Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Riding in Cars With Kids

South Carolina beach sunrise

In September, we went on vacation.

The anniversary of the day my dad died is hard, and this year my in-laws graciously and wonderfully offered to let us invite my mom along for a week at their place down by the beach. Mom drove herself from Illinois to our house, and when we took off we were split into two parties: Jason went with his dad in his dad’s truck, and my mom and I took the girls in my mom’s car.

My children are excellent at road trips… as long as they take place late at night when they’re too sleepy to kick up much of a fuss.

Turns out that when you leave first thing in the morning, all that "good at road trips" stuff becomes a joke I tell myself to stay sane.

I started out driving, with my mom in the passenger seat.

First Ellie fussed and cried, cried and fussed.

Then Audra started whining.

Then Ellie drifted off, only to be jolted back awake by Audra making what I will generously call “a joyful noise”.

Then Ellie whined while Audra fussed.

Eventually, I pulled off the road and Mom took over driving while I wedged myself into the middle between my two children, who proceeded to use this as a sign to start whine-crying in stereo.
When I was pregnant with Audra, I smugly told myself I would never be that mom who relied on digital devices to make it through a road trip.

An hour into our drive to the beach, Audra had a Leap Pad in hand, episodes of Bubble Guppies playing to soothe her into an entertained stupor, so that I could focus on handing Ellie every single object in the car to look over, inspect, toss over the side of her car seat, and cry about, eventually also including my cell phone.

We ended up stopping approximately three times in the last hour of the drive alone, which was momentarily an improvement (yay! my children aren't crying!) but also much much worse (crap! we're back in the car and my children are crying again!).

By the time we made it into the town the beach house is in, I had sent Jason nine thousand text messages of increasing panic and, eventually, just sent him this photo:

Oh, and then it turned out the GPS was set to the wrong address and, with whine-crying baby and whiny toddler on either side of me, we had to try and figure out what had gone wrong to get where we were supposed to be.

Luckily, correcting the mistake only took two or three minutes, but it was the longest two or three minutes ever.

Thanks to people who essentially live in their golf carts because hey, who needs a car at the beach, that last half mile was infinitesimally slow, and I finally just unbuckled my crying baby from her carseat and held her in my arms while my mom crept at 10 miles an hour behind the happiest, most oblivious golf-cart-ridin' couple I've ever seen in my life.

Judge if you want, but it was the happiest she’d been all day.

We tumbled out of the car, my children and I disheveled, exhausted, and covered in crumbs from the many snacks I had attempted to placate them with.

When we opened the door next to Ellie's carseat, a giant pile of wispy Kleenexes, plastic toys, rejected food, bottles, and other debris clattered to the ground.

A few graham cracker bunnies lay, forlornly, on the concrete.

My mother looked at my husband and said, “They really weren’t that bad.”

I’m not entirely sure my mother experienced the same car ride I did.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Threenager in the Doctor's Office

Audra's three-year well-child visit was a couple of weeks ago. She was understandably nervous about it, as the last time she'd gone to the doctor she'd had to do the finger-stick to get a drop of blood and had lost her ever-loving mind at the resulting tiny speck of red that blossomed on her hand.

Luckily, I skipped that visit and Jason took her, but trust me, I heard all about it from my already-intensely-verbal two-year-old at the time.

Hand to God, that finger-stick is going to be the first thing she tells her therapist about in thirty years.

In any case, I had reassured her up, down, and sideways that the three year checkup didn't even have any shots, so she could go right back to daycare afterwards, they were just going to look and make sure she was doing okay.

We get there and settle into the waiting room, where Audra exhausted every single toy within thirty-five seconds and then spent the next eleven minutes of our wait time talking, seemingly constantly, about Moana and something Ellie had done that morning and how much she likes bananas and Mom Mommy Mom Mom Moooooooom-

She may have a superpower. Her superpower is simply that she doesn't need to breathe as long as she's speaking, she can just keep going forever.

The nurse calls out her name and my daughter suddenly clams up into utter silence, clinging to my leg.

The nurse introduced herself and said, "So what's your name, sweetie?"

Audra stared her right in the eyes and said, calmly, "No."

"Okay!" The nurse said brightly, totally unperturbed. "I see your name is Audra and you're three years old now. Wow! That's pretty grown up. Let's get you over onto this scale to get your weight, there you go, get your shoes off first and your Mommy will help you-" and thus the nurse began a nearly seamless constant stream of commands and banter with my child, who followed her instructions with wide zombie eyes, standing on the scale, holding her arm out for blood pressure, mumbling answers to every question.

It was like watching someone hypnotize a cat.

The nurse kept that lilting, sing-song mind-control up until we were in the exam room and then left us to wait for the doctor. I have got to ask her to teach me how to do that.

For the first time, Audra had to undress from the top up to on the "gown" that snaps up the back.

It didn't occur to me that this was Audra's first time wearing one of those things until I went to put it on her and Audra flipped. out.

"What is that?! I don't like that shirt! I don't like that dress! It's not a good dress! I don't like it! Get it off get it off get it off!"

I managed to talk her into putting it on anyway, and she had mostly calmed down by the time the doctor entered the room.

"Hi!" The doctor said cheerfully. "What's your name, little girl?"

Audra curled behind me, hiding her face in my side. "No," she said into my ribcage.

"No problem," The doctor replied. "I see you're Audra. How old are you now, Audra? Do you know how old you are?"

Audra dug her face in harder.

"NO, my mommy says when people ask I don't know I don't have to answer them!" She insisted.

