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Practicing, Not Preaching, the Work of Love

February 16, 2018

I have been vacillating wildly these past few weeks–and even more in the past few days–between two views of humanity:

  • that people are inherently good, helpful, want to love and be loved, have flaws and can be redeemed, and
  • that people suck.

Whenever my team teacher had students read Enlightenment philosophers, students inevitably sided with Hobbes:  that humans in their natural state were violent, afraid, and that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  They had no use for Rousseau’s idealized state of nature, or even Locke or Montesquieu.

When events occur like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, I am inclined to agree with Hobbes–not because of the violence of the perpetrator, though that is horrifying.  Because of the comments and attitudes afterward.

My students, in their conversation today about the school shooting, reported what they had seen on social media or heard from others at our own high school:  people making comments that joked about, derided, or condescended toward victims, toward the idea of school violence in general.  As evidenced by my students’ and my own observations about reactions to this shooting, or any other violent act, or any comments on any article online anywhere, people are thoughtless, rude, closed-minded, self-righteous, and ignorant.

And then things happen like this:  I got to help students at my school prepare for our second annual Diversity Assembly:  a completely student-created, student-organized, student-led celebration of diversity, acceptance, and allyship.  I watched three student leaders invite, include, and create this assembly from the ground up in two and a half weeks.  I watched five students grip their speeches and stand on shaky legs and speak their truths about who they are and how we can all be better allies to those who feel marginalized.

And then I find out about some of my own students’ incredibly poor choices, choices that are hurtful and disrespectful and directly oppose everything I’ve been trying to teach them about empathy and awareness.

And then my kids’ first grade teacher made booklets for each of her students, and each page in that booklet contained a note from every kid and adult in their class.  My heart melted when I read what their classmates, teacher, and instructional aide wrote to each of my kiddos–even to the kid who often has problematic behavior in school.

I’ve been swinging back and forth between these two ends of the spectrum of human nature, when of course in my core I know the truth:  that we can be both good, helpful, kind, redeemable AND rude, thoughtless, cold-hearted, condescending.  As much as I would love to think that I walk the walk of open-mindedness that I preach, I know I often fall miserably short.

I will come back to center, to the Middle Way, as usual.  I need to remember to practice everything I preach, including love and open-mindedness and heartful listening, even when it is damn hard.  Even when it feels impossible.

I need to remember what I told my student who feared backlash after her speech at the Diversity Assembly:  “because there’s always backlash,” she said, “even if it’s just one person being a jerk.”

I told her what keeps me going as a teacher, and if I were to generalize, as a person:  that we plant seeds.  We likely will never witness their growth, if they grow at all.  We may never know the impact our words or actions or example has on another person.  We just have faith that those seeds will blossom eventually, in a month or in five years or after decades.  The faith in the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

This faith in our human-ness neither condones nor mitigates these unnecessary and unconscionable deaths, and it does not supplant my fury at those in power who do not act in any way, small or large, to prevent such acts of violence.  The only thing it does is make me able to face my children, my students, members of my community, and keep doing the work of love.

Which, for this moment, must be enough.


Audre Lorde and The Worry Wolf

February 9, 2018

When my friend’s daughter’s anxiety got really bad, my friend and her spouse would talk to their little girl about the Worry Wolf, this creature that gave her nightmares and insomnia and stomachaches.

The Worry Wolf comes around my house too.  He goes hand-in-hand with Fear (what animal would go with Fear?  Not a frog.  A ferret?  A fox?  A feral raccoon?).  The two of them gang up on me, gag me, paralyze my rational brain and send me down a spiral of negativity.

This Worry and this Fear have also silenced me, especially here.  I wrote last year about trying to consciously do things that scared me (karaoke was conquered in December!).  But in my writing about parenting and teaching and thinking and seeking, I have been too afraid to share my truths.  In part because I have a hunch that my family member’s shutting down all communication with me, infrequent though it may have been, was a result of my speaking up.  In part because some of the things on my mind are not entirely my story to tell:  they involve the stories of my children, my mother-in-law, and I have been figuring out how to walk that line between their privacy and the part of the story that is mine.

