Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 297

Today started off great (helping cute, cooperative kids make whole-grain pancakes and art, lots of snugs) and ended badly. Those who witnessed the drama at a certain birthday party know what I'm talking about. And it didn't get better at home. 

But now the house is quiet and I'm able to piece together some perspective. It helps to think of yesterday: our annual apple-picking chili "cook-off" fest.

Backstory: My family has an awesome tradition of apple picking - I actually wrote about it for EatingWell a few years ago - which inspired me and Jon to start our own apple-picking tradition with our family, here in Vermont. Before we had kids. 

Here's how it's been going, for the last six or so years: A bunch of us hop in cars mid-morning and caravan to the islands. Our first stop is Allenholm, where we visit the yak that isn't (just this year, we discovered that it was a Scotland Highland) and hang out with the horses and donkeys while we wait for the tractor that will drive us back to the orchards. In the rows of trees, we pick for 10 minutes or so - Cortlands for us, and I pretend they're organic (they're not) - and then settle in on blankets to feast on wine, cheese, peanut butter, from a big plastic tub that Nate always brings, and, of course, apples. (We skipped the picnic this year: it was a rainy day.) Then, in a progressive dinner of sorts, we walk down the road to Hackett's for course number two: cider and cider donuts. There, we pick out pumpkins and mums and, when it's not wet, play on the on-site playground before loading back up for Burlington.

Later we gather at someone's house - this year, Chris and Ri's - for chili (several kinds, as it's sort of a "contest") and baked goods: apple crisp and apple pie, a la mode (except for Jon). I make the pastry part and everyone chips in peeling and chopping apples for the fillings. 

I cannot put into words how much this annual tradition means to me - at least not tonight (I'm fried). But the pictures below do a pretty good job of capturing it.  xoxo 

When I look at this photo, I can't help but think about how my 2009 essay in EatingWell talks about how I hope Julian will someday pick apples with a little sib. This almost makes me teary. 
Ri and Lauren sipping cider (or coffee?)
"I picked it!" (Kai was so proud of himself.)
Silly faces. (Kai was too obsessed with drinking "warm" chocolate through a straw to participate.) We missed Chris and Mikey, who were at a football game, this year.
"Really, ignorant humans: you all thought I was a yak?"
First pie of the year before it went in the oven. (Missed the shot after it came out.)
"I want that one."
The wig was a new touch for 2012. Will it stick? Only time will tell. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 294

I deal in words. But numbers move me. Literally. I run faster on the treadmill or toting my iPhone with an app that allows me to see (or hear via a mechanical-coach voice) that I have a chance to break my personal-best pace. I lost my post-pregnancy pounds after both boys were born by tallying the calories of what I ate - and I sort of saw it as a fun game. Sort. Of. (Now, when my jeans start to get snug, I use an app to do that.) I kind of like budgeting money. 

Last night, Jon presented his case study to me. I didn't understand 86% of his words ... because they were numbers - and Greek symbols - (look up and see!) But the fact that he can speak this language so fluently is quite sexy, I think.

I totally dig the fact that reading on a Kindle allows me to see exactly how far into my book I am.  (Right now, for instance, I'm through 67% of Kristyn Kusek Lewis's new book, How Lucky You Are. Good stuff.) Earlier this week, I learned that my wellness screening results put me at a "health-related age" of 32. I am 36.8. This should have made me happy but instead, here's what I thought: "Next year [when I'm 37.8], I want to have a 'health-related age' of 29. Bet I can get there if I meditate or something..." Ha!

And speaking of being 36.8 years old, I am on Day 294 of the 366 days of my 36th year. (Assuming I haven't messed up the math. I deal in words, remember?) This means that, by definition, this blog is about to end soon. Which sort of makes me sad. What next? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 292

He was screaming my name as I walked through the door after dance class.

First thought: Oh no... One of those nights. It was 9:30. And we'd already had one of those mornings.

I headed for the stairs, preparing for requests for water, the fan, more music... in whatever the night's random order might be.

"He has something for you," Jon called to me from the other room.

