Category Archives: motherhood

You, Sir, are kicked out of “The Menagerie”

“He just blowed for you,” Darcy said from the back seat, eyes wide and still confusing her prepositions. Were we in trouble? He doesn’t look happy. Well, I pissed off the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school this morning. He’s a man in his 60s with a handheld stop sign and a whistle he’s not a afraid to blow with wild abandon. I treat him with distance and respect.

But I was tired this morning. And I was waving at a friend on the corner.

I didn’t notice him signaling me to turn right and so I got not one, not two, but three blows. The last blow was exasperated. It felt like a higher pitch although I’m not sure that’s possible.  It was the sound the whistle makes then the blower smokes too much and thinks everyone is an idiot.

This is basically the face I got this morning.

We made eye contact and his eyes were filled with contempt. Neon clad fingers pointed at me forcefully then directed me to turn right. The disdain was palpable. I wasn’t looking at my phone, I promise. I wasn’t about to hit a stroller.

But there is NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES AT DROP OFF!!!

Therefore, I must declare publicly that the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school is officially kicked out of The Menagerie.

I suppose I should explain what The Menagerie is. First you should know this: a writer’s mind is a vivid honeycomb of anecdotes, fantasies, dialogue, and clouded memories. And this massive cellular structure is all dripping in the honey of self-doubt and sarcasm.

Back to The Menagerie…

(Also, I know there are some of you who are confusing the word “menagerie” with “menage a trios.” Not the same. You have a dirty gutter mind.)

Simply put, The Menagerie is a group of people who I enjoy interacting with but would never really be friends with. I’m pretty fascinated by people even if I don’t always like them. The characters in The Menagerie have interesting stories. They are usually older people and therefore their stories a gilded by a veneer of fiction I find endearing. Their stories, their quips, and their motivations all provide fodder for my creative work. Write what you know, the adage goes.

Other current residents of the menagerie include my amazing landscaper who told me that he used to eat the squirrels he hunted in my area before they “put in all these goddamed houses” and the ex-CEO of Aeropostale who sat across from me in the adult education watercolor class at Bronxville HS. She wore Chanel shoes and Hermes scarves but borrowed my watercolors.

“Have you painted much before?,” I asked.

“No, but I have some experience in design. I just retired.”

“Oh, really? What did you do?”

“I worked in retail. At Aeropostale.”

My face must have looked confused as I tried to square a classy lady like herself folding $8 shirts at Aeropostale. So she clarified, “I was the CEO.”

“Oh?” I said. Duh, I am sitting in a school in Bronxville. 

“Can I borrow your cerulean?”

Can I borrow your fucking Birkin bag? <– I didn’t say that.

Anyway, I thought the new crossing guard would be perfect for my mind curio cabinet. He drives a red scooter that he parks in the fire lane and surrounds with small orange cones from Dick’s Sporting Goods. That’s so idiots like me don’t hit the scooter. Or the idiots who drive the fire truck make sure to steer clear when they are pulling their emergency vehicle close to the school to save our children from burning flames or from ISIS.

Also, he wears one of those Sons of Anarchy helmets. The small black skull caps that look like they will do NOTHING if you get into an accident. That kind. And attached to the back of his helmet are three foxtails.

I am not kidding.

He also plants his pop-up chair in a neighbor’s yard. Not on school property but quite literally in the middle of someone’s lawn. There is shade here. I shall have it.

And one time, I saw him put his own body in front of a turning car. I think he even slapped the hood of the car so the driver would stop. Apparently, this driver decided she would turn right while he was crossing another party. He walked to the car and hollered at the driver. I can’t remember what he said but I’m pretty sure he muttered curses as he trudged back into the crosswalk. In my mind now, the crossing guard yelled the drill sergeant’s lines from Full Metal Jacket.  Something to the effect of… I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!

The point is…that four way intersection belongs to him…on school days…between 7:15 & 8:15am and then again between 2:30 & 3:30.

I don’t know much more about this guy. And after this morning, I will never find out. He’s the type who never forgets a face. I am now in the idiot category.

If you’d like to read about another group in my menagerie, check out my story of The Sippin’ Sisters.

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Second Grade

Jackson holds a chalkboard apple on his first day of second grade.

