One of the Many Reasons I Love Him

Dear E and Z,

One day last month our family took a hike in a nearby park. It was the first time in a long time we had taken you hiking and, Z, you were not too thrilled with the idea. I was worried about this little endeavor but I love hiking so much and hoped we could get you to enjoy it rather than complain the whole way.

Luckily, after initially wanting to be carried (E) and fearing bees and bears and poison ivy (Z), you got into it. Both of you ran down the muddy trail, squealing over bugs and picking up rocks that were definitely dinosaur bones.

We got all the way down to the river, where the mud had gone to business school and set up a LLC. In an instant, Z, you slipped and fell right on your bottom with a terrific muddy splat, flinging brown spots all over your legs, face, arms and your frilly black and white polka dot dress. (Yes, we tried to get you to hike in something else, you wouldn't have it. It was the frilly dress or nothing.) You burst into tears, wailing that you weren't pretty anymore.

Your dad. Oh your dad. He squatted down right in front of you, completely earnest and sincere. Scooping up mud with his fingers he proceeded to war-paint his own face. With the first stroke he said "Am I still beautiful to you, Z?" and you smiled through your tears and said "yes". At the second stroke- "How about now?"- you giggled a "yes" and the final stroke brought a raucous, hysterical "YES!".

He then looked deeply into your face and said "You are beautiful no matter what, no matter how much mud you have on you. In fact, I think you look more beautiful now, because you are real and outside and having fun."

And then, E, you immediately, happily, smeared mud all over yourself.

(Ah well.)

As we hiked back to the car, all of us muddy from head to toe, I thought, for the hundredth time, what a gift this man is. To us all.

You are beautiful, no matter what.



Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Oh, Go Play in the Street

"Street, please, Mama?" E says, her face turning toward me, her eyes big and hopeful.

"Yes, E, you can go into the street, " I say, smiling at her polite request.

Yes, we let our kids play in the street. As long as there's an adult there to watch. Both girls are careful, always running full tilt toward the sidewalk at the first sound of a car's motor.

But both girls are small, shorter than the hood of most cars, so we always watch vigilantly for cars. We constantly remind them they can't be seen by drivers and so must be extra alert and extra careful.

We know this is not the safest idea. We didn't always do it; we waited a year after moving here before we let Z ride her bike anywhere but the sidewalk, finally relenting when she learned how to pedal AND steer at the same time. Not long after, her sister joined her, running her doll stroller in circles. And then the dog wanted to join in and pretty soon the whole family spends long periods of time hanging out in middle of the street.

We are fortunate enough to live at the bulb-end of a cul de sac, what must be the ultimate in suburban living. Cars who come down our street are either neighbors coming home or lost, wandering strangers. We've come to trust and love our little quiet stretch of pavement.

Years ago, I read a book for a book group I was in at the time called "Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in An American City" by Peter D. Norton. The history of the street as a concept was something I had never considered much before and I was struck by how much the use of streets has changed, from the early days of a pedestrian thoroughfare to one dominated by the automobile.

"Until the 1920s, under prevailing conceptions of the street, cars were at best uninvited guests. To many they were unruly intruders. They obstructed and endangered street users of long-standing legitimacy. "

"Today we tend to regard streets as motor thoroughfares, and we tend to project this construction back to pre-automotive streets. In retrospect, therefore, the use of streets for children's play (for example) can seem obviously wrong, and thus the departure of children from streets with the arrival of automobiles can seem an obvious and simple necessity. Only when we can see the prevailing social construction of the street from the perspective of its own time can we also see the car as the intruder."

Truth be told, the book is a little dry and academic for my tastes but even though I normally remember so little of what I read, I remember large sections of this book, dogearing so many pages that the top of it is noticeably thicker than the bottom. I think it stayed with me because when I read it, Zoe had just been born and we lived on a busy street in California, one of the few around without a stop sign at every intersection, so we were a popular choice for people who wanted to race to their destination, sometimes literally. We immediately feared for her safety, the random screeching of muscle cars racing or teenagers on motorcycles or commuters headed home after a long day who were desperate to shave off a few seconds from their ride home raced by close enough to rattle our windows.

