Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summer Nanny

I hired a summer nanny. Please don’t hate me. 

I do not have a full-time, paying job. However, I am a full-time mother of three and am trying really hard to spend 20 hours a week writing. I’ve got a few published essays under my belt, but my half-dozen picture book manuscripts are aging on a shelf while I actively search for an agent with my completed early middle grade novel. Plus, I’m five chapters into its sequel.

Oh, and I’m training for a half marathon and go to Crossfit on my non-running days. Does that count as justification for a full-time summer nanny? I think it does.

In summers past, I work hard to prevent that infamous summer slide. Right now my children are ten, eight, and six, so in years past they’ve (obviously) been younger and needier. I’ve worked hard to keep my kids moving and thinking and engaged in all their various interests. We’ve gone on field trips, hikes, long excursions to museums and historical places, and sampled all the ice cream shops within a fifty mile radius.

But the summer slide is real in my own life. All of the workout gains I’ve achieved during the fall, winter, and spring gradually fade as I get to the gym less and run significantly fewer miles. My husband and I constantly argue about how much I need to work out, versus how much I should, and want to. As if there is an answer. As if I should have to defend my hour a day of sweat in order to stay mentally sane and physically fit. But that’s a slice for another day.

And, more important, my writing gets stuffed into the very first hour of the day, before anyone else wakes up. This has always been and remains my most productive writing hour, and I grasp onto it with sharp elbows and scowls if you dare interrupt me. But any other writing is counted in minutes, squeezed into the time my kids are watching TV, they’re occupied by themselves (this never lasts) or in the evenings after they’re asleep, during our “couple time.” Which I know is important, but sometimes it’s hard to be present and happy when I’ve not given myself the other time during the day that I need.

Enter Nikki. She’s our summer nanny. We all love her. My husband’s job allows her to be with one or two or all of my children when they’re not in camp, and she drives them around to help me with the different pick-ups and drop-offs and play-dates and practices. It is a win-win situation. No, actually it’s a win-win-win-win-win-win situation because my husband gets a wife who is—for the most part—present and not completely frazzled at the end of the day. Sometimes, I’m even showered. Nikki is earning a big chunk of change to augment her Catholic schoolteacher salary. And my children only get dragged to half the things they usually get dragged to, which means more hours of play with the neighbors and painting rocks and walking their dog.

Whenever that inevitable mommy guilt threatens to creep up and rain on my gratitude towards this happy summer arrangement, I remember the facts: In one week, my kids are awake for about 100 hours each week. Nikki is with us for 40. I’m still doing my share. I’m doing enough.


But I’ve got to go. Chapter six of my book needs to be written, and I have just two more kid-free hours and a whole lot of work to do.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Marathon Mama

In Spring 2007, I received the good news that I won the lottery--I got into the New York City Marathon. At that point, I'd run four or five marathons before and knew a) what I was getting myself into and b) this race would be different from the others. Why? Because when I received my entry confirmation, I was still pregnant with my first child, who was due in early May.

I was a first time mom, so there were few things I knew for certain at that point. But I was certain that I would not be pregnant forever. I was naive enough to be certain that I would be able to start training for the November race about a month after giving birth, although now I'm wise enough to know that I was lucky not to have complications to prevent this plan from happening.

But that is, indeed, what happened. I gave birth to daughter Lorelei the second week of May, and started to count down the days until marathon training. When I got the go-ahead from my doctor, I began the humbling journey back to fitness by way of marathon training, which is always taxing. But in addition to marathon training, I was also adjusting to sleepless nights, nursing a child, and being responsible for this little being. I did fine on both accounts, but my marathon training was hardly rigorous. Because of the hot Virginia summers and my crazy-first-mom habit of never leaving my child, I did a whole lot of runs--including long runs!--on our treadmill.

The New York City Marathon fell almost exactly six months after her birth. And so, a few days before the race, Lorelei, my husband, and I hopped a train from Washington, D.C., to New York City. We attended the race expo, saw a few sights, and tucked ourselves in early in the city that never sleeps. The start of this marathon was miles and miles from downtown--I couldn't tell you exactly where because I'm not a New Yorker and I don't know New York well, facts that come into play a little later. Because of that, we runners had to take buses to the start. We arrived at this staging area, on average, two hours before the actual start of the race.

