It's been a very stressful two weeks with Marko getting sick with an intestinal infection that resulted in a hospital stay. I started my new job last week - and by start, I mean canceled all my meetings and took occasional calls while holding a feverish baby in a hospital room.  I really want to jump in and get started on some pretty big goals my boss has for me, not to mention all the regular Reading Warriors programming that I need to be working on. But as soon as we came home from the hospital on Thursday, I felt my entire body unclench and suddenly had a need for a 3 hour nap. I wanted that nap to erase 2 weeks of very little sleep, and then I would just get back to it. But that didn't really work.

So. We're easing back in. (And bleaching. Babies show no discretion or restraint when they vomit.)

The biggest lesson for me in all of this was about how the diagnostic powers of a doctor are highly dependent on the evidence they see. You can be sitting in the same room with them, looking at the same kid, and be seeing totally different evidence. It's very important to pay close attention to details, take notes, track symptoms and offer up information even if they don't ask for it. On our first two trips to the ER the doctors really couldn't see anything other than a regular stomach virus, and I don't blame them for that. Yes, he was dehydrated and needed fluids, but there was no indication that it wouldn't clear up in 3-5 days (ER visit #1). Oh wait, it could last 7-10 days (ER visit #2). Hmmm, maybe we should start investigating other possibilities since he's been vomiting for 12 days (ER visit #3). Really, the only reason they knew what he had was because I gave them a dirty diaper at ER visit #2 and asked them to do a stool culture. The culture takes a couple of days to run so when we returned to the hospital they had the results and could start treatment right away. (He had yersinia, which is sort of like salmonella, but happens when you make chitlins, then don't wash your hands and touch your baby. Which totally didn't happen in this house, so... medical mystery?)

Aside from the whole thing taking a while to figure out, I was very satisfied with Children's Hospital. They were supportive of breastfeeding and even gave me meals while we were there. Volunteers stopped by regularly bring me water and snacks, or toys for Marko once he was feeling better. The nurses were great. They talked to Marko like he was a person. They have this stuff called Pittsburgh Paste, which is some sort of magical diaper rash elixir that cleared up Marko's diaper rash in two days flat (and it was the sort of rash you winced just looking at).

Unfortunately, he's now regressed to nursing every two hours and refusing to sleep except in my arms. I've hit this mental wall where I believe with all my heart that I'll never sleep well again, and I fantasize about napping while waiting at line in the grocery store. Sometimes I pull over on my way home from work and just take a 5 minute catnap in front of some strange's house. (Don't be alarmed if it's your house, just a tired mom here.) I remember hitting this point with Laurel. Girl just would not take to sleep training. It was worse because I had to stand up in front of 9th graders and try to make them learn algebra for 7 hours a day, which is soul-crushing work in and of itself, let alone when you haven't slept in a year and a half. Then magically, around 15 months, bam. She slept through the night and that was never a problem again. (Also, she was toilet trained at night from the beginning. I can't really complain.)

I'm trying to take care of Marko, take care of me, not neglect Laurel too badly, and have a conversation with M every once in a while. I know this is just life when you have a couple of little ones in the house, but dang...it's hard sometimes



Today I looked around the house and found it was covered with notes and posters and lists, all labeled with various forms of L-A-U-R-E-L, and then maybe another random word. Like hello. Or camel. Laurel is just on the brink of learning how to read and write. She can do her first name by herself and can write most letters of the alphabet. She practices a lot, on her own mostly, because I am cautious about meddling. I realized too that she's started choosing at least one "baby" book each night, the sort with very few words, that she can read to me or to the stuffed animals lined up next to her pillow. It's wild to me, this effortless shift into literacy, because I spend all day at work moving mountains to make it happen for other kids. Today at training one of the Reading Warriors lent me a book to read. I've noticed this start to happen - kids trading paperbacks and making recommendations to each other. But never have they had the confidence or awareness to give me something to read. When children's books were mentioned many of them even jotted down the title and author. Tiny victories for my cause. But then at home, where literacy isn't a cause, just a thing we do, the victories are tiny as well. So maybe there aren't any mountains to move after all.


Some Days...

Some days I get a little too optimistic with my list of errands, and parked in the garage underneath the Target, I realize there are not one, but two sleeping children in the back seat. Unplanned naps, a little too close to dinner. I immediately wish for a service you could call, where someone would come and watch your car for you while you picked up two things at the store...just two things is all. Instead, I pull out my phone and try to answer emails, update my calendar. The connection is too slow. I think about taking a nap myself. Check the clock. Only 14 minutes until we pick up M.

Some days dinner just doesn't get made and everyone snacks on peanut butter sandwiches. Some days the sink is backed up again. Some days Marko manages to sneak into the hall closet and take little nibbly bites out of every roll of toilet paper before I catch him, and scoop him up into my arms, twirling around in the hallway while he giggles.

How is it possible that there are so many dishes when we didn't even cook dinner? Why is it that I haven't spared a minute to call my friend - didn't even think about it - until her husband pedaled past me this morning while I sat at a traffic light?  Whatever happened to origami night?

It's not an unhappy existence. Mostly, I'm filled with gratitude and joy. But the relentless cycle of chores done and then immediately undone that is so much a part of parenting young children, well, let's just say, some days, it gets to me a little bit.



IMG_4263You know M & K are always up for a road trip. Luckily, Laurel shares M's love of Sheetz MTO's and Marko doesn't mind riding in the car, so family trips are pretty fun. This weekend, we took off for Ohiopyle. It was warm enough that we could have camped, but we had a camping cottage. I am a huge fan of the camping cottage. So much less wet and muddy than camping. The one we stayed in had heat, electricity, and furniture - including a picnic table on the porch, and bunk beds, and table and chairs inside. No bathroom, but the bathhouse was toasty warm and had hot showers and was just down the road. We brought bags full of books and puzzles, ingredients to make cheese sandwiches and coffee and chilled out all weekend. M and I both actually finished books, we went on a nice hike from the campground into the town of Ohiopyle and did a little drive to Mt. Davis - high point of Pennsylvania - on our way home.

We've been trying to really prioritize these last few months, and one thing that keeps coming up is going to the mountains and spending time with our little family of four.  I just took on a full time job (Assistant Director! Ooooh, fancy!) and M continues to be busy with Co-op board work and working on the farm, in addition to his full-time job. I know both of us are grateful for all of the "work" in our lives - we are blessed to be doing things that we enjoy and believe are worthwhile, but still, sometimes you need a little time away.

Check out our pictures from the weekend here.



The lady in the cafe asked her how old she was and she said, without hesitation, "I'm four. I just had my birthday." And so here we are. Now that the excitement of the many birthday parties is over, four means an obsession with making lists and naming letters and My Little Ponies. Four is I can leave you to play while I take a shower, and you are going to fold your own clothes and put them away now, and mommy-daughter dates to the Conservatory on Sundays. We ordered lunch at the Cafe and made conversation while we ate.

Yesterday I had training with the Reading Warriors and we read this article on the word gap. Aside from the fact that articles from the Washington Post are really hard for 10th graders to wrap their heads around, it went pretty well. The part they latched onto was at the end, about the eggplants.

One telling anecdote recounts a late night visit to the grocery store, where the teller observed three moms interacting with their children about a pile of eggplants. Pointing to an eggplant, the first child asked, “What is that?” The mother replied: “I don’t know. Shut up. Don’t ask me any questions.” The second child posed a similar question and his mom said, “It’s an eggplant, but we don’t eat it.” Then the third child asked the same thing, and her mom replied, “It’s an eggplant; one of the few purple vegetables we have. Look at its smooth and shiny skin, its exterior. (…) Let’s buy this eggplant, take it home, slice it open and see how it looks inside.”
Every day I'm reminded of the juxtaposition between my kids, and those literally 5 blocks down the street, on the other side of the train trestle. I research and plan and model ways to have eggplant conversations with the children in our after school programs. Laurel is hungry for information, for making sense of the world, just as all the children I work with are. But our eggplant conversations with Laurel feel effortless...in fact, it would be hard to stop them at this point, because she expects big answers from us. In contrast, trying to get after-school program staff to talk with children about something of substance has proven challenging.

