Friday, May 31, 2013

Good Things, May 2013

Chasing it down

Little poet in her classroom

Blowing bubbles with neighbors

Piano recital on a lovely grand

Camping and fishing

Magnolia tree blooming

Date night with my little pianist to see some jazz

Family bike rides

More bubbles . . .

Breakfast with the tadpoles

Meijer Gardens with a buddy

When your butt fits into the hot tub filter

One overwhelming, fantastic day

The duck poutine at Winchester with a tiny dark beer

Running the Riverbank run to raise money for a great cause

Mother's Day means breakfast in bed

Lilacs (my favorite)

Shaved asparagus pizza from Smitten Kitchen (plus pancetta)

The moment when they get home from school

My tulips

Reading Harry Potter on the porch


Post-hot tub s'mores with friends

Enjoying the new patio furniture in the sunshine

And enjoying the box, too

Reading while eating a spoonful of frosting

Chocolate cake for my dad's birthday

Brothers playing together

These two sharing a love of music

Afternoon reading with the cats at her feet

Sneaking in a trip to the pool just before bedtime on a Thursday

Monday, May 27, 2013

In the Middle

Our Memorial Day weekend was the perfect mix of doing things and not-doing things: biking, having friends over for dinner, celebrating my dad's birthday, going to a graduation open house, gardening, reading, running, lounging in jammies, cooking and baking, relaxing. And though today's chilly rain wasn't the perfect end to the weekend, weather-wise, I think we're all heading into the week relaxed and refreshed.

At the graduation open house - our babysitter's, the first I've been to in years - I realized while talking with her mom that Annie has lived with us now for about half of the total time she'll likely live with us - a little punch to the gut on a gorgeous spring day. She's right in the middle of her life as a child growing up in our house. I stood in a big backyard near a white tent as I said it, patting Annie's sun-kissed head, but I thought about it off and on for the rest of the weekend, as she and Jemma both did things that seemed both "big-kid" and "little-kid," proving that they really are in that in-between sweet spot of childhood.

Sometimes, they're still little ones. On Friday afternoon, they walked home from school to find us unpacking some new patio furniture and they immediately seized on the big cardboard box it had come in. Before I knew it, they'd constructed a functional door with a jump rope, cut windows, decorated it with markers, and spent time eating snacks and blowing bubbles in it with friends for the rest of the night. On Sunday morning, Jemma squirmed and whined and laid her body over me like a noodle all throughout church, and on Sunday afternoon my brother hung her upside down by her feet and made her helpless with laughter. Tonight, Annie asked me to paint her toenails before dinner and both girls danced a self-choreographed modern dance for us before their showers, complete with matching costumes, fans, and lighting. Jemma cried over a broken keychain and over gum. Annie threw a fit about going to the garden store and brought a stuffed animal along in the car. They constructed an outdoor fairy garden and can still fully immerse themselves in the world of magic. A million little moments of being little.

But then sometimes I can hardly believe how big they are. Jemma helped Jason string up patio lights - holding the ladder, fetching tools, genuinely helping instead of "helping" the way a toddler would. She read three Ivy & Bean books this weekend. Annie helped make dinner on Saturday. They clear their plates after a meal, spread cream cheese on their own bagels, put away their own laundry. When we stopped into the brewery for Jason and Trevor to play a couple quick guitar songs together Sunday night, Annie said she wanted to play, too - and she calmly blew the whole place away with Styx while Jason sang along. We can take long family bike rides now - no training wheels, no bike trailer, just the four of us pedaling around town to smell the lilacs and play at the playground and get ice cream.

They have two weeks left of this school year, and I'm in denial. I'd like for them to stay in third grade and kindergarten for a long time. I'd like for them to live at our house with us for zillions more years, instead of just ten or so. As we kick off this summer, though, I'm going to try to keep them right here in the middle for just a while longer.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Read Elsewhere: Benediction

"What if we said to our enemies: We are the most powerful nation on earth. We can destroy you. We can kill your children. We can make ruins of your cities and villages and when we're finished you won't even know how to look for the places where they used to be. We have the power to take away your water and to scorch your earth, to rob you of the very fundamentals of life. We can change the actual day into actual night. We can do all of these things to you. And more.

