Friday, December 7, 2018

A Recap

I remember being eight. I remember a lot about it. I was in third grade. I had one of my favorite teachers that year. I lost my front two teeth right before I turned eight, so I had the big gappy smile. I wanted to be a detective and an actress and a teacher when I grew up. Also an author. I started reading books I really loved--The Secret Garden and A Little Princess and Anne of Green Gables and all the Ramona books. When I was eight, I couldn't wait to be twelve. I had three best friends, Mandy and Kelly and Erin. I played four square at recess, but still played dress up and pretend, too (Erin and I loved to pretend that we were twelve). I got a diary with a lock that I only wrote in sporadically. I was already me at eight years old.

If life had gone a different way, I'd have an eight year old. A little big kid. 

Eight years is long enough that grief sits familiarly. The week leading up to her birthday wasn't too bad this year--sometimes the days proceeding are harder than the actual day. This year that wasn't so much the case. I was busy enough to be distracted at work, but I'd deliberately cleared my evenings to make space for early bedtimes and good books (I finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing and really loved it; I also finished Claire Tomalin's nonfiction memoir A Life of My Own, which addresses the loss of her daughter Susanna in a heartbreaking and honest way). 

I took the day off work, which I knew I would need, based on previous experience. I was able to respond to e-mail from home, but I spent the day mostly on my couch, addressing Christmas cards and half-watching Netflix Christmas movies involving princes and identity switcheroos. 

I picked Coco up early for a quick run to the cupcake shop and Trader Joe's for flowers. 

What I really want is for us to go out to dinner on Eliza's birthday, but David would have to take off work early for us to be able to do that and get out to the park for the vigil by 7pm, so we weren't able to do that this year. Next year we'll plan accordingly.

The girls were weirdly jazzed about Eliza's birthday. I say weirdly because I obviously have mostly sad feelings about it, but they were very intent on a "celebration" with cupcakes and candles and they sang happy birthday and I just went with it. I think it was also exciting just to do something besides get ready for bed at 7pm on a school night. We had them put on their pajamas and at the park we bundled them under blankets in the stroller. I only had one battery-lit candle that worked and there was bickering over blankets and Coco was SO FREAKING LOUD that I threatened to take her back to the car and we got there about two minutes after the ceremony had already started. But we made it. The song and the talk (a mom who lost her baby girl to meningitis at five days old) made me cry and Coco looked at me wonderingly and said, "Are you sad?" and I said, "Yes. I miss Eliza a lot today." And she said, "All these people are sad because all their babies died."

After there ceremony we stood in the long line to put a white flower on the Angel of Hope statue. A newspaper photographer snapped Zuzu's picture (she looks like a miniature college student with her zebra stripe fleece pajama pants and her messy bun) and she was featured in their write up of the event. I didn't realize he was snapping her photo (which is why my mouth is open and I'm flailing my arm in the photo), but he caught up with us as we were walking away to ask Caroline's name and where we live. Then he said, "And who are you here for?" So I said, "Her sister Eliza, who would be eight years old today." And then he asked me when Eliza was born and I said, "December 6, 2010." And he said, "December 6? So today is her birthday?" and I said yes and he started to say, "Well, happy birthday--" but then he kind of caught himself like maybe that was inappropriate and I just said, "Well, we do the best we can." And then he sort of looked up at the sky and said, "Happy Birthday, Eliza," and it made me get totally teary-eyed.

She got featured in the story here (she's the top photo) and the girls also are in another photo later if you scroll down (they appear unsupervised, but I swear David and I were right behind them!). 

And then we drove home and everybody went to bed by 8:30pm (late for the girls, early for us).

It wasn't the worst December 6 I've ever had, by a long shot. I felt the love of texts and e-mails and IG comments and facebook messages. It helps so much to know she's not forgotten, that other people miss her too, that other people besides us see the gap that's left in this world by a little girl who would have certainly lit it up just like her sisters do. 

Eight years is when I really started to figure out who I was and what I loved. And I just wish I could know Eliza at eight. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Thoughts Deep and Shallow

I had the most amazing experience on Sunday.

After someone had an accident that went right through the “water resistant” mattress pad, I knew I needed one of the plastic mattress covers that are completely waterproof. I ordered it on the Target app as we were leaving church. I selected “pick up at store” and then I chose “deliver to car.” We had brunch and a play date with friends, then I opened the Target app and told them “I’m on my way.” I allowed the GPS to track me in the app and it KNEW when I arrived at the store. By the time I parked in the clearly marked “pick up here” parking spot at the store, a Target employee was walking the mattress cover to my car. 

I signed for it and left and I didn’t have to get my kids out of their car seats. It was AMAZING!


This week at church was a child dedication service. I had seen this announcement weeks ago, but we missed three weeks of church in a row in November--one or the other of the girls woke up on a Saturday running a temperature two weeks in a row, and then we didn't go on Thanksgiving weekend when we had family in town. Anyway, it was not on my radar and then I got to church on Sunday and saw it in the bulletin: 9:30am Service: Child Dedication.

My heart kind of flipped. This is precisely the kind of service I have deliberately skipped for the past eight years. It has felt too difficult, too tender, too emotional. Certainly not something I would have decided on purpose to sit through the first weekend in December.

But we were there. Well, David stayed home to do some yard work, but Zuzu and I were there, and Coco was already in the preschool room. (At our church, kids in kindergarten and older sit in the service for the first fifteen minutes so they are there for the opening greeting and the "Time for All Ages" story time. After that, we sing the children out of the sanctuary to their classes with a song that goes, "From you I receive, to you I give, together we share, and from this we live," which is a little tradition that I love.)

I looked at the order of service, took a deep breath, and decided I could do this. I didn't need to run to the bathroom and hide. I could manage to sit through the dedication. It was a mix of ages--not just babies--and some of the kids and parents I knew, and I told myself it would be fine.

And it was.

I was sitting in a row with a good friend of mine and her son and daughter. Her son is in kindergarten and her daughter is a second grader--she is just a few weeks older than Eliza would have been.

There were five seats in the row, and five of us sitting there. Zuzu sat on the end of the row, then me, then my friend's daughter, then an empty chair, and my friend sat on the other end, holding her son on her lap.

And I had this moment of sitting there, noting the spacing that we hadn't planned, watching Zuzu play quietly with the stuffy she'd brought, watching my friend's daughter draw in her little notebook, imagining what it would be like if it were my second grader on my left and my first grader on my right. What if that were my normal? What if that were every day life? What if a child dedication was just one more little event at church instead of something that made my heart seize up? What if every December didn't feel start with me feeling like I have to gulp enough oxygen to get through the hours when I know I'll feel like I can't breathe? What if life were just that simple?

And then it was back to real life. The child dedication was lovely. It did not make me cry. We sang the kids out to Sunday school and we sat through the service and then we joined that same friend and her family for brunch and playtime at her house that was--as we could have expected--was noisy and hectic and left little time for actual talking, but was still a really nice moment of connection that I needed at the start of this week.


Eliza's eighth birthday is two days away. I sent an e-mail to Zuzu's teacher because I'm not sure whether Zuzu will talk about Eliza at school, but I wanted her to be prepared and aware of the situation if it comes up. I got a lovely response from her, which of course made me cry.

Sometimes I feel that old anger flare up, that feeling that, okay, yes, we've survived this great loss and we've been lucky enough to have two more amazing children who are here and healthy and alive and yet WHY did my baby have to die? Why does my life have to be complicated by this grief? Why do I have feel this extra level of complicated feelings about ALL OF THE THINGS ALL OF THE TIME?  Why am I e-mailing my first grader's teacher to let her know that it's possible my daughter will mention her dead sister's birthday this week? Why is this my life? Why can't it just be simple and easy?

And I know it's never simple or easy.  I know it may look that way, but everyone's story is more complicated and messier and uglier than we could possibly know. These stories emerge slowly, a comment here "When my mom died..." a remark there, "After my first marriage ended..." or "When I got my diagnosis..." and I realize that everyone gets their share of hurt and sad. (Don't they? Because if there's anyone who's still missing out on that completely, than I am definitely angry and jealous about it.)


This year, I don't feel like I've been super emotional, but I think grief is manifesting itself as exhaustion (I see you, Grief! I know your tricks.). I feel really tired. I did all the things in November to get ready for December and I'm relieved I did because I'm definitely not productive right now. My plan for tonight is to go home, light a fire in the fireplace, watch the snow fall, and read. Or maybe just sleep.

I've already gotten some messages from people thinking of Eliza, recognizing my grief season, sharing it due to their own losses, and I'm just so grateful. For those of you still reading this ancient blog, for those of you who have shared your stories with me, for those of you who light a candle for my girl and hold Eliza in your hearts.


I went to a concert last Friday with a new-ish friend who has also become a very dear, kindred spirit kind of friend and one of the songs they performed in concert was "For the Better" from Wicked. This song never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It makes me think of all the ways I've been shaped by being Eliza's mom--by knowing and loving her, and by all the people I've been led to because of her, including this friend, all of the babyloss moms I've e-mailed or connected with, and pretty much all of you reading this.

