Thursday, August 2, 2018

All the Feelings

This summer is barreling toward an end. Last week was one fun thing after another--dinner at a friends house! Friends visiting us! Family visiting us! Family reunion in Indiana! And this week is supposed to be a shift back into real life, but the transition away from All Fun All The Time has all of us feeling a little out of sorts.

(Also, Coco slept until 9am today which... does not bode super well for school starting in something like 10 DAYS).

So I'm having all the feelings. Nostalgia about summer and lazy mornings and making coffee and listening to the girls' chatter and having finally trained them to clear their dishes after they eat. I'll miss sitting outside while Clementine romps through the yard and watching the girls draw with sidewalk chalk or ride in circles on their scooters or play in the sandbox until Clem joins them and digs so much that sand is flying.

I'll miss days like today, when nothing is on schedule except an errand to the post office and a trip to the library and time feels long and lazy and I just have to decide what's for lunch.

But yesterday was a wicked behavior day--the most attitude and ugliness I've gotten from Zuzu all summer, over things like not buying a 60 pack of popsicles at the grocery store and then not letting her have a popsicle shortly before friends were coming to our house for the VERY PURPOSE of eating popsicles with us.

Yesterday was the day that I was like, "Well, I think I am ready for some adult time. And for some other adult to get paid not enough money to deal with your behavior."

We had friends over last night whose kids go to the same school as Zuzu, although both their kids will be second graders. (You know, the grade Eliza would be in...) I asked them to come over so the kids could play and I could find out a little more about the school and the after school program and the teachers. It was helpful to talk to them, and I'm grateful to know that our neighbors use the after school program also. Even though these kiddos aren't in the same grade, I hope Zuzu gets some comfort from knowing a couple of kiddos at the school. She's pretty excited about it. She says, "I'm nervous, but I'll make friends."

First grade is giving me ALL THE FEELINGS. I worry about whether her summer birthday will put her behind others in class--emotionally, academically, physically. I worry about whether she'll make friends or feel left out because other children will know each other from kindergarten. I worry that the transition from the project-oriented and child-directed approach at Montessori to a traditional academic environment will be difficult or straining or stifling. I worry that she'll talk baby talk the way she does when she's shy. I worry that she'll tell the teacher she can't read even though she can (like how she told her doctor at our check up appointment that she likes to swim and also to sleep--the biggest lie she's ever told, I'd say. And said she likes to eat cake and cupcakes and she doesn't really eat fruit. SHE EATS FRUIT WITH LITERALLY EVERY MEAL.) I worry that she'll have trouble making friends or someone will make fun of her. I worry that she'll feel shy and won't talk to anyone. Oh. And I worry that a man with a gun will come into the school and shoot everybody.

Last night I had an anxiety dream that included the girls getting into a car accident on their way home from college, so that tells you something about the speed with which time seems to be passing.

My tiny baby Coco, my peanut, my little nugget, is suddenly getting long legs and arms and losing her pudginess and I don't even know what to do with that! (She's still kinda teensy, measuring in the twenty-fifth percentile for both height and weight, but she's growing!). She'll be at her preschool for two more years, and she's just getting braver and bolder and smarter every time I turn around. My mom got her a birthday shirt that says "Four and Fearless" and she asks every day if she can wear it, but we have five more days until she's really four. FOUR!

Yesterday when things were really bad with Zuzu and I was having to remind myself to be the adult, I salvaged the day by busting out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. She knows HP by reputation only and she's been asking me to read HP books to her since before she started kindergarten. I kept saying she wasn't ready--too scary, and I wasn't sure it would hold her interest.

But yesterday afternoon, we started reading.

(Coco asked us skeptically this morning why we were reading a book that didn't have any pictures. She hangs out in the room with us but plays with toys while we read.)

