Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 In Review: Hawaii, kale, Joshua Radin, and my dishwasher

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?

Began pitching articles to an editor. Actually sat down and, like, INTERVIEWED total strangers and wrote and published articles about them. Celebrated ten years of marriage. Tried cooking with puff pastry and phyllo dough. Hiked in a rainforest. Grew a vegetable garden with our neighbors. Participated in a CSA and learned what to do with kale, eggplant, and leeks. Organized neighborhood bootcamp workouts.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I made three: Less worrying, more being in the moment; Less meat, more vegetables; and less time-wasting, more writing. I think I did quite well, though honestly, I had forgotten that those were specific resolutions.

For 2010: Rectify my highly dysfunctional e-mail organization system, say "yes" more, and (eeeeeek, I can hardly say it), do the Reed's Lake Triathalon. (?) (!) (THE SWIMMING! IN A MURKY LAKE! GAH!)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Neighbors on both sides of our house, best friend, tons of other people I know; YES.

4. Did anyone close to you die?


5. What countries did you visit?

No actual foreign countries, but HAWAII almost counts, right?

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

Hmmmm. A warmer summer? More patience. More time at the beach.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

The entire week we spent in Hawaii was fairly unforgettable. Seeing The Indigo Girls outside at Meijer Gardens on a perfect summer night was awesome. Watching the girls sit on Santa's lap together for the first time. Annie's first day of Kindergarten.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I ran my third Riverbank run on a hillier course in a torrential downpour and got a darn good time. I managed to juggle a few different writing-type projects and learn from them. I remained (mostly) sane and happy while attempting to raise kind, smart, honest children.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Dithering so long about whether or not to send Annie to Kindergarten.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing major.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Close tie between our Macbook and the dishwasher.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?


13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Again, ?????

14. Where did most of your money go?

Money? What money? As of today (Jason officially bought the practice), all we have is more DEBT! Actually, though: the care, housing, and feeding of our family; travel; paying off various loans.

15. What did you get really excited about?

I was fascinated by our CSA experience and can't wait to do it again. I loved watching the girls morph more fully into the people they're becoming.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?

Anything by Joshua Radin.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? Happier.
– thinner or fatter? Maybe 5 pounds fatter. (Sad face.)

– richer or poorer? Oh, good grief, between the loans and the insurances and the practice collections, it's probably a wash.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Let the kids skip a nap or stay up too late when it was a glorious day and we were having fun. Scheduled more intentional dates with Jason. Writing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Lazed in bed in the early mornings when it was clear that I wasn't going to get back to sleep. Lost my temper with a child. Dinked around on the computer when I could have been doing other things.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Woke up here, went to Holland late morning.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?

Please see answer to question 16, above.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

30 Rock is as perfect a TV show as I've ever seen. Also started loving Modern Family.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?


24. What was the best book you read?

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Joshua . . . (swoon).

26. What did you want and get?

More time to myself in a coffee shop with the laptop. Longer hair. Time with Jason and the kids at the pool, park, beach, in Chicago, up north, and millions of other places. A byline. A dishwasher. A glorious week on a tropical island. A perfect red summer dress.

27. What did you want and not get?

Still pining for the kitchen island, a new couch, and nightstands in my bedroom. Still waiting for a few hours a week when both girls are in school and I'm ALL ALONE. An acceptance of an article I wrote on spec for Mothering magazine.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Well, the only one I saw in the theater was Julie and Julia, which I did really like.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Threw Annie a fabulous ballerina party, then hosted the family for dinner, then went to a football game. Drank a pumpkin beer when we got home and put them to bed. Went out to The Winchester the next night with Jason. I turned 32.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

A cleaning lady.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?


32. What kept you sane?

Writing; running; friends; Thursday nights with Jason, beer, and 30 Rock.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Oh, I don't know . . .

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

People comparing Obama to Hitler. STOP IT.

35. Who did you miss?

My far-away friends, especially Heather and Andrea.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I'm not sure we technically met in 2009, but I've loved getting to know some acquaintances better, namely the Chandler's, Richards, and Millers.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.

I am more and more aware that time is flying, that this stage in my life is brief and unique and challenging and wonderful and fleeting.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

It's not a song lyric, but an aphorism of sorts that I spied somewhere in my Internet ramblings and wrote down: I acknowledge my luckiness, without giving up my claim to the suckiness.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Thought I Had Another Year or So to Prepare

We got the heck out of the house today and thank goodness, because my glowing feelings about Doing Nothing and Playing Constantly With Children screeched to a halt around 7:30 this morning when Annie had been awake for well over an hour and the girls were fighting over dried cherries, Tinkerbell markers, the letter bowl, and the temperature of their milk.

So I took them to get haircuts (just solid trims, really), and then took them to Holland and dropped them off at my parent's house so I could get a haircut (highlights, really, since Annie informed me yesterday, "Mom, your hair is BROWN with one string of blond"). And I must say, it was lovely to have a break from the questions and the bickering and the whiiiiiiiiiining. But then I obviously had to put them back in the car and drive them home, and that's when this little gem of a conversation happened:

Annie: "Mom, I wish you could put another baby in your tummy."

Me: "I know you do, honey."

Annie: "How does the baby get IN the tummy?"

Me, stalling: "Well, it just grows in there."

Annie: "Yeah, but how does it get IN there?"

Me: "Well, every grown-up girl has little eggs inside her body, (sees Annie make a disgusted face in the rearview mirror) and sometimes one of those eggs grows into a baby."

Annie: "What makes the egg grow into a baby?"

Me, freaking out internally, panicking, avoiding eye contact, stifling a bizarre urge to laugh hysterically, reminding self to give her only the answer to the specific question she asks, hoping she is easily distracted by something shiny along the road: "The daddy puts something special onto the mommy's egg and makes it grow."

Annie: "Does the mommy eat it?"

Me (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!): "Nope." (Please don't ask the next question, pleasedontaskthenextquestion.)

Annie: "Huh. That's silly."

