Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On Living an Authentic Life and Parenting

A few months ago, a certain blogger-author announced she was leaving her husband for the second and final time, just one week before her book on marriage was released. I'm sure her publisher was thrilled with her decision. I debated with a few of my close female friends about the authenticity of her choice (as if we had any right to have an opinion). This author-blogger proclaimed the timing to be less important than being true to herself. I raised the question with my friends: but wasn't it odd that this same author-blogger left her husband the first time the same week her first book came out?

That same week that she left her husband, her good friend, another author, left her husband for a woman. In the sake of honesty, of living an authentic life. And last week the author-blogger mentioned above who left her husband a few months ago just shared with a live audience that she is in a relationship with a woman.

I feel like I'm moving up and down on the wake of these two women's decisions. I feel off balance and affected though the only way I'll meet either one of them is by standing in a long line for hours with fellow fans in order to get five second with her and my book signed (which I did once). The fluidity of the world has me on shifting ground. I have no problem with alternative lifestyles (or do I? I've examined myself because of my reaction to these women's decisions in the past week), and support gay marriage and have taught my children that love matters most, no matter the coupling.

But, speaking of children, here is what is eating at me: How does this change of pace, this "living an authentic life," this changing of direction affect the children in the picture? I'm no child psychologist, but as children grow and change and experiment themselves, what if their foundation--their parents--are still growing and changing and experimenting themselves? What are the lasting effects on children if their foundation is constantly shifting? It's not just changing the gender of one's partner. It's also divorce, which has been around for long enough.

It's not just the children that matter, but I think they matter more. As parents, do we give up some of our own right to live an authentic life when we have children? Or do we have all of the same rights, and we get to make decisions without carefully and deliberately thinking of how those decisions might affect our children now and in the future? Shouldn't we just make a choice and stick to it--whatever that choice is, whatever the consequences of commitment (because, remember, there are moments when any commitment is fraught with discomfort and challenges and hard stuff)?

I'm full of questions this week. I don't know the answers, but my gut says that there are going to be some consequences for our children if we parents don't provide a firmer foundation for our children. There are so many unknowns out there for them--shouldn't we be their Known, their Familiar, their Rock? Or can we be even if we leave our partners once or twice, or fall out of love with a woman and in love with a man?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Things My Daughter Learns From Me

My daughter had a difficult horseback riding lesson last week. As always, the two lessons before affected how she was feeling and riding. Two lessons prior, she had had a break through on getting her horse to canter. Finally, after a year or more of manic trotting before finally being rewarded with a rolling canter, she figured out how hard she needed to kick in order to go from a walk to a canter, bypassing that messy trot. But during the lesson after that, her horse spooked at the canter and took off with her--my daughter got her pony back under control and ended the hour with a laugh, but she was rattled. What spooked the pony, you wonder? Her horrified mother who was walking her innocent puppy.

All of this led to an uncertain, hesitant rider on a lazy pony. This is not a good combination, because the pony instinctively knows that she can avoid the work being asked of her. My daughter sat atop that pony and sorta kinda kicked her. Sorta kinda asked her to canter. She sorta kinda did this again and again and again. The instructor, determined to repeat the success from a week ago, gave the instructions while pony and rider trotted like mad but did not canter: "Walk again. Now canter." Those four words came out over and over and over.

And as the words rolled across the ring, frustration set in. I could see my daughter trying to stay determined, but she wasn't very determined to begin with, because she didn't want the pony to bolt again. It's a hard balance--wanting the horse to go faster, but not too fast. Using a lot of leg, but a little hand, too.

Watching my children fail is one of the hardest parts of parenting. My brain understands that it is important, that she is in good hands with her instructors. I know firsthand how cruel it is to learn that you have to relearn everything when you ride a horse. Or when you relearn stuff in life. I know firsthand how tough transitions are from a walk to a canter. Or transitions in life. But let's face it: failing is painful.

My daughter's instructor chose that moment to do what I just did in the paragraph above--to draw out from what was going on in the ring to the bigger lessons in life. If she didn't know if she wanted to canter, did she know what she wanted to do in life? If she didn't see in her mind what she wanted the pony to do, how could she see in her mind what she wanted to have happen in life? My daughter was already a mess, and this lecture made her wilt. Her shoulders slumped, her hard hat fell down, the tears plopped down on her pony's mane. I recognize the wilting because I know I do it when lectured in my own real life. I don't usually fight back; I look down, get quiet, and work on a wall of resentment. I'm not proud of this, but...it's what I do. And looking at my daughter, I grew mad at myself for teaching her to do the same.

To no one's surprise, the lesson ended in more tears. My daughter and I walked around in silence, cooling out the pony. She dismounted and spat out, through angry and sad and frustrated tears, "Can't I just wait in the car, Mom?"

"No. There are things that need to be done," I said firmly. "Let's do them together."

She cried through all the necessary after-lesson chores. Pick all four hooves. Untack the pony. Put the saddle away in one room, the girth and saddle pad in another room. Curry the pony well. Brush the pony. Rub the spots behind her ears where she sweats the most. Give her one treat. Put on her blanket. Walk her back to her stall. Roll the stall door closed. Clean the bridle. Rub the bit clean with a rag. Put it back on the right hook. Thank your instructor (not sure this one was well done, but...).

The ride back home was quiet until my daughter found her sense of humor again and could chat about things other than ponies and transitions and cantering. But in the quiet, after I finished beating myself up for teaching her to get quiet instead of getting angry, I realized that I did teach her other things. Better things. More useful things.

I know she sees me doing what needs to be done, and never, not once, letting someone down just because I'm sad or lonely or frustrated. I do not wallow or lie comatose in the face of frustration or sad. I keep on keeping on, always moving forward, even during the low times in my life during which life's daily tasks were the only things that propelled me forward, onward, upward.

It's humbling and alarming and wonderful how closely apples fall from the trees in which they grow. I can only hope it's a net positive--that my daughter learns a little more good habits from me than my own bad habits. And let me try and work on those bad habits while she's still in the house to watch me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

For the Joy of It

I've thoroughly enjoyed watching my kids run their cross country races these past few weeks. As a long-time runner myself, it's great fun to watch my kids--and the dozens of others--run their own pace. My three are competitive and want to win; my oldest son darted to the front of the pack in his race, yet smiled wildly at me when he heard me cheering. "Look at me, Mom!" he seemed to say.

I know he was thrilled and proud to win, but he was also just delighted to run fast.

The boys (each race was gender and grade specific) behind him were also happy to run their hearts out, at whatever speed they chose. The crowd cheered the front runners, sure, but they also clapped and yelled for the boys who chose to trot instead of sprint, who laughed with their buddies instead of trying to beat them.

It's all about the joy of running, and how each defined it, and that was a joy to witness.

Also last week, I finished a wonderful new middle grade novel: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan. This book is written from multiple perspectives and in verse; each student writes poetry of all sorts to describe and record his or her feelings about the fact that their school will be torn down at the end of the school year. (Read my full review here.) Because I write middle grade, I read a lot of middle grade, yet I resist the temptation to push all of the ones I love on my daughter. But this one was so very special that I asked Lorelei to read it (well, technically, I asked her to read the first five chapters and she could choose to read on or not).

She read the first five chapters, and then kept going. She loved it almost as much as I did! But her reaction was very different than mine. I blogged about the book, tweeted about how much I loved it, posted and reposted my review on social media.

What did Lorelei do?

"Mom, I'm going to write a collection of poetry all about Sunny (our puppy)!"

And she did. Wonderful, clever, sweet little poems that were, to this writer-mom, extraordinary. A dozen of them! She played with many of the types of poems in the book and applied her own wit and intellect and subject matter and sat for a few hours writing them down then reading them out loud to me.

I told her, "These are so great! I wish that Highlights or some magazine was asking for poetry because you could send them in!"

She just smiled and shrugged, went back to her verses. 

What a lesson, and one that was the same but less clear to me than when I watched my son run: Do things because you love that thing, because it's just so very fun to do. I lose myself in the publishing side of writing, becoming consumed by who to query and getting frustrated by rejections. But I'm going to remember her carefree smile and shrug and try just a little to find more delight in creating stories rather than getting them in front of you, dear reader.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Scrolling for Birth Years

Earlier this morning I forgot my apple ID password. Again. I'm blaming it on the iPhone update, which I was forced to do and now I hate. But, if I'm forced to be honest, it probably has to do with my memory. One of the things I had to do in order for Apple to acknowledge that I am, in fact, me was to ask two security questions and my birth date.

I passed the first two tests (whew!) and got to my birth date. My finger easily found July and I had to let the numbers roll, Vegas-slot-machine-style, to "31." Okay, done.

Then, to the year. I feel like scrolling to "1976" took a while. Like, too long for this newly 40 year old's liking. But I chuckled to myself, knowing that age ain't nothing but a number. It's just amazing to me that kids born in the 2000s are getting driver's licenses this year. And kids born when I graduated from college (1998) can vote in this crazy election. Silly statistics like these blow me away each time I read them.

A few hours later, I sat at my computer, buying two airline tickets. These aren't just any airline tickets to carry any ol' person from Place A to Place B. Nope, these tickets are carrying my mother and her father, my sweet grandfather, from Erie, Pennsylvania, all the way to me in Seattle, Washington. My 94 year old grandfather is flying across the country to attend my children's Grandparents' Day at their new school here in Washington. I'm so excited. I'm a little nervous, too--he is in excellent health for such an old guy, but I know this sort of trip takes a certain amount of courage, and I'm so lucky that he's got that amount (and more, methinks).

