Morning snuggles…sort of

People enjoy me on social media too.

People enjoy me on social media too.

Earlier this week, in an effort combat the longer summer days and make sure my kids sleep in (purely for my own sake), I taped cardboard on their window behind the blackout curtains. See the screenshot from Facebook. Judging by the emojis, other moms are in the same boat or were when their respective children were small ameba-humans like mine.

The results have been inconclusive. Darcy is coming down with a cold so who knows what’s going on in her little dragon brain all night. Or who knows why she got up at 5:13 this morning after a long day of pool play time yesterday.

Here’s my morning inner monologue for your entertainment…

(Hold on. It’s 8:16 am and we’ve already had breakfast and danced in the kitchen to The Village People. But my writing is interrupted by the sounds of rage from the play room. And indeed when I walk in, they are locked like two rams, heads butted against each other, over a new set of Legos. I’m not kidding. The image you have in your head should be of two kids on all fours, legos on the floor between them, tops of their heads touching. I marvel at how strong both of their noggins must be and see veins popping from reddened necks. Then I intervene.)

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

5:13am: I look at the clock but it’s still pitch black outside. I lie to Darcy who is standing eerily silent at my door. “It’s still night-night,” I say and change her diaper. Then I put her back in her crib.

5:38am: I hear a soft thump. No doubt this is Darcy getting out of her crib. Her ninja skills are good until the landing. The monitor shows the empty crib and closed door. She’s up in her brother’s bed tryin’a get comfy. She must be stopped. Jackson can sleep through an atom bomb but not in the early morning hours. I grab her and she is mercifully silent. “Want to lay with mommy?” “Okay,” a tiny nasally voice in the dark.

5:39 am: She lays facing me, eyes closed and smiling. To the victor goes the spoils. She looks cute in the early morning light peeking through the sides of my blackout curtains.

5:42 am: She moves away, now perpendicular to me. And the toe digging in my side begins. I’m reminded to cut her toenails. They feel like small razors. And her feet are surprisingly strong. It’s the worst shiatsu massage ever. Between this borderline torture and her ability to deprive me of sleep, she has a career in the CIA ahead of her.

5:50 am: Sitting up. Playing with both of her lovies.

Lounging like a boss at 10am.

Lounging like a boss at 10am.

5:51 am: I pretend to sleep and Darcy notices. I must needs the lovies. In an expertly executed role reversal, she puts the lovies on my forehead and gives me her blanket. “Night-night, Mommy,” she whispers coyly. Her chance at escape. I clutch the lovies while I decide whether or not to care. The lovies are surprisingly comforting. I spend the next few minutes working through a business plan for adult lovies, ignoring the toddler altogether.

5:56 am: She is at my door fussing with the childlock. No CIA yet for you. Foiled by a piece of plastic around a doorknob.

5:57am: I weakly attempt discipline and then, research be damned,”Want your iPad?”

5:59 am: I doze to the horrifying sounds of children’s programming. My half-dreams while the Yo Gabbas sing are the closest I will ever get to an acid trip, I believe.

6:25 am: Jackson slams the door open. Take that, childproofing! I’m six! He rubs his eyes. “I went potty, Mommy. I slept later too. See, I tried to help.”

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The pitfalls of pop music and littles

They don't actually want to work.

They don’t actually want to work.

The opening chords of Fifth Harmony’s “Work from Home” trigger a hysterical reaction in both of my children. Darcy closes her eyes (a classic Darcy dance move) and begins conducting an invisible orchestra of synthesizers. And Jackson hides behind a “curtain,” or whatever piece of furniture will hide him adequately so he can make a big entrance during the refrain. As the girl group repeats “work work work” over and over, my 6yo parades around the coffee table doing spastic karate moves.

They both love the song so much that I decided to show them local choreographer Michelle Key’s piece. It was a minor instagram sensation and it’s awesome choreo. Then we moved on to the official video. I don’t usually show my children music videos (even the PG ones) because they are too rich with sexual images or naughty dance moves. But I relented and pulled “Work from Home” up on youtube. What a mistake. But it was a hilarious mistake so I’m not too regretful. Jackson usually misinterprets most pop song lyrics. Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” is about a dad telling his son to engage in the kind of self-love that propels one to live out one’s dreams, for example. I don’t correct him. Before seeing the video, “Work from Home” was basically “Whistle While You Work” in Jackson’s kindergarten mind.  He explained the lyrics to his 2yo sister one day, “It’s about working hard. And working hard is a good thing.”

