Humble Pie

This morning, both girls were still sleeping when I had to wake them for camp at 7:30. Julia tends to be a late sleeper, but Margaret is awake at 5:30 more often than not, so this was a special treat. I started the day with coffee on the deck, ate a leisurely breakfast, put chili ingredients in the crock pot. I even folded a few items from the laundry bed (really, the guest bed, but laundry is our most frequent guest). I packed Julia’s lunch and Margaret’s snack, and was feeling pretty centered when I woke them up.

I handed Margaret her clothes— shorts and a tank top, which I bought yesterday at Old Navy, and which she okayed before I washed them last night. She scowled. “I don’t like those. I like dresses.”

“But you told me yesterday that you liked these,” I pleaded. PSA: this line of reasoning does not work with a 4.5 year old.

“Well I DON’T.” She stomped down the stairs, and came back holding a new dress. “I want to wear this.” I explained to her, voice tense, that that dress was for school, and that she needed play clothes for art camp. I knew, even as I said this, that the sentiment was ridiculous. Margaret attends a play-based preschool and comes home covered in mud, paint, and/ or glue almost every day. These new dresses were on clearance from Amazon, and I bought them precisely because they looked like the more expensive Hanna Andersson ones she loves, and thought they’d be perfect for school. Still, I dug in my heels.

Julia came to our rescue. “Margaret, do you want me to pick a different dress for you?” she asked in her most soothing voice. “NO,” Margaret said firmly.

“It’s fine,” I snapped at them, in a voice that made it very clear that it wasn’t fine at all. “Let’s go. We’re going to be late.” I wrenched the dress over Margaret’s head, criticized the way she was (or was not, as the case might have been) brushing her teeth, and rolled my eyes when she refused to put on shoes.

In the car, Margaret grinned at me in the rear view mirror, happy in her new, pink, twirly dress. I gave her a watery smile, put my sunglasses on, and cried. After a few minutes, their morning chatter died down, and I took a deep breath.

“Margaret,” I said, “I’m sorry I snapped at you about the dress. I’m so glad you like it. I’m really sad about Rena still, and sometimes I get frustrated about things that I wouldn’t normally get frustrated about.”

“Oh,” Julia piped up from the back, “You mean like how you yelled at me the other night when I wouldn’t go to bed?”

No, I wanted to say. I yelled at you that night because it was midnight and I was exhausted and you haven’t slept all summer and you’re turning eight and you were behaving like a two-year-old.

“Yes,” I responded. “Like that. But, last night, I was more patient, and you stayed in your bed, and we did better, right?” Julia nodded. We pulled into the parking lot for camp. Julia grabbed her lunchbox and gave me a kiss before skipping in. Margaret caught my eye, did a twirl, and gave me a smile I might not have deserved, but was so grateful to receive.

Grieving, July 2019

My grandmother, Rena, died last month. When I write those words, they look logical. She was 93. I am 38. Women who are 38 are lucky to still have grandparents; her death wasn’t tragic. And yet.

And yet, Rena’s death is a profound loss. Multiple times per day, I feel my heart beat faster, and I think, Rena is dead. I find myself thinking thoughts that seem obvious when I write them down, like, I knew Rena my whole life. Of course; she was my grandmother. But what I mean is, I don't know a world without Rena in it. My parents and I lived with her and my grandfather, Jim, after I was born. She took care of my mom and me while my mom recovered from a C-Section. We grew up an hour from her and my grandfather, and when my parents divorced, they moved in with us part-time so that my mom could go to grad school. My college roommate remarked that some people called their parents; I called my mom and my grandmother. We talked multiple times a week for the last twenty years, and I visited as often as I could. 

A month after her death, I am still filtering experiences through “what I will tell Rena.” Some of my family members are doing the same. Rena was always fiercely protective of our family. When I was in middle school, sharing my social dramas with her was deeply satisfying; she was always on my side, quick to criticize anyone who might have wronged me. As she aged, she grew less and less able to tolerate any negative events or feelings we might experience, and my mom and I had a long list of “things we did not tell Rena” because we didn’t want her to worry. We did not tell her about minor illnesses. I did not tell her when Julia broke her toe last summer. When Margaret threw up in the car this morning, for an instant I imagined a text to my mom, telling her both that Margaret was sick, and also not to tell Rena. 

While she couldn’t listen to the negative, Rena loved to hear stories about the girls. “Tell me something they’ve said,” she would exclaim on the phone, childlike excitement in her voice. I would jot down funny sayings or stories, saving them to tell her. Last week, when Margaret went to a playdate at a friend’s house, I reminded her to say “please” if she needed anything from her friend’s mom. “Yeah, I will,” Margaret replied. “I want her to be really impressed with my manners.” When I told my mom, we noted how much Rena would have loved this story.