Well, hey, at least she's been listening to all that stranger-danger stuff, I thought to myself, while answering, "She knows she's three, she's just being shy."

Thus began the least successful doctors' visit either of my children has ever had.

She refused to answer any questions. When asked simply to prove she could speak, she was silent. When asked to open her mouth, she clamped it shut even harder. When asked if she could count, my child who spends half her day obsessively counting nothing at all refused.

When asked about colors, my child who has very strong opinions about them pretended she had no idea what colors even were.

"I promise she's verbal," I kept saying apologetically. "I promise she's fine with mobility. I promise she knows how to run and jump. She knows all her colors, she can count to fifteen, she knows the whole alphabet except for Q, X, and Z and seriously who ever even uses those letters anyway... I don't know why she's being so shy today."

The whole thing culminated with her reacting to the doctor asking politely to look at her ears by beginning to scream-cry as loudly as possible and moan "no, no, no, mommy no, mommy help". Meanwhile I had to hold her down for the examination, which by the way is probably going to be the second thing she brings up in therapy in thirty years.

This girl has been in my care for three years and I've already given her medical trauma.

"Well," The doctor said brightly over my daughter's betrayed, furious wails, "I don't need her to open her mouth anymore, I'm getting a great look at her teeth and her tongue right now! Plus, she's kicking hard enough that I know for sure her reflexes are great!"

We managed to get her to hold still for the stethoscope test, while she sniffled and stared at me with "mommy how could you" eyes and I tried to figure out whether or not I'd ever be allowed near my grandchildren one day, since I was clearly such a traitor.

Finally, the doctor finished up the examination and said, "She's doing just great," over Audra's continued mumble-crying. "Make sure to grab a toy from the basket on your way out for her!"

The mumble-crying cut off like someone had turned off the worst radio station ever, and Audra blinked tears out of her eyes.

"A toy? Is there a toy?" She asked, already getting her mommy-can-I-have-it facial expression prepped and ready.

The doctor laughed. "There, now I know she's verbal, too," She said on her way out the door.

By the time we made it to the checking-out area, Audra's tears had vanished. You would never have known that she had ever cried at all. She was totally and 100% focused on that promised basket of toys.

She picked out one of those "make your own model airplane" toys and I put it together for her while she climbed up into her carseat. She chattered happily all the way back to daycare, all but skipped into her class, and I got back into my car and just sort of sat there, staring at nothing, for a long time.

I headed to work, running through Starbucks on the way because Mommy needed a drink and I just wasn't ready to start in on bourbon at 10:30 in the morning.

While waiting in line, I thought about having to hold my three-year-old down just so the doctor could look into her ears.

"What can we get started for you?" The barista at the register asked.

I replied, "What is the most amount of espresso I can get in a drink before it's probably a bad idea?"

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Every Single Second

It’s easier the second time around, although
I still spend too much time wishing this child
would just slow down for a second
that the two of you would give me a minute
to realize
how quickly you’re headed away from me.

God, how I love that you move independently
to watch you discover a whole world of things
that aren’t yours, I can see you bring
to your mouth crayons and Play-Doh
Can I eat this?
Even when the answer is no, you do your best.

We do our best to keep your mouth from turning blue… again.

You don’t want to be carried as much anymore
You can crawl — or scoot at least
It’s wonderful to see, but baby girl
you'd still fit just fine in the space of my arms
if you’d stop twisting so hard
to get to the floor and discover the world away from me.

I let the mornings and afternoons go by too fast
I don’t take the time, the second time around
to just slow down for a second
stop thinking about work and dinner and juice
so I can just watch you
and your sister giggle at each other.

You both were tiny bundles they placed gently in my arms.

I feel every. single. second. and still
I’ve somehow lost a year or three. You both
keep growing older while I
try to keep up and wish this time around
that we could all slow down.
Of course this is always how it goes.

It's going to be a privilege to watch
my girls learn how to walk safely apart from me.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Ten Months In

Audra got detailed monthly updates, each month. Percentiles measured, progress noted, special stickers purchased to give her something special to mark out every step we took towards one.

Ellie gets a hurried couple of blurry photos each month. Lately she's likely to still be wearing a onesie with zucchini bits from dinner stuck to it. Her sister's foot has about a sixty percent chance of being in the frame, because God forbid that looking at Ellie ever causes us, for even the barest second, to stop looking at Audra, too.

At least they love each other.

Ellie's expression is routinely one of abject adoration whenever Audra speaks to her. A half-smile will become a full beam, and then suddenly my mostly-quiet infant is shrieking happily right back at the older sister who is shouting about things she loves (she will often spend this time declaring how much she loves her Ellie) less than three inches from her younger sister's face.

Sometimes, Audra gives her a hug, and Ellie melts into joy.

Then Audra piles toys up until I can no longer see my child and we have to go rescue her from Audra's enthusiastic sense of how one plays with babies, which is apparently to gently suffocate them with your affection.

I can tell you that ten months in, Ellie says "uh-oh" and waves hello and goodbye, that she replies to my repeated requests to say "mama" by stubbornly and joyfully shouting "da-da" at the top of her lungs.

I cannot tell you when she began to do these things, because they all occurred alongside our chaotic race to keep up with the destruction and havoc wreaked on us by the daughters we adore.

I can tell you that she loves discovering new foods but they don't always make it into her mouth, that she has begun purposefully feeding what she doesn't like to the dog when she thinks we aren't paying attention.

If she can't see you but she can hear you talking, she will crane herself in every direction trying to look.

