Lately

Lately, my stepdad has been sending me blogging ideas, which makes me think I should dust off the old blog and write some stuff. It’s hard when you haven’t blogged in almost a year and feel like you should write something special and momentous. Then I realized that I should just start somewhere. Anywhere.

Lately, we’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to think or write or do much of anything else. I remember when my kids were babies and people would tell me how much harder it would get when they were older. At the time, I was breastfeeding, changing diapers every hour or more, and not getting more than two hours of sleep in row. I thought they were nuts.

Now I realize that when it comes to kids, things don’t really ever get easier, they just change. I get more sleep and change fewer diapers, but now that my kids have a full array of linguistic strategies at their disposal I spend a lot more time negotiating sibling squabbles and bedtime routines, supervising homework, and discussing the finer details of bee life. Yes, I did indeed know that honey is bee puke. Thank you for reminding me, Oscar.

Lately, I’ve realized that our toy days are numbered. This first came to me when I was shopping for Oscar’s Christmas presents. It occurred to me that it would only be another year or two before he was no longer interested in toys. Certainly he will be interested in Legos, video games, art supplies, and books for many years to come, but I’m talking about little kid toys, the kind that sometimes feel like they are taking over our house. I know that one day I will blink and they will be gone, replaced by smelly clothes cast off in all directions, cell phones, and requests to borrow the car.

A few weeks ago I insisted we pull out the Thomas the Train sets and play with them. Oscar thought I was a little bit crazy but he obliged me. He played with his little sister for a short time and then lost interest in favor of a new book. I can’t tell you how much I love to see my son sitting around reading, but it gives me a pang to realize I’ll probably never see him build train tracks out into the living room again, spending hours creating one disaster after another with Thomas and Percy and Henry and James. Oh, don’t get me wrong. He still plays. He love action figures and Legos and will play for hours. But he asked me to stop putting the Thomas the Train container in his lunch box. “I’m too old for that now, Mama.”

Lately Aria has stopped calling me into her room in the middle of the night, every night (it still happens). It feels good to sleep through the night, but I looked around the other day and realized that most of the baby paraphernalia is gone from the house. I honestly don’t miss having babies around, but what bothers me is that the transitions don’t always happen with fanfare and documentation. Oh, sure, we take pictures of first steps and first days of school and lost teeth, but not of the last time our kids ride in the front seat of the shopping cart or need help getting their shoes on. Most of the transitions and changes happen in the midst of our hectic daily routine, and aren’t noticed until much later.

I’m trying to strike a balance between making it through each day as it comes, creating happy memories, and holding onto the little details that make life with children so unique. As the saying goes, it’s the longest shortest time of your life.

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Early

Aria woke me as usual this morning at 5:30. She just wants to be covered up and then she goes back to sleep. Sometimes she waits until 6:00 or 6:30, but then she usually wants to get up for the day.

This morning I headed back to bed in the hopes of getting some more sleep, but when I got there I realized that I might as well stay up and do some writing. I really didn’t want to, but most of my favorite writers do all of their writing in the early morning. Because when you’re a mother and you work full time, is there any other way to get anything done?

I made coffee and managed to write 300 words, which is not a lot but more than I wrote yesterday. The rest of the day will be spent getting Oscar ready for school, going to work for a meeting about a course that I’m designing for the College of Education (my first stint as a curriculum consultant), and then working on getting my summer course ready, which begins in less than two weeks.

Most people think now that school is out I have nothing to do. HA!

Back to writing…

2014: Toddlers, Tornadoes, and Tremors…OH MY!

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2014 was the year Oscar turned five and Aria turned two. It was the year Oscar went to school and fell in love with Legos and Letterbots, the year I didn’t write my novel or run a marathon, and the year I realized that life really gets better with age, despite the wrinkles and gray hair, because you realize what truly matters and learn to shrug off the rest.

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The changes came fast this year. Oscar learned how to swim and ride a bike, how to read, how to write, and how to count to 160. If you have a moment, he would like to count to 160 for you. Over and over and over again.

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Aria stopped nursing and starting talking up a storm. Her favorite things to say are “I did it!” and “I do it!” and “Alone!” but she still loves to be picked up and cuddled like a baby. She still wants her mama more than anything. She still smells delicious. She wants what she wants and she is hell bent on getting it.

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She is a fireball of passionate fury.  I remember when Oscar was two, I thought, “Terrible twos? Not this kid! Must be a myth.” With Aria, the twos are terrible and crazy-making in every way. I am flat-out exhausted at the end of each day, but that’s when the battle is just getting warmed up. Despite being weaned, Aria still wants me to wake up many times throughout the night. I will be drifting into sleep when suddenly I hear, “Mama? Mommy? Mama! MAMAAA!!!” This is the year I came to understand why sleep deprivation is used as a torture mechanism.

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Don’t get me wrong, there is so much sweetness and joy. My daughter is beautiful, funny, smart, and expressive; but parenting  her has been and will continue to be one of my biggest challenges.

