Saturday, October 31, 2009

Born That Way

Julia's all-time favorite book, about a preschooler
mouse who worries about everything, even the playground slides
and swings ("too high; too rusty; too loose").

You really ought to read this absolutely fascinating article in the New York Times a few weeks ago about babies, brains, and inborn traits for anxiety and worry. Of course, as a psychologist, this research does not surprise me at all. But it's nice to see scientific validation for how you know you (and your firstborn daughter) were just made, no more alterable than the color of your eyes or the shape of your face.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More to Love

I can't be the only mom who loves loves loves the current/recent Target commercials--you know which ones I mean, the ads with the Minnutes song "More to Luv" in the background ("Today I woke up/And I found more, more more...") and the hip, busy moms gamely navigating the chaos of modern family life?

"Meet Lisa, Tara, Jodie, and Emily. They love Target because they can always get a bargain on their basics. But that's just the beginning of their high, high expectations...They expect their towels to take it. Their handbags to handle it. And their tighty whities to see tomorrow. And they don't mind getting checked out, as long as it's quick..."

"Lisa digs Target, where it's not an uphill battle to save on the stuff she needs. But she also expects her SoyJoy bar to kick her buttercream frosting fixation, her vitamin water to help her out-bend the chick in the yellow..."

"Alison loves Target for its low prices. And with the kids back in school, she expects it's time for a quickie face lift. Maybe a little color therapy, lunch with the ladies, and getting back to her routine...."

LOVE THEM. Target has hit a home run with these ads, people. And I've been thinking about why. What makes these commercials so incredibly appealing to moms like me is that they capture perfectly the crazy, busy, go-go lifestyle of the modern mom, and make the mainly mundane business of domestic life seem not boring and repetitive but cute, funny, and even stylish. The moms in these commercials do all the same things I do; they struggle with exercise and school clothes and crazy kids too! They juggle babies, strollers, school supply lists, laundry, jobs, diets, and potty-training toddlers, and they do it with grace and a smart little touch of mom-glamour. They pack lunches in shirtdresses and heels; they handle a million competing demands while appearing hip and content.

But not TOO hip and content; not TOO graceful and stylish; this part is key. This is the other reason I love these commercials, these moms: the exasperated exhalation at the never-ending to-do list, the errant wisp of hair sliding free of its ponytail during a nonstop parenting day, the good-natured huffing and puffing during the kids-in-school workout, the barely-making-it hike uphill with the baby stroller: who hasn't been there, fellow moms? I love how these moms feel relatable; sure, they're prettier, cuter, and more stylish than you, but not so flawless that you can't think, "I'm a hip mom like that, too. After all, I shop at Target! And I have a buttercream frosting fixation!"

Ah, Target. Making motherhood hip, stylish, and fun--and with just the right soundtrack. There's always more to love.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Less-Than-Impressive Parenting Directives

Parenting quote of the day:

Me (to the girls, who are squabbling over something or other): Julia, calm down! Genevieve loves to act naughty like that because you get so upset and she thinks it's funny to bother you. So Julia, try not to be so bothered, and Genevieve, try not to act so naughty.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Need Coffee, More Coffee, More, More, More Coffee.

It's a busy, crazy time in our house right now. The girls' school schedules, parent-teacher conferences, Halloween parties, various autumn events around town, some serious career stress (too long and complicated to explain here), volunteer work, an annoying running injury, insomnia, and my upcoming book trip are all making my life and my schedule a little insane at the moment.

I was all set to run a whole lot in September and October, give up sugar and cut down on caffeine, and lose my errant five-to-seven pounds of baby fat before I go to Chicago next month; instead, a mysterious achy knee and ever-present sleep deprivation (snoring spouse! toddler who wakes up multiple times overnight! insomnia!) mean I've been skipping workouts and mainlining coffee and sugar to keep going. I was all set to do some serious book proposal writing this month and feel like I've finally done something with the ideas in my head; instead, I've made a few notes and then found myself sitting at the computer distracted by things like school fundraisers and my inability to be more patient with my children. It's not totally bleak, but it certainly could be better, people. At least I'm not alone in my mama-stress.

Yesterday while Julia was listening to a Raffi song that goes, "All I really need/Is a song in my heart/Food in my belly/And love in my family," I overheard her say to Christopher, "Daddy, Mama doesn't give me very much love. It's because I'm not acting very good." Of course I kiss and hug this child and tell her I love her when she wakes up in the morning, when she goes to bed at night, when she climbs aboard the school bus, when I see her face after kindergarten each day, and when I put her down for nap, but the truth is, my girls are on a defiant, disrespectful, and uncooperative streak these days, and prefer saying "No, I'm not going to!" to pretty much every request I make from morning until night. And those are the "polite" responses. Don't forget about the shouts, screams, and tantrums that pepper our days lately. The whole issue is terribly depressing, and I tend to respond to constant uncooperativeness and argumentativeness with relentless irritability, which eventually translates into impatience and yelling. It's not hard to see where this cycle leads. The New York Times ran a piece last week about parents who yell, and though before having children I never thought I'd be the parent with the frequently raised voice, when my patience and my resources run thin I'm afraid I'm a yeller. It's the worst thing about me, by far.

