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.