Saturday night our neighborhood held its annual Christmas Crawl (and I squirmed awkwardly as our Jewish neighbors arrived. OY. How about we call it a Holiday Hop?) We hosted the cocktails and as our neighbors arrived, I gave an extra long hug to one in particular, a mom who is also an elementary school principal.

"Are you okay?" I whispered into her hair.

"Yes..... No," she said, and hugged me back.

We didn't talk about it in front of the children. Only the teenagers knew what happened in Newtown on Friday and we quickly informed them that we didn't want the little ones to overhear anything. The grown ups did manage to have a few hushed conversations about whether and how to talk to little kids about this horrendous event. There was some debate about whether they needed to know and whether they would eventually hear and wouldn't it be better if they heard about it from us?

I came down on the side of yes, it would be better if they heard it from us, but since my 6 year old still cries over children's cartoons and is scared of CANDLES, I didn't think she can handle hearing about a madman gunning down children her exact age as they sat at their school desks and I'd rather take the chance that she would never hear about it at all.

Meanwhile, as the adults were talking about it and not talking about it, Z was busy being thrilled. This was the first year that she was allowed to stay up for the whole evening's events. The thrill lasted until the main course, when became clear that what parents do at these events is actually pretty lame: a lot of standing around and talking over plates of food, food that has a LOT of green and/or black flecks in it.

So at the last house, when the grownups started to drink and chat in earnest, Z retreated to the basement to watch "Elf" with a bunch of the older kids. I went with her, because she is such a sensitive child and I didn't remember much about the movie except that I found it funny as an adult which meant that she might not be able to handle it.

I was right.

Her concern began five seconds in, when a baby is placed alone in a crib at an orphanage.

"Is he really an orphan? With NO Mommy or Daddy??"

When Will Farrell, ridiculously dressed and earnest-faced, begins his trek to find his father, who is on the naughty list and lives in New York, she started crying. SOBBING.

"But will he find his Daddy? And will he BE OKAY?!"

She could not handle "Elf." At all. We bowed out after Will Farrell sang a hilarious (if you're me) or awfully sad (if you're a sensitive, literal-minded 6 year old) song to his father, who thought this ridiculous looking man in front of him was a singing telegram.

"He just wants his Daddy to LOVE HIM," she sobbed into my shoulder. 

I tried to tell her that this was an actor, telling a made up story, not a real person having a real sad experience. But for Z, everything, even the silliest of cartoons and movies, is immediate, visceral, TRUE.

Yeah, I don't think she could handle the horrible true story of Newtown.

I can barely handle it myself.
Today she is at school. Sitting at her desk. Just like any other day.

Full of innocence.


There is no elf on this here shelf

The Monday after Thanksgiving, Z came bounding off the bus, barely waiting until her feet hit the pavement before telling me about this amazing ELF! That's on a SHELF! And it has magical powers and it's going to be in a new spot in her classroom EVERY DAY and it reports back to SANTA!

"GREAT!" I said, by which I meant: Is no place free of this damned elf on a shelf nonsense?!?! SCREW YOU TEACHER!

I first heard about the elf on a shelf a few years ago, when friends started posting photos on Facebook of the cute place they'd hidden the elf that day. I even, momentarily, considered getting one as I knew the girls would love the excitement of finding him in a new place every morning. But then I remembered the other posts on Facebook, the ones lamenting the need to move the effing elf yet again or moaning that they'd woken up early in a sweat because they forgot to move the elf and didn't want to make the kids cry AGAIN.

I wake up in a sweat about enough things, thankyouverymuch, especially this time of year. I would like to rid myself of some holiday imperatives rather than willingly BUY MORE.

So there is no elf on this here shelf. And I quickly decided that the elf on the first grade shelf is a great thing, because then we don't need one at home!! TEACHER, I TAKE IT ALL BACK.

But then.

Our 7 year old neighbor came over one day last week and asked to see our elf and looked astounded and sad for us that we didn't have one. This is the same child who watches grown up action movies regularly, will only read books if they are about vampires and/or zombies and makes fun of my 6 year old for watching Dinosaur Train and yet she still believes in Santa and has a freaking elf on a shelf?!

Well. I would like a medal for not telling her just how ironic that is.

This girl will not let up. Every day she asks if an elf showed up yet. EVERY. DAY. And then looks pityingly at Z, as if she might give her a pat on the head and a lollipop for her suffering.

Z seems fine about it though, thank goodness. She just says "No. No elf here yet," and moves on.

Let's see how long I can hold out.

Do you do the elf on the shelf?


Dancing with my self (and others)

Last Saturday night, there was a party. An incredibly awesome party.

For me.

I sort of helped plan it, because I'm just that controlling helpful. I wanted to go dancing, but didn't want to drive all the way to DC (Exhibit A: ELDERLY.) I wanted to dance with lots of people, but I didn't want to wait till midnight when most clubs really start hopping and I didn't want to dance with a bunch of 20 year olds to music I don't know or like.  (Exhibits B, C, D and JUST KEEP GOING.)

So CG rented out this little ballroom dance studio close to our house (Go small town with your almost hip ways!) and brought in a ton of food and booze and friends and, well, it was just the best party ever in the history of parties.

I loved every second of it. 

Oh right, I've been meaning to call my chiropractor....

That's my mom dancing with CG there in the center. My mom drove down from NJ!

I'm leading! No, I'm leading!

That blur in the middle would be me, dancing with my self, Billy Idol style.

World's largest and most delicious sheet cake.

For CG's 40th? I'm going to have to rent out an entire space camp or something.

I think my 40s are going to rock.



Yesterday, I went through Z's closet with E, who was thrilled at the prospect of being in her big sister's normally off-limits room. Between the bags of hand me downs that will soon fit and the ones that no longer fit, I found a trash bag full of drawings. It is a huge lawn and leaf bag filled with large, loose rolls of paper on which Z drew her likeness, as best she could.

I had completely forgotten about her self portrait phase. There were a few weeks last fall when, every free moment, Z would lay down paper on the floor and sketch herself in earnest. When our easel paper rolls ran out, she attached regular drawing paper end to end to end. Each roll of paper was filled with drawings of Z by Z. Slightly different by design, most of them were larger than life sized. Her eyes, mouth, clothes and hairstyles differed in each one and going through them today in her room, I remembered asking her about them as she worked so diligently. Why were there so many?

Because I'm still figuring myself out, she said.

I didn't have to ask any other questions.


I am 40 today.

I've long been obsessed with sliding doors-type movies, choose your own adventure books and true stories about life-altering chance encounters. Watching Gwyneth Paltrow's life change completely based on a missed train, I wonder about all those seemingly small moments in my life, the ones that we don't even know are happening when they happened, that determined the path I am on.

I used to imagine myself living a different life. In another version of this life of mine, I didn't move to Maine after college to run a bed and breakfast, thereby setting myself up to move to San Francisco with a college friend which essentially set my entire adult life in motion. Instead I went to graduate school in psychology, got intensely interested in ...... something..... and found a deep intellectual calling.

I have struggled so much with feeling a loss of the life I didn't lead, the sliding doors one where I'm a diligent and respected member of some academic circle. (In true sliding doors fashion, I would have a different hair style and wardrobe, which every American woman knows is shorthand for a totally different life.)

But what stops me cold these days: if I had followed some other path, opened a different door, I would most likely not be here in this house, with these people.

I am still figuring myself out but I know one thing without question: that would be the biggest loss.


