This blog has come to be a way for me to process Big Things on my heart. Which is not bad, but is not necessarily what I intended it for. So here are some unadulterated good moments, most of the courtesy of my nearly four-and-a-half-year-olds.
- Tonight Audrey wrapped an arm around my neck as I knelt by her bed and said, “I wish you could stay here with me forever.”
- The other night when Theresa woke up to use the potty, she said as I carried her back to bed, “I love you love you love you.”
- This morning during snuggle time (i.e. awake kids but not-so-awake parents), I told Jamie I was close to falling off the bed. He grabbed my hand and held onto it. When Audrey asked him to play a game, he said, “No, I have to get Mom.”
- A couple of weeks ago: a beautiful sunny, long-shadowed, late afternoon. A small hill at the park. Audrey and Jamie starting at the top and racing down as I held my arms open for them to launch into. Love and trust in motion.
- The things they say to be silly:
- “und-bareless” (going commando); “pants-bareless” (unds but no pants); “und-pant-bareless” (you figure it out)
- Banana and Bampy! (or, Dad, they started a new one: Fumpy)
- “festible” and “tobbler”
- “zoofing” (sliding down a bannister)
- Recent good events:
- Visit from Nana and Grampy
- Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium with Adam and Andrea
- Ellie’s second birthday party (with the very thoughtful vegan cupcake provided for me)
- Theresa-mommy day at the Seattle Aquarium
- Thank-you e-mail from a former student
I am also grateful for: poetry, working with my students on their college application essays, finding time to bond with friends, making two different kinds of stuffing for Thanksgiving, goat cheese, train sets, yoga, cocktails, fleece pants, polar bears, Saturday night dancing to The Swing Years and Beyond.
Halloween night: the neighbor opened the door, holding a bowl of candy. Instead of “Trick or treat!”, Audrey said, “I like chocolate.” After receiving her treat and heading back toward the sidewalk, she cried, “Next house!”
Audrey: When you die, do you go to heaven?
Me: Yes. Why do you ask?
A: I want to go there.
Me: You will, but not for a long time.
A: You don’t walk; you float there.
Me: You think so?
A: Yeah, because there’s no gravity up there.
Theresa, whisking something we’re baking: I’m an expert. I’m such a good whisker.
Me: I like it that you like cooking with me.
T: I like it that you help.
Theresa, pretending to be a turtle: My shell popped!
Me: Oh no!
T: I fixed it! With magic. And super glue!
Jamie, as it gets dark: The owls will come out now. Because they’re nocturnal. Like my godfather. [My brother works the night shift.]
Jamie: Will I get married when I’m bigger?
Me: Maybe. Some people do, and some people don’t.
J: Will I get a cupcake after I get married?
Me: Yes. [Pause] Do you know why people get married?
Me: Because they love each other.
J: I love Audrey, so when we get bigger, we can get married to each other.
[Also, Audrey wants to marry Cleo, and Theresa wants to marry Grandma Beth.]
* * *
Our kids’ preschool celebrated the feast of St. Martin of Tours with a lantern walk and release of sky lanterns into the twilight. In reflecting on recent acts of terrorism and responses of fear and rejection, I send my love and kindness into the twilight too. This answer comes back to me again and again:
Always More Love.
I haven’t written anything in weeks. There are so many things to say.
I want to talk about gun control. And gendered marketing and labeling. I want to talk about how sweet and funny all my kids are–my own children and my students. I want to talk about aging. And grief.
Instead, I’m coming back to kindness as a starting point for all these other things.
I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children, Carla Naumburg’s Parenting in the Present Moment (which is fantastic and brilliant and, total disclaimer, written by my college friend), and Anthony DeMello’s Sadhana: A Way to God, and all of the mindfulness, meditative exercises return to the concept of lovingkindness.
On the other hand, here’s a quote that came across my Facebook page recently:
I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.
