November 29, 2011

Family Memories


That's what Thanksgiving has always been about for us. Food is fine, but we haven't always had a turkey. Mostly, it's about spending time with family.

The fact that we had pot roast on the table on Thursday evening, since we were waiting for turkey until Saturday with my mom's family, was completely irrelevant compared to the fact that my little girls were sitting with their grandparents, that my husband was next to my grandmother, and the uncle who lived with us for a while when he was in college was across the table with his wife and son.

My sister and her husband had their Thanksgiving meal with his family, but before they left, Uncle D went outside with Joy and they built a snowman together, followed by a tramp through the fields. Uncle D is my littles' favorite person in the entire world.

Although I think Great-Uncle C might be close in Grace's eyes - she snuggled on his lap most of Thanksgiving Day when we weren't eating, rubbing Shiloh's (the dog) head and sucking her thumb. She was in a state of bliss most of the day.

This photo slays me. Mom peeling carrots; D chopping them; Joy eating blueberries and casting her eyes to heaven in disgust that the adults are not taking her excellent advice on the proper preparation of glazed carrots. Every time any one of us did anything that weekend, a little voice chirped, "I can help!" and a little shadow followed behind. My sister says that when Mom was washing dishes and she (sister) was cooking, Joy stood on a stool between them and directed them with waves of her hands, like a conductor of a symphony orchestra.

This is A, my cousin's youngest boy. He's just a month and a half older than Grace. The kids weren't at all sure what to make of each other at first on Saturday, at GG's, but after playing outside with the bigger boys (Carl, D, and my cousin C), they warmed up to each other. Grace still likes Shiloh the best, but she asked about A all day on Sunday. In this picture, they are reading stories and listening to songs and all three of them humming along. Joy was in her element with two younger ones to boss. Usually we hang out with older kids or babies, so this was great for her.

My memories of Thanksgiving all center around family - grumping about having to sit at the kids' table at Dad's parents', eating caramels and divinity and Mom's AH-MAZING Tollhouse Pie and choking at all the cigarette smoke at Mom's parents'. Somehow, even the smoke, that made my sister and me horribly ill every year, doesn't seem so bad in memory, now. It's all just part of what makes up the family - loud, laughter, and smoke. At Dad's family, it was loud, laughter, and my cousins getting into trouble.

The constant, through every holiday, no matter which family was hosting it? Laughter and love.

And that's what we had this year. That's the heritage my children have been born into. Nothing could make me happier than to see that particular tradition handed down another generation.

I can't wait to see what the second-cousins group photos look like in ten years!

November 22, 2011


Poor Grace. Second-year molars are no fun, especially when you've just woken up from a nap and you mother and sister want to do silly pictures on the computer (mostly because Mamma is trying to put off packing for the trip north to visit Oma and Grandpa and GG and Aunt Zizzy and Uncle David for Thanksgiving).


Those peanut butter cookies Mamma made? Those go a long way toward making you feel better. Though not enough to smile for the camera, still.

That's ok. Your sister will smile for the both of you. She loves posing.

It is, I think, going to be a looong car ride north tomorrow.

November 18, 2011

A run of luck

This has just been an exhausting week. It seems like every water-bearing appliance in my house is conspiring against me; the condo board raised their monthly fee by $50; Lulu had a cold, which she kindly passed to me. And then my managers at work asked me today, very nicely, if I would consider working my full 20 hours next week to make deadline, despite the fact that I haven't taken one lick of PTO all year and was really looking forward to it, despite the fact that from Tuesday through Saturday, I am going to be visiting family 200 miles away from my computer.

This afternoon, I pattered around the house in desultory kind of way, folding random sweaters and seeking pairs for tiny, solitary baby socks, blinking past the aura of an impending migraine. Feeling sorry for myself. Allowing a few tears to squeeze past my eyelids and drop down onto my shirtfront.

And then I found it, at the back of a desk drawer: a Christmas present from last year that I had forgotten about, a voucher from J.D. to a local spa. I had planned to use it for some pre-baby beautifying, but then I was put on bed rest and then Lulu was born, and then in the hassle of NICU and swaddlers and leaking boobs, I forgot.