But what if we say, Listen: Instead of any of these, we are going to give willingly and generously to you. We are going to spend the great American national treasure and the will and the human lives that we would have spent on destruction, and instead we are going to turn them all toward creation. We'll mend your roads and highways, expand your schools, modernize your wells and water supplies, save your ancient artifacts and art and culture, preserve your temples and mosques. In fact, we are going to love you. And again we say, no matter what has gone before, no matter what you've done: We are going to love you. We have set our hearts to it."

Read Elsewhere: Half a Life

From Half a Life by Darin Strauss:

"I'm surprising myself by grinning now, just recalling this. There's a pleasant, weird vibe you get from remembering a moment of early closeness with someone, in the time before you realized this closeness was going to become your life."


"I find it an amazing stroke of luck to be married to (her). To be a parent with (her). That's the meter you come up with, as you approach forty. If your relationship fills you with a sense of luck, you've chosen well."


"Things don't go away. They become you. There is no end, as T.S. Eliot somewhere says, but addition: the trailing consequence of further days and hours. No freedom from the past, or from the future.

But we keep making our way, as we have to. We're all pretty much able to deal even with the worst that life can fire at us, if we simply admit that it is very difficult. I think that's the whole of the answer. We make our way, and effort and time give us cushion and dignity. And as we age, we're riding higher in the saddle, seeing more terrain.

So it's an epiphany after all. You have it in your hand the whole time."

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Best Moment of My Day

Admired writer Shauna Niequist recently wrote a post about the best moment of her day and invited readers to share their own. I'm not sure I've ever really thought about it. I love the first sip of coffee in the morning, my morning run, praying before dinner when all four of us are there together, almost-daily phone calls with a certain friend, kissing Jason when he gets home from work. But if I had to choose a favorite, it'd be this:

Bedtime stories, Mother's Day 2013

The girls, freshly showered and be-jammied, snuggled next to me while I read to them before bed. Our family, together again at the end of the day. A book (The Secret Garden, Amelia Bedelia, anything by Kate Di Camillo) holding our attention. The promise of a glass of wine on the couch or the back patio in fifteen minutes. The knowledge that we're all home safe for the night.

I don't particularly enjoy the lead-up to this moment (hurry, take a shower, brush your teeth, stop petting the cat, brush more, fill your water bottle, choose a book, leave the cat alone), but it's awfully hard to top those few precious minutes when the three (sometimes four) of us are huddled together over a book on that darn couch Jason and I bought from a used furniture store in Ann Arbor in 1999. It's right where I want to be, at least six out of seven nights of the week. It's the best moment of my day.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Five Things That Have Happened

1. The event I've been working on since November, TEDxGrandRapids, took place last Thursday. I'm feeling incredibly lucky to have been part of such a dedicated and creative team and incredibly proud of the writing I did to give our event a voice. (Virtually all the website copy, blog posts, and audience newsletters - and many of the news releases - were written by me, and it's simultaneously a huge relief to be mostly done with the project and a strange sense of emptiness to not be thinking about it every day.) A few thoughts, post-event:

