Tuesday, June 19, 2018

3:30 AM Thoughts on Babies Separated from Their Parents

I usually don't have trouble sleeping, but I woke up at 3:30am this morning and my mind went back to the stories I've been reading about immigrant families separated at the boarder. About children--toddler, preschool age children--crying for their parents. About a breastfeeding mother separated from her infant. Like many people, I feel angry and helpless.

It also feels like a hard place to find a middle ground. I'm baffled by the fact that this is a partisan issue--that Democrat senators have signed on to support a bill that will prevent this from happening and no Republican senators have. I read that 60% of Americans are against the separation of immigrant families... which means that 40% of us think this is okay?

This past semester I had an international student in class. She is from Honduras. She happens to be one of the brightest students I've ever taught--including the many brilliant and privileged students I encountered at Wash U. She's smart and her writing is remarkable. She took a creative nonfiction course with me and some of her essays were about her home.

Confession: I don't know all that much about what's going on in Honduras. Or, I didn't before this past semester. I think I'm fairly well-informed. I get a daily news e-mail that I read. I listen to NPR before work in the morning. True, I've mostly stopped listening to Pod Save America because I felt that it was raising my blood pressure in unhealthy ways during my commute (not the podcast itself, but the political events they were covering). My news consumption is lower than it used to be--I get so frustrated by much of what the Trump administration has done (and, mostly, the lies they tell) so I have decreased some of my NPR listening, especially with my kids around. But I'm still reading and listening. And yet I had no idea what was happening in Honduras. I mean, I would have been able to tell you that the country is politically unstable and some people are seeking asylum, but I didn't have much sense of what that meant on the ground level. Not the way it affected individual people.

And then my student wrote an essay about a girl she went to school with getting kidnapped off her school bus to be held for ransom. She wrote about protests that turned violent, about unarmed civilians being shot, and the fear of families in neighborhoods that had always been safe and protected by wealth and affluence. She wrote about the anxiety of going anywhere alone, about the danger of ordinary life in her country, even for people who had previously been comfortable.

I'm embarrassed that it took a college student writing about her own experiences for me to understand the gravity of the situation there, but it suddenly made clear to me why someone would flee everything familiar in order to seek asylum in the U.S.

I know there are people who don't want "foreigners" in our country. I know there are people who are worried that their position or their comfort in society could shift if we allow people who look different or speak differently to enter our country. I think is fear is ignorant and misplaced, but I can at least recognize that the unknown is scary. And yet, I don't understand people who think these migrants should just "go home." I don't understand why they can't see that no one wants to move to a place they've never been, knowing they will not be welcomed. But as Glennon Doyle wrote on IG, "Parents will take their children and run from a burning building, even if it's illegal to do so." I recently poem by Warsan Shire called "Home" and it made me feel so heavy and weepy as it captured the impossibility of this situation for these immigrants.

"Home" by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

So I was up at 3:30am, thinking about this poem and crying, traumatized children with no one to comfort them and feeling sick to my stomach. 

I made a donation to RAICES (an organization to reunite parents and children) and to Together Rising (Glennon Doyle's nonprofit that is funneling money to similar efforts). I still feel angry and helpless.

I read a blog post on Design Mom (one of my favorites--she's so smart and the cross sections of home decor, parenting, and social issues is like my sweet spot of interests right now) and one thing she invited readers to do is to participate in a letter writing campaign:

A reader named Alexis emailed me today and said, “I’m writing you from New York City where my friends and I are working on a letter-writing campaign — gathering notes to elected leaders regarding the cruel act of families being separated at the U.S. border. The letters will be hand-delivered to government leaders later this week. We’re hoping to gather hundreds with representation from every state.

We’d love to extend the invite to submit letters to you and your readership. All letters can be emailed to stopborderseparations@gmail.com by Wednesday, 6/20. They should include at least the zip code of the writer. We’ll take care of printing and delivering the letters.

All you have to do is email. They’ll take care of the printing and postage.

I love the idea of stacks of mail being delivered. Writing a letter doesn't feel like enough, but it's something tangible. I hope you'll consider joining me!

If you still have questions about exactly what's happening at the border, or why it's happening, or how our government is attempting to justify it, I recommend reading Gabrielle Blair's entire post at Design Mom or Joanna Goddard's post at Cup of Jo. Both offer helpful links and answer frequently asked questions (like Isn't this the law that Trump is just enforcing? Nope.

(Also, you know what else was a law? Concentration camps in Germany. Sometimes laws and entire governments are so wrong you would think it would be obvious to everyone.)

I'd also encourage you to read this essay by Meg Conley (which I shared on Facebook) because it basically broke my heart wide open and also this statement by the United Methodist Church

I guess that's it. I hoped writing about this would make me feel a little better, but honestly sitting here in my own comfort is what is making me feel so sad right now. Guess I'll give Senator Roy Blunt another phone call...

(Quick update: I just saw here that Roy Blunt issued a statement that says separating families doesn't "meet the standard of who we are as a country" so I was able to leave a message for him complimenting his statement and asking him to work with Democrats in order to stop this policy.)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Three Things On My Mind

(1) Marriage (Meh-widge)

I listened to a podcast about do's and don't's for marriage and it got me thinking about my own experiences (almost fourteen years of them!) and my own advice... Here are my top three do's/don'ts:

1. Do talk to your partner like you're talking to a co-worker.
I guess this assumes you have a healthy work environment and you're not, say, Harry Weinstein, but I know how easy it is to be short or sharp with the person you've become permanently yoked to. I actually called David out one time in a fight for being nicer to the people he works with than he was to me (dramatic, but possibly true in that specific moment) and I realized that unfortunately that same accusation probably applied to me, too.

When I have a problem at work, I make an effort to be courteous when I ask for help and to express appreciation for my coworkers. Even if I wanted someone to take over a part of a project, I would say, "I could really use your help with this" rather than, "OMG I'm doing EVERYTHING here can you just take care of this one thing?" (and a lot of it has to do with tone, obviously). It's really about being polite and respectful of their time and energy, and when you're under stress or in the trenches of parenting, that's not always easy to remember!

2. Don't keep score.
I think this one is pretty standard. It's just about recognizing that your spouse may be doing more than you give them credit for (although you are obviously doing the MOST work) and not feeling resentful about what's not getting done. This also connects to "don't assume s/he can read your mind" which David and I both have also been guilty of (although, honestly, him more than me as I'm very comfortable expressing exactly what is on my mind so he doesn't have to wonder--haha).

Sometimes I feel bitter about the loads of laundry (not the doing it so much as the putting it away) even though D does all the yard work and a lot of the cooking and it's easy--especially when we're busy--to feel a little tit for tat about who's doing what when and who's getting a massage or playing a ball game or going to yoga or going out with friends or always on bed/bath/toothbrush duty (I don't mind bath time at all, but I loathe supervising the toothbrushing, particularly if someone else is lying around looking at his phone at the time...). But we're both contributing and trying to make life better for each other, so scorekeeping does not help.

3. Laugh while you fight.
I can be for real pissed at David and still dissolve a little of the tension when one of us makes a joke or talks in a stupid voice. Sometimes when I'm angry, instead of yelling, I just text him the middle finger emoji. While were are standing in the same room having a "discussion." And then we both laugh because how stupid and immature is that? But also? He gets that I am still mad. You can be funny without giving in on an issue that is important to you (like the fact that your partner ALWAYS skips the flossing part of the kids' toothbrushing and that is NOT COOL).

We are both pretty good at diffusing tension with stupid jokes and I think that knowing you can be silly with this person even when you are legitimately angry about a specific issue is a reminder that it is the issue rather than the person that you hate.

I think those are my top three tips for staying married without losing your mind. Any you would add to that list?

(2) Avocados

You know what I'm tired of everyone making a big deal about like it's some kind of amazing super food?


They are smushy. They taste like a weird kind of smushy leaf. They are perpetually underripe or overripe.

I'm over them.

(Also I barfed every time I ate guacamole when I was pregnant with Coco--three times... I'm a slow learner--and now I just want to avoid avocados.)