I turned it over in my hands, which were suddenly shaking with hope. Please don't be expired. Please don't be expired.

It hadn't expired. I picked up the phone then and there and called to book myself a massage, a facial, a haircut and manicure. We have a lot of packing to do, a long car ride ahead of us next week, all the tantrums and nursing strikes that go along with being in a strange place, far away from home ahead of us yet...but the week after next, I have some SERIOUS pampering to look forward to.

And there was suddenly a spring in my step that hadn't been there before.

Then my mother called. J.D. and I are driving down in a few days, but she can't wait to see Lu, and wants to drive up this weekend. If I have anything to do this weekend, she'll be willing to watch the baby and give me a few hours for myself.

Suddenly, I see a way out from underneath my mounting workload. Feeling greedy, I asked my mom if she'd be willing to babysit tomorrow night so that I can go to see J.D.'s band play a show downtown.

"Are you serious?" she said. "I'd love to."

The migraine began to lift.

And now I'm cuddled up on the couch with a steaming bowl of pho to help my stuffy nose, and some illegal episodes of Downton Abbey sent to me by a friend queued up on the TiVo.

There's a saying in these here parts: if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.

There's a saying rattling around in my head after my run of luck: if you don't like your mood, wait half a day.

Because everything just might turn out all right.

November 17, 2011

Gracie Days

I love this picture of Gracie, even in all its blurriness. 

It captures so much of her, her enthusiasm for everything, the speed with which she attacks life, even the open mouth as she takes it all in.

She's getting to be a lot of fun. She's always had a decided personality, but these days we're actually starting to understand it. 

For example: the other day, I asked her if she wanted carrots with her lunch.


"Peas?" I asked.

"Nope! Just hummus and chips."

Note - hummus and chips were not on the lunch menu at all.

A few months ago, that would have translated into tears and frustration instead of her actually being able to share what she wanted.

She ended up with carrots and peas, but at least we were able to talk about why chips and hummus are better for a snack, not lunch.

She can pronounce her sister's name, or at least the nickname, now. I kind of miss the baby babble, but it is sweet to hear her holler, "Hey Joy, what you doin'?" from the other end of the house.

Yesterday I picked her up to take her upstairs for her nap, and she snuggled down into my arms and said with a contented sigh,

"I sleepin' now, Mom."

Babies are darling, but I enjoy kids so much more from age two up. These days are still as full of work and frustration as the baby days, but the rewards, for me and my personality at least, are so much greater. From answering Joy as she asks about all the different definitions for the word "mean," to listening to Grace shriek with laughter as I chase her through the house, or tell me exactly what she wants for breakfast, there's always something each day to make me laugh in delight.

November 15, 2011

Accepting the Frump - Sometimes

"No pictures of me," I told Carl sternly as I handed the camera over to him. Normally the camera is mine, but Gracie was snuggling in my arms, and I would rather cuddle my baby then try to capture the moments of Joy's third birthday celebration in as many weeks. "I haven't showered today," I reminded him.

He grinned cheekily, and started snapping.

I considered deleting the pictures. After all, we had plenty more of Joy opening presents. And these are B-A-D of me - not only do you get the greasy hair, you get the stress breakout, a nice clear side shot of the receding chin, my rounded shoulders - pretty much highlighting everything I hate most about my appearance.

But then I decided to keep them. And not only to keep them, but to put them up on the public blog. Why?

Because sometimes, fighting the frump doesn't mean looking our best. Sometimes it means living in the moment, and looking part the imperfections to the fact that these are pictures of me lovin' on and snugglin' with my babies. These are the moments of mommyhood I really want to capture, not the moments when I actually have washed hair and makeup on, and I am conscious of my posture.

Well, ok, I wouldn't mind if I was conscious of my posture all the time. I really should be. 

But still. 

Sometimes fighting the frump means raising our chin (hey, it elongates our neck!) and stepping out bravely into the world, or in front of the camera, even knowing we are covered in baby spit, wearing yoga pants, with two-day unwashed hair scraped back into a ponytail, etc. Because that's all part of being mommy, and we shouldn't be ashamed of it. We ought to be able to celebrate every moment of mommyhood, even the unglamourous ones.