And I believe that. We can’t all wait around for everyone to finally agree on what justice for everyone looks like. Some people will never agree. Sometimes we need action. We need anger. We need energy to change a flawed system.
How do lovingkindness and action for justice work together?
I don’t know. So right now, I focus on these moments of kindness.
* * *
Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to hold our tongues. I want to be right. I have something to prove. But instead, I’m going to keep those unnecessary comments in–which for me, takes a LOT of energy. But I’ve noticed that it’s worth it to withhold that kind of fuel for emotional fires.
* * *
In June, AAA called me because a man at the park I had been to with the kids called them, saying he had found my “AAA card and some other things.” When I realized my wallet had fallen out of my pocket there, I wondered how much of it I would get back, two and a half hours after leaving the playground.
All of it.
Huge props to Seamus and his dad for figuring out how to contact me, and waiting by the bench where I left it until I got there to claim it. They wouldn’t take anything more than a profuse “thank you.”
* * *
One Sunday this summer, Audrey and Jamie and I walked to church, leaving Alan with a very croupy Theresa. On the way, a neighbor we don’t know was having a garage sale.
With a nutcracker on the table blocking the sidewalk.
Audrey’s eyes went saucer. I asked the man how much.
“Ehhhh…two dollars,” he said.
I had 78 cents in my wallet.
“You going to church?” I nodded. “Just get me two bucks sometime.”
We rode bikes to a neighborhood playground today and dropped off a thank-you note with $2 enclosed in their mailbox.
* * *
Then I lost my parking ticket somewhere on the floor of our very messy car. I tried to show the attendant my receipt showing that I had returned an item at the store 30 minutes prior, hoping that would do something.
“Honey.” The attendant was firm but kind. “That don’t matter. Let me tell you something. If you lose your ticket, you’re supposed to pay the maximum fee. I’ll let you go this once, but hang on to that ticket next time, okay?”
In the midst of thanking her, she waved me through: “Just pay it forward.”
* * *
This note was scribbled in the margin of one of my student’s papers today: “I know you’re super busy but I was thinking we could make cookies for Jane’s [not her real name] family.” Jane’s mom is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Cookies don’t cure cancer. But they will show Jane and her family how much her friends are holding them in their hearts.
* * *
Dozens of people showed up to my cousin Kathy’s “comeback party” after she finished chemo and got the news she had fought for: cancer-free. We laughed and ate too many s’mores and listened to an amazing high school Celtic trio The Onlies and celebrated being part of Team Kathy.
* * *
I used to wonder why nuns or monks spent their lives in monasteries, some in silence, all in constant prayer. What good is that? Isn’t it better to be of use?
Now I think I understand. Prayer, compassion, witness–putting love into the world however and whenever we can–matters. It might not do great things. But these “small things with great love” (Mother Teresa) bring hope, light, gratitude–in other words, meaning–to our lives.
Next week I start teaching. My AP English Lit and Composition syllabus has been approved by the College Board. I got my College-in-the-High-School orientation and am now an adjunct faculty member at Edmonds CC. I applied for my professional certificate from Washington State.
Thus, I need good food. Food that will make me feel good, full, healthy. Food that will help heal my shoulder and wrist pain. Food that does not take forever (i.e. 30 minutes or more) to prepare on a weeknight.
Here we go.
Carrot Soup with Crisped Chickpeas and Lemon Tahini Drizzle (Wowza. From my idol of food blogging, Smitten Kitchen: I skipped the pita wedges and parsley garnish.
Caramelized Onions in the Crock-Pot (In the name of all that is holy, how have I not done this before? And, full disclosure: I wore Alan’s swim goggles while chopping all those onions.)
Roasted Chicken Breasts with Carrots and Onions (the chicken and veggies can dry out, so be willing to add stock or olive oil if you’re using a deeper pan, but otherwise, easy and delicious).
