Tuesday, June 6, 2017


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.
Man: I don't have any babies anymore.
Me: His babies probably grew up.
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.
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 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.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Career Change?

I really love my job. I love teaching college students--traditional and nontraditional. I love talking about literature and advocating my liberal feminist agenda. I don't love grading papers, but I really love (most of) my colleagues and (most of) my students and the fact that I have to sit down and read novels and it's "work."

The thing is, I almost went to law school.

I had a total freak out my senior year of college. I was graduating with a business degree, but I loathed my business classes and had chosen my major because I didn't know what else to do with my life (Terrible choice! If you don't know what to do with your life, AT LEAST do yourself a favor and choose a major in the humanities). I talked with a friend who'd graduated a couple years before me with a business degree and he was working in a cubicle. He tried to sell me on it (and he's since become very successful doing something business-y, I think), but it sounded TERRIBLE to me. I went to a career fair at Mizzou and I remember talking to the nicest person at the Edward Jones table who was telling me that I could be a financial advisor and I felt like I was circling the innermost circle of hell. Like all my instincts were screaming RUN, but I just kept smiling and nodding and clutching my resume in my sweaty hands.

I thought for a long time (probably about three weeks in undergraduate time) about what I wanted to do. My favorite classes were literature (Shakespeare) and political science. It was probably because they were the two best professors I had, but still. The classes were great. So, naturally, I decided I should either go to law school or graduate school for English literature. Both professors were really encouraging.

And I couldn't decide.

Instead of just choosing one, I studied for both the GRE, the subject GRE in English literature, and the LSAT. I made myself crazy. (And the guy I was sort-of-but-not-really-dating at the time didn't help). I took all three exams between October and December of my senior year of college, and I basically cut back on eating and sleeping in order to make that happen. Things I did not cut back on: partying and going to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night. Which begs the question: WHY do we let 21-year-olds make big decisions?

Also, 9/11 happened my senior year of college, and it completely altered my mindset about the future. I wanted to do something that mattered, but also something that I actually, genuinely cared about--not just something that was easy for me to get good grades in. It was like it had just occurred to me for the first time that my life could get cut short without warning, and I wanted to do make the most of it in the meantime. Also, I think I was scared of graduating and being a "real" adult. (Haha, if only I knew now that this is a concept that still eludes me at times--except when ordering salad at the deli counter, obviously.)

I actually scored better on the LSAT than I did on the GRE, which made me lean strongly toward going to law school (Look! I'm already good at this!) but my parents were not encouraging about the idea of me becoming a lawyer (seriously, like when I reflect on it, I'm kind of surprised at how discouraging they actually were... the phrase "sell your soul" literally came into the conversation), and I really had no idea what I would want to do with a law degree. Did I want to be a public defender? A prosecutor? A divorce attorney? How do I sign up to be Elle Woods? Could I be a law professor? Would I rather be an English professor? In the end, I got accepted to a few pretty good law programs and a couple of not too bad literature programs. I visited all of them, and I decided to do a PhD in literature because the financial aid package was better. (The potential return on investment was actually MUCH WORSE, but I was an idiotic 21-year-old, so such practicalities didn't really cross my mind.) Also I didn't really "decide" so much as defer law school for a year because that's how uncertain I was and I feared I would change my mind.

I'm not sure what made me stick with graduate school, honestly, because my first year was basically horrible. I didn't do that well. I felt like a total imposter. I was convinced that everyone else in my class was better prepared and smarter than I was. But maybe it was a case of the devil you know? Or a perverse determination to stay the course and prove to myself that I could do this even though it was the first time in my life that school didn't feel easy.

Anyway, I'm not exactly sorry that I made the choice I made. As I said, I mostly love my job and an academic lifestyle suits me in so many ways, and I'd rather read a novel than do pretty much anything else except hug my kids. I'm especially grateful for the flexibility and the autonomy of my job--those things are invaluable in my mind.

But, sometimes I think about what I'd do if I were to do it over and I had to do it differently. I like to imagine that I would have gone to law school and found my footing in criminal law (because civil law seems super boring to me). Then I would have gotten involved in the innocence project and gone to work for the Southern Poverty Law Center or something similar. I could write books about my work and then maybe teach law students.

Would I really want to do this?

Well, I think I'd be capable of doing it. Like, I could be good at it. And I think it's such important work, but I'm not sure I'm really best-suited for it. I imagine that such work requires really long hours, and reading boring stuff, and it probably also demands an enormous emotional investment, or an enormous amount of energy devoted to NOT getting emotionally invested.

I hate reading boring documents, and also the literal life-or-death stuff is undoubtedly way more stressful than the students who merely think their GPA is life-or-death, so I think that's something I'd really struggle with.

But still... my fascination with criminal law cases, with false convictions and unjust incarcerations, with the school to prison pipeline... sometimes I wish that I could do something more concrete with my concerns and my sense of injustice. (Besides talk about with literature students... we occasionally get off on a tangent.)

