Thursday, May 28, 2009


I am standing in the bathroom just before lunchtime.  We have come inside so Annie could use the bathroom and both girls could wash her hands before eating.  Annie stands up, pulls up her skirt, and climbs onto her stool to wash her hands.  Instead of holding her hands under the running water, she cranes her neck around to look at the toilet.  

"Don't flush it!" she says.

"I know; I won't," I say calmly.

"Mom!  Don't let Jemma flush it!  Don't flush it!" she repeats, compulsively, over and over, as I continue to promise her that nobody is going to flush the toilet until she's exited the bathroom. 


I am loading the girls into the car to go to the school district offices for the THIRD time to try to convince them that we really DO live here and really CAN enroll our daughter in the district for the fall.  (Birth certificate original, water bill, summer tax bill, closing documents from home purchase including previous owner's signature, our signature, address, and date of closing:  check, check, check.)  I open Jemma's door, wait for her to run over.

"I.  Have.  Something.  In.  Mine.  Shoe."  She stops, sits down in the wet driveway among a thousand maple-seed helicopters, takes off her Croc, puts it back on.  This takes five minutes.  I wait.

"Hop up!" I say.  As she climbs into the car and turns toward her carseat, I bend down to grasp her hand and help hoist her up.  She freaks out.

"I Can Do That Myself!" she yells.  "I Vant Do That BY MYSELF!"  She glares at me fiercely, climbs back down, gets back out of the car, pauses a moment to let the glare sink in, and begins the whole getting-in process again.  


I am reminded of the part in David Sedaris' book Me Talk Pretty One Day where he writes about how he used to have a specific routine on his way home from school:  touch this mailbox seven times, lick that stone, open the door with a certain hand in a certain direction.  Annie, Jemma, David Sedaris - they're the ones with OCD.  And I'm the one going crazy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


"Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates. getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy." - from Stephen King's On Writing

My Rapid Growth article came out today, and I'm feeling a little Lois Lane about it. Taking a minute to read it over, slowly, to see my name in print. It's a start.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Now that Annie's not usually napping but Jemma's still sleeping solidly from about 1:00 - 3:30 every day, we have a bit of an issue about bedtime.  Annie's an exhausted mess by 7:00 while Jemma's still ramming around the house, yelling, laughing, protesting even the idea of settling down to read a few books.  She's just not tired.  Last night, after tucking her in at 7:45, we heard her babbling away in her crib (happily, for the most part) until almost 9:00.  So tonight I took her for a run after we had tucked Annie in, and it was nice to be out in the humid summer night with her.  Not sure now we're going to solve this problem in the long run, though:  I don't enjoy starting the day with Annie's singing at 6:00 a.m. and not ending it with Jemma until 8:30 p.m.


I've been writing more, which is good, but it also feels a little like I'm spinning plates, trying to keep every little project going.  I've basically increased my workload by two hours a day without getting any more time in which to do it (right at the time when Annie's finished school for the summer, too).  I pull out the laptop from 1:00 - 3:00 every day and I sneak moments here and there, and I stay up at night typing after Jason's gone to bed.  And I love it.  I love the thrill of telling a good story; I love the idea that I'm actually being paid to do something I'd probably be doing anyway.  But I don't love that I've lost a lot of the "me" time in my life - time I used to spend reading, talking on the phone with friends (something I do very little of when the girls are awake and around), watching the occasional DVR'd Food Network show . . . I'm searching for a balance, here, but mostly just wishing for a little more time in each day.


I'm wishing lately that Annie had been born on August 11 instead of September 11, and not just because of the obvious negative connotations with that date.  For months now, I've been torturing myself over whether or not to send her to kindergarten next year or have her do young fives.  Since she is a September birthday, she's automatically qualified/recommended for Y5s, and I don't know why I've been questioning that all along.  I look around and compare her to all the other kids she interacts with every day (neighbors, schoolmates, dance classmates, Sunday School kids) and I think she looks and acts just like them.  I think about how both Jason and I went to school young and did well.  I think she's smart, capable, curious, determined, up for a challenge.  I think she's ready for kindergarten.  This is my gut feeling, and I always think you should go with your gut feeling.