The Harry Potter books were the first things I read after Eliza died. Re-read, actually--I'd already read them all. Reading is my thing--entertainment, information, refuge, escape, delight. My friend Michelle and I plotted out our book club's reading list and we were both positively giddy over it. But after Eliza died, my capacity for concentration was basically nonexistent. I didn't know how I'd ever go back to vapid novels that were about nothing remotely important or related to my life. So I read Harry Potter--starting with book 4, when it gets dark. I needed life and death. I needed good and evil. I needed magical thinking and a world completely separated from the Muggle hell in which I was living.

In Book I, the first chapter is called "The Boy Who Lived." If you're not familiar with Harry Potter's story, you find out in the first chapter that his parents died and he lived and no one knows why the curse that killed his parents didn't work on him.

You find out later that his mother died trying to save him, and that the pure love of her sacrifice was essentially a magical charm of protection. It was a tragedy, to be certain, but it was one that made narrative sense. This was the way things worked. No one was writing a story about a wizard baby who died and how his parents had to limp along and figure out how and why to go on living without him.

As I grieved for baby Eliza and two year old Eliza and kindergarten Eliza, I also grieved my dream of sharing Harry Potter with Eliza. I wanted to live that magic with her. I wanted to share the books with her and tell her about the time the last book was released and how I read it in literally 24 hours because I cleared my entire schedule and stayed up late and then went to a release party with friends at a swanky house in the Central West End where one of my friends was house sitting and we ate and sat around and talked about whether we found the final book satisfying and whether things had happened the way we expected and what characters we liked or didn't and just basically nerded out over the whole thing. After years of analyzing and criticizing literature as work in graduate school, to just be a fan of Harry Potter was so relaxing and so much fun. And it didn't matter that we were too old and super dorky because we weren't trying to impress anyone. We were all wishing that we'd gotten a Hogwarts letter at age 11.

So I mourned Harry Potter and the lost opportunity to share those books--and every book I'd loved--with my daughter.

In March of that year, David and I went to Florida to see spring training games and the newly opened Harry Potter World.

It was brilliant. We drank butter beer and did the rides that made it feel like we were truly in the castle. I stopped short of buying a wand at Ollivander's, but I wanted one. I enjoyed it so much, but I was also four months into the deepest grief and missing my girl so much that I could have burned Harry Potter World to the ground if it meant I could just be at home hanging out with my baby.

It was just before that trip when we went to the theater to see the final film and somehow during the movie all the power went out and we were plunged into the super dark darkness of an interior room that's already designed to be dark. People in the theater giggled nervously and someone made a joke about death eaters and then the power came back on. I sat there thinking that the blackness had felt like a kind of relief--the outside world suddenly matched my insides, where there didn't feel like there was any light at all.

And now I'm coming back to Harry Potter with Zuzu. I'm realizing that my hesitation was partly to do with her being ready for the books--she's still that kid who gets super nervous about "scary" movies--but it was also about everything the books meant for me. Stories of heartache and loss and death and carrying on and finding happiness and finding meaning.

For a long time I told Zuzu the books were too scary for her, and now she keeps asking after each chapter when we're going to get to the scary parts. I look at how tall she is, how she's grown out her bangs, how she sometimes surprises me with her capabilities, how she acted like such a big girl playing with her little cousins, how she's going to be a first grader this year with real school supplies and a backpack she picked out on her own that is nothing like what I would have chosen for her. She'll make new friends and she'll have new struggles and she'll have this whole life apart from me--a life that includes problems I can't fix and situations in which I won't always be able to keep her safe. And I know that's the whole point of it and I'm thrilled that we're here and I know she's going to be amazing! As I tell her frequently, I'm so glad she was born to me and I get to be her mom.

So when she asks me when we'll get to the scary parts, I just want to pull her onto my lap and squeeze her tight and kiss her soft cheeks and say, "Never."

But I think the truth is that we're already there.

P.S. A post written about HP in December of 2010. Oof.

Pictures of me at HP world!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Checking In!

Note: I thought I published this on Thursday, but it never posted, so here it is. 