Today, as we left Phipps and walked down the sidewalk, Laurel paused to pick up a few leaves. "These don't look like leaves I've seen before," she said, "Let's take some samples home and look it up in the tree book."

Laurel learned to identify maple, oak, buckeye and sycamore leaves a while ago because those were the trees we passed on the way to and from daycare each day. She made collections over and over again, stuffed them in her coat pockets and gave bunches of them to neighbors we passed. I suppose in a way those walks were a big time investment in her learning, although it could also be said that we were simply making the best of only having one car.

When we got home, I showed her how to page through the beginning of the book to match the outline of the leaf. We decided it was a ginkgo. I knew these leaves for the stinky berries that fall from the same tree. They are planted all over Pitt's campus. But I learned something new as we read the description together....they are considered a "living fossil." Laurel lost interest before I even finished reading the complete paragraph, but later when when she was out in her front yard, she discovered more ginkgo leaves and traced them to the row of bright yellow trees that line the block on the other side of the street from us.

The whole ginkgo conversation was maybe 5 minutes total out of our day. How many other similar vocabulary-enriching interactions did we have without even thinking about it? Curiosity begets curiosity. It's just hard to get it going in the first place sometimes.



The anticipation of four is almost better than the actual birthday. She's been talking about it since just after she turned three, and inviting everyone she meets to her birthday party. Four became this dividing line between present and future. She would be brave when she was four, and sleep in her own bed. (She has since revised this plan to occur when she is five). She would learn to read. She would be a big kid in her class.

Four years, we said to each other, drying dishes and packing lunches in the kitchen after the children were asleep, have we really only been doing this parenting thing for four years? It feels like forever. It feels like always. The other day, we stopped at the car wash. A year or so ago, Laurel freaked out when I went into the car wash - full on tantrum, crying, terrified. Since then, we had honored her request to avoid it. (Also, you know, we suck at remembering to do things like wash the car.) But recently, she got over it, so there we were on a beautiful sunny autumn day, music blaring, etc. When we pulled up, she got very still in her car seat and held onto a stuffed animal. Her eyes were focused on something else - maybe on Four - and she whispered to herself, "that is a machine to wash cars. I am not afraid." She willed herself out of the fear and in that moment I saw so much of myself in her, and remembered why I have never been happier in all my life.

Being a parent to small children is a series of ridiculous anecdotes. Someone is always shitting their pants or throwing up on you. Things are tossed out the car window. You get soaking wet at bathtime every night and sometimes eat leftover baby food for dinner. Your house is always littered with blocks and pacifiers.

But being Laurel's mother has also forced me to answer hard questions, to be more honest than I am with nearly anyone else, and to say I'm sorry. Laurel coaxes out the Me that was always in there. She convinces us to take pleasure in an ice cream cone, finding acorns in the woods, and bedtime stories. She calls us out when we do something stupid or mean. She can be very wise. It's like being on stage in front of an audience of psychotherapists 24-7. She tests limits, she screams loudly when she is disappointed or angry. She cries, hard. She asks us for what she wants. She asks everyone for what she wants.

We are going way overboard with her birthday, in a way that is rather uncharacteristic of us. She's getting three parties, lots of gifts, too many sweets. I'm blowing up dozens of balloons and running out to the grocery store twice a day to prepare for the various meals we're cooking. But I can't stop. She delights in every little bit of it, from the card that arrived from my grandmother with two dollar bills in it, to the balloons hanging on the wall.

So, happy birthday, Laurel. Happy Four.



The trees that line my street are a brilliant yellow-gold. Such a deep color that it seems sunny outside even when it's not. For this one week, I see beauty instead of speeding cars and a gas station parking lot filled with used condoms and cigarette butts. As a season, fall stretches out from the first cool night in August until December, but the moments that make it feel like fall are fleeting. A rainbow of colors one day and then the next, bare branches and a pile of wet, rotting leaves to scoop out of your gutters. When we left for school today, it was quite windy, with leaves swirling around our driveway, fluttering down like fat snowflakes. Laurel immediately started skipping and singing, "Fall is my favorite season!"

Marko is now officially 9 months old. Seventeen pounds, if you like to hear stats like that. He babbles and crawls, pulls himself up on the furniture and stairs. He likes to eat cheerios and graham crackers. We wonder what his first word will be, and not sure if we should count his calls for "Ummma ummma mama mama," when he's looking for me. He knows the sign for milk. He waves goodbye and mimics our sounds. He's starting to get object permanence, and I swear he hides things for later...little bits of paper he finds or a stale cheerio.

November brings change. A new job for me. We will have a four year old in the house by this time next week. M is winding down his weekly trips to work on the farm. Every surface of the house is filled with harvest bounty - things are drying and fermenting and waiting to be blanched and frozen.


These days...

1. I have a 10 pound bag of braising greens in my fridge. Let's not even get started with how many beets and radishes there are rolling around in there. Bountiful harvest season, indeed. Do you have a CSA?
2. I'm going to be wearing a banana costume and holding a sign that says "Slow down, we cross here" this Friday afternoon.
3. I can't believe this story, about hunting an octopus. I cut it out of the paper and am taking it to my high school kids tomorrow.
4. I got pooped on today. I'm sort of surprised this doesn't happen more often.
5. I also played at the playground today. Like really played. Rode the merry-go-round and everything.
6. I'm planning our first real "kid" birthday party for Laurel. She'll be four in a couple of weeks.
7. I am afraid to make the dentist appointment I really need.
8. We think we need to buy a second car. I want this one.  Also, for carpooling purposes, I really, really want to fit 3 car seats in the back of my Honda Fit. Can it be done?
9. M just ran a 50 mile race. Not to be confused with a 50K. Yes, I am impressed, too. But also, he thinks it's fun to run that far. It energizes him. So, we love that he does it
10. Marko is going to be 9 months old this week. Happy 3/4! He's still the happiest, most chill little baby in the world. He only yells when I take away the paper he is trying to eat or when his sister squishes him.


Baby on the Go!

Where's he going in such a hurry?
Marko has this determined crawl he uses when there are a bunch of kids jumping around and he wants to join in on the fun. He has a sneaky crawl he uses when he spots a speck of paper on the floor across the room and wants to get it without me seeing him. He stands sturdily without holding on to anything, but as soon as he attempts to take a step he crashes down hard. He studies us carefully to see how we do this walking thing. I predict he'll be taking his first steps in the next month.

He calls me mama-umma. Four teeth came down suddenly from his top gum, so now he has 6. He reaches for M's beard. He likes graham crackers. We have taken to putting a gate up in the dining room door so he can play on one side and Laurel sets up on the other. If they are not separated, he does nothing but smash down whatever she has set up and she does nothing but shriek. But put up this mesh gate and they happily chat with each other through it while playing.

Today they both have colds and are happily taking long afternoon naps (that's how you know a 3 year old is actually sick).


In the Quiet

At the end of the evening, the house is suddenly quiet. Children in bed. The table clear of everything except the Bonne Maman jar of dahlias. I feel nourished...by the meal, but also by the company and conversation. I roasted a chicken and Stephanie brought wine. M entertained the 3 year olds with video games, while we watched Marko crawl around the dining room in search of scraps of paper. I have Devendra Banhart playing as I wash the dishes. I'm not even really enjoying this music, but I can't bring myself to turn it off because it reminds me of another dinner party at Lance and Steve's house. There were beets (before beets were trendy) and candles. It's almost a decade old, this memory, but I can remember the feel of a Phoenix evening in November. It's perfect.

I don't have a plan for retirement, or even for my career in five years. My kitchen has peeling vinyl flooring and a refrigerator parked in front of the boarded up door. The bathroom? We're just waiting for the 90 year old plumbing to give up. We'll get to all that, someday. Or not. Because in the meantime, I choose 6am waffles and Friday happy hour with friends. (Is this an apology? Or a declaration? Just know that it is never a bad time for you to stop by for a cup of coffee.)

Today was a mess. I lost my keys, and Marko woke us all up at 5:30 and the car was out of gas and we had no milk. The laundry was stacked up so high in the chute that you could see it from the kitchen. We were all grumpy from lack of sleep, and yelled at each other. M and I made undeliverable threats and other parenting faux-pas all morning. My clothes have baby spit up on them and I did not bother to change.

