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To Play Or Not to Play?

Morning. Today I am over at the You Plus 2 Parenting site, joining other writers/bloggers/parents in the 28 Days of Play series.

I could have written about six different posts for this series. I was surprised by how much there is to say about play and how it can make you feel so many different things: joy, anger, guilt, nostalgic, connected, delight, boredom. I ended up writing about how I think it is okay to say no to playing with your kids (sometimes).

Here is a sneak peek:

Sometime in 2010.      It is 5:54 pm. I am sitting on the floor of our living room, surrounded by hundreds of little cars. My son lines them up one by one by one, his chubby fingers wobbly but determined. He has a plan; he is building something. What, I don’t know, but later I will see this same concentration when he builds LEGO cities and worlds in Minecraft. He does not want my participation, only that I watch him. He wants my eyes on him at all times. He is adorable, and happy, and I am bored out of my mind.

Go HERE to read the rest! And be sure to check out the other thoughtful posts while you are there.

Happy Saturday!

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‘Tis The Season?

The other morning at breakfast, when I was hawkishly watching the clock, making lunches, “encouraging” the kids to hurry up, and trying to take even one sip of the coffee I poured, my six-year old son decided to initiate the talk.

“You know, Mom, I’m not sure Santa is real.”

“Hmmm,” I said, eyeing my three-year old daughter. She was not paying attention, instead making a mush out of the eggs, waffles, cereal, and banana she insists on every morning. We really don’t have time for this, I thought.

“Why do you think that?” I said instead.

“Well,” Oliver said, “I just find it interesting that there is no evidence of Santa. Like, no one ever has ever seen him, or caught him. I just find that hard to believe, that no one has ever seen him come down the chimney.”

“Maybe it’s the magic? I mean, maybe he’s just that good at it.” I offered.

“Yeah, Mom, I know magic isn’t real. Come on. But it is Santa. So maybe only he has the magic.”

Nice save. I agreed and then told him for the 1,853rd time that morning to hurry up.

Logically, it doesn’t surprise me that a six-year old might start to question Santa. Emotionally, I am shocked. How is he already six? How much more time do I have? It really had not occurred to me that our Santa days might be numbered.

We have an Elf. His name is Winston (after Ghostbusters) and I resent him. Last year I didn’t even pull him out of the box, but my son came home one day puzzled as to why his elf wasn’t here yet. So the elf has returned. I am frankly proud that we remember to move him at all. But O, my eternally enthusiastic first-born, wants more. He asked me the other day when his elf was going to cause mischief and make messes and you know, “do stuff”.

I wanted to lie down on the floor and cry. I am not a Pinterest mom. I’m okay with that- it’s not my thing. Our tree went up the day after Thanksgiving, we listen to Christmas music every morning, and watch every Christmas show possible, and drink hot chocolate, and decorate Gingerbread houses, and on and on. I love Christmas. I’m into it. But the thought of having to be “creative” with some stuffed elf is too much for me.

After a few days of watching Elf-related creative nonsense on my Facebook page and Instagram feed,  I finally lost my urge to write “Barf” or “Get a life” in the comment section. I decided it couldn’t be too hard to make a little mess, so I copied some ideas.

I had “Winston” pull down my son’s Halloween candy (yes, OMG, we still have his Halloween candy, I keep forgetting to throw it away). I made it look like he had spilled it everywhere and put open wrappers everywhere, and in his hands a lollipop. I have to admit, the look on Winston’s face is kinda hilarious. I made sure to only open candy that my son doesn’t like.

The next morning, I was even a little excited to have him find his elf, and to finally witness some mischief. Oliver took one look at all of his candy and burst into tears. “I hate that elf, I can’t believe he took all my candy! I love candy! Whyyyyyyyy would he do that?”

Elf- 47. Mom- 0. I thought, you question the existence of Santa, but somehow you think this creepy stuffed doll is actually stealing your candy? But he does. He totally thinks this elf is real.

‘Tis the kind of season we are having.

I’m so tired these days, a deep and lingering tiredness I haven’t felt since newborn days. I’m not sure what is causing it- I’m not getting enough sleep, but enough that I shouldn’t be this heavy. That it coincides with the busiest time of the year isn’t lost on me. Daily I think of all of the wonderful holiday-themed things I want to be doing, and then I take a nap.