So many cliches about death have proved to be true. Grieving is a process. I am glad Rena isn’t suffering, and that I was able to be with her when she died. I am grateful for the time we had together, and I know that the depth of my sadness is in proportion to how profoundly I loved her. The words sound hollow, but for now, they are the words I can find. And so, I will write them down, and I will let them absorb and reflect what grief feels like today. 


How to Breathe During a Tsunami

I loved sharing this piece with a fabulous audience at Listen to Your Mother last night!

I get out of bed at 5am, pour my first cup of coffee, and vow that this morning will be better- I’ll get ready before the girls wake up, so that I can spend my time connecting with them instead of barking crazed, one-word orders as I shout out the time: “7:02!” “7:14!” “Shoes!” “Backpack!” My guilt won’t cause me to text to a friend who works at my seven year old’s school, asking her to show my daughter an emoji-filled apology. I've been working part-time since August after seven years as a stay-at-home mom, and I knew it would be an adjustment. I did not know, however, that every work morning would leave me feeling like that time when I was kayaking in Alaska, and a glacier calved, sending a small tsunami that left me in thirty degree water: breathless, confused, and relieved to be alive.

Here’s a confession to file under “things a feminist living in Boulder is not supposed to say:” I liked being a stay-at-home mom. My husband is gone twelve hours every day, and we don’t have family nearby. Having one parent who worked and one who stayed home made sense for our family. I know I’m privileged to have the choice about whether to work. My coworkers are inspiring and supportive, my job flexible. Still, the morning tsunami stuns me every time.

My four-year-old wakes up at 5:30.  She wants a snack that’s a surprise, but contains these exact ingredients: smoked salmon, cucumbers, and shredded cheese, but not that kind, the other kind, the kind that we don’t have. I turn on the TV for her so I can get myself ready. My inability to conjure the correct variety of shredded cheddar has slowed me down a bit, but I’m on track for a semi- ontime departure.

Then I remember that I have three lunches and one breakfast to pack before we leave. My 4 year old and I have to eat our breakfasts, too, because even though she has basically eaten a whole fish at this point, she insists that that was her breakfast snack, not to be confused with her breakfast. I pour her some Cheerios and reheat some oatmeal for myself, which I shovel into my mouth while I fill the girls’ Bento boxes with various types of cereal, some cheddar bunnies, and goldfish crackers. Boulder mom fail.

I wake my 7 year old, who rubs her eyes and asks if she has time to play. She doesn’t. This is unwelcome news each of the three mornings per week that I go to work and she goes to Before Care at school. I force a smile, reminding her that there isn’t usually playtime on before care mornings. She scowls as she dresses herself, and I wrestle my younger daughter into her dress, but not that one, the one that’s really twirly.

The girls jockey for position to brush teeth, the first fight of the day. The best spot is sitting on the counter, feet in the sink, but there’s only room for one of them there. Some mornings, I enforce the “all feet on the floor for teeth brushing” rule (who has a rule about that?!) and others, I let them fight it out, get toothpaste on their feet, and complain about being spit on.

Battle number two ensues, a riveting “who gets to sit on the left side of  the step to put on socks and shoes.” They squeeze together, throwing elbows with the occasional kick for good measure. I tell them this is not an argument I’m going to moderate. I tell them that if they cannot find a solution, they will not watch TV that afternoon, and I get huffy when my oldest points out that that’s an illogical consequence. She remembers that it’s poetry day, and that she needs her poetry binder, which she is sure is either in her room, in the kitchen, or maybe on the coffee table.

My youngest wants a princess costume to wear over her puffy jacket, and still, nobody is wearing socks or shoes. The sock basket contains approximately eighty-five pink socks, none of which match. Suggesting non-matching socks is akin to suggesting to my Harry Potter-obsessed 7 year old that wizards aren’t real. Unthinkable.

Finally, after I’ve unearthed matching socks of questionable cleanliness, we walk out the door. I am sweating. I check to see if I’m wearing a shirt that disguises it, and thankfully, I am. At the car, the girls begin the grand finale fight of the morning about who is getting into which side of the car while I shuffle our various bags for the day’s activities to the trunk. My watch pings to congratulate me on earning exercise minutes because my heart rate is so high. Three minutes later, they are both in their seats, and nobody is crying, though I am close. It is 7:41 am.

When we were thinking about whether I should go back to work, my husband and I wondered if it would be good for the girls to see me working outside the home- for them to see that I had skills beyond laundry and errands. But I worry that what they actually see is a stressed version of the mom they knew, constantly telling them how many minutes they have until they need to do something else. Because while I now have a part-time job, my stay-at-home mom responsibilities haven’t changed. There is still a house, two kids, two animals, and so, so much laundry to attend to, in fifteen fewer hours per week. My husband does what he can when he’s home, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done.

