Cah-Coh, or: Iris, Lately

IMG_2698I’ve been dithering over this one for months, but I think I’m ready to call it officially. I mean, she’s been able to say words for a long time. And probably the first word she said really clearly was “duck” way back last spring. But this is different. This isn’t just saying something to get a round of applause, a by rote parrot type of situation.

This is serious business. This is a sly glint to her eye as she sidles up to one of us and offers a suggestive, “Cah-coh?”


Also known as a vehicle for whipped topping. Iris loves her whipped topping as much now as she did when she first discovered it on her pancakes last winter. Let’s just say if she had made a list of Thankful things this weekend, that would be near the top.

Anywho. I’ve been away from the blog for a couple of weeks now and figured it would be easier to just collect all the Iris ones in one spot with a little mini update on her latest and greatest doings.

IMG_2708We don’t get to Art Time every day, but she’s still enthusiastic about any form of drawing, coloring, or painting. To make it more interesting, I try to come up with different themes and color combinations. We drew birds the day we put up the bird feeder for the winter, Christmas trees shortly after our tree went up, and fish the day we watched part of Nemo.

It’s fun to have something to talk about while we’re coloring.

IMG_2971Craft Time is even more hit or miss, but as you can probably surmise: Iris is also a fan. One of my goals for this winter is to come up with a big list of simple crafts we can do together. Independent play is super important to me (probably because I know how much my own independent play as a kid fed into my writing and creative interests), but I already expect Iris to entertain herself a lot during the day while I’m taking care of Ollie or cleaning or (gasp) reading a book. More structure and one-on-one time would be a nice change for both of us.

Playing “preschool teacher” is probably as much fun for me as “pretend preschool” is for Iris. We’re having fun.

Speaking of fun, we also had our first snowfall last week.

IMG_2946It’s hard to know for sure, but I don’t think Iris had any memory of snow. She was quite curious about it and VERY disappointed when it melted over the next day or two.

And she didn’t realize it was cold.

This is her “realizing” face. 🙂

IMG_2936Cute, curious, chocolate-faced girl.




Things That End Well



IMG_2600One thing I’m learning about parenting the under two set: there are a lot of things that don’t end well. Like this picture, for example. When the 20 month old who is just learning to “uhmp” (jump) stands over the 6 week old and starts crowing?

Not going to end well.

Actually photo shoots in general could probably go into that category. Most of the snaps I think are cute and possible in the moment end up looking more like a lopsided sumo match when I finally load them into Photoshop.

IMG_2596But if there are a lot of things that don’t end well [see: stairs, crackers, bedtime, bath, “no,” and showers], looking through these photos reminds me of the good stuff of my own childhood. Talk about fate, karma, or destiny—my brothers WERE my childhood in a lot of ways. The fact that we were homeschooled and tended to live at the end of long dirt roads probably exaggerated the phenomenon, but I bet if you grew up with siblings your childhood memories have a similar color.

Seeing Iris and Ollie interact—even with the limited vocab of babyhood—makes me so curious to see what they’ll be like together in three or thirty years.

Curious and also super happy for them. I know plenty of people who have had rough patches with their sibs, but I don’t know any who don’t also love each other with a kind of casual world-without-end that you don’t see anywhere else in life.

Iris and Oliver won’t remember these early moments, obviously, but I wonder what fun and happy ones they will have stored away by the time they’re off living their own lives?

I remember snow so deep we could tunnel through the yard in it; the smell of lake mud and pond edges black with the wriggle of tadpoles we were trying to catch in jars (later, at a different house, we would glide through the swamp in a canoe with nets, trying to catch turtles). I remember when we could still quote every single line of The Little Mermaid. I remember drawing maps of our fantasy worlds—and inventing NEW fantasy worlds when we wanted to exclude one of our sibs. I remember being cast—fearfully, as it happens—in my older brothers’ home movie when I was four or five, and I remember forcing my younger brothers to act out a string of plays I wrote when I was thirteen or fourteen with a similar disregard for whether or not Dan really wanted to dress in drag and play the queen.

Mostly I remember being friends.





Girls Gone Domestic

IMG_2548 copyIt’s everywhere in my private feeds—my messages on Facebook, the news feed on my iPod. One friend of mine just recommended a book called Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, and another friend is sending me a draft of one of the chapters in her book touching on the infamous “submission” passages in the Bible. I think about, read about, or hear about issues of gender and feminism every day.