But.  I also think you should always find the people, the experts, who know the most about the situation that you haven't yet experienced, and then you should take their advice.  And the experts - the district kindergarten teacher, the across-the-street-neighbor who teaches preschool and has had four kids go through the school system - all say, unanimously, young fives.  They say it's a gift of another year for her to just be a kid, that the more-confident, more-aggressive, whole-year-older girls will eat her alive, that she'll turn out to be a leader in her grade with extra confidence and poise, that I wouldn't want my 13-year-old freshman daughter at high school with the 18 and 19-year-old boys.  

I like to think that, whatever decision I make (and I say "I" and not "we" because Jason has given this about two minutes worth of thought and thinks we should just do young fives and stop analyzing), it will be fine.  And it probably will.  But don't want fine; I want great.  I want Just Right.  I want Perfect.  I want her to have been born a month earlier - two weeks, even! - so that this decision was a little easier to make.  

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thanks, Di

During dental school days, I was slowly teaching myself to cook.  As I struggled through my cooking magazines (and Jason struggled through some of my creations), I was always in awe of my friend Di, who seemed to effortlessly throw together amazingly delicious feasts for large groups of people on a moment's notice.  I remember her cooking three varieties of stuffed manicotti one night, making shepherd's pie for our book club discussion of Angela's Ashes, and whipping an apple crisp out of the oven one night when we were just hanging out, watching television together.  

Meanwhile, my adventures in the kitchen were still tedious, drawn-out affairs.  I had to read each recipe about a hundred times during the cooking process.  I could only do one thing at a time.  I had no idea how to time things so that a main course and the side dishes would get done around the same time.  I had no sense, reading a recipe, if the flavors would be good together or not.  I relied heavily on Jason, who came into our marriage knowing more about chopping and cooking.

Fast forward ten years or so.  I can sometimes look in the refrigerator and throw a few things together for dinner without a recipe!  I can take a recipe and modify it so it turns out better, healthier, or easier.  I can do more than one thing at a time in the kitchen, estimate how much to feed a crowd, choose things that go together, and know which flavors belong together.  I haev a stash of favorite recipes that I've tested myself, and I'm always looking for more.  

All of this is just the result of time, practice, and experimenting, and now cooking is something I actually enjoy.  I still think it's ironic that I actually write about my own cooking for a wider audience, though.  In posting my latest recipe at Bodies in Motivation, I thought of Di, and how she inspired me, and how this particular not-a-recipe is really hers, not mine.

Recent Annie-isms

-While watching the weather channel to decide whether or not to head to the cottage for the weekend and seeing pictures of a tornado:  "If there WAS a tornado, I can show you a tricky move!"  Gets down on floor, tucks self into a little ball, covers head with hands, and begins counting backwards from twenty.  (Thank you, preschool.)

-While at the park with Ben yesterday, after he had extolled the benefits of his new Slip N Slide and offered to get Annie one for her birthday:  "Could you get me an American Girl Doll instead?"  (Brat.)

-While putting on lip gloss before going to a ballet-themed birthday party yesterday:  "Mom!  Look!  My lips are as red as the rose!"  (Thank you, Sleeping Beauty.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Glossing Over

This morning dawned sunny and warm, and I briefly considered packing the girls up and bringing them to the beach for the day.  Now that Annie is done with preschool, our summer is opening up, and even though I've signed her up for a couple of things (Safety Town, a three-week dance class in July, and something called Fairy Camp which will certainly be the fanciest, girliest "camp" ever), our days are mostly one unscheduled hour after another, now.

I got so far as to make some PB&Js and rummaging around for the swimmies and the sunscreen before I realized that the beach would probably not be my best call today.  The unbelievable amount of whining, sobbing, arguing, fighting, meltdowns, and general inability to cope with life BEFORE 10:00 A.M. really tipped me off.  And since being at the beach would have involved skipping Jemma's naptime and Annie's rest time, I called it off.

This afternoon, though, after everyone's attitudes had been re-adjusted, we had the inaugural afternoon of this summer's Sprinkler Pool, a $29.99 Target special that thrills the kids every May and falls apart every August.  There were popsicles, there was sunscreen, and there were wet, happy children.  