(No need to defend avocados in the comments. I trust that my moratorium on them will not harm the avocado industry. I'm just saying... NO THANKS, green mush.)

They may be healthy and you may think that avocado toast with sea salt is god's greatest gift to the kitchen, to which I say: girlfriend, you need to try Nutella.

(mic drop)

(3) Summer Nights

Here's the thing about an 8pm meet up with a friend on a weeknight. In January, this would feel absolutely impossible. In June? It's fun and totally manageable. Daylight savings in the summer is my best friend. I love how summer days stretch on forever. I've always said that 8pm on a summer night is my favorite time of day. 8pm in February is bedtime. 8pm in July is happy hour.

I may try to cultivate more of a summer mindset this winter... we'll see how that goes. I think the best thing about living in the midwest is the seasonal shift... it's possible that each season gives us something we need, but this year spring was so late coming and winter was an unending January, so I'm not entirely sure about that. 

I'm curious... for people who work 12 months out of the year--does summer feel the same for you? Like it's still a bit of a vacation even though the basic routine is the same?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Overdue Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

Thoughts on Scissors

Coco: I can't have zizzers because I cut my hair. And if you need zizzers to cut your hair, a grown-up has to get them. And if you eat your hair, that would be uh-skusting!

Thoughts on Magical Creatures

Zuzu: For my eighth birthday, can I have it at a park so I can catch a glimpse of a unicorn?

Coco: I saw a unicorn outside. I really did. But you didn't see me because you didn't turn your head. And the unicorn's name was Rainbow Sparkle Dash.

Thoughts on Snack Time

Coco: When I was a baby, what was my favorite food?
Me: You really liked blueberries.

Coco: My belly is getting full. But it's still kind of squishy.

Thoughts on the Beauty of Nature

Me: Okay, watch me!
Zuzu: I really like looking at nature more than you.

Thoughts on Time Travel

Coco: When I'm a baby, I'm going to face backwards [in the carseat].
Zuzu: You're never going to be a baby again.
Coco: YES I AM.

Thoughts on Sibling Rivalry

Me: Coco is really good about letting me put chapstick on her.
Coco: AND I like Kumon.

Thoughts on Carpet Stains Caused By Poor Choices

Coco: There's anything back here! [behind the chair]
Grammy: You mean nothing?
Coco: (nods) Nuffing.
Grammy: (suspicious) Is there really nothing?
Coco: A spot. [of mommy's lipgloss, stolen from her purse and smeared on the carpet]

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

No Comparison

Here are things I don't say to my kids:

Zuzu is the artistic one.
Coco is the puzzle-solver.

Zuzu is the more challenging one.
Coco is the people-pleaser.

Zuzu is the messy one.
Coco is a big clean-up helper.

Zuzu is the fearless one.
Coco is the more cautious one.

Sometimes, I confess, I think about them in these broad strokes (I realized over Memorial Weekend when Coco was helping sweep the porch and clean the windows that one of her favorite toys in the broom and I've never seen Zuzu actually use it). But of course they are such unique little people, even as they often take cues from and imitate each other.

Right now, Coco is still struggling with being overtired on a daily basis, which means we are all struggling with Coco being overtired on a daily basis. I'm not sure she's caught up on sleep from the late, late nights over the past weekend at Grammy and Bops's house. But I think it was worth it for a night at the carnival with their little cousin Mesa, and a night spent on the lawn of the courthouse listening to a Little Texas concert. The weather was perfect. Zuzu spent the entire evening drawing pictures in a notebook. Coco spent the evening dancing and pushing her stroller in order to keep herself awake.

This week Zuzu is at art camp. I mentioned a while back that I signed her up for it but wasn't sure how it would go. Much to my delight, it has been a breeze. Drop off yesterday was the easiest it has ever been for us in a new place where she doesn't know anyone. There were a few other children there when we arrived but they were all coloring quietly, so Zuzu joined right in and a counselor came over right away to engage her in making a name tag and after camp she told me she had fun ("unless for the heat!") and couldn't wait to go back tomorrow.

Coco had a meltdown at drop off because she wanted to be the one to carry Zuzu's backpack over to the registration table, but Zuzu wanted to wear it because she felt the "counselors might be confused" so Coco was furious and really couldn't recover. Instead of a sweet just-the-two-of-us date at Starbucks, I used the drive-through to get my iced tea and then we went to the grocery store. She pulled herself together enough to use a mini shopping car responsibly and was pretty good the rest of the morning, but I guess bedtime was a disaster (I was out having a drink with a friend because I live a footloose and fancy free lifestyle!). After brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed (or as ready as she was willing since she refused to put on underwear or pajamas and just slept in the buff), Coco asked David for a piece of gum (they got gum from floats in the Bushwhacker Days parade while we were visiting my parents). Coco is obsessed with gum and I've never let her have it before but she promises me she won't swallow it, so I let her try it out. Now she wants gum all the time.

Anyway, she was devastated that bedtime was not a time to chew bubble gum and David said she basically wailed herself to sleep.

I am so not sad that I was having a glass of rose and adult conversation during that time!

Sort of related to Coco's desire to be all things grown up... my friend Michelle had been posting on social media about her church's vacation bible school. I thought I'd send the girls, but realized it conflicted with Zuzu's art camp. So we didn't sign up. But after Coco's rough day yesterday, I asked her if she wanted to go to her own camp. She totally did! It was hard for me to send her without Zuzu being there, too--she has never gone somewhere like that (daycare, school, camp, whatever) without her big sister!

But she was totally game. She insisted on bringing a backpack loaded with all the same supplies Zuzu has to bring to her outdoor art camp--water bottle, snack, hat, sunscreen--even though her "camp" is inside a big church. And she held my hand really tight during registration and the walk back to the classroom, but the hand off to a classroom helper went smoothly and I now have FREE TIME all morning long! For the next three days, anyway.

Summer really is the best. And three hours in the morning is just long enough to make me miss those crazy kiddos and look forward to picking them up!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

O, Summer

We had an idyllic first day of summer break and then reality set in. It turns out that my kids don't always play beautifully, entertaining themselves by designing paper earrings and then putting them up for sale. They also fight a lot.

Coco is in an awkward place where she really needs a nap and also she will DIE before she takes a nap. She still napped at school but home with me is a different story. When this was the weekend situation, it wasn't a big deal. She was kind of wrecked by Sunday night, but she just went to bed early, napped on Monday, and all was right with the world again. Now she's just kind of wrecked every day around 3pm and I need to figure out something...

Also the toilet is currently overflowing. (I won't say who's to blame, but her name rhymes with Loco.)

Come to think of it, I'm kind of wrecked by 3pm myself. You know what gets to me? Part of it is feeling like I am constantly cleaning up the kitchen (Zuzu must be going through a growth spurt because she is constantly asking for snacks or seconds and my pet peeve is when she throws open the doors to the refrigerator and just surveys the contents like she is the quarterback in a teen TV show about to eat everything in sight). But most of what wears on me is the onslaught of "Mom. Mommy. Mom." I mean, YES, I am so lucky to have them and be here. But also, this is my life:

Oh mercy. Even watching it makes me twitchy like "WHAAAAAATTTTT????"

I think I mentioned that one of our summer rules is "Be kind to your family" and another is "Don't be cranky."

As a result, the girls are constantly screaming at each other, "DON'T BE CRANKY!" or tattling on each other for being cranky.




Yesterday we took Cooper to the vet. I don't want to shame him, but you guys, he is so dramatically overweight. He held steady at 39 pounds for several years. He's now... 10 pounds heavier than that.

Coco had to use the bathroom at the vet's office, and the tech came out and called Cooper's name while we were in there. The vet tech told me later that Zuzu came out from around the corner and said, "I'm with Cooper!" and proceeded to tell her the names of everyone in our family. Then when we came out of the bathroom, she said, "This is my sister Coco, and this is Brooke." LOL.

