Thursday, February 25, 2010

Serious Nolie

My mom gets mad that I like black and white pictures. And I'm a fan of pictures of my kids smiling and laughing, for sure.

But sometimes it's the serious one that captures the spirit of your kid at a particular moment, you know? Where you get a sense that they have a sense of themselves?


And I like the Paper Moon hat here, too.

I'm Here.


I joined a little artist's group, doing The Artist's Way thing, with its morning pages and artist's dates, and so I haven't felt so much need to blather my every inner working to you all. Which I can tell you've missed, you poor things. I've sure felt a lot more peaceful, though.

Also, E. has been out of town lasing things, and I got hit with a gajillion little deadlines, and there you have it. I didn't make much time for blogging. But guess what? That gajillion deadlines thing probably won't be happening too much anymore, because I have officially cleaned my plate, and plan on keeping it clean. No more overcommitment for me. I realized that taking on stuff I didn't want to do at work was an ego thing, mostly, to prove I could do it or out of some sense of feeling flattered. Phew. It's nice to let that go a bit. Do you know what will keep me from doing that again? My back starts to really hurt, a lot, when I overcommit. A most excellent feedback system.

Which leads me to--TA DA!--I seem to have a handle on the back pain thing. Isn't that great? I mean, ISN'T THAT GREAT? It feels so great. In case you didn't notice, I was pretty bothered by all that. I mean, it felt like a bit of a death sentence, and it hurt so much, and now POOF, feeling good.

Know why? Yep, you do. I've stopped overcommitting at work. And:

It's mostly because of dancing. My friend T. dragged me to these classes called Nia. I figured it would be some new-age hippie-dervish-type stuff, mostly because that's how T. described it. And it is a little like that, but it's also this very intense workout that is all about grunting and movement and self-expression and it makes me feel like I'm on the best drug in the universe. No kidding. It is really that good. I feel so much joy doing it, and the joy is spreading to these other parts of my life in weird and interesting ways.

Best of all, my back's not hurting.

Unless I work too much. Then it hurts a whole lot, and I know I immediately need to do more dancing and less working.

Boy. I sound like something, huh? I'm trying not to make too much sense of it all, but this is the way it's working for me. Not doing yoga or pilates everyday (though I still do them now and then), not crazy-ass weight training, not military-style PX46core boot camp, not expensive massages or chiropractic work.

Dancing. Like a hippie dervish goddess lover mama sexpot sweetie-pie karate chopper.

Go figure.

Friday, February 19, 2010

At Last, the Teasing

Addie is most likely to tell me personal things about her life at school right at bedtime. This is a little annoying because I'm so ding-dang tired by that point and the kids are always pushing their bedtimes anyway. But I try to listen carefully because it's important that she's sharing this stuff with me. I don't have any sense of her life at school otherwise, except for little clues here and there.

I've been wondering when Addie would start to become aware of things like clothes, or being teased. She's been pretty much a free spirit up until now, but I'm noticing some things starting to change. She won't wear a hat she got for Christmas because the other kids laugh at her when she does (a year ago she would have rocked it, no matter what). She thinks things Nolie says are "embarrassing." She thinks things I say are "embarrassing." She has started only wearing plain t-shirts from her closet, and pants with the waist tops rolled down.

And there are the details I get directly from her. She told me a few weeks back about a girl who was making fun of her for a while, and we talked about how to handle it (my advice was multifaceted--try making friends, try saying "whatever," try using your words like an adult. I'm not sure what worked). Addie tells me that girl leaves her alone now, but that there's a different girl, P., who has started calling her "weird."

She whispered this to me last night, in her dark and quiet room, and my first thought was actually a feeling--a rock in the gut--as I remembered what it was like to be made fun of and excluded as a kid.

My second thought: take care of your kid. "Look at me Addie," I said. "You are not weird. You are wonderful. You're the farthest thing from weird that there is."

My third thought, which I didn't say, was, "Of course you're a little weird. You're a professor's kid, an engineer's kid, you're smart and a little gawky and beautiful. You're artistic. You're funny. You're tall. For a girl, all those things make you a little weird. But in the very best way, though you probably won't recognize that until you're almost 40."

