Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing the Moments, 2011

The February blizzard moves in just as the Daddy/Daughter dance begins, and Jason and Annie arrive home covered in a layer of white. We wake up the next morning to inches and inches of snow drifted halfway up our door and every school closed. Jason cancels patients for the day. Our streets and sidewalks - usually cleared by the dozens of speedy city plows - remain completely covered with snow. Just after lunch, Sarah and Katie and I strap on snowshoes and wind our way through city blocks and across baseball fields step by step. The sun is out. There is no traffic. The only sound is our voices and laughter as we cross the street and traipse across the frozen lake. We talk about books, about upcoming vacations, about soba noodles. We find ourselves at Rose's and it seems right to strip off a layer of snow gear and have pints of dark beer in a booth. When we hike back to our street, the neighborhood has gathered in our front yard with their sleds and cameras and children and there is a pile of snow a mile high next to our driveway.

*****

I wake up in a canopy bed draped in white netting, the room still smelling faintly of mosquito coil incense, and I can't wait to throw open the shuttered wooden door and see the sun rise over the ocean. The girls giggle in their beds in the next room and I roll out my yoga mat so I can face the water. I breathe half-heartedly through a few poses but what I really want is to sit, cross-legged, and watch the sky turn incrementally lighter by the minute, listen to the waves lap against the shore below. After breakfast I take a kayak out along the coast as far as I dare to go alone and then I drift. I tilt my face up and close my eyes and let the sun beat down on my smile. When I return, we all swim together off the raft that's anchored off shore, and there is a moment when I am quite sure that this is our whole family as it is meant to be. Later, I lie in a hammock that's just feet above the water with the girls and take turns reading them the books they bring to me as the sun gets lower in the sky and Jason snorkels off the reef.

*****

We've spent the day on the beach, a jumble of dogs and kids and jet skis, and there was an all-ages dance party after cocktail hour but before dinner, and now the children have been de-sanded and tucked into bunk beds. It is dark and starry and still warm this late at night as we make our way down wooden steps to the beach and laugh our way out to the deep. We have not been night-swimming since long before marriage and children but this August night the stars align and we all stay in as long as we want until we go back up to the hot tub, until Jemma comes out to find us at midnight and we remember that we are middle-aged parents, after all.

*****

It's hot and we've camped for the day at a magical place where North Bar Lake flows out to Lake Michigan via a warm, shallow, clear tributary. After we picnic and the girls try to catch a few fish with their grandpa, we leave Mimi and Jemma behind to play in the sand and we walk north to the dune overlook. Jason, Annie and I start clawing our way up and she has never climbed anything like this before but up she scrambles like a monkey, stopping to rest whenever I do, smiling proudly when she reaches the top. We stand for a moment and look out at the Manitou Islands glinting in the sunshine, and then we begin bounding down. She and I hold hands and practice jumping, feet together, and then we bound, one leg at a time, our strides becoming wider and faster the farther down the dune we go. She lets go of my hand and goes a little ahead of me. When we look at each other again, we are both smiling with pure joy.

*****

We're at Great Wolf Lodge with cousins and we've split up to wait in line in pairs for various rides. Annie and I have climbed the stairs with our tube and are waiting for our turn when we look down and see Jason and Jemma in their tube as it shoots out the bottom of a giant water slide. I see Jason paddle the tube over to the steps and get out, then help Jemma out of her seat so she is standing on the pool deck. She jumps up and down with glee, then pumps her hands victoriously over her head, a huge smile on her face, and wants to get in line to do it again. And again.

*****

We're wearing neon-lettered sweatshirts, blue eye-shadow, and side ponytails. We're drinking Red Bull and vodkas against our better judgment. We're crowding the stage to get as close as possible and we're singing the lyrics to every song until we're hoarse, dancing until the music stops, smiling so much our cheeks hurt the next day. (Also, our heads.)

*****

It's girls' weekend and the six of us are at Connie's cottage. The kitchen island is covered with food: cheese, crackers, olives, almonds, cereal mix, avocados, chips, brownies. We sit on stools or we stand, idly drinking a glass of wine, but what we really want to do is talk. Gina starts a story and we are rapt except for the parts where we can't help but interject our disbelief: "I love this story!" I say, halfway through, before I even know what's going to happen next.

*****

It's freezing on Mackinac Island and we've bundled ourselves in down before getting into a horse-drawn carriage to wind our way up to the center of the island for dinner. When we arrive, the restaurant is full of the clinking of glasses and silverware and there are fires burning in the huge old fireplaces. We're seated at a table in the back corner, up a few steps from the rest of the dining room, and from our vantage we can see the packed house, candlelight and wine making everyone's cheeks rosy. We split a bottle of red, Jason orders beef goulash with spaetzle, and he is so happy when it comes that I think he might cry. Our bellies full of warm food, we take another carriage home, breathing in the cold air, listening to the clip-clop of horseshoes, holding hands under the blanket.

*****

I'm sitting in a church pew at Uncle John's funeral having struggled through a hymn and passed Kleenex down the row before deciding definitively that there should be no more looking at Aunt Bonnie. His two best friends, looking for all the world like characters from a movie about the mob or maybe Texas football, get up to talk. They talk about life and loyalty, childhood friends and, yes, football. Then one of them says, a little abruptly in Aunt Bonnie's direction, "You know he loved you so much, girl," and the tears are welling up again because I am realizing how rare that kind of love is, how lucky I am to have it, and how it might feel to lose it. In spite of myself, I look at her again. She is beautiful, nodding, crying. She knows.