So I'm keeping the pictures, and I'm not even going to flinch when I look at them.

But I will double-check to see if my shoulders are back and my neck straight.

November 14, 2011

Why I love November

A year ago today, I was just over 13 weeks pregnant with Lulu and things were looking up. We'd survived the tumultuous first trimester, which included one daily dose of Prometrium, two subchorionic hematomas, three weeks of bed rest, and no fewer than five middle-of-the-night E.R. visits.

A year ago, I was moving into the very brief sweet spot of my pregnancy, which consisted of the month of November and no more. The hematomas went away. I was let off bed rest. The nausea had abated and I felt suddenly, voraciously great. I felt so great that I tiled my kitchen. I found out at 15 weeks that I was having a girl, and J.D. and I wrote her name on the old linoleum floor before we laid the last tile, sealing her into our lives forever. We announced my pregnancy to friends and I basked in the glow of a thousand well wishes via loving Facebook comments. We rented a cabin in the Shenandoah Valley and made plans to spend Thanksgiving there--our first Thanksgiving alone, together, in seven years of marriage.

By December, it had all gone to shit again. I was diagnosed with cervical insufficiency and put on bed rest again, for the duration of my pregnancy. There was suddenly all this talk about cerclages, prematurity, birth defects, underdeveloped lungs. There was a lot of worry and heartache and stress. But man--November was awesome. I wish it could have been November for nine months straight.

Last November, I saw my baby's face for the first time. It was pretty much the awesomest November ever.

Except for this one.

November 10, 2011

The Ideal

Yesterday, Lindsey wrote a beautiful post on the importance of fairy tales for children. This morning, I posted on Twitter about Joy curling up with her favorite book of fairy tales. I've been thinking a lot lately about various quotes regarding fairy tales -

Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven that judges earth; so for me at least it was not earth that criticised elfland, but elfland that criticised the earth. I knew the magic beanstalk before I had tasted beans; I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was certain of the moon. This was at one with all popular tradition. Modern minor poets are naturalists, and talk about the bush or the brook; but the singers of the old epics and fables were supernaturalists, and talked about the gods of brook and bush. That is what the moderns mean when they say that the ancients did not “appreciate Nature,” because they said that Nature was divine. Old nurses do not tell children about the grass, but about the fairies that dance on the grass; and the old Greeks could not see the trees for the dryads. -GK Chesterton

But the things that seem really likely, like fairy-tales and magic, are, so say the grown-ups, not true at all. Yet they are so easy to believe, especially when you see them happening. And, as I am always telling you, the most wonderful things happen to all sorts of people, only you never hear about them because the people think that no one will believe their stories, and so they don’t tell them to any one except me. And they tell me, because they know I can believe anything. -E Nesbit

Fantasy is hardly a way of escaping from reality; it's a way of understanding it. -Lloyd Alexander

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. -CS Lewis

And Chesterton again -

Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed. -GK Chesterton

I love fairy tales, and always have. I bitterly resented the stupid English prof in college who tried to convince us that they were all a result of suppressed sexual desires (he said that about EVERYTHING we studied in that class - dude had issues), because there is so much richness to be found in their depths, richness that is missed when you focus solely on the secret message of Red Riding Hood's red cloak.

I also get frustrated with people who are only familiar with the Disney-fied version of fairy tales, and judge them all based on that. Dismiss them, really. Well, sure, when the only message you get out of fairy tales is that you need to have big eyes and a tiny waist and win your prince to be happy, I agree that they're a load of crap and our kids shouldn't be wasting their time on them.

But the originals have so much more. Did you know, in the original version of The Little Mermaid, the sea-witch wasn't evil, the mermaid didn't win the prince, and her sister sacrificed their greatest beauty - their hair - in order to have her turned into sea foam instead of just becoming nothing? It is, at its heart, a story about love and sacrifice, both love between a man and woman, and love between families - and the message is, the love between family is the strongest.