We have always taken Coop to the vet in my home town because we like the guy and because it's considerably less expensive. But when I called to make an appointment, they couldn't fit me in during the time we'll be home, so I decided to just make Bubba an appointment here. Considering that he's 12 years old, I feel more comfortable with him having a local vet in case of an emergency. Of course we had to do some bloodwork and get all his shots and it was a pricy visit. AND he needs to have his teeth cleaned, which is SO expensive because anesthesia.

While I was talking to the vet, the girls were wandering into the waiting room, playing with some of the toys there and complimenting every dog who came in. (It really is a sweet quality of theirs that they compliment every dog and every baby they see with "S/he is soooooo adorable!"). They also eavesdropped on and inserted themselves into plenty of other conversations between pet owners and vet techs, but the receptionist told me when I left that they were "very friendly and well-behaved" so I am taking it as a win overall.

And now Cooper is on a strict diet regiment--down to 2 cups of food per day from 2 1/2 and eventually moving to 1 1/2. I'm also going to quit giving him grain-free food. I thought that was the best choice, but the vet said he probably wants some fiber to fill him up, and I've seen him eating grass which is another indication that he wants fiber! She told me that most dogs require calorie restriction rather than increased exercise in order to lose weight, and she said he's in excellent health overall (no arthritis, good muscles, heart sounded good) and his activity level should perk back up once we get some weight off of him. Yay, Bubba!

(Update: in the time I've been writing this, Coco took our return address stamp and stamped it all over the kitchen floor. Staying home is SO FUN.)

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Trying to get in a summer routine here on day one that includes some writing every day. Using the blog as a warm up because I'm feeling a little stuck. So... a quick post of information interesting to possibly no one:

We started our day with by making a list of things that need to get done every single day in the summer:

- get dressed
- eat breakfast & clear breakfast dishes
- make bed
- Kumon
- read
- don't be cranky
- be kind to your family

This list was generated by Zuzu, with me adding "make bed" and Coco adding "don't be cranky." Then I asked what they could be instead, and Zuzu said "Be kind to Mama," which I loved, but changed it to "be kind to your family" as this list also applies to me.

Then we made a list of summer fun. The idea is that when everything on the to-do list is checked off, it's time to choose something from the summer fun list. It's not quite a bucket list because (in my head anyway) a summer bucket list includes one-time events like seeing Annie at the Muny. This is stuff we can (and will!) do over and over--pool, library, playdates, different parks, museums, and arts and crafts.

The girls discovered fairy notes this morning (I happen to know those notes were delivered yesterday during the day but they didn't notice them until this morning!) and so they were motivated to write letters to the fairy--Cymbeline Dewdrop--and they are working away at that. Coco just got up and left the table but appears to be playing independently, so I'm going to see if I can get 30 minutes of writing time.

We've already had a mild disagreement this morning. Zuzu told me she was going to go outside and take some deep breaths (instead of clearing her dishes off the table) and her attitude before that happened may have cost her a Summer Fun activity today (UGH). I wanted to stop her and FORCE HER to clear the dishes, but I let her do her deep breath thing outside (she took those breaths while hanging upside down on the swing set) and she did seem to reset. Today's major activity plan is a quick trip to Home Depot for wood glue and some hooks so that may be all the summer fun in store for us.

I'm going to Clementine's training session this afternoon with Zuzu because Clem did not make good choices on her walk with me yesterday, although she's been pretty good for David. She seems to think he's the one in charge, so obviously she needs some understanding of how things actually work around here--haha.

Later tonight I have dinner plans with my best girlfriends from college, so I'm looking forward to that. I also need to return some clothes from a Loft order (I loved this striped maxi dress, but in person the way it is sewn pulls the knit stripes in the weirdest directions and I can't handle that. Most people probably wouldn't even notice, but I can just hear my mom's voice in my head pointing it out.)

Okay. I remembered how to type and I'm going to take a crack at this book project (for a few minutes anyway). Oh, summer, I do love you!

Other summer plans---reorganizing my basement and creating an awesome sewing/craft space, reorganizing the linen closet in the upstairs hallway, painting the master bathroom (millenial pink, which I think will be Smoky Salmon by Sherwin Williams) actually figuring out to to decorate the super long mantle with the TV in the middle of it, and selecting new light fixtures to replace all the boob lights still hanging out around here. Can't wait!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Thoughts on Parenting and Achtung, Baby

Today is the girls' official last day of school. Which means tomorrow they are home with me all day. I feel like the month of May has been busier this year than ever before. Usually, I have a few days at home by myself before the girls get out of school when I can make some plans, gather a few supplies, and map out what I think summer will look like.

But, of course, every summer looks different. In many ways, I think this will be our easiest and most fun yet. The girls are increasingly independent. We have a pool pass for a nearby pool. I hope to balance some scheduling and structure (a library day, a botanical gardens day, a playdate day) with long, open afternoons. And as little screen time as possible. We'll practice bike riding! We'll make a few road trips! We'll visit museums! We joined our closest library's online summer reading program (Confession: I'm totally nerding out over the fact they have an adult summer reading program and thanks to a long weekend in West Virginia with no cell phone service or WiFi, I've already logged 640 pages! #nerdalert).

One of the books I read in West Virginia was Achtung, Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self Reliant Children by Sara Zaske. I read this at the recommendation of a FB/IG/babyloss friend. I know that helicoptering and hovering is really a symptom of affluent American parenthood, but I also know that those of us who have lost babies feel acutely the risk of loving a tiny, impulsive person who is not really equipped to take care of herself without lots of help. I will continue to be overly vigilant about some things (car seats, cutting up grapes, sunscreen), but I make it a point not to be a helicopter parent on the playground, and the emphasis on independence at the school the girls attend has been really helpful. Still, this book really helped me see that allowing children to be independent and do things that my generation of parents really doesn't let kids do (basically, venture out into the world alone) is an important parenting decision, and one that is in the best interest of our kids (even when it feels really scary).

One thing I loved about the book is how German culture emphasizes children as autonomous people with rights of their own. As natural as that might sound, it turns out that American culture privileges the rights of the parent over that of the child. For example, homeschooling in Germany is illegal. An appeals court in German ruled "Schools represented society, and it was in the children's interests to become part of that society. The parents' right to provide education did not go so far as to deprive children of that experience."

Isn't that a fascinating idea? It's like saying to parents that your kids have a right to learn more than just your interpretation of the world... I think American parents want to control SO MUCH of what our children learn and are exposed to, and that's based on this assumption that we have at least most of the right answers. I found this idea really interesting--that kids have a right to a bigger world than the perceptions of their parents.

In my mind, the purpose of public schools is not just to teach academics, but also to expose children to people unlike themselves and their families, to create connections and relationships within neighborhoods. It's one of the heartbreaking results of segregation (particularly in St. Louis) that diversity in public schools is often limited. I understand why parents choose private schools and charter schools, and why they pour their energy into those unique opportunities for their child to grow and thrive. But more and more I keep thinking that if we all put our hearts into our public schools, we could do so much more for every child.

I catch myself all the time with this impulse to do what is best for my child--that's a natural parenting impulse, right? But what if the best thing for my kid puts another kid at a disadvantage? Glennon Doyle says "There's no such thing as other people's children." She's usually talking about Syrian refugees or children of undocumented immigrants who have been separated by their parents at the border of the United States, but I repeat that statement when I think about opportunities, the myth of scarcity, and what I want for my kids. This idea of not hoarding what I want for my own kids is totally counter intuitive because white middle class culture is very individualistic and competitive, but I want it to be part of the way I live my life and the way I function as a parent in my daughter's school.

Anyway, another thing that surprised me and actually made me feel really good in this book is the emphasis on the benefits of child care centers. Now, to be fair, Germany allows a FAR more generous maternal and paternal leave policy (it is appalling to me how far the United States is behind every other industrialized nation in this regard), and its child care providers are better paid and required to be better educated than ours are in the United States. As a result, sending your kid to full time daycare is not laden with all of the complicated guilt that we feel in this country (those of us with enough privilege for paid childcare to be a "choice").

