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."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cause and Effect, Halloween Style

Sunday morning, in the car on the way to church, in a conversation prompted by Jason's story of his Saturday night attendance at The Haunt, a local scary attraction:

Annie:  "And R is going to be a vampire for Halloween.  Were there vampires there?"
Jason:  "Yes!  There was a bridge you had to cross that made you feel dizzy, and people dressed like monsters who kept jumping out and trying to scare you.  There was a guy with a chainsaw who pretended to run towards you!  Do you know what happens if a vampire bites you?"
Annie:  "No, what?"
Jason:  "You become a vampire, too!"
Annie and Jemma, eyes huge in backseat: "Wow . . ."
Jason:  "And do you know what happens if a vampire bat bites you?"
Me, interrupting:  "Do you want to sleep tonight, Jason, or . . . ?"
Annie and Jemma, eyes huge in backseat.


Last night, midnight, Jason and I fast asleep in our bedroom:

Jemma, standing one inch from my face:  "Mom."
Me, bolting upright, flailing in the covers:  "Aghhhhhh!"
Jemma:  " sniffle . . . sniffle . . ."
Me:  "Jemma!  What?  What's wrong?"
Jemma:  "Do bats eat us?" Begins to wail hysterically, sobs for fifteen minutes while I rock her in her room and explain cheerfully that bats eat mosquitoes and are so helpful!
Me:  Unable to get back to sleep for over an hour, due to the elevated heart rate from being scared awake.
Jason:  Sleeping soundly, snoring.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Snapshot, List-Style

On the radio, per the girls' request:

  • "That Billy Joel song about the pants"
  • "No Need to Argue" by The Cranberries
  • "Toy Soldiers" by Martika
  • "Heaven is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle
  • "Rollin' in the Deep" by Adele

In the car, because I am messy:
  • two children's tennis rackets
  • an empty Coke can
  • my new favorite Stila lipglass, Raisin
  • one carseat, one booster
  • yoga mat
  • one gallon of sand
  • two clipboards with plain white paper
  • an entire carton of crayons, scattered on the floor in the backseat
  • library books, possibly overdue

On Annie's nightstand:
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • her portable stereo, with Totally 80's karaoke for kids! inside
  • wadded Kleenex
  • spare pairs of earrings, yet to be worn
  • a pink and white lamp
  • photos of her as a baby
  • pieces of her doop that fall off
  • a ponytail holder
  • a journal
  • sunscreen
In the fridge:
  • leftover chicken pot pie
  • Bell's Cherry Stout (my favorite!)
  • bacon
  • cider
  • sage
  • kale, rotting in vegetable drawer
  • Greek yogurt
  • leftover part of a can of pumpkin puree

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Note, A Hat

I'm driving her home from catechism and she's looking out the window dreamily, crunching the Smarties her teacher gave her for correctly answering questions, looking for stars.

"Somewhere in the world right now -" she says, and then she stops, self-conscious, censoring her words already.

"Somewhere in the world, what?" I ask.

I see her smile sheepishly in the rearview mirror.  She is quiet.  Then:  "Somewhere in the world right now, a baby is being born."

"You're right!  Probably lots of babies, actually."

"Like, 55 million babies?"

"Well, probably not quite that many."

"Like, ten?"

"Probably more than ten.  Somewhere between ten and 55 million babies."  Later, after she'd gone to bed, I looked it up.  I wrote a note for her lunch today:  250 babies are born every minute in the world.  I am so glad that YOU were born!  Love, Mom

I'm walking her to school this morning and we're arguing about whether or not she should wear a hat.  "It's 39 degrees," I say, "and I'm wearing a hat.  It's cold!"  She is holding the offending hat in her hand.

"Moooom.  It's only fall.  You always make me take a hat when it's not even winter.  Then the other kids in line laugh at me."

"Who would laugh at someone else because they had a hat when it was cold?" I say, my feeble attempt at fighting second-grade peer pressure.  "That's silly."

"Mom.  I'm not wearing it."

