Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reading Now...

Zuzu and I just wrapped up Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, and I think that our next chapter book is going to be Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, though I'm also considering A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I think Zuzu felt the same kinship to Ramona that I felt as a kid, and I hope she rereads the Ramona books as often as I did.

Recently, she has been into reading some of our kids poetry books. Most of them are collections from various authors, but one of her favorite poems is an excerpt from The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash.

Something that drives me crazy about kids books is when they are written to rhyme but the poetry is bad or off meter and painful to read. Ogden Nash's poetry is fantastic--he uses some made up words ("realio, trulio" and forces some funny rhymes "gyrate" rhymes with "pirate" in one poem), but it's always fun to read out loud. We liked Isabel so much that I ordered the full book (used, as it seems to be out of print) and did the same with another Ogden Nash book, The Tale of Custard the Dragon. I think Zuzu finds the poems so satisfying because they are not the Disney-fication of adventure. Isabel cuts off the head of a giant and Custard eats an entire pirate, head to wooden leg. It's a violent form of justice, but so is most preschoolers' vision of justice, right?

I recently finished listening to the audiobook The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields. It's historical fiction about Edith Wharton, and I found it fascinating. I've taught Age of Innocence by Wharton before, but I haven't read much else that she's written (aside from Ethan Frome) and this book has me eager to read The House of Mirth, so that's on my list for the summer. Before that, though, I'm reading a nonfictional biography of Wharton, so currently I'm about a hundred pages into No Gifts from Chance by Wharton scholar Shari Benstock (published in 1994). One thing that's interesting to me is that The Age of Desire focuses heavily on the relationship between Edith Wharton and the woman who served as her governess when she was young and later as her secretary and travel companion, Anna Bahlmann. The biography (so far) has not suggested that Anna Bahlmann had a significant influence on Wharton, so I was curious about why Fields would expand/invent that relationship so much. It turns out that she just felt since Anna was part of Wharton's life for so long, Fields just felt certain they must have had a more important relationship than biographers had suggested. While she was writing The Age of Desire (published in 2012), a collection of letters written from Edith to Anna was discovered, and Fields contacted the scholar editing them for publication and was able to read them and use them to help confirm what she had suspected about their lifelong friendship. (Hmmm... maybe I need to add that published collection of letters to my Edith Wharton summer reading list.)

I'm also reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. I'd heard about this book a few years ago--it explores the hyped up femininity of girly-girl pink princess culture--but it recently came back into focus for me when I heard a bit of an NPR interview with Orenstein about her new book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. (Oh, how that book could have changed Edith Wharton's life!) Girls & Sex is on my to-read list as well, but given that we are smack dab in the middle of princess mania around here, Cinderella Ate My Daughter felt like required reading for this summer.

My book club has decided on Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a local St. Louis writer) for the July meeting, and I'm super stoked about that. Additionally, I plan to read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (it was a book club pick before I joined, and was highly recommended by those who read it).

I am also looking forward to reading The After Party by Anton Disclafani. I need to get up to Subterranean Books and see if I can still pick up a signed copy. I really wanted to see Anton when she was in St. Louis on her book release tour last week, but had a conflict I couldn't reschedule. Anton was in the MFA program at Wash U when I was in the PhD program, so we were acquainted there. Although we did not know each other well, she reached out to me after Eliza died and sent me multiple notes and cards in the first couple of years, remembering Eliza on her birthday and extending her sympathy. I can't express how touched I was by that kindness, and even if I hadn't been completely taken in by The Yonahlossee Riding Club for Girls (though I was), I'd still buy everything she ever writes because I think she's a fantastic person as well as a compelling writer.

I'm also going to check out Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet. She's Stephen King's daughter-in-law and evidently writes some pretty creepy thrillers (I imagine them all discussing them around the dinner table and wish that I'd be invited over). Weirdly, I've never read a lot of Stephen King. I can remember in middle school one of my friends was reading It and I thought the clown on the cover was SO SCARY looking and I was curious about it (but also scared!) and my English teacher told me there are enough other good books in the world that I didn't need to be reading Stephen King right now. My parents had a few Stephen King paperbacks on the upstairs bookcase, but I remember my mom telling me that my dad was freaked out after reading Pet Cemetery, and I think that I decided any book that scared my dad was going to be WAY too scary for me. I do really like Stephen King's book On Writing, and after hearing a brief interview with his son on NPR this morning (not the one married to Kelly Braffet), I'm curious to read more of the whole family.

My tolerance for scary stuff varies these days--I liked In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, which is definitely a thriller, but I couldn't get through Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (whose other books I've enjoyed) because the premise is a woman (well, first a baby and a little girl) dying and coming back in other lives. So context is crucial for me! (Basically: all children and any animals to whom I get emotionally attached need to to remain alive, and right now World War II trauma is off the table). Josie and Jack appears to be a creepy, incestuous thriller (which makes me think of Flowers in the Attic, which I read while babysitting one summer and was so horrified and enthralled, I basically let the kid do whatever he wanted to I could get through the book (hmmm... Note that babysitting style becomes parenting style...).

My other literary read on order is Lady Susan by Jane Austen. It's the unfinished novel on which the new movie Love and Friendship is based. I can't wait to see the movie (it's babysitter worthy as far as I'm concerned!).

As I think about this reading list, I'm trying to imagine how much reading I'll get done while away from home. We are doing a fair amount of traveling this summer--at least the girls and I are (yay for the academic schedule!). We'll spend a week at my parents', a little over a week in California visiting friends and family, and another week in Branson near Table Rock Lake with my parents. Vacations with the girls definitely limit the amount of reading I get done, but I'm trying to plan what books to take and how to pack them. I had an ancient Kindle (it's more than five years old and it was the kind with the screen that doesn't glow) but it doesn't work or hold a charge anymore. I could use the kindle app on my phone, which allows me to check out electronic texts through the library (both audio and e-books) but my phone is not one with a huge screen. Or I could just take the actual books like the old-school person I really am...

I actually have nothing against reading on an electronic device, but for me personally, my recall and memory of a text is SO MUCH better if I read it on paper. It's like the process of holding the book and seeing the specific font just helps me remember the plot and characters and everything. Often, when I think back about specific moments in the text, or particular passages that were moving, I picture exactly where they were on the page and how many pages into the book. The books I read on a screen all blur together. On the other hand, audio books stand out because the different voices reading them make them memorable. Is that weird? I feel like it must be that way for everyone, but maybe it's just me.

(Speaking of which, I never got through Year of Wonders, though I thought it was well-written and interesting, because of the unease I felt knowing that the book was building up to the point where her sons die of the plague, and because the voice of the actor narrating it kind of grated on me.)

Any recommended reading for the summer that I should add to my list? Anyone else feeling conflicted about Princess culture? (I say this as I plan a Frozen themed birthday party...) Anyone else think it's normal to pack a few paperbacks in one's suitcase instead of downloading them to a screen?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Water Works

I mentioned before that Coco has not been enjoying swimming lessons. She spends the entire lesson (30 minutes) being held by me or David. We do not dunk her or splash her or force her onto her back. And yet you'd think we were torturing her.

The thing is, she's never loved the water. She and Zuzu have been taking baths together since Coco could sit up safely and securely on her own, and she is always "All done!" long before Zuzu has finished wriggling/splashing/blowing bubbles in the water.

Coco will turn two on August 7. When I look back now at the way Zuzu played in the water the summer she turned two (on June 29)--well, there's just no way:

The other day Coco got sprinkled on her head when David was watering the garden and she started crying. There's NO WAY she'd run into a fountain like that. And jumping into the water on her own? Forget about it.

I realize now that Zuzu's enthusiasm for the water might be a little unusual, but I do want Coco to feel comfortable. I had hoped that swimming lessons would do that, but trying to get a sobbing baby to realize that singing "I'm a piece of popcorn!" in the water was actually supposed to be FUN seemed to be an exercise in futility.