I'm back! We've been doing the Missouri summer tour... a few days in Branson with my parents, a weekend in Kansas City with friends... It's been a delightful few weeks, though this one is kind of unsettling because the girls have been at my parents' house since Monday. It's Grammy Camp! My mom and dad picked them up in KC and took them home and David and I came back to St. Louis in a very, very quiet car.

I miss them!

I'll tell you though, it's amazing what I can get done when I am not CONSTANTLY interrupted to answer questions, settle disputes, provide entertainment, or give someone a snack every five freaking minutes. We've turned the front closet into a mini-mudroom (installed a shelf, bench, and hooks), I've gone on a coffee date with a friend, had a meeting about a community organizing project I'm excited about, gone to a concert at the botanical gardens, attended David's ball game, baked zucchini chocolate chip cookies, read five books, and... (drumroll please...) finished my Eliza book project. (Finished a rough first draft of it, anyway.)

I don't know what happens now. I sent it to a friend to read it and get some feedback and then... I'll figure it out. I'll keep you posted. I really have no idea what--if anything--will happen (do I talk to an agent? do I self-publish on Amazon?), but I hadn't realized how good it would feel to complete it. I mean, it still needs some polishing and probably some work to make it a bit more cohesive, but I wrote it! And maybe someday someone else will read it? Wild.

I've been listening to this podcast called Seeing White that is really great. It's 14 episodes, but totally worth listening to. Episode 5 is about Dakota Indians in Minnesota and it's fascinating and (of course) sad.

David and I both have summer birthdays and this year we got really practical about gifts. He wanted an expensive pair of polarized sunglasses. (He found some at a store, and after my super googling skills, with the use of a promo code and ebates, I got the identical sunglasses for literally 50% of the retail cost of the glasses he tried on).

I wanted a kinda pricey bracelet set from Keep Collective. Speaking of (and this is NOT sponsored)... if you like these bracelets, my friend Beth's sister sells them and she's running a special through the month of July that all proceeds will benefit Pedal the Cause, which is the specific cancer research fundraiser that Beth and her family support each year--you can shop and order through Kate's page here. But if you find that overwhelming and you want to just ask Kate to design you a bracelet (which is what I did), you can contact her through her Keep FB page here. I told Kate I wanted two bracelets, I told her about how much I wanted (David) to spend, and I said that I wanted a bracelet that represented my family and I liked mixed metals and could she design something for me? I LOVED the ideas she came up with and forwarded my favorites to David. So, no romantic birthday surprise, but a gift I'm looking forward to getting.

I did just a bit of Amazon prime shopping--I ordered a hair dryer because I've been using a cheap travel dryer that folds except the handle is kind of broken so it folds of its own volition WHILE I am drying my hair, which is not especially effective and can be pinchy if my finger is in the wrong place. And I've been using it like this for about a year. I mostly let my hair air dry in the summer, but I figure I'll appreciate my forethought this fall/winter.

I also bought myself a drawing book. Is that super dorky? Probably. Here's the thing: I can't draw. I really don't have any natural talent for it. But I WANT to. So I figure the key to drawing (like yoga and anything else) is to practice. So I bought this little book and I'm going to set a goal to doodle in it five days a week. I think that there are many things I'm interested in (drawing, writing fiction) that I wish I had pursued in college but didn't because I was afraid of not being good at it, which is SO LAME. So I'll start with this!

I've been really good about daily yoga with Adriene, though I've slacked some in the month of July. Lots of travel, not much routine, and my groupon to a local yoga studio expired. But I am going to commit to it again because it really does make such a difference in my mental health. In fact, David noticed the benefits of me going to the studio on the regular in June (it turns out, when Mama is happy, everyone really IS happier) so he's encouraging me to buy a class card for the fall, which I keep putting off because it's so expensive.