Example:  One of my kids has come home several times this year saying they don’t have any friends, that recess is often a time of walking around the playground without anyone to play with.  This kid last year was inseparable from R.–even their kindergarten teacher didn’t make them switch line partners because the two of them were always together.  This year, R. is in a different first grade, and another kid has chosen R. to be their only friend, meaning R. is not “allowed” to play with my kid anymore–and R. does not seem to mind this, which breaks my heart on many counts.

The Worry Wolf tells me that no one wants to hear my story.  That the Silence Breakers of the #metoo movement have valid and important stories to tell; that immigrants and refugees and people of color have valid and important stories to tell.  That I am not struggling to make ends meet, that I have never been violently assaulted, and therefore I should shut my privileged mouth.

Audre Lorde, one of my role models, has a lot to say about silence in her essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”  She says:

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself.  My silence had not protected me.  Your silence will not protect you.  But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

For every real word spoken, we are bridging differences.

Maybe some bridges will break.  Maybe I cannot live an authentic life and simultaneously always please others.  No bridges can be built with silence.

So.  As my next decade approaches, I want to face the Worry Wolf and the Fear…Flamingo?, and feel the shakes and the constricted throat and the tears, and speak anyway.

and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

–Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival”

Celebrating Joy and Parenting Wins

January 1, 2018

Patrick would have turned 40 today.

Our friend Jen eloquently posted this message on Facebook about him:

His message was always to take joy. Here is his take on Fra Giovanni’s “Take Joy,” from Tasha Tudor’s eponymous book, which Paddy put into his own words when I was writing my college senior essay about the last year of my beloved grandmother’s life:

No peace lies in the future
Which is not hidden in this present instant;
Though much is taken, much abides: take peace.
Though your fears are great, your heart is strong; take heart.
Though your eyes are dim, your spirit is bright; take light.
And though there is sorrow, there is also joy; take joy.

In honor of him and his consistent focus on the positive, in spite of the fact that our brains are wired to make negative thoughts “stickier” than positive ones, I offer up four parenting wins that happened last year.

1:  The Frindell Club

One of our kids was having a very, very hard time managing anger and frustration.  This kid resorted to hitting, biting, saying nasty things, and lashing out in whatever way possible.  I finally had this heart-to-heart, being experienced in having a hard time managing anger and frustration (just ask my parents):

“We always notice when we don’t make good choices about our big feelings.  What if we notice when we do make good choices?  If you really, really want to slam a door or hit someone or say unkind things, and you don’t, tell me and we’ll have a mini celebration.  And I’ll do the same when I really, really want to make a bad choice and don’t.  So it can be the Mommy-Kid club.”

This kid wanted to make it more inclusive, so it became the Frindell Club.  Now whenever we are upset and want to make a bad (Sarah Rudell Beach would call it an “unskillful”) choice, and don’t because we take a deep breath or walk away or grit our teeth or whatever it takes, we high-five the nearest family member and exclaim, “Frindell Club!”  And we try to notice and praise when our kids do too.

2:  Animal Technology

Also in the realm of helping upset kids, one day in sheer desperation I took two stuffed bears and made them repeat the conversation the kid and I were having:

Bear 1:  “I’m so mad!  I want to hit someone!”

Bear 2:  “Why are you so mad?”

Bear 1:  [growls]  <–yep, my kids sometimes growl.  It’s like parenting small animals.


The kid was so fascinated that all intensity melted away, and another sibling came over to offer the bears advice about the most constructive way to handle the situation.  The original kid started calling this role playing “animal technology.”

It doesn’t work every time.  But when it does, it’s magic.

3:  On Cussing

While bathing one of the children, they dropped a bath toy and said, “Damn it!”

Stunned, I asked them what they had said.  They repeated it.

I explained that this was a bad word, that grown-ups shouldn’t use it but sometimes do, and that its meaning is asking God to curse the world.

This kid crumpled into tears and exclaimed, “I cursed the world twice today!”

But I bet they won’t anymore.

A related example:  while walking in some woods near my parents’ house, a different child said, “Fuck off.”

