Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Things Jemma Says: Beverages

"I LOVE milk! But I care for water, too."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Good Things, May 2012

Is there anything quite as hopeful and happy as Memorial Day Weekend? Especially when the weather cooperates with 90's and sunshine, it's such a great reward for enduring a midwestern winter and spring, and it's such a great feeling to have the entirety of June, July, and August stretching out before us.

This weekend, we spent almost every possible second outdoors. I planted my window boxes (red geraniums, as always, plus a bunch of herbs that I will try not to kill before the 4th of July), Jason and I stained hundreds of shingles for the new garage and painted the exterior trim, and of course we ventured to the beach - two days in a row - to soak up the sun with family and friends, to come home sandy and tired, to splash in the freezing water (or go under, if you're Annie), to eat some traditional summer favorites. Good things abound, both this weekend and this month:

Jemma's wrote a list of some friends on the chalkboard . . .

 . . . and made me this sweet placemat for the Mother's Day Tea at preschool.

Making a fort for ponies in the front yard out of random materials on a lazy Saturday morning.

An impromptu walk on "The Secret Path" one afternoon after school.

Kite Festival in Grand Haven.

Jemma (high score!) at her end-of-year bowling party.

Jersey Junction to celebrate Annie's AWESOME performance at the elementary school talent show.

Homemade cherry pie.

Saturday night dinner outside.

Gymnastics at the beach.

Jumping waves and playing with my parents on a Sunday afternoon.

Blondies in the breeze on Memorial Day.

Traditional summer stop at Redamak's for burgers.

And Blue Moon ice cream at Sherman's on the way home.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

End of an Era

Since September of 2007, I've spent a chunk of every school year driving someone to preschool. On Monday, I did it for the last time ever.

I still remember exactly how the first day of preschool went for Annie. I had never dropped one of my babies off at school before. Jemma was only eight months old, still in the infant car seat, when we brought Annie into her classroom and I hugged her good-bye. I went home, cried a little, put Jemma down for her morning nap, and cleaned the heck out of a bathroom (even bleaching the bath toys) with no "helpers" in sight.

I cried a little on Monday, too. Jemma stayed to play on the playground for a few minutes after I picked her up, then we walked out to our car and let the gate swing shut behind us for the last time. She skipped ahead, her bag full of a journal that shows just how far she's come this year: her self-portrait, once a circle with legs coming right out of the chin, is now adorably accurate as body parts go; her letters, once backwards, are now formed neatly and correctly; the words she knows how to read now uncountable. She's ready, surely, for kindergarten in the fall. But I'm going to miss the sweet mornings at the happy school in the red brick church.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Read Elsewhere: Faith, Parenting, Imperfection, Story

From The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides:

"Everyone he knew was convinced that religion was a sham and God a fiction. But his friends' replacements for religion didn't look too impressive. No one had an answer for the riddle of existence. It was like that Talking Heads song. "And you may ask yourself, 'How did I get here?' . . . And you may tell yourself, 'This is not my beautiful house. And you may tell yourself, 'This is not my beautiful wife.'" As he responded to the essay questions, Mitchell kept bending his answers toward their practical application. He wanted to know why he was here, and how to live."
"As he took in the marvelous sights, the dusty Polo Grounds, the holy cows with their painted horns, he had got in the habit of walking around Calcutta in the presence of God. Furthermore, it seemed to Mitchell that this didn't have to be a difficult thing. It was something every child knew how to do, maintain a direct and full connection with the world. Somehow you forgot about it as you grew up, and had to learn it again."

From Blue Nights by Joan Didion:

"On this question of fear.
When I began writing these pages I believed their subject to be children, the ones we have and the ones we wish we had, the ways in which we depend on our children to depend on us, the ways in which we encourage them to remain children, the ways in which they remain more unknown to us than they do to their most casual acquaintances; the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them. . . . As the pages progressed it occurred to me that their actual subject was not children after all, at least not children per se, at least not children qua children: their actual subject was this refusal even to engage in such contemplation, this failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, death.
This fear. 
Once she was born I was never not afraid."
"I do not know many people who think they have succeeded as parents. Those who do tend to cite the markers that indicate (their own) status in the world: the Stanford degree, the Harvard MBA, the summer with the white-shoe law firm. Those of us less inclined to compliment ourselves on our parenting skills, in other words most of us, recite rosaries of our failures, our neglects, our derelictions and delinquencies. The very definition of success as a parent has undergone a telling transformation: we used to define success as the ability to encourage the child to grow into independent (which is to say adult) life, to "raise" the child, to let the child go. If a child wanted to try out his or her new bicycle on the steepest hill in the neighborhood, there may have been a pro forma reminder that the steepest hill in the neighborhood descended into a four-way intersection, but such a reminder, because independence was still seen as the desired end of the day, stopped short of nagging. If a child elected to indulge in activity that could end badly, such negative possibilities may have gotten mentioned once, but not twice."


