Thursday, January 26, 2012

Read Elsewhere: Responsibility

“Forever is an incorrect concept wrongly based on the idea that the sun isn’t going to explode. We are temporary. This is temporary, and our responsibility as humans within this temporary — this weirdly temporary but still sort of, in some ways, infinite — life that we have, with our gift of consciousness, is to find a way to live as well as we can live, to take the best care that we can of each other and of ourselves, and organize our lives in a way that reflects our values and our hopes for the people who’ll come after us, as well as honoring the people who came before us — that’s a very, very complicated thing to do.” - John Green

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Confessions, Unrelated

Sometimes when I'm at yoga and the instructor seems to be paying the tiniest bit more attention to me than average - standing in front of me a few times, adjusting me just a little bit, maybe smiling at me - I play out an elaborate fantasy in my mind whereby the instructor, after class, stops me as I'm rolling up my mat and says something like, "How long have you been practicing? You are really above average at this. Have you ever considered teaching?" This, in spite of the fact that I am, truly, approximately exactly average at this series of poses, and also in spite of the fact that yoga attempts to cultivate a mindset of non-comparison, non-competitiveness, and non-judgement. I know this, and yet the fantasy? It continues.


One of the things I am (sadly) most looking forward to about our potential house renovation is that we hope to create a new back entry/mudroom with main floor laundry. (This is what you get excited about in your mid-thirties?) This is the third house Jason and I have lived in where the laundry situation has been less-than-ideal (read: oldest models of appliances known to man plunked down in the middle of a creepy, unfinished cement basement), and I envision the laundry positively doing itself with me just popping into my Pinterest-inspired space to press a button or two here and there. If nothing else, it will at least change the fact that the girls somehow KNOW when I am downstairs changing the laundry, and they always need to talk to me or ask me something while I'm down there. Always, as in every single time. So not only am I probably getting wet socks from having to walk on the melted snow on the back steps and hanging out with the cobwebs in the freezing basement, but I am also having to carry on an increasingly difficult conversation with my children, who are definitely sticking their whole heads into the laundry chute and yelling down at me. At least in the future, we'll all be on the same floor, though probably still yelling.


Annie's recent assessment of her favorite show, Wild Kratts, went as follows: "Mom, Wild Kratts is a great show for two reasons. One, it teaches kids some really cool things about animals that they didn't know before. And two, it keeps kids from pestering their mom when she's trying to cook diner and do other things." (She actually used the word "pestering.") I heartily agreed with her, and then I felt guilty.


Connie and I met at Anthropologie on Saturday morning. We had been on the phone, simultaneously realized that neither of us were responsible for solo kid duty, and promptly ditched our husbands for shopping and met up at the mothership. The sale rack did not disappoint, much to Jason's dismay.


I took the girls to their well-child annual appointments today, and the pediatrician asked them each what their favorite vegetables were. "Pickles!" Annie said. "Oh, I love pickles, too," said our great doctor, "but what other vegetables do you like to eat with dinner?" Annie looked sad. "Just pickles," she said, and it was then that I confessed that Jemma eats no vegetables at all. Not even pickles. (And yet . . . in spite of their non-eating and general runtiness, they are, at 32 and 40 pounds, respectively, both solidly in the 20th percentile for weight for their ages! It's the highest percentile they've ever been!)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dancing Around the Edges

For the first time in a long time, things are happening in our lives that I don't feel comfortable writing about here. And since some of the things are Big Things and are taking up a lot of space in my brain, I just haven't been writing at all. It seems measly and even a bit dishonest, really, to write about the small things right now, but I am going to do it anyway.

five small things:

1.  My parents celebrated forty years of marriage a couple weekends ago. Forty years is kind of a long time. We celebrated with brunch at Cygnus (YUM) and the girls made them cards. That's about as big-deal as they wanted, but I still think it was pretty special.

2.  Jemma told me cheerfully that I had a baby in my tummy one morning. Which . . . no. And on that note, the January detox is still mostly in effect.

3.  Our family worked for a whole weekend on a five-hundred-piece puzzle in the middle of the floor in the hallway. (I was not around when this location was chosen and the puzzle was begun.) Allocation of puzzle-doing: Stephanie, 3 pieces; Annie, 5 pieces; Jason, 200 pieces; Jemma, all the rest.

4.  Last Wednesday, it was 55 and sunny and we played hopscotch in the driveway after running home from school with no coats, like so:

On Friday, the walk home looked like this:
Winter is confusing.

