It seems fitting that I have managed only one blog post per month since August.
This past month, we have been hit by the Godzilla of cold viruses which prompted me to create a song in honor of it (think Lambchop):
“This is the bug that never ends, yes, it goes on and on my friend. Some people started coughing then, not knowing what it was, and they will go on coughing forever just because this is the bug that never ends…”
Last week in desperation we called our friend Cleo to come and sit with Theresa, home sick from school, while Alan took the other two to school and went to work, and I went to work for an hour just to get my students set up with work for the two-week break so I could come back home for my own sick day. Cleo came back that same night with homemade organic chicken-and-rice soup.
And then she got sick.
So yesterday I brought her (not-homemade) soup and bread and apologized profusely for giving her this awful cold.
Other than all of us being leveled by this virus, reflecting on 2016 mostly makes my heart hurt.
So I will try to reflect on some of the Good Things, to create space for the breath we all need before we tackle all the inequity and injustice and hatred and general awfulness in the world.
- the awesome creativity of kindergartener spelling (all in caps, because they’re still working on learning lowercase letters):
- BADRLFAY (butterfly)
- HOSPDL (hospital)
- CER (cheer)
- and this note: MOMMY YOU ARE THE BAST KOK EVR (Mommy you are the best cook ever)
- what I’ve learned: vowels are ridiculously hard!
- my friend Cari had her first baby a few days ago. Is there anything more optimistic and promising than a baby?
- my yoga teacher taught me how to do a headstand a couple of months ago, and I did it on the first try. Inversions are hard for me, things requiring coordination in general are hard for me, so this is serious progress.
- our kids’ school gives “Dragon Slips” to encourage kids doing good things: listening, walking quietly, helping a friend, etc. We started giving invisible “Mommy Slips” and “Daddy Slips” at home to encourage such behavior too. In the past few days, Audrey brought down her own glasses in the morning and Jamie’s as well, without being asked. When Theresa asked for water at dinner, Jamie said, “I’ll get it!” and leaped to help her. Theresa gives away her favored blankets and stuffed animals to household members who seem like they need extra comfort.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is A GENIUS. (Here’s the sonnet he delivered as part of an acceptance speech at the Tonys this past summer.)
- Kate McKinnon as Hillary on SNL. Especially this one.
- last Friday as I hauled my voiceless self into work, the sunrise lit up the snow-capped mountains, turning them into pink-frosted cakes.
- the kid who did not even want to hold a writing implement in September now willingly practices writing and drawing at home.
- we forgot about Elf on the Shelf, even after the kids mentioned that “everyone” in their class has it at home. Finally, we dug him out of the storage room and he made his first appearance on the morning of December 21. Having to move the Elf only four times: major parenting win.
- three of my cousins and one former nanny are getting married next year! Four weddings in six months: so much love and rejoicing.
- a playlist that my phone surprised me with on Thursday as I drove to work determined to make it through the teaching day (which I did, but sacrificed my voice in the process):
- “Twelve Days of Christmas” by John Denver and the Muppets (an album I have listened to every Christmas since I can remember; my parents still own it on vinyl)
- “All I Want Is You” by Barry Polisar, from the soundtrack to Juno
- “Hard Road to Travel” by the Okee Dokee Brothers
- “Long Way” by Antje Duvekot
- “Father and Daughter” by Paul Simon (the song my dad and I danced to at my wedding)
- our village. When we call in the village, the village comes. I will never stop being grateful for and awed by this.
Finally, to celebrate our anniversary, we went to Victoria, B.C. Almost every weekend away we try to hike, so we chose a reasonable-looking trail up to a cool lookout on Mt. Finlayson in Goldstream Provincial Park.
It ended up being wayyyyyy more steep and challenging that we thought it would be.
People coming down would tell us, “Yeah, it’s a bit of a scramble at the top.”
As in, the trail all but disappears except for arrows spray-painted on the side of the rockface cliff.
About halfway up the rocky part, I stopped for a drink and looked back at where we had come from. Panic set in. How was I every going to get back down? It’s one thing to climb up; I’m fine with that. But going down? This is the girl who could not rappel down the rock-climbing wall when she took rock-climbing lessons and had to actually climb down hand-over-hand. Heights? Narrow ledges? FEAR.
But I remembered what my yoga teacher always says: “You don’t have to think about what came before. You don’t have to think about what’s coming next. You just have to be right here in this pose, right now.”
So I kept going up. And up. A total of 410 meters of elevation gain over 2 km.
We made it to the very top, and then I knew that going back down was not a Big Overwhelming Thing To Be Scared Of, but something to do one step (or butt-scoot) at a time.
Alright, 2017. Bring it.