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn.

And we are led to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.

Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you.

Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes the sun,
Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood.

Who can say if I've been changed for the better
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Quick Post About Coco Puff

This morning we were doing the usual chaotic shuffle out the door, with the girls and me in our relatively small laundry room, putting on coats and shoes and backpacks, both dogs underfoot.

Suddenly, Coco said, "What is that bad smell?"

She was right. It smelled terrible--poopy and sulfury at the same time. "I don't know," I said, looking at both of the dogs, "But that is foul."

Coco said, "Maybe it was my toot."

* * *

After I pick Coco up from school, we have about a ten minute drive to Zuzu's school. Sometimes this drive is exhausting, as she peppers me with one question after another, demanding exact answers or thoughtful responses. Here is Monday's list, as close to verbatim as I can get, which I immediately entered into my phone upon arriving at Zuzu's school so I wouldn't forget them:

Are you driving fast?
Is it almost Christmas?
Are we almost to Zuzu's school?
What is before Christmas?
How will Eliza do her birthday if she died?
How did Eliza die?
Why did her heart stop beeping?
Was Little Mac a baby when she died?
When are we going to outer space?
When are we going to a hotel?

That's an average of one question per minute, with me stumbling over responses ranging from "We really don't know why things like this happen, and they don't happen very often, but sometimes they do and it's really sad..." to "Never. We are never going to outer space."

I love this kid, but sometimes it would be more relaxing to just listen to the radio rather than try to have a conversation/interrogation.

* * *

Zuzu was really ill-behaved the other morning before school, and Coco did that thing you sometimes do as a sibling when your brother or sister is making bad choices and you act extra good. It was very cute, and as frustrated as I was with Zuzu, I appreciate Coco's efforts.

I had a moment of parenting genius that day and wrote a note from Elsa the Elf to each of the girls. Elsa told Zuzu that she doesn't want to have to report poor choices to Santa, so she is going to delay her visit (YES!) until she is sure that Zuzu can have good behavior. Elsa wrote to Coco that she was proud of her for making good choices. Coco's little face just lit up. Even funnier was that the girls had already hung their stockings, so the notes were folded over the tops of them. They have been playing Christmas and putting toys they already own in the stockings, so they dug around in them to see if Elsa brought them anything.

(NO! Of course she didn't bring you anything. She brought you a note saying your behavior made her SAD!)

But apparently there was a hair clip shoved all the way down in the toe of Coco's stocking that had been overlooked last Christmas, so the girls naturally assumed Elsa had brought it for Coco because she made good choices that morning and I totally let that ride.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

So... We're Doing This

We are going to Disney World in December.

Cue the head explosion.

Don't get me wrong--I'm excited about it and how it will be an amazing and magical experience for the girls.

David has done all the planning, and he has made lots of choices I would not have made. (Length of trip being a big one.) But on the other hand, he is doing all the planning so I don't have to think about it, I just have to show up. (And order a few Disney-themed shirts for the girls, naturally.)

Part of me wants to ask the internet for Disney advice and part of me knows it will be overwhelming and confusing and I just want to put my head in the sand until we actually get there. So... I dunno. Any non-overhwelming advice? Like what pants do I wear to Disney in December? Seriously. I have no idea.

The trickiest part of all--aside from the pants situation--is that taking a vacation in December shortens the month for us. We are going before Christmas, which means that everything that needs to be done before Christmas really has to be done before Disney. And that feels like it is coming up SO FAST!

Which means we put a Christmas tree up yesterday. I know people get really Scroogey about decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but I want the weeks to enjoy the tree, and by the time Christmas is over I want to simplify and declutter and get the decorations put away. So we figured we'd decorate now while it didn't feel stressful and crazy. The girls were thrilled and helped out a lot, which means the tree is not exactly decorated in the way I would have chosen. We didn't get ribbon on it because they'd already hung so many ornaments, and the ornaments are clustered as you'd expect, about halfway up the tree and in the center. I also like to "feature" certain ornaments by giving them the prime real estate on the tree, but the girls tended to make other choices and I decided not to bark orders at them. So the tree is strongly centering Elsa and Olaf, and there are a couple of ornaments sharing a branch, although I have spread out some of them because that kind of drives me bonkers. It still looks beautiful and makes me happy to see it. Plus, it's nice to put up Christmas stuff well in advance of Eliza's birthday since I know I'll spend November 30 - December 6 feeling pretty low.

I'm keeping the dining room pumpkin-fied for Thanksgiving, but letting the rest of the house go ahead and make the shift, while also trying to convince David we can cut back on some of the decorations this year. We inherited many things from his grandma and he is sentimental about them (but I am not so much) so it's hard to convince him that some of the things could just stay in storage this year...

On the other hand, we are super simplifying Christmas shopping for the girls. I think the plan is that they will get a small gift each day while we are there to help stave off the requests for souvenirs. And we'll explain to them that those are their Christmas presents from David and me. When we get home, Christmas morning will be gifts from Santa and Grammy and Bops and other relatives who send gifts. They will not feel deprived, and Santa is keeping it small this year, too... I've heard that the big gift he's bringing is a karaoke machine. I'm sure he will stuff their stockings, and then he usually does books, a puzzle for Coco, art supplies for Zuzu, and some jammies or clothes. He won't do clothes this year since they are getting some new stuff for the trip (Harry Potter t-shirts and soft princess-inspired dresses that aren't the polyester costumes). Actually, he might do Elsa nightgowns because I think he already stocked up on those...

I guess that's it! I've already decided on it. I just need to get make a trip to the bookstore, and I'm already planning to go tomorrow night anyway to see a friend of mine talk about his new book, so I should be able to cross a few things off my list.

I do a gift exchange with a few friends, plus we buy gifts for nieces and nephews and a few little cousins. So still lots to plan! Plus holiday cards and post-Disney travel plans (we want to visit my brother and his family in Pittsburgh... we also need to have a little R&R time at home before we start a new semester).

So before we leave for Disney, I have to get through the semester, host Thanksgiving, get this novel written, get through Eliza's birthday (eight. That feels impossible but also exactly right because of course I should have an eight-year-old.), send out holiday cards, finish holiday shopping, grade all final exams and papers, get grades posted before we leave town, attend David's doctoral hooding ceremony, and hopefully make some Christmas cookies?

I kind of need a nap.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Night Worries

I was going to call this post "Night Terrors" but then that sounded like I was writing about the real thing that some children experience where they wake up screaming and I'm just writing about my own self and my own anxieties.

In the early days after Eliza died, I hated mornings the most. I was pretty tired by the end of the day--holding yourself together when you want to cry at every moment is exhausting--and I could basically just watch TV until I dozed off. But in the morning, when you first shift into consciousness... before you even wake up, you become aware of a pit of dread in your stomach and it takes just a few fleeting moments before your brain catches up and reminds you why your stomach hurts and your heart aches. And you have a whole day stretching in front of you that you have to get up and get through. That kind of grief is a hard slog.

These days, I don't have so much trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Back in late September/early October, I took a couple weeks off from yoga with Adriene. I was staying up too late and having a hard time getting up in the morning, not because I was sad but just because I was tired. It became obvious that I actually feel much better and am more productive when I squeeze that extra 30 minutes into my morning, so I have returned to the daily morning practice and it definitely gets my morning off to the right kind of start.

But now it's the evenings that get me. If I'm worried about something--say, an election, a book project, a stack of grading, plans for the holidays, etc.--I can push things from the forefront my mind while I drive the kids around and teach classes and answer e-mails and do all the work stuff I do to keep busy so I don't have to grade papers. Then I get home from work and it's the bustle of dinner and read alouds and bath and bed and the dreaded teeth brushing (seriously it's my least favorite moment of the day). And then the girls go to sleep and then I take a shower and then...

I worry. I lay in bed planning to read but then I just scroll my phone and fret.

Last night, I was really worked up. I sent out a few queries and instead of feeling bold and in charge of my destiny, I felt fearful and silly. I'm recognizing how small the niche for this book project seems in relation to the vast publishing market and realizing that even if the book doesn't totally suck (I have lost all objectivity and can't even tell if it's rubbish), it still may never find an agent who wants to publish something that will only appeal to a portion of 1% of women who get pregnant each year. 1/160 is way too many babies who die before they are born, but it's a really small number when you're thinking about book sales. This does explain why there's not a lot of great stuff out there, and it does make me further appreciate books like Notes for the Everlost: A Field Guide to Grief by Kate Inglis and Ghost Belly by Elizabeth Heineman and, of course, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

Anyway, last night I was just feeling really sad about the slim chances of traditional publishing. This morning? I feel much better. (It's amazing what eight hours of sleep can do.) The chances are still slim, but given my particular audience, it's just reality that my book might be a better fit for a small boutique press or possibly even a hybrid publishing house. I just feel better about exploring options this morning, where last night I felt like a failure. Mornings are better, these days.