I had to enter his birth date into the system to buy his plane ticket. 1922. Man. 1922! I had to shake my head at the fact that, just a few hours earlier, I was blown away by my own birth year. I've got nothing on my Grandpa, and that's a fun thing.

My fingers and toes are crossed that his journey is as quick and easy as possible. I can't wait for him (and my mom!) to get here. The times when four generations of my family can be together, under one roof, sitting at one table, laughing at the same stories is so very limited and, therefore, so very precious.

I bought two airline tickets so that I could have this priceless stuff of memories!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Expenses: Then & Now

I'm so happy I have my old journals from my time in Kolkata, India. Last night as I turned the pages and read some of my over-the-top sentiments about the scenes I was witnessing, about the sweet boy I was falling for, about the bizarre food I was eating and its effects on my stomach, I came across my expenses for the entire trip.

The facts: I wanted to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity after graduating from college, so I took all of the graduation money my family generously gave me, changed it into Traveler's Checks (remember those?) and boarded a plane. (I had fundraised and earned enough money for the plane ticket.) My plan was to stay as long as I could--in the late 1990s, you could buy a plane ticket with a flexible return date, so I'd just schedule the date as I ran out of money.

I ended up staying for six months. Every four or five weeks, I would leave Kolkata to travel. I wanted to see as much of India as possible, and short breaks from the pollution and emotional difficulty of the work were good things. The first month, I took a train north to tea-infused Darjeeling, then took a bus west into Nepal, where I stayed in Katmandu and listened to trekkers tell wild tales. The second month I went to a quiet town on the coast, Puri, and saw where a huge hurricane left its mark. Next I headed to Agra, by way of busy Delhi, to see the unbelievably perfect Taj Mahal. Finally, six weeks before leaving, I took a train to Kerala, perched on the southern tip of India, and stayed with the family of one of the Sisters with whom I had been working. I rang in the New Year in a huge Catholic church, thanking God for last year's blessings and beginning the New Year with prayers and hope.

I lived in cheap hostels and ate at tourist dives, wrote dozens of letters home each month and bought used books in shops along Sudder Street in Kolkata. I drank Kingfisher with the other volunteers, laughing at the craziness of the city and trying to solve the big problems of the city and the world and humanity with my new friends from Germany, Argentina, Mexico, Ireland, and other countries.

How much did all this cost me? $880.

I've been thinking about that amount all day today, as I shopped at Cosco for my family of five (plus one puppy), as I wrote a check out for a new thingamajig we're putting into the garage, as I signed up for a special class at the Crossfit I frequent. It feels like life here in America--my life here in America--costs $880 a day.

Just trying to make sense of this one small figure and how it brought me so much.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On Effort

This past week, I received yet another rejection for one of my picture books, my long-time critique partner bailed on me yet again and I realized I need to find another person or group, and my husband's work schedule and my children's sports schedule requires me to miss half a day of a writing conference I was excited about.

There is definitely a part of me that wants to throw my hands up in despair. "Everything's against me! The world doesn't want me to write!" this part of me wants to whimper.

But I can't give in to that part of me. I'll honor it with a little time, some chocolate and wine, and then tuck it away and ignore it like I always do when these feelings crop up.

This time it's a little easier to get on with it and get back to writing, thanks to the example my kids have given me on what effort looks like.

This past Sunday, my children had their first cross-country meet. They are only 5, 7, and 9; the younger two (boys) run 700 meters and the older one (girl) runs a full mile. The two boys think they're pretty awesome and are big smack-talkers...for weeks before this race the two were perfecting the  Usain Bolt-style "dab" they'd do at the end of their race when they won it. When they won their individual races. There was never a doubt in these boys' minds. Big egos indeed, and the two of them together made the other keep on talking. My husband and I warned them that 40 boys would be in each race, that there are lots of speedy little runners in our new home state, and gave them the proverbial "Just give it your best effort and we'll be proud" speech.

The first race of the day: kindergarten boys. Our youngest child strode up to the line, his chest puffed out with pride, his shaky smile trying to look confident, his mind totally focused on what he was about to do. You could see the excitement in his face, but there was no mistaking the sprinkle of fear there, too. The starter blew the whistle, and he was off! He sprinted to the front as fast as he could, and ran down the hill with 39-ish boys close behind, chasing him.

The course wound down into some trees, then along a path before it followed a fairly steep hill up, up, up before the course leveled out to a nice, flat straightaway before the balloon-arch finish line. After I watched him and the other five year old runners disappear into the woods, I walked over to the top of the hill. I waited a bit, then saw other people further down the hill start to clap. I knew the boys were on their way out of the woods and up the hill.

But I was wrong. It wasn't a group of boys. It was one boy. It was MY BOY! His bright neon yellow shorts were moving in rhythm: left, right, left, right. He was in first place! MY BOY was in first place! I yelled like only a crazed mother could. I could tell from his face that he was tired, that gravity and exhaustion and the heat of the day and his ridiculous fast start were pressing on him, trying to convince him to quit running, to walk, if only for a moment.

But he didn't. He charged up that hill as fast as his legs could carry him, then gave a final sprint to the finish line, where my husband and I cried and lifted him up and treated him as if he just beat Usain Bolt in the Olympics. My boy gave no "dab"--he was too tired, too spent. He had given that race every ounce of his effort. He was totally and completely spent.

I was so proud, I thought I might burst!

So today when I'm feeling a bit mopey about my seemingly stagnant writing career, I realize that I have more effort to give, and I'm looking to my son (and my older son who won his race with equal effort and my daughter, who surprised herself in the mile run by finishing in the top ten and was shaking from her big effort) to remind me how to push myself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My cousin Agnes

My cousin, I'll call her Agnes, traveled across the country to help my family settle into our new digs in Washington State. We did our own cross-country trip, once nearly meeting up with Agnes at the Grand Canyon, except she was visiting the North Rim and we were on the South Rim. We pretended to wave to each other from one side to the other. Turns out she blindly followed her GPS and was on the South Rim!

Though we didn't bump into each other at that National Park, we did follow each others' travels on Instagram. Me with my three kids posed and posted. Agnes with her good friend snapped silly pictures and wrote sillier captions. I was no match for her, and I'm totally okay with that--she's cute and sassy, snarky and self-deprecating in the funniest of ways. She can go from tank top hiker to red lips hot mama so fast it makes my head spin. The fact that she posed in bad cheerleader poses across the country in historic places, national parks, and in front of state signs particularly cracked me up.

We're a decade apart, Agnes and I, but the cousins in our family have always been tight. When Agnes was barely eating solid food, my sister and cousin and I would feed her Sour Patch Kids to watch Agnes scrunch her face and stick out her tongue out of shock for the strange flavor. The three of us would howl with laughter, then hug Agnes tight. Once my sister told her that if she walked on the floor of our great-aunt's musty-smelling, haunted-feeling apartment, the floor would cave in. She cried when that aunt asked her to come sit on her lap, a trip that would require her to walk across the floor. Again, we howled at the joke, but loved Agnes all the more because she believed us.

Still, I hadn't realized how much respect I'd feel for her by the end of our month together. Agnes came up with a simple but powerful saying in her 29th year: say YES! She was a fantastic example to my kids in her approach to new things, of which there were many for my crew. She said YES! to new gyms, YES! to new workouts, YES! to new food, YES! new places to swim (like the cold Puget Sound in our backyard), YES! to new adventures of every and any size. Her enthusiasm for life was as contagious as her laugh, and my kids and I soaked up the time with her, appreciating every minute. Agnes taught us car games and we all experimented with the crazy stuff you can distort yourself into on SnapChat (is that even one word? Clearly I do not have an account!).

There was another side of Agnes that my kids didn't see--the thoughtful, openly confused, but still very hopeful young woman still searching for her home. She and I drank craft beer and local wines each night, watching the sun sink slowly down over the Olympics out our window, talking about how difficult life can be--scratch that. How difficult life IS, regardless of what you're doing and what particular road you're on.

We are both children of divorce; we spoke openly about how difficult it is creating a relationship that lasts when your parents set a poor example of marriage. We both stumbled into wealth, sharing in lifestyles others earned but we play in; we spoke candidly about how awkward this is, how guilty we sometimes feel, how responsible we feel to improve others' lives because we've got it easy--too easy, we both feel. We sat down at that table at dusk but sat chatting until we sat in the pitch dark. I felt so lucky to have her there, in my kitchen. And in my life.

Once, while walking in and out of the cutest shops you can imagine in our new little town in Washington, Agnes pointed to something with her left hand. I caught sight of her wrist. I grabbed it, and gently pointed to the lines I saw on the inside of her arm.

"What's this, A?" I asked, hoping I didn't already know the answer.

But I did.

"Cuttings," she said quietly. Honestly. Bravely.

We both gulped. Tears sprang to my eyes and I didn't know what to say.

"Ten years ago, when I was 19, I remember a friend of mine asking me where I thought I'd be when I was 30. I shrugged and thought to myself, 'I don't know if I'm going to even be alive,' " she quietly admitted to me.

I was completely speechless.

This wonderful woman, this person you should hope above hope becomes your child's teacher some day, didn't care enough to live? My mind was suddenly a tornado of thoughts, and with each added thought my brain was swirling faster and faster. When did she do this to herself? Where was I? Why weren't her other cousins and I there for her? How could someone this wonderful think she was so not wonderful?