Shepherd’s Pie with sweet potato topping (subbed oregano for rosemary)
Crock-Pot Short Ribs Braised in Balsamic (short ribs? crock-pot? yes please)
Crispy Baked Tofu, to top Bun Bo
Vegan, Gluten-Free Buckwheat Pancakes (no really, these are good)
Roasted Root Vegetable Stew
adapted from Cooking Light
- 2 cups (1-inch) sliced peeled carrots
- 2 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled beets
- 1 cup (1-inch) cubed peeled turnips
- 1 cup (1-inch) sliced peeled parsnips
- 8 oz peeled shallot (about 12), cut roughly into 1-inch chunks
- 8 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. flour (I have used all-purpose, or whole wheat, or buckwheat)
- 2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
- 3-5 cups vegetable stock (depending on if you puree, and how thick you like your puree)
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, optional
- Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Combine first 7 ingredients on a baking sheet or in a large roasting pan, whichever fits. Bake at 450 for 30 minutes or until the biggest pieces are easily pierced with a fork.
- Place veggies in a large stock pot over medium heat with flour, ginger, and sage. Stir together and cook for 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper.
- Optional: puree in a food processor or using an immersion blender. This turns the soup bright (beet!) red, and is pretty thick if only using 3 cups of stock; add more till the texture suits your needs.
This summer. Whew.
- I have spent time talking with a dear friend and his wife about his terminal illness.
- I have spent time keeping company with my cousin [technically first-cousin-once-removed] as she receives her chemo infusion.
- We have spent time saying goodbye to some special people who are leaving here for other good things in California, Calgary, and Knoxville, Tennessee.
- We have spent a LOT of time helping my mother-in-law pack and move here from another state, then unpack and adjust and figure out her new normal. Nearly every night after dinner is Help Strategy. It’s like a board game. But with real people with unpredictable and real problems, and not actually any fun.
Still, now that it is mid-August (where the heck did most of the summer go???), we have much to be grateful for.
- So many family visitors, including my whole family staying at our house for an amazing and memorable week. Special shout-out to Kirsten as she starts her year teaching in Japan!
- I got to meet and share stories with seven amazing twin mamas, plus my extra bonus of rocking, soothing, feeding, and diapering very small babies (and getting spit up on, drooled on, and pooped on). Man, I love babies, and man, are they hard.
- There have been days which feel normal and therefore blissful. A run that didn’t result in any of my body parts hurting. Watching them at swim class. Actually folding and putting away laundry. Time to make dinner. Time to make phone calls and respond to e-mails. An afternoon of two kids playing happily outside and one kid playing happily inside for almost two hours. Pinwheels. Bike riding. A pleasant dinner without utensils being thrown or bubbles being blown in milk or food spilling due to excessive silliness.
- Neighbors who make our lives so much better–like K, who set up a kiddie pool in her backyard even though her grandkids have long outgrown it, so my kids could splash and play and eat popcorn and I could have time in the house to myself. Our block party is one of the highlights of my summer.
Here are more good things, from June till now:
First Family Camping Trip! (At Larrabee State Park in Bellingham, overlooking Samish Bay)
Parenting three four-year-olds is like trying to ringlead a very disorganized circus. And, by the way, Dear Reader, if you have any tips on how to cope with or manage (or not strangle) kids with oppositional behavior, we welcome them to the circus too.
It’s been hot. How hot? So hot that my coconut oil liquified in the kitchen cabinet. We have spent a lot of time hunkered in the basement. I may actually be part vampire.
Welcome to our home. We still have three potty seats in various locations in case the nearest of our three actual toilets is in use. Every time I turn around, one of the little potties needs to be cleaned out. Like they belong to the same category of container as Strega Nona’s magic pasta pot, which keeps filling itself. Last month, our Ooma and Oompa arrived. As I brought sheets into the guest room where they had already deposited their suitcases, I walked by a potty. Full of poop. Because that’s the kind of classy hosts we are.