As long as we were in that house, we obviously could never let our child play in the street or anywhere near it and even limited our time in the front yard. What certainly didn't help: one neighbor told us stories about the year before we moved in when, on two separate occasions, wayward cars came flying up the curb into her front yard, flattening three foot shrubs.

So when we looked for a house in Virginia, we knew we wanted to be walking distance to town - I was adamant I didn't want to have to drive to get EVERYWHERE - but we also wanted a quiet, peaceful place. One with a very low potential for flying cars landing on front lawns.

We feel so lucky to have found the house that we did. Walking distance to the rec center and the coffee shop, on a quiet street, surrounded by (mostly) lovely neighbors.

Neighbors who don't mind us playing in the street. (I think.)

I didn't understand the value of a cul de sac until we moved here. I spent the last fifteen years of my life living on busy streets, major thoroughfares with fast cars and limited safety.

And now I am officially in love with the cul de sac.

I do believe my suburbanization is complete.

How about you? Do you let your kids play in the street?


The gift inside the craft

Dear E,

I don't do as much crafting for you girls as I'd originally envisioned. I wanted to be the mom who makes every Halloween costume, celebrates every holiday with unique hand-made crafts. Instead, I'm obsessed with reading and taking long walks and I'm just not terribly good at sewing. Plus I'm morally opposed to ironing on a regular basis and sewing involves a vexing amount of ironing.

But your birthdays always bring out the wanna-be crafter in me.

Today you turn two and, true to form, last night I was up late finishing the bag and crown and banner I made for you.

I craft for the same reason I write- I want to remember, create, preserve. I want to leave behind a beautiful remnant of who we are, right now. I love the process of taking raw materials- words and thoughts, fabric and string - and making something with them.

I craft to tell you just how special you are to me, how worthy of my time and my attention. I want to create something that tells you who I think you are, who I see when I look at you. I try to stitch your tenacious, resilient, loving spirit into every seam.

Unfortunately, I also craft like I parent: half blind.

Clueless. But hopeful.

What I make is far from ideal. Every jagged seam is a lesson in acceptance of imperfection. Every time I embrace the mistakes - take a breath and rip out a seam, or gaze at an off stitch and leave it - I remember that this is life. Not perfect. Always changing. Full of possibility. Full of opportunities to try again.

The reverse is also true: I parent like I craft.

I start by reading books and blogs, coveting what I read and see and hear. I am filled with inspiration! And Capital L Love! I have a visionary plan!

Then I dive in with much preparation and gusto!

Things rarely turn out as I envisioned.

I drop stitches, pucker seams, sew uneven lines.

I try so hard, too hard. I want to cry.

I cry.

Sometimes I walk away. Sometimes I yell into a pillow.

I come back, try something else, stand back, see if it works. I think through the possibilities, consult with books and friends, try again and again.

And again.

It's still not perfect.

I let it be. I sit there and look and accept where it's going.

I realize that if I'm conscientious and open, careful and curious, it turns into something wonderful, all on it's own, with just the right amount of help.

I have to keep learning this same lesson over and over again. I try not to think of this as a failure. I try to think of it as a gift I give to us both: accepting the purse with it's uneven straps, and the scarf that's just a little wider than I'd intended and the crown with a rough edge, it's all about accepting myself, and accepting you, just as we are. Imperfect, surprising, different every day.

Happy Birthday E. I love you with every imperfect bone in my body.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Stick a Fork in Us?

We're done having babies. Really done.

We know this. We've been in agreement for a long time. Two kids and done. I'm approaching 40, I don't multi-task well, we feel settled with our two girls, we want to travel overseas as a family. We're done.

So why am I suddenly craving a baby? (And chocolate. And a nap. But mostly, a baby.)