So... I'm curious. If you were to go back to school and drastically change careers, what would you do? Or how and why did you decide to do what you did? Can you imagine yourself doing something else?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

And now, the quiet grief.

Here's something new.

The thing about grief is that it's bottomless and endless and nonlinear and constantly ebbing and flowing... and yet, the basics are always the same thing on repeat into infinity. 

I miss her. I wish she were here. I don't know exactly how that would fuck with the space-time continuum or the butterfly effect or whatever metaphysical corridor in which we exist, but I will always want to be a mom with three [visible] kids. Stair step little girls. I want them all here.

What is new is not that I miss her; it's when I miss her.

It used to be the lead up to holidays. The empty days and dreadful anticipation. All I could think about was how much I'd looked forward to sharing that day with Eliza--my plans for photos and gifts and the start of ongoing traditions and how everything had crumbled. I'd imagine all the other people with babies--those I knew and those I didn't--making their plans and enjoying their holidays. I imagined those who knew me thinking of me with pity, with relief that it was me and not them who landed in the slimmest of odds, the deepest of grief. But then when the day arrived, we changed plans, ran away to Mexico, ignored the calendar, found a distraction, and the actual day wasn't as brutal as the wind up had been.

After Zuzu was born, the anticipation was a little bit fun again, though always bittersweet. Still, I was eager to experience holidays with my rainbow baby and even when my heart ached, I refused to let my grief cloud her experience. It sounds odd, but I didn't ever want Eliza's death to be a source of resentment or weirdness for Zuzu. So even when I could hardly stomach a Christmas tree or Zuzu was still too young to care about hidden eggs, I did my best to make her holidays festive. She'd see more of my tears and hear more about death than most kids on a regular basis, I'm sure, but I didn't want grief to overshadow holiday memories. 

And yet I couldn't help but miss Eliza right in the thick of it. We'd be surrounded with family at Christmas, baby Zuzu being lovingly passed from one auntie to another, and suddenly I'd feel the weight off all I lost. It was thrown into relief by what we were so luckily able to experience with Zuzu, but it was still breathtaking, the heaviness of that pain. I'd think that a holiday was going ok, I'd be enjoying myself, and then I'd consider the age and stage Eliza would be, and I would feel my throat thicken with unshed tears. I knew that Zuzu had filled part of the void in my heart, had brought joy and color back to my life, but the very happiness of her existence made her sister's life less visible, and it would take all I had not to cry at the dinner table, infuriated by the unfairness of it all.

I'm better able to really enjoy holidays now. It's almost impossible not to, seeing them through the eyes of a four year old who says things like, "Easter Eve! Oh, this is going to be the best night of my LIFE!" Her wonder and enthusiasm is precisely why Santa and the Easter Bunny exist. Coco is her little mimic and they never fail to make me laugh and to make me appreciate the hugeness of my good fortune.

But later, when Easter Eve and Easter Day are over, when the candy has been hidden in the top of the pantry and there's just a stray plastic egg half here or there, when the girls are listening to a story book brought by the bunny, when Cooper is snoring, and pastel dresses are piled in laundry baskets, when we begin the ritual of returning to ordinary life... now that's when I miss Eliza most.

I've gotten distracted, you see. It's easy to do with two little kids and all the drama that comes with them--worries about dog bites and lingering coughs and antibiotics and probiotics and nap schedules and sassy attitudes, and fun things like afternoons at the park and cuddling during the scary part of Disney movies and both girls wanting Mama's lap and pictures in those pastel dresses.

But once they're (blessedly) asleep, my heart remembers. It remembers that all day long, while we had such fun, while we saw the world through the magical lens of childhood, while we laughed and hugged and kissed and played with new toys, my oldest daughter was missing. 

It remembers the ache, which was ignored during the bustle and excitement, but has not gone away. It was just lying dormant, waiting for the moment when I could give it my complete attention. That's what it does now--it waits. Waits for the end of the day, the moment of sinking into a hot bath, the moment of folding warm towels alone in a cool basement, the moment of sliding into clean sheets in a dark room. And then it reminds me... I'm still brokenhearted. My family is still incomplete. We are smiling in this photograph, but I'm still a bereaved mother.

What's also new is that I don't feel guilty about waiting until later, until after, to have my moments of intense grief. I don't think it's a betrayal to Eliza to throw myself into Easter with her sisters and delay my grief until later. If anything, she's the reason I treasure those moments so much, and if time does give us any gifts, it allows me the space to have that enjoyment.

But in the quiet spaces at all the end of the day, I take my grief and I cradle it tenderly and I miss my first baby and my would-be biggest girl and I cry. And after a while, I marvel at the fact that somehow, six years later, I haven't cried myself out of tears.