Z still draws herself sometimes. But mostly she draws towns, cities, flowers, friends, animals, planes, and rainbows.  I asked her last night what she wanted to do with all the self portraits I had unearthed.

I want to keep a few of the best ones. I don't need the others anymore, she said.

And, once again, I totally understood.


Have you ever heard the story about the friendly introvert?

I am definitely an introvert. No doubt about it. After spending many hours with people, I need to retreat, to be alone, to be quiet. If I do not get enough alone time in a day, I wind up hopelessly depleted.

My introversion is a fact and so, in my mind, incontrovertible. But then there is the story that I tell myself and others, the story of how awkward and socially inept I am. I tell this story because in my low moments I wholeheartedly believe it to be true. But also, I tell this story because it lets me off the hook to some degree. It enables me to hide, however feebly, behind the mantle of "awkward."

The revelation? That story is just that: a story, one that is not necessary based on fact, one that is not incontrovertible.

This fall, after campaigning for a political candidate (door to door and on the phone) and going to The Blathering to hang out with a whole bunch of people I've never met, I realized something major: being introverted doesn't mean I can't be friendly. It means I may have to work a little harder at it, and I certainly should rest afterwards (preferably with chocolate rewards for good behavior), but I can do it.

Maybe it means I need to make the conscious choice to do it, even more than other people. Because I don't instinctively seek out opportunities to chat, I can get lonely and isolated. Because I fear I will say the wrong thing, I often say nothing and feel excluded.

Though introversion does not have to equal awkward, I do think they are linked. A big part of what's draining about being in with other people is my own insecurities. I spend so much mental energy worried about the lameness of my social skills that I lose the opportunity to enjoy my companions' company. I've been noticing that when I make an effort to smile and be friendly, right from the start, the whole interaction feels that much more smooth.

This is counter-intuitive. I will require a lot more practice, of the fake-it-till-you-make-it variety.
Since this fall's forced meeting of new people, I've found myself a little more practiced at being friendly. At church, I've been a little more likely to walk up to someone and initiate a conversation.  When I see someone an acquaintance a school function or around town, I've found myself smiling and saying hello and chatting like a.... like a....  like an extrovert?

No, like a friendly introvert.


Baby shower, blue

We helped throw a baby shower for friends this past weekend.

Blue and white streamers hung from our ceiling. Blue napkins and tablecloths were set on tables. Blue baby blankets and blue striped onesies were opened and oohed and aahed over.

I skewered tropical fruit and made tea sandwiches and printed out baby Pictionary clues.  The house smelled like the cinnamon rolls that I made from scratch (which were so amazingly delicious that I don't think I can ever make them again, such was my sugar coma from eating FOUR IN A ROW. I could NOT STOP even after the nausea and headache set in.)

Our most brilliant move: we hired a babysitter. The kids watched a movie in the basement with the sitter while the grownups chatted and ate upstairs. She then took the kids outside to run off their sugar (they had some cinnamon rolls too) while we played games and opened gifts. It was delightful and it makes me think that from here on out, we always have to hire a sitter for parties such as this.

I wondered how, as a mother of two girls, it would feel to throw this party for a baby boy. Would the sight of adorable blue booties make me weep with longing? Would I feel a deep pang for what I will never have:  a baby boy of my very own?

(There will be no more babies here. I'm turning 40 next week. Our reality is that we have two girls and we are done.)

I can't say I didn't have a single pang of baby lust. But it was mild and different than I expected. Our friends will make wonderful parents, and I'm so happy for them as they begin this journey together. But also I'm so happy, selfishly, for me. I will get to hold a baby boy very soon! And I will still get to (mostly) sleep all night!


So while it is true that I will never hold another one of my babies, that leaves my arms and heart open to hold all the babies who will come into my life, whose moms might need a little break.

Oh you guys, I will be so happy to give them one.


The Blathering 2012

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was reading one of the many stellar blog posts over at Swistle. As I scrolled through the comments, I found myself struck by one in particular because it was exactly what I was going to say, only better written. I clicked over to her blog and read for awhile and she started reading my blog and lo, an internet friendship was begun.

I think after a weekend in New Orleans sharing a bedroom where we chatted about breast engorgement in the wee hours of the morning, we can now officially drop the "internet" off that statement. We are now just plain old friends.

(Well she's vibrant and fresh-faced, I'll take the mantle of plain and old.)
I signed up for The Blathering, which is a yearly social event with a bunch of blogging and twittering ladies, basically because Marie Green was going. And Hillary and Michele. And a whole bunch of other women who I couldn't claim to know but whose writing I've read for a long time. One night on Twitter, people were talking about it and it sounded like it would be a fun way to meet a lot of bloggers. (If you were the type of person who is extroverted enough to meet 60 strangers. Which I am NOT.)

I signed up on a whim and almost immediately regretted it. A sour feeling in my stomach deepened as the trip approached. What was I thinking, going to a large group social weekend where I knew no one and most of these ladies already knew each other? Would I spend the weekend awkwardly lurking on the sidelines of the conversations of old friends or sitting alone in my hotel room reading a book?

Some wonderful ladies and me, NOT sitting alone in a hotel room or lurking on the sidelines. (Too much.)
I am so relieved to report that I had a blast. Everyone I met (though I will admit I didn't meet everyone. So! Many! Great! Ladies!) was so friendly and fun. New Orleans was stinky and sticky but full of history and color and delicious fried food. It was the perfect backdrop for our weekend.

We walked ourselves sore and ate ourselves ill and talked ourselves hoarse. And if the amount of facial hair removal that was needed on Monday morning was any indication, I felt perfectly comfortable with these ladies.

It was pretty darn perfect.

You know how you read someone's blog and you think you know them? Or want to know them?

Well, you kinda do. And you definitely do.

(PS. Next year's Blathering is in Charleston South Carolina. Sounds pretty great, yes?)


Good guys and bad guys

On Monday afternoon, I took Z and E to our local library to see a kids play based on Treasure Island.

Z was excited to see it but once the action started, she became very concerned. "Is he a bad guy or a good guy?" she kept asking worriedly about each character.  Long John Silver completely stumped her, as he had a moral crisis halfway through and struggled over whether to grab all the treasure for himself.

"BUT IS HE GOOD OR BAD?!?!" she whisper-yelled repeatedly during Long John's monologue.

I never read Treasure Island and honestly didn't know which way the story would go, but even if I did, I think I would have answered the same way. "I don't know, sweetheart. He doesn't know either. Just watch and think and see what YOU think."


The weeks leading up to this presidential election were full of difficult questions in our house.

"Why is it so important that ------------win, Mommy? Will something terrible happen if --------- wins?"

"Why are all our friends voting for  ---------- but so many signs in our neighborhood are for -----------?"

"We shouldn't trick or treat at this house, they're voting for -------------."

"If --------- wins, will Daddy lose his job? Will we have to move? Will he cut all the money for my school?"

"I don't know if I can be friends with A any more, she said her family is voting for -----------."

Z, at six years old, is a sweet, sensitive kid. She also sometimes fails to see any shades of gray.  She tends to see the world in absolutes, at least at first and she has inherited my knack for anxious extrapolation. (If only it were a marketable skill! I'd be set!) She needs to be reminded regularly that the world is not divided up into good guys and bad guys.

Not surprisingly, I found that reminding her about this truth was very healthy for me as the campaign heated up in our swing county in a swing state. To regularly hear the words "He's not a bad guy, he just has different ideas for how to help our country" come out of my own mouth was soothing to my fears even when it failed to soothe hers.

