Sunday, January 29, 2017

Rise Up! And Also Do the Laundry

I was feeling really good and on top of my life a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that I need a four-day-weekend to get caught up. After I threw out my back last Sunday (woe, that makes me sound SO elderly), I was barely holding my life together this past week. I'm feeling much better now (three trips to the chiropractor later), and I've realized that the barometer of organization and productivity for me is how I'm managing laundry. If I fall behind in that area, I'm falling behind on EVERYTHING.

Anyway, I'm almost caught up on laundry now, AND I washed our duvet cover (which does not happen weekly) so I'm basically an overachiever.

One thing I've been doing differently in 2017 is using my written planner even more than usual. I bought a cheap one from Target instead of the Bando planner I had last year, and it's serving me well because it has smaller sections for individual days of the week and a full page checklist for a weekly to-do list. This just seems to work better for my life--I basically operate in weekly chunks at work and at home, so I like seeing my goals for the week (everything from "grade reading journals" to "b-day gift for Gemma") and I cross them off when they're accomplished without worrying about which specific day I get to them.

Anyway, I'm busier than ever according to this little planner, mostly because I want to RISE UP Hamilton-style, so I'm making time to call or e-mail or write my friend senator Roy Blunt almost everyday. I want to DO something and make a difference and make my voice heard on these issues that are so important to me.

But the thing is that I also still have to teach class and attend meetings and do laundry and clean up breakfast dishes and help the girls make Valentines cards and sometimes it just feels really hard to reconcile all of these things.

I swear I'm going to stop short of turning this blog into a political rant, but this Muslim ban? No. Freaking. Way. I know that our current POTUS doesn't read books, but I happen to read a shit-ton of them, and whether we are talking facts or alternative facts, I've read enough fiction and non-fiction to know that is a bad, bad way to get things started.

(BTW if you, like me, are freaking the freak out about Betsy DeVos and her desire to cut funding for special education, or Jeff Sessions and his record as a racist bigot, please see this informative post and then call a senator... any senator.)

In other domestic news of the more local and much cuter variety, we had a big event occur today: Zuzu's bangs finally got long enough that I decided to even them out. It's a little bit Mia Farrow, a little bit Lisa Loeb, but she's very satisfied with her almost-even hipster bangs.

We attended a birthday party today (only because it was for her BFF Gemma--otherwise we would have been marching at the St. Louis airport because OMFG does anyone remember that JESUS CHRIST was literally a refugee? I'm just saying.) Zuzu ended up stripping down to her underwear and I was like, "What is happening?" and another mom was like, "well, there's some nudity going on" and then I was like, "Well, a party ain't a party until a Duckworth girl strips down to her skivvies" and then all of the other parents stared at me, so I was like, "Uh, Zuzu, what are you doing?" and she was like, "Putting on this princess dress" and I was like, "Okay, well, if you could hurry it up."

(See the cutie on the right? Zuzu bit her at school last year. #nohardfeelings #imstillmortified)

She wore an outfit to the party that she selected for herself at the store and begged for and I totally gave in, which does not bode well for basically our entire shopping future, but it was so cute how satisfied she was with herself in the mirror even though now that we've gotten it home she absolutely insists on wearing the dress backwards which drives me batshit crazy, but if there's one thing 2017 politics are giving me, it's perspective. The dress is red, which makes it a "Princess Elena of Avalor dress" as far as Zuzu is concerned.

(They are holding hands because they were both star struck slash mildly terrified of the princesses.)

Getting naked at inappropriate times is a current theme for Zuzu at the moment... She was wearing a swimsuit at home the other night when a friend/colleague from work came over for dinner. He's young and single (and straight, so if you're local and interested, let me know... it's my dream to play matchmaker) and the poor guy was totally awkward uncomfortable when I told Zuzu to go put on jammies and she stripped down to her birthday suit in the middle of the living room.

"It's not polite to get naked in front of company" is one of those sentences I didn't expect to come out of my mouth when I extended the dinner invitation to Rob.

Last Saturday we had dinner with our friends Mark and Christine (and their rainbow baby Joel). I'd been looking forward to this, but it was kind of like all of our children conspired against us. Christine and Mark had taken Joel on a long walk and Joel hadn't napped well in the afternoon. Zuzu had swimming lessons followed by no nap and Coco had gone swimming and had a short nap, so everyone was overtired and crabby and/or WIRED. I'd had a conversation with the girls on our way over there about being good house guests and being polite, but such conversations have a way of being conveniently forgotten.

Basically, the adults tried to eat pizza and talk amidst my children chasing Christine and Mark's dog Howie in circles, and then Zuzu got naked to supposedly put on her Owlette costume, but then she refused to put on the bottoms (and removed her underwear) and when I suggested that she cover her nether regions, she insisted "my bottom needs to air out." And proceeded to bounce around nude-from-the-waist-down on Christine and Mark's leather sectional while Coco tried to drag out all of Joel's toys and they both kept putting baby chew rings in their mouths.

(We're available for dinner any night this week if anyone would like to invite us over.)

It was seriously so obnoxious that we barely stayed an hour, which was crappy because we love hanging out with Mark & Christine & Joel. That night was just not meant to be. The fact that both girls were sound asleep in their beds by 7:15pm illustrates how tired they were, but their behavior was still mortifying.

But, you know, a party ain't a party until a Duckworth girl gets nakie!

