knowing yourself

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“Night night.”

Anyone who’s hung out with Etta knows what those words mean. She is D-O-N-E. When she comes over to me, wherever we are– zoo, story time, splash pad– and says “mama, night night,” I pack it in and we jet. Because apparently, my tiny tot knows herself well, and she lets me know when she’s reached the point of needing to get home and get to bed for a nap ASAP. Continue reading

one perfect day

As Saturday began, I didn’t think it was going to be a good day. I had made plans to meet some of my friends at the zoo with the girls, and getting the three of us up, dressed, fed, packed, and loaded wasn’t going so well, particularly because Etta seemed to be having some teething-related pain and was screaming her face off. Determined to get out the door and spend some time with friends I love, I gave her some Tylenol and a frozen teether, and got us on our way, practically chugging my coffee.

Then a funny thing happened: a perfect day. It turns out 5 adults, 1 elementary student, and 2 almost-two-year-olds is a good mix for a zoo day. I had help dragging the little red wagon, lifting babies to better vantage points, and entertaining kiddos at lunch. The girls had a big kid to watch and copy. The weather was amazing– sunny and 70s after what seemed for a while to be an interminable, cold winter. And for some reason, despite our screamy start, my children, perhaps because they love the outdoors, people and animals, were the best-behaved toddlers in the whole dang place. They made mostly-appropriate animal sounds when they saw elephants, tigers, lions, and monkeys. They may have called the penguins fish, but they seemed to really enjoy feeding time. And they rode in the wagon and were hoisted around by people who weren’t their parents with nothing but smiles and giggles. Only at the very end of the route through the zoo (we saw everything but the reptile house, which we all agreed could be skipped due to creepy) did anyone get the least bit tearful, and as we were an hour past naptime, it seemed completely reasonable.

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Our happy crew. Etta would have been wearing sunglasses, too, but she took them off right as the picture was snapped.

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Loved getting to see this tiger going for a swim. Reminded me of Life of Pi.

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You can’t quite see it here, but it’s a mama gorilla napping with her baby in her arms. It reminded me of napping with my own girls– in fact, Claire and I had a snuggle nap when we got home from the zoo!

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Bufflo Gal Gothic.

We came home and Etta went down instantly and soundly for a nap. Claire needed some snuggles, so I made the real sacrifice of lying down with her in a cool, dark room, dozing and smelling her hair for two hours. We all woke up just as their daddy got home from work, and we cuddled in the den and watched Tinkerbell as we came out of our nap trances. We all spent the rest of the afternoon outside, soaking up some much-needed sunshine, and ended the day with more snuggles and some storytime. As I put Claire down to sleep, I was practically tearful with love for my amazing little family.

Toddlers can be difficult, no doubt. There are lots of big emotions crammed into tiny bodies. They don’t quite speak English, which causes a lot of confusion on both sides. They don’t always understand why they can’t have their way/that thing they want, and they sometimes throw really impressive fits. But oh, once in a while, just often enough to keep me going, they have utterly magical days. I am so very thankful Saturday was one of them.

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Look at these goobers. Love them.

my airplane angel and the kindness of strangers

Is the glass half full, or half empty? Are people terrible, or are they good? These questions, like just about everything, depend on what sort of data you’re working with, which examples you’re focusing on, and where you’re looking. For me, I have to say, I just keep getting smacked in the face with the full and the good.

Us, traveling with twins last year.

Us, traveling with twins last year.

I wrote about dreading our holiday travel with twin toddlers, for example, but our flights ended up going swimmingly. TSA agents gave the girls stickers and smiled and chatted with them while scanning our liquids and swabbing our hands. A family wrangling just one baby called us superheroes as we struggled to fold a stroller and sort out a backpack with a toddler strapped to each of our chests. We sat near people who smiled and told us how cute our kids are instead of huffing that they got stuck near two small children on a flight. And I was seated next to an angel. I mean, her name was Mary and she’s a sheep farmer, and her son’s name was Christian. That’s some pretty heavy symbolism, right off the top. But she also held my toddlers, let them play with her jewelry, showed them pictures of her dogs and her sheep on her camera, and let Claire nap across her lap. Her middle school aged son closed the window shade without asking to keep the sun out of little eyes, and happily watched Pixar movies with us on the iPad. They made the flight to Colorado a pleasure, and finding them as my seatmates again on the way back felt like nothing short of a miracle.

