Monday, May 21, 2018

Coffee Chat: Talking Points and Questions

I saw the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary last week--RBG. It was awesome because SHE is
awesome. The GOP is steadily working to diminish and roll back her life's work toward gender equality and it infuriates me. She is a force to reckon with, though, and I hope that we will see her legacy continue.

I saw it with my friend Erin and after the movie I talked her ear off and it was clear that we haven't been hanging out enough and that I have lots of things to say. So here are some talking points I would have if we were going to get coffee:

(1) I have a long summer reading list that I won't reproduce here, but I already crossed So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeomo Oluo off of it when I read it in two days last week. It made me think about an experience I had in a waiting room when I was sitting with Coco and a grandmother (who was black) was there with her grandson (who was also black). He was about Coco's age and was very active--up and down, out of his seat, interested in any book that Coco picked up, and had a very small personal space. I was sitting there thinking about white culture and personal space and how I am culturally trained to have a pretty big personal space.

Meanwhile, this grandma was really getting on to her grandson for things I thought were no big deal--he wasn't being rough or wild--he was just acting like an ordinary, busy, active preschooler. And then I started thinking about how early we start viewing black boys as rough or even violent and about how his grandmother's discipline is maybe partly because any preschooler can kind of drive you bonkers but also because she knows how high the stakes are for him, and that if he can't regulate his physical activity, he's going to get in more trouble than a white girl like Coco will. I was thinking about how if he had a book she wanted and she turned to an adult with those big sad eyes that she makes, that her little white girl tears would be a power move that would likely result in him getting in trouble. It was painful and frustrating to feel trapped in that racial dynamic. And it reiterated to me how important it is to talk openly and honestly to my children about race and cultural differences and power dynamics.

(2) Sort of related to that has been the recent news that the school shooter in Santa Fe, Texas may have been motivated by his assumption that he was entitled to a girl's affection and his anger when she did not reciprocate his feelings. It terrifies me that this is somehow perceived as a masculine reaction to a perceived rejection. I'm not saying anyone thinks it is appropriate, but I am saying that it is something that seems to culturally align to Things White Men Do When Women Reject Them.

I have a friend from grad school who wrote a Facebook highlighting the problem with headlines like "Spurned Advances Provoked Texas School Shooting, Victim's Mother Said." Do you SEE the problem with that headline? Do you see how it seems to explain  what happened as though it makes some kind of SENSE? As though "spurned advances" are the trigger instead of misogyny and warped male ego (not to mention access to firearms)?

My (male) friend wrote, "This is the rhetoric of rape culture and only affirms the kind of toxic masculinity that produces such violence. A better headline would read something like: 'Young man who feels entitled to women's bodies kills a bunch of people.'"

How do we raise daughters in a world full of such toxic masculinity? How do we teach them to stand up for themselves and then send them to school to get shot?

My friend Michelle said (in a different context): "Life is pretty much all grey and everything is uncertain. but few people can actually live comfortably-ish in that place. We must assume everything will be fine. In order to survive." I get this. But it is getting harder to assume that schools can prevent young men from killing people with guns. And since our congress seems unwilling to act (Dear Roy Blunt, I hope the NRA money is making a comfy pillow for you because I do not know how you sleep at night) I am just beside myself.

(3) My baby Zuzu graduated from kindergarten and I'm not sure how because I thought that yesterday she was a literal ACTUAL baby. And instead she's all tall and she has actual elbows where she used to have pudge and dimples and she says things like, "Actually..." in conversations in which she's trying to convince me that she's right and I'm wrong about pretty much everything. Oh, man. I love her so much it's crazy.

(4)  David and I stumbled upon a Netflix series called Safe that is super good and suspenseful and has the guy from Dexter in it but he talks with a British accent. A winner all around (no plot spoiling... we are only three episodes in).

(5) I was in a TERRIBLE mood all day Saturday and it's really because I was trying to watch the Lifetime movie about Harry and Meghan but the signal cut out on me and then I had to go to live TV and it was already over and now it's only on the Lifetime Movie Channel and David says we are not subscribing to that channel just so I can watch the second half of a Lifetime movie about Harry and Meghan and I say that's obviously because he doesn't love me as much as Harry loves Meghan.

I loved the wedding, but I really wanted to finish the movie and I'm still disgruntled about it.

At first I didn't like her dress as much as Kate's, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. I did love the black Episcopal priest and I loved when they sang "Stand By Me." I thought it was all so well done and she looked so beautiful and everybody talked nonstop about how she's 36 years old and that's how old Diana was when she died. Which is CRAZY. Also crazy that Diana got married at age 20 or whatever. I wondered what Meghan and her mom talked about in that Rolls Royce. Like can you IMAGINE how surreal that must have been? Hey, remember how I grew up in LA and became an actress and now I'm marrying a prince? NBD.

Also funny is that Zuzu watched a bit of the Lifetime movie with me and then watched some of the wedding. The casting of the movie was pretty great so she assumed it was the same people and asked me why Harry made his hair like that (balding!) for his wedding. LOL. Princess Diana did so much for those guys' good looks, but she clearly couldn't control the lose-your-hair gene.

(6) I bought a pool pass for the summer. Question: How old do your kids have to be before it's acceptable to just sit and read a book while they play in the pool? 4 and 6 is too young, right? But what if the water is shallow? #goals

(7) I've been listening to this podcast called "The Babysitters' Club Club." I do not recommend this podcast for everyone, but it has a very specific kind of humor that I dig. It's these two guys in their 30's reading the books and analyzing them the way we (in the English Department) analyze canonical texts. To me, it is hilarious. I mean, CAN we just do a Marxist reading of the economy in these books? CAN we all just talk about an Oedipal reading of Mary Ann and her daddy issues? ISN'T likely that there is some kind of postmodern, postapocalyptical world at work here? AREN'T these girls modeling how to take down the patriarchy and/or assimilate within it? There's lots of adult language and it's so nerdy and so funny.

(8) I heard about that podcast from another podcast that I think has a more general appeal--"Sorta Awesome" with Meg Tietz. It's a mom-friendly show and Meg has a great radio voice. They start with their "awesome of the week" which is often a book, a podcast, a TV show, or a make up product, or sometimes a recipe, and then the shows are loosely themed. I love it the way I love reading magazines. It's light, it's friendly, it's funny, and their podcast recommendations are legit. Meg is also a producer for "Smartest Person in the Room" podcast which is currently doing a series on race and culture that is also really good (Laura Tremaine hosts that one and she asks the kind of questions that most white people have about race but we are afraid to ask them)

(9) I rarely do this on the internet, but I'm not asking for some advice: Zuzu has been all over the place about her birthday party--where she wants it, what theme she wants, whom she wants to invite, etc. I've been mostly ignoring her as she changes her mind a million times. I have a room reserved at a bookstore that will host an "art party" for her and she can invite up to 11 friends. After being invited to a couple of birthday parties that specified no gifts, she asked me if her friends could please bring gifts. LOL. I'm okay with that, but would prefer to keep it smaller in that case. Here are my questions:  Is it important that we invite everyone who has invited her to a party? Do people care about that?

She said this morning she wants the party at her house and I said that was fine but she could only invite four friends (thinking that would end the conversation). Instead, she named the four friends she wanted (NOT the names I would have guessed or was expecting except for one of them). Should I just roll with that and let her have a small party at home? Or should I stick with my previous plan to go to the bookstore? Should I really let her make the guest list, or should I insist that we include people who have included her? She's really only interested in inviting girls, but I do want to foster friendships with boys, too... but in my biased opinion, girls are so much easier (read: less physically active and somewhat quieter though quite shrill)... Is it fine to already have a one-gender-only party? I know it's HER birthday, so why am I making such a big deal out of this? It is quite literally causing me stress and I want to send out the invitations this week. What would you do?????