And I almost died of relief.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Gift

I have spent the last two days living on kid time, and it's been awesome.

After days and weeks of good but frantic errand-running, cooking, baking, wrapping, hosting, driving, and general holiday readying, I decided on Sunday night that I was going to make exactly ZERO plans for myself and the girls for yesterday and today. I can't remember ever intentionally doing this before - choosing to set aside two solid days with the expectation of accomplishing nothing, of going nowhere - so it probably hasn't happened since Jemma was very little.

Yesterday morning, Jason left for work, and the playing began. We played dollhouse, Dora, paper dolls, and Taking Care of Babies. We put together two puzzles. We ate a snack in front of part of Sesame Street. We went outside and made a snowman. We had hot chocolate. We built a house from Legos. We colored and painted with watercolors. We had quiet time, and then we had a dance party and went next door to play with Jonathan and Charlie right up until Jason came home from work. And today, we did it all again - took a giant walk around the block to climb the snow mountains the plows have made, threw snowballs at trees, made a sledding run in our front yard, played with glitter glue, watched a Blues Clues; basically, we did whatever they wanted to do until they got sick of it, and then we did the next thing. I didn't shower, didn't talk on the phone, didn't check e-mail, didn't try to cook a meal or throw in a load of laundry or clean a bathroom while they were playing. I just sat, and watched, and played.

After days and weeks of having to be a certain place at a certain time, list checked twice, gift in hand, make-up done, with a dish to pass, these two days were heavenly. I'm ready to dive back in to schedules and "real life" tomorrow, with errands and haircuts and a trip to Holland, but this was truly a great little belated Christmas gift.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jemma is Three

Dear Jemma,

You are three. You woke up this morning and stumbled out of your room, wearing the red nightgown you got for Christmas and have barely taken off since, your cheeks all rosy and your hair a mess. We hugged you and wished you a happy birthday, and you looked pleased. You chose oatmeal for your birthday breakfast, and while you were waiting for it to cool, you kept asking, "Am I three? Right now? Is it my birthday?" When we assured you that it was, you followed with a sly, "Can I open presents? Can I eat cake?"

We got you some Playmobil figures, a Melissa & Doug cookie tray, and the book Pinkalicious, which you asked me to read instantly. We sat on your bedroom floor and read. You turned to me when it was done and said, "Thank you for the book, mommy." You are always doing that: giving hugs, kisses, and grateful words without prompting. You run up while I am washing dishes or stirring something on the stove and give my leg a squeeze. You give hugs and kisses to your friends and family when they come and go. You run right up to guests in our house and answer their questions, say hello, show them your stuff. You are so thoughtful, giving, considerate, and kind - almost to a fault, because when Annie asks you for something that you have (food, a toy, a doll), you usually give it to her, and she's come to expect that this is how the world works.

And though this is not about Annie but about you, we have been going through this year's photos and videos and some of my very favorite shots are of the two of you together - eating ice cream, making snow angels, building sand castles, picking peaches, holding hands in the garden, dancing in the living room, wearing all manner of dress-up clothes. And I am so glad that she has you, and you have her, and that you are growing into two of the best friends the other will ever have.

Along those lines, there's a lyric in a Joshua Radin song that I heard just this morning and made me think of you: "I like the way you’re not afraid/You’ve got the world planned in your mind/People say you cannot do it/But they don’t know a friend like you." You, truly, are not afraid. In fact, you're so wide open to the world, so prepared to be charmed by what you find that you are almost always delighted.

Of course, there is another lyric from a poem called "That Little Girl:"

There was a little girl
And she had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead,
When she was good,
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

This one fits you, too, from time to time, because you are three now, and because you can go from delighted to devastated in one fell swoop if play time has to end, if you have to get dressed, if we have to turn off Sesame Street, if Annie is making a noise you do not like, if your shoe is too tight, if I try to help you buckle your carseat . . . in short, if any little thing is not going your way. You particularly hate to wear any clothes that are not a dress and inform us that you "don't look good in this" or "look like a boy" on the rare days when the dresses are all dirty and you are forced to wear pants of any kind.

You love to brush your teeth, chew gum, eat any type of melted cheese, dance, swim, help me cook and bake, play with your (many) babies, and do anything that Annie is doing. You hate to be hurried, have your hair done, get out of the tub, walk Annie to school on cold mornings, have any food on your plate that you do not like, be cold or hot or in any way uncomfortable. Your favorite color is still purple, but pink is a close runner-up. Your favorite food is probably (sadly) "treats," but you also love almost all fruit (minus the skin), black beans, peas, Boursin, yogurt, scrambled eggs, and anything bread-based.

You weigh 25 pounds. You. Are. Tiny. I watch your little body swinging through the air on the rope at gymnastics; I see your tiny little bottom perched on the toilet; I hear your adorable, screechy little voice raised in happiness or frustration and it always makes me smile, so much spunk coming from such a tiny package.

We went last week to pick out your cake for today's little party. Standing in the grocery store, you on my hip, Annie whining impatiently at my side, we paged through the bakery display book until you found the picture you wanted. I thought for sure you'd choose something princess-y, but you were immediately sure: "I want this one," you pointed, and it was a Dora cake. On the display page, the cake had been filled in, "Happy Birthday, Jemma!" and I did a double-take, seeing your name in print like that in a cake book. For a second, I think I was even a little confused - but that's OUR name! - before it sunk in. Because when I hear that name, all I think of is you, you, you and the way you surprised us with your early entry into the world three years ago today, the way your hair stuck straight up all over, the way we looked and looked at you before finally choosing your name. Because Christmastime is now inextricably linked with the memory of you bursting into our snowy world, changing everything. Because now, three whole years later, I can't imagine life without your enthusiasm, affection, questions, noise, and energy.

Happy birthday, Jemma, to a sweet little girl who has gotten so, so big.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Little Christmas

And then suddenly, it's here.