On Monday, Jackson started second grade. Actually, since he is the first-born, we all started second grade together. I fussed over the chalkboard apple and my subpar font. And his outfit. And his hair. And what do you put in the school bag? At least I had his lunch is down pat. Uncrustables & Capri Suns since day one of kinder. Lunch, consider yourself, phoned in. Judge all you want, readers.

Darcy spent the morning pissed that it wasn’t her first day of school. She is generally resentful of being the youngest and so she is always finding ways to commit family treason on special mornings like this one. Sidenote: Yesterday Darcy helped me start Jackson’s laundry. After diligently putting all his clothes in the machine, as instructed, she poured bleach on them and started it. While I applaud her self-direction here, she could have stopped after she completed her task and chosen NOT to be treasonous whilst my back was turned.

Anyway, we took Jackson in the classroom, did the requisite pictures, seat finding, etc. He seemed happy but a little tentative. We then made our the PTA coffee, said hellos, caught up with some friends, and fed Darcy a kolache. NB: A kolache is basically a large pig-in-a-blanket. Texans heart kolaches big time.

Darcy parked herself at the food table, grabbed a kolache (like a good native-born Texan), popped the breakfast sausage out of the pastry, took a bite, then popped it back in.

I was clearly the wrong person to get C.K. and I coffee since doing so took about twenty minutes. So much chit-chat. It’s a life skill. I have mad chit-chat skillz.  And I forgot my car keys on Jackson’s desk so I had to travel back for those. His teacher met me halfway, keys jingling in the air, a knowing look on her face that spoke, “You are the mom who will ask what I want from Starbucks and then completely forget or get my order wrong.” At least now she knows I am an overly apologetic hot mess. Better than me overachieving in these first weeks of school only to find out that it’s all downhill from Halloween.

Monday night I got to thinking about my time in the second grade. I sent a note to my future second grade teacher when I was still in first grade. I wonder if it was before or after I got in trouble for drawing privates in a marble notebook during recess. There were two other depraved kids there but I can’t remember their names or faces. So maybe I imagined them. And it was just depraved little me, sitting on the playground, doing some risque sketches.

Whether Ms. Triola knew of my first grade transgressions, I can’t say. But clearly what I wrote in that note I hand delivered to her classroom was enough. I wrote a letter. And I got what I wanted. The note told Ms. Triola that she was the prettiest teacher in the school. And that I loved her high heels. (She legit had pumps in every color.)

The high heels remained a point of fascination even after I’d gained access to the best second grade class Dutch Broadway had to offer. I remember walking up the stairs behind her and Ms. Triola wouldn’t put her whole foot on the step in front of her. So the sole of her impractically-high-for-a-teacher-heel would be on the step but the four inch heel would balance off the edge. It was a weirdly marvelous thing–and something I copied when I became a teacher years later. I soon learned that high heels were ridiculous to wear when you stood for most of your  work day.

This is THE Porsche!

And I didn’t care. Just like Ms. Triola taught me.

She drove a Porsche. And even though it was an ugly 1980s Porsche, I could tell this vehicle was better than the Pontiacs and Datsuns that populated the rest of the faculty lot. A vehicle for someone who wore Porsche-like footwear.

I even heard my mother tell our across the street neighbor Rhonda that Ms. Triola’s “sugar daddy” bought it for her. I remember thinking that maybe my father would buy me a red sports car one day. And I would punch the gas over each speed bump in the school lot and completely ignore the school zone speed limits, just like Ms. Triola did.

At least I think she did. The car was red and therefore appeared capable of mildly illegal behavior.

Ms. Triola got married later that year–presumably to said Sugar Daddy–but I don’t remember her married name. It’s a law in elementary school that all teacher’s names are whatever they are when you first meet them. I can’t learn a whole new surname because of your life milestone. I’m seven.

 

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Helping Your Middle School Student with his/her failing grades [FULL TEXT]

Originally published on March 30, 2017 in On Parenting, the Lifestyle section of the Washington Post. It needed trimming for WaPo but I wanted to put the full text on my site. It was really well received and even tweeted by the National Council for Teachers of English & Dad 2.0 Summit. 

Treat your middle schooler like a rattlesnake.