My plan this year (every year) was to be done shopping early December so that I could focus on the “fun” stuff- decorating cookies, wrapping presents, seeing holiday plays, making gingerbread houses, and the list goes on. Like every year, that didn’t happen. I’ve been decidedly bummed about all of this. I’m telling myself to get over it. There is only so much we can do. But I still feel a little angry about it.

The weekend after Thanksgiving was unnaturally chilly and gray. We bundled up and headed out to pick out our first real tree. We wove between the majestic green giants, looking for a not-so-tall one. The smell of fir trees is intoxicating. That this kind of smell exists in our world is magic enough. We found one, pointed it out, and watched the salesman put a “sold” tag on it. Then we went to a noodle house for warm Ramen soup. Next we got hot chocolates and wandered around Toys R Us, letting the kids put things on their Christmas list. It was a perfect, unplanned, very Christmas-y kind of day. Since then, it’s climbed back into the 70’s. The days are warm and glorious, but not appropriate for picking out a tree. I keep thinking I’m so grateful I let my husband convince me to do it early, that we got that one perfect day. I always want to orchestrate the “perfect’ moments, but they usually come when you aren’t paying attention.

We have a big hole in our ceiling due to a leak. The job to fix it keeps getting more complicated. My husband is too busy at work right now, working late every night, and feeling sad about missing so much time with the kids. I have a list filled with things like make cookies and donate toys that is not getting done. I rushed around the mall yesterday and ended up with eight sets of Christmas pajamas for the kids, but none of the gifts I needed. There is always stuff going on with my family, with his family, stuff too complicated to get into. My writing is slipping, I yell too much, my house is a constant mess.

We have a real tree, though. And a real wreath on our front door. My husband and mother found this amazing Gingerbread candle that we light every day. The smell of Christmas is everywhere. The twinkle of our haphazardly decorated tree outshines the hole in the ceiling. Nights are chilly enough for hot chocolate and sometimes a fire. Every night we cuddle on the couch- Oliver in his plaid pajama pants and Ivy in her tacky red fake-velvet princess Christmas nightgown- and pick their Christmas book for the night from the book advent calendar I made (the one thing I did I’m proud of). It’s a mix of old and new books, and just for a moment, both of my kids are cuddled against me. Nobody is too old for anything and nobody is fighting. Everyone is simply still, listening and reading and taking it in. It’s my favorite time of the day.

‘Tis the kind of season we are having. Too busy, too tired, but sprinkled with some pretty wonderful moments.

And I’ve even embraced the elf, a bit. I might think it’s ridiculous, but it brings my kids joy. So be it. Last night I wrote in red lipstick on our bathroom mirror “Eat More Sugar” (totally stolen from my friend). The kids thought it was hilarious. Our morning was filled with giggles and dancing instead of the usual grumbling and yelling. I’ll take it.

Tis The Season. What kind of season are you having? What are the little things you are enjoying?

 

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Morning Thoughts

Tuesday. It is 6:15 am and I’m up early. I started getting up early to write when I joined one of Jena Schwartz’s magical 2 week writing groups. I still wake up at 5:30 every morning, pour a cup of coffee, and sit in front of the computer. I haven’t been able to write much though. But every day, I am here, hoping the practice is enough. That showing up is enough.

There is a storm brewing outside. I can hear the wind frothing itself up. It unnerves me. Sudden thunderstorms and rain and flooding are common here, and I still cannot get used to them. I love thunderstorms, but the flooding and the wind, and today, the possibility of a tornado, set me on edge. I want to keep the children home. I want to keep the world away, with its tornados and car accidents and trees falling on people and school shootings and people being blown up on a Paris street and on and on and on.

My daughter has started calling out for me once a night. Sometimes it’s for her pacifier that has fallen. Sometimes it’s because she needs to pee. Last night it was just that she wanted to see me. At a different point in my life, this would have annoyed me, exhausted me. But I welcome the call. She is growing faster than I anticipated, and I just want to see her too.

My son comes into our room in the middle of the night. It’s not good for him, for us, for so many reasons. I always boasted that our kids never slept in our bed, until of course, I was proven wrong. I am surprised by how little I mind. When I wake up and feel his little knees in my back, or the delicate heft of his arm around me, or see him curled up into his father, I feel at peace. He is here, where I can feel him. He is safe. He has not yet grown up and away from me.