"I'm so glad you're here," I said, through tears.

And I am. I can't take back the fact that I didn't know how much she struggled ten years ago, but I will say this: Agnes has one of the best spirits on this Earth. She's full of zest and hope and love and wonderfulness and funny jokes and if I tried really, really hard one day I might be a fraction of how amazing she is. She's still figuring things out, but I am so grateful that I'm a little closer to her and am so humbled by the thought of other people I love dearly not thinking they are worth as much as they are.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

On Being and Having Enough

Lately I've been thinking about the word "enough."

I recently read Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, a memoir by Christine Byl, in which she concludes with some really deep, insightful paragraphs about what it means to have enough in her new Alaskan home.

Bounty can be paralyzing, the awful clench of how to choose and I'll never get it all. The Tao Ching says, "There is no calamity like not knowing what is enough," and so I'm slowly learning to note what I need, to be satisfied with what there is time for, not cowed by what I miss. There is so much enough; enough for the bears and my neighbors and the birds, enough for pies and pancakes and two batches of jam and a freezer stash, enough for a winy thing in the air and the drop-and-rot that foments next decade's humus.

As I fold my husband's and my six sweatshirts and try to shove them into already-stuffed drawers, as I paw through workout clothes to find the exact one tank I want to wear tomorrow, as I run my finger along the spines of my books on my to-read bookshelf... I feel a little ashamed, because I know I have more than enough.

Yet, sometimes I want more. I have most of what dollars can buy, but sometimes I want priceless things like time or attention or support. I'm not satisfied with that which I'm already given, and I'm perplexed if it's fair to want more, or if I should be satisfied with the time, attention, and support I've already got.

But at this very moment, as I'm typing this with my three kids reading themselves to sleep, my new puppy snorting in her sleep while in the cutest belly-up position, and my husband buying a new power tool on Amazon, and as I look back at this summer, I know I have enough. I was enough, I did enough. We laughed enough, we ate enough, we saw enough, we relaxed enough, we explored enough, we cried enough, we met enough new people, we missed enough old people.

It's a good feeling, knowing that for once I got the balance right.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lemonade Stand

My kids want a lemonade stand.

Actually, they want more than a lemonade stand. They want a "Homemade Stand," where my daughter can sell her homemade postcards, and possibly some friendship bracelets and things she's knitted, and my boys can sell a few of their hundreds of baseball cards for unreasonably high prices. They'd like the lemonade ("and chocolate cookies, too, Mom, don't you think?")--both homemade, of course--to be the main thing that draws in customers. Once at the table, these customers might purchase a few more things than lemonade and cookies.

It's the end of the summer. I'm searching inside myself, scraping the marrow inside my tired bones, for the energy this lemonade stand requires.

Usually I've got it! I'm THAT Mom, who can bake with her kids, let them get the kitchen messy with sprinkles, clean up after them, and sprint to their sports practices with the greatest of ease! I can make bento-box-like school lunches that inspire and energize! I can read chapter after chapter of any book anyone wants!

But this summer has left me laid out flat on our filthy living room rug, made dirtier by the cute new puppy who drug in a whole plant--dirt-encrusted roots and all--and chewed the leaves and roots and dirt to pieces. I'll vacuum it up later, maybe, after I've peeled myself up from these gross fibers. It's not as if I'm much cleaner than the rug. Showers come second to more cups of coffee and trailing after my trio as I find myself in newborn stage, round four, with this Sunny puppy.

It's not just the puppy. This summer we relocated from Virginia to Washington State, and I never thought once about flying the kids out there. No way! This mom doesn't fly! I took the opportunity to DRIVE the distance, most of the time with just my three kids! We would see the country, I insisted to every incredulous adult before we shoved off from the East!

And see the country we did--we had an awesome time driving from city to city, covering 1,000 extra miles (to the already impressive 3,000 miles the drive required), going to National Parks and family's houses, hiking and swimming and sleeping in different places every few nights. We watched movies, listened to XM radio, told jokes, and got annoyed by each other the whole way. We lived from Suburban like happy hobos, eating hamburgers 75% of the time, and just the right number of ice cream scoops.

(Point of clarification: the puppy came after said road trip. I'm crazy, but not that crazy.)

During the past two weeks, the prospect of being The New Kids at their new school sobered them from the joy of the road trip and new puppy. Each kid had their moments of being alone on the playground or scared to walk into the classroom or unsure of how others would react to them. It's scary stuff, this New Kid thing.

So the lemonade stand seems to be their last request, at a time when I'm just. out. of. energy.

But luckily, we moved to the land where espresso shops are more ubiquitous than the evergreens that color our landscape, so I think I'll just fake my way through the making and the baking and keep my fingers crossed that these new neighbors of ours buy a few postcards and over priced baseball cards while they much on cookies and sip on lemonade.

Wish me luck, and don't judge me, please, when I leap into the air with excitement as they pile out of my much-used Suburban and I go home to take a nap with my puppy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

To the buyers of our home

Dear Buyers,

We have loved our yellow house at the end of this quiet dirt road, and we hope you love it as much as we have. Each room, bare in its perfectly staged way, is actually stuffed to the gills with memories. Good and bad, these memories are what make a house a home, a group of people a family, and a couple actually a couple. I'm both sad and ready to leave. My heart is filled with gratitude for the lessons learned within these walls, but I'm ready to be move on to the next chapter of my life.

But I have hopes for you. They're really high hopes. I hope I bury any bad juju (if you even believe in it) in the backyard, weighing it down with the heftiest rocks I can carry so they don't get passed on to you. Instead, this what I hope for you:

  • I hope you have kids that run like crazy in the yard and in the woods, working their imaginations like our trio did with forts and play and swings that wouldn't pass a single safety inspection.
  • I hope you join them while playing in the creeks, throwing rocks and taking your shoes off and wading in the cool water, leaving your iPhones and adulthood back in the house.
  • I hope you dance in the kitchen a lot more than we did, because dancing--especially wild, bad dancing--is what you should do when you live in the woods and no one but the trees can see in.
  • I hope you look out on the trees and watch them sway in the Spring storms, with the upper boughs moving violently but the strong, sturdy oaks proving what a strong foundation is and can do.
  • I hope you enjoy the front porch with your friends and your family, sitting on the side where there's always a breeze, letting the grown-ups sit and talk while all the kids run free.
  • I hope you have a dog (or two), maybe one like our Lulu whose last steps were taken here--with a bark that made strangers stop in their tracks but a tail that waggled and wiggled her whole body.
  • I hope you sit on the back deck after the kids go to sleep instead of watching TV and instead chat with each other, or maybe just sit quietly as the fireflies dart around.
  • I hope you don't get too frantic if you're stuck here in a snowstorm. You've got a generator, a really great fireplace, and all the people that you really need around you.
  • I hope you love the claw-foot tub--I sure did! I really did want a lock on the door (the contractor thought I was joking, sorry about that).

Good luck in this house. Love it, love each other, and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

To the parents at my son's party

Dear Parents,

Thanks for attending my son's party held just four weeks before we relocate from Virginia to Washington. Did it seem thrown together? That's because it was! My to-do list is revised every evening and it's overwhelming every morning. I credit my husband for having the wisdom to insist that we not have Kiefer's birthday party at home. That would have done me in for sure. I would have pulled it out and exhausted myself, but that energy needs to be spent elsewhere.

Thanks for not judging me when I wasn't even at my son's party! I was hit upside the head (figuratively, thankfully...though that blow might have hurt less) with a cocktail of bad cold and horrible allergies. I had such a bad headache that I could barely stand up straight. I'm not used to this sort of headache. Please feel free to laugh a little at and with me at the fact that I didn't realize until 2 PM--right smack in the middle of my son's party--that I hadn't had any coffee. So a big chunk of that head ache was preventable and self-induced. Like much in life, I guess. The good news is that after I had a strong cup of joe, most of that headache went away.

Thanks for throwing compliments to my husband when he stood up and stood in for me. He's an introvert and doesn't normally do these things, so I'm glad my absence gave him a chance to shine. And I'm proud of my kids who didn't freak out that their ubiquitous mom wasn't there.

Thanks, also, parents, for cutting me some slack on the cake. The birthday boy wanted chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, and I don't know how to manage that without the vanilla frosting having sprinkles of chocolate cake in it. I apologize for the fact that I only made one two-layer, 9-inch cake--only enough for the kids. But let's face it: Only one of you would have eaten the slice of cake had there been enough to pass around to adults. We party-throwers feel obligated to have enough for the grown-ups, but because moms are the ones who bring their kids to these events, few ever eat the pizza and cake designated for adults.

And I'm sorry for not having a gluten-free or peanut-free option, although I know at least two kids were in this category. I adore your sons but am still trying to figure out if it's my responsibility to provide allergy-free options for your sons. I wanted to go to the fancy cupcake place and get some, but...it didn't happen.

And I am really sorry about the goody bags. I wish we could collectively agree to strip this stupid habit (it's too new to be called I tradition) because none of us wants the candy or junk that is usually in them. I meant to bake cookie medals and tie ribbons around them so the party-goers could wear their medal out and munch on it on the way home (and get even more sugared up!). But then reality hit me: I would have to actually make them. So the birthday boy and his brother and I went to the Party Store and had a fine time finding some fun junk to throw into some goody bags. I know it'll end up in the trash. That's okay. That's where your son's goody bag ended up, too.