So I give my littles fairy tales to read. I don't encourage them to dream of being princesses in pink frothy gowns and sparkly shoes (though Joy at least does really love her sparkly shoes), but I encourage them to think of things like honor and courage, sacrifice and love, honesty and nobility. These are the themes I have always found wound throughout fairy tales, the idea of an Ideal, something that can and should be sought and aspired to.

I have one full shelf on my bookcases of fairy tale collections, not just the traditional European tales I grew up reading, but Russian fairy tales, Japanese fairy tales, and more. Every time I see any collection of tales at a garage or library sale, I snatch it up. I was my girls to be able to experience the tales from many cultures, to learn without having to be taught what ideals are universal, and which ones are specific to cultures, and to learn about other peoples simply by the stories that shape them.

Disney? Not so much.

Unless we're talking Mulan or Belle. One fights in her father's stead, and one loves books. Now those are heroines worth emulating.

Joy showing me something in her fairy tale book this morning.

November 8, 2011

One word

This weekend, we had a lot going on. Family in town, Lulu's christening, the tail end of a fall clean... On Friday, I was sorting through baby clothes to send to Adrienne when I heard it. A small voice babbling, and then the babble resolving itself into two syllables that sent a jolt of recognition through me.

Ma. Ma.

At first I thought it was a fluke, but Lulu did it again, haltingly, and then again, growing more confident each time.

Ma. Mamamama. Ma, ma.

I don't think she knew what she was saying. I don't think she was calling out to me or anything like that. Lu was playing with her toys, totally oblivious to me standing a foot away. But still, my heart was full. I'd dreamed my whole life of hearing some small creature say that word, and from the first moment I saw Lulu's face, when they handed her to me for that brief moment before taking her down to the NICU, I'd wondered how it would sound coming out of her own particular mouth. So when I finally did hear it, my eyes brimmed.

Not because of the word she'd chosen--well, not only because of that--but because it was the first real word she'd ever said, and when she said it, I couldn't help but think of all of the other words she'll say in her life. I like this. I want that. I love you. This word was the first in an impossibly long string.

I won't be privy to all the words she'll say in her life, but I was there to hear her first word. I was there at the start.

All weekend, as I cooked and cleaned and wrapped presents and laughed with friends and family, I kept hearing it, from across the room. Mama? Mama!

Each time, just in case, I called back, "Hi, baby. Mama's here."

Just a Happy Day

I half suspect we are going to have a very nasty and long winter. What other explanation is there for this glorious weather we've been having - in November of all months?

Sunshine and 60 degrees today, and enough leftovers from last night's supper that I didn't need to cook. What other excuse did I need to spend most of the day outside with the littles?

While Grace napped today, I dragged Joy's table and chair out and we did school outside. HOMESCHOOLING baby, oh yeah! You're not a real homeschooler until you've done school outside. True dat.

I even brought my tea outside. Black dragon pearl tea. The perfect thing to drink on a sunny and crisp November day, outside watching my girls play.

(With handwarmers I knit myself, by the way. And don't you like my nail polish? It sparkles. Oh yeah.)

After Grace woke up from her nap and we all had lunch we came back out - OH.


Before I get to that, I have to tell this.

After Joy and I finished school, I came inside to make lunch. Joy wasn't ready yet, so after very carefully pacing out the boundaries in the backyard of where she could and couldn't go, I let her stay outside.


I mean, I've let her play outside on her own at my parents' house before, but they live out in the country, and there are usually other adults around to glance out the windows at her and keep an ear open. This is the first time I've been brave enough to trust her to stay in her limits and not kill herself or get kidnapped by some creeper swooping down out of the sky.

Of course, I compulsively crept from window to window to watch her, but I didn't let her know she was being watched, and she was pretty proud of herself. I was proud of myself, too.

And then, of course, she came to the door and said, "Mamma, I saw a SNAKE! And I said, 'hi, snake,' and watched it go off in the leaves. It was yellow and green and a BIG mama snake."

I gulped, told her she was good to stay back and not try to touch it or follow it, and then came in and Googled snakes native to NY state.

It was a garter snake. Phew.

