Feeding Problems

A couple of people have told me that the feed over at the new site isn't working (particularly in Bloglines, I think). So if you're somehow still seeing this but haven't gotten any small animals posts through your feed reader for a few weeks, go on over there and check out what beauty has emerged by our kitchen sink.

And try resubscribing using the link on the right-hand side...I think that does the trick.


You're still here?

Go to the new place, really. Things are happening there. Drama. Bravery. Inscrutable metaphors.


Goodbye, new pants...

...Hello, small animals.

I'm moving. Wordpress is prettier and easier to use, and what does anything have to do with pants, anyway?

I hope to see you over there. And please (pretty please!) update your links if you've been linking to me.


Help: My Life is Strangling Me

Over the past month neither I nor my extended family have experienced any heart attacks, police brutality, terrible prenatal diagnoses, governmental oppression, untimely death, mysterious bacterial infection, bankrupcy, or really anything else awful. (Except for my poor brother and his ruptured appendix, but he's better now.)

What we have experienced is the following, in reverse chronological order:

three-day visit from my brother
whirlwind two-day camping trip
one-day visit from my brother
start of new writing class
day of visiting with friends here from out of town for weddings
12-hour wedding
procurement of clothes and gifts for twelve-hour wedding
A being out of town for several days
my parents visiting for five days
crazed cleaning and organizing in preparation for my parents' visit

These are all good things. All! But. There are two cubic yards of clean, unfolded laundry on the living room floor. I am behind on work. And on consulting work. And I haven't been running regularly, or taking my vitamins. I am aware of my heart beating all the time and nervous talking on the phone and don't know what to do with my hands.

Time for a break! I mean, past time for a break. This weekend A is taking the girls to grandma's, where there will be a massive post-solstice barbecue that all the extroverts in the family think is going to be a hoot. I will spend Saturday doing my required work shift talking to people I don't know about things I don't know very much about, and then come home and lie on the couch until I summon the energy to get up and start to dig myself out of the work hole.


Only Half Here

Thanks for the points about the fraught playground discussion. I don't think anyone meant harm, it was just disconcerting, especially the part where I said something innocently and didn't realize until an hour later that it might have sounded snarky. Open exchange of ideas, I keep thinking. Open exchange of ideas.

Lots of newsiness here:

1. Have launched into full-on M&M bribery with the potty learning for Iris. She calls them Lemon Ms and is learning fast, except for the part where during her naked bottom time she poops on the floor, apparently oblivious to what's going on. Learning, I keep saying to myself and her. This is how we learn.

2. Before this, I 'd never used those bleach wipes. Now I am.

3. I'm sort of ashamed to be thinking of anything other than this. (No. 17: My god.) I'm not sure that kind of bravery is anywhere in me.

4. Tomorrow we're going to visit the CSA farm where our veggies grow. We're going to camp overnight and miss naptime and pick strawberries. When Iris wakes everyone up by hollering at 2 a.m. and when Ingrid has the inevitable utter meltdown about the inevitable mosquito bite or ill-timed bug sighting, I'll try to remember how easy our lives are as I do my deep breathing.

5. I finally got that new Malcolm Gladwell book from the library. Every time I look at the title I want to pronounce it as some kind of French word. Oot-lee-aiiirre.

6. And I found a book of poems by Robert Hass called Time and Materials. How terrific a title is that, and why didn't I think of it?

7. At this farm strawberry fest, there will be a potluck lunch, and for it I made tabouli with some of our abundant parsley, and foule, which tastes better if you spell it with an e at the end if you know what I mean. I cooked the fava beans (which Ingrid calls thaba beans, although her hearing was tested as completely perfect not three months ago) in the pressure cooker, and you should have seen them bobbing around in the water. They have a little line across one side as though they are little smiling fish. I talked to them in my best fava bean voice until A got overly weirded out and forced the lid onto the cooker.

8. I really ought to be in bed.



Ok, tell me if you think this conversation was as innocent as it seemed at first, or as fraught as I started to think it was an hour or so later:

(K and S are sisters-in-law (of each other, not me) and are both science professors with kids five and under. We went to college together, and we see them about twice a year, including this weekend at the megaplayground.)

K: So is Ingrid in preschool now?

Me: Well, our day care is a lot like a preschool. We found that the schedule and cost of a regular preschool just don't work for us.

K: Oh, I know, they're really set up for families with an at-home parent. Our son had to get dropped off at day care, take the preschool bus to preschool, and carpool back to day care for the rest of the day.

Me: I hope someday our kids will look back on this as the dark ages of work-life balance. The system really isn't set up for the way our lives work these days.

S: I know—it's ridiculous! Schools expect you to volunteer three days a week! I just want to tell them, "I don't have time for that."

K: I volunteered at my son's kindergarten this year. I actually think it's kind of important. I didn't just sit there and stuff envelopes, though. I came in and did science projects.

Me: You're really lucky to have such a flexible schedule. So many working parents don't have that option.

S: [artfully changes the subject]

It was only afterward that I realized how haughty and critical my comment probably sounded (even though I used my innocent, wide-eyed tone), and even later that I realized K's comment kind of irritated me. And then all the unspoken stuff started to seep out. Do ya like how I took the ostensible moral high ground, while actually doing sort of a mommy drive by at the same time? Also, the class assumptions? The implications about what kind of work is worth one's time and what isn't? The assumption that someone else—perhaps a stay at home mom without any scientific skills—will stuff the envelopes? My weird double-consciousness as a part-time working mom with friends in both worlds?

Am I extra enlightened for noticing all this and feeling gross about them, or is all that negated by my grousing publicly about my friends' take on things?

Sheesh. No wonder I'm so exhausted after a weekend of doing nothing but chat.


Reading, Migration, Exhaustion

I've really been itching to write, but I spent Saturday at a twelve-hour wedding that was lovely but wore me the fuck out. Then this morning we drove to the suburbs to meet out-of-town friends at a blazing hot mega-playground where one hundred white children scrambled up and down four stories of ladders and chutes and their mamas sat on park benches under umbrellas reading books like Transforming the Difficult Child and YOU: Staying Young.

This afternoon I had a blessed one-hour break from all action and walked to the neighborhood coffee shop, where I sat reading a fascinating book about creativity by someone with a long name that begins with Csik and ends with alhyi (I think). It's one of a stack of nearly overdue fascinating books on my coffee table that I haven't gotten more than 20 pages into. Including The Master Butcher's Singing Club, which I'm supposed to be reading for my neighborhood book club but am balking about, probably just because it has the air of being an assignment. And four poetry books, including John Ashbery, whom I think I hate (sorry, Emmie) and Naomi Shihab Nye, and then also Siblings Without Rivalry, which I should probably just rip out page by page and tape to the fridge. And Rodale's Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, whose drawings of bugs are dismayingly black-and-white and don't make it easy enough to identify the orangey red bugs that are everywhere and may or may not be devouring the broccoli leaves, not that the broccoli plants appear to be ready to brocc anytime soon anyway. Oh, and Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream, which is the basis for a writing class I'm going to take this week where the teacher says we will go into a trance to think of writing ideas. I can hardly wait. Reviving Ophelia is in there too. (Subtitle: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls), which I haven't even opened and is, I believe, overdue already, despite my best intentions to turn over a new leaf. Thankfully, I believe I have at least six to eight years before adolescence comes on, so maybe I'll return that one without even bothering to renew it.

Oh, and in my spare time I've been moving my blog to Wordpress. It is so, so much more beautiful over there. And I have a new name idea. Because pants? Buying pants? What has that got to do with anything? So, this will all be unveiled soon, as soon as I've put the finishing touches on it and slept a few times on the question of whether I want this to be some sort of cosmic-level makeover where subject matter and anonymity level change a lot, or just a cosmetic and ease-of-use thing.