Like the weather, like the headlines, what I worry about changes so quickly. Mothering changes so quickly.

Wednesday. 5:54 a.m. Again, up early, again a quiet house, again fighting for the words. Yesterday I got home from the grocery store at 10:30 a.m. and was sweating through the humidity. I went inside, took a shower, made lunch for my daughter and her friend, and went back outside again at 11:15. It had dropped at least twenty degrees, the wind had picked up, and it began to rain. The storm had arrived.

As usual, the anticipation was worse. It rained heavily, for sure, but no tornados, no flash flooding, nothing but a good drenching. Once I realized it wasn’t dangerous, I welcomed it. There is something about being in the middle of  a storm, only able to see a few feet ahead of you, that slows things down. I worried about the immediate- how to get the girls from the car to the door without getting them soaked. I reminded myself to buy an umbrella. I bought a tea to warm up. I planned the best way home. I listened to the girls’ chatter, to the hum of the radio. Everything felt like a comfort.

Later that night, my daughter asked to sleep in her big girl bed. She is almost 3.5, definitely ready, but she has resisted. I don’t push her- she always says she is not ready yet, and her crib is so cozy. I can’t argue with that. Last night I watched her dance around her new bed, piling it with all of her stuffed animal friends and at least six blankets. She looked up at me and said, I’m kind of a big girl now. I really loved being a baby, but I have to be a big girl now. Then she launched herself into my arms, and nestled her head into my shoulder. This girl is a champion hugger. I felt pulled into a million pieces, but just hugged her tighter.

After some shenanigans by her brother, and another cuddle and lay-down, she easily went to sleep. I waited for her to change her mind, to call for me, to want her crib back. I am still waiting.

Friday, 6:23 a.m. Head pounding. Can I possibly get a cold on top of a sinus infection?  Computer keeps glitching. There is a huge boat-shaped water stain on my living room ceiling. I keep watching it grow bigger, and waiting for the ceiling to fall. My dog keeps staring at me, wanting to go outside, wanting to come back in. Some days it’s hard to start out with ease.

Has it only been a week since the Paris attacks? Every time something like this happens, it feels like my view of the world is taken apart, and I have to find a way to put it back together again. I am looking through a kaleidoscope at a blue world, and now it is purple. Now it is green. No, now it’s green, blue, purple, red, all jumbled together.

The day after the attacks, all I could hear running through my head was a quote from Frederick Buechner- “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things happen here. Don’t be afraid”. My first response was of anger, even rage, and hatred. My first response was to shut down, close walls. But when I posted those words on Instagram, I thought, no. Paris is Paris is Paris and will always be bigger than this. Paris is hundred of years of history and magic and stories and memories that can never be dismantled. And instead of looking toward the terrible, dwelling on the fear, I insist on looking for the beautiful. Even when it’s hard.*

*I wrote this a few weeks ago, and was planning on editing it. But reading it back, I think it’s better as-is, messy and with no ending. It captures what I was feeling then, and I can’t edit that. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All in One Morning

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I step out onto the porch, herding the kids outside to wait for their carpool. I am no longer blasted by the heat; instead, it is cool- not quite crisp, not yet, but cool enough to let me know that summer has finally moved on. I notice one of our Halloween pumpkins has melted into the step, caving in on itself. The jagged mouth has melted open, showing us the ruin within: blue and green fuzz covers the once-vibrant orange walls, and tiny flies zoom in and out. It’s di-gusting, as my daughter says. Nature is so cool, as my son says.

I see them off, after too-many hugs good-bye. I hear my daughter yell from the open window, “I wuv you to infinity and beyond!”. I wave and go back inside to the house, startling in its sudden quiet. I feel the pull to the page, but first I rinse the breakfast dishes, and clean up the debris from the tornados that just left- shoes and dolls and nightgowns and t-shirts and a “map” and rocks and acorns and Legos. I walk past the tiny bathroom crouched under the stairs and notice the tulips spilling out of the vase. Yesterday the tulips were tequila sunset orange and standing tall. This morning the stalks have draped themselves over the sides of the vase like a waterfall, and the orange flowers have collapsed into a muted puddle of what they once were. It is beautiful, and creepy. Nature is so cool. I take a picture and realize I have forgotten to turn the page of the calendar. I turn the page, October rolls back and November is revealed.

