Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Welcome to Your Mid-Thirties

OMG, look what I found during my weekend-o-organizing!!  That would be the very first picture ever taken of the two of us together, circa October 1996.  We are babies!!!  I showed it to Annie and Jemma, and they seemed . . . uncomfortable with it.  I think they wanted to ask why my face is so fat, but they sensed it would be impolite.  It's on my nightstand just now, and it inspired this letter to my younger self:

Dear 19-year-old Stephanie,

Look at you, with your freshman fifteen and your Rum Raisin lipstick and your black-with-white mid-nineties dress (with matching shoes you borrowed from Carrie), on your way to the Cosmo Fall Informal at Alpen Rose restaurant.  Little do you know that you will indeed marry this person next to you.  And little do you know how your life will be different fifteen years later.

Turning thirty didn't bother you too much.  You were more focused on celebrating Annie's third birthday, and you spent most of the day carrying a baby Jemma around on your hip.  You drank a few martinis and served a billion cupcakes up in the front yard, and that was that.  You didn't stress about getting old.

A few years later, though, at age thirty-three, things seem to be taking a turn towards what you can only assume is Middle Age.  For example, you will have this conversation at the gym:

S:  "My back has been out for a month, and I keep going to the chiropractor and to my GP and doing all these exercises and taking ibuprofen, but nothing is working."

E:  "My neck went out this week and it was so bad I didn't sleep a second the first night.  I can't pick up my kid, and I'm starting physical therapy tomorrow."

Me:  "I can't believe we're having this conversation.  Are we 80?"

You will get a phone call from a nice lady at the bank.  She'll be confused, because you have never been late with your mortgage before, but they haven't gotten your January payment.  You're confused, too, because you look in the checkbook and you can see the carbon of the check that you wrote and sent on December 27th.  The nice lady looks a little deeper, says, "Hmmm.  What I'm showing is that we received something from you on December 19th, but that the payment wasn't made.  Could you have put a stop-payment on the check?  Did you close that account?"

And you'll say, no, neither of those things, and you'll think about how you pay the bills all at once and what the table looks like when you do and you'll say, "I think what happened is I sent you an empty envelope."

You will plan to to running at the gym on a Saturday morning with a friend.  When the friend picks you up, she's wearing her boots since it's a snowy day, and it's only when you are within sight of the gym that she realizes that she has left her running shoes in the mudroom of her house.

This same friend will, two years into the same preschool schedule, one day randomly believe that she needs to be back at school to pick up her son at 1:00 when in reality the pick-up time is (and has always been, lo these two whole years) 12:45.

You will have a two-hour phone conversation with a friend about how technology is leaving you behind, how you have heard of Tumblr but you don't really know what it IS; how you feel like you should probably be on Twitter, how not being on it is probably going to make you look old and cost you a job when you try to re-enter the workforce for real, but how you can't get behind something that has the word "twit" in part of its name, and how she can't bear to ever utter the phrase, "Did you see my tweet?"

You break down a buy a pair of skinny jeans, but you make your friend come over to look at your butt in them, analyze if they are too tight in the thighs, worry that you are trying to act too young and trendy.  You wear them, but you keep yanking down your top a little farther the whole time.

You debate the merits of Botox.

You have a weekend alone, and you spend it organizing kids' clothes into Rubbermaid bins and sorting recipes into a file.

You start saying all the things that your mother used to say to you, including "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all," which has absolutely zero effect on the bickering.

The high point of your week will be a new episode of Modern Family, because you are Claire.

So, nineteen-year-old self, enjoy those boobs being up where they belong!  Enjoy that hair in all of its non-chemically-altered blondness!  Enjoy an evening of dancing and drinking and talking about things other than ballet shoe sizes and swimming lesson instructors!  Cause fifteen years from now, you're going to have no clue, no boobs, and no memory.

33-year-old Stephanie

Monday, January 24, 2011

Things Jemma Says: Under-the-door Edition

Thirteen minutes after she's been tucked in for the night, lying on her stomach on her bedroom floor, whispering into the gap between her door and the floor into the silent hallway:

"What the heck?  Annie didn't even brush her teeth!"

Three Things, Unrelated

Since the last time I wrote substantively here, a few things have happened.