In the quiet at the end of the evening I can hardly remember that. I mostly think about the chicken and the baby shower tomorrow and how fun it was to talk to Stephanie.


On Sharing

Last week we were at the playground outside of Laurel's school and she wanted this other little girl's chestnuts. Well, they were actually buckeyes, but they both kept calling them chestnuts. There's a buckeye tree on the playground at her school. It's been dropping nuts all week and apparently, it's become quite a game for the kids to collect them. I find them tucked in the bottom of her backpack, in her sweatshirt pockets, and in her lunchbox.

I have a pet peeve about parenting and teaching and it's mostly about myself, lest you think I'm casting a wide judgmental net. I hate when I attempt to teach a lesson and in doing so give a wildly inaccurate picture of how the real world works. It feels like lying to me.

Getting to work on time is one of those things. Yes, generally speaking it's a good idea to figure out how to get where you need to go by a certain hour, but neither M nor I are punching a clock these days. We work a lot, but the "when" is sort of up to us. So, when I need to enforce this rule with my teens (who have a job where they do actually have to be there on time), I try to emphasize that the reason is because the program staff is counting on them and that minutes count when you are working with kids and blah, blah, blah. It has nothing to do with some universal, when-you-have-a-job-you-must-be-on-time rule. I'd rather teach them to understand the context of their situation and behave accordingly.


Parents are always nagging at their kids to share. Sharing is good, right? We're supposed to do it. And little kids don't like to do it, so we have to teach them. Obviously the best way to teach them is to nag them incessantly when they resist doing it.


This is sort of what happened at the playground. Laurel wanted a nut, and the other girl didn't want to give it to her. The girl's babysitter saw this interaction and then tried to convince the girl it was the right thing to do to share. The girl wasn't buying it. I hate this conflict. It's my least favorite part of any playdate. I'm inclined to just let the kids work it out, but usually parents end up getting involved and we think we're turning it into a teaching moment. But it must not be very effective, because it happens over and over and over again.

There's a famous poem, "Children Learn What They Live." Written by family counselor Dorothy Nolte in the 1950s, it has been passed on by photocopy and email and cross-stitch ever since. You might even have a copy hanging on your wall. It's all about surrounding kids with the traits that you want them to take on. Be the example.

Parenting is like being on stage. Never have I felt so vulnerable in having my flaws and quirks exposed and examined and imitated 24 hours a day.

At some point, you have to separate your actions from the free will of your child, but I think it's a useful exercise to at least ask yourself the question, what is my child seeing in me? Do I share? Do I just share with my family? Or do I share with everyone? Do I share things that I worked really hard for? Do I share with people I don't know or don't like? Do I share willingly or do I stomp around about it? Do I place a high value on personal ownership? What does sharing mean to me? Do I have to share until I have nothing left or is it ok to put a little something aside for me?



It's that time of year, equal sun and darkness, and my house settles into itself so that the doors close all the way again. My house is very old and no longer has any right angles, if it ever did, except right now, while the night air is cool and our boiler hasn't kicked on yet.

I'm seeking my own equinox right now. Drawing lines around the different obligations in my life. Deciding what can go and what can stay.

Marko just turned 8 months old and if I could freeze time and make this part of babyhood last longer, I would. He's curious and imitates us all the time. His toothless grin is disappearing as he gets new teeth. He prefers standing to any other position. He recently discovered the stairs, and then a few days later, discovered that we have a second set of steps from our kitchen. He eats lentil soup and mashed up beans and sweet potatoes, smacking his lips loudly. I gave him some pasta pieces a few weeks ago, but he choked on one, and it was such an unpleasant experience for all of us that I've really limited finger foods. He'll be walking by Christmas, that's my prediction.

Laurel is "3 and a half I'll be four in November" - and of course you are invited to her birthday party. (She invites everyone she meets.) I better throw her a good party because she's been thinking about this pretty much since last November. She's settling into Montessori, even using some of her skills at home. I carpool with another family twice a week and it's so delightful to hear Laurel and her classmate chat with each other in the backseat on the way to school. "Peacefully" is a new word in her vocabulary. She also uses the word "immediately" a lot, but not correctly.


Nothing in my bag....

Ironically, the same day we received a 7 page instructional packet on how to log on to the parent portal web application to check our child's grades, we also got this poem. Ah, the juxtaposition of a Montessori program run by a large, urban public school district.

There’s Nothing In My Bag Today
  Author Unknown 
Today I did math and science and I toasted bread,
I counted, measured and I used my eyes, ears and my head.
I added and subtracted and used magnets and blocks on the way
I learned about a rainbow and I learned how to weigh.
So please don’t ask me, “Is there anything in your bag today?”
For you see, I’m learning all about sharing as I play.
I learned to listen and speak clearly when I talk,
To wait my turn, and when inside, I learned I have to walk.
To put my thoughts into a phrase,
To guide a crayon through a maze.
To find my name and write it down,
To do it with a smile and not a frown.
To put my painting brush away.
So please don’t say, “Nothing in your bag today?”
I’ve learned about a snail and a worm.
Remembering how to take my turn.
I helped a friend when he was stuck,
Learned that water runs off a duck.
I looked at words from left to right,
Agreed to differ, not to fight.
So please don’t say,
“Did you only play?” 


One Morning....

This morning, I woke up to the smell of french toast and coffee....M cooked breakfast before leaving to work at the farm, and for some reason Marko was not up at his usual 5:30am. M took the car, so we had to be especially watchful of the clock, so as not to miss the bus. There is no school bus for preK, so I have to drop Laurel off at exactly 9:05 each morning, at her classroom door. This involves a lot of logistics....dressing two kids and myself and getting ourselves over there. If we drive, Marko almost always falls asleep in the car, and then I have to wake him up and put him in a carrier. Today we took the city bus...the money bus, Laurel calls it. It was almost easier than driving...no car seats to fuss with, lots to look at on the way there. The bus picks up at our corner and drops off about 3 blocks from the school, which was just the right amount of walking and exploring. Laurel found a buckeye, a tree stump and a slug leaving a trail of slime on a blackened stone wall. I thought about my grandmother and great-aunts, exploring these same streets when they were children. I wondered if that stone wall was there.

I would have considered it a total win except I missed the 71C going back...the worst kind of missing a bus when it passes just as you are about to cross the intersection. At least the weather was good and Marko was dozing in the Ergo.

You have to love parenting advice dolled out by old people at bus stops. "Babies these days," a gray haired lady leaning on a walker said, "They come out with attitudes and walking so early. Not like the old days when babies were just babies."

As the bus approached, the man carefully tapped out the ember on his cigarette and slid it back into the box. Pall Malls. "My nephew, I about raised him," he told me. "You want to talk about a splitting image. His mother, oh the things I taught him...."

Not sure what to say to that, I just smiled and thanked them for letting me get on the bus first.

When we got home, I turned on the radio and danced with Marko, while he made little squeals, and grinned. I can see his new teeth when he smiles like that.

Life is good. And I might have just gone on with my good life this morning...but I read this story about a professor who recently died, in poverty.  Income inequality is real, and getting worse. I thought about the line between Here and There...Here being the place where I can afford good food and to turn on my heat in the winter to whatever temperature I want and bus fare when I need to get my daughter to school....and There...well, you all know where There is.

Two years ago we marched for OWS. It's funny, since then we've switched jobs a few times, watched our income bounce down to half of what it was, and landed in a place where we are suddenly both doing exactly what we love. Not getting rich, but there's food on the table. (Abundant food, since M works on the farm once a week and brings home extras.)

But believe me...I know that we are ok here because we were blessed to avoid hardship this year. Nobody got cancer. Our car wasn't stolen. The roof leak was patched and can hold off being replaced a little longer. We got a better health insurance just in time for Marko's birth, saving us a $10,000 hospital bill. What's luck and what's our own bootstraps and adaptability? I'm not sure how to separate it. I do know that I run across people all the time who seem just as smart as me, and are certainly as worthy - as all humans are - to be treated with respect and have their basic needs provided for...and yet, they aren't.

The story about Margaret Mary Vojtko hit me because I know so many people just like her. Her plight need not negate the abundance and joy I felt with my family this morning. But I should not forget it as my day goes on, and even better if I can take some action.