She and the dog routinely lie down on the floor together, back to back, just quietly soaking up each other's presence.

I think he likes that she is quieter than Audra ever was.

I can tell you that putting her in the clothes that her sister once wore, that seemed so tiny then, continues to choke me up a little bit as I realize how quickly I am losing this time with my second baby, and how often I am too distracted to realize how much time has already passed.

I can also tell you that sometimes waiting out her naptime protests before she finally falls into the sleep she so desperately needs makes every single second drag and drag because all I want to do is whisk her up and away to some new adventure.

She likes to sit on the floor to play with her toys, and today she almost started to crawl to reach a toy that was too far away. Then she gave up, sat back, and made angry faces at me, because damn it, toy acquisition and retrival is supposed to be my job.

She has fallen head over heels in love with a stuffed owl.

For all that she doesn't even move yet, I can barely keep up with her.

I don't know how often I'll miss the dates of things or decide that a quick once-over with a wipe will have to replace the leisurely afternoon bath I would have given her older sister at this age. How many times Jason and I will decide that a onesie is a good enough outfit because there simply isn't time to put pants on her.

But I can tell you Ellie Rose is ten months old, and her first word is "uh-oh", she's about to crawl, and her red hair is starting to turn blonde.

I can tell you she is so loved.

I can tell you that sometimes she simply cannot sleep until she has spent a half-hour in the bedroom with one of us, simply rolling around and laughing and soaking up this temporary world in which she is the only child being looked at right now.

(The other parent is busy reading seventeen books, and three at least twice, and most of them are about dinosaurs or sentient animals.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Strangers Who Stick With You

I want to tell you a story.

A couple of years ago (I actually had to go check the news reports, it feels like it JUST happened still in my mind), a woman died in a car accident along my route to work.

I was running late that day at a job that was still fairly new to me. I dropped my not-quite-a-year-old daughter off in the baby room with her teachers and got back on the road. I was maybe ten minutes later than usual. I was distracted, driving fast, trying to make up for the time I'd lost.

There's a certain spot in my city where you cross a longish concrete bridge and then head immediately downhill, around a slight curve, and that's when you basically "enter" downtown.

Just off to the left at the bottom of that hill is a scrapyard, full of cars that have seen better days, many that have sort of become more landscape than vehicle, still sitting in the same spots they were in when we moved to the area five years ago.

On that day, I saw flashing lights before I even crested the hill on the bridge and slowed down to see what I can only call a full cavalry of ambulances, fire trucks, and cop cars surrounding an SUV that was fully overturned on top of a couple of those old scrapyard cars. The wrecked car had totally busted the fence on its way in and somehow kept sliding before finally stopping on an old truck.

I thought to myself that the upside-down vehicle looked familiar, but not in any way I could put a name or face to. Just that I knew I'd seen that car before. Honestly, in a city that often feels more like a small town, at least on our end, that's not uncommon.

"That looks awful," I remember thinking. "God, I hope they got out." I drove on to work.

Within a couple of hours, word began to spread — the driver of that SUV had been a woman, with a daughter who attended the same daycare as my own.

That's when I realized why I had thought that SUV looked familiar.

She and I had similar dropoff and pickup times for our kids. I'd seen her before. I'd seen her child before... she was older than my own, I remembered that much. When they put her photo in the news, I recognized her immediately.

We had similar routes and timelines for our mornings.

Had I been on time that day, we would have been on the same spot of road at almost exactly the same moment.

Here's the weird thing — it seemed like she had swerved to avoid something, had been going fast, and lost control of the car. It's a steep downhill slope and it's easy to go fast. We all do. Just part of the morning commute, trying to make up for those lost few minutes we spent trying to talk our stubborn children out the door or stopping to chat or grabbing a coffee on the way.

Obviously it could have been an animal, but I thought then — and I think now — that she swerved to avoid a person. That exact spot where her car crossed the center line is one of the worst places in town for people who just run blindly out into traffic to cross the street, steadfastly ignoring the clearly marked crosswalk less than a quarter-mile away. I honestly cannot count the number of times I've had to slam on my brakes or even swerve into another lane to avoid them.

I think that person ran off, not wanting to be known as the cause of that accident. I think about how utterly wretched it is to cause a wreck like that and run from it.

She did not survive the accident.

On any other day, I would have been right there, maybe a stoplight back or ahead, but basically in that exact part of the road. I know I've hit my brakes to avoid someone running out into the road at nearly exactly the same time of day as that accident occurred.

As it was, dropping Audra off a few minutes late (and spending a few minutes more chatting with her teachers) meant that I only saw a little of the aftermath.

Anyway, I tell this story because I think of her every single day.

Every time I pass that spot, the salvaged cars in the scrapyard that are still dented from the weight of her car, I think about her. I think about her fiance, and her daughter. I think about who had to pick that little girl up from daycare that day and how they had to try to explain to a very young child what had happened to her mother.

I think about them picking up this shattered life and having to build a new one around its absence.
I slow down my car going down that hill now. I take it slowly around that curve. I think very deliberately about her.

I didn't know her. I had never even met her, really, beyond the way you nod at someone in passing when you see them in the parking lot when you're both dropping off your children.

Still, she's on my mind every day, as is her family and how they're getting by.

I have wondered, before, if knowing that a total stranger thinks about this woman who was everything to them would be appreciated, or simply cause a well-intentioned misery.

They've gone through hell at it is. If it doesn't feel like two years to me, it definitely still feels like an open wound to them.