I’m just about to pull away when my older daughter cries “Mom! We forgot our breathing!” Recently, I introduced “one minute of deep breathing before we leave the house.” I read somewhere that while you breathe, you should picture your children as babies, which helps you to reconnect and get back into the moment. I have been in this moment for two hours and forty-one minutes, but I resist the words, “we don’t have time.” As I look at the girls in the rear view mirror, their baby selves and their current selves come into focus, and I feel my jaw unclench. I smile at my daughters, and I breathe.




Family Dinner, for Better and for Worse

Last weekend, I changed the candles in our candlesticks. This task hardly seems worth noting, but as I did it, I realized that it had only been a month since I had put them in. That meant that over the course of a month, we sat at the table enough to burn through entire candles, and this felt like a victory. For reference, the prior candles had lasted at least six months.

You see, at the beginning of December, we changed the way we were doing dinner in our house. Up to that point, we ate family dinners most weekend nights, but during the week, most dinners had disintegrated into the girls sitting at the counter for about 3 seconds while they scarfed down frozen burritos and I did dishes frantically at the sink. When Julia was a baby, I started feeding her at 5 and then Scott and I ate when he got home (with a 6:30pm arrival at home, there was no point in keeping a baby, and then toddler awake for that). Somehow, we kept plugging along with that schedule, even with the girls now seven and four, but this school year, evenings started to feel especially challenging and rushed. I threw together dinners for the girls, did their baths, Scott arrived during some of this, we put Margaret to bed, and then Julia started staying up later, so either Scott or I would cook us dinner while the other read to Julia some nights. Other nights, we didn’t even start cooking until she was reading in her room at 8:30, eating dinners at 9 and hopefully getting into bed by 10. We were exhausted, and I kept hearing this small, guilty voice in my head when friends would mention “dinner time,” remembering our own family dinners when I was growing up. Something had to change.

Scott and I decided that I would start to eat with the girls at 5 or 5:30, making one dinner, and he would heat it up later in the evening. We felt strongly that the girls should be having sit-down dinners, and were hoping it would help the pace of our evenings, too. And so, one night in early December, I lit the candles, put chili on the table, and had the girls come sit and eat. They protested. They whined. And I said, firmly, “We are sitting down together, and this is dinner.” Amazingly, they came. They sat. We all ate. After dinner, they each blew out a candle, and carried their plates to the counter, and then we continued with our evening.

All dinners have not been as smooth as that one. This week, for instance, the sweet potatoes were not crispy enough, and the chili was the wrong kind, with (the horror) chunky tomatoes instead of smooth sauce. It was not fair that Margaret, who had a cold, got to have a bowl of Cheerios when she rejected a meal, even though I offered Julia the same alternative and she refused, saying that Cheerios were going to be too soggy. But in general, I am loving the time to sit together and connect, and the girls seem to be, too. Some nights they help a little in the kitchen, and most nights they agree to help clear the table. All nights they ask for dessert, and most nights I say “yes.”

Last night, I felt particularly drained. I have been in that twilight zone of “am I getting a cold or not?” for the past week. My grandmother, Rena, is not doing well, and I am sad. Julia has been staying up late, and Margaret getting up early, and everyone is tired from going back to school. The girls fought from 4pm until 5pm, when I considered turning to our dear friends, Sofia and Daniel Tiger, putting dinner on the coffee table, and retreating to my room with my trashy book. Instead, I grilled some burgers, microwaved some cauliflower, warmed up a stale baguette, and lit the candles. As the girls took their places, Julia said, “I think we all got a little too hungry, and a little too grumpy.” In the light of the new, cheery yellow candles, everything looked a little more hopeful.


A Remarkably Unremarkable Birth

This week’s prompt in my writing class was to choose an event we’d like to think more about but don’t remember well, free write about it, and fill in the gaps to make it a cohesive story. Probably because she is turning four (!!!!) next week, I immediately thought about Margaret’s birth, in all of its hazy details.

***

We are watching “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” snow falling softly outside the hospital window, not enough to obscure the mountains, which look impossibly close from the second floor. I feel fine; this isn’t what labor feels like, I keep thinking, until suddenly, the contractions are constant. For some reason, I keep looking at my watch between contractions, as if my brain is trying to integrate this experience with a known quantity.  But, from my labor with Julia, just over three years before, I know what pitocin contractions are like. There is no build up, just sudden, agonizing pain that starts in my abdomen and radiates up my spine.