Thanks for all the stuff you got my son. You all are so generous! He's going to be doing Legos until he's 25. He'll be putting them together in college. I've stashed a few things away for our upcoming road trip, because I believe that moms should be skilled toy-hiders so that kids don't get overwhelmed by all the new stuff. Already each surface area in my home is covered with an unfinished Lego creation. But he's happy and I'm glad we have the rule of every-other-year parties because I'd go nuts if this happened every year.

Lastly, thanks for being parents I can breathe normally around and admit all of this to... I sure hope that I'm able to find a group of parents out in Washington State that will appreciate my over-achieving baking skills, my sense of humor, my interest in my son's classroom and school while still maintaining a healthy sense of non-mom self... I am going to miss you all.

I'm glad your kid had a good-time at my son's party. I'm glad that it didn't get rained out, like all of our kids' activities in the past few weeks with this crazy rain (that yes, I realize I'm moving to--please forgive me if I don't laugh too much at that!). I wish I had had a cup of coffee earlier in the day so I could have gone, too!


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Positive Body Image: Let's Work on THAT Skill

Among the many hats I wear each day--including mother, wife, volunteer, writer--I am also a Crossfitter. For those of you who don't know, Crossfit is a high-intensity workout involving Olympic weightlifting (lifting really heavy barbells off the floor), gymnastics movements (think: pull ups and ring dips), and cardio (running, rowing, jump roping). I've been a Crossfitter for nearly five years and I love it. I throw myself into each workout, leaving my mom- and wife-worries and to-dos at the door as I warm up for the challenging workout ahead.

Crossfit is known for having stripped-down, bare-bones facilities, and ours is no different: Crossfit Reston is an empty warehouse with ropes hanging from the ceiling and pull-up racks lining the walls. The only mirrors are those in the bathrooms. There's not even one in the changing room. And while there should be a shower, there isn't. Summers are fairly stinky around this place.

I work out with an amazing group of women and men. But let me focus on the women for a minute. These women are so strong--they can back squat nearly 200 pounds and lift their body weight over their head. Each workout consists of a few different skills; I'm constantly being humbled because there is constantly something to work out. My jump roping skill might be wanting, my form on a front squat could be improved. My trainer tells me to use my hips more, and I watch with a little envy at a hard-working pal who is able to swing her way into a muscle up.

This is a place for tough chicks, and I'm proud to be one.

Therefore, I was a little thrown off by the conversation the women at the 9:30 class collapsed onto the floor yesterday after a long, intense workout. One woman, whose first son just turned one and who has lost 20 pounds more than just her "baby weight" in the 12 months since his birth, started the conversation about body image. She and a few other women agreed it was so frustrating to see themselves in workout gear or while workout because of the extra jiggle, the extra bounce, the extra roll. That's what their eyes first saw whenever they looked in the mirror. They pinched extra skin around their armpits and waist, saying "I wish I didn't have this."


I wanted to throw my hands up in despair! Why is it that we cannot focus on how our bodies function, and the amazing things our bodies can do for us (such as create babies and lift heavy stuff) rather than what they simply look like? Why can't we work on THAT skill as much as work on the others, ladies? Let's focus on health and well-being, rather than the simple aesthetic of what our bodies look like.

Beauty is more than skin deep. We all know that, but maybe we could remember it a little more often.

Or could we at least wait a few more minutes to trash talk the body that just performed all the crazy skills we asked it to do pretty damn well?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Losing Lulu

We lost our dog Lulu last week. She was officially a "blue" weimaraner, which meant that her coloring was deep gray with brown flecks. Her muzzle has always had lots of gray hairs, giving her an older and wiser and calmer appearance.

And she was wise and calm. She was as good a dog as you could hope for--she had a deep, loud bark to her very last day that was perfect for our house-in-the-woods. But that bark was the meanest thing her sweet body could muster. From that bark on, she was a wiggle-tail greeter, a crumb-finder and affectionate pal who would lie next to me as I wrote in the early morning hour before my children made the house crazy.

I've never lost a dog before. My childhood dog, a golden retriever named Darby, died years after I left the house, while I was working in India. I was too busy seeing the world and experiencing a new culture to feel anything besides a bit of sadness and nostalgia for the days Darby and I spent together a lifetime ago.

So I didn't expect the gut-wrenching blow when I sat with Lulu's sweet head in my lap when the vet put her down. I didn't expect to cry all day long, and even harder when I walked in the door to an empty, dogless house for the first few times. I didn't expect to miss her so much. How one animal filled a house so perfectly never occurred to me until she no longer filled it.

It's been hard living without Lulu, but it's even more difficult watching my children meet Grief for the first time. They've known a few sad times, but nothing more devastating than a tough punishment or saying see-you-later to cousins who are moving.

"Grief," I explained to my nearly 9 year old daughter, "is like Sadness's cousin. It comes when you lose something you love. I don't know what it feels like for you, but for me it feels like my heart is being squeezed, then pulled apart. It hurts."

"How do you make it go away?" she asked through big, sad tears.

"You can't make it go away. That's the bad news," I said, holding her as she cried. "But time helps, and crying helps, and sometimes talking about why you're sad helps. It's part of life. I wish I could protect you from this sort of pain, but I can't. But I can sit with you and hold you and stop lecturing you about Grief."

My sad daughter smiled a little through her tears, and we sat crying together.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Moving: Saying Good-Bye to Great Falls

In two months, our family of five will drive away from this sweet home of ours in Great Falls, Virginia, and head west to Washington State. I'm busy preparing for the move, of course, but my mind is flooded with memories and gratitude for the time spent here.

This is the house in which, days after moving into, our first child took her first steps, and to which we brought home our younger two boys after they were born. This is the house of their infancy, babyhood, and early childhood. This is the house at which family and friends brought us dinners when they were newborns, came to celebrate milestones, and shared holiday meals.

They've all learned to pump, catch, hit a ball, and make a snowball in this big yard. They've waded in creeks, look for crawdads, picked up frogs and turtles, jumped from snakes in these woods. They've skinned their knees, gotten mosquito bites, and cried from lack of sharing, apologizing, and turn-taking more times than I can count.

When I drive down the dirt road from our house and turn towards "the village," as the downtown of our suburban town is called, into the broader community of Great Falls, and there is a whole other level of people and places to miss: At the ubiquitous Starbucks where I've had millions of conversations with other moms--gabbing and gossiping, sure, but also sharing insights and swapping heart ache...listening to and understanding each other often better than our spouses can.

At Great Falls park with the waterfall that named our town, I've run hundreds of times up and down the trails, pounding out the frustrations that came with this phase in life. I ran off pregnancy weight and ran through newborn exhaustion. I trained for races or ran for sanity. For some unknown reason, I think of my best friend's ex-husband in one uphill on the River Trail and whenever I run over this spot, I think of how he hurt her by leaving, and I hate him all over again.

At the library, my kids and I have checked out thousands of books and they dove into what I hope is a lifelong joy of reading. My timid middle child learned to play chess in the chess club, my youngest read books to a dog, and my oldest buried herself in whatever topic was burning in her brilliant young mind. The head librarian jokes that circulation will be cut in half after my kids and I move.

This place had been good to me. It's been good for me, and for my family. I'm filled with gratitude for our time here as I slowly pack up our life here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

On Memory

Memory is such a funny thing. Sometimes, it can unfold like a hug, embrace you in the present, then retreat, leaving you feeling like you've just been soaked in the first warm rays of early Summer.

While walking to preschool this morning, my son started taking big, quick steps to match my bigger, quicker steps. "That's a Ranger walk! That's what GrandDad used to call walking like that." I flashed back to when I was his age, and my Army Ranger Dad would double time on a hike, making me giggle and run to keep up.

 A little while later, I walked out to the paddock in the too-crisp Spring air to get a new horse for my lesson. He is the exact horse that I dreamed about--huge, sweet, gray, forelock falling into his eyes, gentle, his canter eating up the ground. I flashed back to the countless hours I spent doodling a horse that looked like Veron as I circled the currycomb and tacked him up.

But memory can come out of nowhere and smack you in the face, too. It can come out of nowhere, sneaking in from the past, and slap you hard, leaving you feeling like you've been pushed into a cold pool.

Early this morning I asked my husband if he'd like to drive up to a certain city to meet my extended family there for a baseball game. I'd been gently pestering him for a few weeks, dancing in the space between reminding and nagging with my request. Finally, he shot me a nasty look and a cold quip that reminded me that I had hurt him long ago, and that city brought up bad memories I'd forgotten about. I'd done my best to abandon and forget those horrible times--until that moment. BAM.

Sometimes I'd like to be in charge of my memory, to be able to enter my brain and un-remember painful or heartbreaking, ugly or difficult moments. I'd like to just remember the good stuff. Can I run my whole Memory through a strainer, letting the big, happy things remain in the bowl while the heavy other crap drain through, never to be seen or heard or felt again?

Then again, what is life but a mix of it all.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Wednesdays are not my easiest days.

My oldest child and only daughter, Lorelei, has a horseback riding lesson at 4:45. She and her first brother Ben jump off the bus and into my car at 4 PM for the short drive to the barn. Lorelei must  pull on her breeches, eat something, brush and tack up her pony in those short 45 minutes. I help a lot--she's not yet 9 and her (shorter) height alone means she can't do a few things by herself yet.