Things really came to a head for me last weekend. Coco was sick (Just a virus, but one that was so gross that she woke up with nose AND eyes oozing yellow gunk. I kept her home on Friday and took her to the doctor, certain she had an ear/sinus/eye infection, but nope. Just a virus.). I decided not to take her to Saturday morning swimming lessons since she obviously wasn't feeling well, so we hung out at home while Grammy and Bops watched Zuzu participate MOST enthusiastically (and overheard her coach tell the program director that Zuzu really needs to be in the class the next level up. Noted!).

Anyway, the problem materialized Sunday morning when we went to the Botanical Gardens. My dad was pushing Coco in the cart as we entered, when she suddenly burst into tears and thrashed like she was trying to escape the cart. "Wa-wah! Wa-wah!" she kept repeating urgently. A moment later I realized she was freaking out NOT because she was thirsty, but because he was pushing the stroller in the near vicinity of a fountain. And she was evidently TERRIFIED that we were going to make her swim in it.

At this point, I began rethinking swimming lessons. Were we traumatizing this baby? Did it matter if she took swimming lessons at 21 months old? Could we wait until she was older? Her tears subsided as I reassured her there would be no swimming, but she continued to announce every fountain, stream, and puddle in the gardens with trepidation, "Wa-wah!" Her panic became more of a solemn warning tone, but it was still sad.

This past weekend, I decided we were taking a different approach. David took Zuzu on out to her lesson while Coco and I got changed in the locker room (she started sobbing the moment I began to put her swim suit on her). I held her and promised her she didn't have to get in the water if she didn't want to, and we started out just sitting at the very edge of the 12" wading section of the pool. With all the other kids occupied in lessons, this part was mostly empty. Still, she sat on my lap, clinging to me and crying for daddy.

Eventually, she warmed up a little. She was willing to sit between my legs so that her feet were in the water. Then she realized she could touch and started wading while holding tightly to my hand. I walked her over to David and we sat by him on the stairs, so the water was only a few inches deep and she was safely in between us. She noticed that her class was playing with floating balls, and started asking for a ball, so I picked her up and carried her out in the water (3' deep, holding her so only her feet were in it) and she got a ball and actually tossed it and helped me chase it--reaching out her arms to grab the ball instead of clinging to me.

We took the ball and went back to the wading pool and she eventually got to where she was walking around by herself. She fell a couple of times and fussed, but when she realized she could stand back up, she kept on going, tossing the ball and chasing after it. She was even LAUGHING. It took about 30 minutes for her to warm up and enjoy herself, but I was counting it as a huge success since previously she'd spent the entire 30 minute class crying.

When Zuzu got out of class, she wanted to play a bit longer in the 3' water, so I went with her and David stayed with Coco (and her ball). She actually wanted to join us, though, so David brought her out to us and after a bit of playing, I was able to get her to perch on her bottom up on the edge and then scooch/fall into my arms! It was her version of jumping into the water, and she would laugh just like Zuzu did after making a wild leap. It was great to see her actually relax and have fun at the pool--a drastic difference from the previous two times we'd been.

It's definitely interesting to see how different these girls are. In some ways, I'm relieved that Coco is more cautious. I just want to make sure that she's not fearful around water. I definitely think that she wants to make her own way, though, so we're going to skip the formal "lessons" and continue to just have playtime for Coco while Zuzu swims with her class for the next couple of weeks.

I've called to arrange private lessons for Zuzu at an outdoor pool this summer, but I think a wading pool on our patio will be sufficient for Coco. I'm curious to see how she does at Zuzu's favorite water play parks, as I imagine we'll be doing a lot of splashing this summer.

And if Coco wants to sit in the shade with Mama and have some snacks? I can support that choice, too.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bird Brain

Where have I been for a week?

Right where I am now. Sitting in my office chair and grading papers.

I'm ALMOST finished with the grading. Grades are due tomorrow.

I've gotten nothing done today, though, because as I got here and settled in and started productively responding to e-mails and getting ready to tackle my stack of student portfolios, I looked up and saw A BIRD strolling down the hallway in front of my office.

My door was propped open with a door stop, so I knew immediately I needed to get the door to my office closed before I ended up with A BIRD trapped inside.

Here's the thing: I know birds are not vicious or scary (mama geese excepted), but when they are WILD and SCARED and TRAPPED IN A BUILDING, they are going to FLY  AROUND LIKE CRAZY and ram into things and SWOOP and then THEIR FEET ARE GOING TO GET CAUGHT IN MY HAIR and then they are going to claw out my eyes and also POOP ALL OVER ME.

This is what is going to happen. There is no AVOIDING this scenario, should I end up in a room with a bird. I have seen the future, and that is what it looks like. There is no escape.

There is only shrieking.

And so, shriek I did. And as I shrieked and gasped and leaped up from my chair, hoping to startle the bird away so that I could shut the door.

But, you guys.

When I did that, I startled ANOTHER BIRD that was already INSIDE MY OFFICE. It had apparently sauntered in without me realizing it. And it was just HANGING OUT next to my desk. Lurking. Spying on me. Biding its time until I would inadvertently startle it, at which time it would no doubt play out the scenario detailed above, ending with my eyes clawed out, my hair cut off, and blood and bird poop everywhere.

But somehow, thank the Good Lord and Baby Jesus, it flew OUT of my office door. While I screamed my ever-loving head off.

Honestly, I'm offended that no one raced up to the third floor to check on me because it must have sounded like I was being attacked. It was a genuine shriek of startled terror, followed by blood-curdling screams of a very hysterical nature, and I was left shaking, my heart racing, the back of my neck crawling with the fear of a Hitchcock-style invasion.

It was outside my office, yes. BOTH birds were now in the hallway. But then I was afraid to shut the door. Were there MORE BIRDS, lurking in my office? Waiting and watching until they found the right moment to panic, get tangled in my hair, and shit everywhere while flapping their wings and accidentally clawing my face apart? I did a cursory stomp/scream around the office to keep birds out and scare any lurking birds out of hiding, then closed the door, then called my friend and colleague whose office is down the hall.

"THERE ARE BIRDS IN THE BUILDING!!!" (This announcement preceded and followed by unintelligible screaming.)

She reacted more calmly and logically, venturing out to close classroom doors and keep the birds confined to the hallway, while I peeked cautiously out my office door, helpfully gasping and shrieking anytime a bird fluttered its wings.

At one point, I ran and called maintenance, who seemed TOTALLY UNCONCERNED. So my friend tracked down another colleague and between the two of them, they managed to catch one bird in a blanket and get it outside, while the other one observes us from the top of the window blinds in the classroom across the hall.

We (okay I was not involved at all because I won't enter the classroom where the bird currently resides because WE ALL KNOW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN) put a lure of breakfast bar crumbs on the window sill (I provided the breakfast bar) but the bird hasn't moved and I fear this coaxing plan could backfire and we could end up luring MORE BIRDS into the classroom, Hitchcock-style.

I've now consulted with two colleagues in the biology department (one of whom specializes in animal biology, although she studies tortoises, not birds) and they have a net they are going to use so they get rescue the bird because they are afraid maintenance might hurt it. They are going to let it rest first because it seems somewhat stunned and exhausted. (I KNOW THE FEELING.) They have identified it as a mourning dove, which is evidently not known for being very bright.

I'm still riding the adrenaline wave of being NEARLY ATTACKED by a BIRD IN MY OFFICE.

I have calmed down some. The reassuring presence of the biology professors was helpful. Birds are nice creatures. Birds do not want to get tangled in my hair. I just want the bird to be safe and happy and NO WHERE NEAR MY OFFICE.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Once More

Mother's Day is always tricky. This year it felt like less of an event, which is saying something. I interviewed Zuzu and then read into Zuzu's answer to number 9, which made me want to cry, but otherwise it was an okay day. Good, even. My parents were in town, and I gave my mom a Vera Bradley wallet and wristlet and keychain that my brother and I went in together on. The girls made me cute things at school and David evidently got me something that hasn't come in yet... (so mysterious!).