I campaigned for a candidate in this presidential election. I spent time and money and effort to persuade people to vote for my candidate and I believe in what he stands for. But I don't think the other guys is a "bad guy." Sure, it'd be easy for me to pick and chose some parts of a person's history and make them into a monster, a boogeyman that must be defeated.

But what good does that serve? Even if we "win", do we actually win anything at all?


This morning, 7 am.

"I have good news for you, Z! ---------- won!"

"OH YAY! I'm so glad Mommy!

But Mommy?"


"We'd be okay, either way, right?"

"Yes, sweetheart. Either way, we'll be okay."


Halloween Retrospective

Halloween 2006. Z as a very sleepy piggy.

Halloween 2007. Z as a bee and CG and me as the beekeepers.
Halloween 2008. Z as a cowgirl (who lasted for about 10 minutes in her costume before melting down.)
Halloween 2009. Z as a zoned out Dora and E as a zoned out Boots.  (And we are: nothing.)
Halloween 2010. Z as Cinderella and E as Tinkerbelle.
Halloween 2011. The Wizard of Oz!

Halloween 2012. E as a very unhappy cardinal.
Big cardinal takes flight!

And I would be your resident birdwatcher.

About to trick or treat with yet another birdwatcher!

I've bought cheap Halloween costumes (hello 2010!) and I've borrowed some and I've made labor intensive ones.

No matter how you slice it, I do love Halloween.

Hope yours was happy (and warm and dry!)


"So you work, then?"

I met a new neighborhood mom the other day. She just moved into a house around the corner and one of my neighbors invited her and her kids to a birthday party.

She and I were chatting, that initial how old are your kids, are they in school/preschool conversation, and I told her that Z is in first grade and E is in preschool five mornings a week. She looked at me, smiled and said So you work, then?



And then I think I mumbled something about volunteering a bunch and planning on working at some point in the future and then I may have twitched and drooled just a bit before elegantly steering the conversation away to HEY LOOK A BUNNY.

It was one of those conversations that make me cringe now thinking about it. And I've been replaying it in my mind since then, only this time I smile confidently and say No and IT'S FANSTASTIC! I'm able to have some alone time, to exercise and bake and sew Halloween costumes and grocery shop without small children and volunteer for several causes I care about and I'm really enjoying it!

Because truly that's how I feel. I'm really starting to enjoy our lives right now. I'm grateful for where we are in our lives, and happily busy and fulfilled with a small dose of volunteer work.

So why couldn't I say that to this other mom?

While presumptive, I don't think she meant her question to be judgmental. She is home with two younger kids and I'm guessing she is thinking the same thing I thought when I had a baby and a preschooler: as soon as they are both in school and don't need me so much, I will go back to work. When my kids were her kids' ages, I truly couldn't fathom what I would do at home all day while older kids were off at school.


Our family's schedules, the running of our entire household, has been built on the presumption that I will be at home in the capacity that I am now. So much would have to change if I were to get a job that it boggles the mind.

Of course, it would be possible. But me working would be a huge change and none of us in our family want to make that change right now so here we are. 

I like being home to pick up Z from the bus stop, to hear her talk about her day on the walk home from school is to get an increasingly rare window into her world. I like having lunch with E, all by ourselves, with lots of time to chat and munch and cuddle and chat some more.

The truth is they still need me. A lot. Their needs are different now. But those needs are many and various and true.

My kids are in school and I'm still at home. 

Say it loud, say it proud.


The Feminist at the Ironing Board

Last night, around 9:30 pm, while the presidential debate played on the TV, I set up our ironing board and got to work ironing my husband's shirts.

It was like a scene out of Leave it to Beaver, except that instead of a shirtdress and heels, I was wearing sweatpants and bare feet.

Sometimes, I grimace at this little scene of traditional gender roles and wonder how, exactly, did I get here?

I rarely ever ironed  before last year; I didn't even own an iron until I started sewing and found it to be distressingly large part of any sewing project. Ironing my clothes never really crossed my mind as I spent my twenties sampling pretty much every job you can do in elastic waist stretch pants: massage therapist, dancer, pilates instructor, grant writer, personal assistant. When clothes shopping, I put clothes back on the rack when I noticed they were dry clean only because WHY?

My husband's current workplace has no real dress code, I mean they are a bunch of scientists after all. But he likes to wear button downs to work, usually with jeans. With my help, he's acquired a decent roster of button down shirts that look good on him.

Except right out of the dryer, when they are hopelessly wrinkled.

I first noticed it a few years ago. I am in charge of all things laundry in our house, and even if I was diligent about getting them out of the dryer the moment they were dry, they were always quite wrinkled. He didn't care so what's the big deal?.

It didn't hit me that maybe I should do something about it until I met him at work one day and saw him talking to his boss. In a horribly wrinkled shirt.

Well. That's just not okay.

So I guessed we could send them out? To be dry cleaned? Or washed and pressed? Is that a thing?

Investigating just how much money it would cost to send out his shirts every week convinced me to bust out the ironing board and get to work.

Suddenly his shirts looked SO MUCH BETTER. OMG. WHO KNEW?

So it's a regular thing now. I set up the ironing board once a week and plow through them. It usually takes about an hour. I'm saving us money, just like when I wash the dog with a hose instead of taking her to be "groomed" or cook in instead of eating out.

And I still do it all in elastic waist pants, with my feminist pride mostly intact. Many friends have commented on my ironing as if picking up the clothes iron means I simultaneously dropped all my feminist ideals. I didn't. I am responsible for laundry in our home, reasonably wrinkle-free clothing is part of my expectation when any member of our family leaves the house, ERGO I iron.

But a revelation came last week, when my husband ordered this online:

That's love right there.

I feel so stupid admitting this but I had NO IDEA they even made wrinkle free shirts that weren't.... horrible. TIME TO SHOP.



I have my dad's foot in my hands. They are failing him these days, these feet of his, and sometimes completely forget that they are supposed to connect his body to the floor, to ground him. I try not to be angry at his feet. It is not their fault they are faulty sometimes; after all, this body is human and it's been through a lot. My fingers push and pull and press at the pale flesh, willing joints to glide, muscles to relax and nerves to calm the eff down.

"I used to sit in this same room while you massaged my feet and calves with witch-hazel after ballet class. We sat on that old salt and pepper couch, on that wall, remember?"

He smiles. Of course, he remembers.

"You did that for me all the time, any time I asked."

He nods, takes a breath. "Do you ever .... massage your .... girls?"

"Yes. I try."

He nods again.

I massage his hands next, kneading the scars from accidents and surgeries. These hands have held me as a baby, spanked my toddler behind, written countless comments on high school essays, given me away at the altar.  They used to hold cigarettes, too many cigarettes, one after another.  They've built bookshelves for my college dorm room, driven my car across the country, helped me pack and unpack countless times.  They've held his newborn granddaughters gently, big scarred hands surrounding perfectly smooth wrapped packages.

His hands and his feet go out to lunch regularly it seems and so those nerves aren't cooperating that much either. They tremble a bit and have lost their formidable, stuck-jar-opening strength. As I rub them, I remember those days, long ago, when he rubbed witch hazel on my legs, never stopping until I said I was done.

Did I thank him back then? I think so. I'd like to think so.

"Thanks," he says when I'm done and I give him a kiss on the forehead.

"You're welcome, Pop. Thank you."



I've been having some trouble sleeping, which happens to me from time to time. Falling asleep is usually easy, but once I am awakened in the dark by one of our resident little people (which happens most nights) I cannot fall back asleep.