In other real-life news, Cooper emptied the entire contents of my work bag in order to eat a sucker while we were eating dinner at the Hi Pointe drive-in, which was good but ridiculously crowded. My parents came to visit us this weekend and babysat while David and I saw An American in Paris at the Fox (It was fantastic! I didn't realize how much ballet there would be, and I loved it! Now I want to be a ballerina.) Then my poor mom got sick (congested and generally miserable) so I'm hoping that she kept her germs to herself.

Oh, and Coco helped David make a just-for-the-hell-of-it cake

I had dinner with my college besties last Wednesday and the last time we'd gotten together was election night. We'd toasted to a female president. {Enormous sigh of sadness.} At least the dinner was fun and it was good to see them.

Now it's Sunday night, and as I look ahead to this week, I'm thinking about political action that is meaningful and feasible, preparing to teaching The Merchant of Venice and Northanger Abbey and haiku poetry, making Zuzu select her clothes the night before so as to avoid the standoff we had on Friday morning that resulted in her screaming, "These pants are tooooo SOFT!!!" as I forced her to get dressed on our way out the door, and I'm feeling pretty pleased that my DIY Essie gel manicure is still going strong. David and I have a date to see La La Land on Thursday, and I am planning to skip viewing the Super Bowl in order to watch Hidden Figures with some friends.

Life is parenting + work + political anxiety + superficial pleasures + trying to find time to hang out with all my favorite people.

Plus trying to read all the books I want to read!

I really need a four day weekend every week.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Woman's Place

I attended the Women's March on St. Louis on Saturday. I'm so glad that I went and I'm embarrassed that I actually considered not going for a while. I bought a t-shirt as a donation to the march in Washington, but I wasn't sure that I actually wanted to deal with the crowds and the port-a-potty situation and all of that.

(The port-a-potty situation was stoooopid, but the Hyatt turned its men's room into a women's room in the lobby and my kidneys and I thank them.)

I would have liked to bring my whole family, but Zuzu has swimming lessons Saturday mornings, and I didn't want to have her miss that. Even more importantly, I wasn't sure about negotiating the bathroom situation with a two-and-a-half year old. So I met up with friends at the metro station. We were in two different lines for tickets, and my friend Lisa picked the right line so she made it to the front when Erin and I still had at least thirty people in front of us. We got our four tickets and got on the train. Every seat was full and people were standing when we left the station, and at each stop there were more and more women (and men and kids) in pink pussyhats with signs.

I actually felt really bad for people by the time we'd hit a few more stops, because they'd cheer as the train approached, but when it slowed to a stop they could see that we were so sardined on there that there was no way anyone else could get on. At one point, the doors couldn't even open because so many bodies were crammed in there. It was pretty intense and I ended up basically doing a backbend over a stroller for the thirty-minute ride into downtown. (At the time this felt exciting and funny, but in retrospect it was a terrible idea because I was sore the next day and then ended up injuring my back as I twisted around and bent over to pick something up. It's not quite as bad as it was this past summer when I hurt it trying to get Coco into her stroller, but I ended up at the chiropractor yesterday and now I feel very middle aged.)

(It's especially insulting because I've been keeping my new year's resolution of doing yoga every day for 31 days AND I have a new ergonomic chair for my office and STILL I injure myself. In fact, last night I ended up lying on the floor icing my back with a frozen hunk of ham because our ice packs have mysteriously disappeared, which was disgusting and of great interest to Cooper, who couldn't stop sniffing me.)

Anyway, the march was powerful and uplifting. There were funny signs and serious signs and angry signs. My friend Megan hooked me up with one to carry and made a pretty awesome one herself.

(I will also say that I feel really conflicted about the Not My President signs... Because YES I completely agree. There's nothing that could have made me vote for a Trump/Pence ticket and he is not the president that I want to see in office. At the same time, he is my president, and that means it is his fucking job to make decisions that are in MY best interest and the best interests of the American public at large. I greatly fear that the choices made by this government will be motivated by an economic pursuit that benefits few at the expense of many and by a religious conviction that ignores the separation of church and state and also ignores scientific facts.)

The energy was fantastic, the crowds were peaceful, and the speakers were uplifting and inspiring. We met up with my friend Drea who is a sociology professor whose research basically includes attending protests of all sorts, and she managed to lead us up pretty close to the speakers. I felt lighter knowing that I was surrounded by people who feel passionately about the same issues that have stirred my heart and my logical mind this election cycle, but I also felt frustrated that the voice of the majority has been ignored in this election. It worries me so much that a man who lost the popular vote but won the electoral college doesn't see those numbers as a call to listen and carefully evaluate his decisions. I've also been frustrated by people who voted for Trump who are now calling for bipartisan cooperation and unity. I don't want to be an alarmist, but I am alarmed--at the cabinet choices, at the scaling back of universal health care, at the limitations on women's rights to reproductive care.

Drea knew some of the people in the photo below, who are from another local university. I thought the guy's sign was great, but also the fact that his message is relevant is heartbreaking.

After the march I was very, very tired. I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, and as the adrenaline high subsided, I mostly just felt sad and scared. It seems SO EASY for hard fought rights to get stripped away. I also experienced a sense of frustration and futility because I imagined that many people believed (as I did) the confident projections that Hillary would win, and so they didn't bother to vote. I have no basis in fact (or "alternative fact," if you will) but I feel strongly that if we could have predicted the way things would shake out, we would have had far greater voter turnout and a completely different outcome. (Also maybe if Georgia wasn't illegally redistricting and restricting voting access for people of color...)