So it’s the end of March and your middle schooler’s grades are still unstable. And, to make matters worse, poor performance at school is eroding your child’s self-esteem. I know a few students who feel like their academic life is happening to them. Furthermore, parenting a middle school student is complicated. Questions about when you are helping or when you are helicoptering loom large.

But there’s still last quarter/trimester and that means there’s still time for improvement. I’ve taught English at secondary level, tutored middle school students in writing, and I’m a parent myself. Below I offer practical suggestions for helping your child become more self-directed and advocating for him in a way that’s not *gasp* helicoptering.

First, gather as much information as possible. There is so much lost in translation between the classroom and the home. Here’s what you need to know:

What are my child’s grades in each class? What are the consequences of failing a class?  How can I monitor those grades in between progress reports and report card distribution? Many schools use an online grade book where teachers, students, and parents have access to scores. This makes for fewer surprises when report cards are distributed. Find out what the consequences of academic failure are. Most schools address failing grades by removing students from extra-curricular activities. This policy is usually explicitly stated in the school handbook. If your child is highly invested in the musical or soccer team, this policy can be an effective motivator to improve those grades.

In each class, how is the final grade for a marking period computed? Not all grades count equally. A quiz usually counts for far less than a test, project, or research paper. This information was probably outlined at the beginning of the school year. And while it’s likely that each department calculates grades differently, it’s unlikely that your child will remember how the grading in each class works.

What units will the teacher cover last quarter/trimester? What are the big assignments? Many teachers already know due dates for projects or can approximate dates for tests. Teachers plot out each marking period with learning objectives and assessments.

 Does the teacher have his/her own website where students and parents can access information? When I taught English, I had a simple website powered by Google sites. I uploaded PDFs of short stories, assignments, graphic organizers, and informational handouts. I updated my site regularly with homework assignments or “housekeeping” items (i.e. field trip money due). Browsing teacher websites is a good way to keep yourself informed about what’s going on in the classroom without having to email the teacher multiple times and wait for replies. Moreover, you can synthesize the information on the websites along with your child. This makes for teachable moments about web literacy at home.

Where does my kid lose the most points? Is she crumbling on tests? Does he hand in essays late? As a teacher and tutor, I can usually identify the defining factor in a student’s failing performance. For some it is time management. For others it is lack of study skills. Some come alive when we read aloud in class but have problems reading at home. If you want a full picture here, this conversation with your child’s teacher is best done over the phone or in person. Email works perfectly when your questions require concrete answers. But when a situation is emotionally charged (like one about your child failing at school), email fails because it requires too much nuance.

Second, make a plan with your child. I realize this is easier said than done and will require an unremitting amount patience and energy.

Choose what to focus on. If you get answers to the questions above, you can use them to help your child budget her time. If your child knows what big assignments are coming up, he can focus on tackling one task at a time.

Get extra help. You don’t have to hire a tutor or pay tuition at a learning center (i.e. Mathnasium). Those are viable options, sure, but many teachers offer extra help. Encourage your son to ask when and where extra help takes place. It’s usually after school but sometimes teachers give extra help during unscheduled periods. And extra help is typically a smaller group. There’s more opportunity for your child to build rapport with her teacher and get questions answered.

Incentivize good grades. From sticker charts for chores to promotions with larger salaries at work, reward systems work regardless of age and stage. The key is identifying the right incentive. Set some challenging but doable goals with your middle schooler. Then establish something worthwhile to motivate your child. Be explicit in your conversations about both the goals and the rewards.

Invest in a planner. Transitioning from one teacher in elementary school to 6-7 teachers in middle school is jarring to students. Moreover, assignments have longer lead times. When I taught freshmen, I spent some time at the beginning of the year going over the school’s planner (a combo handbook, calendar, weekly organizer). Most adults keep some form of calendar. But maintaining an organized planner is not intuitive to most adolescents.

Teach your child how to email his teacher(s). Speaking of skills that are not intuitive, your child might be well-versed in new apps, but in sixth grade, she probably doesn’t know how to compose a good email. Writing polite, focused emails is necessary for success today. A few weeks ago, as my tutee Owen and I discussed his current English project, I realized he didn’t know enough about his teacher’s timeline or expectations. Instead of aimlessly circling the issue, we spent part of our session that night sending an email to his teacher. Owen asked questions about email etiquette like why does it need a subject or how do I write the salutation and closing. He was amazed at how quickly his teacher replied and how easy it was to get clarification. He’s a confident and capable adolescent. Knowing how to write an email is going to give Owen more agency in his academic life.