But I also have to supervise Ben and his preschool brother Kiefer, who are always eager to see each other after their separate school days. Yet this eagerness does not always translate into nice, quiet, cooperative play. Please, they're boys. Always competitive, sometimes grouchy, often tired boys.

But the time constraints mean that we all need to pitch in. Sometimes that simply means I trust my boys to play alone in the front yard of the barn, where their yells and balls won't spook any animal. Sometimes that means Kiefer is scanning the bridles and doing his best to read the names of the ponies to find the name of Lorelei's pony for the day. Sometimes that means Ben is grabbing the saddle or starting to brush the pony. It's a team effort, and our team of four always delivers our rider on time.

Of the barn families, I'm the only one who drags her younger children to the barn for the older child's lesson. Most have nannies or sitters to take care of the non-riders in the family. There is significant ease in this approach, and some beauty, too--time spent with just one child is wonderful and worthwhile for everyone involved. On Lorelei's weekend ride it is usually just the two of us, and I relish this mother-daughter time around my favorite animal, watching her do one of my very favorite things.

But on the weekdays, I want my boys to come. I want them to practice putting someone else--and, how wonderful that that someone else is a girl, their sister--at this very young age. I want them to realize that it's not always about them, about their ball sports and traditional practices. I want them to practice (with minimal complaining!) supporting someone else in their passion, even if it is not a passion of theirs. I want to start molding them to be good partners now.

All of this makes my Wednesday afternoon one of my most challenging times of the week. But it's often my most rewarding, because when I see images like this, I know I'm doing the right thing for all three of them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dog Tales

Over Spring Break, my kids and I met a whole pack of dogs.

At my aunt's house, there was a pack of dogs with personalities much larger than the actual pup. Oliver, a long-haired chihuahua and Sassy, a chihuahua-papillon mix, led the pack. Oliver was the least friendly and least petted. We would have forgotten about him lest for his high-pitched bark that wouldn't let us.

Let's be clear, though: it was Sassy who was in charge. Sassy who was too nasty to even meet the kids last year, but who has mellowed enough to allow the cautious kids a few pats on her regal, princessy head. They'd never met a small dog before, but even I was warming to Sassy before the end of our stay.

My aunt also has an old shetland sheepdog named Crockett. Crockett is the "fun police" of the house who barks madly at anyone who is laughing too loud, running too fast, and doing anything with a ball without him. He wants the fun to stop--or he needs to be invited to play.

Then it was on to my sister's house where a new Golden Retriever puppy in the house. This furry, big-pawed boy made us all swoon. Lucky for my sister, she managed to find a pretty calm pup who seems to already enjoy naps in the afternoon sun. Her puppy roams free much of the time when they're playing outside, which is a whole heck of a lot. His leash trails after him as he romps after this kid or that or just hangs out with the chaperoning adult. He is a-freaking-dorable and puppy fever set in fast for all four of us.

At the beach and on the car ride home, my kids and I talked about what puppy we'd like to get next. While they chattered endlessly about the pros and cons of big and little dogs and Lorelei rattled knowingly as she referenced her Gail Gibbons Dog book, I ignored them. I know who'll be taking care of the dog, and I know it'll be me making that decision. I'll admit to some daydreams about my next dog--but mostly I know it'll be middle to big and really well-behaved.

But for now, we've got Lulu.

Lulu is currently breathing on my feet, curled up just beside me. She moves slowly now in the morning. When I would get up to write at 5 AM a few years ago, she'd jump down and need food and to go out. Now she waits for the kids to get up an hour later before plopping down to the floor from her spot on the expensive sofa that is her bed. She's a blue weimaraner and she's a 13, which is pretty darn old for her size. But she was a stray before we rescued her, so we're just guessing on breed and age.

She's a good girl, that's all we're sure about and all we really need to know. I'm not sure how much longer our Lulu will be with us, but...I'm enjoying every day with her now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Wabi-Sabi: Imperfect Parenting

When my children were still in diapers, I came across a Japanese term called wabi-sabi. I remember reading that it loosely translated into finding the beauty in imperfections. I don't recall where I found the article or when I had time to read it, but I remember feeling relieved that there was such a concept about realizing that things could be too perfect; a little messy was more realistic, and a lot more beautiful.

I was happy to apply that to my housekeeping, but more reluctant to apply it to my parenting--at first.

I wanted to be That Parent whose kids were everything: beautiful, polite, outgoing, adventurous, curious, athletic, happy. I happily gathered up compliments about them and formed beautiful bouquets in my own room, basking in my own handiwork. 

Two things happened that, thank God, made me change: First, my daughter started to mature and need perfection to satisfy her; second, I had a second son and the two boys wrecked my image of perfection.

The idea of wabi-sabi helped me with my daughter. There are many things that I repeat to my trio; one of them is "Nothing is perfect in nature or in life!" I want to remind my daughter especially that there is no tree that's perfectly formed, no woods that form a perfect circle, no flower that always stands still and perfect in a breeze. I want her to be freed by this knowledge, to relax in life's imperfections--in her art and in her life. 

The idea of wabi-sabi helps still with me. Yesterday my daughter was sick and had to stay home from school, despite the fact that I yearned with my whole heart to have my three wonderful kids happily occupied by their teachers and schools after two straight weeks of being with them during their super-long Spring Break. But Lorelei stayed home, and it was nice and good to spend time with just my daughter. We read together, chatted together, drew cards for her cousin together.

I confessed to her that I noticed I was yelling more and more, especially after visiting my aunt and my sister, who both yell at their kids and husband without any thought. I don't like the habit but it comes easily to me, so... I yell. I told her I wanted to do another no-yelling challenge--she gave me a thumb's up. 

Fast forward to when her brothers came home from school. We have a short driveway, and one wanted to bike and the other wanted to play basketball. Of course the area under the basket was the best biking space. Of course that was frustrating to the ball player. Guess what I did after they were home for 20 minutes? I yelled at them. Sigh.

During dinner we read some picture books, an old habit that remains with us, that calms my kids and gets them to peek inside each other's interests as each child chooses a book. We read a nonfiction picture book about a girl who pitched in the minor leagues for one game and one game only--because she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and they couldn't handle being struck out by a girl, basically. It was a great book, but an even better conversation.

And then, after dinner, we played a raucous-in-all-the-right-ways game of Uno. We played hard, ribbing each other like crazy, giving each other "the business" with draw-twos and skips and draw-fours. We laughed hard at multiple Skips being played and about how many cards some of us had at the same time. I won both games, so I handed out chocolate to ease their loss. 

I might yell a little, but I am still a good mother. Maybe that's where our strengths lie as parents--in the bits of the job we don't do as well as we "should." I read and talk and admit my own shortcomings to my kids. I'm a good mother, even if I don't go easy on my kids while playing Uno.

There's a nice ,short article about wabi-sabi on the Utne Reader HERE.

Monday, March 28, 2016

On Staying Out of the Way

Near the end of The New Puberty, the authors highlight what another author has to say about parenting teenagers. Jennifer Senior, in her book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, says:
Is it possible that adolescence is most difficult--and sometimes a crisis--not for teenagers as much as for the adults who raise them? That adolescence has a bigger impact on adults than it does on kids?
I think it's a good question, even for me, whose kids are really nowhere near their teenage years. But after two weeks straight on their Spring Break with my kids, and especially my two boys (ages 71/2 and nearly 5), I'm wondering if their constant competition is bad, annoying for me, or just plain normal?

I remember a few years ago when I went to the dentist while my trio was in school, and I had something done that I hadn't expected to need, and that something needed novocaine that wore off at the approximate moment that all three kids got home from school. The pain came out of my mouth in shocking waves. I've got a high pain tolerance, but this blew through it. My mouth hurt, and my husband wasn't going to be home for hours.

It was just me and the kids.

Luckily for me (and them, too), we have a nice yard and it was a nice day. The three of them played for at least 90 minutes while I sat watching them, silent. My mouth too much to think about much else besides the pain, and I realized how little they needed to hear my "Get down from theres" or "Give him a turn now" or "Please use kind words" or other phrases that we parents like to say.

Thinking back to that distant memory and linking it to the fresher one of my boys fighting and trying to be first at every single thing known to mankind (who woke up first? who can make their Easter candy last the longest? who can pee the longest? I'm making this last one up. I hope), I'm wondering if I should just sit back a bit and watch, let them work it out just a little more than I usually do.

I think biting my tongue is worth a try--and it's a lot less painful than a few shots of novocaine.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Can someone help rid me of my expectations? They sure do get in the way.

I realize that when I have no expectations or terrifically low expectations, I am surprised and happy with the outcomes. I know this, so I do my best to keep my expectations low or not have many.

I know myself pretty well. I don't think I have unrealistic expectations. I don't expect to head to school on unicorns instead of my Suburban or see the sky a nice shade of orange instead of blue.

But still, sitting here after Easter brunch, drinking prosecco and eating chocolates alone, I realized that I actually did have expectations of the day. I expected more chatter and laughter than silence, more warmth than coldness, more togetherness than aloneness.

And yet.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Car Trips

In about an hour--oh, who am I kidding--at exactly 8 AM, we're going to leave the beach. My Suburban is already packed, bikes already attached to the back, and the kitchen at our beach house is really the only thing left to deal with: breakfast, then pack up our lunches for the road, then head out. The specific time of our departure and my already-packed car provides a little insight into me as Driver. I'm pretty sure I'm not at the top of the list of fun road trip mamas.