Still. Every day for two years I've slowed down driving past that scrapyard. I think about her, say a prayer for her daughter and her loved ones and for her, too.

It's funny how people we will never meet can affect our days so profoundly.

Friday, July 7, 2017

These Days: Life With Two

Motherhood with a toddler and baby: the blog at Stress and Stars

These days, we often say we are ready for a nap, insist on taking either Mommy or Daddy to nap "in the big bed", and then proceed to shriek laughter, jump up and down, and build forts with pillows until whichever parent is in there gives up and deposits her in her actual bed for actual naptime.

Of course, when this happens she proceeds to continue to fight for at least another hour by playing with literally every single toy in her room as she becomes progressively more exhausted, before she gives up and then sleeps way too late in the day and it's a whole big mess.

These days, they (mostly) sleep through the night, but when one of them doesn't, neither does the other one. I swear to God they take turns seeing who can make us the craziest.

These days, Ellie has (largely) stopped choking on literally every single teensy piece of food you give her, can sometimes wave, and her favorite game is shaking her head "no", pausing to laugh uproariously at her own cleverness, then shaking her head "no" again.

She's still in the 25th percentile, my wee little almost-a-preemie. Well... except for her head, which is gigantic. This is apparently a genetic trait my children share.

These days, Audra's innate stubbornness manifests in new and unpleasant battles in which she declares war over everything from not wanting to wear that T-shirt today to the cardinal sin I committed by giving her the banana she just asked me for, only it wasn't the right banana.

She has yet to gain the ability to discern when a battle is worth fighting.

Then again, I haven't really figured that out yet, either.

These days, Audra recognizes the letter A and knows it stands "for Audra", the letter M for Mommy, D for Daddy, P and N for Papa and Nana, G for Grandma, E for Ellie, and so on. We haven't quite got them all mastered but we're getting there.

She likes to point at signs and say "Look, it's you!" when she sees a letter she knows.

She asks me every single day when her birthday party is, and she is never happy with my answer. Although I imagine she'll be happier when I can finally tell her, "In about three hours."

These days, Audra loves the old Justice League show that I used to watch on Saturday mornings as a kid. It's her favorite show and Netflix is about to take it away and I am considering starting a petition or simply sending a pleading letter.

She loves Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman and superheroes in general and she also wears a lot of frilly pink skirts (except when she absolutely does not want to wear a skirt today — see earlier note about picking battles) and is definitely up for hitting each other with plastic foam swords I found at Target at any given opportunity.

Motherhood with toddler and infant: Stress and Stars Blog

These days, Ellie fulfills every inch the stereotype of the youngest child, largely content to watch her older sister's manic energy as long as an adult is either holding her or sitting nearby. She likes to grab our glasses and is surprisingly obsessed with feeling my teeth.

Audra likes to pile things around and on Ellie until it seems like only her little eyes are showing, and we have to step in to uncover her before she literally suffocates from her sister's adoration.

These days, I grab my Audra almost every weekend and take one-on-one time at a bookstore where she is content to force me to read every picture book in sight to her and I am content to do just that as long as it means I get to sip my iced coffee.

Reading with Audra is... intense. Every single detail must be questioned, picked apart. I must have an answer for every single line that's out of place. She cannot wait for the reading to tell her what is happening, I have to tell her what's happening in the picture and then read the text that usually says the exact same thing.

Her favorite book is "the in my heart book", which is good, because it's my favorite book of hers, too.

Audra informed me she was "a big kid and grown up now" a couple of days ago, and I jokingly asked, "So I guess you're ready for college then?" She replied, "Yes, Mom, I am," and I am still trying to figure out when Mama became Mommy became Mom and how she's grown into a lanky nearly-three-year-old while I was distracted by keeping her alive.

These days contain a lot of long days of small things and we do a lot of just trying to get to bedtime, but I try to remember too that I need moments here or there to just stop and focus on how they're little and they won't be so little ever again.

Then I talk wistfully about what if we had another baby and Jason replies with very sensible concerns, like "where would we put that baby" and "how would we pay for it" and "when would we ever, ever sleep" and he's got a point.

These days, we're sometimes treading water but we are treading water with our favorite tiny clones of ourselves, so it all works out in the end.

I'd still like to get more sleep, though.

Friday, June 2, 2017

When the Grocery List is your Zen Place

motherhood parenting toddler mom momlife

There's an absurd monotony to life with a toddler and an infant.

Don't get me wrong — it's not a bad monotony, exactly. There's a book I read recently called Long Days of Small Things, whose title I feel is a pretty spot-on summing-up of what it means to have very young children.

The funny thing about the way the days run together is that the main thread that ties them is a strange mix of routine and chaos, stress and joy. Little kids thrive on routine, and Audra's days are predictable in a way she clearly finds deeply reassuring. She wakes up, we have breakfast, she goes to school, she comes home for a snack, we have dinner, Ellie goes to bed, a while later it's her turn. From Ellie's point of view, she wakes up, eats a little bit, gets alternately fawned over and vaguely bossed around by her older sister, goes to school, comes home and takes a catnap, wakes up to be vaguely bossed around some more, has dinner, and goes to bed.

Rinse and repeat.

Smack in the middle of all that reassuring routine, though, is the fact of my whirlwind girl herself — it takes her all of ten minutes to turn a clean living room floor into an obstacle course of tiny wooden spoons, random teethers she's stolen from Ellie, matching-game cards, books, crayons, stickers...

I swear the house is mostly held together with stickers now.