*****

It is the fourth of July and we have stood in the heat of the parade until the fire trucks sprayed us down at the end. Now we settle on the huge front porch at Trevor and Lisa's and the girls race by in a blur of red, white, and blue while the grown-ups drink mojitos and play guitar. Later, the kids will get cranky and scared of the fireworks and too full of sugar for our liking, but just now they're getting wet in the sprinkler and we don't care. We're looking out at the blue bay, just talking, and feeling like there's no other place in the world to be than with family up north on the fourth of July.

*****

The tree is just up and we decorated it today without breaking any ornaments and with a minimum of fighting or tears. There's a fire in the fireplace, Elf on the television, hot cocoa in our tummies, and little girls in flannel jammies in our laps. Thanksgiving is just over and the whole of the Christmas season stretches out in front of us. Our family of four is snug and happy and healthy in this cozy house, and all is right with the world.

Christmas and Birthday, Recapped

Now that Christmas, Jemma's birthday, and all the assorted celebrations seem like the distant past, I'm loathe to do a holiday recap but know I'll regret it later if I don't. So.

Christmas Eve: For the first time in my life, I did not gather with my mom's side of the family for an evening of appetizers and plates and plates of little sugared treats. In the spirit of less is more and quality over quantity that we tried to embrace this holiday season, we made Christmas Eve about our own little family of four instead. We went to church at 5:00 p.m. for the family service (in years previous, we have never, ever attended church on Christmas Eve or on Christmas because of various family obligations) and it felt sweet and right to be singing O Holy Night on that very special night.

On our way home, we took time to drive up and down the streets in our area that deck out the curbs with luminaries every Christmas Eve. At home, we began a new tradition of Christmas Eve fondue dinner by candlelight. We had sparkling grape juice for the girls, and while we took turns spearing tart green apples and sourdough bread cubes to dip in the hot cheese, we also took turns toasting each other, our not-present family members, and our favorite places and things and events of the year. I may have cried a little.

Cookies and milk set out for Santa and girls tucked in beds, Jason and I filled stockings and talked about where we'd been and what we'd done for the last fifteen Christmasses we've been together, then went to sleep knowing the house was fully prepped for a morning of chaos and cheer.

Christmas Day:  I've written before about how all our Christmas mornings (and seasons) are bound to blend together in my mind, so every year I try to single out a few memorable details. This was the Christmas, then, when


  • the green grass predominated over snow, much to the girls' dismay.
  • the girls and I led Jason on a scavenger hunt to find his new skis.
  • the furnace quit at some point during our present-opening frenzy and we spent lunch squeezed together at a little table we'd pulled to stand in front of the fireplace and spent the night with space heaters and air mattresses until the repairman could come the next morning, when the majority of the house was 53 degrees.
  • Santa brought Annie an iPod touch (onto which she immediately loaded an awesome-in-its-randomness mix of The Beatles, Toto, Justin Bieber, Abba, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and Brandi Carlile) and Jemma a pink Razor scooter which she scooted up and down the hallway.
  • we spent the afternoon with my family at my parents' house opening presents, playing fun games, and eating dinner with my grandparents.
  • I snuck in a run around the lake with a friend and Jason got out on his bike on Christmas Eve in the sunshine.
  • Annie and I made marshmallows for the first time together and Jemma destroyed the kitchen rolling them in powdered sugar.
Two days later, Jemma turned five. Five. Five is huge, big-kid, momentous (for me) and I can literally not believe she's five years old. We woke her up with balloons and YET MORE presents, celebrated with a Sugarplum Fairy dance party with eight of her friends in the afternoon, and had Smitten Kitchen double chocolate layer cake, homemade macaroni and cheese, and raspberries for dinner. We measured her, and sure enough, she's half an inch taller than she was just six months ago.

We've filled the holiday break with a trip up north, ice-skating downtown after dinner out, a million art projects, a night of cozy fun with friends and neighbors, a couple hours of burning energy at the gymnastics place, swimming at the pool, hours of Lego-building, an epic trip to the library, playing checkers and tic-tac-toe on the iPad, a lot of television and a lot of bickering. Just now, I'm hunkered in a coffee shop, post-yoga, trying to snatch a few minutes of quiet before I take the girls roller-skating this afternoon. I'm trying to gather my thoughts about this year that's almost over, figure out what 2012 is going to be about for me and for our family, and capture the texture of this exact time in our life. 

Birthday letter to Jemma and bunches of Christmas photos to come, but for now I'm just sweaty, tired, a little hungover, and trying my best to get the details of the last week down before they're gone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Present over Perfect

If you, like me, sometimes want to punch the song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" in the face, go and read this. I came across it tonight, and I'm adopting it as my manifesto - for the holidays, for life. Shauna Niequist is my hero.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Six Days 'Til Christmas

We're on Day Four of sick Annie over here (so our jolly up-north Express Christmas weekend was not quite as jolly as we had hoped it would be, though it was still jolly nonetheless) and Day One of eleventy billion days off school.  The first time-out happened at 9:29 a.m.