Last night I was also pretty worried about election results. This morning... still worried. But motivated. Zuzu went with me to vote because she's out of school today and we had good conversations about voting and our family's values. We talked about how your vote is secret and no one has to know who you voted for, but you can tell your family if you want to. We dropped Coco at school first (Coco had a rough morning--her first question when she woke up was if I would paint her fingernails before school, and getting a negative answer to that inquiry was pretty devastating) so it was about 8am before we made it to our polling place. But the line was short and the folks were friendly!

I still don't have holiday cards ordered or holiday shopping organized, although we do have some big holiday plans that I'll announce soon. And I feel okay about that today. In an annoying revelation, writing this novel is forcing me to be really efficient with my time, so I'm actually getting stuff done. (Which is why I keep finding time to blog even though I thought it would be radio silence for the month of November!). It turns out that the more I write, the more stuff I want to write about.

Anyway, I still have a stack of grading to tackle (and more exams coming in on Friday) so I'd better get to it. I just needed to write out this reminder that no matter how terrible I feel at bedtime, life is generally more endurable in the morning.  And hanging out with this kiddo at work today doesn't hurt either.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Quick Halloween Recap

Just a few things I want to remember about Halloween this year...

I was so unmotivated on the actual day of Halloween. It was chilly and rainy and even when the rain stopped it just felt damp. It is getting dark so early (I'm already over it) and by the time David got home and we all had dinner, it was after 6pm. We had talked about driving back in to our old neighborhood because it is the BEST when it comes to trick or treating (everyone goes all out and all the houses are so close together, it's maximum candy per square foot), but suddenly that felt like too big of an undertaking. Our street is really quiet, so I suggested we drive over to the next street, which is a much larger subdivision and trick or treat there.

We started at my friend Lisa's house, which was fun, and we also immediately ran into a little girl from Zuzu's class at school, her dad, and her four-year-old sister. The girls immediately paired up and decided to trick or treat together. The dad also ended up being super nice, and I was like a third wheel as he and David were both in costume (David was Thing One from school that day--his assistant principal had been Thing Two) and the other dad was a Jedi knight because his daughter was Rey from Star Wars. (He had told his daughters that if one of them dressed up as something other than a Disney princess that he would dress up too. LOL.)

I already posted this on Instagram, burt Coco was not too sure about David's costume. She asked if he was really going to wear it and when he said yes, she said, "NO. People will think you're different." I think she meant that people wouldn't recognize him? But I just told her, "Honey, your daddy is a little different."

Anyway, Hermione Granger and the little black kitty cat had a blast running around with Rey and a  fairy with light up wings. The houses being spread out enough (with not every porch light on) meant that the girls actually did a fair amount of running and we hustled to keep up with them. The rain held off (it started misting/spitting at the end) and the girls fully participated in the St. Louis tradition of telling a joke to get a piece of candy.

Zuzu's joke was: How do you get a tissue to dance?

Answer: You put a little boogie in it.

Her friend's joke was: Why did the music teacher need a ladder?

Answer: To reach the high notes.

The little sisters mostly got out of joke-telling but were happy to shout trick or treat and mostly remembered to say thank you.

Coco got pretty worn out at the end and started lagging behind. The other girls' dad asked them to wait on Coco and Zuzu's friend said, "Oh, Coco, I'm sorry we left you in the dust!" which made me laugh. I'd told David I wanted to leave at 7, but it was closer to 7:30 by the time we got back to the car. Coco told me she had enough candy and asked if she could take a little nap in the car! That is a sentence you would never, ever hear her sister speak.

It ended up being a pretty fun little evening, and I was glad that I went even though I was kind of a grumpy pants about the whole thing. (After two Halloween events over the weekend, I was just kind of over it.)

Since Halloween, Clementine has demonstrated she will eat ANYTHING that comes out of a trick or treat bag: candy, spider rings, erasers, and also little ink stampers, which will then get black ink all over the carpet. That dog is a running, leaping, chewing disaster.

Other November news:
I'm feeling pretty anxious about the upcoming election. The usual vacillation between hope and despair. I'm really concerned about the marginalized communities who it feels are being increasingly targeted. My sister-in-law recently posted a cartoon on Facebook that featured Mary and Joseph fleeing their home country with the baby Jesus and seeking refuge. I'm baffled by the way many Christian groups do not find it part of their calling to open our country to refugees. I know there are lots of excuses and justifications, but the New Testament seems pretty clear on this stuff. UGH RELIGION POLITICS CLIMATE CHANGE FREAKOUT HIDE UNDER BLANKETS I JUST WANT TO GO WATCH FATHER BROWN.

My novel is coming right along (which is why I'm blogging now instead of writing). I'm not sure I'll have a ton of time to work on it this weekend, so I've gotten a bit ahead of the game. Not getting too cocky here! (I still have 45,000 words to write). What I've written is terrible so far--I'm telling rather than showing everything, but I'm getting it all down on paper, and I do think the story I'm telling is kind of interesting (the basic premise is that a girl tells a lie in high school to protect her cousin when he is wrongly accused of murder, and then fifteen years later finds out that her lie protected someone else. She then has to decide whether to lie again, when protecting her cousin will also let the real murderer go free. WHAT WOULD YOU DO??? It's set in a small town and the girl is working at her family's furniture store, so I've been texting my friend Monica (whose family owns a furniture store in my hometown) to ask her questions about what she did at work all day besides just help customers.

Kids are in bed, so I'm off to raid the Halloween candy for the good stuff.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Catch as Catch Can

I don't really know what "catch as catch can" means. Like grab whatever you can? Like in one of those machines that blows money everywhere?

Anyway, let's pretend that it covers the idea of a haphazard list. Here are ten things I've been meaning to tell you:

1) Zuzu has blisters on the palms of her hands that are turning to calluses from the monkey bars on the school playground. I just love holding her little hands and feeling that evidence of her playing so hard and pushing herself to get all the way across the monkey bars. I love that she feels like it's such a big accomplishment (and it kind of is... I'm not sure I could do it at this point!) and then I start thinking about all the things she's doing and accomplishing at school that I'm not witnessing. Her little palms with their weirdly stigmata-like calluses are like a combined symbol of childhood and independence and every time she slips her little hand in mine, it just makes my heart swell.

2) Coco has been putting on performances for us. Zuzu often joins her (and will quickly take over directing the action--Coco takes direction well, fortunately) but Coco really likes to do them on her own, too. It involves talking over a "microphone," which is actually the little microphone attached to a toy cash register that gives terrible feedback so it really sounds like she's making an announcement from the cash register at a nearly defunct K-Mart. (Related: They will be getting a karaoke machine with a real microphone for Christmas, which should improve the noisy feedback, but we may totally regret it...). She'll say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the show will begin in FIVE minutes!" She will usually go put on her ballet slippers, and then she does an elaborate thing where she tells me the curtain is down. She climbs on the fireplace hearth to flick the light switch on, then she runs over to turn on a lamp and then she announces that the curtain is up. Then she grabs the mic again and announces her name (usually things like, "Gleam" and "Sayla," which always sound to me like characters in The Hunger Games). And then she does some kind of song and dance show ending in an elaborate pose and we applaud.

3) Halloween costumes this year are Hermione Granger and a black kitty cat. Originally, Zuzu was absolutely certain she was going to be Ginny Weasley. She told Monica that she likes Ginny Weasley best because, "She almost died but she SURVIVED." But she's decided her hair looks more like Hermione (especially if she sleeps in two French braids and then we brush it out) so she's rolling with the more recognizable Hermione as her official costume. Coco is delighted to be a black kitty cat, which consists of black tights and black leotard that were already in her closet, a $3 clip on tail, $1 cat ear headband, and a black nose and whiskers drawn on with eyeliner.

4) We had family photos taken Saturday evening. I hope they turn out okay. Zuzu cracked me up because she had a lot of ideas for the photographer about poses that she and Coco should do. They think that poses for photos should be similar to the poses they did in their dance recital pictures and the way Coco ends most of her performances (lots of pointed toes or dramatically bent knees and arms in the air). Fortunately, they took direction pretty well and our photographer was awesome working with them.

5) You want a really delicious dinner that takes zero effort to prepare? Get creamy tomato soup from Trader Joes. Get a slice of good French bread. Put mayo on the bread, then some shredded sharp cheddar. Toast it in the toaster oven while you're warming up your soup. Delicious! (Don't skip the mayo even though it feels really counter intuitive--I promise it's fantastic!) (Let's all take a moment to wonder why I'm not a food blogger.)

6) You want pretty good muffins that take zero effort to prepare? Take a can of pumpkin puree and mix it with a plain yellow cake mix. It's literally just those two ingredients, though I would recommend adding 3 tsp of pumpkin pie spice (a mix of 3 tbsp cinnamon, 2 tsp ground nutmeg, 2 tsp ground ginger, 1 1/2 tsp ground cloves, and 1 1/2 tsp allspice). If you're feeling a bit extra (which I totally was on Saturday morning) I used this recipe for pumpkin bread with cream cheese swirled and ate it for breakfast today even though it is decidedly a dessert.

