, but I ended up getting her a pink baby stroller ornament. It's probably intended for new babies, but it will always remind me of the circles she makes around our house pushing her little pink stroller!

* * *

And that wraps up the Holidays 2016. Back to the new year!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Christmas Redux, Part II: Christmas Morning

It was actually Coco who woke up first on Christmas morning, and we woke Zuzu up together at 7:30am, which was lovely. I was able to brush my teeth and make coffee before the girls came downstairs! Zuzu was easy to wake and they were so sweet sitting together at the top of the stairs as we’d discussed the night before—I want to make it a tradition to take their picture there each Christmas morning, with their pjs and bedhead and sleepy baby faces.

Zuzu made us laugh because her first comment was that Santa hadn’t filled her stocking with candy. There was candy down in her stocking, but she had evidently had a very specific expectation of what it would look like (perhaps candy canes and lollipops spilling out of it?) and Santa’s presentation did not meet her expectations. But she was thrilled with what Santa brought her.

Maybe I overthink Christmas gifts, but I always want to get them things that will make Christmas feel magical and abundant, the way I remember it when I was a kid, but I also don’t want to get them too much—I don’t want it to be all about the stuff, I don’t want us to fill our house with loads of crappy toys that the girls don’t play with.  So I tried to strike that balance. Santa brought doll bunk beds (more info on those later)  as a joint gift for them to share, and then each of them got three wrapped gifts from Santa. Coco got Peppa Pig figurines, the new Oliver Jeffers book, and a new baby stroller. Zuzu slid over to the nice list just in time to get PJ Masks figurines, Barack Obama’s book Of Thee I Sing, and her most coveted gift—Princess Elena and Isabel dolls. He also brought matching pajamas for the girls that say “Little Girl, Big Dreams” on the front (and which I happen to know that Mrs. Claus selected for them before the election and then shed tears over after).

On Eliza’s birthday, I took the girls with me to Target to get shoes and toys for a family that a group at my university had adopted for Christmas. We were buying shoes and toys for an 11-year old boy and a 4 year old girl, so I let Zuzu choose the toy and she picked this set of two dolls based on some cartoon. Then she talked about how much SHE wanted that Elena and Isabel. In fact, when I asked her on Christmas Eve what gift she hoped most to get from Santa (a dangerous question, in retrospect), that’s what she said. Fortunately, Santa came through.

She was adorably astonished and appreciative of the gifts Santa brought. She said, “Santa even knew what I liked that wasn’t on my list!” She hadn’t asked for the PJ Masks characters, but she was pretty excited about them.

I was pretty excited about both books—they are both fabulous.

Another thing Santa picked up when swinging through the dollar spot at Target were these big rolled up maps of the US and the continents that are made to color. This was such a hit, as the girls spent a huge part of the day yesterday and all morning this morning happily coloring with their new markers, all spread out on the living room floor working on these big posters.

I was pleased that Zuzu liked the skirt we gave her. She also liked the magnet game we got for her. Coco was delighted with the rainbow umbrella that Zuzu wrapped up (and offered tremendous amount of unsolicited assistance unwrapping) for her, and Zuzu got really into the set of Shrinky Dinks that Coco wrapped and gifted to her. On a whim, I picked up a magnetic hour glass and gave it to both of them and they were pretty into it, too.  Another big hit was the cash register that David’s aunt sent for them. The kindergarteners at Zuzu’s school had a bake sale the week before Christmas break and Zuzu has been playing bake sale ever since, so I knew a cash register would be a big hit. Of course, David’s aunt selected the Cadillac of children’s cash registers, so it is a real working calculator with a scanner that beeps, a credit card slide that beeps, and a microphone that amplifies your voice and has that terrible squeaky feedback noise, just like the Kmart announcements from back in the day.

(By the end of the night, Coco was sneaking over to the cash register to yell “Poopoo Butt!” into the microphone, in the ultimate act of two-year-old naughty words.)

My parents saved most of their gifts for Christmas at their house, which was on Thursday after Christmas when when my brother and his wife (Uncle Buck and Auntie Jo) got to town, but they did bring up a cute little wooden craft table that’s perfect for the girls since they are really into drawing and coloring these days. 