In the meantime, speaking of beauty or lack thereof, please check out Your Logo Makes Me Barf, which, as a part-time unofficial design nerd, I find to be about the funniest thing since Cakewrecks.


Alma Mater

I spent last Saturday evening on the small-town campus where I went to college, at a retirement party for a professor of mine, Anne. Anne is amazing by pretty much any measure: a brave progressive in a conservative religious tradition, a Roman Catholic nun on a liberal, secular campus, smart as can be, and unrelentingly conscientious. She's had cancer for seven years. She refuses to rush. She listens to everyone as though they matter.

In college, I floundered, looking for a mentor, and Anne's teaching was the closest I got to what I needed. My senior year, when, week after week, in the lower-level seminar class she taught, I listened and wrote but didn't say a word, she took me aside and asked that I "consider being more generous" with my remarks in class. She wasn't the first teacher to notice my shyness, but she was the first to challenge me about it so firmly and kindly. Generous. It was the first time I considered that by not speaking, I was withholding something important from others.

But still, I almost didn't go to this party. Being in that place—where for four years I felt such ungraspable joy and such paralyzing anxiety—is always loaded. And there'd be lots of standing around with wine glasses, trying to think of things to say. I'd send Anne a note, I thought, and be done with it.

Then my photographer friend Chris did Anne's portrait for the alumni magazine, and during the shoot he mentioned me, and she remembered me (fondly, even), and said something prim and wrenching like, "Tell her I very much hope she can come to my retirement celebration next week." And then she tracked down my email address and invited me personally, and I didn't have any choice but to go.

And I'm so glad I did. It was like going home. The professors knew me without even squinting very hard at my name tag. Other grads—both ten years older than me and ten years younger—approached: "You look familiar. Were we here at the same time?" We weren't, but they looked familiar too, and it wasn't even too uncomfortable to chat with them. I met people who are on paths I thought about taking but didn't. They're professors, researchers, ministers. I told them each, "I do writing and editing for non-profits. I have two little girls," and I wondered, How did this happen?

And the professors! I looked for a long time for the Buddhist whose "Intro to Religion" class hooked me the first term of my first year. When I finally found him, I realized I'd been scanning the room for his dark brown hair and beard; he was all grey. The Asianist who retired the spring I graduated was so thin, and his eyes had grown tiny behind his glasses. The Kierkegaardian's spine curled forward like a question mark, and he leaned in inches from my face to hear me talk. The Judaic studies guy I'd known for only a couple of months, I didn't even recognize. Anne herself seemed translucent, though radiant, and brittle. Stop, I wanted to say. Stop, all of you. Stop getting older. And don't die.

After dinner the Buddhist, the department chair, started off the docket of speeches in Anne's honor. "I'd tell you that I think Anne is a bodhisattva," he said, "but that would embarrass her." A dozen people spoke—other professors, other nuns from her community, former students—all in that vein: gentle, laudatory, funny, spot-on. The Judaicist read a handful of letters from students whose lives she'd changed, and everybody cried.

Anne spoke. She talked about a Harrison Begay painting of two Navajo weavers and a half-finished blanket—a painting she found so inspiring it had hung in her office for years. She talked about the beauty of imperfection and incompleteness.

Afterward, no one did much chatting. I walked slowly across campus, back to my car. Students swept by talking earnestly on their cell phones. There was a perfect half moon. The Asianist eased his way along the street towards home, arm in arm with his wife, and it wasn't clear who was supporting whom. When I turned the car on, Sam Baker's Pretty World was on the radio.

Driving home, I had a feeling I hadn't had in a long time: I'd been outside my life for those hours—outside this life I've gathered around myself one little decision at a time (and some big ones) over the years it takes a vibrant man to fade. And it was all here waiting for me at this end of the road, newly precious and newly strange: my husband, our girls, my work, our home.


An Open Letter

Dear Library,

Before I get into the hard stuff, Library, I want to tell you that I've always loved you. You were one of my first favorite places. For you I learned to write my full name, small and neatly, at age four, to fit on the signature line of my very own library card. You outfitted me, at age nine, for my first-ever term paper, "Climate Zones of the World," with great patience. You were a home for my teenaged spiritual questions, providing me with a quiet place to peruse The Varieties of Religious Experience and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, as well as most things in between (not to mention space for some valuable sneak-peeks at Our Bodies, Ourselves). Without a single word of judgment, you let me check out volume after volume of mindless chick lit novels the summer I was recovering from graduate school. And you supplied me with infertility, pregnancy, and parenting books by the heavy armload.

You've been as generous with my daughters as you were with me. They love you, too, Library, and seeing it is one of the most gratifying parts of being a parent.

I've done my best to treat you as well as you've treated me. I've never lost a library card. Until this week, I'd never lost a library book. Overdue books...ok, I've had a few of those, but aren't my late fines part of what keeps you in the black, Library? In addition to donations from me and other library fans, I mean? Anyway, it happens, right? You expect that, right? I'm a little late, I pay my fines, we move on.

And you can't say I never come and see you. I'm there a couple of times a week, at least, and always checking something out or bringing something back. Story time, the whole bit. I'm there for you, Library.

And I take good care of books, too. When Ingrid, my super-shy then-three-year-old, colored with a crayon in a book, I made her carry it to the counter and show the librarian what she did. I am that dedicated to taking good care of your books, Library. I even tape up kids' books that other people have ripped, because I know you don't always have time.

But lately, Library, I'm getting grouchy with you. Most of this isn't your fault, but let me get it off my chest: You're hardly ever open. When you're open, you're so busy that there's no place to park. You've hired that one guy who doesn't even seem to be able to read, and I'm all about understanding the tragedy of illiteracy and not discriminating, but come on, Library! You are the LIBRARY! You deserve better than that! And you are all computerized. Remember those cards that librarians used to stamp? They opened the back cover of every book and stamped it, and it was like the librarian knew something about me by doing that, and we could talk about the books I was checking out. But now we check our own books out. Beep, beep, beep. My daughters, age four and two, know how to use a laser scanner, but they don't know a librarian by name. Don't you see something a little wrong about that, Library?

And I know you're starting to hate me too. Look, I've lost Dim Sum for Everyone, ok? I know that's wrong. I should know where all the books I check out are, and when they're due, and get them back on time. But I lost this one. Somehow. Somewhere in my house, probably. I'm sorry, ok? But you didn't have to send me such a mean email message about it, with all those capital letters and so terse and grouchy. How about this: Caro, you've been one of our most dedicated patrons, and you've gone over 35 years without ever losing a library book! I'm sorry to see you've lost this one. Please pay us for it as soon as you can. Don't you see how that would be kinder? I am not just card number 220880085451xx (although that is my card number, and yes, I have it memorized, all fourteen probably unnecessary digits of it). I'm a person. With feelings. Aren't you? I'm just asking for a little love, Library.

And then. Then! Here is what really does not make sense: I paid for Dim Sum for Everyone. Fifteen dollars. And then I asked you: If I find it, can I return it and get my money back? And you said: No.

I'm happy to support you, Library, but I have to admit I was a little hurt. It was like you were going to hold a grudge. That didn't seem right. But I kept trying: Oh, ok. Well, I'll just bring the book in and donate it back, then, if I find it. When I find it. You can keep the money. It just seems like the book should still be yours.

And you said, We can't take it back. Once you've paid to replace it, its yours. If you bring it back in we won't put it back into circulation.

Now, Library. THAT DOES NOT MAKE ANY DAMN SENSE. I know you're having a hard time financially. A lot of us are these days, and I know you've been worried about your budget for a long time. But I think the financial stress may have started to eat away at your brain. I know the reason you can't be open more and can't have more parking spots and can't hire people who know how to read is that you don't have the cash. So for God's sake, when a person wants to give you a book—and not just any book but a perfectly good $15 book that up until it spent three weeks under my couch cushion (or wherever) you considered A-1 library-circulation-eligible material—then you TAKE THE BOOK.