Is that a pair of underwear in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? I find kids’ socks, underwear, toys, “special pebbles,” and other random things in my pockets. At least I’m usually the one who put it there.
High fashion around here: last summer we had to get rid of a small wasp nest in the kids’ play house outside. I geared up with rain boots over sweatpants, a sweatshirt with hood pulled around my face so only my eyes showed, and gardening gloves. Last month, after a late-night kid puking session, I was in the laundry room at midnight, scarf wrapped around my nose and mouth to shake off and scrub out all the chunks.
I’m channeling Yosemite Sam. Can’t complete a sentence–sometimes due to the desire to let loose a string of obscenities, and sometimes because I honestly can’t remember what the heck I started to say.
Needs? What needs? This past Monday when I got up with the kids so Alan could rest after his crazy-hellish weekend, I got a minor nosebleed. As I was sitting in the bathroom to stop it, one kid after another came in: “Will you read a book?” “Will you play this game with me?” “I’m hungry. Can you make me some breakfast?” The “Hi. I’m bleeding” response did not alter the frequency or insistence of their requests. Which is kind of like a parable for parenting in general. The parent could have lost a limb, and the preschooler would still be like, “Why aren’t you getting my cereal?”
I have micromanaged a peanut butter bar. Making sure everyone is taking turns and eating the same amount. Taking turns is a big repeated topic of discussion around here. Which is probably what led to…
Women’s World Cup commentary, 7 min. into the first half: Me: Wow, the U.S. is up 4-0. Theresa: Zero? Uh-oh, Mommy. Why don’t they let the other team have a turn at winning?
Sweet lullaby time…with commentary. This was how my bedtime song went the other night (and I honestly don’t remember which kid was which now):
“Who said that every wish would be heard and answered, when wished on the morning star?”
Kid: We don’t have morning stars!
“Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it; look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us star-gazing, and what do we think we might see?”
Kid: What do we see?
“Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection: the lovers, the dreamers, and me.
All of us under its spell. We know that it’s probably magic.
Have you been half-asleep? And have you heard voices? I’ve heard them calling my name.”
Kid: We have names!
“Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailor? The voice might be one and the same.”
Kid: What voice, Mama?
Other stuff: and then, you know, there’s been Father’s Day, their birthday party, a week of AP training, two triplet families dining on our back deck (two parents and six kids, woo!), the kids’ first swim class, Grandma Beth’s move to Seattle…just a normal relaxing summer.
Play the calliope and bring out the clown car!
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and get a “do-over” for my first year of teaching.
I was so excited about engaging kids with literature that I didn’t fully engage with the kids themselves. I thought I did, but it was a superficial exercise. I didn’t really know those kids. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable with students, how to invite their vulnerability in building a safe classroom.
I thought that rigor = zero tolerance for slip-ups. No work by the deadline? Zero in the gradebook, no extensions, no excuses. Tardies? Detention. I didn’t understand that rigor means high standards combined with the guidance to reach them and the compassion to make adjustments as necessary. I hadn’t yet learned that my students were as human as me. I also hadn’t yet learned to give myself the same breaks and empathy that I would learn to give them.
This year, I believe I taught complex texts and skills and held students accountable. My rigor focused on challenges that asked students to be creative and analyze issues and language.
My favorite and most important lessons had less to do with the Common Core and more to do with developing reflective, critical thinkers. When they read about and discussed issues of gender, race, equity, the individual vs. the community, I saw them grow as human beings.
That is what I love about my job: facilitating these opportunities for personal growth. One of the highest compliments I have ever received came today: a freshman told me that I was “the most understanding teacher I have ever had. I mean, you understand us.” That is my mission. To understand my students, to make them see that they matter, that their voices can and should be heard.