Instead, I lie awake and think, for hours. It's your basic garden-variety anxiety. I mull over low points in the girls' behavior. I rehash conversations I wish had gone differently the day before. I worry about situations in the world over which I have less than zero control.

Often, I wrestle with what I'm doing - and not doing - with my life, specifically my "free time." Every week day, when both girls are in school for three hours, I strive to find the wisest, most useful use of my time. Some days I go to the gym and take a long shower. Other days, I walk the dog, grocery shop, prep for dinner, do laundry, and basically run around like a spazzy monkey. Starting this week, I will spend one morning a week volunteering at my Z's elementary school and one morning for a political campaign.

None of it ever seems like the very best choice, the right choice.

It seems, in those dark hours of the night, that three hours is a shamefully large amount of time, time in which I could be accomplishing impressive, meaningful things, and yet when I'm in those three hours, I feel them rapidly shrinking away from me, as if the ticking clock gets faster and louder as I get closer to preschool pick up time. The pressure to use it wisely is strong, overwhelming and guilt-inducing, especially in the wee hours of the night.

How should I best use this time? These fleeting precious hours?


My dad has been sleeping a lot, like a WHOLE LOT. He sleeps for 12 hours a night or more, wakes mostly just for meals and naps most of the day. There have been many different possible explanations for this, and my mom has tried all kinds of things to see if it helps him feel better and be more awake, but the doctors don't know really what to say. Maybe he's just worn out. His body, after years of battling the effects of smoking, cancer, lobectomies, chemotherapy and radiation, might just be plain old tired.

He sleeps and sleeps and sleeps.

I fear one day he will just not wake up.

We're headed to New Jersey next weekend, for a few precious hours.

How am I to spend that time with him? Are there big important things left to say? Will I be upset later if I just while away the hours, eating, chatting, being together in whatever way is possible?

He may be asleep for most of my visit. But I will be there and maybe that's enough.


Nighttime parenting seems like a microcosm of all parenting. The girls appear at my side, suddenly, with their biggest needs, their deepest fears, their darkest moments of sickness.

There I am in the dark, confused, grasping at anything to help me make sense of what is unfolding in front of me. Usually, I rise to the occasion, finding my overwhelming love for my girls called to the fore with little of the frustration or second guessing that happens in the light of day.

In a few of these dark hours, I am my worst mom self, self centered and bitter. I want my sleep, who dares to interrupt my sleep?

Sometimes, in those same hours, I feel a deeper sense of peace and appreciation for motherhood than ever before. Holding little warm bodies close to my heart, caring for their needs, simply, completely. I feel there is no place else I want or need to be. I am effortlessly focused on what matters.

I am happy, in those fleeting hours, before I eventually fall asleep.


Fix You

According to the stereotype, men are fixers. They tell you what you should do before you even think to ask for advice. They are ready with a solution before you've fully articulated the problem.

Etc. Etc.

I admit, I've found this to be somewhat true.

But if men can sometimes be the Air Force of fixing, streaking across the sky searching for large scale targets, women - especially moms -  are often like some stealth force from the Navy, the submarines of fixing. We lurk beneath the surface, nearly invisible but constantly ready for the first sign of a threat to our loved one's happiness. We move in, quietly smooth things over as best we can and then disappear again beneath the water.

Do we all, on some level, want our loved ones to always be happy, safe, content? How can we sit by and watch hard feelings unfold without, on some level, wanting to FIX IT NOW.

When Z was a baby, her cry sounded like a constant alarm going off inside my skull and all I could think was FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT. Today, a baby's needs seem so tangible and fixable - a wet diaper, a hungry belly, a tired baby - but I remember there were many times when there seemed to be no clear solution and all I could do was sit (or stand or rock or walk) with her in my arms and listen to the useless chorus in my head, somehow audible above the crying, FIXITFIXITFIXITFIXIT.

Six years later, I still battle that mantra. Z is struggling to adjust to first grade, her new school, riding the bus, all of it, and I want so much to help her. I feel that same old desperation to FIX IT, though her needs are so different now, much less binary, much less clear. Now if by chance there is an obvious thing to fix, it's tempting to try, just to make it easier on all of us, even if making it easier comes at the cost of her learning an important lesson.

Z had a play date on Saturday with a new friend from school. That morning, she decided she NEEDED to find a little plastic flip flop key chain to show to her friend or the day would be ruined. This particularly Beloved Item of Desperation (for it was only one in a long time of things that must be found NOW OR THE WORLD WILL END) had not been seen for some time. As the hour of the play date approached and with Z still carrying on loudly and at length with impressive stamina and lung power,  CG and I wound up discussing the relative merits of zipping out to buy another of these plastic doohickies and clandestinely putting it in her path. OH LOOKY! IT'S RIGHT HERE! ALL BETTER NOW!


In the end, we didn't buy another flip-flop key chain. But just the fact that we entertained the idea shows just how much power we give to the fluctuating emotional state of our older daughter.

Instead, I sat down with her and told her that I could see how sad she was, how much she really wanted to find this flip flop and show it to her friend. I asked her if she was nervous about hosting this new friend and had her come up with ideas to make her feel welcome that had nothing to do with a key-chain. Mostly I voiced many variations on the theme of: It's okay to be sad. I can see how disappointed you are and I'm here to give you a hug and let you be sad.

Feeling empathy for her is easy for me. Getting down on her level and really engaging in the act of being empathetic - sitting with her sadness and frustration, without giving advice or feeling motivation to FIX IT - is another.

Her emotions can get big and scary and seemingly out of proportion. It's tempting to try to argue her down, show her the facts, convince her it's really not that bad lest she spin out into some outer space of upset. I fight this urge and work very hard to not give any advice until she's calmed down and open to it.

It's not easy.

I did eventually, after her tears were mostly gone and her breathing had slowed, challenge her 6 year old logic with the radical thought that her new friend was not coming over to play with a plastic flip flop key chain but with a fun, funny, fabulous friend. 

Did I give her too much time to cry? Was I allowing her to wallow in her sadness too much? Or was I too heavy-handed in my advice? Did I allow her feelings enough space while still helping her move through them with the benefit of some outside perspective?

I really don't know.

At the end of the day it comes down to this: I fight the urge to fix her, whether with overt advice or submarine key-chain buying, because I don't ever want her to feel broken.

It's okay to be sad.

(I think.)


Ding Dong!

Saturday morning, over breakfast.

"What are we doing this afternoon, Mommy?"

"Well, you're going to hang out with Daddy because I'm going to volunteer for -------. I'll be knocking on people's doors asking if they are supporting him. If you want to know the truth, I'm pretty nervous about it."


"Because I have a hard time talking to new people. I don't know what to say and I think about it too much and by the time I've figured out what to say, I think they are looking at me funny and then I start sweating and then I say something too silly or too fast and then I feel bad about myself."

"So why are you doing it?"

GOOD QUESTION. "Because I believe in ------, and this is going to be a tight election, especially in our state. I want to feel like I've done all I can to support him."

"You'll do great Mommy. I know how it feels to feel shy. Just take a deep breath."

"Thanks, sweatheart. Will do."


On Saturday afternoon, I went canvassing in a neighborhood not too far from my own, ringing doorbells and talking to people I don't know. ABOUT POLITICS.

Ding Dong! It's your socially awkward neighborhood canvasser!

It probably goes without saying at this point but this kind of activity is officially WAY outside the long term parking lot of the airport near my comfort zone. 