5.  We applied for a zoning variance that would allow us to demolish our current garage and re-build it in a better location, and it passed! We are so happy that we'll finally be able to get rid of the concrete/pea gravel/chain-link-fence "backyard" and create a little postage stamp of yard and functional patio for some privacy behind our house. Though outdoor construction won't begin until spring, there's lots to do in the meantime, including moving the girls' bedrooms upstairs and making plans to construct a main floor laundry room (yay!) and an actual mudroom. With luck, this will be the last winter when wet snow pants will leave puddles on my kitchen floor.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jemma is Five

Dear Jemma,

Just typing that title - FIVE! - makes me amazed, proud, and sad. Nobody here can believe that you are five whole years old, and yet you are. We have been blessed with five whole years of your delightful, inquisitive, silly, sweet, social, confident self, and we feel so lucky.

Right now, you're at school, which you continue to love, and you talk almost daily about how much you can't wait for next year's school, when you'll be at the same school as Annie. You have learned SO MUCH this year: you can write all your uppercase and most of your lowercase letters; you can read short words; you can spell short words; you can add little numbers; you are fascinated by science; you are intrigued by maps, globes, and Google Earth; you love to read and be read to; you have learned to swim and scoot on a big-girl scooter and do the monkey bars all the way across, both forwards and backwards. We are so proud of you.

At home, you do puzzles, draw pictures, beg to play checkers on the iPad, play with the bazillion stuffed animals and babies we have, and want to be doing anything Annie is doing. You are usually the last one up in the morning and now that it is winter, you prefer to start the day by sitting on the heat vent in your room before you come out to eat breakfast. You can dress yourself completely - even all your snow gear! - and you never, ever, ever want to wear jeans. You want to grow your hair out long again. You love to have your toenails painted.

You are silly. You tell knock-knock jokes that make no sense, you love to watch silly cartoons, and when we read a funny book you've read before, you start giggling even before the funny part happens. Last night you had me and Annie both belly-laughing in my bed just anticipating what Tacky the penguin was going to do.

You are tender-hearted. Even during the limited amounts of time when you watch even the most innocuous television, you're known to run from the room or cover your eyes if anything even sliiiiiightly uncomfortable or loud or scary or awkward is starting to happen. Your compassion makes you such a good companion to our family, because often, just as the rest of us are at our worst in difficult situations, you'll save the day with a kind word, a hug, or by running to get some little thing (a glass of water, a book, a stuffed animal) to make us feel better.

You are enthusiastic. When you are excited about something or hear especially good news, you pump your arms triumphantly in the air and do a little wiggly dance of joy. The smallest things make you happy: dessert, time with beloved family and friends, a good song, a fun time sledding or ice-skating, a good story-and-snuggle session before bed.  When I read this quote this morning on my daily happiness calendar, I thought right away of you:
"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about" - Charles Kingsley
We still tend to baby you sometimes, call you Roo and Moppet and Snuglet, pick you up when you should really have two feet on the ground most of the time. But in spite of your status as the little one in this family, you have so much to teach us about how to be, and you have such a bright future. We are sure of it. We love you so much, and we have loved our five whole years with you in our family.

Happy belated birthday.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fortunately, Unfortunately

We checked out an old, classic version of Fortunately, Unfortunately from the library a few weeks ago, and the girls were immediately taken by the literary device. They were so intrigued that they both wrote their own Fortunately, Unfortunately books and wrapped them up to give to Jason as Christmas presents, so part of our Christmas morning involved the two of us reading said books aloud, simultaneously praising the "creativity" and dying inside of laughter (hint: the books involve pirates, monsters, witches, grandmothers, ice-skating, and frogs). After a day like today, here's my version.

Fortunately, we all woke up in our warm house this morning with plenty of food, clothes, and all the basic necessities plus some.

Unfortunately, Annie started crying at breakfast and didn't want to go to school for the second day in a row.

Fortunately, one of the 29475736 things I said must have helped, because after thirty minutes of crying she did indeed get dressed, pulled herself together, and happily went off to school.

Unfortunately, I don't know which of the things I said was the magical thing.

Fortunately, Jemma went to school as happily as she always does.

Unfortunately, Jason and I had to meet with a lawyer to update our will and estate plan right after we dropped her off at school, which led to us spending an hour or so pondering those scenarios you really never want to ponder.

Fortunately, it was quick and painless and we are on the same page with these horrible decisions.

Unfortunately, it is winter.

Fortunately, it was sunny and I pulled Jemma in the sled to pick Annie up from school.

Unfortunately, we were all pretty cold by the time we walked home.

Fortunately, the girls were full of love for me and one another and we had a cozy night of piano-playing, braiding hair, bath bombs, and stories in my bed.