One really nice part of the weekend was going out to dinner on Saturday. We met up with my friend Christine and her husband and we all had pizza and then walked and got ice cream. It was a nice evening, and it felt right to spend part of the night before Mother's Day talking about Eliza and about Christine's son, Matthew.

It is no exaggeration to say that I'm not sure I could have survived the past five years without the community of baby lost mamas who became real friends. It was crucial for me to connect with mamas who were on similar timelines to me, but it also helped me a lot to talk with women who were a few years ahead in their journey. While they couldn't ever promise me that everything would be okay for me, they could give me a glimpse of what it was like to live a life that has space for sorrow and happiness both, without letting the former diminish the latter. I know that people in the early days of their grief still stumble across this blog, and I hope it's something that I can do for other people.

* * *

In keeping with Where I Am Now, I saw these questions when Cup of Jo linked them from here and decided to interview Zuzu (who will turn four in less than two months!) to see what she had to say about Mommy. I abbreviated the list slightly. (Lauren at Crumbbums also interviewed her three sons and their answers are funny, too.) Her answers are sometimes accurate (#3), sometimes flattering (#15), sometimes revealing painful truths (#12), and sometimes exactly right (#17), and sometimes bizarre (I am not sure that Zuzu has ever seen me climb a tree, but I definitely used to be pretty damn good at it...).

1. What is something your mommy always says to you?
Never pick flowers.

2. What makes mommy happy?
If I don't pick flowers.

3. What makes mommy sad?
If I don't listen.

4. How does mommy make you laugh?
Tickles me!

5. What was your mommy like as a child?

6. How old is Mommy?

7. How tall is Mommy?
one hundred

8. What is her favorite thing to do?
See Megan. (Megan is my good friend from work.)

9. What does your mommy do when you're not around?

10. What is your mommy really good at?
climbing trees

11. What is your mommy not very good at?
I don't know

12. What does your mommy do for a job?
clean up the floors

13. What is your mommy's favorite food?

14. What makes you proud of your mom?
trees (laughs)

15. If your mommy were a character, what character would she be?

16. What do you and your mommy do together?
We do our game with squares (a matching game)

17. How do you know your mommy loves you?
Because you love me!

18. Why does Mommy love Daddy?
Because you're married.

19. Where is your mommy's favorite place to go?
A party.

20. How old was your mommy when you were born?
You were grown up and you were sixteen.

* * *

My other plans for Mother's Day this year? Finish writing the final exams I'm giving tomorrow (I'm supposed to be doing that now...). Do some more laundry. Put kids to bed early and watch Trainwreck. And flip through Lovable Livable Home and map out some summer projects/plans. Not too bad for a Sunday in May.

It would have been nice to get a preview of this year's Mother's Day when I was in such a sad place in May of 2011. (The hardest part of rereading this post is seeing how hard I was working to try to give myself a pep talk.)

Or pregnant and fearful in May of 2012. (My favorite part of this post?  Why do we need a stupid day for smug people who had living babies and now demand breakfast in bed and jewelry and gift certificates on top of it.  Really?  Because your LIVE baby isn't enough?  You want PRESENTS also, you selfish wench?)

Here's what I wrote about it--and the grief trigger of rubber duckies--in May of 2013.

May 2014 (Zuzu's teeny tiny pigtails! Oh my heart.)

May 2015 (perhaps going to the Botanical Gardens is getting to be a tradition... I still think of Coco as such a baby, but her cheeks in this post are evidence that she's actually growing up fast).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Suffering and Sandwiches

Today in my poetry class, we talked about ekphrasis. That's a fancy (Greek) word for description in literature, particularly when it's a work of art being described. One of the poems we talked about was W. H. Auden's "Musee de Beaux Arts" in which he describes Bruegel's painting called Landscape and the Fall of Icarus.

this is from Wikipedia
Of course the ploughman's red shirt draws the eye to him, and then you see the shepherd behind him, looking up at the sky, but what's not as immediately obvious is the pair of legs sticking out of the ocean in the lower right corner--that's Icarus, post-wing-melting journey up to the sun. The whole idea of the poem (and the painting, I guess), is that this amazing and terrible thing has just happened--a boy with wings has fallen out of the sky!--and everybody around him just carries on with their ordinary activities.

W. H. Auden knew something of grief, as evidenced by his poem "Funeral Blues"--one of many poems I copied into a journal after Eliza died. The last stanza reads:

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

And damned if I didn't feel that way for the longest time. Stop all the clocks. This is it. Life is over.

* * *

I took the girls out for dinner tonight. David was playing a ball game and I just didn't want to fix dinner and clean it up and clean up the kitchen while being barraged by demand after demand from two tiny tyrants.

(Also, I've come to the realization that my children have extraordinarily LOUD voices. As in volume. Like, all kids can be screamy and demanding, but my kids just happen to have super loud voices, even in comparison to other kids. Coco's teacher confirmed that Coco cries SUPER LOUD and Zuzu's voice is similarly gifted in volume, plus she has no sense of lowering one's voice when someone else's ear is, say, inches away.)

In the car, we rehearsed my definition of Restaurant Manners: Quiet Voices, Listening Ears, Walking Feet.

I repeated this list of three a few times, with both girls promising they would have Restaurant Manners. As I parked and repeated the list one more time, Zuzu chirped, "AND NO RUNNING!"

I said, "Right. That's what Walking Feet means. Walking. Not running."

Zuzu replied, "AND I will be a good listener."

You can see why I had my doubts.

* * *

They were actually quite well-behaved--I think mostly because they were actually hungry. We went to McAlister's deli because kids eat for 99 cents if you eat at the restaurant. Since my kids seem to toss a coin before decided whether to wolf down a children's meal or leave us feeling like idiots for shelling out $4.99 TWICE over just to have them nibble on an apple slice, this feels like a good deal.

Zuzu ordered a PB&J, but then told me she really just wanted the bread and jelly, and could I please take off the peanutbutter. (No. And also: Whose child are you? Peanutbutter is MY LIFE and David's.)

Coco ate a few bites of her mac and cheese but was enthusiastic about her applesauce and some of Zuzu's crust. She was also enthusiastic about people-watching. As we were eating, a young woman walked past our booth on the way to the restroom. She was blond and pretty, and Coco's face lit up as she approached. She waved energetically, her little face crinkling into a smile and her fat little fist opening and closing.

The blond woman looked right past her and walked into the bathroom without acknowledging Coco at all. My heart did this kind of weird thing as Coco's face fell. It's not like it made her cry or anything--she went right back to playing with the straw in her water cup and later waved and smiled at several other people in the restaurant, who were more than enthusiastic in their responses. But her bright smile faded fast when the woman ignored her, and it physically hurt me to see it.

I had a moment of feeling angry at this woman--like can't you just acknowledge my kid, who is actually being pretty well-behaved and was politely waving at you and obviously extending a friendly greeting? Why do you have to crush her? Do we really have to let her know before she turns two that not everyone in this world is going to be nice to her, even when she tries to be nice to them? Like you're too important to freaking say HI?

And then I thought about the Auden poem we'd discussed today--not "Funeral Blues" but "Musee de Beaux Arts." The opening lines are:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along

* * *

There was a time not so long ago when I would have looked right through a baby waving at me. When I would have gone out of my way to avoid eye contact. When I would have chosen the table farthest away from the mom with two little kids--and not just because children are animals and should not be taken out in public (although I still sort of subscribe to that belief, at least on some days).