This sort of kindness has been happening to us again and again lately. My iPhone was stolen on our vacation in Florida, which would seem to be a data point in the “people are terrible” column. But then a woman I have never met outside of Twitter offered to give me her old iPhone for free, refusing my offer to pay, saying it was just sitting in a drawer since she had upgraded. I accepted it gratefully, doubly thankful for the blessing of being reminded that for every thief, there is also generosity and kindness.

And then, last week, a crazy thing happened. I got a friend request on Facebook from a stranger with whom I had only one mutual friend. Around that same time, that mutual friend shot me a text: “Missing a wallet?” A delivery driver for a local restaurant had found my wallet run over in the road, picked it up, and given it to the owner of the restaurant, who, used to tracking down people who leave their wallets in the restaurant, set about finding me via Facebook, and, seeing that we had a mutual friend, through him. Not a single thing was missing from my wallet, which I had apparently left on the roof of my car while buckling my kids in. And it was returned to me in a fashion only slightly less miraculous than that time my husband left his iPhone in a Costa Rican taxi cab and it found its way back to him.

Even my casual day-to-day ventures into public with twin toddlers are usually characterized by people holding doors, waving at toddlers, and asking if they can help.

And it’s not just my data set that suggests that people are really good and kind. Today, my friend Kerri has a post up about a random act of kindness she got to participate in. (And I must say, Kerri happens to be one of the kindest, biggest-hearted people I know.) And another friend tweeted about dropping her kid off at daycare for the first time, where a stranger she called an angel gave her a hug and told her “It’ll be OK.” And then another friend on Twitter sent me a link to this piece from the Today show about strangers showing kindness to parents with kids out in public. And yes, I know, there’s a whole lot of terrible and hurt and meanness that also scrolls by my feed and through my life, but in the face of so much good, that’s the part I’m trying to choose to focus on.

life lately: the long and short of it

Greetings from the den of our new house! We’ve been here going on 3 weeks, and I am proud to say we are mostly unpacked. The lingering boxes are almost entirely books and things that go in the linen and hall closets, and we have grand plans to get some nice built in shelving up to hold all of that stuff. There’s still nothing hanging on the walls, either, but I’m pretty happy with our progress. Being surrounded by boxes really stresses me out, so I kind of go crazy to unpack as quickly as possible. I was lucky to have a weekend without the babies, so I got a lot done in that time.

Of course, the babies weren’t here because our AC broke when we moved in, despite having passed an inspection only a few weeks before. Three different people told us we needed a new unit, and worse still, we were told it would be weeks until they could install it. Going AC-free in the humid Arkansas summer, with two tiny tots, is not a good time. So the girls were sent off to Nonni and Poppi’s, which was nice and cool. The good news is, we finally had an AC guy come and look at it, who assured me that while most people want to sell new units, “most folks just need a $5 part.” He had it working in under an hour for $90, and gentle readers, I very nearly kissed him on the mouth. He was a humble fellow, though, so I refrained, because I didn’t want to give him a heart attack. He said it may run for years to come. (If you’re local and in need of an HVAC repair guy, let me know– I’d be happy to pass on the info of such an honest guy!)

Another update is that Baby Claire has still not had her shunt surgery. It got rescheduled thanks to a bronchial infection that made having surgery soon after too risky, and we are expecting to get it on the books soon. I will let you know!

I also realized that something big happened to me lately, and you may have noticed on Instagram, but I never wrote about it….

After over 3 years of dreaming, I CUT OFF ALL OF MY HAIR.

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The initial chop in December. The front was still long enough to tuck behind my ears.

Now, this actually happened back in December. After a few months with a bob, I decided to go all the way to pixie town. And ever since then, each appointment, I’ve gone a little shorter. Six months later, the verdict is: I love it. It feels very “me,” as if my hair somehow matches my sensibilities. Which, considering I have been described as “impish” by others, a hairdo most suited to some sort of sprite just seems to make sense.

