Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It's Not a Road Trip Until Someone Pees by the Highway

We decided to escape the madness and the boxes and the elevated stress levels at home, so I loaded up the girls and we drove down to my parents yesterday. Possibly this had something to do with the fact that I nearly started crying because all of the wine glasses were packed. (Items I use on a daily basis: wine glasses and fuzzy blankets.)

The girls are really pretty good travelers--I didn't even bring the ipad and they just paged through books and napped a little bit. At one point they were making up and singing songs together, which was the cutest thing ever. I listened to a couple of podcasts but realized that most of the podcasts I like are not appropriate for kids (too much cursing!) and then my phone lost internet connection out in the boonies, so we listened to really random CDs that were in my car--Leonard Cohen and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

There were a few frustrating moments--we were about two hours into the four hour trip when Zuzu started getting very curious about whether we were there yet: "Is this Grammy's city?" she asked at every little farm town we drove through. Coco will do this thing where she whines, "mooooooommmmmy" and then when I say, "What, honey?" she mumbles softly in the backseat, which is infuriating because she can be as LOUD as she wants to be, but she decides to operate on this level of a just-barely-audible whine, apparently just to make me crazy. We were five miles outside my hometown when she started making that noise and I had to say, "What? What? WHAT?" and then, in a fake cheerful tone, "Okay, when you're ready to talk so that I can hear you, I will be listening."

And then finally she yelled that she had to go potty "SO BAD."

I asked her if she could wait a few more minutes and she repeated that she had to go SO BAD and sounded kind of panicky, so I asked if she needed to go in the grass and she said yes. And so I pulled over and put my flashers on and she peed on the side of the highway.

Then we loaded back up and got to my parents' house ten minutes later.

The plan is to chillax here for a few days, then head back to St. Louis for a birthday party, a hair appointment, a visit to the primary classroom at Coco's school, and all the rest of the packing and organizing. There are some details about our closing/moving that are making me really nervous--mostly that our buyers want to close as early as possible so they can move in, but our sellers aren't going to be out until 3. I think this means that our buyers need to understand that we won't be out until 3, but I'm not sure that has been clearly communicated, because our realtor said something about us being out by 1:30. (Um... then what do we do?). Also our realtor seems to think that the sellers will be out earlier than 3, which I think is absolutely crazy (if they have until 3, they are going to take until 3, is what I think). So that is stressing me out. Surely this will work out, right? I don't know how people do this. Move houses, I mean, and close on the same day. Ugh. 

Meanwhile, I'm spending a lot of time on Pinterest daydreaming about furniture and paint colors and I keep realizing I can't remember what the house really looks like. Weird!


Monday, July 17, 2017

Right Now

READING.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have no desire to watch the show, and it's actually taken me weeks to work up the emotional fortitude to tackle the novel. It's fantastic and terrifying. Between that and Season 4 of West Wing, I'm just beside myself when it comes to politics and possibilities. What seemed like complete fiction to West Wing writers in 2001 (President Bartlet is running for reelection against an anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant opponent) is REAL LIFE NOW... how far are we from Atwood's dystopia? (I mean, have you read this? Terrifying.) (Note to self: work on plans for living off grid.)

I've done quite a bit of reading this summer. I'm just over halfway to my goal of 52 novels this year, which is great since we're about halfway through the year! I need to step it up, though, because my reading game slows when school starts. I just finished reading The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green. It's one of the earliest American detective novels, and I'm teaching it in a Victorian Crime & Detective Fiction class this fall. At least, I think I am. I'm still building the syllabus and working out the reading schedule for that class (my others are all set!) so I need to finish this book and then claim a few hours to myself to sit and figure out the course schedule.

I also recently finished reading Secrets of Happy Families which was a little bit hokey (hold Weekly Family Meetings, craft a Family Mission Statement... good ideas in theory, I suppose) but what I got from it is that you mostly should make explicit the kinds of things that you want your kids to implicitly absorb about your family values. Kind of like the yard sign we put up, I guess--that's a way of making our family values explicit, not just to our neighbors, but also to our kids. The family coach we worked with last year talked about using the phrase "In our family, we don't ____" when we explained why Zuzu wasn't allowed to bite/hit/choose your inappropriate and antisocial behavior, I'm sure my sweet snowflake of a rainbow baby has exhibited it. And I think it's the same kind of philosophy. You make your kids feel like they are an inherent and necessary part of a core group that holds a certain set of values, and then you make it fun, safe, and comfortable to belong to that group.

One other thing that this book didn't cover but that I was thinking about recently are the cliches "Happy wife, happy life" and "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." There's truly something to be said about the way one parent (not just mom) can set the tone for the entire family, and how much power we have to shape kids' perceptions of experiences, just by saying things like, "This is the BEST VACATION EVER!" or "I have a feeling today will be a really great day!" Kids aren't just sponges--they are also mirrors.

WATCHING.
West Wing season 4. I love it so much.

David and I tried to watch the very controversial Thirteen Reasons Why and we gave up. I found it absolutely too disturbing and frustrating. It also made me think of some of the dark thoughts I was having on the 4th of July. It's no secret that I've been pretty disturbed and frustrated by the politics of this country, and I wondered if the Great Democratic Experiment of our constitution is playing itself out and demonstrating that people really are just self-interested and selfish A-holes so democracy is kind of crumbling and our best bet is a benevolent monarch who keeps us in line in an ethical way because when you leave people feeling like we live in a competitive environment where it's every man for himself (like, say, high school), we will inevitably end up using and abusing people we perceive as weaker than ourselves.

WOW this little blog meme sure has been a cheerful way to start the day! You're welcome!

Anyway, we are NOW watching The Keepers, which is a fascinating documentary about who killed Sister Cathy, a nun living in Baltimore in the 1960s. What looks like an unsolved mystery may actually be part of a huge cover up. We're not very far into it yet, but Gemma and Abby are already my heroes. They are like real life Miss Marples or Jessica Thatchers, just a couple of retired ladies doing their sleuthing at the library and on facebook and in coffee shops. I want to be just like them when I retire!

FOLLOWING
Just started following Celeste Barber on Instagram. Definitely search for her... her posts are completely amazing. Even inspiring. Lol.

LISTENING
To the Moana soundtrack mostly. Also always and forever Hamilton.

WEARING
Sweaty, stinky clothes from walk/jogging to the park today. I need a shower, but we're going to the pool later, so I think I'm just going to stink for a few hours.

BUYING
I'm shopping for a new couch, but I'm not committed to anything just yet. Leather couches are expensive, man. I'm selling off furniture on Craigslist--my couch and another chair I hadn't even planned to sell went on Saturday. I have another chair/ottoman set that I'm selling although I'm having second thoughts because it's the comfiest chair in the entire world. It's just that the upholstery doesn't really go with anything else, and then I wonder if I should have it reupholstered, but that seems a little daunting and pricy, so I'm not sure...

PLANNING
What projects we want to do at the Forest House, and where we want to start with painting.

MONITORING
How much more my kids are playing with their toys now that 80% are packed up in boxes. It's true what they say--they play more with less. Also moving toys around the house totally influences how they play. The art table that was ignored in the basement is getting a lot of attention now that it's in the living room. I need to keep this in mind as we're setting things up at the Forest House... Less is more!

WONDERING
Why we're bothering to move from our awesome neighborhood with such a fantastic park within walking distance. I'm trying to keep in mind that summer feels all blissful, but once school starts, I know I'll be more grateful for the shorter and simpler commute and drop off situation. Still, the nostalgia is hitting me hardcore already. And I don't know where the new grocery store or library is, either. Do they even HAVE those things where we're moving? (Kidding... kind of.) It's sort of like when you have a great hair day the day that you've decided to go in and get it all chopped off. You're going to go ahead with it, but you're having serious second thoughts and you'll probably cry about it for three days until you get used to the new hair. (Tell me that's not just me.)

FEELING
Conflicted. Sad about leaving the old house. Ready to get settled in the new house. Sentimental about leaving the neighborhood. Excited to move to our secluded location. Aggravated by not being able to find things that David has packed. Looking forward to unpacking and organizing the new house. Wanting summer to last forever. Ready for school to start. Mostly packed except for clothes. Completely overwhelmed by everything we have left to do.