I may be able to smile at strange babies now, but I still have my moments--those families with three little stair-step girls that twist my heart up. I don't know what's going on with that blond woman. Maybe she doesn't like kids. Maybe she was preoccupied and truly didn't notice Coco's friendly wave. Maybe she just got her heartbroken or failed a final exam or bombed a job interview. Maybe she just took her umpteenth negative pregnancy test. Or, you know what? Maybe her baby died and looking at my kid makes her chest seize up.

Because that's the thing that Bruegel and Auden know about suffering. It happens while someone else is eating a sandwich. Or opening a window. Or just walking dully along. It doesn't knock the entire world off its axis. It's barely a blip on the radar. A boy falls out of the sky, and the ploughman doesn't notice and the shepherd is a few seconds too late to figure out what's going on.

One of the hardest parts about living in the aftermath of your own personal suffering is figuring out how to do it when the rest of the world is carrying on as though everything is fine. It's figuring out how to make small talk with the cashier when all you can think about is the fact that your baby died. Your life falls apart and eventually you still have to call the cable company and get your oil changed and return that pair of shoes and go out and grab lunch in a world full of other people. You have to find a way to interact with a world that just kept living its ordinary life--having its babies and eating its sandwiches and opening its windows.

* * *

I said to my students today (rather dramatically), "This. THIS. Is the worst day of someone's life. Someone out there in the world has just lost the person they care about most, or experienced a level of tragedy that has shattered them completely. And here we are, sitting in class, talking about poetry, getting ready to go to lunch, and complaining about studying for finals."

I asked them if they thought the poem invites us to accept this as a fact of life, that people would always suffer unacknowledged in the midst of ordinary activity, or if the poem asks us to change, to be aware of suffering that is too often ignored.

Blessed idealists that they are, they all thought that it was a call for awareness and action--empathy, compassion, connection. Don't just walk dully along! Pay attention to the suffering of others!

I'm not so sure. Bruegel painted that landscape sometime in the 1560s, and it doesn't seem that much has really changed since then. Children fall out of the sky to their deaths (metaphorically, for the most part) and still someone has to plow the ground and tend the sheep. How could we function if every tragedy in the world drew our attention? (And yet, how do we keep going on, ignoring the suffering that's all around us?)

Despite my ambivalence about the poem's message, I watched Coco's cute, friendly gesture get ignored and after my initial moment of being offended on behalf of my adorable cherub of a child, I checked myself, and I wondered if that blond woman at McAlister's was hurting.

I wondered if something had happened to her that made it painful for her to make eye contact with a smiling, messy-faced toddler, and I wondered if I was the only person who was paying attention.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the situation (or the poem). I mean, maybe she was just preoccupied with something inconsequential, or maybe she just doesn't like adorable kids with sticky hands and messy faces.

Or maybe she was, in fact, literally suffering while I ate my sandwich.

In which case I say to her: One breath at a time. All you do is keep going. It might not get better, but YOU will get better. Better equipped to deal with this, anyway. You'll find a way. You don't have a choice in the matter, and that's terrible and unfair and I hate it for you, but you'll find a way because you have to. I know. I know it feels like your suffering will ruin you, but ruins are the beginning of something else, and that something else that you're becoming--it won't be as terrible as you think. I promise you'll find the good again.

And in the meantime? You're in good company.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Illness Updates

Quick Update on the Spots Situation at our house:

Coco had fever on Saturday, fussy Sunday, spots on Monday. By Tuesday, she was feeling better and past the point of contagion, so she was back at school with a terrible looking spotty face.

On Monday morning, Zuzu had already left for school with David when Coco woke up and I saw her spots. We called Zuzu's school to let them know Coco had HFM and Zuzu might be contagious, but we weren't sure. I kind of expected them to have us come get Zuzu right away. But Zuzu appeared totally fine, and they just said that they'd keep an eye on her. She was great on Monday and seemed totally fine Tuesday morning as well.

Tuesday evening, David picked up Zuzu from school and she was looking kind of droopy. She came home, picked at her dinner, and when we took her temperature, she was running a fever.

David kept her home on Wednesday. Her fever didn't come back, but she was low-energy. I kept anxiously texting him from work, "Does she have sores in her mouth? Any spots yet?" Nothing popped up.

Wednesday evening, I was convinced that a red spot in the corner of her mouth was a sore. I was bracing myself for The Outbreak. I kept her home from school on Thursday.

Thursday, she had no fever, no spots, and spent a good deal of the day playing in the backyard, happily announcing to our neighbors, "I'm SICK!"

Friday she was back at school, and all seems well. So... I'm cautiously calling it and saying that HFM has made its rounds and is on its way out of our house.

(Of course, Coco woke up with a cough today, and I always think every cough is a "barking cough" so I'm fretting about that now, but I think it's entirely different.)

I'd feel much better about us being over and done with the disgusting HFM, except that my cousin's sweet little girl, Mesa, whom Zuzu played with at my parents' party last weekend, has come down with a nasty version of it. The sores are concentrated on her hands and especially her feet, which are covered with them (and painful). She barely had any contact with Coco at the party, since Coco was literally attached to me the entire time, but I guess there was enough touching/hugging among everybody that the nasty germs got transferred.

Tangentially related: I'm reading this book called Year of Wonder: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks, and I'm reading it cautiously because you know from the start that the narrator's entire famiy dies of the plague and after being overwhelmed with Sue Klebold's real-life grief, a fictional grieving mother may be too much for me to handle as Mother's Day approaches with its own triggers.

But anyway, whenever I read historical fiction that touches on disease I always marvel at the idea of living before germ theory. Can you imagine? Assuming that illness was simply the wrath of God? Or came from miasmic fumes from the cemetery? Meanwhile you do all your daily business without disposing properly of raw sewage? As a kid, I would have said that I'd love to time travel and live in the past, but now I realize that I was probably meant to exist in the time of orthodontic work, eyebrow maintenance, safety razors, and modern medicine.

Though it does NOT escape me that the great strides of modern medicine could not prevent the greatest tragedy of my life, and in some ways pregnancy still seems to be as mysterious as it was in the days of midwives and confinements. There's a lot of guesswork still going on.

Today I'm washing all the sheets and towels. I should get some sage to smudge and cleanse the house... Maybe tomorrow. For now, we're burning candles and wiping door knobs and hoping that this is the last we see of HFM. Good riddance.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

60th Birthdays!

I had all kinds of plans to document the birthday party last weekend with lots of photos. As it turns out, it is very difficult to hold a bulky camera and a sick toddler. As a result, my photos are fewer than I'd intended, but I thought I'd share these anyway...

I helped fund a kickstarter project that's a book with detailed instructions on taking photos of your kids 12 months a year. I'm working on shooting in manual mode, and this book helped with that. This attempt to capture a photo of Zuzu makes me laugh.

Coco loves when Zuzu pedals the trike and she can stand on the back. It makes everyone else nervous.

This is just before the party. You can tell Coco isn't feeling well because we've already given her the binky. (Normally, binky is reserved for bed time and carseat. When she's this miserable, it's all binky all the time.)

Trying to get a photo of the four of them was an exercise in futility. The worst offender was Bops, who was either looking away from the camera or appearing totally dazed and confused.

Once we cut the side kicks, my parents managed to both smile at the same time. Their shirts both read, "At my age, I need glasses!" Hardy-har-har.

Welcome sign. Time constraints forced me to give up on adjusting the lettering long before I was ready. I need more practice!

Cute table at the front with baby pictures of my dad and mom and scrapbooks created by their moms.

The back side of the welcome board. Do you know anyone born in 1956? Are they named Mary, Debra, Linda, Michael, James, or Robert?

You can't tell (again, I'm kicking myself for the lack of photos) but this is the front/side window. The signs read "60 is only 15 in Scrabble" and "At 60 years old, your birthday suit requires ironing."

This shot was taken at the start of the party and sort of captures the set up. There were tables along each side with those lantern lights hanging above. I didn't get a picture of the buffet spread, which was great, or the "Sweet Spot" with all the dessert treats. #photofail

My parents' friend Alfred and I were obviously taking photos of each other taking photos. Note how miserable Coco looks--this is why there's no picture of the buffet spread or Sweet Spot!