It's Christmas night, and the girls were so beyond tired from the excitement of the last two days that they went to bed at 5:58 (Jemma) and 6:35 (Annie), respectively, leaving Jason and I to eat a late, lazy dinner. Just now, I have some gratin potatoes in the oven and he's cooking a little steak au poive for the second time this month. I'm drinking a glass of red wine in front of the fire and watching the year spin by, too, as we load this year's home videos onto the computer. I see the girls frolic at the beach, take a water-taxi in Chicago, celebrate their birthdays, dance, color, run, read, sing, and play, and it amazes me how quickly this year has gone.

Driving home from Holland last night, we asked the girls to tell us what their favorite memory has been of this holiday season, post-Thanksgiving. Jemma chose going to Meijer Gardens to see all the trees, trains, and Santa (which will henceforth be known as The Place She First Pottied On The Potty); Annie chose going to the 'Twas ballet. Then they got into an argument about how Santa's reindeer fly, which Jemma won by vehemently proclaiming, "They eat fecial hay!" We got home, set out cookies and milk, and read The Night Before Christmas all together in Jemma's bed, a tradition.

Annie was a little jumping bean when she woke us up this morning. It was one of those moments you want to bottle up and keep for later, when your children are older and the magic of Christmas has worn off. We woke Jemma, who was still sound asleep, when Annie couldn't stand to wait a second longer, then opened stockings, opened presents, and ate cinnamon rolls and oranges.

Santa brought Jemma a Bitty Baby this year (or, as Jemma calls her, "another Molly"), and Annie the Bitty Baby pack with all the gear and clothes for her Molly. We bought the girls the most ridiculous babies that crawl and jabber whenever they sense movement. Annie and Jemma have been lusting after them every time we pass them in the Target aisle for months, and they are beyond thrilled to have them. (They WILL drive me crazy, but at least they have an Off switch.)

They got lots of other things, too: glitter glue and crayons and markers; bathing suits and boots and dress-up clothes; jewelry boxes and doll cribs and a camera; puzzles and princesses and pajamas. At one point, Annie looked around, smiled, and said, "I don't know what to play with first!" I try to strike a balance between getting them every single thing they ever thought they might want, and not getting them enough because I feel like they have so much already. I think this year it was just right.

We spent the rest of the day at my parent's for a late brunch with Brett and Meagan and my three living grandparents. We read the Christmas Story, opened more gifts, ate. Annie colored a picture for my 95-year-old grandma, Anne, and marveled at that fact that they share a name. They delighted each other. My grandpa talked about the time that his dad skated from his house into downtown Holland on a day just like today, when it had rained and then frozen into shiny sheets on the streets. Jemma played Connect Four with Brett. It was so good to have four generations together.

As my Christmas gift to Jason, I secretly re-did the spare room upstairs that he's been using as an office/junk room for the last few years. Meg and her mini-van brought over the antique table I bought for a desk from East Fulton Antiques, Sarah helped me haul a filing cabinet up the stairs, my parents bought a slipper chair at Target when the GR store was out of stock, and Connie came over on Wednesday to help me finalize it all. I hung pictures on the wall, I filed piles of papers, I even assembled furniture with a little wrench while Jemma brought me the washers and bolts. It's a real office now, with space to work and, yes, rock out (the keyboard/electric guitar/speaker system did not, unfortunately, get booted out), and it's just in time, because he officially purchases the practice a week from today.

And my favorite moments? There are two. First, I loved that first night after Thanksgiving, when we had a freshly-cut, newly-decorated tree lit in our living room and the girls settled in their pj's with hot cocoa to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas for the first time. It was all about the anticipation of a whole month of Christmas fun ahead. Second, I loved their big eyes and looks of glee this morning when they saw that Santa really did come, and what he brought them, and that it was Christmas morning. It was all about the wonder, the joy, the magic.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Worth Every Penny

When I decided to go to Hope, it was not a hard decision. Despite the fact that it was so close to home (yes, this was a definite "con" on my list), after I visited, I knew that I would love it there. The people I met were so genuinely enthusiastic about their experience there, the classes and professors were excellent, and the feel of the place just seemed . . . right. And although it would have been kind of awesome (and a bit more adventurous) to try my hand at living in a big city, or on a coast, or in a completely different region of the country, I have never regretted my decision. I did end up loving it and met a big chunk of the most important people in my life via those relationships.

Still, it was a financial issue, a little. When I started my college search, my parents very candidly sat me down and told me they had saved X amount of money for my college tuition. It was an amount that probably would have covered the entirety of my financial needs plus some if I had gone to a state school and gotten a modest scholarship there. But at Hope, even with the scholarship I won, it wasn't quite enough. So every year, as the cost of tuition steadily rose, and as my scholarship and parental help remained constant, I went a little more into debt.

I worked every summer, and during the school year, too, and I have to say, I am proud that I didn't let the finances keep me from reaching. I pledged a sorority, I souped it up with the Soup It Up group at 8th Street Grille, I bought formals for events in Chicago and Traverse City. I even went to Europe for part of the summer after my sophomore year, a trip I made happen by working the early-morning Saturday shift in the factory at Herman Miller on top of my 40-hour summer office job.

Then Jason and I got married, moved to Ann Arbor, and started the five-year dental school saga. I started to pay the loan back, and it kind of sucked. There was never much money in the checking account, and we sure would have liked to be buying furniture or traveling or going to concerts, or whatever it is newly-married people do with their money. I was teaching, though, so at least when I wrote that check every month, I knew that the education it paid for was directly supporting my family.

Five years later, when Jason was a new associate, working two jobs to make ends meet, and I was a brand-new stay-at-home mom, writing those checks was a little more frustrating. On top of my debt, we had to begin paying Jason's dental school loans (which were obviously MUCH BIGGER), and when I wrote those checks every month, I would glare at my amount and think, I'm not even using that degree, anymore. Eventually, I signed up to have the amounts taken right out of our checking account, and the more money we made, the less I thought about the school loans from so many years ago.

Yesterday, I got a statement in the mail from the Federal Student Loan Center. It showed the total amount borrowed, the interest that had accrued over the ten-year period, and then, at the bottom, it was marked PAID IN FULL. An early Christmas present, if you will.

