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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.

Starting Kindergarten

September 30, 2016

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.


Turning Fear into Curiosity

August 27, 2016

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 what?

Of everything.

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.  Feargreat 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.




July 23, 2016

There have been lots of causes for joy recently.

  • One of my runs last week included three pauses:  two for early-ripening blackberries and one to pet a puppy.
  • I took my mother-in-law for dinner and a show:  Steve Martin and Martin Short, who were hilarious.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to see these amazingly talented icons.
  • In the last track meet of the season, Alan ran a 5:06 1500, and the kids ran the 50 and 100.  Jamie won a medal for coming in third, and Audrey won two medals for coming in third–and she gave her second medal to Theresa, who didn’t have one.  Melt.

Also causes for sadness.

  • law enforcement targeted for violence (my heart, my heart…)
  • friends coping with illness, divorce, and other awfulness
  • THE SHITSHOW THAT IS THIS ENTIRE ELECTION (yes, it deserves all caps)
  • institutional racism: that it exists, and that–here we go with the climate change analogy again–some people “just don’t believe in it”
  • Turkey, Syria, Sudan, and on…

I just finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and it was so beautiful and sad and true.  This quote particularly:

And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel these paths?  That [spoiler avoidance!] might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings?  That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough?  They flow above chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.
Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.
We rise again in the grass.  In the flowers.  In songs.

And then I was taking in the trash/recycling/compost bins last week, and the Olympics looked like they were on fire.  Dark pink sky with clouds looking like steam over those mountains.  So I walked a little ways down our beloved street with beloved neighbors, staring at that sky, and thinking:  Paddy.  I miss you, friend.

I can go days–weeks, really–without feeling sad, just thinking of him from time to time.  But tonight it was sadness in the sky on fire, because he is not here.  He is in the air.

I’ve been reading a lot about love and sadness.  This statement about Revolutionary Love by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis caught me.

Revolutionary love acknowledges that we are inextricably connected one to the other. Such that when a baby is hungry in Africa, my stomach growls. Such that when a gay person is being transgressed, my straight black behind feels outraged. Such that when children have no health care, we all feel responsible to take care of the village and raise the child. I’m not just talking about love—I’m talking about Revolutionary Love. The kind of love that can fuel our movement. And this movement is built on the backs of ordinary everyday 7th and 8th graders, and mommies and daddies, and teachers and preachers, and lawyers and activists. This movement for love is built on YOU.

St. Paul wrote that beautiful text in 1 Corinthians that everyone wants at their weddings:  Love is patient, love is kind.  Etc.  Which is all true.

But he left some things out.

Maybe he was trying to be concise.  Maybe he had a deadline.  Who knows.  But I think something is missing.  (And now I sound like I’m treating St. Paul like one of my students:  “More specific detail.”)

Love is fierce.  Love does not surrender to hatred.  Love stands for justice.  Love lets go.  Love is vulnerable.  Love breathes through and into vulnerability.  Love grieves over what is lost even as it knows that nothing beloved can ever be truly lost.  Love is rooted in the earth and windborne through the clouds.  Love is our work, our sadness, and our joy.


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