You know?

Assuming I end up finding Dim Sum for Everyone, that is.

Anyway, I'm going to try to turn over a new leaf, because the strain in our relationship is making me sad. I'm going to get a better system for turning my books in on time. And I'm going to try harder to connect with the librarians, who must be awfully pissed that these days all they get to do is troubleshoot the computers.

But I'm asking you to do the same, ok, Library? I'm just a book lover doing my best to get through my to do list and keep my house together and teach my kids to love you as much as I have. I'm not looking to rip you off or get away with anything. I just want a little compassion, and a little acknowledgment that I've put something into this relationship over the years, too.

Yours in the Love of Books,




Tonight at bathtime, Ingrid stumbled on the concept of infinity, but, like many people staring down the unending, felt more comfortable imposing limits on it:

She: ...twenty eight, twenty nine, thirty!

Me: All the way to thirty by yourself! Know what comes after thirty?

She: Um. Thirty...two?

Me: Thirty one.

She: And then thirty two! And thirty three!

Me: You got it.

She: (plays in the water for a while) The numbers keep going on and on for ever.

Me: That's right. It's called being infinite. It means there's no end. If you keep on counting, you just keep getting to another number.

She: I can just keep counting and counting and counting.

Me: Yep.

She: But not at bedtime.

In other news, Iris's new trick is, when she's mad about something, she throws herself down on her stomach and smacks her forehead into the floor over and over. This is so awful and bizarre to see, I can't help but believe it's the result of terrible mothering. So, naturally, it makes me feel like screaming. Which, tonight, I did, because the head banging was not only awful as usual but was the result of a long drawn out battle over whether Iris would wear the short-sleeved cotton PJs on this 90-degree night or the the thick fleece pajamas. Guess who was on which side. Guess who won. Guess who feels like kind of a rotten mama.



As a kid, I loved to read and couldn't put a good book down until it was done. I'd sneak a flashlight or, later, a night light plugged into an extension cord, under the covers. I stayed awake as late as my eyes would stay open, turning pages. One night when I was six, very late, trying to reach a book on the far side of the bookshelf without leaving my bed, I fell and landed awkwardly on my backward-bent hand, and broke four fingers.

Ingrid has loved to be read to since before she could walk, but over the past many months I've felt like we've lost our fire for reading together. She seems like she's not paying attention, or she wants to read the longest books repeatedly, which I have trouble getting excited about (Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka, anyone?), and she doesn't ask to be read to much; it's just a bedtime and naptime ritual, one that I'm embarrassed to admit I've rushed through more often than I'd like to.

Then over the past week I heard two people mention reading Charlotte's Web to their four-year-olds, and I got the idea that Ingrid might bored with the reading material we've been offering. It's either short picture books or longer books that are really meant for kids learning to read on their own, so the sentences and plots are far simpler than she really needs.

So last night I took my childhood copy of Charlotte's Web off the shelf. "I have something special we can read together if you want to."

She looked at the picture of ponytailed Fern snuggling Wilbur.

"It's a big kids' book that I think you're ready for." I flipped through it. "Look at all the words. It only has a few pictures, and for the rest of it you listen to the story and imagine what it looks like."

She gave the cover a few hard taps with four fingers. "It has a really nice sound. You do it, Mama." I did.

She smelled it. "It smells like paper."

"I love the smell of books, too."

"I want to read it now."

We talked about the idea of chapters, and then we read the first two, with lots of stops for me to check whether she wanted me to keep going. (She did.) I did some fancy real-time editing around Avery's weaponry and the answer to the question, "Where are you going with that axe, Pa?" She wanted to sleep with the book, and in the morning, padded down the stairs with it and asked me to read another chapter on the couch before she even had her cereal.

After lunch, I was getting Iris ready to nap and A was in the bathroom helping Ingrid brush her teeth. She took a sideways step into the corner to reach Charlotte's Web on the counter, tripped on A's foot, slipped on the rug, and crashed forehead first—her hands were caught up on the counter and couldn't really break her fall— onto the edge of the stepstool.

She had a deep, three-quarter inch gash above her eyebrow, and she screamed and screamed. A and I fought wooziness, found clean cloths, and tried to reassure her. Iris counted the drops of blood on the floor: "One, two, five, eighteen, nine, ten, eleven..."

On the way out the door to the emergency room, I asked her if she wanted to take something special with her. A stuffed animal? A blanket?

"Charlotte's Web."

Of course. I retrieved it from the bathroom counter, and she cradled it as she cried all the way there in the car. It wasn't a happy visit—this is a child for whom fingernail clipping is a low form of torture. The hospital's fantastic staff dug pretty deep into their toolboxes to soothe her, and came up with a few winners— some awesome conversational tactics, narcotics, and the ultimately more successful grape popsicle—to get her cut cleaned out and sewn shut.

But, this being a busy urban children's hospital clogged with mucous-secreting swine flu sufferers, there was also plenty of waiting to be done. We were there at least three hours. And once they'd slapped some magical numbing ointment on her forehead, as long as no one was trying to examine her, Ingrid was really calm. She sat in my lap as we waited in the lobby trying not to breathe the air or touch anything, and she lounged next to me in the narrow bed in the exam room where we waited some more, and all the time we read Charlotte's Web. We read some parts more than once. More than twice. But most of the time, when I asked her if she wanted me to keep going, she said yes. We read for hours, all the way past the part where Wilbur, weeping little lonely piggy tears in his sty, hears a thin voice say, "I'll be your friend."

She's sleeping now, with five stitches in her forehead and Charlotte's Web beside her.


What could I have possibly said to figure out what she was thinking?

"Mama," Ingrid stalled as I tried for the third time to leave her room so she could start her nap. "Somebody on Signing Time signs donkey like this." She held her left thumb to her temple and flapped her fingers down toward her chin.

"Uhh huh," I said. "It's time to sleep, kiddo."

"But! Bu-bu-but Rachel does it like this." She put her thumb on her temple and flapped her fingers upward.

"Well, I bet that other person just has their own way of signing it, don't you think?"

"B-b-b-b-but she's a grown up."

"You know, grown ups can have their own ways of doing things, just like kids do. Everybody has their own way."

"Does everybody have the same brain?" She gave me a mischievous smile.

I laughed. "Noooo, every person has a brain of their very own."

"A capital brain?"

I couldn't keep myself from giggling. "A capital brain? Like a capital letter?"

"Yeah," she answered, and then clammed up.

Nearest I can tell, she's thinking about capital and small letters and also about how adults and kids are different? The girl has fascinating ideas, and is so internal about them. I wish I could get her to talk more about the complicated stuff that I know is going on in her head. It seems like our big ideas conversations come too quickly to the point where she's not willing to risk saying any more.

Capital brain, indeed.


paragraphs that oughta be essays, or maybe we should be glad they aren't

I know, that wasn't fair. Grumpy list of grumpy things, followed by one of those weird posts that no one knows what to say about.

Thank you for saying nice things to me after that grumpy post. Especially girlfiend, who I hadn't even known was reading, who gave me some type of award on her blog, which I'll pass on sometime soon, when I get to it.

Mostly I was grumpy because of the reentry thing, which, thank you for validating, is not ever trivial. A few weeks ago some poor soul got here by googling "when he comes back after being away for a long time" and I just wanted to give her (I assume her) a hug. (She was in Ann Arbor, as well, poor thing, but that's another story.) We have a pattern: three days of awesome glowy conversation and delighted reunion sex, followed by a wretched week where I realize I'm completely unsuited to even living with another adult, let alone being married, and also why does he eat so much, and why is there so much laundry, and how come he is always standing right there in the kitchen, right exactly where I want to be standing to make my tea. Why can't he move? Ahem. Then, hopefully, we go out somewhere for a beer, if we're lucky enough to get a babysitter, which we were that week, and we kind of snap out of it and things are more or less back to normal.