Zaske writes, "American moms spoke of putting our babies and young children in child care with regret: it was a necessary evil, somethin we ad to do because we had to work." In contrast, many German parents see daycare as a really great experience for their children--to play with and be around other kids, and to be exposed to children who aren't their siblings.

Zaske concludes, "If you can find a quality childcare center with a caring, educated staff, your child will have more advantages than a child raised solely at ome does, including new experiences and relationships. You will have partners in raising her, and more time and space to become a better parent yourself. Your child will also be taking a big step toward developing more independence." I felt plenty of guilt sending my kiddos to daycare and full day preschool, but I still maintain that they have had far better experiences at their school than they would have home all day with me.

Other things Zaske mentions are consistent with Montessori approaches to education--child directed, lots of outside time, play time without adult interference, and emphasizing how competent and capable children are.

She talks about the freedoms that German parents give their children, and it's not because German parents aren't scared of what might happen. It's because they believe that their child's right to independence is more important than their fears. One mother talked about not liking her children to take the subway by themselves to their grandmother's house, but she allowed them to do it anyway: "I want them to be independent and proud of what they can do. If I'm always with them, they won't be." The focus is not on protecting children so much as on preparing them, and I really like that approach.

I had this book in mind as my children roamed out of my eyesight (but usually within earshot) around the lodge where we stayed in West Virginia. One day we rented a large pontoon boat that had two water slides coming down off the roof. Zuzu went down the slide in a flash, while Coco required a little more time to ready herself (and a bit of coaxing), but she was so proud of herself when she did it!

My brother jumped in to the lake off the rooftop where the slides were, and had I seen Zuzu preparing to do the same, I probably would have stopped her! But I was watching the slide, assuming that's where she would come down, so the blur of pink life jacket and the splash off the side of the boat that was my five-year-old came as a shock! Part of me wanted to stop her from doing it, but I stifled my concerns because she was so proud of herself jumping off the roof just like her uncle and his friend (and she did it many more times).

According to this book, "Risk researchers argue that normal children have a natural instinct for self-preservation and will usually only dare as much as they think they can manage." So instead of telling her not to do it again, I decided to be proud that she feels--and is--confident enough in the water to jump off the roof of a boat! And when my brother's friends complimented her by calling her "hardcore," both of us beamed a little bit.

Later, at the swim beach, my mom kept telling Zuzu not to go too far when I could tell that she was perfectly fine, and I reminded my mom that I never swam with a life jacket at a swim beach we frequented when I was little. "Don't you think that Zuzu swims as well as I did at her age?" My mom admitted I was right but said, "I didn't worry as much about my own kids as I do my grandchildren!"

My own worry-not attitude was challenged again that evening when my brother busted out a few little fireworks (Zuzu called them fire-tricks which was adorable and a great name) and some sparklers (which she called "glitter sticks"). Even though I played with fireworks as a kid, I just feel so aware of the possibility that something could go wrong. And if something could go wrong, isn't it my responsibility as a parent to minimize that risk? But then at what point does minimizing risk become limiting life experience? Some lines are obvious (no base jumping, for the love of God) but others are less clear--I mean, I loved fireworks and sparklers when I was little.

And yet, is there ANYTHING more worrisome than little kids and sharp burning sticks? Like, maybe my kids could just sit on the porch and watch? But Zaske's book actually addresses fire specifically. She writes about a German named Kain Karawahn who is a fire performance artist turned fire-safety educator. His workshops are based on the idea that instead of forbidding playing with fire, children should be taught to respect it and engage with fire in a safe way. Our human fascination with fire is natural and strong, so children who are prohibited from it may engage in secret (lighting matches in their room alone). His workshops have small children lighting lots and lots of matches as a way to quench that curiosity.

So I channeled this approach to fire safety as my brother lit explosives near my children (and his own baby). We talked to the kids and laid out the ground rules for the sparklers and fireworks. The kids took us seriously, and Zuzu was absolutely delighted with the fire-tricks and glitter sticks!

Coco watched the first firework fountain on my lap, then ran inside and watched the rest from the window. See? Each child dares only as much as they think they can manage! She also cautiously held one sparkler, but didn't really want to do another one after that. I love seeing how different she and her sister are, and as much as Coco wants to do what Zuzu does, she is not afraid to be her own person!

Anyway, I feel like I read this book at exactly the right time for starting an adventurous summer with my kids. I definitely recommend it as very readable and thought-provoking. My friend who recommended it actually homeschools her kids, so you don't have to agree with everything it says or want to move to Germany (although I do kind of want to move to Germany now) to get something out of it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Coffee Chat: Talking Points and Questions

I saw the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary last week--RBG. It was awesome because SHE is
awesome. The GOP is steadily working to diminish and roll back her life's work toward gender equality and it infuriates me. She is a force to reckon with, though, and I hope that we will see her legacy continue.

I saw it with my friend Erin and after the movie I talked her ear off and it was clear that we haven't been hanging out enough and that I have lots of things to say. So here are some talking points I would have if we were going to get coffee:

(1) I have a long summer reading list that I won't reproduce here, but I already crossed So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeomo Oluo off of it when I read it in two days last week. It made me think about an experience I had in a waiting room when I was sitting with Coco and a grandmother (who was black) was there with her grandson (who was also black). He was about Coco's age and was very active--up and down, out of his seat, interested in any book that Coco picked up, and had a very small personal space. I was sitting there thinking about white culture and personal space and how I am culturally trained to have a pretty big personal space.

Meanwhile, this grandma was really getting on to her grandson for things I thought were no big deal--he wasn't being rough or wild--he was just acting like an ordinary, busy, active preschooler. And then I started thinking about how early we start viewing black boys as rough or even violent and about how his grandmother's discipline is maybe partly because any preschooler can kind of drive you bonkers but also because she knows how high the stakes are for him, and that if he can't regulate his physical activity, he's going to get in more trouble than a white girl like Coco will. I was thinking about how if he had a book she wanted and she turned to an adult with those big sad eyes that she makes, that her little white girl tears would be a power move that would likely result in him getting in trouble. It was painful and frustrating to feel trapped in that racial dynamic. And it reiterated to me how important it is to talk openly and honestly to my children about race and cultural differences and power dynamics.

(2) Sort of related to that has been the recent news that the school shooter in Santa Fe, Texas may have been motivated by his assumption that he was entitled to a girl's affection and his anger when she did not reciprocate his feelings. It terrifies me that this is somehow perceived as a masculine reaction to a perceived rejection. I'm not saying anyone thinks it is appropriate, but I am saying that it is something that seems to culturally align to Things White Men Do When Women Reject Them.

I have a friend from grad school who wrote a Facebook highlighting the problem with headlines like "Spurned Advances Provoked Texas School Shooting, Victim's Mother Said." Do you SEE the problem with that headline? Do you see how it seems to explain  what happened as though it makes some kind of SENSE? As though "spurned advances" are the trigger instead of misogyny and warped male ego (not to mention access to firearms)?

My (male) friend wrote, "This is the rhetoric of rape culture and only affirms the kind of toxic masculinity that produces such violence. A better headline would read something like: 'Young man who feels entitled to women's bodies kills a bunch of people.'"

How do we raise daughters in a world full of such toxic masculinity? How do we teach them to stand up for themselves and then send them to school to get shot?

My friend Michelle said (in a different context): "Life is pretty much all grey and everything is uncertain. but few people can actually live comfortably-ish in that place. We must assume everything will be fine. In order to survive." I get this. But it is getting harder to assume that schools can prevent young men from killing people with guns. And since our congress seems unwilling to act (Dear Roy Blunt, I hope the NRA money is making a comfy pillow for you because I do not know how you sleep at night) I am just beside myself.

(3) My baby Zuzu graduated from kindergarten and I'm not sure how because I thought that yesterday she was a literal ACTUAL baby. And instead she's all tall and she has actual elbows where she used to have pudge and dimples and she says things like, "Actually..." in conversations in which she's trying to convince me that she's right and I'm wrong about pretty much everything. Oh, man. I love her so much it's crazy.