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth." Martin Luther King Jr., From the speech "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break the Silence" delivered on April 4th 1967.


The Things We Don't Mention (in Polite Company)

Never forget, they say. A firefighter pays tribute with his bagpipe. Names are read aloud. People tell their stories.

9/11 once felt like my tragedy - in a generational sense, anyway. I was 22, finishing college and working. I can remember that day exactly. Clear blue skies, low humidity. Perfect Pittsburgh weather. I had worked late the evening before, recruiting college students to be tutors in my reading program (some things never change), and I slept in and turned on the news while I ate my breakfast. The first plane had just hit. When the second plane hit, I guess it didn't really sink in, because after watching the news anchors stumble through their reports, I got dressed and walked to work. After the other two planes crashed we were all sent home from work. The streets were gridlocked, so I walked to M's apartment. We watched the towers fall down, over and over again, on the television. Eventually, we couldn't take it anymore and we went out and bought a case of beer. We took a small American flag with us and waved it out the car window as we drove. Because we were 22 and it was a national tragedy, and some of the initial reports had estimates of up to 50,000 casualties.

I didn't much think about it today. I posted a silly picture of Marko on Facebook, and took Laurel to gymnastics and chatted with a friend. I don't know anybody who died that day, and after 12 years and two wars and a whole bunch of other people who died, it just seems a little overwhelming...all this remembering we are compelled to do because human beings still suck at getting along with each other. Maybe that's not the right way to be, but that's how I was.

The other day a 17 year old boy was shot and left to die near a school that I'm working at this year. At another school, the children no longer go outside for recess because there are too many daytime shootings nearby. There will be candles lit at vigils for all of this one-at-a-time violence. T-shirts printed and tattoos inscribed. I was worried that my high school kids would feel nervous or their parents wouldn't want them to work for me after all, but they just laughed and said, "you just hit the ground when they start shooting. Don't run, Ms. Katy."

The thing is, these tragedies that are not exactly mine, and I feel funny bringing them up. What is mine to mourn? What is mine to challenge? Do I have the right and responsibility to stand up against all acts of violence? Or should I just hit the proverbial ground and hope nothing hits me directly?

When I tucked my kids in tonight I realized they had no idea what today was, and even when they grow up and read a Times For Kids news article on it, it will be like Pearl Harbor Day was to me. Something bad that happened to some other people. An event in the social studies books.

But what happens when we stop talking about it? Or when we save the discussion for the anniversaries that roll around once a year and remind us that we're getting further and further from the rawness of the event.


A Taste of Here on a Sunday

The neighbors have two young children and sometimes, around dinner time, we can hear the rise and fall of their tantrums in the background, behind our two yelling about this and that. Tonight was one of those nights, but now, with bluegrass on the radio and lights turned out except the one bright one over the kitchen sink, I can't even remember the chaos of the day. It feels good to breathe deeply. I used to hold my breath because I feared the next moment. Hated the one I was in and knew I would hate the next one. But now I think I must hold my breath simply out of habit, and when I release it and look around, everything feels good enough to make me smile when I look at it.

There are two vases of flowers on my table. Black-eyed Susans from the neighbor and deep red dahlias my mother planted in my yard. Yesterday I had a little party while waiting for M to return from his 30 mile race. Crockpot chili and corn muffins and brownies. Sometimes I need to throw a party in order to have a reason to scrub the yogurt and cheerios off the wood floors and find some extra rolls of toilet paper. (I don't know why my own family isn't good enough reason to see that that gets done, but maybe because they are the ones throwing the yogurt down?)

We went out to breakfast very early and then wandered through Frick Park on the way home, stopping to pretend fish in Nine Mile Run and say hello to dogs. When we were nearly home, we ran into a friend of Laurel's from school and she arranged a trip to the playground before we realized it. Half the day was gone by the time we got home, but in a nice Sunday sort of way. I put the football game on and took a defiant sort of nap. (Chores were left undone and emails streamed into my inbox all afternoon, begging to be dealt with right that minute.)

Marko's tooth popped out yesterday. He has two coming in on the top sides. Little vampire teeth. This is the first full week of school and I'm out of ideas for creative lunches, so peanut butter and jelly it is, except we are out of jelly and it's almond butter and not peanut.

Tomorrow I'll walk Laurel up to her school to drop her off. I wonder if she'll still grip my hand tightly, or if she'll run ahead. And then there will be that moment when Marko and I are alone and we look at each other and smile at the silence and are at a loss as to what to do next.


One Little Bag

We took out one garbage bag to the curb this week. One.

This was down from 3-4 bags stuffed to capacity that prompted my post last week. And it felt effortless.

I can't exactly applaud myself for being earth-friendly over it, since I now spend hours a day driving up and down Penn Avenue with dropping Laurel off and picking her up from school.

But no matter. It's not really about trash.

It's about how easy it was to change something that was bothering me. It made me wonder about why it feels so hard to change things sometimes.

I had to quit smoking nine times before it stuck. But the ninth try was easy.

When we lived in Arizona, we yearned for adventure. For a year or so, we complained about our boring lives, working long hours, settling down. Getting old. Then one day we decided that if we wanted more adventure we should shut up already and do it. We started by wandering off into the Superstitions, and then a few months later started getting rid of all our stuff to go on a cross country road trip, followed by a thru-hike of the AT. People asked us all the time how we did it. Sometimes their questions started off about what we packed and did we use a water purifier or a filter and what are our favorite boots. Usually, though, it ended up with, "how'd you find that kind of time?"

We all have the same 168 hours in a week. We didn't find any secret time that was hiding out. We made choices.

About 10 years ago we met a friend of Jack's, and I've been following his work since then, as his career as a writer and story teller has blossomed. Just this morning, he posted this video on Facebook. Today, he and his wife are moving to Costa Rica. They wanted to do it and are making it happen. (You can read about their adventures here.) Anyway, I'll hit publish before I get all self-help-y on you. Enjoy the video. Now go do something epic. Or just paint the bathroom wall already, or whatever it is that's hanging out on your to-do list.



It looks like my friends in Shaler might be headed for a strike. It seems silly to have gone this far, 2+ years without a contract, in a place where everybody knows a Shaler teacher because they are neighbors and parents and taxpayers themselves. I stand in solidarity with the teachers, because I think what they are asking for is fair, and I object to the district quibbling over dollars and minutes when they aren't in a position where that's necessary.

But I suppose for both sides, it's about setting boundaries. You have to agree to the deal you can live with.

I read this today:

"Whatever you are willing to put up with, is exactly what you will have."
- Anon
I think M and I grew up the day we understood that idea. At times, it means fearlessly walking away from the safe thing. Leaving behind the good health insurance and middle class paycheck.  There are difficult conversations with bosses and colleagues. But oh, what a gift, to wake up every day and feel good about what you do. The money and what-not, it all seems to come around. We always have just enough, and that's plenty. Do you know this story?

This year has been all about setting boundaries for me, by sanding the edges of every little commitment and choice until they fit together smoothly. It doesn't work entirely yet. Maybe it never will.


Trash Confession

One of my goals for 2013 was to get our trash situation under control. We used to be sort of earth-friendly when it came to trash, but I noticed over the last few years that we were buying a lot more packaged foods, and hauling a ton of stuff out to the curb every week. It was really pure laziness. I'm posting it here to keep myself accountable.

So far, I did a couple of things....

1. I bought tiny garbage cans for the bathroom and kitchen. This keeps me from throwing any old thing into the bag. Also, I have to take it out to the can out back more often so it's less stinky in general.
2. I set up lots of cans for recycling so that I have plenty of room to throw the junk mail, paperboard, plastic containers, all the stuff our city hauls away in the single-stream recycling program.
3. I bought a big container for food scraps. I also learned that I can add newspaper to my compost pile to help it break down (thanks, Megan!).
4. I found a big basket to keep rags handy and hid the paper towels.
5. Located my water bottle and pack it in my purse. I've been on the go all summer, working at places without air conditioning and I often found myself buying bottled water.

Already those few little steps seemed to get us back on track. These are the next steps I want to take.

