A long long time

It is Sunday afternoon and I just made a very Sunday afternoon mistake– I checked my phone and stole a quick glance at my work schedule for the week. I should be focusing on the fact that I have a lovely turkey roasting in the oven and that I have no more chores I feel obligated to do this weekend. But now I’m thinking ahead to the many, many meetings on my calendar for this week and am feeling somewhat exhausted by it all.

The think about my work is that I’m pretty good at it. I’ve been working in my field basically since I graduated from college and I still like and am interested in the work that I do. On my best days, I feel like the work that I do matters and is actually, well, important and maybe even makes a small corner of the world a better place.

I recognize that this makes me fortunate.

But sometimes, like on a Sunday afternoon after a long holiday weekend, it feels like I’ve been working for roughly a million years already (I’ve had a job since I was 14 and the only times I’ve had longer than a week or two off is when I was on maternity leave– so that clearly doesn’t count). I’m 38 now, so even with responsible retirement savings and some good luck, I have close to three decades of working life ahead of me.

I don’t want to be dramatic, but, man that seems like a long long time.

Perhaps what I struggle with is that I don’t know what it is going to feel like to be 65. I think I fear that I will feel old and tired by then, that I won’t be able to enjoy the world of life after work. There are things I want to do NOW but that I feel like my work life makes difficult and I wonder if I’ll still want to do those things when I’m in my 60’s. When I start thinking that way, it feels like this whole work for 45-50 years thing is kind of stupid system.

At least I have the prospect of a plate full of stuffing to have for dinner tonight.

 

Christian Grief

When I was growing up, church was one of the constants of my life. My dad was a church elder, my mom the church librarian. We went to church during the week for church activities and then to services twice on Sunday– once in the morning, once at night. As a teenager, the evening service was followed by youth group. Monday mornings I had swim practice at 5:00am and I was probably the only one at practice who was dragging and tired on account of too much church the night before.

The church I grew up in was in the Calvinist tradition, with a sizable number of members who were either immigrants (from the Netherlands) themselves or first generation Americans. We were a politically and socially conservative group. Hard work was virtue, but being ostentatious about any wealth that hard work gave you was frowned upon. Don’t talk about money. Don’t talk about sex. Live quietly, circumspectly. Remember that faith is a serious business, remember that your life is your testimony. To the extent we talked about politics, there were a few things, like voting pro-life, that were a given. Also assumed and stated was the idea that the country was going to hell in a hand basket, so you better vote for the man who was deemed to be the most Christian of the choices.

When I went to college, I went a Christian college in the same tradition as my church. While there, two important things happened– I met my first ordained pastor that identified himself as a Democrat (that…that was possible? This seemed suspicious to me, then a member of the college’s Young Republicans club, but he seemed sincere) and I fully bought into the college’s philosophy that critical thinking (what they called cultural discernment there) was a cornerstone of a well reasoned life of faith. I came to realize that the world of Christianity was actually far more diverse than I had realized. Not everyone believed that women couldn’t be pastors, not everyone believed that evolution was anti-Christian, not everyone even agreed about which translation of the Bible was accurate. Here was where I watched Christians spar intellectually about things like if you could be both pro-life and in favor of the death penalty and what our obligations are to the poor and how should that shape things like tax policy and our welfare system. It was still largely a conservative place, where students spent more time trying to not have pre-marital sex (there was A LOT of back rubs and long walks around campus to work about all the hormones) than drinking and partying. And so, when it came to politics, there was still the overt message that when it comes to choosing who gets your vote, you look for the person that most represents the values of Jesus.

