We take our time. It's cold then pleasant then cold again. My days are long and slow. My stories are equal parts mundane and magical. Better for you to just look for now.


Kid Party

Laurel wanted a "glow in the dark" birthday party for her friends this year. For the last several years she's obsessed over her birthday party for at least six months before it happens. If she had her way, every year would be a "blow-out" and everyone she ever met would come. We tried to scale back those expectations. I bought a 100 pack of glow sticks and looked up some recipes for glow in the dark playdough. I never made playdough before, but this recipe was really easy, though I bought decoupage instead of paint and it didn't glow very well.

To give the kids something structured to do during the party, we started off actually making up batches of playdough as they arrived. This was sort of messy, but the kids were surprisingly engaged for at least a half an hour. I gave them all aprons to put on, and covered my table with a layer of newspaper and a plastic tablecloth that I just stripped off and threw away when we were done. The parents who stuck around were able to just chill out in the living room during that time, which I'm sure they appreciated. Next we gave everybody pizza to eat. They also liked the veggie tray we made (Laurel's idea). It looked sort of like this.

Next we broke out the glow sticks. While they were making crowns and bracelets and necklaces to wear, we shut all the curtains and converted our living room into a night club. We have black-out curtains because we live on a busy, well-lit street corner, so it was pretty easy to make it dark, even though it was a sunny afternoon. They danced like crazy. The adults danced like crazy. We probably could have kept the dance party going for way longer, but in the interest of keeping our party to 2 hours, we opened presents and dug into the Dave and Andy's ice cream cake.

I didn't take any photos or videos. I think M got a couple, but mostly we were just hanging with the kids, keeping the activities going and having a good time. I think I was smart to limit the guest list. Our house isn't super huge and more than 20 people would have been uncomfortable. She invited about 10 kids. Eight came and with siblings and parents we were at just about 20.

Planning and setting up the party with Laurel was a lot of fun. She assembled goody bags, and helped to test the playdough recipe and arranged the veggie tray. We talked about etiquette and she learned how to open the door, greet her guests and take their coats. Today we'll write some thank you notes. She got some really awesome gifts and it was cute how excited each guest was to show Laurel what they brought for her.



Laurel's school was on lockdown at dismissal time yesterday and the police situation (which was around the block and had nothing to do with the school) wasn't resolved for some two and a half hours. Of course I had taken the bus over there and it started snowing and I had no snacks and only one diaper because the plan was to grab her quick and get home to our warm house.

Marko gets a piano lesson
while we wait for Laurel.
Plans. I rarely make them, and this is why.

But grace surrounded us. After we stood there for a while, as other parents arrived and squinted at the hand-written note taped to the side door, it became clear that waiting outside may not be a good idea, especially for those of us with younger children in tow. First of all, it was snowing harder all the time and I had deliberately left Marko's mittens at home, because I am searching for the mitten clips that my Aunt Mary sent to Laurel because I know he will try to take them off and we will lose them forever. Everyone was getting a little chapped in the wind. One of the mothers suggested the church basement across the street. She had a key. A group of us marched over there together, texting as we went, because people's mothers and spouses were getting wind of the situation and inquiring about our safety. (There were a ton of police officers closing off the area, but it's not as if bullets were flying.)

The church was beautiful. We walked through a chapel, hushed by the wall to wall carpet and the dome high above. Marko and I stopped at the alter. I'm used to a dying Jesus holding prominent place in front of a chapel, but this just had a cross and a bible open to Thessalonians. It was very quiet and Marko said "shhhhh" and put his finger to his lip. Amen, I said. Amen, said Marko.

Then we went through another hallway and there was a room with a stage and a piano, and then a playroom where babies were rolling about on a carpet and toddlers were climbing on a miniature jungle gym.

A little girl stopped what she was doing and asked, "What's that boy's name?"

"Marko," I said, and she replied, "Marko. I like that."

She was four, I learned, and she made an equally complimentary remark about the name of every other child that showed up.