  • As the event got close, another team member and I took over the Twitter feed. My job the day of the event was largely to post, re-tweet, monitor, reply, and keep track of an exploding hashtag - and I've really only been on Twitter in a minimal capacity for less than a year. All credit goes to the super-smart college student on my team who very nicely sat down with me, helped me set up TweetDeck, and taught me about RT, MT, hashtags, and all manner of Twitter usage. At one point I actually said, "I'm sorry! I'm thirty-five! I learned to type on a word processor!" but he was patient, and I was reminded that I'm not nearly old enough to stop learning new tricks.
  • Our speakers were very, very smart people whose talks were challenging, interesting, and inspiring. This is exactly as we had hoped and planned, so - good! And yet, I don't think I'm the only one who found the cumulative effect of all those PhDs doing amazing research/people overcoming obstacles and dreaming big/innovative designers with bold ideas for the future to be the nagging thought, What am I even doing with my life? (And: I remember having that feeling before, after reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, and I remember that it eventually went away, so I'm not too alarmed. I think I'll re-watch the talks when they come online, maybe one at a time so as not to be overwhelmed.)
  • The night before, at the speaker-sponsor reception, I got to chat one-on-one for about half an hour with one of our speakers, a genomics medicine expert whose talk centered around the efficacy of genetic testing and what individuals might want to do with that information. I got to quiz him about my family history of Alzheimer's, ask about my insurance company suspicions, and get advice about whether and how to be tested. That interaction alone was priceless and gave me a ton to think about regarding my health care.
  • Over the course of the day, I also saw a high-school classmate that I haven't had contact with since graduation, drank one perfect MadCap cappuccino, discussed vasectomies with the wife of a favorite local business owner I'd just met, used my latent calligraphy skills to prettify the name badges of late-registering attendees, and cried my eyes out at a TED video that was interspersed between the talks. It was a day unlike any other, that's for sure.
2. On Friday, I helped take the event down in the morning (this involved glamorous things like pulling up yards of sidewalk tape in the drizzling rain and washing out multiple water containers), then picked up my Riverbank Run 25K packet in the afternoon. Because WHY NOT RUN 15 MILES TWO DAYS AFTER A 16-HOUR EVENT? Our school principal, for whom a team of us was raising money with the run, generously hosted a pasta dinner for the runners and their families on Friday evening. It was nice to spend a little time with the other runners and their families, and in retrospect, it was nice to have that extra reminder that each of us, sponsored by others, was running for a dear cause. Because, while the first 12 miles of the run on Saturday went beautifully (Sarah and I talking and laughing and downing Gatorade as we always do), the last 3.5 miles did not feel good. At all. And I may or may not have been doing an embarrassing amount of self-talk and sing-song chants to the beat of my feet on the ground about being strong, running for a cause, and making our team proud. In the end, we finished - and within about 20 seconds of the time we've gotten every other time we've done this distance, too. Apparently if you wind me up, I do a nine-minute mile until I can't do any more. I came home, got in the hot tub, and spent much of the rest of the day in bed, thank goodness.

3. Sunday was Mother's Day. After the girls awakened me early (7:01) to bring me breakfast in bed (yogurt and granola, mango, coffee) and my favorite flowers (lilacs), I had a few moments to reflect on how my Mother's Days have changed so drastically over the years. I so clearly remember those first, blurry ones - crying babies, tantruming toddlers, so much sweating involved either packing us all up to go somewhere or hosting family at our house. I remember ending the day with a defeated sense that, to truly enjoy a day of thanks and relaxation, I'd have to do it WITHOUT my children, and that didn't feel right at all, Plus, my role then was so totally as A MOM that not getting that acknowledgement bothered me more than it probably should have. These days, I truly love (most of) the time I spend with the girls. They're not sleeping sweetly on my shoulder or using adorable three-year-old voices to babble brightly, and I do miss that, but they're legitimately fun to be with. Highlights of the day this year included the way the girls had hung little signs and pictures all around the house for me to find, our family brunch at Trillium Haven (where Annie took down a plate of bacon faster than I've ever seen), seeing both grandmas for a bit in the afternoon, and, of course, the cards the girls made me at school. Jemma's, I want the record to show, proclaimed that I "smell like honey," which is not exactly the message I get from her after I've returned from a run. Next time she backs away from my post-workout kiss, I'm going to yell, "I thought I smelled like honey!" and see what she says. Annie's entire list of "10 Things About My Mom" thrilled me - not just because it's a project I used to do with my second-graders after we'd read Because of Winn-Dixie, too, but mostly because of list item #5, which said, "Whining does not work with her." I'm not sure I'm going to stop celebrating that little tidbit, since it proves that if you say something almost every day for nearly nine years, your child will eventually internalize it. (I'm also not able to stop hearing that phrase in what I call the Wesley Willis voice. Jason agrees.) Anyway, it was a super-special day, and I felt loved and lucky, and I wish I could tell my past self that Mother's Day will eventually a) mean a little less to me in a good way, since I'll have other sources of affirmation in my life and b) get better, as far as the having fun WITH the kids thing goes.