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This is the year Oscar learned about his own mortality, and therefore became obsessed with all things disaster-related: tornadoes and volcanoes and bad guys and big dogs and bears. And speaking of natural disasters, we experienced our first real earthquake in Flagstaff when I was shook awake at 11:00 P.M. one night a few weeks ago with a 4.7 quake centered just a few miles south of our neighborhood.

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After that little tremor I read some stuff about earthquakes, and found it interesting that although geologists can measure earthquake activity, they can’t predict it. The earth can move and adjust and crack open anytime without warning. An earthquake can be minor or disastrous. The occurrence of one can mean that another is close behind, or that another won’t come again for 1,000 years.

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For some reason geology reminds me of parenting. Before I had children I used to think, foolishly, that I could guide my children and shape them, that I could somehow predict what they might become.

I have since learned that they will shape me, bit by bit, one seismic event at a time.

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Parenting from the Trenches

I’ve been having a bad case of the comparisons lately. When I see how much other people do with their kids (witnessed by social media but also personal conversations) I ping back and forth between a variety of emotions, from jealousy to anger to anxiety to frustration. I want to be super mom, but I also want to be realistic. I also resent the fact that what I do with my kids is compared to mothers who don’t work full time. There are plenty of people who claim these comparisons don’t exist, but they’re kidding themselves. I get comments from family, friends, other mothers, and my own kid.

It prompted me to write this post on Facebook. I’m always deeply comforted when other parents admit to their struggles and shortcomings, because social media is full of pictures of family outings on beautiful summer days, kids participating in all kinds of enrichment activities, parents out on the town at all hours of night (how can people afford to eat out AND hire a babysitter?), and perfect marzipan birthday cakes as the centerpiece to huge parties with homemade decorations, games, costumes, etc. Every single kids party that I go to resembles something from Pinterest. Every. Single. One.

But enough complaining and bitterness! This is what I always teach my education students about observing other teachers or reading about teaching theories and methods: take what works for you and your students and leave everything else behind.

What works for me? A combination of listening to my kids and drawing on my own experiences. As a kid I hated being behind my peers in all things physical. So I’m encouraging Oscar to learn to ride his bike with confidence and I’ve enrolled him a series of swimming lessons at NAU over the summer (Another comparison: everyone else in Flagstaff goes to a place called the Aquaplex, but I am baffled as to how people can afford it–another instance where I feel like I’m wandering hopelessly lost in a foreign country). In addition to biking and swimming, my son has expressed interest in some science-y things, like planets. We are indulging these interests with planned visits to the observatory and various museums in Flagstaff and Tucson, along with visits to the library.

In contrast to planning activites, it’s very important to me to give my kids plenty of time for free play and downtime. In all my years of babysitting I saw MANY overscheduled kids, and I still do, and there is nothing more depressing than small children being dragged to activity after activity. As a family, I want us to find a balance.

It helps me to focus on prioritizing the things that really important to me. Right now, having a nice house, throwing parties, and traveling extensively have to be set aside.

It also helps me to enjoy small moments of calm. These are almost always in the mornings–my new favorite time–when we make oatmeal or pancakes or eggs, watch cartoons, play, read books, and lounge around in our pajamas. I relish the calm and quiet of having nothing to do and nowhere to go, and my kids love it too.

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A Letter to My Son Oscar

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A long time ago I used to write to you every month. Almost every month for the first three years of your life. Then things changed. Your sister was born. You turned three and then four. You started talking. We waited so long for you to talk and we worried for so long about your talking and then it came in a rush, like a monsoon storm, words spilling out of your mouth at a rate I could no longer process or contain. You flood me with your humor, your wisdom, your joy.

I am an introvert who spends her day teaching and talking and comes home to two beautiful children who want to talk, to learn, to play, and to climb all over me. It’s exhausting. I’m sorry for that, Oscar. I want nothing more than to be the best mother I can be. You deserve so much more from me.

I want to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better daughter and sister and friend. But more than anything, I want to swim around in your wonder and joy. At night, I savor the quiet and try to pull some coherent thoughts together for teaching and try to put some words down on paper. But you know what? It’s almost too quiet. I miss you. I miss the way you say, “Mom? Let me tell you something!”

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You love to draw and paint. You still love to set up elaborate train track configurations and you love to come get me to make sure I look at them. You want me to see and hear everything. You love school. When we pull into the parking lot you can’t wait to get out of the car. You run ahead, up the walkway, saying, “Let me open the door, Mom! Let me open the door!” At the grocery store you ask questions about everything, pointing and asking, “Why do they make it that way? What is that for? Can we try that some time?” You want to put everything in the cart yourself and then line everything up on the counter at the checkout. You carefully align everything on the conveyor belt and won’t let me add anything else until the conveyer belt moves.

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I know that childhood exists only as a momentary nostalgic flash in all of our lives. It is so, so brief. Someday I will no longer be able to call to memory what it was like to hold your small chin as I brush your teeth. I will no longer have to wipe the table and wash your little cup when you spill your juice, or decide you want milk instead.  I will no longer remember the sound of your voice acting out one dramatic scenario after another with your little guys (what you call your action figures: “my little guys.”). I will no longer be able to help you put on your pajamas, make your bed, cut your meat, pick out your treats, pick up your toys, buckle you into your seat.