I am surprised to say that though I sweated and trembled throughout the two hours that I canvassed, it wasn't totally awful. When I didn't think too much about what I was doing, the adrenaline was almost energizing, even when people were less than thrilled by my appearance on their doorstep.

I felt proud and, though I wouldn't claim that I changed anyone's mind (I clearly DIDN'T), it was also clear I was doing something I believed in.

Even more surprising: talking to new people is apparently a habit that one can learn.  (WHO KNEW?) It got easier as I went along and when CG and I went out for dinner that night, I carried myself differently, a little more confidently. I wondered if I would run into anyone I had talked to that day and instead of feeling nervous about that, I actually felt more open, more confident.

Yeah, I don't pretend to understand how that works.

Sunday, at an outdoor art festival, instead of lurking around the art trying to check it out without having to engage the artist in awkward pleasantries, which is my usual M.O., I actually found myself enjoying talking with artists about their work. I wasn't trying to convince them to vote for anyone! It was positively PLEASANT.


Saturday night, bedtime.

"Mom? What will happen if the other guy gets elected? Will we get hurt? Will we have to leave the country?"

"What? No. NO. We will NOT have to leave the country. We will be just fine. One of the very cool things about our country is that elections happen and the losers are good sports and no one gets hurt or has to leave the country."

"Then why is it so important to you that people vote for -------?"

"I agree with a lot of his ideas and policies. I think there are a lot of hard decisions to be made but, in my mind, his ideas are the most fair, the most just and the most likely to work for most people."

"Okay. Can I walk with you next time, Mommy?"

"Um... next time?"


About yesterday

Yesterday, when Z came home from school, she told me about a friend who wet her pants and another whose "bee got turned upside down" which is, apparently, a very very bad thing. But she didn't mention anything about planes or terrorists or anything.

She didn't mention anything about September 11th

It occurred to me yesterday morning, after she had left for school, that she might hear about what happened 11 years ago. That someone might say something, a classmate, her teacher or maybe there'd even be a lesson on it, who knows. This is first grade. This is public school. This is new territory.

This is the real world.

But if anybody said anything, she didn't mention it yesterday afternoon, and I think she would have, she's that kind of kid. My sensitive girl would have asked me what it meant, why it happened, if it could happen again.

As a sensitive mother of a sensitive child, I shelter her. We don't watch the news. We don't listen to NPR when she's around. I cover any scary photos on the front page of the newspaper. She and her three year old sister watch the same TV shows; she only recently stopped leaving the room when Swiper appears to momentarily disrupt Dora's plans. While many of her fellow six year olds have watched Star Wars and High School Musical and Beetlejuice, she skips animated Disney movies for fear of "bad people" and "scary stuff."

That's fine. She doesn't want to see it and I don't really want her to see it.  I want her to have a childhood, to really be a kid, for as long as possible. This "getting older younger" stuff? SUCKS.

But what about when the scary stuff is real? She will need to learn about these things someday and if it's not from us, who knows what she'll hear from other kids.

How can I explain September 11th to her? Ever?

The truth is, whenever she hears about it, however old she is, it will be a difficult and sad conversation.

I'm just glad she may have another year to mature before we have that conversation.


Week Two

When she got off the bus yesterday afternoon, I was only halfway to the bus stop. Her little sister had napped and insisted, in that indignant-three-year-old-post-nap way, on walking at her own pace so we were a little bit late. I saw the bus pull away and heard her friends cooing "It's okay, she'll be here soon."

I quickened my pace and she came into view.

Her face.

She thought I had forgotten her.

Her frown turned into a smile when she finally saw me but before we could talk about it, her friends were making plans to play and invited her. She turned to me, hopeful.

Unlike last week I said yes, she could play.  Maybe it was guilt that she had felt forgotten at the bus stop. Maybe I was thinking that she could handle it, this time, this week, even thought it's only the second week of full day school and I knew without thinking about it that she was still adjusting, still struggling to hold it all together at school all day.

They came to our house and took over our basement in an American Girl overload.  For awhile they were bossing each other around, no one really listening, everyone trying to lead.

Then it became clear that one of them wasn't handling these disagreements so well. 

She was shouting "No!" a lot and sounding more and more aggrieved so I intervened and that's when it happened. She started yelling at me, that she hated me, that I was the worst mother ever, that she would never ever forgive me if I sent her friends home.

She was wild, eyes unfocused, limbs thrashing. I tried to grab hold of her arms, to get her look at me but she was too far gone. Her friends stood still and stared at the ground.

I quietly walked her friends to the door, ignoring her wails in the background. I apologized for it ending badly and thanked them for coming.

Then I took a breath and turned back toward her.

I was embarrassed. I was scared for her. This scene had played into every one of my fears and triggers. I wanted to stop her behavior. I wanted to control it. I wanted her to calm down NOW.

And I could do none of that.

I let her wail some more, invited her to the calm down corner, talked and hugged and talked some more about how she was feeling.

That night, we role-played how to handle frustration and disagreement with friends. We talked at length about strategies for coping with anger and sadness. She knows it all. She's got the tools. She's still learning how to use them. And I have to help her learn, to let her learn, in this messy, uncomfortable, two-steps forward-one-step-back way.



When Z was an infant, I gave her a massage every day, usually after her nightly bath. As a new mother, I was intent on doing everything right and well and took great pains to figure out and apply whatever that might be. As one of my few marketable skills is massage, I took a class in infant massage, studied several books on the topic and was intent on doing it regularly as part of my bonding time with my child.

You can probably guess how well it went. Yep, she hated it.

Well, she would tolerate it for a few minutes, as long as I sang to her and she wasn't too sleepy or too hungry or too excited or too awake or too gassy or too something I could never figure out.  I did love those moments she was reasonably content: the squish of her buttery soft thighs, the smell of Burt's Bee's oil, the feeling of connection between us. But it was always short lived.
It's a miracle this picture even exists.

She was a highly reactive baby, easily overstimulated and upset. My books all said massage would help calm her down. So I kept trying. I tried first thing in the morning. I tried before her bath. I tried after a nap. I tried deeper pressure. I tried lighter pressure. I tried with music on and off. Lights on and off and every dim-able setting in between.

It often seemed to be just too much for her, no matter what I did. 

I gave up her nightly massages around 5 months. She was starting to flip over then, and so spent much of the massage intent on flipping to whichever side she wasn't on. It was clearly becoming more of a fight than a massage and I finally got the message.

I felt like a failure. 


Yesterday was Z's first day at public school. First day riding the school bus. First day of first grade.

She was up early, nervous, excited, ready. She bounced her way through breakfast and tooth brushing and had to give herself a pep-talk as she struggled to tie her new tie shoes, the ones she insisted on buying. 
She was early to the bus stop but the bus was early too and so our goodbye was rushed and before I knew it she was off. 

When I met her at the bus stop that afternoon she was still bouncing, but with a weary look in her eye that I've come to know well. She whined about wanting to play with her neighborhood friends but I gently and firmly guided her home for some down time. We read some books, spent an hour playing with Legos and she and her sister watched a video while I cooked dinner.

After dinner, we took the girls upstairs for a bath, which hasn't been nightly in many years. They fought over space and favorite bath toys and Z seemed on edge in that tired-yet-wired way.  Her younger sister quickly got pulled out and put to bed and she and I were left in the bathroom as the tub drained out.

"Do you want a massage?" I asked, expecting her to say no, as she often does.