1.  I had a new article published in Rapid Growth about a lovely yoga program for kids that Annie and Jemma both experienced (and loved).

2.  I had the opportunity to have this conversation in the car with Annie on the way to dance:

Me:  "What happened to the braid I put in your hair this morning?  Remember, your hair needs to be up for dance."
A:  "Charlie said he didn't like it and he took it right out of my hair."
Me:  "What???"
A:  "Yeah, Charlie said how he didn't like my braid, and it looked stupid, and he took it out."
Me, mock-confused, joking, suspicious:  "So, there you were, minding your own business, and Charlie was so furious with your hair that he told you it looked stupid and then came over to you, undid your ponytail holder, and took the braid out himself?"
Annie:  "Moooom!  Yes!"
Me:  "That seems . . . unlikely.   Are you sure that's what happened?"

3.  Jason took the girls up north for the weekend for some Extreme Winter Sports and I stayed here.  Alone.  And mostly, I stayed in the house, because it's hard to get motivated to go out when the temperature is minus-7.  I organized both girls' closets and dressers (and did the annoying Rubbermaid-bin-sorting that goes along with that), went through five years' worth of Bon Appetit and Everyday Food magazines and forced myself to (cringe) rip out the pages of the recipes I truly wanted to keep and throw out the rest, created art bins for the girls' large school art projects, created file boxes for their yearly school pictures and report cards, went to the gym, got a pedicure, got groceries, bought myself some new jeans, got caught up on copywriting, and watched a lot of Food Network.   It wasn't glamorous, but between this weekend's progress and my renewed dedication to using Goodreads, I am well on my way to accomplishing a big chunk of this year's New Year's Resolutions.  (Still dragging my feet on dealing with the photo-uploading, though . . .)

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Failing

Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking about all the little ways I failed you that day.  All the hurry-ups and never-minds and no and later and not now and because that's the rule float around in my mind and I see all the moments about which, had a video camera been taping me, Supernanny-style, I would be embarrassed.  I go over the ways I would have changed my words, my gestures, the look on my face.  I give bigger, longer hugs.  I ignore the phone, the computer.  I re-do conversations so that I have the right answers.

Like yesterday, for example, you asked, "Why would that baby's mommy not want to keep her and take care of her?" after we'd stopped by to talk with my cousin, who is in the process of adopting a sweet little girl from Nepal.  And I used words like "hard to understand" and "sad" and "lucky" and "family" and, of course, "love," but I could see how it cracked your world open a little, thinking about how somehow, somewhere, there are mommies who can't, for whatever reason, take care of their babies.

And then later, when we were just getting home from your swimming lesson and I was in Get Everyone To Bed As Quickly As Possible Mode, you asked, "So, is Jesus his own dad?" and I just took a big, deep breath and let it out with a sigh, not even knowing where to begin.  And I used words like "mysterious" and "confusing" and, again, "hard to understand," and I could see how you could tell that I wasn't really sure how to explain it, either.

You want your hair cut short, and I am not sure if I should let you.  You want a new lunchbox, because "nobody else has one like mine," and I give you some line about how being different in little ways can be special and fun, but then I say that we'll look for a new one if it is important to you.  I want you to take more yoga classes this summer; you want to try tennis.

We are walking the tightrope already, you and I, of asking and answering, of saying yes and saying no, of admitting that I don't have all the answers and of further acknowledging that the answers I have might not be the ones you figure out for yourself.  Just now, I think I still know most every little thing about you, but that's about to change.

Years ago, a friend wondered aloud:  If you could choose any three character traits that your child would be sure to possess, what would they be?  I rolled that around in my head for a while and finally chose:  honest, compassionate, sense of humor.  A few weeks ago, I spied a plaque on etsy that I thought would be perfect for your bedroom wall, which needed a little help, anyway.  It says "Be silly.  Be honest.  Be kind."  I nailed it up on your wall, and on the nights when I'm awake re-hashing the good and bad of the day with you, I hope you're asleep under its watchful gaze and that the instructions are somehow sinking in despite the many ways I continue to fail you.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Here are some of the things we did this weekend:

It was one fun activity after another, many involving outdoor gear (skates!  skis!) and some indoor fun, too.  Cirque with my family was just as amazing as we had expected it would be, and I love the fact that we've chosen to treat ourselves to an experience rather than buying lots of gift cards for each other at Christmas.