I spent most of the night like this. (That's my aunt Tammi next to us.)

This is probably a photo of Zuzu's cousin Mesa contracting HFM disease. (Sorry, Mesa!) My mom bought this castle for the girls at a garage sale that morning. As you can guess, it was a huge hit at the party.

Coco and I were heading home for the night, but I insisted on a quit group photo before we left. Of course Grammy has her eyes closed.

I ended up leaving David at home with sleeping Coco and coming back up to the party to hang out for another hour or so. It was a really fun night, and most people enjoyed themselves more than poor Coco did! We missed my brother and Jo, who were unable to come in for the weekend, but we were glad to be there to celebrate 60 years of Grammy and Bops!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Spotty Baby

It started with a fever just before my parents' birthday party. Coco had been perfectly happy all day--playing at the park with Zuzu and David in the morning while my mom and I did party prep stuff and ran to the store. She didn't want much lunch, which was weird, and she was definitely ready for a nap, but I figured she was just worn out from a relatively late night on Friday and all the outside play time. She took a good nap and woke up pleasant.

Shortly after Coco got up from her nap, I actually dozed off myself. I'd been sick Thursday with a low grade fever, still not feeling normal on Friday, and probably wasn't in top form on Saturday, either. David entertained and refereed the girls while I napped, and then I gave Zuzu a shower, got her dressed, and got in the shower myself.

David brought Coco up to get rinsed off in the shower with me, and commented that she was feeling warm. When he handed her to me, I gasped. She was burning up.

Her fever was 101.5 under her arm, so David made a run to the store for baby tylenol and my mom and I took turns cuddling her while also getting ready for the party--the little sweetie just wanted to be held and rocked.

I knew she wasn't going to be up for much at the party, but once the tylenol kicked in, she seemed to be feeling better, so we got her dressed and ready to go.

She did the cling-to-mama and hide her face thing when anyone greeted her, which I expected, but more troubling was the fact that the tylenol didn't seem to actually help her fever. We left early to take her home (putting her pajamas on before we left) and picked up children's motrin on the way. She was asleep when we got home, so I just put her to bed. David offered to stay with her, so I headed back up to the party.

Shortly after I returned home, she woke up crying. When I went upstairs to get her, she felt so hot. I stripped off her pjs and took her temperature--102.5 under her arm. We gave her Motrin and I rocked her back to sleep, but then kept her in bed with me.

The next day, she seemed to be feeling better. I'd woken up several times in the night to check on her, and around 4:00am, it was obvious that she no longer had a fever. She was a bit cranky in the morning, but nothing out of the ordinary. As I was putting her shoes on her, I noticed a little spot on her big toe and pointed it out to my mom: "Look at this! Is this a bug bite?" It sort of looked like a bite--a tiny little blister, but it didn't seem to itch or bother her.

I also noticed one--just one--on the side of her finger and wondered what kind of bugs were eating her up outside.

We drove home on Sunday--Coco was a bit fussy, but not feverish. She did seem out of sorts, though, once we were home. She was a barnacle, wanting me to hold her constantly, and I felt myself getting frustrated because I had so much unpacking and laundry to do, on top of getting organized for the week ahead.

She told me that her mouth was "owie," and I could see that she has teeth coming in, so while I didn't think that teething would cause such a high fever, I couldn't figure out what else was going on since she didn't have any other symptoms. I gave her some motrin  put her to bed early Sunday night--she went to sleep quickly--and I told David that if she had a fever in the morning, we'd need to keep her home.

The next morning she didn't have a fever. She had spots.

Sores. Blisters. Grossness. All over her little mouth. I gasped when I saw her in the crib. Then I looked at her hands. And her feet. And then--FINALLY--all the pieces came together in my head. Her hands. Her feet. Her mouth. Hand Foot Mouth Disease. (Worst name for a disease ever.)

The spots actually look better here than they do in real life. Also, she's not crying about her spots here. She's throwing a fit because I won't let her hold my phone.
Sure enough, another kid in her room at daycare picked up Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease at a birthday party and ended up spreading it at school. Evidently it's high contagious! But you can have the virus 3-6 days BEFORE you break out in spots.

Now that her fever is gone, she's no longer contagious, unless the spots are oozing (gag gag gag). But I'm still freaking out about Zuzu getting it and spreading it around HER school. I'm trying to be vigilant with the girls at home--NO KISSING! No sharing drinks! Don't hold hands!--and we notified Zuzu's school so they can keep an eye on her.

It's relatively harmless, so says everything I read, but it's obviously been causing Coco some real discomfort. She mostly ate yogurt for dinner last night and I gave her a popsicle afterward, which she seemed to enjoy but didn't finish.

Of course I googled "Can adults get hand-foot-mouth disease" and OF COURSE it's possible (but rare!).

So now we just wait it out. It can take a week for the spots to go away, and there are tiny spots spread over her legs and arms and back as well as the big yucky ones around her mouth and the not-quite-as-big but definitely noticeable ones on her hands. She's basically the most pitiful baby ever. Last night she was EXTREMELY fussy, but she was cheerful this morning, although the first thing she said to me was "owie," gesturing toward her mouth. Poor little nugget.

I had heard of Hand-Foot-Mouth before, but honestly I thought it was something that grubby people got--like ringworm. (So judgy, I know.) And really I guess that all toddlers ARE grubby people, so there you go.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Few Things

I always enjoy the weekend round-up posters that other bloggers do, but I've never really done one, I guess because I'm not that kind of blogger (the kind with a giant readership, I mean). I am, however, the kind of blogger who likes to tell people about cool stuff, so here are a few things...

* It was Shakespeare's (celebrated) birthday on April 23. No surprise I'm a fan (do people even say that? I'm a fan of Shakespeare? Seems weird.). Anyway. One of the most meaningful lines in a Shakespeare play for me comes from Antony and Cleopatra. When Antony dies, Caeser says, "The breaking of so great a thing / Should make a greater crack." When Eliza died, my world shattered, but of course the rest of the world kept moving. I spent the month of December in shock, stunned that other people were going to celebrate Christmas as though my baby weren't dead. The breaking of so great a thing should have made a greater crack. As one of my students said, "Shakespeare is pretty good, like, with words."

* I've linked this before, but if you're into Shakespeare, you should read this article about Hamlet and then listen to this episode of This American Life.

* My friend Sally just ran the London Marathon for the Stillbirth Australia Foundation in memory of her daughter, Hope. Sally's blog was one of the first I began to read after Eliza died. She was a bit ahead of me in the grief process, and she'd already had her first "rainbow baby." Her process of moving forward with her life while honoring Hope's memory gave me hope. Also if you read her blog with an Australian accent in your head, it's even more adorable.

* I can't stop with the snake oils and I've been making roller ball blends that the girls like to put on their feet at bedtime. I call it "medicine" because I want them to associate the bottles with things that aren't to play with (or drink!) and it should make them feel good. It made me laugh when Zuzu smelled some yummy potpourri and said, "Mmmm! This smells like medicine!"

* I'm really picky about shoes for the girls (by which I just mean they have be lightweight and have a super flexible sole). I love Saltwater sandals and I've bought a pair for Zuzu every year, but this year I've ordered her this pair from Stride Rite because it has a velcro closure, and Ms. Independent would prefer to be able to pull her own shoes on and off. I also got her a pair of Keen sandals for summer (ordered from because I was able to save $15), and she has these lightweight tennis shoes (hers are a bright blue, though). I told myself that she was set for summer, but then I ordered her a pair of Elsa & Anna flip flops when they were half price on Zulily. It's not summer without flip flops, right? I usually avoid character shoes (and clothes, although Grammy doesn't help me with this one), but I figure that the characters will actually be covered by her feet while she's wearing them, and she'll be super excited.

