Stealth Update Typed in Installments on my Mom's Computer

We've been staying with my parents for a week and a half. There's been the expected amount of Not by the neck. NOT BY THE NECK! And a little Can't I please just sit on the toilet and fucking read two pages of Time magazine without anyone barging through the door on me? But much less of that than you might think, and also plenty of I can hardly believe this beautiful family is mine.

Christmas Eve: magical. Ingrid stayed up late with the grownups to drink tea, eat cookies, and watch the angel chimes fly in circles. My dad read The Night Before Christmas, and she listened solemnly, then asked me to read it once. We left a plate of cookies out for Santa. My dad suggested we leave a carrot or two for the reindeer, and Ingrid looked at him in a puzzled and quiet way for a minute before correcting him: I think reindeer eat snow.

My worries about Christmas gift squabbles were mostly unfounded. I'm glad I got two choo choo trains, as both girls are borderline obsessed with them. But Christmas morning was really relatively peaceful. Ingrid remembered to say thank you, and they both were so swept up in the whole experience (passing out gifts, messing around with ribbons, etc. etc.) that the specifics of who opened or played with what were pretty insignificant.

Iris has taken to calling my mom Nanoo. She is about as charming as a kid can get: 17 months old, with big brown eyes, red curls, and three bottom teeth. However, she is teething (I think) and wants to nurse constantly, which at times is sweet but at other times (party with my parents' many smart creative childless friends) makes me feel a bit undignified and a little less than human.

We took a three-hour train trip for a family reunion and a one-day stay. We should have guessed (but didn't) that motion-sensitive Iris would hate the train. She screamed for the first hour of the trip, poor thing, then fell asleep in A's arms, then woke up and cried for another 15 minutes before ending the trip somewhat happy. Even in the middle of crying, she'd stop for a breath or two when she heard the train whistle and imitate it exactly on pitch.

Ingrid has been a super traveller this whole time. We're not without the usual drama (having her hair brushed! having to eat food besides cereal!), but she's taken all the change and newness—the plane ride, the train trip, the hotel stay—with patient fascination. I'm really proud of her, and a little in awe, and I can picture a day not too long from now when they're both old enough to have a fantastic time on a family trip. What a relief to think of their interests and ours becoming more aligned in that area.

The other morning we visited with our friends E and C and their one-month-old daughter, their first child, and then today we hung out with my brother's friends and their two-month-old. I've got to write more about that later, because they look so exhausted and optimistic and make me feel so wizened.

We head home tomorrow, overstuffed and in need of sugar detox, but pretty content. Happy new year.


Out of Time

If we weren't leaving town in an hour, I'd tell you the whole story of the $99 haircut, complete with minion, hand massage, elf-ear-hat-wearing hairdresser diva, and lecture about Poor Quality Grocery Store Conditioner. Also, I'd tell you about Lice Watch 2008/09 and how itchy I feel even though the child in question seems to be in the clear. And also about holiday excess, recent promising job stuff, and how many times lately I've been caught off guard by the sight of two girls chasing each other around the house giggling and thought Oh my God, those are our children.

But it looks like our flight to City Unaccustomed To Snow is still on the schedule, and we're out of here. I hope you have the week off like I do, and I hope you spend it somewhere cozy.


Let's face it: Santa is kind of a pushover.

The best magic of receiving a gift comes from being understood. I think this is even true for little people who express delight at every small new thing. Just the right gift brings on that look: I can hardly believe my luck to have this. How did you know?

As Mama, I'm in (or at least tied for) the number one position to make that look flash up on their faces. Of anyone, I'm the closest to knowing the deepest desires of their little hearts. I strapped on the Santa Shopping suit with fear, though, and here's why. I'm pretty sure that what each of my girls wants the most? Is to have exactly what her sister has, preferably at the exact moment that she has it.

I confess I'm surprised that a three year old and a one year old have so many common interests. In the days before Iris learned to express herself, I thought we'd have toddler toys and preschooler toys and not much confusion over who played with what. But...no. Right now, the two of them mostly want to be doing, wearing, holding, or playing with exactly the same thing.

We work on peaceful ways out of this many times a day—sometimes many times an hour—often using the great conflict resolution process taught at the girls' school. Both girls are getting better at knowing we can find a solution. Sometimes they even spontaneously trade toys without screaming (much).

But I'm here to say that, as Santa, I am going out of my way to avoid that kind of conflict this Christmas. The potential for heartbreak and mayhem is too great.

As much as we wring our hands about giving kids too much at Christmas, we also expect an awful lot of them at this time: Don't complain, even if you don't like it. Apply all those things we've been working on about sharing and taking turns, only do it on a day when you're overtired, hyped on sugar, overwrought with excitement, and pumped up with grandparental spoiling. And say thank you. And try to keep the simultaneous shrieking down, because some of the grownups like to think of Christmas as a peaceful time.

Asking them for politeness, over and over, on the most high-strung day of the year, while opening package after package of Things There Are Only One Of? It just doesn't sound like the spirit of Christmas to me.

So, the sweet little baby-in-a-peapod I found that I knew Iris would love? I got a similar one (different shape, different color) for Ingrid, even though I'd never have chosen it for her alone. The train cars I know Ingrid is dreaming of? I bought one for Iris to open, too, though I know her interest is mainly sisterly. They both need warm socks for skating, and fortunately striped Smartwools come in both size 10 and size 5. I did get one thing for them to share, and one thing each that doesn't match (Ingrid needs art supplies, Iris a lunch bag).

Is it just a little over the top? Yes. Four big-ish gifts apiece is more than I planned on and more than they need. Are we in a period of widespread economic instability and personal employment insecurity? Why, yes, we are. But for a little more peace—even though imperfect—on Christmas morning, and a little less likelihood of heartbreak? We can swing it, and it's what we're doing. In another year, they'll be better equipped to navigate it all, but for now I'm counting this as part of knowing them: they get a little bit of joy out of being, in some ways, just alike.


Just Part-Time

I'm glad that I'm able to work a flexible, part-time job. In a big way, it is the fabled "best of both worlds"; things don't go well when I'm "at home" full time (not that that's an option financially, anyway), and I don't think I'd be happy being away from my kids full-time.

But in the course of a couple of conversations this week, it's become clear that these two bullshit beliefs have more or less of a hold on me at once:

1. Since I work part-time (and far less than A), he shouldn't really have to sacrifice anything about his job for family stuff. So I shouldn't be asking him to go in late so I can make it to my early morning dentist appointment, and if, say, a child is sick and one of us needs to stay home, it ought to be me.

2. Since I work part-time (and far less than most people in my office), it's silly for me to take time off to deal with family or personal stuff. I'm only in the office two days a week—what's wrong with me that I can't take care of everything home-related during the other five days?

It's not like I hold these beliefs in the sense of actually being able to conform my life to them. A misses lots of work to cover stuff for me (to where he's lost some cred with his many childless coworkers), and I regularly max out my paid time off to stay home with sick kids, go to doctor appointments, take mental health time for myself, etc. etc. But each of these wacked-out statements kind of sort of makes sense under some system of logic (usually a system based on a serious miscalculation of what one person—specifically, a parent at home with two little kids around—can do in a day), so each of them has some kind of power over how I feel about what I do.

Sheesh. No wonder I never feel like I'm doing it right.


67 Years Ago

It was cold in Portland, and my grandparents were young—twenty two—and newly married. When they heard the news, they left their little house together and walked. They didn't talk, and they didn't know where they were going. They just walked and walked. They ended up, long past lunch time, at my great-grandmother's house, all the way on the other side of the city.

That was all my grandmother told. I remember hearing it as a little kid, too little to begin to understand. I remember the first time I asked about it: Why did you walk so far, Grammy? Her answer was no more clear: We didn't know what else to do. I was eight. Why not? She told me, Because we knew your granddaddy would have to go to war. Leaving me to imagine—which I still couldn't, yet—what it meant for them to know that.

My granddaddy did go to war, and came home safely, thanks to a bout of the measles that landed him, at a key moment, in the hospital rather than on the battlefield. My grandmother spent the war in Denver, operating a cash register at a grocery store. When it was over, they danced in the streets. They told us all that, every time.

But these days when I think about that walk, I think about it unsoftened, without the ending. I think about two people just starting their lives together, already having seen some tough years, and suddenly knowing the shape and length of their lives would depend on something utterly beyond their control. I think about their silence. I imagine rain.

If my grandparents were still around, I'd ask them what came next—not years later, but that afternoon. I've imagined it: My great-grandmother's house was warm. She made them soup and bread. She'd lived through her own hard times. They stayed quiet. They felt some kind of comfort sitting at her table. She drove them home. It could be true.

I want to ask them, What did you do when you got home? I suspect the answer is so unnotable as to be a little scary: they did just what they always did in the evening, just like we do, these days. Swept the floor. Read a little, maybe. Went to bed. Knowing—and not knowing at all—what would happen the next day, and the day after that, and after that.


Correction, Questions

1. A HUNDRED AND FIFTY SIX YEARS. Is how long A's family has lived in that county. Not 130. Apparently all I needed to do to smoke him out of his blog-reading hole was get sloppy with my family history facts. (Hi, A.)