7) A rare entry in a seldom-seen series I call Excellent Parenting Moments, on Sunday we convinced Zuzu to stay home and eat candy and watch the Harry Potter movie instead of going to another trunk or treat. She is one of those kids who is sensitive to input--television, sugar, big shifts in routine... She's a ton of fun in the moment but then it all kind of falls apart between 6:30 and 7:00pm. Rewatching the first HP movie was definitely the right call (and also it allowed me to exit a bit early without anyone minding so that I could get to a restorative yoga class... yaaasssss.)

8) Holiday Hands is starting at Momastery. I did not get in on this last year--by the time I was able to scroll through the wish list, literally every single one had been met. And yet I kept scrolling because it was life-affirming to see people cheerfully helping people. It's exactly the kind of thing I need to see right now, when the news continues to break my heart in a million ways. Today in a creative writing class I'm teaching, we were talking about writing about hard things and we went around and named a social or political issue that is heartbreaking. There was no shortage of these, but a student of mine from Honduras talked about the caravan of people from her country and other Central American countries who are traveling through Mexico to seek refuge here, instead will be greeted by military force--if they can even get to the U.S. boarder. What can we do in the face of that? VOTE NOVEMBER 6! And also help somebody in need. I'm trying to channel impotent rage into some form of good--personal or political.

9) Confessions of a Halloween grinch: I love pumpkins. I love Halloween decorations, which are often photos of my babies at pumpkin patches. I love skeletons made out of q-tips glued to black paper and las fantasmas made out of cotton balls glued to black paper and pumpkins made out of orange paper glued to itself. I do not love carving pumpkins. I'm happy to skip that tradition all together. David usually takes it upon himself to carve a pumpkin with the girls, but this weekend we were so busy celebrating Dia de los Muertos, taking family photos, and taking my MIL out to lunch for her birthday before browsing through downtown St. Charles for their Halloween festival, we just didn't have time for pumpkin carving. The girls haven't asked about it, so I think maybe we'll just skip it?

10) I'm going off the radar for the month of November. Not because I want to, but because I'll have to in order to do this NaNoWriMo thing. I'm committed to writing 50,000 words in 30 days, which means that I don't have time for blogging, facebook, or sleep. I definitely don't have time to grade papers, but somehow my students keep submitting them! I've already done some Christmas shopping in preparation of having zero time next month. But I've also found that I don't run out of words... the more I write, the more I want to write. So I'll try to pop in here, but if I disappear for 30 days, know that I'll be back in December... Oh, December. I haven't even let myself think that far ahead. I'm looking to November 30 and no further. Once I get there, then I'll figure out how to wrap my mind around eight years.

Monday, October 22, 2018


I went to my twenty-year high school reunion.

I have no idea how it's possible that I've been out of high school for twenty years.

I was nervous about going. And here's the thing--so was everyone else I talked to.

I only went because Monica was going (and doing most of the planning). But I had a really great time. I talked to so many more people than I really hung out with or talked to in high school. Because it took me twenty years (and a couple of gin & tonics, let's be honest) to not feel shy and self-conscious or like everyone else already had a friend to talk to.

I was so amazed by how vulnerable people were willing to be--confessing their anxieties, telling their embarrassing stories, talking about really hard truths like divorce and infertility and loss.

My high school was small and my hometown is small, but I think I spent a lot of time growing up feeling like I didn't fit in... and at the reunion it seemed clear that we were all misfits, at least just a little bit. There was just none of the pretense and posturing of high school. Nobody was pretending to be too cool (well, except for the people who didn't show up... but I think most of them who didn't come either had a real conflict or had anxiety that prevented them from coming.)

I can't speak for everyone, but in high school, I was obsessed with worrying about comparisons or measuring up. And now... it was amazing to be around the same people and BE the same person and suddenly not care about stuff at all.

I think after Eliza died, I felt that I would always be the Worst Case and Unluckiest and Least Successful. And now that doesn't really feel true--but it also feels like such comparisons or superlatives are pointless. I spent ALL of high school comparing myself to other people and feeling like I didn't measure up. I mean, yes, I was smart. But I wasn't cool or cute or popular. I had good friends and I embraced my love for theatre, and I was friendly with people who were in the "in-crowd" but there was still so much stress and anxiety just going to high school.

(Side note: One of my international students asked me if high school in the United States is really like it is in the movies, and I was like, "Kind of... yes.")

But at the reunion, I just noticed that the cliques I thought existed in high school among girls seemed to have completely dissolved. There is a big group of guys that all live in Kansas City and are still pretty close friends, but even the most cool and intimidating of the jocks was just... an ordinary guy about to turn forty. It sounds obvious, but it felt shocking!

It was liked I talked to people in my graduating class like they were actual human beings instead of freaking out that they were "cool" people who were judging me. And all that angst from high school... most of it was all in my head. WHY can't teenagers take all the good advice that we hear? I was definitely told that the stuff I worried about then was not a big deal, but it sure felt like one at the time.

Life feels like it has been so hard since high school... and I still maintain that it was hard in its own way during high school. I stressed out so much over meaningless things. Like I probably would have benefited from therapy and/or medication and/or regular exercise. And even though the worries weren't "real," the anxiety about them certainly was. At the same time, I have a lot of good memories from high school and I had a lot of fun, both in class and on speech & debate tournaments, and on weekends making not great choices with friends.

I really enjoyed talking to people and asking them about their lives and seeing pictures of their kids. It was fascinating to learn that one girl I graduated with has self-published and one owns her own business and one is teaching kindergarten and one is directing a local food pantry. And I didn't feel like we were comparing notes to compete or measure up against one another. It truly felt like a reunion--like we had this unique experience of growing up together (most of us since we were five or six years old) and even if we hadn't been friends in school, we were uniquely linked and connected in this way that made us comrades. I felt so warm and fuzzy toward everyone! (Could have been the G&Ts, but I still feel that way days later!) I just want good things for all of them.

I was so surprised by how comfortable I felt being there. After all the hype, it was not stressful. I mean, I already knew everyone. I did not feel the need to impress anyone. I just felt like I could be my genuine self, but also like I could introduce my genuine self to them because we didn't all know each other that well even though we'd known each other forever.

So now I'm wondering what kind of high school or high school reunion experiences other people have had... Am I an outlier in saying my reunion was a great experience? Was high school as equally fun and miserable for you as it was for me?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Punkins & Pumpkins

We had our sixth annual pumpkin patch outing with the Lewis family yesterday! The girls are getting so big. The weather this year could hardly have been more different from last year. Last year we were in Kansas at the end of September, and it was so hot that my kids ended up taking off their shirts to get squirted with water! They don't have complexions that get naturally flushed, but they are so red in the photos. It was in the nineties and we were just baking in a Kansas pumpkin field. This year was the complete opposite and we were bundled up in winter coats!

This year, back in Illinois, it was about 42 degrees and cloudy. My ears literally hurt from the wind! The girls were good sports and still enjoyed their ride out on the haywagon pulled by a tractor, but we were all kind of relieved to take an enclosed bus ride back after we'd (quickly) chosen our pumpkins. Nobody fell in mud! The restaurant was busy and they were out of tomato soup so my dreams of warming up with tomato soup and grilled cheese were dashed. BUT it was Free Pie Monday, so my slice of caramel apple pie kind of made up for it!

(Side note: after lunch, I asked David if he would split a pumpkin bliss dessert with me and he said no, he was too full. But after he found out it was Free Pie Monday, he definitely managed to eat his entire slice of caramel apple!)

It was also fun just to hang out here with Monica and Johnny and Ellie Kate. The kids played a long time in the basement by themselves so we were able to do a lot of talking and catching up. It's fun to see the girls together, and they got along really well, especially considering their personalities are so different. The biggest distinction is that Zuzu gives zero effs and Ellie Kate worries about everything. Maybe they will balance each other out at some point? A nice surprise was that Clementine and Leia Lewis got along great and wore themselves out wrestling. At one point, Leia started getting a little humpy on Clementine and Zuzu laughed and exclaimed, "Go, Leia! She's like a cowgirl, and Clem is like a wild horse!"

And then we all laughed until we cried.

(Side note: I should give Clem a little credit here and say that she has chilled out quite a lot in regard to visitors. There was a time this summer when she was so growly when people came over and it made me really anxious, which I'm sure only added to her feeling tense. We've all simmered down a bit and even though she is still distrustful of tall men at first, she warms up to people pretty quickly. I'd love to say she's 100% potty-trained, but she decided to prove me wrong on Friday evening. I'd also love to say she's quit chewing so much, but there's a Minnie Mouse doll with a detached leg sitting by my sewing machine who would beg to differ. I'd love to say that she's quit eating and destroying her dog bed in her crate, but she's basically sleeping on a pile of loose fleece with a rag towel thrown on top of it right now. I expect that two or three years from now, Clementine will be a very good dog. Until that time, we just keep loving her even though she a pain in the tushie.)