* Coco is fitting perfectly in the Keens and Saltwater sandals that Zuzu wore two years ago, but sharing shoes won't last much longer, unless they don't get much foot time--Zuzu is really hard on them! Keens are pretty tough, so they may hold up, but she literally wore holes in the last pair of Toms she had, and her tennis shoes are already really grubby.

* I'll be posting more about this, but we celebrated my mom and dad's sixtieth birthdays over the weekend! They threw themselves a double birthday party--rented out a storefront restaurant on the square, set up a huge spread of food, had plenty of booze, and invited friends to stop by. It was a great turnout and a fun evening (except that Coco wasn't feeling well). Zuzu had lemonade for the first time in her life and rode that sugar high until almost midnight (!). We are all still dealing with her hangover today.

* I've been listening to the audiobook of A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold. Her son Dylan was one of the shooters at Columbine. In some ways, it's a difficult book to listen to, particularly as Sue reads it herself. It's incredibly well-written, and she's an excellent speaker/reader, but the grief she feels is painfully vivid, and she articulates the agony of grieving her youngest son's suicide while also grappling with the shame, guilt, and horror she feels about the murders he committed. Since Dylan's death, she has devoted her life to the prevention of suicide and violence. It's an incredibly moving story of fierce love and intense sorrow, and it's brought me to tears.

* We are summer vacation planning in many ways... I'm thinking about how I want to spend the days at home with the girls (plenty of lazy days, yes, but also some scheduled plans to get us out of the house doing something besides errands), and we're making vacation plans (including Coco's first airplane flight!), and birthday party plans (I've officially lost my mind and invited two very special guests from Arendelle, who will be making an appearance!).

* Before summer gets here, I still have to make it through two more weeks of class, plus finals week, plus grading-grading-grading. It's the end of semester slump, and after being sick enough that I was out of commission on Thursday and Friday of last week, I need to kick it into gear this week.

Friday, April 22, 2016


I taught Natasha Trethewey's poem, "Myth," this semester.

I was especially struck by the way that it seemed to resonate with so many of my students, whose stories I don't really know, but who have perhaps seen more grief than I personally had when I was nineteen years old.

I wanted to write about it, and then I remembered that I wrote about this poem a couple of years ago, after reading it for the first time.

Looking back at that entry had me doing something I rarely do--trolling my own archives to see what I've been doing in month of April over the past seven (!!!!) years.

I'm quite certain now that Coco will be my last baby, so it makes this post from April of 2014 all the more poignant.

And when I look back at my pregnancy with Zuzu in April of 2012, I remember why I'm relieved to not be seriously considering another one. (Also I was recently having a conversation with a friend who's just over halfway through her first rainbow pregnancy and she was asking me how I got through and I realize that I have totally blocked the most vivid memories of anxiety and fear, and also I was seeing a therapist weekly.)

It was also in the month of April (2011), when I wrote the first version of "Violets in the Mountains," which eventually became the essay that was included in Three Minus One.

Ah, and how about April of 2010. Wasn't pregnant yet and defined "catastrophe" as nail polish on the carpet. (I mean, that is kind of a catastrophe, but obviously my perspective had shifted dramatically a year later.)

And what did I spend much of 2009 writing about? My fur babies. I love this photo series of Little Mac. We still miss her special brand of crazy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Swimming Lessons [Ongoing]

I enrolled the girls in swimming lessons. Instead of going to the amazing, swanky place where Zuzu has taken lessons the last few years, I'd decided to take them both to the YMCA. They could both get 8 weeks of lessons for same price as ONE of them having 4 weeks of lessons at our other place, so really it was a financial decision, but I'm still not positive it was the right one...

We get all checked in a the front desk (which was busy and understaffed) and then we headed down to the pool. Water-loving Zuzu was super jazzed, Coco less so. The plan was for David to do the parent/child lessons with Coco. We got her changed in the locker room and found the locations of their classes.

And we hit our first snag of the day. Zuzu wasn't on the list for her class. And her age group was full (of course). It turns out that somehow she had been enrolled in the 9:00 am class on TUESDAY instead of Saturday. I didn't know what to do because obviously Tuesday mornings were not going to work for our schedule, but the lady with the binder told me she'd figure out something, and eventually Zuzu was able to join her class, just a bit after the start time. Zuzu was totally chill about it, thank goodness.

Meanwhile, David was in the pool with Coco for the parent/child class and she spent the entire half hour sobbing and crying, "Mommy! Mommy!" Well, not quite the entire half hour. He left a few minutes early because it was obviously a waste of time and annoying for everyone else.

Zuzu, meanwhile, had a blast wading around the shallow end until she was able to join her class, and seemed to enjoy her lesson, although I stood there feeling completely exasperated as I watched the instructor CARRY her in the pool as though acclimating her to the water. The instructor was a substitute, and not the permanent instructor, so hopefully the regular instructor will actually teach her something, or at least let her practice her skills.

Obviously, I now remember why we paid so much more for swim lessons in the past--the chaos, the stink of chlorine, the noise, AND the fact that these lessons at the Y don't seem to be nearly as effective.

When class was over, we let Zuzu swim and play for a few minutes in the shallow end. Coco was perfectly content to sit on my lap (dressed in dry clothes) and watch Zuzu splash. I told myself (and David) that this was worth the cost of swim lessons alone, as Zu had SO MUCH FUN (and we don't have a Y membership, so normally she doesn't have access to an indoor pool).

But then it was time to go. We were meeting up with my friend Erin to go look to a couple of animal shelters because Erin wants to adopt a cat, and I thought Zuzu would have fun helping her choose one. Zuzu had been looking forward to it all week, so I reminded her that we'd be doing that after we went home. I gave her a 5 minute warning, a 2 minute warning, and a 1 minute warning. Then it was time to go.

(Can you predict where this story is going?)

She wouldn't get out of the water.

David had changed out of his swim trunks and I was dressed in regular clothes, so we couldn't exactly jump in after her.

Her swim coach noticed that we were telling her it was time to leave and that she was not listening, and he ended up going into the pool and literally picking her up and dragging her out.

(Here's where I was grateful for the relative chaos of the YMCA pool, because no one seemed to notice that our kid was being completely defiant and uncooperative.)

She, of course, HAS NO SHAME and thought being chased by him was great fun, and ran/swam giggling and shrieking through the water until he caught up with her and lifted her up on to the edge and I grabbed her arm and dragged her to the bathroom, after thanking him profusely while also telling her in my stern-but-still-quiet voice that her behavior was NOT okay and she does NOT get to have fun swim time after lessons next week.

Of course, she continues to give zero f*cks about disappointing adults, and her reality is only what's happening in the immediate RIGHT NOW, so this punishment won't go into effect until next swimming lessons, after which we will ALL suffer as she throws an enormous fit about losing the privilege because of the poor choice she made a week earlier.

(I've requested two new parenting books from the library because I feel like I am doing this really badly right now.)

As for Coco, I'm giving in and shaving my legs for swimming lessons next Saturday, so we'll see if she really wanted Mommy, or if she just wanted to get the eff out of the pool.

Weekends are suddenly feeling less relaxing than the work week.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Jewelry for the Dining Room

I've been wanting to replace the dining room light fixture from the moment we looked at this house. Now that we have been living here almost three years (!), I finally bought a new chandelier. I can't believe it took me this long, although it's not like we haven't worked on other house projects in the meantime...

Anyway, I was actually paralyzed by a combination of indecision and sticker shock. I know there are lights available at every price point, but I was having a hard time narrowing down a particular type or style--I like traditional! And modern! And farmhouse industrial! And midcentury modern! And art deco!

Pinterest boards helped me collect all the things I liked, but didn't really help me narrow down my choices, and when Pinterest introduced me to The Perfect Chandelier For My Life, I gleefully clicked over only to discover that it has a price tag of $36,000.00. So, no. Not so Perfect For My Life.