"What I have memorized is my child's face at different points in her life."

From the blog Superhero Journal:

"The ways that you are imperfect allow people to connect to you and love you even more." 

From Seth Godin's blog:

 A true story
Of course, that's impossible.
There's no such thing as a true story. As soon as you start telling a story, making it relevant and interesting to me, hooking it into my worldviews and generating emotions and memories, it ceases to be true, at least if we define true as the whole truth, every possible fact, non-localized and regardless of culture.
Since you're going to tell a story, you might as well get good at it, focus on it and tell it in a way that you're proud of. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Halfway . . .

 . . . to having the rock-hard arms of Madonna and the zen mind of Ghandi.

Wait. Was that not the promise?

Regardless, I have reached the halfway point in the 30-day yoga challenge, and I remain committed. I actually had to miss class yesterday (thanks, pinkeye!) and go to two classes today to make up for that. It did not kill me, so I assume it made me stronger?

Speaking of cliches (as though a 30-something upper-middle-class housewife rambling on about yoga wasn't enough), I have decided that the prize I will be giving myself when I finish this month o'yoga is an item of Lululemon clothing, which I have so far avoided buying because I'm afraid that what they say is true: this particular brand of $95 yoga pants really is the Best! Thing! Ever!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Recent Absurdity (Some Rated PG-13)

At our aforementioned trip to the park last weekend, Annie and Jemma climbed all the way to the top of a metal bar structure that they call "jail" in spite of my worried-mother grumblings about it being too high. When they arrived at the top, they wanted me to take their picture. I agreed on the condition that they get down immediately after, and they promptly settled themselves into a side-by-side, hands-on-chin, cheesy smiling pose, as though I was shooting their senior pictures, but not before Annie glanced down and read the graffiti that was scrawled on top: Brandon was here. Suck it, bitches! She read it aloud, then Jemma repeated it in a sing-song voice, then I took the photo. Thanks, local hooligans.

This outfit:

Also, this outfit (though I love that she's sneaking in a little before-school reading):

Also, this outfit (with an added bonus that she's pretending to be an "old lady"):


The fact that it has somehow become tradition that Jemma wear Jason's "My Goodness, My Guinness" t-shirt each time we are at Dune State Park.


While I'm making dinner tonight, this conversation:

Jemma: Mommy, what are you making?
Me: Risotto.
Jemma: Oooh, I love your homemade risotto!
Me: Thanks!

(five minutes later, she wanders back into the kitchen)

Jemma: Mommy, what's a ho?
Me: I, ahh, what? Why?
Jemma: Because, HOmade. What does the "ho" mean?
Me: sigh of relief

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day 2012

I say that we don't really have a Mother's Day tradition, and it's true. Some years we're with my extended family, some years we're with Jason's, and some years we're on our own. But it seems like one way or another, at least two or three of the holidays since I've been a mother myself, we've ended up hiking at Dune State Park, one of my very favorite places on earth. And that's what we did today: picnic lunch on the beach, phone calls to both grandmas en route, climbing the big dune and jumping back down, collecting ladybugs, stopping for ice cream on the way home. I'm not going to pretend that there wasn't the usual amount of bickering and "she looked at me!" and "but it's my turn to sing!" and "my legs are tired," but there isn't much that homemade cards and Anthropologie gifts, a good hike to the beach, and a good bedtime story later at night can't solve. So maybe this is our new Mother's Day tradition.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Gamble(r)

Tonight as we were all riding bikes back from Wilcox Park (where we'd done enough swinging and merry-go-rounding for one night), Jason yelled back to me, "Hey! Guess what today is the anniversary of?" It took me a minute, I admit, as I was watching Annie's scrawny legs pump herself up a hill, but then I knew: fourteen years ago right around that time, Jason was asking me to marry him. (Awwww.)