By the end of the day, both girls were worn out. Coco asked to go back to bed at 10:30am, and lay in her crib for about 30 minutes before yelling for us to free her. She took a solid afternoon nap, though, and was ready for bed at her normal time. In our version of a Christmas miracle, Zuzu actually put herself to bed about 8:30pm!

It was really a pretty delightful day. The girls and I stayed in our pajamas all day long. We all spent the afternoon coloring and reading or playing with new toys. David fixed another fantastic dinner (Zuzu seriously couldn’t stop raving about the pasta with butter and parm that she was served, which cracked us all up: “I just LOVE this pasta! Do you love it, Coco? This dinner is my favorite! I just LOVE it!”

Eliza's stocking still makes me sad on Christmas morning, but I think I'm going to handle it next year by putting an ornament in it. For the past few years, I've participated in an ornament exchange with other BLMs, and each year I've received a beautiful ornament to commemorate Eliza. Although I always open the ornament and share a photo on IG, I think that next year instead of hanging it on the tree, I'll put it in her stocking after opening it. On Christmas morning, the girls can pull it out of Eliza's stocking and hang it on the tree, and it will be a small and happy way to acknowledge their sister.


After five Christmases of pretty heavy grief, this one was an excellent respite. It was such a lovely, easy day. We hung out, watched TV, and just enjoyed doing nothing. As sad as I am to say good-bye to the baby days, I’m also reminding myself that we have much to look forward to the years of doing puzzles and reading novels and seeing movies and having Christmas evolve with our family. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Christmas Redux, Part I

I felt better this Christmas than I have since 2010.  Some of it undoubtedly had to with the inevitable passage of time. The distance of six years gives you that breathing room I talked about before—which sometimes feels sad, but also is a relief.

A recap:

December 2010 was a black hole of misery I can barely remember. I know I didn't want to open gifts or acknowledge the holiday at all. I also know my parents gave me an old school Kindle because I read a lot of books on it in during that miserable winter, but otherwise the whole thing is pretty hazy since I dropped out of life on December 6th.

2011 we skipped out on Christmas on purpose and ran away to Mexico, where we basically ignored the holiday all together. This caused some family strife with some of my in-laws that we’ve buried under the rug in the way of moderately dysfunctional families around the holidays. It was still a really, really hard Christmas. We missed Eliza so desperately, and the pain was raw and fresh with the first anniversary of her loss in December. Also, I was still in my first trimester with the Deuce (now Zuzu) and was nauseated, tired, and fearful in addition to being really effing sad.

2012 was Zuzu’s first Christmas, and it was comparatively happy, but it was also the first Christmas we had without David’s grandpa, which was very sad. I know Eliza wouldn’t have remembered him, but it was hard to know that we wouldn’t even have pictures of David and his grandpa with our kids, and as happy as we were to have Zuzu, it felt like our whole life was off-schedule and off-kilter. Christmas was a reminder of all the dreams we’d lost in the past two years.

2013 we were all not feeling well, (David and I both had low grade fevers on Christmas day) and although we had an offer on our house, we still hadn’t closed on it, so the stress (and expenses) were high. I was also not feeling well because I was about 8 weeks pregnant with Coco. We were thrilled, but also shocked by the unexpected timing, and, of course, there was lots of anxiety accompanying our excitement, so the holiday was pretty exhausting.

2014 was Coco’s first Christmas and it was a pretty good one. We did the Midwest driving tour with 5-month-old Coco and 2-and-a-half-year-old Zuzu and the whole thing kind of wore us out. Also, I tried potty-training Zuzu while we were at home, and it was a complete disaster.

2015 was a difficult December. The girls were fine, but David’s grandma was dying and he was spending time with her in Branson pretty much every weekend in November and December. She didn’t much feel up to visits from the girls, so I was single-parenting, especially in December when he was gone for a couple of weeks as she entered hospice care. His grandma passed away right before Christmas, so our usual travel schedule changed. We gathered with David’s family for her memorial before Christmas and our entire holiday break was spent planning her memorial and then taking care of all of the logistics related to the sale of her house and estate. We did celebrate Christmas here with the girls, but overall It was a tiring and sad month.

This Christmas felt happier and certainly more restful than years previous. The passage of time helps, the health of our family is of course most important. It helps, too, that the girls are at such a fun age, really excited about Santa, super enthusiastic about gift wrapping, advent calendars, and BABY JESUS and thrilled to watch David’s favorite Christmas shows.