(10) I have an Eliza bracelet that spelled out her name on silver block beads and I used to wear it every day on my left wrist with my watch. The bracelet clasp has broken, but I also realized it was scratching up the face of my watch. Now I have a new watch and I want a new bracelet, but I'd like to wear it with my watch so that I can wear it every single day (I tend to switch out bracelets on my right wrist). Is there a bracelet that won't scratch my watch? Is that a stupid question? I want it to be small and not clunky but not too delicate that the chain can't take daily wear. Silver would match my watch, but I also like the idea of yellow gold... Anyway, if you have a go-to Etsy shop or know of the perfect personalized bracelet, send it my way, will you?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Life Lately

Someone Help Me

Coco has a habit of asking for help from "Someone." It doesn't matter what the situation is, really. If she wants something, she'll usually say, "Can someone get ____ for me?" or if she's putting on a dress up dress, it's "Can someone help me put on this dress?"

It just makes me laugh when we're in a situation like a bathroom stall, where it is just the two of us, and she'll say, "Can someone wipe me?"

Like sure, honey, let me just go find someone to wipe you. Or you could just ask ME, since I'm YOUR MOM and I'm standing RIGHT HERE.

Anyway, maybe it stems from David and me saying things like, "Could someone get napkins for the table?" when Zuzu and Coco are both there. (Coco is almost always the first to volunteer.)

But sometimes I think maybe it's just a hilarious Who's On First kind of joke in her head. For example, in the bathroom today, Coco had inexplicably stripped off her shirt and so I said jokingly, "Can Someone put their shirt on?"

She replied, "No. Anyone can't."

* * *

Reasons Why It's Hard to Be Coco

(1) We are almost out of yogurt. There is plenty for breakfast, but this is reason to cry anyway.

(2) Your mom didn't give you enough mini-pancakes for breakfast and when you cry for more, she says not until you finish what's on your plate. You leave two of them untouched.

(3) You get all the way to the grocery store and get out of the car only to realize you didn't WANT to wear the pink boots that you are wearing.

* * *

Reasons Why It's Awesome to Be Zuzu

(1) You are about to graduate from kindergarten, but first you get to take a field trip the arch!

(2) You got a two-piece swimsuit with a ruffly skirt and it makes you look "like a mom."

(3) When you initially refused to join your swim class because they were all boys and you are "shy of boys," you insisted on being part of the preschool class and then when the instructor had the students jump off the side of the pool to her, you decided to dive over her head.

(3a) You joined your own class the following week, which was still all boys, but suddenly you weren't as shy because your parents had bribed you with a Shimmer & Shine lego set.

* * *

Reasons Why Having a Puppy is Super Annoying

(1) Puppy jumps on your bed effortlessly and then jumps on your head in the morning.

(2) Puppy picks fights with Bubba over a dropped tortilla chip.

(3) Puppy jumps on your back while you are practicing downward dog.

(4) Puppy is alarming aerodynamic and can jump on or over virtually anything, including your three-year-old.

* * *

Reasons Why Having a Puppy is Adorable

See visual:

* * *

I have so many exams and papers to grade! Grades are due Tuesday but since I'm field trip chaperone on Tuesday, my grades need to be submitted Monday. This weekend is commencement (David is taking girls to birthday party during this time, if they "earn it back" because we used it as a threat for terrible behavior but it backfired on us and I feel like not attending the party punishes the friends who wanted to invite them, so now they have to earn back the party by basically not being A-holes for the rest of the week (a major feat)), and we're friends over for dinner, going to church, David has a ball game (he's still playing), and then we're going to the circus.

Related: Last summer, I enrolled Zuzu in a COCA circus camp. She fussed every day when I left and never seemed that thrilled about it. I hadn't planned to do any camps this year because I was feeling lazy and cheap (#truth). Then last week, she asked me if she could do it again. Unfortunately there isn't a similar camp this year at a time that works for us. But she kept saying she wanted to go to camp so I enrolled her in a half-day art camp at a park. We'll see how this goes... I'm glad she wants to do it, but I'm also a little skeptical that she'll still be enthused after day 1. Fingers crossed that art camp is her thing!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Relearning Rosa

Today is Give STL Day here in St. Louis--a day that is specifically set aside for giving to nonprofit organizations. I've participated in this the last few years. At this time of year--still paying for fulltime childcare for two, plus end of year activities, plus dance recital stuff, plus a new puppy and puppy obedience school, etc., etc., I wish that I had more money lying around that hasn't already been spent! But the last couple of years, I have set aside $100 for Give Day that I divide up among some of my favorite organizations. This year I'm donating to Share--the organization that offered us grief support after we lost Eliza and who publishes the monthly magazine Sharing for which I've been writing (see April's post here and May's post here). I'll donate to Needy Paws pet rescue, because that's the organization that rescued Clementine. I'll donate to Forward Through Ferguson because I strongly believe in the work they are doing for racial equity in St. Louis, and to Arch City Defenders because in my alternative life, I would have gone to law school and hopefully ended up doing this kind of work--"holistic legal advocacy."

But this year, the biggest chunk will go to We Stories--not because it's necessarily doing the "best" work (how could you ever begin to rank these?) or the "most important," but because it has touched my family's life so closely and so personally. It has been transformative in the books we read, the conversations we have, and the things I think about on a daily basis. It has changed the way I teach diverse classrooms, the way I talk about race and talk about myself and white culture (mostly because it's helped me TO TALK about these things). It has made me think really intently about private vs. public schools, about neighborhood segregation, about what parks we go to and all the ways that "convenience" puts my family in a bubble of whiteness and sameness that I'd like to resist. It has stretched my own reading, too--I started with Waking Up White, then I read Just Mercy, then The New Jim Crow, recently I finished When They Call You a Terrorist, and I just picked up So You Want to Talk About Race at the library.

I was asked to share a story about why I think We Stories is so important--and here's the one I posted. I'm embarrassed that it took me until adulthood to learn this version of the story, and I'm grateful for a community that pushes me to recognize what I don't know--and to do something about it.


Relearning Rosa

I was recently asked to think about the last piece of Black history that I learned and what surprised me about it. The story of Rosa Parks immediately came to mind. I remember learning about Rosa Parks in elementary school. You know the story: she was coming home from work on the bus, she was told to move to the back, but her feet were tired from being at work all day, so she wouldn’t move. And she got arrested! But she brought the Civil Rights movement to Montgomery!

It was only recently that I learned Rosa Parks wasn’t just a tired old lady who didn’t feel like moving to the back of the bus—although that description may be accurate. She was an activist. She wasn’t just one individual deciding on a random day to take a stand. She was part of a community resistance—of people taking a stand against Jim Crow law. I learned that a few months before the bus incident, she actually took off to work to attend a workshop on school desegregation. She went to meetings about leading and organizing social movements. She helped to form a youth chapter of the Montgomery NAACP, even though she felt that social justice in that city would be very difficult, and she wasn’t very hopeful about a mass resistance.

But a few months later, she sat down on that bus and became a symbol of standing up for injustice. And I don’t think it was just because she was tired and fed up.

I think it was because in the previous months, she had become connected to a community of activists. It feels hard to speak up when it’s your voice against the shout of the status quo. But if you feel connected to a community of like-minded people, there’s comfort and strength in those numbers. It’s easier to attend a meeting or a protest, to share an article online, or to put a sign in your yard if you know someone else who is doing the same.

I don’t know why the first story I learned makes Rosa Parks one individual against the world. Is she supposed to sound more heroic in that narrative?

For me, learning she was a community activist and a change-maker made me view her story differently. It made me think about her choice as deliberate rather than spontaneous. Her decision on that bus wasn’t about bunions or backache. It was a strong and energetic desire to see a different Montgomery. And she was able to make that decision because she had become part of a community of activists who shared and supported her vision for a better future.

We can’t all be Rosa Parks. But I think we (people who have benefited from the status quo, at the expense of others) owe it to her to bring her vision for social justice into better focus. It’s clear that her work is not yet done, and more of us (white people) are feeling called to do our part, but aren’t sure how to begin. I certainly didn’t know where to start.