4. On Monday, the sleeplessness and excitement of last week caught up to me. I got my hair cut, watched DVR'd Mad Men, and took a nap. I was like a college student after finals: only interested in sleeping, and wishing my mom would do my laundry.

5. Yesterday, I made Smitten Kitchen's salted brown butter rice krispie treats, then promptly ate almost half the pan. I mean, that's not the ONLY thing I did yesterday, it's just all I'm telling you about.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Things They Say: Spring Has Sprung Edition

Yesterday afternoon, after a day full of biking, squirt-gun fights, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, frozen yogurt, eating outside:

Jemma: This was a really good day.
Me: It was, wasn't it?
Jemma: I'm mostly happy when it's warm and sunny, and grumpy when it's cold and dark.
Me: You, me, and the rest of the world, babe.


This morning, playing at the park after a picnic breakfast, Jason was wearing an unfortunate baseball cap that was too high and made his head look strange. I was teasing him, and he turned it around to wear it backwards, at which point I was trying to figure out who or what he looked like.

Jemma: A baker?
Me: . . . No . . .
Annie: I know who he looks like! Caillou! Ah ha hah!

(He took it off.)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Right Now

:: listening to the birds chirping outside the dining room windows.

:: taking Instagrams of the magnolia trees in full bloom, waning daffodils, and my first tulips in the yard.

:: coping with the accompanying pollen-related allergy issues.

:: knowing I'm going to be sore from a tough yoga class this morning.

:: hydrating for tomorrow's last long run before the 25K.

:: procrastinating a few little writing assignments that need to get done before this event next Thursday.

:: wondering if it would be so wrong to make pineapple mojitos for the third night in a row.

:: wishing the laundry would fold itself.

:: feeling proud of my little writer and the great poetry she shared at yesterday's reading.

:: still giggling at Jemma's television debut this morning, announcing "This is FOX 17 morning news" before her class was featured on air to honor her teacher.

:: slowly learning just how much you find out by driving carpool.

:: looking forward to the weekend: soccer game, baking, piano recital, a little surprise date with a certain 8-year-old, gardening, grandparents, and friends.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Of Brave Knights and Heroic Courage

"Since it is so likely children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage." - C.S. Lewis

I couldn't be more glad that it's finally May. This April really, truly was "the cruelest month," just like T.S. Eliot said, and I kept starting post after post here listing and lamenting all the small injustices of the wet, cold, cruel spring. Jason's car died and needed to be jumped, repeatedly, on the most monsoon-like day ever; every few days, big, fat snowflakes would blanket the lawn with white before turning to sloppy raindrops; one of the cats peed on Jemma's backpack and raincoat and I sent her to school without realizing what had happened; Annie's soccer practice schedule has been changed eleventy billion times due to weather/whims/seasons of the moon; family dinners have been few and far between; Jason's been working long days at the office and bringing work home each night; I fell while running and hurt my hand and leg; we ran out of things to do on what felt like the hundredth cold, rainy weekend; I wanted to get in bed with a stack of books and some simple carbohydrates and get out when it was June.

Eventually, of course, the spring actually came. Today it was 85 and sunny: doors open, turkey burgers on the grill, hula-hoops and bikes, pineapple mojitos, sitting outside amid the daffodils and sunshine to catch up on email. But just before the season changed, amidst all those petty annoyances, one other cruel thing happened that made me see my parenting in a whole new light.