Jemma is jack-rabbiting around the house like a jumping bean all day long, constantly asking and re-asking how many days until Christmas, until her birthday. She loves her new purple footie pajamas but they make her feet too hot so she wears them right up until bedtime, at which point she switches to her snowflake jammies, which do not make her feet too hot. When she sings Rudolph, she says, "had a berry shiny nose," and I wish she would always sing it that way.

Annie gingerly eats one bite of yogurt, one bite of toast, takes one sip of tea before lying back down in her bed. Her hair is a pile of mangled golden knots but I pet it anyway. She wishes aloud fervently that there would never be any more germs in the world, worries aloud hysterically that she will still be sick on Christmas, circles back time and again to why oh why it had to be her, sick, not able to play in the snow with her cousins.

There is a giant new box of Legos spilled across the bedroom floor, a pan of caramel cooling on the kitchen counter, an American Girl doll sitting in the chair across from me, fully dressed in riding clothes. There is a cookie exchange and a piano lesson and things to schedule into the new year.

I go to yoga tonight after dinner, kiss the girls good-night as Jason is reading to them in our bed, breathe my way through seventy-four minutes of movement. During the seventy-fifth minute, as we lie on our backs with our eyes closed in the warm room in the dark with Christmas lights twinkling at the ceiling, she says, "There is nothing for you to do right now. There is nowhere to go. There is no list. There is no phone. There is just you, and this mat, and this breath, and this room."

Tomorrow will be five days 'til Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Preschool, Observed

As luck would have it in this, the most ridiculously busy wonderful time of the year, I've been volunteering in Jemma's classroom every single day this week. Tuesday was the day we celebrated her birthday and the birthday of her good friend H., who also has a December birthday that will occur over the holiday break and who (sadly) is moving out of state after the new year.

H's mom and I planned a joint treat - ice cream with lots of fun toppings - and converged on the classroom to set up the treat and enjoy circle time with the birthday girls. We'd scooped all the ice cream, set out all the toppings at the two snack tables, and then we stood for a minute, watching as the kids sang a few of their adorable holiday songs, including one about Santa to the tune of "Bingo." When they were done, having ho- ho'd their way through the final chorus, Mrs. C. said, "Good job! You remembered all the verses! Kiss your brains!" and, you know what, they did. Proudly and immediately and confidently kissed their own open palms and planted a kiss right on the tips of their heads.

When do we stop doing these things?

*****

Today I was the Holiday! Party! Helper!, which meant showing up half-way through the classroom time to (again) set up the day's snack, clean up all the requisite hot chocolate spills, and then to assist with the pinata-whacking for Las Posadas. I was laying out Christmass-y napkins next to plates of Clementines and Rice Krispie treats when a little boy disengaged from the circle and came up to me.

"Who are YOU?" he asked.
"I'm Mrs. D." I said brightly. "It's nice to meet you."
He sat down at a seat. "I play Mortal Kombat every day at my house! Pow!" He was thrilled with his announcement. I looked at my friend A., my eyebrows at the ceiling, a smile frozen on my face.
"Gosh, that's interesting information," I told the little boy.
"Yeah!" he continued, "I'm a GAMER!" and A. and I almost died on the spot.

*****

Tomorrow is a field trip to sing those adorable holiday songs at a retirement home. God only knows what will happen there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Making a List, Checking it Twice

Popcorn: strung.
Pudding by the fireplace: eaten.
Christmas gifts: purchased and wrapped.
Christmas cards: addressed and mailed.
Granola: made and packaged.
Twinkling Christmas lights in a five-mile radius: viewed while drinking hot cocoa and listening to Perry Como in the car.
Polar Express: watched.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: sung in the bathtub.
Christmas Story: read.
Peanut butter fudge: made (and partially eaten).
Angel Tree gift and food pantry donation: dropped off.
Joy to the World: played on the piano by Annie.
Advent calendars: half-opened.
Nutcracker: fancily attended:









Saturday, December 10, 2011

Things That Happened

Jason belongs to a small group of guys, a club of sorts which I should not even be writing about because, like Fight Club, the first rule of the club is: do not talk about the club. But anyways, they get together every once in a while and one thing they do is drink. It's not an excessive, frat-boy kind of drinking but instead a nerd-like kind of drinking that involves blind tastings and rating systems and whatnot. Needless to say, although these events usually occur within a very short distance from our home, I never let Jason go out the door without yelling, "Don't drink and drive!"at him. I'm sure he finds this helpful. But it seems that he is listening, because when I asked him on Thursday morning if he had walked home the night before, he said casually, "Dave pulled me home in the Chariot behind his bike." So there is now a photo of Jason, covered with a blanket and looking for all the world like Mini-Me from Austin Powers (but in a stroller rather than a Baby Bjorn), in a bike trailer.