We Stories gave me a place to start and a community of support. It began as a way to diversify my kids’ bookshelves and to get comfortable talking with them about race, differences, and injustice. It has become a community that believes in doing our part for racial equity, and in supporting those actively working for a better St. Louis. #thatswhywestories #GiveSTLDay #fueledbyfamilies


My friend K (you know her in the comments as thirdstoryies) also shared her reasons for giving to We Stories and you can read it here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Oh, My Darlin' Clementine

If we are social media friendsies, you probably already know that we got a puppy. If you are anything like me, you may be questioning my sanity right now.

Here's the thing: I love puppies.

Here's another thing: Getting Cooper as a puppy twelve (12!) years ago, totally traumatized me. That guy chewed EVERYTHING. Air mattresses. Flip flops. Flip flops belonging to friends. Handbags. Harry Potter Book 5 (I'm still not over it). He was a nightmare. He was also a potty-training nightmare. He peed every 5 minutes and he was SO clueless about it, that rather than make a little puddle, he would streak around the house, living a dribble trail of pee behind him. I remember calling my mom sobbing as I scrubbed yet another trail of dog pee through our home because I was SO TIRED of cleaning carpet and I was also supposed to be studying for my major field exams.

Anyway, Cooper turned into the best dog ever, but I swore I was never, ever getting a puppy.

David recently got it into his head that our mornings are not chaotic enough and what we need is another dog underfoot. I was leery of this idea... Cooper is hit or miss with other dogs. He can be totally chill (as he is with my friend Monica's dog, Leia) or he can really get off on the wrong foot (as he did with my brother's dogs, who them taught him a stern lesson about picking a fight with two dogs who are each literally three times your size). I sort of thought that we should let Cooper live out his twilight years as an only dog and then worry about getting another dog much, much later.

But David couldn't let it go. He was sending me adorable dogs on Petfinder and my heart was melting.

I fell madly in love with another puggle named China who has a slightly deformed leg but is otherwise fine and she's 7 years old and needs to lose some weight and I was basically like, "THIS IS COOPER'S SOUL MATE" but we never heard back from our inquiry, so I hope/assume she was adopted.

Then David found a super cute little cocker spaniel named--wait for it--Caroline. We were joking about her being Caroline III in our family and we set up a time to meet her. Her foster mom suggested we meet at Michael's and we were in a grassy spot on the parking lot, but she is still not very socialized (they don't know much about her history... she apparently wasn't mistreated/abused, but she was not socialized and had little human contact so she's still warming up to her foster family). She did NOT warm up to us and the traffic noise scared her and then she panicked and tried to run and I was envisioning her pulling out of her collar (because she totally could have) and running into traffic and my children witnessing her get run over by a car, so I stayed calm, cool, and collected immediately started panicking and trying to cover my kids' eyes and David tried to pick her up but she was really freaked out and thankfully her foster mom emerged from the store at that time. She calmed down after that, but I knew this was not the dog for us. If I were single and dogless, I'd totally want to take her home because I know she just needs to bond with a human to come out of her shell, but the thought of bringing an anxious pup into my house with an elderly dog and two little kids was making me anxious.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that unless we happened into a situation where an elderly person could no longer care for a beloved pet, if we adopted an adult dog that had been rescued, we were going to be dealing with some trauma. Obviously I WANT these dogs to have a good home, but I also don't want to stress out Cooper or put my kids at risk (having little Mac taught me to love dogs but also to fear them). It occurred to me that we might be better off with a derpy puppy who would let Cooper be the alpha dog and would grow up socialized and gentle with the kids.

David set up a time to meet Caroline III again and see how Cooper did with her and I just stood there smiling because I knew as soon as we got in the car I would be SHUTTING IT DOWN. I didn't feel bad about it, because she's a gorgeous dog and very adoptable--no health issues or anything, and her foster mom mentioned that another woman is interested in her--but I knew she wasn't right for us. (Even though Zuzu wanted to name her Isabel and call her Izzy and she does look like an Izzy, so that was appealing.)

Anyway, I think David already knew that Caroline III wasn't right for us because on our way home, he suggested we stop at Petsmart. One of Zuzu's fish passed away (RIP Fish we've stopped naming because we can't get emotionally invested in these creatures with s 2-day life span--for real, though, we've got the tank water where it needs to be and this last fish actually lived several months and his sibling is still alive). She wanted a goldfish and the Petsmart employee kept trying to explain that a goldfish needed a bigger tank than the one we have until I finally explained that when we say "goldfish" what we mean is "yellow or golden-colored fish." So then she chose one and we were supposed to be headed home.

But it was pet adoption weekend. And there were a bunch of darling lab puppies (nope, nope, nope), and a really yippy chihuahua mix (nope), and this girl hanging out in cages.

So he got her out for us to have a look. She was nervous and shaky like Caroline III, poor thing, but unlike Caroline III, all she wanted was to curl up on our laps.

Coco's face looks concerned here, but she loves Clem.
Love at first sight.

Obviously I'm partial to these amber-colored dogs, and floppy-eared dogs. She looks like a farm dog mutt to me, but a very cute one. And I guess that's what she is--she and her litter-mates were rescued from Warsaw, MO (if you're not familiar with Warsaw, MO, think Winter's Bone). Her mom was chocolate cocker spaniel, and her dad was a black mouth cur. The owners wouldn't bring them inside for the winter and the puppies were freezing, so they surrendered them to an animal rescue organization.

So she is a farm dog mutt! And a six month old puppy! And we really have no idea how big she will get! BASICALLY THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT I WANTED!

But of course we love her.

I mean... go rescue a dog right now so you can have this at your house.
Also funny is I woke up on Saturday morning with the name Clementine on my mind. I actually love the name for a little girl, but then I woke up thinking that it was just as well because Clementine Duckworth was really a mouthful. When we met Caroline III, she did not look like a Clementine (she really did look like an Izzy), but that name was still in my head. It truly came to me in a dream.

So when I saw the puppy at Petsmart, the first thing that came to mind was, OMG she looks like a Clementine.

Oh my darlin', oh my darlin'...
Zuzu was not thrilled with the name... she liked Rainbow or Shimmer or Izzy (and suggested her middle name should be Audrey, lol), but once David was determined that she was coming home with us, I made her a dog tag that said Clementine so there was no going back. I mean LOOK AT HER! She's a Clementine if I've ever seen one. I explained to Zuzu that little cutie oranges are often clementines so she decided her middle name can be Cutie Pie.

There is nothing cuter than a kid with a puppy.
We are adjusting... she's been crate trained, so we're using our dog crate at night and while we are at work. She's mostly potty trained but had one accident. She and Cooper have had a few scuffles, and honestly I feel more stress about introducing Cooper to a new dog sibling than I ever felt about introducing Zuzu to a new human sibling! We are working on peaceful coexistence and taking lots of walks, which is good for everyone. Plus David is taking the lead on walking and he and Zuzu plan to take her to obedience training together. The girls are love her because she is so interested in them, which leaves plenty of time for me to give Coop extra love and attention (it's kind of clear to everyone at this point that Cooper would prefer to live alone with me, except that the girls drop food for him to eat).

A doggie scuffle occurred one second after I took this photo. Coco has on leftover facepaint from a carnival.
(The disparity of agility and reasonable BMI that I saw when we brought her home to Cooper was appalling. I immediately ordered him new diet food and am putting him on a strict twice a day walk regiment because holy crap. Bubba is super fat. I am not body shaming, but I am concerned about his health. I always knew intellectually that Coop is a few pounds over his ideal weight, but I didn't realize how much it was hampering his activity. I'm hoping by the end of summer he'll be slimmer and trimmer! #dogfitnessgoals)

At one point this morning, we had all six of us in one bathroom, with Clementine standing on her hind legs and putting her front feet up on the bathroom sink. So... chaotic mornings mission accomplished!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

I. Lucky

Scene: In the car

Zuzu: When I get home, can I have a treat?
Me: Sure. What a lucky girl you are to get to choose between a cookie and a cupcake!
Zuzu: No, a lucky girl would get a cookie and a cupcake.