Life is sweet. But I miss her still.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mom Day Monday

Today was one of those days where I felt like a mom. By which I mean, I ordered egg salad at the deli counter while pushing a whiny two-year-old in a shopping cart and holding the hand of a four-year-old, and I was wearing a maxi skirt. SUCH a mom, right?

Random cute pic of the girls:

Other things (mom-ish or not) that I did today:

I got the girls up and dressed, made oatmeal and frozen pancakes for breakfast, and listened to songs from The Lion King soundtrack on the way to the girls' school. We watched the movie for the first time on Saturday (in preparation for taking Zuzu to see the play this week) and the girls liked it, but Zuzu got really anxious at the scary parts. She sat on my lap and bit one fingernail down to the quick. We'll be sticking to "Mickey Mouse's [Godforsaken] Clubhouse" for a while.

I listed to Pod Save America on my way to work and then started my work day at 9:00, checking email and hand writing stuff in my planner (so old school). I'm working on writing down every little thing I have to do. This gives me the satisfaction of crossing many things off a list, but also helps my poor brain because I can't remember it all! I also skimmed the short story I was teaching this morning (because I've already read it a zillion times) and I more carefully read an article about family and sexual politics in Much Ado About Nothing in preparation for my afternoon class.

At 10:00, I led discussion slash lectured on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story called "Death Constant Beyond Love." We discussed magical realism and post-colonial literature as counter narratives to the dominant (white) discourse and also the idea that we all ultimately die alone. Super uplifting! Also I explained drawing and quartering a human, which is something that evidently most of my students were not familiar with. (Who's not teaching them medieval torture techniques?!)

After back-to-back lit classes, I went to my office to enter participation grades (mostly a way to penalize students who are on their cell phones or without their text books). Then I walked over to grab lunch in the dining hall with my friend/colleague, Rob, and we talked about Survivor and the huuuuge drama on last week's episode, which we both just saw over the weekend. I won't plot spoil in case you have it DVRed, but was so shocking! We also chatted at lunch with a part-time instructor who is going to start an MFA program at NYU this fall in game design. It sounds so cool! I'm really excited for her, but sad that she won't be teaching/inspiring our students next year.

At 1:00pm, it was time for my Shakespeare class and discussion of the aforementioned article. They had good things to say about it, and we also talked a bit about attitudes towards marriage (still a huge social expectation, regardless of gender/sexual preference, and with no other personal "accomplishments" that are comparable). We also talked a bit about the transformation of the word "cuck" (from "cuckold"--a man whose wife cheats on him, and a serious concern for Shakespearean characters like Othello and Benedick). We also talked a bit about challenging gender roles and a young woman in my class commented that she runs cross country and can drive a stick shift, but she couldn't get a job as a valet last summer because men don't trust women to drive their cars. I don't frequent a lot of valet-park establishments, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a female valet. I sure hope there are exceptions to that rule...

After class, it was office hour. I checked email, graded, and requested a couple library books. (I want to read Thirteen Reasons Why before watching the Netflix series all my students are talking about, and I also want to read Sheryl Sandberg's new book Option B about life after loss, so I put it on hold.)
My office hour was up before my work was all finished (story of my life). I fretted about the stack of ungraded essays and wondered how I'd get 22 of them graded by Friday (spoiler: I probably won't).

Then it was time to head out. I had to leave work at 3:00 to have enough time to get to the girls' school, get them loaded up, and get to the doctor's office by 4:00. The downside of a 30 minute commute. The upside is that I was able to finish listening to the podcast.

Coco had a doctor appointment because she had a run in with a chihuahua over the weekend. It started out a friendly encounter that appeared mutually agreeable, but the moment I relaxed and quit hovering, something went awry and poor Coco ended up with a dog bite on her sweet little cheek. She was freaking out, I was freaking out. It was awful. It didn't bleed, but it did break the skin in a couple of places, so I called the pediatrician today to ask about potential for infection. It's already looking a lot better, but he wanted to see her, and he ended up prescribing an antibiotic. (Dog saliva: not as bacteria-laden as cat saliva, but still not something you really want inside an open wound.)

So we left the doctor's office and stopped at the Whole Foods a couple blocks away to get a probiotic and some other groceries. Coco was hungry/hangry/whiny, so it was not super enjoyable. She kept asking for peanutbutter, like she just wanted to scoop it from the container into her hands? I also have stopped indulging in the option of opening a package of food for my kids in the store and letting them eat it before we've paid for it. I've realized that's a [white] privilege not afforded to everyone. Fortunately, the ciabatta bread samples were legit equal opportunity, so my children dined on crusty bread while I bought overpriced produce and egg salad.

We spent ten minutes in line at the pharmacy drive through, listening to "Hakuna Matata" on repeat, and Coco's medicine still wasn't ready and they said it would be 15 more minutes, which made me feel very ragey and not at all hakuna matata-y. I said I'd be back and headed for home, but my car was running on fumes so I had to stop for gas while the girls continued to rock out to "Hakuna Malala," as Zuzu calls it.