"Okay.  You don't have to wear it if you don't want to.  But just have it in your backpack in case you want it at recess."  She rolls her eyes and shoves it in her backpack before we even reach the school, mortified at the thought that anyone might see her with a hat.  It's probably in there now, right next to her lunch with the note, little pieces of my love she takes with her as she counts by tens in Spanish and makes a fantasy story web and reads graphs and chases boys on the playground.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Channelling Andy Rooney

A list of things making me grumpy:
  • Jemma's ear infection/general virus/pinkeye (?), which forced a visit to the pediatrician's early-morning walk-in clinic, which was full even though we got there 25 minutes before it ended, which caused us to need an appointment later in the morning, which caused Jemma to miss her class field trip today.  Sub-grumpiness related to this grumpiness:
               - Jemma has not yet realized that she missed the super-duper-fun field trip to the pumpkin  
                 patch, but she surely will realize it when she returns to school tomorrow.
               - the prescription she is now on for said ear infection pretty much guarantees she'll have
                 diarrhea for the next 7-10 days.  
  • The post-race intestinal distress and general body unhappiness brought on by yesterday's successful (2:01) half-marathon.  At least I felt good during the run . . . ?
  • The fact that, this many years into teaching and modeling table manners, my oldest daughter still wipes her messy hands on her clothes while eating and my youngest daughter still wipes her mouth on her sleeve.  When, I ask, WHEN will they start actually using the napkin that sits next to their plate without being reminded?
  • The word "fav" being used all over the internet.  "Fav" is not a word, people.  Remember that thing you learned in first grade called "the magic e"?  You know, where putting an "e" on the end of a word makes the preceding vowel "say its name"?  If you want it to rhyme with "Dave," you need to spell it "fave."  Like, you know, "rave," "gave," "save," "concave," . . . do I need to go on?
  • The phrase "You're young!" being thrown out a lot by people of an older generation towards people in my generation, often as an excuse for their own lack of energy.  Since I am still "young," relatively speaking, I'll have to take their word for it that I won't be feeling quite as spry as I do now come thirty years or so.  I mean, I definitely can't do some of the things I did in college, like pull all-nighters or stay out past 2:00 a.m. several nights in a row and still function the next day.  So I get that energy levels naturally dwindle, etc.  But I take issue with "You're young!" being used to somewhat devalue the effort that those of us who are still "young" put into life.  Yes, we're young-ish, but things still take work and effort and we're still tired as hell sometimes at the end of the day, too.  Being young might make it more possible, or easiER, but it's not MAGIC.  It's not, "Oh, I'm young, so juggling all these things in my life is effortless!"  It's, "I suppose this is easier than it would be if I tried to do it in thirty years, but it is still hard work."  
  • Spending money recently on the most boring things possible:  fixing my car's muffler/exhaust system, having the sewer lines roto-rooted, putting in new windows upstairs in our house.  BORING.  

Read Elsewhere: Story

"The artistic sensibility in the nation became wholly self-referential - the story of my life is what matters, not the well-crafted and distilled art of memoir, nor the carefully compiled story (and analysis) of the lives (and problems ) of others - but the story of what I am feeling, right now, right this minute.  And so, I became part of the problem, I suppose . . . We have always loved stories, I think, it's just that we, as a nation and perhaps as a human race, recently stopped loving stories about the other; we began to love stories only about ourselves.  We love stories in which we are the protagonists in search of truth.  I do not want to judge this.  But my feeling is that we can cope with the increasing smallness, rapidness, and indifference of our changing, violent world only by seeing ourselves as noble characters caught in the struggle.  We are all, as Turgenev so presciently said over a century ago, either Hamlet or Quixotes, and we must be these kinds of people if we are to endure.

We see ourselves in a struggle of epic, or at least interesting, magnitude, and so we go about documenting it ourselves, not waiting for some future historian, anthropologist, or novelist to find our tale and tell it for us. YouTube, MySpace, blogs - all of these things are ways for us to make ourselves protagonists on a very crowded, violent, and unjust stage." - Dean Bakopoulos, My American Unhappiness


"The story my kids will tell someday depends on me.  I am writing their book, and I want their childhood chapters full of traditions and stories and memories of the comforts of home." - Kelle Hampton


"When our story is told, and it will be told in song and fable and interpretive dance and puppet show, people will weep with joy and, through sobs, say, "Today we have witnessed love.  How can our lives not be bettered by this?" - quote in a friend's back entry.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Things Annie Says: Don't Even Try Editon

"There are a thousand million things I'd rather do than math flashcards."