I also realized as I reflected on all of this, what a different place I'm in personally than I was in 2012. Four years ago, I would have felt (and voted) the same politically that I do now, but my political passion would still have been overwhelmed by my own grief and my new role actively parenting an infant (baby Zuzu!). The fact is that it was hard to give a shit about anything because I was turned inward on my own suffering and I was more obsessed with how much Zuzu was eating/sleeping/pooping than I was interested in what was happening politically.

I'm in a different place now. Part of my role as a parent is to shape this world to be the best place possible for my children to grow up. This means that I am REALLY worried, but I am trying to hold on to feeling empowered and proactive and energetic. I am not going to STFU. I am going to speak up and speak out. I am going to vote in every fucking local and state-level election. I am going to make the phone calls and send the letters and do everything I can to fight against misogyny and racism.

Love trumps hate, and if I'm confident about anything, it's that my place as a HUMAN is in that revolution.

Friday, January 20, 2017

In This House, We Believe:

This yard sign goes up at my house today.

I believe everything this sign says. I also know that many of my neighbors disagree with some of the important points listed here (we live on a rather conservative, white, Catholic block). The fact that it feels sort of daring to put in up in my yard indicates to me how much more I need to do to speak up and take action.

I can't attend the Women's March on Washington, but I'm wearing this to work today and marching in St. Louis tomorrow.

I'd take Zuzu with me, but she would have to miss swimming lessons so we all know that's a nonstarter. And I know these are relatively small gestures, but they are also important. Here is where we begin. We begin where we are. We begin where we live. Here are the values I want to model for my daughters.

(Special thanks to Sarah for making me aware of this sign! If you want one for your yard, they are available here.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On Stealing and Nice Girls

Disclaimer: I hesitated to publish this because the thought that someone might form a negative opinion of my Special Snowflake is stressful to me, but the research I've done on this indicates that it's actually a typical, developmentally-appropriate (though obviously not socially appropriate) behavior for a four-year-old. Zuzu has an understanding of right and wrong, but she doesn't have much in the way of impulse control. And we've obviously established that she is not a people-pleaser, so she's going to have to figure out how to regulate herself, which is hard for a four-year-old, I know. Still, I hope that someone reading this will tell me that it's not impossible and that she will quickly outgrow this phase! Anyone out there have experience with this? Please tell me I'm not the only one who has a four-year-old with metaphorically sticky fingers as well as literally sticky ones.

Zuz got a few of these tiny little "palace pet" toys for Christmas. They are tiny, pastel-colored dogs and cats who coordinate with and therefore belong to various Disney princesses. They are kind of cute, really, or maybe I just have a weakness for all things in miniature. But they join Peppa and her family for rides in the PJ Masks vehicles and they dance with the little Mickey and Minnie figurines and the girls are pretty crazy about them and play with them a lot.

The other night, Zuzu had a handful of the little animals and she said, "Mommy, can I tell you a secret?"

Of course I said sure, and she held up a tiny pink dog and whispered in my ear, "I stole this from Mesa."

(Mesa is my cousin's three-year-old daughter, and we celebrated Christmas with them on New Year's Eve and the girls played together and all received palace pets presents from one of my aunts.)

Naturally, this confession prompted a long and Serious Conversation about stealing... it's wrong, it's a crime, it hurts people's feelings, we don't have the right to take things that don't belong to us, if you want something so much you should talk to Mommy and Daddy about it, you can save up piggy bank money and we can find it at a store, or maybe offer to trade Mesa for something else, but we absolutely cannot take things that do not belong to us... Blah blah blah. Followed by, "Do you understand me?"

She seemed to get it, and I was thinking that maybe the confession meant she was feeling guilty about what she had done. I was actually feeling kind of GOOD about our conversation, like she really understood where I was coming from and maybe even had a bit of a grasp on the morality of what is right or wrong.

That night before bed I told her I love her and she said, "Mommy, next time I tell you I stole something, can you not freak out about it?"

I must have just gaped at her with my mouth open for a moment because I mean really???

The next day, she had the nerve to ask me if she could play with the little pink dog (which I'd confiscated during our previous Serious Conversation), and of course I said absolutely NOT and told her we'd be sending it back to Mesa.

She burst into tears and sobbed as though I'd taken her most precious possession and tossed it in the garbage.

So then we had another, briefer, but still Very Serious Talk about why we're returning the dog to Mesa and a review on stealing (not okay, against the rules, makes people sad). I said to her, "Think how sad Mesa feels since she doesn't have this doggie to play with."

(Side note: I talked to Mesa's mom and the pink palace pet has not been missed at all--in fact, Brandi isn't sure it was actually Mesa's. But obviously that is Not The Issue. Whether or not Zuzu actually stole it, she believes she stole it, and I want her to feel remorse about it. I mean, I once stole a tiny fuzzy bear that was for sale for a quarter by the cash register of a fabric store, and I never confessed it to my parents, but I did feel guilty about it.)

Zuzu seemed to be actually considering how sad Mesa might be feeling, so then I added, "Think about how you would feel if Mesa came to your house and stole one of your toys."

Zuzu whirled around and looked at me indignantly. I thought perhaps we'd had this amazing breakthrough of empathy and understanding and we could maybe avoid a not-too-distant future diagnosis of sociopathy plus klepotmania.

"Mesa would NEVER do that!" Zuzu said, "She is a NICE GIRL!"

* * *

I admit that I had to walk away because I started laughing when Zuzu valiantly defended Mesa's reputation, apparently not realizing that she was thereby defining herself as anything BUT nice.