It's not my fault--I have to blame most of my driving habits to my father. He's an Army guy, and though he is a lot kinder and softer and smarter than the generic Army soldier that might jump to your mind, he's definitely as disciplined and strict. And when he had two young girls and one easy-going wife living under his roof, he thought he was right all the time. So he could be right all time time. That is, until my not-easy-going sister hit her teenage years, but that's another story altogether.

My dad would wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to pack the car, taking everything that needed to fit into the trunk and placing it curbside. He'd glance at the items and look at the trunk, and quickly figure out the most efficient way to pack the trunk.

I don't know what my mom did during this time, but whatever it was, she was in support mode. We all knew Dad was in charge of these things. Of most things, now that I look back. Meanwhile, under the covers, my sister and I drank up the last few minutes in our beds. Mom would wake us up when the car was packed, and we'd shuffle with sleep still in every bit of our bodies from our beds to the car, blankets and all.

We drove away, heading towards our destination, before the sun came up. Before everyone else, my dad would say in a pretend-maniac voice, laughing crazily to go along with it. That was his plan! We hit the road while everyone else lolly-gags (his word) their way towards their vacation. Not us!

Once we hit the road, there were few stops. If my sister and I had to go to the bathroom, we knew we'd have to hold it. "Think of tight things!" my Dad would joke with us. But was he joking? We didn't test it. Finally, when thinking of tight things didn't work anymore, we'd have to talk Dad into stopping. Mom often had to intervene, serving as the diplomat shuttling between her daughters' needs and her husband's personality. It wasn't that he was mean, it was that we had to get there!

When we did stop, Dad would insist that he had to get his blood flowing again after sitting for so long, and he'd do jumping jacks and push ups and I can't remember what else near our car. Dad was always in shape, and there was no need to decrease his fitness on day one of our vacation!

So today, as we drive back home from the beach, guess what my kids endure? That's right--early departures, few stops, carside burpees, and the early-morning-no-stopping-road-trip genes.

They'll thank their GrandDad and me later. (And to their future partners--sorrry!)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Third Child of Mine

My third child picks his nose with gusto.

He puts his finger up to his nose, glances at me to see if I'm watching. He wants to see if he can make my face twist into a fun mixture of displeasure and humor yet again. He seems to know that no one can simultaneously gross me out and make me laugh like he is about to.

He knows I think this habit is disgusting, and that motivates my blue-eyed, pink-cheeked little devil to push that pointer where it should not go.

And then--when it's shoved in nice and tight--he sneaks a peek my way. He wants to be confident that I don't miss this fine skill of his, of which he thinks he is champion but in fact his big brother and many, many boys (and girls!) before him beat him to the punch. Beat him to their own nostril.

He pulls it out, examines the end to see what's sticking like salty green glue on top. He beams, triumphant! Sometimes at this moment, if I'm sitting close enough I wrestle his hand away, to keep him from completing his task like he wants to. We laugh and play-struggle, with me trying to keep the germs from going right back where they came from, him insisting on recycling every last thing he can.

On this morning as he watches cartoons on a lazy Friday with his big brother and big sister, I'm too far away to pull his hand away. So he licks it like a lollipop, giggling because he can hear me gagging.

Yet again, I'm grossed out and highly entertained by this third child of mine.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ode to Duck, NC

I have a feeling it's going to be a really great day. My kids and I are here in Duck, North Carolina, at our beach house and in a neighborhood with which they're familiar. It's still early in the season, and not many people are here, so they can ride their bikes around the block by themselves. Everyone we see gives us at least a friendly wave, and is open for friendly chatting. You can tell that no one has anything really important to do. No one has somewhere they really need to be.

It is barely the start of the season; this part of the year is sometimes called "the shoulder season" because it comes before the real start.  All of our favorite places are just opening and getting ready for business. Shop owners aren't yet weary of tourists. They've rested from their quiet, winter break and are ready to put on a smile and welcome new and old people to Duck--to earn a few dollars, of course, but also because that's what Spring means to them. Many of the shops are unveiling new iterations of themselves. The Urban Cottage outgrew its old space in Scarborough Faire and is moving to what used to be an art gallery. We cheered when we called Wave Pizza and they told us they were open. When we got there, the employees were writing the menu on the fresh and clean blackboard behind the counter.

Still, it's the beach, and we're not part of the shop opening. The weather is nice and warm, a little gift on this March day. It's already 60 degrees and sunny, and my kids are watching their second cartoon while I finish up this essay and start breakfast. Two are in pajamas, one is already in his swim trunks, sans shirt, of course. They've already made me promise that after breakfast we can ride our bikes to Duck Donuts, their favorite place.

But what will make this a great day? I think it's our to-do list. There are some things on it, but it's not very long. On this Spring Break day, I'm not trying to cram in too many things into too few hours. I know that we'll play at the beach--and that the time will wonderfully require sunscreen--for a good chunk of the day. I'll make lots of healthy meals so that yummy, not-so-healthy treats can be consumed between them.

I'm happy to be here. With my kids. What more does one really need at the beach?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Risky Honeymoon

Eleven years ago this May, my husband and I got married. We didn't want to take an average honeymoon--we wanted something awesome and unusual. I was a former Peace Corps Volunteer and had a soft spot for developing countries, while Jonathan was a former investment banker who traveled to Africa when he suddenly lost his job in the reshuffle of Wall Street in the early 2000s.

(Don't ask me the details of this reshuffle--I was busy saving the world, or at least one little Thai village.)

Anyway, he wanted to show me where he'd gone by himself: Kenya. He took the lead on the honeymoon and scheduled for us to go on a kick-ass safari. Jonathan doesn't do anything second-rate, so I knew I was in good hands. But after planning a wedding and celebrating with our big families, I wanted a part of the honeymoon to be quiet and relaxing. I wanted the beach. Jonathan said there was a good option for that in Kenya, so he arranged for us to spend our first few days and nights as a married couple in a little family-run beach house on Diani Beach.

All of this was well and good, but while I was choosing between peonies and roses, salmon and pork chops, Diani Beach was just a spot on the map.

After those peonies were held and the salmon was consumed, however, Diani Beach became a real destination. Jonathan and I flew into Nairobi, stayed in our secure hotel, then drove us through a not-so-nice part of the country that made me feel very white, rich, privileged and a little guilty.

Diani House was a family-run guest house. The owner and manager spun long stories of how he grew up sleeping with all his cousins on the porch, running to the beach all hours of the day, being wild under the baobab tree, and making memories. We listened to his stories while eating whatever his cook cooked. At the moment, the cook seemed to cook a lot of oysters.

And oysters didn't seem to be his speciality. Or maybe eating oysters wasn't our speciality. Because every time he cooked them, either my husband or I would get sick. It took us only two times--once for Jonathan, once for me--to realize that we shouldn't touch the oysters, no matter how good they sounded or how much we wanted to eat them. Because if we did, we would not be visiting the pleasant, secluded beaches near Diani House. Instead, we would be visiting our modest guest room, where the walls between bedroom and bathroom didn't extend all the way up to the ceiling. The bathroom entrance was a push-only, saloon-style swinging door, which allowed a lot of light, sound, and air to travel between one space and the other.

One of us would lay on the bed, pretending not to hear the other as the oysters returned to haunt us the other from one end or the other. We shook our heads and laughed at this poopy, non-romantic situation and totally understood why most honeymooners choose a fancy western resort of some sort. The kind that keeps bacteria to a minimum and has germs our bodies might high-five out of recognition and affinity.

At times I thought it was a terrible way to begin a marriage. At times, it was the most amazing time of my life. In all, the imperfections created a great opportunity to force us to recalibrate our expectations, to have a sense of humor and laugh specifically at ourselves, to realize we were very lucky even though things were very imperfect.

So really, it was a pretty perfect honeymoon. We just didn't realize it at the time. Sometimes it takes some years to realize what you've got.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Life as Chipper

Even if you don't Crossfit, and even if you're tired of listening to your Crossfit friends talk about Crossfit endlessly, bear with me for just a paragraph or two.

There's this type of workout called a "chipper" in Crossfit that I really like. It is a series of movements that each have a high number of repetitions assigned to them. But once you're done with that movement, you're done with that movement for the rest of the workout. It's tough while you're doing it, but you can focus on getting done with it--because you'll move on to the next thing, which will be challenging all right, but in a different way.

A quick example before I get to my point: 50 air squats, 50 pull ups, 50 push ups, 50 cartwheels.

(I had to throw that last one in just to see if you were skimming or reading.)

I like these workouts a lot. But I like even more how they apply to my life-outside-of-Crossfit.

Everything is a phase--parenting jumps to mind first, of course. Remember the newborn phase? I was so exhausted from the no-sleep-during-the-night phase that I was hardly ready for the moving-to-naps phase. Then the switch from one diaper size to the next would catch me off-guard, and there was no turning back. Growth, baby! The fussy periods gave way to the whining, and now whining gives way to pouting.

Good news and bad news: it's all a phase.

But life is like a chipper: You gut it out (while simultaneously trying to enjoy each day) in order to finish that phase and move on to the next. You're not exactly ready for it, but life doesn't wait until you're ready. You've just got to breathe deeply, pace yourself, do your best, and try to enjoy it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Slowing Down My Fingers

Sometimes I need to slow down my fingers. They type too fast. My pointer, middle, ring, pinky and thumb work in tandem to express the thoughts that jump into my head. I don't need to look. I don't need to think. They just do the work alone it seems. They punch out the feelings and fly across the keyboard. They write.