"Sure," she said. "With a song, please!"
She lay back on the tile floor, wiggling until she found a spot where we both could fit in the small bathroom. I rubbed my oiled hands along her impossibly long legs, still soft but now covered with downy hair.  I moved very slowly, watching her face, noticing when she closed her eyes and relaxed her face a little. Ticklish spots were skipped; I stopped immediately when she seemed done. 

"Thanks Mom. That was nice," she said giving me a hug.

"I'm glad, sweetheart. I'm so very glad."



It was 8:48 am and we were trying to leave Vermont; our planned departure time was long past. My mom and I were crying (of course) and CG and I kept forgetting one last thing (of course) and E had to pee one last time (OF COURSE). And, frankly, while we had been there two whole weeks, it's always hard to leave, no matter how long I've been there.

Z was waiting by the car, somewhat patiently, processing it all. "I'm SAD to be leaving Vermont! But I'm also HAPPY to be going home!"

"I know what you mean," I said, peeling my eyes away from my favorite view of the early morning sun dancing on the lake. "I feel that way too. It's called 'bittersweet', because you feel happy and sad all at the same time."

"Yeah," she said, thinking this one over. "But... what's bitter and what's sweet? Or is it ALL bitter AND sweet?"



My dad is sick. Pneumonia and hospitalization early in the summer. Supplemental oxygen. A walker. A wheelchair. 13 hour nights and, sometimes, two naps a day. 

My parents cancelled a long-planned train trip across British Columbia when a doctor informed them that the risks involved were grave.

He's himself. Some days. A joke here and there.

But in noticable ways, he's not the same strong, capable, hearty, independent Dad.

It's a new phase. 

I don't like it very much, and I haven't written too much lately because the heaviness in my heart doesn't want to come out my fingers.



For me, this was the most relaxing summer at the lake since before motherhood. Almost like an actual *whisper* vacation.  The girls can finally play together, by themselves, usually without too much intervention or supervision. Having a rule-following older child seemed suddenly wonderful, after months of annoyance when she checked my speed against the speed limit signs or corrected my approximate time giving: we know she will follow the rules.


 There was so much swimming this year.  And fishing

and hiking and waterskiing 
and wakeboarding.

The girls were constantly peeing, over-hydrated from inhaling half of the lake while swimming open mouthed like some kind of constantly smiling, bottom-feeding fish. And we adults were all dehydrated from the lake, sitting in the sun, on a boat or on a lounge chair with a book in one's lap, always results in a desperate need to drink several gallons at one sitting.


The girls constantly clambered for time at the lake, asking first thing upon waking, can we go swimming now? How about NOW?


There is something so wonderful about a place you come back to once a year, every year of your life. There is perspective there, as you see changes in the people you love compared to the time you saw them here last year, and all the years before. These vacations mark our growth and our losses. Every change stands in stark relief against our wealth of memories.

This is the rock wall my father built with his previously strong arms. This is the kayak he used to hold over his head and carry down the steep stairs to the lake. This is the dock he used to jump off of.

Here are my daughters, previously scared of the water, jumping off that same dock.

We reveled in the gaining of skills from some of our loved ones, while quietly mourning the loss of others.

Perspective can be bittersweet.


West Virginia is for haters

We live very close to the border with West Virginia, and we'd never stepped foot in our neighboring state. So I put it on my list of things I need to do before I turn 40 and on Monday, I decided to warm up for our 10+ hour car trip that we are taking to Vermont tomorrow by driving to West Virginia.

Virginians don't speak very highly of West Virginia. I hear classist, red-neck jokes mostly and I try to turn a deaf ear to such things because I'm open-minded and white-liberal-guilty like that.

Besides, everywhere I've ever lived has a snobby attitude about somewhere else. In San Francisco, people looked down on Southern California. Then I moved to Southern California and the people there looked down at those in the central valley. Growing up in New Jersey, we looked down on .... ourselves.

And poor West Virginia. It just can't be as bad as my neighbors here profess.

I had heard, for instance, that you'll know the moment you drive into West Virginia because of all the toilets sitting on front lawns. 

I can tell you that I didn't see a single toilet on any lawn. So there.

We decided to head to Harper's Ferry because... it was close. And had ice cream. Knowing nothing really about it, we ventured into the National Park there and wandered around the old town they have preserved for tourists/history buffs. Here are the girls after we walked up hand carved stone steps that are a part of the Appalachian Trail.

Well, that 20 minutes of walking totally wore us out, so then it was time for lunch.

Z chose the restaurant. It was ... mediocre.

Z chose mac and cheese and it was greasy and she didn't care for it, so her lunch consisted entirely of lemonade.

E ate some mac and cheese (or mac-n-and-cheese, as she calls it) and some lemonade and IS THAT SPINACH. OMG SHE CHOWED ON RAW SPINACH. IT'S A MIRACLE.

(oh, and our 20-something waiter was missing at least half his teeth and this was the ceiling over our head. UM. WEST VIRGINIA HELP ME OUT HERE. I"M TRYING TO NOT BE JUDGY AND YOU'RE NOT HELPING.)

I had promised the girls ice cream so with no further ado, we marched over for their very first ice cream cones. (Yes, I'm mean like that. This was a special treat.)

E's was smurf "cotton candy" flavored and Z got chocolate with white chocolate covered pretzel bits.

Both were YUM, though I nervously spent the last half of their ice cream eating terrified of when their sugar/food dye spazziness would hit.

With ice cream energy coursing through our veins, we walked through the John Brown wax museum (OMG HORROR SHOW COMPLETE WITH WHIPPED SLAVES AND A HANGING SCENE. I had to cover both my girls eyes and usher them through to keep them from having nightmares until they are 83.)

With that, we called it a day.

Here are the girls on the shuttle bus ride back to our car. Sugar high hasn't come yet...

Oh wait...

Yep. There it is.


Social Skills

"How was camp today?" I ask, forgetting to ask a more specific question.

"Fine," she says, true to script.

I am going to ban that response. That and "boring."

"Did you already know any of the other kids?" I try again.


"Are they nice?"

"Not really. They all know each other and played together and didn't really include me," she says glumly looking out the car window.

"Huh," I say, tamping down the platitudes that are rising in my throat, trying instead to come up with a response that will make her feel heard and supported. "That sounds hard. I know I don't like feeling excluded."

"Yeah," she mumbles and slumps deeper into her carseat.

We ride home in silence while her little sister sings "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to her stuffed dog.

At home, she wants to read a book, curled up in my lap, draping her tan limbs over mine in an unusual display of cuddliness.

I want to grab her in a bear hug, snuffle her hair, look deep into her eyes while I extoll at length about her beauty and brilliance but get a hold of myself and let her lead. I sit still.

And I close my mouth.


When we take walks around the neighborhood, I see the same people over and over again. We live in a small town, we have our favorite routes.

This happened sometimes when we lived in California, but our city there was much bigger, it was easier, possibly even safer, to just avert one's eyes and feign invisibility. In California, even when I unexpectedly saw someone I knew well, I often ducked into the crowd to avoid having to say hello. I'm just not good at those unexpected moments. They make me anxious and weirded out. How long do we need to chat? Do I have to have a long time to talk if I approach them to say hi? What do you even talk about?

It's taken me three years of living in Virginia to start saying "hi" to everyone we pass. Or "good morning" or, even, "lovely day, isn't it?" I still mentally rehearse and rehash what I say and how I say it. I still duck out of chance encounters sometimes.

But not always.