- The pumpkin-flavored-everything has gotten a little out of control. I mean, I *love* pumpkin, and I love the fall (maybe even as much as I love Anne of Green Gables), but the other day Trader Joe’s had pumpkin-flavored dog treats. Really? Maybe dogs love pumpkin too, but seasonal pet treats seems over the top.
- Speaking of pumpkin, though…some recent hit recipes with the kindergarten (and older-than-kindergarten) set:
- Minimalist Baker’s Vegan Pumpkin Muffins
- Minimalist Baker’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins (with or without chocolate chips)
- Almond Butter-Zucchini Muffins (grain-free)
- Minimalist Baker’s Gluten-Free Zucchini Cake with Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
- Minimalist Baker’s Vegan Banana Crumb Muffins (are we sensing a pattern here? Yes: it’s the pattern of “geez, I have a couple of mushy bananas or some leftover canned pumpkin or some zucchini…better put it to its best use.”)
- For Alan’s birthday: Oh She Glows Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Vegan Buttercream Frosting
- School has gotten way better for the kids. We are settling into a routine. Things seem manageableish for now.
- What we’re practicing: writing (is there anything more adorable than five-year-old letters, all slanted and squishy and squiggly?), art, reading, math games. Using pencil grips to help with fine motor skills. Implementing “Stretchy Snake” (to slowly sound out a word) or Skippy Frog (to skip a word until you can come back to it with more context clues).
- We did have to figure out the threshold of when-to-call-a-kid-in-sick vs. when-to-send-them-to-school. My sister-in-law AJ confirmed our call.
- Even the bus driver commented last week: “[Kid’s name] isn’t a morning person, huh?”
- This past Saturday we had a We Love Nicole and Jillian party for our two most recent nannies. Since our kids are in school full-time, N and J are moving on to other ventures, but we are so grateful to have them in our lives. I made a pumpkin-cream-cheese-chocolate-frosting cake and several members of our tribe came to celebrate the end of an era and honor these young women. We even have a new word in our family lexicon, courtesy of Alan:
- to Nicole (v, tr.): to spread one’s sphere of awesomeness. Ex: We came home after the symphony, and our wonderful nanny had Nicoled our house.
- Speaking of winning the Nanny Jackpot, our first nanny Abbie asked Audrey, Theresa, and Jamie to be flower kids at her wedding in May. Melt.
- We made it to a Friday night football game for my high school, the highlight of which was seeing Bart the Maverick (our equine mascot). The kids paid virtually no attention to the actual game.
- Since the end of September, I have had the wonderful opportunities to see the following: Seattle Shakespeare Company’s The Winter’s Tale (my favorite Shakespeare play!), Seattle Rep’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Seattle Symphony conducted by Itzhak Perlman perform Mozart’s Requiem. So grateful for great art.
- Yesterday we went to the park with our new friend (and neighbor!) who’s in their kindergarten class. All four kids were riding their balance bikes around the large loop of the park, and the friend’s dad and I walked behind them. We came upon an older woman with a walker and her gentleman companion who flagged us down. “Are you with those children?” the woman asked. “Yes; are they bothering you?” I responded. “One of them hit me in the back of the legs,” she said. “They did say sorry.” Oh man. I talked to this particular child about the need to look ahead of you when riding anything with wheels instead of getting distracted (this child has been prone to running into things while in motion since babyhood). On our next lap, we passed the woman and I apologized again, saying that we had been working with our kids about paying closer attention, and that I was sorry I hadn’t been able to prevent the (literal) run-in. She responded with a smile: “Well, that’s how they learn. Keep trying.” Thank God for strangers who have every right to get angry at my kid and at me, and who choose to be honest and kind.
- My PEMS (Program for Early Multiples Support) group ended after 8 weeks–it was my third group, and the first on a weekend with both parents. On a regular Saturday morning, there were 16 adults and 16 babies, ranging from 4 weeks to 5 months. Their exhaustion, their frustrations, their sleeping and feeding issues…I do not miss them AT ALL. I will miss seeing these parents and their sweet babies, though.
And finally: a conversation.
Alan: There are five of us. We could be a basketball team. I could be the center; Mommy can be power forward, and we could have a three-guard-lineup.
Audrey: I’ll be the ball!
Jamie: I’ll be the hoop!
Theresa: I’ll be the goalkeeper!
Note to self: work on sports lingo.
Three weeks ago, the kids started kindergarten. The Big K. Grade 0. Initiated into the great machinery that is public education.
And I was ready.
I had stuff labelled. I had backpacks and lunchboxes ready to go. We had a system. We have not been late (miraculously, though we did forget a backpack one day which had to be delivered later).
And then that first day one of the kids started saying as we found nametags and desks and parents got ready to leave:
“I want to go home.”
Over and over.
And then the tears. “I want to go home.”
I had to wrangle my hand out of that little hand, put it in a teacher’s hand, request the other two siblings to offer hugs, and walk away.
To cry in the hallway.