Unfortunately, Annie felt yucky and sad again right before bedtime, leading me to Google yucky and sad things after she finally was soothed to sleep.

Fortunately, there was a new Modern Family on tonight, and Jason got home just in time to watch it with me.

Unfortunately, I feel the beginnings of a sore throat and a sense of dread about tomorrow morning and one child's predicted emotional state.

Fortunately, I know we'll figure it out.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Not Seamless

The transition, that is, from two-plus weeks of lounging and gift-giving, oversleeping and overeating, traveling and togetherness back to the first, real, down-to-business day of January 2012. There was an hour (plus) of crying last night before bed and another hour (plus) of crying this morning before school.

It was a new experience for us, a child who was expressing this very high level of anxiety about something she'd previously never blinked at, and Jason and I reacted differently.

"Stop it," said Jason, because he, truly, is a person who doesn't really worry, who - aside from one specific work-related event this past year - doesn't have anxiety about things. If his brain starts to worry, he stops. Simple as that. But his advice, given more kindly than I've illustrated here, doesn't work for this particular blonde seven-year-old.

My tack: Walk the fine line between sympathetic comfort and firm instruction. Say, "It's normal to feel like this," and, "Everybody feels like this sometimes," and "I know you're brave and strong and you're going to have a great day!" and "Well, you're not sick and you're not staying home." When those things didn't work and the anxiety ramped up to a level that made me think, Psych consult in aisle four, please, I pulled out a few other things, like this gem of a conversation:

A: "I'm just feeling so terrible!"
Me: "Well, that's weird, because you just had a great day sledding, playing outside, having hot cocoa, practicing your piano, and playing with your sister, so it seems like you're feeling fine."
A: "I'm going to tell Mrs. F. that I'm sick and I need to come home."
Me: "If you call me from school, I'm going to ask to talk to Mrs. F. and I'm going to tell her that you're fine."
A: "But what if I'm sick and I need to come home?"
Me: "You throw up, I'll come get you."

and also the much-avoided, for-emergencies-only "I'll lie in bed with you until you can calm down and fall asleep."

As much as I put a brave face on it and focused on getting her to school this morning, 99% sure that all she needed was one day back in her usual routine, of course I worried about her all day long:  talked about her on the treadmill this morning, kept my phone close to me all day, and gave her the biggest hug when she came out of school smiling and reported that she'd had a good day. Pshew.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Read Elsewhere: New Year Inspiration

A few of the things that have inspired me lately:

*This post at Zen Habits, How to Start, makes it as simple as possible to begin anew.

*This quote from the wise writer Heather Sellers:
"I notice a pattern of (adult) people opening many or most conversations with “How are you?” and the response we give is so often “Good–busy!”  Like one word with a hitch in the middle, good-busy.  I feel this pattern denies something relational, something really important. I think we can so easily get into a pattern of using “busyness” or “swamped-ness” to keep from making a deep, close, or meaningful connection with the other person before us.  I noticed this in myself, and I got so sick of myself! It was like I was bragging about my importance in the world. I’m so busy = I’m so vital to the world!"
*This wisdom, which I linked to earlier, from Shauna Niequist, meant for Christmas but really necessary all year round:
"In our lowest, most fragmented moments, we feel out of control, controlled, in fact, by expectations and to-do lists and commitments and traditions. This is that season, we shrug, when things get a little crazy. No avoiding it.But that's not true. And that's shifting the blame. You've been entrusted with one life, made up of days and hours and minutes. You are spending them according to your values, whether you admit it or not.Let's be courageous in these days.Let's choose love and rest and grace.Let's use our minutes and hours to create memories with the people we love, instead of dragging them on one more errand or shushing them while we accomplish one more seemingly necessary thing."

*And this Brian Andreas quote I just wrote on the chalkboard by the back door, right above our family's resolutions:   “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Year in Review: Yoga, Jamaica, and Balance

1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?
Saw U2, Mega 80's, and Sara Barielles in concert. Took the girls to Great 
Wolf Lodge and Chicago overnight, the Nutcracker, and Jamaica.
Learned to make homemade marshmallows and dinner rolls. Published
two poems. Celebrated my dad's 65th birthday, our twelfth wedding
anniversary, the tenth girls' weekend, Annie's 7th birthday and Jemma's
5th birthday. Ran the Grand Rapids half marathon and became obsessed
with hot yoga. Sold a house. WatchedAnnie get her ears pierced. Spent
a weekend on Mackinac Island. Wore my wedding dress to
a party that was not my own wedding. Started getting allergy shots, 
and started some new Christmas traditions with our family.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Here's what I resolved a year ago:
1.  Kick the year off with a January detox - no alcohol, no red meat, very little "white" anything, lots of water and fresh fruits and vegetables for one month.  Did it! Loved it! Going to do it again this year!