But with the new information the music video provides, Jackson can no longer stand the dissonance between his original interpretation and the visual representation of the song’s lyrics. “These girls don’t want to work!,” he exclaimed in partial disgust. “They just want to dance.”

He went on, “The guys want to work but the girls want them to hang out and dance. They are trying to distract the guys!” I agreed hoping he’d stop there. Thankfully he didn’t pick up on any of the immaturely illustrated sexual innuendoes that any video with five hot girls in construction outfits was bound to present.

Today, Jackson was clearly still mulling over the video. On our way home from school, he blurted randomly, “And they are building a house! How is anyone supposed to work from home if they need to be on a construction site?!”

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Adrienne Rich dies at 82

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

I’m profoundly sad about Adrienne Rich’s death. I’m also profoundly grateful for her life and work. Don’t expect anything insightful from me. Nothing I can say will pay adequate homage. Just bookmarking this event on my blog for posterity, I guess.

I enjoy everything about her poetry, her politics, and the intersection of the two.  I enjoyed learning about her in Gale Swiontkowski’s Six American Poets class at Fordham. (The other poets were Plath, Sexton, Hughes, Heaney, and Lowell. Sharon Olds served as a bonus seventh.)

I enjoyed reading her poems. Here’s a bit from “Diving Into the Wreck:” 

I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

I leaf through my anthology from time to time, stopping and reflecting on the ones from Diving into the Wreck (still the best name for any book of poems…ever) and musing over the short section of juvenilia at the back.

And I enjoyed teaching her poems. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” was always a class favorite–at once accessible and deep. “Rape” was less popular because of the subject matter but the students always felt like they were discussing something important instead of just feeding me back answers. Discussion so rarely becomes real dialogue in any classroom and I have Adrienne Rich to thank for some of the best lessons on poetry I ever taught.

But I can’t for the life of me remember my favorite poem. It was a tiny jewel, seldom taught which is why the interwebz have been no help. It was economic in it’s language yet emotive. Maybe that’s part of my sadness today. It’s been a long time since my days were filled with reading and discussing good poems. I need to pick up that anthology again.

Here’s Rich reading “Diving Into the Wreck.”

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When your kids are quiet…

The way to get into the good parties is to have big boobs.

The way to get into the good parties is to have big boobs.

They are probably doing something wrong. I’ve walked in on shampoo painted on the bathroom walls, evidence of cave baby in her natural habitat. I’ve walked in on my son stuffing a scarf in my daughter’s shirt and proclaiming she now has boobs. “Now she can go to parties,” he smiled brightly. Let’s not even touch on how at 4, Jackson understood the intersection between breasts and access to cool parties.

The point is that when you’re kids are quiet, they are most likely doing something messy or questionable or criminal. And that’s why this morning when I dozed off and woke twenty minutes later to absolute blissful quiet, my first thought was Jackson and Darcy are making a huge mess, my pets are in jeopardy, or both kids have left the house in search of Box-Car Chidren adventures.

Thankfully two seconds later my son came bouncing down the hallway looking for his iPhone.  (Disclosure: Jackson has C.K.’s old iPhone with all his apps on it. I assure you, they are all educational apps. wink.)

Here’s the conversation with my six-year-old that ensued…

JACKSON: Mommy, where’s my phone?

ME: It’s on the dresser. I think.

He starts to leave.

ME: Wait! Wait! Where is your sister?

Jackson taps into his inner male model.

Jackson taps into his inner male model.

JACKSON: She’s in the livingroom. I put a video on her iPad. She’s watching Barney Counting 1,2,3s.

I’m taken aback. Not only did he make sure his little sister was set up with something to do, he even knows the details about what’s she’s actually doing. And this is spacey Jackson we’re talking about. When did he get straight up nanny skillz?

ME: You’re hired.

My head plops back on the pillow and I stretch. I’m going to get out of bed, I swear.

JACKSON: Oh, and I fed her breakfast. We split a package of M&Ms. But only half each. Too much sugar.

And there it is.

NB: When I say “this morning” above, I’m referring to Friday March 11. C.K. was in Austin at SXSW and I was flying solo. Just sayin’.

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Farewell, Austin

IMG_1685(written from the Embassy Suites on Congress Avenue in Austin, TX on August 20, 2015)

Hi, I need to order four pies.
Beat.
Yes, pizza pies. 2 pepperoni and 2 regular.
Beat.
Yes, 2 with pepperoni and 2 with just cheese.