Now that I'm in my mid-thirties, life seems to be presenting a few new situations: having zits and wrinkles at the same time, hand-wringing over work/family balance (or returning to said career after a hiatus), watching our metabolism crap out on us and leave us with five constantly-extra pounds, and watching acquaintances and neighbors go through divorce. I've had two (freshly divorced) people lament to me recently that they should never have gotten married so young. I nodded and smiled and did not for a second consider confessing that I got engaged when I was NINETEEN.

Who knows, really, why we're going on almost thirteen happy years together and those people aren't. All I know is that we probably had no business getting married so young, and yet this morning I stood in my kitchen and bawled while I watched Fun. sing "The Gambler" on YouTube, and yet tonight we biked around town with our little family and thought for one moment about a lucky night fourteen years ago.

Girls in White Dresses with Blue Satin Sashes

Annie's first communion was last weekend, and despite my trepidation leading up to the event, it was sweet, appropriate, and meaningful. She was beautiful - angelic, even - and she seemed to like being the center of attention for the day, a flurry of cousins around her, cards and gifts being showered on her, and a fancy outfit to boot. I watched her reading a card aloud to the whole family after brunch, and then I watched her read the opening welcome to the entire church at the beginning of mass, and I thought: who is this poised, confident, charming little lady? We were understandably pretty proud of her, our little Anna Catherine.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eight Days a Week

This morning I took the cap off a dry erase marker and drew a nice, fat X under the number 8 on the white board on the wall of the yoga studio, so that now, a week into this thing, there are eight nice, fat x's behind my name. And here, for no real reason, are eight little lessons I've gleaned from a solid week of daily yoga.

1.  Showing up is 99% of the work. The hard part? It's the preparations (clean yoga blanket, full water bottle, correct clothes, actually getting in the car and going there instead of off in a million other directions), not the actual yoga. Once I'm in the studio, sitting on my mat, waiting for class to begin, I hardly even care what the poses will be. I know I can do them, or, if I can't, I know I can lie in child's pose for all anyone cares. Doing the yoga is easy, and getting easier by the day.

2.  You can do anything for one breath. The classes I've taken over the past week blur together, but one instructor said this one of the days, and I love the reminder. Not just while trying to hold a hard position, but during anything complicated or difficult in life, you can just be with it for one breath. Just breathe. Then breathe again. (Sometimes I think my older daughter was put on Earth to teach me this lesson.)

3.  Do things with purpose. It doesn't matter if it's deciding to work out or deciding to take a class or deciding to quit a job or deciding to move or deciding to stay up late watching Tosh.0; what matters is that it's intentional, that you're choosing to use your time and energy in a certain way rather than just drifting mindlessly into a situation. But, at the same time . . .

4.  Play more. I was so exhausted from the first four days in a row of yoga that I could hardly drag myself out of bed on Saturday morning to make the 7:30 class. I sat cross-legged on my mat, grumpy and sleepy, and wondered idly how little I could do without anyone noticing. Luckily, the instructor was one of the more colorful, irreverent teachers, and it ended up being the best class of the week for me, all because she encouraged us to play and have fun. We'd be clenching our jaws, frowning through the sweat in eagle or crow, and she'd yell, "Smile! It's just yoga! It's supposed to be fun!" Life, yoga: it's supposed to be fun! Play more.

5.  Be OK with looking silly and failing. I have very low standards for how I look as I go about my day, but even I am borderline embarrassed of myself when I emerge from hot yoga. If I go in the morning, I haven't showered before, so I'm holding onto what little shred of deodorant remains from the day before. My hair is held back by a wide headband that I like to think makes me look Earth Mother-ish but which probably makes me look like a hobo cleaning lady. Most importantly, I look like I've taken a shower with my clothes on and I smell terrible. But guess what? So does everyone else in the room. During the class, too, I inevitably fall out of poses or tip over backwards or land with a thud when I try to jump out gracefully. The first few times I did this, I felt strange and vulnerable. Now? I hardly notice. I need to carry this more into my everyday life.