In truth, I know that all we really need in this house is a couple of hours per week of (free) extended-family childcare to throw us back into balance when it comes to putting up with one another's annoying behaviors. It doesn't take much to inoculate me with a dose of patience; just a tiny break (on a regular basis; this part is KEY) from the often-irrational demands of these small children. But it's not possible for us. And we don't have the money to pay for a weekly sitter; I just did our family's budget, and you can trust me on this one. Come over and look at the numbers if you don't believe me. People sometimes suggest an occasional babysitting-swap or calling in a favor to a friend, but those suggestions just aren't getting at the real problem. A couple of hours of babysitting a few times a year does nothing for me in terms of making my daily life as a stay-at-home mom with a three-year-old and a five-year-old more livable. It just isn't enough.

What could fix this problem? Running more, writing the book proposal, making more money, losing the baby weight, moving to be near grandparents? What's the solution, people? How do you grow patience and serenity, when your life, in actuality, is full of crazy schedules and not enough money and a husband with too many jobs (paid and unpaid) and middle-of-the-night insomnia and two tiny daughters whom you love more than life itself but who also drive you absolutely insane when they fuss at you from 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. every day and refuse to wear weather-appropriate attire?

I sure don't know. But then again, a close friend's teenage brother was just severely injured in a terrible car accident over the past weekend, and is in the hospital ICU right now, and events like that really make you appreciate the "problems" you think you have. I mean, I love autumn, I'm thrilled about my publication in the book, we're all healthy, and life is fine. Except for the ways in which it's not.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Maybe It Made Her Run Faster

Over the weekend, we took the girls to an annual kids' fun run put on by the Y at a park in our town. It was about 35 degrees outside at 10 a.m., when the run took place. You may notice that almost everyone at the race is understandably wearing winter jackets, mittens, etc. And then there's Julia. The lunatic child in knit pants and a cotton long-sleeved t-shirt and NOTHING ELSE.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Conversation I Never Thought I'd Have Before Becoming a Parent But Here I Am Having It

Julia: Mama, I don't want to wear mittens today.

Why? It's cold out. You need mittens today.

Because they don't look very good!

What are you talking about? Everyone else at the bus stop will be wearing mittens.

Well, I'm NOT!

Me: Fine. Your hands will freeze.

Julia: No one else has mittens as big and thick as mine!

Me: Then go and trade them out for other mittens from the bin in the closet.

Julia: No! I'm just going to skip mittens; you said I could.

Me: That's fine. It's not my problem if your hands freeze and then fall off.

Julia: My hands won't fall off!

Me: They might.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hip Mama

Forget for a moment that I just did the household budget and I also just put a flight and a hotel for my upcoming book trip on my credit card. Surely a mama needs these boots. My other boots are too dressy for wearing while jumping in piles of leaves with three- and five-year-olds.

Don't you think they'd look great on me?

Maybe She'd Like to Do a Reading

My firstborn is going to grow up to be a writer just like her mom. She's already writing and illustrating books of her own. The latest was an illustrated "cooking chapter book," as Julia described it, created a few days ago during "quiet time" after the girls and I had spent the morning making homemade applesauce. Now if only I could get her to help me with my book proposal...

Monday, October 19, 2009

For the Record

I can't wait to see this movie. Click here to watch the trailer. Seriously, mom friends, who's in? We've got to go to this together. (And don't you love that Uma Thurman looks like a real mom, not a super-chic Hollywood-version glamour-mom?)

Relaxation Recap

Overall, we had a great school break. The girls had last Thursday and Friday off from school, so we had a four-day weekend. I've decided that I love school vacations as a stay-at-home mom almost as much as I loved them as a kid. Which is kind of funny, when you think about it, because school vacation for me now means not less work but more, since I'm with the children all day. But the benefits of not having to get up early, deal with the hellish school-morning getting-ready routine, and go in and out for school drop-offs and pick-ups more than make up for the lack of childcare breaks. It was wonderful to just relax and not have a serious agenda on those two weekdays.

On Thursday we really packed in the fun. The girls slept 40 minutes later than usual, then we stayed in our pj's as long as we wanted, watched PBS Kids cartoons, took a bubble bath in the big spa tub, read stories in the king-sized bed admidst all the blankets and pillows, went for a walk in the rain with the girls' new miniature umbrellas, made paintings with Matchbox cars, cooked homemade applesauce, and made apple-cinnamon pancakes for lunch. We all had an awesome day.