Me:  "Annie, for the love, stop romping all around the house at bedtime!"
Annie:  "Mom.  Don't just make up words."

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Seven-Year Itch

Seven years ago, I had a one-month old.  I was simultaneously in that state of foggy bliss where every squeak from my child made my heart sing, and feeling like my life had been run over by a freight truck.  It was the beginning of my insomnia; even when the baby slept, I couldn't sleep, so turned-upside-down was my world, which revolved around nursing, cleaning spit-up off of myself, changing blow-out diapers, and holding a baby while she slept.  Annie would not, initially, sleep without being held, and so my days were a circle between the kitchen, the nursery, the bathroom, and the couch, where I watched every single episode of Dawson's Creek in syndication on TBS and Oprah every afternoon.  I'd go out for short walks with the stroller whenever possible and meet the one friend I had made in South Haven at the coffee shop or the tiny indoor pool.  I cried with happiness; I cried because I thought I'd never get my life back.

I was right.  The days after we added Jemma to our family were all the more chaotic:  she was colicky; Annie, despite my guilty encouragement, never wanted to watch television and so would sneak around the house doing who-knows-what while I nursed the baby; there was always a pile of dishes on the kitchen counter and a pile of laundry in every basket; and I went a whole year without really watching a single thing on television, so highly did I prioritize getting to sleep at the earliest moment possible.  Eventually I carved out time for running and began to blog about our life and sneak in time for dates and friends here and there, but other than that, the bulk of my life has been all kids, all the time.

Those frantic days have tapered off, much to my surprise.  I think I thought they would never end.  These days, I can do things like meet a friend for a spontaneous lunch on a Tuesday afternoon, roam Target and get stuck in the throw pillow aisle for half an hour, work out AND shower (both!) before going to school pick-up.  These days, everywhere I go - book club, the gym, the school playground, running, talking on the phone - it's the same conversation between those of us who have been nothing else but somebody's mommy for several years in a row:  What will we do now?

The littlest ones are not napping anymore or wearing diapers or needing us quite so much; they're spending large chunks of the day at school or friends' or some type of sporting event.  There is still plenty of mothering to be done, for sure:  keeping up with the constant influx of papers from school; managing the increasingly-busy calendar; cooking dinner and doing laundry and helping with homework and shuttling from place to place.  That work is not going to end for a long time.

But what has shifted is the fact that it's starting to feel like 99% of my energy goes into support work.  It's the work that nobody notices because they've come to expect it.  The lunch will be packed and inside the backpack, the birthday present will be purchased and wrapped with a card to be signed, the meal will be made and ready to eat in the exact 20-minute segment we have available for dinner, the clothes will be clean and in drawers, the calendar will be full of events, the tickets will have been purchased, the tap shoes will be in the bag with the snack and the water bottle . . . the work is never-ending, and it's sort of thankless, too.  The only time somebody really notices is on those rare occasions when - God forbid - the work didn't get done.  "Mom!" they say indignantly.  "You forgot my ________!" or "Mom!  Where is my ________??!"  The work is invisible, except when you're being noticed for not doing it.

Sometimes I think they notice.  I got Annie her Halloween costume this week and put it on her bed for her to find when she came home from school.  She lit up when she saw it, immediately put it on, and cried, "You're the best mom ever!"  And I know that it's not important that they notice, that it's my job - my lucky, lucky job - to do small things with great love, to build our family's memories, to tell our story, to make our house a home.  But sometimes I see myself as if from outside of my own body, looking down and watching like a ghost:  There I am, getting out the peanut butter.  There I am, settling yet another squabble about tape.  There I am, running a stained shirt under cold water.

Seven years into full-time, at-home parenting, the gig is almost up.  It hasn't been a perfect fit.  I've said before and I'll say again, I'm always jealous of the person who just knows that a certain mode of parenting is right for them.  Some women are made to be at home with their kids, some are always certain that their families are better served by their working outside the home, and some families don't have the luxury of that choice and are making the best of whatever situation they're in.  I've always been uneasy about my decision to be at home, and now I'm equally uneasy thinking about what comes next.