But, honestly, this is something that kind of weighs on me. David doesn't seem to think it's a big deal, and I do understand that she's not necessarily defined as a criminal based on what she does when she's four. I just want to make sure we're handling it appropriately.

After reading up on it, I realize that I need to not go overboard on the lecturing. Actually, it's not all that unlike our go-to lines when Zuzu was three years old and having some behavior issues. Instead of talking about how it hurts people or makes them sad, what I've read suggests I just need to establish the firm expectations: "In our family, we do not steal." The big picture explanation of why we don't do that can come a bit later.

Logically, I understand that approach makes sense for a pre-schooler. But also I just want to make sure she gets that stealing is ACTUALLY WRONG and not just that if she gets caught stealing she'll get in trouble.

Also I'd like her not to end up in juvenile detention, mm-kay?

Monday, January 16, 2017



I love listening to podcasts and I actually consider it a small perk of my job that it gives me a quite 30 minutes in the car to listen to something without the chatter of small children making unreasonable requests or complaining about things I can't control ("Mooooooommmmmmy, the sun is bothering me!"). Anyway, right now I'm listening to a lot of the Folger Library's Shakespeare Unlimited podcasts because I'm teaching Shakespeare this semester and I like to learn things on the podcast and then casually mention them during class as though I actually learned them in graduate school or by doing scholarly research like a legit professor.

But the podcast I want to recommend is Terrible, Thanks for Asking. It's so great. It's about grief, and the host of the podcast is Nora McInerny, who lost her husband to brain cancer and miscarried their second child within weeks of each other. Her father passed away a few weeks after that. So she knows something of grief, and she's honest and real about all of it. She also brings a guest in for each episode, so the first one is specifically about young widowed mothers raising their toddler or preschool age sons, but later episodes cover other kinds of grief as well--professional failure, depression, traumatic brain injury, and, yes, stillbirth and infertility. It almost always makes me laugh and cry.


My book club selected A Man Called Ove for this month's discussion, and then (sadly) had to cancel our last meeting because of weather. The book is a real gem, though. It's a little bit formulaic in the beginning, but as things unfold the characters become less cartoon-like and more and more endearing. By the time I got to the end, I had cried actual real tears and I didn't want the book to end.

Our next selection is Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, which I just started this weekend and am already loving.

I've also been reading The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England. I listened to part of it in audio, but it's a nonfiction book that I'm preferring to read rather than listen to. Also, it speaks to my genuine nerdiness that I didn't realize that a book about the history of Elizabethan England written as though it's being offered as very (very!) thorough instructions for a potential time-traveler might not have universal appeal. Imagine my surprise when David didn't want to listen to the audio book on our Midwestern tour over Christmas! Anyway, perhaps it will only appeal to a very specific taste, but I think it's fascinating. Hashtag nerd alert.

As part of our We Stories curriculum, we're now focusing on books about America with the girls. It seems especially important right now that we spend time talking to our kids about America's diversity and our (complicated) history of immigration. We've read several good books, but my two favorites are Emma's Poem (about the poem who wrote the poem for the Statue of Liberty) and Of Thee I Sing (children's book that Barack Obama wrote for his daughters that nearly moves me to tears each time I read it).


David and I caught up on the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series. They are so good my only complaint is that I have to be focused to watch them! Last night I tried to finish a photo book of our summer vacation while watching (yes! crossing off 2016's resolutions at long last!) and I need to re-watch the episode.

I've been having a hard time listening to NPR because the news feels bad to me. But I love Samantha Bee and I can't get enough of Full Frontal. As much as I like it, I'm also kind of glad it only comes on once a week, because I don't enough time to watch all the TV I want to watch, and that makes it easier.

Last night after I'd put Coco to bed and David was reading with Zuzu, I watched a funny new show called Teachers. It made me laugh out loud a couple of times, and David said he didn't want to watch it because he has a hard time with comedies that are mostly based on secondhand embarrassment (see: why we're not listening to NPR news so much these days) but he laughed out loud, too, when he came downstairs and it was still on. I think anyone who works in an elementary school would find it pretty funny.

Friday, January 13, 2017

On Swimming

Zuzu started swimming lessons again.

If  you'd ask me, I'd say that I'd like to spend my winter Saturday mornings sleeping in (until 8:00am) and then drinking coffee while reading blogs or reading a novel and then leisurely doing a yoga video from youtube. Of course, I expect that this is all punctuated by loads of laundry and various requests from children (seriously, my kids start EVERY SENTENCE with "Mommy, I want...") but mostly it's pretty chillax.

Zuzu has started swimming lessons on Saturday mornings, so now my Saturday mornings are filled with the stench of chlorine instead of a lavender scented candle and a one-sided best-friendship with Adriene of Yoga With Adriene.

We held off on enrolling Coco in swim lessons after last year's disaster, but hoped that she would just want to play in the shallow part of the pool during Zuzu's lesson.

I don't like swimming at the indoor pool at the Y because I am a grumpy high-maintenance spoilsport, but really the water is so full of chemicals and it's never warm enough and also I don't want to feel pressured to shave my legs, and I really only want to put on a swimsuit in January if I'm going to the beach somewhere warm and tropical.

Anyway, David swims with Coco while Zuzu has her lesson and I just sit in a plastic chair and watch them all while drinking my coffee and getting a headache from the glare and the noise and the chlorine smell. Also, I struggle with what to wear because it's freezing outside but it's warm and humid in the pool area, so I was sweaty last week in my t-shirt and hoodie.