A (not really quick) rundown of our pre-Christmas festivities:

I really try to limit the amount of sugar my kids eat, and it hasn’t been hard to do because Zuzu doesn’t really care for sweet treats. Unlike her sister, Coco has a major sweet tooth and is really into “clock-click” (chocolate). She has requested lots of Christmas treats, and really knows how to work Grammy and Bops with her negotiations (“Just a yittle bit” or “Just ONE mo-ah” with one pudgy little finger held up). Zuzu, meanwhile, could live off of Life cereal but doesn’t care for chocolate or other sweets. Then Grammy brought homemade Christmas cookies sweetened with vanilla and almond extract. They were Zuzu’s favorite treat EVER. I sort of lost track because Zuzu quickly realized if she asked each grown-up separately for one cookie, they’d probably all say yes. She must have eaten about half a dozen for lunch on Christmas Eve. #qualityparenting

My parents came up a couple of days before Christmas and Zuzu was so excited she woke up at 6:30am the morning they arrived (even though they didn’t get in until 1:30pm). We took the girls to see Disney’s Moana that morning, which was really cute. Zuzu enjoyed it, but it didn’t hold Coco’s interest and she got pretty loud and whiny. Next time we’ll bring the binky, even though I’m somewhat embarrassed about the fact that my two and a half year old still has a binky (it’s supposed to be just for bedtime, car rides, and recovery from insult or injury) so I rarely let her have it outside the house or car.

The next day we all had tickets to go see the Repertory Theatre’s children show A Gnome for Christmas. It was very cute, and the short running time combined with our front-row seats and live actors held Coco’s interest.

That afternoon, David and I left the girls with my parents and went out to see the movie Manchester by the Sea. It was great. And completely devastating. A huge grief trigger, even though I knew the movie was about grief (you can see as much from the preview). I thought it was well done, but Sarah described it as crushing and that’s an apt description as any. Funnily enough, a friend of mine and fellow BLM had e-mailed me the night before warning me that the movie had been a big grief trigger for her, but I didn’t see the e-mail until I’d returned from the show. I’m not sorry I saw it, but it was definitely not a light-hearted or uplifting date night.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Zuzu woke again at 6:30am and was just “So excited that it’s Christmas Eve time!” We had a pretty lazy day (in the best way) until we got ready to go 4:00pm church service. (We’ve been attending a new to us church that is liberal and progressive and very active in social justice, and it’s been good.)

It’s been a real challenge to get Zuzu to wear outfits that I select—it doesn’t seem to really matter what the outfit is, if she doesn’t choose the entire ensemble herself, it’s completely unacceptable. But we got to church with everyone wearing what I wanted them to wear. We also brought an extra person in the form of the baby Jesus from our Catholic neighbor’s outdoor nativity scene. Our neighbor goes all out for Christmas and her home is beautifully decorated inside and out. She always waits to put baby Jesus in the manger until it gets dark on Christmas Eve, and the last couple of years she has let Zuzu have the honor of placing the baby in the manger. She brought Baby Jesus over earlier in the day, and we told Zuzu that she could put him in the manger after we got home from church. But she decided that Baby Jesus should go to church with us. So that’s how we ended up wrapping a heavy, hard plastic figurine of the baby Jesus with a man face and creepy eyes and “waddling cloths” that looked like a loin cloth in one of our baby blankest and carrying him to church with us.

I figured that this wasn’t that big of a deal—wrapped up in the blanket, he looked pretty much like any other swaddled baby doll.

We were cutting it close to start time when we arrived at church and the place was packed. There were a few extra chairs open in the first two rows, so we ended up in the very front of the church. I actually like it better up front because I think it keeps the girls’ attention—they love the band and the choir. When we stood up to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Zuzu surprised us all by lifting the baby Jesus up above her head, swaying in the aisle. She was so serious and intense about singing to this particular Baby Jesus. It was very cute.

There were a couple of small scuffles. Zuzu was tired so she wanted to curl up on a lap, but as soon as she’d feel herself getting sleepy, she’d jump up and start grooving in the aisle again. There was a small fight over my lap, which I broke up with the bribe of fruit snacks, but they stayed pretty quiet. There was one squabble over the Baby Jesus that resulted in Coco yelling, “MY BABY JESUS!” but it seemed relatively appropriate for a Christmas service. If only Zuzu had followed it up with a “Hallelujah!” instead of “NO! MY BABY JESUS!”