The doctor comes in, her typical, cheery self. “How are we doing?” she asks brightly. I’m doubled over, clenching the side of the bed. I grunt some sort of reply as she helps me back into bed to check my progress. 4 cm. Only 4 cm. I give Scott a look that I hope means, Tell her I need the epidural, and thankfully, the doctor asks, “So, are we thinking about an epidural?” I have thought about this beforehand; I know that if I have it too early, there’s a chance it will wear off before delivery.  The doctor continues nonchalantly, “We’ll probably need to double or triple the pitocin soon, here,” and I grunt, “Epidural!”

At this point, I’ve been in active labor for a few hours. With Julia, I had the idea that even with pitocin, I might be able to deliver without an epidural, and the doctors and nurses went along with that plan. After I finally agreed (demanded?)  to have the epidural, and after laboring for twelve hours, they mentioned offhand that almost nobody has a natural birth with an induction. That time, I was flooded from so many hours of contractions that I didn’t even register the pain of the epidural. This time, perhaps because I haven’t been laboring as long, I am shocked as the anesthesiologist places the needle. I squeeze Scott’s hand with all of the force I can muster, tears streaming down my face as I clench my jaw. “Alright, see? Not so bad,” the anesthesiologist says offhandedly, and I wish I had the energy to glare at him as I close my eyes.

I finally feel some relief as the epidural kicks in. Scott’s mom calls, unable to find Julia’s gymnastics class. “Don’t worry about it,” I tell her. “You don’t have to go.” She calls back to let me know she has found it, and the next few contractions are slightly easier as the drugs work their magic and my mind is drawn to images of Julia, tumbling and swinging in her little leotard. I settle in, and we turn the movie back on.

The doctor comes back to check my progress. “You’re about 8 centimeters… that’s great!” she begins, “but…” Scott and I exchange a look as her expression changes. “This isn’t a head… this feels like a butt! Get ready to meet your baby. It’s time for a c-section.” she continues with some details, picks up the phone and calls for someone to bring Scott some scrubs. My mind stops following, unable to process the change from “now I am resting and getting ready to push” to “now I am having abdominal surgery.” Scott starts to ask questions: what are the risks? What are the choices? There is no choice. The baby has flipped in the past hour of laboring; breach. All I can think about is Julia. We will not be home the next day, as we had hoped; most likely, we’ll be gone three more nights. I’ve left her for three nights in her whole life.

I call my mom, adrenaline making me feel a little crazy. “I’m going to have a c-section,” I tell her. I rattle off details: 4cm, then epidural, then 8cm, but breach. “Oh, Meggie, are you okay?” she asks.  And then I cry.  I cry a lot.

Scott puts on scrubs, I get back onto the bed, and the nurses wheel me down the hall. It is cold in the operating room, and I don’t know if I am shaking from cold or from nerves or a combination of both. The anesthesiologist is right by my head. There is lots of pressure, and then what feels like hours while I wait to hear the baby cry.

“It’s a boy!” Scott exclaims.

“Um, no,” the doctor laughs, the same chipper tone as always. “Look again. That’s the umbilical cord.” I am laughing and crying; he made the same mistake with Julia. The baby is fine. She’s great. I keep asking for her, I tell Scott to go with her while they weigh and clean her, or whatever they are doing in this long, long period of time before I finally get my baby. I cannot feel anything; I cannot move my arms. Scott holds her on my chest. I can’t see her very well; I’m lying down. I try to sit up, try to really look at her, but I can’t.  The anesthesiologist takes photos and videos on my phone,hands us tissues, and I no longer dislike him. My nose is running, I’m crying, Scott’s crying. Margaret, a girl.

Later, in the recovery room. I am beyond tired. They want me to nurse, and I am supposed to want to nurse. I remember wanting to with Julia, watching her crawl like a kitten, knowing what she was supposed to do; my first lesson in following my baby’s lead. This time I am doing everything from a distance, watching myself, shaky from the drugs. We call Julia and Paula. Later, Paula will describe Julia’s complete joy when we tell her she has a sister. It’s too late for them to visit; it’s almost 6pm by the time we finally get to our room.

Finally, I think, I can sleep. And then I vomit and vomit while Margaret sleeps. We nurse. At some point, the nurse tells me she’s going to help me walk to the bathroom. This seems impossible, insurmountable. I  do it anyway, shuffling in on feet I still cannot feel. I cannot sleep for even a moment. “That happens sometimes after a c-section,” a nurse reassures me. I watch Margaret and Scott sleep, and I watch the mountains take shape out the window as the day comes. Margaret sleeps and nurses, sleeps and nurses, between us in the double hospital bed. Scott wakes up, and promptly goes out to get us breakfast. I request the biggest cup of coffee he can buy, eggs, toast, prosciutto.  I sit, I hold my baby, and I eat.

 

Rena, 10/26

“You are an amazing mother,” my grandmother, Rena says. “Your girls are just so lucky to have you.”