Since college, my faith has evolved. I’ve gone to ultra-conservative, Biblical literalist churches and to Quaker meetings and, lately, to no where at all. I won’t go into what I believe or don’t at the moment, except to say that I don’t currently belong to a church and my children aren’t being raised going to church. Sometimes this makes me sad. My childhood church was imperfect and I would never go back to that denomination for about 1,000 reasons but I know that I was loved in that church. There was a value to knowing that there were adults other than my parents who cared about me. Our family had a community there and I’m not sure that my children have anything that is the equivalent to that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the faith of my childhood this week. Like a lot of people, I’m deeply dismayed at the results of the election. I work at a community college and I fear what a Trump presidency means for my immigrant students, my Muslim students, my LGBTQ students. I worry about what a Trump presidency means for my family. I believe Trump to be a racist, a misogynist, a liar, and to be the most profoundly un-Christian (in the sense of “how much does this guy remind me of Jesus?”) candidate I’ve ever seen.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to sort out my feelings and to decide when and if and how to engage in political conversations now, especially with those in my life (and there are many) who voted for Trump. I’ve been mocked on Facebook by people who love me and called a cry-baby for expressing my sadness over the fact that the candidate who was endorsed by the KKK won the election. I felt quiet gratitude that we don’t have Thanksgiving with my Republican family, because I don’t think I could do it this year.

What I’ve come to realize today is that one of the things that I am feeling is grief. I see that people who’ve told me in the past that they believe the most important characteristic in a political leader is that they are a person of faith– voted for someone who has never been described as a person of virtue and who appears to be wholly unfamiliar with the concepts of self-restraint, humility, charity, and grace. It feels, instead, that what many of them actually meant was that they’ll vote for anyone who gives lip-service to being a Christian– as long as they are white and male and Republican.

I should, of course, hash tag here #notallChristians and indeed I am heartened by the fact that I saw some people who I would describe as deeply religious speak out against Trump . But I  also saw them suffer cruel attacks from their fellow Christians, people who flooded comment sections with words like “baby killer” and “liar” and “Satanic” when pastors and writers suggested that being pro-life meant that one shouldn’t vote for the candidate who marginalized, mocked, and rejected the poor, the refugee, the disabled, etc. It was ugly and unkind. It made me feel like if this is how Christians treat other Christians, than I’ve made the right choice to opt out of that label, that community, that part of my past identity.

Grief is tricky. I thought I’d made peace with my loss of faith. I didn’t think I would still be so disappointed. But I guess I never thought Trump would be elected either.

Aftermath

I find myself struggling this morning. There is a darkness in me that matches the darkness of this election. I find myself wishing bad things on future President Voldemort. I think of how, if he dropped dead today, I’d smile. I wouldn’t even feel sorry for his family. I look at posts on Facebook from family members celebrating and I think not only of unfriending them but also cutting them wholly out of my life, slicing  them out like a mole gone bad, like a cancer that could spread. I feel certain that the economy will crash and that terrorism will rise as a result of this election and I worry about feeling smug and saying “I told you so” when- NOT “IF”- those who voted for him find that life gets actually worse and not better.

I don’t know what to do and I am so angry.

There are those who are already talking about rising up and fighting the good fight and being warriors for justice…and yes, yes to all those things. But I’m not there yet.

But I don’t want the darkness to win. So I made a donation to Planned Parenthood this morning and to the Trevor Project. I sat and cried with a Muslim student worker in my office. I self-medicated with some Halloween candy. I turned off Twitter and Facebook for a while.

I’m ashamed of my country this morning.

Book Lives Matter

Over the last few days, I’ve been part of and witness to a number of conversations about issues of race, mostly with other white women. I have a number of friends who are in various stages of heartbreak and anger and frustration about the state of things and about how hard it can be to know what to do when you feel like you are living in a world gone mad.

It can be so hard to know what to do with the feelings of anger and despair that come up when there is another shooting, another story of a Black man killed, another circumstance when it seems like being Black is a crime and the punishment is public execution.

Others have written eloquently about what white people can do when confronted with evidence of the fact that, yes, structural racism and the violence it creates is still a problem. There is so much work yet to be done. There are big things we need to do better as a country, conversations that we need to have on both national and personal levels.

But this isn’t a post about big things. I’m not feeling confident enough of myself as a person or a writer to tackle those things tonight. Instead, I make a tiny suggestion: buy a book. Specifically, buy a book featuring Black characters and give it to a child you love.