I walk back towards the computer, but then my husband emerges from the bathroom asking me if his tie is too much color. No, I love it, I say. Did you see that my aunt won a Country Music Award last night?

No, he says, that’s awesome. I’ll watch it tonight.

Oh, I say, don’t forget I have that kindergarten mom thing tonight.

Ok, he says, but what if I have to get drinks with the client?

As long as you are home by seven, I say.

I watch him put on his tie, thinking how hot he looks. I want to wrap my arms around him and feel his stubble on my cheek. He is crisp and clean, off to be a man at work. I am disheveled and distracted, perched in my chair, still in my slippers. I have work to do too, but invisible work, at home and behind the scenes.

We then discuss my daughter’s gymnastics class, our son’s plan to invite friends over for an obstacle course/police training day, dinner tonight, and his latest case. This is our moment of catching up.

I go to get more coffee, glad for a few more minutes to write. Then I see the eggs on the counter, the cut-up mushrooms, the onions, the bacon, and the spinach. I forgot I was planning on cooking breakfast. I sigh, and look at the clock, and begin cracking the eggs.

Finally I am here. I am out of time. But first, a few words. November. Our seasons are out of sync here. The heat of summer lingers and lingers into October. It does not get chilly until January. The November in my head and the November outside do not match up. I think about the flowers- so beautiful even in their death. There is no sadness; that is the way of nature. The flowers grow and bloom into something impossibly beautiful, and then they are no more. Maybe there is no sadness because they have done their job, fulfilled their purpose, left no potential on the table.

I am listening to The National on Pandora. I am filled with yearning. To write like that, someday. To reach that potential, maybe. To have my words fulfill their purpose, to match what I feel on the inside to what I say on the paper. This morning feels like a Mary Oliver poem come to life: beauty, death, nature, amazement, life small and large. All in one vase of tulips. All in one rotting pumpkin. All in one morning.

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Little Earthquakes (O Turns Six)

O started kindergarten last week. I am trying to write about it here, capture the day, but it’s all a blur. It was also his sixth birthday, and he started kindergarten, at a new school. All big things, all carrying their own weight of emotion and fault lines, but yet I didn’t see it coming. Writing it down- 6, kindergarten, new school- it seems obvious. But like most things, I was caught up in the mundane- what time do we wake him up, should we open presents before school or after, what time did I need to leave for carpool, what is the best way there, how do I navigate the new school, what time should I make his birthday dinner reservations for?

I don’t remember specifics of the morning. It went smoothly- he pulled on his uniform, a crisp white polo shirt, never worn, gently imprinted with a white crest of his new school, a school where he will most likely spend the next thirteen years. Khaki shorts and a belt. His hair is still shocking blond, even though we cut most of the long pool-stained hair off last week. It is short on the sides, with a longer swoop in the front. He looks young and older at the same time, he looks goofy and yet so handsome. He opened one present, a SWAT backpack from his godfather in California, an actual police detective. He slung the backpack on his back, hopped out front and willingly posed for pictures. I don’t remember being so in the moment, or so aware of how mature he looked. I only remember being stressed about time, about being angry that Ives was being so uncooperative. My neighbor came out to see O, and rightly told me to relax.

The rest of the morning went smoothly- picked up our carpool mate, made it to school without any traffic or issue, navigated the carpool line. We were in line and I saw a parking spot. We’d been advised that parking would be difficult and we could walk our kids in if we wanted, but it wasn’t necessary. I asked O if he wanted me to park and walk them in. No, he said, I got this. And his carpool mate said no way, moms don’t go in. I smiled, proud of my kid that is always up for anything, that is so independent and enthusiastic.

I pull up, the doors open, he jumps out, the door slams, and I drive off. As I heard the door slam, I felt a rushing weight rise up in me, like a magnet seeking its mate. I drive forward, though every molecule was pulling me back. I know he doesn’t need me, which is why I began crying. He really doesn’t need me. And while that makes me so happy, as that is the way he should be, it makes me so sad, because I didn’t see it coming. I hear Ivy’s little voice from behind me: Mom, are you cwying? Are you sad?