I look at the girls, sitting comatose on the couch watching television, more cheerios on the floor than in their mouths, while I hold the phone to my ear.

“Well, I begin, “it’s actually been kind of hard lately…” my voice trails off as I remember that it’s better not to tell her the hard things any more. I change approaches. “Thank you. I’m lucky to have them, too.” Rena continues: “I mean, is there anything you don’t do? Writing, cooking, and now working, too!” I survey the scene. I have not written anything in two months. Email alerts for work keep popping up on the open iPad, and I make a mental note to turn them off. I know the counter is under here, somewhere, beneath the outfit I brought up for Margaret, which she rejected because the dress wasn’t twirly enough. Beneath a few pieces of construction paper, haphazardly colored with a few strokes before they were abandoned for the tub of beads, balancing precariously on the edge of the counter. Beneath Julia’s “take home” folder, poetry binder, and a bag of potatoes from our CSA.

“I wish I could see you,” Rena tells me. I feel myself soften, feeling guilty for bristling at her compliments, guilty for waiting a week between phone calls this time.

“Me, too,” I reply. “I miss you.”


An Almost Tantrum

She is throwing things before we even walk through the door, still enraged that I told her we weren’t having Halloween candy before dinner. Before I prepare my acceptance speech for the “World’s Worst Mom” Award, let me say that she just had a mini kit-kat at the vet, and a free cookie at the grocery store, and dinner is just 40 minutes away, if I could figure out what to make now that I have realized the drumsticks I took out are still frozen. 

“I’m going outside.” She stomps to the back door, leaving a trail of sand from her sneakers. Seconds later, the door slides open again. “I want someone to play with me.” Given that it’s just the two of us at home, it’s pretty clear who that “someone” is supposed to be. “I can’t right now,” I tell her, hearing the edge in my voice. She pushes a stool over, and yells, “I just want someone to play!”  

“Damn it,” I say, louder than I should. “Margaret, I played outside with you all afternoon, and I need to figure out dinner.” I can feel myself getting angrier, and miraculously stop myself from offloading all of my stress onto this not-yet-four year old. I take a breath. We’re heading for a meltdown: the perfect storm of 4pm, which feels like 5pm because of daylight savings; my premenstrual grouchiness; my Election Day anxiety; my lingering frustration that my 5am wake up to work on my writing class was actually a 5am wake up with Margaret (see: daylight savings); my realization that I ordered postcard stamps instead of Forever stamps for work, which makes me remember several other work-related tasks I didn’t complete.

Margaret watches me, eyes wide. This is one of so many parenting situations when I realize that I have to be the grown up after all. She isn’t going to tell me, “Oh, hey, thanks so much for everything you do for me, Mom. You pushed me for an hour on the swing, and that was really wonderful. I totally get it; this isn’t a good time to play.” I force a smile, offer some Cheerios. 

“Sorry,” I tell her, as she slurps Cheerios into her mouth. Her strategy is to take as large a spoonful as possible, slurp all of the milk through her teeth, and then eat the now-soggy Cheerios on her spoon. “That’s okay,” she replies, Cheerios dribbling down her shirt. She returns my smile. Meltdown, on both of our parts, averted.

The Trump Twenty

In the days following Trump’s election in 2016, my eating habits, which had already been slipping, spiraled. Chocolate ice cream + red wine became an acceptable dinner, although if I think about it, it was worse than that: they became an appetizer, which I ate with the girls before Scott even got home, and THEN I ate my real dinner. When I think back to that time, I can now recognize that I was grieving: true, raw, grief. Grief about both Clinton’s loss and about Trump’s win, separately and together. And wow, did I emotionally eat.

Fast forward two years and twenty pounds, which I have jokingly referred to as the Trump Twenty. In the past two years, I’ve seemed to unlearn many of the healthy habits I have developed during my adult life as an active, athletic woman. Somewhere along the way, I also started to justify my weight gain as a strange sort of political protest. What began as some ice cream and wine in the wake of a national tragedy (does that sound dramatic? I so wish it were hyperbole…) somehow morphed into “This is my body now, and I don’t have to change it to please the patriarchy.” Except… guess what? These old, white men in power have no idea that I have gained twenty pounds. They’re still in power. Spoiler alert: weight gain is not a very effective political tool. And yes, I’m all for body positivity, and think that if I had felt strong and powerful at that size, that would have been a perfect place to be. But I didn’t. I felt miserable. My clothes didn’t fit, and I constantly obsessed about whether I was on or off the eating plan I was loosely (translation: barely) following. And last month, as Kavanaugh was confirmed, I decided that continuing to gain ten pounds per year is not a great option, given that the supreme court is a lifetime appointment.