II. Fox Trot

Scene: Zuzu has just woken up in the morning and is telling me about when she woke up during the night because she heard a noise.

Zuzu: I heard a stomping like a dinosaur! But I knew they were extinct. So I thought it might be a hundred and fifty five foxes marching all together!

III. Best Friends Club

Scene: A Saturday Morning

Coco: Is today a school today?
Me: (cheerfully) No! Today is a stay at home day.
Coco: (mournfully) But Evelyn will miss me!

IV. Attitude Adjustment

Coco: Mama, would you like to watch me dance?
Me: I would love to watch you dance!
Coco: Then you'd better stop that attitude.

V. Swings Both Ways

(background: We've been talking about where babies come from with the help of the Our Whole Lives program at our church and the book It's Not the Stork! It's actually been a really good thing, but we've had some interesting conversations!)

Zuzu: Mama, can girls marry girls and have children?
Me: Sure. But you need sperm to have a baby, so you'd have to go to the doctor to get pregnant by putting egg and sperm in a dish. (This is referencing a prior conversation about different ways to have babies.)
Zuzu: Why?
Me: Because you need a sperm and an egg to make a baby, and only boys have sperm, so you'd have to borrow some.
Zuzu: Hmmm. I was going to marry Gemma, but maybe I should just marry Ethan.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Birthday Party Idea and Two Other Things

One of my students is a bit older than traditional college-age and she has a baby who just turned one.  For her daughter's recent birthday, she asked everyone invited to the party to write her daughter a letter and include a photograph of themselves or their family that she is putting in a time capsule of sorts to have her daughter open on her eighteenth birthday.

Isn't that such a sweet idea? She even asked me to write a letter for it, as she's been in classes with me since before she was pregnant. I wish I had thought of it for my kiddos!

I guess there may be some people who aren't interested in reading letters from people they might not even know by the time they turn 18, but I think it's such an interesting way to capture the people involved in the baby's life in one way or another, and makes for such a meaningful gift, even though it doesn't cost anything.

It kind of reminds me of when my eighth grade English teacher had us write letters to ourselves as seniors in high school. It was such a big deal when she mailed those out four years later and we all received our letters and reflected on our thirteen-year-old selves. (shudder!)

* * *

Today on our drive to school, Zuzu asked me "How do bumble bees begin?"

Uhhhh... any ideas?

I started rambling about evolution and single cell organisms (LOLOLOL what the hell is wrong with me?) but eventually through more conversation I realized that she was really asking whether baby bumble bees are born with a stinger or whether they grow it. LOLOLOL Still have no idea! We decided that they are probably born with a teeny-tiny stinger that gets bigger.

* * *

I found my faculty ID! It was buried under a pile of papers on my desk, which means I have definitely hit my stride as English professor. Now I'm off to spill a cup of coffee on more student papers and lose my reading glasses before finding them on my head.

(I don't actually wear reading glasses, but you get the idea.)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Twirling, Running, Downward Dog

Well, it's April! Where has the time gone? See previous post about not having enough time to do the things I want to do. I got a stack of library books, so reading has beat out blog posting for what to do before bed and here we are.

Coco asked me the other night if I wanted to watch her twirl. I responded with a genuinely warm and enthusiastic, "Yes! I love to watch you twirl." But she must have not liked whatever I was saying before that, because she replied sternly, "Then you better stop that attitude."

Interestingly enough, David had to ask Coco to "stop that attitude" today in the car after dinner.

Zuzu is running a mile tomorrow with her kindergarten class. She is not super enthusiastic about it. In fact, she totally dragged behind at the practice race and walked most of it (complaining constantly). It was so bad that I had to jog ahead with Coco in the stroller and leave her behind with David because I was getting pissed off and (surprise, surprise) me getting pissed off is actually NOT a deterrent for her when it comes to behavior. Zuzu appears to be missing the "give a eff" gene so she does not care if I'm annoyed OR if her friends have all finished the race and are waiting for her. I still find this baffling. David says she has zero FOMO. I'm by no means athletic, and I can remember running in elementary school and knowing there were girls in my class I could never keep up with (Lori Nichols, Kelly Meyers, etc.). But I could also pace myself with girls who were more my caliber, and my pride definitely had me finishing races before certain kids in my class. So I just don't get why she doesn't want to keep up.

We chatted later (when I had calmed down and remembered this is a kindergarten race so who cares) and I said something appropriately parental about how we don't care if she finishes the race first or last but we would like to know that she worked hard and did her best. I told her that I wasn't convinced she'd done her best at the practice race. She made a noncommittal noise, looked at me for a minute, and then said, "Do you think the person who finishes last still gets a medal?"

(Answer: I'm pretty damn sure they do, and it looks like I'll be finding out tomorrow when my kid comes dragging in last of all!)

The weather tomorrow is supposed to be wretched because I live in a midwestern winter hellscape where spring will tease us with one or two 65 degree days with sunshine sprinkled into months of unrelenting cold, gray, rain. David jokingly asked the other day if we just lived in Portland now and I said we should freaking move there because here we're getting the soul-sucking weather without the benefit of liberal politics.

I'm starting to believe summer is around the corner as I just have a few weeks of the semester left. I swore earlier in the week that between the weather and the stack of ungraded essays on my desk, I was in a decline (physically, mentally, emotionally), but I graded the papers and kind of wrapped my head around another big project at work (a program review) and I'm feeling better now.

ALSO I'd like a moment to brag about myself... I am 24 days in to Yoga with Adriene's 30 Day Challenge. This is BIG for me, you guys. This means I have gotten up 30 minutes earlier every day for the past 24 days to do yoga before work.

You may remember I started this challenge back on January 1 with the rest of the world as a New Year's resolution, but I got bronchitis and couldn't stop coughing so had to stop doing yoga. THEN I tried to start again in February but got a stomach bug. So finally I got serious over spring break. I also listened to an episode of the Sorta Awesome podcast where they interview Laura Vanderkam (author of I Know How She Does It) and she said that the thing about people who get stuff done is that they do something in the morning before work besides just get ready for work--they write or they meditate or they work out or they go for a run or whatever. I have been SO reluctant my entire life to be that person. I would rather stay up late and write than get up early and write.

But the thing is I DO write late at night. I do NOT motivate myself to do yoga late at night. If I'm going to be productive in the late evenings, it turns out I can only be the kind of productive that also involves being sedentary under blankets. (Know thyself, as Gretchen Rubin would say.)

So now I am a person who gets up in the morning and does yoga first thing and I can hardly believe it because I still kind of hate those people who do that stuff. Yet here I am! Feeling all the benefits (so annoying). Looking forward to it when I roll out of bed (so obnoxious). Even got up before 6am this morning (absolutely unheard of) because I had to leave my house by 7am today to make it to an 8am meeting.

I am really proud of myself though for being so close to the 30 day goal and I have plans to keep going and do another 30 day set after this. Assuming I don't get bronchitis, obvs.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Another Week in the Life

I'm not sure this week was busier than usual... It was a little unusual in that the girls' school had a spring break this Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. But my spring break was last week. And David's spring break is next week. My parents offered to come up Wednesday night and keep the girls yesterday and today, which meant that Wednesday night I shut the door to an office that had marker lines on the desk and Cheerios ground into the carpet because I had to entertain two little helpers at work all day! (Seriously a student commented that my office smelled like cereal and I was like, "Hmmm. Must be the Cheerios."). I did enlist babysitting help from two students because I had to teach classes and attend meetings without my entourage, but it was SUCH an exhausting day because instead of being able to sit quietly after class and prep or grade or read or answer e-mails, I was switching in parenting mode while trying to multi-task. Whew.