But you can't say that, because that's how you see things and you know the other little kids and your kid see things differently, and it's unfair to ask a kid to wait 35 years for it all to make sense.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Granola Recipe

Nolie's school had a fundraiser at Applebee's yesterday morning called the "Sweetheart Breakfast." It probably should have been called the "Clogged Heart Valve Breakfast." For $7 per person, you could go to the restaurant and eat as many pancakes and sausages as you wanted, and drink as much Tang-like orange juice and coffee as you wanted.

It was supremely gross.

I don't usually eat pancakes for breakfast because you might as well shoot me up with qualudes and put me into a medical coma. They literally suck the life out of me. I was worthless for half the day, and was only roused from my listlessness by a kick-ass Nia jam (more on that later). But I do love breakfast. So...

Now this, on the other hand, I can get behind. I lerrrrrrve this granola recipe, adapted from the Working Parents' Cookbook (they make theirs with coconut, which makes me retch, so I add in other nuts and seeds instead):

Preheat over to 300 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine 3/4 cup raisins and 1/3 cup water. Let sit for about 10 minutes, or until the raisins are all plump.

In a large bowl, combine 4 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup sesame seeds, about 1/2 cup nuts of your choice (I like pecans, but walnuts or almonds would also be yummy), and 1/4 cup other seeds or nuts (I used flax seeds) of your choice. Mix in 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

Pour in 1/2 cup canola oil (you can also use plain veggie oil, but I did notice an improvement in taste using the canola). Then mix in 1/2 cup honey (use the same measuring cup and the honey will slide right out).

Mix in the raisins and any remaining liquid. Once everything is nice and combined, you can spread the whole shebang out over a cookie sheet (I sprayed mine first with Pam for easier clean-up). Bake for about 35 minutes.

When it comes out, it will be soft, so let it sit until totally cool and it will harden up. Store it. Eat it. Love it. You can thank me later.

This might be my favorite thing to eat for breakfast, mixed in with some raisin bran. Yum. And it won't suck the life force out of you.

Sunday Stuff

This morning: three inches of new Valentine's Day snow:

A study in contrasts: snow outside, and little signs of spring, even if forced indoors. Cilantro, basil, tomatoes.

This morning, Addie has her first loose tooth and a mild case of pink-eye. The girls are still in their jammies, playing "mommy and baby"/making up plays. Addie keeps bringing me these handmade playbills, and I have to check the box if I want to see the play or dance she has concocted.

I always check the box.

I keep walking by the girls' playroom, seeing this guy out of the corner of my eye, and thinking, "What the...?" And then I think to myself I'm so glad we don't have a dog right now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine Moment

And now, for some shine:

Heavens, that is cute. It's hard to beat a roly-poly-Nolie body just out of bath, but add in a little daddy reading time, and yumma-yumma-delicioso.

I should note that mere seconds after this photo was shot, Eric was viciously beating on the child's window, knocking her over to get to the squirrels that were taunting him from the balcony. The man is so assaulted by the many animals who dare enter our back yard and scamper on our house that he loses his ever-loving mind about twice a day. Yes, they probably have a nest somewhere. Yes, the woodpeckers drill holes in our house. But I've never seen a guy come so unhinged by vermin.

Thank God he's not a gun owner, or we'd all be in trouble.

And yes, the banner with Nolie's name was a Valentine's gift from mama. Uber-cuteness. H/T to Soule Mama for the idea.

Coming Clean

I think it's helpful for me to write about my ugly parenting moments on this blog. First, there are a lot of parenting blogs out there that are pretty shiny, you know? Lives and objects seem beautiful, but you don't get a sense of what the underbelly looks like (and I guess I think there usually is an underbelly, though some of our underbellies smell a little more or less foul than others). There's a lot of shame that goes into our parenting fuck-ups. At the same time, there is little community mechanism for healing from them. The closest thing is reality t.v., and we all know how useful that crap is.

Second, it's good for me to bring some of this stuff to the light. It has less power that way.

Third, writing about it gives me clarity I don't get from just thinking about it in my brain, and then I can do better next time.

Big build-up, small story. I just got home from work the other night and was--snap--feeling tired and unfit for human companionship. Nothing particularly bad happened at work, I was feeling alright physically. I just think I probably needed a night to myself. I don't know how else to explain it. But from the minute I picked the girls up until bedtime, I turned into some evil disciplinarian, heartless and mean. More than anything, I think I wanted out, and wanted my kids to not bother me and be perfectly behaved. It was like that scene from The Great Santini where Robert Duvall's character treats his kids like troops, and he's the drill instructor. Ugh-ly.