“What did you say?” I asked as calmly as possible.

The kid repeated the statement, and I saw then that it was graffitied on a large rock nearby.

The downside of having kids who are able to read.

I explained similarly tho this kid that these words were cursing words, and that no one should say them.  The kid then tried to explain this to a sibling, who of course wanted to know what the dangerous word was.  I managed to get the original child not to repeat it yet again.

4:  The Birds and the Bees and the Condoms

I did not think the conversation about prophylactics would be started in a community center bathroom.

My kids saw a condom dispensary in the women’s restroom while making an emergency trip post-swimming, and asked about the picture.  Of a condom.  In use.

“Let’s talk about it when we get to the car,” I said.

They already knew vaguely how babies are made, so I explained that sometimes people want to have sex but not make a baby, so they use this thing called a condom.  Only for when you’re much, much older (as some of my children are already talking about who’s in love with them and who they’re going to marry).

One of my small ones:  “Oh! So [two people we know] just got married, so they must need to use one sometimes!”

Me:  “Yes, but let’s not ask them about it…” (imagining the top-volume greeting the next time we saw either married party:  “Hey! If you don’t want to have a baby but you still want to put his penis in your vagina, do you have to use one of those things we saw in the bathroom?”

I don’t think they’ve referenced it since.  At least not loudly and in public, so win.

I do think Paddy would have laughed his hearty laugh at these stories, especially the last one.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions anymore, but a few years ago I read about people who were choosing a guiding word for the new year.  Two years ago, mine was Trust.  Last year, it was Balance.

This year, it’s Joy.

Take joy, my beloveds.


Praise song: for church ladies, for learning, for daily miracles

December 1, 2017

The world burns.

And in addition to being mostly in news deprivation, because the hurricanes and the earthquakes and the flooding and the fires, and oh my Lord is this freaking Armageddon but without Bruce Willis?, I need to focus on something positive.

Elizabeth Alexander wrote “Praise Song for the Day” for Barack Obama’s first inauguration.  I watched her read it, probably shivering inside her long winter coat as she read it to the millions of people tuned in, as I and my students and colleagues were, to that historic moment.  She describes the simple tasks of daily living:

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, 
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

So: this starts with a funeral.

Our neighbor, who had lived for years with Alzheimer’s and for the past few years in an adult family home–her husband visiting her every day–fell and hit her head, and died peacefully two days later.  I went with other neighbors to the funeral and noticed this:

Joy, my neighbor, had been a Church Lady.  She had sewed vestments and altar cloths.  She had been on various liturgical and church-related committees.  And her friends–Carol, Caroline, and Irene–sat in front of us at the funeral.  They had organized the flowers in the sanctuary.  They had directed the rosary prior to Mass.  And as soon as the funeral ended, they went to the reception to help set up.

Both of my grandmothers were Church Ladies.  And yes, of course, some Church Ladies are like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady:  condescending and holier-than-thou, worshipping the religion but not the tenets of forgiveness and inclusion that its founder promoted.

But my grandmothers and so many others of their generation were, and are, kind Church Ladies.  The ones who bake pies to fundraise for the new parish roof.  The ones who organize the prayer list and say the rosaries intended for those who need them, and bring communion to the sick and elderly, and visit the homebound.  They decorate the church and run the funerals, all without praise or even acknowledgement.

They have names like Betty, and Mary, and Linda.  They are getting old, and some of them, like Joy, are dying.  Then women with names like Kathy, and Cindy, and Susan will have to take their places.  Eventually women with names like Michelle, and Lisa, and Jennifer will have to take over too.  Praise be for the Church Ladies of the world, the ones who, to paraphrase Tina Fey, get stuff done.