I've been thinking a lot about where my time goes lately. In a perfectly productive day, here’s what I’d do:

Yoga in the morning before work

Drink a full glass of water before coffee and breakfast, though those both are usually consumed in the car. I almost always eat an English muffin with fresh ground peanut butter on it for breakfast. It does not bother me in the least to eat the same thing for breakfast every day. One less decision to make.

Drop girls at school, podcast or audio book on the way to work. (I have a 30 minute commute, but there's no traffic, which I think makes a huge difference in terms of it not being miserable. It's my podcast or audio book time and OMG I've been listening to this podcast called Blue Babies Pink. It's the story of a guy growing up as a conservative Christian in Alabama and trying to comes to terms with his homosexuality. It's fascinating. I also like his southern accent. Very cute.)

Teach class (I teach two classes per day, every day of the week), grade, do email, meetings, lunch in dining hall on MW, in my office other days, occasionally out to lunch with work friends. Sometimes I have time or I want to stop grading so I check social media. Other days I'm too busy/preoccupied.

Pick up girls after work.

Supervise Kumon.

Help prep dinner or drink wine and supervise Kumon while David makes dinner. Eat and help clean up.

Scroll Instagram.

Hang out with kids—puzzles, books, art projects or watching performances (they have been working on “tornado spins”)

Put kids to bed—read, snuggle, talk


Read for class

Read for fun



Watch TV

There’s just not enough time for the last five things on the list. It’s like I have to pick just one or two, and that bums me out. If I stay up later, obviously I can do more, but then it’s that much harder to do yoga the next morning. On my spring break, I drank tons of water and used the elliptical every day, but when I get home from work, getting on the elliptical is basically the last thing I want to do. Exercise quickly gets pushed aside.

Plus, if I do any kind of social event—a dinner with friends or a meeting—I miss bedtime, so I don’t commit to more than two evenings during the week ever, and I prefer to keep it at one. 

My solution for now is to rotate what I choose for fun and this week blogging has been pushed aside by other writing and reading. Sometimes reading gets pushed aside for TV. It feels like a good kind of trade off, though as the girls get older I hope our evenings stretch out a little more and I can fit in exercise. They go to bed early—ideally asleep by 7:30, which means bedtime routine needs to start around 7, which sometimes feels like that happens right after dinner gets cleaned up. By that time, exercise is out the window. And they are still so needy and hungry after school that it just doesn’t work.

One thing we don’t do during the week is screen time. It truly feels like we just don’t have time for it. I know it’s a lifesaver for a lot of people, so no judgment, but it becomes such a battle at my house to turn it off once it’s on, that for us it’s truly not worth the 22 minutes of peace we get with a Netflix show because it seems like it negatively affects behavior for at least an hour after. I’m glad we are able to avoid it—they will occasionally ask, but they expect to be told no, so its just not a big deal. (It will be interesting to see how summer goes when every day feels more like a weekend... I may need some strategies on how to deal with TV as a SAHM this summer.)

Anyway, that’s mostly how my day gets divided, plus the little stuff that eats up time but gets unaccounted for... making photocopies, texting friends, cleaning... and that list doesn’t include days when I have to run errands. The other day it was raining and I had intended to leave work 30 minutes earlier than usual to run to Target and get necessities--lotion, shaving cream, pull-ups for night time. But I couldn't get away from the office when I wanted to and I needed to pick up the girls and the thought of dragging them to Target in the rain at 5:30pm was impossible. So I went home, placed a Target order online, and scraped the last of the lotion out of the bottle just before the new one arrived two days later. Errands are hard! How did we live before Amazon and online Target?

My thoughts are turning more and more to summer even though (or maybe especially because) the weather here is cold and yucky. I'm attending the March for Our Lives here in St. Louis tomorrow and it's supposed to rain. My friend ordered ponchos and I'm going to put on my rainboots and march, though! Enough is enough. We need to make some changes. I'll make time in my day for that.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Weekend Extension

Today is the Monday of my spring break (but no one else's). This is lovely because I get hours to myself, but also will make for some craziness next week when the girls come to work with me one day when we're in between child care (I have students lined up to babysit during my classes and a faculty meeting).

This weekend was a busy and productive one. On Saturday morning, I got up and wrote out my list of things I wanted to get done that day and then proceeded to blow through it LIKE A BOSS. Got my laundry done, did yoga and the elliptical, graded some papers, walked the dog, got through Zuzu's Kumon, got the girls to dance and back, and made huge progress on the cardboard barrel we're creating before going out to dinner with friends to celebrate Carol's birthday. Also I drank a lot of water--the recommended 64 ounces! And so I felt like I spent a lot of the day going to the bathroom.

My productivity was made possible because David took the girls to his school to work with a girl scout troop on cleaning up the yard and putting in a green house. They were gone for four hours. I missed them, but also I had no distractions or interruptions, which was amazing.

On Sunday I made up for my time away by being in full-time mom mode from the time I rolled out of bed and didn't do yoga before church because daylight savings time kicked my a$$ even though I went to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday. We went to church, then came home and ate lunch, took the girls to JCPenney for Easter pictures (I cannot resist). It was SNOWING like a ridiculous amount even though it was in the 30s so nothing was sticking, but there were huge flakes falling fast and then instant slush and mud on the ground. I took a picture of the girls in Easter outfits in front of the glass door with a blizzard behind them.

At the start of our photo session, I thought we'd hit a sweet spot in ages where the girls would be totally cooperative. Three photos in, I was dragging Zuzu outside the room to threaten her with not attending a birthday party if she didn't go in there and SMILE without squinting her eyes closed and grimacing and she'd better quit being disrespectful about the photographer's time. (Twice a year we do these portraits and twice a year David tells me I'm crazy and twice a year I agree with him, but then the next year I pull out the frames mixed in with holiday decorations that have last year's Christmas or Easter photo in them and I forget everything except how damn cute they are). She ended up being marginally cooperative, but it was maddening. Coco wasn't quite as bad except her fake smile includes a really disturbing vacant expression that the photographer managed to capture multiple times.

After JCP, we dropped David at home and then went to visit Coco's best friend and her new baby brother. The girls played together beautifully and I had a great time chatting with E's parents.

Confession: I didn't hold the baby. He was very sweet and cute and a part of me even wanted to hold him, but I still struggle a little with new babies and this guy was just two weeks old. I said that I was worried about germs and didn't want to expose him to anything, which is true because this winter has been brutal for sickness, though the illnesses at my house have been more inconvenient than worrisome, obviously your concern is heightened when you're talking about a newborn. But also I think I didn't want my heart to ache for another baby and I just didn't want that level of emotion that I feel about babies. KEEP it LIGHT. We had a lot of Sunday to get through.

We left their house to take Coco home and then drive Zuzu to a birthday party at the Magic House. The Magic House is not my favorite attraction in the St. Louis area. Don't get me wrong--it's cool. But it's always crowded and not easy to keep track of quick-moving kiddos and I had a headache and of the moms I asked at the party, one of them had a single aspirin which I was about ready to CHEW just to remedy the pounding head but swallowed like a normal person with water and it did help but you know how kid birthday parties are... I really like the sweet little girl whose party we were celebrating--one time Coco was teary at drop off and this girl paid such special attention to her and tried to get her to feel better. But even so it was kids running everywhere and I was lugging around two coats and a purse and a cup of water and I really wanted to just take a hot bath and go to bed.

But we got home just in time to have our neighbors over for dinner! I'd been looking forward to it. We have really nice neighbors at the bottom of our hill and we share part of a driveway with them and their daughter has babysat for us before. We wanted to get to know them better and they have been so nice since we moved. David put together an amazing meal of smoked tri tip and salmon and twice baked potatoes and broccoli and bread and buttered noodles for the girls. It was really fun, but with the time change and visiting, we ended up not putting the girls to bed until 8pm, which was too late for them. Coco actually asked to go to bed, which was hilarious but also made me feel like a negligent parent! (Also, Zuzu would never, ever ask to go to bed, no matter how exhausted she was. They are so different.)