My husband called our local pizzeria to buy lunch for our moving guys. His clarifications reminded me that yep, I’m actually not a Texan. I’m not from Austin. I order “pies” at a pizza place. Why do I need to explain further? I’m not calling a bakery. I also stand “on line,” not “in line”–but that regional language irregularity justifiably needs correcting. You’re reading this online. Or if you’re on Long Island and standing in a queue, maybe you’re reading this post “online while on line.”

Okay, get to the point. It’s 7 am and I’m in a hotel room with my littles before we drive to Dallas to meet C.K. So I’m groggy. The point is—these jarring moments remind me that I’m not actually from Austin. And it’s unsettling because most of the time I walk around considering Austin my home. In fact, it’s where I’ve felt the most “at home” as an adult. Apologies to New York where my heart still beats a little quicker. And no apologies to Los Angeles because it’s the hellmouth.

Why Austin has such a strong hold on me? Why do I (and so many others) feel so comfortable in the city’s embrace? The answer is summed up in two phrases. The first is from a volunteer coordinator at my church. While presenting on Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a charity that rehabs roach coaches and stocks them with food daily to drive around and feed the poor, Bob remarked of the charity’s founder, “Bring anything to him. Any stupid idea. And he’ll hear you out and try your idea.” That may seem a little condescending but I assure you it wasn’t meant IMG_1648that way. There’s an openness to MLF’s structure that can been seen in many organizations around town, both charitable and for-profit. Austin is a place where you’ll be heard, your ideas won’t get shot down, your thoughts are valued. Any. stupid. idea.

I heard the second phrase before we moved to Austin in 2013. A friend from New York, Sarah, told me repeatedly that I’d really like Austin, that I’d be happy there. I thought it odd—we hadn’t been friends for too long when she told me that. Maybe she was just well-wishing since she knew moving to a brand new place with a 3.5yo would be traumatic no matter what. “Austin is a very come as you are city. You’ll really like it,” she smiled sweetly as we watched our sons play at the local community center. And she was right. And the phrase “come as you are” is the best way I can think to describe this amazing place. Granted, sometimes come as you are means not shaving your legs or armpits at the hippy-dippy Bouldin Creek Cafe. Granted, sometimes come as you are means arriving to a posh club on a segue in a nerdy T-shirt. Or looking like you just failed a urine test with your patrol officer but you’re really a tech shot caller.

But it’s true. Austin accepts you as you are. There is no uniformity to how people look in the city. And that come as you are attitude permeates everything. I believe it’s why my husband has flourished at Chaotic Moon, a company that doesn’t just pay lip service to innovation–they innovate again and again. I think it’s why I was immediately asked to serve on the board at Jackson’s school. (Imagine that happening in Westchester County? Never. Unless, Mama gets out the checkbook early on.) I think it’s why Women’s Storybook Project trusted me to pitch to the New York Times. Austin makes the fact that you’re creative a good thing. It’s something to explore, not ignore.

IMG_3622So I love this place. My children love this place. My husband loves it here. My sister moved here. She loves this place. My New Yorker parents who are the poster children for townies, love this place. That’s because it’s easy to love. But they better expand Mopac soon because word is really getting around. #understatement

So good bye, bats under the Congress Ave bridge.
Good bye, Zilker Park.
Good bye, food trucks.
Good bye, hipsters and vegans and other types I can’t stand.

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A big break

Inmates choose books to record for their children with the help of WSP.

Inmates choose books to record for their children with the help of WSP.

My piece about Women’s Storybook Project was published on Motherlode, the New York Times parenting blog, a few weeks ago. I’ve been pitching to editor K.J. Dell’Antonio for a few years now. I think my first pitch was about conducting a successful kickstarter project to publish my novel while I had a toddler at home. K.J. has always been gracious enough to read my work and even when it was a “no,” her feedback was polite and prompt. For that, I’m grateful. Recently I got the “yes” I’d been striving for. I did a prison visit for Women’s Storybook Project, a program that connects mothers in prison with their children through recordings that the mothers make of themselves reading book.

Read my article and the companion piece

written by a former inmate who benefitted from WSP’s amazing work.

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Preschool Graduation is tomorrow

Jackson's 1st Day at St. Mark'sAnd my heart is full. Jackson graduates from preschool tomorrow at 11 am in the chapel of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. He’s already revealed that the class will sing “Jesus Loves Me” and do sign language along with the lyrics. I’m bringing tissues for that part alone. I have no idea what to expect other than the song and my deepest desire that the school plays Pomp & Circumstance when the kids walk in. I think the last preschool graduation I attended may have been my own or Maggie’s.

IMG_2295 (1)It’s not that classic my-kid-is-growing-up/time-goes-so-fast feeling that’s really getting me. Although I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t nostalgia at play here. Jackson is my baby boy turned little kid. And yes, he’s going to full time school in a few months. After so much time spent together, he’ll be in school for more hours in the day than with me.