Then Friday came, and everyone argued and bickered and fussed and cried all day long. Of course.

Over the weekend, we went for bike rides and walks, scored art supplies and children's ice skates at some friends' yard sale, read library books, and visited our favorite pumpkin patch/farm, so the break ended on a high note. Now it's Monday, so we're back to the usual routine. In the next few weeks we've got school conferences, Halloween, volunteer work, the preschool family fun festival, my book trip to Chicago, and surely five or ten more things I'm forgetting, so you can bet that by the time my girls' Thanksgiving school break comes around I'll be more than ready for round two of school-vacation relaxation.

Stories in the big bed, anyone?

Notes on Genevieve at 38 Months


Is it wrong of me to want autumn to last forever so I can keep hearing Genevieve pronounce my favorite fall dessert as "apple CRIP"? I love it.


Genevieve continues to refuse to give up her crib. As my friend Margaret says, with this child, who cares if she's sleeping in the bathtub, as long as she's sleeping! Margaret is right, but even so, every now and then I ask Genevieve when she's going to sleep in a toddler bed. The other day she said, "When I'm FIVE!" I told her that was impossible, so she reluctantly negotiated down to four.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

School Break

My girls--the entire state, actually--are on school vacation today and tomorrow. (Note: it seems funny to use that phrase, "school vacation" for such tiny children, by the way. It sounds so formal and grown-up, as if I'd sent them to boarding school and they're riding the train home for a long weekend.)

Since the adjustment to kindergarten--not really kindergarten itself, but more the getting up super early and the morning get-ready agenda and the fact that the bus does not stop and idle in your street for half an hour waiting for you if you happen to have spent all your get-ready time standing listlessly in the bathroom but rather it goes on without you and therefore you really really really do need to be outside at the bus stop with your jacket and your hat and your mittens (yes! mittens in October! it's been freezing here!) and your Disney Princesses backpack by five to eight and hopefully ten to eight just to be safe--has been a bit...ahem....CHALLENGING for Julia, and since she's very very tired from all this kindergarten business, I decided to schedule nothing for today, and almost nothing for tomorrow. My girls and I are going to stay in our pj's half the day, and read stories together on the king-sized bed amidst the blankets, and watch kid TV, and paint pictures, and if we make it outside great, and if we don't that's fine too, and we'll eat breakfast food for lunch and take baths in the middle of the day. With bubbles.

And guess what? I'm not going to be on the Internet during any of that time. Because I don't want to miss a minute of school vacation. So get back to me next week, when the routine begins in earnest again. We're taking a little break.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What I Made for Dinner Last Night

OK, people. Remember that incredibly scrumptious homemade roasted tomato sauce recipe? The one that involves almost no hands-on work, but tastes so divine I was tempted to pour it into a bowl and eat it with a spoon? Well, yesterday I did. Sort of.

Here's what you do: You take two cups of that amazing homemade sauce, mix it with two cups vegetable broth (any kind), add a teaspoon or so of dried basil (obviously, use fresh slivered basil if you have it, and up the amount to one tablespoon), simmer it awhile, and then stir in approximately 1/4 cup of fresh half-and-half or cream just before serving in soup bowls on a chilly autumn day.

BEST HOMEMADE TOMATO SOUP EVER. (My girls each ate three bowls.)

You're welcome.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Career Counseling

A fellow-mom friend of mine was telling me the other day about her deep desire to be a "career mom"--and wondering if you can really be a "career mom" with only two children. She didn't mean a working mom--not a mom with a career. She meant that she wants full-time motherhood to BE her career, only she wonders if being a career mom means--sort of requires, in a way--having a life like HER mom did, giving birth to five children over a span of 20 years, and therefore raising them over her entire adult "working" life.

My friend and I each have two children. We're both in our late 30s, and many days we feel old, and tired. Even though we sometimes think about it in a musing, what-if kind of way, mostly we can't imagine putting our bodies and minds through a third pregnancy, postpartum period, or early-baby-years stage--you know, those years devoid of sleep and self-care? Neither of us has nearby family for help; neither of us has enough money to be able to comfortably have baby after baby and not worry about how the bills will be paid. Our resources--of all kinds--are relatively sparse. Our husbands don't want third babies; they love being dads, but they're tired and worn thin. I look in the mirror and feel as if the five years I've been a parent have aged me more than five years; those early parenting years are like dog years when it comes to aging, I swear.

And yet, despite the complaints and the fatigue and the annoying behavioral phases that you swear are going to drive you to drink--oh, I don't know, things like the five-year-old and her torturous school-morning routine, the one that involves daily wailing and wringing of hands and shedding of tears and then a last-minute scramble for the bus? just for example--well, believe it or not, my friend and I both really do love being moms. We love it so much we'd like to make it our careers. We'd like to re-create the retro 1970s childhoods of our youth, when it was perfectly natural to be a years-long stay-at-home mom, volunteering at the school and baking cookies for after-school snack and cooking soup all afternoon on a chilly autumn day and showing up in December for the daytime school Christmas program to see the grade-schoolers singing carols.