I e-mailed a few friends, basically asking them to choose a chandelier for me. I got encouraging, but vague responses. What? You don't want to JUST PICK the chandelier for my dining room?

Meanwhile, I kept living with my dining room light looking super ugly because it wasn't a nagging priority and you know how you get used to things in your own house and even if you don't like them, you kind of stop seeing them. Then someone new comes over and you see your house through their eyes and you think, "OMG what if she thinks I LIKE the dining chandelier and I picked it out and I think it's supposed to be hanging that high?" Or you go to someone else's house and you think, "This house looks so amazing and getting a new light fixture would TRANSFORM my dining room."

Also, it's not like we ever got to the end of the month and said to each other, "Oh, look, we have all this extra money! What could we possibly spend it on?"

And so the dining room light fixture remained.

Then my friend Monica sent me a link to some blog that had ten chandeliers for under $200.

I decided This. Was. It. I was buying a new chandelier. Even if it wasn't PERFECT, it was going to be an improvement on this situation:

Some bloggers would have done a properly styled "before" photo without the box of the new light spilling out all over the table, but I am not one of them.
Oh, that poor stunted light. Perched up there like a spider whose web spinners got stuck or something. The Nester website offers a piece advice for changing things in your house that is something like, "You can't mess up what you already hate." I hated this light, but mostly I hated the awkward height at which it had been hung.

I narrowed my favorite under-$200 chandeliers down to my two favorites, which were completely different styles (this was the other one, if you're curious). Honestly, I really like both of them, and I think either one would have looked good in my house (better than its predecessor, at least). I kept going back and forth, and then I just decided to stop weighing things like "bigger impact" against "neutral decor" and just pick the one I liked best. So, I went with my inner magpie and ordered the sparkly one. It had great reviews and it's just so... sparkly!

So many glamorous jewels!
I laughed at Zuzu's enthusiastic approval: "Oh, Mommy, it's SO BEAUTIFUL."

But it does look pretty nice, hanging out and sparkling in there.

So pretty! There's probably a setting on my camera that would photograph this better. But instead I'll just snap this with my iphone and post it on the internet.
At first I was afraid it was a little small for the room. I think a bigger one in the same style could have been overwhelming, though. And even if it is on the petite size, it still looks so much prettier than the one that was there--partly because I just prefer this style as a matter of my personal taste, but mostly because the height on the other one was so completely wrong.

Why can't I take a straight photo? Tilt head slightly to right.
(For reference, according to Google and interior design blogs, chandeliers should typically hang 30"-34" inches above the table if you have 8' ceilings.)

I love the way the crystals make their tiny rainbows, and I love the pattern that it makes on the ceiling, but mostly I love the way it looks like my dining room just got a blingy new piece of jewelry. I still haven't gotten used to it, so every time I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye, it makes me really happy.

How about some ambient lighting and wine with dinner?
I did have to assemble the entire thing, including hanging each strand of crystals, and the enclosed directions were laughably vague. It was basically a picture of each part with incomprehensible arrows showing where they were supposed to go, but no written instructions. I managed to get it figured out, though, and I kind of like the light more because I forged it with my own two hands assembled it myself.

One more BEFORE:


Heart Eyes.
Now the dining room is totally showing off and you know what they say about giving a mouse a cookie... the sort-of-beige entry way light is seeing its final days. 

Your days are numbered!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

More Adulting

I don't feel like an adult all that often. I used to feel like an adult every time I paid for something with a credit card, but that novelty wore off pretty quickly.

I definitely did NOT feel like an adult the first time I wrote a check for a significant amount of money (when buying my car). I actually felt like throwing up because I'd never, ever spent that much money at once (and no, I didn't pay for cash for the whole thing!). But now I spent nearly the equivalent of that down payment on daycare every month, so writing checks doesn't make me feel like an adult either. Sometimes it still kind of makes me want to throw up, though. :)

I think I feel most like an adult when my children hand me their snot-filled, dirty kleenex. That's the mark of a mom, right? Taking other people's snot and cheerfully putting it in your pocket.

In the spirit of Serious Adulting, David and I have been getting estate planning documents organized. This has been a long, ongoing process. It started when I was pregnant with Eliza: We're expecting our first baby! Let's get all our finances organized and in order and make a will! I started investigating estate planning during my pregnancy, but after she died I lost all interest in that sort of planning.

When Zuzu was born, we talked about it again. And when Coco was born I was like, "Okay, but seriously we need to do this."

And then David's grandma died and he was dealing with her estate in a very real way. She was well-organized and everything was mostly accounted for, but there were still a couple of uncertainties about what she really intended or would have wished to happen, and we knew that we really needed to get a will or trust created so that in the event of our deaths, things aren't made more stressful or complicated for our children.

We originally thought we'd draw up a trust (that's what D's grandparents had), but after talking  extensively with an attorney about our options, we decided it was simpler and equally effective to create a will that would then stipulate the creation of a trust upon our deaths. This way we didn't have to change ownership of accounts or assets to the trust, but in the event of our deaths, all of our assets will automatically be held in the trust until the girls come of age.

(This is SO MUCH FUN to think about, by the way.)

Actually, even though it's not particularly pleasant to contemplate your own demise, I'm someone who likes to consider alternative scenarios and think about contingency plans, so I found it very satisfying to draw up Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.

We had to think about guardians for our girls and trustees for our estate and also what we wanted to happen to our life insurance payout should all of us die together (that one was the hardest, obviously).

I researched a lot of different attorneys and solicited recommendations from friends and got a wide variety of prices quoted for drawing up these documents. In the end, we met with an attorney who went to law school (and high school) with the husband of a friend of mine. He met with us before quoting us a price and ended up giving us what I think was a really good deal because we're a young couple with not-very-many assets and we really just wanted to ensure that our daughters' futures are secure in the event that we're not here. He was extremely nice and appeared to be very competent. We just approved the drafts of the documents that he sent us, and we'll go back for the signing soon.

This has also made me (finally) get myself in gear in terms of gathering important information to keep in the fire-proof safe--bank and credit card information, birth and marriage certificates, insurance info, all that stuff that we had filed away but not gathered together in one spot.

I also wrote a letter with some information about specific wishes after death (memorial plans, cremation, who gets my jewelry, etc.). It reminded me a bit of when we had to write our own obituaries in high school and it felt very unreal, but it wasn't especially difficult. I think seeing David and his aunt dealing with his grandma's estate made me think a lot about what my wishes would be.

Anyway, none of this was particularly fun, but it is satisfying to have it done. I feel like a real adult, and like we finally accomplished something that wasn't easy to do.

Now I hope that I never have to think about it again, and I can go back to life feeling more like an overaged adolescent who is still trying to figure out when I became responsible enough to be in charge of grocery shopping and the welfare of two small children.

Have you drawn up estate planning documents? What was your impetus for doing so? Did you feel kind of smug and responsible when it was all finished? If you haven't, what's preventing you from getting it done? Did you also write a personal letter to your survivors telling them what poem you'd like read at your memorial service? What do you do with your engagement ring if you have more than one living daughter?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Girls Weekend

I went to Colorado over the weekend and met up with five friends for a whirlwind weekend trip to the mountains.

I left Coco overnight (for two nights!) for the first time ever. She did just fine, but she sure was glad to see me! (The feeling was mutual.)

I left Friday morning and got home Sunday at 6pm and it was really the right amount of time--any longer and I would have been missing the girls too much. By Sunday afternoon, I was also missing David!

One unexpected perk is that David really did become the default parent over the weekend. Since I've been home, the girls have been asking him for snacks/activities even when we are both in the room and it. is. awesome.