After church, David cooked a fantastic meal and watched Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol with the girls and my dad while my mom and I cleaned up the kitchen and made an egg bake and coffee cake for breakfast the next morning.


I was worried that Zuzu would continue her super early morning streak. She’d gone from waking reluctantly at 7:00am when I got her up for school to jumping out of bed at 6:30, fueled by Christmas excitement. Fortunately, two days of early mornings and no naps finally caught up with her, so though she woke up once close to 5:00am and asked David if it was morning, she believed him when he said it was two more hours before Christmas.

Friday, January 6, 2017

This place could be beautiful, right?

I read this poem several weeks ago, and it's one that is still sticking around in my mind. I sent it to a friend who has recently become sober, and it's one of those poems that I keep coming back to as we face a shifting political climate (I'm still having a hard time listening to NPR like I used to...). 

"Good Bones" by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.


***

Is it depressing or hopeful? 

(Maybe depends on your opinion of realtors?)

I read it differently depending on the day, but I think I mostly try to feel hopeful about it. I mean, "Life is short and the world / is at least half terrible" and maybe we are living in a shithole that's going to sink under the sea when global warming melts all the ice caps in 50 years, and I'm trying to package that up to sell it to my kids as their future, but I'm optimistic about future generations (remember, the millennials almost all voted blue). 

So I still think, yeah, "You could make this place beautiful."


Here's to making things beautiful in 2017.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Resolved.

I like new year's resolutions. Do I always keep them? Nope. But here are a bunch of things I'm currently working on:

1. Read 50 books. 

I got so close last year. I know I can do this.

2. Drink 4 big cups of water a day.

Given the size of my cup, this should come out to the recommended 64 ounces. I drank tons of water when I was breastfeeding, but I was also thirsty all the time. Now I'm just not as thirsty and I really have to make an effort to drink water. So I'm going to make more of an effort--starting by guzzling a glass of water first thing in the morning. I just need to make it a habit.

3. Yoga.

I need to make a financial commitment to this--as in, buy a class card at a yoga studio and go once a week. But until I do that, I'm committing to Adriene's 31 days of yoga and doing it EVERY DAY in January.

4. Spending freeze.

I'm currently on a spending freeze. It's only the 21-day freeze that I've done before, but I know that it has a carry over effect, and in general I want to be more thoughtful and deliberate in my spending. I'm trying not to buy "disposable" clothing, to buy more second hand things (for myself and the girls), and to only buy what we really need or really love. I'm dealing with this by not going to the store (you know the one I mean... Target...) at all and just making a list of things I want to buy. Will I buy them all after the spending freeze ends? No. Or hopefully not. But I can still satisfy the impulse by making my list. (Things currently on the non-essentials list that I will probably actually purchase at some point but don't have to have right this minute: another oil diffuser, another travel coffee mug, a container for jiffy pancake mix that fits with my flour/sugar containers).

5. Back up photos and blog writing.

I'm not great about this... I don't really get how the cloud works, and my phone gets backed up by my computer and... Anyway. I have an external hard drive and I back things up every few months, but I should try to do it more regularly.

6. Write.

The book project I mentioned before, but also on the blog. I want to go back to using this blog as more of a journal, so I hope to post more frequently even when I have nothing to write about except what we did over a weekend. I know those records will be precious to me one day, so I want to do more of that writing. My goal is to write six days a week, at least 300 words a day, either on the blog or on the book.

7. Reach out.

This is my big, vague goal. It's related to the idea of saying "yes" to things. I'm just finally at a place where I have the emotional energy to do more stuff. I want to participate in social justice groups and do what I can to make a difference in things that matter to me.

8. Take more videos.

I take a zillion photos, but I want to make more videos. I used to not do this because it filled up the memory on my phone so fast, but I have more memory now, and I have a separate video camera that is small and convenient but I rarely think about it. So I'm going to try to video the girls at least once a week and upload it to YouTube. I have to figure out how to upload to YouTube from the video camera, though... Ugh. I need everything to be wireless and easy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Back to School... Almost

Today was our first day back to the regular routine. Or, it was supposed to be.