As a result, my students open up about their anxieties and concerns. Not just stressed because: Procrastination, Lack of Sleep, Homework Load, Getting Homework Load done in time not already taken by sports, music, theater, volunteering, church, and family–the usual suspects. But also stressed because: Can I keep grades up enough and get enough service hours and excel enough at my activities to get into college? What if I don’t get in to college? How will I afford college? How will I know what my dreams even are, with how my parents are pushing me to go in this direction?
I gave them space to talk and read and ponder these hard questions. And yesterday I gave them this letter:
My dear students,
Many times this year you have talked about your stressors: grades, the time commitments of extra activities, getting into college, paying for college, figuring out a career, balancing school and other schedules with a personal life.
I know these stressors. I was one of you once, stressed to the point of sleeplessness and physical illness. All of you will forge your own path, find your own strategies that work, and have your own defining experiences that will teach you better than any words can. Still, if it helps, here are some things I have learned over time to help manage stress and anxiety so they don’t manage me.
Manage your expectations. Another way to say this is, “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” Much negativity comes out of expectations not matching up with what actually happens. Examine your expectations and assumptions regularly, and look honestly at reality.
Trust. Mick Jagger sang it well: “You can’t always get what you want, but[…]you get what you need.” Things may not happen the way you planned, but I truly believe that the Universe gives us what we need to grow into our best selves.
Be mindful about your mindset. Adversity is inevitable; misery is optional. Breathe into the present moment. Let go. Reframe your thinking about what’s stressing you out. Practice gratitude. You are the narrator of your own story.
You are never truly stuck. Part of living and growing is learning from your experiences, even the undesired ones. If you make a mistake, most of the time you can fix it or make a different choice next time. If you are flexible with your options, you won’t feel trapped by things beyond your control. Because there are always things beyond your control.
The truest truth I have learned is that we can control one thing in life: our choices. One thing. Just one. We wish we could control other people’s choices, our deadlines, the weather, but really we just have our choices. Lousy, huh? Unfair. But true.
Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” The older we get, the more at peace we can be with uncertainty. Here’s another great quote about that, this one by Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet:
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Vulnerability, very much associated with stress, is hard to accept. But what makes us uncomfortable, anxious, and exposed to hurt also allows us to take risks, engage, grow, and have a fully-lived life. Learning not to fight vulnerability is one of the greatest skills you can have.
Know, beyond all this, that strength and courage already reside in you. I believe in you.
So this past week was rather awful.
The week before was normal. It looked like this:
Sure, there were hiccups. Unpleasant behaviors we were dealing with. But seemingly overnight last weekend, all three kids’ issues intensified simultaneously.
We tried being patient and non-judgmental and nurtur-y.
After days on end of feeling like I was under siege, I cracked.
The other day as I sat crying on the couch because nothing I did was working to improve their situation, Alan had come home early from work and read a random book from our bookshelf to the kids. Bearcub and Mama. Bearcub gets separated from his Mama during a snowstorm and feels anxious until he remembers what his Mama always told him:
“All storms pass.”
As my neighbor told me later that night when I called her to vent and make sure I wasn’t crazy, she reminisced about when her own kids were four and hellish: “It will pass. But not fast enough.”
And then I remembered the suckiest of sucky truths about life.
Also the Main Truth about Life.
The ONLY THING we get to control is our choices.
That’s it. Just that ONE thing.
Today I read this blog post by Renegade Mama which hit really close to home. That when my kids act out, I don’t have control over them. I can guide. I can direct. I can blame them and try to force them to change.
Or I can recognize that they’re four. And still so, so little. And maybe they just need more snuggle time, more attention from me, more stability and assurance that even though they make bad choices that I still love them.
Because for a little while there, I didn’t feel that unconditional love toward them.
I was pissed at them. Pissed for making me so agitated, pissed for giving me insomnia, pissed for being so emotionally exhausting. Pissed because I have needs too and even if I didn’t, maybe there’s no way I could ever give them everything they need.