David and I generally don't have many major conflicts, but we always have one big fight in August when the transition to the new semester and all the stress that comes with it hits us hard and we inevitably work out the stress by yelling at each other. Over the weekend, that fight visited us early because I was SO PISSED that he went ahead and packed all the couch pillows and throw blankets. I use those every night when I curl up to watch TV or read. The girls use them almost everyday to build blanket forts. In my mind, they are the kind of thing you pack up the LAST DAY and you toss them in a garbage bag. But David had neatly stacked them in actual moving boxes and he was pretty mad when I unpacked them. We exchanged some choice words and then I stomped upstairs and watched The Keepers by myself. I mean, we have to live here two more weeks! I'm not doing it without my favorite fuzzy blanket and also some pillows. Fortunately, we were both feeling more reasonable the next day (and also my pillows and blankets are still out of the boxes, so...).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Cousins and Our Future "Dentister"

Remember when I thought this would be a relaxing summer and I would just read and write and take my kids to the pool?

Haha. I had no idea.

It feels like we have been going 100 miles an hour the past couple of weeks. After a low-key Fourth of July (about which I actually had all kinds of complicated feelings because I'm not totally convinced the democratic experiment of 1776 is actually working out all that well, given the enormous numbers of people who feel and are disenfranchised in this country), we had cousins come visit from California and set about showing a 9-year-old and 12-year-old just how much fun stuff there is to do in St. Louis in five days.

playing in the backyard clubhouse

If you're considering a visit to St. Louis, I'll tell you we managed to go to the zoo, a Cardinals game, the City Museum, the Botanical Gardens, Ices Plain & Fancy, Ted Drewes, Schlafly, and paddle boat riding at Forest Park Boathouse, and all were great fun. The kids said the City Museum was their favorite. Plus I had to attend a funeral for a colleague (sad and unexpected) and David had to work one day, so I would say that we did a pretty good job of squeezing in a lot of fun stuff, but we are all kind of wiped out from it. Paddle boating when it was 104 degrees out wasn't exactly the most ideal plan, either. (Poor Kailer, David's 12-year-old nephew, was mortified when I started complaining about boob sweat).

Zuzu and Coco absolutely LOVED having their cousins here. I can't even describe how smitten they are with those two. And it was awesome because they were totally entertained but the cousins are old enough that there was none of the typical playdate bickering. Basically, I want to have a nanny who is 9 years old and just helps me out from 9am-4pm every day. We loved having them here.

at the Botanical Gardens

It was also excellent to have three adults and two big kids to help us tackle the City Museum with Zuzu and Coco. The last time I'd been to the City Museum was more than ten years ago. We'd been waiting to take the kids because I didn't think Coco was big enough for some of the stuff (also I didn't realize they had a toddler area) and Zuzu's fearlessness makes me nervous. Both girls had a great time, and Coco was determined to keep up with the big kids! The outdoor climbing structures still gave me the willies occasionally, and even Zuzu was a little more cautious than I've seen her before when we were up really high.

At one point, we were climbing around in the indoor treehouse and I saw Zuzu go down a slide and come out a level below me. I had my eye on her, and I saw her foot slip through the metal bars she was walking on. I knew she'd banged her knee hard and I saw her start to cry, but I couldn't figure out how to get down to her--where do I enter the climber? What slide did she go down? So I was kind of freaking out. I was trying to yell down to her that I was coming, but she couldn't hear me. Then I saw a gray-haired lady come over and start talking to her (I'm sure asking her where her negligent parents were). I sent David up a level to find the slide and I started climbing down to her, but then when I got down to where she was, she was gone! Just as I started to freak out, my phone rang. I had written my cell phone number on Zuzu's wrist band, just in case. It was an unknown local number, so I answered it and, sure enough, it was the nice older lady. "Do you have a little girl with pigtails in a blue shirt?" I said yes and that I was trying to get to her and she said, "We're in the tree house" and I said, "I'm in the tree house! Where are you?" and then I realized she was right behind me. Anyway, Zuzu was fine and it was actually a nice transition to heading home.

The same day the cousins left, we had friends come to town to join us at a Jason Isbell concert, which was kind of our anniversary date and was fantastic.

13 years of weddedness.

We left our kids and our friends' daughter with a babysitter and it made me feel like a Real Adult somehow, except Coco cried when we left because she's mama's girl and then I was really sad but then I had a gin & tonic with dinner and I remembered that sometimes I like to do adult things without my children. Also the show was so, so great. I loved The Mountain Goats too, who opened for him, although at first I was like "I should have brought ear plugs because I am so old." And we talked about how we love going to concerts where we get to sit down. Basically we are the uncoolest ever. No shame.

Yesterday we went out to the House in the Forest to scope out a few things and measure a few things, and remind myself that this is real and we're really moving. I also boxed up a bunch of books and all the pictures I had hanging up the stairs and now our house looks empty and ugly and also dirty with the shadow of the frames left on the walls and it's kind of depressing. Also all our house guests were gone yesterday afternoon and Zuzu and I were both feeling the post-fun glum. I coped by treating myself to a La Croix and a magazine. Zuzu coped by being a complete and total brat. It wasn't our worst day of the summer, but it certainly wasn't our best afternoon. I truly sympathized with her--she's overtired, out of routine, used to have constant entertainment, missing her cousins and friend--but mercy she can be a handful.

Speaking of depressing things, the air conditioner went out on my car and the car place was like "NBD, prolly needs freon, run you about $50" and then the car place was like "Just kidding, you actually need a whole new system thingy and it will cost $1350. Or we can do just one part of it and that will cost you $850."

Given that my car is 10 years old, we were actually like, "Should we just go ahead and get a new car?" but then we were like, "Oh, wait, we're buying a new house, so NO." And my car (knock on wood) has been pretty trouble-free for most of its life, plus it has nearly 150,000 miles on it. Anyway, that was still not a fun phone call to get.

Also Zuzu had to have a cavity filled today. I never had a cavity as a kid (in spite of very lazy dental hygiene in elementary school) so I was shocked by this. Also it is not cheap. I was a little worried she would be dentist-traumatized, but she loved it. We go to a pediatric dentist practice and they used laughing gas and let her choose a Barbie movie and gave her a balloon and then another one for Coco, and fussed over what a great patient she was, and she told me she wants to be a "dentister" when she grows up. So I guess that was successful. But I sure can think of more fun ways to spend a thousand dollars than on dental work and car repair (plane tickets and gin and tonics come to mind... also a new couch).

Anyway, that's the latest around here. More packing to do today. Zuzu just informed me they are playing, "Dinosaur Times" and Coco is a baby dinosaur. I'm going to try to take advantage of the relative dinosaur harmony and see if if can get the rest of the stuff on my living room shelves boxed up. (You guys. I have so many books.)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Moving

So it looks like we're doing this.

We moved into our current house a little over four years ago. I said at the time that I didn't know if we'd be here forever, but I knew we could be. The neighborhood is lovely. The house is charming. The yard is small, but we're two blocks from a beautiful park. We moved just about five minutes from our first house, and only because we outgrew the two-bed, one-bath bungalow. We live in the city and we feel close to everything (even if there are a zillion slow stop lights between us and Forest Park). There was no reason to go anywhere.

But now we're moving.

I mentioned a while back that David got a new job at a school district nearer to us, which cut his commute in half. But you know the "give a mouse a cookie" thing? He started looking at neighborhoods that would cut his commute down to the 10-15 minute range. And after the hours and miles that he's logged in the past seven years, I couldn't really blame him.

(You might remember that my commute is also substantial--I drove over to Illinois, so it takes me 35-40 minutes to get to work. Even though I would say I don't particularly like to drive, for some reason I can't explain, this commute has never bothered me! I think it's because I rarely sit in traffic--I drive several miles, but I'm always driving rather than sitting. In fact, I've missed my commute this summer because it's the only time of the day that I can listen to podcasts or music or audio books without interruption. I do a lot of thinking and planning in the car, and I have genuinely missed having that half hour to myself in the morning and evening! But I'm not complaining about summer break--I also think the fact that I drive to work nine months rather than twelve makes the commute feel less burdensome.)

Anyway, we started talking about it with some seriousness when talking about where Zuzu will go to elementary school, and David made the case for the convenience of them all being in the same school district. As much I resisted the idea of moving, I couldn't deny that the simplification of everyone having similar schedules and David being super close to his work sounded pretty good for all of us. Plus, we'd be closer to the preschool where the girls go now, which means that my commute time would also be reduced since I have to drive slightly out of my way right now to drop them off.

Long story short, after much discussion and thought and some arguing and what I am pretty sure was a middle of the night panic attack, we decided to list our house.

