Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Whew.

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

August!

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:

https://www.mypedalthecause.org/riders_profile.jsp?MemberID=116483


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

Sharing

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

Reading...

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.


Watching...

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).



Listening...

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 Zuzuhttps://bythebrooke.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-few-remarks-on-little-house-in-big.html, 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
pitied

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

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
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
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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