(4)  David and I stumbled upon a Netflix series called Safe that is super good and suspenseful and has the guy from Dexter in it but he talks with a British accent. A winner all around (no plot spoiling... we are only three episodes in).

(5) I was in a TERRIBLE mood all day Saturday and it's really because I was trying to watch the Lifetime movie about Harry and Meghan but the signal cut out on me and then I had to go to live TV and it was already over and now it's only on the Lifetime Movie Channel and David says we are not subscribing to that channel just so I can watch the second half of a Lifetime movie about Harry and Meghan and I say that's obviously because he doesn't love me as much as Harry loves Meghan.

I loved the wedding, but I really wanted to finish the movie and I'm still disgruntled about it.

At first I didn't like her dress as much as Kate's, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. I did love the black Episcopal priest and I loved when they sang "Stand By Me." I thought it was all so well done and she looked so beautiful and everybody talked nonstop about how she's 36 years old and that's how old Diana was when she died. Which is CRAZY. Also crazy that Diana got married at age 20 or whatever. I wondered what Meghan and her mom talked about in that Rolls Royce. Like can you IMAGINE how surreal that must have been? Hey, remember how I grew up in LA and became an actress and now I'm marrying a prince? NBD.

Also funny is that Zuzu watched a bit of the Lifetime movie with me and then watched some of the wedding. The casting of the movie was pretty great so she assumed it was the same people and asked me why Harry made his hair like that (balding!) for his wedding. LOL. Princess Diana did so much for those guys' good looks, but she clearly couldn't control the lose-your-hair gene.

(6) I bought a pool pass for the summer. Question: How old do your kids have to be before it's acceptable to just sit and read a book while they play in the pool? 4 and 6 is too young, right? But what if the water is shallow? #goals

(7) I've been listening to this podcast called "The Babysitters' Club Club." I do not recommend this podcast for everyone, but it has a very specific kind of humor that I dig. It's these two guys in their 30's reading the books and analyzing them the way we (in the English Department) analyze canonical texts. To me, it is hilarious. I mean, CAN we just do a Marxist reading of the economy in these books? CAN we all just talk about an Oedipal reading of Mary Ann and her daddy issues? ISN'T likely that there is some kind of postmodern, postapocalyptical world at work here? AREN'T these girls modeling how to take down the patriarchy and/or assimilate within it? There's lots of adult language and it's so nerdy and so funny.

(8) I heard about that podcast from another podcast that I think has a more general appeal--"Sorta Awesome" with Meg Tietz. It's a mom-friendly show and Meg has a great radio voice. They start with their "awesome of the week" which is often a book, a podcast, a TV show, or a make up product, or sometimes a recipe, and then the shows are loosely themed. I love it the way I love reading magazines. It's light, it's friendly, it's funny, and their podcast recommendations are legit. Meg is also a producer for "Smartest Person in the Room" podcast which is currently doing a series on race and culture that is also really good (Laura Tremaine hosts that one and she asks the kind of questions that most white people have about race but we are afraid to ask them)

(9) I rarely do this on the internet, but I'm not asking for some advice: Zuzu has been all over the place about her birthday party--where she wants it, what theme she wants, whom she wants to invite, etc. I've been mostly ignoring her as she changes her mind a million times. I have a room reserved at a bookstore that will host an "art party" for her and she can invite up to 11 friends. After being invited to a couple of birthday parties that specified no gifts, she asked me if her friends could please bring gifts. LOL. I'm okay with that, but would prefer to keep it smaller in that case. Here are my questions:  Is it important that we invite everyone who has invited her to a party? Do people care about that?

She said this morning she wants the party at her house and I said that was fine but she could only invite four friends (thinking that would end the conversation). Instead, she named the four friends she wanted (NOT the names I would have guessed or was expecting except for one of them). Should I just roll with that and let her have a small party at home? Or should I stick with my previous plan to go to the bookstore? Should I really let her make the guest list, or should I insist that we include people who have included her? She's really only interested in inviting girls, but I do want to foster friendships with boys, too... but in my biased opinion, girls are so much easier (read: less physically active and somewhat quieter though quite shrill)... Is it fine to already have a one-gender-only party? I know it's HER birthday, so why am I making such a big deal out of this? It is quite literally causing me stress and I want to send out the invitations this week. What would you do?????

(10) I have an Eliza bracelet that spelled out her name on silver block beads and I used to wear it every day on my left wrist with my watch. The bracelet clasp has broken, but I also realized it was scratching up the face of my watch. Now I have a new watch and I want a new bracelet, but I'd like to wear it with my watch so that I can wear it every single day (I tend to switch out bracelets on my right wrist). Is there a bracelet that won't scratch my watch? Is that a stupid question? I want it to be small and not clunky but not too delicate that the chain can't take daily wear. Silver would match my watch, but I also like the idea of yellow gold... Anyway, if you have a go-to Etsy shop or know of the perfect personalized bracelet, send it my way, will you?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Life Lately

Someone Help Me

Coco has a habit of asking for help from "Someone." It doesn't matter what the situation is, really. If she wants something, she'll usually say, "Can someone get ____ for me?" or if she's putting on a dress up dress, it's "Can someone help me put on this dress?"

It just makes me laugh when we're in a situation like a bathroom stall, where it is just the two of us, and she'll say, "Can someone wipe me?"

Like sure, honey, let me just go find someone to wipe you. Or you could just ask ME, since I'm YOUR MOM and I'm standing RIGHT HERE.

Anyway, maybe it stems from David and me saying things like, "Could someone get napkins for the table?" when Zuzu and Coco are both there. (Coco is almost always the first to volunteer.)

But sometimes I think maybe it's just a hilarious Who's On First kind of joke in her head. For example, in the bathroom today, Coco had inexplicably stripped off her shirt and so I said jokingly, "Can Someone put their shirt on?"

She replied, "No. Anyone can't."

* * *

Reasons Why It's Hard to Be Coco

(1) We are almost out of yogurt. There is plenty for breakfast, but this is reason to cry anyway.

(2) Your mom didn't give you enough mini-pancakes for breakfast and when you cry for more, she says not until you finish what's on your plate. You leave two of them untouched.

(3) You get all the way to the grocery store and get out of the car only to realize you didn't WANT to wear the pink boots that you are wearing.

* * *

Reasons Why It's Awesome to Be Zuzu

(1) You are about to graduate from kindergarten, but first you get to take a field trip the arch!

(2) You got a two-piece swimsuit with a ruffly skirt and it makes you look "like a mom."

(3) When you initially refused to join your swim class because they were all boys and you are "shy of boys," you insisted on being part of the preschool class and then when the instructor had the students jump off the side of the pool to her, you decided to dive over her head.

(3a) You joined your own class the following week, which was still all boys, but suddenly you weren't as shy because your parents had bribed you with a Shimmer & Shine lego set.

* * *

Reasons Why Having a Puppy is Super Annoying

(1) Puppy jumps on your bed effortlessly and then jumps on your head in the morning.

(2) Puppy picks fights with Bubba over a dropped tortilla chip.

(3) Puppy jumps on your back while you are practicing downward dog.

(4) Puppy is alarming aerodynamic and can jump on or over virtually anything, including your three-year-old.

* * *

Reasons Why Having a Puppy is Adorable

See visual:

* * *

I have so many exams and papers to grade! Grades are due Tuesday but since I'm field trip chaperone on Tuesday, my grades need to be submitted Monday. This weekend is commencement (David is taking girls to birthday party during this time, if they "earn it back" because we used it as a threat for terrible behavior but it backfired on us and I feel like not attending the party punishes the friends who wanted to invite them, so now they have to earn back the party by basically not being A-holes for the rest of the week (a major feat)), and we're friends over for dinner, going to church, David has a ball game (he's still playing), and then we're going to the circus.