For all that she loves to spread every single thing she touches as far apart as possible, she's also laser-focused on every minute change to her environment Jason or I make. If I place a peach on the countertop, she will notice it from three rooms away and around a corner.

Keeping the house clean enough to even consider letting anyone who isn't us into it becomes sort of desperate cycle of trying to stay ahead of Audra's mess, and it's a bit like determining to myself that I'm going to "dig up" today... if I was trying to "dig up" with a shovel someone had stuck googly eyes to and kept trying to take away from me.

It's not going to work, I'm just going to tire myself out, and somehow I'll end up buried deeper than when I started.

So I find my zen where I can — I'm working hard to make more time to read, I'm re-watching an old favorite TV show of mine and watching its new revamp as the episodes are released. I have a gym membership now, but to be honest my time in the gym is the opposite of zen for me.

Right now I find my zen in the grocery list.

Every week or so I sit down with a weekly budget and just sort of stare at a blank page, then start filling in the essentials: eggs, milk, sausage for breakfast. Then I think about what we already have in the pantry, and I start making a menu and creating the list.

Somewhere in the middle of this task I realize my shoulders have relaxed for the first time all week.

It takes an immense amount of mental energy to teach tiny people what it means to be a human, especially when neither of my tiny people is interested in allowing me the slightest moment of rest. One is teething and one is a walking argument with a mop of blonde hair and both of them are fairly convinced I exist solely to give them various objects they can chew on.

On the other hand, sometimes I get a morning where Ellie just won't be happy unless I'm holding her, and she snuggles her head under my chin every chance she gets. And sometimes I get a night when Audra cuddles up with me on the couch and we read book after book after book, with her mouthing along when she knows the words. I get to watch my baby start to memorize her favorites entirely. I get to watch my actual baby baby's face light up when Audra or her daddy or I enter a room.

I get to watch Audra cuddle with Ellie sometimes, the two of them settled in on the couch, Ellie watching her sister with unadulterated adoration while Audra sings to her a song that as far as I can tell is about chickpeas (which she calls 'tick-beans') and the color blue.

I try to ignore steady increase of stickers on every conceivable flat surface in our house.

You didn't know the walls and the floor were just a clean canvas on which to create a sticker masterpiece, did you? Well now you know.

Honestly, I have no idea where they're coming from. We don't buy her stickers. They just appear, as if by magic, as if every toddler in America can conjure a paper full of flower stickers out of thin air.

Audra's zen place may be covering my newest book in tiny cat faces.

I take my zen in putting together our weekly menu and grocery list, in dreaming about everything I could do with the money we currently spend on formula.

(The answer is not all that much, but still. It's the principle of the thing! I could buy a lot of coffee with formula money.)

There's something determinedly peaceful about the way each list begins. Eggs, milk, sausage, corn tortillas, bananas, baby food. Then we hit the sales from there. My shoulders and back relax and for a few minutes, I'm just thinkin' about the next time we'll have tacos and what I should put in them.

I'll take my peace where I find it and just remind myself that sooner or later I'll probably just be made of stickers, too.

Or band-aids, which Audra also believes are stickers.

Basically, everything is stickers now.

Monday, May 8, 2017

So... How's That Appreciation Going?

Night Kitchen Bakery - ham and cheese croissant. Eat it and die of happiness. Then rise from the dead to eat again.

If you were paying attention during my fitful attempts to get this blog back up and running, you probably read the post I wrote abut choosing my Word of the Year for 2017.

I picked Appreciation for this year. In a time where the larger national and global community is increasingly divided and hostile and in a nation that embraces the concept of there is never enough, taking time to appreciate what I did have - what we all have - seemed increasingly important.

So... how's that appreciation going?

Well... about that...

Family: My goal to appreciate my husband and children more, to take more time to simply bask in how lucky I am to have them, is actually going pretty well... sort of. 

Jason and I were able to take a weekend getaway to Raleigh, North Carolina, thanks to the immense generosity and kindness of my in-laws, who not only helped us with the trip but willingly kept our children while we were gone - which says something, when that involves listening to Audra sing a song about a family of fingers that live on her hand over and over and over and over and over and over and over...

I've made an effort to be involved in more family-related things, and we're working on more plans to see my family and to get over to my in-laws' side of town more, too. 

Friends: My goal to do more with friends hasn't been as successful as I had hoped, largely due to A. the abject unwillingness to leave my house that comes alongside the exhaustion of parenting and work and, um, being awake, and B. social anxiety with events that involve too many people I don't know. Which, it turns out, tends to be "more than two people I don't know".

Thankfully, my friend Liz sometimes just refuses to take 'no' for an answer and seems to know exactly when I really do want to do a thing and when I really do just want to stay home on the couch and moan about how tired I am. So that helps.

Mind: This I've definitely been successful on. I've made time to pick up a book at night a priority again. I've read a few books start-to-finish this year, and my to-read pile, while still growing, is growing slightly less quickly than it was before.

I just finished All Over the Place by Geraldine DeRuiter, and I'm in the midst of The Sixth Extinction and It's Okay About It, because I like my reading material to involve absurd subject changes and emotional whiplash.

He was a very nice greeter

Body: Oh Lord. Right, so my goal was to appreciate my body more by actively seeking to be more fit and healthy. I've subscribed to three health-focused magazines (and dropped three that weren't doing me any good), Prevention, Women's Health, and Cooking Light. I've started cooking with health and taste in mind. I've even got these grand visions of eating less takeout/restaurant food that have yet to come to pass.