Later, the girls and I even ate dinner outside.  We ended the day with bike rides around the block (Jemma, too!) and much-needed baths to cool down some sweaty, red faces.  Annie's crashed out for the night, Jemma's hanging in the playroom for about ten more minutes, and I'm about to make some grown-up dinner, sit outside with a glass of red wine, and summon my patience to face another day of unscheduled wrangling tomorrow.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Last Day of Preschool

You wouldn't know it from this photo, but there is literally no limit to the things about which they can fight or argue.  It makes this picture that much more precious, I think - knowing that they really DO love each other and enjoy being together, sometimes.

Jemma, hair in eyes as always, being silly outside.

Annie, tending our cilantro and basil, and making "salad" out of the dead daffodil and tulip leaves from the front yard.

Annie with Miss Jenny and Miss Susan at today's picnic to celebrate the end of her preschool experience.  I remember Annie's very first day so vividly (she wore knee socks and her backpack was huge on her back) and I truly can't believe that she'll never need to tote that red canvas bag into a preschool classroom again.  She's thrived there, made good friends, learned all manner of things, and - best of all - discovered that a good school (and good teachers) make learning fun.  I'm so glad that school is a place she's thrilled to be.  

This afternoon was sunny and perfect-spring glorious.  As we walked to the grocery store, Jemma in the jogger and Annie holding my hand and walking beside me, I asked her, "What makes you happy right now?"

"Well," she said, "let's first start with what makes me sad right now."


"I'm sad that it was my last day of school."

"I know," I said.  "I was always a little sad about that, too."

"But I'm HAPPY that I'll go to a new school next year with new teachers and make new friends and you'll always be my Mommy."


"And I'm happy about the sunshine.  Can we buy new popsicles at the store?"

We did.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eating Our Vegetables

Yesterday, with the help of Patrick's magical Dingo and to the delight of neighborhood children who enjoy large machinery, we ripped a scrubby tree out of the ground and cleared a plot of land next to our house for a garden.  (By "we," I mean Patrick.  The rest of us watched and took pictures.)  Heidi and I have been talking about doing this for a few days.  Look!  We actually did it.  We're going to grow lots and lots of herbs, plus a few favorite vegetables.

Then today, we headed to Trillium Haven Farm in Jenison for their member's welcome potluck.  Since, you know, we aren't going to have enough vegetables growing on the side of our house; we'll also be getting weekly shares from our CSA - things like eggplant and kale and sugar snap peas and summer squash and . . . wow.  At the potluck today, when I wasn't being amused by the random rooster ambling around crowing or trying to block out Annie's whining, I heard an experienced member speak of "cabbages the size of basketballs" and "the challenge of using 10 eggplants."  We're going to have a lot of vegetables.  Also, our kids don't really eat vegetables.  It's going to be an interesting, hopefully healthy summer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wonderful People

Clickety-clicking around the internet late last night, I somehow stumbled across a fantastic quote.  It reminded me of something I've been making the effort to say to my kids every single day ever since reading it in The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan.  "Annie/Jemma, you are a great, great kid and I am lucky to be your mom."  And I mean it.  This is similar, and I could hardly love it more:

"You do not have to make your children
into wonderful people.
You only have to remind them 
that they are wonderful people.
If you do this consistently
from the day they are born
they will believe it easily.

You cannot force your will 
upon other human beings.
You cannot hurry children
along the road to maturity.
And the only step necessary 
on their long journey of life,
is the next small one."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Want to Go to There

Even though I still love our Chariot jogging stroller/bike trailer, I am sort of "over" pushing the girls in it together.  They are all smushed in there and they begin kicking one another and fighting constantly the second their snack runs out.  So I often take advantage of Annie's preschool time to push Jemma by herself, something that makes the run much more enjoyable.  
My only annoyance when I push her alone is that, between fistfulls of Cheerios, she has begun talking to me and asking me questions, and let me say, when I'm running down a semi-busy road and traffic is roaring past, it's very hard to hear what she's saying.  I usually alternate between asking, "What?" at progressively louder volumes and just agreeing emphatically with whatever gibberish I couldn't understand, just for the sake of ending the confusing conversation.  

Today, though, we ran past a local school where we often play on the playground and, in spite of the traffic, I heard her clear as a bell:

"Park!  I want to go to that!"