But I haven’t written about it in a while.

Not, as it happens, for reasons of grand statement. I didn’t get worn down by the occasional phone calls from “concerned” family members. I haven’t changed my mind; I’m not too busy being The Mommy. Nor have I given up in despair, red wine, and waspy convos about whether or not men consciously cultivate their inability to smell the poopy diaper first. (First sniffed, first served?)

I’ve just been… living it, you know?

I came late to the reality of women’s status around the world, and I did what I always do when I’m interested in something: I read about it. A lot. I read a lot of horrifying statistics and empowering stories, and I’ve filled up a pretty nice bookshelf in the last ten years with all of them. I changed and refined my opinions on things. I made some personal and parental goals.

And I have zero regrets about reading so much on topic, but I also hit a point where I needed to step back and spend less time thinking about feminism as a whole, venting about  injustices, and generally being enraged at the political stuff. I have no criticisms to offer about those who ARE doing all those things—in fact, I’m incredibly glad people care enough to do all of those things—but for me, at this moment in my life, I needed to get more in touch with the personal than the political aspect of it.

I’m a stay-at-home mom with two kids who (usually) has dinner on the table at 6:30pm. I am also a feminist with detailed career goals and 4 unpublished novels on my hard drive. Figuring out what it means to live that particular blend—and in grandiose moments I would add: with courage and grace and self-respect—is challenging enough.

And I hope that someday I have something meaningful to contribute to the public conversations about women and men, marriage and children, jobs and homes. But right now I mostly just have a lot of questions and respect and compassion and indignation. And weariness.

And spit up.

So if you’ve been wondering, that’s where I’ve been. You can call it opting-out if you want, but I usually just call it research.

Garden Recap 2013

IMG_2561 copyWell the yard and garden season of 2013 is officially over here in Michigan. Nothing left but leaf-raking, catalogue perusing, and —if I can work up the courage—a few minor experiments in indoor bulb forcing.

It’s hard to believe we’ve had two summers at the house already, but the first one was a haze of Iris’s infancy and the second was months 6-9 of Oliver’s pregnancy. And yet… I have to say I enjoyed a good glow of satisfaction as I taped the year’s pictures into my garden journal the other day.

We bought a new mower. We fought off most of the dandelions (and lost decisively to the crab grass). Scraped a few years’ worth of moss of the brickwork on the second terrace, planted geraniums and petunias in the empty planters (geraniums were a major success while every last petunia dried up and died). Cut out dozens of shrubs and scrubs around the property. And lured my brother Joel into building us a raised veggie bed during his visit in May.

I feel that I’m still just at the one-foot-in, dabbling stage, but I’m having a huge amount of fun. This is, of course, quite handy since Carl does NOT particularly enjoy the green and moldy. I think he would probably like the challenge of grass-related greenery—on walks around our neighborhood he will point out particularly smooth, vibrant, cross-hatched, edged, luxuriously thick, and leaf-less turfs, but at this point he’s more interested in the indoor reno. Which is fine by me.

As a final hurrah for the year I ordered a bunch of spring bulbs, cleverly timing them for the two or three week window when I would be recovering from childbirth. Whatever. I feel good now that they’re in. I’ve never ordered/planted bulbs before, and now there are 38 yellow daffodils, 12 pinks, and 8 hyacinths snugged in for the winter. Or would be, anyway, if the gophers would stop eating them.

My other experiment for the winter is in preserving the pink geraniums we enjoyed all summer. I LOVE geraniums, not only because they’re nearly impossible to kill, but when I was a tween I had this magical children’s book whose heroine’s backstory involved a love-match being thwarted by a woman’s obsession with salmon pink geraniums. I don’t remember all the plot details of that book, but I have always remembered the geraniums. And I still love them.

I potted 6 of them and put them by a sunny doorwall in the basement, and my mom helped me dig up the rest of them and hang the most developed 8 root-side up in cold storage. The Internet insists this is a perfectly valid method for storing geraniums through our Midwest winters, although I still have yet to meet someone in real life who’s actually done this. Or heard of it being successful.

But it’s been a year of experimentation, and I’m enjoying the journey. It’s been fun to discover a new hobby and have a ready-made space for exploring it.