I didn't throw it away. I'm keeping it as a reminder of what's possible when you make decisions based on following your dreams instead of worrying about the money. I'm thinking it was a small price to pay for a top-notch education, four years of priceless memories, a cherished group of friends, and a spectacular husband. I'm thinking it wouldn't be a bad idea, no matter how much money we have when the time comes, to let our girls take responsibility for earning some of their own college tuition, so that they value it a little more. I'm thinking, it's just money.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cousin Christmas Cheer

We ventured up north this year to celebrate an early Christmas with Jason's side of the family. (We alternate years to be with one side of the family or another on Christmas Day; this year, it's my parent's turn.) As a bonus, we celebrated Marta's 2nd and Jemma 3rd birthdays, too, since they fall within 9 days of each other during the Christmas season. The girls were together for about five minutes before they were Four Blonde Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.

Jemma wasted no time diving into her cake.

I love the plumpness of her cheek in this picture of her opening gifts. I wonder how much longer her face will have that babyish roundness. Now that she's basically potty-trained herself over a three-day period ("Mom, go out of the bathroom. I need privacy."), now that she starts dance class in January, now that she skips off happily to Big Girl 'Nastics once a week, I truly feel like we have lost our baby. But, oh, the little girl she is turning into . . .

For the first time ever, we tried this weekend to let the three bigger girls sleep together in the bunk room. Jason's parents have a great, big room above their garage that's been outfitted with two sets of bunk beds for years, and the idea has always been that someday the grandkids would be old enough to sleep in there together. Jason has a lot of dreams about gathering people together for large parties and he lobbied hard this year for Trevor and Lisa and their girls to spend the night. Lisa and I agreed tentatively, not wanting to be stingy and pessimistic, but also knowing full well that it could go either way: the girls could giggle for 15 minutes, then settle down adorably into sleepover whispers and fall asleep, or the girls could jump from bed to bed for a couple of hours and refuse to settle down without a lot of threats and tears.

Guess which one happened.

The main problem was . . . Jemma. She just really, really wants to sleep with other people around her, and she also really, really wants to talk to those people. Berit and Annie were into it, too, for a while. We sat downstairs, drinking Founder's porter and eating Jason's dad's excellent homemade pizza while we watched them on the video monitor, flying spread-eagled from bunk to bunk, scampering around and laughing.

Eventually, we went up to try to settle them down. Trevor went up. I went up. Jason's mom went up. I went up again. At one point, I was lying down next to Jemma, trying to calm and quiet her. The girls were completely silent for a minute, and I congratulated myself on magically lulling them into calm. Then Berit sat bolt upright in her bed and said, "Aunt Steph? One time, we went to see FIREWORKS!" And it began all over again.

Interestingly, at this point, Annie genuinely wanted to go to sleep. I was bargaining/threatening with Jemma, and I heard Annie mutter to herself, "Good grief. This is NOT very fun. I THOUGHT this was going to be fun, but this is NOT as fun as I thought it would be."

We ended up transferring Annie to another bedroom so she could fall asleep (which took about 45 seconds), then putting her back in the room with Berit, who was sleepy again, too. We had to drag Jemma's mattress out of the bunk room completely and isolate her in the bedroom Jason and I planned to sleep in later. And still, it took over another hour, with Jason and his mom soothing her, for her to go to sleep.

The grown-ups retired to the basement, then, and had a homebrew beer-tasting and some much-needed adult conversation until Jason was literally falling asleep in his chair around 1:00 a.m. Those four hours alone, I venture to say, would have been worth the entire sleepover drama. But there was more.

The next morning, four little girls squealed with delight at the sight of Christmas presents scattered all around the tree. They ate four little bowls of pink cream of wheat in their jammies, opened a mountain of gifts, went sledding in the backyard, and played happily (and in various states of undress/dress-up) for the rest of the day, subsisting on Mimi's homemade cinnamon rolls, peanut butter fudge, and goldfish crackers.

We pulled in our driveway around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, our car jammed full of snow gear, presents, travel snacks, gifts, and food. We're behind on sleep, laundry, and wrapping, but buoyed, somehow, by the time with family.

I have a lot of cousins - around 20 - but none of them are precisely my age. On my dad's side, they're all much older, with children of their own in college and high school; on my mom's side, they're all younger, just graduating from high school themselves. I didn't grow up with the lucky gift of just-my-age playmates who were right there for every holiday. But I'm sure glad that our girls will.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Losing it, Continued

-I agree to get up at 5:37 a.m. to attend horrid Boot Camp class with virtuous "I'm a morning person, I love mornings, I wake up and exercise at the crack of dawn!" neighbor, Sarah. Even better, I had worked out yesterday afternoon (and THAT only happened because I found myself still-unshowered at 3:30 p.m.), so I just go ahead and sleep in those workout clothes, then work out in them again at 6:00 a.m. this morning. I am sure I smelled great at our post-gym Starbucks stop.

-My cell phone rings while I am in the kitchen this morning. I'm standing there, thinking the phone is blending in with the countertop, rummaging around in the bills and papers, moving the espresso machine, but I can't find the phone! I hear it! It's so loud; it's so close; it's gotta be here somewhere!

It's in my back pocket. I figure this out after I miss the call.

-I go to pick Annie up from school a little early so we can make her last dance class of the semester. Her school class is having a party, and Annie is just finishing up making an adorable Rudolph cupcake: chocolate frosting, pretzels for antlers, M&M's for eyes, and a red sucker pushed into the cupcake for a nose. She puts it in a Ziploc baggie so she can take it home. We also grab a baggie of beads and some pipe cleaners for making little wreaths and candy canes because her group ran out of time to do that station.

We walk out to the car, and I'm carrying Jemma because it's icy, and Jemma is yammering on about wearing big-girl undies (she is! It's true! And she has performed both functions on the potty several times, now!) and I'm carrying Annie's backpack plus the cupcake, and Annie's complaining about how deep the snow is on her side of the car, and Jemma's crying because her hands are cold, and I'm trying to strap them both in so we can get to dance on time.