(A big part of my reluctance had to do with the terrible time we had last time we decided to move--the sale of our house last time seemed to be great as we got an offer the day of our open house, but it fell through three days before closing and we'd already committed to buying our new house, which meant things were financially tight. But now our old house was back on the market, empty and unstaged, we had to keep up the yard work and utilities all summer, not to mention paying a second mortgage, and after six months of that madness, we ended up breaking up with our realtor and working with someone else who agreed with me we should stage the house, then got it sold within two weeks, which was just before Christmas, and a week AFTER I found out I was surprise pregnant with Coco, the same week as Eliza's birthday... It was a stressful time. I'm not kidding when I say that just seeing real estate signs on the lawn of any house as I drove or walked by would make my stomach churn.)

This time, our house sold in a week, which was great. The area we want to move to had houses selling really fast, so we put in a contingency offer because there was ZERO chance that I was going to pay two mortgages again. It was accepted, so now we close on both properties at the end of this month. I hesitated to write about it for a long time because I felt like I would jinx it, but everything seems to be in place this time.

The thing is, I don't actually handle transition or uncertainty very well at all. I mean, I felt ridiculous having a panic attack about moving neighborhoods in the same metro area, but I was still awake at two in the morning feeling like I couldn't breathe. I knew I was overreacting--this was not a crisis! We're not in a refugee situation! We're doing this on purpose and for good reasons!--but I couldn't control my anxiety about it. Now that things are set and the dates are finalized and the papers are signed, I'm feeling better about looking forward and thinking about paint colors and a new couch. I do love the idea of decorating a new place, especially a house that's so different from this one in terms of layout and design.

I'm still really conflicted about leaving our current house and our lovely neighborhood, especially the neighbors we've gotten to know, who really love our girls. I also just thought that we'd be in the city forever, and as a non-native St. Louisan, I kind of came to identify myself as a City Resident (rather than County), so that is another shift that I'm getting used to. I am looking forward to a house that has a more user-friendly kitchen and more outdoor space, and I do love the way the new house is surrounded by trees. It feels very peaceful and secluded even though it's just a long curving driveway (and a big hill!) that separates us from a cul-de-sac neighborhood.

I hope it will be a good change for our family, and the "right" choice for us, but it has felt very fraught. Sometimes it feels like every decision we make has so much at stake, especially when it comes to where our kids will go to school. I do like the idea of paying taxes in and being part of the school district where David works, and I do like the idea of my kids going to public schools, so I'm glad that we are able to move in that direction. I will absolutely miss being in the city, but I've been google mapping all of our favorite hangouts and discovering that while we have to drive a few more miles to get there, it won't take much longer in terms of minutes--it's just highway miles instead of city streets. My friends promise to come visit me, and this house does have space for a fire pit and a living room for game nights, so I hope that people will be willing to drive out to see us.

I'm not saying that this new house is our "forever home" because I'm starting to roll my eyes at that idea as much as the idea of a soul mate. Life is big, and there are lots of houses and neighborhoods to love. I do hope that we are happily settled for the next several years. Well wishes and pep talks appreciated!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Facebook

I'm back on Facebook.

It took me more than six years after losing Eliza to feel like I could re-enter that space.

I think because I saw it as a place to put forward the best version of yourself, and that version of myself no longer existed.

I think I also was afraid that it would hold nothing but disappointment and resentment for me.

I knew people who got upset because they posted updates or photos of the children they lost and got no responses, but then other, light-hearted posts would get all kinds of likes and comments. I also know how hard it was for a lot of my friends to see facebook pregnancy announcements or new baby posts. I just didn't want to put myself out there for any of that.

But then I joined We Stories, which primarily communicates through Facebook, and I knew that some of my babyloss mom friends were in a private facebook group that I would like to join, and while I created a profile never intending to post anything, I got a lot of friend requests for extended family (like old people--no one young and cool uses facebook because they are all Snapchatting, which I do not do because I am over 30). And I realized that a lot of these people aren't on instagram and would probably like to see photos of my kiddos, and there are all kinds of privacy settings so you can control who views photos and just show them to certain groups, so I could post pictures of the girls for my family without inundating my work colleagues with my children's adorableness.

And although I know the politics are something people complain about in regard to Facebook, that's actually part of what I like about it. I am pretty insulated on there, and it's very tempting to hide people who disagree with my political views, but I have found it to be a good source of information and articles on all kinds of issues (including non-political ones). Sometimes it does raise my heart rate, but mostly because I'm reading news stories through it, and news stories about our country's current president tend to infuriate me. I love using facebook to stay informed about local politics, about social justice efforts, and to get reminders of what I can do to try and make a difference about things that are important to me.

I've been careful about it--I check in almost every day, but not more than once or twice. I don't engage in political arguments. I don't post things that are deeply personal. I guess I'm back at the point where I can skate on the surface--I don't feel like my guts are a raw, gaping wound. I'm not "fixed" or "better" or no longer grieving, but I am in a place where I can love and miss Eliza as much as ever, but I also have the energy and headspace to care about other things--big things like social justice (and how white people--even those of us who are well-meaning--keep effing things up), and little things like, "oh, yeah, how is my officemate from graduate school doing?".

Honestly, the hardest thing for me is when people share their timeline posts from five years ago, and I'm so glad I didn't try to get back on Facebook earlier, or in 2016 when "five years ago" would have been right after Eliza died.

I also care a lot less now about how other people perceive me than I did back then, which is pretty vital. I am not free from the comparison game, but I spend much less time comparing other people's lives to mine than I used to (actually, it's kind of embarrassing and sad to think about how worked up I was about this and how I measured up to others or how I thought others would see me... ugh. Giving zero effs about that nonsense is one of the few gifts that emerged from grief--that and my tribe of babyloss friends).

Anyway, if you quit facebook for whatever reason and you're unsure about going back--I say wait. You're not missing much. There's no rush. You'll know when you feel ready, or when you want to be involved in something more than you want to stay off of facebook. I can't say that it has improved my life significantly, but at the same time, I do appreciate that it's reconnected me with friends and extended family members with whom I'd fallen out of touch, and that it's an easy way for me to get involved and stay informed about specific issues and organizations I care about.

So, yes, I'd love to be your facebook friend.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Zuzu is Five

You guys. My rainbow baby turned five. 

(Which I'm a little sad about ONLY because she's been telling everyone for months that she's "four and three quarters" and I'm kind of bummed that now it's just "five," although give her a week and she'll declare herself "five and a half.")

Five years ago, we were still calling Baby Duck #2 "The Deuce." And I detailed every moment of her birth here (you're welcome). And yes, I was still missing her sister.

And somehow, that beautiful baby is all grown up into this beautiful little stinker--our master negotiator who is teaching her little sister every trick she knows. She makes me crazy almost as often as she melts my heart. She never stops asking questions. She is willing to strike up a conversation with any adult we meet, but when she's around kids she doesn't know, she'll hide behind me and whisper that she's "a little shy."

She still says "lellow" for yellow and "aminal" for animal and "firty" for thirty. She has quite an imagination and no sense of appropriate voice volume. She was down in the basement, absorbed in playing with little characters when I carried her birthday decorations (a couple banners and a wreath on the door) and some Fourth of July decorations upstairs and put them up, and she was so delighted when she saw them. She clapped her hands and said, "Mommy! How did you DO this? You buh-prised me!"

She's a big fan of buh-prises.


Little Sister is always a half step behind her, mimicking everything she does. Coco is no pushover, so they go head to head pretty often. Overall, though, they truly love each other and their sister relationship is one of the best gifts I can imagine (for them, and for me). My greatest fear is losing one of them--not just because it would shatter me, but because I know what an enormous and devastating loss that would be for the other one (a loss that I recognize, even if they don't experience it as such, when I imagine every day what it would be like to have three little girls lined up for photos). What I want more than anything in this world is for them to grow up and stay best friends.


These girls have brought so much light to our lives, and they are so, so loved. I try to talk to them a lot about being grateful and being aware of how lucky we are, so I was slightly bummed when she opened all her birthday gifts, was very excited about them, and then turned to David and me and said, "Why didn't you get me more presents?"

(I realize she was referring to her enjoyment of the whole process--ripping open packages, being the center of attention, discovering something hidden--but still, it was not exactly what I hoped would come out of her mouth after being showered with gifts.) 

Funny kid that she is, she didn't want a birthday cake. She wanted blueberry muffins. She kind of changed her mind at the last minute and said she wanted a cupcake with pink frosting (she's a sucker for pretty decorations even if she doesn't like sweets) so David bought a cupcake for her and one for Coco and then Coco ate both of them. Zuzu ate more blueberry muffins.