I think of buying a book as making a tiny statement that we want these stories to be part of our kids lives, especially white kids. Books create worlds, books introduce children to characters that the might love for the rest of their lives. A bookshelf is a neighborhood, a place where princesses and dump trucks and mother bunnies with abandonment issues can all rub elbows. Here are some books my family loves that can make sure your neighborhood has some diversity:

516f9bsx1dl-_sx422_bo1204203200_

Feast for 10 is a simple and gentle book about a trip to the grocery store and a family dinner. Ideal for ages 2-4.

61pu8uiqkl-_sx406_bo1204203200_

Ada Twist, Scientist is fantastic in every way. The illustrations are delightful, the story is terrific, and I am happy to read it nightly,which is currently Ev’s wish.

51atxzcybnl-_sx453_bo1204203200_

In full disclosure, I like this book more than my children seem too, for reasons I don’t understand. The Hello Goodbye Window is sweet and funny and I adore Chris Raschka’s illustrations.

Speaking of Chris Raschka:

51lg1bNVP1L._SX483_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop is one of my all time favorite board books. Ever. It is so fun to read. When Miles was a baby/toddler, this was his favorite and reading it would stop tears and tantrums instantly.

Also a great book for little people:

51qH7bTQJbL._SY495_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Please Baby Please features one of the cutest babies in illustration. She is so pinchable.

Speaking of pinchable babies, I want to snuggle every single baby Helen Oxenbury has ever illustrated. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is adorable as is her Baby Love set, which is a fantastic baby shower gift.

Oh, and I have to mention So Much. I love So Much.

415wccdjoil-_sx413_bo1204203200_

For older kids, the Captain Underpants series of books features two protagonists, one white and one Black, and many many many jokes about farts and boogers. Right up my 8 year old’s alley.

B1vty5zBCdS._SL250_FMpng_.png

My son is also a big fan of the I Survived series.

51qILmvdZmL._SX341_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

I Survived The Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 is a good one for kids who like history mixed with a little adventure.

Please note that I get no money if you buy any of these books. These are just some of the best loved ones in our house. I’d love to hear if you have others you’d add to the list.

 

Sleeping Arrangements

Technically, I don’t have to be up for 15 more minutes.

Technically, each of my children has their own bed in their own bedroom and my husband and I have our cozy converted attic room.

Technically, we are not now, nor have we every been, a family that co-sleeps. Technically.

(standard non-judgey disclaimer– I don’t care if you do co-sleep. You do you and all that)

But there is a thunderstorm this morning and it is the first day of school and so nobody is where they are supposed to be. Miles is sleeping on the couch in the living room, for reasons I don’t know. Ev was up in our bed, woken by the thunderstorm and then annoyed that WE were crowding HER in OUR bed. Mr. Monkey then went downstairs to sleep in her twin bed but she soon followed after him, wanting both her water cup and to ensure that he got as little restful sleep as possible. When I last saw them, they were both snuggled up in her little bed, one of them happily.

If I can step outside of my own tiredness this morning, I can feel a little tenderness about the fact that Ev still feels like being near us is a thing that keeps her safe. She is, of course, just as safe from this early morning summer thunderstorm in her room as she is laying next to us. But she doesn’t feel that yet. At four, she has a list of fears that include thunder, the next door neighbor’s outdoor cat, and almost every dog on our block, except for the very elderly Bucky who hobbles down the block by his owner’s side and is as gentle as can be. Facing all of these fears is something Ev only does with one of us next to her, preferably holding her.

Sometimes she seems so big and then the thunder cracks or a dog barks and I remember that she is still a little person in a big world that she can’t control. And that makes it just a little easier to forgive the feet in my kidneys at 5:00AM.

 

Kidland

There is almost a generation between my husband and I, so when we talk about our respective childhoods, we don’t have many things in common. He went to school with a metal Bonanza lunch box, I carried a plastic Rainbow Bright. The shows I watched in reruns when I was home sick for a day (Happy Days, The Brady Bunch) were the hit prime time shows of his childhood. Our childhoods were different in other ways too. He grew up on military bases in Germany and California and Panama and Kansas. I lived in the same house almost my whole life. He remembers racing through the rainforests of Panama with his brothers. I remember picking cactus out of my fingertips in the desert of Arizona.

While our childhoods were very different, we did share one major thing in common– we spent most of it in Kidland.