Jules met me in the doorway of his bedroom, where just outside - in the fully lit (!) hallway - Demps stood guard. He was beaming, in avocado-green lumberjack-monkey PJs. Sort of shyly, he extended his little hand which held a carefully taped purple package.

"I made it for you, Mama. It's art for your work. And I wrapped it so you couldn't see it. Like Christmas."

Wrapped it he did. When I gently unfolded the Scotch-secured construction-paper outer envelope, there, inside, was another present, packaged up in a gold-embossed elephant design, paper I purchased years ago when my friend Beth was selling it as a fundraiser for little Marty's pre-school. Marty will be 11 in a couple of weeks. Damn.

While Jules leaned in proudly, I got to the center of my surprise: a piece of driftwood, artfully colored with what looks to have been lush oil-based crayons. Apparently he made it at school, "the end of the day, Mama" and, according to Jon, insisted on spending most of the evening wrapping it up. For me. (Which means a lot to this Mama of a Daddy's boy.)

I will cherish it forever.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 291

Oscillation defines me these days. 

I look forward to the day when everyone in this house (including Tina the fluffy cat) can wipe his/her own @ss ...  but then I get nearly teary thinking our days of diapers will soon be done. (Gross but true.)

Some moments, I want to move into an old Victorian, or a modern bungalow with few walls, downtown somewhere... or back in Pennsylvania. Then I think about my NNE posse, the proximity to the bike path, the house where Jon and I grew from two twenty-somethings with a bad-ass orange tabby who hailed from Harlem (RIP Chuck)  into a family of four (humans) with the sweetest Dempsey dog and two quirky kitty sisters. I can't imagine living anywhere else. Which alarms me. I don't nest. Settle in. I'm the girl who pretty much kept her college dorm room decorating to a poster or two because I was going to move along in two semesters. And I always expected to live in this house just a few years. Yet here I am. 

My dance class makes me feel alive, like "me"; my online gamification course, interested, eager, thrilled by possibilities. And then I consider what maybe I should be doing instead: coming straight home to kick around a soccer ball while it's still a little bit light outside, investing my energies into investigating four-year-old behavior, looking into kindergartens. Sleeping more so I'm not so snippy. Or doing work that's tied to actual deadlines and deliveries. 

And then there's that work: so many cool projects, ones that allow me to use both sides of my brain, to draw from all of my disparate interests and the patchwork of "liberal arts" experiences I've pieced together over the years. It's awesome. And engaging. And exhausting. And then I start to wonder: should I be expending so much energy on this right now

These - these - are the thoughts that have been muddling around in my brain for days. And, then, today, when I opened my lunchbox (a hand-me-down from Julian, no less), I found this a little yellow taxicab. 

And for whatever reason, I felt better about it all. I realize that this makes no sense. 
But this is what it is. And then I started thinking: maybe the comfort of lunchbox surprise had to do with the idea that I'd started thinking of the little car as the manifestation of an important message... 

That I'm still me - the girl who loves New York City and the fulfilling career that started there and being a mom to two crazy little boys in Vermont.

When I walked through the door at the end of the day home, Kai welcomed me with, "Mom, how was your work today?" So sweetly, punctuated with his double-dimple smile. Like he really wanted to hear about my day at the office. Like he loved his little life in which both of his parents work. And kind of a lot. 

And after the boys were in bed, I reached into my mailbox to find a single hot-pink envelope, which held inside this card from my godmother, "Aunt" Judy. 

Inside she'd written ... "It reminded me of of your blog entry and how I often I felt this way while working." 

Here's the thing: My childhood memories of Aunt Judy - Mark's mom and basically a second mother to me and my sibs - was that she was there, always, with homemade baked goods and Band-Aids and the best books. Cheerly loudly in the bleachers. Offering advice in just the right ways. And all the while she was working as a school librarian and working on her PhD.  