Things are, now, more or less back to normal, except that now A is gone again, but only for three days, and now to just a normal inhabited destination where he has phone service and internet access. For some reason—I think because it came at the beginning of the month and I'd neglected to peek onto the next page of the calendar and see it coming—I didn't plan very well for this trip, and ended up having to cancel a giant list of things—like a doctor appointment, and a staff meeting, and, whoops, another doctor appointment—when I realized on Friday that I'd be solo the first half of this week. I bought nail polish at the drugstore on Friday, and it turned out the color I liked was called "Well Prepared". But now I'm thinking, not so much.

The thing that's not totally back to normal is that A and I are hashing out our differences about religion, and it sort of sucks. I wouldn't normally write about marital arguments here, but we're really respectful about our disagreement, and I have a hunch we aren't the only people in the world doing this, and I believe it's one of those things that people don't talk about out in the world enough, so here it is: I would like to join a church (a particular, progressive church that feels to me like home only with higher ceilings, and cleaner), and A has no such interest. It's not as though I am such a believer and he is such an atheist; I have a feeling if there were some type of stick that you pee on and it turns red for heathen and green for true believer, both of us would probably turn out the same muddy brown-red shade of hopeful agnostic. The difference is about history and preference and perception and who knows what else, and although it shouldn't be (and won't end up being, I don't think) a problem for me to have lots more of an attachment to a faith community than he does (in fact my whole entire childhood was spent with a mom who took us to church every Sunday and a dad who stayed home and watched tennis on TV—and look how well adjusted I am and how great their marriage still is!), at the moment it seems sort of fraught: how we will spend our time, what we think about what each other are doing, what we imagine in the future. We've had some terrific (honestly, really good) conversations about it lately, but also some scheduling awkwardness accompanied by grumpy behavior on my part, and gah. I will be glad when we get back to some sort of equilibrium on this.

Speaking of equilibrium, how about that H1N1? I had a cold last week and fretted off and on about whether it was genuinely just a cold or whether I was going to die and/or infect and kill all my friends and coworkers. My kids had it first and didn't die, so that was reassuring. Also, no fever, for them or me, although on Friday evening I was feeling so crappy and panicked that when my temperature continued to read 97.8 on each reading, I was convinced the thermometer must be broken and bought a new one. Which then also said 97.8.

That's when I bought the nail polish. I also bought one of those little sampler boxes of chocolates. A had taken the girls overnight to his mom's house so I could have 24 hours of peace before this little solo parenting stint. I lay on the couch and ate the chocolates, except if I bit into one and it seemed cloying or had coconut in it, I threw it out. And then I went to bed at 8:30. And the next day I had recovered from the feverless H1N1 or whatever it was and spent the day moving plants around and digging up a new bed to plant hardy kiwis in.

The nail polish was for my toes. I never do my fingers.

What's new with you?


Summer People

The spring we were waiting for Ingrid to be born, the end of April was just the perfect time I’d been envisioning. Whenever I hauled my big pregnant self up the stairs in our house, I could see, through the sky-blue room that would belong to our baby, the whole white-framed window full of the pear tree outside and its plump blossoms against the sky.

I’d folded stacks of onesies and assembled a crib. I’d pieced hundreds of squares of calico into a baby quilt, matching up every edge and corner. Outside, the weeds hadn’t yet germinated, so the lawn looked neat-ish, and sweet little leaves were poking up out of the flower beds. Nothing was yet unwatered or weirdly blighted around the edges. I imagined the summer: how tranquil and lush it would be, and how our baby would burble peacefully in the sling while I puttered in the garden.

You know what happened: Our baby finally arrived. I loved her wrenchingly, bottomlessly. Also, the blossoms fell off the pear trees, and I cried. All summer I smelled like sour milk, and was sweaty and hungry and exhausted. I couldn’t figure out how to do anything with the baby in the sling. My back hurt from trying, and she didn’t burble, she wailed. The sight of the dandelions and the wilted zinnias filled me with panic. Where had the gentle, ready season gone? Why couldn’t I even water the flowers every three days? Why did everything feel so ruined?

It’s been a slow climb up from that time. I’ve written about some of it. I still can’t explain all of it. But these days I feel really right as a mother, and this is the first April since then whose deliciousness hasn’t also been heartbreaking. Finally, spring no longer feels like something beautiful about to break. I think it's because now I know where the good stuff is.

It's not that I love the warmth and blossoms any less. And it's not that I've gotten any better at keeping up with wildness; the summer I know will come is a mess: There will be muddy footprints in the back porch, and we’ll all be sweaty, mosquito-bitten, dirty, and a little scattered. But that’s ok. It turns out the happiness I’ve found in our family doesn’t have much to do with spring’s neatness. It isn’t a quiet baby in spotless pajamas; it’s two slap-happy kids with avocado on their faces, playing harmonicas, wearing nothing but mittens. Our family isn't a lawn; we’re a dandelion field. We aren’t neat seedlings in rows; we’re a riot of tomato vines mingled with weeds. I have a glorious sort of control in this early, slow part of the growing season. Things do look neat and ready. But my ability to keep everything clipped and weeded and right will dissolve as everything grows and twists and flowers. I’m looking forward to it.


So far this week:

  • The new $70 USB-powered hard drive I bought for work but didn’t have the heart to ask my struggling employer to reimburse me for wouldn’t work. A fixed it last night after I accused him of making my life less efficient. Glad he could do it, but felt incompetent. And guilty.

  • My iPod wouldn’t work for some reason, then mysteriously started working, but with no clear connection to any of the five things I spent time doing to try to fix it.

  • And This American Life and Planet Money and Radio Lab seem like they’ve taken the week off anyway.

  • So I had nothing good to listen to and running felt like a chore.

  • And Turbotax is the slowest thing ever.

  • Probably because I did our taxes at almost the last minute.

  • And I don’t have all our child care receipts and I don’t want to talk to Iris’s old day care director, so we aren’t going to get to take the deduction.

  • Because I was disorganized.

  • Am disorganized. Although I like to think otherwise.

  • I turned in two Signing Time DVDs to the library, each in the wrong case, and the library lost one of them, and now they won’t let me renew anything or check anything out because they believe I’ve stolen something. So I am racking up fines and feel all itchy because I can’t request books.

  • Yesterday I said in a loud, mean voice on the phone to the librarian, “Are you calling me a liar?”

  • Oh my God, I yelled. At the librarian.

  • And A and I are having that reentry thing, which I’ll be able to write about in a funny way in about three days when it’s over but right now seems Not Funny. At All.

  • This blog is ugly, isn’t it? Especially if you look at it in Safari on a Mac. More people would stay if it were prettier, wouldn’t they?

  • Also, this article made me feel boxed in and furious, but I can't gather up enough time or thought to say why in any good way.

  • And I’m afraid that all the lousiness and stress of this historical moment is killing creativity and generosity right and left. Mine included.

  • And worried about not being able to write. Well. Or at all. About things that are complicated or interesting. Without being a cartoon trend-following bad mother.

  • Yuck.

Updated three hours later:

  • A mean, crazy lady just made me cry at work by ranting at me on the phone about something crazy I didn't understand and treating me like a worthless secretary, even though I was extra, extra patient and listened to her for far longer than I should have.

  • Which is probably my comeuppance for yelling at the librarian yesterday.

  • Also, I found out Ingrid's favorite teacher is leaving her day care next month.

  • Waah.



A got home Thursday night. I am relieved, tired, and suddenly more prone to complaining than I have been any time in the past two and a half months. Also, catching up on emails, and hoping I can now squeeze in more writing time than I've been able to lately. Phew.


