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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Big Girl 'Nastics

Jemma and I started taking a parent-participation gymnastics class together the week Annie started school this fall. It's been our Wednesday thing, and one of the highlights of my week was holding her hand while we jumped up and down to music during the warm-up circle. She always had a huge grin on her face, like, Can you believe I'm jumping around holding my mom's hand at gymnastics? This is the best!

About six weeks in, the teacher (who I absolutely LOVE), started mentioning that Jemma seemed ready to move up into the Threes class. She could do almost everything her teacher was asking her to do, and while she liked to have me spot her, she was very comfortable with the teacher as well as eons ahead of some of the just-one-year-olds in the class. I procrastinated a bit; this was my special time with Jemma! I didn't really want to sit in a chair in the lobby, looking in while my little girl held someone else's hand. Her teacher mentioned it again, and again, and again. After a month, I caved, and at the end of October, I switched her to the other class - same teacher, one hour earlier.

The first week, I explained as we were waiting in the lobby that she got to go to "Big Girl Gymnastics" because she was so good at everything and I would watch her the whole time and give her a big hug when she came out. She looked unsure, but went in anyway. Sure enough, three minutes in, she was in tears, and her teacher had to hold her during the warm-up. As soon as they broke into small groups and got jumping on the big trampoline, she was fine, and by the end, she was all smiles. I was hopeful.

Every week, though, it's gotten a little worse, not better. She started to get upset when we were walking in the door, then when we pulled into the lot, and this week, she started semi-crying while we were still at home. "Is it Big Girl Nastics?" she asks, hoping, I think, that I'll say things are going to go back to the way they used to be, that I'll come in the gym and hold her hand and jump up and down to music. Today, she cried for the first twenty minutes, and just as I had made up my mind to bail on the whole endeavor and cancel our membership, a friend whose child was on a fieldtrip there walked in. She's been through a bit of the same thing with her daughter. "Hang in there," she said. "Stick it out. She'll love it." She's probably right, too.

So I don't know what to do. Right now, my little PLJ is asleep after a tough afternoon with a fever and a lot of cuddling on the couch and I'm reminded for the umpteenth time how my littlest girl is growing up, like it or not.

Monday, November 16, 2009

He Did, She Did: Girls' Weekend 2009

To his credit, Jason managed the girls for the entire weekend without incident. He also documented some of the things they did with his iPhone. However. I do not even know WHAT is going on in this picture. Apparently, on a sunny, warmer-than-average-for-November-but-with-swine-flu-still-lurking-everywhere weekend, he thought he should take them to the mall. Twice. And let them play in the germ-infested play area. (Other husbands, it should be noted, chose Chuck E. Cheese, McDonald's Playland, and the gym daycare as their disease-ridden locales of choice. Guys: Seriously?)

They browsed Nordstrom Rack.

Annie does not mess around when it comes to clothes.

And they tried on Christmas dresses and took pictures in the dressing room. There are . . . so few words to describe how I feel about this.

Meanwhile, in Winston-Salem, at the house of Andrea, the girls convened for Girls' Weekend, Year Eight. We stayed in on Friday night, made pizza and a big salad, and drank our share of red wine. Heather brought an assortment of pumpkin, raspberry, and coconut cupcakes (she shares my deep love of a quality baked good) and we all stayed up talking until well past midnight.

When we woke bright and early on Saturday morning, it was sunny and warm (and still fall-beautiful there, with leaves on the trees), so we drank coffee and then went for a long-ish hike around a pretty lake, talking all the while about life, family, kids, clothes, money, time, camping, exercise, food, and basically every topic under the sun.

On our ride back, we discovered that Connie had never (gasp!) been to Whole Foods, so we immediately detoured there for lunch. Here she is, very happy with the olive selection.

We went home, ate most of the gelato we hadn't already spilled on ourselves in the car, and eventually showered and headed out to dinner at the very cute, very yummy Print Works Bistro in Greensboro. (We did not get lost on the way there. Nope.) Cocktails, scallops, autumn salad, roasted garlic and baguettes, brussels sprouts, gnocchi = great dinner.

We skipped dessert at the restaurant so we could come back home to eat pie and drink wine. We did eat the pie, but to the great horror of us all, the lovely wine that Heather brought for the occasion was corked, and we had to pour it right down the kitchen sink.

