Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Catch as Catch Can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2018


I went to my twenty-year high school reunion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Punkins & Pumpkins

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

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

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

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

And then we all laughed until we cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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