Poor Cooper didn't get a walk tonight in spite of the beautiful weather because by the time we made it home from those errands, I only had 40 minutes to make dinner, switch the laundry, clean up the kitchen, and get out the door to swimming lessons. Cooper let me know how he felt about this by pulling my bag down from the bench by the door and eating the granola bar and several of the cough drops that were in it while we were at swimming lessons. He's such an A-hole sometimes. (But at least he doesn't bite kids' faces!)

I scrambled eggs and made toast for dinner with a side of grapes (cut up, because I'm totally paranoid). Zuzu was eating her toast and then said, "Look! I ate my toast into a gun!" And it did kind of look like the shape of a revolver. I told her that seemed kind of scary and she said it was just toast. I asked her what guns are for and she said that poor people have to use them to shoot animals for food. That seemed like a sufficient explanation for now, though not without its own socioeconomic baggage....

The girls were excited for swimming, so they got their swim suits on and packed their pajamas without much nagging, and I tossed the laundry in the dryer and started another wash before we headed out the door.

Swimming lessons went well. The girls wore new swim suits from the Easter Bunny. Zuzu's is a size 5T tankini that says "Mermaid at [Heart]" on the top. Coco's is a size 24 month tankini. I'm not sure why the Easter Bunny brought her such a small size, but I guess she is a bit of a peanut because the bottoms were so big her little butt crack was hanging out. (Add "take in swim suit bottoms" to my planner's to-do list.) Zuzu was a good listener and Coco was very brave jumping in (and her bottoms didn't fall off!), so lessons were successful.

Of course my kids dawdle getting out of the pool, so we missed the first round of shower rooms but we got a fully-accessible shower on round two, which was nice because the handle is low and the kids can sit on a bench. It was not so nice when I grabbed a towel for Coco and turned around to discover her LICKING the bench in the shower (omg! at least she's already taking an antibiotic?), but I got them shampooed and lotioned and in their pjs, except for Zuzu's underwear which had either disappeared or never made it into the bag when I asked them to pack their pjs and underwear at home. Commando car ride!

We drove home via the pharmacy while the girls snacked on Cheerios and more cut up grapes in the back seat (they're always starving after swimming) and then once we got home, Coco took a dose of her meds and they brushed their teeth while I switched the laundry again and then loaded up the diffuser with water and "serenity" blend essential oil.

Bedtime consisted of Brown Bear, Brown Bear (an old favorite), Hello, Laura (a board book version of Little House on the Prairie that's basically like "Laura likes living on the prairie" but has cute pictures), and a funny book they got for Easter about a polar bear who loses his underwear and then realizes he was wearing it the whole time but it was white so he couldn't see it. Perfect for Zuzu tonight!

Post-swimming bedtime is always pretty easy (yay for physical exhaustion!) but I did get a text from David letting me know he'd finished up with interviews at work and was going to grab a bite to eat with the interview team. I replied something like "Enjoy dinner out while I work full time and parent our children and take them to the doctor and go to the grocery store and do the laundry and cook dinner and clean up the kitchen and drive to swim lessons and bathe and dress the kids and put them bed." And then I added some smily emojis so it didn't sound totally bitchy. I know David works hard and is a supportive and active co-parent, but mercy. Today I kind of felt like I did it all, all by myself.

(Speaking of co-parenting, it made me smile this morning when Zuzu said she wanted to wear a headband to school and I said okay, but she seemed to be anticipating me saying no because she said, "Daddy already said I could!" and I said, "Okay, that's fine." And then she said, "I know, because Daddy said I could and you're a team." Yay for putting up a united front!)

Now it's past my bedtime (my phone helpfully reminds me when I should go to bed to get 8 hours in before my alarm goes off...) but I want/need to read more tonight (I'm determined to finish Chernow's Hamilton before the month is out and I'm teaching The Shining in my gothic lit class and have a few more chapters to get through--it's scary as hell!). Plus I should fold the laundry that just buzzed... Definitely don't think 8 hours is going to happen tonight.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

Um... That's Not Exactly How Evolution Works
Zuzu: (in the car, in lecture mode, talking to Coco) Do you want to learn how TVs are maded? They are made out of glass and plastic or wood.
Coco: TV! I watch a show!
Zuzu: Do you want to learn about little girls? Do you want to learn how they are monkeys that turn into people? I think they are monkeys that get old and turn into people. Did that happen to you, Mom?

Grammy's Birthday
Me: We're going to celebrate Grammy's birthday this weekend. What should we have?
Zuzu: Cake! No, blueberry muffins! (pause) And we're going to need milk, and wine, and beer.

Storm Warning
Zuzu: (coming inside the house as it starts sprinkling outside, talking excitedly) I was trying to get Coco inside because I heard a warning that lightning or thunder can shoot you in the heart. And if it gets in your body, it might make you die. Or get dead.