1. Get those cloth diapers and wipes out again (especially since we have in-home care for Marko, there's really no need for disposables).
2. Take jars to the Co-op. We shop in the bulk section a lot and always end up using their containers or bags. Not necessary with a little bit of planning.
3. Keep reusable shopping bags in the car and in my purse at all times.
4. Make more homemade snacks. I rely on the goldfish crackers and frozen waffles too much. I already own popsicle molds.
5. Rinse and reuse the plastic bags we use for freezing, especially stuff like bread that doesn't leave too much of a mess.


End of Summer

It's a foggy kind of day...I stayed up too late for no particular reason and woke up to rain. I thought about taking the kids to Phipps - which is a fantastic place to go when it's gloomy outside, but M has the car today and I didn't want to take the bus. We went to Creative Reuse instead, on what has to be the worst sidewalk in the neighborhood, all broken glass and discarded needles. Today there was even an abandoned pick up truck, with smashed windows and flat tires. Laurel wore her rain boots, but thankfully hesitated at jumping in the puddles along the way. I wonder about raising my kids up next to all this urban decay and crime. But there's something really beautiful about listening to the crickets chirping from within piles of discarded brick and weeds. We've neglected our backyard a bit this summer, and it's suddenly thick with small trees and Rose of Sharon. It reminds me of how easily the forest could overtake us if we gave it a chance. This summer one of the books we bought the Reading Warriors was the World Without Us, which must be a terribly foreign concept to teens living in well-kept suburbs, but there's evidence of it all around us in the falling-down houses in Homewood and Larimar that we walk by. The old people in the neighborhood remember Mrs. So and So who used to live there and always had geraniums in the summer, but it's hard to imagine now as holes in the roof open up and porch floors sag with moisture.

Laurel started school yesterday, but they have this weird easing-into-preK kind of schedule, so she doesn't go back until Friday, and next week is a partial week due to holidays. Instead, we're enjoying a few last leisurely days at home. I picked up a carton of air-dry clay. It has a much different texture than playdoh, and Laurel was really into experimenting with adding different amounts of water to thin it out. It made a giant mess, though.

Marko sits up. I noticed a few weeks ago that if I sat him up he would stay there for a while before toppling over, and now he can push himself up on his own. He crawls on his stomach, very quickly. We have nine thousand baby toys, but he is interested only in chewing on electrical cords or dirty shoes.

The hardest thing about having these two kids is the age difference. They are three years apart and so totally different in what they need and how they play, but both require constant attention. Marko likes to grab, smash or fling anything he gets his little hands on. Laurel likes to set up elaborate castles or stores or tea parties. Obviously these are not exactly compatible traits. I imagine this will simply get better with time.


The Price of (Dis)Obedience

I went back-to-school shopping this week, clutching the checklist we received in the mail, and getting a little teary-eyed. I opted to go without the kids. I pondered over backpack styles and got a plain pink one for Laurel instead of the My Little Pony one that I know she would have begged for if she was there. The teacher asked for kleenex and clorox wipes, so I threw those into my basket as well, and couldn't help but think of November and cold season and how many boogers there must be in a preK classroom at that time of year.

We had a conference today, my first parent-teacher conference as a parent, and it was weird to sit on that side of the little table, folding myself into the miniature chair, looking at a cubby with Laurel's name on it.

She's wild with me. She stomps. Pouts. Screams so loud I wonder what the neighbors think. And then we talk about it, negotiate, explain, repair. Sometimes I apologize, sometimes she does. Mostly we both do, because when two people have an argument, they are usually both at fault.

She is not obedient. I don't raise her to be that way, and I wonder if I had a son first, if it would be different. But I have this daughter, who will grow up to be a woman, and I like her fiery, stompy ways. Her unwillingness to go along with what she believes is unjust. The way that she is sharpening her questioning skills. I worry if I work too hard to make her obedient to me, then she'll fall into that habit with the rest of the world. Perhaps in her teens, she'll have no reason to rebel against me, and will instead use that endless adolescent sense of outrage to protest true injustices of the world.

We have 6 rules in our house.

Be kind.
No yelling.
Take care of our bodies.
Take care of our things.
Help each other.
No hurting other people.

Laurel and I wrote these rules together one day last year talking about how getting along helped everyone to get to do what they want. "Follow directions" was always a rule in my classroom, but it didn't make the cut here, mainly because it seems redundant if you are following all the other rules. I do worry, though, as Laurel heads off to school that she will not follow all the directions, at least without getting a proper explanation from the teacher and that will be annoying to her teacher and her classmates.

So there is a price for disobedience, I suppose. But also a price for obedience. I wonder sometimes when I hang up the phone without getting exactly what I wanted from customer service, or when I fail to negotiate the raise I deserve, or when I see someone intimidated on the street by someone and do nothing...how much of that is from being discouraged from questioning the status quo. I wish, instead of being told to listen, to respect elders, that I "just had to go along with the system" that I had been taught mediation skills and civil disobedience skills and empowerment skills so that every time I saw something stupid or unjust I would do something about it. Every time, I would speak up. Every homophobic or racist or misogynistic comment. Every politician who behaves poorly. Every time my own contributions are belittled and disrespected.

It feels bold just to imagine myself that way, and I can only really write it because this is a blog and I can't see you. But maybe Laurel will have the confidence that I lack. (If she doesn't get kicked out of PreK for it.)


the Village

My friend Prachi sent around an article about post-partum customs that spurred a discussion amongst my mom friends about how nice it would be to have more of a widely accepted cultural basis for giving new moms lots of rest after they have a baby.

This is America. Land of frontiersmen and individualism. We are tough and take pride in that, or at least that's an element that I see running through "American" culture. Maybe that's why we expect women to bounce right back after childbirth.

I also think the natural birth community has some responsibility. Ironically, all the talk about being a strong woman and birth being a "natural process" can lead women to think that there is something wrong with us if we need painkillers for a couple of weeks and have to stay in bed. I think this causes a lot of women to push through the discomfort and not allow themselves enough time to heal.

But as I was thinking about all of this, it occurred to me that it's not just the post-partum period we need to support each other through. My friend Sarah came over for a quick post-bedtime glass of wine the other night (one of my favorite, easy ways to stay connected with my friends) and we talked at length about the feeling of isolation that comes with staying at home with your kids. About how hard it is to foster the kinds of relationships you need to get by as a mom.

I have an incredible support network of friends, family and neighbors. People show up at the perfect times. An invitation for dinner from my friend down the street comes when I have no idea what to cook for dinner and just need to get out of the house. A phone call from the neighbor to see if I need anything at the grocery store, just as I've run out of milk. Another neighbor shoveling our sidewalk for us when he notices we haven't gotten to it yet. Aunts that research vegetarian, gluten-free recipes and make them for us. Teenage cousins that happily spend hours playing with Laurel just when she needs some attention.

This afternoon, my mom and I joined forces to watch my kids and one of their little cousins. My uncle was working on my dad's truck and benefited from not having a little one underfoot. My dad needed his truck to be fixed. My mom and I took turns exercising at the park while the kids played at the playground. In the evening, my dad and I cooked dinner while my mom watched the girls play in the pool and my aunt showed up to hold Marko.

So, yes, we basically spent the day watching kids, cooking and cleaning up messes, but it never once felt overwhelming. Also, I took an hour and a half long nap, and went for a 2 mile run. Definitely would have been hard to squeeze that in if I was on my own.

I am in full favor of figuring out ways to allow the post-partum mom to stay in bed for a couple of weeks. But I am even more in favor of community building that results in continual support, from the cradle to the grave. It would be nice if we had some government sanctioned support (I had no maternity leave for either one of my kids. Didn't even qualify for FMLA.) However, barring that, I think taking care of our family, friends and neighbors provides even better insurance that they will be there for us when we need them.


Path of Destruction

Marko is On. The. Move.

I just watched him army crawl his way around the living room, finding electrical cords and tie pins (?) along the way. Now he's discovered M's record collection and is busy flinging them down, one by one.


Six Months and Some

I just saved 4 grand. No need
to go to Disney. This Cookie
was celebrity enough.
Marko is 6 months old, creeping up on 7 months. Laurel is "not just 3, I'm 3 and a half," as she told one of our neighbors at the Ice Cream Social the other night. I've been writing a lot about my work, but there are many hours in the day spent cuddling, nursing, playing, painting, running through the park, and all the other good stuff of summer.