We celebrated her birthday early while we were at the beach (made blueberry muffins there) and then we celebrated again with a "family party" on the 29th with just the four of us at home having pasta (her request) after going to the pool (We also had blueberry muffins) and opening gifts. 

Zuzu really wanted a party with her friends at our house, and she kept requesting that, but I knew that I wouldn't have the time or energy to pull that off right after getting home from out of town. I also think an elaborate birthday party with friends is something we'll move to doing every other year (evens), and then we'll have a "family party" or event (like going to a show or an amusement park) on the odd years.

This year she got an event, and she chose the Magic House, which is also known as My Waking Nightmare--too many people in close proximity, other people's children crying and screaming, "Mommy!", not being able to keep track of my own kids, and never being able to get them to cooperate for a picture (I mean, WHAT IS THE POINT of my sacrifice in dragging myself to the Magic House if you won't even let me DOCUMENT IT???). But that's what she wanted, and the bright spot in the day (for me) was that we were able to meet up with one of her friends from school.

This little friend is a boy who just turned 3 in March, so he's quite a bit younger than Zuzu (closer to Coco's age, really), and Zuzu has just taken him under her wing in the sweetest way. She loves to look out for him and take care of him, and she knows the things that he's interested in (trains and trucks) and told me that she was going to show him the trains and trucks at the Magic House and do what he wanted to do while they were there. 

I'll be honest, I have moments when I wonder if I'm raising a sociopath, but her friendship with and concern for this little guy really makes visible the kindness in her little heart. I love it so much (and his mom was so sweet about expressing her appreciation for Caroline, it truly made my day). 

But of course that didn't stop her from whining about having a birthday party at her house. (Eyeroll.)

We compromised with a "birthday play date." This came to me in a flash of inspiration. I e-mailed a bunch of parents whose kids go to Zuzu's school (and a few of my friends whose kids she likes to play with) and invited them to meet up with us at Tower Grove Park on a Saturday morning to play in the fountain and on the playground. I emphasized in the e-mail that while we are celebrating Zuzu turning 5, this is a play date and NOT a party--no gifts! No organized games! No pressure! No stress! No prep!

She got to see her friends and play, and the only thing I had to do was throw a bunch of juice boxes in a little cooler and pick up 48 donut holes on our way there. Best parenting decision ever, and the kids had a blast! It was just about getting them all in the same place at the same time and giving them space to run around and scream.

And now that birthday is in the books--literally, the fifth birthday is the final entry in her baby book! My rainbow baby is growing up. And, as Zuzu would say, she makes me so happy that I have water in my eyes.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Buddha Board

Technically, the Buddha Board was an early birthday gift for Zuzu. It was small and easy to wrap and take to the beach, where we celebrated her turning 5 a few days early since our family was together and it was easy to have a party at the beach--all she required was blueberry muffins and five candles.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this item because although it couldn't really compete with the Shimmer and Shine doll set that she also received (insert eye roll), it is something that I'm confident will continue to hold interest. 

It comes with a small paint brush, and you "paint" the canvas with water. The picture darkens on the canvas, and then dries and disappears. Very zen, no? You can paint with water and contemplate the fleeting and impermanent nature of life, as Coco is undoubtedly doing here:


Serious concentration. Just ignore the laundry basket in the background. Taking it upstairs is a process that sometimes requires a pit stop on the couch.


I had never heard of a Buddha Board until I spotted one of these at a book shop in downtown St. Louis when I was attending a conference a few weeks ago and I picked it up. I think it was $13, which is also what the price is on Amazon. It is a simple and easy activity to have tucked away in a kitchen drawer for those times when you just need to occupy your kid for a few more minutes while you get dinner ready or finish drinking your chardonnay and watching the last five minutes of Veep (hey, no judgment here).

In all serious, it's also one of those Montessori-style activities, where there are few supplies, simple and tactile elements, and the child can set it up and clean it up all by herself. (Patting myself on the back here, thankyouverymuch.)

Anyone else used these? Coco's favorite thing to do is saturate the whole canvas and turn it dark pink (ah! A nihilist.) , but I can envision us using it for a long time, so we'll see what direction she goes in her artistic vision.

Also, I swear Zuzu likes it, too. She was just less cooperative about posing for me.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Ending on a Low Note

I want to write a nice long brag post about our lovely beach vacation and how relaxing it was (actually, I give it a 5 out of 10 for relaxation, but only because we had to share beds with children) and how beautiful it was (10 out of 10) and how nice it was to meet my little niece (she's also a 10). But right now I'm mostly thinking about how the trip ended. Which was NOT with a bang, but instead with a terrible sound that I will never be able to get out of my head--the sickening sound of an unconscious man falling flat on his face on the hotel floor.


On Saturday morning, we got up and left Holden Beach, NC for Atlanta. It was not exactly on the way home, but David had put in a lot of hours in a mini-van with my parents and seeing a game at the new Braves stadium was his only request, so I was willing to oblige. We checked into a hotel near the stadium, and David and I walked over to watch the game.


It was warm, but our seats were in the shade. After a few innings we decided to get up and walk around, and then we were ready to head out a bit early and meet my parents and the girls for dinner at a restaurant just outside the ballpark.


David and my dad had beer samplers with dinner. I had a sangria that I sort of shared with my mom and fish tacos. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and got ready for bed early. I hadn't slept well the night before and was exhausted. As we got ready for bed, I realized I also wasn't feeling well. My stomach was killing me. And it straight up revolted right around 9pm, when I barfed up fish tacos, felt incredibly sorry for myself, then brushed my teeth and collapsed into bed.


Not the most fun way to end vacation, but I did feel better after puking and was just hoping that when I woke up I'd be back to normal. I figured that this would be the worst of it.


I had no idea.


I woke up at midnight, when I felt David getting up out of bed. Both girls had fallen asleep in the king sized bed in our room, so he lifted up Coco and put her down in the crib next to the bed. I heard him open the door to the bathroom, and I heard the bathroom door handle again. Then, I heard a sound I couldn't quite place. That sickening sound that made me wonder for a moment if David had walked smack into a wall or door. The room was really dark, so I called David's name, but I couldn't see him.


No response.


I flipped on the lamp and blinked in the light, trying to figure out what David was up to.


It took me a second to locate him, because he was LYING ON THE FLOOR in the hallway by the bedroom.


Just lying there. Motionless.


I leaped out of bed and knelt down to see that he was super pale but breathing. He was lying on his stomach, and I started rubbing his back and patting his cheek and saying his name over and over again in a voice of strangled hysteria. It was only a few seconds, but I was thisclose to dialing 911 when he started blinking and saying, "I'm ok, I'm ok."


On the outside, I was basically holding it together. I felt like I needed to take care of him, and that I didn't want to get completely hysterical in case the kids woke up.


On the inside, I was in a complete and raging panic. I'd already pictured the entire rest of my life as a widow. I had been sure that David was dead. It was all I could do to keep breathing and not pass out myself.


He sat up on the floor and I asked him questions (What were you doing? Did you pee? What happened? Where are we? Who is the president? What's today's date? When is my birthday? What are our children's names?). He was able to answer all my questions, and said he felt dizzy while peeing, headed back to bed to lie down, and just blacked out on the way back to bed from the bathroom.


I helped him get up and get over to the bed, where I took his temperature, felt for his pulse (I mean, he was talking to me, but STILL), and then once I was sure he was actually still alive, I started sobbing.


I thought we should probably wake up my parents and go to the ER, but he kept insisting he was ok. I texted my friend who is a nurse (a NICU nurse, but still...) and finally I agreed to let David go to sleep, but I woke him up an hour later to check on him. I didn't really think he had a concussion, though if he'd fallen just a few inches further to the left, he would have conked his head on the hotel safe. But I wasn't taking any chances.


David dozed off pretty quickly, but it took me hours to settle down enough so that I could go to sleep. My adrenaline rush was through the roof. I watched episodes of Rosemary and Thyme on PBS while clutching his wrist so I could feel his pulse under my thumb until 3:30am when I was finally exhausted enough to doze off for a couple of hours.


We drove all the way home from Atlanta on Sunday--my poor dad drove the whole way because David had a headache and my mom and I weren't technically supposed to drive the rental car. David still wasn't feeling great Sunday night (although, really, who does feel good after a 9-hour car ride and a terrible night of sleep?--not this girl!), but when he mentioned that his chest hurt, I told him we needed to go to Urgent Care. He didn't want to go and said he'd call his doctor the next morning.


I said, "So, if I passed out in the middle of the night, still had a headache all day the next day, and then had CHEST PAINS, you'd tell me it was fine for me to wait until the next day to go see my doctor?"