I set my alarm for 6:45am. We've been getting up around 8:00am, so this was going to be an adjustment. And it was. I hit snooze. Then I hit snooze again.

Then I woke up at 7:43am.

Evidently I'd just turned the alarm completely off.

So I rushed the girls up and out of bed, promising them "Breakfast in the car!" as a super-special treat. It's about a 15-minute drive to the girls' school and they are supposed to be there by 8:30am. My girls like to get there a bit earlier so they have more outdoor playtime, but it was drizzly today so I figured they weren't missing anything and we were right on schedule to make it there by 8:26am.

Just as I'd gotten everyone bundled up and ready to go, I reached for my keys and realized they were not on their hook. (We took David's car on our holiday tour of the midwest, so I haven't driven my car since before Christmas.)

I called David because I had a sinking feeling they were in his car (and he was already at work). But he checked and they weren't there. I called my mom, but she hadn't found them at her house. So I kept searching all the likely places, but I knew they weren't in my house.

I sat the girls down in the kitchen to eat their breakfast and kept searching. I had that sweaty yucky feeling of being late and was just glad that I don't have to be back at work until next week! I ran upstairs and looked everywhere I could think they might be. No luck.

Finally, I retraced my steps from the day we left. I'd run back to lock the door after everyone was in the car. I'd looked out in the alley and saw David in our car talking to the neighbor. I thought the neighbor wanted to pull into his driveway (which our car was blocking), so I rushed to my car, unlocked it and grabbed my sunglasses, then hopped in the car with David and the girls.

And sure enough, I found my keys.

In the ignition of my car.

Where they had been sitting for a week.

Now, I do drive a ten year old Honda with two car seats and a zillion miles, but I still want to take this as a sign that the world just might be more good than bad.

Anyway, I ran back inside, called the school to let them know we were on our way but we'd be a few minutes late, got the girls bundled up again in their coats, and loaded them up in the car.

Then I turned the key in the ignition and... nothing.

My car was completely dead. No lights at all.

So I softly bashed my head against the steering wheel and then called the school to let them know we probably weren't going to make it at all today.

(Zuzu was very concerned that her teachers would miss her, which was really sweet and also made me laugh.)

It was 9:00am by the time a neighbor came over to help me jumpstart the car, and then the battery pack we were using needed to be recharged, so basically I never should have gotten out of bed today.

Oh--and David moved his truck yesterday so it wouldn't get ticketed from the street cleaning and then our next door neighbor called me this morning to remind me that TODAY is street cleaning day. So I ran out and moved the truck. We can't keep track of anything around here (and D even uses a reminder on his phone to tell him to move the truck--I don't know what's going on with that).

Another stay-at-home day for the girls isn't the worst idea in the world--they are both fighting colds and I've got some congestion going on as well, so we are just taking it easy and starting real life tomorrow instead of today. We ended up having an impromptu playdate with the son of the neighbor who tried to help me start the car, and as soon as I finish this, I'll tackle that laundry pile downstairs. I may need another cup of coffee though...

2017, so far you are proving to be a bit of a challenge! I think we're up for it, though. We just need an extra day to prepare.


Monday, December 26, 2016

2016: Year in Review

Every year I think maybe I'm done with this, and yet, here we go again...

If you're feeling like a real stalker, or just trying to kill time with your in-laws by reading blog archives on your phone, feel free to take a look back at 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
* Successfully potty-trained a two-year-old (I can’t believe that Zuzu had only been consistently potty trained for about five months at this time last year...). And let’s be real: it was NOTHING I did. The secret of potty training is that the kid decides. And some kids are more cooperative than others in this area…
* Flew in an airplane with both kids on a family vacation.
* Joined a book club!

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Short answer? Not so much and yes, of course.
Goals for 2016:
Read 50 books for fun.
Got to 44. Not terrible, but I think I could have done better.

Write (besides blog posts). More specifically, draft an academic article and write at least three other things non-related to academia--fiction or creative nonfiction.
Ok, this goal setting is making me feel shitty. I did draft an academic article, and then I gave up on it because my argument seemed simple and obvious. It would have earned an A in an undergraduate (or maybe even graduate) class, but it’s not exactly publication material. Sigh. I did do a lot of writing of other stuff, but I want to be more focused.