I'm going to choose to intepret this second surprise of the day as follows: Give up the guilt. Work really hard to be present. There's not enough time to waste any of it second-guessing. And if you need a reminder of just how fast things change, peep that old dot-matrix up there. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Day 288

My brain often doesn't work in straight lines. Um, if you know me, I don't need to tell you this.

Sometimes a mind that operates like a pinball machine is awesome (I've been called creative). But sometimes - when you really need to make forward progress, and quickly - a tendency to spin off in all different directions just sucks. That was the case this morning.

I knew I needed to run. But I felt like I didn't have time. So I sat and I forced and ... nothing. And then I called it: If I didn't run, I'd be parked in this same seat, surrounded by all of this same sh*t, with a mostly blank screen come 4:50 when I need to go get the boys.

Here, seat + sh*t: 

So I grabbed Digs and we jogged down to the bridge and back. Four miles later, my brain is thinking like this: 

Now, to work...

PS: Why waste time blog-documenting this? Proof that I can't afford NOT to run the next time I come to a creative crossroads like this. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 286

"Boys will be boys."  
"Ah, they're just acting like boys." 
Re: all variations of this refrain... not a fan. I don't like ascribing personality traits to genders... but, today, my kids were acting the way people say boys act. All crazy and tackle-y and shit. 

First, at they park, they played "fireman." (This is not crazy. This is fun. And classically childlike.) But this game is noteworthy today for the following side note reason: apparently, firemen these days only fight fires by appointment. Said Jules to Kai, as he scrambled up the ladder: "Kai, I have to get up to this fireman appointment. Quick! Follow me." 

Then, at home, while I attempted to change sheets on Julian's bed, they tackled each other again and again... Jules was sitting on Kai, his knobby-kneed legs pretzel-wrapped around his little bro's torso. They were both screaming. With Joy. This, while I fired off a series of cliche mom phrases in rapid succession: "off his neck!" "stop!" "you're hurting him" "quit sitting on his face" and, finally, "you're going to smash someone's eye into the radiator."

Outside, they squealed with delight while squirting each other with the "squirty thing" (the water gun that is not a gun). I told Jules to turn the hose off, that it was cold and it was time to go inside and then said F it. They're having fun. So I sat on the deck and read a (page of a) magazine while the had their water fight. Until they really were cold. 

And then Jules wanted to come in and "walk" Dempsey through the house. Demps was the reindeer and Jules, apparently, was Santa, handing out presents: a framed photo for me; a puzzle for Kai, who just wanted the damn leash. So he swatted and growled at Jules until they again erupted into a tumble of limbs. 

Sigh. Then I just started tuning it all out. So loud and so physical. I am very loud. But lately, I am very tired. (Which is apparent, apparently. Tonight, Julian asked me why I had two black eyes.) So I'm not so physical. But this point in the (still early) eve, my attitude was this: If you want to waste a bunch of energy rolling around on the floor, go for it.

Fireman, wresting, water fights... it wasn't until I was washing dishes in the kitchen and overheard a lesson on how to wipe one's @ss safely and effectively that it started to sink in: I live with a bunch of "boys" (who, in many ways, already behave as stereotypically defined). I will overhear many discussions of sh*t, and future ones won't be so instructional. There will be more play-fighting and yelling and water throwing. 

I think I need to start drinking more beer. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Day 284

Tonight, I dressed to hop on the treadmill, but after the boys were tucked into bed and Jon left for a "real" run (outside) with Digs, I said screw it and opened up a bottle of Cab. Why? I anticipated what was about to happen (and what's still going on): Jules, shouting down the stairs for the fan... and then more music (since his CD ran its course). These "requests" I wouldn't hear if I were down in basement with headphones on, turned loud to out-sound the belt. Not good for my ears, I know.

The good news: I did get a few bursts of cardio in, sprinting up and down the stairs. And all of that loud sighing... I think that counts as deep breathing.

Why even try to exercise in the eve when I am a workout-morning kind of person? 1) Because working out in the morning isn't, um, working out and 2) it's a new trick I learned today from my friends on Facebook.