The truth is that I could stay home and David could take the girls himself and then I could have exactly the kind of relaxing Saturday morning that I want--lavender candle and laundry and yoga and whatnot--but somehow it is worth the chlorine smell and the journey out of the house in the cold and wrestling kids into and out of coats and carseats and wet swim suits and all of that because, you guys, Zuzu loves it SO MUCH.

She is thrilled to get in the water. She sits on the steps, listening (actually listening) to the swim coach, quivering with excitement as she waits for her turn. There are four kids in her class, so it's not the one-on-one attention she had in her private lessons last summer, but she does a great job. It just kills me that every time she goes under water, she comes up with a huge grin on her face.

Toward the end of her first lesson, they had the opportunity to swim freestyle across a section of the pool. The coach walked with them and helped redirect them if they got off-course. She held one little girl's sides to help her get across. When she asked Zuzu if she'd like her to hold onto her, Zuzu said with great confidence, "No, I can do it myself!" and flung herself face-first into the water with glee.

After the lesson, the coach came up to me and commented on what a strong swimmer Zuzu is and said that she did so well that she should have no problem passing into the next level at the end of class.

I was grinning as big as Zuzu.

Is there anything that feels better than hearing someone praise your kid? It's better than a compliment for yourself.

It's like sharing the secret that you hold in your heart all the time--that your kid is the awesomest and the best and the cutest and the smartest and they just need the right place and the right guidance to let them shine and be fully themselves.

And when someone else sees that and recognizes it and articulates it? It. Is. Awesome.

I just felt so proud of her, so proud of the way she is fearless and excited in the water. I marvel at the way swimming is something that truly seems to come naturally to her--all we've done is try to foster the delight that she's had literally since the day she was born.

(In those early days home from the hospital, she loved baths so much--her first smile was in a baby bathtub on our kitchen counter--but I started to dread giving them to her because she would SCREAM when they were over--no matter how warm the towel or how soothing the lotion, girlfriend wanted back in the water!)

So now I'll trade in my relaxing Saturday mornings to sit in an uncomfortable chair, wearing too many clothes for the indoor air temperature, breathing in the humidity and chlorine, because I want to watch my girl splashing gleefully in the water.

Like legions of parents who sit huddled under umbrellas in lawnchairs in freezing temperatures, or who fan themselves listlessly in the blazing sun as their thighs melt into outdoor bleachers, or whose ears ring from listening to squeaky shoes and loud buzzers in high school gyms that have terrible acoustics and smell like dirty wrestling mats, something that I never thought I wanted to do on a Saturday morning has somehow become a highlight of my week.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Christmas Redux, Part III: Traveling

We left St. Louis the day after Christmas to set off on our trek across Missouri and Kansas. Aside from the binky incident, our time in the car was blessedly uneventful, but we were busy. (Speaking of the Yucky Binky, I took Cousin Amanda's advice and took Cooper to the vet to get his butt squeezed (anal glands expressed) before we headed to Kansas. The vet tech who took care of him was very nice and declared that his glands were "Really thick and full." gag-gag-gag.

Butt juice aside, here are some of the highlights.

A conversation with Zuzu the day after Christmas:

Me: It doesn't sound like you're using a kind voice to talk to your sister.

Zuzu: Well, Elsa isn't here anymore so she can't tell Santa.

* * *

In the two days we stayed with my in-laws, Cooper peed on the carpet, and ate double his allotted food as well as David's parents' dog's food and a bunch of people food scraps he was not supposed to have. This resulted in him vomiting four times. He also stole a cinnamon roll right out of David's mom's hand, and another one off of Coco's high chair tray, so he was basically following Zuzu's logic (Elsa the Tattling Elf is gone, so eff you all).

* * *

Cooper had a vet visit that cost a million dollars because we ran a bunch of blood tests to find out if he has diabetes or kidney issues causing the peeing in the house.

No diabetes, thankfully. He's just fat because he steals cinnamon rolls.

His kidney numbers came back on the high end of normal, though, so we're shifting him to a low-sodium diet.

* * *

The girls had so much fun playing with their cousins. The weather was nice enough that they could play outside so they had some time at a park while we were in Kansas and got to play outside when we had family Christmas at my aunt Tammi's. They definitely get wild, but they have a great time together with minimal need for Peace Talks.

* * *

I struggled a little bit not just with missing Eliza, because that's all the time, but more with feeling like she was completely forgotten by everyone else. But my cousin Amanda gave me three ornaments, one for each girl, and it meant so much to me to see Eliza remembered in a visible and tangible way.

* * *

Crafty Cousin Amanda also got me a shirt with the message "This Wine is Making Me Awesome" on it and it's one of my favorite Christmas gifts!

That tagline went well with the sampler I painstakingly cross-stitched for my mom: JOLLIEST BUNCH OF ASSHOLES THIS SIDE OF THE NUTHOUSE.

It's a quote from her favorite Christmas movie (Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase) and also an excellent caption for virtually any family photo we take.

* * *

On NYE, we went out to my aunt's house to eat and play dominoes and let the little girls run wild. They had a good time playing and stayed up way past their bedtime (we were there until 10:00pm). When we got home, we discovered that Cooper had managed to drag a bag down off the dining room table and get into a container of beef jerky that had a plastic screw-top lid. He ate the entire thing, then washed them down with a package of birthday cake Oreo cookies. So much for his low-sodium diet!