*****

I went to the mall yesterday. I'd been needing to replace my concealer and procrastinating the visit to the Bobbi Brown counter until I could go on a day when I'd actually showered and was wearing something other than sweaty workout clothes. (Why do I feel the need to look my best for the complete stranger at the makeup counter yet I present my just-finished-75-minutes-of-yoga self at my child's school on a regular basis?) Here's how the interaction went:

Me: Hi, I need new undereye concealer, but I don't see the little pot I have right now.
Beautiful Makeup Lady with Intriguing Accent: Ah, yes. We've discontinued that packaging; the concealer comes packaged with powder now, too.
Me: Ah, okay, I'm not sure what color I'll need, then.
BMLwIA: Well, if you have a moment I can put you in the chair and try one or two on for shade matching.
Me (FATAL MISTAKE): Oh, sure.
BMLwIA, frowning at my face: Now, what are you using for an undereye cream?
Me: Oh, I just use one all-over moisturizer for my whole face.
BMLwIA: (shakes head sadly) No, no. Is most important skin to care for! (Takes pot of thick white cream and begins dabbing it under my eyes.)
Me: That does look . . . dewy.
BMLwIA: Now, next we need to put a corrector under the concealer.
Me: I . . what is corrector?
BMLwIA: You'll see, it brightens the undereye area and really camouflages the dark circles you have.
Me, looking in mirror: Yeah. It does.
BMLwIA: Now I apply undereye concealer, set with powder, and finish with bronzer. Voila!"
Me, looking in mirror, looking about a zillion times better than I did four minutes earlier: My husband is going to kill me.

I don't know, I'm in my mid-thirties, and I suppose it's time to move beyond the drug-store make-up that I've been using since I was a teenager. And when Jason sees the credit card bill, I'll just remind him about that one time he went to Costco to buy eggs and came home with $150.00 worth of groceries.

*****

We're taking the girls to see The Nutcracker this afternoon. To say they are excited would be an understatement. Annie appeared in the kitchen at 7:30 this morning, dressed head to toe in the outfit she's going to wear to the ballet, complete with tights, shoes, and headband. "Can you curl my hair?" she asked. "And can I borrow a pair of your earrings?" In six hours, Annie, in six hours . . .

*****

A year ago right now, Jason and I were in Quebec City. Sigh.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Have Been . . .

 . . . making lists, checking them twice, losing the lists, and making more lists.
 . . . avoiding getting the mail, because I haven't addressed my Christmas cards yet and I don't particularly want to see the eager beaver ones in my mailbox.
 . . . going to book club and actually talking about the book (Room by Emma Donoghue).
 . . . using an inappropriately large portion of my child-free time at hot yoga, my latest exercise obsession.
 . . . getting up before the rest of the family in the mornings just to drink my coffee in the dark and look at the Christmas tree.
 . . . wishing for snow, even though I usually loathe it, because it just doesn't seem like almost-Christmas without it.
 . . . painting toenails with holiday colors.
 . . . learning how to download free e-books from the library onto the iPad (magic!).
 . . . wishing Annie would stop answering, "a hamster" when asked, "What do you want from Santa?"
 . . . sending out invitations for Jemma's 5th birthday party!
 . . . planning our lives into February, already.
 . . . eating Clementines.
 . . . snuggling with the girls on the couch to watch bits of Polar Express and The Grinch.
 . . . doing laundry.
 . . . scouting for new, improved holiday cookie recipes.
 . . . barely cooking.
 . . . avoiding writing.
 . . . braiding the girls' hair.
 . . . listening to Annie practice her piano.
 . . . swooning over Ryan Gosling in the movie Crazy Stupid Love.
 . . . trying to make this season about cozy joy and anticipation instead of frantic preparation.
 . . . eating more than my fair share of sushi.
 . . . reminiscing that Jason and I were on our way to Quebec City exactly a year ago today.
 . . . thinking about getting a job.
 . . . wanting to freeze time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Things They Say: Listening to "Santa Baby" Edition

Jemma:  This girl is silly, because Santa is not a baby!
Annie, matter-of-fact:  Well, he used to be.
Jemma:  Yeah, and when he was a baby, he lived on our street!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Animated With a Love

It was a magnificent weekend. It was the kind of weekend where you laugh until your sides hurt, revel in the crisp air during a hilly early-morning trail run, listen to little girls play incessantly, find the perfect small things while shopping, have real conversations with well-loved people, and find yourself saying grace around a Thanksgiving table that's full of magically perfect food.

We spent Thursday and Friday up north, where it was warm enough that all the girls could hopscotch their hearts out in the driveway while they burned off their Thanksgiving dinner but cool enough that they warmed themselves around the fire when they came back inside. Watching the four of them together - now swathed in Mimi's scarves, now dancing a polka around the living room, now working on an art project with their blonde heads bowed in concentration - gets me every time.  One our drive home yesterday, Annie lamented that her beloved cousins don't live closer, and I could only agree with her lament.

Jason's grandparents were there this year, too, and though they are not as young as they were when I met them, they still bring a sturdy love with them everywhere they go. They watched the action with smiles on their faces, full of praise and encouragement for us and our lives, full of pride in the "smart, beautiful" little ones who love their custard pie and their Slovak nursery rhymes.

We headed home yesterday, stopping en route to make our traditional pilgrimage to The Corner Bar and Hart's Christmas Tree farm. For the first time we can remember, there wasn't a speck of snow on the ground when we combed the fields for the perfect Frasier Fir. We wandered a bit more this year because of the warmth, and the girls spent all their pent-up energy hopping from tree stump to tree stump and searching for milkweed pods.