Do something active 2 times a week (minimum).
I kicked ass at this at the start of the year when I was attending barre classes on the regular. I slacked over the summer, then picked it back up in fall when I started working out with a student trainer again. Now that’s over and I’m really going to make an effort to do more yoga, but it’s hard to fight the desire to do nothing.

Get your shit together when it comes to photos--order books, order prints, get organized.
Did some of this, but not enough! Dang. I need a personal assistant to take care of that stuff for me. There's probably a service of someone who will put your photos and videos in some kind of organized product for you... Anyone? Anyone?

Goals for 2017:
Reach Out. I have spent a lot of time turning inward for the past six years, and I think it’s time to be more social and do more stuff, particularly becoming involved in causes and issues that I care about.

Write.
I’ve blogged before about the possibility of writing a book about Eliza. I think I’m scared of writing something that will never measure up to how much I love her and will face rejection and criticism. AND YET it feels important and like I'll always be sorry if I don't do it. So I’m going to take the pages of writing (I have more than 30,000 words now!) and I’m going to write a little more and I’m going to turn it into the shape/form of a book. And then I’m going to figure out what happens after that.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My friend Natalie had a baby boy this summer (love ya, Petey!). A couple of BLMs I follow on IG had rainbow babies (yay!). (And I look forward to meeting my new little niece in 2017!)

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Also no. That’s a relief. 

5. What countries did you visit?
Stayed in the U.S., but visited California (heart eyes for Lake Tahoe), Colorado, and Minnesota.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
More time to read for fun. A new floor lamp for my living room. New light fixtures and curtains in my kitchen. Nothing really important.

7. What dates from 2016 will remained etched upon your memory?
July 2016 was when my 23-month-old baby decided to stop nursing. Bittersweet!
Halloween 2016 was the first day that my 26-month-old baby wore big girl panties all day long (and she didn’t have an accident!). I still can't believe how easy she was when I think about what we went through with Zuzu at this same age...

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I became chair of my department at work and while I swear I haven’t let the power go to my head, I discovered that there are some things I like about being in charge. (Also some things I don’t like, but that’s an answer to a different question.)

9. What was your biggest failure?
Well, I failed to meet most of my new year's resolutions, so there’s that. Also, pushing Zuzu into organized sports before she was ready. We changed course early on so it wasn’t that big of a deal, and I guess you never know until you try, but we’re going to wait another year--or two--before we mess with that stuff again.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I think I canceled class one time for illness, but otherwise I had a really healthy year (knock on wood…). Zuzu's bout of HSP was enough illness/injury for all of us. Fortunately, her bloodwork and urinalysis at the last of our three follow-up appointments were all clear, so her doctor has declared her condition Resolved. He doesn't think we'll have any further complications, so that's an enormous relief.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Plane tickets to Colorado and California and Minneapolis. Private swimming lessons for Zuzu. Also, Ugg boots. I waffled over them for years because I still they’re kind of ridiculous looking and would I really wear them enough to justify the price? But then I pulled the trigger way back in July during Nordstrom’s semi-annual sale, and holy crap. My weekend uniform includes ridiculous looking boots and my feet have never been warmer or cozier. Who cares if they look like astronaut boots wearing sweaters?

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Hillary Clinton. Michelle Obama. The few friends and family who continue to reach out to us on Eliza’s birthday, knowing that the day is still really hard for us and always will be. A text seems like a small thing, but to a bereaved parent, even six or ten or twenty years later, it's such a big thing that you remembered. (If you're reading this and that was you, THANK YOU again. It means so much to me.)

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Much to my dismay, my answer here is the same as last year. I can’t believe this is real life.
First name rhymes with Ronald, last name rhymes with Hump. He's on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, you guys. He made fun of a disabled person on live television. He settled a lawsuit for screwing over people who attended his pseudo-university and he won't release his tax records... I still can't even.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Montessori Preschool and Toddler House for the Special Snowflakes in our lives

15. What did you get really excited about?
Getting season tickets to the Fox for our anniversary gift to each other in anticipation of seeing Hamilton next year.

