Thursday, September 27, 2012

Read Elsewhere: Lovers Vs. Fighters; They Grow Up; Cell Phones

A smattering of interesting tidbits seen and heard lately:

:: From "I'm a Lover, Not a Fighter" by Shauna Niequist:

"I know that controversy is currency. But I think it’s worth asking about who you’re taking down, in the hopes that your snark and wit will go viral. I think it's worth asking about what happens over time to your insides when you decide to be a hater, when you decide to be the police of the internet, crusading for something or other.

There are enough haters. There always will be.

And right at the same time, there will always be enough beauty, enough hope, enough good, if we decide to be people who are always on the lookout for it. I want to use my voice to bring light and hope and beauty. I want to search for what’s good, and shout about that.

When I get all wound up--when someone trashes someone I love and I want to get into the fight, when I disagree so vehemently that I want to use all caps to illustrate my point, when someone's political views make me insane, I remember my rule, that I've committed to love, to being a voice for love and goodness.

It's especially hard work during election season, but if we're going to make it through the fall with relationships intact, maybe we should all think about being lovers instead of fighters."

:: From All & Sundry's "It All Vanishes:"

"I finished Rick Bragg’s The Prince of Frogtown last night. It’s a memoir inspired by Bragg’s relationship with his ten-year-old stepson, and towards the end, he writes,
The little boy started to fade, just like we left him in the sun too long. (…) He had been a ragamuffin, hurled into space by the seat of his pants. Suddenly, he shopped for shirts, and worried about his hair. He got too heavy to throw. (…) He turned twelve, then thirteen, and then the little boy just disappeared.
Just when you start to get used to it, to not minding it so much, it all vanishes, and the little boy you launched in the air stands at your shoulders like a man, and when you turn to say something you find yourself looking right into his eyes.He is not helpless, not needy.He is everything I rushed him to be.

Do you know how sometimes you read something, and it’s like the air in the room grows heavy? Like something you can touch, like you’re held fast by the words. I felt that way, last night. My god."
:: Moosh In Indy's "She Said: Kids and Cell Phones:"
"Oh, our generation is going to be a rich one when it comes to such arguments. Gone are the “I walked uphill to school both ways in six feet of snow with no shoes” arguments and here are the  “I made it to a job interview without google maps, turn by turn directions or a phone in my pocket, in my day, if we told someone we were going to be somewhere, WE SHOWED UP!”"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sixteen Years On

At about this moment in 1996, Jason and I were on our first date. Actually, by this time, he was probably dropping me off in front of my dorm then pulling away in his gray Honda Civic that was missing a passenger-side rearview mirror. He made a mix tape for the date (though he didn't tell me at the time) so that he could impress me with his great taste in music while we drove to Grand Rapids and back. I can't remember a single song on the tape, but I bet he could.

Today (many many years later), it's been packing lunches and making dinner, piano lessons and math test review, kindergarten sight words and paying bills, grocery shopping and working out, haircuts and watering window boxes. No mix tape, just the sound of the dishwasher humming away, the crickets out the open window, the kitties romping around the house to fight over a milk jug ring, the television on in the living room.

(We got kitties on Saturday - two tabby brothers who have already stolen our hearts. What can we say? Our children finally broke us.)

Sixteen years later, it's less glamorous and heart-fluttery, that's for sure, but it's more solid and comforting, too. I love these ordinary days. I wouldn't trade them, not even the kitty litter.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day In the Life, September 2012

Little snapshots of our day today, minus the two meetings I went to at school (because Instagramming photos of myself at the PTA meeting and the 3rd grade Parent Information Night would have certainly seemed creepy and odd):

Monday, September 17, 2012

On Vulnerability

I'm back from my 11th annual Girls' Weekend, a reunion for six of us college friends that's been a high point of my year for a long time now. Though we're spread across three states and in various stages of work and family-raising, it's so special and fun to get together.