Then I had this brilliant idea to appreciate my body by starting up an exercise program... where my attempts to take up running promptly blew my knees to smithereens (which I followed up by going on a vacation in which I walked approximately two to three miles per day, all the while putting weight on said blown-up knee) and now I hobble around like an old lady.

So much for that.

At least I have a gym pass coming up this week so I can test out the low-impact stuff.

That's right - I not only basically made my knees explode from thinking I could run, I also signed up for a free gym pass even though I can barely walk.

So that one's not going so well... Or it's going magnificently, depending on your point of view.

Style: While pregnant with Ellie and during the first few months of her life, I lived in raggedy old T-shirts and jeans, and it took me a bit to get back into my usual sense of style (bold colors that have nothing to do with one another smashed together, add a cardigan, call it good). I've been trying to appreciate my style, such as it is, by working a little harder to look less raggedy at work.

Then, as I mentioned, I blew my knees to smithereens and then proceeded to walk three miles a day for a whole weekend in Raleigh and now I have to wear things that accomodate hobbling. I basically wore pajamas to work today.

My shirts are nice, though!

Home: My goal to appreciate my home more was to start working a little harder on our garden, which I totally did, then a chipmunk ate all our strawberries and outsmarted our trap. So... now I'm trying to appreciate my home by winning the Epic Chipmunk War. And also gardening.

We have little tomatoes and pattypan squashes and itty bitty little strawberries that might make it if I can kill that chipmunk... I mean, trap him harmlessly and let him run free in a nearby field...

We also have little radishes that are ready to come up, and lettuce that's about halfway there, plus corn that is defiantly sprouting. And beans and peas that are still growing. Plus I have some seeds for cucumbers, okra, and random other vegetables to get into the ground.

Now I just have to convince myself to hobble outside to check on them.

I'll also be focusing on making the kitchen a bit more ours. I mean, it is ours, and Jason has brought home a couple of pieces of furniture that let us own it a bit more fully, but I'm starting the planning for an eventual kitchen update that I think will make it feel more like ours.

In short, I'd say my Appreciating Things goal is about 70%, which seems pretty good for five months in. Now I suppose I need to focus on appreciating my knees so I don't make a terrible mistake and run again.

Oh, and one more thing:

Naaaaaaaaaaants ingonyama bagithi baba

I got a tattoo, too.

I figured I'd been planning this tattoo for thirteen straight years, so it was probably time. My mind-meld partner in crime back in childhood lives up in Raleigh, and her husband is an incredibly talented and hardworking tattoo artist. I'd been watching his work and dreaming about this tattoo basically since they got married, and I couldn't imagine trusting anyone else enough to get it right.

Patrick Goodwin did it perfectly.

After I got that tattoo, Jason and I went literally right next door from the tattooing place and ate the best Indian food I've ever had in my life and that was our first night in Raleigh. Oh, and I ate a ginormous cookie, because there's no such thing as a diet on vacation.

I appreciated that cookie.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Magic of Motherhood (Book Review)

Magic of Motherhood Ashlee Gadd Melanie Dale coffee + crumbs

So there's this blogger I started reading a few years ago, Melanie Dale. I've bought both her books and at this point it's really only a matter of time until I can power through my introversion long enough to go get them signed next time she's anywhere near where I live.

She's written with a ton of honesty and courage about infertility and adoption and the reality of building siblings out of a trio of distinct individuals, none of whom are related to each other by blood, only by those deeper - but harder to create - things that we build our families on.

At some point, she became part of a collaborative blog on motherhood called coffee + crumbs, and I've been reading that basically since its inception, too. It's a blog that is all about the space between the idealistic visions of being a mom and the reality of the day-in, day-out.

It's one of about three blogs I actually check for updates every single day, alongside Wardrobe Oxygen and Franish.

There's a lot of writing on coffee + crumbs about infertility, pregnancy, marriage, managing siblings... just about anything you can think of.

And the ladies over at coffee + crumbs just released a book.

I saw it pop up on Melanie's social media before it even came out and basically high-tailed it over to Amazon to pre-order so I could make sure I had it before we left for our family vacation to see my family in Illinois.

Of course, then they did a big ol' Target card giveaway where you had to take a photo for Instagram of the book in your Target cart to qualify and I was like, I already bought it and read it and it's already actually got a coffee stain on it...

Guess I'll pass on that contest, unless there's a runner-up prize for "fastest amount of time it took for one of your kids to physically damage your copy of the book" (for the record, it was approximately six hours after it arrived at our house), in which case I feel like my prize is probably in the mail.


This is a book review, isn't it.

I really liked the book, so I thought I'd write a little bit about it. I know I owe all of you a bit more actual blogging-blogging, my usual kind, where I tell you what adorable thing my children do now or regale you with tales of my faltering attempts at acting like a real grown-up, but you know what, I wanna talk about a book so I'm gonna talk about a book.

The Magic of Motherhood is big. I don't mean that it's a particularly long book, but rather than it is just big in size.

It has a built-in ribbon bookmark, which is one trend in books lately that I am ONE HUNDRED PERCENT BEHIND, as I've never owned a bookmark for longer than 3.6 days before losing it.

It's a series of essays by the coffee + crumbs writers, sometimes the same writer popping up multiple times on different topics or relating topics. The essays flow really well, jumping from subject to subject but in a pretty organic way.

Interspersed is the occasional quote from whichever essay you're reading, superimposed over some beautiful landscape or still-life photography.