Last night, after unpacking the family wagon and dragging the Christmas decorations upstairs and the tree into its stand, we kissed the girls good-bye and went out on the town for a night, first to meet up with my extended family for drinks and then to have sushi with JT, Di, Chris, and Sarah. The six of us took down a huge table of some really beautiful food, and - true to form - Jason ordered something new and absurd, which this time happened to be a roll that came to the table wrapped in foil and lit in fire while we all watched. (It was actually delicious.)

Today was rainy and dreary, and we were all about a fire in the fireplace, hot cocoa, and putting all the decorations on the tree and around the house. Jason took the girls to the pool this afternoon while I did laundry and got groceries for the week, and then our foursome ate dinner in front of the television for our annual viewing of Elf, which is perhaps my very favorite Christmas movie.  Watching Annie and Jemma watch the silly parts is almost as fun for me as watching the movie itself. Almost.

They're in bed now and the fire is dying down. I'm on the couch with the computer, planning the week and making lists, trying to keep track of Christmas gifts and travel plans, and Jason's folding laundry and watching Home Alone. The fridge is full, the clothes are clean, and we're fortified by four full days together. We're feeling (briefly, I'm sure) ready for the holiday season and all the accompanying joy and chaos, appreciative and aware of all the animated life in our life right now.

"We are to be animated with a love which embraces all, of every rank and character. A love, which forgets divisions and outward distinctions, that breaks down the old partition walls and seeks a divine spark in every intelligence. Love which longs to redress the existing inequalities of society, which substitutes generous motives for force, which sees nothing degrading in labor but honors all useful occupation, and which everywhere is conscious of just claims and rights of all. Calling upon the mighty to save, not crush, the weak. And a love, which in a word, recognizes the infinite worth of every human spirit." - William A. Channing

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't Do It

This morning started out fairly well: coffee with peppermint creamer; the girls playing checkers on the iPad and then creating some sort of secret project in Jemma's bedroom; Annie helping me make homemade cranberry sauce and giggling about every pop! the berries made; sunshine and playdates and bread-making ahead.  Jason had headed off to an early meeting, and I felt like a pretty great mom, if I do say so myself.

Then I pushed my luck and dared to leave the house.  Why not, I thought, go to the library and exchange books and movies so we'd have brand-new, fresh ones for this weekend's road trips?  And, because it's sunny and because we're eco-friendly and fit, why not walk there?

Big mistake.  HUGE.  The girls fought the whole way there about who should be carrying the books and about how many movies we could check out and who would pick them.  They fought while we were there over who got to check the items out, then fought about who got to push the automatic door-opening button on the way out, and I abandoned thoughts of running into the grocery store for the single thing I needed.

Worse, Jemma began to cry the minute we stepped out of the library's doors on our way home.  "I don't want to waaaaaaaaaaaalk!" she wailed.  I tried optimism:  "It's so short! We'll be home in five minutes!"  I tried cajoling:  "How about you race Annie to that pole?"  I tried mirroring:  "You're tired.  You don't want to walk.  I hear you saying you wish we had driven."  Still she wailed, and I tried tough love:  "Jemma, I don't like to listen to you cry.  I'm going to walk ahead and I'll wait for you when you calm down."  She wailed some more, Annie and I walked ahead, and then she started calling for us.

"Wait for meeeee!" she cried desperately.  "Mommy, wait!"

Aha! I thought.  "I'd be happy to wait for you if you're done crying," I said, pleased that my plan had worked.  We were almost halfway home; we'd just have to make it a block or two more.  Annie and I stopped and waited the few seconds it took for Jemma to catch up with us.  As soon as she did, she started having a fit again.

"I don't want to waaaaaaalk!  I'm tired of walllllllllking!!!" she trailed along behind us, then sat smack down on the sidewalk and screamed, much to the amusement of the college-aged neighbor and her mother out for a morning walk.  So again, Annie and I walked a little ahead, trying in vain to outrun the screaming, and again Jemma called for us to wait, and again she ceased crying right up until the second she finally caught up with us.  Don't do it, I thought, don't do it, don'tdoitpleasepleaseplease and "WAAAAAA!"

We finally made it home and I marveled that in less than an hour a place that had been the setting for such an idyllic morning had been populated with a four-year-old screaming about nothing, a mother with a tight-lipped mouth slamming peanut butter on the counter, and a seven-year-old who used the opportunity to sneak off with the iPad again.  It reminded me of a passage that made me laugh with recognition in When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson:

Me: What kind of bagel would you like, Connor? We don't have any raisin, but we have plain and sesame.
Connor: Why didn't you get me raisin?
Me:  They didn't have any.
Connor: But I really wa-anteddd . . . rai-sinnnnn . . .
Me: THEY DIDN'T HAVE ANY.
Connor: (breaking down) Why couldn't you - just get me - a - raisinnn - baa-aa-gell . . . I wanted - it - so - MUUUCHHH AHHHH . . . .

This is the point where I bodily carry/drag him to any part of the house in which I cannot hear him, or at least will hear him only faintly, banging his fists on the wall and crying out to the gods that this "always happens to" him. I am not sure if ostracization is the correct disciplinary technique here, but I am sure it is better than the Saying of Things Mommy Might Regret, or worse.

After a while, silence.  Connor reemerges, sniffling, clearly attempting to function rationally.  I, modeling coolheadedness, act as if nothing had happened.