But no, it’s not nostalgia. It’s an immense feeling of gratitude. St. Mark’s is a school that truly lives out its vision. It’s a nurturing community that fosters a love of lifelong learning. That’s what’s advertised here and that’s what you get.  And as someone who moved to Austin with only a few months before Jackson was to start nursery school, I am so grateful for St. Mark’s. I can vividly remember texting C.K. saying that I was going to write a 10414479_10153157054132028_5825563322865329284_ncheck for the deposit while on the tour of the school. It was the treed multilevel playground that sold me right away. On that same tour I can also remember chatting with one of my now dear friends, Lindsay. We moved to Austin within months of each other. We were both pregnant–due only one week apart (with girls to match our boys). When Jackson and Lindsay’s son Grant started at camp at St. Mark’s the teachers asked if Grant and Jackson were cousins. “They seem like they’ve known each other forever,” one remarked. Just as Lindsay and I were kindred spirits, so were Grant and Jackson.

I soon found out that my friendship with Lindsay would be one of many. Because that’s how St. Mark’s is–it fosters relationships among adults and children alike.

So thank you, St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School…

  • for nurturing my child and providing a safe environment for his growth
  • for hiring teachers like Elaine, Kiki, Laura, Rae, and Becky and giving them the autonomy to utilize their incredible talents to the betterment of the students (those are just the main tIMG_2237 (1)eachers Jackson had–every teacher is amazing!)
  • for fostering a community of parents who truly enjoy each other’s company and work together to continue the stewardship of an already amazing place
  • and personally, for providing me and Jackson with a place to anchor ourselves after we moved across the country and for making us feel very much at home

Kindergarten has a tough act to follow.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

IMG_1974St. Mark’s lives this everyday.

And one more… “Play is the highest form of research.” –Albert Einstein

 

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“Three Miles”: A Visceral Response

I was never a podcast person. I barely even listen to talk radio on the morning commute. Listening–in the car, at the gym, around the house–is for music. But that all changed when I started listening to Serial, a podcast by This American Life that took my facebook feed (and the iTunes charts) by storm.  Since finishing Serial, I’ve mostly been complaining to myself that there isn’t more Serial. But this week, I decided to try This American Life. A quick look at the description of the podcast “Three Miles” was enough to draw me in. It was about the connection between education and equity and exposure. They were speaking my language. And with two little children at home, this podcast was sure to be a nice break from playing weebles and filling sippy cups. Ah, fifty minutes where I don’t feel my brain cells weeping.

“Three Miles,” like all This American Life content I’m sure, is superbly made. It’s informational, it’s well-paced, it’s provocative. If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, I highly recommend it. Since this podcast alone has prompted numerous conversations on my social media feeds, I decided to try to come up with a cohesive response to it. My reaction to “Three Miles” was multi-faceted and visceral at times.

This American Life logo“Three Miles” is about the experience of two groups of students from very different backgrounds and educational experiences interacting with each other through the curation of two English teachers who thought it would be good if their students met. One group is from University Heights, a South Bronx public school and the other group is from Fieldston, a private school three miles away. Fieldston tuition per year = cost of one BMW (roughly).

After writing letters, the teachers decide it would be beneficial if the students met each other. This seems like a good idea. (I still believe it is.) The podcast notes that for the University Heights kids, the field trip to the private school could show them another world, a world where you don’t have to be poor, hungry, angry, on your way to nowhere. And for the private school kids, many of whom will become leaders in the corporate and political world, the exposure to how “the other half lives” is beneficial. Chana Joffe notes “And part of the point of programs like these that try to bridge the divide is– seeing as the private school kids will likely go on to be important, influential people, maybe write education policy or finance new businesses– it’s good for them to know not everybody’s life looks like theirs.” How can you write policy or affect change (something that you should be doing if you’re privileged) if you’ve never encountered someone who could benefit from the changes? Sounds good, right?

Not really for Melanie. She freaks out when they get there. And you know what? I understood the freak out. Joffe presented it as an odd reaction but I could easily see one of my former students from Preston reacting the same way. I sympathized with Melanie and imagined myself as her teacher. I agreed with her. Yes, why do the Fieldston kids have the idyllic high school experience you envisioned for yourself. The experience where, as one interviewee remembers, you could leave your bookbag on the floor of the library and no one would take it. I left my bag everywhere in my high school. Sure, I had some stuff taken from my locker but I could leave my bag somewhere without fear of someone rifling through it. What would they take? The keys to my 1989 Nissan Sentra? Sure, just make sure you leave me the keys to your mom’s SUV of which she tired after a few months.