Later, around 2:00 a.m, we did this:

Leaving on Sunday always sucks. Of course I am tired. Of course I am sad to leave my friends, some of whom I see far less frequently than I wish. But beneath the tiredness and the impatience with the travel drama (there is ALWAYS travel drama, and this time did not disappoint, as Connie and I nearly got bumped off our plane in Detroit), I always leave with a deep sense of contentment and peace. These are the people - outside of my family - who know me best; these are the friendships, among others I treasure, that sustain me. They're my life coaches, fashion consultants, financial advisors, decorators, child psychologists, marital therapists. We've been at (and in) one another's weddings, cheered for the births of healthy children, rallied around each other during the hard stuff, and it is both so calming and so energizing to spend these 48 hours or so together. We may have had to pour a little wine down the sink; Anthropologie may have been closed too early; and some people may have watered a fake plant, but it was good. It was unbelievably, simply good. We're already planning the next one.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reasons to Be Happy

1. Another satisfying evening of above-average television, including the excellent use of the word "jackassery" on Community.

2. This week's sunshine and continued warm temperatures. We played outside this afternoon with no coats on until dinnertime.

3. Jemma and I got ourselves some Robinette's donuts and cider yesterday, and I got a dozen, so they continue to be available to me at every necessary moment throughout my days.

4. I'm getting on an airplane at noon tomorrow to jet off to my annual Girls' Weekend with some beloved friends from college. This year, North Carolina, where we plan to take short breaks from eating, drinking, gossiping, and lounging in our pajamas to eat and drink in public, hike, and shop. That is, if we can shut up long enough to get dressed and leave the house.

5. The Joshua Radin station on, which has been on constantly via the laptop in the kitchen and never fails to brighten up even the grouchiest of meals or cooking extravaganzas. I. Love. Him.

6. While I tucked Annie in tonight, she covered her eyes with her hands, then said, "I'm sorry I was mean to you this morning." (This would be in reference to her epic freak-out as we literally stepped out the door to go to dance. It continued in the driveway, on the sidewalk, and all the way up to the door of her dance classroom, where she sniffled, took a deep breath, and bounded off to have a perfectly lovely dance class. Huh.) Apologizing is hard for anyone, but seems to be especially excruciating for Annie, and I was so proud of her that she did it sincerely and on her own initiative.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Doors Closing, Windows Opening, or Something

It was magically in the 70's here this weekend, 60's and sunny today - a gift - and we have been trying to spend every single second outside. Just today, I walked Annie to school, ran around the lake, walked to pick her up from school, walked to the grocery store with the girls, walked to a friend's house, and walked back to school in the evening for Annie's parent-teacher conference.

Yesterday, Jason and I took advantage of his parents being here overnight to scoot down to "The Cottage" and rake/blow all the leaves to the curb, and it almost didn't seem like a chore at all but instead like a late-summer drive and a beautiful afternoon to do yardwork unfettered by children or bugs. We spent much of Saturday at various parks and with the neighbors in the front yard. It's our usual summertime space, and by the end of each summer, the whole "it takes a village" thing can wear thin. This weekend, though, the adults stood around drinking coffee and idly raking while the kids were gleeful in their short-sleeved shirts on their speedy scooters, and it wasn't old at all.

It gets dark early now, though, and we've been watching our share of old home movies of the girls when they were babies and young toddlers. Almost every night during bath Annie asks, "Can we watch a baby Annie video? Just one?" and so we squeeze onto the couch with wet-headed girls in their jammies, watching those same girls cry their first cries in the delivery room or taste their first popsicle or blow out birthday candles.

The main effect this video-watching has on me is to make me feel as though my life is moving at warp-speed. I literally look at at the television screen, where one-year-old Annie tries to blow the fluff off a dandelion, and then down at the gangly girl next to me, and it is confusing. How did THAT become THIS? And so quickly?

Watching a montage of all the lovely moments - set to music, no less - makes it all look so rewarding and effortless and just plain happy. So much so that, of course, it makes me think we could do it all over again. I almost want to, just for the delivery room magic alone (and my delivery rooms are especially un-magical, but there is something so unspeakably sacred about that very first day of life). But, you know, we probably won't. Not because I don't want to, exactly, but because I KNOW that it wouldn't be like the home videos we've been watching. Or that it would be like that, 1/1000th of the time, and the rest of the time it would not.