Me:  Hi, bud.  Are you ready for breakfast now?
Connor:  (lip quivering) I am.  But, Mommy.  Really.  I just have to ask you one thing.
Me: Don't do it.
Connor: Why didn't you-
Me: I'm warning you.
Connor: - buy me a -
Me: I'm begging you.
Connor:  - raa-hay-hay-zinnnn BAAAAAA-GELLLLLL . . .

Later, I find the patience to build a Lego house with them, we bake rolls together for Thanksgiving, and we sort Annie's laundry in quiet peace.  But that moment on the sidewalk, when I was loaded down with library books and movies (for them) and Annie was furious at her coat (that I bought her) and Jemma, almost five, was determined to ruin what could have been a perfectly pleasant quarter-mile walk, I fantasized for a minute or two about being the mom of the college-aged daughter.  For the love, Jemma.  Just stop crying.  Don't do it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Six Things Now

I keep trying to write some sort of coherent post, but it's not happening.  (This afternoon, while I had a little time to write because Jemma was napping?  I took a nap.  So.)  Instead, this:

1.  Sometimes I wonder why the moms I know seem to be just as busy and frantic as our own mothers were.  At first glance, this seems to not make sense, since my generation tends toward fewer children, more modern conveniences, and more helpful spouses.  Do you know what I think is causing this problem?  EXERCISE.  We do it, our mothers generally did not.  And it takes up a lot of time, what with the working out and the post-workout showering and the workout-clothes laundry.  I am not sad about this, I am just saying.

2.  Things I have been requested to bring to Thanksgiving:  rolls, cranberry sauce.  I have never made either thing, but I do love a challenge in the kitchen, so there are two bags of cranberries and a new 3-lb. bag of flour in my kitchen right now.

3.  I have read Three! Books! In a Row! to which I have assigned the rare-but-special five-star rating on Goodreads.  They are Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.  Go.  Read them.  And tell me what I should read next.

4.  I have begun stockpiling Christmas gifts for the girls in the basement since our house is old and lacks sufficient closet space.  I warned Jason the minute that I started this:  "I'm putting Christmas presents downstairs.  Don't let the girls down there from now on."  I didn't think it would be a problem, because the basment is unfinished and creepy and the only things down there are the Costco overflow groceries, the laundry room, Jason's "workbench," and the hundreds of empty beer bottles our teetotaling Baptist-ish contractor was able to see multiple times last week.

On Sunday, I took the girls down to the track to do some bleachers and sprints with me, which they participated in surprisingly well, and when we returned home I promised them Gatorade.  I left the kitchen briefly and when I came back, Jason was alone in the kitchen while the soup simmered on the stove.

"Where are the girls?" I asked, though I already knew the answer.

"Getting Gatorade in the basement," he said, and I ran down the stairs like a crazy person, where I found the girls adorably trying to figure out how to un-shrink-wrap the case of Costco Gatorade . . . about three feet away from a giant shopping bag full of most of their unwrapped Christmas presents.  Luckily they had no idea, but you can bet someone got the stinkeye when the three of us emerged from the basement.

5.  I went to Trader Joe's last weekend and have since become obsessed with their mini peppermint waffle cookies.  I bought two packages.  I ate the last cookie today.  (Today, with its napping and its cookie-eating, really makes me look good, no?)  Why, WHY can there not be a Trader Joe's in this town?

6.  Jemma celebrated Thanksgiving today at preschool with a "feast."  She now knows a fair amount about the Wampanoag Indians and how to make butter from cream by shaking it while you dance.  She was able to choose her Native American name, which is Princess Love Dancing Sunlight.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thankful . . .

 . . . for shopping road trips with friends when the car looks like this on the way home;

joyous moments in leaf piles on sunny Sunday afternoons;


the side ponytail and the modified side ponytail;


Barkeep's Friend, for when you burn dinner like this because you're out raking leaves;

parent-teacher conferences where the teacher wishes aloud for "a classroom full of Jemmas" (we think she's pretty great, too);

the "Thankful for . . ." tree we're adding to daily at our house, and the fact that Jemma's contributions so far (here, at school, and at Sunday School) to this and similar projects have been cats, colors, and my carseat.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Odd Girl Out

"Girls describe their social communities as worlds in which unresolved conflicts hang like leaking gas in the air, creating a treacherous emotional terrain in which discord is rarely voiced and yet may explode silently with the slightest spark.  For many, if not most, girls, every day can be unpredictable. Alliances shift with whispers under cover of girlish intimacy and play. Many girls will not tell each other why they are sad or angry. Instead, they will employ small armies of mediators, usually willing friends who are uncomfortably caught in the middle or eager for moments of intimacy that result from lending a hand to someone in trouble.

Alternative aggressions, and the nonassertive behavior they suggest, are as embedded in the daily lives of girls as makeup, boys, and media. A girl learns early on that to voice conflict directly with another girl may result in many others ganging up against her. She learns to channel feelings of hurt and anger to avoid their human instigator, internalizing feelings or sharing them with others. She learns to store away unresolved conflicts with the precision of a bookkeeper, building a stockpile that increasingly crowds her emotional landscape and social choices. She learns to connect with conflict through the discord of others, participating in group acts of aggression where individual ones have been forbidden."

"Our culture has made truth telling and anger, indeed, everything that is "not nice," feel very wrong to girls. We have been taught that the right answer is the one that hurts the least. As Brown and Gilligan have shown us, it is critical that girls learn how to expose their most uncomfortable feelings to 'the air and the light of relationship.' For at the core of us are natural feelings of anger and desire, the messy, uncomfortable truths that make us, our relationships, our friends and lovers, imperfect.