The part that hit me the hardest was when the journalist finally caught up with Melanie. (Ten years later…) Melanie described going through the process of the Posse Foundation, a scholarship that provides a full ride to underprivileged kids who show promise. These are the kids who exhibit an alternative set of predictors for college success. Some of these kids I met in my time at Preston.  Melanie made it to the third round of the process, I think. She started crying when she described the rejection. You feel like the whole world your whole future is riding on this scholarship and when it doesn’t happen, you’re crushed.. She says “But it’s a really beautiful thing if you do get it. At least that’s the way it looked. But what you put children through to get there is hard to then be turned down. I’d say, why didn’t I get it? What was wrong with me?”

I’ve been part of the counseling students through a few of these scholarships at Preston. I usually taught freshmen and sophomores so I never saw a student through the process of say, the Gates Millenium Scholarship or the NYT Scholarship. But I’ve reviewed essays, talked to students about what to wear and what to say in interviews for colleges and various programs that would help them finance college or just put another feather in their college application cap. I remember the disappointment students felt so acutely when they got their rejection letters, probably more than I remember the excitement of a student getting accepted to their college of choice or getting the necessary funding to go there.

Melanie’s recounting of her disappointment, the absolute despair she felt, how she felt she must not deserve a better life, filled me to the brim with pity. I wept hearing her voice shake as she retold it. To think that with all the compassion and dedication some educators pour out every year and still Melanie would think that she wasn’t good enough. I can remember having a few emotional conversations with students about their disappointment, about the pain of rejection. In the back of my mind was always the adult voice saying, “Oh this is just life sometimes. But good things will happen too.” But “Three Miles” presents you with someone whose life is such that good things don’t happen. And it’s incredibly sad to think that so many people go through life never expecting something good to happen.

Robert_E_Hill_Fieldston_plaqueIn the end, while I found the podcast interesting, I felt sad. One of the teachers, Pablo, says that he’s an example of someone who got out of the projects and he’s working on his PhD now. He’s “made it.” He says that he keeps telling students that more education, that college is the way out of their current situations. However, he knows that only a handful will cross class barriers. I feel the same way. If I were still teaching at Preston, I’d be doggedly pushing that same message. Get into college. Get your next degree. Move up the food chain.

I started writing this blog post because so many of my friends on twitter and facebook were talking about it. The mention of Fordham was enough for fellow grads to start the dialogue. Everyone had sensitive, sound responses and offered ideas for how to better support the “University Heights” kids when they get to college and have to sit in the same room as the “Fieldston” kids. But what was devastating about the podcast was that so many of these students have such a low sense of self-worth. They don’t expect to succeed. They are literally the opposite of entitled. They have supports and they don’t reach out sometimes. Jonathan, who won the Posse Foundation scholarship, failed out of college. He just didn’t go to class. He couldn’t afford the books. He didn’t ask for help. Jonathan tells Chana: “So now I’m embarrassed to be the only black guy that doesn’t do the work and fulfill that stereotype. So I’m not going to class. It’s a catch-22, because now I’m still the black kid now that just doesn’t come to class, and doesn’t do the work on top of that.” He gives in to this insidious self-fulfilling prophecy that poverty constructs. He tells TAL that he never felt like he deserved this opportunity, that he was scared. How do educators combat that level of low self-esteem? I’m not saying that the programs are not worthy or that they don’t work. I think these are noble pursuits but to hear that someone like Jonathan didn’t make it just breaks my heart.

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Saying Goodbye to Funny Girl

DSCN1236This will be a long post.

This will be a sad post.

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, about the experience of eulogizing a beloved family member. And first and foremost, I’d like to thank my Uncle Kenny for not only allowing me to speak at my aunt’s funeral service but also for giving the okay for this blog post.

My dad called at 7:15 on Friday morning November 21, 2014. It’s not completely unusual for my parents to call early–they know that with two young children that I’m up and caffeinated. But the way he said my name when I answered told me something terrible had happened. I can’t remember the exact phrase he used but it was a wild understatement. Something like “we had a little problem last night.” And his tone of voice and failure to find the right words for that first sentence told me that “little problem” probably meant something unfathomably tragic.

I wished I was wrong. I still do.