Related: Last summer, I enrolled Zuzu in a COCA circus camp. She fussed every day when I left and never seemed that thrilled about it. I hadn't planned to do any camps this year because I was feeling lazy and cheap (#truth). Then last week, she asked me if she could do it again. Unfortunately there isn't a similar camp this year at a time that works for us. But she kept saying she wanted to go to camp so I enrolled her in a half-day art camp at a park. We'll see how this goes... I'm glad she wants to do it, but I'm also a little skeptical that she'll still be enthused after day 1. Fingers crossed that art camp is her thing!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Relearning Rosa

Today is Give STL Day here in St. Louis--a day that is specifically set aside for giving to nonprofit organizations. I've participated in this the last few years. At this time of year--still paying for fulltime childcare for two, plus end of year activities, plus dance recital stuff, plus a new puppy and puppy obedience school, etc., etc., I wish that I had more money lying around that hasn't already been spent! But the last couple of years, I have set aside $100 for Give Day that I divide up among some of my favorite organizations. This year I'm donating to Share--the organization that offered us grief support after we lost Eliza and who publishes the monthly magazine Sharing for which I've been writing (see April's post here and May's post here). I'll donate to Needy Paws pet rescue, because that's the organization that rescued Clementine. I'll donate to Forward Through Ferguson because I strongly believe in the work they are doing for racial equity in St. Louis, and to Arch City Defenders because in my alternative life, I would have gone to law school and hopefully ended up doing this kind of work--"holistic legal advocacy."

But this year, the biggest chunk will go to We Stories--not because it's necessarily doing the "best" work (how could you ever begin to rank these?) or the "most important," but because it has touched my family's life so closely and so personally. It has been transformative in the books we read, the conversations we have, and the things I think about on a daily basis. It has changed the way I teach diverse classrooms, the way I talk about race and talk about myself and white culture (mostly because it's helped me TO TALK about these things). It has made me think really intently about private vs. public schools, about neighborhood segregation, about what parks we go to and all the ways that "convenience" puts my family in a bubble of whiteness and sameness that I'd like to resist. It has stretched my own reading, too--I started with Waking Up White, then I read Just Mercy, then The New Jim Crow, recently I finished When They Call You a Terrorist, and I just picked up So You Want to Talk About Race at the library.

I was asked to share a story about why I think We Stories is so important--and here's the one I posted. I'm embarrassed that it took me until adulthood to learn this version of the story, and I'm grateful for a community that pushes me to recognize what I don't know--and to do something about it.


Relearning Rosa

I was recently asked to think about the last piece of Black history that I learned and what surprised me about it. The story of Rosa Parks immediately came to mind. I remember learning about Rosa Parks in elementary school. You know the story: she was coming home from work on the bus, she was told to move to the back, but her feet were tired from being at work all day, so she wouldn’t move. And she got arrested! But she brought the Civil Rights movement to Montgomery!

It was only recently that I learned Rosa Parks wasn’t just a tired old lady who didn’t feel like moving to the back of the bus—although that description may be accurate. She was an activist. She wasn’t just one individual deciding on a random day to take a stand. She was part of a community resistance—of people taking a stand against Jim Crow law. I learned that a few months before the bus incident, she actually took off to work to attend a workshop on school desegregation. She went to meetings about leading and organizing social movements. She helped to form a youth chapter of the Montgomery NAACP, even though she felt that social justice in that city would be very difficult, and she wasn’t very hopeful about a mass resistance.

But a few months later, she sat down on that bus and became a symbol of standing up for injustice. And I don’t think it was just because she was tired and fed up.

I think it was because in the previous months, she had become connected to a community of activists. It feels hard to speak up when it’s your voice against the shout of the status quo. But if you feel connected to a community of like-minded people, there’s comfort and strength in those numbers. It’s easier to attend a meeting or a protest, to share an article online, or to put a sign in your yard if you know someone else who is doing the same.

I don’t know why the first story I learned makes Rosa Parks one individual against the world. Is she supposed to sound more heroic in that narrative?

For me, learning she was a community activist and a change-maker made me view her story differently. It made me think about her choice as deliberate rather than spontaneous. Her decision on that bus wasn’t about bunions or backache. It was a strong and energetic desire to see a different Montgomery. And she was able to make that decision because she had become part of a community of activists who shared and supported her vision for a better future.

We can’t all be Rosa Parks. But I think we (people who have benefited from the status quo, at the expense of others) owe it to her to bring her vision for social justice into better focus. It’s clear that her work is not yet done, and more of us (white people) are feeling called to do our part, but aren’t sure how to begin. I certainly didn’t know where to start.

We Stories gave me a place to start and a community of support. It began as a way to diversify my kids’ bookshelves and to get comfortable talking with them about race, differences, and injustice. It has become a community that believes in doing our part for racial equity, and in supporting those actively working for a better St. Louis. #thatswhywestories #GiveSTLDay #fueledbyfamilies


My friend K (you know her in the comments as thirdstoryies) also shared her reasons for giving to We Stories and you can read it here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Oh, My Darlin' Clementine

If we are social media friendsies, you probably already know that we got a puppy. If you are anything like me, you may be questioning my sanity right now.

Here's the thing: I love puppies.

Here's another thing: Getting Cooper as a puppy twelve (12!) years ago, totally traumatized me. That guy chewed EVERYTHING. Air mattresses. Flip flops. Flip flops belonging to friends. Handbags. Harry Potter Book 5 (I'm still not over it). He was a nightmare. He was also a potty-training nightmare. He peed every 5 minutes and he was SO clueless about it, that rather than make a little puddle, he would streak around the house, living a dribble trail of pee behind him. I remember calling my mom sobbing as I scrubbed yet another trail of dog pee through our home because I was SO TIRED of cleaning carpet and I was also supposed to be studying for my major field exams.

Anyway, Cooper turned into the best dog ever, but I swore I was never, ever getting a puppy.

David recently got it into his head that our mornings are not chaotic enough and what we need is another dog underfoot. I was leery of this idea... Cooper is hit or miss with other dogs. He can be totally chill (as he is with my friend Monica's dog, Leia) or he can really get off on the wrong foot (as he did with my brother's dogs, who them taught him a stern lesson about picking a fight with two dogs who are each literally three times your size). I sort of thought that we should let Cooper live out his twilight years as an only dog and then worry about getting another dog much, much later.

But David couldn't let it go. He was sending me adorable dogs on Petfinder and my heart was melting.

I fell madly in love with another puggle named China who has a slightly deformed leg but is otherwise fine and she's 7 years old and needs to lose some weight and I was basically like, "THIS IS COOPER'S SOUL MATE" but we never heard back from our inquiry, so I hope/assume she was adopted.

Then David found a super cute little cocker spaniel named--wait for it--Caroline. We were joking about her being Caroline III in our family and we set up a time to meet her. Her foster mom suggested we meet at Michael's and we were in a grassy spot on the parking lot, but she is still not very socialized (they don't know much about her history... she apparently wasn't mistreated/abused, but she was not socialized and had little human contact so she's still warming up to her foster family). She did NOT warm up to us and the traffic noise scared her and then she panicked and tried to run and I was envisioning her pulling out of her collar (because she totally could have) and running into traffic and my children witnessing her get run over by a car, so I stayed calm, cool, and collected immediately started panicking and trying to cover my kids' eyes and David tried to pick her up but she was really freaked out and thankfully her foster mom emerged from the store at that time. She calmed down after that, but I knew this was not the dog for us. If I were single and dogless, I'd totally want to take her home because I know she just needs to bond with a human to come out of her shell, but the thought of bringing an anxious pup into my house with an elderly dog and two little kids was making me anxious.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that unless we happened into a situation where an elderly person could no longer care for a beloved pet, if we adopted an adult dog that had been rescued, we were going to be dealing with some trauma. Obviously I WANT these dogs to have a good home, but I also don't want to stress out Cooper or put my kids at risk (having little Mac taught me to love dogs but also to fear them). It occurred to me that we might be better off with a derpy puppy who would let Cooper be the alpha dog and would grow up socialized and gentle with the kids.