The downside to cramming seven thousand fun activities into a weekend like this is that it just seems to raise the girls' expectations of The Fun Level.  Like yesterday, when I helped in Jemma's Sunday School class, then Jason took the girls ice-skating at the rink our neighbor makes across the street every winter, then we ate a big roast chicken Sunday dinner, then we made marshmallow sculptures with stale mini-marshmallows and toothpicks, then Jason took Annie skiing for the rest of the day while I took Jemma swimming.  Jemma and I walked in the door a little after 5:00 p.m. and before I had even taken off my boots, she turned to me and said, "NOW what can we do?"  Independent Play Ability = Broken.

In other corners of the house, other scribbles were created this weekend, too.  Like this:

Because even though it's the weekend, Jemma's still following us around, adorably asking for "homework" and copying the alphabet Jason's made for her.

Also, this:

Because sometimes I have to get very stern with myself when I sit down to make my to-do lists for the week.

These scribbles - from last week's well-child pediatrician appointments - are photo-worthy simply because they mark the first time that the girls have boosted their weight percentiles above the 10th!  Goes to show that you can live on air, Goldfish, yogurt, and fruit, especially if you're Jemma.

Lastly, the set of writing around here that makes the least sense so far.  It's this old, white legal pad that I'm slowly filling up with sentences, half-thesis statements, questions, and non-linear ideas that might - MIGHT - be the germ of an idea for a book.  The endosperm of the seed of the idea, if you will.  I don't have the first idea how to begin going about such a thing, but the first step, I think, is writing down the ideas when they come to me.  So I have been.

Your turn:  In the comments, scribble down what you think I should write a book about.  Title it, even, and give a brief synopsis (took me three tries to spell synopsis; maybe I shouldn't think about writing a book).  (Narrows eyes, looks at Google Analytics, knows exactly how many people are reading this blog vs. how many are commenting upon it . . .)

Friday, January 14, 2011


Annie needs a baby picture of herself for a school project next week.  Mr. R. is going to put up baby pictures of all the first-graders in the class, and the kids are going to try to match the photos with their classmates.  So I pulled a photo from one of the albums in the cabinet, one of Annie on her first day home from the hospital.  In it, she is sleeping in the white cradle my father-in-law made for us as a baby gift.  She is wearing the pink knit hat that the hospital gave us when she was born, and she is swaddled in the pink waffle-weave blanket that came to be known as Doop.

We didn't set out to make Annie fall in love with one specific "lovey" - in fact, we didn't really want that to happen at all.  At first, we rotated the blankets we swaddled her in, out of necessity (blow-out diapers, spit-up of epic proportions and frequency) and out of a hope that she'd love all five or six blankets (green, yellow, light pink, dark pink, white) interchangeably.  I didn't want her to be attached to just one thing; I didn't want the pressure to always have it with us and the risk that we would lose it and ruin every good sleep habit we'd carefully instilled.

No matter our intentions, though:  Annie fall in love with the single pink blanket.  Well before she was one, she was expecting it and needing it to fall asleep.  "Dip!" she'd chirp, at naptime and bedtime, in the carseat and in the crib, and then she'd rub the fibers of the fabric against her cheek while sucking the middle fingers of her left hand.  "Dip" somehow morphed into "Doop," and Doop has been with us now over six years.

Doop has been to Sanibel Island, Disney World, Fort Myers Beach.  (Doop really seems to like Florida.)  Doop has been snuggled in Petoskey, South Haven, Indiana, Chicago, Holland.  Doop has been to school for show-and-tell, to grandparents' for overnight visits, on road trips all over the city and state.  We've left Doop behind a few, critical times and had to get her back as soon as possible, though there is one waffle-weave shirt of mine from college days that can substitute in a pinch.  Doop still sleeps with Annie every single night without exception.

These days, Doop is starting to fall apart.  She has faded to a very pale pink, and her edges have frayed and worn.  A few weeks ago, the outside seam that goes all the way around the edges of the blanket came completely off.  My mom had sewn it back on once before, but has declared her unwillingness to do so again, so Annie held the circle of seam in her hand and we cut a chunk out to tape in her baby book.