My dad barely got through telling me that Arzie was gone and the little information about her passing. My mother, Arzie’s best friend for over 50 years, couldn’t even speak. I spent the rest of the day in a quiet panic. As I waited for information, I went to a meeting at Jackson’s future elementary school (albeit in a daze and absurdly disliking everyone there) and then I put up our Christmas tree. All the while, I was writing her eulogy in my head–before I even realized I would ask for the honor of speaking at Arzie’s services.

IMG_0237I wrote the first draft that night. Don’t even ask where I got the energy. I finished the second draft on Saturday afternoon…at my hair appointment. Ridiculous, I know.  I think of Arzie now, probably shaking her fists at how I wrote a remembrance of her on the Google docs app on my iPhone then texted it out to her family all while getting my roots dyed.  By Sunday, I was on a plane to NY. And my husband and babies were all packed up for their trek from Austin to Jackson, MS for Thanksgiving. And by Sunday, my mother and my uncle Kenny had read the initial text of the eulogy and thankfully, my uncle said I could speak.

The time from Sunday evening to the Tuesday morning service passed in a slow, surreal way. It’s the mixture of shock and sadness and busyness of funeral preparations. I snuck in little moments to reread the eulogy on my phone, change a phrase here or there. I made my sister, my mother, and my father listen to the speech. I thought the more I practiced, the less I would cry the day of. The last thing I wanted to do was blubber through the whole thing on the altar.

My husband called Monday night from Jackson. Darcy had croup and would have to go to the emergency room. I can remember texting with him late that night and then taking out my iPad to read the eulogy again. And the whole time, it just felt like we were in Connecticut visiting the Milio family and Arzie was working or away on one of her Choral Society cruises. She wasn’t there. But the permanence of her death hadn’t hit yet, for me at least.

I sat through the beautiful services feeling much the same way. I was clutching my iPad and every time I looked over at my mother weeping, my sister would gently remind me, “Don’t look at Mom right now.” As the time drew nearer, I prayed that God give me the strength to address the hundreds of people who filled the sanctuary. I prayed for the grace only God can bestow. I wanted to offer some solace to the people who Arzie left behind and memorialize someone who deserved a much better eulogy, a much better speaker.  If you knew Arzie, you’d understand that my last statement is not just fishing for reassurance. Arzie was truly the best of us.

I firmly believe that it was through God’s intercession that I didn’t sob until the very end of the eulogy. And even then, I found the strength to speak the last few sentences through tears and shakes.  There were even a few laughs–Arzie was a funny person; she wouldn’t have wanted all bleakness at her memorial.

 During the recessional and throughout the repast, people would come up and introduce themselves and hug me. Most of them I’d never met before. However, every time someone hugged me I cried and had to really pull myself together. Now that the eulogy was over, I guess I could let go. Surreality became the crushing reality of Arzie’s loss.

One of Arzie’s good friends even told me that until I spoke, the service was beautiful but so tense. “I think it was perfect. We all started to heal,” she said through tears that were almost a little hopeful. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for her words. Every compliment or thank you I got was both uplifting and intensely humbling at the same time. Being a part of the formal goodbye to such an incredible human will forever be something I cherish. Giving that eulogy will forever be a formative event in my adult life.

I put the actual text of my eulogy below. Some of Arzie’s friends asked for a copy of it and I thought that since I’ve been talking about giving the eulogy, you might want to read what I said.

For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Arzie’s “niece” Kristin. I use the air quotes because I’m not her blood relation. She’s my mother’s best friend. I’m Marian & Curt’s daughter. I asked Uncle Kenny if I could speak today and I’m so grateful that he’s allowed me to speak about Arzie–a woman who was very much my aunt.

Arzie. That nickname says it all. She was the perfect hostess. But not in a Martha Stewart kind of way–although I think she’d claim to have better cookie recipes. What made her the perfect hostess, the embodiment of Irish hospitality in fact–was how fun she was.

That’s what I’ll miss. That’s why I was so excited to be around her. It was the fun–carefree fun. She was fun in the truest, most infectious way. I started thinking about why Arzie was such an irresistible presence. She could make you laugh. And not giggle. Belly laugh. Pee your pants laugh. The type of laughter where you tell someone to stop because your ribs are hurting, because you can’t catch your breath. You knew whatever story she was telling was embellished, but you forgave the fabrication. Because it was probably the best laugh you’d had in a long time.

She was a relentless buster and fiercely competitive.  Arzie threatened to bring a kazoo to my wedding for a solid year. Said she would get a golden kazoo and hide it under the toilet at the wedding venue like Michael Corleone in the Godfather.

Then when I taught her how to make cosmos (that’s right I taught her and my mom the recipe although both deny it), Arz changed the recipe slightly and claimed that she made the world’s best cosmos. I remember one time at my moms when she asked me to remind her how to make her cosmos. “How do I make my cosmos?”