He said, "... Y-yes?..." and then protested that he was tired and he just wanted to lie on the couch and watch the cardinals game.


I stomped upstairs.


Fortunately, he came to his senses, came upstairs, and said we could go to Urgent Care if I really thought it was important to go tonight.


Ten minutes later, we were at Urgent Care (showing up 30 minutes before closing time--nice!), they called us back right away, and the doctor came in to examine him, then ordered a CT scan and an EKG as well as blood work and IV fluids. David's eyebrows went up when the doctor said that she wanted all those tests and he said, "Really?" and she said, "Yes. I want to be able to sleep tonight."


It was SUCH a huge relief for me to know they were running all of the tests. I just wanted answers beyond what I could google. And David was agreeable since they turned on the ballgame. (Don't tell him I posted this photo.)


Of course, it was even more of a relief when everything came back clear. They told us to follow up with primary care doctor, so we did that today. She ordered a couple more tests--a stress test and an ultrasound of his carotid arteries.

Both doctors seem to think that it was probably a vasovagal nerve thing. Evidently fainting after you pee in the middle of the night is a thing? David felt light headed after he lowered Coco into the crib and leaned his chest/stomach down on the side of the crib, which could have put pressure on this nerve as well. It could also have been some dehydration (definitely less water consumption when we're trying to drive long distances).


Basically, we're hoping it was just a one-off thing that will never happen again (I mean, really, I better not have to peel his unconscious ass off a hotel room floor again EVER), but we are doing all the tests to confirm that it wasn't caused by something else.


In the meantime, he's taking a few days off work to recover from the muscle soreness you get when you face plant unconscious onto a hotel room floor, and I'm trying to reel in all the worst case scenario flipping the eff out to remind myself that bloodwork and scans came back clear.


More on the beach--and a million other updates--to come!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Priorities

Zuzu is a sweet and empathetic girl. She is quick to comfort her sister when Coco gets hurt. She is willing to apologize when she accidentally hurts someone. She is usually willing to help out if I ask her to do me a favor or assist me with a chore.

On the first day of summer vacation, I painted her toenails. I know there are people who take their five-year-old the salon to get pedicures with them, but I am not that person. Zuzu asks me occasionally to paint her toenails, but I usually put it off. I did it once a few years ago, and she smeared the nail polish on the couch because she couldn't wait for it to dry. Anyway, I need to touch up my own toenails, and it was the first day of summer break so I was trying to be Fun Mom, so I offered to do hers as well while her sister was sleeping. She was very excited and she wanted pink and glitter topcoat.

Of course, Coco woke up before we finished, so I painted her toenails as well. Pink glitter for everyone! We did it out on the front porch and it was really sweet to see how excited they were about they matching sparkly toenails.

Zuzu asked me to paint her fingernails, but I said no and explained that she always puts her hands in her mouth and nail polish contains yucky chemicals that don't belong in our mouths. Zuzu has never sucked her thumb, but she chews her fingernails, puts her hand in her mouth when nervous, and often chews on her fingers (and sometimes toes!) when watching TV or being read to. So a manicure is just not something I was going to mess with.

Anyway, I didnt think much more of it. I put the nail polish up on the little windowsill at the bottom of the stairs where I put things out of little hands' reach that I will take upstairs later.

Fast forward to me going downstairs to switch laundry, to smelling the faint smell of fresh nail polish but assuming it's my own toes, and then seeing Coco shove her hands down between the couch cushions when I walk by. Something clicked (probably the wide-eyed guilty look on Coco's face) and I realized they had been into the nail polish.

Turns out that "out of reach" no longer applies to this windowsill. Zuzu had painted her fingernails and her sister's. And by "fingernails," I also mean most of their fingers from the second knuckle to the tip and also SOME OF MY BEDROOM CARPET.

This sneaky naughtiness is really hard for me not to completely lose my mind over. It's so deliberate. I tell myself frequently, "They are little and still learning" but I get so angry when she is (frequently) deliberately, intentionally defiant.

As a consequence, I removed all the fingernail polish and told Zuzu she has lost the privilege of painted nails, indefinitely.

I salvaged the carpet by actually snipping the drops of polish out of it. You can't tell at all, but I know it was there...

When I was removing the nail polish, crouched in our upstairs bathroom, scrubbing her little fingers with a cotton ball soaked in more nasty chemicals, I said to Zuzu, "You knew you were doing something that you were not supposed to do and something that would upset Mommy. Why would you choose to do that?"

She said, "Well, I just wanted to make myself happy."

As sweet, kind, and compassionate as she can be, girlfriend is also lookin' out for number one. Her priorities are very clear and consistent, actually. And making me kind of insane.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Childcare. It's Like a Full-Time Job.

Our "relaxing" stay at home summer officially started yesterday. My unofficial plan for the day (and most days) is to get out of the house for some activity in the morning, come home for lunch and Coco's nap, read with Zuzu and encourage her to do some quiet activity, then when Coco gets up, we go to the pool or play outside here.


In theory, this is great.


In practice, it's freaking exhausting and I got screamed at so many times yesterday that I was ready to go back to work.


I know it's just an adjustment period and we get used to the new routine, but holy moly. (It doesn't help that Coco asks me hopefully each night, "I go school tomorrlow?"


So anyway. I decided to start the day with a trip to the botanical gardens because the weather was gorgeous and it had been too long since we were there.


In the time it took us to get dressed and out of the house, Zuzu banged her forehead on the hardwood floors of her bedroom trying to hang upside down and flip over her bedframe. Coco fell down the stairs and got rug burn on her face from the stair runner. The sound of heads hitting hardwood is not my favorite.


The gardens were lovely, and the girls were able to run off in front of me and explore a little bit on the secret paths of stepping stones. They helped each other and stuck together and it was very sweet. There was some whining about when we'd go to the playground, but I wanted to walk through other parts of the garden first.


We got the playground and I gave Zuzu explicit instructions to stay where she can see me and I can see her. She promptly disobeyed, so we had the same conversation again, this time with the threat of leaving immediately. After that she was pretty good, except as we were getting ready to go, which was awesome because I could happily follow through with my threat of leaving immediately since that was already my plan.


We got home for lunch. The thing about kids is you have to feed them three meals a day PLUS SNACKS. It's actually really annoying because they are totally ungrateful. I'm emphasizing "courtesy and grace" and having them help with clean up, but of course that sometimes backfires as well when it's just easier to do it myself, particularly when cleaning up the kitchen is the only alone time I have all day.


Anyway, they ate lunch. Coco had a meltdown because they each asked for a blueberry muffin and she was absolutely FURIOUS when I gave her the muffin she'd already nibbled the top off but hadn't finished at breakfast. I mean, HOW DARE I serve her her own leftovers when there were perfectly whole muffins in the tupperware?


I knew she was tired, and she also knew, because after lunch she came back in the kitchen and straight up told me she was ready for a nap (bless her). So she went to bed and then Zuzu had a total meltdown because I wouldn't let her eat another blueberry muffin (she'd already had THREE at breakfast--her two, and Coco's--and one more at lunch, so FIVE muffins seemed excessive).


(Sidenote: Blueberry muffins are now a source of strife. They seem to be the only food that Zuzu gets obsessive about. She begs to make them and when we have them, she asks for one constantly and whines. As far as unhealthy snacks go, they could definitely be worse. But she'd eat the entire dozen at once if we'd let her. They finished off the last three at breakfast when Zuzu ate two and then convinced Coco to give her half of the one she was eating. I'm relieved they are gone. I don't want food to be a "thing" at our house so I pretty much let them eat whatever whenever, but the muffin thing was out of control.)


Anyway, after Coco got up from her nap the girls played happily for a while and then asked to go to the park. It was a gorgeous day, so we decided to go, but then Coco insisted on wearing Zuzu's skirt which was too big for her and after we got to the park I realized she also had on a pair of Zuzu's shorts underneath which meant that all of her clothes were literally falling off of her and she couldn't run around or climb and so I said we had to go home.


Cue another huge meltdown from Coco.


Zuzu must have been tired, because she didn't really complain about leaving the park. Also, I bribed them with a popsicle party so when we got home, we had popsicles in their playhouse in the backyard, which was fun.


It was time to make dinner and I was completely exhausted. I felt like a mom cliche, tired and cranky and having to make dinner and busting out a bottle of chilled white wine at 5:00pm.


But we survived the first day of stay-at-home summer!