I don't have any illusions that my role as mom is ending.  If anything, I think the next ten years are going to be even more challenging than the last seven have been, and I know there won't be easy answers.  But as more time opens up in my day-to-day and the other people in my family forge their own new paths into bright adventures, I don't think it is wrong of me to want more than to be left behind doing the work of a glorified personal assistant.  I don't think it is wrong to want to do more than get out the peanut butter.

"The future stretches out in front of me.  I see myself making more mistakes, not fewer.  Holding on when I should be letting go.  Letting go when I should be holding on.  The first nine years were the easy ones - when I could, for the most part, protect him from everything; when I was always in the next room when he took a shower, ready to run in and rinse the soap out of his eyes." - Melanie Gideon

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Read Elsewhere: The Slippery Year

"There's this strange phenomenon.  An hour after you've put your children to sleep, the ways in which you have wronged them sprawl out on your chest, all two hundred and fifty pounds of them, and suck the breath right out of you.  It works the same way with gratitude.  An hour after your family has left the house, you love them with a piercing intensity that was nowhere to be found when you were scraping egg yolk off their breakfast dishes.  Your hope is to one day feel this way about them when they're in the room.  This is a pretty lofty goal."

" . . . I am one of six and a half billion people currently taking their turn at being alive on this planet.  One of billions trying to make sense of their lives, their heartbreaks, their regrets, their greatest loves, their bad knees, and their beloved children sitting in front of them who will one day be part of the billions who have come before and have long since been forgotten."

-from The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After by Melanie Gideon

Her Name Means Jewel

She is almost five but she still willingly begins and ends each day in my arms.  At bedtime, after we read a book or three, she slumps contentedly into me and turns her head so her cheek rests on my left shoulder.  I smell her hair and scratch her back before I tuck her in.  Mornings, she opens her door slowly and comes out sheepishly, squinting at the light in the kitchen where the rest of us are already having breakfast.  I scoop her up and we snuggle.  Her warm body is not yet ready to talk.  She wants oatmeal or yogurt or fomps.

She jumps out of the car to go to school after she kisses me on the nose.  She talks to me the whole ride home and all through lunch.  She wants a cheese quesadilla - in the microwave! not the stove! - for lunch almost every day.  She hums while she draws.  She sings songs to herself while she builds with Legos or pages through books.  She has learned to do the monkey bars all the way across without stopping and to ride her sister's Razor and to play Doe-a-dear on the piano.  She can write all her letters and is working on her numbers and wants to know what two plus three is, please.  She brushes her teeth and washes her hands and cuts her waffle all by herself.  She gets dressed every morning and comes out, proud, to smile at herself in the full-length mirror in the hall.

Her bedroom is a mess of puzzles and pop beads.  There is an old Easter hat turned upside down, filled with a blanket, made into a nest for a stuffed animal in the middle of the floor.  It can not be moved.  There is a stack of books in her bed and a swaddled Bitty Baby, too, whose clothes must be changed from time to time.  She finds treasures on the ground everywhere we go, says, "I'm not picking up garbage, Mom," just before she hands me a penny, a pop-can top, a fall leaf, a cicada shell, an orange bead, a shell, a rock, a dragonfly wing.  The treasures must be kept in her bedroom, too.

She spills almost every time she eats.  She calls out "'Night!  Love you!  See ya in the mornin!" when we're closing her door at night.  She scowls when she doesn't get her way, says an emphatic "Phooey!" when she doesn't hear the answer she was hoping for.  She loves her sister, her Dumbo, her purple water bottle, her friends at school, her crayons, her bed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tradition: October Day at the Beach

It's been the most beautiful, sunny, warm stretch of perfect fall days that I can remember, and we've been cramming as much into them as possible.  Friday found me walking in the homecoming parade with Annie's Brownie troop, candy being thrown everywhere and a marching band leading us down the street, before going to a tailgate party with friends and the football game under the stars.

