When we bought our house, there were two others for sale on the block. Part of a development deal gone sour, they had been vacant for a while. The copper had been ripped out of the walls, stained glass windows stolen.

Because we had a cheerfully apathetic approach to the whole house hunting process, it did not occur to us that buying a property on the border of two of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and adjacent to 2 abandoned houses that were owned by a bankrupt development company might be a bit of a PITA. And that we might spend a lot of time over the next two years on the phone with various city government officials. And even more time chasing vagrants, drug dealers and junkies away.

Today, our neighbors are moving in. We went on the tour of the house yesterday and it is Unbelievable.

M and I are feeling inspired. To us, a house you own is nice because you don't have to move, you don't share walls with crackheads who shout out strange phrases in the middle of the night, and there's lots and lots of room for jars of fermented things (that's all M).

We are less fond of the responsibilities that come with it. Like worrying about whether the chimney is going to blow over and crush our brand new car in the 40 mph winds that blew through the other day. Who was supposed to call the mason?! Not me, I thought you were going to take care of it. And our current home security system consists of a refrigerator parked in front of the back door. (Ain't nobody getting in that door now!)

I have friends who bought houses they fell in love with. They have Pinterest boards to organize their design ideas, and spend their weekends changing tile and repainting the walls. I want to live in their houses. I want a magic fairy to come and fix up my house.

I know that in reality, nobody is going to come and do that and I'm going to spend a lot of time on the weekends painting and hemming curtains.

However, now that we have neighbors, it seems like a better investment.


Life Around Here

It's Saturday morning, about 8 o'clock. We've been up since before 6, because once Laurel gets up we make the same mistake of thinking she'll go back to sleep if we bring her into our bed, but she kicks us and wiggles and touches our closed eyes to get them to open and we give up on sleeping in after about 10 minutes and all come downstairs and make (gluten-free, dairy-free) pancakes.

By 7:30, we were done with breakfast and playing a little guitar-ukelele-djembe and watching the snow fall.

There had already been several disagreements over things like sitting on the arm of the chair at the dining room table and pretending to ride a donkey. I want to be really consistent about manners, but Laurel sounds so funny when she says "hee-haw" that I laugh every time. It's hard to discipline a child when you are laughing. I worry that she'll grow up and go to other people's houses for dinner and not have good manners. But really, I worry that her behavior will be seen as a reflection of my poor parenting.

I had a conversation with a parent this week. I have her son in class, and he's basically a good kid. A little ADD, and a little unfocused, because you know, he's 14 and doesn't know what he wants out of life yet. But basically polite, curious, friendly, cooperative, and funny....all of my favorite qualities in a kid. The mom was relaying some of the mistakes he had made over the past few months, and expressing her concerns about, well...how is a kid who can't remember his zip code going to make it in the world.

It's really hard to just take a deep breath and remind yourself to allow your children the freedom and autonomy to take some risks and do some things on their own, based on their own motivation and decisions and control.

We love it when we allow them to take risks and they surprise us with their independence and success.

We cringe when they take a risk and it turns messy, unpleasant, or embarrassing.

We care about our kids so much that we want to take those icky feelings of I-messed-up and just feel them ourselves so they don't have to. We blame ourselves for not teaching them Absolutely Everything About the World so they wouldn't make those mistakes. We act as if their mistakes are our mistakes.

Resist that urge. Let them fly. Let them fall.

It's the absolute hardest part of my job - trying to maintain this balance with "my" kids at school. Loving them, even when they are making their own choices. For example, skipping class and hiding out in the nurses office, or drawing a penis with flames on it in the textbook (I should have taken a photo of that. It was a true work of art).

It's a hard part of parenting, too. Especially parenting a toddler.



Laurel and I just arrived home from a walk in the park. Muddy pants and red noses. The highlight of this walk was seeing two goldfish in the little pond, or perhaps walking up a "mountain" (according to Laurel). We didn't walk very far, or go anywhere new. However, if you spend time in the woods, you know a tree never looks the same way twice...the sunlight or cloud cover, time of day, and season always give you a new perspective.

I'm reading Richard Louv's the Nature Principle right now. While his last book focused more on how exposure to nature impacts children, this book talks a lot about mental health in adults. Or lack thereof.

I can give you a lot of reasons why I hate my job. But one I hadn't thought of before is that I spend almost 8 hours a day in windowless classrooms. Last month I was prescribed a diet by my acupuncturist, and in addition to what to eat or avoid, there was the instruction to eat mindfully. Do nothing else during meals, except chew. If you are a teacher, you know the temptation is strong to work through lunch. I'm sure it's that way in a lot of professions. But I started to take my lunch (of gluten-free grains and roasted root vegetables. yum.) to the teacher work center, plop down in front of the windows and just stare at the woods on the other side of the tennis courts. Seeing natural light, and trees and birds, and observing the weather is probably as therapeutic as chewing slowly.

This simple action was jolting to me because I hadn't realized just how removed I had become from the outdoors.

Louv doesn't say that we all need to move to the country in order to have exposure to nature. Our proximity to a large urban park is good enough - if we actually get out there. Laurel walking almost a mile to daycare everyday puts her in a better position than a lot of kids...think of how many kids don't even really know the discomfort of rain or cold, because they are ushered between home and school and activities in a climate-controlled vehicle and spend only moments of their day exposed to the elements.

I've learned this lesson before. It was only after hiking about a hundred miles or so of the Appalachian Trail that I felt the first effects of living outdoors and spending a lot of time hearing - not quiet - but the more subtle sounds of nature. After a thousand miles of hiking I felt grounded and accepting of my place in the world. After two thousand, I could not imagine living any other way.

It's a lesson I'm relearning now.


Sunday Night Blues

Sunday night, and while the rest of the world watches the Super Bowl, I'm steaming greens for peanut butter spinach. Packing lunches and laying out clothes for tomorrow.

For the last couple of weeks, my friend and her daughter have been coming over to play after school and to eat dinner. They like it because she doesn't work, and the excuse to get out of their house is nice. I like it, because an extra set of hands and some adult conversation at the dinner table is a welcome change from the usual.

Tonight at dinner, I was tired of talking about Thomas and his friends, so I said, "Laurel, the Super Bowl is tonight."

"For me?" she asked.

"No, it's the most important football game of the year. It has nothing to do with you. Who are you rooting for?"

"Maybe we can watch Thomas," she said.

You see what I mean about needing adult conversation?

In positive news, I went running this weekend! Twice. First I've been out in several months on account of my bad health. I felt pretty good and I think I'm going to credit chinese medicine. I've had three weeks of acupuncture and a bit of mayan abdominal massage and I actually feel somewhat human again. I cooked up another bunch of beets and sweet potatoes for my wheat-free, dairy-free lunch. Can't wait to start another day with green tea instead of coffee (can you detect a bit of resistance lingering?).

It's not so much that I dread Mondays. My job can exhaust me (emotionally needy and sometimes hostile teenagers who have a poor grasp of socially appropriate behavior, and no desire to learn math...that sounds like fun company, doesn't it?). But I don't hate it. At least it's not boring.

I just never want the weekends to end. I miss Laurel as soon as I put her to bed on Sunday night. If all goes well, she's still asleep when I leave for work and I don't see her until the afternoon. I see M even less...perhaps an hour or two in between the time he gets home and when I go to bed. They are my two favorite people, and I hardly even see them for 5 out of 7 days.

I know everybody else does this, but I'm not sure this is how families are supposed to be.