That’s a hard place to be, and I find myself there from time to time. Trying to meet my needs, including time away from my kids. To exercise. To think. To read and write and connect with friends and fill those parts of my soul that get depleted. And trying to meet my kids’ needs when sometimes I’m not even sure what their needs are other than that they express those needs through biting, and shoving, and yelling.
I can meet my needs or my kids’ needs but not both all the time. Sometimes one set has to be sacrificed. And that’s what I signed up for, I understand, but man, such a choice is hardhardhard.
So while my students took their final exam today, I breathed and wrote myself reminders about these hard-won lessons that would be so much easier if I just had to learn them ONCE and be done: Respond, don’t react. Focus on the good. Low expectations, high acceptance.
And then I came home on this gorgeous sunny June afternoon and we played a silly game of “Drive the Fire Truck.” They stamped while I made dinner. We rode bikes outside. It was lovely.
The storm seems to have passed, for the moment.
We have made it through four years–they of being alive, and we of parenting. All of us survivors and learners and becomers.
I would normally wax poetic about how wonderful and amazing my kids are. Which, of course, they are.
Except sometimes. Like these past two nights, both of which have required multiple glasses of wine.
I mostly try to write about the little celebrations, the moments of gratitude, the peace in the chaos. Sometimes, though, I feel compelled to present parenting as it really is: its frustrations all mixed up together with the joy.
So here are the highs and lows of the last few days:
High: Waking up to the pile of presents from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and parents. So much glee.
Low: Tears due to the incorrect color of goggles and fights over toys. Pushing. Hitting. More tears. Fighting over space on my lap.
High: Every Sunday, Fr. Mark asks anyone whose birthday or anniversary is that week to come to the altar for a blessing. The kids watch this every Sunday. This morning, Audrey and Theresa brought their birthday cards to show Fr. Mark how old they were. Upon hearing his request for birthdays, Audrey led the charge–and I mean full-on sprint–toward the altar. Fr. Mark pretended to look terrified at potentially being tackled by three four-year-olds. It was one of the most enthusiastic and adorable birthdays I’ve ever seen. They got their blessing, though Audrey hid her head in my shoulder for the singing–I think it was one of her first moments of feeling self-conscious.
Low: One of our children had a hard time dealing with Big Feelings today. Anytime something did not go this kid’s way, this kid hit or pushed a sibling, sometimes just because the sibling happened to be in the vicinity. One of these moments happened downstairs, and I heard the “I want Moooooommmmmmyyyyyyyy” wail drift upstairs. A naked child appeared in the doorway, crying, and crawled up on my lap. As I was, um, using the toilet. Another child was already on a small potty in the next room because the bathroom was occupied. As I comforted the naked child on my lap, the third child, also naked, came crying into the room, also wanting comfort. Comfort is hard to give when one is in such a compromised position. Makes me want to lock the bathroom door. Except when I do, this happens:
Low: We had a few things to get at the grocery store, a trip that we told them would end with a stop by the bakery for them to pick out a birthday treat. They wanted to eat their treats in the store; we told them the treats were for dessert (i.e. after dinner). Meltdown. I had to leave the store with two kids while Alan paid for the groceries with the non-melting-down child.
High: Audrey hit Theresa (that’s not a high point). Then she came up to the crying Theresa, hugged her, and said, unprompted, “I’m sorry. You’re the nicest cat ever.” Theresa: “I’m not a cat.” Audrey: “You’re the nicest person.”
Low: Audrey was crying in the car because she needed a hug. I could not give her a hug because I was wearing a seatbelt. Theresa: “She needs to be quiet. I’m trying to sleep.” Jamie: “I’m trying to listen to the music.”
High: They’ve gone to sleep nearly immediately after lights-out for three nights in a row. Growth spurt? Exhaustion? Vestiges of the nasty cold they had? Who knows. At least I can finish my wine in peace.
All I’m saying is, fellow parents, sometimes it’s hard to focus on the highs and ignore the lows.
But, as Mr. Slinger says in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.”