We have big plans for summer adventures--parks and concerts and libraries and swimming, but some of my favorites is when the girls play together. Zuzu's imagination is so adorable right now, and Coco is right there with her, imitating everything. My favorite is when they pretend to be me. Zuzu will say, "Okay, I'll be Coco and you be Bwooke" and then they act out me helping Coco after she's hurt or leaving for a meeting.


True Confession: I'd still really like to have two uninterrupted hours to myself per day, without having to get up at 5:00am for them. Any thoughts on how to make this happen besides zombie screen time?


While we're strategizing, I'd love to know how to get them to stop whining, "Mommy..." at the start of every flipping sentence.


And if anybody knows how to keep them at almost-five and going-on-three for several more years, I'd greatly appreciate it. As crazy and tired as I was after that first day, they are pretty magical right now, and I'm already trying to savor this summer (and also this glass of chilled white).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco - April 2017

I was scrolling through phone notes and found these conversations we had with the girls back in April that I'd never blogged. I'm not sure everyone finds them as ADORABLE as I do, but I'm going with it.

***
Is My Kid a Sexist Jerk or Just Asking for Some Credentials?

At the pediatrician's office, having Coco checked for an ear infection. Our regular doctor was out, so we saw another doctor in the practice. She was a middle-aged woman wearing a white coat over a nice dress, nylons, and high heels.
Doctor: Hello, I'm Dr. Smith. (sits at laptop)

Zuzu: (eyes her suspiciously) Are you just signing up to be a doctor, or are you a real doctor?

Doctor: I'm a real doctor.


***


Quality Parenting Tactics and How Does She Know About Facebook?
In the car, can't remember where we're going. Zuzu was having a nasty attitude.
David: If you can't be nice, I'm going to turn the car around and go home.


Me: And I'm going to text the Easter Bunny and tell her what you've been saying.

Zuzu: You don't even have the Easter Bunny's Facebook!


***


Please Enjoy Some Toddler Harassment On Your Stroll
On our front steps. Coco observes an older gentleman walking down the sidewalk with a cane.
Coco: Hi!
Man: Hi!
Coco: Where your baby?
Me: What?
Coco: No, Mommy. I talking to HIM. Where your baby? WHERE YOUR BABY?
Me: Coco, not everyone has babies.
Coco: WHERE YOUR BABY?!
Man: I don't have any babies anymore.
Me: His babies probably grew up.
Coco: WHERE YOUR BABIES?
Me: (fierce whisper) At his house. His babies are at home.
Coco: Oh. Babies at home.


(I'd like to add here that when I mentioned this bizarre conversation to David, he said that when he'd been on out the steps with Coco the night before, an older gentleman with a similar appearance had walked by pushing a baby stroller. We're assuming maybe Coco thought it was the same person. Otherwise I have no idea...)


***
Good Advice
At Creve Coeur Park, where there is a big lake.
Zuzu: Don't go in the water! Sharks live in there! And poop!



***


When Matter-of-Fact Observations Become Morbid
In the TV room, apropos of nothing.
Zuzu: It looks like Cooper's face is all white.
Me: It's just blonde. (This is a lie I tell myself and, apparently, my children.)
Zuzu: Well, it means he's going to die soon. But not today. Not until his WHOLE BODY is white.



***


Baby, You Have No Idea How Much I Know This.
Zuzu: Mommy, do you know sometimes when you're really happy, you can get water in your eyes?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco



So, Yeah. We Still Use a Binky in the Car.

Coco is screaming and crying in the backseat.
Coco: BINKY!!!
Me: Coco, I can't find your binky. I'm sorry.
Coco: WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!
Me: Here, you want some chapstick?
Coco: (sniffles, takes chapstick)
Peaceful silence in the car.
A minute goes by.
Zuzu: I'm sorry to say that Coco is eating the chat-stick.


Daddy and Coco Share a Sweet Tooth.
David gives Coco a piece of chocolate.
Coco: Mommy?
Me: Yes?
Coco: I LOVE all of our chot-locks.



I Wonder Where She's Heard That Before.
Coco is playing with babies, carrying Baby Dawn (a 12-inch doll) around.
Coco: I got to put you down, baby. I can't hold you like this any longer.


I Really Don't Think She Meant to Be a Total Jerk About It
Day of Zuzu's preschool fieldtrip. Coco's sock is bunched around her toes, causing fussing as I help her put her shoes on.


Zuzu: (with genuine sympathy)Oh, Coco, why are you sad? Are you just thinking about how much fun I'll have with Mommy picking strawberries while you're at school?


My Right Hand (Wo)Man
Hamilton soundtrack playing: "Here comes the general, George Washington! And his right-hand man."
Zuzu: What's a right-hand man?
Me: It's like your very best helper.
Zuzu: Oh. So, like yesterday when we were strawberry picking, I was your right-hand man?
Me: Yes. You totally were.
Zuzu: But why does it say "man"?
Me: Instead of woman?
Zuzu: Yeah.
Me: Because people are sexist and sometimes they only talk about men when they want to mean everybody.
Zuzu: It should be right-hand man for boys and right-hand woman for girls.
Me: Yes. And you are my...?
Zuzu: Right-hand woman!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Musicals and Big Moves

We saw Rent last night and it was just as amazing as it was the first two times.

The first time I saw Rent was on a trip to New York City with my friend Monica the summer after our freshman year of college. One of Monica's new friends from CU was from New York, so we stayed with her friend Beth's parents at their house on Long Island. Beth drove us into the city in her dad's little car (getting side-swiped by a cement truck in the Bronx was particularly memorable--it was entirely Beth's fault, but we all explained to her dad the the truck had COME OUT OF NOWHERE and DIDN'T EVEN STOP, and I'm sure her dad was just relieved that we were all okay and the only damage was a missing side mirror, but after that we took the train into the city). We did mostly the basic touristy stuff--visited The Strand and ate at the diner from Seinfeld or When Harry Met Sally, I forget which, and we drank a lot of coffee and ate a lot of bagels and pizza. The one thing I had specifically requested was to see Rent. We also went to some bar where they didn't check IDs and drank amaretto sours because we were 19 and awesome. Anyway, we did see Rent on Broadway and I loved every second of it. It was amazing and I cried and I longed to be part of an artistic community of friends living in an abandoned building in alphabet city, except for the fact that I don't actually like being uncomfortable, so the whole cold/hungry part of it was not very appealing. But still! How amazing to live in New York and be an artist!

I fell into a time warp on the way to the theatre because I bought a t-shirt celebrating their 20th anniversary tour, which seems to be mathematically impossible. I saw that show for the first time in 1999. It blows my mind that I am now old enough to have done something 18 YEARS ago besides go to kindergarten. At the time I saw it on Broadway, I thought the actors were so glamorous and grown up. When I went to the show last night, the actors all looked like children to me. This is evidently what happens over the course of nearly two decades when you age and characters do not.

Still, it was awesome. I was giddy and singing along the whole time. I've lost a bit of my edge with the "La Boheme" song and couldn't quite nail all the lyrics, but David suggested that I go back stage and offer to be an understudy for any part because I really do have the whole thing memorized. (My freshman year roomie, Kaley, no doubt does too, because we listened to that soundtrack all. the. time. Hashtag coolest room in Banks Hall.)

"La Boheme" is still my favorite song, and now the song "Without You" has me in tears every time:

Without you, 
The ground thaws,
The rain falls,
The grass grows.

Without you, 
The seeds root,
The flowers bloom,
The children play.

The stars gleam,
The poets dream,
The eagles fly,
Without you.

The earth turns,
The sun burns,
But I die
Without you.

It has a completely different meaning for me now than it does in 1999. That first change of season after a loss, when everything is going on as though the world hasn't just imploded... Brutal.

As excited and happy as I was to see the show and buy the shirt, when David commented on my level of enthusiasm going into Rent, and I had to sing, "Oh, JUST YOU WAIT." (For Hamilton. April 2018. I'm already fangirling out of my mind over it.)

In other musical news, my Zuzu is a lyrical genius who made up an original song on the way to school the other morning and then when I picked her up, her teacher (Kim, who is mentioned at the end of the video) informed me that she performed it for her entire class, and the class agreed they would all sing it the next time it rains. I should probably get her an agent and book her some studio time, because this girl is ready to write an album:


She has since added an extra verse "The dolphins are ducking, oh yeah..." Awesome.

In non-musical news, my semester has officially ended and while I'm supposed to show up on campus tomorrow and Tuesday to wrap up loose ends (shredding papers and one brief meeting), I'm basically feeling like summer has already started. I just want to write and read and take my kids to the pool and drink summery beers.