Now if I can just get those leaves raked before the snow…

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We are THAT family



I asked Carl what he wanted to do tonight thinking, I dunno, maybe take the kids for a walk or try to get some cleaning done before bath time. Nope. It’s the 4th of November and Carl wants to decorate for Christmas. So that’s what we did. We put up our Christmas stuff three weeks before Thanksgiving.

We’re that family.

And we love it.

Deck the halls, yo.

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People do all kinds of crazy (and utterly sane) things to cope with challenging situations. Some coping is healthy. Some isn’t. Sometimes I eat half a bag of candy bars while pacing with a crying baby, and sometimes I meditate after the baby finally falls asleep.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist books.

It’s not that I’m particularly interested in being Buddhist, whatever that may mean. I’m happy with the essentials of my faith, but most of the Christian reading I’ve come across lately feeds into the—for lack of a better term—codependency Christianity I’ve practiced before and still sometimes fall into. So much garden-variety Christianity is about change—how to pray for change, work for change, desire to change. You have to change your attitude; change your heart; change your actions. You pray so that God will change your circumstances or at least change the way you perceive them.

Change, aspire, grow—anything but stay where you are and accept who you are.

I’m not saying there’s not some truth to this sort of thinking. I’m just saying I have thirty years familiarity with it and it’s gotten me a bit lopsided. Sort of like a potted plant on the kitchen window. Plants grow toward whatever light is available, and if there’s only light from one direction you can safely bet your plant’s going to get a bit leggy on the other side. I’m well-aware that God is powerful, that I am not God, that there is a very real sense in which I need salvation.

But the salvation imagery can become so habitual to a Christian that suddenly we think we need salvation from EVERYTHING. I’d like to be saved from Oliver’s fussy evenings and my irritation at being woken for the fifth time at night; I’d like God to save me from being a crap mom when I don’t sleep and by 6:30 I REALLY want Carl to save me from parenting solo. I’d like my friends to save me from being lonely and my books to save me from being bored.

I want things to change, and my mind is constantly bent on figuring out who should change (ok, sometimes I admit I’m the one that needs to change, but it would be super convenient if it was other people) or what should change in order for me to suddenly exist in a nirvana-like state of bliss on earth.

I mean, that would be great, right?

Too bad it’s completely absurd.

So I need the gentle reminders of my Buddhist books. And even though there are Bible passages to support most of these concepts, the treads are worn thin on them for me. I need to hear them in a fresh way. I need to hear that everything about my life right now—both precious and crazy-making—is impermanent, a short season that will never come again. I need to know that difficult circumstances are a given but suffering is optional; I need to hear that my children are holy beings and be reminded that suffering is an inevitable byproduct of trying to control other people.

Pema Chodron helped me through Iris’s infancy, and last week my copies of Buddhism for Mothers and Zen Momma showed up at my door. I won’t say they’ve completely changed my life (there’s that word again). In fact, the computer ate my first draft of this post—a draft written with my only writing time in a week—and let me promise you I received that news with all the grace and acceptance of a two-year-old Attila being escorted out of Chuck E. Cheese. But you know. Acceptance is a spectrum. Life is long. Lessons recur.

I actually sat down to write this post in the first place because I was inspired by an off-hand remark made in one of the books that it can be important for mothers of young children not to get too attached to the idea of “me time”—not because it’s not important to take time away for yourself to recharge and be alone, but because a too-literal reading of that can leave you believing that all the rest of life is “not me” time. It becomes all too easy to spend entire days counting down to tiny slivers of time.

And I am SUPER GUILTY AS CHARGED. I can’t even look at a clock anymore without calculating when Carl will be home or the play date starts or I finally get to go to bed. It’s honestly sad.

So the pictures up top are from the day I decided to start working harder to enjoy the times I do have instead of waiting for the ones I think I want. I don’t have time right now to experiment with painting the way I’d like to, but I DO have time to paint with Iris. So that’s what we did. And it was great. She loved it, and I was able to play on the canvas with a freedom I couldn’t have had if I’d been trying to seriously create something.

The more I read about acceptance and happiness, the more I think it’s truly a skill set that has nothing to do with circumstances. The only way to become more skillful is to practice daily. When I don’t have time to paint, when the computer eats my draft, when I’m watching Winnie the Pooh for the eighth time or trying to read with both babies asleep on me… I can practice wishful thinking or I can practice acceptance.

So far acceptance has been a much better time.

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