Did I mention I was nursing Lorelei? As she was my first, I was following all the baby books verbatim and hadn't introduced any solids to her yet. I figured I'd get to that as soon as we got home from this little trip. Did I mention that because I stayed home with her, I never pumped and gave her a bottle? Letting her latch on and eat was a million times easier and faster.

But on this morning, I had provided breast milk in bottles for my husband and wished him luck. Later, I would see the pictures of a very unhappy and very hungry Lorelei sitting, crying on the bed. Those bottles I left him never got touched.

And, worse news for little Lorelei: this was not my fastest marathon. My lack of serious training, the hills of the race made those 26.2 miles horribly longer than the other marathons I'd run up to that point. I couldn't figure out what borough I was in, but I didn't really care. I probably should have stopped, especially when I passed my husband and baby on the course around mile 18. But I didn't stop. I continued, trudged onward with that shuffles most marathoners know well.

And I shuffled and shuffled until the finish line finally was in front of me. I was completely exhausted, but I suddenly found myself with two more challenges: First, I had to find my husband and child in the meet-up area. They were not where I expected them to be, though later we realized we were waiting just yards away from each other and kept moving to find each other. Second, my breasts suddenly realized that they hadn't nursed in nearly 12 hours and were growing harder and more painful by the second. Who knew that my body could find more ways to hurt?

Finally, we linked up. I staggered to them, and my husband tried to explain that he'd had just as hard a day as I had. I did not answer him. I pulled up my sweaty jog bra to get some relief myself and to provide some for Lorelei, right in the middle of the street. I pushed my marathon finisher's medal to my back so it wouldn't hit her and we walked towards the train station. She went from left breast to right and back again for the next hour as we walked through the streets, got in a taxi, and boarded the train towards home. Sometime along that train ride I responded to my husband's ludicrous assertion that his day had been as hard as mine.

After the birth of my other two children, I waited a while longer to run a marathon. For their sake, and for mine!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Read Before SOL Testing

Dear students,

Let me tell you a quick story about my son, Ben. He's in second grade, has big dimples and is super fast. He also dabs so much I had to create a rule: "No dabbing at the table." He is competitive and plays anything and everything with great joy and serious gusto. He's played rugby, run cross country, played basketball and soccer and takes swim lessons because I make him. But baseball is his true love.

Another thing about Ben: He can get really, really nervous. We all do, but whereas you and I might have a few butterflies fluttering around in our stomachs, he's got a massive swarm. And all his faith in himself POOF! disappears into thin air. It's hard to watch as he falls from confident to worried in a matter of seconds.

One more thing about Ben: He's pretty lucky to have a wise big sister named Lorelei.

Last week, before a baseball game, his nerves zoomed in from out of nowhere and took over. As we drove to the game, his dimples disappeared and his lower lip trembled. Lorelei looked at him and asked, "You know what Ms. Logan tells us to do before a test?"

He didn't say anything, but he turned his soggy eyes to her.

"She says to stand up next to our desks and pose like a superhero. She said that tests have shown that kids are more confident and do better when they do that," she said. "Maybe you should try it when you head to the plate."

Ben said nothing.

About an hour later, when the time came for him to grab his bat and head to the plate, Lorelei and I sat and watched him take some practice swings near the dugout. Then he put his bat in his right hand and strode towards home plate. He got to the batter's box and dug his right foot in a little, then placed his left foot. The kid-pitcher looked at him, and Ben looked back.

But then Ben took a step back, out of the batter's box. He put his legs in a wide stance, made fists with his hands and put them on his hips. Ben pulled his shoulders back and puffed out his chest. He lifted his chin another inch and I honestly thought a superhero cape was going to POOF! appear out of nowhere. (It didn't.)

He picked up his bat again and took his stance in the batter's box. The kid pitched, and the ball whizzed by. Strike one. The kid pitched again and WHACK! Ben connected his bat with that ball and it flew. And then Ben flew. His legs pounded towards first base, then rounded the corner to second. He saw that the outfielder was fumbling with the ball and he knew he could outrun the the throw. He had the guts and the confidence to keep running. So he did, on to third, and then he went for it--but the outfielder finally got his act together and threw to home.

But Ben made it first. And that was his first home run ever in a baseball game.



So my suggestion before this little test is this: Stand up, shake off the stray butterflies or whole swarm that might be in your limbs or in your stomach, close your eyes, and embrace your inner superhero. Give me a stance. Maybe one more.