It's a good book, and at its heart it is immensely sweet. I read it when we were on the road and at my mom's house and a bit just before bed. The essays stick with you, but they're mostly short and sweet and so you can grab a quick chapter or two before bed without a lot of trouble.

Some of them are sad, some are sweeter, and some are funny - Melanie Dale's are the ones with the humor that most resonates with me, but you may find Ashlee Gadd or another one of the writers speaks most to you.

Basically the perfect Mom Book (and trust me, I'm damn near an expert on Mom Books these days I think I might actually own them all now and I have like three ideas in my head for Mom Books I want to write, too). The only thing that I didn't like was that sometimes things seem a bit too wrapped in a bow of the Great Grand Meaning of It All by the end, but that wasn't true for them all and it wasn't enough to really bother me.

Would I buy it again? If I accidentally dropped it into an active volcano or it was stolen by someone who just really really wanted it, yes, I totally would go buy it again.

Would I buy it as a gift? Oh Lord yes. It's kind of a specific audience I'd buy it for, but I think it's a really great book and it'd be a perfect gift for that mom, mom-to-be, or wish-they-were-a-mom-so-badly you know who is just about ready to claw her eyes out from sleep deprivation or hormone injections or spit-up or early labor and could use a bit of time to read a chapter and say, "Me too me too me too" out loud.

(Melanie's included essay about finding "the label" for one of her children, who receives a specific diagnosis, and the way there is the mixed relief/sorrow there, is my personal favorite of the book - as is her other included essay about the ways in which our children take over our bodies from the second we become their mothers and just flat refuse to give them back to us)

Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars, super highly recommended, and to be honest I totally recommend the coffee + crumbs blog, too.

Friday, March 24, 2017

That Time I Accidentally Kind of Bought Drugs

This is a piece of chocolate I bought at a local hippie-ish store yesterday.

It's also drugs, sort of.

Let me explain.

Yesterday I ran to grab a salad for lunch. There's a particular place right near where I work that makes an amazing Greek salad, so I popped over to grab one. I didn't really like their tea selection, though, and I was searching for a hot tea that didn't have caffeine that sort of tasted like it did have caffeine as part of my current attempt to stop drinking like nine cups of coffee a day.

I went next door to the aforementioned local hippie-ish store. I looked over the different tea options, eventually found what I wanted, and went to leave.

Next to the cash register were tiny bars of chocolate for impulse buying.

I'm impulsive.

I bought the chocolate.

"This is a good thing to toss in," The cashier told me, throwing some random sample vitamins in there as well, including something called a "vegi-cap" which I am deeply intrigued by but those are not the drugs in this story. Those are different drugs and I didn't buy them, they were given to me, which is totally different.

Also vitamins aren't drugs.

Well, the other sample that gives you eight thousand percent of your daily required B12 (or is it B6?) might be considered a drug. Or turn you briefly into Bugs Bunny.


Back to my story.

So I grabbed the chocolate, reading only "dark chocolate" on the label at the time and having no ability to control myself when presented with new and different forms of sugar.

I took it back to my desk, ate my salad, and broke off a chunk of the chocolate to eat for dessert. After a couple of seconds I realized the roof of my mouth and my tongue had gone numb.

Well, that doesn't normally happen when I eat things, I thought to myself.

I checked the label.

(identity of the company protected because it's not their fault I didn't know it was drugs)
"Vegan Dark Chocolate with Kava Root," it read. I tried to read it out loud but since my tongue had, as I mentioned, gone numb, what I actually said was "Bee-gah Dahh Chah-laht wit Ah-va Oot," which looks really cool but I promise did not sound cool at all.

Now I have definitely had vegan chocolate before, and while it was always missing some particular something-or-other that I assumed was due to a lack of animal involvement in the chocolate's creation, I had never had my tongue and my whole mouth go numb.

Unless "vegan" now meant "laced with cocaine", the vegan thing probably wasn't the issue.

"Promotes natural relaxation," the label continued. That seemed reasonable - I know I'm definitely more relaxed after a snack. Still... what sort of dark chocolate advertises relaxation? The only thing I'd ever heard of that made a point of advertising natural relaxation after ingesting it was...

"Oooooh no."


Not possible.

This wasn't Colorado, after all.

The kava root was probably the problem, I reckoned, as it was literally the only ingredient I didn't recognize. I'd never heard of it, though, and couldn't begin to understand why a simple plant root would make your tongue go numb.

So I checked the back of the label. Here is what it said:


I began to feel slightly alarmed at the idea of buying a bar of chocolate children not only shouldn't eat, but that I was explicitly being warned against giving to them.

Avoid using with alcohol.

"Um," I said out loud.

I was alone in the upstairs part of the office at the time, so I was the only one who heard me.

Not for use by persons under the age of 18.

"Did... did I accidentally buy a drug?" I asked no one in particular. "Or cigarettes? Or a lottery ticket? Or a beer back in 1970 before they changed the laws?"

If pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs (especially sedatives or MAO inhibitors), consult a health care practitioner prior to use.

Prior to use? What does that mean exactly? I don't have to call my family care practitioner every time I eat a Snickers (although I probably should, so she'll tell me to stop eating Snickers bars). Also, why is it referring to eating chocolate as using chocolate?


"There's no way this is drugs. They don't just put drugs in chocolate. Do they put drugs in chocolate now?"

Do not exceed recommended dose.

"See, now, I definitely don't like that phrase."

It was... unsettling.

Excessive consumption may impair ability to drive or operate heavy equipment.