Kidland is a state of play, of course, and not an actual physical place. Kidland is where children play when adults aren’t hovering over them. It is where they make their own rules, settle their own fights, and create their own adventures.

Ideally, it is like all of the best parts of Lord of the Flies with a lot less bleeding.

For my twin sister and I, Kidland was our backyard where we built our own exceedingly rickety treehouse and had a jungle gym that was the only safe place from the lava or shark infested ocean beneath us. Kidland was riding our bikes down through the washes (dry riverbeds that could fill in minutes in a summer rain shower) and sneaking into our neighbors backyard to feed apples and carrots to their horse.

Kidland wasn’t just about the freedom to roam on our bikes, although that was a big part of it, it was more about playing without the expectation that grown-ups knew or cared about what we were doing. It quite literally would never have crossed my mind to ask my mother to come play too.

Now that I’m a parent, I struggle sometimes with how much freedom to roam to give my kids. I’m not quite a free range parent but I also don’t feel like I have to be able to see my kids every second that they are out of the house. We live in a city and there is traffic nearby but our neighborhood is also pretty safe. Sometimes I worry more about being judged by other parents than I do about my kids getting abducted or something. But mostly I worry that the kids won’t get to spend enough time in Kidland. A small part of me has sometimes wondered if kids still know how to play like that.

Last night, I sat on the porch with a book and listened as my kids and a small pack of neighborhood kids played an elaborate game involving two of the monstrously overgrown zucchinis from my garden. These zucchini, heavy and fat and about half the length of a baseball bat, became babies that needed immediate medical attention. The winter sleds came out of the garage and were attached to a tricycle and an ambulance was born. A little girl from down the street became a surgeon, with an operating room under that tree that the kids can’t climb because the city trims the lower branches back. There were other things going on too that I couldn’t quite figure out. A jump rope was involved and the birdie from the badminton set as well as the cones from the backyard soccer set. Not once, not even when someone was being bossy or when someone else tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and lightly skinned her knee, did any of the kids call for a parent. They certainly didn’t need us.

The play lasted for over an hour, until I had to call my kids in. They usually come in for the night fairly easily but last night they had a hard time pulling themselves out of Kidland. I ended up playing out the maternal stereotype: standing out on the front steps yelling for my children by name: first, middle, and last. It took almost 15 minutes to get them inside, even though the mosquitos were biting and the promise of delicious hotdogs on the table for dinner had been made.

Dinner and bedtime ended up being kind of a shit show, actually, but at least I ended the day secure in the knowledge that even in the helicopter parent era, Kidland can still exist.

 

 

 

Every other night, when it is my turn to put M.(age 8) to bed, the following things happen: I read him a chapter or two of whatever our current book is (right now it is the second in a series called The Cupcake Crusader, which is thoroughly average and not half as clever as I think the author thinks it is, but M. is amused by it), then he walks on my upper back (this feels relaxing after a day spend hunched over my  computer at work), and then the best part happens. The best part is when we lie down on the floor together (because he sleeps on the floor and not his perfectly good bed for reasons I do not understand) and he curls into the crook of my arm and we talk about our days. He tells me one good thing and one bad thing about his day and then asks me how work was or wants me to tell him a story about when he was a baby.

We talk and I hold all 50 pounds of him close to me. His hair smells like the park and when it is time for me to go, he tells me he loves me and asks me to check on him again in a little while. Tonight when I went back to check on him he was sound asleep, clutching his knitting needles in each hand. It was both adorable and alarming as fall asleep hold a size 11 knitting needle seems like the kind of thing that can easily result in having to wear an eye patch for the rest of your life.

In case you are wondering, he is currently knitting leg warmers that he hopes to sell to his friends for $10 a pair. I’m not sure how to break it to him that his friends may not want a pair of artisanal handcrafted leg warmers made by someone who only knows how to knit squares and rectangles.

I look at his brown hand and dirty fingernails clutching the knitting needles and I am overwhelmed by a desire to scoop him up like a baby. Instead I tuck him, remove all of the things that might poke his eye out while he sleeps, and try not to go all I’ll Love You Forever on him.