Anyway, spring break starts today with getting through a stack of grading and a few housekeeping things. Also finishing a cardboard barrel. I'm feeling pretty good about it so far, but we'll see!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

Scene: Coco shoving a stuffed animal in Zuzu's face.

Zuzu: Coco! The bunny doesn't toot in people's faces! That's RUDE!

* * *

Scene: Coco wonders aloud if she'll be put in a group with her best friend for the upcoming preschool field trip.

Backstory: She recently bit her best friend on the arm because E sat next to the teacher during story time and Coco wanted to sit there and E would not scoot over. We talked a lot about how we only bite food.

Coco: We can't sit together because we bit together. And we are not food!

Zuzu: (matter-of-factly) But we are made out of meat.

* * *

Scene: Driving to school. Contemplating the moon that is still visible in the sky even though the sun is up.

Zuzu: The moon is actually in space.

Coco: I don't like space because it's a long way to fall.

* * *

Scene: Looking through a Disney princess cookbook Zuzu checked out from the library (she's really into the nonfiction section these days). Backstory: David made cupcakes with the girls last week and we didn't have frosting so he tried to improvise and I don't know what he did but the "frosting" he created ruined all of the cupcakes.

David: Well, we can't make that because we don't have those ingredients.

Zuzu: What do we need?

David: Cupcake mix and gummy treats.

Zuzu: Oh, yeah. We can't make that. You make horrible cupcakes with gross frosting.

David: (silent, looks offended)

Zuzu: (shrugs) I'm true.

* * *

Scene: In our kitchen.

Coco: I have to go to the bathroom! I need to pee and poop.

Me: Well, go! You don't want to have an accident.

Coco: I want someone to watch me.

Me: Coco, honey, people don't like to watch other people poop.

Zuzu: (laughing) Oh, Mom. You're so adorable when you say that.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Annie Edson Taylor and Zuzu's Feminism

The kindergartners at Zuzu's school are each choosing a famous American to research for a presentation. They get to dress up as that famous American for the presentation. My understanding is that the teachers checked out a bunch of different biographies for children and they selected a famous person featured in one of the books.

On the way to school the morning of the choice, I really talked up Rosa Parks. How AWESOME was she to protest on a bus? Wasn't it great that she started a huge movement for equality that we still want to be part of?

Other girls in Zuzu's class chose people like Jane Adams, Juliette Gordon Low, and Sacajawea.

Zuzu chose... Annie Edson Taylor.

The first woman to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

If you need me this weekend, I'll be crafting a barrel out of a cardboard box. Don't worry--I found a YouTube video on how to DIY this.

I sent Zuzu's teacher a link to this article the other day because it aligns so strongly with the Montessori philosophy, as well as the way I want to parent. Her teacher's response included this gem:

"Caroline is one child who is especially in tune with what she loves to do! It's wonderful to observe!"


Zuzu is definitely in tune with what she loves to do. And she really doesn't care very much at all if it meets anyone else's expectations or desires. Her teacher put such a generous spin on that personality trait, which is one of many reasons she is a wonderful teacher!

I was talking this over with a friend in the context of a conversation we'd been having about this past week's This American Life. which is kind of a spin off the #metoo movement and follows five women who worked for the same guy and their experiences, reactions, and expectations of sexual harassment in the workplace. My friend's comment about Zuzu was, "I hope she will use that trait in the future to avoid tolerating shitty behavior from others because she thinks her desires should be secondary. It's very feminist of her."

Yes! This! Exactly! I want to nurture and encourage this take-no-shit attitude. I want her to be as fierce and confident at 15 and 25 as she is at 5.

I definitely don't want her going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, though.

So maybe she can be fierce and confident and also be willing to listen to her mother? I mean, is that really too much to ask?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Perfect Novel?

I'm teaching a class this fall that I'm (1) pretty much unqualified for and (2) totally excited about. It's called The Craft of Novel Writing and we're going to... wait for it... write a novel! We're going to participate in NaNoWriMo in the month of November, and we're going to read a couple books about craft of writing and a novel.

So here's my big quandary. I want my students to read The Perfect Novel. One that is literary but also accessible. 20th or 21st century (not that I don't love the Victorians, but we're not working a three-volume Dickensian novel here.) I need one that is not too long, so we have time to read it, outline, and kind of dissect it to see what makes it work. A novella would be fine. YA novels are fair game, but The Hate U Give is too long and also being read by most of our English majors this semester in a class on YA lit being taught by one of my colleagues.

At the moment I'm considering The Great Gatsby... it's got easily traceable themes, not too long, not too many characters, a very specific writing style... but extra points if you can suggest a novel not written by a white dude. (No offense to white dudes, but because their voices are so often heard in the world, I like to highlight other voices.) Gatsby would work. But I'm not excited about it, you know?

Any great suggestions? Like the novel you read that made you think you wanted to write a novel? It's  a line we have to navigate carefully because it can't be so wonderful that it's off-putting--like "No one else should even write anything because it will never measure up to Beloved."

And I don't really want sci-fi or dystopia because I'm hoping to gently nudge my students away from those go-to genres (unless they're set on it, and then that's fine... it's their book). The form needs to be standard-ish, so nothing like Lincoln in the Bardo, although first person or third person narrator is okay. Multiple narrators might be too ambitious for us.


I was thinking about A Wrinkle in Time but it's too weird. Ruling it out.

The Catcher in the Rye? I used to love this book and now I can't stand it. (Go ahead and give me my I'm Officially an Adult and Also Really Lame badge).

Something that was a recent best seller? I'm looking at this list and I want to read ALL OF THESE, starting with Ill Will and Sing, Unburied, Sing but I don't have time to read the whole list before I decide. And I am pretty sure I should read the book (or at least skim it) before I choose it, and I need to decide SOON. Like, within a week.

(For the record: I've been thinking about this since before Christmas and I still haven't reached a decision.)

Share your thoughts please!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

3 Things on My Mind


Have you all heard of the enneagram personality types?

I'm a fan of personality quizzes. I'm a Myers-Briggs INFJ. (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging.) Of the Four Tendencies, I'm a Questioner.

I think it's fun to recognize myself in these descriptions, and to consider strengths and weaknesses based on the way I tend to respond in specific situations.

When I first heard about the Enneagram, I didn't think any of the descriptions fit me. Also they all seemed kind of unpleasant! But I started reading and listening to podcasts more about them, and I realized that I am a hardcore 4 - The Individualist (sometimes called The Romantic).

I think the reason I initially felt that enneagram skews negative is because they talk about the best and worst case personality features, or the ways we tend to behave when we're making healthy choices and the ways we tend to behave when we are stressed or making unhealthy choices. A big one that rang true for me is a tendency to withdraw--remember how I dropped off Facebook after Eliza died? I basically dropped out of life. And I imagine that is true for many people who are deeply grieving after they lose a loved one, but it's not necessarily true for everyone. Some people find energy and comfort in being surrounded by others, but that was really hard for me (and other 4's, as it turns out!). Anyway, there are lots of books and podcasts on the topic, but if you just want to dip your toe in, here's a quiz and here's an explanation of the personality types.

Oh, and most people get two or even three similarly scored on the quiz, so the best advice is just to read the types and see which one resonates with you, or, in my case, which one you resist the most. It just might be revealing something about you!

At the advice of my friend Monica, I signed up for their daily e-mails (based on your type) and the ones I've gotten have been hilariously spot on. They basically encourage you to do something good for yourself that might go against type. One said, "As a withdrawn type, you tend to be too disconnected from your body. Get active with something like cycling, yoga, or jogging."

It's like UGH STOP KNOWING WHO I AM, Enneagram!