You see, I have come to be quite the crowdsourcer - and a voyeur of sorts. I've become a little obsessed with how other people make their lives work. So I ask. And I learn so much. Oh so much. Today, I posted this: 

Parents of young families in which all members must get out the door in the morning, dressed and fed, and in a (somewhat) timely manner: Please describe (in order) your morning timeline. Go! (And thank you.)

I got lots of responses. Good ones. I learned that I am not alone. Lots of peeps are, like me, running around like nut jobs in the morning while their kids whine, dawdle and watch the ever-annoying Caillou. I also learned that compared to some, I am a sloth. It appears that a good many of my friends are able to get what I might get done in an entire day before I even WAKE UP.

I also gleaned quite a few tips and tricks that I'm going to try in my own life (since laying out clothes and pre-packing lunches is only getting me so far): 
  1. I am going to try (again, on another night) to exercise, and then shower, in the evening.
  2. I am going to wake up early to the smells of my pre-set coffee pot--and my two alarms--and get 100% ready before the kids wake up. This should be easy if I shower the night before as I no longer have any hair.  (If things go well, I will unload the dishwasher and do other easy chores while the house is still sleeping.)
  3. I am going to force myself into bed earlier. This will not be easy.
  4. I am going to switch the boys' vitamin-getting time to morning, when incentives are more valuable. 
  5. Inspired by Lisa P's "Market Place Morning" alarm (when the NPR show starts, it's time to MOVE),  I am going brainstorm novel ways to signal to the boys that it's "time" - time to move on to the next task. Playlist of the boys favorite songs? (Bad Romance, A-Punk...) 
  6. I am going to get on board with Jon's quest to find our perfect home in the South End of town, which is 20 minutes closer, it seems, to EVERYTHING (except some of my favorite people). Any leads? 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 283

In my circles, discussions of why it's good to keep work at work, separate from life - or, sometimes, why that's not good - comes up a lot. For better or worse, my "work" and "life" have always been intertwined. (Most markedly when I'm freelancing full-time: then, I do laundry and go for runs during the day between interviews, which leaves me writing and editing at 1 a.m.)

But lately, my work and family lives are in some ways synergizing on parallel tracks. It's actually kinda cool.

At work, I'm on a team that's developing (delicious!) nutritionally balanced meal plans. At home, I'm trying to create a system of rotating healthy menus that are actually doable for our chaotic schedules. (Joanne: Stay tuned.) 


At work, I'm establishing my next-year's goals - setting aims that are just out of reach so that I can grow and contribute to growth. At home, I'm drafting lists of little-boy responsibilities that will help channel outbursts of "itching for independence" into pride and confidence. That's big-time growth.

Jules, proud to be Jon's painting apprentice.

At work, I'm collaborating with colleagues to figure out efficiencies that will make everyone happier and more sane. At home, I'm collaborating with Jon to figure out efficiencies that will make everyone happier and more sane. 

Guess I'm not a compartmentalized kind of girl... 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Day 277

Some things about yourself are just hard to hear... but you appreciate the fact that someone has had the courage to say them. 

Tonight, just after bedtime (read: when Julian whined so convincingly that he was hungry that I started to believe him and let him come downstairs for a snack), I sat across from him and asked him a question I've asked him several times before.  This time I asked in an objective, curious - you might even say professional (recall: I am trained as journalist) - way: 

"Why do you so often ask for Daddy to read you books? Is there something I could do better when I read you books?"

Jules, peeling a clementine over his "Sunny Days" placement, glances up, and very seriously says this: 

"Mom. I should tell you: Some people are just not good at different voices. You can't talk like Grover. Dad is just like Grover. So I like him to read me books and pat my back."

This kid, I tell you, is very perceptive. I do suck at voices. And I know it. A few years ago in the Spielpalast Cabaret, I played Mika, a dancer, a coquette, a poor Polish girl - who basically turned out also to be mute because speaking with an accent, even speaking in a voice that wasn't my own, on stage, made me self-conscious. Very self-conscious. 