Ever since Jemma was born, we've entertained the idea of a third. I think part of me even assumed that we'd do it eventually. I thought that at some point, things would feel "settled" again, or life would be obviously easier, or it would seem like TIME. But Jemma's going to be three next month, and it's never felt like that to me. When the girls were very little and I felt sure that it absolutely, positively could NOT get any harder/more chaotic/more stressful than it was at that stage, I'd look to friends or neighbors with older children and think how easy they had it. I may have, perhaps, mentioned these assumptions to those friends and neighbors. And what they said was, "It doesn't really get easier; it just changes." And they were kind of right. Life now IS definitely easier than life with a newborn and a two-year-old, but it is not easy, per se. It has changed. The time I no longer spend nursing has been sucked up by art projects and reading aloud and strapping on bike helmets. (Also: the time I no longer spend getting up all hours of the night to tend to a child is now spent SLEEPING, a change I very much LIKE.) There have been so many times during daily situations when I have looked around and thought, where would a baby fit into this picture?

When I watch those videos and look at myself in them (instead of at the girls), I remember that the current "me" who has time for running and yoga and cooking and writing and friendships and travel and reading was not there. My hair is never not in a ponytail, and I am wearing a nursing tank top under the same green hooded zip-up sweatshirt an alarming number of times. That me made it through most days in a blur and counted leaving the house to go one place as a major success. That me, frankly, was not that happy, and sometimes forgot that her situation was not, in fact, permanent. I do not miss that me.

It is strange to watch this particular door creak closed. It is sad. I could almost cry about it, if I wanted to. I think some women are at their best when they're surrounded by the chaos of a big, loud family; I even wish I was one of those women, but I don't think I am. I want to be present for my two gorgeous, hilarious, feisty, smart, ridiculous children. I am blessed and lucky to have two. It is so much, really.

I want to be a calm, centering force in their world. I want to sit, like I did tonight, at my daughter's conference, incredibly proud of her strengths, and have the time to come home and praise her tonight as well as the time to work with her in the coming weeks. I want to tuck them each into bed every night individually - story, cuddle, song, kiss, hug - and know I have given them my attention fully. I want lots of big possibilities for them, and for me.

"And she turned out the light-
And closed the door-
And that's all there is-
There isn't anymore."

from Madeleine

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Things Jemma Says

Last week in church, as I passed the offering over her head, she saw it go by and belatedly asked for it.

"No," I said, "It's not a big deal. You just pass it on to the next person." She was quiet for a minute, then said, "But I am a person."


While watching old family videos of Annie as a baby: "There's Annie when she was a boy!!!!"


While in the tub tonight, she farted, then announced to the rest of us (who were all crowded in there together for some unknown reason): "I did blow bubbles when I tooted!"


While at the dentist last week for her first official cleaning: "Look, mom! I got new teeth!"

Semi-Sick Day

Annie woke up coughing around 2:00 a.m. last night and wanted me to sleep with her for the rest of the night. I tried, but the two of us do not exactly fit in a twin-size bed also occupied by two pillows, Molly, CeeCee Bingo, and Dinah. We snuggled for a while, and I suspected she would be skipping school today.

Sure enough, her fever this morning was 100 degrees on the nose, the range I like to refer to as "technically sick but still plenty of energy to drive me crazy all day long." I called the absence hotline and prepared for a long day with a sort-of-sick child.

Instead, we had a really great day. Annie's temp stayed right around 100, but she was mellow and happy, and, perhaps remembering my actual tears last night* over the 197th time she and Jemma went into instant-fight mode, a kind big sister. The two of them played together most of the morning while I showered, baked pumpkin bread, did laundry, and picked up behind them. I read while they napped. We danced in the kitchen to The Weepies and I cooked dinner while they colored. (Annie is creating a full Princess Series of prints with white printer paper and mixed media, i.e. markers and crayons. So far, my favorite is Snow White.) Jason got home on time for dinner, and now the girls are snug in bed and we have Thursday TV to enjoy.

I mean, I wouldn't want to do it every day, but for once, it was good not to leave the house all day. Let's hope this was a one-day virus and not the beginning of Seven Days of Doom that's been swirling all around us this fall . . .

*So yes, I occasionally lose it in front of my children, and when I did so briefly last night because they were actually fighting vigorously over who got to bring which clothes to the dirty laundry hamper, Annie took one look at me, ran from the room, and returned with two fat library books from the top of the stack next to my bed. If they have learned nothing else about their mommy, at least they know: when she is sad, she wants a good book.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Middle School, Redux

Just sharing a link to a post at Bodies in Motivation where I admit to the adolescent mind games I play with myself to stay motivated on the health-and-fitness front.