David set up a time to meet Caroline III again and see how Cooper did with her and I just stood there smiling because I knew as soon as we got in the car I would be SHUTTING IT DOWN. I didn't feel bad about it, because she's a gorgeous dog and very adoptable--no health issues or anything, and her foster mom mentioned that another woman is interested in her--but I knew she wasn't right for us. (Even though Zuzu wanted to name her Isabel and call her Izzy and she does look like an Izzy, so that was appealing.)

Anyway, I think David already knew that Caroline III wasn't right for us because on our way home, he suggested we stop at Petsmart. One of Zuzu's fish passed away (RIP Fish we've stopped naming because we can't get emotionally invested in these creatures with s 2-day life span--for real, though, we've got the tank water where it needs to be and this last fish actually lived several months and his sibling is still alive). She wanted a goldfish and the Petsmart employee kept trying to explain that a goldfish needed a bigger tank than the one we have until I finally explained that when we say "goldfish" what we mean is "yellow or golden-colored fish." So then she chose one and we were supposed to be headed home.

But it was pet adoption weekend. And there were a bunch of darling lab puppies (nope, nope, nope), and a really yippy chihuahua mix (nope), and this girl hanging out in cages.

So he got her out for us to have a look. She was nervous and shaky like Caroline III, poor thing, but unlike Caroline III, all she wanted was to curl up on our laps.

Coco's face looks concerned here, but she loves Clem.
Love at first sight.

Obviously I'm partial to these amber-colored dogs, and floppy-eared dogs. She looks like a farm dog mutt to me, but a very cute one. And I guess that's what she is--she and her litter-mates were rescued from Warsaw, MO (if you're not familiar with Warsaw, MO, think Winter's Bone). Her mom was chocolate cocker spaniel, and her dad was a black mouth cur. The owners wouldn't bring them inside for the winter and the puppies were freezing, so they surrendered them to an animal rescue organization.

So she is a farm dog mutt! And a six month old puppy! And we really have no idea how big she will get! BASICALLY THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT I WANTED!

But of course we love her.

I mean... go rescue a dog right now so you can have this at your house.
Also funny is I woke up on Saturday morning with the name Clementine on my mind. I actually love the name for a little girl, but then I woke up thinking that it was just as well because Clementine Duckworth was really a mouthful. When we met Caroline III, she did not look like a Clementine (she really did look like an Izzy), but that name was still in my head. It truly came to me in a dream.

So when I saw the puppy at Petsmart, the first thing that came to mind was, OMG she looks like a Clementine.

Oh my darlin', oh my darlin'...
Zuzu was not thrilled with the name... she liked Rainbow or Shimmer or Izzy (and suggested her middle name should be Audrey, lol), but once David was determined that she was coming home with us, I made her a dog tag that said Clementine so there was no going back. I mean LOOK AT HER! She's a Clementine if I've ever seen one. I explained to Zuzu that little cutie oranges are often clementines so she decided her middle name can be Cutie Pie.

There is nothing cuter than a kid with a puppy.
We are adjusting... she's been crate trained, so we're using our dog crate at night and while we are at work. She's mostly potty trained but had one accident. She and Cooper have had a few scuffles, and honestly I feel more stress about introducing Cooper to a new dog sibling than I ever felt about introducing Zuzu to a new human sibling! We are working on peaceful coexistence and taking lots of walks, which is good for everyone. Plus David is taking the lead on walking and he and Zuzu plan to take her to obedience training together. The girls are love her because she is so interested in them, which leaves plenty of time for me to give Coop extra love and attention (it's kind of clear to everyone at this point that Cooper would prefer to live alone with me, except that the girls drop food for him to eat).

A doggie scuffle occurred one second after I took this photo. Coco has on leftover facepaint from a carnival.
(The disparity of agility and reasonable BMI that I saw when we brought her home to Cooper was appalling. I immediately ordered him new diet food and am putting him on a strict twice a day walk regiment because holy crap. Bubba is super fat. I am not body shaming, but I am concerned about his health. I always knew intellectually that Coop is a few pounds over his ideal weight, but I didn't realize how much it was hampering his activity. I'm hoping by the end of summer he'll be slimmer and trimmer! #dogfitnessgoals)

At one point this morning, we had all six of us in one bathroom, with Clementine standing on her hind legs and putting her front feet up on the bathroom sink. So... chaotic mornings mission accomplished!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

I. Lucky

Scene: In the car

Zuzu: When I get home, can I have a treat?
Me: Sure. What a lucky girl you are to get to choose between a cookie and a cupcake!
Zuzu: No, a lucky girl would get a cookie and a cupcake.

II. Fox Trot

Scene: Zuzu has just woken up in the morning and is telling me about when she woke up during the night because she heard a noise.

Zuzu: I heard a stomping like a dinosaur! But I knew they were extinct. So I thought it might be a hundred and fifty five foxes marching all together!

III. Best Friends Club

Scene: A Saturday Morning

Coco: Is today a school today?
Me: (cheerfully) No! Today is a stay at home day.
Coco: (mournfully) But Evelyn will miss me!

IV. Attitude Adjustment

Coco: Mama, would you like to watch me dance?
Me: I would love to watch you dance!
Coco: Then you'd better stop that attitude.

V. Swings Both Ways

(background: We've been talking about where babies come from with the help of the Our Whole Lives program at our church and the book It's Not the Stork! It's actually been a really good thing, but we've had some interesting conversations!)

Zuzu: Mama, can girls marry girls and have children?
Me: Sure. But you need sperm to have a baby, so you'd have to go to the doctor to get pregnant by putting egg and sperm in a dish. (This is referencing a prior conversation about different ways to have babies.)
Zuzu: Why?
Me: Because you need a sperm and an egg to make a baby, and only boys have sperm, so you'd have to borrow some.
Zuzu: Hmmm. I was going to marry Gemma, but maybe I should just marry Ethan.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Birthday Party Idea and Two Other Things

One of my students is a bit older than traditional college-age and she has a baby who just turned one.  For her daughter's recent birthday, she asked everyone invited to the party to write her daughter a letter and include a photograph of themselves or their family that she is putting in a time capsule of sorts to have her daughter open on her eighteenth birthday.

Isn't that such a sweet idea? She even asked me to write a letter for it, as she's been in classes with me since before she was pregnant. I wish I had thought of it for my kiddos!

I guess there may be some people who aren't interested in reading letters from people they might not even know by the time they turn 18, but I think it's such an interesting way to capture the people involved in the baby's life in one way or another, and makes for such a meaningful gift, even though it doesn't cost anything.

It kind of reminds me of when my eighth grade English teacher had us write letters to ourselves as seniors in high school. It was such a big deal when she mailed those out four years later and we all received our letters and reflected on our thirteen-year-old selves. (shudder!)

* * *

Today on our drive to school, Zuzu asked me "How do bumble bees begin?"

Uhhhh... any ideas?

I started rambling about evolution and single cell organisms (LOLOLOL what the hell is wrong with me?) but eventually through more conversation I realized that she was really asking whether baby bumble bees are born with a stinger or whether they grow it. LOLOLOL Still have no idea! We decided that they are probably born with a teeny-tiny stinger that gets bigger.

* * *

I found my faculty ID! It was buried under a pile of papers on my desk, which means I have definitely hit my stride as English professor. Now I'm off to spill a cup of coffee on more student papers and lose my reading glasses before finding them on my head.

(I don't actually wear reading glasses, but you get the idea.)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Twirling, Running, Downward Dog

Well, it's April! Where has the time gone? See previous post about not having enough time to do the things I want to do. I got a stack of library books, so reading has beat out blog posting for what to do before bed and here we are.

Coco asked me the other night if I wanted to watch her twirl. I responded with a genuinely warm and enthusiastic, "Yes! I love to watch you twirl." But she must have not liked whatever I was saying before that, because she replied sternly, "Then you better stop that attitude."

Interestingly enough, David had to ask Coco to "stop that attitude" today in the car after dinner.