A Good Place to Be
Zuzu: (in the car, observing a tree that fell in the park) When we go THIS way, the tree is out YOUR window, and when we go THAT way, it's out MY window!
Me: I like how your mind figures out the world.
Zuzu: And the world is a great place to be! There's all these buildings and places to be... The world is a good place to be.

Unreliable Witness
Me: Coco, what's the matter, honey? Do you feel bad?
Coco: Yeeeeeesssssss.
Me: What hurts? Does your ear hurt?
Coco: Yes.
Me: Which ear hurts?
Coco: (looks doubtful, points to one)
Me: Does it really hurt or are you just saying that?
Coco: I just saying that.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Thoughts on this and that

It sounds so cheesy, but this morning doing yoga, listening to the sound of the girls giggling as they played outside. When David asked me if I wanted any treats from the store, I meant it when I said that I already have everything I want.

(I trust that everyone who reads the blog of a bereaved parent knows that such statements always include the caveat "except that I'd like all my children to be alive." The sometimes unstated but always unchanging truth of my life.)

* * * 

As with all things decorating, this is a matter of personal taste, but you know what I'm not into? Stuffed animal heads on the wall as decor in a child's room. I've seen panda bears and unicorns and objectively, I guess they are kinda cute. But maybe since I grew up in a place (a small town in the Midwest) where animal heads on the wall are frequently displayed hunting trophies made from taxidermied animals, I just don't see the appeal of the visual implication that you slaughtered a unicorn and have mounted the head of a dead magical creature in your baby's room. Am I the only one who sees them this way? Target seems to have made them quite popular, so maybe I just have the cynical eye of a vegetarian who grew up in a community where hunting season is a holiday.

* * * 

Zuzu has a bit of a cold--drippy nose, yucky sounding cough, low grade temperature off and on. This morning was the highest it's been--100.5 under her arm. It came down from there (without Tylenol or anything) but we decided not to go to church and spread her germs around. She's pretty droopy, but when her temp goes down she rallies, and I think it's good for her to be out in the fresh air and sunshine, so I'm letting her play outside. I just know she's not feeling like herself because we had a few friends over last night and she climbed up on my lap and fell asleep while the other kids were playing.

* * * 

Yesterday the high was only in the low 60s, but it was the first sunshiny day we've seen since returning from spring break. David put fresh mulch in all our landscaping garden beds and even though a week of rain is no fun, the grass is so green and the yard looks really nice. We had a dwarf Japanese maple that didn't make it in our front garden. It actually died a year ago, but we left it last spring or summer just in case it miraculously resurrected itself. It didn't. So, David dug it out and we replaced it with a little spiral tree (my choice from the garden shop down the street). I think it's so cute!

Here's a shot of it in context.

David works so hard to keep the yard looking nice. I think he's crazy, but I sure appreciate the results. My friend asked last night when she came in if we do the yard ourselves or hire it out. He makes it look so profesh!

* * * 

I'm planning to get a swimming pool membership this summer, but we need to be "sponsored" by someone who lives in the community. I had thought we could ask a friend of mine, but she recently moved. But David has a good friend whose parents live in that area, so we are hoping they'll let us put their name down as our sponsors. I'm already looking forward to lazy summer afternoons of going to the pool and then heading home for dinner and early bedtimes.

I decided to enroll Zuzu in one special camp this summer. I want our summers to be long and lazy for the most part, but I thought that one week would be exciting and good for her to do something new. We have a fabulous arts organization in St. Louis called COCA (Center of Creative Arts) and they do all kinds of programs and performances for children and adults, including amazing theatre and dance opportunities. I'm not pushing Zuzu toward a career on the stage, but I do hope she'll enjoy going each morning for a week for their "Big Top Circus" camp. I'm a little nervous about it, because she can be hit or miss about this stuff (one gymnastics center we attended was fantastic, the more conveniently located and less expensive tumbling classes were a total bust as she refused to participate). She seemed enthusiastic when I mentioned circus camp to her; later she asked if Daddy could do it with her (uh... no. It's for 3-5 year olds.). So I'm really hopeful that she'll love it, and it will be fun to have a few mornings of one-on-one time with Coco-puff. 

* * *

One of my friends has been doing Jazzercise for her workouts. I used to do Jazzercise when I was in graduate school. I loved it and it's so inexpensive compared to other gyms or workout classes. There is an element of ridiculousness to it, but that's what makes it fun and the time passes quickly. Plus, it's a great workout. I haven't signed up yet, but I'm thinking about it...

* * *

It's April! I did not do (or receive) any great April Fool's Pranks, but if I'd gotten my act together, I would have tried making meatball "cake pops." Doesn't that sound revolting?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Spring Break: Arizona

We had such a great time visiting my aunt and uncle and enjoying the Arizona sunshine. My one regret is that we didn't have enough time to meet up with a couple of other friends and fellow BLMs I know who are in the area, or my cousin Casey and his family. We'll just have to go back for another trip! 