2. Do you back up your blog? What with all the data loss disasters I've written about, you'd think I'd be all ultra on top of backups of everything, but I'm not, and what's the easiest way to extract my two hundred and some posts (such as they are) so I have them for posterity in the event that Blogger goes belly up without warning?

3. Facebook questions: Friend requests from people you do not know. For example, random high school people whose names you know but that you have no memory of ever talking to. a) Why do they do that? b) How rude is it to just ignore them? Please discuss.



The day after Thanksgiving, we took the girls skating.

A’s family has lived for a hundred and thirty years in the same county—a flat place laced with lakes. They know which one freezes first, and where the ice is thinnest. They know that five inches is plenty thick to hold a man and his wife, his son and daughter in law, and two little girls.

But I’m not from here, and at the beginning of winter, without that knowledge so deep in my bones, I’m not at ease on the ice. I was sort of against having us all on the lake on Friday, lined though it was with the tracks of other skaters. But I made myself shut up and pretend I didn’t think we were all doomed.

A frozen lake makes sounds, always, and in the early, warmer days of winter they’re persistent. Cracks peel across the surface, louder the more people stand together. High pops and pings sound off, near and far. The ice acts like the skin across the top of a drum, magnifying it. It sounds a little like impending death. Ingrid feels safer about it: Maybe it’s the fish talking, she suggested as I strapped on her skates.

As we began to shuffle, Iris, in the backpack, threw up a giant fuss. She hadn’t slept well the night before, and I worried that her ears were bothering her. I took her out to try to comfort her, but she wriggled and pointed to be put down. I set her in a snowy patch, and she threw her little self down onto her bottom. She gave a hard look to each of our skates—Ingrid’s purple, double bladed contraptions, the grown ups’ long blades snapped onto ski boots. Then she jabbed at her own plain snow boots with a mitten. ME, she demanded. ME.

The girl wanted skates.

We happened to have an extra pair with us—white leather ones a tad small for Ingrid but several sizes too big for Iris. A took off her boots and laced her in, and she stopped yelling. I wiped the tears and snot off her face, and she and A took off. He dragged her along, wobbly-footed and tangle-legged, and she laughed and laughed and yelled Wheeeee.

I held Ingrid’s hands and skated backwards, or held her by the armpits until my back ached, or took one hand while A’s dad’s wife took the other. Or Ingrid sat on the ice and I pushed her along until I couldn’t push any longer and the butt of her snow pants was caked with fine dirt. We circled, passed each other, skated all together.

After surviving loop after loop, I started to believe, along with the rest of them, that frozen water, even in November, was solid as ground.

Nearly an hour later, Iris went from grinning to cranky, and soon she’d wound up to full-time fussing. I scooped her up and tried to troubleshoot. Her fingers and toes and the back of her neck were toasty. Do you want to nurse a little bit? She nodded.

I sat on a little dock and unbuttoned my coat. She snuggled under my layers of long johns. It wasn’t so cold out, and she was still bundled up: fleece hat, flowered coat, polka dotted snowpants, and skates. As she nursed I realized she was dozing off, and soon she was sound asleep.

She hasn’t done that so often lately—fall asleep in my arms. And these days, whenever it happens, I wonder if it will be the last time, or one of the last. Holding a sleeping child is one of the sweetest pleasures of parenthood. It’s a privilege to be on the receiving end of such pure trust: I know you will hold me and keep me safe. I watched A and Ingrid skate more circles over the groaning lake, and thought about Iris—her insistence on being a whole, full family member, even as we still sometimes treat her like just the baby along for the ride; her persistence in setting us straight. I wondered how much longer my arms will seem such a natural resting place that she can let all her muscles go and sleep deeply in the sunlight.

Ingrid hung from A’s arms, her blades barely skimming the ice. Iris rested in mine, cheeks pink, breath deep. And, somehow, the lake held all of us up, some way I don’t quite understand, in the sun on the last Friday of November.


Luscious Compost

I know you never get tired of mediocre images of my household filth. (Right? Right!?). But if you start feeling like looking at photos taken by someone who knows how to use a camera, go and check out my friend Chris's new blog. He knows what he's doing, and don't worry: so far I have never known him to shoot compost.


The Materialist Explanation

They both have ear infections. In both ears.


Bitch or chump?

Am I too strict or too lenient? Am I disregarding my kid's deep anxieties, or am I being taken for a ride by a manipulative three year old? It’s the maternal equivalent of “virgin or whore” and the organizing dichotomy of my parenting psyche. In times of ease and equilibrium, I don’t worry about it, but when things start to go pear-shaped I always feel like I'm on one awful end of the spectrum or the other—or sometimes, impossibly, both at once—and never in between.

Ingrid is still worried that her diaper is going to fall off. Last night the out-loud worry started a good half-hour before bedtime, making me think this is an actual fear and not just a stall tactic. So, bitch. Right?

But then I decided to go to bed myself just when I put her down (8:30), and guess what? There was no crying in bed, no getting up. Seems like she knew the party was over, so didn’t need to try to stay up for it. Chump, then.

Of course, my screaming on Wednesday put me solidly in bitch territory, no matter what the real story was on her end. If I step back and look at this like a nicely put together piece of literature, it seems like that’s my real, deep-down reason for yelling: To get out of the uncomfortable ambiguous zone and solidly into territory where I can hate myself. (Then I step back into my actual shoes and think: Nope. It’s just because sometimes I’m frustrated as hell.)

A is back (yay!). He volunteered to do the bedtime routine, even after I whispered the story of the past three nights’ antics. Knock yourself out, I said. He came down the stairs about three minutes ago, and all seems to be normal and peaceful up there. We'll see if it lasts. If she comes wandering down the stairs wailing, she will find me on the couch reading a book, and she will not see me move except to blow her a little kiss.


To Chew On

Ingrid finally went to sleep without me in the room last night. We went upstairs together and she cried a little bit in her room while I brushed my teeth. By the time I was ready to get in bed, she was asleep. It was 10 o'clock.

I can rant alot about this on a small, immature, micro level: I need a break in the day! I can't stand to sit there waiting for her to fall asleep! The sheer demand on my time and energy is significant.

But the thing that really stresses me out about it is the weirdness. One night she goes to bed just fine as usual; the next night (and the night after) she's terrified about something a) unlikely and b) harmless, and inconsolable about it to a degree that makes me really alarmed about what's going on in her head. I don't understand. Am I doing something wrong that's driven her to this? What have I done? Is this normal? Is she losing her mind? Not understanding makes me feel so helpless, and I feel doubly helpless being alone with it. With A away, I'm the only one around who knows Ingrid as well as I do. Friends can commiserate but no one can really help me get perspective on what's happening, not like A could.

There's been other stuff during the day, too. Things she'd usually be able to deal with (e.g. shoes) that she completely melts down about. It's frighteningly similar to last winter's shitstorm of horrendous helpless clinginess. I am in a far better mental state now than a year ago, but the last couple of days of shenanigans have worn me down and I have not always been kind. I've yelled, and not with nice words.

I miss the summer so much I could cry.

Her ears are still pretty plugged up, and I am close to blaming it all on that and very close to going ahead with getting ear tubes. Which could be an awful can of worms all its own. But if fluid-filled ears is what's causing all this wretchedness, I'm ready to give it a shot. It seems possible: She can't hear well; we both get frustrated; she feels fragile and strange and doesn't quite know how to express it; and we get into an awful spiral of clinginess, meanness, and exhaustion that eventually just keeps itself going even between colds.

Also, I'm considering taking my therapist up on her repeated offer of a low-dose antidepressant. Honestly. I'm not sluggish, sad, or hopeless, but the past week I have felt like punching things / people, and there is no way I'm going through another winter channeling a rabid mama wolverine. Something has got to change.


The thing she made to chew on was exactly as weird as it sounded. According to the teacher, several kids in the class are having trouble "organizing their bodies", and apparently one thing that can help is ... chewing on something. Not wanting to single anyone out, I guess, they had all the kids use surgical tubing and brightly colored yarn to make things that look to me a lot like doggie chew toys (yarn strung through a few inches of tubing, then tied up like a bracelet), and apparently they pass them out at story time and hope that it will help kids settle down. This seems deeply weird to me, and when I have time I will probably start worrying about what might be in that plastic tubing that shouldn't be chewed on (not to mention what sort of behavior prompted this—I hadn't noticed or heard about any real problems). But I have a lot of trust in these teachers, and for the moment I'm going to reserve my worrying energy for other problems.


Afraid her diaper is going to fall off.

Second night, same as the first. Except without any yelling from me, and with more of a general "I don't want to go to sleep all by myself" vibe.

Wise friend here for dinner pointed out there's probably some larger, unspoken worry or fear. I brought Ingrid down from the initial storm by talking about missing Daddy, about growing up. About how Daddy is coming home soon, and however big and old she gets I'll still be her Mama and love her like no one else in the world. Sent dinner friends home early to sit in her room, reading, to be there as she fell asleep.