Brag and Plug: Because I Love Her

Long ago, back when I feared I might never have any children, I wrote a poem. I've written a medium-sized pile of poems in the five—no, wait, six! God!—years since then, but this is still one of my favorites.

I'd never published a poem, or even tried to, but late one night when Ingrid was just a little chunky thing, I saw that Shannon had published an essay in an online journal called Literary Mama. (If you haven't checked out Literary Mama, do. It's fabulous.) Reading Shannon's essay, I was both impressed (as always) with her smarts and a tiny bit jealous. I want my writing to go somewhere good like that, I thought. And, on impulse, half-asleep, I sent them that favorite poem.

And then I forgot about it for maybe nine months or so, until one day I got an email from the very kind poetry editor asking if the poem was still available. It was, and they published it, and I felt famous and thrilled for a while and then forgot about it.

Until last summer, when I received an email from Nicki Richesin, who was putting the finishing touches on an anthology of essays about mother-daughter relationships. She wanted to know if she could use a big chunk of my poem as an epigraph to one of the essays. Ooooh, was I tickled.

The book, Because I Love Her, was released today, and I'm telling you about it not only because I'm so unaccountably thrilled to be in print, on paper, in a book, in such good company, but also because, hey: easy Mothers' Day gift idea. Buy one for your mama, and as a bonus you can peek through at the epigraphs before you wrap it and try to guess which one is mine.


With A Away

For a while it made me feel mighty. Packing everybody up on work and school mornings, in charge of every sock and toothbrush and lunch bag and favorite lovey. Or muscling us all back into the house after a trip to the grocery store, a toddler flailing under one arm and a week’s worth of groceries slung over the other. In private, I practiced my barbaric maternal roar. I can do this! By myself!

Then I got lonely. I require a lot of solitude, but by five weeks in I’d had my fill. I seized opportunities for conversation, chatting up store clerks and random strangers at the Y, and demanding the attention of friends: Don’t leave! Stay here and talk to me!

I noticed for sale signs on large houses and imagined buying one to start a commune in. Instead of fantasizing as usual about clean, empty hotel rooms where I could curl up with a novel, I thought about populating those big spaces with people who would become a family, cooking and gardening together and keeping each other company.

And now—just less than two weeks from the end—I’m starting, ever so slightly, to lose it. This has a lot to do with our new morning routine, done the past three days:

1. At 5:30, if not earlier, Iris wakes up.

2. I bring her into bed with me to nurse, hoping she’ll fall back asleep as usual.

3. Halfway through the nursing, Ingrid comes in and snuggles up next to me.

4. Iris finishes nursing and, though she seemed plenty sleepy a second ago, is so thrilled to see her big sister, she’s now all set to get up and play.

5. Ingrid doesn’t want to get up.

6. But she doesn’t want to stay there by herself. She wants me to stay with her.

7. Which I’d love to do.

8. But I can’t because Iris is trying to wrestle me out of bed by clocking me on the jaw with her forehead.

9. Ingrid has a huge tantrum about wanting me to stay in bed with her.

10. I finally drag myself out of bed to get away from the screaming.

11. I take Iris with me to the bathroom, and she starts crying because she doesn’t want to leave Ingrid.

12. As I pee and brush my teeth, Ingrid joins us in the bathroom, still crying, and they both wail until I'm ready to head downstairs for breakfast. Bathrooms: they have awesome acoustical properties.

It’s a super way to start the day. And then the past two mornings there've also been twenty-minute tantrums over getting dressed, because Ingrid Wants To Wear The Sparkly Socks (for the third day in a row) and Wants To Wear A Skirt (so you can see the sparkles) Even Though It Is Really Really Cold Outside, Too Cold For March In My Opinion. And Also That Shirt That She Believes Looks Beautiful With That Skirt, Even Though It Clashes And She Wore It Yesterday AND The Day Before And It is Covered With Play Dough and Avocado. Not To Mention It Has a Pumpkin On It and It Is MARCH.

This morning I had to turn on Willie Nelson’s Stardust just to remind myself there is beauty and love in the world.

Willie Nelson! At eleven thirty in the morning!

Good thing they're so cute. Good thing we've only got 12 more days.


Word Fog

(Melissa nailed it: grapefruit. If I asked you to guess the age, would you say three months? You'd be right. Thanks for playing.)

I typed a representative sample of the stuff I say over and over and over into Wordle, and here's what I got. Sheesh. I need to calm down and take off my watch for a week or two.

And then I put my blog url in. First reaction: Oh, crap, I spelled fuchsia wrong. Second reaction: What is it with me and time?


Can you guess what it is?

I know I promised no more compost photos for a while, but I love the texture and weight of this. And besides, I found it—ahem—in my fridge like this. The compost bin is just where it happened to end up.


Mittens for My Favorite Almost-4-Year-Old

A tiny bit of thumb weirdness aside, the mittens were much, much easier to knit than I thought they'd be. Quick, even.

I made the "Small" size, thinking it would work for a smallish adult, but it turned out they really meant small, so I ended up shortening the pattern a bit to make them fit Ingrid. They're pretty long on her, but that's good. It'll keep the snow out of her coat.

Unsurprisingly, she says they're too itchy. I'm thinking of lining them with some soft fleece so that she'll wear them.

Next up: socks. Ana set me up with a pattern. I may go blind from using the world's skinniest yarn and size 2 needles, but hopefully I'll also end up with something colorful to keep my feet toasty next winter.


Surprise Equinox

Spring is a marvelous time for the faithless.

You believers know all winter long that one day the snow will melt and we’ll all voluntarily hang around outdoors without our coats. You picture the tulip bulbs hoarding their little lives under the frozen ground, and you’re sure that in a few months you’ll see those first bright leaves push their way up.

Me, I picture sunken patches in the soil under the snow. The squirrels, I’m certain, dug those bulbs up and ate them in October. Not that it will ever again be warm enough for plants to grow, anyway.

Oh, I put on a good show. I talk all January about my “garden plan” and remind the kids that when summer comes we won’t even have to wear socks. But deep, deep in my heart, every winter, I know it’s impossible for spring to come. So far from the leafy green world of summer, warm air seems like a fable.

So this week astonished me. The snow—except for a few filthy patches of crust—is gone. The sidewalks are dry. The park across the street is screaming with kids. We played in the backyard for half the morning. We raked mulch off the flower beds and found green, living leaves. Ingrid drew a giant yellow fire truck on the walkway with chalk. Iris ate rocks. We saw that the peach tree the grandmas bought in honor of Iris’s birth—which we worried about in the twenty-below-zero but never did manage to cover up with an old blanket—has buds on every single one of its little branches. What a miracle.

If green leaves started popping out on the trees, I'd probably faint with delight. Too bad that'll never happen.



I vaguely remember taking this picture a few months ago and deciding not to post it. I don't know what that stuff is. Something caramelized—maybe broth that boiled over? I decided not to use it because I was ashamed of the surrounding mess. You know, that...stuff in the center of the burner, and ew....what is that?

But lately I've been coming across a lot of blogs that are just too lovely. You know, the perfect photos of perfectly decorated perfect topped with perfect. Mostly, I don't recognize my world in them. What are we doing here, women writing on the internet about domestic life? Are we revolutionizing how we think of ourselves and one another by communicating about the realities of our lives? Or are we clambering over one another to create the latest incarnation of the unreachable ideal?

Forget shame about stovetop crumbs. It's my duty as a woman of conviction, as a feminist, as a citizen, to give you this version of where the beauty lies.

Check out that color, people! The COLOR!



One time I peed my pants.