David made a little fire in the firepit and we huddled around it with blankets (Coco chose to wear a strapless dance costume outside) and ditched our original dinner plan to just order pizza so nobody had to get up and fix dinner and it was a good decision.

I really try to prioritize time with friends in my busy life, but it's still hard to block out evenings just for talking and doing nothing else--even with friends who are local! It is always time well spent, though.

I feel like I've been struggling a lot lately with the dark, dismal news. Climate change, irrevocable damage to the environment, hurricanes wreaking havoc on communities on the mainland (not to mention Puerto Rico), the recent supreme court debacle, a political administration whose policies infuriate and devastate me--and I'm only a witness rather than a victim, as my white and socioeconomic privilege protects me from a lot of the problems.

At the same time, I feel so fortunate that my life feels full in many ways. I can remember when I felt that this level of general contentment would never be possible for me. But I feel lucky to do life with D, to raise these kids of ours, to live in a house surrounded by trees and full of dog hair. I find myself surrounded by friends who are supportive and encouraging and smart and interesting--and while I am lucky to have a bff from high school, I also feel incredibly fortunate to have made some really good friends just in the past couple of years. This kind of amazes me since I wasn't sure post-loss if I could ever make friends with a non-bereaved mom. D and I have gotten tapped into a community of energetic and like-minded folks who are working for social justice and real change here in St. Louis and that's also been such a gift.

And I guess all this is to say that life continues to be full of contradiction and paradox and I guess we're all here to hold on to the good stuff and do our best to change the bad stuff. I'll be wearing black with my ERA necklace and RBG dissent collar pin every Friday from here until November 6. But I still feel lucky to be here, to have a voice and to be able to take my kids to a pumpkin patch wearing matching outfits every year from now until forever.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


Well, I'm glad to report that after feeling that my last post was the all-time low of parenting, things HAVE in fact improved! We've had no major issues beyond the usual meltdowns over missing shoes and undesirable dinners, and only one anonymous commenter thought I should start hitting my kids! No one had any advice about the dog, so I guess she's really a lost cause.

Life feels really busy but it's really this week and next week and then things kind of slow down. Just in time for midterms and the ramp up to the holidays. Is it just me or does the fall semester fly by and the spring semester drag? Every year.

I signed up for this Last 90 Days challenge thing that is all about ending the year strong on your resolutions, just like you started the year! Except remember how I started the year with bronchitis and coughed so hard I strained a rib and had to put everything else on hold? Yeah. So not like that. Anyway, I feel like the only thing preventing me from eating healthy and exercising regularly and reading all the books I want to read is the lack of a motivational e-mail to remind me I want to do those things, so I should be totally good now!

In all seriousness, I am in a slump because I've been feeling super tired since I got back from California and OMG I should talk briefly about that... I went to a Brave Magic Conference at 1440 Multiversity and it was delightful. The workshop sessions with Cheryl Strayed and Liz Gilbert were engaging and motivating. The campus is a dream--all redwood trees and your basic Northern California beauty. The food was The Best with so many vegetarian options and all of them delicious. I ate things like kale and parsnips and enjoyed them! It was a huge treat for me--and there was plenty of reckoning with privilege because it was very expensive to attend and while it felt like self-care it also felt very self-indulgent. In between workshops, you could attend yoga classes or tai chi or meditation or take guided nature walks or soak in the heated infinity pool. I did a lot of yoga and spent a lot of time outside and left feeling clear about my book project. The most important revelation I had was that all I can do is put my part of it out there and then the rest of it is none of my business. It feels really discouraging when people talk about the impossibility of finding an agent or publishing, but at the same time doing nothing leaves me right where I am now, and not finding an agent leaves me right where I am now... so I guess we'll just see how it goes.

That sounds like I'm all zen about it, but the scary part is that it means so much to me because it's Eliza's story and I want to do her justice. And honestly, I also have really thin skin when it comes to academic articles or any kind of writing. My understanding is that editors/publishers NEVER say, "This is brilliant! Let's print it." Even to people like Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert. So I'm just working on being brave and putting myself out there. And I'm asking for help, which is super uncomfortable! It all felt easier when I was eating meals I didn't have to prepare or clean up and spending time staring up at ancient redwood trees and theorizing how I would do this, but now we're back in real life where I sit in my office staring at my salt lamp and diffusing my essential oils in an effort to recreate that California feeling. Somehow it's not quite the same.

So, yes, I've just felt more tired than usual since getting home from California and really just felt under the weather all weekend, so I'm hoping I'll snap out of it and get back to my daily yoga routine. I did go to a restorative yoga class on Sunday which was super woo-woo and LISTEN I like the woo-woo. Even if I can't get into it 100%, I still like it. I like when people are totally into something.

(Side note: One time in a weird January term class that I co-taught, we asked the students to free write on what they were passionate about in an effort to get them thinking more broadly about potential majors or future careers. The answers were mostly sports (yawn) and then one student who was really adorable and earnest and had a British accent wrote, "I am passionate about cardiovascular health." And for some reason this just cracked us up and to this day my colleague and I will reference our passion for cardiovascular health. I still think it's funny, but maybe you had to be there?)

Anyway, the woo-woo yoga instructor mentioned that he'd heard a mortality test is whether you can get up from a seated position on the floor without using your arms. Ummmmmm, what??? So then we all practiced and it was stressful because it was basically a test of who in this class will die first. And it was this one lady with a bad knee.

Not really. It was a fun challenge. He also reminds us not to take yoga too seriously, which I never do because I love it and I believe in it and it makes my mind calm and my body stronger but it also strikes me as slightly absurd the whole time I'm doing it.

Anyway, what I've been missing a lot since school started is all the reading I did this summer. Oh man I love reading all the things. And what is hard is that even when I technically have time to read now, I won't, because I feel like if I have the energy to read for fun, I could be reading for class (or worse, grading). So I'll zone out to Father Brown but I won't pick up The Woman in the Window which is RIDICULOUS. I need to do better. Especially because there are so many books I want to read! But once NaNoWriMO (National Novel Writing Month) starts in November, there probably won't be any time for that. But that's only 30 days! Anyway, these are my problems.

That and I need to finish a query letter for this book project and that feels Hard and Scary so I definitely graded 30 exams today instead of working on it which tells you how hard and scary it is because basically I'd rather do anything but grade exams.

Zuzu asked me today why Coco is more like me and she's more like David. I didn't really understand what she meant (her dad is a rule follower so she's really like nothing we've ever seen before), but then she explained that she has brown eyes like David and Coco has blue/green eyes like me, and she gets canker sores like David does. Poor little punkin. I reminded her that Coco gets bug bites like I do, so there are trade offs. It does make me think about how we shape their understanding of themselves with these narratives: "Oh, you're just like your daddy" and I think that can be healthy and comforting, but it's also different from just letting them unfold into their own person. We bring all kinds of expectations. It also makes me wonder who Eliza would look like, because Zuzu does look a lot more like David and Coco does look a lot more like me (at least through the eyes). I felt so strongly in my gut that Eliza had blue/green eyes like me and Coco, but I will always wonder. (Zuzu's eyes were so blue as a newborn that I was shocked when they changed!)

Okay. I am ready for sleep but I have 25 pages of Mrs. Dalloway to get through before tomorrow. MW are my longest, hardest teaching day and I will never give myself this schedule again!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Restraint Collapse

David went to the Cardinals game this evening. I thought I'd have a "girls night" at home with the girls, get them to bed nice and early (they've been dragging in the mornings), and then settle down in front of Queer Eye to grade a few writing assignments.

Things were moving right along. We made it to ballet on time and Zuzu went right into the class even though it was a teacher she's less familiar with. (Backstory: Zuzu and Coco's classes are offered in two rooms at the dance studio at the same time. The owner of the studio and her sister switch classes each week, taking turns teaching the 3-4 year olds and the 5-6 year olds. When David took Zuzu two weeks ago, they arrived a couple minutes late, the class had started, it was the teacher she doesn't know as well, and she refused to go in.)

I graded a few assignments in the ballet waiting room and then the girls finished up with class and we headed out. I needed to stop and get gas on the way home, but that should not have been a big deal.

Coco has been working on sounding out letters and reading really simple books (simple like: Mat sat. Sam sat. Mat sat on Sam. Sam sat on mat. Mat sat. Sam sat. The End.). She sounds out every single letter instead of just reading the word and she is VERY proud of herself. So she starts reading this book called Mat to me in the car and then Zuzu wanted to read it but Coco didn't want to share it and they were bickering and I wasn't really paying attention to what was going on because UGH the bickering let's just tune that out. Then Zuzu was rolling down the window and loosening her car seat harness which she KNOWS will get a huge reaction from me because it's unsafe (the carseat, not the window--the window is just annoying).