I'm cultivating a new habit: friendliness. I guess I've grown weary of good friends telling me they didn't like me when we first met, that I seemed cold or bitchy from afar.

I'm not cold or bitchy. But I'm shy and awkward (bloggers unite!) and my girls have some of my shy awkward blood in their veins and they are watching and learning from everything I do.

When we walk and I greet a neighbor, the girls ask, "Who are you saying hi to? Do you know them, Mama?"

And I say, truthfully, "I don't know them well, no. But it's good to be friendly."


Later that night, I tuck Z into bed and she curls against me, asking if she has to go back to summer camp tomorrow.

I've managed to drag out of her that she liked the teacher, she liked the class, she's just feeling socially out of step with the other girls. I am struggling mightily to not project or judge or feel I have to fix everything.

"Do you want ideas about how to try to make friends with some of these girls?"

"I guess."

"Well, think about what makes you feel good, what makes you want to play with someone else, and do that. I like it when people smile at me and say hi. I like it when people compliment me on something I just said or ask me about my favorite book or ask to join in on something I'm enjoying."

"There is this one girl who had a dinosaur shirt on that I liked."

"Exactly! You can compliment her shirt and then follow up with a question that keeps the conversation rolling."

We role play a little with her as herself and me as the dinosaur shirt girl.  Then we switch and she's the dinosaur shirt girl and I'm her and we wind up laughing hysterically into her pillows.

Her laugh is like a sparkle volcano and I want every one of those girls to love it.


Calm Down

7:43 pm. Z has her heart set on finishing a water bottle cozy that she saw on the box of her loom kit. It's almost bedtime and the cozy is taking longer than we both thought and we won't have to time to both finish it and read a chapter from On the Banks of Plum Creek.

This is just one of many challenging moments we navigate daily, one of many moments that could be resolved with a reasonable conversation, but instead often becomes a tumult of emotion.

"NooOOOooo! I want to do both!!! YOU SAID WE COULD DO BOTH!!"

I said we could do both if we had time. We no longer have time for both and must chose one. Such rational explanations are of no interest to her.

"I never get to do what I want! I'll never FINISH it! I'll never get to read my BOOK! AHHHH WAAAA!"

I am tight as a drum now, every muscle in my body is as taut as her emotional spiral. I want so desperately to press a magic pause button, to STOP THIS MOMENT and make her see how much she is overreacting.

"Z. CALM. DOWN." I am stern, much too stern but I can't stop myself, I'm suddenly just so tired. "You are overreacting and we can't resolve this when you're so upset."

She looks defeated and then so do I. 


I'm not sure where I first heard about the concept of a Calm Down Corner, either Pinterest or a blog or some combination of those internet wormholes. Wherever it was, I immediately latched onto it and set up our own in an unused corner of our living room.

In our Calm Down Corner is a soft sheepskin that was given to Z when she was a baby and a basket filled with different activities that might possibly calm a pint-sized person down: a finger labyrynth, a couple of calm down glitter jars, books about yoga, meditation and silly animal pictures, a pen and pad for writing or drawing, a jar of therapeutic putty with hidden gems and buttons, an empty plastic water bottle for scrunching up tight and then blowing back to normal and assorted other fidget toys to release and refocus emotional energy.

The girls both use it but Z uses it most often. Sometimes she will excuse herself in the middle of an intense encounter and head over there to calm herself down.  Often, when she is at loose ends, I'll ask her if she'd prefer a hug, a time out in her room or some time in the Calm Down Corner.

I don't know if I'm doing this right, this teaching her how to handle her challenging emotions. It is our biggest struggle and shows no signs of relenting. Sometimes, I feel such deep empathy, such compassion for her struggle. And sometimes I would give my eye teeth to see her display calm disappointment or offer a mildly upset shrug.

As I've mentioned previously, we all have been working on labeling our emotions. I've grown comfortable with this, especially debating precise word choices, something that I happen to enjoy immensely.

"I'm not really feeling grumpy, per se, I'm more irritated."

I just finished reading "Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child" by John Gottman and like many of the parenting books I read, I find it simultaneously comforting and terrifying. Comforting because I agree with so much with his thesis: when your child is in an emotional upheaval, they need you more than ever. Simply sending them to time-out over and over again doesn't help them learn how to label, understand and express their emotions in ways that don't involve splitting the eardrums or draining the will to live of anyone in a 20 yard radius.

Terrifying because this is MY job? It's SO HARD. HALP PLZ.

Terrifying too because it lays bare some of my own issues with control and my own hypersensitivity: I get so wound up and want so desperately to just STOP her behavior.

I want "calm down" to be a supportive invitation, rather than a judgmental imperative.  I want my girls to freely chose the Calm Down Corner, and eventually, to have a calm down corner inside themselves.


8:14 pm. Officially past bedtime.  Water bottle cozy finally complete. Book chapter unread.

"I'm sorry, Mommy, for throwing a fit."

"Thanks. I'm sorry too, sweetheart. I didn't handle it very well."

"You didn't?"

"No, I didn't. I could have just told you what I knew you were disappointed and frustrated that we couldn't do both. I could have helped you work through your upset a little better."

"It's okay, Mommy. We're both working on this."

Yes, yes we are.



I am hiking with Sweet Dog at dawn. The trail signs say "Open from dawn till dusk", but I forgot that dawn is still quite dark, especially under the leafy canopy. It is so quiet I can hear very little, mostly the dog and me panting rapidly in time with each other.

As the trail narrows, I find I am covered in the gossamer strings of spider webs that criss-cross the path. They quickly give way, lacing my arms as if they were trying to catch me but of course they are no match for my power and size.

There was recently a big storm here and there are freshly fallen trees all around. As I navigate around them I lose the path for a moment and it gets darker and I hear noises and I am suddenly scared because, of course, I am a woman alone in the woods with only my ferocious attack dog to lick someone to death.

And then I am angry that I am aware of this, that I'm mentally replaying in my head all the ways I can protect myself, that I'm imagining the angles and speed necessary to successfully connect knee to scrotum. Men don't have to think this way, do they? But as women, we do. We fear.

Suddenly, every twig breaking in the distance becomes not a deer, not a fox, but a homicidal maniac. Every bird song is a reminder of just how far away I am from other people, good people.

Why do women have to feel afraid? Why do women have to worry about the safety of their bodies and psyches? There is nothing new about this realization, of course. This is Women's Studies 101 anger I'm feeling here.

But I'm angry anew for my daughters.

For surely they will experience this feeling at various points in their lives. Whether walking home late at night from a night club or hiking through a forest enjoying a beautiful dawn, suddenly their attention will be taken away from fun, solitude, or peace and toward fear. As the wisps of spider webs trail behind me like invisible streamers, I am saddened by how quickly hard work can be undone. Careful intricate preparation destroyed in a moment by a bigger, more powerful organism.

I find a turtle on the trail and marvel at its compact disappearing act. I envy his shell; he can pull his squishy sensitive bits inside and protect himself from anything scary at a moment's notice. It's so efficient; as soon as the danger passes - POP - legs and head all come out again as if nothing ever happened. If only it were that easy for us, if only our hard protective shells built of fear and pragmatism could be carried with us, used when needed but then we could just as easily, just as quickly, emerge.