Yes, baby, I’m a little sad.

Why?

Because O is my baby too and he’s going to school and it makes me a little sad to see him grow up.

That’s silly, Mama, O is not a baby. I’m a baby. And I am not growing up. It’s too picy (spicy).

Yes, but you’re both my kids and will always sort of be my babies.

Oh. Are you sad?

I’m happy and sad.

Oh mama, that’s silly. It’s ok, I still here.

I hadn’t noticed, not really, how much had changed with him. Five seemed so big to me, six just seems impossible. Six is a big kid. Six makes me a different kind of mother, in a different stage. I have done no prep work for this. Babies, I feel like I get. I read books, and had online groups, and talked to friends, and lived through it twice. I knew what milestones were coming up, knew (sort of) what to expect. But six. I just don’t know. Six is different for every kid. Elementary school starts with all these potential problems- school work and bullying and being left out and things that I used to help navigate for him at play dates. Now it’s kind of out of my hands. I can counsel him, I can listen, I can step in, but I can’t really do much but let him walk through it. It’s his life, his path, his beginning.

I hadn’t noticed because in many ways he’s still little. He still creeps into our bed every single night. He still lights up when he sees his dad. He still whines and I still fight with him about eating. He still can’t be alone and he still wants us to read books to him at night and give him a bath and we are still his favorite people (mostly).

But there are other things, warning signs, that I hadn’t picked up on. He no longer always says “I love you infinity infinity twenty” when leaving or saying good night. He lets Ivy do that now, because it’s babyish. He asked me to take down a picture of him and Ivy kissing that is on our fridge because it is private, and embarrassing. He protects Ivy, tells me that they are working it out when I hear them fighting. He gives her the last cookie. He tries to use bad words and play video games. He no longer really plays with his cars. He left his dog dog in California, and while there were many tears about it, the tears were about leaving dog dog behind and alone, not because he needs him to sleep anymore. These are small, yes, but still small earthquakes that are setting the stage for bigger breaks.

And then he came home from his first day. And my little soldier, who is always happy and always excited and always positive, melted down. It started with a quaver in his voice about his teacher. Then a few what ifs intensified (what if I get kicked out of school? what if I have to go to the principal? what if kindergarten is too hard?). And then he lay in my lap, and cried and cried and cried. I held him and tried to reassure him. I was unprepared for this, too. Of course he was anxious and overwhelmed. Besides being exhausted from the weekend birthday festivities and waking up early, this was a new school. He had been at the same preschool since he was three, with the same kids. Now he was somewhere where he didn’t really know anyone. Most parents would be worried. Not me, because O is usually so unflappable. He is the kid that walks into camp alone and leaves with three new best friends. He makes friends walking down the street, at the airport. But still, he’s a little guy and it’s all new. I should have been prepared, I should have seen it coming.

I held him and we talked about it. I think I said the right things. By the time his dad came home, he was in great spirits and back to everything was great. The second day was better than the first, and the third day was even better.

What I am realizing this week is that we are all just beginners. Always beginning again, always having to find new ways of navigating, always feeling a little behind. He is beginning kindergarten, but I am beginning again too, as a different kind of mother, different kind of person. We are both just feeling our way through it. And acknowledging that I am a beginner somehow makes me feel better, reminds me that it’s okay I don’t have it all figured out. I’m still beginning, always starting over- as a mother, as a writer, as a daughter, as a wife. Running, writing, yoga, meditating, mothering, lawyering- it’s all a practice, and it all requires starting from the beginning, every day. There is no finish line, not one that I am interested in anyways.

Later that night he crawled into our bed much later than normal and I found myself waking periodically, wondering if he was okay, if I should go check on him. I didn’t, as we have been trying to get him to stay in his bed. But when I heard him cry out for me, I felt relief. I ran upstairs and he was huddled in his bed, the sheet wrapped around his head like a mummy. What is it? I asked. I’m scared, he said, and I couldn’t see you. I’m right here, I said, and picked him up. I carried him downstairs, his legs now dangling past my knees. He curled up between us, his bony knees finding their usual place in my back, and began twitching, which is how he falls asleep. This normally drives me crazy and I move over, but that night I stayed where I was. He held my hand, his little hand as light and insubstantial as a butterfly. My husband reached over and held my other hand, and we all were quiet in the dark. I stayed awake, listening to the night, knowing that this too will soon be a story of his childhood that we will tell, another thing that he leaves behind as he grows up.