Then Annie turned and threw the rest of the seam in the garbage.

She went to bed that night as usual, clutching the part of Doop that remained, dreaming her six-year-old dreams of ballerinas and Toy Story and whatever else six-year-olds dream of.  She did not seem sad.

But I was sad.  I closed the baby book and put it back on the shelf, and I worried that Doop will fray a little more each night that she is clutched, each time that she is washed, and what then?  Will there come a day when Doop just falls to pieces and becomes a pile of loose pink threads and Annie loses her little mind?  Or will Annie brush her teeth one night and get into bed and say, "I feel like I'm all done sleeping with Doop"?  And which would be worse, or better?

Later, when everyone else was asleep, I went into the kitchen and took the long, frayed edge of Doop back out of the trash.  I stuffed it into the drawer of my nightstand.  I don't know why I put it there, or why I love to watch my kids growing up into the people they're becoming but I hate the tangible evidence of the fact that they're no longer my babies, but I couldn't stand to think of this piece of her babyhood in the trash or what it means that it really does belong there.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kissing Her on the Forehead, Too

I walked in the door from preschool registration on Tuesday night, took one look at Jemma, and could tell she had a fever.  Her eyes had that glassy, glossy look.  I was up with her a few times that night, just rocking her in the chair while she coughed, letting her slurp purple ibuprofen from the little cup, smelling her grapey breath while I scratched her back.

We've been in the house together, mostly, these last two days, just her and me.  She stayed in her jammies all day yesterday.  We had to cancel her playdate with the adorable MC, called in sick to school this morning, missed getting to meet Miss Kelly's little bundle of joy.  What we have done, though - Playmobil, Memory, watercolors, puzzles, yoga, Sesame Street, making green smoothies she refuses to drink, lounging in bed with a pile of books - has been great in its own little way.  She was sick enough to opt out of the world but not so sick that she was prone on the couch.  And even though by 4:00 this afternoon, I was ready for her to be magically cured, sick days with a four-year-old schmoo can be fun sometimes, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Love . . .

 . . . that my nice dad is waiting in the *@%*&* preschool line for me this afternoon so I can take the girls to swimming lessons and still have a shot at getting into a morning class for Jemma next year.

 . . . the moment every other Tuesday (meaning, today) when I walk back in the door after picking Jemma up from school and - for one second, before she sets a slushy boot on the slate steps - the whole house is perfectly clean.

 . . . my official January detox drink, Metromint water.

. . . how, when Annie draws herself and someone else in a picture, she connects the two people with a giant heart:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Today was eggs and coffee
and sunshine
and sledding

and watching little girls bark during downward dog in yoga class
and new library books
and dinner with girlfriends
and one perfect glass of wine despite the January detox
and coming home with a loaf of seedy salt bread
and getting into bed with a book
just before midnight.

Read Elsewhere: Being Alive

from We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver:  

I have theorized that you can locate most people on a spectrum of the crudest sort and that it may be their position on this scale with which their every other attribute correlates:  exactly how much they like being here, just being alive.

from Seth Godin's blog:

All you've got - all any of us have - are the memories and expectations and changes we've left with others.
The concrete impact of our lives and our work is the mark you make on other people. It might be a product you make or the way you look someone in the eye. It might be a powerful experience you have on a trip with your dad, or the way you keep a promise.
The experiences you create are the moments that define you. We'll miss you when you're gone, because we will always remember the mark you made on us.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Little Victories

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Memo to Jason:  When I'm running out of the house the minute dinner is over to take Annie to catechism and then meet my writing partner and I ask you to please finish cleaning up the kitchen and start the dishwasher (which I have already mostly loaded), leaving the really yucky dishes (the bowl in which Jemma and I made powerballs today, the cookie sheet on which I made the mango and goat cheese quesadillas) "to soak" in the sink and then never doing another thing with them does not exactly count.

Memo to Annie:  When I go outside in the morning to start the car and brush off the snow and I ask you to get your snow gear on, I expect that you will have made at least some progress when I come back in the house seven minutes later.