But back to the girls weekend... Back in January, I got a text from Monica's husband asking about scheduling a trip for Monica and her friends. He wanted to know what weekends everyone would be available and if anyone had suggestions for a location. Amazingly, everything came together quickly and the six of us were able to find a weekend in April--the first weekend Monica didn't have to be at work, and the last weekend that Lindsey was able to fly because of her pregnancy. Amy had a connection to a condo in Keystone, and with Amy and Rachel in Denver and Vail and the rest of us flying in from St. Louis, Kansas City, Little Rock, and Sacramento, we decided that Keystone was the perfect meeting point.

I arrived in Denver on Friday and met up with Monica and Mindy, whose flights got in right around the same time as mine. 

Poor Lindsey was supposed to be there, too, but had to change her flight at the last minute due to her husband's surgery schedule (performing it, not receiving it), so she ended up flying in later and taking a shuttle to meet us in Keystone.

For the first time in my entire life, I talked to the person I sat next to on the plane. It was a guy about my age (married, with kids) who is a journalist and was flying to Denver for research and we had a great conversation for the entire flight. Seriously, that has never happened to me before. I'm usually the person who sticks their nose in a book and doesn't acknowledge the people sitting next to them. And it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't agreed to switch seats with another dude who wanted to sit next to his wife. Since the dude I sat next to is a journalist from St. Louis, I asked him if he'd come talk to a class I'm teaching this fall on creative nonfiction and he agreed. Not quite as thrilling as meeting your future spouse on a plane (that's what happened to my brother!), but still a pleasant way to start my weekend.

(When I mentioned to him that I was going to Denver for a girls weekend, he asked if we were going to smoke weed, but while we saw a couple of dispensaries, we did not partake--though some of us considered the pot gummy bears. I had to laugh when he brought it up, because no one had even discussed this in our group texts about the weekend, though I had requested yogurt and bananas for breakfast. #partyon)

Anyway, after meeting up at the airport, Monica, Mindy, and I headed out to grab lunch, but our plans for an Illegal Pete's burrito were thwarted by insane downtown traffic as there was a Rockies game, so we settled for suburban Chipotle on our way to Keystone. We also made a quick detour to get mani/pedis and let Mindy buy a zillion things with coupons and Gap cash at the Gap outlet and only spend $6.08.

(Side note: I got a gel manicure for the first time ever. I'd never spend the time/money to get one in my real life, but it looks really good!)

We finally made it to Keystone and met Amy at the condo where we were staying. It was a wonderful house with three bedrooms and three full bathrooms. Monica and I got the master bedroom on the top floor and I woke up each morning to the view of snowflakes softly falling on mountain pine trees--amazing!

Rachel and Lindsey arrived Friday afternoon and we celebrated each arrival by taking more group selfies, and also with cheese and sparkling wine. 

The condo was within walking distance of Keystone's little ski village, so we walked up there for a late dinner and wandered around a bit before going back to the condo to talk until we couldn't stop yawning.

Saturday morning we had breakfast in and then went for a walk back to the village and the ski lift area. 

There was some talk of riding the gondolas up to the top just for the view, and a couple people considered tubing, but ultimately we decided to get coffee and just sit around and talk to each other. The mountains were fantastic, but they were really just backdrop for the main event: catching up on everyone's lives and reminiscing.

After coffee and a bit more walking around, we headed out for lunch and then hit the outlets for a bit more shopping. I scored a little pair of running shoes for Zuzu and a pair of shorts for myself. Then we drove into Breckenridge to eat, drink, and wander the shops there.

I was actually not feeling great while we were at the outlets (I think I got carsick sitting in the third row seats, but it also could have been the altitude getting to me), so when we got to the first restaurant in Breckenridge, I skipped the happy hour specials and just had a hot tea. 

Fortunately, the tea was just the thing because I felt much better after and enjoyed browsing the shops and having Monica take covert photos of cute skirts and headbands that were being sold for lots of dollars but that I knew I could recreate at home with scraps.

We stayed in Breckenridge for a late dinner and had small plates and more sparkling wine in honor of Monica's birthday. We were That Table, laughing so hard that our stomach muscles and jaws hurt, and the things we were laughing at weren't really that funny, though they seemed hilarious at the time (Amy's gesture when describing an electric blanket comes to mind). The food was delicious (free chex mix!) and we were grateful to our pregnant designated driver for getting us safely back to Keystone, where we managed to talk some more (mostly about our kids) before heading to bed our final night.

The next day we had nothing on the agenda. We headed back to Keystone village for a stop at our coffee shop (like we were regulars). I had picked up a t-shirt for a souvenir the day before and after I tried it on, I wanted to exchange it for a different size. When I asked the guy at the cash register if that was okay, he said, "How dirty were you when you wore it?"

I assured him I had not worn the t-shirt and he said that was fine, but after I walked away he told Amy that if I'd had dreadlocks, he would have told me no. Made me laugh.

After our final cup of coffee (or Diet Coke, in Mindy's case) and one last walk back from the village to the condo, we gathered our things and said our good byes. My flight left at 3pm and Mindy wanted to get to the airport PLENTY early so she could relax after checking in, so we decided to just do lunch at the airport. It felt like we were getting there crazy early (we left Keystone before 11am!) but it ended up being just the right amount of time to return the rental car, get through security, and have a leisurely lunch before going to our separate gates.

We had less time than we expected because for some reason Monica's directions took us over the mountain instead of through the Eisenhower tunnel. It was definitely the scenic route, so we were pulling over to take pictures (even though I was wearing moccasins for the flight home and we were not dressed for hiking in the snow!). 

We asked one guy to take our picture and he gestured toward the road in the direction we were heading and said, "It's scary as hell up there! No guard rails!"

His warning freaked me out, but Monica and Lindsey scoffed at him and we really did enjoy the wandering road that took us on the Loveland Overpass, giving us the chance to take a photo at the continental divide. 

We also took turns yelling, "It's scary as hell up here!" while driving on smoothly paved, wide roads that were completely clear of snow and ice, despite being very high in altitude.

Once we got to Denver, we had a comedy of errors adventure at an incredibly busy gas station near the airport that had many pumps out of service. When Monica finally found one where she could fill up the car, we noticed a very attractive guy putting gas in his Lexus SUV behind us, and he happened to be wearing a Royals hat. As we, uh, admired him from inside the car, Monica struck up a conversation while pumping gas and asked if he was from Kansas City. Turns out he does live near Kansas City. In fact, that's his permanent address. How do I know this? Because Monica asked, "Did you go to CU?" And he said, "Yeah, I go there. It was Moms' Weekend and I just dropped my mom off at the airport."

Her jaw dropped and we collapsed in giggles inside the car because OMG he was SO CUTE and we were probably closer to his MOM's age than his. (But seriously, he looked much older!) Anyway, I don't think that's what the rental car advertisement on the shuttle had in mind when it read, "Under 25? No problem!" but we appreciated the sentiment anyway as we headed for the airport.

In the end, it was such a fun weekend, and so nice to see these girls. My connection to them is really through Monica--they are all her best friends from college and after--but I like each of them so much and I had such a great time and felt welcome and connected and as we all laughed and talked and ate our way through the weekend. Which is a pretty awesome way to spend two and a half days.

I used the word "restorative" when we were walking around outside the condo. The weather was wonderful--highs in the 50s and mostly sunny, so we needed coats outside but weren't freezing, even near the ski slopes. Part of it was being in such a beautiful place, part of it was being with fun people, and part of it was just having a chance to be without the responsibilities and expectations of parenting and real life. Sure, we talked about our kids, but we also talked about lots of other stuff--jobs, plans, funny memories, TV shows, anxiety, food, clothes, marriages...

I was definitely ready to see my Noodle and Nugget when I got home. By Sunday evening, Coco (the Nugget) seemed to be talking even more clearly than when I left, and Zuzu (my Noodle) looked taller and skinnier than she had on Friday! We had plenty of snuggles and bedtime stories and I felt so grateful and appreciative of the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and the beauty of my living room in St. Louis. It was so good to get away, and it was so sweet to be home.