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.