It was December 1994. I was in Kathmandu. I’d spent the past month in the mountains in western Nepal, a long bus ride from the capital to a lowland town, then a short flight to a mountain village, then a three-day hike to the cluster of huts where I hung out for those weeks, chilled, often homesick, usually lost, and mostly unsuccessful in the little research project I’d made up for myself. I slept in a sleeping bag on a mat on a clammy dirt floor. I ate with the village family who was kind enough to host me: rice, lentils, potatoes. I daydreamed about cheese.

I returned to Kathmandu on an overnight bus. It was 12 hours across the hot lowlands. I tried to sleep with my head against the half-open window, and ended up with a pounding headache from the wind and the bumps and vibrations of the bus. I was grubby from weeks without enough water to really get clean, wearing the same clothes I’d worn, unwashed, for most of the trip, and wiry from all those days walking. The bus arrived in the city just after sunrise, and I went straight to a favorite student hangout, a breakfast joint, and devoured a plate of pancakes and a pot of coffee.

I planned to spend the next week staying in a guest house, writing up my research report on a borrowed computer. I was ready to check in and head to my room for a long shower, but on my way I stopped at a little grocery store to pick up some food for those days.

It was a grocery store by 1994 Kathmandu standards, which is to say about an eighth the size of your average American gas station convenience store, and with basic (though, in that context, exotic) merchandise: bread, jam, peanut butter, candy, cheeses. You could buy produce and meat easily in the outdoor markets; these were prepared foods, provisions for the backpacks of trekkers and snacks for the pockets of tourists wanting something a bit like home.

I walked into that store with my filthy green backpack over one shoulder. I picked up a red plastic shopping basket and stopped in front of the first set of shelves, stacked with Snickers and Smarties and Mars bars and all varieties of Cadbury’s chocolates. And suddenly there was something warm and wet running down my leg, soaking my thick cotton kurta and eventually my raunchy wool sock as well.

At the time I couldn’t figure out why it happened. I even went, a day later, to a clinic to find out whether I had some sort of infection. The doctor told me I’d probably just drunk too much coffee.

Now it's obvious: I was in sensory overload; more specifically, luxury overload. For those weeks, I’d been isolated, hungry, and away from almost everything I knew as comfortable. And then there I was, beholding three hundred chocolate bars. What could I do but fill my hiking boot with urine?

When what I have doesn’t seem like enough, I think about that village in the mountains, and about returning from there to the life that’s mine. That grocery store would seem sparse and tiny to just about anyone in this country, but the scene was enough to make me empty my bladder on the spot. In a way I think I went to Nepal in the first place—and to that remote village—in order to have that experience. To move so far outside the familiar that I could come back and know it in a new way. It’s a hackneyed reason for travel to the developing world, but it was mine, and I got what I was after.

I’m thinking of this these days because A is in such a remote place. He doesn’t hear the doom and gloom headlines or get a constant stream of witty and informative comments via Twitter or eat anything but overcooked vegetables and stewed fruit and gravy-covered meat. He bathes with a bucket of water twice a week and pees in the snow. And here I am, with proverbial fistfuls of proverbial chocolate bars, and feeling, on occasion, that the world is desolate, that we’re all getting poor, that the weather is terrible. It would take a lot, these days, to put me into such luxury overload that I’d need a change of clothes. And yet, look what I’ve got: so much more than a rack of candy bars.

Maybe the day A comes home, I’d better put some newspaper down on the floor.



This will be a gift, probably for my grandma, who loves the whole family of colors from fuschsia to purple and who this week sent me a birthday card with a photo of a cat on a bar stool licking the back of its paw as if preparing to do a tequila shot.

You’d think I wouldn’t have time to complete a knitting project, considering how whenever anyone asks for something useful out of me I go on breathlessly about how I’m lucky to get 45 minutes to myself every day. But, I don’t know: garter stitch. Knit, knit, knit, turn, knit, knit, knit. I can handle that.

Next I’m making mittens, which is a big jump. I’m intimidated by the thumbs, and I’m not convinced the pattern writer is in tune with what sorts of details I will need. For example, there’s this: “On next round, fold hem to inside at purl turning ridge and with left-hand needle, pick up 1 stitch from back of cast-on edge and knit it with one stitch from needle.” Which I will require some type of dictionary and possibly a YouTube video to decipher. But then she also specifies, after the heading “To Knit Mittens”: “(Make 2)”. Oh, right! Two! Thanks!

I'm going to use some fake Fair Isle yarn which I'm trying to convince myself isn't cheesy. I'll let you know how it goes.

That's a mouse. Can you tell? An expensive wooden lead-free organic free-range European-made mouse that I bought Iris for her first Christmas and that no one has ever played with. But I love it and I think I'm going to keep it. My displaying it on the nightstand years after the girls have grown up and moved out will be an early symptom of my dotage.



One of the songs on the girls’ current (constantly played) music class CD is an instrumental version of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.” One day in the car I started singing along with it, mashing up the traditional Shaker lyrics with some of the “Lord of the Dance” version, plus a little fake Copland-esque trumpet fanfare.

Ingrid was intrigued, and from then on she wanted me to sing along every time the tune came on. She requested a capella performances at bathtime, as well.

I looked up the traditional version so I could sing it right. Hopefully no horse-drawn copyright lawyer will appear on my doorstep on account of my posting some of the lyrics:

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right

After one bathtub singing session, I repeated, “the valley of love and delight.” Ingrid grinned up at me, eyes wide open. “What do you think that would feel like? What would be in that valley?”

“Toys,” she said decisively. “And ice cream.”

Today is my birthday. It was an ordinary day, mostly, and a good one. Lots of people went out of their way to wish me a happy day, or to deliver me chocolate. I spent the evening with some of my favorite people in the world, including—briefly, by phone—A.

Thirty five is halfway to seventy, and it's halfway between thirty and forty. It’s almost two times eighteen. It would be easy to feel too old. But mostly I feel hopeful, lucky, and wise. I’m a year saggier, but also—ha!—thinner. I’m a year less clever and a year less cool, but hopefully also a year kinder and a year wiser, and that much closer to finding a good way through this life. Good birthday gifts, all.


No Bull

I—along with possibly my whole family of origin, and possibly also a bunch of other people from the part of the country where I grew up—pronounce the syllable ul funny. At least, it sounds funny around here.

Until A, a purebred Midwesterner, pointed this out, I had no sense that there was any regional variation in this sound. (I was a little like my native Oregonian friend who once nearly scratched my eyes out to defend her insistence that pin and pen are homophones.)

I can’t really hear the difference between how I make the sound and how the newscasters would, so I’m at a loss to describe it. A says I make it sound “cute”. It has something to do with saying the L in the back of my throat rather than up by my teeth, and the harder I try to say it the standard way, the funnier it gets. I can’t hear the difference accurately, and I think my tongue might be incapable of the standard pronunciation, so I make randum ul-like sounds but have no way to evaluate whether I’m moving in the right direction.

I get that regional linguistic differences are the spice of life, etc., but I’m so aware of this difference that I get all flustered when I start coming up to an ul word, and I do all kinds of ridiculous circumlocution to avoid it:

dull = losing its sharpness
bulk = in bins
cull = weed out
gull = bird at the ocean
hull = the body of the ship
mull = ponder
null = Uh…just void.
pull = (This is a tough one. I blush a lot.)
sully = muddy, ruin
Sully Sullenberger = that airline pilot
Colin Turnbull = (Quit grad school, don’t need to worry)
bull = daddy cow
bullshit = B.S.
ululate = (Well, that’s easy to avoid.)
vulva = (Huh, I just say vulva. But not in public, very often.)
lull = pause or slowdown or soothe
bulbs = tulips and crocuses and things

Have you ever heard of such a thing?