So of course the kids were whiny and crying because I was being so mean, and I wouldn't let them have snack, and no t.v. show either, and they didn't like their dinner. By the time E. got home everyone was exhausted from the tension and fighting and tears and no food. Then he had a guitar lesson so I had to do bedtime too, and by the end of it Addie was sobbing on the floor of the playroom, and Nolie screaming from the bedroom that she needed her sister. My God. I was like some orphanage proprietess, Miss Hannigan without the funny songs.

What brought us out of it? Deep breath: Addie saying to me, through her sobs, "Mommy, I just feel like you don't love me anymore."

Spell broken. Heart cracked.

I wrote LOVE in big black sharpie letters on my hand the next day, a semi-permanent tattoo, small penance for evils wrought.

Of course, I just needed a night off. Of course, that excuses nothing. But I'm trying to walk through the shame and blame to the other side, and see the learning of it all--that I needed a reminder that love comes first with my kids, and discipline and order second.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pics of Pics

Okay. I think he's leaving these on the camera on purpose, now.

What's annoying is that he's still pretty darned handsome, even making that silly face. If I made that silly face, I'd look like ass. Children would flee in fear. But I just want to kiss him.

The real point of this here post is this little gem. It's Teacher Appreciation Week at Nolie's school next week, and every year the school requests that families make little gifts for the teachers rather than buying them. I totally love this sentiment, of course, but it always seems to come at a bad time and, as you know, I hate being required to craft. Sometimes it is easier to just buy the Starbucks gift card.

Anyway, this is what I came up with for this year. We got an extra game of Jenga for Christmas, and Addie helped me paint some of the blocks blue. Then I hand-drilled a little hole in the top using some pointy-thing I have around the craft room. I bent some rebar wire (very cheap at the hardware store and, imho, endlessly useful for many crafty things). Hot glue some buttons on the front, in goes a pic of Nolie (which the teachers will be free to remove, of course. I don't imagine they all have altars to my child in their homes).

And voila. A little homemade gift, times three, made for free and quickly. Not going to win any fine arts awards, but it'll do in a pinch.

Yes, Nolie is freaking adorable. Lord. Look at those little sausage fingers. Rownch.

If you stick around, I might post about how I completely lost my shit with the girls the other night. It was awful. I should have been taken away and put in a time out for a while. Or I might not post about it, because I'm ashamed and terrified. And because everything is fine now.

We'll see.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Another Envelope

From another M. and S. envelope, from (I'm guessing) Eckhart Tolle:

Nobody's life is entirely free of pain and sorrow. Isn't it a question of learning to live with them rather than trying to avoid them? The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life. The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how strongly you are identified with your mind.

Interesting stuff, huh?

Maybe I'm all softened up from finishing Beyond Blue last night (a must read if you have, or someone you love has, a struggle with depression). But what I was thinking about this morning was this: I agree with Tolle. A lot. I feel like I have worked hard to change self-defeating thoughts and have improved my life and my interaction with others a lot by doing so. They still creep in now and then (remember the chattering teeth on my shoulder? The little flying pig?). But for the most part, reminding myself that I'm one with a greater power and that I am free to express love have been really good for me. Cognitive-Behavioral work has done wonders for my life.

That said, there have been times when I would have not been able to even remotely disentangle myself from my suffering, or my mind. I would not be able to take any of the distance needed to see what my big old ego was up to, scampering around like an over-grown gorilla. I only get glimpses of that distance if I take care of my physical self enough (by taking my birth control every day, eating right, exercising, etc.) to achieve a baseline of wellness.

And then there was the trip to Idaho, when I should have been reading this particular passage. I certainly didn't step back then. I was firmly in the land of nonacceptance and resistance. Even now, when I think about that time, about the words my Mom said to me when she was not herself, I become a child again and am deeply wounded, alone, and separate. The healing from that is coming so slowly.

Like in any religion, the new thought movement (of which Tolle is a figurehead and to which I largely subscribe) has its extremists. There are those who might believe that someone who is suffering is causing it themselves and they only need to get on board with some right thinking to fix it. Others might see New Thought as one more goal they can't attain. They read that quotation from Tolle up there and think, well why am I feeling sad? Why am I struggling? Why can't I just fix myself?