“How many cosmos have you had so far?”

“Shut up, Krissy. And don’t tell Kenny.”

Of course You forgave her incessant teasing because it was never bitter or malicious and because in the blink of an eye, the teasing would be self-deprecation. She would constantly joke about her weight—”Well, Krissy you’re not as skinny as me so you can’t really wear those jeans”. In these ways, her humor was quintessentially Irish—borne out of nostalgia, and good drink, and good old-fashioned self-criticism.

That good humor extended to her hospitality. And it extended to how much she loved her family and friends and how far she would go for them. I’m sure you all have a story about Arzie doing some favor or going out of her way for you. I have countless stories like that. Many of them have high calorie treats involved. One of my favorites is when she drove down from CT to Long island to help with my mom’s 50th surprise party. She was going to make her famous seven layer taco dip (again, the best dip according to her). But instead she came in like a hurricane–actually she called ahead to make sure that my dad had a Coors Light on ice for her.  So she comes in and immediately sends my dad to the store for cherry tomatoes. Apparently the tomatoes had all tumbled out her car’s back window on the way from CT to Long Island. “Well, I could retrace my steps and rescue each one. But then I’d be back in Connecticut, Curtie,” she laughed. The way she relayed the story about the fate of these cherry tomatoes was enough to make me and Dad (who were in the throes of party stress) stop and laugh and appreciate her friendship.

She loved her friends. Arz and my mom were friends since elementary school–apparently the friendship was started because Arz’s first choice playmate was sick that day. So my mom filled in. But Arzie was the type of person who made you feel so special, that even if you were second fiddle, it was enough to be in the band. And she loved her husband, my Uncle Kenny. And she loved all her boys–three sons with her same light, her same infectious humor. They are three of my favorite people. Arzie loved Bryan’s wife Maryellen, more daughter than daugther-in-law. And I think that family for Arzie was forever changed for the better with the arrival of little Caroline in the world–her little Care Bear.  In Caroline’s story of survival and perseverance we can see Arzie’s light there too.

03_3A 3I know it’s cliché but she could light up a room. And she could make you feel like you were the only person in the world who mattered. Not everyone has this special gift. Not everyone I know is as fun to be around as Arzie. And I’ll think of her fondly every time I fix myself a Cosmo.

My husband lost his father this summer and so my four-year-old Jackson has become prematurely well acquainted with loss. We explained to him that we are all God’s creation, on this earth for a certain amount of time, taking up a certain amount of space, and then we go back to God, our Eternal Father. We are His and His alone. I truly believe that and want my son to believe it. “Why are you so sad, mommy?,” he asked guilelessly. Because we are human and to be human is to be selfish. I will miss Arzie. Everyone who knew Arzie will miss her. If you knew Arzie for even a week, you would miss her. She was indeed a special gift from God, a light from heaven returned home. And if there is any solace in this tragic loss, it’s that a mother is reunited with a beautiful angel that God called away too soon.

*******************************

20_11And now…

Now I miss her more each day. I think this is the opposite of what people feel when they grieve. I don’t know. At least I’ve heard/read that for the first days, weeks, months, every object reminds you of the deceased. And then that sinking feeling subsides slowly over the first year. That was not my experience. I felt a level of acceptance of this tragic loss in the beginning but not so much now. Perhaps the eulogy delayed the stages of grief. Perhaps it’s that my Uncle Kenny is visiting Austin in a few weeks with my parents and I want Arzie to come too. I want to see her sitting my couch with a pillow on her lap, playing Words with Friends on her iPad, calling me “Krissy” and making fun of the uber-Modern chair we just got from Restoration Hardware. (Her house was an impeccably decorated country-style colonial. Decor was always something we agreed to disagree on.)

But I guess I’ll keep praying about it. I’ll lay  it at God’s feet. I know he’s listening…that is when Arzie doesn’t have His ear as she redecorates Heaven. After all, God needed a best friend too.

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On Second Children

I wrote this in April 2014, about four months after Darcy’s arrival. Updates are in brackets. I thought it was worth a share. 

 

“On Second Children”

“The first child gets bathed everyday. The second child gets bathed when they smell,” the pediatrician joked at the one week well visit. But it was a half-joke. I laughed but I thought (rather arrogantly) the second child will be bathed everyday as well. Two days later I kissed my baby on the neck right beneath her ear ready to inhale that delicious new baby smell and got a whiff of cheese. Yes, breast milk had built up in one of the many folds of my newborn’s neck and was fast turning into “breast cheese.” Hadn’t I bathed her just yesterday? No, it had been days. And when I resolved to bath her that day, I peered at my house through bloodshot sleepless eyes and I sighed. She would need a bath in the near future. Yes, “in the near future” was good enough.