Two weeks ago, two brothers set off bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It's obviously not the first act of terrorism that's happened on American soil in my lifetime, and it's not even the first violent calamity of the last twelve months. On the anniversary of 9/11, I wrote about my thoughts on bringing children into this kind of world, and I stand by them, particularly:

In the aftermath of the attacks, I remember hearing the sentiment that this was a world (so dark, so evil) into which it might be foolish to bring children.  I never agreed with that.  I remember thinking that there was nothing new under the sun, that there would always be darkness and death and heartbreak but also love and triumph and goodness.  It was never a question of bringing them into the world, but now that they are here, it is a question of how to tell them about the darkness.  It is a question of how to explain the death.  It is a question of how much to shield them from the heartbreak.  It is a question of how to raise them to love, triumph, and contribute to the good.

And that's the question that I faced this past month, because this month was the first time Annie knew full well what had happened, and wanted to know why. It's not a milestone I was looking forward to. I tend to err on the side of cautious conservatism when it comes to what I want to expose my kids to, and when. We avoid commercials, the news, lots of movies and music and shows that I'm not eager to have influence their innocent little minds. I juuuuuuust finally pulled out the ol' "It's Not the Stork!" book after literally months of sidestepping pointed questions - not because I was embarrassed or wanted to hide information, but because I'm so aware that, once information is known, it can never be un-known.

We sat, folding laundry together up in her bedroom on the day after the Boston bombings, and she asked, "Why would someone want to make a bomb go off to hurt strangers?"

"I know, it's sad and confusing, isn't it?" I asked.

"Are the people bad who did it?" she wondered.

This was before we knew who did anything, so I told her that we didn't really know who, or why, or know how to understand this kind of thing ever, even as grown-ups. And somehow, even as I was talking to her, I had a strong sense that this was the important stuff of parenting, that the silly debates over millions of parenting decisions melt away when you're in the kind of conversation that has the potential to shape a person's worldview. So I ventured a little further, and said I thought that every human being has the potential for great good and great evil, and that people can change, and wondered what she thought about that, if she could think of any stories about people who had done bad things and then changed.

"Like . . . Zacchaeus?" she said.

"Yes! Like Zacchaeus. Do you remember what he did?"

She frowned at me. "Mom, I remember the story," she said pertly, then told it to me in its entirety, ending with " . . . and he gave back FOUR TIMES MORE than he had stolen!" 

My Bible story memory is not what it once was, so I took her word for it, but I was mostly glad we'd had the conversation in spite of my selfish wish that she and her sister could be kept in the dark about evil, bombs, cancer, injustice, racism, poverty, and every single sad and horrible situation on this planet forever. That would be easier, more comfortable, less tricky for sure, but it would also never get at the question of "how to raise them to love, triumph, and contribute to the good." 

So April of 2013, that cruel, cold month, ushered in a new phase of parenting for me. Since the door to the world has creaked open - the information, if you will, can't be unknown - it's reminded me that it's ultimately what our kids see us do in the face of the darkness that will teach them how to be the light. 

I can wish that cancer didn't exist (and that my kids didn't know about it), but since that wish won't come true, I can let my kids see me run to raise money for their school principal who has been battling it this school year. I can wish that homelessness and hunger didn't exist in our community (and that my kids didn't know about it), but since that wish won't come true, I can be glad that the girls have seen their parents pull the car over to give away boxes of granola bars and jars of peanut butter at an intersection. I can wish that we didn't have to ask the community to help save crucial and dear programs like art and language and social workers at our schools, but since that wish won't come true, I can stand at a table at the library and knock on doors and write checks. I can wish that acts of terrorism and bombings never happened in our country (and that my kids didn't know about them), but since that wish can't come true, I can share stories about the bravery and courage of the responders and the helpers in those scenarios. 

I know there's that lovely Fred Rogers quote about looking for the helpers, and I do like it, but I don't think it goes quite far enough. Forget just looking for the helpers. BE the helpers. And let your kids see you do it.