(Also, I did yoga yesterday and this morning, probably because of that e-mail.)

* * *


I saw George Saunders speak at our local library last Saturday and he was wonderful. I want to take his classes and be his best friend. He was charming and self-deprecating and funny and delightful. I so appreciated hearing him talk about his own writing process and the "line by line" approach he takes, and how that helps him divorce himself from his work so that he can revise and edit with a clear eye for improvement. It was truly inspiring and it has been something I've reflected on every day since as I do my own writing.

If you haven't read George Saunders, he has written a lot of brilliant, quirky, weird, dark, and funny short stories. I bought his collection The Tenth of December after seeing him speak. He also wrote a novel called Lincoln in the Bardo which is a fascinating tale of Lincoln after his eleven-year-old son Willie dies, but it's not just about Lincoln, it's also about spirits in a cemetery. It doesn't have a traditional narrative, but is almost written like a script with many voices and excerpts from historical books and papers--some of which are real and some of which are completely invented by Saunders.

The audio book is amazing--they got different people to voice every single character. Some are actors (notably Nick Offerman, whom you may know as Ron from Parks and Recreation, and Megan Mullalley, whom you may know as Karen from Will and Grace or as Tammy 2 from Parks and Recreation). But there were so many--over 100 separate voices--so Saunders told us that his parents, his siblings, his wife and kids, basically everyone he knows has a small part in the audio book. I listened to a lot of it (I got it through the OverDrive app connected to my library), but honestly the parts about Lincoln's grief are so beautifully and truthfully done that I was crying too much in the car on the way to work and had to stop. Still, I think if I were visiting it for the first time, I would read it and then listen to it. It's worth doing both. Such a strange, lovely, heartbreaking and funny little book.

(Also Saunders won both a McArthur genius grant and a Man Booker prize, so I'm not the only person who thinks it's brilliant.)

Speaking of writing, I signed up for a sort of guided online writing class. It's called Truth Collaborative and when I got a discount code I decided to do it as a way to jump start my own writing. I've been wanting to get back into my book project and doing more writing in general, but I knew I needed something to kick me into gear. So... spending money on something that has guidelines and lessons and "due dates" and a "teacher" who will give me feedback? Yes to all those things. I've really enjoyed it and the writing that it has prompted me to do. Honestly, a lot of it has been familiar because I did so much blogging and journaling after Eliza died, but obviously that has shifted in more recent years/months, so this was a nice refocus for me.

* * *

I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

I saw this headline today:

Florida Legislature rejects weapons ban with massacre survivors en route to Capitol

How is this possible? How is it possible that a bunch of old white dudes decides that we're not going to ban weapons made to kill people after a guy just slaughtered a bunch of kids and high school teachers with an assault rifle? How will these people sleep at night? What excuse do you tell yourself to justify voting no on whether to debate this as a possibility? This was a move toward conversation and discussion about regulation and potentially banning some kinds of weapons. How do you say no to that? And how do you say no to a bus full of kids who have just survived a living nightmare? Kids who in just a few years (or months) will be voting?

I hope the Millennials rise like a tidal wave and clean house in these legislative bodies that are self-serving and not working for the best interests of the people they represent.

90% of American support common sense gun laws. 100% of concerned parents want to keep their kids safe.

I have friends and family members who practice conceal and carry in the state of Missouri. I can't imagine one of them who would resist a background check, training course, and permit associated with the privilege of carrying a hidden, loaded weapon. (Yes, you read that right. You don't need a permit to conceal and carry in Missouri. You just need to be 19.) Honestly, it just makes me want to cry. You want a "well-regulated militia"? Fine. Then regulate it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

So Many Things

I've got to start with Florida. Another school shooting.

I called Roy Blunt this morning (his Washington office number is 202-224-5721). I said that I'm calling because I'm so concerned about the shooting and I said that we have to put into place common sense regulation of automatic rifles. I also said that I want to see Senator Blunt stop taking money from the NRA and I'll be watching his campaign donations closely. I think it's immoral to take money from gun lobbyists in light of the mass murders that take place on a regular basis in our country.

I'm from a small town where hunting kicks off the holiday season. I know tons of people who are gun owners. The point is NOT to take away guns (and Obama was never trying to do that, no matter what some people think). The point is to keep guns away from dangerous people and that no one outside of law enforcement needs to own military grade weapons.

And I know the old argument that if you make guns illegal, only criminals will own them. I roll my eyes at this. If you limit accessibility to military grade weapons, we will pay much closer attention to who is buying (or trying to buy) them. We don't need to be pumping out into circulation weapons that make it so easy to kill massive amounts of people.

It is morally wrong not to regulate the accessibility of machines that can kill people--just as we regulate automobiles.

Everyday, my entire family goes to school. Elementary school or university, each one of us shows up to a place that could easily be a target for a shooter who wants to make some kind of sick statement. It is terrifying, and there is no way to twist it around so that I feel safer. Small school, big school, elementary school, high school, rural community, suburban community... It could happen anywhere, and you never think it could happen to you until it does.

* * *

We reined things in for Valentines this year... I got the girls each a Shimmer and Shine activity book and a ring pop and some candy hearts and a book to read. They were THRILLED--mostly with the Shimmer and Shine stuff--but I was delighted with the two books I gave them, which we read last night.

Coco got Love by Matt de la Pena, which is so beautifully written and beautifully illustrated. We read it together and then she wanted to read it, which means she looks at the pictures and makes something up, and then turns the book around to show us the pictures like she is a teacher. (I love it when she reads.) It also made me realize how much We Stories has influenced the way we talk about books and illustrations, because even though ALL I DID was read the book as it is written--a book about how families love each other--when she started reading it, she said, "Some people have darker skin and some people have lighter skin. And she is the mom and he is the dad."

Zuzu got Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, and it hit me right in the feels. It's also pitched perfectly to where Zuzu is intellectually/socially/developmentally right now. It's a little long for Coco, but Zuzu was completely wrapped up in the story and when I got to the end, she asked me to read it again. And it's short enough that I was happy to oblige.

SPOILER ALERT: It's about a new girl at school and the narrator noticing that the new girl, Maya, doesn't have nice clothes or new shoes. She sits by the narrator, by the narrator won't return her smile. The narrator already has a group of friends, so she says no when Maya wants to play. And she doesn't speak up when others say mean things. Then one day, the teacher talks about kindness and the ripple effect of putting kindness out in the world, and the narrator realizes that she wants to be kind to Maya--but it's too late. Maya's family has moved.

I can't tell you how much I liked that the book didn't have some cutesy wrap up where Maya comes over for a slumber party or something. It felt so real and honest, and Zuzu seemed to understand Maya's loneliness and the narrator's regret at the end of the book. She told me, "I think Maya is poor," and when I asked what she would do, she said that she would be kind. She also thought people were mean to Maya because they were jealous of her, which I thought was interesting. SO COMPLEX!

* * *

I want to wrap this up with three things, but I have a massage scheduled and I need to get out of here. If someone could just massage away the stress of my committee work, my personal anxieties, and that stack of grading I need to get through, that would be amazing.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Butter Making

I feel like everyone who reads this has probably seen these pictures on IG and FB, but I had to recap our butter lesson here. Zuzu gave us a lesson, just like she was a little Montessori teacher.

She had previously made a list of what we needed.

In case you don't read Kindergartener, that says:

and then she drew a picture of a colander

So we followed the list and got everything ready. Then, she poured the cream. (You can see little sister was an enthusiastic student.)

Dropping in a pinch of salt.

Then you shake it.

And when you don't hear the marble anymore, you open the container.

And pour out the butter!

Spread it on your crackers.

Little Sister needed a closer look.

Serve! Zuzu was so proud to teach us how to make butter. I mean, she was just beaming. She was SO proud of herself and so happy. Honestly, I got teary-eyed because you could just feel the pride and happiness radiating off of her. I took several blurry pictures because she was gesturing so wildly as she expressed herself, and she could not stop grinning.