He was so stuffed that his stomach was distended and he looked like he was about to pop. I was freaking out because I figured at best he'd be puking all night and at worst the salt in his system would send him into kidney failure.

We crated him for the night to keep the barf off the carpet and put a big bowl of water in with him to help him flush the salt. I was tossing and turning all night, worrying about him and hearing him slurping up water. The next morning he hadn't barfed at all, he peed about a gallon when I let him outside, and pooped twice. Then he seemed to be feeling fine.

I'm calling it his last hurrah of 2016, as he must have known that 2017 would bring him a new diet and exercise regimen.

* * *

The girls have done a lot of singing this Christmas season, but I always want to remember how Coco sang the ABC's. Of course, when I tried to video her, she didn't perform it the way she usually does. I'll have to try and capture it again soon. It goes like this: "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I J, K, ELLA LELLO PEE, COO, R, S, T, U, BEE, DUBERRY, X, Y, AND Z!"

* * *

My favorite gifts this Christmas? Tickets to Rent when it comes in May, Aveda hair products, a cute pair of earrings I might have hint-texted to David, the Hamilton biography that inspired the musical, and Hamilton: The Revolution which is all about the musical.

Of course, my MOST favorites were the gifts the girls chose for me when they went "shopping" at our friends' church in Kansas City: Coco selected red fuzzy gloves, and two jeweled broaches. One is shaped like a rose and the other is a silver bow with jingle bells on it. Zuzu got me a set of two square plates with gingerbread men on them and a larger square serving plate. They also made us candle holders at school by mod-podging tissue paper on small glass votive holders. Treasures, all!

Also funny was the ornament Zuzu selected for David. She'd told me it was baseball, but I didn't expect it to be a KC Royals ornament! Cracked us up. She knew it was baseball, but didn't quite get that it was for the wrong team. Of course it will be lovingly and prominently displayed every year, just like the grandma ornament I once got for my dad.

* * *

I got ornaments for the girls this year and tried to commemorate something about them for 2016. Zuzu was easy--she got a mermaid ornament. Coco was a little more challenging, but I ended up getting her a pink baby stroller ornament. It's probably intended for new babies, but it will always remind me of the circles she makes around our house pushing her little pink stroller!

* * *

And that wraps up the Holidays 2016. Back to the new year!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Christmas Redux, Part II: Christmas Morning

It was actually Coco who woke up first on Christmas morning, and we woke Zuzu up together at 7:30am, which was lovely. I was able to brush my teeth and make coffee before the girls came downstairs! Zuzu was easy to wake and they were so sweet sitting together at the top of the stairs as we’d discussed the night before—I want to make it a tradition to take their picture there each Christmas morning, with their pjs and bedhead and sleepy baby faces.

Zuzu made us laugh because her first comment was that Santa hadn’t filled her stocking with candy. There was candy down in her stocking, but she had evidently had a very specific expectation of what it would look like (perhaps candy canes and lollipops spilling out of it?) and Santa’s presentation did not meet her expectations. But she was thrilled with what Santa brought her.

Maybe I overthink Christmas gifts, but I always want to get them things that will make Christmas feel magical and abundant, the way I remember it when I was a kid, but I also don’t want to get them too much—I don’t want it to be all about the stuff, I don’t want us to fill our house with loads of crappy toys that the girls don’t play with.  So I tried to strike that balance. Santa brought doll bunk beds (more info on those later)  as a joint gift for them to share, and then each of them got three wrapped gifts from Santa. Coco got Peppa Pig figurines, the new Oliver Jeffers book, and a new baby stroller. Zuzu slid over to the nice list just in time to get PJ Masks figurines, Barack Obama’s book Of Thee I Sing, and her most coveted gift—Princess Elena and Isabel dolls. He also brought matching pajamas for the girls that say “Little Girl, Big Dreams” on the front (and which I happen to know that Mrs. Claus selected for them before the election and then shed tears over after).

On Eliza’s birthday, I took the girls with me to Target to get shoes and toys for a family that a group at my university had adopted for Christmas. We were buying shoes and toys for an 11-year old boy and a 4 year old girl, so I let Zuzu choose the toy and she picked this set of two dolls based on some cartoon. Then she talked about how much SHE wanted that Elena and Isabel. In fact, when I asked her on Christmas Eve what gift she hoped most to get from Santa (a dangerous question, in retrospect), that’s what she said. Fortunately, Santa came through.

She was adorably astonished and appreciative of the gifts Santa brought. She said, “Santa even knew what I liked that wasn’t on my list!” She hadn’t asked for the PJ Masks characters, but she was pretty excited about them.

I was pretty excited about both books—they are both fabulous.

Another thing Santa picked up when swinging through the dollar spot at Target were these big rolled up maps of the US and the continents that are made to color. This was such a hit, as the girls spent a huge part of the day yesterday and all morning this morning happily coloring with their new markers, all spread out on the living room floor working on these big posters.

I was pleased that Zuzu liked the skirt we gave her. She also liked the magnet game we got for her. Coco was delighted with the rainbow umbrella that Zuzu wrapped up (and offered tremendous amount of unsolicited assistance unwrapping) for her, and Zuzu got really into the set of Shrinky Dinks that Coco wrapped and gifted to her. On a whim, I picked up a magnetic hour glass and gave it to both of them and they were pretty into it, too.  Another big hit was the cash register that David’s aunt sent for them. The kindergarteners at Zuzu’s school had a bake sale the week before Christmas break and Zuzu has been playing bake sale ever since, so I knew a cash register would be a big hit. Of course, David’s aunt selected the Cadillac of children’s cash registers, so it is a real working calculator with a scanner that beeps, a credit card slide that beeps, and a microphone that amplifies your voice and has that terrible squeaky feedback noise, just like the Kmart announcements from back in the day.