Third, work the plan. Consistent and clear dialogue is key as you move forward. I’m willing to bet that once you have the necessary information and a plan, you and your child will feel less anxious. Less anxiety will make conversations with your child go more smoothly. I’m a believer in frontloading: invest a good amount of time in the beginning and you’ll be able to pull away the scaffolding as your child builds his/her own study skills. Good luck!

 

 

 

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Lieselotte Landgrebe, 1932-2016

lieselotte-landgrebe08112016My grandmother died last month. Below is the eulogy that I wrote for her and read at her funeral…

Oma wasn’t your typical grandma/nana type. No smells of baked goods wafting from a kitchen window or overly saccharine compliments.

She was German-American, a child of the Great Depression, and she survived many hardships. Her way of loving was influenced by that.

But, make no mistake, it was a way of loving—of loving fiercely and steadfastly. You saw her love in her successful marriage, in her commitment to her children—one of whom was a special needs child. You saw the love in her attachment to her grandchildren and her delight in her great-grandchildren.

So this morning, let’s talk about her way of loving.

Oma was a character. She had spunk and fire and she was fun to be around. A quality of hers I’ll miss most is her sense of humor. Oma had this brilliantly irreverent sense of humor. And she had no qualms about employing shock value. No filter. That was her. If Oma had been born a bit later in the 20th century, I’m certain would have had her own Bravo TV show.

011_8aWhen a person has such a sense of humor, there’s a treasure trove of stories and memories to share. Unfortunately, not many of these stories are appropriate to share with a Pastor present.

But I’ll tell one.

At a holiday gathering a few years ago, we sat together and chatted about a new show on HBO—Rome. (This chat, of course, happened after I received the ritual $20 from her shirt. “Here. For gas. Or nails,” she’d say.)

We agreed that Rome was a great show—a little violent but a riveting political drama. But then we got to what Oma really wanted to discuss. Anyone who watches HBO knows the network is not shy about actors baring it all. Oma wanted to talk about James Purefoy—a particularly “talented” actor. My cousin Laura, who was maybe in middle school at the time, came over and tried to sit with us. I thought I would dodge this part of the conversation. But before Laura even sat down in the chair, my Oma promptly dismissed Laura with, “we’re discussingsomething private.” I’m unsure if she intended the double meaning there, but it wasn’t lost on me.

img_8997I giggled so many times when I talked with her. And because my grandmother was so candid and never prim or phony, you could talk to her about anything. She was real. She never tried to put on a façade. And I’ve learned a lot from her in this way.

Oma also grand-parented with a steady hand and a strict eye. If we did something wrong, we knew it. She held us accountable. Like when I was in elementary school and she’d lend me some of her coveted Disney VHS tapes. I believe she delighted in having a movie I’d love to watch and borrow but Oma would also threaten to charge a late fee if I didn’t return it in a timely fashion.

Or there’s the time when she and Opa babysat for Mags and I when my parents went to Jamaica. I cut Driver’s Ed one day and she made me vacuum the same room for like three days in a row. Of course as 15 year old, I felt this punishment was like I was in a chain gang.

img_8100And then there’s the time, I cut rips in my jeans for a cooler look. She took them from me. I thought oh, no. What would she think that I ruined a good pair of pants? And I got some classic Oma side-eye for this. But a week later, I got the jeans back with perfect rips up and down the legs. My grandmother had painstakingly cut and pulled each thread so they looked like they were straight from a designer store. I didn’t realize it at the time but this task must have taken so long and been so tedious. This illustrates the kind of grandmother she was. Sometimes a bit rough in the delivery, but underneath that roughness was a gem of a woman and mother—a gem with diamond strength and clarity in her devotion to her family. Oma held us accountable. Because Oma was never failing in her accountability to her family. And she was unfaltering her accountability to me, to her other grandchildren, to her children and she was unfaltering in her dedication to my grandfather throughout their 63 years of marriage.