Both approaches are unfortunate. Because they're just about piling judgments on top of judgments, and that doesn't help anyone. There's no compassion in either stance. Tolle's a loner, you know? He's on the mountaintop. The rest of us may not be there, and hitting ourselves over the head (or each other over the head) because we're not there doesn't help us do any climbing.

So I'm wary about pulling quotations like this out of context, because I don't think Tolle is trying to shut the gates against us. I don't think he's staked a claim to the mountaintop. I think, generally speaking, he's trying to throw us ropes. We're just at different points on the mountainside, and need different ropes at different moments. The rope this quotation represents is short, and many days it feels impossible to reach it.

Is this too elitist a metaphor? Am I being exclusionary, implying some are more spiritually advanced than others? Am I implying there is one spiritual path? I hope not. I'm trying to say the opposite: there are many paths, many tools needed for getting to the top. We shouldn't beat ourselves up if there are ropes we're not ready to reach for yet.

But let me know. I'm just trying to work this all out in my own head.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Memo to Nolie: 2010 Version.

Big, fat flakes are falling today, and the house seems incredibly quiet. We had lots of little kids stampeding around last night, and the television blaring, for Superbowl Sunday. The whole thing was bananas, and loads of fun. I have a feeling we might be finding chips in funny places for a while.

Speaking of quiet, or the lack thereof, have I mentioned that Nolie is a non-stop motormouth these days? I mean, to the point of quite nearly driving me bananas? Because no matter what I'm doing, no matter how much attention I'm paying her, it is always this:

Mama, why don't you be the mama and I'll be the baby. Pretend your name is Jane and my name is Molly. I'm a newborn baby and I cry and you check on me to make sure I'm okay and feed me my bottle. No, I'll be Jane, and you be the daddy, and you make me go to bed and then I cry. Why are you doing that? What is that you're doing? Can I see that? That's totally YUCKY! I would never eat that. But I'll keep that a secret because it's good manners to not say yucky, right mama? Mommy, can I have a snack? But I'm starving! My stomach hurts! No I DON'T have to go potty! That is STUPID that this is a no-whining zone! That's STUPID! I don't care that it's a strong word! I'm MAD at you!

Mommy? Can I have a bite?

I'm reading a book M. bought me called Beyond Blue, and the writer Therese Bouchard talks about how new mothers are much more likely to develop or re-enter mental illnesses than non-mothers. She writes that highly sensitive people are "less tolderant of loud noises, chaos, and just about everything else that kids create."

I'm not a new mom or anything, and I don't know if I'm a "highly sensitive person" or not, but I do struggle with not having "five minutes' peace" (a continual refrain around here, as in, "you kids go on so I can have just five minutes' peace," or "honey, can you take the kids to school today so I can have just five minutes' peace?"). Mostly, I think I'm someone who likes quite a bit of quiet and order, punctuated by bananas social events now and then to make me feel alive. But mostly quiet and order.

Nolie has not yet received that memo.

It's odd, because Nolie is how I imagine myself as a little kid--inquisitive, loud, checking everything out, physical, a ham. Addie, though, is much more like me now. Needing lots of inner time during the day, needing one-on-one time to open up, preferring books to outings. Nolie is super-resilient, Addie sensitive and raw.

Or maybe I'm both, and they're both. I was telling friends about a student who was in my film class last year--he introduced himself on the first day of class as a gun-lover, and maybe even said he was a member of the NRA. But he gave a really great, deep performance in his student film, and then I found out last weekend he's a cheerleader for the school. Which suggests to me that it is not a good idea to put people in boxes, tempting as it might be, and I shouldn't put myself or my girls in boxes either. Yet I try to see them and see myself and make sense of it all, too. We need the narratives and have to resist them being totalizing.

Tough stuff. It's a lot easier to just watch that snow fall today, and to enjoy the squirrels skiing down the neighbor's roof.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Speaking of Poetry

Thanks to the studio remodel and just a general need to purge after last fall, I've been going through a lot of things, a lot of piles, a lot of stuffed drawers. I've let a lot of detritus detrite its way on out the door. It's good to not be owned by old stuff, don't you think? I mean, that's part of our modern condition (in these wealthy United States, anyway), is that so much stuff comes into our lives, unbidden, and we spend a fair amount of time managing that stuff. And I hate sending things to the landfill. But we need some space too, don't you think? When you are sentimental like me, or have a bit of the collecting spirit, or maybe have family members who send you a lot of their treasures to curate, it can be wonderful and fulfilling but also occasionally overwhelming. And it feels good to unattach and let go.