Oh--but another thing I bought on Amazon that I am PUMPED about is this weird acupressure mat. I bought it for David for his birthday, but then I couldn't wait to give it to him because I wanted us both to try it out, so he got to open it last night. He thought it was too ouchy without a shirt on (weenie!) but I loved it and after ten minutes I got up feeling almost like I'd had a massage. Was some of it placebo affect? Could it have been related to the two glasses of wine I'd already had that evening? I dunno but I still liked it.

Today I stopped in to a consignment shop and bought the girls tap shoes in the size I think they'll be this fall/winter. (I find kid shoes so difficult--especially because my kids will tell me a shoe feels great no matter how big or small it is as long as they like the look of it. And I can never tell if I'm buying them with "room to grow" or absurdly too big. And I know I could go to a swanky kids shoe store here in St. Louis and get them fitted and all, but then I have a hard time buying the shoes because I KNOW I could find them cheaper online and then I think "but I'm paying for the service and supporting a small business" but I also think "OMG I cannot justify spending $60 on shoes they will outgrow in a few months" but then I think "Their feet are growing so fast and they need good, supportive shoes, and not stiff pieces of crap." So basically I overthink this all the time and then I buy used tap shoes when I see them and they seem to be roughly the right size.)

Related to this is the fact that my kids want to keep doing dance and have zero interest in organized sports and I asked David this week if he was disappointed in their lack of sportiness and if he thinks he should have married and procreated with someone sportier, so as to (probably) have sporty offspring. But David said he likes playing sports more than coaching sports so he'd rather have time to go play baseball than go watch our kids play (lol) and after working in schools and with parents and kids for so many years, he's really passionate about letting the kids follow their own interests without foisting our expectations upon them. For our kids, that's swimming and dance. So we'll go with that until they change their minds, I guess! I still wonder about things like violin lessons and Spanish tutoring and ice skating and what if there are things they don't know they love because we've not exposed them?

Zuzu did tell me she wants to do swim team next year, but I've decided not to have her do it until Coco can do it too (assuming she wants to) or until Coco can read independently because practices are 45 minutes every day of the week and I'm not going to entertain a bored preschooler at that every day. If I can sit and read a book for 45 minutes, sure, I will shuttle them there. But until then, we'll stick with lessons. I am going to let her take diving lessons next year, as she's been asking for those nonstop.

I went to the library today and ambitiously checked out too many books which I may not be able to get through before due dates because some are "hot reads" which have shorter check out periods and the girls will get home today so I won't be able to sit and read without interruption for hours at a time. But I'm looking forward to working my way through the stack anyway.

I'm realizing that I am in pretty good shape as far as my summer goals go... we got that closet finished and I'm ahead on my reading goals. I still need to paint our bathroom and I'm still not quite decided on paint color even though I have paint samples smeared on the walls upstairs. I did one color at 50% saturation and then at 100% saturation and the 50% feels too pastel and the 100% feels too bold, so I may buy a gallon at 75% and just go for it? Sherwin Williams's 40% off sale starts tomorrow, so I need to figure out something.

I also ordered wallpaper from target for our half bath downstairs, which I love. I can't find the pattern online now, but it's gray and white trees (small trees, not like tree trunks) and it's super cute, but the problem is that the bathroom is a creamy off-white--the sink top, the trim, the door, the mirror, even the toilet. And the wallpaper is gray and white-white. And I don't mind white-white with off-white, but I'm just not sure about it in this instance. Plus maybe if I'm going to do wallpaper I want to go bolder? Like something with birds? Peacocks? (David thinks I'm crazy for wanting wallpaper at all, so no comments from wallpaper nay-sayers, please. Let me live my dream.)

Library books are now calling to me. But it's nice to be blogging again.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


After Eliza died, I discovered Share, which is an organization for bereaved parents. This the group who hosts the candlelight vigil each year that happens to fall on Eliza's birthday. They also have support groups for bereaved parents and for pregnancy after loss.