When she was still awake at 9, I told her I had to come downstairs to get things cleaned up and ready for the morning, and she freaked out again. Cried in her room for fifteen minutes, then came down and watched me do the dishes. Now she's pooping in her diaper. When she's done, I'll clean her up, put her to bed, and go to bed myself. She may scream. If she does, I'm not sure what I'll do. I need to get to sleep. Iris wakes up before five some days, and I'm on a sleep deficit anyway. I can't sit in Ingrid's room for another half hour waiting for her to sleep, and I can't sleep with her in bed with me.



Two funny conversations and one not so much.

On the way home from day care, Ingrid said, "I got to make something to chew on today." Apparently it was made of rubber. With strings in it, and with her name on both sides like the tag on her lunch bag. She made it, then she put it in her mouth and chewed on it, and she didn't get to bring it home, she just left it on the table. It wasn't food. She couldn't remember if it had a name.

If you have any idea what this object could be, please tell me. I'd love to know.

Also, her ears are a bit plugged up from this cold, so we got to have a conversation like this after dinner:

Ingrid: Mama, did Iris wear this hat to day care?
Me:      No, she wore a different hat today.
Ingrid: What hat?
Me:     The fuzzy green hat.
Me:      The fuzzy green hat.
Ingrid: WHAT?
Ingrid: What are you talking about?

And then at bedtime we had more or less the worst interaction ever. She was Worried Her Diaper Was Going To Fall Off, which is sort of like a Yahtzee or a Bingo or insert your favorite games of chance and skill metaphor. Part sensitive kid, part thoughtful kid, part manipulative three year old wanting to postpone bedtime, all turned up to top volume, literally and figuratively. Add mama who Just Wants a Fucking Hour To Herself Before A Decent Night's Sleep, plus little sister already asleep and needing relative quiet, and obviously we were headed for misery.

Ingrid could not be reassured by my sympathy, consoled by my logical suggested coping strategies, or influenced at all, it seemed, by my calm and firm (and then less and less calm) limit setting, and she expressed her ongoing discomfort and worry by crying loudly. I ended up ranting and crying on the phone to my mom while Ingrid wailed upstairs in bed, then, after Ingrid came downstairs again, yelling some really lovely things at her about how there was nothing I could do and she really had to just get over it and go to sleep. This after many, many rounds of calm-but-firm, I swear. There is only so much fucking calm-but-firm in me, I'm very sorry to say. Her face turned pale and blotchy as I yelled.

For a horrible many minutes after I stopped yelling, I couldn't see how we were going to get out of it. Call someone to stay with the kids while I drove out for some better fitting diapers? Unnecessary giving in, I thought, and crazy-seeming. Have her sleep without a diaper? She'd already thought through how to be anxious about peeing the bed in that case. Tape her diaper on? She refused for unknown reasons. I thought about calling A in the middle of the night in Addis Ababa and just letting Ingrid wail into the phone. The thought of that sound leaving the house and fading across the continents was calming, but I decided, barely, to spare A the pain. I thought, as usual, about breaking dishes. I stepped into the backyard for a moment and screamed, without words, as loudly as I could. I worried, vaguely, that someone might call the police. Then I came back inside, made seven or eight more failed attempts at calming conversation with Ingrid, walked her, still sobbing (her, not me) up the stairs, and sat by her bed singing our lullaby while she kept moaning and crying. When my voice got tired I stopped singing and sat with my hand on her back until she fell asleep.

When I finally came downstairs, my dinner was long cold. And now it's way past my bedtime. I hope we've forgiven each other by morning. Tomorrow could be a long day.


In need of a sick day.

Possibly you've noticed how well I followed through on the idea of posting every day in November.

This isn't really a writing time, I guess. A is in Ethiopia for a week. My mom has just left after a three-day visit, and, while she's really not a high maintenance guest and is even marginally helpful, it was still tiring to Have Someone Here. Meaning, to prepare adult meals other than cheese sandwiches and frozen potstickers, and to keep up some semblance of household order. Plus, I had this awful cold where for two days I was hot and shivery and full of stunning amounts of snot and leashed to the neti pot. I used one and a half boxes of Kleenex in two days. I took a Sudafed that somehow kept me from sleeping for a four-hour chunk in the middle of Saturday night, and am still trying to catch up from that.

So yuck, and yuck. The girls have been spared the completely miserable symptoms so far. They've been kind of sniffly but in good spirits.

My mom brought them each a "pretty dress" and they are both totally, hilariously into wearing them around the living room, which is fine because the number of fancy dress-up occasions this family is likely to attend before the dresses are outgrown = zero.

This morning we went to the zoo. Do most children like zoos? Ingrid doesn't. She was into looking at a couple of the animals (Japanese snow monkeys, tropical fish) but spent much of the visit politely asking when we could go home. Iris, on the other hand, was beside herself with excitement about all the weird creatures and was an ace at spotting small or motionless animals. (Then she would shake her pointer finger in the air like she was making a little proclamation about what she was seeing.) They did both get a lot of running-around time in, which made for a good nap and a calm afternoon.

Anyway. Sickness + Absent Husband + Present Mother + It Fucking Gets Dark at 4:30 p.m. = (Haven't Been Writing Much + I Drool When I Drive By Motels, Thinking Of All Those Quiet Empty Clean Rooms) / Daughters Are Adorable and Clever. That's all I've got.


This is part of a map of the area within three miles or so of our house. The dots are home foreclosures. Home foreclosures from the past ten months.

It’s a very strange time to be around, isn’t it?

Yesterday on a highway off-ramp in a fancy neighborhood, I saw someone shifting from one foot to another, wearing a big warm coat and loosely laced hiking boots, and holding a cardboard sign. COMPLETE DESPERATION, it said in perfectly even letters. It was spelled correctly. We are fucked, I thought. We as a whole and we, our family. My God. All I know how to do is spell right and make nice lettering. What on earth do I think is going to keep us safe?

Then this morning I noticed a grimy little late-model hatchback parked outside our neighborhood food co-op. It had two newish-looking bumperstickers: Obama/Biden ’08. And If Anything Can Go Well, It Will.

It’s a liminal time. We’re between presidents. We’re between (but no one knows where between) stepping off the diving board and splashing (in what position and into what sort of water God only knows) into the pool. Almost everything measurable is in a pretty crappy state. Hope seems like a stretch, yet many of us feel it.

Sometimes I’m terrified. What if I lose my job, and then what if there are no jobs, anywhere? How would we pay our mortgage? Where would we live? What if our parents lost their houses too?

But mostly I’m walking through this with some kind of equanimity that comes from I don’t know where. I’m curious about what happens next. Driving through the suburbs, driving past all those malls and malls full of stores full of junk that no one needed anyway, I can’t really get sad about the possibility of their falling empty, and I believe, stubbornly, naively, that the most important things will survive. Our communities will be torn down in some ways, but they'll get built again, built, I hope, on something more real than they've been resting on.

I grew up knowing grandparents who valorized the depression and who still lived, in a lots of ways, like they did in that lean time, and taught their grandkids to as well—or at least shamed our parents—within our earshot—about the extravagances they allowed us.

I’ve spent over a year of my adult life living in one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal. And while I’m sensitive about not wanting to romanticize poverty, knowing how life is for so many there, I can see, vividly, that almost everything we have in this country is extra. The truckloads of things that we have and don’t need. The houses—even ours, at 1100 square feet or so, is enormous by most standards in the world—full of furniture and gadgets and clothing.

I don’t wish anyone pain, and there’s certainly plenty of it rising up here. I don’t relish that. The people hit hardest by this in most ways are those who were already struggling hardest, and that’s cause for nothing but grief. But part of me thinks we deserve to get pared down. A lot. Maybe I’m just sick of the long, slow fall, but part of me takes a deep breath and says, bring it on.


We did!

We spent the morning of election day door knocking, the girls and I and a friend of ours. I pulled the girls in the little red wagon. It was unusually warm for November 4, sunny and breezy. Iris played happily in the wagon; Ingrid hopped in and out, running along beside us, helping ring doorbells and jumping down the last two steps of each front porch into drifts of yellow leaves.

If Ingrid remembers anything from that day, it will probably be that. She still plays "door knocking" at home, "hanging" pieces of paper from our inside doorknobs if no one's home.

A came home from work early, and after the girls' naps the four of us walked to the school together to vote. We were quiet, walking there. It felt big, and even now, a week later, it's getting easier to forget the tension of it—the sense of being almost there, of not being able to do anything else to help, of hoping—but not knowing—that things were going to go the way we wanted.

After dinner we brought the TV up from the basement. Two friends came over, and my brother- and sister-in-law. As the first states were called for Obama, we were our usual skeptical selves. Based on 1% of precincts reporting? Even when the TV networks started calling the election for Obama, I couldn't quite believe it.

Planning the evening, we'd expected lightheartedness. We could open that bottle of champagne in the basement! But in fact we just sat and watched, and looked at each other, often very quietly. A kind of fragility came over us, I think, as we waited, half joyful and still half afraid.

A few minutes later, as A surfed through the channels, I caught the phrase, John McCain is going to— just before A changed the channel. I said, Wait, McCain is going to— and then every station cut to McCain stepping up to the podium, and I cried. Thank God, I thought. Thank God.