Now sit down and give that test all you've got.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Expectations, and Getting it Right

Expectations are difficult, if not impossible. This is what my best friend and I have concluded in the past few years. It seems difficult, if not impossible, to hope for the best and maybe anticipate a little goodness out of something or someone, without full-on expecting a certain result. And when that result does not happen close to what we've got in our minds or hearts, the bitter taste of disappointment courses through veins, telling us we got that whole hope and expecting thing wrong again.

I seem to be an expert at this hoping-too-much stuff, and that disappointment taste is a familiar, biting shot.

But I think I got it right this time.

I just weathered my first winter here in the Pacific Northwest. I wish I had a dollar for each time a person told me, "Hope you like rain!" when I informed them we were moving out here. We knew 14 months in advance, so there was plenty of time for people to say, again and again, how wet it is out here. Having gone to college out here, I had a good idea about the rain and the mindset it requires.

So I faced the winter like I would face a tough wind: I leaned into it, tasting a lot of that bad weather stuff on my face as I did, but most of it rolled off my coat (purchased at REI, of course, by my husband, so you better believe it was a high-quality one). I faced the winter again and again, usually with the cute rump of a yellow lab trotting in front of me, her tail up and happy, loving being out, not caring too much what the weather might be throwing our way that particular walk. It was still a chance to breathe fresh air, stick up a stick or two, jump up on a neighbor, pee in someone else's yard, and--wonder of all wonders--poop and have her mom pick it right up.

Honestly, I can think of only four or five walks this winter when I was truly miserable. I wore rain pants, my husband's insulated rain boots, a long rain coat, baseball cap and hood to guard against the wet. But I tried to trick myself into thinking they were fun--puddles and a puppy helped.

And suddenly, I find myself here. In April. On the other side of my first winter. My friends keep saying how rainy the winter was--the worst in recent memory. Locals keep grumbling about how bad the winter was--a man on a street corner told me it was like "that one Sigourney Weaver movie when she's taken over by aliens and it won't stop raining."

Um, huh?

Whatever this guy meant, it is Spring. And we made it.

Yesterday as our whole region smiled up at the sun, Sunny and I trotted along the sidewalk, I realized that I finally got this whole setting expectations thing right. I expected gray and dismal and tough, and any time it was not that gray or not that dismal and not that tough, I noted it. And was happy about it. A little celebration, actually. When it went back to gray and dismal and tough, I got into my lean-into-it stance. And the cycle continued--of keeping my expectations realistic and low, but being happy when the weather was better.

There's something to be learned from this. It might take me a few more winters to practice this new skill and carry it into other parts of my life besides walks with my dog. But, I plan on sticking around.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Uni-tasking


Recently, and specifically in Michael Pollan's book Cooked, I heard of this concept called "uni-tasking." I'm sure I've heard it before, but in my busy mom-of-three days when I'm trying to squish together so much in the 24 hours given to me, I'm a multi-tasking monster.

I multitask all day long. I just checked my phone while my computer was downloading the badge above to see what the workout of the day is at my gym. I made a waxing appointment at a few red lights on the way to dropping my kids off at school yesterday. I listened to my audiobook while walking my dog. I talk on the phone while driving. I talk into my phone in the Notes section to write long emails or letters while driving or walking the dog, then I print them out later. I make to-do lists while "relaxing" with my husband at the end of the day.

Writing out that paragraph makes me realize why I--and many others--are so exhausted by the time we collapse into our beds at night. Maybe our poor sleep is due to the habit of multi-tasking: we are doing things even in our sleep, instead of simply sleeping.

On the last day of this challenge, and looking to the month of April and the months beyond it, I think I'd like to slow down as many of us have and reflect or observe or just write a little more than I did this month. I want to focus on one thing and one thing only, allowing my mind to wander a little and daydream, or sit on my porch and look at the Puget Sound for a few minutes every day. I know I should go to yoga, and while it might not work for my schedule right now, maybe I'll practice meditating. I'll start with just two or three minutes. Don't laugh--this sitting still thing is going to be a challenge.

But I like a challenge. And look! I completed this one. I'll commit, start small, and keep going on good and bad days. Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts, and I look forward to seeing you back here next Tuesday!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Answering Josie

I've got a little pen pal relationship with my niece--I'll call her Josie. She and her twin sister, two siblings, giant golden retriever, my sister and her husband live all the way across the country on the East Coast. I can't remember how it happened, but Josie and I have have struck up a serious pen pal relationship.