And I felt a secret happiness that my life might be, in one, tiny way, just like Tina Fey's.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just a Thought

I'm writing an article about Festival of the Arts, and I'm really excited about it:  the interviewing, the editing, the research, being able to casually say, "I just talked with my editor," and, especially, getting paid for it.  Good timing, too, because as I was reading in bed last night, the lampshade went ahead and fell right off the Target lamp upon which it sat, thus completing the Very Classy Bedside Situation I have going on.  Perhaps it's time to buy a new nightstand that isn't a blue Rubbermaid container, a lampshade that isn't made of masking tape, and a clock radio that wasn't a birthday gift in third grade.  On second thought, I clearly need a new bookshelf, too; better write a few more articles . . .

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Riverbank Run 2009 in Quotes

"Runners are crazy" - me, pre-race, 10 minutes before the start, when the rain began falling in buckets.

"Hey, I know, let's get up early on a Saturday morning, get together with thousands of strangers, go out in the pouring rain, and run the length of a major motion picture!" - Sarah, in response.

"Work it out, ma'am" - a marine passing out water at an aid station, to me in response to my thanks.

"These hills are f$^&#ing ridiculous!" - pretty much every single runner on the course who had the strength to speak.

"Sure is hard to take a nap when you have to get out of bed to spend time in the bathroom every fifteen minutes all afternoon" - me on the phone late today, when asked how I was doing post-race.

Two hours, twenty-two minutes of pure running bliss, people.  Runners are crazy.  We have our reasons, though.  My last quote (one I found today in The Complete Book of Running for Women  - while looking up "diarrhea," "hypothermia," and "post-race nausea") sums up one of mine:

"Though the social climate has changed since the 1970s and girls are encouraged and invited to play sports of all kinds, attitudes linger.  It seems we expect boy to play sports, whereas we accept that girls play.  As mothers, we can have the greatest effect in changing those attitudes.  One of the gifts we give to our daughters through our running is to show them that an active lifestyle is just as natural and essential to women as it is to men; that women not only are the caretakers of others but that we place a high priority on our own well-being, too; that we do what we need to for our own good health and happiness."  

Maybe it's fitting that this race always falls the day before Mother's Day.  I hope I am passing this on to my daughters, craziness and all.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

All About Annie

Jemma left this morning to spend two nights with Jason's parents.  They had requested some "just Jemma" time, and I'm taking advantage of having Annie here alone to do some special, unusual things with her.  She and I often struggle, probably because we're so alike, and I've been feeling lately like too many of my interactions with her are fraught with negativity.  She's seeking my attention, I'm distracted, we're clashing all day long.  So starting this morning, it's been all about Annie.  A partial list of things we did today:

-got ready together this morning, including lip gloss and chapstick
-school, with extra bonus playground time at the end
-went shopping for the treats we'll be serving at her very special Big Girls Only Tea Party she wanted to host tomorrow
-had a calm, conversational lunch together with plenty of time for all the stories from school
-went to the art museum, where we did a scavenger hunt and she won a prize
-spontaneously played at a new park she spied from the car on the way back
-ate dinner at Marie Catrib's and played tic-tac-toe while we waited for our food
-played outside
-took a bike ride
-practiced wearing her goggles in the tub during bathtime (her first swimming lesson was last night, and she's really into "practicing" being underwater with her goggles)

Wandering around the art museum today, holding her hand and scrutinizing the paintings, I took special notice of the fact that I need to do a better job of setting aside time to be with just Annie.  It was so awesome to be able to notice her, to be patient with her long, convoluted stories, and to really listen and be present for her all day long.  

Tomorrow, we are hosting a couple of her friends for a tea party, per Annie's request when I asked her what she'd like to do while Jemma's away.  Annie is so excited that she has already laid out all her dress-up outfits (in case other people want to wear them; she'll be wearing her wedding dress, OBVIOUSLY), set the sprinkles out on the counter, dragged me into the store to buy flowers (her idea), and made a stack of all the board games she and the girls might potentially play when they tire of drinking lemonade and eating "biscuits" (Lorna Doone shortbread cookies).  