6.  Being fully present in our bodies is so rare, and so good. I watched my little dancers perform in their spring recital on Saturday afternoon, and it was such a treat to see them fully inhabit their strong bodies on the stage. One of the bonuses of having daughters in dance is that I get to see such a range of dance performances that are totally unfamiliar to me, since I didn't grow up dancing (or even watching dance performances). Watching some of the older, more accomplished classes perform long, complicated, and original choreography, I thought about how I couldn't care less if Annie and Jemma continue to dance, but I do want them to experience in some way the joy of being completely immersed in something physical. It could be the underwater speed of swimming, or the musical immersion of dance, or the intricate passing of basketballs, or it could be dance. For me, it's yoga.

7.  There is power in community. At the start of almost every one of the classes this past week, the instructor has asked those of us participating in the 30-day challenge to raise our hands. (About half the class typically does.) The wall of the studio is covered in white boards, and each board is covered with names, and each name is followed by a row of x's or checks or colored-in squares. There is something important about knowing that the person next to me on the mat is struggling to show up every day, too. There is something satisfying about going over and writing on the dry erase board after the class is over, even though most of these people are strangers and I never see them outside of class.

8.  Practice makes . . . permanent. Not perfect, permanent. In yoga, as in life, there is no such thing as perfection. There is, instead, always an opportunity to grow, to tweak, to change, to play your edge, to keep doing something over and over (breathe, write, sing, love, cook) until the skill becomes a habit on which you can build. And I think, eight days in, that taking the time to practice breathing and moving intentionally a little bit every day might just affect my life permanently.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Good

  • Starting the day with sleepy snuggles from both girls at once.
  • Getting to sit in on a cooking class tonight for an article I'm writing, and most especially getting to eat goat cheese and chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates.
  • The return of hot and humid, and having nothing at all to do yesterday afternoon that interfered with dragging out the old water table and having a fun hour in the front yard with the girls in the sunshine.
  • Surviving the third day in a row of yoga, and the fact that I am sleeping so well at night.
  • Coming home tonight to sea salt caramels, and most especially that Annie picked them out just for me and left me a sweet note beside them on the table.
  • Sleeping with the windows open, and knowing that it's probably safe to put away the winter hats. (Finally.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Teaching and Parenting

I had a conversation this morning with a friend about teaching (our school district is trying to come up with the funds to continue having paraprofessionals in the kindergarten and first grade classrooms, which I think is essential) and then I went to yoga at noon, where two different teachers shared teaching the class. So while I was lying on my back at the end of class, I was thinking about the way that good teaching is both an art and a science, and about how I continue to be surprised that I am not a better parent, because I was a very good teacher. And isn't parenting just teaching on a much smaller, much more continuous scale?

Don't get me wrong, I had a few extra-specially difficult kids in classrooms over the years, but even then I never became completely unwound by the difficulties. I put in my very best effort and knew, somehow, that my very best effort would have to be enough, that there was nothing more I could do. Maybe in parenting, we're too close to the source, too constantly surrounded by the "pupils," and too attached to the outcome to be as level-headed. In any case, I never yelled. I never lost my temper. I never went into another room to cry or lay awake at night going over where it had all gone so wrong.

This is not to say that parenting the girls lately has been completely joyless. In every day there are moments of satisfaction and goodness, and I try to focus on those. I try to take the long view, to have some perspective that things will not always be this way. (Swistle, again, putting my thoughts into words.)
When that fails, there is always commiserating with girlfriends, running, drinking, getting out of the house, or going to sleep and pinning my hopes on the fact that the morning will bring a clean slate and a fresh start. But it hasn't really been a party for me lately, and I'm wishing I could channel a bit of Wise Teacher Stephanie to tell Frazzled Parent Stephanie what to do.

Back to lying on my back after yoga: I'm thinking about teaching. I'm thinking that I used to love teaching the same units and skills and information to new students every year, the way I did at Cranbrook, because the fresh crop of students every year ensures that the experience is different. I'm thinking, too, that there's probably satisfaction in teaching new skills and information to the same students, the way my instructor does at the yoga studio, because the continuity of learners lets you see people progress in their practice.

same information + new students = fun, satisfying teaching experience
new information + same students = fun, satisfying teaching experience
but you know what sucks?
same information + same students = unsatisfying, frustrating teaching experience
And what situation most closely mirrors that?

Parenting. Especially the kind of parenting I'm largely doing these days, the kind where you keep saying the words, modeling the behavior, providing the information, encouraging the skills, and yet it's a Groundhog's Day situation of the same frustrations happening again and again.

Maybe I need to switch up my material. It's either that or switch up the kids, I guess.