I’ve just started a book called Present over Perfect—it’s a bible study written by a mother in her thirties for women at my age and stage. It invites mothers to be present and not strive to be perfect—something mothers often try to be. It says to live with intention and soulfulness. The feeling of love and connection with family and friends will come from that intention, that presence. Oma did this. And she didn’t need a Wednesday evening Bible study to remind her to do it. She was always present. She was always there at her home on Norfeld Blvd until she passed in her bedroom on Monday. When I called to chat, she was there. But of course, after about ten minutes, you’d get “Okay, I’ll let you go.”

birthday-party-pictures-14Well, now it’s up to us to let her go. We will revel in a memory of a woman who was devoted and fun and anything but cliché. She set an example as a grandmother and as a mother and as a wife. Her marriage to my grandfather is an example to me and my husband everyday—a lesson in devotion, in accountability, in faithful love. And I know I can move forward today knowing that I am a better woman for having known and loved my Oma.

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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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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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2015 Goals

Notice how I didn’t call this post New Year’s Resolutions? I hate resolutions. So permanent. So scary.  If I haven’t made the change already, the chance that it’s going to happen just because there’s a new number on my calendar is pretty slim.

Besides, my New Year’s resolution always has to do with losing weight. This could be due to the barrage of Weight Watchers commercials and news pieces about dieting or fitness that tend to gather like media storm clouds at the beginning of each year.  Moreover, the weight loss resolution takes me right out of the positive, hopeful attitude that accompanies the new year. I’m constantly focused on my flaws, on what I don’t have, on what I’m not.

So this time, I’m setting “goals.” Much less intimidating. A goal is something to aspire to, not to fear. And since I’m solidly a millenial with a millennial’s attitude, if I don’t achieve my goals, at least I tried. I’ll still get that little trophy at the end of the little league season whether I got a hit or not. Right?

Pink-dress-lisa-lisa-simpson-7864705-303-550This is not to say that I’m going into 2015 with a laissez-faire attitude. I usually get it done when it comes to my goals. I’m the lady who gave birth to her first child and went to graduate class a week later so she wouldn’t be deterred from finishing her second Masters. (Confession: I also did this to scare impress the professor into putting in a good word for me at her school district.) Yes, I’m that person. I’m a Lisa Simpson.

With an eye toward achieving these goals, I thought I’d make them public.  They are all about self-betterment and therefore have a New Year’s resolution “feel.”  But they are about focusing on adding to my life and being thankful for what I have and how God has blessed me so abundantly.

Not about diets.

Here’s the list (in no particular order):

1. Drink the recommended 8 glasses of water per day. This lady drank a gallon of water everyday for four weeks and look at the difference in her face. I even bought a snazzy pink bottle that holds all eight glasses. I enjoy that it makes me look a little intimidating when I bring it everywhere because I’m all about the branding of my mommyness. Whoa, that lady is such a supermom she gets dehydrated from it.

2. Take real estate apps off my mobile devices & disallow notifications from all social media on my phone. The only notifications I get on my iPhone now are texts or calendar alerts or actual phone calls (<–what a notion!). I took Zillow and Trulia off because we are not shopping for a house until next year at the earliest. Looking at homes just makes me think of something I don’t own: a home. I should be focusing on the beautiful, spacious place we rent, incredible elementary school across the street, and fabulous neighbors like the Sipping Sisters. And as for the social media app notifications, I wish had the fortitude to do away with all of it but I don’t. And I won’t cause I like fotchbook and twitterest. But really? Do I need my phone to have a banner come up every time someone repins my pin about crockpot recipes? No. I’m busy trying to finish this enormous jug of water.

3. Take more iTunes U courses. I think I can replace listening to the same Taylor Swift or Pitbull songs over and over with listening to some podcasts in the car. And while I’m getting ready in the morning or doing dishes, I could be learning something. The course I started on the History of the New Testament is given by a Yale professor and it’s free! When I listen to him talk about Peters travels in Acts or the Gospel of Mark, I feel like my brain isn’t melting from laundry and child rearing anymore.

4. Practice yoga everyday. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes, even if it’s a few sun salutations and that’s it, I think this could be one of the more important parts of my day. I started this practice a few weeks before the holidays, skipping only a day or two. My back already feels stronger and I think I’m sleeping better. However, now with the 8 glasses of water, I’ll be getting up a lot more to use the bathroom. Rats! Foiled again!