I've been going through old cards and, except where photos are involved, reading them over, enjoying the love they represent, and then letting them go (yes, to the trash or recycling bin). While doing this, I stumbled over a little bundle of envelopes that my friends M. and S. put together for me before that fairly-traumatic trip to Idaho a few years back, when my mom was sick. They gave the little envelopes to me as talismans, as gifts to have and open at times when I might need strength or a reminder of who I am.

That trip went very badly, of course, and I only opened one or two envelopes before fleeing back here, and then couldn't bear to open the rest when I got back because I just felt so sad about everything, and disappointed in myself. But I kept them and, this morning, opened them.

I'll post a few things from the poetry and wisdom in the envelopes here and there, because--jeez--they still fit so well, and are so wise.

So, in no particular order, I give you first these lines, that jumped out at me from a funny and beautiful poem by Tony Hoagland, called "A Color of the Sky":

Last night I dreamed of X again.
She's like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never go her out,
but now I'm glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.

Isn't that true? Oh, those sticky, difficult, dark times. Those painful experiences. To see them as middles, tunnels, colors of the sky. That takes some courage. Some growing up. Hard to do.

And, from Bronson's What Should I Do with My Life?:

"Who doesn't feel fearless at twenty-five? I wasn't afraid! I was ready to try anything! But that brazenness is usually hiding something. For the first six years out of college, my biggest fear was that the working world would push my wife and me apart. My choices were ruled by that fear, but I never would have called it a fear. I would have advertised it as one of the few things that I knew mattered to me. I would have called it self-knowledge.

You want to know where your fears are hiding? Tell me what you know about yourself. Tell me what you can't live without."

Boy. I had to read that last bit about a million times, and then finally took a breath, and couldn't look at it anymore. For me, there's no directly looking at that and getting it. That information, my friends, will be coming through via the back door. Or just through the back, the spine, the curve, as some of you have pointed out. What a divining rod that thing is turning out to be.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Change of View

I didn't take this picture, obviously, and the trees in Golden currently don't have leaves on them (stupid trees; stupid leaves). Bright gray clouds have rolled in over the foothills, too, and are threatening snow (stupid snow; stupid winter). But this is basically what I see when I look outside my office window--my university's big M on a hillside. Ownership of the land, domination of nature, school pride, historical landmarks, all that jazz.

There are usually fools launching themselves off of that particular mountain, using paragliders and parasails and parawhatevers to land into our football field. I like to watch them sashaying in the wind as they descend, and I always hold my breath a bit until they've made it down safely.

This could also be a metaphor for a lot of the student writing I have to grade, but that's for another post.

I moved my desk the other day so that I could look out this window at work. Why in the world didn't I do this years ago? I don't love having my back to my open office door, which is required to face out the window, but on the other hand I seem to be getting interrupted less, so maybe that's okay, too. Most importantly, I can be in the sun while checking email. I can look up from stacks of paper and breathe a bit deeper.

I made official my resignation as managing editor of that journal I used to work for. I'm slowly wending my way through projects and thinking about which I really want to do, and how to make ones I am not totally sure about more my own. I feel so much happier and lighter, stronger and more myself. It's scary to turn down what seem like opportunities--after all, grasping at opportunities has made a lot of things happen for me. But it wasn't working for me anymore, doing other people's work, fitting into other people's projects. The anxiety over achieving has waned, and I need to find some other form of motivation. So now I'm trying out some things of my own--still working with others, but more on my terms. It's easier to say no to side streets and dark alleys when your own path forward is clear.

All this crystallized for me while reading Po Bronson's amazing book What Should I Do with My Life? I stumbled on it at the thrift store last week (thank you, universe, you serendipitous mofo) and it has answered so many questions for me about how to reinvigorate myself around work. I can't recommend it enough.

Speaking of literary type things, I've posted this on the blog before, and it's been taped to my printer all these years since I've been writing here, but I'm feeling particularly content and forward-looking today, so I'm posting it again. From that crazy old coot Robert Bly:

Things to Think

Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged, or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time, or that it's
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

I mean, I just love that poem. I think it might be my favorite poem ever, and I usually refrain from picking favorites.