Praise also to the small miracles that happen–not without us noticing, but often without us acknowledging our gratitude for their appearance:

  • Theresa lost her four favorite stuffed animals at church a few weeks ago (yes, four–that girl has so many stuffed animals that we are practically a plushie zoo).  I called the parish.  I called one of our Church Ladies who always goes to daily Mass.  I called a friend who works at the parish school.  None could find the two bunnies and two foxes, one of which she got as a newborn from the hospital and is irreplaceable.  I went to the church on my next day off…and found them.  St. Anthony does good work, people.
  • When my parents came to visit us for a week in October, they not only helped me clean and organize our garage, but my dad vacuumed our van.  On their vacation.
  • Today I facilitated a culminating discussion on women’s issues in The Scarlet Letter.  Before the discussion, I made them watch a TED talk about emotional awareness and how to have hard conversations with people they may not agree with.  They had solid conversations in each class, and it seemed like (at least I hope this is an accurate assessment) that they really listened to each other.  At least a couple of students said they learned something from what their peers shared.  It sounds cheesy to say so but I will anyway, that these moments of horizons broadening, of worldviews shifting, are what make teaching the best job in the entire world.

The world burns.  It has burned before.  Hope is the space between despair and naive optimism.

Praise to Rebecca Solnit, who wrote Hope in the Dark which I’m listening to now, who reminds us in her introduction of both James Baldwin–“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced–and Martin Luther King, Jr.–“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I’m trying to pay mindful attention to what Virginia Woolf calls the “little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”

“Praise song for walking forward into that light.” (Elizabeth Alexander)

Musings on Mothering

September 26, 2017

Mothering is about being okay with bodily fluids.

My Mother’s Day last year involved children gleefully peeing in the woods…and one of them missed their aim, and peed on my leg.

This past Mother’s Day was spent mostly cleaning up vomit and diarrhea from the kiddo who got the stomach virus that later leveled me for a full day.

Last spring, another mom chased after my son onto the school bus, because he had fallen on the sidewalk before I could get to the bus stop, and was bleeding from an elbow scrape.  She bandaided the scrape and emerged triumphant from the bus, glad to have given first aid to one of the little villagers in our small section of the neighborhood.

As Theresa said once, “Help is love.”

Mothering is about worry.

When our kids struggle–nothing life-threatening, nothing horrifying, but even so–I worry a lot.

In telling my newest Big Worry to a wise educator-mama-friend, she told me, “That hasn’t happened yet.  That’s a pre-worry.”

I am really good at pre-worrying.  If there were a doctorate in pre-worrying, I would have passed all exams plus written a thesis already.  Summa cum laude.  A PwD.

I felt so stuck.  So unable to help this kid.  So unsure of how others in our village could help.  So not enough.

And then:  Maybe loving this kid isn’t enough in the long run–love cannot teach social skills or resilience or problem-solving.  But maybe in this moment, love is enough.  I can’t sit beside this kid in school and help defend against kids who tease, or walk through a multi-step assignment, or talk into being cooperative for another lesson.  What I can do is tell this kid, “I’m glad to see you” in the morning and after school.  Sit and read.  Listen.  Snuggle and tuck into bed.  Love gently and fiercely simultaneously.

Mothering is about sanctuary.

Last May I got into the shallow end of a pool with 28 kindergarteners and their teacher who was giving them an introduction to water safety.  On the way, three different kids (only one of whom was mine) were talking to me simultaneously about three different topics, each convinced I was attending to them and them alone.  Once the teacher instructed everyone to climb into the pool, two girls (one of whom lives down the street from us) whimpered in fear and drew back from the water.  I lifted each one gently into the pool, staying with them to ease their anxiety and make sure they felt safe.  Despite the whole swimming experience taking two hours (from leaving school, walking to and from the pool, getting all the girls rinsed and dressed…), it was so much fun to help kiddos in that way.

One thing I noticed about all the kindergarteners we were with was that each one of them interacted with every adult present with a spectacular level of trust:  that the adult nearby will help if needed, that the adult cared about them and would keep them safe.

Fr. Lyle, our substitute priest for a Sunday, gave a homily on overcoming fear.  He started with an anecdote of being a missionary in West Africa, where his compound was attacked by bandits with machetes, who injured some of his fellow missionaries and stole from the compound.  The story brimmed with violence and fear, Fr. Lyle sparing few details.

One of my kids climbed into my lap in the pew and asked, “Mommy, are there people like that here?”