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Summer. Reading.

Summer + Reading. Two things I love, that are so much better together. Summer seems to be both busier, and yet lazier. A perfect time to do more reading, but, for me at least, reading that is a bit looser and breezy; books that I can fall into, but not have to think so much. I give myself a break and just read for fun. I try to keep a list of books I want to read. Here’s a few on my list:

In The Unlikely Event (Judy Blume)

The Rocks (Peter Nichols)

The Sunlit Night- Rebecca Dinerstein

Saint Mazie (Jami Attenberg)

Among the Ten Thousand Things (Julia Pierpont)

Circling The Sun- Paula McClain

Barbara the Slut and Other People (Lauren Holmes)

Woman With a Secret (Sophie Hannah)

Eileen (Otessa Moshfegh)

Summer Secrets (Jane Green)

China Rich Girlfriend (Kevin Kwan)

How To Start a Fire (Lisa Lutz)

A Window Opens (Elisabeth Egan)

I am also planning to dive into Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes and his new one.  Finders Keepers. I love some Stephen King creepiness on hot summer days. And catch up on some releases from the past year: Euphoria by Lily King, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

How about classics? I always try to revisit a classic. Thinking of either To Kill a Mockingbird, which feels timely given the release of Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set A Watchman. Or perhaps East of Eden, which I’ve never read.

And a few recommendations of books I read over the past year and loved:

California (Edan Lepucki) –  This is a crazy novel, in the best way. Set in California after a civilization break-down, a young married couple (Cal and Frida) escape to live in the wilderness. They live alone for awhile, until they discover a secret community that changes everything. It is a novel that makes you think, yet is still a page-turner. The most fascinating aspect to me was how the viewpoints of the main characters change so many different times over the course of the book. Warning: I recommended it for my mother’s book club and every woman complained so much after the first chapter that they had to pick a new book. Not for everyone.

Happiness For Beginners (Katherine Center) Easy, breezy novel that I read in a day. The type of book where you love living with the characters. Fun and happy.

2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas (Marie-Helene Bertino) –  This book is awesome. Quirky, funny, heart-felt, and sprinkled with some truly beautiful sentences. I want to follow the young heroine, Madeleine Altimari, around forever.

Night Film– Marisha Pessl – Another crazy film. Dark and disturbed. I have no idea how this writer came up with such an insane world. The ending is straight out of a bizarre movie that you re-watch and re-watch and have a different opinion after each viewing.

Life Drawing– Robin Black – I will read anything Robin Black writes. Her collection of short stories, If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, is one of my all-time favorites. This is her first novel, and it doesn’t disappoint. She packs so much action and emotion into every page, and so much happens in this relatively short novel. I loved it.

 

What’s on your list?

Happy Reading!

xo, A.

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Thank You, Lisa Bonchek Adams

I didn’t know Lisa Bonchek Adams personally; I only followed her words on her blog and Twitter. However, in that weird but wonderful way of this community, I felt like I knew her. Even though her writing focused on her metastatic cancer, even though she was very clear and direct about her prognosis, I still was stunned to hear of her death this weekend. Lisa was a force; a bold, funny, fierce, and compassionate woman. It does not seem possible that there is anything in this world capable of silencing her. I have a letter I began to her, never finished, about how her writing affected my life. Even though she wrote about dying, she taught us how to live. I wish I’d finished that letter. I wish I’d gotten the chance to let her know how much she moved me.

I kept going to her site this weekend. I wasn’t sure why; nothing changed, the beautiful picture of her with the news of her death was still the only thing I saw. And then it hit me- I wanted to hear her words. I wanted to hear her view on the end, on how it felt, on her family, on what the next step was like. I wanted to hear her final wrap up, her cut-to-the-heart truth.

Perhaps it is selfish, to want that. But it just seems impossible that she doesn’t get the final say.

I read and copied this quote awhile back; I am not sure where I came across it. But it kept echoing in my mind this weekend, whenever I thought about Lisa.