This week I got two notes from Josie. The second one was just asking me if I got the first one, and the one last week. That's how a lot of her letters are--just short and sweet. Clearly she feels no pressure to write for an hour, describe every minute of her day, or express her inner most feeling to me. She just grabs a piece of stationery (with her name printed on it, a Christmas gift from my sister) and writes a bit. Whatever is on her mind. I love this and am inspired by it, and do it right back.

Most of the time. But the earlier note this week--the one that yes, Josie, I did receive--made me laugh out loud. It included this:
"Grammy said that you have a bunch of muscles. True or False?"
I am excited to answer her. She just turned ten and is has begun puberty. While we all know we're not supposed to compare, Josie has a twin that is shaped like one of the pine trees around our house. Tall and straight, with straight and long brown hair. They are not identical; Josie is rounder and paler with adorable freckles all over her face and curly red hair.

So I think the fact that yes, Josie, I have a bunch of muscles, might be a relief to her. Quick background on the muscles: I Crossfit four to five times a week and have been doing so for almost five years. I do Olympic weightlifting with pretty heavy weights and can do pull ups and other "gymnastical" as my trainer says stuff like bar muscle ups and one legged-squats. I am super close to being able to walk on my hands across the gym floor...my best is three feet. My shoulders and biceps are--how can I say it?--ripped. Swoll. Strong.

I have muscles because I like to push my body and test my body, I'm going to tell her. I am proud of all the things my body can do, and I like to keep the focus on that main purpose of my body--it's not just a thing to hold clothes on. And while I like the fact that I can do thrusters and burpees faster than most men in the class, I love that I can jump into a parents versus kids basketball game with Ben and keep up with him and his teammates. I love that if Lorelei's pony is being naughty, I can hop on and remind her how to transition to a canter nicely. I love that if my kids and the neighbor kids ask me to go for a run, I can stop what I'm doing and run a mile and half with them.

The purpose of muscles is to participate in a wide variety of things, Josie, and to be strong and capable. I've got to just point out how un-fun the opposite of that is: fragile and incapable. I hope you always are those things, Josie. Strong and capable. Achieve that how you want, but be that, for sure.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

All I Really Want Is a Horse

Obsession [uh b-sesh-uh n] 

the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.



When I was a child, I had one obsession: horses. Every story I wrote, every picture I drew, every dream I dreamt involved a horse. My friend Nikki was just as horse-obsessed as I was. When she'd come over to play, we'd put up jumps all around the living and dining room in our house and jump around on all fours again and again, pretending to be a different horse each time. My sister really liked horses, but she managed to think and do other things that didn't involve horses; sometimes I found it difficult to relate to her balanced approach to horses.

My sister and I (and my friend Nikki and her sister Heather) were lucky girls because our parents paid for our horseback riding. I began taking lessons in second grade and walked and trotted and cantered until I got to fourth. At that point, we moved from Georgia to Hawaii, where there was a barn near the beach. That was fine for awhile--can't believe my parents drove all that way nearly every day--but then we found a barn closer to us.

Me & Flashdance,
at Wheeler Army Air Force Base, circa 1988 
And then we found Flashdance. His owner was heading to college but leased him to me. Please, who am I kidding? My parents paid for him, but it was me who rode him almost every day. Flashdance was a great backyard horse who I curry-combed until his coat shone in the Hawaiian sun. I braided his mane and tail for fun, and also for the horse shows we entered. I bathed him, I picked up after him, I made sure the the tack that sat on his body was very clean.

The hours I spent away from the barn were just as horse-filled. I flipped through catalogs dreaming of stuff I could buy in our color--hunter green. Necessity wasn't required; if the gear looked cool, I wanted it. I bought magazines and read them and books to learn more, learn everything I could about horses.

Still, Flashdance wasn't mine. While I fully appreciated that he was basically mine, the thing was, he wasn't. My friends Nikki and Heather owned their horses. My parents even bought my sister a horse (for $1! then the people bought him right back when we flew off the island for good). I really wanted to own Flashdance. Or another horse. Okay, any horse.

I never got to, and my childhood was still pretty blissful without it. But now, at 40, watching my daughter ride and riding once again, I would love to have a horse of my own. Though he would never articulate it, I know he believes love is finite, and the love I'd pour into the horse would mean even less love for him, and he already gets too little after three kids and a cute puppy.

But you can't logic away an obsession. And I've still got it. Because aren't we all just rehashing our childhoods in one way or another?