Watching Obama and his family appear on that stage, lit up in the dark, and then hearing him talk to the whole country at once, what could we all do but cry? Every one of us did. What a relief, to think that our president is someone we can admire and be proud of. What a relief to feel that we're finally heading in the right direction. What a joy that people who risked their lives for civil rights have now seen what just a few decades ago they could only imagine. And what a delight to be part of electing someone who—I'm convinced, in spite of everything he's up against—is going to be a great leader. I thought, So this is what people mean by 'proud to be an American'.

I heard on the radio the next morning (and this made me cry again in the middle of traffic) that in many places, during Obama's speech, people stopped their cars and opened their doors and turned up the volume. Americans stopped their cars and opened the doors. Oh my God that is huge.

I know reality will nip away at the edges of all this unabated joy. Compromises, politics, obstacles. All of that will happen. But for now—still, a week later—HOORAY. And HOORAY! This is just what we need.


How late will you stay up?

There's definitely no way I'll be able to sleep tonight without knowing who came out ahead today. So, unless things start looking (shudder) 2000-esque, I'll be up as late as I need to be.

A (who—Emmie's right—is actually a saint) has other ideas. He feels he'll sleep better not knowing than he would either elated by an Obama win or in despair over a loss. So if things start to look like they'll go into the night, he's hitting the sack.

I can't quite conceive of how a sane person could think this way. He'd rather not know? Negotiating this difference is probably one of the tasks the cosmos has set for us in our marriage. (Or for me, anyway. He seems to totally get why I want to know before I sleep.)


Foaming Tomato

I guess another thing I learned about gardening this year was to harvest the green tomatoes a bit earlier. These came in after it had gotten way too cold, and I noticed last night that one had started to spew foam.

I would love to be able to post a photo of how beautiful this would be after another week on the kitchen counter, but A insisted we throw it in the compost last night. Sheesh. Some people and their neat freak tendencies...


In a Blue State

My political involvement has always been spotty, but this presidential election has me by the back of the neck.

After the 2004 DNC, which I don't remember watching, people around me kept mentioning the senator from Illinois who gave the keynote address. I finally watched the speech on line several weeks later. I was impressed with his nuance and level-headed smarts. I said to A, It's a shame that this country would never elect him president.

And now we might. The possibility of it has had me antsy and weepy for weeks now.

For me—pretty far left in a pretty far left city—the details of what each candidate would do in office have made my voting decision a no-brainer.

But beyond that, Barack Obama knows how to tell us the story of ourselves so that our struggles make sense and the solutions seem clear. Not easy—nothing will be, I'm afraid—but clear in the sense of knowing who we are and where we're going. That kind of leadership—the ability to explain, connect, and inspire—is a tonic that we need now as much as we ever have.

And Obama delivers it in a way that cuts through my thick, thick cynicism about everything and everyone in a position of political power.

Last Wednesday evening, Ingrid and A and I hustled down to the basement after dinner to watch the Obamamercial. At the end, the live rally, where he ended his speech, shouting to be heard over the crowd, We will change this country and the world, A and I were both in tears.

Oh shit, I said, after I recovered. I don't think I'm jaded anymore.

It's the possibility of losing that that makes me feel like my whole heart is wrapped around this election.

It's why I sometimes can barely breathe when I check 538 for the fourth time in a day, and it's a big part of why I've made myself swallow my shyness and pick up the phone to make campaign calls. The possibility of an Obama presidency doesn't just mean we on the left might "get our way" for a change. For me it also means the privilege of having a brilliant leader. And it means the pride of knowing that not just a few lefty intellectuals but a serious majority of my fellow citizens can recognize that kind of brilliance.



November is that month when people post every single day. Nablo ... you know. It just (30 seconds ago) occurred to me that doing that might be fun and a good practice. And because I like rules, I am posting now, November 1, 10:43 p.m. See you tomorrow, maybe.


Put Up

This summer was my first real attempt at a vegetable garden. For several years, I'd grown lots of basil and tomatoes in big pots, plus a sweet little herb garden each summer. I'd been held back from a "real" garden by our lead-containing urban soil. This spring, though, I got my dad to help build three giant raised beds, and off I went, enthusiastic but pretty darn unprepared.

Though I grew up with a green-thumbed mom, I only helped at the micro level (Here, help me pick these peas.) I still don't have a good sense of the big yearly rhythm of when to plant what, how to plan a vegetable garden, what to expect, and what to do when.

So, with the gardening season (in our yard, at least) officially over, my assessment is this: I've learned a lot. Some things this year I planted far too late (turns out beets don't like the heat much). Some things I killed altogether without really knowing how (so much for home grown butternut squash). And some things I grew in bizarre, wasteful abundance (next year one row of radishes will do, I think.)

And I've got a lot in mind for next year: I'll grow fewer red peppers (we can't keep up with eating them and don't have a good way of preserving them), fewer radishes, and (as much as we love pesto all year long) less basil. And I'll add some new things: peas, tomatillos, rainbow chard, and another attempt at winter squash.

One goal of this whole thing was to have lots of home grown food to use all winter. Listing what I've got in the freezer and on the shelves, I feel pretty successful in that regard, for year one. Here's what I've put up. Everything but the apples (from a local orchard) grew right in our back yard:

Two big freezer containers of rhubarb sauce.

A quart of dried currants for snacks and baking.

A half-gallon bag of frozen currants for pancakes.

Two frozen bricks of Thai basil pesto.

Lots and lots—like probably fifteen meals' worth—of sweet basil pesto, frozen.

Five half-pint jars of radish relish. (No, we don't eat that much radish relish. Most will go as Christmas gifts.)

A couple of roasted red peppers, frozen, of uncertain quality.

Bunches of dried lavender, sage, oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary.

Two gallons (broken up into little containers) of frozen tomato sauce.

Two quart jars of sun-dried tomatoes.

Eight pints of applesauce.

And—from all the unused stems, peels, rotten spots, etc. etc.—lots and lots of compost to go into next year's garden.


I stole this from Eva.

Considering I’ve been at this for over four years, I don’t have so terribly many posts hanging out in my ‘drafts’ folder. But a while back Eva treated us to a tour of her draft posts, and it was pretty amusing. I don’t think I can quite reach that level of hilarity, but here’s my list, most recent first:

Title: It’s not who you are, it’s where you are. Or something.
Content: A paragraph about how taking care of little babies is all hands-on, and then a paragraph about my coworker who swears she will never send her son to public school in this city. And then a few words about Ingrid’s awful first dentist visit last spring and about a job offer I recently turned down. This was meant to be about how the main task of parenting ultimately becomes finding the right places for our kids to thrive, even as we keep on trying to figure out the best places for ourselves to thrive.

Title: She did the face.
Content: A photo of a drawing Ingrid made this summer by lying down and having me trace her body on a big piece of paper, then coloring it in. Only the photo didn’t turn out so it mostly looks like a crime scene outline with a big blazing orange sun in the corner, and you can’t see the priceless facial expression she drew.

Title: Put Up
Content: A list of all the produce I’ve canned, dried, and frozen from our garden and CSA this summer. Huh. Maybe I’ll post this one soon.

Title: What’s so funny?
"I believe I have cracked open one of the great mysteries of parenting.
The mystery: Why do people do it?
The answer: From the outside, the most horrible parts of it look FUNNY."

Title: Teeth
Content: A long, long thing about Ingrid’s horrible first dentist appointment, which I’ve tried and failed to write about in many contexts. It just ends up too long and hard to explain.

Title: Maybe it’s the weather.
Content: A day-by-day replay from about a year ago, showing me slipping into the horrible post-partum winter blues, including running into the Perfect Mom at the library, taking Iris to the doctor on the wrong day, and then taking her on the right day but forgetting my wallet. At the time I thought it sounded too whiny to post, but from here it looks almost funny.

Content: “There's the mama who dances around the kitchen holding her daughter's hands, making up verse after verse to the tune of Everybody clap your hands. And then there's the mama who hears still-awake cranky Ingrid crying over the baby monitor, slams the cheese grater down on the kitchen counter, and yells, She can just cry it the fuck out.”

Title: The Bottle
Content: None.
(I must have meant to write about our early successful attempts to give Iris bottles of pumped milk.)

Title: Switch Hitter
Content: I assert that my boobs switched roles (overproducer / underproducer) when I started nursing a second baby, and give several theories as to why this might have been true. (I don’t believe this was actually true, though. Or it’s not anymore, anyway. Maybe I’d mixed up my right and left momentarily?)

Title: On Joining the Crowd
Content: “Strange indeed.” Then several blank lines and “Buying a House.” This was almost four years ago, and I have no memory of what I was thinking.


Comeback, and Calls

It's hard to start posting again after drifting off into non-blogging land. It's like I should be coming back with something really fantastic, or at least some sort of update or reason.

It's not (just) that I've been on Facebook all the time instead of writing blog posts. I have been on Facebook a lot, to my embarrassment, even though some people make a beautiful case for the literary merit of genres that limit composition length. Other than that, all my juice has been going to poems. I've been preoccupied with planning an event for work, the kind of task that always takes up more of me than it should. I've been unable to think of anything to write that doesn't sound dreadfully in character. I've been swooning, weirdly, over Colin Powell (nervous-but-eloquent changes of heart get me every time) and fantasizing that there's still time—if I get going right now—for me to be one of Malcolm Gladwell's late bloomers.