P.S. There was no more puking, and Ingrid woke up fine the next day. It took me 14 hours to get all the blankets clean with our front-loader, which left vomit chunks on everything the first time through. What’s grosser than grosser than grosser than gross? McDonald’s cheeseburgers eaten, vomited up, washed in hot water, and reduced to crispy little flakes in the dryer. Just add water…


First and Last

Ingrid, at almost four, had never been to McDonalds.

I felt sort of smug about it, and also the tiniest bit guilty for depriving her of one of the widely known pleasures of American childhood.

Then I heard they were giving away Hello Kitty watches with happy meals. And we were out swimming at the Y and needed a quick dinner. I was kind of bored with the food co-op deli (where we've eaten a lot these past few weeks) and, besides, dreaded shepherding two hungry kids through the co-op. It had been a long weekend. The slides and tunnels would be a nice diversion. So we went.

Ingrid ate two thirds of a cheeseburger and a handful of fries and gave the meal a thumbs up. Iris ate two bites of hamburger and drank half a container of milk, then spilled the rest on Ingrid's coat and the floor. They weren't giving away Hello Kitty watches, they were giving away stupid bobble-head cats in plastic cages. The place was filthy even before we spilled the milk, and the slides and tunnels were full of loud rambunctious ten-year-olds. Ingrid bravely went for a turn on the slide by herself. It was fine, but definitely not the sky-high experience I'd feared I was keeping from my kids.

Then we came home, and I put them to bed. Five minutes later, Ingrid threw up all over her bed and all eight of her blankets.

Time will tell, but after one puke she seems all better. She was perky as I mopped up the floor and offered in a chipper voice to help me remake the bed.

I ought to be sleeping in case we have a night of hourly vomiting, but I've got to at least stay up until the first washing machine cycle is done. If I don't get started on the blankets we could get smothered with vomity laundry.

Whatever tonight brings, the smell of thrown up McDonalds cheeseburger is going to be with me for a very long time. I'm glad Ingrid didn't seem to love the big M enough to beg to go back, because pardon me but I don't think we will.

Hi. Remember me?

I’m so deep in this parenting thing that it’s hard to know what to say, here or to any grownup who might ask. I’m moving all the time, or shuffling people along. Socks, shoes, mittens, coats, hats. Shoes, Iris. SHOES! Or mediating. Hmm, we have two girls who want the stuffed kitty, and only one stuffed kitty. What solutions can you think of? Or correcting. Ask nicely. Use a Kleenex. It's ok to touch your bottom, but not when there's poop on it. And usually at the same time whirling around the house picking stuff up, moving clothes and food and dishes along their predictable paths. How interesting is that?

A friend from grad school called yesterday afternoon. After sharing all sorts of news of cross-country moves and career achievements and tropical vacations, she asked if we had any plans for travel, and my first impulse was to answer, Well, this afternoon we might make it to Super Target. I could tell she was being careful not to say anything that would point up my supposedly unexciting life. I couldn’t pull myself far enough up out of the dance to convey that I’m pretty content with how I spend my days. I think she interpreted my lack of talk as dissatisfaction, when really I just couldn’t find a way, right then, to turn this constant, exhausting love into something to say. A trip to the suburban mega-store is a big expedition right now. Weirdly, I don’t crave a whole lot more glamour than that, but on the phone with this busy, overachieving friend, I couldn't think of how to get across that what I'm doing seems like enough.

But, wow, I do crave rest, and silence, and the opportunity to think and speak and listen in long stretches. The material of life feels fulfilling, but the pace of it is starting to knock me around a little. I’m not quite craving a year’s sabbatical, but a week of vacation sounds awfully nice. Even the idea of a brief dissociative fugue isn’t totally unappealing.

Mostly, though, I’ve been feeling level-headed and capable and even proud about what the three of us do in a day here. We’re almost halfway done. The house is mostly in order. People are mostly happy. You'll be over shortly to take the kids for six or seven days so I can have my mid-expedition break, right? Good. After that, I'm sure doing this on my own until April 9 will be no problem.



Don't tell any of the nice people who are giving me so much sympathy and help during A's long trip, but things are going pretty smoothly here. We're in a rhythm. Occasional drama aside, the girls are pretty fun right now. We keep filling the calendar up with interesting activities. It's a little like rock climbing—as long as I don't look down (check the calendar, like I did the other night, and see that we are not even 1/6 of the way there, and put myself into a fog for two days) it seems like this time is not only manageable, but—with the cushy level of support I've put in place for myself—luxurious.

But. We miss him. Ingrid does, especially, in a way that I can't totally soothe.

When I was a kid, having my mom around always felt like enough. Good thing, because my dad was away a lot: working, or travelling for work. Or metaphysically away. Hey Dad! Dad? Daaaa aaaad? He has an uncanny ability to concentrate (or daydream, or ignore, depending on how you want to put it). He was a good dad in almost all ways, but he wasn’t primary. He went away and came back as he needed to, and I love him, but he didn’t feel essential. Mom was hardly ever away for any length of time, but when she was it felt like a piece of the sky was missing.

I have to keep reminding myself that not every family is lopsided that way, that Ingrid's missing her dad doesn't mean there's a yawning hole in my mothering.

But this is true: I'm not the fun one. When A is around, there's laughter in our house, lots of it. And I’m not going to say I’m a total grump (not these days, anyway), but I don’t make them laugh. I make them put their shoes on and get ready for school. I make them dinner, and I make sure they have clean(ish) clothes and faces and plenty of library books and fruits and vegetables and get to the doctor when they need to. The girls miss A's wacky energy. And I do too.

And when I push away my self-centered little reaction to Ingrid's sadness about this, I'm so glad that A and I are close to equal in this way, and so glad that the girls feel a vital connection to both of us.

Meanwhile, Ingrid continues with her self-prescribed art therapy. I know that outside our immediate family, the level of interest in Ingrid's artistic progress may be close to zero, but check this out: her first-ever portrait. Of (of course) Daddy.


Diagnosis: Clever

Ingrid: Mama, I'm cold.

Me: Hmm, maybe you should put on a sweatshirt.

Ingrid: No, No.

Me: (Thinking. Here we go again with the cold catch-22.)

Ingrid: My mouth is cold.

Me: Your mouth? (mining my memory for diseases that might have this symptom)

Ingrid: On the inside.

Me: On the inside? (Could she be having a stroke?)

Ingrid: Like I need some hot chocolate.


Early Cubism

A left this morning, after days of frenetic packing and preparations of various kinds, including A teaching me how to clean out the weird water trap thingy at the bottom of the washing machine, how to package the recycling for pickup every other Friday, and how to unhook all the various cables from the TV (which lives in the murky basement) and re-attach everything up here in the habitable part of the house, should we, say, get the stomach flu and need to be able to stare at Mister Rogers on a continuous loop from the couch for a day or two. I guess those are the points of non-overlap in our division of labor. Traditional, huh?

Anyway, the leaving was sad. He was horribly stressed about it, and I waded through it in a daze. He'll be gone 68 days, is all. I'm sure we'll have our awful moments as always, but I also feel like it will ultimately be fine. And, yikes, one day at a time. This is the last time I'm thinking about how many days we have to go, at least until we hit the single digits.

It was a glorious 40 degrees here today and we spent an hour at the park—the most time we've spent outdoors in embarrassingly long. It was lovely.

Ingrid spent the hour after dinner drawing picture after picture of A. Here are my faves. She hardly ever describes what she draws, beyond giving me the default, This is an elephant—always an elephant—to get me off her back when I ask. But this was half a dozen drawings at least, done slowly, one after another, and she talked about them as she made them. Sometimes it seemed like she was talking about a dream. I know any resemblance to actual people or things is coincidental, but I'm so impressed with how intentional the lines seem. And the way she seemed to be making these to work out something about A being away, it makes me think of these as real art—the first time I've looked at any of her many drawings and crafts that way.