So I'm trying to sternly tell Zuzu no Harry Potter tonight unless she fixes her seatbelt immediately and I'm trying to get the bickering to settle down. I really have no idea why Zuzu was having this extreme angry reaction to not being able to read Mat. (And Coco did end up giving it to her because Coco always caves!).

Anyway, I'm putting gas in the car and Zuzu decides to screw Mat and get out of her carseat and JUMP OUT OF THE CAR AND RUN.

I was completely beside myself. This was a bustling gas station parking lot on the corner of a busy intersection. WHAT THE HELL. What do you do when your SIX YEAR OLD kid bolts at a gas station? Do you let them go? Do you scream at them in your scariest voice? Do you risk being the abusive-looking parent, chasing and grabbing your kid by the arm?

Spoiler: I did the chase and arm grab because it felt too dangerous to let her go, but she circled the gas pump a couple of times before I managed to grab her. I was furious.

I've been repeating this parenting mantra to myself: They never listen to what we say, but they always imitate how we act.

I was TRYING to keep this in mind as I got her back in the car by telling her that she was thisclose to not being able to go to a birthday party she was recently invited to. She did get back in the car, but she just sat on the floorboard and wouldn't get in her carseat. So we had a little standoff, which I won because I can sit in my car and scroll Instagram for longer than my kid wants to pout in the floorboard.

At any rate, we got home with everyone safely seatbelted and I naively assumed the evening was likely to improve from there.

Instead, after dinner, Zuzu and Coco decided to take their dot markers and dot on their faces. And MAYBE I overreacted to this, but seriously. A toddler draws on his or her face and it's cute. By first grade YOU KNOW BETTER. It was just so ridiculous and frustrating. So I told them NO, I took the markers and put them up, and I said we were going upstairs to wash their faces and get ready for bed.

And they ran from me.

This enrages me. It's the most obnoxious thing ever when they team up against me and try to turn it into a game of chase. It's so infuriating and I tend to get sucked into it so it gets a rise out of me, which is exactly what they want.

So tonight, I calmly told them that I was going to go upstairs and I wanted them to come upstairs and until they chose to do so, I'd be up there. THROWING AWAY THEIR TOYS. Except I said that part in a really calm voice, too.

Then I went up to Zuzu's room and started putting all the things they like in a laundry basket. Anna & Elsa dolls. Harry Potter book. Jeweled hairbrush. Bath toy mermaids. Knuffle Bunny book. ALL OF THE FAVORITES.

They came up and started freaking out. I carried the laundry basket to my room and put it on a dresser and calmly told them we needed to wash their faces and then maybe they could earn back these toys tomorrow by making better choices.

And did they say they were sorry and start cooperating?

No, my friends. Instead, Zuzu jumped up on my bed and Coco waited a split second and followed her. Then Coco followed Zuzu's lead again and copied her as they started THROWING PILLOWS AT ME.

Is this actually my life? Is this happening? Are my kids actually this horribly behaved?

I walked out of the bedroom because I thought I might lose my temper and I took some deep breaths in the hallway. Zuzu raced by me and inexplicably locked herself in her room.

This was my chance. Coco tried to open Zuzu's door, but it was locked, so when tried to avoid me by running into the bathroom, I managed to corner her there. Zuzu was blaring music in her room and I decided to ignore her. I got Coco stuck by the bathtub and used a wash cloth to wash the marker off her nose. But of course she was kind of fighting me, and as I knelt down to try to get all the marker off, she accidentally head-butted me. Hard.

And that was it. I actually started crying. It really hurt my cheekbone and I was SO FRUSTRATED and I didn't want to scream at my kids but I was at the end of my rope. So instead I cried. And Coco being Coco, when I started crying, she also burst into tears. I pulled it together quick and somehow, we got her teeth flossed and brushed and she apologized to me (still sniffling) and put her jammies and solidified Zuzu's role as Instigator and Coco's role as Faithful Follower.

Please note that while all of this was going down, Clementine ate a Cinderella doll, a fairy door (complete with ripping the 3M strip off the wall and damaging the paint), a plastic hanger, and another little doll that Coco said sadly was "Grammy's doll." WHO MAKES ME CRAZIER? THE DOG OR THE CHILDREN?

Coco lay down in bed and read me Mat again (I mean, how can you resist the lyrical prose?) and then mixed it up by reading Dot and Mit but that got a little too challenging so she asked me to finish it. (Spoiler: Mit is a cat.)

At this point, I heard Zuzu start crying, so I left Coco in her bed and went to check on Zuzu. She'd finally gotten tired of being in her room alone and agreed to let me wash her face. She brushed her teeth and settled down to read aloud another fascinating book of the non-fiction variety: Baby Birds. (Spoiler: Mother and father birds feed baby birds. Baby birds grow feathers on their bodies. Baby birds grow feathers on their wings.) I'll be honest: I LOVE that my children are starting to read, but these beginner reader books kind of hurt my soul.

At long last, both kids were asleep and they magically did that thing where they make me feel like I'm losing my mind and then I look at their sleeping faces and want to have like a dozen more babies.

I came downstairs to settle in and pick up with Hamlet writing assignments and queer eye, but the mess of magna tiles was driving me nuts, so I took a quick second to pick them up. I'm in the magna tile zone, stacking and clicking and putting them in the basket but then I saw something that didn't fit in the pile and the next thing I know, I'm HOLDING AN ACTUAL DOG TURD IN MY HAND.

I mean seriously. It's like I was being punked all freaking evening in my own house by my own family. A dog turd???

So here we are. Dog turd disposed of. Magna tiles put away. Horribly behaved children turned into sleeping beauties. Four more papers to grade. And tomorrow is another day.

And if tomorrow my children don't deliberately endanger their own lives in a busy parking lot, assault me with pillows, or head-butt me, and I don't end up holding a dog turd, then it will be a better day.

P.S. Restraint collapse refers to this phenomenon. We're feeling it hard right now.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

These conversations just get weirder and funnier as the girls get older... Here are some I've saved in notes on my phone from the summer and a couple more recent ones.

Scene: Playing pretend. (Note: They play pretend scenarios like this all the time. Usually, Zuzu directs the show and Coco quickly jumps in in agreement and elaborating. They make a great improv team! Sometimes Coco starts it, but Zuzu tends to be less agreeable.)
Zuzu: I've been doing dance for ten years and I have EIGHTY costumes.
Coco: And I have TWENTY costumes.
Zuzu: No, you have two costumes.
Coco: I have TWO costumes.

Scene: In the car, dramatically acting out a scene with little characters.
Zuzu: But then this lady killed her mother and burned her bed. And then she took her to be an orphan prisoner!
Coco: (in character) Where's your mom?
Zuzu: (in character) She died.
Coco: (in character) Did you SEE her die?

Scene: Snuggles on the couch
Me: I'm so glad you were born and that I'm your mama.
Coco: I'm so glad YOU were born.

Scene: At the kitchen table
Coco: What is Daddy's whole name?
Me: Michael David Duckworth.
Coco: That's not his whole name.
Zuzu: Yes, it is. His first name is Michael.
Coco: No! His first name is Daddy.

Scene: In the bathtub
Zuzu: How old will [cousin] Kailer be when I'm 16?
Me: Oh, gosh... let me see...
Zuzu: A young grown-up?
Me: Yes. He will be a young grown-up.
Coco: Like you?
Me: Yes! I AM a young grown-up. Thank you, Coco.
Zuzu: She's not young. She's old. She teaches young grown-ups.

Scene: At the kitchen table.
Zuzu: Mom, do you have the kissy face emoji on your phone?
Me: Yes.
Zuzu: Who do you text with it?
Me: Well, mostly your dad, I guess?
Zuzu: When I'm a grown up and have my own house and phone, will you text me with the kissy face emoji?
Me: Every day.

Scene: Playing.
Zuzu: You're Rapunzel, and I'm Rapunzel's sister, Raquel. The mermaid.
Coco: Can I be like you? But I want to be the mom.
Zuzu: Well, Rapunzel is the baby sister. The mom is... Russia.

Scene: Coco notices a framed photo on the wall of me dancing with my grandpa at my wedding reception.
Coco: (pointing) Mama, why did you marry him?

Scene: Playing pretend.
Zuzu: How about your name is Christy?
Coco: And I have long hair!

Scene: Getting in car. Zuzu and I are standing and waiting on Coco.
Coco: What is traffic?
Me: When a bunch of cars are on the road so everyone has to go slow or stop.
Coco: Oh.
Me: Please hurry up and get in the car. Your sister is waiting.
Zuzu: This is like traffic!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

This and That

After a helluva weekend, Tuesday morning went really well. Bedtime was a little rocky, but I try hard to get the girls asleep by 8 and we managed that Monday night. I was feeling better about things as we headed to the car right on schedule on Tuesday. Like maybe I was actually capable of parenting and keeping us on track.