I'm not self-conscious using different voices to read to the boys. I am merely incompetent. Completely incompetent. I'll start off using a deep slow voice for Toad and switch to my normal tone when it's time for the narrator to talk. Then I try something dapper and peppy for Frog... but I can't nail it down. It's sort of a cross between Toad, myself and Humphrey Bogart on novocaine. Point is, the kid is right. I am "not so good at different voices." Jon's spirited storytelling style trumps my lame nighttime "reading" routine big time. Of course, Jules wants him to read the books.

The good news is that Jules not only provided an explanation for his parent reading preference, he also offered a prescription for improvement (when I asked him if I should practice). 

"Yes, Mom," he said. "You should practice. I'm going to tell you how long you should practice."


"You should practice for 100 years." 

"I can't practice for 100 years, Jules."



"Why can't you practice for 100 years?"

I chose my words wisely because (if you read this blog you know) I still have much to learn about discussing death with children

"I don't have that much time, Jules."

"Why? Because you might die?"

I nod slightly.

"Well then practice for 16 years," he said. "You should get a good Grover voice by then."

I can't make this shit up. Seriously. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day 276

Expectations will get you no where more often than not result in feeling frustrated... disappointed... guilty... or shitty in some other way. Right? I know it's better not to have them, to ground myself in the present, to absorb and embrace each moment as it comes, never assuming that I'll even make it to the next moment, much less imagining every detail that will define it.

But I'm a planner. And when things don't go according to plan, my tendency isn't to do a quick course direction - or forge a new whole path to some equally awesome destination. What I do, typically, is to drive around in circles until I run out of gas. Or something like that. 

In any case, this weekend taught me - again - that when I expect something (a day, an event, a trip) to be absolutely amazing, I'm setting myself up to be let-down. Least to some degree. But if I can just keep on, keeping on, catching whatever awesomeness comes my way, I have much more fun. 

Here's how this theory played out over the last three days.

Friday: Plans to hop the art with a friend (for which I had unreasonably high expectations) got messed up so I hit a few studios with the boys - just the little boys. (Think: grubby preschooler fingers fondling fruit and cheese platters, whining, running through crowded hallways in opposite directions). Went home, had dinner, put the boys to bed and read the fine print of the FDA's Code of Federal Regulations (for real) while Jon watched bad TV. Lame. Ruminated over how lame it was that I didn't rally and get my ass back downtown. Then... I got a text that one of my best friends had just delivered a perfect little girl. Yes, she was expecting (and a day overdue) so, no, this wasn't "unexpected" ... but it was awesome.  

Saturday: Unexpected invite to a super awesome Mad Men party in the 'hood, where I drank gimlets with lovely ladies (including the fabulous Steph D!) and dapper men. We somehow secured a sitter last-minute, threw together "costumes" from what we had on hand and had a blast. No expectations = incredibly fun night. 

"Don" did buy skinny tie special for the occasion.

Sunday: It was a perfect September day so, of course, I expected all fantastic things. A certain unnamed little person who lives with me threw a wrench into that outlook. It was bad. I tried all of the usual tricks recommended to combat bad behavior. Nothing worked. Finally, our fam of four made it out of the house for a hike, and Mother Nature - a wiser parent than I... obviously - smoothed things out. For a time. Then her magic wore off too. Still, the afternoon ended up better than I could ever have expected if I were to have predicted, at 10 a.m., how the rest of the day would go. 

Talking this little imp down out of the tree proved difficult.
But it makes for a pretty cool photo now, right?
A view this gorgeous exceeds all expectations. (Taken from the spot where Jon and I got married 8 years and a little less than 2 months ago... while Julian was dragging me by the arm back onto the trail. Whaddya you expect?) 

PS: This "Roll With It and Win" theory, by the way, would never really hold up 100% to my scrutiny (I believe that we all, to a large degree, shape our destinies) but generally, I think it's a pretty good life philosophy. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Day 270

It was an awesome (long) holiday weekend. I took Friday off, planning to get things done around the (trainwreck that is our) house, then - last minute - decided to keep the boys home. They're only little once: I've been hearing that lots lately, along with the "soak up every moment of the next year" reminders from friends whose little ones have just gone off to kindergarten (or the fourth-grade), a year, or a few, ahead of Jules. 