Some of you may remember that one of the labor and delivery nurses who was with me for Coco's birth is also a baby loss mom. We've stayed in touch through the blog and facebook and she is involved with Share and recommended me as a contributor to their online magazine, Sharing. A managing editor e-mailed me and asked if I'd send something in each month. So I've been publishing a monthly article, and it occurred to me that I should share them here, too!

The magazine provides me with a general topic for each month, and then I freewheel my own thoughts on the issue and do my best to proofread before sending it on to them. I've linked them below if you're interested... and you are always welcome to link or share anywhere you'd like.

For July, I wrote about self care (otherwise known as survival).

In June, I wrote about Father's Day.

In May, I wrote about the history of Mother's Day.

In April, I wrote about letting go of our perfectly planned life.

And I started in March, writing about parenting after loss.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Reading, Watching, Listening


I have been moving through books pretty quickly this past week or so. Sometimes it goes like that, I guess. I read Dear Fahrenheit 451 and then American Wife and then a middle grade novel called The War that Saved My Life (loved it) and then The Book of Essie and now I'm starting this mystery called The Dante Chamber that apparently features Christina Rossetti (the nineteenth century poet) as its main character and sleuth. I also checked out The Eyre Affair because I'm a sucker for metanarrative.

I liked and would recommend all the books I read. I was so absorbed in American Wife and then I felt weird because it's loosely based on Laura Bush and I kept wondering how loosely and I guess she has commented in interviews that she hasn't read the novel but I wondered how I would feel if someone loosely based a novel on my life... including some of the most heartbreaking aspects, but then inventing other controversial plot points. I'm not sure! I dunno, but Curtis Sittenfeld has risen up and up my list of favorite authors. I don't think she is everyone's cup of tea, but she is definitely mine.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 is a librarian's collection of letters to various books and then a long list of recommended reads and it's amusing and a quick read but I wanted to have coffee and chat with the writer rather than read more of it, if that makes sense.

The War that Saved My Life was the kind of book that spoke directly to my 10-year-old self. Loved the story of a girl and her little brother in WWII England. It hits all the perfect tween elements--abusive grown-ups, nice grown-ups, horses, spies, and new clothes. (Am I the only one who is a sucker for the description of fancy new clothes when a poor kid gets something nice for the first time? I still love a good dressing room montage in a film because I am super basic and I just can't help it. Sometimes clothes make you feel really good.)

The Book of Essie is about a young girl in a conservative religious reality TV family. It was not quite the story I expected, but it kept me reading. I wanted it to be a little more salacious but the scandal in the story is mostly just sad. Still, it was satisfying all together.


I can't stop watching Father Brown which is so comforting to me it's basically the dose of melatonin I take at bedtime. I can't explain how it is a compliment to the show that it puts me to sleep, but it is/does. It's not that the show is boring, it's just so perfect. Set in mid-20th-century England in a small village with more than its share of murders, a kind priest bustles about getting into everyone's business and putting them right with God, regardless of the justice system and the local sheriff. It's just brilliant.

David and I are also watching Outlander on Starz which is amazeballs. Who knew a ginger in a kilt could stir up such intense feelings for me? But Jamie is absolutely adorable. (It's the accent. But also the curls. And maybe the scars...) The show is violent and a bit gratuitous what with all the times Claire ends up with her boobs out (I mean, really), but I still love it.

We also started season 2 of Marcella on Netflix. I watched the first episode and feel a little bit like I have no idea what's going on, but I felt like that at first with season 1, too. It all unfolds a bit slowly, but I like it. The main actress is just fantastic and sometimes I want to cut bangs like hers but then I come to my senses.

And whenever I need a little pick-me-up (which, let's be honest, is just about daily right now), I like to watch season 2 of Queer Eye. I love the fab five and I love the guys (and one woman!) they fix up and the girls sometimes watch with me, too. Coco really likes Jonathan because he has long hair and she likes when he wears it up in a bun (lol) and Zuzu and I like Karamo (ummmm because he is super handsome).