This is Daddy in Russia. He's outside, and he's wearing a t-shirt and some shorts. He's flying a kite.

This is Daddy on a sailboat.

This is Daddy in Russia. He has his snowsuit on, and he's holding a piece of wood. He's fixing a wheel on the purple truck. And there's a taxicab with him.



Those little girls are so adorable, those little girls of mine pushing their way out the front door padded with down head to toe, with their matching colorful lunch bags swinging from their fat-parka arms. Even Iris, my baby, has her own lunch bag, and makes a fishy-kissy face at me after I hang her coat in her cubby, and follows her big sister, her suddenly at-ease and in-charge big sister, when she takes her by the arm. When I peek through the window where I used to stand holding Iris and blowing kisses at teary Ingrid, I just see the backs of them, side by side in little chairs, spooning up cereal. They are beautiful, sturdy.

Yesterday I bundled us all up to go to the Y. We had a babysitting slot reserved, and I was going to run around the track. It’s cold enough that we needed all the clothes, just to walk from house to car and car to door: snowpants, coats, hats, mittens, extra vests. Even when they both cooperate and nothing gets lost, it takes a half hour. It was bright, brilliant cold.

Iris doesn’t want to be carried anymore; it’s a struggle to keep her in my arms through the snowy parking lot. On the sidewalk up to the big metal doors I let her walk, and she’s so steady now she can almost run. To go fast she bows her head down a few degrees and leaves her arms at her sides.

Long story short, I gave the oversized metal door a good swing to get us all into the warm faster, and Iris was barrelling up behind me and the thing slammed her in the forehead. It sounded like metal hitting wood. She fell down, she cried, but not as much as you’d think she might. She seemed fine. She had on a thick fleece hat. I can’t explain it, but for several minutes I had myself talked into business as usual: just a little head bump. After the tears, she was cheery as ever. I could still go running, right? In the lockerroom I finally took off her hat and saw how awful it looked. I slammed a door into my kid’s head and it sounded like metal on wood. I asked for ice; they made me fill out a form. We put all the mittens and snowpants and coats back on and went home to call the pediatrician and to watch, as directed, for lethargy, vomiting, and excessive pain. She continued to be fine, except for a minute of looking pasty yesterday afternoon.

We’re supposed to wake her up every four hours for two nights to make sure she can recognize us and move her limbs. When I went into her room at 10 last night she heard me open the door, scrambled to her feet and mumbled, Mumma. Ok, kiddo. You’re ok, I said, holding her, stroking her head, nursing her back to sleep. You're ok.

Most of the time I can forget how much could go wrong. But when opening a door I hear how my daughter’s skull is not all that different from any other breakable object? I think about these gorgeous girls, so naked even in all their winter clothes, and all the things they could swallow, or get hit by, or fall through, or get crushed by, and all the things that haven’t harmed them but could have and all the times I haven’t been looking, and I get frozen on the point between grateful and terrified and have a hard time just getting on with my day. And yet also, there they are with their lunchbags. There they are, so content just being in one another's little orbit, making their way just fine—just fine—through a day away from me.


Keeping Warm

A will spend the months of February and March in Siberia. I am not kidding. For his job, he has to spend nine weeks (really from late January through the first week of April, if he's lucky and his flight home isn't postponed by days and days due to weather) in the middle of nowhere in the Russian far east.

This will suck for him. He'll be living in a thing that sounds a lot like a semi truck container converted into a bunk room; he'll be working 12-hour overnight shifts, and the temperature will be below zero almost all the time, probably as low as minus 70. Worst of all, nine weeks in the life of a toddler or preschooler is a long time, and there's no way to get back what you miss. He'll likely have access to a shared, text-only e-mail account, so we'll be able to write (and I will, every day). But no photos, no video, and no way for him to kiss those little cheeks.

Those weeks aren't going to be a piece of cake for me either, although I'm starting to feel a little guilty about the sympathy I'm getting from people I tell about it. Exhausting as two months on my own with the girls sounds, it's nothing compared to actual, long-term, for-real single parenting. Still, I'm spending a lot of time these days anticipating his time away—fearing it.

If you have some experience with a traveling spouse, you know the period of separation isn't the only hard time; the mountain of the time away casts shadows on both sides. A has been away somewhat frequently (though never on a trip this long or remote), so we know that the period just after he returns, while joyful, delivers its own special kind of unhappiness. We (and the kids) are unused to each other and have to readjust to being a family of four. He feels left out; I become even more bitter and petty than usual. We get over it, but we have to plan for some tough days on his return.

The shadow on this side—before the trip—is about preparation. We tie up loose ends, we keep from arguing even when we want to, and we pull away from each other a little. We worry about the time away, and we shore ourselves up.

Since November, boxes have been coming in the mail for A—hard core outdoor gear he's ordered from specialized arctic travel companies in Canada. When they arrive, I carry them to the basement, not wanting to think about it too much. There are mittens the size of legs of lamb, a pair of steel-toed boots almost as heavy as Iris, a down coat that makes A look four times wider.

At first, carrying those packages down the stairs, I grumbled, Where's my survival gear? I've figured out that my job right now is to assemble it: a membership at the Y, where there's free babysitting, so I can work out a couple of times a week (plus, we can all go swimming in the fun kiddie pool). Friends who've offered help; lists of people I can call when I start to lose my shit. And (most expensively, most guilt-inducingly) we've signed up for an extra day per week of day care for both girls, beyond the two days I have to be at work. Partly, this is necessary so I can get done the work that I usually do at home during time that A's hanging out with the girls. Partly, it's a way of taking the pressure off of all of us; I'll have more time to stay caught up on the business of life (pay 2008 taxes, keep dentist appointments, deal with unexpected household crises), and there won't be such an unbearable backlog to deal with when he returns. Partly, I think that whenever I can I'll spend the time lolling around on the couch, sleeping and reading the New Yorker.

Beyond assembling his wardrobe, A has been channeling his jitters into a wonderful masculine form of nesting: he's organized the dry goods in the kitchen (beans, grains, nuts) in new glass canisters, upgraded our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and thought through fire escape plans for every room. He spent many evenings in December enhancing our house's weatherproofing, filling holes with blow foam and caulk. (This was the best part of the whole preparation period: In my dialect of American English, caulk sounds just like cock, and blow foam is funny no matter how you say it. Nothing takes the edge off a nine-week trip to Siberia like a passel of cock and blow foam jokes.)

So we're newly draft-free and safer than ever from fire and other freak household disaster. A's cold weather gear is assembled in the basement. I've got about as much support lined up as I can imagine. Now we try our best to enjoy January together without flinching too much about what's coming.



Way back last summer, my mom, ever cautious and thoughtful—not to mention early—with the Christmas gifts, told me she was thinking of giving the girls a kid-sized picnic table for Christmas. Would we have room for it?

It was nice of her to ask; our house isn't huge, and we add furniture with caution. We have a lot to trip over already. We thought about it, and figured out we could use the table outdoors in summer and in our (imagined) basement art-making space in winter, and told her thank you and yes, we'd love to have a little picnic table. She chose a cute, simple one with two little benches, bought it on line, and had it shipped here; it arrived in early December.

We hadn't yet assembled it when, before our Christmas trip, we hosted A's family for a holiday brunch and gift exchange. His mom brought an embarrassment of gifts. The largest and most loved among them? An adorable kid-sized table. Not just any little table, but the Bunny Table, used already by two generations of A's family, crafted by an old family friend with bunny-shaped legs and bunny-shaped chair backs, painstakingly restored and painted by A's mom, and intended—and taken—as a delightful surprise by the girls.

I'd turn this into a multiple choice quiz à la Brooklyn Girl, but I have a feeling there's not really a choice. We've gotta suck it up and make room for two cute little tables in our lives, don't we?