16. What song will always remind you of 2016?
The whole soundtrack to Hamilton and also “Five Little Pumpkins” as performed by Zuzu.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder? My holidays were happier, but overall I'm sadder. I’m so sad about the outcome of the election--not just because our country has elected a leader who has been openly hateful, rude, and misogynistic, but because I’m really worried about what his policies and supreme court appointments will look like, and how they will have an impact on my children’s future. I’m scared about the environmental impact from people who deny the reality of human influence on climate change, about limitations of women's rights to reproductive choices from people who don't trust a woman and her health-care provider to make the best and most responsible choice, and about continued access to affordable healthcare for people who don't prioritize moral good above making money. And I’m really concerned about basic rights and personal safety for immigrants, minorities, and my LGBTQ friends and family members.
- thinner or fatter?  thinner (I’ve finally lost a few pregnancy pounds that my body holds onto while breastfeeding, and working out with my student Personal Trainer didn’t hurt either. Also I lost my appetite after the election and barely ate anything for a couple of weeks…)
- richer or poorer?  Poorer. Special Snowflake tuition times two is a huge percentage of my take-home salary. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wow, sadder and poorer. Thanks, 2016.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Exercise/yoga

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Yelling/raising my voice at my kids

20. How did you spend Christmas?
With my parents at our house, then with my brother and his wife and my parents at my parents' house, also with my Papa and my dad's siblings and my cousins at my aunt Tammi's.

21. Did you fall in love in 2016?
With Ugg boots, Lake Tahoe, and Minneapolis in September (also with my friend Natalie's baby Pete).

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Stranger Things. I’m looking forward to watching The Crown in 2017!

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Nope. I hate all the same people! Haha.

24. What was the best book you read?
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Between the World and Me by Te-Nehisi Coates. Both are fantastic. Powerful and devastating but also hopeful. Also Waking Up White surprised me by articulating things I hadn't fully recognized before, and deepening my understanding of the pervasive and restrictive force of white culture and privilege. 

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
Hamilton

26. What did you want and get?
New light fixtures and a biweekly cleaning service

27. What did you want and not get?
Hillary Clinton for president.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
This is hard to say because I saw so few of them... Manchester by the Sea was really moving, but it's hard to name it as a favorite since it was such a gut-punch of grief. I want to see La La Land. I love going to the movies, but we're just not in a film-going phase of life right now.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Went to dinner at Onesto and refused to share sangria with Coco, who was furious. I was 36. It feels pretty young and super old at the same time.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying [besides your first baby being alive]?
A raise that matches my increased responsibilities at work.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
Flat Shoes + Skinny Bottoms + Flowy Tops + Scarves + Maybe Some Lip Color Because Now You Are 36

32. What kept you sane?
Friends who send funny texts and link to meaningful articles and who will continue to work for political good.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Michelle Obama (did you see her in the Obama’s Christmas card photo? She’s dazzling.) I loved her Farewell to the White House interview with Oprah, too. She's fantastic.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Election 2016 and Syria. Oh, mercy. We donated here.

35. Who did you miss?
Eliza, of course, and David’s grandma Peggy as well as my grandparents who have passed.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Another new colleague in the English department—Rob is funny and weird, which is the best kind of colleague to have.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
Keep the kitchen scissors completely out of reach of four-year-olds.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
This is from "Bluebonnets," a song by Aaron Watson. I didn't listen to much country music this year (unless David has it on) but Monica told me about this song after she saw him in concert. He wrote it for his daughter, Julia, who was born prematurely and died shortly after she was born. As frustrating and sad as the end of the year felt for me, I definitely try to practice the art of gratitude each night when I tuck the girls into bed. They are growing so fast, and while I can't complain about them growing older, when too many babies are denied that privilege, I still recognize how fast it goes and how sweet these days are.

There's so much I can't explain
Such as gravity and pain
Still I remain, blindfolded and full of faith
I kissed my angel girl goodbye
Still can't help but wonder why
But I believe I'll see her again someday
So, hold 'em tender, hold 'em tight
Pray every mornin', day, and night
That God will help you raise them right
And don't you blink, don't blink
'Cause like bluebonnets in the spring
We're only here for a little while
It's beautiful and bittersweet
So make the most of every mile
So pack light and love heavy
Give it all your heart and soul
So in the end you won't regret one thing
Life is like bluebonnets in the spring

2017, may you be less politically sucky than I fear and even sweeter on the home front than 2016. Love trumps hate, no matter what.