(By the end of the night, Coco was sneaking over to the cash register to yell “Poopoo Butt!” into the microphone, in the ultimate act of two-year-old naughty words.)

My parents saved most of their gifts for Christmas at their house, which was on Thursday after Christmas when when my brother and his wife (Uncle Buck and Auntie Jo) got to town, but they did bring up a cute little wooden craft table that’s perfect for the girls since they are really into drawing and coloring these days. 

By the end of the day, both girls were worn out. Coco asked to go back to bed at 10:30am, and lay in her crib for about 30 minutes before yelling for us to free her. She took a solid afternoon nap, though, and was ready for bed at her normal time. In our version of a Christmas miracle, Zuzu actually put herself to bed about 8:30pm!

It was really a pretty delightful day. The girls and I stayed in our pajamas all day long. We all spent the afternoon coloring and reading or playing with new toys. David fixed another fantastic dinner (Zuzu seriously couldn’t stop raving about the pasta with butter and parm that she was served, which cracked us all up: “I just LOVE this pasta! Do you love it, Coco? This dinner is my favorite! I just LOVE it!”

Eliza's stocking still makes me sad on Christmas morning, but I think I'm going to handle it next year by putting an ornament in it. For the past few years, I've participated in an ornament exchange with other BLMs, and each year I've received a beautiful ornament to commemorate Eliza. Although I always open the ornament and share a photo on IG, I think that next year instead of hanging it on the tree, I'll put it in her stocking after opening it. On Christmas morning, the girls can pull it out of Eliza's stocking and hang it on the tree, and it will be a small and happy way to acknowledge their sister.

After five Christmases of pretty heavy grief, this one was an excellent respite. It was such a lovely, easy day. We hung out, watched TV, and just enjoyed doing nothing. As sad as I am to say good-bye to the baby days, I’m also reminding myself that we have much to look forward to the years of doing puzzles and reading novels and seeing movies and having Christmas evolve with our family. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Christmas Redux, Part I

I felt better this Christmas than I have since 2010.  Some of it undoubtedly had to with the inevitable passage of time. The distance of six years gives you that breathing room I talked about before—which sometimes feels sad, but also is a relief.

A recap:

December 2010 was a black hole of misery I can barely remember. I know I didn't want to open gifts or acknowledge the holiday at all. I also know my parents gave me an old school Kindle because I read a lot of books on it in during that miserable winter, but otherwise the whole thing is pretty hazy since I dropped out of life on December 6th.

2011 we skipped out on Christmas on purpose and ran away to Mexico, where we basically ignored the holiday all together. This caused some family strife with some of my in-laws that we’ve buried under the rug in the way of moderately dysfunctional families around the holidays. It was still a really, really hard Christmas. We missed Eliza so desperately, and the pain was raw and fresh with the first anniversary of her loss in December. Also, I was still in my first trimester with the Deuce (now Zuzu) and was nauseated, tired, and fearful in addition to being really effing sad.

2012 was Zuzu’s first Christmas, and it was comparatively happy, but it was also the first Christmas we had without David’s grandpa, which was very sad. I know Eliza wouldn’t have remembered him, but it was hard to know that we wouldn’t even have pictures of David and his grandpa with our kids, and as happy as we were to have Zuzu, it felt like our whole life was off-schedule and off-kilter. Christmas was a reminder of all the dreams we’d lost in the past two years.

2013 we were all not feeling well, (David and I both had low grade fevers on Christmas day) and although we had an offer on our house, we still hadn’t closed on it, so the stress (and expenses) were high. I was also not feeling well because I was about 8 weeks pregnant with Coco. We were thrilled, but also shocked by the unexpected timing, and, of course, there was lots of anxiety accompanying our excitement, so the holiday was pretty exhausting.

2014 was Coco’s first Christmas and it was a pretty good one. We did the Midwest driving tour with 5-month-old Coco and 2-and-a-half-year-old Zuzu and the whole thing kind of wore us out. Also, I tried potty-training Zuzu while we were at home, and it was a complete disaster.

2015 was a difficult December. The girls were fine, but David’s grandma was dying and he was spending time with her in Branson pretty much every weekend in November and December. She didn’t much feel up to visits from the girls, so I was single-parenting, especially in December when he was gone for a couple of weeks as she entered hospice care. His grandma passed away right before Christmas, so our usual travel schedule changed. We gathered with David’s family for her memorial before Christmas and our entire holiday break was spent planning her memorial and then taking care of all of the logistics related to the sale of her house and estate. We did celebrate Christmas here with the girls, but overall It was a tiring and sad month.

This Christmas felt happier and certainly more restful than years previous. The passage of time helps, the health of our family is of course most important. It helps, too, that the girls are at such a fun age, really excited about Santa, super enthusiastic about gift wrapping, advent calendars, and BABY JESUS and thrilled to watch David’s favorite Christmas shows.