While texting with one of my closest friends a few weeks ago, we lamented about Kavanaugh and discussed possible options, such as drinking a bottle of wine to cope. Alas, even in the wake of a massive headache, Kavanaugh was still confirmed. My friend mentioned that she was doing a weight loss / lifestyle app that she really liked. I decided to jump in, and two weeks later, I’m down several pounds, making far better choices, and starting to feel like myself again.

All of this has made me think a lot about whether, in our current political reality, it’s possible for me to lose weight merely for myself. Can I do it without caring whether people notice? Can I separate my own health goals from my desire to fit into a template? I suspect that I will continue to tease out the answers to these questions for the rest of my life. But, for now, it feels freeing to change my internal dialogue to from “I don’t have to weigh a certain weight to please the patriarchy” to “I’m not going to let politics define how I care for my body.”

Work/ School mornings

Coffee at 5:30; checking my phone; checking in with Scott for a few minutes before he leaves for work;  wondering if I should get myself ready or get girls’ stuff organized first;  weighing pros and cons of each approach, packing lunches for both girls and breakfast for Julia to eat at Before Care. Margaret waking up at some point, 6am if I’m lucky. Trying not to put on a TV show. Realizing I’m not going to be able to get ready if I don’t put on a TV show and turning it on after all. Making her a “plate of things” for breakfast, half of which she eats. Showering, clothes, makeup, realizing it’s already 7am and Julia is still downstairs. Taking a deep breath, waking her, remind her it’s an early morning today and that we need to leave pretty soon. Getting both girls dressed, listening to and empathizing with Julia’s disappointment that Margaret got to watch TV and she didn’t, brushing teeth, debating brushing hair, brushing hair. Feeding and giving pills to Kenai, making him go out, making him come back in. Discussing whether Julia has time to make artwork for her class guinea pig, making a plan to make artwork after school instead. Setting out supplies so they’re ready for her immediately after school. Socks and shoes, food from the fridge, bags packed, girls in the car. Pouring a travel mug of coffee, grabbing my shake, out the door on time. 

"So, how's your summer going?"

When people ask me how our summer is going, I catch myself, deer in the headlights, unsure of how to respond. There is the standard, "It's great, how about yours?" Or the less enthusiastic, "oh, pretty good," with a knowing glance. But the truth is, our summer has contained some intense highs (going to Story Land with my parents, Dana's visit to build the treehouse, lots of fun swims, tubing down the Yampa in Steamboat), and also some serious lows. Many words come to mind, and easy is not one of them.

Many of us have read this article about how we only have eighteen summers with our children, and so, we should slow down, savor, and enjoy. This is so great in theory, but what if, like me, you have a child who thrives on routine, and who is less than enamored, shall we say, with her 3.5 year old sister? I never wanted to be one of those moms who wishes summer away. Every summer and every school break, I have this idea that we will be unstructured, and it will be blissful. But...That doesn't work for us. The reality of "unstructured" for us, this summer, has meant fighting. So. much. fighting. Sometimes, I've counted how many seconds both girls have been awake before they are fighting. Many times, Julia's first utterance when she opens her eyes (if Margaret wakes her up in the morning), is to howl "noooo, Margaret!" The combination of Margaret wanting nothing more than to play with Julia, and Julia being infuriated the moment Margaret has an idea about their play, has been a constant source of stress for me. There have been physical fights that have left me speechless: punching, kicking, hair pulling. I have yelled more than I ever imagined I would yell. I have reread and reread "Siblings without Rivalry." 

The thing is, when I find myself longing for autumn, it's not because I can't wait to be away from Julia and Margaret while they're at school. In fact, it's the opposite: I'm looking forward to a set schedule because our family is better able to connect when we have structure. Julia, for sure, is happier and more even keeled when she is in school. Chatting with Julia over a bowl of cheerios while I sip my coffee, enjoying a walk home from school while Margaret zips down the hill on her strider... We may only have eighteen summers, but we have thousands of moments in between.

 

 

 ...and of course, just after I write this, we have this lovely evening eating popsicles and finding pictures in the clouds. “Margaret, look! That one looks like a mermaid palace!” Oh, summer.

 ...and of course, just after I write this, we have this lovely evening eating popsicles and finding pictures in the clouds. “Margaret, look! That one looks like a mermaid palace!” Oh, summer.

Stage Mom or Supporter?

I'm writing this as I wait until it's time to go watch Julia's end-of-camp performance of "Annie." She left the classroom on Monday, the first day of camp, disappointed because she had been cast as the Usherette (if, like I was, you're unsure of who that is, it's because she is in the show for about .2 seconds: long enough to tell Daddy Warbucks there are open seats at the movies, and that's it). As the little girls around us squealed about their roles as orphans, Julia looked around a little dejectedly.