It's looking more and more likely that we will move closer to David's new job, so I'm trying to wrap my head around that idea, too. I have many mixed feelings, but what it comes down to is that so much quality of life in general is connected to commutes and schools. It just makes the most sense for our family to move to a neighborhood that will make my commute simpler (and not longer), make David's commute drastically shorter, and solve the issue of schools for the girls. There are actually a lot of great options in the city, but we haven't found the perfect solution for us in our current zip code, and the options we do like are dependent upon a lottery (you all know how lucky we are given slim odds, so...) and this would eliminate the stress of that decision.

Of course, this doesn't solve the angst of my social conscience or my emotional attachment to our current location... I have serious reservations about participating in white flight to the suburbs and we truly never imagined that we would move out of the city. I love being a city resident. I love our neighbors and I love being so close to so many amazing restaurants, parks, and activities. But as life doesn't show any signs of getting less busy, I think simplifying our everyday routines to maximize the time we all spend together has to be the priority, and will in fact probably allow us to have more time for visiting parks and gardens and the zoo, even if we have to drive a bit further to do it.

And when I think about David being home in time to deal with that 5:00 witching hour, I'm basically willing to move to a trailer in his school's parking lot.

Anyway, we're taking our time thinking through neighborhoods and houses, and figuring out what is our best case, what we can afford, and where we can see ourselves living for the next several years. Ugh. Big adult decisions are not really my strong suit.

Time to listen to some musical soundtracks and pop open one of those summery beers, I think.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Mom

Quick Note: Mother's Day is a hard day for a lot of people. I've done plenty of ruminating on my own experiences with motherhood--the happy and the heartbreaking--so this post is just about my mom. Of course, Mother's Day is also hard for a lot of people who are missing their moms, so feel free to skip this post if that's you. (And also, I'm sorry. That really sucks.)

I've been trying to think about the greatest gifts my mom has given me, the traits that I share with her, the things that I hope my daughters always carry with them, too. My mom has many great qualities, but there are two things that I really hope to emulate in my own parenting:

(1) Her face lights up every time she sees me (or my kids).

I seriously cannot think of a time at any point in my life, where my mom hasn't smiled when she's seen me. That's not to say that we've never had a disagreement or whatever, but she has always made me feel seen and loved.

(2) She's never tried to be perfect.

Don't get me wrong--my mom is lovely and talented and good at lots of things. She is pretty and well put together. But she is not a perfectionist. She never worries about the house being perfectly clean or clothes being perfectly ironed. She goes to yoga twice a week and eats well because she wants to take care of her health and feel good--not because she wants to have a perfect body. She laughs about bad hair days and she shrugs off the occasional dinner disaster. She's not trying to impress anybody. She's easy going in a way that I am not, but that I try to be. She's just pretty chill and she hardly ever snaps at anyone or speaks in an unkind tone, which is certainly more than I can say for myself (Seriously, if my tone were a weapon, I would have slaughtered my husband and several students by now. This is something I'm working on.).

One of my favorite things about my mom is that she gets down on the floor to play with my kids without thinking twice about whether there is laundry to be folded or dishes to be put away. She's focused on what matters and is relaxed about the things that don't matter. She's involved in her church and her community, she's not driven by material possessions or status symbols, she's sympathetic in times of trouble and quick to laugh at funny stories or the hilarious things her granddaughters say.

My mom has shown me by example that there is no need to do it all, that picking and choosing what is important is the best way to live your life. She's gives her time to lots of charitable organizations, she's good at her job, and she spends as much time as possible with her grandkids.

It took me a long time to realize that my mom did stuff besides be my mom, but it wasn't because she wasn't doing it. It was because I was completely self-centered and perhaps a little dense, but my mom has always been involved in things or had hobbies or projects that weren't necessarily focused on us (although she did sew many of my Christmas and Easter dresses when I was little). I never felt pressured by her to be a certain way or accomplish certain things.

It's only in recent years that I've become aware of how lucky I am that I wasn't raised by a perfectionist. I didn't want to disappoint my parents, but I never thought they were expecting perfection from me. I knew that they wanted me to do my best and to be kind and to have fun, and I hope that I teach my daughters the same thing.  I don't want them to think they have to look a certain way or act a certain way or achieve a certain thing in order to make me happy.

And I feel lucky that I've learned by example that perfectionism isn't something that kids want or need from a mom. I am not the mom who has a perfect homecooked meal on the table every night. I am not the mom who has laundry put away the moment it comes out of the dryer. And honestly? I think those are great things, and they are some people's love language, but just not mine.

I will do my best, though, to make sure that my face lights up when my kids walk in the room, and that I don't stress out about the stuff that doesn't get done because we've prioritized a board game or a stack of books or playing dress up.

There will always be stuff that doesn't get done or isn't perfectly clean or put away, and it will be fine. I know because I've seen it. People come over to my mom's for dinner and she'll grumble a little because mail will be piled on the china hutch and Dad's crap will be on one side of the table, but it doesn't matter. No one cares.

Happiness doesn't come from perfection or some kind of image of perfection. Really, it just comes from hanging out with my mom, and the way she smiles when we enter the room. That is such a gift that she's given me. And I hope thirty years from now, that my kids can say the same thing.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Listen to This.

Coco was in the car the other day demanding, "Mean King!" I had no idea what I was talking about, until I realized that she was referring to the song King George sings in Hamilton. We listen to the Hamilton soundtrack pretty often, and Zuzu will occasionally ask questions about the lyrics (which are, admittedly, not necessarily age-appropriate...). King George sings a song called "You'll Be Back," which is the song of the British monarch to the American colonists and sparked an inquiry from my backseat of what a "fully armed battalion" is, exactly. It also includes the lyric, "I'll kill your friends and family to remind you of my love!" Anyway, the girls love it and would totally have joined the revolution and dumped some tea in the harbor. The king! He's so mean! 

I love the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett (she should read audiobooks, too, I think) and I really liked this one where she interviews Alain de Botton on "The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships" (you can click the link and listen on your computer/phone online, or you can use the podcast app on your iphone (it's purple and looks like an antenna) and search for On Being, then scroll through the episodes to find this one). 

I thought of it today when I picked up Zuzu and she was exhausted from a school day without a nap and with a lot of playing outside. She and her bestie, Gemma, were in the middle of an elaborate game that involved foraging for stems of grass and inedible berries and I interrupted them when I arrived. She was a complete pill about leaving, and it turned into a huge debacle, where one teacher held her while I pried open her fist to drop the berries and grass (it's a school rule that nature stays outside in nature) and then she did the whole boneless thing, so I literally had to pick her up and carry her out to the car because I was not in the mood to mess around and threaten bribe reason with her, and so another teacher held Coco's hand, but Coco was unreasonably panicked about not holding my hand, so she was crying and Zuzu was threatening to bite/hit/pinch me and I was so irritated and then she proceeded to scream "I HATE YOU" at me from the backseat, particularly vicious because the h-word is not a word we use in our family (as I calmly reminded her, before I gave up, rolled down the windows, and turned the Hamilton soundtrack on at full volume as we got on the highway).

Anyway, de Botton mentions in his interview how we are quick to understand and excuse that kind of shit behavior in our kids--she was overtired, she was hungry, she obviously doesn't actually hate me--even though I did put away a new toy she'd gotten from Pepaw when we got home because in this family, there are consequences for being a total B to your mama. Sure enough, she gobbled down a string cheese while I was making dinner (by which I mean warming up leftovers) and by the time dinner was over, she wanted to snuggle and told me unprompted that she loves me. In contrast, we are quick to take personally perceived slights or insults from our partners or spouses, rather than giving them a similar benefit of the doubt (although David will occasionally ask tentatively if I'm hungry when I'm being particularly crabby... and he's usually right). Obviously, I think we should expect more general politeness and considerate behavior from a partner or spouse than we can always expect from a preschooler, but it is useful as a reminder that someone else's behavior is more often motivated by something going on with them (tired, hungry, bad day at work) and not about me.

Other things I'm listening to... Pod Save America, Call Your Girlfriend, and Terrible, Thanks for Asking. (My friend Laura just became a monthly contributor to TTFA so she gets a t-shirt and I'm thinking about copy-catting her.) Also I listen to Young House Love Has a Podcast, and now I want a beach house. I mentioned John and Sherry last weekend when my cousins were here because Crafty Cousin Amanda also listens and my cousin Brandi asked who we were talking about and Amanda was like, "This blog we read" while I was like, "Our friends" and it was clear who has a hold on reality and who is living in a hybrid reality where people I've never met are my internet besties (LIKE MANY OF YOU--SO GLAD WE ARE FRIENDS).