All of these small tasks can be tedious and tiring at times, but they are like tiny sea shells and smooth stones that make up an ocean of memories. One day I will only be able to look out at the sweeping vista of the sea, acknowledge it’s existence and beauty, but no longer feel the wet stand between my toes. You will be in your ship, sailing out to meet the rest of your life, leaving me behind.

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I want you to know, for the rest of your life, that you are a gift. You are the gift that life gave me. I’m so lucky! How in the world did I end up the mother of such a boy? You are so curious, funny, intelligent, and interested in everything around you. It is so, so easy to make you happy. All you want is to play with me, to put honey on your toast, to help me cook. You remind me that life is supposed to be fun and interesting. You remind me to use my indoor voice. You remind me that love is all that matters, even when it means messy floors and sticky fingers and exhausted moms.

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I love you, Oscar.

Love, Mama.

Head Over Heels

Happy Birthday to my little footling breech baby.

Four years ago, on the morning of Friday the 13th, the doctor hoisted her knee onto the edge of my hospital bed for leverage. She placed her slim, warm hands on either side of my belly and said, “That’s his head, and that’s his butt. I’m going to turn him now. You’d better relax, because this is going to hurt.”

Twelve hours later she sliced open my belly, pulled you out by your feet, and lifted you up in the air. Your father, holding my hand, said, “It’s a boy.”

Giving birth to you was nothing like I expected. Raising you has been nothing like I expected and I’ve learned the most important lesson of all, which is that we cannot have expectations for our life or for our children. We can only hold hands as the roller coaster careens around each corner. We can look at each other, look around, push the hair out of our eyes, scream, cry, laugh, and love.

Thank you Oscar, for filling my cup overflowing. Thank you for moving and dancing through my world. Thank you for everything you have taught me in your four years on this earth. I hope you have 100 more.

I used to think I would teach you everything I know and lead you into this world. Now I know that my job is to listen to your stories, hold your hand, and follow you where ever you want to go.

I love you more every day. More than I thought it was possible to love another human being.

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The Life of a Writer

Fifty years ago today Sylvia Plath took her own life. I’ve been fascinated with Sylvia Plath since I was twenty years old and came across a copy of  The Bell Jar. Twenty is a really good age to read this book; at the time her voice spoke to me in a way that nobody else could.

I went on, over the next two decades, to read everything by and about Sylvia Plath. I read her poems in grad school, I studied her short stories and her novel when I was learning to write fiction, and I devoured her diaries, letters, and biographies at each stage of my life that mirrored hers: writing, going away to college, finding love, teaching, becoming a mother, and grappling with trying to create a life that is both fulfilling and artistic.

I am not interested in how Sylvia Plath died. I try not to think about it because it only depresses me. I don’t care about her death; I care about her life. She was a fully formed, fascinating woman who worked tirelessly every day to balance her life as a mother and a writer. She craved domesticity, baking and sewing and relishing motherhood at the same time she wrote some of her darkest and most brilliant poetry.

When she was a single mother caring for two children under the age of three she woke between 4:00 and 5:00 every morning to get some writing done. In one month she put together an entire manuscript of poetry, Ariel, the book that would be published to great acclaim after she died. In the middle of this productive month, she wrote to her mother, “I am a writer…I am a genius of a writer; I have it in me. I am writing the best poems of my life; they will make my name.”

One of the things I love about Sylvia Plath is that she considered motherhood to be just as important a vocation as writing, but she refused to give up either one. She wouldn’t give up motherhood to be a better writer and she wouldn’t give up writing to be a better mother. She felt that motherhood, despite its difficulties, made her a better writer. She also knew that without writing, she wouldn’t survive.

And despite her death, she did survive. She was alive on this earth for over thirty years, she was a mother, and she wrote books which are still in print. She loved cooking and eating and she loved the ocean and drawing pictures and painting and sewing dresses for her daughter. She took ten-mile hikes and long baths. She learned to ride a horse on her 30th birthday.  She became a bee-keeper and played the piano for her daughter.

There are a lot of misconceptions about mental illness and creativity, and about the death of Sylvia Plath. She was not a genius of a writer because she was mentally ill, she was a writer and a mother in spite of  her struggles with depression. She did not commit suicide because she was a writer, or because she was a mother, or because her husband left her. She took her life in the throes of a clinically diagnosed depressive episode, one in which she had experienced before several times in her life. In fact, her previous suicide attempts, and her hospitalization in a mental institute, occurred before she had children and before she met her husband.

I do not admire her writing and read about her life because I am morbid, or depressed, or suicidal. I read her words because they are some of the truest words I have ever read about life, parenting, and being an artist. Her words speak to the universal truth about what it means to live at the edge of art and life, what it means to be pulled in many directions, and what it means to turn all of it, the love and pain and laughter and sleep deprivation and hunger and fear and wisdom and the experience of the senses, into words. On the one hand, her words are like a stone statue or monument: timeless, beautiful, and a lasting legacy. On the other hand they are alive, breathing, and ephemeral, like the moments spent with a young child.

In one of my favorite poems, “Morning Song,” she writes:

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and shallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.