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth- though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.” ~ Hannah Senesh

In honor of Lisa: please make your doctor appointments. Find a bit of beauty in the world, and share it. And consider donating to her research fund.

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Suspended In A Sunbeam

February has been a strange month of busyness and slowness, sickness and healthy eating, springlike days and frigid nights. Good news, bad news. Every day, it turns. This quote from Carl Sagan never ceases to be strangely comforting to me.

Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there– on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

~Carl Sagan from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of The Human Future in Space

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Not Yet (JustWrite)

Lately I can feel that change is coming. Change is not unusual; it is inevitable and part of life, part of the seasons, part of everything. What is unusual is that I’m aware of it before it is happening. Usually, especially as it relates to small children, our lives seem to move into a phase and stay there for a good long while, sometimes interminably it seems. I get so used to these phases, and then am surprised one day to realize that something has shifted- the baby stopped waking up at night, the toddler stopped asking for a light on, the bottles of milk tapered off, multiple naps became two, then one, then none. The changes don’t happen overnight of course, and it’s often one step forward, one step back, so it takes awhile to acknowledge and settle into the new normal.

But somehow this time, I feel it coming. My little girl is reluctantly becoming a “big little girl” as she calls it, and my son is actively campaigning to be a big kid. It’s becoming hard to ignore.

One of my favorite moments of the day is waking up my baby girl. She rises early but doesn’t call out, singing and talking to herself and her stuffed animals. She likes her alone time in the crib. Sometimes I go in on my own, sometimes she calls out “Mama, I ready now!”. Either way, I open the door into a haven- her room is still and quiet, the sound of a quiet rain swishing around the room, the sweet smell of a sleeping baby fills my everything. She raises her arms and I pull her to me, where she curves into my body like a comma, like a question mark. She is the best hugger. She nestles her head into my neck, and sighs, holds on tight. She smells so good- an indefinable smell of her babyhood, like puppy breath that will be gone too soon.

Her legs are too long. They dangle, past my hip, almost to my knees. I cannot hold on with one hand anymore. I have to bend deeply before I pick her up. She squeezes her legs around me tighter, so as not to slip and let go. I lay her on the changing table and realize, she is too big to be on a changing table. I realize it’s time, time for potty training, for giving up the pacifier, for a big girl bed to take the place of her crib. I am not ready. I always hold on too long to these transitions. Not because I am afraid of doing them, but because I know these things mark the end of her babyhood. The end of my babyhood, for she is my last.

I say to her, You are such a big girl now. She says, I know, mama. No more paci, and I get to wear underwears! And pull ups! And no crib. I must look sad, becasue she reaches up and touches my cheek with her beloved lovey. But not yet, mama, not yet. I think she says not yet for me. I think she knows I need a few more moments of this.

At least I have a faded map of that transition, from baby to toddler to preschooler. We might take some detours,  but I have been down the road before. With my son, we are navigating blind. He has been mine for so long it seems, in my care and physically and emotionally dependent on me, that it’s unclear where he ends and we begin. He has spent five years being next to me, on me, around me. Obviously we spend time apart, but when he’s not at school or at a friend’s, he is orbiting me. But lately, he is spinning off on his own. At five, he is desperate to be a “big kid”. He has started taking his own baths, getting dressed on his own, making his own breakfasts, taking off way ahead of me on his bike. His face is more angular now, he looks like the boy he will become. He sits with his legs crossed like his dad’s, he tries to roll his eyes, he asks to sit at his own table, he wants to do it all by himself. He is reading, he uses words like “awkward”, we have complicated conversations. He is getting farther away from me. He always comes back, of course, but it’s the first leap in the beginning of a long but certain separation.

The change I sense is a change from being a family of littles to a family of little kids. We have been cocooned at home for so long, it’s hard to remember what we did before kids with all our free time, and even harder to imagine what comes next. O just started TBall. Two practices a week, and a game. Too much, I think, but that is what it is. Now we are splitting up as a family. Now we are having different dinners and bedtimes as evening activities present themselves for the first time. My neighbors mostly have elementary school age kids and there have been many times when I envied their relative freedom compared to mine. I am standing on the porch, tethered to the sleeping baby during naptime, while they are free to move about, to go to movies with their kids, and do bike rides. Unless we have a sitter, we leave the neighborhood get togethers first, as we still have kids that need a bedtime, while they continue the party. They take their kids to plays, on interesting vacations, send them to camp. My response is always, not yet, they are too little. Except now, O is not too little.