At almost two, E's non-baby-ness is pretty hard to ignore. She's repeating words and phrases, speaking in sentences, insisting on dressing, buckling, zipping BY SELF. She sits tall and heavy on my hip or walks at a good clip beside me. I no longer have to stoop to one side to hold her hand or slow my pace at all. Sometimes I have to speed up to stay with her.

She's also fond of standing on top of things. Any thing. Every thing.

It is no secret that I love babies. Newborns with their sleepy, fuzzy sweetness, three month olds that greet you with full-face smiles and an earth-shattering whole body wiggle, six month olds who are discovering their fingers! and TOES!, I love them all.

But I declare to anyone who will listen that 8 months is my all time favorite age. Eight month olds giggle like it's their job, usually sleep decently, and are mobile but not TOO mobile. Their personality blossoms right before your eyes. I could hold and sniff and kiss 8 month olds for the rest of my life.

Z, 8 months old.

E, 8 months old.

I have to keep reminding myself that 8 month olds turn into 3 year olds at a frustratingly unstoppable rate.

Some acquaintances here with babies toddlers E's age are pregnant again or already have a new baby. After listening to my unearthly squeals over a baby at the playground the other day, Z asked me if I will change my mind and have another baby one day. I told her no but I didn't exactly sound convincing. To anyone.

Not fair to ask me when I am holding a sweet smelling baby, Z! NOT FAIR.

I didn't always know I would love babies. Before Z was born I had very limited experience with them. So I was a little surprised by the sudden, overwhelming love I felt for Z when she was born. But I was truly shocked that it was possible to love another baby like that, like I instantly did the moment E was born.

It's a dangerous thing to love E like I do, to have felt my heart expand and grow in the way it immediately did when she was born. The love I feel for her whispers a wild secret to me: as many as you'd have, that's how many you would love like this.

This just might be how Duggars are made.

We live in a small town/exurb/nowheresville which means that most people who move here do so because they have families or want some space or both. (And possibly, because they are just dying to drive an hour and a half into DC every day.) Large families are much more common here than in the LA area where we moved from. I've heard the various conjectures about why this is:

It's self-selecting; people who want more kids move to places like our town to live.


There isn't much to do out here except make more babies to hang out with your kids and your neighbors and your neighbors' kids.
It's not like you're missing out on some serious local nightlife by having a big family. It's not like you can't afford to eat in the plethora of 4 star restaurants or shop in the chic boutiques on every corner. What's one more soccer uniform? What's one more pigtailed stick figure sticker on the back of your minivan?

I found this on a Google image search. I kinda love it.

I guess there could be some grain of truth in both of those explanations. Mostly I hear the truth deep within the friends who are pregnant with their third (and fourth): people have instinctive desires for a certain size family, a certain number of children, and they don't always know ahead of time what that number is. That deep need for another child ("craving" sounds so crass but what other word is there?) must be fed or quelled, somehow.

Whatever the reason is, there is something about living here that makes have a larger family seem possible, desirable, normal.

But to be clear, I don't think it's peer pressure that stokes my babymania; it's my baby turning into a NOTBABY that started a baby craving deep in my belly. It's the baby-loving part of me that I suspect would feel that way no matter how many kids I have.

I do feel like our family is complete. I don't feel like there's someone missing, some baby out there I'm waiting to meet. That helps me stay settled, use birth control, write this blog post.

But to know I would love another baby this much is hard to ignore. To say goodbye to ever holding another baby of my own in my arms is just plain old SAD.

Anyone have an 8 month old they'd like to loan out for a few days?



E climbs into my lap, by hook or by crook, by knees, knuckles or teeth. She clasps my face between her palms and comes in slower than a teenage first kiss and much more self-assured. I don't think I've ever been sized up at such close range, as many times, as intensely, as by my children.

Her lips are just above mine, damp against the divot between my mouth and nose. The sound comes a beat later, delayed and garbled like an imprecise movie dub.


I nuzzle her neck, kiss her head, inhale the warm, sweet smell that feels less and less like an extension of myself and more like a little person I happen to know well.


I remember the day I stopped letting my older daughter kiss me on the lips. She was 18 months old and she had just started her first week at part-time daycare.