Here's a quick recap, with a few pics.

I ordered these dresses before we left, knowing that my rainbow-loving rainbow babies would be into them. I did not realize quite how NEON colored they were, but it made them easy to spot on the playground. The girls really love wearing matching clothes right now, so even though Coco has plenty of hand-me-downs, I can't resist getting them a few matching things each season.

Trivia of no interest to anyone but me: Coco's feet are ahead of Zuzu's feet schedule. So while she's wearing the same clothes that Zuzu wore at the same age, she's outgrown the shoes. Zuzu's feet were too small for these cute white sandals (Striderite, size 6.5) until after she turned three, and even then they were very roomy. I was pleasantly surprised that we had these little-worn sandals that were a perfect fit for Coco-puff.

My aunt had this poster made for Zuzu's first visit to Arizona (oh, my heart!).

She looks a little different standing under it now.

And she surprised us with a matching one for Coco!

The first full day that we were there, we went to the park and let the girls splash in the pool and generally just took it easy. That night, we went to dinner at Ajo Al's. When I was a kid and we'd stay with my grandparents in Mesa for a week each spring break, my aunt Peggy would pick me up and we'd go out to dinner, just the two of us, at Ajo Al's (she did the same with my brother). One of my favorite memories probably from the time I was in fifth grade or so is driving in her Camaro to the restaurant, eating a cheese crisp for dinner, getting fried ice cream for dessert, and then going back to her house and watching Romancing the Stone. If we didn't get fried ice cream, she'd make chocolate waffles back at her house (a secret family recipe that is so delicious). Anyway, the girls wore adorable coordinating dresses to dinner, and agreed to pose for a picture in Peggy's front yard.

 Coco ended up getting a grease stain on her dress that I'm still working on, but that's because she ate three slices of cheese crisp. Zuzu decided she doesn't like cheese (WHOSE CHILD ARE YOU?) so she ate plain tortilla. Eye roll. Here's a picture of Coco enjoying her cheese crisp and Aunt Peggy enjoying a chip:

We met up with friends from Kansas City and went to a spring training game. The weather was lovely but the sun was so hot. I was glad I packed the girls swim suits because the rash guards meant less surface area to get sunburned. We brought a couple of golf umbrellas, but when the afternoon sun is high, shade is scarce.

Mia's due date was two weeks before Eliza's, and I did a lot of wandering around the ballpark with the girls, so people assumed all three of them were mine. This picture makes my heart itch for so many reasons.

The girls were good sports about spending time in sports bars on the trip. Between the World Baseball Classic and March Madness basketball, there were a lot of sports to watch on TV.

We did a little shopping one day in Old Town Scottsdale. Zuzu choseher souvenir bag of "gemstones," which kept her remarkably entertained. She ate a hotdog bun for lunch, and then an old man who was having lunch at the next table asked David if he could treat our girls to ice cream. Zuzu isn't much for sweet treats, but she licked the strawberry ice cream and when it fell off the cone onto the floor, she happily ate the plain cone.

Meanwhile, Coco was not messing around and did a very good job of eating her cookies & cream ice cream cone before it melted. We're so proud. (In the background behind her in the black hat you can see the guy who bought their treats.)

I wanted a family picture, but we are all squinting into the sun and Coco was beyond ready for nap.

I'd promised a splash pad, so we sought one out and went to Scottsdale Quarters (I think that's what it's called). It's a pretty upscale shopping area (Lululemon and Free People overlook the splash pad) and that part would have been way more fun if I'd been there without kids. I managed to browse in Gap for a few minutes, and if I'd wanted a wool sweater, they were having some great sales!

This picture of the girls cracks me up because it's such a representation of their demeanor at the splash pad and really in general. Zuzu is ALL IN, completely soaked in the first moments of arrival, jumping up and down in the fountain. Coco is much more cautious, taking it all in, observing her sister, and refraining from getting her hair wet. I just love them both.

Peggy's pool isn't heated, so she really uses it just in the summer months. But a little thing like 70 degree water is not going to prevent Zuzu from swimming. She jumped in every morning and every afternoon, splashing around, jumping, and swimming, until she was so cold that her body was shivering violently. Then we'd wrap her up in a big towel and carry her inside for a warm shower. Coco put her feet in, but on one of our last days, she decided she was brave enough to jump in, if Aunt Peggy would get in the pool and catch her (Mama refused because I'm the meanest--that water was FREEZING!). They had a great time, though it wasn't long before all three of them were ready for warm showers.

Every spring break should involve plenty of popsicle eating on the patio. These matching dresses were $5 each at Wal-Mart. The girls love that they have pockets, and I love that I'm not worried about a drippy popsicle.