I am out of my podcast habits because I don't have a 30 minute each way commute on the daily. I'm a couple weeks behind on Young House Love (like new clothes for poor children, I also love a home makeover) and I've been listening to Sorta Awesome which is totally a mom-podcast but it's like having coffee with your mom friend whose advice you always want to take and whose product recommendations you always want to try. The host, Meg, has the best radio voice.

I did make a drive to KC for the weekend and listened to the audio book Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. Listen. It's so good. Are you in a book club? Your book club should read it. There's lots to talk about, but it's also easy to get through. It's divided into sections each titled things people should say and it covers marriage, parenting, grief, and all the deep and superficial things involved in each of these things. The audiobook is read by the author and it's truly perfection. I was literally laughing and weeping as I drove I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City.

(PSA: If you don't have an app on your phone through which you can check out free audio and electronic books, ask your public librarian how to get it!)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Birthday Magic: A Shimmer and Shine Birthday Party Divine

My Zuzu has not quite turned six yet, but we celebrated her birthday last Saturday because I have to go out of town for a conference on her actual birthday this Friday.

You may remember that I'd wanted to have her party in the art room of a local bookstore, but she was bound and determine to have it at our house, even when I told her she could only invite four friends. Honestly, as much as I went back and forth about only inviting a few kids versus her entire class, it was the perfect number. One friend's little brother ended up being a last-minute add on, and that wasn't ideal (because I had six of everything prepared) but it worked out fine. 

She wanted a Shimmer & Shine theme. For those of you lucky enough not to know who Shimmer & Shine are, please see below:

It's a show on Nick Jr. in which the two genies grant wishes, screw something up by taking a request literally, and then work together so their mistakes turn out great. I suppose this is a positive message, but it is THE EXACT SAME plot every time. I also noticed on Pinterest that most of the Shimmer & Shine parties were geared toward four-year-olds, which I think is their target audience. But Zuzu has not tired of them yet. She prefers predictable, non-scary, not-intense TV, so this is her sweet spot. (We saw The Incredibles 2 in the theater last week and she sat on my lap almost the entire time.)

I outsourced the part of the party planning I don't enjoy as much (baking and decorating cupcakes) to my friend the chemistry professor slash amazing baker. She decorated them with Shimmer & Shine rings and fake jewels and the kids were VERY impressed. I was impressed with the Nutella filling. 

Once I got going, the party was easy to put together and less expensive than renting out a place. I decided the main activity would be decorating treasure boxes. This is perhaps only tangentially related to Shimmer and Shine (honestly I'm not sure I've ever watched an entire episode because it is so inane I can't handle it). But they are really into jewels. 

I picked up wooden hinged boxes for $1.99 each at Hobby Lobby. Of course, my local HL only had two of them, the other location had zero in stock, and my mom ended up buying four of them for me when she was passing through Jefferson City, so it all worked out. And cost me a total of $12. 

I used craft paints that I already had on hand and picked up a couple more colors for $.50 each at Wal-Mart. I don't love shopping at Wal-Mart, but they have the Shimmer & Shine party stuff, so I also bought a plastic table cloth, paper plates and napkins, a birthday banner, and dangling decorations. It probably ran me about $15 total. Then I added in sticker jewels from their craft/scrapbook section and I probably spent another $5 there.

When the guests arrived they played outside and had a snack right away. That was not the plan, but I was trying to be chill about it (even though I was totally annoyed because I'd written out the order of the party and David just ignored all of my plans when the kids asked for snow cones). It turned out fine in the end, but I'd hoped they would paint first so that there was plenty of time for the boxes to dry.

David borrowed popcorn and snow cone machines from his school, which was fantastic. The only expense was buying the snow cone syrup--cotton candy and blue raspberry. We set them up on our back patio and got lucky with nice weather.