Sometimes I need to slow down my fingers. I need to realize they actually don't work alone. I need to realize they connect to my wrist, my forearm, my elbow...all the way up to my brain. I need to realize that my fingers aren't actually thinking. My brain does that. But sometimes my emotions fog up the whole system and make things murky.

Sometimes I need to slow down my fingers. They get me into trouble. A flood of feeling washes away the wisdom that usually guides me. I don't think about the outcome of my words. I just type. I don't think about the chain of events that could happen. I just type. I don't think about the feelings I might hurt. I just type.

Thinking about the not-thinking of my fingers makes me realize that maybe I shouldn't slow down my fingers. They've got to type whatever they want to type. They've got to get down whatever they need to get down so it doesn't sit heavy in my brain, on my heart, within my gut. I've got to get onto the paper--or the screen--the stuff inside of me. The messy stuff. The private stuff. The stuff I'd much prefer to sweep under the rug but a part of me would know it's still there. I guess I can't slow down my fingers after all.

I just shouldn't hit send so fast.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dandelion or Orchid?

I'm reading The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today's Girls. My daughter is turning nine in a few months, and while nothing puberty-ish seems to be happening yet, I feel like I should have an idea about what's coming next in her life so I can help guide her through it as best as I can. It is eye-opening and interesting, and I'm learning a lot.

But what jumped out at me yesterday was the idea of kids being either dandelions or orchids.

That's right. The authors stated that stress can be an indicator for whether or not will begin menstruation early. It depends on how she reacts to stress. Is she sensitive to it or is she resilient in the face of it?

Scientists found that children who are physically or emotionally abused early in life have an anxious, aggressive reaction to stress later in life. If children come from a warm, supportive situation in their early life, they tend to have a resilient, successful reaction to stress.

Am I a dandelion or an orchid?

A fancy orchid, balancing its delicate blooms might be the epitome of the word "fragile." Don't water it too much! Make sure you get the care of it just right or else it will wilt and die. Don't you dare go to another flower to pay attention to it for a second!

The image of the stubborn, stalwart dandelion still stuck into the Earth, shining its bright yellow up at the sun and trees, as if yelling, "I'M STILL HERE!" has me smiling. A dandelion is not a fancy flower. Most would classify it as a weed. It is robust; it grows anywhere, and sometimes in places you don't expect it: sidewalk cracks and driveway beds, smack in the middle of the yard and in left field.

Yup, I'm a dandelion. And proud.

Link to an interesting article about kids and stress and this theory I reference.

Link to one of my favorite children's books, Dandelion by Don Freeman.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Book Club of Three

Last month the children's librarian quit. She was young, hip, single, and decided that teaching English abroad was what she really wanted to do. I don't blame her--that's what I did in my twenties, too.

Daniela, the head librarian, asked me to take over the kids book club. I'm not a teacher or a librarian, but my kids and I live at the library, I'm a children's book author, and I have three kids with whom I have been reading for years.

I am busy, sure, but I have a friend who says you should say no to everything except things to which you want to say "HELL, YES!" This was a HELL, YES! activity. I love picture books and early chapter books, but middle grade fiction is my absolute favorite. Plus, I love talking about books, getting kids excited about reading, and learning what kids think about books.

Our first book club was this week. My two older kids read and I reread El Deafo by Cece Bell. This graphic novel won a Newbery honor and a host of other awards in 2015, and it is an engaging, eye-opening read in many ways for kids and adults alike.

I planned my discussion. I got my notes ready. I outlined my questions for discussions:

  • What was the book about? What is the problem in the book?
  • Do you know anyone who is deaf? How did they become deaf?
  • What did you learn about what it's like to be deaf?
  • What is the "bubble of loneliness" Cece describes? Have you ever felt this way?
  • What would your private superhero name be, and why?

I gathered my stuff for the talk, including: my laptop (so I could show a short clip of Cece Bell explaining how the phonic ear worked), a copy of the book, some blank comic strip hand outs, and my three kids.

When I got there, it was just me, my three kids, and Daniela. No one else.

It reminded me of when I poured my heart and soul and so much time into my first teacher workshop in Uttaradit, Thailand, and I waited and waited and waited for teachers to arrive--but no one did. It was humbling and embarrassing and heart-breaking.

This time, though, I didn't let it stop me. I launched into my lesson plan. I had enough kids to have a conversation, and that's exactly what we did. We talked about the book in the little side library room, talking about who is deaf in our family and why, how we're all going to be in the "bubble of loneliness" sometimes when we move to Washington and what we can do when that happens, and lot of other little things.

I hope more kids attend next month's book club. But if not, I've got a built-in trio who have a lot to say about everything, including the book of the month!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spring Break

My two older children have two weeks of Spring Break. We're just about to throw back the last minutes of week one. Week two will start in the morning, probably too early than I prefer. But my boys missed the memo that school vacation is a time to sleep in late.

When you take two weeks of Spring Break and add a house on the market, you get a lot of tidying-up after three kids. My trio drip syrup onto the counter when they eat pancakes. They spit gobs of toothpaste into the sinks. Their definition of "a made bed" is starkly different from mine. They find new corners of the yard in which to leave balls. And they track in mud every. Single. Time.

To review, two weeks of Spring Break plus house on the market equals one harried mom. But I'm still smiling! Still writing! Still carrying on because that's what I do!

I forgot to add in one very busy husband who just got slammed at work. So while I'm busy being empathetic to his frustration that it's been decades since he got a Spring Break and busy being sympathetic to his never-ending work, I'm silently wishing he'd just put his own dishes into the dishwasher. That's it--just the dishes. I don't mind doing the rest. But...sigh. He forgot.

In case you had too much wine while reading this:

Two weeks of Spring Break + house on the market + one very busy husband = the need to get out of Dodge.

That's it. We're heading to the beach. (In just one more day. I can do it! I can do it!)

And I'm telling you, when those kids go back to school, I'm giving myself 72 gold stars for spending so much freaking quality time with them.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Why I Write: My first Washington Post essay

So my first essay came out in the Washington Post this afternoon. I'm laying low, wondering if any of my friends will read it. It's got my name on it, so I figure at least a few people will read it and realize it's me. The essay is about losing control of myself and slamming the door so hard I broke it.

Then, in the essay and as I did a few years ago in that messy thing called real life, I picked up the pieces--literally and figuratively.

I wish this writing success of mine could be celebrated a little more, but I realized that some close to me might be apprehensive because they feel like their dirty laundry is being aired out for others to see. And they didn't exactly wish for that.

Still, it happened. The crappy phase of life happened. My depression and rage happened. The door happened.

But why write about it?

A few years ago before going on a writer's retreat I read the two books of the two women who were presenting to us wannabes. One woman wrote of losing both her parents to cancer when she was young, and how difficult her early adulthood was without their guidance. The other woman wrote of her year in a brothel of the sultan of Brunei.

One book was a share-the-grief, one sure seemed like a look-at-me tell-all. You can probably figure out which was which.

I am sure some will think my essay is the latter, too, but to me it is not. I wrote that essay to show that tough times pass, that divorce is a choice and that you don't have to choose it, that even though a mom might look nice and put together in carpool, her reality might be a whole lot different.

I write to help people realize that they're not alone in their anger or grief or frustration. And that they can keep on going, working through it at their own pace, and things will be okay in the end. And if things are not okay, then it's not the end.

(Click HERE to read my article.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Home Again Home Again

Three kids, one mom, one Grammy.

Six hours, four states, one stop.

Two movies, some books, a few fights.

I-79, Pennsylvania Turnpike, 522 to get Grammy home.

Lots of chatting, more swapping stories, a little smack talk.

Drop off Grammy, one last hour, finally home.

One road trip, three tired kids, one happy mom.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Seven year old boy at Niagara Falls

Here's a chilling, true story my kids and I read before heading up to Niagara Falls today:

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in July 1960, a man from the town of Niagara Falls took his two children out for a boat ride in the upper Niagara River. The boat ran into some trouble--it hit a shoal and a pin broke in the engine--and capsized. The three bobbed about, surely frantic about meeting what they knew was just around the bend: the biggest waterfall in North America.

The older, 17 year-old girl was at the brink of the falls, clutching onto a rock. A crowd watched, worried, gasped as she was plucked out of the river by two passersby just before the falls. The father went over Horseshoe Falls, the Canadian part of Niagara Falls, and was killed.

And the boy... Roger Woodward, the 7 year-old boy, went over Horseshoe Falls just like his father did. He was wearing just a life jacket. But luck was on they boy's side. By some miracle, he fell 362 feet down the falls and lived.

One of the Maid of the Mist boats was rounding the bend of Horseshoe Falls. It was full of tourists but one of the crew spotted Roger's life jacket as it--and the boy--fell down the falls. The boat went to rescue Roger. After two unsuccessful throws of a life preserver, Roger caught it on the third throw and the crew pulled him to the boat and pulled him on board.


Today my kids and I drove up from Erie to Niagara Falls. It was their first time up there. I had been there at least once as a kid. I was disappointed the Maid of the Mist boats hadn't started to run for the season, and the trip was so last-minute that I hadn't had time to renew my passport to go do the cool things on the Canadian side.
My seven year old at the American Falls

But we just did some free stuff on the American side, and they don't realize that the fog inhibited the view more than usual or the construction kept them from seeing Horseshoe Falls from Goat Island.