Since there may be some of you out there waffling on a drastic external change, can I please be the one to say: GO FOR IT.

My thinking on taking a step I had been waffling on for years was partially influenced by my recent brush with death. I mean, once you’ve faced down mortality, something as insignificant as hair just seems like a blip, not even worth agonizing over. The worst that could happen wasn’t anything scary, it was just the possibility I might not like my hair for a while until it grew out.

At the girls' first birthday.

At the girls’ first birthday.

Of course, instead of hating it, I loved it. I strangely feel more feminine with short hair, perhaps because my face can stand out that much more without hair detracting from it. Now I’m very proudly #teampixie, and I have gathered a whole pin board of continued inspiration.

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If you’re thinking of going short, I think now is a great time. I called it when I first saw the trailer, but I think Carey Mulligan’s Gatsby bob is going to have lots of girls wanting to go short. A picture of her is already my most-repinned pin. And then you can declare the Lumineers’ “Flapper Girl” to be your summertime jam as you enjoy the feeling of cool breezes on your neck in the sweltering summertime heat:

Cut off all of your hair
Did you flinch, did you care
Did he look, did he stop and stare
At your brand new hair

she will know that i am mother

I’m in my next to last week of classes for my MA program. I’m in the middle of a bunch of academic writing on books like BelovedCeremony, and Salvage the Bones, all of which explores the power and ferocity of woman- and mother-hood.

I’m also quietly in the trenches, dealing with a sick baby who’s been running a high fever and barfing so much she had three baths in one day yesterday. It’s a funny thing, the juxtaposition of all of my intellectual thinking about motherhood as some sort of abstract force against the raw power of literal motherhood as this thing that I do, this person I am as I hold a tiny person and just go ahead and let her finish vomiting all over me, just sit there and let it happen, because I know she’s not done yet and attempting to move, or get out of the path of the flow will just exacerbate the mess.

The last lines of Salvage the Bones (which, I swear, this isn’t a spoiler) are “She will know that I have kept watch, that I have fought…She will know that I am a mother.” In this case, I am the she. I am the one who knows. And I am the one who is. In caring for my sick baby, just as I have already many times before in my 8 month stint, just as I will many times to come, I just become unblinkingly confronted with this new fact of my existence. I am a mother. I am the heart that beats the rhythm of comfort under the skin and bones upon which rests the fevered cheek of the one who is flesh of my flesh. What a strange and wonderful privilege it is to provide that resting place. To encircle that tiny, weary person with my arms. To know that I am her mother.

Reading Salvage the Bones with Claire resting in my lap. Etta was napping in the bouncer that I rocked with my feet. It's how this mother gets her schoolwork done.

Reading Salvage the Bones with Claire resting in my lap. Etta was napping in the bouncer that I rocked with my feet. It’s how this mother gets her schoolwork done.

the wonder of opening up

Me and one of my sick, sweet babies. Still smiling!

The other day, I wrote a really honest post about the exhausting hardness that is being a parent to two small children and trying to do just about anything else. I was feeling incompetent at life, and because I’m a writer, because literally that is who I am, because even the code of my DNA probably spells words, the way I worked out those feelings was to write them. And cry.

And then something amazing happened: that post got (as of this writing) 21 amazing comments. And on Facebook, where I also shared it, I got 12 other amazing comments, plus a couple of supportive private messages. And the support continued on Twitter. And this morning, a lovely friend took the time to send me an email that warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. While one commenter called me a downer, every single other woman who commented did two things: they affirmed that my feelings were normal and OK, and they assured me, things do get better. Time passes. Nothing stays the same. It was an amazing experience of the best of the internet and its power to bring us together and let us know we are not alone. I am beyond grateful. Today, even though I’m home, still in my pjs at 3 pm with two sick babies who have croup and are just beyond pitiful, my heart is lighter. And I feel strong and confident.

Buoyed by this love and more than a little indignant at the downer comment, I posted this on Facebook:

And while I’m actually kind of proud of that line and think it really says it all, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a writer, and what it means to put my heart out into the world through my words, and I’ve found (shock me shock me) that I still have some more to say.