I sat there in silence, studying that final sentence. After a very long time of staring out a window, I sat back and spoke one final sentence aloud to the empty office attic:

"Yep. I totally bought a drug today."

dark chocolate with kava root

For the record, kava root isn't really a drug.

It's a homeopathic remedy of some sort that claims it will "increase mental alertness and clarity" and "induce relaxation and stress-relief". Since those two things are almost certainly in direct opposition to one another (and the suggestion to not drive if you eat more than the recommended dose suggest "mental alertness" probably isn't something you'll receive from it), I'm doubtful as to whether or not it would have had much an affect at all.

Took about half an hour for the feeling in my tongue to come back, though.

That's the last time I buy impulse chocolate from a store while I'm checking out.

Oh, who am I kidding. No it isn't.

Friday, March 17, 2017


Raise Good Humans Shirt from Weestructed

Usually, I post these on my birthday or as close to it as possible. Within a week, at most.

Of course, last year I didn't post one at all.

31 was a pretty quiet birthday. I took the day off work and spent a couple of hours reading and enjoying a drink at Barnes & Noble, then Jason and I went to lunch downtown and wandered around being adults that were not trying to manage, herd, feed, or quiet small children.

It was a pretty sweet few hours.

It's a busy month, in every conceivable fashion - at work, at home, on the road trying to figure out just why it is that every single other car seems to be duty-bound to make my drive to work as slow as possible.

My free time, in the evenings after the girls go to sleep, involves a lot of staring at nothing for about fifteen minutes and trying to remember how to focus on a book long enough to finish one.

Ellie has finally accepted the concept of a bedtime and sleeps in her own room, although she's still wide awake at 2 AM just about every night, unwilling to settle herself, content to squawk and make pterodactyl noises until we finally drag ourselves out of bed just to keep her increasing volume from waking up Audra.

Audra also has a disturbing tendency to wake up in the middle of the night still, although that's primarily because she has discovered the ability to remove her own clothing. She'll wake up at 1:30 and rather than, you know, going back to sleep, she'll take off all her clothes instead.

Then she'll get cold, and start calling for someone to come help her put her pajamas back on.

While she has mastered the art of removing clothing, she'll still a bit stymied as to how to get all of them back on.

So, as far as 31 is concerned, there is this:

I have become more focused than ever, in light of the world as it stands these days, in raising my daughters to be outspoken, strident, and demanding of every right they deserve.

I am just as focused on raising them to be compassionate, caring, considerate, and ready and willing to fight for the rights of humankind and the innate dignity and worth of every human being.

Also, I am so so so so tired.

I started using an age-reducing daily moisturizer which does not seem to reduce my age, but it does smell really nice, so I'm calling it a win.

I am so so so so busy.

I did not fall asleep in the bathtub two days ago but I was in there so long that my husband became concerned that perhaps I had.

I am so so so so overcaffeinated.

The Starbucks spring cups have a yellow option with a smiling sun face and that sun seems just irredeemably smug to me. He is mocking my exhaustion, I'm sure of it.

Stupid smiley sun face.

Sometimes, my baby kisses me. Sort of.

It's more like she kind of wipes her mouth on my face?

But, you know, it's a start.

Frankly, Audra's kisses also mostly consist of her using me as some kind of dishtowel, so I'm not really in a position to judge Ellie's.

Oh and I watched a whole movie the other day, so that's somewhat notable.

Audra has been singing the same song over and over for like two and a half weeks now, and it is like a slow Chinese water torture, but damn if she isn't the most adorable water torture on Earth when she's singing.

Welcome to 31.

motherhood stress and stars

Previous posts about my birthday can be found here.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My Hair is Trying to Escape My Life

No, it really is.

Happens every time, of course — I decide it sounds like a good idea to have a baby, I get this head full of hair that I can barely get a comb through, I have said baby, and then four months later all my hair falls out all over everything in my house.

I find it on the dog and the baby, on Audra and sometimes I discover hair on toys or inside the pages of a book. I sweep the floor and discover hair. I don't even look in the bathtub after I shower anymore.

Sometimes I rake a hand back through my hair, intending just to get it out of my eyes, and discover twenty-two individuals hairs just floated away with my fingers.

Yes, it was twenty-two.

I counted.

Just when I start to wonder if I'm really still losing postpartum hair or if I'm actually going totally bald from stress and the aftermath of explaining to Audra for the eighth time why she can't eat the dog's food, no not even "just one bit", the rate of loss begins to slow.

After a while — a month or so — things seem finally to settle.

Oh, sure, huge chunks of that luxurious fast-growing pregnancy hair are gone for good, but what's left...


About that.

What remains on my head sticks out all over the place. It seems to have somehow learned how to work together to spite my comb. It defies me.

It curls up at the ends in weird places but is stick-straight in others. It seems... coarser. It rejects shampoo. It's mean to me. Like all the naive and innocent hair was lost and all that's left is the cynical hair that's seen some things and lived to tell the tale. 

It's like all the good hair got to the seventy-fifth time we watched the same episode of Bubble Guppies and it just. couldn't. do it. again and peaced out and left me with the grizzled old hair that just grits its teeth and mumbles something about how you couldn't possibly get milk from a cow that's also a fish and settles in for the long haul.

What's left is the survivor at the end of a zombie film — damaged by the senseless horde that has overtaken the world but refusing to give up and admit defeat.

My hair stands strong.

It does not give up.

It does not surrender.

It badly needs a haircut and a drink.

At this rate, I've become a bit concerned that my hair will be stronger than the stylist's scissors.