Denying those feelings locks us away from ourselves and so from authentic relationships with others. Denying those feelings doesn't make them go away but somewhere else, leaving the people around us unsure of what we mean, who we are, and how we feel."

-from the book Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Of Waffles and Pillow Fights

We headed out of town at the break of dawn on Friday morning to do a fun mini-vacation with the girls to the east side of our fair state. We made it to Ann Arbor in time to have breakfast at our old favorite Saturday morning spot, Cafe Zola. It was just as cozy, delicious, slow, and overpriced as it ever was, and the girls loved it. Jemma couldn't believe her life that we let her order the Belgian waffle a la Gabus, which comes drizzled with Nutella and raspberry syrup and also comes topped with two scoops of ice cream. FOR BREAKFAST.


I would have been happy to sit there for hours, our table covered with fresh-squeezed orange juice, cappuccino, and a mess of crayons, but there were adventures to be had.


We bundled up and wandered around downtown, then spent over half an hour in Peaceable Kingdom, where we knew the girls would love the enormous table of little tiny treasures and toys. We let them each choose one. Then we hiked to campus, with the girls peppering us with questions the whole time: What was that building? Did we eat at that restaurant? How much farther? Was Annie in my tummy when we lived in that apartment? How much farther?

We passed the alley where we always used to see Michael Jackson's doppelganger dancing to Beat It and we ventured inside to marvel at the graffiti until Annie pointed out that it smelled like pee just as Jemma bent down to pick up a penny off the ground. GAH. One gallon of hand sanitizer later, we were in the middle of campus, checking out fountains and bell towers and the dental school, which Jason was eager to show them and about which they couldn't have cared less.

In the afternoon, we grabbed lunch downtown Birmingham and spent the rest of the afternoon at Cranbrook Science Institute. We had the place to ourselves, and the girls ran from exhibit to exhibit, learning about viruses and evolution, water molecules and pyrite, T. rex and woodland trees.

We checked into our hotel and promptly went swimming, which Annie professes to have been her favorite part of the whole trip, and then we dried off and went to an old colleague's home for dinner.  Though we've added two children, one dog, and seven years to our respective lives since we last spent time together, it was as though no time had passed at all. The girls played happily with an old stash of Legos, the adults drank wine and ate shrimp and grits, and we floated off into the night so grateful for time spent laughing with old friends.

There was blamming of hotel doors into the wee hours of the night and the world's most uncomfortable pull-out couch shared with a very wiggly Jemma. On the bright side, though, there was a pillow fight


and happy snuggling the next morning


and then we went our separate ways yesterday, Jason to bring the girls back home after one last swim and some playing at a park, me to meet up with good girlfriends for a lucky day of IKEA and shopping, a night of dinner in the lounge at Toast and too much wine while watching Oprah Lifeclass and telling stories, a Sunday of leisurely breakfast and Trader Joe's and driving back home to a little blond girl waiting for me on my front lawn this afternoon. Just like always, it's good to go away, and it's good to come back again.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Girls After My Own Heart

Annie gets to check out a library book from school each week and at least half the time, she chooses a cookbook.  Last week, she chose some sort of Betty Crocker Fancy Party Treats and begged and pestered until I took her to the store for the necessary ingredients to make chocolate cupcakes in teacups with marshmallow frosting.



We finally made them on Sunday night and ate the last ones after dinner today, which was appropriate, because they looked like nothing so much as little cups of hot chocolate with insane amounts of sprinkles, and guess what it did today?

IT SNOWED.



So we switched up our tradition of having hot cocoa on the first day of snow and had hot-cocoa-looking-cupcakes-in-mugs instead.  I don't think they minded.



Jemma had the day off from school yesterday because of conferences, so she spent a chunk of the morning doing this


(and then spent the afternoon being a total whiner, just so we don't paint too cheerful a picture here).  Annie, on the other had, had the day off from school today, so we ran errands together and snuck in a stop at the bookstore, where I gave in happily to her request to purchase her own copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  It joins an ever-growing pile by the side of her bed, of which I am more than a little proud.


But maybe not as proud as when I catch this happening just before bedtime at night


or this


or this


on a Saturday afternoon.

After we'd been to Michael's this morning, and the bookstore and the grocery store, we had almost half an hour before we had to pick Jemma up from school.  And since we were juuuuuust across the parking lot from my new favorite store, I told Annie we were going to go in.  "It's beautiful," I said.  "You'll love it!"