And she was also enthusiastic about eating it.

Coco watched the lesson, so then she got to try.

We've got lots of fresh butter at our house now. Bring some saltine crackers and come on over.

Monday, February 5, 2018

February is the New January

I am not exaggerating when I say that Friday was the first day since January 1 that I felt like my old self in terms of my energy level.

I have therefore declared February the new January and I am starting my new year now, by crossing off tasks like: "Organize cabinets in laundry room" and "Get caught up on laundry."

Listen, after an entire month of wanting to go to bed at 8pm, productivity feels really good.

We had a fun weekend with my parents in town. The girls started ballet and tap, which was super cute. Somehow I didn't get any pictures of them in their outfits, but they were both into it. The dance academy they're going is kind of unusual, because parents can't watch the classes. There is a waiting room, but then instructor closes the door to the dance studio and there aren't any windows to observe. We can hear the instructor (I heard her say, "Good, Coco!" quite a few times #mombrag) but we can't watch. In fact, most parents drop off and come back to pick up at the end of the hour. I felt kind of sad about this for a second, because wouldn't it be nice to watch the cuteness? And then I was like... A free hour on Saturday morning???? I think I can get used to it.

* * *

Zuzu's behavior this past week had lots of room for improvement. And I kept getting reduced to using her best friend's birthday party as leverage, which means I have no idea what I'm going to do this week when I can't threaten to call Gemma's dad and say we're not going to her party.

We just finished reading Ramona the Pest and have moved to Ramona the Brave and my girl Zuzu may be the big sister, but she is definitely more Ramona than Beezus.

{Insert the inevitable curiosity about the kind of Beezus Eliza might have been...}

Coco has been observing Zuzu's behavior closely, particularly when Zuzu gets in trouble, and after we have scolded Zuzu, Coco will pipe up, "Mama, am I doing the right thing?"

Coco may not be a Ramona, but she is figuring out how to be a pest to her big sister.

* * *

The girls finished up their Valentines last night, which has me patting myself on the back for being ahead of the game. There might have been a moment when my coaching/encouragement of mermaid creation got a little bossy, because Zuzu said, "Mommy! These are not YOUR Valentines! These are MY Valentines!"

I was actually really embarrassed to realize that I had been overstepping in giving directions, so I told her that she was right and she could draw their mouths however she wanted.

And that's why some of her friends will be getting meth teeth mermaids. #happyvalentinesday #thissirenwantstodrownyou

* * *

Oh, and Coco doesn't do the right thing all the time...

My dad was having the girls work on a craft project where they wound string around nails to make hearts and he left the scissors and yard on the table. I walked through the kitchen and noticed that there was also a comb on the table (which grosses me out) and long strands of hair in the comb (which I initially assumed was doll hair).

Some investigation later, we determined that Coco had YET AGAIN cut her hair. Only one small section, but cut down to the scalp.

I told her that she did not do the right thing, and I asked her why she keeps cutting her hair short if she wants it to grow long. She couldn't answer me, but she was obviously embarrassed.

Then David said quietly, "Coco, I'm very disappointed."

And Coco ran behind a chair and cried and told me that she didn't like it when Daddy screamed at her.

I'm hoping maybe David's disappointment is enough to put her off DIY makeovers, but we'll see. In the meantime, we're reinforcing the All Scissors Out of Reach Rule.

* * *

Oh, and my mom and I took Zuzu to see The Sound of Music this weekend. It was a great show, of course, and we really enjoyed it. Truth be told, I think Zuzu was a little young for the show. She got restless and had a lot of questions and couldn't always remember to whisper them.

But she was a good sport, and she did pay close attention to what was happening on stage. She followed the plot pretty well, especially when you consider she doesn't have any context for nuns or Nazis. And she definitely enjoyed the music and even did some singing along, which I thought was super cute.

She also rocked a dinosaur purse, made out of construction paper and staples.

Looking good and feeling good! Here's to the New January: February. May it feel short and sweet.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January in the Rear View

So the month of January is gone tomorrow and guess how much exercising I did this month? I was doing great on daily yoga with Adriene until I stopped being able to breathe without coughing, which was somewhere around Day 8.

ANYWAY, I'm giving myself the permission of the blank slate and we'll let February be the month for exercise! (Honestly, my ribs are still a little sore, but I think I can ease my way back in with yoga, and I expect it will be good for me.)

As far as other resolutions... meal planning is going swimmingly because David has been 100% on board. We talk about meals on Sunday, laying out which nights we have stuff going on, and he does the lion's share of food prep. It's been awesome! We've also gotten Blue Apron two weeks out of the month, and making dinner just feels EASIER when all the ingredients are ready to go that way. Plus the meals were really super good. Doing a premade casserole or enchilada or lasagna on Sunday is also a way to win at life during the week.

We still occasionally fall into the trap of making a completely different meal for the kids. I want to be all French Kids Eat Everything about life, but in reality my kids sometimes just eat noodles with butter and Parmesan cheese.

We are about to enter some hilarious adventures in homesteading as the girls have been making butter at school and they are desperate for us to make some at home. We're borrowing a little churn container from their school (it's just a plastic jar with a screw on lid and a marble in it) and picking up some heavy whipping cream at the grocery store today to see what we can do. Zuzu is adamant that we get saltine crackers on which to spread the butter, because that's what they have at school.

I'm also filing this under "Do more fun stuff" because it honestly does sound kind of fun to me and the girls are crazy excited about it.

I'm also wanting to look up the chapter in Little House on the Prairie on churning butter... I can picture the illustration with Laura standing at the butter churn. I'm trying to remember if there's also a section about making butter in Understood Betsy, which is another favorite of mine from when I was a kid.

Zuzu and I are almost finished with Ramona the Pest and we read Beezus and Ramona. Our progress is occasionally slowed by reading her book of Greek mythology, which she finds spooky and fascinating. The story of Cronos eating all his children is kind of alarming. She really likes Hermes's winged sandals and wants me to find a similar pair for her.

I've been asking the girls questions from this Q&A a day journal that I did for like a month in 2017 and then forgot about... Anyway it's cute, but Coco's answers crack me up because every one of them is about her best friend, Evelyn, at school.

Q. What games do you like to play?
A. Wif Evelyn!

Q. What snacks do you like?
A. Crackers. Wif Evelyn! We sit on the floor!

Q. What pet would you like?
A. Evelyn has a pet?

Even Zuzu commented, "She sure is talking a lot about Evelyn!"

It's a bit obsessive, but very sweet.

This morning I was fixing breakfast for the girls and Coco said, "I don't want to go anywhere dangerous."

I told her that I thought that was fine and she didn't need to go anywhere dangerous.

She followed that statement with, "I don't want you to go to jail, Mommy."

I assured her that I am not going to go to jail, but I'm really wondering what's going on in her head.

Maybe it has something to do with me discovering both girls inside the washing machine yesterday? They've never climbed in the washer or dryer before, but something possessed them to crawl inside it and it just almost made my heart stop to find them in there with the door closed (but not latched). I tried to explain it was dangerous and compared it to the time Coco zipped Zuzu inside a suitcase and she didn't like it. Anyway, they weren't in any real danger but it still felt terrifying... mostly to think about one of them closing the door and hitting a button with the other one inside. I don't even want to think about it, and I kept telling them how dangerous it was (I didn't say anything about jail, though!).

Last night I slept poorly because I had bad dreams about mice and rats. I think it's from listening to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which talks about the German occupation of the Guernsey island during WWII, and has some discussion of work camps and the sleeping quarters there (infested with rats).

I've read the book before, but it's such a good one that I was delighted when my book club decided to read it for this month. I am actually listening to the audio version, which is even better because it's an epistolary novel (written as a series of letters back and forth) so different readers do each of the different character's voices and it is SO great. Makes me look forward to my commute.