We just got home from an impromptu and very late dinner out at Eat n Park. You would have thought we took Laurel to Disney, that was how excited she was. They have a big Smiley Cookie statue in the lobby and she made me take her picture with it. She carefully considered her options when ordering and even requested a substitution (grapes instead of mixed fruit). She watched our server closely and declared that someday she would work there. Marko smiled and cooed at all the other customers until they smiled back, and ate a whole tube-packet of spinach-pea-pear baby food. (Did you know commercial baby food now comes in these squeezy tubes?)

Some Marks.
M and I, in an attempt to meet new people and have a little non-parenting adult fun, joined a PSL softball league this summer. Our intention was to make it sort of a date night, but we could never secure a sitter and ended up dragging the kids along to all the games and then tag teaming - one on the field, one watching the kids. The team is awesome...reminiscent of the Sons of Pitches, but little kids sort of ruin the vibe of beer league softball, or at least it was no fun to drive out to Mt. Oliver with the Liberty Tunnels being closed.

I just found out school starts for Laurel in less than 3 weeks. She's going to a Montessori pre-K, one of the magnet schools in our public school district. She is definitely ready....yesterday we ran into the kids from her old daycare at the playground and she literally screamed with delight and then ran around in circles holding hands with her two best friends. I learned a valuable lesson this summer. Playdates are not enough for Laurel. She needs the chaos of a large group of children. I hate large groups of people and would happily sit at home and work from my office. I love the internet for letting me do that. Mark is sort of the same way. It's weird getting to know your kid. I definitely believe in the power of nurture, but it's become clear to me these last few years that your children arrive with their own personalities and preferences. I supposed you can mold some of these things by the environment in which you raise them, but there's a limit. Your nurturing at its best will simply help their personalities develop fully....it won't make them into different people.

Our intention was originally to homeschool Laurel. I won't say that it's off the table permanently, but it's clear to us that she has a need and a desire to learn in a large group.

Where will we find Marko on this spectrum? (And he's turned from Mark O to Marko this summer.) He's much more chill and laid back than Laurel, although I think he's learned to cry to get attention; his 6 month old cry sounds a lot like Laurel's screamy 3 1/2 year old cry. He does this thing where he stares at new people for a few seconds, then smiles and buries his face in my shoulder. Gets 'em every time. He's a total flirt, and he certainly didn't get those skills from us!

He learned to scoot around in an army crawl and nothing is off limits. If I put him in his bouncy seat without strapping him in, he turns over and carefully swings his legs over the side, as if ready to get down and run around. He can't stand up, so this would end poorly if we weren't spotting him. He also thinks it's really funny to roll right off the bed. Again, obviously we catch him, but he laughs every time.

He went from gagging every time I put a spoon near his mouth to hungrily downing 3 or 4 jars of baby food a day. His favorite is green beans and he makes an "aaahhh" sound when he wants more. He always seemed like a tiny baby, but suddenly he has fat baby legs and started sprouting some hair and I realized that this time is fleeting. Next summer, he'll have blonde hair to match Laurel's and I'll be chasing around two kids at the spray park.

So, that's life around here lately.


What I did over summer break....

Remember when I said I was going to scale back this summer? Hang out with my kids. Maybe paint a little. Clean the attic. Hang out at the pool.

Yeah, didn't happen like that.

A few weeks into June, my boss approached me and said he had some money for a reading camp. He's an idea guy. A Big Idea guy, and the kind of person who never has to deal with the details so it doesn't even seem to occur to him when things might be really, really hard to put together. The idea was to connect high school kids with elementary kids and read. Simple at the core, and I'm happy to say we kept it that way. Complicated in the execution, what with coordinating 30 teenagers at 4 sites with 80 kids and 500 books.

We ordered bean bag chairs and books, a journal for every kid and boxes and boxes of index cards. We read and read and read and read some more and then made sight word memory games with the index cards. We went to the library and at first got kicked out and then met the magical Ms. Sheila. The kids made puppets and put on plays and held a spelling bee. Last Tuesday, we gathered on the steps of the church and read in front of the whole neighborhood. But mostly they just read, paired off in groups of two or three. They reread their favorite books and badgered us to check out new ones from the library on our cards. They had quiet conversations of which I'll never know the content.

Hopefully we stopped the "summer slide" for them, and I'm gathering data right now to prove that, but the real beauty comes in ways that are impossible to track. We carved out a quiet space for these kids so they could simply relax and share stories. We gave them the opportunity to fall in love with words without the pressure of having to sound them out in front of a classroom full of kids who can be cruel to those who are a little slower. We let them hate books and choose another one.

It was freakin' magical.

My partner in crime for this project was a woman I taught with at Propel McKeesport, back before we had children. There were many times during this summer when I apologized for dragging her into this. (They are teens. There was occasional chaos and attitude.) She always dismissed it and reminded me of the magic. Reminded me that we were privileged to be in a position to watch this happen.

"Reading is Power,"read one sign we held up at our Public Display of Reading.

I really think there's something to that.


Happy (whoa) 10th, M!

M & K's Wedding
August 2, 2003
It's been a decade since M & K officially tied the knot. And to go way, way back, we started dating 17 years ago on August 4. 

It was the nineties, yo. We were wearing flannel back then. I still had a Toad the Wet Sprocket tape in my cassette player. I still had a cassette player. Weird.

This summer, I've been working with high school students and it blows me away to think that I was once like them. Naive and rebellious. And it was under those conditions that a spark ignited this relationship and here we are.....17 years later.

I won't lie, sustaining a relationship for this long is hard. I change, he changes. The world changes. It used to be the two of us, and now our family is four and sometimes it's hard just to find each other at the end of a long day. 

But I can't imagine another person I'd rather walk this path with, M. Happy Anniversary. To many more.


Camping. With kids. 10 Lessons.

You can do it. But it's not pretty.
So, it turns out you can go on a week long camping trip with your family of four in a subcompact car. After a brief stop in Saint Marys to visit family, we headed out to Poe Valley State Park. It was raining as we headed down the 10 miles of desolate forest service road into the park. Our cell phones were soon out of range. (This was perhaps the greatest benefit of this pretty little park as it enabled us to take a true break from work.)

Camping with young kids alternates between being the most awesome thing you'll ever do and pure wretchedness. One minute your 3 year old is correctly identifying a bald eagle landing in a tree 50 feet away and you're like, yeah, I am the best parent ever, giving my kid all these formative experiences in the natural world.

Happy kid. Who needs the ocean
when you have a CCC lake?
Twenty minutes later, there's a poopsplosion at the same time somebody falls in a mud puddle and you realize you did not pack enough dinners for the entire week and it is a good hour to the nearest town. You desperately want to be at an all-inclusive Sandals resort with childcare. Or at least some place with a television.

But then it gets better. (And then worse. And then better again.)

Poe Valley is awesome for both tenting and RVs. Dogs are allowed at a select number of sites. They have a nice beach, flush toilets and hot showers. Once you get there, everything is walkable. It's extremely clean and well taken care of...all of the buildings are pretty new. Tent sites have packed gravel areas for you to set up your tent on, which turned out to be awesome in the rain. It's not very big compared to other state parks we've been to, and there were maybe 8 other families there for most of the week (it fills up on the weekends). All for the low, low price of $21 a night!

Marko suddenly became intent on
eating everything we did.
Generally speaking, I would call it a success. Here are a few of my tips for camping with little ones without going bonkers.