I started my parenting career with step-sons who were 10 and 13 when their dad and I got married. In some obvious ways, this was challenging. Even though I had pretty ideal circumstances — my husband’s ex-wife is a lovely person, the divorce was half a decade old before I came into the picture, the boys were fundamentally good kids– there is no denying being a step-parent is hard. Watching my husband parent teenagers was hard. I’ve often joked that because I started with teenagers, toddlers didn’t scare me. Terrible twos? Easy breezy. Have you met 15? 15 SUCKS.

I sometimes look at M. and feel like I’ve already seen the future. He is so loving and so sweet to me right now and I want to soak it all up because I can’t help but feel like there is an invisible clock counting down the days (hopefully years) until he because a teenager and goes through the totally normal and totally heartbreaking process of developing an independent identity by becoming, excuse my technical jargon, a hormone addled know-it-all little shit.

I want to bottle up his love, his sweetness, his curiosity and the fact that he wants nothing more than to end his day by snuggling with me and save it for the long winters of parenting a teenager.

I can’t do that, of course, so I can just take comfort in knowing that this post will embarrass the crap out of him someday and by that point I’ll have been parenting a teenager long enough to find that deeply satisfying.

I love you, little Bobo.

 

Changes

I had a birthday last week. I turned 38 with very little in the way of pomp or circumstance, which is probably as it should be. 38 seems like a very boring age to turn. My husband and kids gave me some presents and we had take-out for dinner and I enjoyed the usual flood of Facebook greetings.

Since then, I’ve been thinking off and on about what, if anything, will be different about my life at 38 versus 37. I’m hard pressed to think of anything but then I started thinking about all of the changes I’ve made in my adult life so far and I realize that I am rather terrible at predicting the future. Last year, for example, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be changing jobs and yet here I sit, two months into a new gig.

I think sometimes that I want a year of no change, a year of things holding steady. But this is my track record:

Age 21: graduated from college, moved 2000 miles for a job, got first apartment on my own

Age 22: got promoted, moved 120 miles for a job

Age 23: started graduate school

Age 24: had quarter-life crisis, quit job, took leave of absence from grad school, moved to South Korea

Age 25: came back from South Korea, started a new job, met a cute guy, moved into a crappy apartment

Age 26: got engaged, got married, became a step-mother

Age 27: got a new job

Age 28: bought a house, finished Master’s Degree

Age 29: got pregnant, had a baby

Age 30: Got a new job, moved 1500 miles for new job with six month old baby in tow

Age 31: Moved again

Age 32: New job, moved again

Age 33: Got pregnant, moved again

Age 34: had a baby

Age 35: started graduate school again

Age 36: new job, new state, moved again

Age 37: finished graduate school, new job

When I look at this list, I’m kind of exhausted. For those trying to keep track, in 17 years I’ve lived in two countries, four states, six cities, 12 apartments/houses, had nine jobs and two babies.

I’m honestly not if this is just what life looks like for most people in their 20’s and 30’s as these are prime career growth and child-having years or if I am an abnormally change prone person.

So, I’d like 38 to be a year of stability but I’m not sure such a thing exists. I would be very curious to hear from others though– do you have years where nothing much changes beyond the expected growth of children and such? I feel like these are such blurry years- I fear I’m going to look back and this time is just going to seem like a rush of major life change after major life change.

I think I’d like to read more, play more, and breathe more this year.

 

Small Bites

At the start of the summer, I bought a family pool pass for the local outdoor pool. We have a YMCA membership and the Y closest to us has a pool but it is small and indoors and swimming indoors in the summer just isn’t my jam. For our pool, it costs between $21-24 for our family to go swimming, depending on how many of us go. This number is insane to me, as I still think pools should cost $1 like when I was a kid, but whatever, time marches on and my childhood pool didn’t have a lazy river so I’m making my peace with it. The family pass costs $200.

Today, I took the kids swimming for the 12th time of the summer so buying the pass is now officially a cost saving measure. I find that very satisfying.

*******

Speaking of swimming, we have spent several hundred dollars on swim lessons for the kiddos this summer and they have been worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY. Ev, at 4, can now jump in the pool and swim for at least 10 yards by herself and is a champ at back floating. Miles is diving off the high dive and can swim several laps. While they both require supervision at the pool, because of course, they are both at the stage where falling into a pool wouldn’t mean certain drowning.

The thing I’ve enjoyed the most about their increased skill is how much Ev LOVES the water. She reminds me so much of myself as a kid. She would be happy to go to the pool and swim for hours, every day. Miles likes doing the stuff at the pool: the diving board, the zipline, the lazy river. Ev just wants to swim to the wall and back out to me or swim down and touch the bottom for hours. I 100% believe that by next summer she could be a better swimmer than he is, which might very well drive him crazy.

*******

Next week is likely to be one of the busiest weeks of the year for me at work. I’m sort of dreading it, but there’s nothing to be done about it. The only way out is through. I’ve been at my new job for two months now and I feel quite certain that I made a good choice to take  this position, even though my previous position was arguably easier than this one. I’m not sure that I’m actually *good* at my new job yet. The learning curve is steep. But a friend who works in HR said that the goal for your first six months in a new job is just to make sure you don’t set the building on fire. So, with that as a standard, I’m doing swell!

*******

I planted a garden again this summer. So far I’ve been able to harvest 20 carrots (+18 from last summer), one bell pepper (+1), four tomatoes (-20), and 1,300,782, 871 zucchini. Today I had zucchini fritters for lunch and I’ll make some more zucchini bread tomorrow. If you come to my house right now you WILL be leaving with some zucchini. Next year, I’m planting ONE (1) zucchini seed and calling it a day.

 

 

 

Pretty Girl

FullSizeRender-5

My daughter has recently decided that she does not want to be pretty. She REALLY doesn’t want to be called beautiful and heaven help you if you suggest that she might want to wear a sundress or even a shirt with flowers on it. I generally dress up for work, wearing dresses several days a week, and she has taken to looking at me and saying “ugh, why do you always want to look so beautiful all the time?”

She likes to be told she looks “regular”. She doesn’t object to being called handsome, because I think she associates that word with her brother being called handsome and she worships the ground he walks on. Sometimes she’ll wear a dress if I assure her that it is a very ugly dress. She decided the dress in the picture above was ugly enough to wear because it doesn’t have any flowers on it.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this phase, if I am being honest. A part of me is sort of frustrated about it because last summer she wore dresses almost everyday so I bought a lot of dresses for this summer and there are some VERY cute dress with tags still on them in her closet that I fear she’ll never wear. I’ve never really dealt with a child who has opinions about clothes before. My son will still pretty much wear whatever I buy him and the items he has rejected are few and far between. Theoretically, I’m on board with either of my children wearing what they feel most comfortable with. Actually, and maybe this is A Thing I Need To Work On, I’m bummed that my daughter doesn’t want to wear some of the cute stuff I’ve bought her.

I think the bigger thing I wonder about with this phase is what does it mean to her to “look pretty” and why does she so strongly want to reject it? I don’t think it is a gender identity thing (she doesn’t really express a desire to be a boy)(and we’d be okay if she did) other than that she is aware of it as a word people use for her and not her brother. Maybe it is an outgrowth of her brother worship?

In some ways, I find it is sort of refreshing that she doesn’t think pretty is the most important thing to be. She is happy to tell you that she is a nice friend and smart and strong– these are all things I want her to like about herself. I don’t want her to ever worry about whether she is pretty enough or not. Too many women I know, including myself, know all too well that the pursuit of pretty enough is expensive, damaging, and exhausting.

It occurs to me as I am writing this that perhaps my fear isn’t some much that it is weird that my daughter doesn’t want to be pretty as much as it is that she’ll think of herself as the opposite of pretty. Feeling ugly, being certain that you are ugly…well, welcome to my brain in junior high and high school and college. Feeling unpretty felt pretty crappy to me and whether or not looks should matter, I can tell you that it mattered A LOT when it came to my mental health in those years.

I can’t help but look at my girl and think she is beautiful, inside and out. She is strong and funny and silly and tenderhearted (and willful and sassy and with a streak of stubborn) and, yes, she is pretty too.

Just don’t tell her that.