After snow cones, they headed inside to paint their treasure boxes. All the party guests attend the same Montessori preschool, so we were laughing about how they were calm and concentrating on their work in spite of being sugared and hyped up at the party. Every kid had two paint brushes, a paper towel, a paper plate paint palette, and a big bandana to use as an apron. (Those bandanas were also $1/each at Wal-Mart).

My biggest expense was ordering six beaded bracelets from Etsy in pink and turquoise beads with dangling genie lamp charms. $3.49/each. They came in individual little bags. I wanted the kids to have something to put inside their jewel boxes. I could have made something (or had them make it) but it felt a little ambitious since our guest list included 3, 4, 5, and 6 year olds.

After painting was the treasure hunt. I hid the bracelet bags in a secret location (under a chair in the living room) and then created a treasure hunt with clues. I drew simple pictures and wrote words kindergarteners could read so the idea was that they could figure out the clue on their own. And they did a really good job! Zuzu was more interested in trying to interpret the picture rather than sounding out the word, which led to some confusion regarding the bathroom sink (she was sure it was a kitchen cabinet). And one of the four-year-old guests really didn't get the game at all, but the others ran around like the wild pack I had imagined, following clues in and out of the house, and Zuzu told me later it was her favorite part of the party.

Once the treasures had been collected, we sat back down to eat cupcakes--and sing "Happy Birthday," of course.

Zuzu finished her cupcake pretty quickly (plain vanilla, please), so then she opened presents while her friends were still eating. This worked well. I'd asked a few people about whether to open presents at the party, but my friend Beth was adamant that it's important for kids to do this to practice good manners and being appreciative. So in the days before the party, Zuzu and I had had several conversations about being polite while opening gifts and looking the gift giver in the eye to say thank you. Because we'd just invited four guests (one set of twins who gave a combined gift), there were just a few presents to open and I was really proud of Zuzu. I had to say, "Is there anything you'd like to say to Gemma?" at one point, but Zuzu did a good job. My favorite was when she opened the gift bag from the twins that had diving rings and goggles and water balloons in it and she clapped her hands together and said, "Thanks, girls!"

When she finished opening gifts, the treasure boxes were pretty much dry (another 10 minutes would have been perfect, but that's how it goes). So I busted out the packs of sticker jewels and the kids decorated the painted boxes with pink, purple, blue, and clear gemstones. (The extra guest decorated a wooden bird house because I happened to have that on hand in the basement--thank goodness for Joann clearance aisle). 

Then Zuzu's bestie asked me what was next and I said cheerfully, "Now it's time to go home!" I had scheduled the party from 1-2:30 and we wrapped up exactly on time. 

I'm not going to lie, even though everything went smoothly and the parents stayed and the kids were well-behaved, I still found it kind of stressful and exhausting. 

There was a time in college when I thought I wanted to be an event planner and now I think that I must have just been drunk when I watched that J-Lo movie The Wedding Planner and thought her job looked fun (or maybe I just liked her hair?) because events are actually the worst. I don't mind the planning and the shopping ahead of time, but it is the coordinating of things and serving of food during the event that I find stressful. This is why outsourcing birthday parties to other locations where people do that for you is ideal.

So I recharged after the party by putting up my feet and reading for a bit and Zuzu and Coco played with gifts and then we went to dinner with my parents at the Old Spaghetti Factory (because you only drive downtown and pay to park to order plain noodles with butter for very special occasions).

She opened gifts from us and my parents back at home after dinner, and while we did get her some Shimmer & Shine themed gifts (the mermaids were a big hit), she also loved the vintage jewelry box that I got for her at an estate sale, just as I hoped she would!

In the end, I do think the party was really what Zuzu was hoping for. I tried to have her in mind with every choice I made, and I think it was the day she had imagined. I hope that she has good memories of it. She seemed to truly enjoy herself, and had a huge smile on her face (except when she was really concentrating on painting), so I'm calling it a win.