Yesterday morning I woke up early to run nine miles (my last long training run before the half next weekend).  The rest of the house was still sleeping when I left, but they were watching Saturday morning cartoons on the couch when I came back, and the day already promised to be hot and sunny.  So, even though we had an annual date with our neighborhood photographer for family photos in the early evening, we packed up the wagon and journeyed to Crane's to pick apples and then spent the rest of the afternoon at one of our favorite Lake Michigan beaches.  There's typically only one weekend each October when the weather feels like a last gasp of summer, and we couldn't let it pass by without continuing our annual tradition.

Sharing cherry pie after lunch.


The girls insisted on wearing their bathing suits even though the water was too cold for swimming.

A girl after my own heart . . .

art by Stephanie

art by Annie

art by Jemma

art by Jason

We paid for it later, of course, with tears and meltdowns just before (and during!!) family pictures.  Our photographer insists (based on her quick peeks at her camera screen) that the pictures will turn out great, but if they do, when you see them, imagine how "happy" we all were to be yanked back from the beach and hurried home to have hair curled and sandy bodies stuffed into jeans and wool sweaters only to stand, sweating, in a buggy field.  The girls expressed their happiness by refusing to hold hands or even so much as touch one another, letting their tongues loll fatly out of their mouths, lying down right in the grass between takes, and actually shoving one another and pinching each other's arms when they thought nobody was looking.

When you see them, know what there was true happiness that day.  It's just that it was more on the beach after apple-picking, and not as much in a field at sunset . . .

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Constant Tending

"Some of the great things that come in life—garden fruits, cardiovascular health, money, lasting love, osso bucco, good wine, faith, deep friendship—come very slowly, over time.  And these great things don’t just arrive, and stay. There are good things that only stay good with careful attention, daily attention; they require a constant tending.  Constant tending is really hard to do." - Heather Sellers

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Wish

The following is inspired by Just Write at The Extraordinary Ordinary and a passage from the book The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison, which I had to go through today before returning it to the library so that I could un-fold all the corners I'd folded down.  

I don't wish for the old house back, not really, yet in a way, I wish for everything back that ever was, everything that once seemed like forever and yet has vanished.  I wish for my own childhood bedroom with its mauve-and-mint-green heart-patterned wallpaper, the white-painted furniture, the west-facing window out of which I watched the sunset through the open screen in the summer.  I wish for Sunday after-church coffees at my grandparents' house and summer sleepovers in their downstairs bedrooms, in a house with gold-flecked Formica and a tub with sticky rubber bath mats inside.  I wish for a chance to relive an afternoon with my brother, when we shot hoops in the driveway and rode our bikes right down the middle of the street until my mom yelled out the front door that dinner was ready.  I wish for a sleepover with my best friends, sneaking out to toilet-paper a neighbor's house and coming back to eat microwave popcorn and watch The Princess Bride in the basement, for the day we went to see Wayne's World in the theatre, for our Christmas gift exchanges and summer meetings in fields and before-school pancake breakfasts and track meets.  I wish for my college dorm room with its view of the cafeteria, the futon on which I fell asleep reading uncountable pages of literature and philosophy, the white board hanging on our door next to a Nike ad I ripped out of a magazine, the buzz in the hallway at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night, all hairspray and music and getting ready to go out.  I wish for my husband as he was the first time I saw him, the first time he asked me to dinner at my dorm room door, the feeling of falling in love outside of The Alpen Rose restaurant on a cool fall night.  I wish for the first apartment we ever shared, in a generic complex across from north campus, the kitchen where I taught myself how to cook, the tiny TV/VCR combination that sat on our bedroom dresser.  I wish for my two daughters at every age they've ever been, but especially on the days they were born, for the sleepy moments in the middle of the night, for their happy, squeaky little voices and their chubby little cheeks filling the house.  I wish for Christmas mornings and blowing out birthday candles and first soccer games and all the hundreds of ordinary mornings with breakfast dishes to clear and coats to zip up and half-finished mugs of coffee growing cold on the counter.

Monday, October 3, 2011


from a quick weekend getaway with just my cute husband that included eating fudge, running the circumference of the island, a magical horse-drawn carriage ride at sunset to a cozy dinner in the woods, plenty of sports-watching in bars, riding our bikes up steep hills, a hot tub, a nap, wandering, wine-drinking, and laughing our guts out more than once.