We did get to walk over on a pedestrian bridge--not straight over the falls, but pretty darn close, and over the raging Niagara River that churned and spat and sloshed beneath our feet.

I held all my kids close, but I held my own seven year old son the closest. No need to repeat history in any way today...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Kids: Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em

My kids and I are visiting Erie, PA, this week. My mom and dad were both born and raised in this sprawling town, and I have a lot of family here. Since my dad was in the Army, we moved around a whole lot but always came back here for summers and holidays and, well, whenever we could. Now I return a few times a year to see my two grandfathers, one in his 90s and one in his late 80s, my aunt and two uncles and a whole host of cousins who are once removed or second or something like that--I don't care the details. They're family.

There's nothing like a trip to Erie, PA, to help righten my perspecticles (something I didn't make up; have to credit Glennon Melton of Momastery for that one). The last time I drove away from here I recorded my reflections. Thanks to my handy iPhone notes, I can see that on August 13 2013 these were the things that smacked me in the face during and after our summer visit:

1.  It is worth the energy to stay positive. 
2.  I sure am young and healthy. 
3.  I should have more fun--laugh more with people I love. 
4.  Try to remember that most people have bad a much tougher life than me. 

This time around, with my kids a little older and my youngest just on the cusp of going to school full-time and me pretty excited about that, I'm realizing just how lucky I am to have them to fuss over and worry about. 

My aunt has three kids, and her youngest is off to college in the fall. I can't imagine this. I can't imagine the quiet, the empty house, the lack of laundry, snack, homework, baths, bedtime stories... I know each phase of parenting (and of marriage) is tough and joy-filled for its own reason, so I think I should definitely realize I've got some pretty awesome and difficult years ahead of me where my kids still need me--albeit in a slightly different way. 

Hopefully they'll be able to blow their own noses but still need my guidance on how to deal with heart ache and forgiveness. Hopefully they'll be able to cook a little more for themselves, but still want and need my help in the kitchen.

Appreciating my young kids just a little bit more today...

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Aunt Di's Kitchen Table

For the first time this month, I have two extra set of eyes on my words as I type.

The first set belongs to my oldest son, Ben. His hazel eyes don't believe that I could write an entire slice of life (something called "small moments" in his first grade classroom) about a kitchen table. The other pair of eyes are blue. They belong to my youngest son Kiefer, with whom I snuggled up in our shared bed in my Aunt Di's house. We're traveling, so our routines have been thrown out the window. The boys (and their big sister Lorelei) had chocolate milk with pizza for dinner. That kind of thing is just koo-koo crazy in our house!

They are delighted to be here at their great Aunt Di's house six hours away from our home in Virginia. I am, too!

So about this kitchen table. Ben accurately describes it as plain. That's true--as Kiefer leans on to it he can see that a lot of the surface has been rubbed away. But it's strong and it's sturdy. The chairs around it are not--they are a little wobbly, as if too many people have reared back in laughter and thus hurt the table--but did good things for their life.

Some years ago when my aunt was about to sell her home in Georgia before moving up here to Erie, Pennsylvania (which is a whole other story), my sister went to help prep her house for the market. She took one look at the table and sniffed at it. "Aunt Di," she said with the authority and know-it-all-ness that is always present in her voice, "You've got to refinish this table. It doesn't look very good."

Aunt Di sighed--she didn't want to add another thing to her to-do list, and she also disagreed. I think I particularly like this because few disagree with what my sister has to say.

The table did not get refinished. It remained as-is. A kitchen table like this one shows its wear and tear proudly. My Aunt Di has three children. I remember all of them as newborns. Now, in that trick time plays on us, the oldest is out of college and an actual, functioning adult, the older boy is a junior at Penn State, and her youngest is getting ready to graduate high school.

They've seen countless breakfasts, dinners, fights, UNO games, and way more on this very table. They've had discussions over lost cell phones, broken-up girlfriends, college applications, test scores, and even their father, my Uncle Brian's cancer diagnosis two years ago (from which he is slowly recovering).

A kitchen table tells a lot about a family. In this point of life where shows like Fixer-Upper and other home improvement shows will point out exactly how to make your kitchen better, your bathroom more fabulous, your yard a show-stopper, I think it's pretty nice to have a few things (at least!) in your home that remain the way they were meant to be--very used and very loved.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

I Got a Yes

I've been trying to get my picture books published for a few years. I keep toiling away, messing with a each word until I'm finally satisfied that the book delivers just the right giggle at just the right moment. I've sent nearly a hundred queries to agents and editors so far.

So far, I've collected a bunch of NOs.

Still, I write. I wake every morning at 5 AM and keep that first hour of my day clutter-free and dedicate it to my writing in some way. I'll work on a new draft or write a slice of life like I'm doing now, or research where to send my latest manuscript.

While I'm still trying to get one of my manuscripts transformed into a book, I also started to write essays. Each of them has always been a slice first, a quick sketch on an early morning here on my whateverings blog. Then the idea sits with me all day and I think, "That's good enough for a wider audience."

So I toil away, pick at the essay and think about my reflections and work on it some more on the following mornings. Two years ago I sent a 430 word essay called "Windstorm" to a local magazine and they accepted it. I was beyond thrilled! My best friend framed it--my name on the byline for the very first time! And then I submitted another one to the same magazine, they accepted it, and I got paid for it! Wow.

Then I got curious: where else could I write? Two weeks ago I wrote here about my worst moment ever as a mom--I broke a door out of anger and frustration and depression in front of my kids--and worked on that with the goal of sending it to The Washington Post. I sent a quick email with a succinct pitch to the editor. She zinged right back with a "send the whole essay" response. I contemplated waiting a while to send it so I could live in the hopeful world of "maybe" a little while longer. But I didn't. I sent it to her.

Then I went to pick up my son from my good friend's house, where he was playing with her son. I stood in her kitchen when my phone sounded, telling me that I had just gotten an email. I checked it. It was a yes! My essay was accepted!


I find the format and community here at Two Writing Teachers just the right spot for testing out ideas, dipping my toes in the waters of a particular subject, and for that I'm so very grateful.

Friday, March 11, 2016

On My Most Socially Awkward Moment

Last Spring after my three kids learned to ride two-wheelers, we took a family bike ride to a local restaurant on a Sunday morning for brunch. We're early birds so there weren't too many families out yet on the bike path--only serious runners and bikers. My husband and I had to keep a balance between going fast enough for our two older kids to maintain momentum. Yet the pace needed to be  slow enough for our youngest, just three and a half at the time and on a little red bike with tiny 12" wheels, to keep up.

We biked just two miles to the restaurant and found seats outside--we wanted to keep an eye on our bikes. But I had to go inside to ask the hostess if we could sit at those vacant outside tables. The rest of my clan scouted out the table while I checked in. I pushed my way through the revolving door to chat about the seating.

I asked quickly--a bit scatterbrained perhaps because of hunger, perhaps because I hadn't enough coffee, perhaps because I was hurrying--and was pleased with the "No problem! Seat yourself!" message.

I wanted to relay this message to my family, whom I could see through the open windows on the front of the restaurant. Another family was easing themselves through the revolving glass door as I was leaving to go outside as well, and I rushed to jump into one of the four segments of the revolving glass door.

Turns out I hopped in at the very last second--I made it, whew!

But then I realized that I wasn't the only person in this small segment of a revolving door. I was in with a stalky, thirty-ish man who was quite surprised to have an extra passenger mere centimeters behind him. I had hopped into the one-person area with a total stranger, making us two extremely squished and extremely uncomfortable people!

Luckily our time together was short, and he hopped out and I hopped after. Even luckier, he had a sense of humor and I could see the smile in his eyes as he turned back to me.

"That was the most socially awkward thing EVER! I have no idea why I did that! I'm so sorry!" I gasped, laughing.

Might as well own it, and take the opportunity to laugh at myself!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Publishing, Two Perspectives

My son's preschool class went on a field trip today. Turns out, he was on the opposite side of where I was at that same moment!

As a (yet-to-be-published) children's book author, my three kids know more about publishing than the average child. I've explained to them how it works: I write a manuscript, edit and revise approximately 2 millions times, then send it around to publishing houses. I write a perfectly charming yet succinct letter to accompany said manuscript that might convince them that my picture book or chapter book is worth purchasing and publishing. (Or, I send it to literary agents who will then do that process on behalf of me.)

Then that editor finds an illustrator s/he thinks fits my story and illustrators are planned, sketched, then perfected. Finally, the illustrations and words go together, a dummy is made, then the final is printed and shipped off to bookstores.

And where did my son go on his field trip? To Barnes and Noble--to the very Barnes and Noble our family frequents (especially on cold, snowy days when we've been cooped up with cabin fever). He got to go to the "secret lower level" and see the storage room where "300 books a day" arrive and are sorted before being placed on the shelves.

The class read the very cute and very appropriate How to Read a Story by Kate Messner, drew some bookmarks which my son left there, and found their way back to preschool.

And what did I do today? I submitted my chapter book to two editors I've met at conferences, sending good vibes along with my query and first few chapters first through the internet and then at the post office. I was far from the end product--the look-at-my-book-on-that-shelf moment--but there's beauty and joy in the beginnings, the idea stage, the hopefully maybe-this-time-I'll-get-a-yes moment.

I'm enjoying the though that one day my son's field trip and my manuscripts might meet up at the same place: the bookstore!