I love experiencing her this way and seeing her so excited about being the center of attention.  And I do miss Jemma, but, man, the art museum with a two-year-old?  No, thank you.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Weekend Photos

Residual Good Mood

In spite of Annie's up-half-the-night coughing last night and subsequent fever today (which kept her home from school), I am in a good mood, probably still fortified by our glorious weekend.  No matter how much we wholeheartedly love the whole "it takes a village" thing we have going on in our neighborhood, it was refreshing to be "away" for a couple of days, to be someplace just our family could inhabit without having to referee toy-sharing or watch as someone else's child upended the fifth container of bubbles this spring.  We largely ignored our usual schedule, something I am very anal about here at home, and I love to do that sometimes, especially when I know I'm not setting a dangerous precedent.  You're eating a giant Rice Krispie treat on a stick and skipping your nap?  OK, but just here at the cottage; obviously, not at home.  Sometimes I get tired of Consistency and Routine and Loving Limits, too.  It was nice to take a break.

Additionally, inspired by the title of another blog I read (see You'll Learn to Keep House in my blogroll sidebar), I've been amusing myself all day long by inserting new words into the Beyonce song All The Single Ladies.  Trust me:  almost anything can sound fun in that chorus.  A few faves:

"If you go outside/ You gotta put your shoes on/ uh oh oh . . ."
"If you wanted some/ You shoulda asked nicely/ uh oh oh  . . ."
"If you made a mess/ You probly shoulda cleaned it up/ uh oh oh . . . "

and one that clearly makes no sense, but should be sung while holding Jemma fresh from the bath, upside down so she can see herself in the bathroom mirror, bouncing to the beat:

"If you liked it /Then you shoulda put a Jemma on it/ uh oh oh . . ."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Cottage, May 2009

It is strange to be back in the house we came home to with our firstborn.  In the lemon yellow room where I nursed her in a blue rocking chair, she and her sister glory in jumping on the bed, something they are not allowed to do at home.  She is almost five and remembers almost nothing about her life in this place.  I do, though.  This is the tub she bathed in every night; there is the lilac bush we transplanted; there is the kitchen drawer where she learned to pull herself up; there is the lawn I used to chase her in, catching her and throwing her up in the air when I was newly-pregnant with her sister, late April or early May, three years ago.

We are here on another spring day, bringing loads of towels and forks and mattresses.  We've decided to use the house this summer, this four-years-on-the-market house that sits, empty and forgotten.  We fill it up again:  sand toys, frozen waffles, laundry detergent.  We put mattresses down on the floor, set four cups on a shelf in the kitchen.  Then, we play.

We walk to the beach so they can climb the monkey bars and feel the sand between their toes.  We get treats at the bakery, walk through town and notice what has changed.  My favorite boutique is gone.  Our favorite place for lunch is busy.  We eat there, and the waitress remembers us.

Later, after dinner, after ice cream at Sherman's, we go back to the beach as the sun falls in the sky.  The wind has died down.  We are the only people on the whole expanse of North Beach.  We run through the rippled sand, roll up our pants, feel the water, and run back out, screaming.  We chase the seagulls.  We go down the slide.  I notice their footprints, side by side, small, in a long line towards the water.  

After they go to bed, I go running.  I stop, sit on a bench to watch the sunset, thank God for this day.  When I get back, Jason is playing guitar.  We stay up late, sit on the lone couch to split a pizza and drink beer, nothing to do but talk, to wish out loud for the new memories we'll make in this old house.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Sunshine

A good, sunny day.  Easy-peasy ten-mile run, lunch with girlfriends, a pedicure, time with the family.  Now we're packing for the inaugural spring trip to the "cottage" (cue creepy Tina Fey/Tracey Morgan 30-Rock laughter here):  old beach towels, camera, sunglasses, bedding, movies, running shoes for a run by the lake.  I'm looking forward to the adventure and vowing to pay more attention to the details.  A quote I came across that reminds me why I bother to write it all down:

Learn to write about the ordinary. Give homage to old coffee cups, sparrows, city buses, thin ham sandwiches. Make a list of everything ordinary you can think of. Keep adding to it. Promise yourself, before you leave the earth, to mention everything on your list at least once in a poem, short story, newspaper article.
Nathalie Goldberg