A (not really quick) rundown of our pre-Christmas festivities:

I really try to limit the amount of sugar my kids eat, and it hasn’t been hard to do because Zuzu doesn’t really care for sweet treats. Unlike her sister, Coco has a major sweet tooth and is really into “clock-click” (chocolate). She has requested lots of Christmas treats, and really knows how to work Grammy and Bops with her negotiations (“Just a yittle bit” or “Just ONE mo-ah” with one pudgy little finger held up). Zuzu, meanwhile, could live off of Life cereal but doesn’t care for chocolate or other sweets. Then Grammy brought homemade Christmas cookies sweetened with vanilla and almond extract. They were Zuzu’s favorite treat EVER. I sort of lost track because Zuzu quickly realized if she asked each grown-up separately for one cookie, they’d probably all say yes. She must have eaten about half a dozen for lunch on Christmas Eve. #qualityparenting

My parents came up a couple of days before Christmas and Zuzu was so excited she woke up at 6:30am the morning they arrived (even though they didn’t get in until 1:30pm). We took the girls to see Disney’s Moana that morning, which was really cute. Zuzu enjoyed it, but it didn’t hold Coco’s interest and she got pretty loud and whiny. Next time we’ll bring the binky, even though I’m somewhat embarrassed about the fact that my two and a half year old still has a binky (it’s supposed to be just for bedtime, car rides, and recovery from insult or injury) so I rarely let her have it outside the house or car.

The next day we all had tickets to go see the Repertory Theatre’s children show A Gnome for Christmas. It was very cute, and the short running time combined with our front-row seats and live actors held Coco’s interest.

That afternoon, David and I left the girls with my parents and went out to see the movie Manchester by the Sea. It was great. And completely devastating. A huge grief trigger, even though I knew the movie was about grief (you can see as much from the preview). I thought it was well done, but Sarah described it as crushing and that’s an apt description as any. Funnily enough, a friend of mine and fellow BLM had e-mailed me the night before warning me that the movie had been a big grief trigger for her, but I didn’t see the e-mail until I’d returned from the show. I’m not sorry I saw it, but it was definitely not a light-hearted or uplifting date night.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Zuzu woke again at 6:30am and was just “So excited that it’s Christmas Eve time!” We had a pretty lazy day (in the best way) until we got ready to go 4:00pm church service. (We’ve been attending a new to us church that is liberal and progressive and very active in social justice, and it’s been good.)

It’s been a real challenge to get Zuzu to wear outfits that I select—it doesn’t seem to really matter what the outfit is, if she doesn’t choose the entire ensemble herself, it’s completely unacceptable. But we got to church with everyone wearing what I wanted them to wear. We also brought an extra person in the form of the baby Jesus from our Catholic neighbor’s outdoor nativity scene. Our neighbor goes all out for Christmas and her home is beautifully decorated inside and out. She always waits to put baby Jesus in the manger until it gets dark on Christmas Eve, and the last couple of years she has let Zuzu have the honor of placing the baby in the manger. She brought Baby Jesus over earlier in the day, and we told Zuzu that she could put him in the manger after we got home from church. But she decided that Baby Jesus should go to church with us. So that’s how we ended up wrapping a heavy, hard plastic figurine of the baby Jesus with a man face and creepy eyes and “waddling cloths” that looked like a loin cloth in one of our baby blankest and carrying him to church with us.

I figured that this wasn’t that big of a deal—wrapped up in the blanket, he looked pretty much like any other swaddled baby doll.

We were cutting it close to start time when we arrived at church and the place was packed. There were a few extra chairs open in the first two rows, so we ended up in the very front of the church. I actually like it better up front because I think it keeps the girls’ attention—they love the band and the choir. When we stood up to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Zuzu surprised us all by lifting the baby Jesus up above her head, swaying in the aisle. She was so serious and intense about singing to this particular Baby Jesus. It was very cute.

There were a couple of small scuffles. Zuzu was tired so she wanted to curl up on a lap, but as soon as she’d feel herself getting sleepy, she’d jump up and start grooving in the aisle again. There was a small fight over my lap, which I broke up with the bribe of fruit snacks, but they stayed pretty quiet. There was one squabble over the Baby Jesus that resulted in Coco yelling, “MY BABY JESUS!” but it seemed relatively appropriate for a Christmas service. If only Zuzu had followed it up with a “Hallelujah!” instead of “NO! MY BABY JESUS!”

After church, David cooked a fantastic meal and watched Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol with the girls and my dad while my mom and I cleaned up the kitchen and made an egg bake and coffee cake for breakfast the next morning.

I was worried that Zuzu would continue her super early morning streak. She’d gone from waking reluctantly at 7:00am when I got her up for school to jumping out of bed at 6:30, fueled by Christmas excitement. Fortunately, two days of early mornings and no naps finally caught up with her, so though she woke up once close to 5:00am and asked David if it was morning, she believed him when he said it was two more hours before Christmas.

Friday, January 6, 2017

This place could be beautiful, right?

I read this poem several weeks ago, and it's one that is still sticking around in my mind. I sent it to a friend who has recently become sober, and it's one of those poems that I keep coming back to as we face a shifting political climate (I'm still having a hard time listening to NPR like I used to...). 

"Good Bones" by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.


Is it depressing or hopeful? 

(Maybe depends on your opinion of realtors?)

I read it differently depending on the day, but I think I mostly try to feel hopeful about it. I mean, "Life is short and the world / is at least half terrible" and maybe we are living in a shithole that's going to sink under the sea when global warming melts all the ice caps in 50 years, and I'm trying to package that up to sell it to my kids as their future, but I'm optimistic about future generations (remember, the millennials almost all voted blue). 

So I still think, yeah, "You could make this place beautiful."

Here's to making things beautiful in 2017.