And I briefly set the baggies with the cupcake and the beads on the top of the car while I buckle Jemma.

And then I drive away.

-The girls ask to do a project this afternoon, so I think it will be fun for them to get out the Play-Doh, the rolling pin, and the Christmas cookie cutters. I actually think they will be able to do this fairly independently so I can screw around on the Internet or maybe sneak away for a short nap (see item #1 re: 5:37 a.m. wake-up). Ha ha ha.

I am able to "help" them with this project for approximately 8 minutes. Then I announce that Play-Doh is over and we move on to a similarly creative and tactile experience, i.e. watching the Toot & Puddle Christmas movie on demand.

America America

I recently finished America America, by Ethan Canin, and it was a marvelous read. I have a library copy, but that didn't stop me from dog-earing the pages that contained passages that I knew I'd want to copy out later. The ones related to parenting, of course, stood out the most. The last one is my favorite.

What you aren't prepared for is the way children change your past, too. That's the thing. Everyone knows they change your future, but to see them in their innocence - in their cribs and then on their bicycles and then in their cars, at their soccer games and then their recitals and soon enough at their graduations and their weddings - to see them through all of that is to know that everything you have ever done, every act you've ever had a part in, has another meaning as well, and that it is both greater and more terrible than the one you knew. Not just the meaning it had for you but the one it had for someone's child, as well. That's what came back to me now, more than anything else. The unavoidable truth of that. That all one-s deed - those of honor and those of duplicity and those of veniality and those of ruin - that all one's deeds live doubly.

"You know," he said. "You raise your kid the way you know. You take what your folks did, you try to add what you think of as your own corrections - things that hurt you, injustices, all that kind of thing - and you try to bring these blessed objects into the world so it doesn't do them any more harm than it has to. At least not too early, anyway. And then one day you realize that they're not all that different - I don't know - they're not all that different from some wild animals you could have just found out there in the woods. And you have about as much influece over them as you would over animals. One's fierce, maybe. One's calm. . . . One's always got his eye on the horizon. . . . Then one day you realize how silly you've been. There's nothing you can do but let them all go. All you can do from your end is pray."

(She) is like her mother. Devoted. Fierce. Willful. There is an unexpected trustworthiness in such a character, though. When she was growing up, (she) was the one who embarrassed us at dinner parties. . . . and at nine, a normally well-mannered age for girls, she still had no compunction about saying in her tin-soldier's voice, "I don't like you" to anyone blithe enough to fake affection toward her. She's always seen right through that one. As a father, I have to say, I take some comfort in it. And of course I know where it comes from, too. It's the thing that most scared me about her own mother from the time I first knew her - that same abiding and prickly truthfulness.

It doesn't take many years of fatherhood to think you finally understand your own parents, and I've long since arrived at that point with mine. And like most everyone else, I've grown more grateful for the things they gave me and more respectful of what must have been admirable courage as they watched me go - in my case, to a life utterly different from their own. And as I've watched our own girls move away now, too - first to sleepovers, then to summer camps, then to college and boyfriends, then to jobs and husbands - as I've watched them one by one walk their own ways, I can only hope that they too arrive at this same juncture, that they too come to see us for what we've always tried to do for them, even if it's not always what we've succeeded at. Maybe this is nothing but vanity. But I wonder how we've fared with them. I wonder which of our idle words have wounded them and which, years later and a thousand miles away, have buoyed them; which of our hopes have lifted them over the daunting obstacles in their lives and which have pressed back against their own ideas of themselves. I think I know my children, know all three of them, yet I'm certain from my own childhood that of course I don't.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Saga of the Tinkerbell Dress, Or, Why I Begin to Dread Christmas

Over a month ago, an extended family member was at my house for part of a weekend while I was gone. I knew she had probably been dragged over to see Annie's extensive Christmas list on the fridge, so I followed up later, when she was back at her house, to ask what she had purchased for the girls. You know, to avoid passing any of those items on as ideas to other family members who asked, and to avoid buying them myself.

Family member (fm) said that, while she had been near all the malls and big chain stores for the weekend, she had gotten both girls "lots of clothes." Then, she asked me to give her one idea for each girl that was a toy, and that she could buy locally, where there are many fewer malls/chains.

I gave her one idea for Annie, and one for Jemma, then crossed those ideas off my literal (but handwritten) spreadsheet. I was semi-annoyed that the request for ideas didn't come sooner, when fm would have been in a better geographic location to get most things the girls would love, but I hoped fm would be able to find the items locally, or else would, you know, order them via phone or online.

Two weeks later, I heard from fm that she "just couldn't find" that Tinkerbell dress I had recommended for Jemma. She wonders if I could find it near where I live. More stores, etc. I tell her that, in fact, I just bought that exact dress for my niece a couple weeks earlier at Target, so I'll see if I can find it there for her. I go to Target. No Tinkerbell dress.

Fm calls randomly one day after this to ask what size shoe Jemma wears. I say six. Fm is sad; she is at the outdoor outfitter store, and they have these very cute Keen boots, only in size five, that she wants to buy for Jemma for Christmas. (!) (?) I remind her she asked me to be looking for the Tinkerbell dress. I also include the fact that, as it is already winter and the girls have begun wearing boots, Jemma has boots for this winter. Also, she wears size six.

We visit fm for Thanksgiving. While we are all merrying around downtown, I sneak into a store to purchase a gift for my father-in-law. When I go to find the rest of the family, they are in the outdoor outfitter store, where fm is making Jemma try on the Keen boots. (!!!!)

We return home. I make YET ANOTHER trip to Target. No Tinkerbell dress.

I call to report this, and ask fm if she would want to perhaps order the dress online from Target, Disney, Amazon, or, I don't know 75,000 possible stores. She would; she would like ME to order it for her. I do. I have it shipped to fm.

Two days later, I go to Target AGAIN, for something else, and lo and behold, they have TWO Tinkerbell dresses. I glare at the Tinkerbell dresses. But I do not buy them, because our Tinkerbell dress is On Its Way.