1. I normally wouldn't advocate for this, but bring paper plates and bowls. If you feel guilty about this like I do, just burn them and pretend like it never happened.
2. Keep the food simple. We even made a dozen PB&J's in advance, and while we got a little sick of them after a few days, it was so nice to just pull something out when the munchies hit...which with 3 year olds is only at THE most inconvenient times.
3. Buy a cooler with a drain. For the love of god, why do they even manufacture coolers without this feature?
4. Bring a bike or a scooter if possible. We borrowed a little scooter for Laurel to use and she loved hanging out with the big kids, just scooting back and forth in the campground loop.
5. Where do hipsters/yuppies/urbanites camp? We were definitely the only people who brought a quinoa salad made with our farm-share potatoes. Don't start any conversations about fuel efficient vehicles or Barack Obama. Not that we do this ever, but I'm just warning you.
There's really nothing better
than watching Laurel run
through the woods.
6. Leave the portable DVD player at home. Same with video games and iPOds and whatever other electronic crap normally entertains your children. Note: this will make the trip painful and at times unbearable. However, after a few days, I noticed Laurel was more tolerant of being quiet and observing things. She spent about 20 minutes watching a grasshopper while we waited for M to finish a trail run.
7. Each morning we sat around the fire and discussed what we wanted to do. Each person gets one pick a day. That seemed to just about fill up our day.
8. As part of your vacation budget, you may want to include a professional cleaning of your car. Our car smells like feet, stale Cheddar Bunnies and campfire smoke.
9. Invest in some field guides. We have some of these, and they are very useful.
10. Relax. The kids were going to throw a temper tantrum at some point at home anyway, right? So swallow your pride when it happens in front of other campers and you can always lock them in the car if they are too loud.


Heat Wave

It's so hot we don't bother to dress the baby at all.  We sip ice water with cucumber slices in it and position ourselves in front of the fans. In the heat of the day, we retreat to the bedoom and watch tv shows with the blinds closed. Laurel splashes in a bucket of water on the front porch. She squeezes water out of a sponge all over her chalk drawings and watches the colors run together. Every summer, I think, screw this. Find that quote for the central air conditioning. Or better yet, let's move north. But there is something very satisfying about living with the weather like this. I can't forget that it's July. I like being able to orient myself upon waking. Without opening my eyes, the humidity, the hum of the cicadas reminds me of where I am.

When I sponge off Marko while we watch traffic from our porch swing, I can remember Laurel's first summer and holding her hot little body in just a diaper. A heat wave. A visit from Leah. A hike in the woods with my mom friends and their sons.


What is the real story in the Trayvon Martin case?

After following the trial of George Zimmerman, I was not surprised at the verdict. Saddened, but not surprised. There are so many layers to this story.

There is the story about keeping our neighborhoods safe. It's frustrating to call 911 a hundred times and never see a police officer respond to your complaint. It's annoying when you do get a chance to talk to them after they follow up on a call and they are rude or dismissive. I cannot excuse Zimmerman for so incredibly overstepping the bounds of a neighborhood block watch, but I can understand what fueled his rage.

There is also the story of gun control. If there wasn't a gun involved maybe both parties would still be alive so that we could hear each side. The prevalence of guns makes it way too easy for something permanent to happen. Nobody saw exactly what happened and only the person left standing got to tell his side of the story.

And then there is the story of race.

Type, type, type. Delete, delete, delete.

It's hard for me to even acknowledge race in a blog post.

Last week, one of my high school kids read a book about Ruby Bridges and had a little conversation with the elementary kids about this very brave thing that Ruby did and how schools used to be "just for Blacks" or "just for Whites."

Used to be. Ahem. Well, I mean, technically. Errr. Ok, kids, so the school you go to is all Black. And your neighborhood is all Black. Your church. The busline you ride. Heck, there are two grocery stores near my house - literally across the street from each other - that are segregated. Should we talk about that?

Remember that Cheerios commercial with the interracial couple that got the racist internet trolls all fired up? Well somebody showed it to some kids and videotaped their reactions and we can all feel good because the kids think racism is stupid and probably once they grow up and all the racists die, we'll be all good. Finally. We have a non-white president. Things are getting better, right?

I want this to be the narrative. We all want this to be the narrative. We're all the same on the inside. It shouldn't really matter. Etcetera.

I am so, so White. And never it is more clear to me than when I go to work in Black communities. Stereotypes come from somewhere, you know. Some of it's sort of funny in how true it ends up being. Mayonaise. Dominoes pizza. Hiking. Microbreweries. Ironing your jeans. Super white sneakers. Fried chicken. Pottery Barn. You know which is black and which is white, don't you?

How I punish my children. What my friends' children call me. What we watch on tv. Funerals. Baby clothes.

Some silly differences, and some that run a little deeper, but these aren't the kinds of things that will keep you from being friends from someone, keep you from respecting someone. These are the kinds of things that you laugh about when you get to know each other.

But when you spend a lot of time crossing the lines that are so clearly divided in this city, you won't be able to ignore the Trayvon Martin differences. Who is allowed to walk somewhere late at night without drawing suspicion. What it's like to just try and live your life without accidentally crossing the path of both gangbangers and George Zimmermans. What you are allowed to do to protect yourself, depending on the status society has determined you deserve.

The kinds of heart-to-heart talks I'll have with my blonde-haired, blue-eyed son, versus the talks my Black friends will have with their sons.

It may be better than grown people swearing and spitting at six year old Ruby Bridges. But it's not good enough. Not by a long shot.


This one time at reading camp....

“Some say they get lost in books, but I find myself, again and again, in the pages of a good book. Humanly speaking, there is no greater teacher, no greater therapist, no greater healer of the soul, than a well-stocked library.” 
― L.R. Knost

A few weeks ago I got an opportunity to run a reading camp this summer. It is not exactly the best time in my life to plunge into sudden full-time employment by launching a completely new initiative that involves hundreds of people and four locations, but, well...it's reading. I couldn't resist.

We hired 40 high school students and sent them out to 4 summer camps across the East End. We call them Reading Warriors, and our aim is to match them one on one with elementary kids and collectively log a million minutes reading. For many years I have believed - and in fact, have become increasingly more convinced over time - that time spent reading for pleasure, outside of the obligations of school or work, could solve most problems. I believe this because of some research like this or this or this, but also because I have personally witnessed the transformation of children who learn to call themselves "readers" and act like "readers" and subsequently change the trajectory of their academic careers. I've seen it happen over and over again in my tutoring business and in the schools where I've taught. I consider teaching reading to be my superpower, and although my background in linguistics and reading education is certainly helpful to correct any number of reading disabilities, the super part of the power comes from believing that reading more makes you a better reader. And being a better reader unlocks opportunities for self-growth, for connecting with others, and empowerment.

I couldn't pass up this opportunity because when the project was pitched it was just about reading. No Common Core. No cross curricular STEM connection. Just books and kids.

Turns out, it's kind of hard to run a program like this. To craft it the right way, and get buy-in and order the right kinds of books. To get it all organized and rolled out in a week and a half and keep things going while dashing to your car to pump three times a day and managing the day-to-day drama of inner-city teenagers.

It doesn't look like what I thought it would look like.

I still believe in it, though, in the power of sharing print, in stories reread while lounging on bean bags. In visits to the library. In teenagers carrying around tattered copies of Othello. In children squealing with delight as someone reads Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type to them.

Today a kid asked me who my Reading Warrior was, when I was a kid. As if Reading Warriors weren't something that we just invented a few weeks ago. I had almost forgotten that, because I have invested so much faith in them, in their power. I wonder if the burden is too great, or if they will rise beyond my expectations. Two weeks in and the honeymoon is over, but we still have 4 weeks to go.


Happy 17 years, M

We ran into each other at a community park, introduced by mutual friends, during the July 4th celebration. I asked my dad for special permission to go watch the fireworks with my friends and go to Eat n Park afterward. I have no doubt that had my mother been there that night, I would not have been allowed to go. M still has the little slip of paper placemat with my phone number written on it in red crayon.

Happenstance was our foundation, and became a pattern over the years. How we met new friends and made decisions. Our hearts were open to the possibility of each other all those years ago. We didn't know where it would lead us or if it would be good. I can see that it was simply in our nature to trust in possibility. We found each other because of an equally matched desire to follow unknown paths. To say yes to things without really knowing if we'll be successful at them.

After 17 years, we're still saying yes. To each other and to whatever the world throws our way. Much love to you, M, on one of the  many anniversaries we've accumulated.


Rosie the Cat

Rosie, circa 2004. She says, "Phoenix?
Really, guys?"
I'm surprised by how much I cry.