2.  Find a meaningful way to "give back" and start doing it. Sadly, nope.
3.  Establish good systems to organize the things in my life that consistently 
overwhelm me:  photos, recipes, books, and kids' art.  Mostly yes: I started using Goodreads to track my books, have been much better about uploading and printing photos, and took a weekend to organize my recipes and make bins for the best kids' art.
4.  Complete and make public my Life List.  Check.
For 2012, I'm personally resolving to write daily, and possibly 
to work on a larger and more ambitious project than 
this blog. Our family is resolving to find some type of 
community service we can do together.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My friend Andrea had a new babe, and Chris and Sarah added a 
fourth child to their family, but I am having a hard time remembering
 many other birth announcements on our fridge this year.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Sadly, Jason's uncle John.
5. What countries did you visit?
6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
I'm wishing lately for more clarity about what the next stage of my life 
is going to look like and I'm always wishing for more time to write.
I'd like more patience every year.
As far as material possessions, though? I'm crazy lucky.
7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I just wrote a few of them down here.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

For the first time since I've been doing this year-end review, I really 
feel like 2011 was the year where I found a good and healthy balance
between self, family, friends, work, play, and all the elements that
make up my life. 
9. What was your biggest failure?
I lost my temper with the kids more that I'd like to admit, and while 
there are days and moments when I feel great about the way I'm raising
my kids, there are also days and
moments when I feel sure I'm making one mistake after another. 
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing major, thankfully.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
New fancy eye cream and lipgloss, a cool Eames walnut stool, piano 
lessons for Annie. the book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, babysitting,
a week in paradise.
12. Where did most of your money go?
All the usual places, plus some extra to sell the old house, refinance 
this one, and pay off both cars.
13. What did you get really excited about?
I excitedly anticipated my annual girls' weekend, all the live music events 
we got to see this year, and a more meaningful and low-key holiday
season. I fell in love with yoga even more this year but still appreciate a 
good, hard run. I loved Tina Fey's book, Bossypants, and got sucked 
into Mad Men, too. It's embarrassing to admit, but I was awfully excited
about the new Anthropologie store opening just minutes from our house.
Going there with a cup of coffee feels like a little getaway.

14. What song will always remind you of 2011?
Well, 2011 was the year our family got sucked into the Bieber Fever, 
but if I have to choose a specific song, it'd probably be Dog Days Are 
Over by Florence + The Machine, simply because I heard it performed
live the first time I encountered this strange and lovely artist
and because we've since danced to it in the kitchen many a time.
15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? You know, I think I'm a little happier.
– thinner or fatter? Same, same - but I can do more push-ups!
– richer or poorer? Richer.
16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

More silly play with my kids while they still want to do it with me, more
 writing, more generous reactions to difficult situations.
17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Less yelling, less procrastinating, less getting worked up about things 
that aren't really important.
18. How did you spend Christmas?
We went up north to celebrate with Jason's family the weekend before, 
had a cozy Christmas Eve just the four of us, and went to my parents'
house in the afternoon on Christmas Day.
19. What was your favorite TV program?
Still loving Modern Family, and I'll note that the girls would probably 
say Wild Kratts.
20. What were your favorite books of the year?
Bossypants, Room, State of Wonder, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, 
Olive Kitteridge, Let the Great World Spin, The History of Love, 
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, The Price of Motherhood, The Art of 
Fielding, Bittersweet, Salvage the Bones.
21. What was your favorite music from this year?

A friend made me a fun CD that brought me up to speed a little, full 
of Mumford and Sons, The Decemberists, and other assorted current
22. What were your favorite films of the year?
I really liked Crazy, Stupid, Love. I . . . barely can remember any other 
movies I saw this year.
23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 34, Annie turned 7, and we went to brunch at Rose's after church.
24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Ahhh, if I'm really reaching, perhaps children who listen on the first try?
25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
Trying to pull it together just the tiniest bit more than in years past.
26. What kept you sane?
These answers seem to be the same every year: friends, running, yoga, 
Jason, coffee, alcohol, writing, reading, an hour or so a day not speaking
to anyone. 
27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.

I'm not feeling particularly wise right now, but I do think I got better
 about having honest (if difficult) conversations rather than avoiding
confrontations, and the honest approach turns out better every time.