Anyway, after Grace got up, we all came back outside, and I stood back and watched the girls play together. Lots of giggles.

Joy usually leads the way.

But never think Grace doesn't have a mind of her own.

Most of the time, Joy accepts that. With a few reminders from Mamma, of course (hey, I'm a younger sister, too).

It's been awfully generous of Mother Nature to give us these golden days now. We can pull out the memory of them later, in February, when it seems that the world has always been and will always be cold and grey and bleak.

Thank you, Mother Nature, dear!

ETA: so I wrote this post yesterday; this morning, Carl had to pull a tick out of my back. IF you are going to spend a happy day outside playing in the leaves, please make sure to check you and your kids all over when you're done. I erroneously thought the frosty night would have driven them all into the ground; obviously there are one or two still left in the leaf piles.

One less, now.

November 5, 2011

Four Years Ago Today

... I became a mother for the first time.

And the wonder of it has never left me.

Happy Birthday, my Joy! May you continue to grow strong and sweet and brave and truthful and all the wonderful things you already are. I love you, and am so privileged to be your mamma. Or mam-MO, as you sometimes call me.

November 3, 2011

But I Get Up Again

I love this series of photos. Not just because it shows my daughter loving something I also love (I dreamed of going to the Olympics for figure skating when I was a girl, but alas - I had no talent and no money) (ok, to be just, I am a decent ice dancer, but I didn't discover that until I was sixteen, too old to try to pursue it seriously), and doing it better than I could dream, but because it shows her persistence. Fall down, try to get up, stagger, keep trying, and then - Up on her feet and ready to go again!

She is determined, my Joy. She doesn't quit. Sometimes, like when she is doing something she oughtn't, this frustrates me, but most of the time, I am thankful for it. I am too prone to give up on things after a while - I get bored, or discouraged (usually discouraged) at lack of progress, or I look around at other people and see how much better they are doing at something, so why should I even try?

Not Joy. She keeps her eyes on the goal, and sticks with it.

And she looks stinkin' cute while doing so.

(Note for anyone concerned - when Joy starts taking skating lessons, i.e. skating on the ice without me or her aunt close nearby to keep an eye on her, she will wear a helmet. Her brains are too precious to me to risk! For right now, though, it's still safe. Especially since the very first thing I taught her after she learned how to move forward on the ice was how to fall safely. So please don't send CPS after me.)

November 1, 2011

Sounds of Fall

Carl and the littles are outside raking leaves and jumping in them. Normally I'd be out with them and the camera, but my battery died while I was at my parents', plus I discovered some mousie presents upon our return home this afternoon, and I can't justify playing while that is contaminating my kitchen counter. But I don't really want to clean it, either (NOT my idea of a fun way to spend my first few hours home), so instead I'm here at the computer, listening to fun outside and trying to work up the nerve to tackle the nastiness. This is what I get for leaving my kitchen a mess when I leave. This is what I get for leaving unexpectedly! I guess I should try to practice more the old habit of always having a clean house so that nothing takes you by surprise.


I do love listening to the crunch and crackle of leaves as the girls leap into them and Carl rakes them, and the giggles from all three. My sister and I used to play in leaves at my grandparents' house; our uncle would pile them up by the picnic table and we would leap off it into them, giggling just as madly as my two are. Then we would come inside and Grandma would brush us off and feed us snacks and send us back out to play again.

Having just come back from her memorial service, where sadness mingled with happiness, and memories flowed freely with the food at the luncheon afterward, where we spent time catching up with Dad's cousins and aunts and uncles who haven't seen us in years, where Dad and two of his brothers and one of his sisters gathered back at our house afterward for more food (and coffee) and more stories, both the good ones from when her mind was still hers, and the sad ones from when Alzheimer's started to steal her away ...

I quite enjoy listening to the next generation of small ones laughing and shrieking in the leaves.

And, thinking of Grandma, I really ought to get off my rear end and clean the kitchen, so that I can welcome them back inside with food and smiles.

Because, more than pictures, that's what memories are made of.

Although I freely admit I hope my camera battery will be working the next time these three go out with the rake.

One of last year's leaf extravaganzas. Whee!