I receive the e-mail confirmation of the dress I ordered, and I forward it on to fm. The confirmation page contains a sidebar with some sort of "If you ordered this, you might also like to buy this" display of a few other dress-up dresses. Fm sees this and sends me a new e-mail. It reads: "Please order that purple ruffle dress. I want to give it to B for her birthday."

I draw the line here. I tell fm how she could easily order it herself, by clicking on the hyperlink embedded right in the confirmation e-mail. I wash my hands of it all.

I call fm to find out what to bring to holiday weekend, food-wise, and fm frets to me that the Tinkerbell dress hasn't arrived yet. This IS odd, since it's been a week since I ordered it. She wonders if I could call Target? Or the shipping company? And ask where it is?

I look in my e-mail, but the confirmation isn't there, because I deleted it after I forwarded it to fm.

So we're two days away from opening presents with this side of the family, and I have about three hours invested in this one, single gift for one, single person in my family, and I'm about to lose it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ummm . . .

Tomorrow, laundry day. (How did THAT happen?)

The World As She Sees It

I let Annie go around the house with the camera yesterday afternoon while Jemma was still napping. It bought me a few minutes to get the house in order before our house guests arrived and our friends came over for post-kid-bedtime dinner. I loved watching her wander around the house, framing her shots, pondering what to "shoot." I love the pictures she took, too; seeing the house from her perspective is so enlightening.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holiday Cheer

I posted a photo last week of Jemma in her big-girl undies, the Sleeping Beauty ones she chose for herself on one of our many, many recent Target trips. Here's how that morning went:

Me: "Jemma, do you have to go potty?"

Jemma: "Yes! I do!" (Sits on toilet, complains seat is cold, produces nothing. Repeat 87 times and take up entire morning with sitting in bathroom.)

Two hours later . . .

Jemma: "Mommy! I went potty in my undies!"

And then 30 minutes later, while we're in the lobby of Annie's dance class:

Jemma: "Mom, I have to go poop." Hustle into bathroom, sit on (disgusting) toilet, produce nothing. "Actually, no."

Three minutes later, still in lobby of dance class . . .

Jemma: "Mommy, I went poop in my undies."


So I'm wondering if it would be altogether too much propaganda to get her this for Christmas.


In other goings-on around here, Jason and I took part in a wicked-fun Road Rally party on Saturday night. Our team did not win, nor did we particularly care, as we had just spent 2.5 hours romping around the town, drinking beer in various bars and gathering our courage to perform ridiculous acts while being photographed. I sweet-talked my way to the end of a bowling lane for a photo (blinks eyelashes, smiles, "We'll even take our shoes off and everything!"); we built a ghetto snowman in Wilcox Park and did snow angels on the 50-yard-line of the football field; I pretended to be a barista at my favorite coffee shop; Dave pretended to pull a pint of porter at The Winchester; and Jason . . . well, let's just say that there are photos of Jason in Smitty's walk-in beer cooler that will not be able to be a part of this post. Suffice to say that a very good time was had by all.

We paid for it the next day, of course, when as an added bonus to our slightly-hungover/sleep-deprived states, our children decided to act in the most whiny, horrible, obnoxious manner possible. All day, Jason and I kept giving each other looks over their heads, like, could this day be any longer and crappier? Why can't we lie on the couch and watch Billy Madison all afternoon? WHYYYYYYYYYY?

AND THEN the obnoxious behavior continued yesterday and it's still going on today and Annie actually went to bed without her supper last night, a discipline trick I didn't even know was up my sleeve, and I may have thrown out a reference or two to SANTA SEES EVERYTHING. Between the (unsuccessful) potty-training and the Naughty/Nice imbalance around here, I am lacking sufficient Christmas spirit to lick 75 Christmas card envelopes or bake 4 dozen cookies for our neighborhood exchange on Thursday. Better go eat some more peppermint bark.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Theology 101

A few days ago, I thought I heard a mouse or some such thing rustling around in a bedroom upstairs (so obviously I ran out of the room, leaving the lamp on and slamming the door behind me until Jason could come home and set a trap). The mousetrap has been up there for a couple of days (no action, so far, and Jason thinks I'm crazy), so when the girls headed upstairs to play just after we'd finished lunch, I gave them a stern warning about where it was and why not to touch it in case they discovered it during a rousing game of hide-and-seek. I stayed downstairs, cleaning up lunch, and here's a snippet of the conversation I heard:

A - If I touched the mousetrap, and it was on my finger for, like, 20 days and I died even before I was 80 or 90 years old, the good thing would be that when you and Daddy and Mommy died, I would see you. I would be an angel and you would be angels and we would all be so happy to see each other.

J - When you die, you're all gone.

A - Well, your body dies. But your HEART is still alive. Part of you is still alive. And everyone dies, except Jesus and God. They die for a couple days - three days. They die for three days, then they come back to life. Then they die for three days, then they come back to life, then they die for three days again . . .

J - Butt! Potty! He he ha ha he ha he ha ha ha!!!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


We woke up yesterday morning to a snow-covered world, and the girls are beside themselves with joy. Annie was in our faces at 6:59 a.m. "I already got dressed and went potty, so I just need to eat breakfast and brush my teeth, and then can we go outside and play in the snow?" So Jason took her out for a while even before he walked her to school (and we were almost the only school in the area to not have a snow day - yay for no busses!).

Jemma woke up while they were out, and I scooped her up and brought her to the window. "Snow . . . " she breathed quietly as she surveyed the front yard, the trees, the neighbor's houses. She looked down at the bushes that light up each night with our Christmas lights. "There's snow even on the Christmas lights," she said. I nodded. She made a scrunched-up little face. "That's okay; we can wash them off." She nodded. I nodded. Then we ate oatmeal and went out to play in the snow.

Jemma has historically not been very "into" the snow. Last year, every time we'd bundle her up and plop her out there in her head-to-toe pink bunting, she'd stand there, immobile, and look at us like, what is this? What am I supposed to do? It's cold. Bring me back inside.