Now that this is our next step, I am surprised to find myself resisting. I don’t want things to change. The interminable attachment to and from my kids is suddenly not so interminable. There is an expiration date. I realize, too late of course, how much I treasure and adore this cocoon of family life we have. Dinner and bath and bedtime every night, the same. Being at home all together. Being needed. Being required to give an additional eight hugs, or nine kisses, or another glass of water, or another story every night. What I thought was frustrating and never-ending is, in fact, glorious and fleeting.

For now, I’m holding on to “not yet”.

This post was a part of JustWrite, an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments. Click here to read more, or join in.

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Clouds In My Pocket

A few weekends ago, I took the kids up to visit my parents. It was a difficult five-hour drive. My little girl was unusually crabby and cried the whole time. She usually just hangs out and looks at books and sings. She cried because she missed seeing the police. She cried because she couldn’t see cows. I pointed out the window and said, “Look, horses!” She said she didn’t want to. Then she cried for 30 minutes because she missed seeing the horses. In the midst of her crying and O’s normal barrage of questions, my irritation growing, I looked out my window. In an instant, the irritation was gone. The sky was spectacular. It wasn’t quite a sunset, yet. The sun was veiled behind a patchwork of clouds, like little dabs of a paintbrush dotted across the sky. You could see the exact, perfect sphere of the sun burning behind the cloud curtain. The sky in Texas is so big and seems to go on forever and looking into its infinite vastness is somehow comforting and unsettling at the same time. I was thinking about how beautiful it was, and how miserable my kids were and wondering about how two things could exist at the same time. Then baby girl stopped crying and said, “Look mama! Look at the cwouds!” O said, “I need to take a picture!” He got out his camera his Auntie Em got him for Christmas and started snapping and angling his camera this way and that. My little one said, “But it’s not pink, mama, or orange. Just blue!” And O said, “I want to put those clouds in my pocket”.

We spent the next ten minutes trying to speed up or slow down to capture the perfect shot for him. Baby girl continued to giggle gleefully and point at the sky. As we rounded the curve into our home stretch, the clouds took their bow and began to slide away and the sun began its business of setting. And the sky exploded into color- fuchsia and orange and gold mingling into a swirly rose gold fire. I couldn’t stop looking at it, this majestic showing-off.

Looking at my kids’ faces in the rearview mirror, I felt that familiar glow of peace and joy and pain that marks these kind of moments- that it’s-so-beautiful-it-hurts kind of feeling. I was quiet and still, almost holding my breath so as not to disturb these creatures in the wild. One false move and the moment would slip away.

Like all parents, I think often of what I want my kids to know, of how I want to parent them, of what I hope I am teaching them. There are the typical things- to be kind, to be curious, to love deep and well, to find passion, to be bold. To be independent and stand up for themselves. Laugh a lot. Know it’s okay to cry. But there is this other, intangible thing I desperately wish for them to know. And it’s moments like this. I want them to be awed by the world. I want them to walk outside and have to stop and stand still because the sight of the moon in the night sky is just too overwhelming. I want them to really see the world, it’s beauty and it’s pain, the magic and the mess. And I have no idea how to teach that. There are no instruction books on how to fall in love with the wildness of the world.

So when it happens, I simply give a silent prayer of thanks. I don’t know how it happens, I don’t know if it’s something innate in them, I don’t know if all kids have it and lose it. I have no idea if they pick up on it from me. All that matters is that it happens, now and again, this stilling of the world. It lasted until the sunset finally burned itself out. Then we had a dance party, the exhilaration carrying us a bit further. Then baby girl started crying because it was too loud and she didn’t like that song and she wanted Cheetos. And O started his questions: “How many minutes to Gram and Pop’s? How many seconds are in a thousand minutes? Can you count to infinity? How many seconds are in infinity? Are there such thing as army ants?” The moment passed, slipping away into a memory. It was a terrible four and a half hour drive, with thirty minutes of magic. It was so worth it.

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