I couldn't help thinking about my own childhood theatrical disappointments. When I was in fourth grade, our school began doing end-of-year plays. Instead of being cast as an Indian, like most of my friends were, in Peter Pan, I didn't get a part on the stage. In my role as the prompter, I memorized the entire script (wholly unnecessary, but I couldn't help myself) and sat backstage dreaming of being as talented as the sixth grade girl who played Wendy. In my short theater career, I went on to have a couple of leads and more ensemble parts. I knew Julia would have to learn the "every role is important and not everyone gets the lead and not everyone gets the part they want" lessons sooner or later, and at the same time, I wondered why, in a week-long camp, all of the six year old girls couldn't just be orphans, sing "It's a Hard Knock Life," and be done with it. 

"You know," I said tentatively, "you could ask your teachers if it's possible for you to be an orphan, too." Julia perked up. While I advised that it was entirely plausible that the teachers would tell her that her part was her part, I told her that it didn't hurt to ask. Julia drafted a note, but with some convincing from Scott and me, agreed to talk to her teacher in person. The next morning, while she squeezed my hand, Julia spoke confidently as she asked if she could be an orphan, too. As I stood, holding Julia's hand, I thought about the fine line between advocating for Julia and stepping in, being pushy. Was I teaching her to speak up for what's important to her, or was my encouragement tiptoeing over into "entitled" territory? 

While one of the teachers hemmed and hawed about how it depended on how many orphan costumes they had (and then backpedaled when Julia told her she would be happy to bring her own costume), the other said she thought it was a great idea to make room for one more orphan. Julia beamed, and happily skipped over to the other girls. She spent the rest of the week singing “Tomorrow,” teaching Margaret the lines for the other orphans while she pretended to be Annie, and studying her script.

From both teaching and parenting, I know the research about how, when girls speak up, they’re bossy and bratty, whereas when boys do the same, they’re confident. My hope that Julia's takeaway from this week will be that it's okay to ask for what she wants, and that if she advocates for herself, she might be surprised to see what can happen. 

Friday thoughts: body image, LTYM, Dear Sugars

As I continue to crawl out from back to back, opposite coast vacations, the most recent of which included Julia breaking a toe,  I've been unpacking and listening to podcasts. The most recent episode of my favorite podcast, Dear Sugars, was amazing company, and made me realize that I have not really written about the experience of performing in Listen To Your Mother, or about others' responses to my piece.

The podcast episode was about body image, and it felt deeply liberating to hear one of my favorite writers say that she didn't know if she would ever be fully "done" with this issue. I could relate so deeply to Cheryl Strayed's story about being aibrushed in her Vogue photo shoot about powerful women (OK, so I can't relate at all to being in Vogue, but I sure can relate to the feeling that my body isn't enough). I cried at the end when Cheryl Strayed talked about asking her daughter, who is twelve, if she likes her body, and her daughter saying, "yeah," as if there were no other possibility. And then Strayed asked if her daughter thought she, Cheryl, liked her own body, and her daughter said "of course." Strayed talks about how her heart felt full, because her daughter, at the beginning of adolescence, still feels positive about her body, and also a little bit broken, because her daughter wasn't quite right about Strayed's feelings about her own body. But, as she says, we try to do better with the next generation, and to pass on what we want to pass on, even if that feels like pretending.

I've thought so much about body image since I performed in LTYM. While I cried during my audition, shook during the first rehearsal, and sobbed to my mom as I practiced my piece the day of the show, I felt powerful and courageous as I walked onto the stage that night. While I'm the first to acknowledge that crying and power are not mutually exclusive, somehow, my jitters subsided, and I felt poised and remarkably tear-free.

I had conversations with strangers, after the show, who wanted to share their own experiences with being asked if they were pregnant. An eleven year old girl approached me and told me that my piece was her favorite of the evening. I went for a walk and out for coffee with an acquaintance who happened to be at the show, and who wanted to talk more with me. Interestingly, some women have felt enraged on my behalf, or critical of Boulder, or more specifically, critical of the school community at Julia's school. And while I admit that, last weekend at Story Land in NH, I was pleasantly surprised to see a range of bodies, all parenting their children, regardless of size, I think that the issues I explored, such as societal pressures to have a certain body, are universal. On the podcast, the guests shared that most women start to diet long before they're conscious of what that even means, and that negative body ideas often start before the age of ten. What I have experienced had roots far before I moved to Boulder, though it's hard to say how I might experience my body in a different demographic.