She came home, after hours away, and I asked and guessed and wished to know what had happened while she was there. After a year and a half of knowing everything, I could no longer know much of anything about her day.

She smelled different. Like salty playdough and flowery foreign diapers and a stranger's heavy perfume. I would kiss her head and immediately plan to bathe her, to reclaim her.

I stopped kissing Z on the lips that week because she suddenly got sick. Very sick. The kind of sick that makes you call daycare a petri dish and a sick factory and a germatorium. That winter was a Russian roulette of sick, as she cycled through every type of illness, including ones that sounded like they were reserved for cloven farm animals.

I knew she'd get these illnesses eventually, if not at 18 months, then in preschool or kindergarten or from the playground. And I liked so much of what happened when she went to daycare, me being challenged and freed by working a little, her learning and growing and playing in ways I could never have done for her by myself. We still had plenty of time together, I was still a constant in her days.

But I missed kissing her on the lips. And I missed knowing her, every inch and bit and minute of her.


The summer is coming. CG and I are filling in our calendar with summer camps and trips to Vermont and plans to swim and go to the beach and visit local farms as often as possible. We will be busy. The good kind of busy.

I want to soak all this in, these days "at home', because in the fall, Z will be a kindergartner, gone from 8:30-2:30, 5 days a week. E will start a morning preschool, three days a week.

I will have more time than I can fathom to figure out what I want to be when I grow up and possibly, even, to earn some money. Or to get the laundry dried before it turns moldy in my washing machine. Either or.

I work every day at appreciating this time, not wishing it away or begging it to go faster. I know I will miss it when it's gone.

Just like I miss those kisses from Z.


A Happy Mother's Day

When I remember to breathe and to write and to read
When I dance and I laugh and I see

When I take pics and bake cakes and make messes
When we all dress in our craziest dresses

When I give hugs and hold firm and stay calm
When I slip a finger into one tiny palm

When I get giggles and hugs and "I love you"s
When I give us all an episode of Blue's Clues

When I plant kisses on faces and flowers in pots
When I am thanked for the latest wiping of snot

When we have days full of books and laughter and play
These all make for a Happy Mother's Day


A Piece of Advice

I don't remember when my mother started asking me for advice. I only remember I thought it was weird. Why would she be asking me for advice? She's the one who tells me how to get every manner of stain out of clothing and how to get over a cold and how to stand up for myself and how much of life is what you make it.

She made a point of it though, usually at the end of cross-country visits to me when I was living in San Francisco in my twenties. She would get a very serious look on her face, elbows resting on the flea market kitchen table, and give me a look that said I really want to hear.

I don't know what I told her; I think I usually hemmed and hawed and told her not to mix navy and black or you really ought to try Ethiopian food, it's amazing, honest.

Whatever I did say, she always nodded solemnly and thanked me.

She still does this, from time to time, ask me for advice, though I'm now in my late thirties and much more apt to give her advice, unsolicited. Don't freak out about the computer, Mom, it only makes it harder to figure it out. Read this book, you'll love it. Get rid of that shirt, it makes your boobs look weird.

She takes them all in stride, probably because there is undeniable respect and love behind every conversation, even the pointed, opinionated ones.

Maybe, even, especially those ones.


Z was watching me exercise the other day and I asked her if she wanted to try what I was doing. It's called "swimming", I said. Because it looks like you're swimming, BADLY.

She set about trying it, declaring with premature confidence before she even hit the floor, That's EASY for me.

This has become her favorite response to trying new things. It replaces last month's favorite, an equally strenuous and equally presumptive: I can't do that.

Both responses drive me nuts, because they're closed, preemptive. They don't allow for experimentation, they don't let the experience unfold.

So I took a breath and told her all that. I told her that life is about trying new things and allowing experiences to surprise you. That I hoped she would be open-minded, curious, adventurous.

She nodded in the resigned way of people used to being told what to do by people who think they know everything, so I said, for the first time, That's my advice for you. Do you have any advice for me today, anything you think I could work on?

