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.