As I continue to hike, I am angry at vague ideas and broad sections of humanity but also at myself. I'm angry that I read all those true life crime books in high school, for they now fuel my nightmares and day-mares. I read them obsessively, as a way of shocking myself with the absolute worst case scenarios. I spent my allowance on cheap paperbacks with grainy black and white photographs of women with Farrah Fawcett wings and men with blank eyes. One in particular that I reread numerous times was called something like "Lady in a Box" about a man who kept a woman trapped in a box under his bed for years. I was amazed that somebody could do that. And by "that" I mean both keep someone in a box under the bed and survive. But of course, people do do that, don't they? People keep other people in boxes. And people survive.

I've been wondering lately how to broach the topic of safety with my girls. Through books, I guess, as that's always my go-to answer for everything. (Though definitely NOT "Lady in a Box.") I have some books but I haven't shown them to my girls. I am having a prolonged ostrich moment about this, as if I can just put my head in the sand and the rest of the world will go away and I will never have to tell Z and E about people who might want to scare them, hurt them, take them.

At six, Z is still very innocent. She's a first child, she doesn't have many older friends and she has parents who are very protective of her and closely monitor what she sees and hears and experiences. Once I was trying to get some money from the ATM and she wanted to stay in the car. I would only be a few steps away but you're not supposed to do that, right? There are laws, DO NOT EVER LEAVE A KID IN THE CAR EVEN FOR A MOMENT. She was five at the time and starting to become a more reasonable and mature human being and I thought, I'll just leave her in the car for a minute, and lock the doors.

"Why do you need to the lock the doors?" she asked.

I paused and answered "For your safety."

"Oh I know," she said seriously and I froze, afraid of what she might 'know', "like burglars! They might steal my doll!" I smiled and nodded my ostrich head and didn't say what else strangers might do.

When I hike, I like to get to a particularly nice spot and stand still and close my eyes for a few long moments. Sight is by far my strongest sense and when I hike I'm mostly focusing on what I see. With my eyes closed, I can hear so much, every breath of wind, every bird call, every cracking leaf. Before I do this, of course, I look around to make sure there's no one lurking in the bushes. After checking, even when my eyes are closed and I'm finally hearing, really hearing, the intricate bird calls, I'm also, in some small corner of my mind, listening for footsteps and imagining what I would do if I had to.

We just got Z out of being afraid of strangers. "Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet!" we'd chirp at her a few years ago when her natural wariness when meeting new people turned to frightened avoidance.  Now there is no stopping her. She will chat with most anyone. Everyone is a potential friend.

"Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet!" she's repeated to her little sister a few times recently.




June 29, 2002/2012

June 29, 2002

It was so hot that morning, like 142 degrees with 231% humidity. The AC units in our hotel bedroom barely kept up and sweat management became a serious pre-occupation. Our garden wedding in late June didn't seem like such a great idea all of a sudden.

I was doubly sweating because in addition to being hot I was nervous, though not in the cliched, "cold feet", runaway-bride kind of way. More like the "all these people, so many details, me at the center of attention, ALL THESE PEOPLE" kind of way. My stomach was in knots and I took many trips to the bathroom, you know, just to hang out.

I was trying so hard not to get overwhelmed by details, or give anyone a reason to call me Bridezilla, so when my bored hair dresser did a really fast, really lame, really slicked down version of the hairstyle I had wanted, I didn't say anything, it's just hair.  And I said hi to the hair salon bathroom.

When the flowers arrived, and they weren't at all what I had chosen, I didn't say anything, it's just flowers. I visited the bathroom.

When someone called me "Mrs. K-" even though I wasn't changing my last name, well, okay, I said something. I believe that particular something contained a curse word.

And then, of course, the bathroom

When I finally emerged from the bathroom, I got dressed and CG and I saw each other before the ceremony.

It was so hot we decided to take our schfancy, couple-y photos before the ceremony, which was smart, because 5 minutes after walking outside I had rivulets of sweat running down my legs under my mother's silk wedding gown and my forehead could have powered several lamps in Laura Ingall's Little House.

My maid of honor earned her honorific more times than I can count, including a desperate visit to - you guessed it! - the bathroom minutes before the ceremony to hold up my dress so I could greet my Aunt Flo as she arrived for a spectacularly poorly timed visit. EFF.

My BFF also earned her doctorate in Sweat Management that day.

As we got ready to line up for the ceremony I felt myself floating above my body. Am I really here? Am I really at my wedding? Is this really it?

In the months before the wedding, I had nightmares - many, many nightmares - that involved me walking down the aisle gazing at everyone I ever knew and loved and then promptly throwing up at the altar.

(Have I mentioned the bathroom?)

In another twist of fate, a few weeks before the wedding, my dad cut his finger badly, something about riding a tractor and grabbing a wire fence at the same time didn't agree with him. Unfortunately, it got infected and that meant that on my wedding day, he escorted me down the aisle with his middle finger permanently at attention.

As we were walking down that aisle, and the string quartet was playing Bach, and my dad took my elbow in one hand and gave our guests the finger with his other, I was thrilled and giddy just to be there, just to not be throwing up. As I walked I laughed, I sweated, I teared up, I laughed some more.


And then, there at the end of the aisle was CG. My guy. My chosen family. Waiting for me.

Oh right, HIM.

All those details, all those people. I was so busy thinking about flowers and sweating and not throwing up that I forgot what we were here for after all. One touch of his hands brought me back.

I'm here. I'm right here.

The rest of the night was fantastic. Freaking fantastic. We ate very little and danced very much,  danced until our legs literally gave way beneath us and we tore our mother's wedding dress (okay, that was just me).

What a perfect wedding, everyone kept saying to us, completely ignoring the sweltering heat, my ripped wedding dress, my dad's middle finger, the wrong flowers. Such a great day!

We collapsed that night into a sweaty exhausted heap, convinced that this thing, this wedding, was the start of something natural and complete and deeply, deeply awesome.


June 29, 2012

There was a night a few years back when we looked at each other from across the ocean that stretched between one couch cushion and the next and I said the thought that was worming its way into my brain: "This is why people get divorced." It was a scary thing to say but an even scarier way to feel.

There was nothing majorly cataclismic going on. But we were talking in circles. We didn't feel better at the end of our fraught conversations. We didn't feel close.  He didn't look me in the eyes. I pulled my knees in tight to my chest and did a lot of crying.

We suddenly realized that people got divorced who loved each other. People got divorced who had great weddings. People got divorced who had children they loved more than their own breath.

We are in a much better place now but that time changed us. We are no longer those children who got married on that too hot day ten years ago. We know now that marriage is not some natural extension of loving and enjoying each other, some coasting ride that requires only that you pick a good partner to begin with. It is a daily choice, to turn toward one another instead of away. To not be too afraid to be honest, too exhausted to be kind or too proud to be wrong.

Ten years ago, I underestimated the challenge of staying together. I didn't understand the way time would change us, change me. I didn't know who we'd become, who we'd create. I didn't realize how marriage is built and rebuilt every single day, every single conversation.

We wonder, is it possible to grow old together with mutual respect and admiration? Can we still challenge each other, tell the loving but hard truths, push each other even as we both get more and more stuck in our own neurotic ways?

That's our goal. Passion, admiration, respect, playful companionship.

Dare to dream.

All the details of my life overwhelm me, all the things I need to remember, all the balls we juggle suspended in mid air. I forget sometimes, at the end of the day, to really look to him. He's right there. But still, sometimes, I miss him.

Choosing the right person may not be the be all and end of all a good marriage but it sure is a good start. I chose someone who balances me out. I chose so very well.

Mostly I think, What a great marriage. And I'm not ignoring the hard times, the tears, the moments of loneliness and frustration. I am including them, proudly.

What a great marriage.

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