First, when I ran back into the house - the kids all loaded in carseats already - to get lawn chairs from the basement. I saw her from the stairs, lying there on the floor, in a position unusual for her. I cried because I wasn't expecting it, not at that moment anyway, and because I don't want to have to deal with it. And then, later, when M wrapped her in a sheet and tucked her in a box. We went to the concert anyway, Laurel crying the whole way because it took too long and she has "nothing to do" and Mark O fussing because he hates riding in the car when he can't see my face. Tears streamed down my face quietly, until I started laughing after Laurel shouted, "Oh no! We are all crying! What will we do?"

I never even wanted a cat. M convinced me, the year we got our first apartment together. She came to us through one of his work friends. She was a neurotic creature, who didn't like to live with other pets. She had trouble grooming her long hair, and a passive-aggressive way of shitting on the floor when she disapproved of something. When he brought her home, she crawled under the claw-foot tub and stayed there all day. That night, she came scratching at our bedroom door and mewed until we let her in. She curled up at the foot of our bed and slept like that for the next 8 or 9 years.

She was fairly tolerant of our cross country moves and long term house guests and roommates. Late nights and wild parties. We used to have her shaved into the "cub cut" during the summer. She would eventually be grateful to be free of her long hair in the hot weather, but on the first day, she always looked naked and self-conscious. She had an extremely sarcastic and judgmental glance. But she also rubbed up against my ankles while I did the dishes, and kept me company whenever M was away. Her purr sounded almost like a chirp when she was especially satisfied.

When we moved to our current house and had kids, she was already very gray, and not as limber. She used to leap effortlessly up to the window sills or the back of the couch. She could still manage it to the end - even this past week, I saw her get up on the dining room window sill to look at a squirrel running back and forth across our garage roof. But she looked arthritic and unbalanced doing it.

Rosie says, "What is that thing and why
 is it so loud?"
Five years ago she started having kidney problems. The vet tried to give her this fancy, scientifically-prepared food, but she would only eat dry Purina kibble. Hairball Formula. Who knows what's in that crap, but I'm surprised she survived a decade and a half on it. Anytime we would bring home another brand it would sit uneaten in her dish for days.

Since Laurel started walking, Rosie pretty much moved into the basement. She would only come up when Laurel was at daycare, or late at night. However, recently, Laurel started visiting her in the basement, gently stroking her ears and bringing her scoops of cat food. Laurel learned to mimic Rosie's purring noises, but even after they started getting along, she would tell everyone she met, "We have an old cat. She is grumpy."

I'm surprised at how universal death is, for all living creatures. The way the spirit of a person or an animal leaves the body, and how profound that feeling is when you look at the body, at what is left. She was so decidedly gone. I wonder where that energy goes - all the subtle gestures that make up one's personality.

I'm not a cat person, not even a pet person, really. But Rosie was a trusty companion for 12 years and we'll miss her a lot.


Happy Father's Day

There are a lot of dance parties when M is around. I join in, but they are definitely instigated by M, or if Laurel suggests them, he always has the perfect song to put on right away.

Me? Not so much. I join in, but they aren't my thing. I don't make them happen the way M does. When he came back from Austin last week, there was a joyous living room reunion with a lot of twirling, spinning and leaping.

One of the benefits of having two parents is that you balance each other out. You each have your "things." Laurel likes to go out for pancakes with M. He takes her to have her haircut. They listen to Wire and Patti Smith. He taught her how to knead dough. They build giant castles out of wooden blocks together.

When Mark O was a newborn, he would turn his head the second he heard M's voice. Now he loves it when M rubs his head. I look forward to seeing what special rituals they develop together.

I have this memory of walking along a creek with my dad and brother and sister. It must have been summer, because we were school-aged - Danna and I at least. My brother's hat fell into the creek and I can remember my dad chasing it as it washed downstream. It was hilarious to all of us, and he never seemed to get mad about stuff like that. We could get muddy without getting in trouble. Everything was an adventure. When I think of that scene - one tiny snapshot out of decades of memories, it kind of sums up how I think about my dad. And when I look towards the future, I can see Laurel and Mark O following M along a creek bed in exactly the same way.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!


Parenting Observations

I keep writing and deleting posts about working and it's driving me crazy. Situation is not resolved for me, but I'm done talking about it for now.

Anyway, here are some good old fashioned observations of my kids for the record.

Mark O rolls over. He can really only roll back to front, then he tries to crawl, but he can't because he's only 4 months old, so he squawks until one of us comes to the rescue and flips him back the other way. Endless hours of entertainment. Or frustration. Mostly entertainment, because Mark O has a really nice temperament.

He looks interested in food, but we tried some bananas and rice cereal and he's not so into the actual eating part as he is into snatching things off the table and chucking them on the floor. He can't really sit up yet, so it's probably a little early for the food.

He puts everything in his mouth, including his toes. He still likes to be swaddled and suck on a pacifier to go to sleep. He just had a checkup and weighed 12 pounds 9 ounces and was 24 inches long.

The thing I most enjoy about him right now is his smile.

Laurel's favorite games to play are 1. school (adults must be students, stuffed animals need not apply), 2. road trip (usually to the Smoky Mountains or Florida) and 3. get chased by other people's dads at the playground. (Sounds creepy, but it's not.) We recently connected with some other families who take their kids out after dinner, which is awesome. Laurel goes to bed when it's dark, which is getting pretty late as we approach the summer solstice. We went to Hartwood for a concert last night and it makes me really happy to see her take off running in that wide open field, blonde hair streaming behind her.

She's 32 pounds and I'm not exactly sure how tall. When I try to hold her in the rocking chair, there's long legs everywhere and she doesn't fit in my lap so well anymore.

She loves princesses and fairies, visiting the pet store to look at the animals, and cutting paper into itty bitty pieces.

The thing I most enjoy about her right now is her exploding vocabulary. I can't believe how many "big" words she uses, and what she knows about animals from watching tv and reading books. I also think it's funny how much she sounds like me sometimes. (Oh. My. Gawd.)


The Blurry Edges

It's 2am and I nurse the baby while staring at the glowing screen of my iPhone, doing research for a grant. I piece together a 15 hour work week in 15 minute chunks. It all works out, except when somebody won't go down for their regular nap, or wants to be held all night, or gets a fever.

Wednesdays, I drop Mark O off to "have lunch" with M, so I can meet with my reading buddy. He doesn't much like to read and pesters me to buy him candy from Ms. Princess, who sells it outside the cafeteria door. Is it good that I come? Will it make a difference? Push him towards success in school? Or maybe just bring a little happiness to his day? I don't know.

I pat myself on the back for making it to a last minute meeting. I park Laurel in the corner with her headphones and portable DVD player and tell them, "I have 47 minutes." Everyone laughs and coos at the baby. He comes everywhere with me, mostly asleep, but sometimes wide blue eyes open up to stare at the ceiling. I keep gummy bears in my pocket in case I need to bribe Laurel to do something quickly or quietly (she is, by nature, neither).

I do a lot of work for free. It's tedious, but crucial, to be the squeaky wheel. Phone call here, email there. Document everything. It's balance; you have to be mostly polite and friendly, with a carefully measured dose of bitchiness so they don't ignore you.

Learn to say no, and call people out on what they didn't do that they said they would. Pause 3 seconds after delivering that line, and then smile. A genuine smile, to disarm them and let them know that you aren't looking to get them in trouble. You just want a safe crosswalk for your kids. You just want to keep junkies off your porch. You are asking for something completely reasonable.

Hanging fliers and knocking on doors to rally neighbors for a zoning hearing is both altruistic and selfish....we got robbed 3 times in the first two years we lived here and it's a lot of work to keep the drug traffic to a minimum. We make a game of it, "I Spy the next phone pole..." and Laurel runs ahead, blonde ponytail swinging wildly from side to side. She greets our neighbors, hands them fliers, doesn't ask questions about the houses we skip on purpose.

Pumping in my house while the babysitter watches the kids downstairs feels weird, but helps me to separate the "work" from the "home," even as all the edges blur together.

I have this belief that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, at exactly the time I am supposed to be here. At 27 I was poised to land somewhere else with a fancier business card. I walked 2,000 miles instead. It would be nice, I sometimes think, to have been more career-minded. Maybe I'd have a better salary now, some tenure, a 401K. But these days I'm struck by how "enough" this feels. I have enough.  I am enough. This is enough.