Yesterday was a whole different story. She loved it. She romped and ran and laid down to make snow angels. She hopped in the sled and instructed me to pull her up and down the driveway: "No, faster, momma!" She requested me to pull her around the block, which I did, and then she told me to sit down so she could pull me. I sat in the sled, she strained with all her might with the rope in her hands, and I didn't budge. "You're too heavy. My turn again."

It's a winter wonderland still today, with big snowflakes drifting down and the house smelling like the toffee I made for tonight's party. I spent the morning working out at a hysterical Rock n Roll Kickboxing class, grabbing coffee with a friend, working on an article, finishing up our Disney reservations, and tackling a fair amount of Christmas shopping. I addressed Christmas cards this morning, snuggled on the couch with Annie while we watched Rudolph. I'm in the holiday spirit, and right now, I even like the snow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What I'm Doing Today

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Letter to My Future Self

For no good reason at all except a semi-related girls' weekend conversation and a few recent encounters with people in the over-60 age group (ahemThanksgivingweekend), I was inspired to write a letter that I hope will be helpful to my "grown-up" self, say, thirty or so years from now. A little scolding, a little inspiration. Here goes.

Dear Stephanie,

As you enter "the golden years," a few rules and guidelines for making the most of old(er) age, parenting adult children, grandparenthood, time management, traditions, and the like:

1. Do not read this list of rules, scoff, and think, "That's not really true!"

2. Nobody wants to hear about your menopause. Nobody. Certain people might tolerate it, and these include your closest friends who are also going through it. You might think your daughters want to know what's coming, but they don't.

3. You are probably not truly that busy, these days. I hope you have filled your life with lots of meaningful activities. However, please remember that there was a time in your life when you could barely pee without doing seven hundred things first, when you literally had to get a babysitter to attend any type of grown-up event, when you met other people's needs from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. with very little respite. As such, enjoy your meaningful activities, but definitely do not complain to anyone who is raising a young family and/or has a demanding career that you are "so busy."

4. Nobody likes unsolicited advice. This especially includes your grown children. You had your chance to teach them how to use money, believe in God, vote, treat other people, and take responsibility for their choices. If they want your help and opinion (and hopefully, they will), they will ask you for it, and you should be as honest as you like.

5. Remember how poor you were when you were starting out in adult life? Remember that time your in-laws paid for new tires and fixed the windshield on your car? Remember when an uncle slipped you a hundred-dollar bill at your wedding reception (in addition to the lovely gift they had already given) and told you to "do something special on your honeymoon"? Remember how your dad snuck you some cash whenever he thought you might not have enough? I'm hoping your financial situation as you're reading this is much more secure than it was when you were in your 20's and 30's; look around, notice the people who could use a little financial boost, and give it - no strings attached.

6. Please don't start opting out of events and activities just because you have some idea that you're "too old" to do them. This is the worst excuse ever. I'm counting on future you to have lots more time (see #3) and resources (see #5) to be involved in the things you really love. I hope you're still running. I hope you're still practicing yoga. I hope you're still writing, reading, in a book club, cooking, baking, trying to grow a garden, trying new restaurants, traveling, and being there for your friends and family. I hope you have figured out a good way to make your little world a better place, because I know you wanted to do it when you were younger but it was hard to make the time.

7. Don't play favorites with your children or grandchildren. They can see it so easily, and it hurts them. No matter who has the most money, most debt, most kids, or most problems, try to be there for all of them in some meaningful way.

8. Remember the "life list" you wrote on an airplane to Hawaii when you were 32? Dig it out and look it over. See what you've done, what you've failed to do, then tackle a few more things. While you're at it, add some more items to the list. Because (see #6) you're not "too old" yet.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

(Even More) Things Jemma Says

While scooting in the driveway yesterday afternoon: "Mom, does every person have brefes?" (I figured out that she was asking if everyone has breath.)


While I helped her put on her helmet for scooting: "Thanks, Mom. You're the best!"


While "playing Disney" last night, Jason was pretending to be Cinderella. He said, "Hello, little girls! What state are you from?" and Jemma replied, "East."


After watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I asked her what happened to the Grinch at the end. She said, "His heart grew GREAT sizes!"


Standing in the kitchen last night about an hour an a half after we'd tucked Jemma into bed, Jason heard a noise coming from Jemma's room, across the hall. There's a sizeable gap between the bottom of the door and the floor, and when he got closer, he heard breathing coming from underneath. He got down on the ground and put his head on the floor, and sure enough, there was Jemma's eye, looking back at him.

"Jemma, what are you doing?"

"Looking at you."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend

Driving home from dinner with my parents last night around 8:00, Annie asleep in the backseat and Jemma ooh-ing and ahhh-ing at Christmas lights, Jason and I decided that we had crammed about as much into a single four-day period as was possible. We left for Petoskey at 8:00 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, returned Saturday mid-day (with a stop en route in Rockford to cut down our Christmas tree), and fit in church, the 'Twas the Night Before Christmas ballet, and a family dinner on Sunday.

There are pictures (and I'll upload those later, when my computer isn't being hogged by my trying-to-acquire-a-small-business husband), but for now I want to say how lucky I felt, over and over, to be blessed with so much; to sit down to meals of such bounty, with family all around the table; to go running through the woods and along the lake early in the morning; to be out in a field full of pine trees on a sunny winter's day, watching my little girls smell the branches and march in their boots; to watch their faces when glittering snow fell onto the stage midway through the ballet, and again when Santa himself appeared in a sleigh; to settle into our house on Saturday night, a fire in the fireplace, our Christmas tree decorated, mugs of hot cocoa in hand, watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

I am feeling a bit frantic, lately, with a lot of lists lying around and un-wrapped presents and upcoming events. I am trying to figure out how to make this holiday season one of simple, intentional moments instead of a frenzy of "have-to-do's." And I think the secret is, as usual, in the small things, and in one big thing, too: watching the girls take it all in; watching them wonder at the magic of it all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gobble, Gobble

Annie came home from school today with this adorable sign, which she tells me she made by painting corn on the cob, then rolling the cobs over the paper. How fun is that? I love kid art.