We thought we were ready.
But the next time I dropped them off, and the same kid was upset, I asked the siblings to all hold hands as they went through the front door and down the hallway.
Having multiples is so hard in so many ways, yet I am incredibly grateful that they have each other.
Other things we’ve learned from being Kindergarten parents:
- Despite our best attempts at planning ahead, we’ve already had the morning scramble of “fill in reading logs (x3), stuff folders in backpacks, get water bottles filled and packed…”
- Another morning in that first week, our Very-Much-Not-a-Morning-Person child whimpered, “I don’t like waking up. I want to sleep in.” “Me too, kiddo,” I said. “Is it a school day?” “Yep.” “I don’t like having them in a row.” Me neither.
- We have lost so many items I can’t even keep track. By Friday, I’m usually walking out of school with three backpacks, four coats or sweatshirts, an extra hat, and loose papers. And three kids. We haven’t lost any of those yet.
- So many questions and unknowns: Do we have them take the bus? Will our current after school childcare situation continue to work? How early do I have to leave work on Fridays to pick them up? Do I have enough energy to volunteer for PTA stuff? Why did they schedule the new-parent-orientation-to-PTA two nights before Kindergarten Curriculum Night?
- It’s exhausting. It feels like being shot out of a cannon on Sunday night and finally landing on Friday evening. Every weeknight, I’m optimistic that this will be the night that I get to do what I want to: respond to friends’ e-mails, grade a bit, organize some toys, write a blog post. Every night something else comes up: picture day forms, curriculum night (mine and theirs), permission slips, etc. etc. etc.
- By Wednesday or Thursday, Alan and I are staring bleakly at each other: “Do our children really need to eat lunch every day?”
- We put little notes in their lunchboxes on the first day. My mom had always done that for us, and I loved getting them in my lunch bag. The little notes have not made a reappearance (see prior two bullets).
- The kids are so tired and crabby, and yet often will not fall asleep when I think they should. This results in much frustration and some wine consumption.
- We also started a new session of swim lessons on Wednesdays. This may have been a mistake. At the first swim lesson, one child REFUSED (literally kicking and screaming) to get in the water, even though all my kids love the water. I had so much built-up stress around anticipating how badly the second lesson would go that when it did go well, I felt less relief and more annoyance that I had been so stressed in the first place.
- The administration and office staff are lovely and gracious and deserve medals for Untold Amounts of Patience.
- I was afraid to contact the teacher because although one kid had said nothing but versions of “I don’t like school” every day for a week and a half, I didn’t want to be That Parent. As a teacher, I’ve seriously disliked my students’ parents who come to me with the cheery “Oh, I’m a teacher too” and then make completely unreasonable demands of me. After talking with two teacher friends about it, both of them said, “Be That Parent.” I e-mailed the kids’ teacher, and her response knocked my socks off. I had anticipated a good year from our earlier meetings with her, but I think she and the other teachers who team with her are nothing short of phenomenal, which comforts my mama heart.
Some days it feels manageable. The days when I pick them up, and they play or we read together in the garden outside the cafeteria, and I can check off their reading logs before we even get home. The days when we head to a park for bike riding in the sunshine, or stop for ice cream on the way home. The days when they give us glimpses into their school world, like telling us about their friends at recess or the stories they heard from the Listening Rug or what they did at Choice Time.
Exhausting and overwhelming as they are, these days are also really, really good days.
My Facebook and Instagram have been filling up with former students posting about heading to their first year of college. I have strong memories of my emotional state that summer after high school graduation and during the first semester of college. A good measure of excitement, but mostly fear.
Of not being smart enough. Of getting lost. Of looking like an idiot. Of not knowing how to behave in social situations like parties or class discussions. Of not making friends. Of learning how to live with a roommate. (Thankfully, Tina was the most accommodating and sweetest roommate I could have been paired with: you rock!) Of all the unfamiliar things a new phase of life brings.
What I wish I could have told the me from 20 (yikes!) years ago is this:
Be willing to take risks. The moments I regret are those where I did not attempt something because I was afraid. The capacity to be vulnerable, to expose oneself to failure or uncertainty, is one of the greatest traits we can cultivate in our lifetime. College is one of the safest places to do that, because you’re surrounded by peers who are similarly vulnerable, and by staff and community members who have experience helping students grow in this transitional time.
I’ve heard that old supposedly edifying question: What would you attempt if you were not afraid?
And my response was always: But I am afraid. I cannot imagine what it would be like otherwise.
So this summer, inspired by Mary Elder’s resolve to face many of her fears, I decided to face some of my fears. What would happen if I had the opportunity to do something that scared me, and did it anyway? Could I turn fear into curiosity, which is involves far less judgment and makes vulnerability an asset rather than a liability.