One of my favorite lines from Brene Brown's Braving the Wilderness is "The story I'm telling myself." I've been practicing with this line when I find myself in a negative place about my body. For instance: "The story I'm telling myself is that everyone at my gym is skinny and looks perfect in a bikini." "The story I'm telling myself is that if I lost 15 lbs, I would be happier." "The story I'm telling myself is that I shouldn't buy new clothes that really fit me, because I don't want to be this size and I might lose the weight." And then, I examine those stories. I take a closer look, hold them up to the light and find the cracks. I think, "What else could I focus my energy on, if I weren't thinking about my body?" This one gets me. How many hours have I spent thinking about how my life might be better with six pack abs? I have also been practicing separating exercise from eating, in terms of how I think about them. I'm exercising to be strong, to feel good, and not as penance for eating a muffin.

Like Cheryl Strayed, I have to say that there's a part of me that has trouble imagining a way forward that doesn't include preoccupation with my weight, or with my size. I know, though, that writing and talking about it are good places to begin.

Vacation

Last night, after a thirteen-hour travel day (car-ferry-car-shuttle-plane-train-car), we returned home from a week of vacation in the San Juan Islands. This was our first vacation as a family of four to somewhere entirely new, where we weren't visiting family, or going somewhere for an occasion, like a wedding. It was magical- impossibly sunny weather; the orcas; the possibility of orcas, which is almost as glorious as the real thing; tide pools and beaches; unscheduled days to fill with art activities (thank you, Melissa and Doug, for sponsoring our trip); movies for the girls while Scott and I read on the deck in the afternoons. It was amazing.

And... it was also a lot like our real life, in some not-so-amazing ways. May was crazy for us (judging from that YouTube NSync parody, “It’s gonna be May,” this is just how it is as an elementary school parent. Throw in two performances for me and a dance recital for Margaret, and there you have it), and I felt such a strong need to disconnect from routine and social media and just be with Scott, Julia and Margaret on our trip. In retrospect, I think I had this idea that if I just put down my phone and had no obligations, we would magically have some sort of conflict-free week. But along with our pre-packaged art activities and sticker books, we ultimately brought ourselves on this trip, and all of our dynamics; both the smooth and the jagged edges of ourselves. While the girls get along amazingly sometimes, they also compete and fight with an intensity I don't remember having with Garrett when I was a child. And there were moments (sigh, hours) while Scott and I mediated squabbles about who was going to do which coloring page, or responded to the statement "I don't WANT to go look for whales! I want to watch a movie!" when I found myself frustrated and stressed.

Julia is a voracious reader, and lately, we haven't been able to keep her in books. She used to be happy to reread the same chapter books over and over, and knows the name of every chapter in every Ramona book. Lately, however, she only wants to read new books, and one Sunday night a few weeks ago, Scott brought out his stack of “Calvin and Hobbes” books from his childhood to tide her over until we could get to the library the next day. We brought a few “Calvin and Hobbes” collections with us to San Juan Island, and during a particularly trying moment, Scott opened one up to a segment about family vacation. On an ill-fated camping trip, Calvin complains about everything: the bugs, the water temperature, the hard ground. Calvin's dad insists on having a wonderful time, despite his family, and his mom seems to vacillate between Calvin's perspective and her husband's. Scott and I have long had an inside joke about experiences that build character-- I had forgotten that the line came from "Calvin and Hobbes." I laughed out loud when I read this, oddly comforted by the universality of "expectations versus reality" of any vacation. Our girls certainly "built character" as we forced them to do terrible activities, like watch whales instead of television (but there was plenty of television, too), or visit a lighthouse, or go to happy hour on a dock in a harbor. 

The metaphor of parenting being a roller coaster feels especially fitting as I prepare to fly with the girls again this weekend-- this time to the east coast, where we will visit my parents for my mom's birthday, and go to Story Land, an amusement park in northern New Hampshire. One minute, Julia is complaining about how she thinks she had "enough outside time" for the day; the next, she's shrieking with delight right along with me as we watch a family of orcas from the rocks near our house. One moment, I'm lecturing the girls about how tired I am of listening to them fight about getting in the car, and then Julia cuts me off to say, "Margaret, when we get home, let's play Calico Critters in my room together!" Just as I'm preparing for the free fall of a fight, digging in, and steeling myself for more conflict, they're already back in the upswing, completely in the moment.

In so much of my writing about parenting, I notice the formula: I thought it was going to be like x, but instead it was like y, and then I realized that it has always been like both x and y all along. Our vacation contained both conflict and joy (sometimes both within seconds of one another). It contained tears and laughter. It was, imperfectly and wonderfully, perfect just the way it was. 

This is Just my Body

“So, do you know what you’re having?” the mom standing next to me asks. It’s the first week of September, and we are at the back-to- school carnival. We connected momentarily when we realized we were both moms of kindergartners. “Huh?” I reply dumbly.


“A boy or a girl.”

“Oh, I’m not pregnant… I have to go find my daughter,” I stammer, and make my getaway.

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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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