The one hiccup in the morning was that while I was doing that last-minute gathering of all my things (coffee cup, water bottle, lunch bag, school bag) and shuffling it out to the car, Zuzu was standing up on the bench of our entry closet, reaching up for one of the bins on the top shelf. It's a bin full of summer stuff--pool toys, sunscreen, kids sunglasses, hats, etc. It was annoying because there was NOTHING in there they needed, but you know how it is. At the precise moment you are supposed to be getting in the car to go to school, you realize how desperately you need to take a diving ring with you. I asked her to leave the basket alone, she kept pulling stuff out of it, I loaded up the car, and then they headed to the car with a diving ring, a mermaid, and a hand-held fan. I reminded the girls that these items were not to go into school with them and then ushered them into the car with instructions to buckle up while I coaxed the dogs back in the house.

Coco is perfectly capable of buckling herself in her carseat, but when she has on a dress with a long or full skirt, she sometimes struggles. When I got back out to the garage, I opened the back door to help her buckle up. At the same time, she was whining and asking Zuzu to share the pool toys from the basket. Zuzu passed her the hand held fan as I leaned over to snap her seat belt buckle.

And suddenly the fan was in my hair.

With a groaning noise, it twisted up a chunk of hair on the left side of my face. I screamed, Coco dropped the fan, I reached up and grabbed it, turning the switch off.

But it was too late. My hair was snarled up in it. It was pulling at my scalp and I wanted to cry.

Zuzu yelled, "Coco why did you do that?" and I yelled, "No! YOU are the one who got these toys out when I told you that you needed to leave that basket alone!" Then I turned and ran back inside, where I stood in front of the mirror and tried to untangle myself. But time was ticking--we were going to be late for school if I didn't hurry it up--and after getting most of the hair loose, there was a small section that wasn't going anywhere. If I'd had thirty minutes, I probably could have gently teased it out with a comb. But I had about thirty seconds before we were late. So I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the fan out of my hair. Then I threw the fan on the top shelf of another closet, out of sight.

When I got back out to the garage, the girls stared at me wide-eyed and asked what happened. I told them I had to cut my hair to get the fan out.

Coco promptly burst into tears--huge sobs (cutting hair is kind of a trigger for her, lol). So I picked her up and told her it was okay and I knew it was an accident. I really wasn't mad at anybody--I knew she didn't mean to do that and she was as shocked as I was when it happened. The strand of hair I had to cut ended up being pretty small and it blended in easily. But I was annoyed with Zuzu--not for the fan in my hair, but just because I'd asked her to leave the basket alone and she had ignored me and it didn't seem worth the fight so I just kept loading up the car while she kept doing exactly what I had asked her not to do. I really want our mornings to be peaceful, but I also want them to do what I ask, and those two desires can evidently not coexist.


Last night, Zuzu was playing school and Coco was a student named Felicee (fuh-lee-see). Zuzu was Ms. Zimmerman, which is not her teacher's name, but maybe is another teacher at her school? She was so funny, writing a list of student names (Hanre for Henry and Agl for Angel) and putting checkmarks next to the students who were good at drop off and X's next to students who did not have good behavior. (Felicee did NOT have good behavior, according to Ms. Zimmerman.) Then she called all the students names and made them raise their hand if they made bad choices. Then she wanted Felicee to go to the time out corner.

I asked her--somewhat nervously--if her teacher did this, and if her teacher had a time out corner in the room. She laughed and said no like that was the silliest thing she'd ever heard. I'm relieved to hear that's not standard practice in first grade rooms, but I don't know where she's getting this stuff!


Drop off at school in the morning has been hit or miss. Zuzu goes to a before school care program because school doesn't start until 9:05am. She is often very hesitant and there was one terrible morning when she had a total meltdown and the teacher had to hold onto her as I left because she was trying to run after me. (The teacher called me literally 5 minutes later as I was still driving Coco to school to tell me that Zuzu was doing just fine and was making yarn pom poms with some older girls.) Anyway, we haven't had another morning as bad as that, but still lots of extra hugs and clinging and asking me to stay from the kiddo who has walked away from me with hardly a backwards glance for the past two and a half years at her preschool/kindergarten.

This morning, though, as we walked in, another little girl yelled Zuzu's name in greeting and Zuzu did give me an extra hug, but happily dropped her backpack and went to join that girl. I don't know who she is, but I wanted to give HER a hug. That friendly greeting made my day.


Zuzu's school has some different leadership teams and the kids have to list three that they'd like to be a part of. Zuzu chose Yoga Team, Birthday Team, and Dance Team. Her reasons were the best. She wanted to be on Yoga Team "Because I sometimes like to do yoga with my mom but I do my own yoga, not Adriene's." For Birthday Team, she dictated, "I love to celebrate and I think we should have a birthday chair!" And for Dance Team she said, "I am strong and elegant. I have taken a year of ballet."


Speaking of dance, the girls had their first class for the fall yesterday. I had a rough moment because I sat in the preschool dance waiting room and literally half of the moms there were pregnant. There was a LOT of chatting about induction dates and ultrasounds and epidurals and I just still cannot join conversations like that. I was glued to my phone and trying to tune it out. It is hard not to want to join those conversations because it seems to be the quickest connection for mom-friends. Next week, I'll sit in the K1 waiting room.

Both girls were super excited about dance. Zuzu is doing jazz this year and is thrilled about it. Coco got a new leotard and was so proud to show her friends and teachers when we changed her clothes at school. Her toddler leotards from last year were too small so I bought her a size XS (her dance school requires black leotards and pink tights) but it's a little big.


We did move forward with Spanish class instead of music class. Zuzu was adamant she wants Spanish, and the class times conflicted. Plus I just can't do all the things. This is one that the girls can take together, so we'll give it a go.

I did send an e-mail to the daisy troop leader about girl scouts, but I didn't hear back from her, so I think maybe we'll just wait until next year. I joined Brownies as a second grader, so that seems like a fine starting point for Zuzu, too.


Other updates? Clementine is still wild and obnoxious but is settling down a bit. She still has the super annoying habit of jumping up with her front paws to greet you in excitement. I cannot stand this, but I also understand that she's been in her crate all day and is bursting with energy. Cooper and Clem are getting along much, much better and even seem to enjoy each other's company. They get a little territorial over rawhide chews and food, but we haven't had any serious scuffles in weeks. Clem has inspired Cooper to get a little more pep in his step, I think, and he makes the effort to get up on the couch and snuggle with me when Clem is up there, which is very sweet.


Okay... back to work for me. And my new philosophical mantra: Any day that doesn't start with cutting a hand held fan out of your hair is a good day! TM. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

No Fair! Parenting Woes

The title of this post is a phrase that my four-year-old utters on the regular at home. I hate it so much I'm trying to outlaw it.

(Other verboten phrases in our family: stupid, hate, and shut up. I also pretend I don't know what the word "bored" or "boring" means, but my kids still say it. Does every family have these Phrases or Words That Shall Not Be Said? What are yours?)

Anyway, we had a rough parenting weekend over Labor Day weekend. We had zero plans after a busy week and a super busy previous weekend. The weekend before Labor Day, my parents came to town, I spent Saturday morning helping my friend Beth set up for her Pedal the Cause fundraiser, then spent the evening working and enjoying the fundraiser. On Sunday we went to Tower Grove Park to the Festival of Nations, and then were part of the crew disassembling the festival, which meant that we drove around on a golf cart, picking up folding chairs and folding tables and relocating them to designated spots for the rental company to come and get them.

So David and I were ready to chill, but our children were ready to behave abominably. Nasty attitudes, complete defiance about the smallest of tasks or request, totally uncooperative in all ways. It's a good thing we didn't have any plans, because our children were unfit to be seen in public. I seriously had knots in my stomach on Saturday because I felt like a parenting failure and I was so disappointed that my kids were such jerks. I think this was a combination of a lack of sleep (they were up from 3:30am to 6:00amish on Thursday night/Friday morning doing "activities" for reasons no one can comprehend and that made me a total zombie on Friday and made them total gremlins on Saturday) and restraint-collapse. (Although I may have googled this explanation as well.) Sunday was an improvement, but not a huge one. Monday finally felt like things were back on track and my kids were more human and less gremlin, so I'm hoping that we were all just overtired and coping with the back to school transition by acting out and now maybe we can all relax a little bit?

After much consideration (and angst for me), we are taking a break from Kumon. I have huge mixed feelings about this... I keep thinking about the perception that Zuzu has won the power struggle. Plus I don't like the idea of quitting, I've seen such great progress and I believe the program really works. But it had started to affect my quality of life in that I dreaded even mentioning to Zuzu because of the ensuing defiant and ugly behavior (she literally ripped worksheets to pieces over the weekend). It had become far too emotionally loaded for all of us! So we are taking some time off and we'll see if we revisit.