This weekend, A has taken the girls to grandma's, and I am here in the house alone for two days. Two days alone for the first time since May 2005. There is a lot to relish: breakfast in the quiet. Perpetual household neatness. Walking out the door without caring exactly when I'll return. The unexpected? I miss them. I expected to feel guilty (I do) and worried about Iris, who is without me for the first time ever and can't possibly understand (I am, and she's fine). But, unexpectedly, I miss them and want them here. And also, I have learned the following:

1. I blame my moods on my kids. HORRIBLE! Here, alone, I feel, on occasion, aimless or agitated or a little sad, and I think: If they were here I'd think I felt this way because I needed to be away from them. Yi iiikes. Horrendous. This break is worth it for that insight alone.

2. When I am out in the world alone and reasonably well-groomed and in a peaceful frame of mind? Men talk to me sometimes. As though I am of interest. I have no interest, really, in being of interest, but I hadn't noticed until now how being with—or preoccupied with—children renders me invisible to a whole (mostly creepy, but still) segment of the population.

Learning aside, I'm flying around the house organizing winter clothes, vacuuming behind things, canning applesauce, leaving poetry books in convenient spots where they remain rather than being carried around to unexpected places by cute little nascent object-carriers. This morning instead of slogging out of bed before six as usual I stayed asleep until 8:30 and dreamed that A and I were renewing our marriage vows and Barack Obama was officiating. He was splendid, and sang a lovely solo as well. I wore a white dress with a red corduroy coat over it.

And I spent a chunk of this afternoon, due in no small part to shannon's prodding a few weeks back, making calls for Obama, using one hand to hold the phone and the other to beat back my tongue-tied shyness and doubts about whether it could make a difference. Several people hung up on me, and one guy said, Yes, I know who I'm going to vote for but I'm not going to tell you who it is. My longest conversation was with an 85-year-old woman who was in the middle of baking cookies and who told me she doubted it mattered who she voted for.

When no one answered (often), I left a message: I'm a volunteer for Barack Obama's campaign. I'm a mom with two little kids and a job and a lot to do, and I'm using part of my weekend to connect with other voters and share my belief that Obama is the candidate who can be the leader we desperately need right now. I hope you'll vote with me. Thanks for your time.

I don't know if it will make a lick of difference, but leaving those messages felt like it could matter. I'm not the most articulate political talker, and who hasn't made up their mind already by now? But maybe somewhere out there is someone who just needs to hear one more respectful, passionate voice before they sway that way. Or who would be pushed, themselves, into some sort of action, knowing that someone like me is moved to pick up the phone. Anyway, if you're so inclined, it's easy to do. Worst case, you discover that you can survive being hung up on after all.

I leave you with this, which cracks me up even though of course I will vote:


Happy University

It’s been a long time since “a dollar an hour per kid” made me a rich tweenager, and the cost of babysitting now makes me suck my breath in every time. We’re feeling the burn of double day care payments and fifty other increased expenses, and as worried as anyone about our financial future, but lately our usual friends-and-family sitters have been unavailable for one reason and another, so over the past couple of months we've ended up paying for babysitting several times. The extravagance is enough to make me almost grind my teeth down.

But how fantastic to leave the house with A, practically empty-handed, walk in silence down the steps, open and close two car doors, and drive away together.

Saturday was A’s and my sixth anniversary. Ingrid’s old teacher, T, came at 5:30, fed the girls dinner, played with them a bit, and put them to bed. We went to a new Indian restaurant in the neighborhood, and I (swaggering a little before the young waiter who questioned my ability to handle the heat) ate a meal of chicken vindaloo that threatened to sear a layer of skin out of my mouth and esophagus. We discussed what would happen if we both lost our jobs. (“We’d still love each other!” I gushed, grabbing for my ice water again. “We could live in my parents’ basement!”) We progressed to a new-ish neighborhood bar, where the greatest hits from our junior high years were playing, and A convinced me to order a Belgian beer that came in a round-bottomed glass with a wooden stand.

“Do you notice how it’s staying cooler that way?” he asked, when I was about a third of the way into it.

“No, but I notice I am getting very drunk.” It turns out I have become even more of a lightweight than I used to be.

Rumor has it that this year will bring the seven-year itch. “What do you think that involves?” A asked.

In our relationship, there is one person with itchy, dry skin, who does a lot of scratching in the privacy of her home. And one person who doesn’t even scratch his own mosquito bites and can’t bear the sound and sight of the scratching. I am the scratcher. “Lots of scratching,” I answered. “Probably lots of scratching.”

Ingrid, it turns out, loves it when T comes over. After three weeks of T taking care of the girls while A was traveling and I was at poetry class, she was a little disappointed that Daddy would be the only adult around while I was at class yesterday, and confused about why T wasn’t coming.

“Mama, when will you and Daddy go to your university again?”

Aaah, right. Five syllable word with “versuh” in the middle. “Probably soon, kiddo. Probably sometime soon.” As soon as we can afford it.


Facing the Book

OMG. I want to tell you about a fabulous web site. You post your profile, and you can search for your old friends by school and class year. People post pictures and all kinds of things about themselves, so you can see that guy you had a mad crush on when you were sixteen is now a paunchy lawyer in a red state. And then you can become “friends” with people you know, and post updates on what you’re doing, and make jokes with each other. It’s like blogging, only you don’t have to write so much, and the people you’re talking with, you actually know in real life. And apparently it is also possible, within this fabulous new web site, to play some form of Scrabble.

So. Erm. That’s where I’ve been. I’m not sure what I’m more embarrassed about: spending so much time there this week, or having taken so long to come around to checking it out. Save me.

I continue to feel like a superhero for navigating daily life with two little girls without (much) trauma. We get where we need to be, we eat (relatively) healthful meals, the house is (relatively) clean, the laundry’s done, the new tabs are on the license plates. The girls’ fingernails are even clipped. And it usually only takes five or six tries to get Ingrid to stay in bed at night and go to sleep.

A gets back on Friday and oooh boy am I looking forward to it. These trips of his are instructive for me. They reveal my deep many-armed mama-goddess nature … something every mother deserves to get more in touch with. But, man, life is just more fun with him here. Aside from me getting to sometimes take a shower with no one else in the bathroom. Aside from sometimes getting to sleep in. Everything is more enjoyable when he’s around. Two more days!


Is it me, or...

... is it impossible to find a raincoat in kids' size 5 or 6? Other than a $65 Marmot one from REI, I mean. I haven't spotted a single used one this summer, and Target has cute ones up to size 4 and then ... nothing. Is everyone supposed to stay inside when it rains now, or just roll up the sleeves of Mama's Mountain Hard Wear and waddle around like E.T. as we did this morning?

... are these a little odd? Granted, I wet the bed until I was old enough to write a five-paragraph essay (oh, and I spotted them while shopping for diapers for my three and a half year old to poop in) but I am weirded out by the teeny bopper marketing.

... is something off with Google Reader? It keeps showing old things as new, no matter how many times I click 'mark as read' or whatever. It's a pretty interface, but, grrr, I'm about to go back to bloglines.

... is it really, really dark in the morning all of a sudden? The girls are getting up at about 6, and it feels like night then, and continues to feel like night until after we're done with breakfast. I'm ordering the light therapy box today.

... are freshly roasted pumpkin seeds with lots of salt totally, totally addictive?


Self-Congratulatory Monday

The entire world is apparently falling into financial and political ruin, but at least I'm finding a lot of reasons to feel good about myself—beyond even the pipe cleaner sculptures:

Yesterday Ingrid pulled out her new favorite trick: "But Daddy does it that way!" And we had a conversation about how different people have different ways of doing things, and this is the way I do it, so when she's with me we will do it this way. She thought for a minute and then said, "When I grow up I'm going to do things like you." And I was able to pull myself out of my sick little moment of ego glow and say, "You know, when you grow up you'll probably do some things like Daddy and me and some things in your very own special Ingrid way."

Iris had her lead level rechecked at her one-year appointment, since we live in an old house in the city. And it came back? One. One! After spending the summer eating sand and dirt! Clearly I am a fabulous housekeeper, swabbing down the floors many times a day with clean, wet rags.

The biggest pat on the back I'm giving myself (and if you are a single parent, feel free to throw up and / or slap me right now because obviously this is small potatoes in the big world of solo parenting) is about how things are going here, on day eight of fifteen (or maybe more) days of A being gone. Things are fine. We get up, we have breakfast, we have our little routine for getting us all showered and bathed, we do stuff, we weather tantrums, we procure and eat food, and it is all fine. I've had lots of help: in-laws, friends, the babysitter for that poetry class (which went smashingly last week, both the class and the scene at home). But beyond that it somehow feels like things have clicked into place. Like instead of barely surviving, at this moment I am somehow now the strong, clever mama I hoped I'd be, getting the daily stuff done and even—slowly—inching us a tiny bit at a time toward a world of more creative play, cleaner closets, and a creative life for me. Yay.

Feel free to congratulate your own self in the comments and I will virtually pat you on the back. It's Monday, after all.