Blank book5. Finish my novel Stagecraft. I told my agent it would be done by the time Darcy was born. Yeah, Darcy turns one next week. I better get on this. Where’s my Lisa Simpson hat?! There is some editorial interest in the novel so I owe it to myself to finish the book and see where it goes. If you’re on facebook, like the novel’s page and follow my painstaking process.

Okay, that’s it. I’ll post an update in a few weeks. I promise to be honest about my progress.

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Christmas Reflection

Dec. 27th…

This may turn into a 2014 reflection. In which case, I apologize in advance for the long-windedness and waxing sentimentality. This post will also be rambling and slightly incoherent. It’s 6:02 here in Austin. I’ve been up since 4:09 when my 4yo Jackson busted in our room in tears because he had a bad dream. Zombies again, I think. At 4:34, my 11-month-old dragon baby stood yelling at the corner of her crib and pointing at the red lights on the dropcam. On the monitor itself, Darcy looked like she was pointing at me, eyes glowing fluorescently with camera’s night vision. So I can’t promise anything too profound in this barely caffeinated state. Perhaps “reflection” was a bit of a reach.

So…reflecting on Christmas. This was something I tried in vain to do on December 25th but with all the cooking, cleaning, unwrapping, playing, talking, drinking…well, you know how it goes.

For the second year now, I hosted Christmas. This was something I’ve always wanted to do, even before kids, even before marriage. I alway envisioned my fully decorated home filled with good people, good smells of food cooking, and lots of laughter. That tableau is the Norman Rockwell version.

The saner among us (perhaps those who have hosted Christmas before) know that hosting Christmas is not all its cracked up to be. It is an endless “to do” of menial tasks and endless stress about budgets and whether or not your food will suck. To Do Before 12/25: cookies, cards, decorations, gifts, more cookies because you ate the first batches, menu planning, food shopping, cooking, freezing, defrosting, cooking. And somewhere in there, everyone gets sick and you are somehow supposed to make it to church. I totally failed on that last one. Christmas was most definitely an “Xmas” for us this year save a few reminders to Jackson that “IT’S JESUS’s BIRTHDAY!”

Last year’s Christmas was a blur. I was 36 weeks pregnant with Darcy. Unable to bend too much or stand very long, I can remember sitting on a step stool in my kitchen mired in recipe cards and dirty dishes and suffocating from the heat of the oven. I was just waiting for it to be over.

This year was much different in that regard. I made the conscious effort to accept any offers of help, to split up tasks and accomplish them throughout the month, to plan a menu that was simple, and to take lots of deep breaths. The result was one of the most enjoyable Christmases I’ve ever experienced and yet we had more food, more guests, and more wrapping than ever before.

They say many hands make light work. And mom, dad, my mother-in-law Karen, and C.K. did not disappoint. My mother-in-law, in addition to bringing several side dishes and desserts, helped everyday in the kitchen doing too many tasks to enumerate. By Monday we had basically a full Thanksgiving dinner to serve as our lunches and dinners leading up to Christmas. On Christmas day, she stood there washing and trimming mushrooms for about forty five minutes while I pulled together the other dishes and tried to hide my terror. She did so much in the kitchen that I looked at the dishes last night and thought “Oh, I have to do those?” She left early yesterday morning. Yes, Kristin. You have to do your own friggin’ dishes again.

And it was so nice to have her with us this year. This was the first Christmas we combined both sides of our family and I can’t even begin to express how lovely it was to see my children showered with attention from their grandparents.

My parents got here on Christmas Eve…just in time to take everyone out to a delicious dinner at Truluck’s. Last year, I made the traditional seven fishes dinner. And no, I don’t miss it. Dinner out on Christmas Eve for the win! On Christmas day, my parents arrived with three bags of gifts for us and then spent the day juggling an overtired sick baby girl, drifting in and out of the kitchen to clean and help with any extra tasks. Things just get done when my parents are around. A child is bathed. Clothes are folded and put away. A high chair is wiped down.

My husband, like my parents and mother-in-law, does too much to list here. I just give two examples of how generous a heart he possesses. First, he spent 2.5 hours putting together this Marvel Lego battle station thing at the end of Christmas day. When Jackson finished his bath, he strutted out in his Christmas pjs and promptly started taking it apart. C.K. didn’t complain at all. We did take a picture of him with the finished product for posterity though. And second, my husband, in addition to all his support of my “Christmasing” (especially the parts where I go over budget,) he got me basically everything on my Amazon wishlist.