Meanwhile, Zuzu has expressed an interest in learning Spanish (although she asked me, hilariously, if  learning Spanish meant that she would forget English). So we will explore that option. I just don't know when to Tiger Mom (if ever?) and when to not worry about it at all. Sometimes pushing or encouraging her into an opportunity is definitely the right call, but I also want her to have plenty of downtime. What happens when everything is a power struggle? When do you hold the line and when do you tell yourself it's not worth the fight? Also, just when you think you've figured it out, something changes. And by the way, the other kid is completely different, so there is not a one-size-fits all solution. Besides deep breathing and whispering a mantra like, "I am the adult here."

I really think that Zuzu and Coco miss each so much this year not being in the same school. They play together so intensely after school. They are in their own little world. All they want to do is play dress up or play with dolls or little characters. Of course this is sweet and lovely unless we need to run errands or something and they both act out. This teaming up like we are the enemy and they are against us might be great for sisterly bonding, but it aggravates me like no other! (Low point of the weekend, me yelling, "I am NOT going to chase you!" while chasing them because they were refusing to brush their teeth.)

I've been listening to Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, which is great. In one episode, he talks about the personality measurement of how agreeable you are. A lot of being agreeable has to do with wanting approval from other people (or, conversely, not caring about the approval of others). In this regard, though Zuzu can be and often is a very sweet, kind, endearing child, she is also more generally disagreeable than many. It continues to surprise me how little she cares about upsetting David or me in order to make herself happy. If my mom told me that I was disappointing her with my behavior, I would feel terrible. Zuzu just shrugs.

(Another example: when we were talking about Kumon, I explained that her Kumon teacher would really want her to work hard and to continue with Kumon as good exercise for her brain. I asked her what she would want to say to Miss Ann about that. She thought for a moment and said, "Hmmmm.... That I don't feel like doing it?")

As Zuzu's kindergarten teacher told me, I am raising a strong, independent woman.

We have a busy week this week, and I'm glad it's a short one. This entire month feels busy to me--probably because I have two weekends out of town. One for my class reunion and one for a conference of sorts (more on that later). I'm trying to stick with some new school year resolutions, but I'm already dropping the ball on drinking water. Ugh. My other goals:

1) Daily yoga. Most days this is just 15-20 minutes in the morning before work, but it makes such a difference. I did a four week session of classes of Kaiut Yoga, but then I decided to buy a class card when the studio I went to in June with a Groupon ran a special pricing thing in August. I'm trying to commit to doing a weekly class, there.

2) Organize the night before. This is SO HARD for me, because I want to put the girls to bed and veg, but I'm trying to do all the things that will be helpful in the morning--make sure everything that needs to go to school is out and ready to go, get the coffee maker ready, pick out my outfit for the next day, confirm with D what time he'll be getting home and what the next day's dinner plan is, etc. I struggle with this, but it makes mornings SO MUCH EASIER, so I just have to get on it.

Classes so far are going well, but it's only been a week and assignments aren't exactly rolling in yet.  I'm most excited about my Craft of Novel Writing class, in which we will participate in NaNoWriMo. You should join me!

Okay. That's my parenting disaster failure of the weekend. Empathy welcome, but I don't think I'm ready for actual advice? Just solidarity, k thx.

Friday, August 24, 2018


I was supposed to go to an event last night that I had been looking forward to, but I couldn't make it happen. This week has kicked my ass. The transition to back-to-school is not joke... and it's not just waking up with an alarm (which didn't happen today, due to a late night visitor who wet the bed, prompting all of us needing to relocate, but I went without my phone/alarm, so David woke me up 30 minutes after my alarm went off in bedroom, which meant this morning was off to a great start!).

Zuzu's school is late start, which means her day doesn't begin until 9:05am and she doesn't get out of school until 4pm. Coco's day runs from 8:30 to 3:30. Both of them have before and after care extended hours, so we have some flexibility, and I'm still trying to figure out the best way for me to drop them and then drive to my campus, which is 40 minutes away. The drive doesn't really bother me, as it is quiet podcast or audio book time and an easy/mindless drive without much traffic, but damn it does eat into my day. And the girls need to go to bed early, because it's not like they are sleeping in late. Anyway, we'll figure out a routine, but August is always hard. I think the thing I miss most (besides lots of time with the girls) is all of the reading I was able to do this summer. Sad trombone.

* * *

Zuzu's school had an intruder drill on Wednesday... and she said nothing about it. I haven't brought it up, but it's been on my mind (I got teary about it Tuesday night). I cannot believe that the administration is considering using federal funding to buy guns FOR schools. It is terrifying. Regardless of how you feel about guns, easy access is what allows mass shootings to occur. The accidents that could unfold... I just can't believe it's under consideration.

Another elementary school not far from us had a threat called in this past week. I have friends whose kiddos go there, and tensions are high. How do we not value our children more than this? How can we possibly be willing to put them at risk for our own convenience, entertainment, or false sense of security?

Honestly, I have friends and family members who are avid hunters and those who shoot recreationally and those who carry a gun in their purse to feel safe and I'm over it. I would rather melt all the guns and outlaw every single firearm than worry about children being shot. And I don't just mean white kids in elementary schools--I also mean accidental shootings in people's homes, teenage suicide, and children in neighborhoods where gun fire happens on the regular. It's not okay. Maybe criminals would still have guns, but then it would be easy to identify and arrest them. And meanwhile, I might be marginally less afraid that my six-year-old will learn that she is not really safe at school.

Realistically, I know people can be responsible gun owners. But also, I care SO MUCH LESS about anyone's right to own a gun or hunt an animal than I care about children staying alive.

End rant.

* * *

I haven't blogged in a million years because my laptop is in the shop. I guess it's good that this happened when I'm back at the office on the regular because it feels weird to not have a computer and I get tired of typing on my phone!

I have revisited my new year's resolutions and I'm doing pretty well, which is like the first time ever. Maybe it's because I don't have a toddler? Sniffle, sniffle. But it's also awesome. Coco is so big! I picked her up at school the other day and watching her run toward me kind of made me breath catch because she just looks so grown up. I'm kind of wishing she'd cut her hair super sort again so she'd look more like a baby...

Anyway, we've done pretty well with meal planning even though it's not a chore that I enjoy at all. I am on daily yoga without having to make myself do it. I'm the annoying person who rolls out of bed looking forward to it every single day. I would rather be late than skip yoga. And I'm taking a class on Sunday evenings, which is a difficult time, but when is NOT a difficult time? It's Kaiut yoga, which is weird. It's focused on movement from joints and basically you hold positions for super long amounts of time so in an hour class you do like half a dozen poses. At first I didn't like it, but after the second class I liked it more. And now I'm looking forward to it. It's kind of restorative except less relaxing. But I feel so good when class is over!

I've also been trying to drink 64 ounces of water a day, but with less success.

And I'm trying not to raise my voice. This is difficult, because I struggle to say, "Put your shoes on please" seventeen times without starting to increase in volume.

Work in progress!

Book work is also going well. I'm feeling motivated but crunched for time. I will figure it out, though. I'm nervous talking about it. I'm going to have to do the scary thing of asking some people I know who have published if they would considering connecting me with their agent. This feels like such an imposition and the biggest, scariest ask in the world. So wish me luck working up the nerve for that.

* * *

Zuzu's transition to first grade has gone so well. Smoother than I thought. She loves her teacher. I love that her teacher communicates a LOT with parents. She is starting to make friends. She loves her special classes, especially music. I'm trying to figure out extra curriculars and being mindful about overscheduling... she is doing ballet and tap again, and we're considering an outside music class because she's so excited about music right now. Also this is an area in which David and I are both pretty inept, so I'd love to encourage her. I mean, I can technically read music (thank you, United Methodist handbell choir), and I took a year of piano lessons and half-heartedly played the trombone for a couple years and then just went through the motions of playing the trombone for a couple more years (with braces--it was amazing). BUT I can't carry a tune and I feel like I don't know anything about music.

But she also might want to do Girl Scouts? And then I just feel like we're getting maybe too busy, you know? I mean, we like our down time. And David thinks the girls should stop Kumon because of the expense (and it is expensive). But they are both making such good progress! Newsflash to no one: parenting decisions are hard.

* * *

Back to work here. Classes start Monday and I'm mostly ready but still need to get organized. I'm helping with my friend's Pedal the Cause fundraiser this weekend, and I need to finish the banner that I'm making tonight, too! Plus we're going to David's school for a family picnic (that may have to move indoors because of rain). And my parents are coming in town! See, the end of August is a hard time for me.

Oh, but speaking of Pedal the Cause, both my girls are riding in the Kids Challenge this year. Zuzu has raised over $100. She is riding in honor of her school principal, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Her teacher posted her link on the class facebook page and we got several donations, which is awesome! But poor Coco has raised 0 dollars, so if anyone would like to donate to Coco-Puff on her little balance bike, we're just asking friends and family for $5 or $10 donations and 100% of funds raise for Pedal go straight to cancer research happening at Siteman Cancer Center and St. Louis Children's Hospital. You can make a donation here: