You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught

I walk the dogs almost every morning before work and school. Not very far – 15 or 20 minutes, usually – but long enough to get the dogs (and me) off to the right start. On particularly good days, the girls join me, pedaling along on their bicycles, patiently waiting as I grapple with the bags to pick up the copious poops our pups seem to create.

It’s a time when the world hasn’t fully awakened, when the rush of the day has yet to begin; a slower, quieter space that is somehow more open to conversation. So we talk, often about silly things, sometimes about not-so-silly things. It is one of my favorite parts of the day.

This morning (as has been the norm of late), only Ella accompanied the dogs and me, slightly out of breath after having returned to the house to get her jacket (these crazy weather patterns are exhausting, I tell you). As I looked out over our peaceful, comfortable, safe, largely Caucasian suburban neighborhood, I was met by the distinct feeling that this was a Teachable Moment, one in which I could Make A Difference by showing my daughter how important it is to have Difficult Discussions.

Ella?

“Yes, mama?”

Do you think there are a lot of black families in our neighborhood?

Despite the fact that this is entirely changing the subject, she is not thrown off by my question; I take it as a good sign. Clearly, Nick and I have done our job in raising our children to be comfortable discussing race and privilege (which is probably good, considering that our girls are, you know, biracial). Kudos to us!

“No, there aren’t. Do you think there are?”

No, there aren’t. I agree with you. Tell me something, though. If you were to see a black person walking down the streets in our neighborhood – someone you didn’t recognize, a black man, let’s say – would you feel afraid or nervous or uncomfortable in any way?

“No.”

She answers so quickly, it’s obvious that she is confused and taken aback that such a thing is even possible. “No, why in God’s name would you ask such a ridiculous question?” Again, I pat myself on the back. Teachable Moments FTW, boom!

“No, I wouldn’t feel that way, Mom. Would you?”

And there it is. Shit. In that one moment, all of my Making A Difference has flown out the window, because while every part of me wants to answer, “No, not at all. I feel absolutely as comfortable when I see an unfamiliar black man in our neighborhood as I do when I see an unfamiliar white man/woman/teenager/child” I know in my heart that it isn’t true. I can’t even form the word “No” because, despite fervently believingknowing with conviction – that there is no reason to be afraid or nervous around strange black men, what I feel in those first few seconds is something else entirely. I cannot lie to Ella. Not about this.

Actually… I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit this… But, yes. A small part of me deep inside does feel afraid or nervous or uncomfortable. It doesn’t last long, and I don’t think that I do anything because of those feelings – I don’t think that I treat people differently*, because I know it isn’t true – but, yes. I do.

She angles her head while turning the corner to get a better look at me. “Why?”

Why. Why, indeed.

* I realize that I undoubtedly do treat black people differently because of those feelings – subconsciously, without meaning to, without malice, yes… But still, I’m sure that I do. I’m not proud of that – in fact, I’m trying damned hard to change it – but, if I’m being honest, I’m sure that I do. I’m sure we (white folks like me) all do.

Well, I suppose it’s because I’m a lot older than you are, so I’ve had a lot more years to live in this country, which means I’ve had a lot more time to live in a society that somewhat subtly but persistently tells me that black men are scary. That was the message I got growing up – definitely not from Papa or Grandma, but just from society as a whole – that, when I see an unfamiliar black man, I have reason to be afraid. And I guess I took those words inside and must have believed them, somehow, because there’s a part of me that still has that reaction even now, even though I’m older and have educated myself and have wonderful black friends and know, without a doubt, that it isn’t true. I have no reason to be afraid. Since I know that, I don’t consciously act on it – I don’t walk away from that person, I don’t avoid them, I don’t go and ask them why they’re in my neighborhood or pretend like I’m giving them directions when I’m really just trying to figure out if they’re up to no good. I certainly don’t act violently or run away or call the police. And, if I do notice that hint of fear creeping in, I get pretty mad at myself – Emily! What is wrong with you! What, a black guy can’t just be walking in your neighborhood? Knock it off, you idiot! And then I stop feeling afraid at all. But in that moment, that first instant, yes, I feel the tiniest bit nervous because that’s what I’ve learned, is to be nervous. I’m working hard to change that.
I’m so glad you don’t feel the way that I do.

Within the span of thirty seconds – the half-minute within which I was supposed to be Departing Wisdom and Making A Difference – my nine year-old has schooled me and shown me that Difficult Discussions are not necessarily the ones we carefully plan out, but the ones that occur when we least expect them. They may be some of the most important ones, too.

I cannot even begin to get into a full discussion about what the lack of an indictment for officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown means for us as a society. My feelings are complicated and messy and angry and self-righteous and defensive and frustrated and all over the map; I just can’t quite process everything right now. But I do know that one of the most important things all of us, every single one of us – whether we’re black or white or brown or tan or male or female or transgender or old or young or gay or straight or bi and everything else in between – needs to do is to be willing to have the Difficult Discussions, the REALLY Difficult Discussions, and to never stop asking “Why?” until we reach some sort of re-do start-over where we can begin again together.

Why do I feel afraid? Because that’s the narrative that’s been spun for forever; that black men are to be feared. Even though I know it’s not true. But don’t black men commit more crimes than white men? Honestly, I don’t know if they commit more actual crimes (although they’re certainly incarcerated more often than whites) but if they do… Why? Criminality is not inherent in black DNA (which is the same as white DNA, so obviously). Well, maybe it’s because black people face higher rates of unemployment than whites. Why is that? Maybe it’s because they don’t receive college educations as often as whites. Why? Because maybe their parents didn’t receive college educations. Why? Because they grew up in “bad” neighborhoods where education wasn’t valued. Why? Because that was where they were born, and upward mobility, breaking out of the social class into which you were born, is really freakin’ hard, despite what all of the American Dream stories may tell you. Why?

(These are not really what I think are the “right” questions to be asking, nor are these the only possible answers to these questions; the answers are far more multi-layered, nuanced, detailed, and broad. These questions are only to illustrate the point that, for each answer, there is another “Why?” that gets us deeper into the conversation.)

Until we are able to have these discussions, until we’re really able to ask why and really able to consider the answers – no matter how uncomfortable it makes us to face our own prejudices and -isms and fears – we will continue, as a society, devaluing the lives of others, especially the lives of young black men, which does all of us – black, white, tan, brown – a tremendous disservice.

You only need to listen to the opposing, anguished, raging, defiant voices of both Michael Brown supporters and Darren Wilson supporters to understand why our current system isn’t working so well. We need to bring about change. I don’t have any more solutions now than I did when I wrote about this issue more than a year ago, but the gist of my argument remains the same: there needs to be dialogue – with ourselves, with each other, with our kids.

Especially our kids.

There’s a lot that we can teach them, both about how to behave and how not to behave (not that I’d know *cough*), but there’s a hell of a lot that they can teach us, too. After all, they haven’t had the opportunity to develop racial biases (I mean, they don’t come out of the womb with them), unlike those of us who have been around the block a bit longer; maybe if we catch them young enough, they can help us understand their perspective. Wouldn’t it be incredible to look at the world with their lack of fear, prejudice, and judgment?

Talk. Ask questions. Ask why. Listen, even when it’s hard, even when we don’t agree. Try to understand. Take a breath. Move forward, together.

That’s what Ella taught me. I’m going to take her hand (once she’s off the bike) and give it a go.

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Note: I have done a lot of (informal; i.e. I’ve read dozens of Internet blogs, posts, and articles) research into correct terminology and grammar when writing about race – Caucasian and African American or black and white (or Black and White)? – and have come to the conclusion that both are acceptable (it’s really what you’re comfortable with, and what your audience is comfortable with), and capitalization is not required.

Also, I realize I switched tenses from past to present and back again in the middle of this post; it’s on (stylistic) purpose.

 

 

 

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Sometimes, less is more

I never wanted a standard 9 to 5 job. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them – Nick has one, many of my friends have them – but I just knew that they wouldn’t be the right fit for me. Thankfully, I fell in love with teaching (which involves hours that waaaay exceed the traditional 40-hour workweek, but whatevever).

Back when I taught in the classroom, one of the things I most liked about my schedule was that it allowed me to spend the time between school and dinner with Ella and Annie; those were special, golden hours. After we moved to Rochester and I became a stay-at-home mom, I – obviously – had a lot more time with them during the day. Some of this was, in fact, Special, Golden time, but a lot of it was Please Let Us All Get Through The Day Alive, Fed, And Mostly Sane time. Life as a SAHM was good – I wouldn’t have traded it for anything – but I definitely appreciated the afternoons that I spent teaching piano and always knew that I wanted to return to work once the girls were in elementary school.

As I’ve already discussed, subbing turned out to be the perfect solution, allowing me just the right balance between work and home. If the girls had their way, however, I would be home every minute that they are. Sure, sometimes they want nothing to do with me, but they’d prefer that I be right there while they have nothing to do with me, so that when they do want something to do with me, it can happen immediately.

Between subbing and piano lessons and, you know, being a human, it’s not exactly possible – nor, um, desirable – for me to be home every waking moment that the girls are in the house. Still, I do prefer the days when I’m able to see them before they go to school; leaving the house before they awaken just doesn’t feel right. I also prefer the days when I’m able to see them after school, before my piano lessons; even just five minutes for a whirlwind How Was Your Day? recap, a brief scan of their take-home folder, and a quick hug as I head out the door can make all the difference.

There have been occasional days when I’ve left for piano before Annie and Ella come in the door, which means I don’t see them from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., much like how life would be if I worked a 9-5 job. I don’t really like those days, but they’re manageable, especially because we get to have dinner together; somehow, that makes it doable.

Last Thursday, however, was different. Subbing meant I couldn’t be home when they finished school; piano and swim practice meant we couldn’t spend time together before dinner; and the meeting of a really cool new church community I’m joining meant that I couldn’t be home for dinner. If I was lucky, I’d arrive home in time to kiss and hug them before they went to bed… but that was not a guarantee, so there was a decent chance I’d go the entire day without seeing them. (Note: it’s not like I haven’t left the girls before, for days at a time. I’ve also done weekends away with friends and have spent plenty of days and nights apart from the kiddos and I have freakin’ loved it. But somehow, being home, being separated simply by the busyness of life, isn’t the same.)

In theory, this was not even worth my consideration. People do it all the time, right? Steal super-short moments with their kids before school and then not see them again until the following morning? This happens a lot and people are completely fine with it, yes?

I know this; I told myself this repeatedly. But it still felt… wrong. Not wrong as in morally unacceptable but wrong as in Emily unacceptable. One of the biggest reasons I never wanted a 9-5 job was because I never wanted to be away from my girls all day. Okay, sure, there have been plenty of times when I would do practically anything to have some peace and quiet, to get away for a moment, so a day without them while I was running around should have been nothing – but still… it just didn’t sit right.

A closer look at my packed schedule revealed something promising: the girls’ swim practice was to take place during the exact window of time between my piano lessons and my church community gathering. Meaning I didn’t need to be anywhere during that time… meaning, if I attended the practice, I could see the girls. Yes, it meant a fifteen minute drive in the wrong direction, which meant that I’d only be poolside for about 20 minutes. Yes, they’d be, you know, swimming, so it’s not like we could sit and chat. But I figured that, at the very least, I could wave to them. I could be near them. I could hug them when they got out of the pool as I headed out the door. Surely that was better than nothing.

Ella noticed me the moment that I entered the pool deck and could not stop waving at me. Well, that’s not true – she alternated waving at me with flashing me the I Love You hand sign.
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That tan-ish blur over Ella’s swim-capped head? Her hand. Waving.

Normally at practice, this girl is all about barely glancing my way and not really paying me any attention. That night, however, she was just ecstatic to find me on that bench.

Annie, on the other hand, didn’t see me come in and sit down. In fact, she swam for a good ten minutes without so much as looking in my direction. At last, while waiting to get on the block, she turned so she was facing me and when it finally dawned on her that it was her Mama on that bench, she almost levitated off the swim deck.
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She was far away and it was steamy in there, so this photo is pretty low-quality, but trust me… a jubilant grin and fully outstretched, “THAT’S MY MAMA!” hands are there.

Those twenty minutes that I spent watching them in the pool were, by an enormous margin, the shortest amount of time I’d ever spent “with” them on a regular old day. They were also some of the best I’ve ever experienced. The entire time, I was engaged. I was focused. I was watching. I didn’t look at my phone; I didn’t read a magazine (as I usually do if I attend swim practice, which in and of itself is very rare). All I did was be there with my girls, marveling at the thing they love to do so much, really noticing how their strokes have changed, how much leaner and stronger they are. The time wasn’t long on quantity, but on quality? Unbeatable.

When practice ended, I still had a few minutes before I needed to leave, so we used that time to catch up on their days. I heard about recess, snack, specials – all the most important school stuff, natch – plus what they did with the babysitters, how their homework was coming along, and what they hoped to have for dinner that night. Right before I left, they each gave me an enormous hug which, considering that they’d just hopped out of a pool, soaked my jacket to its core – but I figure that’s a small price to pay.

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Regaling me with details from their day…

I’ve always known how tremendously fortunate I am to not have to take a job that keeps me away from the girls until dinnertime each day, but I don’t think I quite appreciated it until last Thursday. I also learned something really important: that it truly isn’t the amount of time you spend with your kids that matters; it’s the kind of time. Those blink-and-you’d-miss-it twenty minutes were among the most intense, heart-filling, relaxing minutes I’ve spent with the girls, maybe… ever?

Yesterday was Thursday again, and this time my day was even longer – out the door before the girls went to school, home ten minutes before bed. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, but I wasn’t dreading it, either. I watched them sled before I hopped in the car to go to work. I sat poolside again, was there to see the butterfly (stroke) “click” with Annie for the first time ever, heard about the science day in Ella’s class next week, and took in two more soaking wet hugs. I listened to Annie read at bedtime, cuddled with Ella in my bed, and kissed them both goodnight.

And you know what? It was a damn fine day.

I still prefer spending more time together than less, but there really is something to be said for quality – in relationships, in time, in attention, in love.
And in chocolate. Always go for the good stuff, people.

And it feels so good

Last week, the most tremendous thing happened. It all started when I began reading a fantastic blog, Momastery. Its writer, Glennon, is hilarious, well-written, poignant, intelligent, self-effacing – basically all of the good stuff you want in a writer (or at least all of the good stuff I want in a blog writer). Momastery has gazillions of followers, both on the blog and the Facebook page, and for the past several years, the extended Momastery community (Together Rising) has done this amazing thing called Holiday Hands.

The premise is so simple, you might almost overlook it: people who need help, ask for it; people who have the ability to help, provide help to those who need it. The practice itself is also simple – people in need, whether it be a financial or emotional, submit their requests, which are then relayed (on a specific date that is announced well in advance) on the Together Rising site. Those who are able to provide help then scroll through the requests, decide where/how they can help, and then comment on the request indicating how much they can do (“We can fulfill your entire request!” or “We can provide $20 toward your medical bills!”). Finally, some emails are exchanged to confirm that everything is good, and voila – wishes granted.

(BTW – it is voila [or, if you’re really being technical, voilà, because it’s French], with the O before the I. It isn’t viola – that’s a string instrument. And it definitely isn’t wala or anything similar; that’s just… no. But I digress.)

I was out during the morning that the Holiday Hands requests went “live,” so I didn’t get to the listings until nearly an hour after they’d first opened up to the public, but I figured there would be so many to fulfill, I’d still have plenty of time. Little did I know how incredibly generous the Momastery community is; in just that hour, nearly all of the wishes had already been granted! As I scrolled through the requests and saw the comments saying, “I’ve got this!” or “We will fill this one!”, I actually began to get annoyed. Is there NO ONE I can help?? How has every one of these been taken? I WANT TO DO SOMETHING, DAMN IT!

And then I got a hold of myself and realized that the lack of people in need was a really good thing, so I breathed a little and began to search more calmly until I found a wish that had yet to be completely granted – a mom having a very difficult holiday season was asking for a few gift cards to her 11 year-old daughter’s favorite stores, so she could present her with a gift card “wreath” for Christmas. WE CAN DO THAT! I very eagerly commented and emailed the mom saying, Yes, we’d love to help! and then (im)patiently waited to hear back from her confirming that she’d received my message.

As the afternoon wore on and I hadn’t heard back yet, I began to wonder whether or not I had, in fact, been too late and her wish had already been granted. Having read so many of the heart wrenching requests, I knew that I didn’t want to stop there – I really, really wanted to help one of these women and their families – so I sat back at the computer to take one last look through all of the requests. Perhaps I’d missed something.

When I saw it, immediately, I knew: Harry Potter Anything! That was the heading. I began to read – about a family who has experienced a very difficult year, full of upheaval and loss, and about a boy who found salvation through Harry Potter. His mom said that all she wanted was for her son to receive something – anything – Harry Potter-related for Christmas, and politely asked if anyone had any Harry Potter stuff to pass on. I saw that several other people had already responded – the request was marked as “Taken” – but, after all that Harry has meant to Ella, to our entire family, I knew that I couldn’t let this one go, so I posted a quick comment saying we’d love to help, too.

And thus began an absolutely amazing email exchange between the mom, Heather, and me, where we shared a bit more about what Harry has meant to our families, shared Halloween photos, and shared stories. I’ve never met her or her kids, but I feel a deep connection to Heather; Harry can do that to you.

Eventually, I heard back from the first mom I’d emailed – the request had not yet been fulfilled, so the gift cards will be much-appreciated! That night during dinner, I told the Annie and Ella the whole story – about the Holiday Hands site, about these families, about how I’d signed us up to help. At first, they were speechless; then, they cried; then, they laughed and smiled ear to ear as I read them post after post from people whose wishes had been fulfilled, about how grateful they were, about how this community was changing their lives.

“So, mom? We’re helping make their Christmases better?”

Yep, you got it.

“That’s AWESOME! I LOVE helping! It feels SO GOOD!!”

And, indeed, it does – it feels incredibly, to-the-bone good to help, to spread love, to reach out. We spent another hour poring over the portion of Holiday Hands site (“Love LetHers“) where people have requested support in non-monetary ways — sending cards to family members in the armed forces, writing notes to sick children — and, with each one we read, they would exclaim, “I want to do that!” Eventually, we realized that we wanted to help every single person who had asked for a card or letter, and that, realistically, we couldn’t do that… but the girls are absolutely committed to sending cards to Australia, to England, and to a soldier overseas.

Actually, they’re more than committed… they’re thrilled. Because it feels SO GOOD.

There are no two ways about it: my children are privileged. They live very comfortable lives and, I hope, they will never have a Christmas when they have to go without. While I am so, so grateful for this, I also find that it can be difficult to help them to appreciate what they have, to understand that so many people’s lives are not like theirs. As Nick says, they certainly don’t need to feel guilty about that, but having some perspective, recognizing how fortunate they are, and being genuinely appreciative of it – not taking it for granted – is one of the things I strive for the most as a parent.

This year, Holiday Hands helped me do that. In that moment, when Ella and Annie understood that others were in need but that we would help, it was like an entire world opened up to them. There was such joy in our kitchen that night, the kind of joy that only comes from reaching beyond yourself and out to others. I can’t wait to see the kind of joy that we find when we actually fulfill these wishes.

I know that the families who requested help on Holiday Hands feel grateful – but I can promise you that I feel grateful, too, in so very many ways.

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This photo was taken after trick-or-treating and relates in absolutely no way to the content of this post, unless you count that Ella dressed as Bellatrix from Harry Potter. Or unless you count how fortunate they were to receive so much candy, but that’s a stretch.
They are two of the things for which I’m the most grateful, though. So we’ll go with that.

No Good, Very Bad Hour

It all began so beautifully – and I mean that both literally and figuratively. Yesterday was glorious, that late fall kind of day when the sunlight filters through the almost-leafless trees, creating a hazy kind of magic everywhere you go. The temperature flirted with 65 – unheard of this time of year – and felt so glorious, it made you forget that winter is coming.

The girl and I had the entire day to ourselves (with many, many thanks to our veterans), and we filled it to the brim with things that gave us genuine happiness and joy. We ate breakfast at a local dairy/bakery (their hot chocolate is unbelievable). We went on a bike ride – we hadn’t been on one in ages – on a gorgeous bike trail right near our house, marveling at the scenery and stopping for a picnic lunch right by a wooden bridge overlooking a river. We took in Big Hero 6 in those newfangled (they may not actually be new, but I get to the movies so infrequently, they feel new) reclining chairs that allow you to lie back and settle in and feel like you’re the only ones in the theater (except for when your daughter crawls into your seat with you because the sweet little animated film becomes SO RIDICULOUSLY EMOTIONAL she cannot sit by herself, but you don’t mind because the seats are big enough to cushion both of you while you’re holding one another and SOBBING, THANKS SO MUCH DISNEY).

It was, by all rights, the perfect day… set to end the perfect way, with breakfast for dinner (waffles with blueberries and real maple syrup). Yes, the movie didn’t end until 7 p.m., but waffles are quick and easy; surely we’d be done with dinner by 8:00 and then we would listen to the newest Percy Jackson tome (we’re onto the fourth in the series now) and the girls would settle into bed at a reasonable hour and I’d have the evening to myself and it would be… heavenly.

Until all hell broke loose.

I really don’t know what happened, because one minute we were cheerfully discussing teleportation (as though I actually know what I’m talking about, la la la) and how everyone grieves in different ways (yes, heavy talk for a FREAKIN’ ANIMATED FILM) and the next, pancake batter was bubbling up from the bowl and onto the counter, there was blood all over the floor, and there was wetness everywhere I turned.

It all started when I realized that the waffle mix we had in the cupboard might not be enough to feed the three of us, so I set out to making batter from scratch – which should have been no biggie, but we were missing a couple of the ingredients, so I needed to improvise. Twenty minutes went by as I scrounged for applesauce and milk and eggs when all of a sudden there was this noise – this terrible, hissing, shrieking thing – that I soon discovered was coming from our dogs, who had somehow gotten into a scuffle in the middle of the kitchen. I managed to pry them apart, but not before one clipped the other (with his teeth? Claws? I don’t even know), something we learned when little drops of bright red blood began appearing all over the kitchen floor.

Given that time was rapidly ticking by, making the waffles would normally have taken highest priority – but, let me tell you, when there’s a trail of blood across the kitchen, dinner prep pretty much comes to a halt. Another twenty minutes later, the bleeding had stopped, the floor was clean, the dogs were separated, and I finally got down to the business of making the waffles. The first batch went into the waffle iron at 8 p.m…

… and at 8:10 (yes, it took ten minutes to cook all the way through), that batch looked like this:
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Hmm. Deconstructed waffles. How nouveau.

I don’t know if it was that the batter was gluten free, or if it was my improvised ingredients, or if it was the fact that my waffle iron is old and endorsed by Emeril and actually says BAM! across the front, but these suckers would neither cook nor come out of the iron once they were done. As much “fun” as it was painstakingly picking the pieces out with a fork, it was clear that dinner wasn’t happening any time soon.

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How d’you like THEM waffles? BAM!

By 8:15, it dawned on me that however much baking mix remained in the cupboard was probably enough for dinner – by now, we were all so hungry and tired, our appetites had vanished – so out came the ingredients for the generic GF Bisquick. Meanwhile, the original waffle mix had tripled in size in its bowl, rising like a yeast-filled dough (maybe it was because I guessed at the amount of baking soda and baking powder?), and as a result had slid down the outside of the bowl and was forming a puddle of waffle soup on the counter. As I went to clean up the mess, I knocked over the milk that I’d neglected to put away (and which, of course, was not closed), which sent it sloshing onto the floor.

Thankfully, the new batch of waffles cooked much more efficiently than the first (and they came out of the waffle iron successfully, too), which was a relief because I didn’t have time to tend to them once I noticed that the dogs’ water bowl-system had somehow spilled from  its container into the “protective” plastic bin in which it sits and had somehow overflowed from that bin, too, completely soaking the (other) counter and all of the dogs’ leashes. (The water is kept up off the floor so that Fenwick can’t monkey with it. ‘Cause that would really be a mess.)

By the time we sat down to eat, it was 8:45 – or, as we like to call it, bedtime. IMG_8956A well-balanced dinner includes loads of syrup and overcooked edamame. Strive for five, y’all.

As I lamented each unfortunate turn of events, the girls sympathized but largely stayed out of the kitchen (probably to spare themselves from becoming the target of any further mishaps). At one point, however, Annie strode purposely into the Danger Zone to tell me that she had the perfect name for what was going on: Ella, Annie, and Mommy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Hour.

She was right. If it could have gone wrong, it did – but in the end, it was only an hour. We were so fortunate to have had the perfect day that came before; surely one bad hour wouldn’t spoil it. I’d like to think it actually helps us become more grateful for the good that we do have – you never know when things are going to change, so you’d better appreciate and marvel and wonder while you can.

Indeed, today it was gray and 40 degrees and so brisk and windy, I still haven’t quite warmed up from volunteering on the playground. That didn’t stop me from having ice cream for dessert, though – topped with crumbled bits of super-toasted leftover waffles. You know what they say – when life gives you extra, rubbery waffles, make waffle cones. BAM!

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Look, Ma – November 12th and no coats necessary!

Throwback Thursday: Never lose hope!

You know the saying: when you’re a parent, the days go by slowly but the years go by fast.  This was never more true for me than the girls were really little – say, under five years old. I would look back on each passing year absolutely astonished that so much time had passed and they were so much older… but in the thick of things, some of those days really did drag on agonizingly slowly.

I fully understood why some animals eat their young.

It was just… hard. Everything had the potential for turning into a disaster. Meltdowns could occur at any moment. It took thirteen hours to get out of the house to run to the grocery store and an additional forty-three minutes to buckle them into their carseats. I know there are lots of parents who looooved those early years, but for me? They were awesome. They were hilarious. But they were really effing hard.

Mercifully, as the years changed and the girls got older, a lot of things became easier. When kids are young, you never, ever have a moment to yourself, not even – nay, especially even – if you’re in the bathroom.6 of 52What is this ‘privacy’ thing you speak of?

Admittedly, I still receive very little privacy and I am a ninja when it comes to multitasking while on the toilet, but it’s gotten better. Annie and Ella can entertain themselves. They are capable of reaching higher and making their own sandwiches and changing the channel on the remote, so I actually can have a few minutes of peace. Granted, it’s not like I’m using that time to read or practice yoga, but having a little breathing room is a godsend.

When your kids are young, there are moments – lots and lots and lots of them – when you need to be right there beside them. They are simply incapable of managing on their own, whether it’s in a swing (that day when they learn how to pump is the day you win the lottery, my friend) or at the sink.ridingsolo  ridingsolo2 (1)
I’m pretty sure there was a rule that all children under a certain age had to be accompanied on the carousel, but even if there hadn’t been, you don’t want your kid to be the one who falls off and makes the ride come to a screeching halt, so there you are.  Beside them. Spinning. Around… and around… and around…

You look longingly at the parents who can send their children to the playground by themselves and you practically break down and cry at the thought of not having to join them in the bouncy house.
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Ahhhh, wading pools… Adorable inflatable death traps.

But then, little by little, they become more capable. You can step back as they navigate the  dress-up exhibit at the museum. Birthday parties become drop-off parties (thank you, sweet baby Jesus). You gingerly test their ability to use the restrooms by themselves in public places. And then finally, you can send them into the pool – the real one, not the inflatable pool of death – without even putting on your own bathing suit (oh happy day!). Do you believe in miracles? YES.

When your kiddos are young, they’re messy, so their clothes need changing constantly. Even as they become slightly less messy, they still want to change their clothes all the time – well, mine did, anyway. Three outfits a day, minimum, and that doesn’t include dress-up. It is maddening and creates laundry piles the size of small countries, so it is truly wondrous that day when they…

… no, scratch that. My girls are still changing their clothes all the freaking time. If yours eventually stopped, please tell me when so I can mark it on the calendar and pre-order a celebratory bottle of champagne.
115eveningdressupJuuuust your typical daywear…

And the food – oh, the food! This may come as a shock, after watching Animal Planet and all that and seeing how many wild creatures come out of the womb (or egg or whatever) with fully functioning mouths and stuff, but human children are not capable of feeding themselves. They can drink just fine (most of the time), but alas, milk does not just fall from the sky into their waiting mouths, so you need to nurse or formula-feed them. Which comes with the bottle washing! The sore nipples! The holding of the bottle at exactly the right angle so your little cherub doesn’t choke or swallow air… until that glorious moment when she is able to grasp that bottle herself. Independence!!

Then, you eagerly set out to start them on solids – how exciting! – which is fabulous and new and such a treat… for the first six months. Eventually, doing The Airplane with the spoon becomes just a wee bit tiresome, and cutting food into itty bitty morsels becomes grounds for insanity. But I can tell you with certainty that it does not last forever. One day, your darlings will be able to eat like grown-up people – they’ll even cut their own meat! – and you can say goodbye to sippy cups and skinned grapes forever.
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Annie held her sippy cup sideways until she stopped using it. I didn’t like the cups, but her akimbo hold was pretty damn cute.

Shall we discuss getting small children dressed? Let’s just say it would probably be easier to squeeze a goat into a wetsuit than it is to get a wriggling child into his onesie. Babies, of course, cannot help at all (have you ever gone back and dressed an infant once your own children have grown beyond infant-hood and you just sit there waiting for the wee one to slip his arm through the sleeve the way your 13-month old does but all he does is lie there, thrashing about, and it finally dawns on you that he is actually incapable of putting his own arm through the sleeve? Is that just me?), but it is not necessarily better when your toddler learns to dress himself because it takes FOR.EVER. and he will need to do it HIS. WAY. which often does not resemble your way even in the slightest.
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Ella (3) is “helping” me dress Annie (1) before going into the snow. The amount of time spent getting ready definitely exceeded the amount of time we spent outside.

As your toddlers become pre-schoolers and, eventually, grade-schoolers, the dressing thing becomes way less physically demanding. (Note that it does not necessarily become easier.) They can put on their own clothes! They can zip their own coats! They can tie their own shoes! There will still be clothing battles and tears and meltdowns, and it might still take you thirteen hours to get out the door, but at least you can be sitting in the car waiting instead of trying to thread a belt through toddler-sized belt loops.

And then, perhaps more than all of the other things that can make those early days creep by so slowly, there is the sleeping. SLEEPING WAS MY BIGGEST ENEMY. If they woke up too soon, it could spell disaster. If they fell asleep too soon – say, in the car on the way home – it could spell disaster. If we slept anywhere other than home, it could spell disaster.

(I noted in my previous post that Nick and I were militant about sleeping, especially with Ella. That was partly because we were first-time parents and didn’t know any better, but it was also because Ella was a notoriously specific sleeper. If we put her to bed between 7:00 and 7:15, she would sleep through the night until 7 a.m. the following morning. If we put her to bed at 7:30 (or later) – just fifteen minutes more! – she would awaken at FIVE A.M. every single time. So, we had a curfew – because of our fifteen month old. It was super fun. Have I mentioned that sleeping was my biggest enemy?)

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They look adorable, but don’t be fooled. 

Our biggest nightmare was when the clocks turned forward or back because, as parents of young ones know, children do not use the clock to determine when to get out of bed. No, they just wake up when their bodies tell them to, regardless of whether it is an hour earlier or later or even three o’clock in the morning, and then they get you up. When those clocks fall back in November and people talk about an “extra hour” of sleep, you want to punch them square in the nose because you know that it will mean an extra hour of being awake… and then an extra torturous hour at bedtime when your children are exhausted (because their bodies tell them it’s an hour later than it is) but you don’t want to put them to bed quite yet because you know that if you do, they’ll continue to awaken at an ungodly hour the following morning.

Basically, “falling back” can suck it.

Well, y’all, I was afraid to mention it earlier because I thought I would jinx it, but it’s been five days in a row and I’m confident enough to say: THE END OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS WAS JUST FINE THIS YEAR!! I have no idea what time Ella and Annie awakened on Sunday morning because we told them that when they got up, they needed to play quietly and not bother us… and they did. I actually awoke before my alarm to find the girls chilling out in their rooms. HALLE-FREAKIN’-LUJAH.

