Week 1: Lighthouse Writers Workshop Class

This week, I started an eight-week online writing class through Lighthouse Writers Workshop (link). Recently, I’ve found snippets of stories forming in my mind as I go about my days, and I’ve wondered if it might be time to think about writing some fiction, which I have not done since I took Intro to Creative Writing during my freshman year in college. I’ve also been wanting to expand a bit in terms of style in my nonfiction pieces, so I’m taking a Prose class that’s half fiction, half nonfiction. 

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The Story of Tonight: Two Musicals

The energy in the room was palpable as we took our seats: people snapped selfies with the stage in the background, teenagers stared wide-eyed, and when the lights went down, everyone cheered. When the lead actor sang, "My name is Alexander Hamilton,” it felt more like Red Rocks than the Buell Theater. And with that, we were off, collectively captivated for the nearly three hour show.

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When I smell oranges...

...I am a little girl, eating breakfast at my grandparents' house after spending the night. My grandfather, Jim, asks, "do you want an orange, or orange juice?" and when I say "both," a sunny yellow glass of juice appears above my plate, which has cheery sections of orange, cut with the skin still on, beside his trademark sausage and cheese biscuits. He tells me about the health benefits of eating the white part (is it called the pith?) and i listen politely, and hide the sinewy strings in my napkin, crumbled in my lap.

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A New Phase of Parenting

Yesterday was my first day on skis since February 4, and it was glorious. No wind (rare at Eldora), no traffic, and plenty of sunshine. Julia and I did a couple of runs with Scott and Margaret, and then went up to the top of the mountain for a couple of runs. I was thrilled to have a bit of one-on-one time with Julia. Lately, the scale has been tipping heavily towards "manager/ organizer/ drill sergeant mom" and not as heavily towards "fun, relaxed, agenda-free mom," and even though I spend hours per day with my girls, sometimes I get to the end of the day and I think, "Oh. I miss them." We spent one of the rides up the lift planning Julia's birthday party (in August. This kid is a planner.), and played some low-key Red Light, Green Light while we skied, but mostly, we just hung out quietly together. 

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Thoughts from the Eldora parking lot

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sitting in the car in the Eldora parking lot while Scott skis with the girls. I’m 3.5 weeks out from a torn quad muscle (I don’t know how I did it- probably running. I guess my body just isn’t meant for anything faster than a 12 minute mile. My mom says I should make up a story about what happened, so let’s pretend I tore it running up Bear Peak and setting a PR, and not on the Bobolink Trail doing alternating intervals of attempting 10 minute miles and walking). So, I’m support crew today—helped Scott get the girls dressed, carried some skis to the bottom of the lift, took some videos of them on the magic carpet, and now am sitting in the sunshine with tea and the computer. It could be worse.

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Listen to Your Mother 2018

Somehow, in spite of my love of writing, it's been nearly a year and a half since my last post. I have struggled with making myself vulnerable since Trump's election; along with much of the nation, I've found myself in survival mode, alternately reading the news and shielding myself from it. While it wasn't a conscious choice to stop writing after the election, I have found that the expansiveness and openness that comes with writing about my own experiences have felt out of reach over the past year. National politics, combined with some personal struggles (more about this in a bit!) have made me hesitant to write.

This winter, however, I've resolved to open myself up a bit again. I prepared a piece and auditioned for a local production of Listen to Your Mother, which celebrates and honors motherhood in all of its complexities. I'm excited to share that I was chosen as one of ten women who will perform in May. Here is a link to buy tickets if you're local, and to read more about the show if you're not. I've been asked not to share any details about my piece, but I can't wait (and am also terrified!) to share it with you in a few months. 
 

http://listentoyourmothershow.com/boulder/

Poetry and Politics

Two Sundays ago, I took my anxious self for a hike. It was two days before the election, and although I felt confident that Hillary Clinton would win, my nerves were on high alert. I took Kenai into the foothills behind our home, climbing higher and higher and trying to convince myself that I was hiking out my stress. In truth, I was just feeling stressed in a different place, but hey, it was something. Then, when I reached the top, I looked out over Boulder and a few of the lines from one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, "Wild Geese," came to mind. "You do not have to be good...you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves...meanwhile, the world goes on..." I could only remember pieces of the poem, but I repeated them to myself over and over again, like a mantra, as I made my way back down. When I got to my car, I pulled up the poem and read it in its entirety. Teary, I had the sense that everything was going to be okay.

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Smiling, Happy Voice

Yesterday afternoon, the girls sat at the counter eating lunch. I put away a couple of dishes, threw together my own food, and chatted with them, like I do during most mealtimes. While we were talking, Julia said, "Mom? Do you think you can use the voice like you used to use?" 