One of the highlights of the trip was having my friend Brandy and her husband and kids come by Peggy's house for chocolate waffles. The kids played wildly and it was so much fun to see them together. It had been a long time since Zuzu and Ben had been in the same place, and the last time I saw Brandy in person, Claire and Coco weren't here yet!

It was five days of fun and sun and no real schedule (we didn't even try to keep the kids on central time, and Coco skipped a nap for the first time in her entire life), we were both sad and ready to get home and back to the familiar routine. 

Truth be told, I was actually ready for ANOTHER vacation, this one without my children, because of that old truth that vacationing with kids is actually just parenting them somewhere else, only with less sleep and more junk food. NOT EASY. 

As I mentioned before, poor Zuzu got sick on the way to the airport (and barfed again mid-flight), so the trip ended a bit dramatically, but even thought I had to go back to work feeling a bit more crazed than relaxed after a week in the sunshine, I'm glad we went. Traveling with kids always means a few more battles and the internal debate about whether to just chill (so what if she only eats grapes and plai tortillas, it's vacation!) or be consistent about enforcing naps and schedules. David and I pretty much opt for Vacation Mode when possible, but toddlers need consistency and naps. So it's still true that a vacation with kids is just parenting in anew place with less sleep. But still worth it!  

As we move from the "baby stage" of life, I do have a lot of mixed, bittersweet feelings. I've said this before, but I think part of me will always want another baby, or another chance to have what I'll actually never get--grief-free baby time. As sad as I am about leaving behind that stage of curled up nuggets of baby with their perfect smelling breath o my neck, I'm also finding that hanging out with these two as they get older is pretty fun. Especially on vacation.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


She's been "challenging" at school this week.

Last night she was still awake when I got home from book group at 9:20pm. When I got out of the shower at 9:45, David was asleep and Zuzu was no where to be found. She was downstairs eating slices of wheat bread.

This morning when I asked her (again) to get dressed, she said, "Ugh. Are you kidding me?"

When she told Coco goodbye today, she said very seriously, "You're sick, so you cannot kiss anyone. Only hug them."

In short, she's pushing boundaries, being sassy, and generally asserting herself in the best and worst ways. I worry about her, about the spirited defiance and delighted enthusiasm with which she greets the world.

I don't always know what to do with her, but I sure do love her.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Show Switch - Ask the Audience

I think I've mentioned before that we bought season tickets to the Fox last summer as an anniversary present for each other, mostly because we wanted first dibs at the Hamilton tickets when the show comes to St. Louis in the 2017-18 season (April of 2018!!!). I'm a Hamilton nut, as evidenced by the fact that my two year old can sing along to the soundtrack (questionably appropriate language at times, but worth it for the history lesson, I say). We've enjoyed all the shows this year--David's favorite was Once and my favorite was Cabaret. It's been a great way to get in a monthly date night and have an excuse to dress up.

David's school is taking a group of students to see The Lion King this April, so we bought discounted group tickets so that Zuzu and I can go along, and I'm really looking forward to taking her for the first time. She's a little young for an evening show, but I think a matinee with a group of elementary school students will be her jam. I've seen Lion King before and I think she will love it--I need to remember to show her the movie before we go.

Anyway, I haven't seen any of the shows that are in the upcoming regular season. We also have the opportunity to switch out one show from our regular package to something that's not in our series. Sound of Music is coming one weekend in February, and I know I want to take Zuzu to that show. My question is, since I'm not familiar with any of these, which show do I trade in for it?

The King and I

The Bodyguard

Get On Your Feet (I danced to this Gloria Esteban song in sixth grade, so it's possible they may want me to join the show.)

School of Rock

The Color Purple

So... which one of those should we NOT see? Which one would you switch out for Sound of Music?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spring Break Stupor

We returned Monday from our spring break trip to Arizona. We had a great time, and I will recap the trip (this week! seriously, it's on my list!) but for now: bullet points. Mostly about barf.

* Zuzu barfed on our way to airport. Said her stomach hurt and we blew her off, then she blew chunks all over herself and the backseat of the rental car. Then I had to hang my head out the window and dry heave after I smelled it. (Note to next drivers of the black jeep grand cherokee from Alamo: Sorry. We used all our baby wipes and did the best we could to clean it up.)

* Zuzu barfed again about an hour into the flight. She was in the window seat, I was on the aisle, David was across the aisle, and Coco had (luckily) just moved over to sit on David's lap. Zuzu told me her stomach hurt and then I watched the color drain from her face. I leaped up and ran to the back of a plane to ask for a barf bag (there weren't any in our seat pockets). The flight attendant gave me a garbage bag and I raced back to the seat and caught some/most? of it. Somehow it seemed to ricochet off the bag, splattering poor Zuzu's face and hair. A bunch of barf ended up on the sleeve of my sweater, and a nice splattering all over the middle seat and the back of the seats in front of us.