- I tried a new yoga class that my sister-in-law signed me up for. Fear: that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would look foolish. Fact: It was not all that different from my regular yoga class; it just had a different name. Bonus: I now feel more confident about taking different yoga classes at my own studio.
- I went kayaking off the coast of Chatham with my cousin. Fear: great white sharks (obvs); that my arms would get tired and it would be hard to get back to shore. Fact: we didn’t go far enough for sharks to be a worry; it was not a strenuous workout; and it was relaxing and awesome to be out on the water with Brittany.
- I signed up for karaoke with my cousin Kirsten. Fear: people would boo me because I’m not a very good singer. Fact: they didn’t call us, but I think I have worked up enough courage to try “American Pie” in her honor the next time we have karaoke (though I do have a stipulation that the audience needs to be people I won’t see again or very soon).
- I tried waterskiing. Fear: that I would look as awkward as I perceive myself to be as a snow skiier (not super physically coordinated); that face-planting into the water would really hurt. Fact: I never made it fully upright, but I also didn’t hit the water as hard when I fell. I tried three consecutive times, then took a break. Maybe next time.
- I took all three kids shopping for a week’s worth of groceries by myself. Fear: of meltdowns, of disobedience, of inconveniencing or disrupting other shoppers. Fact: I talked to the kids beforehand about what to expect, and our system of turns in the cart vs. helping put things in the cart worked well. Bonus: granola bars were close to the entrance, and they got to pick out a Clif bar to hold on to and eat in the car on the way home. Bribery? Maybe. I’ll take whatever works.
Contrary to my anxiety around transitions, my kids started kindergarten Jump Start last week with enthusiasm and little apparent reservations. Today, though, one of my kids handed me a booklet my parents gave each kid as a back-to-school present: a journal of writing prompts with space to practice writing simple words and a space to draw a picture of the sentence.
This kiddo asked Alan to write the word. He declined, saying it was for the kid to practice. Then the kid asked me. Persistently. I finally found out why: the kid said, “I don’t know how [to write or draw a picture] and I might mess it up.”
Oh man. What has taken me decades to learn I want desperately to have my kids avoid if possible. Can this kid be resilient in the face of vulnerability? Can this kid learn to turn fear into curiosity? Or will this kid follow my heartachy path of perfectionism and anxiety?
In helping them, I will continue to help myself. Talking to them about doing what I’m afraid of. (Next step: going down big slides!) They–and anyone starting college, returning to college, or doing anything newish–will find their own path.
May we all continue to dare greatly.
- Why don’t my kids yawn when I do or when I read the word “yawn”? When do yawns become contagious?
- I am so grateful for my kids’ safety awareness when they ride their balance bikes or scooters with me almost a mile round-trip to get our CSA veggies. They know to go slow on hills, especially hills that lead to busy streets; they know to stop at the corner, and I know they will never bolt into traffic. They might not be good listeners all the time, but they are when it counts.
- Why is it so hard to be motivated to exercise? I like being active. I like running and yoga. It used to be guilt at time away from my kids. It used to be choosing to accomplish other things on the to-do list. Recently it just feels like my resistance can be summed up as: “Meh.” But some of my hiking and outdoor pants no longer fit, so I need to figure out a way to overcome the Meh.
- I am also so grateful for our neighbors, who welcome our kids into their yards and homes, who accept being emergency authorized pick-up people for school, and who genuinely love and care for our whole family.
- Our kids got bikes with pedals for their birthday, and have been practicing riding bikes the past few weeks. I think they will learn well before I did. (I finally got it when I was 9 or 10. I refused to let my dad help me, because I knew from other examples how that was going to work: he’d promise not to let go, but then he would–as parents teaching their kids bike riding do–and I was terrified of that uncertainty. I’d rather teach myself than trust someone else. Oh, little Michelle…how much more you had to learn than riding a bike.)
- My kids LOVE helping me cook, which is such a blessing. Except when I’m trying to make something quickly, in which case it is not a blessing. Cooking with three five-year-old helpers slows the process substantially. But I do love that they see helping in the kitchen as fun and exciting. I hope it leads to their love of food and love of making their own.
- In picking up size 5T pajamas, I realized that I will soon be shopping for them in the Kid section rather than the Toddler section. Had a little heart-squeeze.
A cool morning run. Snails on the sidewalk. Simon and Garfunkel playing in my head:
Slow down, you move too fast.
You’ve got to make the morning last…
Life, I love you.
All is groovy.
–“The 59th Street Bridge Song”
Tonight the rain nearly poured down on the class of 2016. Thankfully, it stopped before we had to walk onto the football field.
I didn’t get pictures of all of my students but they all have a place in my heart. They are extraordinary ordinary human beings: resilient, creative, empathetic, curious, and compelled to make a difference.
I love you guys. As Garrison Keillor says at the end of every Writer’s Almanac: “Be well, do good work., and keep in touch.”