Today we will celebrate Christmas with my little sister Maggie who spent her holiday working in the ER. She will never say it aloud but she is a fantastic physician whose medical knowledge is only outweighed by her compassion. I can’t wait to see her today, exchange gifts…and do more eating and drinking!

So Christmas was great. It was Darcy’s first. She killed it in her red velvet dress and despite being sick, she handled all the hoopla like a champ. And Jackson seems to enjoy it more every year. He is the best “gift-getter” I’ve ever met. Really, if any of you ladies out there don’t want to open all your bridal shower gifts in front of your party guests, Jackson will stand in. Upon opening his yoga mat, Jackson exclaimed, “A yoga mat! Finally! I’ve wanted one for so long. Thank you so much.” Every gift, toy or otherwise, was met with the same enthusiasm and gratitude. When I asked Jackson at dinner what his favorite gift was, he responded matter-of-factly, “my new jeans.”

Aren’t you lucky I didn’t go through the entire year? It’s late now but I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa, and/or a Merry Feastivus/long weekend. And may your 2015 be filled with joy.

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The Elf on the Shelf Debaucle

It sounded like a good idea. All my friends on facebook were doing it. All my church pals who had little kiddos were talking about it.

The Elf on the Shelf.

I decided that this year Christmas would be extra magical. There would be decorating of cookies, our annual Nutcracker trip, tree trimming, present wrapping…and now there would be a stealthy elf who would hide in a different spot every night. Jackson would wake up, find him (maybe even with a little note or an advent present), and be the happiest kid ever.

That didn’t happen.

It all started this Thursday. I put Darcy down for her afternoon nap and Jackson and I went and played on his iPad on my bed. (Disclosure: I dozed while he played on his iPad. It happens.) But before we retreated to the master bedroom, a package arrived. I spied inside and saw the box set, complete with cheaply made toy elf and the classic book that explained his mythology. While Jackson was getting out his iPad, I snuck over to the tree and put it in plain sight.

When Darcy woke an hour later, I walked out in the livingroom and the act was on. “Jackson! Something came from the North Pole.” He ran out, little socks trying in vain to grip our parquet wood floors.  “What is it?,” he said, eyes filled with wonderment and glee as he held up the box. I grabbed Darcy from her crib and sat down to read him the book.

“I bet some of your friends already have one,” I smiled. But then I realized that he might ask why we only just got a scout elf . Think fast. “I knew we would get our elf when Darcy came along.” (If you’re keeping score, that’s friendly fib number two.)

I read the book with such feeling. I highlighted all the parts about how the elf is magical and comes alive at night. For those of you who don’t know the Elf’s mythology, here’s a quick run down…

  1. He’s from the North Pole. (or Amazon.com)

  2. You have to give him a name. (Saves money on personalized box printing.)

  3. He comes alive every night and visits his friends in the North Pole then goes all inanimate during the day. He’ll always be in the different place though. (Think Toy Story when humans are around.)

  4. He reports on his child’s behavior to Santa.

  5. He comes every year on Thanksgiving night and leaves after Christmas.

  6. You cannot touch him. His magic will fade if you do.

So I made sure to highlight the magical-little-elf-who-comes-alive-at-night part. I knew Jackson would have a blast looking for him each morning. I downplayed the whole Foucaultpanopticon part. We won’t have any Big-Brother-is-watching-you crap in this house. Besides, Jackson is good–and not because he’s afraid of some fictional portly man who lives up north. Jackson behaves because he has a healthy fear of me and C.K. Duh. Like when I say I’m going to vacuum up his legos if he doesn’t pick them up…NOW. And then I walk to the hall closet. Jackson gets his little butt on the floor and scoops all those precious legos into their bin. Why? Because I actually will vacuum up those little legos. Anyone who has stepped on a lego with bare feet will know how insanely gratifiying vacuuming up legos might be. Eff those legos.

But I digress. We read the story. His face was so precious, so full of awe. He took the directive about not touching the elf very seriuosly, using it as an excuse to boss around his 10-month-old sister. “Don’t touch Mr. Elf, Baby Darcy. No presents for you!”