Since having kids, I've sort of thought that the "special" factor around the weekend came mostly from the fact that our group had total freedom to do whatever we wanted, and that's mostly included a few adventures mixed in with a lot of eating, spa treatments, and being waited upon for two days without having to cut anyone's waffle into seventy small bites and wipe the syrup off their face later. And we did those things this year - pedicures, lunch and dinner out, a fabulous spread of wine and cheese and magazines in Adirondack chairs overlooking Lake Michigan, a fun painting class - and of course I loved them, but last night, home again and sleep-deprived from the up-till-3:00 a.m.-talking, I realized that it's not really the "away from work and children" thing that feels so luxurious. It's the sense that basically any topic is fair game, and that you can introduce those topics in an environment that's safe and supportive. It's the shared history, the thousands of memories, and - mostly - the sense that these people are On Your Team. It's the vulnerable, honest, hilarious conversations that sustain you. It's the quiet knowledge, not necessarily spoken aloud, that these people knew me before I was Mrs. anybody, before I was somebody's mom, and will know me when we're all going through "The Change" (a term we all vowed to never actually use), when we're launching grown children into the world, when the inevitable hard and scary life events come calling, too.


Before I left for my weekend, I had a Real Grown-up Meeting with someone I've been in contact with for a few months, and I'm so happy that it's led to me joining the team for TEDxGR. I'll be writing all the content for the event, and I'm both hopeful that the hours I'll be gone will be a "just right" amount of time for my work/life balance, and I'm thrilled to be a teeny-tiny part of TED, even if on a local level.

I can't believe how many people I've talked to about this don't know what TED is, so let's tie up this ode to vulnerability by linking to some of my favorite TED talks: Brene Brown talking on vulnerability in 2011 and the related topic of shame in 2012. Other favorites include Elizabeth Gilbert's talk on creativity and genius and LZ Granderson's The Myth of the Gay Agenda (from TEDxGR last year).

So, cheers: to old friends, to new adventures, and to vulnerability.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunrise, Sunset

Traditionally, I write Annie a letter here each year on her (our) birthday. It's fun to look back on the year that has passed, think about the ways she's grown, praise her for her persistence or her passion, wonder anew at how big she is getting. This year it doesn't seem necessary.

Annie is eight. She remembers everything that happened to her (to us) over the course of this last year. She has her own stories to tell. As of today, along with the rest of her third-grade class, she has her own (semi-private, school-sponsored, teacher-moderated) blog. So I'm not sure I need to be keeping track of the highlights of her years for her anymore. (Though I can keep doing it for me, and I will.)

Plus, I've started writing Annie real letters. She and I both communicate better, more succinctly, and more (ahem) calmly in writing than via conversation, especially when there's an ongoing challenge or a tricky subject involved. I wrote her a letter a few weeks ago after her first, disastrous soccer practice - a dashed-off-in-desperation three-pager about how hard I know it is for her to not immediately be good at something, to have to fail and make mistakes and learn in front of other people. I set out three basic expectations for the season, and she's risen to the occasion since then, adopting a new, positive attitude and even having a genuinely great time at her first game on Saturday. I wrote her a letter the night before school started. I write her notes in her lunch every day.

So I didn't write her a letter yesterday. What I did do is bake her a double-chocolate layer cake for her family party on Sunday PLUS thirty Pinkalicious cupcakes to bring to school for yesterday's treat. Jason and I got her the American Girl doll (Julie) she's been pining for since June. I took her (and Jemma) to get a birthday pedicure, then to piano lessons, then met up with Jason so all of us could go out to dinner to Rose's, where she and I took full advantage of free birthday dessert by ordering key lime pie AND creme brûlée. I tried not to think too much about how eight means halfway to sixteen which means driving; relatedly, I tried not to equate 35 to confirmed middle-aged, even though that was pretty unsuccessful.

I looked at this picture of us, taken right around her first birthday

and tried to wrap my mind around the fact that this picture of us is the reality these days:

She wrote me a letter on my (our) birthday, though - gave it to me just before she left for school in the morning. It says, "Dear Mom, Happy birthday! I love you as much as anyone can love anything! You are the best mom ever! I hope you have a great birthday! I love you sooooo much! Love, Annie"

Best birthday present ever, that one.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Glamour Continues

After I wrote yesterday, I made exciting journeys to Bed Bath & Beyond (a new kitchen trash can! Also: a shower curtain liner and curtain rods!! The excitement was palpable) and Target (birthday supplies for Annie, a new rug for outside our back door). Then I came home and cleaned the office while I waited for the plumber to come roto-root our sewer main, a fun yearly situation that causes us to not be able to use the water for a day or so until the tree roots get ripped out of the pipe and get rid of the clog.