Memo to Jemma:  After four years of having little-to-no separation anxiety, now is not the time to decide that you will cling to my legs and cry when I try to leave you at preschool (which you love beyond measure) or with the babysitter who has put you to bed at least fifteen times.  The time for that was when you were around 18-24 months, and it has passed.

Memo to Annie:  When you and Jemma get in an argument about something and you run to tell me about it and I say that I don't want to hear about it, I actually, truly don't want to hear about it.  Not even your side of it.  Especially not your side of it.

Memo to Jemma:  I love you, but you spill something on yourself every. single. time. you eat.  Why?

Memo to the parents dropping off their children at elementary school in the morning:  The lane?  In front of the school?  Is for pulling over, letting your kid jump out of the car, yelling, "I love you!  Have a great day!" and then pulling away.  It is NOT for you to park your car and get out and walk to stand in line with your child for five minutes until the doors open, leaving the rest of us with no place to pull over.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Life List

I first spied someone's honest-to-goodness life list on The Internet a few years ago and was immediately intrigued, though I never felt like I had time to sit down and let myself imagine all the things I would put on my own.  But in October of 2009, when Jason and I went to Hawaii, I used some of the (very long) flight to brainstorm ideas, a few of which I've already accomplished.  And then a few weeks ago, when we were stuck in Quebec for two extra days, I had the same journal with me and got it out to work on the list.  Yesterday, I sat in bed for an hour and finished it up, though I'm not sure a list like this is ever "finished," since it's really a work-in-progress.  The first day of 2011 seems like as auspicious a time as any to write it all down here, in one place, for the world to see, and dream a little dream about which things I'll tackle this year.

Take tennis lessons.  Make an entire Thanksgiving dinner for a big crowd.  Create a family cookbook.  Take my parents on a trip.  Go to a writer's retreat.  Go whale-watching in Hawaii.  Wear a big hat at the Kentucky Derby with my girlfriends.  Take a girls’ spa trip to Arizona.  Create a system to track all the books I read.  Publish a book review.  Earn my yoga teacher certification.  Learn to make bread.  Ski at Aspen.  Knit a hat.  Learn to ride clipped-in on a road bike.  See the sunrise from the tip of Maine.  Read the complete works of Shakespeare.  Drink beer in Bruges.  Sit in the front row at a concert.  Live in an apartment in Paris.  Become (re-)fluent in Spanish and conversational in French.  Write a book.  Take an architectural tour of Chicago.  Throw a surprise party.  Give away a large sum of money anonymously.  Swim one mile.  Make a soufflĂ©.  Try caviar, foie gras, and truffles.  See a play on Broadway.  Take a photography class.  Sleep outside under the stars.  Eat at a three-star French restaurant.  Go fly-fishing in a huge river out west.  Take a literary tour of London.  Take the girls to Disney.  Publish a magazine article.  Run another marathon, possibly with Annie or Jemma.  Go to NYC with Jason, and have a picnic in Central Park.  Celebrate the summer solstice.  Drink wine in Napa Valley.  Learn to make my mom’s seafoam.  Do a yoga headstand.  Buy a cottage.  Go to church in Rome.  Make Martha Stewart’s croquembouche.  Ride in a gondola in Venice.  Establish a scholarship fund.  Build or buy a house with my dream bedroom (fireplace and view of water).  Participate in a flashmob.  Choose and learn to make a signature cocktail.  Teach my children how to cook.  Institute one-day-a-week “sabbath” from technology.  Make a quilt of Annie and Jemma’s baby clothes.  See Africa.  Take a road trip across the USA in an RV.  Stay in a thatched bungalow on stilts over the water with Jason.  Try tai chi.  Take the girls camping.  Run a six-minute mile.  Research my genealogy in The Netherlands.  Hike part of the Appalachian Trail.  Drink a pint of Guinness in Ireland.  Take a ballet class.  Floss my teeth daily for one month.  Dance the waltz with Jason in Vienna.  Learn to make my own pasta.  Learn to compost.  Do a race event for charity.  Do a triathlon.  Buy an expensive piece of art for our house.  Teach an adult to read.  Drive a convertible down Highway 1.  Leave a ridiculously generous tip.  Throw sweet sixteen parties for both girls.  Earn a master’s degree.  Publish a poem.