Generation Gap

This morning my father in law—Grandpa Gary—accompanied us to our first Mu*sic To*ge*ther class of the fall. He loves to sing and was thrilled to have the chance to dance around a little room with a dozen or so under-fives, his adorable (and adoring) granddaughters among them.

Everything was smooth until "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain." The teacher led us through several of the traditional verses. She'll be driving six white horses, we'll all run out and meet her, etc. etc. Then (in that weird sing-talking that the music teachers I guess are trained to do) she asked the swaying, dancing group for suggestions for the next verse.

Rollicking right along, Grandpa Gary made his forearm into an axe and shouted, "Kill the old red rooster!"

The teacher inhaled quickly. Everyone stopped dancing for a second and watched her try to decide what to do. "Should we really sing that one?" she said very quietly, looking at the ceiling and forgetting to sing.

"Or 'eat a little tofu?'" I offered in a small voice.

She finally collected herself, skipped the butchering, and led us into "We'll all have chicken and dumplings," followed closely—and cunningly, I thought—by "She'll have to sleep with Grandpa."

Fortunately, my father in law thought it was a hoot. He grew up chopping the necks off of poultry and not knowing any other path to chicken and dumplings, and he's broad-minded and big-hearted enough to laugh gently at small clashes of perspective, especially when country meets city.

Without him there, I wouldn't have noticed the absence of that verse, which is indeed a traditional part of the song. But, in honor of Grandpa Gary, I'm going to throw it in occasionally when we sing it at home. We eat some meat in our family; there's no point in being squeamish about where it comes from.

How are things at your house? Do you kill the old red rooster?


My friends, I made these out of pipe cleaners.

Now try to tell me I don't have some kind of future in the visual arts.

And feel free to call my bluff the next time I tell you I've got a "really busy" week ahead.

Less Stingy (apologies to William Carlos Williams)

This is just to say

This morning I used up
two half-full boxes
of baking soda
and a whole bottle
of organic white vinegar
making volcanoes with Ingrid
in the sandbox.

Forgive me.
She loved it, and it smelled
like childhood.


Best Laid Plans, and Where on earth does she get that syntax?

Friday I took the day off work, hoping to catch up with the various things I'm really behind on. A is out of town this week and next, and I thought it would be great to get a little on top of things before the inevitable crazy couple of weeks.

Instead, we woke up at 7 Friday morning to a baby completely covered in vomit, and I spent most of the day sitting on the kitchen floor nursing Iris, holding her while she dozed, and/or pointing her in the right direction as she threw up. Poor thing. It was a short sickness, and we had a nice Saturday, visiting a public garden we'd never been to. Then Ingrid came down with the crud at bedtime Saturday, and A and I pretty much both got up for each of probably fifty vomits. After a while I stopped going back to bed and just curled up in my bathrobe at the foot of her bed.

A, somehow, took care of just about everything Sunday while I tried to catch up on sleep. The theory was that he'd be able to get more sleep near the beginning of his trip, while I'd need all the reserves I could gather during this 15-day solo stint. After hours of napping (and feeling a bit under the weather myself) yesterday, I feel relatively human today (day 1 without A). I hope things are going as predicted on his end.

This week has all kinds of nuttiness in store, including several weirdly overlapping work commitments, plus the start of my poetry class, during which Ingrid's old day care teacher is babysitting—great for Ingrid, but I'm imagining Iris may cry the whole time and wondering what on earth I was thinking to set this up.


On a whole other subject, I've really tried to give out more popsicles in the past week. The other day Ingrid asked for one after dinner, but in a whiny voice, and I was in the middle of changing Iris's diaper so I told her she'd need to ask in a nice voice when I was finished and then we could talk about it.

As I pulled Iris's pants up, Ingrid gave me the most earnest look ever and said, "Mama? Let's talk about this popsicle problem."

I gave her a popsicle.


Another political post or two and I'll be qualified for the vice presidency.

My friends and family and I spend a lot of time het up about Those People on the Other End of the Political Spectrum. What are they thinking? They must be brainwashed. They are inhabiting some weird alternate universe.

I just stumbled on Jonathan Haidt's What Makes People Vote Republican? (linked to from—and pointedly summarized in—this great Judith Warner editorial, which is sort of funny), and it's the most thoughtful approach I've seen to this problem of alternate universes. Leave it to an anthropologist to reveal righteous indignation as just another form of incomplete understanding. Academic and thick-ish, but very, very worth a read.



Yesterday’s primary election here was not suspenseful. None of the races, within my party and precinct, at least, were heavily contested. I voted out of habit, and to make my mark for a couple of the school board candidates.

Our polling place is the middle school five blocks from our house. We stopped there on our way to the library. Iris wiggled in the backpack, grinning at the officials and peering around at our neighbors. Ingrid held onto my leg, and I knelt down to show her my ballot.

“We vote to decide who gets to do certain important jobs,” I told her , “like being in charge of the schools, and making the rules for the country. Everybody gets to vote to help decide these things—all the grownups in this country. And whoever gets the most votes, gets to do those important jobs.”

I choked up, saying this to her. Explaining our complicated—and, lately, ugly—system of government in so few words was like trying to tell her about a bird by presenting her with a sun-bleached pile of strong, elegant bones. Here is what holds this all up, I was saying to her. Here are the ovals we fill in with a pen.

I couldn’t believe how hopeful I had to make myself to say those things, and how readily she accepted them. There was no room for election fraud, electoral gerrymandering, or smarmy campaign strategies. I didn’t talk about how my grandmothers, at her age, weren't certain they’d grow up to vote, or how, as adults, they couldn’t tell their own little daughters that all grownups in this country help choose our leaders. After paring all that away, what remained was the most fragile kind of hope: This is where we can all say what we think is best.

The lump in my throat will be even larger in November. So much rests on the outcome, I don’t know about those thin, light bones. The people who do those important jobs will decide whether there’s war or peace in this world. They’ll decide what kind of country my little girls grow up in. They’ll have the chance to chip away at—or make worse—the great mountain of suffering—human and otherwise—on this planet.

When a weird sideshow full of meanhearted digs, irrelevant personal details, and cheap, illogical appeals to our most selfish impulses can rile so many into bizarre devotion (even as the rest of us retain the taste of throwup in our mouths for weeks), how much do I trust my neighbors to vote what is right? How much can I trust that the simple act at the core of our country’s being will move us any closer at all to where we ought to be?

Voting feels a greater honor than ever—the chance to elect someone who can really lead and inspire, can pull us out of the financial and social and spiritual mire we’ve made for ourselves. It also feels more an act of faith than ever: I fill in a circle, and, through some kind of alchemy, someone new—or not—appears at the helm of (still, arguably) the most powerful country in the world. There’s more than voting, of course, that I can and should do to make the world I want. But, still, so much rests on it, that inky spot on a sheet of paper, the whirring machine I feed it into. I don’t pray often, but the thought of all those ballots in November is enough to make me whisper, God, if you’re there, please make this work the way it should, the way I’m telling my daughter it does.


Stingy Mama

A year ago, on one of our first outings as a mama-and-two-girls trio, we went to a big giant craft store and bought three bottles of poster paint. Red, yellow, and blue. For kiddie painting projects.

In June, I found some all-natural, juice-only popsicles at the co-op and bought them. For treats on hot summer days. I bet there were 16 in the box.

Ingrid loves to paint, and we do it often, and I'm in charge of doling out the paint. I squirt it onto a piece of cardboard, she uses it up and asks for more, I squirt out a bit more, feeling a little antsy all the while about wasting paint.

It probably goes without saying that she loves popsicles. Who doesn't love popsicles? I heed the limit-the-juice warnings, though. I give her one on an especially hot day, or at a special time. More often than not the "don't spoil your child" devil sits on my shoulder as she slurps away, and I slap it back: just this once, I say.

But know what I've still got? Three bottles of paint that are less than half used up, and a good three quarters of the box of popsicles still in the freezer.

I am stingy. With art supplies. And hippie popsicles.

Goal for the new (school year): Loosen up. Objective A: Be extravagant with the art supplies. Objective B: Be more generous with the popsicles.


An Improvement?

Today after school:

Ingrid, cheerfully: [Name of Wyoming Town] didn't hit me on the head today.

Me: Well, that's good. It sounds like he made a better choice today, (blah blah blah about hitting and how it hurts, etc. etc.)

Ingrid, interrupting, still cheerfully: Today he poked me in the eye.

Other than that, she seems to have had a fine second day. Her teacher commented on her sense of humor, saying she giggled all day long. She made a fabulous piece of art out of large amounts of glue and glitter.


Chewing as fast as I can.

Iris is so cute these days it is almost unbearable. She has ringlets! Red ringlets! And she staggers around the house clutching a tube of toothpaste or a plastic lid in one hand and waving the other arm wildly over her head to maintain her balance. She articulates new words every day, with such adorable deliberation and glee: Ba pa (backpack). Bap-pul (apple). Keekeepat (kittycat). She is fearless, now, about wanting to join the world of the big(ger) people. She climbs into Ingrid's chair. She lunges for my glass of beer, wanting a taste. She is full of pride when she scoops up yogurt with a spoon and reaches her mouth with it.