Then a cheerful man, who looked just slightly older than me, came in and told us to help ourselves to anything. He had to go out and pay the mechanic for his car and could someone fetch his son if this was all resolved soon? He rushed out shouting, there's grape juice in the kitchen!

He's a church elder, said one of the mothers. He seemed young to be an elder, but he was so pleasant with the little ones and happy to be able to offer his church building to us. I immediately wanted to join this church. People were just hanging around, texting and playing with the kids. Another call came from the school informing us that nothing had changed and our children were fine. Eating snacks and nobody was scared, they said.

The church elder soon returned with grocery bags. We poured milk for the little ones and stood around eating cheese and apples. It got dark. The snow stopped.

I thought about the man, barricaded inside the apartment down the street. They said he was older, and that it was dispute over an eviction. He had a shotgun and was refusing to leave. It's a changing neighborhood, property values going up. This happens a lot, said someone. Not the gun part. The eviction part.

I've never been pressed that hard by circumstance. I can't imagine clinging to our house like that. But it's cold and what if we had nowhere else to go?

Some people felt scared that their children were so close to all this police activity. They were angry at the man. Some people just felt angry at the inconvenience of it all. The angry people were mostly waiting outside. They would come inside for a moment to give a report, and then return outside to pace and badger the police officers directing traffic at the corner. A long time passed before the school called again. Eventually, everything was "resolved" and we were permitted to line up inside the school building and get our kids. Marko fell asleep on my shoulder as we walked to the bus stop together. Laurel cried because she was exhausted and confused.

The only thing to be done was to talk about it and order a pizza. M and Laurel read a book about leopards. Marko woke up briefly to eat and then went back to sleep.

Today, the neighborhood was back to normal when we approached the school, but Laurel didn't want to go in. She begged to stay home, then came up with a series of excuses. I finally negotiated her down to an early pick up, which satisfied her enough to take her coat off and join her classmates on the carpet. 



It is noon, but it could be dawn. It could be dusk. A ceiling of thick gray clouds is a Pittsburgh sky. It stays all day, maybe all week. The bare trees, the periodic shower of snow flurries, says winter (or spring or fall). You can lose yourself in this bleakness. Down the street, the beeping and humming of construction vehicles shuttling dirt around, turning housing project into parking garage. But here this corner has rusty light poles and faded paint and the bus never comes on time.  Marko is strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, not too heavy but just getting a little too bulky to carry him like this. Legs dangle and his winter coat and mine make for a snug fit. But he's sleeping and his head still has that sweet baby smell. There is no rush to get anywhere and no point fretting anyway. It's just me and the Pittsburgh sky, same as it ever was.


So My Family Had Its First Same Sex Wedding

Over the weekend my aunt was finally able to marry her partner of 11 years, giving legal recognition to what was already a long established family and household. 

It also gave most of my extended family a chance to attend their first same-sex wedding. 

Basically, it was simply a really nice wedding and we all had a blast. The venue was out in the country, lovely with the lingering fall leaves. Cousins and aunts and uncles arrived from all over the country, some in time to join us to celebrate Laurel's birthday on Thursday. All of the great-nieces and great-nephews (my kids included) were the flower girls and ring bearers, which made for an adorable start of the ceremony and much enthusiastic dancing throughout the reception. My brother and cousin played some music together, the scripture passages were fitting for the day, and everybody cried when they exchanged vows. We ate, drank, danced and posed for pictures. 

However, in what I thought was a lovely speech, they did acknowledge that it might seem a little different and strange. I believe their choice to marry went beyond a declaration of love and commitment toward each other, although that much was certainly obvious. It was also an act of bravery. They didn't know how everyone would react, and in fact, there were some who chose not to come. But while those folks might have been missed, the love in that room was just way too big to worry about what was missing.

That notion of it being "weird" went right over Laurel's head, by the way. She knows that families come in different configurations. I asked her once what was different between our family and my aunt's and she said, "They have a cat." 