I explained that we live in a safe house, in a safe neighborhood, and that our neighbors all look out for each other.

Later that night, the same kid asked me again:  “Are there robbers here?”

I told this kid that I had special protective powers that would shield our house from robbers, and sprayed imaginary Anti-Robber mist all over the kid and bed, and then over the whole house.  The kid asked this was my Superpower.

“Yep,” I told my kid.  “Mommies’ Superpower is to protect their kids.”

Then, a month later, the same kid had bad nightmares.  Like, fever-induced hallucination nightmares.  In trying to put this kid to bed a few nights after the original nightmare, I tried to get the kid to imagine a place where they felt super safe.

“My safe place is with you,” the kid said.

Mothering is about being the grounding, centering force for my children to always come back to, the surety when all else feels uncertain or scary.  The place where they are always accepted, always known, always belong.



On Motherhood and Personhood and Expectations (unrealistic and otherwise)

August 12, 2017

[Note:  I wrote this last night, and because I’ve buried myself recently in climbing out of my emotional hole recently, I just now read what is going on in the world.  With that perspective, the following reads like the worst kind of navel-gazing, self-absorbed journal writing published for the public.  My reason for writing this was and is in case there is some other parent or person out there experiencing something similar–that the “me too!” of a post may help someone else feel slightly less alone.]

This summer.

I planned it out, man.  I figured out a good schedule of camps and weeks with no camps to wrap around our family-wedding-related trips (yes, plural) and made lists of the awesome places and things I’d do with my kids.

Because I got this!  They are six!  I can, like, do things with them!  By myself!  Like grocery shop (which is not my favorite with all three but do-able).  Or road trip to Mt. Rainier! (Oh, wait, one kid is terrified because it’s a volcano and no amount of science or logic can convince this kid that the volcano will not erupt during our day trip. So no Mt. Rainier for the foreseeable future.)

So now it’s mid-August and I’m three meltdowns and several lifesavers in, and the other day I yet again felt like a complete failure.

I mean, my rational brain knows I am not a failure. But that didn’t stop my squeezed-out heart cavity from feeling like a failure. I had plans for this summer. We were going to go to concerts! And hike and spend time outside! And take a day trip or adventure here and there and go places we’ve never been! And then in my kid-free time I was going to develop part of a new curriculum for my class next year, and work on setting up the renewal process for my National Boards, and use up all our CSA veggies every week so they don’t go bad and get composted along with my food-waste guilt. And I was going to eat healthier and run more often and develop a presentation using data analysis from the excel spreadsheet I was going to learn how to create in order to teach my colleagues the power of mindfulness in the classroom. And we were going to go camping. And I was going to clean and purge my house.

In retrospect, that was maybe a few too many plans.

[Aside: don’t even get me started on the “teachers get the whole summer off” b.s. because I’m working on curriculum and renewing my National Boards in between errands and camps and appointments, and my sister-in-law is caring for her kids while taking classes toward an admin credential, and we teachers do not just sit on our butts and eat bonbons all summer thankyouverymuch. I have seen a poorly-informed person nearly get decked by a group of teachers in my grad program after saying, “Teachers! You only work 6-hour days and get summers off!”]

On top of the too-many expectations, which in hindsight were unrealistic though I obviously did not know that at the time, came behavior issues. Like several nights of newborn-parent-like sleep due to fever-induced nightmares in one kid. Or the Pushing of Buttons. Or the Not-Listening–like, if a mother asks her children to do something six times and no one hears, does that mom exist?

All this, plus a focus on spending my time on others instead of on what I know I need for self-care (solitude. reading for pleasure. writing. more solitude.), drove me to insanity. I wrote this two nights ago:

Why am I up late weeping in the dark, too mentally drained to even get something to eat?  Why am I putting my kids through my crying spells and traumatizing one of them such that I hope she makes enough money to pay for a good therapist so she can tell the therapist all about her crazy, unstable mother?


Foolish, foolish Me. What matters? Does the To-Do list really matter? Do the Grand Adventures really matter? One of the best parts of this week was spending a couple of hours at the library while it was too smoky and hot to be outside. My kids love the library, and love books to a degree that even this bibliophile parent could have only hoped for.

Another best part of this week?

Yesterday our van wouldn’t start. We waited an hour for AAA to come and diagnose a completely dead battery, and while we waited, I focused on things to be grateful for:

  • the AAA membership that my parents give us every Christmas
  • that we parked in the shade in front of a library
  • the kind retired school librarian who took two kids to the bathroom so I didn’t have to leave my van, parked too long in a 3-minute Loading and Unloading Zone, or miss the AAA truck
  • my kids, who entertained themselves by collecting and sorting acorns (the girls) and doing loops around the oak tree while drumming two sticks and singing Music Together songs at top volume (guess who?)

How my kids spent time waiting for someone to fix our battery.

An otherwise crappy event turned into a moment of gratitude.  If it did have to happen (which it obviously did, since it was the original battery and was probably overdue for replacement), I’m glad it happened exactly as it did. And then we still got to drop off stuff at Value Village, get some necessary things at Target, and as a reward to all of us, get ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s.

Ice cream may not make everything better…but it sure helps.

So maybe I’m turning a corner from burned-out to being able to handle the rest of the summer (including a week-plus trip with all of us to the East Coast for a cousin wedding [hi Holli!] and time with cousins in Maine and grandparents in Massachusetts). I won’t get through all of my plans.  And we have had fun:  swimming in lakes, celebrating birthdays, going out to lunch, experimenting with tennis, reading lots and lots of books.

But this summer is also the surprise impetus for me to actually post a blog entry, the first since December. (Several started but none finished.)  My take-away?  “Slow down, you move too fast; you’ve got to make the morning last…” (Simon and Garfunkel).  I don’t have to Do All the Things.  Be as kind to myself as I try to be to the mamas in the new parents of twins support group I facilitate.

Focus on this:

Lunch buddies reading and coloring and imagining.

The Tooth Fairy and other magic

May 30, 2017

This past weekend, a tooth came out.

The first of 60.

This did not happen to Theresa the easy or traditional way.  Having found a balloon ribbon on the sidewalk in front of her aftercare program, she brought it into the car with her despite my attempt to convince her that it was trash (this is the child whose backpack is full of “treasures” like acorn caps, beads, leaves, pebbles, and other found objects).

A block from our house, I heard whimpering from the backseat.  Audrey announced that Theresa’s mouth was bleeding.  Apparently she slid the ribbon between her two front bottom teeth; a knot in it, or it getting wrapped around a tooth, pulled the tooth almost out of its socket.  It must have been slightly loose to begin with, but it was really loose afterward.

It came out the following day.  Alan had them out to lunch at Panera; thankfully it was not lost within the bagel she bit into, and survived the journey home to be placed carefully under her pillow in great hopes of money to replace it (Audrey wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy on her behalf asking for $10. With so many teeth to go through, that Tooth Fairy would need a hefty bank account).

Looking at that tiny tooth in a ziplock bag gave me pause.  That tooth bud grew when she was in utero, and she was probably 8 months old when it broke through her bottom gum.  That tooth has a lot of history in her babyhood and toddlerhood, and now the losing of it marks a transition into kidhood–losing the “little” part of little kid.

And the Tooth Fairy came that night, leaving $1 with a note for Theresa plus a note for Audrey and Jamie each to find under their pillows, promising that their teeth would come out on their own when they were ready.

Announcement that morning from Audrey:

Mommy!  Theresa got a dollar under her pillow!  And I got NOTHING.

But then I heard murmurs from their bedroom as I got breakfast ready, and then the girls called down to Jamie:  “The Tooth Fairy left something under your pillow!  Come look!”

I went to see, since he had already gotten his note and I wondered what else the Tooth Fairy could possibly have left.  The girls pulled up his pillow and gleefully presented him with a quarter.  I asked them skeptically if the “Tooth Fairy” had left it for him.  They stared at me with wide, innocent eyes.  “Yes!” they lied.

My heart melted.