Ingrid is interested in coloring all the time, and her drawings have begun to take on new characteristics—instead of monochromatic scribbles, there are patches of color, or squiggles almost like writing, each with a different crayon. She'd be happy if I spent the whole day playing pretend games with her: school, camping, putting the babies to sleep and then being really quiet. She wants to be able to cut a perfect arc with scissors. She is all of a sudden a crackerjack trike rider, speeding down little hills and around corners and stopping expertly at intersections and alleys. She is interested in growing up. The other day she asked me, "Mama, when I grow up can I have a permanent pen?" A frequent conversational topic is "When will I be big enough to drive the car?"

And me, I am in the middle of just about every project I can think of to start. Our garden is half harvested, and we seem to have hit a break between waves of ripe tomatoes. I have two simple baby blankets I want to sew for friends, and a zillion essay and poem ideas, most scribbled in the notebook I jam into my purse for when I have a minute. Add to that (work thing A) and (work thing B) and (long-term career planning thing C), plus my pipe dream of clearing out half of our swampy basement to create a sewing and writing studio slash Reggio Emilia style atelier for Ingrid and me, and there's a whole lot in the works.

I'm taking a poetry class this fall, which starts next week, along with an early childhood class for the girls and me, plus a low key parent-child soccer thing at the park, and a music class for either A or me to take the girls to Saturday mornings. The summer has been so idyllic—the hours at the park, the evenings in the backyard, all the lazy walks to the coffee shop in the mornings—that in a way it seems like a shame to begin all this. I want to relish more days of not having to be anywhere and not having to coax Ingrid through anything too hard (e.g. speaking to human beings other than family members).

But as the weather gets colder I know we'll want these activities on the schedule, these appointments to hang our routine on when "wading pool visit, followed by picnic, followed by giggling sisters pushing each other on the swings" is no longer feasible. It's September, and it's time to start on all of these things, and to keep harvesting tomatoes, pressing flannel, writing poems, and clearing the stuff we no longer need out of the basement.


Stovetop Palimpsest

I scalded some peaches this morning in order to peel them and add them to our pancakes. Who knew the mark left by their juice would be purplish blue? And shaped roughly like a map of Norway?


Hello, Backpack

Ingrid had her last day at the old day care Friday (“It’s closed now,” she said, driving home that evening. “Closed like a library.”) We gave each of the three teachers plus the director a photo of her in a handmade frame (She decorated each with meticulous, evenly spaced dashes, front and back.) We said goodbye, and it was sad and a relief to have the ending over with.

Today she was to have started at the small in-home day care. But about ten days ago, I got the nagging feeling that we’d made the wrong decision. Ingrid seemed, suddenly, so old and so ready for “school”, and the uncertainties around a one-woman day care business suddenly seemed huge.

As set as I’d been—for weeks—on the in-home day care, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what she needs now is something more structured and more official than even a super experienced and educated caregiver can do in her home. The march-like song from the “School” Signing Time video stomped through my head all day: “Time to pay attention, time to pay atten-CHUN!” And my nagging, nagging gut kept demanding atten-CHUN right along with it. A, on the phone from Germany, admitted to the same doubts.

I obsessed about this for several days straight, to the point where in order to sleep I had to envision myself throwing a big clay pot, putting all of my day care thoughts inside it, and letting it float away on the blue ocean.

And then we started to look at the other options again.

We looked briefly into an extremely dogmatic Waldorf place (lovely, but the more single-minded and unfortunately more vocal of the two proprietors had a creepy gleam in her eye that brought me back to my days hanging out with fundamentalist Christian missionaries in the Himalayas. She said something about “the opportunity to meet like-minded parents” and I almost ran screaming from the soothingly arranged, newly low-VOC-painted room.)

And then we found out there was still room at the co-op day care center that I’ve loved for years (Ingrid had been on the waiting list to get into the younger kids’ room for ages) and where her good buddy H (of the fingernail polish) is going now. We signed her up, and today was her first day.

I feel lousy—completely lousy—about backing out on the original plan with the in-home woman. I never would have done this before having kids: Backing out! Of a Plan! A plan that I myself had decided on and agreed to. Backing out because of no particular concrete change other than that my gut was telling me it was the thing to do. But I did—as gracefully (not very) as I could—and today was Ingrid's first day at "school".

And I feel great about what we’re doing, about this new day care that my suddenly super grown up daughter calls school. I think it’s a great little community. There is so much that I know she’ll love: a garden, pet hermit crabs, a play kitchen. Her buddy H is an outgoing kid who draws everyone out—including even Ingrid at her most shy. And her teachers are kind, smart women who seem to love their jobs and love the kids.

Ingrid came home today exhausted but full of stories (“We made pizza for snack. With sauce and cheese. And VEGETABLES!”) and full of imaginary games about cousins (she has no real ones) and a song about speckled frogs. Apparently some little shit child who shares a name with a Wyoming town hit her over the head this afternoon, but I am pleased with how the teacher handled both the hitter and Ingrid’s (distressed, very upset) response, and for now I am going to believe that this won’t be a regular occurrence. She seems to have recovered fine.

As much as I’m trying to fight it, it’s starting to feel like fall: Cool weather, rain, the sad, sad closing of the park wading pools (closed like libraries, I guess), and a girl—after all her parents' strange and convoluted decision making finally sorted itself out—starting school.


Potty Genius

Since yesterday afternoon, Iris has pooped in the potty three times and peed in it at least twice.

For those who might have trouble telling apart "the sisters with the I names", Iris is the baby. Who turned one two weeks ago.

Yesterday she climbed onto Ingrid's little potty with her pants on. Out of curiosity, I took her pants and diaper off and sat her back down. Then the phone rang. I was distracted for a few seconds, and when I came back to her the deed was done. The two times today were kind of the same thing. She went to the potty and fussed and fussed until I got her undressed and helped her sit down.

Her big sister—who, in all her three years plus three months, has landed every poop squarely in a diaper—looked on proudly, clapping. Good job, Iris! Hooray for you!

I will now begin shopping for my outfit for the Nobel banquet.

It's been a busy stretch, here. A was away for five days, we are embroiled in the last scramble of a day care decision, and I've been busy (pardon my blushing) reading a book about how to be spontaneous. And eating tomatoes. Maybe this week I'll get it together to write again.


Rituals For the End of Baby-Raising

Last week I felt horrible and didn’t know why: walking through mud, thinking like mud, seeing through a tunnel of mud. Detached from Ingrid, and reacting to her clingy reaction by pushing her away. Honking at everyone who didn’t use their turn signal.

I didn’t get why. It seemed like it came overnight and for no reason, and it scared me that it hit me out of nowhere, in the middle of summer—the opposite of Eliot's midwinter spring.

Then my therapist, whom I hadn't seen in months but who listened on Friday as I stumbled through various ideas about the sudden blues (clouds, sugar, sleep deprivation, maybe my period) proved herself worth many times my ten dollar copayment. I mentioned in passing that Iris had turned one on Monday, and she said, "She turned one on Monday?" in a way that totally sounded more like, "Why have you spent the last forty minutes blabbing about insignificant things when this is so clearly the thing that is getting you down?"

That's it, of course, and you are most welcome to unsubscribe in disgust now if you want, because I know I've mainly spent the past year gnashing my teeth about not being a baby person, wanting to sleep more, wishing we could get on to the good part where they are both a year older, etc. etc.

It has been hard, and a baby's first year is not my favorite part and not the thing I'm best at, and with three quarters of my heart I'm thanking my lucky stars that we don't ever, ever have to do it again. But I'm still sad that it's slipped by. There will be no more babies in this house. I won't be pregnant again, won't doze with a sleeping newborn on my chest, won't thread anyone's boneless little arms through itty-bitty onesies. It hasn't been my best season, but it's one that I looked forward to, and it was studded with fantastically sweet moments, and it's over forever. Iris is one. She walks. We're done with babies.

What's made me feel the most foggy-headed and heavy-limbed is that the transition sneaks by without ritual. Iris takes her first steps; she turns one and we eat cake. She turns from baby to toddler, and we mark that, sort of, but what about going from mother of babies to mother of older children? From woman with the intense, close, physical work of baby care in her future to woman who's done that, who's done with it, who sees it now from the other side, in her past?

As with many important passages these days, the rituals our culture offers are either medical (insert the IUD or give the husband the snip) or consumeristic (get rid of the Bumbo seat and the nursing pillow; buy a little red wagon). I need something richer than that.

So I'm going to make something up.

Because I write, there will be lists: what I'm sad to leave behind, what I'm glad is over, what I've learned. What's not required of me anymore, and what strengths I need in this new, ever more babyless time. And what else I can be—creatively, spiritually, physically—as I move slowly, slowly away from the time when tiny, tiny girls were my every waking thought.

I imagine I will need to burn some lists and enshrine others in a little bottle. I'll probably have to take a dip in some body of water. And maybe there should also be wine. It has to be part funeral, part baptism, part graduation party.

What will you do (what would you do, what did you do) to mark the end of your time as a mother of babies?



I'm not sure how so many long days can add up to such a short year, but tomorrow my baby turns one year old.