She looked at me, looked at the ground, and told me that I could work on not losing my temper when she does something wrong.



I thanked her, hugged her and told her I would. I will. I want to work on being more patient and thank you for the reminder and I love you so much.

And she smiled and said, Now we both have something to work on!

Always, darlin'. Always.


This is a special place to be, sandwiched between my mother and my daughters. To feel this kind of love, the kind that gives and receives advice of the very best and hardest kind, from both a mother and a daughter? It is one of the richest, most blessed places to be.

Happy (almost) Mother's Day.


How to make an American Girl Doll blanket the easy way, or how I slowly went crazy in front of my sewing machine

Step One: Upon hearing your first born child's request for an American Girl doll blanket for her birthday, decide immediately that you will be sewing her an heirloom for the ages, to be passed down for generations. Fantasize about the glorious artifact you will produce and how rewarding and precious it will be to see your great-grandchildren playing with it one day.

Step Two: Dust off sewing machine. Ignore ominous music playing in your head when you realize how long it's been since you last used it.

Step Three: Buy fabric. Yes, you already have a shit ton some fabric stored away but this is your baby! And she has new favorite colors! So you MUST go to the fabric store. MUST.

Step Four: Spend twenty minutes fingering and choosing fabric - two colorfully patterned, two solid and extra soft - at the fabric store. Leave the fabric store when your toddler goes berserk waiting in line for the fabric-cutting lady who has spent fifteen minutes talking in depth with the local high school's choir director about the lack of promising altos this year.

Step Five: Return the next day to the fabric store with your toddler. Grab first bolts of fabric you see remotely resembling your daughter's favorite colors. Inform the fabric-cutting lady that you are, in fact, an alto but a terrible one with no sense of pitch and you wonder if altos are, by nature, an unreliable bunch.

Step Six: Realize too late this is a different fabric cutting lady.

Step Seven: Take fabric home. Get out the never-used-except-for-sewing iron and ironing board. Spend an entire, precious nap/quiet-time carefully ironing wrinkles out of fabric in preparation for measuring and cutting. Realize as you have finally ironed the last piece that you are supposed to wash the fabric first.

Step Eight: Wash and dry the M-Fing fabric. (This takes a few days.)

Step Nine: Wait. What am I doing again? Making a freaking doll blanket? Why am I already on step nine and I haven't even started sewing yet?

Step Ten: Iron the M-Fing fabric. Again.

Step Eleven: Measure the size needed to cover an American Girl doll. You'll need some help. Draft the closest bystander.

Step Twelve: Chose one patterned and one soft fabric. Add a few inches to each dimension for the seams. Or mistakes in measuring. Or whatever.

Step Thirteen: Cut fabric with rolling cutter. Slice off a tiny edge of your sleeve while you're at it.

Step Fourteen: Iron 1 inch flaps all the way around, with the flap of the hem toward the wrong side of the fabric.

Step Fifteen: Pin wrong sides together, hems touching each other. Drop a few pins onto the floor. Find what you think is most of them. Pray your toddler doesn't find one with her eyeball tomorrow.

Step Sixteen: Thread the sewing machine. Wonder if you might possibly be threading it wrong, since it's been so long since you've last sewn. Pull out the manual and realize that you likely have always been threading it wrong. AWESOME.

Step Seventeen: Sew uneven seams. Oh whatever, it's just a doll blanket after all. JUST GET IT DONE.

Step Eighteen: Imagine your mythical future grandchildren rejecting a lumpy, lopsided doll blanket.

Step Nineteen: Sweat. Panic.

Step Nineteen BILLION: Rip out stitching.

Step Twenty: Patiently and carefully restitch all the way around.

Step Twenty-One: Fine. It's fine. It's even enough. Keep telling yourself this as you find every minor imperfection.

Step Twenty-two: Rest up for the next doll blanket.

Step Twenty-three: Decide you have a new, better way to sew this one and begin by measuring a larger blanket, maybe with some fringe and embroidery.....?

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