Six years of celebrating this rainbow girl. We are so lucky.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Reckoning with Laura Ingalls Wilder

I follow The Conscious Kid on Instagram. This account gives lots of great book recommendations and commentary on social justice, especially as it relates to children. I saw this morning that they had posted an announcement from the Association for Library Service to Children. This group gives out the "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award" annually to authors whose work has made a lasting impact on the world of children's literature.

Only now they've changed the name of the award.

It will be called the Children's Literature Legacy Award. The Association wrote in a statement, "This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder's legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC's core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness."

I wrote a while back about reading Little House in the Big Woods to Zuzu, having forgotten all the talk about guns. I've actually referenced the Little House books a few times, always in my whitewashed (see what I did there?) remembrance of them.

As The Conscious Kid included in their post, Ma Ingalls makes the statement in on ebook, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Pa also does a blackface minstrel show. Moreover, the whole premise of the family's move west is built on themes of white American supremacy and manifest destiny.

If I'm being honest, my initial, impulsive, gut reaction was "NO way!" And then I sat with that feeling and realized how sticky it was. The truth is, if I were raising a black child or a Native American child, I don't know that I would want them to read those books. And that kind of makes me feel sick to my stomach.

I was a huge fan of the Little House books. I loved the idea of being a pioneer and that one story where there's a snow storm and a bear and they have to go outside to pee... it was thrilling! But in reading these books on my own, I never interrogated or questioned the racist content of her books other than to think to myself that "That was a long time ago. People aren't like that anymore." But some people are like that. And even if I believed that the way Native Americans were depicted in the book was wrong (and I distinctly recall reading these books in second grade, so I was not really looking at anything through a sophisticated lens), I undoubtedly absorbed some of that message--particularly the part about it being our destiny to explore and settle the wild west. I did not question that at all. It corresponded with all the "You can be anything you want to be!" messages that we got at school.

It's uncomfortable to admit that I love (loved?) something that is undeniably racist. It's uncomfortable when childhood nostalgia corresponds with racist content (hello, Shirley Temple movies set in the South).

On the one hand, I don't advocate for completely erasing such books. I think we need to reckon with our shameful history rather than avoid it entirely. I may read the books again with my kids some day with the intention of having some of those difficult conversations. I think there are ways to read these books that can be valuable and can appreciate their worth in other areas. But we can't pretend there's not really messed up stuff in them.

In spite of my initial reaction to this award name change, upon further reflection, I completely support it. I do believe libraries and institutions should be moving in inclusive and welcoming directions. Arguing to keep that name as the name of the award is not unlike the arguments to keep the name of Confederate generals as names of elementary schools. Sure--it might be historically accurate, but if it's also currently harmful, then it needs to go.

I think what made me feel sad wasn't the name change itself, but having to reckon with the fact that books that I loved and still feel all kinds of nostalgic about are part of a narrative of white supremacy. And probably that's why a lot of us (white people) suck at doing the work of being social justice advocates and anti-racism allies--because we have to constantly confront the uncomfortable truth that the things we LIKE, the things that make us think of happy childhood memories, the things that connected us to our grandparents, are sometimes the very same things that are harmful and hurtful to people of color or other marginalized people. And that feels pretty gross. So we may find it's easier to say "No! Shut up! It's FINE." When it really isn't fine.

And it's not about blaming Laura Ingalls Wilder for absorbing and reflecting the popular discourse of her time. She is a product of her time and place. But that doesn't mean we should still idolize her two hundred years later. When we know better (and we in 2018 know better), then we should do better.

(This article is a great take on it.)

P.S. If you like the era of Little House but would like something less racist, another IG commenter recommended Louise Erdrich's Birchbark series. I haven't read these, but I am familiar with Erdrich's adult novels, which depict tensions between Native Americans and whites in pretty heartbreaking stories (she is a Native American writer). I'll be checking out the Birchbark series for Zuzu.

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 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?