Zuzu is running a mile tomorrow with her kindergarten class. She is not super enthusiastic about it. In fact, she totally dragged behind at the practice race and walked most of it (complaining constantly). It was so bad that I had to jog ahead with Coco in the stroller and leave her behind with David because I was getting pissed off and (surprise, surprise) me getting pissed off is actually NOT a deterrent for her when it comes to behavior. Zuzu appears to be missing the "give a eff" gene so she does not care if I'm annoyed OR if her friends have all finished the race and are waiting for her. I still find this baffling. David says she has zero FOMO. I'm by no means athletic, and I can remember running in elementary school and knowing there were girls in my class I could never keep up with (Lori Nichols, Kelly Meyers, etc.). But I could also pace myself with girls who were more my caliber, and my pride definitely had me finishing races before certain kids in my class. So I just don't get why she doesn't want to keep up.

We chatted later (when I had calmed down and remembered this is a kindergarten race so who cares) and I said something appropriately parental about how we don't care if she finishes the race first or last but we would like to know that she worked hard and did her best. I told her that I wasn't convinced she'd done her best at the practice race. She made a noncommittal noise, looked at me for a minute, and then said, "Do you think the person who finishes last still gets a medal?"

(Answer: I'm pretty damn sure they do, and it looks like I'll be finding out tomorrow when my kid comes dragging in last of all!)

The weather tomorrow is supposed to be wretched because I live in a midwestern winter hellscape where spring will tease us with one or two 65 degree days with sunshine sprinkled into months of unrelenting cold, gray, rain. David jokingly asked the other day if we just lived in Portland now and I said we should freaking move there because here we're getting the soul-sucking weather without the benefit of liberal politics.

I'm starting to believe summer is around the corner as I just have a few weeks of the semester left. I swore earlier in the week that between the weather and the stack of ungraded essays on my desk, I was in a decline (physically, mentally, emotionally), but I graded the papers and kind of wrapped my head around another big project at work (a program review) and I'm feeling better now.

ALSO I'd like a moment to brag about myself... I am 24 days in to Yoga with Adriene's 30 Day Challenge. This is BIG for me, you guys. This means I have gotten up 30 minutes earlier every day for the past 24 days to do yoga before work.

You may remember I started this challenge back on January 1 with the rest of the world as a New Year's resolution, but I got bronchitis and couldn't stop coughing so had to stop doing yoga. THEN I tried to start again in February but got a stomach bug. So finally I got serious over spring break. I also listened to an episode of the Sorta Awesome podcast where they interview Laura Vanderkam (author of I Know How She Does It) and she said that the thing about people who get stuff done is that they do something in the morning before work besides just get ready for work--they write or they meditate or they work out or they go for a run or whatever. I have been SO reluctant my entire life to be that person. I would rather stay up late and write than get up early and write.

But the thing is I DO write late at night. I do NOT motivate myself to do yoga late at night. If I'm going to be productive in the late evenings, it turns out I can only be the kind of productive that also involves being sedentary under blankets. (Know thyself, as Gretchen Rubin would say.)

So now I am a person who gets up in the morning and does yoga first thing and I can hardly believe it because I still kind of hate those people who do that stuff. Yet here I am! Feeling all the benefits (so annoying). Looking forward to it when I roll out of bed (so obnoxious). Even got up before 6am this morning (absolutely unheard of) because I had to leave my house by 7am today to make it to an 8am meeting.

I am really proud of myself though for being so close to the 30 day goal and I have plans to keep going and do another 30 day set after this. Assuming I don't get bronchitis, obvs.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Another Week in the Life

I'm not sure this week was busier than usual... It was a little unusual in that the girls' school had a spring break this Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. But my spring break was last week. And David's spring break is next week. My parents offered to come up Wednesday night and keep the girls yesterday and today, which meant that Wednesday night I shut the door to an office that had marker lines on the desk and Cheerios ground into the carpet because I had to entertain two little helpers at work all day! (Seriously a student commented that my office smelled like cereal and I was like, "Hmmm. Must be the Cheerios."). I did enlist babysitting help from two students because I had to teach classes and attend meetings without my entourage, but it was SUCH an exhausting day because instead of being able to sit quietly after class and prep or grade or read or answer e-mails, I was switching in parenting mode while trying to multi-task. Whew.

I've been thinking a lot about where my time goes lately. In a perfectly productive day, here’s what I’d do:

Yoga in the morning before work

Drink a full glass of water before coffee and breakfast, though those both are usually consumed in the car. I almost always eat an English muffin with fresh ground peanut butter on it for breakfast. It does not bother me in the least to eat the same thing for breakfast every day. One less decision to make.

Drop girls at school, podcast or audio book on the way to work. (I have a 30 minute commute, but there's no traffic, which I think makes a huge difference in terms of it not being miserable. It's my podcast or audio book time and OMG I've been listening to this podcast called Blue Babies Pink. It's the story of a guy growing up as a conservative Christian in Alabama and trying to comes to terms with his homosexuality. It's fascinating. I also like his southern accent. Very cute.)

Teach class (I teach two classes per day, every day of the week), grade, do email, meetings, lunch in dining hall on MW, in my office other days, occasionally out to lunch with work friends. Sometimes I have time or I want to stop grading so I check social media. Other days I'm too busy/preoccupied.

Pick up girls after work.

Supervise Kumon.

Help prep dinner or drink wine and supervise Kumon while David makes dinner. Eat and help clean up.

Scroll Instagram.

Hang out with kids—puzzles, books, art projects or watching performances (they have been working on “tornado spins”)

Put kids to bed—read, snuggle, talk


Read for class

Read for fun



Watch TV

There’s just not enough time for the last five things on the list. It’s like I have to pick just one or two, and that bums me out. If I stay up later, obviously I can do more, but then it’s that much harder to do yoga the next morning. On my spring break, I drank tons of water and used the elliptical every day, but when I get home from work, getting on the elliptical is basically the last thing I want to do. Exercise quickly gets pushed aside.

Plus, if I do any kind of social event—a dinner with friends or a meeting—I miss bedtime, so I don’t commit to more than two evenings during the week ever, and I prefer to keep it at one. 

My solution for now is to rotate what I choose for fun and this week blogging has been pushed aside by other writing and reading. Sometimes reading gets pushed aside for TV. It feels like a good kind of trade off, though as the girls get older I hope our evenings stretch out a little more and I can fit in exercise. They go to bed early—ideally asleep by 7:30, which means bedtime routine needs to start around 7, which sometimes feels like that happens right after dinner gets cleaned up. By that time, exercise is out the window. And they are still so needy and hungry after school that it just doesn’t work.

One thing we don’t do during the week is screen time. It truly feels like we just don’t have time for it. I know it’s a lifesaver for a lot of people, so no judgment, but it becomes such a battle at my house to turn it off once it’s on, that for us it’s truly not worth the 22 minutes of peace we get with a Netflix show because it seems like it negatively affects behavior for at least an hour after. I’m glad we are able to avoid it—they will occasionally ask, but they expect to be told no, so its just not a big deal. (It will be interesting to see how summer goes when every day feels more like a weekend... I may need some strategies on how to deal with TV as a SAHM this summer.)

Anyway, that’s mostly how my day gets divided, plus the little stuff that eats up time but gets unaccounted for... making photocopies, texting friends, cleaning... and that list doesn’t include days when I have to run errands. The other day it was raining and I had intended to leave work 30 minutes earlier than usual to run to Target and get necessities--lotion, shaving cream, pull-ups for night time. But I couldn't get away from the office when I wanted to and I needed to pick up the girls and the thought of dragging them to Target in the rain at 5:30pm was impossible. So I went home, placed a Target order online, and scraped the last of the lotion out of the bottle just before the new one arrived two days later. Errands are hard! How did we live before Amazon and online Target?

My thoughts are turning more and more to summer even though (or maybe especially because) the weather here is cold and yucky. I'm attending the March for Our Lives here in St. Louis tomorrow and it's supposed to rain. My friend ordered ponchos and I'm going to put on my rainboots and march, though! Enough is enough. We need to make some changes. I'll make time in my day for that.