Annie disagreed.  After learning that they didn't sell "things for kids," she insisted she was staying in the car.  I dragged her in, and we spent fifteen solid minutes oohing and ahhing over the obscene variety of gorgeous drawer pulls and the floor-to-ceiling display of embroidered kitchen towels.  We smelled every candle, touched every soft sweater, tried on sample Lolla hand cream, and chose imaginary Christmas gifts for nieces and grandmas and ourselves.  There is a gorgeous bed in the middle of the store, and just before we left, Annie looked at me and said, "I want to sleep in that bed and live in this store forever."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Things Jemma Says: Little Words

  • "Patt-er-en" for pattern
  • "Unrase" for erase, and "unraser" for eraser
  • "three-year-older" when describing last year's pre-school

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

You Got the Poison, I Got the Remedy

I still - still! - don't feel completely well, in spite of it being nearly two weeks since I began feeling yucky and in spite of the antibiotic my nice husband magically procured for me once the yuck began manifesting itself as a sinus headache and congestion so profound it made my teeth hurt.  But my strategy since about last Thursday has been to basically ignore being sick.  To focus instead on the good.  To take some ibuprofen and go out to dinner, take some ibuprofen and go to hot yoga, take some ibuprofen and go to the fancy school auction where my husband gets up on stage with the live entertainment when they sing Dead or Alive because he just can't help himself.  To think about how it might be amusing to make a pile of used Kleenex from just a single hour of morning nose-blowing and take a picture of it.  To take other pictures instead, mostly with my phone or my mental camera, of Annie's hair in a requested side-ponytail, of the cupcakes we made that were truly cakes in cups, of Jemma and I wearing rain boots to run into school and vote for a friend who won a great victory tonight, of the new, much-beloved Anthropologie that is only minutes from my house, of the dinner out at Grove with friends, of the stellar report we received at Annie's parent-teacher conference (the word "spitfire" was used zero times!), of the textbook fall day we had on Sunday and the giant piles of leaves into which the girls jumped as I raked the yard in the sixty-five degree sunshine, of yet another brand-new pint of Jeni's Salty Caramel ice cream in my freezer right now.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pessimist's Litany

Today began, as certain Wednesdays apparently must, with Annie having a meltdown at 7:00 a.m. sharp because Jason was refusing to let cheese bunnies be a breakfast option.  Just before he headed out the door for the day, he informed me that we'd overdrawn the checking account due to my hasty bill-paying without letting him know to transfer more money from account A to account B.  "Bye!" he yelled as he pulled the door behind him, and there I stood, my wet hair in a towel turban on my head, two children crying about breakfast and one lunch to pack.  My throat was sore for the seventh morning in a row and I clutched a snotty Kleenex in one hand.

I fed the girls and dressed the girls and brushed the girls' teeth.  Jemma and I walked Annie to school and then Jemma (who woke up at 5:30 a.m. for the day, claiming, "I didn't even sleep at all last night!") began to whine to be carried back home.  When I refused and tried to hold her hand instead, she stomped away and sat down defiantly on the sidewalk, trying to muster up the worst insult she could think of.  "You're dummy!" she yelled.  "You're . . . super, SUPER DUMMY!"  I had to turn my face away so she wouldn't see me laugh, though I wasn't laughing much ten minutes later when the grumpiness hadn't subsided.

After preschool drop-off, I forced myself to go to yoga for the first time in a week even though the NyQuil hadn't totally worn off and I very much wanted to take a nap.  The man two mats down from me was a grunter, and made loud grunty noises during every single exhale.  Zen moment, ruined.  Throat, still sore.

Jemma went to play at a friend's this afternoon.  My head was pounding so I made some tea and decided to lie down in lieu of showering (priorities!), but between the phone ringing and the shop-vac and the leaf-blowers going on all around our house, it wasn't very restful.

I spent over an hour making a dinner that nobody in our family especially liked, including me, and about which Jemma actually pounded her fists into the table, so fierce was her anger at homemade spaetzle with squash, and at the fact that Jason and I are not inclined to peel her apples for her anymore.

I am not saying there weren't bits of good today (new Modern Family! sunshine and sixty-two degrees! hugs and snuggles from Elsa! Annie proclaiming at the dinner table that the Star-Spangled Banner is her "favorite country song" (get it?), finally half an hour to talk with my husband for the first time this week), but my throat is still sore.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Things Jemma Says: Lay/Lie Edition

Jemma:  "Why do they call it the living room?"
Me:  "What should we call it?"
Jemma:  "The laying room, because we lay down on the couch."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Things Jemma Says: Halloween Edition

To her preschool teacher at school today:  "I can't wait for today's tonight!"

One of my very favorite things about raising our kids in this house is the simple but real connection and community we have with our neighbors.  I love our traditions, annual Halloweenie Roast included.  I can't think of a much more quintessential Halloween than joining all our friends and neighbors to eat and drink together in costume, forcing the kids to pose for one massive, chaotic picture, and then spreading out to trick-or-treat in our neighborhood until it gets dark and the candy runs out.  I think my pink pegasus unicorn and my raven-haired witch had a great Halloween, today's tonight.







Friday, October 28, 2011

Good Things, October 2011

Taking in ArtPrize on a sunny Saturday;


See our reflections in the glass?



HeMan, Master of the Universe!
 weekend away on Mackinac;



tennis girls;


riding a pony at the preschool fun night;

a Brownie eating her candy after the homecoming parade;

one last day at the beach;

playing with Google Earth while waiting for lunch at Crane's;

a leaf pile;

drawing while waiting for Annie's piano lesson to end;

cozy Thursday night dinner at Big Bob's;


an hour of gleeful jumping on an inflatable pillow at Robinette's with MC;

being silly with rain gear;

bundled up for a home football game;

petting and feeding the baby goats at an apple orchard;

hiking the Saugatuck dunes before dinner at our favorite restaurant on a cloudy Sunday;

Jemma, aka "a magical Pegasus unicorn."