Should I be listening to other podcasts? Do tell. But they have to be well edited and they can't creep me out too bad (David recommended some podcast about a true crime story where a kid disappears and I was like WTF are you trying to do to me?). 

This month is so insanely busy. We have three days on our calendar that don't have some event scheduled, and David and I are basically alternating who is at home parenting our kids on any given night. I submitted final grades yesterday, but I still have a couple weeks of going to work for meetings and assessment stuff and prepping for my fall classes. Then a summer of reading, writing, and going to the swimming pool. There are worse ways to spend a summer, I think.

Mother's Day is coming up and I just want to say that I hope it's gentle on everyone. I feel meh about it this year, which makes the first year in seven years that it has not produced some pretty huge emotions. I don't know if the day will hit me harder once it gets here or not (but I'm aware that grief likes to be a sneaky bastard, so it very well might!).

Monday, May 1, 2017

Winner and Stuff

Caroline is the big winner of the give away book. She was comment 4 and that was the random number generated by the random number generator.

It occurs to me that I probably should have opened it up to comments on IG because one reads or comments on blogs anymore and I am basically obsolete, but I'm just going with the original plan and will be shipping this book to Caroline or her friend, whichever she prefers.

In other news, we've been in St. Louis's Monsoon Season so my basement feels like swampy air and my cousins came up for the weekend from Nevada, MO and Millington, TN and drove in rain all the way here and most of the way home, plus the interstate was shut down so a four and a half hour trip to Nevada stretched out to be something close to seven, which is AMAZING, but I'm grateful they came even though we just mostly sat around and talked for 36 hours. We did go see the new Beauty and the Beast movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I know a lot of people took pre-K age kids, but I was glad that I didn't bring mine. I mean, it wasn't Deadpool, but it was intense in places and after watching Zuzu get pretty freaked out at the animated Lion King, I just don't think she is ready for this movie. I'm sure some (most?) kids could handle it just fine, but I guess my Zuzu is a delicate flower about suspense on television.

She also gets that cartoons are pretend, but the reality/fantasy line on real-people-actors is much thinner. She was very worried that Mufasa actually died in the play of the Lion King we saw because those people were "real" even though they were pretending to be animals... So anyway. I tell myself there is plenty of time for her to see all the shows. There's a tiny part of me that worries she'll be the left out kid who doesn't know what's going on when all the other kids are talking about Star Wars or Avengers or Beauty and the Beast, but whatever. I was also that kid and I survived by faking it, so...

Speaking of watching, David and I just started watching Thirteen Reasons Why. All my students are talking about it and I actually started reading the book back in December and then it got overdue on me and I had to return it. Anyway, it's pretty intriguing but it also makes me want to homeschool my kids on a ranch in 1904 so as to avoid the issues of modern high school.

I just finished reading a Tana French novel, Into the Woods, which is the first in the "Dublin Murder Squad" series. I liked it (no surprise) and I'm requested the next in the series from the library.

I'm in another book group through our church and I'm reading Strangers in Their Own Land. It takes the perspective of those on the far right politically, who would identify as Tea Partiers, mostly. It has been frustrating in some ways because the truth is that my impulse is to want to yell, "NO YOU'RE WRONG" even though the point of the book is to find some perspective to help avoid that unproductive kind of conflict. And it has helped me get a better understanding of how and why some people hold the beliefs that they do. Some of them really feel like impossible things to bridge--how can you ever prove who is correct in a moral disagreement when both sides really believe they are on the side of truth/righteousness? But at the same time, I do have a better sense of the feelings of injustice and shame and anger that accompany those people who live in places where jobs and industries haven't kept up in the local economy. I do understand that desire to belong to a close community. Other perspectives are harder for me to wrap my head around.

I haven't written about this yet (first, for fear of jinxing it, then so David could make sure all the important people knew before I made it public), but David got a new job. He'll still be an elementary school principal, but he'll be switching schools and districts, so his commute will be about 1/2 of the time it is now (can I get a woot woot!?). We were hoping we could have the option to send the girls there without having to move, but that is not going to be a possibility, so we are still considering public and charter schools in the city as well as the possibility of a relocation.

I don't like the idea of leaving our house and neighborhood in the city, but the location of David's new school doesn't add too much to my commute to work (a few more miles, but all highway and an easier drive). Plus, the shorter his commute, the easier/happier my life, too, you know? We're waiting to see how things unfold next year and to think about what will really be the best choice for our family. Honestly, my impulse is to freak out and say I'm NEVER MOVING, but I am always resistant to change, even good ones.

I subscribe to Kate Inglis's mailing list (and you should, too, because she is all amazing things) and last month's note was about Home and included this gem: "Nothing exciting can ever happen without an uncertain kickoff that makes you cry in a big-box store." NO TRUER WORDS, as far as I'm concerned.

Speaking of Kate Inglis, she's got a new book in the works about grief. I've mentioned this before, but she was the first bereaved mama stranger on the internet that I e-mailed in my desperate haze after Eliza died, and her response was so kind and it offered me hope without being patronizing. Honestly, my first reaction to learning of her her book was "YES! That's wonderful." And my second was, "Well, I should just stop writing. There's nothing I can say that will be better or wiser than what Kate will say and I'll just look shabby and stupid by comparison." (There's kind of a pattern of skewing negative here...) I'm trying to remember that there is room for lots of voices and no one's story takes over or away from someone else's. So my Summer Writing Project is still on and I'm trying to silence the shit-talking voices in my head.




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review & Giveaway

I got an e-mail several weeks ago asking whether I'd be interested in reading and reviewing a book about pregnancy after loss. It's a recently published book by Alexis Marie Chute called Expecting Sunshine. The cover is so great with a rainbow colored umbrella. I would actually like an umbrella just like this.



I have read a lot of grief and loss memoirs, and I'm always struck by the way that grief is universal in many ways regardless of situation--the physical symptoms and sensations, feeling isolated and alone, and the fear and anxiety that invade. This book was no exception, and since this is particularly about a pregnancy loss, I could easily connect with and relate to her story.

Chute writes of losing her son, Zachary. She traces her experience of grief and hope through her pregnancy with her second son. She also has a living daughter, Hannah, whom she has to parent through her grief. She organizes the narrative in 41 sections, one for each week of her "rainbow" pregnancy. She talks honestly about the challenges in her marriage, her difficulty connecting with friends, and also the frightening decision to try for another pregnancy: "Yet, I somehow felt equipped for whatever may come, the fire of loss having burnt to ash all doubt in my heart; yes, a child is worth the risk; love is greater than death."

She writes movingly about her disastrous experience with a grief support group at a church. I was saddened by the way her church handled her loss, though I know the dismissive "God has a plan" is all too common a response to something as unfathomable and senseless as losing a baby, and I love the way she kept searching for spiritual answers--it's always inquisitive and never preachy.

I also appreciated the way she grapples with her divided identity as the mother to a living child, a grieving mother, and an artist--she's a painter and photographer who wants to keep working but also recognizes that she might be using her work to hide from her grief rather than work through it.

One section that really resonated with me was in Week 29, when she meets with another mom who is just two months out from losing her child and wants to talk to someone who will understand. Alexis Marie gets to the coffee shop and has that moment of realizing that she actually has no idea what to say: "Should I confess that I survived the last eighteen months since Zachary's death by trail and error?" 

I also noted that she and her therapist had a conversation virtually identical to one I had with my therapist when I was pregnant with Zuzu:

     "Everything with Zachary came as a surprise. if I think about the worst-case scenario now, then maybe when things go wrong next time--"
     "If."
     "If they go wrong next time, then maybe I won't be so destroyed."
     "Even if you knew from the beginning, even if you prepared yourself for the worst with Zachary, you would still have been devastated."
     "I guess, I guess you're right. You are right. [...] But I don't want to tell myself everything is going to be okay with this pregnancy when I won't know until the end."


I can't say that this book was full of revelations or discoveries for me. Alexis Marie processed her grief in some ways that were different from my experience, but there were many moments of overlap. Her voice is real and approachable and I felt like we could have one of those conversations where you keep interrupting each other to say "Me too!"

I would love to give this book away to someone who would benefit from it. If you'd like to read it because you've lost a child, or you'd like to give it to someone you know, please leave a comment and I'll select one at random on Saturday, April 29. I'll announce the winner on the blog, then ask you to e-mail me so we can work out the mailing address. The book will be gently used as it has been read by me and has a couple of pencil marks in the margins, but it doesn't have food, wine, or boogers smeared on it, so it's in better condition than most of my clothes right now.