* With the help of the very nice flight attendants who provided lots of paper towels, I was cleaning up the mess when Coco decided suddenly that it was completely unfair that her sister get all of Mama's attention and she would throw a massive tired-two-year-old-temper-tantrum until I finally stopped cleaning up barf, stuffed my sweater into a garbage bag, and picked her up and held her while David finished cleaning up the seats and Zuzu.

* Two-year-olds have no compassion for illness. There will be no sharing of strollers, mamas, blankets, or other comfort objects just because someone barfed. Two-year-olds are kind of selfish A-holes sometimes, but very cute when they dance.

* Zuzu didn't cry at all when she threw up on the plane, even when puke was dripping down her cheek. She just sat there, all pale and pitiful, while we cleaned her up, then she fell asleep for the remainder of the flight.

* Love is kissing the forehead of a sleeping person even when they have barf breath and barf hair.

* I swear next time, wherever we go, we're scheduling a two-day cushion at the end of the trip before we have to be back at work/school. Laundry is pretty much done, but after staying home with barfy Zuzu yesterday, work feels hectic and scrambling.

* Zuzu also barfed when we got home from the airport. David was fumbling with the key to the backdoor and I was doing that thing where you're yelling at your spouse in your head, "Oh my GOD just find the right key already!" but thank the baby Jesus it took him thirty seconds to put the stupid key in the lock because Zuzu unexpectedly barfed (mostly just water, which she'd been guzzling moments before) all over our back steps. I leapt backwards out of the way to save my shoes, but still held her hand and tried to make comforting noises while also fighting the urge to dry heave. At least we could just hose off the steps.

* I'm reading an amazing biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow--the one that inspired the musical Hamilton. It's fascinating, and it's making me appreciate Lin Manuel Miranda and his lyrical genius even more--he's pulled so many key phrases out of Hamilton's actual letters and writings. I'm really enjoying the book, although I didn't get to read as much as I would have liked over spring break due to the fact that hanging out with a preschooler and toddler basically consists of being interrupted every thirty seconds, even on vacation.

* We have a high of 50 degrees today. That's FREEZING, you guys.

* I had to drop out of a book group that I joined.The purpose of the book group was to discuss issues of race and social justice and the first book we read was Waking Up White, which was fantastic and illuminating. This time, new session, new group, and we were going to talk about a Jodi Picoult novel. I haven't read much Jodi Picoult but I know she's pretty popular and I figured a novel would be a pretty quick read for me. I knew that the plot started out with an African-American nurse treating a baby whose parents were white supremacists. I did not know that she was a labor and delivery nurse (I'd just assumed ER or pediatric nurse), and I did know what happened to the baby. I won't plot spoil it all for you, but at a certain point in the first 100 pages, I knew I would not be finishing this book or participating in a discussion group about it. Ugh. Unexpected grief-smack.

* I think I'm still on Arizona time. Took me forever to fall asleep last night and I did not want to get out of bed this morning. I may need a caffeinated pickmeup.

* Flying into the airport in Arizona reminds me of going there as a kid to visit my grandparents who lived in Mesa. This was way back in the day when they could greet us at the gate, and it was so much fun to run off the plane and see them and get scooped up into hugs. My grandma always smelled like delicious perfume and always wore her jingly charm bracelet. I'd hold her hand and when we got in the car, I'd turn the bracelet around and look at all of the charms. I was feeling so nostalgic about this that I wore her charm bracelet to work today. It makes the same jingling sound that I remember, but I wish I could ask her about a few of the charms whose stories I can't recall.

* Zuzu created several pictures of desert plants and animals and we taped them together to be a poster that she took to school today. Her teacher said that she could share it during circle time. She was so proud of it that it made me misty-eyed and I showed off this photo of it to my childless colleagues because I am insufferable (they were kind enough to admire it).

Lizard * Jack Rabbit * Road Runner
Rattlesnake * Prickly Pear Cactus * Saguaro Cactus

* I ordered a swimsuit. A one-piece mom-suit. I read something recently that really resonated with me--the idea of body neutrality. I don't want to hate my body, but it seems to be asking a lot to love it--especially when I'm feeling pale and cellulitey. As this article suggested, I'm actually happiest when I'm not thinking about my body--when I'm not self-conscious and I'm not worried about what I look like. It makes a lot of sense--neutral is also pretty ideal when it comes to your body feeling physically healthy. So I'm not looking for a swimsuit that makes me feel like a supermodel, just one that lets me not have to tug and tuck and think about it when I'd rather be playing in the sand with my kids (or, let's be real, when I'd rather be reading a book in a lounge chair while David supervises our children).

* I let my students out 5 minutes early today. They commented that Spring Break had changed me. LOL. I'm so chill now.

* Papers to grade, Shakespeare to read, congressional phone calls to make. No rest for the weary and all of that. It's Wednesday but it feels like Monday, which makes for a short but very packed week.