12198488666_bf0ce79f12_bOn January 13, 2014, we welcomed our baby girl Darcy into the family. She’s the daughter I’ve always wanted, fourth in the family of four I’ve always wanted, and the sibling I wanted for my first. By all counts, we are blessed.

But Darcy is the second child. Darcy’s arrival in our lives has made me reflect on what it’s like to be second, to come into the world when the veneer of new parenthood has dulled just a bit.

By virtue of her birth order, Darcy gets a mom whose attention is split, grandparents who are happy she’s around but not as giddy about her, and a brother who loves her so much he could just squeeze her to death. Seriously, we call Jackson “Lenny” from Of Mice and Men. He’s just so happy she’s here he can’t even handle it. And he wants to rock her and squeeze her so hard that it’s almost violent. In his little four-year-old brain baby Darcy is the newest love of his life but also the reason his whole world has crumbled. One day I caught him playing Wreck-It Ralph on his iPad. He readily assigns real people to the characters in games. Darcy was Wreck-It Ralph. He sang happily, “Here comes Baby Darcy. Here to ruin everything.”

That all sounds rather grim. Darcy isn’t loved any less. And just because Darcy is here, Jackson isn’t loved any less. And Darcy gets two parents who are more confident and more relaxed in her care taking.

15346881201_4d12a74941_oHowever, Darcy’s whole life experience, especially in these early years, will be informed by her being the second child. Today, I’ve already interrupted two of her naps to take her in the car for Jackson’s activities. I never woke Jackson from a nap.  If Jackson wasn’t awake yet, we didn’t leave the house yet. We ate at restaurants according to his schedule, arrived late to family events,  and left early so he could get to bed.

You would think my new baby would be terribly cranky because of her interrupted sleep, right? Yet after four months of being woken up, Darcy still wakes with a smile and she wakes easily. Then she drifts back off in the car seat.

[Update: At around 6 months, Darcy’s naps and nighttime sleep became an issue. I refer to the 6-9 months as the Dark Ages. She’s since been sleep trained and I bow at the throne of Weissbluth and Ferber. But that whole nap whenever thing got hairy real fast.]

Of course because I wake her up so often, I feel guilty. This guilt creates a habit that I never indulged with Jackson. Darcy often takes naps right on her Boppy pillow after eating.  She finishes nursing and half-drunk on mother’s milk, drifts off for 45 minutes or so, catching up on that nap that was happening when I woke her for Jackson’s soccer practice. My first-born never got this treatment. Driven by anxiety and a competitive spirit, my child was sleep trained perfectly. I once put him in for a nap while friends were over for lunch. It took all of two minutes. The other mom leered at me, “He’s down? Are you serious?”

Essentially what I see coming together is exactly what the birth order book predicted. Darcy is simultaneously easy going and yet thinks the entire world revolves around meeting her needs.  Everyone, young and old, should be delighted by her little smile and gorgeous eyelashes. She has no worries. It will all work out. After all, there are three people bigger than her who will make it so.

Seeing how Darcy’s little personality form has made me more empathetic to my younger sister’s experience as well. As the second child, Maggie was probably always waiting for Mom to finish something, her schedule always planned around my own.  Only when Darcy cries does she have my unfettered, immediate attention. Of course I play with her but it’s not the same as Jackson whose every blink and smile was observed, commented on, recorded on film even.

Portraits : Don Kids : Family-34I relayed this revelation to my sister about a month after my daughter was born. I expected to be met with a defensive response but she seemed pleased. Her older sister finally “gets it.” Is there no greater satisfaction for a second child then to have achieved the respect of the eldest? I see it already in Darcy. There is no one in the world, including myself, who can light up her face like her brother. Her little eyes follow him as he putters around the room with his toys and her whole face reacts when he bestows some of his charming laughter on her.

15002652963_f5140e5fdd_o[Update: She is still enamored with her brother. However, she is now wary of him. And I think she realizes that crying gets him in trouble.]

I think most moms would agree. You go into a second pregnancy wondering how you can possibly make more room in your life and your heart for a new baby when you already love your first so much. But it happens. It’s not that the space in your heart reserved for your children divides. It’s that your heart itself grows. You love them both. You love them differently but you love them the same—passionately, assiduously, wholly. It’s not about more or less love. It’s about time. Isn’t it always?

 

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