One year ago today she was a mystery—a genderless, active, rather pointy baby who liked—during ultrasounds, anyway—to suck on his/her upper lip. We've learned so much this year: She is a redhead, a tall one, a ham, an adorable bottom-up sleeper, a persistent climber, a dog lover. She loves to swing, loves to unpack and disassemble, loves to shove blocks and rocks down the back of her own shirt. She loves her big sister. She eats dirt.

She says a lot of words, but most of them sound like "Aap-hm." She signs fan, light, all done, bell, and occasionally more. She does not want to be contained. She can draw with a crayon. She can climb all our stairs, up and down. She can point, when asked, to her head, ears, nose, tummy, and toes.

She likes nursing, but she likes bananas even better. She looks great in brown. She still loves to pee with her diaper off. She'll put up, good naturedly, with a lot: erratic scheduling, squashing by her big sister. But wrong her (take away her sleepy doll, or show her Mama or bananas without handing over the goods) and her face and voice tell you in no uncertain terms how very unjust she finds the situation.

She is ticklish. Rolling around on the bed makes her laugh. Dancing makes her grin. What she really wants most is to eat the cat's tail. When she stretches (she has done this since she was a newborn) she holds her elbows right next to her ears. She likes to experiment with her orifices: Can she breathe in and out with a finger in one nostril? How about the other? How about with her fingers in her ears? She explores these things with a look of fascination on her face.

She hardly ever holds still anymore, except when I nurse her in the middle of the night, and sometimes I—I, lover of sleep—stay in her room, holding her, long after she's done nursing, looking at her round little cheeks in the mostly dark, feeling the weight of her head in the crook of my arm, her legs soft and still in my lap.

On Tuesday Iris stood on her own for the first time, grinning, chuckling, and clapping her hands. Yesterday she took her first three little falling steps, crash landed in my lap and then backed up to stand again on her own—a sturdy little tripod of two legs and an arm, then an upright, grown up girl looking right into my face with her big brown eyes.

Tomorrow we'll celebrate with banana cake (not this but this—poor, nutritionally deficient second child) and a toast to our family of four and to the little girl who keeps on surprising us all.

Happy birthday, little bear. I can't wait to see what the next year holds.


Postcards from the Best Summer Ever

I spent last summer slowed by the sweet weight of Iris, first in my belly, then in my arms. The summer before that, I was barely emerging from the fog of the first year of motherhood, and afraid, still, of getting my baby dirty. The previous year I was frozen in the heat, shuffling through sweaty, milky postpartum days. And before that trails a string of nondescript grownup summers, indistinguishable, almost, from winter in their bland air-conditioned office chill.

But this summer. This summer the weather is gentle and we spend hours at the park, the girls and me, getting filthy. A joins us after work for picnic dinners, and we add watermelon juice to the layers of sweat and sand and sunscreen. Ingrid is brave on the ladders up to the big slides, even swings alone on her tummy while A and I eat and Iris showers her own back with fistfuls of sand.


Ingrid is in an easy time—eager, interested, easily soothed. During Iris's morning nap, we do special fun things together. I build us an obstacle course ("oxtable horse") in the backyard, and we follow each other under the low pear tree branches, over the picnic table, and along the winding line of the garden hose in the grass.

We raid the fridge and empty all the eggs into a bowl so we can cut the carton into cardboard caterpillars. We each paint one, sitting on the warm backyard path, and then rinse our purple hands in the sandy wading pool.

I lay paper over an ivy leaf and rub across it with the breadth of a blue crayon, touching foreheads, almost, with Ingrid, as we watch the veins of the leaf emerge—the thick, prominent lines first, then the finer ones...more on the paper than we can see in the leaf itself.


One night last weekend after Iris was in bed, I was cleaning up the kitchen, and A and Ingrid were in the backyard. "Caro," I heard him say. "Come here for a sec." I dried my hands and stepped out the back door to see him lying on his back on the concrete walkway, his head resting on the bottom porch step. "Lie down here with me. The ground is warm, and the air is just perfect."

The ground was warm; the air was perfect. We lay watching the high-up wind drag the thinnest veil of cloud across the sky. We could hear cars on the next street over and each leaf of the neighbors' elm tree rattling just slightly. Ingrid puttered between porch and living room, bringing blankets and stuffed animals to drape over our chests and nestle near our necks—we were her dental patients, receiving rewards for our "good cooperating". We lay there for minutes and minutes, quiet, resting.


We drive to the CSA pickup spot with the windows open, nixing the A/C and letting the breeze cool us and mess up our hair, blasting the Music Together CD and singing Jumpin' Josie with every set of words we can think of, wearing clothes that have seen a day of play. We pull up in the driveway next to a spotless Saab. I watch a well-pressed suited woman emerging from the cool of her car on her way home from work. Looking at all that neatness, all that control, I am surprised to realize that for a change I lack envy. This is what I want. This is freedom.


In which I request gifts ask you to toot your own horn

Today is the fourth anniversary of my first blog post.

I've had a long hiatus or two, but, still, four years is a long time, and it's way longer than I thought I'd be at this. I started this blog to join the community of bitter, funny infertile women writing on line—a community I needed, at the time, desperately. Since then this has been part notebook, part brain dump, part builder of small but important on line friendships, part connector with real life friends.

One of the strangest things about this little hobby is the possibility of sudden disappearances. Whole blogs—whole people—can just vanish. And there are little, daily disappearances, too. Insight and beauty—on occasion, I mean—flash up on the screen, then are slowly buried and sink away. How many of us dig around in each other's archives, really? You probably wrote something hilarious or enlightening just before I started reading your blog, but I missed it, because, hello, I only read page one.

So here is the blogiversary gift I'd love to receive. (Keep reading...this could be a sweet little love fest.)

Leave me a link to your favorite blog post. Of yours, I mean. The funniest, the silliest, the wisest, or the most enlightening. One that you wish weren't buried waaay back there in your archives.

Then, go read what someone else linked to, and, if you're moved to, leave them a comment on their ancient masterpiece.

See? Love fest. Go.



We chose Iris's name a few days before she was born. It rose to the top of a pile of names that we liked but that each had a fatal flaw: Edith or Alice (too plain, maybe, and without much meaning for us), Harriet (too much like my real name), Freya (A loved it, but it made me think frazzled), Siri (a nickname for Sigrid, it turns out, and it means butt in Japanese), Esther (a bit too old lady, we worried).

And Berit, the most gorgeous reject of all. It means splendid, magnificent. It's Scandinavian, but related to the Irish Bridget, the goddess of fire, poetry and wisdom. But it's too odd, we thought. "Her name is Berit," we'd say, and people, we predicted, would answer, "What?" Our last name is unusual, hard to spell, and easy to mistake for a female first name, and we didn't want to set our girl up for a lifetime of "What?", a lifetime of spelling it out.

Iris, we loved. Love. I love that it is strong, short. Feminine without being too delicate. I think goddess and rainbow far more than flower.

The problem with it, we knew (and we were drawn to it strongly enough to choose it in spite of this) is that it's a lot like Ingrid. It looks like we chose it to match. We didn't. But people are either charmed by the cute matchiness or they have trouble telling them apart. "Oh, the sisters with the I names," people say. "Which is which, again?"

This bothers me more than I thought it would. Ingrid and Iris feel different to me—ok, similar in sound, but almost opposite in tone and texture. It irritates me that people think of them as alike. I don't want anyone to think of my daughters as interchangeable. They are not.

And also this baby girl, this red-headed, bright-eyed, intrepid little gusto-filled rocking chair surfer of a girl, seems way more Berit than Iris to me.

I've felt it since she was born. Curled on the hospital bed peering into her bassinet in the middle of our first groggy night together, I kept thinking of her as Berit and having to correct myself. That went on for weeks.

And then for months, in my broken new mom sleep, I dreamed of being pregnant again, which I didn't and don't want. My main feeling in the dream, though, was relief: We could call this one Berit.

A agrees: she seems like a Berit. She seems like Iris, too, he points out, because we call her that over and over and it's grown to fit her, sort of. He is less likely, even, than I to rock the boat or go back on something so significant. But we've both slipped, in the past couple of months, into calling her Berit or Bear. Ingrid has picked it up, too, and uses Berit interchangeably with darling, sweetie, and Gyris.

At a barbecue this week, someone heard me call her Bear and asked where that came from. "Um. Um um," I said. "Um, well, partly it comes from, you know, from her just looking like a little bear. And, um, it's also short for..." And then, mercifully, I needed to go and rescue the little Bear from the stairwell and the conversation didn't continue. What could I have said? It's short for the name we didn't give her but should have. The name that seems like hers even though it's not.

I've thought a lot—and A and I have talked—about officially changing her name. About going through whatever paperwork that entails, and sending friends and family an email with the subject line, "The Baby Formerly Known as Iris." We're reaching the end of the time when that kind of change would be unproblematic for her little self.

For now, we are going on with the multiple nicknames. Are we nuts? Will we ruin her? I don't think we will officially change her name. But I can see a future where we start to use Berit more than Iris, at least within our family, and maybe outside it, too. Whatever we do, I have a feeling Berit will follow Iris through her life like a bright little shadow.