It melted more when Audrey claimed to have seen the Tooth Fairy.  “She had curly hair like Mommy, and sparkly shoes like ballet shoes, and a dress and golden wings.”

It melted further when Theresa drew this thank-you note for the Tooth Fairy:

The best magic is imagination mixed with kindness.

Bring it.

December 22, 2016

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):
  • 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.

Before I realized I had to get down the trail again.

Before I realized I had to get down the trail again.

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.

11 years of marriage and many, many hikes.

11 years of marriage and many, many hikes.

Alright, 2017.  Bring it.

Shifting from despair to hope

November 9, 2016

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” –MLK quoting Theodore Parker

In 2004, a college friend wrote about his reaction to Bush defeating Kerry.  It was, he said, less an election about issues and more “a referendum on ideology.”

That’s understating what I feel right now.  The values I hold at the core of my being–those I built my life around and endeavor to teach both my children and my students–seem beyond mocked.  It feels like a direct and violent assault on what I believed is best about America.

“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.” –Senator Bernie Sanders

Any of my students will tell you that I am obsessed with really like quotes.  One of my former students even messaged me today, asking what quotes I’m reading right now to help me process the results of this election.  One, she said, that usually worked for her but was not working today was this:


Photo credit Jessica Wei via Ephemeral Living

I have been trying to imagine others complexly.  My initial reaction was to wonder how the hell this is the America I know and love.  However, if the election had gone the other way, half of this country would be wondering how the hell this was their America.

Who are we?  What do we value as a nation?  What do we stand for?  Although documents exist that seem to make those answers clear, the nature of human interpretation of old texts muddies that clarity.  There are many versions of the One True Explanation for the Constitution.

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, which my students just finished writing essays about, says in a lecture about his work:  “I’m especially skeptical, having returned from a place like Vietnam, of Truth-with-a-capital-T…Those fanatical, self-righteous, zealous, I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong declarations of what’s true.”  I tend to agree with him:  that life exists in the realm of gray between the Black and White extremes.  We do not typically give credence to the gray; it’s too hard to live in the complexity and mess and far easier to assert hard lines of division.  It’s easier to take sides.

From what I’ve read, it seems like fear has been driving both sides in this election:  fear of the Other.  Meanness, exclusion, anger, resentment all stem from fear of something.  Fear of losing what you have, or fear of change, or fear of more of the same shittiness that you’ve been experiencing.

Fear is not helpful here.  Fear is not hopeful.  Fear gets things done but often at great cost.

I have been afraid.  I have felt for much of the past 24 hours like Jem after Tom Robinson’s guilty verdict:

“How could they do it, how could they?”  Atticus responds, “I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep. Good night.”

And then I went back to an earlier chapter in To Kill a Mockingbird, where Atticus tells Scout:

Photo credit

Photo credit

Maybe there is hope.  Because despite the fact that the Canadian immigration site crashed last night, this is still our home.  For all of us who are proud to call ourselves Americans.  This country is big enough and resourceful enough for all of us.

This is what I will tell my students tomorrow:

Your voice, your identity, your story matters. 

Your family–given and chosen–matters.

Your heritage–your culture, language, traditions–matters.

Your membership in this country–whether from the Mayflower or as a recent immigrant–matters. You are us.  We are the U.S.

You are valued.  You are worthy of respect.  You are loved.  And don’t ever let ANYONE tell you otherwise. 

We all carry in us the capacity to be kind or cruel.  Choose kindness.  Choose openness and curiosity over fear.  Over and over again.  And when you do choose cruelty–because you will, because we all do sometimes–then choose kindness and openness and curiosity again.  Ask for forgiveness.  Forgive yourself.  Learn how and when to compromise and when to hold firm.  Engage.  Question.  Grow.

October Observations

October 18, 2016

Photo credit: Modern Mrs. Darcy

Decorating Daddy's cupcakes (or "eating frosting")

Decorating Daddy’s cupcakes (or “eating 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?”
Theresa's self-portrait with me, and practicing writing her name

Theresa’s self-portrait with me, and practicing writing her name

  • 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.

Only 14 babies at this meeting

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.

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