"What voice is that, Jules?" I stopped what I was doing. I looked at her.

"Your smiling, happy voice," she said. Something inside of me sunk.

"Oh," I said, keeping my voice as light as possible. "What voice have I been using that you don't like?" Julia scowled. "A voice like this," she said. "Kind of mad."

I felt many emotions at that moment. I felt both the recognition and awe that I have felt at Julia's astute observations, which she has been making since long before she could talk. This kid has known me, read me, since the moment she was born. I felt grateful that she felt safe to share this with me, like it was no big deal-- just some personal development on a Wednesday afternoon, like when I tell her that it's good manners to keep her underwear covered in public. But mostly, I felt ashamed that sadness and anger are the emotions I have been projecting to her.

This summer has been a glorious respite from what has felt like a long, challenging year and a half. I have written before about the challenges of having two children-- challenges that have leveled me in ways I didn't expect. Summer, though, has shown me glimpses of what I imagine life with two daughters will be like: hysterical laughter as they spin in circles together, listening to "So Long, Farewell" from "The Sound of Music" on repeat... swimming at the pool, Margaret throwing a diving stick 2 inches for Julia and clapping when Julia retrieves it...  Weekends in the mountains as a family of four, with moments when Scott and I catch one another's eye as a recognition of "yup, we're going to make it." There has certainly been conflict, but there has also been joy. And I have missed joy.

Julia's observation yesterday, though, reminded me that although I may feel joy, some of the difficulties from the last year and a half have left an imprint. Since having Margaret, I've noticed myself hurrying often, and therefore, hurrying Julia. Sometimes we are in a hurry, and that's life, but other times, I will catch myself-- does it matter if we leave for the pool in 4 minutes, or 4 seconds? Of course not. And my patience has suffered; the doctor running late, when I'm there for a quick check up with both girls, can send me into a tail spin. I shook with anger when the flight attendant would not let me board with both girls during priority boarding time on a recent flight. In short, I've become more tightly wound. Before kids, and especially before two kids, I prided myself on being calm and collected in challenging situations. I miss that version of myself, and it seems that Julia misses her, too.

In addition to feeling harried, I have definitely felt the effects of the current political climate (read: Donald Trump) and the current news (read: Orlando shootings, shooting black people in the street, shooting police officers.). I have felt simultaneously overstimulated and overloaded form the stories, and obsessed by reading more and more. I feel genuine fear about Trump, and about the world my girls are inheriting right now. I know that this media saturation has contributed to the attitude my astute Julia has sensed.

For the rest of yesterday, I smiled. And today, even though I have not slept well in two nights, and even though our house looks like a tornado, followed perhaps by a tsunami, has struck, I have smiled. Because, as Julia so innocently pointed out yesterday afternoon, perhaps a change can start with a simple choice.

Summer ease

We're driving home from the pool, girls already fed, showered, in pajamas. The late afternoon June sun sits over the flatirons, and "Sound of Music" plays as Julia and I sing along. "So, Mom?" she asks, a seriousness in her voice. "After they get chased by the bad guys, do the Von Trapps get to live happily ever after?" The song ends; Margaret insists that we hear it again.

Margaret brings me a toddler- sized costume. "Anna. On." I help her into the costume, and she runs to Julia, who is dressed as Elsa. Margaret spins and giggles, and Julia directs her.

We are discussing Julia's 5th birthday party: Peter Pan theme, in the back yard, Tinkerbell costumes encouraged. When I ask what kind of cake she wants, Julia tells me that she thinks we should have vanilla, because Margaret is too little for chocolate. 

After last summer's challenges, and frankly, the challenges of having two children for the past 18 months, I was dreading this summer a bit. What would it be like to have so much unstructured time? Would Julia like the camps I had signed her up for? Would it just be endless days of her being upset with Margaret?  I have been pleasantly surprised so far. Julia loves camp. Our days have a nice rhythm. There are certainly moments every day where I'm frustrated, but more and more, I there are moments when I find myself happy. Yes, actually happy---and happy when I'm with both girls. Happy to see them beginning to play together, happy to swim together,  happy to see how much joy Margaret feels when she sees Julia, happy to catch glimpses of what it might be like in the future to have two daughters.

Shortly after Margaret was born, I asked a dear friend who also had two daughters when it got easier. I remember her telling me that 18 months was a magical age. That seems to be true for us. 

 

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34 months

On Sunday, Margaret nursed for the last time. While I have mixed feelings about Mother's Day-- on the one hand, I'm certainly not going to turn down brunch; on the other, I know my family loves me, and it seems kind of strange to have high expectations for one day of demonstrating that-- it does seem somehow significant that Mother's Day was the end of what has been a huge part of motherhood for me. 