And then – and then! They became tired that night earlier than normal, so they went to bed earlier than normal (which meant Nick and I had more time to ourselves that night)… but they did not awaken super-early on Monday morning. No! They awoke only slightly early, which meant they had extra time to get ready for school (amen), and then they went to bed a wee bit early that night, too. By Tuesday? Fully adjusted.

AND SO, my friends with young children. Don’t lose hope. Eventually, your littles will dress themselves. They’ll brush their own teeth (but don’t count on nicely brushed hair). They’ll make their own beds (when you nag them). And, one very, very fine day, they will even take “falling back” in stride and that mythical “extra hour” you cherished in college will become part of your life once more. Keep the faith!!

As for your children still being cute when they’re older and maybe still being one another’s best friends? Yep. That happens, too.
Most days.

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I’m Funner Than That Now

When we lived in Denver – around 1999 – Nick and I saw Paul Simon and Bob Dylan in concert. We were huge Paul Simon fans and decided that, so long as Dylan was there too, it might be kind of cool to see such a legend perform – but we definitely didn’t attend the show because of an abiding love for ol’ Bob. When all was said and done, it was kind of cool to see him perform (and kind of fascinating/scary to see his fan base losing their minds when he came on stage), but we still felt the same after the show that we’d felt before going in: he’s one heckuva songwriter, but we could do without having to listen to him.

One of my favorite Dylan songs is titled “My Back Pages” whose chorus contains the lyrics,

Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

When I first heard them in high school, I thought those words were deep and meaningful and poetic, so I latched onto them because it seemed the intellectual, teen-angsty thing to do. As I grew, I learned to appreciate the song lyrics from a different perspective (and lo, I’d thought I was so wise back then… but nay, now realize how foolish I was… IRONIC JUSTICE, MR. DYLAN).

I don’t necessarily feel younger now than I did when I was, well, younger, but in many ways, I do feel more fun.

Case in point: at Emi and Matt’s wedding, I got drunk. I could phrase it nicely and say I was over-served or that I had too much to drink, but if I’m being honest, I got drunk. I was silly and loud and danced in ways that I didn’t know my body could move (and maybe shouldn’t have moved) for hours on end, all the while having an absolute ball. Later, I apologized to my mother-in-law for my nutty dance moves, and remarked that this was the first time she’d ever seen me even a little bit tipsy — the first time in twenty years. (That’s not because I hid my debauchery from her for all those years, but rather because, up until quite recently, I rarely drank at all, and certainly didn’t get drunk.) Her response? “You were having so much fun out there. I loved it!”

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Yep, that’d be me on the floor (in the lei) doing… I have no idea what. But I was having a fabulous time, that’s for sure.

Back in high school, it never crossed my mind to have even a sip of alcohol. This wasn’t some moral or religious stance, nor was it something my friends and I discussed – we didn’t head up the Substance Free committee or sit around denouncing the evils of beer – but it just didn’t happen when we were hanging out. I knew other kids drank, sure, but I wasn’t into it. When I got to college, I had the occasional drink – and even, on very rare occasions, drank enough that I could be considered more than slightly buzzed – but, overall, I really wasn’t interested.

In fact, I was sort of proud of not wanting to have alcohol. I don’t need to drink to have a good time! I can do all of the other absurd and moronic things that college students do without alcohol to fuel it! (And, oh, I did…) But there was more to it than that; although I never said so out loud, I definitely looked down on people who did drink. Oh, you’re getting together and having a few? Hm. Too bad you can’t enjoy one another’s company without it revolving around libations.

And so it continued through my twenties. I drank every so often, became marginally inebriated maybe once every three or four years, and quietly passed judgment on everyone who consumed alcohol – including my family and friends. Certain circumstances warranted the booze, of course – weddings and bachelorette parties, for example, so long as you never drank to excess. It was also acceptable to have the infrequent glass of wine or beer with dinner, provided that you drank it slowly and stopped well before you began to feel the effects. I’d thumb through Hallmark cards for friends’ birthdays and would scoff at how many of them contained casual mention of wine. Is this really the way that people connect? How sad.

Then, around ten years ago, something began to change. Maybe it was the birth of Eleanor, maybe it was just growing up and meeting more people who looked at life differently than I do – but who, I discovered, were (miraculously!) still good, smart, honest, hardworking, likable, trustworthy people… but I no longer began thinking that it was so awful to have a drink every now and again. My knowledge of alcohol was limited to what I’d known in college and shortly thereafter – Boone’s and Natty Lite and wine coolers and frou-frou girly drinks – which tasted like perfumed bath water, so I took it upon myself to become more knowledgable about all manner of spirits.

Nick was really into craft and local beers, so I learned about those. Realizing how woefully ignorant we were about wines, we took a couple of wine courses; we’re hardly experts now, but we have a pretty good idea of how wines are made, what the different varietals taste like, and – most importantly – what we like (and don’t like) and why. We took cooking classes specifically geared toward how to pair alcohol with food, learning how each brings out the goodness of the other (if you pair them correctly). It was… really fun.

As I discovered what alcoholic beverages I enjoyed (no more Bartles and Jaymes, thank God), I began to drink more often, too. A glass with dinner went from a semi-annual occasion to a semi-weekly occasion. I started to find the wine-themed birthday cards funny. I also began to understand how fabulous it could be at the end of the day, when I’d been puked on and broken up three fights and dropped the milk in the checkout line and both girls had a fever, to sit down with a drink. A drink drink.