But can you do this with just two? is the question my friend was asking. Are two children enough to legitimately make a career out of motherhood?

What do you think, readers? What does it take--and how many children--to be a "career mom"? (And why does it seem like three is the new two?)

Friday, October 09, 2009

In My Own Two Hands

My copies of the book arrived in the mail from Seal Press yesterday.

I know I've been all-book-all-the-time lately, running my mouth off about THE BOOK! THE AMAZING BOOK! THE FACT THAT I HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED IN A BOOK!, and possibly driving all my readers (and non-readers) crazy and making everyone think I'm conceited and annoying, but that is perfectly fine with me. Because words can't fully express the joy I feel at seeing one of my lifetime dreams come true, that of seeing my byline printed in a book. I am proud of all my writing--magazine, newspaper, literary journal, online--but there is something about the old-school, elegant permanence of an actual, bound book that makes it so much more special.

I can't tell you how proud I was to open the book, turn to the table of contents, and look myself up on page 173. I re-read my whole essay and gave thanks to the wonderful Megan McMorris for choosing it out of a submission pool of hundreds, and then using her editing skills to make it better than it had been. She's a dream to work with, and a truly joyful supporter of her writers. Plus, I can't WAIT to read the other 35 essays in the book in full. There are some amazing "letters" in there!

Well-known blogger Eden Kennedy says that writing well is the best revenge, and while I personally think that line is BRILLIANT, I didn't write this essay--a "letter" to a former friend--to get revenge. I wrote it because I had a story to tell, and maybe even moreso, because writing about the failed friendship served the necessary purpose of allowing me to process it, come to a conclusion about it, put it aside.

And that's all I'm going to say about writing well and revenge.

Sorry it's all blurry. I have not yet perfected the art of taking close-ups like this with our digital camera.

Kindergarten Math

Julia once took 22 minutes (we timed her) to complete one routine bathroom visit at home. Does anyone have any question about why this year's new school mornings might be sheer torture oops I mean a bit challenging in our house? I suspect not.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Three Tantrums in Less Than 24 Hours. And Not By Me.

CANNOT TAKE THE DAILY SCHOOL-MORNING MELTDOWNS ANY LONGER. Am considering running away from home and/or paying a grandmother to come and live with us. Seriously, you all: five years old? kindergarten? sudden-onset constant sassiness and defiance? KICKING MY ASS.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Homework, Dental Work

Yesterday Genevieve completed Julia's kindergarten homework. Flawlessly. Since Genevieve just turned three not that long ago, I'll let you draw your own conclusions. Keep in mind that we live in a stellar school district, in a town full of Ph.D's.

I have a feeling it's going to be a long 12 years.

In other news, some time later when I have the energy and fortitude, I'll tell you all about my dentist appointment from hell last night. Ah, adulthood. It has its downsides.

Monday, October 05, 2009


My local fellow-writer friend Rob is one of my biggest fans and greatest writing supporters. Here's some press from him about my essay in the new book. (Thanks, Rob!)

Oh, and if you're local, keep watch for details later this autumn about a reading Rob and I are organizing here in town, hopefully for early December, where a group of area published writers--including Rob and myself--will read from our various recent works. I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Homework Update

I would be remiss if I did not come back here to add that I've now had time to really examine Julia's kindergarten homework assignments for the weekend, and they involve exercises like learning how to hold a book correctly, how to distinguish a book's front cover from its back cover, and how to turn pages one at a time. Excuse me while I fall on the floor in shock.

Needless to say, Julia's known these things since she was 18 months old. And yes, it is sobering to consider the fact that this would not be a kindergarten task if there weren't some five-year-olds who have had no experience paging through books. (Sad.) I can't decided if I should be happy that HOMEWORK IN KINDERGARTEN (seems so wrong!) is so very easy, and therefore simple to complete and be done with, or annoyed that, since Julia already knows this stuff, the homework tasks are really just one more thing to add to my own to-do list (since a parent has to do the assignments with her, and sign off on them).

Thankfully, Julia does NOT know how to read yet. Therefore, she has something new to learn this year (and to work on, as homework)!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Denial: No Longer Possible

I was really hoping that everything I'd heard here and there over the past few years was somehow mistaken, not really true, or magically wouldn't apply to me, but today I found out that it's actually true: homework really DOES begin in kindergarten nowadays. Grumble, grumble, grumble, harrumph.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Launch

Hey, people, it's official Book Launch Day! If you love me, go and buy the book. If you hate me, go and buy the book so you can be all on the side of the former friend who I accuse of wronging me in the book. I don't care; just buy the book!