We read the book a second time. Jackson was still completely plugged in. Then I suggested we call his grandmother to tell her about this most magical event that has transpired. “Yes! Call Meema.”

And that’s when it happened. Not five minutes into that fateful Facetime call, Jackson’s mood changed. “I don’t like him,” he whispered, a grim expression on his face.

Jackson realized it–something we all know about the Elf on the Shelf. That shit is creepy. He’s small. He grins all the time. He wears a ridiculous hat. He watches your every move. And then, the worst of it, he comes alive when you sleep. Now, supposedly the Elf just goes to the North Pole. But Jackson doesn’t know that. Maybe the Elf breaks your toys, vacuums your legos, climbs into bed with you, takes your soul. Who knows?

“I don’t like him. I don’t like his magic,” he cried. Now there were tears. I told my mom I’d call her right back. And then the lies just poured out of me. “He’s a good elf. He’s not a bad elf.” (Shit. Now he thinks there are bad elves.) “The elf is just Santa’s helper.” “The elves are making your Skylanders.”

“I don’t want him!” Jackson screamed, really terrified now. I called my mom back thinking she would help. He adores his Meema. Surely, she would play along with this amazing little fib.

But she was no help. We’ll leave it at that. No, we won’t. Not only did my mom yell at me to get rid of the elf, she could barely contain her laughter that this had gone so horribly wrong for me.

All the while, Jackson is now hollering at the top of his lungs, “Get his magic out of the house!” And my favorite line: “Give the elf to the poor kids.”  This was a clear sign that another advent activity was going wrong. I want Jackson to pick some toys to give to Salvation Army or Any Baby Can. I’ve been prepping him slowly for this painful decision. I want him to know that others don’t have as much and so it’s important to make some efforts to take care of others. Evidently, he’s not absorbing these values.

 After getting off the phone with Meema a second time, I had to come clean. “He’s just a story and a toy. He doesn’t really come alive.”

And that was all it took. Now “Knob” the elf is a happy addition to our home. And every few hours, Jackson asks me to hide him again. He shouts, “Let’s play Elf on the Shelf!”

Jackson did agree, however, that we should keep the magic part for Baby Darcy. And for Daddy.

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Our Heroine Goes to the Pool

Recently I’ve added pool time to my stay-at-home-mom daily routine. It breaks up the afternoon and simultaneously gets us out of the house and out of the heat. As I float around today with my two babies, I can’t  help but ponder my pool times before the arrival of these cherubs in my life. Back then, my main objective was to look good in a bathing suit. Now, vanity plays a much lesser role. I smirk as I wonder “Does this count as my shower for today?”

Before kids, I would see how I could weasel another drink out whoever was dry enough to go inside. Oh hey, are you getting out? I’ll take another beer. And then there’s the internal monologue that ensue when nature calls.  Damn, I have to pee. That means drying off, going inside, wriggling awkwardly out of my bathing suit then pulling the wet suit back on. Would anyone really know if I just peed in the pool?


But any young parent knows that pool time with kids is different, much more than sucking in your gut and debating the ethics of swimming pool urination.
There’s the hyper vigilance of having to keep your children alive. There’s the cramp in my left arm that’s cradling my 21 pound six-month-old as she kicks her chubby thighs frantically through the water. There’s the repetitive, ridiculously loud exclamations of my four year old. And then there’s me, pacing back and forth in the shallow end, trying to engage in whatever deranged narrative Jackson has created for today’s play and employing phrases like “use your walking feet” whenever Jackson scampers dangerously around the cement edge.

And you know what? Pool time is pretty awesome. Today Jackson wants to play a live action version of Plants vs. Zombies. Darcy and I are the “plants.” I am equipped with a green beach ball that I pelt at Jackson as he repeatedly swims from the stairs to my location. Even with the aches in my back and my four year old droning on about how he wants to eat my brains, I’m enjoying his laughter. And even though he thinks he’s a zombie, I’m watching him teach himself how to swim as I move farther and farther away each time we restart the game. And Darcy is happy too. She’s floating in my arms, breathing the summer breeze, and feeling the contrast of the Texas heat and the cool water.  As a typical second child, Darcy has no pool toys of her own. Still the baby contently chews on Jackson’s old water wing. And she’ll take a nap when we return home.

I’ll take it.

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