So we three stayed home and we went to the aquarium and we ate crepes for lunch, out. We headed home and played outside. New friends invited us to a pool party and when Jon came home we all rallied and went. The kids had a blast. The dads took the kids home to bed and a bunch of us ladies lingered, then landed on a Sarah's porch for a nightcap. Good times. 

On Saturday, Jon made crepes (yum) while I slept late (yes, grateful), then we rode our bikes to the farmers' market where we bought plums and tomatoes that were sweet as candy, bags of mesclun and spinach and a bunch chard so pretty I was tempted to put it in a vase and place it on the mantel. (Okay, not really. But it was a good-looking bunch of chard.) Later, back at home, the boys played pirates and super heros, searching for the treasure Jon had hidden. I read my novel on a poppy Adirondack chair, sipping green tea, with a soundtrack of little boys' laughter. 

Sunday, we woke up early and drove to Jon's parents' house in the Adirondacks, where his parents pulled the four of us behind their boat on a raft until Kai (literally) fell asleep. The sun was warm, the water was shimmery, the boys were adorable and so happy. Jon and I acknowledged that this was a pristine "good old days" summer memory in the making. Back at the cabin, Jon's parents cooked us dinner, poured us wine and built a fire in the pit for S'mores. After the boys were in bed, we played Mexican train dominos. (Grateful for fantastics in-laws who treated us to an uber relaxing day in the mountains.)

Today, was a lot of prep for the week ahead but I got in a great run, another dinner - cheeseburgers and veggies from the market - out in the gazebo. Right now, as I look through my grateful, retrospective, lens the weekend was ABSOLUTELY perfect. What drops away when I capture the gratitude are the little annoying moments, the moments that define reality... the ones that make me question if I'm doing enough or doing it right. The moments like the ones... 

... when, on Saturday, the boys were running around with Jon (whom they often request when it's my turn to pat their backs or read them books), laughing their heads off, and I felt that I could just disappear with my novel and no one would ever notice.
... when, today at the store, Kai threw the vanilla greek yogurt in front of the olive cart and it splattered all over the floor and, then, when I was dealing with that mess, he proceed to dump a bag of Cheerios (which I gave to him as a distraction) on my head... and all of this entertained Jules wildly.
... when, today again, in a big parenting fail, I found myself locked in stubborn stand-off with Jules.

I'd told him, "No. You cannot give Dempsey more treats." 
He'd ignored me completely and headed out the back door with the jar. I grabbed it from his hands. He held on tight. "No more treats." 
In a basketball game, the ref would have called jump ball. In a situation where the mom was acting like a proper adult, well, I'm not sure what would have happened. But here's what did happen. I pried the jar from Julian's grip. Because I am bigger and stronger ... and, apparently, a bit of a bully.

And then he punched me in the arm. 

What did I do? I yelled like a crazy person, "we do not hit." Then I forced him to sit on the black couch for four minutes. I set the microwave timer. 

After the timer beeped and J came over to apologize (me too), I asked him to look me in the eyes while he said it. He did. And this is what he said (after sorry), verbatim: Mom, I see myself in your eyes. For real. It looks just like me but smaller. 

He meant it literally: it's the first time he'd noticed his reflection like this. But I heard something much bigger.  Jules is, in so many ways, a miniature version of me. He's passionate. He sees through bullshit and lazy answers. He wants to know why. Why, why, why. He's a man with a plan who know what he wants. He likes to be in control. He doesn't like not to be in control. I get it. And it's nice to get a little reminder sometimes that that little person you're raising is just that - a little person, not a little extension of yourself. It's even nicer when you get a reminder in a way that melts your heart, right when your heart needs warmed up. 

I have a lot to learn about parenting effectively, I do. But I have good little teachers who deliver lessons in ways that speak to me. For that I truly am grateful... just not in the moment.

Like I said, it was a great weekend. For real.