I've known the end of breastfeeding was coming for awhile, and have felt a little sad about it. For the past four or five months, Margaret just nursed in the morning and evening, and before and after naps. Then, she stopped the before and after naps sessions, and last week, stopped the evening. Since it's been so predictable, I've felt like we might continue for awhile-- it hasn't felt overwhelming, or all-consuming-- just one of the many things we do together. Whereas Julia nursed to solve any problem right until she stopped (at exactly 17 months, just like Margaret), Margaret was always the opposite: if she was too upset, she refused to nurse. She put herself on a schedule, and she stuck to it.  

On Saturday morning, with my coffee in hand, we sat down to nurse. Margaret took a few sips, then grabbed my chest, said "uh uh" and scowled at me. "Huh," I said. "It seems like maybe we are done nursing." She wrinkled her nose and laughed. "Okay," I told her. She was so clear that I almost forgot to be sad. She didn't nurse Saturday night, but Sunday morning, she grabbed my shirt, so I went with it. She hasn't asked to since, and I haven't offered. I didn't know that was the last time. I might have snapped a picture if I had.

Yesterday, my first day without nursing, I was sad.  I googled "hormones when you stop breastfeeding," and learned that weaning hormones and postpartum hormones are the same. Oh, yes , I thought. Headache: check. Weepy: check. And while I know that hormones are compounding the sadness, this also marks the end of 34 total months of breastfeeding over the past five years. 

On Friday, I met a friend's six week-old baby. "How was breastfeeding for you?" She asked. "Oh, great!" I said. "I've been really lucky to have had it go smoothly." When she started to share some challenges, I remembered the early days of feeding Julia. I remembered the awkwardness--how it took countless pillows and four hands (Scott's and mine) to get situated. How I would wonder whether she was getting too much, or enough, and how any mothers managed to ever put on a shirt. It got better quickly, and I was very fortunate to have positive experiences nursing both girls. With Margaret, I think I was nursing her with one hand and preparing meals for Julia while recovering from my c-section within 4 days of giving birth.  

Scott and I used to joke that we could make a map of everywhere I had nursed one of the girls. The grocery store parking lot across the street, when Julia was melting down and just couldn't make it home: check. In bathrooms: check. At seemingly every exit between Denver and Silverthorne on our way to the mountains: check. On airplanes, buses, and hunched awkwardly over the car seat: check. I have nursed to comfort, to nourish, to connect. When Julia weaned, I was so worried about whether she would be okay. Would she be too hungry (well, she was infinitely hungrier, but we figured that out)? Most importantly, would we still connect? Would she still know that I was there for her whenever she needed me?  I was so relieved when, during those first few days post-weaning, she would reach for me, or climb into my lap. We reassured each other as we found the new normal.

This time around, I know that Margaret will be okay. I know that I will be okay. And while there's a part of me that mourns the end of what it's meant for me to mother a baby, I feel such comfort and pride in the 34 months that I spent sitting on couches, beds, benches, with babies in my arms.

Do Less

Yesterday, we had a good day. Julia asked to paint some boxes during Margaret's nap time, which may not seem like a big deal, but for the kid who has completely given up art this year (aside from a sticker addiction), it was positively shocking. I set her up on the deck with paint and some boxes from Amazon, and she got started. "Mommy, can I mix these colors?" I started to say no, and then I kicked myself and said, "of course you can." (Why, Meg? Because cleaning paint cups is that important?) And she was so, so happy. "Look, I'm making orange! And purple!" 

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Between Sea and Sky

On the deck of the boat, harnesses on, non-locking carabiners hooking us into the sail (trying not to think about how sketchy that is). Are you ready? asks the 20-something guy in his hoodie and torn jeans. And with that, we are off. We float into the air, between the green water and gray clouds. Julia waves, next to her grandfather, her eyes bright, as we soar higher and higher. Okay, I think. If we fell now, we wouldn’t die. This is fine. And then we keep going, unbelievably high, the boat becoming a tiny speck below.

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Summer recap

I was really ready for summer when school ended for Julia in late May. I was tired of fighting with her about getting ready, tired of making lunches, tired of herding her and schlepping Margaret into the car. I daydreamed about leisurely, relaxing mornings on the deck...about leisurely, relaxing afternoons at Spruce Pool... about leisurely, relaxing evenings on the deck...notice the theme here?

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Goodbye, Quiet Playtime

Last week, just two weeks after a double ear infection, Julia was sick again. The doctor diagnosed it as strep, and while we found out a few days later that the lab tests came back negative, she was the sickest she's been in years. Fever, zero energy, terrible sleep... it was a long week. Ever since she stopped napping at two and a half, Julia has done an hour to an hour and a half of quiet playtime in her room after lunch, followed by some TV watching.

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