As families around the country experience what we just did, I hope it helps to soften the discourse on marriage equality. When we talk about marriage we are talking about real people, who mow the grass and babysit their nieces and nephews and host Christmas dinner and pay taxes. It's not weird. It's not even really that different.

So, congrats to my aunts for making it official! 


Happy 5th Birthday, Laurel!

Laurel turned 5 today and we went out to breakfast at the Square Cafe. She ordered babycakes, of course, because she always does. Five year olds know what they like.

I especially enjoy Laurel at this age with the contrast of Marko, who is nearly two. He doesn't talk much, other than to name objects, and is utterly impossible to reason with. If he doesn't want to hold your hand when crossing the street, he collapses into a toddler puddle, leaving you to drag his limp body as onlookers tsk and impatient drivers inch close to the crosswalk. Laurel, on the other hand, can understand consequences, even things that are somewhat abstract. She can imagine scenarios other than the one we are in. Plus she has five years of experience to draw upon. She holds your hand without asking because she knows which intersections are particularly dangerous and that collisions can and do happen.

We are storytellers in this house, so our adventures are told and retold and Laurel knows them. "Remember when I was 2 and we drove to Key West and I ate a key lime pie on a stick and it was a DISASTER?!" she says gleefully.

I do. And it was a sticky mess. I paid a hundred dollars to get the car detailed after that trip. I remember the first time she went down a slide by herself and bouncing all night on a yoga ball to keep her from screaming and the way her newborn fingers clutched mine the day she was born and I knew her name was Laurel for all of the Laurelness we saw in her eyes that day. I remember her standing on a stool in the kitchen with M, kneading dough. I remember her first day of school last year, and this year, and how she suddenly turns shy and standoffish at the oddest moments.

This year she ran her first race (placed third) and tried ballet (hated it).  It feels appropriate that she's off at school by herself right now, instead of with me, because this is the direction her childhood is going. She has her own gigs now. She spends six and a half hours a day in the company of peers and adults she is not related to. When we go to the park to play she can roam far from me, without me worrying too much. She can go as high into a tree as she can without assistance and it doesn't bother me.

Her favorite things are My Little Ponies, climbing on just about anything, writing stories and watching Wild Kratts on tv. She loves all things sparkly and pink and purple. She does chores around the house and goes to bed easily. She still crawls into my lap for stories or when she just needs a snuggle. When she is unhappy, she is able to clearly articulate why and offer a solution.

And for Laurel to be five means I have been a mom for five years. Half a decade. A blink of an eye, but also, that's a lot of bandaids and sleepless nights and patty-cake. I like being a mom, but I don't really like talking about it anymore. The first couple of years I suppose I didn't really know what the hell I was doing, so it made sense to obsess over car seats and introducing solids and sleep training. I felt bad and guilty a lot of the time because I would try these things and they didn't work the way they were supposed to. Nonetheless, we muddled through and everyone is still alive and well, although I think that can be mostly chalked up to luck, vaccines and abundant supplies of potable water.

The core work of mothering now feels more like building relationships. Here is the thing that nobody really talked to me about before I had kids....you are inviting real human beings with distinct personalities into your life. You don't know who those people are going to be, although they will hold some of your most vexing attributes (as well as your most charming ones, no doubt). So of course, a big part of mothering is getting to know your own kids and building a really secure and loving relationship with them.

But what I didn't understand until Laurel started to talk about her feelings and personal struggles was that all those other relationships you have really, really matter. Your kids are watching how you navigate conflict with your spouse and parents. They see who you spend time with and what you talk about and how you support each other. They learn how to cultivate....or how to terminate. They see you mess up, and repair it, or neglect it. If I watch them closely, I can see what I am unconsciously teaching my kids because children learn what they live. They carry it out on the playground and with each other.

So, I guess after 5 years, that is what has been most challenging for me, but also what I'm most grateful for.

Happy Birthday, Laurel!


Daylight Savings Cont.

The kids were practically staggering by 6:15. More snuggles for me!


Daylight Savings Time

6:59 and everybody's toast.