Despite a comment that would minimize and silence my giving voice to my experiences with the more painful side of motherhood, I will not be minimized and silenced. Tellingly, that comment, the only one that wasn’t encouraging in some way, came from a man. I’m taking a course on women writers this term, and over and over in the works I’ve studied, women writers depict women writers with men in their lives who don’t understand why they can’t just be content, grateful even, with their lives as wives and mothers. Why they feel a yearning for more, why they simply must write. Any woman who, like me, attempts to express anything but sweetness and light concerning motherhood feels the need to qualify it with caveats about how much they really do love their children, husbands, and homes, for fear of being criticized by a society that constantly tells us to be grateful and enjoy every moment.

All that does is leave you feeling guilty when you inevitably fail to live up to that standard.

Based on the love that was poured out to me when I poured out my heart, I have to say: it is worth that risk. Because when you pour out your heart, you invite others to do the same, and they will, and you will feel less alone. The great Flannery O’Connor wrote in one of her letters: “In the face of anyone’s experience, someone like myself who has had almost no experience, must be humble.” We don’t get to tell other people how to understand, frame, or feel about their experience. But we can let them know that they’re not alone in having it.

I’m so thankful to all the folks who let me know that I’m not alone this week or in this life. You have been a model for how I hope to respond the next time the shoe is on the other foot and someone opens themselves up.

incompetence

“Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

That’s what she said to me as I wheeled my two baby girls into daycare this morning. “I’m sure they keep you busy. Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

Well, I guess there’s no “It gets better” project for twin moms.

Which sucks, because for the last few days I just feel like life is hard. I feel incompetent. Like, not only can’t I do it all, but I can’t even do the little bit that I want to do. The little bit that I thought was achievable.

All I want to be when I grow up is an English professor. I’m beginning to think it will never happen. I’m beginning to think I won’t even get my freakin’ masters, let alone a PhD, because it’s all I can do to take two classes per term and stay on top of my coursework. A full load for most people is three courses, but two seriously puts me at my limit. And don’t even get me started on studying for my comps exam, which I’m supposed to be doing somehow on top of and outside of my course work. I truly cannot find the time. Not that I know where the time goes, except that there is always someone to be held or fed or changed, forever and ever, amen. Sometimes I manage to make dinner, or do a little laundry, but please don’t look at the tumbleweeds of dog hair on my floors or my dirty toilets and sinks. We’re just getting by here. Every night that we put two babies to bed feels like a victory.

And yet a few of my profs found out I hadn’t signed up to take the comps this term, and they told me I should take it, so I decided to give it a try, despite the whole not studying thing. And then I had a disaster morning and a baby peed on me, and a car seat came unbuckled in my moving car, and earlier daycare drop off was a nightmare, and I was ten minutes late for the first day of the test, and the door was barred to me, and there were many many public tears. And then someone fought for me, and I got to take it after all, and I’m still pretty sure I failed. And I still rallied for Day 2, the essay portion, and I think I did ok on 2 essays, but I needed to write 3, and I just didn’t have an answer for any of my other options, so I came home, and went to bed. I am not used to feeling this incompetent

I can try again in the spring, and I will make a study schedule and try again in the spring, but I just feel so defeated. I feel like it is such a battle to just make time for my academic pursuits, and I know that it’s not going to get any better, and then I wonder about all of it, and what I’m doing with myself. And we have to maybe move again at the end of this year, and I have to maybe start a new life in a new place all over again, and make a life for two small people, and it’s just exhausting.

I feel like a broken record lately, “But I have two babies.” Two babies. So small. I underestimated them. Perhaps I overestimated myself. It’s just so very hard sometimes, and I can’t even really explain the hardness, except to say that it is. And right now it feels a little too much for me. Two classes I can do very well on top of two babies, but graduating might just prove to be too much.

So there’s that.

I was afraid to even write this because I know my family reads this now, and I know they will freak out and also give me a bunch of platitudes about how I can do it. But I just need to feel my feelings, right now, and this is what I’ve got.