When I went to get the girls from school, it was hot, and they were hot, and the walk home was long and hot and tedious, owing to Annie's broken flip-flop and Jemma's backpack being too heavy. Have I mentioned I was unshowered from my humid morning run (sewer/water situation) and very . . . hot? Annie had some sketchy moments, personality-wise, when we first got home, but she was much happier after some time alone with a book. She reports that her first day was "good," that she "played chase with the boys" at recess (oh, my), that she got to use the laptop computers, and that she starts switching classes for social studies and science to the other third-grade teachers on Thursday, something that makes her feel "like a middle-schooler."

Jemma came out of school wearing a newly-made First Day of School hat, reported the day was "awesome," and collapsed into bed before 7:30 last night. She was significantly less enthusiastic about getting out of bed and ready for school this morning; yesterday was fun and all, she said at breakfast, but "too long," and she'd prefer to stay home today. Nevertheless, off she went in her sweet blue dress and with pigtails in her hair.

My glamourous lifestyle continues. Today featured another super-sweaty, super-humid run; going to the farmers' market and the grocery store; unloading the dishwasher; more laundry; cleaning out the refrigerator; scrubbing tile grout with a toothbrush; scheduling carpools and filling out paperwork for extracurriculars; and purchasing more birthday gifts for a certain couple of family members.

I was talking with a friend yesterday, and we decided that this new schedule mostly means we'll just keep doing all the same things we were doing before, only without a person attached to/following us. And that's basically true. So far, no soap-opera-watching, bon-bon-eating, afternoon napping. I can't complain, though. I shower alone, work out without feeling guilty, and sometimes even sit down to eat my lunch or drink a LaCroix while listening to Pandora and unloading the dishwasher. I miss those little girls of mine, but they're off, doing what little girls should be doing: playing, learning, exploring the wide world. I'm here, enjoying the quiet but also waiting for them to get home.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


The girls are at school.

I woke up this morning at 5:20 a.m. thanks to a loud clap of thunder, so I got up, made the coffee, and sat drinking it in the dark. I thought about how, eight years ago, I was exactly one week away from giving birth to Annie. It's the day that feels like the beginning of my experience as a mother, and this day feels like an end. Not THE end, just AN end - to being at home with my girls, to being needed that way, to knowing that my primary job is raising them, feeding them, playing with them, keeping them safe. I could have cried a little this morning, sitting there in the dark, but I didn't, because I knew that if I started it'd be hard to stop, and because I didn't want to let them see me sad on their big first days.

I got them up, fed them breakfast, helped them pack their lunches into their backpacks and put headbands in their hair, took their pictures on the front step, and walked them to school in the rain. Annie was uncertain, a little excited and a little nervous. Jemma was ready, confident, happy. I hugged and kissed Annie when she turned to walk to her 3rd grade line, took Jemma to her door for a final kiss and hug, and then I walked home by myself, swinging my umbrella because the rain had stopped.

Now I am here. It's what I've thought I wanted for years. Time to myself, a little peace and quiet (or "a piece of quiet," as I used to call it when I was small), space to write and think and organize. And I DO want it. It's just a little scary. A little abrupt. Two weeks ago, our family was on a ten-day vacation, every day packed with sunshine and swimming and hiking and constant togetherness. Today, it's silent but for the hum of the dryer and the clicking of my keyboard.

What will I do? Oh, I have a list. There are projects I've been putting off all summer (organizing Jemma's old bedroom into a bona fide office, cleaning out closets, getting back to a regular yoga practice) and projects I've been putting off for eight years (acquiring and filling a fireproof safe, painting the walls in the stairway that have been scuffed since the day we moved in, writing something cohesive and meaningful).

What will I do? Maybe I'll rejoin Netflix just so I can watch the entirety of Friday Night Lights. Maybe I'll read a book a day, run every morning, take a post-lunch nap every afternoon. Maybe I'll get a job. (I almost got one last winter, though I didn't write about it here.) I hope I figure out how to fill every day with a mix of meaningful activities, figure out how to keep doing things that matter, figure out how to stretch myself and try new, hard things.


I read the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand earlier this year and, later, was discussing it with a family member who had also read it.

"What did you think?" I asked.

"I thought it really showed how much evil there is in the world, how evil people can be to one another," he said. "What did you think?"

"I thought it was about how incredibly resilient the human spirit can be in spite of unthinkable difficulty," I said.


I still like my answer, but I want to change it. Unbroken was about potential. It was about how every person possesses the potential to act for good or for evil. Both the hero in that story and the villain had one life on this earth, and their stories were a sum of their choices.

I think that's what this time in my life is about, too. Potential. Wide open. One choice at a time.