For me, Thanksgiving is equal parts about the food and the company. Here's what my kitchen looked like around 10:30 this morning, when I was toasting nuts, making applesauce, and getting things together for the goat cheese dip. And because my pumpkin obsession has not waned over the years, I went ahead and wrote about it for my most recent Four Forks post, which is here.

This year, I'm thankful for the big things - family, friends, freedom, home, health - and the little ones, too: coffee creamer, family photos,, my dishwasher, Costco baby wipes, my running shoes. Just this minute, I'm especially grateful for antibiotics and the way it seems that Jemma's almost back to normal because of them. Grateful, mostly, that we're able to progress from this:

to this:

Monday, November 23, 2009

PLJ Gets Pneumonia

I did a post, once, about the abbreviation PLG (Poor Little Guy/Girl) and how it came to be. I can't find it right now, but it's a funny story. And even though I didn't come up with the acronym, I can take credit for the way our family has morphed PLG into PLJ (Poor Little Jemma). It just works. (Sometimes we even call Annie PLA, or, additionally, refer to both girls as just PL's. This does not amuse them. But I digress . . .)

Today, for anyone who missed the origin and evolution of the nickname, epitomized PLJ. She woke up extra-early this morning, demanding food as Jason slipped out the door just after 7:00 a.m., then ignoring her breakfast after sitting at the table for a few minutes. She climbed back in bed, and I had to literally pry her out to get her dressed. This took fully half an hour, with crying and sobbing "I look like a boy!" interspersed with the pulling-on of leggings and the choosing of mittens. On Monday mornings, though, it's like a SNL skit, trying to get both girls out the door by 8:00, so I paid little attention to PLJ.

She coughed in her stroller most of the way to school and back in the chilly morning air, then began telling me she was "so, so cold" on our way to the grocery store. When we got home, she climbed back in bed "to rest" and got out only when Sesame Street began. I felt her head, and she didn't feel hot, so I hoped she was still catching up on sleep and fighting the last of her illness. I hoped she'd seem better after her nap.

By lunchtime, Jemma wanted to be held, carried, and snuggled instead of eating. At naptime, she told me to just put her to bed. "I don't want a book today, Mommy." She laid her head down on the pillow. I went to the kitchen to try to make fig jam, but I kept wandering to the laptop to Google H1N1 symptoms.

Up from her nap, she was sadder and more irritated than before, and now she felt warm, too. When the thermometer beeped 101.3, I marched straight to the phone and dialed the pediatrician's number from memory. Even as I was explaining her symptoms to the nurse, I felt a little silly. "She has a fever again, even though she didn't on Saturday or Sunday. And she seems . . . a little sad? And wants to be held? And doesn't eat much?" I'm sure the nurse was thinking, It's the flu, lady. Give her some Tylenol and Sprite and put on a movie. So I was pleasantly surprised that they put her on the schedule, though PLJ because even more PL when I told her where we were going.

Driving to the office, part of me thought I was being paranoid. But part of me knew that something was just not RIGHT with my little girl. Annie's still coughing up a storm, sure, but she's been fully back in action - eating, running, bouncing around, clamoring to wear this and color that - for two days, at least. Jemma just looked at me in the rearview mirror with glassy eyes, and I was glad to be taking her in.

While Jemma clung to my chest and laid her head on my shoulder, the doctor moved the stethoscope around, then listened four or five times in the same area. "Yep!" she said brightly, this former teacher, mother of three, and always-happy pediatrician. "Little bit of pneumonia in the lower left lobe. You know your children so well. It's a good thing you came in." Followed by pharmacy, antibiotics, etc.

PLJ. I'm crossing my fingers for a less-PL day tomorrow, or the next day, at least.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Magical Day

I run around the lake this evening, an hour or so before sunset, wearing shorts at the end of November. It is 57 degrees, and though all the leaves are off the trees, it feels like early fall, or maybe early spring. All around me, people are out walking, running, laughing, raking, stringing up Christmas lights.

The girls, besieged with swine flu fever the past few days, play outside without coats, their lingering coughs the only sign that they've been sick. Stuck inside, we've played school, dress-up, "going to Hawaii," restaurant. We've watched movies, we've colored our hearts out. We're sick of being inside. Today, though, they ride bikes (Annie has finally learned to start by herself), draw on the driveway with chalk, and play hide-and-seek.

We come inside, eat dinner, and watch old home video after baths, snuggled together with doops and jammies. I smile so hard at one-year-old Jemma, running around giving people things and then nodding frantically at them. Have this! Play with this! Yes! This! I think about how, someday, it will be hard to remember how it was to have kids this little. I'll say, remember when Annie learned to ride her bike? Remember when she wanted to wear her gold dress every single day? Remember when Jemma refused to even smell a new food? Remember when she said "fell" for "smell?" I'll say, that was such a magical time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

(More) Things Jemma Says

While playing Thanksgiving with Annie at the dining room table, Annie instructs her to "stop and say one thing you're thankful for." Jemma folds her hands, closes her eyes, and says, "Dear God, Thank you for treats. Amen."


While I'm tickling her the other morning:

Me: "Mmmmm, may I eat your tiny toes?"

Jemma: "Nooooo!"

Me: "How about your cheeks? Just a bite?"

Jemma: "Nooooooo!"

Me: "Could I eat your little nose?"

Jemma: "Noooooo!"

Me: "Well, I want to eat you up. What can I eat?"

Jemma: "You can eat my blueberry."

Me: "???"

Jemma: "My blueberry." Points to her belly button. "It's in here." It's an outie, obviously.


Jemma: "This is Silly Potty."

Me: "No, Silly PUTTY."

Jemma: "Silly POTTY." Laughs hysterically.

Me: "Listen: Pu- pu - putty."

Jemma: "POTTTTTTTYYYYYY! Ah ha ha ha!!!!!!"

Me: Sigh. Walk away.