Necessary? Nope. Delicious and wonderful? Oh heck yes.

Finally, I learned that it is sometimes just really damned enjoyable to drink enough to feel it. I’d never understood that before – why on earth would anyone want to lose themselves? To feel wobbly or spinny or crazy? To not be in control (which, quite frankly, seemed scary as hell)? Well… maybe because it’s (wait for it)… fun. It can be incredibly freeing to lose yourself for a couple of hours, to momentarily forget what’s bothering you. It can be wonderful to have your pain temporarily lessened, your heartache soothed, your worry eased. It can be simply marvelous to laugh more quickly, to smile more often, to make connections with everyone around you. It can be delightful to let go of your carefully-constructed control, like releasing an enormous breath you didn’t realize you were holding.

(Lest I give you the wrong impression, I’m not, in any way, saying that I now think you need to drink alcohol in order to have a good time, that drinking to excess on any sort of regular basis is okay, or that relying on alcohol is okay. Drinking problems are not something to be taken lightly; alcoholism is a serious and heartbreaking disease, much like depression. Drinking and driving is never, ever acceptable. Just so we’re clear.)

To many (most?) of you, this is ludicrously obvious. Um, yep. People drink because they enjoy it. People sometimes drink too much on purpose because they like it. You’re just figuring this out now?

Well, not now now, but more or less, yes. I am just figuring it out, and it’s one helluva realization. More importantly than discovering that I like Sauvignon Blanc, however, I have (finally) stopped thinking negatively of everyone else who’s out there enjoying their wine and beer and cocktails. And, as a result, we have a lot more fun together! Not because I drink more often than I used to – the alcohol isn’t really the point – but because I’ve stopped being quite so uptight and judgmental, in general.

For years, I’d been so caught up on Doing The Right Thing and Following The Rules that I didn’t even realize how much those were, ironically, doing just the opposite. By attempting to Do The Right Thing and Follow The Rules, I wound up judging everybody around me about just about everything that differed from my Right Things and Rules. These days, I’m working on taking that judgment out of every single thing (although, I’m not gonna lie, it’s totally still there, just not everywhere). It’s hard and it’s shitty sometimes because, damn it, being all judgey is easy and, in a crazy way, makes me feel good because it’s neat to feel superior (ew). But it’s so worth it because, frankly, living atop that high horse was awfully difficult; the view sucked because I was so far away, and the balancing was exhausting.

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Getting down on my knees and…serenading?… was also exhausting, but for different reasons.

It used to be that Annie and Ella had to eat a certain way, all the time. The Right Way, of course, which included specific amounts of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and an avoidance of nearly all crappy foods. I hid veggies in baked goods and watched them like hawks around relatives (so they couldn’t be slipped anything unsavory). My sisters-in-law still recall how I was so determined to get my kids to eat “right,” I used to call fruit purees “special sauce” so I could trick the girls into eating them. I WAS A TOTAL BLAST, AMIRIGHT?

Then, it became too much. And, in truth, I just plain grew up. So now, yeah, their diets are still pretty darn healthy. They read labels and avoid HFCS and even count grams of sugar. But they also have dessert every single day. They eat anything they want all day long at the Minnesota State Fair each year. They – gasp! – order soda when we go out. And they’re allowed to have full-on junk food days when they’re with their relatives. Screw The Rules! Which, hands down, is a helluva lot more fun.

The girls used to have to go to bed at a certain time; we were militant with our bedtimes and nap times, and I certainly judged anyone who took their still-young-enough-to-be-strapped-into-the-cart child to Target with them at 9 p.m. on a school night. (Well, I guess they just don’t care about instilling proper sleep habits. Tsk tsk.) Now, Ella and Annie still have a bedtime – it’s not just a free-for-all over here – but it’s more fluid. They stay up later some nights and go to bed far earlier on others. And it is FUN, I tell you. FUN! (Except when I allow them to stay up too late reading Harry Potter and they’re emotional disasters the following day; oops.) I don’t even look twice anymore if someone has their infant in the grocery store at midnight (well, maybe I look twice, but that’s mostly because I’m doing a double take wondering what the hell I’m doing in the grocery store at midnight). FUN, FUN, FUN.

I used to be absolutely un-budge-able with our Christmas traditions (nearly all of which I’d adopted from my own childhood, with Nick’s approval). This is how we do it, because it is always how we’ve done it, end of story. The mere thought of altering tradition made me break out in a cold sweat. But then, one year, things weren’t going to plan (Christmas will be ruined!) and Nick suggested another way and I got down off the horse just enough to actually listen to him and, whaddya know, change can be good… and it can make Christmas much more enjoyable for everyone.

I know that I’ll ever stop passing judgment; it’s an all-too-human trait and I accept that about myself, as much as I’m trying to do better. But I do know that it feels really nice to become less uptight and unfaltering, to realize that my perspective isn’t the only one that’s valid (although it usually is pretty fantastic), to try to be a little less narrow-minded. Instead of feeling scary and uncontrolled and wild, it feels freeing and relaxing and fun.

Sometimes, growing up has its perks.

If only I could stop looking down on anyone who misuses “nauseous” or “literally,” or on any kind of reality TV that involves a Kardashian, a bachelor(ette), anything set in New Jersey, or a real housewife, I bet I would be a freaking HOOT.